Is Police Protection a Right?

I was having a discussion on line the other day about whether healthcare is a right. Amid the usual progressive arguments of “you want people to die,” and “you’re a sack of sh#t,” someone asked a good question. What, they said, about police, fire and military protection?

I had made the point that no one has a right to anything that imposes an obligation on someone else or, said another way, the only true rights are negative rights.

They pointed out that protecting the public does, in fact, place an obligation on someone else, namely the police officer, fire fighter or soldier. While that is true, and I believe those are legitimate functions of government, it does not then follow that individuals have a right to the services provided by those functions.

A right is something every single person possesses that the government cannot take away. Said another way, they are universal and unalienable. Therefore, government must ensure that all people’s rights are protected all the time. You don’t have a right to freedom of the press only when resources are available, you have it always. So if police protection is a right, every unthwarted mugging is a violation of an individual’s rights and the police department must be held accountable for that violation to the same degree as if they kicked in your door and searched your house without a warrant. They were required to do something, protect you from crime, and they did not. They, therefore, violated your rights.

Of course that’s silly but that’s what we must believe if we say every individual has a right to police protection. A right is not just something the government makes available; it is something the government MUST do. When they don’t, a citizen has grounds to pursue legal recourse.

So, again, only negative rights are rights. In the scenario we’re discussing, the negative right is the right to self-defense. Government may not interfere with that. While I hope the police will prevent me from being assaulted, I have the right to stop the assault myself whether they show up or not. That is why the right to own and carry a gun cannot be infringed. Because to do so is to violate a real civil right, the right to self-defense.

Science Cannot Tell Us How Old the Earth Is

One of the perennial debates between creationists and those who deny a creator is how old the earth is. This is a debate among Christians as well with some being in the YEC (Young Earth Creationist) corner and others in the OEC (Old Earth Creationist) corner.

I’m not going to delve into the pros and cons of those two belief systems in this post. I want to talk about something more fundamental. If we’re going to make a claim for the age of the earth, no matter which way we lean, on what should we stake that claim? In other words, what discipline or authority can we look to in order to find the answer to our question? More specifically, can we look to that oft cited source,  science, for the answer?

The answer is no, we can’t. In fact, science cannot even determine how old I am. A doctor can make an educated guess based on his or her observations of me (something we can do with the earth as well) then comparing me to other people whose ages they know (something we cannot do with the earth). But those could be misleading for a variety of reasons. Perhaps I’ve suffered with a debilitating disease for many years and have aged more rapidly than normal. Perhaps my hair went gray prematurely. Or, on the other end, perhaps I’ve  had a relatively easy life or are wealthy enough to mask my age with plastic surgery. Or maybe I look young or old for my age due simply to my genes. Bottom line, there is no scientific test you can perform to tell how old I am.

But they can look at my birth certificate, right? Yes, they can. But that’s not science. The reason my birth certificate is reliable is because someone who was there, probably the doctor, signed off that I was born on Tuesday, October 3, 1961. They could also, of course, ask my mother who happened to be there at the time. In other words, the only way to know for sure how hold I am is to ask someone in a position to know, someone who was there when I was born. That’s not science, that’s history.

If science cannot determine the age of an individual, how much less is it capable of doing so for the entire planet? Again, there are observations and educated guesses a scientist can make but, much as with individuals, things that have happened to the planet in the past will impact the usefulness of those observations. If, for example, I’m not taking into account that a world-wide catastrophic flood took place at some point in the past, my conclusions, based on observations in the present, will not be accurate (if such a flood did take place).

In the end, we must determine the age of the earth the same way we determine the age of individuals, by finding a reliable source that can tell us the answer. So, at least with the in-house discussion among Christians, it comes down to what the scriptures say. We must determine what we believe about the age of the earth not on what extra-biblical sources tell us but on what we’re told by the One who was there.

Don’t Expect Unbelievers to Act Like Believers?

One of the cliches of contemporary Christianity is “You can’t expect unbelievers to act like believers.” It’s often said in response to outrage or concern over current cultural conditions. The implication is we should not get all exercised about people’s behavior because, well, boys will be boys, so let’s just concentrate on the gospel and not try to reform the behavior of unbelievers because it can’t be done.

But is that true? Should Christians put no effort in trying to reform the culture or even the behavior of individuals short of their full conversion to the Faith? Is it impossible for someone to change a behavior that is harmful to themselves or society short of conversion?

To start answering that question let’s do an exercise in walking through to the logical consequences of this belief:

“I wish Hitler and the Nazis would stop loading Jews onto trains and taking them to concentration camps.”

“Well, you can’t expect unbelievers to act like believers.”

Or in our modern day:

,”I wish women would stop murdering their babies in the womb by the thousands each year.”

“Well, you can’t expect unbelievers to act like believers.”

Or what about an individual example:

“I wish my brother-in-law would stop drinking up his paycheck every week and buy food and clothes for my sister and their kids.”

“Well, you can’t expect unbelievers to act like believers.”

If you think those are extreme examples, you’re right. The point is, there is a point where everyone recognizes human behavior can and should change – whether the person engaging in that behavior is a believer or not. A change in behavior will never save my soul but it can make life in this realm better for myself and those I impact.

The problem may be in our understanding of what it means to “act like a believer.”

While Christianity always bears fruit in someone’s life, we cannot assume because a person is moral or loving to his family or law-abiding that he’s a believer. If that’s true, then nor can we assume because they are lost they have no ability to change for the better since clearly there are some people behaving morally who are not converted.

Christians understand God’s grace at work in the world in two different ways. One way is saving grace – the unmerited favor God gives to those who repent of their sins and place their trust in Him. God gives His saving grace to whomever He chooses (Romans 9:15). When we receive that kind of grace, God gives us a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26). Therefore, everything about us changes from our outward behavior to our inward motivation. We stop being about ourselves and start doing everything for the glory of God (I Corinthians 10:31).

The other way is God’s common grace. Common grace is the unmerited favor God bestows on all mankind whereby He provides us with the good things of this world in far greater abundance than we deserve – which is to say, not at all (Matthew 5:45).  Part of this common grace is the restraint of evil. When evil is restrained it is always a grace of God but as with many other of God’s graces He often accomplishes it through ordinary means such as governments (Romans 13:2-4), the influence of friends (I Corinthians 15:33), and the actions of the godly (Joseph & Daniel both were used by God to bless believers and unbelievers alike through their skilled leadership).

On a mission trip to Ecuador last year I met an American expatriate. He was a nice man. By all appearances a very successful one as well. He shared with a colleague and me how he’s been sober for many years after struggling for many other years with alcohol abuse. But, when we began to speak with him about the gospel, he denied that Christ was essential for a relationship with God. He believed there were many ways to god and that the god he was praying to every day was going to accept him one day.

This man was lost. But, he was also sober to the good of his earthly well-being and that of his family. I praise God for the latter and yet pray too that he will come to know Christ to the good of his eternal well-being.

So, can we expect unbelievers to act like believers? No, not if by that we mean following Christ and doing all things to the glory of God. But, we can and should expect them to act like creatures formed in the image of God who have His existence written on their hearts – because that is what they are. And we should not hesitate to make an effort to influence them for the good of themselves and others in this temporal plane while remembering the most important thing we can do for them is share the gospel.

 

Thoughts on “Double Predestination”

Do you believe in double predestination?

If you’re theologically reformed, as am I, sooner or later you’ll get that question. The first and most important step in answering it is to understand what the person means by that phrase. Defining terms should always be our first step in any theological discussion. Unless we mean the same thing when we use the same words, we’ll never know if we agree or disagree, whatever the topic.

If they mean that before the foundation of the world, God the Father chose a people for Himself who would be saved, leaving others in their sin then, yes, I believe that. I believe that because that’s what the Bible teaches. Many people, especially those unfamiliar with reformed theology, equate that belief with double predestination. But, that’s not what the term means in a classical sense.

True double predestination, sometimes called equal ultimacy, teaches that God is as active in the reprobation of the wicked as He is in the salvation of the elect.

If this is what the questioner means, my answer is “no,” I do not believe in double predestination.

To explain why, let’s start with what the Bible says about the salvation of the elect. The Bible tells us that before we can believe, God must change our hearts (Ezekiel 36:26, John 6:65). Left to ourselves, we will never seek God because our hearts are naturally opposed to Him (Romans 3:11-12). For those whom He’s chosen to save, God steps in and does a work in their heart so they will repent and believe the gospel.

If, then, God is as active in the reprobation of the wicked as He is in the salvation of the elect, that implies God must do a work in people’s hearts to cause them to reject Him.  That, in turn, implies that human beings start out neutral, neither rejecting God nor choosing Him, and only after God inclines them one way or the other do they reject or accept Him. The Bible does not allow that position. It is clear that all men since Adam start out as God’s enemies with no desire to please Him or follow Him (Romans 5:10). Therefore, God does not have to do a work in someone’s heart for them to reject Him. That is man’s natural state apart from the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. Men do not start out neutral, they start out in rebellion against God.

But what about passages like Exodus 10:20 and others? This seems to teach that God did a work in Pharaoh’s heart that caused Pharaoh to reject Him. While it does say God did something in Pharaoh’s heart, that does not imply that Pharaoh’s heart was neutral before God’s action.  God was in the midst of showing His power and glory to both the Israelites and the Egyptians. His plan was to do this through a series of plagues, each of which showed His power in greater and greater ways and which, when completed, would result in Israel being set free and Pharaoh, who fancied himself a god, shown to be merely a man subject to the God of the universe (Exodus 9:16).

There are many reasons wicked men pull back from their wickedness that have nothing to do with repentance. They might, for example, relent because the consequences of continuing cause them personal hardship or harm. In the case of Pharaoh, God did not want him to relent until all ten plagues had been carried out. Therefore, He strengthened Pharaoh’s resolve to resist so that His plan for Egypt and Israel could be fully worked out (Exodus 11:9). In other words, God wanted the people of Israel to be released on His terms, not Pharaoh’s. God was not hardening Pharaoh’s heart against Him –  Pharaoh was already opposed to God. God was hardening Pharaoh’s heart against letting the children of Israel go before the God-ordained time.

In summary, God does not work in the hearts of men to cause them to reject Him. He does, however, graciously choose to work in the hearts of untold numbers of men and women from among every nation, tribe, people and language causing them to see His beauty and accept Him and for that we should praise Him (Revelation 7:9).

 

Do Not Forget You are Sons & Daughters of the King

The Lord Disciplines those He LovesAnd have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. – Hebrews 11:5-8

In this passage the author of Hebrews quotes the Old Testament, reminding his audience of something they’d forgotten – that they are sons of God.

He admonished them earlier for being immature (Hebrews 5:12). This passage from Proverbs 3:11-12 is one that would have been well known by a Jewish audience. He’s saying, you’ve forgotten this basic teaching of scripture from this commonly used passage. You’ve forgotten a passage you should be familiar with, that you should be turning to for help and encouragement.

And what is in this passage that is so important?

(v. 5b1) “…My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord…

The word “discipline” in the first line of the verse is associated with the training of children. It has the sense of helping someone reach full development. The difficulties they are facing is the Lord training them and the author tells them not to take that lightly. The verb form implies continual action: do not “keep on taking it lightly” or, said another way, do not “keep on caring too little about it.”

How do we care too little about the discipline the Lord sends into our lives?

Most of the time if I’m facing difficulty, I care a whole lot about it. But, here’s the thing, it is all in how I view it. By treating it as a nuisance, or as something just to be endured until it’s over, or as disconnected from my Christian life, after which I can get on with my life or my ministry or whatever – like a train pulling off of the main track onto a siding, I am not in a position to learn from it, to grow from it. As I heard someone say, difficulty is not a distraction from your ministry, it is your ministry. It’s not a sidebar in the journey for a Christian, it is the journey.

Paul tells the Corinthian church:

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. – II Corinthians 1:8-9

 God had a purpose for the difficulty He placed Paul in. God has a purpose for the difficulty these Jewish believers are facing. He has a purpose for the difficulty He places in my life and in yours.

John Piper wrote a books called “Don’t Waste Your Cancer.” By that he meant, don’t lose the opportunity to grow as a Christian and glorify God that something like cancer provides you with.

The author of Hebrews says something similar, don’t keep on acting like these difficulties have no purpose, don’t see them as nuisances or as something just to get through, see them as discipline from the Lord. See them as something God has placed in your life to grow you in the faith. Don’t take them lightly, don’t waste them.

He goes on…

(v.5b2) “…nor be weary when reproved by him.”

He talks of another type of God’s work in their lives – reproof.

This word has a more negative connotation than “discipline.” This word is associated with rebuking someone, exposing their guilt or proving them wrong.

Not all difficulty that comes into our lives is a direct result of our personal sin –The man born blind John tells us was not that way because of his sin or his parents but, so that God’s works could be displayed  (John 9:1-3).

But some is.

When believers are involved in sin we should expect the Lord’s correction.

Often that comes in the form of a fellow believer coming along side us and gently pointing us back to the right path. At other times it may reveal itself as a consequence of our actions – a man who steals from his company is discovered and fired. At still other times it may be seemingly unrelated, such as an illness.

Again, not all difficulties are the result of my personal sin but when I find myself in a continuing difficult circumstance it pays to examine my life and see if there is any sin from which I need to repent.

Could it be some of the difficulty they were facing was because they were looking back like Lot’s wife (Genesis 19:26) and considering a return to their former way of life?

They were considering abandoning the faith so the Lord was reproving or rebuking them for this.

Whatever form it was taking with the recipients of Hebrews, they had become weary of the Lord’s correction. They wanted it to stop before it had done its work or before they had done what they needed to do, such as repent, because they didn’t see in it the hand of God.

But the author reminds them that such things, discipline and chastisement, are marks of God’s love and of their status as His sons and daughters.

(v. 6) “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”

 These difficulties are a mark of God’s care and concern for them as His children. Therefore, the author says, you must endure it.

(v. 7) “It is for discipline you must endure.”

 Endurance is necessary for the discipline to be effective. Part of the discipline is the waiting, the trusting God in the midst of difficulty. If you seek to short circuit what God is doing in your life or you don’t seek to learn from it or you run from it, the discipline the Lord is trying to bring to your life, the growth He seeks for you, as His child, won’t happen.

It is for discipline you must endure.

He closes out this section with a sobering thought and a dire warning: If you’re not being disciplined, you don’t belong to the Lord.

 When the Bible tells us that something is the mark of an unbeliever, we need to listen up because it’s important.

 (v. 8) “If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.”

 Let that sink in a minute. If my Christian life makes no demands on me, does not stretch me and is always problem free I might not be truly converted. And while I don’t think we can say because we’ve had lots of difficulty we’re believers, based on what the author says here, if we are not experiencing the discipline of the Lord either positively as training or negatively as chastisement and rebuke when necessary, it’s a sign we’re not converted.

A friend of mine once told me “The most dangerous place you can be is involved in sin and experiencing no adverse consequences for it.”

In other words, if I’m not being chastised for my sin, if I’m not experiencing negative consequences of my sin, if I can just sin with impunity and be fat and happy about it, or even worse, proud of it, it’s because the Lord does not consider me His son or daughter and He’s therefore not taking the time to discipline me.

If someone tells you the Christian life is a life of health and wealth and ease and the only reason you don’t experience those things is your lack of faith or your lack of positive thinking or speaking good things into existence run from them, they’re a false teacher.

In this life you will have trials Jesus told His followers. If it was true for Him it will be true for us. Thankfully for believers those trials are not random purposeless things but tools a loving Father uses to mold us into the likeness of Christ.

 

Photo credit: Grotuk via VisualHunt / CC BY