Carried Off to Babylon

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us.

Panorama of partially restored Babylon ruins and Former Saddam Hussein Palace, Babylon, Hillah, Iraq

“Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord.” (Isaiah 39:6 ESV)

This is a follow up blog piece to Here Today Gone Tomorrow. The story of King Hezekiah, and especially Isaiah Chapter 39, is, illustrative of our tendency to hold on to things in this world in this life contrary to what God intends for us. Jesus was clear in his urging for us to lay up our treasures in heaven, and not to focus on accumulating treasures on earth.

Hezekiah was a pretty good king as kings of Judah go. Many of those kings turned away from God to idol worship and other behaviors influenced by the pagan culture of the nations around them. These were the people who were never completely driven out of the Promised Land as God instructed. The people of God and even their kings became corrupted by those influences and succumbed to them.

The descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob split into two camps early on after the people rejected the rule of judges and wanted kings like the nations around them.  They split into the nation of Israel and the nation of Judah. By the time King Hezekiah came around, the nation of Israel had been overrun, captured and exiled to Babylon. During Hezekiah’s reign the people were hanging on by a thread, with the threat of Babylonian exile dangling like the sword of Damocles over the remnant, Judah, that remained.

Hezekiah turned to God when circumstances were dire, and when his death was imminent. Like most of us, though, the King was ultimately very short-sighted. He focused on the immediate and on what he could protect in this short life. He didn’t appreciate the bigger picture.

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Justification by Faith

Whether there are 613 laws to keep or just two, who tend to view morality as a competition in which we compare ourselves to others.


In a previous blog post, I observed that Scripture reveals a progression from law to relationship to faith. In Habakkuk, the prophet said, “The righteous will live by his faith.” (Hab. 2:4) This statement in Habakkuk is the second half of a verse that contrasts “the proud one” whose soul “is not upright to the righteous one who lives by faith. The implication is that the righteousness is linked to faith and is contrasted to pride.

We see this theme continued in the New Testament:

“The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17)


“Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Galatians 3:11)


“[M]y righteous one shall live by faith” (Hebrews 10:37)

And the reason that salvation is by faith (in the grace of God) is so that no one can boast.

“For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph. 2:9)

When Jesus summarized all the law and prophets in just two statements (love God and love your neighbor) he whisked us past the academic details of the law to the simple heart and spirit of the law. (Luke 10:25-27) If we think this simplification of the law makes it any easier on us, however, we should think again. At the same time Jesus simplified the expression of the law, Jesus upped the ante on us when he said that, if we even lust in our hearts, we have committed adultery. If we have even gotten angry in our hearts at our brother, we may have committed the sin of murder. (See Mathew 5:21-48)

Jesus made the law simpler and more difficult to follow at the same time!

Maybe this is because our ability to follow the law (to maintain God’s standard of morality) isn’t the key point. In fact, the point is our inability, in ourselves, to live up to God’s standard! Until we realize that we can’t measure up, we don’t measure up, we are depending on ourselves and our own efforts to “be right with God”. But we never can. Whether it’s 613 laws or just two principles, we fall short.

Our focus shouldn’t be on the laws and other people. On this horizontal level, we compare ourselves to others, and we judge ourselves and others in comparison. This is where pride and self-righteousness dwell, and the focus is, ultimately, on ourselves. Rather our focus should be vertical, on God and our relationship to him.

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Sin, Salvation and Righteousness – God’s Plan for Us

Getting into some detail on basic principles of the Christian faith that yield rich and deep truths for the believer.


I set stage for this blog with the question, What is Christian Salvation and Why Would Anyone Want It? If you haven’t read that blog first, you might want to take some time to read  it. I set this piece up with my own story, but I am no different than anyone else who has encountered the God of the Bible and the salvation that He offers.

In this piece we will get into some detail on the meaning of salvation, sin that poses the problem for which salvation is the solution, and righteousness, which is, perhaps, more misunderstood than the other two.

To begin with, salvation means, generally, “preservation or deliverance from harm, ruin, or loss”; theologically, it means “deliverance from sin and its consequences” according to Google. Righteousness means, generally, “the quality of being morally right or justifiable” according to Google.

These definitions are simple and easy enough to understand generally, but they have very specific and nuanced meanings in context of faith that belie the richest and deepest of Christian truths.

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Sam Harris Podcast Interview with Bart Ehrman – Part 3 – Withering Sun

Some seed falls on hard rocky ground. It grows up fast, but its roots are shallow. When the heat of the sun comes, the plant shrivels and dies.


In previous installments, I have written two blog articles on my observations regarding an interview of Bart Ehrman by Sam Harris on What is Christianity. Bart Ehrman is an agnostic, New Testament scholar at Princeton, and Sam Harris is one of the so-called “new atheists”. In the first article, I relate portions of Ehrman’s story about his “loss of faith”, and I question whether he really had anything but a very shallow idea of faith to begin with. In the second installment, I talk about a certain wooden fundamentalism that continues to be apparent in how Ehrman sees the Bible. It’s a kind of all or nothing approach. Previously, he accepted all of it; now he accepts none of it.

Before moving on to other observations, I want to stop and raise a couple of points related to the portion of the interview already covered. First of all, I want to go back to the comment made by Ehrman about the charismatic youth leader who influenced him in a local Campus Crusade for Christ chapter. Erhman describes the “sinner’s prayer” he recited as an induction. The same youth leader urged him to go to Moody Bible Institute if he wanted to be a “serious Christian”.

Erhman was obviously influenced by this charismatic youth leader. Many of us are similarly influenced by charismatic people that we meet along the way. Some of us are influenced to do things that we might not otherwise do and which have no lasting import to us when we leave the circle of that influence.

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Righteousness By Faith

Depositphotos Image ID: 69889075 Copyright: AlexBrylov

Abraham believed God, and God “reckoned” that faith to Abraham as righteousness.[1] When God told Abraham to look at the stars and said to Abraham that he would bear offspring and have descendants like the stars in the sky, Abraham believed God.  What does that really mean?

We get a bit of a clue by looking at the Hebrew word translated “believe” is ̓āman. It means to confirm (support), as when putting confidence in something that is supported (trustworthy).[2] The Hebrew suggests that Abraham confirmed, affirmed, supported, or had confidence in what God was telling him.

But there is more to it than that. The word, āman, as used in this passage, is in the hiphil form. The hiphil form suggests an act of intentional interaction with a subject. Abraham didn’t just star at the stars in wonder, he consciously and intentionally engaged God and what Goad was saying to him, and he affirmatively confirmed, supported and put his confidence in  what God was saying to him. In effect, Abraham said, “Amen”, in his heart, and he meant it!

Faith/belief is a key concept and critical characteristic of the follower of Christ. Abraham is held up as the prime example of faith. Abraham is the father of all us all.[3] Paul says that Abraham was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”[4] And this faith, trust and confidence in God that Abraham had is what God “counted to him as righteousness”.[5]

This same faith, Paul says, will be counted to us as righteousness who “believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”[6]

Abraham didn’t do anything, but believe God, and God gave him counted him righteousness in return. Such a simple thing! And that is all we must do to be counted as righteous in God’s sight today – to believe in the one God sent to us, Jesus Christ, who suffered, died and was buried for us, and who has risen from the dead establishing the promise of God to us that we will be risen too in newness of life.

This seems so very simple that we are tempted to want more. We are tempted to think we must do more to be counted as righteous.

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Integrity and Authenticity in Belief

If we are influenced by the social influences around us, how authentic are anyone’s beliefs?

Depositphotos Image ID: 13127659 Copyright: creatista

I’ve been listening to a lot of Tim Keller lately. Today I listened to an old interview in which he said something that got me thinking. He asserted that, for many or most people, whether they are religious or secular often depends on their social influences. I suppose this would mean parents and family as well as peers. Richard Dawkins, the famously vocal atheist has said similar things: what religion we are depends to a large extent on the society in which we grew up.

Keller supported his thesis with anecdotal evidence from his own experience. He says, for him, he was religious initially because he wanted to gain the favor of people closes to him. What does that say about the power of social interactions? What does it say about our beliefs? If Richard Dawkins and Keller are right, how authentic are anyone’s beliefs?

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An Inkling of Transcendence: Lewis and Tolkien

Some say today that science is the study of everything that exists. If Lewis, Tolkien and Williams were millennials today, they would “call BS”.

Despoitphotos Image ID: 121201272 Copyright: chrisdorney

“[His] father had taught him to absorb doubt and disbelief into his beliefs.”

This statement from the book, Inklings, by Humphrey Carpenter, is spoken of Charles Williams, who was a regular participant in the informal discussion group, the Inklings, formed by CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien at the University of Oxford, England. The group met at various times in Lewis’s classroom and a local pub from the late 1930’s to 1949. Charles Williams was an early member of the group and continued as a regular until his death in 1945. Williams grew up “a devout churchman” but was encouraged by his father “to appreciate the force of atheistic rationalism and to admire such men as Voltaire and Tom Paine”.

Lewis, of course, was an atheist when he arrived and began teaching at Oxford. His journey from materialism to agnosticism to Christian theism is chronicled in his autobiographical work, Surprised by Joy. Tolkien was already a Christian when Lewis joined him as a professor at Oxford, and Tolkien influenced Lewis in his transition to Christianity. Williams came along later. These men were attracted to each other as much by their love of language, literature and poetry as their faith, though their views on literature and faith often diverged sharply.

These three men, and others who joined them, were powerhouses of thought and creativity. CS Lewis, of course, wrote many books from fiction to philosophy. JRR Tolkien wrote, perhaps, the greatest mythological series of the 20th century in the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Charles Williams, though lesser known, was a prolific writer, literary critic, publisher and student of English literature who could recite hundreds of passages from sheer memory.

They influenced each other, despite their very distinct differences, and their collective influence has been felt by generations from their day to ours. They were Christian men, believing very authentically in the Bible as scripture, but they were also fierce academics who held their faith up to the rigors of intellectual exercise.

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