August 7, 2017

Presumption is a dangerous thing

Far too often we hear of a parent leaving a child alone in a car, presuming they would return soon, and presuming the child would be okay, but the rest of the story is far from okay.

People spend most of our lives making presumptions. I plug in the toaster and presume the power will be there to make my toast. I put my shoes on in the morning presuming they will still fit. Most of my presumptions are safe, and based on previous experience, but some have not been okay and things happened that caught me and shocked me. I’m much more careful about presumption than I used to be.

Today’s Scripture reading reminds me that the religious Pharisees in Jesus’ day presumed they were okay with God because they were descendants of Abraham, the father of faith. This was a dangerous assumption because it was based on a false premise. Jesus warned them to think again about their relationship with God:

“And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:9–10)

This was not a new warning. Historically, the Israelites assumed that because they were ‘the people of God’ they would be safe. God’s prophets kept warning them that faith involved more than a label. Just as standing in a garage does not make me a car, their racial heritage did not make them children of God. Something was missing, but their assumption made them smug with a false sense of security.

Part of the problem was false teaching from false prophets who claimed to speak for God but did not. Another error was their attraction to the lies they were hearing. They liked those lies more than the truth.

God sent Jeremiah to warn them of the danger they were in:

“An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction; my people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes? Flee for safety, O people of Benjamin, from the midst of Jerusalem! Blow the trumpet in Tekoa, and raise a signal on Beth-haccherem, for disaster looms out of the north, and great destruction. . . Be warned, O Jerusalem, lest I turn from you in disgust, lest I make you a desolation, an uninhabited land. . . To whom shall I speak and give warning, that they may hear? Behold, their ears are uncircumcised, they cannot listen; behold, the word of the Lord is to them an object of scorn; they take no pleasure in it. Therefore I am full of the wrath of the Lord; I am weary of holding it in. Pour it out upon the children in the street, and upon the gatherings of young men, also; both husband and wife shall be taken, the elderly and the very aged. Their houses shall be turned over to others, their fields and wives together, for I will stretch out my hand against the inhabitants of the land,” declares the Lord. “For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time that I punish them, they shall be overthrown,” says the Lord. Thus says the Lord: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ I set watchmen over you, saying, ‘Pay attention to the sound of the trumpet!’ But they said, ‘We will not pay attention.’” (Jeremiah 5:30–6:17, shortened)

Then as now, God saves by grace through faith, yet that faith is never mere lip service and certainly not something that can be inherited. It is proven or made evident by ‘fruit’ or a lifestyle that demonstrates trust in God. I cannot presume that I am His child if there is nothing in me that behaves like a child of God.

Fortner stands against a universal salvation. I agree that not everyone will be saved, but have a problem with his conclusion that Christ did not die for everyone. He says this cannot be, otherwise everyone would be saved, and since they are not, God would be a failure. Huh?

God can save anyone He wants to save, yet He doesn’t force faith on those who resist Him. This does not mean He is unable to do it, but that our relationship with Him involves a loving response to His love for us. Love would not be love if it was not a free choice; we are not robots or chess pieces.

This issue in these passages is presumption. God’s people in Jeremiah’s day presumed they were okay with lip service and rituals, with their heritage and their rules. They were oblivious to their presumption and in a dangerous place. Strong warnings and logical reasoning did not help.

Yet the Spirit of God is able to soften hard hearts. God is not thwarted by our stubborn sinfulness. Whatever He determines to do, He will do it. The mystery is not why He does not save everyone, but why He saves any of us!

Jesus, it is indeed a mystery that Your Spirit can open blind eyes and nothing can stand against You, yet You allow some who say NO to persist saying it to their own destruction. I don’t understand that, but I do understand You are merciful and gracious. Some of those people who seem to be totally against You may wind up in glory, and some of those people who seem so nice but have presumed they are okay because of their niceness will not. Because I don’t know which is which or what You will do, I will not presume who needs the axe.

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