Thursday, March 16, 2017

Church Write-Up: Ripping Out Sins

Last Sunday, I visited what I call the "Word of Faith" church.  The label fits in some areas but not in others, but I don't want to identify the church by name, so that is the label that I will use.

The pastor was speaking about Jesus' exorcisms and the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.  The pastor was discussing Jesus' exorcisms within the context of God delivering people from sin.

The pastor said that he believes that God will be ripping sins out of people's lives.  He gave some examples: deliverance from adultery, deliverance from pornography, deliverance from that glass of wine that one drinks before going to bed.  I thought of the Christian movie War Room, in which a woman is praying for her husband, who is having an intimate dinner with another woman.  Right when the woman is praying for him, the man gets sick and has to leave the date!  To quote Mr. Keating on Dead Poet's Society, "All I want to hear is RIP!"

Were Jesus' exorcisms about delivering people from sins?

There are indications in Scripture that Satan influences people to sin.  Ephesians 2:2 states: "Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience" (KJV).  Acts 5:3 has: "But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?"

Is that the same as demon possession, though?  A person sinning is not the same as being inhabited and taken over by a foreign entity, as seems to be the case in the Gospels.

But then there is Matthew 12:42-45: "When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation."

That is parabolic, so one should be careful to avoid dogmatism.  But I have read commentators who interpret this passage in light of the sins of Jesus' generation: Jesus' generation largely rejected Jesus, and that made its spiritual condition worse than before, leading to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.  If that interpretation is correct, then Jesus is saying that sin can relate to demon possession, or at least Jesus is making an analogy between the two.

The pastor wrestled briefly with the issue of human responsibility.  On the one hand, he said, our sins are due to things that we did not ask for and that load the dice against us: our sinful human nature, the demonic, etc.  On the other hand, the Bible treats us as responsible for our actions.

The pastor eventually got to blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.  He said that we should focus on the positive in that passage: Jesus said that all sins can be forgiven.  The pastor interpreted "forgiven" there to mean that sins are leaving a person.  Indeed, the Greek word translated as "forgiven" in Matthew 12:31, "aphiemi," can mean leaving, departing, or sending away.  But the passage uses the passive of aphiemi with the dative, "to the men," instead of having "from the men."  Had the verse been making the pastor's point, my suspicion is that it would have had "from the men"----every manner of sin will be removed from the men.  Notwithstanding my disagreement here, I can, in a big picture sense, identify with what the pastor was saying: Jesus does not just want to save us from the penalty for sin, but from sin itself.

Regarding blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, the pastor said that, when a person considers God's compassion towards people and deliverance of them to be evil, that is a spirit that God cannot remove.  He said that he doubts that anyone at the church has arrived at that point.  I had a variety of questions when he shared that interpretation.  First of all, does anyone really consider compassion and deliverance to be evil?  Maybe Jesus' critics prioritized other things above compassion and deliverance (i.e., their power), and such a stance can contribute to a spiritual deadness or hardness, but is that the same as deeming compassion and deliverance to be evil?  Second, why couldn't God cast out such a spirit?  Can't God soften people's hearts (i.e., Romans 11)?

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