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Either/Or Doctrines

Either/Or Doctrines

Last week I developed some thoughts around the problem with viewing doctrine through an either/or lens. We saw that when God is revealing His eternal purposes to His creation He sometimes presents truths that appear contradictory. The basic human reflex is to work out how this can be and so we set about using our logic to understand how they co-exist. My point was that God doesn’t ask us to do this. He doesn’t ask us to elevate one over the other (either/or); He asks us to believe both. To some this is to disengage the brain. To others it is to rest where God rests.

Having said that, there are some doctrines that are presented within an either/or framework. We might call them binary issues. Here are three;

[1] You’re either saved or lost

Few would argue this for Scripture is clear: Paul tells the Corinthians that ’…the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God’ (1 Co 1:18, NET). There is no middle ground, you’re either being saved or you’re perishing. His use of the present tense should alert us to two features of salvation; 1) there is an aspect to it which isn’t complete–God is in the process of saving us out of this world; and 2) those who are not saved are currently perishing–they don’t need to wait for a day when they will finally perish, it is currently taking place. ‘Condemned already’ as John the apostle puts it (Jn 3:18, KJV). In his first epistle he describes it just as starkly: ‘He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life’ (1 Jn 5:12, KJV).

[2] You either serve God or man

This flows directly from the last point. Romans tells us that when we ‘obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine’ we were ‘made free from sin’ and ‘became the servants of righteousness’ (Rom 6:17-18, KJV). Positionally we became a servant of God. But in Matthew 6:24, the Lord Jesus is speaking to His own and challenging them about their practical application of this truth. The sad reality is that it is possible to positionally be a servant of God, but practically a servant of man. Whether we ‘reckon’ or apply the truth personally, is what makes the difference. Those who serve God understand the depth of the truth: ‘we are the servants of righteousness.’ As soon as we allow the things of men to drive our agenda or make the decisions, we have ceded control to man.

[3] You’re either friends with the world or friends with God

James tells us that ‘friendship with the world is enmity with God’ (4:4, KJV) and from this we infer that the two are mutually exclusive: you cannot be friends with the world and friends with God at the same time. Multiple questions flood our minds; ‘Can I have non-christian friends?’ ‘Should I become a recluse?’ ‘Does enjoying features of the world constitute friendship with the world?’ The Lord is not promoting a reclusive lifestyle; there is not necessarily any virtue in that. What He is teaching us is that to value the things of the world more highly than the things of God is to treat God as an enemy.

The question that we should ask now is ‘why does God present some truth as either/or and some as both/and?’ I wouldn’t be dogmatic but it appears that God makes a distinction between His explanations and His expectations. When God explains how His eternal purpose works out in time, He uses both/and despite the frustration that this might cause us. For God to tell us how His sovereignty intersects with our responsibility, would make us equal with God. When God places expectations upon us He uses either/or. God expects our service and loyalty because He has paid the highest cost to save us from perishing.

The Glory Of The Cross [8]

The Glory Of The Cross [8]

More Honourable Than His Brethren

More Honourable Than His Brethren