Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Month: March, 2015


Parmigianino, ca. 1530

The Conversion of Paul

Today in America we are used to seeing a wide variety of churches and denominations, and an even wider variety of independent ministries. And they all ask for money. But how does one know which ones to support? How can one tell the good from the bad?
The Bible, of course, must be our standard. And in I Timothy (along with II Timothy and Titus, which together make up the “Pastoral Epistles”) Paul lays down specific instructions on how the Christian ministry is to be conducted. He writes to his close friend and associate Timothy, whom he had left in Ephesus to deal with certain problems there. In the process he gives all of us valuable insight into how the ministry is supposed to function and operate.
In chapter 4 Paul begins by warning against false teaching. One would expect that outside of the church one would encounter all sorts of unbiblical thoughts and ideas. Paul tells us that false teaching can crop up inside the church as well. “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith . . .” (I Tim. 4:1; NKJV). What Paul says about these false teachers is alarming indeed. They are “giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons” (v. 1). But interestingly, the false teachers themselves don’t really believe what they are saying. They are “speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron” (v. 2).
The specific error that Paul had in mind seems strange to modern ears. It basically involved a false asceticism (“forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods” – v. 3), and it eventually took shape in an ancient heresy known as Gnosticism. Today our natural inclination is to go in the opposite directions – to indulge in all sorts of physical pleasures.
But all of this raises a pertinent question: what exactly is the difference between good doctrine and bad – between true and false theology? A major part of the answer is the effect that it has on its hearers. In chapter 1 Paul had told Timothy not to “give heed to false and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith” (1:4). In other words, bad theology is speculative in nature and results in pointless arguments. Good theology, on the other hand, results in “godly edification.” Paul goes on to say that “the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith’ (1:5). The Christian preacher or teacher must aim to edify.
Why is this important? Because it is in accord with God’s own wishes and desires. God “is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe” (4:10). The Christian ministry is all about fulfilling the Great Commission. God’s aim is to bring salvation to the entire human race. To that end He sent His Son into the world to offer Himself up as a sacrifice for our sin. If we, in turn, have the love of God in our hearts, we will have the same burden to reach lost sinners as God does. Thus Paul could say, “For this end we both labor and suffer reproach . . .” (4:10). The salvation of lost sinners from eternal damnation is worth the personal sacrifices required of the messengers of Christ.
But a minister of the gospel must do more than merely proclaim the message. He must live it as well. It must be a reality in his own life. Only then can he speak convincingly from the heart. Therefore Paul tells Timothy to “exercise yourself rather to godliness: (v. 7). The English translation “godliness” is a little misleading. It tends to put the emphasis on our external conduct. But the underlying Greek word (eusebeia) denotes an attitude of reverence and devotion to someone in a position of authority – especially to God. Godliness, or piety, as it might be translated, has “promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come” (v. 8). It brings us life, spiritual life, both now and in the age to come. As such it is far more valuable to any earthly joy or pleasure.
Thus the preacher must “walk the talk.” Paul tells Timothy to “be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (v. 12). It is important that preacher / teacher be honest with himself – to engage in honest self-examination to make sure that the reality is present in himself. “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (v. 16). When a preacher stands up before others to proclaim the word, he is not just to put on a show to entertain the guests. He stands between heaven and earth, as it were, bringing the truth to bear upon the consciences of the lost sinners and struggling saints before him. The eternal destiny of his listeners is at stake, and his life will speak more eloquently than his oratory.
Does this not point to the major weakness of the modern ministry? Most of our pastors receive an academic training, which might give them a theoretical knowledge of the truth, but often fails to prepare them spiritually for the work of the ministry. They can talk about the Bible, but convey very little heartfelt appreciation for the truth. There is little real fear of God, love for Christ, or compassion for lost souls. The truth has failed to touch their own hearts, let alone the hearts of their listeners. What is needed urgently today is revival – an old-fashioned heaven-sent revival, a genuine outpouring of the Holy Spirit, that will illumine our minds and quicken our hearts. Then, and only then, will we truly understand the truth.


Last week I sent a letter to one of my U.S. Senators, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) highly critical of his recent action in signing a letter sent by a group of his colleagues in the Senate to the leadership of Iran. Here is Sen. Toomey’s reply:

Dear Robert,
Thank you for contacting me about negotiations with the Iranian government on its nuclear weapons program. I appreciate hearing from you.

The Iranian government is probably the most dangerous regime in the world. They pose a very serious threat to the U.S. and our allies. The Iranian regime has been killing Americans since 1979 and is a destabilizing force in the Middle East through its support of terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas. It has propped up hostile regimes – such as Syrian President Assad who has slaughtered hundreds of thousands of his own people – and has helped topple friendly governments that are critical to our nation’s counterterrorism efforts. Iran has a significant arsenal of long-range offensive missiles and an aggressive development program designed to extend their range and sophistication. Iranian leadership refers to America as “the Great Satan” and has called for the destruction of Israel, one of our closest allies. Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons would give it the means to do so.

I am very much in favor of a negotiated agreement that would prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. I am convinced, however, from public statements and administration leaks, that the Obama Administration has offered Iran a deal that would allow the Iranians to acquire nuclear weapons. Specifically, administration officials have confirmed that Iran could retain an industrial scale uranium enrichment capability. This capability can easily be converted from commercial use, to weaponized form. Such a dangerous agreement would be a huge setback for our own security and, ultimately, increase the likelihood of a nuclear arms race and military conflict in the Middle East. Given Iran’s continuing unconstrained missile capability and development program, a nuclear armed Iran would soon be a direct and grave threat to American homeland security. This is an unacceptable outcome.

It is for these reasons that I believe that three things should be done. First, Congress should pass a bill imposing more stringent economic sanctions on Iran. Second, any deal should forbid an Iranian uranium enrichment capability. Lastly, Congress should have a vote on any agreement signed.

As you have noted, I also signed an open letter, authored by Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), to the Iranian government with 46 of my colleagues on March 9, 2015. The letter makes two main points. First, it observes that for any agreement to be enduring, it should have the force of law, which necessitates a congressional vote. Second, it points out that Senators serve 6-year terms that are unlimited. The issues addressed in the Cotton letter are an extension of my long and active record of engagement in the effort to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The alternative to a bad deal is not war, but a better deal. I will continue to try to achieve an agreement that will actually prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Thank you again for your correspondence. While we may not agree on this issue, I value having your input and knowing your concerns. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future if I can be of assistance.

Pat Toomey
U.S. Senator, Pennsylvania

I deeply appreciate Sen. Toomey’s response – it was thoughtful and forthright, and he didn’t try to conceal the fact that he disagrees with one of his constituents about the matter. His assessment of the risk posed by Iran’s nuclear program is realistic, and he points out, correctly, that the alternative to a bad deal is not necessarily war but rather a better deal, and he assures us that he supports that goal.
Sen. Toomey says that three things should be done: “First, Congress should pass a bill imposing more stringent economic sanctions on Iran. Second, any deal should forbid an Iranian uranium enrichment capability. Lastly, Congress should have a vote on any agreement signed.” I would certainly agree with Sen. Toomey on points 2 and 3. It makes no sense to lift the sanctions unless the rest of the world can be convinced that Iran will not develop a nuclear bomb. Furthermore, it is perfectly in keeping with the Senate’s constitutional role of “advice and consent” to require Senate approval of any deal that is reached. But I don’t think that Congress should be imposing more sanctions while delicate negotiations are underway. Let the negotiators work without outside interference, and see what they can come up with.
It is also worth noting that Sen. Toomey doesn’t really address the issue of whether or not it was proper for the senators to send the letter. It was certainly a breach of decorum and I think showed poor judgment. Nevertheless, I think that Sen. Toomey’s response was satisfactory.


This is a copy of an open letter that I sent to Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) regarding the letter to the Iranian government that he signed.

Hon. Pat Toomey

Dear sir,
I cannot tell you how shocked and disappointed I am at the action taken by you and a number of your Senate colleagues in writing an open letter to the leaders of Iran. Your action, sir, is treasonous in principle if not in the letter of the law. You have communicated with a hostile foreign power in a deliberate attempt to undermine the attempts of our government to reach a negotiated settlement over our outstanding differences. You have embarrassed our government and made eventual war a much more likely possibility.
Partisanship, sir, is supposed to stop at the water’s edge. While it is true that the Constitution gives the President power “by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate” to make treaties, that does not give individual senators the right to undermine the President’s efforts to conduct negotiations. As John Jay pointed out in The Federalist no. 64, that in the negotiation of treaties, “perfect secrecy and immediate dispatch are sometimes requisite . . . The Convention have done well, therefore, in so disposing of the power of making treaties that although the President must, in forming them, act by the advice and consent of the Senate, yet he will be able to manage the business of intelligence in such manner as prudence may suggest.”
Moreover, your action in sending the letter was perfectly senseless. What exactly did you hope to accomplish by sending it? Consider the possibilities. If sanctions work, Iran will come to the negotiating table and discuss the matter. If they do not work, Iran will continue with its nuclear program, with the strong likelihood that they will eventually acquire the bomb. The only way to prevent will be war. Iran is now at the negotiating table, and yet that does not satisfy you. Is your preference for war? Are you willing to sacrifice the lives and treasure necessary to prevail in such a conflict? Are you willing to raise taxes to finance it?
But in some ways the broader implications of your action are even more disturbing. The foundations of American democracy are being eroded. Here both sides must take the blame. Whether by the President issuing executive orders or by congressional Republicans employing obstructionist tactics to advance their own agenda, political outcomes are being determined more by coercion than civilized discussion and debate. This, sir, is the stuff of fascism, not American democracy. Can our republican institutions long survive in such a climate?
I could have hoped for more from a senator who professes to be a conservative who respects our nation’s cherished traditions. I can only hope that the people will take alarm at the threat to their liberties and remove from office the politicians who will not respect the political process.



Mohammed, as we have seen, came on the scene claiming that he had received revelations from God. There is only one God, and the entire human race owes Him its allegiance. So far, so good.
Jews and Christians, however, already believed that there is only one God. So why should they embrace Islam?
Mohammed tried to answer this question in Sura 2 of the Koran. His answer, however, is not entirely clear. At points he seemed to be saying that he was a prophet, just like Moses and Jesus, and therefore Jews and Christians should accept his authority just as they had the other two. At points Mohammed seemed to be saying that his message was the same as that of Moses and Jesus, and so Jews and Christians should not object. But this is not entirely true, at least as far as Christianity is concerned, for Mohammed specifically rejects the idea that God could have a Son (Sura 2:116).
So why embrace Islam? At one point Mohammed said of the Bible, “None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten . . ,” but then went on to say, “But we substitute something better or similar . . .” (v. 106). But which is it? Similar or better? At points Mohammed seemed unsure of whether he was saying something different from Judaism and Christianity, and insisted that he was following the true religion of Abraham. “So if they [i.e., Jews and Christians] believe as ye believe, they are indeed on the right path” (v. 127).
So why embrace Islam? Speaking as a Christian I might phrase the question this way: what does Islam offer that Christianity does not have? And the answer is, nothing at all. Islam, in fact, lacks a great deal that Christianity has.
Most of the Koran centers around Mohammed himself and how his message was received. As far as the religion itself is concerned, it consists of a few relatively simple external duties: prayer, fasting, pilgrimage and charity. What is missing is any real understanding of the human predicament and what can be done to remedy it.
In the apostle Paul’s great exposition of the Christian gospel, Paul begins by declaring “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness
men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18, NKJV). Up to this point Mohammed would be in full agreement. The Koran, in fact, is full of denunciations of the wicked with promises of divine judgment. But Mohammed did not fully appreciate the reasons for god’s anger. What exactly constitute “ungodliness” and “unrighteousness”? They simply mean breaking God’s Law. Right?
In Romans chapter 7 Paul gives us a fascinating, and in some ways terrifying look into the human heart. He is speaking as someone who outwardly was certainly a moral, upright person. Raised as a Jew, trained as a rabbi, he certainly tried to keep the law. And to outward observers he certainly appeared to have succeeded. But what Paul came to realize is that inwardly it was an entirely different story. Intellectually he could see that the law was good – “For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man” (Rom. 7:22). “But,” he added, “I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (v. 23). In other words, he knew what was right, but too often he couldn’t actually do it. Tragically he concluded, “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin” (v. 14).
The “law is spiritual.” It does not just say, “You shall not commit adultery.”; “You shall not steal.” It goes on to say, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. . .” (Ex. 20:14-17). The law condemns not just the action, but the desire itself. And what Paul discovered when he tried to keep the law was that he was “carnal, sold under sin.” There was “another law,” a mysterious force at work deep within his psyche that prevented him from keeping the law. He was, in fact, a sinner by nature.
What this means is that, as human beings, we are all hopelessly guilty in the sight of God. “There is none righteous, no not one” (Rom. 3:10). And so Paul concludes by saying, “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (v. 20).
What hope is there, then, for mankind? The answer is contained in that most famous of all Bible verses, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” God cannot simply excuse or overlook sin – He would be less than just to do so and He would be tacitly condoning something that runs counter to His very nature. Sin must either be punished or atoned for in some way. And this God did by sending His own Son into the world to die on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. And in order for it to be a true atonement Christ had to be both truly man and truly God. Man, so that He could act as the representative of the human race; and God, so that His death would be of sufficient value to atone for the sins of all who come to Him in faith. That is why Christ was not just a human prophet; He was the God-man, the Savior of the world.
All of this, unfortunately, was utterly lost on Mohammed. He could see no need for a Savior because he could not see his own personal guilt as a lost sinner. And therein lies the difference between Christianity and Islam.