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Written by: C. W. Booth

Monday, June 02, 2008

Hedonists by Nature, but not by Rebirth

Having spent the past week studying the epistle of Jude, I once again came away from Scriptures humbled and surprised. Humbled by how much I did not previously comprehend. Surprised by the straight-forward message that God delivers, yet we humans seldom allow our hearts and minds to hear.

Jude is a warning against allowing evil men to infiltrate the local church and pretend to be believers. These evil men create false doctrines, which give rise to factions and divisions, and the men have just one motive. It is that one motive that I found so very interesting.

These evil men who pretend to be believers are actually just doing "what comes naturally," specifically, they obey their instincts to seek their own pleasures. Seeking one’s own pleasures is a natural instinct. It is an animal instinct. All unregenerate men are driven by their lust for pleasure, naturally. Their minds do not need to be engaged, and lacking the Holy Spirit, they have no ability to rise above this "natural state."

But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, "In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires." These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit. (Jude 1:17-19, NIV)

And so Peter also brands as evil these men who still act as "natural men."

But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed, suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you, (2 Peter 2:12-13, NASB)

In our natural state, when our spirits were still dead in our sins, we did pursue pleasure, instinctively, without reliance on our reasoning minds, for without the Holy Spirit we were unthinking robots with only one program running in our skulls: "seek pleasure, be a hedonist." In that regard, Blaise Pascal was correct about our old sinful nature, for it seeks its own pleasures and its own happiness by instinct. Not "by the Spirit," or even, "by intellect," but by instinct.

It is not a good thing to be "natural," or to "obey our instincts," or to be "controlled by the old nature." This "natural state" of man is opposed to God, for it seeks its own desires and welfare ahead of any other person, and even ahead of God’s interests. Such "natural men" enter the communion service "caring for themselves," and they do this "without fear" before God or others of their self-serving philosophy of life.

These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; (Jude 1:12, NASB)

These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage. (Jude 1:16, NASB)

These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. (Jude 1:19, NASB)

Pursuing one’s own pleasures instinctively is to reject one’s regeneration of the spirit, renewal of the mind, and rebirth of heart. As new creations, with revitalized living spirits under the control of the Holy Spirit, our impulses to live by our natural instincts have been utterly replaced with the compulsion to live by Christ’s love. We are no longer "natural."

For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh. (2 Corinthians 5:13-16a)

May we no longer recognize our own selves according to the flesh (the natural man) that we used to be. We are new, entirely new, and have put to death the natural man with his desires, lusts, and self-serving philosophies. We are hedonists no more!!!!


[Note: the above essay was originally posted as a blog entry which I wrote and put online June 2, 2008. As such, it was subject to public commentary as is customary with blogging. As a practical matter, I normally delete the comments entered on the blog site when building this essay archive. If you wish to read the comments posted by others about the essays, you are invited to go online, read them, or post your own comments.

However, on a few occasions the comments and perhaps my own responses to the comments are so core to understanding the essay, or the implications of the essay, that I have chosen to incorporate them, as I have done below.]

Comments to the June 2, 2008 post entitled: Hedonists by Nature, but Not by Rebirth

Begin Comment 1 from Commenter One:

Those of us born again as adults truly understand this!!!  Good article.

Posted 6/8/2008 4:16 PM

End Comment 1

Booth’s Response to Commenter One

Thanks for the observation!

It is a common fallacy of hedonistic philosophy that "God made us this way," and so it  must be good.  But any reasonable study of the fall and the curse in Genesis will bring  the student to the understanding that sons of Adam are born into sin and born into the  curse.  What we call "natural" is really not originally natural, as when we were created,  but we are now born naturally-cursed.

For example, animals stalk each other, kill, and eat.  This is not their created state, but it  is their present naturally-cursed state.  Animals were created as peaceful vegetarians, all  of them.  And one day, they will return to their created state (during the Millennial rule of  Christ); lions will eat grass like oxen.  But at present, they are born naturally-cursed.   They will kill, and even enjoy doing so.  But this is death at work, the enemy, and it is not  "good."  Death and the curse were not part of the original creation, for the original  creation was entirely good.

And so it is with man.  He is currently born naturally-cursed.  That was not his created  state, but it is his present state.  God did NOT create him this way.

When hedonists state, "God made us to desire pleasure more than desiring any other  being or any other thing, so it must be good, therefore, we ought to pursue pleasure,"  they are biblically uniformed.  God did not make us to seek our own pleasure, He made  us to seek to please Him, to work for Him, to serve Him, and to love Him.

When man first lusted for the fruit of that tree, he did seek his own pleasure, which  turned out to be a very bad thing.  As a result of this sin God invoked the unnatural,  unearthly, state called "death."  Death is part of the curse.  Now, we are born, live, raise  children, and die as naturally-cursed creatures.

Until we are regenerated.  When we are born again, God makes our spirits to be alive,  our minds to be regenerated, our hearts to be renewed, and we are no longer naturally- cursed.  Yes, our bodies will die, but our spirits now commune with God’s Spirit and our  spirits will live eternally with God.  All things about us have become new.  The old man,  the old naturally-cursed nature, is dead.  We are no longer slaves to sin or to pleasure.

The pursuit of love replaces the pursuit of pleasure as our ordinary state.  Now, for the  first time, the love of Christ controls us, not the love of pleasure.  We have become more  like God’s Son.  And God’s Son did not please Himself in what He did, but He died to  please His Father and to gain the joy of salvation for us.

Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. For even  Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, "The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on Me." (Romans 15:2-3)

Posted 6/8/2008 5:33 PM

End of Booth’s Response




Friday, June 20, 2008

To Tell the Truth

In today’s paper I saw a picture of a Bears Stearns executive being arrested for misleading investors. Our society relishes punishing those who intentionally tell lies which cause others to be swindled out of their money.

Yet, our society does not feel the same way about those who are dishonest about religion. And, when someone misleads another about God, the real losses can be eternal and of far more value than mere money, but nobody seems to care.  Is not a wasted life worth more than a nest neg?  Is not a wasted soul worth vastly more than that?

For well over a year my wife and I had been meeting with some Jehovah’s Witnesses, in part to learn what they actually teach, in part to tell them what we believe about Christ. Recently we insisted on accuracy in two areas (that Thomas called Jesus ‘the God’ in John 20:28 -- ‘ho theos’ in the Greek -- and that we be permitted to call God "Lord" if we want while meeting in our own home instead of calling Him ‘Jehovah’ -- ‘Jehovah’ is actually an English word that was derived from a translator’s error and was not used until after the 1500’s A.D.) they decided that since we never made a profession of belief in their doctrines that they would stop meeting with us. This made me very sad, for I had come to genuinely like the young man and his wife who first made contact with us, and I sincerely wanted to see them turn to Christ. Yet, as we thought over the past year, my wife and I decided to recap a very few of the less than forthright assertions that we had heard made in the name of their god:

the assertion: "We have no ‘hidden doctrines’ or ‘secret knowledge,’ we will tell you anything you want to know and show you whatever literature you want to see"
the truth: "Oh no, we cannot let you see that computer DVD library of Watchtower publications, it is for believing Witnesses only"

the assertion: "We don’t want to convert you to be a Jehovah’s Witness, we just want to study the Bible with you"
the truth: "We cannot continue to meet with anyone who professes Jesus as equal with Jehovah"

the assertion: "Jehovah’s Witnesses are not polytheists, we just believe that there are many mighty gods and one almighty God who rules over the other gods"
the truth: a belief in many mighty gods and one chief God is polytheism

the assertion: "Jehovah’s Witnesses prefer to be called henotheists, not polytheists"
the truth: henotheism is polytheism
the assertion: "I never said that Jehovah’s Witnesses are henotheists"

Yet, if anyone thinks that these few Jehovah’s Witnesses are alone in not being utterly scrupulous in their speech with regard to religion and theology, I would suggest otherwise. My own son-in-law demanded that my wife and I convert to Christian Hedonism (even before he married my daughter) under threat that he and my daughter would never talk with us again about the things of Christ. When I asked him to show me where Scripture demands we convert a second time to hedonism (our first conversion was from unbeliever to believer when we became born again in Christ), he replied, "Psalm 37:4." I asked if he would analyze that passage for me and send me his written exegesis so that I might see how it is that this is a command to convert to Christian Hedonism, he replied, "I promise I will do that." Some eight years later I am still waiting for that promised analysis. He lied about providing an exegesis of Psalm 37:4 (he is not the first), though I should add that he was truthful when he said they would never talk with us again about Christ.

Conmen have repeatedly said over the ages, "We could not get away with our deceptions if the public were not so greedy, they believe the lie out of selfish gain." So it is with religion as well. People believe the strangest lies and most unusual doctrines because it appeals to their basest greed. They forget that it is the truth that sets them free. Just like greediness, lies and deception enslave us back toward sin.

Regardless of your religion or doctrinal background, make every effort to love Christ enough to speak only truth, and in so doing to display your love for Christ and for your neighbors. Lies kill and enslave. Truth is life and freedom.

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. (2 Peter 2:1-3)

So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (John 8:31-32)





Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Joy and Strength (A Reflection on Nehemiah 8:10)

Wife: "What does the phrase ‘the joy of the Lord is my strength’ actually mean?"

Me: "I don’t really know. I never studied the passage."

Wife: "Then why don’t you go and study it?"

At present, in humility, I study. Here is what I have found to date.

Most of the time, in fact, the great majority of the time, Scripture informs that the Lord is our strength (e.g. Exodus 15:2, Psalm 28:7, Psalm 118:14). A few times it even says that His Word is our strength (2 Thessalonians 2:17, Psalm 119:27-28). Similarly, a few times the Holy Spirit is called our strength (Isaiah 11:2, Ephesians 3:16) Admittedly it is difficult to see how we should make a distinction between God, His Word, and the Holy Spirit, all of which are our strength, but the Word states it this way, so it is repeated here.

There is also a passage where God is quoted as He talked with His rebellious chosen people, "’In repentance and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength.’ But you were not willing" (Isaiah 30:15b). Repent to be saved, but be quiet and have trust in God to give you back your strength, assuming you are willing. Surely this is a principle worth remembering. However, it still does not answer my wife’s original question.

Only once in all the Bible is it stated, "The joy of the Lord is your strength." Who said this? Why did he say it? To whom? What was the circumstance? Is this a general principle, or a specific instruction for a special situation?

In 586 B.C. the Babylonians completed their conquest of Jerusalem, leading the people of God into exile. By 538 B.C. the Persians conquered Babylon, and the Jews were now subject to them. Yet, the Persians had sympathy for the Jews and allowed 42,360 of them to return to Jerusalem to begin to rebuild their temple in 536 B.C. Technically, by 516 B.C. the Jewish exile ended. However, men like Nehemiah were still in service to the Medo-Persian King as late as 446 B.C. Nehemiah won permission to rebuild Jerusalem, and two years later the effort was under way.

During this rebuilding project, the remnant of Israel, this downtrodden and devastated band, ask to have the Law read to them (Nehemiah 8:1). Having been removed from actual temple worship for generations, and not having heard God’s Word regarding the nature of true holiness, all the people reacted with grief, mourning, tears, and repentant sorrow for their many sins.

Sensing the people had truly repented, Ezra the priest, and Nehemiah the prophet, initiated a week of celebration and feasting to commemorate the restoration of the practice of the Law in Israel. To encourage the people, to let them know that God had forgiven them, they repeatedly told the people to stop crying and cheer up. They told the people to celebrate their post-repentance forgiveness and salvation.

Then Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, "This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep." For all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, "Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength." So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, "Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved." All the people went away to eat, to drink, to send portions and to celebrate a great festival, because they understood the words which had been made known to them. (Nehemiah 8:9-12)

That little phrase which so many key in on is actually part of a larger principle. The principle is: after you have repented, mourn over the sins you have confessed no more, and the joy you experience from repentance will give you the strength you need to overcome your godly sorrow and grief.

This strength to overcome sorrow is derived from the joy God brings out of repentance. And it is strength to overcome holy grief and mourning birthed in the recognition we were sinners. Let the sorrow go for God has forgiven us.

There will always be some who prefer to pervert the use of this passage to mean "if you express joy in the Lord you will gain strength." That is an improper and unlawful use of the Word (1 Timothy 1:8) and this passage.

Yet, Nehemiah 8:9-12 does have a glorious lesson! Assuming we let it teach us. After you have repented cease mourning over the sins you have confessed, for the joy you experience from repentance will give you the strength you need to overcome your godly sorrow and grief. Amen!


[Note: the above essay was originally posted as a blog entry which I wrote and put online June 25, 2008. As such, it was subject to public commentary as is customary with blogging. As a practical matter, I normally delete the comments entered on the blog site when building this essay archive. If you wish to read the comments posted by others about the essays, you are invited to go online, read them, or post your own comments.

However, on a few occasions the comments and perhaps my own responses to the comments are so core to understanding the essay, or the implications of the essay, that I have chosen to incorporate them, as I have done below.]

Comments to the June 25, 2008 post entitled: Joy and Strength (A Reflection on Nehemiah 8:10)

Begin Comment 1 from Commenter One:

Thankyou so much for your thoughts on this passage of Scripture. For years I have studied and thought about this verse, feeling there was more to it than what I had been taught. Your explanation is very insightful. I especially admire your knowledge of Bible history which, I think, if more of us understood it we would also understand portions of Scripture like this so much better. My interpretation of the verse came after reading Zephaniah 3:17..."The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty: he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing." Looking back on the beginning of my conversion, I will never forget my awful longing for God but being unable to find Him because of the burden of sin that was unconfessed. When I learned of Jesus and found repentance, I will never get over the peace of God's acceptance. He truly joyed over me through His Son, "Behold, this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." There I rest in His love, there He joys over me with singing. So this is where I came to understand this passage better...it is not so much (as I have always been taught) my joy in the Lord that is my strength, but rather, His joy over me that is my strength. So I commend you on your thinking. May God bless you as you study and learn of Him more deeply.

Posted 6/26/2008 8:05 AM

End Comment 1

Booth’s Response to Commenter One

Thank you so much for sharing Zephaniah 3:17, what a wonderful passage.  Amazing, isn't it, that God's Word is so consistent passage to passage!  Even more amazing that God should do so much to save us!

Thank you for sharing how you felt when you were saved.  Like you, after my repentance at the age of 14, I was awash with emotions, one of which was joy.  That the God who created the universe would bother to take hold of a kid like me was, and is, just astonishing.  Now, 36 years later, it seems no less astonishing.

Posted 6/26/2008 8:38 AM

End of Booth’s Response to Commenter One


Begin Comment from Commenter Two:

Well, I'm not sure  I agree with your conclusion, but I don't have a conclusion myself. After reading the passage over a few times and still not being sure, I decided to check some commentaries.  Out of 4 O.T. commentaries,only one even talks about it and he unfortunately takes the view we get strength as we rejoice in the Lord.  I suppose there is truth to that, but I like you don't see that in this passage.  Soooo all that to say you could be right, but I just don't see it clearly.  A side comment--I had no idea it was only stated once in Scripture and I never would have guessed it was in Nehemiah.  I lean a little bit in the direction of the first comment--that it's His joy over me that gives me strength.

Posted 6/26/2008 3:57 PM

End of Comment by Commenter Two


Booth’s Response to Commenter Two

I love your honesty!!!!

Don't worry, we can continue to talk even if we disagree about what "the joy of the Lord is your strength" means.  As you persist in studying this passage, ask these two over-riding questionw:  1) how did Nehemiah want the remnant of Israel to use this strength in their specific situation?  2) What did Nehemiah want his readers to do with this story after the fact? 

I would answer number 1 by referring to the context and the multiple times Ezra and Nehemiah had to tell the people, "please stop crying over your sins."  Then, immediately after the people stopped crying, they went out and had a week long religious festival (the Feast of Booths / Tablernacles to be specific), followed by a somber worship service.  They did NOT use "the joy of the Lord" to keep persevering in their rebuilding work.

I would answer number 2 as I did in the article: Nehemiah wanted us to see this as a principle, that the joy of repentance can be used to overcome our godly grief. 

Let me know what you come up with as you study this out.  Also, if anyone else has any good ideas based on exegesis (and not pop song lyrics), I would love to hear your opinion as well.

Posted 6/27/2008 10:30 AM

End of Booth’s Response to Commenter Two


Booth’s Second Response to Commenter Two

Having reflected more on the original article, I would offer two additional points to consider when trying to understand the target phrase:

1) "Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."  Look carefully at the main directive, "Do not be grieved..."  Why should you not be grieved?  "Because (for) the joy of the Lord is your strength."  So the joy of the Lord is given "because" you are to stop grieving.  Not the other way around.  So what strength is being offered?  Strength to obey the main directive: stop grieving.  It is important to pay attention to words like "for" and "because."

2) Look at where in the speeches the expression is actually used. "Do not mourn or weep" (verse 9), "Do not be grieved because the joy of the Lord is your strength" (verse 10), "the Levites calmed all the people saying...'do not be grieved'" (verse 11).  Not only is the "joy of the Lord is your strength" tied to "stop grieving" by the word "because" ("for"), but it is also in the middle of three commands to "stop grieving."  Not before,  not after, but in the middle.  "The joy of the Lord is your strength" is inextricably tied to "stop grieving," and any explanation of the phrase must account for the "because" and for its being surrounded by the commands to "stop grieving." 

I have not yet found a meaning more consistent with the above and with all other Scripture than: "After you have repented, cease mourning over the sins you have confessed, for the joy you experience from repentance will give you the strength you need to overcome your godly sorrow and grief."

May God's give you this strength.  

Posted 6/27/2008 4:54 PM

End of Booth’s Second Response to Commenter Two


Commenter Two Writes Back

o.k.  I've been back to the passage and read it in light of your questions and read it and read it.  It's a little intimidating to discuss with you  here but I am going to do it, partially in hopes that someone else will give the passage some study and share their comments as well.  There is no doubt that one of the reasons to stop grieving is because the joy of the Lord is their strength.  That's very clear with the word "for".  I see another reason being simply because the day is holy to the Lord.  Three times it's stated "This day is holy to the Lord, do not moun or weep."  (or be grieved).  I also agree the strength is not for working on the wall, but it is strength to not be grieved.  Where I am not agreeing is that the joy of the Lord is the same as "the joy you experience from repentance" (your words).  My main reasoning for that is if they were experiencing joy from repentance they would already have stopped their godly sorrow and grief.  From this passage I can see what the joy of the Lord is for, but not exactly what  it is. 

Posted 6/29/2008 6:40 PM

End of Commenter Two’s Response

Booth’s Next Response to Commenter Two

Hi!  OK, that is deep.  I will go back and look at it again from that perspective. 

P.S.  Me, intimidating???  You have my full attention and respect and when you write. 

End of Booth’s Response to Commenter Two

Commenter Three

The joy of the lord is the joy on the lord's grace. The passage says the joy will be our shelter or protection (org HEB). The people are then told (8:13-18) to celebrate the feast of booths (Lev 23), which is a celebration of God's goodness, mercy and provision for Israel. Then in chapter 9 Ezra reviews all of Israels History highlighting God's grace and provision. The joy of who God is, forgiving and gracious (see esp 9:17) gives the strength, the shelter from the grief caused by the weight of seeing our sin, as the people did in 8:9. The measure of our standing with God is not the depth of our sin, but the depth of His mercy. As the Hymn writer said, Oh the bliss of this thought that my sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more...

Posted 10/5/2008 6:13 PM

End of Commenter Three’s Comment



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