Being Closed-Minded

We live in a culture that promotes and emphasizes being “open-minded.”  Being “closed-minded,” or “narrow-minded,” is considered an ugly character trait.  Being “open-minded” is part of being a contributing member of society, as you are moving society forward, not backward.  “Progressive” is a happy term, while those stuck in the past are just old and stupid.

This is dangerous.  It is absolutely lethal.  Why?

Because sometimes being closed-minded is a good thing.

I’m reminded of that commercial for a brand of tequila.  I can’t remember the brand, and honestly, I don’t want to take the time to look it up.  But in the commercial, a man and his friends walk up to a bar and orders tequila.  The bartender asks, “Which tequila?”  The man responds, “It doesn’t matter, any tequila.”  The commercial takes a humorous turn as the man has this response (“It doesn’t matter, any ___) to different situations, such as haircuts, tattoos, etc.  The point of the commercial is to show that this specific brand of tequila is better, and it’s not worth going to some other, worse brand.

Now, don’t worry, I’m not advocating drunkenness.  However, the commercial brings up a valid point.  What if, in the spirit of being “open-minded,” we’ve come to the point where we don’t know what we believe anymore?  What if, instead of abiding by the quote, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for everything,” we’ve gotten to where we stand for everything and nothing has our attention or allegiance?  Have we missed the danger (much more dangerous than a bad tattoo) of not standing firm in truth?

Before I show why being closed-minded is sometimes good, let me acknowledge two things: One, there is a good amount of things and ideas which we need to be open-minded about; two, the attitude we carry when we are “closed-minded” is important.

What kinds of things ought we be open-minded about?  Open-minded meaning we’re open to change, we’re open to someone else having another opinion and accepting it as valid, we’re continuing to seek what’s “true,” and we really aren’t making judgments on the issue being considered.

Sports.  Ice cream flavors.  To some extent, our political views.  Business models.  In other words, areas in life in which opinions are the main issue, rather than truth.  Chocolate ice cream is not objectively better than strawberry ice cream.  But I prefer chocolate ice cream.  In sports, there is constant debate over “Who’s #1?”  It’s why we have playoffs.  It’s why 18-year old kids are about to play in a professional playoff system that will generate revenue for a bunch of different people, so that grown men and women can say, “My team’s #1!” 

Hold on, though.  Doesn’t this “playoff system” determine who’s #1?  Isn’t it settled that whoever wins the championship is “better” than another team?  Not necessarily.  Two cases to examine: 2007 Super Bowl, 2011 NCAA BCS Championship Game.

2007: The New England Patriots finish 18-1, the most wins in a single NFL season counting playoff wins, and they set records for offense.  The New York Giants finish 14-6 and sneak into the playoffs.  Who’s the better team?  According to the shiny trophy, the Giants.  If you watched that epic Super Bowl, you know the then-undefeated Patriots lost to the then-major/mega underdog New York Giants because Tom Brady’s Pro-Bowl offensive line completely collapsed, Eli Manning used his feet, and a third-string wide receiver named David Tyree made a ridiculous, once-in-a-lifetime catch that set up the Giants for the game-winning touchdown.  This is why, when the talking heads gathered the next morning, there was a serious conversation about who the best team was.  The Giants had won on the field, but the Patriots were by far more talented, had won more games, and had clearly lost on some crazy, fluke plays.

So while we can determine who wins a championship game, we cannot objectively prove who is the “best” team. 

2011: LSU at Alabama in the “Game of the Century.”  I was at that game, and if that’s the game of the century, I’d hate to see what the other games looked like.  LSU beat Alabama 9-6 in one of the ugliest games ever.  Some would say the defenses were just really good.  While that was part of it, it also helped that both teams had seemingly inept quarterbacks and kickers that couldn’t kick.  LSU went on to play in and win the SEC Championship game against Georgia, securing their spot in the national championship game.  Alabama won the rest of their games, but was stuck behind Oklahoma State for the coveted second spot in the title game.  Then, Oklahoma State lost to Iowa State, and Alabama somehow, someway, snuck their way into a national title game without even playing for their conference championship.  Alabama dominated LSU, 21-0, keeping LSU from getting into Alabama territory and spawning numerous jokes on social media.  But who was the “better” team?  On the night of the national championship game, it was Alabama.  But what if they played the next night?  Who would have won?

So, while Alabama, and every other team that wins a championship game, can and should rightfully claim to be champions, there will always be some argument as to who is the “best” team.

The same argument can be used for political systems, business models, and other areas in life driven by opinion and strategy rather than truth.  Because we all want different things out of the government, what one person says is good is another person’s rant to their coworker (that their coworker really doesn’t want to hear).  Now, these do have their limits.  And this is where we turn our attention next.

If I were to ask you to choose between a New York Strip prepared by the finest chef in the world and a McDonald’s burger prepared by a 15-year old with pimples, which would you choose (both are free to you)?  The New York Strip, right?  So why is it, when we find the right thing, the good thing, that which is excellent, do we feel like going back to McDonalds? While this question can be applied to our fight against sin, we’ll use it to show the baffling nature of not settling on absolute truth.

There are some things that are absolutely right, and some things that are absolutely wrong.  It would be foolish to not be closed-minded about these things.  Rape is wrong.  I hope that every single person reading this post agrees with me on this.  Rape is wrong.  It harms, devalues, and destroys lives, and it dishonors God.  It is a crime for a reason.  It is disgusting and wicked.  And hopefully, we are all closed-minded on this.  We are not seeking the truth anymore!  We are not open to another opinion being right or valid because it’s not!  If you disagree with this statement, something is terribly wrong.

That’s obviously an extreme example, but it establishes the existence of absolute truth and the need to be closed-minded about some issues.  Unfortunately, on some issues that are clearly right and wrong, we have proclaimed relativity.  Instead of standing up for truth, we’ve been silent.

Example: Pornography.  Pornography is wrong.  Period.  God’s Word says so.  The statistics say so.  The ruined lives say so.  It destroys relationships, marriages, friendships.  It harms the viewer, destroying the brain and the body.  It has no positive side effects.  It usually involves the trafficking of young women, forced prostitution, and extortion of women’s bodies (not that it doesn’t affect men at all, but by far, it harms women).  There is nothing good about pornography.  I long for the day where it is gone from our society. 

This is a “closed-minded” issue.  What does that mean?  It means that my mind is made up, not just about my relationship with this issue, but my mind is made up in regards to what is true about it for everyone.  If something is true, it is true because it is true, not because I say so.  It is not just true for me.  It is true for you, for you brother, for my friend, for the neighbor,  for everyone.  And yet, there seems to be a general lack of passion for ridding our society of this evil.  In order to stay “open-minded” and “not judge people,” we act like we don’t know it’s there.  We think it’s a personal issue because it’s done behind closed doors.  But what’s done behind closed doors seldom stays there.  I have seen this evil wreck lives and relationships.  We think, “Oh, well, he’s a guy, so it’s gonna happen.”  It might.  But that doesn’t mean it should.  We don’t need to debate whether or not this is wrong.  We need to act to rid our society of it, and stop playing around and taking Matt. 7:1 out of context.

I mentioned that pornography is wrong because God’s Word says so.  That’s probably a little more controversial than the issue of pornography.  This is another closed-minded issue for all Christians.  I’m not open-minded on whether or not the Bible is true.  Since I’m already rambling, I won’t go into an apologetic defense of the reliability of the Scriptures (though at some point, I might).  Suffice it to say that God’s Word speaks for itself in the experience of Christians, in the consistency from the original text to our English translations, from the work of the Spirit attesting its truth to us, and, in my mind, the most important fact: the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  If Jesus Christ is risen from the grave, He is God.  If He is God, He cannot lie.  Jesus Christ upheld the authority of the Scriptures and their divine inspiration.  If Jesus is risen from the grave, He is Savior.  If Jesus Christ is risen from the grave, Christianity is true.  And the good news is that Jesus is alive. 

Now, at last, we arrive at our destination: Christ Himself.  I am closed-minded about Christ.  While that doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with doubts and questions (those are well-documented on this site), it certainly means that I am banking my eternity on His salvation, and I am, by His grace, reorienting my entire life around His Lordship.  Why?  Because He is absolutely alive.  If Jesus is alive, He is not alive just for me, but He is really, truly, risen from the grave, and He commands your faith, worship and obedience. 

And it is foolish to not be closed-minded about what Francis Schaeffer called “true truth.”  If Jesus is the truth, why would I be open-minded about Him?  That’s the equivalent of a man telling his wife, “Yeah, I’m married to you, but I’m still looking around.”  You already have your wife! Why are you looking for one?  That’s like grabbing my keys and continuing to look for them, simply because who knows, these keys could be imaginary.  Being open-minded about something that is already absolutely decided is foolish!  If Jesus is Lord, we need not search any longer! 

I want to quote my seminary professor here, though, as I wrap up: “Good biblical doctrine and theology is NEVER an excuse for unChristlike behavior.”  We are under the command of Jesus as Christians.  We have acknowledged Him as Lord and trusted Him as Savior, and we belong to Him, and He commands us through Paul to “speak the truth in love.”  That doesn’t mean we aren’t firm!  That doesn’t mean we acknowledge other religions as valid.  What it means is that we don’t bash people because we know the truth.  What it means is that we respect other people as made in God’s image, regardless of how far they’ve fallen away from Him, for we all need Christ.

We do not load up our truth gun with apologetic arguments as ammo to knock people down, rather, we seek to unfold God’s truth to sinners that desperately need to hear it.  The Bible teaches that our fight is not against people, but against Satan and his lies (2 Cor. 10:5).  We don’t get into shouting matches with dead sinners—we bring them to Jesus, who gives life!  

So let us be closed-minded where we need to be closed-minded.  And let us change the connotation surrounding that word.  Let people proclaim, “Christians are closed-minded, but man they are gracious and loving in speaking what they believe.”  Let us be people that are not known for being “open-minded,” but known for speaking the truth in love, for boldly proclaiming Christ as Lord, the truth of God’s Word, in ways that exalt God and serve our fellow man.

Lord, may we speak the truth in love.  May we remember that we were dead in our sins before you came.  May we remember that the only reason we believe your truth is because you have called us to yourself.  May we show that same grace to every single person we meet.

God bless,
Neal E.

The Cross of Christ and Temptation

If a 17-year old throws a fit in the grocery store because mom won’t buy them candy in the checkout line, you usually don’t hear the mom saying, “Become a 17-year old!”  You never hear the mom tell her son or daughter, “Why can’t you just become a 17-year old?”  Instead, the line we’ve all been told and overheard since we’ve been on this earth is: “Act your age!”

There’s a great deal of logic in this statement.  After all, you don’t need to tell a 17-year old to become a 17-year old, for that would be redundant.  It would be pointless for someone to tell me, “Neal, you just need to be 23.  That’s what you need.”  I am 23.  What I need to know is how to ACT like it.  In other words, we need to be who we already are.

This applies to our spiritual lives as well.  If you are in Christ, you are in Christ by God’s grace, through faith.  You do not need to work any harder to become in Christ.  You are in Christ–you need to act like it!  We are in Christ–we need to act like it!

Becoming who we are requires fighting sin that remains in us after we become Christians.  We are saved when we trust Christ as Savior and Lord, but there is still sin and temptation left to fight as we learn to be like Christ.  And it is this fight that I will focus on for the month of November here on Philippians411.

Today starts a blog series that will run on each of the five Sundays in November.  This series will cover five weapons we use as Christians against temptation.  My hope and prayer is that we use these tools to grow in our Christlikeness.  I hope we are more obedient to Jesus Christ because of this series.  But first, a gospel reminder:

The gospel is the grounds for our obedience.  We live for God’s glory, advance His kingdom, obey His commands, and seek to live holy not in order to gain salvation, but because Jesus is our salvation and He is our Lord.  We don’t earn righteousness, we live out His righteousness!  In fact, Jesus Himself commands that after He becomes our God, the first thing we do is believe the gospel (Mk. 1:15).  If we are following Christ seeking to earn God’s love, we are in disobedience to the Lord, who commands us through the apostle Paul to work OUT our salvation, not work FOR it (Phil. 2:12).

So, with submission to the Lord Jesus, trust in His grace, and joy in His love, we move forward, with a God-given, gospel-driven desire to be like Jesus and fulfill this high calling to reflect the glory and holiness of our Creator.

The cross is our first and foremost weapon against temptation.  But in order to wield it properly, we must understand what happened at the cross.  There are three key things to be discussed here (though we could spend our lives exploring the depths of what God has done at the cross and still not understand it fully).

1) Forgiveness: This is what we think of most when we think of the cross, because it is such a crucial part of our deepest need–being reconciled to God.  Jesus has bought our forgiveness for us at the cross.  Believer, your forgiveness and mine is not dependent on how good our prayers sound, how faithful our church attendance, or how far we have progressed spiritually.  Our spiritual progress is an indicator of salvation, but our actual right standing before God, and thus the motivator for our progress, is the finished work of Jesus Christ.  We know that “in him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:7).  We do not just trust God to forgive us through Christ’s blood, we can (humbly) expect God to forgive us our sins because God would be unjust in punishing the believer who has trusted Christ as Savior and Lord.

2) Death:  Not just His death.  But our death–our death to sin and our lives now bound to Christ.  There exists no room in Scripture, or in the kingdom of God, for those who would trust Jesus to “save” them without trusting Him as King.  You can’t possibly be in the kingdom if you aren’t for the rule and reign of the king in your own life.  Paul writes in Romans 6:3-4, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”  At the cross, Jesus was purchasing our death to sin with His death for our sin.

3) Ransomed to belong to God: Staying in Romans, Paul writes one chapter over: “You also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.”  Notice the order laid out here: First, Christ dies for our sin and then we die to the law, trusting His righteousness, forgiveness, and Lordship, and in that, we know we belong to God, who is not dead.  All of this leads to bearing fruit for God.  When thinking about the order of salvation, we can overthink it, in questions like “Does repentance or faith come first?”  Honestsly, it doesn’t matter whether or not repentance or faith comes first, what’s important (eternally so) is that they both happen.  Don’t tell me Jesus is Lord if you aren’t trusting His salvation.  Don’t tell me you trust Him as Savior if He’s not Lord (because part of His work as Savior is to become Lord, to lead us out of sin and into holiness).  But we do need to emphasize that fruit for God and obedience to God comes AFTER salvation, because we now, through the cross, belong to God.

So now, how do we apply the cross?  We apply it by believing God’s promises and putting them into action.

If I am forgiven in Christ, why would I commit the very sin I’m forgiven of?  If Jesus has died for my sin, why would I go back to it?  It’s not being counted against me, so why go back to it?

If I’m dead to sin and alive to Christ (which is a reality and then a “reckoning” of this reality in our daily lives), then sin has no right to tell me what to do.  I am dead to it.  We use the phrase, “You’re dead to me” to express to someone we hate that they have no impact or meaning or significance in our lives anymore.  Instead of saying that to people, let’s say it to our sin.  We need to say that to our sin and not people.  If Jesus is Lord, and our hope is in Him for salvation, we have new spiritual life.  2 Corinthians 5:17 says that “anyone in Christ (is a) new creation!”  Paul understands the link between what Christ has done, our response of repentance and faith, and our new identity as a response to receiving salvation.  Let us understand it, as well.

Lastly, we are ransomed.  We are not our own.  Christ has bought us with His precious blood.  We owe Him our allegiance because of His cross, and we dare not listen to or go after another lover.  So when we are tempted, we remember that we’re forgiven, not under sin’s guilt or rule.  We remember that we have new life, that our hearts have changed because of grace, that we’re forgiven and following Jesus, and that we belong to our loving Lord.

May we never take the cross for granted, Lord Jesus.  May we never forget the price you paid for our sin.  May we be quick to repent, confessing our sin, submitting to your rule and trusting that you really are as gracious as you say you are.  May we use the cross as our boast before the Father, our defense before the enemy, and our weapon against our sinful flesh.  May we learn to love you more and more as we wait for the day where we sin no more, the day where sin and temptation die forever.  May you be glorified in all we do.

Next week, we’ll examine the Word of God and its role in fighting temptation.

God bless,
Neal E.