Month: August 2016

Who actually won in the Federal Election?

With the 45th Parliament to sit for the first time next week, it’s a good time to ask the question – who actually won in the 2016 Australian Federal election?

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Now you might be thinking “Hang on, we already know the answer” – even though it took a while to get a clear result. But I’m not talking about who formed government – that’s a settled fact and most people would know the answer to that question. I’m asking who actually won.

The reason this is a question worth asking is because Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberal Party certainly didn’t win the election. They suffered a significant loss of seats and have barely retained majority government by the thinnest of margins. After the botched calling of a double dissolution and rewriting the electoral rules for the Senate, the Upper House is now potentially more difficult for the government to get legislation passed through than it was prior to the election.

SD and Australia's PM Malcolm Turnbull pose for a photo together
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It’s not nice to call someone a loser, nor particularly respectful when they’re the Prime Minister, but it’s hard not to see Turnbull as a political one at this point.

But the Opposition Labor Party certainly didn’t win either. Despite electoral gains, they didn’t “win” by any stretch of the imagination. The Australian public was certainly not prepared to endorse Bill Shorten and his colleagues to run the country.

Shorten X                                                                                      [3]

The Greens didn’t win, failing to gain in any of the seats they supposedly stood a chance to take and losing one of their Senate spots.

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Social conservatives didn’t win – as they currently still have a very non-conservative leader running the government. Religious conservatives didn’t win, as no specifically Christian parties gained any seats in the election and Family First’s Bob Day is the only senator of that general persuasion who retained his seat.

The pro-life cause didn’t win, as the most active champion of the rights of unborn children in the Australian Senate, John Madigan (formerly of the DLP) was not re-elected.

The only real winners at this election were Nick Xenophon; Pauline Hanson; their respective parties; and the people who were disenchanted enough with the major parties to vote for them.

2009_07_24_Nick_Xenophon_speaking_cropped                                                [5]

 

Xenophon and his team have the potential to play a positive role in Australian political life, by being a centrist force that holds the major parties to account. Their antipathy towards gambling and support for state and consumer rights are certainly welcome. However, Xenophon’s support for same-sex marriage is a serious blight on his policy program from a conservative perspective. And while his concerns about Scientology and the Catholic Church are partially grounded, one has to wonder whether his preparedness to crusade against particular religious groups makes him a potential danger to freedom of religion in Australia.

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Pauline Hanson and One Nation’s resurgence is a terrible outcome for everyone bar her team and those who gave their first preference votes to them. The fear-driven, reactionary, political populism One Nation represents is not a positive force in our public life. While Senator Hanson may make federal politics more colourful, it’s a clashy, unpleasant sort of colour we’re talking about. Bad memories and alarm have already been triggered by her re-election.

So while I think the election outcome in the House of Representatives was about the best we could have hoped for in a dismal situation (i.e. a Coalition government with the slimmest of majorities), the overall make-up of Parliament is certainly not great. The election wasn’t a win for Australia.

Without wanting to indulge my inner pessimist too much – there does not appear to be much hope of a positive way forward in Federal politics. With the numbers as they stand, the elimination of Turnbull as leader, by conservative forces within the Coalition, would probably hand the ALP government one way or another. So too would a breakaway of conservative MPs like Cory Bernardi, George Christiansen and possibly old hands like Eric Abetz and Kevin Andrews.

A Labor government would be disastrous for Australia at this point in time – if the current example of the People’s Socialist Republic of Victoria under Comrade Daniel Andrews is anything to go by. Even the more moderate and largely ineffectual Labor government in Queensland is beginning to show concerning signs regarding its ideological inclinations.

Thus, a heavily restrained Coalition government under Turnbull is unfortunately the least disastrous political option for the time being. Hopefully the government’s wafer-thin margin in the House and severe disadvantage in the Senate will force it to advance policies that are in the interests of all Australians. And hopefully when it does try to enact unprofitable or ill-thought-out legislation, the crossbench will hold the government to account and force it to review and negotiate.

Because when the two major parties are very poor choices and the minor players don’t offer a much better alternative – having the least-bad side of politics govern on a very short leash may actually be the only way to get some small wins out of a minefield of potential losses.

[1] Sam Ilić Parliament House Canberra (CC BY-NC 2.0) flickr
[2]  DoD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Clydell Kinchen Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australia, visiting the Pentagon on 18 January 2016.CC BY 2.0
[3] Peter Campbell “Bill Shorten MP” CC BY-SA 3.0
[4] Australian Greens “Richard Di Natale” CC BY 2.5 wikimedia
[5]  Cirt Nick Xenophon CC BY 2.0 wikimedia
[6] Velovotee Hanson at a book launch in 2007 CC BY-SA 2.0 wikimedia

 

Against Extremist Violence at home

Thousands of people have died in Australia in the past 12 months as a result of extremist violence. They were ruthlessly slaughtered because of an insidious ideology that encourages its followers to see themselves as more human than their victims. Like so many extremists around the world and throughout history, the malicious, militant crusaders responsible for these deaths are prepared to redefine some sections of society as “subhuman”; blame them for perceived problems they apparently cause; and promote their destruction as an acceptable part of advancing their ideological cause and achieving their ultimate goals.

While many western nations retain their smug sense of moral superiority for not stooping to the depraved lows of the Nazi regime – while waging wars against the religiously fanatical enemies of humanity and exterminators of vulnerable minorities and dissident voices in the Middle East – they ignore the bloody barbarism being carried on in secret at home.

The killing of defenseless, unborn children by extreme feminists, sexual revolutionaries and Doctors-without-Ethics should disturb and outrage us in much the same way that the dehumanising and extermination of Jews, Romani, homosexuals in the Third Reich and the same treatment of ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq and Syria has for so many.

An ideology that knowingly promotes the destruction of innocent human life is evil and must be rejected outright.
An ideology that elevates the rights and personhood of some members of the human race to such heights and denigrates those of others to such lows that it entitles and empowers the former group to exercise godlike powers of life and death over the latter group is poisonous.

But instead of repudiating such a deadly philosophy and set of values, the way we have with fascism and militant Islam, the fools of the West have embraced the selfish, hyper-individualistic, post-Enlightenment package that expresses itself in the extreme forms of feminism and sexual revolutionism that create ludicrous abstractions to justify the murder of innocent human beings.

Abortion as an expression of unfettered individualism; or the supposedly indisputable exercise of supreme, autonomous female rights; or the glory of the revolution that announced a new era of sex-free-of-biological-and social-consequences – is utterly reprehensible. All of these are hideous mutations, of the legitimate rights and freedoms of some, into tyrannical monstrosities that attack and devour a more fundamental right of others.

The freedom to choose the course of your life, make decisions about your health, body and sexual relationships are all contingent on the right of members of the human race to be recognised as persons of value whose lives must be afforded the full protection of the law. If you support the stripping of that fundamental right from others simply to advance the degree to which some of us may enjoy the secondary, contingent right – you are supporting a great evil.

Have all the freedom you want; Exercise all the rights you want; Use your body however you want (as far as the law is concerned) – to the extent that your enjoyment of these things does not become a basis for the destruction of human life. Supporting the killing of human babies so that you can live out your dream of sexual, self-actualisation or so ethically-challenged doctors can apply for what they’ve mistakenly thought was a job vacancy for divine arbitrator over life and death – is simply wrong.

Contemporary attitudes to abortion contravene the theological conviction that all humans are created in the image of God and thus have intrinsic dignity, value and essential equality of personhood. It defies the truism that “All men are created equal” that has stood behind so much positive change in society in the past few centuries. It invalidates the West’s commitment to humanism, by loosening the meaning of what it means to be authentically human with all the associated rights. It is gangrenous to the Western principles of justice – as no legal system can retain its integrity while it affirms the unjustified deprivation of such a fundamental right from some subjects or citizens.

Our societies look back with deep regret on the days when they regarded the Black Man as a subhuman, n****r, more suited to slavery than citizenship; or as uncivilised natives – somewhere between real people and livestock when it came to the census. But while the N-word is heard less often than the F-word in 21st century society due to its highly offensive nature – it’s fine to speak of unborn human beings as a “lump of cells” with relative impunity.
Proponents of abortion may as well use a phrase like “pigger” (from “pink” and “n****r”) – because they are using words to dehumanise babies in much the same way that whites justified their mistreatment of black people by using dehumanising terms to describe them (plus, “pigger” sounds like “pig” which fits the narrative that they’re not talking about a real human here).

Our societies look back on the regimes of the Ottoman Turks, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot with horror over their utter disregard for human rights in their pursuit of order and reform as they created their ‘ideal societies.’ But for all the trumpeting of human rights and shouting “never again” to such atrocities – we tolerate and even embrace ideological premises that produce the same kind of evil. Real human beings are being exterminated in a misguided quest to “get rid of the problem” and make society better.

Whether or not future societies look back on our acquiescence to evil with the same contempt we often hold for previous generations is of secondary concern. Far more important is that we stop this evil as soon as possible and expose it for the hideous  package of murder and lies that it is. Because even if future generations are forgiving towards our societal tolerance and promotion of evil – the Almighty God will not forgive Australia and other nations for this evil unless we acknowledge it for what it is, ensure it ceases and plead for His mercy. Because the Lord-who-gives-Life’s judgement of this violent extremism will be a thousand times worse than that of historians.

Further More Sanctified (cont.)

In part 1, “Never More Justified” we saw that we are never more justified as a Christian than when we first believed. Never more or less right with God; Never more worthy of our justification; and God is never more pleased with us (in the fundamental sense of us being His children through adoption in Christ). In part 2a “Further More Sanctified” we saw three ways in which greater sanctification brings about positive developments in our Christian life. Namely, through the process of sanctification we can grow more like Christ; better glorify God; and better enjoy God.

We continue this look at being “Further More Sanctified” with three more features of growth in holiness and Christlike, Christian maturity.

#4 We can gain greater victory over sin the more we are sanctified 

Being justified means our relationship to sin is changed forever. Our spiritual identity is no longer defined by our rebellion against God. Our status is no longer determined by how badly we’ve dishonoured God and gone against His ways. There is a sense in which we are no longer sinners. And yet there is a sense in which we still are.

Tragically, justified Christians still sin. We still think, speak and act in ways that do not honour God’s authority and character. We still stumble and take our personal satisfaction into our own hands and take short-cuts to short-lived gratification. We still exhibit signs of self-reliance, whereby we try to look good in front of others (and perhaps even in front of God!) by how well we can perform certain kinds of tasks and behaviours.

That’s why sanctification is important. Because every justified Christian is called not to simply rest in their righteous status and be indifferent to whether or not we dishonour God through sin. We’re each called to go to war with sin. To fight dishonorable thoughts and attitudes. To resist temptation. To put our sinful passions to death.

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The war against sin is one that will last the duration of our lives – but it is one that God has ordained to be won progressively battle by battle, rather than some kind of immediate, total annihilation victory via weapons of mass destruction. The good news is that each victory in our battles against sin is a real gain, where the sin that remains in us becomes less potent than it was before and our capacity to live holy lives in accordance with God’s will increases.

We need to value sanctification because we can be slowly and steadily conquering sin by the grace of God, the power of Christ and the with the help of the Spirit.

#5 We can be of greater use to God and greater benefit to others the more we are sanctified 

We already noted in the last post how being progressively sanctified enables us to increasingly bring glory to God and enjoy what we have in Him. But as we are made more like Christ and increasingly live out our justified status as God’s children, we can also be fitter vessels for God’s use in advancing His Kingdom and serving others.

This is probably seen most clearly in the way Paul talked about people’s suitability for certain kinds of ministry. In 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, he gives some lists of the qualities that Christians need to exhibit if they’re going to be serving God’s people in particular ways.

Example: “For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.” (Titus 1:7-8)

Both the positive and negative characteristics in these verses are a test of whether the candidate for pastoral ministry and church leadership has been sufficiently sanctified in their character to faithfully communicate and demonstrate what the gospel of Jesus is all about. A man who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined in their conduct demonstrates that the gospel has really been applied to their heart by the Holy Spirit and transformation of character is taking place. But a man who is unable to restrain himself when it comes to prideful opinion, temper, alcohol, physical force or material goods needs to let Jesus do more work in his heart before he can be used by Jesus as He works in the hearts of others.

The more your character has been sanctified, the more your lifestyle will adorn the gospel and commend it to others – rather than bringing it into disrepute. The more sanctified you are, the more others can learn from you as they seek to live lives that honour God and proclaim the gospel themselves.

#6 We can be better prepared for heaven the more we are sanctified 

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Finally, sanctification is vital in the way it prepares us for eternity. Justification gains us a place in heaven and in the new creation. But sanctification readies our soul for eternity in a special way. When we die we will be with Christ and when we experience the resurrection of our bodies, we will be perfect (more on that next time!) and more Christlike than we could ever be in this life. But the whole of the Christian’s life is the process of becoming more and more like Christ and more and more like what we’ll be when we see Him (see 1 John 3:2-3).

Becoming like Jesus; seeking God’s glory in all that we do; gaining greater enjoyment of God; putting to death our sinful and worldly desires; and seeking the advancement of God’s Kingdom by pursuing the kind of holy character that reflects the gospel and can be used in God’s service,  all point to the end goal of our lives.

Growth in sanctification loudly declares that the entirety of our present identity and our aims in life is centred on who we will be and what we will do for eternity. Our eternal destiny is to glorify God as perfected reflectors of Christ, while enjoying the fullness of God and his everlasting Kingdom.

Each phase of sanctification is the Holy Spirit pulling back the curtain a little more to show us and the world what kind of person we’ll be when God is finished with us and completes His plan of redemption. Each decision to actively seek God’s glory in this life is a testimony to our highest purpose in the next. Each time we say “no!” to sin and resist temptation points us and others to the sinless perfection we’ll enjoy in God’s presence and the greater reward He offers to us for seeking His Kingdom and righteousness.

As we wax brighter and brighter in holiness, like the moon progressing through its phases, we grow in joyful anticipation of the day when we most fully reflect Christ – when His image in us is never again obscured by the shadow of sin and worldliness.

 

[1] JimmyMac210 – just returned home from hospital “heaven” (CC BY-NC 2.0) flickr

Further More Sanctified

In part 1, “Never More Justified” we saw that we are never more justified as a Christian than when we first believed. Never more or less right with God; Never more worthy of our justification; and God is never more pleased with us (in the fundamental sense of us being His children through adoption in Christ).

But there is something about us as Christians that begins at our conversion and progressively develops throughout our lives on earth. Sanctification  is the term usually used to describe the changes in our hearts, minds and lives as Christians that see us grow in holy living. In simple terms we might describe being sanctified as having our lives increasingly come to reflect and resemble  the truth of who God has declared us to be in Christ through justification. Or simpler still, being sanctified is the process of the Holy Spirit conforming us to the image of the Son: making us more and more like Jesus in our character and behaviour.

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Sanctification is progressively reflecting the Son more fully [1]

 

 

Sanctification is not about “staying in” God’s family by works after getting in by grace through faith (Galatians 3 condemns this thinking quite strongly!). It does require effort on our part, but is ultimately dependent on the work of the Spirit to succeed. It is not a joyless, demanding obedience to a set of special rules for Christians, but a willing, joyful submission to God’s will out of a desire to imitate Christ and respond to His glory.

But if it doesn’t make us more “right” with God, more worthy of his love and acceptance or more essentially pleasing to Him, it may in fact seem like going through an ongoing process of spiritual growth is somewhat optional or unnecessary when we have so much through justification already.  This would be a mistake, however as sanctification is a vital companion to our justified status and does bring about results that justification by itself would not.

#1 We can become increasingly more like Jesus the more we are sanctified 

When God justifies us, He declares us to be righteous in His sight because Christ’s righteousness is counted to us as a free and undeserved gift. Theologians call this imputed righteousness (righteousness that isn’t intrinsically ours, but is counted to us as though it actually were). When God sanctifies us He makes us more like the Jesus we have believed in and benefited from. While our lives will never be good enough nor our actions right enough in this life to please God apart from Christ, sanctification sees our lives become more and more reflective of Christ’s character. The more we become like Jesus, the more we act in ways that please God – with our behaviour coming into greater harmony with the fact that God is pleased with us as beloved children on account of Jesus.

The more we reflect Jesus in our attitudes, speech and actions, the more we tell the story of what kind of Saviour He is and what wondrous things He has done for us. Becoming more like Jesus is the goal of Christian life and one of God’s key purposes in redeeming, justifying and adopting us into His family. Which brings us to the next point.

#2 We can bring more glory to God’s name the more we are sanctified

The classic Presbyterian Catechism asks the opening question: “What is the chief end of man?” (or “What is the highest/most important purpose of humanity?”), to which it answers: “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
If this is the purpose of our existence, how do we ensure it occurs? The key lies in what we just discussed above: becoming more like Jesus. Jesus’s aim was always to bring glory to God in whatever He did. To imitate Him is to follow Him in the way of seeking God’s glory. To become Christlike is to develop qualities of character that naturally reflect God’s goodness and bring Him glory in the sight of others.

To glorify God is to give Him “ascriptive glory” – to recognise how glorious He is and respond to it with reverence, awe, love and a certain kind of life. The more our hearts are opened to see who God is, the more our minds are illuminated by the revelation of God in His Word, the more the Spirit enables us to live faithfully in a way that demonstrates the majesty of the King we love and serve – the more glory God gets from us and our response to Him.

#3 We can have greater enjoyment of God the more we are sanctified 

When these changes are progressively happening in us, the more we can experience part B of our great purpose: enjoying God forever. The more we know and appreciate God through the gospel and the more our lives are transformed to be like Jesus, the greater enjoyment we should have of God. One reason for this is that although our grasp of who God is when we first believe is profoundly impactful – there is actually much more of God to be discovered, known and loved. This deeper enjoyment of God is not simply the process of accumulating more theological knowledge. We only deepen our enjoyment of God if our character and heart is being changed by our encountering God in His Word and His work in our day-to-day lives. There is a sense of divine enjoyment that can only accompany mature Christianity.

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Sanctification is often linked to our sense of assurance of salvation. While our confidence in Christ should not depend on how well we think we’re “performing” as Christians, God often seems to grant a greater sense of assurance to those who are diligent in their pursuit of holiness and Christlikeness, while withholding it from those who are negligent in their Christian development. The level of certainty we possess in relation to salvation and the promises of the gospel has an enormous impact on how able we are to enjoy God.

Next time we’ll look at three more things that sanctification can affect or improve…

[1] Sandeep Gangadharan “Phases of the Moon” (CC BY-NC 2.0) flickr
[2] Raimond Klavins Himalayas mountain NEPAL GOSAIKUNDA YATRA (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) flickr