Never More Justified

Going through Galatians at church and starting to read through 1 John with a friend, have been good catalysts for thinking about justification and sanctification. It is always easy to confuse who and what we are already as Christians with what we’re becoming, how fast we’re becoming it and how far off the mark of perfection we still are. So I wanted to take a quick look at some truths about justification (“having a ‘right’ standing in our relationship with God”), sanctification (“being made progressively more holy/conformed to the image of Christ”) and glorification (“being perfected in Christ through our resurrection from the dead and enjoying Him for eternity”).


There is much that can be said about so grand a topic as justification. But in brief we can say this by way of introduction: Justification refers to our status in relation to God. God regards believers in Christ as “righteous” in His sight and allows them to enjoy a right relationship with Him.

The basis for our justification is Christ’s penal substitutionary atonement. The perfect, sinless Jesus suffered and died in place of sinners and took God’s wrath upon Himself as the consequence of our sins. Thus, He dealt with the sin that had made us “guilty” in God’s sight and had left our relationship with God as one of brokenness and enmity.
However, Christ’s death did not only address our sin-guilt and gain us some sort of “clean slate” before God. His sacrifice was a “propitiation” for our sins – designed to not only deal with God’s holy wrath against us, but to bring His favour upon us in its place.


Since Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, people around the world have been invited to trust in Jesus as their Saviour and be united with Him, by faith, in His death and resurrection. When someone trusts in Jesus in this way, not only does He serve as the substitute that took away their sins – but God counts (or “imputes”) Jesus’ righteousness to the believer, as if it were there own. When this happens for someone, they are justified (made right before God) completely by grace (i.e. because of God’s goodness and kindness and not based on any goodness or good works of their own) through faith (i.e. they become right in God’s sight and receive this new status, solely by trusting in Jesus as their Saviour).

Never More Justified  

Justification happens at the beginning of someone’s Christian life – when they repent and believe in the gospel. It is important to understand and appreciate the importance of the truth that once God confers this status upon someone it does not vary by degree, fluctuate or come and go. Once justified, the Christian is never more (or less) so than the hour they first believed.  To explore what this means for us, I will make the following 3 statements.

#1 We are never more (or less) “right” with God, than when we first received the gift of justification. 

Our understanding and appreciation of our justification may increase, but not our righteous status itself. This is a natural consequence of our righteousness or right standing with God being a free gift of grace and the imputation of Jesus’ own righteousness. If we were expected to increase or complete our righteousness in the sight of God, it would mean that our own good works contribute to that righteous status. But our good works cannot justify us before God, neither do they increase or complete our righteousness as though something about our status was lacking. Because God already regards us as though we have loved, honoured and obeyed (excuse the matrimonial phrase!) Him the way His perfect Son Jesus did, we can never be “more right” with God than we already are as justified Christians. Why? Because we can’t be in a “righter” relationship with God or enjoy a “righter” status with Him that exceeds the relationship and status Jesus has with the Father, and that very standing has been counted to us.

#2 We are never more worthy of justification than we were 

In Saving Private Ryan a band of U.S. Soldiers embark on a deadly mission to rescue the only surviving son of a mother whose lost three out of four boys to the carnage of World War II. As they make their way to try and save Private Ryan, the officer in charge of the mission, Capt. Miller makes the remark: “He better be worth it. He better go home and cure a disease or invent a longer lasting light bulb.” By the time the credits roll, six out of the eight who set out on the mission to save Private James Ryan have died. A high cost, even if their mission was based on a noble principle. As Capt. Miller lies dying from fatal gunfire he utters his final words to Ryan, “James, earn this…earn it.” The film ends with an elderly James Ryan pondering that very question at a U.S. War cemetery. Had he lived a good enough life? Had he done things worthy of the great cost paid for him?


Justified Christians certainly owe our lives to Jesus, who undertook the greatest rescue mission of all and made an unmatchable sacrifice to save us. I could be tempted to picture Jesus on the Cross, looking down at me with His bloodied visage and saying, “Yarran, earn this…earn it.” Thankfully, we find nothing of that kind of message on Jesus’ lips in the Gospels. Yes we should live wholeheartedly and single-mindedly for the one who died for us. But if I got to the end of my life and had a Private James Ryan moment – if I’d understood the greatness of Jesus as a Person, the enormity of His sacrifice and the seriousness of my sin – I’d have to conclude that I hadn’t lived a life that earned the sacrifice made for me.

Jesus doesn’t ask us to be “worth” the sacrifice He made, nor does He imply we need to “earn” what He did for us.
We ought to be immensely thankful for the Cross and shape our entire lives around who Jesus is and what He has done. But the best-quality, blue-ribbon Christian is never going to be “more worthy” of what Jesus did for them – no matter how good their post-conversion lives are. Salvation is by grace – grace is never earned.

#3 God is never more “pleased” with us as His children (at least at the fundamental level)

I saved the controversial one for last. God’s pleasure in us as His children is inseparably linked to our union with Christ by faith and God’s counting as true of us what is true of Jesus. God the Father’s pronouncement at Jesus’ baptism: “”This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17) applies by derivation to us as God’s adopted children in Christ. Justified Christians are God’s beloved sons and daughters and God is well-pleased with us because of who we are in Christ.


Crucially, this doesn’t mean that our actions can’t be displeasing to God when they dishonour Him or fail to love others. Nor does it suggest that sin has no effect on our familial relationship with God. What it does mean is that God’s fundamental pleasure in us comes not from what we can offer to Him by way of obedience, but from His seeing Jesus when He looks upon us as His children. [Note: Just this morning when I’d already planned to write on this topic, I stumbled across a good article dealing with potential misunderstanding and abuse of this truth. Worth a read].

This means that while our way of life certainly can be more or less pleasing to God (more on that in the sanctification installment), we need to be careful how we think about whether we’re pleasing to God ourselves. If God’s pleasure in us as His children depended on the quality of our obedience, He would never be pleased with us, because our best duties and offerings are always stained with sin. But if our faith is firmly in Christ, we can rejoice that God is pleased with us because we are united with His perfectly obedient Son.

We should only doubt God’s pleasure in us as His children if we ourselves are pleased with our sin. If we are unrepentant, we make light of Christ’s sacrifice and fail to come to Him for forgiveness and salvation. When such a state of life persists, we ought to question whether we truly are united with Christ and God’s beloved children.
But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness: our relationship with God is secure in Christ and He is well-pleased with us because of the Son.

[1] Waiting For The Word “Baptism of Christ 3” (CC BY 2.0)




Religious Scandals – Thomas Watson

A special guest post from my good friend Thomas Watson (c. 1620-1686)


I acknowledge the luster of religion has been much eclipsed and sullied by the scandals of men. This is an age of scandals. Many have made the pretense of religion, to be a key to open the door to all ungodliness. Never was God’s name more taken in vain. This is that [which] our Saviour has foretold. ‘It must needs be that offences come’ (Matthew 18:7). But to take off this prejudice, consider: scandals are not from true religion—but for lack of true religion. True religion is not the worse, though some abuse it. To dislike piety because some of the professors of it are scandalous, is as if one should say, ‘Because the servant is dishonest, therefore he will not have a good opinion of his master.’ Is Christ the less glorious because some who wear his livery are scandalous? Is true religion the worse—because some of her followers are bad? Is wine the worse—because some are drunkards? Shall a woman dislike chastity because some of her neighbors are unchaste? Let us argue soberly. ‘Judge righteous judgment’ (John 7:24).

God sometimes permits scandals to fall out in the church out of a design:

(1) As a just judgment upon hypocrites. These squint-eyed devotionists who serve God for their own ends, the Lord in justice allows them to fall into horrid debauched practices, that he may lay open their baseness to the world, and that all may see they were but pretend Christians, but painted devils! Judas was first a sly hypocrite, afterwards a visible traitor!

(2) Scandals are for hardening of the profane. Some desperate sinners who would not be won by piety—they shall be wounded by it. God lets scandals occur, to be a break neck to men and to engulf them more in sin. Jesus Christ (‘God blessed forever’) is to some a ‘rock of offence’ (Romans 9:33). His blood, which is to some balm, is to others poison. If the beauty of piety does not allure—the scandals of some of its followers shall spur men to hell.

(3) Scandals in the church are for the caution of the godly. The Lord would have his people walk tremblingly. ‘Be not high-minded—but fear’ (Romans 11:20). When cedars fall, let the ‘bruised reed’ tremble. The scandals of professors are not to discourage us—but to warn us. Let us tread more warily. The scandals of others are sea-marks for the saints to avoid.

Let all this serve to take off these prejudices from true religion. Though Satan may endeavor by false disguises to render the gospel odious—yet there is a beauty and a glory in it. God’s ‘commandments are not grievous’.

Let me persuade all men cordially to embrace the ways of God. ‘His commandments are not grievous’. God never burdens us—but that he may unburden us of our sins. His commands are our privileges. There is joy in the way of duty (Psalm 19:11)—and heaven at the end!

An excerpt from the closing paragraphs of Watson’s Beatitudes (1660). Available here.

A Child’s not a Person – when the Law is an Ass

The Queensland Parliamentary Health, Communities, Disability Services and Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Committee continues its inquiry into our State’s abortion laws. Please continue to pray for an outcome that sees the lives of unborn children preserved in Queensland, rather than one that sees the unborn become even more vulnerable.

In reading some of the presentations made by experts to the committee, here, it was no surprise to see legal experts argue for law reform on the basis of the laws pertaining to abortion being outdated and inconsistent with each other. After reading through the relevant articles of the Queensland Criminal Code, I have to agree. The law needs to change, not only because some elements of it are outdated, but because there are some serious inconsistencies between relevant sections. But I don’t agree with the legal experts when it comes to how these issues should be addressed by the Parliament…

Relevant sections of the Criminal Code

The most relevant legislation in the Criminal Code relating to abortion – and the articles Mr Pyne’s bill would completely remove from the Code – are Sections 224-226:

224 Attempts to procure abortion

Any person who, with intent to procure the miscarriage of a woman, whether she is or is not with child, unlawfully administers to her or causes her to take any poison or other noxious thing, or uses any force of any kind, or uses any other means whatever, is guilty of a crime, and is liable to imprisonment for 14 years.

225 The like by women with child

Any woman who, with intent to procure her own miscarriage, whether she is or is not with child, unlawfully administers to herself any poison or other noxious thing, or uses any force of any kind, or uses any other means whatever, or permits any such thing or means to be administered or used to her, is guilty of a crime, and is liable to imprisonment for 7 years.

226 Supplying drugs or instruments to procure abortion

Any person who unlawfully supplies to or procures for any person anything whatever, knowing that it is intended to be unlawfully used to procure the miscarriage of a woman, whether she is or is not with child, is guilty of a misdemeanour, and is liable to imprisonment for 3 years.


Causing a miscarriage or attempting to, has been a criminal offence since 1899. Many believe this should change, because 21st century community values don’t consider abortion to be something that should be treated criminally. Many others believe abortion must remain a criminal act, due to the seriousness of its nature: it destroys a human life.

On a practical level, the above sections of the code put some level of restraint on how abortions are carried out – but their use as the basis for criminal investigation and prosecution are extremely rare. Court rulings allow an exemption from any criminal guilt in procuring or performing an abortion when an appropriate medical professional believes there is a threat to the mother’s physical or mental health should the pregnancy be allowed to continue. Thus, we might say that abortion is only technically criminal in QLD – a dissatisfying status quo for activists on both sides of the debate, but seemingly a happy medium for successive pragmatic state governments.

But the massive inconsistencies and outdatedness of the law come when we examine other sections of the Queensland Criminal Code. For instance, the Code treats an unborn child as a human being that can be unlawfully killed in Section 313:


313 Killing unborn child

(1) Any person who, when a female is about to be delivered of a child, prevents the child from being born alive by any act or omission of such a nature that, if the child had been born alive and had then died, the person would be deemed to have unlawfully killed the child, is guilty of a crime, and is liable to imprisonment for life.

(2) Any person who unlawfully assaults a female pregnant with a child and destroys the life of, or does grievous bodily harm to, or transmits a serious disease to, the child before its birth, commits a crime. Maximum penalty—imprisonment for life.


Note how the above section treats the killing of the child about to be delivered with the same seriousness as a child who has been born. The penalty of life imprisonment indicates that the law regards the almost-born-child death as substantially equivalent to the death of a newborn child. Likewise, when a pregnant woman is assaulted and the child’s life is destroyed, the maximum penalty of life imprisonment would suggest that something equivalent to murder has been committed.

The massive inconsistency therefore comes in the Code’s dealings with homicide:

291 Killing of a human being unlawful

It is unlawful to kill any person unless such killing is authorised or justified or excused by law.

292 When a child becomes a human being

A child becomes a person capable of being killed when it has completely proceeded in a living state from the body of its mother, whether it has breathed or not, and whether it has an independent circulation or not, and whether the navel-string is severed or not.


It is Section 292 that is outdated and inconsistent with what we saw in Section 313 above. Our law is inconsistent to treat an unborn child’s destruction as judicially equivalent to murder in one section of the Criminal Code, while holding that an unborn child cannot be considered “a person capable of being killed” in another section. If someone hits a pregnant woman’s stomach with a hammer and the unborn child dies, they are guilty of a crime and liable to life imprisonment under Section 313, but they haven’t actually killed a legally recognised “human being” or “person” according to Section 292. And of course, Section 292 completely removes the basis for any argument that abortion is murder under Queensland law – the unborn child is not a “person capable of being killed.”


The above sections of the Code and abortion

So the abortionist can only be held to account for criminal conduct under sections 224-226 – the very sections Mr Pyne wants removed from the Code – and only if they cause the miscarriage of a pregnancy without having one of the justifying conditions recognised by the Courts. Removing sections 224-226 will mean that killing unborn children through abortion will no longer be a criminal offence, while killing an unborn child through unlawful assault will carry the same potential sentence as murdering a newborn child or adult citizen.

This will not rectify the inconsistency under the law. Either the killing of any unborn child must be regarded as the killing of a human being (per Section 313, contra Section 292) or the killing of any unborn child must not be regarded as the killing of a human being (per Section 292, contra Section 313). Out of the two, it is Section 292 that should be reformed in light of the values expressed in Section 313 (with Sections 224-226 either being changed positively to reflect this or remain as is).

It has been suggested that Section 292 is a very old legal principle, which existed because of the difficulty in legally proving that an unborn child had been alive prior to an action that is alleged to have caused its death. But it is true that medical advancements render such a principle obsolete. With the current state of obstetrics/gynaecology, ultrasound/radiology technology and forensic science – facts that were previously undiscernible beyond reasonable doubt in relation to the child’s living state can far more easily be established. Not only that: but the weight of medical evidence is in favour of an understanding of human life as beginning at conception.


And so, when it comes to the legal reality surrounding these issues in Queensland, a child is not a person, when the law is an ass. Section 292 is a dumb, unfounded, archaic and inconsistent piece of law in Queensland. It is a blight on the entire body of law in this State because of its baseless absurdity. Unborn children are human beings and there are no solid legal grounds for not recognising them as persons capable of being killed. Therefore, the best principles of law with respect to unborn children, as embodied in Section 313, should be what shapes the other relevant sections of the code.

Section 292 should be reformed to read something along the lines of:

292 The beginning of a human life

A child is a person capable of being killed, from time of conception and shall be regarded as a human being throughout the embryonic and foetal stages of its development.


Sections 224-226 relating specifically to abortion should remain part of the QLD Criminal Code and these sections should be enforced to prevent the killing of innocent life where necessary (on a side note, I favour an approach where the prospect of criminality serves mainly as a legal deterrent towards women considering seeking an illegal abortion, whereas medical professionals or others found guilty performing an abortion would face the full punitive consequences of killing a person under the law). The Queensland Parliament should legislate positively to restrict the ease with which medical professionals can recommend and carry out surgical and chemical abortions. We should be moving away from abortion-on-demand not towards it. Abolition should be the desired outcome, rather than proliferation.

In summary, Parliament should reject Mr. Pyne’s private member’s bill – but it should also act to ensure the law is not an ass by ensuring that a child (born or unborn) is a human being and legal person.


What’s at the end of Satan’s Rainbow?


What’s the Go with Pokémon? Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past week, you’ll probably be aware that the release of Pokémon GO has caused the beginning of a global sensation. As droves of young (and perhaps not so young) people walk around with their smartphones out like they’re going to take a photo (but are really trying to capture animated monsters that first caused waves around the world 20 years ago) – pop culture seems to have entered a new era.

Almost the real thing…[2]

Of course, the prevalence of Pokémon GO is naturally going to bring discussions about video games to the fore of Christian conversation once again. Already I’ve had a brief discussion with a brother about the common Christian responses to Pokémon back in the 1990s and I’ve seen people linking to old articles on Facebook about the apparent evils of the popular game franchise. Pokémon games certainly aren’t the only video games that some Christians find objectionable for one reason or another. There are many more worthy contenders on the market for our disapproval  in response to the content of games. But some Christians are anti-games altogether. So what are we to make of it all?

Not long after Pokémon first burst into the world, Brisbane alternative rock band Regurgitator released a catchy tune called Black Bugs. It somehow manages to act as both a tongue-in-cheek nod to the literal demonisation of video games by some sections of the community  and a cautionary tale about the unending, addictiveness of gaming.

I got killed by Black Bugs on my video game
Then although to myself it doesn’t mean that much
I keep dying and dying over and over again
And now I feel I’m alive so I’ll just pretend

What’s at the end?
What’s at the end?
What’s at the end of Satan’s rainbow?

Turn off the TV to low now and I’m not the same
I’ve got to remind myself that it’s just a game
It’s getting harder and harder to get to sleep at night
I think I let them shoot me so that I can die

What’s at the end?
What’s at the end?
What’s at the end of Satan’s rainbow?
What’s at the end?
Tell me is this the end?
What’s at the end of Satan’s rainbow?

The song’s hook is a vivid description of addictive gameplay as a colourful “rainbow” used by Satan to entice someone to embark on a quest for the treasure that they anticipate will lie at the end. The trouble is, the best games are either never-ending – or at least require scores of hours of immersive play to complete. Equally problematic is whether the sense of achievement, virtual reward or limited social glory gained from beating a game or getting a better score than others is really that satisfying in proportion to the time and effort that has gone into it. Thus the golden refrain: “What’s [really?] at the end of Satan’s rainbow?

Many conservative Christians would be happy to identify certain games as satanic – either due to their content or the aforementioned addictiveness and side-effects they might have on players.

The main charge levelled at Pokemon has tended to be that it features monsters that have occultic connections (especially the ghost and psychic types) and that these things are not spiritually neutral – having more in common with demonic forces than with godliness. Other games, such as fantasy role-playing-games like World of Warcraft are likely to receive the same kind of reception. Other games again, are seen as immoral, inappropriate (and therefore, perhaps by extension, satanic) for other reasons, such as graphic violence, sexual content, coarse language etc; (games in the Grand Theft Auto and Mortal Kombat franchises come to mind as reasonably recent examples).

But is it a helpful approach to label all or some video games as being “of the Devil”? Does such a declaration promote godliness in our churches and protect our young people from harmful influences, or does it cause more problems than it remedies?

I think the issue has been too contentious and super-charged with emotion and vastly differing perspectives for us to ever see a consensus amongst evangelical Christians on this issue. But I think the dangers of legalism are themselves a satanic, corrupting influence that we must be on guard against in our churches. Thus, making morally-binding, blanket-statements on issues the Bible doesn’t address directly is often a risky practice. Therefore it seems wise for churches not to attempt to guilt their members out of playing video games in general. A rules-based, guilt-based or fear-based approach is not conducive to sanctification, but encourages external morality and self-righteousness instead.

However, when it comes to content and side-effects, no Christian should be encouraged to game without discernment. God does care about what we view with our eyes. He cares about which desires we choose to feed. He cares about whether your gameplay amounts to innocent relaxation and recreation or interferes with your devotional life and your commitments to family, friends, neighbours and work.
Dare I say, God cares if our thoughts are constantly immersed in an imaginary world, when there is a real, present world He has called us to live godly lives within. He cares when our hearts inhabit a virtual la-la land, to a greater extent than they look longingly for the eternal reality that has been promised to us in Christ.

But while video games may be the vehicle by which some people embark on a vain pursuit of temporary pleasure and elusive satisfaction, they are by no means the main or only means of doing so.

You see, I think the question, “What’s at the end of Satan’s rainbow?” is a good one, precisely because it applies to so many areas of life and potentially futile pursuits. Some people might waste hours of their lives playing games that keep leading them on an endless quest – not realising that there’s little more than the carrot on the stick they’ve been chasing waiting for them at the end (if indeed it ever comes). And yes there can be something deceptive and perhaps even sinister or satanic about this addictiveness.

But when I look around at the “real world”, I see plenty of people chasing satanic rainbows that are just as illusory and just as unprofitable at the end. Millions of people sell their souls to a career in order to chase a rainbow leading to happiness in material wealth. Family, ethics and the glory of God are ignored to reach the dream of financial success – but there’s a disturbing lack of reward at the rainbow’s end. People selfishly chase the rainbow of fame – thinking that a great name and popularity will be worth all the risks and hard work. But while this rainbow promises greatness, adoration and a sort of immortality at the end – personal insecurity, popular fickleness and eventually death and relative obscurity are what actually awaits.

Even in the church, Satan can offer us promises of influence, honour, recognition, applause, acceptance and social security if we deludedly chase a rainbow of respectable religiosity. We can spend hours acquiring Christian knowledge, doing Christian activities and seemingly serving others, all the while being motivated by the promised reward of greater status in the eyes of others and a greater sense of self-fulfilment.

Appearing to “serve God” but doing it to seek our own glory and advancement instead of His is a much older and more dangerous satanic rainbow which we should be more wary of than we are amusements like video games. And calling yourself a Christian, while the trajectory of your life is aimed at achieving something other than the glory and enjoyment of God, is all too easy to do. And there are hundreds of ways to do it.

And so, whether you game lots, sometimes or not at all is a question of fairly minor consequence. The real question is: which rainbows are you chasing. And if the things you’re chasing and the promised reward you’re hoping for at the end are independent of the gospel of Jesus Christ, maybe it’s time to ask: “What’s at the end of Satan’s rainbow?”


[1] joinash “Rainbow” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
[2] Sadie Hernandez WILD PIKACHU APPEARS! (CC BY 2.0)

Death knocked three times…


Once upon a time, Death knocked three times at the door of my family. It was 2002, I was a teenager, still in high school and hadn’t experienced the death of any close family members thus far in my young life. Then just before Easter that year, I came home to find my family in the throes of grief. My paternal grandmother, “Nanna” as we called her, had succumbed to death as a result of breast cancer. It came as a shock – I’d been aware she had cancer but had no idea her health had been in decline. This first, cruel intrusion of death had a big impact on my family.

A few months later, our beloved family dog Ranger, who we’d owned since I was 3 years old also died. While losing a pet is not the same as losing a grandparent, it was another taste of death, another round of grief and noticeable, daily absence from family life.

Another few months passed and my maternal grandfather, “Granddad” passed away from a coronary episode. I knew him better than my Nanna, as he had lived much closer to us and I’d spent much more time with him growing up. This was in many ways the biggest personal loss of the year – the death of the most important male figure in my life after my father – but by that stage I was well fatigued from all the grief and mourning and found it difficult to express my sorrow with my emotions so drained.

That was when death knocked three times – by far the darkest season of my life with the greatest sense of loss I’d experienced. But unbeknownst to me, death would knock three times in a short space of time once again, many years later.

Towards the end of 2014, I found out simultaneously that I had fathered a child and that the child was in all probability already dead. It was a shocking experience, as I only had limited, rather removed, second-hand knowledge of miscarriages and a child dying long before it was due to be born. There will always be a sense of sadness for the loss of the baby who would have been approaching his or her first birthday around now, had they continued to grow and develop healthily within their mother’s womb.

A year ago today, my maternal grandmother, “Grandma” passed away a few days after her 92nd birthday. Although her death at that age was by no means unexpected, it still had a profound sense of grief attached to it, as she was the grandparent I had the closest attachment to out of all four. She had been part of my life, almost weekly, from the earliest times until well into adulthood and now suddenly she was gone. I wished I had seen the signs more clearly at the time and recognised that she was in fact about to die – but she had come back from poor health so many times before that it was too difficult to discern whether another comeback was around the corner instead of deterioration to death.

Then, just three months ago, my wife’s mother died suddenly and unexpectedly. The way she died and the way we found out about it were both quite traumatic. There remains to this day, things we will probably never know about what led to the circumstances surrounding her death. It has affected me significantly as a son-in-law seeing his mother-in-law lose her life without any warning and as a husband trying to do the best to comfort and support his grieving wife who lost her mother without any warning. Once again, there is a hole in our lives because Death knocked again.

These three deaths differ in detail and are tragic in different kinds of ways. But each one has stained the last three calendar years of my life with the shock and pain of death. Once again, I find myself in a dark period, where my family has been visited too many times by that most unwelcome intruder.

Here are my reflections during this season when death has knocked three times:

1) I hate death

Death is the greatest reminder that there is something profoundly wrong with the world. As a Christian I have to acknowledge that humanity deserves to suffer at the hands of death – because our rejection of God and His goodness is so wicked and ungrateful that we all ought to be left to Death as its playthings. And yet, at the same time, death is bad. I hate what it is and what it does. I long for a world where it no longer exists. You can probably only hate death when it’s come close enough for you to stare into its wretched, ugly face. It has for me and I hate it in truth.

2) We all must face the death of loved ones – and it’s a terrible reality

Sometimes it’s hard to truly appreciate the impact that the death of a loved one has had on someone else when we see it happen to them. We’re sad for our friends, co-workers or acquaintances when we see them mourning, but often we’re sufficiently removed from the situation to not feel the power of the emotional shockwaves they’ve been hit with. But even those reading this who’ve never lost someone who was an important part of their lives will have to experience it personally one day. That’s the terrible truth that faces us when we love people in a world that’s tainted by sin and death. It’s sad because it means that in all likelihood I’ll see many more people go through what I’ve gone through in the last couple of years, before too much time passes.

At certain times it can be quite daunting when I reflect on this truth in light of other relationships in my life. One day I will have to face the death of my last living grandparent. One day my own father and mother will be the ones that die. One day I may have to say goodbye to the most precious companion I have in life – my beloved wife. I may survive a number of my friends and relatives and perhaps even some of my own children. Grimly, the only thing that will prevent me from experiencing the deaths of those I love will be if I myself die first – leaving them to experience bereavement at my passing, instead of me being left to mourn theirs.

Perhaps the most sinister aspect of Death knocking several times is the part where it leaves the calling card, promising to visit again at another time.

3) Death can strike at any time (even in a technologically advanced, sanitised, first-world society)

My experiences have been a poignant reminder that death doesn’t follow a predictable schedule, it can come without warning and can strike at any time of life. The death of our unborn child was a confronting taste of Death taking away a life that had barely begun. The shock of learning of death before I even had time to appreciate that there was life, showed me precisely how abrupt Death’s intrusions into life can be. The death of my grandmother demonstrated that even when someone has been blessed with a very long life and you know they can’t go on living forever – Death can still approach like a vicious, stealthy predator – undetected until it’s too late. The death of my mother-in-law was both harrowing and surreal in the way it emerged out of nowhere – to the point where three months on it still doesn’t feel as though it should have happened. And yet it has.

In the 21st century, developed world, we’re pretty good at delaying death and preventing it from punctuating our lives quite as frequently as it did for our ancestors. We’re masters of ignoring it as we go about our lives doing hundreds of things that seem so important, as long as we operate on the assumption that we and everyone we love will still be here tomorrow. Yet Death is the star of the nightly news almost without fail – reminding us that it’s out there and warning us that it could visit our home anytime, just like it did for those poor people all the way out there in a distant land.

4) Caring for the vulnerable

The three deaths I’ve been describing make me want to reinforce the value of caring for the vulnerable – especially those who are particularly vulnerable to death. My child’s unexplained death in the womb helps me appreciate how precious the lives of all unborn children are. We should mourn their deaths and strive to protect these most vulnerable members of the human race.

Grandma’s death from old age tells the story of those who are vulnerable to death at the other end of the human lifespan: the elderly. Older members of our families and communities are precious – that’s why we grieve when they are taken from us. We should care for them and treasure them while they remain among us.

My mother-in-law’s death is still shrouded in uncertainty, but it seems most likely that it came about as a result of the mental illness she was cruelly afflicted with for many years. Those who suffer from different kinds of mental illness are often vulnerable to death in their own way. They are precious and in need of our care and love too. We may not be able to do anything to stop death from taking them from us – as has been the case for us. But we can enrich their lives and they ours, for as long as God permits us to remain in one another’s lives.

5) Jesus knocks death on the head for me (more than three times!)

Perhaps the only real source of comfort when Death knocks multiple times is the fact that Jesus has knocked death on the head for me and will do so again in the future.

Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the sin in my life which brings the sentence of death upon me has been dealt with; life has triumphed over death; the fatal blow that will kill Death itself has been inflicted. Even though death still takes lives every day – the age of death is now coming to a close. The coming, Eternal Age of Life has begun to swallow it up.

Because God has kindly allowed me to hear and believe the gospel – I have passed from death to life. I have died with Christ in his death, I live with Him in His resurrection. Through the Holy Spirit’s gracious application of Christ’s work to my soul, Jesus has knocked death on the head for me personally and I’ll never experience the eternal death I deserve.

Because Christ will draw me to Himself when I die, He’ll knock death on the head when it attempts to imprison my soul in darkness without hope to await judgement. Though my body will die, this will simply be the transition that commences my enjoyment of Jesus in a heavenly state that is free of sin, corruption, distraction and misery. Remembering this truth empowers me to face death without fearing its power to deprive me of the things I love in life.

Because Christ will raise my body again and unite it with my soul to live forever at His coming, He will have knocked Death on the head definitively by reversing fully its effects. But this will be the ultimate Death of Death, when the Age of Life is fully ushered in and Death is judged and thrown into the Lake of Fire as a sign of final judgement. Millions will be raised to life. Creation will be renewed. Death will burn forever, while Life reigns.

I know Death will knock again. It will once again be painful to endure when it does. But thanks be to God that Jesus dealt death its own fatal blow and will give it a knock so hard it that it will never come back again.

[1] Delete “Death” (CC BY-NC 2.0)

How do Christians decide who to vote for? (A political triage proposal) Pt. 2

This is the second post in a two-part piece on how Christians might approach voting – you can read part 1 here.

Secondary issues of considerable importance

Secondary issues are those that are significant in nature and should have an impact upon your decision as to who you should vote for. Given that, if you accept my previous outline of the fundamental issues, there will likely be some candidates and parties who will be excluded from your consideration altogether – thinking through some of these secondary issues should help you decide who the best candidate or party is out of the remaining options.

While these issues are not necessarily questions of fundamental principles, their importance is largely derived from the fact that they have a significant impact on the well-being of real people. The Christian’s imperative to love her neighbour as herself should affect how she votes to a large degree.

Sometimes a party’s position on an issue that would normally fall in this category could be so bad that it violates one of the fundamental principles I discussed in the last post. This would naturally mean you need to consider it one of those “single issues” that disqualifies a candidate from your consideration. However, as a general rule the following policy areas are quite complex and require something of a balancing act to get right. Therefore parties and candidates who address these issues can easily elevate one set of principles that are important to them at the expense of other important factors when articulating their position. Amongst Christians, there would be a great deal of unity on some of the important, basic principles a party’s platform should cover in these areas, but many of us will have different ideas about how exactly the policies should be fleshed out in practice to bring about the best outcomes.

Here are some examples:

Immigration/Border Protection and Refugees

The issue many Christians will feel most strongly about from this category, has been an issue at virtually every federal election since 2001. How the federal government manages immigration, controls Australia’s borders and treats asylum seekers is an incredibly complex policy area and is one of the most vexed issues in Australian society.

I recognise that for some Christians, how a party treats asylum seekers easily becomes a “single issue” for them and they will choose not to vote for a party with harsh policies in this area. I understand and respect that – however I believe this issue should not be one of the primary issues that determines how Christians vote at this election (or future federal polls). This is because:
a) I believe the issues discussed in the first section are of more fundamental importance and should be considered before getting to this one.
b) Opposing a party’s policy on this issue is not necessarily the same as having a viable alternative.
c) The two major parties have equally hard-line approaches and thus the election must be decided on other matters.

Let me focus on point b) for a moment. Many Christians in Australia are rightly concerned with current government policies related to the processing of asylum seekers in offshore detention. The problem is, many of our responses are simplistic and do not take seriously the range of complex issues at hand. If you have an alternative it must provide appropriate preventative measures to stop deaths at sea and halt people smuggling. It must also address the processing inequality that arises from giving any priority to the claims of asylum seekers who arrive by boat over those who languish for years in UN refugee camps while they wait to hear whether countries like Australia will take them in.

I hate the way that politicians and the media use the lives of asylum seekers as a cheap campaign token or sensational news story. I wholeheartedly agree that they all need to be held to account for the way they handle these vulnerable human beings. I believe there is considerable goodwill towards asylum seekers and refugees amongst Christians and that we should keep encouraging the government to increase the national annual refugee intake significantly and ensure asylum seekers are well treated. But I fear there is no easy solution to this issue and we are potentially playing into the hands of the opportunists if we treat it as an election-deciding issue in any significant way.

Social Welfare

For the Christian voter, social welfare isn’t about propping up dole bludgers and wasting government resources through careless spending. How the party or candidate you vote for proposes to treat the disadvantaged, disabled and disempowered in society will impact the lives of many real people. We will never all agree on the nitty gritty of who gets what payment under what conditions, nor whether everyone is getting the support who needs it vs. too many people getting benefits they don’t really need. But any party or candidate that shows a lack of concern for struggling Australians – like the homeless, the destitute, the poorly educated, the mentally ill, the children affected by gambling, drug and alcohol addiction or domestic violence – should have a proportionate lack of our support.


Healthcare will always be a significant issue in every election. Like the above, we should recognise that the quality of health services in Australia affects the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of people every year. We should think particularly of our elderly neighbours and those in regional or neglected areas that may be severely impacted by a lack of relevant funding. Again, there will likely be disagreement on the various details of any proposed health program, but a party’s commitment to improving health services may lift its standing in our considerations.


How a party approaches education is not usually a life and death issue, but education does play an enormous part in determining the life opportunities of our young and future generations. Christian voters should want Australian children from wealthy, “average,” or economically disadvantaged families to at least have access to the educational opportunities we ourselves have received.
We should want to see educational opportunities that equip young people to enter society and the workforce as well-informed, civic-minded adults with the skills to contribute positively to the community.

How a party prioritises education funding is important, but so is its ideological vision for education. At this election, federal support for the “Safe Schools” program is rightly an issue of concern, as are any other attempts by one brand of politics to indoctrinate the young people of Australia with a slanted social perspective. Christians should take an interest in what parties propose to teach the nation’s children and what the desired outcomes of these programs are.

Economic Policy

Managing the economy is important, because the health of the economy affects millions of people for better or worse. I personally don’t think Christian voters should be wed to the neo-liberal, free-market, economic rationalism of the Liberal Party or the naïve, ideological socialism held by some on the Left of politics. Instead, out of the options available to us, we should cast a vote for a party or candidate that will manage the economy responsibly while seeking the best interests of all Australians. No party, major or minor has a perfect economic philosophy, so this will mean weighing up how a particular party’s policies might affect people positively or negatively (both short-term and long-term). Contrary to popular presentation, the particulars of economic policy should not be at the top of your list when deciding who to vote for!

Indigenous policy

Last, but definitely not least, Christian voters ought to take the welfare of Indigenous Australians seriously and it may be necessary to listen closely for where this fits into someone’s political priorities. Indigenous affairs is an area almost as controversial as immigration policy, so I would expect a degree of disagreement between Christian voters as to what policies and approaches are appropriate and which are unhelpful. But I know many of my brothers and sisters will agree that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people must not be neglected, marginalised or denied opportunities that many of us take for granted. Initiatives such as Closing the Gap and addressing areas of indigenous disadvantage are things we should be behind.

Tertiary issues of lesser importance

These issues are not necessarily unimportant – some of them relate directly to things that affect our daily lives and benefit our communities. But in keeping with a triage model, I think there are a range of policies and promises that shouldn’t affect how we vote at an election, unless you’re down to an evenly balanced shortlist of otherwise good candidates and one of them is better than the others when it comes to some of these areas. There are areas in politics that have a considerably lower negative impact on people if someone gets them wrong and which don’t significantly improve people’s quality of life if the issues in the above section are insufficiently addressed.

Here are some examples on things that should be lower on the list of priorities when it comes to determining your vote as a Christian.

Infrastructure (eg; NBN, stadiums, roads, bridges etc;)

We need government to be on the ball when it comes to infrastructure projects. The country would be a mess if successive governments neglected important infrastructure like roads, telecommunications and public facilities.
But when it comes to a party’s promise to deliver faster internet speeds, road upgrades, new sports stadiums etc; there are just so many factors we should be considering before these ones. The NBN issue is the classic example at this election. It does matter if Australians get the best possible internet speeds in the coming years, because reliable and fast broadband does affect things like business and education. But the difference between two party’s policies on this issue pales in comparison to many of the issues highlighted above.

Arts, Sport and Entertainment

At the risk of inviting the criticism that I’m reinforcing the tendency for Christians to under-appreciate the arts – I’m more than happy to defend including this policy area in the category of third-order issues. It’s nice when parties find a way to fund arts, sport and entertainment for the enjoyment of the community, as they each have the capacity to contribute to the flourishing of society. But none of them are essential in comparison to other matters and should therefore be pretty low on our list of determining criteria.


I hope that even if readers have some different ideas about how to approach some of these issues, the triage model will lead to fruitful considerations of party policies this election. What I’ve written isn’t comprehensive, but hopefully I’ve surveyed enough of the issues to be of some help.

[1] Douglas Miller ballot_box_1.jpg (CC BY-ND 2.0)





How do Christians decide who to vote for? (A political triage proposal)

Some time ago, the well-known American evangelical leader Al Mohler proposed a model for determining the importance of particular doctrines, which many Christians have found helpful. Drawing on the medical principle of “triage”, where patients are categorised according to the seriousness of their condition and then treated in order of priority – Mohler devised what he called a “theological triage.” Mohler proposed three levels of seriousness with respect to theological truths, which would help Christians identify how critical any particular doctrine is to the Christian faith and what response should occur when a primary doctrine is being challenged, as opposed to a truth of tertiary significance.

To summarise, first-order doctrines are the essential truths of the faith, such as the death, resurrection and deity of Christ; the Trinity and justification by faith. To deny any one of these is to depart from biblical Christianity and create a serious theological problem. For Mohler, second-order doctrines are those that are not fundamental to the faith but are serious enough to divide Christians who have differences on them into different denominations (eg; credobaptism vs. paedobaptism; Calvinism vs. Arminianism; Complementarianism vs. Egalitarianism). Third-order doctrines are those which are even less central to Christian faith and practice than those mentioned above and while they are not insignificant, they should not necessitate any division between believers at the local church level (eg; many debates about eschatology).

The triage is helpful because if accepted, it helps Christians see that a debate about whether or not Jesus is divine is much more serious than the question over whether infants should be baptised. Likewise, the question of whether or not women should be pastors would be seen as substantially more significant than a debate over the details of the Millennium in Revelation 20.


As Australia prepares to vote this weekend for Representatives and Senators who will form the next Federal Parliament, there are a range of issues that Christian voters find themselves concerned about and for many the question of how to decide between principles, policies, parties and political candidates is fraught with difficulty. What do I do if Party X supports something I feel passionate about, but also wants to make changes I really disagree with? What should I do if Parties X, Y & Z all have aspects of their policy that I find very problematic?

While this post won’t resolve all of those questions, I want to suggest that a “political triage” from a biblical perspective might be quite helpful for working through these issues in the dying days of the election campaign.

#1 The Fundamental Issues

The first-order political issues for Christians in this (and every) election should be based on the following considerations: a) What is the essential role of governments according to the Bible?
b) What does the Bible encourage Christians to pray for our government and society?
c) What other essential principles should we consider when supporting candidates for election to parliament?

a) What is the essential role of governments according to the Bible?

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
(Romans 13:1-7, ESV)

Time and space do not permit a thorough exegetical analysis of Romans 13, but there are some helpful principles that can be deduced from the above passage. If governments are instituted by God for the good of societies, for the administration of justice and maintenance of law and order and bear some kind of economic responsibility through their receipt of taxes – then it follows that only a candidate that can positively contribute to these essential functions of government should ever be endorsed by Christians in a democratic election. If you have good grounds to suspect that a party or candidate will substantially compromise the delivery of justice, the rule of law or national security – you should not vote for them. Similarly, if you have grounds to believe they will behave illegally, use public money in corrupt ways or plunge the nation into bankruptcy, they should automatically be disqualified from receiving your vote.

These principles are not supposed to be a gateway to careless nitpicking. A party that wants to change one law you don’t think should change isn’t necessarily corrupting justice in the nation. A party’s track-record of questionable economic management is not the same as one who poses a lethal risk to the economy etc; But if you sincerely believe someone cannot perform the essential functions of government outlined in the Bible, you shouldn’t vote for them.

b) What does the Bible encourage Christians to pray for our government and society?

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:1-4, ESV).

We’re called here to pray for a political situation where we can be leading peaceful, quiet, godly and dignified lives and where the gospel can advance unhindered and bring salvation to many. I suggest that what we’re told to pray for is also what we should aim to vote for. This passage reinforces the idea that our prime criteria for governments is their facilitation of a stable and peaceful society – but it adds another important element. Christians should pray for and vote for leaders who will enable us to freely carry out the vital work of gospel ministry. Practically speaking, this means that you should only vote for a candidate or party that is serious about maintaining freedom of religious expression in Australia. Any party or person who wishes to restrict the capacity of Christians to freely worship God, live consistently with Christ’s teachings and freely spread the good news should never receive a Christian’s vote at any election.

c) What other essential principles should we consider when supporting candidates for election?

“Single issue voting” is where you refuse to vote for a particular candidate based on a critically unacceptable position they hold. In light of the above, a single issue that determines who you don’t vote for might be something like:
“I won’t vote for any candidate that compromises the rule of law in Australia” or “I won’t vote for any candidate that wants to restrict essential freedoms, like freedom of religion, association or speech.”

There are a range of additional issues that relate to Christian ethics or fundamental liberties that might cause a Christian voter to reject a candidate or party based on their policy position. The most important one is the most fundamental right of all: the right of all innocent people to have their lives protected by the law. Christians should refuse to support parties and candidates that advocate the acceptability of abortion or euthanasia – both of which wrongly destroy innocent lives.

The legally sanctioned, systematic extermination of helpless, unborn, human life is one of the worst things going on in country today. While ending abortion will never be the church’s primary mission (and in fact, only the faithful proclamation of the gospel will see any lasting transformation in this area), neither should Christians support those who would happily see this abhorrent practice continued indefinitely. Likewise, love for our elderly neighbours should make us gravely concerned about the dangers of legal euthanasia and withhold our support from candidates who wish to make it a reality.

Beyond these essential issues of life, essential liberties and a just, functioning legal system, it can be difficult to determine precisely what other issues might be serious enough to automatically disqualify a candidate from receiving your vote. I personally see the definition of marriage as an issue of enough weight to lead me to refuse to vote for any candidate that openly supports a redefinition. I neither wish to vote in support of something that I regard as false and immoral, nor do I consider it loving towards my neighbour to support something I honestly don’t believe is in their best interest.

Likewise, if a candidate or party promotes racism (as many sadly have in recent years), I would consider it improper to give them my support. A person’s ethnicity should not make them subject to vilification or mistreatment under the law.

So you see, establishing what the fundamentals are, is useful for disqualifying a range of parties and candidates from your consideration (which itself is a helpful first step). But how do we approach other issues that remain undiscussed and pick between those parties and candidates that remain contenders for our vote?

I’ll talk more about that in part 2.

[1] Michael Dawes “Parliament House” (CC BY-NC 2.0) flickr.