COMMENTARY ON "PURPOSE DRIVEN LIFE" PART THREE
On page 173, Warren writes about God’s ultimate goal for our life on earth being the development of character. I personally believe that God’s ultimate goal for us is to be reconciled to Him through Christ. Development of righteous character should flow from such reconciliation but is not, in and of itself, the ultimate goal for our life on earth.
On page 175, Warren writes of the need to put forth effort in our quest to develop character. He then says, “While effort has nothing to do with your salvation, it has much to do with spiritual growth.” My question is this: If our effort to develop spiritual character has nothing to do with our salvation, then what incentive is there to put forth the effort? Your answer may be: "Because we love Christ and want to please Him." My response is: Is loving Christ and wanting to please Him required for salvation? If you say yes, then aren’t you saying works are involved in salvation since pleasing Christ involves obeying Christ, which involves works of righteousness? To this you will probably say: “but works can’t save us.” To this I would agree. But then the question arises: Can I be saved without works of righteousness? As you can see, it’s the old grace and works issue. So here’s my take on it:
Multiple dozens of scriptures show that God expects us to live righteously in response to what Christ did for us. While our righteous behavior can’t save us, such behavior, nevertheless, appears to be a required dynamic in the salvation process. Therefore acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice is literally defined by our response to His teachings. Christ said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” John said that if we say we love Christ and don’t keep his commandants, we are a liar. We can’t just accept his sacrifice, claim to love Christ, and ignore what He taught. Because of continuing to have human nature, we will never behave perfectly. God does not expect us to. That’s why there is grace. A failure, however, to put forth the effort to obey Christ (build spiritual character) is tantamount to not accepting his sacrifice. Therefore I believe that our effort to build spiritual character is a required dynamic in the salvation process. As said earlier, It is our obedience to what Christ taught that defines our faith in Christ and His sacrifice on our behalf.
The scriptures clearly show that repentance is a prerequisite to receiving salvation. Repentance means to change. Repentance is defined by a willingness to turn form works of unrighteousness to works of righteousness. Therefore repentance involves works. John the Baptist told the religious leaders that came to him to be baptized, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” John asked them to produce some evidence that they were really repentant. I believe the scriptures clearly show that our faith in Christ for remission of sin is defined by our willingness and subsequent effort to repent. I believe our failure to remain in a repentant attitude is synonymous with a loss of faith in Christ.
A loss of faith in Christ can result in loss of salvation. James plainly said that faith without works is dead. Dead faith will not lead to salvation.
James 2:14-26: “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that--and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God's friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”
Scripture plainly teaches that we are saved by grace through faith and not by works. Our works can’t save us. Our efforts to obey Christ won’t save us. But our faith, demonstrated and confirmed by our efforts, is the pathway to our being given grace. Grace operates through faith. That faith is defined by our effort to please God. Scripture says that without faith it is impossible to please God. If we are to define faith by our deeds, as James clearly appears to do, then works, deeds, efforts, whatever you choose to call it, are an obvious required dynamic in the salvation process. So contrary to what Warren (and many others) write, our efforts have a great deal to do with our salvation.
Salvation is not unconditional as is so often taught in Christian circles. Repentance is a condition of salvation. Our repentance can’t earn us salvation. We have already earned eternal death because of sin. As humans, we could never change enough to earn eternal life. That’s why there is grace. Faith brings us to Christ and reconciliation with God. But just as in the example of Abraham and Rahab, faith has to be validated. Faith is not just an ethereal something that goes on in our heads. It must be demonstrated in our behavior for it to have any efficacy.
CHAPTER 23: HOW CAN WE GROW?
ON PAGE 180, Warren quotes Paul: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed--not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence--continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose (Philippians 2: 12-13). Warren then says the following:
“This verse, written to believers, is not about how to be saved, but how to grow. It does not say ‘work for’ your salvation, because we can’t add anything to what Jesus already did.”
I agree that we can’t add anything to what Christ did. That, however, is not Paul’s subject here. Paul is talking about working out salvation. It’s rather presumptuous of Warren to say that Paul is talking about growth rather than salvation. Notice that Paul hooks salvation to obedience. He says, “As you have always obeyed…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” As stated above, faith in Christ is defined by our obedience to Christ and is therefore a required dynamic in our being given salvation. Again, obedience doesn’t and can’t earn salvation, but it is a condition of salvation.
In the parable of the prodigal son the father readily forgave him and accepted him back. The fathers’ forgiveness was always available. It had to be activated, however, by the repentance of the son. If the son had not chosen to recognize and admit the error of his ways he would not have come back. There would not have been an actualization of the fathers’ forgiveness and therefore no reconciliation. In like manner, God is always ready to forgive us. All we need to do is ask. The act of asking for forgiveness is reflective of our admission of wrongdoing and a desire not to repeat the wrongdoing. That is what repentance is all about. If we live with an attitude of repentance we have nothing to fear relative to salvation.
CHAPTER 25: TRANSFORMED BY TROUBLE
On page 194, Warren states: “Regardless of the cause, none of your problems could happen without God’s permission. Everything that happens to a child of God is father-filtered, and he intends to use it for good even when Satan and others mean it for bad. Page 195: “Because every day of your life was written on God’s calendar before you were born, everything that happens to you has spiritual significance.”
Here we again fine Warren teaching deterministic doctrine, which I dealt with at some length earlier in this essay. I will not repeat that discussion here. Suffice it to say, I don’t believe the scriptures teach this approach. All people of all cultures and religious faiths go through trials and experience trouble in this physical life. It’s a normal and natural part of life. Sometimes we are strengthened by trouble and sometimes we are weakened. I don’t see God constantly involved, pulling the strings and “filtering” what happens to us because we are of the Christian faith. What happens to us as Christians is the same as what happens to non-Christians and vice versa. Paul made this very clear.
1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”
On page 196, Warren writes: “All things work for bad for those living in opposition to God and insist on having their own way.” This is patently untrue and a rather irresponsible statement. Many people live in opposition to the ways of the Christian God and do things their way and do not have “bad things” happening to them any more than anyone else. This is pure nonsense.
On page 199, Warren says: “You know you are maturing when you begin to see the hand of God in the random, baffling, and seemingly pointless circumstances of life.” Here is where the danger lies. People assume that the “hand of God” is involved in everything going on in their lives. They have no evidence that this is the case. It’s just assumed. Rather than being pro-active in resolving problems and making informed decisions, people will lay back and wait for God to work things out. When nothing happens, they become disillusioned with God and begin to draw back from Him.
As I discussed earlier in this paper, God has set the human process in motion and allows it to proceed within the context of His overall will. He created us with the capacity for thought and to have the power of choice. Human choice is what largely governs what happens to us in life. This should be evident from logically and objectively looking at our lives and the lives of those around us. While God can and will get involved in our lives when He feels it is necessary, the evidence of life does not support the kind of involvement that Warren would like to have us believe.
Warren makes some good points in this chapter. Unfortunately his continued deterministic approach to life tends to overshadow them.
CHAPTER 27: DEFEATING TEMPTATION
Warren tends to see Satan as the source of temptation. I see human nature as the source of temptation. The apostle James made a profound statement about the cause of sin:
James 1:15: “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”
James points out that our evil desire is what leads to sin. James wrote, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you?” (James 4:1). James also made this statement: “Do you think scripture says without reason that the spirit He caused to live in us tends toward envy” (James 4:5). James shows we have a spirit that tends toward envy. Jeremiah wrote thousands of years ago, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9, KJV). Man has a nature that tends toward sin.
Man has always had freedom of choice. Since man’s nature tends toward sin, man has more often than not chose sin rather than righteousness. Some believe that Satan is responsible for human nature. James wrote that it is God who is responsible for our human nature.
Warren says we should ignore temptation and not fight it. This is somewhat of a circular argument. If we ignore temptation we are also fighting it. Warren does give some good advice, however, as to how best to handle temptation.
CHAPTER 29: ACCEPTING YOUR ASSIGNMENT
On page 128, Warren writes: “What God told Jeremiah is also true for you: ‘Before I made you in your mothers’ womb, I chose you. Before you were born, I set you apart for a special work.’ You were placed on this planet for a special assignment.” It is irresponsible for Warren to conclude that what God did with Jeremiah is applicable to us all. What God told Jeremiah applies to Jeremiah. There is nothing in this passage to suggest that what God did with Jeremiah is applicable to everyone. This is terrible exegesis/hermeneutic on Warren’s part. The rest of this chapter is very good. Warren makes excellent points.
CHAPTER 30: SHAPED FOR SERVING GOD
On page 234 & 235 we find Warren once again preaching determinism. He goes so far as to say that God “deliberately mixed the DNA cocktail that created you.” I wonder how the child born with a genetic related disease would feel about that. The child born blind, deaf, missing a hand, missing a kidney, having Down syndrome etc. etc., as a result of a genetic mutation won’t take very kindly to the idea that God was directly responsible for having “deliberately mixed” their DNA to produce them. In all due respect to Mr. Warren, this is pure nonsense.
On page 236, Warren writes: God gives every believer spiritual gifts to be used in ministry. These are special God-empowered abilities for serving him that are given only to believers.” He backs this up by saying, “The Bible says, “Whoever does not have the Spirit cannot receive the gifts that come from God’s Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:14, Today’s English Version [TEV])
Let’s look at some actual translations of this passage. The TEV is more of a paraphrase.
“The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (NIV).
“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (KJV).
“The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (RSV)
Do you really think that Paul is talking about spiritual gifts/abilities in this passage? Why would anyone look at their abilities and conclude they are foolishness and not understand them? If you read this entire chapter, you will see that Paul is not talking about spiritual gifts to be used in ministry. Paul is talking about the wisdom and knowledge of the Christ event that they were privileged to understand and the religious leaders and rulers of their age were not able to understand. It is in chapter 12 that Paul addresses the subject of spiritual gifts, not here in chapter 2. Warren misuses this scripture to support his teaching.
CHAPTER 31: UNDERSTANDING YOUR SHAPE
Warren begins this chapter writing the following: “Only you can be you. God designed each of us so there would be no duplication in the world. No one has the exact same mix of factors that make you unique. That means no one else on earth will ever be able to play the role God planned for you. If you don’t make your unique contribution to the Body of Christ, it won’t be made.” Warren’s conclusion just isn’t true. Yes, we all are genetically unique. We are not so unique that no one else can do what we do. With a little thought about the realities of life, it should be self evident that God can easily insert someone else to take our place if we don’t make the contribution that God desires of us.
On page 243, Warren suggests that if you have the ability to make money, you should use that ability to serve others and “return at least a tithe (10%) of the profit to God as an act of worship.” I agree that we should give of our wealth to God as an act of worship. The tithe is an Old Covenant requirement. For Warren to suggest that people with money should at least give a tithe is to revert back to an abolished system. I have no argument with the need to be a giver. I don’t believe it should be tied to an abolished system. I would be interested to know how Warren thinks people of lesser financial means should gauge their giving.
SIDE NOTE: Warren, like other Christian writers, tries to distinguish between spiritual gifts and abilities you are born with. He speaks of spiritual gifts as special abilities that come from the Holy Spirit after becoming a Christian. Does the evidence really show this? I will use myself as an example. I became a Christian in 1965 shortly before graduating from college. I began attending a Christian church in June of 1965 and within a few years was heavily involved in the ministries of youth work, music, fund raising, coaching and teaching. The skills I needed to do these things were not suddenly poured into my head as a result of becoming a Christian. These skills were developed during my formative years beginning in childhood. When I became a Christian, I simple began to now use these skills in the Church. I had already been developing and using these skills all through high school and college in a variety of involvements.
All humans are born with specific genetic profiles that determine proclivities toward developing specific skills as opposed to other skills. Depending on the circumstances one is born into and the opportunities presented, such skills are both developed and used or they are not. There are truly spiritual gifts that are not the result of ones genetics and training. An ability to pray for the sick and see consistent results would be a special supernatural gift. The ability to accurately prophecy future events on a consistent basis would be a special gift. I don’t see these kinds of gifts extant in the Church. What are claimed to be spiritual gifts appear to be the natural and normal developed abilities that all humans have to one extent or another. Granted, all abilities ultimately come from God who is responsible for the engineering of our humanity. When Paul speaks of spiritual gifts is he simply reflecting on the diversity of the natural and normal abilities people are born with and develop? I think we need to carefully reexamine and evaluate what Paul wrote regarding these matters.
CHAPTER 33: HOW REAL SERVANTS ACT
Great chapter! I wholeheartedly agree. I do have one observation: The scriptures teach that we should serve, not for reward but because it is the right thing to do. Yet the scriptures also speak of being rewarded for our service. Isn’t this an oxymoron of sorts? If unpretentious, quite service is the ideal, why be rewarded for it? Just a thought for consideration.
CHAPTER 36: MADE FOR A MISSION
On page 282, Warren says, “God wants to redeem human beings from Satan and reconcile them to himself.” I believe it is more correct to say that God has redeemed us. Scripture shows that Satan held the power of death. That power was destroyed through the Christ event. Satan no longer holds the power of death over us. To be redeemed means to be bought back. Christ has already has accomplished that. We just have to believe it and act on it.
On page 282, Warren writes, “Your mission is so significant that Jesus repeated it five times, in five different ways, in five different books of the Bible. It is as if he was saying, ‘I really want you to get this!’ Study these five commissions of Jesus and you will learn the details of your mission on earth.”
It is unfortunate that Warren makes so many solid points in his book and then turns right around and makes invalid statements such as this. Christ did not give five commissions. He did not repeat it five times. The five books that record his statement about the commission appear to be reporting the same statement in five different ways. If you will go to your Bible and read, in context, the five ways Christ’s statement is recorded, you will see by context that it is very probable that Christ made this statement once and it is being recorded in different ways by different writers. Even if you conclude that Christ made this statement several times or even five times, it is still only one commission not five.
Matthew 28:19-20: Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
Mark 16:15: “He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.”
Luke 24:47: Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
John 20:21: Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."
Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
CHAPTER 37: SHARING YOUR LIFE MESSAGE
Some good points in this chapter but I really feel Warren assumes too much divine involvement in our lives. For example he says, “God gives some people a godly passion to champion a cause.” He goes on to list a number of such causes. While God can be the unseen power behind a cause, I don’t see this as the routine. People take up all kinds of causes, many times totally outside of involving deity. Christians even get involved in causes that are questionable as to divine authorization or agreement. I think we need to be very careful in attributing to God causes that we may personally get excited about but may in reality have no divine association at all.
This concludes my commentary on The Purpose Driven Life. I have shared this commentary with Rick Warren and he responded by telling me that it gave him some things to think about. As stated on page one of this essay, Mr. Warren makes many good points in his book. In some cases he makes outstanding points. There are a number of entire chapters where I completely agreed with what he has to say. On the other hand, he makes statements and draws conclusions that are problematical and at times totally invalid. I trust that this commentary will provide incentive for those who read The Purpose Driven Life to exercise caution and care as they go through the material.