Romans 11:33-36

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Things I learned at the 2010 SBC Annual Meeting

Never depend on someone else to do the right thing.

Early on in discussions about the interim report of the GCR Task Force, several of us commented on the necessity of voting on the recommendations individually. Although I was fairly confident that the Task Force was going to presented them that way, we discussed the parliamentary possibilities if the report was presented as a whole. There were several options available that would have at least forced a vote on considering the recommendations individually. Had that happened, I think the outcome might have turned out differently. We will never know.

I sat amazed as the Task Force boldly presented their recommendations as a whole. My amazement grew to shock as no one moved to divide the question. A motion was made to table it, which would have effectively killed it. Although opposed to the recommendations, I voted against the motion to table. I thought that the diligent work of the Task Force should at least be decided upon. Another motion was made to refer the recommendations to the Executive Committee for further study and consideration. This seemed to be a fair motion, but was soundly defeated. The mood of the messengers (whether for or against) was to deal with the issue without further delay.

The right thing to do was to decide the issue that day. I still believe that the right thing also would have been to decide on each of the recommendations separately. I was not alone in feeling that way. As a matter of fact, nearly everybody that I talked to—both for and against—felt that way. So why did it not happen? It didn’t happen because no one made the motion.

A motion to divide the question is a simple motion. It requires a second (which the man in the rear-left of the convention hall would have eagerly and loudly made). It does not even allow debate, so absolutely no eloquence would have been required. After the motion and second, all it requires is a simple majority vote. I believe it would have had a good chance of passing—but we will never know. We will never know because no one made the motion. We will never know because I did not make the motion.

Sitting back and hoping someone else will do the right thing is the same as doing nothing. I did nothing, so we will never know what might have happened.

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Why Creation Is Necessary

The first vital aspect of the doctrine of creation in theology is ontological in nature. Creation is antithetical to dualistic ideas that have persisted for millennia. Dualism states there are two ultimate principles that are essentially real – good and evil, male and female, hot and cold, forms and ideals, yin and yang. Tied up in the dualistic worldview is the concept that matter is evil. Syncretism with ancient philosophical dualistic beliefs led the medieval church into tragic monasticism and its priests into masochistic self-effacement. The biblical doctrine of creation, on the other hand, sees God as higher than and separate from His creation. Evil is not an eternal counterbalance to God’s goodness – it is a result of the free rebellion of His independent creatures. Dualism’s only means of providing hope is by the “progressive” nature of Hegelian synthesis. In reality, hope becomes hopelessness if good (thesis) has to become bad (antithesis) to progress. The non-dualistic nature of biblical creation allows for hope because it declares that evil is not necessary. This is dealt with in more detail by the third aspect.

The second aspect of the doctrine of creation in theology is its uniqueness. It is unique in that God’s creative act was not limited by the nature of preexisting materials. Although man’s mind can conceive of a warp-factor-nine Starship Enterprise, he is unable to create such a vehicle due to the physical and mechanical limits of the materials available. God, on the other hand, spoke the universe into existence ex nihilo. He was in no way limited by the intrinsic properties of raw materials. Even when He created man from the dust of the earth, man did not become special until God uniquely breathed into him the breath of life.

To expand on the first point, the doctrine of creation means that nothing was originally made intrinsically evil. In a dualistic worldview, evil is eternal and is therefore necessary. Existence can be seen as a cosmic seesaw with good and evil in a constant struggle for balance. To the dualist, the highest form of being exists in the balance point. There are many names for this ethereal equilibrium but it is most prominently known as Utopia, harmony, or Nirvana. The Bible contradicts this notion in its opening chapter. God ended every act of creation by declaring the results good. When I previously installed antennas for the Air Force, the team’s final quality control act was to affix a metal tag to the highest point of the tower. The tag was stamped with the words: “738EIG – Installed with Pride, Worldwide.” God’s declaration of the goodness of His creation not only indicated satisfaction with a job well done, but also was God’s personal stamp of perfection on His work. Everything was created good in order to reflect God’s glory but was later marred by sin and the resultant curse.

Fourthly, the doctrine of creation places responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the human race. Once again, this is a natural outflow of a non-dualistic creation. If matter is not evil, and God is not evil, who is responsible for the obvious presence of evil in the world? Where we err many times is when we answer that question by saying, “the Devil.” While Satan is an extremely powerful evil being, it is important to remember that he was created good. The fact is, sin is responsible for the presence of evil in the world. Sin is not a “who” or a “what”, it is a volitional act of the will of God’s created beings. When sin is seen in its proper light, there is no other choice but to see man as solely responsible for the presence of evil in the world.

Another outcrop of the non-dualistic nature of the doctrine of creation is it guards against depreciating the incarnation of Christ. Those who hold to a dualistic worldview cannot reconcile the hypostatic union of God and man in the person of Jesus. The influence of dualism throughout history has led to most heresies that deny either the deity or the humanity of Christ including Gnosticism and Docetism. Immanuel, God with us, flies in the face of any attempt at dualism and could only have been accomplished in accordance with biblical creation.

The sixth aspect of the doctrine of creation in theology is the interrelationship of all creation. According to Erickson, there is a connection and an affinity among the various parts of creation. Francis Schaeffer identifies this by showing the commonalities man shares with the remainder of creation. He also points out common points shared between God and man. Finally, he shows the things that separate man and creation from God. He uses this chain of logic to define what he terms man’s “mannishness”. Erickson indicates this connection and affinity among the various parts of creation leads to responsible ecological stewardship of God’s creation.

The final aspect of the doctrine of creation in theology moves away from the dangers of dualism and tackles the equally hazardous heresy of monism. The biblical doctrine of creation makes it plainly clear that God is separate from His creation. Monism purports ultimate reality as the unknowable force that lies behind all existence. Gods, demigods, angels, spiritual beings, men, and animals all emanated from the unknowable force as light rays emanate from the Sun. Not only does the Bible specifically state that God is distinct from creation, it also shows He is knowable. He spoke creation into existence and formed man out of the dust of the ground. He personally, intimately interacted with His creation while remaining distinct from it.

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Things I learned at the 2010 SBC Annual Meeting

It’s hard to see past our immediate context.

It's hard to see the forest past the immediate tree we're looking at.  People automatically tend to filter methodological decisions through their immediate contextual grid. Diversity is not only important to our convention, it is essential. Achieving racial diversity, non-essential theological diversity, regional diversity and church-size diversity throughout our denomination is crucial as we move forward. A white, urban Calvinist hipster has valuable insight for the direction of our convention. So does a black, inner-city revivalist missionary. So does a mega-church, multi-staff nationally known pastor. So does a rural, traditional, bi-vocational pastor. We are not a convention of white, Southern mega-churches. We are a convention of churches of all types, styles, sizes and stripes. We have churches that need planted as well as churches that need to be renewed. As a convention, our focus must be on Jerusalem (local), Judea (regional and national), Samaria (those in our region/nation who look and act different than us) and the ends of the earth—at all times in all ways. The only way that can happen is if we diligently strive to have diversity in all areas of our convention. On the boards, committees and staffs, and even on the platform.

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Things I learned at the 2010 SBC Annual Meeting

All issues are theological at their core.

The only way to figure out the best methodologies is to have your theology right. While the Southern Baptist Convention has settled the question of biblical inerrancy and authority, there are still great differences of interpretation in what the Bible actually says and its implications for how we function as a convention of churches. Our words clearly articulate the primacy of the local church. Our recent actions have not matched our words. Is the convention to try to act as one large church? Are the entities of the convention to take on roles and tasks traditionally and theologically reserved for local churches? How is our polity theologically informed and should we maintain and defend our traditional role of boards, committees and trustees made up of hundreds of members of diverse local churches scattered throughout our convention? Or should their clear will be usurped or manipulated by small ad hoc committees of influential personalities? Our ecclesiology should consistently inform those issues and prevent us from potential denominational shipwreck.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Things I learned at the 2010 SBC Annual Meeting

Politics are necessary, but don’t have to be ugly.

“Politics” carries a negative connotation in our culture. “Polis”, the word from which we get “politics” simply refers to a gathering of people. In other words, politics is what happens anytime a group of people gather. Despite the negative connotation, we can’t escape the fact that politics happen. Whether in the local church, or at a denominational level, politics are a necessary fact of life. Since politics are inevitable, we must focus on how we conduct ourselves during and after their processes. Will we be fair and just in trying to promote our positions and accomplish our ends? Will we be gracious and humble in defeat? In the months leading up to the convention and in the convention itself, we saw positive and negative examples of both. It is my prayer in the days to follow we will exhibit the mind of Christ as we move forward. I praise God that political differences were publically handled gracefully and peacefully from both the floor and the platform of this year’s convention.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

2010 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting Follow-up

It's been a few days since the conclusion of the 2010 SBC Annual Meeting in Orlando.  Commentary over the past few days has ranged from utter despair to sheer ecstasy.  Over the years, I have tried to cultivate a teachable spirit.  Whatever circumstance I experience--whether immediately perceived as good or bad--I try to learn something from it.  I have made it no secret that I oppose the recommendations made by the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force. I was surprised that they passed, although I suspect that there were many who did not fully understand the implications of what they were voting on.  Rhetoric is a powerful tool and it was skillfully employed during the Pastors' Conference and Convention.  Those decisions are now in the hands of our entity trustees. We should now pray specifically for their wisdom and discernment as they go forward.

Later on, I may post my thoughts on where I think we should go from here.  I am still prayerfully sorting through my thoughts on how I will lead our church in these matters.  For now, I want to share with you some of the immediate things I learned in Orlando.  I will be posting these thoughts over the next several days, so continue to look for them.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Creation and Evolution

When discussing contradictions between two conflicting sources of information, there are three options one can take. Either the first must be true, the second must be true, or neither can be true. So it is between the Bible and science. While this is an overly simplistic statement, it encompasses the debate between Biblical creationism and materialistic theories of origin. Too often, Christians have bent the rod of Scripture to accommodate the musings of scientists who themselves even acknowledge the theoretical nature of their work. One would think Christendom would learn from history. Every time Scripture is contorted to support the “flavor of the day” in theoretical science, empirical data later prove the theory wrong. Take for example the early geocentric view of the universe. Much is made today of the Catholic Church’s rejection of Galileo’s endorsement of the Copernican heliocentric theory. The history is presented from the bias of comparing the Church’s ignorant allegiance to geocentricity, even as scientific data opposed it, to modern Christian objections to evolution. Virtually no quarter is given to the idea that the Catholic Church was tenaciously holding to a false doctrine based on incorrect scientific theories purported years before. They saw the geocentric science of the day, then bent Scripture to proof-text and accommodate it. When the scientific theories were empirically proven wrong, the Church believed it had to protect the false theory to preserve the veracity of Scripture. We would be wise to see that it has never worked to bend Scripture to accommodate science. This brings me to consideration of Millard Erickson’s view of origins.

In his systematic theology, Christian Theology, Erickson professes belief in what is termed the “age-day theory”. Erickson wrote, “The age-day theory is based upon the fact that the Hebrew word yom, while it most frequently means a twenty-four-hour period, is not limited to that meaning. It can also mean epochs or long periods of time, and that is how it should be understood in this context. This view holds that God created in a series of acts over long periods of time. The geological and fossil records correspond to the days of his creative acts.” There are many problems with this theory, of which I will deal with two.

First, there is the Biblical problem. While it is true that yom can be rendered as “age” or “epoch”, it is only done so when there is clear contextual support for that concept. Otherwise, it is translated in its most natural sense as a 24-hour period. There is clear contextual support to insure the proper translation of yom in Genesis 1. Instead of supporting the age-day rendering, the inclusion of “the evening and the morning were the X day” adds support and therefore emphasis to the most natural translation – that of a 24-hour period. This is, in fact, a triple emphasis. The first is 24-hour period is the most natural rendering of the word. Second, the 24-hour periods are bracketed the same way that every 24-hour period man has ever experienced has been bracketed – with a morning and an evening. While a new age can be said to be dawning, I am not linguistically familiar with any reference to an age’s evening. The third emphasis is the enumeration of the days. Not one Scriptural instance of yom being used to describe an age or epoch is modified by a number. On the other hand, it is common Scriptural practice to numerically quantify 24-hour days.

The second problem with Erickson’s age-day theory is a scientific one. While accommodation theories such as this one were formulated to bend Scripture to support the latest scientific theories; once again, science pulled the rug out. The irreconcilable tension between Newtonian physics, Einstein’s theory of relativity, and quantum physics has led to strange new theories involving multiple dimensions and strings. According to string theory, creation could have happened in 7 seconds – two weeks from now. Time has no concrete meaning in the mind of modern theoretical physicists. To add to the scientific problem, astronomers can’t figure out if our universe is expanding or contracting – or both. Certain astrophysicists with one type of bias search out data that “irrefutably proves” the universe is expanding. Others, with opposing biases find different data that “irrefutably proves” the universe is contracting. One thing virtually all modern scientists agree upon – Darwinian evolutionary theory is untenable. The age-day hypothesis originated as a way for the Bible to show enough time to account for the billions of years Darwin, Dawkins, and Hawking called for. Their brand of evolutionary theory is now passé due to modern conceptions of time.

Erickson’s support of the age-day theory is untenable and unnecessary. Hopefully, one day we will learn to bend our rational and empirical studies toward the unbendable Canon of Scripture. When we do, we will find that God’s Word was right all along.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Why I Am Running for First Vice President of the SBC

My name is Jim Drake. Odds are, you’ve never heard of me. Let me take a few minutes to tell you about myself. First of all, I am a child of the King—chosen, purchased and redeemed by Jesus Christ. All that I am and all that I ever will be is because of Him. My chief desire is for everything I do to bring glory and honor to His great name. Second, I am a husband to Miranda—the finest woman I know. She has graced me by joyfully serving in the two most difficult callings a person can have, military wife and pastor’s wife. She is my continual support, encouragement, council and companion. Third, I am a father to Kyla, Katelyn and CJ. Kyla (21) is married to Josh Lange and is expecting my first grandson in August. She is enrolled at Auburn University Montgomery in Montgomery, AL. Katelyn (17) just completed her junior year at Mercer Christian Academy and dreams of dancing with Bellhaven College’s Ballet Magnificat. CJ (15) just completed his freshman year of homeschooling. He thinks he is being called into some sort of ministry—possibly youth ministry. Finally, I am a pastor to the wonderful people of Brushfork Baptist church. You have probably never heard of Brushfork, but if you are like the vast majority of Southern Baptists, our church is just like yours. We are a small congregation in a dying community. For us, growth often means replacing those who have gone home to be with the Lord. Thank God we have been able to do that over the years. We will never make national news, but we are able to see people saved. We are able to see people baptized. We are able to see them grow in the Lord. We are able to disciple them and even ordain some and send them off on mission. We are able to plant churches in cooperation with other churches in our local association. We are able to accomplish the Great Commission. From our little post in Southern West Virginia, we are able to reach our Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and even the furthest reaches of the earth.
I believe that my situation pictures most of you. Brushfork Baptist Church is not unique. Small churches on mission for Christ are historically normative. The historical anomaly of the handfuls of mega-churches in our convention are a tremendous blessing, but they are not the backbone of our convention. The backbone of our convention are small, local community churches, linked together with a common core theology, love for the Bible as the inerrant, infallible Word of God and a passion for reaching the lost with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Thousands of local Southern Baptist preaching points are precious in the sight of the Lord and should not be overlooked or discounted as “insignificant”.

I think it is time to remind ourselves that the majority of our churches are small. The vast majority of our baptisms come from small churches. The vast majority of our giving comes from small churches. The vast majority of our leadership originated in small churches. IMB, NAMB, ERLC, EC nor our six seminaries would exist without the cooperative support of small churches. They would not exist without churches like Brushfork Baptist. And they would not exist without churches like yours.
I did not seek this office nor have I campaigned for it.  I believe this is a door of opportunity that the Lord is placing before me.  If it is His will that I serve Him in this way, I will serve with a whole heart.  If not, I will continue to serve Him wherever He would have me.  Whether or not you support me for 1st Vice President, understand this—your church is significant. It’s not significant because of its size or location. It’s significant because of Who it belongs to. It is significant because Revelation 1:12-20 tells us that Jesus is walking in its midst and holding your pastor in the palm of His hand. I have allowed myself to be nominated for this office because I think Southern Baptists need to be reminded of that.

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Is This the Best of All Possible Worlds?

In his book, Christian Theology, Millard Erickson has developed a unique model for reconciling the perceived problem of the sovereignty of God and the freewill of man. He agrees with the Calvinist in holding to the Biblical notion that God’s decree has predetermined all human outcomes. At the same time, he propounds the notion of human freewill. His definition of freewill is somewhat unique, but not unheard of. Freewill to him concerns man’s ability as opposed to his actual performance. “What we are saying is that God renders it certain that a person who could act (or could have acted) differently does in fact act in a particular way (the way that God wills).” In order to unite the two seemingly disparate concepts, he has brought forth the hypothesis that God, in His foreknowledge, looks at all the infinite genetic combinations possible. He then only brings into existence those people who have the chemical combinations that will desire to accomplish the ends He has predestined. His hypothesis falls mainly on two points as I see it. First, it purports a form of chemical determinism that I think is incompatible with the Scriptural concept of being created in the unique image of God. When God breathed the breath (spirit) of life into the flesh of man, He caused him to be a living soul. This union of spirit and flesh that God combined to form the soul of man is what makes him unique among all creation. It is this imago dei in man that makes him uniquely capable of relationship with God as opposed to some sort of materialistic bent. If, after all, the ability to relate to God were inexorably linked to man’s genetic structure, his relationship would be destroyed with the destruction of the body. The foremost problem with Erickson’s hypothesis is its link to chemical determinism and materialism. The second problem with the theory is the concept of “possible” beings verses beings God “brings into existence”. This is reminiscent of and is dangerously similar to the Mormon concept of “spirit babies”. There is an eschatological difference, but the concept of God placing a predetermined person (whether termed “spirit”, or “genetic combination”) into a body upon conception seems to be a violation of the Bible’s concept of anthropology.

A correct concept of anthropology is at the root of this argument. While I have not studied Erickson’s anthropology, this theory would indicate he holds to a materialistic view of man. This theory is based on the fact that man’s physical, chemical makeup determines his actions, down to, as Erickson wrote, the very choice to move his finger to the left rather than the right. James Watson and Francis Crick would agree. In Kevin Davies’ book, Cracking the Human Genome, Italian Nobel laureate Renato Dulbecco, while he was publicizing the Human Genome Project, was quoted as saying, “DNA is the reality of our species, and everything that happens in the world depends on those sequences.” No matter how Erickson tries to circumvent the problem, when man’s ontology is reduced to material combinations, he has no freedom. The Bible teaches man is much more than a programmed combination of chemicals. If that were the case then salvation would be reduced to the modern psychological concept of curing chemical imbalances through medication. As with most attempts to rationally reconcile God’s sovereignty with man’s freewill, either man is made less than he is or God is made less than He is.
As Erickson admitted, his hypothesis is, “in many ways similar to the argument of Gottfried von Leibniz in his Theodicy. Whereas Erickson posits God examining all possible chemical combinations, Leibniz saw God as knowing the “realm of essences that contained an infinite number of possibilities.” Their theories differ in God’s activity in the world once His initial choice is made. By recognizing God’s day-to-day involvement in His creation, Erickson skirted the almost inevitable conclusion of deism drawn by Leibniz. By doing this, he moved the apparent tension from sovereignty/freewill to a deistic verses Biblical view of God’s involvement in the lives of man.

While seemingly similar, the Arminian idea of foreknowledge differs from Erickson’s concept. Arminians see God as knowing all future possible actions of existing individuals. As stated above, Erickson sees God’s foreknowledge as seeing all possible genetic combinations and only bringing into existence the ones who will mechanistically accomplish His will. In the Arminian view, God is simply looking into the future at the freewill actions of his creation and declaring that to be His will. Despite the problems with Erickson’s theory, he does hold a higher view of the sovereignty of God than the Arminian. His view has God’s foreknowledge based on possibilities that He will actively bring into existence. It keeps sovereignty in God’s hands rather than transferring it to the control of man. As I indicated earlier, most attempts to rationally reconcile God’s sovereignty with man’s freewill result in the loss of who God is, or what Schaeffer calls man’s “mannishness”. The Arminian loses God – Erickson loses man.

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Monday, June 7, 2010

Does Prayer Really Change Things?

In his book Christian Theology, Millard Erickson puts forth the proposition that prayer really changes nothing with respect to God’s eternal purposes. He wrote, “prayer does not change what he [God] has purposed to do.” That seems to fly in the face of the contemporary Christian conception of prayer. Take for example the huge commercial success of the little book, The Prayer of Jabez. Modern Christian society has fallen for the notion that prayer is a method to talk God into doing what we want Him to do. As I read the mantra authored by Wilkenson it reminded me of Macbeth’s hags – except instead of conjuring spirits with, “double, double, toil and trouble,” he suggests we conjure God’s Spirit with “bless me Lord indeed.” The idea that man by the force of his finite will can change the eternal purposes of Almighty God elevates man to a higher plane than God. How is that different from Satan’s temptation of Eve in the Garden: “you can be like God”?

When most modern teachers attempt to show how to pray, they mishandle the Word of God and site examples where God supposedly changed His mind based on the prayer of a believer. The text where Moses intercedes on behalf of the Israelites for God not to destroy them after their worship of the golden calf is frequently cited. When they use this passage as a proof-text, they never consider the fact that if God had destroyed them, He would have been unfaithful to His promises. Since God cannot break His Word, it would have been impossible for Him to do anything but affirmatively answer Moses’ prayer. God was using the intercession of His servant Moses to solidify Moses’ pastoral compassion and care for his people. God was going to preserve His chosen people no matter what Moses did. God used Moses’ intercession to conform Moses to His will. Intercession doesn’t change the One being entreated, it changes the interceder.

Abraham’s apparent bidding war with the Angel of the Lord over His destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is another proof-text often cited. Abraham asked the pre-incarnate Christ if He would destroy the righteous with the wicked. He then seemingly began to talk Him out of destroying the city if there were 50, then 45, then 40, then 30, then 20, and finally 10 righteous people living there. The question is – did Abraham’s superb skills in the art of persuasion convince God of how unreasonable He was to destroy the city if there were righteous people there? Or was God longsuffering in teaching Abraham how He was just in the destruction He was about to rain down on the tremendously wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham learned a lot in that encounter – he’s the one who changed. He learned of God’s justice and he learned of His mercy. God also taught Abraham He was merciful in saving Lot and his daughters even though they had absolutely no effect on the culture in which they had steeped themselves.

A third proof-text is James 5:16b, “the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” I have heard this verse used in every sense from “name it claim it” (or as a pastor once said, “gab it, grab it”), to a treatise on fervency, to how to get God to do what you want Him to do. I have never heard this verse used in the context with which it is given. Prayer is an essential part of the Christian walk, which is the subject of James’ epistle. The problem comes in interpreting what the “much” is that effective, fervent prayer avails. I would contend, and I think Erickson would agree, that prayer doesn’t avail God of His immutability. It also doesn’t avail Him of His eternal plan, His decree, or His foreknowledge. However, I would say that prayer avails man of his ineffectiveness. It also avails him of his tepidness and his unrighteousness. Prayer doesn’t change God – He doesn’t need changing. He is perfect and immutable. We, on the other hand, are depraved creatures who, although created in the image of God, are marred by sin. We are marred to the point that even our righteousnesses are as filthy rags. We are the ones who need changing. Even after we have been saved by the blood of Jesus Christ, the Bible tells us we have to strive to attain the mind of Christ. We still have an old nature to battle. Prayer changes the one who needs changing, not the One who doesn’t.

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