The Problem of Sarcasm


When the majority of people speak and write these days, their words are frequently laced with invective, casual profanity, a profound sense of self-absorption, or all of the above. If there is any evidence of how far society has strayed from God, it's in our words. Many believers have ignored the principle of separation, and as a consequence, their speech and words unfortunately mimic the rest of society. This should not be so. As ambassadors for Christ, believers have a responsibility to not only watch their actions, but their words. Of course, assuming a kind of air-headed and rose-colored phoniness is not the answer. Exterior behavioral changes can never alter what is inside. The Holy Spirit, however, has the power to urge a person to model themselves after Christ. Jesus spoke not only with Godly love, but with Godly conviction. Note the adjectival emphasis here: Jesus' words reflect the Father in every way. Fallen Man gravitates toward speaking with love and conviction that serves the Self. James, brother of Jesus, cautioned us about our speech and its powerful effects in James Chapter 3:

8 No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness.
10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.
11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?
Now we come to the problem of sarcasm. It is ubiquitous in speech and writing today, and Christians are no less guilty of using it than others. The etymology of the word sarcasm is very telling. It comes from the Greek word sarkazein, which means to "bite the lips in rage." This doesn't have a particularly Christian ring to it. Rather, it bears much greater resemblance to the "gnashing of teeth" in Hades from Luke 13:28. Sarcasm has been variously defined as "witty language used to convey insults or scorn" and "a mocking or contemptuously ironic remark intended to wound another." The latter definition is less lenient but also far more accurate. It is also more relevant for Christians because motive is addressed. The purpose of sarcasm is ultimately about justification of Self. "Look at me. Look at my cleverness." A Christian might use sarcasm to defend a point, yet what is gained? God may be referenced, but He is not reflected. Righteousness and purity are not priorities of sarcasm. Instead, biting comments inherently involve the belittling of another individual or group's intellect, understanding, physiology, and so on to enhance the righteousness of oneself. Self is central to sarcasm.

Paul wrote to the believers in Colossians Chapter 4:
6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
When Paul wrote of "salt," he didn't mean salt in the modern sense of earthy language, but rather words revealing God's Truth. Christians should be witnesses to God's Truth, not worldliness. It is not uncommon to see Christians making fun of other Christians. Christians of all stripes engage in sarcastic jibes at each other, often on subjects falling within the realm of Christian liberty. This is grievously unfortunate, for did not Paul also warn: "Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters"? (Romans 14:1) Christians who appear uneducated, simple-minded, fundamentalist, or generally unworldly (and lacking irony) are often the targets of derision by other Christians. What happens is, by the very worldly appeal of sarcasm, unbelievers are unwittingly invited to join in the mockery. The cleverness of the put-down or incisive wit is applauded, but God is not glorified. Consider this: if you were in error, how would you react to a Christian brother or sister correcting you with sarcasm? It would set your resolve to continue in error, harden your heart, or turn you away from God's Truth. Sarcasm breeds resentment and, as such, enables sin. That does not seem to be compatible with Matthew 7:14 or 1 Corinthians 8:9.

The Bible does not directly condemn sarcasm. There are many topics which Scripture does not touch upon directly, but that doesn't mean the Bible hasn't something to say about everything. In these cases, God wants to guide us to Him first and foremost, by living in obedience to His Son and His Word. Can our use of sarcasm really pass the test of gracious speech? Is it about our cleverness and intellect or God's immutable Truth? You must answer these questions for yourself, for only God knows what's in your heart. But an unbeliever -- or a brother or sister who is weak in faith -- hears or reads only your words. They cannot see into your soul. Do your words reflect a love of irony or a love of God? Referencing the years when he fell away from his faith in God (cf. 1 Kings 11:1-4), Solomon wrote: "There is nothing new under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 1:9) Long, long before the postmodernists made relativism fashionable, Solomon understood that life without God has no meaning. Nihilism is the father of irony, and irony is the bedfellow of sarcasm. And these concepts all revolve around Self (which is death), not God (eternal life). The above passage from James Chapter 3 finishes with this verse:
12 My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

Slaves to Righteousness


The general perception of Christians is, if they aren't outright hypocrites, they don't understand the lure of sin or won't indulge sin (variously referred to as "letting loose," "having fun," "experimenting," and so on). Similar friction often divides Bible-believing Christians and nominal Christians, who see their "fundamentalist" counterparts as lacking humanity or sympathy for sinners. Clearly, both perceptions are inaccurate, and the critics know it. It's far easier to call a Christian unsympathetic or hypocritical than to reflect on the nature and consequences of of one's own actions. In the face of criticism, believers must continue to emphasize God's grace, because that is the wellspring of faith. The unredeemed sinner cannot understand true righteousness without salvation and he cannot receive salvation without grace.

The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans Chapter 8:

3 For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man,
4 In order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.
Sin, as it is understood in the mainstream context (and as it is referred to in the first paragraph), almost always refers to symptomatic sin (i.e. sexual and drug addictions, wanton violence, rage, cursing) as opposed to less "glamorous" causal sin, like inattention to God's Word, excessive worry and worldly desires, resentment, general lack of faith. All sin is separation from God (cf. Isaiah 59:2). The further an individual strays from God, the greater in degree and consumption sin becomes. Obvious behavioral sins manifest themselves from the seeds of rebellion which exist less visibly in all people. As such, sins are not all alike. The Ancient Hebrew and Greek Scriptural texts use various words to describe what is now translated as "sin," an indication that sin is not merely a static state of being which one falls into. Moroever, symptomatic sin cannot be rightly dealt with until the individual releases their hold on causal sins and submits them to Christ. God could easily take away our besetting sins, but would we be any closer to Him without our first having done the "little" things? The details are essential. Believers must also remember that the intellect is just as sinful as the rest of the body, if not more so. The mind isn't the enemy, it just isn't the answer.

1 John Chapter 3:
9 No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.
1 John 3:9 does not mean the born-again Christian will not sin. Rather, the indwelling Holy Spirit ("God's seed") convicts a believer of their sin and leads them to repentance, to change their behavior ("he cannot go on sinning"). The believer loves Christ, not sin. He or she must recognize a sin as sin, especially when presented with Biblical truth. There can be no "uneasy partnership" with sin. The Bible exhorts us to flee from it (ex. 1 Cor 6:18).

As a consequence, faithfulness to Christ inherently means a denial of our sinful nature and actions. It is not supposed to be easy. If life were meant simply to be about making easy choices, would it really need to be lived? If we were free to indulge sin just because we're all sinners, would we really need to live "three score years and ten"? (Psalm 90:10) We humans are slow learners, and sin is a dogged sort, sometimes even a juggernaut. But to give up or to give in to sin is to diminish the power of the Cross and to diminish the sufficiency of God's Word.

Sin, of course, loves nothing better than to make an individual forget God's primacy in their lives and to shipwreck their faith or their potential for a personal relationship with Christ. Sin's goal is to wear down a person until they accept it, condone it, cherish it, take pride in it. Failing that, sin strives to burden a person with a guilt so extreme that they feel beyond hope. An individual not walking closely with Christ can fall into a self-serving guilt which can be summed up as "I feel bad because it's wrong." This is quite different from a godly guilt which involves submission before the Divine Judge.

Sin aims to be all-consuming and seeks justification. A powerful central sin can motivate a person's general thought and behavior -- a life in perilous bondage. Some sins sneak in as a matter of course in the absence of godly servitude and action. Some beat you over the head. Sin relishes when you doubt God's Word, His indispensable and inerrant gift to all men and women, and when you eventually try to change it, mold it, syncretize it to fit your designs. Sin loves when you are not discerning, judging, or reasonable. Sin wants you to think that it's a battleground of flesh (mind and body), rather than a battleground of the spirit, because then you don't know who you're fighting. Sin ultimately turns you away from God and covers your eyes and ears from His Truth: "And even as they did not like to retain God in [their] knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind." (Romans 1:28, KJV)

Critics will eagerly decry a believer's lack of worldliness (whether or not that happens to be the case). Because they argue that the believer hasn't experienced "all the world has to offer" and "pathologically fears" differences, they will say that the believer is supremely unqualified to make judgments regarding right and wrong. But what is the world, except the devil's domain? Malcolm Muggeridge wrote of man's "proneness to lick the earth rather than reach up to the heavens." If anything, the so-called collective consciousness of the world is the manifestation of the principalities and powers, the rulers of darkness (cf. Ephesians 6:12). The Church serves Christ and Christ alone. The believer should be knowledgeable of the world, but they cannot love it. Paul wrote, "You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness." (Romans 6:18) He echoed the words of Jesus from Matthew Chapter 6:
24 No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.

A Good Person, Part 2


To the humanist, knowledge and compassion elevate one to the status of an informed citizen -- in other words a "good person." And while he believes that man is innately good, the humanist (reluctantly) acknowledges the reality that natural disposition and circumstance have more to do with an individual's "goodness" than anything else. With the same breath in which he promotes egalitarianism and moral relativism, the humanist contradictorily labels people as "good" or "evil." Yet, he can offer no suggestion as to how to bridge this gap and simply writes off the willfully destructive and ignorant individuals in our society.

To the believer, God's standard for righteousness is justification by His grace through faith in Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote in Titus Chapter 2:

11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.
12 It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,
13 While we wait for the blessed hope -- the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,
14 Who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
Because humanism has infiltrated their Biblical worldview, modern Christians tend to diminish either grace or faith. By diminishing grace, the modern Christian runs the risk of becoming a religious humanist -- viewing their theological and intellectual fitness as reverse engineering their salvation. By diminishing faith, the modern Christian eventually syncretizes doctrine and/or becomes a universalist.

The 20th century Christian apologist C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity: "We should not suppose that even if we succeeded in making everyone nice we should have saved their souls. A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world--and might be even more difficult to save."

When a Christian focuses on personal holiness rather than Jesus, they eerily mirror the humanist's concept of self- (or by extension, group-) engineered goodness. The fact remains that natural gifts, circumstance, location, and other mitigating factors which can contribute to a morally upright condition are solely at God's discretion. The "good person" has little to do with his or her goodness. An individual is not sanctified before the Lord simply because He has given them a naturally sweet disposition or blessed them with privileged circumstances.

A person born with an antisocial temperament and/or unfortunate circumstances is less likely to become the informed and tolerant citizen which the humanist sets as the standard for self-worth. However, a person with the qualities that appeal most to superficial man may turn out to be the furthest from God. The very gifts that God bestows on an individual for His glory can be squandered or abused, resulting in spiritual destruction. Those who have less are often more receptive to the Creator because they recognize their own limitations. The current Christian revivals in depressed or oppressed nations will attest to this.

Man's standards exist to glorify man. His value is determined by birthright, blind chance, or the work of his own hands. He is either a good person (i.e. informed citizen) or a "useless feeder." In God's eyes, no one is righteous, no matter how nice and knowledgeable they may be. Nonetheless, God gives every man, woman, and child -- regardless of station -- the choice of receiving His eternal gift of salvation. Which is the more hopeful worldview?

We have all heard, at one time or another, the axiom "there, but for the grace of God, go I." It is meant to illustrate just this concept of God's saving grace. As an extra-Biblical phrase, it is, however, an incomplete model of God's plan for man. Consider what the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians Chapter 2:
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith -- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God --
9 Not by works, so that no one can boast.
10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Man's purpose is to glorify God, and by His Grace, God equips believers with the faith necessary to fulfill that purpose. God still allows the believer to choose to execute that faith. To experience God's plan for them, the believer must remain faithful. Grace and faith together are necessary for righteousness. "For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous." (Romans 2:13) God does not let his children stray far without gentle prodding; He will not impose Himself, however. While the believer now possesses a new nature in Christ, faith remains a choice.

Faithfulness must be the hallmark of the Christian, befitting to each individual (see Romans 12:3-4). Faith is not a show. It is an inner joy in Christ. It is not about outward, blinking signs of religiosity, as in utilitarian Christianity, where God or Jesus are proclaimed repeatedly but the Holy Spirit is absent. Because Jesus' regenerative gift works inside the believer first, faith cannot be applied like make-up to make the inside look good. Do the trees, the mountains, the stars have literal signs proclaiming Jesus is the Truth? Yet the hand of the Lord is ineffably there in every part of nature. So it must be with the believer -- in God's time.

The faithfulness of each Christian will be judged at the Bema Seat of Christ. It is not to be confused with justification by good works; rather, it is another example of God's grace. We cannot always expect to understand God's grace or judgment. However, we are spiritual beings, and Heaven is a spiritual kingdom. As with sin, our faithfulness has spiritual consequences. Some may say that this makes faith sound too result-oriented, that Heaven is reward enough for believers. Yet, truly, we deserve nothing at all. Remember Jesus' parable of the workers in Matthew Chapter 20: God's grace is beyond our understanding. This parable and the Biblical references to the Bema Seat tell us that there is much more to Heaven than we can conceive. Of course a believer's purpose comes from their relationship with Christ, not from the promise of Heavenly rewards. Otherwise, they wouldn't be living for Christ. Because of that relationship, a joy already exists here on this earthly plane. However, God wants to prepare every believer for a time when they will "judge angels." (1 Corinthians 6:3) When confronted with Biblical mysteries, believers must avoid the tendency to create a small god which seems "right to a man." (Proverbs 14:12)

The Dalai Lama said some years ago on a visit to the United States: "Being religious isn't important. What matters is being a good person [emphasis added]…I believe deeply that we must find, all of us together, a new spirituality. This new concept ought to be elaborated alongside the religions in such a way that all people of good will could adhere to it." Despite the spiritual pretensions here, his words merely reflect the moral relativism and emphasis on Self that are preeminent in humanism. A Christian's purpose is wholly different from the humanist, New Ager, Buddhist, Hindu, Zoroastrian, and so on: the total purpose is to submit to Jesus Christ, not be a "good person". A realization of Selfhood is not the goal. Christ is the wellspring from which all that is righteous and holy flows.

It is impossible to judge a person's every circumstance and nature, which is why God instructs us not to judge a person's heart, although believers are to judge action and defend His Word. Righteousness is the fruit of a faithful heart, but even the most righteous believer must owe every last ounce of their righteousness to Christ.

Romans Chapter 10:
12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile -- the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him,
13 For, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."

A Good Person, Part 1


Modern man's self-worth can be summed up by the following declaration: "I'm a good person." The declaration is backed up by various, albeit similar, arguments, which revolve around this basic premise: "I'm not hurting anybody else." So, in general terms, if one doesn't kill or steal or lie, then it's all right. The parameters of these arguments are inherently malleable, for what one considers a hurtful lie, another considers "necessary," and so on. The inquisitive among us may wonder, by what and whose standards is a "good person" determined? While modern man's arguments might have a basis in quasi-religious morals and/or secular ethics, the roots are always humanist. In the humanist paradigm, group dynamics determine the parameters of what constitutes a worthy citizen. Absolute truth and an all-knowing Creator are not accepted; consequently, humanist ethics/morals can and will shift chaotically, or worse, incoherently.

Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25:

There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.
Is there any wonder that people today suffer a suffocating web of neuroses on a daily basis? The humanist's view of self-worth is a personal stake thrust in clay during a hurricane. What is the value of "I'm a good person" when it is based on cafeteria philosophy and peer-influenced morality? Believers certainly cannot reconcile themselves to this relativist philosophy and worldview where tolerance, i.e. denying moral absolutes, is the only virtue (using this term loosely). Whether or not one is a good person, in the humanist sense, is of no consequence to the believer. Righteousness is defined by the Lord and by walking with the Lord.

Paul wrote in Romans Chapter 3 (referencing Psalm 14:2-3):
10 There is no one righteous, not even one;
11 There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.
While God has placed in every individual a thirst for His truth (in the form of conscience), man, without fail, willfully ignores it at one level or another. And lacking the grace of God, man cannot slake this thirst. When people seek to define goodness, they plumb only the well of Self and are never satisfied. Humanism is not only at odds with conscience, it clouds an unbeliever's openness to God's revelation.

At Way of the Master, Ray Comfort (and Kirk Cameron) share a witnessing tool which directly aims at the contemporary self-centered mindset. First, Comfort will ask someone if they think they are a good person. Then, he proceeds to ask that individual if they know any of the Ten Commandments and whether or not they've broken any. In so doing, he stirs the God-given conscience that exists in all of us and bypasses the justifications made by our sinful flesh (mind and body). Even if that person refuses to acknowledge the relevance of the Decalogue, they are now thinking about it. The goal is to attack the root -- the sinful nature of man -- as opposed to the branches -- the symptoms of sin.

In speaking about the proponents of homosexual marriage, Karl Ortis of the San Francisco Peninsula Baptist Association said: "There is no concept of right or wrong, except for the extremes, like murder." Ortis' statement could be applied to any number of current situations. This is to be expected when the humanist premise of "if I'm not hurting anybody else, then it's okay" is society's moral bellwether. Right and wrong have become negotiable: "I don't find it personally acceptable, but I support another's right to do so." These concepts are antithetical to Christianity because believers function as parts in the Body of Christ. As such, every part works in conjunction with the other in service of Christ. Even the most private of things have more of an effect on others than any person can ever realize. Moreover, we dangerously conflate our sinful nature and our willful disobedience, thus subordinating life choices to personal weakness. Life wouldn't need to be lived if it were merely a rote exercise of innate sinfulness.

Moral relativism has nonetheless affected today's Christian community which has tended to avoid the subject of absolute truth. It is not uncommon to hear Christians, in the noble effort to hate the sin but not the sinner, say the following: "Sin is sin." Sounds nice and egalitarian, but it's not Scriptural. When the Bible needs to express something simply and directly, it does. Just look anywhere in Deuteronomy or read John 14:6 where Jesus says: "No one comes to the Father except through me." True, the slightest sin is enough to separate any man or woman from God, but to deny degrees of sin is to ignore Biblical warnings. Consider this example in 1 Corinthians Chapter 6:
18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.
19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?
Degrees of sin are not so much quantitative as they are qualitative. Each sin is different. Every sin has a connection to the spiritual world, its own demon. The Bible assigns degrees to the spiritual world (the "principalities and powers"); there are different ranks among the angels and fallen angels. In common parlance, people have long referred to "wrestling with personal demons." Recall also the classic cartoon image of the person with the angel and devil sitting on opposite shoulders. The Bible tells us that sin and the wages of sin are not merely matters of man's carnal existence, but in fact also involve spiritual forces.

Ephesians Chapter 6:
12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of the dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Our choices have spiritual repercussions. "Sin is sin," while recognizing the existence of sin, ignores egregious sin, which perforce entails an individual's acquiescence to the powers of the dark world. (Even heathen cultures, past and present, recognize egregious sin, often referred to as "taboo.") Each type of sin (and, yes, its aggregation) has a different spiritual effect on the individual. Also, "sin is sin" subtly subverts the Lord's sovereignty, in His Word and as the Judge of all things. Man's mind is hopelessly trying to remake both grace and sin in his own way. But God's word is sufficient: "All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal." (Psalm 119:160) "I'm a good person" carries no weight in a world of more than three dimensions.