Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Forgiveness of Sins, a Cure for the Sick

6 "But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"--then He said to the paralytic, "Get up, pick up your bed and go home."

12 But when Jesus heard this, He said, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.” (Matthew 9:6,12)
It amazes me how quickly and easily I can sometimes read over verses that I am so familiar with and miss something that is truly awesome. It is so beautiful and clear how these two verses fit together with the overall message of salvation in Christ. And it is the punctuating statement of verse 12 that is so powerful. I used to think that Jesus was saying that the “sick” were people who had not been born again whereas the “healthy” were people who had already. But, the more I understand the Savior’s audience and the overall message of the gospel, the more I see that the “sick” refer to those who know of their sins and of their need for a savior whereas the “healthy” are the self-righteous who do not need a savior.

The reality of life is that everyone is worse off than the paralytic that Jesus healed; we are like Lazarus, we’re dead, until we are born again by the Spirit of God. But the sad situation is that the vast majority of men proclaim their own goodness with their mouths and see their situation as less than dire before God. This condition is not limited to the practitioners of self-righteous religious systems, but it extends to all men. And in a real way, all non-Christians are practitioners of a self-righteous system even if they are unaware of it. Many of the non-conformist or non-religious people have individual and self-styled idolatrous systems that they have created for themselves to go along with the god that they’ve made in their minds.

I thank God for his grace in showing me my own sinfulness so that I may repent of it and be made more like my Lord. I consider it one of my primary goals in ministry to shine the light of God’s Word onto the sins of those who are under my care and teaching. And once the Word has done its work, I pray that the flood of grace would abound to those who find themselves to be sick and in need of a physician.

Friday, January 25, 2008

No Courage or Creativity: Hostility to Christianity

I am sick and tired of being assaulted and insulted by the writers, producers, actors, and sponsors of NBC’s Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. In the past this show has taken overt shots at Christians in various different ways. From adulterous and incestuous ministers to intolerance to a homosexual child that sets the stage for murdering a homosexual prostitute, there is no lack of portraying Christians as being intolerant, bigoted, racist, and incompetent. But on the Tuesday January 22nd episode, “Inconceivable”, most of these same stereotypical shots were taken.

The story is starts when a case of fertilized eggs are stolen from a fertility clinic. It turns out that masterminds behind the theft were the leaders of a pro-life group, the Justice Defense League. The plan goes wrong and the fertilized eggs are not returned in time and so they all die. In a twist, the leader of the action group is killed by a husband whose dead wife’s eggs were frozen and kept in that container.

The only reason why I paid a little attention to the show is that in the first five minutes, the big case was handed down to the star detectives with a statement that went something like this: “I know that stolen goods do not qualify as the special victims, but if 50 potential babies don’t qualify, then I don’t know what does.” The simple fact that the premise that fertilized embryos are “potential babies” was set out from the beginning really irked me. And other than the Justice Defense League being the primary villains in this episode, they are also charged with being anti-gay and racist. When the issue of adoption of the embryos that are discarded arises, one of the detectives makes the comment that you can’t adopt a child if you’re gay but only if you’re “white and Christian”. It was also no coincidence that this episode aired on the 35th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in all 50 states.

If the writers of this show wanted to be controversial and provocative as well as to make statements about people who are mistreated and misunderstood, why don’t they write about honor killings? That happens all over the world and it may have even happened in the U.S. Why won’t they? Well, they’re afraid, of course. Cowards are like bullies, and they pick on people who will not fight back with the same kind of tactics (or worse) that they use. If they were to make a TV show that cast fundamental Muslims in a negative light because of honor killings, they’d be afraid for their lives.

No more “Law and Order” for me. They’re cowards and bullies. They are picking on Christians because we won’t fight back, but they are not addressing real abuses that happen daily because they’re afraid of the consequences.

Friday, January 18, 2008

“So That You May Know That You Have Eternal Life”

“These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13)
One of the most profound questions that man can ever contemplate is, “What must I do to be saved?” This question doesn’t come out of thin air, though. To ask it, you must first understand that you are in need of a savior. It is the Law that shows us God’s standard and our inability to live up to that standard, but it is the understanding of God’s justice that shows us that we need to be saved from His righteous and holy wrath.

The Bible gives us a clear picture of how man is saved and made right before God. The clearest way to articulate it is that man is saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone (cf. John 14:6 and Ephesians 2:8,9). Saving faith, other than being a gift from God, is not merely a mental assent or an understanding or affirming of certain doctrines; it is much more than that. Part of saving faith is the affirmation of key doctrines as well as mental assent to the truths of the Bible, but there is another word that characterizes this major factor in genuine saving faith, and that is trust.

If faith is believing that a chair will hold me and not collapse when I sit down, it is only put in action when I actually sit down. Until that time when I sit down and allow myself to be upheld by the strength of the chair, I have only assented to what the chair could or should do, but I have not shown that I truly have faith in, or trust, the chair. Trust is faith in action. However, true saving faith is not merely a trusting in the promises of God for salvation through Christ alone. True saving faith incorporates a singular trust in Christ as well as a repentant heart in light of personal sin against God.

In the same way that true faith is not merely mental assent but rather faith displayed as trust, repentance is not simply an agreement (mental assent) to the statements of God concerning the general sinfulness of man. True repentance is putting this attitude of agreement surrounding my own specific sin into action. Specifically speaking, that action is one of a turning from the practice of sin and a turning to the practice of righteousness. The puritan, Thomas Watson, gave six ingredients for true repentance.
“Repentance is a grace of God's Spirit, whereby a sinner is inwardly humbled and outwardly reformed. Repentance is a spiritual medicine made up of six special ingredients: (1) Sight of sin, (2) Sorrow for sin, (3) Confession of sin, (4) Shame for sin, (5) Hatred for sin, and (6) Turning from sin. If any ingredient is left out, it loses its virtue.”1

The truth of what salvation is and what a Christian truly looks like seems to have been lost in the manifestation of Christendom in America and the rest of the west. In light of this, the ranks of all facets of Christianity, especially those who consider themselves born again or evangelicals, have become bloated with those who believe that they are Christians if, for no other reason, they have prayed the sinners prayer with a televangelist or at a local service. The popularization of the doctrine of backsliding and the preaching of easy believism have swelled the numbers of those who would believe in their heart that they are saved, but may not truly be.

In order that we don’t become too mesmerized by the bloated nature of some churches and the artificially inflated numbers of conversions that are reported from evangelists or local churches, we must always remember that whether or not someone has true faith and true repentance will not be truly verifiable right away even for the individual person involved. We need to keep this fact in mind because, if for no other reason, Christ has told us that the majority of people who are inside of Christendom and have even been really involved with Christian ministries will not go to heaven because they are not truly saved (cf. Matthew 7:17-29; Luke 8:4-21).

If the question “What must I do to be saved?” is the most vital question that can be asked by those people who have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ, then the most important question that anyone who has heard and responded to the gospel of Jesus Christ can ask might be, “How can I know that I have been saved?” It could also be phrased in the language of John’s letter, “How can I know that I have eternal life?” And it is this exact question that John seems to be laboring to answer in a complete and thorough way in his first epistle.

It may be shocking to many modern Christians, but the Bible doesn’t tell you to simply remember the day that you repented and trusted in Christ and believe that it was genuine for the basis of your assurance. Nor are we admonished not to investigate this question if it is plaguing us. I have heard some teachers condemn this type of introspective investigation as “doubting God” or “calling Him a liar”. Nothing could be further from the truth as far as the Bible is concerned. We are to make our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10) and examine ourselves to see if we are truly in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). Relying on the testimony of my own heart is also unwise because the Bible informs us that our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked and cannot be trusted (Jeremiah 17:9). Furthermore, I should especially question my heart’s testimony when the actions of my life don’t match up to what I believe is the testimony of my heart.

John labors greatly in order to answer the question about how Christians can be sure that they have eternal life. While doing that, he also provides many ways to indicate whether you are a false believer who has not yet been saved and is still under the wrath of God.
23 This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. 24 The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.” (1 John 3:23,24)

I think that these two verses sum up the major ways that John gives us for checking our lives to see if we are in the faith. Generally speaking, John’s admonishment centers around a true love of other people, a belief in the true Jesus, and obeying His commandments. He makes this point and illustrates it in other ways, but the essence of the test is boiled down to these three. A quick list of the standards by which we can examine our lives that John gives would include that a true believer walks in the light (1:7; 2:6), confesses sins (1:9), keeps God’s commandments (2:3,5; 3:23), loves his brother (2:10; 3:23; 4:7,8,12,16,21), does the will of God (2:17; cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:3), practices righteousness (2:29), does not continue in sin (3:6-10; cf. 5:16-18), believes in the Jesus as the Son of God (3:23; 4:15; 5:1), has the Holy Spirit (4:13; cf. Galatians 5:16-26), listens to the apostles teaching (4:6), and loves the Father (5:1).

It is by self examination in light of these criteria that we may have confidence that we are saved. And this letter from John is only a small portion of the Biblical testimony to the truth that there are certain things that a true and genuine believer will do or believe whereas a false brother, an apostate, and a false teacher will not.

Christians pass from death to life, condemnation to salvation, from wrath to peace, and from guilty to innocent at a particular moment in time. This transition is done once and it cannot be undone or lost. That is not what is at issue with this doctrinal pronouncement. The issue at hand is that we can only find assurance that we are saved if our lives have been transformed and are continually showing greater and greater conformity to the person of Jesus Christ.

As a parent, a deacon, a preacher, a husband, a father, a son, and a friend I cannot ever, in good conscience, encourage someone to be confident that he has been saved by God if the only “proof” is that he prayed a prayer as a child but has had no spiritual growth or even an actively pursued desire to grow in Christ in recent memory. We are saved by grace through faith unto good works (Ephesians 2:8-10), and we must not forget that.
“It is by faith alone that man is justified, but the faith that justifies is not alone.”

1 Thomas Watson, “The Doctrine of Repentance” 1668. http://www.gracegems.org/Watson/repentance2.htm

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Postmodernism: Deal or No Deal

Monday I began the daunting task of rearranging my basement room where my wife and I watch TV. When the TV, speakers, receiver, and the other gadgets that make up our TV area were all moved into the areas where we wanted them I then began the meticulous process of connecting all of the wires and making sure that everything worked properly. In order to make sure that everything was hooked up correctly, I turned on the TV and the game show “Deal or No Deal” was on at the time.

Now, the exact details of how to play the game are relatively unimportant except for the fact that the contestant picks a locked case with an unknown prize amount in it. The player can then trade it, sell it to the bank, or keep it until the end of the game. The player’s final prize amount is determined by whatever amount they sell their case to the bank or by what is displayed in the case when it is opened. That being said, I am not overly concerned with how much the particular player won or didn’t win. What did intrigue me was the thought process that energized this player to keep risking putting such large amounts of money (that gradually decreased as the game went on) at risk.

The reason that the player continued to refuse was because she believed that the top ($1 million) prize was in her case. She stated so clearly and so repeatedly that she strongly “believed” that it was in her case and therefore, in her mind, she “knew” that it would be there. So what happened? Well, she ended up not having the $1 million prize in her possession and she settled for $40,000 in cash and some flying lessons. But again, it isn’t the amount of money that she won or could have won, but it was the reason that motivated her decisions that captivated my attention as I watched.

She kept playing the game and refusing the offers from the bank because she believed, and therefore stated that she “knew”, that she had a $1 million prize in her case. This was a fleshing out of the lunacy of postmodernism and its real life effects on a popular TV show. Regardless of the amount of her faith or what she believed was true, the host, banker, the actual cases containing the prize amounts, or anything or anyone else were not affected by the amount or genuineness of her faith.

As personally tragic as it may have been for her to miss out on a large prize that she could have had, it is equally tragic at how obvious the truth that her faith didn’t change reality no matter how strong her faith was. Most people can see this truth in some life situations, but the vast majority of people today will not use the same logic when it comes to God or eternal life.

I can believe as strongly as I am able in a religion or philosophy that is untrue. However, regardless of the strength of my belief, my belief will not create reality when I die, and I will end up being ultimately disappointed. Contrasted to that, a tiny faith in what is true will end up with supreme satisfaction in the realization of the truth, no matter the amount of faith put in it.

Friday, January 11, 2008

For the Waywardness of the Naïve Will Kill Them

20 Wisdom shouts in the street, She lifts her voice in the square; 21 At the head of the noisy {streets} she cries out; At the entrance of the gates in the city she utters her sayings: 22 "How long, O naive ones, will you love being simple-minded? And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing And fools hate knowledge? 23 "Turn to my reproof, Behold, I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you. 24 "Because I called and you refused, I stretched out my hand and no one paid attention; 25 And you neglected all my counsel And did not want my reproof; 26 I will also laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your dread comes, 27 When your dread comes like a storm And your calamity comes like a whirlwind, When distress and anguish come upon you. 28 "Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently but they will not find me, 29 Because they hated knowledge And did not choose the fear of the LORD. 30 "They would not accept my counsel, They spurned all my reproof. 31 "So they shall eat of the fruit of their own way And be satiated with their own devices. 32 "For the waywardness of the naive will kill them, And the complacency of fools will destroy them. 33 "But he who listens to me shall live securely And will be at ease from the dread of evil." (Proverbs 1:20 – 33)

Praise God that His Word is not trivial or able to be fully grasped or understood by reading it once. My daily reading of the Scriptures had me read the final verses of the first chapter of Proverbs where a condemnation of death and destruction is decreed on those who are complacent fools or waywardly naïve. It was the harshness of the language of this section of Proverbs that shocked me. I am sure that I’ve read this passage before, but I must say that I was taken aback.

How can God, who is the supreme embodiment of love and mercy (among other attributes), declare that He will laugh at and mock those who have scorned Him when their calamity comes? Furthermore, how can it be that someone who seeks diligently for God will not find Him? This seems to run contrary to what we know and understand about the gospel of Jesus Christ. It may seem contrary or contradictory, but I trust that the God of all truth is able to communicate His message without contradicting Himself. And if that is the case, how then could it be that someone will seek God and not find Him? God’s Word, of course, provides us with the answer to this dilemma.
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. (Hosea 4:6)

Too often today, and to a fault, I believe that the gospel message is dumbed-down to seemingly the lowest common denominator. This is done with purposing that the most people can hear it and then they, being unoffended by it, can agree with the message and call themselves Christians. The problem with this sort of presentation is that when you cut out the offensiveness of the gospel, you also cut out the effectiveness of the gospel. Or, stated another way, it becomes something other than the gospel and then cannot save anyone. In no way do I want to make the gospel more complicated than it is or intentionally make it convoluted, but we cannot boil it down to something that is less than the bare essentials or water it down so much that it removes the sharp bite of a necessary ingredient.

So, how can it be that someone who calls on God or who is seeking Him diligently will not find Him or will not be heard? Well, if that same person doesn’t know who they’re calling on or seeking, they’re not going to find God. It is one of the greatest sins against the masses of lost and ungodly people that a Christian preacher can commit when he neglects the Law of God and doesn’t make it plain who God is in the fullness of how He has revealed Himself to us in the Bible. In other words, we do not preach the gospel if we do not make a firm declaration about the incarnation, by means of the virgin birth, of the uncreated and eternal Christ. We do not preach the gospel for it to be believed if there is no talk about the mystery of the Triune Godhead. We do not preach the gospel of salvation if we do not preach the just penalty of sin at the hands of the Almighty who cannot tolerate sin in His midst.

Preachers will have a lot to be accountable for before God. Make no mistake about that. However, with that being said, not all of the blame lies with the preachers. God has saw fit to preserve for Himself some faithful preachers and believers, unfortunately probably not a majority of ministers even among those inside of Christendom, throughout history who thunder about the Law and about God’s just wrath at sinful man while, at the same time, they speak softly, gently, and lovingly about the great mercy and grace God our Savior. They preach salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone which brings about good works and a changed life as evidence of true salvation. The problem here lies not with the preacher, but with the hearer. How many church going people, however regularly they attend or how involved they are, have heard the message of the cross time and time again but have never been changed by Christ nor have they been born again by the Spirit? It is not because of a lack of knowledge that these people will be condemned, but because they act as “simple-minded” and live out their lives in the “complacency of fools” by not repenting of their sins and placing their faith in Christ that they will be lost.

Do not tarry and do not let the message of the cross go in one ear and out the other without letting it sit and soak into your heart. Do not shun the fear of the Lord or the call of the gospel! Listen and hear what God has said. Do not assume that you will be able to repent and believe in Christ tomorrow, for tomorrow may never come. Do not take comfort in the fact that you know so much about God and the gospel when it has not yet transformed your very being nor changed your desires. And do not neglect to learn about the God of the Bible and who He really is, for if you do not know who to call on, you will not be calling on the only true God when your life is in crisis and you are desperately seeking salvation.

Be careful, you smooth tongued teachers, who do not want to offend the carnal with the Truth!

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. (Hosea 4:6)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Satan the Scriptures and Sound Doctrine (Part 2)

I decided to use the text of Matthew 4 for my most recent Awana council lesson. I really want the children (as well as adults) to get a better grasp of the Bible. But not only that, I want children and adults alike to know more reasons why we should know and love the Bible. And in an attempt to do that, I wanted to show that Satan knows the Scriptures well and he intentionally uses, abuses, and confuses them in an attempt to draw us into sin.

In order to illustrate this, I decided to look at Matthew 4 while cross-referencing it with Genesis 3. It seems to me that Satan accurately quotes the Psalms when he tempts Christ in Matthew 4 while he totally distorts and confuses God’s Word when he tempted Eve in Genesis 3. I believe that this gives us a glimpse of two different tactics that Satan uses when he attempts to deceive believers and non-believers alike who may have some knowledge of the Bible.

When dealing with Eve, the devil mis-referenced what God had told Adam in the previous chapter. Adam was commanded not to eat from only the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Satan’s question to Eve implied that God had restricted her enjoyment from the whole garden. But what makes the situation even worse is that Eve herself apparently didn’t know God’s command. She communicated that they had been commanded not to eat or even to touch that forbidden tree. And I cannot find a reference in Genesis 2 where God instructs Adam not to touch the tree, only not to eat from it. When you combine the fact that Satan twisted God’s words and cast doubt on what God had said with the fact that Eve didn’t know what God had indeed said, you have a recipe for confusion and sin.

I don’t think that this attack method is limited only to Eve’s singular situation. We can see so many people in modern Christendom (especially the emergent church) who want to converse about theology but usually they ask the same question from the garden, “has God indeed said…?” And more often than not, these conversations call into question the very explicit and foundational teachings of the Bible; the exclusivity of Christ in salvation, eternal punishment for the ungodly, and substitutionary atonement to name a few. Furthermore, proponents of the same types of “new” or “generous” orthodoxy (which many times is not orthodox at all) try to use Jesus’ words as the trump card to all other Scripture in an unfair way. If I were to say to some adherents to more emerging and inclusive theology that the Bible condemns homosexuality (which it does in Genesis, Leviticus, Romans, and Corinthians – among other places), the common retort is that Jesus didn’t say a word about homosexuality, therefore it must be acceptable. It is true that Jesus didn’t say anything about homosexuality that is recorded in the gospels or Acts, but He also didn’t say anything against raping your neighbor’s daughter. Is it fine to rape your neighbor’s daughter? Absolutely not! And the reason that it is not acceptable to rape is the same reason that it is not acceptable to have homosexual relations. The Bible clearly condemns rape and homosexuality regardless of the fact that Jesus didn’t comment on either. Don’t allow Satan to trick you with the logic used in this type of an argument and be led astray from the truth as so many of our contemporaries inside of Christendom are.

I actually think that it is easier to deal with this type of attack as opposed to the second of Satan’s revealed tactics. If someone, anyone, uses a Scripture to condone some action or belief but after simply looking up the verse I can tell that it has been violently altered (changed words, inserted words, removed words, etc.) so as to fit the promoted views, that is an easy enough Scriptural attack to deal with and then move on. But when ravenous false teachers quote Scripture to justify heresy or sin, it becomes a problem that is more difficult to deal with when they are not overtly changing and editing the wording of that verse. When tempting Christ, Satan accurately quoted (as far as I can tell) the words from Psalms 91:11,12 but he applied them in a completely unbiblical way. Jesus meets this attack head on and quotes Deuteronomy 6:16 declaring that no one puts God to the test, and this stops Satan in his tracks. In other words, no matter what Psalms 91:11,12 say, if you apply that in a way that contradicts the rest of the Bible, you’ve got your application all wrong.

Since no one has insight equal to that of Christ, I gave the children some advice to use in situations where something is being said or taught that just seems wrong but the person speaking seems to be accurately quoting a bible verse. The advice (I believe it originally came from the ministry Stand to Reason) is that Christians should not read a Bible verse. Don’t read a Bible verse? The point is not to tell people to ignore the Bible. The point is to admonish Christians not to read one single verse, but instead to read the context of that verse so that we can better discern the meaning of that specific verse. Sometimes that may mean reading only the paragraph or two surrounding the verse and sometimes you may need to read the whole chapter or more. And other times, you may just need to read other verses (and their context) that seem to say the same thing or something different in order to begin to grasp the overall meaning of what the particular verse in question has to say.

The single defense against false teaching is the same thing that is necessary for promoting true teaching and theology; The Word of God. Only by knowing what the Bible says and what God means by what He said in the Scriptures can we rightly understand anything about God. It is important to know and understand what God has spoken to us because without it, believers are almost as helpless as a blind man in a maze. We’re “almost” as helpless because believers have the Holy Spirit indwelling us in order to help us, but without the Word of God we don’t have anything solid by which to judge our feelings and thoughts or the teaching of others.

But God Remembered Noah

The story of Noah always makes me sit back and read it as a little child. I mean, there is so much in this story that the scale alone makes me want to catch my breath. Perhaps it is just me, but when we see the whole earth as wretched and vile and that it deserved to be wiped out completely, it makes me sit back and marvel at God’s favoring Noah. If Noah’s heart, just like all men everywhere for all time, was only continually evil from his youth (cf. Genesis 6:4; 8:5), then when Noah found favor in God’s eyes, it must have been because of God’s desire to have mercy on Noah.

But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. (Genesis 6:8)

God would have been justified in wiping out Noah and the rest of his family that were saved when He destroyed the rest of humanity. I think that it would be extremely detrimental to gloss over this fact or not to address it when reading and meditating on the story of Noah and the flood. And that Noah found favor in God’s eyes must have been attributed only to God’s mercy and grace. Furthermore, for anyone to find favor before God happens despite anything and everything that the person says, does, or thinks.
But God remembered Noah (Genesis 8:1a)

The fact that God remembers His own is an astoundingly glorious truth. Even amidst the destruction of literally everything else on the planet, Noah could have (and should have) had the uttermost peace and felt completely than safe and secure in the ark. One of the truly great things about God’s favor in salvation that we learn see clearly from the New Testament is that once God has saved you, once you have found favor with God based on His grace and mercy alone, we have no need to fear even though the world comes crashing down around us. As a practical note, this doesn’t mean that Christians won’t endure hardship, persecution, torture, or violent and horrible deaths, but it does mean that this is the extent at which we can be tormented or suffer (cf. Matthew 10:28). But Noah had the expressed promise of temporal delivery from this maelstrom (cf. Genesis 6:18ff), and so he could confidently wait for God to deliver him even though he was on the ark for over one year.

Regardless of the time between the promise and the deliverance, God is faithful. If anyone has trusted in Christ alone for salvation, whether they did that at 5, 55, or 105 years of age, God will remember the saving work that He has done when death comes and we have nothing to fear.
But know that the LORD has set apart the godly man for Himself; The LORD hears when I call to Him. (Psalms 4:3)

Praise God that He sets apart those in whom He favors, and He then hears us when we call to Him.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Satan the Scriptures and Sound Doctrine

5 Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, `HE WILL COMMAND HIS ANGELS CONCERNING YOU'; and `ON their HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP, SO THAT YOU WILL NOT STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.'" 7 Jesus said to him, "On the other hand, it is written, `YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.'" (Matthew 4:5-7)

Scripture alone is the final voice in all things pertaining to godliness, theology, and anything else in life. As Christians, we must be humble enough to bow our own desires and thoughts to the truth of God’s Word. Everything, from how I raise my family to how I interact in my political world, should be guided from a thorough study of and implementation of the Word of God.

It is hard to find any example that better displays the supremacy of Scripture than the example of Christ being tempted by Satan in the desert. In the broader context, Jesus rebukes the devil and answers the temptations put before Him by quoting Scripture as well as simply commanding him. I have always found it interesting that Jesus didn’t simply command Satan not to tempt Him, but He quoted Scripture to stand firm against temptation.

But even more than that, even Satan quotes Scriptures in an effort to have God sin before him. We must never be foolish enough to think that just because someone quotes Scripture and sounds authoritative, that doesn’t mean that the message being conveyed is true. Whether you hear Scripture from a preacher, teacher, evangelist, or anyone else, don’t simply ingest, digest, and manifest what they are proclaiming. Satan and his slick salesmen are very keenly aware of what the Scriptures say. In fact, I have heard it said before that if Satan had true and uncontrolled power over the world that it would look cleaner and nicer, it would be full of smiling people who filled up church buildings on Sunday’s and Wednesdays. But the church buildings would not preach Christ aright.

Now, whether that is truly how the world would look or not, I think that it gives a glimpse at one of the most tragically effective deceptions that the devil is adept at using. Church without God, Jesus without the cross, and the Scriptures without their context all lead to an abysmal “gospel” that is truly no gospel.

We must not be lackadaisical in our vetting of the preaching and teaching of our ministers and lay-teachers, nor should we be casually tolerant anytime anyone throws out a Bible verse or a biblical cliché. “God helps those who help themselves.” What Bible verse is that? It’s not in the Bible, but if I had a nickel for every time that I heard someone use that phrase in reference to Christianity and the God of the Bible, I would have no small fortune.

One of the favorite Scriptures for non-Christians, pseudo-Christians, and Christians alike to quote is from Jesus’ words on the Sermon on the Mount, when referring to Matthew 7:1 they say, “Judge not lest ye be judged.” And when this verse is brought out, it is often used as an offensive weapon against those Christians who see sin in our midst, whether in ourselves or in others, and have the audacity to call sin “sin”. Or if a Christian calls attention to a self-styled Christian teacher or a professed believer and notes that this same person betrays that they are not born again based on their actions, this same verse is brought out as a cudgel to put down this kind of judgmental attitude.

I forget where I first heard the best fitting response to the abuse of the words of our Lord from Matthew 7, but I find it to be so refreshing and true. So the next time that you are rightly making an identification of something as sinful, evil, wicked or false and you are doing so while not being pharisaical and executing a sentence or punishment (excluding church discipline, of course) on that individual in the place of God Himself, you may want to remember this concise retort.

“You say, ‘Judge not lest ye be judged.’ But I say, ‘Twist not Scripture lest ye be like Satan.’” - Unknown

Monday, January 07, 2008

Irresistible Grace and the Heart’s Desire

Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him." (Matthew 2:13)

Joseph was warned in a dream that his young son, as well as he and his wife, were in great danger from King Herod. He was instructed to take his family and flee to Egypt as a temporary refuge from the danger at hand. What father wouldn’t listen and obey the warning of an angel of the Lord when it came to the safety of his own family? Some might scoff at the warning if they hadn’t been convinced of the faithfulness and truth of the messenger, but this was not the case for Joseph. So could Joseph have heard the warning in the dream, thought about it, and then rolled over and gone back to sleep and not heeded the warning? I guess that I would assume that he had the cognitive ability to do this, and he really could have chosen to ignore the true warning from God and subject his family to death. I bet that it would have been possible.

However, the fact that he may have had the ability to ignore God’s warning here does not even touch the question of “would he” ignore God. Sure he might have had the mental facilities to ignore God and choose a different path, but there is no way that any father who loves his family would willingly leave them in a situation where there is a certainty that they will be killed. Moreover, if there is a certain way of escape, what father would not wake the family up in the middle of the night and be gone before an hour had passed? No father would dawdle or ignore this warning. He would not ignore it because of the reliability of the messenger and the fact that he loves his family.

Similar to this, when a sinner’s eyes are opened and he has been granted faith and repentance from God alone, is it possible that the sinner might choose to reject God’s grace and stay in a position of being at war with God and awaiting His righteous and holy wrath? I suppose that it is possible that this person could make the choice not to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and repent of his sins. But similar to Joseph’s situation, what person wouldn’t throw himself on the mercy of Christ in order to be saved from the wrath of God that is coming? For the work that is done in the sinner to enable him to believe in Christ opened his eyes so much that he agrees with God both about his own sinful situation as well and with the just punishment that the sinful man deserves. In addition to that, he has a love for both his own soul and for the savior of his soul.

So, because the man being drawn by God to Christ is both able to understand the reality of the situation, the truthfulness of the message, and has his affections aligned in such a way that he would want to be delivered from the wrath of God, what sinner would ever reject the grace of God? The grace of God given to men when God is saving that person is more irresistible to that man than the choice that Joseph’s situation gave him. There seems to be a one to one correlation between those who are drawn by God and those who are saved by Christ’s work (cf. John 6:37-44, Romans 8:29,30). The work of God’s grace is irresistible because no one who is granted this grace would want to reject it.

Have Some Resolve

In America we are blessed with at least four different times throughout the year where we, as a society, reflect on our past. And for the most part, we are either compelled to do this because of tradition or we are compelled to do this because of some other means.

The first of these times of reflection is most likely the least enjoyable of them all, and it occurs every year on April 15th. Tax day. This is the only time of reflection that we are compelled to observe and carry out that uses the threat of negative legal and financial ramifications. It has often been lamented by people that nothing is certain except for death and taxes. Although not a Biblical proverb, history shows that some form of tax is a constant in any society. However the Bible does declare that it is appointed for man “once to die and then judgment.” (cf. Heb 9:27)

In America, at least, tax day is the day when all of our previous year’s financial earnings, spending, and savings decisions come into the light and we are held accountable for them. I’ve often thought that of any day out of the American calendar, April 15th would be the day where there would be the most cultural receptivity to preaching concerning the Day of Judgment by Almighty God. Perhaps at no other time is personal accountability displayed with the same severity and meticulousness anywhere in our society than it is on tax day.

The second time of reflection comes just less than three months later, but in distinction from tax day, this is one day that is treasured and loved. July 4th, Independence Day, is the day when virtually all of the things that are important and distinct about America as a nation are remembered, celebrated, and honored. Specifically we look back at the 231 years of our national history and remember the many battles, wars, and lives lost that have the nation has endured because of the stated reason of either protecting our own people and nation or freeing other peoples and nations. On this day, as a nation, we look back with pride on where we have come from, and we look forward with a sense of duty and honor to this same nation and its preservation.

The third time of reflection is, in my humble opinion, perhaps the most important one but it has been so diluted that it has the least focused attention on it. This begins with thanksgiving and ends with Christmas. The problem is not with either of these two holiday observances, but the problem is that the duration of the “season” of thanks is usually around one full month. But perhaps the more important reason why so much the thankfulness of the “season” is lost is that it is forced off of center stage because of football games on Thanksgiving. Perhaps a societal ‘nod’ to a day of gluttony where, instead of being thankful for the food that we have been provided, the presentation, preparation, and consumption of the food becomes the center stage that takes the focus away form the provision of the food and its provider.

Sadly, Christmas encounters a similar problem with food and the focus on or around it, but that takes a far distant second place to the blows that materialism and coveting deliver to this time. How true is it that the most frustrating and stressful time of the American year is centered on Christmas? And it is not stress over properly worshipping God or honoring His Son, but is over getting a Nintendo Wii or some other “hot” item for your son, daughter, relative or friend when the item itself is in short supply. Or it is the social pressure to spend yourself into the poor house so that your kids don’t complain that they don’t have the toys that the Jones’ kids do.

So, as a culture we, to our shame, tragically miss a time to meditate on the graciousness of God our Savior and sustainer much as ancient Israel did. And we all know what happened to Israel when they had turned their backs on God. Eventually, God gave them over to their lusts and desires for other gods, and their nation was never again the same. It was divided in two and then separately conquered by godless nations as an instrument of the just judgment of God on His people. There will be a restoration, one day, under the leadership of Christ Himself, but it has been around 2500 years since the height and power of that nation and we don’t know when Christ will return.

At last we come to the fourth and final time of reflection in our society. December 31st, New Year’s Eve, is the time where society as a whole seems to look back on the previous year and take stock of where we’ve been, what we’ve done and really examine where we want to be, and then attempt to make decisions to steer us in that direction. And whether you’ve made a habit of making New Year’s resolutions, or you’ve resolved not to make a New Year’s resolution, I think that it is a good thing for Christians to take stock in where we are spiritually, where we’ve been spiritually, and where we would like to be spiritually. And whether you do this on December 31st, February 23rd, your birthday, your anniversary, or every 7th Wednesday, I believe that this is something that we all should do.

And it is with the thought of resolutions in mind that I come to the text for today. There are at least a few places in the Bible where we get a picture of a decision or a resolution to do or not do certain things. One of the places that I looked at was in the story of Job. Job made a covenant with his eyes that he would not “gaze on a virgin” (Job 31:1). Now I only searched for statistics posted for how many Christians, laymen and clergy, have either dabbled in porn or are seriously struggling with porn, and I was shocked. The ways in which lust and other sexual sin manifests itself varies between men and women, but at least half of the men and nearly ¼ of the women in American churches struggle with this type of sinfully lustful gazing. And this is only the number of people who admit to having some sort of problem with this issue. It doesn’t deal with the untold numbers of people who were to ashamed or proud to admit this issue on an anonymous survey.

As shockingly applicable as Job’s covenant with his eyes is, the most profound and important resolution was made by Christ in the garden. Jesus Christ did not want to endure the agony of the cross, and He prayed that the cup of God’s wrath would pass from Him. However, He resolved to go through the most extreme combination spiritual and physical agony that anyone could ever experience. Now, He did this for the joy set before Him (cf. Hebrews 12:2), but it was not a pleasant experience or something that He looked forward to in and of itself.

With these two examples of personal resolve in mind, I think that the book of Daniel gives us a good picture of the benefits that come from the type of resolution that is grounded in a desire to honor and obey God. To do that, I want to look at the situation that causes a need for a resolution.

The situation here is that Judah was overrun and conquered by Babylon because of God’s judgment upon Israel for forsaking Him and His commands. We see here that a good number of the young men of privilege, those from families of royal nobility, who were among the captives deported to Babylon, were set aside for special service.

We don’t know how many captives there were, but there were four mentioned by name and they were apparently a small part of a much larger group. And all of these captives were to be completely and totally indoctrinated and assimilated into Babylonian society. Now, on one hand, there might have been some nationalistic pride from many of these captives that would have caused them to rebel in some way. They were, if nothing else, Israelites who had been taken captive by a pagan and gentile nation. On the other hand, the majority of the nation had abandoned God and was not faithful to Him anyway. And so if a pagan gets taken from his home but is put in a position of privilege, how likely is he going to be to rock the boat if his present situation is as good as its going to get?

These young men, boys actually and perhaps just in their early teens, were to be indoctrinated so totally that even their names had to be changed. And what is interesting about this is what their Hebrew names meant compared to what their Babylonian names meant.

  • Daniel means “God is my Judge.” Belteshazzar means “the Prince of Bel” or something relating to the god Bel.
  • Hananiah means “Yahweh has been gracious” whereas Shadrach means “servant of Sin.”
  • Mishael means “who is equal to God” whereas Meshach means “the shadow of the prince.”
  • Azariah means “whom Jehovah helps” whereas Abed-nego means “servant of Ishtar” or “servant of Nebo.”

The changing of their names was a direct assault on their religion and identity. As you can see in chapters 3 and 6 of Daniel, the implication was that their religion should have changed as well, and not just their names. It was all of these factors contributed to the need for these young men to make a decision. They needed to make a resolution about how they were going to act.
“But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king's choice food or with the wine which he drank;” (Daniel 1:8a)

A question that I have is why would it have been a defiling thing to eat the king’s food and drink his wine? The food of a pagan king, in all reality, would not have been restricted to the kosher foods dictated by the Law of Moses. There would probably be pork placed before them, and it was forbidden for a Jew to eat pork. But perhaps more than that, the idolatry that was so often associated with food and meals would have been unavoidable. We can see a glimpse of how “religious” the parties may have been by how Belshazzar used the vessels of the temple and “praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone” during his final debauched party (cf. Daniel 5:4). Similarly, it was not uncommon for wine to be used to offer praises to pagan gods. (cf. Jer 7:18; 19:13)

So their diet was yet another place where these young Hebrews were being assaulted. And it was at this point that they finally said “No.” And they didn’t just say “no” out of nationalistic pride or self willed disobedience, they said “no” so that they would not defile themselves before God. And just like any other resolution that has ever been made, if this resolution had any hope of becoming a reality and not just a pipe dream, it must be put into action. And so now we see what action was taken in this regard.

Why they chose to take a stand on the dietary situation and not with their names or other compromises that they had to make, I don’t know. But I do believe that it is not a sin to be called a name. But it would be a sin to be defiled by disobeying God’s commands. They understood this, and they sought to be faithful to God.

In order to achieve their resolution, they had to get permission to have other food provided for them. And it is a testimony of God’s grace and favor to them in this situation that Ashpenaz agreed to the 10 day trial run of their request. The fact that after this short time there was a positive and noticeable difference to their appearance was also a proof that God was moving in this situation. And it was because of the success of this trial that Ashpenaz continued to break a command from his king. If the outcome had been different, or perhaps if he’d been caught when the results were less than the king hoped for, his life would have been over. This capitulation of Ashpenaz to the requests of Daniel and his friends truly shows just how deeply God was working in this situation. And I believe that it is in this story and the way in which God moved in the lives of these boys and their slave master that we see a principle that the New Testament clearly articulates.
“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

This resolution on the part of these four young men was the first of at least two notable ones in each of their lives. The second resolution that the three friends had to make came with the threat of being thrown into a fiery furnace, whereas Daniel’s came with the threat of being tossed into a den of hungry lions. Both times these men held their ground. And both times they were both condemned to death and the mode of execution was carried out. But they were spared for the glory of God.

What is most applicable to us about these second situations is not the miraculous deliverance by God that they experienced. That is wonderful, awesome, and glorious. But the most impacting statement, perhaps of any, came from the three when they spoke to their heathen king and, with the reality of a fiery death before their eyes, said,
17 If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 "But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Dan 3:17-18)

So looking forward to 2008, what types of resolutions can we make that will be glorifying to God? In what way can we attempt to not defile ourselves with what is presented to us before our eyes, whether to gaze at or consume? Some of the very simplest things may need to be augmented and revitalized so that we can be strong when sin and temptation is at our fingertips.

Many people resolved to read through the whole Bible last year. I am sure that I am not alone, but I have hit Leviticus and Numbers somewhere in February or March and I just couldn’t make it through. I’m not saying that that’s a good thing; I’m just trying to honest in how it has been for me in the past. Conversely, there are probably many people who made the same resolution but they struggled through those difficult and sometimes tediously long and confusing sections of Scripture and made it through the whole year. Way to go! How much of a joyous accomplishment is it to have read the whole Bible in one year.

But, whether you read through with one of these schedules, you simply read through a book over and over throughout a month and do a different one each month, or you just make a point to read a small passage daily and meditate on God and His Word, we all need to resolve to keep up with our current studying and meditation on Scripture, or we need to kick it into gear and pick it up a bit. Because it is the Word of God, as applied in the way that only the Holy Spirit can do it, that provides us all things for faith and godliness as well as wisdom in all of life’s situations.

I think that we can and should take a good hard look at our lives and everything that seems to swirl around us to see where we might be defiling ourselves before God. We should look to see where we are defiling ourselves as well as what we might be asked to do in the future that would be defiling. And like Daniel, Azariah, Hananaiah, and Mishael, we should purpose in our hearts not to defile ourselves with the sinful plate that is set before us. Like Job, we should make a covenant with our eyes not to gaze upon those things that so ensnare us and cause us to sin in so many destructive ways.

If we do these things as well as resolve to feed and meditate on God’s Word as well as to be devoted to prayer, we will grow in our conformity to Christ.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

“Whosoever will” and God’s Sovereignty in Election

Since the last Friday of 2007 I have been thinking about the subjects of sovereignty, depravity, grace, free will, election, and the atonement in order to formulate an answer a question that was posed to me regarding a sermon I preached on December 9, 2007 titled "For To You It Has Been Granted" based on Philippians 1:29. The following is both the thoughts of my heart and an intentional articulation of how I understand the gospel.

My intention with this article is not primarily to win an argument or to “convert” anyone to the theological convictions that I hold. I say that while also believing that my position is true (otherwise, why would I hold it), the theology that I am defending has been the victor in the debate in my mind (otherwise, why would I hold to it), and that I would not be at all upset if anyone who currently disagrees with me were to come to be in agreement with me over time. That being said, I truly want to be subordinate to Scripture, and so I will not neglect to look at these issues or passages that may be difficult to understand because they may seem to push me away from my understanding of sovereignty.

To start off this article, I would like to articulate a few of the many points of agreement that I share with my more Arminian brethren. Many of those who may have some points of contention with the force of my convictions and their doctrinal implications are good friends of mine, and those who are very passionate about the preaching of the gospel to the lost. Some are family, some are Baptists, some are both of these, and some are friends who also love me and my family. That being the case, I am sure that we agree, believe, confess, and would defend the following things:

  • Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and not based on man’s merit or works (Ephesians 2:8,9).
  • Man must be born again to inherit eternal life (John 3).
  • The correct response by any man to the hearing of the gospel must be faith in Christ and repentance of sin (Mark 1:15).
  • The gospel is and should be preached to anyone and everyone and anyone who will believe will be saved. (Rom 10:10-17).
I am sure that there are more issues and things pertinent the focus of this article that we would agree on and stand shoulder to shoulder on, but these were just a few to begin with. However, what tends to be a primary point of disagreement seems to be dealing with the compatibility or incompatibility of human responsibility, or free, will and that of God’s sovereignty in all things including election and salvation. I submit that in each of our understandings of these two things they are compatible in our own minds. The difference is that our understandings of sovereignty and free will are different. So, perhaps the best way to begin is to briefly articulate how I define these words and make a distinction from how many of my Christian brethren may define them.
  1. Free Will (not my definition):
    • Definition: Man’s will is free to choose to believe in God. Even though man is dead in sin, there is a real sense that he is able (in and of himself and his own power apart from a specific working of God) to place his faith in Christ that goes against his sinful nature.
    • Application: Natural man will freely choose to sin, but he can also freely choose to believe in Christ and repent of sin.
  2. Free Will (my definition):
    • Definition: Man’s will is able to choose anything that is able to choose. He can choose anything that his desire and nature will allow him. He, in and of himself, is not able to make choices that supersede or counteract his nature and desire.
    • Application: Natural man will freely, consistently, and constantly choose to sin, reject God, and never ever repent of sin, trust in, believe in, or worship Christ because that is not what the sinful nature desires.
Whether or not the second definition that I gave accurately reflects any specific person’s personal definition or not, I believe that it may be a good way to state how many people think of free will. So, realizing this, in an effort both to defend my position while at the same time showing how and why I believe that the other position (which is drawn from the first definition above) is not correct, I will divide the body of my thoughts into three sections. The first section will be addressing the theological and Scriptural support for my position. The second section will address the theological and Scriptural objections commonly raised against the position that I hold. The third section will address practical concerns that may arise.

Let it be noted that neither my statements in affirmation of the sovereign understanding of salvation that I will put forth nor the objections to that understanding that I will address are to be understood as being a full treatment of the issue at hand. I am sure that this is obvious, but if there are concerns or proofs that are not addressed, either adequately or at all, in this article, it is not out of an intentional shirking of verses or arguments. So, please feel free to raise verses in objection, affirmation, or question regarding this debate so that we can be as iron sharpening iron.

Section One: Scripture Support

To start off this section, let me say that I completely and whole-heartedly believe that anyone who calls on the Lord can and will be saved. It is impossible for someone who calls on the name of the Lord in true repentance and faith not to be saved. So, I am not trying to duck any passages that say this. I believe it! Let me say again, “for ‘WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.’” (Romans 10:13)

The issue, in my mind, is not can “whosoever will” call on the name of the Lord and be saved. The question is “who will” and “how will” they believe. Or, how can the “whosoever will” call on the name of the Lord and be saved. And to begin to answer this question, I will say that God makes a sweeping declaration of the extent of the vileness of the human condition both before the great flood and directly after. In both of these places, God sums up man’s condition by stating that “every intent of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5) and that “the intent of man's heart is evil from his youth” (Gen 8:21). I don’t believe that one can read what God has said here and come up with any notion of some ability to do the very opposite of evil which is trusting in and believing in God. The New Testament is not silent on this predicament either. When writing to the Galatians about the differences between the fruits of the Spirit and the deeds of the flesh, Paul begins by setting up a dichotomy,
“For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” (Galatians 5:17)

Even in the heart and lives of those who are saved (as the context is referring to here), there is nothing similar about the desires and inclinations of the flesh as compared to the Spirit of God that is present in the believer. And let it be noted that it is only after God has saved a person that there is even this type of a struggle.
1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.” (Ephesians 2:1,2)

Before the gift of faith and the new birth, the flesh still is opposed to the Spirit, but there is no Spirit to move the person away from evil and toward God. In other words, unless there is a distinct and sweeping work of God on any person’s behalf, there would not be anyone who would call on the name of the Lord.

So, my contention is that all men are dead until they are made alive, born again (John 3), by the Spirit. And until that time, all men would freely and continually choose to blaspheme God and reject Him utterly. No one would (or could) believe in Christ. And the primary disagreement, if I were to guess, that we have is not even with what I have laid out so far, but it is with the implications that I drew (based on my understanding of Scripture) about the “whosoever” people.

On Sunday the 9th, my only goal with the portion of the passage that I was preaching out of (Phil 1:29) was to make the point that faith, initial saving faith (but also continuing faith), is a gift from God and it does not originate with man. I did this based on three points, the first is that faith had to be a gift from God because the Bible says so (Eph 2:8, Phil 1:29). But I built the case, drawing on the above Scriptures from Genesis, Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians to say that man is also incapable and unwilling to believe in Christ on our own.

My point on Sunday was not to preach on Predestination or election because that is not what the verse was talking about, and I tried to be very careful not to preach about those issues. However, the only way to completely address the “whosoever will” concern is to bring up the idea of election.

And to do that, I will just reference a few passages that are clear (I believe) statements to the affirmative and make some brief comments about them, and then once I’ve done that I will try to deal with one or two that are used as objections against it.

But once again, I want to be clear that this was not material or subject matter that I preached at all on Sunday evening.
1 Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father's house, To the land which I will show you; 2 And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; 3 And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3)

God called Abraham, who was a wretched sinner in opposition to God if he was not a practicing idol worshipper like those around him as well. God chose Him instead of Lot, Terah, or anyone else including Noah or Shem (both Noah and Shem were still alive at that time) to father the chosen people.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight 9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him 11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, 12 to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. 13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation--having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory. (Ephesians 1:3-14)

God chose us in Him before the foundation of the world according to the kind intention of His will, not according to the future choices of humans. We have been predestined according to His purpose based on the counsel of His will, not according to our purpose, will, choices, or seen future faith.
35 Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. 36 "But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe. 37 "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. 38 "For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 "This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. 40 "For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day." 41 Therefore the Jews were grumbling about Him, because He said, "I am the bread that came down out of heaven." 42 They were saying, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, `I have come down out of heaven'?" 43 Jesus answered and said to them, "Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:35-44)

Whoever believes will be saved (v.41), but Christ makes a clear statement about who will believe and come to Him. The Father will give to Christ all of those people who will come to Christ, and Christ will keep all of them (v.37). But He also goes on to say that no one can come to Him unless God draws him (v.44). The meaning is that all of those whom God draws to Christ are saved by Christ. Those who are not drawn are not saved. Not everyone is drawn because not everyone is saved.
10 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11 for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, "THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER." 13 Just as it is written, "JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED."

14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15 For He says to Moses, "I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION." 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH." 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. 19 You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?" 20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? 22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23 And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. (Romans 9:10-24)

This section in Romans 9 is extensive and I cannot address everything here, but first of all if election was not based on sovereign grace alone but on the foreseen faith of individuals based upon their free will decision to believe in God, would this objection that Paul addresses here even be raised? How could God ever seem unjust if you, the individual, bore the full weight of your own non-election because you weren’t smart enough, wise enough, or “whatever” enough to receive salvation based on your own person and attributes? The objection of injustice only comes when our minds have a hard time dealing with the truth that God freely elects and chooses whom He desires to be saved according to the council of His will (cf. Eph 1).

Paul clarifies that he is stating what he is stating in this section “so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls”. It is not based upon any future seen faith, but on the sovereign Lord who is doing the calling. Furthermore, God claims the authority and the right to have compassion on whomever He wants. Some vessels were created for honorable use and some for common use, and that is done so by the choice of the potter. And God shows His patience by enduring the vessels of wrath that were prepared for destruction when He has no obligation to do so.
4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,” (Titus 3:4,5)

Now while this verse is specifically in response to the works righteous heresy of the Judaizers, I think that the application is true for any “deed done in righteousness” and that would, in my opinion, include saving faith. Again, if we understand that saving faith is to have originated from the person himself and not in response to a specific work done on his or her life by God that is not done to those who do not believe, then we, in effect, make man his own savior. I don’t say that lightly or flippantly, but purposefully and intentionally. If my decision, apart from any specific work on God’s part, is the thing that activates my salvation, then I truly am the one who adds my mite, however small that mite might be, to the scales of God’s justice that tips it all to the side of salvation and not damnation.

Also, I fully understand that Christians, true Christians, who would hold a different view of depravity and election than what I hold would never say that they believe that they are their own saviors. That is precisely why I stated that I believe we are in agreement about salvation being by grace through faith and not on account of works at the beginning of this response. So my statement was to point out what seems to be the logical conclusion of the understanding of free will that I am opposed to. So I am not attacking the genuineness of the salvation of believers who disagree with me, but I am trying to point out that their theology in this regard, however genuine, is not consistent.
2 "But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. 3 "To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 "When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.

26 "But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. 27 "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. 29 "My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. 30 "I and the Father are one." (John 10:2-4, 26-30)

I think that John 10:26 is pivotal here. Those who Jesus is talking to don’t believe because they are not His sheep; He didn’t say that they are not His sheep because they do not believe. The point is important because it goes to the root of the problem. The sheep believe because they are His, they are not His because their faith in Him ultimately makes that so. Their belief doesn’t make them (in an eternal sense) His sheep. Their being His sheep and having been chosen from before the foundation of the world is the reason why they believe.
“When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48)

Corresponding to John 10, those who were appointed to eternal life believed the preaching; it is not the believing of the preaching that caused them to be appointed to eternal life.

Section Two: Scriptural Objections Addressed:

One of the most common objections to the view of sovereign grace and election that I have put forth has to do with an understanding of the “whosoever” passages in the Scriptures. In order to address this issue, I did a search for whosoever passages and found 179 in the KJV (that word is not used in the NAS, NKJV, ESV that I normally use)1, and most of these don’t deal with the doctrine of salvation. So instead of trying to wade through them and address ones that are do not strong arguments for the position that is opposite mine, I will deal with seems to be the primary “whosoever” passages that many people have raised. These “whosoever” passages that will be addressed are Romans 10:13 and John 3:16, but I will also address a few others that are commonly brought up.
1 First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 3 This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

I think that it is accurate here, and not a stretch, to understand that the “all men” here is referring to all types of men including kings “who are in authority.” One of the things that is key to remember, I think, is that the Jewish culture was a very racist one, and gentiles were possibly considered to be a little better than dogs. And to think that Jehovah would save Jews was totally reasonable, but Jesus and all of the writers of the New Testament are continually stating that there are sheep of a different flock (i.e. from the gentile nations), and so Jews needed to understand this (cf. John 10). The whole issue of circumcision and law keeping was rooted, at least in part, in the false idea that Christianity and Christians had to be Jewish. So, the gospel call and salvation is for all types of people, not just Jews.
The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

This one honestly had given me much concern, but I think that I understand it better now. The hardest thing about this passage is trying to understand that the letter was written to the elect of God or to those who have “received a faith of the same kind as ours” (cf. 2 Peter 1:1), and the specific intended and primary meaning of these words were for those who were saved and in the churches at that time. So the “you” are the saved. The Lord is not wishing that any of His own perish, but that all of His own would come to repentance.

This verse is absolutely true and correct. The problem is that this verse does not describe the person who calls or how they call on the Lord. It simply says that “whoever will call on the name of the Lord” will be the beneficiary of salvation in Christ. This addresses the question of “what will happen” to those who call on Christ, but it does not address “how” question. How can a dead man call on anyone? How can a dead man desire anything? It is the “how” question that is the heart of the issue, not the “who” or “whosoever”. The answer is, I believe, apart from God’s specific work in an individual’s heart (the new birth, the granting of faith, the grating of repentance), there would be no “whosoever”.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

This is the primary “whosoever” passage that I could come up with, and I want to address it delicately. First of all, I have to come to this verse understanding that natural man, under no circumstances because of his depravity, would or could choose to believe in the glorious Son of God. “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Secondly, there is a very true sense that God loves the world, the whole world, the sinful and the redeemed, “for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45b) So, there is a general grace and a general love and patience that God displays to all humanity. I mean, the vilest rejecter of God will sin and live to breathe again. That is truly a display of God’s general grace toward mankind. John also tells us that if we love the world that the love of the Father is not in us (cf. 1 John 2:15). I don’t think that we should be too extravagant in our understanding of God’s love for the whole world.

Q: Does God love the world?
A: Yes.

Q: If anyone believes in the Son and repents of their sin, will they be saved?
A: Yes.

Q: Do those who do not believe in Christ also reject Him and sin against God willfully (i.e. in line with their will)?
A: Yes. (cf. Gen 6:7; 8:21)

Q: Do those who receive salvation by repentance and faith do so willfully?
A: Yes. Their wills have been transformed by the new birth and they have been given faith and repentance.

This is how I have come to understand God’s sovereign work in salvation. I believe that it is consistent to the whole counsel of God, it magnifies God above all things, and it still holds man accountable for his actions toward God. In short, both the continual sinful rejection of God by unregenerate man as well as faith in Him by regenerate man are free, willful, and deliberate acts done in accordance with the thoughts, intents, and desires of that individual person. In no way does God’s work in election drag a sinner “kicking and screaming” into heaven so that “heaven would be like hell”2

Section Three: The Practical Objections:

The first objection tends to be a concern that taking a firm stance on the doctrine of election completely disregards 'whosoever will'. I did attempt to deal with this in the previous portion of my response. But, for the record, I do not see any contradiction or compromise in understanding what the Bible puts forth as the doctrine of election and the doctrinal understanding of man’s corrupt nature.

Another objection usually deals with the concern that pride, arrogance, or a lack of evangelistic motivation is the inevitable result of taking a firm and defined position on the doctrine of election and God’s sovereignty. Basically, the call to witness is not ever limited to “go find the elect and preach to them only”. We are to go the world and preach the gospel to everyone. I still contend that understanding the doctrines of election, grace, and depravity are the most self-stripping truths that break down every pillar of pride or self-importance and cultivate the exact opposite reaction; that of humility and being poor in Spirit.

Some simply dislike a “hard line” stance taken on these doctrines. But to be quite frank, I am not sure what is totally meant when they refer to this position as being “hard line”. If they are simply referring to a clear, definite, and forcefully preached understanding of God’s sovereignty in election that is fairly summarized by the 5 points of Calvinism3, then that is fine. If that is the case however, I do not know if it is any more “hard line” of a position than a “hard line” position of non-distinction or assertion that the answer is so complete a mystery that the understanding of the doctrine of election as I have put forth is not possible. And if that is the case, we have a choice of which hard line to be on. However, if by “hard line” people are referring to hyper-Calvinism, which may see no need of evangelism or other types of perversions, let me make it clear that I am not a hyper-Calvinist.

Christians are to preach the word so that the elect can hear it and believe. But, more than that, evangelism is the method that God has setup for the furthering of His will, His kingdom, and done for His glory. We do it out of obedience to Christ and love for Him. I should witness with the primary motivation of glorifying God, not of saving sinners. Do we want sinners saved? Yes. But if we put our primary goal or intention on anything other than God and His glory (since I believe that is the primary thing that He is concerned with), this goal or intention that is idolatrous at the heart. No matter what replaces God and His glory as our focus, whatever “it” is, “it” is being exalted above God and that is unacceptable.

I truly believe that God will save all of His own, but that does not ever give me the cause to think that I should sit back, eat potato chips, and shut my mouth about the gospel. That kind of an attitude (that some hyper-Calvinists espouse) is as false an understanding of the Scriptural call to evangelize as universalism is. This perversion of the command to evangelize is easily defeated by simply looking at the Scriptures. I am commanded by Scripture to go and preach the gospel, and that is something that I both take seriously and fail miserably at.

Is it possible that this understanding of “chosen” can or does bring up the sinful reactions of pride, laziness, or others among believers at times? Yes, that is possible. But the possibility or reality of sinning because of a certain theological stance no more condemns my theological stance than another. Likewise, a more strongly held “whosoever will” focus in theology with the emphasis placed on man’s decision over and above God’s sovereign plan may produce the sinful reaction of pride or produce a mindset that says “I was smart enough to believe, but those people were too dumb…”. The issue is this: which theology is true? It is not which adherents sin less, evangelize more, or anything else.

I hope that my treatment of these issues have come across in a way that both has been fair to objections that can be raised and that has addressed some of the pertinent texts. I hope and pray that this will encourage anyone to engage the texts with me, and if we still disagree, we can reason together over specific passages of Scripture. This article has been a labor of love for me. Love for my friends and their families. Love for my church and fellowship. Love for the Scriptures. Love for the gospel. Love for the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 http://bible.crosswalk.com/OnlineStudyBible/bible.cgi?section=0&showtools=0&version=kjv&word=whosoever&st=1&sd=0&new=1

2 Hank Hanegraaff, the Bible answer man, is a staunch advocate of libertarian free will that characterizes election with this type of language. I have heard it on the air many times.

3 As a note, the 5 points of Calvinism only became “points” in response to the theological false teachings put forth by Joseph Arminius’s followers.
Arminian’s Theological Assertions
(5 Points of Arminianism)
Dutch Church’s Response
(5 Points of Calvinism)
Free-will/Human AbilityTotal Depravity/Complete Inability
Conditional Election (God ratifies human faith)Unconditional Election
Universal Redemption/General AtonementLimited Atonement/Particular Redemption
Resistable GraceIrresistible Grace
Falling from Grace (can lose your salvation)Perseverance of the Saints

Copyright © 2005-2010 Eric Johnson