Archive for August, 2012

29
Aug
12

Hiding Behind Mama’s Skirt

Have you ever witnessed children taunting other children until someone begins to retaliate? Then, they run and hide behind their mother’s skirts. At times, there are people in the religious [I say religious, not Christian] blogging community who act just like these children. Today, I challenged a blogger named Joel Taylor at 5ptsalt.com concerning a scathing indictment he had made against Tullian Tchividjian. Of course, there was the usual charge of heresy. Anyone who disagrees with Joel is a heretic. Based on Pastor Tchividjian’s tweet that was the basis of these accusations, Joel pronounced, “Tullian doesn’t want you to mature in Christ. He doesn’t want you to do anything, just continue ‘just as you are’ – and he calls that sanctification! being made holy!” Perhaps Tullian has shared this with Joel in private. It certainly isn’t evident from what he wrote in his tweet. Joel called Pastor Tchividjian’s tweet an “antinomian lie from hell.” Then he alleged, “Tullian is leading people to Hell and damnation with an antinomian lie.” According to Joel, “the brutish stupidity of this man’s theology needs to be made public.” Now, as I have stated before, there are elements of Pastor Tchividjian’s statement of his theology with which I would not agree and admittedly, I haven’t sat under his ministry every Sunday, as Pres. Obama sat under the “preaching” of Jeremiah Wright, so that I am well acquainted with all that he teaches.

Additionally, I should say I am not a defender of Pastor Tchividjian or of New Calvinism. I simply wanted to comment on what Pastor Tchividjian’s tweet said and what it did not say. This was his tweet.

“Just as I am without one plea” is just as true for sanctification as it is for justification.”

Now, I find no difficulty with this statement as it stands. By the very nature of “tweets,” one cannot say everything that needs to be said about a particular doctrine in a tweet. If all that Joel extrapolated from the tweet were actually Pastor Tchividjian’s position on sanctification, then Tullian is a bad dude indeed. Can you imagine a pastor so vile that he doesn’t want the people under his ministry to mature in Christ? Now, where in this tweet does Pastor Tchividjian state that God doesn’t require obedience from his people? Where does he state that it doesn’t matter if believers remain unsanctified?

The reality is, the tweet says none of what Joel has claimed. One question I asked at Joel’s blog was if we have a plea to offer God that would recommend us as good candidates for sanctification, what would that plea be? Can we argue that we are not quite as sinful as others? I don’t think so. The reality is, if God doesn’t sanctify us, there is no hope of change.

J.C. Ryle wrote,

3) For another thing, if we would be sanctified, our course is clear and plain—we must begin with Christ. We must go to Him as sinners, with no plea but that of utter need, and cast our souls on Him by faith for peace and reconciliation with God. We must place ourselves in His hands, as in the hands of a good physician and cry to him for mercy and grace. We must wait for nothing to bring with us as a recommendation. [To me that sounds very similar to Pastor Tchividjian’s tweet]. The very first step towards sanctification, no less than justification, is to come with faith to Christ. We must first live and then work.

(4) For another thing, if we would grow in holiness and become more sanctified, we must continually go on as we began, and ever be making fresh applications to Christ. He is the head from which every member must be supplied (Ephes. iv.16.) To live the life of daily faith in the Son of God, and to be daily drawing out of His fulness the promised grace and strength which He has laid up for His people—this is the grand secret of progressive sanctification.

Joel thinks people need to be warned against those who would harm the church. That is why I am warning you about him. No one is well served by wild accusations of heresy. I have no question about Joel’s sincerity. No doubt, he believes he is doing God a favor in opposing these horrible heretics, but if he wants to oppose something, he needs to take issue with what people actually state, not with what he imagines they believe.

I have no problem if someone wants to dissect a theological statement and then comment on its fallacies. But, to read into a statement a meaning that was never intended only divides God’s people and obscures real issues.

Oh, by the way, instead of interacting with my comments, Joel hid behind Mama’s skirt and deleted all of them. Why not be a man and discuss real issues? The only answer I can imagine is you know you don’t have answers to real questions. I wrote to congratulate him on his show of courage. He hasn’t answered me.

25
Aug
12

Keep me near the Cross!

As I traverse the world of blog, I continue to encounter stern warnings against the practice of “gospel contemplation.” Though I must confess my ignorance concerning all the ways in which this term has been employed in the recent past, I have difficulty imagining how the practice of focusing one’s attention on the redeeming activity and dying love of Christ could be in any way damaging to a person’s life and experience or harmful to the church as a body. I have also come away with the impression that those who have opposed this practice are of the opinion that this practice is an innovation of “new Calvinists” and other miscreants who roam the land.

It appears to me that the practice of gospel contemplation, or to phrase it another way, the practice of contemplating Christ and his redeeming work, is as old as the gospel itself. The apostle Paul wrote, “but may it never be that I should boast except in the cross (by that I think he meant the gospel) of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world is crucified unto me and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). It sounds as if he continued to believe the gospel message exerted a life changing power in his life as a Christian, don’t you think? When I was a young man (that has been a year or two), our youth group used to sing,

Turn your eyes upon Jesus;
Look full in his wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of his glory and grace.

When I read the words of those who speak so malevolently against gospel contemplation, I wonder in what capacity they would imagine the writer of this little chorus was urging us to turn our eyes on Jesus. Perhaps he wanted us to consider Jesus the great moral teacher or Jesus the revolutionary. Somehow, I always thought I was being urged to fix my attention on the one who loved me, and gave up himself for me.

In her hymn “All for Jesus” 1871, Mary D. James wrote,

Since my eyes were fixed on Jesus,
I’ve lost sight of all beside;
So enchained my spirit’s vision,
Looking at the Crucified.

It almost seems to me she was describing what it is like to contemplate the gospel.

Somehow I don’t think the apostle Paul was talking about flowers, trees, butterflies and beautiful sunsets when he wrote, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8).

I can’t imagine anyone who claims to be a Christian suggesting that there is anything wrong with contemplating the gospel, the most God glorifying message ever spoken. Admittedly, if someone should suggest that obedience to Christ isn’t important as long as we think a lot about the gospel, we would have to take issue with them, but I don’t believe that is the issue. It seems to me the issue is rather how obedience to Christ is to be effected. Does true, God-honoring obedience occur simply because we have decided to knuckle under, grin and bear it and try to obey the commands of Scripture? Or does it occur when we are so overwhelmed by Christ’s dying love for us that we can no longer go on living to ourselves but must live to the glory of him who loved us and gave himself up to death for us?
Let’s ask the apostle Paul about the key to his indefatifable service for and obedience to Christ. Paul, how is it that you continue to refuse to live for your own pleasure but persist in walking in obedience to the revealed will of Christ? His answer, “For Christ’s love overwhelms and constrains me, for by this we judge that if one died for all, then all died, and he died for all so that those who live would no longer go on living to themselves, but for him who died for them and rose again” (2 Cor. 5 : 14-15). Now my question is, where is Christ’s love for his people most resplendently displayed if not in the gospel? Are we, unlike the apostle, to be motivated by something other than Christ’s love? If our motive is to be the same as his, where should we focus our attention if not on the redeemer and his work?

Not long ago I read the post of a dear lady who wrote that her husband had urged her to move away from the foot of the cross and get on with living the Christian life and serving the Lord. It almost seems as if these people are suggesting we are sending people to a hill outside Jerusalem to gaze up at a cross. You don’t have to “leave the foot of the cross” to get on with obeying and serving Christ. If you are a believer, the gospel pervades your entire being. If you want to love your wife in a way that will please and glorify God, you must do it “as Christ loved the church and gave up himself for it” (If you want to learn to forgive those who have grievously offended you, then your pattern is God’s redemptive action in forgiving us for Christ sake (Eph 4:32, Col. 3:12-13). If you would worship God in accordance with the perfect pattern of heavenly worship, your song will be, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain and has redeemed us . . .” (Rev. 5:9).

I am old enough to recall a time when the church used to sing hymns like “Near the Cross” by Fanny Crosby. No one thought she meant we were to kneel immobilized at the foot of the cross, but that we were to press forward both in our individual lives and in our corporate mission mobilized and motivated by an overpowering sense of Christ’s unspeakable and self-sacrificing love for us. As we sang the following words, we prayed that we would never abandon preaching its message, and never stray from or outlive the overwhelming and life-transforming power of God’s redeeming love for us in Christ. Here is what she wrote:

Jesus, keep me near the cross,
There a precious fountain
Free to all, a healing stream
Flows from Calvary’s mountain.

Near the cross! O Lamb of God,
Bring its scenes before me;
Help me walk from day to day,
With its shadows o’er me.

Refrain

In the cross, in the cross,
Be my glory ever;
Till my raptured soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.

22
Aug
12

Tradition, Trivialities, or Truth

I just visited the blog of a nice young man who truly seems to have a desire to be on the right side of things, but often fails to think through his blogs before he posts them. I left a response to the following, but since he seems to be hesitant to post anything that disagrees with his positions, I have decided to answer him here.

After citing a passage from Nehemiah to support his point, he wrote the following:

Notice the following:

All the people gathered together in a central location.

Ezra the priest took with him the Word of God to the wooden podium, or pulpit, which was built specifically for the purpose of preaching from it.

Ezra entered that pulpit and stood, with the Scriptures, and preached while standing above (higher up than) the congregation.

Many today will say the early church would not recognize today’s pulpit/audience style. Yet the apostles would certainly be familiar with this passage in Nehemiah, demonstrating it not only recognized, but practiced in Scripture. Indeed, Jesus Himself customarily went to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood before an audience and read from the Scriptures. Luke 4:16.

Let us be careful not to adapt methods and methodologies without diligent biblical study and prayer. At the same time, let us be careful who we listen to when non-traditional methods of teaching and preaching are proposed.

Actually, the text says he “customarily” went to the synagogue, not that he “customarily” stood to teach. Jesus, at times, taught in a sitting position. In fact, in the Luke 4 passage he cited, though Jesus stood to read, he was sitting when he taught the meaning of the passage he had read. I can’t recall a single mention of a pulpit in the entire N.T. Scriptures. I’m not seeing a pattern of standing in a pulpit above people for teaching or preaching. From a pragmatic point of view, I have no problem with it, but making it a pattern is altogether different.

Have we nothing more important to discuss than posture and pulpit or no pulpit for teaching and preaching? Let’s talk about truth, not trivialities.

21
Aug
12

In These Last Days-Jesus The Messiah:The High Priest We Confess (Chapter 4)

CHAPTER FOUR
JESUS THE MESSIAH:
The High Priest Whom We Confess (Part One)

We turn now to the second major division of this epistle in which the writer urges us to fix our thoughts on “Jesus, the Great Priest we confess.” Due to the volume of the material in this epistle about Jesus’ priesthood, we will divide our treatment of it into two chapters. In the first, we will concern ourselves with the fundamental characteristics of priestly ministry and with the contrasts between the priestly orders of Aaron and Melchizedek. In the second, we will focus on Christ’s priestly dignity and ministry itself.

The aspect of our study on which we will focus in this chapter is, for the most part, contrastive. Given the nature of typology, there are necessarily areas in which Jesus’ priesthood corresponds to the priesthood of the old covenant. Yet, this epistle primarily emphasizes the dissimilarities between the priestly orders of Aaron and Melchizedek. The author intends to show the vast superiority of Jesus’ priesthood in Melchizedek’s order to that of Aaron and the Levitical priests. This epistle sets Jesus forth as “better” than all the messengers and mediators of the old covenant. Yet, we must be careful that we do not misunderstand the author’s meaning. He does not mean that the prophets, priests, and kings of the old covenant continue to be prophets, priests, and kings, but Jesus is superior to them, i.e., they are good, but He is better. If we understand him this way, we have totally missed his meaning. We can only understand his teaching if we understand, with him, the nature of biblical typology. Not only is the antitype always “better” than the type. It also supersedes the type. When our author argues that Jesus, a priest in the order of Melchizedek, is better than the priests of the Levitical order, he does not mean that both continue in existence but one is superior to the other. He means that Jesus has replaced Aaron and his sons as the priest of God’s people. When he argues that the new covenant is a “better covenant” than the old, he intends for us to understand that the new covenant has replaced the old covenant. In reality, it was not possible for these Hebrews to return to the old covenant system. The only thing that remained of Judaism was the empty shell of an outmoded religion that was totally void of divine sanction.

The Nature of Priestly Ministry

The author begins his argument in Hebrews four by showing that Jesus, our Great Priest, has done for new covenant believers what none of the priests of the old covenant could do. Yet, that which He has done for us is exactly what a priest is intended to do for those whom he represents. Through the redemption He has accomplished, He now invites and enables believers to approach confidently the Sovereign of the universe, knowing that He will receive us (4:14-16). The writer then assures us that our priest is not unfeeling and uncaring. No, He is able to sympathize with us, since He, being a true human being, has felt all that we feel (4:15).

He continues this line of thought in the opening verses of Hebrews five. Here he describes the fundamental qualities and duties of every high priest. In this part of his argument, he shows the similarities between Jesus’ priesthood and the Levitical priesthood.

Chosen from among Men
The first essential characteristic of one who holds the office of high priest is that he be taken from among men, i.e., human beings. Since the function of a high priest is to represent human beings, he must be a human being. He is to act on their behalf in matters related to God. His chief duty was to offer gifts and sacrifices for sin. The author wants us to understand that the priest’s duty was not to mediate disputes between human beings, but to represent men before God. Therefore, his work involved the offering of gifts and sacrifices for sin.

Appointed by God

Integral to the author’s argument is the fact that no priest entered the high priest’s office on his own initiative; God appointed him to it (5:1). God appointed to office every true priest of Aaron’s order. Jesus was no different. God appointed Him to be an everlasting priest with greater dignity than all the priests of the old covenant system. This will become clear as our author unfolds his argument in his exposition of Psalm 110. This he begins to do in Hebrews 5:5-6 but, having interrupted himself with a parenthetical warning, does not complete it until chapter seven. He writes,

5:4No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was. 5So Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him,
“You are my Son;
Today I have become your Father.”
6And he says in another place,
“You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek.”

In citing these two Old Testament references together, the author underscores that the Messiah is both king and priest in one person. The Son whom God has exalted to the throne is also the eternal priest who pleads our cause before God.

Sympathetic

Another indispensable requirement for one who functions as a priest is that he be able to sympathize with those whom he represents. Our author refers to this requirement in verses two and three of this chapter. Concerning this necessary ability in those who function in the priesthood he writes, “He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is bound to offer sacrifice for his sins as well as for those of the people.” Yet, in this passage, unlike 4:15, his focus is not merely on the ability of the high priest to sympathize. Here he concentrates on the need of mere human priests to offer sacrifice for their own sinful weaknesses. Still, we need to appreciate that Jesus’ sinlessness in sharing our human weaknesses makes Him no less sensitive to our feelings and failings. Philip Hughes writes, “That Christ did not share in our sinfulness does not in any degree invalidate this fellow feeling for us and with us in our weakness. The common ground with us was that of his fellow humanity which was subject to temptation or testing.” (P. Hughes, Commentary on Hebrews, p.177).

Representative

As mentioned above, the function of the High Priest is to act on behalf of those whom he is chosen to represent. Since those whom he represents are sinners who need to be reconciled to a holy God, his work necessarily involves the offering of gifts and sacrifices for sins. Thus, the High Priest approaches God with a sacrifice intended to stay His wrath against sinners.

Jesus, A Better Priest

Jesus’ superiority over the priests of the Levitical system is due primarily to the superiority of the priestly order in which He functions to the Aaronic order. There is an integral relationship between the nature of His priesthood and the covenant that He mediates. The writer makes it plain that if He were on earth, the law would forbid His intrusion into the priesthood (7:13-14; 8:3-4). The very fact that Jesus is able to function as our Great Priest shows that He must be a priest of a different order and provides convincing evidence that God has abrogated the old covenant. Having established this fact, our author then shows that Jesus is a better priest, who mediates a better covenant, offers a better sacrifice in a better sanctuary, and perfects better worshippers.

Who was Melchizedek?

There has been a great deal of speculation concerning the identity and significance of Melchizedek. Though it might be interesting to examine the history of such speculation concerning Melchizedek, it is beyond the scope and purpose of this study to do so (If the reader is interested in such an investigation see: Bruce Demarest. A History of Interpretation of Hebrews 7,1-10 from the Reformation to the Present. Tübingin: J.C.B Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1976., and Philip E. Hughes. A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. reprint, 1990, pp.237-45). We will approach this study on the presupposition that Melchizedek was an historic person who stood as a type of Christ, the King-Priest of the new covenant.

There are only two Old Testament references to Melchizedek. The first, Genesis 14:17-20, records Abraham’s historic encounter with him as the former returned from rescuing his nephew, Lot. The second, Psalm 110:4, predicts that the Messiah will be a regal priest after the order of Melchizedek. All that we know about Melchizedek and the nature of His priestly order is what we read in these passages that form the basis for our author’s argument in Hebrews 7.

Apart from the Messianic prediction of Psalm 110, it is unlikely that either we or the author of this epistle would have (apart from the Spirit’s guidance) taken much notice of this man Melchizedek. He appears briefly in the Genesis narrative, then vanishes, never to be seen or heard from again. The only information that we receive about him is that he was the king of Salem, a priest of God Most High, who, having brought out bread and wine, blessed Abraham and received from him a tenth of everything he had taken in battle. Some, e.g., James Moffatt,(Moffatt. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews. ICC. Edinburgh), 1924, p. 90ff)have advanced the view that our author engaged in fanciful allegory in bringing what he did out of this historic account. Yet, the reality is that our author has simply expounded the clear Messianic prediction of Psalm 110. He has not read anything back into the Old Testament Scriptures. He has merely recognized truths that God had already revealed.

Exposition of Hebrews Seven

The argument of Hebrews seven is simply an exposition of the three facets of the Messianic prediction in Psalm 110:4. Though our author does not follow the Psalmist’s order, and there is some overlap in his treatment of these statements, we can outline his argument as follows:

1. The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (7:1-15).

2. The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (7:16, 23-25).

3. The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (7:17-22). Verses 26-28 draw a sharp contrast between the priests that the law appoints and the Priest that God appoints with an oath.

In expounding each of these statements, our author shows that Christ, as a priest after the order of Melchizedek, is superior to the Levitical priests. He is superior to them because the priestly order to which He belongs is superior to theirs. His priesthood is better than theirs because, unlike theirs, His priesthood lasts forever. His priesthood is better than theirs because His appointment to office was attended by the solemnity of God’s oath. God never promised that the priestly order of Aaron would endure forever. Both the priestly practice of the individual priests within that order and the order itself were limited in duration. God intended that priestly order, which was integrally related to the old covenant, to last only as long as the Law (Mosaic covenant) lasted. Our author argues cogently that God’s stated intention to establish the Messiah as a priest of a different order clearly signalled the eventual termination of the Levitical priesthood (7:11-16).

A Priest of a Better Order

Our author’s first concern is to describe the characteristics of the Melchizedekian priestly order. His is not primarily interested in expounding the implications of the Genesis narrative. He merely does so to explain the phrase “a priest after the order of Melchizedek.” It is important to recognize that in drawing conclusions from the Genesis narrative, he does so, not by considering Melchizedek the man, but Melchizedek the priest. Thus, when he asserts that Melchizedek was “without father, without mother, without descent [pedigree] having neither beginning of days nor end of life,” he is describing the nature of his priestly order (If Melchizedek were being presented as a type of Jesus, the man, then the typical correspondences would fail. Though Jesus had no human father, He did have a mother. Melchizedek had “neither father nor mother.” Jesus’ genealogy is set forth in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Melchizedek was “without genealogy.” Jesus, as to His humanity, had beginning of life. Melchizedek had “neither beginning of days nor end of life.” Where, then, is the typical correspondence?

If, on the other hand, someone should argue that it is in the eternal, divine nature of the Messiah that our author finds a typical correspondence to Melchizedek, they would create another difficulty. What would such an contention have to do with our author’s line of argument? It is plain that his purpose is to show, not only that Jesus is a priest who is superior to Aaron and his sons, but also how it is possible for Jesus to be a priest at all. This has nothing to do with His deity. The question is, “How can one who is born in the tribe of Judah officiate as a priest?” He does not answer that such things make no difference because the Messiah is the eternal God. Though that is quite true as an ontological affirmation concerning the person of the Messiah, it completely misses the point. Our author has consistently argued that our Great Priest is a true man who learned obedience through the things that He suffered. He is one who feels with us because He has been put to the test just like we are. It is this man who has suffered for us. It is this man who has ascended into heaven and entered the heavenly holy place. It is He who now appears in the presence of God for us. It is He who is coming again in power and great glory. How is it that this man can act as our priest if He is without the credentials prescribed by Mosaic legislation? This is the question that our author answers. It is neither Jesus’ humanity nor His deity to which Melchizedek corresponds typically. It is His priestly ministry that is in question). He is not merely arguing from the silence of the Genesis narrative concerning his birth, death, parentage, etc. that as a man, Melchizedek was a type of Him who is without beginning of days or end of life.(Many have supposed that our author argues from the silence of the Genesis narrative concerning the birth and death of Melchizedek that the Holy Spirit intended, by this silence, to indicate that he was a type of Christ who, as eternal God, was truly “without beginning of days or end of life.” I agree with John Brown that to argue that “it is testified of him that he lives” merely from the fact that we have no account of his death “. . .savors more of rabbinical trifling than anything else.” Hebrews p. 333.) He has no interest, at this point, in pursuing an ontological argument concerning the person of the Messiah. He concerns himself instead with the nature of Jesus’ priesthood. John Brown, in his usual perceptive manner, has identified this as the key to understanding this otherwise difficult verse. He wrote, “The key to the true meaning of the passage is to be found in the peculiar view the Apostle is here taking of Melchisedec. He is speaking of him as a priest; and as a priest he is said to have had no father, or mother, or genealogy. The last statement is explanatory of the two former (italics mine).(J. Brown. Hebrews, p.327).

To show that Jesus is a Priest of a better order, our author first describes the ways in which Melchizedek’s order is superior to Aaron’s. He then recites the ways in which Abraham, the patriarch, acknowledged this superiority. Finally, he argues that the Levitical priesthood must have been inferior, since the prophecy of Psalm 110:4 predicted that God was going to replace it. We will now consider each of these factors individually.

Characteristics of the Melchizedekian Order

No Pedigree Needed

When our author refers to Melchizedek as “without father, without mother,” he indicates that the priestly order to which he belonged required no pedigree. A priest’s parentage was of no importance. This is clearly in contrast to the requirements of the Mosaic legislation concerning qualifications for the priesthood. Under the Levitical system a person could not function in the priestly ministry unless he could show that he belonged to the tribe of Levi. Remember that those priests who returned from the captivity were not able to officiate as priests until they could prove their priestly pedigree. Of them we read in Ezra 2:62-63; Neh. 7:64-65,

These searched for their family records, but could not find them and so were excluded from the priesthood as unclean. The governor, therefore, ordered them not to eat any of the most sacred food until there should be a priest ministering with the Urim and Thummim. (See also Num. 16:39).

There are at least two reasons why this is important to the argument at hand. First, it indicates that the dignity of the priests of this order was not personal, but one conferred on them by the Law (Old Covenant). Their right to receive tithes and grant priestly blessings was a power conferred on them by legal decree (Heb. 7:5). Melchizedek, on the other hand, possessed a dignity that was both inherent and personal. His priesthood was unencumbered by the requirements of Mosaic legislation.

Not only does the law confer this dignity, however. It also defines its boundaries and delimits the area of its validity. Precedence it gives, but only over fellow Israelites who like the priests themselves are “descended from the loins of Abraham”. This is why the designation of Abraham as “patriach”[sic] (verse 4) is so pointed. The whole complex of Law-Priesthood-tithes is designed to work, and does work, within the boundaries of Abraham’s people. But the entire scheme is relativised by the spectacle of Abraham (the father of them all, no less!) giving tithes to one who stood completely outside the system. And this, not on the basis of legal obligation, but out of his free recognition of one who stood superior to himself [italics mine]. Herein lies the greatness of Melchizedek. . . he is one who stands quite above the entire structure of Law and Priesthood, dependent on neither legal nor levitical descent and yet acknowledged as superior by none other than Father Abraham. (Graham Hughes. Hebrews and Hermeneutics, p. 16.).

There is a second reason why this is important. If Jesus’ fitness to act as our High Priest were dependent on proper pedigree as required by the law, He would be totally disqualified. If the Mosaic covenant and the Levitical system that accompanied it were still in force, Jesus could not possibly be our Great High Priest.

7:12For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law. 13He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. 14For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests (Heb 7:12-14).

Yet, His lack of priestly pedigree presents no problem. The priestly order in which He officiates depends not on ancestral regulations, but on personal dignity, derived from the power of an indestructible life (7:16).

No Term Limitations

The second characteristic of Melchizedek’s priestly order to which our author calls our attention is its lack of term limitations. Melchizedek, as a priest, was “without beginning of days or end of life.” This does not mean that Melchizedek, as a type of Christ, continues to be a priest for eternity. It means that his priesthood is coextensive with his life. As long as he lived, he continued to function as a priest. John Brown wrote, “The meaning is “Melchisedec continued a priest during the whole of his life. He did not, like the Levitical priests, at an appointed period cease to minister; while he continued to live he continued to minister.””(Brown, Hebrews, p. 328). Notice the contrast between Melchizedek and the Levitical priests on whose ministry the Mosaic legislation placed strict temporal limitations. The age limit for those ministering in the tabernacle is repeated several times in the fourth chapter of Numbers. The regulation was as follows, “Count all the men from thirty to fifty years of age who come to serve in the work of the tent of meeting” (Num 4:2, 23, 30, 35, 39, 43, 47). As priests these men from the tribe of Levi had a beginning of days and an end of life. No such limitations were placed on Melchizedek.

No National Limitations

A third characteristic of Melchizedek’s priestly order is that it was not limited to one nation. Melchizedek was a priest of God Most High who functioned outside Israel’s national boundaries. In fact, he was a priest long before God ever established Israel as a nation. His order of priesthood antedates and supersedes the Levitical priesthood. It was not limited to one nation, but is universal in scope. Jesus, as a priest in Melchizedek’s order, represents people of every nation. He intercedes for all who come to God by Him.

Abraham’s Acknowledgement of Melchizedek’s superiority

Our author begins this section of his argument by calling us to consider how great this man Melchizedek was. Then, he substantiates his assertion of Melchizedek’s greatness by citing the details of Abraham’s interaction with him. He argues his case by first affirming Abraham’s greatness and importance in relation to his posterity–”the patriarch Abraham.” Then he shows that Abraham, from whom Levi and his sons descended, received blessing from and paid tithes to Melchizedek. In both actions, Abraham, who is greater than those who descended from him, is shown to be inferior to Melchizedek (7:4-10).

Abraham’s Greatness

Our author sets Abraham’s greatness before us when he refers to him as “the patriarch Abraham.” The word “patriarch” (ruling father) was a title used in the Bible of only a few men. It occurs only four times in the New Testament Scriptures (Acts 2:29; 7:8,9; Heb 7:4). In each case, the writers used it of men who stood as princes or rulers of their families. Our author used it of Abraham who was the progenitor of the entire nation (Heb 7:4). Stephen used it to refer to the twelve sons of Israel who stood at the head of their respective tribes (Acts 7:8-9). Also, Peter used it of David who stood at the head of Israel’s royal family (Acts 2:29). Abraham stands at the head of Israel’s family tree. He is the patriarch of the patriarchs. It seemed inconceivable to the Jews that anyone could have been greater than father Abraham. When they confronted Jesus about His claims they asked, “You are not greater than our father Abraham, are you” (John 8:53)?

Yet, the true greatness of Abraham went beyond the fact that he was the physical progenitor of the entire nation. It consisted in his position as the covenant head of the nation. The author of this epistle describes him as “him who had the promises” (7:6). Later (v. 10), when he tells us that “Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor,” he has more than natural generation in mind. He was thinking of the fact that Abraham acted as a representative for all the heirs of the covenant promises in him. John Owen expressed the thought this way, “Abraham [was] acting as a covenanter in the name of his posterity.” (Owen, Hebrews, p.387.) Along the same line, John Brown made the following penetrating comment,

To him [Abraham] the promises of the peculiar privileges to be bestowed on his posterity were given. He was as it were, not the fountain indeed, but the reservoir from which they flowed out to his posterity. Every religious privilege they enjoyed, they enjoyed because they were his posterity. In his person there was concentrated all the sacred dignity which belonged to the peculiar people of God. Whatever was venerable and holy about the Israelites, or the system under which they were placed, was essentially to be found in their patriarch.

(Brown, Hebrews, p. 329.)

Abraham, both as the natural progenitor of the nation of Israel and as the covenant head and representative of all the heirs of the covenant promises, was greater than all his posterity.

Melchizedek’s Superiority

Before we consider how Abraham acknowledged Melchizedek’s superiority to himself, we should consider Melchizedek’s inferiority to Christ. Melchizedek was only a type, a model of the great priest who was to come. One of the plain principles governing the study of biblical typology is that the type is always inferior to the fulfillment (antitype). Our author’s argument runs like this: Christ (the antitype) is superior to Melchizedek (the antitype), who is superior to Abraham, who is superior to all his posterity, including Levi and his sons. Therefore, Christ, our Great Priest, is superior to all the priests of the Levitical order.

Our author argues that, by two acts, Abraham acknowledged Melchizedek’s superiority. He gave him a tenth of the spoils of battle and received his priestly blessing. In receiving Melchizedek’s priestly blessing, Abraham acknowledged his inferiority to this priest of God Most High, since “. . .without doubt the lesser person is blessed by the greater” (7:7). Had Abraham been superior to Melchizedek, he would have pronounced the blessing rather than receiving it.

That Abraham paid a tenth to Melchizedek illustrates his acknowledgement of the latter’s superiority in at least two ways. First, the act of paying a tithe to Melchizedek was, in itself, an acknowledgement of his spiritual superiority. People never pay religious homage to those whom they perceive to be inferior to them in sacred dignity. Besides this, Abraham, as far as we can tell, paid voluntary homage to Melchizedek, simply because he perceived his superior dignity as a priest of God Most High. By contrast, the priests of the Levitical order received tithes because the law required it. Our author writes, “Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people–that is, their brothers–even though their brothers are descended from Abraham” (v. 5). The Israelites paid tithes to these priests not because they perceived in them an inherent dignity and superiority, but because the law required it.

Summary

Thus far we have learned that all the essential characteristics of one who functions in the priestly ministry are found in Jesus, our Great High Priest. He has been chosen from men and appointed by God to be a sympathetic representative for all who come to God by Him. In this respect, He is like the priests of the Levitical order. Yet, as the great antitypical priest to which they pointed, He is infinitely superior to them. One reason for this superiority is that He belongs to a superior priestly order. He is a priest “in the order of Melchizedek.” His qualifications for the priestly ministry rest not on ancestral pedigree but on His essential dignity. Unlike the priests of the Levitical system, the duration of His ministry is not limited by age or death. He is a priest as long as He lives. Finally, His ministry, unlike theirs, is not confined to the covenant nation, Israel. He is a universal priest who is able to save completely all who come to God by Him.

20
Aug
12

Decree versus “Existence”

Just today I read a short post in which the blog owner stated that the church has been in existence from eternity since God had predestined her existence from all eternity. I asked him if he also believed in eternal justification. He replied, “Absolutely not.”

It seems to me that if one is going to argue that the church existed from eternity since its existence was decreed from eternity, one must also argue that the elect have been declared righteous from eternity. Of course, this is contrary to the Bible’s teaching. The Scriptures teach that we are justified through faith, not justified before we ever had being.

Now the issue here is not whether the existence of the church and the justification of God’s elect people were absolute certainties from all eternity. All that God has decreed will certainly come to pass. The issue is whether all that God decreed actually “existed” in eternity. It seems to me that if everything in God’s decree actually “existed” in eternity, there would be no need to execute that plan in time.

Permit me the following analogy: The decree of God is like an architectural blueprint. Since it is God’s architectural plan, it needs and will have no alteration. Often with blueprints, changes must be made because the architect has lacked the foresight to predict problems that might arise to necessitate an alteration in his plan or because of a lack of resources necessary for the execution of that plan. Neither of these factors comes into play to prevent the execution of God’s plans. His “blueprint” is certain to come to fruition because he has taken all possible obstacles into account (indeed the very obstacles themselves are decreed by him) and possesses abundant resources necessary for the execution of his plan. Still, the blueprint is not the reality; it is only a plan. It would be wrong to suggest that proposed structure “existed” simply because a plan had been drawn. One could find no shelter from the heat, cold, or rain in the plan. One cannot move furniture into the plan. However well-drawn the plan may be, it is still only a plan and the reality that is envisioned by it does not yet exist.

In time, specifically in the work of Christ, God executes his eternal decree and accomplishes the work of redemption. This I would liken to the construction of the building. When, and only when, the house is completed can we actually say that it exists. The work of Christ objectively accomplished everything the Father had decreed for his chosen people. While we were still enemies of God, we were reconciled to God by Christ’s death. Reconciliation can only occur when both aggrieved parties put away their hostility. Jesus’ work not only satisfied the Father’s holy wrath toward the believer but also guaranteed that the elect sinner would lay aside his unholy hostility toward God. No one can add anything to this house Jesus built. It stands complete as it is. Still, it is as yet uninhabited.

The application of redemption in calling and regeneration moves elect sinners into the house God planned for them from eternity. Now we become partakers of all the accomplished benefits of Christ’s redeeming work.

The reality is, the church did not “exist” in eternity, though its existence was an absolute certainty due to the immutability of God’s decree.

19
Aug
12

Misrepresentation–always look for the dots.

I just discovered that Paul Dohse Sr. posted an out of context comment I made regarding his book, “The Truth About New Calvinism.” The statement is as follows: “ . . .the book is well written, easy to read, and provides interesting information about the history of Jon Zen’s association with Brinsmead, Westminster Seminary etc.”

~Randy Seiver, Th.M, Westminster Seminary

This is characteristic of all those who like to misrepresent other’s views. If you would like to know what I actually had to say about his book, see my review here.
https://truthunchanging.wordpress.com/2011/12/17/review-of-the-truth-about-new-calvinism-by-paul-dohse/. My advice to you is, always look for and beware of the dots.

In these times when the gospel is under attack as perhaps never before, it is important that we approach issues with intellectual and theological integrity. I see no problem with honest disagreements, but we should, at least, be honest about our opponent’s positions.

17
Aug
12

Clear Gospel Preaching.

The more I read what people, ostensibly people who have read the Bible, say about others who seek to be faithful in their proclamation of the Word of God, the more I wonder if a “simple gospel presentation” is possible. In reality, God’s good news is a somewhat complicated message that demands quite a lot of definition. I have recently read comments from opponents of “Lordship salvation” that accuse LS preachers of preaching works for justification before God. Consider the following statement, for example.

“‘Lordship Salvation’ is the false doctrine whereby God offers a lost sinner the promise of eternal life in exchange for a lost sinner’s promise of future works. It is thereby an exchange of promises, or a bilateral contract.”

Clear Gospel Campaign

It appears these folks believe those who teach that a person must bow to Jesus as Lord at the point of conversion are teaching that the sinner’s strikes a deal with God in which he promises to be obedient the rest of his life in exchange for a declaration of righteousness before his judgment bar. I am not quite sure how to square that statement with a statement from John MacArthur about justification before God. He wrote,

Because Christians are justified by faith alone, their standing before God is not in any way related to personal merit. Good works and practical holiness do not provide the grounds for acceptance with God. God receives as righteous those who believe, not because of any good thing He sees in them — not even because of His own sanctifying work in their lives — but solely on the basis of Christ’s righteousness, which is reckoned to their account. “To the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness” (Romans 4:5). That is justification.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think it would be possible to give a clearer statement on justification by grace alone, through faith alone, and based on Christ’s righteousness alone. So I am left to wonder, are these people just deliberately twisting people’s statements and lying about their views? Are they so biblically ignorant they can’t understand what these writers and speakers are saying, are they just mentally deficient or have they heard something at some point that gave the impression that the sinner must offer some promise of good works in order to earn God’s eternal approval? I think it is significant that certain blogs refuse to allow people who actually hold these views to clarify or defend their positions. I have found so many outright lies and distortions on one of these blogs that I am not sure I would even know where to start in trying to correct all their misconceptions.

On the other hand, I must confess I have heard some who were so concerned to prevent the gospel message from giving any license to antinomianism that they almost preached a works gospel [there is an oxymoron if I have ever heard one].

I am convinced it is impossible to proclaim the gospel briefly and clearly to those who have no previous biblical instruction. How do we talk to someone about a God about whom they are completely ignorant? How do we talk to someone about sin when they have no concept of what sin is? For this reason, I believe in educational evangelism rather than hit and run evangelism. If we are careful in our instruction, perhaps we can obviate some of the misconceptions people have about God’s plan of salvation.

In an effort to clarify what I believe the gospel is, what the nature of faith is, what the nature of assurance is etc., I want to make a series of statements that I believe to be true about these issues. I urge you to respond to these statements so that we might open a dialogue about the gospel. I don’t mind if you disagree. What I ask is that you be respectful and support all your views with contextually relevant biblical arguments. I don’t want you to hear my opinions and I frankly don’t care about yours. If you can’t back it up with Scripture, don’t post it.

OK here’s the list:

1. Jesus died to save us from our sins, not to leave us in our sins.

2. All those Jesus died to justify, died with him to the reigning power of sin.

3. God does not swap our obedience for eternal life.

4. No true believer is indifferent to the issue of pleasing God. Paul wrote, “It is God who works in you, both to desire and to do what pleases him.” Should we not assume that this describes God’s work in all true believers? If God works in all believers and his work produces a desire to please God, would we not have to conclude that all believers desire to please God?

5. No believer, even the most sanctified believer, can produce an obedience that merits God’s declaration of justification.

6. Justification before God is based solely on the imputed obedience of Christ.

7. In repentance, the sinner offers nothing as a ground or part of the ground of his justification before God.

8. Assurance of salvation [please see my post about three fold assurance] in terms of the assurance of hope, is based on certain marks that will invariably be present in the life of God’s true people. Otherwise, what could the apostle John mean by his “Hereby do we know that we know him” statements?

9. Being a believer and being a disciple are the same.

10. If you have no desire to follow Jesus, you have never become a Christian.

11. Those who have professed faith in Christ may need to examine the reality of their faith from time to time. Some have made false professions. Paul told Titus, “They profess that they know God, but in works they deny him. . . .”

12. Usually, if not always, people in the biblical record who are exhorted to examine themselves have been acting or believing in such a way as to call into question the reality of their faith (e.g., 2 Cor. 13:5; Gal. 4:20).

13. We should spend more time gazing at Christ than we do gazing at ourselves.

14. We should never allow anyone to make us feel guilty unless we are guilty.

15. If we persist in a life of rebellion against God, we have no evidence that we have ever been born of God.

16. The weakest believer who truly trusts God’s promise to save him for Jesus’ sake, is equally righteous in God’s sight as the godliest saint who has ever lived.

17. The believer’s right standing before God results completely from God’s work of redemption outside of him. Nothing God does in him or that he does as a result of God’s work in him contributes to the basis of his justification.

18. Repentance and faith form no part of the basis of the believer’s justification before God.

19. Repentance is a change of mind that manifests itself in a change of behavior.

20. Neither faith nor repentance is the sinner’s offering to God. Both are God’s gift to the sinner.

15
Aug
12

Continue in your rebellion against God and go to heaven anyway?

OK, I want to acknowledge up front one of my great failings. I continue to be amazed at how ridiculous those who claim to represent our Lord can be. It is as if God has chosen the terminally stupid to confound the wise. One would think that those who have read the Bible at least once would know better. Silly me! One of my fond but as yet unrealized wishes is that someone who disagrees with positions I have taken would at least accurately represent those views I have taken.

Today, I read a list of characteristics that might be true of a person if he believes in Lordship Salvation. I am not sure who wrote it but it was posted by a man who called himself “Expreacherman.” If I am not mistaken, this gentleman knows better now since he died not long ago and has been disabused of his heresy.

I have no doubt that he was trying to emphasize the freeness of justification through the redemptive work of Christ alone. In this, I would agree with him totally. A person’s right standing before God has absolutely nothing to do with his personal obedience. It is based solely on the obedience and righteousness of Christ.

What I don’t agree with is his denial that believers will act differently from unbelievers.

Whoever wrote the article makes stupid statements like “You might be a Lordship Salvationist –IF

✦“You think that loving Jesus is the same thing as believing in Jesus.” No one who believes in “Lordship salvation” confuses faith and love. We do believe that every true believer loves Jesus.

✦“You believe that repenting of or turning from sin is an essential co mponent of being or staying saved.” Are we to believe God brings us to desire freedom from the penalty of our sins but with no desire to be free from those sins themselves?

✦“You believe there are marks of true believers.” What are we to make of statements like, “If you continue in my word, then are you truly my disciples?” And “Hereby we know that we know him, IF we keep his commandments?” The marks of a true believer are that they continue in Jesus’ words and keep his commandments. I guess Jesus and John both believed in Lordship Salvation.

✦“You think you must desire a relationship with Christ in order to be saved.” No, just give me the goodies and leave me alone. Who wants a relationship with a person who gave himself to be cursed of God for me that I might be blessed for eternity? Is it not difficult to believe a person who could write such stupid stuff could even be a believer?

✦“You believe “faith” and “faithfulness” are the same things.” Who that believes in Lordship Salvation fails to distinguish between faith and faithfulness?”

✦“You believe that assurance of salvation is based on your own faithfulness.” What about John’s statement, “These things have I written to you that you might KNOW that you have everlasting life?” “Hereby do we KNOW that we know him if we keep his commandments?”

I would never suggest that our works have anything to do with meriting God’s favor. Nor would I suggest that believer’s are ever perfect in this life or that our obedience can form any part of the basis of our justification before God. What I do believe is that those whom God has justified, he will also sanctify and glorify. Those for whom Jesus died, also died with him to the reigning power of sin. If a person desires to continue under the dominion of sin, he has never been delivered from the penalty of sin. John Owen wrote, “Any man in whom the death of Christ for sin has not become his death to sin, shall die in his sin.”

One of the patterns I have observed is that these people never seem to answer real questions or address real issues. All they do is make outrageous statements, then run and hide. I would love to discuss the real issues with anyone who has the couarge to forsake their hit and run techinques.

10
Aug
12

The Sinner’s Prayer–Should we use it or not?

Should evangelism involve the use of what has come to be known as “The Sinner’s Prayer?” This question was recently debated and resolved by the Southern Baptist Convention. The delegates voted to affirm its use in evangelism. Of course, that settles the issue once and for all. If the Convention says it is right, it must be right.

I personally have some issues with using a “canned prayer” in “canned evangelism.” Let me just state a few observations and note what I believe are the implications of this practice.

1. I believe we are to find the pattern for evangelism in the Scriptures. How did Jesus, the apostles, and biblical evangelists seek to bring their hearers into a saving relationship with God?

A. One characteristic that becomes clear immediately was they did not practice cookie-cutter evangelism. Jesus doesn’t deal with Nicodemus the same way he does with the sinful woman at the well. When the eunuch of Ethiopia said to Philip “see here is water, what hinders me from being baptized?” Philip didn’t say, “Wait! First, you have to pray the sinner’s prayer.” He simply said, “If you believe, you may.”

B. We do not find a single example in the Scriptures of anyone asking a sinner to repeat a prayer after an evangelistic appeal in an effort to “draw the net.” Evangelists are not called on to “close the deal” (Of course, I know you can’t count them and get credit for it in the associational record unless you get a decision. Their names can’t be recorded in heaven until you get it into the associational record). Closing the deal is God’s work; our work is to “hold forth the word of truth.”

C, The term “The sinner’s prayer” suggests that there is one prayer every sinner must pray if he is to become a follower of Christ. The term is not “A sinner’s prayer” i.e., one of many, but “THE sinner’s prayer,” suggesting that every sinner’s prayer must have the same content. If Nicodemus had prayed aloud, he might have confessed his sin of self-righteous pride and self-reliance. If the woman at the well had prayed aloud, she might have confessed her sins of idolatry and adultery. If the rich young ruler had been converted and prayed aloud, he might have confessed his sins of self-righteousness and covetousness. The point is, there is no “one size fits all” sinner’s prayer.

D. If we have done our job of presenting the gospel thoroughly, it will not be necessary to tell sinners what should be in their hearts and on their lips as they rest in Christ for justification before God. According to Romans 10:9, all sinners must confess with their mouths is that Jesus is Lord. We are never told sinners must pray anything. May a sinner use the words of this suggested prayer (the so-called sinner’s prayer) to express his faith in Christ? Of course! Must anyone do so in order to become a Christian? No! If a sinner should repeat this prayer are we warranted in assuring him that he is now a child of God? NEVER! Conversion is not merely a matter of making a decision or praying a prayer. It is a matter of God causing the light of the new creation established by the redemptive work of Christ to shine into our hearts “to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:6). If you meditate on the profound implications of that statement “the knowledge of God’s glory” just a little, you will begin to realize how superficial, cheap and tawdry are the methods of the modern “evangelist.” The methods of the Southern Baptists are in perfect accord with their message. Their methods are shallow because their message is shallow. Arminianism is Arminianism. If salvation is ultimately in the sinner’s hands, we must use every cheap trick in the book to get him to make the almighty decision. When I was in sales and the time came to sign the contract, we didn’t ask the client to sign; we simply handed him the pen. Great sales technique! But, evangelism isn’t sales. Since salvation is of the Lord, we don’t need to “close the deal.” If the God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness does not shine the light of his glory into our hearts, repeating all the prayers in the world will not save us, and failure to repeat the words of some formula will not condemn us.

2. “Calling on the name of the Lord” is not the same as repeating the words of a prayer after someone. Those who contend for this modern innovation love to point to Romans 10:13 for their justification. Some are even so bold as to tell sinners they must never question the reality of their sonship, however little evidence they may have of saving faith. They have “prayed to receive Jesus” and to question their standing would be to call God a liar. God promised that every one who has called on the name of the Lord (in their view–repeated the words of this prayer after some “soul-winner”) will be saved. They have “prayed the prayer” and now they are eternally secure no matter what they do. I wish I were making this up; I’m not.

What, then, does the apostle Paul mean when he talks about “calling” on the name of the Lord? Calling on the name of the Lord means to call on the Lord himself. This cry springs at the same time from a sense of desperation and confidence. He who calls has despaired of making himself better, freeing himself from the entanglements of his sins, or rising to meet God’s perfect standard of righteousness. If God does not come to his aid and deliver him from himself and his sins, he will be doomed. This call rises from the sinner’s profound sense of helplessness, guilt and despair in himself. At the same time, it is a call of confidence in the promises of a covenant keeping God. He who calls becomes a worshiper of God. He basks in the revelation of the glory of God in the fact of Jesus Christ and trusts that God will, according to his promise, save hm for Jesus’ sake. Out of his profound need, he cries to God for mercy, worships him for who he has revealed himself to be, and trusts him for grace and blessing.

Robert Haldane wrote concerning what it means to call on the name of the Lord,

It denotes a full and entire communion with God. He who calls on the name of the Lord, profoundly humbles himself before God, recognizes His power, adores His majesty, believes His promises, confides in His goodness, hopes in his mercy, honors Him as his God, and loves Him as his Saviour. It supposes that this invocation is inseparable from all other parts of religion. To call on the name of the Lord is to place ourselves under His protection, and to have recourse to Him for His aid (Haldane, Romans, p. 511).

To me that sounds altogether different from repeating a prayer at the end of an evangelistic presentation. Southern Baptists, along with a multitude of others, need to learn what responsibility we have in evangelism and what God must do if our efforts are to be successful. We must proclaim the gospel and pray for God to make our preaching effective; only he can cause sinners to call on him and be saved.

03
Aug
12

Is the Sinner’s will truly free?

It seems to me, the crucial issue that separates those who have written the Southern Baptist statement we have been discussing from the current minority in that Denomination who believe in God’s sovereignty in salvation is the doctrine of total depravity or total inability. If the minority is right, then the theological system of those who have penned this statement is totally unworkable. If, on the other hand, the majority is right, there is no need for most of what the minority believes. If sinners are not totally depraved [that is if sin has not radically affected and perverted every aspect of the sinner’s personality including the will], there is no need for God to choose anyone for salvation, and there is no need for God to enable sinners to believe through calling them effectually. If sinners are in a state of neutrality, the likelihood that sinners would choose eternal life over eternal torment would be very high. Who in his right mind wants to suffer for eternity? It would just make sense that anyone who heard the gospel would immediately embrace it rather than endure an eternity of agony. If sinners are not totally depraved, there would be no need for God to enable them to believe since they would already possess that ability. If God in his sovereignty has chosen to grant the power of “free will” to every sinner, would not that grant insure the ability to choose bliss rather than agony? Again, who in his right mind would refuse the offer to be freely forgiven of his sins and accepted as righteous in God’s sight without having to do a single thing? All sinners would have to do is believe the message. Clearly, the view of those who have penned this statement is vindicated by the fact that we see so many sinners making the right choice and coming to faith in Christ every time the gospel is preached with clarity, right? Certainly, no one with the ability to choose between continuing in sin and trusting Christ to save him from sin would choose to face an eternity of torments, right? If this is true, all we have to do is make the message plain and clear and every intelligent person who hears it will immediately embrace it. I think anyone who has ever been involved in the work of the gospel should know this doesn’t square with reality.

Please be clear in your understanding of what I am saying. I am not suggesting that evangelists cannot with high pressure tactics, and clever psychological and emotional manipulation cajole sinners into making a decision, walking an aisle, signing a card etc. I am talking about genuine life-changing, fruit-producing conversion. Walking an aisle doesn’t change a sinner’s heart.

You may recall the biblical account of a rich young man who approached our Lord with an expressed desire for eternal life. He wanted to know what he needed to do to obtain such a blessing. When Jesus told him to sell what he had, give it to the poor, and come follow him, he went away sorrowful because he had great riches. If sinners have such great ability to “decide for Christ,” one wonders how Jesus let this one slip through the net. The disciples were astonished when Jesus began to speak about how difficult it is to enter the kingdom. Consider the following words carefully,

And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God (Mark 10: 23-27).

It is impossible for a person to choose that for which he has absolutely no desire and to which he is utterly averse.

It is incredible to me that anyone who has ever been involved in evangelism could believe such a doctrine as “free will.” If people had free will, only the imbeciles and morons among them would choose to burn for eternity. The real issue, of course, it that the gospel calls on sinners to love a God against whom they are hostile and for whose fellowship they have no desire.

I could spend a great deal of time demonstrating from the Scriptures that sinners do not have “free will” in the sense that they are equally able to choose righteousness or sin. For example, the apostle Paul describes sinners as being “dead in trespasses and sins,” “alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them,” yet all the while, hostile toward God. How much freedom does a dead person have? How much ability does a dead person have? Sinners are clearly free to rebel against God, but are we free to love and obey him?

Are sinners free to choose any course of action they wish? Absolutely! Are they free to choose between faith in Christ and rebellion against him? Of course, they are! That sinners are able to choose freely does not mean sinners have free will. The issue of the sinner’s “free will” is not whether he acts freely in choosing what he wishes; it is whether he is able, by nature, to make proper choices. If, by the use of the term “free will,” a person means the sinner chooses what he desires voluntarily and apart from external compulsion, then, of course, we believe in free will, though we would prefer the term “free agency.” If he means the sinner possesses, by nature, the same ability to choose Christ in the gospel as to reject him, then, of course, we must disagree. Regarding the ill-advised usage of the term “free will” John Calvin wrote,

In this way, then, man is said to have free will, not because he has a free choice of good and evil, but because he acts voluntarily, and not by compulsion. This is perfectly true: but why should so small a matter have been dignified with so proud a title?

(John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, Chapter II, #7)

Instead of producing passages without end that indicate sinners are without spiritual ability to make right choices, I will simply ask, what do sinners always do when presented with truth? In other words, I am asking not what sinners Can do but what do sinners invariably do as long as they continue in a state of sinful nature?

In Romans 1:18, the apostle Paul tells us that God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. Wherever and whenever sinners encounter truth, they will invariably suppress it and turn from it. Later in the same chapter he wrote concerning sinners in a state of nature, “who knowing God’s decree that those who practice such acts of unrighteousness are worthy of death no only go on practicing such things, but take pleasure in those who do them.” The Psalmist wrote, “The wicked through the pride of his countenance will not seek after God. God is not in all his thoughts” (Psa. 10:4).

John wrote, “This is the condemnation that light has come into the world and men loved darkness rather than the light. And everyone who practices evil hates the light and refuses to come to the light lest his deeds be reproved” (John 3:19-20).

Would a person not think that if someone who had experienced death should return to give a first hand account of the afterlife, his hearers would immediately give him a serious hearing and make a free will decision to repent and believe? Yet, Abraham said, “They [the rich man’s five brothers] have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them. If they will not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should return from the dead (Luke 16: 29-31).

Would not a person think that if sinners possessed the ability to repent and believe they would certainly do so to be delivered from horrible anguish and pain? Yet, the book of the revelation informs us that when sinners are plagued by fire, fierce heat, huge hailstones, and darkness so that they gnawed their tongues in anguish, “They did not repent and give him [God] the glory.” (Rev. 16:9).

The issue in this discussion is not freedom of choice, but the state of sinners by nature. Consider how the apostle Paul described unconverted Gentiles. He wrote,

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity (Eph. 4: 17-19).

These verses clearly teach that the intellect has been darkened by sin, the emotions have become hardened by sin and because of the depravity of their nature they have given themselves up [an act of the will] to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.

Here is the question: According to the Scriptures, when sinners, acting according to sinful nature, choose what they truly desire, what do they invariably choose?

There are two Psalms that tell us what God actually saw when he looked down from heaven, contrary to those who claim he chose those whom he foresaw would, by their free will decision, seek him and obey the gospel.

Based on his understanding of Psalms 14 and 53, the apostle Paul wrote, “as it is written: “None is righteous, no not, one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:11-12).