Archive for November, 2012

30
Nov
12

What is the biblical gospel?

One would have thought that after all these centuries the church would have arrived at a consensus in answering that important question. This is not a question that is exclusively the topic for discussion among ivory tower theologians. It is a topic that concerns the eternal destiny of sinners. Mistakes here have devastating consequences.

There are, of course, those obvious departures from the biblical gospel such as those perpetuated by the Roman Catholic message. Such departures are bound to occur once a person, group or organization adopts a standard of authority other than the Word of God. This is true whether that standard be experience, feelings, tradition or something else altogether. The departures I am talking about are perhaps a bit more subtile but nonetheless devastating to the biblical message.

The term “gospel” itself is quite easy to define. It is simply God’s good news. The difficulty arises when one inquires about the content of this good news. The specific message to which I am referring in this article is defined by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. He wrote,

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you-unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me (1 Cor. 15: 1-8).

Still, the specifics of this statement are a bit difficult to define. First, there are occasions when the New Testament writers used the term “gospel” to refer to messages that were not the New Testament gospel at all. For example, Paul wrote in Galatians 3:8, “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.'” In Hebrews 4:2, the writer tells us, “For good news [gospel] came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.” The messages they heard were clearly messages of good news, but they cannot be identified with the message God has given us to proclaim.

Also, Paul does not elucidate in this statement what he means by “. . . .that Christ died for our sins. . . .” Does he merely mean Christ died to forgive our sins, or does he mean he died to deliver us from our sins altogether? I believe other passages make it clear he referred to the latter. Justification is not full-orbed “salvation.” It is only one aspect of that redemptive work Jesus has accomplished.

Before we consider the content and concern of that message, perhaps it would be helpful to consider the question negatively. There are several erroneous concepts we should dismiss out of hand. For example, the gospel is not “Jesus died for you. If you will only open your heart and let him come in, God will take you to heaven when you die.” You will search the New Testament Scriptures in vain to find any gospel preacher proclaiming such a message. This message is deficient at a number of points.

First, it makes the issue in salvation whether sinners will accept Jesus. In reality, the issue is whether he will accept sinners. That may sound strange to you if you were brought up in a modern evangelical church. You may have been led to believe that somehow God at least owes everyone a chance to be saved. Of course, he will accept sinners because that is his job. All sinners must do is give Jesus a chance. You may recall a situation recorded in John 2 in which many believed on Jesus because they had seen the miracles he had done, but Jesus did not commit himself to them. In other words, they accepted him, but he didn’t accept them.

Second, nowhere in the New Testament is a crowd of sinners told indiscriminately, “Jesus died for you.” The gospel is, “Jesus died for sinners.” By his sacrificial death, he has accomplished the salvation of the most guilty sinner who will believe God’s promise. The message is, “All things are now ready; come to the feast.” Sinners need not bring anything to him but their sins. As Horatius Bonar wrote, “That [my sin] is the only thing I can truly call my own.”

Third, the issue in gospel proclamation is not deliverance from hell and a free ticket to heaven when we die. Instead, its goal is to turn us sinners from our sins and turn us into worshippers of the sovereign of the universe. It intends to break us of our egocentricity and make us Theocentric in our focus. Forgiveness of sin is not an end in itself; it is a means to an end. The goal of gospel proclamation is to make us bold worshippers of the living God. Listen to Paul’s description of “the circumcision,” i.e., the true people of God. “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Phil 3:3).

It should, of course, go without saying that any message that suggests that belief in Christ will deliver us from material, physical, psychological, and relational difficulties is far removed from the biblical gospel.

Another erroneous concept is that the faith the gospel demands is a mere one time decision through which all our sins will be forgiven. A popular idea is that once sinners have registered their decision, justification is a done deal. It is as if once we get our ticket punched, we don’t need Jesus any more. The New Testament concept of faith is entirely different. The true believer is one who goes on trusting in Christ. Though he never becomes any more justified than he was the moment he first believed, if he truly belongs to the company of true believers, he will trust in Christ no less today than he did the moment he first believed. The question should not be “Have you trusted Christ?” but “Are you trusting Christ?” Those who fail to persevere in faith, never had true faith to begin with. True faith perseveres. The writer of the Hebrews expressed the nature of true believers this way, “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (Heb. 10:39). Notice, he does not say “had faith” but “have faith.” Faith doesn’t shrink back.

Please understand my point here. I am not suggesting that justification is progressive but that it is perpetual. That is, it does not gradually increase but it is ongoing. It is a judicial standing that has been objectively accomplished by Jesus’ redemptive work and is applied to the believer in union with Christ. It is not merely that I was declared righteous when I first believed, but that I now stand justified in God’s presence because of my union with Christ. On more than one occasion, Jesus made it clear to his disciples that faith is to be ongoing and that it is our responsibility to remain united to him by faith. In John 6:54, he described those who have eternal life as those who feed on his flesh and drink of his blood. This is an obvious reference to the believer’s appropriation of Jesus’ sacrificial death. He used the present tense of these verbs to describe this action. In Greek the tense of the verb is concerned not so much with the time of the action as it is with the kind of action in view. The present tense denotes continuing action. Thus, Jesus described an action that was to be ongoing. If your faith was merely a decision that occurred in the past, it wasn’t justifying faith. Similarly, he taught his disciples it was their responsibility to continue in their union with him by faith. In John 15:4 he said, “Remain in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it remains in the vine, neither can you, unless you remain in me.” He was not describing some super spiritual experience enjoyed by those who have dared to delve deeper into the Christian experience and become “Spiritual Christians.” He is describing the responsibility of every believer to go on believing in him. The good news for true believers is that not only is such perseverance in faith necessary, it is also certain. The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints was never intended as a guarantee that all who ever walked an aisle or signed a decision card would be saved for eternity no matter what they do. Instead, it concerns the assurance that those who are true believers will persevere in faith unto the end.

Some have questioned whether this righteous standing must be maintained or is it an act that is now behind us. In the sense that nothing more needs to be accomplished to keep us justified for eternity, it needs no maintenance. In the sense that there is a current and continual application of Jesus’ finished work through faith, there is an ongoing maintenance of our standing before God. In reality, what must be maintained is not justification, but our union with Christ. In union with him through faith, we enjoy all the blessings of his redemptive accomplishments. His current and continuous ministry of intercession is simply the application of his redeeming work. It is not that justification must be maintained in the sense that each time a believer falls, something new must be done to restore his righteousness. It is simply that Christ continues to present the evidence of his finished work in God’s presence and thus maintains our standing before God in him. We are accepted in the beloved one.

We must be clear that faith lays hold of every benefit of Christ’s redeeming work, not merely the forensic aspects of that work. We are not justified because God accepts our faith in place of the righteousness he demands. Instead, we are accepted as righteous in God’s sight because by faith we are united to him who is righteous and has satisfied every demand of God’s holy law.

This union also applies Jesus’ death to sin to the believer. Paul wrote, “For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom 6:10-11).
Because believers are “in Christ,” his death for sin has become our death to sin. This does not describe something we must do; it is a simple statement of fact in God’s reckoning. By faith, we are to account this to be true and act accordingly. We don’t act as we do because we feel like we are dead to sin because we believe God’s declaration that it is reality. This does not mean believers have no responsibility to obey God’s commandments. What it does mean is that any attempt to obey God apart from this reality will fail. It is cruel to tell slaves to stop acting like slaves, but to tell former slaves to act as freemen is an exhortation that is necessary to implement their freedom. Paul’s argument is, “Since you are no longer slaves, stop acting like slaves.” We don’t free ourselves by obeying; we obey because we are free. This is what Paul wrote,

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness (Rom. 6:11-13).

What, then, is the gospel? It is God’s published intent to completely restore to a right relationship and holy fellowship with him every sinner who believes and returns to him through the redeeming work of Christ. It is his gracious promise to welcome, pardon, restore, and crown with glory the most vile sinner who will return in saving faith. It is the message of mercy that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, even the most despicable of sinners. It is the good news that it is God’s work from first to last. It is according to his plan, under his control, purchased by Jesus’ blood, applied by his effectual call, sustained by his Spirit and crowned by his grace.

28
Nov
12

God is not willing that any should perish.

A visitor to this blog posed the following question:

“why does God in Election only grant ‘some’ the faith to believe? does God ‘want’ all to be saved? Is He ‘not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” as it says in 2 peter 3:9?”

First, God does not grant faith in election but in effectual calling and regeneration. This calling is according to God’s eternal purpose.

Secondly, the Scriptures do not inform us as to God’s reasons for his action. The reality is, He has done as was pleasing to Him and we have no right to question why He has done as He has done.

To the question, “Who is responsible if sinners perish in their sins?” we answer unequivocally, it is the sinner alone who must bear the burden of his guilt before God. God’s free offer of mercy in Christ is openly and universally published, and sincere. His self-disclosure in His created universe, in the human conscience, in His commandments and in His Christ is so resplendent that only creatures whose hearts have been blinded by sin could fail to see His glory. In fact, the Apostle Paul, in the Epistle to the Romans, has informed us that God has revealed Himself in such a way that He would leave us sinners without a reasonable defense if we refuse to glorify Him as God (Romans 1:20-21).

Yet, this is not the only question we must consider if we would be responsible students of God’s Word. We must also ask, “Who is responsible if sinners turn from their sins, embrace Christ in saving faith and enjoy God’s glorious presence for a blissful eternity?” Again, our answer and the consistent answer of Scripture is that it is God and God alone who saves sinners all by Himself.

Some, apparently in a well-meaning but misguided effort to protect God’s character and emphasize the sinner’s responsibility, have imagined a God who never intended that anyone be lost and has limited His sovereignty in this matter to the imagined freedom of the human will or made the success of His efforts to save sinners contingent on the faithfulness of Christians to spread the gospel. Such an idea is reflected in a line from a well-known gospel song that reads, “Jesus would save, but there’s no one to tell them….” Is God so impotent He can find no one to tell them? Romans ten clearly teaches that preachers proclaim the gospel because God sends them to do so. “How shall they preach unless they are sent?” Where is the verse that tells us God has limited His sovereignty in the salvation of sinners to the almighty “free will” of man?

One of the stock proof texts in the arsenal of those who would protect God from any charge of unfairness to sinners is 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord. . .is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” This text is often cited as the absolute proof that God is really helpless in the matter of the sinner’s salvation. “If the sinner goes to hell, we are told, it is not because of God’s will but because of the sinner’s will.” Now, there is little question the Scripture teaches that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked but that the sinner turn from the evil or his way and live. Because He is righteous and holy, He cannot but desire that His creatures also be righteous and holy. In His mercy and compassion, God stretches out His arms to His erring creatures and invites us to return. Yet, though we believe this is clear and incontrovertible truth, it does not tell the entire story. These truths concern the character of a God who delights in mercy. The other issue that is most often ignored concerns God’s eternal decree to glorify Himself in the salvation of sinners. We believe it is impossible to interpret 2 Peter 3:9 as it is commonly understood if we understand the Bible’s teaching about God’s eternal and immutable decree.

We would call your attention, first, to the ellipsis points in the citation of the verse in question. Ellipsis points are inserted to indicate that a portion of a text has been omitted. It is always a good rule of thumb to beware of the dots. We should always ask what has been omitted and why? We must always consider the context out of which proof texts have been extracted. What is the subject under discussion? How does the text fit into that discussion? Does the text appear to be in contradiction to any other portion of the Scripture and, if so, how can the seemingly contradictory texts be reconciled. It is in the effort to seek reconciliation between such texts that theologians are born. The reason we have so few good theologians in our day is that most are accustomed to sweeping under the rug any texts they can’t fit into their “theological systems.”

We rarely hear any quote 2 Peter 3:9 fully and in context. This is how the entire verse reads, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise as some men count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” These words should immediately raise the following questions in your mind.

1. To what promise does Peter refer?

2. How have some counted Him slack [slow] in fulfilling that promise?

3. Who are those who have considered Him slow concerning his promise?

4. Are those he calls “us” different from the “some who have considered him slow concerning His promise?”

5. Does the text say anywhere God has willed to save all sinners?

6. Is there anything in the context that tells us what the effect of God’s longsuffering will be?

If we answer these questions correctly according to the context, it will be impossible for us to hold on to the erroneous belief that God is willing to save sinners, but they just won’t let Him. This view of an impotent deity is absolutely foreign to the Scriptures.

Let’s take these questions one by one and see where the context leads us.

1. To what promise does Peter refer?

Verses three through eight make it clear that the promise about which Peter is writing is the promise of the Lord’s coming to judge and destroy ungodly men. “First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised.”

2. How have some counted Him slack [slow] in fulfilling that promise?

They have scoffed at the idea of judgment and implied He will never come and punish them for ungodliness and unrighteous behavior.

3. Who are those who have considered Him slow concerning his promise?

These are the scoffers Peter has mentioned.

4. Are those he calls “us” different from the “some who have considered him slow concerning His promise?”

Peter clearly distinguishes between these scoffers and those he calls “beloved [dear friends NIV]” and “us.” In this context, he does not talk about God’s longsuffering toward the scoffers but His longsuffering toward “us.” In other passages other New Testament writers address the issue of God’s patience toward the ungodly and state the effects of that patience. In Romans 2:4-5, Paul states that God’s patience and kindness that should cause the sinner to repent actually has the effect of sinners treasuring up more wrath for the day of God’s wrath and judgment. In Romans nine, twenty-two Paul tells us God bears with great patience the objects of His wrath so that He might show His wrath and make His power known. In neither of these cases does the space God gives sinners to repent have any saving effect on the non-elect.

5. Does the text say anywhere God has willed to save all sinners?

The answer is a simple “no.” Before we finish this discussion, we want to address the issue further and ask what would happen if God had willed the salvation of all sinners. Please note there is a difference between God’s published desire and God’s eternal decree.

6. Is there anything in the context that tells us what the effect of God’s longsuffering will be?

Yes. Peter states in verse fifteen that. . .our Lord’s patience [longsuffering] means salvation. . .” In other words, the Lord’s patience eventuates not in the frustration of His purpose but in the salvation of His people. He is longsuffering toward us, not wishing that any of us (His beloved ones) should perish, but that all of us should come to repentance. Interestingly, the text says nothing about God wishing that anyone repent. A better translation would be, “. . .but on the contrary, that all should have room for repentance.” In Romans 9:22, Paul states that God’s purpose in patiently enduring the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction is “to show His wrath and to make His power known.”

Now, consider the popular assumption that God has willed the salvation of all sinners. First, ask whether there is a text of Scripture that states this concept. I suggest one does not exist unless the reader reads the concept into the verse. Second, ask whether such an assertion would contradict other clear statements of Scripture. What does the Bible tell us about everything God has decreed? The answer is unmistakable. God’s will always comes to pass. If God had decreed the salvation of all sinners, all sinners would be saved. God always accomplishes what He has purposed. Consider the following verses.

Psalm 115:3 “But our God is in heaven; He does whatever pleases him.”

Isaiah 46:9-11 “Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say; My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. From the east, I summon a bird of prey; from a far off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do.”

Daniel 4:35 “All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?”

Eph. 1:11 “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.”

These are just a few of the texts that teach us that God acts according to His purpose [decree], and His purpose is never frustrated. What God has willed certainly comes to pass exactly as He has willed it. God saves the sinners He tries to save. Not one of them is lost. Paul wrote,

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. Moreover, those he predestined, he also called, and those he called, he also justified, and those he justified, he also glorified. What shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:28-31)?

21
Nov
12

Grace Is Not A Four Letter Word

Grace is not a four letter word! One would think, nowadays, that in many circles one could sooner curse God´s name and get away with it than to extol his grace in the salvation of sinners. If we talk about God´s sovereign grace to sinners, we are told they are not favored merely out of God´s good pleasure, but because God foresaw they would use the power of free will, that is given to all sinners equally, more wisely than those who choose to remain in their sins and perish. If we talk about God´s blessings of grace that are freely given to his children in the course of their Christian lives, we are told that these blessings are ¨rewards¨ for our obedience. They can´t be gracious gifts of God, freely given to those who deserve anything but blessing; they must somehow be the result of human effort. The truth is, God has not promised his children physical and material blessings, and all the spiritual blessings we have experienced, are now experiencing, and will ever experience have been granted us as a gift of God’s grace in consequence of our union with Christ. I am not denying the believer’s responsibility to exert himself. I am denying that we exert ourselves to obtain blessings. Instead, we exert ourselves because we are blessed by grace.

The New Testament message is “Look what you have in Christ by God’s free grace. Now, act accordingly.” That is altogether different from saying, “In regeneration, God has given us a bag of tools. Now, if we are diligent in obeying his commands, we can earn rewards.” One is the message of grace. The other is the message of human merit.

The word “grace” is used in different ways in the New Testament Scriptures. At times, it means gracious, as in Colossians 4:6. “Let your speech be always with grace, i.e., gracious. . .” or beauty (see–James 1:11).

At times, it refers to the enablement God grants us to live a life that pleases him, “He gives more grace” (James 4:6).

It is used of acts of Christian virtue, e.g., “Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything-in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you-see that you excel in this act of grace also (2 Cor. 8: 6-7).

On occasion, it refers to gratitude as in 2 Cor. 9:15 and Hebrews 12:28. “Let us have grace, i.e., gratitude, through which we may serve God acceptably. . . .”

More often the word is used to express God’s free, unmerited gift of blessing and favor given to those who deserve his wrath and curse. It is a free gift given to those who not only did not merit it and could not repay it, but it is given to them though they actually deserved just the opposite. “It is by this grace we have been saved.” See Ephesians 2:8-9. Every aspect of this salvation, from eternity past to eternity future is by the grace of God. God’s choice of his people is by grace. “So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11: 5-6). It was grace that moved Jesus to humble himself to give himself for our redemption (see- 2 Cor. 8:9; Hebrews 2:9). We are called to salvation by grace (see- 2 Tim. I:9; Gal. 1:15). It is God’s grace that perfects, establishes, strengthens and settles us. “But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you” (1 Pet. 5:10). Nothing good happens in the believer’s life that does not happen by grace. We are chosen by grace, cleansed by grace, called by grace, cultivated by grace, and we conquer by grace. We are more than conquerors, but it is all through him who loved us.

There is nothing to fear in the grace of God. It should not be our dread but our delight. Perhaps Phillip Dodderidge, in 1740, best described what should be in our hearts when we think of God’s amazing grace. He wrote,

Grace, ‘Tis a charming sound,
Harmonious to the ear;
Heaven with the echo shall resound,
And all the earth shall hear.

Grace first contrived a way
To save rebellious man;
And all steps that grace display
That drew the wondrous plan.

Grace first enscribed my name
In God’s eternal book.
‘Twas grace that gave me to the lamb
Who all my sorrows took.

Grace taught my heart to fear,
And made my eyes o’erflow.
‘Tis grace that kept me to this day.
And will not let me go.

Grace led my roving feet,
To tread the heavenly road.
And new supplies each hour I meet
While pressing on to God.

Grace all the work shall crown,
Through everlasting days:
It lays in heaven the topmost stone,
And well deserves the praise.

21
Nov
12

Don’t tell Me What I Believe!

Do you remember when a person was able to say what he believed and other people took his word for it? Others may have disagreed, but at least they disagreed with what a person stated as his belief.

Things have changed. Now a person must not only defend what he believes; he must also convince others he doesn’t believe what they falsely accuse him of believing. If he should try explaining his views, these people will accuse him of engaging in doublespeak in an effort to deceive.

Recently, I have been told I believe sinners don’t receive Christ willingly. They have to be forced to believe against their wills. Additionally, I have been told I believe that justification is progressive. Boy, that was news to me. I always taught and wrote that justification occurred when a person believed the gospel so that he never became any more righteous in God’s sight than he was the instant he believed. It seems whatever I claim to believe, someone will be there to tell me I don’t truly believe it at all. I have even been told I am a Gnostic. This is not even to mention the “stinking, Antinomian heretic” comments.

If these people are Christians, imagine how nasty they would be if they were unconverted. Is it just me, or do people to seem to be going out of their way to be dishonest about what others believe?

I just learned today on one of the sites I was visiting that C. H. Spurgeon believed in “free will.” That really came as news to me, and I am certain it would have come as news to him, since he preached a sermon entitled “Free Will-A Slave.” It is available at rediscoveringthebible.com/SpurgeonFreeWill.pdf. I was told recently that I must believe God is a determinist deity who forces people to act contrary to his revealed will. When I denied believing that, I was virtually called a liar. Are these people just stupid or are they deliberating misrepresenting the facts? I don’t know, but wouldn’t it be nice if our confessions of personal belief could just be taken at face value?

I purpose that we disagree if we must, but let’s allow others to state their views without questioning their truthfulness or instructing them as to what they MUST believe.

17
Nov
12

With Men It Is Impossible.

I recently ran across the following comment on another blog site that specializes in trashing anyone who believes the doctrines of grace or anyone who believes that the redemptive work of Christ is intended to sanctify believers as well as justify them.

It is really hard to read how Jesus, Who was at creation, LOOKED at the rich young ruler and LOVED Him but did not “produce faith in him” so he could be one of the elect that was predestined before Adam sinned. I mean, the guy even asked God in the flesh what to do! And according to the doctrine of the NC, NCT, REformed, etc, the only way we can read it through their filter is that Jesus consigned him to hell at that moment and did not force him to “want” to give up his riches. He was refused regeneration.

And we wonder why there is such a darkness in that determinist god filter of theirs. A short walk to Allah, I tell you!

This allusion was taken from Mark 10: 21. All the Synoptic Gospels contain this account but only Mark includes that “Jesus looking on him loved him.” If you wish to consider the passage in context, you can read it in Matt. 19: 16-30, Mark 10: 17-31, and Luke. 18: 18-30. All these passages relate essentially the same account.

In case you don’t understand the reference to NC, NCT, and REformed, those refer to New Calvinists, New Covenant Theology, and Reformed. If you have any understanding of these views, you will recognize immediately that this statement is a perversion of their actual doctrine. I must confess my personal ignorance of the New Calvinists view since, to my knowledge, I have never met a “New Calvinists.” My assumption at this point is that the New Calvinists, if they are Calvinists indeed, believe essentially what the Old Calvinists believed on this issue. If you are a New Calvinist and wish to correct my understanding at this point, I urge you to do so.

Now, let’s talk about the above quotation.

My first observation is that it appears to me the blogger was not interested in a discussion of the matter at hand since she did not give any biblical reference so that others might interact with the verse in its context.

Second, the comment comes as an accusation, not as a matter for instruction. My question is, whom is she accusing? Ostensibly, she is accusing NC, NTC, and REformed, but a careful reading of her words will reveal that she is actually accusing Jesus. It may come as a shock to some, but these passages were not written by followers of John Calvin. The passage says what it says and indicates what Jesus said and did. Among other points of information, the passage tells us Jesus looking on him, loved him, and then allowed him to go away disappointed. By the standards of modern evangelism, Jesus blew it.

Third, the quotation assumes facts not in evidence. It would be vain to speculate about what happened to this young man after he went away. We simply don’t know whether he was ever converted. The blogger seems to be viewing this account from the standard of modern evangelism according to which sowing seed and reaping the harvest must occur at the same time. It is incredible to me that evangelicals expect a phenomenon that never occurs in the realm of nature to occur in the spiritual realm. I have planted many seeds; I have never seen one sprout the same day I planted it. Notice the words, “the only way we can read it through their filter is that Jesus consigned him to hell at that moment and did not force him to “want” to give up his riches. He was refused regeneration.” Jesus “consigned him to hell AT THAT MOMENT.” I somehow missed that when I read the passage. Since Jesus let him slip through the net, there was no possibility he would ever be converted? Oh, really? Is there no possibility that he went away disappointed because for the first time in his life he began to understand that it was absolutely impossible that he could “do something to obtain eternal life?” Is it inconceivable that he later embraced Jesus in saving faith? Modern evangelism usually dismisses this possibility. If you don’t close the sale on your first try, you have failed.

This quotation also betrays the erroneous idea that at some point sinners are for the first time “consigned to hell.” He wasn’t consigned to hell before, but now “at that moment, Jesus consigned him to hell.” We all know about the biblical passage that tells us we are born innocent and continue that way until we come to the age of accountability. Then, if we reject the gospel we are consigned to hell. Perhaps, someone can remind me where the Bible states that.

Fourth, the quote twists the Calvinistic doctrine at this point. No one believes, [at least no one should believe] that God has no love for the non-elect at all. Our teaching is that God does not love all sinners equally and in the same way. In his sermon on the mountain, Jesus instructed his disciples to love universally. We are not simply to love our friends and hate our enemies. He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matt. 5: 43-45). The Bible makes it clear that God gives common grace to all his creatures. He opens his hand and satisfies the desire of every creature. There is no mystery that Jesus showed love and compassion for this lost and broken sinner. Later we watch as he weeps over Jerusalem. The apostle Paul confessed that he had great heaviness and continual sorrow in his heart for his unconverted Jewish brothers. The question we must ask is whether everyone for whom Jesus showed love and compassion was loved with an everlasting and redeeming love. The Scriptures make it clear that God’s love for his chosen people far exceeds this universal love and compassion that extends to his creatures, as creatures.

Fifth, the quote seems to indicate that if Jesus didn’t regenerate this man, he ought to have done so. Notice the words of the quote, “I mean, the guy even asked God in the flesh what to do.” Perhaps I am misunderstanding the implication of this statement, but it looks as if she is saying, “This guy really deserved eternal life since he actually asked Jesus what to do to obtain it.”

Please remember, the words in this passage are not a Calvinistic representation of what occurred on this occasion. By all accounts, Jesus let this man walk away unconverted. Perhaps I have misread the words, but if I understand the contention, it is that if Jesus could have done something about this man’s unrepentant heart, he would have. Since he let him walk away unconverted, he must have been powerless to change his heart.

Now either way, Jesus is to be blamed. If he could have changed this man’s heart and didn’t, he should have. We all know the Bible passage that states, “God owes everyone at least a chance at salvation,” right? If God doesn’t give everyone a level playing field, he isn’t fair. Perhaps someone reading this can refresh my memory about where that occurs in Scripture. I have read the Bible carefully and I just can’t find that passage. The alternative is that Jesus really wanted to change this young man’s heart but was powerless to do so. What a pitiful savior. Either way, Jesus failed to close the sale.

Sixth, the blogger misrepresents the Calvinistic position. She stated, “. . .but [Jesus] did not “produce faith in him” so he could be one of the elect that was predestined before Adam sinned.” What Calvinist believes that “when Jesus produces faith in them, people become one of the elect who were predestined before Adam sinned? That is simply a perversion of our doctrine.

Seventh, the quote twists the Calvinistic doctrine and represents it as teaching that, in conversion, God forces sinners to do something they really don’t want to do. She wrote, “. . . and did not force him to “want” to give up his riches.” God does not force anyone to do anything. If sinners rebel against God, we do so willingly. If we embrace Jesus as he is offered us in the gospel, we do so willingly. If this rich man had left his riches and followed Jesus, he would have delighted to do so and counted it no loss at all. The apostle Paul wrote that he had “suffered the loss of all things and counted them as rubbish” in comparison to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ (See Phil. 3:8).

Is she suggesting that it would have been better to simply leave this man in his abject inability to stop loving and worshipping this chief object of his delight. This is where sinners are doomed to remain unless God moves on them internally by the power of sovereign grace.

This brings us to the real issue. The issue is not that Jesus must have been unable to do anything about this man’s rebellious heart since he didn’t do what he would have and should have if he had the ability. Please notice that this man’s question had to do with “what he could do to obtain eternal life.” Since Adam’s fall, the sinner’s choice has always been “do it yourself” religion. The very question was an act of rebellion against God. God intended the entire Mosaic system to teach the sinner’s inability to do it himself. If you insist on doing something, then, as Jesus said, “You know the commandments. . . .” In his arrogance this man proclaimed, “I have kept these from my youth.” What utter self-deception! Jesus had to remind him that the Law required more than perfect and continual obedience; it required inward obedience. He did this by laying his finger on this man’s characteristic sin–the sin of covetousness. Jesus knew this man not only possessed stuff but that he was possessed by stuff. The Law asks sinners not only to stop doing things God has forbidden but to stop loving things that usurp God’s rightful position in their hearts.

The real issue is who was in control in this situation, Jesus or the rich man? Was this man able, in and of himself, to suddenly start loving God instead of his stuff?

Jesus answered the question quite forcefully. This is what he said,

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. (Mark 10:23-25).

The disciples’ response was a proper one. They said, “Then who can be saved” (v. 26)? We must not ignore Jesus’ answer to that important question. If we do so, we are bound to go astray, not only in our theology but also in our evangelistic methodology. He did not say, “Any sinner can be saved if he/she exercises the power of the will that has been set free by prevenient grace. All we need to do is persuade them to make a choice.” This is what he did say. Read it in large letters! “WITH MAN IT IS IMPOSSIBLE, BUT NOT WITH GOD. FOR ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE WITH GOD” (V. 27). Sinners in a state of sinful nature will never choose to forsake their idols and bow in saving faith to Christ. With them, it is impossible.

It is the rest of the sentence that makes gospel proclamation profitable. Though salvation [even choosing to pass through the door of conversion] is impossible with men, it is possible with God. He is able to remove the stony heart and replace it with a heart of flesh and a new disposition. This is why we not only proclaim the gospel to the dead, but also pray that he, according to his sovereign good pleasure will bring them to spiritual life in Christ.

15
Nov
12

The Rules for Commenting Here.

If you wish to engage in a meaningful discussion of issues related to the doctrines of grace or New Covenant Theology, I would like to state the following rules:

1. Be respectful. If you don’t tell me I have an unregenerate heart and that I am a wicked false teacher, I won’t tell you you’re ugly and your mother wears combat boots.

2. You can’t tell me what I believe. I will tell you what I believe and then you may react to that, not to what you think I might believe.

3. Each person must define the other person’s position to that person’s satisfaction before he may object to it or comment on it.

4. If you want to allege that a person believes a certain doctrine, you must produce complete and somewhat extensive citations from that person’s writings to demonstrate your claims.

5. Deal with one issue at a time. Don’t raise another issue until you have adequately responded to the answer you have received to the last question. Once a question has been discussed to both parties’ satisfaction, then and then only should we move on to a different question. Remember, a fool can raise more questions in five minutes than a wise man can answer in a lifetime.

6. If you don’t accept the Scriptures [the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments] as inspired by God, inerrant, and fully authoritative in all matters of faith and practice, don’t bother commenting. We have no mutual basis of authority and such a discussion would be meaningless.

If you don’t follow the rules, you will be asked not to come back.

“To those who lack the will to know the truth, nothing is so mysterious as the obvious.”

14
Nov
12

Calvin on “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? An admirable freedom! that man is not forced to be the servant of sin, while he is, however, a voluntary slave; his will being bound by the fetters of sin. I abominate mere verbal disputes, by which the Church is harassed to no purpose; but I think we ought religiously to eschew terms which imply some absurdity, especially in subjects where error is of pernicious consequence. How few are there who, when they hear free will attributed to man, do not immediately imagine that he is the master of his mind and will in such a sense, that he can of himself incline himself either to good or evil? It may be said that such dangers are removed by carefully expounding the meaning to the people. But such is the proneness of the human mind to go astray, that it will more quickly draw error from one little word, than truth from a lengthened discourse.

Calvin, Institutes, book II, Chapter 2 # 7