Archive for September, 2013

23
Sep
13

Jesus’ Method of Evanglelism

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.

19
Sep
13

Principles of Biblical Interpretation

1. Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture.
2. We must consider every verse or passage in its, cultural, historical, and literary (both immediate and broad contexts).
3. No text of Scripture, taken in context, will ever contradict another text taken in context. We must never seek to resolve seeming contradictions by denying any part of the truth that is revealed in Scripture.
4. We must derive normative theological doctrine from didactic (teaching) passages that deal with a particular doctrine explicitly. E.g., Don’t try to learn whether sinners in a state of sinful nature take the initiative in seeking after God using a verse or passage in which the issue is whether Gentiles who don’t have the law, nevertheless have an understanding that certain behaviors are right and others are wrong.( Passages such as Romans 2:13-14).
a. We must never use implicit (implied rather than expressly stated) teaching to interpret explicit (fully and clearly expressed) teaching.
b. We must never use implications from hortatory (exhorting, encouraging) or historical passages to contradict explicit teaching from didactic or doctrinal passages. At times, there are important theological truths expressed in historical passages, but if we cannot find those same truths expressed in theological passages in the N.T. Epistles, we should avoid building our doctrinal framework on them. Example: In the transition from the old covenant economy to the new covenant economy there were some in Ephesus who had been baptized by John and had not received the Holy Spirit when they believed (Acts 19). We should not, based on such a passage, believe that a person can receive Christ without receiving the Holy Spirit. The NT Epistles teach the exact opposite of this.
5. We must avoid the temptation to impose systematic theological definitions on biblical terms universally. E.g. the word sanctification in Scripture does not always mean what systematic theology has defined it to mean. We must also not assume biblical writers used terms uniformly.
6. We must refuse to deny any part of the truth that is clearly revealed in Scripture because that revealed truth is encumbered by mysteries we cannot explain.
7. We must seek to understand the writer’s perspective and the metaphors he employs in explaining a truth. Paul, for example, described salvation quite differently from the way the writer of the Hebrews described salvation. There is nothing contradictory in their descriptions; it is simply that they were using different motifs and metaphors to explain the same truths.
8. We should not interpret poetry and apocalyptic literature in the same way we interpret didactic prose. Trees don’t “clap their hands,” and God doesn’t cover anyone “with his feathers” or “stretch out his hand.” That doesn’t mean we cannot draw theological truth from such genres, especially when those same truths are verified by clear didactic revelation in the New Testament Scriptures.
9. Clear passages must be used to interpret obscure passages. Based on this principle, we must interpret the Old Testament Scriptures based on New Testament revelation.
10. When approaching any verse or passage, always begin by trying to ascertain the main point the writer is making. Don’t try to draw out of a passage a teaching the writer hasn’t put into it.

16
Sep
13

Who Sends Calamity, God or Satan?

I am troubled by the biblical ignorance that pervades the world today. This ignorance is so pervasive it even saturates the “evangelical church.” It is clearly not due to a dearth of information. Today, as never before in history, an abundance of truth is at the fingertips of anyone with an internet connection. Solid doctrinal sermons are available to listen to and watch on YouTube. [Of course, the converse is also true. There is a plethora of error to be found as well. A great deal of discernment is needed when surfing the web.] I am able to download many of the classic biblical commentaries free of charge, and a discussion of most any subject is easy to find. Yet, people who profess faith in Christ and profess to know God seem more ignorant of God and his Word than ever before. I am reminded of Paul’s words to Timothy concerning people who are “ever learning but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” They fill their note-books with notes, but remain ignorant of God and his truth. During the past several generations, we have bartered God’s truth for catchy and pithy sayings that betray our abysmal ignorance of God and his ways with men. Many of these mantras have now become the standard of “orthodoxy” for many so that to question them is tantamount to heresy. Evangelicals glibly sing of a helpless and ignorant “savior” who stands at the door of the sinner’s heart waiting to see if he is willing to let him come in. According to this little vacuous musical ditty, not only is the matter out of his control, but he is ignorant of what will happen next. He must wait and see. How far removed this is from the biblical description of the one who stands knocking at the door of the church of Laodicea (not at the door of the human heart). He is “. . . the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens” (Rev. 3:7).

It is my view that all erroneous ideas about biblical truth spring from an ignorance of God’s character and his dealings with his creation. Our lament is the same as that of the prophet, “There is no truth (faithfulness), or mercy (steadfast love) or knowledge of God in the land” (Hosea 4:1). For a lack of this knowledge, God’s people are destroyed (Hos. 4:6). I was recently asked if I actually believe God sends calamities like tornadoes. The interrogator’s tone seemed to indicate that no one but a drooling and babbling fool would hold to such a ridiculous idea. Of course, my mind immediately went to all those biblical passages that state quite clearly that God is the first cause of all such calamity. There is no question he uses second causes such as Satan, natural phenomena, wicked men and nations to accomplish his purpose, but ultimately it is God who does all these things. The book of Job provides what is perhaps the clearest example of this truth. Though there were many second cause involved in the calamities that fell on Job, God was in control of the most minute detail. Job was surely right when he exclaimed, “. . . The LORD gave and The LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

Then, in response to his wife’s suggestion that he “curse God and die” he said, “You are speaking as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from the hand of the LORD and shall we not receive evil (adversity, calamity)”? Lest we imagine that Job was speaking emotionally and not theologically, we have God’s own utterance to Satan on the matter as a basis for our belief. He said regarding Job, “He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason” (Job 2:4). Notice he does not say YOU have gone against him, or the Sabeans and Chaldeans have gone against him, or the fire from heaven, or the great wind have gone against him. These are only second causes. The LORD says, “you have incited ME against him.” When Job said, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him. . . .” (Job 13:15), he was not speaking about Satan but about God.

A Scripture verse that has been a mainstay for Christians in their sufferings and trials throughout the centuries is Romans 8:28. Whether we accept the textual rendering “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good. . . .” or the alternate reading, “And we know that all things work together for good . . . .” the meaning is clearly that it is God who is accomplishing this end. There are several erroneous ideas about this verse of which we need to disabuse ourselves. 1. The verse does not teach that all things are good in and of themselves, 2. The verse does not teach us that we know by experience or feeling that all things work together for our good. Such knowledge is a matter of divine revelation and is to be received by faith, 3. The verse does not mean that somehow everything is going to work out O.K. This is not unfounded optimism, but confidence founded on the truth of God’s sovereign providence, 4. the verse does not teach that God works all things together for our material, physical, and temporal good. The “good” in view is the believer’s conformity to the image of Christ, 5. The verse does not teach that God will cause everything to turn out well for unbelievers. The promise only concerns those who love God and are called according to his saving purpose.

One clear implication of this verse is that God must be in control of all his creatures and all their actions. Even those events that appear to be contrary to his purpose and are clearly contrary to his will revealed in the Scriptures are under his sovereign control. If this were not true, he could never fulfill such a promise as this. He can only cause all things to work together for good if he controls all those things. If God is not in control of all things we are wasting our time praying. If he doesn’t control circumstances, he can’t change them. There is no need to pray for the salvation of lost people if God has left the matter in the sinner’s hands. The truth is, we pray because we believe God is in control. We rest on God’s promises because we know he is able to accomplish them.

Not only is God in control of all things, but he controls all things according to the counsel (translators often use the word “counsel” in place of purpose or plan to emphasize the wisdom of that plan. God’s plan is not an arbitrary roll of the dice.) of his will (Eph. 1:11). God does not react to catastrophes after the fact. He has planned beforehand how he will use the event he has decreed to glorify his name and bring spiritual and eternal good to his people. J.I. Packer wrote, “Our God is a God who not merely restores, but takes up our mistakes and follies into His plan for us and brings good out of them.”

It is important that we remember God does not cause everything he has decreed. He often uses secondary and evil causes to bring about his decreed goals. God “intended” that Joseph be in Egypt in a position in which he could save many people though the means by which he brought him there employed the wicked intentions and actions of his jealous brothers. “As for you, you meant if for evil, but God meant it for good” (See Gen. 50:19-20). In the midst of his dark trial, Job said, though I can’t seem for find God or understand what he is doing, “He knows the way that I take, and after he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” Such confidence was completely unfounded if Satan or some other second cause is the prime mover in such calamity. If we believe God controls all thing according to his predestined plan, we can have confidence, when facing the most difficult circumstances of life, that we are precisely where God has purposed us to be. Andrew Murray wrote concerning what the believer should think and feel in the midst of such circumstances,

First, He brought me here; it is by His will that I am in this strait (difficult) place. In that fact I will rest. Next, he will keep me here in His love, and give me more grace to behave as His child. Then, he will make the trial a blessing, teaching me the lessons He intends me to learn and working in me the grace He means to bestow. Last, in His good time He can bring me out again … how and when He knows.”

There are several verses I would like you to consider in answer to the question about the origin of adversity and calamity. Does God do “bad stuff,” or is all that stuff the work of the devil?

“By your appointment they stand this day, for all things are your servants” (Psa. 119:91).

“I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things” (Isa. 45:7).

“Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come” (Lamentations 3:37-38)?

“Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it” (Amos 3:6)?

“For the inhabitants of Maroth wait anxiously for good, because disaster has come down from the LORD to the gate of Jerusalem” (Micah 1:12).

“For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own” (Habakkuk 1:6).

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father” (Matt. 10:29).

Any imagined God who is not in control of his universe is no God at all. A good friend of mine who was a missionary to Mexico once translated A. W. Pink’s Sovereignty of God into Mexican Spanish. Since the book had already been translated into Spanish using the original title, it was necessary for him to choose another name for the book. He wisely titled it, “El Dios Que Sí Es Dios”–“The God Who Is God.” A “god” who does not do according to his will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth, a “god” whose hand can be restrained when he wishes to work and who can be called into question for any of his actions, is not the God of the Bible (see–Dan. 4:35).

13
Sep
13

ARE “LORDSHIP SALVATION” AND WORKS SALVATION THE SAME?

I was reading a blog this morning from a Reformed guy who wrote about the Reformers having recovered the truth of free justification before God based solely on the imputation of Jesus’ righteousness. One of the comments was as follows:

I would argue that many Reformed tend to be legalistic (I’d exclude people like Michael Horton whom I learned much from) and the Lordship Salvation debate reveals that. For example, the great JI Packer wrote,”In common honesty, we must not conceal the fact that free forgiveness in one sense will cost everything.”

John MacArthur (who’s pretty Reformed) wrote that “Salvation is for those who are willing to forsake everything.”

Then there followed several banal comments that betrayed a total misunderstanding of the biblical gospel. Allow me to make a few comments of my own.

1. There is nothing “legalistic” about stating that salvation is for those “who are willing to forsake everything” or that “free forgiveness in one sense will cost everything.” If there were, we would have to label Jesus as a legalist. He said, “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:23). Many who read this verse draw a false distinction between being a believer and being a disciple, but no such distinction exists in the Bible. If a person does not want to follow Jesus and learn from him, he doesn’t want to be a Christian. There is nothing legalistic about that; it is simply descriptive of what it means to be converted and be a Christian. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me. . .” (John 10:27).

2. The issue of what happens subsequent to conversion has nothing to do with the basis of justification before God. No one who believes the biblical gospel thinks a person’s justification is based on his subsequently changed life. Was Paul teaching justification by works when he preached “. . . that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.” ( Acts 26:20)? No, he simply understood that justifying faith will be obedient faith.

3. Any message that misses the element of salvation from sin, not merely salvation from the penalty of sin, is not the good news of free justification before God. When, in The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, Christian fled the city of destruction and made his way to the wicket gate, he did so not merely to escape the destruction that was to fall on the city, but to be free from the sin burden on his back. People who flee to Jesus for salvation are people who are sin weary and feel heavy laden. Their God-given desire is not merely to be freed from guilt, but to be freed from sin.

4. God does not forgive sinners because we believe the gospel and give up all that we have. He forgives us because Jesus has stood in our place and paid our dept. That is the BASIS of justification, repentant faith is merely the channel through which we receive God’s free gift.

5. If it is the sinner who, out of his sinful nature, produces such repentance and faith, then salvation is indeed based on works. This is why the issue of the origin of faith and repentance is so important. If we believe these acts are the product of the sinner’s will, even if aided by some sort of non-discriminating prevenient grace, and that these acts are the distinguishing factor between the justified and the condemned, we indeed believe in works salvation. In truth, these acts are the sinner’s response to God’s saving grace in the hearts of dead men and women in applying to them the salvation Jesus has already accomplished for them.

6. Failure to understand these truths is a failure to understand the biblical nature of faith and conversion. Faith is more than mental assent to a list of propositions. It is more than the repetition of a canned prayer. Conversion is not walking an aisle, signing a card, or punching in a code on your iPhone. Conversion is turning to God from idols, to serve the living God. Faith that does not produce obedience is not true and justifying faith. Such faith and the obedience it produces is never the basis of justification. It is, nevertheless, the kind of faith through which alone God justifies.

7. We need to return to the issues set forth in Apostolic preaching. Jesus did not merely die to free us from guilt; he died to free us from our wickedness. “God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness” (Acts 3:26).

06
Sep
13

PHRASES AND QUESTIONS ONE NEVER FINDS IN APOSTOLIC PREACHING

Evangelicals have used certain phrases in their “evangelistic” efforts to such an extent they believe one cannot proclaim the gospel without them. I grew up in a tradition that regularly employed such phrases and questions. I even used them myself until I discovered neither Jesus nor any apostolic preacher ever used them. My question is whether evangelicals should continue to use such verbiage if we can find no biblical precedent for it. The following are ten such common phrases and questions:

1. Do you know that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life?

2. Do you want to go to heaven when you die?

3. Jesus died for you.

4. Open your heart and let Jesus come in.

5. Every head bowed and every eye closed.

6. Yes, I see that hand.

7. Come forward and accept Jesus.

8. Repeat this prayer after me.

9. God can’t do anything unless you let him.

10. Just one more verse and, if no one comes, we are going to close the invitation.