Archive for February, 2015


Questions About “Free Will”

As I have stated, I believe in free will in the sense that every person is free to choose what he desires. It is not the inability to choose that I deny but the inability to desire. To put it another way, I have no ability to choose what I do not desire. I agree with the statement John Calvin made about free will,

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.

The proponents of libertarian free will argue that if God must regenerate a sinner before he/she will be able to believe, that sinner’s free choice to trust God’s promise cannot be a real and meaningful choice. The choice would only be meaningful if the sinner had equal ability at that point to choose to  remain in his sins. According to their view, at some unspecified point God has granted “free will’ to every individual through prevenient grace. Apparently, this grace [enabling] cancels the effects of Adam’s fall into sin.

But is it true that a confidence in God’s promises is meaningless if it is God who has effected it by grace?

1. It has been my assumption that in the glorified state in the eternal kingdom every believer will be confirmed in holiness. That glorified state will be one in which God’s people are secure and from which we cannot fall. There will be no rebellion or defection from that kingdom. In that state it will be impossible for us to sin. It would seem that once we are glorified there are certain options we cannot choose. That would seem to follow from the biblical description of those believers who have died. Their spirits are referred to as “the spirits of just men made perfect.” The Westminster Shorter Catechism states, “the souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness and do immediately pass into glory. . . .” (Q. 37). One would assume we would not be less perfect once we glorified.

Perhaps there will be some who will disagree with those statement and who would like to show biblical proof that my assumptions are errant.

2. It has often been alleged by those who argue for libertarian free will that faith cannot be meaningful if God must call sinners effectually and regenerate them before they can believe. If once they are called they will certainly believe, faith cannot be a real choice. Only faith that flows from our free choice [By this they mean a libertarian free will choice not a choice made freely] can be meaningful. It must be our choice to obey by the power of free will that has been granted us in prevenient grace. Apparently for them, a choice that is made freely from a heart that is set free by regenerating grace cannot be meaningful. I must be able to choose to remain in my sins for my choice to be a real and meaningful choice.

It would seem to follow that if God must give us the desire to obey him and if he must enable us to obey him, praise him, worship him, glorify him, etc., that obedience, praise, worship and glorification cannot be genuine and meaningful either.

It should not escape our attention that in Ezek. 36:25-27 God promises to replace the sinner’s heart of stone with a heart of flesh. He promises to give the sinner a new spirit [disposition]. He promises to put his Spirit within and cause  him to walk in his statutes and keep his rules.  Should we assume that obedience is not “meaningful” since God caused it?

When the apostle tells the Philippians that God works in them both to will [i.e., cause them to desire to obey God] and do [give them the ability to obey God] for his good pleasure, should we assume their obedience was meaningless since God enabled it?

3. It appears that God is pleased with the worship of heavenly beings and of redeemed sinners who have been perfected in holiness and who have no inclination to sin whatsoever. Elect angels are confirmed in holiness so that they cannot choose to rebel. Since they are created beings they must be dependent beings. Yet, their choice to depend on God and to praise, worship, and glorify him is the only choice they can make.

4. Must we believe that our joyful obedience, our delightful dependence on God, our exultant praise, and our grateful glorification of God will be meaningless for all eternity since all of this will spring from hearts that have been bound to God by grace?

My conclusions are these:

1. Glorified beings  in the eternal state will not have free will in the sense that we will be free to sin and rebel against God.

2. If those who posit libertarian free will are correct in saying faith, obedience etc. are not meaningful unless we have a free will choice, all we do in the eternal state will be meaningless since our hearts will have been bound back to God by grace.

3. We have every indication that God will be pleased for eternity with our grateful expressions of praise and with our obedience in dependence on him.

4. It is a faulty assumption that faith is only meaningful if it is not enabled by free grace.


Calvinistic Evangelism-Chapter Three-The Great Chasm

I can think of no better place to begin our investigation of the apostolic pattern for evangelism than Romans chapter one. In this chapter we find the theological statement and explanation of the message Paul and other first century preachers proclaimed. Since the apostle considered it his duty and debt to preach this message to people of every nation he wrote this Epistle to justify his Gentile mission. He states that it is his joy and delight to proclaim this universal message because it is God’s prescription for salvation to everyone who believes, whether Jew or Greek. He has stated in the prologue that this gospel of God concerns his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. He now proclaims that it reveals God’s method of declaring sinners righteous in his sight. It reveals God’s covenant faithfulness in reconciling believing sinners to himself.

The Two-fold Problem

In verse eighteen of chapter one he begins to explain the universal necessity for God’s gospel. He writes, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”

This verse provides for us an outline of his entire argument in this section of the Epistle and brings into sharp focus the grave issues that exist between God and sinners. If we do not understanding what this verse teaches, it will be impossible for us to understand the message of the gospel. Additionally, if the message we proclaim does not deal adequately with the issues Paul has raised in this verse, it must be something other than God’s gospel.
This verse teaches us that sin has caused a mighty chasm to exist between God and sinners that the best of human ingenuity cannot bridge. No remedy will serve that does not effectively deal with God’s holy wrath toward sinners and the unholy hostility of sinners toward him. The gospel must not only answer the problem of the sinner’s guilt before God, but it must also address and remedy the problem of the sinner’s hostility toward God and his defilement by sin. The old writers and preachers understood what so many in our day seem to have completely forgotten. Think, for example, of the well-known hymn, “Rock of Ages.” Augustus M. Toplady wrote,

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From that wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save from wrath and make me pure.

Some may be better acquainted with the alternate ending, “Save me from its guilt and power.” Both versions indicate a clear recognition that the gospel concerns more than pardon. In the version that speaks about Jesus’ work making believers pure, the emphasis is on God’s remedy for our defilement because of sin. In the version that speaks about his work saving us from sin’s power, the focus is on salvation from sin’s dominion, but both versions draw our attention to what the biblical refer to as “sanctification.”

It is to deal with the sinner’s two-fold predicament that God has revealed his method of putting sinners right with himself. In Paul’s exposition of this divine method of salvation he brings these two problems into bold relief. Not only are sinners under God’s wrath because of our legal liability, but he is engaged against us because of our recalcitrant rebellion against him. As we shall see, our stony hearts have caused us to suppress whatever truth God has revealed about himself—“. . . . who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”
It is important that we understand what the apostle means by the word “wrath.” He is not referring to a fit of rage or anger. God’s wrath toward sinners is not a boiling over of fury but his settled indignation against that which contradicts his holy and righteous character. There is no reason to designate any message that fails to address this problem and announce its solution as “good news.”

The Gospel’s Primary Focus

It is important to notice that the order in which Paul states the reasons for God’s wrath shows a priority of one issue over another as well as a cause and effect relationship between those issues. He wrote, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness. . .” Charles Hodge wrote concerning the difference between “ungodliness” or “impiety” and “unrighteousness,” “The first represents impiety toward God and the second “injustice” toward men” (Hodge, 1953, p. 53).

Not only does the apostle place impiety toward God before injustice toward men in verse eighteen, but throughout the entire chapter he shows that the sinner’s wrong relationship with his fellow man results from his wrong relationship with God. Romans one, nineteen through twenty-three concern the sinner’s impiety toward God that is evinced by his suppression of God’s self-revelation. These verses speak of the sinner’s failure to glorify God as God and his failure to show him appropriate gratitude for his gracious benevolence. Additionally, they charge the sinner with idolatry since he has exchanged God’s glory for images of created beings. This is a description of impiety. Verse twenty-four describes their unrighteous acts in dishonoring their bodies between themselves. This verse is connected with the foregoing passage by the word “therefore.” The meaning is clearly that God gave them over to unrighteousness as a result of their impiety toward him.

Likewise, verse twenty-five describes impious behavior toward God in exchanging his truth for a lie and in worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator. For this reason, God gave them up to unnatural relations between themselves (vv. 26-27). This behavior was unrighteous. Notice the words “For this reason.” They indicate that these acts of unrighteousness resulted from their impious behavior toward God.
We observe the same order in verses twenty-eight through thirty-one. Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, [impiety] he gave them up to a debased mind. The result was that they were filled with all manner of unrighteousness. All our unrighteous actions result directly from our rebellion against God. From this we should understand where our primary focus should be in gospel proclamation.

Now, since this is true, we need to examine our approach to gospel preaching in terms of our primary focus. Too often the focus of evangelical Christianity has been to deal with the sinner’s “felt needs”. Sinners all need to be better husbands, better wives, better sons and daughters, better employees, better bosses etc. Additionally, sinners usually have a self-image that is askew. Often we are told we lack self-love. We just don’t love ourselves enough. In reality, we love ourselves too much and place our self-love above love for God.
Years ago, when I was part of a Christian youth group, there was a great deal of emphasis on Jesus as our friend. Unfortunately, we now have an entire generation or two with a wonderful friend, but no Savior. It is gloriously true that Jesus is a wonderful friend for sinners and that he is the great lover of our souls, but the focus of our attention must be that as our friend he has laid down his life for us.

If you wish to see how this emphasis has worked itself out in practice, visit your local Christian book store. Compare the number of books about human relationships, gospel dieting, dating, how to be happily married, how to understand your teenagers, etc. and how few have been written about the sinner’s relationship with God. It should be the reverse. I am not suggesting these issues are unimportant but that the matter of prime importance is the sinner’s relationship with God.

God’s Broken Law

When we examine the theological basis for evangelism, we will consider the issue of the use of the Decalogue in gospel preaching. For now, I want to observe how Paul’s preaching of God’s law to the Gentiles differed from his message to the Jews.

A message that begins by assuring sinners that God loves them and that Jesus has died to pay for all their sins proclaims peace where there is no peace. It prescribes treatment before spotting the disease. If we would pattern our evangelism after the example of the apostles, we must begin where they began. I cannot find a single example of New Testament preaching that began with a proclamation of God’s universal, redeeming love. Instead, New Testament evangelists began their messages by telling their hearers that God’s wrath is engaged against them because they are both unrighteous and hostile toward him.

God’s Standard of Righteousness for the Gentiles

Two Commandments

Paul and others pressed home this evidence by charging Gentile sinners not with breaking the Decalogue but with breaking the two great commandments of the Law on which the rest of the Scripture depends. Additionally, in chapter two, verse twelve he states, “for as many as have sinned without the law will perish without the law.” As I intend to show later, the Gentiles were never under the law covenant of Sinai. It is for that reason the apostle could describe them as “not having the law.” This does not mean they are without any righteous standard whatsoever. Having been made in God’s image, they have an innate understanding that certain thoughts, actions, attitudes, and desires are right and others are wrong. The reality is that they are under the same righteous standard as were the Jews. God’s law whether written or unwritten only has two requirement—Love God and Love your neighbor.

Love God

Romans 1:18 speaks of the sinner’s impiety. This indicts the sinner for his guilt in breaking the first and great commandment of the Law—“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Deut. 6:5). As evidence of this impiety, the apostle shows that in the face of all God’s self-revelations, in spite of all his benevolent goodness and patience, and in defiance of his proffers of mercy, sinners remain recalcitrant and obdurate in their rebellion against him. Here it is patently clear again that the sinner is not inclined toward God and goodness. One could not even draw from the New Testament Scriptures that he is neutral toward God. Instead, the apostle alleges that the sinner hates God and is at cross purposes with him.

In the indictment that follows Romans 1:18, Paul Apostle presents cogent evidence that sinners have broken God’s first and great commandment—we do not love God. In stating the evidence of our sin against God he also defines for us the nature of God’s design in salvation.

The issues with which we must confront the unconverted are clearly outlined here. One of the failures of modern evangelism is that even if sin is mentioned, it is not clearly defined. Often when people are asked if they know they are sinners, they do not even understand the gravity of the question let alone the answer. It is our duty to define what the Scriptures mean by sin; that it is first and foremost an offense against God. Instead of loving and glorifying him, we have lived to please ourselves.. We, like sheep, have turned to our own way. We have sought to find our satisfaction apart from him. We have preferred other things and other people above him. Ultimately, we have lived as if God did not exist. We have been impious.

Consider the following statements:

1. “For although they knew God (from his revelation of himself in the creation), they did not glorify him as God” (v. 21).

2. “. . .or give him thanks (v. 21).

3. “. . . exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and bird and animals and creeping things” (v. :23).

4. “. . .they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, . . .” (v. 25).

5. “. . .they did not see fit to acknowledge God, . . .” (v. :28).

6. “They are . . .haters of God. . . .” (v. 30).

These are our sins against God’s first and great commandment.

Love Your Neighbor

In the same way, Paul indicts sinners for breaking the second commandment. In consequence of their impiety in breaking the first commandment, God gave them over to unrighteousness in breaking the second commandment. Consider these verses:

1. “Therefore, God gave them up in the lust of their hearts to impurity, . . .” (v. 24).

2. “Therefore, God gave them up to dishonorable passions. . . .” (v. 26).

3. “God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness. . . .” (vv. 28-31).

It is important that we understand that when the text tells us God “gave them over to unrighteousness,” it does not mean he made them worse than they were already. It merely means that, as an act of judgment, God withheld from them his restraining grace and allowed them to act out their natural sinful desires. Apart from God’s hand restraining us, we are all capable of the most heinous sins imaginable.

God’s Righteous Standard for the Jews-
The Decalogue

As I have stated, both the Gentiles and the Jews are under the same righteous standard. It is merely that God codified his law, his two commandments, in the covenant he made with Israel. The law is not “summarily comprehended” in these two commandments. These two commandments are the law that is expressed in the Covenant of Sinai. That covenant merely granted greater privileges to Israel than to any other nation on earth because it gave them a fuller revelation of God’s righteous standard.

In chapter three Paul asked, “What advantage, then, does the Jew have?” One would have thought after reading Romans chapter two that his answer would have been, “They have no advantage at all.” Privileges are not the standard for justification before God. Paul’s entire point in that chapter is that God does not show favoritism based on one’s race, one’s religion, or one’s ritual. As far as justification is concerned, it is no advantage that a person knows right from wrong. It is no advantage that one is a member of God’s covenant nation. It is no advantage that one has heard and knows the law. It is no advantage that one has been circumcised as a sign of his covenant participation and blessing. God’s standard is one of unbending righteousness.

The fact that he answered, “They have great advantage in every way, chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God,” merely indicates that they are guilty of an aggravated condemnation. In spite of their great blessing and privilege, they are nonetheless guilty and under condemnation.

In chapter two, verses seventeen through twenty-four the apostle confronts the Jewish people specifically with their failure in regard to the law. It is difficult to know for certain whether in his use of the word “law” in verses seventeen through twenty is a reference to the Old Testament Scriptures or to the Mosaic covenant. It could refer to either, but in verses twenty-one through twenty-four there seems to be little question that he is referring to the Old Covenant itself. In doing so, he is demonstrating what he meant when he wrote, “. . .as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law” (2:12).

Ultimately, they are no less guilty than the Gentiles. Paul charges them both with essentially the same sin. The Gentiles have failed to glorify/honor God (1:21). The Jews have dishonored God (2:24). Instead of being a light to the Gentiles, they gave cause for God’s name to be blasphemed among them.

The law not only shows both Gentile and Jew to be guilty before God, but it reveals their hostility toward God. In Rom 3:9 ff. Paul brings his indictment of both Gentile and Jew to a closing argument drawn from the Old Testament Scriptures. He not only tells us there is no one righteous, but he also tells us there is no one who understands [spiritual truth]; there is no one who seeks God; there is no one who does good [works] not even one. Here Paul does not deny the ability of sinners to perform deeds that are pleasing and helpful to other people but of works that are pleasing to God and that merit his smile. When a person understands the lofty demands of divine law, his mouth will be stopped in terms of speaking about his ability to merit God’s favor.

A Persistent Pursuit of God’s Glory

Ultimately, God’s righteous standard comes down to this. He requires a consistent and persevering pursuit of a life of well-doing. This pursuit must be focused on a “glory and honor” that is undying and unending (see Romans 2:6-11). Who among us that is honest with himself would suggest that he or she is consistently and perseveringly engaged in such a pursuit?

I am not unaware that there is a sense in which at God’s final judgment the believer’s works will be called in to testify to the reality of his faith, but this does not appear to be Paul’s teaching in these verses. Paul’s purpose in this passage is to show that a person cannot plead privilege as the ground of his acceptance before God. God’s judgment is righteous judgment. It is not Paul’s purpose in this context to show that, when we stand before God in judgment the works produced in our lives by God’s grace will give evidence of the reality of our faith.

The most righteous among us cannot claim that his pursuit of righteousness and godliness has been uninterrupted by sin. Additionally, the pursuit of “glory and honor” about which he speaks is not self-centered and self-serving. This pursuit of “glory and honor” is not about glory and honor for ourselves. The apostle sets this pursuit over against “self-seeking” (v. 8). God’s concern is the manifestation of his own glory. The pursuit of the man whose righteousness will stand the test of God’s judgment must be characterized by an unbroken consistency. It must be uninterrupted and undiminished by any cloud of sin and rebellion that might arise. We must be able to say “I always do those things that are pleasing to him.”
I find Paul’s phraseology here to be intriguing. This is not the only place in the Scriptures where we find the phrase “glory and honor.” It occurs both in Psalm 8 and in Hebrews 2. It speaks not only of that holy image in which God created Adam but also of the ultimate goal of God’s redemptive work, namely, the believer’s restoration to God’s likeness. If our view of salvation involves anything less than the full restoration of God’s glorious image to his chosen people, we have never come to rightly understand that gracious work.
The contrast is between those who are self-seeking and self-serving and are thus involved in a lives of disobedience to God’s revealed truth and those who are seeking accurately to reflect God’s glory and honor and are thus involved in lives of consistent and persevering well-doing.
When we are measured by that standard there can be only one response. Our question must be, “Who shall be able to stand?”

God’s Universal Beneficence

You will search the New Testament Scriptures in vain searching for any statement that resembles the modern jargon to which evangelicals have become so accustomed. Those who believe in the sovereign grace of God in the salvation of sinners are often asked how we can tell every sinner to whom we witness the gospel that God loves them and Jesus died for them. It would certainly be quite hypocritical of us to make such statements they do not accord with our doctrine. The answer to the question is far simpler than most would imagine. We do not include such statements in our message because such declarations are nowhere found in the apostolic message.

As we have noticed, the phrase “God loves you” never occurs in the New Testament record of gospel preaching. Many canned evangelism presentations use verses that were written to believers as if they have universal application. “God shows his love for us. . . .” (Rom. 5:8), refers not to us human beings, but to us believers.
What we do find in the biblical record are statements of God’s universal beneficence and common grace toward people as his creatures. When Jesus spoke of our duty to love our enemies that we might be the sons of our Father who is in heaven (Matt. 5:44-45) it should be clear to any thinking person that he is referring to God’s universal benevolence and not to his redeeming love.

In referring to God’s universal beneficence we often use the term “common grace.” It is important to understand that we use the term “grace” because every manifestation of this divine kindness is granted to rebels who have merited God’s wrath and curse. We do not use the term to suggest that God grants universal enabling to sinners.

We find the “common grace” theme not only in the book of Acts but also in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. This theme seems to be more prominent in gospel presentations to the Gentiles. God clearly treated the Gentile nations differently than he treated his chosen people, but now he has broadened the tent to include people from every nation. He now commands all people everywhere to repent (see Acts 17:30).

Even in that period during which he showed his mercy primarily to Israel he did not leave himself without a witness among the Gentile nations. Luke wrote, “In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways, yet he did not leave himself without a witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:16-17). Additionally, when Paul reasoned with the philosophers in Athens, he described God as follows: “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:24-25). Paul wrote to Timothy that God is “the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (1 Tim. 4:10). It was this universal benevolence and common grace about which Jesus spoke in the sermon on the mount when he said, “. . .he [your Father who is in heaven] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matt. 5:45). The implication of Jesus’ words is that the Father is merciful and gracious in allowing his creatures to enjoy his sunshine and rain. Note, it is not our sun, it is “his sun.”
In Romans 2:4-5, the apostle Paul teaches us how to apply the truth in the matter of evangelism. He wrote, “or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” In the previous chapter the apostle had indicted sinners based general revelation. That God continues to make himself known to his fallen creatures is an act of mercy that is poured out universally on them. His accusation was that in the face of clear revelation concerning God’s eternal power and divine nature, they had failed to glorify God and were ungrateful for his bounty (vv. 19-22). Additionally, they had exchanged the glorious God for images of created beings (v.23). Finally, they had decided God was not worth knowing (v. 28).

In evangelizing the unconverted we should remind them that their continued existence on earth is due to God’s kindness and patience. They owe their very existence to him. He gives to all life and breath and all things. He allows them to breath his air, walk on his ground, feel his sunshine and drink his water not because they deserve it but because he is kind and long-suffering. This kindness is intended to lead them to repentance, but they have presumed on the riches of his kindness and have lived as if he did not exist. Because their hearts are hard and impenitent they have stored up more divine wrath for themselves on the Day of Judgment.

There is perhaps no clearer evidence of the depth and breadth of the abyss that sin has created between God and the sinner than his reaction to every manifestation of God’s magnanimous kindness. Paul describes this sinful rebellion as the sinner’s suppression of God’s truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). Then, he list a number of ways in which God has made himself known to sinners. These acts of God’s benevolence are clear and unmistakable. For example, in Romans 1:19-20 Paul wrote about God’s self-disclosure and states that what may be known about God as creator is “clearly seen being understood from the things that are made. . .so that they might be [or with the result that they are] without excuse.” There is no person in all of God’s creation who can plead ignorance. But, what has been the universal reaction to this general revelation? Paul wrote, “but although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God, nor were they thankful. . . (v. 21). In spite of the copious evidence that there is a Creator who deserves our worship and gratitude sinners have suppressed this truth in unrighteousness.

In every case, the sinner’s reaction is the same. It does not matter whether God reveals himself in his creation, in the conscience (see Rom. 2:15), in the commandments (see Rom. 2:17-24), in Christ’s gospel (see-1 Cor. 1:18) or in conviction [or reproof] of the Holy Spirit himself (see Acts 7:51), the sinner in a state of sinful nature always demonstrates the same hostility toward God (see Romans 8:7). This is why Paul summarizes his argument in Romans 3:9-18 as follows:

“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.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.””There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Such is the sinner’s plight. When the Bible says sinners are “lost” it does not mean they are merely disoriented and in need of someone to point them in the right direction. Instead, it means they are hopelessly and helplessly lost and need someone to return them to the right path. Otherwise, they will wander endlessly and be destroyed forever. To make matters worse they have ignored every sign encouraging them to return because they have preferred the path of destruction to the way of peace.

Keep in mind that to this point, we are considering the problems presented by the gospel, not their solution. In reality, what we have considered thus far is not good news at all for those who persist in a state of rebellion against God. By omitting this aspect of the message, modern evangelists have unwittingly robbed the gospel of its ability to amaze us. There was a time when grace was amazing; now it is viewed as an entitlement. If we think of God as love and only love, our question will be, “Why doesn’t he save everyone?” If we think of God as holy and just, our question will be. “Why does he save anyone?” The modern evangelist asks how he can present his message so that Jesus will be acceptable to sinners. The concern of the biblical gospel was how sinners could be made acceptable to God.

In his well-known introduction to John Owen’s Death of Death in the Death of Christ, J. I. Packer contrasted what he called the “old gospel” with the “new gospel.” Commenting on the reason the new gospel does not “answer the ends for which the authentic gospel has in past days proved itself so mighty,” he writes,

We would suggest that the reason lies in its own character and content. It fails to make men God-centered in their thoughts and God-fearing in their hearts because this is not primarily what it is trying to do. One way of stating the difference between it and the old gospel is to say that it is too exclusively concerned to be ‘helpful’ to man – to bring peace, comfort, happiness, satisfaction – and too little concerned to glorify God. The old gospel was ‘helpful’, too – more so, indeed, than is the new – but (so to speak) incidentally, for its first concern was always to give glory to God. It was always and essentially a proclamation of divine sovereignty in mercy and judgment, a summons to bow down and worship the mighty Lord on whom man depends for all good, both in nature and in grace. Its center of reference was unambiguously God (Emphasis mine). But in the new gospel the center of reference is man. This is just to say that the old gospel was religious in a way that the new gospel is not. Whereas the chief aim of the old was to teach people to worship God, the concern of the new seems limited to making them feel better. The subject of the old gospel was God and his ways with men; the subject of the new is man and the help God gives him. There is a world of difference. The whole perspective and emphasis of gospel preaching has changed (Packer, 1958, p. 1).


Calvinistic Evangelism–Part Two–The Apostolic Pattern: The Message

I have heard many say that those who believe salvation is a work of God’s sovereign grace should be able to live in unity with those who believe salvation is a cooperative effort between God and the sinner, because, after all, we are all preaching the same gospel. My answer to that is that if we are preaching the same message they are preaching, we should be ashamed of ourselves. I say that because the message they preach has no precedent in apostolic preaching. I contend that if our message is not a reflection of what the Apostles preached, we need to change our message.

There are several themes that are consistently repeated in the message of the first century church. Those themes are so prevalent that it is difficult to escape the conclusion that they provide a pattern that we must follow in evangelism if we are to be faithful to the Lord under whose authority we have been sent. It is quite true that those preachers whose proclamations of the evangel have been preserved for us in the New Testament Scriptures did not preach from a uniform script. There were differences in their messages that were dictated by the different needs of the audiences they addressed. For example, when they preached to Jewish audiences, they said little about the attributes of God. One would assume a person who had been well schooled in the Old Testament Scriptures would have known God’s attributes.

When they preached to Gentiles who knew little of God’s character, they spent time instructing them about the God who gave them being and who in his sovereign government of the world, gave them life, breath and all things (see, e.g., Acts 17: 22-31). Additionally, in addressing Gentile audiences their focus was often on God’s common grace and universal benevolence. There is powerful evidence of this theme in the passage just cited. When they preached to Jewish audiences their focus was often on God’s faithfulness in fulfilling the promises he made to the fathers. Paul spent a great deal of time in the Synagogues demonstrating that Jesus is the Messiah.
My purpose in this section is to examine those themes in both the Book of Acts and the Epistles of the New Testament that seem to form the basic framework of the apostolic message. The following are a few of the questions I intend to explore:

1. How does the Spirit’s ministry of reproving sinners relate to the apostolic proclamation?

2. How and in what sense should we proclaim God’s love to sinners? Did the apostolic message ever begin with a proclamation of God’s redeeming love?

3. How does God’s fulfillment of Old Testament apply to the proclamation of the gospel?

4. What basic spiritual needs must the gospel address?

5. What does the apostle Paul mean when he uses the phrase “wrath of God” (Romans 1:18)?

6. Must we precede gospel preaching with a proclamation of the law of God? How did the Apostle Paul confront sinners with God’s law in his Epistle to the Romans?

7. How does the gospel’s demand for both repentance and faith relate to the sinner’s basic spiritual needs?

8. How should we preach repentance to avoid giving sinners the impression they must rid themselves of sin before God will receive them?

9. What part does the message that Jesus is Lord play in our evangelistic preaching?

10. What should we make of the fact that the Apostles never told an audience of unconverted people that Jesus died for them?

11. What part did Jesus’ resurrection and enthronement have in apostolic preaching and what significance should it have for our gospel witness?

It is my view that a proper understanding of the answers to these questions will radically affect the way we witness the gospel. I would urge you to lay aside your preconceived notions about the gospel message and search the pertinent New Testament passages with a ready mind to find answers to these important questions.
The subject matter of this section will be similar in some ways to the section on the theological foundation for evangelism. The reason for this should be obvious. They preached as they did because they believed as they did. I intend, in this section, first to show what they preached and then, in the following section, examine the theology on which they based their message.

In the introduction to this work, I proposed a definition of what I believe the evangelistic message must include, I suggested three components:

1. It must include a clear communication of the biblical teaching concerning the great chasm that exists between God and the sinner. The sinner needs to know what the Bible teaches about God’s character, his purpose in the world, and his own rebellious condition and guilty standing before God.

2. It should include an urgent call for sinners to obey the commands of the gospel and bow before God’s sovereign throne in humble adoration.

3. It should include a communication of the good news that God has promised to save guilty sinners. It promises pardon through Christ and what he has accomplished to all who call on him

This section will include three chapters:

The Great Chasm
The Gospel Call
The Gracious Commitment

It is my intention to arrange the components we find in the apostolic message under these heads to see how those elements relate to the definition I have suggested. It is my hope that you will not only begin to see how radically the evangelical church has departed from the apostolic pattern, but that you will also purpose to conform your message to the message they preached. Once we have considered these component parts of the gospel message as set forth in the Epistles, I want to consider how they are illustrated in the preaching recorded in the book of Acts.



Continue reading ‘I AM THE TRUE VINE’


What do Arminians Truly Believe?

I thought it might be helpful to write a short article explaining what Arminians truly believe. Now, I understand that most who reject Calvinism do not like to be called “Arminian,” and I think they are right in rejecting that nickname as I shall explain below. Just understand that for the purpose of this article I am using that designation for convenience sake. The following propositions are a few of the things these folks believe:

1. They believe that everyone has the innate ability to believe the gospel without any divine assistance whatsoever and that “Total Depravity,” is a damnable doctrine Calvinists have fabricated to cause division in the church.

2. They believe that the Bible says nothing about God choosing anyone. That is another Calvinist lie.

3. They believe that since God is love, and since Jesus died for everyone, he will ultimately save everyone in the end and no one will be lost.

4. They believe that any works of obedience a believer performs, he performs by the power of his free will and without any assistance from God at all.

5. They believe that God has absolutely no control in the universe at all. He may have set things in motion when he created, but now he is a passive and silent observer who never becomes involved in governing the world.

Now, if I were an Arminian reading this, I would be outraged and rightly so, since every one of my statements is a misrepresentation of the Arminian belief system.

My question is why any of them should be surprised when those who believe and teach the Sovereignty of God object to their prodigious misrepresentations of our views.

Just yesterday I read the following on a blog where the vitriol is so thick one could cut it with a knife:

“John Piper worships Calvin as God.”

“Calvinists believe God forces people to sin and then sends them to hell for doing it.”

“Calvinists believe God forces people to be saved.”

“John Piper believes it is God who does that [“that” being the proclamation of the gospel].”

“Calvinists believer sinners have no will.”

“Calvinists believe we are just puppets or robots.”

“Calvinists believe God causes all the evil in the world.”

And, it just goes on and on.

I stated earlier that I think these people are right in saying they are not Arminian in their theology. The original Arminians [Remonstrants] were far closer to biblical truth than any of these people seem to be. Frankly, most of the non-Calvinistic evangelicals I have encountered seem closer to a Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian view than to an Arminian view.

To show what Arminians truly believe, I am posting below the Five Articles of the Remonstrance.

 Article I — That God, by an eternal, unchangeable purpose in Jesus Christ, his Son, before the foundation of the world, hath determined, out of the fallen, sinful race of men, to save in Christ, for Christ’s sake, and through Christ, those who, through the grace of the Holy Ghost, shall believe on this his Son Jesus, and shall persevere in this faith and obedience of faith, through this grace, even to the end; and, on the other hand, to leave the incorrigible and unbelieving in sin and under wrath, and to condemn them as alienate from Christ, according to the word of the Gospel in John iii. 36: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him,” and according to other passages of Scripture also.
 Article II — That, agreeably thereto, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, died for all men and for every man, so that he has obtained for them all, by his death on the cross, redemption, and the forgiveness of sins; yet that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins, except the believer, according to the word of the Gospel of John iii. 16: “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life”; and in the First Epistle of John ii. 2: “And he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
 Article III — That man has not saving grace of himself, nor of the energy of his free will, inasmuch as he, in the state of apostasy and sin, can of and by himself neither think, will, nor do anything that is truly good (such as having faith eminently is); but that it is needful that he be born again of God in Christ, through his Holy Spirit, and renewed in understanding, inclination, or will, and all his powers, in order that he may rightly understand, think, will, and effect what is truly good, according to the word of Christ, John xv. 5: “Without me ye can do nothing.”
 Article IV — That this grace of God is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of a good, even to this extent, that the regenerate man himself, without that prevenient or assisting, awakening, following, and co-operative grace, can neither think, will, nor do good, nor withstand any temptations to evil; so that all good deeds or movements, that can be conceived, must be ascribed to the grace of God in Christ. But, as respects the mode of the operation of this grace, it is not irresistible, in as much as it is written concerning many that they have resisted the Holy Ghost,—Acts vii, and elsewhere in many places.
 Article V — That those who are incorporated into Christ by a true faith, and have thereby become partakers of his life-giving Spirit, have thereby full power to strive against Satan, sin, the world, and their own flesh, and to win the victory, it being well understood that it is ever through the assisting grace of the Holy Ghost; and that Jesus Christ assists them through his Spirit in all temptations, extends to them his hand, and if only they are ready for the conflict, and desire his help, and are not inactive, keeps them from falling, so that they, by no craft or power of Satan, can be misled, nor plucked out of Christ’s hands, according to the word of Christ, John x. 28: “Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” But whether they are capable, through negligence, of forsaking again the first beginnings of their life in Christ, of again returning to this present evil world, of turning away from the holy doctrine which was delivered them, of losing a good conscience, of becoming devoid of grace, that must be more particularly determined out of the Holy Scriptures before they can teach it with the full persuasion of their minds.

It would be refreshing if these non-Calvinists, who feel no compunction about spewing their venomous lies about Calvinistic doctrine, would actually make an effort to understand what we truly believe.


Getting Beyond the Gospel

There are some who would encourage believers to “go beyond the gospel” and would castigate anyone who urges us to be gospel centered in our Christian living. These folks often appeal to what I believe is a misinterpretation of Hebrews 6:1-2 and insist that we must leave the gospel behind and simply “learn and do.” The writer was not telling these people to get beyond the gospel; he was telling them to get beyond the foundational truths of the old covenant expressed in types and shadows. The entire book he has written is drenched with gospel truth. Does it make any sense to think he is telling us to leave the gospel and go on to something else?  My question is where do we go to get beyond the gospel? In the book of Hebrews, the writer was anxious to teach his readers about a man named Melchizedek and about his priestly order. I can think of few topics that are more saturated with gospel than Hebrews seven. How could anyone suggest that studying such a blessed passage is “moving on from the gospel?”

 Where is “Beyond the gospel?”

The infinitude of the gospel makes it impossible for us to go beyond it. Paul wrote to the Ephesians about his desire that they comprehend the incomprehensible love of Christ that is revealed in the gospel. He wrote, “that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, . . .” (Eph. 3:17-19).  It will require “the ages to come” for God to show the immeasurable riches of this grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (see Eph. 2:7). How can one get beyond that?

Obedience and the Gospel

I do not deny that the New Testament writers call on believers to obey the Word as well as to hear the Word. The difficulty believers have with getting beyond the gospel as they seek to obey is that the New Testament writers continue to bathe biblical commands in gospel truth. Consider, for example, Paul’s exhortation to husbands. He does not merely say, “Husbands love your wives because this is your duty as a Christian.” Instead, he tells us to love them “as Christ love the Church and gave himself for it.” This does not only tell us how we are to love our wives. He could have simply said, “Love your wives in a self-sacrificing way.” Why did he state our duty as he did? He did so because the gospel provides powerful motivation for obedience. When Paul would exhort us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, by what does he exhort us? Does he not remind us of God’s tender mercies that are revealed in the gospel? (see Rom. 12:1).
Paul exhorts the Ephesians to walk worthy of the vocation with which they have been called. That is, we are to live our lives according to the good news of what we are in Christ. Much of the New Testament Scriptures could be summarized as follows: See what you are in Christ, and be what you are in Christ. In other words, we are to live out the profound implications of the gospel.This is what we mean when we say the imperatives of the New Testament are grounded on the indicatives of the New Testament.
Peter does much the same in his second Epistle, chapter one. He exhorts his readers to add to their faith virtue and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge, self-control etc. Notice the basis of the exhortation. He wrote that we are to add these virtues “For this very reason.” These words refer back to the blessings of God’s saving mercy about which he has written in verses three though five.

If the Apostles wanted believers to move beyond the gospel, why, in all their Epistles, do they continue to remind believers of the gospel and tell them to live in the light of it?

The Gospel is Only for Believers

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying we should not proclaim God’s offer of divine mercy to sinful rebels if they turn from their wickedness. What I am saying is that the riches of gospel truth are only made known to us as believers.

The reality is that most of what the New Testament writers present as the evangel is not good news at all. It is certainly not “good news” to recalcitrant sinners. The only part of the message that becomes good news to sinners is that if they lay down their weapons of rebellion against God, turn from their violations of his righteous standard, and trust his promise to pardon them for Christ’s sake, they will be declared righteous. In truth, it is only at the point of conversion that the message begins to become gospel. In a way, we could say that the gospel is not also for believers; it is only for believers. If one doesn’t believe it, it is not good news at all.

One of the issues is that people have become accustomed to proclaiming a message to the unconverted that belongs alone to believers. They tell sinners the opposite of what God has told them. God has told them they continue under his wrath as long as long as they refuse to obey the Son (see-John 3:36). He has told them his wrath toward them is revealed from heaven as long as they continue to suppress his truth by their unrighteousness (See Rom. 1:18). As long as they continue in Adam, they stand condemned before God. They are by nature, the children of wrath. But what is our modern message? “Don’t worry, be happy. God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” But the only sense in which the Bible says God loves them is in his common grace and universal benevolence toward them, and this becomes a cause of aggravated condemnation for them as long as they remain in impenitence and unbelief. Paul wrote to the Romans, “God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance, but because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up for yourself wrath for yourself” (see-Rom. 2:4-5). This revelation of God’s beneficence is really bad news for impenitent sinners. The revelation of God’s redeeming love is reserved for justified believers—“Because God’s love is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:5). If believers are supposed to “get beyond the good news,” why is Paul writing this to believers?

The affirmation “Jesus died for you” is also reserved for justified believers. You might wonder how it is possible to witness the gospel to sinners without telling them Jesus died for them. Isn’t that part of the gospel? You might wish to examine the message of the Apostles to the unconverted to see if any of them ever said to unconverted sinners, “Jesus died for you.” What I am saying is that the news that God loves you and Jesus died for you is good news for believers and only for believers. The gospel does not call on sinners to believe that Jesus died for them. Don’t take my word for it. Examine the messages of the Apostles and other gospel preachers in the New Testament record. If you can show me one example of a preacher saying to any unconverted sinner or group of unconverted sinners “Jesus died for you,” or “You must believe that Jesus died for you,” I’ll eat my hat. The warrant of faith is that God has promised to pardon all who repent and believe. It is at the point that one rests on that promise that the message becomes gospel. Until he believes it, it is not good news at all. One of the Puritan writers asked, “What is Christ to me if he is not mine?” I would ask, What is the promise of pardon to  sinners if it is not theirs by faith?

In Paul’s exposition of the gospel in the Romans Epistle his declarations about God’s love “for us” and Jesus’ death “for us” are reserved for justified believers. If the message that “Christ died for us” is proclaimed to believers only, how can anyone think that believers should get beyond the gospel
Paul was writing to believers in Rome (see 1:6-8), when he stated that he was eager to preach the gospel to them also (1:5). That makes no sense if God wants believers to get beyond the gospel.