Archive for October, 2015

16
Oct
15

“Denominational Unity” in the SBC-“How Can Two Walk Together. . .?”

Amos asks an important question.  “How Can Two walk together unless they are agreed” (Amos 3:3)? [ Some translations read something like “unless they have made an appointment to do so?”] I have never understood how two people who are walking in opposite directions can think they are walking together, but this often seems to be the case with those folks who call themselves Southern Baptists.

I am often, perhaps usually, mystified as I observe Southern Baptists and their denominational life.  I confess that I view them from the position of an outsider and not as one who is a “cooperating” Southern Baptist [this is the SBC term for a church that financially supports the program.] A pastor can preach all the heresy he wishes as long as his church is “cooperating.” Supporting the “program” covers a multitude of sins.

I am not a complete outsider. In my formative years, I was part of a Southern Baptist church and I have pastored in the SBC. Additionally, since I am from a family filled with Southern Baptist pastors, I am not ignorant of the issues within the Convention.

I recently listened with great interest to a conversation between two leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention about the future of the Convention. One of these men, Dr. Al Mohler, would call himself a Calvinist and the other a “traditionalist” or “Trad” as they like to refer to themselves.  The “Trad’s” name is Eric Hankins, PhD. He was the primary writer of the “Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.” He also wrote a preamble to that statement. I would like to share several observations about both the conversation and the Preamble and the Trad. Statement before considering a few specific issues concerning the Baptist Faith and Message as it relates to the Trad. Statement.

  1. Hankins who holds a PhD. Degree in Theology from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary stated that it was not until after he had finished his course of study that he began to consider where he stood on the issue of Arminianism and Calvinism. How does one earn a PhD. in Theology without arriving at certain conclusions about these doctrines?  One wonders what kind of Seminary Southwestern must be for such to be the case.
  2. Just a cursory reading of the Trad statement reveals that those [supposedly pastors, professors and leaders in the SBC] who composed the statement are profoundly ignorant of the issues that separate Calvinists and Arminians.
  3. Hankins wishes to relegate the issues that divide Calvinists and Arminians to a secondary status. He wrote, “For the most part, Southern Baptists have been glad to relegate disagreements over Calvinism to secondary status along with other important but “non-essential” theological matters.”  If the doctrines that regard God’s method of saving sinners are not of primary importance, then what is really important?” The apostles seemed to regard those matters as having supreme importance and wrote more about them than any other subject in the New Testament Scriptures.
  4. As I listened to Dr. Mohler and Dr. Hankins play nice with each other and talk about the importance of “denominational cooperation” in spite of their theological differences, I wanted to regurgitate. “After all”, they seemed to agree, “we both preach the same gospel.” We can still cooperate and plant churches together, blah, blah, blah. If that is true, then doctrine is not important after all. And if Dr. Mohler is preaching the same “gospel” as Dr. Hankins, then shame on him.

The gospel is not that God loves all sinners equally and in the same way, i.e., redemptively, and that Jesus has given himself to make it possible for everyone to be saved if only they will effectuate his work by adding their libertarian free will decision to his almost finished work. It is not that God has done all he can do and now it is all up to the sinner.  You will search the Scriptures in vain looking for such a presentation of God’s redeeming work. That is simply not the gospel.

If they wish to cooperate in helping storm victims or feeding people at soup kitchens, that is one thing.  Cooperating in gospel preaching and church planting is another matter altogether.

  1. Hankins wanted to emphasize how masterful a document is the Baptist Faith and Message. The reality is, the only thing masterful about it is that it is so vague and self-contradictory that it is difficult to understand what it really means.  Most anyone can pull out a statement here and there with which he agrees.  A Calvinist can find all five points in the statement if he ignores those statements dealing with the same doctrines that teach the exact opposite.  For example, consider the statement on Regeneration.

Regeneration

The first part of that statement would indicate that faith precedes regeneration.  “Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus.” If the framers of this statement had replaced the word “believers” with the word “sinners” or “unconverted” it would have agreed with the next part of the statement, but as it is, it directly contradicts what follows. It is not as “believers” that we are regenerated according to the next clause. Look what follows, “It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It should not require a great deal of grey matter to understand that if “the sinner RESPONDS” to regeneration in faith and repentance, regeneration must have preceded and been the cause of faith and repentance.  As it is, the statement stands as a monumental contradiction.

If I were a Southern Baptist, I would be embarrassed to think that the leaders of my denomination were so theologically dull as to allow such a statement to be published.

On Election

“Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility.”

There is nothing about this statement about which any Calvinist would disagree even though it does not specifically identify what God chose. Did he graciously choose a plan from all the other plans he has chosen? Did he graciously choose to carry out a plan, or did he choose a people for himself? The statement simply doesn’t say.

On Salvation.

“Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer.”

This is so poorly worded that one could deduce from it that only the elect or those who have believed “all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour” should be offered redemption.  Should we not offer redemption freely to all whether they are believers or every will be believers or not?

The last part of the statement is a clear statement of “particular redemption” with which no Arminian [Non-Calvinists] “Trad” should be able to agree.  Look at the statement—“Jesus Christ. . .who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer.”  According to the Trads, did he OBTAIN redemption for every believer?  Compare this with the “Trad” statement, “We affirm that the penal substitution of Christ is the only available and effective sacrifice for the sins of every person.” They can’t have it both ways.  If Jesus is “the effective sacrifice for every person, and he obtained eternal redemption for those who believe, then he [listen to the language] must have obtained eternal redemption for all without exception whether they believe or not. This is universalism. Only the Calvinist believes Jesus’ redemptive work was, in itself, an accomplishment. All others must believe it was a mere provision to be effectuated by the sinner’s free will decision. As Calvinist, we believe Jesus died to redeem the guiltiest sinner who will believe, not that he died for every sinner whether he will believe or not [Though not a direct quotation, this statement is taken from Robert Haldane’s commentary on Romans five. I would urge you to read his entire statement.]

We do not preach to sinners a message that lets them cast the deciding ballot. The Trads do.

On Perseverance

The BF&M statement concerning perseverance is a good and clear statement of the fifth point of Calvinism, but it is not a statement that is believed and taught among many Southern Baptists. Many of them have taught and are continuing to teach the OSAS doctrine and the “Carnal Christian” doctrine which is not the same doctrine at all.

All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.

Of course, the foundational doctrine that will determine what we believe about the above issues  is the biblical teaching about the sinner’s fallenness.  It is instructive to see how the doctrinal integrity of Baptist confessional statements has decayed during the past couple of centuries. Consider the following chart compiled by Josh Breland

IMG_0641

So the answer to the question, “How can two walk together unless they are agreed?” seems simple.  Just be inarticulate and ambiguous and mumble a lot and you should have no problem.

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12
Oct
15

Calvinistic Evangelism–The Theological Foundation–Chapter Eleven-The Nature and Purpose of Salvation

I am saddened that I must write this chapter. There should be complete agreement on this point among all those who have read the Scriptures with a Spirit-renewed mind, but regrettably this it not the case. There is anything but unanimity on this issue. Perhaps the problem is that some are not reading the Scriptures with a Spirit-renewed mind. I am not suggesting that true believers will always be completely accurate in their interpretation of the Scriptures. I do not believe that is the case. What I do believe is that there is no margin for error in our understanding of the gospel. If we depart even slightly from God’s good news, we are under the curse of Galatians 1:8. Before we consider talking to sinners about “being saved” we need to examine our understanding of the biblical teaching on that subject.

In chapter two of Galatians, Paul broaches two issues that concern the truth of the gospel. Neither of these issues seems to be of great moment unless, of course, your name is Titus. The first issue concerned the insistence of the Judaizers that Titus, being a Greek, submit to the rite of circumcision (see Gal. 2:3-5). The second issue concerned Peter acting hypocritically and out of fear and returning to eating only kosher food when certain men came down from the Jerusalem church (see Gal. 2:11-13). Both these issues might seem insignificant in relationship to the purity and truth of the gospel, but the apostle tells us that such was not the case. Listen to what he said. In the case of Titus and circumcision he wrote, “. . .we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you” (v. 5). The clear meaning is that the truth of the gospel could not coexist with any capitulation to the Judaizers’ demand. Why could one not both trust Christ and submit to circumcision? That would not seem like too great a departure from God’s message would it? The answer is that any departure from God’s message, however insignificant it might seem, means the truth of the gospel has been compromised. The issue in this case was that the Judaizers were insisting that the rite of circumcision formed part of the basis of justification before God. One of the main questions Paul was answering in this epistle concerned the true seed of Abraham. His answer was that the true heirs of the Abrahamic promise were not so by natural birth and that, under the New Covenant, circumcision was now without significance. For this reason, what seemed insignificant was truly monumental.

In the case of Peter’s hypocrisy in returning to the practice of eating only kosher food and leading others into his hypocrisy, he and the others were acting inconsistently with what they knew to be true about the gospel. It does not seem that it would be destructive to the gospel to stop eating pork for a couple of weeks does it? It seems insignificant, but Paul wrote, “But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel. . .” (v.14). I suspect these men would have been grieved to think they were being unfaithful to the truth of the gospel, but they were out of the way nonetheless.

 

What is Salvation?

It may seem to some that this is an issue we do not even need to discuss. In their view, the answer is clear. For them, salvation is merely an issue of letting Jesus into our hearts so that we can go to heaven when we die. Aside from the fact that this is a concept that is foreign to the biblical message, it ignores the greater part of what the New Testament Scriptures teach about salvation. In truth, if salvation involved no more than pardon and did not concern the radical transformation of our natures, entrance into heaven would be a devastating and horrifying experience for us. Imagine eternity in the presence of a supreme and sovereign being to whom we are hostile and for whom our hearts feel no love and in whom our souls take no delight. Such an experience would be everlasting torment for us. William Bates stated the issue this way,

If a carnal man were translated to heaven, where the love of God reigns, and where the brightest and sweetest discoveries of his glory appear, he would not find paradise in heaven itself; for delight arises not merely from the excellency of the object, but from the proportionableness of it to the faculty [If we have no capacity to delight in God, though he is altogether lovely in himself, he cannot be the object of our delight]. Though God is an infinite good in himself, yet if he is not conceived as the supreme good to man, he cannot make him happy (Bates, 1832, 56).

I want to be very careful about the way I state what I have come to believe about this issue since I am painfully aware of the propensity of many in the evangelical Christian community to twist and misrepresent the views of those believe in what some have called “Lordship Salvation.” I must confess that I am not enamored with that designation though I agree with the doctrine it represents. To some extent the issue simply boils down to an understanding of the offices that Jesus fulfills as the Lord’s Anointed One. It is not up to the sinner to determine in which of those offices he is willing to embrace Jesus in faith. I do not have the prerogative of receiving Jesus as my Priest to offer sacrifice for my sins and make intercession for me before his Father’s throne but not as my King subdue me to himself and to rule over me. The gospel demands that I bow before his throne in humble submission to his sovereign will, receiving him in all his offices, with the promise that I will be forgiven and justified if I do so.

Salvation is Broader than Forgiveness

One of the difficulties we face as we seek accurately to define what we mean by salvation is that there are those who are at the extreme ends of a continuum and those whose views fall at various points along that continuum. Some of these would wish to emphasize one aspect of salvation and some another. This difficulty arises to some extent from the different ways in which the terms “saved” and “salvation” are used in the Scriptures. As a result of the modern day aversion to precision and accuracy in theology and in many cases the aversion to theology itself, we have allowed the distinctions between these uses to become blurred. People often decide on one meaning for these terms to the exclusion of all the other meanings and then impose that meaning on every occurrence of those terms. Let me illustrate how this can wreak havoc with any effort to come to a consensus concerning the biblical teaching about the meaning of “salvation.” Suppose we conclude that the meaning of the term is limited to salvation from the penalty of sin so that “we can go to heaven when we die.” We will rightly conclude that “salvation” is not based on our obedience and does not require any obedience on our part at all. Our right standing before God depends not on our obedience but on the obedience and righteousness of Christ. The Bible teaches that the believer is as righteous in the sight of God the first moment he believes as he will ever be. We do not progress in justification so that the more obedient we become, the more righteous we will become in God’s sight.

Now, if we over-emphasize this forensic aspect of “salvation,” we may be tempted to assume that anyone who suggests that God’s saving work includes our obedience is believing and teaching a false gospel. How can salvation be both apart from works and include good works, indeed guarantee obedience, at the same time? Paul wrote, “As you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). If we insist on imposing our forensic definition of “salvation” on this verse, we will find ourselves theologically confused. Though it is quite true that a sinner’s justification before God is completely apart from his personal works of obedience, it is not true to say that salvation does not involve our works of obedience at all.

It is common among those who refer to themselves as “free grace, OSAS [once saved always saved] believers” to accuse those who teach “Lordship Salvation” of teaching salvation by works. Many of them believe that once a person has made a profession of faith in Christ, nothing that occurs subsequent to that acknowledgment of the truth of certain propositions can keep the professor from the enjoyment of eternal life. They believe that faith need only be a one-time, temporary acknowledgment of Jesus’ veracity. They deny that the gospel calls sinners to repent since, in their view, such a call would be calling on sinners to perform meritorious works in exchange for which God will grant them salvation. In their view, there need be no evidence of love for God or a desire to please him. They believe a “once saved” person can even hate God and still “go to heaven when he dies.” I hope this sounds so bizarre to you that you will think I am engaging in a straw man argument. I only wish that were the case. I would encourage you to visit the following sites on the internet to verify my assertions: http://www.weaverclan.com., www.cleargospel.org., www.expreacherman.com.

As an example of the teaching you will find on these sites, I have posted a quiz that recently appeared on the last site listed.  To save you a bit of time, I will post the answer key here so you will not have to wade through the entire test.  Note: If you answered any question with other than “D”, you are confused about God’s plan of salvation [This is from the one who composed this test].

A Test for Eternal Salvation (Or, How Can We Tell Who is Really Saved?)

Posted on October 4, 2015 by johninnc

  1. I believe that someone who is “really saved”:
    • Sins more than he did before he was saved
    • Sins less than he did before he was saved
    • Sins the same amount as he did before he was saved
    • Need not look to the amount of sin in his life as an indicator of whether or not he is saved.
  1. I believe that someone who is “really saved”:
    • Must have wanted to become better to be saved
    • Must have wanted to be rid of his tendency to sin to be saved
    • Must have believed that his life would change and that he would sin less after he is saved in order to be saved
    • Must have believed that Jesus took away his sins – past, present, and future.
  1. I believe that someone who is “really saved”:
  • Will show visible signs (“fruits”) of being saved
  • Will not show visible signs (“fruits”) of being saved
  • May show visible signs (“fruits”) of being saved
  • Cannot show that he is saved based on his behavior. One’s behavior, either good, or bad, gives no evidence of whether or not he is saved
  1. I believe that someone who is “really saved”:
  • Will always feel bad when he sins
  • Will usually feel bad when he sins
  • Will at least feel bad when he commits big sins
  • Need not evaluate his feelings, including sensitivity to sin at any given point in time, to help him determine whether or not he is saved.
  • 5.  I believe that someone who is “really saved”:
  • Always loves other people
  • Usually loves other people
  • May not love all people, but always loves his brothers and sisters in Christ
  • Need not evaluate his feelings, including love for others (or God) at any given point in time, to help him determine whether or not he is saved.
  • 6.   I believe that someone who is “really saved”:
  • Must turn from his sins to be saved
  • Must be willing to turn from his sins to be saved
  • Must confess his sins to be saved
  • Must, to have ever believed in Jesus as Savior, have acknowledged (known) that he was a sinner, in need of a Savior.
  • 7.   I believe that someone who is “really saved”:
  •  May lose his salvation if he returns to a sinful lifestyle
  • May lose his salvation if he dies with un-confessed sin
  • May lose his salvation if he quits believing
  • Cannot lose or forfeit his eternal life, no matter what.

8.  I believe that someone who is “really saved”:

  • Will go to be with the Lord when he dies or is raptured
  • Has eternal life now that can never be lost or forfeited
  • Will never come into condemnation
  • Has the benefit of all of the above

9.   I believe that someone who is “really saved”:

  • Will persevere in faith and good works
  • May “backslide”, but will always “return to God”
  • May fall into sin, but will never stop believing.
  • Has eternal life, whether or not he perseveres in faith and good works, “backslides” for the rest of his life, or even stops believing
  1. I believe that someone who is “really saved”*:
  • Can know he is saved, because his life begin to change, showing that God has really come into his life
  • Can know he is saved, because he is bearing the fruit of good works
  • Can know he is saved, because he is continuing to walk with Christ.
  • Can know he is saved, because he heard the gospel and believed it.

I want to make several observations about these questions and the answers the tester declared we must believe if we are not confused about salvation.

  1. If by “really saved” he means truly justified, anyone who believes the gospel would be in hearty agreement with many of his conclusions. A person who has been truly justified, for example, cannot lose or forfeit his eternal life “no matter what.” Additionally, if we have been truly justified, we believe Jesus has forgiven our past, present, and future sins etc.
  2. The way in which the questioner has posed his questions involves circular reasoning. He states his conclusion as one of his propositions. He assumes at the outset that the person about whom he asks the question is “really saved” then poses answers that would not be true of a “really saved” person. For example, he states that a person who is “really saved” cannot lose or forfeit his eternal life, no matter what. It is the content of his “no matter what” that is problematic because his “no matter what” includes attitudes and actions that would never characterize a “really saved” person.
  3. The Word of God makes it clear that God’s sanctifying work is going on in every person who has been truly justified. Though the person who is truly justified has not yet been made perfect in holiness, his life has taken a new direction. Whereas before his conversion he was held captive to sin, he has now been set free to obey his new master. A person who continues to be held captive to sin has clearly not been “really saved.” That does not mean that a “really saved” person ever trusts his new found desire to be obedient to Christ as the basis of his justification before God, but it is an evidence that God has begun a good work in him.
  4.  The Word of God makes it clear that genuine faith is a dependence on God’s promises that endures to the end. I will expand on this more fully when I examine the nature of faith and repentance. True faith is a persevering faith. In this quiz, the tester has assumed a person may be “really saved” but at some point may have stopped believing. He has confirmed to me in personal correspondence that he believes a person may convert to Islam or become an Atheist but still have eternal life. Notice the use of the past tenses in his statements about faith. He does not talk about an ongoing confidence in Christ but a moment of clarity that one has experienced in the past. For example, “A person who is “really saved” . . . “must, to have ever believed in Jesus as Savior.” The awkwardness of that statement aside, it is simply not an accurate description of the faith of God’s elect.
  5. The Word of God describes those who are “really saved” as those who “love God and are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). This man indicates that one’s love for God or lack of it is irrelevant as an evidence of the reality of our faith. In his first epistle, John gives evidence after evidence of genuine faith. His stated purpose in writing was that those who are believing might know that they have eternal life (1 John 5:13). One of these evidences is that we love God and keep his commandments and reflect that love for God in our love for his people (see 1 John 5: 2-3). His answer is that John is not talking about believers but about disciples as if believers and disciples are different. Jesus described his sheep as those who hear his voice and follow him. It is to these he gives eternal life. If a person does not listen to Jesus’ voice and follow him, he has no reason to believe he is one of his sheep or that Jesus has given him eternal life. This does not mean that Jesus has given his sheep eternal life because they have heard his voice and followed him. They hear and follow because that is what sheep do
  6. This man seems to indicate that a believer need not be sensitive to whether he can continue to sin with abandon just as he did before he had his moment of clarity [which they wrongly identify as faith]. If he wishes to continue to live in the pig pen and perish with spiritual hunger, he should not fear that he is still dead and lost. Going back home is optional. A renewed relationship with the Father is optional. He may remain where he is in his sin and enjoy the Father’s forgiveness and blessings. In his view, a believer ought to leave the pig pen and return to an amicable relationship with the Father but if he does not, he will still have eternal life. He will simply suffer a loss of rewards at Christ’s judgment seat.
  7. He uses the term “really saved” in an illegitimate way in that he seeks to portray one facet of God’s salvific plan and accomplishment as if it were the whole.

What this view has done in emphasizing one aspect of God’s salvation to the exclusion of everything else the Bible states about that salvation is to present us with a caricature of the biblical message. You have seen the political cartoons in which one or more aspects of a person’s face have been so emphasized that the representation becomes comical. There is enough left of the person’s likeness that one can recognize who is being portrayed, but the drawing is anything but an accurate representation of the person being pictured. One of the definitions of a caricature as provided by The Free Dictionary by Farlex is “any imitation so distorted or inferior as to be ludicrous.” This is what has happened to the gospel of Christ. There is enough of the terminology that remains in the message that we can recognize that it must have some relationship to the gospel, but it has been so distorted and is so inferior to the genuine message that it has become a decidedly different thing, so different as to be ludicrous.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Roman Catholic view has emphasized the “infused grace” aspects of God’s salvation to the exclusion of the forensic aspect of that salvation. In this view, justification is achieved through sanctification. It is a complete denial of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. There is no question that God, by his Spirit, gives believers grace to be obedient, but that obedience never meets the rigorous demands of God’s justice necessary for a declaration of righteousness in his presence.

Using Precise Biblical and Theological Terms

When we speak about any aspect of God’s salvation, we need to discipline ourselves to use the biblical term that describes that work in particular.  In the Scripture, this is often accomplished by the context in which the terms “saved” or “salvation” occur. We need to observe what aspect of God’s work the writer is describing in those contexts and then use accurate biblical and theological terms to designate the specific work of God the writer is referencing in them. Notice the difference in these two statements.  One is true; the other is false.

Sinners are justified before God completely apart from their own works of obedience.  That is a true statement.

Sinners are saved completely apart from their own works of obedience.  That is a false statement.

How can one statement be true and the other be false?  Is not “justified” equivalent to “saved?”  The answer is that it depends on the context. There are times the biblical writers refer to salvation as an ongoing process in the present (see Phil. 2:12). At other times, they refer to salvation as future— “nearer than when we first believed” (Rom. 12:11). Salvation is a broad term used to refer to God’s entire work [past, present and future] of redeeming and renewing sinners.

God’s Ultimate Goal in Saving Sinners

Salvation is nicely summarized for us in Hebrews 2:10 where the writer describes it as God’s work in “bringing many sons to glory.” It should not escape our notice that the words “glory” and “image” are often linked in the Scriptures. “Bringing many sons to glory” should be closely linked in our minds with the restoration of God image in us or, stated in different words, conformity to the image of Christ.

We are often told that God has not predestined anyone to salvation; we are predestined instead to be conformed to the image of Christ. Such statements betray a profound misunderstanding of the nature of God’s salvation. Our full conformity to Christ’s image is salvation.

I am certain it would come as a great surprise to many to learn that the Bible never speaks of Jesus dying for us so we can go to heaven when we die. I am not suggesting that deliverance from God’s holy wrath was not one of God’s purposes in sending his Son to die for his people. That is certainly a clear teaching of the Bible. What I am suggesting is that deliverance from God’s wrath is a purpose that is subsidiary to his grand purpose of bringing a chosen and redeemed people to glory.

That restoration, that crowning with glory and honor, is begun in the works of regeneration and sanctification. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that one of the great privileges of the New Covenant is that “we all with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord are changed from glory to glory [from one stage of glory to a higher stage of glory], even as by the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).

You might be wondering how justification fits into all of this. Is God’s judicial declaration unimportant since his ultimate purpose is to restore his people [as well as the creation itself] to glory? Of course, the answer is a resounding “no!” Justification is essential because sinners who are conscious of our guilt will not approach God and gaze on his glory. The Book of Hebrews makes it clear that one of the inadequacies of the Old Covenant was its inability to quiet the nagging, guilty, “evil conscience.” The believer in Christ may rejoice that “his sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross and he bears it no more.” He has been reconciled to God in the death of his Son. He may now freely and confidently approach God’s holy throne because he has a great priest who has, as his head and representative, passed through the heavens into the very presence of God. He may now gaze on God’s glory without fear of condemnation. Thus, justification is not an end in itself but a means to an end. Notice the link between justification and glorification in Romans 5:1-2. Paul wrote, “Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have access into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” As believers, we may be confident that if God has declared us righteous in his sight, he is certain to glorify us in his presence.

 

God’s Purpose in Salvation

 

God’s purpose in redeeming a people for himself as in his purpose in creation and in providence is the manifestation of his glory. As we have seen, we are told again and again in the Scriptures that God’s desire is to make his name known. A person’s name in Scripture is more than an appellation. It is an indication of one’s character or attributes. In Exodus 33:19, Jehovah declares to Moses that he will pass before him and declare “the name of the Lord.”  When we read about him passing before Moses in 34:6-7, what is it that he declares?  It is a declaration of his glorious attributes. This is what the text says,

The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

It is significant that Jesus prayed in John seventeen, “I have declared your name to the men that you gave me out of the world. They were yours, and you have given them to me, and they have kept your Word” (v. 6). He had already prayed in verse three and four of this chapter, “and this is eternal life, that they might know you [his Father], and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I have glorified you on the earth. . .” He did not mean that he had merely spoken to them about his Father’s name, but that he had revealed to them the Father’s glorious person not merely so that the might know about him, but that they might know him, approve him, love him. Ultimately, God’s purpose in the salvation of his people is the manifestation of his glory, but not the manifestation of his glory in an abstract way. Instead, his end in salvation is the manifestation of his glory in his people. This he accomplishes in the work of sanctification which finds its end point in their full conformity to Christ’s image. Notice the evidence that Jesus gives that he has completed the mission the Father had given them. It is this— “and they have kept your Word.”

The ultimate purpose of God’s salvation is remedial. By that I mean that God’s salvation is intended to restore to believers all that sin has taken away. To understand what God’s intends to accomplish in saving a people for himself, all one needs to do is consider the apostle’s description of the sinner’s need for salvation in the early chapters of Romans. God’s salvation is perfectly suited to meet those needs and remedy those deficiencies.

Paul began his description of the sinner’s need for salvation by telling his readers that God’s wrath is revealed from heaven. His wrath is his settled indignation against sinners and our sins. It is not that he becomes angry and boils over when something does not suit him. It is rather that his perpetual response to sin wherever it exists is revulsion and disapprobation. His effectual redeeming work is suited to satisfy his wrath that rises from his holy character.

The second issue is our “ungodliness.” This simply means that we sinners are at cross purposes with God. We are guilty of breaking the first and greatest commandment. We do not love God. Instead, we are hostile toward him and all that is holy. The evidence of the sinner’s hostility against God is clearly set forth in this universal indictment that Paul brings against ungodly rebels.  He shows that they have no legal defense before God’s throne. The point he makes time after time is that wherever and in whatever way God has revealed himself, the sinner’s reaction has been to suppress that revelation through unrighteousness (1:18).

He charges that though God has clearly revealed himself in the things he has made, we do not glorify him and give him the honor due his name (1:21).

He charges that we have not been grateful for all God’s gracious bounty (1:21).

He charges that we have forsaken the worship of God and have worshipped created things in his place (1:23, 25)

He charges that we have chosen to believe a lie rather that to believe God’s truth (1:25).

He charges that we have decided that God is not worth knowing (1:28).

He charges that we have despised the riches of God’s goodness, patience and longsuffering in his universal benevolence (2:4).

He even charges God’s covenant people with dishonoring him and causing his name to be dishonored among the Gentiles (2:22-23). They did this even though they knew his will having been instructed by the law (2:18).

It is the purpose of God in redemption to replace this hostility against him with love for him. He intends to bring us to the point that we honor, glorify and worship him as our highest good and bow in humble gratitude before his throne. Paul stated God’s salvific purpose this way— “. . .that we should be to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:12. See also verses six and fourteen). The apostle Paul identified the true circumcision, the true people of God, the true seed of Abraham, as those who “worship [or render religious service] by the Spirit of God and rejoice in Christ Jesus. . ..” (Phil. 3:3) Any message that aims at anything less than converting God-haters into worshippers is not God’s gospel.

He brings us to reject the lies of Satan and of the world and pursue and obey his truth. J.I. Packer wrote that the purpose of the gospel is “to make us God centered in our thinking and God fearing in our hearts (Packer, Introduction to “the Death of Death”).

It is God’s purpose in salvation not merely to forgive the returning sinner but to conquer the rebellion that has been the cause of his alienation from him. One of the differences between the Calvinistic view of repentance and the synergistic view is that in the Calvinistic view, repentance on the sinner’s part is but his response to God’s work of regeneration. The synergist cannot call on sinners to repent because given their view that regeneration is God’s response to their free will choice, a choice that involved turning from sin would involve good works. In the Calvinistic view, God turns us from our sins by giving us a new disposition.

The apostle also charges us with unrighteousness. This concerns our breaking of the second commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The work of redemption is also intended to repair ruptured human relations. The reflection of a person’s love for God is his love for those who are made in God’s image.

Given the propensity of some to twist and misrepresent other’s views, I want to make several statements that I hope will prevent misrepresentation.

  1. I do not believe that any sinner’s works have any merit before God for justification. Sinners are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, on the authority of God’s Word alone, and to God’s glory alone.
  2. I do not believe the works of obedience God produces in the believer’s life will ever have meritorious value for justification.
  3. I do not believe a call to repentance is a call for sinners to promise to give up their sins in exchange for God’s gift of salvation. Sinners do not strike a bargain with God.
  4. I do not believe the gospel commands sinners to quit all their sins so that God will receive them. The gospel calls on sinners to bring their sins to Jesus that he might deliver them from the oppressive shackles of sin from which they will never be able to free themselves. Jesus does not merely free sinners from the guilt of sin, but from sin itself.

I want to close this chapter by quoting several biblical text concerning God’s electing and predestinating purpose and Christ’s redeeming work. that explicitly state the purpose of salvation. I will intersperse a few exegetical comments along with the text.  I want you to pay attention to the purpose clauses, clauses introduced by “that” or “order that,” “for” etc., in these verses.

God’s Electing and Predestinating Purpose

I would invite you to consider several biblical texts that inform us about God’s eternal purpose in the sinner’s salvation. There are many who would conclude from these texts that his purpose did not concern the sinner’s salvation since they say nothing about his plan to “take us to heaven when we die.” In truth, in making such observations, they simply reveal their lack of understanding of the nature of salvation itself.

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom. 8:29).

It is important for us to note that all the steps necessary to accomplish this ultimate purpose are also included in God’s purpose.  For example, in verse twenty-eight Paul had written, “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.” God not only predestined the ultimate end—the believer’s glorification—but also the means to that end.  That “call” which effectively unites the believer to Christ (see 1 Cor. 1:9) and grants him every spiritual blessing is “according to his purpose.” I

“even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph. 1:4). The text does not say he chose a plan of salvation. It says “he chose us, that we should be holy.”

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for [the preposition indicates the goal or purpose] good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:10).

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits [some texts read “from the beginning”] to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thess. 2:13-14.

[Note that it is “to be saved” that is through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth” and not God’s choice].

“Elect exiles. . .according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you” 1 Pet. 1:1-2).

The Purpose of Christ’s Redeeming Work

I would first like to draw your attention to the prophesy spoken by Zechariah, John’s father, when he recognized that his son was to be the forerunner of the Messiah and that God’s covenant promises to Abraham were about to be fulfilled. It is likely that Zechariah spoke much better than he knew, but the Holy Spirit who controlled his utterance intended the profundity that saturates this wonderful passage. I want you to notice two important aspects of this prophesy related to our study. The first is the relationship between “being delivered from the hand of our enemies” and “serving him without fear in holiness and righteousness. . .” This points up the reason that God’s work for us at the initiation of his work of salvation is a full pardon and a declaration that we are righteous in his sight. The second point is that he does not deliver us from our enemies so that we might serve ourselves.

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. (Luke 1:68-75).

The apostle Paul wrote:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, (Eph.5.25-27).

“. . .who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works (Titus 2:14).

The apostle Peter wrote,

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1Pet2.25-25). God does not forgive his sheep for straying and leave us to stray farther. He returns us to the Shepherd.

Consider the words written to the Hebrews,

“. . .how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God (Heb. 9:14). [Note the connection between a purified conscious and serving God. God does not purify our consciences in justification as an end in itself but as a means to an end, i.e., to serve the living God.]

In commenting on the Luke one passage I quoted above, Matthew Henry wrote what I believe sweetly distills all that I have written in this chapter.  I would like to close the chapter by citing his words.  He wrote,

The great design of gospel grace is not to discharge us from, but to engage us to, and encourage us in, the service of God. Under this notion Christianity was always to be looked upon, as intended to make us truly religious, to admit us into the service of God, to bind us to it, and to quicken us in it. We are therefore delivered from the iron yoke of sin, that our necks may be put under the sweet and easy yoke of the Lord Jesus (Henry, Comment on Luke 1:75).

http://www.amazon.com/author/randyseiver

Bates, William, The Harmony of the Divine Attributes in the Contrivance and Accomplishment of Man’s Redemption. (New York: Jonathan Leavitt), 1832.

Henry, Matthew, A Commentary on the Whole Bible, (www.biblestudytools.com).

08
Oct
15

Questions about Regeneration and Faith

There are a few questions I would like to ask my Arminian [or if they prefer, synergist] friends. They grow out of my understanding of Romans 8:1 and following and rests on my understanding of Romans 8:8. My understanding of that passage (8:1-8) is that it is talking about the New Covenant experience of the true child of God. He is one who does not live his life habitually according to the flesh, i.e, the life that characterized the old creation in Adam, into which he was born and in which he lived, but one who lives his life habitually according to the Spirit. The passage is not talking about an option a believer has as to whether he/she will walk according to the flesh or the Spirit. Instead, it draws a distinction between those who are “in Christ” and those who are not. Those who are not in Christ mind the things of the flesh and those who are in Christ mind the things of the Spirit.

Even if a person should take the position that Paul is describing two “natures” in the believer, he will have the same problem. In chapter seven he had written “in me, that is in my flesh dwells no good thing.” That would assume that nothing pleasing to God could proceed from “the flesh.” It would appear that whatever view we would take of this verse, we would have to conclude that “flesh” is a negative quality and describes a state in which a person cannot please God. This is precisely what Paul unequivocally states in verse eight, “So then, those who are in the flesh, cannot please God.”

These are my questions for you:

1. Would you agree that a person prior to regeneration is “in the flesh?”
2. Would you agree that regeneration [new birth, creation, spiritual circumcision, spiritual resurrection etc.] is necessary for a person to no longer be “in the flesh?”
3. Would you agree that a person who is “in the Spirit” is a person in whom the Spirit of Christ dwells (v. 9).
4. Would you agree that no person is in-dwelt by the Spirit who is not born of God?
5. Would you agree that a person who is not in-dwelt by the Spirit is “in the flesh?’
6. Would you agree that to have faith in God’s promises is pleasing to God?

I would assume that you have answered all those questions affirmatively. Based on those answers, can you explain two things to me?

1. How can a person who is “in the flesh” i.e., unregenerate, please God by trusting him and his promises if those who are in the flesh cannot please God? Or do you believe that “hostility toward God” and faith in God are compatible?
2. If you believe those who are “in the flesh” are able to obey one commandment of God, why do you believe regeneration is necessary at all? If a person is able to obey one commandment, namely, God’s command to repent and believe the gospel, why can he not, in an unregenerate state, obey every command of God ?

http://amazon.com/author/randyseiver

04
Oct
15

Calvinistic Evangelism-The Theological Foundation-Chapter Ten-The Authority of Scripture

As I pointed out when I commented on Acts seventeen, we will never become engaged in spreading God’s good news as long as we believe everyone’s belief and practice is equally valid. Paul’s evangelistic efforts were prompted by his conviction that the God he worshipped was the only true God and that all others were empty vanities. He was convinced there was only one way to be right with the creator of heaven and earth and that unless his hearers repented, they would perish in their sins.

The basis for this belief was his unswerving conviction that the Scriptures are the inspired record of God’s special revelation of himself and his glory to his people. As we read the gospels, it is clear that Jesus also held the Scriptures of the Old Testament in the highest regard. It was he who asserted that neither the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet nor the smallest mark distinguishing one letter from another would pass away until all was fulfilled. In John ten, he assured his listeners that “the Scriptures cannot be broken” (See John 10:35). Both he and his apostles spoke as with one voice in affirming the inspiration and inviolability of the sacred Scriptures.

Only by Revelation

 

We must not fail to appreciate that we would have no message to preach apart from God’s special revelation of his wisdom in the contrivance of the plan of redemption. Such a plan would have seemed as foolish and ineffectual to us as it does to those who are perishing in their sins, if God had not revealed it to the apostles. There are two ways we could approach the task of evangelism. We could approach it in the way that seems right to us. We could ask, “What is the minimum amount of truth we could preach to attract the maximum amount of people?” After all, we know not only from the Scriptures but also from long years of experience that people prefer the words of a lying prophet to the truth of God. The other approach is to trust that God will use the “foolishness” of the message he has entrusted to us to accomplish his purpose.

This was exactly the issue Paul was discussing in 1 Corinthians two.  The choices he presents are two.  He could have preached a message that was in accordance with human wisdom, the wisdom of this age, or he could choose to preach the message God had made known to him by the ministry of his Spirit. He chose to preach the message of a crucified Messiah so that his hearers’ faith might not stand in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

Beginning in verse six of that chapter he begins to draw a distinction between the wisdom of this age and God’s wisdom that had heretofore been hidden but that God has predestined for our glory (v. 7). He, of course, is referring to the mystery of the gospel as it is revealed in the Scriptures.

His point is that we do not proclaim this message of salvation through a Christ who has been crucified because it suits our philosophical scheme or because it seems so logical to us. Such a message would never have entered our minds apart from divine revelation. This is what he wrote— “But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’- these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God” (vv. 9-10).

We are bold to proclaim the message that God has entrusted to us because we are convinced that it is his inspired and inerrant Word that has been made known to us through the apostles. It is a message we never would have imagined apart from the revelatory ministry of God’s Spirit.

Plenary Verbal Inspiration

When we speak of plenary verbal inspiration we simply mean the Scriptures are fully inspired in every part and that the very words the biblical writers chose to convey what God had revealed to them were determined by the Holy Spirit. We do not mean this in the sense of mechanical dictation, but in the sense that he supernaturally protected them from error in what they wrote. Paul stated the idea of verbal inspiration very succinctly when he wrote, “and we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but [in words] taught by the Spirit (v.13). Of course, there are other well-known verses that teach that this kind of divine activity extended to every part of the sacred Scriptures. One of the better known verses tells us “All Scripture is God breathed. . .” (2 Tim. 3:16). Of course, when this verse was written, Paul was primarily referring to the Scripture of the Old Testament. He told Timothy that he had known these Scriptures from infancy (see v. 15). Assuming Timothy was about thirty years old when the apostle wrote this to him, much of the New Testament Scriptures would not have been written when he was an infant.

Peter makes it clear in his second epistle that the prophesies of the Scripture were not initiated by the prophets themselves but “holy men of God spoke as they were born along by the Holy Spirit (see 2 Peter 1:20-21).  It is significant that he does not hesitate to include the writings of the apostle Paul with the “other Scriptures” (see 2 Peter 3:16). Additionally, Paul stated quite unequivocally in his first epistle to the Corinthians that the words he wrote to the churches were the commandments of Christ himself.  He wrote, “If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37). He left no question about the origin of his gospel. He wrote to the churches of Galatia, “. . .the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11-12). To the Corinthians he defends the fact that when he speaks as Christ’s
official representative, it is “Christ speaking in me” (2 Cor. 13:3).

The apostle John established the standard by which those professing to know God might know whether their profession was valid or not.  That standard was the word of the apostles. He wrote, “We are of God. He who knows God hears us [it appears that by “us” he refers to himself and the other apostles]; by this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:6).

There can be little doubt that when the apostles spoke or wrote, they were conscious that they were doing so as Christ’s official representatives. When they spoke, he was speaking in them. This has been the understanding of the church through the centuries. It was not until the rise of higher criticism that any who wished to call themselves Christians questioned the plenary, verbal inspiration of the Scriptures.

Biblical Inerrancy

 

It follows logically that if these men Jesus had chosen were guided and borne along by the Spirit to the extent that the very words they wrote were the very Word of God, their writings must be without error. Before he went to the cross, Jesus had promised the apostles that after his departure, he would send his Spirit to them so that they would not be left to fend for themselves. As part of that promise, he assured them the Spirit would guide them into all truth. He said, “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth. . ..” (John 16:13 We must not understand this as a promise to believers in general as though everyone in whom the Spirit dwells will have a perfect understanding of all truth. If that were the case, every true believe would perfectly agree with every other believer. This is clearly not the case now nor has it ever been the case.

What is even more important to us is that Jesus, himself, promised that the Spirit would guide the apostles into all truth and away from error. The product of this guidance were the inerrant manuscripts that came from the apostle’s pens.

John Jefferson Davis has written about biblical inerrancy as follows: “The inerrancy of scripture is a consequence of its verbal, plenary inspiration. Scripture is free from error in all its teachings and affirmations because it is in its entirety the product of an infinite, all-wise, and all-powerful God who cannot err” (Davis, 1985, 186-87).

Although it is beyond the scope of this chapter to examine the evangelical position on inerrancy in great detail, it is important to be aware of the details of our affirmations and denials. I would suggest a careful reading of the “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” that can be found online.  I would also suggest that you read “Scripture: Word of the Great King” in Davis’s book referenced above.

We should make it clear that as evangelicals, we do not claim the inerrancy of any one translation of the Scriptures [There is, of course, that radial fringe within Fundamentalism that insists on the inspiration and inerrancy of the King James Version, but such a view is not widely held in the scholarly community]. Additionally, we do not claim that there have been no errors in the transmission of the text of Scripture. When we speak of biblical inerrancy, we refer to the autographs written by the biblical writers. We admit that we no longer have those original manuscripts available to us, though we do have very early copies of those manuscripts. What is important to us is that textual criticism has shown a remarkable agreement among all the text types from which the Bible has been translated. In the comparatively few texts in which variants exist, those variants have little, if any, effect on the meaning the author intended to convey. We can safely say that no major biblical doctrine has been affected by any textual variant that has occurred in the process of scribal transmission. The practical result is that we may have complete confidence in the Bible we hold in our hands [I say this about translations, not about paraphrases. There have been those injudicious individuals who have, in their zeal to promote their own theological slant in paraphrasing the Scriptures, read their theological views into the text. These are not to be trusted in any sense].

When we proclaim the biblical message, we are proclaiming God’s message. It is his good news that comes with his authority. We have no reason or right to alter it or to withhold any part of it. When we proclaim it, we do so with the authority of God himself. Additionally, we may do so with complete confidence that he will bless that message in the manifestation of his own glory.

Davis, John Jefferson, Foundations of Evangelical Theology, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House) 1985.

03
Oct
15

Boasting Excluded

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