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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Testimony II

(continued from) part I

It was during the trials of a painful breakup and divorce that I started actively seeking the Lord by attending church. Thankfully, God promises us in the Bible that when we seek Him, we will find Him when we seek Him with all of our hearts. I remember the service where I came forward, sought forgiveness, and completely gave my life to the Lord. Jesus calls this being “born again” in John 3:3, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” The knowledge that I had about what Jesus did for me on the cross finally became a reality in my heart. I wish I could say that from that day forward, everything was easy and I didn’t struggle with sin anymore, but that’s not the case. Becoming a Christian did not erase the consequences of past sins, nor does it mean that I never fall into sin anymore, but I no longer run TO sin as I once did. I know I am forgiven, and God gives me the grace and strength to live each day for Him.

Jeremiah 29:11 states “For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.” This is a particularly meaningful verse to me because God had a plan for me all along. Even when I turned my back on Him through sin and rebellion in my teen years, He was there waiting for me to return with open arms. God, who hates sin, loved me so much that He sent His only Son to die for me so that I could be forgiven, and that “whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). The Bible says in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and in Ephesians 2: 8-9 that it is “by grace we have been saved, through faith- and this not from ourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works so that no one can boast”. This means there is nothing I can do on my own to deserve God’s favor- no amount of good deeds can make up for my sin. When I disobeyed God’s laws, my sin prevented me from having a relationship with Him. I deserved eternal death for my choices, but God gave me eternal life through Jesus, and HIS death on the cross: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) By repenting and turning from my sin and believing with faith in what Jesus did for me on the cross, I am given not only help and guidance in this life, but eternal life in heaven when I die. This is the only way- there is no other way to be made right with God but through faith in Jesus Christ: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Today I am a completely different person than I used to be because of what Jesus did for me.

To be continued...

Monday, March 27, 2006

Grace Revealed: Perseverance of the Saints

Thus, with the Totally Depraved man Effectually Called out through Unconditional Election, the question of that man’s eternal home is permanently directed heavenward.

Understanding that the call is Effectual, in that it is irresistible, and that it is also unconditional, meaning that we neither earned it nor “chose” it, this can be the only answer.

While often perverted into a very shallow, unbiblical, easy-believism way of thinking, this doctrine teaches us the true nature of saving grace, when properly presented in all its parts. Through the window that perseverance provides into the grace of God, one sees whether a person’s repentance and faith have been prompted failingly by the fright of the moment or desire for “your best life now”, or rightly by the sovereign effectual working of the Spirit. This window also casts a beam of light on the deceitfulness of the human heart and – conversely but consequently – reflects the beautiful colors of the power of God’s grace.

There are three areas to the perseverance of the saints: God’s activity in preserving the believer, the believer’s activity in persevering, and the reality of the believer’s continued sinfulness or “perfectionlessness”.

Consider John 3:16. What kind of everlasting life is anything but everlasting? Does a believer gain everlasting life that is destroyed in a while? How absurd. Other passages imply the same perseverance. John 5:24 so combines the sequence of hearing, believing, possession of eternal life, avoidance of condemnation, and passing from death to life that no other conclusion than that of final perseverance can be drawn.

Paul also writes of “no condemnation” for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). If that verdict could ever be changed, little assurance would be given. Ephesians 2 pictures the saved person as the object of the movement of resurrection and ascension power. Only the reversal of Christ’s resurrection and ascension could reverse this salvation. Obviously, the doctrine of perseverance follows from unconditional election and effectual call. Jesus tells us that those who drink the living water will never be thirsty, and those who come to him as the bread of life will never go hungry. He tells us that he will lose none that the Father has given to him (John 6, and John 10).

The life of the believer is also one of perseverance. It is perseverance because life is a struggle against sin, even for believers, and it is perseverance because the believer never abandons their faith. Romans 8:1-17 and Ephesians 4:17-32 show the spiritual lifestyle exhibits by true disciples of Christ. The grace of God teaches us to live godly lives (Titus 2:11-12). In Colossians 3:5-10:

Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them. But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:

The message is clear – the life of sin which once characterized every man is no longer a possibility for the new man. Paul could not conceive of a Christian who did not progressively pursue the way of the Spirit.

The idea of Struggle is also pervasive in Scripture, as Paul describes how he must keep his flesh under subjection and live the life of one who has the Spirit of Christ (1 Cor. 9). Fleshly, lusts continue to war against the soul (1 Peter 2:!1)
Finally, the human heart is deceitful, and concluding that true faith exists cannot be drawn from any apparent sincerity, fervency, or emotion at the initiation of a supposed Christian life. Although the first moments of repentance and faith may have all the marks of genuineness, they may fail to produce a continued harvest of righteousness – thus the parable of the sower. Remember, in the parable of the sower, three of the four plants sprung up – but only on lived to bear fruit. The other two were false converts, who appeared to receive the gospel but in fact did not. A true biblical understanding of saving faith must always include the element of longevity – for the faith that ends never really partook of the nature of true saving faith.

This element of perseverance, then, allows for the deceitfulness of the human heart. Men fool others, and even fool themselves, that they are saved, but their actions or renunciation of Christ show that they were never among the elect. 1 John 1:6 and 1 John 3:9-10 make it clear that a Christian is evidenced by their life, as do Galatians 5 and Ephesians 5:5-6. James’ discourse on false faith shows that faith is proved in action, not in sincerity or knowledge, especially in James 2:14-26.

Finally, while living in the light we are not that light, but reflections of Him. Thus, we are never made perfect while living in the world. The evidence of saving faith is not perfection, but a striving for perfection in word, deed, and doctrine.

In conclusion, the grace of God is made manifest in his Unconditional Election of specific Totally Depraved people, whom he Calls Effectually out of their bondage to sin and ensures their Perseverance in life – both in a life of obedience and a life eternal.

To be continued...

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Testimony I

Looking back, I can see God’s hand at work in my life long before I even realized He was there. While I attended youth group and church in junior high, I did not allow the Lord to have control of my life, nor did I have a personal relationship with Him for many years. I believed in God and acknowledged that Jesus died on the cross, but it didn’t make a difference in my life. I did not have the heart change that would have anchored me through my teen years, and my life took a drastic spiral downward because of my bad choices that separated me from the Lord.

At age 15, I became heavily involved in the party scene and rebelled against my parents by sneaking around with a guy I was forbidden to see. I found myself unable to hide from my sin any longer when I became pregnant. After the birth of my son at age 17, I first started coming to the realization that I needed the Lord in my life. At first I only recognized that something was missing in my life. I married my baby’s father, thinking that would fulfill me, but all the things I thought should bring me happiness were not enough to satisfy my deepest need. It was a relationship with Jesus that I was missing and longing for.


<>To be continued..

Friday, March 24, 2006

Grace Revealed: Effectual Call

The doctrines of Unconditional Election (primarily) and Total Depravity necessitate the remaining three doctrines. However, these doctrines bring clarity to questions that arise from consideration of the first two.

Effectual Call is simply this: that God’s grace is overpowering and irresistible, and just as a man does not contribute to his salvation with a work of “choosing Jesus”, he also can neither refuse the gift of grace nor return it once received. God’s call of the elect is fully effective and cannot be denied.

We certainly can see that God has the ability to do so. Grace is a gift (Ephesians 2:8-9) and thus inherently is not something we earn or even choose. The gift aspect of justification is highlighted when one realizes that there is no distinction between people. All are equally sinful, so all who are justified must be justified by God’s gracious gift. What, then, causes one man who hears the Gospel to be justified and another who hears the same Gospel not to be justified? If the bestowment of salvation arises from any factor beside the sovereign work of God’s effectual grace, then one must conclude that an actual difference exists in the characters or wills of the two respective individuals who responded in different ways to the gospel. The one who has received Christ must not have been as hard, rebellious, or captive as the one who rejected.

If the belief or unbelief rises at all from an unregenerate heart (as opposed to the grace of God alone) and distinguishes one man from another while all have the same natural or bestowed capacity, then the exercising of the capacity must be better than not exercising it. If it is better, then the believer has contributed to his own salvation.

If it is not better, it must be the same or worse, and clearly it cannot be worse. If it is the same, then there is no difference between belief and unbelief, and all unbelievers should be saved as well as believers.

The only escape to this is to acknowledge that faith, like righteousness, is a gift of God and is bestowed gratuitously by Him. All sinful humanity is in the same condition; therefore only distinguishing and effectual grace causes one to differ from another. Of course, this truth does not mean that the one who is saved is “unwilling” to be saved. The Holy Spirit moves in such a way as to create willingness in the form of repentance and faith. He who is saved is made willing in God’s power. None are saved who do not willingly receive “the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” (Phillipians 3:9). The dead man is made alive, the stony heart becomes flesh, the captive is set free, the slave is become a son, and the enemy is made a friend!

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)

The other component of the effectual call is its effects in regeneration. The Scriptural descriptions of this regeneration include new birth, freedom from bondage and resurrection from the dead. None of these acts requires or even includes an act by the person being changed. Furthermore, the change is complete and evident to all.

When we are made into a new man, we put off the old man and can resist the fleshly desires, not because we made a choice to, but because God’s effectual call makes us able to. Prior to regeneration, the dead, enslaved sinner freely follows his will – his will to sin and resist God. And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. Gal 5:24 Have you ever wondered why a person can “accept Jesus” and then beat their wife? It is because regeneration is the work of God’s grace, and not the result of an intellectual or emotional decision. Thus, false converts abound in today’s churches because we preach ‘decisionism’. Regeneration produces a mourning for our sins, a repentance from them, and a dedication to Christ. Our regeneration does not make us sinless , after all, If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (1 John 1:10). However, a life of sin is incompatible with the regeneration of the spirit - If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: (1 John 1:6). The life of the believer is the testimony that he has been effectually called and is among the elect - There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Romans 8:1).

Regeneration and faith are part and parcel of the free gift of salvation by grace. Man can only be saved by God, and thankfully, he has chosen to save us – because we cannot choose to save ourselves.

For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. (Romans 8:29-30)

To be continued...

Monday, March 20, 2006

Grace Revealed: Unconditional Election

Unconditional Election

Because men are under the condition of total depravity, we are faced with a decidedly unpleasant future. The God of All has declared that perfection is necessary to enter the kingdom of heaven, and we are incapable of perfection. Our only future should be eternal damnation.

However, for His greater glory God provided a way in which we can be saved from eternal punishment. The death of Death in the death of Christ, and the salvation available through His resurrection, established a narrow gate through which men can enter heaven. All was not lost…but in fact, if Christ had merely died and risen again, and the work of God ended there, redemption would still be beyond us. Why?

If Christ died merely so that we might choose Him, we would not choose Him. Out depraved state makes us incapable of choosing Him! The very same situation that makes us depraved makes us in opposition to God, no matter what he has done for us.

Consider this – if there is nothing we do that is not corrupted, how can we make a single wholly good decision to choose Christ? As all of us, to one degree or another, seek to get the greatest gain for the least cost, what would be our justification to choose Christ now? There are many reasons to choose Christ based upon what we would gain and/or what we would avoid. However, choosing Him based upon any of those would make the choice corrupt, and would not be good in the sight of God.

“And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.” (Mark 10:18, Luke 18:19)

Thus, to complete the work of redemption, the choice had to be made by the only one who can do good – God Himself. He had to choose us, because we would never choose Him. And , because God is not a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), he chooses a small number of us (Mt. 7:14, 20:16, 22:14, Lk. 13:23-25) to be redeemed for His glory.

This is neatly summarized in the first chapter of Ephesians as such:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.

For those who are uncertain of the role of God in the selection of the elect, a perusal of Romans chapter 9 will clarify the position. For me, it was and remains the definitive section of Scripture that made it abundantly clear that God chooses his followers, and we do not choose him instead. Like any important gospel truth, it is backed up in many areas of the Bible, including those I have already mentioned. Jesus called his disciples, they did not choose him. Furthermore, those who attempted to choose him were all sent away (Lk. 9:57-62, Mk 10:17-22).

[God] hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” 2 Tim 1:9

I am familiar with the rebuttals to this position – since I once held them – and look forward to meeting them. I recognize that true Christians (including the great John Wesley) do not agree with me in every point. One of the wonderful faces of Grace is that it is bigger than our ignorance, and I do not hold that one must fully grasp and attest to the Doctrines of Grace in order to be among the elect.

To be continued...

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Grace Revealed: Total Depravity

It all starts here. Honestly, in retrospect, I'm not sure why I didn't get this part right away. After all, I believe it is related to what may be the most significant worldview difference between conservatives and liberals. That worldview difference? The nature of man. I, and conservatives in general, believe that people are naturally lazy and selfish. Liberals think people are basically good. Fortunately for me, social science and the Bible back me up.

You disagree? Consider these: The Killing Fields. The Gulags. The Holocaust. The torture of American POWs in Viet Nam. The rack. Chinese water torture. Do those sound like the actions of basically good people? Germany was a bastion of liberal Christianity just prior to the Nazi takeover. That wasn't an isolated few - it was the refusal of the many to oppose the bad - lazy and selfish. Just like me.

If we are basically good, why in the world do we need laws with associated punishments? Why do I need to hammer one of my employees before the rest do their jobs as instructed? Because people are bad in nature.

However, the doctrine of Total Depravity does not merely state that men are basically bad - it states that men are ENTIRELY bad. So bad, in fact, that they are incapable of performing a truly good act. While I would not deny that acts that appear good are certainly capable of being performed, the measure of whether an act is truly good is measured not just by the act, but by the motivation.

Any one who has had the (unpleasant) opportunity to study social psychology have seen that the unabashedly secular who study the behavior of men have come to the very same conclusion. Social psychologists hold that there are no altruisitc acts, and that all acts are motivated by a sense of gain for the individual - whether external or internal. The Bible concurs:

Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil. Jer 13:23

They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good. The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Psalms 14:1-3

heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? Jer 17:9

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned Romans 5:12

And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. Eph 2:1-3

Thus, man is by nature a sinner and unable to do any good on his own. Considering that the requirement for entrance into the kingdom, absent Christ, was perfection (Matthew 5:20, 5:48), no one could enter the kingdom of God and all were, instead, condemned to eternal damnation, where their worm never dies and the fire is never quenched (Matt. 9:44,46,48).

How then could a man be saved? So asked the disciples, and Christ told them what the answer was - with men salvation is impossible, but with God all things are possible. (Matt. 9:26, Mk. 10:27, Lk. 18:27). Thus I shall describe the method of salvation in the next post, Unconditional Election.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Hmmm. I suppose so.

You Are a Hunter Soul

You are driven and ambitious - totally self motiviated to succeed
Actively working to achieve what you want, you are skillful in many areas.
You are a natural predator with strong instincts ... and more than a little demanding.
You are creative, energetic, and an extremely powerful force.

An outdoors person, you like animals and relate to them better than people.
You tend to have an explosive personality, but also a good sense of humor.
People sometimes see you as arrogant or a know it all.
You tend to be a bit of a loner, though you hate to be alone.

Souls you are most compatible with: Seeker Soul and Peacemaker Soul

I do like people better than animals.

Well, some people.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Grace Revealed

I practice what I preach.

Well, at least sometimes.

I preach that we should do our best to develop sound theology, which includes reading the ideas of those we know to be Christian, but who may have a different idea on a subject than we do.

My “practice” in this area has led me to, over the years, change my doctrinal beliefs in a few areas. Some that come to mind are Bible versions, conduct of worship, spiritual gifts, and predestination. While I grew in my faith as I explored all of these areas (and would be happy to write about all of them), I believe that my faith has exploded upward and outward in ways heretofore never imagined during and after my full development considering the most recent. Therefore, it is the one I wish to write about first.

I began my life as a Christian as an Arminian. I believe that this is the place where almost everyone in the West begins their Christian life (more on that later). Basically, an Arminian Christian believes the following:

1. Conditional Election - Election is based on the faith or belief of men. God is in charge, and has predestined believers, but has done so based upon his foreknowledge of our decision.

2. Universal Atonement - The atonement is for all, but only believers enjoy its benefits. Christ dies for the whole world, but only those who choose to come to him are, in fact, saved.

3. Saving Faith - Man, unaided by the Holy Spirit, is unable to come to God. Thus, the work of the Holy Spirit is necessary in salvation, but…

4. Resistible Grace - The drawing of the Holy Spirit can be resisted. It still requires the free decision of the individual.

5. Uncertainty of Preservation – Because men can choose to follow or not follow Christ, they can continue to do so and can “lose” their salvation.

Because I had been in a lot of Baptist churches, I was actually a 4-point Arminian. I believed in “the eternal security of the believer”, and “once saved, always saved”. The crux of Arminianism is that our future is not chosen for us, we are free to choose, but God knew who would choose before we do.

Then and now, I consider those elements of Arminianism to be intellectually honest. I believe that God could have created men to be totally free and yet he still knew what they would do.

However, after years of not considering these doctrines, I began to think at length about them. People often said that “God has a plan for X”. However, I realized that this could not be possible. If I am really free to choose, and can resist the Holy Spirit at any time, then God could not possibly have a plan. What, did he just keep on making people until he knew it turned out right? I found Arminianism, in its diametrically opposed ideas of a God who is in charge and yet lets us do whatever we want, leading to the “plan”? Thus, in about 1998 I abandoned Arminianism to the small minded, moving instead to become an Open Theist.

An Open Theist follows the “clockmaker” idea of God – God made the world and let it go wild. He really doesn’t know what we are going to do, because in his infinite wisdom and power he restricted himself from knowing what we would do because he wanted us to freely love him and freely choose him. If he knew the bad things we would do, he would not allow us to do them because we should do good things. Thus I thought and thus I preached. Open Theism is entirely intellectually honest, and I believe that it does not compromise the sovereignty, power or wisdom of God. I believed that God intervened in this clock from time to time to nudge us toward the plan, but that, by and large, we were free to choose, good or evil.

However, a few years after that (2004, to be precise), I realized something. Open Theism is intellectually honest, but it is definitely not Biblical. How can it be that the “steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD” (Psalms 37:23) if he doesn’t know what I am going to do? How could God tell Israel’s captive people that he had plans for them, a hope and a future? How could God give any prophecy to anyone if he didn’t know what was going to happen?

In a moment of grace, I snapped from Open Theist to what some call Calvinism and what I and others call the Doctrine of Grace. Well, that’s more dramatic than it really was. I read a lot about the issue, and came down firmly on the side of Grace.

Over the next few posts I will attempt to define the Doctrines of Grace for laymen, of which I am one. I want to thank UK John and Alastair for inspiring me to do this. I think the mass of those who do not accept the doctrines of grace do so because they believe the caricature of it presented by opponents.

Series Outline:

Total Depravity
Unconditional Election
Effectual Call
Perserverance of the Saints
Particular Redemption
Where Arminianism Fails
Arminianism's Moral Source
Arminianism's Logical Source and Logical Progression