Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Genesis 2:15-17, Thinking about Grace Before the Fall

"The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord commanded the man, saying, 'You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.'"

This is fleshed out by the Apostle Paul, primarily in the fifth chapter of Romans, and is traditionally referred to as the Covenant of Works, because God promises eternal life to Adam on the basis of obedience. As the footnote in the Geneva Bible puts it, the purpose was "that man might know there was a sovereign Lord, to whom he owed obedience." Before the Fall, Adam had the opportunity, along with the ability, to earn eternal life by his works. The tree was forbidden to him as the test of his works, with the warning that disobedience would bring death upon him. Fine so far. With that understanding, I had never gone on to think what role grace played under this Covenant.

I am reading a book on the federal theology (an alternative name for covenant theology) of Thomas Boston of Ettrick, one of the original Scottish Seceders, a group of particular interest to me.

Boston was concerned to show that grace was fundamental to the covenant of works. First, he pointed out that God, as Creator, would be purely in His right to expect obedience from Adam as creature, with no obligation to offer a reward. To promise eternal life as a reward for obedience was an act of condescension, purely of free grace. I was astounded! That had never occurred to me. Further, he points to the forbidden tree. Boston describes this as an act of grace because it gave Adam a visible warning of the risk and consequences of sin. More subtle perhaps, but a good and edifying interpretation.

In this post, I am not advocating for this particular interpretation. I found it intriguing, so I am presenting it for its thought-provoking character. I am sure that I will be mulling it for a while.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Signs and Wonders and Heretics, Oh My!

"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world." - I John 4:1

The Apostle John here is applying a warning from the Law of Moses. In Deuteronomy 13:1-3, God through Moses gives a stern warning: "If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, 'Let us go after other gods,' which you have not known, 'and let us serve them,' you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul." So, our God will sometimes allow a false teacher to prophesy or perform miracles, not as an endorsement, but rather as a test of the obedience of His people.

The same apostle himself prophesies of a marvelous wonder performed by the sea beast of the Revelation. In Rev. 13:1, he tells us, "One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast." And again in 17:8, "The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come." John obviously doesn't believe that miracle-working is proof of divine sanction!

Yet, the astonishing thing is that, in spite of these warnings, every crackpot tent evangelist who can stage a few healings soon has crowds eating out of his (or often her) hands and sending their life savings by return mail. This though they are often Pelagians, Arians, or simply charlatans! Everyone knows that Jim Bakker went to prison for his activities, but others, notably Benny Hinn, are still on the road. Surely thousands are failing the test of faith spoken of in Deuteronomy.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Isaiah 64:6 and the Absurdity of Conditional Election

"We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away."

Some argue that the predestination spoken of by Paul, especially in Ephesians 1, is in response to foreseen faith and righteousness in the particular believer. This position is referred to as "conditional election." This is the opposite of the Reformed view of unconditional election.

However, as the Prophet Isaiah says above, no one (since the Fall of Adam, and excluding Jesus) has native righteousness. Our best deeds are as a polluted garment, a euphemism for a menstrual rag ("filthy rags", KJV). And Romans 3 gives a litany of Old Testament quotes, such as "no one seeks for God" (verse 11) and "no one does good, not even one" (verse 12), and "there is no fear of God before their eyes" (verse 18). So the case of the Arminian is that God's election of His people is dependent on the very qualities that Scripture says we don't have! The Arminian doctrine of election logically would mean that no one is elected, and therefore no one can be saved!

I would go even further: Paul says in Ephesians 2:8 that faith is the gift of God, and in Philippians 2:13 that He works in us to do His pleasure. And he states the same truth negatively in Titus 3:5, "He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy." Now, if the faith and good works in a believer are the result of God's work within him, is it then not a tautology to say that they are the basis on which God elects His people? Given that sense, I would even find that doctrine acceptable. Clumsy, but tolerable. But it certainly isn't what the Arminian intended.

The problem here is that Arminians fail to understand Ephesians 2:1-2, "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked." Just as a dead body cannot act to restore its own life, the dead soul cannot regenerate itself. Arminians unconsciously insert "sick" for "dead", because a sick man can certainly act on his own behalf in restoring health. However, the Scriptures do not give them the wiggle-room that their human pride seeks. Before regeneration by the Holy Spirit, the soul is dead, and the faith and works that arise from it are dead and disgusting in God's eyes. It is only by His electing intervention in the heart of the believer that such a one can respond in faith and good works.

Thus we can see that the Arminian doctrine of conditional election depends on false premises, and is contrary to Biblical truth. There is security only in resisting our natural pride and resting in God's merciful election.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Godly Wealth

"You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may confirm His covenant that He swore to your fathers, as it is this day." - Deuteronomy 8:18

I have written before (here and here) about the corruption of godly desire for wealth by the prosperity gospel teachers, but I have been struck again by the simplicity of scripture on the matter.

Moses here plainly repeats God's own self-description as the one who enables His people to gain wealth. Does it involve hocus-pocus or writing a check to a fat-cat TV preacher? No!

I was struck again by the earthy (pun intended) wisdom of Proverbs tonight. Prov. 12:11 reads, "Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense." It is the diligent day-to-day labor that a person should do which God blesses in creating wealth. It isn't writing a check to the Mercedes-driving, hair-mousse-addicted TV preacher. Nor is it some get-rich-quick scheme suggested by an infomercial or chat-line psychic. It is simple diligent labor. What a radical concept!

The first half of the next verse is equally telling: "Whoever is wicked covets the spoil of evildoers..." I would suggest that this is an indictment of the one who ignores God's way to covet the lifestyle of the TV preacher. Just read the Proverbs. There are other verses that give good direction on a responsible wealth-building lifestyle. Try chapter 6, verses 6-11 as a start.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Deuteronomy 9:4-6, Not for Our Righteousness

"Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, 'It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,' whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that He may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and to Jacob. Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people."

On the verge of the conquest of the Promised Land, Jehovah yanks the reins of Israel. He knows that their wicked hearts would assume the credit for the promise, rather than to give the credit to His grace. In correcting that attitude, He lets them know that His blessings on them are not as wages to their righteousness, because they are instead a stubborn people, i.e., stubbornly wicked. This is the same declaration made at the other end of the Bible to the church at Laodicea, Revelation 3:17, "For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked." So, that spiritual pride can certainly not be described as a special quality of ethnic Israel.

Paul repeated that warning in Titus 3:5, "He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit."

In contrast, Jehovah calls Israel to obedience, lest they in turn be overthrown and banished from the land (see especially chapter 28, starting at verse 25). God at the beginning of Deuteronomy is scattering the rejected peoples to make way for Israel. But at the end, He threatens to scatter Israel to make way for another people. Deuteronomy 28:64 tells them, "And the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other..." And we see God carry out this threat twice, temporarily under the Assyrians and Babylonians, and then finally in the Roman conquest of 70 AD.

The same covenant promises and warnings are made to Christians. In Revelation 3:9, we see the initial replacement, this time of the unbelievers of ethnic Israel by the Christian Gentiles: "Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie - behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet and they will learn that I have loved you." See also Romans 11:17-24. The covenant threats follow quickly in the Revelation, in the case of the church at Laodicea, which God threatens "to spit out of My mouth" (Rev. 3:16), followed by a very deuteronomish (is that a word?) warning in verse 19, "Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent."

Christians today read the description of Israel in Deuteronomy 9, but consistently fail to recognize themselves in it. Too often, we say, "You go, God; let 'em have it!" without considering whether we are urging judgment on ourselves. If Israel received the promise contrary to their worth, in the grace of God alone, how can we be spiritually worthy? This is the error of attitude behind free-will theology, this concept of worthiness on our part. There is none. Instead, we are "wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked."