Monday, October 31, 2016

Irresistible Grace: Can a Mere Man Say No to God's Electing Grace?

I have never understood the resistance of Arminians to the doctrine of irresistible grace. I know that, sometimes, it is a matter of misdefinition, a caricature of the doctrine as teaching that God tackles an unbeliever, and forces him to believe in Jesus, like force-feeding a hunger-striking prisoner. And that is not, at all, what it means. Rather, the doctrine teaches that God's love and grace are effectual in the salvation of the elect.

First, let us consider what that grace does. In the process of effectual calling, God deals with a man who is spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1). He replaces that man's dead spiritual heart with a new living heart (Ezekiel 36:26), with new desires and a new will to seek Him (Philippians 2:13). Thus, this man has become a new creation (II Corinthians 5:17), and has been born again (John 3:3). God doesn't jump on the unbeliever, like a farmer chasing a chicken for his dinner. Rather, He changes a dead man into a living man who desires to know and to serve Him. This is no different from a parent who uses discipline to change a disobedient, misbehaving child into a responsible adult, a bending process. It is different in one way, however: where a human parent can end up disappointed as his grown child makes bad or destructive choices, God is never disappointed in His efforts, because He cannot fail.

That last phrase is what I will address now.

I often wonder if Arminians have forgotten that God is God, and we are not. Is a puny human able to tell God "no," like a naughty two-year-old? Yeah, I guess he can say it, but God is hardly blocked by it. Rather, God tells us that He always achieves what He intends. Consider Isaiah 46:10, where He says, "My counsel will stand, and I will accomplish My purpose." And even more direct is Daniel 4:35: "All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to His will... among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, 'What have You done?'" "None can stay His hand?" Really? No one can demand, "What have You done?" Amazing! Who does He think He is? God or something? Well, yeah, He does, actually, and rightly so, which is My point. God acts in a godlike manner, not as a man can.

Saint Augustine said, "Lord, command what you will, and give what You command." And that statement is biblical, a paraphrase of Isaiah 26:12: "O Lord, You will ordain peace for us, for You have indeed done for us all our works." This is what irresistible grace means. God takes a sinful, condemned man, and changes him, from the inside out. He makes that man what He demands that he be. And that is a merciful act, reader, for it is something that no one can do for himself (Isaiah 64:6): "We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away." I thank God for His irresistible grace, because I know that I would have been headed for Hell, without hope, without it.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Cults: You Can't Get Good Fruit from a Bad Tree

Jesus said something very interesting in Matthew 7:18: "A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit." He says it in the context of recognizing false teachers. How can we recognize them? "You will recognize them by their fruits," He tells us.

I find that an interesting choice. He doesn't give us a doctrinal checklist (though there is such in other portions of Scripture). Rather, He tells us to watch what happens as a result of their teachings. And I don't think that is limited to the teacher's actions specifically, but also the fruits it produces in the lives of the those who follow him. I have been having this experience recently with members of a certain cult group. It doesn't matter which one. They deal with opponents, not with Scriptural or logical arguments, but with ridicule, including mocking and name-calling. They make extravagant claims about having the Holy Spirit. However, what do I see from them? "Enmity, strife, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions" (from the "works of the flesh," Galatians 5:20). What do I not see from them? "Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (from the list of "fruits of the Spirit," Galatians 5:22). While they are claiming glorious gifts of the Spirit, such as speaking in tongues and revelation of Scriptural truths, I see their fruits. And, according to the description of Paul in Galatians 5, those fruits are not what are credited to the Spirit, but rather those attributed to the flesh. I have referred to these exact verses and told the folks that, based on their fruits, it is not the Holy Spirit they have but rather a deceiving spirit (compare I Kings 22:20-23). Of course, that rebuke only stirred them to greater expressions of the same rage, as I anticipated.

Of the things that marks a cult is that its leaders will sweep uncomfortable truths under the rug. That is, they try to keep their moral or personal failings out of the public eye. However, if the godly person watches for them, eventually the evil will be revealed, because that is its nature.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Baptismal Regeneration: The Papal Foot in Luther's Wittenberg Door

In the earliest days of the Reformation, Martin Luther based his stand on justification by faith alone. And with good reason, as history has show. it continues to be the point of confrontation between Evangelicals and the Church of Rome. However, on lesser doctrines, he struggled to break free from his own popish upbringing and training, particularly regarding the sacraments. While he properly jettisoned the additional but unbiblical Catholic sacraments, holding only to baptism and the Lord's Supper, he held essentially-popish views of those two.

In the Lord's Supper, Luther continued to hold to the corporeal Real Presence, that is, that Christ is literally and physically present in the bread and wine. Like Rome, Luther taught that the human nature of Christ was included in the ubiquity of His divine nature. The Reformed, however, reject such a view because it mixes the human and divine natures, as did the heretic Eutyches, contrary to the orthodox formulation of the Creed of Chalcedon, which said, in part, "acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved." Note that this is the official doctrine of both Lutherans and of Rome, yet they do not see a conflict between it and their sacramental view. I do, as have the Reformed through history. in fact, it was the issue at the colloquy of Marburg that led Luther to declare the Reformed worse than papists or heathen.

In baptism, Luther retained the popish doctrine of baptismal regeneration. That is, both held that baptism effectually applied the merits of Christ, such that the person was truly regenerated and joined with Christ. While Zwingli agreed, Calvin and the Reformed since him have rejected the doctrine as unscriptural.

As the Westminster Confession XXVII:3 says of both sacraments, "The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments, rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them..." And of baptism, XXVIII:6 says, "The efficacy of baptism... is not only offered but really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Ghost to such as the grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God's own will, in His appointed time." Of the Lord's Supper, XXIX:5 says, "The outward elements in this sacrament... remain truly and only bread and wine, as they were before." Further, in section 7, it adds, "Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this sacrament, do then also, inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually, receive and feed upon Christ crucified, and all benefits of His death..." Thus, the Reformed view is spiritual. Whether the water of baptism or the bread and wine of the Supper, the benefits are received, not from the elements, but from Christ, received, not in the flesh, but in the spirit, not automatically or mechanically, but only by faith. Also, the Reformed view maintains the true humanity of Christ, instead of swallowing it up in a divine-human hybrid, who isn't truly either one.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Moses and the Pride of Men

We all know Moses, especially as he relates to Israel's exodus from slavery in Egypt. He was also the human conduit for God's giving of the Old Testament rituals to the nation of Israel in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. However, we lose track of the one other portion of Scripture that he wrote, the ninetieth Psalm.

In Psalm 90:12 that wise man was inspired to write, "Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom." Such a simple concept: Oh, Lord, cause to understand how fleeting this mortal life is, so that we can attend to the most important thing, knowing You. For, according to Proverbs 9:10, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight." That man,
who lived to be one-hundred-twenty years old (Deuteronomy 34:7), thought that his life had been so short that he had to hurry and learn about God, while he could.

What strikes me about this is the contrast to our modern attitude. Today, our expected life span is a little shy of eighty years, a third less than Moses experienced. And in those years, we contemplate things such as the distance to the nearest stars, a distance which even light requires years to traverse. Yet, it isn't enough time for so many to contemplate that eternity is approaching, and it is their relationship with Jesus Christ, or lack thereof, which will determine what kind of eternity they will have.

Some people give us the knowledge of amazing things - of supernovas, of tyrannosaurs, of particles of matter so small that they pass through us continuously without any awareness on our part. Yet, there is no distance so far, or predator so fierce, or neutrino so small, that it can stir in so many hearts an awareness of the God who made them all, and before whom, someday, we will stand to be judged.

Truly, Lord, make us conscious of the fleeting nature of life, and the length of eternity that follows, that we may make our hearts right with You.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

There is No Escape for the Wicked by Annihilation

As is commonly known, the Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh-Day Adventists both deny the doctrine of a conscious, eternal punishment in Hell. Rather, they advocate a doctrine commonly known as "annihilationism," the belief that the wicked will be destroyed at the judgment. Thus, the punishment would be instantaneous, rather than eternal. There are other groups that also teach this doctrine, but the Witnesses and the Adventists are the best known.

The proper question is, Is their claim biblical? They would agree with me that this is the proper issue. They would say "yes," but I would definitely say "no." Why do I hold my opinion? One reason is Isaiah 48:22: "'There is no peace,' says the Lord, 'for the wicked.'" This isn't my only reason; for more, use the "annihilationism" tag at the bottom of the this article.

"There is no peace," say the prophet. They will have no respite from their judgment. And this isn't what some people claim, an eternal punishment for a limited time of sin. I agree, that would be unjust. Rather, those in Hell have all their restraints of culture and upbringing removed, and give free vent to their hatred of God. Just as they continue to curse Him for eternity, they continue to suffer the consequences for eternity. "There is no peace." Is that not the moral of the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)? notice that the Rich Man never asks to be released from Hell. Rather, he asks for a modicum of relief, just a drop of cooling water (verse 24). And even that he doesn't want from Jesus - because he despises Him - but rather from Lazarus! Yet, he is denied even this minuscule respite, for "there is no peace for the wicked."

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Is a Literal Hermeneutic Appropriate to Biblical Prophecy?

There is an interesting verse in Hosea, that is, written by a prophet, which gives direction on how prophecy is to be interpreted:

"I [God] spoke to the prophets;
It was I who multiplied visions,
And, through the prophets, gave parables."
- Hosea 12:10

It is on that last line that I wish to focus: "Through the prophets, I gave parables." What is a parable? we have all heard that popular definition: "A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning." A more-technical definition might be, "short stories that teach a moral or spiritual lesson by analogy or similarity." I think the point is the same either way. They are stories told to make a point, not as a narrative of a (necessarily) historical person or event.

In this verse, the Holy Spirit, speaking through the Prophet Hosea (II Peter 1:21), tells us that the prophecies of the Bible, at least in part, are parables. Just as one cannot take the parables of Jesus as literal, neither can you approach the parables of the prophets as literal.Of course, this is a generalization, and some discernment is necessary. Sometimes prophecies are literal, such as the prophecy of the coming of Cyrus, God's means of delivering Israel from her captivity in Babylon (Isaiah 44:28). But this verse from Hosea cuts down the date-setting and charts that are so popular among certain types of evangelical Christians. How does one discern which prophecies are, and which are not to be taken literally? Not by searching the newspaper for some obscure, incidental parallels, but by the analogy of faith, that is, by comparing scripture to scripture. Is the passage quoted in the New Testament? If so, how did Jesus and/or the Apostles interpret it? Is the image in it used in other Scriptures? How was it used? These latter two questions are especially important is understanding the Revelation of John. And, please, don't pull out the old canard of "double fulfillments" That dodge is never used by the Apostles! Rather, it is a fallback claim by someone who understands that a text doesn't teach his "system," but he wants to use it anyway. It is not a legitimate principle of hermeneutics.

Monday, October 3, 2016

What the Bible Says About Its Own Inspiration: Old Testament

I understand that an atheist, for example, won't be convinced by the Bible's description of itself as the Word of God. However, I'm not addressing that question here. Rather, I am presenting the Bible's testimony about itself as a first step. After all, if the Bible makes no claims of inspiration and inerrancy, then there is nothing to defend.

I want to look at three Old Testament passages.

First, Numbers 1:1: "The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt." This is a very simple profession. The Bible says of itself that it is a record, not of men's words about God, but of God's words to men about Himself. That is the essential starting point, and what separates the Bible from traditional myths of, for example, Greece and Rome. Those myths come from plays or poems written by professionals, and make no claim or pretense of supernatural origin. They are men's stories about their ideas of the spiritual reality, not even claiming to be from that reality. In contrast, the Bible sets forth an unequivocal claim to be the words of God, though recorded by men.

Second, turn to Deuteronomy 18:18-19: "I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put My words in his mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And whoever will not listen to My words that He shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him." This is a prophecy to Moses, predicting the coming of Christ, in His prophetic office (applied to Him in Acts 3:22). But that isn't my point in mentioning it here. the reason I cite it is because of its description of the inspirational process. What is the source of Moses's words (as he is the prophet to whom the words are given)? They are from the mouth of God. That is, as in Numbers 1:1 above, they do not have their origin in the mind of the prophet, but are rather given him by God to be recorded. So, again, the Bible claims for itself to have a divine origin (compare II Peter 1:21).

And third, turn to II Samuel 23:2-3: "The Spirit of the Lord speaks by me; His word is on my tongue. The God of Israel has spoken; the Rock of Israel has said to me." So we see for a third time that an Old Testament figure, in this case King David, claims that the words that are recorded are not from his mind, or his imagination, but rather are from God.

This is far from an exhaustive list. Rather, I chose three examples to represent the consistent testimony of the Old Testament. The testimony to what? To its own divine inspiration. The implication of that is, first, that the professing Christian who denies the inerrancy of Scripture is denying the basis of the faith that he professes. It is a self-refuting profession, and proof that he is either ignorant of his faith, or that he is irrational. Furthermore, it puts the professing unbeliever on notice. There is no such thing as agnosticism, some vague profession that one is noncommittal. We must be flexible, our culture says! But Scripture says, "This is what God says. Believe it, or accept the consequences." There is no in-between, neutral position (Matthew 12:30). To the professing unbeliever, the Bible doesn't congratulate you on your sophisticated scepticism. Rather, it says that you are commanded to believe (Acts 17:30). If you refuse, then you are saying that you accept the consequences. Don't deceive yourself: unbelief is not a form of immunity, as if refusing makes you free of the requirements of God.