Saturday, February 25, 2017

Our Salvation Is All of God, and Nothing of Us: The Gospel According to Moses

Moses said something to Israel that the American Pelagian hates to hear (Deuteronomy 30:6): "The LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live."

This is spoken to the elect among the Israelites (and now among Gentiles, too). For all of us, and for no others, God promises to give us a new heart, and also promises the blessing of covenant succession. That is, as Peter also says, "the promise is to you and to your children" (Acts 2:39). These promises are part of why Presbyterians baptize our children.

But what does He promise? First, a new heart. We see this described more fully in Ezekiel 36:26-27: "I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules." Compare also Philippians 2:13. What was wrong with the old heart? "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). This is the condition that theologians call "total depravity," that is, a nature so corrupted by sin that our every spiritual inclination is to love sin and hate God. In the elect, God promises to remove that corrupt spiritual heart and replace it with a new heart that loves Him and desires to serve Him. Not perfectly in this life, but progressively, and perfectly in the new life to come.

Second, He promises that this new heart, out of the love that it now has for God, will love Him completely. This is what He commands in Deuteronomy 6:5: "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." This is the same command that Jesus quotes and calls "the first and greatest commandment" (Matthew 22:38). This demonstrates the falsity of the Arminian claim that God cannot command from us what we cannot do of ourselves. Because we cannot. However, He can command us to do what He does in us (Isaiah 26:12)! As Augustine said, "Lord, give what You command and command what You will."

What a blessing to know that, in my spiritual helplessness, God did not abandon me. Rather, He worked in me what He required to be done for my salvation, purchased by Christ on the cross, and applied to me through faith, which, too, is His gift (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Osteenification of American Evangelicalism: The Smiling Face of Apostasy

American evangelicalism has been taken over by what I call Osteenism, a gospel of self-esteem, with a Jesus as the great psychotherapist and Santa Claus in the sky. We aren't to talk about sin and God's holiness; God is to be presented only and always as a God of syrupy love, never of wrath. This has resulted in professing Christians with an ignorance of doctrine, of the Bible, of truth, and who are utterly incapable of dealing with adversity or addressing our humanistic culture. Since there is nothing wrong with people, according to this teaching, then there is no transformation, either of individuals or of churches, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

This not the faith of the Bible.

We see Jacob, the grandson of Adam and founder of the nation of Israel, saying of himself (Genesis 32:10): "I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that You have shown to Your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps." He was blessed by God, enriched in fact, and acknowledges that fact. However, he also recognizes his unworthiness. These gifts have come from the hand of God, not because of Jacob's merits, but in spite of his demerits!

We see the same attitude in II Samuel 7:18: "Then King David went in and sat before the Lord and said, 'Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that You have brought me thus far?'" King David, one of the most-prominent figures in the Old Testament, had experienced many blessings and protections from God. Was it because he avoided recognizing any failures on his own part? Not at all! Rather, he professes those very inadequacies (compare Psalm 51), and praises God for giving him the exact opposite of what he deserved (II Sam. 7:21): "Because of Your promise, and according to Your own heart, You have brought about all this greatness, to make Your servant know it." In giving His blessings, God never intends for David, or for us, to congratulate ourselves for our magnificence. Rather, it is to cause us to recognize our unworthiness and His magnificence.

In following the prophets of Osteenism, a professing Christian may develop an astounding self-esteem. However, he will never learn proper esteem for God, his mercy, and His gifts.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Near-Death Experiences: Do People Really See Heaven and Then Come back?

I have been appalled by the number of books and videos on Amazon that supposedly describe the experience of people who have died, been to heaven, and then returned to the world of the living. There is also a video being promoted by the 700 Club on the subject. I won't list any title, because I don't want to promote awareness of them.

However, I must express my concern about such books, even if they are true, and not the mere commercial inventions that I suspect them to be.

Jesus tells a story (Luke 16:19-31): "There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'"

I especially want to focus on verse 31: "He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’" Here we have the testimony that people will not be converted by such stories, if they reject the testimony of the Bible, which is the divinely-appointed means of conversion (John 17:17).

I also think of the words on Paul, in II Corinthians 12:1-4, especially verse 4: "...things that cannot be told, which man may not utter." In this passage, he describes a man, unnamed but known to Paul, who has such an experience, but was forbidden to repeat what he heard while he was in heaven. If that man was forbidden to speak, why does God allow all of these other people to publish their supposedly-same stories? I say "supposedly" because I am sceptical of them, not only on the bases that I mention here, but also because of the screwy theology promoted by so many of these books, especially the frequent New Age spin given them.

It is obvious that I cannot forbid anyone to write, much less purchase, these books. However, I can urge you to consider what the Scriptures say on the matter, and avoid them as unbiblical deceptions.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

"Baptism with Fire": What Is It?

In Matthew 3:11 (and the parallel in Luke 3:16), we see a quote from John the Baptist that has always seemed mysterious to me: "I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." John was making a clear distinction of status between himself and the One who was coming after him, i. e., Jesus. While John was performing an external rite with water, Jesus would do an internal work "with the Holy Spirit and fire."

Pentecostals take the reference as one thing, that "Holy Spirit" and "fire" are appositives, referring to their experiences of tongues, etc. Orthodox Protestants, on the other hand, consider the baptism with the Holy Spirit to be something that happens to every true believer when he is born again. I consider that understanding to be consistent with I Corinthians 12:13: "in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit" (see also John 7:39).

That phrase, "baptized with the Holy Spirit," occurs several times in the New Testament. We find it in Mark 1:8, John 1:33, Acts 1:5, 11:16, and 18:25. In none of these verse is it paired with "fire," even in the parallel verses in Mark 1:8 and John 1:33.

I think we must take that to mean that "with the Holy Spirit" and "with fire" are not different words for the same thing, but rather references to contrasting things. "Baptism with the Holy Spirit," as Paul indicates, is something that happens to every believer. Then, to whom does the contrasting "baptism with fire" apply?

On whom else does Jesus attribute a pouring out of fire? He mentions Sodom and Gomorrah (Luke 17:29), and unrepentant unbelievers (Matthew 25:41). These verses indicate that "fire" is not used for an extra-spiritual experience of the saved, but rather for judgment on the wicked (compare Mark 9:42-49).

This gives, I think, by analogy of the faith, what John was saying of Jesus: "I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me will baptize you [believers] with the Holy Spirit and [you unbelievers with] fire." Note that "you" is plural, so he is addressing the whole audience, not anyone in particular. That is why he would have used an inclusive comment. To have spoken as the Pentecostals interpret him would have him to assume that all of his audience was - or would be - believers, which is obviously not the case.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Closure of the Unbelieving Mind

When I look at the world around me, everything I see is proof, not only of God's existence, but also of providence, His wise organization and care of both myself and the rest of mankind and the world. Yet, unbelievers demand proof of God's existence. It is comparable to a man in a lifeboat in the middle of the sea demanding proof of the existence of water. This is a clash of perspective, of course, but, more importantly a clash of natures. The believing mind has been taken into a relationship with God, and thus recognizes all things as centered upon Him. The unbelieving mind, however, desires to rule for itself, and thus must retain a blind spot over God in its world.

When the Christian apologist seeks to perform his ministry on the basis of commonality between himself and an unbeliever, then he runs into this unbridgeable gap and is necessarily stymied.

In his description of the Man of Sin (probably equivalent to John's Antichrist), Paul tells us (II Thessalonians 2:9-10), "The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved." The Apostle tells us that "those who are perishing," i. e., unbelievers, will be vulnerable to the deceptions of Satan through this man, not because of ignorance, but because of a willful refusal to accept the truth. In other words, they close their minds to biblical truth, and are thus left susceptible to spiritual deception.

The same apostle makes a similar comment in I Corinthians 1:18: "The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." And again in I Corinthians 2:14: "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." In the unbelieving mind, there is an a priori judgment that the spiritual truths regarding God, sin, and redemption, are foolishness, not by a process of reasoning, but rather because of an inherent condition of his heart. His spiritual nature blocks his rational openness to those truths.

The Lord Jesus explained to His disciples the principle that results in the conditions described by Paul (John 14:16-17): "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him." It is the Holy Spirit who creates the gulf between the believer and the unbeliever. A believer is not smarter or morally superior to the unbeliever. Rather, the presence of the Spirit in Him renders him able to understand. And His absence leaves the unbeliever clinging desperately to his refusal to understand. Thus, where Paul says that truth is "spiritually discerned," he isn't talking about a man's spirit, for both classes of men have spirits. he is talking about the action of the Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Free Will: The Right and Wrong Understandings of It

The fundamental error of the atheist is his imagination of autonomy, that his unbelief makes him free of the sovereignty and judgment of God. This is, in fact, Satan's promise to Adam and Eve in the garden (Genesis 3:5). What is sad, though, is the efforts of so many professing Christians to hold on to the same error. Of course, we immediately think of nominal or liberal Christians, who claim the name of Christ, but have zero spiritual commitment. However, I think even of those evangelicals of the Pelagian and Arminian end of the
faith. They still claim the same autonomy as the atheist, but they cover it up by calling it "free will," meaning that men decide their fates autonomously from the will of God.

To my mind, that is worse than the unbelief of the atheist. The atheist makes no pretense of honoring God's Word. The Arminian, however, pretends exactly that, while still holding an essentially-atheist view of the sovereignty of God.

The Arminian has to hold to the incompatible precepts of autonomous free will and the biblical description of God's rule: "A man’s steps are from the Lord; how then can man understand his way?" (Proverbs 20:24). 

The biblical worldview, that of the Calvinist, holds to free will, too, but in a far different way from the Arminian. Properly speaking, the will is free, in that it chooses according to its own intent, without coercion. However, the will is not free in the sense that it is able to choose any random thing. Rather, it chooses freely according to its nature. The will is fallen, sinful, and, therefore, freely chooses to act wickedly (Isaiah 64:6, Romans 3:10-12, 23). 

As the writer of Proverbs asserts, it is God who is sovereign, not the will of man. Therefore, man always acts, freely choosing to do so, according to his sinful purposes, but also according to the predetermination of God, "who works all things according to the counsel of His will" (Ephesians 1:11).

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Early Church Practice of the Sabbath

As I have said before, I have friends who are Seventh-Day Adventists. They claim that the Sabbath was forcibly changed from the seventh day to the first day of the week by Emperor Constantine, the council of Laodicea, and the Catholic Church, in the Fourth Century.

However, as is confessional for my own church, I hold that the change occurred in Acts, as a result of the resurrection of Christ on the first day of the week (as I have written before; use the "sabbath" tag below). This is testified in the Apostolic Fathers, such as the Epistle of Barnabas, which dates, at least, from the Second Century. It may have been written by Saint Barnabas, who figures prominently in Acts.

St. Barnabas
In 15:8-9, we read, "Further, He says to them, 'Your new moons and your Sabbaths I cannot endure.' Ye perceive how He speaks: Your present Sabbaths are not acceptable to me, but that which I have made, [namely this,] when, giving rest to all things, I shall make a beginning of the eighth day, that is, a beginning of another world. Wherefore, also, we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead. And when He had manifested Himself, He ascended into the heavens."

After citing Isaiah 1:13, the author tells us that the practice of the Christians, in honor both of Christ's resurrection and ascension, gathered on the eighth day, which would be the first day of the following week. He uses "eighth day" instead of "first day" because of the prophecies of such, e. g., Leviticus 22:27, 23:11, 23:36, and especially the Feast of Pentecost in Leviticus 23:15-16. Notice the repeated references to the eighth day in the context of atonement!

This epistle, while not Scripture, nevertheless indicates that it was the practice of the church to celebrate the first day of the week, not the seventh. And, thus, the claims of the Adventists are erroneous.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Pentecostal Signs: Jesus Said That a Time Would Come When They Would Cease

 My answer to the question above is "no." I am a strict cessationist, as I have written before (see the "cessationism" tag below). I am convinced that the extraordinary spiritual gifts were intended only for the minstry of the Apostles, and, therefore, ceased with their passing from history.

As part of my reasoning for that, I refer you to Jesus's words in John 9:4: "We must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work." He said that just as He was preparing to heal a blind man, so we know that He referred, at least, to the gift of healing (I Corinthians 12:9, 28, 30). And, logically speaking, if that gift was to end, then the others of its class would, as well. This does not mean that God no longer heals, but rather that He no longer gives a gift of healing to particular individuals.

Someone may say that this argument doesn't prove cessationism conclusively, and I would grant that. However, I do not assert it as my only argument for cessationism. See here, for example, where I show, conclusively I think, that the extraordinary gifts were intended to serve as a verification of the authority of the Apostles, thus becoming unnecessary with their passing. I refer there to Mark 16:20, Acts 14:3, II Corinthians 12:12, and Hebrews 2:3-4. When you start adding all of these passages together, then I think you see an insurmountable case.