Friday, June 30, 2017

Thank God for Unconditional Election!

You will commonly hear someone claim that God has given us "free will," whatever that means, and will not, therefore, make anyone love Him. What you will never hear is any Scripture cited to maintain that series of propositions, because they are the premises of humanism, not biblical Christianity.

instead, we see the Bible make assertions such as this one (Psalm 119:49): "Remember Your word to Your servant, in which You have made me hope." "Made me hope" certainly sounds like plain speech for overcoming the author's "free will." And furthermore, it is an expression of thankfulness for that act.

Why might that be?

Someone who knows God and the Scriptures knows that "
the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick" (Jeremiah 17:9). The significance of that is that "none is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God" (Romans 3:10-11). Here is the problem with the humanistic concept of free will. "Free" doesn't mean "able to do anything possible." Rather, it means "free to act according to its nature." Since the heart is naturally wicked, it is free to commit wickedness. Since spiritual good is contrary to its nature, the unregenerate heart can no more freely choose to do it than it can freely choose to fly. 

That is what makes the Psalmist glad of God's sovereign grace. While God could have left him in unbelief, with the spiritual consequences thereof (John 3:18), He chose, instead, to change the heart of His people. He chose to change our wicked hearts into hearts capable of good (Deuteronomy 30:6, Ezekiel 36:26-27). Then He bends our will to obedience and good works (Philippians 2:13).

The argument between Calvinists and Arminians over free will is not really over whether anyone can or cannot be saved by free will. Really, considering what the Bible says about the heart, the debate is between the Calvinistic view that salvation is certain for the elect, and the Arminian view which logically requires that salvation is impossible for anyone!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

From Where Does Our Perseverance Come?

As I write those posts, I am going through a devotional based on John Calvin's commentary on the Psalms. I have read it before. However, this year it has been more of a blessing, more of an impact. That has been especially the case with Psalm 119. With 176 verses, this psalm can be a bit intimidating. I am glad that the devotional has it broken down for reading over several days. I have had several posts out of it.

This time what has caught my attention is verse 117: "Hold me up, that I may be safe and have regard for Your statutes continually." It struck me that this verse encapsulates the distinction between the Reformed, biblical view of perseverance of the saints, in contrast to the unbiblical view of "once saved, always saved." 

The first part could be taken either way. It uses the imperative, "Hold me up." Thus, this anonymous author demonstrates that he understands that the life of a believer doesn't arise within himself, but is something done by God in the believer. Then he expresses his belief that the holding up by God is what keeps a believer safe. This sounds a lot like the words of Jesus (John 10:27-29): "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand." It is not the believer's strength that keeps him spiritually safe, because he has none. It is all of God.

It is the last phrase that separates the biblical doctrine from its unbiblical rival. "Once saved, always saved" leaves the professing believer with his hand up, or signing a decision card, but then living like an unbeliever, thinking that he is safe because he made a profession. Instead, the Psalmist prays that "[I may] have regard for Your statutes continually." This is the difference with perseverance. The Calvinist knows that God doesn't preserve us in unbelief, but rather in new life. For the one with true faith, the Holy Spirit carries him through his life, striving for holiness, becoming more and more like the Jesus who bought him on the cross. Notice these words of Paul: "I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." What good work? "It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Philippians 1:6, 2:13). Psalm 119:117 is the prayer of the believer that God would sustain him in faith and life. Philippians 1:6 and 2:13 are the fulfillment of that prayer!

Monday, June 26, 2017

What Is Baptism with Fire?

Speaking of the coming of Christ, John the Baptist told his audience (Matthew 3:11-12): "I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not
John the Baptist
worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and He will clear His threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire

We often hear verse 11 quoted, especially by Pentecostals, who claim that it refers to baptism with water and baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire, which is supposed to be what they're doing when they are writhing around spouting gibberish. Notice that they never go on to verse 12, because it shows that their interpretation is merely begging the question, not the actual intention of John.

John says that Jesus will do two things, baptize with the Holy Spirit, and baptize with fire. This is what the Pentecostals try to make into one thing. However, he goes on in verse 12 also to describe two different groups of people, the "wheat," and the "chaff" (compare the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30). The first group He will gather (cp., Matthew 24:31) into the barns, that is, to be kept, while the latter group is intended for fire. Thus the baptism with the Holy Spirit is for the first group, while the baptism with fire awaits the other.

Thus, taken together, the baptism with the Holy Spirit and the baptism with fire are two distinct things, the first for believers and the second for unbelievers.

This is consistent with the rest of Scripture. For example, Paul tells us that all believers, not just some of a special class, are baptized with the Spirit (I Corinthians 12:13, see also John 7:39). We also know from other passages that Jesus Himself described fire as the destiny of unbelievers (Matthew 25:46, Mark 9:42-49).

I think that this simple use of context and the analogy of faith, i. e., comparing one passage to another, demonstrates that the use of this passage is unwarranted, at best. It takes the mere proximity of two words to mean that the two words refer to the same thing. There is no glossolalia taught here.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Moses on Irresistible Grace

 Professing Christians are divided on the ultimate operation of salvation. Is it monergistic, the work of God alone? Or is it synergistic, a cooperative work between God and men? The former may also be called Augustinianism, and the latter Semi-Pelagianism, after the two historical figures who first entered the debate.

This conflict is addressed all through Scripture. In fact, it was the issue even in the Fall of Adam and Eve. They were promised eternal life as the reward for obedience, and spiritual death for disobedience (Genesis 2:17). The test for their obedience was one thing: the ban on eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. When Satan came to tempt them, this was also the point where he applied his best temptation (Gen. 3:5): "God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." The test of the tree was not about a mere piece of fruit. Rather, the test was over Adam's source of authority. Would it be God? Or would it be himself? This was also the focus of Satan's attack: "Will you allow God to determine everything for you, Adam?" That is, would authority be monergistic? "Or will you be like God, Adam?" That is, would it be synergistic? And we know Adam's choice. We also know the consequence upon his posterity: "Therefore, sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned. One trespass led to condemnation for all men" (Romans 5:12, 19). While this is most visibly a reference to physical death, its real significance is to the death of the human spirit (Ephesians 2:1): "You were dead in the trespasses and sins." God created a monergistic plan for eternal life. However, Adam and Eve chose a synergistic plan, and, instead, lost that very life. That is, synergistic salvation is really a plan for eternal death, not life.

We must be thankful, however, that monergism didn't cease merely because Adam rejected it. Rather, the same God determined, without any input from fallen men, that He would monergisticly redeem men. The same prophet, Moses, reports this in 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." Notice that He doesn't offer a new heart. He gives one. He doesn't request that we love Him. He determines that we shall. This is repeated in the prophets (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."

We see so clearly in both verses that God doesn't merely offer salvation. That would be a synergistic, or semi-Pelagian plan. Rather, He completely saves those whom He has chosen. That is monergism.

Jesus saves His people from our sins (Matthew 1:21). He is not merely a cheerleader on the sideline hoping that we might be saved.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Psalm 119 on Irresistible Grace

Most people hate the doctrine of irresistible grace. And by hate, I mean face turning purple, speechless with outrage kind of hatred. And wrongly so. If a Christian understands the wickedness of his own heart (Jeremiah 17:9), then he should be humbled and gladdened to tears by a love of the doctrine, not the hatred of it.

In Psalm 119, that writer (his name unknown) expresses his love of this truth in several verses:

Verse 49: "Remember Your word to Your servant, in which You have made me to hope."

Verse 73: "Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn Your commandments."

Verse 93: "I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have given me life."

In all three verses, the Psalmist directs His prayer to God about what He has done, or what he hopes that He will do. The Psalmist repeatedly rejects the opportunity to claim his free will, his merit, his native ability. On the contrary, in each case he does the opposite, expressing his hope in what God has done or will do in him. This is probably the background for the words of Paul (Philippians 2:13): "It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure."

Neither of these biblical writers felt anything less than gratitude for God's irresistible grace. What is wrong with our age that people hate it instead?

Monday, June 19, 2017

Astrology As Syncretism

"I will stretch out My hand against Judah
     and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem;
and I will cut off from this place the remnant of Baal
     and the name of the idolatrous priests along with the priests,
those who bow down on the roofs
     to the host of the heavens,
those who bow down and swear to the Lord
     and yet swear by Milcom,
those who have turned back from following the Lord,

     who do not seek the Lord or inquire of Him."
- Zephaniah 1:4-6 

Preaching to the visible church, Judah, Zephaniah reports Jehovah's displeasure against several pagan practices which have been accepted into their worship, a practice known as syncretism. The people of Judah were hedging their bets, professing the name of Jehovah, while, at the same time, worshiping Milcom (also called Moloch), an Ammonite deity, and looking to the stars for their security, a practice which we now call astrology.

Astrology has become an acceptable practice in modern America. No one is shocked when he sees the horoscope in his daily paper. And have we forgotten Nancy Reagan's custom of advising the US President on the basis of what her astrologer told her? Wasn't he the favorite president among evangelicals? 

Yet, look at God's reaction to this syncretism: "I will stretch out My hand against Judah." He isn't simply displeased. Rather, He is moved to act against that nation! And it was against the nation. Notice that He doesn't name names. That means that this syncretism, this apostasy-lite, if you will, was spread throughout this society of the supposed people of God. And when did the judgment come? Well, Zephaniah was written about 622 BC, just before the reforms of Josiah. Those reforms brought a postponement of God's justice. The first of three sackings of Jerusalem by the Babylonians came just seventeen years later, in 605. The final destruction came in 586.

When the professed people of God dishonor Him with disloyalty, He does not play games, as He had warned them: "You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you— for the Lord your God in your midst is a jealous God—lest the anger of the Lord your God be kindled against you, and He destroy you from off the face of the earth" (Deuteronomy 6:14-15).

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Sovereignty of God From the Mouth of a Compromiser: Balaam

Near the beginning of the Conquest, Balak, the king of Moab, hired Balaam, an Israelite prophet of shady
character, to curse Israel, in the hope that their advance into Canaan would be undermined by occult forces. Balaam is a bizarre biblical character, because, though his faith was syncretistic, and he was content to sell his gift to anyone with some gold, yet God truly spoke to him, and gave him true messages.

The story is told by Moses in Numbers, chapters 22 through 24.

However, it is on Numbers 24:1 that I want to focus: "When Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel, he did not go, as at other times, to look for omens, but set his face toward the wilderness."

This is an amazing thing to see in the story of a wicked, greedy, spiritually-compromised. fallen, man of God. While he had been perfectly content to sell out his own nation, when Balaam saw that Jehovah, the God of Israel, would not cooperate, he stopped. Where he had been accustomed to using magical charms in an
effort to coerce God to his purposes, this time he forbore, accepted the judgment of God, and abandoned his heathen benefactors.

The reason I bring this up is the contrasting attitude I see too often today. the Prosperity Gospel peddlers have taught most American evangelicals that God is a heavenly Santa Claus (it is Christmas Eve as I type this), who must grant whatever materialistic demand we present to Him. Yet, this admitted half-heathen traitor to his own people has more sense: when God refuses to give him his wish, he puts aside his incantations and charms and walks away. If only the Prosperity heretics showed as much sense as they do their baptized heathenry!

In Balaam's own words (Num. 24:13): "If Balak should give me his house full of silver and gold, I would not be able to go beyond the word of the Lord, to do either good or bad of my own will. What the Lord speaks, that will I speak." No doubt that is the one thing that kept Jehovah speaking to him.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Precious Perseverance in the Psalms

Knowing my own heart, as well as what Scripture says about it (such as Jeremiah 17:9 and Romans 3:10-12), I know that my salvation has been all of Christ and none of myself. One aspect of that is my perseverance. As prone to treason as the Scripture says my heart is, how could I have any hope of staying saved for a mere hour, if it depended on my free will, my effort, or on anything at all from me? There could be no hope at all. That is why people in Pelagian "churches," such as Rome, the so-called Churches of Christ," and the United Pentecostal Church, add so many things to salvation, trying to find something that will give them an assurance of eternal life. Yet, they always return to their state of terror when their questions return: How many masses will make sure I get to heaven? How many times raising my hand? Being baptized the right way? What will give me security of conscience? How much gibbering will satisfy the wrath of God?

And the answer will always be, if you look to yourself for assurance, then you will never find any.

The author of Psalm 119 talks about where he found his assurance (Ps. 119:33-40):
"Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes;
     and I will keep it to the end.
Give me understanding, that I may keep Your law
     and observe it with my whole heart.
Lead me in the path of Your commandments,
     for I delight in it.
Incline my heart to Your testimonies,
     and not to selfish gain!
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
     and give me life in Your ways.
Confirm to Your servant Your promise,
     that You may be feared.
Turn away the reproach that I dread,
     for Your rules are good.
Behold, I long for Your precepts;

     in Your righteousness give me life!"

Notice the imperative verbs he uses: "teach me," "give me," "lead me," "incline me," "turn me," "confirm to me," "turn away." All of these verbs are requests that God will exercise His sovereign grace in the author's spiritual life. not once here does he make any claim to have power in himself to do these things. There is no appeal to free will. Rather, they all appeal for God to do these things in him (see also Isaiah 26:12). And that prayer is very appropriate, because it is a promise of God to do exactly that: "It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13).

One further point must be made here. Notice from this that the perseverance of the saints is no "once saved, always saved." No saint can find assurance in raising his hand or signing some response card. Rather, perseverance involves the working of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the truly converted. We do not persevere as a convert left as he was, but rather as the convert is changed to be more and more like Jesus. He will change the true believers in will and life, not in passivity.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Rational Epistemology: How Do We Know What Is True?

Let me say up front that logic is a good thing. I would say that God is logical, and logic is part of the image of God in men.

The problem is the person who claims that he can believe only what results from reason, i. e., the application of logic. Why is that a problem? Well, how does one verify that principle, that knowledge can only come from reason? If you use reason to demonstrate it (by which I do not mean that is possible), then you have already violated your principle by using the fallacy of circular reasoning. Reason must be verified before it can be applied. On the other hand, if you use something other than reason (not that I can imagine what that might be), then you have violated your own principle. Either way, you can only falsify the principle, not prove it.

Therefore, bald reason cannot be the foundation of knowledge. By its own principles, that conclusion is unavoidable.

On the other hand, let me return to the assertions with which I started, i. e., that logic is part of the nature of God, and thereby of men, because we are made in His image.

On that basis, I have a foundation for reason that is neither circular nor self-refuting. That is the difference between the Christian and the rationalist atheist. Not that one is rational while the other is not. But rather that the one has a foundation for his reason, while the other does not.

This is simply what is asserted by God in the Bible: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge" (Proverbs 1:7). It is with this sure foundation that all reason is possible.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Connection Between Election and the Continuing Sabbath

"Since therefore it remains for some to enter it...,  there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from His. Let
Paul at Corinth
us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience

- Hebrews 4:6-11

A common objection to the continuing ordinance of the Sabbath is that Jesus has fulfilled it, because Christians find our spiritual rest in Him alone. While I certainly agree with that premise, I think it is an unwarranted leap of logic to go from there to the abrogation of the Sabbath.

Note the words of the author of this epistle, quoted above: there "remain some to enter..." That is, there were - and still are - elect members of Christ who have not yet found their spiritual rest in Him. I have, as millions of Christians down through history have. However, there is an unknowable of number, ordained by God (Acts 13:48, 18:10), who have not yet heard the Gospel or responded to it. There still remains a rest for them, when they respond as they are ordained to do.

That is why the Sabbath cannot have been fulfilled, in an abrogating sense. The redeeming work of Christ has been finished, which is why the types pointing to it have been abrogated. However, that is not to what the Sabbath day points. Rather, its fulfillment is when the last believer finds his spiritual rest in that finished work of Christ. That is necessarily a progressive, historical process. And that necessarily means that its type, the Sabbath, cannot yet have ceased.

While it is beside my point here, I do not want to be taken to imply that this typological role of the Sabbath is its only purpose.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Jesus and the Continuing Ordinance of the Sabbath

Jesus made a curious statement as part of His Olivet discourse: "Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath" (Matthew 24:20). I consider this to be a reference to the chaos surrounding the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. However, my point below is even greater for those who insist that He is talking about some future tribulation.

The reason that this sentence strikes me is because of His reference to the Sabbath. So many Christians claim that He fulfilled the Sabbath, so that it has no continuing significance. They often, but improperly, cite Colossians 2:16 to support this view.

However, the words of Jesus here indicate that He, at least, had no expectation of the cessation of the Sabbath. He anticipated that Christians would still be honoring it, and the concomitant command to cease from labor, at least forty years after He spoke these words!

This sentence is a major difficulty for the dispensationalist. First, he has been taught, erroneously though it be, that the Sabbath was part of the Law, and we "are under grace, not under Law" (Romans 6:14). Therefore, his hermeneutical presuppositions make no allowance for the future Sabbath. Second, he has been taught that Matthew 24 is about a tribulation that will happen just before the return of Jesus, sometime in the future. Therefore, by his own theological axioms, the words of Jesus require a continuing recognition of the Sabbath for at least two thousand years since the words were spoken. This one sentence completely overturns the dispensational hermeneutic.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Perseverance and God's Warnings Against Apostasy

A house built on sand
God warns His people against apostasy in many places in Scripture, both in the Old And New Testaments. For example, in Jeremiah 2:19, He said to Israel, "Your evil will chastise you, and your apostasy will reprove you. Know and see that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake the LORD your God; the fear of Me is not in you, declares the Lord GOD of hosts." And in Hebrews 6:4-6, that writer tells us, "in the case of those who have once been enlightened... and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance."

Those are serious warnings. I think no one would deny it.

The problem comes when Arminians cite such verses as supposed proof that a true believer can fall away from the faith. I oppose that assertion as both unbiblical and destructive of any Christian assurance. It turns the Christian life into agony and terror: Am I saved today? What about tomorrow?

Biblically speaking, that assertion by the Arminians is exactly that, an assertion, and no more. It is opposed by so much more of Scripture. Consider the words of Jesus Himself: "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one" (John 10:27-30).

But what about the apostasy references above, and ones like them? Notice the difference between the subjects in the two groups of verses. In the apostasy verses, God addresses the failures of the professing believers. But in the words of Jesus from the Gospel of John, the eye is not on believers, but on the power and love of Jesus.

The difference is the object of faith, whether in my own good works or in Jesus, the only-begotten God. Consider another verse, one that is more explicit than the two I cited above: "When a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die" (Ezekiel 18:24). Here the prophet defines the apostate, something that neither Jeremiah nor the writer of Hebrews did above. The apostate person is one who was confident in his own righteousness, and then falls from his own moral status (compare the rich young ruler, Matthew 19:16-22, and the Pharisee in the temple, Luke 18:11).

The Apostle John makes this distinction even clearer: "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge" (I John 2:19-20). He, too, refers to two discrete groups of people. "They" went out, i. e., committed apostasy, because they were never truly part of Christ's body. But "you" are held by the Holy One, i. e., Christ. 

Apostasy is not something that can happen from Christ, because it doesn't depend on the believer, but on Christ. Rather, it is something that can only happen to the hypocrite, the one who holds up his own righteousness, and depends on that, only to find it a foundation of sand (Matthew 7:26-27).

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Our Duty to God in the Fourth Commandment, Remembering the Sabbath

In Matthew 22:35-40, we read a well-known story: "A lawyer asked Him a question to test Him. 'Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?' And He said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.'" In my own church, we often recite these verses for the reading of the Law. In His answer, Jesus describes our duties primarily toward God, the first four of the Ten Commandments, and then our duties primarily to our fellow men, the last six of the Ten Commandments.

I want to focus on Jesus's "great and first commandment" (cited from Deuteronomy 6:5): "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." That is, the Christian is to love God by not worshiping other Gods, or by using unauthorized images in His worship, or by taking His name in vain. But we are also to love the Lord our God by "remembering the Sabbath day to keep it holy" (Exodus 20:8). And, of course, it is understandable that Jesus would expect us to love the Lord with the Sabbath, because He Himself is that Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8)! 

Frequently in these discussions, someone will bring up some other words of Jesus on the Sabbath (Mark 2:27-28): "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." And He certainly did say that. But what is the next verse? It is the same one (in Mark's parallel) that I cited just above: "So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath." Therefore, the Sabbath doesn't exist for man as a choice for him to honor or not. Rather, it is a day in which men are freed from the world to give Christ His due honor!

Therefore, I would say that the Scriptures uphold the doctrine of the Westminster Confession of Faith XXI:8: "This Sabbath is to be kept holy unto the Lord when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations; but also are taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy."