Saturday, December 22, 2018

An Inconsistency of Arminianism

Joh 10:28  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. Joh 10:29  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.
Php 1:6  And 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.

Growing up in Fundamental Arminianism we didn’t hear very much about the sovereignty of God and especially so when it came to our salvation.  When speaking about that subject we didn’t hear about God’s sovereignty at all.  We were taught much about how each of us has a free will and it is up to choose whether we will believe in Jesus.  In Arminian thought all men have a sovereign, autonomous free will that even God can’t control if we won’t let him.  So our eternal destiny is determined, not by the will of God but by our will. 

Of course, we know that the Bible teaches that all men have a will only it is depraved, at odds with God, and so unable to do any good thing before God.  What many fail to realize is that there is a difference between a sovereign, autonomous free will (which only God can have) and a creaturely freewill that must be subservient to the eternal decrees of the only true Sovereign, God Almighty; notice it is not some mighty but all mighty! 

But let me just focus on one teaching of Arminianism that shows the inconsistency of this theology.  As a rule they make it clear that God cannot overcome our will or our will wouldn’t be free, so everyone must have a choice as to whether they want to believe or not.  But oddly enough, when it comes to losing one’s salvation they are perfectly fine with God forcing our will.

Often I would hear the idea of “Once saved, always saved” and “Eternal Security”.  They would use verses like those quoted above to teach that one cannot lose their salvation.  Some even go so far as to say that all Baptist are “Calvinists” because we believe you cannot lose your salvation.  By this they mean they believe the last point of the TULIP, Perseverance of the saints.  But, of course, this is a corruption of this doctrine.  They are saying that all this means is that God won’t let us lose our salvation but deny that he does this in part by transforming us so that we won’t walk away from the faith.  So the idea is that no matter how we live God won’t let us be lost even if we could care less about being saved anymore.

I have heard “Eternal Security” illustrated as a lobster in a pot of boiling water.  Once we are saved God closes the lid down and we can’t get out whether we want to or not.  One immediate problem with this is that no real saint wants to walk away from the Lord but when your theology doesn’t need a transformation of the will in order to be saved then your will isn’t changed to begin with.  So if you choose to be saved, the next day you might choose to walk away.  Fortunately, they are saying, that God won’t let you.

But the most striking inconsistency with this illustration as well as the whole concept of “Once saved, always saved” is that they are saying that it is perfectly okay for God to keep us from ever walking away from him but it is absolutely unacceptable for him to change our will so we will believe in him to begin with.  So it is okay for God to sovereignly keep us from rejecting Christ but he cannot sovereignly bring us to the point of receiving Christ.  It seems that they are picking and choosing when it is okay for God to be sovereign or be God.  And this is the whole problem with Arminianism; it puts man’s “free will” above God’s sovereign will and only one kind of will can be truly free and that is a sovereign will.

The Bible teaches our salvation is a result of the eternal plan and decree of God, not man’s will.  God can’t decree to keep a people saved unless he first chooses to save a people; otherwise how does he even know if anyone will choose to get saved to begin with?  So I ask, why is it okay for God to override our will (And I realize this is a totally unbiblical way to express it, but I am using the Arminian’s way of describing this) and keep us saved but he can only wait and see if we will choose him? 

Part of the problem with this unbiblical theology is that Calvinists know and the Bible clearly teaches that God doesn’t merely force our will but he makes us willing and there is a huge difference between the two. 

But at the end of the day even the lost can only do what the sovereign God ordains and yet they are at the same time doing exactly what they want to do and so are held accountable.  I leave you will these texts to confirm this:

Psa 33:10  The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. Psa 33:11  The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.
Dan 4:35  all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, "What have you done?"
Pro 21:1  The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.
Pro 16:9  The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.
Psa 105:25  He turned their hearts to hate his people, to deal craftily with his servants.
Finally, the passage that should end all debate, Act 4:26  The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed'—Act 4:27  for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, Act 4:28  to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

Will any doubt that Herod, Pilate, and the Jews all willingly crucified Jesus and that they were judged because of it?  This is the greatest sin ever committed and yet they were doing and could only do what God had ordained they do from all eternity.  It is not our job to understand how this can be true but it is certainly our duty to submit to this truth and live our lives in light of it.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Spiritual Nearsightedness and Dementia

2Pe 1:5  For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 2Pe 1:6  and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 2Pe 1:7  and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 2Pe 1:8  For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2Pe 1:9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.

In this section of 2 Peter, the Apostle is giving us some good spiritual meat as to how to be fruitful and effective in the Christian life.  If the qualities of vss. 5-7 are working in us, we will bear fruit in the Kingdom of God, vs. 8.  In vs. 9 he comes at it from a negative viewpoint.  If these qualities aren’t in us we are demonstrating spiritual weakness.  He illustrates this by using two physical weaknesses, nearsightedness and forgetfulness or we might say spiritual dementia. 

Spiritual nearsightedness happens when we focus on this life with no thought to eternity.  We live for the here and now but fail to lay up gold, silver and precious stones in Heaven.  It is myopia in which we can only see what is in front of our face and forget that the Lord is coming soon for us and this world will be left behind.  It could also be applied to idolatry in which we are focused on some object and fail to see the big picture which is that this life is to be all about serving the Lord.  So it is to be too busy living life or too busy loving this world that we are not focused on the Lord.

Spiritual forgetfulness fails to remember something that is vital for effective Christian living.  In the first case we don’t see what is coming; in the second case we are not keeping something in our minds that is needed to serve the Lord.  Vs. 9 explains that what we have forgotten is the Gospel; that we are sinners saved by the cross of Christ. 

The reason this is important is that when we walk through life without the gospel in our “RAM”, in our working and usable memory, we forget who we are; we are unable to properly identify ourselves.  This happens all the time with both the lost and Christians.  We identify ourselves primarily as men or women, Americans or some ethnic group.  We can also do it by seeing ourselves by what we do for a living, a doctor, union worker, teacher, etc.  We are seeing a particularly destructive form of it when people identify themselves by their sexual choices or their gender preferences, etc. 

The problem with each one of these is that very often we allow our life, thoughts and actions, to be guided by these identifications rather than the fact that we are children of God first and foremost and that is to guide us in every aspect of our lives.  To some extent there are other lesser identities that we must deal with.  As an American I have certain laws to obey and taxes to pay.  I cannot function properly if I live as if I am a citizen of another country.  When I get up in the morning I must keep in mind that I am a pastor and I have to get ready to preach the Word this coming Sunday.  If I forget who I am in that sense then I will fail to fulfill my responsibilities as a pastor. 

But before all these other things I must get up in the morning and remember that I have been saved from the darkness of sin and live in light of who I am.  And who I am is a redeemed sinner whose primary job in life is to bring honor to the Lord in all I do.  Forget this and I will fail as a human being in every area of life.

Those that attempt to identify themselves by who they have sex with or by being any gender that they would like doubly fail in this matter.  They are choosing to identify in a way that God has specifically told them they are not to.  He has given us plain parameters as to how to function sexually and it is rebellion to go outside those commands.  He has made us either male or female and pretending to be one that you are not, not only causes confusion and the inability to live a God-honoring life, but it is also rebellion to the natural order that he has established and it will bring his judgment sooner or later.

Fortunately God has given his saints two things to help us in our natural conditions of spiritual nearsightedness and dementia.  He gives us new sight and new glasses.  He regenerates us by the Holy Spirit and gives us light so we can understand the truth.  And he gives us some eyeglasses if you will.  We have the Word of God through which we can evaluate life.  When we look at life through the truth of his Word, we are able to understand who we are and live our lives as they were meant to be lived.  David seems to sum it up well in Ps. 119:97-105:

Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me.
 I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation.
I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts.
 I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word.
I do not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught me.
How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Loving as We are Loved

Rom 5:6  For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Rom 5:7  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—Rom 5:8  but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

The passage above lays out God’s love as few others do.  It states the two-fold aspect of his love and in so doing helps define what our love for each other should look like.

First of all in verse 6 we see that God loves in a way that gives and helps those who have nothing to offer him.  When he saved us we had nothing to offer him and that includes any work or response that would aid in our salvation.  While we were still weak he died for us”.  Our salvation is not a cooperation between God and sinners but such that glorifies his strong arm alone, 1Co 1:28  God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 1Co 1:29  so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.  These verses aren’t saying that there are some people who are strong enough to take care of themselves for there are none righteous, no not one; but God generally chooses the ones who are comparatively weak to grow his kingdom just to demonstrate to Satan and this world that there is absolutely nothing they can do to stop the Lord from establishing his kingdom.  So God loves those who have nothing to offer him.

Then secondly he goes even further by loving those that are in rebellion to him.  So they aren’t just helpless but engaged in warfare against him and he saves them anyway!  In verse 6 they are described as ungodly, so they are living lives that dishonor the Lord and they do not live in gratitude for what he has done for them but instead live as if life is just about them and their pleasure.  So verse 8 says that when God died for us we were sinners; we had transgressed his law and stood as condemned criminals and he paid for our sins in his body on the tree.  So God loves his enemies as well.  To those who are both unable and unwilling to come to him, he goes to them.  In both cases God alone is able to meet our need; he is both able and willing to save.  

What an example to us of how to love one another.  If we only love those who are attractive to us, that have something to offer us or if we only love those that like us and are nice to us, then we have not loved as we have been loved.  Once we get hold of this our marriages will be better and our churches will be more enjoyable; when we start loving others, not for what they can do for you but what you can do for them all to the glory of God and in thanksgiving to him.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Are We Justified By Faith?

Rom 4:2  For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.
Rom 4:3  For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness."
Rom 4:4  Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.
Rom 4:5  And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.

When it comes to understanding the above passage one’s theology makes all the difference.  On the surface it seems pretty clear that we are not saved by any work we can do through faith.  Since this is the main point then it cannot be teaching us that faith is a work that we can do in order to be saved.  Yet there are a vast number or Christians who believe this very thing. 

This is mostly seen in the concept that God has provided a means of salvation and all that is needed to finish the job is for us to agree with it by faith.  But if all men are born with the ability to believe then how is this not a work?  Does not the very term ability necessitate something we have to aid in our salvation? 

The idea is that since none are righteous and can obey God’s Law then he has lowered the bar just low enough so that everyone has the ability to get in.  Faith becomes the one thing that we all can “do”.  But this is still a work and the above passage is saying that this is not an option.

Our theology helps here as we know that the Bible teaches that salvation is a work of God in which he enables us to believe thus faith is not a work but a means by which the Lord justifies us in such a way that we cannot boast that we did anything, even believe, in order to be saved.  Yes, we trusted in the work of Christ but only because God regenerated us and gave us the power to do so.

Another reason we know that faith is not the one thing that God will accept in order to save us is because faith does not equal our transgressions.  The Muslim god for instance will forgive sin if certain prayers are made.  But in essence this is to forgive sin without it ever being paid for.  Prayers don’t make up for transgressing a Holy God nor does believing.  Sin must be paid for which is why Jesus had to die.

Now you might be thinking, “Well there you have it.  Faith doesn’t equal our sin; Jesus also had to die for them.  But Paul tells us in Galatians that if we add anything to Christ we miss the gospel entirely.  In Galatians they were adding circumcision; in the case of the Church of Christ they add baptism; in the case of most Arminianism they add “faith”.  The idea is that God has done everything needed for salvation except one thing is left for us to “add to Christ’s work”.  That is we must add our faith to it.  In the end it boils down to a work that we can do that the lost will not do. 

Because of this it is good and necessary to understand that we are justified not on the basis of faith but through faith.  We are saved by grace, through faith.  Our salvation is all a gift of God but he enables us to believe when he gives us the new birth as the mechanism in which he justifies us.  We can take no credit.  I will leave you with these verses which I believe say the same thing, Php 1:29  For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.  Act 13:48  And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.  2Ti 2:25  correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Steadfast in the Everyday Things

Rom 5:3  Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, Rom 5:4  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, Rom 5:5  and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

I recently preached on being steadfast.  Biblically the idea is to remain under a trial in a faithful, Christ-honoring way.  Often when we think of enduring trials we think of the big ones like persecution or when the doctor tells us we have terminal cancer, etc.  And while these are certainly times in which we are to be steadfast and endure to the end; it is perhaps just as important, if not more so, that we are careful to be Christlike and faithful in the everyday trials and disappointments of life since these are by far what we will encounter most often.

I think it is a good sign that we are maturing in Christ when we are able to handle the everyday disappointments and dull routines of life in a way that we are able to maintain our joy, peace and love while underneath them.  One instance that crossed my mind was what we term as mid-life crisis.  As a rule we have these because life isn’t turning out the way we expected or wanted.  Often this is seen because our spouse isn’t fulfilling our needs the way we want them to be fulfilled.  So we look for something or someone to take their place.  Of course, this is not being steadfast by being content with Christ but it is to live life primarily in a selfish mindset. 

I wonder how many men have had a “midlife crisis” because they came to the realization that they are not fulfilling their wives needs?  Probably the answer is no one ever!  We are way too selfish to think in such a way it seems. It just shows why we find it difficult to hold up when things don’t go our way; because we only are concerned for our way and not Christ and certainly not our neighbor’s and family’s good.  We reduce life to our little world and with nothing greater to live for how on earth can we endure with joy and contentment?

Another reason why it is so important to be steadfast in the everyday routines of life is that this gives us unlimited opportunities to honor the Lord and gain reward.  The times of persecution and life-changing trials are limited for all of us but faithfulness when people are short with you and unfair, when you are stuck in traffic or have to deal with a boss who shows favoritism, etc. happens so often that these are by far the most abundant ways to show this world how much you love Christ. 

If we miss this- that we must be steadfast in the little things- then we will excuse our bad temper and ill-treatment of our loved ones; if we think trials are only the big things and don’t realize that most of our trials are the everyday pain, disappointments, dealing with the ungodly pride in your life when those around you don’t bow to your every whim, then we will be defeated before we even get started.  We can please our Lord every day hundreds of times by placing our hope in him and being full of joy when the elderly lady won’t move out of the way on the road and we praise God that we can drive a car instead of blessing her out because she is going to make us 30 seconds later than we would have been.  Don’t downplay the little things or we will be unprepared for the bigger things and probably explains why we don’t do well at either many times.

I want to get better at being satisfied and joyful while those without Christ grow more and more bitter and sour.  It is sad when we see the same rage and bitterness in our society infiltrating the church influencing how we interact with each other.  I want to have the same attitude that those early Christians did who suffered much more than I ever will; Heb 10:32  But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, Heb 10:33  sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. Heb 10:34  For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Heb 10:35  Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. Heb 10:36  For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.  Heb 10:37  For, "Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay.

Notice that they didn’t just miserably endure pain and disappointment; they did so joyfully and compassionately.  They didn’t use their problems to stop them ministering to others and so they had great reward waiting for them because Christ is just about to come back for all of us either at death or his Second Coming and so compared to eternity, our reward is just around the corner.  Let’s take heart and serve while it is day!

Saturday, October 27, 2018

The Uselessness of Scheming

Gen 12:11  When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, "I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, Gen 12:12  and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, 'This is his wife.' Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Gen 12:13  Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake."

The account of Abram going to Egypt during the famine and lying about Sarah being his sister and not his wife teaches us of what happens when we start to rely on our wisdom to live life rather than obeying what God says in his Word.  This is seen in several ways in this passage such as Abram leaving Bethel which is called the House of God.  It was the place where Abram made an altar and worshipped God and while there he called upon the Lord which basically means he was seeking to know God’s will; he was listening to and following the Lord.

But he leaves the place of fellowship with God and starts scheming on his own.  He is not recorded as making another altar or speaking to the Lord until 13:4 where he returns to Bethel and starts to call upon the name of the Lord again.  So I think we can assume that  in between these two periods we are seeing Abram as he is living according to his own wisdom. 

As I was studying this account a thought occurred to me as to why such a course of action will fail every time.  By course of action I mean trying to take care of problems by human reason without first being guided by God’s revelation to us.  We might say that Abram was scheming.  He developed a rather elaborate ruse that he thought would feed his family, save his life and technically he was not lying since Sarah was his half-sister.  Scheming is certainly something I can identify with.  I often make careful, if not elaborate, plans when faced with problems.  On the surface there is not necessarily anything wrong with this as God has given us capacities of reason along with experience to figure out how to overcome problems in life.  Surely this is the mother of invention for instance.

The problem comes when we don’t allow ourselves to be first guided by what God has said in his Word and we aren’t seeking his help in prayer.  And so we scheme using our own wisdom but without a very important ingredient which makes all the difference.  Abram’s scheme might have worked except that Pharaoh didn’t play along.  And this is where all of our plans are doomed for failure if we act apart from the will of God.  Abram couldn’t control Pharaoh’s mind, will and actions but the Sovereign God of all can! 

And this is why using his wisdom will always work and why trying to live on our own wisdom can never work.  We cannot control anything other than ourselves and we can’t do that very well.  The success of every plan we make ultimately depends on whether people, events, weather, machines, animals, etc. will cooperate and we have no real control over any of those things.  But God controls all things after the counsel of his eternal decrees so every plan he has determined must come to pass.

Apparently it was God’s will for Abram to weather the famine in Canaan, not Egypt.  He could feed Abram and his flocks as easily during a famine as he could any in the most fertile valley on Earth.  Simply put he is sovereign and we are not.  Abram’s first sin was to assume God couldn’t take care of him and needed his help.  His next sin was to try on his own.

Often we can’t even control our own thoughts and bodies for our own good let alone anyone or anything else.   Let’s leave the “scheming” to the Lord and let us trust his wisdom because we have been promised that it will all work good for us in the end, Rom 8:28  And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Friday, October 12, 2018

One Way the Gospel Conforms Us to Christ

2Pe 1:3  His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 2Pe 1:4  by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 

The above passage reminds us that all saints have all the power they need to serve the Lord by the indwelling Spirit and they have all the information they need in the Bible overall and in the promises of what they have in Christ Jesus in particular.  There is a lot of things that we could say about this subject but allow me to give some examples of how the truth of God's Word and the application of the Gospel can be used in all that pertains to life and godliness.

On the one hand when we sin it exposes that our love for the Lord is not as it should be.  On the other hand it also shows that we are not living in light of the truths of the Word.  So if I find it difficult to be nice and speak kindly to others then I need to ask what is wrong with my understanding of the gospel that makes me think I can act like this?  If I find it difficult to trust in God and not my bank account and give like I should, what have I forgotten about the goodness and power of God that makes me think I have to put this world before the Kingdom of God?  If I am being tempted to live for pleasure or power and success more than living to show forth Christ to others and deny self, where have I been deluded by sin so that I think this will end well for me?  So as soon as I lose sight of the gospel I will become barren or ineffective.

Sin deceives us and Satan is the father of lies.  His job is to get us to think wrongly.  We tend to think of Satan attacking us through overt temptations, and he certainly does this; but I believe primarily he tries to get us to think wrongly about the truth, to believe our sinful hearts and the world around us rather than God.  Once this happens we will easily fall to temptation.  So above all it is imperative that we know God's Word and that we believe and trust it so that it directs our thinking.

The Holy Spirit's work isn't so much to help us understand the Bible.  It is for the most part understandable.  Even many lost people understand what it is saying.  The difference is that they don't believe what it says.  The Holy Spirit helps us see the wisdom and to trust it above our deceitful hearts.  If we are regenerated then we are able to rest on these precious promises and live in light of eternity and not for the moment.

Once we understand this we begin to see the importance of Bible study and being under the ministry of the local church.  It isn't difficult to recognize someone who does not hold God's Word as very important in their lives and it would be a good exercise for each of us to determine if we are students of the Word.  If we are not, then the Holy Spirit has little to work with in conforming us to the image of Christ.