Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Yet Another Myth of Calvinism

Scrolling through FaceBook I came across a well meaning post where someone had quoted Paul Washer and I wanted to address some things in that regard.

The quote from Washer in regard to John 10:25-26 is:

"If this were written today by some of the most popular preachers alive, it would be totally and completely the opposite. It says 'you do not believe because you are not my sheep' and they would rewrite it as 'you are not my sheep because you do not believe.' There is a major difference in these two things."

This quote highlights some of the major problems with Calvinism and I felt like they should be addressed.  So as soon as I saw it my thoughts went full steam ahead and I decided to blog them.  I hope you will be able to perceive who is rewriting what because often people accuse others of what they themselves are doing.  It's a funny quirk of human nature.


Ah Calvinism.  They are probably the best about twisting God's word to make it sound like it says what they think it should.  Washer is letting his Calvinism hang out here, which is unfortunate.

The idea here hangs on the fallacy of ripping a certain scripture out of its God given context and seeking to make it stand alone for the purpose of making it say something it doesn't say.  It's the primary tool of all false exegesis of Scripture.  It always has been, and most likely always will be.

Of course this passage's immediate context is the surrounding verses, then the whole of the Gospel of John, and then of course the entire corpus of God's revealed word (the Bible).

The immediate context is Jesus' teaching about Himself being the true shepherd, and this fact being made obvious by two things:  the works (not just miracles but including those) that He does in the Father's name (the Father's nature and character), and the truth that the true sheep of God hear His voice and follow Him (the inference being that those that aren't God's don't follow). 

He is comparing Himself to those that came before (not the prophets, priests, and kings that were Godly men - but the false prophets, priests, and kings who claimed to be something they were not - a sort of human analogue of the false exegesis of scripture actually).

This part of John's Gospel comes immediately after Jesus performed a miracle in restoring sight to a man born blind.  The Jewish religious leaders went absolutely nuts while the man born blind not only received his physical sight, he also got 'saved' as we call it in evangelical circles:  he 'put his faith for salvation' in Christ.

John points out this miracle of Jesus and the subsequent contrasting spiritual judgments of the Jewish leaders on the one hand, and the man born blind on the other.  The lesson is this:  when faced with the reality of God being God, some will choose to believe and some will choose not to believe.  There is no magical hand of Oz behind a curtain somewhere making this choice for them.  It is truly their choice.  Those that have listened to God in the past are more likely to listen to God in the future.  They are the soft, receptive soil in the Parable of the Soils (really the parable of human hearts - see Matthew 13).  Those that have turned their back on God in the past are more likely to turn their back on God in the future.  (They are the hardened ground in the aforementioned parable - self hardened and then judicially hardened by God Himself). 

This is supported by other parts of the word (Scripture interprets Scripture) and by understanding the Greek underneath our English translations.  And of course, a good dose of common sense and logical thinking play a necessary part too.  Calvinism claims to agree with the first, it fumbles around with the second, and often makes a mockery of the third.  As I'm sure you can tell, I'm no fan of Calvinism.

Granted, this is a textual sound bite from Washer but understand what he is doing here.  He is saying something about God that God has not said about Himself.  Underneath this little sound bite is the Calvinistic idea of predestination.  This is different than the predestination that God describes in the Bible.  In the Calvinistic system (philosophy if you will), God has reached into the mass of lost mankind and decided to save some and pass over others - so out of the 'mass of perdition' (all lost mankind headed for hell) God has decided to send some to Heaven (the elect) and to refuse to save others from hell  (the unelect). 

Washer is saying in this sound bite that the ones that hear Jesus' voice are the elect, and the ones that don't hear cannot hear because they are the unelect (not Jesus' sheep).

Is this a valid interpretation of Scripture here?   No even close.

So what is God saying here?  Well, He's saying here what He says elsewhere.  Consider John 10:24-26.  The Jews (the religious leaders) are asking Jesus to tell them plainly if He is the Messiah.  Jesus answers in v. 25 that He has already done so but they didn't believe Him.  The mechanism that Jesus points to is the miracles He has been doing in His Father's name.  Jesus says these speak for Him and testify about Him.  And of course they do.  To do something in the Father's name means in the Father's nature and character.  This is the Hebraic connotation of what Jesus is saying.  Jesus is truly the Messiah, God's Son, because He is doing what God has done and what only God can do.

Then comes the kicker of verse 26.  Jesus says:  "but you do not believe because you are not my sheep."

Washer and other Calvinists do something very subtle here, and I'm not entirely certain they realize they are doing it.  Playing fast and loose with Scripture can become a bad habit and there is a point where one can think they are being true to God's revelation while in actuality being diametrically opposed to it.
See, Washer and other Calvinists treat this verse as if it says:  "but you CAN'T believe because you are not my sheep."  But that isn't what God has said (here or anywhere).  He says that they "do not believe"...  it is an indication of reality, not a pronouncement of the long shadow of the Calvinistic idea of predestination.

Prove it?  Of course.

Let's expand the context out and let Scripture interpret Scripture.  Consider for a moment John 12 with Jesus talking to the same group of people (the religious leaders of the Jews).  I'll come back to John 10 in a moment.

John 12 recounts Jesus being anointed by Mary the sister of Lazarus in Bethany, the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem before His betrayal, and then in vv. 37-40 John testifies to something very interesting and quotes the prophet Isaiah to back up what he says.  I'll list the verses here for consideration:

37 Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. 
38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: “Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”  (Isaiah 53:1) 
39 For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:
40 “He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them.” (Isaiah 6:10)
-- John 12:37-40

If you don't know your Bible you'll think this supports the Calvinistic idea of predestinaton:  that God has hardened these people's hearts so that they (v. 39) 'could not' believe, and this in disregard to anything they have done.  In the Calvinistic idea of predestination, God has decided for Himself who He will save and who He will not, and this decision has nothing to do with any actions, beliefs, etc. on the part of the people in question.  The point here is always context, and not seeking to stop God short of what He is saying.  Calvinism makes this error not only in John but also in places like Romans 8&9, Ephesians 1, etc.

Take a look at Isaiah 6 (and actually the whole of the Old Testament)  and the sad story of apostate Israel and what God was finally forced to do with them.  I'll give you the quick rundown and you can do the study for yourself to see that what I'm saying is true.

Isaiah chapter 1 makes the point that Israel has rebelled against God but had absolutely no valid reason for doing so.  God had treated them tenderly like His own children, but they turned their back on Him.  God didn't make them do this, they chose it:

2 Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth!   For the LORD has spoken:   “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me.
3 The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger,  but Israel does not know, my people do not understand. ”
4 Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption!  They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him.
-- Isaiah 1:2-4

God didn't make them do this, they did it themselves in spite of God trying to draw them back to Him (read the books of Amos and Jeremiah as well - you will never really know your Bible until you know your Bible:  all of it).  Then look at what God says in 1:5 and following.  He pronounces a judgment on Israel.  They have hardened themselves, but God will finish it:  He will confirm and strengthen what they have decided for themselves.

5 Why should you be beaten anymore? Why do you persist in rebellion? Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted.
6 From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness—only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with oil.
7 Your country is desolate, your cities burned with fire; your fields are being stripped by foreigners right before you, laid waste as when overthrown by strangers.
-- Isaiah 1:5-7

Israel has drifted far, but there is always hope.  If they return God will save them.  But if not...

18 “Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land;
20 but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword. ”For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
-- Isaiah 1:18-20

God's judgment is coming.  They can continue to resist and perish, or they can relent.  The rest of Isaiah up to chapter 6 is comprised of God telling Israel where they went wrong, condemning them for it, and then pronouncing judgments on them:  the disasters that will befall them because of their rebellion.  But in the midst of these He holds out hope to them for those that will change their minds and repent.  This is God's very nature and character:  He demonstrates who He is through His Holiness, and He demonstrates who He is through His mercy and willingness to forgive those that repent and trust Him.

Then in chapter 6 we have God calling out a represntative to be yet another prohpet to Israel, to pass along God's words to them so that they do not have to perish - so they can repent.  And this person is none other than Isaiah.  Chapter 6 of Isaiah is one of the great places where we get a peek into eternity (along with Ezekiel, Daniel, and of course the Revelation of Jesus Christ).  Here in chapter 6 we have Isaiah's commissioning as a prophet of God.  He sees a vision of God on His throne, he crumbles before God's Holiness because of his sin - God purifies him and then calls him as a prophet:

8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
-- Isaiah 6:8

And what was to be Isaiah's mission?  It was in particular one of judicial hardening.  Listen to what God says:

9 He said, “Go and tell this people: “ ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’
10 Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes.  Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”
-- Isaiah 6:9-10

See, God has given Israel time to repent but they have refused.  God wasn't making them rebellions.  They were that way by their own choice and all the while God pronouncing judgments on them yet holding out mercy and forgiveness to those that would repent.  Even though their sins were as scarlet, God was willing to make them white as snow if only they would return.

But now.. now God was done.  God's attitude revealed in Scripture is this:  if you continually harden yourself against His revelation of Himself, if you continually turn from Him and refuse to trust and obey Him, if you become truly obdurate (steadfastly, stubbornly rebellious) - then guess what?  God will grant you what you wish.  God will grant you what you wish.  If you self harden in this way you are telling God that you want nothing to do with Him, so He eventually will say "not my will, but thine be done" and He will harden you Himself.  You will have told God you don't want Him, and He will make that happen by withdrawing His grace.

This is what we have in Isaiah 6:9-10.  God is not saving some and passing over others as Calvinism would have you believe.  He is trying to save all but not all choose to be saved.  For those that don't, God will eventually harden them beyond any chance of redemption.  He will make them "ever hearing but never understanding" - "ever seeing but never perceiving" - He will callous (harden) their hearts, dull their ears, and shut their eyes.


10B. Otherwise they might see, hear, and understand and turn and be healed.
-- Isaiah 6:10B

See, God's salvation is sourced from His grace.  That means it is an undeserved gift:  something free of charge to those that don't deserve it.  What we deserve is hell.  But it's God's grace, from God's nature, on God's timetable.

If you refuse it as a pattern of life, God will someday cease to cast the pearls of His salvation before swine like you, and you will lose the ability to partake of God's grace because He will close you off from it.  My hope for anyone reading this is that you won't take that road.

Okay, so this is the passage John quotes in John 12, and all of the context of Isaiah goes with it.  God isn't hardening people willy nilly, He is hardening peope that time and time again have rejected His testimony about Himself, and along with that the call to return to Him.

John quotes this passage from Isaiah in his Gospel because the Jews of Jesus' day were doing exactly what the ancient Jews had done in the time of Isaiah.  Such behaviour in the past reaped God's judgment and judcial hardening, and sure enough in Jesus' time the Divine reaction is exactly the same for the same type of people.

I want to close by going back to John chapter 10.

Has anyone picked up on the fact of the specific words Jesus uses when speaking with the rebellious Jewish leaders of His day?  You aren't likely to know what I'm talking about if you only read English translations of the Bible.. you really need to begin to study some Greek if you haven't done so.  It really opens up the New Testament to study it in the original language, or to get a decent preacher who will help you in that regard.

Look at our section of John chapter 10 and see the occurances of the word 'voice' (on a quick offhand count I come up with at least nine).  Jesus keeps saying that the 'sheep' hear His 'voice' and follow Him, whereas those that aren't His sheep don't hear His voice.

I came across this line of thought in Lenski's commentary on John, and I think he's right on the money.  Here are his ideas about why Jesus used the word 'voice' as opposed to other options as best as I can explain it.

It's interesting that Jesus uses the word 'voice' here (Greek 'phones') rather than the word 'word' (Greek 'logos'), because so often in Scripture Jesus is described as the 'word' (logos) of God and refers to His sayings as such.

This will sound more or less stupid, but Lenski thinks the reason Jesus uses this other word (voice) is because of what it means.  I know, "duh".  But think about it for a second.  The Greek word for 'voice'  means sound, tone, timbre.. it is a description of something familiar because of its quality, its characteristics. 

I could have three identical sentences typed and printed out by three people, but I wouldn't know who did what just by reading them.  But if the people read them in their own voices and I knew at least one of them, the determination would be obvious.  I think Lenski is right on this.

Here is why this matters.

Jesus is saying the same thing about Himself and His works in relation to the Father.  Jesus is saying that the things He has been doing testify to who He is.  He is from the Father, and He and the Father are one.  He only does what He sees the Father doing.  Therefore, His voice is God's voice.  The tie in with the quote from Isaiah and the idea of hardening is this:  those that have remained true to God until the coming of the Messiah will recognize Him when He comes, because He and the God they serve are one and the same.  Those that have not remained true to God will not recognize the Messiah because in actuality they have turned their backs on God and God has begun to harden them as punishment, just like he did to ancient Israel and thus the quote from Isaiah.

This is why Godly people like Simeon and Anna in Luke chapter 2:25-38 recognized Jesus for who He was even when He was a child:  they were true God followers so they recognized God in the person of Jesus:  they recognized His 'voice', His qualities - they knew they were beholding God in the flesh.  But others, like the Jewish religious leaders, had not stayed true to God no matter what they said with their lips, so when God's salvation came they couldn't recognize Him.  It is self determination enabled by Grace confirmed by God through and through.  Romans 8:29-30 is the positive confirmation God gives from eternity to those that He knows will trust Him.  It is what God says about predestination, and it differs from the Calvinistic one mightily.

They 'could not' hear, because previously they had decided not to hear.  They 'could not', because earlier they 'would not'.  It has never been true anywhere in God's word that someone 'would not' because they first 'could not'.  That is blasphemy.

Prove it?  It's hard to prove a negative so I'd simply say "read your Bible".  But consider another word repeated in our passage of John 10.  It's the word translated 'believe'.

25 Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, 
26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.
-- John 10:25-26

If you don't go any deeper than your English translation you will most likely think that the word 'believe' here really means 'understand', or 'know', or 'perceive', etc.  That's what English speakers usually think when we hear the word 'believe'.  We take it to mean 'intellectual assent':  'to understand factually'.

Well, that isn't what this word means.  The word is from the root 'pisteuo' which means 'faith', 'trust', 'personal adherance to', 'casting ones self upon', 'relying', etc.

We aren't talking about an intellectual ability to understand something and these Jews just don't get it.  We're talking about their settled decision of the will in refusing to trust that Jesus is who He says He is.  The first is a natural limitation of cognitive ability.  The second is a choice that anyone who is concious and self aware can make.  This is a criticial distinction and you won't see it unless you study and are honest with God's word.

The Amplfied Bible does a better job with the translation:

25 Jesus answered them, I have told you so, yet you do not believe Me [you do not trust Me and rely on Me]. The very works that I do by the power of My Father and in My Father’s name bear witness concerning Me [they are My credentials and evidence in support of Me].
26 But you do not believe and trust and rely on Me because you do not belong to My fold [you are no sheep of Mine].
John 10:25-26
See the point?  Those Jews that had not stayed in the fold of the Old Testament had blinded themselves to the identity of the Messiah, then God had begun to confirm their choice with His own judgments.  So when God came in the flesh these people were truly no sheep of His.  Because of their previous lack of fidelity to the Father, they would not pledge fidelity to the Son - they would not believe (an action of the will in line with their previous actions of the will).

So a last broad question in advance of an objection that could come up here:  who can be Jesus' sheep?  Can anyone be saved?

Look at what Jesus tells these people (the ones He just said weren't His sheep) in vv 37 & 38.

37 Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. 
38 But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.”
-- John 10:37-38

Jesus, or I should say God, is still reaching out to them.  He's saying, "OK, even though you are rejecting me in my person, at least start by believing the miracles (because only God can work true miracles), and by believing these you can know and understand that the Father is truly in me, and I'm in Him".
Jesus is reaching out to them, seeking to build a bridge of faith from them to Him based on the works of God He has been doing.

Here is the common sense and logic part.  If the philosophy of Calvinism is true (I refuse to call it a 'theology' because it rejects key portions of God's revelation of Himself) isn't it rather useless and silly for God in the flesh to be holding out this bridge of faith to those He has supposedly already passed over for good?  Would Calvinism have us believe that God is schizophrenic?

If Calvinism is true, isn't this also deceptive?  Jesus is stating something to them as a true possibility, but if Calvinism's ideas of predestination are true then it isn't possible.  In many instances like this Calvinism makes God out to be at best a soft deceiver, and at worst an outright liar.

And one last thing:  do you not see how what Jesus is doing here: His dual acts of pronouncing judgment upon these people (you are no sheep of Mine) and yet holding out hope to them - a way back to Him by repentance and faith - do you not see that this is exactly what God did in the passage I referenced at length above from Isaiah?  Of course you do... if you're honest.

Truly Jesus is who He says He is.  Truly as He states in John 5:19

...“I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 

Here's some friendly advice:  drop the unGodly Calvinism and believe instead what God says about Himself, not what men say about God.  Accept the God of the Word, then tell others about Him.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas Gift Giving? Have a Gracious Christmas!

Recently there were some discussions knocking around social media about kids and Christmas, the appropriate number of gifts, wise and unwise budgets, you name it.

And it got me thinking, because in our family we don't really try to "limit" Christmas with our kids.  We aren't in debt and don't go into debt for gifts,  we don't think that would be the best of decisions, but within our means we do pretty much all we can for our children.  Some years have been better than others for sure.  And to be candid, since the economy began to turn in 2008 all kinds of gift giving has been noticeably lower than before.  But especially for Christmas we try to make it big, and there is a core Biblical reason for this, and that is God's grace.

As parents our number one job is teaching our children about God and His gift in Jesus Christ as forgiveness for their sins, because one day they will have to make the decision as to whether or not they will give their lives to Him.  So far we're two out of three on that score, but number three is just five years old.

But no matter which forms this teaching takes, at the end of the day it's all about this thing called "grace".  But I'm not sure we always have a true understanding of what "grace" really means, what God's purpose in grace is, and how He extends it to His creation.

So first, what is "grace"?  Well, often I think we forget that words actually have real meanings and in most cases those meanings have been in place for a very, very long time.  We shouldn't attempt to redefine what is already defined, especially when God uses the original!

You may have heard a definition of "grace" that sounds like this:  "grace is God's unmerited favor to sinners".  That's true actually.  The problem with it is that it isn't all of the truth, and because it falls short it leaves room for wrong ideas to coalesce around the concept of grace.  Grace most definitely is unmerited but it is not unconditional.  And it does contain the idea of favor, but when God exercises grace it goes way, way beyond the mere idea of a 'benevolent disposition' that we call favor.

The New Testament in the Bible is mostly written in a language called Koine Greek... so what is this word that has been translated into English as "grace"?

Well, the original word in Greek is "charis".  The "ch" at the beginning of the word has a 'k' sound.  It's a very, very old word with a very old and well defined meaning.  The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote a large volume entitled "Rhetoric".  It's a survey of the Greek language designed to teach students how to communicate their ideas effectively, and how to know when someone was spouting manure.  It really mixes some of the functions of a dictionary with the functions of an encyclopedia.  In this great work on Greek language and thought, Aristotle gives the true definition of the word "charis".  After you see it, if you know God's nature and character, you'll understand why the Holy Spirit directed the human writers of the New Testament to use this word to describe God's dealings with men and women.

Aristotle gives the definition of "grace" - "charis" like this:

"Now, let gratuitous benevolence (charis - NT word for "grace") be :
'that conformably to which, he who has the power is said to confer a benefit on one who needs it, not in return for any thing, nor in order that any thing may accrue to him who so confers it, but that some benefit may arise to the object.'
But it becomes great should it be conferred on one who is in extreme want, or if the boon be great and difficult of attainment, or at a crisis of a certain description, or if the giver has bestowed it alone, or first, or in a greater degree than any other."-- Aristotle's "Rhetoric" - Book II, Chapter VII

Is this not God's very nature and character?  Just look at what "charis - grace" means and when it is employed:

  • It is exercised by one who has power to one who does not.
  • It is exercised for the sole purpose of conferring a benefit to its target:  the one who needs it.
  • This bestowal isn't designed to bring anything back to the giver - it is pure 'grace'.  Its sole purpose is to benefit the one in need.
  • The greatness of the 'grace' is magnified if the target is in extreme want (as we are in our sin - facing certain eternal death), or if the help is great and difficult of attainment (such as God the Father sending His one and only Son to suffer and die on the cross to pay for our sins - certainly a crisis of a particular description), or if the giver has done this without any help, or first, or in a greater degree than any other.

That my friends is God.  The Holy Spirit knew exactly what He was doing when He directed the human authors of the Bible to write what they did.

So that's grace.  But how does God actually employ it?  How does God actually elect to extend grace to His creation?

Take a look at Romans 5:20-21:
20 The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

In this part of Romans 5 Paul is describing what happened to us in Adam, the first man (because of our inclusion in Adam) - which was death through Adam's sin.  And then he describes what happens to those that accept Christ's sacrifice on our behalf for that sin, which is life through the Son.  Paul explains that the actual law that calls out sin was given to increase the 'trespass', the error, of sin - so that it would be seen for what it truly is and that it's work of death would be magnified to the utmost.  

That may sound evil of God but it isn't.  He wasn't rubbing salt in the wound, because the other part of God's plan was this - the bolded part of the verse above:  "but where sin increased (because of God giving the law), grace (God's favor to sinners who would turn to Him) increased all the more..."

What does this mean?  It's really a longer description of what the Holy Spirit says in Romans 11:32:
32 For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

See that word "mercy" there (Greek "eleeo")?  It means to help one who is in distress.  Do you see the picture?  We are in distress because of Adam's sin for we are his children.  God took that distress and through the law ramped it up to its ultimate level.  Through our inclusion in Adam and this giving of the law, God 'bound' all of us over to our own disobedience in the most ultimate way possible.  Why?  Isn't God for us?  Doesn't He love us?  You bet!  But He did this so that the gates of His mercy could be flung open wide and He would be able to truly offer us "grace".  The condition for grace is need.  It is distress.  So God ramped up the distress to its ultimate levels so that the trigger of God's mercy could be activated and grace could flow.  He bound all of us over to disobedience SO THAT He may have mercy on us all.

But where the condition for grace is need, the condition for God's forgiveness in Christ is the sinner turning from living for their sin (repentance) and asking God for His offered salvation (faith in Christ).  A sinner will not do this unless they truly experience the need that sin places on them.  No one looks for a savior when they believe they have no need of saving.  Thus God's plan described above is perfectly suited to humanity that is blinded by their own sin.

God has taken these actions, and then He sends His spirit to convince and convict the targets of His love (the entire world system) of their need (John 16:8) because in our sin we are blind.

There is no one like God my friends, and you owe Him everything you are.  If you aren't living for Him you have missed the boat completely.  No matter what other success in life you may have, you are an eternal failure.  But it's not too late to change the situation.  God's grace in His Son awaits you.

Well, I did what I always do:  I took a long time to get to where I wanted to go.  Believe it or not it's this verse of Romans 5:20 that I really wanted to talk about when I started this post (I come around to the point eventually I guess).  And it's what God says about Himself here that I think we should be teaching our children through how we interact with them.  Especially at Christmas where we celebrate the ultimate expression of God's grace.

Here it is again.  Romans 5:20:

The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more

Check this out:  the phrase in our English translation speaking of grace saying that it "increased all the more" is actually one word in the Greek.  And it's a really, really cool word - especially for sinners.

The root of the word is "perisseuo".  It means to 'super abound', to have way more than enough, to be in excess to a large degree.  These definitions can be in regard to quantity or quality, it doesn't matter.

This type of word is what we call a "superlative":  a word that expresses the highest degree or quality about something.  By definition "perisseuo" is a superlative.

If this is all that the Holy Spirit said, it would have been enough.  But He didn't stop there, because the word in the Greek here isn't "perisseuo", it's merely based on it.  The actual word used here is "huperperisseuo".  It's our word with the prefix of "huper" stuck on the front.   So what does that mean?

Well, "huper" has a few meanings of its own but when it is used as a prefix on another word it takes on the meaning of a superlative.  In other words, it is used to add the superlative quality of "highest degree, highest quality, the most, etc." to another word.

So do you see what God is doing here in describing His grace (which is really just a tangible outpouring of His nature and character)?

He is taking a word describing His actions that is already a superlative, and He is increasing the meaning by sticking "huper" on the front of it.  He is heaping superlative upon superlative.  That's how God exercises His grace.  Having "more than enough", "a super abundance" isn't enough to represent God's gracious character.  No.  It must be more to even approach the true description of God.

If I were to translate this phrase in my own words I would say this:

"But where sin was made to super abound ("pleonazo"), grace super, super abounded ("huperperisseuo") all the more".

Where God's grace is accepted, sin cannot win.

God is saying that no matter how bad your sin is, no matter how much it has infiltrated into your life, His grace is always light years ahead of your sin.  How much more, very much more grace (superlative heaped upon superlative) is available to you for good than your sin is for evil.  And in fact, the more evil you are the more grace God extends to you.  Please take advantage of it through His Son before it's too late.

This is how we celebrate the gift of God's Son in my home at Christmas time.  We don't pull back, we don't ration where we don't have to - we pour out on our children a tsunami of love and giving as much as we are able to do, because we want them to know and truly understand that this is what God has done for us in His Son.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

How Do You Exercise Your Citizenship?

How do you exercise your citizenship as a Christian? Here is a little bit of a morning devotion to get your day on track.

The Apostle Paul was proud of his Roman citizenship and valued it highly. There were freedoms and protections concomitant with his status and he used them wisely in the furtherance of the Gospel. Please consider this little vignette from Acts 16:

Acts 16:36-40:
36 The jailer told Paul, “The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace.”
37 But Paul said to the officers: “They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.”
38 The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed.
39 They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city.
40 After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and encouraged them. Then they left.


It was a serious crime to beat a Roman citizen without a trial. Rome was very, very concerned with protecting the dignity and sovereignty of their empire, and as an extension to that - the dignity and sovereignty of their citizens. So much so in fact that a Roman citizen could travel through Roman territory (native and conquered) and have at his disposal the full support of Rome. A Roman citizen didn't even have to submit to local legislation (local laws) unless he chose to, and he didn't have to submit to local law enforcement or courts. If an event transpired where a trial was required by local authorities, a Roman citizen could put down his foot and demand to be remanded to Rome for trial to be tried by his fellow citizens - even Caesar Himself. Such were some of the benefits of a citizen of Rome in the ancient world.

So why here in Philippi did Paul and Silas allow themselves to be beaten like common criminals even though they had done nothing wrong? Why were they singing in the local lock up when they had been treated so unjustly?

The answer I think, is because they now had the local authorities exactly where they wanted them: over a barrel and in deep, deep trouble. I'm sure if the local authorities had inquired into their citizenship Paul and Silas would have answered truthfully. Apparently they weren't asked and they chose not to offer the information. Why?

Well, the local authorities were in the process of being swayed against Christianity by various elements in the city that didn't approve of what Paul and Silas taught, or the influence they were bringing to the region. These elements had now succeeded in having the disruptors publicly beaten and then tossed into the local jail to teach them a lesson. And the next day they would be run out of town on a rail with their tail between their legs.

But that isn't what happened is it? Paul and Silas knew exactly what they were doing. They were heeding the desire of Christ:

Mt 10:16 I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

Paul and Silas, through the mechanism of their Roman citizenship exercised in a shrewd, yet innocent way, had turned the tables on their detractors. It was quite a victory they had won! The two men in chains were the real winners, and the local magistrates in their comfortable beds at home were getting ready to have their whole future put into doubt. They just didn't know it yet.

Paul and Silas had been wronged under Roman law, and in a very, very dangerous way for the ones that had committed the crime. They now had this over the heads of the local authorities in Philippi. Paul and Silas were to leave and continue on with their missionary endeavors, but the local authorities in this city would always have to wonder if these two men might show back up and decide to exercise their rights as Roman citizens and press charges against the local magistrates. I am quite certain the local authorities treated the little fledgling band of Christians Paul and Silas left behind with all deference and respect.... all on the account of Paul and Silas who gave their backs to some government leaders so that in turn they could take those leaders lives in their own hands. Innocent? Absolutely! They did nothing wrong. Shrewd as snakes? Even more so!

Why don't we have more Christians today like Paul and Silas? I think it's because of weak and miseducated pastoral leadership, and lazy Christians who don't do their own study of God's word. We often hear: tone it down, don't offend, don't exercise your rights, sit down, lay down, and shut up. Don't be one of "those" Christians.

But that wasn't the way of these two men was it? You might even say they were quite contentious in this circumstance (wink at a new friend here) Indeed, they were as contentious as all the Godly men who had come before them. Men like Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, Amos, Isaiah, John the Baptist... even Jesus Himself. Contentious in Godly ways, from Godly motives, for Godly purposes. That's always okay folks. Don't let anyone teach you differently.

May we as Christians ignore the voice of liberalism in our churches that would have us be ineffectual, nonverbal doormats. May we use all the rights and privileges of our citizenship in this great nation for the furtherance of the Gospel. We have the right to free speech. We had better defend it and use it. We have the right to bear arms. We had better protect it. We have the right to freedom from unlawful search and seizure. We had better insist upon it. And there is nothing at all wrong with doing these things.

Be absolutely innocent in what you do in regards to your citizenship, but with equal dedication seek to be shrewd as snakes for the cause of the Gospel. Judgment day is coming and the Gospel is the only thing that will save those around us from God's wrath. Preach it. Highlight God's wrath on sin and His saving grace. They may hate your guts and despise God as well. But at least you will have been obedient to Christ and told them about the Gospel. In that, although you may be hated - you will be innocent of their blood and pleasing to the One Who spilled His blood for you.

Where do your loyalties live Christian?  How do you exercise your citizenship?

Friday, August 16, 2013

Gotta love Bono

" ... make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody."
1st Thessalonians 4:11-12

" And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased."
Hebrews 13:16

These go hand in hand, as the different elements of God's will always do. It isn't God's plan that one NOT in want should reduce him or herself down to the level of poverty of the one in need. God has never said that. Never attribute things to God that He has not attributed to Himself. That is blasphemy. What He has said is that we are to share out of our excess. Capitalism is the only system that has been proven throughout history to create excess (also called wealth). This isn't bad. It is very, very good.

Jesus said, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”
Luke 3:10-11

This is not reducing one's self down to poverty. In the ancient world before the industrial age, it was normal to have one main set of clothing. Having two or more was wealth because the cost of materials and labor was relatively high. Jesus is not giving a picture of poor helping the poor. He's giving a picture of the normal helping the abnormal. Rip God's word out of its given context and you will always come away with a distorted picture of God.

Grinding misery has never been God's plan for His creation. Those in Christ are royal heirs and He treats us as such with as much as He safely can. Jesus is giving a picture of sharing out of excess. And as history has shown, the only way we have in this fallen world of producing excess, as far as financial systems go, is Capitalism.

Hats off to Bono for changing his personal views in light of the truth he has seen. Shame on any who would set themselves opposed to God while at the same time giving Him lip service pretending to be His spokesman.

Want to help the poor? Excellent! Get a job, work hard to become valuable to someone with more money than you. They will pay you some of that as a wage. Let go of some of your luxuries (excess) like flat panel TVs, stereos, always having a new car, always buying nice clothes, always eating nice food, always having the latest cell phone, always going to a movie, or a concert, etc. - you get the idea - and share out of your excess with those that truly are in need (emphasis on the word 'truly'). It isn't laid on you to help those who will not help themselves. Their personal discomfort or need is God's message to them to shape up and work for their own support. Our target is those who cannot help themselves or are in immediate need of our aid.

This is God's plan. That way those who honestly have not or cannot are raised up through charity, and those that truly have are lowered through self discipline so that they don't become haughty. There will always be 'levels' of society, and as long as these are honest and fair levels there is nothing at all wrong with that. How else could God show His approval for those that work hard, or work smart, verses those that are slothful? Scripture is full of such examples of praise and condemnation, and as God's word they are of course just.

People outside of God's will in these matters err in one of two ways: either they seek to be little god's and horde their wealth, sharing with no one. Or they seek to reduce everyone down to the same level of grinding poverty seeking somehow to either atone for their previous 'rich' ways (liberal white guilt) or to attain a mistaken notion of 'richness' in the midst of unnecessary suffering (rich liberals like the former, not so rich liberals like the latter). Both are examples of self serving pride and both miss God's mark drastically.

Live a quiet life. Work with your hands. What you earn is yours. Seek to earn more than you need so that you can share with others. God rewards those that are faithful to Him in different ways, one of these ways is financially.

Do you really want to help others? Then why not pray for God to bless the works of your hands (Job 1) so that you will have even more excess to share with others? That would be sliding in to God's plan rather than your own my friend.

Monday, July 08, 2013

A Street Preacher Who Pleases God

The world hates God's Word and His people, along with a bunch of folks that claim the name of Christ as well.

Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would have a two-fold mission:  He would be 'the comforter" to believers and would lead them into all truth, but to the world He would be an agent of supernatural conviction and convincing in regards to three things:  sin, righteousness, and judgment.  Sin, righteousness, and judgment.  This is John 16:8.

Why these three?  Jesus explains in the next few verses. 
(v 9)   in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me;
(v 10) in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer;
(v 11) 11 and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

Because of mankind's sin, the highest form of which is rejection of Christ, we don't know what sin is unless God tells us.  Our very minds are turned by sin so that we do not understand until God reveals it to us and we in turn accept it.  Because of this, mankind wants to be free to do whatever they want to do - to set customized moral standards, and in their minds they convince themselves that this is acceptable - and is in fact their right.  God the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God, counters this error with the truth that only God sets the standards for right and wrong.  These concepts begin and end with His very nature and character, which is unchanging Holiness.

Jesus Christ was the only "righteous" human ever to walk the face of the Earth because He had no sin, therefore He was in "right standing" before God - which is what "righteousness" means.  Because He was only on the Earth for 33 years we no longer can see Him with our human eyes, so we have no living, breathing example of what true righteousness looks like.  God the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God, provides this same truth through the words of Jesus and His Apostles so that man is without excuse.

Mankind thinks he can get away with sin, because it seems that he is currently succeeding in sin.  But God has said otherwise.  Among all the things Christ accomplished on the Earth in regards to His teaching, humility, and suffering, stands a truth that is not often said:  He defeated sin and death, as well as their champion:  Satan.  The prince of this world - the prince of sin and death,  was defeated by the Sar Shalom - the Prince of Peace.  In the cross of Jesus Christ God has shown us His very nature:  His Glory.  It is complete mercy and forgiveness for the repentant believer, while at the same time being an absolutely crushing, victorious power in destroying sin through His righteous judgment.  God has shown that He will destroy sin wherever and in whomever He finds it.  Even if it is found in His Son.  This was the purpose of the sacrificial atonement on the cross.  The one Who had no sin, taking our sin upon Himself so that those who repent and believe can have eternal life.  But even God the Son, when sin was placed to His account, was culpable before God's justice.  If this happened to Him:  God's one and only Son, how will you go free unless you repent and believe?  And how can you truly repent unless you are convicted of your sin?  And you can you be convicted of your sin unless the Word of God in the power of the Spirit of God visits you with the truth?  The answer is you can't.  (Romans 10:13-21)

When God speaks to these issues He speaks of sin, righteousness, and judgment.  If you have a preacher, what does he speak of?  The liberal, hippie Jesus seen on the sides of buses that would never say anything 'offensive' to anyone?  That is an image the world loves, but it is not Christ.  Is their speech filled with endless trite statements and platitudes?  Do they speak like a 'life coach' that knows a bit of Scripture?  If so, their claim to be God's preacher is suspect at best.

Godly preachers speak in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Their tact, their words, their mission.. is His:  speaking the truth of sin, righteousness, and judgment so that men and women, boys and girls can be convicted of their sin so that they will not have to spend an eternity in hell.

God bless this street preacher for loving people enough to tell them the truth.  Our world needs God's approach to preaching, not man's.

News Article Here

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Ah, Calvinism

This is for my theologically minded peeps, nobody else will care so just move on....   You have been kindly warned  :-)


In this comment thread (from the URL:  "Jim G" gives a great defense of non-Calvinism based on both Scripture and church history... which are two of the things that keep me from being Calvinist - the main one is the witness of the Spirit to Scripture.  For my part, I've never had the Spirit communicate to me such a great sadness and disappointment in me personally as when I toyed with Calvinism... just my subjective .02.

Anyway, after almost a decade of intense study of Calvinism, the Reformers (good and bad), and early church history I end up very non-calvinistic.  I know that's a weird thing to hear for folks that are indeed Calvinist and strongly so.  Especially folks in or through seminary that didn't read the early church writers comprehensively but only by assignment.

The thread below is a great explanation for why folks like me (and Jack Graham of Prestonwood, Robert Jeffress of 1st Baptist Dallas, the late Adrian Rogers, and many, many more, etc..) either aren't Calvinist or are very non / anti calvinist... we know too much to go there.  This guy "Jim G" give a good summary of what that means with one exception:  he makes the statement that the first 300 years of church writers never mention things included in Calvinism... that's actually incorrect.  They did, they just called them by different terms - a comprehensive reading shows that to be true.  They didn't use the term "God's Sovereignty".. they assumed that to be true.  They instead used the term "free will".  They used the term "fate" and its variants more than "determined", etc.

The concerning part, and this is something everyone reading this needs to consider very, very carefully, is that it's not that these ideas were UNKNOWN by the church.  They were known.  It's just that they were never known INSIDE the church, only outside of it.  That should give everyone who considers themselves a Calvinist great pause.

To make matters worse, they were known outside of the church with a particular body of thought held among various groups.  Who were these folks?  They were the gnostics - depending upon the specific group (there were many), they were a mix of run of the mill paganism, greek paganism, middle eastern (mostly Persian) paganism, and sometimes a splash here and there of Judaism. 

These were the ancient heretics who believed and taught a variety of untruths that Satan tried to use to bring down the church:  that Jesus wasn't really divine.  That He really didn't incarnate.  They denied the Triune nature of God, etc... Docetism, Sabellianism, etc. were all taught by various gnostic groups.  But they also taught that divinity (the Aeons in their view) had determined that some people would go to paradise upon their death, and that others would go to torment.  There wasn't anything these people could do about their fate because divinity had predetermined it.  Those that would be saved would be saved, and those that would be damned would be damned, and all of this based simply upon what divinity had decided for divinity's own reasons, hidden or otherwise.

The early church fought against this with everything they had, and they won the battle up until Augustine.  Before he became a Christian (and I certainly believe he was) he was a follower of a man named Mani.  Mani was a gnostic.  I believe, as many people do, that these ideas crept into Augustine's Christianity.  Augustine couldn't read Greek so he had to rely on a translation of the New Testament:  Jerome's, which has many errors.  But to put it bluntly, no one who wrote anything in the church for the first 300+ years believed what Augustine did on these matters.  Not the Apostles, not the men who knew the apostles and wrote for us in the early church (Clement, etc.), and not the men who knew the men who knew the Apostles (Polycarp, Irenaeus, etc.).

I know people don't like to have their ideas challenged, I understand that.  And I especially know people don't like to have their theology of choice challenged, but the way I see it there isn't anything more important for a Christian but to get right what they can get right... especially in regard to God's nature and character.  I don't know where the dividing line is, but if we go too far astray in how we represent (or misrepresent Him), we'll make an idol out of Him just like ancient Israel.

So what's the big deal with Calvinism?  The big deal is that it was never a part of historical Christianity early on, the parts of it that can be identified in the earliest church history were held not by Christians but instead by philosophical Pagan gnostics, and it distorts the nature and character of God.  It makes Him out to be like Allah, and not like YHWH (Yahweh).


Chris (the Calvinist in the discussion)
    I don’t dispute that, but as I think the teachings of Calvinism come straight from the Bible, what has led to a resurgence of Calvinism is not any psychological effect or comfort but careful biblical study. Attributing a return to Calvinism to various sociological or psychological factors is akin to saying the return to Calvinism is more about zeitgeist than biblical study. While various trends and such can prepare people to better understand or receive this biblical teaching, the source of the resurgence remains God’s Word.

    I know non-Calvinists will disagree, but such is the nature of belief, conviction, and disagreement – one side is wrong and the other is right. I know which of those categories I am in. :)

8 Jim G. July 15, 2011 at 9:07 pm

    Hi Chris,

    I think you see Calvinism in the Bible based on more than direct Bible study. Your presuppositions lead you to accept Calvinism. I’ve studied the Bible too and I don’t see the points of Calvinism clearly at all, with the exception of total depravity (which virtually all Protestant thinkers affirm). So saying “It is in the Bible” without discussing the presuppositions underlying the 5 points does not further discussion.

    I also think it is historically instructive that Calvinism as a system was not developed until fifteen centuries after Christ, and after the philosophical shift of the late Middle Ages which leads one toward the idea of divine determinism. Even what became some of the five points of Calvinism were not espoused really until Augustine in the 4th-5th century (he upheld T and U to the best of my memory). The rigid double-predestination of Gottschalk in the ninth century was condemned as heretical. The logical order of God’s decrees was not discussed (to my knowledge) until the Reformed scholastics under Theodore Beza. So we are only talking about the last quarter of all church history. But it has been important in Protestant history outside of the Anabaptist tradition.

    Jim G.

9 Chris Roberts July 15, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    “I think you see Calvinism in the Bible based on more than direct Bible study. Your presuppositions lead you to accept Calvinism.”

    The problem with this view is it eliminates any possibility of confidence in what the Bible teaches. One can never be sure, “This is what the Bible says.” One can only say, “This is what I think the Bible says, but maybe it’s just my presuppositions…” In that case, everything becomes suspect.

    But while presuppositions will play a role in anyone’s thinking, they do not determine belief, particularly when considering the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit. A whole host of epistemological questions remain, but at the very least I’ll say it is overly simplistic – and dangerous – to ascribe someone’s conclusions to their presuppositions.

    As for the historical development of Calvinism, considering the stagnant nature of Catholic theology during much of the middle ages, it is hardly an argument against Calvinism that we don’t find many people talking about it between Augustine and Calvin. Many of our Protestant beliefs were absent during that same timeframe but reappeared during the Reformation, just when we see Augustinianism make its return as Calvinism.

10 Jim G. July 16, 2011 at 12:12 am

    Hi Chris,

    I want to uphold biblical certainty as much as you do. But herein lies the rub…I am going to assume you are a Christian man who desires to earnestly follow the Spirit and seek the truth in the Scriptures. So am I. But I don’t see Calvinism leaping from the pages of the biblical text as you seem to. We can take two approaches:

    1. We can say that one of us is truly following the Spirit and the other is at best misguided for not seeing what is so plainly there.
    2. Or we can realize that on this issue our presuppositions play a real role in determining what we see clearly and what we (relatively speaking) ignore.

    You seem to be taking approach number one, while I am at number two. You accuse me of being overly simplistic and borderline dangerous for my stance, but don’t you see the danger in yours? Presuppositions will steer you toward one group of conclusions and away from others.

    I think you also misunderstand my historical argument on two fronts. First, I think it is interesting that 300 years pass between the close of the age of the apostles and Augustine. There were some extremely astute theologians during that period (Irenaeus, Clement, Origen, Athanasius, the Cappadocians, Ambrose, Hilary, etc.) and none of them mention what would become Calvinism. That is not an argument, just an observation.

    Second, I would strongly oppose the idea that Catholic theology was stagnant in the Middle Ages. While there was a period of relative inactivity for about four centuries, that era was bookended by two giants in the area of salvation – Maximus the Confessor and Anselm of Canterbury. Close on the heels of Anselm came Abelard and Bernard (a real influence of Calvin’s) and later Aquinas – on anyone’s short list of the greatest theologians of all time. After Aquinas comes Scotus and Ockham, who laid the groundwork for late Medieval nominalism, which was the underlying philosophy for much of the Reformation.

    Finally, the only thing “Protestant” about Augustine is that the magisterial reformers agreed with his views on predestination and election. He is thoroughly Roman Catholic.

    In the end, saying Calvinism is obviously biblical is hindering real brothers who don’t agree. I think it implies we are somehow less capable in rightly dividing the word of truth. That is why I choose option 2 above, but you are free to disagree with me.

    Jim G.

11 Chris Roberts July 16, 2011 at 12:23 am

    “You accuse me of being overly simplistic and borderline dangerous for my stance, but don’t you see the danger in yours? Presuppositions will steer you toward one group of conclusions and away from others.”

    Recognizing the presence and role of presuppositions is not the same as saying someone’s opinions are formed because of their presuppositions. As mentioned before, such a position undermines conviction and leaves everything in uncertainty. If there is to be the possibility of firm convictions, there must be the recognition that people can discern and understand the truth, not simply inherit it through environment and other factors shaping presuppositions.

    “First, I think it is interesting that 300 years pass between the close of the age of the apostles and Augustine. ”

    How much time passed between the close of Scripture and the firm establishment of the doctrine of the Trinity? And we consider trinitarian theology a primary issue while Calvinism is not. All biblical theology is as old as the Bible. Calvinism did not enter the scene with Calvin nor with Augustine but with Paul and Peter and other writers of Scripture – so ultimately they were given by God himself. But that they are found in Scripture does not mean they were immediately understood in all their fullness. We can see a development with many doctrines, even with the formation and authority of the Bible itself.

    And yes, certainly there are bright spots in the middle ages, but they were exceptions to a period aptly named the dark ages.

    “Finally, the only thing “Protestant” about Augustine is that the magisterial reformers agreed with his views on predestination and election. He is thoroughly Roman Catholic.”

    That would be difficult since Roman Catholic did not yet exist as such, nor did many of their more problematic doctrines – at least nothing like we know them today. What was Augustine’s view on Mariology? On praying to the saints? On purgatory? On justification by faith vs works? When considering specifics, he does not look all that Roman Catholic.

12 Jim G. July 16, 2011 at 1:18 am

    Hi Chris,

    I’m not going to convince you about presuppositions, so we’ll just have to agree to disagree. I don’t think you are getting my point. In the case of Calvinism, your firm conviction is something with which I disagree. We have the same biblical text. We have presumably the same Spirit. We have the same principles of hermeneutics. What is left but differing presuppositions?

    I don’t think it is fair to compare Calvinist-type doctrines and the Trinity. While it is true that the final formulation of the doctrine came in 381, it is a refinement of what the church had always believed, and there is plenty of evidence to that effect from the preceding centuries. The Calvinistic-type doctrines are just plain absent until Augustine. For the formation (or better, the recognition) of the canon, the argument above for the Trinity suffices there also.

    The Middle Ages are not the Dark Ages. The Dark Ages are a relatively small segment of the Middle Ages.

    I’m going to say this as kindly as I can, but you need to read Augustine at face value, and not backwards through the eyes of the Calvinistic teachers, who take the pieces of Augustine that they like and make him a pre-Protestant. The Roman Catholic Church sees him as the greatest of their theologians. While I think he says some very great and profound things, he is fully and completely Roman Catholic, even anachronistically. While Gregory the Great at the close of the 6th century is seen as the first real “pope,” there is plenty about Augustine that resonates with Medieval and Modern Catholicism – they patterned it after him!

    As for your questions, Augustine affirmed the total sinlessness of Mary based on her role as theotokos (On Nature and Grace 36:45). Augustine advocated the perpetual virginity of Mary (Sermon 186). Augustine advocated the communion of the saints and their prayers for us, as well as remembering them at the Eucharist (Letter to Faustus the Manichean, The City of God 20 and 22). Augustine advocated prayers for the dead (Sermon 172). Augustine affirmed and was the seed for the later development of purgatory (City of God 21). Augustine invented the terminology of justification (of imputation as well as infusion) the reformers so battled against. And while we’re at it, he affirmed the primacy of Peter in multiple writings, the mass, apostolic succession, baptismal regeneration, ex opere operato grace, and just about everything else associated with Roman Catholicism.

    Jim G.

13 Chris Roberts July 16, 2011 at 1:50 am

    “We have the same biblical text. We have presumably the same Spirit. We have the same principles of hermeneutics. What is left but differing presuppositions?”

    There are other things, but they don’t bear mentioning now. But I am curious, if you boil the difference down to just presuppositions, do you see any way of convincing those with different presuppositions? How do you convince a Calvinist to be a non-Calvinist, or vice versa, if you are running up against engrained presuppositions?

    “The Middle Ages are not the Dark Ages. The Dark Ages are a relatively small segment of the Middle Ages.”

    Not really wanting to jump into a semantic debate about historical periods, but this is not the case. The terms are generally synonymous. The dark ages or middle ages are seen as starting with the fall of Rome and continuing until the Renaissance. Whenever dark ages refers to a specific portion of the middle ages instead of the whole, it still encompasses most of that period. It is not a particularly historically precise term but more a general recognition that during this 1000 year period there was a great deal of corruption and stagnation, trends seen both in society and in the church. Pick whatever term you like, during this period of history, the Catholic church was full of increasing corruption – both in its teachings and in its leadership. There is a reason the Reformation took place.

    “I’m going to say this as kindly as I can, but you need to read Augustine at face value, and not backwards through the eyes of the Calvinistic teachers, who take the pieces of Augustine that they like and make him a pre-Protestant.”

    My knowledge of Augustine and other teachers before and since is not comprehensive enough for me to argue one way or another with any depth. I know just enough Augustine (from Augustine himself, not from what others have said about him, but it’s been enough years since I’ve read Augustine that what I remember is pretty rusty) that I am not inclined to accept your analysis of his Roman Catholic ways. But as I say, my knowledge is not comprehensive enough to argue with any detail.

    But it doesn’t change anything. We certainly need to look with suspicion on any teaching which is largely absent from church history, but such absence does not finally determine what we believe. An obvious example is believer’s baptism by immersion. Baptists do not reject the practice just because it is almost entirely absent for most of church history; we embrace it because it is what the Bible teaches. So this goes back to my original point: Calvinistic convictions come from Scripture.


And me again... sorry Chris, Calvinistic convictions come from a misinterpretation of Scripture and its historical context.

God bless to all.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Treasures And Worry

19 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

25 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life ? 28 "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

31 So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
(Matthew 6 - Jesus Christ)


1.  Always live in view of eternity - don't get wrapped up here.  This isn't it.  This is a testing field to see who will trust God as He has indicated we should, and who will try to be their own god.  Most will fail the test, but multitudes will succeed.  First, make sure your soul is saved (John 3) - then, allow the saved soul to triumph in the power of Christ (Romans 7).  This particular fight is how God grows us up.  It isn't fun, but it is necessary and unavoidable (James).

The sins of Eden were: not really trusting God, not really trusting that God was operating from the best motives, allowing an outside influence to damage the trust and obedience that are God's due, and trying to be one's own god and grabbing the reigns of one's own life rather than submitting to the Lord.  And all this for the purpose of self advancement in direct contradiction to what God had commanded.  Seeking to be the captain of one's own fate is a death sentence.  Don't do it.  Distrusting God is a death sentence.  Don't do it.

Having stuff is okay.  Your stuff having you is not okay.  If you can survey your earthly existence and you know you could walk away from it for the sake of Christ (and the idea of doing it 'for Christ' is critical - this is not generic self denial.  Destitute selfishness and Godly selflessness are not the same), then you truly have no earthly treasure because you have found heavenly treasure.

2.  People are much more valuable than animals to God.  How you feel about this is a good barometer of your spiritual health.  Some feel they can treat animals any way they want.  This is unGodly and is also a barometer of one's spiritual health.  God says: 

A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.
Proverbs 12:10

Are you being righteous or cruel?  The dominion God gave us over creation is a position of power and care.  It is not a position of power and careless or indifferent brutality.  The first is like God.  The second is like Satan.  Choose your God.

We have an oddity in America today where it seems the needs of animals are sometimes placed over the needs of people.  That attitude does not come from God.  Owning and loving pets is great (my house is a zoo), but being unable (or unwilling) to love your fellow human made in God's image indicates that you don't have God's love inside of you (or are suppressing it), which means you don't have Christ inside of you (or you are disobedient), which means that when you die everything will not be all right, and you will not go to Heaven to be with the Father (or you will make it as one barely plucked out of the fire).  Stop that and fix it.  If you aren't saved, then surrender to Christ and die to yourself so you can live.  If you are saved, then remember what you are in Christ - the unlimited power that Christ desires to exert through you, and slip back off the throne and let God do His work.

Daily, give up yourself (Matt 16:24-26), place your faith in Christ (John 6:28-29), and let God change you into the person He wants you to be (1st John).  The picture of a Christian in 1st John is of a fully mature Christian, and that can take a short amount of time (like Stephen in Acts), or it can take a lifetime (The Apostle John).  But you should at least be on the right road.  If progress is slow, stop rebelling - stop bowing up at God. 

Loving others does not mean approving of their actions, and it does not insulate them from justice and punishment, even death at the hands of God instituted government and ideas, such as just war.  The God Who commanded we love our neighbor is the same God who instituted the death penalty for murder (Gen 9:6).  He is the same God who allows death in the line of valid self defense and the defense of others (Exodus 22:2-3).  Loving our neighbor means loving and considering them as we love and consider ourselves.  It means having their best interests at heart and working towards that task when we see a need and are equipped to address it.  God doesn't demand that we give up our own necessities, but He does demand that we give out of the surplus He has provided us.  The most important need anyone has is to have saving faith in Jesus Christ.  Not food, not clothes, not shelter.  Seek ye first the kingdom of God, then the rest.  But truly, some are in such crisis that they cannot hear.  So a meal, clothes, and shelter for the antecedent purpose of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the communication that those things come from Christ because He loves them?  That works.

3.  If you claim to have put your trust in God, don't worry.  Worry indicates not really trusting God, not trusting Him to do what He promised, or forgetting Who He is and who you are.  It can be really, really hard to let go - especially when you have a family and are 'in charge'.  Pray for peace and increased faith.  God answers.  It usually takes the increasingly intense form of asking, seeking, and knocking - but God answers.  Show Him you are serious.  As our ancient brothers and sisters in Christ said:  wrestling with God is a violence in which He delights.

4.  God, and the pursuit of Him, must always come first.  It is always job #1.  When that is done, all else that is truly necessary falls into place.  Make sure your list of 'what is necessary' matches God's to achieve the best results.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Are You Really Believing God's Gospel?

Have you ever wondered how it is that there are so many people that claim to be in right standing with God, but when all these folks are taken together and considered as a whole, you find they believe so many different and contradictory things?

This is of course the age old question since the inception of Christianity:  is there really only one way to God:  faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ, or some other way?

In the ninth chapter of Romans, the Apostle Paul addresses this question as part of a larger thought about how God has provided for the salvation of mankind.  In his commentary on this part of the New Testament, Richard Lenski has provided some great thoughts on verses 30-33 (shown below) that I wanted to share.

Romans 9:30-33 (NIV)
(30) What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith;
(31) but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it.
(32) Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the “stumbling stone.”
(33) As it is written: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

In discussing how the Jews missed God's salvation because they pursued it by human effort at following law (not just the Mosaic law but all such law), and how the Gentiles actually apprehended salvation because they went about it as God commanded (by faith), Lenski offers these comments in answer to the question: "Why did Israel fail?" (my comments underlined).

"Why not?" (verse 32):  Why did Israel fail?  (The Greek word) 'Diati' asks for the reason; (had Paul meant to explain the 'purpose', as if God had Himself caused or decreed their fall, he would have had to use the Greek word) 'hinati - from hina', the express Greek term which asks for purpose rather than observed consequence.)

Paul gives the answer in a nutshell with two phrases which need no verbs in the Greek although, when translating them into English, we must supply something.  Both  are 'ek' phrases (Greek word meaning by, out of, sourced from, originating from)  like the one found in v. 31 and point, not merely to the means employed, but to the source, the fountain, the starting point, which goes deeper than the idea of means (typified by the Greek word 'dia':  means, mechanism, etc., but not source).

The Jews refused to let God, His Word, and even their law teach them that 'from faith' alone righteousness before God comes, and they obdurately persisted in the fiction that it comes only 'from works'.  (Here Paul does not include the Greek article.  Had he done so he would have meant 'the' Mosaic law, i.e. the Jewish law.  In Greek when the article is omitted the author means essence, substance... something qualitative and not pointing out a specific instance thus the idea here is of any law that might make one acceptable to God.  The Jew's great blunder was that they refused God's word and instead tried to pursue salvation by human effort as typified by pursuing laws of righteousness, be they the Mosaic law or the less specific, general moral laws recognized by all of humanity.)

The more Jesus tried to teach them that faith in God's promise was the only source, the more they clung to works and fought faith.

The fearful difference between faith and works is the fact that 'faith', being trust, relies on complete dependence on another, on God, on Christ, on the promise and the mercy (which is what Romans is all about), while 'works' repudiate such dependence and rely on man's own ability and attainment.

Faith permits God to put it wholly and completely under obligation to Himself; works not only repudiate this obligation to God but insist on putting God under obligation to the man who does the works, and the Jews tried to obligate God by means of even false works.

Here we have additional light on v. 11:  "not from works (obligating God ) but from Him Who calls (letting God obligate us by His call of grace)."  Here is light, too, on the promise and the mercy, both of which obligate us because both are graciously extended without obligation to us on the part of God.
 (What Lenski is saying is this:  There is indeed an obligation placed upon God as regards salvation, but it is an obligation that no man can place on Him.  It is instead an obligation that God has placed upon Himself.  In His love He truly wishes to save everyone, but the demands of His holiness and justice must be met less God Himself become guilty of sin:  sin demands a price, and no forgiveness could be given until that price was addressed.  So out of His love He obligated Himself to meet His very own justice by placing Jesus on the cross as payment for our sin (He carried them in His own body), and then crushing Him to satisfy the demands of His own holiness and justice.  This obligation God placed on Himself being accomplished (the price being paid), He then was able to take on the obligation of saving all those who accept His work by faith. 
There is also an obligation laid upon us by God, but it has nothing to do with the work of salvation.  He has reserved that for Himself.  The obligation that He has laid upon us is simply the obligation of trustful response. In His Sovereignty, this is simply what God has decided to do.  God promises to do this, and thus obligates Himself, and He has made the condition of salvation the simple act of accepting His power and promise as true and doing so personally.  When a person truly does this, God comes to live inside of them and He begins to change them to be what He wants them to be:  one who follows God's law, not by effort-full striving, but by pure nature.  Holiness and righteousness are what we lack, and they are the goal of our salvation.  Any ideas of 'God's salvation' that omit or dismiss personal holiness and righteousness are not from God.
At the end of the day, rejection of the promise and reality of Christ takes two forms:  either outright disbelief that God saves people only through faith (which is calling God a liar), or outright rejection of salvation by faith as nonsensical (which is calling God ignorant and irrelevant).
The only valid obligation placed upon us is the one God Himself gives us by the very offer of His promise of salvation.  When we try to save ourselves by our own 'good' behavior, we are in essence seeking to place an obligation upon ourselves to be 'good enough' for God to save us.  God says this way can save no one  - it is impossible.  The only valid obligation we have is to simply believe and accept the promise God has made)

The further the Jews went with their 'works', the farther they got away from God who is reached only by faith, and when they had fully hardened themselves in the falsehood of 'works', God's punitive and judicial hardening set in.  Having sealed their own doom, God too sealed it for them.

Paul clothes this thought in Scriptural language:  "They stumbled against the stone of the stumbling", and then follows this with the Scripture itself.  The Greek is stronger than the English: "they struck against the stone of striking against" or, "they smashed", etc.  And 'proskomma', with its suffix -ma, indicating results (see Robertson's Greek grammar, section 151) equals the accomplished smashing.

This is not a stone over which one may merely stumble and recover oneself but one against which one runs with his entire body and smashes it entirely; it is like knocking one's brains out.  The stone itself is of such a size, and its very character produces such a dire result.  The fact that Paul has Christ in mind is beyond question, Christ in His effect on unbelieving workers of law.
--R.C.H Lenski - "Interpretation Of Romans" pp 636-637

Obviously this has great meaning for those that do not have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, but it is equally as important for those that are 'saved', as we call it inside the church.


For the same reason that it was important to the Christians at the church in Galatia.  They started off so well under the instruction of Paul, but along the way other people came along and interjected a different gospel:  not a gospel of grace and their responsibility of a faithful response, but instead a gospel that included 'faith' alongside human works toward following the Jewish law.  This included all areas of Jewish observance, including circumcision.  The Apostle, but more importantly the Holy Spirit through Paul, had some strong words for those allowing themselves to be pulled away from the bona fide gospel:

Galatians 5:1-7 (NIV)
(1) It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
(2) Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.
(3) Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.
(4) You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
(5) But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.
(6) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
(7) You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?

This is quite stern, isn't it?  After all, Paul is writing this to true Christians - to people that have believed and received the Spirit (Galatians 3:1-3).  Listen to how important it is not to accept a corrupted Gospel.  Listen to the consequences the Holy Spirit points out through Paul:

v. 2  "if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all."  If Christ is of no value, that means no salvation through Christ - for this is the value that Christ provides.
v. 4  "you who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace".  How horrible.  To be separated from Christ is to be outside of His saving power.  To have fallen away from grace is to be separated from the saving effects of that same grace.

In v. 2 Paul calls out in a specific exclamation:  'ide!' - pay attention!  take notice!  Or as it is rendered in the NIV:  'Mark my words!'.  These things are critical to the attainment or loss of eternal life and Paul wants them understood as such.

Paul is telling these Christians that if they allow themselves to be circumcised in order to pursue a relationship with God, that Christ will be of 'no value to them at all'.  Consider the Greek phrase that underlies this translation - the wording is so strong:  'ouden ophelesei'.  'Ouden' is a negating term.  It means 'no', 'not at all'.  In fact, it is so strong that it removes any possibility of doubt and it excludes any exceptions at all.  It is 'no' in the strongest, most absolute terms.  'Ophelesei' means 'assistance', 'help', 'aid', 'profit', 'benefit'.  If they step away from salvation by faith and only by faith, they lose the benefit of Christ completely.

In v. 4 Paul warns them that if they seek justification from the law rather than on account of Christ, they have been 'alienated from Christ' and 'fallen away from grace'.  Consider the Greek under this translation  - it is chilling:  'katergethete apo Christou' - 'katergethete' means 'to cause something to be unproductive', 'to use up or exhaust something', 'to cause something to lose its power or effectiveness', 'to invalidate something', 'to make something powerless', 'to abolish', 'to wipe out', 'to set aside'.  Paul is saying that if these Christians do these things, they will be totally and completely removed from the power and effectiveness of Christ.  'Exepesate charitos' - 'exepesate' means 'to fall away from a favorable condition', 'to lose something'.  'Charitos' in this context means God's saving grace.  It means 'a beneficial disposition towards someone', 'gracious care', 'gracious favor', 'goodwill', 'the practical application of all these things: favor, goodwill, care, a precious gift'.  'Grace' is all of these things.  In essence, it is being willing to love and applying love.

For these Christians to be circumcised in the Jewish manner for the Jewish reason (to enter a covenant with God) means that the benefit they had from Christ by faith would be totally and completely nullified.  This portion of Scripture isn't talking about people that merely professed faith in Christ.  These are people that truly are 'saved' and are in danger of losing their salvation by falling away from Christ and His grace.  One cannot fall away from something one does not possess.  Paul isn't talking about the loss of opportunity to be saved through Christ, but the actual loss of salvation in Christ one already possesses.  This isn't talking about some external force snatching these Christians from God's hands, that is impossible.  This is talking about people in God's hands deciding to jump by accepting a different gospel.  There is no part of Scripture that indicates God holds on to people against their will.

This is how important it is to protect the integrity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ at all costs.  It is the only way to God that He has given for anyone to be saved.  To deviate from God's plan of salvation by and only by Jesus' completed work on the Cross is to either not attain to salvation at all, or to lose it having once possessed it.

The modern church, at least in the West, is awash in counterfeit 'gospels':
  • the gospel of material health and wealth
  • the gospel of name it and claim it:  the gospel of make a wish, any wish
  • the gospel of works first to last: earned salvation
  • the deterministic gospel where God doesn't really desire to save everyone.  He only desires to save a few and He saves them not by influence (revelation) and response (conviction and active trust), but rather He imposes faith via cause and effect by 'regenerating' them.  Not so that they will be merely enabled to trust Him, but in a way that they will trust Him of necessity.  The regeneration is prior to faith and is a saving act in and of itself because it leads irresistibly to faith.  This gospel says that the unregenerate sinner is outside the power of God's revelation and conviction until they are reborn in regeneration.  I might be wrong but it seems to me that this gospel presents a less than omnipotent God, it seems to me that it slanders His character in that it claims He says one thing but means another regarding who He truly desires to save, and it definitely places the new birth prior to the personal exercise of faith.  It is not a gospel of salvation by faith first to last, it is a gospel that says salvation is to or towards faith, not sourced from faith. 
  • the gospel of initial faith but salvation maintained by works
  • the gospel awash in the 'means of grace', namely the Roman sacraments - meaning that it is through these physical actions that God bestows His grace, rather than by simple, childlike trust in God's promise.  

If you can envision a corruption of the gospel, it surely exists out there somewhere.  All of these other gospels claim to be genuine, but in one place or another they contradict what God has clearly said.

The only Gospel God has provided is one that is truly 'out of' faith, first to last.  Faith first exercises itself in repentance (agreeing with what God says about our sin and being willing to turn from it  - this is faith exercised as trust in what God says about our sin), and after this it accepts Jesus' work on the cross as its own.  This is true faith exercised as active trust in God's words concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment.  And this faith has to be *your* faith.  God has to enable it by making His promise (which He has done), but you have to exercise it once its possibility is born in you.  Only you can do this.  No one can repent for you, and no one can give you to God.  Those actions must be your own.

The idea of forgiveness from God that is applied only to those that believe His promise is found all throughout God's word.  In the Old Testament it is found in the sin offering, the whole burnt offering, and the offering given on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).  The sacrifice of Yom Kippur, for instance, was for all of Israel.  God provided it so that any and all sin could be forgiven, and the one sacrifice given for all was sufficient to do so.  But the benefits of the sacrifice were only applied to those that truly repented and believed as God indicated they should:  with a whole heart and with all their soul.  If this wasn't done, the benefit of the sacrifice that could have been theirs was lost, left on the table because of an unrepentant and disbelieving heart.  In the cross of Christ, we have that offer of salvation made universally to all mankind, and any and all who will accept it will be rescued, for all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.

My hope for you is that you find the little gate that leads to the narrow path of salvation.  Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  He is the only salvation that God has offered.  Before it's too late, allow His words to convict you of your sin, repent (change your mind and turn away) from what God shows you, and turn to Him in trust to save you.