Joy to the World – Pt. 2

jtw2Part 1 of this series briefly introduced the history of this celebrated and widely known hymn. What I found amazing was that Watts never intended for this song to be a celebration of Christ’s first coming, but of  His second coming.  Nevertheless, when we consider every aspect of Christ’s ministry, His birth, His life, His death, His resurrection, His ascension and His return, the integration of these aspects is crucial and cannot be divorced from one another.  Therefore, during the Christmas season, it is entirely fitting to celebrate the  redemptive victory that Christ will accomplish.

The second verse of this hymn almost mirrors the idea of the first verse. It says-

Joy to the earth! the savior reigns;

Let men their songs employ;

While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains

Repeat the sounding joy,

Repeat the sounding joy,

Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

The Call to Praise

The first verse of this song is a call to praise for the coming of Jesus.  Similarly, verse two contains praise, but for a different reason. Praise ensues because in addition to Jesus coming, He will rule all of creation and His kingdom will be forever (2 Sam. 7:8-13, Dan. 7:13-14).  

Reason for Praise

Unless we understand what is wrong with the world, we will not see the reason to be overjoyed about the coming and ruling of Jesus.  Genesis 3 tells us what went wrong with the world – man rebelled (sinned) against his creator and God cursed man and all of creation as a result. Instead of a harmonious loving relationship, man’s relationship with God was broken and the created order was subject to disorder as well.  As previously mentioned, the Scriptures remind us that although  we and creation groan as a result of the curse, there is hope.  Romans 8:20-24 says- 

“…the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved.  

 In addition to that curse, the world is presently under the power of the evil one (1 Jhn. 5:19). Because of Adam’s sin, the devil is the ruler of this world (Jhn 12:31, 16:11; Eph. 2:2, 2 Cor. 4:4) So how will it be set free from this bondage to corruption? Who will do it?

There was an ultimate reason to Christ’s incarnation – redemption.  He came to destroy the devil and his works (Col. 2:15; 1 Jhn 3:8), absorb the wrath of God on behalf of His people (Isa. 53) and gather His people into a new family (Jhn. 10:11-16; Rev. 7:9-10)!  Christ entered humanity, lived as a man under the Law, and yet died as one who had violated the Law becoming a curse in the place of guilty man. And in His becoming the curse for us, He lifted the curse from all of creation. His redemption is cosmic! All of creation will one day be under the glorious rule of Jesus Christ. It is no wonder that Psalm 98 pictures Jesus as the celebrated Savior (98:1-3), King (98:6) and Judge (98:9).  At the second coming of Christ, there will be no more disharmony and disunity between God and all of His creation.  While in exile, the Apostle John was given a vision from Jesus concerning the future. Revelation 21 says –

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Sin and its effects will be forever gone. There will be a new heavens and new earth unaffected by sin. God and man will be forever reconciled. Death, mourning, crying and pain shall forever be gone. All groaning (Rom. 8:20-24) will turn to triumphant praise! This is the hope we have to look forward to! This is why the song says –

Let men their songs employ;

While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains

Repeat the sounding joy,

Repeat the sounding joy,

Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

All of creation will praise Christ eternally for his work of redemption from the curse and the works of the devil.

Our Response at Christmas

In light of this truth, may we rejoice at the birth of our Savior! Praise God for His indescribable gift! Rejoice because salvation has come and is coming!

21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

Merry Christmas!

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Christ Appeared

“You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.” (1 John 3:5)

There is so much important truth packed into this one sentence. Three obvious truths are:

1. He (Jesus) appeared
2. Jesus took our sins away
3. He is sinless

His appearing is a reference to the incarnation. There are many religions that seek to deny the humanity of Jesus and they do so at their own peril. The incarnation of Jesus is absolutely necessary for Him to accomplish,
as a man, what no other person has been or will be able to do – obey the law of God perfectly as a human. Jesus is the perfect man and He is also divine. Let this be sweet to us!

We are not perfect. We are sinners. We deserve God’s wrath because of our rebellion against Him. We sin because we are sinners by nature. We are sinners by nature because our federal head, Adam, transgressed a clear command of God (Gen. 2:17, 3:1-13). Through Adam and Eve’s disobedience, sin and death entered creation (Rom 5:12). We must not only think of the act of eating fruit as sin. We must also think who was sinned against. Adam and Eve sinned against holy God. The offense was cosmic because of this reason. This is why the wages of sin is eternal death. Sin against eternal holy God deserves eternal righteous condemnation. Jesus’ humanity was necessary because as a man, He lived the life that we could never live and died the death we deserve. This is what the Apostle John meant when he said Jesus appeared to take away sins. It’s not that Jesus’ righteousness erases the sinful acts we have done. Rather, for those who cast themselves on God’s mercy and place their faith in Christ, their sins have been atoned for and the penalty for sin no longer remains. Christ has removed our guilt and our condemnation by becoming the guilty and the condemned one in our place. That was what the cross was all about. He became sin who knew no sin that we might become His righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21)!

Only Christ is qualified to do this because He is perfect! His perfection is what John meant by in him there is no sin. Under the Old Covenant, the Law required a perfect sacrifice to be slain for the guilty and offered to God by the high priest. Innocent blood for guilty blood has always been God’s way of forgiveness. This preserves His holiness and magnifies His grace, mercy, forgiveness and love. Jesus is our sacrifice and our high priest (Heb.10:1-18) and He clearly proclaimed that He is the way to the Father (Jhn. 14:6).

Jesus came to die so that those who are dead spiritually might live. Jesus came to undo the works of Satan and redeem a people for Himself. This is why He appeared. This is why we have and celebrate Christmas.

Let us rejoice!

Grace & Peace,

d.

A Few Thoughts on Glory Road: The Journeys of 10 African-Americans into Reformed Christianity

It all seemed to have happened in an instant. The knowledge of my sin.  The knowledge of His wrath.  The knowledge of the sufficiency of Christ’s atoning death and resurrection.  The knowledge of the gospel.  Though I’d heard the gospel many times prior, this knowledge and faith came in an instant during a heated argument with my then girlfriend in September 1998.  This knowledge came when I heard a voice say, “It’s time to come home.”  This voice wasn’t audible, but it was other.  It was piercing, yet tender and loving.  I knew it was the voice of the Lord.  In the midst of an argument, I was converted by the grace of God.  However, I’ve often hesitated to share my conversion experience because it sounded so mystical and atypical as far as what I knew about conversion. I  wasn’t in church being emotionally pulled.  No one was walking me through the gospel.  I wasn’t at a crisis in my life that might have made me more sensitive to sin and the need for a Savior.  I was loving life; loving my sin.

Looking back on my conversion experience, I see it was the sovereign gracious election of the Father and the conviction and regenerating work of the Spirit causing me to “see” the beauty of the work of Jesus Christ.  But it would be six years after my conversion before I could see that sovereign grace of God in election.  It was through the patient explanations of my brother in the faith, shai linne, and biblical expositors like John MacArthur, John Piper and R.C. Sproul that the Spirit used to cause me to embrace, love and cherish biblical soteriology.  But were there anymore like me in my city?  Were there any other young black men rejoicing with me about this treasure?  How come I did not see the black preachers on television laboring over and teaching this?  In essence what I was asking myself was, “Is it okay to be African-American and Reformed?”

I honestly can’t think of any other book that accurately describes my theological journey as a black man in America. Glory Road: The Journeys of 10 African-Americans into Reformed Christianity has been a tremendous blessing and encouragement to my soul. Edited by Pastor Anthony J. Carter, Glory Road is a compilation of ten endearing, enriching, transparent, and humble testimonies of men, including Carter’s, who upon discovering the truths of Reformed salvation, though filled with extraordinary joy, found themselves swimming against the current of modern African American Christianity.

Consider this picture.  The general doctrinal framework of American Christianity is Arminian, so to be Reformed in America is to be a minority. From a church culture perspective,  modern African-Americans generally fall into several Arminian denominations and conventions, such as the African American Methodist Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, the Church of God, the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), the National Baptist Convention of America and the Progressive National Baptist Convention.  So to be black and Reformed is to be an unfavored minority within a minority.  Each author noted how their embrace of Reformed Theology, to one degree or another, ushered them into an internal cultural conflict as well as a short-lived uncomfortable assimilation into white Reformed culture.

Through the lens of the African-American Church, Reformed Theology is often seen as something foreign, impractical, problematic and another subservient act toward the white man. Specifically, the thought of trying to reconcile the African Slave Trade with God’s sovereignty is the excuse many African Americans use to reject Reformed Theology. I can understand this point of view. However, another cause of rejecting biblical soteriology partly is owing part to the heresies of James Cones’s  Black Liberation Theology that arose during the Civil Rights Era. Contributing author and Assistant Professor of Bible & Theology at Washington Bible College, Eric C. Redmond, refutes this idea masterfully by saying:

“If a person would allow himself to be pigeonholed into becoming a person of nationalistic or ethnocentric thought out of the fear of being viewed as an Oreo or Uncle Tom, then Reformed Theology is not for that person. But then neither is the gospel, for the gospel calls each of us to stand against an ethnic-centered philosophy of one’s own race, for such philosophy is naturally conformed to this present world and is in need of redemption. If you cannot stand against your own culture where it does not square with the Scriptures, you are the one who is ashamed of Christ, and such shame has nothing to do with the philosophical or ontological blackness; it only has to do with your view of majesty of the God who call you to deny yourself in order to follow Christ.” (p. 150)

In essence, Redmond is saying people that place too high of an emphasis on their race and allows their anthropocentrism to shape their views of God actually have a warped view of God and will find themselves at odds with the biblical gospel. Some of us are too black to be Christians.

Aside from the social and cultural implications, Reformed Theology forced some of these men to examine and change their ecclesiological traditions. Contributing author, Pastor Ken Jones, senior pastor of Greater Union Baptist Church in Compton, CA and co-host of the nationally syndicated radio program, The White Horse Inn, recounts his experience.

“….the change in my preaching began with a different aim. My aim was to no longer move the people, but rather to open the Word of God and expound the person and work of Jesus Christ. I no longer saw the need to be motivational or to be a cheerleader. It became clear to me that the tradition that I had been reared in had, intentionally or not, confused the power and the presence of the Spirit with human emotions…Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 became my aim in preaching……We made significant changes to our order of service, changes that made the Word of God and the person and work of Christ central to the service. As a result the tone of the services changed…..And it was through teaching that we were able to call attention to the content of our songs that we sang…Bible teaching provides the theology of worship, and the songs old and new should be selected on the basis of their consistence with that theology.” (p.87-88, 90-91)

Out of the Protestant Reformation, 5 significant doctrinal affirmations were declared that marked key distinctives of Christianity. Out of the five, Sola Scriptura (Latin for “scripture alone”) is what led to the change in Pastor Ken Jones’ teaching style and song choices. Sola Scriptura is the affirmation that the Bible is the only infallible and inerrant authority for the Christian faith and it contains all knowledge for salvation and holiness. After seeing the sufficiency of the Spirit inspired Scriptures, Pastor Jones no longer felt the need to “whoop” and move people emotionally. Such pragmatism and other forms of it are abandoned when expository preaching resulting from exegesis is commonplace for the shepherd.

I praise God simply for the preservation of His truth and for His justified desire for glory of His name that will arise from all ethnicities. (Revelation 7:9-12)

While much more could be said about this book, I’ll refrain from further comments hoping that you will purchase and read the accounts of these ten African-American men and their journeys.

 Soli Deo Gloria!

d.

Other Resources:

1. Anthony Carter, Pastor of East Point Church (Atlanta, GA)

Buy Glory Road

2. Anthony B. Bradley, Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology & Ethics at Covenant Seminary (St. Louis, MO)

Buy Liberating Black Theology (New Release)

 

3. Thabiti Anyabwile, Pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman (Cayman Islands, U.S.)

Buy Decline of African American Theology

Buy What Is A Healthy Church Member?

 

4. Eric Redmond, Assistant Professor of Bible & Theology at Washington Bible College (Lanham, MD)

Buy Where Are All The Brothers?

Update:  Ken Jones is  the pastor of Glendale Baptist Church in Miami, Florida. He has taught seminary extension courses on the Book of Galatians and Church History. Rev. Jones has contributed articles to Modern Reformation and Tabletalk. (courtesy of  whitehorseinn.org)

Encouragement for the Evangelist – Pt. 2

Five centuries before the rise of Finney, a light began to shine in Europe. That light was designed to expose the darkness of the theological heresies and political tyranny of the Church of Rome. Holding that torch was Englishman John Wycliffe, known as the Morning Star of the Reformation. With precise aggression, Wycliffe attacked the church’s heretical position on the doctrine of justification, the papacy and the sacramental system. His unwavering commitment to truth led him to translate the Latin Vulgate to English so every man, even the plough boy, might possess the Word of God in their own language. He saw this as the step to free men from the oppression of the Church of Rome.

John Wycliffe

Wycliffe’s light would extend beyond England to the modern day Czech Republic through Jan Hus who was burned alive at the stake by the Roman Catholic Church in 1415 under accusations of heresy concerning Catholic ecclesiology, specifically the legitimacy and authority of the papacy. Providentially, Hus’s last words before he was burned were, “…in 100 years God will raise up a man whose calls for reform cannot be suppressed.”

Jan Hus

Roughly 100 years later, on October 31, 1517, a German monk nailed 95 propositions to the Church Castle at Wittenberg against the Roman Catholic Church. His name – Martin Luther. Severely oppressed by his own sin and desire to please God, it was his study of Romans 1:17 that allowed him to see how God justifies sinners, which also exposed the great corruptions of the Roman Catholic Church. The conclusions Luther ultimately came to were: The church was not authoritative; Scripture was. The pope is not head of the church; Christ is. Man is not saved by his own virtuous acts and religious rituals, but graciously by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness through faith. For his contentions, Luther was issued a papal bulla or summons by Pope Leo X to appear before Charles V to recant his “heresies” at the Diet of Worms. Firm in his new found convictions, upon his insistence to recant his charges, Luther said, “My conscience is held captive to the Word of God. I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither honest nor safe. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.”

Martin Luther

Luther’s teachings would continue to spread throughout Europe, both favorably and unfavorably,and other reformers would rise up. But perhaps the most significant reformer since Luther was a French scholar, professor, lawyer, theologian and later pastor, Jean Cauvin or John Calvin. Just as Luther’s central doctrine, justification by faith alone, tremendously impacted Europe, Calvin’s central doctrine, the sovereignty of God, would impact Europe and beyond in ways never imagined, particularly in the social and political realms, that previous reformers failed to achieve.

Skilled with brilliant writing ability and mind for logic, Calvin published the first edition of his magnum opus, the Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536 at the age of 27. For twenty years he continued to add to Institutes as it was regarded as the most coherent and logical summation of Protestant doctrine produced during the Reformation. Planted in Geneva, Switzerland, Calvin, with support of the city government, established Geneva as a disciplined Christian community and place for ministry training.

Jean Cauvin

Aside from his social and political convictions, Calvin is most known for his soteriological position. Stemming from his core doctrine, the sovereignty of God in all things, he naturally formed his salvific view from Scripture that salvation is granted based on the sovereign electing grace of God according to His will. Though systematized after his death, as a defense against the Arminian charge of heresy, T.U.L.I.P., or The Doctrines of Grace, was conceived during the Synod of Dort in 1618, convening in 1619. The acrostic, T.U.L.I.P., is a summation of biblical soteriology.

T – Total Depravity

U – Unconditional Election

L – Limited Atonement

I – Irresistible Grace

P – Perseverance of the Saints

This, I believe, captures the truth of Scripture concerning how people are saved and kept by God for the glory of God according to His own covenant. As I mentioned in Part 1 of this article, this is the doctrine that Charles G. Finney rejected that led to his heresies and pragmatic church routines.

So where is the encouragement, you might ask?  The encouragement lies in understanding the purpose of the sovereign grace of God in election. To miss this is to miss the whole thrust of this beautiful truth. But as the acrostic logically lays out, we must start with our condition – depraved. Sin has catapulted us into a state of spiritual death and enmity toward God. By nature, we hate and are unable to understand the truths of God, especially the gospel. To misunderstand this spirals us into believing lies about God and us. Building from a platform of error can only produce more error. However, by God’s grace, if we see our depravity as the Scriptures plainly declare, the doctrine of election should humble us greatly and cause us to see the lovingkindness of God toward us in Christ Jesus.

In matters of evangelism, let’s build on a proper foundation so that by God’s grace, we can see how the biblical doctrines espoused in the Reformation (biblical) are encouraging. That proper foundation is…

Q. Why does God do anything that He does?

A. For His own glory. (Romans 11:36)

It is safe to say that God saves people for His own glory, since saving people is one aspect of what He does. When God saves, He is demonstrating His love, forgiveness, grace, mercy, righteousness and justice in Christ. He is bringing attention to His own character by redeeming sinners.

At the same time, He is exalting the Savior, Jesus Christ, by making Him head over all things, especially the church. Scripture tells us that salvation was planned in eternity past and Christ is the Lamb who was slain from before the foundations of the earth. (1 Peter 1:20, Revelation 13:8) Scripture also tells us that believers were chosen by the Father in Christ before the foundation of the earth. (John 6: 39, 17:2,6, Ephesians 1:4, 2 Thessalonians 2:13) Revelation foretells of the eternal reign of Christ with the redeemed from every nation, tribe, people and tongue.

Seeing the predetermined plan of salvation as well as the consummation of salvation, ought to lead us to see the faithfulness of God in saving His elect by the means of declaring the gospel in the earth. God has chosen to save His people from His wrath by grace through faith in His Son.

The upshot of this is that we can share the gospel with confidence because it will effect God’s intended purpose because He will not leave His due exaltation and exultation ultimately in the decisions of man.

By God’s providential grace, The Reformation gave birth to Soli Deo Gloria, Solus Christus, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura through Wycliffe, Hus, Luther, Calvin and many others.

“15And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15)

 Grace & Peace,

d.

Encouragement For The Evangelist – Pt. 1

(Scenario 1)

[Pastor raising one hand slightly cupped toward the ceiling]

“Come. The doors of the church are open. Just come.  I know there is one more. Come.” <organ plays to stir emotions> “Today is the day of salvation thus saith the Lord.  Choose ye THIS day! Come.”

This should sound familiar to you if you’ve ever been part of or currently are part of a traditional worship service; perhaps even more so in the African-American context.  For those unfamiliar, these are the typical phrases heard at the end of a service known as the altar call or the invitation.  Sounds harmless, right?  After all, isn’t the pastor supposed to “lead people to the Lord”?  Obviously, this isn’t an article on pastoral theology, so I won’t get into the role and responsibilities of the shepherd.

(Scenario 2)

Using belligerent speech to convert people to Christ after you’ve given the gospel.  This usually happens after a person has given a clear presentation of the gospel and the listener appears the least bit concerned.  “So you’re telling me you’d rather go to hell, than accept the forgiveness Christ offers? Why would you want to do that?”  If that is not your experience, great.  But believe me, it happens.

Or perhaps you’re the kind of person that frets over your gospel presentation or you feel condemned after the listener walks away in rejection.

It is my conviction that both of these very common scenarios are evidences of an inaccurate understanding of the gospel.  These two scenarios represent common tactics of the Decisional Regeneration or Decision Theology Movement. It’s antithesis is Reformation Theology.

As the title says, I hope that this provides some encouragement for the evangelist (all believers for that matter) as we biblically assess salvation and how it comes about.

Decisional Regeneration / Decision Theology

Decisional Regeneration is the teaching that after hearing the gospel man can respond by choosing to follow the Lord and it is by that decision that he is regenerated or born again.

Decisional Regeneration gained mass popularity by the preaching of Charles Finney in the early 19th century.  It was his unbiblical position on depravity, justification, atonement, imputation and other key doctrines that led to his pragmatic revival style of preaching, which evangelicalism has yet to fully recover from.

Concerning depravity, which will remain my main focus, Finney believed that depravity resulted in a person after a freewill immoral decision was made.  In his Lectures on Systematic Theology, Finney states that the idea of moral depravity is “absurd”, “anti-Scriptural and non-sensical dogma”.  He went on to say, “Moral depravity, as I use the term, does not consist in nor imply a sinful nature in the sense that the substance of the human soul is sinful in itself. It is not a constitutional sinfulness. It is not an involuntary sinfulness.”1

This is nothing more than the resurrection of the condemned teachings of Pelagius, called Pelagianism.  Under this spurious view, it proports that Adam’s sin was not imputed to rest of the human race. Subsequently, a denial of Adam’s imputation of sin naturally leads one to reject the idea of the necessity of Christ’s imputation of righteousness through faith, and Finney did deny that.  However, Finney did believe that depravity was universal because every man everywhere makes immoral decisions.  Yet, Finney believed and taught each man is born in a state of innocence.  The conclusion – all man has to do is to stop desiring and choosing the wrong things and desire and choose the right things, namely God.  Can it be so simple, Mr. Finney?  Why does man naturally desire and choose things that God prohibits without the full revelation of God’s order?

Concerning inherent sin and the imputation of sin, Psalm 51:5 and Romans 5:12-14 reject Finney’s doctrine.

Concerning the ability and desire to choose God, Romans 3:11 and 5:6 silences that position. In Romans 3:11, quoting Psalm 14, the Apostle Paul says of man in his natural unredeemed state: “…..no one understands, no one seeks for God.”  The word the Holy Spirit led Paul to used for seeks is the Greek word έκζητων (ekzeton).  This comes from the words “ek” and “zeteo”. “ek” is a preposition which means out of and “zeteo” is the verb to seek.  When used like this ekzeton means to make a diligent or careful search. In this context, it is in the present tense and its mood is functioning as a participle.  Literally, Paul is saying no one from their own initiative is carefully or diligently seeking the Lord.  Man doesn’t do this because he is in bondage to his sin, his desires are constantly for sin and he is spiritually dead.  That’s how bad the fall affected us.  We do not desire God!  We are dead to God naturally.  Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that man cannot freely choose Christ on his own for the forgiveness of his sins and regeneration.

It is on the foundation of Jesus’ words in John 6:44 that Paul instructs us through the Holy Spirit.

“44No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him….”

The results of Finney’s soteriological beliefs led to rowdy evangelistic pragmatism like the “anxious bench” (the forerunner to the altar call) and emotional tactics that often resulted in fainting, uncontrollable weeping and sobbing,  and proclaiming “new words” from the Lord.  Sound familiar?  It should as these trends have had a long lasting global impact.  Unquestionably, the worst effect of Finney’s doctrine is that it is a departure from the gospel as the Bible puts forth and the fruits of a false gospel aided by humanistic pragmatism are false conversions.

In my next installment, we will consider the biblical soteriological beliefs characteristic of The Reformation and how that affects evangelism.

Grace & Peace,

d.

1 Charles Finney, Lectures on Systematic Theology, p. 245

Decisions! Decisions!

I have decided to follow Jesus;

I have decided to follow Jesus;

I have decided to follow Jesus;

No turning back; No turning back

These are the words to a popular song sung in many churches in response to an altar call. In fact, I grew up hearing this song sung often in the church I attended as a boy in Houston, Texas.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me….
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see

These too are the words to a popular song sung in many churches. In like manner, I grew up singing this song too. It wasn’t until many years later that I discovered the significant differences each song communicates concerning salvation. It was also then I began to question the teachings of many songs under the Christian heading, whether songs of antiquity or of a contemporary nature. In addition to questioning songs, I also began questioning many popular church practices and seeing if they had any biblical basis. The aim in doing so was to siphon true doctrine and identify dross of unbiblical teachings and church routine.

If it isn’t obvious already, each song communicates an active and a passive agent in salvation; or an initiator and a responder. What must be discerned is which agent is doing what and is that consistent with biblical soteriology or ordo salutis.

In the first song, man is portrayed as the active agent or initiator in salvation and therefore God must be the passive agent or recipient of man’s decision. The second song pictures God as the active agent or initiator in saving man, making man the passive agent in salvation by receiving the mercy of a pardon and the grace of new life, adoption and spiritual sight. But which position is taught in Scripture? Assuming we believe in Sola Scriptura, then it is safe to say we can find our answer in the authoritative Word of God concerning this issue.

Romans 3 :10-18

 “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; 
 11THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS,
 THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; 
 12ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE  BECOME USELESS;
 THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD,
  THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.” 
 13″THEIR THROAT IS AN OPEN GRAVE,
 WITH THEIR TONGUES THEY KEEP DECEIVING,”
 “THE POISON OF ASPS IS UNDER THEIR LIPS”; 
14″WHOSE MOUTH IS FULL OF CURSING AND BITTERNESS”; 
15″THEIR FEET ARE SWIFT TO SHED BLOOD, 
16DESTRUCTION AND MISERY ARE IN THEIR PATHS, 
17AND THE PATH OF PEACE THEY HAVE NOT KNOWN.” 
18″THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES.”

Quoting several verses from Psalms and one from Isaiah, the Apostle Paul sums up man’s natural depraved position before God. And because of such radical depravity, man does not understand nor seek after God (v11) nor is there any natural reverence for God in man’s heart (v18).  We must agree with the Scriptures when it tells us that our minds are depraved and because of that we naturally do not think rightly about God or ourselves.  One of greatest forms of deception is to believe that we are in a better spiritual condition than we actually are. To disbelieve in the extent our sinfulness disables our ability to truly see and appreciate the magnitude of the grace of God in the accomplishments of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

1 Corinthians 2:14

14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.

Again, we see the inability of natural man (psuchikos) to accept spiritual things. In fact, things of the Spirit are foolishness to him. Just one chapter before, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:23:

23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness,

Again, the gospel (Christ crucified, etc.) is perceived as a stumbling block and foolishness to unbelievers.

So if the gospel, which is a thing of the Spirit, is foolishness to natural man’s depraved mind, how can natural man on his own decide to follow Jesus? My contention is man cannot on his own see his own depravity before God and the beauty of Christ unless the Holy Spirit first does a work in man’s mind and heart to acknowledge the truth according to the foreknowledge of God.

 John 6:39-40, 44

 39″This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.

40″For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”

44″No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.

From these few verses spoken by Jesus, it is evident that salvation is not initially dependent on man, but on God’s sovereign choice.  This is tough for some to come to terms with, but it is plain Scripture. But once it is accepted, we see grace for what it truly is. It was this grace that led John Newton to pen his famous hymn.  Utterly rebellious and hopeless, the Lord sacrificed Himself for His sheep and upon hearing the gospel, we believed according to the plan of God.  Indeed that is grace!

So does man initially choose God or does God choose man? I think the answer is obvious.

It is my sincere desire that we would be a people committed to correct doctrine and action for the sake of His glory and the manifestation of His kingdom.

Grace & Peace,

d.

In Defense of [Biblical] Foreknowledge

The longer I live, the more I realize how much I do not know. In turn, this motivates me to pursue knowledge of particular interests. In matters of the faith, I am constantly reminded how little I am and sinful sin is.  Ultimately, this leads me to another glimpse of the absoluteness of God and His holiness and grace.

My latest humbling, conviction and confidence has come through studies on soteriology or the study of salvation. There are two views that historically have been the cause of much controversy. These two views are:

  1. By manner of divine grace according to His will, God chooses to save whom He will.
  2. By manner of free will, man chooses whether or not he will be saved from the wrath of God.

This subject as a matter of debate appears to have first surfaced in the 4th century between British monk, Pelagius and Roman Catholic Bishop, Augustine.  Pelagius and Augustine held opposing views on the effects of the fall (i.e. original sin), thus leading to their opposing soteriological positions.  Pelagius held to free will because he didn’t believe Adam’s sin fully corrupted Adam. Nor did he believe sin was passed on to Adam’s posterity – the whole human race.  Augustine held to divine election believing that because of Adam’s sin man is dead toward God and unable to respond to God rightly.

Augustine’s beliefs had a great influence on noted 16th century reformers, Martin Luther and John Calvin.  The opposition to Luther and Calvin were Erasmus of Rotterdam and Dutch theologian, Jacobus Arminius respectively.  Though not Pelagian, Arminius believed that although man was dead in sin, he was “alive enough” to make a free will decision to accept Christ or reject Him.  Arminius’ passionate rejection of Calvin’s soteriological position prompted a response that his followers, The Remonstrants, presented at the Holland State Assembly in 1610. This response became known as the The Five Articles of Remonstrance.  It was in response to this that prompted Calvin’s followers (after Calvin’s death) to present the The Five Points of Calvinism (i.e. T.U.L.I.P. or The Doctrines of Grace) in 1619 after convening the Synod of Dort.  To this day, these are the two prevailing soteriological positions of the church.

dordsesynode1

The Synod of Dort (1618-1619)

Some may wonder why this is important. It’s biblical and it has strong implications on one’s view and understanding of God and His grace.  Such was the case with me.  I first was properly introduced to the doctrines of grace in 2003.  I was improperly introduced to the doctrines of grace in 1999, which led to my ungracious reaction to the proper description of the doctrines of grace. I admit I struggled with it, but through the gracious example and teachings of various brothers in Christ and the work of the Spirit through study of the Scripture, I now understand and believe this to be the biblical teaching of salvation.  I had to cast away my thoughts of how I wanted salvation to be and humble myself toward God.

Election is a very controversial subject.  Its mention, along with synonomous terms chosen and chose in matters of salvation cannot be ignored, but must be given proper exegetical and prayerful attention to have a biblical understanding of salvation.  To properly understand election, we must deal with its precedent.  That is foreknowledge.  This too can not be ignored as it is mentioned in Scripture several times and in several variations (i.e. foreknow, foreknew, and foreknown).

The issue that must be dealt with fairly is – what does foreknowledge mean?  Let’s look at how the Arminian and the Calvinist view the biblical doctrine of foreknowledge.

From the Arminian perspective, God looked down the corridors of time and foresaw who would freely choose Christ and therefore elected them to salvation.

From Calvinism’s perspective, according to God’s eternal purpose to exalt the Son, He foreordained and elected people to salvation in eternity past.

I’m sure you can see the great difference between the two perspectives and how that affects who is truly is glorified in salvation.  It is because of that,  that this necessitates with urgency an honest look at foreknowledge to see which position is actually taught in Scripture. We will look at two verses mainly that contain the concept of foreknowledge.

Foreknowledge is the Greek word prognosis. It and its variations are mentioned in Acts 2:23, Romans 8:29, 11:2, and 1 Peter 1:2, 20. Prognosis means forethought or pre-arrangement. Foreknown is proginosko and means (1) to know beforehand (2) to foreknow as to whom God elected for salvation and (3) to predestinate.

1 Peter 1:20

For He (Christ) was foreknown (proginosko) before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you…

The context of this verse is Peter’s exhortation to scattered believers to rejoice and stand strong in the midst of persecution. It is critical that we not miss the basis of Peter’s exhortation.  The basis of Peter’s exhortation is the assurance of God’s redeeming work that was accomplished by Christ, which no man will frustrate.  They were chosen according to the foreknowledge of God [more later], objects of sanctification by the Spirit and cleansed by the blood of Christ (v1), possessed a living hope and an imperishable inheritance (vv3-4), protected through faith, and Peter repeats they were cleansed and redeemed by the blood of Christ in vv18-19. To strengthen his point, he mentions Christ being foreknown.  Here is where we need to critically assess foreknown.

Using almost identical language, Revelation 13:8 says Jesus was slain from the foundation of the world. This tells us that redemption is an eternal issue. God foreordained to save a specified remnant of people through the predetermined sacrificial death of Jesus. (Isaiah 53:10 & Acts 2:23) Hence, in 1 Peter 1:20, foreknown can not mean God only passively knew Christ would die sacrificially, but rather He actively predestined Christ to die for His sheep. I don’t think many modern Arminians or non-Reformed brothers and sisters would deny that.

Romans 8:29

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son…

This is the beginning of one of the most well known sets of verses that deal with the sovereignty of God in salvation. Romans 8:29-30 is often referred to as the Golden Chain of Salvation. What sets this in motion to its logical and biblical end is the foreknowledge of God.

Many Arminians or non-Reformeds I know and have discussed this verse with interpret this verse as God knowing who would eventually choose Him and then He elects them. Following that logic means God’s election and overall plan to glorify Christ is contingent on man’s choice. Who is sovereign in that scenario? As we’ve seen from the 1 Peter 1:20 verse and the other cross-references, foreknowledge and its variants in salvific passages can not mean a passive knowledge only. So it can’t mean that in this salvific verse either.  To accept the Arminian view in this verse sets it at odds with other verses that clearly express God’s election stemming from His foreknowledge.  Also, if we apply that line of thinking to 1 Peter 1:20 then we’d have to say that God looked down the corridors of time and saw that Jesus would die on the cross. If that were true, and God didn’t ordain Jesus’ death, then Jesus acted independently of the Father.  If that were true, then 1Peter 1:20 would be at odds with John 4:34.  This inconsistency must be abandoned.

Just as God foreknew (foreordained) the death of Christ, He foreknew (foreordained) the ones whom would be saved by Christ.  John records Jesus’ teaching on this matter in several places in his gospel. In John 10, Jesus said,

14″I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, 15even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16″I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd….””

Notice for whom Christ died.  He died for the sheep – those the Father foreknew both from the stock of Israel and from among Gentile nations.  Notice also the definitive language Jesus uses in verse 16.  He said He must bring in (save) the other sheep,  they will hear His voice and will become one flock; not that He merely provides a possibility of salvation.

As He continues His discourse with unbelieving Jews, Jesus says,   “26″But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. 27″My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. 29″My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.

This is key! Take note of verse 26. Jesus says they don’t believe because they’re not His sheep. He didn’t say they were not His sheep due to unbelief. He goes on to say the sheep hear His voice, are known by Him and are the recipients of eternal life and eternal security. Why? Because the sheep essentially belong to the Father because He foreknew them and gave them to Christ. Jesus’ prayer in John 17 affirms this too.

Though the word foreknowledge nor any of it variants appear in Acts 13:47-48, it is a very relevant and worthy mention. Luke records,

47″For so the Lord has commanded us (Paul and Barnabus),
         ‘I HAVE PLACED YOU AS A LIGHT FOR THE GENTILES,
         THAT YOU MAY BRING SALVATION TO THE END OF THE EARTH.'”
48When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.

Preaching the gospel in Antioch of Pisidia, Paul clarifies according to the prophecy of Isaiah 42:6 that the Gentiles will be saved though the witness of Israel’s believing heralds. Verse 47 is strong, but verse 48 brings this beautiful truth of foreknowledge and election front and center. Notice it says, “and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” Notice that it does not say, “and as many believed were appointed to eternal life.”  There is simply no other truthful interpretation of that verse. Foreknowledge and election are plainly seen there.  The Greek word for appointed is tasso which means to ordain or to assign a place.

In God’s economy of salvation, foreknowledge (foreordaining) and election are prior to human belief, not based on it.  This alone logically proves that all who come are elected by God and will believe the gospel.  He foreordained the end from the beginning as well as the means to that end. As Spurgeon said, “It is all of grace!”

Conclusion

When investigated hermeneutically and prayerfully, the Arminian view of foreknowledge (and all of salvation) has many inconsistencies and can’t truthfully be reconciled with Scripture. In addition to that, to its logical end, it minimizes God’s grace and makes man the final arbiter of salvation.

While many other verses from both testaments could’ve been used to support the doctrine of foreknowledge, I think this is a good start for those who are investigating this issue.  I also would like to say that this wasn’t written with animosity toward those who do not hold to the Doctrines of Grace.  It is the firstfruits of a five year study of Scripture accompanied by spirited and peaceful discussions with good brothers in the Lord.  I hope this can be of some manner of blessing for the reader either by rejoicing in God’s grace or by mining the Scriptures more intently for His grace gems.

spurgeonHow shall those who are the subjects of divine election sufficiently adore the grace of God? They have no room for boasting, for sovereignty most effectually excludes it. The Lord’s will alone is glorified, and the very notion of human merit is cast out to everlasting contempt. There is no more humbling doctrine in Scripture than that of election, none more promotive of gratitude, and, consequently, none more sanctifying. Believers should not be afraid of it, but adoringly rejoice in it.” – C.H. Spurgeon

It has been said that the man who chokes on the doctrine of election has not yet swallowed the truth of his own depravity.

Soli Deo Gloria!

d.

The Prosperity of the Gospel

“And He [Jesus] said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” (Mark 16:15)

This was Jesus’ command to the remaining eleven disciples after His resurrection.

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,..” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

These were the words of the Apostle Paul to the church in Corinth in defense of his ministry. Paul first received this message after he was converted on the Damascus Road in Acts 9.

Notice this message Paul preached is what he called “of first importance”. It is of first importance because it clarifies the fundamental problem of humanity – sin, God’s just wrath against sin, and His supply of the Atoner, Jesus Christ, for our sin. That is the gospel. That is what Jesus commissioned His disciples to preach and their obedience is obvious. This is God’s appointed Christocentric message to be proclaimed for the salvation of sinners (Romans 1:16). This is the message that laid the foundation of the church. Jesus Christ is the Chief Cornerstone (Isaiah 28:16), the foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11) and head of the church (Colossians 1:17-18).

Sadly, many churches have abandoned this command and are preaching “another gospel”.  In America, and now in other places like Africa, the prosperity gospel is being preached with more vigor than the days of its inception almost 140 years ago. The economic model of supply and demand (i.e. God shall supply what I demand) has crept in through cunning teachers through eisegesis, taken root, and silenced the truth of Christ’s atonement on the cross in mainstream evangelicalism.  The result, false converts sincerely believing God wants them to have their best lives now.  There is no biblical evidence to support the teaching that Jesus’ death procures financial gain and earthly comforts.

The heresy of the prosperity gospel is that it teaches that God exists to make much of you, instead of you making much of Christ by magnifying His supreme worth through a lifestyle of sacrifice and worship. 

Luke 12:13-21 is a piercing teaching on the danger of seeking to accumulate earthly possessions. This is not the gospel and no one will prosper by it in this life and the next.

The true prosperity of the gospel is being forgiven of all our sins, adopted into the family of God being eternally reconciled to the Father through Jesus Christ, Our God and Savior.

  “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”

(John 17:3)

 Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile : “Why Did Jesus Have To Die”