Monday, October 30, 2006
A Christian view of war
The Biblical view of war may surprise many. Let's start with the language. The verb used in Exodus 20 for "murder" is never applied to Israel at war, and applies only in cases of premeditated killing of other individuals.
We all agree that judgment is God's alone, and that we should treat our enemies with respect and love. However, I hope we also agree that according to the Bible, we know the difference between right and wrong, and what justice constitutes according to God.
We learn this from Scripture:
"Romans 13:1-5 (NIV)
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.  Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.  For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you.  For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.  Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. "
Here it is written that God has delegated some of His authority to the government, and as such, the government has the right to pursue wars against evil and to administer justice. The passage above gives the government the right to bear the sword against these people.
God wills that human justice hold sway among governments, and between citizens and civil authority. He does not prescribe that governments always turn the other cheek. The government "does not bear the sword for nothing." Police have the God-given right to use force to restrain evil and bring law-breakers to justice. And legitimate states have the God-given right to restrain life-threatening aggression and bring criminals to justice. If these truths are known, this God-ordained exercise of divine prerogative would glorify the justice of God who mercifully ordains that the flood of sin and misery be restrained in the earth.
Is it not our Christian duty to protect the innocent? Do we just let evil steamroller over us? We are citizens of 2 kingdoms, the heavenly and the earthly, and we should follow what God tells us to do in both cases.
"1 Peter 2:13-14 (NIV)
Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority,  or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. "
This verse confirms the earlier verse from Romans, while adding that these authorities appointed by God are the ones that punishes those who do evil. And the instruction is clear, we must submit to them for the Lord's sake. So if you are required by your government to go to war, you should submit to that, provided that it is a just war.
It is very important, however, to remember here the distinction between church and state. The Christian fights in a war not as an ambassador of the church or on behalf of the church, but as an ambassador of his country. The church is not to use violence (John 18:36), but the government at times may (John 18:36; Romans 13:3-4; etc.). So the Christian fights not as an agent of the church, but as an agent of the government of his country. Both are ultimately under the authority of God, but each has a distinct role.
What, now, are we to make of Jesus' radical commands in Matthew 5:39-41? "Do not resist him who is evil; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone wants to sue you, and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. And whoever shall force you to go one mile, go with him two." How does this fit with what we have seen above?
First, we need to clarify what the problem is not. The problem is not that Jesus appears to be telling us to lie down and let evil overtake us. That is clearly not what he is saying. Instead, he is telling us what it looks like "not [to] be overcome by evil, but [to] overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21)
So the problem is not that it looks as though Jesus is telling us to let evil steam-roll over us. The problem is that it looks like Jesus is telling us that the only way we should ever seek to overcome evil is by letting it go and responding with kindness. It looks as though he leaves no place for using force in resisting evil.
Part of the answer to this difficulty lies in understanding the hyperbolic nature of much of the Sermon on the Mount. I don't think that Jesus is telling us never to respond to evil with force (such as in self-defense) or always to literally turn the other cheek when we are slapped any more than his command later in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:6 means that we should only pray when we are completely alone or his command in 5:29 means that some should literally gouge out their eyes. Jesus himself drove the thieves away from the temple with a whip (John 2:15) and Paul at times insisted on his rights as a Roman citizen (Acts 25:11; cf. also the interesting instance of 16:35-40). Jesus is using hyperbole to illustrate what our primary disposition and attitude should be, not to say that we should literally give in to every attempt to do evil against us. That is part of the answer.
The main part of the answer, however, lies in remembering that Jesus is speaking primarily to individuals. He is not mainly addressing governments here, but is primarily speaking at the personal level. This text, then, shows that an individual's primary response to evil should be to "turn the other cheek," while the other texts we have seen (e.g., Romans 13:3-4) show that government's God-given responsibility is to punish those who commit civil crimes (murder, terrorism, acts of war, etc.). While it is sometimes appropriate even for individuals to use self-defense, it is never appropriate for individuals to seek to punish others. But it is right, however, for governments both to take measures of self-defense and to execute retribution.
There are, in other words, various "spheres" of life. God has willed that some spheres include responsibilities that are not necessarily included in other spheres. Personally, it would be wrong for us to execute retribution on people who harm us. But passages like Romans 13:3-4 and John 18:36 show that Jesus is not denying governments the right to execute retribution on evildoers. Therefore, when a Christian is under the authority of the government and authorized to fight in a just war on the nation's behalf, it is appropriate for him to fight. For he is not fighting as a private individual, but as a representative of the government to which God has given the power of the sword.
I want to add a piece here about the just war criteria, since this is what defines the cases under which war can be justified. It was written by Augustine (no relation )
1) Proper Authority - Augustine meant by this that war is not to be waged by private citizens but rather by properly constituted governments.
2) Proper cause – We are not to go to war for revenge nor as Augustine put it ‘the lust for dominating’. The primary reason for going to war is self defence.
3) A reasonable chance of success
4) Proportionality - This has come to mean that non-combatants should be kept from harm, as far as possible.
Therefore, we will magnify the mercy of God by praying for our enemies to be saved and reconciled to God. At the personal level we will be willing to suffer for their everlasting good, and we will give them food and drink. We will put away malicious hatred and private vengeance. But at the public level we will also magnify the justice of God by praying and working for justice to be done on the earth, if necessary through wise and measured force from God-ordained authority.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Sola Fide: Justification by Faith Alone
The Faith that we have is, in and of itself, a gift from God. As explained in Sola Gratia, it is unearned. This is true in both Testaments (See Habakkuk 2:4). Abraham's "righteousness" was imputed to him as a result of his faith (Galatians 3:6-11). The Hall of Faith (Hebrews 11:1-40) testifies to the fact that the Old Testament saints were saved by the same faith that today's saints are.
Faith alone is NOT a defense of antinomianism. Rather by faith we uphold the law (Romans 3:31). Let us hold true to this. We are forever bound to every jot and tittle of God's moral law (Psalm 119:160; Matthew 5:17-18). However, the law cannot save us, but does just the opposite. The law was given "... so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:19-20). While it is true that we are “justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28), it is just as true that “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17). Dead faith is not true faith, but merely words. We'll deal more with antinomianism in a future blog, but for now, it is established that the works of the law cannot justify a sinner, but also that faith cannot be used as a license to “practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23). Nor can it rightly be said (as many have) that faith is our own contribution to our salvation. For such a teaching would make grace to be, well, not grace. Justification would no longer be by "unmerited favor", but would be a reward rightly owed and paid to us for our faith. But as the opening Scripture tells us, it is by grace through faith alone. "But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness." (Romans 6:17-18)
Monday, October 23, 2006
Sola Gratia: Grace Alone
In response to the Mass of Romanism, the Reformers returned to the Biblical teaching of Salvation by Grace Alone. Grace, by it's mere definition, cannot be earned. It is an unmerited favor, a favor bestowed on us before we were even born, making it impossible for us to have worked to obtain it. While good fruit can be expected from a good tree (Matthew 7:15-20), the fruit itself cannot make the tree good. God must make the tree good by His Grace alone. I have met many Mormons, who are some of the nicest people that you would ever want to meet. They are also duped by Satan, promoting a false religion founded by a false prophet. They are full of good works, but in the end, those works are filthy rags. So is the case with the Mass, Penance, Relics, Indulgences, etc. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,” (Ephesians 2:8)
The atonement of Christ, as we saw in an earlier blog, purchased all the benefits of adoption for the saints. As a result, God causes His people to walk in His statutes (Ezekiel 36:27), not by forces coercion, but by a sweet and irresistible guidance. How truly amazing is this grace, which saved a wretch like me.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Solo Christo: Christ Alone
Keeping this short and simple. Jesus Christ is the one mediator between a holy God and a wretched mankind. The pope cannot remit sins, either in this life or the next. Relics cannot remit sins. Even our good works are "filthy rags". It is only Christ, who "... entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption." (Hebrews 9:12) What else is needed? "Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!" (2 Corinthians 9:15).
Monday, October 16, 2006
Soli Deo Gloria: Glory to God Alone
"When the LORD your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, 'How did these nations serve their gods?--that I also may do the same.' You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods. "Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.” (Deuteronomy 12:29-32)
"Freedom in worship". That's the common mantra of the modern church. It is said that God doesn't care how you worship, just do whatever you want and God will honor it.
Many years ago, I had to opportunity to go to my first "Christian" Rock Concert. During the show, the bass player began to pull out his underarm hair and give it to screaming girls in the audience. This was long before I learned anything about the "regulative principle" of worship. Even then, something struck me to be a bit odd about this episode. Something about it wasn't quite right. Was God honored by this in the least bit?
What is the "regulative principle"? It stresses the Biblical fact that worship is God's worship, not man's. Worship belongs to God alone. It is His, and He regulates it. Contrary to popular teaching today, God does care how He is worshipped, and very much so.
Now this principle can become legalistic, as some churches forbid musical instruments, or enforce the singing of Psalms only. The Bible does allow musical instruments in worship (Psalm 150:1-6), and encourages musicians to play skillfully (Psalm 33:3). Yet we must always remember that our worship is for God's glory alone, not for man's entertainment. (See Church Music: A Checklist)
Common teaching today says that our worship must be designed to "lead people into the presence of God". Therefore, "worship" is turned into entertainment in an attempt to appeal to the flesh and "draw people to God", thus effecting what the Holy Spirit is apparently unable to accomplish. The problem? Fleshly man cannot worship God in a suitable way, for "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." (John 4:24).
After God removed the pagan nations from the Promised Land, He warned His people not to worship Him like the pagans did their gods (Deuteronomy 12:29-31). Furthermore, God limits His worship to that which He alone has commanded. "Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it." (Deuteronomy 12:32). The Bible is clear regarding God's standard for worship. If it isn't commanded by Him in His Word, it cannot be performed as an act of worship.
Today, this principle has been ignored, as the church seeks to imitate Hollywood and Las Vegas in their form of worship. Adopting the modern slogan "if it feels good, do it", the term "worship" has been used to validate all kinds of things, from suggestive "booty-shaking" dances and circus sideshows to mystical "slain in the spirit" experiences, where a person loses consciousness and falls to the floor (with someone to catch them so that they won't get hurt). This is usually accompanied by convulsions and other phenomenon. Other experiences include barking like dogs and other strange "moves of the spirit", all of this without the slightest support from Scripture. Recently someone even tried to defend the use of "yoga" and "trascendental meditation" in their own Christian worship. This is not Biblical worship, but an offering of “strange fire” (Leviticus 10:1-2).
The church will not transform the world if it continues to imitate it. R.C. Sproul explains. "…why aren't the seekers coming? They like pop music, so we give them pop music. They like stories so we give them dramas. They like anonymity, so we let them have it. They like convenience, so we'll change their oil while they're here (this by the way is being done). The problem is that we can do none of these things as well as the world can. Why get up on a Sunday morning and drive somewhere to listen to pop music, when its as close as my stereo? Why settle for cheesy scripts and sets when the television does it so much better? Why spend an hour getting an oil change when the pros can do it in ten minutes?”1
For a long time, God has winked at our ignorance in this manner. We must ask ourselves if our manner of worship is pleasing to the One being worshipped. We need a return to the model of worship prescribed by God Himself, for His ways are perfect (Psalm 18:30). Man cannot improve upon God's worship by adding his own eccentricities, nor can we compete with the world for souls by trying to imitate it. When it comes to meeting the desires of fleshly man, the world is just plain better at it then the church is.
For further Study, I recommend:
The Right Manner of Worship and Drawing Nigh Unto God by Rev. Jeremiah Burroughs
R.C. Sproul - Swimming Upstream.
1 R.C. Sproul - Swimming Upstream.
Saturday, October 14, 2006
Sola Scriptura: Scripture Alone
One of the main issues surrounding the Reformation was the infallibility of the Pope. According to the Council of Trent, only the "mother church" (the papacy) could properly interpret Scripture. The word of the pope was considered to be inerrant, infallible, and authoritative.
At the Diet of Worms, Martin Luther stood firm on what he considered to be the only source of infallibility.
“Unless I am refuted and convicted by testimonies of the Scriptures or by clear arguments. Since I believe neither the pope nor the councils alone, it being evident that they have often erred and contradicted themselves, am overcome by the Scripture texts which I have adduced, and my conscience is bound by the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant any thing against the conscience.”
The Doctrine of Sola Scriptura holds that the Bible alone is the inerrant, infallible, authoritative Word. This is one the foundations of the Reformed Faith, as the Bible declares that the church is built on the foundation of the Word of God. (Ephesians 2:20). This is the most important of the "Five Solas" of the Reformed Faith, for Scripture is the ONLY means by which man may obtain an adequate knowledge of God unto Salvation. Oh, man will conclude that there is a God by means of "natural revelation", for "...The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork" (Psalm 19:1). "For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." (Romans 1:19-20) However, as we see, this kind of natural revelation is only profitable to make man to be "without excuse". Many religions, through “natural revelation”, have come to the conclusion that there is some sort of Divine Being. But it is only through Scripture, either read or preached, that can bring about knowledge of the true God who save a soul from "the wrath…[which] is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth." (Romans 1:18).
Thus the preaching of the Word is of utmost importance. For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?" So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:13-17)
One of the big issues in American churches today is the popular belief in continuing revelation. Pentecostalism and their charismatic offshoots hold that the modern "gifts of the Spirit" include these special revelations through tongues and prophecies, which are to be considered "words from the Lord" in addition to Scripture. (It is no wonder that many mainline Pentecostal Churches are at the forefront of the modern Ecumenical Movement. If men can still receive special revelations from God outside of the completed canon, why exclude the Pope?) Thus churches today are plagued by “lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6) of God’s Word, seeking instead to find Divine Truth through feelings and personal revelation. The issue is quite sensitive, and those who hold to Pentecostal doctrines will suggest that those who object to them are being “divisive”. Maybe so, but as we discussed in an earlier blog, unity is a poor substitute for truth. (Of course, when faced with the true definition of prophecy in the Bible (Deuteronomy 18:18-22), charismatics are forced to try and redefine it to meet their own ends.)
According to Scripture itself, vision and prophecy would be "sealed up" for good at the Destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD (Daniel 9:24). Nothing is to be added to or taken from the Scriptures by any means (Rev. 22:18-19), whether it be done by popes, charismatic prophets, or Joseph Smith. There is only one authoritative Word from God, and that is the Holy Bible itself. There is no need for any more “prophetic revelation” in the post-Apostolic age, “for the faith … [has] once for all [been] delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). The church is called to “[build] on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Ephesians 2:20), not to try and lay them anew.
Lest one may think that I’m overstating the case with Pentecostalism, consider this insight from Tommy Tenney in his introduction to “The God Chasers”:
“A true God chaser is not happy with just past truth; he must have present truth. God chasers don’t want to just study from the moldy pages of what God has done; they’re anxious to see what God is doing.”
While most Pentecostals don’t have such a low view of Scripture as to refer to is as “moldy pages of history”, they nevertheless agree with the need of new revelation in order to understand “present truth”, thus denying the sufficiency of Scripture.
Such a low view of Scripture has had it’s ramifications on the Bible itself. Not satisfied with the content of sola scriptura, modern “bibles” (and I use that term lightly) have been designed in the mold of fashion magazines. Consider the “Revolve” bible for teenage girls, with important theological notes like “Are You Dating a Godly Guy?" and “Guys Speak Out”. Not to leave the boys out, the “Refuel” bible addresses important doctrines like “Extras: Girls, Cash, and Cars” and “Girls Spill it All!” (not to mention it’s new commandments like “Don’t ever pick your friends nose” And “Don’t grope”). How about one for adult men? Get the “Align” bible, with a feature article advertised on the front page entitled “Sexcess: Success with the Opposite Sex!" A common theme occurs in the ads for these “bibles”. “With an edgy, techo-savvy style and content that makes Biblical truth fresh and relevant.” Good for them. God must be relieved to find that His “moldy pages of history” have been given a much needed face-lift by mortals promoting youthful lusts and crude commandments. I’m afraid to see what the new Bible makers come up with next. Thomas Nelson should be ashamed.
A true revival will only be accompanied by a return to the Reformed Doctrine of Sola Scriptura, not only in repect to it's sufficiency, but for it's esteem as the Words of life, an esteem that seems to be fading. “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7).
For further study, I would recommend:
What is Reformed Theology? by R.C. Sproul
The Sufficiency of the Written Word by John MacArthur
Charismatic Chaos by John MacArthur
The Final Word by O. Palmer Robertson
Charismatic Gifts: Critical Study Package by Kenneth Gentry
Thursday, October 12, 2006
The Ramifications of Bad Soteriology
After spending a few weeks in an effort to establish the Doctrines of Sovereign Grace over the myths of Arminianism, Pelagianism, Open Theism, Process Theology, and the like, one may ask the question, "Why?" What is the big deal? Why put forth such an effort to establish Calvinism as the biblically correct Doctrine of Salvation? The answer is that the debate between Calvinists and their opposition is not merely one over the doctrine of salvation (as important as that is), nor is it a debate over “five-points”. It is a debate over two opposing worldviews, dealing with God’s Sovereignty and Purpose in all things. The two sides hold to distinct differences between the fundamental natures of both God and man, and having incorrect views of these natures can have disastrous results. Let’s examine some of the ramifications of bad salvation doctrine.
I.) Calvinism - the True Gospel vs. Superficial Evangelism
“I do not come into this pulpit hoping that perhaps somebody will of his own free will return to Christ. My hope lies in another quarter. I hope that my Master will lay hold of some of them and say, "You are mine, and you shall be mine. I claim you for myself." My hope arises from the freeness of grace, and not from the freedom of the will.” - C.H SPURGEON
As a young Christian, I remember the excitement and emotionalism that surrounded a visitor coming to church and responding to an altar call1. (In fact, I once came forward to an altar call). However, over the years, I noticed that the same people kept coming to the altar week after week to “get saved” and I began to wonder when it would actually happen for good. I began to think of my own trip to the altar for salvation and wondered, “Why did I go forward?” What happened to me that caused me to go to the altar that didn’t happen to my unsaved friends, who didn’t go forward? Was I a better person than they were? No. What was it? When God Reformed my theology, I finally understood the truth. The altar call didn’t save me. It was the Holy Spirit alone that saved me, and He did so before I ever took that first step toward the altar.
Why is this so important? Because, in modern times, the altar call has become the work whereby a sinner can “get saved”. As a result, the church has manufactured a new gospel that is bent towards getting people to the altar rather than saving souls from the wrath of God. Let's look at an example of the modern day "gospel" message.
"We must reach out to the hurting soul. People are looking for answers to life's questions. They are strolling through life without Jesus Christ, struggling in their relationships, their jobs, their finances, and their families. They need an answer, and Jesus Christ is it. God made each one of us with a God-shaped void in our souls. The problem is too many people are trying to fill the void with the wrong things, like drugs, sex, and money. If that is you today, I want to tell you that Jesus is the answer you've been seeking. He is the key to a better life. He is a better high than any drug you can take. If you come to Him, He promises to meet you just where you are."
What's wrong with this message? Lots of things. First of all, this is not the gospel at all. (In fact, most of what is written above isn't even true). There is no mention of sin, God’s judgment, or a need for repentance. This type of message, however popular, is fundamentally flawed in a number of ways.
1.) Not all sinners are "hurting souls" who "are looking for answers to life's questions". In fact, most sinners today are quite satisfied with their sinful life. While this message may draw those who are actually "at their wit's end", and is helpful for "church growth", it rarely results in true conversion. (Although God, in His sovereignty, does sometimes bring forth fruit through this and similar messages.) What will the church offer to the sinner who is happy and well-off living in his sins? Is he in any less need of Christ? Can you imagine talking to Bill Gates or Donald Trump and telling these men, "If you just give your heart to Jesus, He'll give you a better life"?
2.) This message sells the sinner a false bill of goods. For it suggests that, once you become a Christian, you will have no more struggles in relationships, finances, etc. Just accept Jesus and everything will be wonderful. Not only is this a lie, but this kind of message cannot prepare a convert for what lies ahead, promises of "trials, tribulations, and persecution" (John 16:13). No one bothers to tell the sinner that Christians have to carry a cross. No one wants to hear a message that says, "if you become a Christian, you life may get tougher". These types of messages also sell the sinner vain promises of "a good feeling". It doesn't take long for the drug addict to discover that Jesus Christ does not make him "feel better" then drugs, and surprise, he's back on drugs.
"And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are offended." (Mark 4:16-17)
This is not the "gospel"
I recently saw a bumper sticker in a Christian Bookstore that read "Try Jesus. If you don’t like Him, the devil will always take you back.” The sad part is that those who have this sticker actually believe they are spreading the gospel message. The true gospel has to be centered on God’s judgment, and how it can be avoided. The “good news” is only good in light of the “bad news”. Churches today want to avoid teaching both, replacing them with pop-psychology and entertainment.
3.) There is no "God-shaped void" in the human soul. Humans, by nature, are children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3), at enmity against God (Romans 8:7), loving darkness and hating light (John 3:19). Furthermore, humans do not sin because we are "trying to fill the void with the wrong things". We sin because it is our nature (Psalm 58:3). Sin proceeds out of our hearts (Matthew 15:19), which are deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). In misidentifying the root cause of sin, it is only natural that the solution will be misidentified as well. Why do modern evangelicals assume that sinners are seeking God when the Scriptures are adamantly clear that "there is none that seeketh after God" (Romans 3:11)? Rather it is God who does both the seeking and the saving (Luke 19:10). (This is why the "Seeker Sensitive" gospel is doomed to failure. There are really no "seekers" to be sensitive to.)
4.) This message is the result of "free will" theology. The church has lost confidence in the true power of the gospel to change lives, and thus has to resort to what Gene Edward Veith correctly refers to as "Stupid Church Tricks"2. Once the premise is set that man's salvation depends on man's will, then the message will naturally be suited to meet that end, (not to mention the stupid tricks to get them in the door). Therefore, we promise the sinner a "better life" or a "better high than drugs", while we avoid mentioning such things as Hell, judgment, sin, and repentance. Relying on human "free will", we are constantly being told that Christ death was purposed to "remove the obstacle between God and man". Thus Christ, by His death, gave the Father permission to have mercy on sinners, a right that He apparently didn't have before. The truth of the matter is that Christ’s death was purposed in order to satisfy the Father's justice, not to "remove the barrier", for God has no barriers.
5.) This theology is the root of the modern superficial evangelism of the "church growth" movement (and the marketing that surrounds it). Unfortunately, the measure of the success of a ministry today is numbers. The more people who walk the aisles of a church, the “more successful” that ministry is deemed to be. Churches from all over are claiming to be in Revival, but the numbers being claimed just don't add up. Having a “revival” is easy for modern churches. They simply schedule one. (Your church can experience a Brownsville Revival too, for $79 plus shipping and handling). The altar-call has become the "work" that obtains salvation. Meanwhile, the poor sinner is told that "God loves you just the way you are" and is never told about repentance. While all Christians want "church growth", it needs to be real church growth. Isaiah was told to preach the truth, and as a result, 90% of his church left (Isaiah 6:11-13).
The church is called to “make disciples” (Matthew 28:18-20) as well as be light and salt to a dark world (Matthew 5:13-16). That doesn’t mean getting people to an altar to repeat a prayer, while leaving them unchanged as the church constantly attempts to widen the narrow gates. While we as believers are given the Great Commission, we must never forget who is in charge. Jesus said "...I will build my church..." (Matthew 16:18). It’s time for the church to take our salvation out of the hands of man, and put it back where it belongs, in the hand of Him who “is also able to save to the uttermost” (Hebrews 7:25). Robert Reymond outlines the problem quite accurately"
“The problem in our day, which gives rise to highly questionable church growth methods, is twofold:
On the one hand, we are seeing a waning confidence in the message of the gospel. Even the evangelical church shows signs of losing confidence in the convincing and converting power of the gospel message. That is why increasing numbers of churches prefer sermons on family life and psychological health. We are being overtaken by what Os Guinness calls the managerial and therapeutic revolutions. The winning message, it seems, is the one that helps people to solve their temporal problems, improves their self-esteem and makes them feel good about themselves. In such a cultural climate, preaching on the law, sin and repentance, and the cross has all but disappeared, even in evangelical churches. The church has become "user friendly," "consumer oriented," and as a result evangelical churches are being inundated with "cheap grace" (Bonhoeffer). Today's "gospel" is all too often a gospel without cost, without repentance, without commitment, without discipleship, and thus "another gospel" and accordingly no gospel at all, all traceable to the fact that this is how too many people today have come to believe that the church must be grown.
On the other hand, we are seeing a waning confidence in preaching as the means by which the gospel is to be spread. As a result, preaching is giving way in evangelical churches to multimedia presentations, drama, dance, "sharing times," sermonettes, and "how to" devotionals. Preaching is being viewed increasingly as outdated and ineffective. Business techniques like telemarketing are now popular with the church growth movement. Churches so infected also look to the multiplication of programs to effect their growth. They sponsor conferences and seminars on every conceivable topic under the sun; they subdivide their congregations down into marrieds and singles, single parents and divorced, "thirty-something" and "twenty-something," teens, unemployed, the child-abused and the chemically dependent, attempting to arrange programs for them all. And once a person joins such a church, conventional wisdom has it, the church and the minister must meet his every felt need. Accordingly, ministers have become managers, facilitators, and motivators—everything but heralds of the whole counsel of God—and this all because they have lost confidence in the preaching of God's Word as the primary means for the growth of the church and the individual Christian.
What is the answer? A restored confidence in the Reformed doctrine of the sovereignty of God in salvation!”3
II.) Calvinism and Inerrancy
How was the Bible written? All would agree that the pages of the Holy Writ were scribed by the hands of men. Furthermore, it is acknowledged that these men wrote of their own “free will”, i.e. no one forced them to write. Whether or not God Sovereignly works in the “free will” of man has a direct bearing on the Inerrancy of Scripture. If, in fact, God is a “gentleman” who never violates man’s “free will”, then what of the men who wrote the Bible? Did God just give them a little “inspiration” and then turn the construction of the Canon over the man’s will, or did God sovereignly and meticulously oversee every letter written? Since all true Christians believe the latter, we can be assured that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
III.) Calvinism and Politics
It has been said that “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Well, that’s not exactly true. The person in power, according to Scripture, was corrupted long before that person ever obtained any power. It may be only after the power is attained that the wickedness of some men is shown forth, but the power itself didn’t cause the corruption. Calvinism was the basis for the system of limited government in the United States, due to the belief that man is basically evil. Because of this, the founders believed it dangerous to giving any man too much power, for his “heart is deceitful and desperately wicked; who can know it” (Jeremiah 17:9). Therefore, they held the idea that a proper civil government requires a system of checks and balances. Our Democratic Republic form of government is actually Presbyterianism applied to the state. Our government has historically been limited in power and subject to accountability to two other branches. In all, civil government is accountable to God Almighty, and must be subject to His laws. Sadly, we are moving away from this.
The Arminian churches that I’ve been associated with are politically conservative in moral areas, but are “wishy-washy” when it comes to finances. (My former denomination has adopted the writings of Ronald Sider4 into much of its curriculum). Arminians want to have it both ways. They acknowledge that man is fallen, but believe that he still retains some inherent goodness. Liberal theology, on the other hand, deny man’s fallen nature altogether. It is no wonder that liberal churches tend to lean toward socialism. Socialism takes many different forms, but they are all rooted in the false assumption that man is basically good. If we just give men enough money, education, etc. they will behave and be good citizens. Give the government, run by good men, authority over businesses, etc. everything will be Utopian. Thus, socialism tends to deify the state (man). When the Jews rejected God’s Son in favor of King Caesar (John 19:15), they gave up true freedom for a false security in the state. Little did they know that, 40 years later, that same state would utterly destroy them (See Matthew 24:1-34). Like Nimrod’s tower or Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon, Statism is doomed to failure (while killing millions), due to man’s inherent wickedness. “A bad tree cannot bring forth good fruit” (Matthew 7:18).
For further study, I would recommend:
A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith by Robert L. Reymond
Today’s Gospel: Authentic or Synthetic? By Walter Chantry
The Greatness of the Great Commission by Kenneth Gentry
Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators by David Chilton
God and Government by Gary DeMar
1 It was the Pelagian Charles Finney who invented the “altar call”. During the Great Awakening, there was no such thing.
2 This article is a must-read. In fairness, there are some Arminian Churches that do preach a sound message of sin, judgment, and repentance without resorting to "Stupid Church Tricks". However, I have seen, in my lifetime, many churches that were once solid take a turn down the road toward the seeker-sensitive movement. This is the logical end of free-will theology. Man must be entertained and amused so that he might catch a small blurb of a scripture being taught and use his "free-will" to come to Christ. The Holy Spirit becomes merely a bystander. In order to have a real Revival, such as The Great Awakening, we need to return to the theology of the preachers of the Great Awakening, such a Solomon Stoddard, George Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards. These great men believed in the Doctrines of Sovereign Grace. Let us pray that the church of Jesus Christ will cease with its silly games and return to its theological roots, and may we see a true revival in our lifetimes.
3 Robert L. Reymond, in A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith
4 Founder of Evangelicals for Social Action and author of “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger”, the original version which called for “national (state) food policy, (state to state) foreign aid, a guaranteed national income, international taxation, land reform, bureaucratically determined "just prices," national health care, population control, and the right of developing nations to nationalize foreign holdings”. Thankfully, even Sider himself has recanted on most of this nonsense, though he still has a long way to go to obtain a biblical worldview. (See “RON SIDER HAS MOVED IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION” by Gary North)
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Assurance and Perseverance
While the Doctrine of Limited Atonement is easily the most controversial of the "Five Points of Calvinism", the last point, Perseverance of the Saints, is easily the most debated and misunderstood. Various teachings on Eternal Security range from the classical Arminian view that a true saint of God can fall away from Salvation and be lost, to "Easy Believism", a new monster that has reared it's ugly head in recent times, combining elements of "free will" evangelism with the last point of Calvinism, creating a "Once Saved, Always Saved" based on a one time personal decision. Thankfully, this is the last of the "five points", so the Doctrines of Salvation itself have been, of necessity, clearly established before we deal with this point.
As we have already shown in previous posts, a person is saved only by the work of God. Man has no part to play in his salvation. Man is not saved by altar calls, repeating some prayer, or any other work. He is saved when God gives him a new heart, when he is born again.
So let's address the question of a "backslider"? Can a professed Christian fall away from the faith and be eternally lost? The answer is undoubtedly "yes". It happens all the time. However, Can a true "sheep" lose his faith and become lost? No. Once we understand how one is saved, the difference between the two questions becomes much clearer.
We cannot assume that just because a person comes to the altar and repeats the sinner's prayer that he is indeed saved. Many, including myself, have known many people who have come to church, gone to the altar, and even got into the ministry. But as the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-9; Matthew 13:18-23) shows, they did not have the right heart, so they fell away. I believe that much of the modern rejection of eternal security is a backlash against "easy-believism", and as such, it is perfectly understandable.
What "Eternal Security" is Not.
"But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls." (Hebrews 10:39)
Eternal Security is not meant to be "fire insurance for the wicked". I have met many a poor soul who thought that they were guaranteed a heavenly inheritance simply because they once responded to an altar call and repeated the "Sinner's Prayer". This can easily be cleared up by the “P” in the acronym TULIP. It stands for Perseverance. This means that the true saints of God will persevere, and also means that those who do not persevere are not true saints of God, but are merely tares planted among the wheat, sons of the Evil One (Matthew 13:24-30). Those that fall away from the faith "were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us." (1 John 2:19). In the exact words of the Canons of Dort, "Assurance of this their eternal and unchangeable election to salvation is given to the chosen in due time, though by various stages and in differing measure. Such assurance comes not by inquisitive searching into the hidden and deep things of God, but by noticing within themselves, with spiritual joy and holy delight, the unmistakable fruits of election pointed out in God's Word-- such as a true faith in Christ, a childlike fear of God, a godly sorrow for their sins, a hunger and thirst for righteousness, and so on."1 However, Dort affirms that this assurance of salvation must bear fruit. "In their awareness and assurance of this election God's children daily find greater cause to humble themselves before God, to adore the fathomless depth of his mercies, to cleanse themselves, and to give fervent love in return to him who first so greatly loved them. This is far from saying that this teaching concerning election, and reflection upon it, make God's children lax in observing his commandments or carnally self-assured. By God's just judgment this does usually happen to those who casually take for granted the grace of election or engage in idle and brazen talk about it but are unwilling to walk in the ways of the chosen.”2
There is no such thing as assurance apart from Perseverance. Jesus' warning to professing Christians who continue to practice lawlessness (Matthew 7:21-23) must be taken seriously. What is signified by "perseverance"? Does that mean that it is our responsibility to maintain our salvation? No. It means that our perseverance is a result of our salvation. The Apostle Paul, who was as eternally secure as anyone (Ephesians 1:13; Romans 9:23), clearly viewed perseverance and holiness as evidence of that security. He writes, "I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be castaway" (1 Corinthians 9:27). In fact, one reason he gives for preaching the gospel is because "necessity is laid upon me", to which he adds, "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!" (1 Corinthians 9:16). Paul knew nothing of the modern "easy-believism, cheap grace" nonsense being made popular today. The Christian, however secure, must heed the New Covenant warning expressed in Hebrews 12:14, that without holiness, no man shall see God. It is because of this driving desire imputed by the Holy Spirit that Paul "press[ed] on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own" (Philippians 3:4-12), "so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh" (2 Corinthians 4:11), "For the love of Christ constrains us" (2 Corinthians 5:14). Paul, writing to Corinthian "saints" (1 Corinthians 1:2), who had been given the grace of God in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:4), warned them "that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). In the end, the blessed saints are "they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus”. (Revelation 14:12) One cannot separate God commandments from faith in Jesus. They go hand in hand.
One of the promises of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31), which is for the Church (Hebrews 8:8-13) is that God "will put my law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Jeremiah 31:33). Those who are part of the New Covenant are His, and He is their God. He gives His people a new heart, and puts His Spirit in them, which in turn causes them to walk in His statutes (Ezekiel 36:26-27). Our works are not the cause of our salvation, but they are the evidence. For, "this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says "I know him" but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked". (1 John 2:3-6)
James tells us that "faith without works is dead" (James 2:26). This is not salvation by works, but it is clear that salvation must result in works. Paul gives the Galatians a test to see if they are indeed, "led by the Spirit" (Galatians 5:18).
"Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit." (Galatians 5:19-25)
Paul gives them no middle ground. The works of the flesh, contrasted with the fruits of the Spirit, are evident. Belief cannot be separated from repentance (Acts 19:4). One who does not "Repent" (Matthew 3:2) and "bear the fruits worthy of repentance" (Matthew 3:8) does not believe, but will suffer "the wrath to come" (Matthew 3:7). If one truly believes that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God, they will repent, for Jesus came to call sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32). Thus Paul, writing to believers on Corinth, gives them this solemn warning.
"Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)
I will share this same warning to those who promote easy believism. Do not be deceived. Jesus is both your Lord and your Savior, or He is neither (Luke 6:46).
Finally, Paul balances perfectly the assurance of the believer and the necessity of his holiness in 2 Timothy 2:19.
"Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity." (2 Timothy 2:19).
The True Meaning of Eternal Security
“Blessèd assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.”
Having refuted those who would dishonor Christ's Lordship, let us now pay homage to His work of Salvation, not challenging His ability to save His sheep to the uttermost. Despite the understandable objections of the cautious Arminian on this point, the Scriptures teach us that whom the Lord redeems he also keeps (Isaiah 43:1-3). Jesus seeks and restores the wandering sheep and it is not the will of God that one of them should perish (Matthew 18:14). Christ's saving work cannot fail in the life of His sheep, for He predestined unto adoption, not just justification (Ephesians 1:5). Thus, we are "sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Ephesians 1:13). "The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his..." (2 Timothy 2:19).
Eternal means Eternal
The Arminian c0nstantly tells us that, even though no one can take you out of God's hand, you can walk out. However, this is clearly adding to the Word of God, for Scripture tells us that "…he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them" (Hebrews 7:25). Will we deny His ability to save to the uttermost? Does His intercession fail, considering that Christ is always heard of the Father? (John 11:41-42).
Those that believe have everlasting life (John 6:47). If everlasting life can be lost, then by definition, it is not everlasting life. This is the eternal life that the Good Shepherd gives to His sheep, "and they shall never perish" (John 10:27-30). Thus we are “born of incorruptible seed by Word of God" (1 Peter 1:23). Christ has obtained an eternal redemption for us (Hebrews 9:12), and those who are called will receive the promise of the inheritance (Hebrews 9:15).
Calvinists hold that "eternal life" means "eternal life", "eternal redemption" means "eternal redemption", and "incorruptible seed" means "incorruptible seed". Once God changes a person's heart, He is not going to change it back. Once that person is truly born of the Spirit, he will never become "unborn". "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift" (2 Corinthians 9:15).
For further study, I would recommend.
A Divine and Supernatural Light by Jonathan Edwards.
Pursuing Holiness in the Lord by Jonathan Edwards.
The Security of Believers; (or Sheep Who Will Never Perish) by Charles H. Spurgeon
1 The Canons of Dort – Section I Article 12
2 The Canons of Dort – Section I Article 13
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
The Gospel of Power and the God of Successful Evangelism
Much of the Scripture and Theology surrounding God's Sovereign Grace has been addressed in the three previous articles, so I keep a narrow focus on this one, short and sweet. So far, we have:
And now for the “I” – Irresistable Grace. We'll focus on “P” later in the week, especially in light of the modern "easy-believism-no-lordship" heresy.
We established earlier that man has no part to play in his own salvation. He is totally depraved. Man is unable to will himself to God's Grace. The Scripture is Romans 9 verifies that. There is another related aspect of Grace as it relates to man's will. Can man use his will to thwart God's Saving Grace?
Back to Ezekiel 36:26-27, we see that God will give His people a new heart, and put His Spirit in them, causing them to walk in His Statutes and keep His commandments. Jesus Christ seeks and saves. He does the work. He neither seeks our permission nor requires it. Man is powerless, either to accept or reject God's will, including His will to show mercy on whomever He chooses. This, however, does not mean the God “force-feeds” salvation to someone while they consciously resist it, fighting with God tooth and claw. Our wills have a direct connection with our hearts, and when God changes the heart, the will changes as well. For we are born again not by man's will, but God's (John 1:12-13). Christ is the Sovereign Lord, and as a result, "...The Son quickens whom he will" (John 5:21). They belong God, even before they are saved, for He purchased them with His own blood (Acts 20:28), therefore, "All the Father gives shall come" (John 6:37). God gives eternal life to “as many as thou hast given” (John 17:2). He predestined His elect, then called then, then justified them, and will glorify them (Romans 8:30).
Thomas Watson describes the Effectual call of God’s People.
“It is a sweet call. God so calls as He allures; He does not force, butdraw. The freedom of the will is not taken away, but the stubbornness of it isconquered. "Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power" (Psalm 110:3). After this call there are no more disputes, the soul readily obeys God’s call: as when Christ called Zacchæus, he joyfully welcomed Him into his heart and house.”1
This is done by the foolishness of preaching, and "God's word always accomplishes what he pleases" (Isaiah 55:11) God's election is "not of him that willeth or runneth" (Romans 9:16), for "Who has resisted His will?" (Romans 9:19). "He does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, "What have you done?" (Daniel 4:35). "God works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12-13). (See August's Blog on The Power of the Gospel).
I once heard an Arminian pastor preach a message on Ezekiel 36:26:
"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh."
After a wonderful and detailed sermon on the need and the purpose of this new heart, he concluded with an altar call stating. "God wants to give you a new heart, if you'll only let Him".
1 Thomas Watson – A Divine Cordial, Chapter 7
Friday, October 06, 2006
It is Finished! - The Atoning work of Christ
"Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us." (Hebrews 9:12)
In these passages, we have both the intent and the accomplishment of the Atoning Work of our Savior. It is important to see that Christ's work on Calvary was a purposeful means to a purposeful end, and that end being the eternal redemption of His people, justifying many and bearing their iniquities.
In a recent debate I had with a dear "non-Calvinist" brother B.W., I found it profitable to dig through my library and pull out a classic, John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. Owen really exhausts the arguments concerning the actual redemption obtained by Christ at Calvary. It is a must read for anyone who is serious about the theology of the Bible, regardless of your position. The introduction by J.I. Packer is worth the price alone. This article is a very brief summary of Owen’s main arguments in defense of Particular Redemption, otherwise known commonly as Limited Atonement.
The Doctrine of Universal Redemption, ever popular in today's churches, is unscriptural as well as illogical. While it sounds pleasing to the ear to hear that "Christ died for everybody", what it in fact teaches is that Christ's work on the Cross was effectual in the salvation of nobody. Thus the "plan" of redemption is really no plan at all, but rather a hopeful possibility. Our Savior, rather than being satisfied with His work, would be most disappointed to find that His precious blood was indeed absolutely worthless to the vast majority for which it was intended. For we have His own words that there will be many goats on His left hand who will be cast "into everlasting fire, prepared for the Devil and His angels" (Matthew 25:41).
We can establish the proper doctrine of the atonement by looking at,
1.) The Intention of Christ
When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son (Galatians 4:4). To what end was this done, but “to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:5)? This was the intent of Christ at His death, to “justify many, for he shall bear their iniquities" (Isaiah 53:11). Those who hold to some sort of universal redemption must actually deny that anyone was actually redeemed by the blood of Christ. Redemption (apolutrōsis aπολύτρωσις) means "ransom in full, that is, riddance, or Christian salvation: - deliverance." Thus a "universal redemption" being defined as a potential redemption is really no redemption at all. At the announcement of Christ's birth, it was said that “He shall save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). Christ came to seek and to save what was lost (Matthew 18:11; Luke 19:10), to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). How this is compatible with the idea of Universal Redemption I know not. For the idea of universal redemption requires that either:
1.) All people will be saved (Universal Salvation), or
2.) Christ failed in His mission, not actually saving His people (the whole world without exception) from their sins.
Christ died for His people, those whom He predestined, that He might be the firstborn of many brethren (Romans 8:29). He died for the children who "share in flesh and blood, (therefore) he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” (Hebrews 2:14-15). Thus He “abolish[ed] death, and to bring life and immortality to light" (2 Timothy 1:10). Can it rightly be said that Christ intended this for every person on planet earth? Will anyone claim that Christ intended to deliver every person from the Second Death, including many who have already gone to hell prior to His incarnation? What was the intent of Christ’s death, but to “sanctify and cleanse His Church” (Romans 5:25-27), and to "make and end of sins, reconciliation for iniquity, and bring in everlasting righteousness” (Daniel 9:24)? He came to “bear our sins" (1 Peter 2:24), to "bear our iniquities, and to have them laid upon him" (Isaiah 53:5-12). Therefore, He “sanctified Himself, that they (those who the Father had given Him) also might be sanctified through the truth." (John 17:17-19)
2.) The Effect of Christ's work
Having examined the intention of Christ, we now address the question, "did He successfully complete His mission?" When Christ hung in agony, bearing the sins of many, He claimed "It is finished" (John 19:30). In His own words, He came "to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work." (John 4:34). We'll examine "the will of the Father shortly", but for now we'll address the actual completion of Christ's work. If, in fact, Christ went to the cross to save every single person on planet earth, then it is a common observation that He failed in His mission. His work apparently did not accomplish what He intended. (For those who reject the term "Limited Atonement", who is limiting it now?) However, as we have established previously, Christ work was to save His people. As a result of Christ's completed work, We have actual redemption (Romans 1:7), for He "purchased the church with his own blood" (Acts 20:28).
Those who oppose us would have us believe that the millions of souls currently burning in Hell are just as much bought with the blood of Christ as His saints. How does this square with the actual accomplishment of Christ's work, who "gave himself to us to redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar (chosen) people, zealous of good works" (Titus 2:14)? "He entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking ... his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption" (Hebrews 9:12)1, so "...that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2 Corinthians 5:21). Hast this been accomplished for every single person on the planet? Who did Christ "secure an eternal redemption" for? Everyone? If Christ has secured an eternal redemption, how can such ever end up in Hell? Is our "free will" more powerful that Christ's redemption? Again, Christ came to “lay down His life for His Sheep…to give them eternal life, and they shall never perish” (John 10:11, John 10:27-28). "He redeemed us from the curse, being made a curse for us" (Galatians 3:13), to “purge your consciences from dead works to serve the living God." (Hebrews 9:14). This was the completed, effectual work of our Lord Jesus Christ at Calvary. Can it be rightly said by anyone that Christ did this for every person who ever lived? In elevating the power of man's will, it is actually our opponents who "limit" the atonement.
3.) The Will of the Father
We established earlier that Christ came not to do is own will, but "to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work." (John 4:34). What was that will of the Father, and did Christ indeed finish the work? Romans 8:28 tells us that God predestinated us to be conformed to the image of his Son. Why? So "that He might be the firstborn among many brethren". Yet if this predestination was "contingent" upon human freedom, then how could the Father be sure that His Son would be the firstborn of many brethren? If those who oppose the Doctrines of Sovereign Grace are correct, then it would be entirely possible for the precious blood of Jesus to have saved no one. Christ could have died in vain, unless His death was actually a purposeful means to a purposeful end; that end being the actual salvation of His elect. Thus, the idea of "universal" atonement is really no atonement at all. It becomes a mere "ointment in a box" that becomes effective only when this box is open and applied by someone of their own virtuous resources. Woe then be to those who are not so inclined to do so. For is seems to be that Christ, despite His best efforts, is unable to overcome the wills of those who aren't, in their own natures, already bent towards Him. So much for John 5:21.
The fact is that it was never, at any time, God's intention to save every person on planet earth. We established that clearly when we discussed the Biblical Doctrine of Predestination. God's will was the purposeful salvation of His people, thus Christ came to “[give] himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father" (Galatians 1:4).
4.) The Purpose of Jesus' Parables
"And he said, "Go, and say to this people: "'Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.' Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed" (Isaiah 6:9-10).
What are we to take from this passage in light of Christ's intent? Did He actually hide His kingdom from the Pharisees? What sayeth the Scriptures? When Jesus was asked by His disciples why He spoke in parables, He answered, "because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given" (Matthew 13:10-11). In contrast to this, Jesus told His disciples that "... it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32). Why did God hide these things from the "prudent" Pharisees? In case that "at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them" (Matthew 13:15). Obviously, the pharisees cannot choose what they cannot see (John 3:3). They "were disobedient to the word, to which they were appointed" (1 Peter 2:8). Let our opponents explain away all that they wish by interjecting the "free will" of the pharisees. The Bible explanation is the only one we need, "..even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight" (Luke 10:21).
5.) The Intercession of Christ
"...Ask of me, and I shall give thee the nations for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession," (Psalm 2:7-8).
What was the inheritance that Christ was promised by the Father? The nations. Christ was promised an inheritance that He alone chose (Psalm 33:12). Did God the Father fail to keep His promise? We know that Christ "makes intercession for us" (Romans 8:34), and that He is always heard of the Father (John 11:41-42). Who does Christ make intercession for? Does Christ pray for everyone? What saith the Scriptures?
"I am praying for them (that you gave me - John 17:8). I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours". (John 17:9).
Christ does not pray for the world, but only for those whom that Father has given Him. Since He is always heard of the Father, "All the Father gives shall come" (John 6:37)
The Lord's Supper, the continuing sign and seal of the new covenant itself, testifies to this fact.
"And he took a cup, and gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many unto remission of sins." (Matthew 26:27-28)
Christ blood was not for a "general ransom" for every person on planet earth, but was poured out for many, and unto the actual remission of their sins. The salvation provided by Christ was not abstract and universal, but particular and personal. God tells us over and over again in His Word, "I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy." In response to this, Paul deals with a couple of questions in Romans 9.
"What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God?"
"You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?""
The question I have for my opponents to consider for now is, "Does your view of the Atonement prompt such questions?" If not, then it probably doesn't agree with Paul's view.
1.) ”The Lord is ... not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9)
This would be a big problem for Limited Atonement, if this is actually what the verse said. What it actually says is...
2 Peter 3:9
"The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance."
The promise and the patience is “toward us”, not to every person on planet earth. Who is "us"? Who is Peter writing to?
2 Peter 1:1
"Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:"
Peter is writing this to the elect, "To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ". This verse is absolutely true. God is not willing that any of his elect should perish, but that all of them should come to repentance. And they will, as we have already established in dealing with the intercession of Christ.
2.) Christ is said to have died for "the whole world" (1 John 2:2) or "all men" (1 Timothy 2:4).
It can readily be established that these phrases are rarely used in a universal sense, not only in Scripture, but in normal everyday usage. These words were usually spoken (John 3:16) or written to Jewish believers to explain that the Messiah wasn't just a Messiah for Jews, but for "the whole world", ie. "all men without distinction" rather than "all men without exception". 1 John 2:7 says, "Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning", suggesting that John was writing this epistle to Jewish Christians, who had the Old Commandment from the beginning. In 1 Timothy 2, Paul is clearly defending his ministry to the gentiles (1 Timothy 2:7).
The biggest problem with interpreting such phrases universally is that doing so would result in universal salvation. For example, if “the world” in 2 Corinthians 5:19 were taken to mean every single person who ever lived, then we would have to believe that God through Christ has reconciled every single person who ever lived to Himself, ie. universal salvation. The same would apply to 1 John 2:2, where Christ is the propitiation for the sins of every person who ever lived, in which case God would be unjust in punishing anyone for sins after He has already punished Christ for them. Likewise, if “all men” in Romans 5:18 were taken to mean all men without exception, as opposed to all types of men, then we would be force to conclude that “one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men” without exception. This idea, however, is refuted in the very next verse (as well as a plethora of other Scriptures.)
Christ died for His Sheep, His church, and His elect. Christ’s work on the cross was effective in providing actual, not potential, redemption, abolishing death (2 Timothy 1:10), in order to “sanctify and cleanse His Church” (Romans 5:25-27). He bore our iniquities (Isaiah 53:11), and paid the ransom for many. Christ’s work of atonement is finished, and it saves all that it intended to save.
For further study, I would recommend the following:
The Death of Death in the Death of Christ by John Owen
Particular Redemption by Charles Spurgeon
1 Compare Hebrews 9:12 with Arminius’ statement that “Christ did not give himself for them as the price of redemption; for the action of Christ is confounded with its result, and the application of benefits with their obtainment.” As with the Doctrine of Original Sin, most modern “Arminians” are shocked to learn that the founders of their faith rejected the idea that Christ paid for their sins.