Ministerial Meanderings

God centered theology in a man centered world.

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Location: Springfield, Missouri, United States

I was born in Washington D.C. and raised in Laurel, Maryland. I served in the United States Air Force for 20 years then retired. Then God led me to become a pastor. I was converted to Christ in the summer of 1966. I enjoy the company of my wife, children and grandchildren. I live with my three cats Taz.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

P is for Perseverence of the Saints

This is the last article on the 5 points of Calvinism (also called the Canons of Dort). In the next couple of days I have a few blogs posts I want to do on some peripheral issues surrounding Calvinistic beliefs. But this article will complete the group on the 5 points.

P stands for the Perseverence of the Saints, which means simply, that the work God begins in a person will remain until God brings the saint home to be with Him in glory. But let me explain why we believe this in a little more detail.

Before God created the world (before the foundation of the world) (Eph. 1:4) God knew us. He knew our weaknesses and He knew our sin. Romans 8:28 says that "Whom He did foreknow ..." Arminians believe God's foreknowledge is His foresight. They read this verse in this way, "Whom God foresaw would make a free will choice to believe in Jesus, He did predestinate..." But this is wrong. The word for "know" or "knowledge" in this verse refers to an experiential knowledge. God knew us intimately. One writer writes that we could read this verse "Whom He foreloved" without doing any violence whatsoever to the meaning of the passage. God knew us personally.

And God the Father made a covenant with the Son to be the blood payment for their sin. We call this the Covenant of Grace. When history was ripe, God the Son left behind His glory in heaven and took on the form of a human being and was born in the town of Bethlehem. Later, the Son, after having lived a sinless life, was taken by evil men and killed like a common criminal. But the Bible says this was according to the plan of God. Peter said on Pentecost day "Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain..." (Acts 2:23). As Christ died on the cross God poured out His wrath against sin, our sin, on our Substitute, Jesus Christ. When Jesus cried from the cross "It is finished!" He meant the satisfaction had been made for sin. God's wrath has been turned away. His justice had been satisfied. The debt for our sin had been paid.

And when the Holy Spirit brings the lost sinner to faith in Jesus Christ, it is not the end of our salvation but it is only the beginning. At the moment we are saved, we are adopted into the family of God, and sealed by the Holy Spirit Himself, with the Holy Spirit Himself, until the day when we experience the full blessings of our inheritence in Christ. Paul says in Ephesians "In whom ye also [trusted], after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory." (Eph. 1:13, 14) Notice here that when we believe we are sealed with the Holy Spirit, which, Paul says, is the "earnest" of our inheritence. The word "earnest" means "down payment." We have this down payment given to us until the "redemption of the purchased possession." The purchased possession is us. Christ purchased us with his blood (1 Peter 1:18, 19). The redemption he speaks of is the day of his return when he will gather his people to himself and take them to be where he is (John 14:1-3).

Some Arminians believe that a believer can choose to forfeit the salvation God has given to them. Other Arminians hold to a more Calvinistic viewpoint on this. There is no consensus among Arminian believers on this point. Also, among Arminians, there is no complete agreement on what exactly makes a believer forfeit his salvation and become lost again. Some hold that any sin at all forfeits it. Others hold that a pattern of sin, a sinful lifestyle, forfeits salvation. Still others believe a Christian would have to make some sort of repudiation of Jesus to forfeit it. Calvinists and Amyraldians are in complete agreement on this point. But among Arminians, there is much debate about this. Jacob Arminius himself was ambivilent. He seemed undecided at the end of his life. He leaned towards believing that a believer can forfeit their salvation, but, as I said, he seemed undecided.

Returning to the Calvinistic viewpoint again. Until that day, God continues to do a work in us. We are being changed day by day into the image of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote, in both Romans and Ephesians, how we are predestined to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. To do this, God gives us the Holy Spirit who I showed seals us into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13) at the time of our conversion. We are changed little by little, always moving closer to the image of Jesus. "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, [even] as by the Spirit of the Lord." (2 Cor. 3:18). We are told to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling." That means to live out our confession of faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Why with fear and trembling? "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of [his] good pleasure." (Phil. 2:13). Paul put it like this to the Galatian church "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." (Gal. 2:20).

The Bible tells us that God will perform this work in us until the day when Jesus Christ returns. Paul says "Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform [it] until the day of Jesus Christ." Jesus Christ tells us this about God's intent "And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day." (John 6:39). Notice that of all the ones the Father has given to Jesus, he will lose none of them and he will raise them up on the last day. In case anyone had missed his meaning, Jesus repeats the promise again in the very next verse. Jesus promised in John 10 that no one would be able to take his sheep away from him (John 10:29-30).

Paul writes in Romans 7 that he finds two laws at work in himself. One is a law of the Spirit meaning the Holy Spirit leads Paul in desiring to do the will of God. Yet, there is a second law, one of the flesh. This law works against the law of the Spirit and drags the Christian towards fulfilling the lusts of the flesh. Every Christian can testify about how weak they are and how they find themselves constantly needing God's forgiveness. The Puritan writer John Bunyan said "My sin is always before my eyes." The work of the Holy Spirit is not a one time act of grace at the time we get saved, it is a continual work of grace as God is constantly pouring his grace out on us. There is never a time when He is not working in us. As Christ promised "for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." (Heb. 13:5). Even though we may fall into sin, still God's promise stands. "Let God be true and every man a liar." (Rom. 3:4).

So God's work, which was begun before the foundation of the world, perseveres in the Christian till the end. When God has worked from before the universe was created, and provided the Son as the payment for our sin, and given us the Holy Spirit as a down payment of the inheritence which is ours as children of God, He will not let that work fail. Our confidence is not in our own works but again, in the work that God has done for us. Our confidence is in Christ alone. God will carry His children in His "everlasting arms" until the day when He brings us home to see Him face to face. Those whom God loved and chose, whom Christ died for effectually, whom the Holy Spirit finds, saves, and seals, will not ultimately be lost. God cannot deny Himself. And that is why the saints persevere in God.

I can think of no better conclusion to this series of articles than the doxology of Paul in Romans 11 ...

"O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable [are] his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, [are] all things: to whom [be] glory for ever. Amen." (Rom. 11:33-36).

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I is for Irresistable Grace

Salvation is all of God from start to finish. The crux of the debate between the Arminian and the Calvinist camps fell here, on the doctrine of irresistable grace. Some might think that limited atonement was the focal point of the debate. But it is not so. Jacob Arminius found his greatest objection to Calvin's theology here. The Remonstrants built their other points of doctrine from an examination of Arminius' teaching about irresistable grace.

Irresistable grace is the Holy Spirit's work in our salvation. Some Puritan authors, when speaking of the Holy Spirit's work in finding Christ's lost sheep in the world, referred to him (the Holy Spirit) as the "Hound of Heaven.' Like a bloodhound He sniffs out and tracks down His quarry. And since He is God, none escape Him.

Opponents of irresistable grace argue that it means that God grabs us, as if by the nose, and forces us to become followers of Jesus Christ. This view is wrong and does great violence to the beauty of this blessed doctrine.

We have seen in previous posts that man is dead in sin, blind, deaf, hard hearted, carnally minded, enslaved to his sin nature and other terms that the Bible uses to describe us in our lost condition. If we are to be saved then these traits must be turned around. That is the beginning of the work of the Holy Spirit. By His power He opens our blind eyes, unstops our deaf ears, takes out our heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh. He frees us from the shackles of our slavery to our sin nature. He gives us a spiritual mind and makes our carnal minds alive to the things of God. All this must happen if the sinner is to even see that he needs a savior. Remember, to the lost person Jesus Christ and his salvation is a stumbling block or foolishness. One modern preacher put it like this "We need to get lost before we can be found." He is saying that a sinner has to realize their need for a savior before they will be willing to turn to a savior.

Some folks compare salvation to a man who has fallen overboard from a ship in the middle of the ocean. Without reaching out and grabbing the life preservers (the gospel message) that is being thrown to him, he will die. But total depravity teaches us that in our lost condition, we not only think we don't need a life preserver, we don't even think we are wet! Without this realization, no one will choose to come to Christ as Lord and Savior.

When the Holy Spirit makes us spiritually alive, it is called being born again (John 3:3). The theological term for the new birth is regeneration. God has to regenerate us if we are to even be able to see spiritual realities. But what happens once God does this?

John Calvin believed God's first grace to the newly born is to give them faith to believe that the Bible is the word of God. By believing that, they will be able to hear the gospel message and believe it is God's message to them. Through the word of God faithfully preached (whether by a preacher or another faithful witness to God's gospel) the sinner sees Jesus Christ as the Loving, All Sufficient Savior for their sins. The sinner is shown, through the gospel, their vile, sinful, and helpless state, and they see Jesus as the One from heaven who was sent for them. Here the Holy Spirit makes the gospel personal and the sinner sees Christ, not just as Savior, but as their Savior. We join the Apostle Thomas as he falls on his knees and confesses "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28).

Far from being dragged forcefully by God against our will, the awakened sinner finds nothing more desirable in the universe than to claim Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Jesus is to him the "Altogether Lovely," the "Fairest of Ten Thousand" and the "Bright and Morning Star." The sinner is drawn to Christ like a man dying of thirst is irresistable drawn to a glass of ice water. He must have it or die. Jesus becomes the "Pearl of Great Price" for which a person would sell everything he has to possess.

Jacob Arminius believed that man's will was sufficiently strong to resist God's calling to the sinner and so, a man could refuse, by a free will decision, to reject Christ. The Reformers and Puritans answered their Arminian opponents by speaking of the Glorious Savior who is the deepest desire of our hearts. The beauty of the Reformed gospel is the loving drawing (with cords that bind us as tight as steel), cords of love from God drawing us, speaking to us, calling to us, bringing us, with the very power of God's Being to Himself. Whom Christ died for, He will have. Jesus said the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep. He also said that the sheep hear his voice and they follow him. Since no one can know who God's elect people are, the gospel is preached (as Jesus said) to every creature. We throw out a wide net, but if anyone is caught, it is God who catches them. "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase." Also, "So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper [in the thing] whereto I sent it." (1 Cor. 3:6; Isa. 55:11).

A closely related scriptural concept is that of the Old Testament love slave. In the year of Jubilee in Israel, slaves were to be freed. However, if there was a slave who loved his master so much that he could not bear a life apart from that master, the slave could ask to be kept. Such a slave was taken to the doorpost of the house and his ear was pierced with an awl. Such a slave could never again be freed and would live out the rest of his life as a slave to that master. We are such slaves to Jesus Christ. We are not held be decree or force. Our love for Jesus Christ compels us to devote ourselves to Him. We are bound to Him by cords of love. BUT "We love him because He first loved us."

Calvinists speak of the general and the effectual calls. The general call is what is given by preachers and Christians witnessing their faith to other people. The general call goes out to everyone who will listen. But then there is the effectual call of the Holy Spirit to the spirit of the person. This call goes out to the elect, to those whom the Father has given to the Son. As Paul says "The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God." (Rom. 8:16). This call, the inward call of the Spirit cannot be ignored or turned away. Scripture says "Whom He calls, He justifies." Now justification is God declaring us to be "not guilty" of our sins. It is God's declaration to the believer. Note, whom He (God) calls, He justifies. Everyone who is called of God is justified by God.

There is much, much more that can be said. But this is enough to show how Calvinists define the phrase irresistable grace. Picture, if you will, that God had stuck his hand into a pail of vomit. As He pulls it out and looks it over, that is how we appear to Him when we are in our sin. But He has chosen to love us ("Elect before the foundation of the world" Eph. 1:4) and in the day of His power He changes us from that ooze of dripping vomit into a child of the Living God. We, who were not a people, are now a people. We, who once had no hope, now have a hope. He calls us His children. We are brothers and sisters of the Lord Jesus Christ - the God-man. He calls kings and priests in His kingdom. We become heirs to every heavenly blessing. We, who were less than nothing, will one day stand in judgment over angels.

God shows us what we are without Jesus Christ. Then He shows us our Savior, Jesus Christ. He teaches us repentence and gives us the gift of saving faith. And we choose to do what we want to do the most. Turn from our wicked ways and self worship and cling to the One and only One who stood in judgment for us and hang on till we get the blessing.

Do Calvinists believe a sinner chooses to be a believer in Jesus? You bet we do. Jonathan Edwards, an American theologian put it like this "God does all and man does all." Yet at every point, man's action have a source in God's action on our behalf. So that, at no point, can a man claim any credit at all for any part of his salvation. We pray with the thief "God have mercy on me, a sinner." Then we sing with the angels "Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!" Amen.

L is for Limited Atonement

This is the next on my series of articles defining the 5 Points of Calvinism (also called the "Doctrines of Grace"). The hardest point of Calvinistic doctrine for people to believe is this one, limited atonement. That is because it seems to go against everything they have been taught before.

Simply stated, the doctrine of limited atonement says that when Jesus Christ died on the cross, he died to actually secure the salvation of those people God has chosen to save (the elect). The heart of the Evangelical gospel is the doctrine of the "penal substitutionary atonement" of Jesus Christ. When I was a student at Liberty University they taught us this. Liberty is no friend of Reformed theology, but even they taught the penal substitutionary atonement. Penal substitutionary atonement says that Jesus substituted for (or took the place of) someone and suffered the penalty due to that person for their sins. Thus we say "Jesus died for me." When we say that we are saying that Jesus stood in my place. He was my substitute. He suffered for me.

But to be a true substitution, Jesus must stand in the place of an actual person. Some Calvinists call this "definite atonement" because they want to emphasize that Jesus made an actual atonement for someone. The Bible has various names for this group of people for whom Jesus made an actual substitution. For example ...

"You shall call his name 'Jesus' for he shall save his people from their sins." (Matt. 1:21).

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only Begotten Son, that whosoever believes on him will never perish but have everlasting life." (John 3:16).

"I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep." (John 10:11).

"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it..." (Eph. 5:25).

There are others, but you can see that these verses give the sense of particularity, that Christ died for an actual group of people. They are variously called his people, believers, his sheep, the Church, those the Father had given him, the elect and so on. Calvinists believe that Jesus' death on the cross actually secured the salvation of (that is, actually paid for the sins of) his people.

Now let me be clear here. Calvinists believe salvation takes place in time, that is, a person is saved when they turn in saving faith to the Lord Jesus Christ as their God and Savior. Jesus' death secured their salvation but they are saved when they come to believe that. One teacher of mine once said that no one is saved by believing that God so loved the world, but they are saved when they come to believe that God so loved me (him or herself). Unconditional election took place "before the foundation of the world." (Eph. 1:4) But we are saved in time. For example, I believe God chose me for salvation before the foundation of the world, but He saved me in 1966.

It is at this point where Arminianism begins to break down into various groups because different groups of Arminians disagree over what Jesus actually did on the cross. One group holds that Jesus died for every human who ever lived, is living and ever will live. Yet, since not every human is saved, Jesus did not die to secure their salvation. Rather, Jesus died to make all men savable, dependent on whether they will choose to exercise saving faith in him. So Jesus died for all men generally, but no one in particular. Jesus' death does not actually secure the salvation of anyone.

A small caveat here, I use the terms "man" and "men" generally to mean humankind, or people, or all humans generally. So when I say "Jesus died for all men generally" it is understood that I mean that Jesus died generally for every human.

Another Arminian position is that Jesus' death on the cross removed "all the barriers" between God and men (again making men savable). The common theme of Arminian theology on the atonement is that the death of Jesus doesn't actually save anyone but makes men savable.

One group that tries to take advantage of both positions are called "Amyraldians" named after the French theologian Moises Amyrault. He taught that Jesus' death actually paid the penalty for all men's sins so that now there is no sin for which a person would be condemned. But God chooses to apply this forgiveness to his elect alone. So Jesus died for all men generally but not all men benefit savingly from Jesus' atonement.

To me, the chief problem with both the Amyraldian and the Arminian position is that it has people suffering in hell whose sins are forgiven. Both groups agree that not everyone in the world will be saved and both groups agree that Jesus' death paid for the sins of all men. Therefore, there are people who go to hell whose sins are forgiven. Calvinism teaches that men go to hell because their sins are not paid for.

In answer to the charge that this seems like an unfair doctrine, the question must be asked, unfair according to who? If a Governor of a State pardons a convicted criminal, is it unfair of him not to pardon every convicted criminal? Of course not. But why not? Because all the convicts are guilty! They are being justly punished for their crimes. And every sinner who goes to hell is being justly punished for their sins. It is rightly said that no one goes to hell who does not deserve to go there. Conversely, no one goes to heaven who deserves to be there either.

Limited atonement is an unfortunate name. But one could not do the TULIP acrostic without it. It is also called definite atonement or particular redemption (emphasizing that Jesus redeemed a particular people). Calvinists believe the extent of Christ's atonement is limited to the people God has chosen to save. By the way, Arminians limit the atonement also. They limit it's power to save by saying that it secures no one's salvation unless a human chooses to allow it to save them.

Charles Spurgeon once said that if God had painted a stripe down the back of every elect person, he would go about London lifting up men's coattails. The truth is that no one knows who the elect are. We find out when a person believes. (More on this tomorrow). But our task as Christians is to preach the gospel to every person we can so that the whosoevers will come. The Calvinist knows that God has chosen to save "a numberless multitude which no man can count." They are drawn out of the world from "every tongue, tribe, nation, and people." So there are people everywhere who will believe (sooner or later) if they are exposed to the gospel. The Calvinist knows that every person who comes to Christ is a precious one for whom Jesus died. And God gets the glory for every soul that is saved. To put it another way, the Arminian thinks that a person becomes elect when they choose to believe in Jesus. The Calvinist believes that a person believes because they are elect. In short, "we love Him because He first loved us."

Where a person falls on this doctrine depends a lot on what a person thinks Jesus actually did on the cross. Did he actually save anyone? Or did he die to make men savable? Like I said yesterday, it doesn't matter what I say. Ask yourself, what does the Bible say about what Jesus did on the cross? That is where you want to be on this.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

U is for Unconditional Election

This is the next in a series of articles to define the 5 points of Calvinism. Yesterday I defined total depravity. Today, I will define the second of the 5 Canons of Dort, unconditional election.

The five points stand or fall together as one coherent system. If any one point is ever disproved, then the whole system falls apart. Conversely, each point builds logically from the previous point. If total depravity is true, then election must be unconditional. Let me explain further.

First, from the Calvinist viewpoint, we take it as a given that total depravity is true. That being so, man has nothing to offer God that will make God look favorably on him and save him. So, if God is going to save a person, it will be because God wants to and not because of anything in the person who is being saved.

The Bible speaks of those who are saved as God's "elect." To elect someone means to choose that person out of a group. Election = to choose out of a group. Out of all humanity, God has chosen to save some people. Both Arminians and Calvinists agree with that statement. They differ on why God chooses to save one and not to save another.

The Calvinist sees election as unconditional from man's side. That is to say that nothing man does affects whether or not God chooses to save him. All we have to offer God is sin. The Bible describes us in our own righteousness as "filthy rags." The word "righteousness" means "right covering." Think about the works you do. All the good works you do to try to make God happy with you are like "filthy rags." I keep putting that phrase in italics because it literally means "menstrual cloth." One commentator compared it to the rags used to wipe the puss out of oozing sores. It is a vile, nasty, and disgusting thing. This is how God sees our good works that are done in and of ourselves. Why? Because everything we do is stained with sin and our God is the Holy One. Angels fly over His throne shouting "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty." And since we are totally depraved, all of our faculties are contaminated with sin, there is nothing we can do, not even think a good and holy thought, that we can offer God to make Him want to be gracious to us. With all this being so, if God chooses to show us grace it is because of His free choice to show us grace.

In scripture we see this shown to us in John chapter 6. We quoted John 6:44 in our last article to show that no one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws him. John 6:37 says that all that the Father gives to Jesus will come to him and all who come to him will be saved. If you put the two ideas together, you can plainly see that is a person is not saved it is because the Father has not given or drawn that person to Jesus. God chooses who will be saved. And He does so based on no condition that we (humans) can meet. Therefore, God choice of who He will save is unconditional from our point of view.

By the way, the only reason scripture gives for why God chooses to save a person is "for God's glory." Nothing else. If there is another reason it is hidden from us and contained in the "secret things of God."

The Arminian believes in conditional election. That is, God chooses to save a person based on their fulfillment of the necessary condition. In Arminianism, the necessary condition is said to be faith. In Arminian theology, God looks into human history and determines (by His infallible foresight) who will choose to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. God chooses to elect all the ones who will choose Christ as their savior. So, election is based on God's foresight of a person's choices when confronted with the gospel.

I said yesterday that both Calvinists and Arminians believe in total depravity. This is true. Arminians believe God overcomes man's depravity by giving every human a measure of "Prevenient Grace." Prevenient grace moves man to a point of moral neutrality so he can now choose to believe in Jesus if he wants to. Now, election is no longer an act of God's free grace, it is an act of man's will. Man chooses if he will be elect or not. Prevenient grace frees man's will from the slavery of depravity so that man can choose Christ. And God has chosen to elect all those who freely choose Christ.

So, the Arminian scheme holds to a position of prevenient grace and conditional election. The Calvinistic scheme holds to unconditional election. As with every doctrine, (and I should have said this in my first article and repeated it in the second), it does not matter what John Calvin or Jacob Arminius or me or what anyone else says ... what matters is what saith the scriptures? What doctrine is Bible doctrine? Is election conditional or unconditional? Search the scriptures and find out. We are, after all, biblical Christians. No matter who we are, Calvinist or Arminian, our first task is to see that our doctrine is Bible doctrine.

Monday, January 28, 2008

T is for Total Depravity

This is the second in a series of articles dealing with the proper definitions of Calvinistic theological terms. I will take each of the Canons of Dort, the 5 points of Calvinism as they are called, and define each one so that my readers will know what we Calvinists are saying when we use these terms.

The Five Points of Calvinism are remembered in English by the acrostic T-U-L-I-P. They stand for ...

Total Depravity
Unconditional Election
Limited Atonement
Irresistible Grace
Perseverance of the Saints

Over the next few articles I will define each one in turn. When I am finished, I plan on doing a few articles reflecting on the practical outcomes of these doctrines in our Christian lives.

Total depravity, simply, means that sin infects and affects all of a person's being. Because of Adam's fall into sin in the Garden of Eden, mankind is born separated from God. This is called "spiritual death."

Here is a definition for you ... death = separation. When your spirit separates from your physical body, you are physically dead. When your spirit is separated from God, you are spiritually dead.

We are born separated from God. Indeed, we are conceived separated from God. David wrote "In sin I was conceived..." (Psalm 51:6). In this state of spiritual death, we are blind, deaf, hardened, unfeeling, carnal, at enmity with, in fact, every way standing against the things of God. We are not alive to God. We cannot hear His voice. His word is meaningless to us. We have no understanding of spiritual things. And this deadness is total. Our minds, wills, emotions, intent of heart, our bodies, our psyche, every part of us ... the totality of our being ... is dead to the things of God. There is not a single holy spiritual impulse in us.

All that we do spiritually, while in this state, is vain, empty, and at enmity with God. We create idols and serve them. Or we deify ourselves and serve our own lusts and desires. When we are confronted with the true word of God, it is either foolishness or a stumbling block to us.

The result of this is that we are totally unable to come to God on our own. We can't find God. In fact, we don't want to. Unless God somehow changes us, we never on our own would come to Him. That is why Jesus said that "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him." Unless the Father draws us to Christ, we can't come to Jesus. It just isn't in us. This result is called "Total Inability."

Total depravity is important for the Christian to understand for two main reasons. First, it teaches us our need for a savior. We are separated from God. We have no hope on our own to come to God by anything we do since everything we do is stained with sin. We aren't even able to have a godly thought. In short, we have nothing in and of ourselves to offer God for our salvation. If we are going to be made right with God, we need a savior to do it for us. And this brings me to the second reason, it shows us that we need to put all our dependence on God alone. If we are going to saved, it is God who must do it. It is His works we need. It is His righteousness and perfection we need. Our faith is not in what we do to make it to heaven, but in what God has done for us.

In the Bible, God always brings people to a place of total dependence on Him. Picture Israel at the Red Sea with Pharaoh's army closing in. Only God could have opened the Red Sea for Israel. Only God could have defeated Pharaoh's army. Israel saw "the salvation of the Lord" that day. Or picture Lazarus dead in the tomb. He was helpless to raise himself from the dead. Only the voice of the God-man Jesus Christ could call Lazarus to life. Our salvation never comes from what we do for ourselves, but always in response to what God has done for us.

When Calvinists talk about the doctrine of total depravity, this is what we are talking about. Man's total infestation of sin and man's total inability to come to God by anything he does for himself. The Calvinists finds himself to be the brother or the sister of the sinner in the Jerusalem street who, when he was awakened to his true spiritual condition, put his face in the dust and would not even look up to heaven. He prayed with the only prayer such a person has to offer God ... "God, be merciful to me ... a sinner." (Luke 18:13).

In the next article ... Unconditional Election.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Getting Some Definitions Right

One of the things that irks me the most are all these self proclaimed experts on Calvinism who don't seem to know the first thing about what they are talking about. Many leaders in our Convention take exception to the Doctrines of Grace (a nickname for Calvinistic theology) but when you listen to them talk about it, it seems they miss the mark about what Calvinists believe. Indeed, many times I am left wondering if they object to Calvinism or something they made up and called Calvinism. So, over the next few days, I'd like to take a shot at setting the record straight and (at least) trying to define what we mean when we talk about Calvinism.

Everyone has a system of theology. No matter who you are you tend to put religious doctrines (teachings) and thoughts into an order. In the last 2000 years of church history, these systems have come to be recognized and defined. Some are heretical and outside the Christian faith. Some are not. But everyone has a system.

Among Protestant Evangelical Christians there are two major systems of theology. Almost everything else is derived from one of these two systems. They are Calvinism (or Reformed) theology and Arminianism. The major difference between the two (in the largest sense) is that Calvinism is monergistic. It believes that God has done all the work necessary for salvation and then calls men to respond to what He has done for them. Arminianism is synergistic. It believes that man and God cooperate together to bring a person to salvation. All the doctrines that belong to each system are derived from these two overarching thoughts. God does all the work or men and God work together.

There is a third system called pelagianism. Pelagius taught that men are born neutral and so they learn to become sinners. They can also learn to become holy and therefore, essentially, save themselves. His system is considered heretical and outside Christian orthodoxy and so I will not be dealing with it at all in this series of articles. It is enough to say that no orthodox Christian theologian or sect teaches that man can save himself.

John Calvin was a French theologian who settled in Geneva, Switzerland. He summed up his theological teachings in a book called "The Institutes of the Christian Religion." He also wrote a commentary on almost the whole Bible. Calvin's major thought centered on the absolute sovereignty of God over all things and man's submission to God's sovereign rule. Calvin's chief disciple was a man named Theodore Beza. After Calvin died one of the men Beza taught was a Dutch theologian named Jacob Hermann whose Latin name was Arminius. Arminius came to question certain of Calvin's teachings, especially the teaching that God's grace could not be resisted by the human will. When he died, his followers petitioned the national church in Holland to replace some of Calvin's doctrines with those developed by Arminius' followers. These followers were called "Remonstrants" and their petition is called the "Remonstrance." The Remonstrance had five sections each dealing with a doctrinal issue they wanted to replace. The Dutch Church responded by calling a Synod to consider the petition. The Synod met in the city of Dordtrecht (or Dort for short). The Synod wrote five Canons or Standards for proper doctrine. They rejected the Remonstrance totally. They answered with five Canons, to answer each of the five Remonstrances. In English, we remember the five Canons of Dort by the acrostic TULIP. Each letter stands for one the five Canons. It is these five doctrines that I will be defining over the next week or so in this series of articles. I will try to set each Canon in antithesis to it's Arminian counterpart.

I come into this with a bias. I am a Reformed Baptist. I personally tend to use the terms Reformed, Calvinist, and Sovereign Grace as interchangeable terms. I understand that there are some nuances to each term so that they are not exactly interchangeable. A Sovereign Grace Baptist for example, will hold to the "5 Points of Calvinism" (a nickname for the five Canons of Dort), but not to any other Calvinistic theology. Reformed Baptists tend to be confessional, finding their doctrine articulated very well in the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. Calvinism Proper tends to be more Presbyterian than Baptist (did I mention that I am a Baptist?). But a Baptist who says that he is a Calvinist is generally saying that the holds to the 5 points of Calvinism.

In our Southern Baptist Convention, the majority of folks would be a mixture of Calvinist and Arminian. There are very few pure Arminians in the Convention. But, insofar, as a person holds to a synergistic view of salvation, they stand on the Arminian side of the line. But we take it as a given that the SBC is a mix multitude. Every SBC pastor, Calvinist or not, has to deal with that mixed bunch. But there is a big well of misunderstanding about what Calvinistic Southern Baptists believe. Even some folks who hold doctorates in theology seem to forget what Reformed theology is when they speak. My hope is that this next week or so will clear up some of those misunderstandings.

One slogan of the Reformation was "Ecclessia reformata et semper reformanda." It means "The Church reformed and always reforming." We are never where we should be. No matter how biblical or Christ honoring a Church is, it can always do better. As we all move forward towards Christlikeness, I pray these articles will spark a desire for theological thinking among my Baptist brothers and sisters.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

"By This ... "

There is a way to tell who is a disciple of Jesus and who is not. Yes, there is a mark that identifies the followers of Jesus Christ. It is the easiest thing to say. It is the hardest thing to do. In short, it is hard.

Jesus said, "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another" (John 13:35). Note the two parts of the verse. In fact, this is important. Let me take it apart for you for a moment.

"By this..." By this what? By this thing that is about to be named. Whatever this thing is, it is the mark of a Christian.

See? "... will all men know ..." Notice that phrase "all men." Even lost people will know that we are followers of Jesus when they see this thing that is about to be named. Whatever it is it is so different than what is seen in the secular world that it will mark us as followers of Christ.

"... if you have love one to another." This is the thing. It is the love that we have for our Christian brothers and sisters. Note that it is not just love. It is love of such a quality that even lost people can see it is different than what they practice. None of us would argue that lost people cannot love. They love their spouses. They love their kids. They love. But there is a kind of love that they do not know or practice. It is a kind of love that is not seen in the world. So when they see it in a Christian, they know it by how it is different. They know, by it's quality that the one practicing it is a follower of Jesus Christ.

So this is the mark of a true Christian. Above all other things. Above doctrine, worship, good deeds and everything else. This "Christian love" that we have for one another, our brothers and sisters in Christ, this is the thing that sets us apart from everyone else.

So if a person is a Christian, we are compelled by the indwelling Holy Spirit to love them. The Spirit calls to the Spirit. The Holy Spirit in us finds a natural attraction to the Holy Spirit in our brothers and sisters. Our changed heart finds a natural affection for those who are also indwelt by the Holy Spirit. It is not a question of "should we love them?" But rather, we are compelled by the Spirit to love them. Just as we love Christ, we love those He owns. We must.

But since the source of this love is the Holy Spirit Himself, it is a love given by God, for God, to God, through us.... It is a love unknown to the world around us. That is why it sets us apart. That is why, even lost people can know we are followers of Jesus. Because the God living inside us shines forth with a love that can only find it's source in God alone.

Beloved. This is where it gets hard. It is easy to love those people who are like us. Like attracts like. Right? It is easy to love those people who love us first. That is human love. But "We love Him because He FIRST loved us." God's love reaches out to those who do not (necessarily) love us. We are called to love the ones who are not like us, who do not love us. And not just love, but to love them with God's love flowing through us to them. THIS is hard. It is impossible without God in us. We are called to love our Christian brothers and sisters no matter how unorthodox they are in our eyes IF we are convinced that they are truly Christians. Friends, I am not always the best example of this. Sometimes I am not an example at all. It is hard to do this. But God has not called us to do the easy thing, but the right thing.

Friends, if THIS is the mark that identifies us, then shouldn't it be found in us? Shouldn't we be doing it? This is not easy doctrine. It is a hard thing. But Jesus said it. He bought us. He owns us. He lives in us. In this, as in all things holy ... we need to be about the Master's business.

Monday, January 14, 2008

An Old Post Brought Up To The Top

I wrote this a little less than a full year ago but after a recent discussion on Paltalk (a voice chat program), I think it is worth saying again. Enjoy...

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Why do we quote the writings of other preachers in our sermons? I have noticed a disturbing trend among some groups of Christians recently. It is disturbing because it opens the door to serious error coming into the Church. It is the tendency to cut ourselves off from church history. When we are cut off from church history then we can't learn the lessons of the church and we do not know the traditions of the church throughout it's history.

Yes, I used the "t" word ... tradition. We Protestants have a bad feeling about that word because of the Roman Catholic teaching that "Sacred Tradition" holds an equal authority over the Church as "Sacred Scripture." But we Protestants hold to sola scriptura (scripture alone) which tells us nothing is binding on the Christian for beliefs and life that cannot be proven from scripture. But there is a tradition of the Church, and yes, we test it against the Bible, yet, we let it also help guide us in our interpretations of the Bible.

If I am reading my Bible and I interpret my Bible a certain way, how can I know my interpretation is an orthodox interpretation? I am defining an orthodox interpretation as an interpretation of scripture which has been allowed as being within the true stream of Christian faith throughout the history of the Church. If I develop an interpretation of the Bible that agrees with a position which the church has held to be heretical, then I need to rethink my interpretation. If I develop an interpretation of scripture and I look back on church history and find that the church has allowed it as an orthodox interpretation, even if it is a minority position, it is still within the boundaries of orthodoxy.

So, why do I quote other preachers when I preach? Because it is important to my people to know that I am not teaching new doctrine. Jude, in his letter, speaks of the "faith once and for all delivered to the saints." There is a body of truth that comprises the "apostolic faith." I want my people to know that what I preach is Christian orthodoxy. By connecting my teaching with the teaching of other credible Christians from the past (and present) I can demonstrate that our teaching and our church is part of the faith stream of historic Christian orthodoxy.

Today, we live in a time when people have a "blender Christianity." People take a little Bible, a little Dr. Phil, a little Oprah, a little what sounds good and fair to them, toss it into a blender and mix it all together, and voila! Personalized Christianity. In my personal experience, much of this blender faith is sub-christian. Some of it is outright heresy. How can we oppose it without a way to know what is right and acceptable? Some will say "We have the Bible." It is true that we have the Bible. But both orthodox Christians and non christian cultists claim to base their beliefs on the Bible. How can we tell the difference? What makes the Baptist way of interpreting the Bible better than the Mormon way of interpreting the Bible? Because the Baptist way falls within the historic orthodox faith and Mormonism does not. If two people both read the Bible and come to opposite conclusions about what it teaches, the difference between right and wrong is what is acceptable to the church. Otherwise, you are left with each person doing what is right in his or her own eyes.

This sense of connectedness with church history is critically important to us today. I will tell you the truth... every ancient heresy is today taught in evangelical pulpits in the United States. People who do not know the past are doomed to repeat it ... and we see the truth of that saying in our churches today.

That is why I quote preachers and theologians from the past and present. I connect my teaching with the historic church's teaching. The first church, first of all, devoted themselves to the apostle's teaching. It is not my goal to be teaching new things to my church but rather old things, the faith once and for all time delivered to the saints. Because to be outside of that faith is to be outside the church.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Something Worth Thinking About

I read a quote about the current church's most pressing need. As much as I love doctrine and theology, I agree with the writer who was quoted that the most pressing need of the Church right now is more holy people. Now, I do not necessarily mean more people in terms of numbers. I mean people who are more holy.

Among us Southern Baptists, we fought the battle of the Bible. We claim again to be a people of the Book. We can lay claim to being Bible believing people once again.

There is a new interest in theology and in church history (which is corresponding to an increase in the numbers of people who claim to hold to the doctrines of sovereign grace). This new interest in theology has believers pulling out their Bibles and talking about once again about the meaning of the text.

In many ways, we look good on paper. Now, when I say "we", I am speaking of Southern Baptists, although I could be speaking of Evangelical Protestant Christians as a whole. Yes, we look good on paper. But in many ways, if we looked hard at ourselves, we would admit that we are like the whited sepulchers Jesus spoke of. All clean on the outside and inside full of dead men's bones.

The need of our day are people who (hear me here) not only live out the Christian faith outwardly, but are completely, radically, fully converted to the Christian faith on the inside too. We need people who are "holy people." I am talking about people who are set apart for God. People who are set apart to God.

I remember a sermon once by John Piper and in it he asked about the ambiance of one's life. He meant the flavor or the fragrance of one's lifestyle. Today's Church needs people who are intrinsically holy. People whose lifestyle flavor tastes like God. People whose lives give off the fragrance of holiness. We need holy people.

It is easy to play like a Christian. It is much harder to be a Christian. In 2008, let us all resolve to be a holy people. God's people.