Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Response to Michael Coogan's CNN Article | Part 1 | The Doctrine of Scripture

Public criticism of the Word of God is often articulated by people who disdain it. It will often include examples of biblical, ancient near eastern practices that are markedly different than what we would ever see today. There are, indeed, many forms of justice and standards of living that are referenced and even commanded by God in the Bible that we do not see executed in our justice systems today. All objections to the Bible are simply ways in which to self-arbitrate the needlessness of observance and belief. Nonetheless, some of the most common criticisms are leveled at the way in which God dealt with sin.

For example, Exodus 21:17 says that “anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.” One might wonder when their sibling should die as they have heard countless curses uttered from his or her lips about their parents. Leviticus 20:10 also says that anyone who commits adultery should be put to death. Again, one might think that about half of their family tree is now liable to the death sentence because of this “outdated” law if it were still in effect. On the surface—to them—it is a laughable thought. On and on it goes.

Granted, there are many passages in the Old Testament that list sin after sin, including their consequences. Many of these punishments are, in fact, capital punishment. There is, however, an underlying reality to the whole issue of sin that is always overlooked and usually missed entirely by those who think the Bible is inconsistent in its teaching. It is even unrealized by many Christians; that is, the inescapable judgment of sin, which results in death—even still. Romans tells us that “the wages of sin is death” (6:23), (emphasis mine). The fact that any one of us has lived even a few years of our lives is an unfathomable mercy that Peter tells us is meant to give us time to repent of our sin and believe on Jesus Christ (2 Pet 3:8–9). This brings us to the second reality, which is the forgiving and merciful nature of God in spite of our sin, which was appropriated at Christ’s expense, but on our behalf—if we believe. The second portion of that Romans verse says, “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

As far as God is concerned we are all deserving death, but He has made a way through the sacrificial replacement of the death of Jesus Christ in order that sinful man might be reconciled to God, having their debt paid. Notice how the justice of God never slips, even in light of his loving-mercy. Jesus took the burden of our judgment so that the Father’s perfect justice might be satisfied by His perfect Son. Only the perfect, eternal God could absorb all of the sin of every man and woman who would believe. His death atoned for our sin and His resurrection to life gives us eternal life as well.

People can be quick to judge the Bible as out of date and entirely ridiculous upon reading much of the Pentateuch—five books—known also as the Law of Moses, but they would be remiss to think that the law of God and the demand for holiness has become a moot point simply because a secular world does not believe in the Creator God, or His definition of sin and the consequences that will come with it if His Son, Jesus Christ, continues to be forsaken.

I write all of this as a response to an article posted on the CNN Opinion website by—believe it or not—a lecturer on Hebrew Bible and Old Testament at Harvard Divinity School, Michael Coogan. With a bit of naiveté at the time, perhaps, I expected at first glance that someone was finally advocating some basic and practical, biblical virtues that the Word of God certainly has to offer about life and the family. Needless to say, I was dead wrong. The title of the article is called My Take: The Bible Has Some Shocking ‘Family Values'.

I want to break down the article by the main topics that Coogan broaches and then help to shine some light on his problematic presumptions that he builds from. As we go we will affirm the testimony of the Old and New Testaments together in spite of his attempt to frame God’s Word as contradictory. I think this will be helpful because many of us have wondered what we are to think about some of the things we read about in the Old Testament.

Coogan’s first glaring error that is common among many liberal theologians is plainly stated at the beginning of the article. Namely, he starts his whole spiel on the presumption that since the Bible was penned by human authors it must follow that their writings are based on personal views and marked with biased perspectives that are shaped only by their individual circumstances. This is your typical vanilla, cookie-cutter approach to liberal theology. This false notion explicitly denies that the Bible was ultimately breathed out by God. Coogan claims that the doctrine of the infallibility of Scripture is a misunderstood confusion and that if people understood that the Bible was only written by mere men, then they would no longer be confused about it. Perhaps this would solve their perceived confusion, but it would only add to their self-deception.   

When your attempted exposition of Old Testament passages starts with a false view of Scripture, then your interpretation of Scripture will inevitably follow and lead to similar conclusions—false ones.  It was clear that the rest of the article was doomed to be written from the wrong standpoint. By Scripture’s own testimony, it is of paramount importance to know and believe that the Bible is in fact the Word of God, without error. It is not only inerrant, but it is infallible, perspicuous, and authoritative for all matters of faith and practice.

“All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim 3:16). Jesus said that “the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Lk 24:44) as well as affirm all of the Scriptures as being the living Word of God when He told Satan, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4). In equating Paul’s writings with the Old Testament Scriptures, Peter says, “There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Pet 3:16) (emphasis mine). This Peter is the same one that Jesus said would help to build His church.

When we assail the doctrine of Scripture, friends, we assail the doctrine of God. They go hand in hand. What you believe about Scripture reveals what you believe about God. What you believe about God will determine what you believe about Scripture. We either believe the testimony of Moses, the Prophets, the Psalmists, the apostles—all of whom wrote what God impressed—and the Son of God Himself, or we believe the testimony of the world. One’s sovereignty and authority truly reigns, while the other’s merely feigns.

Compare that with what Coogan said in his first paragraph of the article:

“[Pastors and politicians] routinely quote the Bible as if it were an unassailable divine authority—after all, they assume, God wrote the Bible, and therefore it is absolutely and literally true. But that is a misconception. As the Bible itself makes clear, its authors were human beings, many of whom are named: David, Isaiah, Luke and Paul. These human writers wrote over the course of more than a thousand years, and their writings reflect their own views and the values they shared with their contemporaries. So it’s not surprising that inconsistencies are frequent in the Bible, both trivial and profound” (emphasis mine).

What troubles me so greatly is knowing all along that he is an Old Testament lecturer for distinguished educational institutions. To think that there are Bible students under his teaching is extremely disconcerting. Nonetheless, this train of thought is everywhere and it is easily accepted because if you can decide that the Bible is inaccurate and therefore irrelevant to modern times, then you have nothing to worry about regarding the condemnation of sin. Consequently, Hell is denied as being literal. Logically, it must then follow that there is no accountability to anything other than the feeling of the moment. All attempts at moral standards are subject to shift.

Let’s take this a bit further. If one is to believe that the Bible was simply written by the personal and whimsical perspectives of men alone, with no divine movement whatsoever, then it would be relegated to an equal standing with the depraved writings of Joseph Smith or Mary Baker Eddy. It couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, this is one of the many things that distinguish Christianity from all other world religions: the claim that the Bible alone was written by God.

Let’s think about this. In spite of the religious books that they hold to as authoritative, just about every major (and many minor!) world religions and cults claim that the Bible is a good source of teaching, pleasant reading, or even authoritative in nature to a degree, but it is always with the addition of their supposedly divine, extra-biblical texts. The Mormons, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witness’, Christian Scientists, etc. all accept the biblical text—in part. In fact, they all have a place for Jesus in their religion as well. This alone should help clarify who borrowed from whom. The Bible says nothing of Joseph Smith, Muhammad, or Mary Baker Eddy, yet these and so many more have something to say about the biblical text and about Jesus, e.g. that he is a prophet, teacher, or the Christ, etc.  Where the Bible and another religious book may disagree, the Bible will always take second place as it is also seen as a man-made document having been updated with amendments, or addendums, so to speak. Christianity, however, has never borrowed from another religion or pieced together a special blend of religion. It is solely and emphatically derived from the teachings handed down by the prophets of the Old Testament and through the apostles and writers of the New Testament, all of which were given to them by a single source—Yahweh, the Creator God.

If you were to read any book and then find evidence for it not being true, then you could rightly dismiss the books truth claims. An embarrassing example of this is in the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and its implications on the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith claimed he had the only pure Old Testament documents—with an emphasis on Isaiah—and that anything after the age of the apostle’s was contaminated, which would include all of the translations of the Bible in current form, thus setting Mr. Smith up for having the only access to divine truth. The Dead Sea Scrolls have been dated to a few hundred years before Jesus Christ and they are the exact copies of the Old Testament that we have in our Bibles today. This utterly destroys Joseph Smith’s sayings and exposes his lies.

The Bible has stood the test of time, having undergone the most intensive forms of scrutiny. It has yet to be shown in error. It must be remembered that the Bible is an ancient document, which means that a proper understanding of the Bible—it’s authors, contexts, genres, historical data, prophecies, etc.—is needed in order to properly understand it. The beauty of it is that it consists of actual documents that can be tested. In a word, the Bible is falsifiable, meaning it makes statements of fact that can be tested in order to prove it as true or disprove it as false.

Faith simply comes in where we cannot validate any other way, for instance no one was around at the creation—not even Adam. We either believe God when He says that He created the world, or we do not. Your faith is either in His Word, or in the supposed possibility that there is another way everything came into existence. We believe what God has said and we believe what God has promised. We believe the Word He left us that testifies to itself. The alternative would be to believe fallible opinions of ourselves and other men over and against the trustworthy nature of Scripture itself. Doubting the Bible is simply not reasonable. In fact, the very fact that the Bible was written over thousands of years substantiates its veracity all the more. It does not negate its accuracy as Coogan suggests.

Let’s look at what else the Bible says about itself. Consider 2 Peter 1:16-21:

For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty . . . We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain . . . We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it . . . Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (emphasis mine).

The thought that the gospel of Jesus Christ was just another man-made religious bandwagon was common back then, too! The authors who were used by God through the prompting of the Holy Spirit knew that they were being used to put God’s Word on paper, not their own views and values.

The Pharisee, Gamaliel, who evidently was not a Christian, knew about the inevitability of man-made gospels and religions in their day when he warned the Sanhedrin who was trying to convict Paul for preaching the gospel in Acts 5:

“Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

Consider John’s gospel. It started with a clear statement that “in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Not only does it say that God is the Word, but that the Word became flesh and lived with them—Jesus Christ. These men who wrote were either eye-witnesses, or associates of eye-witnesses who researched the events in the New Testament. Even in the Old Testament, the people who wrote the books were eye-witnesses to many of the events.

Through these examples and texts it is interesting to see how coherent and fluid our Triune God works. As one breathes out his invisible breath on a crisp morning only to see its presence manifested in the air before him, so does God breathe out His Word to manifest it in our world so that we may know Him and His Son, Jesus Christ.

“Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’” (Jn 8:31–32).

What Coogan and others like him fail to do is believe God and honor Him as holy. The call to all of us who read the testimony of Scripture is: Do you believe God?

To Be Continued . . .

In Christ Alone,


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Church Growth and Methodology

There is within us all a unique way of operating and a personality that is somehow different, in some shape or form, from all other people. We can see the differences in people's personalities and characters when we're confronted with tough situations or controversial subjects. Our passions arise and tempers can sometimes flare. At the same time, when presented with a project we can all have a slightly, or largely, different approach on how to solve it. This is an incredible trait that God has given us and we, as the whole human race, are better for it. We all have a method for operating, some as specific note-takers and others as hip shooters.

What happens when you get a bunch of people in the Lord's church who have these different personalities? Is there a right way and a wrong way to practice a method when running God's church? Where do we draw the line between creativity in church growth and preaching and a specific way the Lord may have us run his church?

These are not just rhetorical questions, but practical ones that demand understanding, especially in an age where "church" has come to mean so many different things to so many different people. I challenge you to consider this post.

The first issue I want to discuss is that of church growth. You may have heard of terms like the “church growth movement”, or “seeker sensitive” churches, etc. The idea behind these movements, or even the local church philosophy, is to increase church attendance. Bring people to church who don’t normally go to church. Make the church a place that outsiders feel welcome so they stick around. Fair enough, but I’ve already thrown a yellow flag. To many church’s credit, they are rallying behind a noble cause: they want to see people get excited about God and accept him! Or, on the slightly more devious side, a church may just want increased attendance for the increased income from tithes and offerings. I don’t want to be standing next to those leaders when we’re standing before God someday!

So, what are the goals: Bring non-believers into church and make them feel welcome; Create an atmosphere that is non-threatening to a non-Christian; Make them feel loved so they keep on coming; Do not do or say anything too dogmatic, lest they become offended and leave and, worse yet, don’t like you anymore, scorning you as a Christian.

Is this so bad? I mean, really? What am I getting at here? While the goal of increasing church attendance can be noble, it is the wrong goal. While the method of being loving and making a comfortable church environment can be a good one, it does not trump preaching Biblical truth and confronting sin. The method is everything and, yes, there is a right and a wrong way to bring people into the church and here’s a hint… it has nothing to do with the ambience of your church building.

Let me reference a shocking story from Acts 5: “Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife's full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles' feet.

Then Peter said, "Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God."

When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.

About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, "Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?"

"Yes," she said, "that is the price."

Peter said to her, "How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also."

At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon's Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.”

This story shows two important details. One, is that God dealt with, rather quickly and severely, two blatant liars who were trying to act pious in front of the church. It doesn’t say whether or not these people were true believers, but I would assume they were not and they were just trying to do some work for a good look. God taught the whole church that was standing there that day a very valuable lesson: God does not tolerate sin.

Nevertheless, point two is that even though this had happened in front of the church’s very eyes, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. The church grew! This was a healthy growth because they knew what they were getting into. They knew they were giving their lives to a God that hated sin, but loved them enough to sacrifice his Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross for their sins.

This is an absolute essential part of salvation: recognizing and confessing sin. 1 John 1:9 says if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

The church that does not preach against sin and the consequences of it is doing a grave injustice to those who listen. The pastor would be cheating them out of a real understanding of salvation. For if you do not know what you are being saved from, then why would anyone think they need to be saved in the first place? In order to experience the joy of salvation you need to grasp the depth of human depravity and understand that Hell is a place that is reserved for those who do not turn to Jesus for his saving grace. Hell is such a buzzword now that does not get enough attention. For a Christian, Hell is not scary because we’re not going there. Hell is only scary for those who come to grips with the fact that they are heading there ever since they’re born and they need Jesus.
Once sin is repented of and Christ is accepted into the heart of a person, the joy is unfathomable because we realize the vast difference between what we deserve and we were given from God…eternal life. Hell is no longer a threat once someone has trusted in Jesus for salvation.

This is precisely why the methods behind seeker sensitive churches are so dangerous. If you start reducing the talk about sin; reducing the awareness of Heaven and Hell; and reducing the importance of repentance for salvation, you are in danger of misrepresenting the words of God. That’s bad news for those who are behind the pulpit of these churches because they are held to a higher degree of accountability for their ministry.

So what do we do then to be effective? What were the messengers of God saying back then? What were they doing to get this increased following of Christ? Look at Acts 2:38-42:

“Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call."

With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation."

Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

Then in the last part of verse 47: “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved”.

If the church needs anything today, or in any time period, it is faithful proclaimers of the full revelation of God. No picking and choosing what will fare better with the people who are listening. If we are dedicated to the Word and preaching it accordingly, the Lord will bless that ministry and bring people to a true salvation in Him and joy will abound.

Here’s the last main point that I believe is often forgotten by the church. That is, the church, in itself, is made up of people all over the world who have common fellowship in Christ and the salvation he bestowed on us. So when we “go to church” we are going for the explicit reason to join other believers to hear the preaching of God’s Word from the Bible for our edification.

This is key and I want this to stick out in your mind: The church does not exist for unbelievers, it exists for believers.

Therefore, if we are making the church a more comfortable place for unbelievers to reside then we are decreasing the effectiveness of the ministry, even to the very people we are wanting to come in! The only way to make people “comfortable” in church is to water down the Bible. This is because when the light penetrates a dark heart, it becomes uncomfortable. That’s a good thing anyway as it prompts people to make a decision either to accept Christ, or reject Him.

For the church, watering down the message is not an option. It is counter-intuitive and can give a false hope to people who really need the Lord. Faith needs to be placed in God to do the growing. He wants faithful leaders who are dedicated to the Bible and faithful congregants who live a life of love that is based on biblical truth so that when people come into church they feel convicted and ready to hear more of God’s word. Remember, God is the one who convicts. Please don’t think I am condoning Bible-bashing, blame throwers. That’s not it at all.

When Paul was addressing the issue of tongues at the church of Corinth, he said that there needed to be a translator, one at a time, to tell the people who were listening, what it was that the tongues-speaker was saying. The message needed to be clear. He said this so that when an unbeliever came in they wouldn’t think that everyone was crazy if they were all speaking gibberish. Instead, this is what he says will happen if God’s Word is being proclaimed rightly in the church: (1 Corinthians 1:24, 25)

“But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, "God is really among you!"

Wow. See what happens when a church is committed to preaching the Bible for all its worth and allowing God to do the rest? Don’t we want to see people come to the Lord like that anyway? Truly amazed at what they see and then admitting that God is there, at your church!

I am not condoning tongues, as that would be missing the point of the passage. Even Paul said that tongues would be worthless if no one could decipher them to edify the people. He would rather have a just a few intelligible words than a lot of unintelligible tongues (vs. 19).

The method to advancing the gospel is by preaching all of it. It does not require contemporary music, nor traditional music. It does not require espresso machines, although that isn’t inherently wrong either. I am huge fan of espresso! It does not require a pastor who can make people feel entertained or a pastor who can shock people with his crude sense of humor. We don’t need more of the world to get through to the world. We need faithful Christians who can love people without compromising the truth of the gospel in its entirety. Preach against sin, teach Heaven, teach Hell, teach about God’s plan for salvation, teach repentance and preach his redeeming grace and let the Lord build from there.

That is the right method to church growth. We should not be concerned with the growth, we should be concerned with getting the message right. The Lord will build His church. We just need to be conduits of his message and let the Holy Spirit do the hard work of getting into the hearts of people who need Him.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


Election is a tough subject to grasp and I wouldn't doubt that it is one of those topics that we either don't know enough about, or we would rather not make a decision as to what we believe because it's difficult and has the potential to cause disagreements among believers and who wants that?

For me, I have always believed in predestination, but I had kind of a different view of it, I've come to realize after studying Ephesians and other passages a little more. The common struggle is how does free will fit in with election, or predestination? Does God give us free will? If so, does that also mean the free will to accept/reject Him?

To start, I always knew that people were "predestined" to be saved, but I only considered that in the sense that God knew who would be saved. He knew which people would make up their minds to follow Him. I didn't really grasp the concept of election. The challenge for me and for anyone who believes that the Bible is the inerrant, clear Word of God, is to make a decision on whether or not we believe what Ephesians says about election. The reason why this is important is because if we can't decide if we believe one part of the Bible, then where do we start really believing it? Fair enough? Besides, this kind of struggle, study and realization is precisely what the Lord uses to make us more mature in Him and will actually help us in understanding the rest of Scripture, better.

Epesians 1:4-6, 11 says "For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will--to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves...In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.."

Romans 8:29,30: "For those God forknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified."

The best way to approach this, I think, is to start with what we know about man, namely his depravity. Left to himself, men (generally used, also referring to women) will not and cannot EVER have a desire to know the Lord.

Remember Romans 3:10,11 "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God."

This is an inclusive statement that is referring to all mankind. Not one person can understand God; not one person seeks God on his own initiative; there is not one person who is considered righteous before God. This is solely because Adam, when he was in the Garden of Eden, ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that God told him not to. This original sin from the first man ever created has been passed on to every single person in history to where we are all born sinners. Man=Sinner. That's where we start. It may seem unfair, but we are born with an innate desire to do anything and everything contrary to what God may want from us.

Parents, of all people, should see this in action. From the get-go it doesn't take long to see that our cute little ones have a will. Granted, they are dependant on us and the only way of communicating to us is through crying. However, with no parental intervention, guidance and discipline, this child will continue to become more and more selfish, self-centered, greedy, and sinful, and will continue screaming. That's the way we are. We can't write off bad behavior to the notion that "kids will be kids". No... kids will be terrible, left to themselves to raise themselves. Adults are no different. The more time we practice our own selfishness, the better we become at it. We are born this way. No one ever grows up to be spiritually mature and morally acceptable before God, without God intervening in our life to change our very spirit and nature.

Granted, many people grow up better than others and turn out to be very good people because of their experiences in life, with or without parent's help. Although this may look and feel good on the outside and doesn't go unappreciated by the people they affect, it does not solve the internal sin problem that is separating them from God. That is the real issue at hand. That is always the real issue.

So, understanding that man is completely incapable of turning to God without His initiation, where does that leave us in light of the doctrine of election.

"For he chose us in him before the creation of the world" to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adpoted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will."

Believing Christians were chosen before the creation of the world! God didn't just
know who was going to come around, he chose the people who would be saved. This has to happen if anything is going to happen.

Jesus said that "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him".

And Genesis 6:5 "The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on the Earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil at the time".

How is it that someone could possibly want to decide to follow Jesus Christ when God had not moved in their heart first? It's impossible. Hence, the doctrine of election is very much based on his grace and mercy, that we should be called sons and daughters of God.

Here's the problem with not believing in election and God predetermining who is going to come to a saving faith in Him. If man could decide on his own free will to follow Jesus and turn from their sin, then that says that man has taken the first step in salvation and essentially worked for it. Man did something to get it. It can cause us to boast, even. God did not freely give it. You see, it eliminates God's purpose, God's sovreignty, and God's glory when it was not God who graciously brings people to salvation. Yes, it requires that someone respond to the Lord and repent of sins and confess Him as Lord, but only after God has moved that person to do so.

I've been reading a commentary written by James Montgomery Boice on Ephesians and he listed four blessings of election: election eliminates boasting; election gives assurance of salvation; election leads to holiness; election promotes evangelism.

We already looked at how election can eliminate boasting. When it is only merited by God's grace, there is nothing that you or I can say that we did to gain salvation.

I was in a bookstore the other day and found a book that played with the concepts of "religion". It jokingly lists on the back cover on how to learn the ways of each religion, learn the pros and cons before deciding which one you want to join. I couldn't help but look up Protestantism (Christianity was not listed). It said that you only had to do a couple sacraments which was easier than most other religions. It also had a star rating for the level of difficulty in converting to Protestantism. Out of five stars, it only filled in two. Wouldn't that be great! Being a Christian would be so easy. Say and do the right thing and you're in! No wonder God can be so unappreciated, even by some in the church. If you think that you made the choice to be a Christian and that God just took you because you wanted to, think again. Don't question your salvation, but question whether or not you believe that you were inspired to respond to his grace rather than decide on your own to join a club. There is a big difference and it will change your whole view of God and yourself. It's a right and appropriate view. It's not about measuring the pros and cons of different religions to make an educational decision to choose Christianity because it looks better.

So the million dollar question is: Does man then have free will?

The answer: Yes and No

Ephesians 4:18,19 says "They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more."

Yes, God allows sinners to make their choices and keep on sinning. As we can see here, when men are left alone to themselves, they continue to lust for more sin. They choose to. The second part of the answer to the million dollar question is "no". Mainly, man does not have the ability to choose God and must be prompted by God to do so.

Free will is not a blanket answer to all of life and I think that's where we need to make the distinction. God still knows everything that is going to happen and he knows every sin that every single person will ever commit, but he has to initiate the desire to know Him, not us, because we can't.

I think it's fair to reconcile other verses like Romans 10:9,13: “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved … for ‘whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved’".

How do you reconcile these verses with the doctrine of election? A little further in Romans, Chapter 9, it says that God told Moses "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy; I will have compassion on whom I have compassion". There is no mathematical rhyme or reason as to how God decides. Who are we to question him anyway? We need to accept the fact that we won't always understand the way God does things...and that's ok.

The Bible does not contradict itself so these verses are not saying two different things. If God has prompted someone to call on him, then whoever does call on His name, confesses Christ as Lord, and believe He was raised from the dead, then he will be saved.

Some of this takes faith to believe. Not every little thing about God is explainable and many things we won't understand until we are with Him, face to face in Heaven. We walk by faith and not by sight. Faith can be hard sometimes, but if it was easy and explainable, then it wouldn't be faith. We wouldn't be trusting God.

He has made clear His way to salvation and if you know that what you hear about Jesus is true and you feel the moving from God to pray to him for salvation by confessing your sins, believing Jesus died on the cross for your sins and was raised from the dead, then he will finish that work in you and seal you with his promised Holy Spirit guaranteeing your inheritance in God's glory, forever and ever.

Election is a gracious blessing. Without it, we would be utterly lost and hopeless forever. This isn't something that should scare us, but prompt us to praise Him! It should prompt us to evangelize even more! Election doesn't nullify evangelism, rather it makes it possible. We mature and draw closer to God when we evangelize anyway, so it's not only for the benefit of thr listeneres. If God didn't prompt people to believe in Him, THEN evangelism would be worthless, for as Boice put it, "if God cannot call effectively, it is certain that you and I cannot".

Beleving in election is something that we must do. It gives us the right understanding of God and his grace and mercy to save us. It gives us the appropriate view of ourselves and need for a savior, a redeemer. I hope this post helps a little in breaking that ice down. Look these passages up yourself and do some research on it as well. It will only benefit you and benefit those who learn from you. The Word is living and ready to make you grow.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Truth and Love: How do you have both, effectively?

Okay, I know this is a low-key blog, but this topic has been challenging me for years now because it has been an issue with certain family members. I really want some feedback from people as to what they have seen in life or learned from the Bible as far as what it means to stand for the truth without compromise, but also to love your brother and sister in the Lord with compassion and great patience. We're supposed to do both.

I write this from sunny Orlando, FL with all the time in the world so it's nice to unwind a little and pour some thought into this without being limited by an hour lunch break.

Here's the struggle: We are supposed to stand for the truth of Scripture with nothing hindering us from compromising our faith. Well, how do you do that without becoming someone who is constantly looking or seeing the bad in other people?

I mean, there seems to be people who are willing to hurt others, offend others, or "expose" others for their sins for the sake of standing for the gospel. And this justifies then doing so... (the ends justifies the means).

The flipside, which is also all over the Bible and equally as important is the fact that we are to love others, graciously. We are all on a different learning curve when it comes to the gospel and how God is transforming us and teaching us different things at different times.

I have lots of Scripture I have to back up the importance of both, but the question is: When do you become contentious or divisive to where you are hurting the church when you are trying to stand for the truth? Or, when are you too wishy-washy and easy on people to where you are compromising the truth? There is a right balance and a way to go about dealing with sin and still allowing fellowship with people who have, or are, struggling in sin.

Give some feedback. This is really important to me. Thanks!