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WHY I’M NOT A CALVINIST (part two): Romans 9

February 15, 2011 17 comments

The Bible comes first, then comes theology.  When we look at the Bible, do we see Calvinism?  We started with Romans 9 and we continue, picking up in v. 14.

God’s love can be trusted.  The national election of Israel did not assure personal salvation.  Physical descent from Abraham did not guarantee the blessings of the covenant for Ishmael or Esau.  Individual Jews should not assume salvation just because of national election, any more than than a physical descendant of Abraham was guaranteed the benefits of the covenant. God is righteous to elect on His own terms.   He is righteous not to elect Ishmael or Esau for the Romans 9:1-5 blessings.  No one can sit in judgment upon Him.

In support of the truth of v. 14, Paul quotes Exodus 33:19 in v. 15.  The Exodus text refers to God’s merciful and compassionate choice of the nation Israel over the other nations of the earth.  God could have destroyed the nation after she built the golden calf, but instead He lead them and protected them into the promised land, the nation, not the individuals, because the individuals weren’t saved eternally (cf. Heb 3-4).  Often the word “mercy” in the Old Testament does not refer to the individual mercy of personal salvation, but to the covenant mercy to the nation as a whole.

God’s choice of Israel was based upon nothing other than mercy (v. 16).  The example of God giving Israel mercy indicates that “it,” that is, mercy, comes out of the will of God, because it certainly wasn’t merited by Israel.  This does apply to personal salvation, but in the context it relates to the whole  nation.  God’s acts of mercy to them as a nation do not then guarantee personal salvation for any of them.  Paul deals with the argument that God has been unrighteous to the entire nation just because He has not saved every individual.  He rebuts this from the Old Testament.

Romans 9:17 furthers the proposition of v. 16, using the example of Pharoah. God raised up Pharoah to his position. It isn’t that God “created” Pharoah for this position, but that God worked to the end that Pharoah would arrive at this exalted position over Egypt.   The point of “raised up” is not that Pharoah was foreordained or predestined to Hell, but that God brought him, an already evil man, to his reign over Egypt as the leader of that nation, so that his personal wickedness could reveal itself more plainly in order then to display the glory of God (cf. Exodus 4:21).

By hardening Pharoah’s heart, God provided the blessing for His elect nation that He might be glorified (cf. Exodus 7:3).  The hardening of his heart related to his not letting the people go (Exodus 7:14), not so that he would be eternally damned.  As much as God hardened his heart, Exodus also reveals that Pharoah hardened his own heart (Exodus 8:15, 32; 9:7, 34).  Both Pharoah and God were hardening Pharoah’s heart.  As much as hardness of heart can lead to the eternal damnation of the soul, in the context of Pharoah’s heart-hardening, God was delivering His elect nation by means of the hardening, illustrating the truth of Proverbs 21:1, “the king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD.”   The deliverance was not spiritual salvation, but a physical deliverance that proved God was both powerful and covenant keeping.  God was not glorified in some predestined rebellion of Pharoah, but in the victory of His elect, servant nation over a humanly powerful Egypt. God brought Pharoah to power for those purposes.

Another argument is introduced in v. 19, which is essentially, why does God find fault in anyone if He has mercy on those whom He will have mercy and hardens whoever He wills to harden?  The question this poses is “Is God fair?” And it is related to the next point, that is, who would be able to resist God anyhow?  The problem isn’t the answer to the question, but the question itself. Paul makes that known in v. 20.

Because of their inferiority, men don’t have the perspective to challenge God with such questions.  Paul pictures man’s predicament with the potter-clay imagery, which comes from Jeremiah 18-19.  In the Old Testament passage, God is the Potter and the entire nation Israel is the clay (18:6).   Jeremiah 18:4 is a key interpretational verse.

And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.

A contrast exists between “he made” and “was marred.”  The former is active and the latter passive.  “Was marred” is a niphal verb, which speaks of the vessel, the men, marring or corrupting itself.  You would see the same construction in Genesis 6:11-12, where the earth corrupted itself, not God.   Since Israel had marred herself, God as the Potter could see fit not to use her. God had condemned and had the authority to condemn a marred pot.  That was the message that the Jews with whom Paul argued needed to hear.

God would get glory through obedient Israel or disobedient Israel.   Israel marred herself, so God would get glory through her captivity.  God could and would also be glorified by the destruction of Israelites.   God’s purpose for Israel changed based on the condition of her behavior.   What Paul teaches in Romans 9 would have been nothing new for a Jew who knew Jeremiah 18-19.   As clay, Israel should not have been demanding anything of her Potter, God.  Jeremiah 18:10 especially enlightens us regarding Romans 9:

If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.

God, the Potter, will treat the clay, Israel, different, conditional upon Israel’s actions.   Israel sounds like the Calvinists in Jeremiah 18, accusing God of not giving them suitable opportunity, when God had done so, and judged them based upon their faithful obedience.

In the light of Jeremiah 18-19, we understand the questions of v. 20.  A fully made clay, now pot, questions the Potter, not some uncreated, formless clay. The answer is that Israel had marred herself.  The formation of the clay changed conditioned upon its behavior.  The sovereignty of God expressed in v. 21 is not some predetermined sovereignty, but one that chooses in accord with the condition of the clay.  That’s how all of Jeremiah 18-19 reads and every other clay-potter text in the Old Testament.

Not to be lost in all this discussion is that the election of Romans 9 is national election.  It contradicts a belief in personal, unconditional election unto eternal life or eternal damnation.  Calvinism in its interpretation of Romans 9 fails in a proper consideration of the Old Testament texts to which Paul refers in the chapter.

More to Come.

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WHY I’M NOT A CALVINIST (part one): Romans 9

February 8, 2011 33 comments

It will help you if you pull out a Bible and turn to and look at Romans 9 as you read this.

I tell people I’d like to be a Calvinist but Scripture keeps getting in the way. Romans 9 is one place that gets in the way of my being a Calvinist.  If I’m supposed to be a Calvinist, the Bible will just make me one.  I won’t have to force it.  But Romans 9 runs away from Calvinism, contradicts it.  If we can’t be a Calvinist as a direct consequence of Bible teaching, then we shouldn’t be one.

At the end of Romans 8 (vv. 35-39), Paul promises that nothing will separate saved, justified people from the love of God.  He anticipated some argument with that point, in light of Jewish reaction to his preaching, regarding God’s faithfulness to Israel.  If God could not be trusted in His faithfulness to Israel, then how could someone count on Him for individual salvation.   The argument also goes that if God elected Israel and Israel was not saved, how could anyone be assured of God’s election.  Romans 9-11 defends God’s actions with Israel to buttress the truth that nothing can separate believers from the love of God.

God elected Israel (Jacob), “being not yet born” (9:11).   So Israel was unconditionally elect—she couldn’t very well merit her choosing before she was born.   So you see, I believe in unconditional election.  Part of being elect meant that Israel had tremendous advantages (9:4-5) that one would think would lend themselves toward Israel’s salvation.   God bestowed on Israel unique evidence that her God truly was the very God so that they would believe on Him, including the gift of Jesus Christ Himself, “who is over all, God blessed forever” (9:5).  Jesus added to those benefits by preaching His kingdom all over Israel during His ministry there.  But in Romans 9:1-4a, we see that Paul “could wish that [he] were accursed” for the salvation of Israel.

And right there at the very beginning of Romans 9 is where we begin seeing the contradiction to Calvinism.  Why would Paul be willing to be “accursed from Christ” (9:3) for those God chose before the foundations of the world to damn forever?  Paul surely wasn’t more loving and more righteous than God. Would he not be out of bounds in expressing such sympathy for those for whom Christ Himself did not die, if limited atonement were true?  Only if God Himself were unwilling for these Israelites to perish and if Christ Himself had died for them does 9:1-5 make any sense.  And that is just the start here in Romans 9.

If you are a Calvinist and you are reading this, before you start writing your missive, please read this to the end, because 9:1-5 really are hint of things to come.  They fit with the rest of the chapter, but they are not all there is.

Calvinists point to 9:11 as evidence of unconditional election, and it is true.  Israel was chosen unconditionally by God.  And God will save Israel (11:26), so Israel nationally is chosen unconditionally unto salvation.  But who are the Israelites whom God will save?   They are those whom He elects on the condition of personal faith in Him.  Paul distinguishes between personal election and national election in Romans 9, and he makes this crystal clear.

God continued faithful and loving to the nation.  God’s Word, especially as found in the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants, did not fail.   Paul begins 9:6 by saying that God’s Word was still in effect for Israel, the Israel that God would save, which was not all of Israel (9:6b).   True Israel, spiritual Israel, would receive the promises God made to the nation (9:7-8).

Paul illustrates the point of verses 6 and 7 in verses 8 through 13.    He appeals to Genesis 21:12-13.   Ishmael came from Abraham physically, but Isaac alone would receive the blessings of God’s covenant with Abraham.  A Jew is unconditionally a Jew, and as a Jew, based on no merit of his own, he has been given incredible advantages.  Isaac received blessings not given to Ishmael.

Genesis 21 makes national promises, but physical descent alone does not guarantee an individual will receive the blessings of those promises.  The nation will unconditionally, but the persons will not.  God will save those Israelites who do not reject the advantages (9:4-5) God gave.   Jews who thought they would receive the blessings of the covenants just because they were Jews were sorely deceived (cf. Mt 3:9-12; Rev 20:11-15).

Isaac and Ishmael were both sons of Abraham, but they did not both receive the advantages of the covenant.  Only Isaac received them, and he is a picture of the true child of God.  This illustrated to Israel that it wasn’t physical descent that made one a child of promise.  God didn’t have to save every descendant of Abraham.  Romans 9:9 quotes Genesis 18:10,14 for this illustration.  The point is that like Sarah and Isaac were chosen over Hagar and Ishmael, spiritual Israel is chosen over physical Israel.   Hebrews 11:11 elucidates further on what occurred:  “Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.”  The believer receives the spiritual blessings of God’s covenant with Abraham.  God does make His choices and makes them based on His own terms—He’s done it in the past and He does it again.

“And not only this” at the beginning of 9:10 tells us that Paul has more explanation about the same point, except he uses a different example, that of two sons, Jacob and Esau, of the same mother and father.  Again, not all the physical descendants inherit the promises, even as Esau, who was a physical descendant, did not.   The election is unconditional and national.  How do we know it is national?  Verse 12 quotes Genesis 25:23.  Consider Genesis 25:22-23:

And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to enquire of the LORD. And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.

We can see from the Old Testament passage itself that the election is national. First, it says “two nations,” but, second, if it is personal, then every person in the one “nation” and “people” was saved, which was not the case.  The very point Paul is making is that the every person in the nation was not saved and so was not true Israel.  When we take Genesis 25 and Paul’s quotation of it literally, we are dealing with “two nations” and “two manner of people.”  The election here relates to Israel’s rule over Edom, not about the spiritual salvation of Jacob or Esau.  The rest of the Old Testament will show that this election was fulfilled, but not until after the lifetime of Jacob.   In addition, verse 12 doesn’t say that Jacob would be saved and not Esau, but the “elder shall serve the younger.”

Verse 13 quotes Malachi 1:2-3, which was written a long time after the end of Jacob and Esau’s lives.  And that Malachi passage also plainly refers to the nations of Israel and Edom, not individuals.  Everything in that text says Malachi is referring to the nations.  When he says, “I have loved you,” “you” is in the plural.  God’s indignation is against “the people” (v. 4).   “Loved” and “hated” in v. 13 are aorist, the one time love and hatred of national election.   It isn’t an ongoing, continuous love and hatred. The love and hate related to the favor God chose in advance to give to Jacob and the loss of privilege that God determined for Esau.  So the point is that the blessings of God’s covenant do not come based upon physical lineage.

Important to the understanding of a New Testament text is looking at the context of the Old Testament quotations.  Those Old Testament passages will shed light on the New Testament usage.  This is a major part of deriving the correct interpretation.

Scripture does teach unconditional election—unconditional national election.  Personal election is conditional.  That is a primary point of Romans 9.  God’s national election of Israel did not guarantee personal salvation.  No individual Israelite or Jew should think that his eternity is set just because his nation was elect of God.  He himself needed to believe.

To Be Continued

God’s Kind of Separation over the Gospel

November 8, 2010 47 comments

The New Testament several times lists the people who will not enter into heaven (1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21; Eph 5:5; Rev 21:8, 27; 22:15) .  Since these lists are all different, they are not each intended to be comprehensive, but representative.  Whether someone makes it to heaven or not, lives forever in the New Jerusalem, enters through the gates of that eternal city, is a gospel issue.  Many evangelicals and fundamentalists today say that they separate over the gospel.  God excludes the people on these lists from salvation, so they are gospel related practices.  People who practice them are not saved and will not be saved.  You’ve got to repent from these sins, resulting in them not being your practice any more.  That’s what the lists say.

One of these exclusion passages is Revelation 21:8, which reads:

But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

Later in Revelation 21:27, you read this:

And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Those are very serious sounding verses in the Bible.  One is not more caring who does not take these types of verses seriously.  I want to draw your attention to just one of the ones in the lists, and that is “the abominable.”   “The abominable . . . shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.”  Wow.  I sure wouldn’t want to be one of these “abominable” ones.  I wonder who they are.  I mean, who are they?  Who are “the abominable”?   And then in the next verse, v. 27, we see that those who work abomination will not enter into the gates of the eternal city.  I should look at Scripture to see who these people are, that is, let the Bible define for me who they are.  The abominable would be who the Bible says are abominable.  This really isn’t a matter of opinion.  So a good thing to do would be to look this up in God’s Word.  These “abominable” ones, these people who work “abomination,” are found right in these lists, excluding them from eternal life and heaven.  The fact that they are included in these lists would say that these are practices that really have God’s attention.  He despises them.

Separation forever from God is the ultimate in separation.  God will not have an abominable one, one committing abominations, in His presence for all eternity.  This looks like God’s kind of separation over the gospel.  Someone could not be said to believe the gospel, but also to believe that abominations are permissible, could he?

I could start with the English word “abomination” to find what is uniquely an abomination, or what makes the people an abomination.  I could also look at the Greek word translated “abomination” or “abominable” to find out who they are.  The New Testament, that’s right, the New Testament, says that those people who are an abomination will have their part in the lake of fire.  Now where does the Bible say that a person is an abomination to God?  What would a person do that is an abomination to God?  We would need to look at the Bible to find out who that person is.  OK, so let’s look.

The Greek word for “abomination” is bdelugma.  That Greek word, or forms of it, is found 6 times in the New Testament, two of which are in Revelation 21:8 and 27.  The Hebrew word is to-ay-baw.  That Hebrew word is found 117 times in the Old Testament in 112 verses.  “Abomination” is mainly an Old Testament concept, but it is still in play as offensive to God as seen in the two verses in Revelation.  We get our idea of what an abomination is from the Old Testament, however.

If you look at every single one of the verses where these words are used, only one verse says a practice that makes a person an abomination.  Only one.  People do abominations.   They commit abominations.  But only in one verse does the person himself or herself become an abomination to God.  In certain verses, we see that someone can become an abomination to other people, but in only one does a person become an abomination to God.  Which is that verse?

Deuteronomy 22:5.

So I see this very serious verse that says that the abominable will go to the lake of fire and then I go to find out who the abominable is and I for sure see in the Bible that person in Deuteronomy 22:5.  And what makes the person abominable, an abomination to God?  Let’s read the verse.

The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.

“All that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.”  Who is an abomination to God?  Who is abominable?  First, the woman who wears the item specifically designated for a man, that distinguishes him as a man.  Second, the man who puts on a woman’s garment.

Do you want to be an abomination to God?  I wouldn’t think so, especially in light of Revelation 21:8 and 27.

Is someone being an abomination a gospel issue according to Revelation 21:8 and 21:27?  I see it as such.  God separates himself from the abominable.  Should we separate ourselves from the abominable?

What is the male garment?  What is the female garment?  What item of clothing distinguishes a man from a woman and woman from a man, honoring God’s design?  For many centuries, cultures that looked to the Bible in these matters distinguished pants as the male item and the skirt or dress as the female item.  As feminism and unisex thinking took hold in a post-enlightenment, rationalistic, evolutionary United States, women began wearing pants in contradiction to the male role and male headship.  In certain cases, women began to wear them out of sheer convenience with little thought about the symbolism of God’s designed roles.  God’s people would not go along with pagan culture, but like in so many other areas, churches began to compromise with the world.   Today in most evangelical and fundamentalist churches, women wearing pants is acceptable.  Even further, in most instances, the women who continue to wear only female garments are ridiculed or looked upon as odd.  The churches who take the historic Christian position are scorned and marginalized.

But Revelation 21:8 and 21:27 are both still in the Bible.  And Deuteronomy 22:5 is still the only verse that says a person becomes an abomination for a particular practice.  And women in dresses or skirts and men in pants is the historic way that Christians have followed Deuteronomy 22:5.

Is an abomination a non-essential?  Does God say that an abomination is a non-essential?  Of course not.   Who is anyone to say that an abomination is a non-essential?  And yet today evangelicals and fundamentalists would say that an abomination is a non-essential.

Just because a fundamentalist says it is a non-essential doesn’t mean that God is saying that it is a non-essential.  You won’t be able to say to God that you would have known, except that a fundamentalist told you that this wasn’t essential and you believed him.  You’ll have to base what you believe and do on what God said.  If fundamentalists don’t say the same thing, that can’t really matter.

Think about it.

As you are thinking about it, I want to make a preemptive strike.  Someone is going to say, “So are you saying that women who wear pants are an abomination and so are going to hell?”  That will be the most likely argument to come along to this.  It is a jr. high type of argumentation that shouldn’t get any respect.  I’m asking you to think about the verses in the Bible.  Be serious about them.  They are very serious verses.

The other response will most likely be ridicule.  Men will scoff at this position.  They will not likely offer you an alternative for the practice of Deuteronomy 22:5.  They might say that all that really matters is that women look like women and men look like men.  That’s not what the verse says, however.  It says don’t put on certain items or garments.  Don’t have them on.  Just because fundamentalists say that there are no such items of clothing today does not make it true.

So again, think about it.

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An Addendum

I just finished a series in Revelation and that is what got me thinking about this post.   It is normal for me to ask, “Who is abominable?  Who would that be?”  And if you look it up, you get to Deuteronomy 22:5.  But what also crossed my mind is a new attack, I believe, on the Lordship of Christ in which those claiming to elevate the gospel to its rightful place, say that by talking about something like “pants on women,” men like myself are diminishing the gospel, which is, according to them, to be first in importance.  By giving the gospel this so-called  “back seat,” men like myself, according to these “gospel first” guys, are doing damage to the gospel.  This type of idea is being pushed in conservative evangelicalism and fundamentalism.   Revelation 21:8, 27, and 22:15 would indicate the opposite.  If you love the gospel, you are going to warn about these types of practices in people’s lives.  When we left all to follow Christ, we certainly left abomination.  So when we confront abomination, and connect that to the gospel, we are doing the right thing related to Christ as Lord.  There would be no practicers of abomination, who also follow Him.  Abomination isn’t in that path of following Christ.  The freedom that Christ gives us through the gospel is not freedom to be abominable, but freedom from abomination.

If someone who brings up an abomination in a gospel conversation is guilty of somehow dismissing the gospel, then the Apostle John was doing that when he mentioned abomination in Revelation 21.  Jesus Himself brought up loving your neighbor in a gospel conversation in Luke 10 and covetousness in Matthew 19.  What we have with these evangelicals and fundamentalists, I’m afraid, is something of turning the grace of God into lasciviousness that Jude wrote about, and using grace as an occasion to the flesh that the Apostle Paul mentioned in Galatians.

Another point.  People want “abomination” to be non-New Testament.  Since it’s not New Testament, it doesn’t matter.  But it is New Testament.  Not being an abomination continues to be an issue in the New Testament.  But it obviously points back to practices in the Old Testament.  This does great harm to that particular excuse in this.

One more point.  Shouldn’t being an abomination give us pause?  Shouldn’t we want to make sure we aren’t one?  Why mess around with whether we’re being one or not?  Especially in light of Revelation 21:8, 27?

Last point.  I believe that people just block this one out.  They just choose not to think about it.  They put their head in the sand in so many ways.  They aren’t dealing seriously with the text itself.  Until I preached a series through Deuteronomy several years ago, I wasn’t either.  Once I came face to face with what it said, I had to make a decision.  The decision hasn’t made me more popular.   To be honest with the text, I had to take the position I take.  When I looked at commentaries from before 1930, they were unanimous in what this text meant.  The popularity of alternative positions came later.  People hang on to those alternatives.  I believe they spread abomination.  That doesn’t sound like a good thing to do.  But it is what they are doing.  They attempt to take comfort in the reality that most professing Christians don’t follow this path any more.  If so many other Christians go the way they go, then they must be safe.  It couldn’t be true that so many people, who are such good people, could all be doing wrong.  You’ll hear the same argumentation used by Charismatics.  I heard the same used by a Mormon this last Sunday when I was out evangelizing in Sacramento.

The Ignorance of a Luke 10 Approach

September 27, 2010 26 comments

When Jesus sent out missionaries, what did He do?  Do we know?  We do, because we can read about it in Luke 10.   We should also assume that this is the model that the Apostle Paul utilized in His efforts.  We will be and we should be sanctified by the truth, not by opinion and pragmatism.  I think that much of what we read in Jesus’ sending of the seventy in Luke 10 is ignored today by churches and church leaders.  How?

1.  Ignorance of the Method in Luke 10

The seventy were sent to say something.  They were sent to preach a message (Lk 10:5b, 9).   We don’t see “church-planting” per se in the Bible.  Jesus did not send the seventy out to start a church.  The Apostle Paul did not go to start a church.  Churches were started, but neither the seventy nor Paul were sent to start a church.  Scripture is sufficient.  Silence does not mean permission.  We ought not to be sending men to start churches.  Jesus didn’t and Paul didn’t.

We send men to preach.  We don’t send them alone.  We send them in twos.  That’s what we see.  We may think we have a better idea, but that’s the model that Jesus left us.  At least two men go.  They go into a town or city and preach.

As the men go to preach, they find out who receives the message and who does not.  If a person receives the message, that’s the possible start of a church.  If no one receives the message, the two don’t tweak the message or consider a different method. They leave after proclaiming judgment on the town or city.  Each home is a microcosm of this.  If a home does not receive the message, the men move on to the next home.  Look at vv. 1-17 (below) if you don’t think this is the case.  I’m open for your alternative ideas, but at least consider the text.

There is no pressure on the preachers to “produce.”  They don’t need to see a certain number in a certain number of weeks or months or years.  Their one goal is to preach just what God said.  From there, they just gauge the response.   They are not required to toil in obscurity with no one listening.  They are actually not supposed to do that.  They should preach—if no one wants it, move on; if someone does, park there.  If it succeeds, it will be because of the gospel, not the preacher.

The preachers Jesus sent out, He said He was sending as “lambs among wolves” (Lk 10:3).  Jesus didn’t say that people would like the method or the message.  It would be worse than a turn-off.  Most would hate it.

Demographics don’t relate at all to Luke 10.  Everyone was preached to.  Nobody was left out.

If the emphasis is on the preaching and not the starting of a church, then the point or the real goal will be met, that is, everyone will be preached to.  Many church planters go to a town and immediately start inviting people to church and the people of their community never, ever receive the gospel. They still haven’t preached the gospel to everyone.  They don’t even know that is what they were supposed to do.  They thought they were supposed to start a church.  They go with a pack full of non- or un-scriptural methods and get to building a crowd.  That is not the rock upon which Jesus said He would build His church (Mt 16:18).

2.  Ignorance of the Money in Luke 10

“Church planters” travel the country raising support to plant their church.  I understand that the seventy were a second phase of Jesus’ sending, after the twelve (Lk 9).  Later in Luke, Jesus sends them with money (Lk 22:35-36).  I’m not opposed to supporting missionaries.  What I think we need to know, and this is one of the lessons of Luke 10, is that money is not necessary to be a missionary.  Jesus wanted them to see that in Luke 10.

Today we hear there are “needs” in order to see a church “launched.”  One professing fundamentalist, quasi-evangelical, who had read all the studies, the missional philosophy, the cultural engagement strategy, said that he needed to raise at least $300,000 to launch his church.  People believed him. They supported him.  He was a hot commodity because he was up on all the latest techniques necessary for a successful church launch.

The building is another important “need” for the church launch.  (“Launch” is important for a launch.  Use the word “launch” if you want to launch.)  But the building must be something that people are going to want to attend, you know.  All of this really is a lie.  Jesus said nothing about a building.  Paul said nothing about a building.  A building is not necessary for a church to start.   You don’t need money, and you can see from reading Luke 10 that your first building is the house of the first person who will receive the message.

The building is really about an impression that becomes necessary for “church planting.”  You want to have a church and church has a building.  And you are not going to get a lot of people to stay if they aren’t comfortable with your building.  You won’t look classy or successful enough for those people, which the church planter perceives are a lot of people.  Plus, the program the church planter expects to succeed as part of the attraction to his church needs that facility.  That requires money.  So the desire for money relates to the alternative to the Luke 10 method.

3.  Ignorance of the Message in Luke 1o

“The Lord” (v. 1) appointed the 70 and He sent them to go ahead of Himself to towns where He would come after them.  Their message was “peace” (v. 5) in the “kingdom of God,” which was “nigh unto” them (v. 9).  A kingdom has a King.  The offering of a kingdom meant the King was coming.  If He was their King, He was their Messiah, as well as their absolute monarch.  They would be turning their lives over to Him.  If they relinquished their selves to Him, He would bring them the kingdom.  They had to receive Him as King. If He was King, He was Lord.  If He was Lord, they were His slaves.  The message Jesus sent them to preach was no different than the gospel that He preached from the very beginning of His earthly ministry (Lk 4:43).

If people receive the message Jesus expects of His evangelists, that is, the truth, the kind of building they have doesn’t matter.  Slaves aren’t offended by some discomfort.  Those who have denied themselves to follow the Lord aren’t concerned with those peripheral, superficial interests that captivate many church planters.

Jesus did send the seventy to preach.  That’s what he wanted them to do.  If a church started, it would come out of the affirmative responses to the message they preached.

For Reference, Luke 10:1-17

1 After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come.

2 Therefore said he unto them, The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest.

3 Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves.

4 Carry neither purse, nor scrip, nor shoes: and salute no man by the way.

5 And into whatsoever house ye enter, first say, Peace be to this house.

6 And if the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon it: if not, it shall turn to you again.

7 And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the labourer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house.

8 And into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you:

9 And heal the sick that are therein, and say unto them, The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.

10 But into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you not, go your ways out into the streets of the same, and say,

11 Even the very dust of your city, which cleaveth on us, we do wipe off against you: notwithstanding be ye sure of this, that the kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.

12 But I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable in that day for Sodom, than for that city.

13 Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon, which have been done in you, they had a great while ago repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.

14 But it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment, than for you.

15 And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted to heaven, shalt be thrust down to hell.

16 He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me.

17 And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name.


Winning through Losing

September 1, 2010 Comments off

People don’t like to lose.  People are fond of saying that they hate losing.   They’re winners.  They’re people you’d want on your team.  However, I’m calling on everyone to give losing a second look.   Scripture says that you’ve got to lose in order to win.  In other words, if you can’t lose, you’re not going to win.  The Bible magnifies losing.

First, I point you to Philippians 3.  Paul saw losing as a necessity for the ultimate and supreme gain.  He wrote (3:7-8):

But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.  Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.

Winning through losing.   Lose you, win Christ.  And Paul was saying something that Jesus had already said, using the same verb (zemioo, lemma ten times in NT), in Matthew 16:26,

For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

Mark 8:36,

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

and Luke 9:25.

For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?

I think Paul knew he was using the same kind of talk, the exact word too, that Jesus used.  You need to lose in order to win.  If you lose your soul or life or self, you gain eternal life.  You lose everything for the pearl of great price.  Only someone who believes in Jesus Christ would do this.  It is believing in Jesus Christ to “count all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.”

So you win everything by losing everything.  But I believe that a lot of our life is also a microcosm of this.  And I point you to relationships.   You could see your argument as your territory, as your little kingdom, your little fiefdom that you can’t give up.  You must win at all costs.  So even if you’re wrong, you keep arguing.  You’ve got to win.  And when you win, you lose.  If you lose, you win.  You have to make that choice.

Your wife says she didn’t.  You say she did.  Your husband says he said this.  You say that he said that.  When I said that, you gave me a look.  I did not.  Did too.  Did not.  Did too!  Did not!  Did too!!!  Did not!!!!  So she did, and you say she didn’t, and you dig in, and you win.  But not really.  You lost.  It’s funny.  At the time, you thought you were winning, but when you were done, you found out that you had lost.  You really are a looozer.

The Bible is full of paradox and irony.  This is one of those you must understand and inculcate if you are going to be that winner you think you are.

Sovereignty over Sovereignty

August 16, 2010 16 comments

God is sovereign.  No doubt.  God will always accomplish His will.  He is God after all.  I know that the term “Trinity” isn’t in the Bible, but that there is a Trinity—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  These Three are One.  You don’t find the word “sovereign” in the King James Version.  You have the terminology “only Potentate” in 1 Timothy 6:15 and perhaps that would be the closest to sovereign in the King James.   Bauer-Danker Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament (BDAG) says the Greek word there (dunastes) means:  “one who is in a position to command others. . . . ruler, sovereign.”  So monos dunastes says that God alone commands others.  He is in the highest position.

Since God is sovereign, He is also sovereign over what it is to be sovereign.  No one else defines sovereignty but God.  God has sovereignty over sovereignty.  As men, we don’t figure out what sovereignty is and then apply that to God.  We don’t go to passages about God in the Bible and fit them into our own ideas about sovereignty.  We go to the Bible to find out what sovereignty is so that to us God is still sovereign over what His own sovereignty is.  If we change God’s sovereignty into what we want it to be, God isn’t more sovereign.  He is less so.  We then become sovereign over His sovereignty.  Now that can’t take place in reality, but in discussions about sovereignty men often become sovereign over sovereignty.  We should allow God to have the say about what it is for Him to be sovereign.

If I say that a man’s salvation depends on his will, some would say that I’ve made man sovereign in salvation.  For God to stay sovereign, they say that a man’s salvation must have absolutely nothing to do with his own will.  According to this view of sovereignty, God alone wills to and for salvation irregardless of man’s.   And if someone were to believe that man willed to be saved, he couldn’t believe in the sovereignty of God.  But is this what Scripture says?  God wrote it, so Scripture is sovereign over sovereignty.  Someone isn’t more dedicated to God’s sovereignty who departs from Scripture to define it.

Someone once told me that he could do Donald Duck better than Donald Duck.  I laughed.  That’s not possible.  No one can do Donald Duck better than Donald Duck.  Donald Duck is Donald Duck.  And God alone is God.  We can’t do God better than God.  God is sovereign, but we can’t do His sovereignty better than what He has done it in His Word.  We should conform our view of God’s sovereignty to what God said.  In whatever way our view of God’s sovereignty doesn’t match up with what God said, we should alter it to fit what God said.  We can’t have any higher view of God’s sovereignty than what God says His sovereignty is.  One possesses only in his own mind a higher view of God’s sovereignty than the view that God Himself communicates in His Word.

I might say that I have a higher view of the San Francisco Giants baseball team than you do.  And I have that higher view because I believe they are not only the San Francisco Giants, but they are also the Sante Fe Giants.   Even though they aren’t the Sante Fe Giants, I say my belief that they are elevates my view of the San Francisco Giants to a higher level than others at least according to me.   However, a view of the San Francisco Giants can’t be heightened by something not true about them.  The same can be said in judgment of a view of sovereignty.  Someone’s view of God’s sovereignty isn’t increased by something not true about it.  God’s sovereignty isn’t threatened in a way that it needs some exaggeration or misrepresentation to remain sovereign.  That’s how sovereigns are about their own sovereignty—they’re sovereign about it.

We don’t grasp the concept of sovereignty without a sovereign.  The Sovereign who created the concept of sovereignty wouldn’t let someone else rule over the concept.  He would henceforth not be sovereign and, therefore, look to those who defined it to be the true sovereigns.  The Sovereign will have His understanding of sovereignty be sovereign over all other views of sovereignty.

Does God become any less sovereign by any statement of His Word?  Of course not.  God’s Word manifests God to be as sovereign as He actually is.  Since He is sovereign, He can’t be diminished in His sovereignty.  And His own Word especially wouldn’t try to weaken it.  All of God’s statements in His Word that relate to sovereignty could only serve to enhance the right view of His sovereignty.

Let’s say that I wanted to enhance people’s understanding of God’s mercy, so I said that God wouldn’t punish anyone for any wrong he had done.  When you said that God did punish men for wrong they had done, I answer that you don’t really believe in God’s mercy.  However, the truth of God’s mercy isn’t diminished by the truth of God’s punishment of sin.  God’s mercy is mercy.  All other mercy is judged by what the Bible says is His.  God still punishes sin and His mercy remains all of what mercy is.  An unscriptural innovation of mercy departs from mercy.  We’re not talking about mercy anymore when we’re talking about something different than biblical mercy.

I haven’t dimished an iota of God’s sovereignty when I report that “whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17).

Jesus wasn’t shrinking His own sovereignty when He said, “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.  For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it” (Mark 8:34, 35).

We don’t improve upon a biblical view of God’s sovereignty.  We don’t help God’s sovereignty along by professing that a man’s will has nothing to do with his salvation, when a sovereign God said that it does.  When God says, “whosoever will,” we don’t exalt God’s sovereignty by saying that “whosoever really doesn’t mean whosoever like we think it means.”  We don’t enlighten God’s sovereignty by saying “whosoever will but only those whom He predetermined will can will.”  No, whosoever does mean whosoever.

I recently read, “God determines who shall believe and who shall not believe.”  Some might think that statement exalts the sovereignty of God.  It could do that only if God said it.  He didn’t.  Someone thinking he could embellish God’s sovereignty with his own thoughts took the rule over that sovereignty.

God’s sovereignty and “whosoever will” coexist.  “Whosoever will” doesn’t make God’s sovereignty less sovereign or less amazing.  “Whosoever will” pins the needle on God’s sovereignty.  God is equal to the most sovereign He can be while “whosoever will” exists.  We don’t need to clear away “whosoever will” to make room for God’s sovereignty.  The people who can’t cope with “whosoever will” according to their view of sovereignty need to trust God.   God is big enough to work out the details they can’t possibly comprehend.

God is sovereign.  God gets what He wants.  He wants “whosoever will,” therefore, He gets it.  No one can topple God from His throne.  He created all the possible enemies of “whosoever will.”  He didn’t create any of them with potential to overturn something He wants.  So the best they can undo “whosoever will” is in their mind and with their statements, which actually don’t do or undo anything that He already said was true.  Their thoughts and words about “whosoever will” dissipate into the ether of human invention.  They don’t change anything that God wants.  They don’t stop “whosoever will.”

A growing number of people come to the Bible with their definition of sovereignty in hand, ready to conform Scripture to their definition.   By limiting the recipients of salvation, they think they do service to God’s sovereignty.  They don’t.  They only take sovereignty over sovereignty.  And God doesn’t need their help.

“You don’t believe in sovereignty” or “you’ve made man sovereign in salvation” are often scare tactics.  They are effective, because they target a yearning of the conscientious Christian, like Sanballat and Tobiah zeroed in on Nehemiah’s legitimate concerns.  We don’t want to be guilty of ratcheting down God and magnifying man.  With such an attribute as sovereignty that defies comprehension, we could settle for a harsh extreme that hovers outside of biblical perimeters, just to protect us from proud criticism.  “Whosoever will” is there.  Be safe in the bounds of Scripture.

The Destructive Charge of “Legalism” Pinned on Rightful Application of Scripture

From the very beginning, men have taken liberty both with what God has said and with His grace.   In Genesis 3 Satan made a way for Eve to justify eating the forbidden fruit.  God’s grace is great.  It is wonderful.  It is mankind’s only basis for salvation.  And yet what?  Men who even call themselves Christians turn “the grace of God into lasciviousness”  (Jude 1:3).  They use their liberty as “an occasion to the flesh” (Galatians 5:13).

Knowing the potential abuse of the grace of God, Paul immediately after so beautifully describing salvation by grace alone in Romans 1-5, starts Romans 6 by asking, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?”  And his answer in v. 2 is the strongest in the Greek language, translated in the KJV, “God forbid.”  Then asking, “How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?”  God’s grace isn’t license to sin.  So Romans 6:1-2 provides evidence that grace will be perverted in this way, used as a reason for behavior that dishonors God.  It signals a need for awareness of potential corruption or cheapening of grace.

1 Peter 2:16 says:

As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.

Here is another place that confronts the use of liberty as license.  The context is obedience to government, but the principle is axiomatic.  Those to whom Peter is speaking are free.  They’ve been redeemed.   He doesn’t want them, however, to use that freedom as a covering for evil.   The cloak is a veil or a mask, and the mask is covering wickedness.  In other words, Christian freedom is never to be used to cover license.   Just because we have liberty in Christ doesn’t mean that we get to just do what we want.  Someone truly righteous will conform to God’s Word because it says your freedom should be used as a bondslave of God.

Criticism of Adherence to God’s Word

One indication of licentiousness is criticism of a more strict adherence to God’s Word.  You see this type of behavior described in 2 Peter 2 and it will often take on the nature of ridicule (2 Pet 3:3).  A common, modern criticism coming from the more licentious is one of “legalism.”  They label anyone a “legalist” who has stronger standards of holiness and righteousness than what they have.  This strategy may have been around longer, but what marked the official beginning in my memory is the publication of the book “The Grace Awakening,” by Charles Swindoll.  As Christianity has looked and behaved more and more like the world, new defenses are crafted to justify that kind of living.  What drew my attention toward writing this post was a recent essay by Phil Johnson, the executive director of Grace to You.  I want to diagnose his piece as a basis for assessing a type of defense of license.

Johnson chooses to paint separatists with this carpet roll sized brush:

[W]e have attracted more than our fair share of very vocal legalists who are convinced that the person with the weakest conscience (or the Bible college with the strictest rules) should get to define holiness for everyone—rather than letting Scripture define it for us. They believe it is their prerogative to dictate to everyone else what’s acceptable and what’s not, rather than following the principles of Romans 14 with regard to matters that aren’t altogether clear. Those people surface at every opportunity, and they seem to love making a fuss. Sometimes it’s fairly humorous (as in the “Chiquita” kerfuffle a few years ago).

I can assure that what Johnson writes here isn’t true.   With a meanness in the spirit of a fundamentalism that Johnson decries, he slanders well-meaning and godly-seeming folks.  I was involved in the “Chiquita kerfuffle” that Johnson mentions in this paragraph.  He used a picture on his blog of a girl, who was wearing biker shorts.  He has used a few other pictures with women with full thigh.  What was “fairly humorous” to Johnson was his own ridiculing of the men who protested very lightly.  It only got a little rougher for Johnson after he mocked those who said anything.  I wrote this comment:

I’m wondering what I’m supposed to do when I get to the woman in the hotpants standing on the pyromaniacs logo. She seems to be pyro of a different kind.

And Johnson answered immediately with this:

For all the fundamentalist lurkers whose minds are in the gutter, the girl in the picture is wearing shorts, not a miniskirt or hotpants. The dog is the one in the miniskirt.

This is the kind of “legalism” that Johnson had to face, which he describes in this latest post.  To that, he jumps to the idea that we, the legalists, have our minds in the gutter.

Here is how Johnson confronts this “legalism”:

But another kind of legalism is the legalism of the Pharisees. It’s the tendency to reduce every believer’s duty to a list of rules. This is the kind of legalism that often seems to surface in our comment-threads. At its root is a belief that holiness is achieved by legal means—by following a list of “standards.” This type of legalism doesn’t necessarily destroy the doctrine of justification like the legalism of the Judaizers. But it does destroy the doctrine of sanctification, and it is certainly appropriate to call it what it is: legalism—i.e., a sinful misapplication of law; an attempt to make law do work that only grace can do. Like the Judaizers’ brand of legalism, it brings people under a yoke of bondage Scripture has not placed on them.

I’ve read some of these comment threads to which Johnson refers, including the one, of course, that he makes his prime example.  Really he tells a blatant lie.  Perhaps he thinks he has liberty to tell such a lie.  I think it is possible for a kind of legalism to destroy the right view of sanctification, but Johnson doesn’t know at all that the ones he is criticizing hold to such a view of sanctification as he represents.  That doesn’t seem to matter to him.

Look at the last sentence Johnson writes—“it brings people under a yoke of bondage Scripture has not placed on them.”  What?  Scripture doesn’t place anyone under a yoke of bondage.  Scripture can’t do that to anyone.  Scriptural standards, even Scriptural lists of rules, don’t place anyone under bondage.  They could, but God’s law is good.  It is good if it is used lawfully.  That should be the concern, whether it is used lawfully or not.  And immodest dress is bad.  Telling someone about that doesn’t put someone under some kind of legalistic bondage.  God’s grace tends toward modesty.  Informing a conscience with a scriptural standard of modesty will help someone’s conscience.  That’s all good too and all helpful toward biblical sanctification.

Left Wing Legalism:  Making God’s Word of None Effect

Johnson assumes that separatists, whom he calls “fundamentalists,” recognize only a kind of legalism that applies to salvation, the type of Galatians 1:6-9, adding to the gospel, what he calls the legalism of the Judaizers.  He says, however, that these same separatists miss another kind of legalism, that of the Pharisees.  He uses Galatians 5:1 as a text to expose this type of legalism, that he asserts that these separatists, “fundamentalists,” are guilty of, for which “fundamentalists” are “notorious,” and what has essentially destroyed fundamentalism.  Be sure that this is a simplistic, very selective criticism of the troubles of fundamentalism.

Galatians 5:1 does not give any hint at a kind of legalism that adds to the commandments of God.  Johnson twists the verse for his own licentious purposes.  The “yoke of bondage” with which the  Judaizers of Galatia would entangle men was the actual law (5:3-4), and circumcision specifically (5:2, 6, 11).  Circumcision wasn’t a problem.  Keeping the law wasn’t wrong for believers.   It was making righteousness, whether justification or sanctification, based on human merit.  All righteousness comes by grace through faith, even after salvation.  However, it is still righteousness that comes by grace through faith.  Nothing is said about adding anything to the law in Galatians 5.  Johnson reads that into the text in order to criticize people with higher standards of holiness than he has.

It is true that Pharisees were guilty of adding to the law.  Johnson mentions that.  And it is possible for fundamentalists and evangelicals both to add to God’s Word.  Mark 7 is a good passage in this, because Jesus there reveals two types of Pharisaical behavior.  The first is the type to which Johnson refers, the adding kind, which is in vv. 7-8.  However, he doesn’t talk about another kind of Pharisaicalness, taking away from what God said, which is in vv. 9-13.  Jesus sums it up in v. 13: “Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.”  Making the word of God of none effect is the Pharisee behavior of the evangelicals.

You can call reducing the law to a group of rules that you can keep on your own its own brand of Pharisaism, a left-wing kind of legalism.   We are sanctified through the truth and God’s Word is truth.  Jesus was sanctified by everything the Father told Him to do.  In the same way, we are sanctified.  If we reduce scripture to something less than scripture, like Johnson chooses to do, that will destroy sanctification.

The Grace of God

Salvation is by grace through faith alone.  No amount of works will bring justification to anyone.  In the sanctification of believers, it is God who works in them both to will and do of His good pleasure.  God works all things together for good.  God conforms to the image of His Son.  But God is working.  The grace of God will look like God.  The grace of God teaches us to deny worldly lust, not expose ourselves to it and relish in it.

What upset Johnson enough for him to write what he did was the reaction to a certain blog post by one of his partners.  That essay was discussing Lost, a television series that his teammate professed to have watched start to finish.  A few criticized a publication that might encourage others to watch such a television show.  That’s what bothered Johnson enough to write a “legalism” column.  Does the grace of God teach us to watch Lost?  That’s a question.  And I think it’s worth thinking about.  I understand that the Bible doesn’t say, “Thou shalt not watch Lost,” but there might be enough Scripture to guide us as to what kind of watching would honor God.  A criticism of Lost is what Johnson thinks is the greatest kind of destruction of sanctification in human existence (according to his essay).

We don’t stop watching television to be saved.  We don’t wear modest clothing to be saved.  We don’t abstain from alcohol to be saved.  We don’t communicate in a pure and righteous manner to be saved.  But if we’re saved, we will want to live according to God’s Word, to conform to His will.

More to come on this subject.