Christianity 201

June 22, 2018

Fire & Brimstone – Part 2

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

We have already seen the reality of the judgement of God, that separation from God and His goodness is real and therefore hell is real. But what does it mean to “go to hell”?

There are three possible views on hell which could be summarized by the words fire, torment, and destruction.

Fire: The first takes the language used in the Bible about hell most literally and those who hold this view think those in hell will literally experience everlasting fire along with everything else mentioned.

Torment: The second view holds the language around hell to be metaphorical, but still very descriptive of experience. Those who hold this view don’t think those in hell will experience literal everlasting fire, but will experience everlasting something, and that something will be bad.

Destruction: The two former views reflect what we call ‘eternal conscious torment’ and are considered to be the more tractional views. The third view is different. Let us look at this third view more closely since many of us already know the traditional views.

Remember that time Luther posted his 95 theses which helped spark the move from what tradition taught to what the Bible taught? John Stott called for a similar move in the last century:

As a committed Evangelical, my question must be—and it—not what does my heart tell me, but what does God’s word say? And in order to answer this question, we need to survey the biblical material afresh and to open our minds (not just our hearts) to the possibility that Scripture points in the direction of annihilation, and that ‘eternal conscious torment’ is a tradition which has to yield to the supreme authority of Scripture.  – John Stott.

You can read that passage in its context here.

Is it possible that hell, the experience of separation from God and his goodness, could be summed up by ‘destruction’ rather than ‘everlasting conscious torment’? Does the Bible teach that? Let us consider the same passages we looked at in the last post when we asked if God’s judgement was real:

. . . then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. Genesis 2:7

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden;  but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” Genesis 2:16-17

Adam is given the gift of life and is warned that the consequence of rebellion against God is death. Nothing is said about eternal eternal conscious torment at this point.

Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— 23 therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life. Genesis 3:22-24 (emphasis added)

Adam and Eve did rebel against God and the consequences started to fall into place. Here, at the very first sin, the consequence of rebellion is framed as death, not everlasting conscious torment. This death and life theme is reflected when Paul brings up Adam’s sin and the resurrection of Jesus:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 (emphasis added)

In that same chapter on the resurrection, Paul does not speak of going to heaven rather than hell as we might think he would. He speaks of eternal life made possible through the putting on of immortality:

What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed,  in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.
When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
  “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:50-57

The focus here is on life versus death, rather than heaven verses hell. The Bible does speak elsewhere of the unrepentant also being raised for judgement. But from this passage in Corinthians we can infer that the unrepentant will not receive the wonderful gift being celebrated by Paul here, namely the gift of being clothed in imperishability and immortality. We should note here that the concept of the immortality of the soul is a Greek concept that has more to do with Platonic philosophy than Biblical teaching. Our souls have not been around for eternity, they were created. Adam and Eve could have enjoyed everlasting life in the Garden, but sin messed that up. Our default without Christ is mortality. God, however, graciously offers the gift of eternal life in Christ.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23

This last verse reminds us of the doctrine known as the penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus. That is a fancy way of saying that Jesus paid the wages of sin on our behalf. No one believes that Jesus is experiencing eternal conscious torment on our behalf.  He experienced death, and in a mysterious but real way, separation from the Father and His goodness.

Consider, finally, these verses that speak in a matter of fact manner of everlasting life versus destruction.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. John 3:16

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18

But what about those passages that speak of everlasting torment? When Biblical teaching which has the sound of metaphor is placed next to Biblical teaching which sounds quite matter of fact, perhaps we should consider the matter of fact statements to be pointing to facts, and the metaphor to be poetic. “The wages of sin is death” is a matter of fact statement and so, in fact, sin without the atoning work of Jesus will lead to death, separation from the presence and goodness of God. That “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12) is a poetic way of saying that to experience separation from God and his goodness, to experience death, is utterly regrettable. That too, is a fact! But to take the “weeping and gnashing of teeth” as a factual description of the experience of separation from God may not be what is intended.

Likewise, when Jesus speaks of hell he often is being poetic by using the word “Gehenna”. Gehenna was locatable on a map and was a place of idol worship, including the incredibly evil practice of sacrificing children. The people of Jerusalem ended up burning their garbage there. When Jesus speaks of people going to Gehenna, in the Sermon on the Mount for example, the idea is that if you want to appeal to your own righteousness, then you will end up being taken out with the trash. Perhaps what we learn through the poetry of Jesus’ words on hell should not be lost by forcing them to become a scientific description.

Which view of hell is correct? I’ll leave that up to you to research further and decide (A good start is to read both John Stott and J.I. Packer on the topic). Whichever view is correct, we agonize over our loved ones who do not know Christ. Whichever view is correct, we agonize over anyone who would choose to be separated from God and His goodness. Whichever view is correct, we thank God for His wonderful love and grace.

Is it time to bring back fire and brimstone? Whichever view on hell we think is correct, are we witnesses that hell is eternal conscious torment, or that Jesus rose from the dead and is Lord, even over death? Keep in mind that our unbelieving friends do not yet believe in hell. They already believe in death. The Good News is that though “the wages of sin is death”, “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That is the Good News we share. We don’t need to be angry fire and brimstone preachers to do that.


Clarke Dixon is the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Listen to a 31-minute sermon of this topic.

June 14, 2018

Olfactory Theology

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

You can tell a lot about presence with the sense of smell. Like the smell of a roasting turkey letting you know that a great Christmas dinner is on the way. Or the time a horrible smell alerted me to the presence of a mouse that had wandered into a live trap and died. I hadn’t put bait in it so didn’t expect to catch anything. The poor mouse would still be there if the smell had not given away its presence. The Bible tells us that we as Christians ought to smell:

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? 2 Corinthians 2:14-16

We are the “aroma of Christ.” In other words, through our presence people ought to be able to tell that Christ is present. When a Christian is near, people should “smell,” or be aware of, the presence of God. But do they? Sometimes they might smell something else entirely.

I am reminded of a debate which touched on the topic “Was Hitler a Christian?” If you point to his family of origin, and/or to his denominational affiliation you may answer “yes.” However, if you look to his track record of picking up a cross and following Jesus in the way of sacrificial love, grace, and forgiveness, then you would answer “no.” Whatever your answer, it is obvious that Hitler did not spread “in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing [Jesus].” He was not “the aroma of Christ to God” or to anyone else for that matter. Instead he left behind a terrible stench from a form of Social Darwinism.

Never mind Hitler, what about us? Here is a good New Year’s resolution: To smell better. To be so Spirit filled and centered on Jesus that the presence of God is palpable.

We are the “aroma of Christ to God.”* Here the writer, the apostle Paul, is alluding to the living of his life as a sacrifice to God, with an aroma that would be pleasing to Him. We can think here of these other words of Paul:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2

When our lives are conformed to this world then the aroma of our sacrifice is rotten to God. Here is another good New Year’s resolution: To be a sweet smelling sacrifice to God, not conformed to the world, but changed by God Himself.

We are “the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”* We will understand this better if we observe the mixing of metaphors that goes in this passage. In verse 14 it sounds like we are led as a band of victors: “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession.” However, scholars point out that this “triumphal procession” is not a parade of victors, but captives. This is in reference to celebrations in Rome in honor of conquering generals. The captives would be led through Rome, often to their execution. So does Paul have in mind here the idea of being a conqueror? Some Bible scholars point rather to the idea that Paul sees himself as surrendered fully to Christ. Though sin once made him an enemy of God, reconciliation was offered by God. It is a surrendered life that “spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him.” In contrast, we can only spread our own fragrance if we live a self centred life. Here is another good New Year’s resolution: To be surrendered to Christ.

But what about the aroma “among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing”? There would be a lot of incense burned at Roman celebrations including the triumphal procession. No matter whether the aroma of the incense was pleasing or not, it would be a welcome smell to the conquering people, but will be the smell of death to the conquered. Here the metaphor changes as the Christian becomes the incense. We become the aroma of Christ that elicits a response from the world. To some we will be “a fragrance from death to death,” and to others we will be “a fragrance from life to life.” The presence of God being palpable does not necessarily mean that Christianity will be palatable. The one who rejects God will find the fragrance of Christ to be objectionable as he or she continues life a captive to someone other than Christ. Of course, anyone, at any time, can join Christ’s triumphal procession in a life surrendered to God. 

Strong smells always elicit a response. We can think of a turkey dinner or a skunk. The message of Jesus will elicit a response. Here is a good New Year’s resolution: To smell so strongly of Christ, that we elicit a response. If no one ever asks us about our faith in Jesus, perhaps we are not smelly enough?

Our passage ends with a great question: “Who is sufficient for these things?” The answer is no one, at least not on our own. Just as Paul depended on the presence of Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit in being the aroma of Christ, so can we.

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

(All scripture references are from the NRSV)


With Clarke away from the pulpit last week, this is an archived post from his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.  * italics added

June 5, 2018

God’s Requirement of a New Creation

by Russell Young

Much is made of the fact that the confessor is a “new creation,” but what is meant by that? Paul told the Corinthians, “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation.” (2 Cor 5:17) A new creation is an “original formation” according to translation from the Greek. (Strong’s Greek Dictionary #2937) He or she has become something that they were not before. They have been cleansed from sin and are now in possession of the Holy Spirit whom they did not have in their previous birth. That is, they have the same advantages in Christ as he had. Paul wrote, “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.” (Gal 6:15) The need for this newness has been revealed in Genesis. “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that the inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” (Gen 6:5─6) The new creation is needed to destroy evil inclinations and by doing so to conform a person to the likeness of Christ. Although the creation is new, conformity or refinement must yet be achieved through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

How do people become a new or an original formation? To be “in Christ” they must first have been cleansed of any existing sins. The writer of Hebrews has stated that they “have been set free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” (Heb 9:15) But, in their new formation they now possess the Holy Spirit, who is Christ in them (Col 1:27; 2 Cor 3:17, 18) The whole purpose of the believer’s redemption was so that he or she might gain the Spirit. “He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” (Gal 3:14 Italics added) Being a descendant of Adam, humankind possess the natural or evil spirit that entertains sinful practices and fills God’s heart with pain. It is freed from the encumbrances of past sins that bring death and it houses the Holy Spirit. Although confessors still have the flesh and the spirit from their natural birth to contend with, they have been given all that is necessary for life and godliness through Christ’s presence in them (Col 1:27), the Holy Spirit.

Being a new creation, possessing the Spirit, does not mean that the believer has been renewed however. The new creation is a new birth, a new beginning. The Spirit must be obeyed. (Heb 5:9) “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (Col 3:9─10 Italics added) Paul also wrote, “You were taught with regard to your former way of life to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made knew in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph 4:22─24) The confessor has something to do, to put off his or her old self; they must live in obedience to the Spirit’s leading. “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Gal 5:18 NIV) “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Rom 8:14) A person who is being led is an obedient follower.

The “renewal,” refining, or “conforming to the likeness of Christ” is not done instantaneously. It often requires discipline, punishment, and hardships. (Heb 12:5─7, Rev 3:19) A new birth is the first stage of the creation that God requires, but it begins with incorruptible parentage providing better hope. The new creation through a new birth makes the confessor into a new spiritual baby. He or she must mature to become the person or offering that God requires, sanctified by the Spirit. (Rom 15:16) Hebrews cautions about “falling away” during this process. (Heb 6:1-12)

Many take the believer’s transformation as being a unilateral act of God, a gift of grace; however, the believer’s –a confessor makes the pledge of Christ’s lordship, but a believer lives it out–transformation is an exercise of his or her will, or of their choices. The Spirit is a helper only. He enlightens, leads and empowers, but must be obeyed. Those who thwart, deny, or quench him will not enjoy the hope of God’s heavenly kingdom. These are the hypocrites who blaspheme the Spirit—”sin defiantly.” (Num 15:30) They will never be forgiven. (Lk 12:10)

Peter wrote, “But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (1 Pet 4:13) Christ suffered when he was tempted (Heb 2:18) and believers are to join him in his suffering. Further, John wrote, “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:6) The mature new creation will be a revelation of Christ as he is willed to live in the body of the believer.

(Unless otherwise noted, all scriptures are quoted from the NIV)


Author Russell Young lives in Ontario, Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here every other Tuesday.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.  There is also a feature-length article at this link.

 

May 31, 2018

John 3:16: Should God Send People to Hell for Not Believing Certain Things?

Should God send people to hell for failing to believe certain things? Some will point to John 3:16,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” John 3:16 (NRSV)

Some object that God cannot be very loving if failure to believe results in punishment. Does the punishment fit the crime? However, John 3:16 will help us respond to the objection.

Before we get to 3:16, it helps to look at verses 1-15 where we are introduced to Nicodemus. Being a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus would have believed certain things about the way things are. He was no doubt well-versed in the Hebrew Bible and was looking forward to the coming Kingdom of God. He would have held onto certain beliefs about who would enter the Kingdom and how. You enter this kingdom by being born into the right family, the Jewish family, and doing the right thing, keeping the Jewish law.

Jesus challenges Nicodemus on his beliefs about these things:

Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” John 3:3 (NRSV)

Being born into the right family is not what is important for the Kingdom, but rather “being born from above”, or “born again”.  Nicodemus takes the latter meaning of the term but Jesus is referring to the same idea we were introduced to in John 1:

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.  He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.  But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,  who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. John 1:10-13 (NRSV emphasis added)

To boil this down to essentials, you will see God’s Kingdom, not because you were born into the right family, but because of God’s work in you no matter what family you were originally born into. Jesus continues:

Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’   The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:5-8 (NRSV)

Nicodemus would have known where he, as a Jewish person ,came from; Jewish parents. However, with Kingdom people, you do not know where they come from. In other words,  a Kingdom person can be from any background or nation, as long as God is working in them. Nicodemus had certain beliefs about the Kingdom, but Jesus challenged him on them.

Jesus goes on to challenge Nicodemus on his beliefs about who he, Jesus himself, really is. Nicodemus already believes certain things about Jesus:

He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” John 3:2 (NRSV)

Jesus challenges Nicodemus to go deeper than that:

No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.  And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. John 3:13-15 (NRSV)

Jesus is not just a prophet with God’s presence, but the Son of Man coming from God. Nicodemus would likely have had Daniel 7 going through his mind at this point. He also would have been thinking of the passage of Scripture from Numbers where Moses is instructed to lift up a serpent so that everyone who looked to it could be healed from the consequence of their sin. The inference here is subtle, but important; namely, that Jesus is not like Moses, but greater than Moses. While Moses lifted up the serpent, Jesus is the One lifted up, meaning that he was to be crucified as a means of healing. Jesus is the One through whom healing comes, the One through whom we receive forgiveness for our rebellion against God. Which brings us to verse 16:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” John 3:16 (NRSV)

Jesus is challenging Nicodemus to move from belief that something is true, to trust in Someone. Nicodemus believed certain things, namely that you enter into the Kingdom first by being born into the right family. Jesus tells him that anyone can enter the Kingdom by trusting that God has done the best thing.

What does this have to do with our objection: “should people go to hell for not believing certain things”?

Even when I know where I am going, I like using my iPhone’s Maps voice guidance on Highway 401. It shows me the traffic and has occasionally led me off the highway in order to rescue me from an upcoming traffic mess.

Now suppose I don’t listen to the voice guidance thinking that I know better. When I slow to a stop, would I then ask my phone why it sent me into a traffic jam? I chose that route, and I chose to trust my own judgement rather than trust my phone which offered a better path.

God does not send people to hell for failing to believe certain things. People choose a path that leads to death and separation from God. When God offers forgiveness and a better path, they choose to not trust Him. Being separated from God for eternity is not punishment for disbelief. It is the natural consequence of a life of walking away from God. It is sin, not disbelief, that separates us from God. Eternal life is not about believing certain things, it is about trusting God. It is about trusting that God has dealt with our separation from Him through Jesus at the cross. It is trusting that through His grace, we are welcomed as children, born from above.


Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

 

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

 

May 21, 2018

The Unsaved Aren’t Afraid of a Hell They Don’t Believe Exists

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today we’re featuring, for the first time, the writing of Kaleb Tillman who calls his blog The Controversial Christian. Kaleb has an extensive background in Christian music and broadcast media. Click the title below to read this at source.

Can a Fear of Hell Save?

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”

‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭1:6-12‬ (ESV)

Very, very rarely are salvation and hell mentioned in the same sentence in the Bible. Any call to Jesus, you will find, often avoids the subject of hell entirely. Hell is obviously a thing, and it’s obviously what people are being saved from, but it doesn’t seem so important when the apostles are trying to convince people to follow Jesus.

Now think of every evangelist you’ve seen with a sign during a sporting event, or the televangelists who present the gospel, or the hellfire and brimstone preachers of old, or the people that come and preach on your college campus even though everyone is more interested in yelling at them than taking what they say to heart. What do they have in common?

Well, in most cases, their main selling points are either getting to heaven or not going to hell. They appeal to your fear. And, of course, it’s not just them. Plenty of pastors, evangelists and everyday Christians trying to reach out will bring up the idea that if you don’t accept this idea of Jesus, you are going to hell.

But we never see that approach taken from the apostles in the Bible. Jesus will mention hell, but mainly to people who are already following him, or at least people who claim to be religious leaders. Never is that line of logic used to convert someone in the Bible. Why?

Well, because it doesn’t work.

There are some major problems with using the fear of hell to evangelize:

1) The people who actually need the evangelizing don’t believe in hell.

Here lies a major practical problem. We evangelize to people who don’t believe Christianity. That means they don’t believe in God, the Bible or the concept of heaven and hell, or at least not the Christian versions of those things. Tell them your Bible says they’ll go to hell and they laugh. They don’t think hell exists, so they have nothing to be afraid of. This is why it also doesn’t work to tell people who don’t believe in Jesus that they need to stop sleeping around, for instance. They don’t believe in the concept of sin and don’t hold themselves to Christian standards, so why should they? You have to lead them to Jesus BEFORE they’ll accept the rest of the Bible.

2) It’s viewed by non-Christians as intentionally judgmental and offensive.

Yes, Christians are supposed to be extremely difficult to offend, but we can’t apply those standards to non-Christians while we’re evangelizing. Have you ever been in a discussion about, say, Star Wars with someone who has a different opinion on it than you? What if you were talking about how good the prequel movies are and the person you’re discussing with suddenly says “Well, if you like the prequels, you must hate children.” This guy is now attacking your character for seemingly no reason, and you likely won’t respond well.

To a non-Christian, hellfire and brimstone evangelism feels like that. This random person is attacking your lifestyle when he doesn’t even know you. Everything the person is saying may be factually true, but they hear it as an attack only designed to incite anger and start an argument. And when you see someone like that, you don’t want to listen, but you may listen to someone who’s telling you there’s a God who loves you for who you are, which is also true.

3) Fear doesn’t save people.

By far more important than any other reasoning I could give, fear of hell doesn’t work as a path to salvation. As the passage at the top says “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. ”

Salvation comes from a knowledge of who Jesus is, what He did and His love for us, along with us giving our love in return. No one has ever been scared into honestly loving someone. “Love me or die” does not usually get actual love in response. People may act better, go to church, read their Bibles, preach, anything out of fear of going to hell, but without love there is still no salvation.

Now, I’m not in favor of changing the Bible to appeal to people. Hell is still there, and we can’t pretend otherwise. If someone we’re speaking to asks about it, we should absolutely tell them the biblical truth. We as Christians should acknowledge it, and we can even use it as motivation to lead the ones we love to Jesus.

But that’s not the pitch. If our goal is for people to understand the gospel so they may accept the salvation of Christ, especially if we only have a short window to do it, then we need to tell them the information that actually matters: God loves you, Jesus died for you, and if you love Him, He will forgive you. If we can convince people of that, they can come to understand the rest in time. Just something to think about.

April 19, 2018

Utter Mess, Utter Grace

by Clarke Dixon

1 You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ– by grace you have been saved– 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God– Ephesians 2:1-8 NRSV

According to the apostle Paul we were all once in an utter mess, and in fact some people still are. While events around the world may confirm for us that yes, some people are in an utter mess, methinks there are many would say “others yes, but not me.”

Imagine, for example reading Ephesians 2:1-3 and then saying to a non-Christian friend that you just learned that they are ’dead in their sins’ (verse 1), or a follower of Satan (verse 2), or ’children of wrath’ (verse 3). Many fine folk would, I think, say something like “well that does not sound like me, I feel quite alive thank you, I have never been involved in Satan worship, and if there is a God I should not be judged by such a God for I am basically a good person.” How do we reconcile what we learn from scripture about our fallen nature with what a lot of what people think and feel?

First, you don’t need to feel dead to be dead. This mention of being dead takes us back to the story of the fall in Genesis. God said to Adam “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16b,17 ESV). Now we know that on the day Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit they did not die, but on that day we can say that death entered into the world, death becoming their inescapable future and a sure bet. In this sense when we are without God today we are “dead in our sins,” it only being a matter of time before death catches up to us.

Nor do you need to worship Satan to be listening to his voice. Again we go back to the story of the fall where we find the serpent tempts Eve, not to worship him, but to stop trusting God. Most people would never admit to worshipping Satan, but when pressed, might admit to not trusting God.

But what about the unbeliever who seems to be perfectly moral, in fact more moral perhaps than most believers; can we really say they are “children of wrath” deserving of what is commonly known as hell? According to the Bible you are either a child of wrath (Ephesians 1:3), or a child of God (see John 1:12). Many would like to say that by their moral actions they show themselves to be closer to being a child of God than a child of wrath. But this is like saying that a pregnant woman is a little bit pregnant, or very pregnant. I have heard and used such expressions but of course one is either pregnant or not. You are either a child of wrath or you are a child of God, you cannot be somewhere in between. Further, the symptoms may not be a good indication of truth.

There was once a show on TV chronicling the stories of women who gave birth despite not noticing any indications or “symptoms” of pregnancy until the last minute. You could say that with my middle-aged-spread — which began in my 20’s! — I have more symptoms of being pregnant than what some of those women experienced! What matters is not the symptoms, but the truth. And it does not matter how righteous or moral a person appears to beall have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NIV).

Consider the righteousness of Adam and Eve. When they were convicted of sin and banished from Eden they had no prior history of sin, and in sinning had not harmed anyone directly, nor done anything that most people might consider “immoral.” What they did was fall short of the glory of God, trusting the words of Satan over God, and so became children of wrath.

However, verses 1-3 are not the main point of our passage. They are verses that some will not get past in their denial of their need for a Saviour, but they are not the main point. Here is the main point: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4, 5 NIV). This passage is not really about sin or death or hell, but is about God’s grace, mercy, and love. No one need fear hell for anyone can trade in their status as a child of wrath for a new family tree, becoming a child of God and recipient of his grace though faith. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8 NIV).

We can imagine God’s grace and our faith like this: we are stuck in quicksand and there is no way out. However, God reaches down and lifts us out in the palm of his hand. God’s love, initiative, and reach to rescue is the grace by which we are saved – we would be sunk without that. Our trust which keeps us in his hand is the faith through which we are saved – we’d jump back into the quicksand without that. What most people do not realize is that while we are alive we all, everyone included, experience a measure of God’s grace. That we can live at all, breathing, relating, enjoying life is a sign that we are experiencing God’s grace. God is under no obligation to grant us life but he does so as a sign of grace. This should help us to understand what we know of as hell. We tend to think of hell as punishment reserved for those who have done evil things to other people, making salvation and hell a matter of morality. Many naturally consider murderers as deserving of hell, but regular law abiding folk as not for example. But in the Bible, separation from God (hell) does not come just because one deserves it. It also comes because one desires it. Having experienced God’s grace by breathing some will curse the God who gave them breath and say “I don’t need you.” Having experienced the grace of God through loving and being loved, some will curse the One who has loved them the most and say “I don’t want you.” And so some choose to jump out of the hand that has been holding them, the hand that is ready to save them if only they will turn to in repentance, and not away from, the Giver of Life.

We have all at some point been in an utter mess, dead in sins, under Satan’s influence, and children of wrath, but utter grace is there for anyone who will take and trust that nail-scarred hand reaching for us in grace.!


All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV. Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario.

Today’s post is from Clarke’s archives and was originally written in April, 2013.

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

April 13, 2018

The Conversion of Saul: Did He Have a Choice?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

The most important event in human history apart from the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is the conversion to Christianity of Saul of Tarsus. If Saul had remained a Jewish rabbi, we would be missing thirteen of twenty-seven books of the New Testament and Christianity’s early major expansion to the Gentiles. Humanly speaking, without Paul Christianity would probably be of only antiquarian or arcane interest, like the Dead Sea Scrolls community or the Samaritans.

IVP Commentary as cited at BibleGateway.com; emphasis added.

NLT Acts 9:1 Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers.  So he went to the high priest. He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains.

As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”

“Who are you, lord?” Saul asked.

And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one! Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes he was blind. So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus. He remained there blind for three days and did not eat or drink.

10 Now there was a believer in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision, calling, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord!” he replied.

11 The Lord said, “Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you get there, ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying to me right now. 12 I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying hands on him so he can see again.”

13 “But Lord,” exclaimed Ananias, “I’ve heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the believers  in Jerusalem! 14 And he is authorized by the leading priests to arrest everyone who calls upon your name.”

15 But the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. 16 And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.”

17 So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. 19 Afterward he ate some food and regained his strength.

In light of the divide between Reformed and Arminian approaches to grace and salvation, the conversion of Saul (to Christ, and then in name, to Paul) seems like an open and shut case. I found this article at the Society of Evangelical Arminians helpful to seeing things in the text which are easy to miss. This is actually a series of responses to the title’s question that were posted on the Society’s Facebook page. Click the title below to read at source.

What About Paul’s “Irresistible” Conversion?

In our Facebook Outreach Group, we were presented with this question:

How should Paul’s conversion be interpreted? It doesn’t seem like much of a choice at first glance – but that God showed up and said “you’re mine.”

Here are the various responses:

1.  He said he was not disobedient to the heavenly vision (free will).

2.  God taking it upon Himself to introduce Himself to someone isn’t a conversion. The per se conversion occurred and revealed itself in Paul’s response.

2a. So God doesn’t kick in the door?

2b. Another great example of God introducing Himself was the burning bush. Although Moses did require additional convincing.

2c. God had been working on Paul long before the Damascus road experience.  Based on His foreknowledge God had chosen Paul to become an Apostle called out of due season. Paul had not been taught by Christ personally like the other Apostles. Paul is not only called to conversion but to Apostleship to the Gentiles. God reveals himself to Paul in unusual ways and instructs him in unusual ways but Paul’s responses are his own even though his prevenient grace is unusual.

3.  I think that is reading too much into the narrative. Here is something Brian Abasciano wrote a while back in response to the same sort of question:

“I believe Paul did have the ability to resist God in his Damascus Road experience. At the very best for the contention that he could not have done so, it is speculation whether he could or not. The text certainly does not indicate that he could not. On the other hand, I would say that Paul actually does imply that he could have disobeyed the vision. In Acts 26:19, he says, “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.” Telling someone you were not disobedient to something without provocation to do so seems to imply that you could have been disobedient to it. If I had replied to you, “As you can see, I have not ignored your email to me . . .” that would imply that I could have ignored your email. Rhetorically, what that sort of thing does is emphasize one’s obedience by using the fact that one could have done otherwise.”

I would add that the Israelites often experienced incredible manifestations of God and yet continued to rebel against Him, so it seems we have no real basis for correlating a powerful vision of God with irresistible response.

4.  Paul wasn’t saved until he prayed and sought God after being blinded.

5.  Paul was exposed to Christians and their witness repeatedly.  God had, through prevenient grace, been convicting Paul of the truths of the Gospel and drawing him to repent and believe in Christ.  Paul had been having a hard time resisting the truth of the Gospel. It was hard for him “to kick against the pricks.”

6.  I agree with the preceding comments, but I’d like to add three things…

(1) For God to use external means to convert Saul of Tarsus to Christ, does not prove a Calvinist’s assertion of God using internal means of “forcible regeneration upon the unbelieving.”

(2) Paul tells us why God did it. He says that God knew that he [Paul] had acted in ignorance.

(3) Even if God used “overwhelming means” to secure the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, to the point where conversion was rendered certain, how would the raising-up of one man to apostleship, for the greater benefit of humanity in spreading the gospel to all men, establish a bifurcation of elect vs. non-classes of humanity? At most, it would only speak of what God was doing in the life of that one individual person, in terms of how God would bless “all the families of the earth” through him, fulfilling in one man, God’s purpose in the election of the Jews as His witness nation.

 

March 25, 2018

Amazing Love!

Yesterday and today we’re reintroducing you to Canadian Presbyterian pastor Jeff Loach who writes at Passionately His. Both of these are great to share with someone who has not yet crossed the line of faith. Click the title below to read this on his blog.

My Chains Fell Off

Most of us, from time to time, get a song stuck in our heads.  I don’t know about you, but for me, this is an almost daily occurrence, and sometimes, it persists beyond the day.  Since Tuesday evening this week, I have had the same song in my head.  So today, I thought I’d put it in your head, too!

It is a hymn, a piece of poetry put to music, that dates back to the 1730s.  The accompanying tune is called SAGINA, which is the name of a spring plant common in the Roman Empire; it can also mean “nourishment”.  It was written in 1825.  But the text and the tune were not put together popularly until well into the twentieth century.

The text was written by the great Methodist leader Charles Wesley (1707-1788).  No one knows for sure, but it is thought that this text came to him at the point of his conversion.

Wesley had been trained for ministry and had attempted to serve in ministry, failing miserably as a missionary (alongside his brother, John) in the new-found colony of Georgia, now part of the United States.  It was only following his return to Britain that he experienced new birth, at which time he is thought to have written these words:

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night:
Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray;
I woke; the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

These lyrics certainly allude to the story of the earthquake that occurred when Paul and Silas were in prison:  All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off!” (Acts 16.26b, NLT).

But Wesley had experienced this in his own heart, too.

The good news is that any of us can have the same experience.  By God’s grace, our chains can fall off, too.  If you feel as though your spirit is lying in some sort of prison – enslaved to sin, locked in old ways, tied down by guilt – then Jesus longs to free you.

If you’ve not been set free from sin, think of what song might come from your mouth when your chains fall off!

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
    and he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
    out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground
    and steadied me as I walked along.
He has given me a new song to sing,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
    They will put their trust in the Lord.
 (Psalm 40.1-3, NLT)


December 19, 2017

The Nature of “Gift” Concerning Eternal Salvation

by Russell Young

Communication between people in any language is difficult. Everyone interprets the written and spoken word according to his or her understanding and experiences. It is even more difficult to translate from one language to another. Many words have more than one meaning so the nuance of the original intention must be as carefully preserved as possible. Unfortunately, many translators have become interpreters. That is, they apply their understanding as ideas are processed from one language to the next. In the procedure many concepts may not maintain the thought that the original speaker had intended.

Consider the Greek word “charisma.” It was in common Greek usage before being adopted and understood in the English language. It is a noun having the idea of “personal charm or magnetism,” “the ability to influence without the use of logic,” or in Christian context alone, “extraordinary power granted by the Holy Spirit.” (English-Ancient Greek (to 1453) Dictionary) It is worth noting that “charisma” referred to an ability that a person had to influence another without logic but according to his or her personal charm or magnetism. Of course, common usage of charisma has the same meaning today.  Not all people have the same ability of persuasion; hence, it might be accepted that a person has been gifted with the ability to persuade others.

Biblical writers have also used “charisma” to convey understanding. Paul wrote, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift (charisma) of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” (Rom 6:23 KJV) Translators have used “gift” for charisma to convey an idea. In staying with the Greek understanding the passage might have been written, ‘the influence of God without logic but according to his persuasion or personal attributes is eternal life through Jesus Christ, Our Lord.’ Or, ‘through the extraordinary power granted by the Holy Spirit is eternal life through Jesus, our Lord.” That is, it is through the attributes of God, his ability to attract and persuade that through using his Son he provides eternal life.  The “persuasion” and “influence” of God comes through the Holy Spirit. ‘Charisma’ does not possess the idea of a gift or something that was handed over to be received other than the Holy Spirit. The word “charisma” is used today. We do not say that we give ‘charisma’ at Christmas.

When the wise men visited Christ at his birth, they brought “gifts.” The Greek for “gifts,” used in this case, was doron, which according to Strong’s Greek Dictionary means “a present; specially a sacrifice: –gift or offering.” (#1435) When Christ spoke of the fact that fathers give good gifts to their children, the Greek word doma was used, meaning gift or present. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant.” (1 Cor 12:1 NIV) The Greek does not include the word “gifts” but reads, “about [the] spiritual, I do not want you to be ignorant.” Young’s literal translation reads, “about spiritual things.” A few verses later he presents, “There are different kinds of gifts” In this case he uses charisma, but it can be translated as endowments or qualifications again referring to attributes.

Regardless of how “charisma” is represented, eternal life comes through Jesus Christ, our Lord; he is the source. The writer might have omitted “our Lord” in his writing but its presence is significant.  “Lord” means “supreme authority” or “master.” Although some might restrict “Lord” merely to a title of respect, it is more significant in its proclamation. The persuasive power of Christ as lord, master, and supreme authority is the means of eternal life. Such thinking contrasts with the idea that the ’package’ of eternal life has been handed over as in the presentation of a gift. The writer of Hebrews has confirmed that Christ is “the source of eternal salvation” for all who obey him. (Heb 5:9). The writer does not allow that the Lord’s crucifixion provided eternal salvation but that it comes through his life –Christ as Spirit, (2 Cor 3:17, 18; Col 1:27; Rom 5:9─10) — lived obediently through the believer. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians “[F]rom the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” (2 Thess 2:13 NIV)

Paul wrote, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship (masterpiece NLT)…” (Eph 2:8─10 NIV) In this case “gift” is translated from the Greek doron  meaning a gift or present. This might be considered a summative statement. Since the ministry of Christ is the “source” of salvation, and because his incarnation, sacrifice and life were through provision by God alone, eternal salvation can be considered a gift, but this is so because the believer has become God’s masterpiece, conformed to the likeness of his Son. (Rom 8:29) People cannot achieve their salvation by their own works or practices due to their evil natures; they cannot overcome their death sentence, nor can they transform themselves into becoming an acceptable offering. (Rom 15:16) The intervention of God through his provision is required. “Everything we need for life and godliness” has been provided (2 Pet 1:3), but not life and godliness. A proper response to God’s charisma is needed for the person who seeks God’s kingdom.


Author Russell Young’s column appears on alternate Tuesdays. His book Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo. 9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.

December 8, 2017

Continuing in the Faith: Two Perspectives

Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.
 – Luke 17:33

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. – John 16:13

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. – Phil. 3:14

Today’s post was intended to be a return to Blogos.org for the usual type of devotional article you see here. However, I stumbled across this article — the link “letter from the editor” got me curious — and while some of this isn’t new to many readers here, I hope you will take the time to read this and notice the balance this writer achieved between what can be two divisive doctrinal viewpoints.

Which view is right for you?

Are you confused by Calvinism and Arminianism and which to believe?

By Jim Allen

Calvinism and Arminianism are two major branches of Protestantism that follow separate theological views, pulling the true Gospel apart into two camps of faith. While the views differ in how one attains and continues in salvation, they do agree on the core of Christendom, which is faith in Jesus Christ (John 3:16). It is also true that most believers know nothing about either of these two doctrinal views when saved.

I was one of them. I had no clue. Not until sometime later did I learned about these two views and then became entirely confused by which one was correct. Of course, the adoption of Calvinism or Arminianism can influence how one lives out his or her Christian faith.

Beyond a personal influence, these two branches of Protestantism have split the church for nearly five hundred years. But, here’s the thing. Got Questions got it right by recognizing Calvinism and Arminianism are too demanding for anyone to understand. They correctly said both views fail to fully explain God’s role and man’s role in the mysteries leading to salvation. More precisely:

Human beings are incapable of fully grasping concepts such as these because the theology is deep and demanding. Yes, God is absolutely sovereign and knows all. Yes, human beings are called to make a genuine decision to place faith in Christ, and these two facts seem contradictory to us, but in the mind of God they make perfect sense. (Source)

Can these two opposing views ever be brought into alignment with Scripture? I have read the arguments for and against Calvinism and affirm some aspects are biblical while other aspects fog the brain. At the other end is Arminianism, which also has views that battle against the teachings of the Bible.

While the conversation between these two views is not the most important topic in Christianity, it’s a worthwhile discussion in having. This article makes no attempt to uphold one view over the other or reconcile opposing verses of either view; but rather, its purpose is to look beyond the teachings of John Calvin and Jacobus Arminius to the centrality of the true conversation.

Is Calvinism or Arminianism the right conservation to have about salvation? I would propose neither because the right answer for salvation is a message that has been longstanding since the Resurrection. The message of Christianity is far more than adopting a view to walk out one’s faith. Christianity is about entering into a living and loving relationship with the Lord of Glory. Jesus said it’s all about exchanging a life we can never keep for one we can never earn (Luke 17:33).

The Apostle Paul wrote about the exchange. Paul said our change begins when God changes us into a new person by changing what we think (Romans 12:2). But, what we think and believe can be skewed by what other men think and believe. Men can hold us captive to their view (by what they teach) instead of God’s view, and herein the peril.

Was the greater problem for Calvin and Arminius a tendency to pitch their tent of understanding (about salvation) around selected verses that supported their personal beliefs? Did they set aside, gloss over, and debate away verses that didn’t agree with those views? Some think so.

Of no surprise and as a result, the number of opinions supporting Calvinism or Arminianism is vast. The Internet is overflowing with books and articles and charts and testimonies supporting one view over the other. Reading the arguments for one will convince you until you read the rebuttal given by the other. It’s all very confusing, troubling, and unnecessary. It’s not the conversation we need.

Even more so, the Bible makes no attempt to distinguish the Gospel into two opposing views. There is no reason to redefine the Gospel. Jesus didn’t split hairs and the apostles were never inspired to write other than what they did. The Bible is a finished work. It stands on its own. It needs no clarification.

Dividing the Gospel into different views is the work of men, a work never intended by the Lord of Glory. He made everything simple, and we receive it by faith. Man makes everything hard, and we debate it until entirely confused. Is Calvinism the right answer for salvation? No and neither is Arminianism.

The right answer for salvation is for a believer to make it a personal quest, to view the Lord of Glory through the lens of the Bible, and to discover for themselves the deep caverns of unveiled truth (John 16:13). When revealed, the believer will be encouraged to continue in the faith.

Calvinists call “continuing in the faith” irresistible grace. Armenians call it making a commitment of faith. Whatever you call it, it’s the high call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14). This is the conversation worth having.

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.

In closing, there is no greater call than to hear the One calling from above (1 Peter 2:25); and, there is no greater conversation than with the One who is the lover of the soul (John 10:28).


*Calvinism is named for John Calvin, a French theologian who lived from 1509-1564. Arminianism is named for Jacobus Arminius, a Dutch theologian who lived from 1560-1609. (Source)


Linked scriptures are in the ESV. We selected three and quoted them at the top of this article, and those are NIV.

August 16, 2017

Can People Be Saved via Other Religions?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re paying a return visit to the website BibleKnowledge.com and an article on a subject sometimes called universalism. Note that the end there are links to other articles in a series on this topic, including one pertaining to the eternal destiny of those who have never heard; who have never been evangelized. You may land the plane differently on these issues, but the view presented is the one which has served Evangelical Christianity well for nearly all of its history. Click the title below to read at source:

What is Inclusivism?

Inclusivism is a view that includes all religions in God’s plan of salvation. Inclusivism is “inclusive” (hence the name) of all religions in salvation and says that a person can be saved regardless of his or her faith and/or religious practice.

Both a Buddhist and Hindu can be saved in this view — regardless of the fact that they believe in different things and hold to different views about man and the world.

Inclusivism is a view that is in contrast to exclusivism. If inclusivism means to include religions, then exclusivism is a doctrine that excludes religions or faiths. Christians who hold to exclusivism believe that one must assent to the teachings of Christ and believe that He is God and the way to eternal life if they hope to be saved.

Christians who hold to this view also disagree with all other religions and argue that a Buddhist and a Mormon, for instance, cannot be saved as adherents of their faiths; rather, the Mormon and Buddhist must turn to Christianity and Jesus in order to find salvation.

As usual, Christians want to know: Is there biblical evidence for inclusivism?

  1. That is, can people be saved by way of religions other than Christianity?
  2. Can an individual be saved through his or her belief in Buddha, Brigham Young, or some other god (Confucius, etc.)?

The Bible states unequivocally that one can only experience God’s salvation through faith in Christ, as can be demonstrated by the following passages:

  1. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12, NASB).
  2. “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
  3. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).
  4. “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (Jn. 3:18).
  5. “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (Jn. 5:24).
  6. “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me” (Jn. 5:46).
  7. “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal” (Jn. 6:27).
  8. “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent” (Jn. 6: 29).
  9. “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (Jn. 6:40).
  10. “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture” (Jn. 10:9).
  11. “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor Him” (Jn. 12:26).
  12. “You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am” (Jn. 13:13).
  13. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (Jn. 14:6).
  14. “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (Jn. 17:3).
  15. In all these verses, it is Jesus who is to be believed in, whose name humans are to believe in so that they can experience God’s salvation. John 3:18 says that judgment awaits the one who does not believe on the name of Jesus, God’s “one and only begotten Son.” In other words, there is only one whose name we must believe in to be saved — that is, the name of Jesus. This is the same message Peter proclaims while preaching publicly:
  16. “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

First, notice that salvation comes through “no one else,” that “there is no other name under heaven” that can save humanity.

Peter’s words seem to exclude the possibility that God’s salvation can come through the names of Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed, or some other human that mankind has elevated throughout world history. Peter’s statement does not so much as entertain the idea that mankind can be saved through the names of others who are not Jesus Christ.

Although inclusivism seems to be an intellectually acceptable position, it does not have biblical support. If one can only be saved by confessing the name of Jesus and following His teachings (Christianity, cf. Luke 14:26-27), then one cannot be labeled a follower of Jesus while practicing Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Mormonism, Hinduism, or the Muslim faiths.

If inclusivism lacks biblical support, the next question is as follows: Can Someone Turn Receptive to Christ by Way of General Revelation? Inclusivists also hold to general revelation as a source of conversion, but as will be shown in the article, General Revelation is Inadequate for Salvation.

July 30, 2017

A Call to Help and to Encourage

by Russell Young

The walk of faith is not as easy as some might think. It is for this reason that believers have been called upon to help and to encourage one another. The Word records that all Christ-followers will be persecuted, and that they must go through many trials. It is during these times that help and encouragement is needed to pursue a walk of faith. The church of Christ is a community of believers through whom the Lord works to accomplish his purposes personally, locally, and globally. The idea of community should not get lost since strength exists in community.

The nation of Israel faced a great trial at Rephidim. Lacking water, they quarreled and complained to Moses, “Is the Lord among us or not.” (Ex 17:7 NIV) When trials strike it is easy to feel abandoned and alone. It is easy to question whether God is with us. The promises that are so readily uttered seem hollow. The Israelites questioned the intent of God—did he lead them into the desert to let them die? Anyone going through a severe trial can easily question the presence of God. It is during times of testing that believers need someone to come along side and encourage them in their faith.  Before entering the Promised Land, Moses told his people, “Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” (Deut 8: 2 NIV) Trials have a purpose. Those who are enduring them are having their faith tested; God wants to know what is in their hearts. They need to be encouraged in their faith. The Lord stated, “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Mt 10:22 NIV) Standing firm to the end is a condition of eternal salvation. In a person’s weakness, he or she needs the help and encouragement of those who care for them and Christ has commanded his disciples to love one another. (Jn 15:17) His second great commandment is that believers are to love their neighbour as themselves. (M2 22:39) Paul has revealed that the law of Christ is to “carry each other’s burdens.” (Gal 6:2 NIV) A law is not a suggestion, but a command.

The need to help one another was made clear by the Israelites at Rephidim. Not only did they lack water but once provided it they were attacked by the Amalekites. Trial came upon trial. Moses sent Joshua to attack them and went with Aaron and Hur to the top of the hill and held up his hands to God. While they humbled themselves before the LORD and sought his help, they found themselves winning.  When Moses lowered his hands, the battle favored the Amalekites. Sometimes we do not have the strength, physical, emotional, or spiritual, to do what must be done.  Moses’ arms became tired and he had to lower them. As much as he desired, victory would have deserted him if he had been left to his own resources. Fortunately, Aaron and Hur came alongside and lifted his hands for him and victory was given.

There are Christian brothers and sisters about us who will fail if not supported.  They cannot help it. Fatigue, discouragement, and circumstances take over. Some will not even humble themselves before their God as he required of the Israelites; they presume that victory is their right. They will not metaphorically lift their arms to God. These also need encouragement and teaching. Aaron and Hur did not accompany Moses by accident. God had placed them in a strategic position. They were to help Moses in his weakness.

Trials and persecutions in the believer’s life are not accidental. They are to test faith and every confessor will have his or her faith tested to discern its measure. Based on such testing the Lord will become knowledgeable or “know” (become certain) of those who are his. This will happen! Some are walking astray and need encouragement to walk in the light. Others might be struggling through discipline and punishment so that they might share in his holiness (Heb 12:10), while others might be suffering through health problems or as a life relationship causes them to share the tribulations of a loved one.

The Lord equates ministry to the needs of others as having been done for him. “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” (Mt 25:40 NIV)

The family of believers is to share in the burdens of their brothers and sisters in the Lord and are to encourage and help them in their trial. They should not to be left to feel abandoned and alone. Both pain and joy ought to be shared experiences, community experiences. A person’s position in the life of another is not an accident; through the church community the hands, feet and mouth of Christ should always be available and exercised.


Starting next week, we introduce Sunday Worship, a weekly feature publishing at the end of your worship day and focusing on time spent in God’s presence. Each article in the series will have the same title. Writer suggestions and contributions are also appreciated.

Russell Young‘s writing moves to alternate Tuesdays, starting August 8th and 22nd, and thereafter on the first and third Tuesday of each month.


Russell Young is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.

June 5, 2017

Election and Eternal Salvation (Part 2)

by Russell Young

Romans 8 brings clarity to the issue of election. In verses 29─30 Paul wrote: “For those God foreknew 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.

Earlier teaching in Romans 8 addresses the means of meeting God’s righteous requirements through living according to the Spirit (v 4), of being led by the Spirit to be a son (v 14), of suffering for victory over temptations (v 17), and of attaining the redemption of the body for adoption (v 23). Following these presentations, Paul addresses the intervention of the Father and the Spirit (v 26─27) which helps in bringing understanding to God’s “foreknowledge.” Clearly, God’s knowledge of a person is required before their particular need (weakness) can be addressed for the fulfilment of his plan with the destiny of glory.

The psalmist sheds some light on our understanding of knowledge. The psalmist wrote: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Ps 34:18 NIV) And, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken spirit and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Ps 51:17 NIV) It could be that knowledge of the heart is the “foreknowledge” upon which his selection is made…a heart that lacks pride but is humble and receptive to his sovereignty-a teachable or trainable heart. Both the psalmist and Jeremiah reveal that God searches the hearts of all people. “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.” (Jer 17:10 NIV) Psalm 139 elaborates on God’s knowledge of an individual. He uses that knowledge, foreknowledge, before he intervenes in a person’s life.

The Father searches hearts and it is he who gives the Spirit. (Jn 15:26; Gal 4:6; Lk 11:13) According to his mercy and grace the Father chooses or elects those whom he will bless with the Spirit so that his plan might be accomplished. Following this, he works with the Spirit in the lives of those whom he has elected. “In the same way (waiting patiently for the redemption of our bodies), the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts (the Father) knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” (Rom 8:26─27)

It is in this process that further knowledge is gained. Although those to whom he has given the Spirit were chosen for it, not all will respond obediently. Jesus said, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say?” (Lk 6:46) Some will deny the Spirit, and others will quench or thwart the Spirit but those who are obedient, those who love him, who have been called according to hs purpose God knows and they are predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son because he is faithful and is committed to working with them. Without obedience a person cannot fulfil the plan of God and it is through its practice that the Lord said a person would remain in his love (Jn 15:10) and would find eternal salvation. (Heb 5:9) Those who live obediently to the Spirit will be known by God and will have been predestined through his plan to be justified and glorified. These will be the elect or selected.

All, except those whose hearts have been “hardened” for the achievement of a specific purpose have the same opportunity to obtain eternal salvation. The heavens declare his glory so “men are without excuse.” (Rom 1:20) “Whoever is thirsty, let him come.” (Rev 22:17) “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.” (Titus 2:11) “God wants all men to be saved.” (1 Tim 2:4) All have opportunity to gain knowledge of him and of him and his majesty but not all will humble themselves and their pride will be their undoing.

 

June 4, 2017

Election and Eternal Salvation (Part 1)

by Russell Young

Election refers to the selection by God of a people for a specific purpose. Quite often it is accepted as the designation of a person to enjoy God’s eternal kingdom. Election has taken place from the earliest of times with Noah and Abraham. Some accept that all people who will dwell eternally with God had been elected his people from before the creation of the world and this often accepted as an act of God’s “sovereign grace.”

Whenever it takes place election or selection of an individual is God’s act of determination. In speaking of Jacob and Esau Paul wrote: “Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad– in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls-she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’” (Rom 9:11-12 NIV)

God’s practice of “election” has a purpose, as in “God’s purpose in election.” This might be easier to understand stated as, “God’s purpose through election.” That is, God elects for a reason or to accomplish his ends. He has a plan and it can only be accomplished through his handiwork and through the expression of his sovereignty. Lacking either a plan or his sovereign authority, only anarchy and chaos would result. Election must be recognized as a means by which God fulfills his plan.

To the Ephesians Paul wrote: “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.” (Eph 1:11 NIV) According to Paul, God has a plan and is working it out. Those who will have been elected will have satisfied his plan since his plan was destined to accomplish his goal.

Election has two distinct applications so that “his will” might be accomplished. These might be seen from macro and micro perspectives. His hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is an example of election’s macro application. Concerning Pharaoh, the LORD said, “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’” (Rom 9:17 NIV) God’s purpose was to make a declaration for the benefit of his name and to all the earth. The selection or election of Israel as his special people is another example of a macro application.

Through Jacob’s election the Lord made clear his right of sovereignty over individual lives and human traditions. The traditional approach would have been to have God’s blessing rest on Rebekah’s elder son however, the LORD clarified that God’s purpose in the election of Jacob was so that his choosing would not, and could not, be based of the “work” of humankind but by determination of the one who calls…the LORD himself. The principle being revealed is that God is in charge! Later in Romans Paul recorded: “Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden,” (Rom 9:18) but this mercy and hardening of hearts is according to his purpose in or through election.

Ephesians 1:4-6 is often used as support for the thought that God elected his children before the beginning of time. Paul wrote: “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 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.” (NIV) However these passages present several ideas and are really a presentation of God’s plan as is revealed in verse 11. “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…” God’s plan was that those “in him” would be holy and blameless in his sight” and would “be adopted as sons.” His plan was devised before the creation of the world, specific individuals were not elected at that time. The revelation of the specifics of his plan comprises much of the New Testament. In this instance Paul was specifically addressing the “faithful,” those who were adhering to his plan.

…continued tomorrow…

May 21, 2017

The Children of Promise

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by Russell Young

Paul wrote that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman following which he went on to teach about the hope that comes through the free woman, Sarah. Accordingly, he said that the women represent two covenants; the Old Covenant is the covenant of the Law (Hagar) and the New Covenant is a covenant of the Spirit (Sarah). This understanding is important when it comes to understanding his teaching concerning the “children of promise.” They are descendants of Abraham through Sarah and enjoy the New Covenant.

The promise of salvation comes through God’s promise given to Sarah concerning her son, Isaac. It is through Isaac that the Lord, Jesus Christ is descended. The promise and the hope for humankind is established in the New Covenant which comes through Christ from the line of Isaac. The children of promise are those who are honoring the New Covenant which is a covenant of the Spirit and which was availed through the blood of Christ. In addressing the church in Galatia, Paul wrote: “Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.” (Gal 4:31 NIV) He referred to the “children of the free woman” as “brothers.”

Paul has addressed much of his writing to those he calls “brothers.” Certainly, not all of those who attended the churches would fit his classification. Not all would have been fully committed to the New Covenant and to its requirements because he would have been delivering his message to a broad assortment of people. The distinction between brothers and others is important because many accept that Paul’s promises apply to them even though they lack knowledge of the New Covenant or lack commitment to satisfying its conditions. It is easy to accept that all who profess belief have been grafted into the line of the Jews and have become children of promise, however, Paul also wrote to the Romans, “Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.” (Rom 11:21 NIV) The Lord also taught, “I am the true vine, and my father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that does not bear fruit.” (Jn 15:1 NIV) Concerning the Jewish family that bears the children of promise, Paul presented: “[A] man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.” (Rom 2:29 NIV) The children of promise from the Gentiles are those who will have been grafted into Israel.

When addressing his “brothers” in Galatia, Paul was speaking to those who were circumcised of the heart, the few (Mt 7:14) who are satisfying the requirements of the New Covenant. It is through this covenant that God’s righteous requirements will be met and through this covenant, the covenant of the Spirit (2 Cor 3:6), that the children of promise will be identified. “And he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:4 NIV) Circumcision of the heart refers to those who have embraced the Holy Spirit to put to death the misdeeds of the body (Rom 8:13) so that righteousness might prevail. Circumcision of the heart requires “effort” (Lk 13:24) and commitment (Phil 2:12) so that sin is being removed from the believer’s practices. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has not permanent place in the family, but a son–the one led by the Spirit (Rom 8:14)belongs to it forever.” (Jn 8:34─35 NIV)

The children of promise are those who are born of the power of the Spirit (Gal 4:28─2) and remain engrafted in Christ. Their state remains provided they honor the provision of the New Covenant and the Holy Spirit who empowers it. They may be “cut off” or removed from Israel if the natural spirit emerges once again so that sin takes possession, and the ministry of Christ– the fulfiller of all promises and the Seed of Abraham– is denied and fruit no longer produced.

Believers are those who are obedient and humble followers of Christ (Heb 5:9; Mt 7:21; Rom 6:16; Rev 22:14 KJV). They will be the circumcised of heart and “the children of promise.” Care must be taken to properly assign the promises of God only to the children of promise. They are not Hagar’s children, those who will be sent away; but to the legitimate family of Isaac and of Christ-to those who are led by him as Holy Spirit (2 Cor 3:17; Rom 8:14) so that the requirements of God through the New Covenant will be accomplished. All believers need to have certain understanding of the New Covenant. They do not have to obey the law but do have to obey Christ.

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