Christianity 201

July 21, 2014

Our Free Will with Respect to Sin

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:59 pm
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The questions of free will, election, predestination, etc., are very confusing to some and very divisive to others. Not every article posted at Christianity 201 agrees with my position, and sometimes in the same month, there are articles posted by writers who would disagree with each other.

In many respects, this does not concern me at all. I believe that as we immerse ourselves in the scripture, we end up better able to formulate our own views on such matters, and better equipped to clearly articulate those views to others. Even if you’ve already reached your own conclusions, it is good to stay exposed to the writings of others.

I have a great deal of respect for R. T. Kendall. In writing what follows, which was posted back in April, he noted that some people simply assumed that he was in one particular camp on this issue, and wanted to state for the record what he believed.  To read the article at source, click the title below.  To look up the scriptures in today’s article, copy and paste the references below at the top of the page at Bible Hub.

The Sovereignty of God

Does man have a free will? Answer: yes and no. Martin Luther (1483-1546) said “No” in his book The Bondage of the Will. Jonathan Edwards (1703-58) said “Yes” in his book Freedom of the Will. But Edwards’s thesis is that, whereas man is free to do what he wants to do, what is it he invariably wants to do? Answer: by nature he always has a proneness to evil. We love darkness rather than light because our deeds are evil (John 3:18). So Luther and Edwards came to the same conclusion: man is not free after all.

We must bring St Augustine (354-430) into the mix. His famous “four stages” of man are very relevant:

Stage One: man was born posse pecarre  – able to sin.

Stage Two: after the fall man is non posse non pecarre – not able not to sin.

Stage Three: after conversion man is posse non pecarre – able not to sin.

Stage Four: after glorification – non posse pecarre – not able to sin.

It is Augustine’s second stage that we should be mainly concerned with: the state of humankind after the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It is granted that Adam and Eve had free will when they were first created but that was before their Fall. Everything changed after the Fall. So what of their seed – as in Able, Cain, Seth – and all of us? The answer: we are all born unable not to sin.

So is man free? Before the Fall, yes. After the Fall, no.

Does this teaching upset you?

Paul says were born “dead” in trespasses and sins (Eph.2:1). A dead man can do nothing unless infused with life from the Sovereign Redeemer. Try speaking to a dead man! He cannot answer because he cannot hear.

Paul also says we were born “blind” (2 Cor.4:4). A blind man cannot see unless given sight by the Sovereign Redeemer. Try trying to get a blind man to see! He cannot see because he is blind.

The issue regarding the free will of man is: are people born as Adam was before the Fall? No. We are all born in sin. I was shaped in iniquity, in sin did my mother conceive me (Psa.51:5). We were born speaking lies from our mother’s womb (Psa.58:3). This is why you don’t need to teach a child to do wrong. You do have to teach him or her to do what is right.

The only way we come to faith is for God Himself to impart faith.

Question: does one believe before he is regenerated? If regeneration means being “born again”, it means one must be given life before he or she can believe. It is not believing that precipitates the new birth; it is the new birth that enables one to believe and repent.

After Adam and Eve sinned they were ejected from the Garden of Eden. The cherubim were placed their to keep them out (Gen.3:24). We have been kept out ever since. Only God can bring one to faith.

But does God bring everybody to faith? Apparently not. Not all people believe, not all have faith. Who has it and who doesn’t have it? Those who have faith are given it by the gracious hand of a Sovereign God. A man can receive nothing unless it is given him from Heaven (John 3:27). “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth” (Jas.1:18 – ESV).

Does this surprise you? Does this offend you? And yet it is clearly what Jesus taught. No one can come to Him unless the Father draws him (John 6:44). The Son lives life to whom He will (John 5:21). No one knows the Son except those to whom the Son “chooses” to reveal Him (Matt.11:27). According to Luke, those who were “ordained” (KJV) or “appointed” (NIV) to eternal life believed (Acts 13:48).  Some think that Luke meant that those who believe were ordained to eternal life. Had Luke said that it would have been true. But that is not what he said. He said that those who were appointed to eternal life believed.

I pointed Acts 13:48 out to a Greek professor at my Seminary many years ago. He insisted that all who believe are appointed to eternal life. But I pointed out that Luke said only those who were “appointed” believed. He replied: “I know, but I don’t agree with Luke”.

The question is: will you believe the plain reading of Holy Scripture? Or do we read in what we want to believe into Holy Scripture?

You will ask: If God makes the choice, why does He not choose everybody? You tell me. The nearest you get to the answer to that question is Jesus’ own response to this: it was the Father’s will – it seemed “good” in His sight (Matt.11:26-27).

Don’t try to figure this out! Do you understand the Trinity? No. But do you not believe that God is in three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit? I hope you do.

Dr. J. I. Packer (one of my mentors at Oxford University) called all this an “antinomy” in his classic little book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. An antinomy is parallel principles that seem irreconcilable but both being true. For example, is Jesus 50% God and 50% man or 100% God and 100% man? The answer is: Jesus is 100% God and 100% man. So too with the sovereignty of God and man’s moral responsibility: God is 100% the Author of salvation, and yet man is 100% responsible for his or her condition.

Whosoever will may come. Whoever is thirsty comes. But who makes a person thirsty? God. Who disdains the way of salvation? Those who refuse to believe.

As for the popular idea that man is a “free moral agent”, I would point out: (1) man is not free; he is in dominion to sin. (2) He is not moral; the heart is deceitful above all things and incurably wicked (Jer.l7:9). And (3) man is not the agent; the Holy Spirit is the agent (John 6:63).

If we get to Heaven, it will be by the sheer grace of God. If we refuse the Gospel we are to blame – not God. It is an antinomy.

I have written this blog partly because it has come to me of late that many of those who read my tweets and blogs have not been aware of my views of the sovereignty of God. Perhaps this should not have surprised me, but it did.

Now you know. After delivering His “hard sayings”, Jesus asked, “Do you take offense at this?” (John 6:61). Many of His followers did.  “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (John 6:66).
 

RT Kendall

April 17, 2014

Credit Where Credit Is Due

17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

Today at Thinking Out Loud, I looked at a particular phrase which I always find spiritually jarring, namely when Bible-believing Christ-followers speak of “Mother Nature” sending bad weather or hoping that “Mother Nature” is going to be kind toward them:

…It seems contradictory that we would be monotheistic and yet invoke the possibility of a weather god, or weather goddess, even if in jest…

I do think that much if not all of the weather phenomena we experience is the natural consequence of living in a fallen world. When we speak questions like, “How could a loving God allow so much evil to exist?” we are usually talking about genuine evil, and not snow or drought; but it all comes under the same category. This world is broken, and we are continually adding to that brokenness through our disregard for the environment.

Is God powerless in all this? Not for a moment. I believe that God is positively disposed and favorably inclined to intervene each time someone prays, but that sometimes he holds back his hand and allows things to proceed naturally. A miracle is a miracle because it doesn’t happen every day. I don’t know if Pat Robertson really “prayed a hurricane back” from the Virginia coast in the ’70s, but I do believe that God is intervening in our planet more times than we realize. I don’t subscribe to the “clockmaker” theory that God simply “wound up” the planet and left it “ticking.”

I think this gives a balanced look at the subject, but this is in many ways a delicate issue. If we agree to forgo references to Mother Nature, we might want to also delete “God sends the rain;” but this is just a breath away from deleting the prayer petition ” We’re asking God to send rain.” We can believe that God is not necessarily individually orchestrating each occurrence of what my local TV weatherperson calls, “…scattered showers over most of the area this morning with a chance of clearing late in the day;” but we can’t dismiss the possibility of earnestly praying for God to send rain to a drought-stricken area, or in His Mercy to grant an area relief from the tornadoes they’ve been plagued with over the last several summer seasons.

So we live in the tension between saying that the weather and the forces of nature are part of the consequences of the fall (as quoted above from Genesis 3) and saying that God controls each and every aspect of our daily weather forecast.

But ultimately, God is in control of everything. So where I want to land today is with a series of scriptures that affirm God’s ultimate control over life as we experience it on this planet.  This is a 2007 article at the website Hatchcreek.com

God is to be praised and worshipped.  Not other gods.  We in our nation are getting very careless in this area.  When we hear the phrase, “Mother Nature”,  used over and over it becomes common.  We use it without thinking of the true meaning behind it.  Most of us wouldn’t intentionally praise another god.

Did you know that God is in control of the weather not Mother Nature?

The Bible has a lot to say about God and how He controls the weather.

(Psalms 78:26 NASB) He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens And by His power He directed the south wind.

(Psalms 107:25 NASB) For He spoke and raised up a stormy wind, Which lifted up the waves of the sea.

(Psalms 135:7 NASB) He causes the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth; Who makes lightnings for the rain, Who brings forth the wind from His treasuries.

(Psalms 148:8 NASB) Fire and hail, snow and clouds; Stormy wind, fulfilling His word;

(Proverbs 30:4 NASB) Who has ascended into heaven and descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has wrapped the waters in His garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name or His son’s name? Surely you know!

(Mark 4:39 NASB) And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm.

When faced with an environmental calamity, our first response should be to turn to the One who rebuked the wind and the sea and ask for help and mercy.

The weather is never out of His control.

March 30, 2013

Stuck In Saturday

 

This is based on a section of the book Plan B by Pete Wilson and appeared on his blog a couple of years ago and also at Relevant Magazine.  You can click here to read it at source.

The other day I stood in line at my local coffee house. I was in a curious mood and just watched the four or five people in front of me as we stood in this unusually slow line.  Their body language and facial expressions said it all. There were hands on the hips expressing disgust at the current inconvenience, some were rolling their eyes as they glanced up momentarily from texting on their cell phone here was the predictable looking at the watch and then looking at the line and then looking back at the watch.

Most of us do not like waiting for anything.  We live in a day of fast everything and waiting for anything seems like a major inconvenience.  I must confess I don’t like waiting either.  I don’t like standing in line for my favorite cup of coffee, flipping though magazines in the waiting room of the doctor’s office and I sure don’t like waiting in traffic.  And if I can just be honest with you, I don’t like waiting on God either.

Lewis Smedes described waiting like this: “Waiting is our destiny. As creatures who cannot by themselves bring about what they hope for, we wait in the darkness for a flame we cannot light.  We wait in fear for a happy ending that we cannot write. We wait for a ‘not yet’ that feels like a ‘not ever.’”

This is what we often see in the anatomy of hope. There is an event that takes place that sucks the life out of you.  Something goes horribly wrong:

A dream dies.
A relationship ends.
A job dissipates.
A desire is crushed.

You’re left there standing, waiting, paralyzed by hopelessness.    You start to wonder…

Did God forget his promises?
Does God know?
Does God care?

Luke 23:44-49

44 It was about noon, and the whole land became dark until three o’clock in the afternoon, 45 because the sun did not shine. The curtain in the Temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, I give you my life.” After Jesus said this, he died.

47 When the army officer there saw what happened, he praised God, saying, “Surely this was a good man!”

48 When all the people who had gathered there to watch saw what happened, they returned home, beating their chests because they were so sad. 49 But those who were close friends of Jesus, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance and watched.

Notice how Jesus’ closest followers react.  The gospel account says they “stood at a distance and watched.”

Have you ever been so hopeless you couldn’t do a thing?  You couldn’t get mad or fight or even cry?  Have you ever felt so hopeless you didn’t have the energy or passion to even get ticked off?

I believe this is the emotional state of Jesus’ followers.  Nothing seems to be happening.  They feel hopeless, as if they’re completely alone.

Now, we know the end of this story.  We know that God was in fact doing his best work yet.  But there would be a waiting period.

It was Friday, remember, when Jesus was crucified.  But the paralyzing hopelessness the disciples experienced continued to intensify as they moved into Saturday.

I think it’s interesting that we don’t talk a lot about Saturday in the church.  We spend a lot of time talking about Good Friday, which of course we should.  This is the day redemption happened through the shedding of Christ’s blood.  It’s a very important day.

Nobody would argue that Easter Sunday is a day of celebration.  We celebrate that Jesus conquered death so that we can have life.  It doesn’t get any better than Easter Sunday.

But we don’t hear a lot about Saturday do we?   Saturday seems like a day when nothing is happening.  In reality, it’s a day of a whole lot questioning, doubting, wondering, and definitely waiting— a day of helplessness and hopelessness.  It’s a day when we begin to wonder if God is asleep at the wheel or simply powerless to do anything our about our current problems.

While we don’t spend a lot of time talking about Saturday, I think so much of our life here on this earth is lived out feeling somewhat trapped in “Saturday.”  I’m trying to get to a place in my life where I can embrace “Saturday.”  I’m trying to get to a place where I can view it as a type of preparation for what I believe God might be doing in my life.

You may currently be in the midst of a horrible, out-of-control situation.  You feel as if God is not there, that there’s nothing that can be done.

But here is the message of the gospel for you while you’re stuck in your helpless, hopeless Saturday life: God does his best work in hopeless situations.

We worship a God who specializes in resurrections.  He specializes in hopeless situations.  After all, at Easter, we celebrate the fact that he conquered death— the ultimate hopeless situation— so you could have life.

His followers were dejected and dismal and hopeless— and then Jesus rose from the dead.  God did the impossible and in a matter of hours the disciples journeyed from hopeless to hope-filled; from powerless to powerful.  They saw him risen and everything changed.  The story of our salvation was born out of extraordinary uncertainty.  But that’s the way hope works.

And no, that doesn’t take away your cancer.
That doesn’t erase the bankruptcy you’re in the midst of.
That doesn’t heal your broken relationship.
That doesn’t replace your shattered dream.

But it can remind you that while life is uncertain, God is not. While our power is limited, God is limitless.  While our hope is fragile, God himself is hope.

Your world may feel chaotic, especially when you’re stuck in a Saturday struggling hopelessly and waiting desperately.

But no doubt about it, God is still in control. And one way or another, Sunday will dawn.

August 23, 2012

If There Isn’t Mystery, It Isn’t Really Faith

Some people want everything in Christian theology to be cut and dried; as neat as a pin. You have to wrap up all your loose ends in the final scene before the credits roll, or they get quite perplexed.

But the realm of faith is never quite so tidy. Some things have to be, as we say here, “consigned to the realm of mystery.” C. Michael Patton listed five key areas at Parchment and Pen recently. As usual you’re encouraged to read things at source — they have a graphic that suits this well — so click through to The Five Great Mysteries of the Christian Faith.

As I do the math, there are five great mysteries in theology:

1. Creation out of nothing (ex nihilo): How did God create being out of non-being? Being transcendent in relation to the universe (above all time, space, and matter), the reason for God’s being is necessary (hence why we often call him the “necessary being”), so his existence does not require a cause-and-effect answer. Yet where did he get the “stuff” to create all that there is? It could not have come from himself, as that would place him in our universe of time, space, and matter. Then we would just be looking for the really real God. The same is true if the “stuff” was outside himself. All that there is must have come from nothing as a rational and philosophical necessity. All other options are formally absurd. While creation out of nothing is not formally absurd, it is a great mystery or paradox.

2. Trinity: We believe in one God who eternally exists in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This would only be a formal contradiction if we said we believed that God was three Gods and one God or if we said we believed he was three persons and one person. But to say that the Trinity is one God in three persons is not a formal contradiction, but a mystery.

3. Hypostatic Union: We believe that the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, is fully God and fully man (at least since the time that he became man). We don’t believe that he is fifty percent God and fifty percent man, or even ninety/ten. Christ is everything that God is and has eternally, even in the incarnation, shared in the full divinity of the one God, yet he is everything that man is forevermore. Whereas the Trinity is one nature with three persons, Christ is one person with two natures. This is indeed a mystery, but has no earmarks of a formal contradiction.

4. Scripture: We believe the Bible is fully inspired of God, yet fully written by man. God did not put the writers of Scripture in a trance and direct their hand in the writing of Scripture (often referred to as “mechanical dictation”), but he fully utilized their personality, circumstances, writing style, and mood in producing the Scriptures. Another way to put it is that the Scriptures are the product of the will of God and the will of man. Mystery? Yes. Contradiction? No.

5. Human Responsibility and Divine Sovereignty: God is sovereign over the entire world, bringing about his will in everything. He does as he pleases in heaven and on earth. There is not a maverick molecule in all the universe. He even sovereignly predestined people to salvation before they were born, while passing over all others. Yet man is fully responsible for all his actions. There will be a judgment of the unrighteous one day in which God will hold people responsible for their rejection of Christ. How could there be a judgment if people were doing only what they were predestined to do? I don’t know. But I do know that they are truly responsible for their actions and rejection of God.  This is a mystery beyond any human ability to solve, yet not a contradiction.

Are there more than these? Most certainly. But in theology, these are the biggies. These are the big pieces of our puzzle that are missing. Why are they missing? I don’t know. I just know they are. God chose not to tell us. I will ask him when I get there. But I will try to trust him until then. After all, don’t I have to borrow from his morality in order to judge him for leaving the puzzle unsolved? I think I will pass on that.

Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with trying to solve these, and I think everyone needs to get into the ring and wrestle with these issues. But church history has seen that whenever these are “solved,” heresy or serious aberration is always the result. Unfortunately, many continue to opt not to let these mysteries remain. Often with good intentions, Christians have found “solutions.” But these “solutions” normally have to distort God’s revelation to do so. Preferring a settled logical system, many find pieces of another puzzle and force it to fit. The result is an obscured and inaccurate, sometimes even damnable, view of God.

Where God has left the puzzle pieces out, so should we. He knows what he is doing. Let’s just thank him for the pieces we do have and worship, for now, in the white mysterious area. Hand firmly over mouth is a good theological posture sometimes.

Let’s see if I can get you a verse here . . . Got it!

Deut. 29:29
“The secret things [missing puzzle pieces] belong to the Lord, but the things revealed [present puzzle pieces] belong to us and our children forever.”

Oh, and one more (my default NT go-to verse in these matters):

1 Cor. 13:12
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

Keep the original design. It’s good stuff.

~ C. Michael Patton

Scripture portions quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green because the Scriptures have LIFE!

 

December 2, 2010

How Prayer Works

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:39 pm
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Trying to dissect how prayer works is like using a magnifying glass to try to figure out why a woman is beautiful. If you turn God into an object, he has a way of disappearing…

The only way to know how prayer works is to have complete knowledge and control of the past, present, and future. In other words, you can figure out how prayer works if you are God. (Miller, A Praying Life p128)

 

HT

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