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>Christmas thought

2008 December 24 Leave a comment

>As we have a high old time this Christmas, may we who know Christ hear the cry of the damned as they hurtle headlong into the Christless night without ever a chance.

Nate Saint

Categories: quotes, salvation

>God's sovereignty and glory

2008 August 29 11 comments

>Calvinists have claimed that God chooses specific men for salvation because he is sovereign. Those are saved to maximise God’s glory in his mercy, and others are damned to maximise God’s glory in his wrath.

These ideas, I think, are incorrect. The issue of sovereignty is a logical question. And damnation, while giving God glory, does so less than salvation.

I don’t think it possible for God to force anyone into heaven. Or rather force anyone to love him; heaven is the destination. So I think the Calvinists are incorrect about sovereignty over who is saved because it is not an question of sovereignty.

God can create, God can woo (prevenient grace), God can save, God can give eternal life, God can create freedom of the will.

None of which man can do.

However I think that if God creates us as beings that have the ability to choose or reject God then I think it logically impossible to force love from such a being.

To have such a high view of sovereignty that claims that God can make us love him, seems, to me, as preposterous as a high view of God’s omnipotence means he can make 2 + 2 = 5.

So I don’t think that non-Calvinists have a low view of God’s sovereignty, I think they have a more accurate one.

Further I think God does desire every single person go to heaven. I don’t think any have been created specifically for destruction. Neither are we created for redemption; rather for fellowship. Because of Adam’s choice we become estranged. God’s grace gives us a possible path back. Those who continually reject God’s drawing are handed over to destruction. They become unredeemable* objects of wrath whom God prepares for destruction based on our rejection of him.

It is theoretically possible that every person could choose God.

God does seek his own glory, but the Calvinists are incorrect about this being the reason for creating beings for damnation. Why? Because if we choose obedience and become objects of mercy, God gains even more glory.

God is glorified when he destroys the wicked.

God is glorified more when he shows mercy to the repentant wicked.

What of Romans 9?

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called,…

It is not that God creates beings solely so they can be destroyed and they have no choice to escape that destination. Rather they have insisted on wickedness, they have rejected God’s offer of mercy, therefore they are prepared for destruction. Given they are not redeemable, God uses them to maximise his glory in the view of the vessels of God’s mercy. God uses a bad situation for good.

If Calvinism was correct about God’s sovereignty then he would maximise his glory by saving everyone. That would bring him more glory than damning some.

*We are children of wrath because we are fallen (Ephesians 2:3). If we reject God to the point we are not redeemable then we are vessels of wrath prepared for destruction (Romans 9:22).

>Sovereignty and free will

2007 December 18 Leave a comment

>There is an interesting passage in Jeremiah which inputs into the Calvinism debate:

The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.

Then the word of the LORD came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the LORD, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’ (Jeremiah 18)

There is a lot here that points to God’s activity in the world: God gives a command to Jeremiah (which presumes obedience is possible); if Jeremiah is obedient then God will allow him to hear his words; God can build up nations and destroy them.

The potter motif is interesting. God gives Jeremiah an analogy to act out. It is important to understand this analogy, what God is saying thru it and what God is not saying thru it—while there may be more than one meaning in many passages of Scripture, we must not over read it: for example in this story God is like the potter, the potter is mortal, this does not imply that God is mortal.

We have a potter forming an object, this becomes marred, the object is reworked into something different, the potter chooses what he makes.

God says that if the potter is able to work the clay as he sees fit, how much more so is God able to do as he wills: “…can I not do with you as this potter has done?” But further than this, not only does God have a right to do this, he is also able to do this: “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”

In what way is the house of Israel, or a nation, like clay. The answer is in God’s subsequent pronouncement. They are similar in that God is able to destroy a nation or prosper it, just as the potter is able to make an object of his choosing. They are similar in that God is able to change his plans for the nation, to destroy a nation he was planning to prosper, or vice versa, just as the potter can change what vessel he is making.

One must be careful in making claims about the nature of the clay from this analogy. One must look to what is given in explanation. The clay is spoiled in the potter’s hands. Is that because of flaws in the clay or flaws in the potter? Is it relevant? The point is just that the potter has sovereignty over the clay, before and after its spoiling. Theoretically the potter could have destroyed the whole project and started again according to his original plan, but God wanted to use the change in the object being fashioned to reveal himself.

The spoiling of the clay is the change in behaviours of a nation. Though “spoiled” carries a negative connotation, this is not the case in the explanation. This discrepancy suggests that the spoiling may not carry over any analogous qualities. Nations can behave in positive or negative ways. They can repent, a good response, or they can commit evil, a bad response.

And while clay has no will, clearly the nation does. God appeals to the nation to listen to his warning: “If… I declare…, and if that nation… turns from its evil, I will relent….”

While God has declared his sovereignty, that he has the right to do and is able to do exactly as he wills, he also states that his actions are contingent on the actions of the nations. He will change his behaviour based on our actions. It is not that we can force God’s hand, make him do what we want, rather that there are opportunities in which we can choose our path. God may limit the number of paths available to us, but there are outcomes we can determine, or rather outcomes (the specifics of which are determined by God) can be accepted or rejected by us. God does not force us or manipulate our thoughts to make a decision for him or against him.

In this passage God is talking about nations. Does the same apply to individuals? God’s commands to and requirements of nations are not always the same as that to individuals: the state is given a mandate to execute criminals, individuals, in general, are not. That this principle is relevant to individuals can be seen by comparing to Ezekiel.

But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die. (Ezekiel 18)

While this passage describes God’s abundant mercy, the call to repentance comes thru out the Old and New Testaments. We may not be able to save ourselves, but we are able to choose to avail ourselves of this salvation.

>Sinning or living in sin

2007 August 12 4 comments

>I was talking recently with family who were relating a story about a music leader living with his girlfriend. The music leader had denied it to the leadership but it had become apparent he was lying. The pastors were made aware of the real situation and discussions were being had about the appropriateness of him leading the church musically. At that time the pastor’s wife made the comment that she (herself) is not perfect, with the implication that all are sinners.

I tell this story to illustrate her misunderstanding as I doubt this type of story is unique. While her comment that none are perfect rings of humility and non-judgmentalism, I believe it is a betrays incorrect thinking. A correct understanding of salvation helps avoid this.

As I have previously written, the nature of salvation is not about a set of right beliefs or pronouncement of a creed. A discipleship is a follower. That is, we repent (turn around) and start following Jesus. This is why taking a snapshot of people can make it hard to see who is and who is not a Christian. It is not where we are on the road, it is what direction we are walking in. You can’t tell by glancing at the tree, you need to see the fruit, and fruit takes time to develop.

This side of perfection we all sin, so the pastor’s wife is correct in this regard. The issue is followers who stumble get up and keep walking (with the help of Christ). It is not the falling that defines us, it is the following. Where pastor’s wife goes wrong is she is aligning her faltering with the music leader’s turning away. Choosing to deliberately live in a way we know God opposes, with no attempt not live this way, is not the behaviour of one following Christ, it is the behaviour of one refusing to look at him. This is not necessarily apostasy, but it is placing oneself in a dangerous position.

He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck,/
will suddenly be broken beyond healing. (Proverbs 29:1)

I will add that positions of leadership in the church carry a great responsibility and there may be acts of sin that demand you step down, at least for a time, for the sake of the body. This sin may happen in the context of a person attempting to follow Jesus; this is not what I am addressing here.

Categories: judgment, salvation, sin

>Who gets saved?

2007 July 24 Leave a comment

>The question is not infrequently raised by those within and without the church about salvation thru Christ alone. It is asked, “What about those who have never heard? ” Can any outside the church can get into heaven?

There are actually several groups to consider with this question and my understanding comes thru trying to make sense of all of them. My thoughts are tentative and I am happy to adjust it if I am shown to be scripturally incorrect. Salvation is clearly thru Christ. Christianity states that men only get heaven thru Christ and I am not seeking in this post to defend this–the Bible states that we are fallen and deserve death. In terms of justice, we all deserve hell; that Christ would save any is due to his mercy. We cannot earn our salvation and it is Christ’s blood that allows our sin to be forgiven. My question is, who can the blood cover?

From a salvation perspective history is divided at the cross and resurrection. This divides mankind into 2 groups. However these can further be divided into those inside and outside covenantial communities. For those prior to Christ the covenential community were those who followed Yahweh. After Christ it is the true church. Can those outside those groups get into heaven?

Exclusivists claim that only those who are inside these communities are covered by Christ’s blood and thus get entry into heaven. Inclusives say that others can get in, sometimes including people from other religions. Universalists believe that everyone eventually will get into heaven. I would consider myself to be an extended exclusivist. Strict exclusives may object to that and suggest I am a limited inclusivist, though I prefer the former as I think entry to heaven is completely tied up in following Jesus.

Previous posts have shown my views on salvation. The saved are those who follow Christ. Repentance has to do with turning around, turning from behaviour that results in death to walking in the ways of God. If this is the case then can people who have never heard the gospel follow Jesus?

One cannot reasonably follow someone they have never heard of. They can however know something of Christ indirectly. Romans informs us there is enough in natural revelation to point to a creator. Because the Holy Spirit is always at work, even amongst the unsaved, he can in some sense draw men to God. The knowledge of God these people have is very limited compared to what we have with the more specific revelation of the Bible, as well as the Holy Spirit indwelling us, but it is still knowledge.

I think it possible for men to attempt to live for God in as much as they know. People living before and after the cross may try to be obedient to what they think God requires of them based on a desire to please God. They are still sinners and fail at times. Their obedience is imperfect because of imperfect knowledge. Sin that is committed is still sin even when we don’t know that it is, sincerity cannot override sin; but the punishment may be less based on incomplete awareness.

Because these people are sinners they deserve death as we all do. But I do wonder whether Jesus will allow his blood to cover those who truly wish to live for God as best they know how. It is as if they are looking for God all their lives and when they die and face Christ they recognise him as the one they were looking for.

In the final book of the Narnian Chronicles, The Last Battle, when night falls on Narnia, the creatures are all forced to look at Aslan:

But as they came right up to Aslan one or other of two things happened to each of them. They all looked straight in his face, I don’t think they had any choice about that. And when some looked, the expression of their faces changed terribly—it was fear and hatred:… And all the creatures who looked at Aslan in that way swerved to their right, his left, and disappeared into his huge black shadow,… But the others looked in the face of Aslan and loved him, though some of them were very frightened at the same time. And all these came in at the Door, in on Aslan’s right. There were some queer specimens among them.

While this is fiction, I think there is something to Lewis’ analogy. We can’t get our theology from fiction though, so is there anything in Scripture that suggests this?

Passages about Nineveh and the queen of the South may give some clues. Though one could argue these people came into a relationship with Yahweh it was possibly based on less extensive knowledge than that of the Hebrews.

Comments about god-fearing Gentiles suggest these persons were on the path to heaven with perhaps incomplete knowledge; note how Cornelius still needed to be told about Jesus. These either pre-date Christ or were perhaps proselytes so do not directly equate to the current situation. But for those who have never heard of Christ, how is their situation different from others pre-Christ outside God’s covenant?

Jesus tells a parable about sheep and goats. Many interpretors apply this to Christians but some apply it specifically to those who have no direct knowledge of Christ.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46)

The setting is the gathering of the nations. This is perhaps a pointer to not equating the sheep with Christians and the goats with non-Christians. A second pointer is that the individuals of the nations are judged by their works. But there is a third feature that points away from this being about Christians and non-Christians. In discussing this with my pastor he suggested that the parable is very likely to be about those who have never heard the gospel because the sheep are surprised by the king’s comments. The reaction of the sheep is not one that would seem likely of Christians who have already been told to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked. Whereas those who seek righteousness may do these things yet not know they are doing it for Jesus.

And what of the idea that Christ avails his blood to cover those who only meet him after death? Firstly scripture suggests that we need to make our decision be
fore death (and these people have), not that the power of atonement can only be applied before death. And secondly, this is the situation of those in covenential relationship with God pre-Christ such as Noah, Abraham and David. Christ did not die until after their death but it is still Christ’s death that avails them heaven—incidentally, this is consistent with them going to Sheol after death until, at least, Christ’s resurrection.

If my conclusion is true, and I am cautious about my conclusions, why evangelise? Why take the gospel to those who have never heard?

Because choosing God without the gospel is probably not common. Telling those who are seeking God about Jesus gives them joy in knowing Jesus now, security of their future, power to avoid sin, encouragement to tell others. And for the majority who are heading to hell it is the opportunity to turn. The gospel is the power of salvation, it convicts sinners who repent and choose life.

>A look at some salvation verses

2007 March 17 Leave a comment

>At Pentecost Peter quotes from Joel:

And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Act 2:21 ESV)

It is false to think that calling out to God is all one needs to do to be saved, a necessary requirement does not imply it is the only requirement. However I am not certain this verse is even showing a condition of salvation, rather it is showing God’s faithfulness. If we call out to God he hears us and is faithful to answer our call (according to his promise). Peter in his sermon also said:

“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Act 2:38 ESV)

This verse shows the importance of repentance. One must turn from his own way and choose God’s way. It is not possible to be part of the kingdom and walk one’s own path. Yes we fail at times, and we ask for forgiveness, but our desire is to do Christ’s will and not our own.

So what of John 3 which clearly talks about salvation:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (Joh 3:16-18 ESV)

Likewise Paul and Silas said to the Philippian jailer:

“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Act 16:31 ESV)

How we understand these verses in based on what does it mean to believe. The book of Acts is giving a summary verse of Paul’s response to the jailer’s question, “What must I do to be saved?” We need to study scripture thoroughly to understand the full implications of belief.

Jesus said to Paul that he was sending him to the Gentiles…

…to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me. (Act 26:18 ESV)

Here we see that Jesus talks about being made holy by faith in him. Although it is Jesus who makes us holy, he sees this completely congruent with us turning from darkness to light.

Prior to his ascension Jesus commands the disciples:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mat 28:19-20 ESV)

Jesus tells them to make disciples and what that entails; baptising them (for the remission of sins) and teaching them to observe his commandments.

This is consistent with the meaning of believe which encompasses the concept of trust, faith and faithfulness. Belief in Christ is more than mental acknowledgment of his existence, even the demons do that, it is choosing a lifestyle of obedience, it is becoming a follower of Christ.

Categories: salvation

>Thoughts on salvation

2007 January 2 Leave a comment

>I want to have a brief look at the nature of salvation. At times it seems people suggest intellectual ascension to Jesus being God is enough to be saved. Perhaps this is to insist on a faith based salvation, not works. But I think a more holistic view of scripture shows this to false.

One must be careful not to mistake a necessary requirement for the sole requirement. Scripture discusses salvation many times and in varying ways; both directly and indirectly. One should look at all these verse to see common themes and what God intends for us rather than focusing on an interpretation of a single verse.

I would claim scripture knows nothing of a prayer that secures salvation followed by a life lived according to ones own rules. Salvation taking on a life of discipleship. An exchange of one life for another. Our sentence is death. We exchange our life for Christ’s. He pays our debt and we live for him and not ourselves.

Jesus often talks of another kingdom. The kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven. We become citizens of this kingdom but do so on Jesus’ terms. This is the essence of repentance. Turning away from our sinful desires towards God’s will.

There is a point in time when we turn from hiding our face from God to looking at him; from walking our own way to walking towards him. This “point of time” may be identified as “salvation” but the issue is that we persevere in the direction we have chosen.

Jesus stated:

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. (Joh 6:44 ESV)

So the Father has to draw us but we also have the ability to respond. Jesus said to the 12:

“Do you want to go away as well?” (Joh 6:67 ESV)

Now our salvation is a work of God. There is no way we can be a part of God’s kingdom by our own power. But when Jesus offers us to be part of his kingdom it is our freedom to accept or reject this offer. For those who have been taught this is a work, it is not; it is a response. Our turning to Jesus does not make us righteous, it is he who makes us righteous; but he will not do so unless we turn.

I think this is important because it is of eternal importance which kingdom we belong to. And it is extremely dangerous to think oneself saved when he is not! Jesus says:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Mat 7:21 ESV)

It is possible that some of these know they never chose Christ, but it is also possible that some had thought they secured salvation according to what they had been (falsely) taught by man, but have never actually given their lives to him. If someone is not in the kingdom it is best he knows this in this age than think he is secure in a false salvation.

Categories: salvation