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Theological, Doctrinal, and Spiritual Musing - and whatever other else is on my mind when I notice that I haven't posted in a while.
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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Daniel's posts are almost always pastoral and God centered. I appreciate and am challenged by them frequently. He has a great sense of humor as well.
- Marc Heinrich

His posts are either funny or challenging. He is very friendly and nice.
- Rose Cole

[He has] good posts, both the serious like this one, and the humorous like yesterday. [He is] the reason that I have restrained myself from making Canadian jokes in my posts.
- C-Train

This post contains nothing that is of any use to me. What were you thinking? Anyway, it's probably the best I've read all day.
- David Kjos

Daniel, nicely done and much more original than Frank the Turk.
- Jonathan Moorhead

There are some people who are smart, deep, or funny. There are not very many people that are all 3. Daniel is one of those people. His opinion, insight and humor have kept me coming back to his blog since I first visited earlier this year.
- Carla Rolfe
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Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Sanctification 101 and 2 Peter 1
 Let's start this post with the text mentioned in the title - and do yourself a favor: read it even if you are already familiar with the text - nothing I write that follows it will be anywhere near as edifying.

Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
- 2 Peter 1 [ESV]

Peter's salutation ends with a benediction which identifies where grace and peace come from, "May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord."  These come to the believer through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.  The text goes on to say, "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called..."  Peter believed that every Christian had already been given everything he would ever need to live a holy life that pleases the Lord. 

Have you ever overheard another believer sincerely and tearfully asking God to deliver them from some sin they were struggling with?  If what Peter says is true (and it certainly is), a prayer such as this betrays a gross misunderstanding of what it means to be a Christian.  It is like a man who has a trillion dollars in the bank begging his own banker to give him the scraps off his table.  God has already provided every believer with all that he or she needs to live in obedience to God.  The reason a believer does not t make use of what has been provided is because the believer is either ignorant or more likely misinformed.

Most Christians know, or have met, at least one "solid" Christian in their life.  A person whose not only sold out to God in every aspect of his or her life - but full of joy, peace, patience and light.  They seem to have something that makes their Christianity viable and real in a way that makes our own paper thin and powerless.  If this were not so, Christian self-help books wouldn't be so popular. 

The Apostle James wrote, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;  he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways" - James 1:2-8 [ESV].  

James was saying any believer who was experiencing those first century horrors that were being perpetrated against the early church ought to rejoice in what that experience was going to produce for them.  It was going to produce a steadfastness of faith which itself lead to spiritual maturity (being perfect and lacking nothing - which included the "wisdom" that James goes on to describe).

James' instruction for anyone who lacked that wisdom that instructed a believer in progressing from steadfast faith to spiritual maturity was to ask God to grant them that wisdom - for God does not reproach anyone who seeks this kind of wisdom, but gives to freely and generously to all who ask for it properly.  By properly, we mean those who honestly intend to use that wisdom to draw nearer to God.  

The main prerequisite to sanctification (assuming a genuine salvation of course) is genuine, ongoing repentance.  I think repentance is one of the most misunderstood concepts in the modern church, and that because sin itself is often misunderstood.  Every person, regardless of whether or not they are a Christian, has his or her own desires, and works to fulfill those desires.  They rule themselves, or to describe the same idea in another light, they obey their own desires.  The bible describes this as walking in the flesh, or as being carnal.  When you walk in the flesh you are obeying your own wishes, and everything that you do in this state is considered a "sin". Every last one of us in a kind of slave to our own desires.  We cannot turn them off or on at will - we experience them, and whenever it is within our power to do so (without causing us harm or embarrassment) we fulfill these desires.  This is what it means to be in "bondage" to sin - it means that we obey our own desires by default, and cannot shut them off even if we *really* wanted to.

Here we find something of a "rub" for many believers, primarily because so few believers are being given instruction in this matter.  Your "old man" (as the Apostle Paul describes it) remains in bondage to sin throughout your whole life.  The Christian however is in Christ and the life of Christ which is within in is by no means in bondage to sin.  Thus while the believer's desire to sin remains and always will remain, yet he or she possesses the person of Christ who is entirely free from this desire, such that the believer has access to two opposing desires - one which would incline the believer to pursue its own desires, the other (Christ) who inclines the believer (through the person of the indwelling Holy Spirit) to live an obedient life that is pleasing to God.  The two desires are in opposition so that the believer will never experience a unity in purpose between them - if he satisfies the flesh, he grieves the Spirit, and if he gratifies the spirit he grieves the flesh.

If we sin by obeying the desires that we ourselves are generating, we "repent" when we choose to obey the desires of Christ within us.  Every genuine believer chooses to obey the will of Christ over and against his or her own will, but immature believers do so less frequently - and in some cases the frequency is so rare that such a believer, though genuinely saved, gives no real indication of their salvation.  Just as an immature stalk of wheat looks no different than an immature tare, so also the immature Christian resembles the non-Christian in their daily walk.  How many Christians show up for church on Sunday, then live like non-Christians for the rest of the week?  It is as cliched as it is common (sadly).  Because immaturity is real and rampant, we must be on guard against deciding whether or not a believer is genuine based on visible obedience (or disobedience).   That doesn't mean we ignore sin in the church (if someone is found in their sin and refuses to repent of it, we discipline them, even to the point of putting them out of the church - not because we are judging them as "unsaved", but rather that we are judging them as unrepentant - and putting them out of the church for health of the remaining body, and for the Lord to work repentance in them from without).

To state it plainly again, because I can't say this enough: If sin is to be understood as surrendering your will to the fulfilling of your own desires, repentance is just the opposite - refusing to surrender your will to your own desires, and surrendering it instead to the desires of Christ.

Now, touching lightly again upon what James wrote, the greatest hindrance to Christian maturity is self deceit.  Think about the smoker who "wants to quit" but is convinced that he or she cannot quit.  They are being disingenuous.  The truth is that they do not want to quit, what they want is to keep on smoking - what they don't want is to experience the stigma, the costs, and the health hazards of smoking.  They like smoking, what they don't like is the various costs their addiction demands.  I am not suggesting that quitting smoking is physiologically easy - it certainly isn't.  What I am saying is that there is a superficial desire, and there is a soul deep desire, and though they are both aimed in the same direction, the one is impotent because the whole heart isn't in it.

My youngest doesn't like to eat anything green.  She will say that she is starving loudly crying for something to eat, but if you offer her something green to eat, she will not touch it with a ten foot pole.  She obviously isn't starving, and so while she is willing to eat on her own terms, she certainly isn't willing to eat anything she doesn't want to eat.  That is what the obedience of most Christians amounts to.  They are willing to swallow some of what God commands, as much as pleases them, but they are not willing to obey everything God commands - and the reason for this is that they are not really hungry for God.

Sanctification is a process by which God makes you hungry for Him - but it is a process that is also confusing and poorly understood by many believers.

I said I would touch lightly on what James wrote, before getting back to what Peter wrote, so here goes: James speaks about the way one acquires the wisdom necessary to mature in Christ - and the way to do that is to ask.  But James qualifies this by saying that the request has to be genuine (I am paraphrasing obviously).  In other words, if your mouth says you want to obey God, but you heart says that that isn't going to happen, God isn't going to be fooled by the words of your mouth. 

Our Lord described the kingdom of heaven as a pearl of great price - something you acquire by surrendering everything else in order to get it.  Likewise he describes it as a treasure hidden in a field, that one purchases by selling all that one owns in order to gain the field in which the treasure lies.  He speaks of counting the cost before one begins to build, etc. When our Lord speaks in Matthew 7:7, that  we are to ask, and it will be given to us, to seek, and we will find; to knock, and it will be opened to us - the seeking, asking, and knocking surely have the character described in Deuteronomy 4:29, "But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul." [ESV].  Do you know what this means?  It means that God understands that people are going to seek Him half-heartedly - and so He tells them up front that seeking Him half-heartedly isn't going to work.  The fact of the matter is that unless you are seeking the Lord whole-heartedly you aren't really seeking Him at all.

Just as this truth applies to the repentance required for genuine salvation, so also it applies to our sanctification.  As you received the Christ Jesus the Lord (i.e. through faith and a genuine, whole-hearted surrender to the will of God), so walk in Him (c.f. Colossians 2:6).  If we did not surrender our entirety to God when we come to Him for salvation - we did not get saved regardless of how perfect our theology or prayer may or may not have been.  God isn't fooled by the words of our mouths...  In the same way, we cannot grow in sanctification unless or until we learn to live in genuine, whole-hearted surrender to the will of God.

Like the child from our previous example who is willing to eat what he or she likes but refuses to eat that which doesn't agree with him, our obedience isn't actually obedience, it is the compromise of an unsurrendered heart.  We are not surrendering our will to the Lord's will, and so whatever "obedience" we manage to muster when our hearts are not entirely given to the Lord, doesn't actually reflect what is in our heart - such obedience is a lie.  Didn't Isaiah describe this when he said that our even our righteousnesses are as filthy rags (c.f. Isaiah 64:6)?  

That paints an accurate but somewhat depressing picture - not because it is describing normal Christianity, but because it is describing something far more common: carnal Christianity  (i.e. immature Christianity that continues attempting to please God without first, and continually surrendering to the will of God).

James is saying that if you don't know how to mature in Christ, you just need to ask God  for the wisdom, but not to expect Him to answer you if you're heart isn't in it.

The carnal believer will rightly ask, isn't that the real problem?  How can I ask God and expect an answer if my problem is that I am half-hearted?  How do I get from half-hearted to whole-hearted? Well first of all you should remember the parable of the prodigal son.  He wasn't all the way home yet before his father saw him returning on the road and ran up to meet him.  In this parable, you are the prodigal son, and God is the father, and if you, recognizing your own spiritual bankruptcy, do what you can to return to your father - he will meet you on that road because he loves you and is full of tender mercies.  Count on that

The problem isn't that God has shut you out, the problem is always that you have shut God out, and the answer to that problem is always that you need to return to that same whole-hearted surrender that characterized your salvation.  If you've been genuinely saved, you know exactly what I am talking about, and if what I am saying confuses you, there is a fair chance that, all your religious experience aside, you aren't really saved (yet).  God will save you if you call upon Him with your whole heart - He will do it right now, if you do so - it isn't the prayer that saves you, it you accepting God for whom God is - your Lord and rightful Master.  It is you trusting God's character - that He will save you even though you don't deserve it, even though your prayer is going to be inadequate, and even though you've spent your whole life in rebellion against his rule - He will save you if you turn away from your rebellion and believe that He will do what He has promised to do (save you if you call upon His name).

So you just need to not only repent. but continue on living in surrender to the will of God in order to become a mature believer.  That's where we step from James, to what Peter has said.  As I pointed out at the beginning of this post, Peter tells us that we already have all that we need (if we are Christians) to mature in Christ (i.e. to live godly lives).

God grants us all things pertaining to living the godly life "through the knowledge of Him [Christ]".  Did you know the semantic range of the word translated "knowledge" or sometimes "real/true knowledge" includes the word recognition?  Here is the thing with a semantic range - we can't just flip through the list of English that can be used to express the nuance of the this one Greek, and pick one that we like best.  The list itself taken as a whole gives nuance to whichever word best suits the context.  The "knowledge" described here shouldn't be woodenly understood as merely possessing specific information - it describes knowledge as something one has recognized to as true.

I don't want to make more of this than can be found in Peter's text, but the knowledge of Christ that Peter describes, may it may help you to understand the fullness of what Peter is saying if you understand the "knowledge of Christ" as a first hand knowledge acquired through recognizing the person of Christ as the Source within us Who provokes our godly desires.

I hope I am conveying the point adequately.  It is easy for the new believer to view himself as so insignificant to God that the whole matter of Christianity is rather impersonal.  Yes "Christ is in us" and all that - but we don't really feel him there, and we have nothing of substance - nothing tangible to point to and say this is Jesus, and not just my own intuition, or what have you.  For this reason, many new believers flounder about in their faith, looking for something substantial, and interpreting all many of things (feelings, intuitions, and all kinds of superstitious nonsense) as being the presence of the person of Christ, or the provocation of the Holy Spirit.  How many would-be prophets imagine themselves possessed of the power to sniff out sin in someone else's life because they ave both an over active imagination and have mistaken their own (often misguided and wrong) intuition as something spiritual?  The enemy surely has a hand in this sort of deception.

But Christ -is- in every genuine believer (through the indwelling Holy Spirit), and the first work of any faith is to draw near to the person (rather than to the idea) of Christ.  When we learn that our "flesh" ("old man", "sinful nature" or whatever you choose to call our default and un-erasable disposition to pursue our own desires) is entirely incapable of generating anything godly, and we begin to recognize that those genuine godly desires we experience must come from Christ - we must recognize the person of Christ in these convictions if we are going to increase in our "knowledge of Him".

Peter tells us that the first step (and dare I say, the foundational step) we ought to take in our sanctification - is to grow in this knowledge of Christ.  This involves three things - an informed (i.e. biblical) understanding of who Christ is (which is cumulatively acquired through a sustaining study of the scriptures), constant (and not shallow) prayer, and the sound knowledge of one's own depravity - which grants discernment in the matter of where a particular desire is coming from (Christ, or us).

Peter describes the journey from unsanctified, to sanctified as being in murky darkness, but being able to see, and follow a light in that darkness, until the day dawns (in our heart).  It is a perfect illustration, for we all start off sort of clueless, spiritually speaking, and though we share Christ's desire that we live lives pleasing to God the Father, yet we start off ignorant of how to get from here to there.  The text of 2 Peter 1, describes that path like a map, and in seeing our own situation (we are in need of this map) answered in the scriptures, we find comfort, joy, and hope in the reassurance that fuels our perseverance.

Make no mistake: knowing Christ isn't some airy-fairy thing where we pray to him, and he answers us audibly or through emotions and feelings - knowing Christ is recognizing Him in our lives, and surrendering our will, not to an idea - but to a person.  It is recognizing that there it is a Person who is impressing us with the desire to live lives that are godly, and learning to draw near to that person through our obedience - for the sake of drawing near to that Person!

You won't get there through pew-warming.  You won't get there through mastering your theology.  You won't get there by doing good, attending church, or involving yourself in one or more ministries - not through charity; the only way you can draw near to God is through humility (i.e. the genuine obedience that flows only from a fully surrendered heart).  You get there through Christ, and not through your own efforts.  As Christ becomes a real Person to you, and not just a religious truth you are personally convinced of, or an idea that you subscribe to - but because a person with a real personality, and becomes a person that you actually talk to (rather than "at") in prayer, you will begin to recognize Him in your life, and to "know" him - and when you do, you naturally add on to that all the things from the well of God's supply that lay dormant but available to you even now.

Having said all that, there are probably dozens of ways one can describe this same thing.  I am not suggesting that this is the definitive text that portrays this reality - I am saying that this is one text amongst many that if mined will reveal the necessity of having a real, living relationship with Christ, and how your entire Christian life is supposed to be about that.  You cannot live for God's glory - but Christ can live through you for God's glory, and insofar as you share in that through you union with Christ - you will also live, yet not you, but Christ in you.
posted by Daniel @ 11:09 AM   1 comment(s)
Thursday, February 27, 2014
God's Grace In Salvation
Two Camps

There are two competing schools of thought in evangelical Christianity concerning the way in which a person is saved and subsequently sanctified.

Both camps understand (for the most part) that the damnation of sinners is something that must be earned by and through a willful rebellion against God's rule (i.e. sin).  In other words, all are agreed that sinners are damned by their own sin and can only escape their inevitable damnation through the reconciliation God made possible in Christ.  All agree that this reconciliation is appropriated through faith, and that salvation is not owed to anyone, but is supplied as an act of God's grace.

But the camps differ on where and when they see God's grace being applied in the process of salvation.

The Proof-texts

The division begins with how one understands texts such as 1 Timothy 2:3-4 and 2 Peter 3:9, and 1 John 2:1-2:
  • This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.- 1 Timothy 2:3-4 [ESV]
  • The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. - 2 Peter 3:9 [ESV]
  • My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but (C)also for the sins of the whole world.  - 1 John 2:1-2 [ESV]

The Heart of the Matter

One camp reads these verses and interprets them to mean that God wants to save everyone (i.e. every last man, woman and child) and therefore that God is trying to save everyone (primarily through the influence and ministry of existing believers).  They recognize that God isn't actually saving everyone, but chalk up this failure to the unfortunate imperfections inherent in every Christian ministry.  The idea is that if Christians were better Christians, then God's desire to save everyone would be being met by Christian obedience. 

The other camp does not draw from these verses the conclusion that God is trying (and failing) to save everyone, believing that the scriptures elsewhere make such a conclusion intellectually untenable.  They believe that sinners cannot and will not surrender the rule of their life to God of their own accord (i.e. repent), nor can sinners find it in themselves to trust God's promise of salvation (i.e. faith).  In other words they believe that the act of salvation is an act of divine intervention from beginning to end rather than a divine provision that enables, but in no way ensures the production of, saving faith.

Rational versus Irrational

At first glance, it may seem, given only these three verses, that the latter camp is ignoring the content of the three quoted verses mentioned above.  Given no other information, these verses would teach that God desires [1] to save all people, [2] for everyone to repent, and that [3] Christ is the propitiation for the whole world.  For the first camp these thoughts are plainly stated, irrefutable truths that can only be denied by someone deceived enough to be unsatisfied with what they clearly say.

Yet those in the other camp would not describe themselves as denying plainly stated and irrefutable truths.  They would say that they their interpretation of these verses is informed by both the immediate context of these verses, and by what is said elsewhere in the scriptures concerning these three thoughts.

Take Acts 17:26, for instance.  There we read, "And He [God] made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place" [ESV].  Luke is describing Paul's address to the men at Athens concerning the unknown God whom the Athenians had set up an altar to.  Paul is saying that the God of the Hebrews is that unknown God, and that He Himself determines where and when people are born.

Since God controls where and when a person is born, it follows that if God is really trying to save everyone He will not allow anyone to be born in a place or at a time when they would not be able to hear the gospel message.  Although the text of Acts 17:26 itself isn't describing the way of salvation and has nothing to say about how many people God is trying to save, it does tell us something that (if we are inclined to an intellectually honest theology) necessarily causes us to conclude that God is not trying to save everyone, since He alone had determined that generation after generation of aboriginals would be born in North and South America (for example) having no opportunity to hear the gospel, and therefore being without hope of the salvation God Himself made it impossible for them to hear.

That leaves two possibilities.  Either God did not intend to save these people, or God wasn't able to provide a way of salvation for them. Obviously God could have provided a means for them to be saved, but He did not, nor did He cause them to be born in an area or at a time when the gospel was known and being preached.  It is therefore not a desire to do injury to the text of 1 Timothy 2:3-4 that causes the informed reader of scripture to conclude that God is not trying to save everyone - it is a desire to reconcile what is obvious and true (God does not intend to save everyone) with what that verse is saying.

In the same way this same camp would look to the story of Noah and ask themselves, was God trying to save everyone in Noah's day?  Did God command Noah to make an ark that was big enough to provide for the possibility of all of mankind's repentance?  If not, why not?

Was it just that God knew that no one else would repent, so He simply didn't bother making provision for them?  If we tell ourselves that this was the reason, then we might say that the reason God did not cause generations to hear the gospel was because He knew that not one of them would believe, so he didn't try to save them.  But that would go against this particular understanding of 1 Timothy 2:3-4.  How can God be trying to save everyone, if he sees beforehand that they won't be saved, and so doesn't even given them the option? Was God really trying to save everyone from the flood?

The easiest way to save everyone from the flood would have been to cancel it, rather than build an ark big enough to save everyone.  But God did neither. Perhaps God determined to send the flood, as a way of (hopefully) provoking some to repentance?  But this assumes that men could repent, that God didn't know whether or not they would, and that God was not hardening their hearts against the possibility of repentance as the scriptures plainly tell us elsewhere, He had done with others.  If God was trying to save those people (from the flood) wouldn't He have made provision for such a salvation?  That fact that God made no such provision suggests that God was not trying to save them - He was judging them.

It isn't that those in the one camp hate the idea of God trying to save everyone.  It is that they have clear examples in the scriptures that show God actively making it impossible for anyone to be saved except those whom He has chosen to save.  Such evidence must be considered in understanding what is being said in 1 Timothy 2:3-4.  If the character go God is immutable (does not change) - if there is no shadow of turning in Him - can we really believe that God is only now beginning to try and save everyone when previously it wasn't in His character?

Then there is the question of means - God saves through the preaching of the word.

In  Isaiah 55:11, we read that God's word does not fail to do what He sends it out to do, rather it always accomplishes the thing God sent it out to accomplish.  It follows that if God is trying to save everyone through the preaching of the word, then everyone who hears the gospel will be saved since God's word always achieves what it is sent out to do, and God must be sending it out to "try" and save everyone, right?

The words of our Lord leave no wiggle-room -we are forced to admit that if a person hears the gospel and is not saved by it either [1] God failed to do what he intended, making him both liar (for having said that His word succeeded in doing the thing He sent it out to do) and fallible (since He tried to do something but failed to do it), or [2] God is not actually trying to save every last person - in which case the gospel remains the power of God unto salvation but is intended to save only those whom God intends to save - for the rest the gospel will be foolishness.

Then there is the whole matter of God hardening people's hearts so that they will not repent and believe (Judas, Pharaoh, the sons of Eli, etc. etc. etc.) How can God be trying to save those whom He is actively hardening (to the point of damnation) against faith and repentance? What about the unforgivable sin?  How can God be trying to save everyone if there is such a thing as a sin that cannot be forgiven? Is God trying to save those who are committing or have committed in the past an unforgivable sin?  Think that through until the lights come on.

For the latter camp, it boils down to this: in order to believe that God is honestly trying to save everyone one would have to find a way to interpret those texts that show how impossible that conclusion is - and those in this camp have not found an intellectually honest way to do so.

Similarly, the camp that sees God as trying to save everyone must have an answer to what otherwise seems an irrational interpretation of the text of 1 Timothy 2:3-4.

Some (many) modern Christians, having been influenced by worldly philosophies such as Humanism and Relativism, etc. might suggest that both sides are right, or alternately that both sides are wrong - as if truth was unknowable, and the way to solve problems was to accept them as unresolvable riddles.  No one can be ultimately proven wrong, so let's give everyone the benefit of the doubt and say that each party is as right in what they believe as the other and accept the problem as an unresolvable theological stalemate.

In this way any theological disagreement becomes a matter of doing or believing whatever seems right in your own eyes.  Whatever choice you make between two arbitrary and equal opinions is a matter of personal choice, and no one can say that your choice is better or worse than anyone else's.  What is true for you, may not be true for others - but who are you to say that your truth is better?

In other words, to settle matters of truth, the modern philosopher replaces the obstacle of objective truth with the malleable (and therefore meaningless) "subjective" truth.  Now both parties can be right, and sweet harmony can ensue.

Only that's entirely bunk.  Truth is not a riddle.  It is (by its nature) entirely knowable. Wherever there are contrary interpretations of scripture, at least one (and perhaps both) interpretation(s) are demonstrably wrong. 

The First Verse (in its context)

What we read in 1 Timothy 2:3,4 cannot be understood properly without reading the two verses that came before it (1 Timothy 2:1,2) :
  • First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.- 1 Timothy 2:1-4 [ESV] (with verses 1,2 in bold text)
When Paul uses "all people" in the verses immediately preceding 1 Timothy 2:3,4, he uses it to suggest to Timothy that he (Timothy, and by extension, those whom he pastored, and by a still greater extension - all who read this) shouldn't exclude certain classes of people from his prayers (in this case, he should pray for "all people" then clarifies that thought by identifying a group that may have been being excluded from Timothy's prayers: "kings and all who are in high positions".

Why does Paul make that clarifying remark ("kings and all who are in high positions") after mentioning "all people"?  Paul must have had reason to believe that Timothy was neglecting, or would be soon provoked to neglect praying for those  "in high places".  We don't know why Paul felt that way, but we can say with some certainty that Paul had a concern in that direction.  The important thing is that if Paul took the time to clarify whom "all people" should include - we ought to understand that he was correcting the omission of one group of people, by saying "all people".  He uses the expression then in the same sense we might use the idiom "all walks of life".

Some readers of the text will not accept a simple contextual notion like this, at least when such a notion is being used to disagree with their interpretation.  Though one can read the text this way, one can also read it the other way, and since the other way agrees with their interpretation, they not only read it the other way, but employ a misplaced piety to reject any other way of reading the text.

But it isn't that those who reject the notion that God want to save everyone reject this notion because they are so hung up on their settled opinion that they willingly ignore  what is obvious.  These are not  imagining some that there are loop holes in order to deny what is "plain and obvious".  It is rather that  they refuse to ignore the purpose Paul employs "all people" to mean in this passage.  Here Paul is saying that you should pray for all kinds of people - including those in high places.  He doesn't explicitly say it this way, but he doesn't need to be explicit either since that is the obvious meaning in the text.  Since the notion that God is trying to save everyone is untenable on the grounds of what the scriptures say elsewhere, a reader can only conclude that  this verse is teaching that God wants to save everyone if that person's God is a failure and a liar.  If God is no liar, and does not change, and cannot fail - this passage can only be saying what the context suggests - that we shouldn't pray just for common folk, but for all folk because God wants to save all kinds of people, and not just common people.

The Second Verse

The text of 2 Peter 3:9 makes more sense when you read verse 8 along with it:
  • But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. - 2 Peter 3:8,9 [ESV]
Peter is saying, don't miss this fact - God is patient towards you all doesn't wish for any of you to perish but for all of you to reach repentance.   Unfortunately the modern English convention of using "you" for both the second person singular and second person plural hides a little of the context from uninformed reader.  The "you" in the text is in the second person plural (y'all or "you all").  Again we have no reason to imagine that Paul is saying that God desires everyone in the world to repent if that were so, how could God harden anyone's heart?  God is not willing for any of those to whom he originally sent this letter (i.e. ...those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ (c.f. 2 Peter 1:1) - in other words for any Christians) to perish, but rather that they (Christians) should reach repentance.

The Third Verse

In the same way, when John (c.f. 1 John 2:2) describes Christ as the propitiation for the sins of the whole world, the latter camp asks whether John intends to say that Jesus made atonement for everyone.  John begins the epistle by comparing those who walk in darkness and those who walk in light - a picturesque way of describing those who are deceived by a false doctrine (walking in darkness) and those who adhere to the Apostolic teachings (those who walk in the light).    Those who say they have no sin (those who walk in darkness) and those who confess their sin and are being forgiven their sins and cleansed from all unrighteousness (those who walk in the light).

Even those who don't know what Docetism is will recognize that in 1 John the Apostle is defending the notion that Jesus came in the flesh.  It is good to note that the author of Hebrews, in defending against the same heresy points out that in order to make propitiation Jesus had to come in the flesh:
  • Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.- Hebrews 2:14-17 [ESV]
Pay attention to how John's thoughts progress from 1 John 1:5 to 1 John 2:6.  :
  • This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. - 1 John :5-10 [ESV]
  • My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. - 1 John 2:1-6 [ESV]
Since the blood of Christ is what makes atonement (i.e. propitiates) for the believer we can see from the progression of John's thoughts that he is making a distinction between those who are propitiated by the blood of Christ and those who are not.  The propitiating blood of Christ is applied to, and thereby washes clean, those who walk in the light.  Those who walk in the darkness are not being washed by the blood, that is, they are not being propitiated.  We can readily deduce from what John says here that the heresy he is addressing is one that denies the propitiating necessity of Christ's death.  If Jesus didn't come in the flesh, he certainly couldn't have died - he may have seemed to live and die, but didn't, and so the whole propitiating blood of Christ thing is moot.

John is saying that anyone who denies that Christ came in the flesh, and died a real, propitiating death, is deceived.  That Christians are cleansed from all unrighteousness by the death of Christ (as an aside, the "blood of Christ" here is a metonymy for the death of Christ.  c.f. Leviticus 17:11 - For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.)  John is defending an orthodox understanding of the atonement when he describes the blood of Christ cleansing Christians from all unrighteousness.  To deny sin, is to make an atoning propitiation entirely unnecessary.  John's argument then is that this heresy is a heresy because it denies the necessity of Christ's death.

The point is, that by the time we get to 1 John 2:2, John has already tied propitiation through the blood of Christ's to Christians alone, and consequently denied it to those who walk in darkness (i.e. those who are not genuine Christians). When John says, He [i.e. Christ] is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world - he cannot mean that Jesus propitiation for everyone in the world, since he has already argued that Christ had to come in the flesh in order to make an atoning propitiation (by His necessary death) for those who being cleansed of all unrighteousness thereby - i.e. Christians). 

Either John is saying that Jesus is not only the propitiation for himself, those with him, and those he writes to, but also for Christians everywhere in the world, or John is saying that Jesus is not only the propitiation for their church, but for every genuine church in the world.  The idea being in either case, that genuine Christianity holds Christ as having come in the flesh, and subsequently died in that flesh in order that His propitiating death could cleanse believers from all their unrighteousness - that this understanding of propitiation is not a truth for John's friends alone, but for all Christianity - that to deny this is to deny the truth.

However you want to slice it, when John says, " if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin" he applies the cleansing death of Christ (which makes atonement/propitiation for us) to believers only - making the notion of a universal atonement/propitiation as impossible as it is untenable.

The bottom line is that the camp that denies that God is trying to save everyone doesn't ignore these verses or re-interpret them in a way that favors their opinion - it simply looks at the verses in their context and recognizes that in order for them to mean what the other camp suggests, they would have to contradict themselves in the context from which they were pulled.

Where does Grace come in: Camp One?

If God is trying to save everyone, then His grace in salvation is not directed at individuals, but rather is directed at all of humanity.  He doesn't choose to show grace to one person and deny that same grace to another since that would be unfair!  He isn't obliged to save anyone, so that sending His Son to be the Saviour  of any person who has the opportunity to hear the gospel, and the good sense to appeal to Christ for salvation is itself the "grace" intended in Ephesians 2:8, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God".

In other words a we saved by producing within ourselves a faith in answer to the grace that God has shown in providing a way of salvation through Christ.

Where does Grace come in: Camp Two?

Romans 3:10b-11 reads this way, "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God." [ESV].  In other words, even if God really did supply a Savior, and leave it up to us to believe, Paul tells us in no uncertain language that no one on earth would.  One might conclude that king David, whom Paul is paraphrasing (c.f. Psalm 14:1-3), was using hyperbole when he said that no one seeks after the Lord - since David himself was seeking the Lord.  But that isn't how Paul understands the verse, and our a priori presumption is that Paul's interpretation and usage is necessarily correct.  Paul's argument in the context is that every person is a sinner without exception -and Paul is quoting King David to show that this is not some new invention of His, but a truth that has been known and expressed for hundreds of years (by that time).  If King David was speaking in absolutes, as Paul shows that he was, then it follows that no one on earth seeks the Lord.

If the bible says that no one seeks the Lord, ...how does anyone seek the Lord?  This is where the second camp sees God's grace.  The only way a sinner can appropriate a spiritual truth (such as the gospel) is by the Holy Spirit making that truth comprehensible, and introducing into the one who receive Christ the ability to do so.  This "quickening" produces faith without necessarily preceding it.  In other words, the production of faith in the life of a sinner is the act of grace mentioned by Paul in Ephesians 2:8, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God".

The "Grace" Difference 

In the one camp God's grace is an impersonal provision for salvation offered through Christ: a "possibility" given to everyone (well, at least to everyone whom God allows to be born in a country where the gospel is available).  In the other camp God's graciously gives the gifts of repentance and faith to those whom He has determined to show mercy, such that no one is owed grace, and God does not give grace to everyone.

The Humanistic Understanding of Righteousness

In Matthew 20 we read the parable of the labourers in the vineyard.  The owner of a vineyard gathers workers one morning to work that day and agrees at the time to pay them what is right.  Throughout the day he hires more and more workers, and at the end of the day he pays them all beginning with those who worked the least.  These he (over) pays, giving them a full day's wage rather than a sum proportionate to the time they worked.  When he pays those who worked all day the same amount, they grumble against him because they weren't similarly over paid, but were paid only what they had earned.

The labourers who felt they should be paid more had a wrong-headed understanding of what was right.  The owner was not obligated to be generous to them just because he had previously been generous with others.

That sense of entitlement that stirs in us when someone else receives charity is sinful.  If I have three five dollar bills in my pocket and see three beggars begging for money, and I am moved in my heart to be generous I do no wrong in giving all $15 to one of the beggars - even if I could have given $5 to each instead.  It is my money, and I do no wrong in giving it to whom I will.  The other beggars are no worse for my generosity, because I have done them no harm or wrong.  If they feel that I should have been "fair" and given my money away in such a way that they should benefit from it - they are being greedy

In other words, it is a corrupt understanding of righteousness that turns grace into an obligation.  Grace cannot be obligatory - you cannot "owe" someone grace, because you gave it to someone else.

Humanism says that it is "unfair" to give to one unless you give the same to all.  Those whose morals are by this philosophy will have a hard time with the parable of the labourers in the vineyard because they will see the owner as being unfair, and the labourers as being slighted, even though the bible says that the owner was under no obligation, and that the labourers were soured by their own unrighteous greed.

The Nature of Grace

Grace isn't some power or energy as though God zaps people with "grace" power or anything like that. 

It is likewise not an impersonal provision as though God has dumped a one-time pile of grace somewhere intending for anyone and everyone to use it (or not).  The grace of God is expressed in His personally gifting you with something you have not earned  and cannot produce for yourself: saving faith in Christ.

God is not obligated to give everyone saving faith.  If no one seeks God and everyone is damned on account of their unrighteousness (which is exactly what Paul describes in Romans 3 quoted above) and God decides to show grace to one sinner by drawing that sinner to Christ, and producing in that sinner the faith by which that sinner can appropriate the atoning propitiation found in Christ's death, then God is under no obligation whatsoever to give grace to (i.e. produce saving faith in) anyone else.

In other words, if God chooses give up the life of Christ in order to redeem the life of one undeserving sinner, this inexpressible act of grace directed at the sinner who is being redeemed does not obligate God to do the same for anyone else.  His generosity to one does not mean He must be equally generous to all - anyone who thinks so is blinded by greed - not the greed of many but the avarice of one who feels entitled to something they haven't earned by virtue of seeing grace given to another equally undeserving sinner.

Unless a person can understand that grace is not grace the moment it is owed to you; that is, unless a person can understand that when God gives grace to one, He is offering no slight to anyone else - then one will never understand grace properly, and one's understanding of the gospel will always reflect an inescapable "works" bias.

God's grace is not impersonal - it is personal. 

God does not choose to try and save everyone - He has chosen every individual whom He sent His Son to save -- and every last one of them will be saved.  These are the remnant of the world.  The rest - those for whom judgment is reserved, God is not trying to save, nor did He send Jesus to save them.  Jesus came for His bride - the elect of God, and only for His bride.

The point of the gospel is not to try and save as many people as possible, the point of the gospel is save the bride of Christ.  We don't know who the elect are, so we preach the gospel to everyone knowing that only those whom God has elected will be quickened by it into a genuine, saving faith.

We don't present the gospel to people as though we were selling a better afterlife for the low, low price of faith. We don't set Jesus before sinners as one who has "died for their sins" - instead we place the Lord before sinners as their only hope for salvation from their sins, promising them with full authority and confident certainty that -if- they genuinely repent of their sins and come to Christ in faith, they --will-- be saved.  We don't need to explain to them that it is impossible for them (or anyone else) to come to Christ apart from God's grace.

Having said all that...

Immature believers (i.e. those who are genuine in their faith, but are failing to progress very far in their sanctification) once they fall into one camp or the other, tend to immerse themselves in the shared opinion of their camp. They tend to ridicule those who contend against their chosen view, and high-five those who agree with them, scratching each others theological itches, as it were - to no good purpose except to cement themselves in what they believe - and this is true regardless of which side of the fence you're sitting on.

The point of this post isn't to produce amens and high-fives from those who are in my camp, nor is it to stir up the scorn and ridicule of those who disagree with me.  I intend only to state what I see in the scriptures and let the Lord use that as He sees fit.

If God is trying to save everyone, He is failing to do so, and He is a liar, because He said that His word would not return to Him without succeeding in what He sent it out to do.  He could have caused people to be born where the gospel was known, but chose instead to have generation after generation of North and South Americans go to hell without every having heard the gospel - and had God been honestly trying to save them no power in creation could deny Him.  So either God is an [a] impotent weakling who cannot do what he intends, or He is [b] a liar who says He wants to save everyone, but chooses instead to not only make it impossible for whole nations and generations to be saved - but even hardened in the past (and continues to harden in the present) certain sinners so that they cannot be saved.  The only other alternative is that God is actually sovereign in salvation, even as the scriptures teach.

I can't believe in that god, because I don't see him in the scriptures.  The God I see succeeds in every endeavor and cannot be thwarted in anything He does.  Everyone my God wants to save, He does save, and the fact that He chose them in eternity does not cause me to imagine that He is unjust - He shows mercy upon whom He chooses to show mercy.  He doesn't owe any sinner mercy - He owes them justice.

My God created a perfect reality knowing that it would corrupt itself through Adam, planning beforehand to redeem for Himself a remnant in Christ - not some random remnant, but those souls whom He personally chose to redeem before ever this world was created.  My God is not bound in time, He created time, created each and every moment in creation from its beginning to its end all in the same act of creation. He exists apart from this creation, apart from time itself --being utterly alien to it, being aware of every moment and every place that has been and will ever be.  He can do that because He does not dwell in time and space but outside of both in eternity --that is where my God dwells.  He sees all of time and space in the same glance - the whole of creation -- the completed reality-- from His perch (as it were( in eternity.  Time rolls on for those creatures (like ourselves) who are bound to both time and space, but God is not a creature like us - He is outside of time and space.

My God is the only God, there is no other god or gods beside him.  Three personalities express that singular divinity which is God: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  Incomprehensible. Alien. Holy, holy, holy.  That is my God.  He does not fail, He does not "try", He cannot err.

His glory cannot be even remotely comprehended, but is still expressed (however veiled) in the thought that it would have been an injustice had creation not been allowed to corrupt itself - for the full expression of His glory required the fall in order that the glory of God may be more fully expressed in the redemption of His creation.  That is my God. He is beauty without end - an eternity of eternal glories.  Even to describe Him thus is but to insult (by way of gross understatement) - the majesty of His glory.

I can't imagine this God intending to save everyone yet failing to do so.

Let me put it this way - God wouldn't be God if He wasn't clever enough to find a way to unfailingly cause a person to believe in Him without having to "force" that person to do so.  If God can't do that, He isn't God.

I have had this conversation with God - I will believe whatever you [God] have said, and I will not stand in judgment over it --even if it is something that contradicts what I think is true.

The moment I settled that matter in my heart, the bible lost every contradiction, and became as open and plain to me as could be.  Yet I understand that when we fail to see a truth for what it is in the scriptures it isn't because we are stupid, it is because we are blind.  Maybe we are blind because we have had the veil of humanism over our eyes since the cradle.  Maybe we are blind because we want the bible to say something that pleases us - whatever the case - rejoice, because our Saviour can open the eyes of the blind.

posted by Daniel @ 11:35 AM   4 comment(s)
Monday, November 25, 2013
Righteousness (Thoughts on the Fall Part II)
The difference between a live body and a corpse is that whatever "life" is, it only resides in the live body, and does not exist in the dead one.

How do we know that someone is alive?  We know a person lives because their body is animated by life.  They have a pulse, they breath, they move, etc.  A corpse is cold, it has no pulse and it does not move.  It cannot do anything because it lacks the animating capacity of life.

In other words, we recognize a dead body by this fact: life isn't animating it.

I mention this because I the same principle that I employ in making this distinction is being employed by the Apostle John in 1 John 4:7-14.  False teachers were infiltrating the church, and John was writing to expose them.  His thesis was that these false teachers did not love because God was not in them (God is love).

Of course these teachers loved other people.  John wasn't suggesting that they were incapable of affection.  They certainly felt affection for one another, for their families and for their friends.  What John was saying was that God was not in them, and that they could be recognized by this lack. 

How do you know that God is in you (or that God is in another)?  You know in this way:

 Anyone who possesses God must possess God's love.  Ergo, anyone who lacks God's love necessarily lacks God.
A Christian may grieve the Holy Spirit and act contrary to the will of the Holy Spirit within him, but grieving the Holy Spirit will upset his fellowship with God until he humbles himself before God.  Until this happens the love of God in that believer remains suppressed by the sinning believer's pursuit of his own selfish desires.

NOTE: If the angels (who presumably have more discernment in spiritual matters than men) cannot distinguish whether a disobedient person is disobedient by way of an immature faith, or by way of a false conversion, we should be that much more concerned about treating every spiritual indiscretion as proof of one's falsehood, and again treating outward signs of obedience as necessarily proving a genuine faith.
When John writes these things, we should understand that he is not talking about the normal facets of spiritual growth (i.e. the process of sanctification whereby a genuine believer struggles to obey God), but rather about something quite significant, and notably more serious (and likely more obvious) than the process of sanctification...

John is saying that those who possess God, possess God's love, and conversely since God's love cannot be expressed by those who do not possess God, it follows that those who do not love do not know God.  That is the form of argument that John is using. 

We are commanded to love one another, but that isn't what John is trying to show here.  John is not telling us that because God is loving we ought to imitate Him in loving also.  John is saying that God is love, and anyone who possesses God must necessarily possess God's love.  It follows that a person cannot express God love does not possess God (who is love) and is therefore not a Christian.  John wants his readers to recognize false teachers and false Christians, and provides this "test" if you will, to help them in discerning a false teacher.

There is much that I could say about that, but it is enough that we [a] understand the equation John gives us (God is love, ergo...) and [b] why John chose to this argument. Allow me therefore to run the risk of flogging this thought for longer than may be needed for some of my readers, but I want to ensure the thought is fully understood before we move one.

John's argument was not that God was very loving and that people who were indwelled by God were obligated to act more loving than others.  John's argument was that God was the source of genuine love, and that anyone who possessed God necessarily possessed God's love by virtue of the indwelling Spirit.  He was describing this fact:  the love expressed through a Christian does not originate from the Christian himself, it not being his own love but rather the love of God who is in him by virtue of the Holy Spirit who by definition indwells every genuine believer.

When John says that God is love, He isn't saying that God is really, really loving.  John is saying that God is the source of love.  That is not only very significant to the point John is making - it is important to our understanding of God.
If I say that Christ is the truth, I mean that Christ is the source of truth, and not merely that Christ is infinitely truthful.  He is infinitely truthful -but this fact is only a consequence of His being the Source of truth. When we speak of a light, we do not speak of the light rays that are cast by the light, but of the light itself.  When we say that God is love, we are not talking about the expression of God's love, we are talking about God as the source of love.  In the same way, when we say that Christ is truth, we are not talking about how truthful Christ is, or how well Christ expressed truth; we are saying that Christ is the source of truth.

Note: You may be inclined to muse that truth can exist apart from Christ (reasoning with yourself that that even the devil was capable of quoting the true scriptures when tempting Christ).  But I am not saying that a person can not repeat or comprehend what is factual.  I am saying that God alone (in the person of Christ), is true.  Recognizing that something is factual is not the same as being the source of truth.  You and I may freely either agree with, or deny, the truth, but we cannot produce it.  We can only reflect or obscure it...
Along the same line we can ask, "Is God righteous?" If He is (and He certainly is!) it follows that God is the source of righteousness.  To imagine that God is only expressing more righteousness than anyone else, or merely expressing a perfect and infinitely righteousness is to anthropomorphize God.  God is not merely expressing the most superior form of righteousness - He is the very source of all righteousness.

Do you understand what that means?  It means that anyone who is truly righteous, is not expressing their own righteousness, but is rather expressing a righteousness that is foreign to themselves - the righteousness of God.

Expressing the righteousness of God is fundamentally different than merely imitating the righteousness of God.  A morally superior atheist may boast of a personal moral standard that is higher (in practice) than that which is morality evidenced even by some genuine Christians.  But the morality of such an atheist (or of any person in any false religion for that matter) does not flow from the person and character of God.  That "righteousness" is rather a superficial imitation of God's righteousness

God's righteousness is indivisible

What I mean by that is that you cannot divide the righteousness of God into an hundred or more commands that amount to such things as "do not murder" or "do not commit adultery" and imagine that by keeping one or more of these commands you have actually been partially righteous.  It doesn't work that way.

It does not matter how many of these commands we are given, or how many we (seem to) keep. Keeping one or more commands while breaking only one other does not make us partially righteous for those commands we have managed to keep - it only shows us that we are entirely unrighteous.  When we act contrary to what is righteous, it shows that we are not at all righteous.  It doesn't matter how many commands we may keep if we cannot keep them all.  Either we are able to keep all of God's Law (as it were) or we are unable to keep it.  Either we are righteous, or we are not - there is no middle ground.  Anyone who fails to keep all of God's does so because he or she is not (and has never been) righteous.

The OT word for righteousness describes right-ness in the sense of something having a sort of perfect integrity -like a perfect weight or better still, like a perfectly upright plumb line.  To build your house to plumb is to build it perfectly upright.  To be "right" in this sense is to be perfectly in tune with a flawless (objective) standard. 

When the scriptures describes God as righteous, it is not saying that God perfectly lines His conduct up with some objective standard of righteousness that is above Him and foreign to Him.  No.  What it means is that God Himself is the standard and measure of righteousness, and if you can receive it, that God is the very source of righteousness.

When the scriptures describes a person as being righteous, it is not describing a righteousness that originates from the individual, but rather a righteousness that is alien to the individual: the righteousness of God.  Insofar as a person is surrendered to the will of God, the righteousness of God may be expressed through that person. When we say that an individual is righteous we mean that the light of God's righteousness is shining from that person (and not that the person is producing his or her own righteousness!).

To be explicit, I am saying that righteousness cannot be imitated or produced because it is not produced by (nor is it bound up in) works, rather righteous works can only be produced when a preexisting righteousness is present to produce that righteousness.

I often give this thought exercise to simplify the matter when I teach.  I ask, did Christ become righteous by doing good works, or was He born unrighteous (since there is no middle ground between righteousness and unrighteousness), and later attained righteousness by performing acts of righteousness? 

Of course Christ was never at any time unrighteous, so we are left to understand that Christ was righteous at birth such that His subsequent acts of righteousness were expressing a righteousness that was inherent in Him, and not producing that righteousness. It is important to put the horse before the cart in our understanding on this particular.  Christ's righteousness produced his obedience, and not the other way around.

We could describe it another way:  Christ did not become righteous by keeping the law, rather He kept the law because He was righteous.  The law revealed that He was righteous, it didn't make him righteous.  Just as the law reveals that everyone other than Christ is unrighteous, and doesn't make them unrighteous.  In this way the law is like a compass.  Where a compass points to the magnetic pole, the law identifies the Christ as the only person on earth capable of keeping the law - that is, the law itself proclaims the Christ.  In a culture that was producing Messiahs by the sack full, the law was a tutor to bring believers to the true Christ (the one who actually kept the law).  No one else has ever kept, nor could ever keep, the Law.

I may touch on this a little more the post to follow, where I hope to underscore the thought that there is no righteousness apart from God, and further that there never has been a righteousness apart from God (and this would include the pre-fall righteousness of Adam), and that there never will, nor never can be any righteousness apart from God. Using this premise as a foundation, I hope to build upon it (for the benefit of those believers who may be struggling with the question of "how to be" a Christian) enough of an edifice as to assist the believer in their understanding of the way in which we are to work out our own salvation (from sin).

What I want you to remember from this post is that God is the source of righteousness, and that no person is (or ever has been, or ever can be apart from Christ) righteous. 

If you cannot become righteous by doing something that the righteousness of God produces, how much less so can you become righteous by imitating the righteousness of God? 
posted by Daniel @ 11:37 AM   0 comment(s)
Thursday, November 21, 2013
Thoughts on the Fall (Part I)
Consider what the following three verses have in common:

Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things and said to Him, We are not blind too, are we? Jesus said to them, If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains. - John 9:40-41 [NASB]

If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. - John 15:22 [NASB]

And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. - Luke 12:47-48a [NASB]

The impression I get from the words of our Lord, and from elsewhere in both the Old and New Testaments where the same sentiment is touched upon (explicitly or implicitly), is that culpability is linked to the knowledge of good and evil.

I don't hear anyone teaching on this point, and the impression I get in the absence of such a teaching is that it makes no difference to God whether you understand that a thing is sin or not - He will hold you just as guilty either way.  I can't place it, but I have heard in my time as a believer, hints and suggestions that this is just the case - so much so that I feel like I am stepping awkwardly (and fearfully) out of the crowd just to say that the scriptures actually seem to paint another story.

The scriptures clearly state that no one is righteous.  Given this: even if God does not hold us culpable for the sins we commit in ignorance He will certainly hold each one of us culpable for those many sins we all have boldly, blatantly, and willfully committed.  In other words even if God doesn't count our unknown transgressions against us, every last one of us has more than enough known transgressions to warrant our condemnation and need for a Savior.

The implications of this thought are significant when applied to Adam prior to the fall.  Adam was, as you will recall, unable to comprehend good and evil.  He did not have that knowledge, and lacking this knowledge Adam could hardly be held culpable for any transgression.  It follows then that the only manner in which Adam could have become culpable for any transgression would have been for him be acquire the knowledge that what he did was a transgression.

In other words for Adam to condemn himself he would not only have to willfully transgress a command of God, but he would have to come into a knowledge of good and evil in order to become culpable for the transgression.

When the scriptures tell us that God placed Adam in the Garden to keep it and to cultivate it (c.f. Genesis 2:15) we are forced to admit that the flip side of this responsibility was an expectation of obedience in the matter.  We don't have an explicit command, but we certainly have explicit expectations - and who will dare to argue that it is on the one hand a grave transgression to disobey God's command, but no transgression whatsoever to ignore some responsibility that God has personally assigned to you?

 In other words, although we see only one explicit command given to Adam (i.e. the command concerning eating the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil) we cannot ignore the other (implicit) commands that are inescapably present in the same narrative.  What made the explicit command fundamentally different from every other command that God gave to Adam was that if Adam disobeyed this command, there would be a consequence.

The man who pays for some groceries with a twenty and who is accidentally given not only his groceries and change, but also the same twenty he had paid for these goods with, is not guilty until he gets home, and realizes that he has not paid for the groceries.  At that point he is under a debt to the store, and must return the twenty to the store.  In the case of sinful transgression, we cannot return to the store with the original money, all we can do is return to the Lord the life He has given.

When Adam ate the fruit that gave him the knowledge by which his transgression made him culpable, he could not go and return the fruit and repay his sin debt - he had to return his life to God.  That is what our sin debt is - and that is what the warning God gave Adam was all about, "in the day that you eat from it [i.e. the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil] you shall surely die."  It was a statement of fact: Do not eat from this tree for on the day that you do you will die.

I know there are many Christians better than myself who see in this command an agreement between God and Adam whereby God grants Adam continuing life in exchange for the work of perfect obedience in all matters (including the matter of the forbidden fruit) and this they call a covenant of works.

Yet I have never been able to convince myself that this was what the text was representing, nor have I been able to impose the notion contrary to my conscience for the sake of having a theology that others (many of whom I admire) would agree with.

I see the command in far simpler terms.  I am a father myself.  When I tell my child not to touch the red hot element on the stove because on the day that you do, you will surely be burned - I am not entering into a contract with my child - I am just a father giving a command and along with a command, a reason for the command: Don't do this, because if you do so, something bad will happen.  Why does a father give his child such a command?  He does so because he loves the child, and would spare the child the consequences of doing something in his or her innocence that would produce an effect that their innocence could not comprehend.

Many Christians believe that the forbidden fruit was a sort of spiritual test.  Had Adam passed the test we would all be living with God in Eden, but since Adam failed we are cursed, the world is cursed, and we can thank Adam for that.

The bible tells us that God sees the end from the beginning, meaning that He knew full well before ever He created Adam, that Adam would transgress His command in this matter, and that He would send Christ to redeem the life that Adam forfeit.  This was all known I say, before the foundation of the world.  It follows therefore that God was not testing Adam.  He knew exactly what Adam would do.

Think hard on these thoughts.  God could have stopped Adam from sinning - I don't just say that because we know that God is able to do anything.  We have explicit examples in scripture where God keeps people from committing a sin.  In Genesis 20 God personally intervenes in the matter of King Abimelech - who would have transgressed by taking Abraham's wife as his own - but God kept him from committing that sin (c.f. Genesis 20:6).  God not only can keep a person from sinning, He clearly has done so in the past (according to His own purpose) and likely continues to do so where doing so serves this same purpose.

That God did not keep Adam from sinning in this matter tells us that God intended for history to play out the way it did.  That isn't the same as saying that God made Adam sin, or that God wanted Adam to sin.  It is to say that before God created time and space, and ordained all that would be - He chose to bring into being this history which we are now living out.  God chose to create this history over and against every other possible history - one in which Adam condemns mankind, and in which He personally, in the person of Christ, redeems mankind.  It was God's purpose to bring this History (and no other) into being.

In that sense God "ordained" Adam's sin - in fact in this sense God ordains all, in that He chose this reality to be the one He would create.  He could have created one in which Adam did not sin - but  He did not - and we are forced to admit, if we are not so foolishly puffed up in pride, that God's choice was not a bad one - but in fact the most glorious one.  We haven't seen the end of this plan yet, but I suspect it will infinitely answer every doubt we may have the audacity to hold in this lifetime.

I close this post - which I intend as the first part in a small series - by summarizing my thoughts thus far:
  • The only sin Adam could have committed that would condemn him was to come into the knowledge of good and evil through an act of disobedience - that until and unless Adam did so, any other (real or hypothetical) acts of disobedience would not condemn Adam as his innocence was assured by his lack of knowledge of good and evil.
  • That God's command was not a covenant, but a warning - the kind of warning any loving father gives to their child when the child lacks the necessary understanding to fully comprehend the consequences of an action: Don't do this, because if you do, you will suffer for it.  Not a contract, not a covenant, just a loving command intended not as a test, but as a simple, even plainly stated deterrent.
  • Adam's fall (and especially the way in which it played out) was purposely ordained by God.  This in no way suggests that God was manipulating the will or motives of Adam.  It means only that God, who created every moment, every place, and every thing in the same act of creation - who knows the beginning from the end, chose to create this reality and only this reality from among an infinitely number of possible realities - one in which our history would play out in exactly this way, such that Adam by his own hand brought the condemnation of death upon us all.
In the post(s) to follow I hope to show that there is something very practical for us (as pertains to our walk with Christ) in understanding these things I have set forth here and again in some further things I hope to add in any follow up post(s).
posted by Daniel @ 9:15 AM   0 comment(s)
Thursday, November 07, 2013
Doctrinal Differences Among Saints
It happens. Two people reading the same bible with comparable faiths come to different doctrinal conclusions. One is an Arminian, the other a Calvinist.

Both may admire the genuine faith, the gifting and the ministry of the other but each marvels that an otherwise faithful servant of The Lord can hold to doctrine that seems to paint the God of the scriptures in radically different ways - and neither seems willing to entertain the other's vision of God as accurate. 

As a Calvinist you may expect me at this point to painstakingly demonstrate that the Arminian is wrong on all points, even as you may have expected me to do the reverse had I been an Arminian.  Calvinists and Arminians have been engaged in this sort of back-and-forth criticism of one another for centuries. 

Today's post isn't about who is right. It is about the nature of the differences. Both parties read the scriptures in earnest and both parties draw their soteriology (the doctrine that explains how God saves us) from the same scriptures. Why then are otherwise identically earnest Christians coming to a profoundly different understanding of how God saves people?

The answer cannot be blamed on the scriptures, though I strongly suspect that the more interpretive a translation is, the more likely an earnest reader is to follow the translator's interpretation on a matter than that person would have been had he not been spoonfed another person's bias. This is especially worrisome when the translation presents such interpretation without informing the reader that the text they are providing is based upon the scriptures, but in some places (keyed to the doctrinal opinions of the translators) the actual word of God is glossed over by a phrase that the translator feels captures what God was trying to say better than the Holy Spirit did When He inspired the text.  

I say therefore that the person who favors the least literal translations will likely find more doctrinal disagreements among those who favor the most literal translations. I myself prefer the most literal translations, and cringe when a person quotes from five different translations in the same sermon or article.  It strikes me that with enough interpretive translations a person may pick and choose the meaning of a text that most agrees with his own opinion about what he wants the text to say. 

So there is that - but it isn't necessarily the reason for such doctrinal differences. No the main reason seems to be how one comes to have an image of God. 

Imagine two renaissance painters painting a picture of Jesus.  One imagines that Jesus as being perfect because he was Jesus, and paints Jesus as the idealic (according to renaissance standards) man, long, thick, dark blonde hair, kind and intelligent blue eyes, a noble handsome face with a stylishly trimmed but entirely manly beard.  This Jesus is the center of the picture, just a handsome face looking up as if in prayer with a sort of glow around Him to accentuate His divine origin.   The other paints a sad but hearty Jewish looking man, depicting The Lord not in a portrait, but in the very act of service - washing the feet of other Jewish men who looked, depending on the face, either indifferent (Judas?), or maybe indignant on Christ's behalf (Peter?) or confused an awkward (the rest?) - but the face of Christ in the painting is only partially visible - enough to see Him for a Jew, and to see both the concern of love and an underlying sorrow in His features but not enough to make out a full countenance, and this because the painter did not want the focus to be the imagined physical features of Christ, but on the character of Christ's person as portrayed in His ministry.

Imagine again the first couple of months in a relationship with someone you had a crush on. At first the person seems perfect in every way, but as you come to actually know that person, the illusion of perfection gives way, piece by piece to the reality of that person's actual personality, such that in a few months the "crush" is over, and the person may seem suddenly less interesting - do much so that some who do not understand how this works assume that the other person "changed". 

How a person forms their original image of God can have a huge effect on their soteriology. Just as the two painters painted radically different images of Christ, so two Christians can have radically different images if God - long before they ever pick up a bible and read it earnestly. Many children inherit their parent's image of God, and many children filter the character of God through the examples of those who have been the primary authority in their early life (typically their own father). When most of us read the bible for ourselves we already have an opinion of what God is like, so we are just adjusting our opinion as needed when something in the word disagrees with the opinion we already have. 

Second-hand descriptions of God abound, such that the original image we have of God is inescapably flawed, having been formed from the soupy patchwork of opinions and experiences that make up our own lives. It is the work of the scriptures to overcome these opinions with the actual image of God, but some of our opinions are so deep and profound, that we read them back into the scriptures rather than abandon them - and this we do unaware that we are doing it. 

A man who believes that life is sacred apart from what the scriptures say, cannot imagine God taking the life of anyone because that would be evil and not good, and God is good. He has a presumption and rather than abandon it, he defines God by it. A man who is convinced that if you give a gift to one undeserving man you are obligated to give the same gift to other equally undeserving men because that is only "fair" may impose this same rule of fairness upon God, and conclude that God must try and save everyone or He isn't being "fair" etc. 

Anytime a person interprets the God if the scriptures through the lens of some worldly moral, their image of God, and their subsequent understanding of What Gid is doing will necessarily be skewed by their having exalted worldly wisdom above the wisdom of God.

It is my opinion that a wrong opinion about who God is will always lead to a wrong opinion about what God is doing - hence soteriological differences vary according to the extent to which one uses worldly (moral) opinions as a filter through which the scriptures are understood.   

They read the same bibles, but are seeing the God their  predispositions demand. 

It is therefore important for every Christian to understand what has influenced their opinions of good and evil (hint: humanism, relativity, tolerance, ideas about fairness, what love is, etc.) moreso if one has taken the mantle if a teacher since his or her errors will be multiplied in those who fall under that one's influence. 

Calvinists and Arminians worship the same God, but they do not see the same character in God insofar as God's character is either being defined by the scriptures to the hurt of all worldly philosophies, or God's character is being defined by worldly philosophies to the hurt of the scriptures. 

Each loves the image of God they find in the scriptures, but they are not the same image. 

Having said that, both parties will believe that it is the other party whose image is flawed.  In truth it is difficult work plumbing the depth of your own deepest presumptions. Most of us are satisfied to think that we are intelligent and honest enough that we would never knowing worship a flawed image of God. But I expect that even the best of us worships an image of God that could stand correction. 

I am not embittered by the willful blindness of anyone else since, being fallible myself, I anticipate some flaws in my own understanding of God - though I strive to eliminate such flaws and endeavor to receive correction and instruction whenever I can. Yet it pleases God to accept imperfect worship in those who worship Him through the perfect person of His Son, Jesus Christ.  

If you find yourself at odds with another believer, try to remember that we are all imperfectly worshipping God in our selves, but that this imperfect human worship is made perfect for us in Christ - for all of us who are in Christ. 

That isn't to say that we shouldn't let iron sharpen iron (i.e that we should ignore what we believe to be error in one another). We should do all in our power to identify and correct bad doctrine, but we must be aware that doctrinal error almost always flows from worldly philosophy.

For this reason I am convinced that we do better to discuss how worldly philosophy infiltrates the church than to focus on the fruit of that infiltration. Why do I believe God is thus way and not that way, and why do you believe the opposite?

Not everyone will be Berean in the matter, but some will be. Don't make the mistake, as some do, of assuming that a person is being willfully ignorant - that'll just make you bitter, and cause you to form (and likely share) a bad opinion of that person. Regard this as the planting of truth that only The Lord can water and grow.  Love the saints, pray for them, and tremble at the knowledge that you too have room for improvement. Have your heart set on God's glory and the live that God has for such as these and you will do better than you would have had you skipped that step in your heart. 

There will be doctrinal differences amongst genuine Christians for as long as the enemy is with us, spewing out worldly philosophies and morals which inundate us from the cradle to our grave - through television, the school system, print, and the Internet; so it will continue until Christ returns. 

posted by Daniel @ 7:49 AM   5 comment(s)
Friday, November 01, 2013
I think they're all tools.
You know what I mean?  Probably not...

When I hear people talk about the covenants of works, grace, life, redemption, etc.  (the labels are not germane for the moment), I recognize that while the scriptures do not mention any such covenants explicitly,  couching what is clear from the scriptures in implicit covenantal language, certainly makes expounding the underlying truths a great deal more tidy.

And we all love what is tidy, don't we?

I prefer the text of the second edition of the First London Baptist Confession of faith (1646) to the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689) for this reason, the former makes no mention of any covenants that must be implied by and through one's theology.  Both confessions express a decidedly "reformed" orthodoxy, but the latter includes explicit language that presumes Covenant Theology as its foundation.

To be sure, the first edition of the LBCF was made public in 1644 because there were seven "Calvinistic" Baptist churches in London England that were being painted by some as being of the same stripe as those central European revolutionaries a century before, who having run amok with reformed doctrine, had, contrary to anything Luther had ever thought or suggested, woven the threads of reformed theology into the fabric of a call to revolution that ended in a war that saw hundreds of thousands die.

While certain notable persons of a reformed persuasion gave some direction to the revolution, the movement wasn't organized enough to describe any one as a leader in the military sense.  The movement was more of a series of insurrections amongst the peasant class fueled in part by the doctrine of the first reformers (Luther was excommunicated, and went into hiding in 1521, the peasants war broke out in 1524).  Luther wasn't the only reformer.  His colleague at Wittenberg, Andreas Carlstadt was a professor, and the Chancellor of the university, being the person who awarded Luther with his doctorate.  Having come under Luther's influence, and having seen such corruption in Rome personally, he wrote his own 151 Theses a year (1516) before Luther wrote his 95 Theses (1517).  He was excommunicated in the same Papal Bull that excommunicated Luther (1520), mentioned not by name, but as one who was a supporter of Luther's doctrine.

To be sure, in the first few months following Luther's escape and while Luther was still hiding out at Wartburg castle, Carlstadt, though excommunicated, continued to minister in Wittenberg introducing such reformations to the weekly services as the Catholic church condemned.  Carlstadt saw infant baptism as a doctrine that could not be supported from the scriptures, and as such he rejected the practice.  Where Luther felt that the epistle of James was less authoritative, Carlstadt believed it to be as inspired as the rest of the New Testament. 

But Carlstadt came to regard personal inspiration as equal to, or even a higher authority than the scriptures, and along this sad path, he faltered.  Though he himself took no active part in the peasant uprising, He was influenced in part by men like Thomas Muntzer and the Zwikau prophets, who themselves confuse into the same tangled lump, Marxism, mysticism and reformed theology.   These men, preaching that the end was nigh, that God was speaking to them personally, and speaking through them, etc.  laid the foundation for what would eventually become the core beliefs of the Anabaptists, a small radical sliver of whom, were blamed almost entirely, for the peasant war of 1524.

You can imagine what it must have been like to be a member of one of those seven Baptist congregations in London at a time when you could be persecuted (to the death) for your religious views.   At the time, a rumor was being circulated (through printed pamphlets and word of mouth) that these Baptists were dangerous, revolutionary-minded Anabaptists, who would certainly and eventually produce such insurrections in England, as had been seen a century before in central Europe.

These seven churches reacted to this slanderous libel (and gossip) by presenting parliament with a written confession of what they actually believed.  The first edition (1644) was criticized as being written in such a way as to sound orthodox, while obfuscating an underlying Anabaptist sentiment, and several paragraphs from the confession were cited as being sufficiently ambiguous to allow both an orthodox and an Anabaptist sentiment.  So to quell the fears that these ambiguities allowed, a second edition of the confession was written, taking care to clarify (and thereby remove) these ambiguities (1646).

What I like the most about the 1646 version is that it was a genuine apology.  Not apology in the sense that they were voicing regret or sorrow over something they had sad or done, but apology in the theological sense - they had been accused of believing something they did not believe, and they gave an answer to their accusers.  They motivation for this document was two-fold : to state clearly exactly what they believed the scriptures taught, and to have this same articulation define their beliefs for those who would otherwise put words and motives into their mouths.  Their is an ... efficiency in this document that I admire.  A clarity born of a sober and careful necessity that is lacking in the 1689 version, which really, wasn't so much a re-write of the LBCF, as it was a co-opting of the language and form of the WCF (1644) with provision made to distinguish Baptist distinctives.

It makes great sense for a Presbyterian confession to include covenantal language, because Covenant Theology, if one is faithful to it, leads one to conclude that both Baptism and Circumcision are signs of the same, over-arching covenant.  Circumcision is the Old Testament (under the over-arching Covenant of Grace) sign of "covenantal membership", just as Baptism is the New Testament (under the same over-arching Covenant of Grace) sign of the "covenantal membership".  Because both are under the same over-arching covenant, you can implicitly equate things that the bible itself (without the unifying notion of an underlying covenant that equates the Mosaic covenant and the new covenant in Christ's blood) does not equate.

The paedobaptist says that just as a male infant was circumcised under the Mosaic covenant, as a sign of both that covenant, and by extension the undergirding covenant of grace, so also infants ought to be baptized under the new covenant, since it is only the latest expression of the same undergirding covenant of grace.

But this all has to be read back into the act of baptism, not from the scriptures, but from the theological precept of an undergirding covenant...  If infant baptism were explicitly taught in the New Testament, we would all be baptising infants, and early reformers, many of whom felt that infant baptism was just another item that needed reformation, would never have come to that conclusion.  The fact that it cannot be proven, but must be implied, suggests that if God intends infant baptism, he necessarily intends men to build their theology upon implied precepts... yet Isaiah writes, that the error of those Jews who had gone astray, was that they built precept upon precept - and with each layer they drew farther away from the truth.

So when I see the language of Covenant Theology written into the 1689 LBCF, I find myself put off a little.  I understand that Adam certainly sinned, and that one can choose to express that sin in terms of a covenant between Adam and God... but I also understand that it is less invasive (and theologically risky) to simply take the matter at face value.

In Abraham's day, when you made a covenant, you would cut an animal in two, leaving room between the two halves of the animal for you and the other person in the covenant to walk through.  You would then walk around each half of the slaughtered animal, and through the midst of it (in a figure eight) as you each, in turn, declared aloud the particular benefits you were promising, and intending to receive, and it was understood that if you failed in your obligation, you were calling upon the powers to be impute to you the death and dismemberment of the slaughtered animal.

Not that every covenant was like that.  When God made a covenant with all of mankind through Noah that he would never again destroy the world by way of a flood it was not the kind of covenant that could be broken, since it was in no way dependant upon men to keep their end of the deal.  They had no end to keep.  It was a covenant that God made, really, with Himself.

So there is room to muse that when God determined, before the foundation of the world, to redeem mankind, that this also was a promise that God made to Himself.  Nothing is added or gained by drawing this conclusion.  God does not change - if He determined to do something, it will be done: no covenant required.  God is not a man, He does not go back on His word, nor is He ever hindered or kept from completing His purpose.

So when I read that God told Adam not to eat fruit from the only tree in the garden that would make Adam aware of his sin - I take that at face value.  Obviously God commanded Adam to keep and cultivate the garden.  Had Adam failed to keep and cultivate the garden to God's standard, there would have been transgression, but Adam wouldn't have understood it as such, since he lacked the knowledge of good and evil.  It seems obvious then that the only transgression that Adam could commit that would cause him to be culpable would be the one transgression that robbed him of his innocence. 

Not that I am presently willing to suggest that Adam would have been sinless even had he disobeyed God on some other point.  I say only that had he done so, it wouldn't have been the same, since it would (necessarily) have been done in utter ignorance of good and evil.

What God said was sufficient.  If you eat this, you will die.  What parent hasn't cautioned their own children in a similar manner.  Kids? Listen up./  This is Daddy's chocolate bar.  I am putting it in the fridge for when I get home from work on Friday.  Nobody eat it.  If anyone eats it, they will spend the whole weekend in their rooms regretting their decision to eat Daddy's chocolate bar.  This is not a covenant that I am making with my children - it me informing them that this particular disobedience will earn them a particular punishment.  I am not promising a weekend where they are free to do what they want if they obey - goodness no!  I am promising them a weekend of solitude if they don't, and that is the only promise that is taking place - a provisional promise of punishment.

I am not saying that this is what God did with Adam, but I am saying that taking what God says at face value doesn't require me to invent a covenant that isn't explicitly stated.

I say, I understand why a Presbyterian needs Covenant Theology.  How are you ever going to justify the practice of baptising unwilling unbelievers?  I am have never found a convincing argument for infant baptism that was based entirely and solely on the scriptures.  Neither have you.  In fact, if you're convinced of infant baptism is for the same reason that Catholics are convinced of the mass - your theology demands it.  Covenant Theology to the precept upon which the precept of infant baptism rests.

You see, if you believe that "original sin" is something that passes from parent to child, like Augustine did, you must conclude that Mary, the earthly mother of our Lord incarnate, Jesus, likewise inherited the "stain" of original sin.  Since Jesus clearly did not have this same "stain" it follows that either the whole "stain" notion is faulty, or alternately that Mary wasn't thus stained.

The Catholics go with the latter.  The immaculate conception is a "forced" theological conclusion.  Since everyone must inherit original sin - Mary must inherit it.  Since Mary could not have inherited it (lest she infect Jesus with it), God must have (in a singular act of grace) , not only allowed Mary to be born avoiding original sin, but God must have kept Mary from personal sin until the birth of Christ (at the very least), and likely all her life (depending on which flavor of Catholic myth innovation you care to swallow). 

Not everyone can get behind an all too convenient, made to order,  theological loop-hole like the Immaculate Conception of Mary, but if they cling to the notion that original sin is something that passes from parent to child, they have to come up with something that explains the discrepancy.

Some suggest that Mary was a surrogate mother to the Lord, and not a natural one.  That the Holy Spirit sort of implanted the fetus in Mary's womb.  Others say that Mary was the natural mother of Jesus, but that the sin nature did not pass from her to our Lord because only the father, as the federal head, can pass along the sin nature - forgetting I suppose that Mary would have received her father's sin nature, and would have passed on at least her father's share of the sin nature even if the sin nature could only be passed down through males.

If we translate the two word phrase ἐφ᾿ ᾧ in Romans 5:12 as having consecutive force, meaning that one thing is the result of another, we read that, "death spread to all men with the result that all sinned.".  That is, not how Augustine understood the passage.  Augustine thought the best way to translate the passage was to understand the pronoun (ᾧ) as referring back to Adam: "death spread to all men [in whom] all sinned in Adam",   Grammatically, that's a mess, and frankly, it is a poor translation.  Yet others see the phrase as suggesting one thing causes another , such that "death spread to all men because all men sin".

No matter how you translate Roman 5:12 (and people have argued about how to best translate it even to this day), one thing is certain: Adam's sin brought death into the world...

Think that through for a second.  When Adam was just a lump of dirt, transformed by God's creative hand into a lifeless body of flesh and blood - Adam wasn't "dead".  You cannot be dead unless you have first been alive.  In order to die, Adam would have to lose his life.  Until Adam sinned, nothing that had been given life had ever lost it.  Adam's sin brought something new into the world - but it wasn't an addition, it was a subtraction.  I like to use light and darkness to picture this, because light is something - it can be measured, but darkness?  It isn't a thing in and of itself - it is rather the utter absence of a thing (light).  So it is with death.

Just as light has substance, and darkness is just the concept we use to describe the absence of that substance; so life has substance, and death is just the word we use to describe what happens when that life is taken away.  Death has no substance, it isn't a "thing" like life is.  Adam didn't bring a "thing" into being, as his sin was by no means equal to God's power of creation.  He did not create death, but he did give God just cause to remove it.

If death isn't a "thing" what is it?

Let me make this simple for you...  Name all the things you know that have life in them, that cannot die or be put to death.  You're left with God, and only God, and the reason this is so is because everything that has life and is not God, derives/receives their life from God.  Said another way, if you have life, what you have is something that God Himself is sustaining in you.  If you do not have life, what you do not have is something in you God is sustaining.  To have life is to have something God supplies, and death is the word we use to describe not having God supply the same.

If physical death is to have God stop sustaining this life - where we have access to Him through repentance and faith, spiritual death means that we no longer have any avenue to God, he sustains our life apart from the availability of His presence, in eternal torment in the lake of fire.

Death is not something you get, it is the description of being incapable of getting life for yourself.

Knowing this, we go back to Romans 5:12 - why are men separated from the life of God?  Our three translational options are:
[a] all men are separated from the life that God sustains in them in Adam
[b] all men are separated from the life that God sustains in them because all men sin
[c] all men are separated from the life that God sustains with this result: all men sin.

Of the three the first one doesn't make sense grammatically, but it is nevertheless an opinion held by those see our death as being explained by virtue of our being pre-guilty (as it were) on account of Adam's sin.  We die because we are born guilty of "original sin".  That is one of the reasons why Catholics suffer infant baptism - because it "cleanses" the babe from the stain of Adam's sin.

The second is the common view amongst most evangelicals explains death as the consequence of personal sinfulness - we die because we sin.  This does not and cannot explain the death of sinless infants, so infants are said to be sinful in order to make that work.  Of course, sin is rebellion, and in order to rebel against God you have to be able to form a rebellious thought... but let's leave that hanging.

The third option, and this is the one I am inclined to believe, is that Adam's sin cut mankind off from experiencing the life of God ("death"), and that is why we sin.

Can there be righteousness apart from God?  Think carefully.  The sinless babe is not "righteous" - righteousness is not something that can be earned, it is a state of being - like virginity.  You cannot gain it if you do not have already possess it.  Jesus was not born "neutral" only to become righteous when He was old enough to start obeying God.  He obeyed God (perfectly) because He was righteous.  Said another way, He demonstrated that He was God by living a perfectly righteous life - a life that was never, at any time (until He was united on the cross with the sin of the elect) disconnected/separated from the life of God.

Do you understand the link between the life of god and righteousness?  Christ was righteous because the life of God was in Him.  He was God, and in one sense it was His own life that was in Him - but He lived as a human, and as such He lived like Adam before the fall - He was both alive, and aware of God's presence.  He was righteous.

If we understand Romans 5:12 to be saying that when Adam sinned, mankind was cutoff from God - the only source of righteousness, it follows that the consequence of this separation will be our being cut off from the possibility of righteousness in the same stroke.  This was the point Paul was making all along - there is none righteous, not even one.  It was Adam's disobedience that brought this universal, inescapable unrighteousness into being, and we all partake of it - not because we inherited it from our parents, but because Adam snuffed out the sun, as it were, and everyone has been born in darkness ever since.

We don't need to invent the concept of original sin - we just need to understand that Adam's disobedience made actual righteousness an impossibility.  Adam' sin made it impossible to come to God.  Adam cut all of mankind off from God, from righteousness and from life.  If Adam did this, Christ restored all this, made life possible, made righteousness possible (since it flows from life), and made salvation possible.  That is where Paul is going.

He is on his way to Romans six, to show that being united to the source of righteousness and life does not lead a man to continue in sin, but by virtue of that life causes a man to pursue righteousness.  The gospel does not free a man to sin, it enslaves a man to righteousness.

Sin is not a disease that passes to children from their parents it is a condition that everyone is born into by virtue of being born without a relationship to God through Christ. It isn't rocket science, but an over-developed theology can go a long way to complicating what is essentially a very simple thing.

As a Baptist, when I read the language of Covenant Theology in the 1689 LBCF I see convolution.  I see a framework that was put in place to try attempt to answer, biblically why it is that innocent babies die.  I see the fear of babies dying and going to hell, unless they get baptized to wash away this original sin that otherwise condemns them, and I see latter day theologies that have accepted infant baptism for so long, they no longer are capable of wresting the baby from the bathwater.  I see a theology that historically presumed infant baptism only to later develop itself to the place where it could sort of justify it also.

One of the reasons I prefer the 1646 LBCF to the 1689 LBCF is because it was a confession of faith intended to describe what the bible taught, rather than the personal theology of these seven churches.  It was a document that described what orthodoxy had always looked like.  They were reformers, not innovators.  They weren't trying to convince people that they were theologically on the same page as everyone else - they were trying to convince people that they were reformed, and this was what reformed looked like.

In penning the 1646 LBCF these seven churches intended to show parliament (for so the document was addressed) that Particular (i.e. Calvinist) Baptists were orthodox (meaning that they conformed to an image of what a corrected Catholic church would and should look like).  The 1646 LBCF on the other hand was written primarily as a stylistic update intended to show (with greater precision) what distinguished London Baptists from other reformed churches, adopting the words of the Westminster Confession wherever possible, by replacing the doctrine of infant baptism with the doctrine of believer baptism.  In this way Covenant Theology found its way into the LBCF.

I understand Covenant Theology, but I don't agree with it. I don't agree with Dispensationalism either.  I am leery of any theology that requires me to accept as true a precept that is built upon another precept which itself is only implicit if you squint just right, and mine and gather verses together that really aren't talking about the same things at all.  There are a great many godly men who have no problem with CT, men who are far godlier than I, far better read than I, and certainly more pleasing to God than I.  Nevertheless, I am not going to be judged on that last day for what better men than I have done with what God has given them.  The one thing I can do is strive to be honest with the scriptures, to not treat them like a puzzle to be solved, or a mystery that suddenly makes sense if you just have the right assumptions.  My assumptions are simple: scripture is true; it means what it says, and those who call on the name of the Lord ought to turn away from their rebellion, and surrender their way to Christ.

posted by Daniel @ 4:15 PM   3 comment(s)
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