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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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Monday, August 24, 2009
If Jesus is delaying in order to save everyone, can Jesus ever return?
In 2 Peter 3:9 we read, "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." [ESV].

There are a few words in this sentence that point us elsewhere for context. The word, "promise" for instance. In order to understand the verse, we need to know what promise Peter is referring to. The context answers that question for us - the promise Peter is referring to he mentions only a few sentences earlier: the promise of Christ's return.

Peter starts off here by saying that the delay in Christ's return is by no means due to slackness on the Lord's part. God's promise has not been set aside because of some slackness in God, but it is God's will to put Christ's return is on hold until all to come to repentance.

Hold up here for a second.

If I say that the ball is not green, we know only one thing about the ball - that whatever color it is, it isn't green. We could have said that the ball was entirely blue, and it would follow that the ball was not green - but if we say that the ball is not green, we are using the language of negation to stress the balls lack of greenness and typically we use this sort of expressive tool when our context is more fully expounded by the former rather than the latter. If I am in a room and everyone else has a green ball, and some authority asks each of us to describe the color of our particular sphere, and twelve people in a row say that their ball is green, I could say my ball is blue, but if I say that it is "not green" I emphasize the contrast far more fully than I would if I merely said my particular orb was of the bluish persuasion.

When Peter says that the "Lord is not slack" - he could simply said that the Lord -is- disciplined concerning His promises; or maybe, the Lord is hard working concerning his promises; but Peter chose to tell us that the Lord was "not slack" concerning His promises. Typically, we use that sort of negation when what we want to say about a thing is that it isn't like some other thing.

Peter has just mentioned that in the last days scoffers will heckle the idea that the Lord is going to return. They will reason that because everything continues as it ever did it is foolish to think that Christ will return, and that judgment will come. Yet Peter says that this is just as it was in Noah's day, just before the flood.

So when Peter says that God is not slack, he is answering beforehand, as it were, the charge that these scoffers will make - and his answer is that the coming of Christ is not delayed, as though God were slack, but that the Lord is not going to come until all should come to repentance.

Now, here is where some people get into the mire a bit.

The text clearly says that the reason Christ hasn't come back yet is because He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. If we lift this verse out of Peter's epistle and examine it by itself, we could actually dismiss the very argument that Peter is trying to make. Peter is arguing that Christ -will- return, but if cut this verse out and separate it from the text in which we found it, it seems to suggest that Christ will not come back until there are no more sinners left who might repent. In fact, if Christ returns at all, He will damn all those sinners who would have repented had he waited another year. Thus if the Lord is --truly-- not willing that any should perish, and is in fact waiting for more and more men to repent - then there are only two ways for the Lord to return - either all men die, or all men repent.

We can't get wishy-washy here. Either the text says that God is holding back until all men repent, or it doesn't - we can't have it both ways.

Yet if we are willing to put the text back in its context, we will not have this difficulty.

First of all, let's be clear on what Peter is arguing:
[1] Christ will return
[2] Christ is purposely delaying His return
[3] The reason for Christ's delay is that He is not willing for "any" to perish, and that "all" would come to repentance.

One question we must ask ourselves, if we are to continue, is whether God's will here can be thwarted. Sure we could just quote Isaiah 46:10 ("...My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please..."), but if we do that, we have to go there and make sure that the meaning we are pulling from that verse is the same one the verse puts there, and not just a convenient phrase that fits our argument.

So we ask one rational question: If Jesus is delaying in order to save everyone, can Jesus ever return? Maybe we worded that too strongly, let's water it down and see if it makes a difference: If Jesus is delaying in order to save "as many as possible" can Jesus ever return?

It should be evident, that is Jesus is trying to save as many as possible then he cannot return so long as there is the possibility that even one person might repent. Right?

Now, let's water it down just one more step: If Jesus is delaying in order to save "a goodly amount", can Christ ever return?

Why did we ask the last one? We asked it because it is the first one that changes the clear meaning of the text. The text says that there is a delay, and the delay has a reason, and the reason is that the Lord is not willing that any should perish. The only way we can allow Christ to return is if change the reason for his return from "not willing that any" to not willing that too many"

But as I said, if we put this back in its context, we don't have this problem.

Let me 'splain.

Ask yourself a question, who is Peter referring to when He says that the Lord is longsuffering toward us.

To be fair, there is a textual consideration to deal with here. The oldest manuscripts show the pronoun here as humas which means "you all" - and by oldest I am talking about a multitude of texts dating back as early as the third century. Latter day texts introduce a variance, replacing humas with "hemas" - which means "us". When I say latter day texts, I am talking about texts from the twelfth to fifteenth century. It may be that a thousand years later the Byzantines corrected the much older Alexandrian texts... but frankly, I doubt it. I am more inclined to believe that the older texts (and we have many) are probably more accurate simply because there was less time for variants to enter into the text by copyist errors etc.

So I am going to go with longsuffering toward "you all"...

So who is Peter referring to when he says, "you all"? His readers? Okay, I will buy that - I mean, that is how I would right if I were writing to a group of people, and I wanted to refer to them, I would use a pronoun like "you all" to do so. In fact, just a verse earlier Peter refers to the people he is writing to as his "beloved" - which I take to either mean, beloved of God (most likely), or simply beloved of Peter - which amounts to the same thing, for Peter is obviously not writing an open letter to just anyone, but a letter directed at a specific group of believers.

So when Peter says that Christ hasn't returned yet because He is long suffering towards all of those whom Peter was writing to, if we can find out whom Peter was writing to, we should be able to figure out whom the Lord is delaying his return for, which is presumably the same people whom the Lord desires should not perish, but come to repentance.

Presumably the beloved that Peter is writing to are described well enough in the salutation in chapter one. That was the flow at the time you know - you said who you were, and then you said who you were writing to, then you greeted who you were writing to, then you began your letter.

Looking back at the salutation we read that the recipients of this epistle were those who had obtained like precious faith with Peter and those who were with him by the righteousness of their mutual God and Savior Jesus Christ. That is, Christ was delaying his return in order that those who have and would obtain a similar faith would perish, but would find repentance. But Peter says a helpful thing up in verse one - he says that this is the second epistle he has written this group. Assuming that 1Peter is the first epistle, we can glean a bit more about whom Peter refers to as beloved, and whom it is that Christ delays waiting for their repentance that they may not perish...

Here Peter refers to them as, "...the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ"

Do you see that? Peter is writing to a group whom he refers to as elect according to the foreknowledge of God.

So Peter's argument then is that Christ is not slack in returning, but is waiting for every elect sinner to repent before He returns in order that none of them perish.

As a believer I have a choice from this passage as to what it means:
[1] Jesus is either trying to save everyone, and not only failing to do so, but He is even unable to return because doing so would thwart His own plan to try and save everyone...

or

[2] Jesus has chosen whom He will save already, and delays His return because He is waiting for all His sheep to come in the fold - that is, He is waiting for every elect sinner to be born, live, and come to faith in repentance, so that when the last elect sinner repents, Christ will return.

I am inclined to the second position because I see that all over the bible in every way possible.

I know that some think of election and predestination as God dragging some people kicking and screaming into heaven against their will, and slamming the door at the same time in the face of those who are desperately trying to get into heaven - but that isn't how it works.

The truth is none of us want God. We hate Him, and want nothing to do with Him, and will only grow in that direction more and more as time goes on. Unless God intervenes in our life, we will never, ever desire to be reconciled to Him. We may STRONGLY desire to avoid wrath - but while self preservation will certainly motivate a person to attempt in all ways possible to escape from the wrath to come - it will never motivate a sinner to be reconciled into a right (i.e. obedient and submitted) relationship with God. The sinner doesn't want reconciliation - the sinner wants God to die so that no one can punish the sinner for their sins. The sinner hates God's judgement, and hates the God who has the power to judge. He does not come to God because there is no life in him.

Do you understand that?

When a person believes they believe because God has drawn them to Himself so that what was impossible becomes possible - they come into a God given desire to be reconciled to God - a desire that God doesn't owe any of us, but is given as a gift of grace to those whom God, according to the wisdom of His own counsel, decided to do long before the world was ever created. It isn't that God chooses some innocent people to be born, sin, then go to hell, and other innocent people to be born, sin, and be given grace by which they come to a saving faith in Christ and escape hell. It is that all men are born, and sin, and stand condemned before God, but God has determined beforehand that those whom He foreknew He would elect to extend that grace by which they see themselves as sinners, and desire to be reconciled to God.

Don't get me wrong, I like the idea that salvation is all up to me, it is about as humanistic as can be - and since the culture I live in is predominantly driven by the philosophy of humanism - I am quite comfortable with the notion that my salvation depends both on luck (thank goodness I was lucky enough to hear the gospel) and on personal merit (I thank myself that I am not like other men who hear the gospel and ignore it, but instead I chose to repent and believe, and when I did so God saved me in response to my own sovereign choice). I say, I like that me-o-centric soteriology as much as the next guy - I mean, it is pretty much the default isn't it? You don't need a bible to come up with that - it is basically the way every other religion works right? You find the right hoops to jump through, you chose to jump through them and butta-bing, you're in.

But that isn't what I read in scripture. What I read in scripture is that God is sovereign, and that while I am perfectly free to deny or indulge any desire I have - I cannot cause myself to have desires that are not there. I cannot choose to "no longer experience temptation" for instance. I mean, I can choose how I react to sinful temptations, but I cannot change my spots any more than the leopard can. I am truly limited in my moral free agency. I am not merely spiritually sick in my trespasses and sin, I am dead - and dead does not mean that I have a wee sliver of life. I am not neutral, but at enmity with God, we all are. So that when scripture says that no one can come to the Son unless the Father draws him - I don't rinse that away, but nod in agreement. Of course I cannot come to God - if I could do that, I could do it all and wouldn't need to come to God.

Yet I know this: sin is not merely something we do, it is something that owns us - and the person who thinks they can walk out of that cage all by themselves in order to come to Christ, doesn't understand who it is who sets the prisoners free. I cannot walk out of the cage of enmity, the cage of my spiritual deadness - and suddenly have faith - any more than a corpse can rise from the grave of its own accord.

I am not an innocent man, but guilty - we all are guilty. The reason people go to hell is because they hate God and reject Him. they don't want to be reconciled to Him because that would mean giving up their rebellion - giving up their (imagined) right to rule themselves - giving up their sin. No one is willing to do that because that, my dear reader, is the leopard's spot they cannot change. We are condemned because each and every last one of us refuses to come to God - indeed, we hate God. God isn't being mean when He sends such a one to hell - He is being just, for hell is the only fitting place for anything that refuses to subject itself to God, that is, to anything that refuses to be reconciled to God in repentance.

So I don't think God is picking innocent people to go to hell, and other innocent people to escape hell. I believe that God has determined to put His mercy and grace on display in electing some of us guilty, condemned already sinners to salvation, so that in spite of our selves God makes himself known to us even as Christ did to Paul on the Damascus road. He comes to us, loving us while we are yet sinners, and regenerates us and gives us a new desire - or to extend the metaphor - He changes our spots so that we can do by grace what previously was impossible for us - repent and believe. Not some trying to get in and being turned away while others are taken in who don't want to be there, rather God takes from amongst those who hate and reject Him, an elect group whom He chose beforehand to grant grace to, and these upon receiving grace respond to it as a duck responds to water - they act in perfect accord with their new nature, and repent and believe.

Period.

Okay I know I got off topic there at the end, but I like to tie up lose ends whenever I can. Sorry about the typos, It is late and I am going to post it without fixing it up. How's that for frivolity?

Labels: , ,

posted by Daniel @ 9:11 PM  
3 Comments:
  • At 12:14 PM, August 25, 2009, Blogger Bob Johnson said…

    Yes and amen... and these truths continue to redound to His glory

     
  • At 12:05 PM, August 27, 2009, Blogger Daniel said…

    I expect that some would argue that the Lord's desire for "all" men to escape damnation and for "all" men to therefore repent does not imply that He is doing anything - it just means that the Lord "wants" everyone to be saved.

    The problem with that interpretation is that this text is given by Peter as the reason Christ hasn't returned yet.

    If we impose upon the text the thought that Christ hasn't returned yet is because the Lord doesn't like seeing men perish, Peter's argument falls flat on its face.

    If the reason Christ hasn't returned yet is simply because the Lord doesn't like to see men perish, how does that explain the Lord's delay? Unless the Lord's preference changes on Judgment day, this cannot be held up as a --reason-- for His delay.

    I don't doubt that the Lord loves all, and would prefer for us to come to Him unbidden and repentant. But such a desire does not give an answer to the question Peter is answering - why has Christ not yet returned?

    It is -irrational- to say (on the one hand) that this text proves that God is trying to save every last person, and then (on the other hand), wilfully ignore the consequences of that interpretation as it imposes itself into the context of the verse.

    The reality is, that Peter cannot be saying, and no rational person can soberly defend the idea, that Christ is delaying His coming because the Lord wants everyone to be saved, because that means either that [1] Christ will not return until everyone is saved, or [2] Christ will return -before- everyone is saved, which would mean that Christ's desire for everyone to be saved didn't alter the timeline of his return - and therefore Peter was clueless when he proffered that as a reason for Christ's delay.

    See, I don't mind a person rejecting the doctrine of particular atonement - as long as in doing so they admit that in order to maintain their opinion, they must willfully ignore the inescapable conclusions their opinions demand.

    I try not to allow what I believe to be dictated by preformed opinions about who God is, and how things ought to look according to my upbringing, personal opinions on righteousness, and longstanding impressions of God's character. Doing so would cause me to try and press my understanding of scripture of what scripture teaches into a mold that only allows my "already decided" opinion fit in it. I am sure it happens, but I like to keep my eyes (and especially my heart) open so as to limit such a thing.

     
  • At 9:06 PM, August 31, 2009, Blogger Daniel said…

    I did accidently cite 1 Peter rather than 2 Peter...

    whoops.

     
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