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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.
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Thursday, May 02, 2013
Grace, grace, God's grace

"For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works." - Titus 2:11-14 [ESV]

One recent estimate suggests that there are over one and a half billion people alive today who have never so much as heard of Jesus Christ.

Positively speaking, that means around five and a half billion people have heard the name of our Lord. Close to a third of these five and a half billion call themselves Christians, but only about a quarter of these would be evangelical in practice or name. It is clear from the scriptures that not all of these evangelical Christians are genuine, born again, believers; that is, even among the 500 million or so evangelicals, we know from the scriptures that some are in fact self-deceived, believing themselves to be wheat, when they are in fact chaff.

I have heard some pretty grim estimates, some say only 10% of professing evangelicals are actually saved, some say 30%, some 50%. I haven't heard too many claiming any numbers larger than this, but I am (personally) hopeful that these paltry estimates are off.

If the gospel preached in evangelical churches is the true gospel, and the gospel taught elsewhere is in fact false, and cannot save, that means that somewhere around 7% of the world's population adheres to the true gospel, and within that 7% some, perhaps many, haven't savingly understood it.

I can't see any honest person, disputing the numbers themselves, though amongst those whose gospel differs from that of the evangelicals, they numbers could be substantially different, but still statistically appalling. Even if every person who called themselves a Christian was actually saved, the number is still small enough to make this observation: God isn't even saving half of us.

That isn't meant to be a slight against God, God could save everyone if that was His plan. The fact that He isn't saving everyone informs us that He has never intended to save everyone.

For some this thought is scandalous! The only God they are willing to accept is a God who is desperately trying (and horribly failing) to save everyone. They admit that God is all powerful and all knowing, but even with such advantages, there are a billion and a half people on earth right now who will never hear about Him.  Yet even with such advantages, only a third of those who do hear about Him care to take on His name.  Among these few who do, only a sliver will accept the true gospel; and even these are by no means all wheat - some, perhaps many, are "chaff".

I have more respect for the atheist than a believer who imagines God is trying to save everyone, because one of the classic arguments of the atheist is aimed, not at the God of the scriptures, but at this caricature of God who is desperately trying (and failing) to save everyone. The atheist says, if this God is trying to save everyone, why doesn't He simply prove to everyone on earth, all at once, that He is God? I mean He obviously has the power to do so!

One of the pillar strengths of many atheists is that they are willing to believe if they have proof - and God could provide such proof without any effort on His part.

Why would any atheist (or anyone else for that matter) want to believe in a God who wants to save everyone, but isn't able to? I mean, what else is this God incapable of? Sustaining eternal life? Being fair? How can we put our trust in an omnipotent being who does not use that omnipotence to ensure that what He attempts He succeeds in? Should we put our selves in the hands of a functionally impotent Deity?

I speak as a person capable of reason, and unwilling to exercise blind faith. I personally would never submit myself to a God who cannot accomplish what He desires to do, and I have little respect for anyone who can. The scriptures do not call us to an irrational faith, but a well reasoned, and rational one.

I didn't have to look at the reality around me to come to the conclusion that God isn't trying to save everyone. The scriptures make that very clear. The reason I appeal to the reality around us, is because I want to underscore that it agrees with what the scriptures teach, and with what I believe - that whatever God's grace is, it doesn't result in everyone being saved.

That means that either [1] God's "saving" grace fails to bring about salvation in some (through faith), or that [2] God's "saving" grace is only being given to some.

Many Christians - perhaps more today than ever before, are inclined to think of God's grace as a sort of force or power that God has unleashed in the world. Some might describe it as a settled kindness, or as a universal assistance that God is willing to render, if and when a person appeals for that assistance. The view, however it may be expressed, is that God's "saving" grace is available to everyone (sort of like gravity), but only effective in those who overcome their own inertia, by hearing and then by putting their trust in, the gospel of Jesus Christ.

If you don't have a problem with that view, you should. Because it has to be read back into the scriptures through the lens of an image of God that does not exist in the scriptures - an image of God as being ungodly if he doesn't give everyone an equal chance at salvation. An image that says, yes, men are condemned by their own sin, but God must try to save them, or He isn't nice enough to be the God I want to find in the scriptures.

However you dice it up, that is where it all comes from - a presupposition about how God should act that informs our interpretation of certain passages in the scriptures that concern themselves with the justification and sanctification of sinners.

In other words, the (main? only?) reason some see God as providing saving grace to all is because they presume that God must necessarily be trying to save everyone, since -that- agrees with the image of God they have brought to the scriptures.

Those who see the saving grace of God as exclusive, rather than inclusive, believe that God is by no means bound to show mercy to those who justly deserve the judgment that awaits them. They reason that God is just in condemning sin, and by extension, sinners - that the condemnation of mankind is not an unjust, but a just thing.

They regard those who are being saved as having been elected by God to receive, unfailingly, this saving grace. That is, they see God choosing to redeem certain condemned and guilty individuals, throughout all of history, as the expression of God's grace. That such sinners are worthy of condemnation, even as all are worthy of it, but that these ones have received, through no merit of their own, the grace of God in the form of having been chosen to be redeemed in and through Christ.

In other words, these see the election of individual sinners (each of whom is entirely worthy of the damnation their sin has already earned for them), as act of grace. God would have been just to put Adam to death immediately, but chose instead to redeem not only Adam, but some of Adam's descendants. God could have allowed Adam and every one of his descendants to simply perish and be judged for their sins - that is, God could have allowed Adam and all his descendants to live for a time, bear children, and die, and then be judged for their sin, and every last person would receive the same judgment, and find themselves spending eternity in the lake of fire. But instead, God wrote, as it were, the book of life - putting into it the names of every person He intended to redeem throughout the ages.

We could just as easily think of this book as the book of God's grace, or the book of the elect - since it describes those condemned sinners whom God ordained to life through the redemptive work of Christ. Those whose names God did not elect to include in this book, remain condemned, and those whose names are found in this book will be redeemed.

To recap, saving grace is either a provision made by God, and universally bestowed on all, but only effective in those who manage to appropriate it by submitting themselves to the righteousness of God through a faith that resides in them apart from this grace (since it is the means by which this grace is apprehended). Or saving grace bestowed on individuals by God in order that they may come to the obedience of faith through which they are redeemed in Christ. That is, either grace is appropriated by faith, or faith flows from grace.

In the first scenario, grace rests upon all, waiting for each to produce for themselves a sufficient faith to pour itself into, and (possibly) effect a salvation. In the second certain guilty individual have been spared by God as an act of grace, and history waits for these individuals to be born. As each is born, God providentially ensures that each one comes to saving faith in Christ, whom God has supplied as their redeemer. The whole process is an act of grace, but it isn't available to those who were not chosen beforehand to be spared thus.

The fact that we have so many Christian denominations informs us that people are ready and willing to find their own preconceived notions staring back at them from the pages of scripture. How can anyone be sure his or her opinion is any better than anyone else's? Surely no one person is able to perfectly erase their own bias - so shouldn't we conclude, as the relativists do, that truth is unknowable, and that contrary views on the scriptures are equally valid, since we have no way to discern which of so many opinions may be the right one?

To that I say that even if we are not able to discern which, of all the various opinions in the world on scripture, is the most correct, that isn't the same as saying that we cannot compare with some degree of certainty which opinions agree with both the scriptures and the reality we see around us.

If one person believes that the scriptures teach that God is desperately trying to save all men, and another sees God as having chosen before hand every last person who would ever be saved, and both appeal to their own interpretation of the scriptures, we can compare their opinions to what we see in the world, and ask which (if any) agrees both with the scriptures (albeit through some interpretive lens) and with reality. If neither can agree with both, then neither is a good candidate for (discerning) Christian consumption. If both agree with reality, then the matter cannot be weighed by this means, but if one interpretation agrees with reality, and the other does not - the one which agrees with reality is clearly less burdened by false assumptions than the other.

Is God trying to save everyone? If He is, then why are there a billion and a half people in the world today who have never heard of Him? Why did it take 1500 years for the gospel to trickle into North and South America? Wasn't God trying to save everyone? Why was He failing?

We might say that grace is failing today because Christians are not doing all that they "should" be doing. If we were all pulling our weight, then these one and a half billion people would be being evangelized. It is the sinfulness of believers that holds God's grace in check. Huh? Do people actually believe that?

People didn't even know that North and South America existed. We cannot say, and remain intellectually honest, that the reason people weren't being saved in North America was because Christians were being sinful in refusing to evangelize them - the same Christians had no idea that these people existed. If God is at work, moving in the hearts of believers to get them to try and share the gospel with as many people as they can because God is "trying to save everyone" - then how is it that God was unable to convince anyone to go and discover these people sooner?

If you want to believe that God is trying to save everyone, how do you account for the fact that not everyone is being saved? Can it be that the same God who drove Jonah to Nineveh by having him be swallowed whole by a denizen of the deep - this same God could not convince even a single believer to go and preach to the natives of a far away land? How can any sober person look at the world around them, and conclude that God is trying to save everyone. If He is, He is failing monumentally.

One may say that it is wrong to suggest that God is trying to save everyone, but rather that we should say that God has made it possible for everyone to be saved, and that the work of accomplishing this has been given to the church, such that God is not failing, man is failing.

That is perhaps a sadder opinion because God is omniscient, and would fully know exactly how ineffective this approach would be, so that if God was truly interested in saving everyone, He would never have chosen a means that He fully knew beforehand would be so tragically ineffective - given the numbers.

Given this line of reasoning, it seems that of the two opinions, the notion that God is trying to save everyone is inferior to the one that says God is unfailingly saving every single person whom He chooses to save, and those whom God is not sparing thus, are going to receive the condemnation that every one of us deserves.

We might add that in the latter, opinion, even those who are being spared receive the same condemnation as everyone else, but receive that condemnation in and through their union with Christ. They are not excused from the same judgment as everyone else, but pass through it, as it were, by virtue of being in Christ when God poured out His wrath upon our Lord. They were united with Him in his death, that is they received in Christ what their rebellion had earned them; but they likewise received the new life in Christ when God raised Christ (and those who were in Christ) from the dead. Just as Noah and his family passed God's wrath in the ark, so believers passed through God's wrath in Christ.

I am not suggesting that the belief that God's saving grace is exclusive to those whom God has chosen is necessarily true (though I certainly hold it to be), what I am saying is that it is necessarily superior to the notion that God is trying to save everyone with a universal grace that sinners must appropriate through a faith that the bible tells us is impossible (surrendering to God is an act of righteousness, and the bible tells us that no one is righteous)

The one is superior because it agrees with a particular interpretation of the scriptures as well as with the reality we see around us, and the other is inferior because while it agrees with an interpretation of the scriptures, it is denied by the reality we see around us.

If God is trying to save everyone, He is failing. If we say this is because God has commissioned men to bring in the lost, then we must remember that if God was trying to save everyone, He would have known beforehand how commissioning men to bring in the lost would be the colossal failure it has become, and because He is trying to save everyone, He would certainly not have chosen -that- way. If God is trying to save everyone, God is failing, and we can't pass that off onto Christians, because God would have known their failure beforehand, such that if he -truly- wanted to save everyone, He would have selected a means by which everyone would have been saved.

There is no wiggle room for any honest thinker on this one.

One might think, at this point that I am done with this post - that I have walked through my position, come to some conclusion, and am now about to close the post with some pithy thought to meditate on, but I am not.

All I have done is concluded a clarifying introduction to the topic I wish to address. Patience is a gift we receive as we walk in the Spirit. My hope then is that you, the reader, in the Spirit as you read this, lest the temptation to sigh and give up on reading such a long post should claim you. I promise this intro was necessary.

Going back to the passage from the second chapter of Paul's letter to Titus. Grace is described there as actually accomplishing something - it trains the believer. Unless you have the passage memorized, skip up to the top of this post and refresh your memory. Note those things that the grace of God teaches the believer to do.

It happens to most of us early on in our faith. We come to a place where we struggle with an assurance of our own salvation. We believed all the right things, as far as we know, we jumped through all the hoops we thought ought to be jumped through, but for all of that, we are unsettled by the fact that we still sin, and regarding ourselves as hypocrites, we begin to question the reality of our salvation: if Jesus came to save me from my sins, why am I still sinning??

Assurance and grace go hand in hand, but only if you actually understand what grace is. If you think grace is something you have to grab to get, you're not going to understand how grace plays into your assurance of salvation.

In the passage noted (Titus 2:11-14), God's grace trains us:
- to renounce ungodliness
- to renounce worldly passions
- to live self-controlled lives
- to live upright lives
- to live godly lives (in the present age)
- to wait for the return of our Lord who is presently training us in these things.

This does not mean that God's grace is an example that, when we look to it, teaches us how we should act.

It means that the grace of God is in us (in the person of the Holy Spirit), who, being God, is at work in us to will and to do what pleases Him.

Christ Himself, through the Holy Spirit is teaching every believer to renounce ungodliness. This is the grace of God at work in the believer. Christ (through the Holy Spirit) is training every believer to renounce worldly passions; to life self controlled, upright and godly lives. He teaches us that He Himself is our blessed Hope who is going to return one day. The work He is doing in us is described in this same text as purifying for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good works.

To the new believer who begins to feels the hand of God's grace upon Him, it doesn't feel like the sort of grace a new believer might expect. It is a conviction of our rebellion when we refuse to submit to the will of God, The flip-side of the same conviction, is that we know to stand away from the one (our own sinful pursuits), and cling to the other (what we know to be the will of God). This sort of grace is the convicting work of Christ through the Holy Spirit, and it is intended to train the believer.

We have in Manitoba, a lot of snow this season. When that snow is cleared from the streets, it is loaded into dump trucks to take it to various places and dump it. By the end of our winter these repositories become huge hills of snow, several foot ball fields wide and long, and over an hundred feet tall. They are left to melt over the course of spring, summer, and fall. Even as the snow melts from every other place, yet it remains there - not because this particular snow is worse than any other snow - but because it is piled so high, and only what is on the surface can melt.

Sin is like that in us.

The work of Christ, through the Holy Spirit, in us is like a thawing, and our sinfulness is like the snow. The whole landscape melts together, with equal vigor, and in a short while we begin to see grass here and there, and soon there is more grass than snow - or more obedience than disobedience - what remains - the grand piles of snow that although they continue to melt, are by no means swept away as quickly as we would like. The new believer sees these and trembles - why are these still there? These are called strongholds by Paul, they are areas in our life where our surrender to God hasn't reached our core yet.

It is a fact that we are ready to regard our freedom from such things as impossible, since were it left to us, we could never set ourselves free from these. Yet in the testimony of every believer we should find the same story - here was some thing I could never let go - some thing I held to for so long, I didn't even realize it was there, and that I was its willing slave. On a day like any other, I suddenly saw it for what it was, and I loathed myself, and called out to my Lord to be free from it - and the burden of that sin slipped away - meaning the chains that bound that person had finally melted away. Christ had not been overlooking it, nor had He forgotten it - but continued to melt it until that mountain was cast into the sea.

We are right to marvel at this - it is what we mean when we say that our Savior is worthy of honor and glory. The one who has been set free, even from a small mountain, has seen first hand the profound grace of God.

When a believer is looking for assurance, I bring them to this passage, and others like it. I show that God's grace cannot be separated from the work of the Holy Spirit, who today is the vehicle through which this grace (which is the work and even the Person of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ), comes to us.

The Christian life exalts He who works to produce it - it exalts the glory of God, in that it exalts the grace of God - if you understand what grace truly is.

That is the point of this post - to debunk on the one hand, the notion of grace that changes the work of God into an arbitrary power that works autonomously to little or no effect, and again to demystify the concept of grace that we see in it the determined hand of God, unfailingly, and unfalteringly at work in the elect.

What kind of joy do you settle for? Let me tell you, what gets me excited is not that I am saved from God's wrath - even though that ought to be enough for anyone. What gets me excited is that the God who is at work in me, is unspeakably awesome. That even as I try and wrap my head around the thought of Him stooping down, as it were, to serve anyone, how I reel to think that He has stooped not only to serve me, but to continue to serve me throughout my life on this earth. That He hasn't merely saved me, but -is- saving me. That because I am in Christ, I am so precious to Him that He will not leave or forsake me, that nothing can tear me from His hand which has grasped me - the sinner worthy only of condemnation, and has purchased my life with His own.

There is no canvas large enough, nor colors numerous or brilliant enough to paint such a picture as the grace of God in the life of the sinner - and yet here we are, receiving so great a gift that we lack the ability even to comprehend the smallest glimpse of it.

God's grace is precious, so heartbreakingly precious, that anyone who comes close to tasting it becomes the willing slave of this one duty: to proclaim it to anyone and everyone who will listen - to extol and exalt it - not that we make it bigger, but that we stretch our eyes, and the eyes of others, that they may see even the edges of it.

That is what this post is about. The grace of God, and how it trains us to be Christians. To understand that you have to understand grace.

May the Lord open our eyes.
posted by Daniel @ 12:29 PM  
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