Archive for September, 2012

Our Unconditional Election

Our Unconditional Election

Before the comments start coming in asking if I have gone off the deep end, please read this post. To be clear, I am not talking about the “U” in the acrostic for the Calvinist belief system. In one way, I am talking about the exact opposite of that. So here is my premise: we must choose Jesus Christ purposely, obediently, and unconditionally.

Purposely

I have heard it said that “God has no grandchildren” and I believe it is true. Each on of us must come to a personal decision to submit to the lordship of Christ, based on the faith and understanding we have gained from His Word. Infant baptism is not a concept that was taught in the New Testament, and therefore it has no place in a New Testament patterned church. If we are saved by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-9) and faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17), then there is no way for an infant who can do none of those things to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and submit to His lordship.

Obediently

As James wrote, faith is dead without obedience. Remember, when James is talking about works, he is referring to obedience. When Paul writes about works, he is usually addressing works of the Law, or works of our own merit. All people today are not just called to mentally ascent to a set of doctrines about Christ. We are called to submit to His authority by obedience that is made possible by grace through faith.
Jesus put it this way in John 3.

He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36 NASB)

And later on in chapter 8:31 Jesus said:

So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; (John 8:31 NASB)

Unconditionally
When we come to Jesus, we must come without reservation or preconditions. Too many are taking Jesus for a test drive to see if He really can make their life more enjoyable. Jesus demands that we come to Him not just as our Savior, but as our Lord as well. When we come to Jesus, our theme needs to be “I Surrender All” or don’t bother coming at all. Jesus is not here to be a welcome addition to your life. He wants to BE our life, but He does not share our lives. We die, and He becomes our very life.

And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. (Luke 9:23 NASB)

Paul picks up on this theme as well in Romans 6.

Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, (Romans 6:3-5 NASB)

So yes, we can say we believe in unconditional election when it concerns salvation. We just need to be clear that we are talking about our choosing to accept the free gift of salvation in the Gospel message, and that we are placing no conditions upon Jesus to make us footloose and fancy free in this life.

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By Snakes Through Faith

First of all, that was not a typo. I want to briefly take a look at an incident the happened with the Israelites in the wilderness. God was judging them with poisonous serpents. The nation chose to repent, and God gives Moses a cure for the snake bites that is very unusual.

The LORD sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. So the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD and you; intercede with the LORD, that He may remove the serpents from us.” And Moses interceded for the people. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.” And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived. (Numbers 21:6-9 NASB)

One of the things I wonder is how many people rejected the solution because it was just too easy, or because it didn’t make any sense to them. Many people are that way about salvation even now. Many reject it because it can’t be that easy. There has to be something we have to do to earn salvation rather than just receiving the free gift by faith in the resurrection in baptism! Or even reason that they are not worthy of it because they have so much sin.

But what does this story really have to do with us today? It was a shadow of what Jesus would do for us so many years later. Jesus himself said so.

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. (John 3:14, 15 NASB)

Just as the serpent was lifted up for the salvation of all those who will look to Him. But why was it a serpent? In the whole Bible, the serpent represents sin, and Jesus was without sin. How could a serpent represent salvation? Here’s how:

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:20, 21 NASB)

When we look to Jesus, we need to see Him as the one bearing sin. Not just the sin of the world in general, but our personal sin debt. As we look at Him as our atoning sacrifice for sin, we can claim the freedom that He purchased for us from that sin. In fact, we did provide something that day at Calvary. We provided our sins for Jesus to bear for us. When He died, we died with Him so that we can be free from the power of sin.

Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (Romans 6:4-7 NASB)

Now that the sin debt has been paid, we should continue to look to Jesus for the strength to endure. As we look upon Him and what He has done, we also look forward to the day when we, too, will be before the throne of God.

fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2 NASB)

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The Realization of Condemnation

Have you ever been listening to someone, or just reflecting on a situation and come to the sudden realization that you were wrong? You know, that sinking feeling that you have totally blown it and are helpless to make things right? It is a terrible feeling when it comes from within us, and is even more frightening when it comes from the Holy Spirit through the Word of God. That kind of terrifying reality check is what happened to those gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost in Acts 2.

Peter is bringing his sermon to its end and says this:

Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? (Acts 2:36, 37 NKJV)

What hit the audience that day was nothing short of cataclysmic. It would be bad enough to find out that the promised Messiah that you have been waiting centuries for had been killed. But Peter brings home the point that THEY had been the ones to have it done by the Romans! Could there be any sin in the universe greater than the murder of the Sin of God?

The word Luke uses here for being cut to the heart is only used once in the New Testament. It connotes being stabbed in the heart suddenly. This was not a slowly building realization of discomfort. This was a divine piercing through of the heart. And it must have been accompanied by the sudden dread of judgment for what they had done, for in verses 34 – 35 Peter had said,

“For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”

This was not a picture of someone using you as an ottoman. The picture that would have come to their minds was that of a heel on the neck. These men had been convicted by the true gravity of their sin, and their utter helplessness before a righteous and holy God. It must have been something akin to what Saul of Tarsus felt on the road to Damascus in Acts 9:1-9. He was breathing threatenings and murder against the believers, and was knocked off of his high horse in a blinding light. Have you ever wondered how doomed he felt when the voice said he was “Jesus whom you are persecuting”? He went from self righteous anger to “getting up trembling and astonished.”

This is what it means to be poor in Spirit. Before we can come to Christ we must come to the realization that we are hopelessly lost and condemned before God and fully deserving of His wrath. As long as we think we can do anything to rescue ourselves, we are not ready to be saved. Only when we come to that place in our hearts can we truly throw ourselves on His mercy and accept the forgiveness that is being offered, just like they did in Acts 2:38. Peter didn’t leave them hanging there. He told them what they must do in order to accept the free gift of the Grace of God.

There is no hint in apostolic preaching of “try this because Jesus will make your life better” or of “just be a good person.” The method of conviction of the sin of rejecting the Messiah must come first because that is part of the mission of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said in John 16:8-9,

And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; (John 16:8, 9 NKJV)

Salvation that begins at the place of utter inability to save ourselves will also result in disciples who are walking with God for the long haul. They are not coming to Jesus because He is really cool and makes them feel good. They are there because only Jesus can rescue them from the judgment to come. Don’t be afraid to talk about how our sins were part of what sent Jesus to the cross with a lost one. We must not neglect the preaching of judgment in our messages, lest we fail to show sinners the reality of their predicament and they someday find themselves standing before the Messiah they have rejected and are eternally lost.

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First the Spiritual, Then the Physical

(God Has A Plan For Israel part 3)
The way Jesus answered questions that were asked of him was very revealing. At times, questions were used by those who opposed him to try and trap Jesus into saying something that they could use against him. When that happened, Jesus would give the answer they deserved but would still teach something in the process.

What I am looking at right now, though, is a sincere question that was put forth that Jesus obviously answered as best he could in Acts 1:6-7.

Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? And He said to them, It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:6-8 NKJV)

There are some things which jump out at me from this encounter. The first of which is that the disciples had earlier had their minds opened to understand the Scriptures and what had been written about him in the Law and Prophets at the end of Luke’s prior account.

And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, (Luke 24:44, 45 KJV)

Having received this supernaturally accelerated education, the question gets asked about a physical restoration of the Kingdom to Israel. This was not, as some commentators would have us believe, the last vestiges of a misunderstanding about the true nature of the Kingdom. If that had been the case, then Jesus would have answered something like “that will not happen” or “the Kingdom will only be in your hearts” instead of telling them that only the Father knew the timing of the events. His answer implies that the events will actually occur. If the Kingdom were ONLY spiritual, then his answer is misleading, and we know that cannot be the case. It would also mean that they had not really had their minds enlightened to understand the Scriptures after all. This was not asked by just one person, either. The verse says “they” asked.

What Jesus said was that the Kingdom would be spiritual before it would be physical. In short, Jesus got them to focus on the part of the plan that was up to them. They would receive power from on high and go into all the known world and preach the Gospel. Don’t worry about the part of the plan that will come later. They needed to get inboard with the part they were to play and leave the other part to God.

This also means that the endless debates about whether or not we are in the Kingdom now as opposed to later are pointless. The answer is that yes, we are the Kingdom of God now in a spiritual sense, but at a future time the Kingdom will also manifest literally in a physical sense. The two views are not contradictory, but are consecutive. We have been debating as if the two manifestations of the Kingdom are mutually exclusive when they are not.

As I said before, Acts 1:6-7 would have been the perfect time to set the record straight by telling the disciples an answer like “He is not, it will only be I your hearts” but Jesus did not do that. Rather than deny the future restoration of the Kingdom to Israel, he simply told them they would know the time or season it would happen.

There are some, possibly many, who will still say that there is no future restoration of the Kingdom to Israel, and that the Kingdom is strictly spiritual. But they will need to answer the question of verse 6-7 for themselves. And please do not post comments that are cut and paste from commentaries. Think for yourselves and wrestle with this as I have. Ask how it is that if the “only spiritual I our hearts” doctrine is correct, then how do we explain the Kingdom destroying all earthly empires in the vision of Daniel 2? How is it that in Isaiah 9 God said, “Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this. (Isaiah 9:7 NKJV)
Or how will Jesus Christ rule the nations with a rod of iron (Revelation 19:15)?

No, only the “first the spiritual, then the physical” interpretation works for the passages about the Kingdom and reconciles them in a way that keeps us from having to consign whole passages to being taken as allegory when they are in fact all describing actual events. In future posts I will attempt to expound upon the “first, then” pattern in the Bible, but space demands that it be separate. As I said, feel free to comment, but please first consider the plausibility of what I have written instead of jumping to proof texting. May our discussions be fruitful!

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Following Antichrist?

Would anyone knowingly follow an Antichrist? Would you? Of course not, but many are unknowingly follow the spirit of Antichrist and believe they are quite right and tolerant to do so. If that is the case, and I believe it is, then we need to know what that spirit is so we can avoid it at all costs!

Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour… Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. (1 John 2:18, 22 NASB)

The Apostle John introduces the first mark of this antichrist spirit (or philosophy) by its first identifying characteristic. It denies that Jesus is the Messiah (or Christ). Notice that he doesn’t use the phrase “a Christ” but rather “the Christ”. While there are certainly many who deny that Jesus was who He claimed to be, there is also the dangerous teaching that Jesus was “a” Christ, just one among many. Jesus is portrayed as a way to God, but not as the only way. That is one reason the teaching is anti-Christ, or anti-Messiah. It denies His unique role in salvation. Jesus, however, said otherwise.
Jesus *said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. (John 14:6 NASB)

John reiterates this point when he mentions the spirit of Antichrist again in chapter 4 of 1 John.

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. (1 John 4:2, 3 NASB)

What does he mean by denying that Jesus came in the flesh? Well I think the key is in the word “came”, because they will acknowledge that Jesus was an actual person, but not that he came from God as the Word made flesh (John 1:14). This is the philosophy that says Jesus was just a good man or a great teacher that was later deified by his followers. It is supremely strange to think that all of those who were Jesus’ disciples died for what they had just made up! It also makes Jesus out to be either a liar or a lunatic (see C.S. Lewis “Mere Christianity”). The world has no problem with liking Jesus, but worshipping Him as God and only Savior is considered intolerant.

We must be careful not to succumb to this politically correct philosophy. It is the path of least resistance, but it is the road to destruction and will cost us dearly if we choose to follow it. John also addressed the problem in 2 John verse 7.

For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. (2 John 1:7, 8 NASB)

John goes on to give this dire warning:

Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. (2 John 1:9 NASB)

We must resist this spirit/philosophy of Antichrist with all we have within us. We must teach our children and new Christians not to fall for the trap of the devil that would entice them to please men rather than God. John tells us what the truth is that we must embrace about Christ at the beginning of his gospel and does so better than I ever could.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-5, 14 ESV)

Amen.

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Lest You Become Weary

Whenever there is film of a marathon race, they like to show the participants as they get near to the end of the race. I have yet to see anyone stopping to do some shopping, or to play a quick game of basketball during the race. That doesnt happen because the runners are fully focused and what they need to do. I think that maintaining our focus is one of the reasons for our communion at the Lord’s Table every week as well. Hebrews 12 talks about things we can do when we take the bread and the fruit of the vine that will help of run with endurance.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. (Hebrews 12:1-3 NKJV)

First, we take encouragement from those who have run the race before us. We also build one another up as we partake of the emblems each week together. This is not something we do alone. It is, as Paul described it in 1 Corinthians 10, a communion in the body and blood of Christ.

Second, we should reflect on our lives and determine that because of our love for Christ and our gratitude for the price he paid, we will lay aside every sin that so easily ensnares us. As we remember the brutality of the suffering that He endured, we are reminded of the awfulness of our sin and resolve to turn from it, lest we be ensnared in it again.

Third, we must focus on Jesus, who is our supreme example of endurance. Think about what He went through. Think about his focus stayed on the joy at the end, when he would be able to redeem his bride and spend eternity with us in heaven. And as we consider the hostility He endured for us, it will help us to endure the trials we go through and not become discouraged and weary. He died for me; I will live for him.

Take time today to focus on Jesus and what he has done and resolve anew to never quit, but rather to run with endurance and finish well.

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Whosoever Meaneth All Y’all

Who did Jesus die for?
Seems like a fairly simple question, and many are surprised to find out that there is heated theological debate surrounding it. One the one side stand those who subscribe to Calvinist theology and claim that Jesus only died for the sins of the elect. The elect are those whom God has predestined for salvation out of the world, as opposed to the reprobate, whom He has chosen for destruction. This is known as the doctrine of “Limited Atonement.”
On the other side stand those who say that Christ died for all, but that the price that was paid is only efficacious for those who obey the Gospel offered by grace to those with faith.

How this question is answered is highly consequential, for it will affect your entire view of the nature of God. Does God only love and save a few, or is there a universal invitation offered in love but which only a few will accept and obey? Let’s see what the Bible says on the matter.

Who has Jesus invited to come to Him?

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, (Titus 2:11 NKJV)
That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. (John 1:9 NKJV)
Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, (Acts 17:30 NKJV)
And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself. This He said, signifying by what death He would die. (John 12:32, 33 NKJV)
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16 NKJV)

What can be seen from these verses is that the call to salvation has gone out to all men, not just to an elect few, and that the invitation is for whoever will believe and obey it. So then, it is reasonable to conclude that the blood that was shed was sufficient for the forgiveness of every sin ever committed.

And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. (1 John 2:2 NKJV)

Do you see the significance of that? The price has already been paid. All that is left is for us to accept that sacrifice through faith when we obey the Gospel. If someone goes to eternal punishment, how much more tragic it is that they will do so in spite of someone having paid their sin penalty for them!

The last words Jesus spoke before ascending to the Father, we’re a command to go into ALL the world and make disciples of all the nations. How? By baptizing them, and teaching them to do all things He had commanded them. (Matthew 28:18-20). It is certainly fitting, then, that the New Testament should end with a call to salvation as well. And it is a call to whosoever will (aka all y’all).

And the Spirit and the bride say, Come! And let him who hears say, Come! And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely…
He who testifies to these things says, Surely I am coming quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:17, 20 NKJV)

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