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Archive for October, 2007
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*Spam excepted of course.
Dom and I have been discussing atonement. Its been an interesting and exhilarating way to grow…
The final issue that Dom raises is regarding my comment:
Salvation is offered to all – the whole world, but received only by those who believe.
To which Dom states:
“If one truly offers something, then one does not deliberately keep it from the person to whom it is offered.”
This is a common opposition to the viewpoint of sublapsarians (as we are called) on this issue.
Firstly, God does indeed harden hearts in order to make it impossible for individuals to believe – and he is not unrighteous in doing so.
Therefore, if God did make an offer and withhold it, he would not be unrighteous to do so. In fact scripture states in a number of places that indeed He does withhold salvation. For instance, Deut 29:4 which says “To this day the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.” (cf Acts 28:26-27, Rom 11:8).
Typically the response to this is “thats not fair!”. How can God do that to people and hold them accountable? This argument is dealt with by Paul in Romans 9:19-21. Prior to this passage Paul has been explaining that God has mercy on whomever He wills an he hardens whomever He wills” (Rom 9:18) which further adds to my previous point. This leads to the following argument that Paul predicts in his reader:
You will say to me then “Why does He still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use?
The point is that God made man for His purpose – not for mans own purposes. He has made us all for different purposes, but all of which fulfill His purpose. It is at this point that many so called believers switch off. The reason for this is that they have supposed that the universe is at mans disposal and that Gods purpose for the universe is man – however mankind is a means to a far greater end for God. This greater end is His own glory. That is that man is made to make much of God. We can deal with the accusations of ego another time, but for now the fact is that the glory of God is the most valuable thing in the universe and it would be wrong for God to view it any other way (as it is for us).
So God hardens whom He will and He has mercy on whom He will.
Secondly, Man is utterly depraved and left to his own devices will not seek God. Rom 3:11 states this clearly when it states “no one seeks for God”. That is to say that man in his sin is incapable of turning to the Lord as he does not even seek to do so.
This seems to further be acknowledged by Steven in his address to the Jewish Council when he called them “stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit”. His point builds on the truth that “no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly and circumcision is a matter of the Heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter” (Rom 2:28-29). As they were uncircumcised in heart, (i.e. unbelieving) they always resisted the Holy Spirit. This is the natural response of the unregenerate person.
Further confirmation of this in plain language is found in the following passages:
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor 2:14 )
For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot (Rom 8:7)
These two points state that
This is what Christ referred to when His disciples asked “Who then can be saved?”. Of course in their thinking they had been conditioned to understand that wealth was a sign of holiness and the blessing of God. So in their mind if the wealthy cannot be saved, then who can? Jesus answered by saying “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible”.
That is to say that God alone is the hope of the unsaved. As Dominic inferred – the Holy Spirit must bring about a change on an unbeliever – which is generally called regeneration. It is also referred to as the new birth (being “born again”). We find the new birth referred to in John 3:3. Here the word translated “again” is often translated “from above” – see John 3:31, James 1:17, 3:15, 17 which all translate this word along these lines. Thus the new birth is a second birth (as Nicodemus understood it to be), however, it is also the birth from above – meaning the new birth is from God.
We further read that even faith is a gift of God (Eph 2:8). On Faith Rom 4:16 says “That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace“.
Finally, there are good reasons why the call to salvation and repentance is a general call – some of which (there are many) I will put down here:
This is a huge topic and any one of these points could very well lead to more discussion. It never ceases to amaze me that we are called to believe in Jesus Christ and be saved (i.e. a simple message to preach) – but the complexity of what happens under the covers is monstrous, and not for the faint hearted. To be able to dig into the depths of salvation means to understand the plan and character of God, the design and failure of man, the nature of Sin, the work of Christ, the extent of atonement, a significant understanding of the sovereignty of the creator and significant time in the word of God.
In my humble opinion the most critical thing in the Gospel is the centrality of Jesus Christ in all aspects. After all – by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through Him and for Him (Col 1:16).
I hope someone finds this useful
I’ve been meditating over the last few months about how life gets harder and harder and faster and faster and things just keep ramping up in intensity. Under these circumstances (which we all endure) we tend to respond in a number of ways depending our our personalities:
I came across this little gem in 2 Tim 2:4:
No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please Him who enlisted him as a soldier
There are several observations I want to point out here.
Firstly we are in a war. Wars are won or lost. People are killed and injured, but generally they don’t complain about it as their injury or loss is part of the cost of war – sure its unfortunate that I was hit, but if it helps us, then its worth it.
The war we in is for the honour and glory of the creator who created us for His glory. My life is a worthwhile cost to have this war won if that is what it takes.
Even if the war does not cost my life, it will be hard and I should be prepared to suffer – if I’m not prepared to suffer, then I’m not in the war – I’m just religious – happy to have the trappings, but not willing to suffer. Suffering will not mean that I stop fighting – I’m a soldier and fighting is what soldiers do. This will mean working through all the hardship of this life – not seeking the easy way out, but depending on the power of the indwelling Christ and the provision of the one who I serve, I’ll battle through it, going where the commanding officer sends me, even when it might cost me my life.
Secondly, the importance of this war precludes the soldier from getting entangled with the affairs of this life. The war is about the glory of the Lord – my commanding officer and the one who enlisted me is the Lord Himself. I ought to please him – by obeying his orders about what I do with my life – how and where I serve Him. Anything that does not go toward serving the Lord is wasting time in my eyes and in His eyes.
If only I lived a life that reflected this! The word of God is a great way to highlight the inefficiencies of my heart and life!
Regardless of how hard life gets – I (we) must be about serving the Lord – not about entangling ourselves in the world. The war is far too important. The glory of the Lord of all is worth infinitely more than all the human life on earth throughout all the ages combined!
If we are entangled by the world – we are molded by the world – our job is to be a witness to the world – this is how we fight in this war – we are witnesses of the glory of God and we are to tell others of His greatness and that they too must honour him!
Centuries ago only the liturgy had scripture, and the scripture they had was Latin – often poorly translated Latin, and they did a poor job of bringing any understanding of God and the Lord Jesus to the people in the pews. Church tradition ruled and knowledge of the word of God and the Lord was extremely restricted. These days are often referred to as the dark ages.
Then over many years we had men like Luther, Tyndale and many others who challenged the status quo and over many, many years and through much bloodshed and tears brought the word of God to the people, and along with it a better understanding of the meaning of scripture, and knowledge of the Lord.
Inventions such as Gutenburg's printing press, made it easy to create volumes of scripture quickly and get it into the hands of the people. This technological breakthrough is probably the most important in the history of the church. With the invention of the printing press, knowledge was able to be documented and shared en-masse like never before. It allowed many of the great church leaders of the time to get their knowledge and understanding out to anyone who could read – and it changed the social class of those who could read from the elite to almost anyone. These changes revolutionized not only the church but the world. In England the increased availability (and acceptance) of the word of God was one of the key drivers behind the "right of every man" to read, and the institution of free public schools.
Since these days the church has been slowly taking all the knowledge of the smartest men in the world and building up the understanding of scripture amongst the church broadly. This process started with the likes of Luther who challenged the traditions of the Roman Catholic church and declared that scripture alone was the authority – not the church.
Since then the church has worked through the doctrines of salvation, the church, creation, the trinity, and more recently eschatology and have nailed down many of these doctrines reasonably thoroughly and with a degree of consistency. Of course there are still many things that many believers don't agree on, but technology has enabled these discussions to be recorded and thought through by many people over many years, so that the basics are widely agreed on and the details are also becoming more widely accepted.
I was reading Ephesians 4 this morning and this passage jumped out at me:
And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
If you think about this passage in the context of the global church, technology is a key enabler to helping believers grow together. The printing press allowed the thoughts of many pastors, teachers, evangelists and the apostles to be collated and published for many to consume and understand, and build on, growing the body of Christ as a whole. Today too, the understanding of the word of God is being propagated by mechanisms such as podcasts, RSS and similar technologies. However we are only at the beginning of what is possible.
The goal is to unite the church so that "we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God". Technology, and the Internet have much more to offer through centralizing the understanding of godly pastors and teachers into a repository that allows the examination of scripture and the interrogation of thought in a collective where all the understanding of the church is stored, scrutinized and drawn upon by believers in order to build up their knowledge and understanding of Christ.
Of course this is not all. Believers must open their hearts to one another and allow each other to have a part in each others lives for accountability and growth – this too can be done with technology, but the offline world has a lot to offer that technology cannot do as well in this role at this stage. Perhaps in the future this will change, but in the meantime, we can concentrate on growing individually, and helping each other globally using technology to reach out with our understanding and the lessons we learn as we live for Christ.
If you’ve done study into the details of salvation (sometimes referred to as soteriology) you’ll know that the Synod of Dort in 1619 came up with five affirmations of Calvinism, commonly known as the “Five points of Calvinism”.
The five points can be remembered using the acrostic TULIP:
T = Total Depravity of man
U = Unconditional election
L = Limited Atonement
I = Irresistible Grace
P = Perseverance of the saints
I’ve been very strongly in the Calvinist camp since a short time after I was saved, however I’ve heard others express one point of difference between the five points and the scripture – and I share this.
Half a point difference
The one point is in the Limited Atonement. According to the Moody Handbook of theology the third point of Calvinism is as follows:
Because God determined that certain ones should be saved as a result of God’s unconditional election, He determined that Christ should die for the elect. All whom God has elected and Christ died for will be saved.
My point of difference is that the writings of Paul seem to disagree with one small point in this – that is that the death of Christ while effective only for the elect, was not only for the elect.
For example lets have a look at 2 Corinthians 5:18-20:
All this is from God who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore we are ambassadors of Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
While I understand that Paul was writing this to believers, the key here is in the use of the word “world” – because that is what Christ was reconciling to Himself. This theme would seem to fit with classic verses such as John 3:16:
For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
That is that God loved the world – not just the elect, and so the death of Christ was sufficient not only for the elect, but also for those who perish.
1 John 2:2 would seem to confirm this:
He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
Propitiation means to make atonement – so this would seem to be stating clearly that Christ atoned for the sins of the world.
How this affects the Gospel
The point of this little nitpick is that this changes the gospel we preach. Today the Gospel is either badly watered down or lumbered with conditions. However, there is only one condition for salvation – believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved (Acts 16:31). This message of reconciliation is thus “the punishment for your sin has already been taken care of in Jesus’s death – believe in His sufficiency to appease the wrath of God on your behalf and you will be saved”.
To believe in the sufficiency of Christ means we need to believe that He is the incarnate God and as such is without sin, thus his sacrifice for sin is acceptable.
If the death of Christ was only for the elect, then the message we preach must be “believe on the Lord and that affirms that your sin was punished in His death”. This is quite a different message and raises questions in the mind of the hearer – “Was my sin really covered in Christ’s death? How do I know? If I believe, is that just me or is it because of His work?”
However if all that is required is believing in the sufficiency of Christ, we are better able to repent as we can see that that is all that is required (and by repentance I mean the sanctification that results from believing in Jesus).
So there we have it – I’m a four and a half point Calvinist – and if you didn’t know – Jesus was punished for your sin – you just need to believe in Him to be saved from the punishment of your sin – so believe and be saved!
Dom was good enough to take time to respond to this post and email me to let me know. He makes some good points in his post. And as a result I’d like to clarify what I’m saying here as I did in my comment on His blog post:
I’m certainly not a universalist, nor do I subscribe to Hypothetic Universalism. Mankind is utterly depraved, and incapable of saving himself, thus election and consequent regeneration by the Holy Spirit are necessary acts of God on an individual.
In my mind (and thus this post), I have always distinguished between atonement and justification. On reflection – this is not necessarily everyone’s understanding, and thus is misleading.
I regard atonement as being related to the value of Christ’s death (which is infinite), and regarding justification (or redemption) as the application of that atonement. This means that if God chose to do so – the death of Christ would be sufficient for the salvation of all men everywhere – however, God has chosen some – not all – to be redeemed or justified, and thus the application of Christ’s death is strictly limited to those who believe.
Perhaps I should say the following by way of clarification: Christ’s death in itself had unlimited and infinite value because He is Holy God. The intention of Christ’s death (actual satisfaction and atonement of sin for individuals) is given only to those who believe. Salvation is offered to all – the whole world, but received only by those who believe.