Archive for the ‘Thinking’ Category

The Greatest Gift of All: Faith

Posted: December 14, 2011 in Theology, Thinking

Hello blog-world! It has been a long time. Real conversations with real people, face to face, are more interesting and more rewarding. But there are just a couple of verses that I want to draw your attention to today while thinking about Christmas and all the presents and everything else. I believe there is an amazing connection between these two parts of the Bible. I will just let you read them first to see if you can draw the connection.

John 6:27-29 – “27 Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

And

Philippians 1:6 – “6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

So Jesus tells a group of half-hearted followers of his (who are about to abandon him in a couple of verses) that in order for them to have true eternal life, they have to stop paying so much attention to this physical life and the always serving their own appetites, and start doing the work of God. What is the “work of God?” That’s what they ask Jesus and he answers them in verse 29, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

So let me just ask some questions. Are we saved by grace or by works? Can we do enough good to earn our ticket into heaven? Ephesians 2:1-10 gives us the answer to these questions.

“1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

So we are saved by grace and only by grace, through believing in Jesus, or as Ephesians 2 puts it, by faith. But this seems confusing if you are following my train of thought. We are saved by grace, but Jesus says in John 6:29 that we are saved by works, the “works of God,” which we have already discussed is believing in Jesus.

Confusing huh?

This is where things get exciting. When we bring in other biblical texts, everything fits together perfectly. We need to do a particular “work” of God in order to avert God’s wrath because of our sin and receive eternal life. That work is to believe in Jesus and his completed work on our behalf. Where does this belief come from though? Is it within ourselves? Or is it from somewhere or someone else? If it is something we work up for ourselves then Ephesians 2:9 cannot be true because we would have some reason to boast about our saving faith. I cannot boast at all though because my faith that I have was a gift from God. He is the one that gave me faith. This faith is also called the “work of God.” And what does Philippians 1:6 say?

Philippians 1:6 – “6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

So if you believe in Jesus this Christmas season remember this; Your faith was and is a gift from God. He began your faith. You may be the one who exercises your will to believe, but it is only by the power and gift of God that your heart is inclined to do that. And rest in what the rest of Philippians 1:6 says, that God began this “good work” of belief in you, and He will keep you believing in Jesus until you see Him face to face, when you can behold him with your own eyes. Rest this Christmas season knowing that God has sovereignly saved you and given you the Holy Spirit, who will bring about your full salvation. Merry Christmas!

 

I just finished Rob Bell‘s Love Wins. It was a quick read and just hurt my heart while reading it. Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle had similar feelings that I had and decided to co-write a new book called Erasing Hell.

There is a very interesting and helpful interview with Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle about why they wrote the book and their feelings about all of this. Please watch it here.

If someone believes that they got themselves into Christ, then it is only natural to believe they can get themselves out of Christ. But Hebrews 12:2 clearly states that God is both the Author and Finisher or Perfecter of our faith. He began it and He finishes it perfectly. To say you can lose your salvation is saying Christ can only save me if I keep up my salvation. The truth is, you will keep up your salvation perfectly because of the new willing heart that God has given you and the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, which you received when you were Born Again by the power and will of God and God alone (John 1:13). God has guaranteed your perseverance and your perfect “keeping up of your salvation” (if you want to say that, which I don’t). But when you do persevere you can also say what Paul did in 1 Corinthians 15:10 “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”

There is a wealth of Bible passages that guarantee that our salvation is perfectly secure in Christ. There are some passages that people like to look to to try to say that you can lose your salvation, and the most popular one that people use is actually rarely read in context, which is the key to understanding anything in the Bible. This is Hebrews 6:4-6. Let’s look at these verses real quickly and then make some final thoughts.

4For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

People will say that these verses guarantee that people can lose their salvation. We have two problems with that;

  1. Language like enlightened, tasting the heavenly gift, sharing in the Holy Spirit, tasting the Word of God and  the powers of the age to come, do not, I repeat, DO NOT mean that the person was saved. Remember the audience of Hebrews that were being written to here. The Jews were enlightened with the knowledge of who God was because they were given the law and were His chosen people. They tasted of many heavenly gifts such as the manna in the desert in Moses‘ time and Christ’s bread and fish in John 6. They shared in the Holy Spirit in the sense that they experienced the Holy Spirit empowered ministry of Jesus and tasted of Christ’s Word. They also tasted of the powers of the age to come in the many interactions with God through Moses and Christ, as well as every other prophet in scripture. That didn’t mean that everyone who did those things were saved, in fact the reality is that in spite of all those interactions, most still did not believe. A whole generation was left in the wilderness before entering the promise land after the great “experiences” or instances of “enlightenment.” After they all “taste of the heavenly gifts” of Jesus Christ in John 6, the thousands that were well fed just a few verses earlier left Jesus in the dust when he said that God is sovereign over who comes and does not come to Jesus and has eternal life, thus proving that they were never truly born again, they just desired to have their bellies filled for free. What this verse is really saying is that when a person has the fullest experience of who God really is in Christ, and then they reject Him, they are never capable of getting more information and are saying they understand it all, and they still don’t want Him. You can try to tell them, but they have all the knowledge you can give them, it is hopeless.
  2. If you are going to say these verses prove you can lose your salvation, you have to also at least be consistent with the rest of verse 6 which clearly says that this person can never again be restored to repentance because they would be re-crucifying Christ. The crazy thing is that everyone who believes that you can lose your salvation also believes that you can get it back again. This verse clearly says you can’t restore them again to repentance, it’s impossible (Verse 4 and 6).

Telling people they can lose their salvation is more fear-mongering than it is equipping people for the battle that we all face everyday. That’s like a King saying to his people about to go into battle, “gear up, but you will probably lose cause I ain’t fighting with you. I will be back in the castle living it up. Good luck.”

My King says, “I guarantee your victory in this battle because I am the one leading the charge and doing all the fighting. When you succeed it is only because I’ve given you power to defeat your enemy. Also, I have determined the end from the beginning so I know infallibly that you will win this and all battles because I Am the Alpha and Omega and I will do all that I set out to do.”

Haven’t you heard or thought this when the subject of eternal security, perseverance of the saints, or “once saved always saved,” comes up: “That’s going to make people think that once they are saved then they can just go do whatever they want and they’ll still go to heaven. That is horrible!”

I have heard people say this a lot. My question though is, is it true? Once people are TRULY saved, can they do whatever they want and be okay?

Although I need you to hear me out in order to be understood properly, I shout a resounding…

“YES THEY CAN!!!”

Now before I get everyone all worked up, let me explain. The question again was, “doesn’t ‘Once Saved Always Saved’ imply that people can do whatever they want after they are saved and they will still go to heaven?” Sometime it is worded, “isn’t that a license to sin?” This last question I would firmly oppose. It is firmly not a license to sin and this is why:

If the person has truly been taken from the kingdom of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of light, that means that they received what Ezekiel calls a new heart, a new spirit, the Holy Spirit, and God’s forceful causing them to obey His commands. Let’s look at the passage in Ezekiel 36:

“26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

A heart of stone that is void of a willing spirit and the Holy Spirit cannot please God. It has to have a radical change enacted upon itself by God. This is what Jeremiah 31 talks about as well with the New Covenant. So if you truly have been redeemed by Jesus Christ, you have a new spirit (you are now wanting to be holy as God is Holy), you now have the Holy Spirit (which Ephesians 1:13-14 calls the seal or down payment of God which, by giving it, guarantees He will pay in full by bringing you all the way to full Salvation), and finally it says explicitly in the text, God will CAUSE you to walk in His ways and be careful to OBEY His rules. This text should make people who hold to free will go insane.

Now briefly, I want to touch on this “new heart” concept. The Bible has a lot to say about the heart.

Proverbs 4:23
Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.

Proverbs 27:19
As water reflects a face, so a man’s heart reflects the man.

Matthew 12:34
You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart
the mouth speaks.

Matthew 15:18-19
But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’
For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony,
slander.

Mark 7:21-22
For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22
greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.

The heart of the unbeliever is a factory that continually makes idols and because of the natural condition of the heart, it proves our guilt of sin. The heart is where our desires live. If we have an unconverted heart, we have evil desires, and then, because our will is in bondage to our heart’s desires, we will evil things all the time, proving that we have no free will, but are slaves to sin (Romans 6:5, 20). But, and I repeat, but if/when God gives us a new heart, we have new wants and new desires!

So go and do whatever you want to do because if you are truly a blood-bought child of God, you want to worship God, you want to read His Word, you want to obey all of His commands. You don’t want to sin against Him anymore. Even the Apostle Paul said that the things he did not want to do, he did, and the things he did want to do, he still struggled to do (Romans 7). This means that yes, if we are Christians we are still affected by sin’s presence in our lives and we still stumble and fall, but we don’t want to do that anymore. We want to please God.

How do we know if we are saved though? We don’t want to believe in vain. And also, we have to test ourselves to see if we are of the faith. But listen to this:

Romans 10:9-10
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved.

So if you are truly saved, and you have had the Holy Spirit testify with your spirit that you are a child of God, Go and do what you want to do, which is worship and glorify Jesus Christ all your days. And when we do we know that it is God who, “works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose (Philippians 2:13).”

I have more respect for Rick Warren now having seen this interview. If you have any issues with John Piper, I pray you will watch this amazing interview and hear his heart. This is a great thing for the body of Christ. Thank you Desiring God ministries.

John Piper and Rick Warren interview on Doctrine

These are the tough questions that all Christians should be discussing with each other. Enjoy.

Click on the picture to be taken to the Desiring God blog in order to view the video or click here.

Warren apparently believes the doctrines of grace, or otherwise called Calvinism, with some confusion over limited atonement. This interview at least opens it all up for discussion. Do you think he is Reformed or is he just trying to make all the Calvinists happy? If he is just trying to make the Calvinists happy, is that a good thing? By doing this, wouldn’t he just be making all his Arminian followers angry and in some way shooting himself in the foot with the majority of his followers? What are your thoughts?

2011 has been a crazy year and it is only May 20th, 2011! That is right, my last full day until the rapture and the beginning of the end!

Okay, well maybe Judgement Day is not going to be tomorrow. But then again, maybe it will. Or, maybe it will all end today. Who knows? Well Harold Camping seems to know.

He believes beyond a shadow of a doubt that the rapture and Judgement Day will occur tomorrow, May 21st, 2011, at around 6:00 P.M. Now this isn’t a post about Camping or his thoughts about Judgement Day neither is this an attack on him. He has, hopefully, done something good for all of us. So has other controversial religious leaders in 2011.

Rob Bell wrote a book describing what Heaven and Hell might actually be like and how Hell might not be eternal. This also is a very controversial subject, of which I have spoken out against in other posts, so I will not be offering anymore analysis on his book Love Wins. But Rob Bell has actually done something good for us, regardless of how wrong his suggestions are.

Lastly, Terry Jones and some followers put the Muslim holy book, the Qur’an, on a mock trial and sentenced it to death. So they burned the Qur’an. Following this act, many people in the Muslim world were outraged and many people were killed because of the violent outbursts in response to Jones’ act. Once again, this isn’t an attack on Jones or his actions. We can hopefully look at this situation, as well as the other two, and see some good things that these events have done for all of us.

All three of these controversial events have accomplished one great thing. They have created conversation.

Terry Jones began to see the very dark side of orthodox Islam. And now because of his actions, we can all take a closer look into Islam and maybe even try to understand it. Maybe we can actually have enough interest to read some of the Qur’an and see what it says about Jesus and Christianity. It is rather shocking, especially if you are a Christian. Without supporting or condemning his act of burning the Qur’an, we can at least say that the topic is now a little more out in the open for people to discuss. But I will say this, we are quickly approaching, and I fear we are already arriving, at a place in time when protesting will not be possible. Freedom of speech is just barely holding on right now.

Rob Bell brought the discussion of Heaven and Hell to the forefront once again. The best thing about this controversy is that because Rob Bell offered something so opposite of orthodox Christian belief, many Evangelical Christians came out of the woodwork to defend what the Bible actually teaches about the afterlife, Hell in particular. There was a stronger unity that was created among confessional Christians, as well as a strong call to hold to, and hold high, the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. Heaven and Hell became a growing topic of discussion because of Rob Bell and we can thank him for that.

Now on to Camping. No one knows what will happen tomorrow besides God. But what I do know about all of the controversy of Harold Camping is that the discussion of the end times is now in the limelight, sadly it has been, for the most part, to make fun of Camping and Christians altogether. It reminds me of how they treated Noah in his day. Although most Christians don’t think Camping is correct, Camping has at least made Christians a little more expressive about the fact that Judgement Day could be today.

Jones has at least opened up the discussion about what Islam is truly all about, even though his methods can be debated over.

Bell has brought the topic of salvation into discussion and every Christian should appreciate when that happens because it is a chance to proclaim the Gospel.

And Camping has brought the topic of Jesus’ return and the end times to the attention of the whole world. Our hearts should break for the lost people of this world. We can see how broken and blind they are when they constantly make fun of us Christians, even though sometimes we make it easy for them.

We need to clearly know what the Bible says and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all creatures because it is through the Word preached that people are made alive and brought into the Kingdom of God. We must know what Muslim people actually believe, not what professing Muslims want us to believe, and we must proclaim the Gospel to them as well, in order to bring them out of their bondage and into the freedom of Jesus Christ. Our ignorance of Islam must end. And lastly, Judgement Day may not be tomorrow, but it is coming soon. I have to ask myself, “Am I ready and enthusiastically awaiting Christ’s return?” Are you?

One of the most amazing things that I have thought about for the past two years has been the fact that God is in charge of everything. The theological term for this is God’s sovereignty. Sovereignty is defined as;

1. the quality or state of being sovereign.

2. the status, dominion, power, or authority of a sovereign; royalty.

3. supreme and independent power or authority in government as possessed or claimed by a state or community.

4. rightful status, independence, or prerogative.

5. a sovereign state, community, or political unit.

Basically to say that God is sovereign is to say that He is in complete control of everything. Now everyone that considers themselves an evangelical Christian would agree that God is sovereign. I just watched an interview with Dr. R.C. Sproul, and he mentioned that everyone believes God is sovereign, but that which He is sovereign over is what is highly debated. Most people are quick to agree that God is in control of the galaxies, stars, planets, nature, etc., but the second we start to discuss God’s sovereignty over people, that is when the conflict begins. People want to believe that they are in charge of their own destiny, so God’s rule and reign over ALL of His creation gets messy for a lot of people. The first thing people say is, “if that is true then we are all just puppets and God is the puppeteer.” Well I don’t think that is an accurate analogy of God’s sovereignty and I will explain in my conclusion why I think that way.

Something that really strikes me as profound is the fact that most people strongly object to God being in complete control of their lives, especially the fact that He brought them to salvation and that He doesn’t do that for everyone, and yet we all admit to God’s sovereign hand in our lives and we don’t even bat an eye when we do it. People want to separate God’s sovereignty and man’s “free” will. That is what this post is all about. Can God’s sovereignty and man’s free will go together? Can God be so amazingly sovereign that He is working and willing (Phil. 2:12-13) in our own hearts toward His ends, and we don’t even realize it? I wanted to share something incredible that happened to me last week. I feel like it is a clear and easy to understand situation where God was actively working through the actions of certain people and they had no idea. I’ll try to be as succinct as possible.

I attended my staff Christmas party last Friday afternoon. The events that unfolded were pretty amazing. This is how our party normally unfolds.

  1. We arrive at the Comfort Inn.
  2. We get our name tags and find our seats.
  3. We then proceed to sing a few Christmas Hymns and then are lead in the blessing over our gathering.
  4. Then we sit and chat as our food is brought out.
  5. After we eat, we play a few games that have cash prizes.
  6. Then we get our Christmas gift, or bonus, and that is the end of our party.

Each table has about 6-8 people at it and there were probably 60 people there all together. The meal was amazing and then our games started. As our first game started, everyone nominated me to be the team captain. I did not want to but they insisted, so I figured why not? The first game was called “Left and Right.” Everybody picked a Christmas gift out of a bag except for the team captain. I got a $50 bill. Next, everybody stood up and they read the Christmas story of Jesus’ birth. Every time the story mentioned the words “right” and “left” we then had to pass our gift to the right or left. At the end of the story, I was amazed that I had actually ended up with the $50 bill!

The next game, everybody at our table had to place into a bag everything we had on our person that had to do with Christmas. We had about 21 items. The four teams with the most items had to participate in the next game. Each team captain of each team(including me) had to create a story on the spot having to do with each item in our bag. I had the most random things in my bag, including a Christmas sweater vest, a ladies scarf, earring, holly wreaths, etc. I figured I had no idea what to talk about but it would be funny if I proceeded to wear all the items as I told my story. Let me just tell you that it was pretty ridiculous. Everybody was laughing though so I guess it went over well. After everyone told their stories, they had all the participants go to the front and then they voted for whom they thought had the best story. I won this game as well. At the beginning of this game they said that this game would not have a cash prize and that it was just for fun. As I was going back to my seat, the pastor said that they found an extra $50 so they decided to give it to me! Wow, pretty awesome huh?

Now by this point, I was in total shock. I just got $100! That definitely helps. Everyone at my table was on my case, saying that I rigged the games or something. The last game involved us taking our name tags off and placing them in a bag. One lady then was going to pick one name and that person would win the money tree (which happened to have $100 on it).  Like I said, I was in shock still over the other two games. Everybody at my table then started to say how I was going to win this game too. Then, to my surprise, they announced, “and the winner is… Chris Arnold!” I was just completely floored.

The real amazing part was that afterward I had about five people come up to me and talk about how much God had blessed me that day. One lady actually said that the second game had no prize and then they just mysteriously found that extra $50 bill. Then she proceeded to just tell me how amazing it was to watch God bless me.

So now here is the part where we have to put on our theological “thinking cap.” Everybody proceeded to talk about how God had blessed me so much, which I totally believe to be the truth. But you have to understand that people were exercising their own wills the way they wanted to and that is how it all turned out.  What I mean is that these people were instinctively just acting, and yet through their actions, God worked his own plan out. So would it be accurate to give God the glory for what seemingly happened as a result of the free will actions of human beings? Many people reading this at least have to ask themselves this question. I believe it is accurate to say that God caused this and hence He should get all the glory. Here are some examples of what I mean;

  1. To start it all off, I didn’t want to be team captain. Everybody at the table used their decisive free will to choose me as team captain. Do you think they felt like a puppet when they did this?
  2. The person who wrote the edition of the Christmas story with more “lefts” and “rights” did so out of his own will. Do you think he felt like a puppet when he did this?
  3. There had to be a specific number of people at the table to correlate to the story in order for me to get the $50. Whoever decided how many people should be at the table must have decided that out of their free will. Do you think he felt like a puppet when he did this?
  4. In the second game, everybody freely choose to wear Christmas related things. Do you think they felt like a puppet when they did this?
  5. The woman who pulled my name out of the bag for the third game, do you think she thought to God, “God, why are you making me choose his name out of this bag?!?!” Or was she just choosing what she wanted to choose?
  6. Was it all just a coincidence? If you are a Christian you have to understand that there are no coincidences.

See no one felt like a puppet in any of these situations. People exercised their own free will. Now either you have to say that these people are all crazy for crediting God for my blessing, or that they are right and that God is sovereign, even over man’s actions or free will. The bible has a multitude of examples of God actively working through people’s free will choices. What I mean is, they wanted to do something completely out of their own free will, and yet God was working in them to do such things. While this remains a mystery to us as to how God can do this, we still must believe it as truth because the bible talks about it. I can hear the person saying now, “this doesn’t make sense to me, so it can’t be true and probably is a doctrine of demons.” But see you can’t go around not believing doctrines because they are mysterious. The Trinity, for example, is extremely mysterious and hard to understand, but for you to be considered a true Christian, you must believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. The fact that Jesus is completely man and completely God, that’s mysterious, but as Christians we believe that to be true.

So if you are with me up until now, the question still remains in a lot of people’s minds. That question is, doesn’t this kind of thinking make us all out to be pawns or puppets in God’s plan? I don’t believe so for many different reasons. First off, puppets have no life, emotions, or will of their own. If a puppet had a will, it would always choose to lie on the ground lifeless until someone picked it up and started to move it. We are living, breathing, feeling beings that make choices out of our own desires. This is one major reason why we are not puppets. The second and final reason for this post is that we are not God’s little puppets because a puppeteer does not love the puppet which accomplishes his goals. God truly loves His people with an amazing love that should never be compared to a mechanical creator that does not love. I believe I read this explanation in an R.C. Sproul book, so if this sounds familiar, that’s probably from where this entered my mind. What obstacles have you personally dealt with concerning God being sovereign over everything? If you don’t believe what I am saying, I suppose I could give you all the instances in the Bible dealing with it, but I think it would do you better to look in the Scriptures yourself and see if man is truly sovereign over his life or is it God?