No One Accidentally Becomes Godly

D. A. Carson, For the Love of God, Vol. 2:

People do not – will not – drift towards holiness apart from grace-driven effort. People do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer and obedience to scripture, faith and delight in the Lord.

Instead we drift toward compromise and call it tolerance;
we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom;
we drift toward superstition and call it faith;
we drift toward indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation;
we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we’ve escaped legalism;
we slag toward godlessness and convince ourselves that we have been liberated.

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Sovereignty vs. Self-determination: Two Versions of Ephesians 1:3-14

At the heart of the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism lay the insurmountable chasm between God’s sovereign election versus human self-determination.

Calvinism: According to traditional Protestant/Reformed understanding, God “chose” us purely out of His grace alone, predestining the chosen for salvation and then putting in them both ability to chose salvation the irresistible desire to come to Him. The bottom line is that salvation of the individual is God’s choice, depended solely on His sovereign grace, unmerited by anything we do; Christians obtain saving faith as a result of God’s special, electing grace which He gave as a gift to His elect.

Arminianism: On the other side, most Evangelical and nearly all Charistmatic/Pentecostal churches teach the we are not God’s “elect” (as the Bible refers to believers) but rather we are ultimately His electors, with God having “looked down the corridors of time” (as it’s often phrased) and having allegedly chosen us precisely because He knew we’d choose Him. The bottom line is that salvation of the individual is the individual’s sole choice, which then merits God’s response; Christians obtain saving faith by exercising the (“provenient”) grace with which they were born.

Ephesians 1:3-14 clearly favors one of these teachings. Which one?

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2 Peter 1:10 – Can you be sure?

One passage with which too many Christians struggles is 2 Peter 1:10, the command to “make your calling and election sure.” Still others gravely misuse this encouraging verse as ground to cause other Christians to question the assurance of their salvation. Does this passage teach that we are to doubt our salvation until we’re “sure” that God has really “called” us?

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On the Lord’s Receiving of Michael Spencer

Monday morning I received a call informing me that Michael Spencer, the titular Internet Monk, had succumbed after less than five months battling cancer.  His passing was all the more poignant as I’ve been following pastor Matt Chandler and his battle with brain cancer.

For the life of me I cannot understand, nor do I dare demand of God that He explain to me, why it is that He take whom He takes when He takes them.

I spent most of this week in the far Southern South, so to speak, where hotel TV seemed nothing more than infomercials, cable news, lawyer ads and endless Pentecostal shows. So I actually watched—no, stomached—Kenneth Copeland ministries’ show for about 20 minutes of ungodly self-entitlement wrapped in just enough spiritual language to dupe the ever-gullible hoards. Though I agree with those who consider him and his so-called “Word Faith” ilk as spiritual charlatans, he said something that really surprised me:

“I was talking to this one lady who’d lost a relative after she’d prayed in faith that he’d be healed. ‘I don’t understand why the Lord took him,’ she said to me. I reminded her that the Lord doesn’t take believers, He receives them.”

We sometimes speak of God “taking” beloved fellow believers as if we’d witness a favorite character in a series being killed off; the victim of the invisible hand of some distant author, scripting life behind the scenes. We shake our heads, in disbelief (and if we’re honest, disapproval) at the timing of it all.

As temporally-minded creatures, living in the wake of our Earthy severing from the loving God with Whom we once walked so intimately, we instead get wrapped up in the why and when, forgetting what death is for the brother or sister called back into the arms of our loving Creator and Savior. We even use phrase like “so-n-so went home” or other sayings the both cloak the reality of death and fail to convey the blessed glorification of those who hope in the all sufficient work of Christ.

But in the New Testament, after Christ conquered death through His resurrection, death is a defeated foe whose sting is now gone, an end of the work day where the Master handsomely rewards His own in eternity and crowns them.

Basking in the holiness of Christ that fills the Heavenly Tabernacle with light, Michael now walks in the ceaseless love for which he was created, for which his soul longed and flesh chased, for which our Savior bled that nothing would ultimately separate us from His love.   Having sought God in his earthly life as deeply as he could, through whatever corner of Christianity he found Christ the Lord, Michael now “knows fully” (1 Cor. 13) as he looks into the face of God without veil of flesh or sin.  In this life he held to faith, hope and ultimately, love.  But now Michel needs neither faith nor hope, as he now has in fullness Him in whom he had faith and has received all for which he’d hoped. In life, having battled to squeeze out bits of sweet rest we find in Sabbath, Michael now rests in the eternal Sabbath we have in Christ.  Indeed, our Lord has not so much “taken” Michael, but has truly received him. I rejoice for him.

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Russell Moore on virgin Christians demanding the same

Russell Moore (Dean of the School of Theology, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) addresses the common issue of Christians asking dating partners about their sexual past.  He doesn’t have a problem with it, but he make some very insightful points about the usual motivations behind such judgments:

“You are not ‘owed’ a virgin because you are. Your sexual purity wasn’t part of a quid pro quo in which God would guarantee you a sexually unbroken man. Your sexual purity is your obligation as a creature of God. And you have rebelled at other points, and been forgiven. If you believe the gospel, you believe the gospel for everyone, and not just for yourself.”

He closes with one of the best Gospel perspectives on purity of a potential marriage partner:

“Jesus was a virgin. His Bride wasn’t. He loved us anyway.”

Read it all: How Much Do I Need to Know About My Potential Spouse’s Sexual Past? My Response

[HT: Tim Challies]

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Theocracy and Jihadi Flags, I can’t worship like this!

My church’s worship leader insists on leading our congregation in singing “God of All Nations” by New Boys. Making matters worse, the video projected on the screen (as in, live video behind the lyrics) plays a rotating loop of fluttering national flags. More on that later.

Let’s take a look as what we’re actually being force to sing, for certainly it gets worse as it goes. Let’s start:

God of all nations
Lord of creation
It’s in the bonds of love we meet
We come together at Your feet

There is no questions that the Lord is King of Kings and Lord over all creation; no problem there. Where thing go awry is the declaration of what unites us in meeting: “love.” From this it’s far from clear whose “love” it is that proves these bonds. Is it Christ’s love for us that creates the “bond” for meeting? It seems, as I ponder the vapid lyric, that our “love” is the bond as “we meet” and “we come together” before God. The over-arching idea behind this lyric is that Christians from all nations are gathering together, and while the event may be to worship, the “bond” is our own love far more so than being a people in covenant or bought by Christ’s blood.

Equal in Your sight
Made one by Your might
You’ve called us to restore Your lands
And place them back within Your hands

Here’s the lyrics take a turn toward the clearly unbiblical. In theological circles this is known generically as “theonomy” (more specifically “Christian Reconstructionism”) and known informally as “Kingdom Now” or “Latter Rain” theology. Simply put, this (false) teaching instructs us to claim earthly kingdoms for Christ, that is, to “take back” the world for Christ. You see this in the “Jesus for President” mentality, or when some ill-informed pastor talks of “taking America back for Jesus!” The error here, and in the lyric above, is pure kingdom confusion born of ignorance of Jesus’ own actions and words on the subject. They tried to give Jesus an earthly King but he would have none of it (John 6:15). When Pontius Pilate asked Jesus if Jesus was a king, our Lord replied in redundant emphasis:

My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” [John 18:36]

Jesus clearly stated—twice for emphasis—that His Kingdom was “not of this world.” He goes further to drive home the separation between the kingdoms of man and the Kingdom of Christ by noting what would have happened if Jesus had any interest in establishing such an Earthly kingdom: “If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting.” Jesus utter rejected all notion Christians theocracy along with any involvement in such a venture!

The lyrics claim that God has “called us to restore [His] lands and place them back within [His] hands,” yet absolutely no such commandments are ever given to Christians. We have a ministry of “reconcilliaiton,” that of reconciling God and man through the Gospel. Further, the teach none too subtly that ” [God's] lands” are not now “within [God's] hands.” But how is it that the nations of the Earth are somehow out of the hands of Almighty God? And, what would it look like for “us to restore” these lands to the point where they would be “back” in God’s possession? The answers reek of Kingdom confusion and theoractic fantasies that Jesus made a point of rejecting.

But Let’s continue…

God of all nations
Lord of creation
Your purpose is our hope, our bread
All You’ve planned and all You’ve said

So according to the lyricist, God’s “purpose” and plans are our hope and bread. Though Jesus actually taught the He—Jesus Himself, the Word made flesh—is “the bread of life,” the lyrics teach the its not Christ Himself but His “purpose” plans that are our bread and the source of our hope. Given the kingdom confusion discussed above, one wonders what “purpose” the lyricist finds as the source of hope! But Christ is the “bread of life,” the source of all nourishment for Christians. Even the noble affections of Christian living (such as holiness, purity, reconciliation between God and man, restoration of families, etc.) are good and right, but become unhealthy when the benefit is more sought than the source, who is Christ. Christ is not a means to and ends, He is the ends.

Beyond the unbiblical lyrics, my church projects worship lyrics super-imposed over video. In the case of this song, the lyrics are projected over a series of clips of fluttering national flags. Some of these flags have Islamic symbols, including (and most disturbing to me) the Saudi flag. The flag has as its centerpiece the “shahada,” the Arabic testimonial statement of Islam: “There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” Beneath the Arabic script is a sword, a prominent symbol in the blood-drenched religion of jihad. As the video loops behind the lyrics, the images of Islamic flags take center stage in the church.

So… I find myself singing theonomist lyrics, extolling the “return” of “lands” back into God’s hands, while Islamic symbolism on flags are showcased behind these lyrics. It’s no wonder I hardly want to go to church some Sundays. I swear I’m walking out the next time this combination happens. I can’t “worship” like this.

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Larry Flynt Gets Spirituality Right

Yes, you read that headline right. Porn king Larry Flynt, interviewed on Shatner’s Raw Nerve, said this about spirituality:

“Spirituality” is, I think, just a resolve for people who don’t want to admit that they have serious questions about religion. So I feel the same way about agnoistics.  Those are just cowards. They’re afraid to admit they’re atheist.

He’s right, at least in that assessment of today’s “spirituality.” Everywhere I turn I see people describe themselves as “spiritual,” yet can articulate almost nothing in terms of beliefs. They’re firmly committed to they-don’t-know-what, but you better not question them on it. But Flynt is right, those claiming themselves as “spiritual” and “agnostic” really are just hiding their doubts and questions behind a vapid but lofty-sounding title for their true spiritual condition.

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Charlie Mallie on Scriptural churches that miss the point

Pastor Charlie Mallie, a Lutheran pastor from Texas, as heard recently on Issues, Etc.

…in modern day churches, you can have places that are ‘in the Word’, that are doing things ‘from the Scripture’, but apart from Christ’s dying and saving office being at the center and also the circumference of the whole thing they’re sort of missing the point.”

Well said! Indeed many churches today do teach from the Scripture here and there, but yet completely miss the One, namely Christ, around whom Scripture finds both it’s origin and center.  As Pastor Mallie noted earlier in the interview, Christ clearly admonished the Pharisee (the top pastors of their day, if you will) that, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40 ESV)   Likewise, most churches today “search the Scriptures”, not for Christ, but for mere tips for moral living, mere snippets of quotes in easy-listening sermons awash in therapeutic deism.  “But,” the defenders reply, “we do hear Scripture from our pastor, so you’re wrong that we’re not Biblical!”  Yet as Jesus warned, simply knowing the words does not mean someone — parishioner or preacher — understands anything of what they’re reading if they miss the whole point of Scripture:  Jesus, the Lord, come as savior to sinners, for whom He died to bring to Himself.

Posted in Ministry, Of First Importance: The Gospel | 1 Comment

Huston Smith on Religious Artifacts

Noted author and religious studies professor Huston Smith (from his book Why Religion Matters) on the prevalence of religious artifacts and the importance of religion throughout human history:

Wherever people live, whenever they live, they find themselves faced with three inescapable problems:

  1. How to win food and shelter from their natural environment (the problem nature poses),
  2. How to get along with one another (the social problem), and
  3. How to relate themselves to the total scheme of things (the religious problem).

If this third issue seems less important than the other two, we should remind ourselves that religious artifacts are the oldest that archeologists have discovered.

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Don Carson on Remarriage of the Guilty Party

Asked about “freedom to remarry” for the “guilty” or “innocent” party after a divorce for sexual sin, Dr. Don Carson responds:

“There are some people that say that only the innocent party does have the right to remarry. I find it difficult to think of a Biblical text that sanctions that. That is to say, when the sexual union is broken, the sexual union is broken. And history that’s been a pretty centrist position, too. John Murray, for example, insists on that. So you still want to make sure there’s repentance, that there’s genuine conversion and all, yeah, yeah, yeah, I understand all that. But at the same time I don’t think that remarriage after ‘pornea‘ is a concessive option only for the so-called ‘non-guilty’ party. I don’t think that correct.”

Don Carson, Divorce & Remarriage Q&A, 2007 Gospel Coalition Conference (at min. 14:58 of the mp3)

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