Saturday, March 22, 2014

"God's Not Dead" Regardless of How He Is Presented

I just came back from seeing the new movie, "God's Not Dead." I was blessed with free tickets for the show and was interested in seeing it based on the previews. I know that many will go out to see this movie and while it has many positive elements, it contains areas that believers need to be concerned about. So if you will, you can consider this my "review" of the film. (I guess I should place a warning that there may be some spoilers here but these are things that Christians need to be aware of.)

At the outset, I must confess that I resonate with the lead character, Josh. In some ways I was that student in a college philosophy class with a professor seeking to demolish my faith in Christ and trust in His Word. In fact, I had a philosophy professor much like Professor Radisson. He even said some of the same things concerning his goal in liberating his students. (I laughed to myself when my college professor said such a thing at the irony that he was doing the opposite in persuading them to think like him, which is not being "liberated" to think for themselves.) I remember my peers chastising me for invoking religion in a speech I gave for my speech class as they thought it was not necessary and I should be more mindful of my audience. And of course the saddest thing is that this all occurred for me in a so-called "Christian" college. (Well, okay, the chaplain pointed out to me that it did not claim to be a "Christian" college but a college with "Christian values." But I digress . . . This post is actually about the situation portrayed in the movie.)

There is a lot to commend about this movie. I really liked how all of the different characters and storylines were weaved together and conveyed a powerful message of the importance of not being ashamed of Christ. This really serves as encouraging for college students who may be faced with similar situations. It was so great hearing Jesus Christ's name mentioned other than being an obscenity and even Scripture quoted. I rejoice in all of this. However, my issue concerns HOW this young man went about to defend the faith and provide a strong witness.

First off, in beginning his defense of the faith, Josh actually argues for what is called "theistic evolution." This is the idea that God serves as the one behind the Big Bang Theory and Darwinian evolutionary processes. He even goes so far to claim that the "Big Bang" serves as evidence of God saying "let there be . . ." He speaks of how God "governs" the evolutionary process. The irony of it all is how he then wound up contradicting himself when he quoted Genesis 1. As I have argued in a previous post (http://energeticexegete.blogspot.com/2013/01/creation-controversies.html), there is no way to reconcile Darwin's view of creature evolution from one common ancestor with the biblical account of creation. I will be frank here, you cannot believe the Bible's account of creation and also believe in evolution as Darwin has defined it since the two views are at odds with each other. It surprised me that the film had him go there. Or perhaps that might just go to show how so many are compromising Scripture these days.

Also, his argument for the existence of evil was very weak. The phrase "free will" does not suffice for a response. Time does not allow me to go in more detail pertaining to this at the moment but the way it was presented was far too simplistic and not persuasive. It winds up leaving one with more questions than providing any answers. You still have to deal with why God didn't end evil right away after the "free will" decision of Adam and Eve in the garden or why God even permitted Satan, the grand persuader of the Fall, to fall and rebel in the first place. A solid discussion of the existence of evil must go far deeper.

Perhaps the biggest issue in the entire film was the main character's position. He appealed to reason to present his case for God more than God's Word. Paul did not say that he was not ashamed of reason because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes but rather that he was not ashamed of the GOSPEL, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). The problem with the professor was not that there was not enough evidence for him to believe in God but that he didn't want to believe in God. Romans 1:18-23 makes this explicitly clear about all men. Everyone suppresses the truth of the existence of God in unrighteousness because in our sinful nature we do not want to acknowledge Him. In fact, it wasn't until the climax in the film that the student finally confronted the professor biblically when he asked him, "Why do you hate God" and the professor finally admits that is the reason he CHOOSES not to believe in God. It wasn't because of the evidence but because he hated Him! Oh, how I wish that Josh would have confronted him like this earlier on instead of wasting his time trying to tie evolutionary claims with biblical truth.

We should keep this in mind when witnessing to an atheist that their issue is not a lack of evidence of God but their unwillingness to believe in Him and surrender to Him. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed (John 3:19-20).

I could add to all of this the issue of a "watered down" gospel but I fear that is becoming so common place that it really didn't surprise me. I just will point out that when the apostles gave the gospel, they did not say phrases such as "accepting Jesus into your heart" but instead called all men to "repent and believe in Christ." I don't remember the word "repent" being in the movie at all; especially when one of the characters was giving the gospel.

Now I know that there will be some reading this who are complaining that I am being too nit picky about things. Why can't I just look over these things and enjoy the movie? Well, my friends, I am convinced that theology matters. That how you understand God and His Word affects everything in your life. That just as God does not overlook strange fire offered to Him (Leviticus 10:1-3) or by meaning well by touching His holy ark to keep it from falling (2 Samuel 6:6-7) that He does not overlook these things either. Whether they are portrayed in a movie or worse yet, practiced in real life. We must be discerning with what we listen to and what we watch. I had similar issues with the popular book (and I found out last night now movie) "Heaven Is For Real." (http://energeticexegete.blogspot.com/2011/07/heaven-is-for-real-but-not-because-of.html) Yes, this was an enjoyable movie with some wonderful points, but let's make sure that we don't fail to see the problem areas. All of us would do well to work at better understanding and articulating the gospel. This movie serves as a reminder of that. Every believer is instructed to always be ready to make a defense for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3:15) but we want to make sure that we are articulating that hope properly. The great news is that God is not dead regardless of how He is presented and argued.

In Christ,
Lee
Soli Deo Gloria

PS. Turns out that I am not the only one when these concerns. Here are some much better written reviews of the film addressing the same issues I have raised:
http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2014/02/25/review-gods-not-dead-movie
http://creation.com/gods-not-dead-review

Saturday, March 8, 2014

What Is Your Hope Built On?

One of my biggest concerns today is people's salvation. That they truly know Who Christ is and that they have a genuine faith in Him to save them. As a minister of the gospel I labor at this very thing. I fear that there are far too many who think or assume that they are saved who have not actually embraced Christ by faith but are essentially relying on their works to have a right standing before God. Scripture could not be any clearer that in no way will our works justify or declare us righteous before God. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight (Romans 3:20). nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified (Galatians 2:16). In fact, it is our sinful deeds that condemn us and incur God's wrath upon us.

Our only hope to be saved from God's wrath that we deserve lies not with what we do but with what Christ has done. In His work of living a life of obedience and experiencing God's wrath when He died upon the cross in the place of sinners who repent and look to Him alone as their only hope to be seen as righteous before God. Knowing that we have no righteousness of our own to stand upon but can only stand upon the righteousness of Christ. That since God treated His Son as guilty of our sins and punished Him for them, in turn He views the repentant sinner as being as righteous as Christ is, instead of the unrighteous sinner that they are. Paul summarizes this point well in 2 Corinthians 5:21, He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. Isaiah communicates Christ's substitution for believers in his description of the Suffering Servant. Of the One who was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed (Isaiah 53:5). The healing, our salvation, is brought about BY His scourging which was received FOR our transgressions and FOR our iniquities. The basis of our salvation must be in Jesus' death for sin and following resurrection.

However, many who claim that they do hold fast to this blessed truth of the salvation that can only be found in Christ and what He accomplished on the cross wind up communicating something different; that their hope actually lies in themselves and in something that they have done. In asking someone how do they know that they are saved, a popular response is that I came forward to the altar at a revival meeting and prayed a prayer to ask Jesus into my heart. Do you notice a problem with this? The basis for their salvation in reality is not the shed blood of Jesus Christ in their place, experiencing God's wrath so that they may be pardoned and seen as righteous but works that THEY have done. Their act of responding to an altar call or praying the words of a prayer. In fact, Jesus and His work is not even mentioned in such a statement. Their hope for their salvation essentially lies in themselves and what they have done instead of in Christ and what He has done.

Now am I saying that it is not necessary to approach God through prayer to admit your need of Him and call upon Him to save you? Absolutely not! The prophet Joel provides us with the precious promise that whoever will call on the name of the LORD will be saved (Joel 2:32). We must realize that this calling on the name of the LORD to save us is a request that He would save us on account of His acceptance of Christ's death in our place, not because of who we are or the sincerity of our request. That the very reason that we call upon Him with certainty to save us is because of the mercy He demonstrated at the cross and Christ turning away God's wrath from us. In fact, we would have no reason to ask God to forgive us if it wasn't for Christ's atoning death.

I want to encourage you to examine yourself. Is your hope of salvation from sin and God's wrath found in Christ and His death ALONE or on a decision that you have made or the prayer that you prayed. Is it because of something that you have done or based only on what Christ has done? Can you truly say the words of the beloved hymn, "My hope is built on nothing less; Than Jesus' blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, But wholly lean on Jesus' name"? If not, then repent and truly look to Christ and His work alone to save you. Resting in Him and the sufficiency of His grace.

In Christ,
Lee Smith
Sola Gratia (Grace ALONE)
Sola Fide (Faith ALONE)
Solus Christus (Christ ALONE)
Soli Deo Gloria (To the glory of God ALONE)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

God's Profound Providence in the Journey of Joseph

The Lord was with Joseph
Genesis 39:2

We currently are studying the book of Genesis in the Sunday School class that I have been blessed with the privilege to teach. As we have traced the coming of God’s promised seed in Genesis 3:15 throughout the entire book, something really struck me when we came to the account of Joseph; one of Jacob’s twelve sons. Towards the end of the book, Moses shows us how young Joseph goes from pasturing the flock (Genesis 37:1-22) to being thrown into the pit (Genesis 37:23-28) to serving Potiphar (Genesis 37:36; 39:1-18) to prison (Genesis 39:19-40:23) to Pharaoh (Genesis 41:1-37) to the palace (Genesis 41:38-57) to become the preserver of his family (Genesis 42:1-47:28). While we follow Joseph on this journey, Moses wants to make sure that we do not forget something very important. The fact that God guided and directed Joseph the entire way to accomplish the great purpose that He had planned.

Twice the narrator of Joseph’s life explicitly informs us that the LORD was with Joseph. The first time when he finds himself as a slave to Potiphar (Genesis 39:2) and then again when he sits in prison for a crime he was falsely accused of (Genesis 39:21). Moses also tells us that the LORD was with him during these situations as well (Genesis 39:3, 23). And when it may not be pointed out to us in words, we cannot deny God’s invisible hand in how things play out for Joseph. When his brothers plan to kill him, Reuben speaks up and persuades them against their intention (Genesis 37:20). The Midianite traders pass by the area at just the right time (Genesis 37:25, 28). Had they came by sooner or later the brothers might not have encountered them. It cannot be said to be mere coincidence or fortune that Joseph meets the Pharaoh’s cupbearer and interprets his dream in prison (Genesis 40:1-22). Even more so the fact that the cupbearer completely forgets about Joseph until two years later after the Pharaoh’s dream brings him to mind (Genesis 40:23-41:13). God clearly stood in control of each of these things in order to bring Joseph to Egypt and to meet Potiphar where he would wind up being placed in charge of just about everything in the country (Genesis 41:38-44).

This is a grand illustration of what we call providence. Providence is God working through ordinary means to accomplish His extraordinary purpose. In the case of Joseph, God used the desires, decisions, and deeds of his brothers, the Midianites, Potiphar’s wife, and the cupbearer for the sake of a greater purpose none of them could ever realize. That purpose was the salvation of His people. In fact, Joseph later does discern God’s hand in everything that brought him to the palace in Egypt. He tells his brothers after their reunion, Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life (Genesis 45:5). God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt (Genesis 45:7-8). Think about what would have happened had Joseph not been sold to the Midianites. If he never was in the prison to meet the cupbearer. He then would have remained in the land of Canaan with his father and his brothers. When the famine struck the land, Jacob and all of his sons would have died of starvation. This would mean that the promised One who would defeat the devil (Genesis 3:15) and would come through the line of Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; 22:18), Isaac (26:4), and Jacob (28:14), would be gone as the family had died out. Through these various means of bringing Joseph to the palace in Egypt and making him the preserver of his family, God ensured that the promised seed would come, through Jacob’s son Judah and on through the line of Joseph and Mary (Matthew 1:1-16; Luke 3:23-38).

We should be thankful for God’s invisible hand of providence in our lives as well. Using the ordinary means of everything in our lives, including our heartaches, disappointments, difficulties, and trials for His greater purpose. And His purpose is to direct us to that seed that He preserved through the workings of His providence in the life of Joseph. That seed being the Lord Jesus Christ who came to give His life in place of those who repent from their sins and embrace Him in faith. Far too often we get too caught up with the world and God needs to bring us to a place where we are reminded that Jesus MUST serve as our only treasure, as our “all in all.” Such is why Scripture instructs us to rejoice in our trials and in whatever God does in His providence in our lives (Romans 5:3-5; 1 Thessalonians 5:18; James 1:2-4). Are you looking and relying upon Him? Perhaps that could be where God is directing you in the troubles that you currently may be facing. Keep looking to Him throughout whatever you may be going through. As William Cowper wrote, “behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face.”

Love in Christ,
Pastor Lee

Monday, December 2, 2013

Preparing For Advent

As we prepare for the Advent season, the time when we celebrate the coming of the Messiah, I thought it might be helpful to take a moment to look at how those who were present at His birth viewed the event. I fear that if we are not careful, we can easily get so caught up with all of the commercialism of the holidays that we lose sight of the real reason that we as Christians celebrate.

With the shepherds we notice that Christ served as the reason for their rejoicing. After the angel appeared to them to tell them the wonderful news of the Savior who had been born that day (Luke 2:8-14) and when they had found the baby lying in the manger as the angels stated, we read that The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them (v. 20). The arrival of the Messiah led them to worship God. They responded in praise and adoration.

For the magi, Christ served as the object of their search. They followed the star that indicated that His birth had come (Matthew 2:2). Perhaps they were thinking of the prophecy uttered through Balaam recorded in Numbers 24:17. A star shall come forth from Jacob, A scepter shall rise from Israel. They “traversed afar” (as we often sing) to finally reach the promised Christ child. And we witness further rejoicing by them and their worshiping of Christ Himself. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him (Matthew 2:10-11).

Luke highlights two individuals that come in contact with Jesus in the Temple. Their names are Simeon and Anna and Christ served as their hope. The Messiah was what Simeon had been waiting for. We are told that he was looking for the consolation of Israel (Luke 2:25). He was hoping for this One to come to comfort and deliver his people and God revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen Him (v. 26). He even points out that the Messiah would be the hope for all the nations, both the Gentiles and the Jews (v. 32). Anna also was in the Temple and upon seeing the Messiah, was giving thanks to God (v. 38).

There are a few things we notice with all of those who first witnessed this monumental event in the course of history (really His-story). They all were centered on Christ. The shepherds rejoiced on account of Him, the magi sought after Him, and Simeon placed his hope in Him. It was all about Him. Also, they worshiped God on account of Him. This worship also can be seen with several others who had the special privilege of coming in contact with the Messiah such as Zacharias, Mary, and Joseph. And I think that it is very important to note that their celebration was not merely over the fact that God came to earth in the person of Christ but in what that Messiah would accomplish. It was not about the manger that cradled the baby as it was the cross that He would grow up to hang upon. The shepherds were rejoicing over the truth that the angel conveyed that this Messiah is the Savior (Luke 2:11). Simeon exclaimed that my eyes have seen Your salvation (Luke 2:30). Anna continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:38). Mary exclaimed, My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior (Luke 1:46-47). Zacharias likewise praised God for the salvation that this Messiah would bring. Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant (Luke 1:68-69).

So let’s not lose our focus this Christmas season. While the “most wonderful time of the year” often becomes the “most stressful,” may we keep Christ at the center of our celebrations, worship and praise God for Him, and look past the “away in a manger” that we sing about to the purpose of His birth, salvation through His death in the place of repentant sinners and His resurrection three days later. In fact, it is because of Christ’s death on the cross that gives us the reason to sing of His birth. As one song properly puts it, “The beginning of the story is wonderful and great, But it's the ending that can save you and that's why we celebrate.” And this focus and celebration should not be limited of course to this time of Advent but one that we should have year round for the glory of God.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Lee

Friday, October 18, 2013

What Does It Mean To Address God As Father

Following Jesus’ teaching on how to pray, we rightfully address God as our Father (Matthew 6:9). But have we taken the time to reflect on what it actually means to call God our Father? What are the implications of Him relating to us as our Father?

God serving as the Father of believers means that He will take care of His children. The reason why Jesus tells us that we are not to be worried about our life is because the same God who feeds the birds and clothes the flowers will take care of our needs as well. for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things (Matthew 6:32). The remedy to our constant worrying is to remind ourselves that we have a Father who cares for us and will provide for our needs. To worry is in all actuality to distrust our heavenly Father. It indicates that we doubt His care and provision and think that we need to rely on ourselves or something or someone else. We can confidently ask God to give us this day our daily bread (Matthew 6:11) since He is our Father. Because He has promised to meet our needs (not our wants mind you). True rest for the weary can only be found in recognizing God as our Father.

The same is true in regard to our trials. When the most awful affliction or the most turbulent tribulation comes upon us, we have strength to bear it, understanding that our heavenly Father has ordained and arranged it. He does nothing intended for our ill but only for our good. As the author of Hebrews points out in relation to our earthly fathers, For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but [God] disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:10-12). The discipline of our trials are for our good, serving to grant us the privilege to become holy. So know that while you may not understand the pain of the trial you currently experience, you have a Father who knows what is best and intends it for your good. He loves us so much that He is willing to make us experience some of the most difficult seasons in order to teach us to trust Him more (2 Corinthians 1:8-9) and for us to have a greater understanding of Him (Job 42:5). What a great comfort to have such a Father in control!

It is because God serves as our Father that we can move forward with great confidence when our plans fail, when the “yes” we were hoping for turns into a “no,” or when our dreams may shatter. There is no such thing as coincidence and ultimately we do not chart our own course in life (Proverbs 16:9, 33; 21:1; Daniel 4:34-35; Ephesians 1:11). When a door closes, knowing that God is our Father softens the blow because we then realize that He knows what is best and promises to give us what is best. That those who seek the LORD shall not be in want of any good thing (Proverbs 34:10). The closed door signifies that whatever it was, was not good or the best for us at the moment. Oh, how often we fret when things don’t go our way when really we should rejoice that our Father is looking out for us and seeking only to give us what is best for us. Since we don’t know what is best for us (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25), it is such a blessing that we have a Father Who does and gives what is good to those who ask Him! (Matthew 6:11). These are things that God knows is good, not necessarily what we may falsely think is good for us.

Let’s not take for granted the privilege we have to call God our Father nor forget what that actually means. Thomas Watson was right when he said, “There is more sweetness in this word ‘Father,’ than if we had ten thousand worlds!” And this is not a privilege that everyone in the world shares but only those who have been born again by God’s Spirit and placed their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 1:12-13). Do you have this privilege to address God as your Father? And if you do, are you resting in it?

Love in Christ,
Pastor Lee

Friday, September 27, 2013

Figuring Out Foreknowledge

If you want to start a quick and fiery theological debate, just mention the words "election" or "predestination." Two sides will clearly be drawn; those who hold to the view that man's salvation hinges completely upon the work of God alone ("monergism") and those who see salvation resulting from a cooperation of both God and man's work together ("synergism"). The former view holds that man has no power in and of himself, as a result of the fall, to come to faith in Christ and the faith that he exercises to do so must have been given from God Himself and results entirely from the work of His Spirit while the latter sees man as containing the ability to believe, often due to a work of God's grace equally done to all men that allows them to freely come to Christ or reject Him (often referred to as "prevenient grace"). This debate often centers on the word foreknowledge which is connected with the Bible's description of election (Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 1:1-2). The question is what does foreknowledge actually mean. Is it that God looks forward into time, seeing who will believe in Him, and then in turn choosing those ones to be saved? Or does it indicate something else? I would argue that a closer look at the word and how it is used in Scripture indicates something different which might aid in solving this current argument over the role that God and man plays in man's salvation.

Object of Persons
The term foreknowledge basically means to know beforehand. It is having knowledge of a fact or event that has not yet occurred. The word is used a total of seven times in the Bible (Acts 2:23; 26:5; Romans 8:29; 11:2; 1 Peter 1:2, 20; 2 Peter 3:17). One thing that we notice about the word is that it often has select persons as the object of what is known beforehand. For instance, in Acts 26:5, Paul states that the Jews knew him beforehand and thus could testify of his former life as a Pharisee. Paul states that God knew the people of Israel beforehand (Romans 11:2), not anything specific about them regarding their faith or faithlessness. And Peter points out that God knew His people beforehand (1 Peter 1:2) and Jesus Himself (1 Peter 1:20). We must be careful to note that in one of the classic passages that this debate centers on, Romans 8:29, the apostle states explicitly that it is those whom He foreknew that God predetermined to be made into the image of His Son. It is the persons that He knew in advance and not anything specific about them such as whether or not they would be receptive to Him or place their faith in Him. The people themselves. Nothing else about them and their will is even mentioned. The focus is on God's work in the lives of His people with the all things that occur in their lives (Romans 8:28). His people who are called according to His purpose are those He knew in advance.

Close Connection With God's Plan and Purpose
Another thing we notice about this word foreknowledge is that it has a close connection to God's plan and purpose. In Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost, he states that this man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death (Acts 2:23). It was not only according to God's foreknowledge that Christ was handed over to be crucified but also a part of His predetermined plan. It would not make sense here to say that God knew in advance the actions of Judas and the high priests which would result in Jesus being nailed to the cross and therefore described it as His predetermined plan. That would be God taking credit for the work of man instead of showing Him as ordaining all things that occur which would be consistent with the rest of the teaching of Scripture. Logically, God would certainly know all that occurs if it is part of His predetermined plan. Also, the fact that the phrase predetermined plan precedes the term foreknowledge in this verse may indicate that God's plan preceded His knowledge. In fact, through the pen of the prophet Isaiah, God argues that the very reason that He knows the future with complete certainty stems from the fact that He serves as the cause of all events in the future. Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, 'My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure (Isaiah 46:10). According to this verse, why does God say that He can declare the end from the beginning? Because His purpose will be established and He will accomplish all His good pleasure. Because He is in control of all that occurs in the future. This point is communicated even more powerfully when one realizes the context of Isaiah 40-48; a sermon making the case why God is supreme over man-made idols. A wooden statue is powerless to predict the future because it has no control over the future unlike God who orchestrates all things and that is demonstrated to the people at the present time with His prophecies of what is to come, particularly concerning this bird of prey from the east, Cyrus, whom God intends to use to free the Jews from their coming Babylonian captivity (Isaiah 46:11). God's foreknowledge cannot be separated from His predetermined plan. God knows all that He plans to do and since He works all things according to His will (Ephesians 1:11), He thus knows all things. He knows those who are His people because He planned for them to become His people.

Significance of the Term "Know"
Something that is often forgotten about in an examination of the term foreknowledge concerns the use of the word know that serves part of this compound word. In several places in the Bible, know often conveys the idea of an intimate relationship. When we read that the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain (Genesis 4:1), we certainly have to understand that Adam must have known a lot more about Eve than just her existence for this conception to happen. He had an intimate relationship with his wife. Jesus uses the word know similarly in His Sermon on the Mount to describe those on the last day who did not trust in Him. He states that He will say to such I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness (Matthew 7:23). Jesus, being fully God, knows every single person whom God brings into existence, so this cannot be referring to cognitive knowledge of the people. Again, the idea is that Jesus did not have an intimate relationship through faith with this group. Perhaps the key in properly understanding Paul and Peter's use of the word foreknowledge can be found in Amos 3:2 referring to Israel. You only have I known among all the families of the earth. Now God certainly knows the existence of every single nation or people among all the families of the earth as He is the one who forms and gives each individual their life (Psalm 139:14-16; Jeremiah 1:5). The point here is that out of all the families of the earth, God has chosen to have an intimate relationship with the people of Israel and not those of any other nation at the time. According to Deuteronomy 7:6-8, God chose the nation of Israel to be His people solely because He chose to love them. Not because of anything about them at all. When Peter refers to the scattered saints that he wrote to as God's chosen people according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, he uses the language of the Old Testament to describe God's people of Israel. They were consistently referred to as being chosen to be God's people. Peter begins his letter as acknowledging that these Christians are also part of God's chosen people. In fact, later, Peter will use several titles that originally belonged to Israel and that now also apply to the church (1 Peter 2:9-10). In light of these connections, it appears that Peter very well may be indicating that God chose these people who trust in His Son according to His intimate relationship He determined to have with them beforehand, His love He chose to bestow upon them beforehand in eternity past (Ephesians 1:4), by the work of His Holy Spirit in the new birth that He causes within their heart and through the shedding of Christ's blood in the place of these for the inauguration of the new covenant they become part of. Paul's use of foreknowledge in Romans 11:2 confirms this understanding. God's foreknowledge of His people Israel would resemble Amos' reference to the type of intimate relational loving knowledge of that people earlier. God loved His people whom He chose beforehand. More likely, Paul would best be understood to use the term the same way a few chapters earlier in Romans 8:29. It is those that He has chosen to bestow His love upon beforehand that He has predetermined to be made into the image of Christ and whom He ultimately will glorify (v. 30).

Know (without any pun intended!) that my main goal is to seek to understand what God's Word says about this matter. The preceding is the result of a few years of study of Scripture concerning this topic. I encourage you to evaluate this argument and most importantly what the Bible itself says to help you come to your conclusion of where you may fall on this much important debate concerning God's and our role in our salvation. We want to make sure that we give God the full credit for His salvation that His deserves and appropriately be humbled at His full grace and mercy in doing the full work of redemption in our lives. And if you have not trusted in Christ to save you from God's wrath through His death on the cross and following resurrection, I encourage you to consider the claims of Scripture pertaining to Who He is and what He has done. I call you to repent and to look to Him alone as your only hope; not in who you are or anything that you may do. If, by God's grace, you respond to this call, then you can rejoice and praise Him for saving you, recognizing that you have been chosen according to the love He has had for you before the very foundation of the world. To God ALONE be the glory!

In Christ,
Lee

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

God's Sovereignty and Human Responsiblity

One issue that many Christians struggle with concerns how God can be described as sovereign over all things and yet man be held responsible for his actions and decisions. Many mistakenly view these two truths as being contradictory. If God is absolutely sovereign, then they reason that man could not be faulted for his sins or since man makes choices and is held accountable to those choices, then God could not be properly described as sovereign and in control of those choices. However, Scripture clearly teaches both points without any hint of them being in opposition. One cannot deny either truth. Often they are displayed side by side. The following are several examples in Scripture where both God is shown to be fully sovereign and determining that everything occurs according to His divine plan while man is identified as being guilty of specific sins that he committed under God's sovereign reign. My hope is that these examples and my explanations that follow will aid those who struggle with this issue.

The Treachery of Joseph's Brothers and the Triumph of God's Promise

After the death of Jacob, Joseph's brothers feared that Joseph would get them back for their treachery against him when he was a kid (Genesis 50:15). They had sold him to the Ishmaelites due to their jealousy over their father's greater affection for the young man (Genesis 37:25-28). Instead of retaliating, Joseph says to them: As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today (Genesis 50:19). Notice here that there is one event and two intentions. Joseph's brothers meant evil in their action of selling him to the Ishmaelites but God, in permitting the brothers to do it (He could have easily stopped it in some way), meant it for good. God had a greater purpose in His sovereignty. His purpose was to preserve many people alive and keep His promise to Abraham. Think about it. Had Joseph not wound up in Egypt through the means of his brothers' sin, Jacob and his children would have all died in Canaan. Thus God would not have been faithful to His promise to make a great nation with many descendants from Abraham (Genesis 12:2) and to bring about the promised Redeemer from him (Genesis 12:3; 22:18). It was due to Joseph being in Egypt and having been given the ability to interpret the Pharaoh's dream that predicted seven years of plenty and seven years of famine, that he found himself placed into the position of being the second highest rank in Egypt and able to save and distribute food to those who would be hurting in the time of the famine. This would include his father and his brothers. Without God's provision in this manner, Jacob and his sons would have perished without the twelve tribes of Israel developing and then Abraham left without any descendants. This means of provision through the brothers' sin was exactly how God planned for it to happen as seen with the dreams given to Joseph when he was a young boy (Genesis 37:5-10). While the brothers were held responsible for their treacherous action, God is shown to triumph through His sovereignty over them. In no way is God accused of evil in His intentions or actions in His allowance of the brothers' deeds.

The Hardening of Pharaoh's Heart

Ten times Scripture describes God as hardening Pharaoh's heart (Exodus 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1,20,27; 11:10; 14:4,8,17) and ten times it refers to the king hardening his own heart (7:13,14,22; 8:15,19,32; 9:7,34,35; 13:15). I think that the best way to understand this is to view God as withholding His grace from Pharaoh which would result in him hardening his own heart. God certainly cannot cause someone directly to sin because it goes against His holy character (James 1:13). God in His sovereignty could have sent His Spirit to soften Pharaoh's heart and move him to release the Israelites sooner. However, God desired to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth (Exodus 9:16). Pharaoh is held responsible for the hardening of his heart and God is shown to have planned for it to occur. In fact, the first mentioning of this hardening refers to God determining that I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go (Exodus 4:21).

The Planned Rejection of God

In 1 Samuel 8, the people of Israel sin by demanding that the prophet Samuel appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations (v. 5). This would be a sin because they in essence rejected God as their king (v. 7). They were indicating that they thought that God was not sufficient to lead them and that they would rather be like all the nations instead of being the set apart nation devoted solely to Him that God had called them to be. However, a kingship for Israel, although a sin due to it indicating their rejection of God, was planned from early on. In fact, it was part of the promise that God gave to Abraham. He told the patriarch that I will make you into nations and kings shall come from you (Genesis 17:6). Furthermore, through Jacob, God determined that The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff between his feet, until tribute comes to him, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples (Genesis 49:10). Thus, God planned for man's rejection of him through their demanding of a king. As was with the case of Joseph and his brothers, God permitted this disobedience to serve as the means of accomplishing His plan.

Another planned rejection of God can be seen with the Jews in their rejection of their Messiah. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him (John 1:11). Although Jesus was the "king of the Jews," the Jews rejected Him and had Him crucified on the cross. They failed to recognize the time of your visitation (Luke 19:44). However, Paul tells us that this rejection had been planned by God from the beginning. Speaking of God's righteous dealings with His chosen nation of Israel, he quotes two Old Testament passages that demonstrate that God planned for their hardening (Romans 11:8-10). This hardening was clearly God's doing as Isaiah 29:10 states that God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day (emphasis added). The truth of Who Jesus was and His importance was hidden from their eyes (Luke 19:42) Yet, the Jews are held responsible for their rejection. God's purpose in their rejection was to provide salvation to the Gentiles (literally in Greek the nations) and in turn the extending of salvation to the other nations will result in bringing a large remnant of Israel to obedience (Romans 11:11-12, 25-27). God once again used human actions, which man was held fully responsible for, to accomplish His divine plan for His glory.

The Punishers and Their Punishment

Through the prophet Isaiah, God declares the nation of Assyria as the rod of My anger; the staff in their hands is my fury (Isaiah 10:5). To punish His people, the nation of Israel, God plans to send the Assyrians to capture them. Against a godless nation I send him, and against the people of My wrath I command him, to take spoil and seize plunder, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets (v. 6). While God intends to use the Assyrians to attack the people of Israel and take them into captivity, they have a different intention. But he does not so intend, and his heart does not so think; but it is in his heart to destroy, and to cut off nations not a few (v. 7). Instead, they desire to make themselves look great through the conquering of the nation of Israel. Just as God used the wicked motives of Joseph's brothers for a greater intention that He had, here He uses the wicked intentions of the nation of Assyria. However, the Assyrians were still held responsible for their sinful intentions and punished. When the Lord has finished all His work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, He will punish the speech of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the boastful look in his eyes (v. 12). It may be important to note that this states that God punished them for their attitude and intentions and not necessarily the act of capturing Israel. They are faulted for exalting themselves over God and not recognizing Him using them for His work (v. 15). God used wickedness to punish wickedness and made sure that none of the wicked went unpunished.

Judgment Through A Judge in Marrying The Unmarriable
The strong judge Samson has a strong desire to marry this daughter of the Philistines. (Of course his life can mostly be characterized by a desire for some woman!) Even though his parents attempted to try to talk him out of it, he was determined to take this one to be his wife because she looks good to me (Judges 14:3). This marriage would be a sin since God clearly commanded the people not to marry the ungodly outside of the nation of Israel(Deuteronomy 7:1-3). However, the author provides for us a very interesting insight in the following verse: However, his father and mother did not know that it was of the LORD, for He was seeking an occasion against the Philistines (Judges 14:4). Did you notice that? This desire to marry one that Samson had no business marrying was ultimately of the LORD. While Samson was concerned about his own happiness, God has a greater concern with His holiness and glory and thus uses Samson's sinful desire to defeat the Philistines who currently were oppressing His people.

Saving the Shipwreck

While caught in a storm sailing towards Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, Paul tells everyone on the ship that an angel had appeared to him, promising that God has granted you all those who sail with you (Acts 27:24). Due to God's word on this matter, Paul could boldly state that there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship (v. 22). However, when some of the sailors were attempting to leave the ship in fear that it would hit the rocks, Paul tells them Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved (v.31). Paul certainly did not forget God's promise that He would preserve everyone's life of those who were on the ship. The next day he reminded them of that promise. for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you (v. 34). Instead, he recognized that God not only ordains the end of His plan but also the means to that specific end. Had the sailors left the ship in their small boats, no one would have been left on the ship who were skilled in directing the ship to its intended destination and who would have been able to handle the shipwreck they would experience. God used the means of the sailors serving on the ship to ensure that they all made it safely to the land. In fact, God also used the means of the centurion to ensure that the prisoners would not lose their lives when the soldiers desired to kill them in case they tried to escape during the shipwreck (vv. 42-43). Through the means of the sailors staying on the ship and the centurion convincing the soldiers to spare the lives of the prisoners, all were brought safely to land (v. 44). God kept His promise through the means of these men's actions. Had the sailors left or the centurion remained quiet, lives would have been lost.

Our and God's Work in Our Sanctification

Paul commands believers to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). This is clearly a command as the Greek verb is in the imperative mood, which indicates a command being given. However, Paul goes on to explain that God also is at work within them both to will and to work for His good pleasure (v. 13). The implication here is that, although Paul commands us to work and live out our salvation, we cannot obey that command without God's work in us. We can work only because God is working in us to enable us to do so. Augustine understood this when he stated "Give what you command and command what you will." In other words, "command me to do whatever you wish, but give me the ability to obey that command." Thus, man is responsible for this "working" and God is sovereign over it.

The Predetermined Sin to Take Away All Sin

As part of his sermon on the day of Pentecost, Peter refers to Christ's death as a product of both God's sovereign plan and man's sin. He describes Jesus as being delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God (Acts 2:23). Thus, Jesus' death occurred as planned and ordained by God. This plan was definite, meaning that God intended for it to occur and would ensure that it would occur. It was predetermined as indicated by it transpiring according to God's foreknowledge. He formulated this plan before hand. Yet, man is held responsible for the sin that was done according to the divine plan. Peter states that this Jesus . . . you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God ordained the sin of the murder of His Son to serve as the means to take away the sins of those who would trust in Christ. Basically, God conquered sin with sin!

The One Written Beforehand Who Would Have Been Better Not to Have Been Born

In the upper room with His disciples, Jesus warned the Twelve that one of them at the table would betray Him. He then states that this betrayal serves as part of God's divine plan written down previously. For the Son of Man is to go just as it is written of Him (Mark 14:21). The Old Testament contained many prophecies which spoke of the coming Messiah's death; Isaiah 53 arguably one of the greatest of such passages. However, the one who served as the means of this betrayal does not have his responsibility in the crime neglected. Jesus goes on to say that, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born. Though part of God's plan to send Jesus to the cross to die for the sins of the ones who would trust in Him, the consequences for such a grave sin Judas would commit that very night were so dire that Jesus could say that he would wish that he had never been born. Of course, God intended him to be born and to use him as a means to bring Jesus to the cross. We read that Satan entered the disciple's heart and persuaded him to turn Jesus over (Luke 22:3). From Job 1:12; 2:6; and Luke 22:31, we learn that God serves as sovereign over Satan and must grant him permission for him to do anything. Thus, this means that God had to allow Satan to enter into Judas' heart. God did not directly cause this but permitted it so that He could bring redemption to the world. Though He did not deny acknowledging Judas' sin that resulted from his following of the devil's enticements.

Some Final Reflections

In all of these passages, we see God presented as sovereign over every person and event, yet people still being held accountable for their actions. In each case we have one action, two actors, and two intentions. Often the human actor's intentions differ from God's who serves as the other and really ultimate actor. One action results from the two actors and their two intentions. God uses the human actor with his intentions, though often sinful, to accomplish the action of His intention. He thus can be described as the "primary" cause of the action with the human actor deemed as the "secondary" cause. The human actor only does what God allows or enables the human actor to do based on the human actor's desires and situations. This human actor is still held accountable for his sinful intentions and desires. God does not place those sinful desires in man but they inherit that from their father Adam. However, God uses the actions that result from such sinful desires to accomplish His plan and to bring Him glory. The Westminster Confession of Faith summarizes this point well: “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.”

As students of Scripture, we must affirm both that God is sovereign and man held responsible for his actions and decisions, exercised under God's sovereign hand. We may not fully understand how these two fit together but we cannot deny either. One of my fears is that too many people bring God down by limiting His sovereignty or elevate man by placing him in a position where he can mess up God's plan which is an idea completely foreign to Scripture (Job 42:2; Isaiah 46:10; Ephesians 1:11). Let's always remain true to the text of Scripture, especially in regards to the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man.


In Christ,
Lee
Soli Deo Gloria!