Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Jesus, (offensive) Friend of Sinners

Jesus “…came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13). Jesus also said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Luke 5:32).

From Sunday to Sunday, in true Christian pulpits all over the globe, that message is going out. Christ does not save us from physical pain and anguish so much as he alleviates our greatest need – he propitiates God’s wrath against our sin. He saves sinners! He did not suffer on the cross to create a social club that comes together on the weekends. He did not rise from the dead to take care of your personal concerns (though he cares about those) so much as he came to call sinners to himself. “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Jesus breaches the chasm between God and his people, filling perfectly the greatest divide in human history. He bids you come to him, weary with anguish and guilt over the sins you have committed in this life. He promises rest for your soul if you will only come.

The point of Jesus’ ministry was this: “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21, emphasis mine).

The picture of Jesus that arises out of the scriptures is a rather offensive one – at least to sinners. For Jesus to be a savior implies something from which we need to be saved. And the mission of Jesus’ earthly life tells us from what we must be saved – God’s wrath against our sin, to wipe away the debt we owed. We are the guilty.

Jesus did not come to this earth to be an “on the fringe” social revolutionary who overturned the tables of religious people. He did not come to right the social ills of his day. Jesus did not come to be an earthly King. Many Christians want Jesus not as their Lord and King but as a revolutionary to fix the world’s (and their personal) problems now. The emergent church has emphasized fixing social problems, fixing the “hell on earth,” at the expense of preaching the gospel of repentance to needy sinners on the path to everlasting hell.

Jesus came to save his people from their sins. In so doing, he pricks our consciences, and points out our sins, so that we who are his people might come to him. He will save his people from their sin by the washing of regeneration by the Spirit through his blood, and this involves the painful realization of the guilt we have before a holy and just God.

If Jesus was only a social revolutionary, why believe in him rather than Ghandi? If one desires only to alleviate social ills, the offensive preaching of the gospel will not help you nearly as much as the wisdom of the world. So why not believe in any other example of moral behavior we find from century upon century of human history?

The truth of the matter is what the Bible presents. We did not need another moral example! We needed a perfect satisfaction for the guilty debt we owed to God. If there was no satisfaction, then there is no forgiveness of sins. If there is no forgiveness of sins, then there is no hope for the believer.

Christ had to be the perfect savior, that is, truly God and truly man. He had to be truly man for God would only require that the same flesh which had bent itself in rebellion to him would pay the penalty for that rebellion. He must be truly God, for only God could bear the brunt of the wrath owed to all human kind.

We know that Jesus Christ was human:

Hebrews 2:17-18
“Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

Hebrews 4:15
 “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

Christ was beset with weaknesses. He expressed human emotions, such as deep sadness (John 11:35), and felt weary (John 4:6), hungry (Matthew 4:2), and thirsty (John 4:7). Thomas really felt the holes in Jesus’ punctured hands (John 20:27-28).

We know that Christ was also God:
Hebrews 1:3
“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.”

Hebrews 1:8
“But of the Son he says,
“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.”

Colossians 1:15-17
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

Jesus had to be (and was) a God-man.

The message of the gospel is offensive because it calls people to repentance. Repentance involves two things primarily: the first, a deep sorrow over your sin for offending a holy God (confession), and the second, a pursuit of turning away from those sins through the power of the Spirit. Tullian Tchividjian tweeted recently: “The problem in the church today is not cheap grace but cheap law--the idea that God accepts anything short of Jesus' perfect righteousness.” The fact of the matter is, if God did accept anything short of Jesus’ perfect righteousness in our lives, then he would no longer be God, for he would no longer be just and holy! If we do not have faith in Jesus’, but continue in our sins and unrepentance, then we will be judged. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). We must stop believing that God will accept us based on the fact that we've tried our best, or have succeeded at keeping the law, or done enough good to warrant favor. He only accepts us on the basis of Christ’s work! 

It is a popular idea today (especially among the youth) to believe that Jesus only ever called the Pharisees, the "religious people", to account; he hung out with sinners and chose their company because at least they weren't hypocrites like the Pharisees! 

Jesus may have eaten with sinners, but this does not mean he did not call them to repentance! The “love and acceptance” gospel so prevalent in our country is nowhere in the Scriptures. Jesus called both the Pharisees from their hypocrisy, and the sinner from their sins. I can think specifically of two instances where Jesus did not merely “hang” with sinners, but called them to repentance. 

The first is when Jesus met a woman at Samaria in John chapter 4:
"Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.”Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

Jesus asked her purposefully where her husband was so he could point out her sinful lifestyle and proclaim to her that he was the Messiah. But she didn’t want to talk about it: “I have no husband.” And from there Jesus tells her all that she had ever done. He did not accept this woman’s lifestyle. He crisply pointed it out, and proclaimed to her that he was the Messiah. Only he could give the water which, if she drank, would sustain her for life so she'd never have to drink again.

The second is the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19. Jesus told Zacchaeus that he was coming to his house. It is here that Jesus’ mere presence prompts the tax collector to true repentance. Jesus says in response to Zacchaeus' heart change: “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (verse 9). Salvation always comes with a conviction of sin.

Lest we think that Jesus was the only one to do this, Peter also, when he stood up after the Spirit came down at Pentecost (Acts 2) and preached to the people, told them directly that they had killed the Son of God. They were cut to the heart because he preached to them what they had done in sinning against God. And this is what happened:

Acts 2:37-38
"Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

And do you know how many souls were saved that day? 3,000!

Paul also uses the conviction of sin in his epistles as a lead in for the good news, specifically in Romans. Romans begins with humanity’s overwhelming guilt under the law of God, and then turns to the gospel with the words, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law…” (Romans 3:21). 

Everything flows from a realization of sin and guilt. If we don’t understand our sin first, we’ll never understand how entirely beautiful the cross of Jesus is! Let me say it once more: Jesus did not go to the cross to be an example. He went to the cross to bear God’s wrath for his people. Only insofar as people understand that will they be cut to the heart. If we don’t preach the way God wants us to, can we ever expect people to become Christians? 

I wish more ministers were direct in bringing us the true Word of God instead of beating around the bush. I want a minister who doesn’t mince words, but tells it to me straight. Like Paul. Like Peter. Like Jesus.

The message of Christianity is blunt. It is offensive (to the flesh). But accepting the message is the only way Jesus can be your friend.

To the sinner, it is the best news in the world.

For a further reading, see my blog post on Total Depravity.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


It seems as if the media only presents two sides of the issue: the extreme, and the other extreme. One side hates and the other hates back. As with most everything in the Christian life, there is always a certain tension that arises out of the Biblical text in which we are supposed to walk faithfully. Instead of harmonizing biblical accounts, many Christians have taken the easy way out: the way of cheap love and grace at the expense of biblical truth. On the other end of the spectrum we get this view. Instead of hating homosexuals or justifying them, can we take a “peaceful” but firm stand about the issue? I think the answer is yes.

When I say a “peaceful” but firm stand, I do not mean that we should preach peace to those we know who have chosen a homosexual lifestyle, or have chosen to act on homosexual desires. That would be telling them “’peace, peace’, when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 8:11). As with anyone who does not have faith in Christ or is living a life contrary to what they profess, we are to call them to genuine faith and repentance.

That being said, there is no doubt that homosexuality is a sin:

1 Timothy 1:9-11
“…understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.”

1 Corinthians 6:9
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Romans 1:24-27
“Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.”

Leviticus 20:13
“If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.”

In Genesis 19: 23-25, God destroys the city of Sodom for their great iniquity. We catch a glimpse of their sins in verses 4-11 of that same chapter:

“But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house. And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.” Lot went out to the men at the entrance, shut the door after him, and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Behold, I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please. Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.” But they said, “Stand back!” And they said, “This fellow came to sojourn, and he has become the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.” Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and drew near to break the door down. But the men reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them and shut the door. And they struck with blindness the men who were at the entrance of the house, both small and great, so that they wore themselves out groping for the door.”

The fact that homosexuality is a sin is biblically uncontested. It is unnatural, and is the product of a debased mind. It is the product of men (or women) exchanging the truth of God for a lie. It is the result of man worshipping the creature rather than the creator. God does not change his views over sin, and he is terribly displeased with homosexuality to the point that he would require death.

Now, the problem for some Christians is that they stop there. As always, it is easier to condemn the “really bad sins” at the expense of the “minor” ones (the “respectable” sins, as Jerry Bridges calls them). Perhaps we do this because we don’t want to feel condemned about our sin. But 1 Corinthians 6:9 says that if you are a drunkard, a thief, sexually immoral, greedy, or an idolater you won’t inherit the kingdom of God!

The universality of sin is evident in Romans 1:29-32:
“They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”

So are we disobedient to parents? Are we boastful? Are we deceitful? Do we gossip? If you answered no, then go read Matthew 19:16-30 and 1 John 1:10. If you answered yes, then you deserve to die. You deserve hell. We all deserve hell.

Let’s not forget what our Lord explained about the law at the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 5:20
“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 5:21-22
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

Matthew 5:27
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

This is what God requires: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48, emphasis mine). “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). Make no mistake; God requires that we keep every iota, every dot (Matthew 5:18) of the law.

If we do not keep every little dot, then we are condemned. The only way that God will not punish us is if we keep the law perfectly. And no one does (1 John 1:10). As Heidelberg Answer 12 states, “God will have his justice satisfied (Exodus 23:7); therefore we must make full satisfaction to the same, either by ourselves, or by another.”

It asks in Question 13: “But can we ourselves make this satisfaction?” And the Answer: “By no means; on the contrary, we daily increase our debt (Psalm 130:3)”.

So anyone under the law is left without hope. All humanity deserves God’s just wrath and indignation. It is here that we should stop and contemplate how angry (and grieved) God is over the sin we commit. Can I say again that we all deserve to be tormented in hell for eternity because of our sin, because we’ve disobeyed God’s law?

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:21-26).

“…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Romans 5:8-10).

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:4-9).

All sins are not equal. But under the law, the homosexual is not any worse off than the one who gossips! Both are going to hell, should they continue in their sin and unrepentance. We are called to love all sinners, proclaiming the truth about their sin (not just homosexuality, but the whole gamut), the truth about their condemnation, and then telling them about a righteousness that God gives apart from the law: The righteousness found in Jesus Christ through faith alone.

I think most Christians will watch the video I mentioned at the top, and cringe. Can we be against homosexuality and not have this attitude? Can we abhor sin, and yet love a sinner by sharing the gospel with them, by telling them the truth? That answer is obvious. After all, the gospel is the only thing that will bring them to repentance, the only thing that will give them victory over the flesh.

Someone with homosexual tendencies can be a Christian, as long as they have faith in Christ, and espouse a repentant heart. True repentance involves turning from sin (through the Spirit). It involves putting to death what is of the earthly nature (Colossians 3:5), including desires. There is a huge struggle in the Christian life between the old and new man, and we all have particular struggles with certain sins because we don’t walk by the Spirit as we should. We don’t fully believe that we have “…crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). We don’t always count ourselves as dead to sin and alive in Christ (Romans 6:11), though we really are. Christians with homosexual tendencies are no different.

A practicing homosexual, that is, one who finds nothing wrong with their lifestyle, continues to indulge, and is unrepentant, will not enter heaven! Someone who claims to be a Christian and continues to live in unrepentant sin (this includes not struggling against sin) is not a Christian. “How can we who died to sin still live in it” (Romans 6:2)? However, the unrepentant homosexual is in the same boat as the unrepentant thief, the unrepentant drunkard, the unrepentant gossip, or the unrepentant person who disobeys their parents. This is because all unrepentant people (those without true faith in Christ) have no covering from the wrath of God for breaking his law. The only way that any sinner can escape from God is by entering through the narrow gate, the very God-man, Jesus Christ. This is why Jesus means so much to us! Because as God he saves us from God! “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).

I don’t understand why some Christians highlight homosexuality as the most perverse form of evil, at the expense of not seeing other sins for what they truly are. Don’t get me wrong, homosexuality is a perverse evil. Perhaps it is more perverse than lying, but are we really keeping score? Lying is a perverse evil as well, and the point is still the same. Under the law, both the liar and the homosexual are going to hell. And that should grieve us terribly. It is the Christian’s duty to show love to all sinners, which means showing them their sin, showing them how they’ve broken God’s law, and then showing them Christ. To all sinners! Not just the ones we think sin really badly. God is against all sin and sinners unless they turn to Christ! Shall we only focus, then, on homosexuality?

I am willing to be hated for calling homosexuality what it is. I am willing to be hated for the truth. But I refuse to hold a view of homosexuals as “the really bad ones,” as opposed to everyone else,

“For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good, not even one.”
“Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
  in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

"Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:9-20).

God knows that we are all sinners. We are all the “really bad ones.” Praise God for his glorious grace in Christ that, “The vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus forgiveness receives.” Paul told Timothy that of all sinners, he was the worst (1 Timothy 1:15), because he understood the righteous requirement of the law, the holiness of God. He understood his sin and the justice owed to him. Shall we not also count ourselves as the worst of sinners? We are only worthy to stand before God because God’s righteousness sits at God’s right hand. That is, Jesus Christ died, was raised, and ascended. He took the wrath of God in our place. He conquered death so that we might have life everlasting. He sits at God’s throne mediating for his people. We no longer have to fear anything in this world! Shall we not then tell all sinners what Christ has done for us; we who are the chief of sinners?

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Response to Feedback: Different Senses of “Hate”: Mere Entertainment

Author's note: Please read my post on The Hunger Games by clicking here, as it will explain some of the context as to why I am answering objections. 

You can hate your brother. You can hate your sin. One of these is good, the other bad.

The word hate can be used in different contexts, and these contexts determine whether hate is a good thing, or a bad thing. One can hate something and at the same time find what they hate to be true. For example, human nature. Scripture presents a sinful picture of human nature, but the thing about it is: We are called to hate it. We are supposed to mortify our old natures and live a godly life (Colossians 3:5). We are called to think about sin in the same way that God does. The Heidelberg Catechism says that God is “…terribly displeased with our original as well as our actual sins” (Q. and A. 10). Shall we not also be terribly displeased with the sin we see in ourselves and our world, even hating it? We have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16). We also have the Spirit of God who comprehends the thoughts of God (1 Cor. 2:11-13).

Hate stays the same, but the object changes. The object is what matters. Christians are never commanded to hate their brother, but when it comes to our sinful natures, we are to “…hate even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 22).

Sin should make us angry.

Psalm 4:2-4: "O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame?
How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? Selah
But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself;
the Lord hears when I call to him. Be angry, and do not sin;
ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah"

It makes us angry because men continually seek after lies. That is the truth. Men continually love vain words. That is the truth. Just because it is truth does not mean that it should not make us angry. It does not mean that we should see the truth without analyzing it and looking at it through a Christian perspective. Through how God, our creator, sees it. God is grieved by sin.

God is grieved because we were made good.

Later on in that same Psalm, David writes in verse 6:

"There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?
Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!"

God shows us what is good!


Can a person have two premises and form a conclusion that is not contradictory? If one premise takes precedence over the second premise, does that make the premises contradictory? That answer is no (obviously), especially when our Christian worldview is the ultimate premise through which we are supposed to interpret the rest of the premises we make (form, conclude) about our world. Therefore this statement makes sense without being contradictory:

“Our desires for entertainment should never trump our desires to look at things the way that God looks at things, for we have the mind of Christ!”

Our desires to see entertainment should never only be about the entertainment. It should never only be about the story. Our desires ultimately are meant to glorify God. This is biblically supported:

1 Cor. 10:31: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (emphasis added).

When we become Christians, we present our bodies as living sacrifices, which is our spiritual worship (Romans 12:1). The Westminster Shorter Catechisms first Q. and A. is all about our purpose here on earth when it asks: “What is the chief end of man?” The answer: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

We glorify God when we are satisfied in him, rejoicing in all his good gifts, and putting on the mind of Christ, being renewed in our mind by the Word of God:

Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

There is a spiritual battle going on below:

Ephesians 6:12: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

1 John 4:1: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

Every movie has an agenda. All entertainment has an agenda. We are not called merely to indulge, but to “interpret the present time” (Luke 12:56).

The fact that we go to the movies, drink wine, and play Pictionary on our i-phones is not wrong, so please don’t mistake what I’m saying! But we are never called to merely do them. We are called glorify God through them. So let's think about them, renew our minds daily, being more and more conformed to Christ!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Engaging Arminianism: Unconditional Election

Author’s note: Please read my article on Total Depravity first by clicking here, as election proceeds naturally from our total inability to come to God of our own will.

Any true Christian believes in election. The major question is not does God elect, but how he elects. For the Arminian, God looks down the corridors of time and sees those who respond to his prevenient grace, which he gives to all people indiscriminately. This prevenient grace reverses the fallen nature, and gives all men libertarian free will to either decide to walk in the grace given, or reject it. Those who walk in light of the prevenient grace are who the Bible calls God’s chosen people, or the elect.

Calvinists on the other hand, believe what the Canons of Dort say on the matter:
“That some receive the gift of faith from God, and others do not receive it, proceeds from God’s eternal decree. For known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world (Acts 15:18, A.V.). Who works all things after the council of his will (Ephesians 1:11). According to which decree he graciously softens the hearts of the elect, however obstinate, and inclines them to believe; while he leaves the non-elect in his just judgment to their own wickedness and [stubborn impenitence]. And Herein is especially displayed the profound, the merciful, and at the same time the righteous discrimination between men equally involved in ruin; or that decree of election and reprobation, revealed in the Word of God (emphasis mine), which, though men of perverse, impure and unstable wrest it to their own destruction, yet to holy and pious souls affords unspeakable consolation” (Article 6). 

Perhaps the most important thing to note is that addition, “revealed in the Word of God.” For all who hold to the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Three Forms of Unity believe whole heartedly that, although nowhere near or on par with scripture, the Confessions do hold a true summary of what the Holy Scripture teaches. So, do the Scriptures teach the Calvinistic or Arminian outlook? 

Calvinists find no scriptural proof for the doctrine of prevenient grace. The only verse Roger Olson can come up with in his book Against Calvinism is Philippians 2:12-13, which says:

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”

How Olson can pull a whole doctrine dealing with major questions of how we are saved from one verse that seems to explicitly say the opposite is beyond me. Where is prevenient grace in this passage or any other part of scripture? I think the fact that Olson only uses this verse shows that there is no biblical support for such an important hinge to the Arminian position (I understand there are other verses Arminians use, but they don't actually prove what prevenient grace is said to be).

The next question to ask is, does God elect on prior faith he sees as he looks into the future? Some Arminians will roll their eyes as Calvinists point to Romans 9, where the Scriptures state explicitly that God will “… have compassion on whom [he has] compassion” (verse 15). “So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills” (verse 18). “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (verse16). It is here that some Arminians will try to show how the election of Jacob was based on a corporate election of Israel, therefore implying that God elects the church of the new covenant corporately and not individually.

This is a faulty reading of the text and a neglect of logic, as Jacob was specifically chosen as an individual over Esau, despite the fact that they were to become two separate lines. Individuals comprised the two nations. And if we read on in the text of Romans 9, we see that Paul writes: “And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved…” (verse 27). Apparently this election was not for Israel as a corporate body, but only for the remnant within Israel.

Michael Horton, in his book For Calvinism (Olson’s and Horton’s make up a two part series), points to the first chapter of Ephesians for further proof of individual election:

Ephesians 1:3-7
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace…”

This verse shows that election is again based on God’s will, but Horton’s point here is to say that no Arminian wants to say that adoption, redemption, and forgiveness of trespasses is corporate. Rather, Aminians say they are individually applied to the believer. If that is true (and Calvinists believe it is as well), then taking the whole context of these verses into consideration, the Arminian must admit that predestination and God’s sovereign choice are on an individual basis.

Thus far we have seen that God’s election is individual rather than corporate, and that Election is based in God’s choice, rather than man’s choice.

In relation to election and reprobation Arminians will say, “If God chooses some to save and others to leave in sin, then God is not loving.” The Heidelberg Catechism has a concise rebuttal when it says in Answer 11, “God is indeed merciful, but he is also just; therefore his justice requires that sin which is committed against the most high majesty of God, be also punished with extreme, that is, with everlasting punishment of body and soul.” What the catechism is getting at (because it is not speaking specifically of election) is that God is merciful in Jesus Christ, but God is also just towards sin, and his justice demands that all suffer hell and torment for eternity because of that sin. Scripture always speaks of God’s covenantal love in relationship to his elect (his chosen), and to none other. In relationship to God’s enemies (and all humans are God’s enemies because of sin prior to redemption) there is always justice, except in terms of the elect who were made alive when they were dead. God’s love for the elect isn’t the wishy-washy love that the Beatles sing about, but a real covenantal love that God has for his predestined, and those only.

The Scriptures have a better rebuttal than the Heidelberg gives to the question "How could God elect some and not others?", for Arminians are asking basically the same question of those whom Paul is talking to in Romans 9:14. “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part?” His answer comes, “By no means!” If Calvinists are answering the very same questions that Paul himself is, perhaps they are on the right track in the interpretation of the passage. 

The point is this: The last thing we want to call for is the unbridled justice of God! God is fully loving and merciful and gracious to those whom he has decided to bestow grace and mercy on. God did not have to be gracious (as in it would have been just to damn everyone to hell), but it is inherent in his nature to be gracious and he is so with his elect. God is fully just in his sentence to the reprobate, to leave them in their wickedness as they have entangled themselves. 

On a side note, Arminians also have to deal with those who never come to faith. Why do some who have been given prevenient grace come to faith, and some do not? Unless there is something “better” or more “righteous” in the nature of those who do come to faith, they can never explain this question. Why did Roger Olson come to faith, and not others who have heard the gospel? Were they more sinful than he? Did he realize his sin more than they did? Were they less intellectual, or historical, or logical? Again, the Arminian has no answer for this question. 

Despite the polemical nature of this post, Calvinists should never forget what election means for them. It gives us, as the Canons of Dort said, "unspeakable consolation." It means that we have been united with Christ since the foundation of the world. God set his sights on us, his covenantal love (his Hesed), and given us grace, because he loved us, though we were sinners. If we truly understand what we’ve been given in election, we should not be puffed up, but rather humbled. We should be confident in his covenantal love, and work out our salvation in fear and trembling, because the almighty creator of the universe is the one working in us. Doctrine should always lead us to doxology. How could it not?

Romans 8:31-39
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

For further reference:
Romans 8:28-30 says: 
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Acts 13:48
And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.

John 15:16
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

Deuteronomy 7:1-7
When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites… seven nations more numerous and mightier than you, and when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. But thus shall you deal with them: you shall break down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and chop down their Asherim and burn their carved images with fire. “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Using Natural Gifts of Music (and Art):

Disclaimer: This post is not about the trashy crap we hear on the radio. It is about the genuine desire to make beautiful music (and therefore art) for the glory of God. It’s about time, beauty, love, desire, and truth, which all go into making good art, good art. Based on the length of the post, I can’t go into all the angles of everything mentioned here, and I’m not sure what I believe practically about every aspect of what’s presented. So please take that into account! My basic points are these: Christians should do music (art) for the glory of God, God cares about his glory in every aspect of our lives, and the Spirit of God has given us the natural gifts we possess to glorify him in making something beautiful and true.

Martin Luther said, “Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.” This comes from the mouth of a man who wrote perhaps the most well know hymn of protestant Christianity, A Mighty Fortress is Our God. Songs make words memorable; they stick in our brain much better than the spoken word. Songs represent emotional outpourings of things which we choose to sing about. Nietzsche said, “An artist chooses his subjects: that is the way he praises.” Music is an art, and songwriters are the artists, who craft and create something beautiful and meticulous through notes, chords and scales. Christian artists praise their creator through their chosen subjects.

Ultimately the beauty of music reflects on the creator, the one we worship, the one we praise. Music is another aspect to this created “theater”, as John Calvin says. “There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice.” And music does give us such reason to rejoice! Humans were created to glorify God, and so the utmost reason we do music (and art) is to glorify God.

Revelation 4:11:“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”


1 Cor. 10:31: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (emphasis added).

When we become Christians, everything we do becomes our spiritual worship as we present our bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1). If we can glorify God in the minutest of details of life, such as eating, drinking, going to the bathroom, and sleeping, then how much should using intelligence, creativity, and knowledge, things which we share communicably with God, bring glory to him?

This doesn’t mean that we do music in a different way than those who aren’t Christians. The chords don’t change, the notes don’t change, and I believe much of the content should continue to be the same (as humans have much the same condition and experiences). The difference is in believing that every good and perfect gift is from above (James 1:17). We realize that we have the Spirit of the living God in our hearts, the spirit who rose Jesus Christ from the dead (Romans 8:11). This Spirit who awakened our hearts, showed us Christ, and transformed our wills, also gives to us the natural gifts we use in our daily lives:

Exodus 31:1-6:
The LORD said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence (this word means wisdom), with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you"

These able men were specifically given the Spirit of God to make the Tabernacle. I don’t desire to stretch the applications of the verse out, except to say that every natural gift we’ve been given has at its heart the Spirit of God.

So what does this all mean for us now? It means that we can pray to God to give us wisdom and ability in cultivating the natural gifts we have, and since we have the same Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead, there is no reason we shouldn’t believe that God will answer our request in accordance with his will if we are seeking to rejoice in him and glorify him by using our talents in this world.

It means that there is a place for good art, for higher culture, and for well thought out and artistic representations of the truth. Christians must not look down on art as something unneeded and impractical. God has given it to us for his glory, and that is about as practical as it gets!

It means that Christian artists and musicians should do art knowing that in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). It is in Christ that this world holds together, and what a joy and honor to bring glory to him through the cultivation and use of natural gifts which he has already given us!

Finally, it means that God is not simply interested in one or two areas of our lives, but in all areas of our life. As Abraham Kuyper is so often quoted, "There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: 'Mine!'"

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

I Hated the Hunger Games

I saw The Hunger Games last night. It was well filmed, well acted, and the story was captivating. But I hated it. I found the merciless killing of children horrific. The themes of the movie contained massive amounts of disturbing images: brutal murder of children by children. It contained a terrific (the “ter” meaning terrible) picture of human nature. But it was a true picture of human nature.

Looking at the movie in our modern context, I couldn’t help but think of the similarities between The Hunger Games and William Golding’s book Lord of the Flies, which both comment on the undoubted reality that human nature is totally depraved, and both use the most “innocent” in society, children, as the example to prove the point. Human nature has been the same since the fall of the world. Prior, God had made everything good and right. Post fall, humans have turned the truth of God around. Cowardice is exalted as bravery. Everything is backwards; our world, our thinking, our values. As Isaiah 1:6 says, “From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it…”

It is strange to me that I heard no negative remarks from Christians about how terrible the movie was. The movie was true, but terrible no less. As I left the theater I was thinking about how great the movie was; how great it was filmed, how great it was acted, and what the next movie would be like. However, as Christians, we need to come into every aspect of our life challenging ourselves to think with a Christian worldview. If we left this movie thinking about the entertaining sequel (as I did), perhaps something is horribly wrong with our view of entertainment.

I think this movie strikes on something profound in our cultural context. People love the idea of gory, brutal violence. They love the idea of the gladiators. The popularity of UFC, boxing, and WWE is a testament to this. Brutal violence awakes something in us, something desperately wicked. But, we’ve “evolved” since Roman times. Now we can simply watch it on television, satisfying our consciences to believe that it’s not actually real. But there is a real question that needs to be asked of every Christian: are we gratifying the desires of the sinful flesh in loving the entertainment factor of this movie and other violent programming at cost of seeing the violence for what it really is? Christians have told me: These books are page turners; I couldn’t put this book down; the movie’s really good. But no one has said anything about what the book tells us about human nature. No one has talked about the cost of the entertainment value; us seeing children killing each other, brutal killing for no reason.

The same thing happens with CSI and shows like it. Everything is about the story, ignoring the disgusting sin of it. We all like a good story, but at what cost? Have we become so callous to sin for the sake of a good story? Does violence and murder mean nothing to us any longer?

There are redeeming factors in the movie. Katniss’ sacrificial love of her sister, and the love between her and Rue. Katniss only kills when she needs to. The government contains a massive obligation to maintain justice, or they will become tyrannical.

But these redeeming factors dim in comparison to how our culture has accepted it as “good entertainment”. As Christians, our approach to culture should be cautious. Our desires for entertainment should never trump our desire to look at things the way that God looks at things, for we have the mind of Christ!

I take comfort in the fact that this world will only last for a little longer. Soon the Messiah will come, upon the clouds, just as he did when he left. And he will make everything right. Justice dwells at God’s right hand. God will punish the evildoer. He will separate the sheep and the goats. Therefore let us not harden our hearts. Let us not be seared in our consciences. Let us be grieved at what God is grieved by.

Philippians 4:8: Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Engaging Arminianism: Why Total Depravity?

Often times both Arminians and Calvinists defend their respective positions on the basis of presupposed notions about who God should be. I have heard multiple Arminians say that they desire a God who gives humans the freedom to love him back. In distinction, I have heard Calvinists say that they desire a God who compels them to belief. Whether Calvinism is true and Arminianism false (or vice versa) can never depend on what people need or desire necessarily. Scripture must be the foundation of all the beliefs we hold.

In talking with multiple Arminians, I’ve found that there is generally a lack of understanding about the Bible’s view of sin. Roger Olson, a popular Arminian scholar, in his book Against Calvinism said very little about the doctrine of total depravity, although he mentions that the Calvinist view of this doctrine is “strongly pessimistic” (42). However, this is only partly true. Horton points out in his counterpart volume For Calvinism that Reformed theology never begins with the fall, but rather creation. God created man good, and insofar as Adam remained in obedience, would have stayed that way. Reformed theology goes back to the beginning of time and sees the goodness of God’s creation perverted by Adam’s choice to eat of the fruit. Adam was the culprit, and through him “death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).

The question I would ask Dr. Olson if I met him on the street is this: Does the Bible have a “strongly pessimistic” view of humanity? I would argue that the Bible presents the issue even more harshly! Post fall, the answer to the question of whether humans are totally depraved is an unambiguously plain yes. Perhaps the clearest example is to look at the cross. To the depth of agony that the man Jesus Christ went through at the cross, experiencing physical, emotional, and most of all spiritual anguish and torment, such was the depth of our sin. Without the comprehension of how terrible and sickening and scandalous the cross was will we ever come to realize our own sinfulness in that degree? Without the comprehension of how terrible and sickening and scandalous our sin is, can we ever realize the cost that Jesus Christ paid?

Hebrews 4:12 says that the word of God discerns “the thoughts and intentions of the heart”. Are these thoughts and intentions righteous? Genesis 6:5 answers, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Psalm 53: “God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” Isaiah cries out concerning the people of God, “If the Lord had not left us a few survivors we should have become like Sodom, and become like Gomorrah (Isaiah 1:9).” Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Turning to the New Testament, the oft quoted Ephesians 2:1-2 says, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 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…” Isn’t this the whole pre requisite belief stemming from Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of the dry bones (Ezekiel 37)? Jesus himself said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.”

So what is the point of bringing up total depravity? Well, for starters it’s the truth. It’s the truth about our condition, our utter helplessness to save ourselves and to do any good. We cannot claim anything as coming from ourselves (2 Cor. 3:5), except unrighteousness. A minister who does not preach about sin is not being faithful to the whole counsel of God’s word. In fact, if we take the words of Jeremiah 23:16-17 seriously, we should not listen to ministers who refuse to speak about sin and repentance to their congregations:

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’”

Ministers who don’t call a congregation to repentance from sin are “saying, ‘Peace, peace, when there is no peace’” (6:14), and are therefore false prophets.

Again in Jeremiah, “Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the Lord. Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces” (Jer. 23:28-29). If ministers are desirous of being faithful to God’s word, they should preach sin as severely as the Bible does!

On a basic level this means crushing people with the law of God first. However, our total depravity is not the end of the story. Redemptive history always points us to the gospel of Christ. This is the pattern we see in Paul’s epistles. Two examples are Romans and Ephesians. Romans begins with humanity’s overwhelming guilt under the law of God, and then turns to the gospel with the words, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law…” (Romans 3:21). Ephesians 2 follows the same flow of thought: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…”

When Peter preached the sermon at Pentecost, the people were cut to the heart because he told them of their treacherous sins in killing the Son of God. If Minister’s don’t preach sin, can they really expect people to be cut to the heart? The men asked Peter how they could be saved, and he proclaimed to them the gospel of repentance. This is the order of Biblical preaching.

In closing, J. Gresham Machen, in a sermon on Romans 6:23 said,

“We preachers do not preach hell enough, and we do not say enough about sin. We talk about the gospel and wonder why people are not interested. Of course they are not interested. No man is interested in a piece of good news unless he has the consciousness of needing it; no man is interested in an offer of salvation unless he knows that there is something from which he needs to be saved. It is quite useless to ask a man to adopt the Christian view of the gospel unless he first has the Christian view of sin.”

Both Arminians and Calvinists must examine the Scriptures to see the truth about the human condition: under the bondage of law, and dead in sin. It is only through the dark tunnel of the law that we see the beauty and glory of our Lord and Savior on the cross. At the cross we behold the full, unrestrained love of God! The Calvinist view of human nature may to Dr. Olson be “strongly pessimistic”, but that is on the basis of what the Bible presents. And the sweetness of Christ shines ever brighter because of it.