This may sound like a rather obvious question but you would be surprised how many people get it all wrong. The dictionary defines faith as belief that is not based on proof. Where does this faith come from? Is it a product of a decision we make or is it something more? Thankfully, the bible is not silent on this.
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, NASB)
How do we normally receive gifts? We either ask for them or they are given without any influence from us. The latter half of the passage in Ephesians tells us it was given to us without any influence on our part. There was no work done by us (praying, asking, doing good, etc). It was given as a gift out of God’s own heart. He chose to give the gift of faith without any work on our part whatsoever.
You have seen the dictionary’s definition of faith, but what is the biblical definition? According to Hebrews, “faith is the certainty of things hoped for, a proof of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1). This, combined with Ephesians 2:8-9, should be enough to prove faith is not something we earn or reach out for. It is something God gives us of His own will. Faith may be something we have but it certainly is not something we create. Faith is not a result of anything on our part. To further drive home the origin of faith, God has given us an abundance of verses that speak to it. For instance, we know that that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (John 3:6), the flesh is hostile toward God, does not subject itself to Him, and unable to please Him (Romans 8:7-8), the natural man is unable to accept or understand the things of God (1 Corinthians 2:14), and that one who is not with God is against Him (Luke 11:23).
We are all born into flesh. As natural man, not only is it impossible to understand the things of God (spiritually appraised), but it is also impossible to please God. It is impossible to submit to Him because we are naturally hostile towards God. We are not for God, therefore we are against God. How then can one believe we make the choice to follow God of our own free will when it is impossible to understand and we are in a state of hostility?
In reality, prior to being regenerated by the Spirit and given a heart of repentance, our desires are to do the will of another one we called father: the devil (John 8:44). The only way to escape this snare of the devil is if God grants us repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth so that we may come to our senses (2 Timothy 2:25-26). As natural man, we desire to do the devil’s work. In the 2 Timothy passage where it speaks of correcting those in opposition, it is not speaking of rebuking fellow believers. It is referring to correcting non-believers. It says we are to witness to non-Christians in case God decides to grant them repentance. Notice they do not come to their senses before God grants them repentance. The gift is given first. Only then will their desires change, not first. God makes the first move, yet we are told He will often do so through the preaching of the gospel.
In case there are still any doubts as to the efficacy of our will in changing our nature, Scripture also tells us the unregenerate man is incapable of making himself clean (Job 14:4), doing good (Jeremiah 13:23), or bearing good fruit (Matthew 7:18). It is only when the Father draws him (John 6:44) that he is granted to come (John 6:65). Upon this act of God, he is given a new heart and a new spirit (Ezekiel 36:26-27) and is considered adequate (2 Corinthians 3:5). A leopard cannot change its spots (Job 14:4) but God can.
Before we move on, let’s review what was just said:
1) We cannot clean ourselves any more than a leopard can change his spots.
2) One who does evil cannot also do good.
3) A bad tree will only produce bad fruit. There will be no good fruit produced by one who is unsaved.
4) The Father draws and grants. Without these, nobody can enter the kingdom of God.
5) Our adequacy is from God alone and not from our own choices.
6) God gives us a new heart. He gives us the Holy Spirit to walk in His ways. Before this, we were nothing but bad fruit incapable of doing good.
We cannot change our desires. We cannot change our hostility toward God. We are the way we are and we cannot change ourselves. Only God can make the change. Only God can initiate the change. Furthermore, the desire to change ourselves will not be present apart from the Spirit of God in His regenerating work.
We cannot think clearly about or desire Christ by our own unaided decision. Why not? We cannot respond to the good news of the gospel until we want Christ, and we cannot want Christ simply by a decision we can take at any moment we choose. We cannot say to our will, “Will, will to belong to the Lord!” It is beyond our powers to do that. No one can will the will to will what it will not will!
Sinclair B. Ferguson “By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me” p.4
Everything is from God. He draws us to Himself. He changes us. He grants repentance and an understanding of truth. He removes hostility. He causes us to die to flesh and to be born to Spirit. He is Almighty God and it is all in His hands.
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things are passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, (2 Corinthians 5:17-18, NASB)
Faith may be a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9) but that is an incomplete statement regarding non-Christians. It is not just faith that God gives us but faith in Him. The Bible tells us that nobody seeks God (Psalm 14:2-3) and that without His gift of faith, it is impossible to understand the things of God (2 Corinthians 2:14). People can still have faith (i.e. belief in something) but that faith will always be misplaced unless God allows them to open their eyes and have faith in Him.
I certainly do believe it is possible to have more faith than another person even if that faith is misplaced. The great news is that faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains if it is placed in God. Faith placed in anything else will be empty regardless how big it is. Be encouraged! Have faith!
Last week (CLICK HERE), I wrote on some of the differences between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. We learned that Roman Catholicism is not part of orthodox Christianity. We reviewed their own declarations from the Council of Trent as well as the Catechism. Today, we are going to focus on what Scripture has to say regarding some of the other doctrines and dogmas of the Catholic Church. As was the case with last week, this is not meant to belittle anyone simply because they have a different faith from ours. It is merely meant to point out the differences from a Scriptural perspective to further your understanding of the Truth. I agree with the below statements by the great theologian:
I neither hate you nor despise you; nor do I wish to persecute you; but I would be as hard as iron when I behold you insulting sound doctrine with so great audacity.
John Calvin (to Michael Servetus)
A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God’s truth is attacked and yet would remain silent.
As always, my goal is to proclaim the truth of Scripture in light of Scripture alone. Sola Scriptura! Our first area we are going to touch on is the doctrine of purgatory. This is one I feel most have heard of but few properly understand.
All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation, but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1030
If you die in the love of God but possess any stains of sin, such stains are cleansed away in a purifying process called Purgatory. These stains of sin are primarily the temporal punishment due to venial or mortal sins already forgiven but for which sufficient penance was not done during your lifetime.
Handbook for Today’s Catholic, page 47
According to Roman Catholicism, all men die with a stain of sin. The only exceptions to this are infant babies who have been baptized and the saints who were deemed exceptionally holy. All others are blemished with sin even until the point of death. As a result of this, one cannot enter into the joy of heaven until he has been purified. This purification is as by fire. Catholicism does not rely primarily on Scripture for this doctrine. It is a doctrine that stems from their own teaching which they refer to as Sacred Tradition. It is also a doctrine that comes from the Apocrypha, which is included in the Catholic bible, but it is not found in the Protestant Bible. These deuterocanonical books can be used as history lessons but they were written by fallible men and are not to be included among the inspired Word of God. However, they have attempted to fit it to Scripture by referencing various passages. One passage in particular is from 1 Corinthians.
If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:15, NASB)
In essence, the doctrine of purgatory teaches that one is to live a good and holy life, but that he will eventually end in a state of sin with the need to be purified by fire and cleansed from the stain. It’s ironic that false teaching would stem from a verse that is actually referring to the danger of falsehoods by teachers and hollow teachings that contain zero eternal value. Before I get into the doctrine of purgatory as a whole, I’d like to touch on a couple other areas: penance and indulgences.
Like all the sacraments, Penance is a liturgical action. The elements of the celebration are ordinarily these: a greeting and blessing from the priest, reading the word of God to illuminate the conscience and elicit contrition, and an exhortation to repentance; the confession, which acknowledges sins and makes them known to the priest; the imposition and acceptance of a penance; the priest’s absolution; a prayer of thanksgiving and praise and dismissal with the blessing of the priest.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1480
The whole power of the sacrament of Penance consists in restoring us to God’s grace and joining us with him in an intimate friendship.” Reconciliation with God is thus the purpose and effect of this sacrament.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1468
In other words, penance is a part of the process of reconciliation. We become reconciled to God through a string of actions on our part. We earn the grace of God by the works that we complete on this earth. According to Catholicism, the proper way to be reconciled to God is by being greeted and blessed by a priest, reading Scripture in public, and confessing our sins to a priest. It is by this method that one can attempt to achieve a state of holiness so as to reduce the amount of time they have to spend in purgatory. After all, isn’t the goal to get to heaven as soon as possible?
All of this ties into indulgences. While penance is the active process of sanctification and obtaining holiness and the good grace of God, indulgences are the method of obtaining forgiveness for sins already committed. It is not actually a way of obtaining forgiveness of the sin itself, but rather a method of spiritual stain removal. Penance is preventative whereas indulgences are corrective. Like penance, indulgences are meant to reduce the amount of time one has to spend in purgatory. This is done by drawing from what is known as the Treasury of the Church, also known as the Treasury of Merit. Just as the Roman Catholic faith is based, in part, upon works, these same works are stockpiled in a heavenly storehouse where merit can be drawn on by members of the Church. However, all drawings of indulgences are given through the Church by its priests through official sacraments.
Penance and indulgences are both a form of works based salvation. They deny the efficacious atonement of Christ and places it in the hands of the priests. Regarding penance, the Catholic Church tells us we can perform works to earn justification and be considered righteous. However, Scripture tells us nothing of the sort. Scripture is very clear when it says we are not saved by our works (Galatians 2:16) nor is there anything we can do to justify ourselves. It is faith alone (Romans 5:1) through the blood of Christ (Romans 5:9) that makes us righteous (Romans 4:3). We are not justified by penance and indulgences. We are justified by His blood. The doctrine of penance and indulgences clearly detracts from the atonement provided in the blood of Christ. It removes the sufficiency of Christ and amounts it to nothing more than a fraction of plan of salvation. Interestingly enough, a certain apostle battled a type of people similar to this.
These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13, NASB)
John was combating a particular type of crowd in his day. That crowd was the Gnostic movement. They taught a secret knowledge that was pertinent to salvation that only they could reveal. John speaks boldly and bluntly in his use of the word “know.” He wanted the readers to understand that there was no hidden knowledge regarding salvation. It was cut & dry. They could KNOW whether or not they were saved. They could be confident! The Roman Catholic Church functions in much the same way as the Gnostics. They say, outside of the Catholic Church, there is no preservation from error. They say, outside the Catholic Church, one cannot be saved. Sure, this is not the spoken word taught today but it is to be understood so long as they affirm the declarations of the Council of Trent that we went over last week. They teach that they have a hidden knowledge that is preserved within their organization (which they claim to be Christ’s only Church). It is only through the priests that this knowledge and revelation can be shared and experienced. It is modern Gnosticism in more ways than one.
Not only are indulgences unbiblical, they were also created as a money making scandal. In the early Church, indulgences were often sold to the people. The people would bring the priests money and the priests would then offer up indulgences on their behalf. These indulgences would often be purchased for the dead in a hope to speed up their time in purgatory so they could enjoy the peace of heaven. Indulgences were sold in the form of time periods. There were basic indulgences sold during the Mass that would shave time off of purgatory for basic sins. Additionally, there were more expensive indulgences offered by bishops. These would only be available to certain people in higher financial standing. Of course, if it meant getting to heaven faster, isn’t it worth it to give some money? You can’t take it with you, after all, right? On top of this, the quality of the pardon varied based on the motives of the priests. If they didn’t have the proper attitude while performing the sacrament, the quality was reduced. Of course, they were collecting money from people so the sacrament was not considered null and void. It was just reduced in effectiveness. An undisclosed amount of time would still be shaved off purgatory just for going through with the hollow ritual. Because a man’s heart is only known by God, it made sense to keep repeating it over and over just in case. On top of that, nobody knew how long a man would spend in purgatory. Again, it only made sense to keep paying for indulgences in hopes that you would free your dead loved ones from the fires of purgatory as well as avoid having to go there yourself. As long as you pay, you can enjoy the riches of heaven in an expedient manner. So long as you perform works in the Church, purgatory will go by much faster for some than for others. However, if you really care about the others, you can help them out by paying some more. This is the grim reality of how it all started. Things may have changed over the years but the roots still remain.
All of this leads to the concept of purgatory and how it completely assaults the concept of grace and forgiveness in Christ. Since we already covered the basics of what purgatory is all about, I now want to go over the Scriptural response. As Christians, we have no fear of going anywhere but heaven, as there is no condemnation awaiting us (Romans 8:1). Paul had no fear of death. He knew the moment he left his body, he would be at home with the Lord experiencing the joy of heaven (2 Corinthians 5:8).
Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!" And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. (John 19:30, NASB)
The Greek word used here is teleo, and it refers to something coming to an end. Regarding monetary matters, the word was used to refer to a payment of debt. Christ was saying that all debt was considered paid in full. Through his blood, there is no more debt. Why is it that the Catholic Church teaches otherwise?
And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, (Hebrews 9:27, NASB)
This verse looks like it could almost be used to justify purgatory. Isn’t it saying there is judgment after death? Can’t it support the notion of God judging us to an intermediate place of purgatory to be cleansed of the stain of our sins? Most certainly not! That is what the blood of Christ perfected! Let’s revisit that ever-popular fire from 1 Corinthians 3:15.
If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:15, NASB)
Upon death, there will indeed be judgment from God. For the unsaved, this judgment will end in eternal death and suffering of hell. For the saved, this judgment will result in eternal life with the Father. However, our works will be judged as well. They may not play a part in our timeline from death to heaven but they most certainly affect our rewards in heaven. Instead of attempting to find out the meaning of 1 Corinthians 3:15, the Roman Catholic Church invents a meaning in order to make it fit their pre-existing doctrine of purgatory. It is dangerous practice to invent doctrine and then make Scripture fit. If it is not explicitly in Scripture, it is to be excluded. This is the very essence of the Regulative Principle of Worship, as well as the intent of Sola Scriptura.
Again, Paul is not saying one must be purified in purgatory. In those days, fire was the method of removing the dross. Dross is all the waste product of metals being purified in fire. Let’s look at the entire passage.
According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work. If any man's work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:10-15, NASB)
Notice it is not saying that a man must perform works or else be saved through the fires of purgatory. As I alluded to earlier, it’s speaking of the hollow teachings of men. The foundation of Christ had already been laid, yet some were building on the foundation with materials that were of zero reward. Perhaps it was their charm or a flashy stage, or maybe it was of some other valueless substance. The point is that, one day, the judgment of God will come to all. The atoning blood of Christ is the only thing that can save. This will be the first step. Among Christians, however, there is yet another judgment. This judgment will determine the eternal rewards in Heaven. While specifically referring to teachers, there is a certain universal application that can be extracted. We must always remain focused on Christ and things of eternal value. Outside of Christ, even our greatest works are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). In the Hebrew, this literally meant the rags used to catch the bloody flow of a menstruating woman. However, when we have Christ as our foundation, those works take on a whole new meaning. They may not purify us, speed up entrance to heaven, or work off past sins of others, but they do indeed build up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20). In the Day of Judgment, all of our works will be burned up (2 Peter 3:10). The only ones to remain will be the eternal works in Christ. These works are described as being of even higher quality than gold (1 Peter 1:7). Gold and empty works will burn away, but our works in Christ will remain forever.
We are justified by faith alone (Romans 5:1, 8). The Roman Catholic Church teaches we must work for justification, work for heaven, and experience suffering by fire in order to reach heaven. Not only is this unbiblical, but it is also anti-biblical.
According to Romish theology, all past sins both as respects their eternal and temporal punishments are blotted out in baptism and also the eternal punishment of the future sins of the faithful. But for the temporal punishment of the post-baptismal sins the faithful must make satisfaction either in this life or in purgatory. In opposition to every such notion of human satisfaction Protestants rightly contend that the satisfaction of Christ is the only satisfaction for sin and is so perfect and final that it leaves no penal liability for any sin of the believer.
John Murray (Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, p.49)
Christ said it himself. It is finished (John 19:30)! Roman Catholic teaching does not believe this and, in turn, adds to the gospel. Anything added to the Gospel is a false gospel. Anything that adds to the finished work of Christ is a false gospel, and a false gospel is to be condemned (Galatians 1:8-9). To close with another excellent and highly relevant quote by John Murray:
This polemic against Romish blasphemy is just as necessary today as it was in the Reformation period. The atonement is a completed work, never repeated and unrepeatable.
John Murray (Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, p.51)
CHOICE. What is it about that word that makes it so appealing? Personally, I think it’s part of what makes us human. We value our freedom and the ability to determine for ourselves what we shall do or not do. The word is used in everything from abortion debates to facemasks. However, one place I can’t understand it existing is in soteriology. Now, I’m not saying we don’t make a choice, from a finite human perspective, in our salvation and acceptance of Christ as Savior, but the word has no bearing on the monergistic act of God in the salvation of mankind. Despite this truth, there have always been debates among Christians when it comes to man’s role in salvation. Even of those who readily admit God is the One who effected salvation, most still desperately cling to the idea that man had to make the free choice, and to choose wrongly would result in eternal death. The idea is that God has invited His creation into eternity and the onus is now on us. Friends, this isn’t what the Bible says! The following image is from a Facebook post made by Dr. Leighton Flowers on his Soteriology 101 page.
Instead of beginning with what John is not saying, I’ll begin with what he is saying, and then demonstrate why it simply cannot (not merely does not) mean what Dr. Flowers suggests. To get a better understanding, we need to understand the context as well as any potential fallacies within the above claim.
“For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40, NASB)
Both sides of the soteriological discussion can appreciate this verse. That said, we both have very different takeaways of what Jesus was actually saying. The Arminian or Provisionist will undoubtedly say one must believe in Jesus in order to be raised up on the last day. They’ll argue that the will of the Father is their final resting place should they maintain faith in Christ. With this in mind, is that actually what Jesus was teaching? I argue against such an interpretation. In reality, I don’t really even need to argue it. I just need to set the stage with the context already painted by our Lord Himself. The will of the Father is not merely the final resting place. It’s actually of those who will be in Christ, and of those who will not be.
“Everything that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I certainly will not cast out.” (John 6:37, NASB)
Notice it doesn’t say anything about the Father giving a potential resting place. Jesus literally says the one who comes to Him does so because the Father has given him to the Son. But doesn’t it just say “everything” has been given to the Son, but the one who comes still has to do so of his own will? While it’s possible one could interpret it that way, to do so, he must first strike verse 44 from his Bible.
“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him;” (John 6:44, NASB)
There is no ambiguity here. Out of Jesus’ own mouth, He has said no one can come to Him unless he is drawn by the Father. I suppose the argument could be made that the Father draws everyone but not everyone will come. After all, this is the premise of the claim being made in the graphic above. However, such an argument turns into one of wordsmithing. The Greek word literally means for something to be dragged or impelled. It’s used a total of eight times in the New Testament; five of those being found in John (6:44; 12:32; 18:10; 21:6; 21:11). In all cases, it refers to an outside force pulling up fishing nets, drawing a sword, or dragging men from one place to another. Yet, in John 6:44, the argument is that it is a mere invitation.
People who claim this will say one can come if drawn by the Father, but there’s no guarantee that such a person will come. However, once again, this interpretation requires another striking of Scripture. In this case, one would have to strike out verse 40 (see above). Of course, by this point, the counterpoint typically becomes one of claiming the Father draws everyone, not everyone will come even though they all now possess the ability, and that person must now remain in their faith if they hope to be raised on the last day. Is that checkmate? Of course not!
“And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of everything that He has given Me I will lose nothing, but will raise it up on the last day.” (John 6:39, NASB)
The will of the Father is that Christ should lose nothing He has been given. All who are given to Christ will be raised on the last day. Here’s the breakdown:
No man can come unless he is drawn by the Father (v.44).
The Father does NOT draw everyone because everyone who is drawn will be raised on the last day (v.44).
Those who are to be raised on the last day are those who come to the Son (v.39).
Those who come to the Son are only those who were given to the Son by the Father through the monergistic act of drawing (v.37).
Those who come to the Son will remain in the Son, and abide in their belief (v.40), because it is the will of the Father (v.39).
Now that we’ve established what the passage DOES say, let’s look at why it CANNOT say what Dr. Flowers claims. In an attempt to refute the effectuality of the word ἕλκω (G1670) in verse 44, he attempts to utilize John 6:65. His claim is that Jesus, in verse 65, speaks of men merely being enabled. Unfortunately for him, it appears his entire argument rests upon the New International Version. It’s true that the NIV translates δίδωμι (G1325) as “enables,” but does that mean it’s accurate? John uses this word quite often. In every instance, it’s in reference to something being given to someone. Not once does he use it in a sense of enablement. In fact, every other reputable translation opts to translate it as either given or granted. For instance, the NASB says, “…unless it has been granted him from the Father.” The KJV says, “except it were given unto him of my Father.” Yet, the NIV decided to go with, “unless the Father has enabled them.” This is just a poor translation that possibly displays personal bias over what is actually being said.
If there was a way to definitively affirm that Jesus was merely speaking of enablement, vice effectuality, Dr. Flowers might have a leg to stand on. However, since his premise rests upon a poor English translation, it gets knocked down quite easily. In reality, John 6:65 fully supports the rest of the passage but not for the reason he states. It’s because, once again, John recognizes that no man can come to Christ unless he is drawn by the Father, and no man is drawn by the Father unless he is given to Christ. To tie it all together, all who are drawn will indeed come and shall be raised on the last day.
Every facet of salvation is from God alone. He chooses, He draws, He sustains, and He raises. Yes, we do make a choice to believe the gospel, but our belief in the gospel is actually effected through our regeneration when our heart of stone is removed and we are given a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). At this point, we are no longer the natural man who lacks the ability to understand (1 Corinthians 2:14), but we are now reborn as new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17). If you know Christ, be thankful God chose you before the foundation of the world that He might be glorified through your honorable use (Romans 9:21). If you do not know Christ but feel the call of God, I urge you to place your trust in the risen Savior and understand that that feeling is nothing less than God Himself working His good work within. Soli Deo Gloria!
Provisionism seems to have made a surge in popularity in both Calvinist and anti-Calvinist groups. It has created firepower for both sides. One of the main points of contention between Provisionists and Calvinists is on the nature of man. Did Adam’s fall really make us incapable of freely (in a libertarian sense) responding to the Gospel or not? Are we so corrupted by sin that that we are only able to choose that which is evil? Let us look at a Twitter page called ProvisionistPersective, which is a platform for Provisionist theology. They recently tweeted the following message:
The assertion here is that we are not dead in our sins, but merely diseased, sick, and Mark 2:17 is quoted as a “proof text”. This is a classic example of isolating verses from the rest of the biblical narrative and thereby reading into the text what is not there. This seems to be a theme in the Provisionist camp. Dr. Leighton Flowers, a prominent Provisionist, has done this with verses like Jeremiah 19:5 where this single verse is used to deny that God has an active decree of all sinful things that will come to pass, while ignoring passages in Isaiah that clearly speak of God bringing about His plan and purposes, and actively causing evil things to come to pass (albeit without being the author or partaker thereof). This is the only way, from a biblical perspective, that the Provisionist framework can survive, because a consistent hermeneutical system would not lead to the eisegesis that is placed upon the Scriptures. That is what I want to address with the usage of Mark 2:17 above. I want to address it using consistent hermeneutical principles. Let us begin.
First, the assertion is made that Calvinists say we are not sick, but dead. Sin most certainly is a disease, a defect, a twisting of the good. Sin is lawlessness as 1 John 3:4 explicitly states. However, historically, Calvinists have taught we are spiritually dead in our sins, ergo, not able to respond to God positively without God working toward our salvation.
This leads to our second point: the usage of Mark 2:17. In context, Jesus was eating with “sinners” in an evangelistic effort. He came to save people from their sin. The Pharisees were having none of it and criticized Jesus for his association with these sinners, which prompted His response in verse 17. Before moving on, it is important to note what these Provisionists are trying to do by saying we are simply “sick”. This is an attempt to somehow preserve man’s inherent ability to freely respond to the Gospel. Because if man is as spiritually corrupt as Calvinists assert, then man’s libertarian free will is gone. The argument that is used is, “Good enough for Jesus = Good enough for me.” I can play that game, too, with other verses. For instance, Jesus (yes, the same one who spoke in Mark 2:17) clearly describes man’s LACK of ability to respond to the Gospel in John 6:44: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. (NIV) Jesus said it, so its good enough for me. Oh, what about John 6:65? He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.” (NIV) This is good enough for me! There are other things that could be gleaned from chapter 6 such as Jesus’ knowledge of the choices of men in their betrayal and His certainty of those who would be saved, which I believe causes problems for Provisionists with regards to omniscience, but that is a discussion for another day. My point here is, just simply quoting one verse does not necessarily prove a point. All of Scripture must be taken into account when exegeting a passage.
With a proper hermeneutic in mind, how do we address the verse above? Are we simply sick? First, let us analyze the verse itself. Jesus brings forward the analogy of a doctor coming to heal the sick. On its face, it makes sense as far as it goes. A sick person isn’t dead are they? They have life in them. Fair enough. However, that is not ALL that He says. He says, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (NIV) Hmm. He says you are in two camps: righteous or sinner. This is not a “relative righteousness” that we find in other places of Scripture where someone is described as being more righteous than others, but this is about their spiritual condition. If you are simply sick, strictly speaking, there would be a mixture of the two conditions since the sickness has not fully corrupted your body. But Jesus makes clear that if you are a sinner, there is no righteousness in you. You are completely corrupted. It is a terminal disease. This principle is laid out in different places, but most most clearly in Jeremiah:
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
Jeremiah 17:9 (NIV)
Here we see that the human heart is not just sick, but that it is terminally ill. There is no life in this heart of ours that can be redeemed or brought back by our own volition. Going back to what was discussed before, if there is some part of us that is not corrupted by sin and we are simply “sick” with some parts of us being healthy, we now have righteousness inherent in us. We now have the ability to keep God’s law (at least to some extent). The dichotomy that Jesus had made is now destroyed. Now we move onto a section of Scripture that lays out more explicitly our “deadness”.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 2:1-10 (NIV)
Notice that Paul uses the same dichotomy that Jesus does: you are either a righteous person or you are a sinner. If you are a sinner, then you are dead in your transgressions. If man was simply sick, as ProvisionistPerspective has clearly asserted, we would have a contradiction in the Scriptures as Paul does not assert we are sick, but dead. He would go beyond what Jesus is teaching. So we have to ask ProvisionistPerspective, is the Scripture consistent? If so, then how is the interpretation of Jesus saying we are sick consistent with the rest of Scripture, given he clearly does not think we are spiritually dead? The only explanation is that Jesus is not saying we are simply sick but that the sickness is terminal and we are, for all intents and purposes, dead. Even someone who has died is still sick in that the disease still clings to their body. Being “sick” does not necessarily negate death. We do not have life in us. And that lack of life requires an outside mover to bring us to spiritual life. The mover all the way through is God Himself. There is no libertarian freedom in Paul’s mind with regard to believing in the Gospel. God is the mover and the finisher of our faith, down to the good works that we will do.
What we have seen is that simply asserting a single verse is about an alleged condition of man does not mean that is what is being spoken of. A proper hermeneutic is paramount to understanding different texts. All of Scripture must be taken into account when interpreting Scripture.
CHOICE. It’s such an enticing word. For most, it implies a sense of freedom. Yet, at the same time, it can be one of the most burdensome words to ever exist, as it can also imply responsibility and accountability. The primary theme of this article is going to be the sovereignty of God. In particular, we are going to go over man’s role in regard to the sovereignty of God. There are three basic positions on the subject:
1) If man has free will, God cannot truly be sovereign
2) If God is sovereign, man cannot be held accountable for his actions, as he has no free will
3) God is sovereign, yet man is still accountable for his actions
I adhere to the third option (I know, quite the shocker!). It’s my hope that, by the end of the post, all who read this will feel the same way. Before we get into man, we must begin with God. We know God is sovereign because the Scriptures tell us so. Before we go into the Scriptural backing, let’s define sovereign. Dictionary.com defines sovereign as “having supreme rank, power, or authority.” Scripture fully supports this idea when it says God sovereignly rules over all (Psalm 103:19) and works all things after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11). He rules over all the kingdoms of the nations (2 Chronicles 20:6) and no purpose of His can be thwarted (Job 42:2). We can clearly see that God is in control at all times. He is sovereign!
It is not merely that God has the power and right to govern all things but that He does so always and without exception.
This sovereignty flows into all areas. Nothing escapes it. As Psalm 103:19 said, “His sovereignty rules over all.” In this case, all means all. This isn’t about all types of things or all of a certain category. This is about all of creation. Every facet of creation is intricately controlled by God. From the casting of lots (Proverbs 16:33), to the sparrow that falls to the ground (Matthew 10:29), to the vapors of the earth and weather conditions (Psalm 135:6-7), He controls all. Even Paul writes of being set apart from his mother’s womb and called to preach among the Gentiles (Galatians 1:15-16).
Most people don’t take issue with the teaching of God’s sovereignty so long as it is spoken of in these terms. Up until now, all the verses have been describing God and leaving man out of the picture. Man naturally likes to live a guilt free life. Nobody likes a buzz kill. It is unfortunate that, even by many in the Church, God is viewed as sovereign so long He doesn’t interfere with our own free will. Such a concept is entirely unbiblical and is to be rejected. Not only does heaven and earth fall under the sovereignty of God but so do we as people. The Lord rules over all things; even mankind. This becomes no clearer than in the predetermined plan of the cross.
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, NASB)
Even the crucifixion was ordained by God. Notice what is taking place in the verse above. It says that godless men will put him to death. Godless men will nail him to a cross. Both of these things imply man will make the choice to perform a wicked act. However, take note that it only takes place because of the predetermined plan of God. It also speaks of His foreknowledge. Don’t be confused. God didn’t ordain His plan based on choices He knew man would make. Rather, He knew the choices man would make because He foreordained it to be so.
For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. (Acts 4:27-28, NASB)
This just drives home the previous point. Both Herod and Pontius Pilate had gathered together to go against Christ. In fact, they were not alone. Scripture says the Gentiles and people of Israel had gathered as well. There were countless people rising up against Christ. This was of their own doing and their own choices. They had made the decision to put Jesus to death for his claims. Again, however, notice that it says they were only doing whatever God’s hand and purpose had predestined to occur. While they were making their own choices in life, there was only one way it would play out. God had decreed it to be so and that was the end of it.
Another example in Scripture of God’s sovereignty mixing with man’s choices is in the story of Joseph, in Genesis 37:18-22. I’m sure most of us are familiar with the passage. It’s the part where Joseph’s brothers are conspiring to kill him. This was a free and open dialogue between siblings. Their discussion wasn’t being coerced or pushed in any direction. It wasn’t being moderated. They were freely coming up with a plan to murder Joseph. At the same time, Reuben took it upon himself to talk them into sparing his life and throwing him into a ditch, or pit of some sort, instead. On the surface, it appears they are free to do as they wished with nothing else to lean on other than their own desires. While it’s true that they were coming up with this plan on their own, there is more to the story.
Joseph was rescued, sold into slavery, and eventually took on a prestigious position under the pharaoh. None of this was by accident. Scripture is clear that God had a plan and that plan was good (Genesis 50:20). After all, we’ve been given the promise that all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).
While Joseph’s brothers were free in the choices they made and the actions they took, they only made these choices because God had decreed it to be so. God is always in charge. Sometimes He actively takes part in an event such as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah whereas most times, He allows man to freely make decisions and choices. However, even when left to freely make decisions, they are always within the constraints of God’s sovereign plan and purpose. Why then do so many cling to the false premise that God is limited in His sovereignty when it comes to matters of salvation?
To argue that God is “trying His best” to save all mankind, but that the vast majority of men will not let Him save them, is to imply that the will of the Creator is impotent, and that the will of the creature is omnipotent.
A.W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God
While I firmly believe salvation falls under the sovereign decrees of God, and I believe Scripture when it says all who are appointed to eternal life will believe (Acts 13:48), I don’t intend on getting into a lesson on God’s Election. While it is true that only those whom God has called unto Himself will respond to the call of Christ, I want to focus on those whom He does not call unto Himself. Are these men condemned because of God? Should they be given a free pass? Can they possibly be guilty if they were never given a fair chance or opportunity? No, no, and yes!
While they are indeed condemned, it is certainly not because of God. These men will never choose Christ because God has ordained that they will not but this does not mean God is responsible. Each man is still held accountable for his actions, as we saw earlier in the cases of the crucifixion, as well as in the example of Joseph’s brothers. There is no free pass to be given because each man is guilty to begin with. Compatibilism is the term used to describe man’s responsibility as it meshes with God’s sovereignty.
One would be remiss to think man has no responsibility for his actions. God has made very clear that the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, as is the wickedness of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:20). Just as our words justify, so do they condemn (Matthew 12:37). Throughout the totality of Scripture, there is a clear distinction being taught between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. While there is no doubt that God is sovereign, and all things only come to pass because He ordained it to be so, it is equally as true that man makes his own choices without being forced or coerced. Man’s choice will always be the outcome that God decreed, but man will gladly make it. This is because man is bound by his nature and that nature is wretched and fallen. Our hearts are evil from our youth (Genesis 8:21) and are more deceitful than all else (Jeremiah 17:9). The unregenerate love darkness (John 3:19) and hate the Light (John 3:20).
If it sounds totally depraved, that’s because it is. That’s the state of the unregenerate natural man. We simply follow our nature. Before salvation, we were slaves to sin (Romans 6:17). We had no choice but to give our all to sin. However, this was not done in a begrudging manner, as we did it with pleasure. Our hearts were evil. Our hearts were deceitful. Our deeds were evil and we hated the Light. We hid from the Light lest our evil deeds should be exposed (John 3:20). Our natural inclination was to sin. We were in bondage to sin but we enjoyed every minute of it. This is why we are still found guilty for our sins despite following God’s sovereignly decreed plan.
While once enslaved to sin, we are now enslaved to God (Romans 6:22-23). The unregenerate man, despite being in full accord with God’s sovereign decrees, is still found guilty and deserves death. He works as a slave to sin and, as a result, he will be paid death for wages. It is what we all deserved as we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Thankfully, God chose us and called us unto Himself. This does not make us perfect but it does make us His own. When we sin, we are covered by the blood of Christ. It’s the blood that justifies and saves (Romans 5:9) in accordance with God’s calling and election (Romans 8:30).
We still sin daily in our battle with the flesh but we will not see Hell for it. We have been justified by the blood of Christ. His blood alone has fully atoned for our sins. There is no more debt. The blood was not merely hypothetical, but actual. In Christ’s sacrifice, there was a substitutionary atonement taking place on behalf of all who would put their faith in the death, burial, and resurrection. However, just because we are covered by the blood does not mean we are to abuse our justification. Paul makes it very clear that we are not to sin so that the grace we fall under may increase (Romans 6:1-2). We are now free of the chains of the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2). This is where we differ from the unregenerate man. We have a new nature in Christ whereas he does not.
Reader, do you love God? If so, do you feel as if you are being forced to love Him against your will? Just as we love God and desire to serve Him with all we have, so does the unregenerate man hate God and desires to hide from the Light. Even if an unsaved individual says he is not at war with anyone, his refusal to submit to the authority of God proves otherwise. A man cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). He is either for God or he is against God (Matthew 12:30). Both sides serve their masters willingly yet both sides do so only because God has declared and ordained it to be so. God is sovereign yet we are responsible.
…we allow that man has choice and that it is self-determined, so that if he does anything evil, it should be imputed to him and to his own voluntary choosing. We do away with coercion and force, because this contradicts the nature of the will and cannot coexist with it. We deny that choice is free, because through man’s innate wickedness it is of necessity driven to what is evil and cannot seek anything but evil. And from this it is possible to deduce what a great difference there is between necessity and coercion. For we do not say that man is dragged unwillingly into sinning, but that because his will is corrupt he is held captive under the yoke of sin and therefore of necessity will in an evil way. For where there is bondage, there is necessity. But it makes a great difference whether the bondage is voluntary or coerced. We locate the necessity to sin precisely in corruption of the will, from which follows that it is self-determined.
NOT TO US. We live in a world that screams, “US!” Whether it be our job success, latest toys, or life experiences, the world says to always look out for #1. The sheer number of lawsuits in the headlines proves this. We live in a world of self-entitlement where we expect to be treated the same, if not better, than everybody else. If we do something well, we want our praise. If we mess up, we want to be thanked for at least trying and giving it our best shot. To us be the praises. To us be thanks. To us be the glory!
Yet, Psalm 115 opens up with a distinctly different wording. Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your name give glory. This is a recurring theme throughout the Psalms.
“Ascribe to the LORD the glory due to His name; Worship the LORD in holy array.”(Psalm 29:2, NASB) “Ascribe to the LORD the glory of His name;”(Psalm 96:8a, NASB)
God’s glory is not to be shared with anyone. It belongs to Him alone.
“For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; For how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another.”(Isaiah 48:11, NASB)
From a very early age, we’re taught to share with others. Yet, God is not some child being taught how to interact with other children. God is the Creator of the universe. Colossians 1:16 says all things were created by Him, both in the heavens and on the earth. Psalm 115:15 states the same.
“God reigns over the nations, God sits on His holy throne.”(Psalm 47:8, NASB)
How can we expect our Ruler to share His glory? How can we expect anything from God at all? Are we worthy enough to lay claim to even the smallest inheritance? What does Romans 3:23 say? Does it say that all have sinned but still deserve credit for their efforts? No! It says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God! God owes us nothing. We have zero right to claim what is not ours. By nature, we are fallen beings who deserve nothing more than death and eternal damnation. We deserve outer darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth. Our God is in the heavens. He sits on His holy throne and rules over all of creation forever and ever. If all glory belongs to the Lord, it stands to reason that anything we might boast of is actually us attempting to rob God. Instead of giving honor and praise to the King, it is our attempt to play thief to the very One who gave us life. How arrogant can we be?!?!?! Yet, this is exactly what we see in Psalm 115:2. We see men taunting, “Where, now, is their God?” We can see the same in Psalm 42:10.
“As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me, While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”(Psalm 42:10, NASB)
Can such behavior and attitude really be excused by a holy and righteous God? Can a man go so far as to mock God and get away with it?
“Then my enemy will see, And shame will cover her who said to me, “Where is the LORD your God?” My eyes will look on her; At that time she will be trampled down Like mire of the streets.”(Micah 7:10, NASB)
If we plan to go before God with such great audacity, be prepared to pay the price. Such a man may see death sooner rather than later.
“Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker”(Isaiah 45:9a, NASB)
The question that begs to be asked is, “Is this really fair?” Would a loving God really care if we mess up? Won’t He forgive somebody in His love so long as that person tries to be good? After all, if we have already fallen short of the glory of God, shouldn’t such behavior be expected? To this I respond with questions of my own. Is it fair that we take God for granted in times of peace? Is it fair that we neglect to thank the very One who blesses us day after day? Even more so, is it fair that the Father would send His Son to die a brutal death on the cross so that guilty men could be reconciled to Him to spend eternity basking in God’s glory in heaven? No, fairness is hardly the question at all. Psalm 115:3 very plainly states that our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.
The sovereignty of God is as much a part of His glory as any of His other attributes. God doesn’t need to consult man before acting (Ezekiel 36:22; Isaiah 40:13-14).
In His sovereignty, He created the angels, even those who fell. In His sovereignty, He created man and even decreed the Fall. In His sovereignty, He ordained to send His Son in a beautiful plan of redemption. Christ was no mere afterthought. Every last detail of life is because of God’s sovereign rule from the throne. In a sermon on Matthew 20:15, Charles Spurgeon stated:
There is no attribute more comforting to His children than that of God’s Sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe trials, they believe that Sovereignty has ordained their afflictions, that Sovereignty overrules them, and that Sovereignty will sanctify them all. There is nothing for which the children ought more earnestly to contend than the doctrine of their Master over all creation — the Kingship of God over all the works of His own hands — the Throne of God and His right to sit upon that Throne.
Charles Spurgeon (cited in “The Attributes of God” by A.W. Pink, pg. 34)
Arthur W. Pink said that:
Divine sovereignty means that God is God in fact, as well as in name, that He is on the Throne of the universe, directing all things, working all things “after the counsel of His own will”.
Arthur W. Pink (The Attributes of God, pg. 34)
It is not in spite of all of this truth that we give God glory but BECAUSE of it. Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your name give glory, because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth. While God is righteous, holy, just, jealous, and wrathful, He is also love. It is because of God’s goodness, faithfulness, and truth that we proclaim His name to the masses and declare of His goodness. Our God is so vastly different than any other god (lowercase g). He is true. He is all knowing. He is sovereign. He is eternal. He is unchanging. He is holy. He is patient. He is good. He is merciful. He is gracious. He is faithful. He is loving. But most of all, He is alive.
In Psalm 115:4-7, we see a clear distinction between our God and the idols worshiped by the world. There could’ve been any number of ways in which to describe the idols but we see a very specific description being used. Ears that do not hear. Noses that do not smell. Hands that do not feel. Feet that cannot walk. Throats that remain silent. Imagine how insulting this would’ve been to the one who worshiped such an idol. After all, we don’t take too kindly when we hear people blaspheming our God. Honestly, I can fully understand how one would be insulted. That said, I care more about not insulting God than I do about insulting man. The Scripture is plain. I love the passage in 1 Kings 18 where we see the prophet Elijah challenging the worshipers of Baal. In verses 25-29, it says:
“25 So Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one ox for yourselves and prepare it first for you are many, and call on the name of your god, but put no fire under it.” 26 Then they took the ox which was given them and they prepared it and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon saying, “O Baal, answer us.” But there was no voice and no one answered. And they leaped about the altar which they made. 27 It came about at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, “Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside, or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened.” 28 So they cried with a loud voice and cut themselves according to their custom with swords and lances until the blood gushed out on them. 29 When midday was past, they raved until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice; but there was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention.” (1 Kings 18:25-29, NASB)
The ESV actually translates verse 27 as “Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself…” When we look at this, we see some serious smack talk. While Elijah meant all of it as a taunt, to those worshiping Baal, it wouldn’t have been too far off from a very real possibility. In some ancient texts, Baal was known as one who would travel and fight wars. He was even reported as dying and coming back to life, hence the need to be awakened. Chances are, Elijah’s taunts would’ve gone right over their heads. Nevertheless, he mocked them with a purpose. He mocked them to show that there was no voice and no god to pay attention to them. Yet, they continued to plea for their god to answer them. They leapt around and began cutting themselves in an attempt to get Baal to answer. What happened next is nothing short of amazing!
“30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” So all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord which had been torn down. 31 Elijah took twelve stones according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Israel shall be your name.” 32 So with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he made a trench around the altar, large enough to hold two measures of seed. 33 Then he arranged the wood and cut the ox in pieces and laid it on the wood. 34 And he said, “Fill four pitchers with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” And he said, “Do it a second time,” and they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time,” and they did it a third time. 35 The water flowed around the altar and he also filled the trench with water. 36 At the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and I have done all these things at Your word. 37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that You, O Lord, are God, and that You have turned their heart back again.” 38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God.”(1 Kings 18:30-39, NASB)
God answered Elijah upon his first request. Not only did God accomplish what Baal could not but He accomplished even more. Whereas the Baal worshipers simply had to get him to consume the meat, Elijah had them completely drench the sacrifice in water before it was his turn. No, our God is far more powerful than a little water.
“21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.”(Romans 1:21-23, NASB)
Mankind made idols in every fashion you could think of including images of other men. I’m reminded of when I lived in Japan. In Kamakura, there was a giant statue of Buddha. Further down the street, there was a temple with a golden Buddha. As you walked through the gardens, you could see little statues that were dressed in various articles of clothing. These statues represented the lost children of the individual worshipers. They would go and dress these statues in winter to keep them warm. It was sad on many different levels. I remember another temple where people were fighting to get close to the Buddha idol. They wanted to drop their money into the giant box in front of the statue. You had people in the back who were literally throwing money to the front hoping to be able to give to the idol. As I looked upon the Buddha statues, you could see they came in a variety of forms ranging from a peaceful chubby guy to a fiery warrior to a demon. However, they all had one thing in common: they were all depicting a man. They had reduced God to nothing more than an image of a man. Psalm 115:4 tells us that all who make them become like them. What does this mean? The idol is empty. It’s useless. It has no voice. It’s dead. All who worship idols become just like them. Idols may be made in the image of whatever form man concocts but man is ultimately just as dead as the idol they create. They have eyes but cannot see God. They have ears but cannot hear the gospel of Christ. They have noses but cannot smell the fragrant aroma of Christ’s sacrifice. They have hands that will never be cleansed. They have feet but do not run after God. They have throats but do not praise God. Then again, Psalm 115:7 tells us as much.
Many Christians read through these texts and wonder how a man could worship something he made with his own hands. The Scriptures address this same concern.
“9 Those who fashion a graven image are all of them futile, and their precious things are of no profit; even their own witnesses fail to see or know, so that they will be put to shame. 10 Who has fashioned a god or cast an idol to no profit? 11 Behold, all his companions will be put to shame, for the craftsmen themselves are mere men. Let them all assemble themselves, let them stand up, let them tremble, let them together be put to shame. 12 The man shapes iron into a cutting tool and does his work over the coals, fashioning it with hammers and working it with his strong arm. He also gets hungry and his strength fails; he drinks no water and becomes weary. 13 Another shapes wood, he extends a measuring line; he outlines it with red chalk. He works it with planes and outlines it with a compass, and makes it like the form of a man, like the beauty of man, so that it may sit in a house. 14 Surely he cuts cedars for himself, and takes a cypress or an oak and raises it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. 15 Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread. He also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image and falls down before it. 16 Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, “Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.” 17 But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god.”(Isaiah 44:9-17, NASB)
It almost sounds silly, doesn’t it? Yet we see this taking place all the time. It may not look like what that passage is depicting but we see idolatry all the time in the form of worshiping celebrities. It may be in the form of wealth. Perhaps it looks like a desire to be in control of all things at all times. Yes, idols exist today and they are just as dead and powerless as they were back then. Why then do we fall before them time and time again? Why do we repeatedly turn to the vices of this fleeting world? Ask yourself if there is anything you place before God. Ask if there is anything you might run to with more excitement than you get at the thought of being able to come before the very presence of God in worship. I’m not saying it’s wrong to enjoy other things. I’m not saying you have to move into one of the rooms at your local church to ensure you never miss a meeting, service, or opportunity. In fact, it’s very possible to be doing everything the “textbook Christian” should be doing and still be wrong. I’ve seen people who appear to be as Godly as they come and that turned out to actually be the case. I’ve also seen people who turned out to be cleverly disguised. Though it appeared both were giving glory to God, one was just a wolf out to seek his own glory, while attempting to lure as many Christians away as he could. True knowledge. Discernment. Increased love. Approving of excellent things. Being sincere and blameless. Having the fruit of righteousness. This declares how the Christian should live. With all this in mind, I would urge such a person to continually check himself or herself, as it’s easy to become haughty and prideful. However, it all has a purpose. It’s meant to bring all glory and praise to God. When those feelings of pride may begin to sneak in, I’ve found Roman 9:22-26 helps snap things back into perspective.
“22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23 And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. 25 As He says also in Hosea, “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’ And her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.’” 26 “And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘you are not My people,’ There they shall be called sons of the living God.” (Romans 9:22-26, NASB)
As I began before, I’m simply asking you to quietly ponder if there is anything that excites you more than the opportunity to worship with other believers in the presence of God. There is only one God and He is alive! He has called us out of darkness and into the Light. He has removed our heart of stone and given us a heart of flesh. He has given us sight to see. He has given us ears to hear. He hears our prayers and answers them in the form of His grace. He preserves our hearts and keeps us in Him when we would so easily drift away otherwise. He planned, orchestrated, and carried out His redemptive story in Christ. He has saved us from eternity past, continues to save us from ourselves as we follow in obedience, and will one day save us from all forms of suffering and sorrow. Our God is alive and is worthy of our praise. Not to us, not to us, but to His name give glory! The Reformers held to a Latin phrase as should we all: “Soli Deo Gloria: Glory to God alone!” Let us be as the psalmist as we say:
“I will give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, And will glorify Your name forever.”(Psalm 86:12, NASB)
One day I was perusing https://soteriology101.com/ and came across an article that caught my attention. It is titled, “If God Changes His Mind, So Can I” by Drew McLeod. This caught my attention because it has implications for the doctrine of divine simplicity. This doctrine has been addressed before by another contributor to this blog site, Andrew Warrick, in previous posts. But in short, divine simplicity teaches that God is not composed of parts or passions (which would also constitute as parts in God). There is nothing in God that isn’t fundamentally God Himself. God is completely a se meaning He is self sufficient and therefore pure act. What this implies is that God cannot change. He is not able to become anything more than He already is and there is no possibility of Him becoming less than He already is. In other words, there is not potentiality in God. He just is. Let us look at the article.
Mr. McLeod begins the article with a story about how he gave up on praying for healing because he did not receive the response he desired for himself or for others. He then goes on to discuss when he began praying for healing again. He makes an interesting note:
“I remember the night that I prayed for healing again for the first time. I begged God, “If you’ll sustain Baby and heal it, I promise to always say at least one prayer for every single healing prayer request I hear from here on.” I thought maybe God would change his mind about his “no’s” that he had been giving me.”
The last sentence is what stands out. The assumption here is that God has His mind set on the “no’s” necessarily, and therefore He would be required to change His mind to “yes’s” to provide the answer Mr. McLeod was looking for. This assumption is faulty. How does Mr. McLeod know that when God says “no” to one or more instances, that He intended to leave it that way? This statement only makes sense if he believes God was actually intending on continuing to say “no” to a particular request for all eternity or give a final “no” for any particular request. Otherwise, there would be no need for God to actually change His mind. Would Mr. McLeod be content to say that He is able to say “no” temporarily or that God may be working in a way that helps us to understand Him since He is in a different category of being than we are? This doesn’t appear to be the case.
He then provides Scriptures which allegedly show that God really changed His mind on certain matters. These are Isaiah 38, Exodus 32:9-10, 33:19, and Jeremiah 18:1-11 to name some. I want to address his use of the first story he provides.
Hezekiah and his death predicted (Isaiah 38:1-6)
In this chapter we see king Hezekiah coming to the point of death. Isaiah brought the grim news to the king in verse one where he says,
In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”
Isaiah 38:1 (NIV)
This news hit Hezekiah hard and it led him to cry out to God to deal kindly with him based on the righteous life he had lived (v. 3). God then appears to relent from bringing about the prophecy and adds fifteen years to the life of Hezekiah. Mr. McLeod attempts to use this as an example in Scripture to show that God actually changed His mind. While on the surface this may seem like a slam dunk for Mr. McLeod’s position, he misses what is really being communicated in this passage. Just six chapters later in the same book, God reminds the Israelites that He is the one who is sovereign over all.
“Remember this, keep it in mind, take it to heart, you rebels.Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that I will bring about;what I have planned, that I will do.
Isaiah 46:8-11 (NIV)
What is ironic is that this passage continues the line of thought from chapters 38 and 39 of the same book. Hezekiah recovers from his illness in chapter 38. Hezekiah then gives the Babylonians a tour of his kingdom and Isaiah tells the king that the Babylonians will come and take everything from him. Then, from chapter 40-55, we see the prophet talking to the Babylonian captives (The Reformation Study Bible note on this section is helpful). This means that chapter 38 is not to be disconnected from chapter 55. And chapter 46 falls in the middle of these passages about Babylon. Therefore, Isaiah could not have meant that God was actually changing His mind in chapter 38. God is the one who reveals His plans. He will accomplish His purposes and this power is grounded in His very nature. To say that God somehow did not have Hezekiah’s life planned before hand is to grossly neglect other passages of Scripture which say otherwise. Another example is in the book of Numbers, where we have explicit, unequivocal language about the nature of God’s decree:
God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?
Numbers 23:19 (NIV)
This is the importance of proper hermeneutical principles when looking at Scripture, as the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith notes in Chapter 1, paragraph 9, where it says,
The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched by other places that speak more clearly.
2nd LBCF 1.9
We have explicit teaching from Isaiah 46 and Numbers 23 about the nature of God’s plan and decree. That must be used to shed light on the passage in chapter 38 that is less clear. Otherwise we will come to the same conclusion Mr. McLeod has. Another interesting observation to note: Mr. McLeod bases the view that God changes His mind in this story on God’s ability not to lie. However, if God can actually change His mind on something that He said would come to pass, how is God being truthful at that point? Isn’t that a falsehood then? This simply means that Mr. McLeod has pushed the problem of God’s integrity back without actually solving the problem. If God is able to change His mind about something He said will definitively happen, how can God be trusted? Could God change His mind about the efficacy of the Gospel? Or of the promised inheritance to come for God’s people? Sounds very much like an Open Theist, although I don’t think Mr. McLeod would say he is one.
What does this passage indicate?
We have established that this passage cannot in any way imply that God is actually changing His mind when it comes to Hezekiah. If that is the case, what is God doing? There isn’t necessarily an easy answer to this question. Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology notes,
The situations with Hezekiah and with the intercession of Moses are similar: God had said he would send judgement, and that was a true declaration, provided that the situation remained the same.
Systematic Theology, pg. 165
If Hezekiah had not actually prayed, God would have let him die of his sickness. This doesn’t mean that God is held at the whims of men’s actions, but that He responds to men as the actions are in that particular moment (Grudem talks about this on the same page referenced above). This is also a matter of perspective. From our perspective, without knowing everything that will happen, it appears that God has gone from one state of mind to another. But from the point of view of the one who is beyond time and is pure act from everlasting to everlasting, it is simply the outworking of His plan.
Mr. McLeod has left hermeneutical principles behind in the construction of his article. It is dangerous to formulate a theological worldview based solely on your perceived implications of biblical narratives, especially when you ignore clear passages directly addressing the topic at hand. The implications are frightening: if God can change His mind about this, then what else can He change His mind about? What else is not “set in stone”? Is God simply at the mercy of what humans do without the power bring about His purposes? These are questions that Mr. McLeod does not answer in this article, but need to be addressed. We serve a God that cannot lie, that cannot change in any way, and that will bring about His plans, human choices and actions notwithstanding. This is the God of the Bible.
In a twist that would make M. Night Shyamalan’s head spin, Leighton Flowers recently released an hour-plus long video on … Calvinism! In his latest installment of Quantity over Quality, Leighton joins his friend, Eric Kemp, in trying to smoke out the Hyper-Calvinist of John Piper’s doctrine by setting a stadium’s worth of strawmen on fire. They review a video where Piper warns against the dangers of Hyper-Calvinism, and they allege that no one’s sure who these Hyper-Calvinists are anyways, but, at the same time, Hyper-Calvinism is a great, looming danger, and Piper’s views would lead to Hyper-Calvinism if consistently applied!
If you were looking for compelling reasons why Hyper-Calvinism is the inevitable conclusion of biblical orthodoxy (also known as Calvinism), you’ll be disappointed. The same miserable, sunken-eyed arguments are again mustered to the front lines as the Chobham-armored Holy Bible steadily rolls through. Such arguments have been answered time and time again, including quite excellently by Sean and Dan, hosts of the Particular Baptist Podcast. Essentially, all Leighton’s points boil down to his inability to grasp compatibilism, and that the certainty of ends doesn’t diminish the significance (or culpability) of the means which accomplish those ends.
There’s no need for me to replicate the work of my brothers. Rather, the concern of this article will be the selfish, man-centeredness of Leighton Flowers’s position, borne out especially by several statements made by him and Eric in this video. Cast under the light of Scripture, the many miles of distance between their human philosophy and the inspired, God-honoring teachings of the Holy Spirit will be made patently clear. And, as a bonus, I will conclude by addressing that supposedly “unanswerable” objection that Leighton brings up towards the end of the video.
No doubt stemming from a bad conscience, Eric complains that Calvinists, like Piper, are “so polemical and pejorative” (1:10:00) whenever they rebuke their autonomous free-will, mini-gods theory. He asks, “Can popular Calvinist pastors and pundits make arguments without calling [people like me] a self-idolater?” Well, it’s hard to blame Piper when synergists like Eric tell us (in the same video) that one of his problems with Calvinism is that it results in God doing something that doesn’t depend on him or his skill as a preacher (32:15, 36:04). Oh, what a ghastly thought! The horror of thinking that the power of salvation might not rest on me and my abilities as a preacher, but on the message preached (1 Corinthians 1:17-21)! To think, as the Bible says, that the Gospel “is the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16), and not me and my ability to “meet people where they are … to come off as genuine,” as Eric affirms (36:10).
In contrast to Eric and Leighton, the only skill the Bible demands a preacher to have – when it comes to salvation – is the skill to get out of the way. This was the boast of the Apostle Paul:
“And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.“
1 Corinthians 2:1-5
While a pastor’s erudition, ability to convey information, compassion, and other gifts may serve him well in other areas of the ministry, the Gospel itself can only be hindered when one trusts in his own abilities to save souls. Accordingly, the Apostle Paul, and the greatest preachers since his time, such as Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeon, took great pains to take themselves out of the preaching of the Gospel, trusting that the Holy Spirit works best when the means of salvation is laid bare in its pure form without admixture. Spurgeon says of his ministry:
“I have long worked out before your very eyes the experiment of the unaided attractiveness of the gospel of Jesus. Our service is severely plain. No man ever comes hither to gratify his eye with art, or his ear with music. I have set before you, these many years, nothing but Christ crucified, and the simplicity of the gospel; yet where will you find such a crowd as this gathered together this morning? Where will you find such a multitude as this meeting Sabbath after Sabbath, for five-and-thirty years? I have shown you nothing but the cross, the cross without flowers of oratory, the cross without diamonds of ecclesiastical rank, the cross without the buttress of boastful science. It is abundantly sufficient to attract men first to itself, and afterwards to eternal life!”
Charles Spurgeon. Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 1888, vol. 34, p. 563
The Holy Spirit has thus testified, both in Scripture and in His planting of His Church since then, that the Gospel – not the eloquence of man – is what saves. And so the ministry of selfishness which cries, “Me! My! Myself!” will never save a tenth of the souls saved by the ministries of a Paul, an Edwards, and a Spurgeon, who proclaimed, “God! God! God!“
Comparing the difference of attitude, we see that Piper’s charge of self-idolatry was not unwarranted. These are men who hear Paul ask, “Orwho hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? (Romans 11:35), and don’t think that the question is rhetorical.
The general man-centeredness of Eric and Leighton was exposed further when they criticized Piper for daring to ground our motivation for evangelism in the Bible. Piper rightly says in his video, “The Bible tells us: preach the Gospel to everyone! And the sheep will hear the Shepherd’s voice in the preaching and follow Him” (5:26). What’s the problem with this? Dr. Flowers explains: “The reason we preach [in Piper’s view], is not because we love everyone and desire everyone’s salvation, because God loves … and wants everyone’s salvation … that’s not the reason you preach, the reason you preach is because we’re told to. In other words, law, not love” (33:12).
No punches can be pulled here. This is one of the most perverted, man-centered, and unbiblical contrasts I’ve ever seen drawn up by a confessing conservative Christian. Leighton sets the commandments given by God, who is Love (1 John 4:8), as OPPOSED to love. How can he justify this odious distortion? True, the condemnation the Law of the Old Testament brings is contrasted to the salvation of the Gospel, but this is not a contrast between law and love. Rather, the Law is an indictment against our love, because we did not love God and neighbor enough to fulfill it. But to have fulfilled it would have been the perfection of love, as Jesus Christ did. To say that obeying the commands of God – even those given in the New Testament – is at odds with love is utterly indefensible. No squirming will get Leighton around the plain teaching of Scripture, which says, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS” (1 John 5:2). Far from being at odds with love, keeping God’s commandments is the highest way of showing our love for Him, and it’s impossible to love Him or even genuinely love others if we don’t strive to keep them. But in Leighton’s twisted worldview, whatever chemical fizz, effervescing sentiments, or passing indigestion we associate with feelings of love is a higher motivation than the command of Love Himself – the Perfect, Holy, and inexhaustibly Good God! I cast the “feelings of love” in such terms not because I’m a stoic, but because that’s all such feelings amount to if they’re divorced from true love, which is always manifested by obedience to the One who is Love. By making his own passing feelings towards others a higher motivation than “Thus saith the LORD,” Leighton erects his own feelings up as a god to be preferred over the true One.This is idolatry, pure and simple. And until he repents of pitting “love” against obedience, it’s appropriate to say as much of him.
The Unanswerable Challenge!
I would’ve wanted to end here, as I believe this is already more than enough material for one blog post. However, towards the end of the video, Leighton issued a challenge that I can’t resist. He issues a great, unanswerable challenge, concerning which he says, “I have not yet heard [Calvinists] actually engage on that point” (55:00). What is this challenge?
“But in a sense they’ve created a good and evil within God by saying there’s … two wills within God, the prescriptive one and the secret one .. within a view of One God you have competing desires” (53:40).
Yeah, that’s right. Never been answered. It’s so unanswerable, in fact, that the first Google suggestion that comes up when you search “God two wills” is an article by the very man they’re critiquing, who provides answers to this question. That article was written 25 years ago, and quotes other men who answered it hundreds of years before that. For a man who’s dedicated his online ministry to attacking Calvinism, you’d think by now he’d have done enough research on the view he consumes himself with that he’d have noticed that some of the most prominent Calvinists in history have addressed his “insurmountable problem,” especially when they can be found via a simple Google search.
So, what’s the answer? Different men have different ways of articulating it, but the “problem” basically stems from a category error on the part of the question. The synergistic challenger imagines that the prescriptive will and the secret will are two of the same kinds of things, and thus make for some kind of contradictory dual nature in God, when, in fact, they bear little resemblance to one another. The secret will is the unified, eternal decree of God which He accomplishes, but the prescriptive will is that which is given to His creatures to accomplish. Unlike His secret will, He does not decree to accomplish His prescriptive will except insofar as it overlaps with His secret will. Instead, the prescriptive will consists of the demands that His creatures must fulfill to live in His presence. God demands perfection – a perfection that was only satisfied in His Son, Jesus Christ – and He cannot allow sinners to abide unpunished who don’t attain it. Sin is loathsome in His sight, hence the Lord says, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). There’s nothing inconsistent in God’s secret will not including our fulfillment of His prescriptive will, because there’s nothing inconsistent in God not willing a sinful creature to live in His presence. What’s more miraculous is that He has willed some sinful creatures to live in His presence by decreeing that they fulfill His prescriptive will to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him, justice is satisfied, and His fulfillment of the entirety of God’s prescriptive will is imputed to us without charge. And not ending there, His Holy Spirit gives us new hearts to desire what He desires, so that His will may be our highest delight – our greatest motivation – rather than our own subjective feelings. Truly, He enables us to make Him our God, that we may abandon the idols of selfishness for good, glorying in the One who has done all of the work, deserving all of our praise.