God or Satan? Choose Responsibly.

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.

John Piper

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.

John Calvin, Bondage and Liberation of the Will

~ Travis W. Rogers

Leighton’s Ministry of Selfishness

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, “Or who 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.

Soli Deo Gloria

Litmus Test for Dummies

I had a vivid dream. I was helping a man fix his car on the side of the road when I accidentally kicked a bolt. I watched as it fell over the side of the cliff into a deep chasm. Feeling responsible, I began my journey of descent into the nether regions of the Earth. Upon reaching the bottom, I immediately found what I was searching for, picked it up, and inspected it. It was as if I had found a buried treasure. I began my journey back when I realized I was stuck. The walls of the chasm were suddenly like soft sand and were collapsing with every touch as I desperately struggled to escape. I simply couldn’t find my way out. That was when the Lord spoke to me. He said, “Travis, fear not for I am with you. You are one of My own and have more power than you realize. Do not be afraid of what this world has in store for you. I have empowered you, through faith, to overcome all battles. You will lead many in My name. The soft sand represents the sinking world around you but take notice that you are untouched. As long as you claim My name, I will bless you and you will be prosperous. This bolt represents the treasures I have promised you. Do not throw them away. Seek them out and they will be yours. I, the Lord, have spoken.”

Okay, so all that didn’t really happen. In fact, everything after finding the bolt and seeing sandy walls was a fabrication. However, what if I had continued this story and ended it with the claim that it was actually revelation from the Lord to be passed on to the Church? Could you say anything to stop me? Could you say anything that might discredit my experience? After all, isn’t experience enough to determine what is true and what is not?

Unfortunately, there are many professing believers today who make such claims. No, they may not all be claiming new revelation but they are certainly claiming experience to be a valid litmus test. After all, if one experiences it, who are we to tell them they are wrong? If I ate at McDonald’s and another person said I didn’t, I would certainly stand by my initial claim that I did. I experienced it. I was there. I ate the burger and drank to soda, too. Don’t you dare tell me my experience was invalid and false. Such an idea is preposterous! While it may make sense on the surface, upon using a little discernment and a lot of prayer, one can easily see through the haze.

In John 16:12-13, we see Christ telling us how he has more to say. He continues by revealing that he will be sending the Spirit to us to relay these messages. The Spirit will not speak on his own initiative but will only be relaying what Christ has willed that we should hear. This was in the form of the Scriptures we hold in our hands today. Most theologians are in full agreement that the canon of Scripture is closed. Since this occurrence, there has been no new revelation. The Spirit speaks all things in accordance with the Scriptures. If the Spirit is giving new revelation, should we not add it to the Scripture so that it may be shared with all? However, how can we do this if the canon is closed? This presents quite the predicament. Either the Spirit is giving new revelation that is not being added to Scripture or we have a prime example of misguided souls steering Christians into the depths of Hell. We have been warned that false teachers have crept into our midst unnoticed (Jude 4). Well, I am here to say to you that I have taken notice and I implore you to take notice as well.

We live in an era where the mysterious has a certain allure to it. It’s like a top selling fiction novel on steroids. Look no further than the plethora of ghost hunting shows on TV. There is no proof yet many simply want to believe that there is something mysterious out there. Even if they don’t believe, many viewers consider themselves “open but cautious.” This same term is used among many Christians when referring to the Charismatic Movement. Instead of looking to see what the Scriptures have to say, they hold to the possibility that the mysterious may very well be true and valid. Despite the scandalous origins of the movement, the false prophesies that have accompanied it over the years, the countless scams, closing of “healing” ministries amidst concerns of COVID-19, and more evils than one can possibly cover in a blog post, there are still those who remain “open but cautious.” Why?!?!? Why are we so hesitant to condemn such claims? Why do we shy away from nixing it at the source? Why do we remain open but cautious of doctrines that have been the demise of so many? It has been calculated that 90% of those who follow the Charismatic Movement also adhere to the Prosperity gospel. This is a teaching that God wants us to be healthy, wealthy, and wise. It claims that, if only one has enough faith, he can overcome any illness and will never see poverty. Friends, that is not the gospel at all. It only takes away from the exaltation of Christ by shifting the focus to the glorification of self. Instead of asking how we can better magnify Christ, it leaves us asking why we are suffering from the common cold. Did we not have enough faith? Maybe this God thing isn’t true after all. Do you see how giving even a hint of credibility to such a movement is a slippery slope? Every time I hear open but cautious, I can’t help but think wishy-washy and foolish.

Going back to the initial story of my supposed dream, I wish I could say it was only limited to this post. Sadly, I only regurgitated the claims of many prosperity teachers today. It sounds enticing. It sounds mysterious. It sounds like something we might want to experience for ourselves. This is the exact reason why people such as John Piper have prayed that God would give them the “toy” of tongues. It’s sad when such a solid theologian has been tarnished by a strong desire for the false. In his open but cautious state, he has fallen prey to the wolves, to those unnoticed (see THIS POST for more). If such a thing can happen to him, how much more can it happen to one who isn’t nearly as knowledgeable in the Word of God? Please note, I’m not saying Piper is a heretic. I still count him as a brother in the Lord, but he is a brother who has stumbled in several areas of doctrine that I believe stems from the main point of this blog post.

We must stand firm in the Word. We need to rise up as a band of brothers and sisters. We need to defend the truth and give no credibility to such silly notions as prosperity teaching, tongues, healing, and new revelation. Never let experience be the litmus test for truth. If you currently stand by this method, you have a problem. For instance, Catholics and Mormons also believe their experiences with the gifts prove them to be a valid work of the Spirit. You must either accept these heretics as Christians moved by the Spirit or else you are compelled to openly admit yours may be an equal counterfeit that cannot be solidified through experience. As another example, there are numerous accounts of people supposedly going to Heaven and back (Heaven Is For Real, 90 Minutes In Heaven, etc). If you believe these accounts based solely on the claimed experiences of others, I ask you to ponder the following questions:

1) Why is each story different? Is Heaven a real place or is it just whatever each person wants it to be?

2) Why is Christ not the forefront of every vision/trip? It’s always about the awesome sights and rarely about exalting Christ.

3) Why are they permitted to speak of it when even Paul was not?

Until such inconsistencies and dilemmas can be resolved (and I firmly believe they cannot be), it is far too dangerous and even foolish to continue with such methods. Where is the discernment? What is the standard used to determine truth from error? The answer is right in front of us! We need to search the Scriptures daily to prove the things which are true (Acts 17:11). On the flip side, we need to be ready to loudly condemn the error set before us. Be prepared to not only wield the Word in doctrine but also in reproof and correction (2 Timothy 3:16). Scripture speaks loudly. Take heed and listen!

~Travis W. Rogers

Against Christian Hedonism

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Two men set out on a journey. They walk at the same pace, and profess to have the same destination – due north. However, one thing separates the friends: one of their compasses has a defect. It’s just slightly off, pointing one degree away from north. The man with the good compass has a sharp eye, and notices the defect in his compatriot’s device. But he thinks nothing of it since, as they walk, they appear to be heading in the same direction. After 15 minutes, they seem just as close to each other as when they began. Another 15 minutes, and there is still little difference. An hour passes, and it’s definitely harder to deny that the space between them has increased, yet they’re still able to converse just fine. Another hour, and they have to talk noticeably louder to hear one another. Finally, the travelers are out of sight altogether. This small difference, which at first seemed so trivial and inessential, revealed itself to be quite important the further the men went, ultimately separating them completely. In the end, this small difference resulted in utterly different destinations…

There is much truth in Christian Hedonism, and undoubtedly there has been much good produced by its chief advocate, John Piper. Much of what they assert comports well with Scripture, and it rightly rejects the misconception some have that the Christian life is meant to be dry and joyless. However, there’s a defect in their compass: it’s not pointing due north. They may be doctrinally right on everything else, but if their focus is off, their emphases are wrong, and they aren’t guiding their steps toward the proper goal, then they will progressively deviate from the right path, causing great damage to themselves and others. If you think I’m overstating the potential effect of the doctrine, its intended all-encompassing nature is confessed by no one more proudly than its chief advocates themselves, who say, “Christian Hedonism touches, and reshapes, our vision of essentially all of life and ministry — from conversion to worship to the Scriptures to prayer to marriage to missions to suffering, and even the very nature of God himself.” Unfortunately, I believe they’re correct. This article is my plead to the Christian Hedonist – who may yet not be far along the path – to correct his course before he strays into the wilderness entirely.

What is Christian Hedonism?

John Piper succinctly summarizes Christian Hedonism as the conviction that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” On the bare face of it, there is truth to this statement, because there is indeed a strong link between our love of God and our glorification of God. The more we know the One we’re to glorify, and the more we understand what pleases Him, the better we can do it. And as we come to know Him better, we can’t help but to love Him and be satisfied in Him more because of who He is. God is so great, that it’s impossible not to experience more joy as we know Him better, unless we’re reprobates who love darkness rather than light. However, Christian Hedonism is much more than noticing a link between joy and pleasing God; it makes pursuing our own joy the chief means of glorifying God. Piper goes on to say, “The desire to be happy is a proper motive for every good deed, and if you abandon the pursuit of your own joy, you cannot love man or please God.” At the 1997 Passion Conference, he expresses his view even more strongly: “If this is true, that God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him, then the vocation of your life is to pursue your pleasure.” This is where his error comes out glaringly; it’s a fixation on the self and personal joy that’s impossible to reconcile with the words of the Lord Jesus, Who commands the believer to “deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).

The Biblical View

The Bible never tells us to make our joy our goal. Rather than advocating self-centeredness, the New Testament promotes the most radical selflessness of any book ever written. It tells us to deny ourselves, and to be indifferent – even to rejoice – when persecuted (Matthew 5:12), when taken advantage of (Matthew 5:44), when defrauded (1 Corinthians 6:7), and tells us even to hate our own life for Jesus’ sake (Luke 14:26). The model that Christ gives us to follow is the Crucifixion. The servant is not greater than his Master, and so if He was willing to be beaten, spit-on, mocked, tortured, left to die, and finally killed, how much more should we be? This is also the attitude Paul instructs us to have in Philippians 2:4-8, the well-known passage where we’re told to mimic the Savior who was humble and obedient even unto death on the Cross. And rather than being focused on ourselves in this endeavor, he there tells us plainly to “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (v. 4).

Now the Christian Hedonist will argue that being self-sacrificial is not incompatible with joy, but is actually a means of maximizing it. To disregard the temporal for the eternal is to cast off the lesser pleasures that distract from the greatest and purest pleasure, which can only be found in the service of God. Amen! Who will argue that the joy of the Lord does not stand in contrast to the fleeting comforts of life like the Sun to a candle? But just because self-sacrificial love ultimately results in greater joy does not mean that the joy itself should be our goal! If it was, Paul wouldn’t have had a dilemma in Philippians chapter one. For those in the know, you may recognize Philippians 1:20-23 as one of the passages John Piper attempts to ground Christian Hedonism in. We won’t examine how he twists this passage in depth here, but his conclusion is that Paul’s confidence that his death will glorify Christ stems from Paul knowing he’ll have greater joy in death. Therefore, John Piper sees in this passage a clear teaching that God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him, and that we should make it our vocation to pursue our personal happiness (how “clear” this is I’ll leave to the judgement of the reader: would you ever come up with such an interpretation if Piper didn’t tell you that?). But this interpretation of verses 20-23, which Piper thinks is so compelling that he claims to stake his belief in Christian Hedonism in it, is completely undermined by verses 24 and 25: “Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you. And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith.”

Did you catch that?

Paul made it clear that, to him, to die was gain (v. 21). His personal joy would have been maximized if he departed to be with Christ. Yet, after wrestling with the issue, he finally decided that he should tarry for a while, because it would be for the benefit of others to remain, not the benefit of himself. If he were a Christian Hedonist, whose vocation was to pursue his own pleasure, the decision to be with Christ would have been a no-brainer. But he wasn’t, and so he was willing to temporarily set aside even the highest pleasure for the service of others. Indeed, is there any other reason besides service of God and His Church for us to want to live in this world, who know that our lives will be so much better when we depart to be forever with the Lord? For those Christians who truly believe in the promises of God, the daily decision to live is a daily rejection of the philosophy of Christian Hedonism.

No Man Can Serve Two Masters…

The chief problem with Christian Hedonism is not so much what it asserts, but what it obsesses over. It’s true that the greatest joy is found in God, and it’s true that God is glorified when we recognize His supreme goodness and are satisfied by Him. But Piper confuses the happy consequences of the goal with the goal itself. The supreme good is to glorify God, because He IS the supreme good. We and our personal happiness are nothing. Contrary to what Piper may hope, we cannot make both God and our own happiness our mission. Our focus must be on one or the other, as the Lord Jesus says: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24). God has simply not made us able to fully devote ourselves to two causes; we must choose our ultimate purpose. Otherwise, we’ll be double-minded and unstable in all our ways, serving neither of the masters we profess to serve. The path the Christian should follow is well-illustrated by the famous incident of Jesus leading Peter onto the waters. As long as Peter kept his eye on Christ, he was able to stand on the waters with His Savior. But as soon as he took his eyes off Him and onto his surroundings, he quickly began to sink. So, too, is it with the Christian. As long as our eyes are solely fixed on Christ and His glory, all else – including joy – will be added to us, and we don’t have to give them a second thought. But just as Peter began to sink as soon as he worried about the result (standing on water) instead of the cause (Christ), so, too, will we sink when we worry about the result (joy) instead of the cause (Christ!).

And sink we will. It’s no coincidence that Christian Hedonism is popular among those who love the lassie-faire style of contemporary worship, because concert-style worship’s intent is to please man rather than to please God. It’s no coincidence that John Piper has progressively succumbed to the social justice movement, whose focus is on man and not God. It’s no coincidence also, that Desiring God is one of the few modern books authored by Calvinists that’s popular with Arminians, who can smell a man-centered work from a mile away. Reader, get your mind off yourself and get it onto Christ. We’re not worthy of the joy He gives us! When He tells us to delight in Him, let our focus be on magnifying Him for being the source of so great a delight! When we hear of the rewards stored up for ourselves, let our focus be on praising Him for being so good and merciful that He’d bestow such gifts on us who deserve them the least! That way, even the good we receive from Him will be about Him who is worthy, and not about us.

Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory

Psalm 115:1

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