Provisionism and Man’s Moral Posture

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.

GLORY: From Death to Life

Last week (CLICK HERE), I wrote about the birth of Christ. We went back to 650 years prior when it was prophesied, and continued on to His death. We learned that the whole reason Christ came to this Earth was to die in obedience to the Father so that we might live. While we covered the timeline of His life to death, for this article, I would like to cover his death to life.

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. (Matthew 27:50, NASB)

And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed His last. (Mark 15:37, NASB)

And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, INTO YOUR HANDS I COMMIT MY SPIRIT.” Having said this, He breathed His last. (Luke 23:46, NASB)

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)

I think it’s safe to assume we all know the basics of the story of Jesus. We hear of His birth every year at Christmas. We all know He was sinless and that He died for our sins. While I don’t plan on beating a dead horse, I would like to get into a few more details that are often overlooked by your average Christmas and Easter churchgoer.

Have you ever stopped to ponder the method of capital punishment known as crucifixion? It was a brutal form of death. Nails were driven into your wrists and feet. You would be forced to support your body weight on either the nail in your feet or hang by the nails in your wrists. After a little while of hanging by the arms, cramps would begin to occur. The cramps would cause your chest muscles to go numb. It would be possible to breathe in but breathing out would be next to impossible. The cramps and flaming of the muscles would make it difficult to even use your legs to alleviate some of the breathing difficulties. The buildup of carbon dioxide would finally ease the cramps which would then make it possible to lift with your legs using nothing but the nail in your feet as leverage. While the pain was unbearable and it was a challenge just to breathe, this alone was not what would normally kill the person. After some time, a guard would come up and break the legs of the person hanging. This would extinguish his ability to press up with his legs so that he could breathe. While already dealing with muscles on fire and scourged flesh, he would now have to endure the pain of broken legs and the thought of knowing he would have no way to breathe. He would hang by his arms until the cramps came back. He would breathe in but not be able to breathe out. He would then die of asphyxiation.

Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him; but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. (John 19:31-33, NASB)

While the thieves hanging on either side off Jesus both had their legs broken, Jesus was already dead. There was no need to break His legs to speed up the process. As we covered last week, this was a fulfillment of prophecy that no bones would be broken (Psalm 34:20). However, we also see that Jesus apparently had enough energy to speak in a loud voice and speak His last important words. They were not mere whimpers or whispers. They were loud and bold so that everybody could hear. Why then did He die so much faster than the other two? Was He weak? Not at all! If anything, it’s because He was stronger than anybody could ever be. While the thieves were at the mercy of the soldiers and the cross, Jesus was at the mercy of no one but Himself.

And behold, one of those who were with Jesus reached and drew out his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must happen this way?” (Matthew 26:51-54, NASB)

“For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again This commandment I received from My Father.” (John 10:17-18, NASB)

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. (Matthew 27:50, NASB)

While Jesus died on the cross, it didn’t have the power to take His life. According to Scripture, no man took His life, but He laid it down on His own authority (John 10:18). He alone chose His time of death. Jesus was only on the cross because He knew what had to be done. He could have called more than twelve legions of angels to put a stop to it. To get a better idea, a legion was roughly 6,000 soldiers. In other words, Jesus said He could have instantly called more than 72,000 angels to use at His disposal. However, that was not His purpose for being on this Earth. We know from Matthew 26:38 that He was deeply grieved and had the fear of the pain He was about to go through but this did not stop Him. He had a mission and there was only one way to accomplish it: death by crucifixion. Again, we see Jesus telling His disciples that nobody could take His life from Him. The Father had given Him the authority to lay down His own life. Matthew 27:50 aligns with this perfectly as it says Jesus yielded up His spirit. He laid down His own life and yielded up His own spirit. He did not die before the others due to being weaker. He died before the others because He chose the time at which He would yield His spirit. He fulfilled the Scripture by going to the cross, fulfilled the Scripture by speaking His final words, and yielded up His spirit at a time of His choosing to finish the fulfillment of Scripture regarding His death.

There were some during the apostolic age who rose the dead (Matthew 10:8; Acts 24:21). They were given this authority by Christ Himself. While being miraculous, the resurrection of Christ was very different. While the other resurrections were performed by another person under the authority of Christ, He didn’t need someone else. He resurrected Himself (John 10:17-18). So what exactly took place during the resurrection?

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8, NASB)

First, we see He appeared to quite a few people. At one point, he even appeared to 500 people at once. If over 500 people came up to you declaring they saw Skillet at a concert, would you not believe that there was a Skillet concert? It only stands to reason that if so many people make a claim and testify to being eye witnesses to this claim, it probably happened. Why then did so many people still not believe?

Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:12-19, NASB)

Even with all the eye witness accounts, many still refused to believe it and thought it was crazy talk. Paul, going with their reasoning, tells us that if this is true, we are all to be pitied as we have been teaching a false god. Some had even died for this false god and were cut off for all of eternity. Thankfully, it doesn’t end there. He continues in verse 20 with:

But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:20, NASB)

Paul says Christ is the first fruits. The first fruits of a harvest was a sample brought to the priest as an offering to the Lord. The farmer was not allowed to harvest the rest of his crops until after this offering had been made. In the same way, there was no resurrection until the first fruits had been brought forth. Christ was the first fruits. He alone made it possible to be raised unto eternal life with the Father. Many people teach of Christ. They say all you have to believe is that He is the Son of God. The movie The Passion of the Christ portrayed the death of Jesus. Catholics wear a crucifix around their neck as a reminder of what He did for them on the cross. Unfortunately, if left at this point, it amounts to nothing. Without the resurrection, there is no salvation. This is why an empty cross is a more accurate symbol and is actually the one used by Protestants. As my old pastor used to say, a hole in the wall to represent an empty tomb would be the most accurate of all. Christ is no longer on the cross. He is no longer in the grave. As important as His death may be, His resurrection is even more so.

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split. The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many. (Matthew 27:50-53, NASB)

This is something I missed for the longest time. Although I had read Matthew countless times, I never really noticed it even though it’s a huge event. The dead came out of their graves and went into the holy city. Imagine seeing your dead relatives come up to you one evening to talk. You look around and see your neighbors are being visited by their dead relatives as well. It’s absolutely amazing. I have no idea how I never really saw this in Scripture. How could I skip this part in my brain? While it may look like all this happened upon the death of Christ, we need to carefully look at the text. It speaks of the death of Christ, moves into people rising, and then goes back to speak about the death. This almost appears contradictory to the teaching of Christ being the first fruits. The thing to pay attention to is in verse 53. It says, “and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many.” Christ raised himself and appeared to many. In the meantime, there were others who had previously died and were now walking into the holy city. Talk about amazing! One other thing to notice is the fact that all who had previously been resurrected likely died again at some point. They were brought back to life in an earthly sense but this was temporary. At some point, they surely would die again. They had surely been resurrected but not in the same sense as Christ. He was now in a glorified and eternal state that we will all one day see.

One day, there will be a literal changing of the body upon the resurrection. Scripture calls our physical body perishable and mortal whereas our next body will be imperishable and immortal (1 Corinthians 15:22, 51-53). In John 20:26, the disciples were frightened and in hiding behind locked doors. Jesus had just been crucified and the disciples feared they would be next. Nevertheless, Jesus appeared in their midst. There are some out there that teach our glorified body will be able to pass through walls since Jesus somehow appeared inside a locked house. I do not necessarily subscribe to this theory as it is not what the text says. It simply says he stood in their midst. Regardless, the glorified body of Christ was certainly nothing ordinary. While I can’t confidently teach that Jesus could pass through walls, I can say He could do something even greater. First, Luke 24:31 alludes to the fact that He could hide His appearance and make Himself appear differently to others. Second, it says He vanished from their sight. I think a better interpretation of His standing in their midst despite a locked door is that He just appeared. Just as He could vanish, He could reappear somewhere else. He didn’t have to pass through a wall. He just appeared where He wanted to be. According to Philippians 3:21, we will all have this same glorified body upon our resurrection.

Not only do we have a physical resurrection and change to look forward to someday. We also have a spiritual resurrection. The difference is that one happens the moment you become a believer in Christ and receive the gift of saving faith while the other will take place at a later time. I can only imagine what that time will be like!

More important than any speculating over what our glorified bodies will be like, we all need to acknowledge the work that Christ completed as well as what the Spirit continues to work in us even now. Before Christ, we were spiritually dead. After Christ, we have a newness of life (Romans 6:4; 2 Corinthians 5:17). We once were dead, but we have since become regenerated and renewed (Titus 3:5). It’s not speaking of a physical death but rather a spiritual one. We must die to ourselves and be raised in Christ. This is the symbolism represented at baptism. We go under as if we are being laid in a grave upon death. We come up cleansed as if being resurrected in the new life of Christ. Baptism is a representation of what occurs at the moment of salvation. The day will come when we will experience this in the physical as well but it is only because Christ did it first to make it all possible.

I can think of no better way to close this article than with the encouragement put forth by the apostle, Paul.

but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:57-58, NASB)

We’ve already won and we have something great to look forward to so stand fast in all you do and trust in the Lord!

~ Travis W. Rogers

Train Like You Fight, Fight Like You Train: Are You Ready for War?

WARFARE. It’s an ugly thing with very real consequences. Far too many soldiers have been brought home under the cover of the flag. Some never made it home at all. Having spent 20 years in the military, and four deployments to the Persian Gulf, I understand what goes into preparing for war. A service member isn’t just given a weapon and told to go to work. There’s months, sometimes years, of training involved. My first two years in the military were spent in training. As with all service members, I started off in boot camp. Over a period of eight weeks, we were broken down and rebuilt in a military culture. For the remainder of these two years, I was dedicated to learning the intricacies of the AEGIS weapon system, including the capabilities, limitations, and technical details of how to operate and repair it. Even after reporting to my first ship, there was still more training. There’s safety, basic seamanship, damage control, etc.

I’m reminded of my first deployment in 2003. We were still in the recent aftermath of 9/11. President Bush had just given an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein saying he could either leave Iraq, or that his refusal, “will result in military conflict, commenced at a time of our choosing.” That time came in the middle of the night as my ship was ordered to send several Tomahawk Cruise Missiles into Iraq. The remainder of that deployment was spent with a heightened awareness that we were living in a time of war. We were required to carry our gas mask kit everywhere we went. Each kit contained atropine and 2-PAM chloride in case we encountered a Chemical/Biological/Radiation (CBR) environmental attack. I vividly remember waking up in the middle of the night hearing the alarm for General Quarters (a condition that is set when the ship is either under attack or is in need of all hands to man their stations to save the ship). I went from being sound asleep in my rack to hearing everyone yelling to ensure nobody was still sleeping. Sailors were flipping on lights and running through passageways, boots still in hand and only being halfway dressed, in an effort to get to their GQ station. We went from most Sailors being asleep in their racks while the night watch held things down, to being fully manned and the ship’s material condition being set for watertight integrity, in what I seem to recall being roughly seven minutes. Thankfully, it was all just a drill set in motion by our Commanding Officer. We had been routinely taking over 15 minutes during our previous drills and he wanted to see what we would do when we thought we were truly under attack.

By now, you might be wondering what all of this has to do with Christianity. Why am I taking us all on a trip down memory lane? It’s because, all too often, Christians live their lives as if it’s all just a drill. Far too many have the approach of “let go and let God” instead of having a spirit of diligence (2 Peter 1:10), on the alert (1 Peter 5:8), standing firm against the schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:11). I remember being told I study things to death and that I should just love Jesus. While there is certainly a danger in treating God as an academic topic, searching the Scriptures is commendable (Acts 17:11) and is our primary way of coming to know Him, while also equipping us to identify and flee from error.

If you were told you were going to be dropped into the Middle East as part of a convoy, I think it would be safe to assume you would want to know everything you possibly could. You would suddenly be an expert on geographical topography, statistics of attacks in the region, proper body armor, convoy movements, weapon familiarization, etc. Any knowledge which might increase your chances of making it home alive would be welcomed and valued. Why, then, do we not treat our daily lives the same way? Scripture is very clear that we’re in a very real warfare environment (2 Corinthians 10:4). Instead of fighting against earthly forces, we’re fighting against the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2) and the spiritual forces of wickedness (Ephesians 6:12).

Just as with military preparation, we need to prepare ourselves for the spiritual battle that we will be waging our entire lives. It’s an ongoing battle that would lead any to the point of fatigue and failure if left to their own devices. But God has not left us ill-equipped. In the military, the responsibility of leadership is to man, train, and equip. To apply that analogy to our Christian walk really isn’t that far of a stretch. In fact, there are many similarities. I’d like to take a moment to review each point.

MANNED: No Christian is called to walk alone. God has given us His Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail over it (Matthew 16:18). We are a band of brothers and sisters in arms who are called to sharpen one another (Proverbs 27:17). It’s through the encouragement of fellow saints (Hebrews 10:25) and holding one another accountable (Matthew 18:15-19) that we can count ourselves as properly manned in this fight.

TRAINED: It’s this point that I’ve been harping on since the beginning of this article. No service member gets dropped into war without being thoroughly trained beforehand. However, just because one is trained doesn’t mean there is no longer a need for continual training. Toward the end of my career, while I was the one training my Sailors, I was continually learning as well. The same goes for our combat readiness when it comes to spiritual warfare. Just because we may consider ourselves to already know about something doesn’t mean we can’t use the reminder (1 Peter 1:12-13). On a practical level, how often have you found yourself tuning out of a sermon that’s on a passage you’ve been over a thousand times? This is absolute arrogance and serves as evidence as to why we need to continually be in the Word. If the threat were bullets flying into your chest, you would never approach training in such a way. Yet, when the threat becomes eternity in hell, there seems to be an attitude of complacency. Perhaps this is because hell seems like an academic topic and the actual threat is taken lightly. Then again, maybe it’s because we have security in Christ and feel it’s not that important. If even the apostles refused to hold such a position, I highly encourage anyone who may be entertaining it to rethink where they stand on such matters. Do you know better than Peter or Paul? Our manual is the bible and we’ve been called to study it with diligence while accurately handling it as the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). Submit to your church elders and be involved in the body of Christ. Through this, you will not be relegated to training in isolation. You’ll be afforded the joyful privilege of training as a cohesive unit, joined together in the power of our risen Lord!

EQUIPPED: Just as a military leader can hold the knowledge and training experience, if he neglects to properly equip his Sailors, he has failed them. God has taken care of everything from start to finish. He has given us His Church to be manned. He has given us His inspired Word that we may be trained. He has also given us his Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16) that we may be properly equipped. It’s only through the Spirit that we can truly understand the things of God (1 Corinthians 2:14) and be guided in all truth (John 16:13). By the Spirit revealing the truth to us in accordance with Scripture, we are thoroughly equipped (2 Timothy 3:17) to perform every good work that is pleasing to God (Colossians 1:10).

Throughout my career, we had a saying: Train Like You Fight, Fight Like You Train. Through the continual drilling of ourselves, we can be ever ready for the real battle. Paul ran the race in such a way that he would win (1 Corinthians 9:24). He fought, not as if he were shadow boxing (1 Corinthians 9:26), but as if he were truly fighting the enemy. How do we prepare and train? It’s through the reading, memorization, and meditating on the Word that we can prepare ourselves for battle. This is exactly how Jesus overcame Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). Each time, Satan tried to tempt Jesus that he may lure Him into sin. Yet, in each desperate attempt of the evil one, it was the authoritative proclamation of the rightly divided Word (2 Timothy 2:15) that he was defeated.

May we continually press on and fight the good fight of faith and take hold of eternal life (1 Timothy 6:12). If you feel you may be neglecting your spiritual training, I hope you’ve found encouragement in this reading. I exhort us all to take seriously the charge to assemble with fellow believers (Hebrews 10:25), that we may remain steadfast in times of trial (James 1:12), and persevere until the end (Matthew 24:13) that we may one day be with Him in glory (Colossians 3:4) and know Him fully as we are fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).

~ Travis W. Rogers

Does God Change His Mind?

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.

Conclusion

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.

Spanish Rice Theology

I’m at work and lunch has come. I’m reheating my Spanish rice in the microwave and can practically taste it already. It smelled like it had been prepared from scratch. Little did anybody know, I made it from a package that required nothing more than a little water and a heated pot. This thought had me reflecting on how it must’ve been before food came prepackaged. Nowadays, it seems everything comes in a box, can, or bag. The frozen foods section is stacked with everything you could imagine. How did people live before this innovation? What happened to the days when cooking was an art? What happened to the days when your every day household cook knew exactly what oregano or paprika tasted like and how much should be added? Sadly, they are gone forever. In our day and age, we have truly lost the art of cooking. We’ve lost the art of compiling all of the individual ingredients, slaving over the stove, and producing a delicious meal as the fruits of your labor.

Isn’t theology much like this? I’ve never seen more self-proclaimed theologians than I do today. Facebook and the rest of the internet are filled with them. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. In fact, I find it exciting that more and more people are gaining a hunger for biblical truth. However, just as we’ve lost the art of cooking, it seems as if we have also lost the art of theology. Just as grocery stores have made products readily available, the internet is a repository of a nearly infinite number of theological resources. After 5 minutes of searching, you can have a library filled with more sermons that you could listen to in a lifetime. There are entire websites dedicated to commentaries, frequently asked questions, sermons, e-books, and more. In fact, there are even sites dedicated to providing ready-made sermons for pastors who haven’t had time to prepare their own. It’s almost scary how readily available theological content has become. It’s all prepackaged nowadays. Gone are the days of pouring through the Scriptures and matching up the cross references. Gone are the hours, days, and weeks of meditating upon the Word of God and allowing the Spirit to move and change you as an individual throughout the course of your studies. The days of the Christian allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture, piecing together the entire truth of Scripture, slaving over the pages of Scripture, and topping it off with the wisdom of those who have gone before all with the purpose of producing a convicting and exciting sermon are seemingly vanishing rapidly. Gone is the art of theology.

Just as prepackaged food isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I do not believe prepackaged theology is inherently evil. In fact, it can often be quite convenient and efficient. That being said, both can lead to weakness if not kept under control. Just as continuous use of prepackaged food will eventually lead to an individual lacking cooking skills, continuous use of prepackaged theological resources will lead to a weak theologian. Theology is more than having the right URL. It’s more than having the right answer. Theology is having a proper reverence for God while being changed in the course of your studies. If you find yourself rushing straight to your favorite commentary upon being asked a question you don’t immediately have an answer for, I urge you to take a step back, breathe, and crack open your bible first. Let the Spirit speak to you as you meditate on the Word. After you’ve gathered all your ingredients, by all means, top it off with a dash of commentary and serve the Gospel to all who will hear.

Bon appetit!

~ Travis W. Rogers

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