Tag Archive | Theology

CAN WE CHOOSE GOD, OR DOES HE CHOOSE US?

salvation 2

Dear Friends,

What will you say to God on judgement day if He asks, “Why did you believe on my Son while others didn’t?”

Would you say “Because I was smarter”? “Because I had the good sense”?

Of course you wouldn’t. I would bet that we would all be so overwhelmed with God’s glory and our own unworthiness that it may be hard to put two words together much less put any attention upon ourselves.

From a reading of Colossians 2:13, if we have been saved, it is because God has raised us from spiritual death.

“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins”.

Logic would then tell us that for those who have not been “made alive”, it is because God has not raised them.

The doctrine of unconditional election (salvation brought about by God’s sovereign choice, not according to any action, merit, or condition met by the believer) is probably one of the most analyzed and debated subjects in Christendom. God’s choosing of some and not others does not fit into our natural and limited ideas of what is right or fair.

To this objection, I refer now to Nathan Pitchford and John Hendryx at the Christian Publication Research Foundation who make an eloquent and biblical response:

In Romans 9, when Paul is speaking very clearly of God’s unconditional election of some, and not others, to eternal salvation, a hypothetical objector to this doctrine raises that very question:

“If it is as you say, Paul, and God loved Jacob and hated Esau before they were born, or had done anything good or bad, just so that his own purposes might stand in election, does that not mean he is arbitrary and unjust?” (see Rom. 9:14). Paul’s response to this is a resounding, “Of course not! May it never be!” God is not arbitrary or unjust – but he does elect individuals to mercy and hardens others as he sees fit, and for no good will or exertion that he sees in anyone (Rom. 9:15-16). He hardened Pharaoh according to his purpose of displaying his glory in all the earth, and he sovereignly chooses to have mercy on whomever he will, to display the glory of his grace (Rom. 9:17; cf. Rom. 9:22-24). In sum, “Therefore, he has mercy on whom he will and he hardens whom he will” (Rom. 9:18).

Just because God chooses to have mercy upon some does not make him unjust or arbitrary for giving to others their just deserts. It is his free, undeserved mercy and grace that he holds forth in salvation, and he may do with it as he will. We may not fathom the deep and mysterious ways of God (Rom. 11:33-36); but woe to that one who foolishly says, “I see no reason for why God chooses some and not others, so he must be arbitrary and unjust”. On the contrary, O foolish man, you would do well to say with Job, “Behold, I am of little worth; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand upon my mouth” (Job 40:4).

We would challenge you to wrestle with the following verses. Paul encountered this very same argument against election in Romans 9:18-23; that it would make God unjust and arbitrary:

18  So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. 19  You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?”20  On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it?21Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same  lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?

Paul is saying that God has the sovereign right to do with us whatever He wants.  Will you deny Him this right? This points to an even greater truth: that there is no higher principle in the universe than God Himself. God is the ultimate Truth and therefore, if He determines something it is, by definition, not arbitrary. In other words, there is no better reason for anything than the fact that God determines it. We should draw no comfort from the theology that promotes a god who must yield to something greater than Himself.

In His counsels and works no cause is apparent, it is yet hidden with Him, so that He has decreed nothing except justly and wisely according to His good pleasure founded on His gracious love towards us.” (Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics) Just because we don’t know His internal reason for choosing some to faith and not others is not reason enough to reject it.  The “foreseen faith” people are, in effect, saying that they cannot trust God in making this choice and prefer it to be left up to the fallen individual, as if he would make a better choice than God. This would also make God’s love toward us conditional and based on some inherent talent, wisdom or strength found in the individual rather than in God Himself.”

What I have come to love about the doctrine of unconditional election is that it elevates a rightful, high and glorious view of God and keeps me humble. What great security we have in knowing that our salvation starts and ends with Him! Jesus prayed, saying that “all that the Father gives me will come to me”.

Friend, if you have come to profess Christ, and trust in Him as Lord and Savior, then you are of the elect! If you have not, how do you know that you are not? Come to Him this day. He will NOT forsake you!

Comments welcome 🙂

SOMETHING TO PONDER

salvation 2

Dear Friends,

One of the statements I hear most often from Christians is that God is in sovereign, that He is above all creation and governs all things as He sees fit. Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “sovereign” (adj). as “having supreme rank, power or authority”. The Bible testifies this of our great God:

“Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Psalm 135:6).

He “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11).

“From Him and through Him and to Him are all things” (Romans 11:36).

So here’s my question:

If we truly believe that God is sovereign, wouldn’t that mean that we believe He is sovereign over everything?

If there is any area of which God is not in control, wouldn’t that make Him less than God?

If you answered “yes” to either question, wouldn’t God’s sovereignty also include His sovereignty over matters of salvation?

Yet, when referring to predestination, many people (among whom are godly leaders I respect, I might add) have made a statement that goes something like this:

Let’s say God, from eternity past, was able to look into the future and see that someone will want to be saved upon hearing the gospel. Then based on this foreknowledge, God decides to save him or her.

Upon first reading, this seems very reasonable, until you consider the perspective a little more closely.

If I can say that I am saved because I had anything to do with my own salvation, including the choice to follow Him, wouldn’t that be a salvation based on my own merit? After all, in this scenario, I wouldn’t be saved unless I FIRST decided to follow Him.

Who is the one reacting to the other in this scenario? Is it God or man?

What’s more, if I were left in my natural state, without the Holy Spirit, I would have never chosen God, nor ever will:

“The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” (1 Corin. 2:14).

I don’t deny the theological discussion that could arise from these questions. Many could point to scriptures that seem to put the responsibility of salvation squarely on man’s shoulders, such as the numerous passages that call the sinner to repent and be saved. The irony is that although it is God’s initiative to save, He nevertheless uses the earthly means to do so. He uses the preaching of the gospel and call to repentance to woo the sinner, to stir his heart, and to open his ears to respond. I’m not writing today to contemplate the mystery of predestination vs. free will, but simply to challenge two areas of our thinking: our view of God, and our view of man.

Of God, again, is he sovereign over all? Can man, at any point ultimately override what God will or won’t do?

What of man? What do we really believe his natural condition to be? Do we believe he is inherently evil or do we think there is a glimmer of goodness in him, (even if a tiny bit), to FIRST reach up to God for salvation?

A reading of Ephesians 2:1 says, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience”

The word for “dead” in the Greek translation of this passage is the word “Netros”, which means “a corpse. (Strong’s concordance, P. 49, Greek Dictionary)

If “dead” means “dead”, (not swooning, or kinda weak, or even trying real hard to be alive), then the consequent questions we must then ask would be:

Can the dead raise themselves?

Can the dead recognize abundance of life?

Can the dead, who are blind, give themselves sight?

Can the dead, who are deaf, give themselves hearing?

I’m gonna take a stab at this and say, um… no.

But let’s say we did have a tiny bit of (spiritual) life within us, just enough to raise a cold, perishing hand to God for salvation.

Wouldn’t you still have to ask who put that spark within us?

*********

Comments welcome!

 

WHY I DON’T BELIEVE THAT “HEAVEN IS FOR REAL” IS FOR REAL

Nearly five years ago, a young man by the name of Alex Malarkey made the claim that he died and went to heaven after a horrific car accident. He detailed his experience in his book, “The Boy who Came Back from Heaven”, which became a best-seller.

Just a couple of weeks ago (January 15, 2015), this same young man said that the story was a lie, that he made it up to get attention.

“I did not die. I did not go to Heaven,” Alex wrote. He continued, “I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.”

It seems to me that if fallibility was suspect in any book written on the subject of near death experiences, it certainly hasn’t effected their popularity. The genre known as “heavenly tourism” include many best-sellers – Betty Eadie’s “Embraced by the Light”, Don Piper’s “Ninety minutes in Heaven”, even “23 Minutes in Hell” by Bill Wiese.

“Heaven is For Real” Book Cover

The more recent “Heaven is for Real” tells the story of four year old Colton Burpo’s visit to Heaven during an almost fatal emergency appendectomy.  After the Malarkey recant came out, the now fourteen year old Colton wrote his own letter stating that he stands on his word.

This got me thinking. Those once on the bandwagon with Malarkey now agree his story was a scam, based on his own statement. Let’s just say, hypothetically, that Colton Burpo comes forward tomorrow and says his story was a scam as well. Wouldn’t those who believed him do an about-face? It seems odd to me that what is labeled as “truth” one day would then be “false” simply based on what the speaker says it to be.

After all, if someone says they went to Heaven, who are we to judge their experience?

And that is my point in writing today. Does experience determine truth? If it does, a reasonable conclusion is that there is no limit to what we call theology. Our doctrine would morph from one experience to the next. From someone else’s experience to the next.

Curious about the entire buzz, I rented Heaven is For Real”, the movie based on the book, this last weekend.  It’s a feel-good, family oriented movie in many respects. There’s a sprinkling of scripture and a positive view of Christianity, and yes, that’s good. I’d like to continue to say good things about it, since saying anything other than a glowing “thumbs up” to spiritually-oriented “wholesome” films is often seen as unloving or critical. That’s not my heart in this at all, but I am passionate about seeing life through the filter of scripture. In fact, as believers we have a responsibility to be discerning, and Biblically speaking, there’s a lot wrong with this story. 1 Thessalonians 5:22 says, “…Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.” In this day and age, that can be challenge. That being said, I am convinced that Burpo’s story cannot possibly be true. I don’t necessarily doubt his sincerity. He and his family could very well believe he went to Heaven and back, I just don’t believe He did. However, as I’ve always said, consider the issue and decide for yourself:

THE FOCUS OF HEAVEN

First and foremost, of all the scriptural accounts of any mortal vision of heaven, (which include only four people – Isaiah, Ezekiel, Paul, and the Apostle John), there’s one common denominator. They all focus on the all-encompassing, glory of God. To behold the glory of the Maker of the Universe staggered them speechless, as we would expect it to. Isaiah was immediately mortified by his own sinfulness, crying out, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5)

Paul perhaps is the most demonstrative. In 2 Corinthians 2-4 he writes, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows.  And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.”

He, being the Apostle Paul and the founder of the early church, out of humility doesn’t even identify himself as the one who visited heaven. This is a picture of a man who is absolutely stunned by His vision. He is petrified with a holy awe. He doesn’t even dare to broach the thought of talking about it; he is hushed silent.

What’s more, with the exception of Paul, all recorded revelation was for the purpose of communication of prophesy for what was to come. If God restricted his revelation to a few for a specific message which is already written in His word, why would He have anything more to add to a four year old, or anyone else for that matter?

In contrast, Burpo (told by his father), describes Heaven in entirely man-centered terms. He mentions angels singing to him, not to the King of kings. Apparently these angels saw it more fit to serenade him as he sat on Jesus’s lap rather than Jesus himself…unlike the angels and holy creatures described in Revelation 4:8 and Isaiah 6:1-3 that continually sing “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty” around the throne of God.

THE COMPLETED CANON

We can ask ourselves the same question we ask of any of these modern near-death experiences. Can we trust that these men are telling the truth? The answer is yes, by virtue that their experiences are written in scripture. Furthermore, since the canon is closed (that is, the gathering of books together to complete the Bible), no other revelation can be validated in the same way, neither can it be altered.

The words of Proverbs 30:6 are pretty straightforward: “Do not add to his words, or He will rebuke you and prove you a liar.”

As a Christian, I believe that God’s word is precise and complete (1 Thess. 2:13). It doesn’t change from one day to the next. (Luke 21:33). It must be the plumb line to measure any claim, otherwise, we are tossed by every wind of doctrine. (Ephesians 4:14).Tell me, friends, are we really believing the Bible if we latch on to whatever sounds right without checking it against God’s word? Where is our solid anchor if not God’s word?

OTHER CONCERNS

There are many other direct contradictions in the movie (and excerpts from the book) as compared to scripture, but here are just a couple that put the Burpo’s account into question:

  • At the end of the movie, a very handsome picture of Jesus is painted by a young lady (Akiane Kramarik) who claims this image comes from a vision from God. Colton identifies this image as an accurate depiction of Christ. However, this is in direct conflict with scripture, which describes Christ as having had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him. (Isaiah 53:2) 

    Jesus picture

    “Jesus, Prince of Peace” painting by Akiane Kramarik

 

  • Little Colton describes Jesus having “markers”, on the palms of his hands and his feet. However, the Romans actually drove spikes through a victim’s forearms rather than the palms. It seems that Colton’s description falls more in line with pictures of the crucifixion or resurrection he may have seen in a children’s book.

OBJECTIONS

“What’s the big deal?” You may ask… “these stories and others like them have inspired faith and brought hope to many”. While this may be true, my question in response would be “to what faith would this draw someone?” Is it toward hope in scripture, or is it toward a greater clinging to the supernatural “signs and wonders, anything goes” mentality?

Futhermore, where a nebulous foundation of faith exists, there is a foundation for false teaching and a skewed center of worship. We are opening the doors to a seductive realm of possibility that God never intended. Any time we rely or depend on anything that isn’t in the Word of God, we are depending on our own understanding, and that undermines God’s word.

But what about all the information that little Colton knew that he couldn’t possibly have known had he not “gone to heaven”? He said he recognized his grandfather who died before he was born, and met a sister who died before she was born. To this I can only say that there can be many explanations, even though they may be mysterious to us. It could be a connection to lost memories or a supernatural impression on the mind’s blank and unconscious state. It’s possible that the explanation is not mysterious at all, but a coaching and/or influence by those around him. It could be due to conversations overheard, responses to prodding and even embellishment of a child’s imagination to please those around him. Due to the world we live in, the unexplained, apart from scripture, does not prove the truth that anything is true in my mind.

 THE GOOD NEWS

I realize that many of us have loved ones in Heaven; I realize there are strong feelings on this subject. We long to know how those who have gone before are doing, what they are seeing and experiencing. Stories like these appeal to our sense of imagination and wonder. They spark a “could be” mentality with convincing descriptions. However, let us bear in mind the warnings in Scripture: “For Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light”, (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

But here’s the good news: Without a doubt, if your loved one trusted Jesus Christ for their salvation, their Heaven is far greater than any of the accounts we are reading today. We all have our Heaven is for Real story, and there’s an age-old book that already has all the details we need to know for now. Rest assured in this hope and be encouraged.

The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.” (Psalm 19:7-9)

Have you seen this movie or read any of the books about visiting Heaven or Hell?  What are your thoughts about the recent statement by Alex Malarkey?