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Determinism And False Doctrine

Arminians are often said to be teaching false doctrines.  While my Calvinist brethren are willing to admit that Arminians are saved, they say that we are saved by not being consistent in our theology.  Our inconsistency allows us to believe the gospel and be saved.  However, Arminians, in the words of Dr. James White, are “sub-Christian.”  Our “gospel” is flawed from the beginning because of our lack of biblical understanding from the entirety of Scripture.  When we see the Bible from the bigger view, the Calvinist view, we see that Calvinism is proclaimed from Genesis to Revelation.  This is a common view.

However, I want to stretch out the deterministic view of Calvinism by saying that God determined for me to be an Arminian and He determines all “false” teachers the same.  All world religions and all false teachers within Christianity are the products of God’s will and decree even if you use the language of permission.  No true Calvinist will hold to libertarian free will or contra-will (that a person can decide freely between choice A or B without any previous determination from God).  Compatibilism is defined by Monergism.com as:

Compatibilism (also known as soft determinism), is the belief that God’s predetermination and meticulous providence is “compatible” with voluntary choice. In light of Scripture, human choices are believed to be exercised voluntarily but the desires and circumstances that bring about these choices about occur through divine determinism (see Acts 2:23 & 4:27-28). It should be noted that this position is no less deterministic than hard determinism – be clear that neither soft nor hard determinism believes man has a free will. Our choices are only our choices because they are voluntary, not coerced. We do not make choices contrary to our desires or natures. Compatibilism is directly contrary to libertarian free will. Therefore voluntary choice is not the freedom to choose otherwise, that is, without any influence, prior prejudice, inclination, or disposition. Voluntary does mean, however, the ability to choose what we want or desire most. The former view is known as contrary choice, the latter free agency. (Note: compatibilism denies that the will is free to choose otherwise, that is, free from the bondage of the corruption nature, for the unregenerate, and denies that the will is free from God’s eternal decree.)

Notice that Monergism.com is clear that free will is not part of Calvinism in their estimation.  They are clear that neither soft nor hard determinism believes man has free will.

So the Calvinist view is that man can only please God if God wills it so.  Philippians 2:12-13 is often cited.  When a disciple does that which honors or pleases the Lord, they are doing so because God gave them the necessary grace to do so.  If the person sins, they are only doing what God did not give them the grace to resist.  They are not choosing not to sin because they have no true contra-free will but they are doing only what is in accordance to the will of God (Ephesians 1:11 is cited).

Thus if a person does not hold to Calvinism, it is not because of free will or contra-choice.  The person cannot take a biblical look at both Arminianism and Calvinism and freely choose to believe whichever they desire.  Remember there is no such thing in free will in either soft or hard determinism.  The person chooses only what God has first determined that person to choose.  Take the case of Adam and Eve.  Where they free to choose to eat or not eat of the forbidden fruit?  The contra-free will believe that Adam had a genuine choice.  The compatabilist does not.  Calvinist John Frame is clear:

Neither before nor after the fall did Adam have freedom in the libertarian sense.

In other words, Adam could not freely choose.  Adam fell because it was first the will of God for him to do so.  God determined Adam’s choice for him and for all humans after him.  That doesn’t mean that we are not responsible for our actions.  All Calvinists believe we are.  They hold in human responsibility and by that they mean “human punishability” or that humans can be punished for their sins despite God choosing for that sin to be done.  An example would be Adam’s sin or the sin of Joseph’s brothers (Genesis 50:20) or the sin of the Jews and Romans in murdering Jesus (Acts 2:23).  Some point to Romans 9:16-18 with Pharaoh.

So when a person is not a Calvinist, they are only doing what the predetermined plan of God was.  The Calvinist could argue that the non-Calvinist needs the Calvinist to show them the way into the gospel of grace by the predetermined plan of God but the Calvinist must admit that the non-Calvinist is only doing what God determined for them to do.  This is the nature even of soft determinism.

There are biblical problems with such a view.  For example, in Jeremiah 7 God says that the children of Israel have done wicked deeds.  The LORD says that He will keep the people in the land if they do His will (v. 7) but they have acted in wickedness toward Him and His house (vv. 8-11).  Because have rejected Him as Lord, Yahweh will cast them from the land of Israel (v. 15).  Yahweh commands His saints to not pray for them, these rebellious people (v. 16).  God pleads with His rebellious house (v. 23) but they refused to repent (vv. 24-26) and hardened their hearts.  In verse 31, Yahweh makes a statement that is very much against the compatibilist view when He says:

And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind.

Notice Yahweh says that the children did what He did not command nor did it come into His mind.  God cannot do nor think of evil (James 1:12-15).  He is too pure for evil to dwell with Him nor near Him (Habakkuk 1:13).  God is completely holy (1 John 1:5).  All of this is held true even by soft determinists.  Yet compatibilism requires that God determined the sins of those in Jeremiah 7.  Remember they have no ability to choose freely other than that which is determined by God who creates our nature.  Yet God says these Israelites did what He did not command nor came to His mind.  How can this be if God has determined all since the foundation of the world?  I can understand that the children of Israel did not do what He command but how can God say that they did that which did not even enter into His mind if in fact God knows and plans all from the beginning?

There truly is a mystery here and one that I admit no answer to.  The Arminian dilemma is how free will can be involved with God’s sovereignty.  I have no true answer here.  I only admit that it is so.  The compatibilist cannot.  They only say that people are punishable for their sins that were predetermined (though not caused by God but not permitted either without His either giving or denying grace to do or reject the said sins).

In my next post, I will take a look at the issue of evangelism and divine determinism.

Don’t Be Holy In Theory Only

I think that most disciples of Christ acknowledge that God calls His people to holiness.  1 Peter 1:15-16 is clear enough that we understand that God calls me to holiness.  Psalm 24:3-4 is also clear that the only one that can approach the holy throne of God is those who have clean hands and a pure heart.  Jesus blessed those who are pure in heart by saying that they would see God (Matthew 5:8).  The Bible also calls us to follow the example of the Lord Jesus Christ and His example was one of perfection (1 Peter 2:21-22).  Paul said wrote that the Corinthians were to follow his example as he followed the example of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).

So in theory we know that God calls to holiness.  We know that the people of God are to flee from sin (Romans 6).  We know that we are to set our affections on Christ above (Colossians 3:1-4).  We are to strive for holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).  We read passages such as 1 Peter 2:11-12 and agree that they are good and right.

Yet theory is not practice.  To simply hold to a theory of holiness is not enough.  Strange how I have met “holiness” people who are not holy.  I have met people who ascribed to a theology of holiness yet were not living holy lives.  They looked, acted, loved, adored, and were striving for the same things as the worldly-minded church.  They wanted to sip their latte and shake their head to some “worship” music but they didn’t want to be holy.  They wanted to read their study Bible but never practice what the Bible says.  They wanted to “share their testimony” with the lost but didn’t even have the strength to exhort sinners to flee the wrath to come.  They want to have a theory of holiness in which they say that Christ is their holiness and He is their salvation without actually repenting of their sins and being holy themselves.  They talk about holiness in some circles but then they sit at their computer screen or movie screen and fill their minds with filth, compromise, and worldliness.

Oh to be holy!  Oh for a people of holiness to rise up and preach the gospel!  Oh for saints to truly be saints (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).  I am so thankful for Jesus shedding His blood for my sins (Galatians 1:4).  I rejoice in Isaiah 53:11, that I am justified before God because of the work of the Lord Jesus.  Nothing can take from His work and nothing can add to His work (Galatians 1:6-9).  Truly Jesus is my salvation (John 19:30; 1 Corinthians 1:30-31).

However, this doesn’t negate holiness.  Holiness is still required.  Just as God called His people to holiness in the Old Testament (Leviticus 11:44-45), so He calls His people to holiness in the New Testament (1 Peter 1:15-16).  The blessing of the gospel is that holiness is now accomplished not by my keeping the laws of the Old Testament but by keeping the law of Christ (Galatians 5:24-25).  We now are empowered by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8; Galatians 5:16-17) to be holy.  We have been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20; 6:14).  We are to be dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11).  The wages of sin remains death (Romans 6:23) and we are to flee from sin (Galatians 6:7-8).  The one who lives for their flesh will die (Romans 8:12-13).

The call then must be repent of our sins!  We must bear fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8).  We must turn from our wicked ways (Ezekiel 18:30-31).  We must call sinners to repentance (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30-31).  We must reveal to sinners the greatness of God in His giving of His Son for our sins (Romans 2:4).  We must call sinners to repent and take up their cross and follow Jesus (Luke 14:25-35).  We must call the people of God back to holiness not just in theory but in practice.  Theory is useless with the practice of holiness (1 John 2:3-6).  We must warn the saints of God to flee from sin (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) and to be holy (1 John 3:6-10).

I pray to God that He would empower us to holiness (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).  Oh for holiness to be preached in the power of the Holy Spirit!

The Circular Reasoning of Unconditional Eternal Security

Unconditional eternal security is not a point that I get on much.  After all, I believe in conditional eternal security in that I believe that if we are abiding in Christ (John 15:1-11) then we have no fear (1 John 4:18).  We fear God (Proverbs 1:7) and abide in Christ alone for salvation (Romans 11:20-22).  I don’t live with a fear that I am going to “lose my salvation” since Christ is my salvation and He prays for me (Hebrews 7:25).

That said, I do reject unconditional eternal security.  This is the teaching that a person is “once saved, always saved.”  It comes across in various ways.  Some Calvinists teach that a person must persevere in the faith or they are not a true disciple.  While I have more sympathy for this view and can tolerate this view, I believe that such a view will lead to a lack of assurance in salvation.  Ironically, Calvinists in the 17th century had a great debate over the doctrine of assurance as some Calvinists (particularly hypers) felt that a person can never have assurance of salvation in this life because of unconditional election.  Arminianism has always held that a person can have the assurance that we are saved if we abide in Christ Jesus through faith (2 Corinthians 1:24).  1 Peter 1:5 is clear that we are guarded through faith.  2 Peter 1:10-11 teaches us to make our calling and election sure by abiding in Christ.

Others (such as some Baptists) teach that a person is eternally secure or “once saved, always saved.”  The idea is that God promised salvation to those who believe and He will never take that promise back.  They point to passages such as John 3:16 or John 5:24 or John 6:39 or John 10:27-29 or Romans 8:38-39 and they rejoice in the security of the Lord.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God, they say, and so we need not fear that we will be cut off.  Further, what father would reject his children?  Earthly fathers love even their rebellious children and they remain children no matter what they do.  This teaching is meant to bring security in our salvation, a joy from knowing that God loves us and will never cast us away, but we should still repent of our sins (1 John 1:9) lest we lose fellowship with God (Isaiah 59:2).  Sinning can never lead to apostasy but can lead to losing rewards (1 Corinthians 3:15) and to loss of fellowship but we never lose the gift of eternal life.

In both cases above, sin no longer matters.  This is a fundamental point.  The question is what happens to disciples who sin?  Does sin effect our relationship with God?  Does God not see our sins after we are in Christ?

First, it is clear in Scripture that God’s people are to be a people of holiness.  Jesus set the standard in Matthew 5:48.  We are to be a people of holiness and righteousness (1 Peter 1:15-16).  Hebrews 12:14 tells us that we are to pursue peace with all men (Matthew 18:35) and holiness without which no one will see the Lord.  2 Corinthians 7:1 is clear that God has given us promises to obtain holiness.  We are to forsake sin (John 8:11; 1 Corinthians 15:34; 2 Corinthians 12:21-13:5).  Romans 6:11-23 establishes why the disciple should forsake sin.  The very nature of repentance is turning away from sin and turning to God (Matthew 3:8; Acts 3:19).

Secondly, 1 John 1:9 makes no sense if in fact sin does not have any bearing on the disciple.  Why must we confess our sins if in fact sin doesn’t really do anything to the disciple?  I can hear the OSAS advocate saying, “Yes sin does effect us by breaking fellowship with God according to Isaiah 59:2.”  But the point is that sin doesn’t effect me eternally.  In fact, I could indulge in sin the rest of my life if OSAS is true and the only consequence would be lack of fellowship with God and possibly a loss of rewards but when it comes to sinning, I get to indulge in the flesh (in a worldly view) while obtaining heaven when I die.  Yet Galatians 6:7-9 is clear on this issue:

7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

Romans 6:23 is also clear that the wages of sin is not a loss of fellowship or rewards but leads to death.  James 1:12-15 is equally clear on this issue:

12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

Sin brings forth death.  What kind of death?  Some will even say that God will kill you before allowing you to continue in sin and rebellion.  In other words, God takes you home to heaven quicker if you sin.  What?

In reality, we are to forsake sin and pursue holiness.  Jesus sets His people free from sin (Matthew 1:21; John 8:34-36).  Jesus is able to deliver us from all sin (1 Corinthians 10:13).  1 John 2:1-2 tells us that God does not want us to sin but if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father who gave His life for our sins (Galatians 1:4).

Lastly, does God not see our sins?  Those who embrace OSAS often teach that God no longer sees our sins but He only sees the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ.  Many Calvinists teach that both the passive and active righteousness of Christ is imputed to us.  In other words, all of Christ is imputed to us.  Therefore, God sees only Christ when He looks at us.  God sees both the sinlessness of Christ and His active obedience (His perfect obedience to the Father) when he looks at a disciple.  Is this true?

I don’t doubt that God imputes righteousness to us.  I disagree that the active righteousness of Christ is imputed to us.  There is nothing in the New Testament to suggest such a teaching.  We are called to follow Christ’s example (1 Peter 2:21-24) but this is not the same as having Christ’s active righteousness imputed to me.  I must obey God and follow the example of Jesus’ obedience (Hebrews 5:8-9).

In Revelation 2-3 Jesus saw the sins of His people.  Jesus was not blind to their sins.  The disciples in Revelation 2-3 could not use “I am hidden in Christ” to ignore their sins.  Jesus rebukes them and calls them to repentance (Revelation 2:5).  Most of the New Testament letters were written to correct theology and even to rebuke people for sinning (2 Corinthians 7:10).

Hebrews is full of warnings to disciples.  I would urge you to sit down and read the book of Hebrews and note just how often the writer warns the saints and calls them to look to Christ.  He calls them to stay true to the Lord.  He calls them to forsake sinning.  He calls them to love the gospel.

Conclusion

Here is the bottom line for me: do you love Jesus more than sinning?  I do.  I hate sinning.  I love the Lord Jesus.  He is precious to me.  He is my life (Colossians 3:1-4).  I long to be sanctified through His Word (John 17:17) and I am thankful that in Christ, I am sanctified and being sanctified (Hebrews 10:10, 14).  The issue for me is not about how much sin can I get away with.  The issue for me is to draw closer to Jesus through faith.

I have found that those who want to know how much sin they can get away with or those who want to debate over the issue of eternal security are typically struggling with some sin and they just don’t want to let their sin go.  They want to continue in their sinning while claiming Christ and heaven.  They want the assurance of their salvation while living in sin.  There are no promises given of assurance of salvation for those abiding in sin.  In fact, we must look at 1 Corinthians 10:12.

The circular reasoning of unconditional eternal security is that a person is saved from the penalty of sin but not the power of sin and furthermore those who continue in sin lose nothing in the big scheme of things.  This only leads to antinomianism.  One cannot preach holiness to the people of God while turning around and telling people that they are unconditionally eternally secure no matter what sins they may commit.  This only leads to more sinning.

I don’t live in fear of “losing my salvation” since Christ is my salvation (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).  I didn’t find my salvation.  Jesus found me!  I am secure in Christ and I love Him and long for Him.  While I acknowledge that I could fall away, I rejoice that Christ is my passion.  Christ is my high priest and I seek Him earnestly.  While I am not blind to my sins, I am quick to repent of my sins when the Lord brings conviction of sin (John 16:8-11).

I pray that you readers are seeking God.  Don’t be deceived by the flesh.  Seek God earnestly.

Inconsistent Monergism

I appreciate much the work of my fellow Calvinist laborers for the kingdom of God.  I appreciate that many of them are taking the gospel to the lost and they are preaching repentance to all.  As Dr. Forlines is quoted as saying, “Calvinists are Arminians until they say something Calvinistic.”  My fellow Calvinist preachers will plead with the lost to be saved, will call all to repent, will preach the cross and the call of God to forsake their sins and come to Christ alone for salvation.  A few (and not all) will even preach that God loves the lost sinner and will point to the cross as proof of this love (Romans 5:8-9; cf John 3:16).  And for all this I am grateful.

Yet Calvinists are monergists.  They will often accuse Arminians as being synergists and will make statements like, “Arminians believe that man must do his part and God does His part” or “God will meet the Arminian half way down the isle to salvation.”  Because Arminians preach that all can be saved who place their faith in Christ alone, we are said to be teaching “works righteousness” and that we are telling people to do their part to be saved and God will do the rest.

I honestly have never heard a true monergist evangelist.  I would love to hear one.  The message would have to be all on God and not on man.  Further, the message of salvation would have to be, “You can do nothing.  You can’t even hear me unless you are regenerate for dead sinners cannot hear the voice of God.  You must just lay there like Lazarus and allow the Holy Spirit to raise you up when Jesus calls you but I can’t do that and you can’t do that.  Only Jesus can do that.”  That is true monergism.

Now let me be fair here.  Calvinists preach the gospel for the same reason that I preach the gospel: because God said to (Matthew 28:19; Romans 10:14-17).  Calvinists preach repentance like I do because God told us to (Luke 24:47).  Calvinists agree that the Lord uses the means of grace to draw sinners to salvation (the preaching of the gospel) and I agree (1 Corinthians 1:18-21).  Calvinists and I agree that the Holy Spirit must work on the sinner to bring them to salvation (John 6:44; 16:8-11).  Calvinists and I even agree that prayer for the lost is biblical and necessary (Romans 10:1; 1 Timothy 2:1-7).

Yet Calvinists believe that nothing and no one but God can save the sinner.  Yet they plead with sinners to be saved.  They pray for sinners to be saved.  Yet nothing and no one aids the sinner but the Spirit in bringing salvation to the lost sinner.  They exhort sinners to call upon the name of the Lord (Romans 10:13) and to repent of their sins (Acts 17:30-31; 2 Corinthians 7:10) but none can do that but God alone.  And if they didn’t do any of this: the elect would still be saved somehow by God’s sovereign means.

So why preach?  Why pray?  Why plead?  Why reason?  Why call for repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus?  I agree that God calls us to do this but what role does this play in the saving of sinners?  If you say none then again, why do it at all?  If you say, “Because God has sovereignly chosen to use this to save sinners” (and I agree) then does God use our roles to bring sinners to salvation?  If so, is this monergistic salvation?

The Arminian answer is this: God does save sinners by His own power (John 1:12-13).  I don’t doubt one bit that the work of salvation is accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross (John 19:30) and that His blood alone can save the lost sinner (Luke 19:10; cf. Matthew 26:28).  I don’t doubt that the humble sinner who comes to Christ will find in Him true salvation from their sins (Matthew 1:21; John 6:37).  I don’t doubt that the humble sinner must recognize their own sinfulness to be saved from their sins (Romans 3:23-24) and that Christ alone is able to cleanse them from their sins (Acts 13:38-39).  I don’t deny that the work of the Spirit is to draw the sinner to salvation and that without His aid, none could be saved for none seek after God (Romans 3:10-18).  I don’t doubt that human works play no role in our salvation (Romans 4:5).  Good works flow from our salvation (Titus 2:11-14; James 2:14-26).

Yet the Spirit does not make us believe apart from our own will.  The Spirit frees the bound will so that the sinner hears the gospel and out of their own free will look to Christ alone to save them.  The freed sinner doesn’t look to their own moral goodness (Romans 3:19-20) but to the cross alone to set them free from the wrath of God (Romans 1:16-17).  The Spirit enables the sinner to believe but He doesn’t believe for the sinner. When the sinner repents, they are born again (John 3:3-7; Acts 2:38; 3:19-20; 16:30-34).  When they repent, they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14).  We receive the promised Spirit through faith (Galatians 3:14) and become children of the living God (Galatians 3:26).  The Spirit works in all of this for the glory of God.

I believe the Lord Jesus has done everything for our salvation.  We add nothing to His work.  The sinner, however, must receive the free gift of salvation (Romans 6:23) and this is accomplished by the means of grace: the preaching of the gospel, the prayers of the saints for the lost sinner, the call to repentance.  We don’t work with Christ to be saved but we trust only in His cross to save us (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7).  And when a sinner does this they find (just as all true disciples do) that the Spirit of God heard the cries of the saints, opened their eyes, exposed them to the gospel, freed them to believe and receive, and He then seals them.  We find that the work of salvation is not our work but His work alone (Jonah 2:9).

So again, why pray for the lost?  Why preach to the lost?  Why plead with the lost?  Because God is faithful to save those who cry out to Him (Acts 2:21) but the sinner must hear to be saved (Romans 10:17).  God works through the Church to bring sinners to Himself.  This is His plan and His pattern.  We need not change that now.  We need only join in the battle for souls by preaching His gospel to the lost and allow Him to save those who believe.

Striving for Holiness While Falling Short

We tend to not embrace the center of biblical tension.  We tend to go to extremes on various issues.  This is especially true of holiness.  On the one side are those who either teach the antinomian view that says that we can live in sin and it not affect us to the other side where we teach that a believer can obtain sinless perfection in this life.  We fail to find the center of biblical tension.

The truth of the gospel opens our eyes to our sins.  1 Timothy 1:8-11 is clear that the law of God exposes our sins and shows us that we are guilty before God (Romans 7:7).  The law, however, does not save.  The law merely shows us our guilt before a holy and just God whose law we have violated (1 John 3:4).  As David expressed in Psalm 51:4, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.”  Sin is against God and it is His laws that we have broken (James 2:10).  Paul tells us in Galatians 2:21 that if the law could produce the absolute righteousness that God requires, Christ died needlessly.  However, the gospel is the truth that Christ died for our sins (Galatians 1:4) and it is through faith in Jesus that our sins are forgiven and washed away (Ephesians 1:7) so that we are declared righteous before God through faith in Christ (Romans 3:22-27; 10:4; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 2:16; 3:14; 1 Peter 3:18).

The gospel consistently reminds us of God’s grace toward us sinners (Romans 5:8-9).  The gospel reminds me that I can’t save myself, cannot earn God’s salvation, am not saved by my good deeds (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7) and the gospel reminds me that apart from Christ, I have no hope (John 15:1-11; 1 Peter 1:18-19).  The gospel reminds me that my standing before God is based on Christ alone and not my works nor am I kept in the faith by my works but by faith in Christ alone (2 Corinthians 1:24; 1 Peter 1:5).  The gospel is faithful to show me that my salvation is all of God’s grace (Acts 15:11) and not my works.

The gospel then is my focus for holiness.  Because of my salvation in Christ and because I have the Holy Spirit abiding within, I can live a life of holiness.  Holiness is not obtained by law.  Holiness is not obtained by human efforts.  Holiness comes from the gospel being applied to my life.  As I walk with Christ and abide in Him by faith, the Spirit of God helps me to be holy and He helps me to apply the gospel to all of my life.  God does not want me to be holy only when it come to being around other disciples but He wants me to be holy in all my conduct (1 Peter 1:15-16).  This cannot be produced by my power.  It is not in me to be holy (Romans 3:10-18; cf. Proverbs 20:9).  Jeremiah 17:9 says that our hearts are wicked and sick.  Our only hope for holiness is Jesus Christ and His saving work being applied to the entirety of my life.  It is out of the gospel that I can be holy (Colossians 3:1-4).  It is out of my understanding that just as I cannot be saved apart from Christ, so I cannot be holy apart from Christ.  Christ is my salvation and He is also my holiness (Hebrews 10:10, 14).

Now here is where we tend to go astray.  We read all that truth about the gospel and how God has made us righteous in Christ but then we tend to avoid the obligation to be holy.  We know that we are positionally holy because of Christ but we fail to see that God also calls us to be practically holy.  1 John 3:4-10 is clear that we are righteous if we practice righteousness.  This righteous living flows from the gospel.  Righteousness flows in my life from the Holy Spirit who is working to help me to be more like Jesus.  The balance of grace is that I am to strive for holiness (Hebrews 12:14) while also trusting in the gospel alone to produce holiness in my life.  This passionate pursuit of holiness never ends.  It is the cry of the disciple of Christ their entire days to be holy as He is holy (Ephesians 5:1-2).

I pray that you and I would not fall into the performance trap and think that our salvation comes through faith in Christ but our standing before God is based on our performance.  None of us would have much standing before a perfect and holy God.  Yet the other equal truth is that we are called to be holy.  Sin is not to have dominion over us because we are not under law but under grace (Romans 6:14).  The gospel not only forgives us of our sins through Christ but the gospel also helps us to slay sin in our lives (Colossians 3:5).  All of our lives in Christ flows from the grace of God given to us in His Son (Titus 2:11-12 NIV).

May we be holy as Jesus is holy through the power of the gospel that is at work in our lives.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

08/04/2013 at 9:45 PM

The Balance of True Grace

When it  comes to grace, it seems we can swing to either sides of extreme views regarding grace.  On the one hand are those who would, in my estimation and I believe in light of the Bible, abuse God’s grace for their sins.  Many of these folks are well-meaning people who want to protect salvation by God’s grace and not distort salvation with works so they avoid works altogether to the point of denying that good works flow from a saved life as part of sanctification.  They run to passages such as John 6:29 or Acts 15:11 or Acts 16:30-31  but they avoid passages that speak of obedience to Christ as Lord such as Jesus’ commands in the Gospels (see Matthew 7:21-23 or Luke 6:46-49 as examples) or passages such as Acts 5:32 or Romans 1:5 or 1 John 2:3-6 that speak of obedience as necessary for salvation.

Antinomians hold that the moral law has no bearings on the New Testament disciple.  They hold that grace is so wonderful, so powerful that a person need only to believe in Jesus once and they are bound for eternity.  They hold that obedience to Christ, holiness, bearing fruit, walking in the Spirit, loving God, etc. are all optional and while they are all good, they are not necessary for salvation since we are saved by grace through faith in the Jesus Christ.  This salvation is all of grace and none of works and the promises of God are that He will keep us forever (Romans 8:38-39) no matter what.  All our sins are forgiven in Christ the moment that we believe the gospel since Jesus died once for all (Hebrews 8:13; 10:10, 14).

There is a certain appeal to antinomian teaching of course.  We can still claim to be a Christian while living in outright sin.  Many antinomians would decry such a position and would not claim that they hold to that view.  Yet this is where their teaching lives.  I once had an e-mail discussion with such a teacher.  He held to the radical, non-Lordship view that one needed only to believe the gospel once and they were bound for eternity (once saved, always saved).  He held that sin, after their initial confession of Christ, has no bearings on that person anymore and they are now free in Christ (Galatians 5:1).  He held then that any sin is permissible but not beneficial (1 Corinthians 6:12).  I asked him point-blank if any sin was allowed in the life of a disciple and he wrote me back “YES!” and he added, “What joy there is in knowing this!”  A couple of books that endorse this view are Charles Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Lifeand Bob George, Classic Christianity.  

Yet true grace in the New Testament teaches us to say no to sin.  Titus 2:11-12 (NIV) says:

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.

True grace does not give us a “sin no matter what” attitude but true grace points us to salvation in Christ Jesus and teaches us to say no to sin.  True grace wants to please our Lord and not ourselves or our flesh.  Paul asked the question in Romans 6:1-4:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Because we have been buried and raised with Christ Jesus in His death and in His resurrection, this should cause us to walk in the newness of life.  This life is not a life of slavery to sin.  Romans 6:6 adds, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”  The disciple of Jesus is a slave to righteousness and not sin (Romans 6:18).

True grace understands that we are not perfect (James 3:2) but true grace understands that our source of salvation, our hope for eternal life, our righteousness before God, our security, our redemption, our holiness, our life is found only in Christ Jesus our Lord (John 14:6; 1 Corinthians 1:30-31).  True grace runs from sin, not to it (Jude 4).  Matthew 1:21 says that Jesus came to save His people from their sins.  Many want to be His people but few want to be saved from their sins.  Jesus came to set us free from sin.

Think about it.  If Jesus came to earth, suffered on the cross for our sins, how can sin no longer be the issue?  Sin is what got us here in the first place (Romans 5:12).  Sin is what separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2).  Sin is what brings death (Romans 6:23).  God said in Ezekiel 18:4 that the soul that sins shall die.  This still holds true today as it held in the time of Ezekiel or the time of David or the time of Adam and Eve.  Our only hope to crush sin in our lives in the grace of God given to us in Christ Jesus.  His Spirit enables us to crush sin in our lives (Galatians 5:16-17).  This is not some sort of self-will power to overcome sin.  This is not “pick yourself up by your bootstraps and dust yourself off” but this teaching in the New Testament on grace empowers us to follow Christ, to love Christ, to worship and adore Him in holiness.  True grace helps the disciple love God, love His Word, fear Him, hunger for Him, long for His presence, long to honor and please Him in all things (Colossians 1:9-12) and why, because of the gospel of His grace (Colossians 1:13-14).  The gospel motivates us to obedience.  This obedience is not fleshly or self-labor.  This obedience flows from our love for God in light of the gospel.  1 John 3:23-24 says:

23 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.

We obey Christ in light of the gospel.  We do not obey Christ to earn His righteousness or to have favor with Him.  We obey Him because of what He has done in saving us (1 John 4:9-10).  We obey Him out of love and out of worship and not out of fleshly obedience.  We recognize that salvation is accomplished only through Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-9) yet we know that God prepares us to obey and serve Him (Ephesians 2:10; Titus 2:14).  Good works flow naturally from our true source for life, the Lord Jesus Christ.

I pray that today we would honor the Lord Jesus Christ through our lives (1 Peter 1:15-16).  I recommend Dr. Michael Brown’s book, Go and Sin No More: A Call to Holiness.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

04/03/2013 at 9:21 AM

The Twin Towers of Sovereignty and Responsibility

I was listening to Dr. John MacArthur teaching through John 3:9-21 and he preached on the twin towers of divine sovereignty and personal responsibility.  It was a great sermon.  While I have a few issues with some of the wording, his sermon was one that an Arminian could agree with nearly the entire message.

One point he made was from Matthew 11:25-30 (NASB).  This passage reads:

25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. 26 Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. 27 All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.

28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Notice how Jesus teaches the sovereignty of God in verses 25-27 and then He turns around and exhorts people to come to Him in verse 28.  Both pillars are true.  Both the sovereignty of God in revealing the Son (v.25) and the call to come to the Son in verse 28 for rest.  God calls and God draws but mankind is responsible for their actions.

The key difference I can discern as an Arminian would be the issue of unconditionality.  Calvinism holds to God’s unconditional election and irresistible grace in regard to His sovereign election.  Arminianism contends that God’s call to salvation is conditional and those who meet those conditions are the elect of God.  God’s grace assists us to be saved and His grace enables us to be saved apart from our works (Romans 4:5) but we are responsible to believe just as Dr. MacArthur taught above.  These twin towers are not to be isolated.  We should not lift up the tower of responsibility above the tower of God’s sovereignty.  However, we equally should not lift up divine sovereignty above human responsibility.  When we lift up one above the other, we  find errors occurring.  Hyper-Calvinists lift up sovereignty above responsibility while Pelagianism lifts up responsibility above sovereignty.  Both are equally wrong.

Our duty is to preach salvation to all and God will draw sinners to Himself.  The work of salvation is a work of God.  The work of belief is man’s.  This is the command of Scripture.  Mark 16:16 (NASB) says, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.”  Notice that the condemnation comes from a lack of belief.  To come to God, we must come in true faith (Hebrews 11:6).  Yet when we come, we find that it was He who was drawing us to Himself (John 6:44-45; 1 Corinthians 1:21).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

03/13/2013 at 12:21 PM

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