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Posts Tagged ‘John Wesley

The Vain Pursuit of Sinless Perfection

Very early on in my Christian life I reasoned (along with other brothers) that since God has called us to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16) that this must mean that we are able to not sin (1 John 2:1).  I reasoned that if we sin, we are not truly following Christ as the Bible says that we are not to sin if we know Him (1 John 3:6-9).  I read where Paul the Apostle said to stop sinning (1 Corinthians 15:34) and where Paul said that we are to not be mastered by sin (Romans 6:11-23).

All of this lead me to conclude that we are to pursue sinless perfection.  While I had never met anyone who was sinless, I reasoned that it was possible.  I read John Wesley’s book, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection and I reasoned that one could have an experience with God that would take you to a place of absolute holiness.  I pleaded with God to give me this experience of “entire sanctification” and I earnestly wanted to be holy.

All to no avail.  I have always struggled with sin.  Alwasys will.

I reasoned that there were categories of sin and that some sins were worst than others.  For example, Jesus said that Judas had committed the greater sin (John 19:11) since he had betrayed the Lord of glory.  I reasoned from the law of Moses that since God required different sacrifices for sins of omission and sins of commission then God must view our sins as different if we commit them willfully versus by mistakes or lack.  For instance, none of us pray enough since the Bible calls us to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and thus while prayerlessness is a sin (1 Samuel 12:23), prayerlessness is not the same sin as sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:18-20) and while prayerlessness is horrible, prayerlessness is not listed among the sins that keep us from the kingdom in passages such as 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and Galatians 5:19-21 and Revelation 21:8.

In this way, I was able to tell someone that I had not sinned that day.  I could say that while I didn’t love God perfectly or pray enough or share the gospel or give to the poor, nonetheless I hadn’t committed any willful sins.  In this way, I thought of myself as holy and pure.  I though very highly of myself.

I now see it all as nothing but vanity.  I now sit here a broken man.  I see that my pride was horrible.  I see that God opposes the proud.  Oh I would have gladly claimed the grace of God for my salvation and I would have boasted that it was the grace of God that enabled me to holiness (Titus 2:11-12) but the reality is that I was proud.  I was arrogant.  I was not holy.  I was full of flesh.

I have never ceased to need Jesus.  I never have and I never will.  My good days are still nothing before a holy God.  He is not pleased with my self-righteousness (Isaiah 64:6).  My works play no part in my salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Salvation is the gracious work of God by His grace and by His Spirit through His Word.  I lay aside all boasting right now and I confess that Jesus is my salvation and He alone is my hope before a holy God (Hebrews 7:25).  My salvation is complete in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).  I am saved not by what I do but through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ (John 6:29).

While it is true that we are to pursue holiness (Hebrews 12:14) the reality is that we will always need Jesus and His grace.  Thankfully through the sacrifice of Jesus, we are holy in Him (Hebrews 10:10, 14).  Jesus and His blood makes us holy (Ephesians 1:4-7).  We are called to forsake sin and turn from sin but the promise of God is that while we are not called to sin, we have One who prays for us before the holy Father (1 John 2:1-2).  Through the Lord Jesus I am able to approach the throne of a holy God (Hebrews 4:14-16).  The entire focus of the New Testament is upon the Lord Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2).  He is my salvation and my hope.  Not my works (Titus 3:5-7).

I don’t want to wonder into sloppy grace (Romans 6:1-4).  Having been set free by the grace of God, why would I want to go back to a life of sin?  Yet I do struggle with sin.  I hate my sins.  I really do.  I want to be holy and pure and praise God, in Christ, I am holy.  The Spirit of God is working in me to help me to hate sin and to turn from sin.  I admit that I struggle with sin and I always will but the promise of God is to complete this work He has begun in me (Philippians 1:6).

If you struggle with sin, I assure you that you are loved by God.  I need to hear that too.  God gave His Son for our sins (John 3:16) and He demonstrates His love (Romans 5:8-9).  This love from God is not mere words but actions.  The Father has sent His holy Son to die for our wicked sins.  God has reconciled us through Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).  My favorite verse in the Bible is 1 Timothy 1:15.  It reads beautifully in the KJV:

This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.

Christ Jesus came to save sinners.  Luke 19:10 says:

For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.

Jesus came to save us (Matthew 1:21).  He came as the suffering servant from Isaiah 53 who would die for our sins.  He came to bring us peace with God (Ephesians 2:14; Colossians 1:20).  Jesus shed His blood on the cross for our sins and it by His grace, through His blood that we are saved from the wrath of God against our sins.

Romans 3:23-25 (KJV) reads wonderfully:

23 for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; 24 being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25 whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.

This salvation is freely given in Christ (Acts 16:30-31) and He is our propitiation through faith in His blood.  This is the goodness of our God.  Our God reaches down to us and save us by His grace.

Now in conclusion I don’t want to sound like an antinomian.  I am not advocating sinning. I hate my sins.  I want to be holy.  Yet I believe there is balance.  The balance is not to see Jesus as our means unto holiness but He is our holiness.  The focus of salvation from beginning to end is Jesus Christ.  It is not Jesus plus our works that saves us.  It is not Jesus plus our works that makes us holy.  It is Jesus and His work alone that saves us.  Our eyes must be on Jesus.  Hebrews 12:1-2 is powerful in that regard:

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Looking unto Jesus is the key.  Jesus has sat down at the Father’s side.  Sitting represents completion.  Jesus has sat down because He has completed  the work of atonement.  Jesus is now our faithful high priest before the Father (Hebrews 2:17-18).

No doubt I will sin.  I hate my sins even now.  Yet I know that before the Father is One who prays for me.  He is my defense.  I use to believe that when I sinned, I need to compensate God and His wrath somehow.  I would pray more.  I would read my Bible a little more.  I would go out and witness to someone.  I wanted to make up for my sins.  The reality is that God sees my wicked heart at all times.  He knows me perfectly.  The beauty of the cross is that it demonstrates God’s love toward sinners still in their sins (Romans 5:8).  God loved me while I was a sinner even under His wrath but now He loves me as His child through faith in His Son (Galatians 3:26; 4:6).  If God loved me while a wicked sinner who sinned without thinking of God, how much does He still love this sinner now?

I am tired of sinless perfection seeking.  I only want to know that I have peace with God through faith in Christ (Romans 5:1).  Jesus is my salvation both now and forevermore.

“Lord help me to not sin this day but forgive me of my sins as I forgive those who trespass against me.”

The Arminian Affirmation of the Atonement

The Bible is clear that Jesus died for sinners.  No one denies this.  Both Arminians and Calvinists acknowledge that Jesus shed His blood for the souls of lost sinners.  Matthew 1:21 is clear that Jesus came to save His people from their sins.  The key question in this debate over the atonement is whether the atonement is for all sinners period.  Many Calvinists insist that the atonement is indeed for all people on some level.  For example, Dr. John MacArthur believes that the atonement provides benefits for all people while only having the power to save the elect.  MacArthur goes on to state, “Jesus Christ made a sufficient sacrifice to cover every sin of every one who believes (John 3:16-18; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; 4:10; 1 John 2:2.”

I do not disagree.  MacArthur states the following on 1 John 2:2 and the “whole world”:

This is a generic term, referring not to every single individual, but to mankind in general.  Christ actually paid the penalty only for those who would repent and believe.  A number of Scriptures indicate that Christ died for the world (John 1:29; 3:16; 6:51; 1 Timothy 2:6; Hebrews 2:9).  Most of the world will be eternally condemned to hell to pay for their own sins, so they could not have been paid for by Christ.  The passages that speak of Christ’s dying for the whole world must be understood to refer to mankind in general (as in Titus 2:11).  “World” indicates the sphere, the beings toward whom God seeks reconciliation and has provided propitiation.  God has mitigated his wrath on sinners temporarily, by letting them live and enjoy earthly life (1 Timothy 4:10).  In that sense, Christ has provided a brief, temporary propitiation for the whole world.  But he actually satisfied fully the wrath of God eternally only for the elect who believe.  Christ’s death in itself had unlimited and infinite value because he is Holy God.  Thus his sacrifice was sufficient to pay the penalty for all the sins of all whom God brings to faith.  But the actual satisfaction and atonement was made only for those who believe (John 10:11, 15; 17:9, 20; Acts 20:28; Romans 8:32, 37; Ephesians 5:25).  The pardon for sin is offered to the whole world, but received only by those who believe (1 John 4:9, 14; John 5:24).  There is no other way to be reconciled to God.

A few thoughts here about this.  First, I appreciate Dr. MacArthur much.  He preaches salvation to all.  He never fails to call all to repent and believe the gospel.  In this sense, he follows in the steps of men such as George Whitefield and Charles Spurgeon in calling all sinners to repentance.  He is no hyper-Calvinist in this regard.  There has probably never been a man who has done more for expository preaching than John MacArthur.  Having personally met him, I found him to be gracious and kind.  So by no means do I present my case against him as an enemy.  I come as a brother.

Now the Arminian can read the above words from MacArthur and agree with most of what he wrote.  I agree that Christ died for the elect.  I agree that Christ died for His sheep.  I agree that Christ died for His Church.  I agree that Christ died for Paul the Apostle (Galatians 2:20).  I agree that Christ died for us (Galatians 1:4).  But I also go one step further and believe that Christ died for all.  I agree that no one is saved apart from being reconciled to God through Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).  I agree that one has to believe to be saved (John 5:24; Acts 16:30-31).  I agree that repentance is necessary for eternal life (Acts 2:38).  But I also believe that all can be saved and there is no limit on this number.

I agree that the world is opposed to God (1 John 2:15-17).  Ironically, MacArthur never limits “world” in 1 John but here in 1 John 2:2.  The world is indeed sinful, God-hating, rejecting the truth of the gospel.  I agree.  But what we find in the gospel is God calling out to the whole world to repent and be saved.  God, who is the one that the world hates, is calling to His enemies to come and be reconciled through faith (Isaiah 1:18).  This is the message of the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:47).

You’ll notice in MacArthur’s statement above also that he wants to make sure that we understand that he believes the atonement is powerful enough to cover the sins of the world if God wanted it to.  He doesn’t use those words but it seems implied by this reader.  He wants us to see how powerful and vast the work of Christ is.  I would agree.  In the cross, we do find God the Son dying for the world and shedding His precious blood for the lost.  If God wanted to, He could indeed reconciled the world through the powerful blood of Jesus.  I have no doubt.  Instead, God calls to lost sinners through His love that He demonstrated on the cross (John 3:16; Romans 5:8-9).  This is not a forced love.  This is not a forced relationship.  This is a loving relationship where the repenting sinner comes to God through His Son to be saved (Romans 2:4).  This is a genuine relationship that God initiated and not man (Ephesians 2:4-6; 1 John 4:10).  But this message, this good news is for the whole world (Luke 2:10-11; 1 John 4:14).

It is true that the atonement is only effective for those who believe.  Christ died for His enemies and He even prayed for His enemies at the cross (Luke 23:34).  MacArthur even acknowledges that Christ is praying for His enemies at this passage and adds:

Some of the fruit of this prayer can be in the salvation of thousands of people in Jerusalem at Pentecost (Acts 2:41).

Notice he adds in his note that “some of the fruit” and not all.  If it is true that Christ is dying only for the elect, why pray for the world?  Why pray for the sinners who are killing Him?  Many Calvinists point to John 17:9 as proof that Jesus does not pray for the world but only for the elect.  Yet MacArthur acknowledges that Luke 23:34 is for the lost.  He also is clear that God heard His prayer and saved some of those who perhaps killed Jesus at Pentecost in Acts 2:41.

Let us be clear here though.  None were saved by Jesus praying for them in Luke 23:34.  They had to appropriate the work of Christ just as we all do through faith.  That Jesus shed His blood saves no one.  Even Calvinists agree with this while insisting that the sins of the elect were placed on the Son.  All agree that we are saved by faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-9).  And even if we allow for Calvinists to believe that faith is a gift given by God to His elect, we must still acknowledge that the wrath of God is against us till we believe.

This would mean two things.  First, those who are in cast into hell are cast into hell because they rejected the sacrifice of the Son of God for their sins.  Do we have passages of Scripture that speak of Christ dying for their sins while they rejected His sacrifice?  Yes e do.  Romans 14:15; 1 Corinthians 8:11; 2 Peter 2:1.  In context all these Scriptures speak of those whom Christ died who may not share in eternal life.  Even MacArthur does acknowledge that 2 Peter 2:1 is referring to false teachers who claimed Christ and so Peter mocks them by saying that they refuse to submit to the Lordship of Christ whom they claimed bought them.

What is clear is that people who go to hell go to hell because of their rejection of God and His truth.  The person is to blame and not God who gave His Son for their reconciliation.  Calvinism would place the blame on God.  God chose to reject sinners even before time began and even if you allow for the sinner’s punishability for their sins, they are sinning because God has predetermined that they be sinners in the first place by His own sovereign will (Romans 9:22-23).  If I were a Calvinist, at this point I would preach hard annihilation since the sinner is in hell tormented day and night forever because God willed that they never be saved in the first place.  Annihilation is at least charitable toward sinners who are being tormented for God’s glory in the first place in the Calvinist view.

Secondly, the application of the atonement is through faith.  Even MacArthur doesn’t preach the doctrine of eternal justification.  Consistent Calvinists such as John Gill see the truth that the elect are born sinless.  How else can it be?  If God placed the sins of the elect on Christ and He ensures that the elect will believe by His own sovereign choice from eternity past, who can one argue that God ever sees the sins of the elect?  If Christ died for my sins at the cross and God placed my sins on Him at the cross, when was the wrath of God against my sins appeased?  Gill would answer the cross.  MacArthur would answer the cross but add that I must receive it by faith.  And I would answer: Yes and this is biblical Arminianism!

Romans 3:21-26 in the ESV is beautiful (with my emphasis):

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Faith is the design of God to come into a saving relationship with Himself.  This is the sovereign will of God.  This is the sovereign decree of God.  All who repent and believe will be saved.  There is no limit to the sacrifice of the Son of God.  I have heard many Calvinists preaching like Arminians to the lost by preaching that Christ shed His blood so that they might be saved.  They call out to lost sinners to repent and believe the gospel (as if sinners could actually do this by their command).  They call to sinners to turn from their sins and be saved through faith in Christ.  And I agree!  In fact, I believe that every person whom the Calvinist evangelist is preaching to can be saved and there is no limit to the power of the gospel (Romans 1:16-17).  If God can have mercy on me, He can have mercy on my lost neighbors and co-workers who despise Him at this time (1 Timothy 1:15; 4:10).

As Paul the Apostle wrote above in Romans 3:24, this salvation is a gift to be received by faith.  The sinner does not earn this salvation.  There is nothing we could add to the work of Christ to be saved.  In fact, what a wicked thing to do to add to the cross of Christ by saying that we must also do our part to be saved.  We are justified though faith alone in Christ alone by His grace alone (Romans 5:1; Galatians 2:15-16; 3:13-14).  This is true of us as children of God as well as the lost sinners we are preaching to.  Salvation is the gracious work of God (John 1:12-13; Titus 2:11-14; 3:5-7).  We are saved by the work of Christ alone.

Thankfully both Calvinists and Arminians preach that truth.  Some Calvinists try to assert that we Arminians preach that we can save ourselves or we preach a works-righteousness system but this is not the truth.  Arminius wrote:

“I believe that sinners are accounted righteous solely by the obedience of Christ; and that the righteousness of Christ is the only meritorious cause on account of which God pardons the sins of believers and reckons them as righteous as if they had perfectly fulfilled the law. But since God imputes the righteousness of Christ to none except believers, I conclude that, in this sense, it may be well and properly said, to a man who believes, faith is imputed for righteousness through grace, because God hath set forth his Son, Jesus Christ, to be a propitiation, a throne of grace, [or mercy seat] through faith in his blood.”

Adam Clarke wrote:

The doctrine of justification by faith is one of the grandest displays of the mercy of God to mankind. It is so very plain that all may comprehend it; and so free that all may attain it. What more simple than this-Thou art a sinner, in consequence condemned to perdition, and utterly unable to save thy own soul. All are in the same state with thyself, and no man can give a ransom for the soul of his neighbor. God, in his mercy, has provided a Saviour for thee. As thy life was forfeited to death because of thy transgressions, Jesus Christ has redeemed thy life by giving up his own; he died in thy stead, and has made atonement to God for thy transgression; and offers thee the pardon he has thus purchased, on the simple condition that thou believe that his death is a sufficient sacrifice, ransom, and oblation for thy sin; and that thou bring it, as such, by confident faith to the throne of God, and plead it in thy own behalf there. When thou dost so, thy faith in that sacrifice shall be imputed to thee for righteousness; that is, it shall be the means of receiving that salvation which Christ has bought by his blood.

And I end with John Wesley:

But there is an undeniable difference between the Calvinists and Arminians, with regard to the three other questions. Here they divide; the former believe absolute, the latter only conditional, predestination. The Calvinists hold, (1.) God has absolutely decreed, from all eternity, to save such and such persons, and no others; and that Christ died for these, and none else. The Arminians hold, God has decreed, from all eternity, touching all that have the written word, “He that believeth shall be saved: He that believeth not, shall be condemned:” And in order to this, “Christ died for all, all that were dead in trespasses and sins;” that is, for every child of Adam, since “in Adam all died.”

The Key Difference Between Wesley and the Puritans Over Postmillennialism

I know that was a long title.  I tried to think of ways to make it shorter.  I could not.

I rarely dive into eschatological views.  I try to limit my blog to mainly defining and defending Arminianism as well as just writing about general Christian subjects.  The purpose of this post is not to give a scholarly understanding of the postmillennial views of John Wesley versus the Puritans.  I will leave that to others and frankly I am not that good of a writer to jump into such an issue.

Let me begin by stating that it may come as a shock to some that John Wesley was a postmillennialist.  When I was first saved, I instantly was taught a premillennial view of eschatology.  I was taught the rapture of the Church before the seven year tribulation followed by the millennial reign of Jesus Christ.  I remember I use to pray (as my father had prayed) that I would be worthy to be raptured by the Lord Jesus.  I would have dreams of Jesus coming back to rapture His Church and I would start to rise only to be dropped back on earth after flying a few feet off the ground (probably because of some sin I had committed).

My eschatology views have changed since those days.  I bounced from a pre tribulation view of the rapture to a mid tribulation view before I ended up embracing the postmillennial views of John Wesley.  I was shocked when I first learned that John Wesley was a postmillennialist.  I honestly thought only liberals were postmillennial (a view still held by some in the premillennial camp I might add).  I was unaware that most of the Reformers were either amillennial or postmillennial (Arminius was likely amillennial though not proven).  As I studied Church History, I begin to see that eschatology has long been a hotly debated subject.  Thus, I have often avoided the issue.  It seems to me that Jesus will come back and this should be our starting point.  From there we can debate the future but so long as we stay faithful to the fact that Jesus will come again (though I was told once by a lady that I would surely miss the rapture since I didn’t believe in it anymore).

The key difference between the postmillennial views of John Wesley versus the Puritans lies in their salvation doctrines.  Wesley, being a faithful Arminian, believed that Jesus died for all men and thus he believe that the doctrine of unlimited atonement was the passion for world evangelism.  Further, he believed that the kingdom of God would spread all over the world because of the doctrine of unlimited atonement.  The victory of Jesus would go forth in the power the gospel until the end would come and the Lord’s enemies would be made His footstool (Psalm 110:1; 1 Corinthians 15:24-26).

The Puritans passion for postmillennialism was based their view of God’s sovereignty from their Calvinist perspective.  Further, the Puritans were divided over how the world would be won to Christ with some saying that it would begin with the top (leaders, authorities and nations coming to faith in Christ) while others held from the bottom (churches preaching in small towns that would spread to the nations with the gospel bringing a mighty revival).  Both the Puritans and Mr. Wesley held that God would ultimately be glorified through the preaching of the gospel to all people though the disagreed over the doctrine of unconditional election.

A great book to read on this issue is Dr. Vic Reasoner’s book The Hope of the Gospel.  In the book, Dr. Reasoner lays out a biblical and faithful Arminian eschatology based on the doctrines of biblical Arminianism.  He shows how the early Methodists were driven by a passion for the gospel for world missions based on their view of the atonement and their view of eschatology.  Our eschatological views do matter and they do effect how we live our lives.

A final note on this.  It is easy to look around at our sin-filled world and become discouraged.  Some premillennialists (and myself at one time would be included here) often do their eschatology based on what they see in the news and not in the Bible.  We can look around and see our sinful world and start to believe that surely it will get worst  before it gets better.  I am the opposite.  In fact postmillennialism is the only truly optimistic view of end times.  I hold that Jesus will win (as do the others to be fair) and in the end, the gospel will transform our world (Mark 4:30-32).  It might not happen in my lifetime but the Lord is faithful to His promises and I believe a great harvest is coming.  I long to see sinners saved by the grace of God just as He saved me by His grace.

I close by pointing back to the truth that all true Christians share and that is that Jesus is coming again.  Many are passionate for their end times views but I believe that we should have grace toward one another over these issues.  I would gladly fellowship with those who do not agree with my eschatological views.  One truth that unites us is that Jesus died for us on the cross.  This we know (1 John 5:13).  We know He will come again (Acts 1:11) though we not know the day nor the hour (Mark 13:32).  The hope for the disciple of Jesus is the resurrection from the dead that He secured for us by dying for our sins and through Him we will live (John 5:24-25; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).  My hope is in the gospel (Hebrews 9:27-28) and not my end times views.  I pray that for you as well.

I do say with John, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).

Making Sense of the Bible (But Not Really)

Adam Hamilton published a book called Making Sense of the Bible: Rediscovering the Power of Scripture Today.  The book is written by Hamilton who pastors one of the largest mainline United Methodist churches in the world, The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas.  Many mainline churches look to Hamilton for leadership as they face mass losses of people leaving their churches.  Hamilton comes across, at times, much like an evangelical while holding to his mainline theology.  This has led pastors of United Methodists to flock to hear Hamilton speak because they see in him a hope for mainline churches.

I have an old friend who pastors a mainline United Methodist church.  He is liberal.  He wasn’t always that way and comes from a strong Wesleyan family who holds to conservative theology.  He himself turned apostate years ago for sin (in this case, an immoral relationship with a woman).  From there he had a “conversion” back to Christ after 9/11/2001 but decided to attend the very liberal Chandler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, GA.  This led to his complete rejection of what he saw as “fundamentalism” and embraced mainline theology (liberalism).  Hamilton became his hero.  My friend viewed Hamilton as he viewed Rob Bell or other liberals.  He found in Hamilton though an evangelical passion that he missed but was not willing to return to.  My friend loved that Hamilton preached from the Bible and preached the Bible as if he actually believed it but my friend knew that Hamilton rejected the Bible.

Now let me state here that Hamilton probably would not say that he rejects the Bible.  He would state that he rejects the “fundamentalist” view of the Bible.  For example, in this book Hamilton builds a case for the Bible while trying to argue that the Bible is not the “inerrant and infallible Word of God.”  Hamilton holds that the Bible is only faithful as it relates to salvation.  So where the Bible disagrees with modern science (Genesis 1-2) or where the Bible disagrees with modern culture (homosexuality, genocide, slavery, women) then we reject the Bible.  God allowed the human beings who wrote the Bible to record these events as if God did them but He did not.  When it comes to Darwinian evolution for example, Hamilton holds that the Bible is wrong about creation in Genesis 1-2 and he holds that the writer of Genesis 1-2 (whoever that may be) is not writing science but allegory.  Modern science (in Hamilton’s worldview) has proven evolution and the Bible is just wrong about creation.  Hamilton goes on to write that there are countless errors in the Bible and even fundamentalist know this.  He points to the various resurrection accounts as proof of this.

Yet Hamilton wants to have his cake and eat it too.  After all, Karl Barth saw what happened in Europe when liberalism won the day.  He saw the mainline churches dying, the world turning toward evil and the rise of Nazi Germany out of the ashes of liberal theology.  Barth wanted to save the Bible while rejecting the Bible.  Hamilton wants that as well.  He wants to hold to the good stories in the Bible, the morals that it teaches (especially about peace and love) while rejecting much of the Bible.  He wants to preach the Bible as if its true while holding that it is not.  So while trying to tear up the “fundamentalist” views of the Bible, he wants his own liberal friends to still read the Bible and respect the Bible though don’t take it too serious.

There are so many holes in Hamilton’s views.  First, Hamilton fails to deal with Jesus’ view of the Bible.  What view did Jesus have?  Liberals love Jesus but they love the Jesus they have created in their own images.  They want a “hippy” Jesus who loves everyone, is all about peace and love, and wants nothing more than for people to find purpose and happiness in life.  They want to reject the Jesus who affirms the authority of the Bible.  Hamilton never points out that Jesus said His Words were true (John 17:17) and His Word cannot be broken (John 10:35).  Hamilton never points out that Jesus affirmed that God created all things including Adam and Eve (Matthew 19:4-5).  Hamilton never points out that many of the stories that Hamilton would see as made up such as Jonah and the great fish, Jesus affirmed (Matthew 12:40).  Hamilton never deals with Jesus’ affirmation of the authority of the Bible nor with His affirmation of its timelessness (Matthew 5:17-19 which would include the issues of homosexuality within the law of Moses).

Secondly, the Bible affirms its inerrancy.  Texts such as Psalm 12:6; 18:30; 19:8; 119:140; Proverbs 30:5; Isaiah 45:19 affirm this.

I highly recommend Dr. Vic Reasoner’s The Importance of Inerrancy.  He deals with the biblical arguments as well as the Wesleyan historical issue here.

Thirdly, Hamilton places himself as the judge of Scripture.  This happens over and over again not just in Hamilton’s book but with others who reject inerrancy.  How do we decide what is from God and what is from man?  Who knows?  Like others before him, Hamilton can pick and choose what he regards as “Scripture” or not.  In fact, he could reject the entire thing (and many liberals do).  Yet he holds that the Bible is true about salvation.  Why?  Because he believes that this is the bottom line issue for the Bible.  The Bible is not a science book or a history book per se.  It is all about Jesus and His work in saving us.  He applauds those evangelicals who see the inerrancy issue as separate from salvation (in other words, one can be saved while rejecting inerrancy).  He wants his own people to accept what the Bible says about salvation while ignoring what it says about creation or about homosexuality or about slavery.

Yet who is the judge here?  Why accept what John 3:16 says if Genesis 1-2 is wrong?  Why accept what God said in John 5:24-25 if the story of the Exodus is full of errors?  Why even believe in the resurrection of Jesus if in fact the four Gospels record four different views of the resurrection as Hamilton states?  Why should a person accept Hamilton’s view of salvation if the Bible is full of errors?

Hamilton could not say why.  I suppose he would argue that he has experienced salvation (sort of the Karl Barth view of salvation and Scripture) and this makes it true (pragmatism).  But if salvation is not based on a historical truth (in this case the resurrection of Jesus which Hamilton believes in while saying that the Gospels are full of errors), how can we know?

John states that we can know (1 John 5:13).  John states that the resurrection is based on the truth of God’s Word (John 20:31) as does Paul the Apostle (1 Corinthians 15:1-7).  Hamilton would affirm all this while rejecting the inerrancy of the Bible all because it doesn’t equal his worldview.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 states clearly that all Scripture is inspired by God or breathed out by God as the ESV states.  God is truthful (Titus 1:2) in all His ways (Deuteronomy 32:4; 2 Samuel 7:28; Psalm 33:4; 146:6; Isaiah 65:16; Romans 3:4; Hebrews 6:18).  If Hamilton is wiling to affirm the goodness of God, the truthfulness of God, why reject His Word which 2 Timothy 3:16 states He breathed out by His Spirit?  2 Peter 1:16-21 is clear that Peter did not regard his experience as the foundation for truth but the sure foundation of God’s Word.  I again point to Jesus who said that God’s Word is truth (John 17:17) but Hamilton would say that only some of it is true and that only with regards to salvation.  This is not logical.

In conclusion, Hamilton offers nothing for mainline churches.  Nothing.  He gives the same old answers liberals have always been giving for the Bible.  Keep reading it!  Keep studying it!  But reject it!  Because of pragmatism, Hamilton’s voice is listened to even by some who would say they believe the Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God.  If I could have five minutes with Adam Hamilton I would want to talk about his Bible.  Does he read it?  Does he study it?  Why?  How does he determine what is true in it or not?  How can you trust that God will save you if you can’t trust that He will preserve His Word?

My prayer is that Arminians would reject Hamilton’s views.  Let us remain faithful to the Word of God.  As John Wesley stated about the Bible,

“This is that word of God which remaineth forever: of which, though heaven and earth pass away, one jot or tittle shall not pass away.  The Scripture therefore of the Old and New Testament is a most solid and precious system of Divine truth.  Every part thereof is worthy of God; and all together are one entire body, wherein is no defect, no excess.”  (Wesley, Journal, 24 July 1776)

Dr. John MacArthur is correct when he writes:

The most important lessons we ought to learn from church history seem fairly obvious.  For example, in the two thousand year record of Christianity, no leader, movement, or idea that has questioned the authority or inspiration of Scripture has ever been good for the church.  Congregations, denominations, and evangelical academic institutions that embrace a low view of Scripture invariably liberalize, secularize, move off mission, decline spiritually, and either lose their core membership or morph into some kind of political, social or religious monstrosity.

May that not happen to true disciples of Jesus.  May we embrace the Bible as the inerrant and infallible Word of God the same as our Savior held.  May we be willing to die for its truths.

The Awakened State of Sinners

John Wesley called the awakened state of man as “the almost Christian.”  Wesley believed that most people in the church were that way, they were aware of their sins but they had not truly become children of God.  They were servants of Christ but not sons.  All sons are servants but not all servants are sons.

Wesley believed that Romans 7 described the awakened state.  While nearly all Calvinists that I know of teach that Romans 7 is the normal state for Christians and Martin Luther taught that a Christian is both a sinner and a saint at the same time, Wesley taught (along with Arminius I might add) that Romans 7 describes people who are not saved.  This is what Wesley deemed the awakened state, where a person is aware of their sins and aware that they are not pleasing to God so they seek to please God by their works or by their flesh.  This cannot merit salvation (Romans 4:5).  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:7-8).

Sadly many in the modern church are in that state as well.  Many of the seeker sensitive churches preach an easy gospel that is without conviction, without true repentance, without a true knowledge of God’s holiness and our sinfulness before God.  They preach a message of “come to Christ” but they fail to convict sinners of their sins.  They ignore the Bible’s call to repentance (Mark 1:15-16).  They fail to preach repentance for the forgiveness of their sins (Luke 24:47; Acts 2:38; 3:19).  They seek to lead people to Christ using the goodness of God but fail to preach His just wrath nor His forbearance and patience with sinners (Romans 2:4).  Just this week I listened to two local seeker churches “sermons” and both were focused on the flesh rather than God, on what the sinner can get from God rather than repentance from their sins, and they both gave “altar calls” where the sinners just said a prayer and were said to be saved by grace.  Both failed to preach the gospel where sinners see their sins and repent of their sins against God.  Both failed to present Christ as the propitiation for our sins (John 1:29).  Both preached a message of “Christ wants to fill the void in your life.”  That is not the gospel.  That is what many people are hearing week after week in many churches.

The Arminian should preach the law of God to produce the awakened state.  Of course, the Spirit of God is the one who produces mighty conviction of sin (John 16:8-11).  The almost Christian will see their sins and their need for Christ but they don’t know how to respond to the call of God to salvation.  People believe (because of their sinfulness) that they must do something to earn salvation.  This is human thought through and through.  World religions attest to this fact.  Religious people are consistently trying to earn God’s favor, His forgiveness, or His salvation.  They think that they will be saved if their good works out number their bad works.  Others believe that their actions (sacrifices, prayers, etc.) will bring salvation.

The truth is that only Jesus Christ can save us from the wrath of God (1 Thessalonians 1:10).  Isaiah the prophet saw the work of Christ in Isaiah 53:4-6:

4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

The Lord Jesus is the hope for our salvation.  Jesus is the hope for the awakened sinner who sees his sins but doesn’t know how to flee from them.   The hope for the sinner is not rehabilitation or reform.  The hope for the sinner is to be born from above (John 3:3-7).  The hope is for the Spirit of God to regenerate the sinner to bring about new life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Titus 3:5-7) and this only comes through faith.

Romans 3:21-26 is full of the richness of God’s mercy and grace given freely to the sinner in Christ Jesus our Lord:

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

The sinner is justified before God only grace through faith in Christ alone (Romans 5:1).  The sinner is not justified before God by a combination of human works and God’s grace (as many cults teach).  We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  Why is this?  Because the sinner cannot merit God’s salvation.  Consider good works for a moment.  How many good works must we do to earn God’s forgiveness?  What works qualify as “good” works?  How do we know that our wicked hearts will not produce pride in our “good” works?  How will we know if God approves of our “good” works?  Are there any “good” works which we consider good but God considers as bad?  How can we know?

The awakened sinner, writes Wesley, fears God but does not love Him.  The Christian loves God and fears Him (Romans 11:20-22; 1 John 4:18).  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7) and the Christian has a healthy fear of God (Hebrews 10:31).  Too many do not fear God but sadly few actually love Him either.  The awakened sinner fears God and knows that the judgment of God is just in punishment of their sins but they do not love God.  They seek to win God’s approval by reforms, by vows, by religion.  They find Romans 7 to be true, that they are too sinful to do any “good” works.  Their flesh simply will never please God.  They find in their awakened state that they are fully aware that they are sinners but have no peace with God.

The gospel is the solution.  The gospel brings peace.  Jesus is the prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6).  Jesus came to bring peace (Ephesians 2:14).  Jesus came to bring us not just peace in the storms of life (as many seekers preach) but He came to bring us peace with God whom we have greatly offended by our wicked sins.  The holy God of the universe is the one that we have violated.  He is the offended one.  When we talk about salvation we are saying that we are being saved from something and that something is the wrath of God that we justly deserve for breaking His laws and shaking our fists at Him.

The awakened sinner is not saved.  The duty of the evangelist is to preach Christ to the awakened sinner and call the sinner to faith and repentance through Christ.  The blessed Holy Spirit aids us in this preaching.  The Spirit works on the sinner’s heart to free the will to believe freely the gospel of God’s grace and mercy.  May we preach Christ and Him crucified for our sins.

Does Calvinism Truly Glorify God?

A Calvinist writer wrote about predestination and concluded with these thoughts:

This doctrine is also the most God glorifying doctrine. It gives God all the glory. God elects us, sends Christ to pay for our sin, sends the necessary faith and grace to save us, and sustains us until the end. Man does absolutely nothing. Calvin’s doctrine of election magnifies the glory of God and reduces us to true humility, “neither will anything else suffice to make us humble as we ought to be nor shall we otherwise sincerely feel how much we are obliged to God”(Inst. III, 21, 1).

His words got me to thinking, “Does Calvinism truly glorify God?”

A Calvinist will answer with a hearty yes!  After all, as the writer above points out, God receives all the glory in unconditional election because He does all the work.  Notice that God elects us, sends Christ to pay for our sin, sends the necessary faith and grace to save us, and sustains us until the end.  Of course, this leaves much out like whether a person believes using their “freed” will (or their will made willing) or whether God believes for us (which no Calvinist holds to)?  Must a person continue in the faith till the end to prove their election?  What evidences must a person show to show they are elect or is it possible to never show signs of election?  Could a person be, as Augustine taught, given a false assurance from God for His glory?

But even more, does the God that Calvin wrote about really worth glorifying if He doesn’t love all?  If Jesus teaches us to love our enemies so that we may be sons of our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:44-48), how can God also hate the reprobate with His perfect hatred and not only because of their sins but because God simply decreed that they be reprobate based purely on His arbitrary choice?  How can I worship the God who would send Jesus to heal the sick (Matthew 8:16-17), die for the wicked (Luke 19:10), pray for sinners (Luke 23:34), call His disciples to love their enemies (Matthew 5:44-48), to be the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and yet God Himself sends people to hell because of His arbitrary choice?  How is He worth glorifying?

I know the answer is that we are sinners and I need to humble myself before the God of glory.  Who am I (Romans 9:19-21)?  I should just do as Paul does in Romans 11:33 and praise God for His infinite wisdom.  This is what I am told.

Yet how can I?  John Wesley said that the Calvinist teaching of predestination makes his blood boil.  I concur.  The picture of God from Calvin is not a God who loves humans but a God who is fixed on His decrees.  God’s glory is God’s highest desire.  I don’t see this in Jesus.  In Jesus, I see God humbling Himself to the point of death on the cross (Philippians 2:5-11).  I see a God who loves people so much that He would rather die for them than to see them in hell.  In the cross, I see a God who a wiling to lay aside His glory, His rights, His power to take my place for my sins.  Sure, I deserve hell along with all of humanity and God would be just to send us all to hell but the Calvinist goes too far by asserting then that the only solution is that God must elect from the lump of wicked humanity those for His honor and purposes (Romans 9:22-23).  This is not the answer to our sinful problem.  The answer God gives is the cross.  The cross satisfies the wrath of God for those who come to Jesus in saving faith (Romans 3:22-27).  In Jesus, our sins are forgiven (Ephesians 1:7).  In Jesus, we are part of His elected ones (Romans 8:29).  In Jesus, His Father becomes our Father (Romans 8:16-17).  In Jesus, we are saved (1 Timothy 1:15).

The God of Calvinism is thus a God who not only does all that the writer said above but He also condemns merely based on birth and He reprobates because of His own arbitrary choice.  Even Calvinists admit that God does not elect based on any merit in man but He chooses because He chooses.  God does not take any notice of mankind in His election but He chooses because of His divine sovereignty.  And this is worthy?  And this is glorious?

I would rather worship the God I see in Jesus (John 14:9).  I love this God.  He is worthy.  He is glorious.  He does not fear.  He is mighty.  He is loving and good (Psalm 145:8-9).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

10/12/2015 at 10:51 PM

Preaching the Gospel at Auschwitz

1.1 million people died at Auschwitz.  It was pure evil.  Did God ordain this?  Did God cause this?

The Calvinist answer is that God did not cause the horrors of Auschwitz.  He did ordain it to come to pass and He used secondary causes to ensure that the deaths at Auschwitz did in fact take place.  John Calvin wrote, “The will of God is the supreme and first cause of all things, because nothing happens but by his command or permission.  God then, according to Calvin, does not give permission for sinners to commit sin but He is the cause of all things including sin.  Calvin continues:

The hand of God no less rules the internal affections than it precedes the external acts, and that God does not perform by the hand of men those things which he has decreed without first working in their hearts the very will which precedes their acts.

Did you read that?  Calvin is stating that everything that comes to pass does so because God both decrees it and He works in the heart of man to make sure their acts come to pass as He ordains.

The mystery in Calvinism is how God can bring things to pass including evil and yet hold mankind responsible (or punishable would be a better term) for their sinful actions.  Calvin likewise stated that this responsibility is a mystery to him.  Calvin wrote,

“But how it was that God, by his foreknowledge and decree, ordained what should take place respecting man, and yet so ordained it without his being himself in the least a participator of the fault, or being at all the author (autor) or the approver of the transgression; how this was, I repeat, is a secret manifestly far too deep to be penetrated by the human mind, nor am I ashamed to confess our ignorance. And far be it from any of the faithful to be ashamed to confess his ignorance of that which the Lord envelopes in the blaze of his own inaccessible light.”

Other Calvinists affirm this as well.  How can God hold wicked sinners responsible for the sins that He ordained for them to commit in the first place?  The answer: mystery with an appeal to Deuteronomy 29:29.

Most Calvinists are comfortable with that mystery.  I am not.

Someone has said that if you cannot preach the gospel at the gates of Auschwitz, it is not the gospel.  How can we look at 1.1 million people dead at Auschwitz and agree with Calvin?  That this happened by the will of God.  And for what?  I know that Calvinists like to preach that such a view would mean that evil is without purpose.  Yet can there be purposeless evil in a world with free creatures?

John Piper appeals to a greater evil and that would be the cross.  1.1 million sinners dying at Auschwitz is nothing compared to the perfect and holy one dying on the cross (Acts 2:22-23).  Piper points out that this evil, the murder of Jesus Christ, is worst than any other wicked acts and yet it was planned by God.

The problem is that we Arminians affirm the sovereignty of God.  While Piper holds that sovereignty must equal divine determinism of all things, I would disagree with his definition of sovereignty.  The Calvinist reads sovereignty and sees omnipotence.  I disagree.  God can be sovereign while allowing mankind to be free to make free choices.  The cross demonstrates this.  Further, God, because He is God, can step into His creation for His purposes.  God did this in the cross.  God will do this at the second coming of the Lord Jesus.  God can use evil for His glory such as in the cross.  Yet God did not make the Jews kill Jesus nor did He make the Romans crucify Jesus.  This was allowed.  Such language would be opposed by Calvin.  Calvin would argue that God not only ordained the cross but He would make sure that the people would do the very sinful acts that He purposed for them to do.  Piper seems to agree.

Dr. James White also holds that there is no such thing as purposeless evil.  Since White holds to divine determinism (even hard determinism), he holds that everything happens as Calvin states, because God wills for it to happen and He makes sure it comes to pass.  Every rape, murder, abortion (which is murder), theft, war, etc. happens because God wills it so.  God is perfectly holy so He cannot be accused of sinning but He uses secondary causes to bring about His decreed will.

Let us return then to Auschwitz.  I have never heard a Calvinist preach this at Auschwitz.  It would not preach well.  Imagine going back to 1944 and preaching to the souls at Auschwitz that all this is happening  because God wills it so.  Imagine preaching that God will hold the Nazis responsible for their sins of killing but He first ordained this to come to pass.  Imagine further preaching that the same God who ordained this evil to come to pass is now calling you to repent and come to faith in Christ.  How is this consistent with the God who gave His Son?

The Arminian gospel would be this: this evil is happening because of the sinful choices of mankind.  People are wicked and unless they repent, they will see the wrath of God in His judgment upon them (Hebrews 9:27-28).  The Bible is clear, however, that God wills not for anyone here at Auschwitz to perish but to come to repentance including you Nazis.  He does not delight in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:32) but He wants all of you to repent and be saved from your sins (Acts 17:30-31; 2 Peter 3:9).  This wicked place is here because we live in a fallen world with fallen sinners who love evil and hate God.  May you repent and believe the gospel for eternal life (Romans 6:23).

The cross shows us God.  In the cross we have a humble Savior who left the glory of heaven to abide on earth (Philippians 2:5-11).  We have a Savior who prays even for sinners while He is dying (Luke 23:34).  In the cross we see a God who would rather die than mankind go to hell (2 Corinthians 5:18-6:2).  The cross shows us the love of God (Romans 5:8-9) and this love is not confined merely to those of who have believed but to the whole world (John 1:29; 3:16; 1 John 2:1-2; 4:14).  This is our God.  He is glorious.  He is loving.  He is good (Psalm 145:8-9).

John Wesley wrote:

“While a sovereign monarch might technically be free to dispose of subjects as he or she sees fit, a loving parent would not even consider withholding potential saving aid from any child (i.e., unconditional reprobation or limited atonement). On the other hand, truly loving parents also respect the integrity of their children. Ultimately, they would not impose their assistance against the (mature) child’s will.”

But Wesley also preached that all that we have from God, His love, His salvation, etc. are gifts of His love:

All the blessings which God hath bestowed upon man are of his mere grace, bounty, or favour; his free, undeserved favour; favour altogether undeserved; man having no claim to the least of his mercies. It was free grace that “formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into him a living soul,” and stamped on that soul the image of God, and “put all things under his feet.” The same free grace continues to us, at this day, life, and breath, and all things. For there is nothing we are, or have, or do, which can deserve the least thing at God’s hand. “All our works, Thou, O God, hast wrought in us.” These, therefore, are so many more instances of free mercy: and whatever righteousness may be found in man, this is also the gift of God.

This is our God.  This is the God of the Bible.  The glorious God whom I love and adore.  He rescues sinners by His grace and I am a testimony of His love and grace.  What evil may befall me I will not cast at His feet but know that He is able to work even through evil for His glory and good (Romans 8:28).  The mystery in Arminianism is how God’s will is done despite allowing mankind free will.  I would rather have that as my mystery while preaching at the gates of Auschwitz.

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