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Christianity is About a Relationship with Jesus

Receiving The Resurrected Redeemer

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Every single person who has ever lived on Planet Earth will be resurrected—some to eternal life and some to eternal torment. In the Lord’s own words, “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:28-29). Everyone reading these words is in one of these two categories.

Relationship

The distinction between religion and relationship makes all the difference in the world. Religion is merely man’s attempt to reach up and become acceptable to God through his own efforts—living a good life, attempting to obey the Ten Commandments, or following the golden rule. Some religions even teach that this cannot be accomplished in one lifetime. Thus, you are reincarnated over and over again until you become one with nirvana or one with the universe.

The problem with the answer provided by religion is that the Bible says that if we are ever to become acceptable to God, we must be absolutely perfect! As Jesus put it in His Sermon on the Mount—one of the most famous literary masterpieces in the history of humanity—“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Obviously no one is perfect; therefore, if we are ever going to know the resurrected Redeemer here and now, as well as rule and reign with Him throughout the eons of time, there has to be another way. And that way is found in a relationship.

Relationship is what the Christian faith is all about. It is not primarily a set of dos and don’ts. It’s a personal relationship with God. That relationship does not depend on our ability to reach up and touch God through our own good works, but rather on God’s willingness to reach down and touch us through His love.

By way of illustration, if I wanted to have a relationship with an ant, the only way I could do so is to become one. Obviously I can’t become an ant, but God did become a man. The Bible says that God in the person of Jesus Christ “became flesh” and lived for a while “among us” (John 1:14). He came into time and space to restore a relationship with man that was severed by sin.

It is crucial that you understand the problem of sin. If you do not recognize that you are a sinner, you will also not realize your need for a Savior.

Sin

Sin is not just murder, rape, or robbery. Sin is failing to do the things we should and doing those things we should not. In short, sin is a word that describes anything that fails to meet God’s standard of perfection.

Thus, sin is the barrier between you and a satisfying relationship with God. As Scripture puts it, “Your iniquities [sins] have separated you from your God” (Isaiah 59:2).

Just as light and dark cannot exist together, neither can God and sin. And each day we are further separated from God as we are further separated from God as we add to the account of our sin. But that’s not the only problem. Sin also separates us from others. You need only read the newspaper or listen to a news report to see how true this really is. Locally, we read of murder, robbery, and fraud. Nationally, we hear of corruption in politics, racial tension, and an escalating rate of suicide. Internationally, we constantly see wars and hear rumors of war. We live in a time when terrorism abounds and when the world as we know it can be instantly obliterated by nuclear aggression.

All of these things are symbolic of sin. The Bible says that we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). There are no accept ions to the rule. The problem is further compounded when we begin to understand who God is. Virtually every heresy begins with a misconception of the nature of God.

God

On one hand, God is the perfect Father. We all have had earthly fathers, but no matter how good—or bad, as the case may be—none are perfect. God, however, is the perfect Father. And as the perfect Father, he desires an intimate relationship with us. In His Word, God says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3).

Yet the same Bible that tells us that God loves us and wants a relationship with us as our heavenly Father also tells us that He is the perfect Judge. As the perfect Judge, God is absolutely just, righteous, and holy. The Bible says of God, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; You cannot tolerate wrong” (Habakkuk 1:13).

Herein lies the dilemma. On the one hand, we see that God is the perfect Father. He loves us and wants to have a personal relationship with us. On the other hand, He is the perfect Judge, whose very nature is too pure to tolerate our sin. The dilemma is brought into sharper focus by a story I heard many years ago.

A young man was caught driving under the influence of alcohol after having committed several crimes. He was brought before a judge nicknamed the “hanging judge.” Although the judge’s integrity was beyond question, he always handed out the stiffest penalty allowable by law (to wit the nickname, “hanging judge”). It turns out that the judge was the young man’s father. As you can imagine, everyone in there courthouse that day waited with bated breath to see how the judge would treat his own son. Would he show him favoritism as a father, or would he, as always, hand out the stiffest penalty allowable by law?

As the spellbound courtroom full of spectators looked on, the judge, without hesitation, issued the maximum financial penalty allowable by law. Then he took off his judicial robes, walked over to where his son stood, and paid the penalty his son could not pay. In that one act, he satisfied the justice of the law and yet demonstrated extraordinary love.

That, however, is but a faint glimpse of what God the Father did for us through His Son, Jesus Christ. You see, Jesus Christ—God Himself—came to earth to be our Savior and to be our Lord.

Through His resurrection, Jesus demonstrated that He does not stand in a line of peers with Buddha, Mohammed, or any other founders of world religions. They died and are still dead, but Christ had the power to lay down His life and take it up again.

Jesus Christ

As our Savior, Jesus lived the perfect life we cannot live. Earlier I pointed out that Scripture says in order to be acceptable to God we need to be perfect. Well, Jesus Christ came into time and space to be perfection for us. As the Bible puts it, “God made Him [Jesus Christ] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

This is the great exchange over which all of the Bible was written. God took our sins and placed them on Jesus Christ, who suffered and died to pay the debt we could not pay. Then, wonder of wonders, He gave us the perfect life of Jesus Christ. He took our sins and gave us His perfection as an absolutely free gift. We cannot earn it or deserve it; we can only live a life of gratitude for this gift that God freely offers us. But that’s not all. Jesus not only died to be our Savior; He also lives to be our Lord.

As our Lord, Jesus Christ gives our lives meaning, purpose, and fulfillment. This is a particularly exciting thought when you stop to realize that the one who wants to be your Lord is the very one who spoke and the universe leaped into existence. He not only made this universe and everything in it, but He made you. He knows all about you, He loves you, and He wants you to have a satisfying life here and now and an eternity of joy with Him in heaven forever.

The Bible says, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). The resurrection of Jesus is an undeniable fact of history. Through the immutable fact of the resurrection, God the Father vindicated Christ’s claims to deity, thus demonstrating that Jesus was God in human flesh. To receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, one need only take two steps. The one step is repent, the other is receive.

Two Steps

The first step involves repentance. Repentance is an old English word that describes a willingness to turn from sin toward Jesus Christ. It literally means a complete U-turn on the road of life—a change of heart and a change of mind. It means a willingness to follow Jesus Christ and receive Him as Savior and Lord. In the words of Christ, “The time has come…The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15).

The second step is to receive. To demonstrate true belief means to be willing to receive God’s free gift. To truly receive God’s gift is to trust in and depend on Jesus Christ alone to be the Lord of our lives here and now and our Savior for all eternity.

Receiving God’s free gift takes more than knowledge. (The devil knows about Jesus and trembles.) It takes more than agreeing that the knowledge is accurate. (The devil knows that Jesus is Lord.) True saving faith entails not only knowledge and agreement, but trust. By way of illustration, when you are sick you can know a particular medicine can cure you. You can even agree that it’s cured thousands of others. But until you trust it enough to take it, it cannot cure you. It like manner, you can know about Jesus Christ, and you can agree that He has saved others, but until you personally place your trust in Him, you will not be saved.

The requirements for eternal life are nit based on what you can do but on what Jesus Christ has done. He stands ready to exchange His perfection for your imperfection.

To those who have never received Him as Savior and Lord, Jesus says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in” (Revelation 3:20). Jesus knocks on the door of the human heart, and the question He asks is, Are you ready now to receive me as Savior and Lord?

According to Jesus Christ, those who repent and receive Him as Savior and Lord are “born again” (John 3:3)—not physically, but spiritually. And with this birth must come spiritual growth.

Growth

First, no relationship can flourish without constant, heartfelt communication. This is true not only in human relationships, but also in our relationship with God. If we are to nurture a strong relationship with our Savior, we must be in constant communication with Him. The way to do that is through prayer.

Prayer is the way we talk to God. You do not need a special vocabulary to pray. You can simply speak to God as you would to your best friend. The more time you spend with God in prayer, the more intimate your relationship will be. And remember, there is no problem great or small that God cannot handle. If it’s important to you, it’s important to Him.

Furthermore, in addition to prayer, it is crucial that new believers spend time reading God’s written revelation of Himself—the Bible. The Bible not only forms the foundation of an effective prayer life, but it is foundational to every other aspect of Christian living. While prayer is our primary way of communicating with God, the Bible is God’s primary way of communicating with us. Nothing should take precedence over getting into the Word and getting the Word into us.

If we fail to eat well-balanced meals on a regular basis, we will eventually suffer the physical consequences. What is true of the outer man is also true of the inner man. If we do not regularly feed on the Word of God, we will starve spiritually.

I generally recommend that new believers by reading one chapter from the Gospel of John each day. As you do, you will experience the joy of having God speak to you directly through His Word. As Jesus put it, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).

Finally, it is crucial for new believers to become active participants in a healthy, weal-balanced church. In Scripture, the church is referred to as the body of Christ. Just as our body is one and yet has many parts, so the body of Christ is one but is composed of many members. Those who receive Christ as the Savior and Lord of their lives are already a part of the church universal. It is crucial, however, that all Christians become vital, reproducing members of a local body of believers as well.

Scripture exhorts us not to neglect the gathering of ourselves together, as is the custom of some (see Hebrews 10:25). It is is the local church where God is worshiped through prayer, praise, and proclamation; where believers experience fellowship with one another; and where they are equipped to reach others through the testimony of their love, their lips, and their lives.

Application

I began by pointing out that Christianity is not merely a religion; rather, it is a relationship with the resurrected Redeemer. You can know of Him through historical evidences, but you can know Him only by the Spirit of God. Even now, if God’s Spirit is moving upon your heart, you can receive the resurrected Christ as your personal Savior and Lord. Simply pray thus prayer—and remember, there is no magic in the words; God is looking at the intent of your heart.

Prayer to Pray

Heavenly Father, I thank You that You have provided a way for me to have a relationship with You; I realize that I am a sinner; I thank You that You are my perfect Father; I thank You for sending Jesus to be my Savior and Lord; I repent and receive His perfection in exchange for my sin; In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

Assurance

The assurance of eternal life is found in these words from the resurrected Redeemer: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).

Adapted from Hank Hanegraaff (Appendix A) – Resurrection The Capstone in the Arch of Christianity. Thomas Nelson: Nashville, 2000.

 

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ON “FREE WILL” BY DR. R.C. SPROUL

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The Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 9: Of Free Will

Sec. 1. God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that it is neither forced, nor, by any absolute necessity of nature, determined to good, or evil.

Sec. 2. Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom, and power to will and to do that which was good and well pleasing to God; but yet, mutably, so that he might fall from it.

Sec. 3. Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.

Sec. 4. When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, He freeth him from his natural bondage under sin; and, by His grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good; yet so, as that by reason of his remaining corruption, he doth not perfectly, nor only, will that which is good, but doth also will that which is evil.

Sec. 5. The will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to do good alone in the state of glory only.

We come now in our study of the confession to a separate treatment of the subject of free will. Every time Reformed theology is presented in open discussion, it seems inevitable that the subject of free will arises. For many, the idea of God’s sovereignty is antithetical to one of the most precious and axiomatic principles of human understanding—the idea of free will.

When we examine the question of free will from the viewpoint of biblical theology, we are pressured by the massive impact that secular views of free will have had on our thinking. If there is any place where secular humanism has undermined a biblical view of human nature, it’s with respect to the idea of free will. The prevailing view of free will in the secular culture is that human beings are able to make choices without being encumbered by sin. On this view, our wills have no predisposition either toward evil or toward righteousness, but remain in a neutral state from birth.

This view of human freedom is on a collision course with the biblical doctrine of the fall, which speaks of the radical corruption of our human condition. The whole person is caught up in the fall, including the mind, the soul, the will, and the body. The ravages of sin have affected us profoundly and deeply. Nonetheless, we are still able to think. Similarly, although the will has been tragically marred by the fall, we have not lost our ability to make moral choices. We still have wills, which are able to make choices without being coerced by God. The fact remains, however, that when the Bible speaks of our condition, it speaks of bondage or slavery to sin, which the confession addresses.

Sec. 1. God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that it is neither forced, nor, by any absolute necessity of nature, determined to good, or evil.

Here the confession speaks of natural liberty, a liberty that is part and parcel of our nature as human beings. We were given a will that is not coerced or forced to make any decision by any absolute necessity of nature. Here the confession distances itself from every form of moral determinism, which would subject human choices to fixed, mechanical, or physical forces, or even to the arbitrary influences of fate. In a word, Reformed theology categorically rejects fatalism and any determinism based upon the forces of nature. We are not coerced or forced by natural causes, or by our environment, either to do good or to do evil.

Section 2, however, goes on to make an important distinction be- tween the state of the human will as it was created and its state after the fall.

Sec. 2. Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom, and power to will and to do that which was good and well pleasing to God; but yet, mutably, so that he might fall from it.

Here the confession asserts and affirms that in creation the human will had freedom and power to do what is good, to do what is well pleasing to God. Before the fall, human beings had the moral capacity or the moral ability to choose righteousness and obedience before God. But this endowment from God was mutable. Man was capable of change and falling away from his original disposition.

Saint Augustine stated that in creation we had both the posse peccare (the ability to sin) and the posse non peccare (the ability not to sin). After the fall, we continued to have the ability to sin, the posse peccare, but we lost the power or ability not to sin, the posse non peccare. We were left in what Augustine called a state of moral inability. This truth can be illustrated from a rational perspective and from an analytical perspective. According to Jonathan Edwards, free will is our freedom to choose what we want—our ability to choose according to our own inclinations. Not only are we able to choose according to our strongest inclinations, but, in a very real sense, we must choose according to our strongest inclination in order to be free.

This is the essence of freedom: to be able to choose what you want, rather than what somebody else wants for you. We also recognize that we are creatures who have multitudes of conflicting desires. We are torn in more than one direction, and the intensity with which we want things changes and vacillates.

If we desired only to obey God, we would never sin. As Christians, we have some desire in our heart to please Christ. Unfortunately, we still desire to please ourselves, to gratify our own lusts, and to do what we want to do, rather than what Christ wants us to do. Now we are confronted with a choice between obeying Christ and disobeying Christ. If our desire to please Christ is greater than our desire to please ourselves at this point, what will we do? Whenever our desire for obedience is greater than our desire for sin, we will obey Christ. However, whenever our desire for sin exceeds our desire to please God, we will sin. In a real sense, we are slaves to our own freedom. We not only can be free, but must be free. We are volitional creatures, and to be volitional means that we choose according to our will. We make choices according to what seems best or most pleasing to us at the moment of decision.

What does that say for our sanctification? Is there any way that we can fool ourselves? This is important for our realization of how we function as sinners, having conflicting desires in our soul. We want to grow in grace, we want to please God, we want to obey Christ, and yet we still have desires for self-fulfillment that are sinful. We are told in the New Testament to feed the new man and starve the old man. Put the old man to death and seek the renewal of the new man, the strengthening of the inward man.

What can we do to strengthen our sanctification? The level of our desire to obey Christ has to increase, and the level of our desire for the things of this world has to diminish. Because we are always going to follow our strongest inclinations or desires, the only way to grow in grace is to feed and strengthen our positive desires for God and to starve our negative desires.

What are some things that we can do to strengthen the inner man? It certainly helps to spend time in the Word of God. Paul says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). When we read Scripture and hear the Word of God reinforced, we begin to understand that certain behavioral patterns that are acceptable in the culture in which we live are totally unacceptable to God. When we sin, we know that we are sinning, but we trivialize our sin. We say, “I know I am not supposed to do that, but it’s not a big deal.” As we come under the scrutiny of the Word of God, we begin to see that things that we do not regard as a big deal are indeed very important to God. We get a deeper understanding of righteousness and of evil.

The Scriptures also encourage us to obey God and discourage us from sin. So the Word of God is what we call a means of grace. When we spend time in the Bible, something happens to the inward man. Our mind gets changed. We start to think differently, and we approach decisions in a different way, all because our minds are saturated with the truth of God.

Have you read the whole Bible at least once all the way through? I have asked this question all over the world, and the overwhelming majority of professing Christians have never read the whole Bible. We all know that we should read the whole Bible, and we all know that spending time in the Word will have an impact on our souls and on our decisions. Many times we resolve to spend time in Scripture, but we do not, because something else comes up that we want to do more than we want to read Scripture. The desire is not compelling enough to cause us to act in a diligent and disciplined manner to feed the new man in Christ on the Word of God.

What can we do about that? What do we do about dieting? When we are really struggling at the table and can’t lose weight, even with the best resolve, we go to Weight Watchers, spend money, make a commitment, and enter a group. We become part of a group that is going to root for us every week and cheer when we succeed.

This is not a promotion for Weight Watchers, but in many ways it is an image of the church. We come to church partly to lose the excess baggage that we brought into the kingdom of God with our conversion. We come to church for help in killing the old man. We come to church so that our souls can be nurtured, and so that we can be instructed in the things of God in a way that is going to change our life. It changes our life by strengthening our resolve to do one thing rather than another. If you want to learn the Bible, and you are not doing it on your own, get into a Bible study group. If you want to learn the things of God and you do not have the discipline to start, get into a Sunday school class, not just for one hour a week, but to study and work on assignments for the rest of the week. The whole Christian battle is a battle of the will. It is a battle to overcome a will that by nature is bent in the wrong direction.

I am amazed when I hear people say the will is free, as if our will were indifferent to good or evil, with no inclination to go to the left or the right. I wonder if these people have spent any time in the Christian life or have struggled in the inward man to overcome the appetites, desires, and inclinations that drive our choices all our life. No, the will is not neutral.

Sec. 3. Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.

The Reformers believed that the will, although in a fallen state, could still achieve civic virtue or civic righteousness. Fallen man can still obey the traffic lights and so on, but he cannot incline himself to the things of God.

Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father” (John 6:65). “No one can” means “nobody can.” Remember your third-grade teacher? You raised your hand and asked, “Mrs. So-and-So, can I go to the pencil sharpener and sharpen my pen- cil?” She replied, “I’m sure that you can, but the question is not whether you can, but whether you may.” May has to do with permission; can has to do with ability. “No one can” means that no one is able.

We argue and discuss the doctrine of sola gratia, “of grace alone.” Does fallen man have the ability to turn to Christ and to choose him before he is born of the Holy Spirit? Most professing evangelical Christians today believe that faith comes first and then rebirth. This presupposes that the unconverted person has the ability to incline himself, or to choose to come, to Jesus Christ. Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Edwards said that no one is able to do that. I don’t care if you disagree with them, but you should not stand in defiance of the clear teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. If you continue to think that in your fallen state you have the moral ability to come to Christ apart from the grace of God, you do so at your own peril. In John 6:65, our Lord clearly says that no one is able to come to him unless the ability to do so is given to him by the Father (“This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father”).

Fortunately for us, Jesus puts the word “unless” in that statement. That word points to what we call a necessary condition, a sine qua non. A necessary condition has to be met before a desired result can occur. The desired result is coming to Christ; the necessary condition is that the ability to come must be given to the person by the Father. Only God gives that ability. Nobody can come to Christ on his own; we are just not able to, unless God gives us the moral ability to do it.

Now, even Arminius agreed with that. How could he not, when he read the same Bible that we do? God, he agreed, has to do something to make it possible for a person to come to Christ. In a narrow sense, even Arminius would say that the Spirit must work in a person before he can choose Christ. However, his understanding of what the Holy Spirit does here differs radically from the Augustinian tradition. Arminius says that God makes people able. However, in his view, even when God gives you the grace to come to Christ, you still have the ability to refuse that grace. Some people accept that grace, that assistance to come to Christ; other people reject the help. Those who cooperate with the offer of grace are saved, and those who refuse the offer perish. So, in the final analysis, the reason why one person perishes and another person is saved is that one person cooperates with grace and is saved, while another per- son refuses to cooperate with grace and perishes. Once again, it all comes down to a person’s choice. One person makes the righteous choice, and another makes the unrighteous choice.

The problem with this kind of thinking is that in the end you must say that you are saved, while your neighbor isn’t, because you are more righteous. You have done the right thing to get saved, while your neighbor has not—and now you have something to boast about. But the Bible says that you may not boast before God, because it is God and God alone who enabled you to choose Christ. He actually worked faith in your heart, not only giving you release from prison, but giving you the positive inclination by which you then willingly came to Christ. Since the fall, the human will has been in bondage to sin, until liberated by God. He gives you what you lack, a positive desire for Christ.

The next chapter of the confession is on effectual calling. When the Holy Spirit gives you the grace of regeneration, its purpose is to bring you to Christ. God does not just give you the ability to come to Christ (John 6:65), but also draws you to him: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (6:44). Many evangelicals look at that text and say, “That means they will never come on their own initiative unless they are enticed or lured or encouraged or wooed. The Holy Spirit comes and woos people, encouraging them and drawing them like the flame draws the moth. But all of that enticing and drawing is merely the external influence of the Holy Spirit. He will not invade your soul or shape your will. He will just try to encourage you, saying, ‘Come on now; it’s a beautiful thing. Come to Christ.’ Some will be persuaded, and some will not.”

I was asked to debate this question at an Arminian school several years ago with the head of the New Testament department. When he quoted John 6:44, I mentioned to him that the Greek verb translated “draw” in this verse is the same verb that is used in the book of Acts when some men in Philippi dragged Paul and Silas before the authorities for casting an evil spirit out of their slave girl (Acts 16:19). Those men did not try to entice them to come before the magistrates; they compelled them to come. The professor interrupted: “But there are references in the Greek poet Euripides (or somebody) where this same verb refers to drawing water out of a well.” Smiling to the audience, he asked, “And Dr. Sproul, does anybody compel water to come out of a well?” Everybody laughed, and I responded, “How do you get water from a well? Do you stand at the top of the well and call, ‘Here, water, water, water’? Or is that water dead in the pit and absolutely inert unless you lower the bucket into the water and you drag it up to the surface?”

Jesus’ point in John 6:44 is that people cannot come to him unless they are compelled to come by the Father—unless God drags them. If you are in Christ, that is exactly how you came to Christ. The Holy Spirit dragged you there. He did not drag you kicking and screaming against your will, because he had changed your will before you came. Had he not changed the disposition of your heart, had he not put into your heart a desire for Christ, you would still be a stranger and an alien to the kingdom of God, because your will, while free from coercion, is still in bondage to sin. That will that you think is so free is, in fact, a slave imprisoned to yourself. You are your own slaveholder. Your will is enslaved to your dispositions, to your desires, which, the Bible says, are wicked continually, prior to conversion.

That sounds like determinism. B.F. Skinner, in his book Beyond Freedom and Dignity, argued that human decisions are the result of materialistic determinism. He claimed that people have no control over their destiny and no real freedom, because their decisions are determined by the physical forces around and within. I am saying that you do have freedom in the sense that you have the capacity to do what you want to do, but that you are also subject to a kind of determinism, which we call self-determination.

Self-determination is virtually synonymous with freedom or liberty. To be self-determined means that you are not forced or coerced to do something against your will; you are able to do what you want to do; you determine your destiny and make your choices, so it is the self that determines the will. But the problem is that the self is fallen and spiritually dead. It gives us desires and inclinations that are sinful. If we accordingly make sinful decisions, they may be made freely (from coercion), but they are still made in bondage to sin. Therefore, the capacity to make our own decisions does not give us the liberty we need.

Sec. 4. When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, He freeth him from his natural bondage under sin; and, by His grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good; yet so, as that by reason of his remaining corruption, he doth not perfectly, nor only, will that which is good, but doth also will that which is evil.

Sec. 5. The will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to do good alone in the state of glory only.

Before conversion, we are free to sin; after conversion, we are free to sin or to obey God. In heaven, when we are in glory, we are free only to obey. That is what we call royal freedom, the most wonderful freedom, where our choices will only be good. We will have no inclination whatsoever to do anything wicked or evil. The humanistic view, that true freedom means that we have an equal ability to go to the left or to the right, to do what is sinful or what is righteous, is a myth. It is not only unbiblical, but irrational. We must rid our minds of that notion and realize that at the heart of this matter is original sin. Prior to our conversion, we are enslaved to wicked impulses. But when the Spirit sets us free from bondage to sin, then we are truly free.

Adapted from Dr. R.C. Sproul. Truths We Confess: A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, Volume Two: Salvation and the Christian Life. P&R: Philippsburg, N.J., 2007.

 

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Why Was The Death of Christ on The Cross Necessary? By Dr. Wayne Grudem

An Atonement Primer:

We may define the atonement as follows: The atonement is the work Christ did in his life and death to earn our salvation. This definition indicates that we are using the word atonement in a broader sense than it is sometimes used. Sometimes it is used to refer only to Jesus’ dying and paying for our sins on the cross. But, as will be seen below, since saving benefits also come to us from Christ’s life, we have included that in our definition as well.

The Cause of the Atonement: What was the ultimate cause that led Christ’s coming to earth and dying for our sins? To find this we must trace the question back to something in the character of God himself. And here Scripture points to two things. And here Scripture points to two things: the love and justice of God.

The love of God as a cause of the atonement is seen in the most familiar passage in the Bible: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). But the justice of God also required that God find a way that the penalty due to us for our sins would be paid (for he could not accept us into fellowship with himself unless the penalty was paid). Paul explains that this was why God sent Christ to be a “propitiation” (Rom. 3:25 NASB) (that is, a sacrifice that bears God’s wrath so that God becomes “propitious” or favorably disposed toward us): it was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins” (Rom. 3:25). Here Paul says that God had been forgiving sins in the Old Testament but no penalty had been paid–a fact that would make people wonder whether God was indeed just and ask how he could forgive sins without a penalty. No God who was truly just could do that, could he? Yet when God sent Christ to die and pay the penalty for our sins, “it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:26).

Therefore both the love and the justice of God were the ultimate cause of the atonement. It is not helpful for us to ask which is more important, however, because without the love of God, he would never have taken any steps to redeem us, yet without the justice of God, the specific requirement that Christ should earn our salvation by dying for our sins would not have been met. Both the love and the justice of God were equally important.

The Necessity of the Atonement. Was there any other way for God to save human beings than by sending his Son to die in our place?

Before answering this question, it is important  to realize that it was not necessary for God to save any people at all. When we appreciate that “God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of nether gloom to be kept until judgement (2 Peter 2:4), then we realize that God could also have chosen with perfect justice to have left us in our sins awaiting judgment: he could have chosen to save no one, just as he did with the sinful angels. So in this sense the atonement was not absolutely necessary.

But once God, is his love, decided to save some human beings, then  several passages in Scripture indicate that there was not other way for God to do this than through the death of his Son. Therefore, the atonement was not absolutely necessary, but, as a “consequence” of God’s decision to save some human beings, the atonement was absolutely necessary. This is sometimes called the “consequent absolute necessity” view of the atonement.

In the Garden of Gethsemene Jesus prays, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39). We may be confident that Jesus always prayed according to the will of the Father, and that he always prayed with fullness of faith. Thus it seems that this prayer, which Matthew takes pains to record for us, shows that it was not possible for Jesus to avoid the death on the cross which was soon to come to him (the “cup” of suffering that he had said would be his). If he was going to accomplish the work that the Father sent him to do, and if people were going to be redeemed for God, then it was necessary for him to die on the cross.

He said something similar after his resurrction, when he was talking with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They were sad that Jesus had died, but his response was, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26). Jesus understood that God’s plan of redemption (which he explained for the disciples from many Old Testament Scriptures, Luke 24:27) made it necessary for the Messiah to die for the sins of his people.

As we saw above, Paul in Romans 3 also shows that if God were to be righteous, and still save people, he had to send Christ to pay the penalty for sins. “It was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). The epistle to the Hebrews emphasizes that Christ had to suffer for our sins: “He had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation [lit. ‘propitiation’] for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17). The author of Hebrews aslo argues that since “it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins (Hebrews 10:4), a better sacrifice is required (Hebrews 9:23). Only the blood of Christ, that is, his death, would be able  really to take away sins (Hebrews 9:25-26). There was no other way for God to save us than for Christ to die in our place.

Dr. Wayne Grudem, research professor of theology and biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary, received his A.B. from Harvard University, M.Div. from Westminster Seminary, and a Ph.D in New Testament from the University of Cambridge. He is a board member of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, a past president of the Evangelical Theological Society, and the author of more than a dozen books -including his magnum opus “Systematic Theology”, Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 2009 – from which this article is excerpted from chapter 27.

 

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Book Review – Found: God’s Will by John MacArthur

Good Biblical Foundation For Understanding the Topic of God’s Will For Your Life

I am currently reading a handful of books on decision making. I figured I would start out with the shortest of them, and work my way to the longest (from the simple to the complex). John Macarthur’s greatest strength is that you can count on him staying close to what the Bible says and not giving any speculation as to what it doesn’t say. He doesn’t delve into the emotional or philosophical realm, but sticks like glue to what the Bible clearly articulates concerning what God’s will is for humanity.

In the first chapter John clearly spells out what he wants to do in this little booklet: “Let’s begin with a simple assumption. Since God has a will for us, He must want us to know it. If so, then we could expect Him to communicate it to us in the most obvious way. How would that be? Through the Bible, His revelation. Therefore, I believe that what one needs to know about the will of God is clearly revealed in the pages of the Word of God. God’s will is, in fact, very explicit in Scripture.”

Therefore, MacArthur proceeds to deal only with what the Bible states explicitly about the Word of God. He gleans six principles from six (actually more – but for the purposes of this review I will only give the key texts he uses) key passages of Scripture.

1)    The first thing about God’s will is that He wants all kinds of people (economic classes, high positions, low positions and all ethnicities) to be saved based on 1 Timothy 2:3,4 – “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (Referencing verses1 & 2 where Paul says “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way”).

2)    It is God’s will that we are Spirit-filled (numerous verses). The key verses used in the chapter is Ephesians 5:15-18 where the Apostle Paul says, “Look carefully how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” According to MacArthur the Spirit-filled life is “being saturated with the things of Christ with His Word, His Person.”

3)    It is God’s will for us to be sanctified. The key verses here are in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in passionate lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.”

4)    It is God’s will that we be a submissive and obedient people. Colossians 3; Ephesians 5 & 6; and 1 Peter 2:3-15 all talk about the roles of submission that every believer has with ultimate submission to the Lordship of Jesus over our lives.

5)    It is God’s will that we mature in Christ through suffering. 1 Peter 4:19 & 5:10 specify, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good…And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”

6)    It is God’s will that in all things we give thanks and delight in Him. In Psalm 37:4 David reminds us to “delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” And the Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

In the final analysis if you are saved through the righteousness of Christ imputed to your account in exchange for your sin, and thus Spirit-filled, seeking to be sanctified, are submissive to Christ’s leadership in your life, endure suffering, and are continually giving thanks in all things – then according to MacArthur, and I agree – it doesn’t matter what you do. The foundation for all your decisions has already been established, and now you have great freedom within the parameters of God’s protective boundaries delineated in the Bible.

This book is by no means exhaustive, but is recommended because it lays a solid foundation for what the Bible does say about “finding God’s will for your life.”

 

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God The Seeker

“All religions founders say, ‘that’s the way to God’, only Christianity gives you Jesus, who says, ‘I’m God come to find you” – Tim Keller

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2011 in Quotes

 

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Book Review: Essential Truths of The Christian Faith by R. C. Sproul

Next to the Bible and R.C. Sproul’s book “The Holiness of God” I have given away more copies of this book than anything else for a few reasons:

1)    Everyone is a theologian – but most people are weak theologians (In other words everyone – even atheists have an opinion about God and truth). This book helps you to become a better theologian. It covers all the major doctrines of the Bible in a succinct, logical, and clear manner.

2)    It’s organization – Each chapter is brief, yet packed with a practical discussion of the doctrine; evidence for it’s importance from the Scriptures; an itemized summary listing the major points made in the chapter (usually 5-6 key points); and a list of 5-6 Biblical references for further reflection and study.

3)    It’s breadth and depth of coverage – It is divided up into Major Doctrinal sections with sub topics for each doctrine – therefore it can be used as q quick reference tool on 102 different topics of the Scripture. For example, under the first section on Revelation of the Scriptures, you can look up chapter 7 on “The Canon of Scripture” to see how the Bible came to be formed and accepted as the authoritative Word of God, or chapter 8 on some basic principles of “How to Interpret the Bible.”

Here are the Contents of the Book (Each Chapter is Approximately 2-4 pages long:

Section I. Revelation (1. Divine Revelation; 2. Paradox, Mystery, and Contradiction; 3. Immediate, and Mediate General Revelation; 4. Special Revelation and the Bible; 5. The Law of God; 6. The Prophets of God; 7. The Canon of the Bile; 8. Interpreting the Bible; 9. Private Interpretation)

Section II The Nature and Attributes of God (10. The Incomprehensibility of God; 11. The Tri-unity of God; 12. The Self-Existence of God; 13: The Omnipotence of God; 14. The Omnipresence of God; 15. The Omniscience of God; 16. The Holiness of God; 17. The Goodness of God; 18. The Justice of God)

Section III The Works and Decrees of God (19. Creation; 20. Providence; 21. Miracles; 22. The Will of God; 23. Covenant; 24. Covenant of Works)

Section IV. Jesus Christ (25. The Deity of Christ; 26. The Subordination of Christ; 27. The Humanity of Christ; 28. The Sinlessness of Christ; 29. The Virgin Birth; 30. Jesus Christ as the Only Begotten; 31. The Baptism of Christ; 32. The Glory of Christ; 33. The Ascension of Christ; 34. Jesus Christ as Mediator; 35. The Threefold Office of Christ; 36. The Titles of Jesus)

Section V. The Holy Spirit (37. The Deity of the Holy Spirit; 38. The Personality of the Holy Spirit; 39. The Internal Testimony of the Holy Spirit; 40. The Illumination of the Holy Spirit; 41. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit; 42. The Holy Spirit as Comforter; 43. The Holy Spirit as Sanctifier)

Section VI. Human Beings and the Fall (44. Knowledge of Self and Knowledge of God; 45. Human Beings Created in the Image of God; 46. Human Beings as Body and Soul; 47. Human Beings as Flesh and Spirit; 48. Satan; 49. Demons; 50. Sin; 51. Original Sin; 52. Human Depavity; 53. Human Conscience; 54. The Unfrogiveable Sin; 55. Syncretism)

Section VII. Salvation (56. Salvation; 57. Predestination; 58. Predestination and Reprobation; 59. Effectual Calling; 60. Rebirth; 61. Atonement; 62. Definite Atonement; 63. Free Will; 64. Faith; 65. Saving Faith; 66. Justification by Faith; 67. Faith and Works; 68. Repentance; 69. Merit and Grace; 70. Perseverance of the Saints; 71. The Assurance of Salvation; 72. The Intermediate State; 73. The Last Resurrection; 74. Glorification)

Section VIII. The Church and Sacraments (75. The Apostles; 76. The Church; 77. The Marks of a True Church; 78. Excommunication; 79. The Sacraments; 80. Baptism; 81. Infant Baptism; 82. The Lord’s Supper; 83. Transubstantiation; 84. The Sabbath; 85. Oaths and Vows)

Section IX. Spirituality and Living in This Age (86. The Fruit of the Spirit; 87. Love; 88. Hope; 89. Prayer; 90. Antinomianism; 91. Legalism; 92. The Threefold Use of the Law; 93. Perfectionism; 94. Civil Government; 95. Marriage; 96. Divorce)

Section X. End Times (97. The Antichrist; 98. The Return of Christ; 99. The Kingdom of God; 100. Heaven; 101. The Beatific Vision. 102. Hell)

End Notes

Suggested Reading: He lists two-five helpful books for each of the ten sections.

I don’t agree with everything Sproul says in this book (He is a Covenant Theologian – I am coming from more of a “Reformed Baptist” perspective), however, I always learn something, or I’m reminded of something important whenever I read him. He is a master communicator – He is a deep and practical thinker, and easy to understand. I think he is the finest theologian of our generation. I believe anyone reading or using this book as a quick reference and introduction to all the major doctrines of the Bible will benefit immensely from its contents. I have given this book to many High School and College Graduates over the years, as well as to new followers of Jesus Christ. Many of those recipients have gone on to become outstanding students and teachers of God’s Word.

 

*Dr. Robert Charles Sproul was born in 1939 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, which started as the Ligonier Valley Study Center in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, more than thirty years ago. In an effort to respond more effectively to the growing demand for Dr. Sproul’s teachings and Ligonier’s other educational resources, the general offices were moved to Orlando, Florida, in 1984, and the ministry was renamed “Ligonier Ministries.”

Dr. R.C. Sproul is featured daily on Renewing Your Mind, an international radio broadcast that has aired for more than ten years with an estimated two million people tuning in every week on more than 235 radio outlets in the United States and throughout more than 40 countries. Dr. Sproul is a respected teacher, theologian, and pastor. He is currently serving as the director of Serve International, and as senior minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida. Dr. Sproul is ordained as a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.

In addition, Dr. Sproul was the general editor of The Reformation Study Bible, which was also known as The New Geneva Study Bible, and he is the executive editor of Tabletalk magazine. As a prolific author he has written more than 60 books and scores of articles for national evangelical publications. Dr. Sproul has produced more than 300 lecture series and has recorded more than 80 video series on subjects such as the history of philosophy, theology, Bible study, apologetics, and Christian living. He signed the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, which affirmed the traditional view of biblical inerrancy, and he wrote a commentary on that document titled Explaining Inerrancy.

Dr. Sproul completed his undergraduate work at Westminster College, and then went on to earn three postgraduate degrees at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Free University of Amsterdam, and Geneva College, and he has had a distinguished academic teaching career at various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida, and Jackson, Mississippi, and Knox Theological Seminary in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

Ligonier Ministries:

In 1971, a group of Christian leaders at Dr. R.C. Sproul’s church approached him with the intent of establishing a study center in Ligonier Valley, Pennsylvania. This study center provided a place where lay people could receive the benefits of seminary-level teaching without having to attend seminary. Christians from all over the United States attended the Ligonier Valley Study Center to hear Dr. Sproul and other leading evangelical scholars. The sessions provided the students and teachers an opportunity to explore the truths of Scripture, the great doctrines of classical Christianity, and develop spiritual disciplines. Many relished the chance to learn how to be articulate defenders of the faith.

From the outset, a goal of the Ligonier Valley Study Center was to provide educational materials to all Christians, even if they could not attend lectures at the study center. As a result, lectures were recorded and made available around the country. In an effort to respond more effectively to the growing demand for Dr. Sproul’s teachings and Ligonier’s other educational resources, the general offices were moved to Orlando, Florida, in 1984. At this time, the organization changed its name to Ligonier Ministries.

In 2001, Ligonier Ministries celebrated 30 years of ministry. As the need for substantive Christian resources continues to rise, Ligonier Ministries looks for new outlets to proclaim the holiness of God. Ligonier Ministries carries out its mission primarily through the teaching of its chairman — author and theologian Dr. R.C. Sproul.

Ligonier Ministries offers more than 360 teaching series on subjects including apologetics, biblical studies, philosophy, ethics, Christian theology, and discipleship in audiocassette, CD, DVD, and video formats. Each series is appropriate for individual or group study, and many have study guides available to enhance the learning process.

Ligonier Ministries offers over 400 books from more than 100 classic and modern authors. Topics include church history, Christian living, apologetics, biblical studies, systematic theology, family issues, and children’s interest.

Ligonier Ministries presents a national conference each spring in Orlando, Florida, to provide extensive study of a particular biblical theme or issue. Thousands gather to fellowship with other believers, as they explore and affirm biblical truths under Dr. Sproul and other evangelical scholars. In the fall, Ligonier hosts several regional conferences throughout the country and a special pastors conference in Orlando.

Since 1979, Ligonier Ministries has published the daily Bible study magazine Tabletalk. Each month, feature articles develop an important biblical, theological, or cultural issue. Daily Bible studies take readers through a systematic study of one or more books of the Bible every year. Thousands turn to this magazine for in-depth Bible study and helpful articles on important topics by Dr. Sproul and other noted pastors and theologians.

Since 1994, Renewing Your Mind with Dr. R.C. Sproul (RYM) has provided sound, in-depth teaching to those who might otherwise never receive it. This braodcast is available on more than 235 radio outlets in the United States to a potential audience of 2.5 million people per week and is also available to countless other throughout the world via shortwave radio.

In 2003, Ligonier Ministries established a music division to promote the sense of reverence and gravitas found in more classical forms of Christian worship. There are recordings by the Atlanta Boy Choir, various international orchestral and choral groups, a full selection of classical Christmas albums, and several resources featuring Grammy award-winning tenor Stuart Neill performing new arrangements of classic hymns. The Classic Sermon Series and other audio productions are also being released in an effort to reintroduce some of the great sermons of the past to Christians today.

A long-standing goal of the ministry was to move into the book-publishing market. In September 2004, Soli Deo Gloria (SDG) became a division of Ligonier Ministries and the first step in reaching that goal.

In keeping with this step, Ligonier Ministries released Reformation Trust Publishing in 2006. This new imprint will be committed to publishing books that help readers develop a closer walk with God through a deeper understanding of the Scriptures and the historic Christian faith. It aims to become a trusted resource for the church by producing biblically and theologically solid books using high-quality materials to ensure a lengthy shelf life. Three of its first releases were Dr. R.C. Sproul’s A Taste of Heaven and The Lightlings and Dr. Steven Lawson’s Foundations of Grace.

 

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Book Review: Our Triune God by Philip Ryken and Michael LeFebvre

This book concisely and eloquently presents some of the depth’s of the biblical portrayal of the Triune nature of God in four particular areas: 1) The Distinct roles of the Father, Son, and Spirit in our salvation from Ephesians 1:3-14 – this section made me want to thank and praise the Trinity; 2) The Mysteries of the Trinity with glimpses into how God is one in essence and yet three in Person in the Old and New Testaments – this section fed my mind; 3) The Relational nature of the Trinity with some helpful exposition from John 13-17 – this section nurtured my soul; 4) Highlights from the Gospel of Luke gives glimpses into the joy and power of the Triune working of God in our lives – this section increased my joy in the Lord.

The author’s do a very good job of highlighting the distinct roles of each Person in the Godhead; going into enough depth to make one think; and use helpful illustrations to touch and reach the soul. I think this book is an excellent resource to give away to new believers who have never really thought through the process of their salvation; and how essential each Person in the Trinity works in making this possible. I also think that the more Trinitarian we become, the more we actually grow in our understanding of, and intimacy with God.

As a pastor and life coach I’m particularly grateful to have this book to be able to share and give away as a very good resource to those who want to know God more intimately. It is a book that is easy to read, short, and yet covers a lot of theological ground in about 100 pages.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher – Crossway Books – book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

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