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Tag Archives: Soteriology (The Study of Salvation and the Gospel)

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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R.C. SPROUL ON MAN’S MORAL ABILITY TO BE SAVED

Radical Corruption

Sin separates us from God

In God’s work of creation, the crowning act, the pinnacle of that divine work, was the creation of human beings. It was to humans that God assigned and stamped His divine image. That we are created in the image of God gives to us the highest place among earthly beings. That image provides human beings with a unique ability to mirror and reflect the very character of God.

However, since the tragic fall of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, that image has been subject to serious change and corruption. As a result, we speak of the “shattering of the image.” The term shatter may go too far, however, because it could suggest the idea that the image is now destroyed and that no vestige of it is left in our humanity. Such is not the case. Though the image has been radically blurred and corrupted, there remains some aspect of that image left in our humanity, which remaining vestige is the basis for human dignity. Human dignity is not inherent, it is derived. It is not intrinsic, it is extrinsic. Human beings have dignity because God, who has dignity inherently and intrinsically, has assigned such dignity to us.

When we speak of the fall and of original sin, we are not speaking of the first sin committed by Adam and Eve, we are speaking of the radical consequences of that sin, which followed to all future generations of mankind. In Reformed circles, the doctrine of original sin has often been described by the phrase “total depravity.” That it’s called “total depravity” is explained in one sense because the letter “T” fits so neatly into the historic acrostic TULIP, which defines the so-called “five points of Calvinism.”

Nevertheless, the word total with respect to our depravity may seriously mislead. It could suggest that our fallen natures are as corrupt and depraved as possible. But that would be a state of utter depravity. I prefer to use the phrase “radical corruption,” perhaps because the first initial of each word suits my own name and nature, R.C., but more so because it avoids the misunderstanding that results from the phrase “total depravity.” Radical corruption means that the fall from our original state has affected us not simply at the periphery of our existence. It is not something that merely taints an otherwise good personality; rather, it is that the corruption goes to the radix, to the root or core of our humanity, and it affects every part of our character and being. The effect of this corruption reaches our minds, our hearts, our souls, our bodies — indeed, the whole person. This is what lies behind the word total in “total depravity.”

What is most significant about the consequences of the fall is what it has done to our ability to obey God. The issue of our moral capability after the fall is one of the most persistently debated issues within the Christian community. Virtually every branch of Christendom has articulated some doctrine of original sin because the Bible is absolutely clear that we are fallen from our created condition.

However, the degree of that fall and corruption remains hotly disputed among Christians. Historically, that dispute was given fuel by the debate between the British monk Pelagius and the greatest theologian of the first millennium, Saint Augustine of Hippo. In defining the state of corruption into which mankind has fallen, Augustine set up some parallels and contrasts between man’s estate before the fall and his condition after the fall. Before the fall, Augustine said that man was posse peccare and posse non peccare, that is, man had the ability to sin and the ability not to sin. Not sinning was a possibility that Adam had in the Garden.

In addition to this, Augustine distinguished between our original estate, which involved both the posse mori and the posse non mori. This distinction refers to our mortality. Adam was made in such a way that it was possible for him to die. At the same time, he had the possibility before him of living forever had he not fallen into sin. So both the possibility of sinning and not sinning and the possibility of dying or not dying existed as options for Adam before the fall, according to Augustine.

He further argued that the consequence of the fall upon the human race can be defined this way: since the fall, man no longer has the posse non peccare or the posse non mori. All human beings now have lost the natural ability to keep from sinning and thus to keep from dying. We are all born in the state of sin and as mortal creatures, destined to death. After the fall, Augustine defines our condition as having the posse peccare. We retain the ability to sin, but now we have the dreadful condition of the non posse non peccare. This double negative means that we no longer have the ability to not sin. Likewise, we have now the non posse non mori. It is not possible for us not to die. It is appointed to all of us once to die and then the judgment. The only exceptions to this would be those who remain alive at the coming of Christ.

When we get to heaven, things will change again. There we will no longer have the posse peccare and the non posse non peccare. There we will only have non posse peccare. We will no longer be able to sin or to die. It all comes down to this, to the issue of moral ability. Augustine was saying that apart from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit that God performs in the souls of the elect, no person in His own power is able to choose godliness, to choose Christ, or to choose the things of God. That ability to come to Christ, as our Lord Himself declared in John chapter 6, is an ability that can only be the result of the regenerating power of God the Holy Spirit. That position spelled out by Augustine remains the orthodox position of historic Reformed theology.

© Tabletalk magazine http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/radical-corruption/

 

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How to Share the Gospel With Muslims by J.T. Smith

Editors’ Note: Christians didn’t discover the need for missions in the Muslim world on September 11, 2001. The Middle East is the homeland of our faith, too, the site of many great acts of God’s miraculous redemption. Long before the Twin Towers fell in Manhattan that clear fall day, Christians debated why the church has struggled to gain a hearing for the gospel where the call once sounded freely. Yet in the last decade, debate has intensified as we agonized over the depth of many Muslims’ hostility toward Christianity. Missionaries and academics have wondered aloud whether the problem extends beyond Western politics, military intervention, and spiritual bondage to the very way we present the gospel. Could our methods be to blame? Could more sophisticated contextualization unlock many more hearts for Christ?

These are the questions we asked experienced pastors and missionaries to answer this week. Whether you’re planning to take the gospel overseas yourself or supporting those who do, we hope these articles will help you make wise, informed decisions about this great missionary challenge of our generation.

“How do you pray?”

Ahmed and I had been sitting at a little teashop talking about various things when he asked this question. Like many other Muslims, he was curious about how Christians pray. I began to explain how our hearts need to be purified in order for us to approach God in prayer. He agreed and wanted to know more. “What do you say when you pray?” he asked. I told him that we can speak to God as a loving father. I then went on to show him the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6.

“Is that from the Bible?” he asked. “Yes it is,” I answered. He responded, “That’s beautiful! Can I get one?” From the beginning, it was obvious that God was working in Ahmed’s life to draw him to Jesus. It was a blessing to introduce him to Jesus the savior—whom he had only known as Jesus the prophet.

As we talk about Insider Movements and how we should or shouldn’t be sharing Christ with Muslims, two dangers can emerge. First, people can become a leery of Muslim evangelism out of fear of doing so incorrectly. We should have no fear in sharing the gospel with Muslims. It is the gospel that we are sharing, after all. It is powerful to save!

Second, we must remember that Muslim evangelism should not be merely talked about and debated on blogs or in academic circles. It is something that should be done wherever we find Muslims. In that endeavor let me offer some words of counsel to all who seek to make Christ supreme among Muslims.

Ground yourself in the fact that God is sovereign in salvation.

Muslims come to faith by a supernatural work of God, by which the Holy Spirit opens their hearts (Acts 16:14) and grants them the gift of repentance (2 Tim. 2:25). We believe that a Muslim coming to faith is not intrinsically connected to our form of contextualization, but rests solely on God’s divine intervention (Dan. 4:35; Ps. 115:3; John 6:64-65) and our humble obedience to proclaim the gospel (Acts 1:8; Matt. 9:38, 28:19-20). God is not concerned with glorifying a method; he is concerned with glorifying his Son. Strategies are useful and necessary, but none of them offers the “key” to Muslim evangelism.

Be diligent in working to understand the local culture and determine the best way to present the gospel.

God’s sovereignty is not meant to make us lazy, careless, or vague in our evangelism. It gives us hope, because our finite attempts to share the gospel are backed by an infinitely powerful Savior who has “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). Wanting to present the gospel clearly and knowing that God’s grace is irresistible are not mutually exclusive.

When it comes to understanding the local culture, we should seek to do two things:

(1) Know Islam. We need to ask ourselves, What are Muslims longing for? What keeps Muslims from attaining this? Don’t be afraid to read the Qur’an or other religious sources. These things will give you great insight into Muslims hearts and minds.

(2) Use their language. When I say “language” I’m referring to two things. First, speak their actual language. If you want to see a church planted among Arabic-speaking Muslims, learn Arabic. If you’re working among Pakistanis, learn Urdu. If among Bengalis, learn Bengali. Second, speak the language (figuratively) that communicates to them. My wife and I lived and worked among Arabic speakers. We learned early on that we could not get people to listen by presenting a beautiful apologetic syllogism proving Jesus is God. We had to use stories, parables, and passages from their religious books.

Center your gospel presentation on Jesus and the Bible.

The degree to which Muslim-background believers seek to retain their previous religion correlates with how we present the gospel to them. In other words, if we use the Qur’an extensively in our evangelism, we risk encouraging a sentimental attachment to it. Muslim-background believers may see the Qur’an as the means by which they understood the gospel and therefore have a harder time letting it go. If we present the gospel as fulfilling their previous religion, we open ourselves up to future problems.

I am not against the proper use of the Qur’an in evangelism. I am concerned with how much we use it. We should not give it center place in our gospel presentation. Jesus is the only way to the Father. Muslims must believe Jesus is their savior, and this belief can only come from the Scriptures. The story of redemption cannot be told from the Qur’an.

Don’t force your ideas on them.

Muslim evangelism can be messy; discipleship can be even worse. Each convert I worked with was different. I made it a point to preach the gospel and let it linger, giving them the time and freedom to think through the implications and determine how they should be applied in that particular culture. We should not attempt to impose our ideas or forms on Muslim-background believers. This means we shouldn’t impose either Western or Islamic expressions of Christianity on them. This is where much of the tension comes from.

We all have an idea of what we hope to see, and how we do Muslim ministry will be determined by our desired outcome. Insider Movement advocates envision implanting the gospel in a Muslim culture with the hopes that it will grow like yeast and lead to transformation from the inside out. In order to do this, they believe, the message must take on Islamic form. Anything less will be viewed as foreign and suspect. Others argue that Muslims need to be called out of Islam and gathered into a separate body with a clear Christ-centered identity. Anything less, they claim, would be viewed as syncretistic.

I would argue that both are correct. The gospel will take on a form of the culture that it is speaking to; if it doesn’t, it will not be understood. But the gospel will also speak with a prophetic voice within the culture that calls for transformation. It goes in and calls out. Our goal is to preach the gospel of Christ from the Scriptures and let the Spirit transform lives and communities.

In the end, expressions of the church or faith communities among Muslims may challenge all our views at some point. However, if these expressions are orthodox in their beliefs, Christ-centered in their view of the gospel, and not deceptive in their practices, we have cause for rejoicing. May God give us wisdom, grace, patience, and boldness as we seek to share the gospel with Muslims.

J.T. Smith and his wife have been ministering to Muslims for the past ten years. They have spent the last four and a half years in the Arabian Peninsula seeking to plant churches among Arabs. This article originally appeared on http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/05/15/how-to-share-the-gospel-with-muslims/

 

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Book Review: Gospel-Centered Discipleship by Jonathan K. Dodson

Brilliantly Integrating the Gospel in all of Life

In 2009 I took a core group of leaders with me from San Diego to Dallas, Texas for an Acts 29 Boot Camp. The highlight for all of us while we were there was hearing Jonathan Dodson give a Biblical Theology on the Person and Work on the Holy Spirit from the Old and New Testament. I knew great things were going to come from this man’s life upon hearing him speak.

I hope that this will be the first of many books that Dodson writes integrating the gospel with all of life. What he does in this book in a very cogent manner is demonstrate the strengths and weaknesses in “traditional” discipleship and shows how the gospel should not be bifurcated, but central to the pre-Christian and post-Christian’s understanding of discipleship. He makes a great case for the “Great Commission” becoming the “Gospel Commission” and shows how repentance and faith in the context of community are constants in the gospel-graced disciple of Christ.

Tackling discipleship biblically, theologically, and practically Dodson has given pastors, church planters, and all kinds of Christians a wonderful handbook for understanding biblical discipleship, and how to practically live out the gospel in the context of community.

The best part of this book is how it exalts the gospel of Christ by pointing to a grace based discipleship that doesn’t err toward the extremes of self-righteousness, nor of antinomianism, but simply living out one’s new identity in Christ. According to Dodson, discipleship is our identity in Christ and everything else we are is related to our distinct roles as a disciples of Christ.

Our new identity in Christ has three distinct aspects that are developed in the book: rationality, relationship, and being missional. He also demonstrates that we must not err on the side of being only vertical (pietistic), nor horizontally oriented (missional). We must seek to diagonally balance the vertical and horizontal aspects of our identity in Christ — the head, heart, and hands aspects of discipleship in the context of community.

I highly recommend this book as one that will increase your understanding of, and application of the gospel – no matter how long you’ve been a Christian. It is one of the best books on discipleship to come out in a long time.

*Jonathan K. Dodson (M. Div; Th.M, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) serves as a pastor of Austin City Life in Austin, Texas. He has written articles in numerous blogs and journals such as The Resurgence, The Journal of Biblical Counseling, and Boundless. Dodson has discipled men and women abroad and at home for almost two decades, taking great delight in communicating the gospel and seeing Christ formed in others.

 

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Book Review: The Gospel Centered-Life by Bob Thune and Will Walker

A Phenomenally Christ Centered Workbook

 I think that the most important concept that Christians can formulate in their minds is how the gospel applies in our lives every day. The authors describe this workbook as “a nine-lesson small group study intended to help participants understand how the gospel shapes every aspect of life. Each lesson is self-contained, featuring clear teaching from the Scriptures and requires no extra work outside of the group setting.”

The Gospel-Centered life is designed to do the following:

1)    Deepen your grasp of the gospel as you see your need for continued renewal.

2)    Grow as you experience transformation from the inside out.

3)    Be challenged to develop authentic relationships as the gospel moves you to love and serve others.

Each lesson contains the following sections: 1) a Bible Conversation; 2) An article from a primary source that teaches some good in depth content on the topic; 3) Discussion questions related to the content and their practical ramifications in our lives; 4) An exercise to take the discussion from theory to application; 5) The wrap-up gives the leader the chance to answer any last minute questions, reinforce ideas, and spend some time in prayer.

Thune and Walker give a helpful summary of how each lesson is organized and what it is designed to accomplish (the “Big Idea” for study, discussion, and application):

Section One – three lessons answering the question: What is the gospel?

Lesson 1: The Gospel Grid – “If the gospel is constantly ‘bearing fruit and growing’ (Col. 1:6), then everything has to do with the gospel—God, humanity, salvation, worship, relationships, shopping, recreation, work, personality…everything! The objective in this lesson is to establish a framework for talking about the gospel.”

Lesson 2: Pretending & Performing – “Each of us tends to ‘shrink the cross,’ which is to say that something is lacking in our understanding, appreciation, or application of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sin. This manifests itself in two main ways: pretending and performing. Pretending minimizes sin by making ourselves out to be something we are not. Performing minimizes God’s holiness by reducing his standard to something we can meet, thereby meriting his favor. Both are rooted in an inadequate view of God’s holiness and out identity.”

Lesson 3: Believing The Gospel – “This lesson turns our attention to the positive aspects of the gospel: what remedies has God given in the gospel to keep us from shrinking the cross and depending on our own effort?”

Section Two – three lessons answering the question: What does the gospel do in us?

Lesson 4: Law & Gospel – “Continue to think about how the gospel interacts with our lives, but now we turn to consider the gospel’s relationship to law. What is the law? Does God expect me to obey it? What is the purpose of the law? How does the law help me to believe the gospel? How does the gospel help me to obey the law?”

Lesson 5: Repentance – “This lesson deals with repentance. In our culture, this usually sounds like a bad thing, but repentance is the norm for gospel-centered living. Becoming more aware of God’s holiness and our sinfulness leads us to repent and believe the gospel of Jesus. Biblical repentance frees us from our own devices and makes a way for the power of the gospel to bear fruit in our lives.”

Lesson 6: Heart Idolatry – “The Christian walk consists of two repeated steps: repentance and faith. Turning our attention to the topic of faith, we focus on how we grow through believing the gospel. The goal in this lesson is to take ‘believing the gospel’ out of the abstract and make it concrete.”

Section Three – three lessons answering the question: How does the gospel work through us?

Lesson 7: Mission – “The gospel is simultaneously at work in us and through us. Inwardly, our desires and motives are being changed as we repent and believe the gospel. As we experience Christ’s love in this way, we are compelled to engage those around us with the same kind of redemptive love. God’s grace brings renewal everywhere, in and through us.”

Lesson 8: Forgiveness – “The gospel that works in us always works through us. It shows its power in our relationships and actions. One key way this happens is when we forgive others biblically.”

Lesson 9: Conflict – “Conflict is something we all experience (regularly), but often handle in very fleshly ways. The gospel gives us a pattern and a means to healthy conflict resolution.”

The Gospel Centered Life is designed for:

1)    “Pastors and leaders who want to spur gospel renewal in their churches and ministries.

2)    Church planters who want to form gospel DNA in the churches they start.

3)    Students and campus ministers who are looking to live out the gospel on campus.

4)    Christians who want to be more deeply formed around the gospel.

5)    Small group leaders who are looking for content that ‘works’ with diverse groups of people.

6)    Missionaries who are looking for simple material to disciple new Christians.”

I can’t recommend this workbook highly enough. Another way I have used this material is in coaching and counseling non-believers and believers. If not the best, its one the best workbooks I know of to help others become more Christ-centered and apply the gospel in all aspects of life.

 

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Book Review: Lost in the Middle by Paul David Tripp

Great Help For Applying God’s Grace To Your Life

 I want to write out the outset that this book (along with “The Holiness of God” by R. C. Sproul; “Heaven” by Peter Kreeft; “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” by Pete Scazzero and “Prodigal God” by Tim Keller) has been one of the top paradigm shifting books I have read to help me change my thinking – radically. I also, have to write that I do not have the skill or ability to describe or recommend this book with the superlatives it deserves. I can only write that if you are struggling with “mid-life crisis” this book is absolute MUST reading and I’m confident that you will be much better off by reading it.

All that written – on with the review. I have personally battled depression my whole life. I am a perfectionist and have had to learn to “chill out” over the years, because I have found that things break, plans don’t work out the way you thought they would, and God is sovereign and I’m overwhelmingly NOT!

In this book Paul Tripp brilliantly exegetes reality and brokenness in this fallen world in which we live. He gives dozens of illustrations from the Bible, and men and women in the 21st century to point out the various manifestations of why so many people struggle with the mid-life years. I have read the book twice (and I’m certain – I will read it again) because so many of the stories are about my own struggles. He brings out in the open so many thoughts, and questions that many of us wrestle with and answers them with penetrating insight, theological depth, and practical life giving grace.

This book is not an easy read. I think the more you struggle with life (especially in your middle years) – the harder it will be to read. I found myself crying, and physically aching as I read some of the stories and analysis from Tripp’s pen. However, in the final analysis the book leads you to a fresh new start and brilliantly applies the gospel to your life. Brimming with hope – Tripp shows very practically how God’s purposes and plans for your life will be fulfilled, no matter what you have done, or how you feel at this stage of life.

I have been immensely helped in so many ways from reading this book. Let me list just five:

1)    It was just flat out helpful to have so many of the things I’ve thought and felt be identified and addressed so insightfully by the author – in other words – “I’m not crazy” – there are actually millions of people that have gone and are going through what I am during this stage of life – and they are still trucking!

2)    I learned to appreciate the realities of God’s design for humanity and how His plans will culminate – my story is a part of the fulfillment of the Great Story of the Bible. Tripp helps you to see that nothing in your life is wasted, and that Christ’s victory on the cross is also your ultimate victory as well. Your failure has been nullified by Christ’s Person and Work on your behalf. We have fallen, but He has picked us up. We have failed, but He has succeeded, and ultimately everything will be made new and perfect again – forever!

3)    I was so encouraged over and over again. Sometimes I feel like a major failure in every area of life: as a Christian, pastor, provider, husband, father, taking care of myself physically, and the list can go on and on. However, Tripp is able to bring out the positive realities that result from recognizing our weaknesses and how that makes God’s grace such a wonderful reality for us.

4)    I felt like I got to sit down with Jesus as I read this book. Perhaps one of the most helpful things he did in the book is show how much we are like the people in the Bible (even though we think we are not). The author has such a good grasp of theology, the Bible, and what God and people are like – that almost everything he writes is penetrating the deepest recesses of your soul. I think Paul Tripp is very wise, because he has a very intimate relationship with Jesus and brings that relationship to the reader in the book. It made me want to know God more intimately, the Bible more than I do, and to walk more closely with Jesus.

5)    It made me even more excited about Heaven and to live for that which will last forever. It made me want to live more simply, for others, and for those things that will please my Master – Jesus. Like many of the Psalms – I started reading the book in a discouraged and depressed state, and by the end of the book I was able to praise my Lord with a smile on my face, and with joy in my soul.

I feel like this review is rubbish compared to how GOOD this book actually is. I can only say that this book will help you to understand your sin, need of a Savior, and need for His grace more than you ever have before. Also, that His grace is MUCH greater than all your sin. One more thing – anyone at any life stage can benefit tremendously from this book – you don’t have to be struggling through mid-life to benefit from this book. Get this book, get copies to give away, and grow in His amazing grace. Thanks, Paul Tripp – and I hope that many more people will read and benefit from this book – I sure have!

 

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