Tuesday, August 15, 2006

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8

Have you ever wondered what Paul meant when he said “and this is not from yourselves”? And, have you ever wondered what the “it” is when he says “it is the gift of God…”? I have, and these are the most humbling thoughts that have ever crossed my mind. What is it that is not from our ourselves? The “it” is referring to both grace and faith. Neither comes from within us. Do you understand that? Do you understand that even the faith you have in Jesus Christ is a gift from Him? Is that not the most humbling thought that could ever penetrate your mind and heart?

How many times have you heard a preacher plead with a congregation, “Choose to believe in Jesus tonight!” Or, “if you would just choose to believe this morning you’ll be saved!” I’ve heard them give their own testimonies and they always sound something like, “I remember the night I decided to believe the gospel…” I think, in the interest of full disclosure…I’ve probably made such pleas once or twice, way back when I first started preaching. Those passionate calls are filled with a sincere desire to see sinners converted…yet those statements, taken literally, are manifest absurdities. How can you actually choose or decide to believe something? It’s been my experience and I believe that my experience is fairly common, that one either believes something or one does not. How can one choose to believe something that he doesn’t really believe? Is there a food that disgusts you? My wife gets sick at the thought of eating raw fish (I love it! I’m going to be eating some raw fish in a few hours from now as a matter of fact!) Can you imagine me proclaiming to my wife, “choose to start loving sushi, just make your up mind that you truly do love the taste and texture!” That’s ridiculous isn’t it? Is not pleading with someone to believe something they don’t really believe just as absurd? I like sushi, I didn’t choose to like it, I just do. In fact, I can not choose to hate the taste of sushi anymore than Naomi can choose to love it! I can say I hate the taste, but the truth is that I really do love the taste of sushi! I can’t choose to not love it, I just love it! I believe that experience, common sense and a clear understanding of what the Bible says about belief and faith leads to the same conclusion. You can’t choose to believe in Christ, you can’t choose to have genuine faith in Him…you either do or you don’t. In order to change ones belief outside evidence and/or circumstances must overwhelm the previous held belief…is that not so? Would you not say that outside evidence and a circumstance in Saul’s life changed his opinion of and belief in Jesus? If you now believe and have faith and there was a time when you didn’t, what changed your mind? Did you see Him? Did He knock on your door? It's highly doubtful (to say the least) that Jesus has ever showed up at our doors. The truth is that we’ve never seen Him or spoke with him as we do each other (if you think you have, well, you're fruity). So if we had no empirical, concrete or physical evidence that He is the true God, then again I ask, how was our mind changed? Are you tempted to say that your faith came about through pure reason and logic? How can pure reason lead anyone to salvation when the Bible says plainly that “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools…” Romans 1:21-22 Or, how about this passage: They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.” Ephesians 4:18 (emphasis mine in both passages)

So if people are not seeing, hearing and touching Jesus in a physical way and if they are unable to see or understand the logic and reasoning that under-girds our faith in Christ, how can it be that anyone has saving faith?

The answer is found, I truly believe, codified in the theological doctrine often called Unconditional Election. According to renowned author and theologian JI Packer, “the Biblical doctrine of election is that before creation God selected out of the human race those whom he would redeem, bring to faith, justify and glorify in and through Jesus Christ.” (Concise Theology, pg 149)

That is a wonderful quote, is it not? Very well written, almost poetic, huh? That is what Packer teaches, that is what I teach…but is that what God really teaches? Let’s see.

I’m simply going to quote Saint Paul and then ask for your comments. I’d really like to hear your questions and views on this passage before I give you mine.

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. Romans 8:29-30 niv

7 comments:

Mark Jones said...

The worms are oozing out of the can... I want to discuss the fact that you are a bigger sinner than I am (that is an ongoing joke for the others that are reading). I am glad you are witing again. I hope that you will address Eternal Security soon. Since we are given faith and grace, we can't get rid of it. We are adopted as Paul says, not of our choosing. I would like to see individuals show passages that prove free will. Acts 2 says that 3000 were added, not 3000 decided to follow Christ. The gospels, Acts, and Paul's writings scream of Election. However, I don't consider myself Calvinistic or Amineanistic, because Christ was before all of that. I consider myself as Brad Stine says, "A follower just trying to catch up to Jesus and every so often stumbling along the way!"

Enjoy the readings...

Les said...

Anonymous,

There's a real good book that will answer all of your questions. It's entitled, "Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God," by J. I. Packer. Also, "The Pleasures of God," by John Piper.

Then maybe you'll not have to hide behind "anonymous."

Regards,

Les Puryear

irreverend fox said...

Les,

I am not hiding. My name is Gary Fox. I live in Wadsworth Ohio. I am the missions, evangelism and teaching/preaching pastor at Southside Christian Fellowship, also in Wadsworth Ohio. Would you like my home address? How about my phone number? Would you like my blood type, how about my social security number?

Oh, I've read both of those books, they were both incredible. Thanks for the recomendation though...

Anonymous said...

Good one Gary. This is so deep for me. I'll have my husband read it later. I see what you're saying, but I also think the doctrine is dangerous and might lead christians to belive that there's no "hope" for their lost loved ones OR why bother witnessing and sharing our faith. I really need to study this because it is perplexing & interesting.

What's up with the Les guys post ? I was so confused. What did he mean you were hiding ? Your name, e-mail, is right on there!! CRAZY!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Les Puryear said...

I was responding to the person identified as "anonymous" on the Sunday, July 16 post. I'm not sure how my remarks appeared here as well. Sorry for the confusion.

Regards,

Les

irreverend fox said...

I'm not sure either Les. Thanks for clearing up the misunderstanding...and sorry for my sarcasm...

Scott@Massillonweb.com said...

I believe there is a pre-destiny for all, but not all are in their proper position as a follower of Christ.

Let me elaborate... slightly.

“Trust in Jehovah with all your heart; and lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6

This is a directive that requires something of us, and promises something in return. That the Bible gives instruction, and promises, is not the most interesting part of this to me. It is that if I focus on God, I will be in (live and walk in) His predetermined path for me. My interest is in this path. In Christian-eeze we often speak of our ‘walks’. As we live from hour to hour and day-to-day; we either walk this path, or we do not. That is certainly our choosing.

The path that God directs us in, is a predetermined route with a preordained destiny, but what if I do not ‘do’ the directive? What if I do not focus on God, lean on my understanding and fail to acknowledge God in my walk? Well, time stops for no one and we do not stop walking, but where are we walking and where are we now going at those times?

My question reminds me of the Israelites walking in the desert. That thought reminds me that the Old Testament is a physical allegory of the New Testament Spiritual life, temple and Church. I’ll leave that alone for now, but test that out sometime. About walking in the desert though, God’s chosen people made some bad choices. God gave them their way from time to time and basically left them to their own ways and desires. It took them about 40 years (right?) to make their destination. It took that long because God allowed them to try things their own way here and there. I guess they (much like us) needed to try their own way in order to learn to trust that God’s way (His path) is the best for us.

So in an attempt to answer my question, I think this shows that God gives us the right to choose our path, if we decide not to aim our focus on Him. Two divergent paths exist for us to walk on. One is best and fulfils our deepest personal spiritual needs and desires. The other fulfils our flesh and is carved out by our random whims or, even worse, it can be manipulated or exploited by those who hate us. There is no destiny in sight, for us.

All of this is what it can be like to walk through the world as God’s chosen ones. Look again at the Old Testament walk through the desert. The whole complete entire Exodus from Egypt (spiritual birth) to the Promised Land (eternal life) happened within one context. They were God’s chosen people. That never changed. God allowed them to wander on their own whims from time to time and even promised to justly punish them, but never threatened to disown them, did He? If you can show me an example of that please let me know.

The Exodus shows that God elects Hid people and keeps His people. God saves us. We do not save ourselves. Salvation is as good as God’s choice. If God did the choosing, do you suppose He chose wrong? No. If God chose you then that infers eternal security.

Because I believe that God chose to bring me into His kingdom that does not mean that I lose the freedom to choose a wrong path from time to time.

In other words, I believe that we were elected, (by no act of our own) but can walk our own erratic unplanned path if we choose. If it bothers you that God’s path is predetermined and you fear that somehow you loose some right to act on your own will because this is true, than feel free. Have at it on your own.

I do not threaten God’s sovereignty by saying that people can choose their own ways. He grants this to man. This does not threaten him nor does it steal from His ultimate sovereignty. He can (and did) speak through an animal in the Bible. God can do what He wishes and is free to be gracious to anyone at any time.

You can follow God’s design for your life, or not. I speak to the elect on this.

If you take issue with the theology of God’s sovereign election, you may want to read Romans 9 verses 20 to 24. That sums it all up rather neatly. In that passage, there is mention of the possibility that some vessels may be created for God’s wrath. This is our biggest issue with the reality of God’s election. We think that that would be impossible for a just and merciful God to not choose some. That happens to be, simply put, none of our business. If it seems unjust to us, we are simply not as smart as we think in all of this. Do we suppose that we know what just is? Does the potter say to the clay?

No we do not have to understand all things that appear cruel and unfair, we are required to simply trust and know that an infallible Creator is just and merciful.

God chooses to give us our desires to do our own fleshy things, to lean on our own understanding etc. Speaking in absolutes then, God owns complete sovereignty over all decisions and choices in our lives, but (under pain) allows what we call 'free will'.

Can we say that absolutely? I think so.

Anyone?