Saturday, June 28, 2008

Election perverted

There is a simple illustration that humans readily understand when studying Romans 9 and election: babies are chosen by their parents. When a loving couple decides to have a baby is it because of any good or evil thing the baby has done or will do? No, it is because the parents want to love the child. The fact that we understand this but attribute all sort of fatalistic wicked characteristics when it is applied to God proves how depraved the human condition is. Much like how we choose our babies, God has chosen us. It is an apt comparison, and a great way to understand how God loves us.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Contradictions in the bible

There are a few things that one must believe when studying the Bible. The inerrancy of scriptures is one of these things. If the scriptures contradict themselves then they are not perfect. If they are not perfect then they are fallible, written only by weak men, and are useless to save. Therefore to say that the scriptures contradict themselves is like saying God is all powerful and at the same time not all powerful. It just does not work.
Nevertheless some people like to play fast and loose with the scriptures, and give it the old "rapture" treatment when they come upon something horifically complex. When the going gets tough they turn their brain off and walk away. They then comfort themselves with the phrase, "Well God can't be expected to make the Bible perfect, there are things we cannot understand and the God is one of them." If that is so why study the Bible at all? Take Romans 9 and election as an example. There we see that God has personally chosen people irrespective of their deeds before their birth to receive his grace. How do we reconsile this with the passages that tell us God wants all to be saved? Do we give up? Do we write it off?

Never!

Romans is very clear, so we must start by accepting that, regardless of how much we may dislike the concept. Yes, even if we really really dislike it. Next we must ask ourselves if there is any other place in the Bible where the concept 'God wants all men to be saved' exists in a clearer context, because if there isn't then we have a contradiction and it's time to fall back into irrational faith, but if there is a passage then we can make better sense of the problem.
After looking we find Rom. 5:18, 1 Cor. 15:22, and 2 Cor. 5:14 all talking about "all men" being Christians, and we have our explination for the rest of the times we see the word all. Like 2 Peter 3:9 when it says God desires all men be saved. In light of the other three verses we see it is talking about Christians.
This is, I think a tough business. Its not easy to totally disregard what you want the Bible to say in favor of what it actually says. It's not easy, but it's essential.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

On Election

I earnestly desire that everyone know the blessed truth of election, it is not a doctrine that condemns man; it is a doctrine that brings us comfort. It allows us to be truly humble and truly thankful; it shows us that God is all powerful and all wise. It continually reminds us that he has secured our salvation. What great joy this is! His strength is now our strength, not vice versa.
Of course the first thing into the mind upon hearing this is not the value of election but the protest, “How can a loving God ensure my doom in hell without my say in it?” I will explain it, but know that that is the wrong way to think about grace- election is a one way street, it is an escalator that only goes up. God does not push people into hell, he pushes people into heaven. God has chosen some people to be Christian despite their hearts, otherwise there would be no Christians, and the other people get exactly what they want.

To begin, we must go back to our creation. In the garden of Eden mankind was given the gift of being able to choose things just as surely as he was given the ability to walk around and talk. Do we want eggs or cereal for breakfast? Man can pick which one he likes, that power is still with us, it would be idiotic or insane to dispute this. The fall of man did not alter the fact that man can choose, what it did change was our desire to know and love God. After sinning man ran from God, and if there was to be a relationship it would only happen if God pursued us.
This distinction between the ability to chose and the desire for God is critical, it shows us that man is still responsible for picking hell for himself, even though he loves it and will always pick it, it is still his decision. The ability to choose is powerless next to the desire, or stated another way mankind fundamentally hates God and loves sin and will use anything in his faculty to express this, including voting for an eternity apart from God. What this means is that since we love sin and can still choose we are free to choose sin, how much, where, when. Our nature has given our free will the power to say 'No' to God, but never Yes. This is the verdict that Jesus came into the world but men loved the darkness.

There is no question that this is an uncomfortable doctrine, because it is hard to accept the idea that man is so throughly corrupted by sin that there is no corner of it that does not have sin in it, but if you reject it then you at the same time reject the need for Jesus. If there was in the heart of man some little spark of total righteousness, some little kernel of uncorrupted goodness, then there would be no need for Jesus, and instead of sending his son God could have planted that seed in your heart, he could have blown that spark into a raging fire, but since things were so extreme that He sent His Son, it is proof we are rotten to the core, proof there is not one part of us that sin doesn't have influence over.

But we do know Jesus promised salvation to those who believe, and we do know that those who confess the name of the Lord will be saved. How do we square this with that last concept?

It's very easy, if you are a Christian ask yourself: what about me made me accept Christ while someone else in exactly the same circumstances rejected Him? You can either answer 'something' or 'nothing'. I'm smarter, more clever, more handsome, wiser than my neighbor. Answering "I don't know" is the same as saying "there is something different about me, I am not sure I know what it is, but it's there." Or, if you answer with 'nothing' then you admit that you are no different than your neighbor, but you chose God because God chose you. And there it is, the sweet doctrine of election. The doctrine that says the only reason I picked him against my normal desires is because he picked me and gave me a new heart ahead of time. To accept the doctrine of election is to say that God has loved me with an eternal passion that will never falter or fade, begun before I even arrived on this earth.

This is the best news that someone could hope to hear.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Superceding Grace

There is a principle at work in the concept of Grace that I don't think I have heard anywhere but is true- when you decide to evict something out of your life and replace it with God's love that something stays gone. Jesus said this about the man with demons Mat. 12:44, that when he filled the man the demons would be gone forever.

Something interesting happens when you couple this with what John the Baptist said: He must increase and I must decrease. Our longing is that God grow us closer to Him by removing our old sinful nature. When you do you see that the more you give over to God the more he gives you his nature. The more you hand over to Him the more joy, peace, patience, the more you experience freedom and real living like you were meant for. After you have given it up you look back and find that what you were holding onto was nothing at all. You made a free trade upward, Gods Grace for nothing.

Look at how justification works. A man walks the earth believing that he can save himself, that he is good enough to go to heaven. Of course he is just fooling himself, he doesn't really have the power to disarm God and claim heaven for himself anymore than he has the power to fly through space, but his "house", his inner soul is so cluttered with this thought that God has no room to pour his grace in. What happens when he stops being stubborn and irrational, and accepts that he is powerless and wicked? God pours into him grace and understanding of who Jesus is. And what exactly did the man give up in the interchange? Nothing! Control was an illusion, he gave up his state of mind, all he did was give up thinking something foolish. Once he gives it up being irrational that man finds that God has replaced it with something incomparably better, forever, and that there is no going back to the old way.

What else can we give up to God to have replaced with Grace? Try works based living (santification). To admit that we are again good enough to keep the law, to do a good enough job that God will be pleased with us is an illusion, just as silly as believing we can save ourselves. But admit this to God and what happens? When you make room you see that his grace superceded the old way of living and thinking That space that was your pride becomes humility, Grace rushes into the void of your soul. Admit you are powerless to not only save yourself but keep yourself saved and you will find God right by your side, his spirit indwelling you to peace and comfort. Again what have you given up in this transaction? Exactly nothing at all in retrospect. And what have you gained? Something beyond all comfort, the faith and trust and knowledge that He who saved you will be making sure that you are saved until the end.

What next? Justification, sanctification belong to the Lord is there anything left? What else can we hand over to God and trade in for Grace? Our wills. And once we give them up we see that they too will be replaced by Grace. Yes I do mean our free wills. Give up the power to save yourself and accept justification. Give up the power to do a good job with your life and get sanctification. Give up the power to guarentee your own salvation and get eternal security. Give up all of your power altogther and be totally filled with his Grace.

Uh oh. Wait a minute, it looks like we just accidently backed into predestination- that aweful doctrine that says that God knows you, loves you, and has always planned to save you. It looks that way because we did. You might be thinking that we went too far with this principle, but did we? Can you ever have too much Grace in your life? Didn't think so.

Carefully consider why are you saved and someone else isn't? Is it because you are more intelligent than someone else? That you are more rational? That you have a quality that makes you better than other people? Well maybe, but then again maybe that's just silly because it's your pride asserting control. Maybe there is nothing in yourself at all that made you choose God that someone else who hates God doesn't have. Let go of the fact that you are not better than someone else and you will be filled with the matchless grace, the grace that saved you even though you were not worthy, did not desire it, and did not love God once upon a time. Then you will see that you are not saved by who you are but by who God is.

There are other ways to arrive at this theology of course, but the point here is that once you empty yourself completely you give up the idea of your control and you get back joy. Predestination is the theology that gives us the deepest insight into the Love God has for us, it shows us clearer than any other how much love the Father has lavished on us. The more you give up, the more you are filled up, even all the way, even unto predestination.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Jesus curses the fig tree

 Jeremiah 8:13- "The LORD declares "I will surely snatch them away, there will be no grapes on the vine and no figs on the fig tree, and the leaf will wither; and what I have given them will pass away."
This bears a remarkable resemblance to what Jesus was quoting in Matthew 21 when he withered the fig tree. In Jeremiah God had declared that the nation was to go into exile for being fruitless and wicked, it's destruction was imminent because it was not faithful to it's master. In Matthew, the Jewish gospel, Jesus effectively makes a claim to be God when he passes judgment as God would. It is not a coincidence that during the triumphal entry Jesus makes this claim of power, and statement that this bitterly wicked generation demanded would be destroyed.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Pharaoh and Egyptian Slavery

When the Hebrews were enslaved in Goshen, when God sent Moses to perform wonders and miracles so that Pharaoh would let them go, there was a conflict that is often missed when studying the story in the American culture.
Very often we think of this story in terms of slavery versus freedom, which is not surprising considering that our revolutionary war was fought for freedom, and our civil war over slavery; but that often eclipses the greater conflict, which is between God and Pharaoh- life versus death.
Just ask yourself what did Egypt want with them? Ramses wanted the Hebrews so that they could personally design and build his burial tomb, he wanted his own army of servants so he could kill them, bury them alive, and work them to death inorder that he could go to the afterlife as a god. The culture of the Egyptians was death worship, death focused, death obsessed. Life for them consisted in amassing a huge fortune, having a horde of slaves build your mausleom, and buring them all alive in it. It need not be said that a life focused on death is no life at all.
So God sends the plagues that kills comfort, kills crops, kills livestock and foodstuffs, kills people to a killing and death centered culture. How ironic. God was calling his people out of death and into life. This is why He is called the God of the Living. It means more than he is alive right now, it also means he wants you to have life. And today he calls us out of more than slavery to sin and misery, he calls us out of death and into Life. Only now he doesn't bring death to us, he brought it to himself to show us our love, and to show us there is nowhere we can go that his love won't persue us. His justice and wrath was spent on the cross, we face it no more. His grace was not however, it is ours forever.