It’s been suggested to me that I back down or refrain from preaching or teaching the doctrines of Grace i.e. Calvinism. I’d like to explain why these doctrines of total depravity, unconditional election/ predestination, limited atonement, effectual calling, and the perseverance of the saints are so treasured by me that I cannot back away from them even if it costs me my current job or a future job in an SBC church.
First, they are precious doctrines because they are biblical. That should be all the grounding that any believer needs. God has saw fit to reveal in his Word these teachings for us to study and to treasure. His word is the standard for all of our beliefs and practices. Jesus said, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Second, these doctrines exalt God and humble men. Salvation is 100% God’s working. We contribute absolutely nothing to our salvation except the sin that makes it necessary. God will share his glory with no one. It is humbling to know that if not for the sovereign grace of God, I would take myself straight to hell. Yet it causes me to shout in praise of God that he took a dead sinner like myself and made me alive. He has lavished his grace upon one who hated him and could not and would not choose him of his own will.
Thirdly, these doctrines are exquisite because they reveal the love that God has for his elect. That in eternity past, God the Father chose a people for himself. He chose to reveal his love to his people by sending God the Son to the cross and dying to save them. He died not just to make salvation possible in generalities but to actually save his specific sheep. And because God is the one who saves then those who are saved can never be lost. Those he predestines he calls, justifies and will glorify. What great comfort and assurance is found in Christ.
Fourthly, these doctrines fuel our evangelism and zeal good works. Because God prepared our salvation beforehand, he also prepared our good works as well. He has chosen to use saved and sanctified sinners to take the glory of the gospel into the world to reach his children. Whether I preach in the pulpit or in the street, I can be confident that my job is just to be faithful to his word and that He is the one who is responsible for the results. I can be confident that God has chosen that the power of the gospel can overwhelm the enslaved and dead will of a sinner and cause them to be born again so that they will now freely chose to obey him. I can pray with confidence for God to save my friends and family, knowing that God actually has the power to save them if he so chooses.
Fifthly, and related to the last, because I trust in the sovereignty of God, I do not have to resort to merely pragmatic and worse yet emotionally manipulative means in order to try and get a decision while sharing the gospel. I can faithfully preach the commands of God without being embarrassed by things that our culture finds antiquated. I don’t have to rely on half-truths or the nuancing of things to death so as not to offend. I can trust that God is sovereign and that he has determined to use the proclamation of his word to either save his sheep or to drive away the goats. Consequently, I am free to be faithful to share the gospel with my neighbor without fear that if I mess something up or if I am not the greatest communicator that my neighbor won’t be saved because something I said. Salvation is of the Lord and not of the will of man.
There are plenty of other reasons I can think of for why these doctrines are so amazing and precious. Hitting home for me is that God has used the preaching of these beliefs to bring me to repentance and faith in him. And because of that there is no way that I can ever refrain from believing, teaching, preaching, and celebrating the doctrines of Grace.
A Defense of Calvinism by Charles Spurgeon
‘The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ –Numbers 14:18
I have always been interested in history and have read quite a lot on World War II. For some reason other another, perhaps because the war happened years before my birth, I had never given much thought about any one who would be related to the Nazi leaders being alive today. That was until the other day when on netflix, I stumbled across a documentary entitled “Hitler’s Children.” The documentary focuses on five descendants of some of Hitler’s closest accomplices. This film is emotionally gripping in so many ways. As I watched it I could not help but be moved as these people struggled with the desire to love their parents or grandparents as is natural for anyone and the hatred of all that these same parents, grandparents, and uncles had done. One such lady,Monika Hertwig, tells about when a viewing of “Schindler’s List” she came to the complete realization of the monstrosity of her father, Amon Goeth. She had a panic attack while in the theater and felt like she was going to die if it got any worse.
While watching the film, I could not help but think about several themes from the Bible. God’s Word has a way of dealing with the intense needs of our world. There are two themes in particular that I want to pull out from the Bible that kept flooding into my mind as I watched this documentary
1. The first theme I thought of was how we are all under the shame of our ancestors and share in this guilt. In the beginning, when our first ancestors began a cosmic rebellion to their Creator’s authority and sovereignty by disobeying His command, they began a projection of guilt and sin that carries on to this day. They believed a lie and this lie gave root and bore fruit in all the sin and shame that fills our world. We are all born in this sin. Psalm 51:5 states that we all come into the world as sinners: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” The horrors of the Nazi atrocities did not just begin in the 20th century but they were born all those years earlier in the garden when Adam and Eve decided that they knew better than God what was right and what was wrong. The sins of our father Adam then are replayed and repaid through out all generations. Alas that anyone would claim not fair that they should share in this guilt, Romans 3:23 says “All have sinned.” It is not as if you or I had been the one in the garden we would have done in any better. We would have then done the same thing. We are guilty. God is just, Numbers 14:18. I think this is part of the reason we recoil so much at the Nazis. We watch as a whole nation of people are sucked into an evil philosophy and wonder how they could have allowed themselves to become that way. The truth is that if not for the grace and restraining power of God, our hearts in our natural state are capable of doing unspeakable horror.
2. Watching this documentary, I also could not help but be reminded that while we are effected by the sin of others and we do have real guilt in our sin, the good news is God has made a way to remove that shame and guilt. We are not our parents. We do not have to bare the shame of Adam. We do not have to continue the path of destruction that came before us. One particular scene in film that moved me was when the grandson of Rudolf Hoess traveled to the concentration camp where his grandfather had been commander. While there you could see the pain on this grandson’s face and the shame he carried. He was invited to speak to some young Jewish teenagers who were also taking a tour through the camp. They were curious why he was there and some were bothered by his presence. It was an elderly man, a Jewish survivor of the camp, who changed the entire scene. He walked up to the grandson of the man who had tortured him and shook his hand. This holocaust survivor looked him in the face and said to him, “You didn’t do it. It was not you who did this.” There was a certain relief that filled this descendent of the Nazi. You could see in the weight lifted right off of him. This scene from the documentary while emotional is a small picture of something more grand.
“Yet you say, ‘Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?’ When the son has done what is just and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” – Ezekial 18:19-20
What Ezekiel wrote in the above passage gives a sense of relief. The guilt of our ancestors does not have to carry on with us. The children do not have to remain in punishment for the sins of their fathers. If only they will live in righteousness. But that is the problem isn’t it. The above passage only gives hope to those who live in righteousness. But we know this, that we are not righteous. It brings us no hope. However there was one who did live righteously. His name is Jesus. He lived without sin. He did not deserve death but instead should never have suffered. However, for our sake, Jesus was made to be the unrighteous. Jesus took upon himself the same shame, guilt, and sin that pervades our world. He took it upon himself so that we may be forgiven. “ For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” 1 Corinthians 15:22
Jesus did that for us and he calls us to repent of our sins and to put our complete trust in Him. He did it out of love for the unlovable. One day for those who have been saved, who repent and put their faith in Christ, we will stand in front of the Father and when we think of the sin and shame that we deserve He will say to us,”You did not do it.” He will say that because the sin we committed was placed on Jesus and in its place we carry the righteousness of Christ. The cycle of guilt and shame has been broken. The guilt of the fathers and sins of the sons of those saved by Christ are no more.
As I finished the film, I prayed for these five people that they may find the beauty of the gospel.
” For my father and my mother have forsaken me,but the Lord will take me in.” – Psalm 27:10
As he went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard and to provoke him to speak about many things, lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say. Luke 11:53-54
People often think of Jesus as a mild-mannered man not wanting to offend anyone. Luke in chapter 11 tells a different story. Jesus had been invited to dine at the home of a pharisee. The pharisees were the leading religious and political figures of the Jewish day. An invite to a pharisee’s house was as Joe Biden might say a “big deal.” Jesus wasted no time getting to the point during his visit. He poignantly called out the pharisee and his guests for their sins. His honest words rang like insults in the ears of his hearers. “Fools, white washed tombs, hypocrites, and brood of vipers” where some of the words that Jesus had for the pharisees and scribes. Today we might say Jesus was a bit uncouth. He was frank and to the point. It’s hard to imagine how you might feel if your invited dinner guest begin to compare you to a murderer before the food had even had a chance to settle in your stomach. Talk about indigestion. Yet Jesus loved these people. It was his love for them and their followers that motivated him to call out their sin.
And then as Jesus left that dinner party, the pharisees plotted their revenge. They were constantly on look out waiting for the opportune time when Jesus would slip up and say something. They were like a rookie journalist hoping to make his big break by catching Jesus with a hot mic saying something under his breath. Jesus was wise to their game though. Yet, He would still answer their questions with the truth. I imagine that every time that Jesus answered one of their questions in a way they didn’t expect, it would leave them jaw-dropped and infuriated. He continued to call sinners to repent while lovingly warning them of hell. The pharisees eventually had enough and conspired to kill Jesus.
So if the pharisees treated Jesus this way, how shall his followers expect to be treated. Jesus explained what to expect in John 15:18-25
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’
It’s simple, if the world hated Jesus then they will hate his followers. The way they treated Jesus is the way they will treat us. This has been evident throughout the history of Christianity. From its struggle under the Roman rule to present day in places like Syria and China, Christians have been and are still persecuted for their faith.
In America where I write from, Christians have enjoyed a great amount of freedom. However, it does seem like that freedom is under attack. Which brings us back around to the first passage. The pharisees watched and waited for Jesus to slip up. They also asked him questions hoping to provoke an answer. Two recent cases provide excellent examples of Luke 11:53,54.
The news explodes yesterday that after an interview and profile in GQ magazine, Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame was going to be suspended from the hit show. What was his crime? When asked about his opinion on homosexuality, he gave it. Some of have said that his response was a bit uncouth while GLAAD cried that he was offensive and hateful. Phil Robertson paraphrased from the Bible while listing what he thought were sins. This included homosexuality, adultery, bestiality, and drunkenness. A&E, the television network that Duck Dynasty airs on, under pressure from gay organizations put out a statement saying they were going to suspend Phil from the show indefinitely. Then came the media storm. Everyone and their brother has an opinion on the situation. There have been several good posts from some leading Christian thinkers on the situation. Dr. Albert Mohler of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in a blog piece entitled “You Have Been Warned”, came to the conclusion:
So the controversy over Duck Dynasty sends a clear signal to anyone who has anything to risk in public life: Say nothing about the sinfulness of homosexual acts or risk sure and certain destruction by the revolutionaries of the new morality. You have been warned.
Anyone who had watched the show or knows anything about the Robertson family knows that they are conservative Christians. It should have been no shock to anyone that Phil Robertson would think that homosexuality is wrong. And yet here we are. It is sad that in America with its rich history influenced and shaped by great Christian thinkers like John Locke, Jonathan Edwards, and George Whitefield, that paraphrasing the Bible would be considered a public offense. To be fair A&E has every right to broadcast who they want or to not broadcast who they want. However, the day may be coming that speaking out against homosexuality will be considered a hate crime.
Returning to the scripture, its easy to see how the world when it is confronted with Christians living a godly life will not like it. Just as the pharisees plotted against Jesus for speaking out against sin, the world will do the same to us. You can also be sure that the world will be waiting and watching for Phil Robertson and family to slip up.
Which brings us to another lesser known but still widely blogged about story. A pastor that I have often enjoyed hearing preach through podcasts and the like, Mark Driscoll was caught in a “scandal.” Driscoll is pastor of Mars Hill church in Seattle. He is also a popular author and speaker somewhat controversial for his uncouth style and directness. (I personally appreciate his directness and willingness to tackle tough questions) He went on a radio show back in November expecting to discuss his newest book. While on the radio, the host accused Mark of plagiarism. The blogosphere exploded when more accusations of plagiarism followed after the radio show. Because of Mark’s bold stance against homosexuality, feminism, and biblical manhood, it seems like many came out of the woodwork to attack him. After a month-long investigation into plagiarism by Tyndale House Publishing, they released a statement. The initial accusation by the radio host was considered unfounded as Driscoll had properly cited in his book the source of his argument. However, it was found that an internal publication for Mars Hill had mistakenly left out a citation in some sermon notes. Mark also released a statement publicly apologizing for the mistake and promising to correct it. In reality, the whole thing was blown way out of proportion. I appreciated Mark’s willingness to own up to a mistake but this was not the big scandal that some were making it out to be. Instead it looked to be as if some were once again looking for Driscoll to trip up and fall.
Both stories are slightly different with different lessons to learn. In one, Driscoll did make a mistake. I think his story serves as a warning that when Christians speak boldly upon anything, there will be plenty of others looking to take them down. It means that Christians have to live above reproach. We also like Driscoll must be willing to own up to mistakes and work to correct them. Christians are not perfect and nor will they be until Christ’s return. Christians need to be willing to accept apologies and to give grace especially over innocent mistakes. We need to be graceful to fellow Christians when they fall. We also need to be willing to show that same grace and mercy to everyone around us.
The Duck Dynasty story goes to show that ultimately it is not the fact that Christians are imperfect that the culture finds offensive but it is the message of Christianity that they can not stand. The world doesn’t need for someone to make mistakes to try to destroy them. This culture is increasingly becoming offended by the Bible message. While the verdict is out on whether Duck Dynasty will continue as a show with or without Phil, the time is coming and is here when anyone who speaks out about sin will be considered a bigot and hateful. The world will be waiting like the Pharisees waited for Jesus to say something offensive. Like Jesus, we must not be afraid to speak the uncouth and politically-incorrect truth. In a culture where the only sin is to say that there is sin, the Christian message is going to be offensive. Christians in America will have to learn to live with courage, speaking the truth in love.
Jesus called us to love God and to love our neighbor. These are the summation of God’s commands for us. Yet putting them to practice can be difficult. This can be particularly tough because our neighbors are sinners often involved with sinful lifestyles. How do we love our neighbor without condoning his sin? How do we love a homosexual while at the same time standing strong on the biblical view against homosexuality? These are tough questions that have been answered in a host of ways. A recent article by Brandon Ambrosing in the Atlanta, “Being Against Gay Marriage Doesn’t Make You a Homophobe,” contains some valuable insight. The author is a gay man who argues that one can oppose gay marriage for religious or secular reasons and still not be a bigot. He goes on to write:
To me, recognizing the distinction between opposing gay marriage and opposing gay people is a natural outgrowth of an internal distinction: When it comes to my identity, I take care not to reduce myself to my sexual orientation. Sure, it’s a huge part of who I am, but I see myself to be larger than my sexual expression: I contain my gayness; it doesn’t contain me. If it’s true that my gayness is not the most fundamental aspect of my identity as Brandon, then it seems to me that someone could ideologically disapprove of my sexual expression while simultaneously loving and affirming my larger identity.
I find this quote to be particularly useful. The old adage, “love the sinner-hate the sin” seems appropriate here. Ambrosing is saying that homosexuals are more than the expression of their sexuality. His conclusion is that someone may disapprove of his homosexuality and yet still love him. Ambrosing probably doesn’t recognize it but his argument finds support in the Bible.
It may be helpful to break it down a little further to see what the Bible teaches on the doctrine of man. The doctrine of man teaches that God is the creator of every person and that humans have a sinful nature because of the fall. Understanding these two points will help us determine how we can be obedient to all of Christ’s commandments.
First, we must understand that God is the creator of all humans. Genesis 1:26-27 says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness’ … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” What does it mean to be be made in the image of God. It does not mean that man is made to physically resemble God. God is spirit and therefore man can not physically resemble God. It also does not mean that men are gods. Answers in Genesis(AIG) along with other Christian thinkers through time have thought of this image as a bestowing upon man some of the divine attributes. Prof. J. Rendle-Short of AIG writes
The main impact of the image is that God endues man with some of his divine attributes, thereby separating and making him different from the beasts. What are these special Godlike qualities which man is permitted to share? I shall mention six: language, creativity, love, holiness, immortality and freedom.
Others have offered a different take on this. They have postulated that the image of God means that man is to be God’s representative on earth. Thus man is to be a reflective image of God for the world. This places the emphasis on man’s responsibilities. John Piper after surveying the different views comes to the most honest conclusion, that the text does not give a complete answer to the question. Piper does offer this definition: The imago Dei is that in man which constitutes him as he-whom-God-loves.
Never the less, the most important thing for our discussion is that man is the creation of God described as the image of God. This bestows a great amount of dignity upon human life. Later in Genesis this is codified when God tells Noah “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.” Murder is wrong because it destroys what God created in his own image.
God also bestows people with gifts and talents. He does this to his good pleasure. This concept is called common grace. Common Grace is what allows people of all races and genders to be able to accomplish a lot of good things. It is often through the lives of non-believers that God works to bring about human flourishing. In Genesis, the sinful descendents of Cain are the ones who are described inventing animal husbandry and music among other things. Gays, Muslims, Hindus, and atheists can and have contributed to many genuinely good things. People have a unique value and dignity because they are creations of a loving and giving God. Going back to the Atlantic article, this allows us to be able to love and affirm the larger identify of all people because they are created in God’s image.
The second thing that must also be simultaneously understood is that humans are fallen sinful creatures. We all are born with a sinful nature inherited from our first parents Adam and Eve. This means that while non-believers may accomplish genuinely good things they operate from sinful motives and a sinful nature. People do sinful things that are an affront to the image they were created to be. Mankind is in rebellion against its Creator. If it were not for God’s common grace then man would never be able to accomplish anything good. The fact that mankind has not already destroyed itself is a testament to God’s goodness. Because men have sinful natures they are in need of a new nature. They are in need of savior who will take the punishment of their sin and give them a heart that will allow them to complete their purpose as the image of God. The Bible teaches that everyone must repent of their sin and turn to God.
This full understanding of human nature will have a massive impact in how we love. Without this understanding as a foundation and desire to follow the Bible, there is no way for someone to be able to accurately define what love is. (This understanding of human nature will also have an impact on our view of government and economics which I have written on here and here)
Some Christians have been and may still be guilty of having an imbalanced view of mankind. The danger lies in putting too much emphasis on either point. When their view becomes out of balance the Christian will no longer be able to love another person as God would have us to. They will end up with something they may call love but is not love at all.
One problem that Christians have had is to put too much focus on the sinful nature of humans. This has led many to have a very dim view of others. It can lead to self-righteousness and a judgmental heart. When we begin to see others as only sinners we will then begin to see them as enemies. Other people begin to become nothing more than obstacles to overcome. We then become in danger of finding nothing worth of love in others. It is easy to see how this imbalance can lead to hate instead of love.
The other side of the coin leads to the same place. When we neglect to realize that others are sinners in need of a savior we neglect to truly love them. We begin to idolize others or worse we begin to celebrate their sin. We can also take an approach that is blind to the harm that sin causes others. We remain hands off and neglect to call others to repentance in Christ. By staying quite, we can become complicit in not only allowing but encouraging others to continue to sin. Sin is evil and will lead to the destruction of those we are called to love. I can think of nothing more hateful then to stand by quietly while watching others destroy themselves. This is often called love but it is nothing more than hatred.
A proper balance between the two important points will help us to love our neighbors. Love will push us to speak out against the destructive power of sin while at the same time being able to truly find value in those same people. We can as Brandon Ambrosing wrote be able to disapprove of homosexuality without being homophobes. We can acknowledge where our unbelieving friends and acquaintances do good things and affirm their identity as a creation of God. Acknowledging that we all made in the image of God, will allow us to truly love each other because we will by loving God’s creation be loving God. By doing this we will be obedient to the two most important commandments.
My mind is blown by God’s goodness to me. He has provided me everything that I have. My very breath comes from him. He has provided loving parents that raised me in a home where love was always shown. He provided me with two brothers who have become two of my best friends. He has provided me with friends who care about me. He provided me with an abundance of possessions and has never let me starve. God has blessed me with an unbelievable measure. God has given me a wife who is everything I could want in a woman. She is loving, caring, and submissive. She treats me with respect and honor and I could not be happier. Just last night, I found out that God has again blessed us by my wife being with child. I have been overwhelmed all day while thinking about God’s goodness. Yet there was a time when I was an enemy of God. There was a time when I literally said with my own two lips that I hated God. My heart breaks to think of how evil and vile I was. And yet God loved me. I can’t help but be drawn to Isaiah 52 and 53.
God loved me when I was his enemy and in Isaiah 52 and 53, it spells out the lengths that God went to show his love. While God has blessed me with many earthly things, nothing compares to what He gave for me. According to this passage, He gave his son, who grew up like a tender shoot. When I hear the word tender I can’t help but think of my upcoming baby. I think of the innocence of a small child. The tender baby who needs the protection of its parents. When something is tender it is also easily broken. God gave us his tender Son who should have been received as King and as Lord yet the passage says that He was despised. It makes me so angry at myself to think that I could tell the one person in the entire universe that has shown me the most love that I hated him. Yet I am not alone. Everyone has despised Him. In John 1 it says that the light came into the world and the darkness did not know Him.
His Son also bore my sorrow and shame. He bore the full brunt of the penalty of my sin. God caused my evilness to be put on Him. He took my sin and nailed it Jesus on the cross. I can’t help but fall to my knees in worship of Jesus who willingly and obediently bore my stain. He took it all for me. No greater gift is this that one would lay down his life for his friends. God laid down his life for me an enemy. How awesome is He. He calls me friend. I don’t deserve it. I can’t deserve it. I can however praise God forever and ever. I can give my life to Him. He has shown himself to be more than worthy. He has shown himself to be trustworthy and true.
I am grateful that God broke through the coldness of my heart and brought me to repentance. He then according to John 1 gave me the right to become God’s child. God has truly cared for me more than anyone. God has given us a sacrifice to end all sacrifices. He has bestowed up on us His love in such a great display. May God be praised.
I just wanted to share with everyone the entry from my journal that I wrote last night.
May 2, 2012
Today is a day I’ll never forget. As usual on Wednesday I went to church to work with the students. Weng (my wife) was especially tired after work so she decided to stay home. She works hard at her job and was really worn out. About half way through the student choir practice she sent me text asking if I had to stay late for any meetings. I called her to if she wanted me to pick up some food because that is what I thought she was texting for. She said yes to KFC but also that I needed to hurry home because she had good news. I immediately knew what it was. Thoughts, fears, and praises flooded into my head. I raced home full of anxiousness to find out the good news. Weng opened the door for me to come in and showed me the pregnancy test. It was positive. My jaw dropped and I was speechless. After a moment of hugging and kissing, I suggest we go get another test to make sure. It too was positive.
I am going to be a dad. Wow. I had always dreamed of this day. I can remember as a little boy looking forward to being a dad just like my dad. I am so excited and overwhelmed. I already love the baby with all that I am. I just want to be a worthy father. I want to be a godly man like my father. I am so excited.
Thank you God. I pray that you will give us a child that will serve you. I pray you will already have the day of our child’s salvation planned. I pray for your guidance and providence. Thank you for sending your son to die for me. We can never repay you. And now you see fit to bless me with a child. I love you God.