Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: election

Saving a People as an ‘Aside’

John MacArthur’s comments on all good Calvinists being pre-millennial has got me thinking again. But I definitely don’t agree.

Historic Dispensationalism stated outright that God’s plan to save the Gentiles now–in an age of grace–is an aside from God’s plans to save Israel and establish them as God’s people. Contemporary Dispensationalism, of course, would never use such crass terms, but to put forward the notion that God will return somehow to dealing with one nation again, after giving his gospel–which is the fulfilment of all the revelation given to Israel, and which is given in order to bring about the obedience of the nations–really is to suggest the same thing in perhaps more friendly terms.

I would suggest, however, that a simple reading of Galatians and Paul’s view of redemptive-history given there would suggest otherwise. From Adam to Abraham, God dealt with the nations. From Abraham on God dealt primarily with Abraham’s seed–a particular people group–but this seed was specifically prophesied as the one who will bring God’s blessing to all nations.

A little while later, God continues to deal with Israel alone and gives the Law, which they must obey; this Law is the standard by which they must live and be judged, it is what makes Israel distinct as God’s people. This Law, however, as Paul says, is fulfilled (as are the promises to Abraham) in Christ.

Why in the world, then, would we expect for God to go back to dealing with one nation alone? Wouldn’t that be to reverse of the working out of his plan in salvation-history?

Though I would never put it in these terms (tongue planted firmly in cheek), if we must view the saving of a particular people in salvation-history as an ‘aside’, wouldn’t it be Israel? If God’s original plan with Adam and then subsequently with Abraham (and I think it could be easily shown through Israel as well) is for ‘the whole world’, then why would he go back to dealing specifically with a covenant-people whose covenant has been rendered obsolete?

Let Scripture Say What Scripture Says

I love Scripture because it boldly declares. It doesn’t go around tip-toeing and trying to qualify everything. There are profound tensions in Scripture, but rather than attempting to soften them, or thinking that we need to explain them away, I think we need to embrace them and let them speak to us.

For most modern readers, when we come across issues like this, we tend to think there are contradictions. In reality, however, the biblical writers (and Jesus himself!) would have had to be pretty stupid to not realize that they were speaking or writing in ways to contradict themselves in such small spaces and periods of time.

Here are a few of my favourite New Testament examples of places where profound tensions are spoken of, and then left for the most part undefended. The reader must either believe or disbelieve. Most of these texts (but not all) are in some sense speaking of the tensions with regards to God’s sovereignty and our belief or unbelief of the gospel. I think that this would be a fascinating study to take on in more depth.

Matthew 11:25-30

25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 23:37-39

37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! 38 See, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Luke 10:13-15

13 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14 But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 15 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.

John 6:44-48

44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— 46 not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life.

Acts 2:23-24

23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

Acts 13:48

48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.

Acts 18:9-11

9 And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” 11 And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

2 Corinthians 4:3-4

3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Philippians 1:29

29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,

Colossians 1:29

29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

2 Thessalonians 2:9-14

9 The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The trick, I suppose is letting each side of the coin carry its full freight, preaching both with equal passion, and letting the Spirit of God work in the people of God through the Word of God accordingly. The trouble comes in when our fallen minds try to take these texts to their ‘next logical step’ and try to draw conclusions and syntheses that the biblical texts never make.

We need to just let the words of Scripture say what they say. We need to, at the end of the day, be able to say with the Apostle Paul, ‘We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God’ (2 Cor 4.2).

Shrewd as Serpents?

Please understand that I know the whole Augustinian / Pelagian (Calvinism / Arminianism) debate has been running its course for 16 centuries or so now, so I don’t intend to solve it here. That being said, I’m a little frustrated this evening at the “non-logic” employed by many Christians when it comes to working through these thoughts.
Augustine (and subsequently Calvin, Luther, Edwards, et al.) taught the freedom of the will. This surprises many, but it’s true. The will is free to choose whatever it should so desire. The biblical picture, however, is that the unregenerate heart will always choose evil; hence the “bondage of the will” (ie. it can only choose evil, therefore, it knows nothing of true freedom). God’s grace, according to Augustine, is his active changing of our hearts, so that we delight in him above all else, so that we freely choose him over everything else (thus God is, to Augustine, his sovereign joy) and every other false pleasure.
I believe firmly that this is a concept firmly rooted in the biblical portrait of man and God’s redemptive work and would be prepared to argue that at length. That’s not what I’m hoping to discuss here, however.
My problem is when I get into discussions like one I had recently with a brother (whom I love dearly) who refuses to acknowledge God’s sovereign grace for patently unbiblical reasons. He made no attempt to argue from Scripture, exept to cite a single verse from 1 Tim 2 without rooting his argument in context. He then based his whole theology of grace around the idea that he created from that one verse. His argument went something like this:

1. God elects some to salvation.
2. This necessarily implies that he has willfully, actively chosen to create some, make them sinful, and send them to hell.
3. This is unacceptable.
4. Therefore, God does not elect unto salvation.
The problem, of course, with this syllogism is that 2 does not follow from 1.
The problem in the grander scheme of things, however, is that he has worked himself into a tough corner when it comes to actually dealing with the biblical texts which clearly delineate God’s electing in salvation. What does one do with Ephesians 1 when he has already decided in his mind that God’s greatest desire is for every single person to be saved?
The simple fact of the matter is that the Bible places the blame for the damnation of sinners on sinners. Out of a fallen race of humanity, God elects a people unto salvation. God is responsible for salvation, because his grace has to change our hearts so that we can delight in him. God is not responsible for the damnation of a sinner, that sinner chose what he desired.
Some may well ask “how can God judge me when he didn’t elect me?” To that we’d have to answer with Paul, “Who are you, o man, to answer back to God?” Or with Moses, “The revealed things belong to man, but the hidden things belong to God.” Or with Isaiah, “His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor his ways our ways. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so are his thoughts above our thoughts and his ways above our ways.”
It frustrates me to no end how Christians are willing to take certain things by faith, but then when the Bible doesn’t answer every question they have, they reject what the Bible does teach for their own ideas of what it should teach.
Deal with the text and let that frame your thoughts and questions. Be willing to submit to whatever it teaches… it is the word of God. Be willing to accept “foolishness” when it presents itself. This type of humility usually leads to the greatest insights of wisdom.

Hardening: Pharaoh, Judas, and Peter

I had intended to post on today’s sermon; God’s active hardening of sinners, from Romans 9.17-18… but kerux beat me to it. His new feature is fantastic, and he couldn’t have picked a better week to begin open discussions on his sermons. Instead of posting reflections on the sermon here as well as there, I thought I’d just post this article I wrote a couple of years ago for the school newspaper at my old Bible College, right before our graduation. I hope it helps you to love Christ more.

So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas,
the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after he had taken the morsel,
Satan entered into him.—John 13:26b-27a
Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you,
that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed
for you that your faith may not fail.—Luke 22:31-32a

So what will you do with your summer? Or even better, what will you do with the rest of your life? You have put in some time at Bible College and now what? I’ve heard variegated responses from the students and graduates with whom I’ve conversed. Some plan to go right into ministry opportunities, internships, or seminary training, while others of us are off to begin married lives, and find secular employment. We are all at different stages of life with different plans, and yet we are all determined to serve God wherever we go. United we form a veritable troop: A formidable front of young people off to minister to people and glorify God. One wonders if Judas was any different.

Many of us have spent two, three, or even four years here at Bible College training for the tests to come. Judas followed our Lord and God for three and half years: He walked with him, conversed with him, slept by his side and sang praises with him at night. There were seasons of Judas’ life when the Christ would set aside time to invest in his twelve closest followers—and Judas was there. He was part of our Lord’s “in crowd.”

When I picture Judas in my mind, too often I picture him as a kind of shady bloke with shifty eyes and an evil laugh. In my mental images, he is always set apart from the group, and segregated. The other eleven always wondered why he was there and how long till he fell.

This projection is patently untrue. Judas was just as much a follower of Christ (at least as far as the eye could see) as any of the other eleven. When Jesus suggested that one of them would be the betrayer (on the very night he was betrayed), each disciple to a man looked around to make sure he was not the suspect, and perhaps apprehensively asked: “Surely, not I?”

Within each of their hearts there was trepidation and a fear of being exposed. Each of them knew his own heart. Each knew good and well that within his own soul there was the possibility that he could be the one to come up short; he could be the one to blow it. After making the announcement that he would be betrayed by one of them, Christ said to Peter that Satan had demanded to have him, that he might sift him. Peter veiled his fear that he might be like the betrayer behind his impressive, if not brash, claim: “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” He was not ready to be exposed to the others as one who would betray his Lord.

That same night every single one of those disciples was exposed. Each one is portrayed in Scripture as the hypocrite that he was. Each one turned his back on Christ. Sure, Peter followed Christ that night, but it was only “at a distance,” and it only led to an even greater betrayal. Of all the betrayals explored in the gospels that night, Peter’s is the most poignant.

One might ask (and perhaps rightly): “What was the difference between Peter and Judas?” They both betrayed our Lord and Saviour when they should have stood strong at his side. Why should one fall away and the other be restored?

There is a good probability that not all of us here at school will hold firm to the faith once for all delivered to the saints; not all of us will persevere. Some of us will fall into grave sin—some of us will deny our Lord outright (though I do pray, even as I write that this might never be so). Though we now profess “Lord, I am ready to follow you to prison and to death,” in our deepest moments of reflection and meditation we realize the weakness of our faith and cry, “Surely Lord, not I?”

So what will be the determining factor? What is essential to keep us safe in the arms of our Saviour? It is the grace of our Saviour and that alone.

Not a single one of us will stand on our own strength. Not a single one of us will stand even by our prayers (for the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak, and whether by sorrow or exhaustion, we all fall asleep).

Like Peter and Judas, we stand or fall by the grace and the will of our Christ. Of Judas it was written, “He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.” Thus, Jesus handed him the morsel. And Satan, having received the divine acquiescence necessary for him to act did all his will with whom he was given.

Satan, however, was not satisfied. He demanded more. “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat.” But the morsel was not given. Peter’s Saviour makes the difference between Peter and Judas absolutely clear: “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” It is only the grace of Jesus that enables a human to persevere. It is only the grace of Jesus that saves us. It does not therefore depend on man, who wills or who runs, but on Christ.

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” Who will persevere? Who will break down and fall away? Who will give up? Who will “finish the race”? We must all fall into the arms of Christ, our loving God and Saviour. For in his will, and in his will alone, we find life and grace.

Again, “What is man that you are mindful of him / the son of man that you care for him?” We do not deserve this care of provision. No matter how much we have trained for serving Christ, no matter how much of the Bible we know, no matter how great we think we will be for the church of God, we must depend utterly on Christ and on Christ alone for persevering grace. “Pray that you do not fall into temptation.” Pray with all your heart. But remember always, that Christ alone holds your salvation. May he hold us all and preserve us in his love. For inasmuch as there is no hope outside of him, there is now no condemnation to fear for any who are in him.

Do not assume your preserving grace. Pray for it. Do not presume to be a follower of Christ except you see the fruits evident in your life. Pray for them. Do not presume to be a follower of Christ because you have “followed him” for three years (or 13 years!) at Bible College. Judas followed him too.

Update, 02/18/06: See this article at “the Christian Mind” for some thoughts on the upcoming publication of the Gospel of Judas.

I wonder if God…

I wonder if God could cause plants to grow without rain. I think most people would say that if God could create the earth just exactly how he did, out of nothing, then he could have created it many other ways as well. He could have made it so that the earth would be watered without rain. So why would he send rain?

There is a friend of mine who is teaching a college & careers class on evangelism. Some of the people in the class found out that he believes in God’s sovereignty in salvation. They began to argue with him (as I’m sure we’ve all heard before) that if God elects unconditionally from eternity past all who will ever have a saving faith in him, then why do we preach? Why even bother with evangelism?

God waters the earth with rain because that’s the way he’s chosen to work. Precipitation is simply the means that he has seen as most fitting for what he wants to accomplish.

Evangelism is the means of bring sinners to saving faith in Christ because that’s the way God has chosen to work. God has ordained that we evangelize because he has elected, and the preaching of his word is the way in which he will bring his own people to himself.

In Acts 18 we find Paul beginning his ministry to the Gentiles in Corinth, because the Jews there have rejected his message. It says that many of the people there, “hearing Paul believed and were baptized.” In other words, Paul evangelized and sinners were saved. Was that “free will that triumphs over election”? No… keep reading.

Verse 9 says that “the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid,and no one will attack you to harm you (ie. keep evangelizing), but go on speaking and do not be silent for I am with you, for I have many in this city who are my people.'” Paul’s response to God’s revelation of his elect being present in the city? “And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.”

In other words, when Paul understood God’s plan of salvation for the people in Corinth (ie. God had some of his elect there in that city), he kept preaching the gospel, trusting God to save his own.

Election is motivation for evangelizing the lost, not the other way around. God has ordained the rain as much as he has ordained the plant’s growth.

The Purposes of God

At our church, our pastor has been preaching through the book of Romans. This past week we went over Romans 8:28 and learned about the fact that God works all things–without exception–for the good of his people. The “all things” trips some people up, but if we’re to be faithful to the Word, then we must not qualify “all” any more than the context itself does. (See my pastor’s follow-up post from the day after the sermon for further elaboration.)

Some people take ideas like that and (rightly) say something like, “Wow! What an awesome God, that he would work all things for our good.” They then hastily conclude that the purpose of God in creation is to have right relationship with people. Pomo tendencies definitely swing in this direction and many at my former place of study would argue this vehemently.

But I cannot help but think that they must be reading their Bibles with sunglasses on or something, because they seem to be missing half the story.

For starters, God’s plan would be a pretty big failure if he just wanted relationship with people and yet still the percentage of Christians in the world is relatively small (if that were his only purpose). But there’s more than that. And it’s there all over the place…

Just this morning, I’m reading through the book of Exodus for my OT class and I couldn’t help but notice this. To say that God is concerned primarily with the salvation of his people as an end in itself, one would have to be an open theist. Otherwise, why would God send all the plagues? You must say either (1) God didn’t know how Pharaoh would respond (Ex. 4:21-23), or (2) he had some other purpose. Since God had predicted quite clearly beforehand that he knew Pharaoh would not listen, we can rightly conclude that God had another purpose.

He states that purpose as well: “Pharaoh will not listen to you, that my wonders my be multiplied in the land of Egypt…. and the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go out of his land.” Clearly, if God was only concerned about acquiring freedom for his people, he would not have hardened Pharaoh’s heart. We must conclude, then, that God was telling the truth when he said he did it so that his wonders would be multiplied.

God was primarily concerned with glorifying himself. Secondarily, and derivatively, he was concerned with saving his people. Because the redemption of his people is derived from his passion for displaying his glory, we can rest assured that God works all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose. Because his purpose is to save sinners, to his great glory.

Those who would argue that the God of the OT is hard to equate with the God of the NT simply miss the point that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and his purposes will never change. That’s why in the NT, Paul could look back on this event and quote with affirmation God’s purposes in creating Pharaoh: “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”

In fact, that’s God’s purpose in raising us all up…

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