For Whom Should a Christian Vote?

2016 election

The election of 2016 has proven to be a circus of extreme personalities and worldviews thus far.  For months, much of the western world considered Donald Trump’s run for the republican nomination to be a joke and we all waited with semi-bated breath to see how the proverbial chips would fall.  Suddenly, we are left with two primary nominees that much of the United States would prefer to not endorse, and Christians are entering the fray to seek and offer advice on “the right” or “the Christian” thing to do.  Up until now most conservatives have suggested writing in a candidate and seeking some moral high ground that would absolve them from responsibility when Trump or Hillary is elected but yet still fulfill their privilege and right as an American to vote.  Over the weekend, however, one of the most respected theologians amongst reformed and conservative evangelicals, Wayne Grudem, wrote a polarizing article with his explanation for why voting for Trump is the morally right thing to do.  People are writing open response letters, evangelicals are taking a hit, more conservatives are coming out of the Trump-supportive closet, and Millennials are promising to leave the church.

In short, we have a mess.

Here’s the deal, folks.  There is not now, nor has there ever been a perfect candidate for the office of President of the United States.  Democracy is not God’s form of government, and even though we live in a privileged nation with a unique opportunity to be a part of the decision making process, your vote (or lack thereof) is one hundred percent between you and God.

God’s form of government.

Americans like to believe that we live in the greatest country in the world, and that we are God’s country and chosen people.  We are not, in fact, God’s chosen people.  Israel was the only nation to hold that unique and precious title, and when God set up their government and nation in the way He deemed best, He established Himself as the King.  They had a theocracy.  This simply means there was no human king, president or leader, only priests and judges who had the Law of God and communicated His will and rulings to the people.  When the Israelites desired a king, it was only because they saw what the pagan nations around them had, and God sternly rebuked them for sinning against Him.  Not only that, He promised that it would be their downfall and after only three kings the nation was divided, and ultimately fell and the people were exiled.

“But the thing was displeasing in the sight of Samuel when they said, ‘Give us a king to judge us.’  And Samuel prayed to the Lord.  The Lord said to Samuel, ‘Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them.'”

 – 1 Sam 8.6-7

Is democracy a good form of government?  Yes.  We have been blessed to have a system in place which maintains some semblance of order and balance whereby one person or group cannot rule sovereignly over another.  It is the best system?  No.  God’s system of Theocracy is best, and all others are man-made.  We could – and many have – spent hours debating the best forms of government, social systems, and politics, but there is currently no existing system that is determined by and governed by God and Scripture.  Therefore we cannot claim God’s authority in determining our self-government, and we are constrained to apply God’s moral and ethical principles within a broken and worldly system.

Our Hope in a Broken System

Because we are seeking to honor God in a broken system, we must always remember that God is in sovereign control.  He alone establishes kings, governments and systems and the person who is elected next to the office of President of the United States will be stationed there by God and God alone (Dan 2.21).  He works out those plans in mysterious ways, and we would be wise to remember that there are times when He works the miraculous completely outside of our input and there are times that He utilizes our efforts towards His ends.

When the Philistines were attacking Israel and Goliath challenged any single warrior to a duel, David stood up to him.  After David defeated Goliath, the Philistines were “thrown into a confusion” and they killed themselves (1 Sam 14.20).  There are other examples of kings uniting to fight together against Israel, and God sent them into a confusion whereby they killed each other and Israel never even entered the battle (2 Chro 20).

God did not always keep the Hebrew people from battle, however.  We also see that God gave David success in numerous battles and wars, as long as he followed the direction and leadership of God.  There was never a time when the battle plan was the same and God provided success to Moses, Joshua, Saul, David and all other leaders who followed His lead.

God is unpredictable and He uses people in very different ways to accomplish His ends.  Sometimes, in fact, He tells different people different things in order to fulfill His plan.  Paul was the first and arguably most successful missionary to reach out to the Gentiles and the known world.  He made it his goal to take the Gospel everywhere.  Towards the end of his ministry the Holy Spirit began to lead Paul and tell him to go to Jerusalem:

“And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me.  But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.”

 – Acts 20.22-24

However, the Holy Spirit instructed other believers to tell Paul to not go to Jerusalem:

“After looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem.”

 – Acts 21.4

Not only that, God sent a prophet to warn Paul of what would happen if and when he went to Jerusalem:

“As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.  And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, ‘This is what the Holy Spirit says: “In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.”‘  When we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem.”

 – Acts 21.10-12

All in all, it was the plan of God for Paul to go to Jerusalem.  God was indeed telling Paul to go, and it was His plan for Paul to suffer there, and part of the preparation God utilized for Paul’s heart was the warning of other believers.  By the time Agabus  prophesied about his imprisonment and torture, Paul knew that he was ready and willing to die for the Gospel.

Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart?  For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”  And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, “The will of the Lord be done!”

 – Acts 21.13-14

We also see clearly that God used Judas as an integral and prophesied part of Jesus’ very own death.  It was foretold hundreds of years before hand that Jesus would be sold for thirty pieces of silver (Zech 11.12-13, Matt 26.15, Matt 27.3-5), and that by a friend (Ps 41.9).  Not only was Judas’ specific role predestined and foretold, the entirety of the crucifixion of Jesus was God’s plan from the beginning of time (Gen 3.15, Rev 13.8, 1 Peter 1.20).

Sometimes God’s plans do not make sense to us.  Sometimes God tells different people different things in order to bring about His end.  Sometimes God even utilizes sin to accomplish His goals – such as the murder of Jesus.

We Must Act Under Conviction

Because of these realities, we can only weigh our decisions against Scripture and against the personal direction of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Our conscience will bear witness against us if we disobey the direct commands of Scripture or His personal instruction, and the Holy Spirit will never instruct believers to do something contrary to Scripture.  It is His specific and clear purpose to teach and direct believers in righteousness:

“And [the Spirit], when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”

– John 16.8

God is working in and through us to develop Spiritual maturity and growth.  He is working out our salvation, and helping us die to flesh and to sin.  He has given us the Spirit to convict us of sin – to remind us of what Jesus has taught us and what God defines as sin throughout Scripture, and to push us on to righteousness.  He will therefore never contradict God or His ordinances in Scripture.

There are times and circumstances, however, that are morally neutral and require personal and direct leadership from the Spirit.  This is where the Spirit can and may tell two different people two different things – like Paul and the disciples.  For us, then, we are bound to follow the conviction of the Spirit we have personally:

We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.  Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.

– 1 John 3.19-22

Our conscience will bear witness against us or for us on these issues.  It is under this reality where we find beliefs on drinking alcohol (not unto drunkenness of course), politics, professions, hobbies, etc.  These are extremely sensitive topics because very real sin issues can and do enter into the conversation as defined by Scripture, but not always.

As this relates directly to the election, we will find a variety of consciences and convictions.  There are some issues that are discussed in the election which are directly sinful or weighable against Scripture.  When these issues single handedly remove a candidate from our list of possibilities we call them “Single Issue Dispositive” issues.  For most Christians, abortion is a single-issue dispositive.  Most Christians will not vote for or endorse any candidate that would murder an unborn baby.  The opposite would be “Single Issue Sufficient” whereby a candidate’s stance on any one issue would outweigh any other position he would take.  Does Trump’s pro-life position justify every other position he holds?  To some it might, to some it might not.

The big conversation, however, is about character.  Some would argue that since the Christian community by-in-large called for Bill Clinton’s resignation after having an affair, that it would be hypocritical to vote for Trump because he has been married three times and divorced two.  Some would argue that his affiliation with playboy and the corporate success ladder, his explosive personality, and his racist disposition would all be enough to make his character wicked enough to make him non-viable as a candidate.  Unfortunately, as Albert Mohler stated so eloquently:

“We have always voted in a fallen world for fallen candidates in a fallen political construct and done the best we could.”

When evaluating character as means by which to judge a candidate, we will all have different requirements and varying opinions.  Both candidates verbally affirm a Christian faith, neither are perfect in character and neither uphold fully Biblical values.  Hillary is comfortable with abortion, Trump is racist.

Some have responded that it is better to not vote at all or to write in another option, citing the Scripture:

“…and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.”

– Rom 1.32

It is true that we will give an account to God for every decision we make, including giving approval to wicked men.  It is also true that we are not appointing a man (or woman) to spiritual leadership when choosing a president and choosing a candidate who we believe is better suited for the job may not necessarily be someone with whom we align on all moral or Biblical issues.

In short, if you cannot vote for one candidate or another by your conscience, then for you it is sin to vote against your conscience.  If you cannot vote at all because of your conscience, then by all means do not vote because for you it is sin.  If you can vote for one candidate over the other, by the direction of the Holy Spirit and in light of Biblical truths, then by all means vote for that candidate.  The Holy Spirit might be telling you one thing and another person another thing in order to achieve His end of the next president (whom He has already chosen and appointed, by the way).  What is critical is that you have examined the facts, laid the issue before God and Scripture, and are acting under the guidance of the Spirit.

In all of this, let us not sin.

We must be keenly aware of the conversations and difficulties that arise when discussing politics.  Some people are highly educated and skilled in the art of political science and social reform.  Some people are not.  Within the moral grey-realm of Biblical application, some people might be convicted strongly on one side of an argument while others are convicted strongly on the other side.  For instance, does the dignity of human life require that we welcome all would-be refugees into our country?  Even though my conscience may not allow me to turn away someone who is suffering and looking for hope, I cannot condemn someone else’s conscience who would seek the safety of the nation and his family first and refuse that person.  This is not a moral absolute, and we must all turn to and submit to the direction of the Holy Spirit in our personal lives.  With that understanding, we must also recognize God’s authority and direction in other believer’s lives and never condemn them by our own conscience alone.  They must be condemned or justified by their own conscience and walk with God.

And this, friends, is the beauty of the democracy:  we are free to do just that.

So no, I will no tell you who is the morally right or “Christian” choice.  Because God might be up to something way bigger than anything we can imagine.  He might also be convicting your conscience differently than He is convicting mine – and it is all to same end.  If we trust God, His sovereignty and His plan, then we will never judge one another and we will never sin against one another for having a different opinion than our own, but will encourage one another to contemplate the Scriptures, to seek out the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and act (vote) in a way that falls in line with our beliefs and walk with God.

 

He loves us as a bride.

wedding

Perhaps the most well known verse in the Bible is John 3:16, and rightfully so.  It is clear, it is succinct, it is full of hope and promise, it is beautiful:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.”

This verse gloriously exemplifies the general love that God has for the entire world, and what theologians identify as the “general call” to salvation.  God loved the fullness of humanity such that He offered His son to pay the penalty for our sin.  Anyone.  All.  Whosoever believes in Jesus Christ will not perish, but will be saved.  It is tempting, and extremely dangerous, however, to bring our personal and cultural understanding of love to the Scripture, and to utilize such a glorious promise as John 3:16 to negate a much more profound type of love which God has for His children.

While God does indeed have a general love for the world, and while the offer of salvation includes, in part, a general calling for everyone, there is also the much more beautiful love which God has for His children which He equates to the love of His bride.  We are taught clearly in Scripture that the Church (everyone who believes, and everyone who was saved by faith from the people of Israel) is the bride of Christ.  Husbands love their brides in a unique way.  They love their friends, they love their sisters and mothers, they generally love the women in the church or community, but the love for a bride is specific, incomparably strong and special.

“Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the true words of God’.”

– Rev 19:7-9

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

– Eph 5.25-27

This special love that God has for the Church is also known as electing love.  I know, I know, it sounds so cold and impersonal.  If God chooses us and makes us able to love Him then it is not true love, right?  We are not robots, we choose and experience our love for Him personally.  But let’s set aside our offense and look at how Scripture defines it for us.

Before Christ came, God set apart the people of Israel to be His chosen people.  Abraham was a moon worshiper whom God set apart and declared to be the father of His people.  He chose Abraham and He chose the Jews for no other reason than His own prerogative:

“The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you.”

– Deut 7:6-8

It was God’s choice alone, and God chose Abraham and the Hebrews simply out of love:

“Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day.”

– Deut 10.14-15

He did not have the same, choosing love for all of the other nations – it was special for Abraham and his descendants.  It was a choosing love.  It was as setting a bride in a special place of honor before all other women – never to be matched and never to be diminished.

Jesus gives us another analogy to help us grasp this fact:  He calls us His sheep.  After Jesus died on the cross and paid the punishment for sins, he broadened the call from the Hebrew people to the entire world.  It was God’s intention from the beginning to bring in people from every tribe, tongue and nation, but it was through the work of Jesus on the cross that the electing love was broadened by grace and no longer identified by Law.  Jesus says that there are “sheep” (believers) from other “folds” (nations) who need to be brought in (John 10.16).  Interestingly, however, Jesus says that His sheep hear His voice and know Him – stating clearly that belief comes only because one already belongs to Jesus:

“Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me.  But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep.  My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand’.”

– John 1-.27-28

Jesus stated that the men listening did not believe in Jesus because they were not His sheep.  Our natural inclination would lend us to believe that these men were not Jesus’ sheep because they did not believe, but Jesus reverses the order:  He chose first, and their belief was contingent upon their identity as sheep.

This is exemplified clearly in Jesus’ teaching of New Birth:  The Holy Spirit blows and gives life to whomever He pleases, and we can neither understand nor direct where it moves or to whom it gives birth:

“Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

– John 3.7-8

The Holy Spirit gives us Spiritual birth by His own choice, and based on that new birth we believe.  Yes, we are believing.  Yes, we have that responsibility.  But we cannot help but believe when we have been made alive in the Spirit.  The things of God are irresistibly beautiful and we long to love, know and serve Him.  We are His sheep.  We are His bride.  We are also His children!  Not everyone is a child of God:

“No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.  By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.”

– 1 John 3.9-10

How, then, can it be that “whoever believes shall be saved”?  John himself goes on to explain in the following verses:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.  For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.  He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

– John 3.16-18

The one who does not believe is already judged, because he is not a sheep, he is not part of the bride, and he has not been given new birth. D.L. Moody gave a beautiful example of how we might understand this tension in our Spirits.  He used to teach regularly throughout his ministry that the pearly gates of Heaven could be imagined to have a sign overhead reading “Whosever will may come”, but upon entering into the gates if one were to look at the back side of the sign it would read, “Chosen before the foundation of the world” (John 3.16, Eph 1.4).

Jesus loves His bride with a special, choosing love.  It is not based on anything we have done, but on His providence and grace alone.  If we attempt to merit His love and choice, we greatly disgrace His love and work on the cross.  When He loves us, He gives us new birth and when we are awakened Spiritually we cannot help but turn to Him, cling to Him, and love Him.  Because we are His sheep and we hear His voice and we know Him.  We are His bride, and He teaches husbands to love their wives in the same way He loves us:  giving up everything for us, loving us lavishly, dying for us, and presenting us to God holy and blameless.  Let us rejoice in that great love today, and not diminish it by equating it with the general love that God has for the entire world.

Spiritual Ambulance Chasers

ambulance

It has been said by some that our salvation experiences are the result of a crisis.  Some even say [heretically] that there are two crises required to achieve a higher, second experience with God.  What does that mean, however?  If by crisis we mean a turning point, then yes.  Absolutely.  Our salvation is the moment of Spiritual birth, when we begin walking in obedience to the Lord and abiding in the Holy Spirit.  A major change happens the moment that we are saved.

If, however, by crisis we mean that something major or tragic must happen in order to turn us to God, then I fear we gravely misunderstand salvation, God and the nature of man, and we turn well meaning evangelists into Spiritual ambulance chasers.

Jesus is not a Spiritual band-aid or medicine to fix our problems.

When Jesus came to the Earth and began His ministry, He met the people’s physical needs.  In fact, we are told regularly that He healed all who came to Him (Matt 4.24).  He gave sight to blind people, He healed sick people and He even raised people from the dead.  He was concerned about people’s situational maladies.  He also preached to the crowds who came to Him for healing!  And while He promised to meet all of our needs to the end of our Spiritual maturity and God’s glory, He never promised that the Christian life would be easy, or would relieve us from worldly suffering.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  He promised that in the same way people hated Him, they will hate us (John 15.18-20), and we should consider ourselves blessed when we are persecuted for His name’s sake (Matt 5.12).  Jesus never intended to remove believers from the world, but to empower them to live righteously in  the world:

“I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.”

 – John 17.15

Jesus is also not a supplement, He demands our entire life.  If we wish to find our lives in Him, we must lose them to ourselves (Matt 16.25).  He is not a Spiritual genie that we call upon when the going gets tough, He is our Lord, our boss, our authority as we wade through the trials and temptations of this life.  Life will get more complicated and hairy for those who turn their lives to Jesus, not easier.

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.”

 – Matt 10.34-36

Mankind is Spiritually dead apart from Jesus.

People regularly say that “there is a God-sized hole in each of us”, and that “we are all searching for something”.  Now, considering the fact that God is infinite and everywhere, to have a void of that size would mean we are, in fact, infinite black holes.  If we understood the magnitude of God we would never make such a claim.  We are not beings which God must complete, we are nothing which God must create.  We are Spiritually dead, needing God’s life-breath.

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.”

 – Eph 2.1-2

Nothing can help dead people.  Only a supernatural miracle can give life to the dust.  Salvation is not Jesus coming in and healing a disease, or filling in a hole, salvation is Jesus giving us life, breathing air into dry, dead bones.  Making something out of nothing.  He takes our hearts of stone away and gives us a heart of flesh, completely making us new, Spiritual, God-inclined creatures:

“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”

 – Ez 36.26

Such a worldview implies that we are fundamentally good and we just need a boost to get us through this crisis and into eternity.  It implies that we are all on a Spiritual journey and we just need direction, we are searching for the light and Jesus is that light.  We are doing it.  However Scripture teaches us that not only are we Spiritually dead, there are none who seek after God, there are none who are righteous, and we are all naturally born enemies of God.

“There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.”

 – Rom 3.10-12

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”

 – Rom 5.10

Spiritual Ambulance Chasers

People have observed that it is often in a moment of crisis that people come to faith.  A child is terminally ill and the parents are desperate to find an answer and a cure.  A man has lost his job and is unable to provide for his wife and family.  A woman is so overwhelmed by depression that she cannot even get herself out of bed in the mornings.  These weak and hurting people are prime for the picking, because they need an answer.

Unfortunately, it is often the reality that this type of conversion is not genuine.  Why?  Because us ambulance chasers are looking for the quick fix.  We promise that God has the answer – a perfect plan for their lives – and once the crisis is over, there is no longer a need for God.  Sure, they might continue to go to Church, they might fix up their behavior so they can call out on God during the next crisis, but they have not understood the promise of salvation.

If we are all born without Spiritual life, if we are all separated from God, and if we all deserve an eternity of damnation because of our sin (Rom 3.23, 6.23,) then our greatest need is not someone to walk us through trials:  heal a sick child, provide a job, or cure depression.  Our greatest need is a savior who can intervene and change the entire course of our lives.  We need Spiritual life.  And when we find Spiritual life, we find our joy and pleasure in Jesus Christ.

Yes, when we are walking with and abiding in Jesus Christ, He will give us the wisdom and strength to walk through unimaginable trials, but if all we want out of Jesus is to get through trials, then we are not saved.  Do you want Jesus?  Or do you just want His benefits and help?

The irony of being a Spiritual ambulance chaser is that we have come to believe that people need to be searching for help because of a trial in order to come to faith.  But then, when we encounter someone walking through great difficulty, we are afraid to tell them about Jesus because we might sound insensitive, or we think that they may be hurting too badly.  This is an ingenious tactic of the enemy to keep us silent.

There are no Biblical examples of people being called to salvation in the midst of or because of a great tragedy in their lives.  Yes, countless people came to Jesus for help, but they turned on Him continually throughout His ministry.  They received help and got through their tragedy, but then could not handle the requirement of His calling.  All of the apostles were busy about their jobs and Jesus simply called them.  Paul was zealously persecuting the Church and Jesus knocked him off his feet.  Literally.  Peter was sent to Cornelius – the first non-Jewish believer – because the Holy Spirit was already working in His life and He was ready to hear the Truth of the Gospel.  God calls people when He is ready.  God breathes Spiritual life into dead bones at His perfect timing.  We cannot generate or predict a conversion based on someone’s life circumstances.

So what?  What does this all mean?  Jesus promised us that the harvest is plentiful.  There are many people out there in whom He is already working (like Cornelius), and they need only to hear the Gospel.  Some of them might be in the midst of suffering.  Most of them are simply going about their daily lives like the apostles were.  And there may even be some who are out trying to kill us – like Paul.  Our fundamental need, and their fundamental need is not a crutch to get through life, it is a savior to redeem us from our sins.  Salvation has to start with a recognition of our sins.  The wrath of God is and will be poured out from Heaven against all ungodliness and sin, and if we have not settled our repentance with God, we have no hope.

We must make sure that our Spirituality is not crisis-based, that we do not only turn to God in our moment of need, and that we do not only desire God’s benefits, but that we desire God.  When we preach the Gospel, we must make sure that we do not promise God’s benefits without explaining God’s expectations.  We must explain new, Spiritual life – not just an answer to a felt need.

And the beauty of all of this is that it is only our responsibility to share.  God breathes the life.  God causes the growth.  If you have shared the true Gospel, then you have done your part!  And we can leave the rest up to God.  If the hearer rejects this salvation, they are rejecting God and not us!

“So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”

 – 1 Cor 3.7

How do you know that you were born?

baby

Yesterday I wrote on eternal life and how it begins at the moment of Spiritual birth, and not at the moment of physical death.  Jesus taught Nicodemus clearly that in order to be a child of God, one must be born Spiritually.  No one is a believer in Christ if he has not been born again, born Spiritually.  We cannot go to Heaven when we die unless we are born Spiritually.

Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?”  Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again’.”

– John 3.3-7

So that begs the question, “How do you know that you were born again?”  As your mind starts running to answer the question, stop and consider your physical existence.  How do you know that you were born physically?  It is because you are alive!  No one would go and pull out his birth certificate as proof that he was born.  No one would go search out a video of the birth or a witness who knew his mother when she was pregnant.  No.  We simply understand that all who are alive now were born.  That is how human life and existence begins!  The actions of a man and a woman led to conception which resulted in a new life that was physically born nine months later.

Now, consider again the question, “How do you know that you were born again?”  Is your knee jerk answer to say, “I asked Jesus into my heart”?  Jesus very intentionally chose the imagery of birth to describe what happens spiritually when we are saved.  No one has any control over when he is born, physically.  It was not your choice to be conceived, to grow for nine months inside of the womb and then to come out into the world.  You were not a Spirit that chose and said, “Now is my time!”  This truth is the same Spiritually.  Paul teaches us that before we were born again, we were dead Spiritually.  There was no life in us:

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.”

– Eph 2.1-2

We were dead and walking in Spiritual darkness.  When we fumble around in the dark we cannot find our way, but God chooses to reveal His light:

“For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

– 2 Cor 4.6

As a dead creature that resides in the darkness, we cannot and will not ever choose to come to God on our own.  It is an impossibility.  It is like someone choosing to be born physically.  And Jesus said that,

“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.

– John 6.44

God gives faith (Eph 2.8-9), and God grants repentance (2 Tim 2.25).  We cannot have faith or repent in our own strength, that is of the Spirit.

And after the seed of the Gospel was planted in our lives, only God causes Spiritual growth:

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.  So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”

– 1 Cor 3.6-7

God grants it to some to believe:

“For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake…”

– Phil 1.29

After God gives us this Spiritual life, He makes us a new creation.  We were one type of creation before having Spiritual life, and then He recreated us into a Spiritual child of God.  We did not create or form ourselves physically or Spiritually.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

– 2 Cor 5.17

Jesus Himself said that no knows God or can see God except those to whom He chooses to reveal Himself and God:

“All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”

– Matt 11.27

And ultimately, Jesus teaches us that it is of the will of God alone that we are born Spiritually:

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

– John 1.12-13

Now, understanding that Scripture teaches us clearly that the new birth, our Spiritual birth, is not anything that we do or of ourselves, but of God and His will, how do we know that we were born Spiritually?  Asking Jesus into our hearts is not the proof.  Spiritual life is the proof.  In the very same way that we know we were born physically by the fact that we are alive, we can know that we were born Spiritually because are alive Spiritually!  The moment of birth comes at the moment of faith.  The moment that God reveals Himself to us, draws us to Himself, causes us to be aware of our sin and the righteousness of Christ that is made available to us by repentance, we have life.  Then God begins the work of sanctification:  causing us to die to our flesh and be transformed into the image of Christ.

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

– Phil 1.6

God began the work of salvation in our lives and He will complete it.  He is the one who is causing our Spiritual growth and maturity, by transforming us.

Does that mean that we are off the hook of responsibility?  Most certainly not!  We know that people go to Hell as punishment for their sins, and we know that we prove ourselves to be of God by our submission to the Spirit.  If we refuse to obey then we ultimately prove ourselves to have never been saved, to have never been of God.  Therefore if we continue in sin we know that the just reward is an eternity separated from God in Hell.  But we also must understand that it is by the power of the Holy Spirit alone that we can obey.  Thus we must seek Him daily, we must rely on His strength and pursue His will.  We must die to our flesh, put away the deeds of sin that we enjoy, and put on righteousness – by the strength and power that He provides.

Are you alive Spiritually?  Do you hear the Holy Spirit convicting you of sin and righteousness (John 16.8)?  When you approach a decision and entertain a sinful path, does the Spirit convict you?  When you choose to sin, do you experience the grief of the Spirit and desire to make right what was wronged?  Do you understand the voice of the Spirit guiding you to make decisions that honor God, that proclaim the Gospel, that obey His word?  Do you enjoy worshiping Him and making much of Him?  Do you have hope?  Do you have peace?  Do you have faith?

These are the markers of Spiritual life.  Not an action that you preformed, a prayer that you prayed or a card that you signed.  Do you know that you were born?

Election and Wisdom

growth

What is the primary reason that you do not talk about Jesus with people – specifically non Christians?  Most would answer some variety of fear:  Fear of rejection, fear of not knowing what to say, fear of the topic, etc.  Are you afraid that people will not believe if you tell them about Jesus?  We try to pump ourselves up in a variety of ways when we consider evangelism or just making Jesus known, but the reality is that Jesus and the Gospel, to those who are not chosen, is foolishness.

“For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

– 1 Cor 1.22-24

To the Jews, who had the history of the Old Testament Law, Jesus was (and is) a stumbling block.  They understood in part that they were looking for a Savior, but when He came they did not recognize Him because they did not exactly for whom they were looking.  Jesus is a stumbling block for them to come to salvation, as they still are waiting for a savior.  The Gentiles, everybody else, hear the story of redemption and consider it – naturally – foolishness.  So, in short, everyone who is either a Jew or not a Jew will hear the story of Jesus and in and of themselves will hear it as foolishness.  They will reject it.

Does that give you hope?

It gives me hope.  Because the conclusion of the verse is that to all who are called, Jews or everyone else, Christ is the “power of God and the wisdom of God”.

It can sound a bit cliche these days to remind ourselves that when we talk about Jesus and people mock us or do not want to hear about it, that they are rejecting Jesus and not us.  It is true, and it should give us comfort to remember that Jesus was hated and He promises that those who hate Him will (and should) hate us.

“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.”

– John 15.18-20

Therefore, we should begin to develop thicker skin.  Jesus promises that the world will hate His servants, and people who look like Jesus.  If no one is hating you, then you might check yourself to see if you are standing for truth and telling people about Jesus.  Now, I am not saying that we should be obnoxious, and make ourselves hate-able, rather I am saying that the Gospel is so offensive to people, that when we live how Jesus lived, when we speak how Jesus spoke, and when we share the good news of the Gospel, it is offensive in and of itself.  No one wants to hear that they are wicked and that they deserve to go to Hell for their sins.  But that is what the Bible says, and if we do not know our current state apart from Jesus, then we do not know from what we need saving.

But what I find particularly glorious about this passage in 1 Corinthians is that the contrast is painted between wisdom and folly.  People can understand and articulate the outlines of the Gospel without knowing it as wisdom.  It makes logical sense, and some can portray it as mythology or as a “great story”, but only those who have been chosen find it as wisdom and power.  Clearly, by this teaching, we see that not everyone is called.  It is a supernatural ability to love and believe the Gospel as truth, wisdom and power.

So why does this give me hope in evangelism?  Simply this:  I do not have to get someone from one camp to the other.  I do not have to take the one who finds Jesus as a stumbling block or foolishness and convince him that Jesus crucified is the power and wisdom of God.  Now, there are some who will not hear and believe immediately, and there are some who will know the truth of the Gospel and believe year and decades later.  This does not mean that they went from the unchosen camp to the chosen camp, it means that God had a plan and timing for their conversion.

In short, it is our responsibility to share, and it is God’s responsibility to call, save, and bring about growth.

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.  So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”

– 1 Cor 3.6-7

We know that God has chosen people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.  There are people who will believe in every corner of the Earth.  And until there are believers in every people group, Jesus will not return to bring about the end of the age.  But, He has already set these people aside.  It is only our job to go out there and tell them!  That is why Jesus said,

And He was saying to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”

– Luke 10.2

The Spirit has already prepared hearts to hear the Truth!  The harvest is plentiful.  The fields are white.  When we get out and start talking about Jesus, there will be many who say it is foolishness and stumble over Jesus, but there will be those who are ready to hear it and who hear the wisdom and glory in the Gospel.  So get out there and start talking about Jesus.  He promised us that people will hate us for talking about Him and acting like Him, so let it roll off your back when people turn down your invitation to believe.  And as you continue sharing, you will find that there are some out there who are waiting to hear and who are ready to believe.  It’s our job, people.  When we get to Heaven, let’s not stand before the judge having not done the primary thing that He told us to do.

When does “all” mean “all”?

bride

Christians like to philosophize about the nature of salvation and argue over the question of free will verses the will of God.  Do I choose God or does God choose me?  Are we inherently good creatures who are seeking after God or an answer, with a “God sized hole” in our lives that we are trying to fill?  Or are we by nature evil, enemies of God who do not seek after Him, and are stopped in our tracks by His unmerited grace?

Many argue that the most well known verse in all of the Bible speaks directly to the issue:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

– John 3.16

Whoever believes in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins will be saved.  Period.  This verse that children learn before they even understand the meaning of the words says it clearly.  However, does the statement that “whoever believes in Him shall not perish” mean that everyone has equal ability to believe?  If “God so loved the world”, does that mean that He loves, impacts, draws and works in every person’s heart the same?  Are we left as the determining factor in our faith?

Another verse that regularly leads to confusion on the topic is 2 Peter 3:9:

“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”

At face value, pulling this verse out of the paragraph and argument that Peter is building, it sounds like God is sitting up in Heaven wringing His hands and waiting to see everyone in the entire world believe in Him.  Removing it from context makes the promise ambiguous and, tempers His sovereignty by making it appear as though He is dragging His feet and waiting for more people to repent.

This is the danger of proof-texting.  Proof-texting is what people do when they approach Scripture with an agenda.  Have you ever heard someone say, “He backed Himself up with Scripture”, or have you ever asked someone to “prove it with Scripture”?  It is essential that our belief system be grounded in Scripture and when we are studying doctrines, disciplines and beliefs, there is a time and place for cross referencing passages and memorizing key verses.  John 3:16, for example, outlines the overview of the Gospel and can be quoted on its own.  However we must remember to never interpret a verse without understanding the full argument of the author and we must always weigh a verse against the full teaching of the rest of Scripture.

We must also the deep questions of exclusivity, to see if a truth claim made in one passages truly contradicts a truth claim made in another.  For example, we learn in Ezekiel 33, God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked:

‘As I live!’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live.  Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?’

– Ez 33.11

It is impossible to devoid the instruction from the context of Israel in this verse, unless you quote only half of the verse (which some people do, sadly).  God is speaking through a prophet to call His people, Israel, to repentance from their sin.  But we learn a truth about the heart of God, that He takes no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked.  Does that necessitate that He is not the judge and not in control of the destruction of the wicked?  Some would argue that very point.  But if we believe the rest of Scripture, then we know that God wrote the moral and holy laws, He defines good and evil, He determined the only path to forgiveness, and those who do not walk the narrow path go to Hell.  He wrote the rules.  He enforces the rules.  He sends people to Hell who have not taken refuge in Jesus.  Does that contradict what Ezekiel says, that He takes no pleasure in it?  Of course not!  Do you take pleasure in everything you have to do?  Do you take pleasure in disciplining your children?

Now, let’s turn to Peter.  There are multiple levels to understanding this verse in its context and against the rest of Scripture.  What is the promise?  It is the promise of the second coming, the dawning of the New Earth.  Peter was encouraging the believers not to lose heart, that God will keep His promise to send Jesus back for them.  For us.  And he builds the argument that even though it feels long to us, God exists outside of time!  He sees history in its completion, He is not confined to our liner 24 hour day systems.  To Him, one day can be as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day (2 Peter 3.8).  So what then does he mean by, “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance”?  Let me ask you a simple logical question.  If God sees the end, if He can simultaneously exist in this moment, December 4th, 2014 and at Armageddon, at creation and in the New Earth, does He already know who will be saved?  Does He already know who will make it to the New Earth?  And if He already knows, does He gain or lose anyone by delaying His return?  No.  The end is already written.  God knows who will repent, and He is in control of the timeline.  So Peter is explaining that God has not yet returned because He has not yet finished His redemptive work in those who will believe.

But, someone might argue, Peter says “that all should come to repentance”!  Doesn’t all mean all?

Consider this.  When you call a meeting, and the keynote speaker says, “Is everyone here?” does he mean everyone in the entire world?  When you throw a big birthday bash and say, “I have invited all of my friends”, do you mean that you have invited everyone you have ever known and befriended throughout your entire life?  When you have a family reunion and send out invitation to the entire family, have you invited everyone who is in any way related to you?  Or do you invite first generation blood relatives?  Or just those ones who live in commuting distance?  I would argue that nearly every time you use the world “all” or “everyone” or even “the whole world”, your intended meaning is not every human being who is alive, or every human being who has ever walked the face of the Earth.

Now, this is a logical and apologetical argument that holds no weight until it is considered against the rest of Scripture.  Let’s now return to John 3:16.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have eternal life.”

God so loved the world…so that whoever believes might have life!  This is a glorious statement.  Anyone who believes can have eternal life.  But we saw in 2 Peter that God already knows the end.  He already exists in the end.  He already knows who is going to believe.  This truth makes the next two verses abundantly more clear:

“For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.  He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

– John 3.17-18

John is stating that everyone who believes has eternal life.  No question about it.  But He also states that Jesus, as God, has already judged the unbelievers and they will spend eternity in Hell!  God, outside of time, knows those people who will not believe and they have been judged since before they were even born, because God can see the entirety of their lifespan in a single moment.  It’s over.  So the glory of John 3:16 is not humanity believing, it is Jesus dying on the cross.  Jesus is the redemptive path.  He is the Savior.  God so loved those who would believe that He sent Jesus, because those who would not believe are already judged and condemned.

Now, the final question that we must weigh as egalitarian Americans is, Does God try to call everyone in the same way?  Does He only know in advance how we will respond, or does He actually play a part in our belief and faith?

Consider Paul.  He was a Jew who hated and murdered Christians.  He ranked up there with Osama Bin Laden.  He hated Jesus, the Church and He made every effort to stop Christian progress.  But one day Jesus knocked him off his donkey, blinded him with a bright light and told him that He was the way to salvation.  Jesus Himself gave Paul instructions about a man to meet and then healed his blindness and called him to be a missionary.

Did Jesus do that to you?

Jesus sought out and called the twelve disciples personally to follow Him, but interacted with thousands more.  The demoniac at Garasene asked Jesus if he could stay with Him, and Jesus told him to go home and witness to his friends and family.  Jesus did not call those in His physical presence in the same manner, why would we assume that He calls us all in the same manner?

No.  Rather, the picture that Scripture paints is that Jesus calls His church as His bride.  Do you love your spouse the same way that you love the rest of your family?  How about your friends?  Or the rest of the world?  Jesus loves His Church and calls His Church in a special way, in an affectionate way reserved for His bride.  If we cheapen His love in our understanding to think that He loves those who hate Him and are going to Hell in the same way He loves us, it is no longer special.  It is no longer Biblical.  It is no longer the love of a groom to his bride.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

– Eph 2.8-9

Faith itself is a gift of God.  He is taking His time to complete the work that He desires, to see all whom He loves as His bride come to repentance by giving them the gift of faith in due time.  He does not, however, take pleasure in the destruction of the wicked.  His heart is not inclined to evil, though He does have holy and righteous wrath against ungodliness and He will punish sin fully.  This is not a contradiction, but part of the beauty of the depth of grace.

Do you have faith today?  Then know that you are loved specially, as a chosen bride.  As the beloved.  You have been given a beautiful gift of faith, of salvation, of intimacy with Almighty God.  Consider the way in which you were called.  You probably were not knocked off your horse and blinded by Jesus’ light.  You were probably not approached by Jesus while you were fishing or collecting taxes and admonished to leave it all behind and follow Him.  But your calling is unique, in deep love.  Revel in that today.  Love Him more for it today.  And let’s be the mouthpiece by which He may call more people to repentance!

We are going to shine!

shine

There are multiple facets to salvation.  We most commonly think and talk about the moment we were saved.  That is our justification, the point when we were justified before God, when our sins were counted as punished in Christ, our verdict is “time paid” (1 Cor 6.11).  Our sins were not magically washed away and no longer demand a reckoning.  No, Jesus Christ paid the punishment if we are found in Him – covered by His blood.

We also often talk about the fact that we are “being saved” (1 Cor 1.18, 2 Cor 2.15).  This refers to the ongoing change that is happening in us whereby we are dying to sin and become more like Christ:  Sanctification.  We the mark of the one who has been justified is that he is changing and being sanctified.  If someone is not being made more holy and more Christlike, he was not justified.

The last way that we often hear and talk about salvation is in the future sense, when we die:

“You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.”

– Matt 10.22

This last phase of salvation is called glorification.  Why?  Because when we die, we will be glorified:  given glory.  We will be given new bodies, our sinful nature and flesh will pass away and all that will be left will be the final product of the sanctification.

For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked.  For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life.  Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge.

– 2 Cor 5.1-5

God has made us for the very purpose of our ultimate state of being in our new, glorified bodies with Him for eternity.  We are going to shine!  Just like Jesus!

“Then the righteous will shine forth like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”

– Matt 13.43

The glory that we will be given will not be like the glory of God.

“I am the Lord, that is My name;
I will not give My glory to another,
Nor My praise to graven images.”

– Is 42.8

But it will be a glory higher than the angels.

“Do you not know that we will judge angels?  How much more matters of this life?”

– 1 Cor 6.3

There are other aspects of salvation like election:  God’s choosing of us and giving us faith to believe, regeneration:  the moment that we are spiritually born, and perseverance:  the grace of God for us to continue in faith until the end.  But meditate with me today on the fact that if you are in Christ, you will be glorified.

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.  What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who is against us?

– Rom 8.29-31

We often hear the last verse of this section of Scripture, “If God is for us, who is against us?” but the context here adds all the more power and hope.  He chose us before the foundation of the world to be saved, and He justified us the moment that Jesus died on the cross.  He is the one working in us to sanctify us, giving us the Holy Spirit who enables us to change, and everyone who is being sanctified will be glorified.  In fact, the deal is so done in God’s eyes that Paul writes it in the past tense!  “…these whom He justified He also glorified.”

Jesus is the firstborn.  He was the first to die a physical death and raise to eternal life.  We are saved to follow in those same footsteps.  We will be conformed to His image finally when we die and shed our Earthly bodies and take on our new, glorified bodies, in the likeness of Christ’s.

So press on!  God already considers the deal done.  Do not grow weary of doing good and dying to sin, but look on to the promise of eternity with Christ.  In our new bodies which will not see decay.  In our new homes where there will be no sin, no sorrow and no tears.  In perfect communion with our Savior, Jesus Christ.