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.

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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.

He knows what is in your heart.

thinker

And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.  And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A light of revelation to the gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.”  And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him.  And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed—and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

– Luke 2.25-35

Simeon’s prophecy over Jesus is one of the most beautiful and illuminating prophecies in Scripture.  The people of Israel were waiting and longing for a political king who would come in like King David and set them free, restore them to political power and dominance, and free them from Roman authority.  After seeing the life and work of Jesus, it is easy to see the prophetic voice throughout the Old Testament that spoke of a suffering servant, a king who would set us free Spiritually and focus on our eternity rather than temporal wellness, but before He came the prophecies were vastly misunderstood.

There was a season of relative silence between the Old and New Testaments, approximately four hundred years, where we have no Biblical writings.  Occasionally Bible teachers will imply that God was not active during that time but was allowing Israel to suffer in captivity because of their rebellion, but when Simeon enters the scene he is described as a devout and righteous man – and the Holy Spirit was upon him!  Simeon was old when Jesus was born, and he had lived a righteous life.  He was devoted to God.  It is no small thing that the author takes note that the Holy Spirit was upon him.  Until Jesus completed the work of salvation, people were not indwelt by the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit would rest upon people who had been appointed and set aside for particular tasks.  King Saul, for example, had the Holy Spirit until he disobeyed God and then God removed the Spirit from him and gave the Spirit to David.

Simeon, this righteous man, had sought God and the Holy Spirit empowered him and told him that he would see the Messiah before his death.  What a phenomenal promise!  The Spirit brought Simeon into the temple at the very moment Jesus was being circumcised and named and revealed to him the Truth that Jesus was the Messiah.  At eight days old.

So clearly God was at work during this season of Biblically undocumented time (at least for a few years before!).

Two things stand out to me today about Simeon’s proclamation.  Firstly, he rocked the common understanding that Jesus was coming to politically redeem the Jews.

“for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A light of revelation to the gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.”

– Luke 2.30-32

It is possible to interpret this declaration of Jesus as “a light of revelation to the gentiles” in political terms.  One could say, “When Jesus overthrows Rome the gentiles (all non-Jews) will see the salvation of the Jews”.  One might understand it to be God declaring His authority and everyone finally seeing it through his intervention.  But we know, by the rest of the Gospel account, that Simeon’s prophecy meant salvation would be available for people of all ethnic backgrounds.  Yet Jesus was still the glory of ethnic Israel.  Jesus fulfilled the Law, He is the Messiah, the savior, and the glory of God through His completed work amongst His chosen people.

But what Simeon says to Mary is even more shocking:

“Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed—and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

– Luke 2.34-35

God sent Jesus from Heaven and appointed Him for the rise and fall of many in Israel.  Again, when perceived with the old mindset, this could sound political.  But the nature of Jesus’ mission was Spiritual:  Jesus was appointed to reveal the thoughts of the hearts of people.  He was a sign which had to be opposed.  Unless He was opposed, His work would be incomplete!  And the end of the opposition against Him was the revelation of the hearts of men.

“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

John tells us that the condition of men’s heart is established.  Those who do not believe are already condemned while those who do believe have eternal life.  And the belief is in Jesus who died and rose again in our place for the forgiveness of sins.  The wrath of God remains on those who do not believe (John 3.36).  It is already there from the beginning.  And Simeon told Mary that Jesus came to reveal that.  He was appointed as the litmus test, to cause some to fall and some to rise, to reveal the hearts of men.

Has Jesus revealed your heart?  Have you examined your heart to see how you respond to Jesus?  If you believe, cling to Him and repent you will rise with Him.  You will reign with Him.  You will love and cherish Him as your treasure.  Believe today!  And let Him reveal you to be His own.  He already knows your heart, so turn it over to Him.

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!

Does predestination mean I do not have to share?

Last night I had a wonderful conversation about God and His character, and the conversation topic arose,

“If God is sovereign, and if He predestines people, why then would we share the Gospel with an unbeliever?”

This is the paralysis under which the hyper-Calvinist functions (or does not function), believing that everything is predestined and therefore it does not matter what I do.  This is also a foundation on which those who do not believe in God’s sovereignty would argue their case for missions.  If God has elected and chosen people from every tribe, then He will figure it out.  I do not have to go.

In one sense, this is true.  God’s plan will not be thwarted.

“Remember this, and be assured;
Recall it to mind, you transgressors.
Remember the former things long past,
For I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is no one like Me,
Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times things which have not been done,
Saying, ‘My purpose will be established,
And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’;
Calling a bird of prey from the east,
The man of My purpose from a far country.
Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass.
I have planned it, surely I will do it.

 – Is 46.8-11

God had the end planned and He declared it from the beginning.  He has set His purpose and guarantees that it will be established and accomplished:  in details as minute as a bird’s activity and in details as applicable as calling a man to travel to a foreign country to declare God’s glory.  Whatever He has spoken and planned, it will come to pass.

That being said, we may trick ourselves into thinking there is no responsibility or accountability on our part.  God, however, knew (and even planned) that we would disobey, become ineffective or lazy, and and therefore while we live in rebellion or ignorance, God is using others to accomplish His will.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

 – Eph 1.3-6

It is God who gives us the gift of faith, through grace, to believe and be saved (Eph 2.8-9).  And He gives that gift of faith to those whom He predestined before the foundation of the world.  Jesus said that all that the Father gives to Him will come to Him and they will not fall away (John 6.37).  God chose some and gave them to Jesus for salvation.

However, we also learn that,

“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”

 – Rom 10.17

So faith is a gift from God.  And He only gives it through the hearing of the proclamation of His word.  Paul, the apostle, wrote both of those passages as well as this:

“WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.”  How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed?  How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard?  And how will they hear without a preacher?  How will they preach unless they are sent?  Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!”

– Rom 10.13-15

Paul believed that God chose people for salvation.  Look at Paul’s story!  He was a persecutor of the Church, and was traveling on His way to arrest more Christians when Jesus appeared.  Blinded him.  Called him.  Appointed him.  Paul was not seeking Jesus, He was persecuting Him by killing His followers.  Only Jesus Himself  could change the course of his life, and He did.  Radically.

Paul also knew that God intended to use believers to be the mouthpiece for the accomplishment of His work:  glorifying Himself by saving people from every tribe, tongue and nation (Rev 5.9).  Jesus, though He shamelessly stated, “I chose you, you did not choose me” and promised that all that the Father had chosen would come to Him would be effectively saved also gave the great commission and commanded the disciples to go out and make disciples of all the nations (John 15.16, 6.37, Matt 28.18-20).

We see most clearly the role that we play in 1 Corinthians, when Paul spoke of the role he played in starting the church.  Paul was broken for the lost.  He made it his goal to preach where Jesus had never been named before (Rom 15.21).  He wanted to spread the word throughout the world.  But he told the Corinthians that he only planted the seed (1 Cor 3.6).  Another teacher named Apollos watered the seed by teaching, but it was God alone who caused the growth.  Paul could not save anyone, nor could Apollos.  Only God.

Paul was concerned about glorifying God by obeying Him.  On the road to Damascus, when Jesus called him, he was appointed to take the Gospel to the world, and God would save people through his preaching.  Paul saved no one.  He obeyed.  And Jesus saved them.

There is a mutual responsibility here.  Paul had the choice when Jesus stopped him that day.  Jesus blinded him, called him and gave him instructions.  Paul listened.  God had predestined that Paul would listen, so it is to His glory and honor that Paul obeyed.  But Paul also, in his mind, made the choice to obey and therefore was counted righteous.

The opposite example would be Joseph and his ten brothers.  The ten brothers hated Joseph and wanted to kill him.  But they ultimately decided to sell him into slavery and lie to their father, saying that they had found his bloody cloak and must be dead.  They sinned.  They hated Joseph, they planned to kill him, they got rid of him and they lied.  But God had predestined and ordained all of that to happen for the delivery of Israel during a season of 7 years of famine.  Thus, Joseph could tell his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Gen 50.20).

God was responsible for Joseph being sold into slavery in Egypt and ultimately raising to power as second in command over the whole country.  But the ten brothers are also responsible for their sin against Joseph and their evil intentions.  While they were functioning according to God’s perfect plan, they had wickedness in their heart.

So what does all of that have to do with missions?  And sharing the Gospel?  We have been commanded to share every day.  We have been called as the church to make disciples of every nation.  And people cannot believe unless they hear.  God will cause all whom He has chosen to hear, and He chooses to use us as His mouthpiece.  Therefore we go.  We go joyfully and we go in confidence.  Because we claim the promise that God will have some people from every single tribe, language and nation in eternity.  Therefore some people from the country where you go will believe.  It is promised.  God has proclaimed it.  His purpose will not be thwarted.  You do not have to convince or save anyone.  You only have to share.  And trust God to provide the growth.

But when we choose to not share and to not go, we are being disobedient.  And we will be held responsible for our wicked hearts, even though God has ordained it for the ultimate good.

seeds

I chose you.

“You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.”

– John 15.16

I realize that the topic of predestination, election and God’s sovereignty are ones that quickly ignite passions here in the American Christianity.  We are not comfortable with anyone having authority over us and the concept that God has to awaken us unto salvation rubs against our individualistic narcissistic self determination mindset.

This has struck me as comical, though:

The next day [Jesus] purposed to go into Galilee, and He found Philip.  And Jesus said to him, “Follow Me.”…Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

– John 1.43, 45

Jesus went into Galilee and found Philip, calling him to follow and become a disciple.  But Philip turns right around and says that he found Jesus.  Andrew said the same thing.  Jesus is fully God, and He went out and gathered His disciples, calling them from their various backgrounds and occupations.  But their response is to tell everyone that they were the ones who did the finding.

Is this all semantics?  Were the newly called disciples just expressing the fact that they met the Messiah?  That they had encountered Him, were following Him, and therefore had “found” Him?  Most likely.  The easiest way to communicate the story is, “We have found Him!”  But the more detailed story would be, “I was out fishing and this man approached me and called me out by name…”  I would probably be more inclined to say, “Guess who I met!”  But, we can understand the statement.  It makes sense, even though it is not the most accurate description of what happened.

There is a popular praise song with the same sentiment:  “I found Jesus”.  Now, if when we say this we mean it in the innocent, non theological form, simply meaning that we met Him, it is harmless.  Praise God for the fact that we have met Him!

But Jesus states so clearly,

“You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.”

– John 15.16

Why did He say that?  Why did Jesus, in teaching his closest disciples, make painstakingly clear that He was the one who did the choosing and that they were the chosen ones?  Does it really matter?

Yes.  It does matter.  It matters on so many levels in how we know and understand God, on how we view our salvation, on how we interact with others and on how we live our lives.  If God is just out there, waiting for us to find Him, them He has limited power.  He cannot and does not know the future, He cannot and does not know how everything will turn out, and He cannot and does not have the ability to help or influence us.  If God is sitting around waiting for people to believe, then it is up to us to convince others that the Gospel is true.  The onus lays squarely on our shoulders to draw others unto salvation.  And we have to make our own way, build our own churches and walk in our own strength.

But if Jesus does the choosing and calling, it is only our responsibility to share the Gospel verbally and in action.  God is then the one who breaks the heart of the lost person and draws him to repentance.  God is therefore all powerful and in control of what happens, He consequently does know the future and is in control of what happens.  There is no longer a burden on me to be clever enough to understand everything, to be good enough to receive grace, and to be determined enough to walk according to the faith until the end.  He is the one who works in and through me, and I can rest in confidence that He is indeed perfecting the work in me that He started.

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

Does that mean that we are robots?  Does that mean that I am not truly responsible for the actions that I take?  For the sins the I commit or the obedience of faith?  Because if God is sovereign and He has it all in a plan, I do not truly have freedom, right?  Scripture teaches what has come to be known as dual responsibility.  God is in control.  He chooses us, calls us and sets us aside for His service.  And in our minds we think, reason and act and choose to do these things that He has ordained for us to do.  Thus, we are both responsible for our actions.

A good example of this is the selling of Joseph by his brothers into slavery.  The brothers sinned in their hearts.  They hated Joseph and even wanted to kill him.  But one of the brothers convinced them to make a little cash off of him by selling him as a slave.  This was wrong, an sinful.  But it was also God’s perfect and glorious plan to bring Joseph to Egypt, to raise him to second in command over the whole country and to save the tribe of Israel when the land went into a severe famine and had no food for seven years.  Joseph, upon reconciling with his brothers, stated:

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.

– Gen 50.20

God purposed that the 10 brothers conspire against Joseph and sell him into slavery.  He meant it for good.  But the brothers did it with evil in their hearts and were responsible for their sin.

We see the opposite exemplified by the disciples.  Jesus found them, called them and set them apart to serve, unto the founding of the early Church – which God had planned.  And the disciples, in their early naivete thought that they had done the good of choosing to follow and serve Him.  Jesus wanted them to understand God’s power and authority so that when they encountered trials and persecution, they would rely on God and not themselves.  If it were up to them to persevere and convince others to believe, then they would give up when their lives were on the line.  Ten of the first twelve died as martyrs.  Martyrs do not die for their own strength or beliefs.  They die for something bigger.  And Jesus wanted them to be able to trust in God who would empower them to serve and die well.  In the power of the Spirit.

And isn’t that more comforting?  That God is in control, and not us?  He chose you.  He’s working out His plan in your life.  Paul says that we were Spiritually dead before He breathed life into us and gave us the gift of faith (Eph 2.1, 8-9).  Yes, we are still responsible for the choices that we make.  But they are all a part of His perfect plan which He established before creation (Eph 1).

choice