The Door of Grace

“You shall make a screen for the door of the tabernacle, woven of blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen, made by a weaver.  And you shall make for the screen five pillars of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold; their hooks shall be of gold, and you shall cast five sockets of bronze for them, Exodus 26:36, 37.

He also made a screen for the tabernacle door, of blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen, made by a weaver, and its five pillars with their hooks.  And he overlaid their capitals and their rings with gold, but their five sockets were bronze, Exodus 37:37, 38 NKJV

We’ve looked at the various “doors” or entrances into the tabernacle in earlier posts, so will not go over that material again.  We want instead to focus on the five pillars which supported the fine woven linen screen on the way into the tabernacle itself.

There were five such pillars.

“Five” is the number of grace.

What is grace?

There are several definitions.

The best one is:  “God’s unmerited favor in spite of our merited disfavor.”

In other words, we don’t deserve it, it’s unmerited.  But we do deserve God’s disfavor, His wrath and judgment.

Or just the three words, “In spite of.”

“In spite of” our rebellion…

…our religion.

I don’t believe in coincidences.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this post and “Good Friday” are on the same day.  I did not plan it that way. 

This is the day that the religious world has declared to be the day Christ died on the Cross.  While I don’t see how it’s possible to fit the “three days and three nights” our Lord said He would be in the tomb between Friday evening and Sunday morning, Matthew 12:40, the thing is, He rose from the dead.

 “We serve a risen Savior.”

No other religion can say that. 

“Three days and three nights” might have been for the Jews.  We do read in Acts that the early church  preached the resurrection: Acts 1:22; 2:31; 4:2; 4:33; 17:18, 32; 23;6, 8; 24:15, 21.  It was their main focus.  The Jews had 40 years of preaching by the church between the resurrection and the destruction of their nation in 70 AD.  They rejected that message and the nation disappeared for 1878 years.  

Five pillars.

Grace.

Wonderful truth.

Saving truth.

By grace you have been saved by faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, Ephesians 2:8 NKJV.

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Hebrews 13:20-25, “Grace Be With You All”

[20]Now may the God of peace, who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, [21]make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.  Amen.
[22]And I appeal to you, brethren, bear with the word of exhortation, for I have written to you in few words.  [23]Know that our brother Timothy has been set free, with whom I shall see you if he comes shortly.
[24]Greet all those who rule over you, and all the saints.  Those from Italy greet you.
[25]Grace be with you all.  Amen.  (NKJV)

As the writer comes to the end of his thoughts, he returns to where he started – with God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Earlier, he had spent several chapters on the nature, character and preeminence of the Lord Jesus in connection with the place of God the Father in His life and ministry, 1:1, 2, 5, 8 13, etc.  Now, as he closes, he commends his readers into the care of that same God the Father.

In describing the Father, the writer goes at once to the very heart of the Christian faith.  He says that the Father brought up the Lord Jesus from the dead, v. 20.  The idea of resurrection from the dead includes the thought of death.  It isn’t separate from it.  And “death” relates to the person who dies.  If the Lord Jesus isn’t who He claimed to be, and who the Scripture says that He is, fully God and fully human, then His death has no meaning and the resurrection is nothing more than a fable.  It’s a shame that many professing Christians seem to have this view.  If there is no resurrection, there is no salvation, 1 Corinthians 15:12-17, and those who believe in the Lord Jesus are of all men the most pitiable, v. 19.

In contrast to this gloomy and hopeless idea, the writer describes the Lord Jesus in view of His mission:  that great Shepherd of the sheep, Hebrews 13:20.  Our Lord used that same figure to describe Himself in John 10.  The angel Gabriel told Joseph that this child whom Mary would bear would save His people from their sins, Matthew 1:21.  Though Joseph possibly only ever knew the OT promises of the salvation of Israel, the Lord Jesus came to redeem folks out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, Revelation 5:9 (emphasis added), not just the nation of Israel.

If you are a believer, then the Lord Jesus had you in mind when He walked the dusty roads of Israel.

In the NT, believers are described as “sheep.”  Though this isn’t a particularly complimentary description, in Biblical times, sheep were a common sight and the Bible uses the relationship of shepherd and sheep more than once.  Psalm 23 and John 10 are only two examples.  The thing is, sheep are utterly dependent on the shepherd.  Left to themselves, they will get into all kinds of trouble and are exposed to danger on every side, against which they are defenseless.  It’s the shepherd who takes care of them and keeps them safe.  Cf. John 10:11-13.

The Lord Jesus came with a specific goal in mind:  the salvation of His sheep.  He didn’t just come to this world hoping for the best.  To hear some preachers and believers, apparently all that happened when the Lord left the glories of heaven was that the Father hugged Him and wished Him luck.  That’s a completely inadequate and false idea.  The writer alludes to this when he mentions the blood of the everlasting covenant, v. 20.

An old “gospel” song painted a scene in heaven of utter confusion when Adam and Eve fell into sin, with God searching everywhere to find someone who could step in and do something about it.  Finally, according to this utterly unScriptural and God-dishonoring song, Jesus volunteered to come to this world as Savior.

Whatever difficulty we might have in understanding or accepting it, the Bible is clear that salvation is carefully thought out and planned.  It speaks of believers being chosen by God for that blessing even before the foundation of the world, Ephesians 1:4, and given to the Lord Jesus, John 10:29, in order that He might save them, John 17:2.  It describes the Lord Jesus as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, Revelation 13:8.  So certain is our salvation, in fact, that believers are already considered “glorified” in the mind and purpose of God, Romans 8:30.

Just to clarify something:  this “choice” by God the Father means the salvation of some who would otherwise by lost, Romans 9:29, not the condemnation of some who would otherwise be saved, as some charge that we believe.  Without election, there would be no salvation.

One more thing.  God didn’t just “look down the corridors of time,” as some say, and choose those whom He saw would choose Him.  That is not what the Scripture means when it refers to our salvation according to God’s foreknowledge, as in 1 Peter 1:2.  God’s foreknowledge isn’t dependent on what He sees His creation is going to do, but on what He Himself has planned to do.  This is taught in such verses as Acts 2:23, which says that Christ was delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, and Romans 8:28, which says that believers are the called according to His purpose, before it says, in the next verse, says that we are “foreknown.”

In v. 21, the writer continues the appeal he began in v. 20, asking God to do something in according with that everlasting covenant, namely, to make his readers complete in every good work to do His will.

This verse was the subject of the saddest example of misreading the Bible that I’ve ever heard.  The college-age class I was in years ago had a leader who taught from this verse that we were to make ourselves complete, etc., etc.  It was all about us.  Apparently, he had never noticed that the subject of the verb “make” in v. 21 was “God” in v. 20.  It’s not about what “we” do at all, but about what God will do.  Now he was a good man, an earnest man, but he himself admitted that, though he had led the class for 17 years, he had never read the Bible through.  It is so sad that there are so many like him, believers to whom the Bible is as foreign a book as if it had never been translated into a language they can read, because they never read it.

The objective of salvation isn’t just to take us to heaven, or to give us “a life without a care,” as another unfortunate “gospel” song put it, but to make us like the Lord Jesus Christ, holy and without blame before God, Ephesians 1:4.  The work won’t be completed in this life to be sure, but it does begin here, and it’s a work which God must do because we don’t know how to do it – and can’t do it, for that matter.

In v. 22, the writer does turn his attention to his readers and appeals to them to bear with the exhortation, the few words he had written to them.  He’s not the only one who ever had difficulty with this.  John had the same problem.  There’s just so much that could be said about the Lord that, as John put it, even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written, John 21:25.  There’s just too much that could be said.  Indeed, according to Ephesians 2;7, it will take God Himself the ages to come…to show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  I don’t think we get much more than the first little bit of the introduction in this life.

And he’s not the only one who has been concerned that his readers pay attention to what he wrote, or, if he were a preacher, to what he said.  I’ve often wondered, when a person leaving a service tells the preacher, “What a wonderful sermon that was,” what would happen if the preacher would ask him, “What was it about?”  (What was your preacher’s sermon about last week?)  This may seem harsh, and it may be, and I’m sorry, but as I look around and see the terrible condition this nation is in, and “Christians” right out there in the middle of it, I wonder if anybody is listening to the Word at all.  Too many churches seem to be concerned more about personalities or programs or prosperity or politics than they are about the proclamation of the Gospel of our Lord and God Jesus Christ.

The writer closes his “few words” with grace be with you all.  I hear a great deal today about “love” and very little about “grace.”  Without the grace of God, though, we’ll never experience the love of God.

That’s why the writer closes his writing, and I close this series, with –

Grace be with you all.  Amen.

“The Kindness of God.” Part 10: “If you continue….”

The previous post looked at verses which teach that a true believer can never lose his salvation.  In this final post, we want to look at a couple of verses which are often used to teach, as a Boston Church of Christ elder once told me, one can be a child of God and still end up in Hell.

In the other post, we saw what might be called the believer’s reassurance.  This post deals with what might be called the believer’s responsibility.  In other words, contrary to what many opponents of eternal security believe it says, and even some who agree with it seem to teach, salvation isn’t just some sort of eternal “fire insurance,” which, once having, a person can put it into a safety deposit box with other papers and forget about it.

No, no, salvation is eternal life,  and life is to be lived.  We have a new grandson and his mom says that he’s big for his age.  Well, he is a chunk, but I joked to her that he didn’t read the same baby-development book.

You see, birth brings up expectations of growth, development and maturing.  So it is with the new birth.  There is to be growth, development and maturing.  We sometimes say that it’s a shame that a baby has to grow up because they’re so cute when they’re little.  We know, however, that we really don’t mean that; it would be a great sorrow if they didn’t grow up.

1.  John 8:30, 31, As He [Jesus] spoke these words, many believed in Him.  Then Jesus said to them, “If you abide in My word, then are you My disciples indeed.”

The KJV translated this verse, “If ye continue in My word, then are ye My disciples indeed.”  This verse is taken to mean that a believer who doesn’t “continue” or “abide” in Christ becomes lost.  However, our Lord didn’t say that one who continues remains a disciple; He said that such a one is a disciple indeed, that is, truly.  Continuation in the faith is not a condition of salvation; it is an evidence of it.

It is here that much of fundamental or contemporary Christianity errs on eternal security.  The Scripture is clear about the certainty of salvation for those who have it, but that is the difficulty.  The Bible nowhere tells us to take “having it” for granted.  In the little saying, “once saved, always saved,” the emphasis is usually on “always saved.”  The Scripture places the emphasis on, “once saved.”

Just because I’ve “believed,” that is, given mental assent to some statement or confession of faith, or gone through some church ritual, or “done something,” whatever the “something” might be, doesn’t mean I’m truly saved.  Remember Nicodemus. There are multitudes in our churches who’ve gone through some ritual or ceremony, or have been manipulated into making a “profession of faith,” but like Nicodemus, need something else.

It’s important to see that the “believers” in v. 31 above wound up trying to kill Jesus before the chapter is over, v. 59!  They didn’t “abide” in His word at all, but rejected it.  There are many who begin in the Word, but some aspect of it offends them, some OT event or some NT teaching, and they turn aside.  It’s not up to us to say that such are lost, but it’s a serious matter to reject the Word, any part of it.

There’s a lot more we could say about this.  Cf. such verses as Acts 2:42; 11:23; 13:43 and 14:22.

2.  Hebrews 6:1-6, Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection [maturity], not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection from the dead, and of eternal judgment.  And this we will do, if God permits.  For it is impossible for those once enlightened, and having tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame.

We’ve quoted such an extensive portion because most people never get away from four words in v. 6, if they fall away, and conclude, sometimes vehemently, that “eternal security” is a doctrine from the Pit.  Much of the discussion centers around whether or not the writer is thinking of true Christians.  Without going into great detail, let’s just say that the writer refers to those who have been renewed …unto repentance.  This isn’t a description of those who are still dead in trespasses and sins, Ephesians 2:1.

There is no “if” in the original language.  The verses might be translated something like this:

“For [it is] impossible, those once enlightened, who tasted of the heavenly gift and became partakers of the Holy Spirit, and tasted the good word of God and works of [the] age to come, and fell away, again to renew [them] to repentance, crucifying for themselves the Son of God, and exposing [Him] publicly.”

For these people, the “falling away” is as real as anything said about them.  Does this mean, then, that it’s possible to lose your salvation?

Think very carefully before you answer.

If the text does indeed teach that you can lose your salvation, it also clearly teaches something else.  According to these verses, if it is possible to lose your salvation, it is not possible to get it back!  Read the verses again.  Yet, many claim to have been “saved” several times….  According to the text, that’s not possible.

There are at least two results of the idea that one can lose his salvation.  First, it results in a superficial view of sin and the innate sinfulness of human nature.  The logical result of this is “sinless perfection,” for anything less than this opens us up to losing our salvation.  After all, when it comes to sin, how much is “too much”?  Wasn’t it a little sin, as we would count it, that plunged our entire race into the miserable condition it’s in?

Second, this being saved and lost and saved, again and again, results in an even more superficial view of salvation than the one generally held today, in which salvation is little more than a fire escape from hell, or a key to “health and wealth,” or as a cure-all for the world’s social ills.  Seldom is one’s standing before a holy, righteous and just God even thought about.

Why is it impossible to be saved more than once?  It’s impossible to be saved more than once, according to the writer, because of what it takes to be saved at all!  The only way sinful men and women, and there isn’t any other kind, the only way they can be saved is through faith in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ.  There is no other way! 

To lose your salvation would bring great dishonor to the Lord Jesus – “exposing [Him] publicly.”  The “effect” of all this on the Lord Jesus is never ever even considered.  It’s all about us, “coming and going,” as it were, at our pleasure.   It’s with good reason that Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame,…  He hung naked on a Roman cross for the salvation of His sheep.  To say that even one of them can lose their salvation is to say that all that dishonor and suffering was for nothing.

Furthermore, according to Hebrews 10:26, if we sin willfully after we receive the knowledge of the truth [if we “fall away”], there remains no longer a sacrifice for sin, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation….

If it were possible to lose salvation…, there would be no “second chance.”

Well, then, if the writer isn’t teaching loss of salvation, what is he teaching?

Remember, Hebrews 6 isn’t the beginning of the book.  Chapter 6 starts with the word, therefore, and brings us to the conclusion of 5:12-14,

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God and you have come to need milk and not solid food.  For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe.  But solid food belongs to those who are of full age [mature], that is, those who by reason of use [practice] have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

The writer has turned aside for a moment to apply his teaching about the preeminence of Christ to the lives of his readers, in order to remind them that Christianity isn’t just an academic exercise in certain doctrines or historical facts.  These facts and doctrines are intended to have a radical and permanent effect in the hearts and lives of men and women.  These facts and doctrines aren’t an end in themselves, but are meant to bring people from cursing to blessing – from being “foreigners” to being “family” – from being “sinners” to being “saints”.  He contrasts where his readers are with where they ought to be.  Instead of being leaders and teachers, helping others along their Christian walk, and themselves being able to digest the strong meat of the word – things hard to explain, 5:11 – they are still immature, still clinging to first principles.

In chapter 6, the writer encourages his readers to go on to maturity, that is, to advance, make progress.  To do this, they don’t have to go back to the beginning and “start over;” they don’t have to “get saved” again, or to “rededicate” their lives, but to go on from where they are.  They weren’t to lay again the foundation of repentance from dead works and faith toward God.  They weren’t to return to the ceremonial acts of washing of the OT, cf. 9:10, or the laying on of hands, that is, identifying with the OT sacrifices, cf. Leviticus 1:4.  These could never take away sin, could never prepare those who took part in them for the resurrection of the dead, and…eternal judgment.

Could there be another thought here, as well?  Could it be that “falling away” isn’t just committing some overt sin or turning aside into false doctrine?  To be sure, these are to be avoided at all cost, but there may be something else here, something much more serious, if you will, because multitudes of professing Christians are guilty of it, yet it’s never mentioned.

Could it be, from the writer’s view of expected progress and spiritual growth that “falling away” is simply “to stand still”?  To stagnate?  How many there are who have been church members for years, and yet have made no progress in the Christian life at all.  Indeed, they seem to think that having their name on a church roll is enough and they’re on their way to “a better place.”   Yet they never read the Bible, and have no real interest in it’s teachings.  They never pray, or if they do, it’s just some “form” prescribed by their church.  They’re indistinguishable from the world around them.

Would the writer consider this as – “falling away”?  It’s something to think about.

Or perhaps, they once were active in church.  I remember a lady showing me an award for 15 years of perfect Sunday School attendance.  Make no mistake.  That’s quite an accomplishment – 780 consecutive Sundays.  But now, she hadn’t been to church in several years.

Oh, it’s a dangerous thing to be a “once were” professor of faith in Christ, “once were” active and interested in the things of God, but now….  Can it be said that such persons have “continued,” that they have “persevered”?  Are they saved?  Are they lost?  Only God knows for sure.  There’s only been one Human Being Who infallibly and truly knows what is in man, John 2:25.

At the same time, remember what the Apostle Paul wrote to another immature group of believers: examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith, 2 Corinthians 13:5.  None of this pumping them up to feel good about themselves, as is the modern habit of some; Paul told them to examine themselves to see whether they were saved or not.  To yet another church, which had turned aside from his teaching, he wrote that he was afraid for them, and that he had doubts about them, Galatians 4:11, 20.

Perhaps there are some who will say, “Oh, now you’re teaching salvation by works,” and, for them, that will be the end of it.  However, remember that the inspired Apostle wrote, For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love, Galatians 5:6 (emphasis added).

This is how faith is manifested, not just in some “profession,” but in working, that is, being obedient to the Word, cf. Hebrews 11.  Here is how faith is motivated, not just in some ritual, or of necessity, or of “habit,” but through love   Not in drudgery, as in a task grudgingly performed, or in dread, because God will “get me” if I don’t do such and such, but things done in delight and devotion, because we’ve seen and experienced something of the greatness and goodness of God.  See also James 1:17, 20, 26.  “Dead” faith doesn’t come from the living God.

The Lord Jesus Himself described love toward Himself as being obedient to His Word, John 14:21, 23-24,  “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me….  If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word….  He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me.” 

Read these words very carefully.  They are serious, indeed.  The only way faith is made evident, and the only way one can have Scriptural assurance of salvation, is through loving and willing obedience to the Word of God.  This isn’t “perfection,” it’s “perseverance.”

Some say that our Lord meant that we are to live only by the words of the Gospels, as if the other books somehow “don’t count.”  However, all the NT is His Word, not just its first four books.

Make no mistake about it.  Sinners are saved by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, Who He is and what He did for sinners.  However, there are different “kinds” of faith.  There is an “historical” faith, content with the bare facts of the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord.  Then there is a “doctrinal” faith, which simply agrees with or repeats the beliefs of a particular church or denomination, whether those beliefs are Scriptural or not.  There is a “natural” faith, the kind often talked about in fundamentalist circles, which believes the car will start when you turn the key in the ignition.  There is even a “devilish” faith, James 1:19.  None of these is “saving” faith, which comes from God, and not from ourselves, Ephesians 2:8-10.

There are those who disagree with the assessment of the last paragraph.  They will argue that “faith” is “faith” – there is only one kind of faith.  I cannot agree.  I don’t believe that “saving faith,” and, say, “devilish faith” are the same “kind” of faith.

The Scripture teaches that no one who is truly saved can ever be lost, but in response to the question, “Lord, are there few who are saved?” even our Lord answered, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able,” Luke 13:23, 24.
__________

Conclusion.

Considering all that could be said, not only of this doctrine, but of all of them, this series has been a very narrow and incomplete look at them.   I hope at the very least that it has given you something to think about.  Still, the main thing isn’t, “What do you think of these doctrines?” though I do hope you agree with them.  The main thing is, “What do you think of the Lord Jesus?”

Questions

1.  In John 8:30, 31, what does our Lord say about true believers?

2.  Is “perseverance” a condition of salvation?

3.  What happened to the “believers” in John 8?

4.  What does Hebrews 6:1-6 teach about “losing salvation?”

5.  Is it possible to be “saved” multiple times?

6.  Why, or why not?

7.  What is an important consideration in salvation?

8.  What does Hebrews 10:26 say about being “saved again?”

9.  What does the writer of Hebrews expect of his readers?

10. What are the manifestation of and the motivation for faith?

11. What is “perseverance”?

“The Kindness of God.” Part 9: “…they shall never perish.”

V.  The Certainty of Grace.

In this post, we’ve arrived at a another hotly-contested doctrine;  eternal security.  it’s known by various other names:  “once saved, always saved” (OSAS), “the preservation of the saints,” “the perseverance of the saints.”  Some who hold this last view believe that the saints will persevere.  Others who hold this view do not believe in eternal security, but  believe that the saints must persevere, and that a saint can be lost and saved…again, …and again, …and again….  There is a lot of confusion about this doctrine, and both sides look to the Scriptures to verify their beliefs.

So, are the saints “preserved,” or do they have to “persevere”?  What does the Scripture say?

In this post, we’ll look at some verses which teach saints can never be lost.

1.  John 10:22-31, Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter.  And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch.  Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do you keep us in doubt?  If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”  Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me.  But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I told you.  My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.  And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.  I and My Father are one.”

This records our Lord’s own words.  Every facet of the doctrine is touched on in this excerpt from His teaching.  Note carefully what Jesus said about His audience, His sheep, His Father and Himself, and His Father.

a.  His audience, vs. 25, 26.

He goes straight to the root of the problem:  the Jews in His audience refused to listen to Him because they were not His sheep.  He had already said this to others who were questioning Him: “He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God,” John 8:47.  Cf. 8:39, 43.  Scripture plainly teaches that there are some who are “sheep,” and there are some who are not.

b.  His sheep, vs. 27-29.

1).  they hear, in contrast to those to whom the Lord was talking.
2).  He knows them, not just “about” them.  Remember the duet mentioned earlier, how Jesus died for us without knowing our names.  To the contrary, Jesus said He knows His sheep, all of them, each one of them.  They are His and He knows them individually and personally.
c).  they follow Him, “for they know His voice, yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers,” John 10:3, 4.  I was out with a group of young people one evening.  We had built a bonfire.  Some distance away, there was a group of young men, pretty much under the influence and acting like it.  In the darkness, one of them looked remarkably like one of the young men in our group.  Someone remarked on this, but his fiancee immediately replied that she didn’t have any trouble telling them apart!
She had spent a lot of time with him.  She knew him!  Ah, what a lesson there is for us.  There are many voices in the darkness of this world talking about Jesus.  How well do we distinguish between the false and the true?  Do we know Him?   His sheep follow HIM, not just some preacher or “personality”.

c.  Himself, v. 28.

1).  “I give them eternal life.”  There is some discussion about the significance of the word, “eternal.”  Some believe that, well, yes, the life is eternal, but its possession can be lost.  Our Lord refutes this in His next statement.
2).  “They shall never perish.”  How could He have said it any more clearly?  Yet He continues:
3).  “Neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.”  Some have said to me, “Yes, but they can jump” (!)  This would merely show that the one “jumping” wasn’t a sheep, after all.  The verbs in vs. 27, 28 are present tense:  hearing, knowing, following, giving.  Salvation isn’t something that happened to us 30 years ago, and then nothing since.  Salvation, though indeed coming to us at a point in time, is a present reality.  It wasn’t just something which happened to us then; it is happening to us now.  But the Lord continues.

d.  The Father, v. 29.

“My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.  We are pointed back to eternity, where the Father chose us and gave us to Christ to redeem.  I can’t think of a stronger way for the Lord to have put it than the statement that His sheep will never perish, either by their own hand, by the hand of others, or by the hand of the Father.  But He’s not done!

e.  The Father and Himself, v. 30.

“I and the Father are one,” that is, they are one in purpose and will.  It has nothing to do with the Son supposedly saying that He is really the Father, as some take it.  No. No.  He’s saying that He and the Father are united in their determination to save the sheep!  Indeed, Jesus pictured this unity when He prayed that “they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us…,” John 17:21.
There are depths here into which no mere mortal can venture, but what the Lord is saying in effect is that only if the Trinity can be separated may one of the sheep be separated from Christ’s flock and be lost.  And His sheep don’t switch back and forth between being sheep and being goats!

2.  Romans 8:28-30, And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.  For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.  Moreover, whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom he justified, these He also glorified.

We’ve already looked at length at the idea that God merely chose those whom He foresaw would choose Him.  In these verses in Romans, Paul wrote of the completeness of the divine will.  It began with our election in eternity past, Ephesians 1:4.  It will end with our glorification, which is yet future.  John put it like this, Beloved, now we are the children of God, and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is, 1 John 3:2.
This “golden chain of redemption” stretches from eternity past to eternity future.  No link is weak.  No link will be missing.  No link can be broken.  Those foreknown by means of the purpose and predestination of God will be called, justified and glorified.
According to our text above, we are yet to be, and will be, conformed to the image of His Son.  “Not yet…but shall be.”

3.  Ephesians 1:13, 14, In Him [Christ] you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.

In these posts, we’ve seen the divine unity and participation in the work of salvation.  It began in eternity past with the Father’s choosing sinners to be saved (again, who would otherwise be lost). It continued with the Son at Calvary, redeeming those chosen by the Father and given to the Son before the events of Genesis 1.  It continues with the Holy Spirit regenerating and calling these elect and redeemed sinners to repentance and faith, and “sealing” them until the entire process is complete.  The Holy Spirit “guarantees” our ultimate possession of our “inheritance.”  The KJV has it that the Spirit is the earnest, the “down payment” of our inheritance.  We don’t have it all now, by any means.  And we won’t get it all in this life, either.  The work has begun, to be sure, but it will take the ages to come, Ephesians 2:7, to show us the riches of that inheritance.

4.  Ephesians 2:10, For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
Philippians 1:6, Being confident of this very thing, that He Who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.
Philippians 2:13, For it is God Who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.
1 Thessalonians 5:23, 24, Now may the God of peace sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He Who calls you is faithful, Who will also do it.

These five verses all talk about the workmanship and faithfulness of God.  Most Christians believe that they are only partly God’s workmanship – they must still do “their” part.  Perhaps you’re tired of the emphasis on this, but there are multitudes who, week after week, and month after month, and year after year, sit under ministries where that very thing is taught –

“God has done all He can do, and now it’s up to you.”

“God has no hands but our hands.”

“God had plan A for Adam, but when Adam fell, He had to go to plan B.”

“Oops!”

If yours is a “plan B” God, read the verses above again.  “Oops” isn’t in His vocabulary.  His pencils have no erasers.  I don’t know about you, but if God had to revise His plan every time I mess something up, He’d be way beyond “B”.  Although I suppose in this computer age, where things are “updated” every few minutes, it would be “Plan A.712” or something.  Same thing.  God trying to scratch and scramble to stay ahead of His wayward creation.  I can hardly write such blasphemy.  Certainly don’t believe it!

Even though the verses above are in the order of their NT appearance, they could almost be read as two sentences, with the first three together as one.  Try it.  Believers are God’s creation and workmanship.  Paul was certain that what God had begun, He would finish.

To those who are always saying, “Yes, but what about MY will?” there is Philippians 2:13:  God works, “is operative” in us, BOTH TO WILL and TO DO of His good pleasure (emphasis added).  I know that many find that impossible to believe, that God would, or even could, work like that, but that was why Paul was confident:  God is at work, He gets the job done, and He is faithful.

5.  John 3:14-17,  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

To this point, we’ve emphasized what might be called the divine side of salvation, that is, the purpose and work of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  But we can’t stop there.  God doesn’t need to be “saved,” we do.  So, what does all this mean to us, in the practical, everyday world in which we live?

John 3 is the classic teaching on this subject, although the rest of the NT says much more about the practical results and evidence of salvation.  The verses we quoted above show the certainty and result of “faith:” eternal life to whoever believes in Him.  This astounded Nicodemus, but it’s wonderful news to us.  There are no barriers, no hindrances, to our being saved that we don’t put up ourselves.  There’s nothing in Scripture to prevent the salvation of the worst sinner who ever lived.  Paul said that of himself.

Don’t be led astray by the words, “should,” and “might.”  They don’t express uncertainty, that is, that the believer should be saved, but might not be, after all.  Or that he should not perish, but that he might, anyway.  No, no, these words express purpose, God’s purpose, that those who believe will not perish, but will have eternal life.  (Once again, I wish WordPress supported underlining words.)

Because of our fallen condition, as well as our finite understanding, it’s sometimes difficult for us to have a complete view of Scriptural teaching.  On the one hand, some concentrate on those verses which speak of our believing, and so they emphasize “free will,” sometimes to the extent of denying or at least minimizing verses like Philippians 2:13.  Some even go so far as to assert that God can’t work in us at all without our permission and cooperation.

On the other hand, some so emphasize sovereignty that they minimize or in effect deny those verses requiring us to believe.  We’ve referred elsewhere to the brother who would only say, “I was caused to believe.”  A more Biblical statement would have been, “I was enabled to believe.”  Even that, though, is capable of being viewed as saying more than it really does.

God does not believe for us.  We must believe, as surely as we must live, though that life must come from and be sustained by God.  God doesn’t live for us.  In the same way, although faith comes from God, it isn’t exercised for us by God.  It isn’t enough simply to have the Savior “revealed” to us, though that is absolutely necessary.  Having thus “seen” Him, we must also “receive” Him, John 1:11, 12.  We believe, and we are saved, as John 3 tells us.

6.  John 3:36, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides [remains] on him.”

There are several things in this verse.  The believer has everlasting life.  John doesn’t say that he receives life, though that is the common teaching.  He has life.  Faith is an evidence of spiritual life, not it’s entrance.  There are only two spiritual conditions:  life or under the wrath of God.  There is no third, “neutral,” condition.  If there is no faith, there is no life.  There is only the judgment and wrath of God.  We are by nature children of wrath, Ephesians 2:3.  Only in and through the Lord Jesus is there deliverance from sin, which is the cause of God’s wrath on us.  However, in Christ, that life is eternal, not temporary or sporadic.  Not “here today and gone tomorrow.”  It is life…eternal.

Questions

1.  What are the two viewpoints on this doctrine?

2.  What are the five things Jesus says in John 10:22-31?

3.  What assurance do we have that the “foreknown” will be glorified?

4.  What “part” does each member of the Trinity play in our salvation?

5.  Whose work is our salvation?

6.  Is “the work of God” all that is necessary to our salvation?

7.  What part does faith play in our salvation?

8.  Where does faith come from?

9.  Do we actually believe, or is it somehow just “the work of God” in us?

10. Is saving faith passive?

11. What is true of those without faith?

“The Kindness of God.” Part 4: “…whom He foreknew”

In our last post, we considered some misconceptions about the doctrine of election and then looked at what the Bible says about that much-controverted doctrine.  In this post, we want to look at the widely-held view that God chose those whom He knew would choose Him.  We’ll also study verses which are said to oppose our view and then, finally, some objections against the doctrine.

C.  Election and the Foreknowledge of God.

Sooner or later, in reading the Bible, one will come across verses which refer to election.  This may cause questions, especially among new believers.  Usually, an older Christian or a preacher or a book will point them to verses like Romans 8:29, which says, in part, whom He foreknew, He predestined…. (NKJV).  The one asking the question is assured that “…it’s really quite simple.  God looked down through the corridors of time and foresaw some who would choose to believe in Jesus.  These are the ones whom God chose to be His elect.”  I’ve heard it myself.  See also 1 Peter 1:2.  This explanation sounds plausible, it appeals to Scripture and it’s the almost universally accepted teaching about election.  Is it true?  Did God just choose those whom He knew would choose Him?

There are several things to say about this “choice” of God’s, which really isn’t HIS choice at all.

 1.  The Bible itself uses the picture of God looking down from heaven in Psalm 14:2 and 53:2.  Psalm 14:2 says, the LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. If the “looking down through history” view is correct, it seems to me that David would have made some comment which would support it.  However, he wrote in v. 3, They are all turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one.  Instead of seeing some who will “accept” Him, God sees only wholesale and total rejection of Himself.  Not even one person will turn to Him.  No, not one.  Paul refers to this verse in Romans 3:10, 11 in his teaching about the universal sinfulness of mankind.

2.  The Bible sometimes links together God’s purpose and His foreknowledge, and when it does, God’s purpose is mentioned first.  In Acts 2:23, Peter declared that the Lord Jesus was delivered by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of  God. Surely, surely, no one would be so foolish as to believe that Christ’s death on the Cross was included in God’s purpose simply because God “foresaw” that it would happen!  Acts 4:28 clearly indicates otherwise:  to do whatever YOUR hand and YOUR PURPOSE determined before to be done (emphasis added).  God’s “foreknowledge” is based on His knowledge beforehand about what HE plans to do, and not at all on what He simply sees that others are going to do.

3.  Those who believe in conditional election, that is, that God only foresaw those who would believe, sometimes argue from the omniscience of God, that is, that He knows everything.  This is true.  God does know everything.  He knows everything intuitively, that is, He doesn’t learn by observation and experience, like we do.  Furthermore, He knows everything immediately.  He doesn’t have to search His memory for some fact or thought.  He knows everything all the time.  In addition, He knows what could happen, but won’t, Isaiah 48:18, 19, as well as what will actually come to pass.

The thing is, what makes the difference between an actual event and a possible event?  If we say that God knows something will come to pass simply as a matter of knowing it beforehand and not because He purposed it, aren’t we saying that there is something outside of God by which He is affected and to which He responds?  Does the Almighty God of Scripture just react to what is going on?  Though they may not realize it, this seems to me to be the actual view of most professing Christians.  In contrast, the Scripture teaches that God is proactive, Daniel 4:35; Ephesians 1:11.

Our conclusion is that the Bible does not teach that God merely chose or elected those whom He foresaw would choose Him.  This unBiblical teaching strikes at the very heart of Christianity and denies or distorts its major teaching of salvation by grace through faith.

D. Scriptures Used to Contradict Our View.

1.  2 Peter 3:9, God is not willing that any should perish. 

Though that’s how it’s usually quoted, the whole verse actually says, The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us [some versions read, “you”], not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. 

First, what is the “promise” to which Peter refers?  It’s the promise of His coming, 3:4.  Because it has been such a long time [in our thinking] since the promise was made, almost 2000 years now, many will scoff at and ridicule the idea of Christ’s return at all. This skeptical attitude brings out the question, “Why hasn’t He returned?”

Peter answers the question in v. 9: there are still some people to be saved.

Who are these people?  Are they, as modern Christians believe, people whom God is trying His best to save, but they won’t let Him?

Of, or to whom, is it said that God is longsuffering?  Well, who are the “us” or “you” to whom or about Peter is writing.  1 Peter was written to “the elect,” 1:2.  2 Peter was written to those whom Peter exhorts to make their calling and election sure, or certain, 1:10.  In other words, Peter himself defines what he means in 2 Peter 3:9:  God is longsuffering toward us – the elect.  A few verses later, he tells us to account that the longsuffering of the Lord is salvation, v. 15.

Perhaps Peter remembered what our Lord said in John 10:16, “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring and there will be one flock and one shepherd.  The Lord hasn’t come back yet because all His sheep aren’t in the fold. In this year of our Lord, 2015, some of them may not even be born yet, though I don’t know that.  He may come back today.  If He had already come back, some of His sheep would be lost, because they are by nature the children of wrath, just as the others, Ephesians 2:3.

2.  1 Timothy 2:4, [God] desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

According to some, this verse means that God wants everyone to be saved.  Those who know the older KJV say, “It’s God’s will for everyone to be saved.”

In the language of the New Testament, there are two words translated “will”.  Though there is some discussion about this, one word is much stronger than the other.  It refers to something deliberate and settled, which will lead to action.  The second word refers more to an inclination or wish, which may or may not lead to action.

It is this second word that Paul used in writing to Timothy.  We might paraphrase the verse like this:  “God would not mind if all men were saved….”

Paul couldn’t have used the first word because, as we saw in Matthew 13:11, there are some men from whom the truth is hidden, and so they are unable to come to the knowledge of the truth, without which they can’t be saved.  And there are many who would have embraced the truth, but it was never sent to them.

Some try to say that the text refers to “all kinds of men,” but I see no reason for that.  God Himself says that He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, Ezekiel 18:32; 33:11.  God doesn’t rub His hands in glee at the prospect of the damnation of sinners, even though He is under no obligation to prevent it.

3.  1 John 4:8, God is love.

There are those who agree that there is nothing in us to draw God to us, and that we don’t deserve to be saved.  There is, however, according to them, something in God which draws Him to us.  That “something” is His love, which, they say, is His basic attribute.  They argue that because of this basic attribute, God must love every individual and cannot, therefore, choose to bless one and bypass another.

If this is so, then isn’t it interesting that the Lord Jesus never publicly proclaimed the love of God.  John 3 records a private conversation.  Furthermore, the early church never even mentioned it.  In the entire book of Acts, there is only one occurrence of any form of the various words translated, “love.”  It’s found in Acts 28:2, where, after the shipwreck of Paul and his companions and they were able to make it to shore, the natives showed them no little kindness.  Our word “philanthropy” comes from the Greek word translated “kindness.”

After His resurrection, our Lord clearly told the disciples what they were to preach.  It would be good exercise for you to read those six chapters – there are only six.  When you do, you’ll find that the disciples understood the command and preached only those things the Lord told them to.  The “love of God” wasn’t one of them.  Incidentally, “the love of God” isn’t “the message” in 1 John, either.

E.  Some Objections to the Doctrine of Election.

1.  “God is no respecter of persons.”

This is true.  However, without exception, when this impartiality of God is mentioned in Scripture, it’s always in connection with His justice, never His grace.  In the judgment of unbelievers, there is and will be no favoritism based on economic condition or ethnicity or political connection or anything else that is often the basis of human decision or action.  No one will be treated less fairly that anyone else.

The world has the cynical saying, “All people are equal.  Some are just more ‘equal’ than others.”  We all understand what that means:  the recognition that among men there is seldom the true impartiality there ought to be in matters requiring fairness or equity.  That is not the case with God, nor will it ever be.  No one will be judged less strictly or more severely that his or her sins warrant.  No one who stands before Him will have any cause to complain at His judgment.  Every unbeliever will get what they deserve, no more and no less.

2.  It makes God a hypocrite or liar.

After all, “whosoever will may come.”  If God has chosen some to be saved, this invitation isn’t true and God is making promises to people He hasn’t chosen to respond to them.

There are some things wrong with this objection.

a.  “Whosoever will may come.”  This is indisputably true.  There is nothing in Scripture that prevents or forbids anyone from coming to Christ.  What many deny or fail to realize is that, apart from the sovereign grace of God, we’re all “whosoever ‘won’ts’.”

b.  It ignores the crucial difference between “may” and “can.”  “May” gives permission; “can” assumes ability.  The Scriptures do not say, “Whosoever will can come.”  In fact. it was the Lord Himself who said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him,” John 6:44 (emphasis added).

c.  This objection goes just as much against the “foresight” argument, which admits that God knows just as infallibly who will and will not receive the Gospel.  Yet the proponents of this argument do not believe that God is hypocritically offering the Gospel to those He infallibly knows will reject it.

3.  Election is a divisive doctrine.

So it is, but that’s not the doctrine’s fault.  The reason it is “divisive” and calls forth such bitterness and anger is because of man.  The fact that God has sovereignly and graciously intervened to prevent the destruction of some sinners and not others calls forth the hostility and rebellion that lies at the root of all sin.  That God is sovereign in salvation, men hate because they wish to be God.  They want to call the shots, to make the rules.  That God is gracious in salvation, choosing some sinners to be saved for no reason to be found in themselves, sinful men hate because they will not let go of their hope of meriting or receiving the grace of God through some act or worthiness of their own.  They believe God somehow to be in their debt, instead of realizing or admitting their own spiritual bankruptcy, depravity and guilt.

 4.  Election is fatalism.

There is a huge difference between this doctrine and fatalism.  In fatalism, things happen without rhyme or reason, simply because they must happen.  There is no wise God to plan it, no omnipotence to bring it about, no love to temper it, no justice to make it fair.  It simply must happen.  The difference might be illustrated by the following story: a ship carrying both Muslims and Christians encountered a severe storm.  One of the sailors was swept overboard.  The Muslims said, “If it is written that he be saved, he will be saved.”  The Christians replied, “Perhaps it is written that we should save him,” and threw a rope and life-preserver to the struggling sailor.  The doctrine of election doesn’t deny or negate the use of means, but rather, it is through these means that election is fulfilled.  The only thing that “just happens” is “nothing.”

5.  Election discourages evangelism.

The only kind of evangelism that understanding the truth about election discourages is the kind that says, “God has done all He can do, and now it’s up to you.”

I spent my first several years as a believer among fundamentalists who were very much into “soul-winning.”  But it was all about “method:” go through these four steps with a person and if he does these things, he’ll be saved.  In preaching, I don’t know how many times I heard a preacher say, after the message, “Now we come to the most important part of the service,” in which verse after verse after verse of “Just As I Am” was sung and the preacher would urge people to come forward to “the altar.”

Beloved, God only has one altar, and that’s the only place we’ll ever find salvation:  at the foot of that Cross stained by the blood of the Son of God, who died that sinners might be saved – not by or because of what they do, but because of who He is and what He did for such as us.  It’s not in the front of some building.  Or a piece of furniture which is part of some liturgy.  These are the invention of men.

I did an earlier post on “The Roman’s Road,” which explains a little more about this and my experiences as a Fundamentalist.  Just let me finish with this.  We’re all sinners and there’s only one way to be delivered from sin and only one Person who can do anything about it:  the Lord Jesus Christ.  Only in Him is there salvation.

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” Acts 16:31.

Questions

1.  Did God just “look down the corridors of time” to see who would “accept” Him?

2.  According to Scripture, which comes first:  God’s foreknowledge or His purpose?

3.  How does God know all things that will happen?

4.  Does it really matter what one believes about God’s “foreknowledge”?

5.  Why hasn’t Jesus returned to this earth yet?

6.  Did God plan salvation so everyone could be saved?

7.  How could God NOT plan the salvation of everyone?

8.  What four things did the early church preach?  (Note: you’ll have to read the six chapters about the post-resurrection ministry of the Lord.  You could perhaps say there were only two things He told them to preach.  Nevertheless, what did He say?)

9.  Doesn’t this view make God a respecter of persons?

10. Doesn’t it make Him a hypocrite?

11. Isn’t it fatalism?

12. How are people saved?

Voices of Christmas: The Promise

Beginning with this post and going throughout the month of December, Lord willing, we plan to do a series of posts on “the voices of Christmas.”  This will have nothing to do with Santa or Rudolph, but will look at both the Old and New Testaments to see what they might have to say about this time.  It will by no means be an exhaustive look at the season through the eyes of Scripture.  We just want to focus some attention on what it’s really all about.

In Genesis 3:15, the Lord said to Satan, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”

It really struck me for the first time as I was just reading this verse that God gave the first promise of redemption, at least that we have any record of, to the one who made it necessary, namely, the Devil.  I know many refuse to accept the Genesis record as anything more than an allegory or a myth or just the ignorant thinking of primitive people, with no more historical reality or value than Santa himself.  I can’t help that.  Such people probably won’t pay any more attention to what I have to say about it than they do to what the Scripture says about it.

We’re not given a lot of detail about what happened, just enough to know that it did and the results of Adam’s foolish act.  No doubt, Satan thought he had foiled God’s plan for humans.  He knew what happened when one disobeyed God; he’d experienced it himself.  He probably thought that if he could get Adam and Eve to disobey, that God would judge them, as well.  

He was half right.

Satan knew about God’s justice, but he didn’t know anything about God’s grace and mercy.

Adam and Eve did disobey and God did judge them  Adam was given increased labor and so was Eve, although of a different kind.  Their paradise was closed to them and they were thrown out of their home.  We have no record that they ever had fellowship with God like they had enjoyed before their sin.

However, though He judged them, God didn’t disown them, like He had Satan, or destroy them.  He clothed them with coats of skin, thus foreshadowing the truth of redemption: that sinners can only live through the sacrifice of an innocent substitute.

This, then, was the promise to Satan – that instead of destroying God’s purpose, he had simply turned it against himself.  God would do for humanity what He wouldn’t do for angels, namely, provide redemption for them.  Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.  …For verily, he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham, Hebrews 2:14, 16 (KJV).  Though Satan would successfully “bruise the heel” of the coming Seed of the woman, that would only serve to “bruise”, or crush, his own head.

In the midst of the shambles and ruin of our first parents’ first sin came also the first promise of redemption:  the first “voice of Christmas”.

The Blessing of Thorns

Someone sent this to my wife several years ago.  I think it still has a message today, even though it may be the “wrong” time of the year.  The original author is unknown.

Sandra felt as low as the heels of her shoes as she pushed against a November gust and the florist shop door.

Her life had been easy, like a Spring breeze.  Then in the fourth month of her second pregnancy, a minor automobile accident stole that from her.

During this Thanksgiving week, she would have delivered a son.  She grieved over her loss.  As if that weren’t enough, her husband’s company threatened a transfer.  Then her sister, whose holiday visit she coveted, called to say that she couldn’t come for the holiday.

Then Sandra’s friend infuriated her by suggesting her grief was a God-given path to maturity that would allow her to empathize with others who suffer.  “She has no idea what I’m suffering,” thought Sandra.

“Thanksgiving?”  For what? she wondered.  For a careless driver whose truck was barely scratched when he rear-ended her?  For an airbag that saved her life, but took that of her child?

“Good afternoon, can I help you?”  The shop clerk’s approach startled her.

“I…I need an arrangement,” stammered Sandra.

“For Thanksgiving?  Do you want beautiful but ordinary, or would you like to challenge the day with a customer favorite I call the Thanksgiving Special?” asked the shop clerk. “I’m convinced that flowers tell stories,” she continued, “Are you looking for something that conveys ‘gratitude’ this Thanksgiving?”

“Not exactly!” Sandra blurted out.  “In the past five months, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong.”

Sandra regretted her outburst, and was surprised when the clerk said, “I have the perfect arrangement for you.”

Just then, the shop door’s small bell rang, and the clerk said, “Hi, Barbara, let me get your order.”  She politely excused herself and walked toward a small workroom, then quickly reappeared, carrying an arrangement of greenery, bows and long-stemmed thorny roses.  Except the ends of the rose stems were neatly snipped; there were no flowers.

“Want this in a box?” asked the clerk.

In astonishment, Sandra watched for the customer’s response.  Was this a joke?  Who would want rose stems with no roses!  She waited for laughter, but neither woman laughed.

“Yes, please,” replied Barbara with an appreciative smile.  “You’d think after three years of getting the special, I wouldn’t be so moved by its significance, but I can feel it right here, all over again,” she said as she gently tapped her chest.  And she left with her order.

“Uh,” stammered Sandra, “that lady just left with, uh…she just left with no flowers!”

“Right,” said the clerk.  “I cut off the flowers.  That’s the Special.  I call it ‘The Thanksgiving Thorns Bouquet’.”

“Oh, come on!” exclaimed Sandra.  “You can’t tell me someone is willing to pay for that!”

“Barbara came into the store three years ago feeling much like you feel today,” explained the clerk.  “She thought she had very little to be thankful for.  She had lost her father to cancer, the family business was failing, and she was facing major surgery.”

“That same year, I had just lost my husband” continued the clerk, “and for the first time in my life, had just spent the holidays alone.  I had no children, no family nearby, and too great a debt to allow for travel.

“So what did you do?” asked Sandra.

“I learned to be thankful for thorns,” answered the clerk quietly.  “I’d always thanked God for the good things in my life, and never questioned the good things that happened to me, but when the bad things hit, did I ever ask questions!  It took time for me to learn that the dark times are important.  I have always enjoyed the ‘flowers’ of life, but it took thorns to show me the beauty of God’s comfort.  You know, the Bible says that God comforts us when we’re afflicted, and from His consolation we learn to comfort others.”

Sandra drew in a deep breath as she thought about the very thing her friend had tried to tell her.  “I guess the truth is, I don’t want comfort.  I’ve lost a baby, and I’m angry with God.”

Just then, someone else walked into the shop.  “Hey, Phil,” called out the clerk to the balding, rotund man.

“My wife sent me in to get our usual Thanksgiving Special – 12 thorny, long-stemmed stems!” laughed Phil as the clerk handed him a tissue-wrapped arrangement from the refrigerator.

“Those are for your wife!?” Sandra asked incredulously.  “Do you mind asking why she wants something that looks like that?”

“Not at all…I’m glad you asked,” Phil replied.  “Four years ago, my wife and I nearly divorced.  After forty years, we were in a real mess, but with the Lord’s grace and guidance, we slogged through problem after problem.  He rescued our marriage.  Jenny here,” nodding to the clerk, ” told me she kept a vase of rose stems to remind her what had learned from ‘thorny’ times, and that was good enough for me.  I took home some of these stems.  My wife and I decided to label each one for a specific ‘problem’ and give thanks for what that problem had taught us.”

As Phil paid the clerk, he said to Sandra, “I highly recommend the Special!”

“I don’t know if I can be thankful for the thorns in my life,” Sandra said, “It’s all still too…fresh.” 

“Well,” replied the clerk carefully.  “my experience has shown me that thorns make roses more precious.  We treasure God’s providential care more during trouble than at any other time.  Remember, it was a crown of thorns Jesus wore so that we might know His love.  Don’t resent the thorns.”

Tears rolled down Sandra’s cheeks.  For the first time since the accident, she loosened her grip on resentment.  “I’ll take those twelve long-stemmed thorns, please,” she managed to choke out.

“I hoped you would,” said the clerk gently.  “I’ll have them ready in a minute.”

“Thank you.  What do I owe you?”

“Nothing.  Nothing but a promise to allow God to heal your heart.  The first year’s arrangement is always on me.”  The clerk smiled and handed a card to Sandra. “I’ll attach this card to your arrangement, but maybe you’d like to read it first.”

It read: “My God, I have never thanked you for my thorns.  I’ve thanked You a thousand times for my roses, but never once for my thorns.  Teach me the glory of the cross I bear; teach me the value of my thorns.  Show me that I have climbed closer to You along the path of pain.  Show me that, through my tears, the colors of Your rainbow look much more brilliant.”

Praise Him for your roses; thank Him for your thorns