“Beginning at Jerusalem”

With this post, we start a series on the Book of Acts.

1. Purpose of the Study.

We’re not interested in merely developing some “doctrine of the church.”  There may be a time and a place for such a thing, but in these posts we’re more concerned with “why” the church is than with “what” it is.  For example, when the Lord Jesus ascended, why did He leave only a small, powerless band of men who had no idea what was going on?  Further, what did He expect them to do?  The Book of Acts gives ample answer to these questions, as well as telling us why we have been left in a world increasingly hostile to the Lord Jesus and His message.

2. Some Things to Think About.

In some circles, we hear about a lot about “The New Testament Church.”  More than one group believes it can trace its roots back to Jerusalem, and so, of course, they are The New Testament Church.

An honest comparison between Acts and today shows such differences that it’s sometimes difficult to believe that there is any relationship between us and them at all.  Nor do we believe that it’s necessary to provide a “genealogy” for a church so as to put it in direct succession with the church at Jerusalem.  The only “link” that’s necessary is found in the Lord Jesus and not in some organization or group of organizations.

There are some things to keep in mind:

1. The “New Testament Church,” as such, is a concept, an ideal, that has never existed.  The disciples themselves were blatantly far from perfect and even the church at Jerusalem had its problems, as noted in Acts 5 and 6.  Indeed, most of Paul’s epistles were written to address problems and difficulties in “New Testament” churches.

At the same time, “New Testament churches” seek to be guided by principles of the New Testament and not by church edicts or dictates.

2. When we think of the New Testament church, though, we usually think of the first church, the church at Jerusalem.  A moment’s thought should serve to show that the church at Jerusalem would be absolutely impossible to duplicate today.

a. Many of the people in Jerusalem, both believers and unbelievers, had seen the Lord Jesus and had witnessed or participated in the events surrounding the Crucifixion and Resurrection of our Lord.  Remember, the Lord was crucified less than two months before Pentecost.  Further, many Jews had seen His miracles or heard His teaching during the three or so years of His earthly ministry.

b. Pentecost, though not the “birthday” of the Church (a thought to which we’ll return later on), was the catalyst igniting it, as it were, and getting it going.   A second “Pentecost,” though some might earnestly long for it, is as impossible as a second Calvary.  It is no more necessary for the Spirit to be poured out as He was in Acts 2 than it would be for the Lord to be crucified.  Both were “once-for-all” events, though it is true that the effects and benefits of those two happenings must be individually applied and entered into.

3. Though many disagree, Acts records a final presentation of her King to Israel.  In Matthew 12:39-41, the Lord stated that Israel would be given one final sign that He was who He said He was:  He would only spend three days and three nights in the grave, no more.  He would physically and bodily rise from the dead.  Cf. John 2:19-21.  See also Matthew 16:4; Luke 11:29, 30 (note “this generation” in v. 30).  This is why the preaching in Acts always mentions the Resurrection.

Finally, it is sometimes said that Acts is historical and “transitional,” and so we shouldn’t rely on it to teach “doctrine.”  Acts is transitional, but it contains some very strong doctrinal statements.  Now, these must not be isolated from the rest of Scripture, as some do, but neither are they to be ignored.  Acts shows the “transition” from a Jewish emphasis to a Gentile emphasis.  Further, it shows the transition of Christianity from a local sect only in Jerusalem and Judea to an influence which moved the world of its day.

2 Years.

Two years ago today, I joined WordPress and published my first post.  I had no idea what to expect.  Since then –

196 posts, counting this one.

6700+ views, though I’d like to know how many actual “visits” that includes.

Folks from 64 countries have dropped by at least once.   Several countries have only one visit.  Some of them, like Qatar or Oman, I’d love to know who visited, and what brought them here.

Numerous comments, likes and such.  Some folks have been kind enough to “reblog” one of my posts on their blog.  If you’re one of them, or have commented, thank you so much.  Even if you haven’t done that, thanks for taking the time just to drop by for a visit.  All of you have been a great blessing to me.

Compared to some of the blogs I follow or visit, this is pretty small potatoes.  Still, God has put each one of us in the body as it pleased Him.  I’m thankful to be used of Him at all.  But who knows, short of eternity, what He might be pleased to do with something I write.

There was a Scottish preacher who was led to preach on the text, “Unto you, O men, I call.”  The problem was, in this seaside town, there had arisen an emergency and all the men of the church were out helping, and there were only women in attendance!  Nevertheless, he felt he must preach it, and so he did.  Unknown to him, in an out-of-the-way place in the church, there was a young lad listening.  God touched this young man’s heart through the message, and he later became a missionary.  It’s been a long time since I heard this incident, and I don’t remember the name of the missionary.  I don’t know if that preacher ever realized the fruit borne by what he must have felt was a failure.

On a hot August afternoon at a Bible college in the Ozarks in the US, a student was walking down a dormitory hallway and saw another student through an open door in one of the rooms.  He stopped by and began to chat with this student.  He began to open the Scriptures to him, notably Ephesians 1, and here we are, 51 years later, telling that story and thanking God for His grace and that student willing to walk through an open door.  I doubt that student, who became a lifelong friend, had any inkling of what that casual visit would start, or the ministry he himself would go on to have.

So, this blog has gone through open doors, as it were, all over this world.  Only eternity will reveal how God has glorified Himself through it, and what He might have been pleased to do with it.  Soli Deo Gloria!

If you’ve had a part in this blog, and you have just by reading this post, thank you.  God’s best to you.

Grateful for grace!

Incidentally, this is our daughter’s 18th wedding anniversary, as well.  Happy anniversary, kids!

“The Kindness of God.” Part 8: “…those who are called.”

IV. Called by Grace.

So far, we’ve looked at the role of the Father in planning salvation; we’ve looked at the Son and His securing of it.  In this post, we want to look at the role of the Holy Spirit in one aspect of our salvation, namely, our entering into it.

There are whole movements which focus entirely on the Spirit, but our Lord said that the Spirit’s work isn’t to emphasize the Spirit or to give believers something to be proud of because they have a particular gift.  It’s to emphasize and glorify the Lord Jesus, John 16:4, and it’s emphatic, “Me [the Lord Jesus], He shall glorify….”  

There are some who focus almost entirely on the work of the Father.  Every message must be about or at least include a reference to the sovereignty of God.  Even in the midst of appeals for people to believe on Christ, they will have to insert, “if you’re one of the elect, you will be saved.”  I’ve had this happen.  That may be doctrinally true, but no lost person in Scripture was ever told that.  Jesus didn’t tell Nicodemus that he had to be one of the elect.

Without doubt, the Father and the Spirit are important to our salvation.  Indeed, they are essential to it!  Without them, there would be no salvation!  However, the focus of our faith is to be on the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus:  Who He was and what He did.  The Philippian jailer was told to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” Acts 16:31.

We’re told the same thing.

At the same time, we’ll never do that without the work of the Spirit.  There are more than 75 references to “calling” in Scripture.  Not all of these, of course, refer to the Spirit, but verses like John 6:44; 2 Timothy 1:9, 10; Titus 3:5, etc., are clear that “calling” is a work of the Spirit which infallibly brings an elect and redeemed sinner [the work of the Father and Son] to faith in Christ.

Another word used to describe the Spirit’s work is “efficacious.”  It is “effective,” that is, it gets the job done.

The word most commonly used is “irresistible,” because it fits the particular acronym which inadequately summarizes these doctrines,  This word is usually rejected as being something coercive:  God saving people against their will.  However, even in daily life, there are many instances of people being saved against their will.  People who are drowning sometimes struggle against their rescuers and have to be subdued before they can be rescued.  People trying to commit suicide are sometimes prevented from doing this, and some of them might never “forgive” their rescuers.  Still, such people are looked on as heroes.  It is only God, Who rescues from a far greater danger than anything this world knows about, Who is told that He can’t do that.  We must be “willing,” or He is helpless.

There is, however, another way of defining the word, “irresistible.”  It is food to someone who is starving.  It is water to someone who is dying of thirst,  Our Lord used both of these figures in His own teaching:  “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” Matthew 5:6.  See also John 4:10-14; 6:35, 48.  That’s the Spirit’s work – to make us hungry and thirsty.

In this post, we want to look at two men who experienced God’s call:  Nicodemus and Saul of Tarsus.  Two words broadly summarize our topic:  regeneration and reconciliation.  Nicodemus gives us great insight into the first and Saul into the second.

A.  Nicodemus:  You must be born again, John 3:7.

Have you ever asked yourself, “Why Nicodemus?”  Why not the woman at the well, or any of the other people Jesus dealt with?  Why is Nicodemus the only one given that message?  It’s never mentioned in the Book of Acts, either.  If Jesus and the Apostles had been like some modern preachers, it would have been in every message.

1.  The man, Nicodemus.

Who was Nicodemus?  In the first place, he was a Jew, and as such already identified with the people of God.  This brought him and them great advantage:  Romans 3:1, 3; 9:4, 5.  Second, he himself was a leader of those people:  the teacher of Israel, John 3:10, perhaps signifying a unique place among his people.  This would have brought him great prestige, honor and wealth.  Third, he was a Pharisee, a bad thing in our day because of those who abused their position, but something highly respected in his own day.  Fourth, simply as a Jew, he would have believed that righteousness before God was something which he could accomplish himself.

Scripture seems to support that idea.  In Deuteronomy 6:25, Moses told Israel, “Then it shall be righteousness for us, if we are careful to observe all these commandments before the LORD our God, as He has commanded us.”  However, even Moses himself, and God, as well, recognized that Israel would never do that.  There isn’t a single verse in the Old Testament to indicate that they would actually be obedient, even though they twice agreed to do all that the Lord commanded.  Moses wasn’t even down from Sinai before the people had violated the first and seventh commandments in a wild orgy in front of the golden calf.

So, Nicodemus thought it was up to him.  As far as he knew, he was already “in”.  Our Lord’s message, as it were, blindsided him.

What was the message?

2.  The message to Nicodemus.

a.  He needed something he didn’t have.

For all that he had, he didn’t have the one thing necessary:  life.  That’s what “birth” is all about:  life.  Without getting into the abortion debate, birth is the evidence of life, not its beginning.  A “dead birth” is a contradiction in terms.  (If you, or someone you know, have suffered a “stillbirth,” I’m so sorry.  I don’t mean to add to or make light of that loss and grief.)

b.  He needed something he couldn’t do.

John 3 is the story of one very likely who thought that his heritage, his position, his keeping of the Law – who he was and what he did – were more than enough for him to “enter the kingdom”.  After all, he was a member of the family of Israel, God’s chosen nation.  However, our Lord said to him, “Nicodemus, that’s not enough.  You must be born into God’s family.”

In addition, Nicodemus was and had done this and this and this.  Yet the Lord in effect said, “Nicodemus, that’s not enough.  You need something you can’t do.  Even if you could return to your mother’s womb, it would do no good.  All that the flesh can produce is ‘flesh’.  You need something the flesh can’t do; you need a spiritual birth, a birth produced only and solely by the Spirit of God,”

Boiled down to one sentence, Jesus was telling Nicodemus that he, Nicodemus, needed God to do something for him that he himself couldn’t do.  He needed a second birth, a spiritual birth, something that was not, and could never be, the result of anything he could do.  He needed something that could not be done or started by “the flesh”.

Modern error has turned that exactly around.  Now we’re told that God needs us to do something for Him that He Himself cannot do:  “God’s done all He can do, and now it’s up to you.”

That is not what the Lord told Nicodemus.

So many folks today are just like him, trusting in what they are or have done. They are quite content with their religion or church, or lack thereof, thank you. They have walked an aisle, prayed a prayer, had a few drops of water on their foreheads when they were infants.  Their father or mother or grandmother was a Christian.  They have been baptized.  Confirmed.  Seen a vision.  Do their best,  Pay their bills.  Take care of their family.  And on and on.

They are secure in their belief that God will welcome them into “a better place,” but have no understanding that they are under His condemnation because their sins have never been dealt with, and they have no righteousness He will accept.  They are dead in trespasses and sin, Ephesians 2:1, and need a life they can neither generate nor initiate.

The Lord rebuked Nicodemus because, as “the teacher in Israel,” he should have known the OT references to “a clean heart,” “circumcision of the heart,” etc., found in verses like Psalm 51:10; Jeremiah 4:4; Ezekiel 18:31; 36:36.  The promises made to Israel in the New Covenant go far beyond anything human nature or effort can produce.  Yet Nicodemus, like the rest of us apart from the grace of God, missed the message.  We “must be born again.”

Without regeneration, or the new birth, you and I are “in the flesh,” that is, we’re just ordinary human beings with a sinful nature and the corrupted faculties – mind, emotions, will – that go along with it.  Those who are the flesh cannot please God, Romans 8:8.  Repentance and faith in Christ are surely pleasing to God; yet things which are pleasing to God are impossible for the flesh to produce.  “Flesh” cannot produce “spirit,” nor can fleshly efforts have spiritual results.  One can “make his decision,” or do any of a multitude of other things men say will save them, every day for the rest of one’s life and not be saved, because that which is born of – that which comes from – the flesh is flesh.

The new birth is as impossible to mankind as the Virgin birth; both must be of God.

B.  Saul, called…out of darkness into His marvelous light, 1 Peter 2:9.

In 1 Timothy 1:16, Paul wrote, …for this cause I obtained mercy, that in my first Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them who should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting (KJV).

Paul wrote that he was a “pattern,” a “schematic” for believers.  This doesn’t mean that we’re to travel our world starting churches, though some are called to do that.  Nor does it mean that we receive and write down new revelations from God.  Some have claimed that, some still claim that, and they are all wrong.  God calls no one to deliver further revelation – of any kind – from Him.

What Paul meant was that in himself we can see how God works in every believer, not exactly, of course, because we’re all different, but generally.  There are many ways we could develop this.

1.  The surprise of his conversion.

The last thing on Saul’s mind on the morning of that fateful trip to Damascus would have been that before he got there, he would be a disciple of the very One he was determined to destroy!

In John 6:44, 45, the Lord Jesus gave a capsule summary of the problem we all have. It is that not one of us, on our own, has the ability to come to God.  He must “draw” us before we will or even can come to Him.  Some make a great deal out of the fact that the word the Lord used in John 6 for “draw” is the same word used to describe Paul being “dragged” out of the city and left for dead in Acts 14:19.  They just simply cannot conceive of the idea that God would or could, for that matter, “drag” people into the kingdom.

However, in reading the Book of Acts, it seems to me that Paul was indeed “dragged” kicking and screaming to the very edge of salvation.  This leads us to  our second thought for this post.

2.  The “stages” of his conversion.

It seems to me that Paul passed through four stages, the first two not necessarily consecutive, in his journey from darkness to light.

a.  resistance, Acts 6:10 (KJV).  Though not specifically mentioned, we believe that Paul could well have been one of those from Cilicia, cf. Acts 22:3; 23:34, unable to resist the witness of Stephen, yet unwilling to receive it.  Cf. Acts 9:5; 26:14.

b. rebellion, cf. acts 26:9.  Paul was certainly present at the stoning of Stephen, Acts 7:58.  From that time, Paul did all he could do to stamp out what he considered blasphemous heresy, and at the same time drown out the conviction coming from the testimony of those whom he was persecuting, Acts 9:5 (KJV); 26:14.  Cf. Romans 1:18, of those who suppress the truth. 

He was breathing out threats and murder against Christians.  He wasn’t asking God to show him the right way; he thought he had it.  He was convinced that he was serving God.  Cf. John 16:2.  Jesus didn’t come to him and ask him if he’d like to be saved. The Holy Spirit didn’t try to “woo” him or in some way “cooperate” with Saul’s will, as is so often taught today that He must do with our wills.  Saul’s will was to kill Christians! That was his “decision.”

In his testimony before Agrippa, Acts 26:11, 12, he says that it was while he was thus occupied in persecuting and killing Christians, being exceedingly enraged against them(!), that the Lord appeared to Him.  Paul didn’t even know who this One was Whose brightness he saw.  This leads to our third point.

c.  realization.  Paul must have been shocked beyond belief to hear a voice from the brightness saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”  He thought he had been persecuting blasphemers and heretics, thus being obedient to the OT teaching about such things – and thus to God.  Now, this “voice” from what must have been the Shekinah glory accuses him of persecuting its owner!  in effect, of persecuting God! The fourth point follows closely.

d.  reception.  We mentioned earlier that we believe Paul was indeed “dragged” kicking and screaming to the very edge of salvation.  However, when he found out what was involved, and who “Jesus of Nazareth” really is, he willingly walked over the border, as it were.  He asked, “What do you want me to do?” and then he went out and did it.
___________

We’ll deal more with this in our final post, Lord willing, but for now, there are multitudes of people just like Paul – and Nicodemus, firmly convinced of their standing before God. They’re members of the church, perhaps even active in it or leaders in it.  They’ve gone through the proper ceremonies or rituals, sprinkled as unknowing infants or walking an aisle or praying a prayer.  Why, they’re not heathen, they believe in God! They have their “docs” (doctrines) all in a row and can recite the Catechism from start to finish.  They’re thoroughly orthodox, and thoroughly lost, because they’ve never come to the point where they ask the Lord what He wants them to do.

For far too many others, “faith” is about God doing what they want Him to do.

Where are you in this progression?  Resistant to the truths of the Word, though perhaps you’ve heard them all your life?  Rebellious against them, wanting nothing to do with Christ, even though perhaps you come to church?  Realizing that you do need something only Christ can provide?  You’re a sinner justly under the condemnation of God and you know that only Christ can do something about it, having died for sinners.  Don’t stop there.  You must go through the last step:  receiving.  Coming to Him as your Lord and Savior, trusting Him to do for you what you cannot do for yourself. Believing on Him, resting in Him, relying of Him in every area of life.  Following His leadership.

There is another possibility.  Paul grew up with his beliefs.  So did Nicodemus. Perhaps this is the first time you’ve ever heard, or read, these things.  What will you do with them?  Now that you’ve heard them, where will you start on this progression?

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

Questions

1.  What does “efficacious grace” mean?

2.  What is another way of looking at the term “irresistible” beside “coercive”?

3.  Why is Nicodemus the only recorded person told about the new birth?

4.  What four things did Nicodemus have “going” for him?  Can you think of any others?

5.  What was the meaning of the message he was given?

6.  What was God’s purpose in saving Saul of Tarsus?

7.  Would Saul have “accepted” Jesus?  Why or why not?

8.  What is the significance of the first two “stages” of his conversion?

9.  What is the significance of the final two stages of his conversion?

10. At which stage are you?  You don’t have to write, just something to think about.

“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?