Prepared for Gentle Respect

1 Peter 3:15But in your hearts set apart Christ Jesus as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. (NIV 1978)

My Musing – In a world with little hope, Christians should stand out because of their hope. This is likely to raise questions. Questions we should be able to answer (although many are unprepared). We should not be arrogant or condescending in our replies. The lost deserve our pity and compassion, not a “holier-than-thou” response.

My Advice – Be gentle in your responses. Respect their right to choose for themselves. Do not lose your gentleness if they do not choose Christ. There may be another time and how you respond to them now may make some difference later.

Your Sin Is Bigger Than My Sin

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John 8:3-12The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (NIV 1984)

Whether Great or Small – It is always difficult and dangerous to attempt to list sins according to their degree of seriousness. In one sense, all sins are equal in that they all separate us from God. The Bible’s statement, “For the wages of sin is death …” (Romans 6:23), applies to all sin, whether in thought, word, or deed.

At the same time, it seems obvious that some sins are worse than others in both motivation and effects, and should be judged accordingly. Stealing a loaf of bread is vastly different than exterminating a million people.

However, remember that whether our sins are relatively small or great, they will place us in hell apart from God’s grace. The good news is that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins and the sins of the whole world at the Cross. If we will repent and turn to Jesus in faith, our sins will be forgiven, and we will receive the gift of eternal life. (Billy Graham)

One Sin Makes You A Sinner – One leak will sink a ship: and one sin will destroy a sinner. (John Bunyan)

However, Your Sin Is Worse Than Mine? – A rather clever person once said: “Lord, help me forgive those who sin differently than I do.” (Crucial Conversations, by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler. McGraw Hill, 2012)

The similarities between [your sin and mine] are different. (Yogi Berra)

My Musings – We have a tendency to believe our sins are more forgivable (less bad) than the sins of others.  That was one of the main points of the story of the woman caught in adultery.  The teachers of the law saw her sin as so grievous it deserved death.  Jesus taught (reminded) them that they were all in the same “leaking ship” in danger of sinking.  I am reminded of a somewhat similar scene from Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring, where Frodo and Gandalf are debating the sins of that miserable creature Gollum:

Frodo:  “It’s a pity Bilbo didn’t kill him when he had the chance.”

Gandalf:  “Pity? It was pity that stayed Bilbo’s hand. Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death [cast the first stone] in judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or ill before this is over. The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many.”

Frodo:  “I wish The Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had ever happened.”

Gandalf:  “So do all who live to face such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

My Advice – As I’ve written in a previous blog, there is no sin so great (probably someone else’s) that Jesus did not die for it, and no sin so small (obviously mine) that He did not have to die for it.   So let’s not be too eager to “deal out death” to others.  The “similarities in our sins may be different” but we are all in need of God’s grace and forgiveness (“pity”), that is found only in Jesus. He was the only One who ever paid (or could have paid) for our sins. His sacrifice was the only thing that could “stay [God’s] hand” of judgment.  “All we have to decide is what to do with the [opportunity] that is given to us.”

Let’s not forget the second main point in Jesus’ encounter with the woman caught in adultery, that we have a tendency to gloss over.  Just because we do not have the right to judge the sins of others, does not mean they are not sins.  Just because we may think that our particular sins are not serious enough to deserve judgment does not mean they do not.  If we are in Christ, our sins are forgiven, let’s show our gratitude by following His admonition to “go now and leave [our] life of sin.”

Study 7 – Predestination Revisited

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Predestination – Literally before (pre) we arrive at our destination (heaven or hell). Our ultimate destination is determined before we are even born by God choosing us. Both Calvinism (not the Calvin above) and Arminianism agree on this.

What else did we learn?

A. God’s ElectionHe chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will (Ephesians 1:4-5, NIV 1984).

Arminianism – Man cannot be saved apart from the grace of God, but rather he must cooperate with or assent to the grace (salvation not wholly dependent upon God’s grace).

Calvinism – Salvation wholly dependent upon the grace of God. Man is not even capable of cooperating or assenting to God’s grace without the intervention of God.

The issue is: what is the basis of this election – His pleasure and will or His knowledge of man’s ultimate decision?

B. God’s SovereigntyHis dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:34-35, NIV 1984)

The issue is: why do some people perish (go to hell)? Does this mean that God is not sovereign (cannot prevent people from perishing), or does it mean He is not good (chooses to allow people to perish)?  Since these are inconsistent with what we know about God, these cannot be the only choices.

God could decide to not give anyone who has fallen an opportunity for salvation. The only objection to this would be that God is being just, not that He is being unmerciful. God is not obligated to be merciful, because mercy is not an obligation. Justice can be owed but mercy is not obligatory. But God did not choose to not save anyone.

God could provide an opportunity for some or everyone to be saved. But there would be no guarantee that anyone would be saved.

God could exercise His sovereignty and ensure the salvation of some or everybody. God did not choose to ensure the salvation of everyone (universalism). This is not Biblical, because we know many will indeed perish. Some will be lost (particularism).

The issue is: Is it an injustice if God ensures the salvation of some but not all the fallen? Or, is God being more merciful by ensuring the salvation of some rather than just an opportunity that may not be taken?  The saved get mercy, the lost get justice. No one gets injustice. Mercy is not justice and it is not injustice. It is non-justice. No one has been or ever will be the object of injustice at the hands of God.

C. Man’s Free WillSo I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. (Romans 7:21, 25, NIV 1984)

Jonathan Edwards – Free moral agents always act according to the strongest inclination (desires) that they have at the moment of choice.

Calvin – If free will means that fallen man has the ability to choose what he wants, he has free will. If free will means that fallen man has the moral power and ability to choose righteousness, he lacks free will, because he cannot always do so.

Sproule – Every choice that man makes is free (self) and every choice that man makes is determined. Seems like a paradox because free and determined (caused by something outside man’s will) are generally considered to be mutually exclusive.

The issues are:  If my desires determine my choice, how can I be free?  Does fallen man retain in His heart any desire for God?

D. God’s Drawing – “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.” (John 6:65, NIV 1984)

No One – Universal negative. No exceptions.

Can Come – Can has to do with ability. No one has the natural ability to come.

Unless – A necessary condition happens.

Enabled – The word is ambiguous.

This is why I told you” is a repetition of John 6:44 – “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” (NIV 1984)

The issue is: What does it mean to draw?

Arminian – To draw means to entice, woo, attract. Drawing is still resistible.

Calvinism – To draw means to drag or coerce (James 2:6 and Acts 16:19). It means to compel by irresistible superiority.

Which makes more sense?

E. God’s Justice & MercyBefore the twins (Jacob and Esau) were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election [choice] might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated [rejected].” What then shall we say? Is God unjust [unrighteous]? Not at all [may it never be]! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort [exertion], but on God’s mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore, God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. (Romans 9:10-18, NIV 1984)

Jacob and Esau were twins. Everything that could possibly be the same, was the same. Yet God chose one (the younger) and rejected the other (the elder), before they were even born.

The issue is: On what is God’s election based?

Foreknowledge View (Arminian) – God’s election before anyone is born (from the foundation of the world) is based upon His foreknowledge of what man will ultimately do after they are born. Based on this prior knowledge God makes His choice (election), knowing what man will choose. Final decision is based upon a human choice, not upon a divine action.

Awkward Silence View (Calvinism) – While the text says God chooses before man is born, and thus before man can do anything good or evil, it does not explicitly state that His choice is based on His foreknowledge. The text does say, however, that it does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort [exertion], but on God’s mercy. Calvinist view is that this statement contradicts Arminian view (depends on man’s choice, which God has foreknowledge of).

Once gain, the issue is:  Is God being unfair?

Divine Prerogative – “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” Some receive a measure of mercy that others do not. No one receives injustice. If God only gave justice no one would be saved. God is not being unfair. He is being unequal. We must be careful to not claim that God is not being merciful or gracious enough because He does not choose to show it to all equally. This implies God is not doing what He should (obligated to) do (sinful). God is not obligated to be merciful. Mercy is not an obligation.

F. Man’s Evangelistic EffortsAs for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings (lusts, passions) of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive (quickened us) with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:1-5, NIV 1984)

Divine initiative – But God (not but man) made us alive even though we were dead (not sick, not dying) because of our sins. The 1st step is accomplished (initiated) by God (divine) not man.

Once made alive, man can choose, believe and repent because we are alive to God. Before we are made alive one cannot do any of this. Dead men don’t choose. Dead men cannot choose.

The issue is:  If some are chosen (pre-destined) from the creation of the world, and some are not, with or without anyone bearing witness why do evangelism?

Because Jesus commands it (Great Commission)!  Why command something that is not necessary?

God has not only sovereignly decreed the end (elected), but He has also sovereignly decreed the means (evangelism) of bringing man to salvation. He did not need us to accomplish His unconditional election, but He chose to include us as the means.

Notes from: Chosen by God, R.C. Sproul

Study 6 – All Christians Believe In Evangelism?

Screenshot (187)Ephesians 2:1-5 – As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings (lusts, passions) of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive (quickened us) with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. (NIV 1984)

Divine Initiative – 1st step of salvation brought to pass unilaterally and exclusively by the power of God.

Total Depravity – 1st of the five “Tulip” points of Calvinism (T – Total Depravity of Man; U – Unconditional Election; L – Limited Atonement; I – Irresistible Grace; P – Perseverance of the Saints). Does not mean utter depravity (man is as bad as he can be). Better term is radical (root, core of existence) corruption (sin affects the whole man – mind, body, will, soul, spirit). All of us walk or follow the ways of this world gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature.

But GodBut God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) (Ephesians 2:4-5, NLT).

The point is: But God, not but man, made us alive even though we were dead (not sick, not dying) because of our sins. Divine initiative – 1st step is accomplished by God not man.

Once made alive, man can choose, believe and repent because we are alive to God. Before we are made alive one cannot do any of this. Dead men don’t choose. Dead men cannot choose.

The question is: why do evangelism?

Pre-Destined – If some are chosen (pre-destined) from the creation of the world, and some are not, with or without anyone bearing witness, why do evangelism. Because Jesus commands it!

The question is: why command something that is not necessary?

God has not only sovereignly decreed the end (elected), but He has also sovereignly decreed the means (evangelism) of bringing man to salvation. He did not need us to accomplish His unconditional election, but He chose to include us as the means.

Evangelism – Both a duty and a privilege.

Notes from: Chosen by God, R.C. Sproul

Study 4 – All Christians Believe In God’s Drawing?

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John 6:65“This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled [granted, given] him.” (NIV 1984)

No One – Universal (absolute) negative. All inclusive, without exception.

Can – Often erroneously mistaken to mean the same as may. Can has to do with ability. No one (without exception) has the natural ability.

Come – Man, in and of Himself does not have the ability to come to Jesus. No exception.

Unless – Exceptive clause. Points to a necessary condition (prerequisite). Something that must happen first. It does not guarantee that it will happen. A sufficient condition would guarantee a result (suffices), but this verse is a only a necessary condition (not a sufficient condition).

Given, Granted, Enabled – The word itself is ambiguous. But what is clear is that it is something that God does that is a necessary condition (that must happen first).

The question is: what is the real meaning of this necessary condition?

This is why I told you” is a repetition of John 6:44 – “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” (NIV 1984)

Draw – One cannot come to Jesus unless drawn by the Father. Both Calvinists and Arminians agree that this is a necessary condition. What they disagree on is what “draws” means.

Arminian – To draw means to entice, woo, attract. Through prevenient grace (divine enabling) God must entice before a human can make a decision to come to Jesus. This is a grace that exists prior to and without reference to anything humans may have done. But in the end, the “drawing” is still resistible.

Calvinist – To draw means to drag or coerce. Taken from other verses with same Greek word that is interpreted here as “draw.” It means to compel by irresistible superiority.

James 2:6Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? (NIV 1984)
Acts 16:19They seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. (NIV 1984)

The question is: Why did translators use draw (resistible attraction) in the John 6:44 instead of drag (irresistibly compel)?

We do not know for sure. Maybe they felt it might be offensive to the reader (isn’t the Gospel offensive?). Greeks elsewhere used the word to man draw water out of a well. Water is still subjected to an irresistible (not enticed) force, not on its own.

Thus, the question becomes: which makes more sense?

Arminian – “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me [entices] him.

Calvinist – “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me [irresistibly compels] him.

Notes from: Chosen by God, R.C. Sproul

Chosen Before

Ephesians 1:4For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world. (NIV 1978)

My Musings – Think of it. Before He ever created anything, He knew that we would fall and what the cost would be to Him – His Son’s death on the cross bearing our punishment. Yet He chose to go through with it because He looked into the future, saw us, chose us and desired to save us.

My Advice – He chose you. Choose to follow Him all the days of your life.

It’s the Gospel, Stupid!

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Isaiah 52:7How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (NIV 1984)

My Musings – In the spring of 1991, following an immensely successful invasion of Iraq, President Bush’s (the first one) approval rating was 90%.  He was considered unbeatable as he looked ahead to his reelection bid the following year.  Then, the economy began to sour, and by late summer of 1992 (just weeks before the election) 64% of Americans disapproved of his job performance.  With this dramatic reversal of fortune, the Clinton campaign’s slogan became “it’s the economy, stupid!”  The slogan’s intent was to keep the campaign focused on the real issue of that year’s presidential election – the economy, President Bush’s Achilles’ heel.  They could have lost their way and become side-tracked on less important or even non-essential issues and lost the election.  The slogan was meant to be the rallying cry to get them back on track to what was important in order to win the election. It did and they did.

I think evangelical Christianity is in need of a similar slogan today to get it back to its “prime directive” – It’s the Gospel, stupid!  My intent here is not to throw rocks at someone else’s “glass house,” because I consider myself to be an evangelical Christian.  But what does the term evangelical Christian mean anyway?  Here is an excerpt from someone else’s musings [with some editorializing by me thrown in] that might prove helpful ( from https://www.gotquestions.org/evangelical-Christian.html):

“In Western culture today, there are many caricatures of evangelical Christians. For some [perhaps an understatement], the term evangelical Christian is equivalent to ‘right-wing, fundamentalist Republican.’ There is no doubt that holding to the fundamentals of the Bible will result in a certain worldview and, yes, political [political maybe, moral certainly] beliefs. However, there is nothing about being an evangelical that demands a certain political party or affiliation [or gives them a monopoly on morality].”

“The term Christian essentially means ‘follower of Christ.’  The term evangelical comes from the Greek word that means “good news.” Evangelism is sharing the good news of the salvation that is available through Jesus Christ. An evangelical, then, is a person dedicated to promoting the good news about Jesus Christ. Combined, the description “evangelical Christian” is intended to indicate a believer in Jesus Christ who is faithful in sharing and promoting the good news.”

“A Christian is called [actually commissioned by Christ] to share [evangelize] the good news [Gospel], to preach God’s Word, and to set an example of [not dictate to] purity and integrity. If these callings require [require may be too strong of a term] political action, so be it. At the same time, evangelical Christians should not be sidetracked into abandoning our highest calling—sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

So, back to my musing.   It’s the Gospel, stupid!  Gospel is a word that is derived from the Anglo-Saxon godspell denoting “glad tidings” or “good news” (Baker encyclopedia of the Bible).  Among other definitions, stupid means  not intelligent, not sensible, not interesting or worthwhile (Merriam-Webster).

Evangelical Christians need not be apolitical, nor should they compromise their convictions or beliefs in the name of political expediency.  Speaking the truth in love is not mutually exclusive.  We should not speak the truth in an offensive or hateful manner, nor should the truth need to be silenced or watered down in order to keep peace and love.  While we cannot keep the world from hating us (Jesus said they would because they hated Him), nor finding the Gospel offensive (Paul said many would), we need not be hateful or offensive such that others find the “good news” to be “not intelligent, sensible, interesting or worthwhile” because of how we proclaim it.

My Advice – Let’s share what’s in our “lunchbox” with love and concern.  Let’s not beat others over the head with it in arrogance or self-righteousness.  It’s the Gospel, stupid! Let’s stay on task (get back on track).  Let’s help win the “election” for the lost.  Let’s keep our feet “beautiful” by bringing “good news,” proclaiming “peace,” bringing “good tidings,” and proclaiming “salvation.”  After all, its the only “campaign” with eternal consequences.  Our God reigns!