A Good Man, Or God?


One of the remarkable facts about Christianity is the deity of Jesus. Well, that and His humanity. I’m sure Jesus’s dual (and yet not divided) nature is one of those issues that causes thinking people to do a double-take. After all, nothing else we know of is all one thing and at the same time all another. It would be like a caterpillar being a butterfly simultaneously.

We’re familiar with mixtures. Brass is an alloy consisting of copper and zinc. Mules are a cross between donkeys and horses. We have hybrid cars, hybrid roses, hybrid breeds of dogs. The tendency, then, is to think of Jesus as a kind of hybrid between God and Man, but that’s not what the Bible says.

That He was a man seems like a given. He walked and talked, ate and drank, lived and died. Rather, the sticking point for people today seems to be the idea that Jesus, while being a Man, was also and equally so, God. In the flesh.

Paul spelled it out a several times in his letter to the Colossians:

  • “He is the image of the invisible God” (1:15a – English Standard Version)
  • “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (1:19 – ESV)
  • “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (2:9 – ESV)

This is a hard one for many people to swallow. Since there are extra-Biblical records authenticating Jesus’s life, it’s pretty hard to deny that He existed, but to believe He is God? That’s where a lot of rational people draw the line. This idea of His deity, they say, was an invention of His followers. He Himself never claimed such a thing.

Really?

More than once He did just that. More than once the gospel of John records Jesus claiming to be the I AM–the very name of God which He revealed to Moses and which was recorded in Exodus. One of the clearest statements comes in John 8 when Jesus says to a group of Jewish religious leaders “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.”

Not only did He use the name the Jews considered holy, but He also said He predated their ancestor. Clearly, they understood precisely what Jesus was saying because they picked up stones to stone Him–the penalty for blaspheme.

Besides referring to Himself as I AM, Jesus also called Himself the Son of God. Some people have claimed that this is simply a Jewish reference to God being the Father of all Mankind, that Jesus was in no way claiming any special relationship to God.

But that isn’t consistent with the times Jesus expressly referred to God as His Father. For example, when He was twelve, He was in the temple schooling the religious leaders. When His parents came looking for Him, He said He had to be about His Father’s business. Not Joseph’s carpentry, clearly. He referred to God and the business was that of explaining the Scriptures.

He also said, at his last meal with His followers, that He and the Father were one. Clearly, this was a reference to God, not to Joseph, who may have died years earlier.

Then too, Jesus answered Philip’s request to show His disciples the Father, with this: “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9b).

In addition to Jesus’s own clear statements, several times, God witnessed directly about Jesus’s identity. When He was baptized, for example, “a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased'”(Matt. 3:17).

In the Jewish culture, a fact needed two or three witnesses to be established. Besides the testimony of the Father, Jesus said His works testified about who He was. I think these are often neglected. Jesus acted in ways that were consistent to the attributes of God revealed in the Old Testament.

For example, God the Father is omnipotent and Jesus showed Himself to be the same:

    • He raised a dead man back to life
    • He healed a blind man so that he could see
    • He multiplied five loaves of bread and a few fish so that they fed five thousand men and an untold number of women and children
    • He walked on water
    • He stopped a storm with a word

    At other times He demonstrated His power over the spirit world, casting out demons from various people. He also forgave sins.

    He showed that He was also omniscient, knowing at different times what those who judged Him were thinking, knowing that He would be handed over to godless men and crucified, also that He would raise from the dead on the third day, knowing all about the Samaritan woman’s past when He met her at the well, knowing who would betray Him and that Peter would deny Him three times.

    These instances are not exhaustive, but the key is this: while God made Man in His image, there are certain attributes that are termed incommunicable because God didn’t transmit those qualities to us–He reserved them for Himself. And yet, Jesus clearly demonstrates those traits time and time again.

    Besides His own word, His Father’s word, His works, Jesus had two other witnesses. One was John, a prophet of God, the forerunner of the Messiah. The other is Scripture. Jesus spelled this out: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39).

    In fact, the Old Testament is full of allusion and direct prophecy that reveals Jesus to be God. Interestingly, Jesus spent forty days here on earth after His resurrection. We know from the gospels that one of the things He did was explain Scripture to His disciples. So when Peter preached about Jesus in his first sermon, he peppered it with Scripture, quoting from the prophet Joel and from various Psalms. In his second sermon he quoted from Moses, from the book of Genesis, and again from one of the Psalms.

    Peter, remember, was a fisherman, not a rabbinical priest. He’d never been trained as a scholar, yet here he was laying open Scripture, explaining to others what undoubtedly Jesus had explained to him.

    The evidence is far from circumstantial. To disbelieve that Jesus is God, one would have to come to the question with the foregone conclusion that such a thing isn’t possible; that, in fact, there is no God; or that the documentation of the evidence is unreliable. The good news is, there is a God; Jesus is His Son, God incarnate; and the Scriptures that reveal His identity are reliable.

    This post originally appeared here in April, 2013.

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God, The Same Yesterday, Today, And Forever


I think most who identify as Christians believe God is the same yesterday, today, and forever—which is how the Bible describes Him. But to listen to some talk about the Bible, it would be easy to think that the Old Testament shows God as different from the New Testament.

The natural conclusion would be to assume that only one testament or the other reveals the true nature of God.

The biggest mistake in that line of thinking comes in not seeing that the Old and New Testaments show the same God. Both show Him to be sovereign, loving, just, righteous, holy, omnipotent, merciful, omniscient, gracious, forgiving, patient, and on and on.

Some people have this snapshot of God as WRATH in the Old Testament and a contrasting snapshot of Jesus as LOVE in the New. It’s a false dichotomy, and a sincere look at what Jesus taught and what the prophets and the psalms reveal, should make that clear.

But why the Old and New Testaments? In theological terms, “testament” means “agreement,” specifically God’s agreement with His people. So, while God does not change, His agreement with His people does.

Until Jesus came, the agreements or covenants God established were most often (but not always) conditioned upon humankind’s response: if they did certain things, God would bless them, but if they did certain other things, they put themselves under God’s curse.

Adam and Eve essentially had such an agreement with God. If they obeyed Him, they would live, and if they disobeyed, they would die. Abraham had a covenant with God, and so did Jacob and Moses and David and Solomon. In truth the Abrahamic covenant was with his descendants, too; the Mosaic covenant was on behalf of the people of Israel; and God’s agreement with David was with those in his lineage, culminating in Jesus.

And Jesus initiated a new covenant, a new agreement.

And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. (Matt. 26:27-28)

Paul referenced the new covenant on more than one occasion. He wrote of it to the church in Corinth, for example:

Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant. (2 Cor. 3:4-6a)

The writer of the book of Hebrews went to some length to explain the new covenant (8:6-10; see also chapters 9 and 10) and how it differed from the old (I’ll let you read that for your homework).

I don’t want to get sidetracked with a long explanation about the old and new covenants, but what’s important to understand is that God’s character is exactly the same from everlasting to everlasting. But that doesn’t mean that He treats every person the same way or that He deals with every people group the same way.

I think in this age of “tolerance” we’re looking for uniformity. Nothing is “fair” unless we all have the exact same hand dealt to us. Then, and only then do we think it’s fair because it’s now up to us to do with that hand whatever we can.

Such a silly notion. If that were the accurate view of justice, then none of us could be smarter than any one else. We couldn’t be more athletic or better singers or taller or ambidextrous or more mechanical or . . . well, anything that could be perceived as an advantage. We have to have that same hand to play as the next guy.

In contrast to that silliness, God seems to delight in working with people that have a disadvantage. David was the youngest in his family, Abraham didn’t have any sons, Ruth was a widow, Joseph was a slave. The whole nation of Israel, in fact, God said was not His pick because they were more numerous or stronger or more righteous than the other nations. In fact, He said the opposite was true.

He used the small and weak in order that we could all see Him at work. It’s hard to take the credit for a victory when we’re outnumbered, when the other army has more advanced weapons, and when they have the tactical advantage. In those circumstances, when God brings the victory, we can only say, Praise God!

No matter what, though, God’s point and purpose is to make Himself known. He says it over and over again. He wanted Israel to display His glory to the nations. He wants His Church to make disciples of the nations. Always God has done what He’s done that we might know Him, even when what He did was to kick His children out of the garden He’d made to be their home, or to exile them from the Promised Land, or to give His Son as a sacrifice that all who believe might be reconciled with Him.

Our ways aren’t God’s ways, so we don’t always recognize what He’s doing, especially if we expect Him to treat everyone the same, or worse, if we expect Him to act the way we would act.

But no mistake: God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. However, we need to believe what He’s told us about Himself and stop looking for Him to behave the way we think He should. After all, He is God, not an idol we can move from place to place or dress up in purple if it suits us.

He is the sovereign, and He tells us what is righteous. How dare we shake our fists at Him or tell Him He was wrong to judge people whose heart He knew intimately. Who are we in comparison to who is He?

I’m not perfect in love or goodness. I don’t know all truth. I’m certainly not sovereign or all powerful. And if it comes right down to it, I am most certainly not the same yesterday, today, and forever. I’m more like a vapor that appears for a little while and them vanishes away.

Not God. He’s as sure as His word, and His word abides forever!

From the archives: this post is a revised version of one that appeared here in March, 2015.

Atheist Arguments: Who Can Believe The Bible?


Without realizing it, I’ve been answering, from time to time, the various arguments atheists make against Christianity, against God. For example, I wrote “The Early Church and Problems” back in July. Before that I wrote “Deductive Reasoning” back in May. A month earlier I wrote “Daniel’s Prophecies—Evidence That The Bible Is True..”

Without much difficulty, I can turn these posts into a series. So today is the first official post in the series, Atheist Arguments.

The common atheist argument is to say that Christians have no evidence that God exists. When someone says, sure we have evidence: take a look at the Bible, what follows is a litany of reasons we should not believe the Bible.

In a comment to another post, a regular visitor here, an atheist, brought up one of these many reasons: he claims the Bible has too many inaccuracies, too many controversial interpretations.

I’d like to examine these points.

First, inaccuracies. According to Biblical scholar Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, there are about 400,000 textual differences among the existing New Testament manuscripts. On the surface, that number seems to legitimize the atheist claim. But one reason for so many variations is that so many copies of the New Testament exist—more that 5,800 in Greek alone. “But the New Testament was translated into various languages early on—languages such as Latin, Syric, Coptic, Georgian, Gothic, Armenian, and Arabic.”

True, not each of these copies is complete. Some are mere fragments, but the average size is 400 pages long. In other words, we have lots of manuscripts we can compare to one another.

It works like this. If there were ten news accounts of the last Dodger game, and nine said Manny Machado hit a three-run home run, but one said Max Muncy hit a three-run home run, it is a pretty fair deduction that the nine are accurate and the lone Muncy claimant is wrong. So too with Scripture.

Obviously, the more manuscripts you have to compare, the easier it is to spot the inaccuracies. But there’s more.

This one, I had never heard before, but Dr. Wallace included it in an article about the New Testament, in the newly released third edition of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi. Apart from all the early copies of the New Testament in existence, scholars also have extra-Biblical sources that quoted the Bible.

Kind of like I do from time to time on this blog. Apparently early Church scholars wrote “homilies, commentaries, and theological treatises” that include more than a million quotes from the New Testament. “Virtually the entire New Testament could be reproduced many times over just from the quotations of these fathers.”

But what about all these inaccuracies? A better word actually is variations. More than 70 percent are spelling differences. You know, the same kind of spelling differences we have in English between America and Britain: color vs. colour and the like.

Some of the variations have to do with Greek syntax and can’t be translated into English; some with synonyms such as Christ or Jesus. The meaning’s the same.

Yet there are some variations that are significant. This is where the number of copies available to study comes into play. “Because of the poor pedigree of the manuscripts they are found in (usually few, or very late manuscripts), no plausible case can be given for them reflecting the wording of the original.”

When we pare all those away, we’re left with 1% of the variations actually being significant and realistically plausible. Of these differences none impacts the central doctrines of the faith. In many cases, scholars have a good idea which verse or two have been added because “they do not fit with the author’s known syntax, vocabulary, or style.”

In modern English translations, there are two passages I’m aware of that have footnotes stating that those particular verses come from later manuscripts and likely are additions. In a couple other places, questionable verses have been included in the footnotes and identified as probable late-date additions.

In short, what comes from this type of careful scholarship is the verification of the accuracy of the Bible, that in spite of human fallibility, God has preserved and protected His word. We can, in fact, trust that the Scripture we have today is true to the original inspired by the Holy Spirit.

It certainly makes sense. I mean, God who is so powerful as to breath His very words into the writings of a man, certainly is also powerful enough to preserve and protect those words down through the ages.

We can and we should have every confidence in the reliability, the authority, the accuracy of the Bible.

Understanding The Bible


I confess, I didn’t realize how many different ways people view the Bible until the Internet exposed me to a wide variety of perspectives. I knew there were higher critics who deconstructed Scripture, essentially shaping it into their own image. But apart from those liberal thinkers, I was unaware of the diverse beliefs about the Bible.

Since I’ve been on the internet, I’ve learned that there are people who see the Bible as myth that contains truth. Others think it is myth, and anyone who believes it is foolish. Others see some parts to be true—the gospels, primarily—but the other parts to be filled with false ideas created by the Jews or by Paul.

On the other side of the Bible equation are those who see Scripture as primarily rules to live by. But again, a good many of these are individuals or denominations which are selective in what they say the rules are. For instance, one blogger I encountered railed against an individual because of his departure from Scripture but saw no problem in treating him without love or even honor, regardless of the number of times commenters confronted him with direct commands in the Bible for Christians to love neighbors, enemies, brothers and to honor all men. Clearly that blogger was selective in the Biblical commandments he felt he needed to follow.

I realize I’ve been fortunate to attend a church my entire adult life that believes in the Bible in a different way. My first pastor, Chuck Swindoll, taught the Bible is the inspired word of God, which means through it God is speaking to me.

I learned it is inerrant and infallible—that there are no mistakes in its individual parts or in its overall message—so the places I see confusion or contradiction actually reveal my lack of understanding, not a problem with the Bible.

I was learned that the Bible is complete. We’re not waiting for a new or better or additional revelation. God didn’t send golden tablets for someone to unearth and translate. He doesn’t speak infallibly via the Pope or the church prophet.

I also learned the Bible is determinative—how we respond to what we hear determines our eternal destiny. Further, it is authoritative. Its truth propositions have the final say, and by them all other truth propositions are to be measured.

Finally, I learned that the Bible is sufficient. I don’t need any other revelation to lead me to God.

Those foundational principles actually undergird my understanding of the Bible, but there are other important essentials that go along with them. Some years ago another pastor, Mike Erre, laid out six questions he asks about passages of Scripture that bring forward the meaning of the text. These can be helpful, I think.

1. What is the historical meaning? What did this passage mean to the original audience? Before it was written for us, it was written for or spoken to them.

For example, when Jesus said, Come unto Me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest, to whom was He talking? And what were the circumstances that surrounded that statement? In other words, what was the context?

2. What is the literary setting? The Bible is a collection of various genres and as such, not all accomplish the same thing. Some are historical, some poetry, some prophecy, some letters. Understanding their genre helps uncover their intention.

3. How does a particular passage fit into the Big Story? It’s possible to pick and choose parts that make the Bible say something it never intended to say. For example, Scripture says more than once, “There is no God.” But without the context, a person will not know that this is the statement of a foolish person.

Pastor Mike gave an illustration of this. First he showed promo for the movie Mary Poppins, a musical, starred Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews that told the story of a magical nanny who taught a stuffy banker how to truly love and care for his children.

Next Pastor Mike revealed that someone made a movie called “Scary Mary” which edited the original musical to show Mary Poppins pushing the children, making mean faces and threatening gestures. The children responded with fright, and in the background soulful music played. Occasionally shots of a dark and bleak setting came on the screen.

So which is the “real” Mary Poppins? Every frame of “Scary Mary” is in the original, but large, large parts have been left out so that the re-cut version bears no resemblance to the original. In fact it so distorts the movie that someone who didn’t know the story could easily be so concerned by what they saw, they would refuse to see the actual movie.

In the same way, someone coming to the Bible must see how a passage fits into the big picture.

4. What is the gospel dimension? The Bible is the story of God coming near. It is not a self-help book or a list of do‘s and don’ts or a collection of religious traditions to follow in order to earn points in God’s estimation. Rather, the Bible reveals Jesus.

5. What is the subversive element? Every verse of Scripture is ahead of its time. The Bible isn’t merely culturally relevant, it subverts the world order which calls for people to watch out for number one, go for the gusto, get yours while you can. The Bible shows us God’s contrary approach to life—the last shall be first, you gain your life by losing it, you love your enemies, you do not return evil for evil, you take up your cross, and on and on.

6. What is the experiential dimension? The Bible is to be lived, not just learned. “American Christians have been educated far beyond our willingness to obey.” Whenever that is true, it’s to our shame. We may not understand everything in the Bible, but the main things that are plain, that don’t take a seminary degree to comprehend, ought to be our mission statement, our focus, our To Do list.

That point is the one that brings the Bible home. It is at the level of living out what the Bible says that a Christian shows himself or herself to be a Christian. Can we say we love God and hate our brother? No. Can we say Lord, Lord and not do the deeds of righteousness? No. Can we experience God’s forgiveness without turning around and forgiving others? No.

The Bible, for all the important foundational truths that undergird the reason we can and should rely on it, still boils down to a matter of trust—believing God, being reconciled with Him, and then learning all about His heart and what we can do to please Him.

This post is a revised edition of one that appeared here in May, 2014.

God And His Mysterious Ways


Some people try to define God’s work, and therefore to define God—sort of like trying to photograph a double rainbow that stretches across the sky. If you could just snap the picture, then you’d have the rainbow for always.

God doesn’t operate in such a way that we can ever capture Him. Yet—and here’s one of the most mysterious of His Ways—He voluntarily, willfully declares my heart His home.

As far as “mysterious ways” is concerned, I think of Joseph resisting the sexual temptations Potiphar’s wife threw at him day after day, only to end up in prison. Well, not “end up” because he moved from the outhouse to the penthouse in a mere thirteen years. Thirteen years that undoubtedly had Joseph thinking nothing would ever change, that his life was going to continue on and on and on in the dungeon. But it didn’t. God had big things in store for Joseph.

I think of the little slave girl, an Israelite captive torn from her home, probably from her family, refusing to be bitter or to seek revenge but reaching out to bless the man she worked for by telling him of the prophet of God who could cure him of his leprosy. As a result, the mighty Aramean officer ended up declaring, “Behold now, I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel” (2 Kings 5:20).

Then there is Samson. What an amazing thing that God used that philanderer. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have chosen him. He was supposed to be a Nazarene from birth, but he broke the parameters more than once that defined that special relationship with God. He seemed self-absorbed and more inclined to use God than serve Him. But God was pleased to include him as a judge of Israel, pleased to make him a means to free His people from the oppressive rule of the Philistines.

Or how about the beauty pageant that ended up sparing the lives of hundreds of Jews? I remember when I first heard about Esther, I was horrified that Mordecai didn’t try to sequester her away or make a run for the hills. Instead, he truly seemed to be encouraging her, and she seemed to want to win the role as queen. Except, unlike the fairy tales, this was no monogamous happy-together-ever-after story. No! Esther got to be part of the kings harem (think of all the women he slept with before he slept with her and finally decided she was queen material). And yet, God used her in that place to save hundreds, maybe thousands.

What about in contemporary times? God used the death of five young husbands, some also fathers, to save a group of people who had never heard of Jesus, at the same time turning the hearts of countless believers to become involved in missions.

He used a spinster lady in the latter end of middle-aged through to her “golden years” to teach a generation what forgiveness really means, to spread the gospel of God’s incredible power over death and destruction and hatred and evil.

He is using the humble submission of an athletic teenage girl who suffered a catastrophic, debilitating accident, who has lived life for forty-five years as a quadriplegic and continues to tell of her love for her Lord.

I would have done things differently, I’m sure. Look how talented Joni Eareckson Tada is—as an artist, a writer, a speaker. How much more could she do if she weren’t in a wheelchair? What a silly person I am. Who would have heard of Joni if she hadn’t been the girl who drew holding her pen in her mouth? And what would she be talking about now or who would listen? Isn’t it her willing submission in the face of her adversity that makes her life so winsome?

God knows these things. He knows what it takes. But to us, because we don’t know what it takes, His ways will always appear mysterious.

God moves in a mysterious way
his wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
and rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
of never failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs
and works his sovereign will.

You fearful saints, fresh courage take;
the clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
in blessings on your head.

His purposes will ripen fast,
unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
but sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
and scan his work in vain:
God is his own interpreter,
and he will make it plain.
– by William Cowper

– – – – –

This article is a reprint of one originally posted May 2011 and reprised in October 2014.

Christ Died for … ?


When I was young, I thought it was clear who Jesus Christ died for. In fact, most of my adult life, it never crossed my mind that this was a controversial subject. Rather, it was fact … that some believed and others did not.

But the world of the internet has put me in touch with lots more people, and suddenly the things I thought were clear, plain, easily understood from Scripture, I now realize don’t appear the same to everyone. Some professing Christians believe one thing and others believe a quite different thing, all based on the Bible. 😕

When it comes to some topics, I don’t think it’s all that surprising that Christians hold differing positions, simply because the Bible isn’t all that clear. End times comes to mind as a topic that can stir debate. Some have studied prophesies in the Old and New Testaments and believe they can create a time line, with the only missing piece the actual date of Christ’s return to rapture His church. Others don’t even think there will be a rapture. And among those who do, there is disagreement as to whether this will occur before, during, or after the Great Tribulation.

And so it goes. Other topics that generate similar disagreements are creation, the ecstatic gifts of the Spirit, church government, baptism … on and on.

But to the question at hand, Who did Christ die for? Isn’t that sort of … the foundation of what it means to be a Christian? So how can there be debate about this question? But there is.

Here are the positions I’m aware of (doesn’t mean there aren’t more):
1. Christ died for the whole world—literally, which means that no one will go to Hell (the view espoused by The Shack and Rob Bell’s Love Wins and the like).

2. Christ died for the whole world—literally, which means that Man’s sin nature has been forgiven, but he will be judged for the specific sins he commits. The sins of believers are covered by the blood of Christ, and the sins of unbelievers bring judgment upon them.

3. Christ died for the elect, those He predestined to be His from the foundations of the world.

4. Christ died for the whole world, but only those who believe in Him appropriate forgiveness.

5. Christ died for the whole world, but only those who believe in Him, chosen from the foundations of the world, appropriate forgiveness.

The latter is my view, and the more I study Scripture, the more I believe it to be true. This position, as I see it, takes into account all of Scripture, not just a handful of proof texts. But I did come across a verse, one of a number, that shows this tension between God’s work—through His predestination and redemption—and Man’s faith.

I’m referring to a verse in I Peter 2, in which the writer declares Jesus Christ to be the cornerstone, who also is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and then says “for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed” (v 8b). There it is, in one verse: men’s response to God (in this case, rejection of Him) and God’s appointment of men to their destination. The conjunction and gives the two equal weight.

Philippians 3 has a verse like this, but from the side of faith. “Not that I have already obtained [resurrection life] or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus” (v12).

Again, both sides. God lays hold of us and we lay hold of Him.

Too many people want to make salvation a chicken-or-egg discussion (which came first, God’s foreknowledge or God’s predestination? God’s sovereign decision or Man’s free choice). Does a person have faith because he’s predestined or did God predestine those He knew would have faith?

Those are unanswerable questions, though people seem quick to pull out Scriptures to support their view. The fact is, the Bible clearly says God foreknew. And it just as clearly says He predestined. So can we know which He did first? Many will look at Romans 8:29 (“for those He foreknew, He also predestined …”), and conclude, Yes, foreknowledge first. But those from the predestination camp can just as easily point to election verses.

Which is why I say the entire Bible needs to be taken en toto which teaches both God’s sovereignty and humankind’s unfettered responsibility to choose Him.

In the end, I think only the first view in this debate skews God’s nature and distorts His work (and therefore is false teaching). Views 2 through 4 are reasonable and could be true. They do not alter a Biblical view of God. However, as I see it, the last position best accounts for the varied statements throughout Scripture as well as passages like I Peter 2 and Philippians 3. When the Bible seems to say two different things, it’s wise to accept them both. Just because we don’t see how they mesh, does not mean they don’t. After all, God’s thoughts and ways are not limited like ours are.

This article is an updated and expanded version of one that appeared here in August 2009.

God’s Wrath And Mercy


Some years ago at a Christian writers’ conference a fairly well known Christian novelist spoke. One of the things he camped on was that truth in fiction was like a diamond—it shown brightest and best when displayed on a black background.

That analogy has been repeated many times as a rationale for writers to include the details of life in fiction, and not just the way we wish things were.

To put it in terms of Biblical visual art, Jesus ought not always be wearing a white robe and there shouldn’t always be a halo over His head. He shouldn’t have perfectly straight, white teeth, and his features ought to be a little less clean cut.

Same with our stories, contemporary or otherwise.

I understand the point, and I mostly agree. Not everyone does. I had a friend who said he wouldn’t read any more of a certain author because there was a near rape scene in one of that writer’s books.

In writing, this whole subject has become a lot more sticky as political correctness sweeps through our culture, taking books like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer with it.

But the analogy stands: diamonds do show their brilliance best against a black backdrop.

And what does that have to do with God?

First, God is holy. We imperfect, sinful humans don’t really understand what holiness is all about, but the other day I started thinking of it in terms A. W. Tozier used. He explained that all of God’s attributes are interlinked with His other attributes. Well, he didn’t say it in exactly that way.

But take God’s quality as an infinite being. That idea doesn’t just mean that He has no beginning or end, but rather also that there is no end to His goodness, to His mercy, and, yes, to His holiness.

So what connection can infinite goodness, infinite holiness have with the very thing that would bring an end to those qualities—evil? There simply is no place for the two residing together. Either holiness is apart from evil and infinite, or it is in contact with evil and limited.

Hence God’s wrath.

Yes, Scripture teaches that wrath is also a quality of God, one that identifies how He feels toward that which would spoil His holiness and the goodness He created.

Thinking in visual terms again, imagine God’s wrath as the backdrop for His mercy. Without His wrath, we actually have a lesser view of God’s mercy. We don’t see it as well without the stark contrast. We don’t know how radically different our lives would be if we experienced His wrath instead of His mercy.

I picture the veil of God’s wrath separating humankind from God’s holiness, but His mercy ripped that veil in two.

Romans 5 explains it this way: “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him” (vv 8–9).

Some people are uncomfortable with the idea that God saves us from Himself.

Of course that isn’t the whole picture because in Colossians He tells us we are “rescued from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (1:13). In other scriptures we learn that God frees us from the slavery of sin, breaks the chains of the Law, takes away our guilt.

But it kind of all starts with His wrath and the brilliance of His mercy that His wrath showcases. Well, maybe it really starts with His holiness. Or it could start with His infinitude. Regardless, by understanding God’s wrath better, and the rightness of it, the necessity of it, I understand His mercy more.

Published in: on August 3, 2018 at 5:28 pm  Comments Off on God’s Wrath And Mercy  
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God Means What He Says


In truth, faith can be defined very simply as believing that God means what He says. That’s the same kind of faith other people have when they say they believe the earth is round or that the Stock Market ended the day at such and such closing price or that George Washington was the first President of the United States.

Most everything we believe, someone else told us and we simply take their word for it. That “someone” might be a parent or a school teacher or a boss or a news reporter or Wikipedia.

Of all the people we should trust, you’d think God would be the One people would listen to first and have the greatest amount of belief in what He says. But in reality, that’s not the way it works.

Oh, sure, lots of people say they believe in God, but then it turns out, they qualify this statement by referring to “their idea of God” as if He morphs to suit each person’s taste. I have a commenter on my Facebook page (a hacker, I believe) who said, “Religion was created by man, simply that. God CAN be whoever each individual person wants him to be.”

Of course if humans invented god, then they certainly could decide he was whatever they wanted—a cosmic force; a universal savior absent of any judgment; a kindly but impotent grandfather; an indifferent clock maker that put the world in motion and now has nothing to do with it; one of a pantheon of gods; nature itself; and many, many more possibilities.

The problem there is that none of these is what God said about Himself. Now it’s true that I haven’t read all the holy books of all the religions in the world, even all the major religions. But I know Judaism’s tradition and I know Christianity. The Scriptures of the two overlap, to be sure, but in both and for both God “spoke, long ago to the fathers, in the prophets, in many portions and in many ways” (Heb. 1:1b).

In those many revelations of God about Himself, we have a pretty good picture of Who He is. The greatest statement of His identity may be His declaration to Moses of His name: I AM WHO I AM.

What in the world, or out of it, does that mean?

It means that God is self existent. That He is present, and always present. That He is when nothing else is or was.

There’s so much else that we learn about God from the things He spoke, but He also said, “In these last days [He] has spoken to us in His Son” (Heb. 1:2a).

So we all have a decision to make—do we believe what He said, or not? If we do, it’s hard to say, I believe in God but I hate my neighbor. It’s just as hard to say, I believe in God, but Jesus can’t be the only way to Him. Those statements and many, many more indicate the person making them doesn’t actually believe in God. They only believe in the god of their own imagination.

I find it hard to imagine a reason for so many people down through the ages all believing in God or gods, if God did not actually exist. How could a person with no experience of God come up with the idea of God? And not know that he was intentionally imagining someone who was not real? And sell it to lots of other people? And people across the planet imagine and sell as real the same concept? It’s like a giant conspiracy theory.

It’s much more believable that God exists, revealed Himself to people, and some believed and continued to believe, while others decided God should do things their way or for their benefit, so they tweaked what God had said about Himself until they believed a copy which we call an idol.

Of course it’s possible that some people had encounters with evil spirits and adopted them as their god or gods.

The fact remains. The God of the Bible tells us He alone is God. We can believe what He says, or not, but faith demands that we take God at His word.

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Photo By Gilbert Stuarthttp://www.clarkart.edu/Collection/7577, Public Domain, Link

Published in: on August 1, 2018 at 5:11 pm  Comments (1)  
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Can Someone Lose His Salvation?


Many Christians may not be aware that there are Bible scholars who disagree concerning the question: Can someone lose his salvation? This is a practical matter for me because I have family members who certainly look, by their choices, as if they have walked away from the Lord, even though they made a profession of faith at some point in their lives.

Some passages in the Bible make it seem abundantly clear that no, a Christian doesn’t need to fear losing his position in Christ. Verses like 1 Corinthians 1:21–22: “He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.” And Ephesians 1:13b: “you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.” Or how about Ephesians 4:30? “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

Of course there are other passages such as Romans 8 that tells us nothing can separate us from the love of God, and passages in Deuteronomy that say God is with us, that He will not leave us or forsake us. The Psalmist says God’s compassion for us is like that of a father. And of course there is the example of the Prodigal Son who simply stopped acting like a son until he came to his senses and returned to his father’s house. He was looking for servant status but instead received from his father the treatment of a son, as if he had never left.

So it’s settled, right? Christians can’t lose their salvation.

Except, what about the parable of the sower. Jesus’s explanation in Luke 8 of one kind of experience with the seed, the word of God, is this: “Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away.” So receiving the word is not the same as becoming a Christian?

Or how about Hebrews 6 and 10? From the latter, vv 26–27: “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES.”

From the former, vv 4–6:

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.

That description certainly sounds like a Christian to me. In addition, there are any number of atheists who will tell you, they once were Christians, but then they “realized” it was all myth.

So which is it? I have to admit, I kind of waver. I’ve thought at one point that God seals us but doesn’t imprison us, so if anyone wants to leave Him, they can, though nothing outside them will snatch them from His hand.

That sounds reasonable.

But of late I’ve found more and more verses that indicate that a Christian is really known to be a Christian because he perseveres. The idea is continuing in the faith.

Colossians 1:23a is an example: “if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel” Or how about Hebrews 3:6: “Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.”

Hold fast, endure.

One commentary said there’s a difference between falling, like Peter did when he denied Christ, and falling away like Judas did when he betrayed him.

Another thought from a commentary concerns the Hebrews 6 passage that basically says, if you leave the faith, you can’t come back. Or does it. In truth, the idea may be that if you enter into sin and continue in your sin, you can’t repent and stay as you are. The Prodigal Son couldn’t repent and not return home, for instance. He had to leave the life that repudiated his relationship with his father.

So, can someone lose their salvation? Only God knows. Were those who knew the truth, who believed for a time, ever Christians? They certainly didn’t persevere, unless they come back home as the Prodigal did. Can we know what’s in a person’s future? Of course not.

What we can know is if we are remaining faithful until the end.

What we can do is pray for those who have turned their back on Christ.

I mean, He Himself asked the Father to forgive the very ones who crucified Him, so clearly He holds no grudges. And who knows which of the people we pray for will come out of the pig sty and come home?

Published in: on July 31, 2018 at 5:23 pm  Comments Off on Can Someone Lose His Salvation?  
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Loving God Means What Exactly?


IconsMore than once I’ve heard or read people saying they love God but want nothing to do with religion. I can’t help wonder what those who hold this position mean when they say they love God.

Is loving God some kind of emotion we generate toward an icon, an idea, or even toward a person? I guess that question puts the focus on the main thing: what do people removing themselves from the constraints of organized religion mean when they say “God”?

I wonder if there is anything close to a consensus. I mean, without organized religion—people coming together in agreement—can’t “God” mean whatever a person wants? So God could be an impersonal force, like fate or destiny. Or God could be the Perfect or Enlightenment to which we all can strive. God could be nature or the universal good or a great pool of consciousness or a spark within each person or … well, you get the idea.

It seems to me, no one can love God unless they know Him. By definition, God is set apart as Other. So how can we know what is transcendent?

Sea_Goddess_of_MercyThe monotheist understands God to be supreme, the ruler, even the creator. Those of a pantheistic mind set see god in all things and all in god. In between are those who believe as the Greeks did or the Hindus do, that there are many gods, each needing to be kept happy in his or her own way.

With all these ideas floating about, how does someone come to an understanding of God?

One common approach I’ve heard is to say, To me, God is …

That approach strikes me as odd. We wouldn’t do that with any other person we know, and we criticize others if we think they are inventing things about someone else. In fact we even have slander and libel laws to punish people who make up harmful stuff about other individuals.

People do repeat false statements about celebrities and politicians, and we wrangle about lines like President Obama is a Muslim or Donald Trump is an idiot. Whether or not the public realizes it, they don’t arrive at these false ideas on their own. They’ve been fed those lines by a propagandist who wishes to influence public thought.

So too with God. Average people did not independently arrive at views such as, To me God is loving and would never care about a person’s sexual orientation; or, To me God is a cosmic force that put the world in motion; or, To me God is a divine spark in each of us. They’ve been fed these lines by an individual who “takes his stand on visions he has seen”—meaning, a spirit has put it in his head—or who is “inflated without cause by his fleshly mind” (quotes from Col 2:18).

God, being God, can’t be known unless He discloses Himself. In virtually all the definitions of God, he is understood to exist “apart from and not subject to the limitations of the material universe” (Oxford American Dictionary). How, then, could people subject to those limitations study, grasp, comprehend, or know One who is outside the confines of our experiences and abilities? The only way to know God is if God would choose to disclose Himself to us.

And He has done precisely that.

So when it comes to loving God, the first and foremost definition of love, as I see it, is recognizing God to be who He says He is.

The online site LinkedIn allows individuals to endorse others with a click of the button. From time to time I get endorsed by people in subjects which don’t reflect what I do or who I am. I appreciate the fact that the endorser was thinking of me, but I also know the person doesn’t really know me or they wouldn’t have back-slapped me in an area in which I have no expertise.

God, of course, has unlimited expertise, but people who don’t know Him put limits on Him, essentially denying who He is. They’ll say He’s loving but not a just judge; He’s powerful but not powerful enough to create the world with a word; He’s good but not so good that the hard things could actually be part of His plan.

How can we get past our limitations? Only by accepting God’s revelation. He, like any artist, poured His heart, His personality, into what He made. So we can look around us at the world—the parts that Humankind hasn’t tainted—and draw conclusions about God. He’s beautiful. He’s interested in the smallest details. He’s cosmic. He’s orderly. He’s nurturing. And so many others.

In addition, He’s disclosed Himself directly to people and has had them pass on His messages to the rest of us. Ultimately He put on skin and became one of us to show us His heart.

Because God made it possible, we can know Him. To love Him means we accept Him for who He’s told us He is.

Loving God also means agreeing with Him. Disagreeing with God is just another way of not recognizing Him to be who He says He is. How could He truly be transcendent and wrong? or just and wrong? or good and wrong?

In short, anyone who loves God will want to do as He says. This, I believe, is a response of the will and not one of the emotions. The funny thing is, where the will goes, the emotions are sure to follow.

This post is a revised and updated version of one that first appeared here in August 2013.

Published in: on July 26, 2018 at 5:10 pm  Comments Off on Loving God Means What Exactly?  
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