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.

Why Did God Give Us Free Will?


One of the best questions I’ve heard from those who don’t believe in God is this one: If God really existed, why did He give us free will?

Usually the argument goes something like this:

Atheist: The mess the world is is God’s fault
Christian: No, what God created is good. The mess is a result of sin.
Atheist: But why didn’t God create people who wouldn’t sin?
Christian: He gave us free will. We aren’t puppets on a string.
Atheist: But if God knew we’d sin, why did He supposedly give us the free will that led to sin? He could have prevented the whole thing.

The fact is, there’s nothing wrong with that line of thinking. God could have made little robots which He programmed to say they loved Him. No one would have used a weapon against someone else. No one would give in to addiction. No one would love money or power or sex more than they loved God. All the behavior of God’s people would be as perfect as He planned for it to be. Nothing would violate His wishes. No one would rebel against Him.

There are two problems with that picture.

First, a third of the angels had already rebelled against Him. So the world of humans could never be perfect. Not as long as Satan continued to show up. The only way to achieve “perfect” was to deal with the rebellion.

The second major problem is that God had determined to make humankind in His image, His likeness. He Himself has a will, so for humans to be like Him, we also would need to have our own will.

There’s probably something bigger here. Would loving God if you had no choice but to love Him, actually be love? Isn’t part of love connected with freely doing so? I mean, God already had trees and birds and reptiles and the like. They could act in an instinctual way if that’s what God wanted. In making humans, He made more. He stamped us with His likeness and He breathed into us the thing that makes us unique.

Ironically, as I looked on the internet at some of the unsolved mysteries of science, I discovered that human consciousness is one of those things nobody understands or can explain.

5 What is consciousness?

We’re still not really sure. We do know that it’s to do with different brain regions networked together rather than a single part of the brain. The thinking goes that if we figure out which bits of the brain are involved and how the neural circuitry works, we’ll figure out how consciousness emerges (“The 20 big questions in science”)

For that matter, science has yet to answer what actually makes us humans since “the human genome is 99% identical to a chimpanzee’s” (same source). Why can we talk and reason and do science? Why can we think philosophically, and above all, why do we worship?

The Christian knows the answer to that question.

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. (Gen. 2:7, KJV)

Unique. Different. With the capacity to relate to God as no other being could, not even the angels. Such a person could relate to the Person who created him by loving Him freely. And likewise, being freely loved.

No relationship could be more.

But creating humans in the image of God, you might say, was “high risk, high reward.” When it works, it’s the best. That’s why Joni Eareckson Tada could say that she, a quadriplegic, would rather know Jesus as she does and be in her wheelchair, than not know Him and be out.

The flip side is the possibility of people choosing NOT to love God. For them the result would be disaster. But of course, God would make Himself clearly known. He’d walk with His people and talk with them. He’d give them signs and wonders. He’d display His glory in a physical, tangible way known as the Shekinah. He’d send messengers to give His words to the people. He’d have some write those words down so they’d be widely disseminated. Ultimately, He reversed the process and came in the likeness of humans so that He again walked and talked with the people He’d made.

Oh, yeah, there was one other thing that He said was even better—He’d send His Spirit to be in us. So that we’d never be alone. Never be without His presence.

Why did God give us free will? I guess the short answer is, He wanted to. That’s what would please Him and complete us. Plus, our relationship freely given, glorifies His name.

Published in: on November 15, 2017 at 5:53 pm  Comments (10)  
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Freedom And Authority


America, the land of the free and the home of the brave. Freedom is what the US is all about, and freedom is what attracts so many immigrants to leave their homes and come here. And yet, A. W. Tozer says people aren’t actually free, not completely. Not even Americans.

From The Knowledge of the Holy:

There cannot be two absolutely free beings in the universe, for sooner or later two free wills must collide. (pp 15-16)

His point is that God alone possesses certain attributes, those scholars refer to as incommunicable. These are not qualities that Man has even though made in God’s likeness. We are not, for example, omnipresent or unchanging. We are not infinite, nor are we sovereign. And there’s the rub.

If God alone is sovereign, then we are not free in the ultimate sense. Rather, His rule must supersede our liberty or He is not sovereign.

The incredible truth is, however, that God seems to give us free rein. We can choose Him or reject Him, we can bow to His authority or trumpet ourselves as the only one we trust. We can accept His revelation of Himself, or we can deny His desire to do so or His power or even His very existence.

It seems to me that true Sovereignty is the only One not threatened by another’s freedom.

Christians in America, both cultural Christians and those following Jesus, feel threatened because certain laws suggested by our current administration would certainly reduce the rights of some to hold to their religious beliefs, hence jeopardizing the religious rights of all.

Feminists in America who believe in abortion feel threatened because a Presidential candidate talks openly about his pro-life stance, thus potentially jeopardizing their “right to choose” should that person win and end up appointing another conservative justice to the Supreme Court.

Gays feel threatened and those advocating for heterogeneous, monogamous marriage feel threatened. Homeowners feel threatened and the rich feel threatened. Small businesses feel threatened and college students feel threatened.

At every turn, though living in a country not torn by war, not suffering from famine, not oppressed by a dictator, we still feel threatened. If anyone ought to feel safe and free, it is the American.

But we don’t because we aren’t actually free. Not even Bill Gates or the President himself. We all — every person on earth — live under God’s authority. He alone is free in the ultimate sense. He answers to no one and has no laws to abide by except those originating from His nature. He goes where He wants, does what He chooses, is how He wishes.

Man is not free in that way. And surprise, surprise, Man is constantly dissatisfied. We want to change our hair color or lose ten pounds or buy a new car or change jobs or churches or computers or friends or houses or habits.

Our wills are always colliding with other people’s wills because we are not in control. Some of us try to be. We work hard to create an environment we can order, but that’s a figment of our imagination — a sandcastle about to wash out to sea with the rising tide.

I liken God’s sovereignty to that of a teacher supervising a playground of children. She’s in charge, but they are free to do as they please under her watchful authority. If they obey her, they really can do whatever they wish — unless she asks them to help a new child or run an errand or stay away from where the big kids are playing.

A good teacher exercises her authority for the benefit of the children she is caring for. The obedient child submits, even giving up his ephemeral freedom because he is subject to the one in charge.

How good of the One True Sovereign to give us freedom under His watch care, to ask us to trust Him rather than forcing us to do so. How secure to know that His eye is on the sparrow and He’s watching me.

    Why should I feel discouraged,
    Why should the shadows come,
    Why should my heart feel lonely
    And long for Heav’n and home,
    When Jesus is my portion?
    A constant Friend is He:
    His eye is on the sparrow,
    And I know He watches over me;
    His eye is on the sparrow,
    And I know He watches me.
    Refrain:
    I sing because I’m happy,
    I sing because I’m free,
    His eye is on the sparrow,
    And I know He watches me
    His eye is on the sparrow
    And I know he watches me

(Written in 1905, the words by Civilla Martin and music by Charles H. Gabriel)

The Thing Atheists Hate The Most


Abraham005Of course I can’t verify that I actually know what atheists hate the most. Some might hate warm beer more than they hate anything else. Some might hate the Dallas Cowboys more than they hate anything else. Some might hate spending Christmas at their in-laws more than they hate anything else. So this generalization I’m making comes with a caveat—I’m speaking specifically about theology and what the atheists I’ve encountered hate about Christianity and specifically about God.

Put simply, they hate that God’s ways are not our ways. In one discussion, an atheist kept insisting that an omniscient God would have to act this way or that way. Which is it, he kept asking. He, of course, isn’t omniscient, so I couldn’t figure out how he knew that an omniscient God, who’s ways and thoughts aren’t like ours, had only those two choices.

In a more recent discussion, the point is one that Christians have struggled with, and disagreed about for centuries: is God sovereign or does humankind have free will? As I read Scripture, I have to conclude God is both sovereign and has given humans who He made in His image, free will.

There are lots of verses in the Bible that people use to support the idea that God is sovereign. There are also lots of verses in the Bible that people use to support the idea that humans have free will. The natural conclusion seems to be, then, that both are true. It’s not a matter of either-or, but of both-and.

To reinforce this idea, there are a few verses that mesh the two. One is Philippians 3:12. I need to give the context though so that the meaning is clear. Here’s what Paul said about knowing Christ:

More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (vv 8-11)

So Paul doesn’t count anything in his past as worthwhile. By far the greatest thing in his life is knowing Christ Jesus, which isn’t a result of any of his own good deeds, but is because of faith. The result is that Paul knew Jesus, suffering and all, anticipating the resurrection from the dead. Then the key verse:

Not that I have already obtained it 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. (v 12, emphasis mine)

Christ laid hold of Paul and Paul laid hold of faith in Christ.

On the flip side, 1 Peter 2 contains a verse that shows the same synchronistic relationship between God’s sovereign plan and humankind’s rebellion against Him. Again a little context:

And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For this is contained in Scripture:
“BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A CHOICE STONE, A PRECIOUS CORNER stone,
AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.”
This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve,
“THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED,
THIS BECAME THE VERY CORNER stone” (vv 4-7)

The stage is set. Believers are part of a spiritual house, with Jesus as the Cornerstone. But the next verse discloses the truth about those who do not believe. Peter gives another quote from the Old Testament, then draws the conclusion:

and,
“A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE”;
for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed. (v 8, emphasis mine)

Some, Scripture says, find Jesus to be a “rock of offense.” But how did they arrive at that position? By being disobedient to the word, a doom to which they were appointed.

This is enough to cause headaches. In general, we don’t like the idea that people are appointed to doom. We don’t like the idea that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Of course Scripture also says Pharaoh hardened his own heart.

How can both be true?

We want things to be clear, easy, tied up in a neat bow, we want answers that makes sense to us.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Here’s the thing. There really is a clear, easy, tied up in a neat bow truth which we can rely on: God is trustworthy. That’s the truth.

So when God told Abram to leave his home, even though Abram didn’t know where he was going, he trusted Him. When God promised to give Him more descendants than the stars, even though Abram was childless, he believed Him. When God told him all the nations would be blessed through him, though Abraham never lived to see the fulfillment, He counted that promise to be a done deal.

Yet, with respect to the promise of God, [Abraham] did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. (Romans 4:20-21]

Gideon003That’s the response of faith to the transcendent God whose ways are higher than ours.

Not that there’s no room for questions—something atheists accuse Christians of is never asking questions. Of course we ask questions—as Gideon did when he was tapped to go up against the Midianites. As did Mary when the angel told her she’d give birth to the Messiah. As did David and other psalmists who cried, How long, oh Lord; or, Why do the wicked prosper; or, Have you forgotten your people?

Questions are not anathema to God. What He wants is a broken and contrite heart, though. Questions from a broken and contrite heart are very different from questions coming from a heart of pride that harbors a desire to be like god.

Freedom And Authority


America, the land of the free and the home of the brave. Freedom is what the US is all about, and freedom is what attracts so many immigrants to leave their homes and come here. And yet, A. W. Tozer says people aren’t actually free, not completely. Not even Americans.

From The Knowledge of the Holy:

There cannot be two absolutely free beings in the universe, for sooner or later two free wills must collide. (pp 15-16)

His point is that God alone possesses certain attributes, those scholars refer to as incommunicable. These are not qualities that Man has even though made in God’s likeness. We are not, for example, omnipresent or unchanging. We are not infinite, nor are we sovereign. And there’s the rub.

If God alone is sovereign, then we are not free in the ultimate sense. Rather, His rule must supersede our liberty or He is not sovereign.

The incredible truth is, however, that God seems to give us free rein. We can choose Him or reject Him, we can bow to His authority or trumpet ourselves as the only one we trust. We can accept His revelation of Himself, or we can deny His desire to do so or His power or even His very existence.

It seems to me that true Sovereignty is the only One not threatened by another’s freedom.

Christians in America, both cultural Christians and those following Jesus, feel threatened because certain laws suggested by our current administration would certainly reduce the rights of some to hold to their religious beliefs, hence jeopardizing the religious rights of all.

Feminists in America who believe in abortion feel threatened because a Presidential candidate talks openly about his pro-life stance, thus potentially jeopardizing their “right to choose” should that person win and end up appointing another conservative justice to the Supreme Court.

Gays feel threatened and those advocating for heterogeneous, monogamous marriage feel threatened. Homeowners feel threatened and the rich feel threatened. Small businesses feel threatened and college students feel threatened.

At every turn, though living in a country not torn by war, not suffering from famine, not oppressed by a dictator, we still feel threatened. If anyone ought to feel safe and free, it is the American.

But we don’t because we aren’t actually free. Not even Bill Gates or the President himself. We all — every person on earth — live under God’s authority. He alone is free in the ultimate sense. He answers to no one and has no laws to abide by except those originating from His nature. He goes where He wants, does what He chooses, is how He wishes.

Man is not free in that way. And surprise, surprise, Man is constantly dissatisfied. We want to change our hair color or lose ten pounds or buy a new car or change jobs or churches or computers or friends or houses or habits.

Our wills are always colliding with other people’s wills because we are not in control. Some of us try to be. We work hard to create an environment we can order, but that’s a figment of our imagination — a sandcastle about to wash out to sea with the rising tide.

I liken God’s sovereignty to that of a teacher supervising a playground of children. She’s in charge, but they are free to do as they please under her watchful authority. If they obey her, they really can do whatever they wish — unless she asks them to help a new child or run an errand or stay away from where the big kids are playing.

A good teacher exercises her authority for the benefit of the children she is caring for. The obedient child submits, even giving up his ephemeral freedom because he is subject to the one in charge.

How good of the One True Sovereign to give us freedom under His watch care, to ask us to trust Him rather than forcing us to do so. How secure to know that His eye is on the sparrow and He’s watching me.

Why should I feel discouraged,
Why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart feel lonely
And long for Heav’n and home,
When Jesus is my portion?
A constant Friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches over me;
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.

Refrain:
I sing because I’m happy,
I sing because I’m free,
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know he watches me

(Written in 1905, the words by Civilla Martin and music by Charles H. Gabriel)

Published in: on March 21, 2012 at 6:37 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , ,

CSFF Blog Tour Wrap – The God Hater


As the tour for Bill Myers’ The God Hater winds up, I realize that I missed an opportunity to dive headlong into one of the knottier theological topics — free will. After all, the story revolved around the need for a group of scientists creating a virtual world to give their e-humans free will. Fortunately a couple of our bloggers, Rachel Briard and Thomas Clayton Booher, addressed the issue.

The question theologians have wrestled with in the past, but which we today seem to dodge, is this: Do we humans have free will? That question is often married to another on: Is God truly sovereign over all creation?

My answer to both is yes and yes, and I think The God Hater gives a good picture of how this apparent dichotomy is true.

The scientists, before they created their virtual world, decided their e-humans must have free will. It was their “sovereign” choice to give their “creations” the ability to choose. However, when those virtual people chose self-destruction, the scientists “tweaked” the program, introducing ideas to affect those choices.

In the end the e-humans were still free to choose because the “sovereign” scientists had determined that they could. Of course this is a simplistic view, but I thought it merited more space in the tour discussion, and I’m sorry I didn’t bring it up sooner.

On to the wrap. A total of 40 bloggers posted 76 articles about The God Hater, making this the biggest tour since Stephen Lawhead’s The Skin Map tour back in November.

As you might expect, we have a long list of bloggers eligible for the February CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award. Please take time to review these articles (you’re in for some interesting reading) in the next ten days, and vote for your favorite.

Published in: on February 24, 2011 at 1:02 pm  Comments (3)  
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Apollos or Paul?


Realizing I’m setting myself to take shots from both sides, I nevertheless have to say, I think the Calvinist/Arminian argument is silly, maybe even harmful. It corresponds to the first century argument Paul quashed in I Corinthians 3. I am of Apollos, some said. I’m of Paul, came the reply. Who cares? Paul cried. He shot down the divisive cliquishness, stating clearly that God causes growth, no matter who plants and who waters.

So I look at today’s “Protestant debates” in much the same light. Who cares if Calvin is strong on predestination. The key is, What does the Bible have to say about predestination? Who cares if Arminius was strong on God’s foreknowledge of man’s choices. The key is, What does the Bible have to say about God’s foreknowledge and man’s choices?

Since it is God who is over all, how much more important is it for us to look at the whole counsel of Scripture and accept what He says, even when some statements seem in contradiction.

Jesus, who is the Great Shepherd and the Spotless Lamb, who is the Door and the Way, the Suffering Servant and the Reigning King seems to have no trouble with contradictions. Why then, must we?

Both Calvinists and Arminians can quote appropriate proof texts from the Bible. Many of them. Why, then, doesn’t it seem plausible God intended it that way? That He not only foreknew man’s choices but predestined the outcome, that salvation is through faith a person must confess and by election—the exercise of God’s will?

There are a few places where the two sides of the coin show themselves together. One is John 3:18.

He who believes [man’s choice] in Him is not judged; he who does not believe [man’s choice] has heen judged already, [predestination] because he has not believed [man’s choice] in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

Here’s another one from John 6:44.

No one can come to Me [man’s choice] unless the Father who sent Me draws him [God’s election]

Or this from I Peter 2:8.

“A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense”; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word [man’s choice] and to this doom they were also appointed [God’s appointment].

How about this from Matthew 22.

For many are called [with the implication they must answer the call or reject it—see the preceding parable] but few are chosen [God’s sovereign decision]. (v. 14)

Then there’s Romans 8:29-30.

For whom he foreknew, he also predestined … and these whom He predestined, He also called…

I could list out many more, and some better, if I had the time to search through my notes. Of course there are clear verses that seem to support one position, such as Luke 13:33 (for free will):

How often I [Jesus] wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it.

And Romans 9:11-13 (for predestination):

for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, … “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Mind you, I know neither side will be convinced by anything I say. Calvin’s system has a way to explain all the verses the Araminians use, and the Araminians have answers to all the verses the Calvinists use. Undoubtedly they both have a way of interpreting the verses that contain both parts of the “free will”/predestination arguments.

But I stand with Paul:

For when one says, “I am of [Calvin]”; and another, “I am of [Arminius],” are you not mere men? What then is [Arminius]? And what is [Calvin]? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one … So then neither … is anything, but God who causes the growth …

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