A Mother’s Kiss

Robert Moffat was a Christian missionary to Africa. His efforts there were so successful that Joseph Parker, one of the most famous preachers England ever produced, once said of him, “When Robert Moffat was added to the kingdom of God, a whole continent was added with him.” And the statement wasn’t that much of an exaggeration.

Moffat was born in Scotland, but in 1813 he moved to England. In 1816, he was assigned by the London Missionary Society to go to South Africa and begin his work. He spent seven years in various locations there until he finally settled down in Kuruman, South Africa. That would serve as his home base for the next 49 years as he traveled widely throughout Africa, shared the gospel with numerous tribes, mastered the Tswana language, and eventually completed a Tswana translation of the entire Bible.

But what first gave Robert Moffat the nudge toward becoming a missionary? By his own admission, it was something that his mother did. When he was a teenager, he left his home in Scotland to move to England, where he would work as an undergardner for a home in High Leigh, England, near Liverpool. As he was leaving, his mother walked with him for a while. When she could walk no further, she stopped. The conversation that ensued went as follows:

Mother: “Robert, promise me something.”

Robert: “What?”

Mother: “Promise me something.”

Robert: “You will have to tell me before I promise.”

Mother: “It is something you can easily do. Promise your mother.”

Robert: “Very well, Mother, I will do anything you wish.”

Mother: (clasping her hands behind his head and pulling his face down to her face) “Robert, you are going out into a wicked world. Begin every day with God. Close every day with God.”

Then she kissed him.

Once Moffat arrived in England, it wasn’t long before he became a member of a Methodist church. One night, while he was walking from High Leigh to Warrenton, he happened to see a poster announcing a missionary meeting. He attended the meeting and shortly afterward contacted Rev. William Roby, the Methodist preacher in Manchester, and announced his call to missionary work. Despite Moffat’s scarce training, he was quickly recommended to the London Missionary Society, and he began his work in South Africa at the age of 21. But Moffat would always credit the true beginning of his call to missionary work to his mother’s goodbye kiss and his promise that went with it. He would say, “It was that kiss that made me a missionary.”


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Shaking the Dust Off Your Feet

“And when you go into a household, greet it. If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet.” (Matthew 10:12-13, N.K.J.V.)

Let me be clear about the fact that Jesus spoke these words in the context of a teaching session concerning evangelism. He was sending His chosen 12 out to witness for Him, and He wanted them to know how to handle any home where they either wouldn’t be received or their witnessing would fall upon deaf ears. With that specific context understood, though, I think we are safe to assume that the core principle at the heart of these words can be applied to other settings and situations.

God knows when you’ve tried your best to reach someone. He knows when you’ve throw your all at making a situation work. He knows when the problem is the other party, not you. He knows when there is little, if anything, to be gained by you continuing to knock on a door that isn’t opening to you. He knows when it’s time for you to shake the dust off your feet and move on to something else.

I have no idea where this post finds you right now, and I’m certainly not trying to cause unwise upheaval in your life, but it could be that you are in the midst of some situation that God is now calling you to abandon. Obviously, I’m not talking about you bailing on a marriage because of irreconcilable differences or you doing something else that violates scripture. (Don’t use this principle of shaking the dust off your feet as carte blanche to step outside God’s will and do anything that suits you.) But I am talking about you putting a period anyplace in your life where God wants you to put one.

You ask, “And how do I know where those places are?” Oh, that takes commitment to Jesus. It takes prayer. It takes spiritual discernment. It takes seeking God’s will. It takes committing yourself to that will whatever it may be. The good news, though, is that God will show you those places for periods if you sincerely ask Him to show you. Remember, He wants you to do His will more than you want to do it.

The truth is that there will be times when God will have you to keep on knocking on a door. As Jesus Himself said in another passage, “…Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7, New Living Translation). There will be other times, though, when God will have you to shake the dust off your feet and saturate the scene with your absence. And, as I said, it just could be that this is what God is nudging you to do right now as He whispers to you, “It’s time to give up on this and start pouring your time and energy into something new.” Think about it.

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A Charcoal Fire

Now the slaves and the officers were standing there, having made a charcoal fire, for it was cold and they were warming themselves; and Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself. (John 18:18, N.A.S.V.)

On the night of Christ’s arrest, Peter denied even knowing Him. To make matters worse, Peter spoke three such denials, just as Jesus had foretold he would. And where did Peter speak these three denials? He spoke them while he was warming himself in front of a fire in the outer courtyard of the home of Caiphas, the Jewish high priest. At the time, Jesus was being tried by Caiphas and the other members of the Jewish Sanhedrin inside the house.

John’s gospel uses a highly specific Greek word, anthrakia, to describe the fire. Some translations translate the word as “a fire of coals.” Other translations go with “a charcoal fire.” So, Peter denied Jesus three times while standing before a charcoal fire.

Now let’s fast forward to a morning more than a week after Christ’s resurrection. Peter and some of the rest of the chosen 12 have made their way north from Jerusalem to Galilee. They have done so in obedience to Christ’s word that He will meet them there (Matthew 26:32; 28:7; Mark 16:7). While they are waiting for Jesus to appear to them, the group acquires a small fishing boat and goes fishing one night on the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1-3). But they fish all night and catch nothing.

The next day, just as the morning sun is beginning to illuminate the scene, the group looks toward shore and sees a figure standing on the beach. The figure shouts to them, “Have you caught any fish?” Bluntly the answer is sent back, “No.” Then the figure shouts, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat, and you will catch some fish.” The word of advice is followed and the net brings up 153 LARGE fish. Such a haul would normally tear a net, but this net handles the job with no problem.

It’s at this point that Peter figures out who the guy on the beach is. After all, he’s had this same type of experience once before in his fishing career (Luke 5:1-11). Impulsively, he jumps into the water and swims the 100 yards to shore ahead of his friends, who are left to bring in the boat and the fish. And when they all get to the beach, what do they find? They find that Jesus has built a fire and is cooking Himself some fish. Then they accept His invitation to a breakfast of fish and bread and proceed to cook some of the fish they’ve just caught.

Once breakfast is done, Jesus asks Peter three times, “Simon (Peter’s name before Jesus had renamed him), son of John, do you love Me?” And three times Peter gives the response, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love you.” There you go, Peter. Consider your three denials forgiven and yourself restored to the ministry.

You say, “Boy, what a great story.” Yes, it is, and it gets even better. Do you remember that fire that Jesus had going on the beach that morning? Guess what kind of fire it was. It was a charcoal fire. As a matter of fact, the only two times where that specific Greek word, anthrakia, are used in the entire New Testament are John 18:18 (the scene of Peter’s denials) and John 21:9 (the scene of Peter’s restoration). Therefore, don’t be surprised if Jesus restores you following a failure or a setback by somehow reproducing the exact same situation in your life. It worked for Peter, and it will work for you, too.

Posted in Adversity, Backsliding, Bible Study, Brokenness, Disappointment, Encouragement, Forgiveness, God's Love, Grace, Mercy, Ministry, Perseverance, Restoration, Seeking Forgiveness, Service | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

How Should We Interpret Romans Chapter 9?

“Calvinism” series: (post #7)

As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” (Romans 9:13, N.K.J.V.)

I had originally planned to end the series on Calvinism with the previous post. However, I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t address the issue of Romans chapter 9. That chapter, after all, is the hightower of Calvinists, the one they cite the most in defense of their faulty system of theology. So before we put a final period on this series, let’s deal with that chapter.

First, I’ll list the parts of the chapter that might be used to support Calvinism. Here goes (all from the N.K.J.V.):

  1. (in regards to the twins Jacob and Esau): (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her (their mother Rebekah), “The older shall serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” (verses 11-13)
  2. For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. (verses 15-16)
  3. Therefore He has mercy on whom He will, and whom He wills He hardens. You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” (verses 18-19)
  4. But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? (verses 20-21)
  5. What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us who He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? (verses 22-24)

Well, you can see how these passages could get a Calvinist’s motor revving, can’t you? I mean, the passages, at first blush, certainly do seem to be fertile ground for Calvinism, particularly for Calvinism’s doctrinal points of “Unconditional Election” and “Irresistible Grace” (with its inner, irresistible call to salvation). In light of these two doctrinal points, consider the phrases used:

  • “the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil” (unconditional election)
  • “that the purpose of God according to election might stand” (unconditional election)
  • “not of works but of Him who calls” (irresistible grace)
  • “Jacob have I loved, but Esau I have hated” (unconditional election)
  • “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy” (unconditional election)
  • “I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion” (unconditional election)
  • “it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy” (unconditional election)
  • “He has mercy on whom He will, and whom He will He hardens” (unconditional election)
  • “one vessel for honor and another for dishonor” (unconditional election)
  • “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” (unconditional election)
  • “vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory” (unconditional election)
  • “even us who He called” (irresistible grace)

But now let me shock you: This entire chapter has nothing to do with salvation! You can read through the whole chapter and you won’t find even one use of words such as “saved,” “salvation,” “damnation,” “heaven,” or “hell.” And now let me shock you again: The primary focus of the chapter isn’t even upon individuals! While it’s true that certain individuals are named (Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, Esau, Moses, Pharaoh, Hosea, and Isaiah), the main teaching of the chapter has to do with nations: the Israelites, the Edomites, and the Gentile nations of the world.

First and foremost, what Paul is doing in the chapter is explaining what has happened with Israel. Israel had long been God’s chosen nation. God had entered Himself into covenant with Israel. Israel had God’s law. Israel had God’s mark of circumcision. Israel had God’s temple. Israel had God’s priests. Israel had God’s sacrificial system. Israel had God’s prophets. Israel had God’s kings. Israel had God’s promises. But as Paul is writing Romans chapter 9, Israel is no longer front and center in God getting His work done upon the earth. The Gentiles are now at the front of that line. Why? What has happened? How can God justify such a reversal of roles? As Warren Wiersbe writes in his commentary on the chapter:

Paul had argued in Romans 8 that the believer is secure in Jesus Christ and that God’s election would stand (Romans 8:28-30). But someone might ask, “What about the Jews?” They were chosen by God, and yet now you tell us they are set aside and God is building His church. Did God fail to keep His promises to Israel?” In other words, the very character of God was at stake. If God was not faithful to the Jews, how do we know He will be faithful to the church?

Paul, who was a Jew himself, begins by saying that his heart is broken over what has happened to Israel (verses 1-5). Then he points out that there is a difference between what we might call “national” Israel (my term) and what we might call “spiritual” Israel (my term). As he puts it, “For they are not all Israel who are of Israel” (verse 6).

A “national” Jew is a Jew by birth, but a “spiritual” Jew is one who has Abraham’s faith in Abraham’s God (verses 8-9) (also read John 8:31-47). Unfortunately for the Jews, “national” Israel rejected Jesus as their Messiah and worked through the Romans to get Him crucified. This was the historic event that began the role reversals for the Jews and the Gentiles in terms of God getting His work done upon the earth. As Paul says in the last verse (verse 33) of the chapter, Jesus became a stumbling stone and a rock of offense for Israel.

Just prior to saying that, Paul also explains that what “national” Israel tripped over was the false idea that righteousness could be attained by adhering to that body of law that God had given them (verses 30-33). Because of this false idea, they didn’t see their need for the righteousness offered by faith in Jesus. The Gentiles, on the other hand, were much more open to the idea of being made righteous in God’s eyes by placing faith in Jesus. So, God sovereignly chose to raise up the Gentiles to be a “vessel for honor” even as He demoted Israel to be a “vessel of dishonor.”

Paul illustrates these two distinct categories by way of Old Testament storylines, with specific sons playing the roles of the representative heads of the nations that descended from them. Abraham’s seed is represented by his son, Isaac, who stands in contrast to Abraham’s other son, Ishmael. In that instance, God chose/elected Isaac’s descendants (the Israelites) over Ishmael’s (the Ishmaelites) in regards to which group would carry His plan of salvation forward. Later, He chose/elected Jacob’s descendants (the Israelites) over Esau’s (the Edomites) to carry the plan forward. In both cases, God chose the younger son as the figurative  “vessel of honor” and the older son as the figurative “vessel of dishonor.”

And why did God choose/elect the Israelites over the Ishmaelites and the Edomites? Was it because of Israel’s good behavior as opposed to the other races’ bad behavior? No. In the case of Jacob and Esau, Paul says the selecting was done before the two representative heads were even born (verses 11-12). But again I reiterate: We aren’t talking about salvation or individuals here; we are talking about the roles of nations (races of people) in God’s grand plan for the ages. To force the subject of any individual’s personal salvation down upon this chapter is to completely miss the point of the chapter.

As further proof of this, let me offer Genesis 25:23. Rebekah was pregnant with Esau and Jacob, but she was having a difficult time with the pregnancy. So she asked God about the situation. And what did God say to her? We find the answer in Genesis 25:23, which says:

And the Lord said to her: “Two nations are in your womb, Two peoples shall be separated from your body; One people shall be stronger than the other, And the older shall serve the younger.” (N.K.J.V.)

There we have it. Even from the time that Esau (the father of the Edomites) and Jacob (the father of the Israelites) were in their mother’s womb, God considered them to be not just two individuals but two nations (peoples). In this way, Genesis 25:23 serves as the key to unlock Romans chapter 9. It’s been said that the best commentary on the Bible is the Bible, and here we have a perfect example of that. And so it wasn’t that God chose/elected Jacob for salvation and Esau for damnation. No! He chose/elected Israel to be the vessel through which Jesus would come, an honor He didn’t grant to the Edomites. Tragically, however, once Jesus did come, national Israel rejected Him and in so doing became one of God’s vessels of dishonor rather than a vessel of honor.

By the way, it is worth mentioning that Esau never served Jacob. As a matter of fact, during the lifetimes of Esau and Jacob the Edomites were a stronger nation than the Israelites. This fact alone shows us that God’s prophecy about the older serving the younger (verse 12) isn’t referring to the two individual brothers. However, the Edomites did eventually serve the Israelites. The proof texts are 1 Samuel 14:47; 2 Samuel 8:14; 1 Kings 11:15-16; 1 Kings 22:47; and 2 Kings 14:7. This is even more evidence that Romans chapter 9 deals with Jacob and Esau in terms of their respective races rather than as individuals and has nothing to do with afterlife salvation or damnation.

Someone says, “But why does God say, ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated'”? Well, here again the Bible becomes the best commentary on itself. Notice how Jesus uses the word “hate” in Luke 14:26:

“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.” (N.K.J.V.)

Now, obviously, Jesus doesn’t want anybody to hate their father, mother, wife, or children. What He is saying is that our love for Him should be so great as to make any other love look like hatred by comparison. We see this same usage of “love” and “hate” on display in Matthew 6:24, where He says:

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to one and despise the other….” (N.K.J.V.)

And so it wasn’t that God hated Esau in the sense that He created him to live, die, and be punished eternally. Again, the passage has nothing to do with such matters. Instead, God’s “love” of Jacob and “hatred” of Esau meant that Jacob’s twelve sons — and not any of Esau’s sons — would produce the twelve tribes of Israel, the nation through whom God would bring Jesus into the world.

But then someone else asks, “But what about Pharaoh? Why did God say of him, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth’ (verse 17)? To find this answer we must consult Exodus chapters 5 through 14. There we read about the battle of wills that took place between God and Pharaoh.

God wanted Pharaoh to release the Israelites from their enslavement to the Egyptians so that Moses could lead them out of Egypt and into the promised land of Canaan. But God told Moses right from the start that Pharaoh wasn’t going to go along with that plan. You see, God already knew what kind of man Pharaoh was. Rather than being submitted to God, Pharaoh thought of himself as divine. So, God said to Moses even before Moses went to Egypt to begin the assignment, “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, so that he will not let the people go” (Exodus 4:21).

What? That makes no sense. Did God want Pharaoh to release the Israelites or not? If He did, then what’s this business about Him hardening Pharaoh’s heart so that he wouldn’t let them go? Here is where we get into the realm of the two different ways in which God receives glory.

Know this: God doesn’t waste anything or anybody in regards to usefulness. In other words, He has ways of using everything and everybody to get His plans accomplished. But He doesn’t employ a one-size-fits-all approach. Sometimes He uses individuals and nations as vessels for honor. Other times He uses them as vessels for dishonor. Either way, though, He gets some type of glory. As Proverbs 16:4 says:

The Lord has made all for Himself, Yes, even the wicked for the day of doom. (N.K.J.V.)

In the case of the Israelites, God would glean glory from them by using them as vessels for honor. In the case of the Egyptians, He would glean glory from them by using them as vessels for dishonor. His glory would be displayed concerning the Israelites by way of Him accomplishing their deliverance via ten plagues that He would inflict upon Egypt. His glory would be displayed concerning the Egyptians by way of Him bringing that mighty nation to its knees. This, accordingly, is why God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. God wanted to make the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt far more devastating for Egypt than it would have been if Pharaoh had let them go the first time Moses made the request.

Furthermore, while it’s true that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, it’s also true that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. As we study the entirety of the story (using the N.K.J.V.), we find eight occasions where we’re told that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 4:21, which is predictive; 7:3, which is also predictive; 9:12; 10:1; 10:20; 10:27; 11:10; and 14:4/8). But we also find three occasions where we’re specifically told that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (8:15; 8:32; and 9:34). And then there are five instances where we’re succinctly told that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, with not specificity regarding who did the hardening (Exodus 7:13-14; 7:22; 8:19; 9:7; and 9:35). I find it interesting that if we slide those unspecified verses over into the category of Pharaoh doing the hardening — an interpretation I favor — we come up with eight instances in each category.

What this shows us is that God isn’t some demented, ogre-like, overlord who takes nations that are ripe for obeying Him and twist them to make them something they are not just so that He can make them a vessel of wrath (Romans 9:22). Likewise, He doesn’t take a nation who has nothing in it but rebellion and enmity toward Him and force it to become a vessel of mercy (Romans 9:23). As we learn from the heart of Pharaoh, He doesn’t harden a heart that doesn’t already have a sizable amount of hardening in it.

Yes, God has mercy on whom He wills and hardens whom He wills (Romans 9:18), but He always wills to play fair. Yes, He shows His wrath and makes His power known through the vessels of wrath He prepares for destruction (such as Egypt), but He endures those vessels of wrath with much longsuffering (Romans 9:22), gives them plenty of chances to repent (2 Peter 3:9), wants them all to get saved (1 Timothy 2:3-4), and takes no pleasure in their demise (Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11). Yes, He is the potter who has power over the clay (Romans 9:21), but He doesn’t abuse the power.

Let me point out something from Romans 9:17 (which quotes Exodus 9:16). God says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show my power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.” Notice that God didn’t say, “For this very purpose I have created you.” You see, there’s a big difference between God creating a man for the sole purpose of showing His power in him by breaking him and God merely raising up the man to a position of earthly power. Creating and raising up to earthly power are two separate things. Here again we are dealing with national matters, not individual ones. Here again we are dealing with vessels of honor and vessels of dishonor, not an individual’s eternal salvation or damnation.

Of course, the Calvinist will say, “But Romans 9:21 doesn’t mention any difference in the clay, with some of the clay being good and some of it being bad. To the contrary, the verse says the clay God uses is the same lump, and from that lump He molds one vessel for honor and another for dishonor.” The answer to that is that the clay being one big lump of sameness is simply a reference to the fact that every single nation on earth consists of nothing but members of Adam’s fallen race. In this way, they are all the same big lump of clay to God.

To illustrate this, let’s go back to the story of Jacob and Esau. Was Jacob a sinner? You’d better know it! When God looked at Jacob in the womb He saw a schemer, a conniver, a thief, and a moral weakling. Okay, so what about Esau? Oh, he was a sinner too! When God looked at him in the womb He saw a worldly, brutish, life-for-the-moment type who had no appreciation whatsoever for spiritual matters. So, in their differing ways, the two nations that were represented in the twins were the same lump of clay.

Now put yourself in God’s place. In this one lump of clay you see two nations. You will mold one part of the clay into a vessel for honor through which you will bring Jesus into the world. This means that, by default, you will mold the other part of the clay into a vessel for dishonor that must pale in comparison to the other vessel. Tell us, God, which section will you mold into the vessel for honor?

As we know, God chose Israel over Edom as the vessel for honor. In His divine wisdom, though, the decision was perfectly fair and just. Remember that the Edomites are represented in the older twin, Esau, and he showcased their national unconcern for spiritual matters by selling His spiritual birthright (and all the patriarchal promises that came with it) for the paltry sum of a bowl of stew and some bread (Genesis 25:29-34). Later on he showcased it again by marrying two different women at the same time, both of which were idol-worshiping foreigners (Genesis 26:34-35). Jacob, with the Israelites being represented in him, at least showcased the national priority that Israel would place on spiritual birthrights and spiritual blessings. That was enough to put him ahead of Esau in regards to spiritual matters.

Now, as I head for home with this post and this series, I want to offer a couple of quotes from missionary/Bible teacher, David W. Cloud. First, in his book, The Calvinism Debate, Cloud says the following regarding his conclusion that Calvinism is a false system of theology:

The Calvinist will doubtless argue that I simply don’t understand Calvinism properly, and to this I reply that if Calvinism is that complicated it can’t be the truth. If a reasonably intelligent preacher who has studied and taught the Bible diligently for 32 years and has published a Bible encyclopedia and many other Bible study books can study Calvinism with a desire to understand it properly and still not understand it, then it is far too complicated to be the truth! The apostle Paul warned that it is the devil that makes theology that complicated. “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3). Of course, Calvinism is not simple by any means and this is one reason why it produces an elitist mentality.

Second, a bit later in that same book, Cloud might as well have been reading my mind and writing my thoughts when he continued his assessment of Calvinism. As I read these words, all I can do is say, “Amen.” That’s why I’m offering them as the close to this post and this series. Here goes:

The fact is that every time I have studied Calvinism I have come away convinced that it simply contradicts too many Scriptures, that it is built more upon human logic and philosophy than upon the plain teaching of God’s Word. Whatever divine election means, and it is certainly an important and oft-taught doctrine of the Word of God, it cannot mean what Calvinism concludes, because to accept that position requires one to strain at gnats and swallow camels. The gnats are Calvinist extra-scriptural arguments and reasoning and the camels are Scriptures understood plainly by their context.

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“Christian Verses” podcast: Luke 6:13

This week Malcolm and I hone in on the title “apostle.” We engage in a wide-ranging conversation that covers questions such as:

  • What is the difference between a disciple and an apostle?
  • Is God still appointing apostles today?
  • Who was the God-appointed replacement for Judas Iscariot?
  • Who were the characters who made up the group of Christ’s chosen 12 apostles? Here’s the link:
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Do the Saints Persevere?

“Calvinism” series: (post #6)

This post brings us to the last of Calvinism’s five foundational doctrines. The doctrine is known as “Perseverance of the Saints,” and it is the “P” in Calvinism’s famous T-U-L-I-P acrostic. And what does the term “perseverance of the saints” mean? It means that the elected/chosen individual (we would say, the Christian), having placed saving belief (faith) in Jesus Christ, will not lose that salvation for any reason or under any circumstances. In other words, “perseverance of the saints” refers to the eternal security of the believer, or as the often-used phrase puts it “once saved, always saved.”

I find it unfortunate that Calvinists chose to use the term “perseverance of the saints.” Why? It’s because Calvinism honestly doesn’t attribute eternal security to the power or ability of believers themselves. Remember that Calvinism makes salvation 100% of God. It even takes the matter so far as to assert that the saving belief (faith) the Christian exhibits must be granted to him by God as a result of God having unconditionally chosen him as one of the elect in eternity past. Therefore, if the God of Calvinism is exclusively responsible for saving the Christian in the first place, He certainly doesn’t expect the Christian to assume the responsibility of keeping himself saved. No, God takes care of that, too.

Really, if you correctly understand the first four points of Calvinism, this fifth point logically follows. What God Himself began, He will complete. He will see to it that the salvation that began in His mind and purpose will end in the full, eternal realization of that salvation. You see, to say that the elect can lose their salvation through their behavior is to say that works play some role in their salvation.

I mention this issue of the term “perseverance of the saints” because many non-Calvinists have (in my opinion) a bit unfairly criticized Calvinism for teaching that it is the saints, rather than God, who persevere — and in so doing keep themselves saved. For example, Curtis Hutson, who was a Baptist pastor as well as the editor of the Independent Baptist newspaper The Sword of the Lord, was a staunch believer in eternal security, but he wrote in his widely distributed pamphlet Why I Disagree With All Five Points of Calvinism:

The man who has trusted Jesus Christ has everlasting life and will never perish. But the eternal security of the believer does not depend on his perseverance. I do not know a single Bible verse that says anything about the saints’ persevering, but there are several Bible verses that mention the fact that the saints have been preserved. Perseverance is one thing. Preservation is another. No. The saints do not persevere; they are preserved.

Hutson then cites four passages that teach that the believer’s eternal security is God’s job, not the believer’s. Here are those passages (all from the N.K.J.V.), with me emphasizing their relevant sections:

  1. Jude, verse 1: Jude, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, To those who are called, sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ:
  2. 1 Thessalonians 5:23: Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  3. 1 Peter 1:3-5: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
  4. John 10:27-29: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.

In regards to God being the one who keeps the Christian saved, I would add six more passages to these four. They are:

  1. Luke 22:31-32: And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”
  2. 1 Corinthians 1:7-9: so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
  3. Philippians 1:6: …being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;
  4. 2 Timothy 1:12: For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.
  5. Hebrews 7:22: Therefore He (Jesus) is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.
  6. Jude, verses 24-25: Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, And to present you faultless Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, To God our Savior, Who alone is wise, Be glory and majesty, Dominion and power, Both now and forever. Amen.

As you can tell, I agree with Calvinism’s teaching that the Christian cannot lose his salvation. And I also agree that it is God, rather than the Christian, who keeps the Christian saved. So, I really don’t have any issue with the fifth point of Calvinism’s T-U-L-I-P other than to say that the term “Perseverance of the Saints” isn’t particularly accurate because it doesn’t convey either what the Bible teaches or what Calvinists actually believe. With that understood, here’s a link to a post I wrote several years ago on the subject of eternal security. It provides even more scriptural evidence for “once saved, always saved. https://russellmckinney.com/2009/04/30/once-saved-always-saved/

Posted in Backsliding, Calvinism, Eternal Security, Perseverance, Salvation, Series: "Calvinism" | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Can God’s Grace Be Resisted?

“Calvinism” series: (post #5)

The “I” in the T-U-L-I-P acrostic that sums up the five core points of Calvinism is “Irresistible Grace.” The thrust of this particular point is that if God chose an individual in eternity past to be a part of the elect, that individual will at some time in life place belief (faith) in Jesus and thereby get saved. The idea of God choosing a person for salvation and Jesus dying for that person’s sins, only to have that person continually reject Jesus until physical death, is unthinkable to Calvinists.

With that said, the problem that Calvinism has in this area is the fact that numerous passages of scripture teach that God’s call to repentance/salvation can be rejected until the individual’s dying breath. Here are a few examples (all from the N.K.J.V.):

  • Genesis 6:3: And the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” (This meant that 120 years later the great flood would take place wherein all those who rejected the Holy Spirit’s striving in regards to conviction and salvation would be drowned.)
  • 2 Chronicles 36:15-16: And the Lord God of their fathers sent warnings to them by His messengers, rising up early and sending them, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, till there was no remedy. (It’s obvious that those Jews of Judah rejected God’s call to repentance.)
  • Proverbs 29:1: He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck, Will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy. (Don’t miss the fact that the person’s destruction comes only after multiple rebukes.)
  • Isaiah 30:15 (Isaiah speaking to the Jews of Judah): “For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; In quiteness and confidence shall be your strength.’ But you would not.”
  • Isaiah 65:2 (God speaking to Judah): “I have stretched out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, Who walk in a way that is not good, According to their own thoughts.” (The imagery is God standing all day long with outstretched hands ready to embrace the Jews of Judah, but them rejecting His offer.)
  • Jeremiah 35:15: (God speaking to Judah): “I have also sent to you all My servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them, saying, ‘Turn now everyone from his evil way, amend your doings, and do not go after other gods to serve them; then you will dwell in the land which I have given to you and your fathers.’ But you have not inclined your ear, nor obeyed Me.” (God didn’t just send Jeremiah in His efforts to get the Jews of Judah to repent; He sent many prophets and other types of servants.)
  • Acts 7:51 (Stephen speaking to the Jewish Sanhedrin): “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.” (The term “stiff-necked” describes an ox or other type of work animal that defiantly refuses to bow its head in submission so that the head can be placed in a work yoke. Notice that Stephen told those Jews, “You ALWAYS resist the Holy Spirit.”)
  • Acts 13:46: Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.” (This was the great turning point in the Christian movement as God’s primary emphasis in the spreading of the gospel was passed from the unbelieving Jews to the more open-minded Gentiles.)
  • Romans 10:21: But to Israel he says: “All day long I have stretched out My hands To a disobedient and contrary people.” (Here Paul quotes Isaiah 65:2, with the imagery remaining the same.)

These passages prove that the grace (unmerited favor) God offers can be rejected. And, of course, there are many other passages that can be cited. 1 John 2:2 says that Jesus is the propitiation (the appeasement) for the sins of the whole world; and yet the whole world’s sins aren’t forgiven. 2 Peter 3:9 says that God isn’t willing that any should perish; and yet millions do just that. 1 Timothy 2:4 says that God desires all people to be saved; and yet the vast majority of them die lost. In John 12:32, Jesus says that by way of His crucifixion He will draw all people to Himself; and yet only a relative few actually come to Him. How then can God’s saving grace possibly be described as irresistible?

Calvinists do interpretative gymnastics around this plain-as-day problem by making a very important distinction. Really, their entire notion of “Irresistible Grace” rests upon this distinction. The distinction is: Calvinism maintains that there are two separate categories of God’s call to salvation. First, there is a general, outward call that God extends to everyone who hears the gospel. This call can be rejected. (In fact, it always is.) But, second, there is a special, inward call that the Holy Spirit only extends to the elect. This call cannot be rejected as the Spirit grants to each of the elect the irresistible desire to place belief (faith) in Jesus as Savior and compels the person to act upon that desire.

Well, this claim that there are two different types of call to salvation, and that one type is irresistible for the elect, is certainly a key one in the whole debate concerning Calvinism. It goes without saying that a claim like that had better be verified by scripture. And so what passages do Calvinists use to support the claim? Here is a list of 20 of their favorites (all from the N.K.J.V.):

  1. John 1:12-13: But as many as received Him (Jesus), to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
  2. John 6:37,39: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out…This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.”
  3. John 6:44: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
  4. John 6:65: And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.”
  5. John 15:16: “”You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.”
  6. John 17:1-2: Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come, Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him.”
  7. Acts 13:48: Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
  8. Acts 16:14: Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.
  9. Acts 18:9-10: Now the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.”
  10. Romans 8:29-30: For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
  11. Galatians 1:15: But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace…
  12. 1 Thessalonians 2:12: that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.
  13. 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14: But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  14. 1 Timothy 6:12: Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
  15. 2 Timothy 1:8-9: …but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.
  16. Hebrews 3:1: Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus,
  17. Hebrews 9:15: And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.
  18. 2 Peter 1:10-11: Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
  19. Jude, verse 1: Jude a bondservant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, To those who are called, sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ:
  20. Revelation 17:14: These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful.

When read through the lens of Calvinism, these passages do seem to make Calvinism’s case for “Irresistible Grace.” However, when read through a non-Calvinist lens, the ABSOLUTE MOST that can be said of the passages is that they might be taken to imply the existence of a different type of call to salvation. Let’s be clear: The passages certainly don’t come right out and teach a special, inner call that is only heard by the elect. Even more than that, there are other perfectly plausible interpretations for each passage. Here’s how a non-Calvinist would explain them:

  1. John 1:12-13: Calvinists make much of the fact that the children of God do not become so by “the will of the flesh” or by “the will of man.” But even non-Calvinists agree that no individual can will himself or herself to be saved. Certainly God is the only one who can impart salvation. Therefore, any individual’s salvation is “of God.” Actually, this passage can be used to refute Calvinism. Notice that verse 12 doesn’t say of Jesus: “But as many as He gave the right to become children of God, they receive Him and believe in His name.” (That’s what Calvinism teaches.) Instead, the verse says: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” The point is, the right to become the children of God comes only after the receiving/believing.
  2. John 6:37,39: This quote simply means that God, in eternity past, gave Jesus the elect. It says nothing concerning how the elect were chosen to be the elect.
  3. John 6:44: While it’s true that no one can come to Jesus unless God draws the person, Jesus Himself (God the Son) said that He would draw all people to Himself by way of His crucifixion (John 12:32).
  4. John 6:65: While it’s true that no one can come to Jesus unless God the Father grants it to be so, it seems clear that God the Father grants the right to everyone because He desires that everyone be saved (Isaiah 45:2; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).
  5. John 15:16: It can be argued that Jesus is speaking here specifically to His chosen 12. He sought them out, not the other way around. It can also be argued that His words have to do with their service as opposed to their salvation.
  6. John 17:1-2: There is no doubt that the elect were given to Jesus in eternity past. There is also no doubt that He is the one who gives them eternal life. But the passage doesn’t say anything about the elect receiving a special, inner call to salvation that those who aren’t elect don’t receive.
  7. Acts 13:48: This verse merely proves that each member of the elect has been appointed to eternal life. As was the case with John 6:37,39, it doesn’t explain how the elect became the elect.
  8. Acts 16:14: Yes, God opened Lydia’s heart so that she could heed Paul’s words, but the fact is that God has to open anybody’s heart before the person can get saved. As Romans 3:11 says, no one naturally seeks after God. God does this opening of the heart by way of the Holy Spirit bringing conviction of sin upon the person and urging the person to heed the gospel.
  9. Acts 18:9-10: Even if we assume that God was referring to citizens who hadn’t yet heard the gospel, the passage can be understood simply as evidence of God’s foreknowledge concerning the elect. The Bible is clear that God has known from eternity past the names of the elect (His people). That is not in dispute. The question, as always, is, how did the elect gain their status? This passage offer no answers to that question.
  10. Romans 8:29-30: The only thing this passage says in relation to God’s call to salvation is that the elect from eternity past are guaranteed to hear it. But we have every bit as much right to say that the call in question is the general call that goes out to the world rather than some special, inner call that goes out only to the elect. Also, the passage teaches that each member of the elect is someone whom God foreknew. But that might just mean that God, from eternity past, foreknew that the person would place saving belief (faith) in Jesus.
  11. Galatians 1:15: Paul being separated by God from his mother’s womb simply means that Paul, like the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5), was set apart from the womb for a specific service to God. It says nothing about the basis upon which Paul was saved and separated for service. As for Paul being called through God’s grace, that can accurately be said of anyone.
  12. 1 Thessalonians 2:12: The argument can easily be made that God calls everyone into His kingdom and glory, even though the majority do not respond to the call.
  13. 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14: This passage can actually be used against Calvinism. I say that because here, for once, Paul actually takes the time to explain how those Christians were called. And how were they called? They were called by the gospel that Paul and his group had previously preached in Thessalonica. You see, that is far different from them being called by way of some special, inward, irresistible call that only the elect receive. To be called by the gospel is to hear the gospel and respond wisely to it.
  14. 1 Timothy 6:12: Here again the argument can be made that God calls everyone to eternal life, not just the elect.
  15. 2 Timothy 1:8-9: There is no doubt that the elect have been both saved and called. They were also granted grace in Jesus before time began. But this passage says nothing about the basis for the salvation (i.e. foreseen voluntary belief vs. instilled belief). And the call the passage speaks of could conceivably be the general call to salvation that God extends to everyone.
  16. Hebrews 3:1: Here the elect are described as “partakers of the heavenly calling,” but that could be taken to mean simply that they have heeded God’s general call to salvation — which would have to be classified as a “heavenly” calling — whereas others have not.
  17. Hebrews 9:15: Again, the calling in question could be the general call of salvation that goes out to everyone.
  18. 2 Peter 1:10-11: This passage really doesn’t give us any insights into the Christian’s calling and election. The primary meaning of the passage has to do with the Christian having the assurance of salvation.
  19. Jude, verse 1: No one denies that each member of the elect are called, sanctified, and preserved, but that doesn’t prove some kind of special, inner call only heard by them. A non-Calvinist would say that Jude is referring to people who heard God’s general call to salvation and responded to it. God, accordingly, having foreseen their voluntary response to the call, chose them as part of the elect in eternity past and sanctified and preserved them the way He did each member of the elect.
  20. Revelation 17:14: Here again, no one denies that each member of the elect can be described as “called, chosen, and faithful.” However, this is yet another verse that doesn’t speak to the issue of how the elect were chosen in eternity past. And as for them being called, God calls everyone to salvation, and that includes the elect. It’s just that only a low percentage respond to the call. But those whom God foresaw responding became His chosen/elected in eternity past.

What the Bible does teach is that everyone on planet earth has a legitimate chance to get saved. First, everyone is born with an inner conscience that points them to God. Romans 2:14-15 describes this as showing “the work of the law (God’s law) written in their hearts.” Second, everyone has the object lesson of creation that points them to the Creator. Romans 1:20 and Psalm 19:1-6 even go so far as to teach that creation itself is profound enough evidence for God;s existence that all people are “without excuse” if they do not know Him. Third, Acts 14:17 says that God hasn’t left Himself without a witness, in that He has given rain and fruitful seasons. Fourth, John 1:9 says that Jesus Himself “gives light” to everyone who comes into the world.

What the Bible doesn’t teach is that there are two different types of the call to salvation. What Calvinism describes as the outward, general call is in actuality the only call mentioned in the Bible. This call is “a heavenly calling” (Hebrews 3:1) to “eternal life” (1 Timothy 6:12) into God’s “kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:12). In this New Testament age, this call comes first and foremost through the hearing of the gospel message (2 Thessalonians 2:14; Romans 10:8-15).

Think about this: Calvinism would have us believe that God goes through the formality of extending a general call to salvation out to billions who have no chance of heeding it and getting saved. Why would He do such a thing? The Calvinist’s answer is that He does it to make sure that He has no blood on His hands (so to speak) when He sends all those people to hell. It’s as if God is saying to each doomed individual, “You’re about to bust hell wide open, but don’t blame Me. I called you to salvation, but you didn’t respond.”

The problem, of course, with this idea is that the Calvinist has to conveniently overlook the fact that Calvinism’s teaching about “Total Depravity” means that God’s general call goes out to people who are dead and can’t even hear it. You talk about a meaningless gesture! Is this the best that God can do in regards to Him justifying Himself sending millions to hell? Seriously, His universal call for sinners to repent and believe is meaningless if salvation is determined solely by Him apart from the free will of individuals.

I think about that story of the Roman centurion whose servant was healed by Jesus (Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10). Verse 9 of that passage tells us that Jesus marveled at the centurion and said, “I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” If Calvinism is true, isn’t it odd that Jesus would have marveled at that man’s faith? After all, Calvinism claims that a person’s faith must be given by God. So, why would Jesus praise a man’s great faith if He knew that the fellow only had the faith because God had granted him an extraordinary measure of it?

Along the same lines, Jesus marveled at the unbelief of the citizens of Nazareth (Mark 6:1-6). Again, that’s strange. What was He expecting when He went there? Didn’t He know ahead of time that those people hadn’t been chosen as part of the elect and therefore weren’t going to sense God’s special, inward, irresistible call to salvation?

In conclusion, let me say again that what Calvinism can’t explain away is that even a causal study of the Bible will show that scripture is filled with characters who patently reject God’s offer of salvation. Calvinism is therefore forced to justify its doctrine of “Irresistible Grace” by inventing a secondary, inner call to salvation that only goes out to the elect and is irresistible to them. As I’ve explained, though, it takes a lot of supposing and speculating to find that other type of call in scripture. It reminds me of how words such as “world,” “all,” and “everyone” have to be redefined in order for Calvinism to work. I dare say that if you gave Bibles to 100 people who knew absolutely nothing about the book, and said, “Read this,” not one of those 100 would end up a Calvinist. You see, it takes untold hours of study and the redefining of several simplistic words to be a good Calvinist.

In closing, let me say that nobody ever summed up the whole issue of the call to salvation any better than Jesus does in Matthew 22:14. There, He says, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” That means that God’s call to salvation goes out to everybody, but only a low percentage respond to it. Those few are “the elect,” them having been chosen in eternity past to be “the elect.” And why were they chosen? It was because God in His foreknowledge saw them voluntarily responding to the call. That, when everything is said and done, is how God’s call to salvation works, and we really have no right to make it any more complicated or convoluted than that.

Posted in Belief, Calvinism, Faith, Grace, Repentance, Salvation, Series: "Calvinism" | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments