A Tale of Two Mindsets – Romans 8:5-8

5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

Romans 8:5-8 (ESV)

 

In this short passage, the Apostle Paul sets before us a simple but very clear contrast. He explains to us that there are two kinds of people; those who live according to the flesh (their natural state from birth), and those who live according to the Spirit (their state since the ‘new birth’). Paul further stipulates that there is a mental state (mindset) that controls how they live; a mind set on the flesh which is ‘death’, and a mind set on the Spirit, which is ‘life and peace’.

In other words, Paul is saying that the unbeliever is controlled by his nature at birth (mind set on the flesh), while a believer in Christ is controlled by his new nature (mind set on the Spirit). This does not mean that the Christian doesn’t sin, but it does mean that the controlling influence in the life of a believer is the Spirit of God living within him/her.

It doesn’t get much clearer than that. Paul goes on to describe the natural mindset of each and every one of us from birth:

1. It is hostile to God.

2. It does not submit to God.

3. It CANNOT (is unable) to submit to God.

That describes the natural state of each and every unbeliever in relation to the God of the Bible.

So, here’s THE big question: “What has to happen to change someone who CANNOT please God into someone who CAN please God?

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again (regenerated) he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

Might it be necessary that spiritual regeneration to precede an act of faith that would please God?

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I’ll just leave that tight there so you can think about it.

The real problem with Be Kind, Please Rewind theology by Jesse Johnson

by Jesse Johnson, at The Cripplegate

Please rewind

Do you remember Blockbuster Video and VHS tapes? When I was a kid, that was how my family watched movies. After watching the video, there would be a bit of an argument over who had to rewind the tape. Our VCR would open after rewinding, pop the tape halfway out, and if there was nobody there to get it, it would try and close, and likely end up breaking. So one of us had to stay up ten minutes longer, all to honor the sticker on the front of the VHS tape.

You know the sticker I’m talking about. It said, “Be kind, please rewind.”

Those stickers are now a thing of the past—along with VHS tapes and Blockbuster for that matter. But the sentiment lives on in some people’s theology, particularly when it comes to the doctrine of election.

The doctrine of election teaches that God chooses whom he will save. Before the foundations of time, God determined to create the world, allow sin into the world, to allow all of mankind to fall into sin, send his Son as a Savior, then send his Spirit to regenerate people through faith. The Spirit does not come to everyone, but rather comes only to the elect, those whom God has chosen to save.

This doctrine is taught in John 6:37, 44-47, 65; Ephesians 1:3-9; Romans 9:6-26; Revelation 13:8, 17:8; 20:12-15 (to name but a few of examples). Despite the fact that election is the clear teaching of Scripture, it is a doctrine that has caused no small controversy. It was controversial in Paul’s day (as evidenced by Romans 9), and it remains controversial today. It strikes us as unfair, undemocratic, and unjust.

If God chooses whom he will save, then how come he doesn’t choose everyone? How can he still hold people responsible for their sin, if their real problem is that God didn’t choose them? Why bother with evangelism if all that the Father gives to the Son will come to the Son?

But despite these questions, the doctrine of election remains in the Bible. It’s still there, starring up at you whenever you read Romans or Ephesians or John or Revelation. Its as obstinate as ever. It refuses to be defeated by questions.

What I mean by that is that asking those questions doesn’t make the doctrine go away. So many people move on from questioning the doctrine and into a different kind of doubt—they endeavor to explain the doctrine into a more palatable form. I’ve heard everything from “God elects everyone for salvation, and the devil elects everyone for damnation, and you cast the deciding vote” to “election is true, but you can unelect yourself because of your free will.”

But the most common explanation I’ve heard which is designed to blunt the force of election is the be kind, please rewind form of it. This explanation says that God has looked down the tunnels of time, and saw what you would do (based on your own free will of course), and then rewound the tape, and chose you to do exactly what he saw you already doing.

In other words, God can choose how the movie of your life will end, because he has already watched it before. Thus God knows the future, your free will is still determinative, and election is not unfair because after all, it is based on what God already knew you would do.

Now, there are all manner of problems with this explanation. First, it makes people responsible for salvation. It may rescue election but it does so by throwing the gospel overboard. In this version of election, God saw something good in you, and that is why he chose you. Obviously that is a huge gospel no-no.

Another problem with this view of election is that it misunderstand regeneration and faith. If you believed because of something inside of you, then your heart is the fountain of your faith. But that is not what the Bible teaches. Your heart is a fount of sin, and you believe because God regenerated you. So the only way God could look down the tunnel of time and see who would believe is if he first saw whom he was going to regenerate. Because anyone who is regenerated is born again, and will have faith in the gospel. This is why the be kind, please rewind kind of theology usually lacks a robust understanding of regeneration. Because any kind of regeneration will void out the whole “tunnel of time” system.

While I think these two objections to this understanding of election are sufficient to refute it, there is another less obvious problem with saying God chooses those that he sees choosing him. It’s a problem that I didn’t fully appreciate until I began preaching through Ephesians 1.

Ephesians 1 teaches that God made all things (1:10, 11, 21, 22, 23). There is nothing made that he did not make. It also teaches that God made every person. We have our existence because he made us. He designed us. We are his workmanship.

The tunnel of time objection to election neuters God’s creative ability. It implies that you, me, we have an existence apart from the precise plan of God. In a sense it deifies us. It makes people like gods, in that it ascribes a pre-temporal existence to us independent of the will of God. It almost sounds as if there is God, and there are people that he sees, and these people came from who knows where, and then he sees how some of them will act, and then chooses them to do those things.

All too often we focus on the problems with the latter half of that scenario (on how it hurts the gospel, or downplays sin, or misunderstands regeneration). But the real problem is further upstream. How can God see people, angels, or anything really apart from him designing them? If God sees future people, then he sees them as he wills them to be. He knows their names and knows their future actions because he made them, and he designed them. He didn’t design us to fit our preferences, but he designed us, all of us, for his glory according to his will.

So no, God did not choose you for salvation because he looked down the tunnel of time and saw how you would one day choose him. He didn’t do that because then your salvation would depend on you, and we all know that you wouldn’t have believed unless God first regenerated you anyway.

But the real problem is that if you think God elected you to do what you were going to do anyway, you are making yourself out to be God. But you don’t exist outside of God. He didn’t see you one day. He didn’t study you to learn about you. Oh no. The truth is, God knew what you would do, but only because he made you.

This should encourage you. The Maker of heaven and earth made you, and knows your name, and calls you to be in a relationship with him. A relationship that he initiated not at your salvation, not at your conception, and not even at creation. God designed you, named you, and chose you before all that. Before even time began, he knew you, because he is God, and you are not.

The Sovereignty of God in the Affairs of Men

It’s probably safe to assume that almost all Christians will at least say they believe in the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. There are too many declarations not to. Here are a few from the Psalms:

19 The LORD has established His throne in the heavens; And His sovereignty rules over all (Psalm 103:19). 3 But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3). 5 For I know that the LORD is great, and that our Lord is above all gods. 6 Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps (Psalm 135:5-6).

The meaning of sovereignty can be summarized this way: To be sovereign is to possess supreme power and authority so that one is in complete control and can accomplish whatever he pleases.

While it’s easy for us to say God is sovereign in a general sense, we might be slower to agree, and might not agree when it comes to specific areas of our lives or in human/national affairs. IS God sovereign in all the affairs of men?

Let’s take a look from a biblical perspective.

In the Old Testament we discover that throughout the history of the nation of Israel, God controlled the fate of His chosen people, using pagan nations to accomplish His purposes. God used Egypt to for the preservation and growth of the nation Israel for 400 years before they inherited the promised land. God displayed his power and greatness through the hard-hearted Pharaoh. He used surrounding nations to chastise Israel when the nation fell into sin and disobedience. Then he used other pagan nations to destroy the chastisers of His people.

God used the Assyria and Babylon to lead the Jews into captivity. The King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, was even called God’s “servant” (Jeremiah 25:9; 27:6; 43:10). The sacking of Judah and Jerusalem was no accident of history; it was no mere fate. It was the outworking of the plan and purpose of the sovereign God of Israel to achieve His purposes, to fulfill His promises and prophecies

Not only did God use the proud and arrogant Nebuchadnezzar to chasten the Israelites, He also brought the pagan King to his knees, turning him into a grass eating ‘beast’ for seven years, until he would acknowledge God as sovereign.

“At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever.

His dominion is an eternal dominion;
his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
All the peoples of the earth
are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases
with the powers of heaven
and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
or say to him: “What have you done?””

Daniel 4:34,35

Fast forward 2,000 years to the world of the 20th and 21st centuries. Ours is a time of chaos and change. The USSR completely dissolved before our eyes. The Berlin Wall was been torn down. Civil war rages across the globe, and thousands of innocent lives are being sacrificed as we look on, helplessly it would seem. Christians seem to be shaken when a certain political party goes to unimaginable lengths to try and get elected to the highest office in the land. In this time of the coronavirus pandemic, some so-called ‘experts’ seem to be running the show as government officials worldwide, at all levels, control of businesses and citizens to degrees hitherto unheard-of except where socialism/communism rules. IS God sovereign in this mess?

If the answer to that question is “yes”, it must mean that God is sovereign over the decisions of the President of the United States, over the laws passed by Congress, and even over the decisions reached by the Supreme Court. God is even sovereign over the Internal Revenue Service. God is sovereign over kings and kingdoms. If this is true, then we need to believe that every king, every person in a position of political power, is there by divine appointment (see Romans 13:1-2). This means that we owe such authorities our respect, our obedience, and our taxes, unless any of these specifically require us to disobey God (Romans 13:1-7). It means that the laws, decisions, and decrees they make—even those which punish or persecute the saints—have a divine purpose. We may be required to disobey government, like Daniel and his three friends, but only when obeying that government would require us to disobey God. In the chaos and wickedness of our day, let us not lose sight of the fact that God is sovereign in history, and sovereign even over pagan powers.

__________________

Portions of the above were adapted from Let Me See Thy Glory – A Study in the Attributes of God by Bob Deffenbaugh,

Sharing Christ in a Hostile Culture, Pt. 4 – How’s Your Weep?

In Part 1 of this series of articles, Be Available, we shared real examples of how doors seem to just ‘open up’ for sharing the message of the gospel, and what can happen when there’s a willing and available gospel messenger ‘on location’.

In Part 2, Situational Awareness, we compared our ‘Situation’ as believers in Christ – our status, and true citizenship, with our condition (situation) before repenting of sin and believing Christ.

In Part 3, Our Duty, Our Great Privilege, Our Highest Calling, the focus was on understanding the nature of the believer’s role in sharing Christ with the world around us.

This fourth article of the series has to do with maintaining a heartfelt burden for the lost around us, thus the title “How’s Your Weep?” That title came to mind thinking about something that happened quite some time ago (30 years?) in Ft. Ord, California.

I was attending the Defense Language Institute in Monterrey, CA studying Polish and living on Ft. Ord. I had connected with the Ft. Ord chapel community and was involved in a small group weekly Bible study. During one of those evening studies (I don’t remember the exact topic), one of the young soldiers in attendance, with a look of sadness in her eyes, uttered a very simple yet profound statement:

“I’ve lost my weep!”

She was talking about her burden for lost souls. Something in our discussion that evening had triggered her sentiment. She seemed to have realized in that moment that while she once had a deep burden for the lost, for some reason it had gone by the wayside. Determined to find it again she took time off from work to get alone with God and learn to ‘weep’ again.

Hers was not an uncommon experience with Christians. We remember a time when we shared our faith, not only with excitement over what God has done in saving us, but also with a heartfelt burden for the lost with whom we live and work every day. That burden comes from knowing and understanding the dire straits of all who are living apart from Christ – “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” is how the great theologian, Jonathan Edwards described it.

Then ‘life’ happens and our burden for lost souls diminishes. Perhaps it’s the hectic pace of our jobs or scholastic endeavors. Family situations might demand more and more of us. Our social lives and desire for acceptance often distract us. And of course, there’s the possibility that some of those with whom you would share Christ are complete jerks! (in temporal terms). And the list of distractions (excuses?) can go on and on forever

Then one day you realize, like the young lady at our Bible study, that something is wrong. Sure, you share Jesus with others, but without the intense burden you once had for their souls. Maybe you’ve never experienced such a burden. So how can you find what you lost? How can you discover what you might never have had?

You can get away and get alone with God, like the young lady at our Bible study. You can pray and get into the word. Those are rather broad suggestions. Can we narrow it down a bit? We’ll try.

First, revisit and remember your own condition before you encountered Jesus as your savior and lord. Apart from Christ we were:

  • Dead in trespasses and sin, disobedient, under Satan’s control, concerned only with our own passions, and by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3)
  • Enemies of God and unable to please God (Romans 8:7-8)
  • Unable to even understand the things of God (1 Corinthians 2:14)
  • Slaves of sin (John 8:34)
  • Already condemned (John 3:18)

That’s the short list, trust me. REALLY reflect on your condition apart from Christ. Read those passages in context. Let it sink deep into your mind and heart. That was YOU, that was ME! We were completely and utterly hopeless! (Ephesians 2:12).

Did it sink in? REALLY sink in? When it does. . .

Now take ALL of that and apply it to the lost all around you – to co-workers, family and friends, acquaintances, passersby. Even if they’re jerks.

As a final note, we’re not saying you must have a deep concern for or physically weep over lost souls to be an effective witness for Christ. Far from it. But just as Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37-39), and Paul had a great love and burden for his fellow Jews (Romans 9:1-9), a genuine heartfelt burden for those to we share Christ will add a sincerity that will be unmistakable to the ears and hearts of our hearers!

Be blessed!