Biblical Doctrine and Extrabiblical Terminology

by Mike Riccardi

John-Owen-PortraitDuring the Arian controversy of the fourth century, the Arians employed many arguments against the doctrines of the Trinity and the Deity of Christ. Perhaps one of the most popular arguments was that men like Athanasius were using unbiblical terminology to describe the nature of God and the person of Christ. The famous word homoousios — i.e., “same substance,” indicating that the Son was of the same substance of the Father, not merely of similar substance — was nowhere to be found in Scripture, while the Arians insisted upon the “plain sense” of texts like John 14:28, where Jesus confesses, “The Father is greater than I.” In the sixteenth century, the anti-Trinitarian Socinians leveled this same argument against historic orthodoxy. “Trinity” was a word that was absent from the Bible. The Reformed Orthodox were simply imbibing man-made tradition, whereas they (the Socinians) were aiming to be true to Scripture by using strictly biblical language.

John Owen saw it as a personal calling to answer the numerous heresies of Socinianism, and the church has been the richer for his efforts. Early on in his “A Brief Declaration and Vindication of The Doctrine of the Trinity,” Owen answers this common objection, and explains why employing extrabiblical terms like “substance,” “subsistence,” and “Trinity” is not only permissible but necessary for faithful biblical interpretation and theological discussion. He writes:

“And herein [i.e., in discussing the Trinity], as in the application of all other divine truths and mysteries whatever, yea, of all moral commanded duties, use is to be made of such words and expressions as, it may be, are not literally and formally contained in Scripture; but only are, unto our conceptions and apprehensions, expository of what is so contained.

“And to deny the liberty, yea, the necessity hereof, is to deny all interpretation of the Scripture, — all endeavors to express the sense of the words of it unto the understandings of one another; which is, in a word, to render the Scripture itself altogether useless.

“For if it be unlawful for me to speak or write what I conceive to be the sense of the words of the Scripture, and the nature of the thing signified and expressed by them, it is unlawful for me, also, to think or conceive in my mind what is the sense of the words or nature of the things; which to say, is to make brutes of ourselves, and to frustrate the whole design of God in giving unto us the great privilege of his word.

“Wherefore, in the declaration of the doctrine of the Trinity, we may lawfully, nay, we must necessarily, make use of other words, phrases, and expressions than what are literally and syllabically contained in the Scripture, but teach no other things.

“Moreover, whatever is so revealed in the Scripture is no less true and divine as to whatever necessarily followeth thereon, than it is as unto that which is principally revealed and directly expressed. For how far soever the lines be drawn and extended, from truth nothing can follow and ensue but what is true also; and that in the same kind of truth with that which it is derived and deduced from. For if the principal assertion be a truth of divine revelation, so is also whatever is included therein, and which may be rightly from thence collected.

“Hence it follows, that when the Scripture reveals the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost to be one God, seeing it necessarily and unavoidably follows thereon that they are one in essence (wherein alone it is possible they can be one), and three in their distinct subsistences (wherein alone it is possible they can be three), — this is no less of divine revelation than the first principle from whence these things follow.”

Several comments are worth making.

Necessary for the Refutation of Error

First, Owen notes that, not just in Trinitarian discussions, but in “all other divine truths and mysteries whatever,” it’s necessary to use terminology that doesn’t appear in Scripture in order to explain precisely what Scripture does and does not mean by the terminology it does use. As soon as a teacher of error invests biblical terminology with a meaning that Scripture does not intend, they have made it necessary for the defenders of truth to use language that is not used in Scripture to distinguish the genuine biblical sense of the terms in question.

The Arians insisted that Scripture’s description of the Son as “begotten” and “firstborn” meant that the Son had a beginning, since, with respect to human relations, the “plain sense” of these terms imply origination. In order to explain why that was not the case, Athanasius, Augustine, and others employed extrabiblical terminology to explain the genuine meaning of the biblical terms. Begottenness, for the eternal relations between Father and Son, didn’t imply origination, but the Father’s eternal communication of the divine essence to the personal subsistence of the Son. Scripture doesn’t speak of “essence” and “subsistences” in any explicit fashion, but these terms are employed to best capture what Scripture does say and distinguish it from false teaching.

This is Simply the Task of Interpretation

Second, note how this practice is absolutely essential to any biblical interpretation whatsoever. “To deny the liberty, yea, the necessity hereof, is to deny all interpretation of the Scripture.” If employing extrabiblical terminology to describe biblical truth is somehow always polluting the purity of exegesis with the the “human reasoning” of “theology,” then we’d have to jettison not only our theology books, but also our Bible commentaries, historical sources, and lexicons, and prohibit our pastors from saying anything from behind the pulpit beyond the reading of Scripture. Any commentary on biblical truth involves using words not used in the text.

Anchored to the Text

Third, observe how Owen is explicitly concerned that one anchor extrabiblical terminology in the text of Scripture itself. Though these terms might not be found explicitly in the text, they are nevertheless “expository of what is so contained.” We are aiming to express “the sense of the words” of Scripture. We use words other than what are in Scripture, but which “teach no other things” than what are in Scripture. Owen is not some systematician running roughshod over the biblical text; if nothing else, his two-million-word exegetical commentary on the Book of Hebrews ought to qualify him as an exegete. No, it’s his love for Scripture and his genuine concern that the author’s intent be preserved pristine that drives him to this practice. Theological deduction must always be moored to the text.

The Legitimacy of Deduction

Fourth, he makes the excellent observation that the logical implications of a divinely revealed truth are no less divinely revealed nor less true than the principle from which it’s deduced. Some interpreters who tend to be wary of the legitimacy of systematic theology get uneasy if there are too many levels of argument or inference from a particular truth of Scripture. If there are more than three if-then statements in a theological argument, it must not be biblical. But that’s just simply not true. If A is proven to be a scriptural truth, and if the rest of scriptural testimony along with the laws of logic demand that A implies B, and B implies C, and so on through to Z, Z is no less biblical than A. Or, as the Westminster Confession puts it, “The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture” (1.6). That which is deduced “by good and necessary consequence” is no less biblical than that which is “expressly set down in Scripture.”

*     *     *     *     *

And so, the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity — which is summarized by the confession that God is one, and that this one God eternally subsists in three co-equal and consubstantial persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, which persons, though distinct from one another, each fully possess the undivided divine essence — is not an unbiblical concoction devised by human reasoning and philosophical speculation. It is biblical, even though the words “Trinity” and “essence” and “subsistence” don’t appear in Scripture. By teaching that God is one, and that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God, Scripture shuts us up to Trinitarianism. That we have to borrow metaphysical language to explain the scriptural realities makes those realities no less scriptural.

As you interpret Scripture and aim to faithfully hold the parts together into a coherent whole, don’t get caught up in the crass biblicism of the likes of the Arians and Socinians, because, ironically, that would be unbiblical.

The Word-less “Church”

from W. Robert Godfrey

 

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Many American churches are in a mess. Theologically they are indifferent, confused, or dangerously wrong. Liturgically they are the captives of superficial fads. Morally they live lives indistinguishable from the world. They often have a lot of people, money, and activities. But are they really churches, or have they degenerated into peculiar clubs?

What has gone wrong? At the heart of the mess is a simple phenomenon: the churches seem to have lost a love for and confidence in the Word of God. They still carry Bibles and declare the authority of the Scriptures. They still have sermons based on Bible verses and still have Bible study classes. But not much of the Bible is actually read in their services. Their sermons and studies usually do not examine the Bible to see what it thinks is important for the people of God. Increasingly they treat the Bible as tidbits of poetic inspiration, of pop psychology, and of self-help advice. Congregations where the Bible is ignored or abused are in the gravest peril. Churches that depart from the Word will soon find that God has departed from them.

What solution does the Bible teach for this sad situation? The short but profound answer is given by Paul in Colossians 3:16: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” We need the Word to dwell in us richly so that we will know the truths that God thinks are most important and so that we will know His purposes and priorities. We need to be concerned less about “felt-needs” and more about the real needs of lost sinners as taught in the Bible.

Paul not only calls us here to have the Word dwell in us richly, but shows us what that rich experience of the Word looks like. He shows us that in three points. (Paul was a preacher, after all.)

First, he calls us to be educated by the Word, which will lead us on to ever-richer wisdom by “teaching and admonishing one another.” Paul is reminding us that the Word must be taught and applied to us as a part of it dwelling richly in us. The church must encourage and facilitate such teaching whether in preaching, Bible studies, reading, or conversations. We must be growing in the Word.

It is not just information, however, that we are to be gathering from the Word. We must be growing in a knowledge of the will of God for us: “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Col. 1:9). Knowing the will of God will make us wise and in that wisdom we will be renewed in the image of our Creator, an image so damaged by sin: “Put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (3:10).

This wisdom will also reorder our priorities and purposes, from that which is worldly to that which is heavenly: “The hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of truth, the gospel” (1:5). When that Word dwells in us richly we can be confident that we know the full will of God: “I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known” (1:25). From the Bible we know all that we need for salvation and godliness.

Second, Paul calls us to expressing the Word from ever-renewed hearts in our “singing.” Interestingly, Paul connects the Word dwelling in us richly with singing. He reminds us that singing is an invaluable means of placing the truth of God deep in our minds and hearts. I have known of elderly Christians far gone with Alzheimer’s disease who can still sing songs of praise to God. Singing also helps connect truth to our emotions. It helps us experience the encouragement and assurance of our faith: “That their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2:2–3).

The importance of singing, of course, makes the content of our songs vital. If we sing shallow, repetitive songs, we will not be hiding much of the Word in our hearts. But if we sing the Word itself in its fullness and richness, we will be making ourselves rich indeed. We need to remember that God has given us a book of songs, the Psalter, to help us in our singing.

Third, Paul calls us to remember the effect of the Word to make us a people with ever-ready “thanksgiving.” Three times in Colossians 3:15–17 Paul calls us to thankfulness. When the “word of Christ” dwells in us richly, we will be led on to lives of gratitude. As we learn and contemplate all that God has done for us in creation, providence, and redemption, we will be filled with thanksgiving. As we recall His promises of forgiveness, renewal, preservation, and glory, we will live as a truly thankful people.

We need the word of Christ to dwell in us richly today more than ever. Then churches may escape being a mess and become the radiant body of Christ as God intended.

This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine.

from W. Robert Godfrey

What is kenosis?

From GotQuestions.com

Question: “What is the kenosis?”

Answer: The term kenosis comes from the Greek word for the doctrine of Christ’s self-emptying in His incarnation. The kenosis was a self-renunciation, not an emptying Himself of deity nor an exchange of deity for humanity. Philippians 2:7 tells us that Jesus “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” Jesus did not cease to be God during His earthly ministry. But He did set aside His heavenly glory of a face-to-face relationship with God. He also set aside His independent authority. During His earthly ministry, Christ completely submitted Himself to the will of the Father.

As part of the kenosis, Jesus sometimes operated with the limitations of humanity (John 4:6; 19:28). God does not get tired or thirsty. Matthew 24:36 tells us, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” We might wonder if Jesus was God, how could He not know everything, as God does (Psalm 139:1-6)? It seems that while Jesus was on earth, He surrendered the use of some of His divine attributes. Jesus was still perfectly holy, just, merciful, gracious, righteous, and loving – but to varying degrees Jesus was not omniscient or omnipotent.

However, when it comes to the kenosis, we often focus too much on what Jesus gave up. The kenosis also deals with what Christ took on. Jesus added to Himself a human nature and humbled Himself. Jesus went from being the glory of glories in Heaven to being a human being who was put to death on the cross. Philippians 2:7-8 declares, “taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” In the ultimate act of humility, the God of the universe became a human being and died for His creation. The kenosis, therefore, is Christ taking on a human nature with all of its limitations, except with no sin.

Recommended Resource: Jesus: The Greatest Life of All by Charles Swindoll

Why is this important?

Well, there are a number of ministries that teach a ‘kenotic’ view of Jesus. They tell us that All that Jesus did in his ministry years he did as a man filled with the Holy Spirit, but is not as God. They would have us believe that because Jesus operated as a spirit filled man, Spirit filled believers should also be walking around performing sighs and wonders as a normal part of our Christian lives. There is an excellent article here that discusses kenosis and provides a Biblical and theological answer to the doctrine. It s well worth reading.

Despicable Me: Total Depravity – TULIP Pt 1

by Clint Archer

Calvinism is a word that I believe would make John Calvin roll over in his grave. His life and ministry were marked by a passion for the centrality of the glory of God. He was so effective in showing from the Scriptures that God is central to everything, that the very concept became wedded to his name— Calvinism. But he would have called it “theocentrism.”

clip_image002[3]Calvin was born in 1509, making him eight years old when Luther nailed the 95 theses on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg that sparked the Reformation flame, 500 years ago this month.

We know very little about Calvin himself because, in a self-conscious effort to minimize his fame, he almost never referred to himself in any of his voluminous writings or revealed any personal details in his sermons. We do know that he possessed a brilliant mind, was fluent in five languages, published his first book at age 23, and at 27 wrote what has become arguably the most influential and respected theological work ever penned: Institutes of the Christian Religion.

Calvin believed it was his calling to proclaim the glory of God to a world that had been in ignorance of the Bible during the Dark Ages. So he worked constantly at teaching lectures and Bible studies, writing commentaries and articles, and preaching hundreds of sermons every year. He never rested from this task, contributing to his early death at age 54. His prolific output made him known as “a bow always strung.”

As is so often the case with effective instruments in God’s hands, Calvin’s life was marked with much suffering. He had tremendous and constant physical pain due to kidney stones, stomach aches, coughing fits that spat blood, migraines, gout, and hemorrhoids. He controlled the agony by eating only one, small meal a day and injecting milk into his bloodstream. One month he was so ill that he took the closest thing to sick leave he knew how—he described his convalescing this way:

Apart from the sermons and the lectures, there is a month gone by in which I have scarce done anything, in such a wise I am almost ashamed to live thus useless.”  He had delivered only twenty sermons and lectures that month!

Like his Savior, Calvin was acquainted with emotional suffering. In 1541 he married an Anabaptist widow, Idelette who had two children. In the seven years that followed he lost three babies and his wife, leaving him with two teenage step-children whom he raised as a single parent.

To give you a taste of his unshakeable trust in God’s sovereignty Calvin wrote after his first infant died:

The Lord has certainly inflicted a severe and bitter wound in the death of our baby son. But he is himself a father and knows best what is good for his children.”

He was banished from his Geneva on multiple occasions. He was slandered, maligned, and threatened almost daily. He was also constantly hounded by death threats and mobs gathering outside his house, firing shots. But Calvin was immovably committed to the verse by verse exposition of Scripture. He never took a break for topical studies or special occasions, including Christmas and Easter!

He wrote:

Let the pastors boldly dare all things by the word of God….Let them constrain all the power, glory, and excellence of the world to give place to and to obey the divine majesty of this word. Let them enjoin everyone by it, from the highest to the lowest. Let them edify the body of Christ. Let them devastate Satan’s reign. Let them pasture the sheep, kill the wolves, instruct and exhort the rebellious. Let them bind and loose thunder and lightning, if necessary, but let them do all according to the word of God.”

This became the standard of the Reformation.

Throughout October, each Monday, we will look at the five points of Calvinism, also called the doctrines of grace, and sometimes known by the acronym TULIP.

Today we examine the first point of five – the T in TULIP.

TOTAL DEPRAVITY or COMPLETE INABILITY of man

It is important to understand what is being claimed by the term Total Depravity. As authors David N. Steele and Curtis C. Thomas put it…

The adjective ‘total’ does not mean that each sinner is as totally or completely corrupt in his actions and thought as it is possible for him to be. Instead the word ‘total’ is used to indicate that the whole of man’s being has been affected by sin. The corruption extends to every part of man: his body, his soul…his mind, his will.”

So total depravity is not believing that everyone is as despicable as they can be, but that every part of the human (significantly including their reasoning, will, desires, and ability to process truth) has been tainted by original sin.

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People do restrain their behavior if they fear consequence, are educated, have been raised well, etc. While some people are incredibly evil, sadistic, murderous, others are very sweet, kind, and loving. But even in “good people” sin has tainted their thinking at some level, preventing them from coming to saving knowledge without God’s supernatural intervention.

Anything we give God is imbued with a twinge of sin. Like moneybags with ink bombs in them. When the robber opens the bag, the ink bomb stains the bills so they can be traced. Even a tiny spec of ink corrupts the cash and makes it unusable.

Westminster Confession:

Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man…is not able by his own strength to convert himself or prepare himself thereunto.

So, sin is universal in extensiveness and intensiveness: it has spread to all people, and to every part of each person.

Calvin:

Man with all his shrewdness is as stupid about understanding by himself the mysteries of God, as an ass is incapable of understanding musical harmony.

Rom 3:10-12, 14-28, 23 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one;  no one understands; [mental/spiritual ability] no one seeks [will] for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one…  “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”  “Their feet are swift to shed blood…   and the way of peace they have not known.”  “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”…  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Rom 8: 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.

If I offered you 10 million bucks to stop speaking, it would be difficult, but possible. If I offered you 10 million bucks if you stopped thinking, you could not do it. Or if I offered you salvation if you stopped sinning, you could never do it. Why? Because sinning is in your nature.

Jer 13: 23 Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.

Jer 17:9 the heart is deceitful above all else and desperately sick, who can understand it?

If you wanted to stop sinning, what part of your being would you employ? Your heart or thinking or will.  But Jeremiah says you can’t use your heart to clean your heart. Because it is tainted by the sin too. That is like trying to wipe a spot of gravy off your sofa with an oily rag.

1 Cor 2: 14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand [complete inability] them because they are spiritually discerned.

It’s like trying to pick up cable TV without a decoder. Or play a CD on a record player. A sinner does not have the mental equipment to believe the gospel in a saving way.

What’s the APPLICATION?

When you evangelize, you don’t try to appeal to the person’s reason alone. Proof alone will never convince anyone. It is God’s power that will make them believe. We need to pray for God’s intervention.

When someone comes to Christ, we give God all the glory. We don’t congratulate them on making the right choice, we glorify God for changing their mind and heart.

We can make this world better by education and police and democracy. I agree. But we cannot make people better. Only the gospel can do that.

And that is the doctrine of Total Depravity.

Can you think of any other applications to our lives?

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Clint Archer  has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.

The New Apostolic Reformation An Examination of the Five-Fold Ministries

By Pastor Gary Gilley, Southern View  Gospel & Think on These Things Ministries (TOTT)

TOTT Ministries publishes really well written articles concerning contemporary issues facing today’s church. The two most recent articles address the topic of this blog post. They represent a careful and honest  examination of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR)  covering NAR’s

  • Historical Roots and Foundation,
  • Theological Distinctives,
  • Infiltration into Mainstream Evangelicalism,
  • A Biblical Examination,
  • and Conclusion

All of the information in these articles is carefully presented and referenced in great detail. Due to the length of the material it is not practical to post them in their entirety in this blog. Instead, I offer you the linked to the online articles:

The New Apostolic Reformation An Examination of the Five-Fold Ministries Part 1

The New Apostolic Reformation An Examination of the Five-Fold Ministries Part 2

Whether you recognize the term NAR or not,  You will recognize many of NAR’s theological distinctives, as well as the names of well know NAR proponents.

I pray that God will bless your reading!

Physical Healing And The Atonement of Christ

I recently read the testimony of someone who just started believing that healing is in Christ’s Atonement. I am thrilled and will always praise God when someone receives healing, whether it be through the God given talents of the medical community, naturally built in healing properties of the human body, and of course through prayer!

The question before us is whether or not physical healing is promised in the Atonement of Christ. It is my contention that it is not. I will set forth my reasoning from an identical portion of scripture used to say that it is. Turn first to Isaiah 53:5 in which we read:

“And by his stripes we are healed.”

That portion of scripture seems to be the lynch pin of the ‘there’s healing in the atonement argument. Some go so far as to claim that since Christ received 39 stripes and since there are 39 main groups of sickness/disease, that proves it! But does it?

Let’s look at ALL of verse 5:

“But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.” (Isa 53:4-5)

Notice that in the very same verse, immediately preceding the portion taken out of context we find out exactly why Christ was wounded, as well as from what we are ‘healed’:

“But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.”

Simple rules of grammar tell us that it was because of our transgressions and iniquities that he suffered. To assert that physical healing was also provided for is to add to the text what is not there. That’s called eisegesis.

If physical healing / divine health is in the atonement and can be experienced by having enough faith,

  • Why did the Apostle Paul tell young Timothy to have an occasional drink of wine for his (Timothy’s) stomach troubles?
  • Why did Paul pray three times for the ‘thorn in the flesh’ to be removed, yet God told him “my grace is sufficient for you” but did not heal him.
  • Why did James encourage the sick to be prayed for by the elders of the church and not just counsel the sick to exercise their own faith?

Having said all that, which should be sufficient, let’s assume that healing IS part of the atonement. We are presented with a couple of issues we must think through.

1. Since salvation from sin is received by grace through faith, it’s quite logical to assert that physical healing is appropriated in the same manner – by grace through faith. In fact, those that teach healing as part of the atonement often make that very claim – that faith in the ‘healing promise’ is all you need. And that leads to a second issue.

2. If a believer has sufficient faith for salvation, but still suffers from sickness once in a while, or still has a disease, he/she is lacking strong enough faith to shed the physical illness. And that brings up the subject of the source of believing faith. Does it come from God, or is it something inherent to all of us from the day we are born? But that’s another subject, deserving of its own discussion. Back to our assumption that healing is part of the atonement and the matter of ‘levels’ of faith.

3. When the assumption is accepted there are two groups affected by it. First there are those who who sit in the pews (or auditorium seats). They sit there, subject to the ‘stuff’ of life, including sickness and disease, from which they want relief. Let’s call them the ‘sheep’. Then we have the preachers and teachers who tell the sheep that with enough faith they can be completely healed, and even walk in a state of ‘divine’ health the rest of their lives. It’s all up to the sheep and the strength of their faith. Let’s call this second group ‘wolves in sheep suits’.

The wolves know they have a steady stream of finances from those who are trying to build up enough faith to be healed, who are holding on to hope. Promise the sheep hope and they’ll keep coming back, for healing as well as a lot of other things that are part of their ‘best life now’. Some of the wolves even tie the promised healing to a mandatory tithe being given to their establishments. No tithe, no blessing.

I must confess that some years ago we believed that physical healing was indeed part of the atonement. That’s what we were being taught in the Charismatic church we attended. And to this day, I don’t consider the Pastor of that church to be the sort of ‘wolf’ described above. Deceived sheep become pastors. They did then and they do now.

Some genuine believers will die of sickness and disease still believing they just didn’t have enough faith to be healed. Shame on the wolves. They will be judged.

Does God still heal, even miraculously? YES! God heals whenever, however, and whomever he wants. It’s just not part and parcel of Christ’s Atonement. That was about human sin.

I rest my case.

Five tulips in one field: Revelation 13:8-10

by Jesse Johnson

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The “five points of Calvinism” are a mnemonic approach to understanding the complexity of our salvation. The doctrine of salvation can seem complicated because it incorporates hamartiology (the effects of sin on a person’s nature), Christology (the nature of Christ), theology proper (the sovereignty of God), and pneumatology (the work of the Holy Spirit). To put it another way, our salvation intersects with just about every major area of theology, and the five-points help us understand what exactly is going on when God saves us.

The five-points are often presented in an acronym form (T-U-L-I-P), and that is fitting because the whole point of extracting these five particular points of emphasis is to help us think memorably about salvation. While they are called the five points of Calvinism, they were not designed by John Calvin—although they do reflect some of the emphasis of his ministry, it is unfair to his legacy to confine it to the five points.

While the five points themselves were identified in the 1600’s, the acronym T-U-L-I-P didn’t come into use until the 1900’s in the United States (say what you will about Americans, but we are good at acronyms).

A common push back against the five points is to claim that they are an invention of man, and are not found in the Bible. In a limited sense I grant that is true: the phrase “total depravity’ is not in the Bible (nor is I suppose is “theology”), but the concepts themselves are obviously biblical, and there is no shortage of resources that make strong cases for them (like this long-form article on Desiring God, or an 8-part Grace To You series, or a 30-minute John MacArthur video).

But this year, I stumbled across a new (to me) approach to the five points. In studying for a sermon on Revelation 13:8-10, I realized that all five points are represented in this single concise passage:

All who dwell on the earth will worship the beast, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain. If anyone has an ear, let him hear.  If anyone is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he must be killed. Here is the perseverance and the faith of the saints.

T—Total Depravity

“All who dwell on the earth will worship the beast.” John declares that during the tribulation, every human will worship the beast, and by extension, the antichrist. Revelation 13:7 expressly says that it will include people from every ethnic group, language group, and nation. Verse 16 says that “all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave” will worship the antichrist. In other words, every human has the capacity to worship the devil and believe his lies.

It’s not just that humans are sinners. Total depravity means that we worship that which is evil. Nor is this confined to some future eschatological judgment on earth. Back before the flood God had already said that “every inclination of people’s hearts is only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). Total Depravity doesn’t mean that people are as evil as they could be, but it does mean that every one of their actions, inclinations, and desires are all corrupted by sin; so much so that they will worship the antichrist, were he on earth. You could say it this way: there is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who seeks for God; all have turned their own way.

This depravity is exactly what makes our salvation necessary.

U-Unconditional Election

“Everyone whose name has not been written from before the foundation of the world in the book of life.” While everyone is born depraved, and with the inclination toward worshiping the devil’s lies, that is not the end of the story. There is a sub-group of people that will be rescued from this, and they all have one thing in common: their names were written by God before the world was even created.

If you are a Christian, marvel that before your parents even met, God already knew you by name. Before our country was formed, before God spoke light into darkness, he knew you, and he knew you by name.

He didn’t know you because he saw that would do something good in your life. Rather, before you were “even born, or had done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose in election might stand,” God wrote the names down of the people whom he would save.

He didn’t write everyone’s name down. Also, he didn’t write family names, or church names, or nation’s names. That’s because he doesn’t save nations, churches or families—he saves people, people whom he has known before they were even alive.

John presents this book as the causal effect for why one group of people does not worship the antichrist. There will be lots of differences between them and the rest of humanity (holiness, purity, worship, faith, etc.). But none of those are presented as the causal difference. John instead identifies this book with names as what separates those who will be saved from those that will perish resisting the gospel. And this book was written before anyone was born.

This election is what makes our salvation possible.

L-Limited Atonement

“..the book of life of the Lamb that was slain.” While I prefer the phrase “definite atonement” or “particular redemption,” those would mess up the acronym, so we are stuck with limited atonement, which is probably the most controversial of the five points.

But when you look at the book John sees, you see one of the places this doctrine comes from. The book is titled “The Book of Life,” and the copyright date is “before Day 1.” The content is a list of names. But closer inspection reveals that this book has a subtitle: “The Book of Life: of the Lamb that was slain.”

The book which describes whom God will save was written in light of the means by which God would save them. Jesus did not simply die a generic death for people everywhere, but a specific death to take away the punishment for the sins of specific, named people.

The Lamb indicates that the death was substitutionary and efficacious. Jesus’ death was in our place, and was effective at removing the sins of all for whom he died—even the sin of unbelief. In fact, once the Lamb died, our salvation was so accomplished that Jesus himself could declare, “It is finished!” (John 19:30).

The atonement is what accomplishes our salvation.

I- Irresistible Grace

“If anyone has an ear, let him hear.” John inserts a refrain from the seven letters (Revelation 2-3), which serves as an appeal for those who are spiritual to see the spiritual truth which he is describing. And of course this is an adaptation of Jesus’ own explanation of why he taught in parables: “So that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven” (Mark 4:12).

If Jesus accomplished our salvation at the cross, how come people whose names are in the book of life spend much of their lives running from God and rejecting the gospel? Because of their depravity they are unwilling to turn and be saved, and this remains until God gives them spiritual ears to hear. This is called regeneration, and it has the effect of opening a person’s eyes to the truth, so that they can turn and be saved.

This happens in time, through the preaching of the word and the gift of faith. It is a work of the Holy Spirit (John 3:8), and it results in a person able to hear spiritual truth through their faith (1 Corinthians 1:182 Corinthians 2:15, 4:3).

This grace is what makes our salvation a reality.

P—Perseverance of the Saints

“If anyone is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he must be killed. Here is the perseverance and the faith of the saints.” John now quotes Jeremiah 15:1-6, which was Yahweh’s response to Jeremiah’s question. Yahweh told Jeremiah to evacuate Jerusalem, and the question was, “where, exactly, should they all go?”

God’s proposed destinations were less than encouraging. He said that some of them could be killed by the beasts, some by birds, some by famine, and some by plagues. In short, if God wants them to go to jail, to jail they will go. If he has chosen some of them for death by the sword, then by the sword they will die.

What is that reference doing in Revelation 13? Well for Christians under the antichrist’s reign of terror, they too might wonder “Where should we go?” The answer is simple: God has already chosen each person’s end. Some the antichrist will throw in jail, and some he will kill with the sword. But despite their martyrdom, the antichrist cannot take their salvation away. They may die a martyr’s death, but their names cannot be removed from the book of life. The cannot take Jesus off the cross, and he cannot take the Spirit out of believer’s hearts. And because their names are in the book, and Jesus did die for their sins, and they do have spiritual ears to hear, then they will overcome. Or, as John says, “this is the perseverance of the saints.”

Such a promise encourages believers to hold onto the grace that is holding onto them. It compels us to trust God even in the midst of horrific persecution.

This perseverance is what makes our salvation a certainty.

Taken together, these verses explain salvation by showing:

The condition that required it (depravity)

The predestination that allows it (election)

The substitution that achieves it (atonement)

The illumination that gives it (regenerative grace)

The sovereignty that keeps it (perseverance).

Source: The Cripplegate