The Thought Lives of Believers and the Building up of The Body

In his final remarks to the church in Philippi, the Apostle Paul said this:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” – Phil 4:8

Perhaps more than any other passage in scripture, this verse has meant more to me personally in guiding my thought life. It tells me what the overall ‘character’ of my thought life should be, regardless of the situation I am in, as well as how I should ‘direct’ my thought life when my fleshly mind wants to do otherwise.

I’ve found it quite easy at times to dwell on perceived and actual wrongs that have come our way to the extent that I’ve become personally discouraged and bitter; become angry toward the ‘perpetrator’ and asked God to let me be the instrument of His vengeance.

The above passage tells me to think about, focus on good things. This does not mean that I should just let wrongs go and not seek ‘justice’ for those wronged. There is a system of Biblical church discipline for such matters as well as a civil court system, both ordained of God for the purpose of ‘righting wrongs’.

I believe there is great danger, both personally and for the body of Christ, when we begin to focus on the wrong and not on what good for the Glory of God can be accomplished in hard situations. As believers, we are to be about the building up of the body of Christ. We have given gifts just for that purpose – to build up the body of Christ.

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” – Ephesians 4:11-12

We are instructed concerning ‘gifts of the Spirit’ in 1 Corinthians 12; that they are for the ‘common good’ :

4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

Whatever we think about offices in the church and spiritual gifts, Paul makes it very clear in both passages that they are given and empowered by the Holy Spirit to equally important members of the church who occupy different offices and perform different functions in the body, a;working together to build up the body.

What has this t do with our thought lives? I’m so glad you asked!

I’ve never become bitter about a wrong done (to myself or others) without my thinking being the first step toward wanting to be an instrument of God’s vengeance upon persons guilty of wrong. All I have to do is focus on the evil wrongdoing and the want to have that wrong righted. And I must say that it’s not too difficult to find passages of scripture to support my desire, although I need to take them out of the context of God’s redemptive plan and/or read into them (eisegete) God’s permission for my sinful emotions and even a ‘holy crusade’ for justice.

On the other hand, while there might have been great wrong done, if I focus, as Paul teaches us, on whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, and whatever is worthy of praise I can avoid falling off of a path leading to restoration and redemption, which is God’s ideal; and leave the ‘justice’ element to appropriately applied church discipline and whatever God ordained civil court system is in place, and ultimately to God himself.

In short, regarding the church, the very Bride of Christ, I can either be a ‘body builder’ or a ‘wrecking ball’. Which one am I? When there are wrongs done or ‘sin in the camp’, how do I respond? I could ignore it and keep my head stuck in the sand, pretending it isn’t happening. I could decide to hunt down the criminals, expose them to the world as both judge and jury, or I could pray that God take care of the justice and be an agent or reconciliation and redemption.

The question is, am I a ‘body builder’ or ‘wrecking ball’? Dear Christian, which one are you?

Food for thought early on a Sunday morning.

Christian Values Cannot Save Anyone

Tuesday, September 11, 2012, Al Mohler

A recent letter to columnist Carolyn Hax of The Washington Post seemed straightforward enough. “I am a stay-at-home mother of four who has tried to raise my family under the same strong Christian values that I grew up with,” the woman writes. “Therefore I was shocked when my oldest daughter, ‘Emily,’ suddenly announced she had ‘given up believing in God’ and decided to ‘come out’ as an atheist.”

The idea of a 16-year-old atheist in the house would be enough to alarm any Christian parent, and rightly so. The thought that a secular advice columnist for The Washington Post might be the source of help seems very odd, but desperation can surely lead a parent to seek help almost anywhere.

You usually get what you expect from an advice columnist like this — therapeutic counsel based in a secular worldview and a deep commitment to personal autonomy. Carolyn Hax responds to this mother with an admonition to respect the integrity of her daughter’s declaration of non-belief. She adds, “Parents can and should teach their beliefs and values, but when a would-be disciple stops believing, it’s not a ‘decision’ or ‘choice’ to ‘reject’ church or family or tradition or virtue or whatever else has hitched a cultural ride with faith.”

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That is patent nonsense, of course. Declarations of adolescent unbelief often are exactly what Hax argues they are not: rejections of “church or family or tradition or virtue.” Hax does offer some legitimate insights, suggesting that honesty is to be preferred to dishonesty and that such adolescent statements are often indications of a phase of intellectual questioning or just trying on a personality for style.

Hax then tells this distraught mother that she “didn’t throw out what my childhood, including my church, taught me; I still apply what I believe in. I just apply it to a secular life.” In other words, Hax asserts that she maintains many of the values she learned as a child in church, and simply applies these values now to a secular life.

“How can I help my daughter see that she is making a serious mistake with her life if she chooses to reject her God and her faith?,” the mother asks. Hax tells the mother to accept the daughter’s atheism and get over her “disappointment that she isn’t turning out just as you envisioned.”

What else would you expect a secular columnist who operates from a secular worldview to say?

The real problem does not lie with Carolyn Hax’s answer, however, but with the mother’s question. The problem appears at the onset, when the mother states that she has “tried to raise my family under the same strong Christian values that I grew up with.”

Christian values are the problem. Hell will be filled with people who were avidly committed to Christian values. Christian values cannot save anyone and never will. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not a Christian value, and a comfortability with Christian values can blind sinners to their need for the gospel.

This one sentence may not accurately communicate this mother’s understanding, but it appears to be perfectly consistent with the larger context of her question and the source of the advice she sought.

Parents who raise their children with nothing more than Christian values should not be surprised when their children abandon those values. If the child or young person does not have a firm commitment to Christ and to the truth of the Christian faith, values will have no binding authority, and we should not expect that they would. Most of our neighbors have some commitment to Christian values, but what they desperately need is salvation from their sins. This does not come by Christian values, no matter how fervently held. Salvation comes only by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Human beings are natural-born moralists, and moralism is the most potent of all the false gospels. The language of “values” is the language of moralism and cultural Protestantism — what the Germans called Kulturprotestantismus. This is the religion that produces cultural Christians, and cultural Christianity soon dissipates into atheism, agnosticism, and other forms of non-belief. Cultural Christianity is the great denomination of moralism, and far too many church folk fail to recognize that their own religion is only cultural Christianity — not the genuine Christian faith.

The language of values is all that remains when the substance of belief disappears. Tragically, many churches seem to perpetuate their existence by values, long after they abandon the faith.

We should not pray for Christian morality to disappear or for Christian values to evaporate. We should not pray to live in Sodom or in Vanity Fair. But a culture marked even by Christian values is in desperate need of evangelism, and that evangelism requires the knowledge that Christian values and the gospel of Jesus Christ are not the same thing.

I pray that this young woman and her mother find common hope and confidence in the salvation that comes only through Christ — not by Christian values. Otherwise, we are facing far more than a young woman “making a serious mistake with her life.” We are talking about what matters for eternity. Christian values cannot save anyone.

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Sanctification: Whose Work Is It?

By Dr. Charlie Bing, GraceLife Ministries

The Bible commonly uses the term sanctify (The same Greek word is behind the words sanctification, saint, holy) to mean set apart from sin to God, to be holy. A Christian’s sanctification has three aspects: past (positional justification), present (progressive sanctification), and future (perfect glorification). We know that justification and glorification are by God’s grace through faith, not our effort or works. Can we say the same about our present experience of sanctification?

Sanctification is by grace.

Sanctification (we will use the word to mean present progressive sanctification) is by grace because the God who justified us also provides everything we need on the way to our final glorification (Rom. 8:29-32). The three persons of the Godhead all play an active role in our sanctification: The Father (John 17:17; 1 Thes. 5:23), the Son (Eph. 5:26; 1 John 1:7); and the Spirit (Rom. 15:16; 2 Cor. 3:18). God also uses various means for our sanctification such as His Word, His Spirit, the church, trials, and various other experiences. The power of His Holy Spirit that gives us new birth at justification is the same power that sanctifies us through the life of the risen Christ.

Sanctification involves our cooperative response to God’s grace.

Since God supplies the power, sanctification is by grace, but it is not automatic. If it were, it would seem that all Christians would grow at the same rate and none could be held accountable for stagnation or lack of growth. But we know that all Christians do not grow at the same rate or progress to the same degree of holiness. We also know that the Judgment Seat of Christ holds Christians accountable for how they use their lives (Rom. 14:10-12; 2 Cor. 5:9-10), which indicates different degrees of progress in sanctification.

That is why many Bible passages put the onus on the Christian to grow spiritually (eg. Rom. 12:1-2; 2 Peter 3:18). However, the Bible clearly indicates that the Christian must cooperate with God.

1 Corinthians 15:10. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

Philippians 2:12-13. Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

Colossians 1:29. To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.

2 Peter 1:3-4 with 5-6. …His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises …But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control…

An illustration may help understand the cooperation required. For a baby girl to grow, parents must feed her. But it is also true that for a baby girl to grow, she must eat. Both of these statements are true, because a baby’s growth is a cooperative effort.

Sanctification is facilitated through faith.

God’s grace in sanctification is available in the form of every resource we need to grow in Christ. But like eternal salvation, these gracious resources must be accessed through faith.

Romans 5:1-2. Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand …

Galatians 2:20. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

Faith claims and appropriates the power and promises of God that bring spiritual growth.

Conclusion

Every Christian is sanctified by grace from the moment of justification, through present sanctification, to the final state of glorification. But the progress of our present sanctification may vary depending on our faith that accesses the grace God has made available to us in Christ. Sanctification is God’s desire for us (1 Thes. 4:3; Heb. 12:14; 1 Peter 1:14-15), but it is not an automatic act of God, nor is it merely from human effort. Christians are sanctified by God’s grace accessed through faith.


About GraceLife Ministries and Dr. Charlie Bing.

GraceLife Ministries began in 1997 to provide consistent and clear grace-oriented teaching, preaching, and literature resources. Founder and Director Charlie Bing earned his Th.M. and Ph.D. from Dallas Theological Seminary. He pastored Burleson Bible Church in Texas for 19 years before transitioning to GraceLife full-time in 2005. He has served as Adjunct Professor of Biblical Studies for LeTourneau University since 1992 and as President of the Free Grace Alliance since 2006. He is active as a speaker for churches and conferences in the United States and abroad and has published a number of books and articles on the gospel, salvation, evangelism, and discipleship.

To learn more about GraceLife ministries visit the ‘About Us’ page on the Web.

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An Open Letter To Mr. Grace-Loving Antinomian

There seems to be a fear out there that the preaching of radical grace produces serial killers. Or, to put it in more theological terms, too much emphasis on the indicatives of the gospel leads to antinomianism (a lawless version of Christianity that believes the directives and commands of God don’t matter). My problem with this fear is that I’ve never actually met anyone who has been truly gripped by God’s amazing grace in the gospel who then doesn’t care about obeying him. As I have said before: antinomianism happens not when we think too much of grace. Just the opposite, actually. Antinomianism happens when we think too little of grace.

Wondering whether this common fear is valid, my dear friend Elyse Fitzpatrick (in C.S. Lewis fashion) writes an open letter to Mr. Grace-Loving Antinomian–a person she’s heard about for years but never met–asking him to please step forward and identify himself.

Enjoy…

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Dear Mr. Antinomian,

Forgive me for writing to you in such an open forum but I’ve been trying to meet you for years and we just never seem to connect. While it’s true that I live in a little corner of the States and while it’s true that I am, well, a woman, I did assume that I would meet you at some point in my decades old counseling practice. But alas, neither you nor any of your (must be) thousands of brothers and sisters have ever shown up for my help…So again, please do pardon my writing in such a public manner but, you see, I’ve got a few things to say to you and I think it’s time I got them off my chest.

I wonder if you know how hard you’re making it for those of us who love to brag about the gospel. You say that you love the gospel and grace too, but I wonder how that can be possible since it’s been continuously reported to me that you live like such a slug. I’ve even heard that you are lazy and don’t work at obeying God at all…Rather you sit around munching on cigars and Twinkies, brewing beer and watching porn on your computer. Mr. A, really! Can this be true?

So many of my friends and acquaintances are simply up in arms about the way you act and they tell me it’s because you talk too much about grace. They suggest (and I’m almost tempted to agree) that what you need is more and more rules to live by. In fact, I’m very tempted to tell you that you need to get up off your lazy chair, pour your beer down the drain, turn off your computer and get about the business of the Kingdom.

I admit that I’m absolutely flummoxed, though, which is why I’m writing as I am. You puzzle me. How can you think about all that Christ has done for you, about your Father’s steadfast, immeasurable, extravagantly generous love and still live the way you do? Have you never considered the incarnation, about the Son leaving ineffable light to be consigned first to the darkness of Mary’s womb and then the darkness of this world? Have you never considered how He labored day-after-day in His home, obeying His parents, loving His brothers and sisters so that you could be counted righteous in the sight of His Father? Have you forgotten the bloody disgrace of the cross you deserve? Don’t you know that in the resurrection He demolished sin’s power over you? Aren’t you moved to loving action knowing that He’s now your ascended Lord Who prays for you and daily bears you on His heart? Has your heart of stone never been warmed and transformed by the Spirit? Does this grace really not impel zealous obedience? Hello…Are you there?

Honestly, even though my friends talk about you as though you were just everywhere in every church, always talking about justification but living like the devil, frankly I wonder if you even exist. I suppose you must because everyone is so afraid that talking about grace will produce more of you. So that’s why I’m writing: Will you please come forward? Will you please stand up in front of all of us and tell us that your heart has been captivated so deeply by grace that it makes you want to watch the Playboy channel?

Again, please do forgive me for calling you out like this. I really would like to meet you. I am,

Trusting in Grace Alone,

Elyse

Online source.

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Might As Well Face It, You’re Addicted To Law

by Tullian Tchividjian

I’ll never forget hearing Dr. Doug Kelly (one of my theology professors in seminary) saying in class, “If you want to make people mad, preach law. If you want to make them really, really mad preach grace.” I didn’t know what he meant then. But I do now.

The law offends us because it tells us what to do–and we hate anyone telling us what to do, most of the time. But, ironically, grace offends us even more because it tells us that there’s nothing we can do, that everything has already been done. And if there’s something we hate more than being told what to do, it’s being told that we can’t do anything, that we can’t earn anything–that we’re helpless, weak, and needy.

The law, at least, assures us that we determine our own destiny.

The law does promise life to me,
If my obedience perfect be. (Ralph Erskine)

This we understand. And we like it. We like it because we maintain control–the outcome of our life remains in our hands. Give me three steps to a happy marriage and I can guarantee myself a happy marriage if I follow the three steps. If we can do certain things, meet certain standards (whether God’s, my own, my parents, my spouse’s, society’s, whatever) and become a certain way, we’ll make it. Law seems safe because “it breeds a sense of manageability.” It keeps life formulaic and predictable. It keeps earning-power in our camp.

The logic of law makes sense.

The logic of grace, on the other hand, doesn’t.

Grace is thickly counter-intuitive. It feels risky and unfair. It turns everything that makes sense to us upside-down. Like Job’s friends, we naturally conclude that good people get good stuff and bad people get bad stuff. The idea that bad people get good stuff seems irrational and wrongheaded on every level. It offends our deepest sense of justice and rightness.

Grace is not rational…The gospel of grace throws our glory train off its tracks. Instead of calculating, mastering, and determining, we find ourselves completely helpless, left with no option but to fall into the everlasting arms of the God who could consume us in his wrath but instead embraces us in his Son. (Mike Horton)

So, it doesn’t surprise me at all when I hear people react to grace with suspicion and doubt. It doesn’t surprise me that when people talk about grace, I hear lots of “buts and brakes”, conditions and qualifications. That’s just the flesh fighting for its life, after all. As Walter Marshall says in his book The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, “By nature, you are completely addicted to a legal method of salvation. Even after you become a Christian by believing the Gospel, your heart is still addicted to salvation by works…You find it hard to believe that you should get any blessing before you work for it.”

Because we are natural born do-it-yourselfers–God-wannabes–(and have been since Genesis 3), the vitriol reaction to unconditional grace is understandable. Grace generates panic because it wrestles both control and glory out of our hands. This means that the part of you that gets angry and upset and mean and defensive and slanderous and critical and skeptical and feisty when you hear about grace is the very part of you that needs to be reckoned dead. That’s where mortification begins–it begins with that part of us that hates grace.

But while I’m not surprised when I hear venomous rejoinders to grace (the flesh is always resistant to “It is finished”), I am saddened when the very pack of people that God has unconditionally saved and continues to sustain by his free grace are the very ones who push back most violently against it. Some professing Christians sound like ungrateful children who can’t stop biting the very hand that feeds them. It amazes me that you will hear great concern from inside the church about “too much grace” but rarely will you ever hear great concern from inside the church about “too many rules.” Why? Because we are by nature glory-hoarding, self-centered control freaks. That’s why.

It’s high time for the church to honor God by embracing sola gratia anew–the “high-octane grace that takes our conscience by the scruff of the neck and breathes new life into us with a pardon so scandalous that we cannot help but be changed…For many of us the time has come to abandon once and for all our play-it-safe, toe-dabbling Christianity and dive in” (Dane Ortlund). It is time, as Robert Farrar Capon put it, to get drunk on grace. Two hundred-proof, defiant grace.

It’s scandalous and scary, unnatural and undomesticated…but it’s the only thing that can set us free and light the church on fire.

__________

Source

Tullian Tchividjian (pronounced cha-vi-jin) is the Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

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How Wonderful Is the Love of God!

Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if “. . .while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son. . . – Rom 5:10

The following is an excerpt from the final section of a Jonathan Edwards work called “Men Naturally are God’s Enemies” which presents a Biblical view of the natural man in his fallen state. After stating his case, Edwards presents the following as "Practical Improvement".

"How wonderful is the love that is manifested in giving Christ to die for us. For this is love to enemies. “While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.” How wonderful was the love of God the Father, in giving such a gift to those who not only could not be profitable to him, but were his enemies, and to so great a degree! They had great enmity against him; yet so did he love them, that he gave his own Son to lay down his life, in order to save their lives. Though they had enmity that sought to pull God down from his throne; yet he so loved them, that he sent down Christ from heaven, from his throne there, to be in the form of a servant; and instead of a throne of glory, gave him to be nailed to the cross, and to be laid in the grave, that so we might be brought to a throne of glory."

"How wonderful was the love of Christ, in thus exercising dying love towards his enemies! He loved those that hated him, with hatred that sought to take away his life, so as voluntarily to lay down his life, that they might have life through him. “Herein is love; not that we loved him, but that he loved us, and laid down his life for us.”

"If we are all naturally God’s enemies, hence we may learn what a spirit it becomes us as Christians to possess towards our enemies. Though we are enemies to God, yet we hope that God has loved us, that Christ has died for us, that God has forgiven or will forgive us; and will do us good, and bestow infinite mercies and blessings upon us, so as to make us happy . All this mercy we hope has been, or will be, exercised towards us forever."

______________________

“Men Naturally are God’s Enemies” can be read in its entirety here, or at:

http://www.biblebb.com/files/edwards/enemies.htm

The Council of Orange

The Council of Orange was an outgrowth of the controversy between Augustine and Pelagius. This controversy had to do with degree to which a human being is responsible for his or her own salvation, and the role of the grace of God in bringing about salvation. The Pelagians held that human beings are born in a state of innocence, i.e., that there is no such thing as a sinful nature or original sin.

As a result of this view, they held that a state of sinless perfection was achievable in this life. The Council of Orange dealt with the Semi-Pelagian doctrine that the human race, though fallen and possessed of a sinful nature, is still "good" enough to able to lay hold of the grace of God through an act of unredeemed human will.

There were 25 Canons adopted. Here are the first 5:

CANON 1. If anyone denies that it is the whole man, that is, both body and soul, that was "changed for the worse" through the offense of Adam’s sin, but believes that the freedom of the soul remains unimpaired and that only the body is subject to corruption, he is deceived by the error of Pelagius and contradicts the scripture which says, "The soul that sins shall die" (Ezek. 18:20); and, "Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are the slaves of the one whom you obey?" (Rom. 6:16); and, "For whatever overcomes a man, to that he is enslaved" (2 Pet. 2:19).

CANON 2. If anyone asserts that Adam’s sin affected him alone and not his descendants also, or at least if he declares that it is only the death of the body which is the punishment for sin, and not also that sin, which is the death of the soul, passed through one man to the whole human race, he does injustice to God and contradicts the Apostle, who says, "Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned" (Rom. 5:12).

CANON 3. If anyone says that the grace of God can be conferred as a result of human prayer, but that it is not grace itself which makes us pray to God, he contradicts the prophet Isaiah, or the Apostle who says the same thing, "I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me" (Rom 10:20, quoting Isa. 65:1).

CANON 4. If anyone maintains that God awaits our will to be cleansed from sin, but does not confess that even our will to be cleansed comes to us through the infusion and working of the Holy Spirit, he resists the Holy Spirit himself who says through Solomon, "The will is prepared by the Lord" (Prov. 8:35, LXX), and the salutary word of the Apostle, "For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13).

CANON 5. If anyone says that not only the increase of faith but also its beginning and the very desire for faith, by which we believe in Him who justifies the ungodly and comes to the regeneration of holy baptism — if anyone says that this belongs to us by nature and not by a gift of grace, that is, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit amending our will and turning it from unbelief to faith and from godlessness to godliness, it is proof that he is opposed to the teaching of the Apostles, for blessed Paul says, "And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6). And again, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8). For those who state that the faith by which we believe in God is natural make all who are separated from the Church of Christ by definition in some measure believers.

The entire set of Canons can be read here.

What does the Bible say about the human condition?

This is a direct excerpt from a larger article by Dr. Kim Riddlebarger that can be found here.

The Scriptures are very clear about the effects of Adam’s sin upon the human race, and there are a host of passages that speak to the issue of human sinfulness. In Job 14:1-4 we read, "Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble. He springs up like a flower and withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure. Do you fix your eye on such a one? Will you bring him before you for judgment? Who can bring what is pure from the impure? No one!" In other words, we are born "impure" or sinful, and therefore, subject to the judgment of God. Job asks the poignant question in this regard, "who can bring what is pure from what is impure?" and the answer is emphatically, "no one." Jeremiah (13:23) asks a similar question, "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil." Thus because of our sin, we are impure, accustomed to doing evil, and unable to do anything to change our true nature any more then a leopard can wish his spots away, or that we can change the color of our skin simply by wishing it were so.

The Scriptures are also clear that our sinful nature is something with which we are born. According to the Psalmist in Psalm 51:5, "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." Thus we are born sinful, sinful from the very moment of conception. The Psalmist goes on to say in Psalm 58(3), "Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward and speak lies." We go astray from birth and we are born liars. We do not need to learn how to sin, it comes quite naturally to us.

The sinful nature (i.e., "the flesh") with which we are born produces a host of sinful actions. The author of 1 Kings (8:46) contends "there is no one who does not sin" and the author of Proverbs (20:9) laments, "Who can say, `I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin’? Indeed Moses writes in Genesis 6:5, "the LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time." Thus because we are born in sin, every thought, every inclination is purely evil. This is not something that we enjoy hearing, but it is what the Scripture clearly teaches about human nature.

And this doctrine of human sinfulness is not only clearly taught in the OT, it is found with equal force in the New Testament, even on the lips of our Lord. For our Lord says much the same thing in Matthew 15:19, when he declares "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander." Thus the specific sins which we commit come from the sinful condition of our hearts. For as it is used in Scripture, the heart is the seat of our very personality – the heart is the true self, what we really are. Jesus went on to point out in Matthew 7:16-20, that "By their fruit you will recognize [wolves who come in sheep’s clothes]. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them." Can any one of us here pretend for even a single moment that unlike everyone else, we are born good trees, and that we somehow escape the effects of sin which befall the entire human race? For out of each of our hearts inevitably spring the evil deeds and sins that all of us commit on a regular basis.

And if that is not all, it is Jesus who also reminds us that even if we haven’t committed a specific sin with our hands, you can bet we have done it in our hearts. It is Jesus who declares, "anyone who looks at a women lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Jesus also said, "You have heard it said, `Do not murder,’ and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.’" And so there may be someone who is even now saying to themselves, "I am not a murderer!" I have never taken a life. Jesus says otherwise. You may not have taken the life of another, but as Jesus says, "any one who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement," and "anyone who calls his brother a fool will be in danger of the fire of hell." Thus any one of us who has ever driven a Southern California freeway is certainly guilty as charged.

While the Scriptures are clear that we are born in sin, and that we sin because we are sinners, the Scriptures are equally clear about the specific effects of our own sinfulness upon our relationship with God. According to the Apostle Paul, (Romans 8:7-8), "the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God." Thus because of the sin into which we are born, we cannot submit to God’s law, nor do anything to please him. So much for non-Christians supposedly keeping the 10 Commandments. In his letter to the Galatians (5:19-21), Paul speaks of the human condition this way: "The acts of the sinful nature [the flesh] are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God." While we are apt to make distinctions between so-called big and little sins, Paul would not agree. All sins damn, even such things as jealousy and ambition, and these sins that damn spring forth spontaneously from our sinful nature. This certainly calls to mind our Lord’s comments about bad fruit coming forth from a bad tree. The sins of the flesh spring forth from our sinful hearts as surely as apples grow on an apple tree.

And when all is said and done, Paul indeed paints a very dark picture. In Romans 3:10-12 he writes; "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." Paul is clear, here, though many of us do not like what he says.

First, he points out that there are none righteous, that is, none without the guilt of sin. And for the sake of emphasis, he repeats the phrase, "no, not even one."

Next he states that because of sin, there is no one who understands, for as he says elsewhere, sin has darkened our understanding, made our thinking futile, and hardened our hearts to the things of God (Ephesians 4:18 ff).

Third, the result of these blinding effects of sin is that there is no one who seeks God. Even though these words make many of us choke, they are simply un-American, nevertheless, Paul is utterly clear, because of sin, "no one seeks God." Tough words, but we cannot evade them simply because we do not like them.

And if we do not believe the testimony of Paul, Jesus says exactly the same thing. Speaking to the crowds that followed him after he feed the five thousand and because they saw the miracles and wanted their stomachs filled (John 6:44), Jesus declared, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day." In other words, you cannot come to God unless you are drawn, the term translated here as "to draw" is also translated "to drag" elsewhere in the NT, as for example, when Paul is dragged out of the temple against his will in Acts 21:30. And then again in that same discourse in John 6, as if he was not clear enough the first time he said it , Jesus went on to say in verse 65, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him." Thus unless we are enabled to come to Father, we cannot and indeed will not turn to God and embrace Jesus Christ. For we are sinful, we do not seek God, we do not understand God, we do not obey God’s law, and indeed says Paul, we cannot. Our hearts are sinful, there are none righteous, not even one, and we sin freely and willingly because we want to.

Thus when all is said and done, what this means is that if God does not do something to rescue us from our predicament, we will perish in our sins. And this is what we mean when we say we are saved by grace alone, because there is certainly nothing in us worth saving and there is nothing that creatures in such a predicament can do to save themselves. Our salvation depends upon God’s graciousness and not upon our goodness.

So it is against this backdrop ­ the biblical description of sin and its effects ­ that we now turn our focus to grace alone.

NOTE: Dr. Kim Riddlebarger is a graduate of California State University in Fullerton (B.A., Westminster Theological Seminary in California (M.A.R.), and Fuller Theological Seminary (Ph. D.). Kim has contributed chapters to books such as Power Religion: The Selling Out of the Evangelical Church, Roman Catholicism: Evangelical Protestants Analyze What Unites & Divides Us, and Christ The Lord: The Reformation & Lordship Salvation, and is currently the pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Placentia, California.

Question: "Perseverance of the Saints – is it Biblical?"

Answer: Perseverance of the Saints is the name that is used to summarize what the Bible teaches about the eternal security of the believer. It answers the question: Once a person is saved, can they lose their salvation? Perseverance of the saints is the P in the acronym TULIP, which is commonly used to enumerate what are known as the five points of Calvinism. Because the name perseverance of the saints can cause people to have the wrong idea about what is meant, some people prefer to use terms like: “Preservation of the Saints,” “Eternal Security,” or “Held by God.” Each of these terms reveals some aspect of what the Bible teaches about the security of the believer. However like any biblical doctrine what is important is not the name assigned to the doctrine but how accurately it summarizes what the Bible teaches about that subject. No matter which name you use to refer to this important doctrine a thorough study of the Bible will reveal that when it is properly understood it is an accurate description of what the Bible teaches.

The simplest explanation of this doctrine is the saying: “Once saved, always saved.” The Bible teaches that those who are born-again will continue trusting in Christ forever. God, by His own power through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, keeps or preserves the believer forever. This wonderful truth is seen in Ephesians 1:13-14 where we see that believers are “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchase possession, to the praise of His glory.” When we are born again, we receive the promised indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit that is God’s guarantee that He who began a good work in us will complete it (Philippians 1:6). In order for us to lose our salvation after receiving the promised Holy Spirit, God would have to break His promise or renege on His “guarantee,” which He cannot do. Therefore the believer is eternally secure because God is eternally faithful.

The understanding of this doctrine really comes from understanding the unique and special love that God has for His children. Romans 8:28-39 tells us that 1) no one can bring a charge against God’s elect; 2) nothing can separate the elect from the love of Christ; 3) God makes everything work together for the good of the elect; and 4) all whom God saves will be glorified. God loves His children (the elect) so much that nothing can separate them from Him. Of course this same truth is seen in many other passages of Scripture as well. In John 10:27-30 Jesus says: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will 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 the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” Again in John 6:37-47 we see Jesus stating that everyone that the Father gives to the Son will come to Him and He will raise all of them up at the last day.

Another evidence from Scripture of eternal security of a believer is found in verses like John 5:24 where Jesus says: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” Notice that eternal life is not something we get in the future but is something that we have once we believe. By its very nature eternal life must last forever or it could not be eternal. This passage says that if we believe the Gospel we have eternal life and will not come into judgment, therefore it can be said we are eternally secure.

There is really very little scriptural basis that can be used to argue against the eternal security of the believer. While there are a few verses that, if not considered in their context, might give the impression that one could “fall from grace” or lose their salvation, when these verses are carefully considered in context it is clear that is not the case. Many people know someone who at one time expressed faith in Christ and who might have appeared to be a genuine Christian who later departed from the faith and now wants to have nothing to do with Christ or His church. These people might even deny the very existence of God. For those that do not want to accept what the Bible says about the security of the believer these types of people are proof that the doctrine of eternal security cannot be right. However, the Bible indicates otherwise and it teaches that people such as those who profess Christ as Savior at one time only to later walk away and deny Christ, were never truly saved in the first place. For example 1 John 2:19 says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out from us, in order that it might be made manifest that they all are not truly of us.” The Bible is also clear that not everyone who professes to be a Christian truly is. Jesus Himself says that not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21-22). Rather than proving we can lose our salvation, those people who profess Christ and fall away simply reinforces the importance of testing our salvation to make sure we are in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5) and making our calling and election sure by continually examining our lives to make sure we are growing in godliness (2 Peter 1:10).

One of the misconceptions about the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is that it will lead to “carnal Christians” who believe that since they are eternally secure they can live whatever licentious lifestyle they wish and still be saved. But that is a misunderstanding of the doctrine and what the Bible teaches. A person who believes they can live any way they want because they have professed Christ is not demonstrating true saving faith (1 John 2:3-4). Our eternal security rests on the biblical teaching that those whom God justifies, He will also glorify (Romans 8:29-30). Those who are saved will indeed be conformed to the image of Christ through the process of sanctification (1 Corinthians 6:11). When a person is saved, the Holy Spirit breaks the bondage of sin and gives the believer a new heart and a desire to seek holiness. Therefore a true Christian will desire to be obedient to God and will be convicted by the Holy Spirit when they sin. They will never “live any way they want” because such behavior is impossible for someone who has been given a new nature (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Clearly the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints does accurately represent what the Bible teaches on this important subject. If someone is truly saved, they have been made alive by the Holy Spirit and have a new heart with new desires. There is no way that one that has been “born again” can later be unborn. Because of His unique love for His children, God will keep all of His children safe from harm and Jesus has promised that He would lose none of His sheep. The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints recognizes that true Christians will always persevere and are eternally secure because God keeps them that way. It is based on the fact that Jesus, the “author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2), is able to completely save those that the Father has given Him (Hebrews 7:25) and to keep them saved through all eternity.

Recommended Resource: Chosen But Free, revised edition: A Balanced View of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will by Norm Geisler and The Potter’s Freedom by James White.

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The above was taken directly from the GotQuestions Web site and is a good summary of the teaching. It is not intended to be judgmental, argumentative, or to persuade anyone of anything. Persuasion of scriptural truth is always a work of the Holy Spirit.

Question: “Irresistible Grace – is it Biblical?”

Answer: Irresistible Grace is a phrase that is used to summarize what the Bible teaches about the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in the salvation of sinners. It is represented by the “I” in the acronym TULIP that is commonly used to enumerate what are known as the five points of Calvinism or the Doctrines of Grace. The doctrine is also known as “Effectual Calling,” “Efficacious Grace,” “Efficacious Call of the Spirit,” and “Transformed by the Holy Spirit.” Each of these terms reveals some aspect of what the Bible teaches about the doctrine of irresistible grace. However what is important is not the name assigned to the doctrine but how accurately the doctrine summarizes what the Bible teaches about the nature and purpose of the work of the Holy Spirit in the salvation of sinful, spiritually dead men. No matter which name you use to refer to the doctrine of irresistible grace a through study of the Bible will reveal that when properly understood it is an accurate description of what the Bible teaches on this important subject.

Simply put, the doctrine of irresistible grace refers to the biblical truth that whatever God decrees to happen will inevitably come to pass, even in the salvation of individuals. The Holy Spirit will work in the lives of the elect so that they inevitably will come to faith in Christ. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit never fails to bring to salvation those sinners whom He personally calls to Christ (John 6:37-40). At the heart of this doctrine is the answer to the question: Why does one person believe the Gospel and another does not? Is it because one is smarter, has better reasoning capabilities, or possesses some other characteristic that allows them to realize the importance of the Gospel message? Or is it because God does something unique in the lives of those that He saves? If it is because of what the person who believes does or is, then in a sense they are responsible for their salvation and they have a reason to boast. However, if the difference is solely that God does something unique in the hearts and lives of those who believe in Him and are saved, then there is no ground for boasting and salvation is truly a gift of grace. Of course the biblical answer to these questions is that the Holy Spirit does do something unique in the hearts of those who are saved. The Bible tells us that God saves people “according to His mercy…through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). In other words those who believe the Gospel and are saved do so because they have been transformed by the Holy Spirit.

The doctrine of irresistible grace recognizes that the Bible describes natural man as “dead in his trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1; Ephesians 2:5; Colossians 2:13) and because man is spiritually dead he must first be made alive or regenerated in order to understand and respond to the Gospel message. A good illustration of this is seen in Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. In John 11:43 it is recorded that Jesus told Lazarus to “come forth” and that Lazarus came forth out of the tomb. What had to happen before Lazarus—who had been dead for several days—would be able to respond to Jesus’ command? He had to be made alive because a dead man cannot hear or respond. The same is true spiritually. If we are dead in our sins, as the Bible clearly teaches, then before we can respond to the Gospel message and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ we must first be made alive. As Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:3, you must be “born again to see the kingdom of God.” John 1:12-13 tells us that being born again is not the result of something we do—“the will of man”—but is a sovereign act of God. Just as Lazarus could not bring himself back to life or respond to Jesus’ command without being brought back to life, neither can sinful man. Ephesians 2:1-10 makes it very clear that while we are still dead in our trespasses and sin God makes us alive. The Bible is very clear that the act of being born again or regenerated is a sovereign act of God. It is something He does which enables us to believe the Gospel message, not something that comes as a result of our belief.

The reason this doctrine is called “irresistible” grace is because it always results in the intended outcome, the salvation of the person it is given to. It is important to realize that the act of being regenerated or “born again” cannot be separated from the act of believing the Gospel. Ephesians 2:1-10 makes this clear. There is a clear connection between the act of being made alive by God (Ephesians 2:1,5) and the result of being saved by grace. (Ephesians 2:5,8). This is because everything pertaining to salvation, including the faith to believe, is an act of God’s grace. The reason God’s grace is irresistible and efficacious (always bringing forth the desired result) is because God “has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into” His kingdom (Colossians 1:13). Or as Psalm 3:8 puts it, “Salvation belongs to the Lord.”

To understand the doctrine of “Irresistible grace,” it is important to recognize that this is a special grace given only to those God has chosen for salvation (His elect) and is different from what is known as “common grace” which God bestows on both believer and the unbeliever. While there are many aspects of common grace, including life and all that is necessary to sustain it, common grace is what is often referred to as the “outward call of God.” This is God’s revelation of Himself given to all men through the light of creation and their consciences. It also includes the general call of the Gospel that goes out anytime the Gospel message is preached. This call can be resisted and rejected by those that receive it. (Matthew 22:14; Romans 1:18-32). However, God also gives an “inward call” which always results in salvation. This is the call of God that Jesus spoke of in John 6:37-47. The certainty of this inward call is seen in John 6:37: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” John 6:44 confirms this: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Other verses where irresistible grace can be seen include 2 Corinthians 4:1-6, Acts 13:48; Acts 16:14 and Romans 8:30. In 2 Corinthians 4:1-6, after explaining why some people do not believe the Gospel (it is veiled to them and their minds have been blinded towards it) Paul then writes, “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). The God who said “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3) is the same God who gives the light of salvation to those He chooses, and the result is just as sure. The same truth is seen in a different way in Acts 13:48. Here it is said that “as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” God saves those He chooses to save; therefore His saving grace is always effective or efficacious. In Acts 16:14 we have another example of God’s irresistible grace in action. The Lord opened the heart of Lydia “to respond the things spoken of by Paul.” Finally you have what is called the “golden chain of redemption” in Romans 8:29-30. Here we see that everyone God calls to salvation (the inward call) will be saved (justified).

A common misconception about the doctrine of irresistible grace is that it implies men are forced to accept Christ and men are dragged kicking and screaming into heaven. Of course neither of these are accurate descriptions of the doctrine of irresistible grace as revealed in the Bible. In fact the heart of irresistible grace is the transforming power of the Holy Spirit whereby He takes a man dead in his trespasses and sins and gives him spiritual life so that he can recognize the unsurpassing value of God’s offer of salvation. Then having been set free from the bondage of sin, that man willingly comes to Christ.

Another misconception concerning this doctrine is that it teaches the Holy Spirit cannot be resisted at all. Yet again that is not what the doctrine teaches because that is not what the Bible teaches. God’s grace can be resisted and the Holy Spirit’s influence can be resisted even by one of the elect. However what the doctrine does correctly recognize is that the Holy Spirit can overcome all such resistance and that He will draw the elect with an irresistible grace that makes them want to come to God and helps them to understand the Gospel so they can and will believe it.

The doctrine of irresistible grace simply recognizes that the Bible teaches God is sovereign and can overcome all resistance when He wills to. What God decrees or determines will come to pass always does. This truth is seen throughout Scripture. In Daniel 4:35 we see that “He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand!” Psalm 115:3 declares, “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.” God’s grace in salvation is irresistible because when God sets out to fulfill His sovereign purpose, no person or thing can successfully resist Him.

The doctrine of irresistible grace accurately summarizes what the Bible teaches about the nature of saving faith as well as what must happen to overcome man’s depraved nature. Since natural man is dead in his trespasses and sins, it stands to reason that he must be regenerated before he can respond to the outward call of the Gospel. Until that happens man will resist the gospel message and the grace of God; however, once he has been “born again” and has a heart that is now inclined toward God, the grace of God will irresistibly draw Him to put his faith in Christ and be saved. These two acts (regeneration and faith) cannot be separated from one another. They are so closely connected that we often cannot distinguish between them.

Recommended Resource: Chosen But Free by Norm Geisler and The Potter’s Freedom by James White.

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The above was taken directly from the GotQuestions Web site and is a good summary of the teaching. It is not intended to be judgmental, argumentative, or to persuade anyone of anything. Persuasion of scriptural truth is always a work of the Holy Spirit.