The Berean Principle and/or The Voices in our Heads

“Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” – Acts 17:11(ESV)

In the above passage, a group of believing Jews in the town of Berea were commended for their practice of listening to the preaching of the Apostle Paul and them examining what he said under the light of the Scriptures they had available to them, to see if what Paul had spoken was true. In other words, for these Berean Jews the written scriptures were the final arbiter of what was true and what was not, when it came to listening to preaching.

What I don’t see anywhere in the New Testament is any instance of, or license to listen to little voices in our heads. We do however, hear some evangelical leaders tell us we can, and even need to recognize God’s still small voice when he speaks to us, because he still communicates to his people with whisperings and through the natural senses in ways unique to them individually.

This phenomena doesn’t come to us just from some of the ‘interesting’ folks on TBN and God TV, it also comes from some notable and popular evangelicals. It is not my intent here to get into ‘names’, but only to ask, "Why?"

I’m not asking however, why the ‘pseudo-prophets’, self proclaimed ‘Apostles’, and even the prominent evangelicals personally justify the practice of listening to little voices in our heads, I know their reasons, including the alleged scriptural support from passages of scripture taken out of the context of the Bible. What I am asking is "Why listen to and trust little voices in our heads, period.

OK, this is where I need to shift into the 1st personal singular so nobody ‘feels’ judged (I’m learning). Here goes.

How can I ever be absolutely, positively, 100% certain that that ‘still small voice’ IS God, even after I’ve followed all of the ‘training manuals’ from the Christian bookstores and/or CD’s and DVD’s I can buy from TBN and God TV? I don’t know about you, but I know I just can’t, and here’s why.

Although I am a blood bought, adopted into the family, child of God, there still remains in me a heart that can be very deceitful, sinful desires and passions, as well as ‘itching ears’. There’s scripture that tells me all of that, but I won’t quote them here, because someone might think I think I know it all or ‘feel’ judged. (1st personal singular – remember?)

So. . .because I can’t ever be absolutely, positively, 100% certain that that ‘still small voice’ IS God, I would still need to apply the Berean Principle and check it out in the Scriptures. And if I still need to do that, why not just forget about little voices in my head and take everything straight to the source?

But that’s just me and somewhat of a DUHHHHHHH moment indeed. If you have somehow reached a state of heart and mind that is somehow completely pure and immune to deception (you have perfect voice recognition software installed in your brain housing group, good on ya!

______________

Food for thought early on a Thursday morning (in Colorado that is). Have a great day and please don’t feel judged.

Simul Justus Et Peccator

"We are not either carnal Christians or spiritual Christians; rather, all Christians are simultaneously sinful and spiritual—not because of their ‘surrender,’ but because of Christ’s. We are all in the same category, simply at different points along the way.
The message of the Reformation has been salve in the wounds of many, including this writer. I am not a Christian with great faith or with praiseworthy character, but a Christian who is confident that I share with every regenerate Christian ‘every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ’ (Eph. 1:3). I am simultaneously sinful and justified, as I am simultaneously at peace with God because of Christ’s imputed righteousness, but at war with myself because of Christ’s imparted righteousness. I am not a ‘successful runner,’ but I am ‘looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of [my] faith’ (Heb. 12:2). I trust and obey Christ (however feebly), and I know that I will continue trusting and obeying until the day I die—not because I have appropriated Christ, but because he has appropriated me."
Dr. Michael S. Horton, Christ the Lord (The Reformation and Lordship Salvation), 33.

The Foolish Worship of Fallen Men

“Sin has made men worship either (1) a false God, which is idolatry; or (2) God falsely, which is superstition. Man has become such a fool that his worship, till enlightened and converted, is either a breach of the First or Second Commandment. He fails as to the object and manner of worship, and both speak man’s folly, that his religion is either idolatry or superstition.”

From The Sinfulness of Sin, first published in 1669 under the title The Plague of Plagues by Ralph Venning (1621 – 1674)

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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.

Do God’s Commands to the Unregenerate Imply Moral Ability?

by John Hendryx

Question: I was on a recent camping trip for our churches’ junior high kids with one of the elders of our church. We had a frank discussion about the doctrine of election and were up very late every night talking about it. He said election just didn’t seem right and that God’s commands for us to believe and repent prove that in the end it is our own choice. What do you say about this?

Response: We must not presuppose that what we ought to do is the same thing as what we are able to do.  God’s commands to us do not presuppose the moral ability to obey them.  A simple example for this is the existence of the Ten Commandments, which are God’s unchanging laws for living in community with one another.  God did not give fallen humanity these commands presupposing that any of us had the moral capacity to perfectly live them out.  In fact, God’s perfect holy standard only reveals our sin.  If we love him with all our heart could obey His commands then we could theoretically save ourselves and would have no need of a Savior like Jesus.  But our need for a Savior (all of us) us is due to the fact that none of us is able to obey God’s commands. That is because we are morally important to do so.   So, in this case, what we "ought" to do does not imply "can" do.   The intended effect of God’s commands is actually the opposite.  What we ought to do (as commanded by God) is given to reveal to us that we cannot do it and are utterly dependent on God for our salvation.  The purpose of the Law is to expose and lay bare our spirutal bankruptcy.  Divine imperatives, according to Paul in Romans 3 are put there to undo us (See Rom 3:19, 20), not to give us hope in ourselves that we can obey them.  It is the law which brings knowledge of sin. So may I suggest that the elder who is telling you that God would only command us to do something we are able to do is way off the mark and has actually misapprehended the core meaning of the gospel, however sincere his faith may be.  Of course, God does not save us because we have perfect understanding of these things … no doubt this brother loves the Lord.  But he may be confused at some very fundamental levels about the gospel.  The Scripture says that to believe the gospel is a command of God. 1 John 3:23 says "And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ." Elsewhere he says, "God commands eveyone everywhere to repent…"  Obedience to this command cannot be accomplished apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. Faith and works are equally difficult apart from renewal of heart. So those who say that the unregenerate can obey the commands of God, apart from the Spirit, with our "free will" are teaching the dangerously perilous doctrine of Semi-pelagianism. As soon as one admits the need of the Holy Spirit to obey the gospel then he concedes that God’s commands are impossible for the natural man to obey and thereby admits that God’s command does not imply ability. John Owen once said:

“To say that we are able by our own efforts to think good thoughts or give God spiritual obedience before we are spiritually regenerate is to overthrow the gospel and the faith of the universal church in all ages.”

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.

Man’s Will- Free Yet Bound – by Walter J. Chantry

For more than fifteen hundred years the Church has engaged in a heated debate over the freedom of man’s will. The major issues came to general attention in the early fifth century when Augustine and Pelagius did battle on the subject. Through medieval times the nature of man’s freedom received a great deal of attention. As they studied the Scriptures, Bernard and Anselm made significant contributions to the doctrine of the human will. In the sixteenth century the freedom or bondage of the will was one of the chief issues dividing Reformers and Roman Catholics. To the mind of Martin Luther, it was the key to his dispute with Rome. In the seventeenth century the nature of man’s freedom was at the heart of the debate between Arminians and Calvinists. The conflict surfaced again in the eighteenth century during the Great Awakening. Finney’s approach to revival in the nineteenth century led the church astray through a misunderstanding of the human will. So too the nature of man’s will continues to bring intense disagreement between Reformed and Fundamentalist believers.
A proper understanding of the content of the gospel and the use of GOD-honouring methods in evangelism are dependent on one’s grasp of this issue.

I. Man has a will and that will has a certain freedom. Our LORD clearly teaches that man has a power of choice. It is important to begin here to disarm opponents of all the foolish accusations that have been brought against the Biblical doctrine of man’s will. Every man has the ability to choose his own words, to decide what his actions will be. We have a faculty of self-determination in the sense that we select our own thoughts, words, and deeds. Man is free to choose what he prefers, what he desires.

II. Man’s Will is not a Sovereign Faculty. Although man does have a will, it is neither independent of all influences nor supreme over all other parts of his personality. This is the next point to be seen in our LORD’s teaching.

It will be noted that our Master taught that the human will is not free from the other faculties of the heart. Far from the will reigning over a man, the will is determined by the man’s own character. It is not raised to a position of dominance over the entire man.

Man is like a tree. His heart, not his will alone, is the root. There is no possible way by which the will can choose to produce fruit contrary to the character of the root. If the root is bad, the tree is bound by its very nature to produce evil fruit.  Man is like a person standing alongside his treasure chest. There is no possibility of bringing pure gold out of a box filled only with rusty steel. The contents of the heart determine what words and deeds may be brought out. Far from being neutral, the will must reach into the heart for its choices. Every thought, word and deed will partake of the nature of the treasure within.   Man is like a stream which cannot rise above its source. If the fountain is polluted, the outflow will be evil. If the source be sweet, the stream will not be bitter and cannot choose to be so.

These three illustrations alike contain the same lesson. What a man is determines what he chooses. Choices of the will always reveal the character of the heart, because the heart determines the choices. Men are not sinners because they choose to sin; they choose to sin because they are sinners. If this were not so, we could never know a tree by its fruits, nor could we judge a man’s character by his acts.

III. Man’s Will is in Bondage to Sin. The chains which bind a man’s will to sin do not result from the actions of the Omnipotent GOD. The binding chains are the man’s own depraved faculties. The prison is his own nature.

Our LORD’s rhetorical question in verse 34 brings this home with force: ‘O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things ?’ Our wise LORD is suggesting that a man must speak as he does because of what he is. To sinners He was saying ‘You are unable to choose good words because you possess an evil heart. If the tree is bad, if the treasure chest is filled with evil things alone, if the fountain is bitter, your will cannot produce good words [fruits, treasures, overflow].’

At this point there are very many scriptures which attest to a man’s bondage to sin by his own nature. To mention but a few – Jeremiah 13.23: ‘Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil;’ John 6.44: ‘No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him;’ Romans 8.7: ‘The carnal mind . . . is not subject to the law of GOD, neither indeed can be.’

Lazarus in his tomb had no ability to respond when our LORD commanded, ‘Come forth.’ The man who had been impotent for 38 years had no native ability to obey when Jesus commanded him to take up his bed and walk. Nor have modern sinners ability to believe when we preach. ‘This is his commandment, that we believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ’ [I John 3.23].

When a sinner refuses to come to Christ, he is guilty because he has made a free choice. It reflects his own state of mind, feeling and attitude toward GOD and His Son. He has acted voluntarily without coercion. It is his decision. But the poor sinner, dead in trespasses and sins, could not do otherwise, being evil. It is not necessary for him to have a neutral will, or the ability to do both good and evil, for his action to be held accountable before the Judge of all hearts.

IV. Man’s Will is not his Hope. Our LORD has taught that the tree must be made good. Man must be renewed in his entire character. He must have a new heart to bring forth good fruit; the will cannot make the tree good; it may only exercise liberty to be what the tree already is. The will cannot reload the treasure chest with a new kind of goods; it may only freely bring forth what is there. The will cannot cleanse the fountainhead; it may overflow only with the waters available in the soul.

Any gospel preaching that relies upon an act of the human will for the conversion of sinners has missed the mark. Any sinner who supposes that his will has the strength to do any good accompanying salvation is greatly deluded and far from the kingdom. We are cast back upon the regenerating work of the Spirit of the living GOD to make the tree good. Unless GOD does something in the sinner, unless GOD creates a clean heart and renews a right spirit within man, there is no hope of a saving change.

While we address the wills of men in gospel preaching, they are wills bound in the grave clothes of an evil heart. But as we speak, and the LORD owns His word, sinners are quickened to life by divine power. His people are made willing in the day of His power [Psa 110.3]. All who are adopted as sons of GOD were ‘born not of the will of man, but of GOD.’ [John 1. 13] We stand to preach with no power to make the tree good. The ‘trees’ before us cannot make themselves good, so no gimmicks or policies of men can persuade them to make the change. But our glorious GOD, by inward, secret, transforming power, can make the tree good, the treasures good, the fountain good. Thus all glory be to GOD and to the Lamb! Salvation is of the LORD!

“The above is excerpted from a longer article found here, which was reproduced by permission from THE BANNER OF TRUTH magazine, Issue 140, May 1975.”