ELECTION vs. FREE WILL, PT. 1

hands-in-shackles

For centuries there has been a debate between the Doctrine of Election and man’s free will.  I grew up being taught about the free will of man in regards to salvation.  And although something about the teaching of free will just didn’t make sense to me, I still accepted it because it was all I was taught.  So which is it?  Are we saved through our own free will or were we chosen for salvation?  You can go into any number of American churches today and you’ll hear the preacher say something like, “You have a decision to make:  heaven or hell.  It’s your choice.”  Yet in John 15:16 Jesus says, “You did not choose me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in my name He may give to you.”  Notice the first few words in that verse:  “You did not choose me but I chose you, and appointed you…” so now which is it?  Did Jesus choose us or did we choose him?  See the contradiction?  What about this verse, Acts 13:48, “When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” What is being taught in churches today doesn’t line up with Scripture.  There are several other verses which use the words election, choose, chosen, or any word synonymous with that:

Ephesians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world

John 15:19 “If you were of the world, the world would love its own.  Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

Mark 13:20 “And unless the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh would be saved, but for the elect’s sake, whom He chose, He shortened the days.”

1 Thessalonians 1:4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that He has chosen you.

These are just a few examples found throughout the Word of God how we are chosen by God.

Need more convincing?  Ephesians 2:1 says “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins”.  Here’s something to contemplate.  When Lazarus died (Mary and Martha’s brother) he lay in the tomb four days.  He was dead…..until Jesus called him to come forth from the grave.  He didn’t just decide four days later through his own will to get up off that slab of rock and walk out of the tomb.  Jesus called him by name and it was through that calling that Lazarus was made alive.  This story not only shows how through Jesus can the dead in body be made alive, but also only through Jesus is the dead in spirit made alive.

Here’s something else.  The Bible says in Romans 6:6, 6:16, 6:17, and 6:20 that we were “slaves to sin”.  If the Bible says we are “slaves to sin”, how is it that we have free will?  As a “slave to sin”, apart from Christ, our master is sin.  We are bound by our fleshly nature and we obey the desires of the flesh.  Through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the elect are redeemed.  We are set free from the bondage of sin.  Now instead of being held captive to sin and dead in our trespasses, we are made alive in Christ and we become His bond-servants living to please Him and to do His will.

In Romans 9:17-18 it says, “(17) For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH.”
(18) So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.”
People will say that this is not fair.  Why would God have mercy on some and harden the hearts of others?  I heard a message a few weeks back and the pastor preaching addressed this same issue.  He stressed that if we want “fair”, then God will give us all what we deserve and we all deserve death and punishment for our sins.  None of us are worthy of the mercy and grace He gives to us.  But God demonstrates His love to us by giving us what we do not deserve.  God is Sovereign and He has a divine plan and whether we like it or not, there are those people like Pharaoh and Judas Iscariot who each played a role in His divine plan.  Judas was chosen as a disciple, not for salvation, but to hand Jesus over to the authorities to be crucified.  But some may say “what if a person doesn’t believe in God’s existence, how can they reject what they don’t believe in?  In Romans 1:18-20 Paul writes, “18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,
19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.
20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. “
All humankind are born with a knowledge of God because as verse 19 says, “that which is known about God is evident within them” They are without excuse.

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INTELLECT vs. EMOTIONALISM

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As a Christian woman I am offended by the so-called women’s Bible studies and teachers that are available to us.  The landscape is littered with many women’s teachers whose studies and conferences are geared toward our emotions and not our intellect.  I realize that we are the more emotional gender, but to ignore our intellect is just downright offensive.  It’s as if they’re saying we’re not smart enough to understand theology.

In the past I went through a few Beth Moore studies and conferences, and each time, I came away thinking something was wrong with me because I got nothing out of them.  Her worship services were emotionally charged and her studies didn’t explain biblical text at all.  She found a way to make the stories and scriptures about us.  I don’t do emotional fluff.  I’m not saying I’m not an emotional person.  I can get pretty emotional at times.  But when it comes to studying the Bible, I don’t want emotional fluff.  I don’t want someone to tell me what THEY think the scripture means about us.  I want to know what GOD meant when He gave us His Word.  That is why I got nothing out of Beth Moore.  I went in wanting to learn the truth of God’s Word but instead got emotional goo.  Once we know and understand what scripture teaches, once we understand why God did what He did, and why Jesus had to die on the cross for our sins, then we can respond with the proper emotion.

The number of true women’s Bible teachers are very small.  Two that come to mind are Nancy Guthrie (http://www.nancyguthrie.com/) and Susan Heck (http://www.withthemaster.com/).  These two women go through the Bible and explain what the verses mean (God’s interpretation), not what they think they mean.  If you’re interested in their studies, they both have podcasts you can listen to.  Nancy’s is “Help Me Teach The Bible” and Susan’s is “With The Master”.  No emotional goo, just straight up Bible study.

So, I’ll pass on the ladies conferences.  If I want emotional, I’ll find some chick flick to watch.  When it comes to Bible studies, I prefer those that challenge me to increase my knowledge of the Bible.  Give me the Greek and Hebrew words and what they mean so that I can understand it better.  You can keep the Kleenex.

TRUSTING GOD

anxiety

Change is inevitable.  Some change is good.  Some change is not so good.  Some change is painful in that we may go through periods of doubt, uncertainty, and fear before real change is brought about and in the end we see that the change was good, but it sure hurt getting there.

We see changes in circumstances or changes in people.  Which ever the case may be, we know that for us who are believers in Christ, any and all change we experience is for our benefit.  But it is never promised that it would all be easy.

This is where our trust in God needs to be revealed.  We may go through times of doubt in our job situation, or we may experience a health crisis, or we experience a devastating loss through natural disasters or some other means.  In and through all of this, we must keep our trust in God knowing that He will get us through whatever changes come our way.  He will never abandon us.

A dear friend of mine posted this sermon series on Trusting God.  I’ve only heard the first sermon, but I hope the next ones are just as good as the first.

Trusting God Series, Pastor Don Green, Truth Community Church, Cinncinnati, OH

 

CHOOSE THIS DAY…..

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“Choose this day whom you will serve”

There’s an important saying in Biblical hermeneutics and it’s, “Context, context, context!”  I’m going to try and do this some justice because it’s based off a sermon I heard a few weeks back by my husband’s former pastor, Jim McClarty, who pastors a small church in Smyrna, TN, called Grace Christian Assembly (http://salvationbygrace.org).  I can’t for the life of me remember what sermon it was that I was listening to but when he used this verse as an example of how people take verses out of context, my ears perked up a little more.  Folks who oppose the teaching of predestination and election point to this verse and say, “SEE!!!  It says right here that WE choose whom we will serve!”  Not so fast, young grasshopper!

The problem with people using this is that they leave out what comes before it and after it.  This comes from a “speech”, if you will, made by Joshua to the Israelites just before his death.  We all know how fickle those Hebrew children were.  We all know how easily they turned away from God and turned to idols.  So, in Joshua 24 just before Joshua died, he summoned the people of Israel together one last time to encourage them, so to speak.  In verses 14-15, he says this to the Israelites:

(14) “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.  (15) And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Notice in verse 15 it says, “And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.  But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Based on past experiences, Joshua already knew that the Israelites would not be faithful and serve God, so he was basically telling them, “You’ve already proven you can’t serve the Lord, so choose right now whom you’d rather serve, the gods beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.  But, me and my household will serve the Lord.”  Leaving out what came before and after that phrase is taking Scripture out of context.

We must be careful how we use Scripture.  To just say “Choose this day whom you will serve” definitely gives it a different meaning than what it was originally intended in the passage it’s being used in.  We have to be diligent to read Scripture passages as a whole and not pick out phrases here and there just to suit our purposes.

CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT!

SPIRITUAL ADULTERY

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In the book of Hosea, we read how God commanded the prophet, Hosea, to take the prostitute, Gomer, to be his wife.  I’m sure Hosea had some questions as to the validity of this request.  But, he did as God commanded and married Gomer.  She bore him 3 children and after a time, she left Hosea and began prostituting herself.  After a period of time, God told Hosea to go find Gomer, and buy her back and take her home.  Many use this story of Hosea and Gomer to talk about faithfulness in marriage, but God used this story to show how Israel (represented by Gomer) had been unfaithful to God (represented by Hosea) and how God was going to redeem Israel (through the death of Jesus Christ).  Ironically, the origin of the name Hosea comes from the same name that Joshua comes from and both of those mean, “Savior” or “Salvation”.

When we hear the term “adultery”, our minds automatically think of one spouse cheating on another.  But, just as the story of Hosea reveals, there is another kind of adultery and that is spiritual adultery.  Every single one of us has committed some form of spiritual adultery.  Remember how it used to be when you first came to know Christ?  You read your Bible, you prayed, you were at church every time the doors opened.  But, somewhere along the way, something caught your attention away from all that.  At one time, you couldn’t get enough of God’s Word.  Now, your Bible is gathering dust on your nightstand or you tossed it in the backseat of your car and hasn’t been touched in weeks or months.  You can’t even remember the last time you prayed.  And now attending church is just one more thing to check off your weekly list instead of something you feel privileged to do.  We have all done it.  Why is that?  Because we are like Gomer.  We are unfaithful.  It doesn’t matter what it is that draws us away from God, the root problem is self-centeredness.  Just as Gomer thought she could do better than Hosea and went out looking to satisfy her needs through other men, we, too, go out looking for something other than God to satisfy us.  It could be a job.  It could be a hobby.  Sometimes, it’s just ourselves that we’re worshipping.  We’d rather live our lives the way WE want to instead of how God wants us to.  We have made ourselves to be an idol and are living in spiritual adultery.

But, thankfully, because we belong to God, He will only let us hang out so long in that state and He will bring us back to Himself.  We may have to hit rock bottom before we realize that the idol of our own making was leaving us unfulfilled and wanting, and that God, who redeemed us through His Son Jesus, is all we need.  God is and will always be faithful, no matter how unfaithful we are to Him.

CARTOON CHRISTIANITY

Looneytunes

I’ll probably get hate mail for this but it’s just the way I feel.  I cannot stand seeing Christian quotes and Facebook memes using cartoon characters.  Years ago, I wouldn’t have had a problem with it, but as I’ve gotten older and a bit deeper in my knowledge and understanding of God’s Word, doctrine, and theology, I see them as juvenile, foolish, and very irreverent.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m no “stick in the mud”.  I don’t mind passing some time away watching the old Looney Tunes or Scooby-Doo cartoons.  Heck, it’s what I grew up on!  My favorite comic strips are Peanuts, B.C., Garfield, Calvin and Hobbes, and the old Bloom County.  They’re entertaining.  But, when I see cartoon characters being used to spread the gospel, it just rubs me the wrong way.  God is no cartoon character (although atheists would disagree).  He’s the Almighty Creator of the universe.  He deserves our upmost reverence in how we live and how we worship Him.  To me, it belittles God when we reduce His message of mercy, love, grace, and forgiveness down to a cartoon character.

But, that’s just me.

HAVE WE FORGOTTEN ABOUT GRACE?

grace

GRACE–the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.

PATIENCE–the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting upset or angry

Over the years since the gospel has become more man-centered, we have seen the slow, painful demise of showing grace to those around us.  It’s everywhere.  “It’s all about me!!”  Or, “How dare he be late.  Doesn’t he know how valuable my time is?”  Driving a car?  Oh boy, talk about your lack of patience and grace!!  Oh sure, we talk about the grace that God showed us when He sent Jesus to die on the cross for our sins.  We’re ALL about that grace!  Why wouldn’t we be?  I mean, there we were, filthy, vile, wretched sinners, but God, because of His love for us, sent His only Begotten Son to take the punishment for our sins.  We did not deserve one ounce of that grace.  Not one.  But yet, we are so thankful that He did that instead of leaving us where we were.

Sadly, we aren’t so quick to show grace to our fellow believers.  I know how I used to be.  Very low on patience and just as low on grace.  I think those two go hand in hand.  If we’re low on patience, we certainly can’t be gracious.  And I still have those moments where I’m not practicing either one.  Believers should be the poster children of patience and grace, but sometimes, I think we get so wrapped up in ourselves that we forget to extend those to our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Why?  Are our needs, wants, and desires that much more important that those around us should cater to them instead of remembering that we, too, aren’t any better than they are?  Is our time that much more valuable than theirs?  Do we think we are more deserving of God’s grace than they are?  We tend to make excuses and justify our lack of patience and grace.  We point out how that “stupid driver cut us off!”  We get frustrated when people don’t seem to do things our way.  “Yeah, but……”  Yeah, but, nothing.  Again…..NONE of us deserved the free grace God gave us but He gave it anyway.  We are to follow Christ’s example in how we treat our fellow believers even if we think they don’t deserve it.

If God saw fit in His love to extend to us and our other brothers and sisters in Christ free grace through Jesus Christ, why are we less willing to show grace to each other?  Do we think so much more highly of ourselves that they aren’t worthy of our grace?  We sure love and appreciate the grace God showed to us, but to have to show it to our fellow Christians??  Well, that’s just asking a little too much……according to some people.  If we take our focus off ourselves and onto Christ, we would find it easier to be gracious and kind and patient.

JESUS WIELDS A SWORD

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There is a verse in Matthew 10:34 in which Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  Some people may read that and think, “Well, wait a minute….doesn’t the Bible say in the Old Testament that the Messiah will be called the Prince of Peace?  Why is He referring to a weapon of war?”  The peace they are referring to is only for those who are in Christ.  But, the subject of this blog isn’t about peace.  It’s about the sword spoken of in this verse.

When people think about a sword, they have the image of a long, steel blade with a handle on one end.  But, the sword that is spoken of here is the sword that is mentioned in Ephesians 6:17, the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.  In Hebrews 4:12, it describes the Word of God as being “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”  Something else the Word does?  It divides families.  It divides friends.  It divides even one denomination from another.  Many religious leaders are sending out the rallying cry for “unity” among the different denominations.  But there is a reason why there are different denominations.  Contrary to popular belief, churches don’t split just over trivial matters such as the color of carpet or what color upholstery to put on the pews, or even what kind of songs to sing.  Martin Luther, the Catholic monk who took on the Pope and the RCC church, started the Protestant Reformation because he realized that the RCC was erroneous in their teachings.  They were teaching that salvation was obtained through works of man instead of the work of Christ.  Then from there, other splits took place within the Protestant movement because some believed in infant baptism, while others believed that baptism is only for those who make a profession of faith in Christ.  Then others disagreed on the proper eschatology.  And on and on and on.

God’s Word causes division.  Families have been divided, friendships have fallen apart, and churches have split because of disagreements over doctrine.  Matthew 10:34 says, “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”  Why would Christ want to do that?  Because correct doctrine MATTERS!  Churches have become lax in doctrinal discernment and now we see all kinds of questionable teachings creeping in.  And when folks start pointing out in God’s Word that something being taught in the church is unbiblical, or they call out popular “Bible” teachers for their doctrinal errors, people tend to get like a cat on the defensive…..they hunch their backs and start hissing.  Our focus should be on the Word of God, NOT on the one bringing the Word.  We tend to put the messenger on the pedestal instead of the Bible.  It is by the Word of God that the posers will be separated from the real.  The sheep will be separated from the goats.  Those who believe the whole counsel of God will be separated from those who pick and choose what they believe, or twist and distort and take Scripture out of context.

Revelation 1:16 describes Jesus as coming back with a “sharp two-edged sword” coming out of His mouth.  This is not a literal sword.  This is referring to Him speaking the Word of God.  It will be on that day that He will destroy His enemies with the words from His mouth.  It is a weapon of war because we are in a spiritual battle for truth.  And truth divides.

CHRISTIANITY LOSING ITS MEANING?

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We all read or heard the news of the man who went on Facebook Live and shot an elderly man in cold blood just because he was upset over circumstances in his life.  The man he murdered wasn’t anyone he knew.  He picked him out at random and decided to end his life just because.  Then we heard the news a couple days later of how he turned the gun on himself when the cops finally caught up with him.  His mother was quoted as saying that her son was “a good Christian person……he just snapped….”.  Now, I’m not here to judge this man’s salvation.  The Bible plainly states that it’s not for us to say if someone is a Christian or not.  Only God knows a person’s heart.  But, when I read his mother’s comments, I just had to ask myself, “Really?  Was he TRULY a Christian?  Because it seems to me that his actions and the motivations for his actions don’t reveal someone who would profess to be a Christian.”

There was a time many, many, MANY years ago when you could tell the difference between those who were truly Christians and those who weren’t.  I know as Christians we still sin.  We still battle our sinful flesh on a daily basis.  We will still do things that go against what we claim to be.  But, it seems in recent decades that people have lowered the standard of what it means to be a Christian.  I live in what is known as the Bible Belt, but in all honesty, I don’t think many churches these days in this region truly know and understand what being a Christian is all about.  1 Peter 2:9 says that Christians are a “chosen generation”, a “royal priesthood”, a “holy nation”, and “a people for His own possession.”  The KJV uses the phrase “a peculiar people” for the last one.  When the Bible uses the word “holy”, it means that we are SET APART.  It’s important to note that if YOU say you’re a Christian, then YOUR actions and how YOU live your life will be drastically different from those who aren’t.

These days, people like to THINK they’re Christian because they (a) joined a church and got their names on a church roll, (b) went to church as a child with grandma and grandpa, and, by golly, if mawmaw and pawpaw are Christians, then they are, too, (c) attend the local church on Christmas and Easter, or (d) they think, “I’m a red blooded American patriot and because America is a Christian nation, then that makes me a Christian, too!!”  And come political season….oh my goodness…..everyone running for a Republican office is suddenly a “Christian”!!  And church people eat that stuff UP!!!  “Oh, he/she says they’re a Christian so let’s vote for them.”  I know of a politician who was told to never step foot in church again if the only time he’s going to show up is during election time.  As far as I know, he had NO use for the church until it was time to try to get re-elected to his office.  To me, he was only making a showing for the Christians, but never identified as one until he needed to be one.

People……America may have started out as a Christian nation, but being an American doesn’t make you a Christian!!  Christianity started centuries before America was even a nation!  Christianity isn’t about which political party you vote for.  It’s not about making sure your name appears on the membership roll of the church two blocks down from your house.  It’s not showing up for the Christmas and Easter services like it’s some sort of thing you check off your list.  Being a Christian means that God, through His Holy Spirit, has regenerated you.  Regeneration means to be “born again”.  It means that God has taken your stone cold, hard heart and replaced it with a heart that now desires the things of God.  It’s living and acting in such a way that sets you apart from the world.  And the ONLY way that can happen is when God saves you.

The bar has been set low as far as Christianity is concerned.  Now days, the church proclaims a person a Christian just because they walked an aisle, signed a card, and got dunked in the baptistery.  Sadly, many of those who did that never darken the door of the church again because the church has told them that was all they needed to do.  Now we have “Christians” running around our country who were never really converted because they’re basing their salvation on something THEY did, and not on whether God has regenerated them.  Trust me on this.  I used to be one of them until God truly regenerated me.  I based my salvation on the fact I walked the aisle and got baptized when in actuality God had not changed my heart.

America really doesn’t understand what being a Christian means.  It’s sad to say, but it’s gotten to the point where other countries know and understand what Christianity is and are sending missionaries to us because we have gone so far off the path.  We have truly lost the meaning of what Christianity really is.

DOING BATTLE OR GIVING UP?

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The Christian life is not easy.  Contrary to what some popular television preachers preach to their congregations and those who watch them on the idiot box each week, being a Christian doesn’t mean life will be all roses and rainbows.

While it’s true that we don’t have a long list of rules to abide by, there are things we must do to help us grow and mature as Christians.  Our adversary, the devil, knows this and he will do what ever it takes to keep us from doing those things, thus, keeping us from growing and maturing in our faith.

I struggle with Bible reading and praying.  I can sit at my desk with earphones in my ears listening to different sermons while I’m working with no problem, but to sit down and try to read the Bible?  I would be asleep in no time.  Praying is hard, too.  It’s not that I don’t pray at all.  If/when a need arises for me or someone else, I can say a quick prayer, but to be a person who has a set time to do some serious praying?  My mind would so easily drift off to something else and I’d lose concentration on the task at hand.  And, many times, there’s just things I put ahead of my Bible reading and praying.  I know there’s no excuse and I need to remedy this situation.

The devil loves to make us useless.  He loves it when people give up.  He can put some kind of trial or adversity in our path and cause us throw up our hands and say, “I can’t do it anymore.  I give up.”  That is what his goal for us is.  When he sees that we no longer struggle to stay in the fight, he wins.  The Bible says we are to put on the whole armor of God.  Putting armor on doesn’t mean we’ll be taking a leisurely stroll through a pretty garden.  Putting on the armor means we are preparing to do battle every day.  We battle against spiritual forces in the heavenly realms.  Forces that are working hard to keep us weak and useless so that we throw down our weapons and say, “I give up.”

What forces are you dealing with?  Are they the forces that seek to fill your head with lies that tell you that God can’t use you due to your past sins?  Are they forces that tell you that because you don’t read the Bible enough, or pray enough, or because you can’t understand what God’s Word says sometimes, then doing these things are useless?  Are they forces that tell you “You’re just too busy to have time for reading and praying”?

We must stay in the battle.  We must keep fighting.  If we lay our weapons down, we’re saying to the devil, “You win.”