We Are Not Neutral

Chapter 1 of Jeff Johnson’s upcoming book.  Having read several of Jeff’s books (The Fatal Flaw & The Kingdom of God), I’m looking forward to this one when it comes out.

“Let’s buy it, dad!” These were the words that darted out of my mouth as soon as I saw the cool yellow truck with its custom rims and ground effects. Immediately I could proudly see myself driving it to school. Not only was it cool, I couldn’t believe it was in my price range. This could be mine, so I thought.

My father responded with the dreaded but predictable words, “We need to test drive it first.” Though this sounds only reasonable, you must realize that I was young and poor. My parents promised to help me buy my first vehicle by doubling all the money I earned over the summer. I worked hard, but only saved $900.00. And even back in the early nineties, you could not expect much for $1,800.00. The last thing I wanted was some grandma wagon.

So when I saw this customized truck, I was ready to pull the trigger without any investigation. In fact, I didn’t want to test drive it, for deep down I knew it was too good to be true. If we happen to discover its mechanical problems, I knew my father would stand in the way of me being cool. You see, I thought if we bought it before we learned that it needed repairs, though more money would be needed to get the thing running, the most important thing would be accomplished – I would have a respectable looking ride to show off to all my friends. The truth is, I didn’t want to know the truth, for I assumed that the truth would stand in the way of my happiness.

As you can imagine, when we opened the hood, it was missing half of its engine. Yep, too good to be true. I ended up with my dad’s old, brown, farm truck – dependable but no ground effects.

I realize now that I was willing to overlook all the blaring red flags and knowingly do something foolish because of my foolish pride. My emotions, my pride, and my inverted values hindered my judgment. I was not objective or rational because I did not want to be objective or rational.

Foolishness is living in opposition to what we know to be true. I am afraid this irrational condition and manner of thinking is universally prevalent in all of us. We are not merely irrational every now and then. Without God, we live in a state of irrationality.

Only irrational fools would consistently and practically deny that 2 + 2 = 4. Not only is the answer to this equation a part of common sense, it is easily demonstrable and highly useful. If a postmodern thinker practically rejects the absolute and universal principles of mathematics, he may applaud himself for being consistent with his relativistic worldview, but in the process his checkbook will be a total mess. Regardless of what we claim we believe about the laws of math, we cannot live consistently without practically submitting ourselves to them. For this and many other reasons it is intellectually difficult to deny the absolute and universal nature of mathematics.

The same is true concerning the truth of Scripture. Scripture does not merely provide a few isolated, unrelated, and discounted truths; it gives us the only complete and cohesive worldview that provides meaning and rationale to the universe. In other words, without the Bible, nothing makes sense in the grand scheme of things. As the Psalmist says, “In your light we see light” (Ps. 36:9).

Yet, if the Bible provides us with the only cohesive system of thought, why is it so hated and rejected by so many? If it is impossible to disprove the truth claims of the Bible, why is it so despised and ridiculed by some of the brightest and smartest minds? Do you want to know the truth? The truth is that if people loved the truth, they wouldn’t reject the truth. The problem is not that the truth is irrational, but that fallen man is not without his personal biases and foolish pride. As we shall see in this chapter, people are selfish by nature, and their selfishness is the controlling influence in how they feel, think, and behave.

Man is Not Neutral

The Bible describes this as depravity. Depravity is an inner heart condition that prevents us from loving any truth that is in opposition to our internal desire to be independent, free, and self-governing. Because we are born depraved, with a fallen nature, we hate the God of the Bible. We may love a god of our own imagination – a god that we can control. This is because we naturally want to be in control of our own destiny. If we want to go to heaven, then we can work our way there. If we want to go to Hell and hang out with our drinking buddies, then that is what we will do. But to lovingly submit every detail of our lives, thoughts, and beliefs to the absolute, sovereign God is not enticing in the least.

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The Decrees of God

Arthur W. Pink writes:

The decree of God is His purpose or determination with respect to future things. We have used the singular number as Scripture does (Rom 8:28; Eph 3:11), because there was only one act of His infinite mind about future things. But we speak as if there had been many, because our minds are only capable of thinking of successive revolutions, as thoughts and occasions arise, or in reference to the various objects of His decree, which being many seem to us to require a distinct purpose for each one. But an infinite understanding does not proceed by steps, from one stage to another: “Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18).

The Scriptures make mention of the decrees of God in many passages, and under a variety of terms. The word “decree” is found in Psalm 2:7. In Ephesians 3:11 we read of His “eternal purpose.” In Acts 2:23 of His “determinate counsel and foreknowledge.” In Ephesians 1:9 of the mystery of His “will.” In Romans 8:29 that He also did “predestinate.” In Ephesians 1:9 of His good pleasure.” God’s decrees are called His “counsel” to signify they are consummately wise. They are called God’s “will” to show He was under no control, but acted according to His own pleasure. When a man’s will is the rule of his conduct, it is usually capricious and unreasonable; but wisdom is always associated with “will” in the divine proceedings, and accordingly, God’s decrees are said to be “the counsel of His own will” (Eph 1:11).

The decrees of God relate to all future things without exception: whatever is done in time was foreordained before time began. God’s purpose was concerned with everything, whether great or small, whether good or evil, although with reference to the latter we must be careful to state that while God is the Orderer and Controller of sin, He is not the Author of it in the same way that He is the Author of good. Sin could not proceed from a holy God by positive and direct creation, but only by decretive permission and negative action. God’s decree is as comprehensive as His government, extending to all creatures and all events. It was concerned about our life and death; about our state in time, and our state in eternity. As God works all things after the counsel of His own will, we learn from His works what His counsel was, as we judge of an architect’s plan by inspecting the building which was erected under his directions.

God did not merely decree to make man, place him upon the earth, and then leave him to his own uncontrolled guidance; instead, He fixed all the circumstances in the lot of individuals, and all the particulars which will comprise the history of the human race from its commencement to its close. He did not merely decree that general laws should be established for the government of the world, but He settled the application of those laws to all particular cases. Our days are numbered, and so are the hairs of our heads. We may learn what is the extent of the divine decrees from the dispensations of providence, in which they are executed. The care of Providence reaches to the most insignificant creatures, and the most minute events—the death of a sparrow, and the fall of a hair.

Let us now consider some of the PROPERTIES of the divine decrees.

First, they are eternal. To suppose any of them to be made in time is to suppose that some new occasion has occurred; some unforeseen event or combination of circumstances has arisen, which has induced the Most High to form a new resolution. This would argue that the knowledge of the Deity is limited, and that He is growing wiser in the progress of time—which would be horrible blasphemy. No man who believes that the divine understanding is infinite, comprehending the past, the present, and the future, will ever assent to the erroneous doctrine of temporal decrees. God is not ignorant of future events which will be executed by human volitions; He has foretold them in innumerable instances, and prophecy is but the manifestation of His eternal prescience. Scripture affirms that believers were chosen in Christ before the world began (Eph 1:4), yes, that grace was “given” to them then (2 Tim 1:9).

Secondly, the decrees of God are wise. Wisdom is shown in the selection of the best possible ends and of the fittest means of accomplishing them. That this character belongs to the decrees of God is evident from what we know of them. They are disclosed to us by their execution, and every proof of wisdom in the works of God is a proof of the wisdom of the plan, in conformity to which they are performed. As the Psalmist declared, “O Lord, how manifold are Your works! in wisdom have You made them all” (104:24). It is indeed but a very small part of them which falls under our observation, yet, we ought to proceed here as we do in other cases, and judge of the whole by the specimen, of what is unknown, by what is known. He who perceives the workings of admirable skill in the parts of a machine which he has an opportunity to examine, is naturally led to believe that the other parts are equally admirable. In like manner we should satisfy our minds as to God’s works when doubts intrude themselves upon us, and repel any objections that may be suggested by something that we cannot reconcile to our notions of what is good and wise. When we reach the bounds of the finite and gaze toward the mysterious realm of the infinite, let us exclaim, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Rom 11:33).

Thirdly, they are free. “Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, or being His counselor has taught Him? With whom took He counsel, and who instructed Him, and taught Him in the path of judgment, and taught Him knowledge, and showed to Him the way of understanding?” (Isa 40:13-14). God was alone when He made His decrees, and His determinations were influenced by no external cause. He was free to decree or not to decree, and to decree one thing and not another. This liberty we must ascribe to Him who is Supreme, Independent, and Sovereign in all His doings.

Fourthly, they are absolute and unconditional. The execution of them is not suspended upon any condition which may, or may not be, performed. In every instance where God has decreed an end, He has also decreed every means to that end. The One who decreed the salvation of His elect also decreed to work faith in them (2 Thess 2:13). “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure” (Isa 46:10): but that could not be, if His counsel depended upon a condition which might not be performed. But God “works all things after the counsel of His own will” (Eph 1:11).

Side by side with the immutability and invincibility of God’s decrees, Scripture plainly teaches that man is a responsible creature and answerable for his actions. And if our thoughts are formed from God’s Word, the maintenance of the one will not lead to the denial of the other. That there is a real difficulty in defining where the one ends and the other begins, is freely granted. This is ever the case where there is a conjunction of the divine and the human. Real prayer is incited by the Spirit, yet it is also the cry of a human heart. The Scriptures are the inspired Word of God, yet they were written by men who were something more than machines in the hand of the Spirit. Christ is both God and man. He is Omniscient, yet “increased in wisdom” (Luke 2:52). He was Almighty, yet was “crucified through weakness” (2 Cor 13:4). He was the Prince of life, yet He died. High mysteries are these, yet faith receives them unquestioningly.

It has often been pointed out in the past that every objection made against the eternal decrees of God applies with equal force against His eternal foreknowledge. “Whether God has decreed all things that ever come to pass or not, all that own the being of a God, own that He knows all things beforehand. Now, it is self-evident that if He knows all things beforehand, He either does approve of them or does not approve of them; that is, He either is willing they should be, or He is not willing they should be. But to will that they should be is to decree them” (Jonathan Edwards).

Finally, attempt, with me, to assume and then to contemplate the opposite. To deny the divine decrees would be to predicate a world and all its concerns regulated by undesigned chance or blind fate. Then what peace, what assurance, what comfort would there be for our poor hearts and minds? What refuge would there be to fly to in the hour of need and trial? None at all. There would be nothing better than the black darkness and abject horror of atheism. O my reader, how thankful should we be that everything is determined by infinite wisdom and goodness! What praise and gratitude are due unto God for His divine decrees. It is because of them that “we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28). Well may we exclaim, “For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to Whom be glory forever. Amen” (Rom 11:36).

Round Up

Have You Ever Had A Pastoral Visit? – It’s not books, but “boots on the ground,” that tell you what really matters when it comes to the shepherding care that Christ provides for his sheep.

A Practical Understanding Of The Sufficiency of Scripture, Part 3 – Check out Part 1, and Part 2.

The Folly Of What Noah Preached – Paul wrote, “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

All Things – The gospel guarantees that we will be brought home to glory. It is by grace that we are saved from the consequences of our sin; the same grace of God in the gospel brings us home. Better, Jesus brings us home.

Quote:

Since God is the creator, he cannot be unjust.  He creates whatever objects, things, or persons he pleases.  If he had wanted elephants with two legs and robins with four legs, he would have created them so.  Created as they are, they have no ground for complaint.  To understand the Bible, one must realize that God is the sovereign creator.  There is no law superior to him that commands, “Thou shalt not create elephants with two legs”, or “Thou shalt not hate Esau.”  There are many details in the doctrine of predestination, and each should be given its due weight; but the basic, the final, the ultimate answer to all objections is the relative position of Creator to creature.  All objections presuppose that man is in some way or other independent of God and has obtained from somewhere or achieved by his own efforts some rights over against Him.  Obviously such a view is totally destructive to Christianity. – Gordon H. Clark

It’s not books, but “boots on the ground,” that tell you what really matters when it comes to the shepherding care that Christ prn.org/blog/2014/03/26/have-you-ever-had-a-pastoral-visit/#sthash.BVGmK6VV.dpuf
It’s not books, but “boots on the ground,” that tell you what really matters when it comes to the shepherding care that Christ provides for his sheep. – See more at: http://www.whitehorseinn.org/blog/2014/03/26/have-you-ever-had-a-pastoral-visit/#sthash.BVGmK6VV.dpuf
It’s not books, but “boots on the ground,” that tell you what really matters when it comes to the shepherding care that Christ provides for his sheep. – See more at: http://www.whitehorseinn.org/blog/2014/03/26/have-you-ever-had-a-pastoral-visit/#sthash.BVGmK6VV.dpuf

Round Up

Presupposed Pain – Those who are truly in Christ must acknowledge the full counsel of God. Knowing persecution is at the doorstep should always revert the believer’s soul towards one comfort that is God Himself.

God’s Scissors And The Cloth of Creation – The potter God handled his clay and set the wheel spinning. The artist God grasped his brush and put it to the canvas. The composer God opened his musical score and put down the first notes.

Christians, We Are Repenters – Are we dissatisfied with the idea of being Christian in name only, and passionate about living as “repenters” who have tasted the goodness and grace of God and can never be the same again.

A Practical Understanding Of The Sufficiency of Scripture, Part 2Part 1 was outstanding, and this one is a good read also.

Quote:

“Whether you can see it or not – and often we cannot – everything is being used of God for your good as well as the good of others…This knowledge is by faith. It is not always by sight. But it is nevertheless certain, because it is based on the character of God, who reveals himself to us as both sovereign and benevolent…We are not to be anxious about the unknown future or to fret about it. We are to live in a moment-by-moment dependence upon God.” – notes from a late 1980′s sermon of Dr. James Montgomery Boice

Examined by Scripture

A man must make the Bible alone his rule. He must receive nothing, and believe nothing, which is not according to the word. He must try all religious teaching by one simple test,—Does it square with the Bible?—What saith the Scripture?

I would to God the eyes of the laity of this country were more open on this subject, I would to God they would learn to weigh sermons, books, opinions, and ministers, in the scales of the Bible, and to value all according to their conformity to the word. I would to God they would see that it matters little who says a thing, —whether he be Father or Reformer,—Bishop or Arch- bishop,— Priest or Deacon,—Archdeacon or Dean. The only question is,—Is the thing said Scriptural? If it is, it ought to be received and believed. If it is not, it ought to be refused and cast aside. I fear the consequences of that servile acceptance of everything which the parson says, which is so common among many English laymen. I fear lest they be led they know not whither, like the blinded Syrians, and awake some day to find themselves in the power of Rome. Oh! that men in England would only remember for what the Bible was given them!

I tell English laymen that it is nonsense to say, as some do, that it is presumptuous to judge a minister’s teaching by the word. When one doctrine is proclaimed in one parish, and another in another, people must read and judge for themselves. Both doctrines cannot be right, and both ought to be tried by the word. I charge them above all things, never to suppose that any true minister of the Gospel will dislike his people measuring all he teaches by the Bible. On the contrary, the more they read the Bible, and prove all he says by the Bible, the better he will be pleased. A false minister may say, “You have no right to use your private judgment: leave the Bible to us who are ordained.” A true minister will say, “Search the Scriptures, and if I do not teach you what is Scriptural, do not believe me.” A false minister may cry, “Hear the Church,” and “Hear me.” A true minister will say, “Hear the word of God.”

– J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) taken from: Consider Your Ways: Being a Pastor’s Address to His Flock. 10th Thousand, Revised and Adapted to All Seasons. London: Hunt & Son, 1849.

God’s Christmas Name

This is from John Frame and is originally entitled, “God in Time.”

On Christmas, we celebrate something quite wonderful: God entering our time and space. The eternal becomes temporal; the infinite becomes finite; the Word that created all things becomes flesh.

Incarnation

Oh, the mystery of it all! The one who knows all things (John 16:30, 21:17) must “grow in wisdom” (Luke 2:52). The all-sufficient one (Acts 17:25) must hunger and thirst (Matt. 4:2, John 19:28). The creator of all must be homeless (Matt. 8:20). The Lord of life must suffer and die. God in the flesh must endure estrangement from God the Father (Matt. 27:46).

In Jesus, God the Son, who knows the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:10), must watch his eternal plan unfold bit by bit, moment by moment. He grows from infancy, to childhood, to adulthood, responding to events as they happen. One time he rejoices; another time he weeps. From day to day, from hour to hour, the changeless God endures change. But God the Son incarnate is still God, still transcendent. As he responds to events in time, he also looks down on the world from above time and space, ruling all the events of nature and history.

Why did God enter time in Christ? Joseph named his baby Jesus, “because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). It was the Father’s love (John 3:16) that sent his Son, “that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” The Son of God took on the limitations of time, even death, so that we who deserve death can have life without limit, forever with God. He died in our place, that we might never die.

At the incarnation of Jesus, the angels stand amazed (Luke 2:14, Eph. 3:10, 1 Pet. 1:11-12). And at this event, non-Christian philosophers and religious teachers look on in bewilderment. In non-Christian systems of thought, it is impossible for ultimate reality to enter time and space. For the eastern religions, and for Plato, Aristotle, and the ancient Gnostics, the supreme being is impersonal, and it would lose its absoluteness if it came in contact with temporal reality. For other religions and philosophies, the supreme being, if it exists at all, is the temporal world itself, or an aspect of it. For them, “god incarnate” could be at most indistinguishable from the rest of the finite world.

Only in biblical religion is there a clear affirmation of a personal God distinct from the world he has made, who is able to come into that world without compromising himself and without losing himself in the world. As incarnate, he remains fully God, and he reveals his full deity, clearly, to his creatures, even amid all the mysteries I mentioned earlier. But this means that only in Scripture do we learn of a God who loves us so much, so wonderfully, so powerfully, that he enters time on our behalf and stands strong to win God’s battle in history against Satan and sin.

Theophany

The incarnation is wonderful, and absolutely unique. Only once did God become a man. He remains God and man forever (Col. 2:9, Heb. 7:24). He became man once, that we might be saved from sin once for all.

But the incarnation was not the first occasion on which God entered time. Scripture records other times when God met human beings in history: with Adam and Eve in the Garden, with Noah, with the patriarchs and Moses, with Isaiah in the temple, and so on. He appeared to Israel in the wilderness, in the cloud and the fire, for over forty years. His glory descended upon the tabernacle and the temple.

These events, that theologians call “theophanies” (“appearances” of God), are not incarnations. In them, God does not become flesh forever, to die for sins and rise to glory. But they are similar to the incarnation of Jesus in some ways. Certainly, they are mysterious. As in Jesus, God in theophany enters a historical process, a series of events. He becomes an actor in his own historical drama.

In Isaiah 6, God watches and listens to the angels sing his praises. He waits until they are done. Then he hears Isaiah’s repentance, observes his symbolic cleansing (6-7), speaks to Isaiah, hears his reply (8) and continues the conversation (9-13). God acts in time, responding to each event as it comes, doing what is appropriate at each moment. He changes, in a way: for at one time he listens; at another he speaks. He changes, though he is unchangeable (James 1:17).

In Ex. 32, Israel rebels against God by worshipping a golden calf. God threatens to destroy them and replace them with a new nation, made up of Moses himself and his descendants (verse 10). But Moses intercedes: Lord, remember your promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And God “relents” (verse 14). He does not destroy Israel, though he they do feel his wrath. Here we see how God in theophany accomplishes his eternal plan: through dialogue with a man. He first states an initial intention (a statement of what Israel actually deserves), but then, in response to Moses’ intercession, promises mercy instead. Mercy was always his eternal plan; but he also planned to bring that mercy through human prayer, not without it. Before Moses’ prayer, only judgment was in order. Through a give-and-take between God and Moses, the Lord works out his eternal intention.

In theophany, God, whose eternal plan brings all things to pass (Eph. 1:11), awaits events that he has foreordained. He accomplishes his will, not instantaneously, but by a process. He accomplishes his will in time by becoming an actor in the historical drama of which he himself is the author. He does not hasten to bring it to an end, as he well might. As in the incarnation, he responds to events as they happen. Once he speaks of grace and blessing, another time of judgment. He speaks and acts appropriately as he responds to each situation. In these ways, the mysteries of theophany are similar to those of incarnation.

Temporal Omnipresence

But even incarnation and theophany together do not exhaust the mysterious ways in which God comes into time. For in a sense, God is always in time, in history. We do not hesitate to speak of God’s omnipresence in space: God is everywhere. We can never escape from his presence in blessing and judgment (Psm. 139:7-12, Jonah 1-2, Acts 17:28).  But if God is present in space, he is also present in time. If he is always here, then he is always now as well.

Israel in Egypt knew that God was God of their fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (Ex. 3:6); but, groaning under their bondage, they may well have wondered if God was still their God, still able to fulfill his promises after 400 years of silence. I believe that the mysterious name “I AM” (Ex. 3:14) is in part a response to this concern. God says to Moses, “I will be with you” (3:12), not only in the burning bush theophany, but also when Moses stands before Pharaoh to demand his people’s freedom.

He is still with us, now. Jesus said that he would be with us always (Matt. 28:20) in the Spirit (John 14:15-18). That means that God is still an actor in history, as well as transcending history. He is with me as I write, watching one moment pass into the next, responding appropriately to each event, bringing his sovereign Lordship to bear on every situation as it comes, hearing and responding to my prayers. But he is also looking down on the world from his transcendent, timelessly eternal viewpoint. He is both transcendent and immanent. As transcendent, he brings all things to pass according to his eternal plan. As immanent, he works in and with all things, moment by moment, to accomplish his sovereign will.

So Immanuel, God’s Christmas name, is still appropriate. Jesus’ incarnation, unique as it is, is in some respects like the way God relates to his world at all times, in all generations (Psm. 90:1). God is still an actor in our history, acting, responding, grieving, rejoicing. But he acts in history as the sovereign Lord of history.

The “open theist” movement of writers such as Gregory Boyd, William Hasker, Clark Pinnock, Richard Rice, and John Sanders, believes that if we are to do justice to the give-and-take between God and his creatures in history, we must reject God’s sovereign control over history, even his exhaustive knowledge of the future. Those conclusions do not follow logically, and they are not biblical. (I shall explore open theism in greater depth in myDoctrine of God, forthcoming from P&R Publishers.) Rather, these biblical pictures of God’s actions in time should lead us to a heightened view of God’s sovereignty. Our God is one who can and does accomplish his sovereign will, not only “from above,” by his eternal decrees, but also “from below,” by making all things work together for his good purpose (Rom. 8:28). Even God’s apparent defeats in history are the outworkings of his eternal plan. In the very death of Jesus for our sins, God was acting in time to bring his sovereign purpose to pass (Acts 2:23).

So Christmas reveals in a wonderful way that God acts in time as well as above it. It shows us wonderfully how God relates to us, not only as a mysterious being from another realm, but as a person in our own time and place: interacting with us, hearing our prayers, guiding us step by step, chastising us with fatherly discipline, comforting us with the wonderful promises of the blessings of Christ. Truly he is Immanuel, the God who is really with us, who is nonetheless eternally the sovereign Lord of all.

Monday Roundup

I ran across several intriguing articles today and thought I’d share them.  The first one is rather timely in that my thoughts have centered much on a more simplistic life.  It is a long read, but well worth the effort.

Cereal Choice?  Hermeneutics and a High View of the Bible – The grocery store cereal aisle has become a common metaphor for distinguishing the West from the rest of the world.

Jesus is Not Your Sin Manager – Jesus did not die to manage our sin. He died to kill it.

Southern Baptist Churches are Shrinking – While this article deals with the SBC, I think it could easily apply to many denominations.

Formation of the Canon of Scripture – Links, links and more links to resources dealing with the formation of our Bible.

Roundup

Dates, Doctrines, & Dead People – About 2 years ago I started realizing that I had very little understanding of Evangelical Christian history.  I am still not well versed in it, but realize the importance of it and I’m really looking forward to this blog series because I hope it sheds new light on the why we, as Christians, need a better grasp of it.

Scripture Tools for Every Person (STEP) – A relatively new, free, online Bible study resource.

The Single Greatest Command in Deuteronomy – Who would have thought?

Flower Timelapse – It is incredible to see the process of a flower growing from a seed to a fully flowering plant.  It reminds me of the incredible intelligence of the Creator of all things.