A TULIP by any other name…

For God says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I have mercy, and I will show compassion to whomever I show compassion.” So then, it does not depend on the person who wants it nor the one who runs, but on God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very reason I raised you up, in order to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the earth.” So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. Romans 9:15-18

As believers, we serve a totally sovereign God, who demonstrates His absolute freedom in saving His elect as suits His own purposes. Being the result of His sovereign will alone, the calling of His elect proclaims that salvation does not depend upon man who wills or man who runs but on God who has mercy.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Minor points of theology?

In conversation quite some time ago, with the pastor of a small church, he referred to the difference between a faith based on the Doctrines of Grace and one based upon a Doctrine of Works as a minor point of theology. It was certainly not worthy of real discussion, let alone argument.

He was particularly concerned that someone might consider the difference between Limited Atonement and Unlimited Atonement of any significance to their faith.

What could I say? The time and place were not appropriate for getting into a brew ha ha, but I was almost speechless. My previous experience also said that any short discussion would prove fruitless and divisive if his mind was already made up.

That said, if one truly considers matters of foundational doctrinal identity to be of no real importance, what then IS of importance?

In the end, he was of the “let’s just forget all this doctrinal silliness and love Jesus” school. He did not realize that he was thereby challenging the actual efficacy of the work of Jesus and the extent  of His love for us.

So, how and to what degree should we seek theological clarity? Does it matter? The answer is: Of course it does, because clarity brings conviction irrespective of circumstance. Without clarity, faith is merely based on wish and whim.

 

A Tale of Two Johns

John Calvin and John Wesley, of course! In reality, though, it is a case of Augustine versus Pelagius or Calvin versus Arminius. But the current title is true and just so cool.

Let us use the lens of Spiritual Warfare, but more specifically responsibility and consequences.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
                                                                                              Ephesians 6:12 (NASB)

With the outworking of life as a reflection of this invisible warfare, and an active actualization of this battle between principalities and saints, where does personal outcomes as a result of individual actions fit in?

The premise of saving grace in Reformed Theology is that it is not of us: ” For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” Ephesians 2:8 (NASB). We can not save ourselves, even a little bit. So what implication does this have for living in the world after He has called us to Himself?

By virtue of our lives in creation, we are actively involved in the divine struggle. Looking at the power of the principalities involved, and our human affinity for the world of Natural Man, if we do not subscribe to the Perserverance of the Saints (the P in TULIP), we are in big trouble indeed.

Those who know that salvation is not of ourselves, but of the Lord, also know from Scripture that “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;” John 10:27-28 (NASB). Thus they can rest in the knowledge that in the ongoing battle they are safe in His arms for eternity, worldly outworking and appearances notwithstanding.

For those who take a Wesleyan view, and see a human role in salvation, and more importantly a human role in maintaining that state, there are big worries and loads of jeopardy.

We are born to sin, and for all intents and purposes can not help ourselves. We required His quickening in order to consider the promise of salvation to be other than foolishness. If any of the responsibility was or remained ours, then even once we are His how could we maintain that state? Clearly we could not, and we would be in constant danger, particularly if the end of life should approach at the wrong moment. A life of constant jeopardy is not the promised life of joy in the Lord.

Thankfully, it is all of Him alone (Solus Christus), through His Grace alone (Sola Gracia). And since His will can not be thwarted, we as believers shall preserver into Glory.

Now, does the fact that the Wesleyan does not believe this mean that he, once saved, is in any actual jeopardy? The Wesleyan would likely say yes, but the answer must of course be no.

To say yes one must assume that there is an ongoing battle in progress of the actual salvation and that the believer participates actively in its determination. The narrative of Scripture says that this is wrong.

Five Points and Luke 6:45-49

“The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” Luke 6:45.

Some time ago I heard a sermon on this and several following verses from Luke. I actually wrote about it elsewhere. The sermon made a number of good points surrounding human communications difficulties. The thrust of the sermon was that when words are exchanged (whether good or bad), it is not just the words that are important, but the fact that they implicitly reveal the state of the speaker’s heart. As such, communications problems (in this particular sermon, those between the sexes, often in the heat of the moment) must be addressed as heart issues as much as, if not more than, issues of verbal technique. A very good point! And to take it to the obvious next step, to alter the symptomatic expressions in a vacuum is unlikely to yield real, long lasting success.

Thinking about this, both then and later, it would seem that this principle should be extended to other communications, possibly even less direct modes of communication.

For the moment I wish to address only the case of the believer. For the believer, it struck me that one can delve beyond the initial reality that words expose the heart. The tone of that heart, expressed implicitly through the words, is a reflection or barometer of the speaker’s level of confidence in the Grace of our Lord, in a very personally sense. Surely the major component of the good treasure that is stored up in our hearts is the conviction and confidence that not only are we the Lord’s by His power and not our own, but also that in this belonging is an unchanging reality that was established by Him, not us.

If this is not the case, and if indeed the good or even the bad treasure of our hearts is established even marginally by us, then problems arise and our eternity exists on very shaky ground indeed. Scripture states (Jeremiah 17:9) that by virtue of its fallen nature the heart is bad (evil) and that none are worthy to be saved, not one. We are both collectively and individually portrayed as utterly lost in our trespasses and sin. These trespasses and sins are always against God, irrespective of the external circumstance, since He is the standard beyond all circumstance. Since (Romans 3:12) bad can not create good of itself, we are without any ability to alter our basic nature. That being the case, intervention from outside our natural state is required for change to occur. There is no other possibility. Proverbs 28:8 sums it up well, in that even the prayers of unbelievers are “an abomination to the Lord.”

If whatever treasure is in the heart is established by us, outside His intervention, it can not be of Him and thereby can not be truly good – that is, of Him. In that case, any apparent good treasure must be from who we are naturally, and be jaundiced by that natural state from which it springs. What subsequently issues forth from that heart, appearances not withstanding, in the form of words can not be other than similarly jaundiced. This can in no way truly glorify a totally holy God.

Now, in reference to apparent good verbal acts of the unsaved, these are good in the natural sense. They can not, however, appear good to God since their root does not emanate from God. They must therefor fall short before Him no matter how they might appear in the world or what temporal benefit they might exact. They are based in the natural world and its standards of good. They are based on the standards of heaven, which are only achievable through the representation of Christ.

On the other hand, once the heart is changed by the Spirit (again, by the Spirit because the natural man is defined scripturally as completely lost, unable to create good from evil, and thereby unable to change himself) the good exists as the core of his nature, though not completely perfected until sanctification is completed. That path of sanctification, from imperfection to perfection, is certainly one of progressive and at times even faltering change. However, within is the heart claimed by God and regenerated with a core of good. Even at the beginning, but more as the process unfolds, the heart is progressively purified, and so must be the result in the words issuing from it, irrespective of the topic or situation.

A later point made in the same sermon was that, in the end, the heart issue comes down to the issue of rightness with God – that is, salvation. Clearly this is true, since it is from the movement of the Spirit, as evidenced in salvation, that the change of heart occurs.

All this is to say that though words are a good barometer for the heart, they are an even better barometer for self analysis and accountability within ones self, and within our close family in the Lord. What is required is the courage to examine both aspects of our communications and their implications. Only we will truly see the dichotomy between our own heart, how we would like it to be, and the evidence of its expression. A powerful tool in the process, and one that should humble us.

Accordingly, the remedy for the communications slips that we all exhibited in our imperfect state is not communications training, but heart training. Since we, as natural men (or women) are incapable of exacting change from our natural state and can not train our own hearts, the only remedy is to humbly seek change from the Lord, in prayer and the Word. That is the only venue for this development.

Further, in this we can only seek His face. Since it is His sovereign hand that exacts the continued change, on His timetable, we can only bring supplication and worship in obedience. Therein lies the solution, the final part being to rest in confidence in His eternal plan, sufficiency and preservation of the elect.

And once again, I never said easy.

“the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart” Matthew 15:18

Further, for those who would object that we might be in some way entitled to understand the situation more completely, I would cite one of my favourites.

“”The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” Deuteronomy 29:29