Thinking on Scripture with Dr. Steven R. Cook

Dr. Steven R. Cook is a Christian educator and traditional dispensationalist with a passion for teaching and writing about Scripture and Christian theology. He provides verse by verse analysis of Scripture and engages in discussions about Christian theology, rooted in his studies of the original languages of Scripture, ancient history, and systematic theology. As a voluntary ministry activity, Dr. Cook records weekly Bible studies at his home in Arlington, Texas, which are then shared through his podcast and YouTube channel. In addition to his audio and video messages, he has written several Christian books and dozens of articles on Christian theology. Dr. Cook also brings his theological expertise to the classroom, having taught undergraduate courses in theology at Tyndale Theological Seminary. Despite his busy schedule as a Case Manager for a local nonprofit agency, which helps the elderly and disabled in the community, Dr. Cook remains committed to his ministry and sharing his knowledge and insights with others. If you’re looking for a knowledgeable Christian educator and traditional dispensationalist, look no further than Dr. Steven R. Cook.

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19 hours ago

     Our salvation is seen in three phases. Because we have trusted Christ as our Savior, we have been saved from the penalty of sin (John 5:24; Rom 8:1, 33-34; Eph 2:8-9), are being saved from the power of sin that we might live righteously (Rom 6:11-13; Col 3:5), and will be saved from the presence of sin when we leave this world and enter heaven (Phil 3:20-21; 1 John 3:2, 5). These three aspects of our salvation are also referred to as justification (declared just before God once for all), sanctification (our progressive righteousness over time), and glorification (removal of the sin nature after we leave this world). This section will focus on phase two of our salvation, looking mainly at the biblical concept of spirituality and the steps the Christian can take to advance to spiritual maturity.
     After we heard the gospel message that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and raised again on the third day (1 Cor 15:3-4), and we trusted Jesus as our Savior (John 3:16; Acts 4:12; 16:31), we became children of God (John 1:12; Gal 3:26), and were transferred from Satan’s domain of darkness into the kingdom of Christ (Col 1:13). Having been born again to new spiritual life (John 3:3; 1 Pet 1:3, 23), and indwelt by God the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16), God now expects us to feed on the nourishment of His Word (1 Pet 2:2), advance to spiritual maturity (Heb 6:1), and manifest a life of righteousness (Rom 6:13; 2 Tim 3:16-17). In His Word, God has given us everything we need to accomplish this mission. The objective for us is to learn Scripture and embark on the journey of faith that glorifies God, edifies others, and brings us to the place of spiritual adulthood.
Spirituality Defined
     The word “spiritual” derives from the Greek adjective pneumatikos (πνευματικός), which, according to Joseph Thayer, refers to “one who is filled with and governed by the Spirit of God.”[1] Spirituality is very nuanced and, according to Christopher Beetham, denotes “the whole range of activities, attitudes, experiences, etc., that ultimately depend on and derive from the Spirit and that draw their significance from the Spirit.”[2] Such an understanding is contrasted with the worldly system of values and practices that originate with Satan, which are totally at odds with the Word of God and seek to hinder the Christian’s walk with the Lord (1 John 2:15-16).
Dr. Steven R. Cook
 
[1] Joseph Henry Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Being Grimm’s Wilke's Clavis Novi Testamenti (New York: Harper & Brothers., 1889), 523.
[2] Christopher A. Beetham, ed., “Πνεῦμα,” Concise New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2021), 755.

Saturday Jul 06, 2024

Exposition of James 2:14-26 (Full Notes Here)
     James wrote, “What use is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him?” (Jam 2:14). The question demands a negative answer. No. An inactive and useless faith cannot save the Christian. Here, salvation is deliverance from divine discipline (Heb 12:6), which can be severe (1 Cor 11:30), and eventuate in physical death (Jam 5:20; 1 John 5:16), and loss of reward at the bema seat of Christ (1 Cor 3:10-15). As Christians, “we will all appear before the judgment seat of God…and each one of us will give an account of himself to God” (Rom 14:10, 12), for “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive compensation for his deeds done through the body, in accordance with what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor 5:10). To be a Christian without good works is to have a useless faith, which will bring God’s discipline. Earl Radmacher states, “Saved (Gk. sōzō) is used five times in James (Jam 1:21; 2:14; 4:12, 5:15; 5:20). Each time it refers to the saving of the temporal life…In this context James is referring to being ‘saved’ from the judgment without mercy at the judgment seat of Christ (Jam 2:13) and possibly the saving of one’s life from physical death (Jam 1:21).”[1] Thomas Constable adds, “Orthodox faith without good works cannot protect the Christian from sin’s deadly consequences in this life (Jam 5:20; 1 John 5:16). That faith cannot save him from God’s discipline of him as a believer. Good works in addition to faith are necessary for that kind of deliverance (salvation).”[2]
     James provided a good example of useless faith, asking, “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” (Jam 2:15-16). Kind words uttered by one Christian to another are useless to help the brother or sister who needs food and clothing (cf., 1 John 3:17). James said, “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself” (Jam 2:17). For James, a dead faith is a useless faith. Throughout Scripture, death means separation, not cessation or non-existence.[3] In James’ letter, a dead faith is one that is separated from the good works God expects from His people. And when faith does not produce good works, it stagnates spiritual growth in the Christian and becomes useless to others. For James, the matter is not one of true faith versus false faith, but faith that is accompanied by good works versus a faith without works.[4] Charles Bing correctly notes:
"James is not concerned with the reality of his readers’ faith, but the quality (Jam 1:3, 6; 2:1; 5:15) and usefulness (Jam 1:12, 26; 2:14, 16, 20) of their faith. James is not saying faith will manifest itself in works, but that without works, faith is useless or unprofitable in this life and the next. James’ main concern is that his readers become “doers of the word” (Jam 1:22) which is the same as being a “doer of the work” who will “be blessed in what he does” (Jam 1:25). For example, faith that perseveres in trials earns a reward from God (Jam 1:3-12), and faith that is merciful to others receives God’s mercy at the Judgment Seat of Christ (Jam 2:8-13). But faith that does not work is useless towards these blessings and useless in helping others (Jam 1:26; 2:20). The word “dead” should therefore be understood as useless or unprofitable rather than non-existent. It is used this way in everyday speech: the battery is dead; the body is dead; the project is dead. What we mean is not that these things do not exist, but that they are not vitalized so as to be useful."[5]
     James then introduces an imaginary objector in the next two verses (Jam 2:18-19). He begins by saying, “But someone may well say…” (Jam 2:18a). James then presents the objector’s argument: “…You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (Jam 2:18b). The “someone” here refers to anyone within proximity to the Christian who claims to have faith. The word “show” translates the Greek word deiknumi (δείκνυμι), which, according to BDAG, means “to exhibit something that can be apprehended by one or more of the senses, point out, show, make known.”[6] For example, when Jesus healed a man of leprosy, He told him, “go, show yourself to the priest” (Matt 8:4). This meant others could visibly see what was presented. This is helpful, for faith by itself is not visible to others, but only to God and the person who holds it. Faith becomes observable to others when it is put into action.
     James then states, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder” (Jam 2:19). James is referencing the Shema when he says, “You believe that God is one” (Jam 2:19a; Deut 6:4). This was the Jewish statement of faith in God, and is still used today. To this, James says, “You do well” (Jam 2:19b), which means the statement is theologically correct and James has no objection to it. But James then states, “the demons also believe, and shudder” (Jam 2:19c), which means correct theology, by itself, does not necessarily lead to beneficial action. Demons are monotheists who believe God exists, and they know that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh (Mark 3:11-12), and that their future is one of eternal punishment (Matt 8:29; 25:41; Luke 8:31; Jude 1:6). Of course, salvation is not open to fallen angels, so their belief in God’s existence causes them to shudder and tremble at the truth.
     James returned to address his Christian readers, saying, “But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?” (Jam 2:20). This is the main point of James’ argument, “that faith without works is useless” (Jam 2:20b). The word “useless” translates the Greek adjective argos (ἀργός), which, according to BDAG, pertains to being “unemployed, idle…unproductive, useless, worthless.”[7] Christian faith, for it to benefit others, must be exercised and put into action, as this will prove useful to others who need tangible things such as food and clothing. The apostle John communicated similar language when he wrote, “whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:17-18).
     Continuing his argument, James states, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?” (Jam 2:21). Abraham was saved nearly 30 years before the event of Genesis 22 when he offered up his son, Isaac (see Gen 15:6). Though Abraham was alone with Isaac on the mountain, his obedience to the Lord was heard about by others and recorded in Scripture for our benefit. Justification before God is by faith alone. Justification before others is by faith plus works. Radmacher notes:
"This type of justification is before other people. In other words, James is using the word justified to mean “proved.” We prove to others our genuine faith in Christ through our works. But the justification that comes through faith is before God, and we do not “prove” ourselves to Him; instead, God declares us righteous through our association with Christ, the One who died for our sins (Rom 3:28)."[8]
     Healthy faith obeys the Lord, even when the action is difficult or costly, such as when Abraham offered up his son, Isaac. Active faith helps us grow spiritually, like good nutrition and exercise help the body develop and grow strong. This seems to be James’ point, as he states, “You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected” (Jam 2:22). The words “was working with” translate the Greek verb sunergeō (συνεργέω), which means, “to engage in cooperative endeavor, work together with.”[9] The idea is that faith and works naturally go together. To be “perfected” means to be brought to a place of maturity, fully developed. Faith can start out small and grow over time. We know that Abraham, who did not always trust the Lord,[10] eventually “grew strong in faith” (Rom 4:20). But this took time and testing. According to Radmacher, “The point James is making to the objector is that faith works together with works, that is, there is a relationship between the two and the relationship is works make faith perfect (Gk. teleioō), that is, mature.”[11] James continued, saying, “and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,’ and he was called the friend of God” (Jam 2:23). Here, James references Abraham’s conversion, when “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (Jam 2:23a; cf., Gen 15:6), and then his obedience to the Lord roughly 30 years later when he offered his son, Isaac (Gen 22), and as a result “was called the friend of God” (Jam 2:23b). Being called “the friend of God” was a privilege afforded to Abraham later in his life because of his obedience to do God’s will. Jesus, when talking to His saved apostles, used similar language, saying, “You are My friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14). To be a friend of God means a saved person (who is already justified by faith alone) operates as an obedient child and does the Father’s will (in ongoing faithfulness to the Lord).
     James then tells his brethren, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (Jam 2:24). Again, this justification is in the sight of others who question the Christian’s faith. James then uses another OT person to make his point, saying, “In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?” (Jam 2:25). Rahab was saved physically when she welcomed the Israelite spies and then secured their safety by sending them out safely (see Josh 2:1-15). Her works demonstrated her faith in a visible way that benefited others (the Israelite spies), and her actions resulted in her physical salvation, as Rahab and her family were spared when Jericho was destroyed (see Josh 6:17-25).
     James concluded, saying, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (Jam 2:26). Good works animate faith, just like the presence of the spirit animates the body. Take away the spirit, and the body becomes lifeless, so take away good works, and faith dies, becoming useless. Charles Bing states, “In James 2:26, James is not saying that faith invigorates works, but that works invigorate faith. It is works which make faith useful, just as the spirit makes the body useful. The issue is not whether faith exists in a person, but how faith becomes profitable or useful to a Christian.”[12]  
     In summary, James wrote his letter to Christians, not to make them question their eternal salvation, but to encourage them to put their faith into action so that they might be useful to God and others. His warning to them is that if they fail to mature in their faith and make it useful in service to others, they will be subject to divine discipline. James in no way contradicts Paul. Paul wrote about justification in the sight of God, whereas James wrote about being justified in the sight of others.
Dr. Steven R. Cook
 
[1] Earl D. Radmacher, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary, (Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers, 1999), 1667).
[2] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Jas 2:14.
[3] Jesus, when describing the parable of the prodigal son, said he “was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found” (Luke 15:24). In the passage, dead meant lost, or separated from his father, and life meant found, or restored to his father. And Paul wrote about a widow “who gives herself to wanton pleasure” (1 Tim 5:6a), saying she “is dead even while she lives” (1 Tim 5:6b). That is, her sinful lifestyle separated her from fellowship with God and rendered her useless to Him.
[4] Biblically, faith sometimes requires only mental acceptance that a proposition is true. For example, Moses wrote, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). This statement does not call for a physical action (such as caring for a parent or feeding the hungry); it simply requires understanding and accepting that the universe and earth came into being by a sovereign act of God. Similarly, we might mentally claim a promise of God, such as when He said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb 13:5). When crises arise, we can reflect on this promise and rest in the assurance that He is with us and will never leave. This operation of faith is mental and does not require a physical act. Furthermore, no one can see what happens in our minds as we think about God and claim His promises by faith. However, there are times when faith requires physical action, when God directs us to do something for the benefit of others. Sometimes the action is verbal. For example, Paul said, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Eph 4:29). He also said, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col 4:6). These are actions of speech that benefit others. Other times, the action meets the tangible needs of others. Paul wrote about “contributing to the needs of the saints, and practicing hospitality” (Rom 12:13). James emphasized visiting “orphans and widows in their distress” (Jam 1:27). Titus wrote, “Our people must also learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, so that they will not be unfruitful” (Tit 3:14). These are acts that meet material needs in others. Wealthy Christians who have been blessed by the Lord are instructed “to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Tim 6:18). Paul was personally blessed by the financial gifts of others, as he told the Christians in Philippi, “you sent a gift more than once for my needs” (Phil 4:16). These verbal and physical acts fall under Paul’s general directive: “While we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal 6:10).
[5] Charles C. Bing, “Faith Without Works is Dead. James 2:14-26” Grace, Salvation, and Discipleship: How to Understand Some Difficult Bible Passages(Brenham, TX: Lucid Books, 2015).
[6] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 214.
[7] Ibid., 128.
[8] Earl D. Radmacher, et al, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary, 1667.
[9] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 969.
[10] First, after God called Abraham to go to the land of Canaan (Gen 12:1-9), a severe famine struck the land (Gen 12:10a). In response, Abraham chose to go down to Egypt to escape the famine (Gen 12:10b). This decision can be seen as a lack of trust in God’s provision. Instead of relying on God to sustain him in Canaan, the land God had promised to him and his descendants (Gen 12:7), Abraham sought refuge in Egypt. Second, the event with Hagar also displayed a lack of faith (Gen 16:1-4), as Abraham tried to produce an heir without waiting on God. Third, on two occasions, Abraham instructed Sarah to say she was his sister rather than his wife. The first instance occurred in Egypt (Gen 12:11-13), and the second with Abimelech in Gerar (Gen 20:1-2, 11). Abraham feared that because of Sarah’s beauty, the men of these places would kill him to take her. By lying, Abraham showed a lack of trust in God’s protection. Rather than trusting that God would safeguard them, he took matters into his own hands.
[11] Earl D. Radmacher, et al, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary, 1668.
[12] Charles C. Bing, “Faith Without Works is Dead. James 2:14-26” Grace, Salvation, and Discipleship: How to Understand Some Difficult Bible Passages.

Saturday Jun 29, 2024

Introduction (Full Notes Here)
     The debate over James 2:14-26 revolves around how to reconcile faith and works in the context of salvation.[1] Catholics and Arminians traditionally see faith and works as both essential for eternal salvation. Reformed theologians see James as setting forth a litmus test for authentic faith, contending that true saving faith is evidenced by a life of obedience and good works. In other words, while salvation is by grace through faith, genuine faith results in a transformed life marked by obedience to Christ as Lord. According to John Frame, “James 2:24, which speaks of justification by works, tells us that a faith without works is not saving faith, not true faith. So, works are evidence of a true, saving faith.”[2] John MacArthur adds, “Good works are inevitable in the life of one who truly believes. These works have no part in bringing about salvation (Eph 2:9; Rom 3:20, 24; 4:5; Tit 3:5), but they show that salvation is indeed present (Eph 2:10; 5:9; 1 John 2:5).”[3] R. C. Sproul states, “every true believer bears some fruit. If he does not, he’s not a believer.”[4] Even some of my favorite Bible teachers hold this view. For example, Arnold Fruchtenbaum says, “Is a faith that produces no work whatsoever really a saving faith? The obvious answer is, ‘No.’ The issue here is saving faith.”[5] And Charles Ryrie states, “Can a nonworking, dead, spurious faith save a person? James is not saying that we are saved by works but that a faith that does not produce good works is a dead faith…Genuine faith cannot be ‘dead’ to morality or barren to works.”[6] According to Warren Wiersbe, “Any declaration of faith that does not result in a changed life and good works is a false declaration. That kind of faith is dead faith…Dead faith is not saving faith. Dead faith is counterfeit faith and lulls the person into a false confidence of eternal life.”[7] William MacDonald states, “works are not the root of salvation but the fruit; they are not the cause but the effect. Calvin put it tersely: ‘We are saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone.’”[8]
     Many proponents of this view assert that merely professing faith without a corresponding life of obedience can lead to self-deception and a false sense of security regarding one’s salvation. One of the flaws of this view is that Christians spend much of their time looking at themselves and wondering if their works are genuine, or if they’ve done enough to prove their eternal salvation. Because sin continues in the lives of all Christians, and this to varying degrees, it leaves the believer in a state of uncertainty about their eternal destiny because they never know if their works represent a genuine saving faith.
     In James 2:14-26; James is not distinguishing genuine from false faith; but rather, a useful faith that works to bless others, versus a useless faith that cannot save the Christian from divine discipline and loss of reward at the bema seat of Christ. For James, a dead faith is a useless faith that benefits no one, and his reference to salvation is from divine discipline, not the lake of fire. It’s noteworthy that James 2:14-26 is sandwiched between two sections concerning divine judgement (Jam 2:12-13; 3:1). Biblically, disobedient Christians face God’s judgment in this life as they are subject to divine discipline (Heb 12:6), which can eventuate in physical death (1 Cor 11:30; Jam 1:15, 21; 5:19-20; 1 John 5:16), as well as future judgment before the bema seat of Christ in heaven (Rom 14:10-12; 2 Cor 5:10). At the judgment seat of Christ, all Christians will stand before the Lord Jesus, not to determine if they have eternal life, for that is already secure for them (John 5:24; 10:28; 1 John 5:13), but to be evaluated on how they lived and rewards given for obedience to Him (1 Cor 3:10-15). This is important to understand, for when James poses the question, “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?” (Jam 2:14), he’s talking about a useful faith that benefits others and saves the Christian from divine discipline in this life, which can eventuate in physical death, and loss of reward at the bema seat of Christ.
The Usefulness of Faith
     For James, faith must be put into use to be beneficial to others. In one sentence, James said, “faith, if it has no works, is dead” (Jam 2:17), and in another sentence, said, “faith without works is useless” (Jam 2:20). A dead faith is a useless faith. It is useless to God and others, being of no benefit to the needy. We use similar language when we talk about a “dead battery,” we’re talking about a battery that is useless. And when we talk about Latin being a “dead language,” we mean it’s no longer in use. Likewise, a dead faith is a useless faith. However, unlike a dead battery or a dead language, we have volition and the ability to put our faith into practice, making it useful to others. Which is why James previously wrote, “prove yourselves doers of the word, and not just hearers who deceive themselves” (Jam 1:22).
     The teaching of Scripture is that sinners are saved totally apart from works. Paul wrote, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Rom 3:28), and salvation comes “to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly” (Rom 4:5). We are “not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified” (Gal 2:16), for “by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8-9). God “has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works” (2 Tim 1:9a), and “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness” (Tit 3:5a). Good works do not save us eternally. They never have and never will.
     James is not contradicting Paul. They are addressing two different matters. Paul addresses justification before God, which is based entirely on the work of Christ at the cross and the imputed righteousness that comes to the one who trusts in Christ alone for salvation (Rom 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9). James addresses justification in the sight of others, what we might call vindication. God does not need to see our faith. He knows it’s there. But others cannot see our faith, so good works help them to see what we claim to be true. Once saved, we are called to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7). God said, “My righteous one shall live by faith” (Heb 10:38), for “without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Heb 11:6). And we know that “whatever is not from faith is sin” (Rom 14:23). Furthermore, Christians are commanded to love others (John 13:34; Gal 5:13; 1 Th 4:9). This love is to be actionable and tangible (Jam 2:15-16; 1 John 3:17-18). Also, we are directed to do good works, which glorify God and edify others. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16; cf. Eph 2:10). God’s Word directs us to “do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal 6:10), “to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Tim 6:18), to be “zealous for good deeds” (Tit 2:14b), to “learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs” (Tit 3:14a), “to stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Heb 10:24). Failure of Christians to put their faith into action means they are disobedient to the Lord and subject to divine discipline. Scripture reveals, “those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and chastises every son whom He receives” (Heb 12:6). Jesus said, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline” (Rev 3:19a). Paul wrote, “But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world” (1 Cor 11:32).[9] With these doctrines in mind, let’s look at James 2:14-26.
Dr. Steven R. Cook
 
[1] James clearly wrote to saved persons, Jewish believers, whom he called “brethren” (Jam 1:2, 16, 19; 2:1, 5, 14; 3:1, 10, 12; 4:11; 5:7, 9-10, 12, 19), confirmed they were born from above (Jam 1:17-18), and said they had “faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ” (Jam 2:1). He said the Holy Spirit dwelled in them (Jam 4:5), which proved they were Christians, for “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him” (Rom 8:9). The main purpose of James’ letter was to exhort Christians to spiritual maturity (Jam 1:4), which manifests itself in practical righteousness. James in no way contradicts Paul. Paul wrote about justification in the sight of God (Rom 3:28; 4:1-5; Gal 2:16), whereas James wrote about being justified in the sight of others (Jam 2:18, 24).
[2] John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006), 205.
[3] John F. Macarthur, Jr., “Faith According To The Apostle James” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Vol 33/1: March 1990, 18.
[4] R. C. Sproul, Can I Be Sure I’m Saved?, vol. 7, The Crucial Questions Series (Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2010), 15.
[5] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Messianic Jewish Epistles: Hebrews, James, First Peter, Second Peter, Jude, 1st ed., (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2005), 253
[6] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible: New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, Expanded ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995, 1970), 1970.
[7] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 354.
[8] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 2229.
[9] He gave to us It is never the will of God that we sin (1 John 2:1), but all saints commit sin, and there is no such thing as a sinless saint. David wrote, “my sins have overtaken me…they are more numerous than the hairs of my head” (Psa 40:12), and “I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (Psa 51:3). Paul said of himself, “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want…I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good” (Rom 7:19, 21). And the John wrote, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us…If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:8, 10). James said, “we all stumble in many ways” (Jam 3:2a). Though forgiven all our sins (Acts 10:43; Eph 1:7), and saved (Eph 2:8), Christians continue to possess a sin nature (Rom 6:6; 7:14-25; 13:14; Col 3:9; Gal 5:16-17, 19-22; 1 John 1:8), and commit personal acts of sin (Eccl 7:20; 1 John 1:10; 2:1). Though the power of the sin nature is broken (Rom 6:11-14), the presence of the sin nature is never removed from us until God takes us from this world and gives us a new body like the body of Jesus (Phil 3:20-21; 1 John 3:2, 5). It is possible for saints to commit any sin an unbeliever can commit, to the same degree, and for the same duration of time. That’s not what God wants from us. He wants righteousness. It’s possible for Christians to live sinfully, though not without consequences. Living sinfully does not mean loss of eternal salvation, for that is not possible. Jesus said, the one who believes in Him “has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24), and “I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:28). Paul wrote, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). But if Christians choose to operate by the sinful flesh (1 Cor 3:1-3), love the world (1 John 2:15-16), and live sinfully, like the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-24), they open the door to divine discipline and great suffering (Heb 12:5-11), which can eventuate in physical death (1 Cor 11:30; Jam 1:15, 21; 5:19-20; 1 John 5:16), and the loss of eternal rewards (1 Cor 3:10-15; 2 John 1:8).
 

Saturday Jun 22, 2024

     The gospel is the good news that addresses the bad news of human sinfulness and separation from a holy God. Despite our helplessness and deserving of eternal punishment, God’s solution is the gospel of grace, which reveals Jesus Christ took our sins upon Himself, died, was buried, and resurrected on the third day (1 Cor 15:3-4). At the cross, God judged our sin as His righteousness required, and pardons the sinner as His love desires. Salvation from eternal damnation is a free gift offered to all who trust in Christ alone, which emphasizes God’s infinite grace rather than our human effort. This ultimate gift, paid for by Jesus’s sacrifice, underscores the Bible’s message that “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23), highlighting God’s generosity and the completeness of Christ’s work on the cross.
God is Holy
     The Bible reveals God is holy. God declares of Himself, “I am holy” (Lev 11:44), the psalmist says, “holy is the LORD our God” (Psa 99:9), and the Seraphim declare, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts” (Isa 6:3). In her prayer, Hannah said, “There is no one holy like the LORD” (1 Sam 2:2). In these verses, the word “holy” translates the Hebrew word qadōsh (קָדוֹשׁ), which, according to James Swanson, refers “to being unique and pure in the sense of superior moral qualities.”[1] God’s holiness is closely linked with His righteousness, justice, and perfection. Holiness denotes moral purity. J. Carl Laney states, “When we say ‘God is holy,’ we mean He is totally separated from all that is unholy, defiling, or contrary to His nature. God’s holiness is unique and distinctive in that it is without any contamination or impurity.”[2] Because God is absolutely holy, it is written, “no evil dwells with You” (Psa 5:4), “Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You cannot look on wickedness with favor” (Hab 1:13), and “God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Evil is any thought, word, or act that is contrary to the character and will of God. According to Merrill F. Unger, moral evil “is the failure of rational and free beings to conform in character and conduct to the will of God.”[3]George Howley states, “God is separate from all evil and is in no way responsible for it…[and] It can only be attributed to the abuse of free-will on the part of created beings, angelic and human.”[4] Evil originates in the heart (Gen 6:5; Zech 8:17), is part of our nature (Matt 7:11), and results in evil actions (Neh 13:17; Prov 24:8; 1 Pet 3:12).[5] According to Scripture, “the LORD is righteous and He loves righteousness” (Psa 11:7). There is a time when “He is coming to judge the earth; and He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in His faithfulness” (Psa 96:13), and He will “judge the living and the dead” (2 Tim 4:1).
Everyone is a Sinner
     Sin is the failure to conform to God’s perfect righteousness. Scripture reveals we are sinners “in Adam” (Rom 5:12-13; 1 Cor 15:21-22), sinners by nature (Psa 51:5; Jer 17:9; Rom 7:14-25; 13:12-14), sinners by choice (Eccl 7:20; Isa 59:2; Jam 1:14-15; 1 John 1:8, 10), born as “sons of disobedience” (Eph 2:2), and are “by nature children of wrath” (Eph 2:3). The Bible reveals “there is no one who does not sin” (1 Ki 8:46), and “there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins” (Eccl 7:20). Isaiah wrote, “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isa 53:6a). Paul stated that we “are all under sin” (Rom 3:9), and “there is none righteous, not even one” (Rom 3:10), for “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). James wrote, “we all stumble in many ways” (Jam 3:2a), and John declared, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us... If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:8, 10). This means everyone stands guilty before God.
Good Works Do Not Save
     Good works have no saving merit before God. Isaiah wrote, “all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment” (Isa 64:6a). Paul wrote, “a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified” (Gal 2:16), for “by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8-9), and God “saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works” (2 Tim 1:9), and “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness” (Tit 3:5a). Though human good works may have value in the sight of other people, they have absolutely no saving merit in God’s sight. None at all!
The Solution of the Cross
     We are helpless to save ourselves, but God made a way, and this because He loves us and desires our salvation. He loves us so much that He sent His Son into the world to pay the sin debt we cannot pay. We’re told, “By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). Nearly 2,000 years ago, God the Father sent God the Son into the world to take upon Himself humanity (Isa 7:14; Luke 1:30-35; John 1:1; 14; Heb 10:5), to be free from sin (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 Pet 2:22; 1 John 3:5) and to live a perfectly righteous life. Jesus said, “I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38; cf., John 7:29; 8:29; Gal 4:4). Jesus was sent by the Father to be “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), for “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
     Jesus willingly went to the cross and paid our sin-debt (John 10:18). His death was a penal substitutionary sacrifice for us, as the Son of Man came “to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Paul wrote, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Peter said, “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). His death on the cross was for all sins for all time, for “the death that He died, He died to sin once for all” (Rom 6:10), He “offered one sacrifice for sins for all time” (Heb 10:12), and “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). Because of Jesus’ death on the cross, God “canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col 2:14). There’s nothing for us to add to Jesus’ work on the cross. Having paid our sin debt in full on the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30), and then He died.
     After Jesus died for our sins, He was buried in a grave, and raised on the third day, as Scripture reveals (1 Cor 15:3-4). And “Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again” (Rom 6:9). After Jesus’s resurrection, He was seen alive by hundreds of people (1 Cor 15:5-8), and those eye witnesses provided a written record of what they saw and heard (Luke 1:1-4; John 20:30-31; 2 Pet 1:16-18). God’s offer of salvation is available for everyone. The Bible speaks of “God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:3b-4), who has brought “salvation to all men” (Tit 2:11), and is “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9).
     The cross is God’s righteous solution to the problem of sin, as well as His greatest display of love toward sinners. At the cross, God judged our sin as His righteousness required, and pardons the sinner as His love desires. To understand the cross of Christ is to understand the heart of God toward a fallen world He wants to save. If someone perishes eternally, it is because they failed to respond to God and His drawing them to Himself (John 3:18; 5:39-40; Acts 7:51). All who end up in the lake of fire are there by personal choice, not because God failed to love them or make provision for their eternal salvation.
     Once we hear the good news about what Christ accomplished for us, we are asked to place our faith in Him, to “Believe in the Lord Jesus” for salvation (Acts 16:31). Jesus is the object of our faith. To believe in Christ as our Savior means we trust Him to accomplish for us what we cannot accomplish ourselves: eternal salvation from the lake of fire. Faith in Christ is the only condition for salvation. Faith does not save. Christ saves. Faith is merely the instrument by which we receive the gift of God. Only the empty hand of faith accepts the gift. It offers nothing, but is open to receive that which is offered by another. No payment is required by us to receive it. Christ alone saves. No one else can save us, including ourselves.
Salvation is a Free Gift from God
     Salvation is a gift from the Lord. It is the most precious gift ever offered. And though the gift was very expensive to God, it is absolutely free to us. The precious gift of our salvation was paid in full by the Lord Jesus Christ who died for our sins, who hung between heaven and earth and paid our sin-debt. According to God’s Word, “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23). The words “free gift” translate the Geek noun charisma (χάρισμα) which, according to BDAG, refers to “that which is freely and graciously given, favor bestowed, gift.”[6] And Joseph Thayer defines it as “a gift of grace; a favor which one receives without any merit of his own.”[7] Paul, when writing to the Christians at Ephesus, said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8-9; cf., Rom 4:4-5; Tit 3:5). To say we are saved by grace means our salvation is unearned and undeserved in any way. God’s gift of salvation is totally apart from any good works we may produce, and since good works do not save, bad works cannot unsave (though they can bring divine discipline). A gift focuses on the graciousness of the giver, whereas a reward focuses on the work of the recipient. Salvation is NOT a reward for work we’ve accomplished; rather, it is a free gift from God and based totally on the finished work of Christ. We pay nothing. Jesus paid it all.
     The realization that salvation is offered freely, based solely on the perfect work of Jesus on the cross, offers profound relief to the person who has been laboring under the yoke of a works-based system. Those who operate under a works-based system of salvation will never reach a place of certainty in their relationship with God, for they will never know whether they have done enough to gain entrance into heaven. But the truth that salvation is a grace-gift from God, received by faith alone, liberates those who accept it. When properly grasped, God’s gospel of grace alleviates the pressure to perform and the fear of falling short and brings a deep sense of peace and joy, knowing our salvation is secure, not because of our own efforts, but because of Christ’s finished work. Peace comes when we look to Christ and the promises of Scripture and not ourselves. This gospel of grace message transforms our relationship with God from one of fear and striving to one of gratitude and love, as the focus moves from what we must do to what Christ has already done on our behalf. This grace-based approach encourages us to live out our faith from a place of thankfulness rather than obligation, resulting in a more authentic and joyful Christian life.
The Benefits of the Cross
     At the moment of faith in Christ, the benefits of the cross are applied to us. Scripture reveals we are forgiven all our sins (Acts 10:43; Eph 1:7), given “eternal life” (John 5:24; 10:28; Rom 6:23), the “gift of righteousness” (Rom 5:17; Phil 3:9), have “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1), become “children of God” (John 1:12; Gal 3:26), are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24), are “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13), and are blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph 1:3). Furthermore, as Christians, we are among those “whose names are in the book of life” (Phil 4:3). As a result, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). We will never experience the lake of fire. Never. As Christians, “our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:20).
Good Works Should Follow Salvation
     To be eternally saved, the only condition is faith alone in Christ alone (John 3:16; 20:31; Acts 4:14; 16:31). That’s all. Once saved and justified in God’s sight, the Lord expects us to submit to Him in total obedience in all areas of life (Matt 28:20; Rom 12:1-2; Jam 4:7), and to learn His Word in order to live His will in every particular (2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet 2:2).
     After salvation-justification, the Lord directs us to begin a lifelong journey of faith (2 Cor 5:7; Heb 10:38; 11:6), and to “press on to maturity” (Heb 6:1). This glorifies God, edifies others, and results in the best life possible in this world. Good works is what God expects of His people. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16). Paul wrote, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Eph 2:10). The Lord instructs us “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Tit 2:12) and to be “zealous for good deeds” (Tit 2:14). We agree with Paul who wrote, “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal 6:10). God clearly calls His people to a life of obedience and good works. There is no question about this. The Scriptures are plain on the matter, instructing us, “like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior” (1 Pet 1:15). It is never the will of God that we sin; however, when we sin (and there is no Christian who does not sin), it is always His will that we handle it biblically by means of confession (1 John 1:9), which always results in forgiveness and restoration of fellowship. If we fail to walk in regular obedience to the Lord, we are subject to divine discipline in time (Heb 12:5-11), and loss of rewards in eternity (1 Cor 3:10-15; 2 John 1:8). Though believers may turn from the Lord and pursue a life of sin, these will also experience divine punishment, even to the point of physical death (1 Cor 11:30; 1 John 5:16-17), but will not forfeit their salvation, which is not possible (John 10:28).
     In summary, salvation is free. The Lord Jesus purchased it for us on the cross, and He offers it without cost to those who place their trust in Him. It is freely offered and freely received, and there’s nothing for us to pay. That’s grace. Our justification before God is a one-and-done event that happens at the moment of faith in Christ. Good works are not a prerequisite, corequisite, or postrequisite to salvation. That is, beyond simple faith in Christ, nothing is required of us before, during, or after we believe in Him as our Savior. We are saved by grace alone (we don’t deserve it), through faith alone (not by works), in Christ alone. Good works should follow salvation (Eph 2:10; Gal 6:10), but they are never the condition of it.
     Once saved, God calls us to a lifelong process of sanctification. Sanctification is the life we live after being justified, and this process continues until we leave this world, either by death or rapture. The sanctified life requires us to learn and live God’s Word (2 Tim 2:15; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18), walk by faith (2 Cor 5:7; Heb 10:38), be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18), walk by the Spirit (Gal 5:16), and make ongoing good choices to stay on the path of God’s will.
Dr. Steven R. Cook
 
 
[1] James Swanson, “קָדוֹשׁ”, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).
[2] J. Carl Laney Jr., eds. Charles Swindoll and Roy Zuck, “God is Holy”, Understanding Christian Theology (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003), 188.
[3] Merrill Frederick Unger, “Evil” The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), 382.
[4] George Howley, “Evil,” ed. D. R. W. Wood et al., New Bible Dictionary (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 349.
[5] To be evil means we conform ourselves to Satan’s world-system (1 John 2:15-16), and that we, by default, are self-centered and not God-centered. To be righteous means we are conformed to God’s character and will, both in a salvific and sanctified way.
[6] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1081.
[7] Joseph Henry Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Being Grimm’s Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti (New York: Harper & Brothers., 1889), 667.

Saturday Jun 15, 2024

God’s Sovereignty and Human Volition at the Cross
     One can see God’s sovereignty and human volition working simultaneously at the crucifixion of Jesus. In the sovereignty and wisdom of God, without overruling human volition, the Lord accomplished His will by means of the wills of wicked men who sought to oppose Him. Luke tells us, “this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2:23). Here, wicked men did their worst against God and His Messiah, and yet, what was done to the Messiah, was done “by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God.” Luke states something similar when he recorded Peter’s prayer to God, saying, “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur” (Acts 4:27-28). These wicked men “were gathered together against” Jesus, to oppose and crucify Him. Yet Peter says to God they did “whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.” These wicked men—whose pride and power were threatened by Jesus—sought to destroy Him by means of false witnesses and illegal trials, and to put Him to death in the most horrible way possible; crucifixion. But God is sovereign, and by means of His invisible hand, used the very actions of those who opposed Him to accomplish the thing He desired; the death of Messiah for everyone. Here is a mystery that brings awe and bewilderment, as the wills of wicked men became the vehicle of divine destiny to produce exactly what God intended. God was in no way the author of their sin. Those who crucified Messiah acted freely. Yet their free actions were the modus operandi to accomplish His will, and so Messiah was crucified and bore the sins of those who placed Him on the cross.
Human Choice to Believe
     God is sovereign, and He created people with volition, which is the ability to choose. One should not seek to press sovereignty or free will to an extreme. Arnold Fruchtenbaum correctly notes, “if one goes too far with sovereignty, he ends up teaching that there is absolutely no free will. He would teach that people are saved whether they willed it or did not will it. Some of the elect are dragged into the Kingdom kicking and screaming. That has gone over to the sovereignty extreme.”[1] In Scripture, we observe clear statements where people are called to exercise their volition and personally trust in Christ as Savior (John 3:16-18; Acts 16:30-31; Rom 10:12-15; Eph 2:8-9). Fruchtenbaum continues:
"On the other side of the coin is human responsibility, where the Bible also just as clearly teaches that people are individually responsible for their moral choices. They are somehow responsible for their eternal destinies. Whether they end up in the Lake of Fire or the New Jerusalem, that is somehow relevant to the choice they make. Throughout the Bible, God calls upon people to make a choice. Joshua declared to the people of Israel, in the closing days of his life, Choose you this day whom ye will serve (Josh 24:15). It is obvious that the Israelites were able to make some kind of a choice and were challenged to make it. Thus we have this same concept of human responsibility. Even when we have statements in the Bible about God hardening the hearts of certain ones, like the heart of Pharaoh, it also indicates in the same context that somewhere along the line Pharaoh also hardened his own heart. We believe God holds us morally responsible for the choices we make, and He expects us to make moral decisions. If we are not able to make any moral decision, if we really do not have such a will, it is inconsistent for God to hold us responsible for choosing things that He Himself predestined us to choose. Yet the Bible constantly exhorts us to believe, and in becoming believers, the Bible exhorts us to live godly lives. The Bible holds us responsible for the choices we make, either as unbelievers or as believers. If there is no real free choice of some kind, then how could God justly reward us or punish us for the choices we make?"[2]
     Election does not remove the responsibility to believe in Christ as Savior (Rom 10:13-14). Faith is non-meritorious, having no saving value in itself. Christ alone saves. In order for people to be saved, they must believe in Jesus as the Savior (John 3:16; Acts 4:12; 1 Cor 15:3-4). From the human side of salvation, faith in Jesus is the necessary response to God’s call, and no one can be saved any other way (John 14:6; Acts 16:31). According to Robert Lightner, “God the Father is sovereign. He must be to be God. Human responsibility is just as biblical as divine sovereignty. Jesus stressed both. Jesus said no one can come to him unless drawn by the Father but he also said none who come to him would be cast out (John 6:37).”[3]
     There are a number of passages that emphasize human volition. Concerning unbelieving Israel, Jesus said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling” (Matt 23:37). The Bible teaches that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4), and that “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men” (Tit 2:11), and the Lord is “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9). If someone perishes eternally, it is because they failed to respond to God and His drawing them to Himself. Jesus said that one is judged eternally, “because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18b). And when speaking to unbelievers, Jesus said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life” (John 5:39-40). [Article: Why Volition Matters] Stephen, when about to be stoned to death, said to his attackers, “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did” (Acts 7:51). All who end up in the lake of fire are there by personal choice and not because God failed to love them or make provision for their eternal salvation. According to Lewis Chafer, “If men go to perdition it will be because every possible mercy from God has been resisted.”[4]
     The spiritual condition of unbelievers is that they made the choice not to believe. Also, Satan imposes spiritual blindness upon them. As Paul wrote, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:3-4).
     God saves everyone who is positive to Him and believes in Christ as their Savior (John 3:15-16, 18, 36; 5:24, 39-40; 6:47; 20:31; Rom 3:28; 4:3-5; 5:1-2; 1 Cor 1:21; 15:1-4; Gal 2:16; 3:26; Eph 2:8-9; Phil 3:9; 1 John 5:10-13), and condemns forever those who are negative to Him, who suppress His truth in unrighteousness (John 3:19; 12:37; Rom 1:18-32), and who reject His offer of eternal life, leaving them to suffer for their own choices (John 3:18; 5:39-40). This means God sovereignly chooses to elect those who believe in Christ as their Savior.
What About Children who Die Before Reaching the Age of Accountability?
     What about babies and little children? Are they among God’s elect? Do they go directly to heaven whey die? Yes. All babies and little children go to heaven if they die before reaching the age of accountability. Concerning this doctrine, Robert B. Thieme Jr., states:
"Age of Accountability - The point in life when an individual is capable of recognizing the existence of a Supreme Being, capable of understanding the Gospel, and responsible for his own decision toward a relationship with God. This is also called the point of God-consciousness. Scripture is clear that God makes His existence evident within the world (Rom 1:19-20). Accountability is reached when, through simple thought and reasoning, a person can consider that existence and draw conclusions. The specific age at which this occurs varies among individuals and depends on several factors, including geographical location, social conditions, education, and individual mental capacity…Individuals who die before reaching accountability, including infants and the severely mentally handicapped, are taken directly into the presence of the Lord (2 Sam 12:22-23). In grace, God automatically saves anyone who lacks the mental ability to reach God-consciousness and make a responsible decision about Christ."[5]
     The age of accountability is a theological extrapolation that is born out of certain passages of Scripture. For example, Moses wrote of “little ones… have no knowledge of good or evil” (Deut 1:39). And God spoke of Isaiah’s son, Shear-jashub (Isa 7:3), that “before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you [Ahaz] dread will be forsaken” (Isa 7:16). According to Norman Geisler, “These texts seem to imply that there is an age of moral accountability. Even of adults, Jesus said, ‘If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains’ (John 9:41). How much more would this apply to infants who cannot yet know right from wrong.”[6] Another revealing passage is found in 2 Chronicles where we’re told, “Jehoiachin was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned three months and ten days in Jerusalem, and he did evil in the sight of the LORD” (2 Ch 36:9). Here we see an eight year old whose actions were called “evil in the sight of the LORD.” It reveals that an eight year old with normal cognitive function could be held morally responsible for his actions before the Lord.
     Moral accountability before God seems to assume normal sensory and cognitive function, such that a person who has the sensory and intellectual capacity to know that God exists through creation (Psa 19:1-2; Rom 1:18), can then make a decision to pursue Him, or to “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18). It would seem that those who suffer from an intellectual or developmental disability (i.e., Down syndrome, severe autism, etc.) are granted a special dispensation concerning their moral accountability before God, and they are granted free access to heaven. The command to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation presupposes intelligence and the ability to exercise one’s volition. Children and those who are mentally disabled lack the intellectual and volitional capacity to make a decision for or against Christ; therefore, they are not made accountable for sin. Robert Lightner states:
"In the Bible, infants, little children, and others who cannot believe are neither told to believe nor expected to do so. They are not classified as wicked evildoers and rejecters of God’s grace. It is always adults who are addressed, either directly or indirectly, regarding these matters. Because the Bible has so much to say about those who cannot believe and yet says nothing about their being eternally separated from God because of their inability, we conclude that they have heaven as their home. They die safely in the arms of Jesus."[7]
     An often-cited biblical passage on this matter is found in the life of King David who lost a newborn son as a result of his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah. David was guilty of horrible sin, but he had a sensitive heart and was very concerned for his child. After the death of David’s son, he said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows, the LORD may be gracious to me, that the child may live.’ But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Sam 12:22-23). While the child was alive, David prayed to God to be gracious “that the child may live.” However, after the child died, David expressed optimism by saying “I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” David was thinking of heaven, where he knew his infant son had gone. Concerning this passage, Robert Lightner states:
"Life after death was a certainty for David. That he would be with his son again in the future was his firm belief. He never doubted that fact for a moment. David was rightly related to the Lord, and he did not question that he would spend eternity with Him. Nor did he have any doubt that his infant son, taken in death before he could decide for or against his father’s God, would be there also. Some people argue that David’s declaration meant merely that he would one day join his son in death. As the child had died, so would the father in due time. But such a view does not account for the anticipated reunion and fellowship with his son that is strongly implied in the statement and in the context. David’s act of worship in the house of the Lord is inexplicable if the death of his son merely reminded David of his own certain death."[8]
     That heaven welcomes little children is stated in Jesus’s Words, when He told His disciples, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14; cf., Matt 18:3). John Walvoord notes, “The case of those who die before reaching the age of responsibility is a different problem. The proper doctrine seems to be that infants are regenerated at the moment of their death, not before, and if they live to maturity, they are regenerated at the moment they accept Christ.”[9]
Summary of Election:
     In summary, God’s election is a sovereign act from eternity past and is predicated on love and grace (Eph 1:3-6), and not on any foresight of worth or good works (Deut 7:7-8; 1 Cor 1:26-31; Rom 9:9-16). God elects based on His foreknowledge, as Peter states, we are “chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (1 Pet 1:1-2), and the elect are saved through the preaching of a gospel message (Rom 10:14-17), and believing in Christ as their Savior (John 3:16; Acts 4:12; 16:31). The basis for condemnation is always a person’s unbelief (John 3:18; 5:39-40; Eph 2:3), as it is negative human volition that keeps people from coming to Christ (1 Tim 2:4; 4:10; John 5:40; Acts 7:51). Election is not merely to salvation, but to a holy and righteous life that honors the Lord (Col 3:12; 2 Th 2:13; 1 Pet 2:9). Election agrees with unlimited atonement (John 1:29; 3:16–17; Heb 2:9; 1 John 2:2), and produces humility because it reveals that salvation is completely of the Lord and that people have nothing to boast about (Rom 4:2; Eph 2:9), and God preserves eternally those who are saved (John 10:28-29). Lastly, babies and little children are not held accountable for their actions, as they do not know right or wrong (Deut 1:39; Isa 7:16), and are counted among God’s elect and enter heaven when they die, for, as Jesus said, “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14; cf. 2 Sam 12:22-23).
Dr. Steven R. Cook
 
[1] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, God’s Will & Man’s Will: Predestination, Election, & Free Will, ed. Christiane Jurik, 2nd Edition. (San Antonio, TX: Ariel Ministries, 2014), 2.
[2] Ibid., 3–4.
[3] Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology: A Historical, Biblical, and Contemporary Survey and Review (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1995), 191.
[4] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Salvation (Philadelphia, PA: Sunday School Times Company, 1922), 40.
[5] Robert B. Thieme, Jr. “Age of Accountability”,  Thieme’s Bible Doctrine Dictionary, 4.
[6] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Three: Sin, Salvation, 448.
[7] Robert Lightner, Safe in the Arms of Jesus (Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel Publications, 2000), 15-16.
[8] Ibid., 55.
[9] John F. Walvoord, The Holy Spirit (Galaxie Software, 2008), 135.

Saturday Jun 08, 2024

Election
     Election derives from the Greek verb eklegō (ἐκλέγω) which, according to BDAG, means “to make a choice in accordance with significant preference, select someone or something for oneself.”[1] According to Norman Geisler, “The word election (or elect) occurs fourteen times in the New Testament. An elect person is a chosen one; election (or elect) is used of Israel (Rom 9:11; 11:28), of angels (1 Tim 5:21), and of believers. In relation to believers, election is the decision of God from all eternity whereby He chose those who would be saved.”[2] Geisler further states, “The words chosen and chose are used numerous times. The terms are employed of Christ (Luke 23:35; 1 Pet 1:20; 2:4, 6), of a disciple (Acts 1:2, 24; 10:41; 22:14; John 15:10), and even of Judas (John 6:70; 13:18), who was chosen to be an apostle. Soteriologically, a chosen one is a person elected to salvation by God.”[3]
     Election is that free choice of God from eternity past in which He chose to save and bless some (Eph 1:4-5). The elect are the ones chosen. God elects groups (Luke 6:13-16; John 6:70) and individuals (1 Ch 28:5; Acts 9:15). Election is to salvation (Acts 13:48; Eph 1:4-6; 2 Th 2:13), spiritual blessing (Eph 1:3), holy and righteous living (Col 3:12; 1 Pet 2:9), and service for the Lord (Jer 1:4-5; Gal 1:15-16; cf. Acts 9:15). In election, God is sovereign and people are free. Both are true. This is why Jesus said, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37). Here we observe the coalescence of God’s sovereignty and positive human volition as the Father gives and people come of their own choice.[4] We observe something similar in Acts where Luke wrote, “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” (Acts 13:48). Here we observe Gentiles who were appointed to eternal life, and that they personally exercised their volition and believed in the Lord for salvation.[5] Robert B. Thieme Jr., states:
"[Election is] the recognition by God, before the foundation of the world, of those who would believe in Christ; the sovereign act of God in eternity past to choose, to set apart, certain members of the human race for privilege, based on His knowledge of every person’s freewill decisions in time. While God is sovereign, having the right to do with His creatures as He pleases, never has He hindered or tampered with human free will. He did not choose some to be saved and others to be condemned. Instead, in eternity past, God first chose to accomplish the work of man’s salvation through the Son. Then, He looked down the corridors of time and elected for salvation everyone He knew would believe in Jesus Christ (Eph 1:4). God elected believers in the sense that He knew ahead of time that their free will would choose for Christ….Moreover, God did not elect anyone to hell: unbelievers are condemned to eternally reside in hell only because they have used their volition toward unbelief (John 3:18)."[6]
Predestined by God
     When writing to the Christians at Ephesus, Paul said, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will” (Eph 1:4-5). The word predestined translates the Greek word proorizō (προορίζω), which means, to “decide upon beforehand,  predetermine.”[7] Harold Hoehner defines the word similarly as, “to determine beforehand, mark out beforehand, predestine.”[8] Geisler notes, “Just as God predetermined from all eternity that Christ would die for our sins (Acts 2:23), He also predestined who would be saved. As Paul says, ‘Those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son’ (Rom 8:29).”[9] According to Paul Enns, “Even though election and predestination are clearly taught in Scripture, man is still held accountable for his choices. Scripture never suggests that man is lost because he is not elect or has not been predestined; the emphasis of Scripture is that man is lost because he refuses to believe the gospel.”[10]
     Predestination refers to what God purposes for us. The Bible reveals that God has predestined us to adoption as His children (Eph 1:5), to our ultimate conformity to Christ (Rom 8:29–30), and to the blessings of our future inheritance (Eph 1:11). Warren Wiersbe states, “This word, as it is used in the Bible, refers primarily to what God does for saved people. Nowhere in the Bible are we taught that people are predestined to hell, because this word refers only to God’s people. Election seems to refer to people, while predestination refers to purposes.”[11] According to Robert B. Thieme Jr., predestination refers to “God’s predetermined, sovereign provisioning of every believer for the purpose of executing His plan, purpose, and will in time (Eph 1:4-6, 11).”[12] Thieme further states:
"In eternity past God decreed, or established with certainty, the believer’s destiny for time and eternity. However, the divine act of predestination is never to be confused with the ideas of kismet [the idea of fate] or any other human-viewpoint system of fatalism. God did not negate free will or force anyone into a course of action. Rather, He only decreed and provisioned what He knew would actually happen. He predestined believers based on His eternal knowledge that they would, by their own free will, accept Jesus Christ as Savior. Long before human history began, sovereign God determined that every Church Age believer would be united with the resurrected Jesus Christ, the King of kings. Those who believe are predestined as heirs of God and joint heirs with the Son of God—sharing the eternal destiny of Jesus Christ Himself (Eph 1:5). Furthermore, God predestined believers with everything necessary to fulfill His plan in time. No Christian is dependent upon human energy, personality, or human effort, because God established a grace way of life and furnished the divine means of execution (2 Tim 1:9). Every believer in this age has equal opportunity to either accept or reject God’s predestined provision. Regardless of personal failure or success in time, all believers are predestined to be completely “conformed to the image of His Son” in resurrection bodies in heaven (Rom 8:29)."[13]
Foreknowledge
     Peter wrote of God’s elect as those “who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (1 Pet 1:1-2). Here, the word foreknowledge translates the Greek noun prognōsis (πρόγνωσις), which means “to know beforehand, know in advance”[14] Foreknowledge simply means that omniscient God, from eternity past, knew in advance all that would happen in time and space, and He knew the actions of every person and whether they would be saved or not. Jesus communicated His foreknowledge when He said to His disciples, ‘“There are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him” (John 6:64). God also knew His own actions in time and space, either to direct, permit, or overrule human or angelic decisions, and to judge everyone fairly for their actions. According to Norman Geisler:
"Being omniscient, God also eternally foreknew those who would be saved: “Those God foreknew he also predestined” (Rom 8:29). Indeed, they were “elect according to the foreknowledge of God” (1 Pet 1:2). Since His foreknowledge is infallible (He is omniscient), whatever God foreknows will indeed come to pass. Hence, His foreknowledge of who would be saved assures that they will be."[15]
     In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom 8:29). The word “foreknew” translates the Greek verb proginōskō (προγινώσκω) which, according to BDAG, means “to know beforehand or in advance, have foreknowledge.”[16] Here, the word connotes God’s knowing people in an intimate sense and not merely what they will do. This speaks to the richness of the relationship God has with each individual. Though we exist in time and space and live our lives in a chronological manner with one experience sequentially following the next, God exists in the eternal realm, beyond time and space, in the eternal now. This means that God is present at all times and places in human history simultaneously. Scripture speaks of what God foreknew from eternity past as it relates to the choices of His elect, but His foreknowledge is not detached or impersonal; rather, it is intimately connected to the formation of His family and the execution of His purposes in the world (see Jer 1:4-5).
Prevenient Grace
     Prevenient grace refers to the grace of God that precedes and prepares a person’s heart and will for salvation. The term “prevenient” means “preceding” or “coming before.” According to Geisler, “Prevenient means ‘before,’ and prevenient grace refers to God’s unmerited work in the human heart prior to salvation, which directs people to this end through Christ…This grace is also seen in the fact that ‘the goodness of God leads you to repentance’ (Rom 2:4). Thus, prevenient grace is God’s grace exerted on our behalf even before He bestows salvation on us.”[17]
     Because God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4), and is “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9), He works in a preparatory manner to convince the fallen human heart to welcome Christ (2 Tim 1:9). Jesus spoke of the role of the Holy Spirit in the dispensation of the church age, saying, “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me” (John 16:8-9). According to Geisler, “The act of convicting, then, is that by which God persuades a person that he is a sinner and, thus, is in need of the Savior.”[18] This prevenient work of God is necessary because of the sinfulness of mankind. It is not considered to be salvific in itself but rather a preparatory grace that allows individuals to cooperate with God’s saving work in Christ. In this perspective, salvation is seen as a cooperative process where individuals have the ability to accept or reject God’s offer of grace.
Christians are Elect in Christ
     From eternity past, God intended for His grand plan of salvation for all humanity to be achieved through His Son. Scripture reveals “the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14), and “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10), and He is “the Lamb who has been slain” from the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8). Jesus is the Father’s Chosen One. God said, “Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen One in whom My soul delights” (Isa 42:1). And He said of Jesus, “This is My Son, My Chosen One” (Luke 9:35). And Peter describes Jesus as “chosen and precious in the sight of God” (1 Pet 2:4). Jesus was chosen by God before the foundation of the world to be the Savior of all mankind, and Christians are elect because we are in Christ. Geisler states:
"Christ is eternal, and the universal church was chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4); hence, in the mind of God, the church of God is eternal. Further, Christ is the elect of God (Matt 3:16–17), and we are elect in Him; not only is Christ the elect One, but in the New Testament those “in Christ,” the church, the members of His body, were elect in Him before time began."[19]
     Scripture reveals that Christians “are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (1 Pet 1:1-2), that Christ “was foreknown before the foundation of the world” (1 Pet 1:20), was “chosen and precious” in His sight (1 Pet 2:4), and that God “chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4). The prepositional phrase “in Him” (ἐν αὐτῷ) speaks to our election and union with Christ (Eph 1:4). According to L. B. Smedes, “This strongly suggests that God elects people for salvation in the same decision that He elected Christ as their Savior.”[20] Because Jesus is God’s Chosen One, it is asserted that we, God’s elect, were chosen at the same time as Christ, and He “saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity” (2 Tim 1:9). When we believed in Jesus as our Savior, God placed us into union with Christ, for “by His doing you are in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor 1:30). Paul wrote, “I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen [eklektos], so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory” (2 Tim 2:10).
     The prepositional phrase, “in Christ” (ἐν Χριστῷ), emphasizes the idea of believers being in union with Christ. This union is not merely a metaphorical expression but signifies a profound spiritual reality. The Apostle Paul frequently uses this expression to convey the intimate and transformative relationship that believers have with Christ (Rom 8:1; 12:5; 1 Cor 1:2, 30; Gal 3:28; Eph 1:3-4; Phil 1:1; Col 1:2; 2 Tim 1:9; 2:10). Being “in Christ” signifies that believers are, in a real spiritual sense, united with Him. This identification includes sharing in His death, burial, and resurrection, for we have been “crucified with Christ” (Gal 2:20), and “we died with Christ” (Rom 6:8), were “buried with Him” (Rom 6:4), and “have been raised up with Christ” (Col 3:1). In a real way, we were with Him on the cross, in the grave, and at His resurrection. In the eyes of God, His experience has become our experience. This identification with Jesus is real, even though we were not physically alive at the time of His crucifixion, burial, resurrection, or ascension into heaven. Furthermore, “In Him we have…forgiveness of our trespasses” (Eph 1:7), “have been sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor 1:2), have “eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23), and are told there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). This kind of identification in and with another is true in other instances. For example, it was said of Rebekah, “Two nations are in your womb” (Gen 25:23), even before Israel was called into being as a nation. Similarly, the writer of Hebrews speaks of Levi who “paid tithes” (Heb 7:9), and this while “he was still in the loins of his father” Abraham (Heb 7:10). This means that Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek, even before he existed, as he was in the loins of his father, Abraham.[21]
     Furthermore, being “in Christ” reflects a believer’s new position before God. It signifies that, through faith in Christ, believers are accepted and justified before God. Their sins are forgiven (Acts 10:43; Eph 1:7), and they are seen through the righteousness of Christ (2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9). The phrase also emphasizes that believers participate in the benefits of Christ’s redemptive work. This includes reconciliation with God (Rom 5:10), adoption as children (Gal 4:5; Eph 1:5), the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16), and the status of being a new creation in Christ (2 Cor 5:17). Believers are seen as co-heirs with Christ, sharing in the inheritance of eternal life (Eph 1:3-14; Rom 8:17). This positional truth is foundational to the concept of salvation by grace through faith. While being “in Christ” has personal implications, it also has a corporate dimension. It speaks to the collective identity of the Church as the body of Christ, with believers being interconnected and sharing a common life “in Christ.” Robert B. Thieme Jr., states:
"Through the baptism of the Spirit at salvation, every believer of this age is removed from his position in Adam and secured in his position “in Christ” (1 Cor 15:22; Eph 2:5–6; cf. Gal 3:27). The believer, no longer spiritually dead, is made a “new creature” with a totally unprecedented relationship with God (2 Cor 5:17a). The “old things” that once kept him alienated from God have passed away; phenomenal “new things” have come by virtue of his position in Christ (2 Cor 5:17b). The believer shares Christ’s eternal life (1 John 5:11–12), His righteousness (2 Cor 5:21), His election (Eph 1:3–4), His destiny (Eph 1:5), His sonship (John 1:12; Gal 3:26; 1 John 3:1–2), His heirship (Rom 8:16–17), His sanctification (1 Cor 1:2, 30), His kingdom (2 Pet 1:11), His priesthood (Heb 10:10–14), and His royalty (2 Tim 2:11–12). This new position can never be forfeited."[22]
     In summary, the prepositional phrase “in Christ” encapsulates profound theological truths about the believer’s union with Christ, identification with His redemptive work, a new positional standing before God, and the communal identity of the Church as the body of Christ. It serves as a key concept in understanding the richness of Christian salvation and the transformative impact of faith in Jesus Christ.
Dr. Steven R. Cook
 
[1] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 305.
[2] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Three: Sin, Salvation (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2004), 220–221.
[3] Ibid., 221.
[4] Other passages that emphasize God’s sovereign choice: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44), and “no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father” (John 6:65). Paul wrote, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will” (Eph 1:4-5). And to Christians living in Thessalonica, Paul wrote, “We should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth” (2 Th 2:13).
[5] Romans 9:1-18 is often cited when discussing election to salvation; however, when one looks at the context of Roman 9, it does not pertain to salvation, but to God’s selection of the progenitors of the nation of Israel. In a similar way, God sovereignly selected Nebuchadnezzar to be the king over Babylon (Dan 2:37-38; 5:18), and Cyrus as king over Persia (Ezra 1:2). In fact, God’s sovereignty is supreme when it comes to selecting all human rulers, for “It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings” (Dan 2:21), and “the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes and sets over it the lowliest of men” (Dan 4:17). At times, He even raises up young foolish kings to discipline His people, as He told Isaiah the prophet, “I will make mere lads their princes, and capricious children will rule over them” (Isa 3:4).
[6] Robert B. Thieme, Jr. “Election”, Thieme’s Bible Doctrine Dictionary, (Houston, TX., R. B. Thieme, Jr., Bible Ministries, 2022), 81.
[7] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 873.
[8] Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 193.
[9] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Three: Sin, Salvation, 221.
[10] Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1989), 329.
[11] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 11.
[12] Robert B. Thieme, Jr. “Predestination”, Thieme’s Bible Doctrine Dictionary, 203.
[13] Ibid., 203-204
[14] Moisés Silva, ed., New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 138.
[15] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Three: Sin, Salvation, 221.
[16] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 866.
[17] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Three: Sin, Salvation, 222.
[18] Ibid., 222.
[19] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Four: Church, Last Things, 50–51.
[20] L. B. Smedes, “Grace,” ed. Geoffrey W Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988), 551.
[21] These two analogies with Rebekah and Levi help convey the idea of a connection or representation that transcends mere physical existence. In the case of Rebekah, the passage refers to the statement, “Two nations are in your womb” (Gen 25:23), highlighting that this declaration occurred before Israel was called into being as a nation. This serves as an example of a connection that existed before the actual historical formation of the nation. Likewise, the reference to Levi paying tithes while still in the loins of his father, Abraham (Heb 7:9-10), is another analogy used to illustrate a connection that goes beyond the immediate physical existence of the individual. It suggests a representation or identification that precedes the individual’s own existence.
[22] Robert B. Thieme, Jr. “Position in Christ”, Thieme’s Bible Doctrine Dictionary, 200.

Saturday Jun 01, 2024

Divine Election
Dr. Steven R. Cook
(https://thinkingonscripture.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/06/Divine-Election.pdf)
Introduction
     Election is a biblical teaching that every serious student of the Bible must consider at some point. It addresses issues related to God’s sovereignty and human volition, sin and salvation, justice and mercy, love and faith. Given that election touches upon the infinite and eternal nature of God, it’s not surprising that certain aspects of this doctrine transcend human understanding, similar to the biblical doctrines of the Trinity and the Hypostatic Union.[1] God’s revelation must be our guide. Though we reason through Scripture, our reasoning ability is limited, and we must learn to live with certain unresolvable theological tensions. According to Norman Geisler, “The mystery of the relationship between divine sovereignty and human free will has challenged the greatest Christian thinkers down through the centuries.”[2] Lewis Chafer states, “The doctrine of Election is a cardinal teaching of the Scriptures. Doubtless, it is attended with difficulties which are a burden upon all systems of theology alike.”[3] Warren Wiersbe states, “The mystery of divine sovereignty and human responsibility will never be solved in this life. Both are taught in the Bible (John 6:37). Both are true, and both are essential.”[4] Charles Ryrie adds, “No human mind will ever harmonize sovereignty and free will, but ignoring or downplaying one or the other in the interests of a supposed harmony will solve nothing.”[5] When discussing election with others, it’s always best to maintain an attitude of love and grace, as this will generate more light than heat.
Major Views on Election
     Regarding election and salvation, there are varying perspectives on the roles of divine intervention and human responsibility in the process of being saved. The major views are as follows:
Strict Calvinism adheres closely to the five points of Calvinism summarized by the acronym TULIP. Total depravity means people are completely unable to save themselves or even to seek God on their own due to their sinful nature. Unconditional election refers to God’s choice of certain individuals for salvation, not based on any foreseen merit or action on their part but purely on His sovereign will. Limited atonement means Christ’s death was intended to save only the elect, not all of humanity. Irresistible grace means that when God calls the elect to salvation, they cannot resist His will. Perseverance of the saints means that those whom God has elected and saved will persevere in faith and will not ultimately fall away.
Moderate Calvinism adheres to the basic tenets of Calvinism but with some modifications or a softer interpretation. These often hold to a form of unlimited atonement that suggests Christ’s atonement is sufficient for all but effective only for the elect. They’re also more open to dialogue with other theological perspectives, and tend to avoid the more deterministic implications of strict Calvinism.
Calminianism blends elements of Calvinism and Arminianism, seeking a middle ground concerning God’s sovereignty and human volition. Calminians tend to lean toward unlimited atonement, resistible grace, God’s election based on foreknowledge of who would believe, and the belief that saints can turn to a prolonged sinful lifestyle without losing their salvation.
Arminianism is a theological system that emphasizes God’s conditional election based on foreknowledge. Arminians see people as corrupted by sin, but able to respond to God’s call to salvation. They also adhere to unlimited atonement, resistible grace, and believe Christians are able to forfeit their salvation, which means good works are necessary to retain salvation.
Catholicism teaches that salvation is open to all and involves both God’s grace and human cooperation. In the Catholic view, both faith and works are essential for salvation. Faith is the foundational response to God’s grace, but it must be accompanied by works of love and obedience. In Catholicism, the sacraments are seen as vital means of grace. For instance, baptism is considered necessary for salvation as it washes away original sin and incorporates a person into the body of Christ. The Eucharist, penance, and other sacraments further sustain and deepen a believer’s relationship with God.
Pelagianism is a theological perspective considered heretical by most Christian traditions. It emphasizes human free will and denies original sin, teaching people are born morally neutral, and each person can choose to do good or evil without the necessity of divine grace. Pelagians emphasize that salvation can be achieved through human effort and moral striving, and they see God’s grace is seen as helpful but not necessary for living a righteous life or achieving salvation.
     The above categories are simplified presentations with detailed nuances others might seek to expand and clarify. My purpose in presenting them is to provide a basic construct of the major views. What follows is my understanding of the doctrine of election as it is taught in the Word of God.
God is Sovereign
     The Bible reveals God is sovereign over His creation, declaring “The LORD is King forever and ever” (Psa 10:16), and “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Psa 135:6), and “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Dan 4:35). God Himself declares, “My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please” (Isa 46:10b; cf. Psa 33:11), and this because He is the “only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Tim 6:15), Who “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11b). All this is true; however, the Bible also reveals God sovereignly created both angels and people with intellect and volition, and has granted them a modicum of freedom to act as free moral agents. According to McChesney, God’s sovereignty “is not to be viewed in any such way as to abridge the reality of the moral freedom of God’s responsible creatures or to make men anything else than the arbiters of their own eternal destinies. God has seen fit to create beings with the power of choice between good and evil. He rules over them in justice and wisdom and grace.”[6]
     At all times, and without external restraint, God remains in constant sovereign control, guiding His creation through history. He interferes in the affairs of mankind, and His unseen hand works behind all their activities, controlling and directing history as He wills. We know from Scripture that God possesses certain immutable attributes and that He never acts inconsistently with His nature. For example, because God is righteous, all His actions and commands are just. Because God is immutable, His moral perfections never change. Because God is eternal, He is righteous forever. Because God is omniscient, His righteous acts are always predicated on perfect knowledge. Because God is omnipotent, He is always able to execute His righteous will. And because God is love, His judgments can be merciful toward the undeserving and humble.
The Bible Affirms God’s Sovereignty and Human Volition
     Shortly after God created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1), He sovereignly chose to create mankind in His image (Gen 1:26) as finite analogues to Himself, endowed with intellectual and volitional capabilities. God’s intention was that they would function as theocratic administrators to “rule” over His creation (Gen 1:26-28). When God made His decision to create people in His image, He willingly limited Himself to allow them the freedom to operate as responsible moral creatures and not mere automatons. This self-imposed restraint by God is not unusual, for He has restrained Himself in other ways. For example, every time God made a promise or covenant, He bound Himself to His Word such that He cannot do otherwise. Scripture reveals that “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should change His mind; has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Num 23:19). This is why, even though “we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim 2:13), and “it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb 6:18; cf., Tit 1:2).
     God has given people volition and freedom to act, and He holds them accountable for their actions. As the Sovereign of the universe, God will judge everyone fairly, for “there is no partiality with God” (Rom 2:11). Peter said, “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him” (Acts 10:34-35). And Paul wrote, “For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality” (Col 3:25).
     Though all mankind is fallen, being corrupted because of their sinful flesh (Rom 5:12, 6:6; 7:19-23; Gal 5:17, 19; Col 3:9), they still retain the image of God and the ability to function intellectually and volitionally (Gen 9:6; 1 Cor 11:7; Jam 3:9). This means that mankind is able, in a limited way, to understand God’s general and special revelation, and to respond volitionally if they choose (Psa 19:1-2; Rom 1:18-32).
Dr. Steven R. Cook
 
[1] For example, the doctrine of the Hypostatic Union teaches that God the Son added to Himself humanity, forever uniting His divine nature with a perfect sinless human nature, becoming the God-Man (John 1:1, 14, 18; 20:28; Col 2:9; Heb 1:8). He is eternal God (Isa 9:6; John 8:56-58; 17:5), yet He was born of a woman in time and space (Isa 7:14; Luke 1:30-35; Gal 4:4). As God, He is omniscient (Psa 139:1-6), but as a boy, He grew in knowledge (Luke 2:52). As God, He created the universe (Gen 1:1; John 1:3; Col 1:15-16), but as man, He was subject to weakness (Matt 4:2; John 4:6; 19:28). God is immortal and cannot die (1 Tim 1:17; 6:16), but as a human, Jesus could die (Matt 16:21; Rom 5:8). There were times that Jesus operated from His divine nature (Mark 2:5-12; John 8:56-58; 10:30-33), and other times from His human nature (Matt 4:2; Luke 8:22-23; John 19:28). These two natures seem incompatible, yet they cohere within Jesus.
[2] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Three: Sin, Salvation (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2004), 137.
[3] Lewis S. Chafer, “Biblical Theism Divine Decrees” Bibliotheca Sacra, 96 (1939): 268.
[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 11.
[5] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 359.
[6] E. McChesney, “Sovereignty of God,” ed. Merrill F. Unger and R.K. Harrison, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988).

Saturday May 25, 2024

     For those living in the church age, the content of faith is the good news that Jesus—the Messiah—died for our sins, was buried, and resurrected on the third day (1 Cor 15:3-4). When people accept this as historically true, and then place their faith in Jesus, they experience salvation. According to Fruchtenbaum, “we must believe that Yeshua died for our sins as our substitute, that He was buried and rose again, and that He therefore has provided salvation. Thus, one trusts Yeshua for one’s salvation.”[1] According to Robert B. Thieme Jr., “First Corinthians 15:3-4 defines the boundaries of the Gospel, beginning with the work of Christ and ending with His resurrection…Any Gospel message that strays from the cross or denies Jesus Christ’s resurrection from physical death is inaccurate and out of bounds.”[2] Today we understand the saving gospel message as, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). Knowing the good news of what God accomplished for us through Christ at the cross, we must then “Believe in the Lord Jesus” (Acts 16:31), and trust exclusively in Him as our Savior, for “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Salvation is by grace alone (Rom 3:24; Eph 2:8-9), through faith alone (Rom 3:28; 5:1; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8-9), in Christ alone (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). And when we believe in Christ as Savior, we are forgiven all our sins (Acts 10:43; Eph 1:7), given eternal life (John 10:28), become children of God (John 1:12; Gal 3:26), are “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13), become citizens of heaven (Phil 3:20), and are blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph 1:3).
     During the seven-year tribulation many will be saved, both Jews and Gentiles. The apostle John described 144,000 Jewish believers, taken from the twelve tribes of Israel, who are called “bond-servants of our God” (Rev 7:3), and who will be  sealed by the Lord (Rev 7:4). After describing these Jewish believers, John then saw “a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes” (Rev 7:9). When John asked, “where have they come from?” (Rev 7:13), the answer was given, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:14). The last clause that mentions “the blood of the Lamb” speaks of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, “the blood of Christ” (1 Pet 1:19) which purchased our salvation. But what did these Tribulational saints believe that resulted in their salvation?
     In the Olivet Discourse (Matthew chapters 24-25), Jesus prophesied about the future tribulation and His second coming and said, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matt 24:14). The gospel of the kingdom that was offered to Israel during Messiah’s first coming is similar to the gospel message preached during the time of the Tribulation. J. Dwight Pentecost notes, “Although the news at the first advent was restricted to Israel, prior to the second advent it will be announced not only to Israel but to the whole world.”[3] William MacDonald states, “the gospel of the kingdom is the good news that Christ is coming to set up His kingdom on earth, and that those who receive Him by faith during the Tribulation will enjoy the blessings of His Millennial Reign.”[4]The gospel of the kingdom offers both spiritual and national deliverance to those living during the tribulation. According to J. Dwight Pentecost. “This was the Gospel Christ proclaimed as He offered Israel the covenanted kingdom and invited them to put faith in Him. This same message will be proclaimed again during the years of the Tribulation period preceding Messiah’s second advent to the earth.”[5] The first part of its message directs people to look to Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). This results in spiritual and eternal salvation. The second part of the gospel of the kingdom pertains to Israel’s theocratic kingdom, where God will rule over His people and the world, through Jesus, the descendant of David and rightful King of the nation. This gospel will last until the seven years are completed, and then, as Jesus said, “the end will come” (Matt 24:14b). The “end” refers to the end of the seven year tribulation, when Jesus returns and puts down all rebellion (Rev 19:11-21) and establishes His kingdom on earth for a thousand years (Rev 20:1-6). It is at that time, “when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne” (Matt 25:31), and He will reign for “a thousand years” (Rev 20:6). According to Louis A. Barbieri Jr.:
"Though this will be a terrible time of persecution, the Lord will have servants who will witness and spread the good news concerning Christ and His soon-coming kingdom. This message will be similar to that preached by John the Baptist, Jesus, and the disciples at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, but this message will clearly identify Jesus in His true character as the coming Messiah. This is not exactly the same message the church is proclaiming today. The message preached today in the Church Age and the message proclaimed in the Tribulation period calls for turning to the Savior for salvation. However, in the Tribulation the message will stress the coming kingdom, and those who then turn to the Savior for salvation will be allowed entrance into the kingdom. Apparently many will respond to that message (cf. Rev 7:9-10)."[6]
J. Dwight Pentecost adds:
"The Gospel of the kingdom is the message that John the Baptist proclaimed to Israel. It involved first a call to repentance, then an invitation to behold or to look by faith to the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). This is the same message that will be proclaimed in the world during that period Christ called, literally, “the tribulation, the great one” (Matt 24:21). This future period is the unfulfilled seven years of Daniel’s prophecy of the seventy weeks (Dan 9:24-27). During this period the Gospel of the kingdom will be preached to Gentiles by 144,000 who will be sovereignly redeemed and commissioned to be God’s servants (Rev 7:1-8). They will proclaim salvation by grace through faith based on blood so that men can have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:14). The same message will be proclaimed by the two witnesses (Rev 11:3), prophets God will raise up to bring a message to the nation Israel. Indeed, their message is no different than the one the prophets have always brought to a disobedient covenant people down through the ages."[7]
     In summary, saving faith is always a response to God and a promise He has made. Today, God the Holy Spirit draws people to Christ, convicting them of one particular sin, and that is the sin of not trusting in Jesus as Savior. Jesus specified the particular sin, saying, “because they do not believe in Me” (John 16:9). When people respond positively to the work of the Holy Spirit, they will believe in Jesus as Savior, accepting the truth “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). And having accepted this good news, they will then turn to Christ as Savior, and “Believe in the Lord Jesus” (Acts 16:31), and be saved.
Long and Short Gospel Presentations
     In the New Testament, the gospel that saves is presented in both long and short form. A long presentation of the gospel is found in the Gospel of John as a whole. The apostle John states, “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31). The gospel that saves is clearly presented in the Gospel of John.
     A short form of the gospel is found in Acts 16, where Paul and Silas told the Philippian jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). The text of Acts 16 as a whole is not evangelistic in nature, but a brief account of Paul’s missionary journey in the city of Philippi, of which the jailer was a part of that historical narrative. How much the Philippian jailer knew about God, sin, the personhood of Jesus, and the cross and resurrection is not revealed in the text. What is plain is that Paul told the jailer that if he believed in the Lord Jesus, he would be saved.
A Warning to Any Who Would Pervert the Gospel of Grace
     The gospel that saves spiritually is specific in its content, and to preach any other gospel will not only result in a failure for the lost to obtain that which is necessary for entrance into heaven, but it will bring great judgment upon the one who proclaims it. The apostle Paul wrote, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!” (Gal 1:8-9). It is noteworthy that Paul includes himself in this warning, as the gospel that was delivered to him, once it was received, could not be changed, even by one so great as the apostle Paul himself. Concerning this verse, Arnold Fruchtenbaum comments:
"In verses 8–9, Paul pronounces the anathema, which is a rebuke against false teachers. Anyone who teaches a gospel that is different from the gospel they have received is to be anathema. Another gospel is any gospel other than the gospel of the grace of God. Any addition to the simple statement that salvation is by grace through faith is another gospel. Any addition to the gospel—be it baptism, tongues, ceremonies, church membership, repentance—perverts the gospel and is anathema."[8]
Lewis Chafer adds:
"This anathema has never been revoked, nor could it be so long as the saving grace of God is to be proclaimed to a lost world. From the human point of view, a misrepresentation of the gospel might so misguide a soul that the way of life is missed forever. It behooves the doctor of souls to know the precise remedy he is appointed to administer. A medical doctor may, by an error, terminate what at best is only a brief life on earth. The doctor of souls is dealing with eternal destiny. Having given His Son to die for lost men, God cannot but be exacting about how that great benefit is presented, nor should He be deemed unjust if He pronounces an anathema on those who pervert the one and only way of salvation which was purchased at so great a cost. A sensitive man, when realizing these eternal issues, might shrink from so great a responsibility, but God has not called His messengers to such a failure. He enjoins them to “preach the word” and assures them of His unfailing presence and enabling power."[9]
 
 
 
[1] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Faith Alone: The Condition of Our Salvation: An Exposition of the Book of Galatians and Other Relevant Topics, ed. Christiane Jurik, Second Edition. (San Antonio, TX: Ariel Ministries, 2016), 6.
[2] Robert B. Thieme, Jr. “Gospel”, Thieme’s Bible Doctrine Dictionary, (Houston, TX., R. B. Thieme, Jr., Bible Ministries, 2022), 113
[3] J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come: A Study in Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1958), 472.
[4] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1294.
[5] J. Dwight Pentecost, Thy Kingdom Come: Tracing God’s Kingdom Program and Covenant Promises throughout History (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1995), 311.
[6] Louis A. Barbieri Jr., “Matthew,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 77.
[7] J. Dwight Pentecost, Thy Kingdom Come, 121–122.
[8] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Faith Alone: The Condition of Our Salvation: An Exposition of the Book of Galatians and Other Relevant Topics, 12–13.
[9] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol. 3, p. 10.

Saturday May 18, 2024

     During the time of Jesus’ life and ministry—but prior to His death on the cross—people were directed to believe the gospel of the kingdom (Matt 3:1-2; 4:17; Mark 1:14-15). The gospel of the kingdom directed Israelites to look to Jesus as the promised Messiah. This meant looking to Jesus as the “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29; cf. Isa 53:4-11). Faith in Jesus would result in their spiritual and eternal salvation. The object of their faith is Christ alone. John wrote, “whoever believes in Him will have eternal life” (John 3:15), and “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16), and “He who believes in the Son has eternal life” (John 3:36). And Jesus pointed others to Himself, saying, “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40), and “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life” (John 6:47; cf., John 10:28).
     The gospel of the kingdom also pertained to Israel’s theocratic kingdom, where God would rule over His people through Jesus, the descendant of David and rightful King of the nation (2 Sam 7:16; Psa 89:3-4, 35-37; Isa 9:6-7; Jer 23:5; 33:15; Luke 1:31-33; Matt 19:28; 25:31; Rev 11:15; 20:4-6). John the Baptist preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 3:2). To be “at hand” meant the earthly kingdom was being offered to Israel. Additionally, the gospel of the kingdom was preached by Jesus and His disciples even after John had been arrested. Mark wrote, “Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14-15; cf. Matt 9:35; 10:5-7). Norman Geisler correctly states, “The messianic kingdom is a visible, earthly, political kingdom promised to Israel in which Christ, her Messiah, will reign from a throne in Jerusalem over the whole earth, with His apostles and other disciples serving Him.”[1] Merrill F. Unger states, “The Gospel of the Kingdom [is] the good news that God’s purpose is to establish an earthly mediatorial kingdom in fulfillment of the Davidic covenant (2 Sam 7:16).”[2] If the leadership and people Israel would change their minds (i.e., repent) and accept Jesus as their rightful King, they would experience national deliverance from Gentile tyranny, which they were experiencing, being under the rule of Rome. According to Arnold Fruchtenbaum, “Jesus went around Israel, city to city and synagogue to synagogue, proclaiming His Messiahship and preaching the gospel of the Kingdom. He was offering to Israel the Kingdom of the Jewish prophets, but the Kingdom was preconditioned by Israel’s acceptance of Him as the Messianic King.”[3] We know that Israel rejected Jesus as the Messiah (Matt 12:24-32; 27:20-23),[4] and the result was the kingdom offer was taken away (Matt 21:43), and judgment was pronounced upon them (Matt 23:37-39; Rom 11:25-26). Afterwards, Jesus was crucified for the sins of the world (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2), was buried, and raised again on the third day (1 Cor 15:3-4). The crucifixion of Jesus was part of God’s predetermined plan for the redemption of humanity, regardless of Israel’s response. The gospel of the kingdom was postponed until the time of the Tribulation. According to Merrill F. Unger:
"Two proclamations of the gospel of the kingdom are mentioned, one already past, beginning with the ministry of John the Baptist, carried on by our Lord and His disciples, and ending with the Jewish rejection of the Messiah. The other preaching is yet future (Matt 24:14), during the Great Tribulation, and heralding the second advent of the King."[5]
     The gospel of the kingdom that was preached by John the Baptist, and Jesus and His disciples, cannot be the gospel of grace that is preached by Christians today. Why? The content of the gospels are different. Paul preached “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24), which was “to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom 1:16), whereas the gospel of the kingdom was solely “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt 10:6). Furthermore, the gospel of grace includes “the cross of Christ” (1 Cor 1:17), telling us that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). But the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus was not communicated by the disciples when they preached the “gospel of the kingdom” (Matt 4:23). How do we know this? After Jesus had been rejected by the leadership of Israel, Matthew tells us, “Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day” (Matt 16:21). Apparently the disciples did not like what Jesus said, as Matthew tells us, “Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You’” (Matt 16:22). For a brief moment, Peter was an enemy of the cross, trying to prevent Jesus from going to the cross, and he was rebuked for it. The Lord said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Matt 16:23). If Peter had had his way, Jesus would never have gone to the cross. The second time Jesus spoke about the events of His crucifixion (Matt 17:22-23), we’re told the disciples “were deeply grieved” (Matt 17:23b), implying they did not fully understand the significance of the cross. Jesus mentioned His crucifixion to His disciples a third time (Matt 20:18-19), but there was no response. Later, Peter tried to defend Jesus with a sword to prevent His arrest, which implied he did not understand the significance of the cross (Matt 26:51-52). Though they were saved by faith alone in Christ alone, they did not grasp the significance of the cross, for if they had, they would not have opposed His arrest or crucifixion. In fact, the disciples did not understand Jesus’ resurrection until after it happened (John 20:1-8), which is what John revealed, saying, “For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead” (John 20:9). After Jesus’ resurrection, they finally understood His words.
     If the gospel of the kingdom that was preached by John the Baptist and Jesus’ disciples included the death burial and resurrection of Jesus, then Peter would not have been surprised and reacted so strongly to Jesus’ words. He would have thought, “oh yeah, that’s what we’ve been preaching all along, and now the time is near for His death.” But that was not Peter’s reaction. Peter tried to stop Jesus from going to the cross (Matt 16:22; 26:51-52). Renald Showers correctly notes, “The language indicates that although the disciples had already been preaching one gospel [of the kingdom], up to this point Jesus had never told them about His coming death, burial, and resurrection. Therefore, the first gospel contained nothing concerning Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.”[6]
Dr. Steven R. Cook
 
 
[1] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Four: Church, Last Things (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2005), 461.
[2] Merrill F. Unger, “Gospel,” ed. R.K. Harrison, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), 493.
[3] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Footsteps of the Messiah: A Study of the Sequence of Prophetic Events, Rev. ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2003), 294.
[4] Arnold Fruchtenbaum notes, “From biblical times to the present, the Jewish people have labored under a ‘leadership complex,’ meaning, whichever way the leaders went, the people were sure to follow. This can be seen clearly in the Hebrew scriptures: When a king did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, the people follow. Conversely, when a king did that which was evil in the eyes of the Lord, they also followed…In New Testament times, the leadership complex was very strong because of the stranglehold Pharisaism had upon the masses through the Mishna…[The people] were looking for their leaders to give them direction.” (Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Yeshuah: The Life of Messiah from a Messianic Perspective, Vol. 2, San Antonio, TX. 2019, Ariel Ministries, p. 371)
[5] Merrill F. Unger, “Gospel,” ed. R.K. Harrison, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988).
[6] Renald E. Showers, There Really Is a Difference!: A Comparison of Covenant and Dispensational Theology (Bellmawr, NJ: The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, Inc., 1990), 3–4.

Saturday May 11, 2024

The Content of Saving Faith
     Eternal salvation has always been by grace alone through faith alone; however, the content of faith (i.e., what is believed), has changed throughout the ages. According to Arnold Fruchtenbaum, “Indeed, there always was, always is, and always will be only one means of salvation: by grace through faith.”[1] Though grace and faith are constants, the content of faith has changed over time, depending on what God revealed to each person or generation, as divine revelation came in stages. William MacDonald sates, “From Adam to Christ, God saved those who put their faith in Him on the basis of whatever revelation He gave them. Abraham, for example, believed God, and it was reckoned to him for righteousness (Gen 15:6).”[2] According to Norman Geisler, “the revealed content of the gospel varied from age to age in the progress of revelation.”[3] Charles Ryrie notes, “The basis of salvation is always the death of Christ; the means is always faith; the object is always God (though man’s understanding of God before and after the Incarnation is obviously different); but the content of faith depends on the particular revelation God was pleased to give at a certain time.”[4] Thomas Constable adds, “The basis of salvation is always the death of Christ. No one is saved except by what He accomplished at Calvary. The requirement for salvation is always faith. It is never works. The object of faith is always the Person of God. The content of faith is always a promise from God.”[5] The following examples demonstrate that the content of faith has changed over time.
     First, after the historic fall of Adam and Eve (Gen 3:1-7), the content of saving faith was God’s promise of an offspring of Eve who would crush the head of the serpent. In the presence of Adam and Eve, God told Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel” (Gen 3:15). This is commonly regarded as the protoevangelium; that is, the first gospel message. The crushing of Satan’s head—a fatal blow—was accomplished by the Lord Jesus at the cross where He triumphed over sin and death. How much Adam and Eve understood about this prophecy is not known. However, it is assumed they trusted God at His word concerning the future offspring that would crush the serpent’s head. Shortly after giving the promises, God killed an animal, which meant shedding its blood,  and made clothes from its hide and gave it to them to wear (Gen 3:21). Arnold Fruchtenbaum notes, “The covering of animal skins, which required the shedding of blood to give them the atonement, replaced the covering of fig leaves. Then the verse states: and clothed them. Physically, He clothed their nakedness, but spiritually, He also covered their sin by making for them their atonement.”[6] And according to Charles Ryrie, “When Adam looked upon the coats of skins with which God had clothed him and his wife, he did not see what the believer today sees looking back on the cross of Calvary.”[7]We should not assume that Adam and Eve understood the death, burial, and resurrection of Messiah. What they understood was God’s promise of a future offspring who would crush the serpent, and then they witnessed God killing an animal, taking its skin, and making clothing for them. When they believed God’s promise and accepted His provision, it resulted in their salvation.
     Second, in the book of Genesis we have the record of Abraham’s salvation. Moses wrote that Abraham “believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6). The content of Abraham’s faith was the promise of God concerning the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 12:1-3), especially as it related to God giving him a biological descendant (Gen 15:1-6). Abraham accepted God’s promise as true and reliable, which meant he trusted in God Himself. And when Abraham believed in Yahweh, we’re told that God “reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6b).[8] Concerning Abraham’s faith in God, Arnold Fruchtenbaum states, “The content of his faith was the promises of God. The object of his faith was Jehovah.”[9] According to J. Carl Laney Jr., “God had just promised Abraham, an elderly man with a barren wife, that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars. In spite of the physical hindrances to the fulfillment of this promise, Abraham trusted God…Because Abraham accepted God’s word as true and reliable, God declared him righteous, and therefore acceptable.”[10] Paul cited Genesis 15:6 in Romans (Rom 4:3) and Galatians (Gal 3:6) when making his case that believers are justified by faith alone, and not by any works of the Law (Rom 4:4-5).
     Third, in the book of Ruth we find a good example of a Gentile who came to trust in the Lord. Ruth told her mother-in-law, Naomi, “Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God” (Ruth 1:16). Here is an expression of faith in the Lord Himself. God directed Israel to serve as His witnesses (Isa 43:10), telling others, “I, even I, am the LORD, and there is no savior besides Me” (Isa 43:11). For a Gentile to be saved, it meant trusting in Yahweh alone and not pagan idols, of which there are none. It also meant not trusting in works, which is what pagan idolatry required. Concerning this verse, Warren Wiersbe states, “Ruth’s statement in Ruth 1:16-17 is one of the most magnificent confessions found anywhere in Scripture…[as] she confessed her faith in the true and living God and her decision to worship Him alone.”[11] And Arnold Fruchtenbaum notes, “Ruth invoked the name of God in her oath and not the name of Chemosh. This shows in whom she truly believed.”[12] What’s interesting is that after Ruth married Boaz (Ruth 4:13), she was brought into the family line that led to King David (Ruth 4:18-22), and the Messiah Himself (Matt 1:1, 5). Ruth was among the Gentiles in the OT who believed in Yahweh and were saved. Other Gentile believers include Melchizedek (Gen 14:18), Rahab (Matt 1:5; Heb 11:31), and likely the Queen of Sheba (1 Ki 10:1-13), Naaman the Aramean (2 Ki 5:15-19), the Ninevites (Jonah 3:5, 9-10), Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 2:47; 3:29; 4:34-37),[13] and the Magi who came from the east to worship Messiah (Matt 2:1-2, 11).
Dr. Steven R. Cook
 
[1] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Ariel’s Bible Commentary: The Book of Genesis, 1st ed. (San Antonio, TX: Ariel Ministries, 2008), 275.
[2] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1690.
[3] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Four: Church, Last Things (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2005), 484.
[4] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Dispensationalism, Rev. and expanded. (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1995), 140.
[5] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Ex 12:43.
[6] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Ariel’s Bible Commentary: The Book of Genesis, 110.
[7] Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism, 134.
[8] In his commentary on Genesis, Allen Ross notes, “The text does not necessarily mean that Abram came to faith here. Hebrews 11:8 asserts that he left Ur by faith. Genesis 15:6 simply reports at this point the fact that Abram believed, and for that belief God had credited him with righteousness.” (Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998, 310).
[9] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Ariel’s Bible Commentary: The Book of Genesis, 275.
[10] J. Carl Laney Jr., “Soteriology”, Understanding Christian Theology, 238–239.
[11] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Committed, “Be” Commentary Series (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1993), 21.
[12] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Ariel’s Bible Commentary: The Books of Judges and Ruth, 1st ed. (San Antonio, TX: Ariel Ministries, 2006), 300.
[13] It’s very likely that Nebuchadnezzar trusted God after being humbled by the Lord (see Daniel 4:1-37). Throughout the decades of Nebuchadnezzar’s life, he’d had interactions with Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, and the king gained knowledge about God. From his own mouth, Nebuchadnezzar said to Daniel, “Surely your God is a God of gods and a Lord of kings” (Dan 2:47), and to Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah he declared, “no other god is able to deliver in this way” (Dan 3:29). After the king had suffered for seven years, he eventually came to the place where he said, “I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever” (Dan 4:34), and “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt and honor the King of heaven” (Dan 4:37). Though one cannot be dogmatic, Nebuchadnezzar’s final words strongly imply salvific faith in God—at least as he understood Him from his interactions with the Hebrews—and the result was one of worship to the Lord. If one accepts Nebuchadnezzar’s words as an expression of his conversion, it means he trusted in the God of Israel.

Saturday May 04, 2024

The Terms of Salvation
     God requires that certain information be received and believed before He saves someone. This means saving faith requires content. From the divine side, God has done several things to bring about our salvation. From eternity past it was planned by God the Father (Eph 1:4; 2 Tim 1:9; 1 John 4:9-10, 14), executed in time by God the Son (John 3:16; Mark 10:45; Luke 19:10), and applied to those who believe by God the Holy Spirit (John 3:6; 1 Cor 12:13; Gal 3:27; Tit 3:5; 1 Pet 1:3). It was necessary that God the Son come into the world in hypostatic union, as undiminished deity and perfect humanity (John 1:1, 14; Col 2:9; Heb 1:8; 10:5; 1 Pet 2:24), be born of a virgin (Isa 7:14; Luke 1:30-35), live a sinless life (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 Pet 2:22; 1 John 3:5), willingly go to the cross (Isa 53:10; John 10:11, 17-18), die a penal substitutionary atoning death on behalf of all humanity (Rom 5:8; 1 Cor 15:3-4; Heb 2:9; 10:10-14; 1 John 2:2), and be buried and resurrected on the third day (Matt 16:21; Rom 6:9; 1 Cor 15:3-4; 12-20). This was done to satisfy God’s righteousness and justice regarding our sin (Rom 3:25; 1 John 2:2), and to display His love for us as lost sinners for whom Christ died (John 3:16; Rom 5:8). This was necessary because we are totally corrupted by sin and helpless to save ourselves (1 Ki 8:46; Eccl 7:20; Isa 59:2; 64:6; Rom 3:10, 23; 5:12; Eph 2:1-2; Jam 1:14-15), and if God had not acted in love (John 3:16; 1 John 4:9-10), we would all be damned forever to the lake of fire (Rev 20:15).
     God, who is infinitely loving, good, and gracious, offers us salvation freely, as a gift (Rom 3:24; 6:23), by grace (Eph 2:8-9), and conditions it on faith alone in Christ alone (John 14:6; Acts 4:12), and “not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:9; cf., Rom 11:6). According to Lewis Chafer, “salvation in all its limitless magnitude is secured, so far as human responsibility is concerned, by believing on Christ as Savior. To this one requirement no other obligation may be added without violence to the Scriptures and total disruption of the essential doctrine of salvation by grace alone.”[1] Charles Ryrie adds:
"More than 200 times in the New Testament, salvation is said to be conditioned solely on the basis of faith—faith that has as its object the Lord Jesus who died as our substitute for sin (John 3:16; Acts 16:31). Salvation is a free gift; therefore, any statement of the terms must carefully avoid implying that we give God something. He gives it all; we receive that gift through faith (John 1:12)."[2]
John Walvoord states:
"The terms of salvation are limited to faith in Christ because of the inadequacy and insufficiency of any other approach. Salvation is pictured therefore as a gift (Rom 6:23), as obtained by those “dead through … trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1). Salvation is therefore not a work of man for God or a work of God assisted by man, but rather a work of divine salvation effective on those who are willing to receive Jesus Christ as Savior."[3]
J. Dwight Pentecost states:
"The gospel is characterized by its simplicity. When the Apostle Paul declared the terms of salvation to the Philippian jailer, he said “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved …” (Acts 16:31). The Apostle Peter, speaking concerning salvation, declared, “… there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12)—none other but the name of Jesus. Sinners, confronted with their need of salvation, frequently stumble over the very simplicity of the salvation which God offers. Since Satan cannot take away anything from the conditions of salvation or the plan of salvation—for God has already reduced it to an irreducible minimum—if Satan is to confound the minds of the sinners he must do so by addition, not subtraction. If conditions were placed by God to salvation, Satan might take away those conditions so that men would not be saved. But since there are no conditions, and salvation is a simple fact to be believed, Satan’s method of deceiving men has been to add to the simplicity of the gospel. That is why some will teach that salvation is by faith and good works; or, salvation is by faith and baptism; or, salvation is by faith plus church membership; or, salvation is by faith plus repentance. These are all attempts to darken the mind of the man who needs to be saved concerning the central issue and the basic plan of redemption."[4]
     Though faith alone is the only requirement by God, the content of faith has changed throughout the ages, depending on what God revealed at a particular time. What God revealed to Adam and Eve was different than what He revealed to Abraham, and what He revealed to Abraham was different than what He reveals to us. Before addressing the content of saving faith, let’s look at what it means to believe.
What it Means to Believe
     The word believe, in the OT, derives from the Hebrew verb aman (אָמַן) which means “to regard something as trustworthy, to believe in.”[5] And in the NT, the Greek verb pisteuō (πιστεύω) means “to consider something to be true and therefore worthy of one’s trust.”[6] In Genesis we see where Abraham “believed [aman] in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6). When citing this passage in the NT  (Rom 4:3; Gal 3:6; Jam 2:23), the writers used the Greek verb pisteuō (πιστεύω) in place of the Hebrew verb aman (אָמַן), which shows the words are synonymous. Faith, as a verb, is used of trust in God (Gen 15:6; Heb 11:6; cf. Rom 4:3), trust in Jesus (Acts 16:31; 1 Pet 1:8), and trust in Scripture (John 2:22).[7]Biblically, faith means having an attitude of confidence in God, being certain that He will keep His Word and do as He promised, for He cannot lie (Num 23:19; Heb 6:18; Tit 1:2). When faith is exercised, it trusts solely in the object and no one else. Abraham is an example of a believer who trusted God at His Word, for “with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform” (Rom 4:20-21).
     To believe is to have a mental conviction that a testimony is true or that someone or something is reliable and worthy of confidence. Faith starts with mental assent and results in placing one’s faith in the object itself. For example, one can assent that a chair is structurally sound and able to support a person, and then, by faith, sit in the chair and relax. Or one can assent that an automobile is safe to drive, and then, trusting the car, get behind the wheel and drive it to a desired destination. Faith always demands an object, is exercised with a view to receiving a benefit, and the object gets the credit for doing what it was supposed to do. For Christians, Jesus is the object of our faith, eternal life is the benefit we receive, and Christ gets all the glory as the One who saves. When we believe in Jesus, we acknowledge that He is the incarnate Son of God (John 1:1, 14), that our salvation was accomplished by means of His death, burial, and resurrection (1 Cor 15:3-4), and we trust in Him alone to save us eternally (Acts 4:12; 16:31). Christ alone saves. Nothing more. The following illustration is helpful:
"Many people misunderstand what the Bible means by “believe.” Belief basically means trust. As an example, imagine you are stranded on one side of a river. The only way across is via a tightrope suspended overhead. A man on the other side has a wheelbarrow and says he can rescue you. Being a skilled acrobat, he crosses the tightrope with the wheelbarrow successfully. Now, you believe that the man himself can cross the tightrope, but in order to be saved, you have to trust him to get you over the tightrope in the wheelbarrow! Will you believe in him or not? Similarly, trusting Jesus for salvation means trusting him to do for you what you cannot do for yourself. There’s no way we can earn heaven; we must trust Jesus to carry us there."[8]
 Dr. Steven R. Cook
 
 
[1] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1993), 371.
[2] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, A Survey of Bible Doctrine (Chicago: Moody Press, 1972).
[3] John F. Walvoord, “The Doctrine of Assurance in Contemporary Theology,” Bibliotheca Sacra 116 (1959): 200–201.
[4] J. Dwight Pentecost, Things Which Become Sound Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1996), 61.
[5] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 64.
[6] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 816.
[7] The NT also presents faith as a noun (πίστις pistis), which often refers to “that which evokes trust and faith…the state of being someone in whom confidence can be placed, faithfulness, reliability, fidelity” (BDAG 818). The word is used with reference to God who is trustworthy (Rom 3:3; 4:19-21), and of people who possess faith (Matt 9:2, 22; 21:21), which can be great (Matt 15:28; cf. Acts 6:5; 11:23-24), small (Matt 17:19-20), or absent (Mark 4:39-40; cf. Luke 8:25). It is also used of Scripture itself as a body of reliable teaching (i.e. Acts 14:22; 16:5; Rom 14:22; Gal 1:23; 2 Tim 4:7). And we see faith as an adjective (πιστός pistos), which describes someone “being worthy of belief or trust, trustworthy, faithful, dependable, inspiring trust/faith” (BDAG 820). The word is used God (1 Cor 1:9; 10:13; 2 Tim 2:13; Heb 10:23; Rev 1:5), and of people (Matt 25:23; 1 Cor 4:17; Col 1:7; 1 Tim 1:12; 2 Tim 2:2; Heb 3:5).
[8] Michael Klassen and William W. Klein, “Romans,” in The Apologetics Study Bible for Students, ed. Sean McDowell (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), 1410.

Saturday Apr 27, 2024

Unlimited atonement is the view from Scripture that Jesus died for everyone, and even though His death is sufficient to save everyone, the benefits of the cross are applied only to those who believe in Him as Savior. In contrast to this is the teaching of limited atonement, that Christ died only for those whom God has elected to salvation. Though there are Christians who hold to limited atonement, and have written well on other theological matters, it is the view of this writer that they err on this subject, relying more on human logic than the testimony of Scripture. Arnold Fruchtenbaum states, “Those who hold to limited atonement do not come to their conclusion based upon the exegesis of Scripture because the fact is that there is no passage anywhere in the Bible that says He died only for the elect…The defense for limited atonement is not based upon exegesis; it is based upon logic.”[1] According to David Allen:
"Limited atonement is a doctrine in search of a text. No one can point to any text in Scripture that states clearly and unequivocally that Christ died for the sins of a limited number of people to the exclusion of others. Most Calvinists admit this. Alternatively, a dozen clear texts in the New Testament explicitly affirm Christ died for the sins of all people, and another half dozen plus that indirectly suggest it."[2]
     Jesus’ atonement for sins is the basis for reconciliation, because God has judged our sins in the Person of Christ who died on the cross in our place. Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29), and “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4), and “who gave Himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim 2:6), and tasted “death for everyone” (Heb 2:9), and “is the Savior of all men, especially of believers” (1 Tim 4:10), “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men” (Tit 2:11), and “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:2; cf., 1 John 4:10), and “the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14). Peter wrote of “false prophets” and “false teachers” who “deny the Master who bought them” (2 Pet 2:1).
     Because Christ died for everyone, everyone is savable. But though the death of Christ is sufficient to save everyone, only those who believe will benefit from His work on the cross. And when people believe in Jesus, accepting the fact the He died for their sins, was buried, and raised again on the third day, they receive forgiveness of sins (Acts 10:43; Eph 1:7), the gift of righteousness (Rom 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9), and the eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28). Human volition is the key, as “God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent” (Acts 17:30). This means they must not trust in themselves or any system of good works to save, but trust in Christ alone to save.
     Biblically, we should understand that Jesus is the God-Man (Isa 7:14; John 1:1, 14; Heb 1:8), that “in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col 2:9). Furthermore, He was conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary (Isa 7:14; Luke 1:30-35; Gal 4:4), was born without the taint of sin and lived a sinless life (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 Pet 2:22; 1 John 3:5), which qualified Him to go to the cross and pay the ransom price for our sins by means of His shed blood (Mark 10:45; 1 Tim 2:6; 1 Pet 1:18-19). When the divinely appointed time came for Him to go to the cross (John 12:23; 13:1), Jesus willingly went and died in our place and paid the penalty for our sins (John 10:18; Rom 5:8). Peter wrote, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). After Jesus paid for our sins, “He said, ‘It is finished!’ And He bowed His head, and gave up His spirit” (John 19:30). Jesus died, was placed in a grave, and was resurrected to life on the third day (Acts 2:23-24; 4:10; 10:40; 1 Cor 15:3-4), never to die again (Rom 6:9). Salvation is now available to everyone, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). The only sin that keeps a person out of heaven is the sin of unbelief. The apostle John wrote, “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). Jesus, speaking to unsaved persons, said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life” (John 5:39-40). And Jesus pointed out that the world as a whole is convicted by God the Holy Spirit of one sin, the sin of unbelief, “because they do not believe in Me” (John 16:9). For those who reject Christ as Savior, their future is one of eternal separation and punishment away from God for all eternity, for “if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:15). This need not happen. Hell is avoidable to the one who trusts in Christ as Savior, believing the gospel message “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). And this salvation is a gift from God (Rom 3:24; 6:23), offered by grace alone (Eph 2:8-9), through faith alone (Gal 2:16; 3:26; 2 Tim 3:15), in Christ alone (John 14:6; Acts 4:12), totally apart from human works (Rom 4:5; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5). Once we understand who Christ is and what He’s accomplished for us on the cross, we can then exercise our faith by trusting in Him as our Savior (and not a fake Jesus like that of Mormon’s and Jehovah Witnesses). Once we have trusted in Christ for salvation, God then bestows on us forgiveness of sins (Acts 10:43; Eph 1:7), the gift of righteousness (Rom 5:17; Phil 3:9), eternal life (John 10:28), and many other blessings (Eph 1:3). For lost sinners, the matter is simple, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).
Dr. Steven R. Cook
 
[1] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, God’s Will & Man’s Will: Predestination, Election, & Free Will, ed. Christiane Jurik, 2nd Edition. (San Antonio, TX: Ariel Ministries, 2014), 44.
[2] David L. Allen, “A Critique of Limited Atonement,” in Calvinism: A Biblical and Theological Critique, ed. David L. Allen and Steve W. Lemke (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2022), 71.

Expositional Bible Studies

This site contains verse by verse studies on various books of the Bible. The hermeneutical approach to Scripture is literal, historical, and grammatical. Dr. Cook is currently teaching through the book of Deuteronomy. Completed Bible studies include: Judges, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, John, Acts, 1 Peter, and Revelation.

There are also many doctrinal studies on subjects such as Bibliology, Theology Proper, Anthropology, Christology, Pneumatology, Soteriology, Angelology, Demonology, Ecclesiology, Eschatology, and others. 

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