The Shortened Arm

In Isaiah 59:1, Scripture records these words, “Behold, the LORD’S hand is not so short That it cannot save; Nor is His ear so dull That it cannot hear.” (NASB) Why, then, is God treated by so many people as well-meaning in His desire to save individuals but impotent to actually do so? Is God’s arm actually shorter than the prophet Isaiah thought it was? It irks me to no end to hear sloppy preaching that says, “God has done all He can do, now it is up to you to be saved. You must take that final step on your own.” As if God is helplessly standing by watching millions of people slide into outer darkness because they will not take that step and He cannot reach out to them. That is not what Isaiah 59 says! If you go on to read the chapter you see a picture of man’s descent into sin and his impotence to help himself. The verses talk about how we fell so far that we hope for salvation (11) but are unable to bring it about. Then, because we cannot save ourselves, God’s own arm (16) brought salvation.

Jesus was sent to save His people from their sins. His very name reflects this truth. All the Father gave Him, He redeemed. He did not and cannot fail to save those the Father has elected to be adopted into His family. As has been written many times before on this site, God is Sovereign over the affairs of men and Jesus is both willing and able to save those whom He chooses to save.

I also get tired of preachers spouting, “The Holy Spirit is a gentleman, He will never force you to do anything you do not want to do.” Really? Where do they find that in Scripture? Must be from one of those “lite” versions of the Bible. Mine describes Him as  a counselor, a rebuker, a teacher, a convicter, a judge, an exhorter, an enabler, a baptizer, and a consuming fire but nowhere in Scripture does it say that the Holy Spirit is a gentleman. Certainly Saul of Tarsus was rudely interrupted on his way to Damascus to merrily kill more Christians. Scripture records Ananias being told that Saul would be taught what things He would suffer for Jesus’ sake. Hardly a gentlemanly way of dealing with someone, and this after being blinded. The Holy Spirit is likened to a wind – it rushes, catches, carries and moves us. It caught up Phillip and deposited him miles away from the Ethiopian eunuch, it swept up Elijah and blew as tongues of fire at Pentecost. Yes, a gentle zephyr is wind also but God works in many ways. Sometimes He does deal gently with us but sometimes He moves violently, swiftly, surely. There are times when God does force people to do certain things. He gives commands – Repent or perish. That is hardly a gentlemanly statement. He whips merchants from the Temple and calls people names. God sends a storm to stop Jonah from going on his merry way and keeps Paul from entering Bithynia. God is sovereign over His creation.

Sovereignty is such a frightening concept to those under the illusion that they are in charge of their little piece of the universe. Instead of seeing sovereignty as a doctrine of complete comfort, allowing us to rest in the hands and plans of a good God who knows what is best for us at all times; instead of seeing sovereignty as God loving us so much He actively keeps us from destroying ourselves, those who undermine this great doctrine do so because of a false notion that they are in charge of their own life. If God is, as Scripture states, sovereign over the affairs of men, don’t you see that this includes their salvation?

I serve a God whose arm was long enough and strong enough to reach down and save me when I was yet unaware of my condition. It was He who awoke my spirit to life, He who gave me spiritual sight to behold His glory, He who gave me faith to believe the promises He told to me, He who granted to me grace, mercy and forgiveness and He who sealed my spirit with His forevermore. Praise be to the God with long arms — great things He has done!

The Free Will of God

We have had many people tell us how proud of us they are that we became adoptive parents. There are so many children in the foster care system that need a good, loving, Christian home to be raised in that it is a shameful reminder that the Christian church has largely failed to address this issue. Be that as it may, I have yet to run into anyone who has chastised our family for only adopting one child when there are so many at risk. We certainly could not have adopted all the children in our state, much less the country or the world, but we could have, possibly, adopted at least one more. Does this make us horrible people, to only adopt one? Does this make us sinful, when it was in our power to affect, at least theoretically, one more life? Are we to be commended because, by our free choice, we adopted one or castigated because of our free choice not to adopt more than one?

Why am I asking these questions? Because many people object to the thought of God adopting some people to become members of His family and not everyone. The doctrine is called election and the Bible speaks of God electing some to salvation and not electing others, leaving them to their fate. Is God to be commended for saving some people, by His own free will, from an eternity without Him or is He to be castigated for not saving more or all? Your answer tells what you truly think of God — a wonderful Being that did not have to save anyone yet did or a horrible monster who didn’t save all. Or, perhaps, a willing but unable Deity who desires salvation for mankind but cannot effectively bring it about and depends on us to do what He can’t. There really isn’t any other way to look at it.

The same people who champion the freedom of the human will to accept or reject God do not seem to be willing to give God the free will to accept or reject man. The double standard screams out. People want the freedom to choose but not to give God the same right. It is not as if our Creator owes us anything. He is not beholden to us, we are to Him because all we are is His. In Him we live, breathe and have our existence. We are His creation, for His glory, a glory He will not share with any other.

I get amused at those who want the freedom to choose salvation but the guarantee that the choice cannot be taken back. A salvation dependent on the choice of man but secured by the power of the Savior. I believe in a salvation dependent on a powerful Savior who can and will keep my soul secure. A salvation given by grace because God decided to adopt me into His family like I adopted a little girl into mine. Not because of anything she had done or might possibly do but because I was filled with love toward her. God saved me not because of anything I did or might possibly do for Him but by His love and grace. My hope is built on nothing less than the grace of God my Savior, secured by the blood and righteousness of Jesus and the sealing of my spirit by the Holy Spirit.

What the Story of Lazarus Teaches us About Salvation

One of Ta Ethne’s most popular articles was  “What the Virgin Birth Teaches Us About Salvation”, from the introduction of our book, Dominoes: A Dynamic Commentary on Jude.  Today we will supplement that by focusing on Lazarus. You know the story – Lazarus, friend of Jesus, has died and been in the tomb for some days. Jesus appears on the scene and commands him to come out of the grave, which he does, alive and well (John chapter 11). This story, as powerful and compelling as it is, also teaches us something about salvation.

Lazarus is dead. Stone cold dead. Four days dead. He was as dead physically as we are spiritually. Ephesians 2:1 tells us that everyone is dead spiritually and in need of a spiritual resurrection. Dead people cannot do anything. I have pastored over 20 years, worked for 3 years at a funeral home and have been a chaplain for 3 different hospice organizations. I know dead people. I have been around hundreds of them. Dead people don’t do anything except decompose. They cannot heap themselves. Spiritually dead people cannot help themselves either. Just as Lazarus was unaware of life, those spiritually dead are unaware of spiritual life.

Lazarus was commanded to come alive by Jesus. The Spirit of God drew him back to life. Those who are spiritually dead need God’s Spirit to draw them back to life. They need the Spirit to breathe on them and impart new life. Lazarus was bound in grave clothes. They weighed him down. He needed to be freed by someone else. So do we. We need the command of Jesus to have everything that weighs us down removed. Only God’s Spirit can grant life and freedom. It was for this Jesus came – to set the captives free, to heal the broken-hearted and give sight to the blind. Not just physically, but spiritually as well.

Lazarus teaches us that we are totally dependent on Jesus saving us. We cannot save ourselves – we are spiritually dead. We cannot see the blessed Savior to go to Him. We are as blind and bound as Lazarus in a dark tomb wrapped up like a mummy. We have to have Jesus call our name. His sheep, those He calls, will hear His voice. The Spirit will grant them new life, replace their heart of stone with a new heart. The Spirit grants them faith to believe on Jesus, the ability to repent of their sins and the power to live as a Christian from then on.

Just as people were amazed and astounded at Lazarus, transformed from a corpse to a walking, talking, laughing, living man again, they will be just as astounded and amazed to see a sinner, a reprobate changed into a son of God.

That’s a lesson from Lazarus. May we learn from it and share it with those who have never heard of our amazing Lord.