Rethinking Advent – Joy

This week marks the lighting of the joy (pink) candle. This is the third candle lit, going from expectation of the coming Messiah to longing for His presence now to joy at His appearing. In this world, marked by conflict and division, anger and turmoil, disappointment and despair, we light this candle to proclaim “Jesus came to give us joy unspeakable and full of glory!” Like Mary, we can sing, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

Each day this week we need to contemplate on what a great gift of grace has been given to us. The Holy Son of God came to take our sin guilt, came to pay the penalty we owed to the Heavenly Father, came to give us a new birth, a new life, a life to be lived in Him. It is for that reason we rejoice. Our salvation has come. We who believe have been given a new spirit and are being fitted for our new home with Christ.

Yes, life remains difficult. Yes, we mess up day by day. We are still on our journey after all; we haven’t arrived yet. But, we are confident that as we confess our sins and repent of them that we will be forgiven and the grace we ask for will be given to us. We will still encounter sin. We will encounter it in this evil ,fallen world and we will encounter it hiding in our own lives. When we encounter it we can bring back to mind the words of the angel, “You are to name him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins. Matthew 1:21”

If you can’t rejoice over that thought this week, then you have nothing to be joyous about. He came to seek and to save those who were lost. He found me. Has He found you?

Burning Bridges Instead of Reaching Out

There are many church signs with cute sayings. There are many with profound sayings, some with ones that are witty and some that show great creativity. Then there are those that are offensive or just downright rude, like the one I saw while taking my daughter to school this week.

What was on the sign? “If Christmas offends you than go to Thailand for 30 days. They don’t like it there either. Grow up or shut up.” I don’t really know why poor Thailand was singled out, as far as I know they have never gone out of their way to ruin anyone’s Christmas in south Georgia, but what bothers me is the attitude portrayed in the sign from a church  with the word “grace” in their name.

The unsaved are not the enemy. They are our mission. To unnecessarily offend them makes it ten times as hard to witness to them of God’s love. Christmas is God showing love to man by coming down and becoming one of us. It was for dirty, sinful, lost mankind that He came, not for the smug religious crowd. As a minister, this sign offends me. It also offends the unchurched in our community.

Wouldn’t it be better to hold a community party to celebrate Jesus’ birth? Maybe they could be proactive and do a food drive or help gather presents for the poor that would show God’s love in action instead of belittling those who have not yet experienced the grace of God. Come on church, live up to your name — show grace, the giving of a gift to someone undeserving of it this holiday season instead of being snarky and strident.  Telling a large segment of your community to “Grow up or shut up” simply shows them how childish and immature you are. Why would they come to your church for answers when their life falls apart?

Lost people act lost because they are spiritually blind and without hope. They are spiritually dead and incapable of acting any other way than what they do. So-called Christians acting the way this church did just shows stupidity. I know that is harsh but it is true. The sign may play well to the frozen chosen inside her walls but it embarrasses those of us going out and meeting people in the marketplace and introducing them to a Jesus who offers grace, mercy and new life. I truly wish that this church would grow up and until that happens, please – shut up so the rest of us can give a message of hope to our town. It desperately needs it.

Of Elect and Non-elect Infants, A Clarification

Clarifying beliefs is a tricky business. It is hard to explain one’s beliefs to others if there is not a good frame of reference that the person you are addressing can relate to easily. This is especially true when the issue is an emotionally charged one. On the question of whether infants or the mentally retarded go to heaven upon death, one must strive to be very clear on their beliefs and the biblical basis upon which those beliefs are built.
It has been charged that the Reformed view, or Calvinist view, teaches that those babies or mentally retarded persons who are not elect of God will go to hell when they die. This is not the teaching of either Calvin or the Presbyterian church, nor most Reformed believers. At issue is the statement in the Westminster Confession which states “Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved by Christ” (Chap. X. Sec. 3). The charge is that this implies that non-elect infants are lost. Concerning this Dr. S. G. Craig says: “The history of the phrase ‘Elect infants dying in infancy’ makes clear that the contrast implied was not between ‘elect infants dying in infancy’ and ‘non-elect infants dying in infancy,’ but rather between ‘elect infants dying in infancy’ and ‘elect infants living to grow up.’ ” However, in order to guard against misunderstanding, furthered by unfriendly controversialists, the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. adopted in 1903 a Declaratory Statement which reads as follows: “With reference to Chapter X, Section 3, of the Confession of Faith, that it is not to be regarded as teaching that any who die in infancy are lost. We believe that all dying in infancy are included in the election of grace, and are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who works when and where and how He pleases.” (a)  The Presbyterian view goes beyond the Westminster Confession in stating positively that all infants who die are part of God’s elect but is the clarifying, or logical extension of what was written.
It is this difference that is crucial. The phrase was worded as such to contrast with the belief of the Catholic church that baptized infants were saved but unbaptized infants were not. Since the Reformed churches do not believe baptism confers saving grace, they were setting out their beliefs to reflect this. For what Calvin taught, I defer to Dr. R. A. Webb: “Calvin teaches that all the reprobate ‘procure’—(that is his own word)—’procure’ their own destruction; and they procure their destruction by their own personal and conscious acts of ‘impiety,’ ‘wickedness,’ and ‘rebellion.’ Now reprobate infants, though guilty of original sin and under condemnation, cannot, while they are infants, thus ‘procure’ their own destruction by their personal acts of impiety, wickedness, and rebellion. They must, therefore, live to the years of moral responsibility in order to perpetrate the acts of impiety, wickedness and rebellion, which Calvin defines as the mode through which they procure their destruction. While, therefore, Calvin teaches that there are reprobate infants, and that these will be finally lost, he nowhere teaches that they will be lost as infants, and while they are infants; but, on the contrary, he declares that all the reprobate ‘procure’ their own destruction by personal acts of impiety, wickedness and rebellion. Consequently, his own reasoning compels him to hold (to be consistent with himself), that no reprobate child can die in infancy; but all such must live to the age of moral accountability, and translate original sin into actual sin.” (b)
So, to clarify, the classic Reformed view does teach that all infants who die are part of the elect. There are those who hold differing opinions, of course, but the original teachings were that God’s grace saves those who cannot save themselves – which is precisely the point of the gospel. No one can save themselves, it is a gift of a gracious and merciful God made possible by the atoning work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Adults are just as helpless, spiritually speaking, to affect salvation in their own life as an infant is. All people, no matter the age, need the Holy Spirit to “quicken” (make alive) their spirit. Praise be to God that He graciously provides for us what we cannot provide for ourselves. As Ta Ethne works with believers of differing interpretations of doctrines, it is important not to charge someone with believing something that isn’t necessarily true. Here, we hold to this particular belief about infants and the mentally disabled — that God in His grace provides them His salvation.

Footnotes:

a — http://www.ccel.org/ccel/boettner/predest.iv.iii.xi.html

b — Calvin Memorial Addresses, p 112

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Impact of a Song

Many followers of our blog will have noticed that there are a lot of song lyrics that get posted here. There is good reason for that. Each song whose lyrics have been used are ones which have personally impacted my life. Today, there will be another song’s lyrics posted, this one written by Steve Green. When I first heard this song, many years ago, I was a young man. It impacted me then and has continued to impact me to this day. I have tried to live my life in such a way that God would not be ashamed of me (though I am positive I have shamed Him many times) and in a way that would not cause His name or reputation to be impugned (although I am positive I have sometimes failed in this also). At any rate, this song continues to challenge me to be faithful, and I hope it challenges you as well. Enjoy the lyrics, find a CD of Steve Green and buy it — he has many songs that are inspiring and that give glory to our God.

We’re pilgrims on the journey
Of the narrow road
And those who’ve gone before us line the way
Cheering on the faithful, encouraging the weary
Their lives a stirring testament to God’s sustaining grace

Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses
Let us run the race not only for the prize
But as those who’ve gone before us
Let us leave to those behind us
The heritage of faithfulness passed on through godly lives

CHORUS:
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
May the fire of our devotion light their way
May the footprints that we leave
Lead them to believe
And the lives we live inspire them to obey

Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful

After all our hopes and dreams have come and gone
And our children sift through all we’ve left behind
May the clues that they discover and the memories they uncover
Become the light that leads them to the road we each must find

REPEAT CHORUS

Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful

Calvinism, Cyborgs and Baptism

Recently there has been a stir among the Web about the future possibility of wrestling with the question of baptizing cyborgs. As more and more artificial parts are integrated into human beings, the issue of creating cyborgs as pictured in science fiction movies may, indeed, become fact. The question arises when artificial intelligence is uploaded to a human body. Does it then become human? Does it have a soul? These are questions that seem far-fetched, and yet they are being discussed in places such as Christianity Today and in the Southern Baptist Convention.

At issue is the definition of a soul and the definition of salvation, as well as the means by which salvation is obtained. If salvation is by a free will choice solely determined by one’s mind (I choose to accept Jesus as Savior) then the question of an artificial intelligence choosing wisely is very real. If salvation is a grace gift given by the Lord to whom He chooses (the elect), then the question is irrelevant. Do you see how one’s theological understanding of free will impacts the discussion?

If God breathes into a life at conception, giving it a soul, then that is one issue. If one believes that the soul and intelligence are one and the same, that is another issue. If one believes the mind (intelligence) is the same as a soul, then there is a real concern of baptizing cyborgs. If one believes that the soul is placed into a body, (and by extension a new body at the resurrection) then it doesn’t matter, the whole point is moot.

Before more articles are written raising questions about such things, it would be wise for authors to clarify and define their use of terms for words such as soul, spirit and  salvation. It might even be helpful to clarify the authors understanding of cyborg versus golem. Just a random thought on a Tuesday morning, but one that might merit some consideration.

Good Definitions of Repentance

Again, as part of our research in putting together our newest resource, The 180º Project, we have found some good thoughts concerning biblical repentance. Some of these we share below. While not all of these will make it into our final book, all of them are worthy of contemplation. If you run across any that you would like to share with us, please email them to us at taethne@outlook.com.  Please enjoy”

[Repentance] is not a merely intellectual change of mind or mere grief, still less doing penance, but a radical transformation of the entire person, a fundamental turnaround involving mind and action and including overtones of grief, which result in (spiritual) fruit. — D.A. Carson

Repentance is more than just sorrow for the past; repentance is a change of mind and heart, a new life of denying self and serving the Savior as king in self’s place. — J.I. Packer

Remorse precedes true repentance. Changed behavior follows true repentance. But this necessary prelude and postlude of true repentance are not themselves the essence of repentance. True repentance is a denial that anything in us ever would or ever could satisfy God’s holiness or compel His pardon. We humbly concede that we can offer nothing for what He alone can give. Then we rest in His promise to forgive those who humbly seek Him… Repentance, therefore, is fundamentally a humble expression of a desire for a renewed relationship with God – a relationship that we confess can be secured only by His grace. — Bryan Chapell

Our Lord’s idea of repentance is as profound and comprehensive as His conception of righteousness. Of the three words that are used in the Greek Gospels to describe the process, one emphasizes the emotional element of regret, sorrow over the past evil course of life, metamelomaiMatt. 12:29-32; a second expresses reversal of the entire mental attitude, metanoeoMatt. 12:41, Luke 11:32; 15:7, 10; the third denotes a change in the direction of life, one goal being substituted for another, epistrephomaiMatt. 13:15 (and parallels); Luke 17;4, 22:32. Repentance is not limited to any single faculty of the mind: it engages the entire man, intellect, will and affections… Again, in the new life which follows repentance the absolute supremacy of God is the controlling principle. He who repents turns away from the service of mammon and self to the service of God. —Geerhardus Vos

It is one thing to love sin and to force ourselves to quit it; it is another thing to hate sin because love for God is so gripping that the sin no longer appeals. The latter is repentance; the former is reform. It is repentance that God requires. Repentance is “a change of mind.” To love and yet quit it is not the same as hating it and quitting it. Your supposed victory over a sin may be simple displacement. You may love one sin so much (such as your pride) that you will curtail another more embarrassing sin which you also love. This may look spiritual, but there is nothing of God in it. Natural men do it every day. —Jim Elliff

The Irresistibleness of Grace

Many objections have been voiced to me over my belief of irresistible grace. As I listen to the objections, I now realize that there is a complete misunderstanding on the part of my readers who object. Their arguments seem to go along the lines of “so, you believe God will drag some people kicking and screaming into heaven?” What they fail to see is the foolishness of their understanding of grace.
Grace is given to those who do not deserve it, in fact it is given to those who deserve the opposite. The Bible describes mankind as spiritually dead, blind to His glory and light. When God brings salvation to a human soul they are enlightened and see God in His glory for the first time. Their natural response is to gravitate to His glorious light. They are drawn as irresistibly to it as a moth is drawn to a light or a dog to bacon.
It isn’t that they are trying to resist and failing against their will – it is that they are so attracted to the holy pureness and love of God that they run to Him in response to His bringing of new life.
Perhaps it is because of a faulty understanding of salvation that people get confused. Humans do not decide to become “saved”. They are dead, spiritually. Dead people cannot respond to anything. I worked for some years at a funeral home. I took care of many dead people. None of them responded to any stimulus. They showed no initiative. In fact, they just laid there, staring unblinkingly at nothing. That is how the Bible describes people spiritually. Unresponsive, uncaring, unfeeling people who cannot come to God for salvation. So God comes to them and gives them a new heart. He “quickens” or makes the soul come alive. As this new life is imparted, the soul sees its Creator and responds in faith to the One who has just resurrected it. We respond just as Lazarus did. Laying in the tomb, cold, unfeeling, dead, Lazarus heard His Lord call him to life and the response was instantaneous. This is irresistible grace. This is why Scripture says we are saved by grace, through faith — not by faith through grace. Grace come first.