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.
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.
The following is an excerpt from our resource, Dominoes, available from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Dominos-A-Dynamic-Commentary-Jude/dp/1490334610/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1387327369&sr=8-1-spell
The Virgin Birth starts with God approaching humanity, not humankind approaching God. The same is true of salvation. Salvation is God reaching down to man, not man reaching up to God. The fact of Mary being a virgin obviously disqualifies her from any active part in the conception of Jesus. The Bible goes to great pains to tell us that Joseph did not know her sexually until after the birth of Jesus. Just as Mary was acted on by the Holy Spirit to bring forth new life, so in salvation, the Holy Spirit acts upon us and a new life is brought forth.
In the Virgin Birth, all human autonomy was set aside. Joseph was not consulted until Mary is already pregnant. Jesus is not born of a husband’s will or action but by God. Joseph’s only role is to provide for Mary and the Child after His birth. Mary, through the angel Gabriel, is told that she has been elected by God to be the mother of the Messiah. She is told that God has chosen her. She is told that the Holy Spirit will overshadow her and she will conceive a son. Her permission is never asked. She receives the word and believes but this belief is not of her, but strength given to her by the Lord. She becomes the pattern for our faith.
It is not through our self-will or free-will that we are born from above. We are elected, chosen to salvation just as Mary was chosen, elected to be Jesus’ mother. As she was sanctified through her calling so are we. God sanctifies us. We receive Jesus by faith, belief, but God gives this faith to us, it isn’t produced by our own efforts.
The Virgin Birth is important because it shows the consistency of a Sovereign God who elects things to happen and by His might, what He ordains comes to pass. The sovereignty of God is not merely that He has the power and the right to rule all things, but that God actually does so, without any exceptions at all. God is not a beggar, wringing His hands and pleading helplessly, hoping sinners will decide to choose Him. He is a God who both can save and who does save whom He chooses.
While there are many other aspects of the Virgin Birth that are worth exploring, I trust that just this one part of the doctrine highlights how interrelated they all are. The same holds true about the doctrine of Jesus eternally existing, not coming into existence 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem.
Do you begin to see how interconnected doctrines are? To deny that Jesus was sinless from birth is to deny that He is God because God cannot sin. It is a belief that Jesus was not the Divine Son of God come down in human form but a mere man raised to great heights by the power of God. Such a view misses the whole point of the gospel message. Humanity could not save himself. It took God Himself to extricate us from our sinful state. He did this by sending His Son to be born of the Virgin Mary, to illustrate from day one how this salvation would come about.
In The Incredible Power of Kingdom Authority there is a conversation between the late Adrian Rogers and Josef Tson, the revered Romanian pastor, author, and president of the Romanian Missionary Society. Pastor Tson survived years of persecution and exile under cruel Communist rule and was noted for his outstanding faithfulness to God, even during persecution. Adrian Rogers asked Dr. Tson for his perception of American Christianity.
After some hesitation, he replied, “Well, Adrian, since you have asked me, I’ll tell you. The key word in American Christianity is commitment.” Rather than being a positive thing, he saw it as an inadequate replacement of an older Christian teaching: surrender.
Tson described the difference, “When you make a commitment, you are still in control, no matter how noble the thing you commit to. One can commit to pray, to study the Bible, to give his money, or to commit to automobile payments, or to lose weight. Whatever he chooses to do, he commits to. But surrender is different. If someone holds a gun and asks you to lift your hands in the air as a token of surrender, you don’t tell that person what you are committed to. You simply surrender and do as you are told. . . . Americans love commitment because they are still in control. But the key word is surrender. We are to be slaves to the Lord Jesus Christ.”
This is a good observation. The Bible calls us to surrender our lives to Jesus. To give up our wants, desires and dreams and to let Him replace them with His desires for us, His goals for our lives.
During the New Year season, it is fashionable to make resolutions. Even Christians do this, resolving to give more to Kingdom work, read the Bible more, pray longer, serve somewhere, etc… The problem is that, like resolutions of diet and exercise, somewhere in mid-February we have slipped back into old habits. We try to do better in our own power and this is impossible. Without God’s empowering Spirit, we cannot do anything. With Him, nothing is impossible.
My resolve this year is not to commit to anything other than surrendering to God’s Spirit, and letting Him control my life, my ministry, my service. Even to do that, I must yield to His power. What about you? Are you tired of trying and failing? Why don’t you also resolve to surrender, and ask for the power to let Him use you as He wills?
The audiobook version of A Heart Hungry to Worship” is now available. It is out on Amazon now, and should be available on Itunes by the weekend.
The Holy Spirit has instructed Philip to make contact with the Ethiopian and he does so. Running alongside the chariot, he hears the eunuch reading from Isaiah. In those days, it was customary to read aloud, not silently when one read to their self. Philip asks him a simple question: “Do you understand what you are reading?” The English translation does not do justice to the original Greek wording. Philip’s question really asks the eunuch if what he is reading has any meaning for him, if what he is reading makes any sense.
The response is so telling! It is a response of frustration, discouragement and disappointment. “How can I, unless someone explains it to me?” Despite his apparent regalia and retinue, no one in Jerusalem had taken the time to answer his questions. No one helped quench his thirst for the knowledge of the One True God. He had a copy of the Scriptures, but could not understand what the words meant. He could read them, he was an educated man fluent in languages, but the meaning, the import, and the supernatural impact of the words eluded him.
There is a reason why the Bible says that only those who are spiritual can understand spiritual things. Until a person comes to submit their life to the Lord Jesus, the Bible depicts them as spiritually blind, unable to see or comprehend spiritual truths. They need the Holy Spirit to open their spiritual eyes and illuminate their minds. Often, the Spirit uses believers, like Philip, in that process.
The Ethiopian invites Philip up into his chariot and asks him a question about the passage he is reading. “Who is the prophet referring to?” Without being able to identify the subject talked about, a person cannot make a proper interpretation. Philip begins introducing the Ethiopian to Jesus through this passage. The Book of Isaiah was tailor-made for a person like this Ethiopian. It’s in Isaiah that many prophecies of Jesus’ birth and reign are found. It’s in Isaiah where one finds promises to eunuchs of their inclusion in God’s Holy Temple alongside other worshippers of God. Isaiah described God Himself, high and lifted up, as having compassion on people who have wandered away from the truth; who are like sheep.
Philip begins with the passage the Ethiopian is wrestling with and uses it as a springboard to tell the story of Jesus, God’s Messiah. As Philip expounds the meaning of what the Ethiopian was reading God’s Spirit illuminates his mind. Now, he realizes how a person is to worship God. Now, he realizes that it’s not at a Temple made by human hands but through faith in Jesus Christ that a person comes to approach God. As they pass by some water, he interrupts Philip to ask, “Is there anything that hinders me from being baptized right now?” He understands; he wants to identify with Jesus Christ and he desires to proclaim his newfound faith.
Water baptism was quite common in those days. In Judaism, it stood as a symbol for a Gentile’s repentance and conversion to Israel’s religion. In Christianity, it stands for each person’s repentance and as a symbol of his or her submission to Christ’s Lordship.
Philip baptizes the Ethiopian, which shows us an important picture. Philip, an olive skinned man, baptizes the Ethiopian, a black man, into the fellowship of the church. Philip, a former adherent to Judaism, and the Ethiopian, a former adherent to the religion of Meroe, become equal in standing before Christ. In Christ, racial barriers, national barriers, cultural barriers fall. Each person finds themselves equal at the foot of the Cross.
DAY 37 – ALMOST PERSUADED
Based on the KJV’s translation of Acts 26:28 and a sermon by the Reverend Brundage, Philip Bliss gives us this hymn with a sobering theme. It seems that as he was listening to a sermon, a line was uttered that went, “He who is almost persuaded is almost saved, and to be almost saved is to be entirely lost.” As he reflected on this, he was moved to pen the words to this hymn.
What a sad situation it is, when a person receives a witness of the gospel truth, accepts it as the truth, and still refuses to submit to Christ’s Lordship. How sad to hear from people, “some more convenient day”, not right now, later, perhaps. It is so frustrating to hear people acknowledge the truth but refuse to let it change their lives.
Some are afraid they will have to give up a lifestyle they enjoy, some are afraid of the demands God may make of them. This fear keeps many from following, making the mistake that they can repent right before death and find peace. They forget that death can come unexpectedly and it is too late once they appear before the judgment seat.
It is for this reason the Bible tells us that today is the day of salvation. We are not to harden our hearts to the gospel, not to delay in repenting of our sins and asking God for mercy. Now the invitation is given, we are not guaranteed tomorrow. Whether tomorrow brings death to us or the return of Christ, either way it spells doom for the unbeliever. To delay may be eternally fateful. Sad, sad, their bitter wails as they realize, too late, they missed the invitation. Let us bear down in prayers for those we love before it is too late for them.
Lord, there are those I love who are foolishly waiting. They know the truth but have yet to bend their knee to You. Let Your Spirit strive with them still, melt their hard heart and lead them to You I pray.
ALMOST PERSUADED by Philip Bliss
Almost persuaded now to believe;
Almost persuaded Christ to receive;
Seems now some soul to say,
Go, Spirit, go Thy way
Some more convenient day
On Thee I’ll call
Almost persuaded, come, come today;
Almost persuaded, turn not away;
Jesus invites you here
Angels are lingering near,
Prayers rise from hearts so dear;
O wanderer, come!
Almost persuaded, harvest is past!
Almost persuaded, doom comes at last!
Almost cannot avail;
Almost is but to fail!
Sad, sad, that bitter wail
Almost, but lost!
DAY 27 – I KNOW WHOM I HAVE BELIEVED
This hymn has always resonated with me, from my childhood until now. I do not pretend to know why God loves me. I do not pretend to know how He could ever forgive me nor why He would. He, in His mercy, showered me with His grace. That act of kindness overwhelms me now even more than it did when I first experienced it.
I truly do understand that His Spirit gave me faith to believe the truth of His words. That His Spirit brought understanding to my mind, conviction to my soul, repentance to my heart but how that occurred – it just did. One moment I was living for me, the next I was bowed under the Spirit’s leadership, crying out to God for mercy and forgiveness. What a miracle.
It is also a miracle that as we read His Word the Spirit makes it come alive, imparting its wisdom and truth to us. God’s Spirit does create faith in us, just as He creates new life and transforms our minds. I don’t know when Jesus will return. He may return for me today. I may die and return with Him years from now but I do know He will return with His saints to judge the ungodly.
I don’t know many things about the God I have served for 40 + years now. But I do know this: He hides my soul in the palm of His hand and is faithful to keep it forever. I love how the refrain of the hymn is a direct quote from 2 Timothy 1:12. God is faithful and He is able to keep us from falling. He never fails to keep a promise and His Spirit has sealed me in His love forever, praise His holy name.
Thank you, Lord, for keeping my soul safe forever. Thank you for redeeming it. Thank you for sanctifying it. You are a great God and worthy to be praised.
I KNOW WHOM I HAVE BLIEVED – Daniel Whittle
I know not why God’s wondrous grace
To me He hath made known
Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love
Redeemed me for His own
I know not how this saving faith
To me He did impart
Nor how, believing in His Word
Wrought peace within my heart
I know not how the Spirit moves
Convincing us of sin
Revealing Jesus through the Word
Creating faith in Him
I know not what of good or ill
May be reserved for me
Of weary ways or golden days
Before His face I’ll see
I know not when my Lord may come
At night or noonday fair
Nor if I’ll walk the vale with Him
Or meet Him in the air
But I know whom I have believed
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that day
So many times I get irritated at the debates between friends who are of different theological understandings. You know, the Arminean/Calvinist or Reformed/Wesleyan debates over the doctrine of eternal security (or perseverance of the saints). Why do I get irritated? Because so many people on both sides of the debate miss the whole point of grace. (Of course, most have never read the actual works of John Calvin or Joseph Arminius but that is another subject).
On one side, you have those who say that once saved, no matter what one does or how they live, they are still assured of eternal salvation. On the other, you have the belief that one can remove themselves from God’s protection by their sinful actions. What many people of both camps miss, however, is the change that occurs at salvation. The old has passed away, the new has come. We have been born again, born anew, born from above. What does this mean, practically?
No longer does sin have dominion over us. We can still sin, and we do. We no longer have a life characterized by sin, though. We are no longer under its power nor is it our desire to sin any longer. A person who continues in the same habits of sin with no remorse nor power to stop the sinning has never been transformed into a new creature. He or she has never experienced the new birth, no matter what prayer or ritual they have supposedly made. A life that has been born anew is as different from the old one as a piglet and a puppy are. Oh, both may wallow around in the mud for a little while, but they are fundamentally different and while there may be some similarities they are identifiably different.
Those who believe that the doctrine of eternal security gives a person license to sin miss the whole reality of the transformation the Holy Spirit does in a life. No person born from above has a desire to live a life characterized by actions that would bring shame to their Lord. One cannot, of course, ever become un-born. The metamorphosis is one-way. You are either changed or you are not. The confusion comes from those who claim to be Christian, know the words to say, but whose lives do not match their profession. By their fruit you shall know them. There is a reason why Paul tells the church to examine themselves by the light of Scripture to see if they are really in the faith or not.
I know this doctrine ties in with election, God’s sovereignty and others equally debated. My point isn’t to stir that pot – yet. My point is that God’s transforming power is so awesome, so complete, that it fundamentally changes the nature and character of the one changed and that change is observable and non-revocable. Once saved you are forever changed. If you are not changed, you are not saved. Period. Go back and study the ones given new life by the Spirit – Zacchaeus, Saul of Tarsus, Mary Magadelene and others. That change is what everyone born of God experiences. If you haven’t, contact me and I will be glad to show you how the Spirit can transform your life forever.