New Resources — Farsi Language
We are pleased to announce a new resource in the Farsi (Persian) language. Finally Alive by John Piper is available on the Free Resources page: https://taethne.files.wordpress.com/2018/05/finally-alive-farsi.pdf
This book details what the new birth in Jesus Christ is in plain language. For this to be available in Farsi is a treasure. Farsi is spoken by some almost 60 million people in Iran, Iraq and neighboring Gulf states.
If you know of someone who can benefit from this please share freely.
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?
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.
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.
a — http://www.ccel.org/ccel/boettner/predest.iv.iii.xi.html
b — Calvin Memorial Addresses, p 112
Huns, Calvinists and Straw-Men
During WWI, in order to gain support for entering the war on the Allied side, propaganda began to stretch the truth and distort the nature of the conflict. The Germans were painted as Huns who enjoyed killing (and eating, in some cases) babies. Joe Public was alarmed and outraged. No matter that the issues that started the war were complicated and convoluted, straw men were erected in order to arouse the public to insist on America’s going to war. The same is going on in the SBC today. Normally we do not post too much on the Arminian-Calvinism debate going on in the SBC. This is because we work with multiple denominations overseas and the issue is secondary to our stated goals in providing training resources to leaders and churches worldwide. Yet, sometimes the issue is forced upon us, because such training materials do lean one way or another and because I am an ordained minister within the SBC.
It is with dismay, then, that many articles have become sloppily written inside SBC magazines and websites, which distort the beliefs of either side and further divide people from having civil discussions and agreeing to disagree over some interpretations of Scripture. The article, Sbc and Calvinism: All-in? All-out? Somewhere In-Between? by Doug Sayers is one such article that was not helpful or accurate. (http://sbctoday.com/2014/03/26/sbc-and-calvinism-all-in-all-out-somewhere-in-between/). The article tells of Mr. Sayers young son being a near-drowning victim and the debate on whether or not he would go to heaven when he died. The staunch Calvinist in the article comes across as cold-hearted for suggesting no can could give such an assurance since no one knew whether he was one of the elect. Yet, in truth, that is a consistent viewpoint from one who would hold to a belief in the doctrine of the elect. The article goes on to include the authors opinion of Romans 5 and 9 and ends with and ends with basically saying that those who hold to a Calvinistic viewpoint are both absurd and impugning God’s character.
To be fair, I believe that Mr. Sayers is erecting a straw man argument in his article. He focuses the thrust of his points upon asking what sin a baby could commit that would send him to hell and spends a lot of time trying to dismantle the belief in the imputation of Adam’s sin that Calvinists hold. What he does not seem to understand, or fails to mention, is the other side of the equation. Arminians believe that it is the exercise of belief that brings salvation, not God’s election. The question could be asked, “Since a baby doesn’t yet exercise belief, why would he go to heaven?”
The use of babies, little helpless, cute babies, is sure to elicit emotions on both sides. Yet, the answer to salvation must be consistent no matter what the age is. It doesn’t matter that a person is 1 day, 1 month, 1 year, 100 years old, the answer must satisfy for all. I have heard many preachers say from the pulpit that “the only sin that will send people to hell is not accepting (or rejecting) Jesus Christ.” So, why not kill people before they can reject Him? Surely that would be merciful. Since we don’t know who will say yes to Jesus, why take that chance? It is the same logic Roman Catholics use to justify baby baptism. They believe baptism saves so baptize early. Wouldn’t it be counter-productive to stop abortions if it meant all those little ones would go straight to heaven? No one in their right mind believes this, but it is the logical extension of a belief system that says babies go straight to heaven in death, while they might grow up to become an unbeliever and go to hell.
Why are Calvinists painted as cruel for at least being consistent in saying that if God wants them in heaven they will go there? Why are Arminians not held to answer the flaws in their own system? We are not to preach anyone into heaven or hell at a funeral, but to bring comfort to the family. We appeal to God being a God of mercy and justice. Whether God foresaw who would accept Him and elected them or whether He elected them and foresaw their early death really doesn’t matter to a grieving family. They need to know God loves them, He isn’t being cruel, He can and will sustain them through this trying time.
What Mr. Sanders appears to believe, although he doesn’t come right out and say so, is that we are born innocent and deserve heaven. He says that God imputes the guilt of our sin when we knowingly break His laws. While he derides Calvinists for their belief in the imputing of Adam’s sin to his posterity, which he says isn’t in Scripture, he believes in an “age of accountability” that is just as absent from the Holy Writ. Both beliefs are assumptions based upon particular interpretations of numerous Scriptures. Yet he passes off his beliefs as stated facts that are indisputable. What he has done is to create a straw man, paint Calvinists as modern day Huns and seek to win an emotional appeal for his own set of beliefs.
Such an article is not helpful. To slant an issue without an article stating the Calvinist viewpoint that babies, like teenagers or adults are first regenerated (made spiritually alive by the Holy Spirit) prior to placing their belief in the Lord who just saved them is irresponsible. In Calvinism the same God who brings salvation to a person (no matter the age) brings such clarity of vision and thought that their natural response is to grab Him (irresistible grace – not that they can’t resist, they no longer want to). For a baby, God makes them alive spiritually and their soul responds naturally to Him. Calvinists are not Huns nor simpletons and are not impugning God’s holiness at all.
Whether one chooses to believe this viewpoint or not, whether one embraces Calvinism, Arminianism, Augustine’s or Wesley’s viewpoints — let us remember this: we are called to act in love towards one another at all times and to see our own flaws before pointing out the flaws of others. Until that happens, the SBC will continue its descend into mediocrity and that will be a great tragedy.
Bold Infidelity! turn pale and die;
Beneath this stone, four infants’ ashes lie;
Say, are they lost or saved?
If death’s by sin, they sinned; because they’re here;
Reason, ah! how depraved!
Revere the sacred page, the knot’s untied;
They died, for Adam sinned—they live, for Jesus died!
Security, not Possibility
One of the most reassuring facets of our Lord Jesus Christ is, to me, His ability to secure our salvation. We serve a God who not only can save, but who actually does so. The gospels abound with such wonderful statements such as Mt. 1:21, ” And you (Mary) shall bring forth a son and younshall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins” and Mt. 18:4 “For the Son of Man came to seek and save that which was lost.” How wonderful is the phrase He shall save” – not just He will make salvation possible, but that He is actively going to save His people.
The fact that He not only loved us first, when we did not love Him, coupled with the truth that He saves us precisely because we cannot save ourselves is staggering. Left to ourselves, we would not come to Christ even if we could. Thankfully, He came to seek and save us. He calls us and bids us to come, follow Him just as He called the disciples. He draws us to Himself, saving us from this corrupt generation.
It is not just that He died to secure the possibility of salvation for those who would believe, but that He died to save those to whom He gives the faith to believe on Him. My eternal destiny is secure because He chose me and for that I thank Him. On my own, I could not have and would not have chosen Him. Truly, our Lord is the God of salvation.
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.
What the Virgin Birth Teaches Us About Salvation
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.