Posts Tagged 'Election'

Law and Grace

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A huge chunk of the Old Testament is taken up with teachings on the Law. When we read books like Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, we are reading about the Law. As Christians, we dismiss the Law. Yet we shouldn’t. The Law was given to Israel by God; it came from the very heart of God. It may not apply to Christians, but we certainly should know about the Law. Jesus Himself was known to have said things like this:

Don’t misunderstand why I have come—it isn’t to cancel the laws of Moses and the warnings of the prophets. No, I came to fulfill them and to make them all come true. (Matthew 5:17 TLB)

As Christians, we would rather talk about grace. Most of us have been taught that the Old Testament is all about Law while the New Testament is all about grace. That’s partly true, but partly wrong. In the Old Testament, the Law is prominent but grace is there, lurking in the background. In the New Testament, grace is obvious but the Law is still there, in the shadows.

Is there a conflict between the Law and grace? Does grace nullify the Law completely? Since the Law is present in the New Testament, Christians should try to understand why it’s there and resolve the tension that may exist between the Law and grace.

Galatians 5:1 – 11

Paul was probably the greatest theologian who ever lived. He was probably the greatest thinker in history. He possessed a towering intellect, and yet he never divorced doctrine from life. He always sought to integrate the two, doctrine and life, so that doctrine could actually change a life. Typical of Paul, his letters followed a pattern. First, he would put forth some heavy duty doctrinal ideas. Reading these parts of his letters requires patience and sometimes a dictionary. He uses big words to teach his big ideas. Thankfully, though, he always followed his purely intellectual teachings with a “how-to” section. In other words, first he would tell you how you should live, then he would show you how to live. Galatians 5 begins Paul’s showing you how to live.

So Christ has made us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get all tied up again in the chains of slavery to Jewish laws and ceremonies. (Galatians 5:1 TLB)

This verse represents Paul’s summation of what preceded it, namely, that the Law brings slavery but faith brings freedom. Another translation of this verse goes like this:

Plant your feet firmly therefore within the freedom that Christ has won for us, and do not let yourselves be caught again in the shackles of slavery. (JBP)

Or, maybe you prefer this translation:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (NIV)

Well, no matter which version you prefer, the idea Paul is advancing is best summed up like this:

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? (Galatians 3:1 NIV)

That’s pretty strong language! The “bewitching” took the form of some false teaching that had infiltrated the church. These Galatians had once been heathens, in bondage to heathenism. Upon hearing the Gospel, they exchanged their bondage to heathenism for Christ’s free grace. But this new-fangled false teaching said that while faith in Christ was important, it wasn’t enough. If you wanted to be saved, you needed Jesus and the Law of Moses. That’s how false teaching works, by the way. There’s usually an element of truth in it. The false teachers, Judaizers by name, made a career out of following Paul and the apostles around, slipping into churches they founded, and teaching their perversion of the Gospel. For them, salvation was Jesus + the Law.

Paul’s point of contention with the Galatians was that it was totally crazy of them to give up the wonderful freedom they had found in Christ, to go back into having to obey a bunch of burdensome regulations. It was Christ who had set them free from their slavery to sin. They couldn’t set themselves free.

This is an important point to make note of. We cannot set ourselves free, either from the Law (in the case of Israelites) or from sin (in the case of the Galatians and us). Only Christ can do that. However, there is a definite sense of co-operation. That is, we must co-operate with the Holy Spirit in living the Christian life in freedom. Even though Christ lives in us, we must determine to keep standing firm in the freedom Christ has won for us.

The thing the Judaizers were trying to get the Galatians to practice in order to secure salvation was circumcision. This incensed Paul.

Listen to me, for this is serious: if you are counting on circumcision and keeping the Jewish laws to make you right with God, then Christ cannot save you. I’ll say it again. Anyone trying to find favor with God by being circumcised must always obey every other Jewish law or perish. (Galatians 5:2, 3 TLB)

Keeping part of the Jewish Law meant keeping all of it. It’s as if Paul were saying, “You think it was rough being in bondage to sin. Wait till you try obeying the Jewish Laws!” No wonder he called them “foolish.” And Paul would know! He was a strict observer of the Jewish Law until Christ set him free.

It was so serious to add anything to Christ’s gift of free grace, Paul adds this:

Christ is useless to you if you are counting on clearing your debt to God by keeping those laws; you are lost from God’s grace. (Galatians 5:4 TLB)

In the strongest language possible, Paul says the consequences of seeking salvation beyond the simple Gospel are dire indeed. They would literally lose God’s grace because Christ would have nothing to do with them. It’s not that God would abandon them, it’s that they would abandon God. Turning to the Law, or anything else, for salvation after having experienced Christ’s free grace is fatal.

If anyone sins deliberately by rejecting the Savior after knowing the truth of forgiveness, this sin is not covered by Christ’s death; there is no way to get rid of it. There will be nothing to look forward to but the terrible punishment of God’s awful anger, which will consume all his enemies. (Hebrews 10:26, 27 TLB)

Why so dire? E.M. Bounds offers a bit of wisdom that goes a long way toward ansering that question:

All God’s plans have the mark of the cross on them, and all His plans of death to self in them. But men’s plans ignore the offense of the cross or despise it. Men’s plans have no profound, stern or self-immolating denial in them. Their gain is of the world.

He’s absolutely correct. Seeking salvation through any means other than the supernatural means provided for by Christ through the Cross is not profound at all and it elevates man to an unnatural height far beyond the place assigned him by his God. Not only that, it devalues Christ and God’s grace.

John 1:14 – 17

This group of verses is remarkable in it’s implications as far as God’s grace toward sinful man is concerned.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

What kind of person could ever minimize what happened in the above paragraph? What kind of hard heart could disregard that kind of grace? Leon Morris comments:

God’s grace to His people is continuous and is never exhausted. Grace knows no interruption and no limit. In contrast to the Law, it stresses the dynamic character of the Christian life. “Grace” means an ever-deepening experience of the presence and the blessing of God.

To give that up and simply walk away from it takes a special kind of cold, hard heart. No wonder Paul’s warning to the Galatians was so stark!

God the Father literally gave sinful man all He had when He gave His only Son to make a way of salvation. To accept God’s grace through a relationship with Jesus Christ is to become part of His family – that’s how close we become to God through Jesus. Lee Strobel makes this clear when he wrote –

Believing the right things about Jesus isn’t enough. You’re not adopted as God’s child until you confess and turn away from your wrong doing and receive the freely offered gift of forgiveness and eternal life that Jesus purchased with His death on the cross. Until that, you’ll always be on the outside looking in.

Ephesians 1:3 – 10

This passage is perhaps the most profound in all of Scripture concerning salvation. In it, Paul shows us how God laid the plan for our salvation long before He actually created the material universe.

The source of all blessings

How we praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every blessing in heaven because we belong to Christ. (Ephesians 1:3 TLB)

In the Greek, it’s simply “blessing,” in the singular. Paul doesn’t distinguish between material or spiritual blessings. All those things that benefit us in some way come from God simply because we belong to Christ. That’s important to note. It’s not out of love for us, although God does love us. It’s not out of obligation or even compassion. God blesses us because we belong to Christ.

To be “in Christ” denotes a kind of “union of persons.” It’s Paul’s way of describing a relationship so close there really are no words to adequately describe it.

Salvation enacted before time

Long ago, even before he made the world, God chose us to be his very own through what Christ would do for us; he decided then to make us holy in his eyes, without a single fault—we who stand before him covered with his love. His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by sending Jesus Christ to die for us. And he did this because he wanted to! Now all praise to God for his wonderful kindness to us and his favor that he has poured out upon us because we belong to his dearly loved Son. (Ephesians 1:4 – 6 TLB)

Election is a Biblical doctrine no matter how hard it may be to understand. God chose us. Salvation is always HIS initiative. Our salvation is so important to God, He began His initiative before the creation of the universe! When a sinner responds to that initiative, that sinner becomes part of “the elect,” a group of believers God knew would become part of His great family. One scholar put it this way –

This new people, the church, is not the result of a hasty, temporal expedient, but is a part of God’s eternal purpose…

And part of that eternal purpose is to take a man, corrupt and covered in the filth of sin, and clean him up, re-creating and re-making him into someone holy. This happens when God’s grace is operating in his heart. At that moment, that redeemed sinner is made part of God’s family. Paul uses the term “adoption,” and without delving into the deep theological significance behind it, let’s just say that only God the Father is able to take a person estranged from Him and in an instant make him part of His family. The person can’t do that. He can’t make himself part of God’s family. This is wholly a work of God.

So overflowing is his kindness toward us that he took away all our sins through the blood of his Son, by whom we are saved; and he has showered down upon us the richness of his grace—for how well he understands us and knows what is best for us at all times. (Ephesians 1:7, 8 TLB)

Our adoption was purchased through the death of Christ. It was that sacrifice that resulted in the forgiveness of our sins. The idea of the “blood” of Christ is significant. It shows how valuable we really are to God! We are equal in value to Him as His Son is.

Again, the words of Hebrews 10:26, 27 ring in our ears –

If anyone sins deliberately by rejecting the Savior after knowing the truth of forgiveness, this sin is not covered by Christ’s death; there is no way to get rid of it. There will be nothing to look forward to but the terrible punishment of God’s awful anger, which will consume all his enemies. (Hebrews 10:26, 27 TLB)

Considering what God did for us, in us, and to us, we can understand how serious a thing it is to willfully turn your back on Christ’s salvation. This isn’t merely backsliding referred to here; it’s a selling out of your soul to the world. It’s apostasy. No wonder Paul called the Galatians “foolish” when they were just contemplating messing up God’s perfect plan of salvation.

EXCEPTional Bible Verses, Part 3

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John 6:44

 

Jesus’ own words on the issue of following Him look like this:

No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him…  (John 6:44  KJV)

This single statement makes plain that nobody comes to Jesus unless God draws them.  Put another way, nobody wakes up one day thinking, “Gee, I think I’ll get saved today.”  That person must be drawn by God to make that decision;  he cannot make it on his own.

Well, this proposition is fraught with difficulties for the thinking person.  Why bother with altar calls at all if it is God who does the drawing?  What’s the point in sending missionaries to the far-flung corners of the world if those lost people will come to God if He calls them anyway?  Why bother witnessing to the unsaved when they can’t get saved unless God calls them to?   Not to mention the great difficulty of reconciling the God of love and justice who will punish the unrepentant sinner for not doing something they could not possibly do in the first place!

These questions, and many others, have been asked forever by people who don’t have a firm understanding of Biblical theology.  Or who like to cause arguments.

So, what did Jesus mean when He spoke those words?  Let’s examine this EXCEPTional Bible verse in the context it was given.  You might be surprised by its meaning and its implications.

1.  Setting the scene

It all started with this verse:

Then the Jews began to murmur against him because he claimed to be the Bread from heaven.  (John 6:41  TLB)

The Jews that had heard Jesus teaching this day were getting madder by the moment.  What sparked their murmuring was this particular teaching:

They replied, “You must show us more miracles if you want us to believe you are the Messiah. Give us free bread every day, like our fathers had while they journeyed through the wilderness! As the Scriptures say, ‘Moses gave them bread from heaven.’ ”

Jesus said, “Moses didn’t give it to them. My Father did. And now he offers you true Bread from heaven. The true Bread is a Person—the one sent by God from heaven, and he gives life to the world.”

“Sir,” they said, “give us that bread every day of our lives!”

Jesus replied, “I am the Bread of Life. No one coming to me will ever be hungry again. Those believing in me will never thirst.”  (Luke 6:30—35  TLB)

But what really got them going was this:

Jesus replied, “The truth of the matter is that you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you believe in me.”  (John 6:26  TLB)

Jesus told them, “This is the will of God, that you believe in the one he has sent.”  They replied, “You must show us more miracles if you want us to believe you are the Messiah. Give us free bread every day, like our fathers had while they journeyed through the wilderness! As the Scriptures say, ‘Moses gave them bread from heaven.’ ”  (John 6:29—31  TLB)

That’s right.  This bunch had been following Jesus around for the free food!  They had been miraculously fed before, and now they wanted to be miraculously fed again.  When Jesus confronted them about this, He didn’t pull any punches and told them the way it was:  following Jesus for what you can get out of Him is the wrong reason to follow Him.   Our Lord encouraged the crowd not to expend so much energy chasing after such temporary things, but rather seek after spiritual, eternal things:

“But you shouldn’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. No, spend your energy seeking the eternal life that I, the Messiah, can give you. For God the Father has sent me for this very purpose.”  (John 6:27  TLB)

But these people were stubborn.  If they were going to follow Jesus for that right reason, then He had better get off the dime and prove to their satisfaction that He really is the Messiah.  As if being fed wasn’t enough, they wanted even more proof.  Here are people who can never be satisfied!  They wanted Jesus to feed them continually, like the Israelites had been fed during their desert wanderings by Moses.  No doubt they thought they were very clever quoting Scripture in an effort to get Jesus to do what they wanted Him to do.  But Jesus set them straight again:

“Moses didn’t give it to them. My Father did.  And now he offers you true Bread from heaven.  The true Bread is a Person—the one sent by God from heaven, and he gives life to the world.”  (John 6:32  TLB)

Jesus wasn’t about to be distracted from His purpose:  to show these people that He was the Messiah, and they needed Him.  They thought they needed breakfast, but what they needed was the salvation Jesus offered them.   Still, it seems they were not convinced and they “murmured.”

2.  The right kind of thinking

They wanted bread, but Jesus offered Himself to them as the “Bread of life,” come down from Heaven.  In spite of all the teachings, all the miracles, and the free food, these people just didn’t “get” Jesus at all.  Some did, but many did not.  This prompted Jesus to utter one of the most discussed verses in Bible colleges and seminaries:

But some will come to me—those the Father has given me—and I will never, never reject them.  (John 6:37  TLB)

Some scholars see free will in this verse, others see only election.  In truth, we see both man’s free will (some will come) and God’s election (those the Father has given) at work.  God the Father gives sinners to Christ for salvation, but these sinners have to come to Christ.  If we belong to Christ, we belong to Him, not because of anything we have done, but because God the Father determined to win us to Himself.

The “elect” are simply those who have come to Christ, and we have Christ’s Word that anybody who comes to Him will never be turned away!   That’s theologically “right thinking!”  Salvation is wholly a work of God, but man does bear the responsibility to “come.”  There is co-operation being taught in these verses:  the Father gives sinners to the Son, sinners come to the Son, and the Son welcomes them with open arms.  But God the Father is the great Prime Mover in this; salvation begins with Him.

…[God] is not willing that any should perish, and he is giving more time for sinners to repent.  (2 Peter 3:9b  TLB)

Of course, Peter is not teaching a kind of “universal salvation” in this verse.  God wants—desperately, to use a human word—all people to come to Jesus and be saved.  But the reality is, many will not.

For many are called, but few are chosen.  (Matthew 22:14 TLB)

The truly exciting part of John 6:37 is the last part:  Jesus rejects NO ONE who comes to Him!  How is that possible?  The answer is in the very next verse:

For I have come here from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to have my own way.  (John 6:38  TLB)

It’s simply God’s will to save all those who come to Jesus.  Period.  Whom God saves, Jesus keeps!  Jesus taught this in verse 39 but Jude also taught it in his letter:

…he is able to keep you from slipping and falling away…  (Jude verse 25  TLB)

But in a subtle way, Jesus is also teaching His Jewish listeners that when they murmur and question His authority or oppose His Work in any way they are really opposing the work and will of God the Father.

3.  Drag me to heaven!

Jesus said what He had to say, but the people remained unmoved.  They just couldn’t get passed what they could see with their own eyes.  This “man” who claimed to be the Bread of Life from Heaven was, as far as they knew, merely the son of a carpenter named Joseph, verse 42.  What these people really objected to was the “from heaven” part:  that is, His virgin birth.  Like so many people today, these people had no problem with God; they readily acknowledged God the Father.  They even “wondered” about Jesus, but what they refused to believe was His divinity.  This just went against their sensibilities.  People are like that today.  They talk about God (except on public land!) and have no issue acknowledging a “Higher Power,” but Jesus Christ is just plain offensive to them.

Such is the power of unbelief.  Man in his natural mind is incapable of believing in Jesus and in His Work.  And that leads us to our EXCEPTional Bible verse:

Jesus therefore answered and said unto them, Murmur not among yourselves.  No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.  (John 6:43, 44  KJV)

Here again we see man’s responsibility:  stop murmuring.  This is something only a man can do for himself.  God won’t stop you from murmuring; God won’t change your behavior.  God won’t force you to do or to stop something.  It’s up to you.  It’s your responsibility.  But then Jesus talks about something only God can do:  He draws the sinner to His Son.  In fact, it’s more than just “drawing.”  The Greek word really means “drag!”  It’s a strenuous word.  God actively and effectively influences the mind, the heart, the entire personality of the sinner to get him to come to Jesus.

As it is written in the Scriptures, ‘They shall all be taught of God.’ Those the Father speaks to, who learn the truth from him, will be attracted to me.  (John 6:45  TLB)

What is Jesus speaking of here?  Many times in the writings of the prophets we read things like this:

And all your citizens shall be taught by me, and their prosperity shall be great.  (Isaiah 54:13  TLB)

Darkness as black as night shall cover all the peoples of the earth, but the glory of the Lord will shine from you.  All nations will come to your light; mighty kings will come to see the glory of the Lord upon you.  (Isaiah 60:2, 3  TLB)

These are prophecies; statements of things that have yet to occur.  Jesus is telling these Jews that someday THEY will come to Him; they, the Jewish nation, will be fully restored.  Malachi 4:2—

But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture.  (TLB)

Jesus had spent considerable time trying to get through to these people that He was the Bread of Life; that He came down from Heaven; that His Father is God the Father.  God the Father wants everybody to be saved; so much so that He will actually work behind the scenes to get them to believe in Jesus, the only Way to heaven.  It’s God’s will!  It was foretold in the words of their very own prophets.

Every person, Jew and Gentile alike, that hears the Word of God concerning Jesus the Son will be drawn by God the Father.  It is God who draws before man comes.  It is God who speaks before man hears and obeys.  If God stands passively by and leaves man up to his own devices, no man will be saved.  This is why we say salvation is as work of God!  Every person who hears the Word and responds to God’s drawing will come to Jesus and be received by Him.  God’s grace always triumphs!

UNDERSTANDING GOD’S ETERNAL PURPOSES, 1

The Divine Purpose, Ephesians 1:1—6

“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.  Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again.”  (Acts 20:24—25)

Those were among the last words spoken by Paul in person to elders from the Ephesian church.  He was aware that he may never again visit them.  While in Jerusalem, the Apostle faced much opposition and was eventually sent to Rome as a prisoner.  From his prison cell, Paul wrote a number of letters, which we call “The Prison Epistles,” and his joyful, victorious letter to the Ephesians was his first.

This wonderful letter is all about the Church; the Church that was birthed in the mind of God, founded and headed by Jesus Christ.  The positive nature of this letter belies the reality that it was written from a prison cell.  Clearly, Paul loved the Church of Jesus Christ, and he writes about it in the most glowing terms.

As is the case with many of Paul’s letters, the first part of Ephesians is doctrinal and the second part is practical.  In this case, heavy doses of praise and thanksgiving are used in a discussion of God’s sovereign choice.

1.  Election, verse 4

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

This verse is not a cold theological fact, rather when we read it in conjunction with verse three; it becomes the basis for praise.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

We have been blessed, and we praise Him because we have first been blessed.  Our praise of God is motivated by His generous disposition toward us.   In referring to “the heavenly realms,” Paul is thinking of the spiritual realm, not the physical realm.  To be sure, God blesses His children materially, but this not what Paul has in mind.  Taylor observed:

The designation “in heavenly places” is not a misnomer because the inner life of the man in Christ has been invaded by the power of Heaven.  He posses eternal life and he is in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Thus in spirit he is lifted above the earthly, the worldly, and the temporal.  Temporally, the Christian is in the world, but not of the world.

“Every spiritual blessing” can be traced back to its ultimate source in the eternal purpose of God.  The blessings that flow to God’s people do not come by chance; they are the direct result of the purposes which were established in the mind and heart of God before the creation of the world.  Another way to look at this is to recognize that salvation is not an afterthought, but quite the opposite:  it is the fulfillment of God’s will, established in eternity.

Election is a basic Biblical doctrine which teaches simply that Christians were selected in Christ before the work of Creation.  Jesus Himself said as much in John 15:16—

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.

All Paul is stating, and all that Jesus stated, is that the choice of God is eternal, and that the purpose of those so chosen is to live a holy life.  The choice of God is not arbitrary, so that some are chosen to be saved and other not without regard to the disposition of the individual.  Salvation is offered to every human being (John 3:16; Romans 10:13).  The “elect” are composed by those who have accepted the conditions of God’s call.

Being part of “the chosen” or “the elect” carries with it a moral responsibility expressed in both positive and negative terms.  The chosen are “to be holy.”  This means being set apart for God in order to reflect His holiness.  While Christians are clothed with the righteousness of Christ, that is imputed righteousness, we are expected to exhibit actual righteousness in our daily lives.  We are also to be “blameless.”  This does not mean sinless.  The one in Christ can be without blemish before God because God sees into his heart.  Though a sinner by nature, if we walk in faith and walk in forgiveness, then we will be blameless in God’s sight.

2.  Adoption, verses 5, 6

In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will…

Predestination is one of the most marvelous doctrines in the Bible.  The TNIV and many other modern translations take the last two words of verse 4, “in love,” and make them the first two words of verse 5.  This seems to fit the context; God chooses us, and then with love for us as His motivating factor, predestines us for adoption.  It is because of God’s love that the chosen have been predestined to become the “sons” of God.  Why does Paul speak of “sons” only and not daughters?  It is because of Roman law, something his first century readers would have known.  Under Roman law, an adopted son enjoyed the same status and privileges as a natural born son.  Christ is God’s natural born son.  Believers are God’s sons by a legal declaration and, by God’s incredible grace, are co-heirs with Him:

Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.  (Romans 8:17)

Election and predestination result in our adoption.  The truly stunning fact in our adoption is that it was done according to God’s will, not due to any merit we may possess. God wanted us to become His sons.   His adoption of us was completely His idea, influenced in no way by any other factors.

3.  God’s supreme purpose, verse 6

…to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

All this is for the glory of God.  Our election and predestination to become the sons of God through adoption finds its ultimate purpose expressed in verse 6.  The immediate result of our sonship is holiness manifested in our lives, but the end-goal is that God may be glorified.

In a general sense, the entire life of the redeemed individual is to praise God,

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.  (Matthew 5:16)

But specifically, when God adopts another son, there is an eruption of praise and adoration in both heaven and on earth.  When God’s grace is manifested, heaven rejoices and so does man, as far as he is able to discern it.

The standard theological definition of “grace” is “the unmerited favor of God.”  Paul qualifies his statement of God grace by adding a most important phrase:

…which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

Paul is saying that God has treated us graciously in Jesus Christ, the One He loves, or as the KJV reads, “in the Beloved.”   This is a powerful thought.  Whenever God blesses us, He does so unreservedly and gladly.  He does this, not because of our need or our merit, but because Christ, by means of His death, has earned every single spiritual blessing for us.  Since the Father loves the Son, and would withhold nothing from Him, it follows that if we are in Christ, then the Father would grant us whatever we need or ask.   Romans 8:32 suggests that God gave His Son for this very purpose:

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

There is no way any human being can know God’s redeeming grace outside of Jesus Christ.

Understanding God’s Eternal Purposes

(c)  2010 WitzEnd

Stewardship: It’s NOT What You Think It Is, Part 2

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A Whopper of an Inheritance, 1 Peter 1:1-5

As we continue our look at Biblical stewardship, it would be helpful to recall how Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines the word “stewardship”:

the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially : the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care

We have already considered the stewardship of the things God has given us that we often squander on selfish things, like the pursuit of money for example.  Our time, our talents, our character, our ability to dream and imagine, and other things we take for granted have been given us to glorify God, yet all too often Christians are guilty of using these things for our purposes, not God’s.  Being good stewards of what God has given us means that we use what we have to magnify and glorify God in our lives.  In this way, we are accumulating treasure in heaven.   Our treasure in heaven is a direct result of what we have done here on earth.

We now turn our attention from our treasure, which we are responsible for accumulating, to our inheritance, which is something given to us, based on the work of someone else.

1.  Handpicked, verses 1, 2

To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood.

When we read all the epistles in the New Testament, whether they were written by Peter, Paul, or John, we need to remember that they were all written to Christians, so the blessings, promises and truths contained in the epistles are exclusive to Christians.  Into that context, Peter makes some stunning comments.

(1)  God’s elect

Christians are first and foremost described by Peter as “God’s elect.”   In the Greek, the word “elect” is by itself; the noun “God” is absent; Christians are simply “the elect.”  Of course, as we read on we know that God is the One who has elected or chosen the readers of this letter.   A great many Christians have difficulty understanding what the doctrine of election is all about; instead of giving to glory to God that they have been chosen by Him, they get angry that some have not been chosen.  However, that kind of thinking shows a complete misunderstanding of the essence of election.  In fact, the doctrine of election is linked by Peter to three separate acts of God involving His entire Person; furthermore, election primarily concerns Him, not us.  Consider these points:

  • Foreknowledge.  Foreknowledge means much more than just having knowledge about the future.  It has to do with the absolute sovereignty of God in His decision to implement a plan to save sinful man.   God has a plan and He working out His plan for you in the way He sees fit.  God’s plan for you will glorify Him in that His holiness, His sovereign acts done on your behalf, and His grace will be manifested such that all will see His goodness toward you.
  • Sanctification.  Peter writes that those whom God has chosen, the elect, are sanctified through the Holy Spirit.  This includes yet another work done on behalf of sinful man for his benefit.  Man, because of his sinfulness, cannot enter into God’s presence, so God cleanses man’s sinful heart so that he may enter into fellowship with his Creator.  This does not man that sinful man is made morally perfect which would preclude the possibility of improvement, but it speaks of a careful and deliberate restoration of God’s image in the soul of man.  This amazing work for man makes man fit for life and service to God, yet does not represent man in a perfect state.  This means that our sanctification is an ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in and for us.  In this process, we are not passive but we are actively cooperating with the Holy Spirit (see verses 15 and 16).
  • Obedience and sprinkling. God elects and the Spirit sanctifies for a very specific reason:  it is so that we may be obedient to Jesus Christ.  Peter uses the words “obedience” and “sprinkling” as a reference to Exodus 24:3—8).  After Moses read the Law to the people, the people promised their obedience and then Moses sealed the deal by sprinkling them with the blood of a sacrifice.  Similarly, through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the Cross and the shedding of His blood, He redeemed and purchased the elect.

In these opening two verses, we marvel at two things.  First, an uneducated fisherman like Peter was able to explain a complex theological doctrine that stymies highly educated people today.  Second, the Triune God has done so much for sinful human beings:  God the Father foreknows and elects them; God the Holy Spirit sanctifies them; and God the Son cleanses them through the shedding of His precious blood.  Even though Christ’s blood was shed one time only, it continually cleanses the human heart.

All this was done for the handpicked few.   Just because there are some “elected,” this does not mean that others are excluded.  All sinners may become the elect by choosing to respond to the calling of God.  Purkiser writes,

God’s election and predestination…are His gracious provision for and purpose to save all who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and not an arbitrary predetermination of those who can believe.

2.  Hope, verse 3

In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead

The Christians to whom Peter was writing were facing terrible trials and unbelievable hardships, and so Peter wrote to remind them of two things.  First, the purpose and power of God as revealed in their salvation, and second, to encourage them to face their future with holy boldness because their salvation was not only secure now but would be perfected in the future.   Despite their hopelessness, they were not hopeless. As one theologian said,

Hoping is disciplined waiting.

The Christian has a living hope because Jesus has been raised by God the Father.  Our faith is not based on a dead person’s words or ideas.  Roy Nicholson observes:

Faith establishes Christians in believing; obedience directs them in doing; and patience comforts them in suffering.

Patience is linked to hope; it is believing that something better is coming.  This makes perfect sense because this world is temporal in nature, and the things it gives us, good or bad, are also temporary.   It is important to keep this in mind, that whatever state we may find ourselves in will change; nothing ever stays the same.  It is this way by God’s design, so that human beings will never be satisfied with the things of the earth, and believers will understand that their sufferings are temporary.

Our hope of a better future is grounded in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  At first, we may wonder what those two things have to do with each other.  The resurrection of Christ was a good thing for Christ, but what does that have to do with our future?  It goes back to the previous verse about the blood of Christ; a body without blood is dead, but a living body has blood flowing through its veins.  We have a living hope because Christ shed His blood for us and it courses through His Body:  the Church.  In other words, the power that raised Christ from the dead is within the Body of Christ and within each individual believer.  Now, that is real power!   Our hope is rooted in the power of the resurrection; if Christ could be raised from the dead, then nothing is impossible with regard to our future.

3.  Inheritance, verse four

an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you…

Part of our new birth is an inheritance.  Once again, we have a working definition of “inheritance” courtesy of Merriam Webster:

the acquisition of a possession, condition, or trait from past generations

“Inheritance” is the key word of verse four and it must be understood correctly to be appreciated.  Hebrews 9:16—17 helps us in this regard—

In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living.

This links an inheritance to somebody’s death, but Peter uses the word in the context of life, namely, eternal life.  In verse 3, Peter wrote that through the death and resurrection of Christ, we have a hope, and we find out that part of our hope is that we are now the recipients of an inheritance.   But our inheritance can’t be enjoyed here because it is being kept for us in heaven.  Oddly, instead of receiving an inheritance because somebody else died, we are the ones that have to die in order to receive our inheritance!

The Jews understood “inheritance” well.  Since the days of Abraham, the nation of Israel has been waiting for their inheritance; a permanent home.  It is true that for a while Israel occupied their inheritance, the Promised Land, but it has never been safe and secure.  Israel has always had to fight for their inheritance.  But for the child of God, the “inheritance” is not for a plot of land; it is something different.  Our inheritance refers to the salvation—not that we already have—that we will receive upon our deaths and entrance into eternal glory.

But what exactly is it?  Peter, for some reason, cannot put it into words, so he describes our inheritance in negative terms.

  • It is imperishable.  Our inheritance cannot be destroyed and it won’t die.  It is therefore not subject to the laws of time, but it of eternal nature.
  • It is undefiled.  Our inheritance can never spoil, be corrupted or be polluted, or watered down.  Our inheritance in heaven will be forever free form any kind of blemish and is eternally pure.
  • It is unfading.  In other words, our inheritance is always brand new!  No matter how beautiful a rose is at its peak, its beauty has already begun to fade.  However, our inheritance in heaven will always be at its peak!

Earthly possessions are subject to change; they rot, they get damaged or they wear out, or we get bored with them.  But our inheritance in heaven is safely guarded by God for us.   The Greek for “kept” (NIV) is teteremenen, which means “reserved for.”  The word is in the perfect tense, meaning our inheritance is being actively reserved by God for us.

God, like a doting and loving Father, is carefully holding on to our inheritance until we arrive in heaven to enjoy it.

Conclusion

Finally, to demonstrate how seriously God takes our inheritance, we read this in verse 5—

…who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

God’s people, the ones whose inheritance is being kept in heaven by God, are also seen benefiting from something else being done by God for them while they are on earth to ensure that they get to heaven to enjoy that inheritance.  The Greek is very descriptive:  “the ones being guarded”  is actually a military term that can mean either “to protect someone from danger” or “to prevent someone from escaping.”  The Greek is also in the present passive tense, meaning God’s involvement in the lives of His people is ongoing.  There never is a time when God is not active in the life of a Christian.  How is He active?  He protects believers from the onslaught of Satan; he cannot harm us as long as we are under God’s protection.  But God also is active in keeping us from leaving Him.   This really is a phenomenal thing!  There is security for the believer; it is for all eternity, but it is not unconditional, for it requires faith, which is a mental assent and a personal commitment.  The key is the phrase “through faith.”  This means that we have a responsibility in all this.  Although God has promised to protect us and save us, we must use our faith in our fight against the Devil and the dark powers around us.  Faith in God and in His power is both subjective and objective.  In other words, we just can’t sit around and coast until our deaths.

God shields us, according to Peter, until our salvation, which we have now, becomes complete upon our entrance into heaven.  God protects us in order that we may receive our inheritance.  Some scholars believe that “salvation” and “inheritance” are synonymous terms, although I believe they are two separate blessings; our salvation is what unites us with our inheritance.

When we realize all that God has done and continues to do for us, it is hard not to want to be good stewards of His gracious blessings.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

Bless The Lord, O My Soul

A Study of 1 Peter 1:1-5

In most translations, the title of this letter is very simple, 1 Peter. Some versions entitle this letter “The First General Epistle of Peter.” That’s accurate because 1 Peter belongs to a category of writings in the NT known as the General Epistles, or the Catholic Epistles. Along with 1 and 2 Peter, the General Epistles include Hebrews, James, 1,2, 3 John and Jude.

This letter was written some time around 63 by Simon Peter, a leader in the Jerusalem church. It is addressed:

To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia…

It is not addressed to any particular church or person, and that is why it is known as a “general epistle.”

1. Election, 1:1a

In the Greek, the adjective “elect” or “chosen” is written in the plural with no mention of God. However, the context of the letter shows quite clearly that God is the one who has elected or chosen the readers of this letter. This must have been the most encouraging thing his readers could have heard; they were separated from their homeland, experiencing hatred and enduring hardship and persecution. Despite this, they were the ones whom God has chosen. Out of all the people on earth, God had chosen a few to be His people. Jesus said as much in Matt. 22:14–

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

In simplest terms, the adjective “elect” or “chose” is nothing more than a description of Christians generally (Titus 1:1, for example). In Biblical teaching, the broader doctrine of “election” is a key theme and the foundation of all spiritual blessing (Deut. 4:37; 7:6; 14:2; Ps. 105:6, 43; Isa. 45:4; Eph. 1:4-5). It’s a pity that so many believers feel threatened by this wonderful doctrine. Every time election is mentioned in Scripture it to comfort and encourage the reader. Nicholson, citing Benjamin Field, gives three different kinds of Scriptural election:

  • The election of certain people to perform a specific task, 1 Sam. 2:27-28; Jer. 1:5; etc.
  • The election of nations or groups of people to receive special blessings, Deut. 4:37; 7:6; 10:15; Isa. 41:8-9; etc.
  • The election of individuals to be the children of God, 1 Pet. 1:2; 2 Thess. 2:13-14.

No one should ever think that the election of individuals to be the children of God implies “an exclusion of others from that precious blessing…nor does it render their final salvation irrevocably secure; they are still in a state of probation, and their election, through unbelief…may be rendered void and come to nothing.”
Pukiser, on the issue of election, makes a noteworthy statement:

God’s election and predestination are His gracious provision for and purpose to save all who savingly believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and not an arbitrary predetermination of those who can believe.

2. Strangers, 1:1b

These elect, the readers of this letter, are described by Peter as being “strangers in the world.” This is an apt description of all believers, who are “resident aliens” in this world:

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. (Heb. 11:13)

The phrase suggests that this is a temporary condition, as our true citizenship is in heaven, Phil.3:20,

But our citizenship is in heaven.

As “resident aliens,” the readers of this letter didn’t have a permanent home; they were moving from place to place, looking for somewhere to live or trying to live in peace in new and strange place, driven from their homes by persecution.

3. Holiness: the purpose of election, 1:2

With this verse, Peter gives the readers the reason for this election and gives some of the basic themes of this letter, including the foreknowledge of God, the sanctifying work of the Spirit, and obedience to Christ. This verse also shows the Trinity in action.

The “foreknowledge of God” is more than God simply knowing the future, it includes His comprehensive knowledge existence from before the creation of the world. It includes the absolute sovereignty of God in determining and implementing His decision to save sinful man. Key in understanding the relationship between election and foreknowledge is a sentence in Peter’s sermon, preached on the day of Pentecost, Acts 2:23–

This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.

Peter implies that God worked according to his sovereign plan and purpose which He made in advance. Paul also writes about God’s foreknowledge in Romans 8:29–

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

Foreknowledge and predestination go together as acts of God before the creation of this world, Ephesians 1:4-5. This work is carried out through the sanctifying work of the Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit in a believer that brings about separation and holiness and an ability to do works of service for the Lord. In the Greek, the sanctifying work of the Spirit is an ongoing process, it is never a completed act. While it is the Spirit that works in us to make holy, man is not just a passive bystander; he is intimately involved in his evolution in holiness. Peter admonished his readers:

But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1:15-16)

Finally, the Spirit sanctifies believers so they may be obedient to the Christ. This part of the verse seems awkward to modern readers:

…for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood.

That makes little sense to us, but to the converted Jews Peter is writing to, this phrase was rich in meaning. Kistemaker explains that Peter links the terms obedience and sprinkling together referring to the confirmation of the covenant that God made with Israel in Exodus 24:3-8. Moses read the Book of the Law to the people, and the people responded that they would do everything the Lord had told them to do. Then Moses sprinkled blood on the people and said these words:

Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” (Ex. 24:8)

Peter masterfully shows how the Trinity is at work in the redemption of man: God the Father foreknows them, God the Holy Spirit sanctifies them, and The Son cleanses them from sin through the sprinkling of His blood. The words of William Cowper’s hymn come to mind:

There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.

4. A Living Hope, 1:3

Throughout this letter, Peter encourages his readers to hope. But hope for the believer is not some ethereal thing floating out in space, it is based on a living faith in Jesus Christ; the Christian has a living hope because of the resurrection. The thought is that if God the Father could bring about the resurrection of Jesus the Son, nothing is too hard for Him.

This message was vitally important for his readers, who were daily experiencing fiery trials and unbelievable hardships. It’s interesting that in one verse, Peter shifts gears from the heavy doctrine of the Trinity to the reality of hope. But this hope, which is something personal and living, is not necessarily something that pertains to the future. Rather, it brings life to God’s elect, just as God brought life to Jesus, and this hope enables believers to carry on, no matter what life’s circumstances may be. The resurrection of Christ from the dead is the basis of the believer’s new life. God made us alive, as He made Jesus alive and has given us a living hope.

5. A Secure Inheritance, 1:4

This living hope is further described in verse 4 as an inheritance “that can never perish, spoil, or fade.” Unlike earthly treasures, which are temporary and fade away, this spiritual inheritance is incorruptible; it remains new and perfect and unchanging because God made it that way. What awaits the hopeful believer is something will be fresh and new forever, and it is absolutely secure for believers because it is being “kept” for them.

Curiously, Peter doesn’t tell his readers exactly what is being kept for them in heaven, instead of describing the inheritance, Peter uses three adjectives to tell us what our possession is not:

imperishable;
undefiled;
unfading.

6. A Joyous Salvation, 1:5

God’s people are described as being guarded. The Greek phrase is written in the present passive, meaning believers don’t guard themselves, God does the guarding all the time. This remarkable verse shows the continuous involvement of God in the lives of His children. The phrase “through faith” is man’s only responsibility in the matter. We are shielded by God through faith. So, although God has promised to protect us, we must use our faith in our fight against the dark spiritual forces. As Kistemaker noted, faith in God is both objective and subjective. Objectively, faith means that God is seen, not merely “felt.” But faith also has a subjective side, where the believer truly feels the working of God within.

God shields us for a purpose:

…the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

The salvation we possess now in principle will become our permanent possession in reality when we enter heaven. God protects us now so that in the future we will receive all that is ours in promise. This not unlike being mentioned in a will; we know that have an inheritance, but we have to wait for the death of the testator and for legal matters to be settled to receive it. But even during the waiting period, the value of the inheritance doesn’t diminish; it’s there, waiting to be grabbed hold of, just like our salvation.


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