Does The Bible Really Say That God Hates?

Yes. Yes it does.

Among the things that the Bible tells us that God hates are idolatry (Deuteronomy 12:31), sexual immorality (Leviticus 20:1-23), child sacrifice (Deuteronomy 12:31, 2 Kings 3:27), and those individuals that do evil deeds and acts (Psalm 5:4-6). Proverbs 6:16-19 lists seven different things that the LORD hates. They include Continue reading

Christians Don’t Just Accept Truths About Jesus, They Have A Desire To Know Jesus

Every week I gather with a few faithful men to read and study God’s Word. We meet at a local IHOP, sit at the same table, and are served by the same waitress. While it is a routine meeting in a routine place, we have learned truths about God’s Word that have made our life anything but routine. It’s amazing how a simple study designed around the reading and studying of God’s Word can change your life. But it’s the Bible we are talking about, so that shouldn’t shock us too much.

Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer

As of late, we have been working through the book of John. Today we started working through Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer in chapter 17. If there was ever a chapter that was packed full, it is this one. In fact, this chapter is a theological factory that’s doing no less than pumping out deep truths about Jesus, salvation, our mission, and eternal life. Continue reading

Does The New Testament Teach That Jesus Is God?

 

What do Dan Brown, Bart Ehrman, and Arius all have in common? All agree that Jesus was not truly God.

In Dan Brown’s famous book, The Da Vinci Code he contends that the deity of Jesus is something the Church developed a few centuries later in an effort to maintain their hierarchical power.

Bart Ehrman, professor of New Testament at the University of North Carolina, likewise believes that the “early disciples” never thought of Jesus as preexistent. Continue reading

The Authority of The Bible: A Response to NY Times Columnist Frank Bruni

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This week Georgia Governor Nathan Deal vetoed a bill which was aimed to protect pastors from being forced to perform gay marriages, as well as ensuring various protections for faith-based organizations. It is called the Free Exercise Protection Act and many are rightly suspicious that Deal’s veto was more in response to pressure from corporate America than from his own moral principles. For example, the NFL declared that they would bar Atlanta from hosting the Superbowl if the bill were passed. Disney made a similar promise, maintaining that they would no longer film in the state. These are just two examples. Other large corporations who likewise threatened Georgia include AT&T and Bank of America.

Like it or not, the winds of moral change are blowing Continue reading

The Good News About Good Friday

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I’m a ninja.

Okay, I’m not. Even if I was, I wouldn’t tell you. Or would I?

I can prove I’m a ninja. I can kill flies. Applaud me, I know you want to.

But what is the consequence of killing a fly? I may be (or may not be) a ninja who kills flies all the time, but who is going to punish me for murder? All I do is slap them and they die. Who will come to my house, arrest me, take me to court, and give me a sentence? No one. Not even PETA. Continue reading

History of an American Interpretation

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A couple of weeks ago we took a look at a much beloved passage in American Evangelicalism, 2 Chronicles 7:14. This is the one where the Lord tells Solomon, “If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” The question I explored was, Who does the My people in this passage refer to today? Answer: the Church.

Now in this post I want to take a look at some of the historical underpinnings Continue reading

An In-Depth Analysis of the Doctrine of Regeneration

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Every Christian has some kind of story about how they came to the faith. Some were drug lords, prostitutes, drunkards, homosexuals, swindlers, gamblers, sex addicts, abusers, and/or  a part of another religion. Those people had a very emotion filled, dramatic type of experience. Saul of Tarsus was knocked off of his donkey, visited by the resurrected Lord, and made blind during his experience. That was quite dramatic. Others may have a quiet, near emotionless experience. C.S. Lewis was the latter. “I was driven into Whipsnade one sunny morning. When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did. And yet I had not exactly spent the journey in thought. Nor in great emotion. ‘Emotional’ is perhaps the last word we can apply to some of the most important events.” No matter the experience, each and every Christian has been regenerated. Other words could be “born again” or “spiritual birth” or “new life.” Something divine takes place in a human at the beginning of his Christian journey. The questions to be explored are, “What is it?” “How does it happen?” and “What does it do?”

What is Regeneration?

Being a “born-again” Christian became a household phrase after several well known people started using it. Jimmy Carter, during his 1976 presidential campaign, Jimmy Carter identified himself as such. Around the same time, Larry Flint, the publisher of Hustler magazine, along with Eldridge Cleaver, a Black Panther leader, both announced they had become “born-again” Christians. Another event that popularized this phrase was Chuck Colson’s book Born Again. He had previously been engaged in the Watergate Scandal with President Nixon and had been saved while in prison. This book sold millions of copies and has even had a movie made about it. Where as the phrase became popular, many people who heard it, did not understand it. It is a phrase that is only used in Christian circles. This section will seek to define what it meant by “born-again” and the technical term “regeneration.”

The English word “regeneration” is translated from the Greek word palingenesia. This word is a compound word of palin (which means “again”) and genesia (which means “birth” or “beginning”). It is used only twice in the entire Bible. The first occurrence is from Jesus. The context is the story of the rich, young ruler. He had just sought eternal life from Jesus, but Jesus told him to sell all that he had, give it to the poor, and follow Him. The young man walked away and this worried the disciples. They began questioning Jesus about their own salvation. Jesus replies in Matthew 19:28 (NASB), “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration (palingenesia) when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” The ESV translates it as “the new world.” The HCSB translates it as “the Messianic Age.” The NIV translates it as “the renewal of all things.” No matter how it is translated, clearly, Jesus is talking about the new heavens and new earth. He is not talking specifically of the regeneration of people but generally of nature.

The other reference to palingenesia is by Paul. In Titus 3:4-7, Paul gives one of the most beautiful descriptions of the gospel in all of Scripture: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” This passage, unlike Jesus’, talks about the regeneration of people. Even though this is the only passage in the Bible that uses the term palingenesia applied to people, it is packed with truth.

The primary truth that flows from this passage is that God is the one who regenerates. Different camps of theology debate on when that happens, a topic which will be explored later. However, all camps believe that it is God who performs it. Millard Erickson has stated in his Christian Theology that regeneration “is completely God’s doing. It is God’s transformation of individual believers, his giving a new spiritual vitality and direction to their lives when they accept Christ.” R. C. Sproul believes that “Spiritual rebirth is a monergistic work, not a synergistic work. Rebirth is accomplished by God alone.” The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 states “Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus.”  Wayne Grudem says “…in the work of regeneration we play no active role at all. It is instead totally a work of God.” Finding a Christian who believes they “rebirthed” themselves would prove to be quite difficult. In the Titus 3 passage, “God our Savior… saved us… by the washing of regeneration.” Paul did not just state the positive but also the negative just in case someone would want to argue with him: “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness” (emphasis mine).

While God the Father is the one who is praised for achieving salvation, the Holy Spirit is the applier of this salvation. Paul describes this regeneration as “of the Holy Spirit.” When Jesus is telling Nicodemus that he must be “born again,” He uses the description “born of the Spirit.” Jesus also tells him, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” To be regenerated, or born again, means that the Spirit must do His work inside of a person. The Spirit never works solely by Himself. His instruments for bringing about regeneration are “the gospel (James 1:18,21; 1 Pet. 1:23) and the messengers who share it (1 Cor. 4:15). This means that if there is no proclamation of the gospel, there is no possible regeneration.

The study of regeneration must move beyond the two occurrences of the exact word to the mentions of the concept. The clearest teaching in the Old Testament of the new birth is found in Ezekiel 36:26-27, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” God is making a promise of the new covenant that He will make with His people. This is a promise to not just rule over them, but that He will rule within them. God promises to bring their dead hearts to life. He promises that this regenerated heart will be under God’s authority, and their desires will be for Him and His will. Based upon this passage in Ezekiel and Titus 3:5, regeneration occurs when the Holy Spirit indwells the believer. Throughout Scripture, there is no language of Christians as “being born again.” All the Greek verbs that are used in passages which deal with the concept of being born again are either in the aorist tense or perfect tense. There is no mention of the “state” of being reborn in the Bible. Since this is the case, it is also a unique event in that it only happens to a person once.

Jesus in John 3 gives Nicodemus the most lengthy discussion on the new birth. The section most closely dealing with rebirth is John 3:3-8:

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The windblows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

One of the key questions that may arise after a careful reading of this passage is “What does it mean to be born of water and the Spirit?” One commentator has laid out four different options. First, it could mean baptisms in water by John the Baptist and baptism in the Spirit by Jesus. The early references to water in this Gospel refer to John baptizing people. Second, it could mean Christian water baptism and spiritual regeneration. The early church would have already been practicing water baptism and would have not recognized water as referring to John’s baptism. Third, it could mean natural birth and spiritual regeneration. Jesus contrasts being born of flesh and of Spirit later in the passage. Fourthly, it could be depicting spiritual regeneration with a double metaphor. Kruse notes, “The expression ‘water and Spirit’ is a hendiadys, a figure of speech using two different word to denote one thing, something suggested by the fact that both ‘water’ and ‘Spirit’ are anarthrous (without the article) ad governed by one preposition (lit. ‘of water and spirit’, ex hydrates kai pneumatos). This fourth view is also supported by the usage of water as a metaphor for Spirit in John 4:10, 13-15, and 7:38. In Ezekiel 36:25-27, Spirit and water are accomplishing the same goal, cleansing God’s people.

The doctrine of regeneration is an important and critical doctrine of the Christian faith. Although the Bible is clear that believers are born again, exactly what takes place is a mystery. Scholars agree that little is known about what actually happens to a believer during regeneration. Jesus alludes to this mystery by using the analogy of wind. He was using a word play of sorts because the word for “spirit” and “wind” is the same word: pneuma. The wind is a mysterious thing; almost every child will ask at some point, “Why can I not see the wind?” Wind invokes terror when it is violent, comfort when it is gentle. Meteorologists can try to predict the wind but only God knows where it is going.

How does regeneration happen?

A question that has confused humanity for years is “What came first: the chicken or the egg?” Christians can easily answer this since God made animals, not embryos, in the beginning. However, a question that has stumped Christians for millennia has been “What comes first: conversion or regeneration?” This may seem to be a tedious debate, yet it is key to understanding God’s plan of salvation. One clarification must be made: the question must not be addressed by thinking of these things on a timeline. Both sides of this debate believe that conversion and regeneration happen at the same time. The question really is “Which causes which?” Does faith in God cause Him to make us born again? Or does God’s regeneration in the believer cause him repent and believe? For the sake of discussion, these positions will be called the non-Calvinist position and the Calvinist position, respectfully.

The non-Calvinist says faith is the cause of regeneration. He would cite passages such as Acts 16:31: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Paul is answering the Philippian jailer’s question, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul’s answer begins with believe, then salvation comes afterward. Belief seems to be the cause of being saved. This is also seen in Acts 2:38. Peter tells the crowd at Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Notice the order of Peter’s invitation, “Repent… and you will receive…” He does not tell them to wait until they are regenerated to believe. Also a passage made famous by the Romans Road technique of evangelism is Romans 10:9: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Here, confession and belief results in salvation according to Paul. Human action precedes divine action according to these passages.

The Calvinist says regeneration is the cause of faith. Their reasoning is the belief in total depravity. The reason why humans need to be “born again” is because they are completely, spiritually dead. Spiritual life is needed because they are spiritually dead. Ephesians 2 says that all of mankind is “dead in trespasses and sins” without Christ. Jesus has said “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”  Also, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” How could an unregenerated person come to God when they do not “accept the things of the Spirit of God?” The Ezekiel 36 passage is key in understanding this position as well. The heart that God is taking out is a “heart of stone.” This gives an image of deadness, no life whatsoever. Calvinists would point out that God is the subject of the actions in Ezekiel 36. Another passage they would point out to show God’s initiative is 1 Peter 1:3: “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again…” If a believer’s faith had caused him to be born again, then why does it say “God” is the causation of being born again?

So what is it? Is faith the causation of regeneration or vice versa? The Bible is not as clear as some would make it. Wayne Grudem, taking the Calvinist position, says, “The idea that regeneration comes before saving faith is not always understood by evangelicals today. Sometimes people will even say something like, ‘If you believe in Christ as your Savior, then (after you believe) you will be born again.’ But Scripture itself never says anything like that” (emphasis mine). Speaking for the non-Calvinist side, David Allen argues, “There is no Scripture anywhere that directly says regeneration precedes faith.” Anyone who endeavors to study this issue must respect human limitations in understanding such a mysterious work.

With these cautions understood, regeneration causing faith seems to be the most plausible conclusion. The majority of the passages the non-Calvinist wield can easily dismissed as not being descriptions of salvation. Passages such as Acts 2:38,  Acts 16:31, Romans 10:9 are all commands. Those passages are intended to focus on the human aspect of salvation. The command cannot be “be born again.” Humans are totally unable to do that. God alone regenerates and gives spiritual, new life. Peter could not tell the Jews at Pentecost, “Wait until you feel like you have been born again, then confess Jesus as Savior.” By telling them to repent and believe, he and everyone would know who had been born again by seeing who repented and believed.

John 1:12-13 states, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” This passage is used by both sides to affirm their position. “Were born” is describing those who received and believed. The description of the type of birth is most important. They were not born of blood, will of the flesh, or the will of man. That rules out faith causing regeneration. If faith caused the new birth, then believers would be born of the will of man.

First John 5:1 has been a verse Calvinists have historically seen as pointing to God’s work precedes man’s. John boldly proclaims, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God…” Another John, the late John Stott, offers valuable insight into this verse, John Stott notes, “The combination of present tense (believes) and perfect tense [has been born] is important. It shows clearly that believing is the consequence, not the cause, of the new birth. Our present, continuing activity of believing is the result, and therefore, the evidence, of our past experience of new birth by which we became and remain God’s children.” The perfect tense denotes a completed action in the past that has continuing effects. Based on this understanding, the believer must have been born again in order to be believing.

What does regeneration do?

Regeneration is an inward working of God’s grace, but it does not stay inside. The born again follower of Christ can be identified by his actions. There are new desires, thoughts, words, and actions coming from him. The entire book of 1 John was written to those “who believe in the name of the Son of God that [they] may know that [they] have eternal life.” Many effects and evidences of a new birth can be found in this book. The first two effects are two sides of a coin. A positive effect of the rebirth is a will of Christlike love. The believer wants to fulfill Jesus’ words in Luke 10:27, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” First John 4:7 states it this way, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” So the one that is born of God is the only one who can truly love, for this love is given by God. Those who are unregenerate cannot love God and people with a true love.

A negative effect of regeneration is a will to fight. 1 John 3:9 says, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.” Though the regenerate still occasionally sins, sin has lost its dominion over him. Children of God, though free from sin’s reign, must kill sin and die to self daily. Romans 7:15-25 shows the struggle between the new man (the nature God created during regeneration) and the old man (human sin nature that no longer controls the believer). Killing sin is a daily task. When God causes one to be born again, he is still responsible to “work out [his] own salvation with fear and trembling” but always remembering “it is God who works in [him], both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

A third effect of the new birth is a new type of relationship with God. Ephesians 2:3  notes that before the believer is made new, he is “by nature [a child] of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” After regeneration, a new relationship is formed as described in 1 John 3:2 “Beloved, we are God’s children now.” God transfers the Christian from Satan’s family to His own. Kenneth Keathly rightly observes, “This new relationship goes beyond our being pardoned or being made servants of god, for it speaks of our inheritance as joint heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:16-17).” This is one of the most glorious truths in all the Bible. When God causes someone to be born again, he is not just a believer, a follower, or a servant, but a son.

Conclusion

 Being a “born-again” Christian may have some baggage attached to it. Statistics say that “born-again” Christians are just as likely to divorce as non-Christians and just as likely to commit other sexual sins. After looking at what the Bible says, no one could say that the Christians in these statistics can truly be born again. When God sends his Spirit into a life, everything changes. Regeneration is a great mystery, even to the ones it is applied. It is an occurrence that no man can take credit for in any way, for it is God who causes it and does it. No matter what position a Christian holds to, he must still be a good steward of this precious gift of spiritual life. Taking such a gift for granted is of the utmost of crimes. The regenerate should always live in the balance of working his salvation out and knowing that God is the one working in him.

Bibliography

Allen, David. “Does Regeneration Precede Faith?” Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry. vol. 11, 2014.

Erickson, Millard. Christian Theology Third Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.

Keathley, Kenneth. “The Work of God: Salvation” in Theology for the Church, ed. Daniel L. Akin Nashville: B&H Publishers, 2007.

Kruse, Colin G. John. The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, edited by Leon Morris. Grand Rapids: Eerdsman Publishing Company, 2004.

Lewis, C. S., Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life. New York: Harcourt Brace and World Inc., 1955.

Piper, John. Finally Alive. Minneapolis: Christian Focus 2010, iBooks version.

Sider, Ron. The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005.

Southern Baptist Convention. “Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message” accessed May 4,2015. http://www.sbc.net/bfm2000/bfmcomparison.asp.

Sproul, R.C. What Does it Mean to be Born Again? Lake Mary, Florida: Reformation Trust, 2010, Kindle Electronic Edition.

Stott, John. The Letters of John. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988.

The Only Person More Beautiful Than My Wife

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My wife is beautiful.  Seriously….she’s really hot.  Dark brown hair.  Darker eyes.  Dark complexion.  Wonderful smile.  She’s the real deal.  I have no shame is saying that I get excited just typing about her.

And that’s just the outside.  Her heart is just as wonderful, if not more so.  She’s sweet, caring, compassionate, and an all-around fantabulous (yeah, I just used that word) wife and mother.  She’s my best friend.  She’s the one that has given me two beautiful babies.  She keeps our house clean, makes me coffee, picks up my dirty underwear, rubs my neck, and cleans out my French Press (those things are such a pain, aren’t they?).  She doesn’t divorce me when I trim my beard and leave the prickly little hairs in the sink.  She frees me for ministry.  And, she loves Jesus.  All of that is to say that there are few things that I would rather do than be with her.

But on Thursday mornings I trade my warm bed that contains my beautiful wife for a table at a local coffee shop with five other hideous men.   To be honest, they are nothing like my wife.  As a matter of fact, they’re different from my wife in most ways.  They’re boring, pale, and ugly.  They’re hairy.  They don’t groom themselves very well.  It’s early enough that most of them still have eye boogers embedded in their eyelashes.  I look around and sometimes I regret my decision to even get out of bed to meet them.

But, do you know what does propel me to meet with them?  An increasing understanding of the importance of doctrine.

What is doctrine and how can it change me?

Doctrine might simply be defined as what we believe.  More specifically the word translated “doctrine” means “instruction that brings about life change”.  The Bible says about itself that it is profitable for doctrine (2 Tim 3:16) and that watching our life and doctrine closely are evidences that we’re really born again (1 Tim 4:16).  Biblical doctrine is developed through the study of scripture. Essentially, all that is of eternal significance we learn about through the study of God’s Word and the doctrinal statements that come as a result.

Whether you like it or not our faith is built on doctrinal statements and convictions.  Odds are that your position on Syrian refugees, abortion, Starbucks cups, church polity, and whether or not you should eat turkey, ham or brisket on Thanksgiving is based on some kind of a doctrinal conviction.  Hopefully you’ve spent some amount of time in the scriptures and what you’ve learned has caused you to lean (sometimes heavily and sometimes lightly) in particular directions on particular issues.  The question is whether your doctrine is guided by the Word of God or the Father of Lies.

But, let’s just assume that since you’re reading this blog you must be one of the people that cares.  Let’s just assume that you realize the importance of having a worldview that mirrors the worldview that God desires for us.  What now?  How should I start developing a sound Biblical doctrine?  And, how can God use Biblical doctrine to light a spiritual fire in my heart?  Here are some suggestions that we would all do good to be reminded of that can help us to have a healthy love of doctrine.

  1. Don’t be so arrogant as to think you’ve got it all figured out. Now I know what you’re thinking: “I’m a smart dude (or dudette). Surely, with my super-charged, Holy Spirit-filled brain I’ve figured out everything that needs to be figured out.”  Job reminds us in Job 36:26 that God is great and that He is beyond our understanding.
  1. Don’t be so lazy as to think that you shouldn’t try. Kill that voice in your head that says “There’s so much about God that I’ll never understand so I should just give up and spend my time doing other things.”  That voice is not of God.  It’s probably just the voice of your addiction to Call of Duty.  Kill that voice.
  1. Read the Bible. It’s really that simple. Love the Word of God because it points us toward the Son of God.
  1. Ask the hard questions. Don’t shy away from that which is difficult.  Many people are tired of being spiritually bottle-fed.  Besides, if we could immediately understand everything about God, He wouldn’t be much of a God.
  1. Do it all in community. Iron sharpens iron.  Studying the Bible in community helps to keep in check doctrinal convictions that might get a little bit out-of-whack.  Find people who love the Bible like you do so that you can help to spur one another on in Christlikeness.
  1. Remember, good doctrine demands that we worship. Doctrine means that we’re talking, teaching, and learning about God.  Good doctrine causes the wellspring of our hearts to flow forth with worship for God and God alone.  Anything else is at the very best shallow and at the very worst heretical.  John Piper put it this way: “…I have never been one of those who found the heart shrivel as God and His Word are better known.  Putting more knowledge in my head about God and His ways is like throwing wood in the furnace of my worship.”

What it’s all about

I started out by telling you about my beautiful wife.  To revisit that discussion for too long would become a little weird.  At the same time I must, because the only thing more beautiful than my wife is our Savior.  To imagine that there is one who knows me better than I even knew myself and loves me anyway is to stir my heart in worship.  He indeed is wonderful and awe-inspiring.  He causes kings to bow and hearts to flame. He died for us, conquered death, and He will return to judge the living and the dead.  He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Son of God, the Great I Am, the Messiah, the Savior, the Lamb of God, and the Beginning and the End.  He is the one that confronted Paul on the road to Damascus.  He’s the one that called Simon Peter and Andrew to follow him.  He’s the head of the church, the author of the Sermon on the Mount, and the giver of life.  All things were created by Him and for Him.  My life matters not without Him and neither does yours.  Frankly, He’s everything you and I will ever need.  To speak of Him is to speak doctrine and to speak doctrine is to tell of your love for him.


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Joshua  Hartley serves as the Lead Pastor of Freshwater Church in Jefferson City, MO.  He is a native of central Missouri and holds degrees from Lincoln University and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.  His family includes his best friend and wife of ten years, Shasta, as well as two princesses, Laynee Grace and Londyn Joy.  Joshua’s passion in ministry is to see people of all ages, backgrounds, and nationalities being and making disciples here and abroad.  Joshua enjoys spending his free time with his family as well as reading.

 

Some Thoughts On Faith And Healing

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Whenever the subject of faith and healing is brought up people often point to the words of Jesus in Mark 11:22-24.

“Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:22-24).

The first thing to keep in mind is that moving or casting a mountain into the sea was proverbial in those days for the miraculous. After all, why would any Christian want to make a mountain fall into the sea? The point of our Lord is to highlight the fact that otherwise humanly impossible things, things that require supernatural and miraculous power, can occur when prayer is filled with faith.

The instantaneous and miraculous destruction of the fig tree (see Mark 11:12-14) serves as an object lesson to the disciples of what can be achieved by faith in God’s power. It is as if Jesus says to Peter: “Pete, your comment tells me that you are amazed by the sudden and supernatural withering of the fig tree. But if you have faith in God, all things are possible through prayer.”

Several things must be considered if we are to make sense of what Jesus says.

First, we must recognize that the “belief” or “faith” here is not a case of a Christian forcing himself to believe what he does not really believe. It is not a wrenching of one’s brain, a coercing of one’s will, a contorting of one’s expectations to embrace as real and true something that one’s heartfelt conviction says otherwise. Jesus is not telling us that when doubts start to creep in you should put your hands over your ears, close your eyes, and say to those doubts, over and over again: “Lalalalala, I can’t hear you. Lalalalala I can’t hear you!” That’s not faith. That’s “make believe.” That’s spiritual pretending.

Second, on the other hand, we are responsible to take steps that will facilitate the deepening of faith in our hearts. We can do things, by God’s grace, that will expand our confidence in God’s goodness and his greatness and help diminish if not drive out our doubts. As I read and study and meditate on the character of God, my confidence in what he can do increases. As I reflect and ponder the grace and kindness of God, my confidence in his goodness grows and intensifies.

Third, clearly there are other factors that have to be taken into consideration when we ask God for things in prayer. Faith is not the sole condition for answered prayer. We have to ask him with the right motives (cf. James 4:1ff.). As for the men reading this article, we have to be treating our wives with gentleness and kindness and understanding (1 Pt. 3:7). We have to clean the slate, so to speak, in our relationships with others. This is why Jesus continued in his explanation of faith and prayer by saying in Mark 11:25,

“And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11:25).

His point is that if you harbor unforgiveness in your heart toward others, it isn’t likely that God will answer your prayer, no matter how much alleged faith you think you have (see Matt. 6:14-15). And we have to ask in accordance with God’s will. It doesn’t matter if I am somehow able to banish all doubt from my mind and convince myself that I’ve already received what I asked for, if what I’m asking isn’t consistent with the will and character of God, the answer will be No.

No amount of faith will force God’s hand to do something that is contrary to our welfare. It doesn’t matter how persuaded you are or how much faith you have, you simply don’t want God to answer every prayer you pray! Look with the benefit of hindsight on some of the things you once believed you needed and were convinced that God would give you. Yikes! Thank you, Lord, for saying No to many of these prayers. It would have been devastating had you said Yes. Finally, sometimes God says No to prayers that are offered up in faith because he has something even better in store for us that he plans on giving at a more appropriate and suitable time.

My point is simply that it is irresponsible and insensitive to suggest, on the basis of this passage, that if someone doesn’t receive from God what they asked for it is because they are at fault in failing to have enough faith. The absence of faith may well be a factor, but it is not the only factor. There are other things that may more readily account for unanswered prayer.

Finally, the only way anyone can fulfill the condition set forth by Jesus is if God himself chooses to impart to us the faith he requires. Faith, ultimately, is a gift from God. When God wants to bless us with a miraculous answer to our prayer, he will take the initiative to cultivate and build into our hearts the fulfillment of the condition he requires. Therefore, each time as we pray, each time as we seek God for what only God can do, let us begin by asking God for an extraordinary, powerful faith. Let us ask God that he work in us to produce and sustain the confidence that he is pleased to bless.


sam-storms
Sam Storms is an Amillennial, Calvinistic, charismatic, credo-baptistic, complementarian, Christian Hedonist who loves his wife of 42 years, his two daughters, his four grandchildren, books, baseball, movies, and all things Oklahoma University.

In 2008 Sam became Lead Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Sam is on the Board of Directors of both Desiring God and Bethlehem College & Seminary, and also serves as a member of the Council of The Gospel Coalition. Sam was also recently elected to be Vice-President of the Evangelical Theological Society.

This article was originally published at samstorms.com

Is The Doctrine Of Hell Really That Important?

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Many people have many different things in mind whenever the topic of hell is brought up. Some may think of a man in red tights with two horns on top of his head holding a pitchfork. Others may think of a place geographically located underneath the earth. So in the name of clarity, what I mean by the doctrine of hell is God’s just and eternal punishment of sinners. It is the complete pouring out of His wrath on those guilty in their sin and not covered through the atoning work of Christ. (See, for example: Isaiah 26:21, Ezekiel 25:17, Romans 1:18, John 3:36, Revelation 20:15, Romans 6:23, Matthew 7:13-14, Psalm 7:11, 1 Thessalonians 1:10, and many more).

But besides how we describe it, is it really all that important? I mean, wouldn’t it seem logical that if we emphasize God’s wrath toward the unrepentant it would harm our “missional” efforts? Really, who wants to hear that they are sinful and worthy of eternal punishment? It’s just not pleasant. Yet despite these attitudes, I think we can answer affirmatively that the doctrine of hell is all that important and is indeed vital to the health and mission of the Church. Here’s a few reasons why…

1. The Doctrine Of Hell Points Us Toward God’s Holiness
Hell reminds us that God is a holy and righteous Judge. He will not withhold His wrath from sinners forever. If you find yourself living under the illusion that He might, I’d simply invite you to please read your Bible. When we honestly look at what the Scriptures have to say about this topic, barring some exegetical back-flips, we will see that God actually, really does plan to hold each person accountable for their sin.

2. The Doctrine Of Hell Reminds Us Of Our Sinfulness
God WILL NOT punish innocent people in hell. Whew… What a relief that God only punishes the guilty, right?

But… the testimony of the Bible is that none of us are without guilt before His perfect holiness (Romans 3:9-20). Contrary to what the culture tells us, we are not just happy-go-lucky folks who occasionally make mistakes (who doesn’t, right?). According to the Bible we are born with a heart inclined toward evil (Jeremiah 17:9). We are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinnersMany today are appalled by the idea that God really would pour out His wrath on them if they refuse to trust in Jesus. But what this reveals is a lack of understanding of their own hearts. To be sure, God does not arbitrarily release His wrath in a moment of fitful rage (much like the human anger we’re so accustomed too). Rather, wrath is God’s steady and consistent response to all who are guilty in their sin. In other words, God’s wrath is aimed toward those who deserve it.

3. The Doctrine Of Hell Unveils The Beauty Of The Gospel
I simply can’t understand how a universalist finds Jesus appealing at all. If everyone will be saved regardless of how they respond to Jesus, then why not deal with the temporary punishment later and pursue all manner of  pleasurable debauchery now? The simple fact is, not everyone will be saved in the end. Hebrews 9:27 teaches that it is appointed for man to die once and after that to face judgement. But here comes the glory…. God sent His Son to bear His wrath in our place. In this way, our sin has received its appropriate punishment. Jesus absorbed God’s wrath against sin, yours and mine. Just let that sink in for a moment. All your guilt was placed on the God-man, Jesus. The wrath which was aimed at you was diverted to the perfect Son of God who willingly died in your place… so that you would not have to. This truth gives refreshed power to the words “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son…” (John 3:16).

But if God has no wrath against sin and if there is no hell, then the gospel is quickly emptied of its power and beauty.

I realize that some of us have sat under “hell, fire, and brimstone” sermons in which a preacher emphasized God’s judgement, but made no mention of God’s gracious provision to escape said judgement. This is a failure to preach the whole counsel of God. Reminding us of our sin without pointing us toward our Sin-bearer, Jesus, only leads to despair. But likewise, it is also a failure to only speak of God’s love for us without ever mentioning His coming “day of wrath” (1 Thessalonians 1:10).  This leads to a church where God’s love is reduced to a nice little sentiment, void of anything deep and meaningful. It is relegated to the “Smile God Loves You… Bumper Sticker” variety. No thank you.

Reader, I want you to know that God has so loved you that He has not spared His own Son to rescue you from the wrath your sin deserves. Yes, your sin is that bad. But God’s grace is also that good. This Thanksgiving we indeed have a lot to be thankful for!