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What Shall We Do?

What Shall We Do?

After Jesus healed Lazarus the Pharisees and chief priests could not deny that Jesus was working miracles. They came together to decide what to do about Jesus.

Their concern waS not with whether they should place their faith in Him, but rather with what He would cost them. They were afraid that Rome would “take away both our place and nation” (John 11:48).

Jesus never promised that accepting His truth would come without cost or sacrifice. Sometimes it requires us to give up our place. That place may be decades or even generations of religious tradition. It might be income. It might be relationships. Whatever the sacrifice, nobody is going to reach Heaven and think the cost was too high.

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I don’t remember my high-school math and I’m okay

Between you and me, I have a confession to make: I hardly remember anything I learned in my high school trigonometry class. I also can’t write in cursive very well anymore. I have no idea how to calculate girth (or what girth even is). I still get “affect” and “effect” confused.

I took several Advanced Placement courses: American history, European history, chemistry, physics, etc. I made good grades. I graduated with honors. But I can’t name all the countries in Africa. I don’t remember all of the state capitals. I can’t name all of the kings of France or Britain, much less put them in order. The only chemical formula I understand is “H2O.” I don’t remember most of the state birds I had to memorize for a school competition (except Oklahoma’s, which is the Scissor-tailed flycatcher). I took three years of Spanish, but I only remember a handful of words.

And guess what: I’m not living on the street.

In fact, I’ve got a pretty good job. Sometimes my family splurges and buys the occasional brand-name item from the grocery store. We are living large.

Dear parent, I know you are under immense pressure to make sure your kids are learning a second language, involved in the local play, participating in after-school athletics, enrolled in the honors program, eating nutritious organic meals – all while maintaining a Southern Living-like Facebook profile and Pinterest board. Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not minimizing these things. For all you struggling parents like me and my wife who are killing themselves to make sure your kids are prepared for college, keep it up.

But don’t forget to be realistic. Ask yourself, how much are your kids going to remember from school? How much do you remember from school?

In the hustle and bustle of being a responsible parent, don’t forget to teach your kids the things they won’t forget.

Let me tell you what I do happen to remember from my early years. I remember…

…Coming down the stairs after waking up in the morning and seeing my mom reading her Bible.

…My parents picking up people for church who no one else wanted to pick up.

…My mom apologizing to me when she made a mistake.

…My parents having Bible studies (some going late into the night) with Mormons/Jehovah’s Witnesses/Baptists/Catholics (or whoever else happened to knock on our door the day before).

…My dad telling me that I would always be welcome in their house after I moved away, unless I was ever unfaithful to my wife or unfaithful to Christ and had not repented.

…My parents not letting me take a part-time job if my employer wouldn’t give me time-off to go to every church service.

…My dad making dinner sometimes so my mom wouldn’t have to.

…My parents sometimes telling me “no” when I saw something I really wanted.

…My parents showing me tenderness and affection (not “effection,” right?)

…Going on walks with my mom.

…My parents taking me to visit elderly church members.

…My dad making me mow our lawn. With a push mower.

…My mom making me set the table for dinner, followed by washing the dishes. By hand.

…My dad reading to me.

…My dad learning about my unpaid debt to a church member, and forcing me to sell something I really liked in order to pay back the debt.

…My parents having “Bible time” with me, making me recite the books of the Bible, countless verses, the twelve sons of Jacob, the apostles, the judges, the plan of salvation, etc. I couldn’t forget those things today, even if I tried.

You want to give your children the best education money can buy. But while honor rolls, athletics, and other extra-curricular activities are well and good, they aren’t the most important thing you can give your children. If your children learn to speak French, but don’t leave your house loving Jesus and His Kingdom above everything else, what have they really gained?

There are only a few things in life that actually matter. Prioritize the stuff that will get them to heaven. The rest will fall into place.

Your comments are welcome and encouraged, even if they are in disagreement. However, please keep your comments relevant to the article. For my full comment policy, click here.

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Why is it Sometimes Difficult to Know God’s Will?

Sometimes I wish the Bible were more specific about some things.

When making big decisions – when studying particularly complicated, hot-button topics in categories of worship, morality, or ethics – when giving people counsel – sometimes I catch myself wishing that God had more clearly spelled out verbatim what He wants.

However, God didn’t ask me to write the Bible for Him. And that’s a good thing.

It’s ridiculous (if not blasphemous) to think that I (or anyone else) could improve on the Bible. “For the wisdom of this world is folly with God” (1 Cor. 3:19). Not only is God’s Will perfect, but the way in which He communicates His Will is also perfect. “His way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true” (Psa. 18:30).

But this doesn’t answer our question. Why is it sometimes hard to know God’s Will on a given issue?

Some Things Are Concealed

By God’s design, some things to be harder to understand than others. “It is the glory of God to conceal things” (Prov. 25:2). God has not chosen to reveal everything to us.

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deut. 29:29).

It is a fact that there are Bible teachings I may not fully understand until I leave this world. In the meantime, I’m going to do my best to study to present myself approved and work through these questions so I can pursue the most God-honoring option (2 Tim. 2:15). Should I take this job? Should I further my education? Is it ethical to ____ in this circumstance? Will it please God for me to wear ______ or go to _____ movie or drink ____? Should we homeschool? Does ____ have a Biblical right to marry ____? Do my parents need to be in assisted living? Should I talk to ____ about his/her problem? Should we participate in ____?

The Bible does provide answers to these questions (or at least principles as answers), but sometimes you have to do some hard study. In the struggle, we grow to depend on God. And over time – if we make decisions in humble, childlike faith – we will be able to look back and realize He has been working in our lives all along, even when we couldn’t see it earlier.

Inspired Difficulties

God has given us a Bible that equips with everything we need to know to live faithfully for Him (2 Tim. 3:16-17). But that is not to say He always gives a checklist or yes/no answers to our questions. Some issues are still hard to understand (2 Pet. 3:15-16).

Why? One reason is surely because God would rather us be totally transformed in the image of His Son than be totally informed apart from any real struggle to better understand His Will. Thus, Paul writes:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:2).

This means God has a purpose in allowing difficult subjects. The Christian life is a test. He wants to expose our true motives and priorities, which are most clearly seen in our decisions about more ambiguous matters that may not be “black and white.”

God expects us to follow His Will (Col. 1:10) and He has revealed everything we need to know to live godly lives (2 Pet. 1:3). But He doesn’t want us to be mere automatons that follow a cold set of binary commands. He wants our lives to be living sacrifices, making daily decisions aim to glorify Him in what we do (Rom. 12:1).

God is Glorified in the Struggle

God did not say to Abraham: “I want you to sacrifice your son Isaac as a burnt offering on Mt. Moriah. But don’t worry – I’m not going to make you follow through with killing him. At the last second, I will provide a ram in your son’s place.” Even if He had said that, surely Abraham would still have followed God’s command. But God would not have been as glorified and Abraham would not have benefited as much through the test.

It is the tough decisions that separate the wheat from the chaff. When you’re not entirely sure about something, the final decision comes down to what’s most important to you. Do you love the world, or do you love God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30)? The answer is seen in the pattern of decisions that emerge over time and we will either conform to this world or be transformed into the likeness of Christ.

God is glorified when – after wrestling with what to do or believe – we choose God over anything else. The question will not be, “How close can I get to sin without actually sinning?” Rather, “What is the most God-honoring option?” As we mature in Christ, difficult decisions become less difficult. “For those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Heb. 5:14).

Conclusion

I don’t claim to know all the answers. When it comes to difficult decisions and complex doctrines, I doubt I will get everything right. But that doesn’t mean I won’t try. And thankfully, we have a Savior who laid down His life so that even when we unknowingly err, the sins of Christians are covered (1 John 1:7).

He will never leave us or forsake us. As long as we keep our heads in the Book, He will eventually guide us back when we stray. And if we really will trust Him, like Abraham, we will see that He was guiding us through the difficult decisions all along.

Your comments are welcome and encouraged, even if they are in disagreement. However, please keep your comments relevant to the article. For my full comment policy, click here.

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Stop Saying “All Things Happen for a Reason”

After a tragedy, sometimes a well-meaning person will comment, “All things happen for a reason.”

Is that so? If the person making this statement is operating from a Biblical world view, are they suggesting that God the direct cause behind all things that have happened?

If beneath this statement lies the implication that God is the reason something happened, then this statement is wrong. In fact, one of the worst things you can say to someone grieving the loss of property, health, or a loved one is, “All things happen for a reason.” Sometimes things just happen because they happen – not because God has a specific design behind a particular unfortunate event. There does not need to be an immediate divine cause behind every event.

For example, God was not the cause, nor was He pleased, when Islamist Syed Farook and his wife murdered 16 social workers at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California on December 2, 2015. Of course, that terrible event in no way thwarted God’s purpose (cf. Psa. 2:1-4), and perhaps there are mysterious ways God could have used that event for good (cf. Rom. 8:28). But God did not orchestrate that tragedy. God does not cause such wicked events.

But why did God not stop that mass shooting (or any mass shooting)? For the same reason God does not stop you from fudging the amount you owe on your taxes this year, texting on your phone while driving, or living a godless lifestyle; the same reason He does not stop you from cheating on your spouse or ignoring the needs of your neighbor. The freedom to make choices (often catastrophic choices) is an essential part of what it means to be human. Thomas B. Warren writes,

Once man has been created, it is not the case that God could either permit or prevent man’s sinning without so changing man’s nature that he would no longer be man.[1]

There is a school of thought in Christendom today called Calvinism, which gets this topic wrong. Many Calvinists cannot fathom the idea that God doesn’t directly cause all things to happen. On September 17th, 2001, six days after the September 11th terrorist attacks, John Piper boldly said that God “could” and “would” be behind these actions.[2] According to Piper, and all other staunch Calvinists, all things happen for a reason, and God is that reason. Piper reiterates, “That is what the Bible teaches. God ‘works all things after the counsel of His will’ (Eph. 1:11).”[3] What a chilling thought – that God is behind all tragedy!

This is a disastrous abuse of the context of Apostle Paul’s words in Ephesians 1:11. We should note that Paul did not say, “God directs all things, period” – but rather that God has entirely (“all things”) fulfilled His plan to redeem mankind and establish His church through Jesus His Son. The fact that Jesus redeemed us and established His church is the context of Ephesians 1 – not the divine orchestration of every individual event, wicked events included.

When a parent or sibling is grieving the loss of a child, sometimes a well-meaning friend will say something to the effect of, “God needed another angel in heaven.” This horrifying statement not only reflects deep Biblical ignorance (human beings do not go on to become angels, cf. Heb. 2:7), but it also leaves the terrifying impression that God is the direct cause of the child’s death. Thank God He doesn’t “need more angels.”

There are Biblical explanations as to why there is suffering (including the loss of property, health, and innocent life) in this world. Sometimes things happen just because they happen. God has given mankind freedom of choice, and sometimes bad choices are accompanied by tragic consequences – at times involving innocent people. Bear in mind, however, that God has a plan for people that is bigger than this temporal world. But the notion that God directly, individually ordains each and every instance of this world’s pain and suffering is not Biblical.

An excerpt from my newest book, You Are A Theologian: Thinking Right About God.

This is another volume in the You Are A Theologian book series. Thinking Right About God challenges readers to think more Biblically about God’s attributes, His triune nature, and His sovereignty. Like the first book in this series, it is ideal for a broad range of applications: personal study, small group discussions, and college/young adult/adult Bible class curriculum.

Purchase Here

Your comments are welcome and encouraged, even if they are in disagreement. However, please keep your comments relevant to the article. For my full comment policy, click here.

Sources
[1]Thomas B. Warren, God and Evil, p. 298.
[2] John Piper, “Why I Do Not Say, ‘God Did Not Cause the Calamity, but He Can Use It for Good.” DesiringGod.org.
[3] Ibid.

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A Tale of Two Gods: How Calvinism’s God & the Bible’s God are Two Very Different Gods

One very popular denominational preacher and writer, John Piper, is famous for saying that “all things” – even down to the subatomic level – “are ordained, guided, and governed” by God.[1] The idea that God determines everything can be traced back to Augustine of Hippo in the 5th century and is particularly popular among a branch of Protestantism known as Reformed theology.

Reformed theology, more commonly known as Calvinism[2] (we will use these words interchangeably), is a religious philosophy that follows the teachings of John Calvin and other Protestant theologians from the Reformation era. It is should be noted that Reformed theology, or Calvinism, is experiencing a resurgence in America today. So popular is Reformed theology that any Christian who reads relatively conservative denominational literature is well acquainted famous Calvinistic authors. Understandably, younger preachers thirsty for truth tend to be particularly fond of their writings because of their often passionate, yet conservative, approach to many Biblical issues. (And as a result, their Calvinistic influences sometimes unknowingly creep into the young preacher’s respective pulpit.)

The reason it is important to examine Calvinism as it relates to this study is because Reformed theology has traditionally emphasized God’s sovereignty and predestination over everything else. In fact, the idea of the sovereignty of God is the basis of Calvinism itself. Reformed theologians take great pride in the lofty ways in which they talk about God. Ben Warburton writes, “The one rock upon which Calvinism builds is that of the absolute and unlimited sovereignty of the eternal and self-existent Jehovah.”[3]

But herein lies the problem: The sovereign God of the Bible and the sovereign God of Calvinism are two very different Gods. Calvinists have redefined the meaning of the word sovereignty. To the Bible-believing Christian, sovereignty simply means God’s ability and right to rule the world (chapter 5 of You Are A Theologian: Thinking Right About God). However, to the devoted Calvinist, sovereignty means “divine determinism.” Divine determinism is the belief that God determines, causes, and orchestrates everything in history according to His preconceived plan, including sin and evil.

Calvinists erroneously believe that God is the reason for sin, since – according to Calvinism – “sovereignty” is somehow synonymous with “total control.” Thus, they create a false dichotomy,[4] claiming that if God is sovereign, He must orchestrate and control everything that ever happens – and if He does not control everything, He supposedly cannot be sovereign. Arthur Pink, a famous Calvinist, writes, “Only two alternatives are possible: God must either rule, or be ruled; sway, or be swayed; accomplish His own Will, or be thwarted by His creatures.”[5] In the words of Jack Cottrell, Calvinists “equate sovereignty with causation, and say that the only way for God to be sovereign is if He is the sole, ultimate cause or originator of everything that takes place, including events in the natural world as well as human decisions.” Consequently, Cottrell continues, “there is no truly free will”[6] for mankind in the Calvinist worldview.

As a result, according to Calvinism, if someone commits a horrible atrocity, it is ultimately because God must have willed it to happen in the first place. Edwin Palmer, a well-known Calvinist, said it bluntly: God “has foreordained everything […] – even sin.”[7] How horrifying a thought. R.C. Sproul Jr., another leading Calvinist today, terrifyingly said, “God in some sense desired that man would fall into sin […] He created sin.”[8] Chilling, right?

Just as egregious is the Calvinistic idea that God subjectively causes individuals to have faith. To the Calvinist, the words “I have personal faith in Christ Jesus” have no real meaning because God is supposedly the cause of all things. To the Calvinist, you cannot choose to have faith; God must put it in you. According to the Synod of Dort,[9] God chooses who will believe in Him and who will not.[10] This, of course, makes the words of Jesus powerless: “whoever believes in Him may have eternal life” (John 3:16). Why? Because you can’t “believe in Him” without God causing you to believe in Him! To call this cruel would be an understatement. It is like dangling crutches at the top of the stairs, saying to a paraplegic below, “Come and get them!”

Historically, Christians have distinguished between God’s sovereignty de jure and de facto. De jure is a Latin word which in this context refers to God’s right to rule; De facto is a Latin word which in this context refers to God’s meticulous control over all events. Ardent Calvinists see this distinction as a mere formality; they believe God is both sovereign de jure and de facto all the time. Yet, New Testament Christians have always acknowledged that God is always sovereign de jure and chooses to limit His sovereignty de facto. In other words, God has the ability to meticulously control everything, but in His wisdom and love for mankind, He has chosen not to determine everything yet.

We find the distinction between God’s sovereignty de jure and de facto when Christ taught His disciples to pray, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). If God is already micro-managing every detail of history, why would anyone need to pray for God’s will to be done on earth? If God is sovereign de facto, it would already be done.

Any honest observer must acknowledge that the Bible is permeated with the implication that God has given men the choice to serve Him. We could fill this book with examples of God giving mankind the freedom of choice. How otherwise could God extend His kindness if people are unable to choose repentance (Rom. 2:4)? How otherwise can we be commanded to “grow in the grace” of the Lord Jesus Christ if are unable to choose to do so (2 Pet. 3:18)? Why would Joshua tell the Israelites to choose whom they would serve if they could not actually choose (Josh. 24:15)? How could God not “show partiality” if He individually chooses on whom to force faith (Acts 10:34)? How calloused is God if He “commands all men everywhere to repent” if they are unable to repent (Acts 17:30)?

The Bible does, in fact, teach that God is sovereign, but it certainly does not teach that God determines mankind’s decisions and preordains mankind’s actions. Let’s be very clear: You can be entirely dedicated to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty while simultaneously being absolutely sure of mankind’s free choice.

An excerpt from my upcoming book, You Are A Theologian: Thinking Right About God.

This is another volume in the You Are A Theologian book series. Thinking Right About God challenges readers to think more Biblically about God’s attributes, His triune nature, and His sovereignty. Like the first book in this series, it is ideal for a broad range of applications: personal study, small group discussions, and college/young adult/adult Bible class curriculum.

Coming August 2017

Your comments are welcome and encouraged, even if they are in disagreement. However, please keep your comments relevant to the article. For my full comment policy, click here.

Sources
[1] John Piper, “Confronting The Problem Of Evil,” DesiringGod.org

[2] Calvinism, also known as Reformed theology, is basically the body of religious teachings and traditions started by John Calvin (1509 – 1564 A.D.) and other Reformation-era theologians such as Ulrich Zwingli and Jonathan Edwards. Calvinism can be summarized in five false religious ideas: (1) Total Depravity (babies are born guilty of the sin of their parents), Unconditional Election (God arbitrarily chooses – independent of any known standard – who will be eternally saved and who will be eternally damned), Limited Atonement (Christ did not die for everyone), Irresistible Grace (you do not have a choice as to whether or not you will obey the gospel), Perseverance of the Saints (it is impossible for a Christian to rebel against God).
[3] Ben A. Warburton, Calvinism, p. 63
[4] A dichotomy (pronounced “die-kot-uh-mee”) is the division of two mutually exclusive things or ideas. Thus, a false dichotomy is the division of two things or ideas that are not necessarily mutually exclusive. For example, it is a false dichotomy to say, “You either like bacon or sausage.” Why? Because real men like both bacon and sausage.
[5] Arthur Pink, The Sovereignty Of God, p. 14
[6] Jack Cottrell, The Faith Once For All, p. 81
[7] Edwin H. Palmer, The Five Points Of Calvinism, p. 25, emp. added.
[8] R.C. Sproul Jr., Almighty Over All, p. 53
[9] The Synod of Dort was a very important meeting in denominational history ultimately deciding the future of Calvinism. It was held between the years 1618-1619 in the town of Dordrecht (“Dort”) in the Netherlands. The Synod of Dort was held to silence honest, Scriptural challenges to Calvinism, and at its conclusion, the traditional five points of Calvinism were formalized, namely: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and the Perseverance of the Saints.
[10] See Article XIV of The Articles Of The Canons of Dort (1619). “Faith is the gift of God; not in that it is offered to the will of man by God, but that the thing itself is conferred on him, inspired, infused into him. Not even that God only confers the power of believing, but from thence expects the consent, or the act of believing: but that He, who worketh both to will and to do, worketh in man both to will to believe, and to believe itself, […] and thus He worketh all things in all.” (Translated By Thomas Scott, p. 301).

 

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Flexibility

I wrote recently on the fact that life does not always go as planned, and that can be frustrating if you are a planner like myself. Another week of homeschool has gone by and we are about to make some more changes to the plans that I made for our family. While I believe this change is going to be good, it is also a little frustrating because I put a lot of thought into the original plans. With that being said, my thoughts have turned to the idea of being flexible. Sometimes this can be good, and sometimes – not so much.

What situations are best to be flexible in?

Like I mentioned in my last post, plans will change, and you have a choice in how you react to this. For example, it could be that a flat tire means you can’t go meet a friend you haven’t seen in a while. While this is disappointing, you have a choice. You can let this completely get you down, or you can realize that these things happen. I encourage you to study and implement Philippians 4:8-9 and pray about your disappointment.

What if the change you are dealing with is bigger than just this?  Perhaps sickness, job loss, people breaking promises, or even death has come your way. Maybe you are being hit by more than one of these. On the other hand, it could be that someone is treating you badly because of your faithfulness to Christ. If it is persecution, know that “…all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. 2 Timothy 3:12”. While this is an intimidating thought, it is going to happen. While this is something that needs to be accepted, so also is the fact that God promises to never give you more “fiery trials” than you can handle (1 Corinthians 10:13). That includes the everyday things as well as pointed oppression. As painful as trials are, they serve a purpose. I encourage you to study 1 Peter. There are some really great verse by verse lessons available through Tullstar from the 2016 TLC Retreat that were a great encouragement to me that you should check out.

God wants us to know that we are not here alone. He did not leave us to figure it all out on our own. When you don’t know what to do – ask Him (Proverbs 3: 5-6 & James 1: 5-6)! God gave us His Word, and when we, in turn, put it into our hearts by studying it, He is telling us what to do. This requires trusting Him. To be perfectly honest, that is something that has been on my mind a lot lately; and I understand is not always easy.  Something that has brought me much comfort is Christ’s words at the end of Matthew: “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” Amen.  Matthew 28:20.

When can being flexible be bad?

While many situations call for flexibility, sometimes we need to dig in and see something through. You need to be able to commit. Without commitment to an ultimate goal, your flexibility can turn into fickleness. I smile as I write this because of some of the changes we are making with our curriculum choices and scheduling issues. I need to trust this decision and not be ready to flip flop next week. If I don’t, I would not be a good steward of my time or money. So, believe me, I am writing to myself here.

Before I sign off, I also want to mention another time it is not good to be flexible, and that is in your faithfulness to God. God’s Word is infallible. There are some who are flexible in their interpretation of Scripture or the need to submit themselves to it. Perhaps somebody you love has decided to indulge in something God spoke against, and you are wondering if maybe you have been wrong about the issue. I mean – if He really meant that was wrong there sure would be a lot of condemned people! The simple fact is, sin is pleasurable. If it wasn’t – no one would do it.  It is also a fact that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). If you bend the Scriptures to suit your life, as opposed to bending your will to His, it doesn’t actually make evil things good. “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” Galatians 5:1.

There is more that can be said about this, but I will end by encouraging every soul to remember that life is going to pack some punches. Roll with them…and when it happens turn to the Lord and His Word. It is literally epic.

 

 

 

 

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A Tale of Two Gods: How Calvinism’s God & the Bible’s God are Two Very Different Gods

One very popular denominational preacher and writer, John Piper, is famous for saying that “all things” – even down to the subatomic level – “are ordained, guided, and governed” by God.[1] The idea that God determines everything can be traced back to Augustine of Hippo in the 5th century and is particularly popular among a branch of Protestantism known as Reformed theology.

Reformed theology, more commonly known as Calvinism[2] (we will use these words interchangeably), is a religious philosophy that follows the teachings of John Calvin and other Protestant theologians from the Reformation era. It is should be noted that Reformed theology, or Calvinism, is experiencing a resurgence in America today. So popular is Reformed theology that any Christian who reads relatively conservative denominational literature is well acquainted famous Calvinistic authors. Understandably, younger preachers thirsty for truth tend to be particularly fond of their writings because of their often passionate, yet conservative, approach to many Biblical issues. (And as a result, their Calvinistic influences sometimes unknowingly creep into the young preacher’s respective pulpit.)

The reason it is important to examine Calvinism as it relates to this study is because Reformed theology has traditionally emphasized God’s sovereignty and predestination over everything else. In fact, the idea of the sovereignty of God is the basis of Calvinism itself. Reformed theologians take great pride in the lofty ways in which they talk about God. Ben Warburton writes, “The one rock upon which Calvinism builds is that of the absolute and unlimited sovereignty of the eternal and self-existent Jehovah.”[3]

But herein lies the problem: The sovereign God of the Bible and the sovereign God of Calvinism are two very different Gods. Calvinists have redefined the meaning of the word sovereignty. To the Bible-believing Christian, sovereignty simply means God’s ability and right to rule the world (chapter 5 of You Are A Theologian: Thinking Right About God). However, to the devoted Calvinist, sovereignty means “divine determinism.” Divine determinism is the belief that God determines, causes, and orchestrates everything in history according to His preconceived plan, including sin and evil.

Calvinists erroneously believe that God is the reason for sin, since – according to Calvinism – “sovereignty” is somehow synonymous with “total control.” Thus, they create a false dichotomy,[4] claiming that if God is sovereign, He must orchestrate and control everything that ever happens – and if He does not control everything, He supposedly cannot be sovereign. Arthur Pink, a famous Calvinist, writes, “Only two alternatives are possible: God must either rule, or be ruled; sway, or be swayed; accomplish His own Will, or be thwarted by His creatures.”[5] In the words of Jack Cottrell, Calvinists “equate sovereignty with causation, and say that the only way for God to be sovereign is if He is the sole, ultimate cause or originator of everything that takes place, including events in the natural world as well as human decisions.” Consequently, Cottrell continues, “there is no truly free will”[6] for mankind in the Calvinist worldview.

As a result, according to Calvinism, if someone commits a horrible atrocity, it is ultimately because God must have willed it to happen in the first place. Edwin Palmer, a well-known Calvinist, said it bluntly: God “has foreordained everything […] – even sin.”[7] How horrifying a thought. R.C. Sproul Jr., another leading Calvinist today, terrifyingly said, “God in some sense desired that man would fall into sin […] He created sin.”[8] Chilling, right?

Just as egregious is the Calvinistic idea that God subjectively causes individuals to have faith. To the Calvinist, the words “I have personal faith in Christ Jesus” have no real meaning because God is supposedly the cause of all things. To the Calvinist, you cannot choose to have faith; God must put it in you. According to the Synod of Dort,[9] God chooses who will believe in Him and who will not.[10] This, of course, makes the words of Jesus powerless: “whoever believes in Him may have eternal life” (John 3:16). Why? Because you can’t “believe in Him” without God causing you to believe in Him! To call this cruel would be an understatement. It is like dangling crutches at the top of the stairs, saying to a paraplegic below, “Come and get them!”

Historically, Christians have distinguished between God’s sovereignty de jure and de facto. De jure is a Latin word which in this context refers to God’s right to rule; De facto is a Latin word which in this context refers to God’s meticulous control over all events. Ardent Calvinists see this distinction as a mere formality; they believe God is both sovereign de jure and de facto all the time. Yet, New Testament Christians have always acknowledged that God is always sovereign de jure and chooses to limit His sovereignty de facto. In other words, God has the ability to meticulously control everything, but in His wisdom and love for mankind, He has chosen not to determine everything yet.

We find the distinction between God’s sovereignty de jure and de facto when Christ taught His disciples to pray, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). If God is already micro-managing every detail of history, why would anyone need to pray for God’s will to be done on earth? If God is sovereign de facto, it would already be done.

Any honest observer must acknowledge that the Bible is permeated with the implication that God has given men the choice to serve Him. We could fill this book with examples of God giving mankind the freedom of choice. How otherwise could God extend His kindness if people are unable to choose repentance (Rom. 2:4)? How otherwise can we be commanded to “grow in the grace” of the Lord Jesus Christ if are unable to choose to do so (2 Pet. 3:18)? Why would Joshua tell the Israelites to choose whom they would serve if they could not actually choose (Josh. 24:15)? How could God not “show partiality” if He individually chooses on whom to force faith (Acts 10:34)? How calloused is God if He “commands all men everywhere to repent” if they are unable to repent (Acts 17:30)?

The Bible does, in fact, teach that God is sovereign, but it certainly does not teach that God determines mankind’s decisions and preordains mankind’s actions. Let’s be very clear: You can be entirely dedicated to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty while simultaneously being absolutely sure of mankind’s free choice.

An excerpt from my upcoming book, You Are A Theologian: Thinking Right About God.

This is another volume in the You Are A Theologian book series. Thinking Right About God challenges readers to think more Biblically about God’s attributes, His triune nature, and His sovereignty. Like the first book in this series, it is ideal for a broad range of applications: personal study, small group discussions, and college/young adult/adult Bible class curriculum.

Coming August 2017

Your comments are welcome and encouraged, even if they are in disagreement. However, please keep your comments relevant to the article. For my full comment policy, click here.

Sources
[1] John Piper, “Confronting The Problem Of Evil,” DesiringGod.org

[2] Calvinism, also known as Reformed theology, is basically the body of religious teachings and traditions started by John Calvin (1509 – 1564 A.D.) and other Reformation-era theologians such as Ulrich Zwingli and Jonathan Edwards. Calvinism can be summarized in five false religious ideas: (1) Total Depravity (babies are born guilty of the sin of their parents), Unconditional Election (God arbitrarily chooses – independent of any known standard – who will be eternally saved and who will be eternally damned), Limited Atonement (Christ did not die for everyone), Irresistible Grace (you do not have a choice as to whether or not you will obey the gospel), Perseverance of the Saints (it is impossible for a Christian to rebel against God).
[3] Ben A. Warburton, Calvinism, p. 63
[4] A dichotomy (pronounced “die-kot-uh-mee”) is the division of two mutually exclusive things or ideas. Thus, a false dichotomy is the division of two things or ideas that are not necessarily mutually exclusive. For example, it is a false dichotomy to say, “You either like bacon or sausage.” Why? Because real men like both bacon and sausage.
[5] Arthur Pink, The Sovereignty Of God, p. 14
[6] Jack Cottrell, The Faith Once For All, p. 81
[7] Edwin H. Palmer, The Five Points Of Calvinism, p. 25, emp. added.
[8] R.C. Sproul Jr., Almighty Over All, p. 53
[9] The Synod of Dort was a very important meeting in denominational history ultimately deciding the future of Calvinism. It was held between the years 1618-1619 in the town of Dordrecht (“Dort”) in the Netherlands. The Synod of Dort was held to silence honest, Scriptural challenges to Calvinism, and at its conclusion, the traditional five points of Calvinism were formalized, namely: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and the Perseverance of the Saints.
[10] See Article XIV of The Articles Of The Canons of Dort (1619). “Faith is the gift of God; not in that it is offered to the will of man by God, but that the thing itself is conferred on him, inspired, infused into him. Not even that God only confers the power of believing, but from thence expects the consent, or the act of believing: but that He, who worketh both to will and to do, worketh in man both to will to believe, and to believe itself, […] and thus He worketh all things in all.” (Translated By Thomas Scott, p. 301).

 

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Stop Saying “All Things Happen for a Reason”

After a tragedy, sometimes a well-meaning person will comment, “All things happen for a reason.”

Is that so? If the person making this statement is operating from a Biblical world view, are they suggesting that God the direct cause behind all things that have happened?

If beneath this statement lies the implication that God is the reason something happened, then this statement is wrong. In fact, one of the worst things you can say to someone grieving the loss of property, health, or a loved one is, “All things happen for a reason.” Sometimes things just happen because they happen – not because God has a specific design behind a particular unfortunate event. There does not need to be an immediate divine cause behind every event.

For example, God was not the cause, nor was He pleased, when Islamist Syed Farook and his wife murdered 16 social workers at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California on December 2, 2015. Of course, that terrible event in no way thwarted God’s purpose (cf. Psa. 2:1-4), and perhaps there are mysterious ways God could have used that event for good (cf. Rom. 8:28). But God did not orchestrate that tragedy. God does not cause such wicked events.

But why did God not stop that mass shooting (or any mass shooting)? For the same reason God does not stop you from fudging the amount you owe on your taxes this year, texting on your phone while driving, or living a godless lifestyle; the same reason He does not stop you from cheating on your spouse or ignoring the needs of your neighbor. The freedom to make choices (often catastrophic choices) is an essential part of what it means to be human. Thomas B. Warren writes,

Once man has been created, it is not the case that God could either permit or prevent man’s sinning without so changing man’s nature that he would no longer be man.[1]

There is a school of thought in Christendom today called Calvinism, which gets this topic wrong. Many Calvinists cannot fathom the idea that God doesn’t directly cause all things to happen. On September 17th, 2001, six days after the September 11th terrorist attacks, John Piper boldly said that God “could” and “would” be behind these actions.[2] According to Piper, and all other staunch Calvinists, all things happen for a reason, and God is that reason. Piper reiterates, “That is what the Bible teaches. God ‘works all things after the counsel of His will’ (Eph. 1:11).”[3] What a chilling thought – that God is behind all tragedy!

This is a disastrous abuse of the context of Apostle Paul’s words in Ephesians 1:11. We should note that Paul did not say, “God directs all things, period” – but rather that God has entirely (“all things”) fulfilled His plan to redeem mankind and establish His church through Jesus His Son. The fact that Jesus redeemed us and established His church is the context of Ephesians 1 – not the divine orchestration of every individual event, wicked events included.

When a parent or sibling is grieving the loss of a child, sometimes a well-meaning friend will say something to the effect of, “God needed another angel in heaven.” This horrifying statement not only reflects deep Biblical ignorance (human beings do not go on to become angels, cf. Heb. 2:7), but it also leaves the terrifying impression that God is the direct cause of the child’s death. Thank God He doesn’t “need more angels.”

There are Biblical explanations as to why there is suffering (including the loss of property, health, and innocent life) in this world. Sometimes things happen just because they happen. God has given mankind freedom of choice, and sometimes bad choices are accompanied by tragic consequences – at times involving innocent people. Bear in mind, however, that God has a plan for people that is bigger than this temporal world. But the notion that God directly, individually ordains each and every instance of this world’s pain and suffering is not Biblical.

An excerpt from my upcoming book, You Are A Theologian: Thinking Right About God.

This is another volume in the You Are A Theologian book series. Thinking Right About God challenges readers to think more Biblically about God’s attributes, His triune nature, and His sovereignty. Like the first book in this series, it is ideal for a broad range of applications: personal study, small group discussions, and college/young adult/adult Bible class curriculum.

Coming August 2017

Your comments are welcome and encouraged, even if they are in disagreement. However, please keep your comments relevant to the article. For my full comment policy, click here.

Sources
[1]Thomas B. Warren, God and Evil, p. 298.
[2] John Piper, “Why I Do Not Say, ‘God Did Not Cause the Calamity, but He Can Use It for Good.” DesiringGod.org.
[3] Ibid.

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Why is it Sometimes Difficult to Know God’s Will?

Sometimes I wish the Bible were more specific about some things.

When making big decisions – when studying particularly complicated, hot-button topics in categories of worship, morality, or ethics – when giving people counsel – sometimes I catch myself wishing that God had more clearly spelled out verbatim what He wants.

However, God didn’t ask me to write the Bible for Him. And that’s a good thing.

It’s ridiculous (if not blasphemous) to think that I (or anyone else) could improve on the Bible. “For the wisdom of this world is folly with God” (1 Cor. 3:19). Not only is God’s Will perfect, but the way in which He communicates His Will is also perfect. “His way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true” (Psa. 18:30).

But this doesn’t answer our question. Why is it sometimes hard to know God’s Will on a given issue?

Some Things Are Concealed

By God’s design, some things to be harder to understand than others. “It is the glory of God to conceal things” (Prov. 25:2). God has not chosen to reveal everything to us.

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deut. 29:29).

It is a fact that there are Bible teachings I may not fully understand until I leave this world. In the meantime, I’m going to do my best to study to present myself approved and work through these questions so I can pursue the most God-honoring option (2 Tim. 2:15). Should I take this job? Should I further my education? Is it ethical to ____ in this circumstance? Will it please God for me to wear ______ or go to _____ movie or drink ____? Should we homeschool? Does ____ have a Biblical right to marry ____? Do my parents need to be in assisted living? Should I talk to ____ about his/her problem? Should we participate in ____?

The Bible does provide answers to these questions (or at least principles as answers), but sometimes you have to do some hard study. In the struggle, we grow to depend on God. And over time – if we make decisions in humble, childlike faith – we will be able to look back and realize He has been working in our lives all along, even when we couldn’t see it earlier.

Inspired Difficulties

God has given us a Bible that equips with everything we need to know to live faithfully for Him (2 Tim. 3:16-17). But that is not to say He always gives a checklist or yes/no answers to our questions. Some issues are still hard to understand (2 Pet. 3:15-16).

Why? One reason is surely because God would rather us be totally transformed in the image of His Son than be totally informed apart from any real struggle to better understand His Will. Thus, Paul writes:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:2).

This means God has a purpose in allowing difficult subjects. The Christian life is a test. He wants to expose our true motives and priorities, which are most clearly seen in our decisions about more ambiguous matters that may not be “black and white.”

God expects us to follow His Will (Col. 1:10) and He has revealed everything we need to know to live godly lives (2 Pet. 1:3). But He doesn’t want us to be mere automatons that follow a cold set of binary commands. He wants our lives to be living sacrifices, making daily decisions aim to glorify Him in what we do (Rom. 12:1).

God is Glorified in the Struggle

God did not say to Abraham: “I want you to sacrifice your son Isaac as a burnt offering on Mt. Moriah. But don’t worry – I’m not going to make you follow through with killing him. At the last second, I will provide a ram in your son’s place.” Even if He had said that, surely Abraham would still have followed God’s command. But God would not have been as glorified and Abraham would not have benefited as much through the test.

It is the tough decisions that separate the wheat from the chaff. When you’re not entirely sure about something, the final decision comes down to what’s most important to you. Do you love the world, or do you love God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30)? The answer is seen in the pattern of decisions that emerge over time and we will either conform to this world or be transformed into the likeness of Christ.

God is glorified when – after wrestling with what to do or believe – we choose God over anything else. The question will not be, “How close can I get to sin without actually sinning?” Rather, “What is the most God-honoring option?” As we mature in Christ, difficult decisions become less difficult. “For those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Heb. 5:14).

Conclusion

I don’t claim to know all the answers. When it comes to difficult decisions and complex doctrines, I doubt I will get everything right. But that doesn’t mean I won’t try. And thankfully, we have a Savior who laid down His life so that even when we unknowingly err, the sins of Christians are covered (1 John 1:7).

He will never leave us or forsake us. As long as we keep our heads in the Book, He will eventually guide us back when we stray. And if we really will trust Him, like Abraham, we will see that He was guiding us through the difficult decisions all along.

Your comments are welcome and encouraged, even if they are in disagreement. However, please keep your comments relevant to the article. For my full comment policy, click here.

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I don’t remember my high-school math and I’m okay

Between you and me, I have a confession to make: I hardly remember anything I learned in my high school trigonometry class. I also can’t write in cursive very well anymore. I have no idea how to calculate girth (or what girth even is). I still get “affect” and “effect” confused.

I took several Advanced Placement courses: American history, European history, chemistry, physics, etc. I made good grades. I graduated with honors. But I can’t name all the countries in Africa. I don’t remember all of the state capitals. I can’t name all of the kings of France or Britain, much less put them in order. The only chemical formula I understand is “H2O.” I don’t remember most of the state birds I had to memorize for a school competition (except Oklahoma’s, which is the Scissor-tailed flycatcher). I took three years of Spanish, but I only remember a handful of words.

And guess what: I’m not living on the street.

In fact, I’ve got a pretty good job. Sometimes my family splurges and buys the occasional brand-name item from the grocery store. We are living large.

Dear parent, I know you are under immense pressure to make sure your kids are learning a second language, involved in the local play, participating in after-school athletics, enrolled in the honors program, eating nutritious organic meals – all while maintaining a Southern Living-like Facebook profile and Pinterest board. Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not minimizing these things. For all you struggling parents like me and my wife who are killing themselves to make sure your kids are prepared for college, keep it up.

But don’t forget to be realistic. Ask yourself, how much are your kids going to remember from school? How much do you remember from school?

In the hustle and bustle of being a responsible parent, don’t forget to teach your kids the things they won’t forget.

Let me tell you what I do happen to remember from my early years. I remember…

…Coming down the stairs after waking up in the morning and seeing my mom reading her Bible.

…My parents picking up people for church who no one else wanted to pick up.

…My mom apologizing to me when she made a mistake.

…My parents having Bible studies (some going late into the night) with Mormons/Jehovah’s Witnesses/Baptists/Catholics (or whoever else happened to knock on our door the day before).

…My dad telling me that I would always be welcome in their house after I moved away, unless I was ever unfaithful to my wife or unfaithful to Christ and had not repented.

…My parents not letting me take a part-time job if my employer wouldn’t give me time-off to go to every church service.

…My dad making dinner sometimes so my mom wouldn’t have to.

…My parents sometimes telling me “no” when I saw something I really wanted.

…My parents showing me tenderness and affection (not “effection,” right?)

…Going on walks with my mom.

…My parents taking me to visit elderly church members.

…My dad making me mow our lawn. With a push mower.

…My mom making me set the table for dinner, followed by washing the dishes. By hand.

…My dad reading to me.

…My dad learning about my unpaid debt to a church member, and forcing me to sell something I really liked in order to pay back the debt.

…My parents having “Bible time” with me, making me recite the books of the Bible, countless verses, the twelve sons of Jacob, the apostles, the judges, the plan of salvation, etc. I couldn’t forget those things today, even if I tried.

You want to give your children the best education money can buy. But while honor rolls, athletics, and other extra-curricular activities are well and good, they aren’t the most important thing you can give your children. If your children learn to speak French, but don’t leave your house loving Jesus and His Kingdom above everything else, what have they really gained?

There are only a few things in life that actually matter. Prioritize the stuff that will get them to heaven. The rest will fall into place.

Your comments are welcome and encouraged, even if they are in disagreement. However, please keep your comments relevant to the article. For my full comment policy, click here.