Tuesday, September 25, 2007


I heard about a television News Magazine segment that pitted John MacArthur against Doug Pagitt on the issue of Christians and the practice of Yoga, and it was quite interesting to see the exchange. This news segment really aligns well and adds further confirmation to my own views on yoga that I wrote about in “Yoga and the Christian: Do They Go together like Apple Pie and Baseball or Oil and Water?”

You can watch the video of this exchange on youtube, but the folks at Pulpit Magazine have transcribed the exchange as well.

Mike Galanos (host): Alright, let’s say I do decide to try yoga, head to the local gym, give it a shot. What am I opening myself up to spiritually that could go against my Christian faith?

John MacArthur: Well that would depend on how the yoga is conducted. If it’s just purely exercise, and you’re a strong Christian, it probably wouldn’t have any impact on your faith. But in the big picture, why would Christians want to borrow an expression from a false religion, from pantheism (god is everything, you’re god, everything is god), when we believe there’s only one true God (the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ). Why would we need to import that? If you want to exercise, exercise. But why borrow a term that has been part of a false religion for centuries?

Mike Galanos (host): Doug Pagitt, let’s get you in on this. And as we do, I want to read the definition from Webster’s on “yoga.” It says it’s “a Hindu theistic philosophy teaching the suppression of all activity of body, mind, and will in order that the self may realize its distinction from them and attain liberation.” Kind of tough one to cipher but, on a spiritual front for a Christian, that does not sound like Christ-centered faith to me. On the surface of that definition, what’s going on here? Help us out.

Doug Pagitt: Well, for people who perform yoga, what they’re normally trying to do is to find a whole and complete and healed life. So when people participate in yoga, most of them aren’t on some kind of a yoga agenda. What they’re trying to do is use whatever practices they can find that would help them have a whole and complete life. And for a Christian, that’s certainly what we’re after. The Jesus agenda is a whole life, is a complete life, is a healed life. So when people use it to relieve stress, to be healthy in their relationships, to feel good in their body, that’s a really good thing.

In fact, there’s a great little verse in the New Testament where it says, “Whatever is good, whatever is right, whatever is noble, whatever is praiseworthy, think upon such things.” And for so many of us, yoga has been one of those ‘whatevers’ that’s such a positive thing in our life.

Mike Galanos (host): So you say, Jesus is alright with yoga?

Doug Pagitt: Yeah, are you asking if I think Jesus was alright with yoga?

Mike Galanos (host): Yeah.

Doug Pagitt: Yeah, I’m not sure exactly how to answer a question like that. My assumption is that Christianity and yoga are not in competition with one another and are not enemies of one another. So to suggest that I could speak clearly for everything that Jesus would have been okay with – if Jesus was familiar with yoga when he was alive, and yoga has certainly around from before the time of Jesus, I don’t think Jesus ever spoke out against yoga and said, don’t perform yoga. But that kind of question that you’re going to ask somebody – “If Jesus was okay with it, then I wouldn’t do it” – that’s the kind of thing that says, would Jesus be okay with pastors wearing suits? Would Jesus be okay with having Christmas trees? These are the kinds of questions that just don’t move forward.

Mike Galanos (host): Let’s get back to the yoga — Doug, let’s get back to yoga real quick – as you do the postures, and this again, again I have not done yoga, but you do the postures, and they’re, one of the concerns is that it’s an offering to some of the millions of Hindu gods. Is there a part of you in the spirit that’s tweaked at all by this? Are you bothered at all. You practice yoga yourself. How do you go through with it?

Doug Pagitt: Hey, I have to confess that I’m not very good at it? Yoga, it’s really hard to hold these postures, to hold these positions. And I’ll tell you that from my own experience, and the many, many people that I know who participate in yoga, none of them have ever found themselves to be opened up to something negative or something demonic or something evil. In fact, many of us find the high benefit that comes from body mind connection, and from knowing that we are pushing, that we are stretching, that we are sending our body into an exercise. And that exercise is not wholly disconnected from our will or from our mind or from our spirit; it’s a complete practice. And I’ve never known anybody who has had anything detrimental come into their spirit because of their practice of yoga.

Mike Galanos (host): John MacArthur, real quick, want to get you in on this as well, is all yoga bad yoga for the Christian?

John MacArthur: Well, let me just respond to what I’ve been hearing. That doesn’t sound anything like Christianity. If you want a whole life, if you want your life to be what it should be, you don’t put yourself in some weird physical position, empty your mind, center on yourself and try to relieve your stress. You go to the word of God, to the gospel of Jesus Christ, you embrace in faith the sacrifice of Christ in his death and resurrection as your savior and redeemer. God comes, regenerates you, transforms your life, makes you a new creation, and you’re saved and you’re on your way to heaven, and you can live a life of peace and joy. That’s the promise of the gospel. There is no contribution made to that by any physical position or any kind of meditation.
The idea of Christianity is to fill your mind with biblical truth and focus on the God who is above you. That’s Christian worship. The idea of yoga is to fill your mind with nothing except to focus on yourself and try to find the god that is inside of you. From a Christian viewpoint, that’s a false religion. Exercise is a different issue.

Mike Galanos (host): Gentlemen, we’re going to have to leave it there. Pastor Doug Pagitt and John MacArthur we appreciate your time, both of you. Thank you very much.1

I find it interesting that Mr. Pagitt is unable to clearly state what he believes Jesus’ position would be when it comes to Christians practicing Yoga. Perhaps I’m not as involved in the emergent conversation as I should be, but shouldn’t that be one of the first things that is discovered with any activity or issue? But sadly, this is just one of the big problems with the philosophy surrounding Christians and yoga.

In an attempt to defend his position, Mr. Pagitt used a debate tactic and a contemporary theological argument that I am so tired of hearing because it is just plain nonsense. Mr. Pagitt said, “I don’t think Jesus ever spoke out against yoga and said, don’t perform yoga.” First of all, this is such a horrible way of communicating and understanding what Scripture has to say on any subject. Did Jesus ever say anything specifically about yoga? Nope. But He also didn’t specifically mention raping women or abusing children when referring to proper sexual expression. He also didn’t discuss the value (or lack thereof) of dog-fighting or gladiator contests as forms of entertainment, or a host of other issues. Furthermore, Jesus doesn’t make any specific comments about the sin of homosexuality. So, on Mr. Pagitt’s logical grounds, if Jesus doesn’t specifically condemn yoga, then it is (or it could be) fine if a self-professed Christian practices yoga. If that is the case, then we should likewise be able to explore the possibility of the rape and abuse of women and children for sexual expression as well as have a conversation about whether or not we should relax and enjoy some recreation while dogs or humans fight to the death. As a side note, I believe that Solomon’s Porch, Mr. Pagitt’s church, is not concerned with the sin of homosexuality. And the reason for their apathy on this issue, I would guess, is rooted in the same logic as he showed in the interview.

This hermeneutical travesty is so odious that it seems to scream at me whenever I hear someone use it. The Bible condemns any and all sexual expression outside of a marriage between a man and a woman (cf. Lev 18), and this would include rape, incest, molestation, masturbation, fornication, and homosexuality (see also Romans 1:20-32 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11). The Bible encourages us to dwell on good and lovely things (cf. Phil 4:8), not on the brutal maiming and killing of people or animals for sport. The more I see people advocating Christians practicing yoga, or even defending it with the kind of nonsense that Mr. Pagitt used, the more I see the slimy fingers of the enemy closing around the throat of the slightly alive, but mostly apostate group that is American evangelicalism.

Dr. MacArthur hit the nail on the head with his condemnation of the “goal” that Mr. Pagitt described of those people that he knows who practice yoga. The Hindu practice emptying and focusing on nothing or on self is in complete and total contradistinction from the purposeful and discerning practice of faith and focusing our affections and actions on God through the power of the Holy Spirit because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

I would actually have a lot more to say in refutation and correction of Mr. Pagitt’s errors, but I believe that it was said to him already by Dr. MacArthur. What a blessing it is to have a man of God who has been given, not only a platform but also a mind and heart to use that platform for the sake of Christ and the gospel instead of his own agenda.

As a side, and humorous, note, a while back I was assisting some friends of my parents in finding a local church near where I live. During the e-mail correspondence back and forth with them I happened to mention that a Baptist church I had attended during college was slipping toward emergent error, I believe they even were including yoga in their programs. In part of his responding e-mail to me, this gentleman wrote the following,

“It's interesting that you mentioned that the one church you went to in college has teamed up with the Emergent Church Movement. One of my college mates, Doug Padgett, is apparently one of the 'leaders' of the Emergent movement. I never thought of him as a Pastor or deep theological thinker at the time... but then... okay, so maybe I just answered my own question there - didn't I?”

1 http://www.sfpulpit.com/2007/09/13/john-macarthur-doug-pagitt-and-yoga/

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Expected by Many and Welcomed by Many

“3 Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. (2 Thessalonians 2:3,4)

As a Christian who believes in the future rapture of the Church before the final world calamity known as the tribulation period, I understand 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 to be referring to the person of the final anti-christ. I have been raised in churches (across denominational lines) that preach and confess a pre-millennial eschatology with a pre-tribulational rapture of the living members of the Church. I make this point because this is a doctrinal stance that I would confess, but I must also say that I have not studied the pertinent Scriptures with anything but a pre-millennial bias. I am interested in studying in order to find out what the true and correct Biblical eschatology is (as a matter of fact that is one of two big areas that I want to investigate in the near future), but my purpose here is not to set forth my arguments for why I believe what I confess. It is more to present a thought that has come up recently that falls in line with this theology. Furthermore, it may well happen that when I revisit this same issue and or theological topic in the near (or not so near) future, that I will either vigorously defend my current stance or vigorously oppose my current stance.

As I understand it, the man of lawlessness known as the epitome of human evil who is the embodiment of the (final) spirit of anti-christ, will appear on the scene of the earth prior to rapture of the Church, and he will have power over the world during the final seven years of the current age. As Christians, we learn about him from the Scriptures because he is a key figure during the time of God’s final outpouring of wrath onto mankind and the world. As a believer, I may have the tendency to care less about the intricacies of this time because…I will not be around. I will either be dead or I will have been raptured. But, these details are important because God has chosen to reveal them in His Word.

So why am I treading on this ground now? In the past two months, I have seen two different videos, both of which seem to point to anticipation in the larger world of just such a figure. We don’t need to look to other religions, necessarily, to see that there is hope for a global “daddy” or leader who will take charge and make things right. It seems to me that this is where a lot of the idealistic hopes for the U.N. come from. But, I don’t want to speculate on the world’s political systems now; I want to look at religious anticipation.

CNN did a three-part series called “God’s Warriors” where the host focused on Jewish, Muslim, and Christian followers who want to impact the world for God. As it happens, I felt that the overall tone of the documentary series was very slanted. A large portion of time of the Jewish episode was spent on the hand full of times when Pro-Jewish activists have used terrorist type actions in order to further their cause. In fact, a very large portion of the hour-long episode was spent detailing an attack on Palestinian school children that never took place because it was thwarted by the Israeli government. Whereas the episode centered on Islamic “warriors” did go into detail on the numerous attacks made by Islamic terrorists. CNN alluded to many, but never focused on targeting of children or other innocents by Islamic terrorists in the same way that they did with the Jewish program. It was a sad spectacle of the media’s inability to deal with Islamic, Jewish, and Christian problems all on the same page. People opposed to Christianity and our desire for social change in the West have to worry about being told that they are sinners and need to repent and place their faith in Christ Jesus whereas people opposed to Islam in any Islamic country would be happy if all they had to worry about was a thoughtful and loving call to faith, but instead they have to worry, more and more, about being killed.

All tangents aside, the one particularly interesting thing that I received from this documentary was an introduction to the fact that there is some (predominantly Shi’a) Muslim anticipation of someone called the hidden Imam. Basically, the belief is that this Islamic leader will appear and bring peace to the whole world be establishing Islam throughout the whole world. And, according to the clerics interviewed by CNN, they believe that God will send Jesus back in order to persuade Christians and Jews to go along with this Imam.1

As far as Jewish people are concerned, one of the reasons that the Jews rejected Christ when He came the first time was that He did not come as a conqueror to throw out the Romans. How far fetched is it to surmise that when a conqueror comes on the scene bringing peace to Jerusalem, that he will be hailed as the Messiah by the religious Jews of the world? I don’t think that it is far fetched at all.

Finally, there will be a harlot left on earth after the Church is raptured. This will include professing Christians of all stripes who were not truly born again. The Left Behind series, as I understand it, focuses on some of the people who would fall into this camp. In fact, during the motion picture version of the first book, some of the characters are seen watching a video description of the tribulation period left by the pastor who’d been raptured. A sad side note is that in this movie, the pastor was played by T.D. Jakes, a heretic who does not believe in the Biblical Christ, who is lost, and who will not be raptured with the true Church.

But there will be a harlot, a false church, left on the earth to give false comfort and false direction to those who will still be deceived by her and by the anti-christ. This is where I will look at the Roman Catholic Churches anticipation of the completion of some form of Marian prophecies. As far as I understand it, the prophecies from Fatima will culminate in an era of peace. Because of what was said at Fatima, and other similar apparition-type revelations of Mary, is so contrary to anything in Scripture, I have no choice but to see these different apparitions as, at best, figments of human imagination or, at worst, the well planned and executed demonic deception on the false church.2

The fallen world, religious and secular, will joyously applaud and receive the appearance of the man of lawlessness onto the world’s stage. The Bible seems to indicate that he will come to power as a diplomat, not as a warrior, and that may be one reason why the non-religious world will love him.

Why am I not shocked at these different similar anticipations of false religions? Well, false religions may be birthed out of human sinfulness as much as demonic influence, but the supernatural power and proofs of these false religions are all haphazardly aiming for a single goal by the Devil. He has no new tricks. All false religions have forms of works righteousness and of vain sacrifices and actions. Why would they not have similar expectations too?

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has come to save sinners and will come again to judge the world in Righteousness. May God use me in my witness and testimony as a vessel to open the eyes and hearts of the lost to the truth of the Christ as revealed in the Scriptures so that they may be saved and not be deceived.

1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NqefKj0ZjRk

2 http://www.motherofallpeoples.com/index.phpoption=com_content&task=view&id=1100&Itemid=%20

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Cowards and Bullies

Today is the sixth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York by members of an Islamic terrorist organization, and I did something this morning that I rarely do; I went to the news agencies to remember see if there were any 9/11 memorials going on and what was being said about the event as well as to see what is going on in the world. I read a story on Osama Bin Laden, perused a story about the memorial service in New York, and I was about to abandon my current events investigation when another story at the bottom of the page caught my eye with the tag line, “Griffin to Be Censored. In Emmy speech, Kathy Griffin says 'no one had less to do with this award than Jesus'.”1

She didn’t just stop with announcing that Jesus had nothing to do with her win, but she said “So, all I can say is ‘Suck it, Jesus.’ This award is my god now.”2 There are many offensive and blasphemous things about her comments, but perhaps the worst part of it all is that these comments were, most likely, planned out in advance. The type of speech that one gives when receiving an award is planned out, even if you have only a 20% chance of actually winning, you still want to be ready if you are given the award and of having the platform to make comments.

Was this blasphemy? Absolutely, there is no question that this speech mocks God and uses His name in a shocking exclamation. Does her language show that she hates Christ? I can’t think of any reason to conclude otherwise. At best she thinks that He is so worthless and meaningless that she would use His name as the butt of a joke in order to get a few laughs and a bit of publicity. Was this hate speech? In a technically defined way, I guess that it would be, but I am not one who desires to label pointedly offensive speech as hate speech. I don’t want it legally considered as hate speech because there is too much of a craze, now days, for flinging that description around. And the end goal of those in the hate speech movement is to make it illegal, and therefore punishable by law, to speak hate speech.

Why would I be opposed to legislation like this? Once this lion is let loose, there will be no stopping it. I will be legally culpable for making statements about the sinfulness of homosexuality or any other “sacred cow” type of cultural sin. How soon, in our postmodern world, will it be that simply saying that Christ is the only way of salvation and eternal life will be considered hateful speech? Furthermore, in this era of hate speech it may become intolerant to attempt to persuade anyone of their sinfulness because it is such a hateful thing to be confronted with the fact that “I’m a sinner.” I am deeply fearful that the bandwagon of hate speech will lead to the demise of the freedom to proclaim the gospel, among other things, in public.

"The comedian's remarks were condemned Monday by Catholic League President Bill Donohue, who called them a ‘vulgar, in-your-face brand of hate speech.'

The Catholic League, an anti-defamation group, called on the TV academy to ‘denounce Griffin's obscene and blasphemous comment" at Sunday's ceremony.’"3

Further on in their press release, the Catholic League referenced the reaction and the social outrage to Mel Gibson, Michael Richards, Isaiah Washington, Imus, and Jerry Lewis that followed their offensive statements towards a specific segment of the population and contrasted that to the lack of a reaction to Ms. Griffin’s comments. I would hope that the academy as well as society in general would not be pleased or complacent with comments denigrating the Lord Jesus Christ. I truly hope that Ms Griffin would come to understand her sinful condition before an almighty God who is wrathful at her sin, but would be merciful to her if she would but repent of her sin and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. But I don’t want to have people forced, by the government or by a mob, to be conformed in their speech, beliefs, opinions, or religious activity.

I am not sure what is worse; the refusal by Ms. Griffin or the Emmy people to apologize for the offensive nature of Ms. Griffin’s comments on their program or the knee-jerk reaction by the Catholic League to denounce the statements as hate speech and perusing some sort of retribution. The former is an example of the hardness of their hearts when it comes to any respect at all for God, and that is truly horrible. The latter seems to be an example of zeal without wisdom. I want Christ’s name to be defended, but with the political baggage that “hate speech” carries, that is just not the angle to use.

Finally, I want to put this whole issue into a proper perspective, and ironically enough, it is appropriate for today. Just imagine if Kathy Griffin had made the same comments but only changed one word. If she substituted Mohammad’s name in the place of Jesus’ name, there wouldn’t be enough media outlets or reporters to handle the blushing-falling over themselves-apologizing that would come from Kathy and the Emmy group. Furthermore, the entire entertainment industry would castigate her and probably blackball her from any real future in show business.

So many entertainers think that they are being clever, witty, and edgy by mocking Jesus Christ and Christians. But it is really just cowardice. It is cowardice to mock and taunt Christ and Christians who do not have a blood lust and a desire to put infidels to death. They readily accuse and berate Christians for the crimes of the inquisition (and they were crimes, absolutely) but say nothing of honor killings, suicide bombings, or terrorist attacks as it relates to religion. Christians, particularly those who are most concerned with being biblical, are the people who are maligned for being intolerant, bigoted, condemning, and hate filled followers of a religion. How true is that? We are so intolerant, bigoted, hateful, and condemning that we plead, with our words but without violence, for the salvation of the souls of those who hate us, and all the while we do not seek ways in which to expedite any sinner’s personal trip to meet up with the wrath of God.

If you are a militant atheist, as Ms. Griffin has called herself, then don’t just malign the Christians in the west. But also ruffle the feathers of the Muslims in the Middle East and the Hindus in India. If you are consumed with women’s rights, then don’t just berate pro-life Christian causes in the west. But, with the same force and fervor, condemn the habitual practice of honor killings in the Middle East. If you really believe what you believe, then proclaim it in such a way as to confront and offend all who oppose you, and not just those who will write letters to their congressman and to your boss and not to their religious leader appealing for a fatwa or a death warrant to be issued for you. But Hollywood, western entertainers, and humanists, for the most part, are not speaking out against the mob violence in the name of religion in other countries and instead focus on the passive Christians of the west. Like Nero before them, they have found a palatable scapegoat and whipping boy. Where Nero was a psychopath and a lunatic, modern western entertainers and the Hollywood elite are simply cowards afraid of a reprisal showing that they really only hold the ideals that they espouse when it is safe. They are cowards and bullies, hitting people who won’t hit back.

1 http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,296382,00.html

2 http://www.realityblurred.com/realitytv/archives/industry_news/2007_Sep_09_emmy_kathy_griffin_planet_earth

3 http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,296382,00.html

Monday, September 10, 2007

Paul or Me? Lord Have Mercy!

15 It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.” (1 Timothy 1:15)

Over the past year or so, this verse has become more and more precious to me. It is not that I believe more in the infallibility and sufficiency of the Bible than I once did, nor is it that I have been only recently convinced of my own sinfulness, but it is that the magnitude of my own sin in relation to others, believers or unbelievers, has become more clearly focused in my eyes.

I listen to The Way of the Master Radio program daily on my iPod, and I regularly hear them sharing the gospel with people on the street. When they share the gospel, they walk the witnesee through some of the Commandments in order to expose the wickedness of their lives and their imminent condemnation before God. It is always humbling for me to hear the Law and to allow it to cut anew into my own sinfulness, and I am grateful for that.

So here’s my bone to pick with Paul. How come I feel, and believe that I have facts that could make a compelling case, that I am a more wretched sinner than anyone else that I know, and perhaps even him? Don’t get me wrong, I am not challenging the inerrancy or infallibility of the Bible; I am simply making an observation that is in complete agreement with the Bible and that it is, in fact totally, true in its description of sin. And I am a living testimony that Paul’s laments about his own sin in Romans 7:18-25 are the cry of the heart of a believer. In fact, the reality of my sin can be so overwhelming that it makes me conscious of just how much I need to be saved.

Have I been justified by faith in Christ? Yes, I believe that Christ saved me and justified me when I was a small boy, but I had massive areas of sin that took me years and years to deal with and, ultimately, overcome. Even now, there are sins in my life that I trip into. I desire to be free from them, and I also agree with the Holy Spirit inspired cry of Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24). I have been freed from the penalty and condemnation of sin, but I have not been freed from the presence of sin, the temptation to sin, nor the adulterous heart that continues to sin. Because this is the case, I must continually be brought back to a place of repentance, faith, and a place where I lean totally on the mercy of Christ.

It is not cavalier or reckless abandon of all constraints in an act of diving into a known sin and reveling in it that I am referring to when I mention my own state of perpetual sin. My heart that is, as yet, not fully sanctified to the point of glorification does still desire to sin because of the fleeting and deadly pleasures that result from it. But God is faithful, and He has allowed me to be tempted only as far as I can resist that temptation. Graciously, what seems to mark my sinning is the virtually immediate, and sometimes even preemptory, warning and conviction from the Holy Spirit. It is this ministry, along with the ministry of the Word in my heart and mind, which strengthens me in the face of my temptations so that I can withstand them. But also, when I fail and sin, it is this same Spirit that convicts me of my sin.

This conviction from God in the Person of the Holy Spirit following my sin is both sweet and bitter to me. It is sweet because my God chastens me as any good earthly father does. He does it in love for my good and His glory. But it is also bitter because as any child detests a spanking from a loving father, the pain and sorrow of disappointing, not just that, but it is of sinning against my Father, Savior, and Comforter that cuts to the core and hurts the most. I remember being more broken when my father would, with sad eyes and a straight and sad face, looked at me and uttered those eight words that just shattered me. “Eric, I am very disappointed in you, son.”

The statement from my father just like the conviction from my Father would be bearable, if it weren’t for painful truth of what I’d done that was embodied in the loving tone of the final word ”son.” Oh how wretched I feel when I know that I have sinned against God my Father, and only against Him. It was He who chose me before the world was made. It was He who called me by name. It was He, in the Person of Christ, who died for me to satisfy His own just wrath at my sin. It is He who keeps me from falling from grace. It is He who lavishes grace upon grace, and mercy upon mercy on each new day. And it is against my Father, my Savior, and my Comforter that my sin is truly offensive.
Oh God, my Father, Savior, and Comforter, I humbly plead that you would strengthen me in my war against sin. I pray that you would increase my desire and hunger for Your Word and my desire to pray more intentionally. It is only by grace that You have saved me, and it is only by Your grace that I am saved. Please help the cause of my struggle be of loving You. Help me to struggle and strive so that I may run the race with the goal of attaining the price.

So, even though I am not challenging the inspiration of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, I believe that he and I can speak in concert together regarding our own lives and sinfulness and the glory of God when he wrote,
15 It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. 16 Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Corinthians 1:15-17)

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Correlation Between Election, Grace, and Sin

Over the past few days, I have been listening to John Piper preach out of Romans 8, specifically referring to Romans 8:28 and the following verses, and he has dealt a lot with what it means to be “called”. It was really enjoyable for me to hear these messages where the issue of predestination, or election, was specifically dealt with. While I am sure that the thoughts that I am having are nothing new to the theology of election or the debate between Calvinists and Arminians, they did seem cause the issues of election and grace to come into sharper focus for me than they had previously been.

In an effort to continue on the same line of thinking as my previous article concerning what was recently said on the Bible Answer Man regarding the host’s characterization and rejection of the doctrine of election, which is historically held by Christians who emphasize a completely sovereign view of God in salvation (modernly known as Calvinists), the issue of man’s role in the salvation process, specifically regarding our depravity, has been embedded on my thoughts. I have been thinking a lot about this, not because I find it enjoyable in and of itself to examine just how rotten I am, but it is enjoyable because I want to understand myself and magnify God’s glory, power, and beauty in my salvation and my ongoing sanctification.

If, in an attempt to get a broad and biblical view of the ideas pertaining to election, grace, and salvation, we begin to think about the nature of sin and mankind’s state in sin, I think that we will naturally and logically come to the necessary conclusion that election, the predetermined and sovereign choosing of individuals to be saved by God, is a central and indispensable part of the gospel of salvation by grace that the Bible teaches.

The doctrine of sin, in a nutshell, says that the first and only sinless man who was created by God, freely chose to sin in rebellion against God’s revealed command and authority. This rebellion resulted in such a cataclysmic backlash from God, and neither Adam nor Eve, I think, had any way to comprehend this magnitude (if any at all) of God’s retribution prior to their sin, nor did they posses any lexicon that would enable them to express the reality which immediately followed their plunge into sin. And because it was such an egregious affront to God when mankind sinned, that is why we are all actually and literally dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1, 5).

The physical, mental, and emotional components of every natural man’s being were condemned to suffering, deterioration, disease, and death following Adam’s sin. This physical death occurs, either gradually or without warning, after a period of life, whether long or short in duration. However, contrasted to that, we see the initial and perpetual state of man’s spirit as being dead. The spirit does not experience life in any real sense before dying, for it is dead from the point of its very creation.

The bible does not show man as simply being wounded in a sinful condition and therefore able to move closer to God. No. The bible clearly says that no man seeks after God (Romans 3:12) and all men’s hearts are wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). This paints a bleak picture for man, not only is he dead, but he doesn’t want to seek after God. I don’t want to gloss over the fact that man’s state is ‘dead’ too quickly, because it seems to me that if we genuinely deal with what it means to be spiritually dead, it will clear up a whole lot of problems and objections before they can gain any traction.

The word translated into the English word “dead” is the Greek word the Greek word nekroV (nekros) which literally means “dead” or “inanimate” and is used to describe a dead body or a corpse. In fact, I did a quick survey of the use of this word in the New Testament, and out of the 131 times that it is used, only a small amount of that time (I believe around 10 times) is this word used figuratively. For instance, “the guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men” (Matthew 28:4) and, “for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found” (Luke 15:32).

The vast and overwhelming majority of the time that this word is used, it is explicitly referring to exactly what we, in our modern context, would refer to by using the words “dead” or “corpse”. Furthermore, I am provoked to study the use of this word and the concepts surrounding it further because it seemed that virtually every time that someone was first described as dead and subsequently as alive, it was stated very clearly that it was God who resurrected them. This may seem (and it may well turn out) to be nothing of magnificent importance to the discussion over election, but I believe that if we are taught and come to understand that when God physically raises someone from the dead that he or she plays absolutely no part in it, why would there be any difference when it comes to God’s and life giving act and spiritual resurrection of people?

Even on the surface of God’s resurrecting and life giving work, there is no circumstance where a cooperative effort between the dead and the life giver is present. For example, Jesus commanded Lazarus to live by saying, "Lazarus, come forth." (John 11:43) Christ didn’t meet Lazarus half-way. He didn’t offer to resurrect Lazarus as well as other friends or relatives of His that may have died during His lifetime. Christ didn’t ask Lazarus if he wanted to be alive again. He chose to resurrect Lazarus and Lazarus was made alive. My whole point in belaboring this story and the fact that men are dead in sin is that if we are dead, then we are unable to do anything spiritually positive.

In other words, dead men can’t choose life…because they’re dead. Lazarus couldn’t and neither can anyone who is only spiritually dead. A person’s dead spirit does not have the ability nor the desire to make itself alive.

Now, moving on to grace! The concept of grace as it relates to salvation has been communicated in our contemporary society by using the letters as an acronym stating that grace means, “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” This statement is true, but I do not believe that it is fully true. And the danger of having the contemporarily understood definition of grace embodied in a pop-Christian-culture acronym is that this says nothing about man’s involvement and contribution (or lack thereof) to grace. J.I. Packer articulated the danger of this type of an over-simplification or dumbing-down of a concept or truth, whether the chnage is intentional and devious in nature or if it is innocent and good hearted in nature, when he said,

“A half truth presented as a whole truth is complete untruth.” 1

Again, it is absolutely true that the grace of God in our salvation is truly God’s (Christ’s) Riches applied to us At Christ’s Expense. However, this statement says nothing concerning how it is then applied to us. The response would be to say that we receive it by grace, and that is true, but again, grace has turned into such a misused word in Christendom that it, sadly, no longer has the specific power of the truth of the full meaning. For instance, Mormons, Catholics, Arminians, and Calvinists all would probably agree with the definition of grace and say that man is saved by grace. But the question that needs to be answered is this; what do they all mean when they say, “grace”? When pressed what they mean, a Mormon would quote 2 Nephi 25:23 in the Book of Mormon which says, “for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”

Roman Catholicism, in their New Advent Encyclopedia, breaks down the concept of grace into (at least) two categories: actual grace and sanctifying grace. For this article’s purpose, I’ll deal with actual grace which because they define this grace as a “transient help to act,”2
specifically in the act of believing. This source goes on to state that this grace “is granted by God for the performance of salutary acts”, but coupled with the prior articulation that it is a “help” in the action of faith implies, necessarily, that man, to a certain extent, wills on his own (i.e. not moved specifically by God) to believe.

Arminians would hold that man chooses to receive the forgiveness of his sins in his free will. The Holy Spirit, necessarily, does not push Joe Pagan harder or softer than Doug Christian in their spiritual journeys, but pleads with them equally and the both have an equal ability to respond in faith. If an Arminian would say, in any form, that someone who believes was given more grace or special grace that an unbeliever does not receive, that person would no longer be a true Arminian. John Piper summarized a problem with this type of view (actually, it could be applied to the Catholic and Mormon views too),
...it assumes that ultimately we, in our own will power, provide the decisive, ultimate cause of our faith. That’s the point of that interpretation. That God only foresees people, not resting in God to provide the ultimate, decisive, faith that they need to believe, but producing, on their own, the decisive ultimate ground and cause of their faith.3

Calvinists hold that grace means unmerited favor and that God favors a man (or woman) apart from any of his own works or merits. Man takes no initiating part in his own salvation in and of himself. The part that this man plays, repenting from sin and expressing faith in God, is done through a special working of the Holy Spirit in him that is not present in unbelievers. In other words, God saves a person by giving them the faith to believe as well as the desire and ability to do so.
5 In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God's gracious choice. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.” (Romans 11:5,6)

It seems to me that the force of the distinction between grace and works is contained in the rejection of the very idea that any works that would be done in concert with God’s saving “grace” betray and contradict grace itself. The Judaizers were notorious for requiring some “works of the law” to be done in concert with faith for the salvation of the sinner. The New Testament categorically rejects this false notion of co-operating with some human work in order to attain salvation. But, even further than that, the New Testament itself describes the faith for salvation as a being gift of God itself (see Jeremiah 32:40; Matthew 16:17; Ephesians 2:8,9; Philippians 1:29; 2 Timothy 2:24-26), and so the faith that man expresses is not, by definition, something that he does apart from God because the faith comes from God.

It seems to me that the Calvinist understanding and exposition of scripture is the only one that consistently holds to the truest understanding of God’s complete and total sovereignty and grace in the salvation of men. Since the term grace has, unfortunately, lost some of its teeth and offense in our culture, I am seriously considering using other terms in conjunction with grace that have not been watered down in order to be crystal clear about the biblical understanding of grace.4 There were three words that I believe will, when used in combination with grace, clarify the meaning of grace and hopefully dispel any misinterpretations or misunderstandings of what is meant when I use the term grace. These three words are “apportion”, “impart”, and “lavish”.

Where as both “apportion” and “impart” refer to the bestowing of something one another person (“bestow” was another word in the running), “lavish” seemed to communicate the massive quantity or quality of the gift as well giving the mental picture of dumping the gift on the other person in an overwhelming fashion. Furthermore, if I were to use a word and meaning that is even more contemporary in our society, I would say that God unloads His grace on us. In this context, “unload” is used in the sense of firing a gun’s ammunition at a target or in the sense of someone dumping out of their thoughts and emotions onto a willing, or unwilling, listener. God’s grace is more accurate than a sniper’s bullet, and the sinner on the receiving end of His unloading of grace is less willing to choose grace on his or her own behalf than the target caught in a sniper’s crosshairs chooses to receive the deadly bullet.

Again you may be thinking, “What does this have to do with the doctrine of election?” Well, my goal up until this point has been to articulate two doctrinal stances that most Protestant and evangelical Christians would confess because they are so plainly laid out in the Scriptures. First, man is dead, not wounded and in need of a physician, in his sins. And second, salvation is by God’s lavishing of His grace upon us. I firmly believe that all of my protestant brethren would agree with these statements. The problem, and where the division and disagreement comes from, is that these same people do not maintain a sense of continuity between these confessions of faith and truth with how they relate to one another in salvation.

The Bible clearly and unabashedly uses the terms “predestine”, “foreknown”, “elect”, and “chosen” when referring to those who have been saved by Christ. If we hold to the two biblical principles that I have been laboring to articulate, then when it comes to defining and articulating what the doctrine of election is, what possible optional understandings do we have? If we are elected based upon our own free-will choice of God that is necessarily uninfluenced by God, we then turn the cross of Calvary into a bargaining table where if we bring our choice, then we’re saved. By doing this, we neither maintain the doctrine of man’s deadness in sin nor the complete grace of God in salvation.

For reasons that are eternally glorious to the Holy Trinity, and only the Trinity, God has chosen to lavish some men and women with a special elective love that is only bestowed upon some. None deserve this treatment by God, neither those who are elected nor those who are not elected. Could God have chosen to save all mankind and still have remained the same just and holy God that He is? I assume that He could have, but He didn’t. Could God have chosen to save no one and still have remained the same loving God that He is? I assume that He could have, but He didn’t.

It is not for me to validate God’s plan and method of saving the sinners that He has chosen to save, nor is it my task to come up with articulate ways of expressing the revealed plan of God in salvation so as to make it completely understandable and seen as infinitely benevolent and gracious to all men. That is for the Holy Spirit to do in the heart of the believer. My desire is to attempt, in my feeble way, to show what the Bible says and show that the conclusion of sovereign election in salvation is both biblical and logical. It is for me to read the Word of God, to say what it says, but it is not to make a doctrine more palatable to men by changing what words mean by means of clever speech or imposing debating techniques. The simple and plain articulation of God’s Word is sufficient to validate itself and persuade the heart and mind of one who truly desires to be conformed to the mind of Christ. This conformity is not an easy thing to achieve for anyone, even the elect, to do, and it is definitely not something that is easy to do consistently.

1 Heard on the radio on 3/30/07 WOTMR

2 http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06689x.htm

3 John Piper “Foreknown, Predestined, Conformed to Christ” preached on 8/4/02, radio broadcast 3/30/07. This quote came from transcribing the audio of this sermon.

4 The “teeth” and “offense” of the idea of grace is profound. It is offensive because man is naturally disposed (because of sin) to want to be master and in control. Grace takes it out of our control. It has teeth because it cuts any cords of man’s contribution, no matter how small or large we might see them, toward his own salvation.

Copyright © 2005-2010 Eric Johnson