Objections to Predestination

predestination

The past 2 weeks at Revolution, I’ve preached on election and free will from Romans 9. It is an enormous topic that I feel like we’ve only scratched the surface on.

In thinking about the topic, there are a lot of questions about predestination and objections to it. I came across this from John Stott that I thought was helpful:

Nevertheless, he has thrown light on our problem in such a way as to contradict the chief objections which are raised and to show that the consequences of predestination are the opposite of what is popularly supposed. I give five examples.

1. Predestination is said to foster arrogance, since (it is alleged) God’s elect boast of their favored status. But on the contrary, predestination excludes boasting. For it fills God’s people with astonishment that he should ever have had mercy on undeserving sinners like them. Humbled before the cross, they desire to live the rest of their lives only ‘to the praise of his glorious grace’ and to spend eternity worshipping the Lamb who was slain.

2. Predestination is said to foster uncertainty, and to create in people a neurotic anxiety as to whether they are predestined and saved or not. But this is not so. If they are unbelievers, they are entirely unconcerned about their salvation, until and unless the Holy Spirit brings them under conviction of sin as a prelude to their conversion. If they are believers, however, even when passing through a period of doubt, they know that in the end their security lies only in the eternal, predestinating will of God. Nothing else can bring such assurance and comfort. As Luther wrote in his comment on verse 28, predestination ‘is a wonderfully sweet thing for those who have the Spirit’.

3. Predestination is said to foster apathy. For if salvation is entirely God’s work and not ours, people argue, then all human responsibility before God has been undermined. But again this is not so. On the contrary, it is abundantly clear that Scripture’s emphasis on God’s sovereignty never diminishes our responsibility. Instead, the two lie side by side in an antinomy, which is an apparent contradiction between two truths. Unlike a paradox, an antinomy is ‘not deliberately manufactured; it is forced upon us by the facts themselves … We do not invent it, and we cannot explain it. Nor is there any way to get rid of it, save by falsifying the very facts that led us to it.’ A good example is found in the teaching of Jesus, who declared both that ‘no-one can come to me unless the Father … draws him’ and that ‘you refuse to come to me to have life’. Why do people not come to Jesus? Is it that they cannot? Or is it that they will not? The only answer which is compatible with his own teaching is, ‘Both, even though we cannot reconcile them.’

4. Predestination is said to foster complacency, and to breed antinomians. For, if God has predestined us to eternal salvation, why should we not live as we please, without moral restraint, and in defiance of divine law? Paul has already answered this objection in chapter 6. Those whom God has chosen and called he has united to Christ in his death and resurrection. Having died to sin, they now live a new life to God. And elsewhere Paul writes that ‘he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight’. Indeed, he has predestined us to be conformed to the likeness of his Son (29).

5. Predestination is said to foster narrow-mindedness, as the elect people of God become absorbed only in themselves. The opposite is the case. The reason God called one man Abraham and his one family was not for their blessing only, but that through them all the families of the earth might be blessed. Similarly, the reason God chose his Servant, that shadowy figure in Isaiah whom we see partly fulfilled in Israel, but specially in Christ and his people, was not only to glorify Israel but to bring light and justice to the nations. Indeed these promises were a great spur to Paul (as they should be to us) when he courageously broadened his evangelistic vision to include the Gentiles. Thus, God has made us his own people, not that we should be his favorites, but that we should be his witnesses, ‘to proclaim the glorious deeds of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light’.

So the doctrine of divine predestination promotes humility, not arrogance; assurance, not apprehension; responsibility, not apathy; holiness, not complacency; and mission, not privilege. This is not to claim that there are no problems, but to indicate that they are more intellectual than pastoral.

4 Ways to Survive when Life Gets Hard

life

The reality of evil and suffering is one that a lot of people have argued about and questioned God on, and it is one of the main roadblocks to trusting God and following Him.

In my years as a pastor, I’ve sat with couples who have buried a child, adults burying their parents, I’ve wept with people who just found out they had cancer and a short time to live, listened to the brokenhearted stories about the end of a marriage, a child who wants nothing to do with the family or God, the loss of jobs, financial difficulties, addictions that can’t be beat.

It’s heartbreaking, and those are just the ones I’ve been party to. This doesn’t even count national and international tragedies and natural disasters we see on the news.

Personally, I’ve walked through the loss of friends, difficulty in family and work relationships, loss of jobs, setbacks in life, difficulties in starting our church. I’ve looked at mountains in my own life that seemed impossible to get past, hurt that felt so painful I thought I could never recover, betrayal that ran deep.

And then sits Romans 8:28 – 30. One of the most quoted verses in the Bible, it’s been used for encouragement over and over in the lives of thousands since Paul wrote it.

It says: And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Right now you might be in the midst of a storm in life. You might not be. If you aren’t, the reality is your storm is coming at some point.

Here are a few questions to help you see where you are, where God is in the storm you are and how to have the faith to walk through what you are in and what is ahead:

1. What storm are you facing? It is important to identify the storm you are facing. Often we don’t know what it is. We simply feel down or something feels off from what used to be or what we hope. Often it isn’t a storm we’re in the middle of; we’re simply tired or burned out. Other times we are in the dark place of the storm, and the waves are crashing around us. Also, without identifying our storm, we will struggle to see anything that God is doing because we’ll simply go into survival mode or become jaded.

2. Are there any sins that need to be confronted? By this I mean, have you sinned to get you into the place you are in or has someone else? Take finances for an example. This can cause an incredibly stressful storm, but many of our financial issues are out of our control (housing market, retirement, etc.). Other financial storms are in our control (debt, spending, saving, giving, etc.). Or relational storms: did you hurt someone, are you holding onto something you need to let go of, is there someone you need to confront or forgive and let go?

3. Look back at a storm, hurt or pain from your past. With some distance from that situation, are you able to see God’s hand? I know in my life, the further I am from a situation, the more clarity I have. I will often see my pride and sin more clearly, but I also see God’s hand more clearly. Now the reality is, this side of heaven, we will not have answers for everything that happens to us. We aren’t promised that. We are promised that God will never leave us or forsake us, that all things do serve a purpose in God’s plan and that all things will bring about God’s glory and our good, if we are called by Him and love him. (Romans 8:28 – 30).

4. What does looking at your past help you to see about God with what you are facing? What is He trying to do right now? The reason I like to look back in my life is that it often helps me to move forward. This is why God had the nation of Israel do things to remember how He moved in the past. This is why as followers of Jesus we do things like communion and baptism, to remember how God worked in the past, because that has an enormous impact on our faith into the future.

What to do When You Can’t Stop doing Something

stop

We all have things about ourselves that we hate; things we do, things we think, things we feel and things in our past. We spend a lot of energy trying to change these things. We hope that something will be different tomorrow. Maybe we’ll magically stop looking at porn, stop being so desperate for love, stop feeling lonely, stop saying things at the wrong moment. Maybe that memory will finally go away.

So, we read our Bibles.

Struggling with sin is the normal Christian experience. Not because we don’t have power over sin, we do have power because of the work of Jesus on the cross in our place and rising from the dead. We have the power through the Holy Spirit to battle our sin and win, but we often lose.

In Romans 7, we see this struggle in Paul. Tim Keller lays this out as to why this is the present Christian experience:

  • In the beginning of chapter 7, Paul is talking in the past tense, in verse 14 he changes to the present tense.
  • In  7 – 13, Paul talks about sin killing him, he’s dead, but in verse 14 Paul begins talking about an ongoing struggle with sin. He is fighting sin, struggling but refuses to surrender.
  • In  18 Paul says “I know that nothing good dwells in me.” Those who don’t know Jesus are unaware of being lost and sinful. Without Jesus, we think we can save ourselves or are good on our own.
  • In  22 Paul says, “I delight in God’s law.” If you don’t know Jesus, you can’t delight in God’s law.
  • Keller concludes, “Often we repent of past sin and think it’s done, but God wants to show us how to hate it when the seeds come up again.”

To move forward in freedom, it is important to name, to confess, those things you do that you hate. Those struggles you battle with. To admit what dwells in you. Often we have an inflated view of our goodness, but to experience grace we must understand the depths of our brokenness. Otherwise, what do we need God’s grace and forgiveness for?

I think the process Paul walks through in this passage is instructive for us as we hate our sin:

  1. Do you hate your sin?
  2. Are you willing to fight your sin? To put things into place to win the battle against sin? This might mean you stop going to places, get rid of something, stop spending time with that person.
  3. Do you know how lost you are apart from the grace of Jesus?
  4. Do you delight in the law of God?

Longings, Desires & When I’m Letdown

desires

Often times it is hard to know what our longings mean. They can be sinful and good. They can reveal things about us, past hurts, pain, things we hope and dream for the future. They can be hard to trust, and they can also reveal who we really are, who we wish to become, and sometimes the people we wish to leave behind.

Our longings, though, also reveal deep within us what God has in store for us.

Our longings are a reminder that God has something more, something different; that our bodies and our world are broken and not how God intended them to be.

G.K. Chesterton, who lived in the early 1900’s, is believed to have said, “A man knocking on the door of a brothel is knocking for God.”

Our lives reveal a longing.

This week let me give you a challenge as you think about your longings and what they reveal about you. Here are some questions to ask:

1. What do you most want out of life? Out of this week and month? Many of us do not spend enough time thinking about what we want out of life. These desires, as we’ll see in a minute, not only reveal a lot about us, but they can also be from God. He created desires in us, desires for relationships, for joy, for hobbies and for the place we live.

2. What would truly make you happy in life? This begins to get to the heart of our desires. Does it have to do with relationships, housing, a trip, hobbies, a career, your body? Again, right now don’t judge if it is sinful or not. Simply list out the desire you have.

3. Is that a sinful desire? This is the moment we begin to evaluate our desires and what they show us. Is that desire selfish, for my glory, about my wants? Is it destructive to others? Does it serve me or God? Is this desire all encompassing in my life right now? Does it drive me like an addiction?

4. What do I do if it is a sin? Many of our desires are sins that we need to handle, confess and bring before God. Our desires also reveal our need for God and His grace in our lives. The desires you are convicted of, confess those to God. Confess those sins where you need to, and ask God to change your desires if need be. But don’t hold on to them; bring them to the cross.

5. What do I do if it isn’t a sin? Not all desires are bad. In fact, many of the greatest things people have done for God have been borne out of desire. Those are things that bring passion to our lives and joy that are from God. They are also God’s good gifts. It is good to enjoy a good meal with friends. It is destructive to make that an idol our lives revolve around.

5 Ways to Get the Most out of Reading Your Bible

bible

One of the ways we battle condemnation, guilt, regret, shame, and hurt is through our mind. Our minds are incredibly powerful things. They determine our steps, our feelings, what bothers us, what we think, and the decisions we make that have an enormous impact on the people we become. We often think our minds aren’t that important, that we are feelers, or emotional people making emotional choices.

But we aren’t.

Our minds drive much of what we do. In fact, the New Testament often talks about the battle of our mind, and in numerous places the apostle Paul encourages us about what to think. In Philippians 4:8 he writes, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Why? Because what we think about determines so much.

So, how do you change your thinking? How do you battle your sin in your mind? This is important because much of our sin comes from thinking. We often think we sin and “it just happened.” But it didn’t. We chose to be there, chose to open that website, chose to say those words, chose that person as a friend.

In the same way, through the power of Christ, we can choose to not be there, to say no and not hang out with that person.

To do that, though, requires intentionality and putting on the mind of the Spirit. (Romans 8:5) The best way to do this is through reading the Bible, words inspired by God, authoritative, true and sufficient for our lives. One of the things I love about our church is that we produce daily devotional questions to go along with the sermon that you can subscribe to by emailing here.

As you read through your Bible, it can be daunting. Here are some questions I use to put on the mind of the Spirit:

  1. What does this passage say (not to me, but actually say on its own)?
  2. What words or phrases stood out to me in this passage?
  3. Why do I think those words or phrases stood out?
  4. What is God trying to show me through that?
  5. Are there any sins I need to confess, changes I need to make or steps I need to take because of what I’ve read?

How we Distort the Gospel & God’s Love for Us

gospel

I shared this on Sunday in my sermon on Romans 5:3 – 11 from The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters by Sinclair Ferguson:

This comes to expression when the gospel is preached in these terms: God loves you because Christ died for you!

How do those words distort the gospel? They imply that the death of Christ is the reason for the love of God for me.

By contrast the Scriptures affirm that the love of God for us is the reason for the death of Christ. That is the emphasis of John 3:16. God (i.e. the Father, since here “God” is the antecedent of “his…Son”) so loved the world that he gave his Son for us. The Son does not need to do anything to persuade the Father to love us; he already does!

The subtle danger here should be obvious: if we speak of the cross of Christ as the cause of the love of the Father, we imply that behind the cross and apart from it he may not actually love us at all. He needs to be “paid” a ransom price in order to love us. But if it has required the death of Christ to persuade him to love us (“Father, if I die, will you begin to love them?”), how can we ever be sure the Father himself loves us – “deep down” with an everlasting love? True, the Father does not love us because we are sinners; but he does love us even though we are sinners. He loved us before Christ died for us. It is because he loves us that Christ died for us!

What does it Mean that ‘God Makes us New?’

new

Living with a new heart, new life and new status can be incredibly difficult. I often say that we don’t realize how much freedom we have in Jesus. The reason? We are so used to slavery, what is old and what we know. We know how to live when we care deeply about what other people think, when we let other people define us, when we let our guilt, shame and regret define us. We know those things. They are familiar.

Yet, we long for new. We long for what we are promised in Jesus: freedom, life.

We do nothing to earn this grace. It is given freely by God the Father so that we can be rescued from His wrath. What is amazing is that in Romans 5 we are told that while we were still sinners, before we knew our need for God, for grace, for the cross, Christ died for us.

So what does it look like to live in this new life, this new heart, this new status?

1. Remember what you were saved from. This is what communion reminds us of. In communion we pause and think about not only how broken we were but also what we were rescued from. Maybe a good image to think of is the road that your life was on and where that road was leading. And I’m not talking about hell versus heaven. In real practical terms, what did God rescue you from?

2. Practice confession. 1 John 1:9 says that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins. This verse often gets quoted to people who don’t know Jesus, but 1 John was written to Christians. This means we need to continually confess our sins. Not to be made right with God, because that was accomplished on the cross, but to make sure there is nothing in our hearts that hinders our relationship with God. Confession is not telling God something new. He already knows what wars for our hearts and the brokenness we can fall into. Confession is to remind us of what wars for our hearts and what we need to fight in order to live in the new life of Christ.

3. Remember you didn’t deserve it. It is easy to think we were worth saving because of who we are or what we do, but we aren’t. We didn’t deserve it. God didn’t need to rescue us, yet He did. John Piper said, “God did not spare His Son because it was the only way He could spare us.” If you deserved it, it wouldn’t be grace.

4. Know that Christ’s death is your hope for life. We often focus strictly on eternal life whenever we talk about the life we have in Jesus, but that life starts now. Living in freedom now, bringing God’s kingdom to earth through your life in the power of the Holy Spirit today. When you are tempted to sin, to fly off the handle, to control your life, to let other people define you, remember you were bought and rescued. Your freedom has been granted. That memory, that thought, that mistake, that generational sin passed down, in Christ that isn’t who you are anymore. That, “I’m just the man that ____.”; or “I’m just the woman that _____.” In Christ, that isn’t who you are anymore.

How our Searching Faith often Misses God

searching faith

Boasting is a tricky thing. It is easy to think we don’t boast because we are down on ourselves. We lament how things don’t go our way, how difficult our life has been or even how God could never love or forgive us.

The other side is that we think so much of ourselves. We puff up our talents, gifts, experiences, our behavior and how great we think we are. We have been told over and over that we can do anything. We get trophies simply for showing up.

Both of these views of ourselves get placed on God and have enormous effects on our relationship with God.

The first keeps us from experiencing God’s goodness in difficult times. We keep God at a distance because of our brokenness, never experiencing God as Father, never experiencing His grace or feeling His love. We are so afraid of betrayal, so afraid of God being “like we thought He’d be like” that we don’t trust the Bible. We don’t trust the promises of God. We don’t trust that God always does what is good, right and perfect.

The second keeps us from experiencing God’s joy and peace because we are always doing, always performing, always running, always making sure things are perfect, making sure we keep up with the Joneses in our lives.

Both miss grace.

Both miss joy.

Both miss peace.

Both miss God.

What we see in Romans 4 is that grace is extended. We are made right with God, not by doing something for God, not by being obedient to God, not even by believing in God (the book of James tells us that even the demons believe in God), but we are made right with God and experience His grace when we believe God.

3 Things Habakkuk Teaches Us While we Wait on God

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At some point in your life, you will find yourself waiting on God.

It might be a prayer that is seemingly unanswered. A request for healing, physically or emotionally. It might be a request for guidance or direction for God, a look into an open door that never comes. It might be asking God to change someone or a situation, only to find that it stays the same for years.

The waiting is brutal at times.

Yet, most of our life is spent in the waiting.

Most of our life is spent asking God to deliver us, rescue us, change us.

The waiting can be wasted if we aren’t careful and we find ourselves back waiting again without learning the lessons or seeing the insights we were supposed to see.

Is there a point?

Yes.

Three things happen while we wait on God:

  1. We are reminded we are not God and that we are not in control. Instinctively we know this. Even the people who don’t believe in God know they aren’t God, yet we live with the illusion of control in so many areas of our lives. Thinking we can move people like chess pieces, simply toying with emotions, trying to change someone, manipulate a situation to our liking. When we do this, our heart hardens and we keep God at arms length. While we do this, God sees our pride and moves in the life of others. He will move in our life, but it will not be the way we would like. If you are like me, you don’t like to be reminded that you are not in control. Even if you know you aren’t, you will do everything in your power to keep the smallest shred of control to feel comfort. This again keeps God at arms length and our pride pushes him out.
  2. We are reminded of our need for God. In the waiting we are reminded of our great need for God. If you see your brokenness, you know that you need God. Yet, there are many times that we don’t like to be reminded of our need. This goes with the first one, but many times we like to act like we can save ourselves, save our kids or our spouse, that we can make things right in a relationship, make things right with God. This negates the cross and says, “Jesus I don’t need your sacrifice, I got this.”
  3. We are reminded of where hope is found. In the end, the waiting shows us where our hope is found. Often, the waiting is keeping us from where we want to be, where we believe God wants us to be, the place that will finally bring us everything we have hoped for. A child, a marriage, a job, a degree, a scholarship, a friend, a parent who says, ‘I love you’, the completion of an adoption, a larger church, a home business, getting out of debt. Notice, none of those things are wrong, yet we place so much value on them, that without them we think we aren’t worth anything, we aren’t good enough or important enough. The wait shows us that “thing” while precious, amazing and a longing of our heart is really not where our hope is found. It is good, yes. But not the best, not the greatest hope of Jesus.