Thankfully, We Don’t Fit In

Bible MaskA personal Bible Study I did six years ago made an impact on how I think about my relationship with the world’s culture. That year I studied 1 Peter, a letter that the apostle Peter wrote to Christians who had been scattered to foreign lands as a result of persecution. Many of them continued to face persecution, as a matter of fact. Peter’s letter therefore addressed the difficulties of living faithfully among people who hated the Gospel.
Six years later, my  study of 1 Peter still affects me, I’m pleased to report. The Lord taught  me, as I worked through the dictionaries and commentaries, how His people, because we’ve been regenerated through His word, are really aliens to the rest of humanity. Not just that we are to be separate, but that, if we’re truly born-again and bear the image of our Father, we are by nature separate (holy).
The world draws its nourishment from itself, I suppose. Look through the archives of this blog to find examples of how professing Christians (largely false converts) devour worldly junk food, proving that they belong to the world rather than to the Lord. The confines of today’s essay don’t allow me to cite specific examples without distracting from my main point. Suffice it to say that people feed on human philosophies (even when they delude themselves into thinking those philosophies can integrate with Biblical doctrine) rather than hungering after (to quote Peter) “the pure milk of the word” (1 Peter 2:2).
But if we truly are regenerated by God’s word through the Holy Spirit, there will be consequential implications. Those implications penetrate much deeper than surface things like going to church, sexual chastity and humanitarian actions (as important as all those things are). God actually has “begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). Thus, we are intrinsically different from non-Christians.
Yes, we still feel the old temptations, and sometimes fall into them (our pre-Christian natures don’t accept death willingly). But I can say, from experience, that I’m really uncomfortable around my own sin. When I pursue it, even if I know only God will ever find out what I’m doing, I know I’m not being who I am. I’m being who I would have been apart from Christ. But the Lord has made me a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), with values and desires that, on an ever-increasing level, reflect His nature.
This new nature, precisely because it exchanges my old desires of the flesh for holy desires in keeping with my Heavenly Father’s character, creates a palpable alienation between me and non-Christians. Peter explains with blunt candor that their puzzlement at our unwillingness to participate in sinful practices incite them to persecute us (1 Peter 4:4). Our new nature doesn’t permit us to blend in with the world. And that’s okay.
Sure, it hurts when people call us narrow minded bigots. I’ve experienced that labeling, even from close family members, for decades, so I well understand the temptation to camouflage Christian convictions for the sake of comfort. Yet 1 Peter 4:12-19 encourages us to rejoice in persecution, knowing that it’s actually evidence of our relationship with the Lord. What a joy to know that we resemble our heavenly Father!
Growing to be like Him necessarily alienates Christians from the rest of world. We can, and should, engage with non-Christians on some level, but our core values can’t help but depart from theirs as we feed on Scripture and learn to see things from our Father’s perspective. Peter repeatedly hammers home the point that, if we are true Christians, we cannot fit in with everyone else. And why would we want to?

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The Blessing Of Failing At Yoga

In 1966, many people in Marin County, California (where I grew up) developed an interest in spiritual experiences other than traditional Christianity. In accordance with that spiritual climate and influenced by a co-worker who liked experimenting with the various trends of that era, my mom donned a black leotard and enrolled in a local yoga  class. (I have reason to suspect that other members of her church also took yoga.)

After a few sessions, Mom came to believe that, although I obviously couldn’t do the poses, the breathing exercises would be good for my lungs. Additionally, she hoped the meditation might reduce my muscle rigidity caused by my Cerebral Palsy. So she canceled our babysitter and took us to class with her.

Being the type of twelve-year-old who eagerly embraced anything new and different (remember, in 1966 very few people had even heard about yoga), I felt really special because my family took yoga. I remember trying to teach some of the breathing techniques to a friend at school. Far from being resistant, I loved yoga!

Yet I couldn’t  seem to get the hang of meditating. I tried, but my active little mind simply refused to empty itself. And the breathing techniques demanded more effort than I wanted to make. After only a few weeks, the frustration at my inability to understand and achieve a meditative state led me to conclude that I couldn’t do yoga. I still thought it was wonderful; it just wasn’t for me.

I knew, even then, that yoga came from Hinduism. Back then, I believed all religions worshiped the same God, so I saw no contradiction between yoga and the liberal form of “Christianity” that my mom’s church modeled. But soon after the Lord convinced me that Jesus alone provides salvation, I realized the demonic origins of all eastern spirituality. Though I didn’t enjoy displeasing my mother, I had to renounce yoga, steadfast in my conviction that it represents darkness. Scripture commanded me to separate from it.

14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
    and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
17 Therefore go out from their midst,
    and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
    then I will welcome you,
18 and I will be a father to you,
    and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.” ~~2 Corinthians 6:14-18 (ESV)

Admittedly, I separated from yoga (and other new age practices) with a self-righteous attitude that now breaks my heart. I believe I could have honored Christ more had I demonstrated more humility. That said, I have no doubt that I must stand firm in my position that yoga and Biblical Christianity have absolutely nothing in common.

So it troubles me that many evangelicals now incorporate yoga into their “devotions,” believing that their poses (which represent various Hindu deities) enable them to “worship” the Lord Jesus Christ on a deeper level. Those who practice so-called “Holy Yoga” in reality pollute themselves and, by extension, the Body of Christ. I stand so decidedly against yoga, particularly when professing Christians embrace it, because I love Christ enough to want His Church to worship Him in purity.

Let me repeat that my inability to practice breathing and meditation did not embitter me toward yoga. During the five years between my last yoga class and my conversion to Christ, I wholeheartedly supported Mom’s interest in yoga, and regretted my failure to grasp meditation.That failure, however, causes me to rejoice that God overruled my desire to practice even these two aspects of yoga. In His faithful providence, He protected me from yoga’s demonic influences so that I could worship Him biblically.  May He likewise keep other Bible-believing Christians from this damning practice.

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A Question Of Choice

cropped-cropped-cropped-img_4654.jpgGenerally, evangelism should present evidence of a person’s need for salvation, followed by an explanation that Jesus died as a substitute for that person, rising again as a guarantee of eternal life for those who would believe in Him. From there, evangelism should instruct the person to repent of their sin and put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. I have little doubt that I’ll write future blog posts elaborating on these points.

Neither John nor I came to faith as a result of such a presentation, however. Yet the Holy Spirit exposed us to Scripture, and worked through that Scripture to give us saving faith (please see Romans 10:17). I believe our rather unconventional conversions each testify to God’s Irresistible Grace.

An updated phrase for Irresistible Grace (and a phrase I used yesterday) is effectual call.” Both terms emphasize the idea that the people God elects for salvation will respond to Him. Obviously, I can’t type out all the verses and passages that substantiate this doctrine, but provides this helpful compilation.

Our Armimian brothers and sisters, many of whom genuinely know and love the Lord, argue that Irresistible Grace violates the doctrine of free-will. I agree! The Bible, even in the verses that appear to teach free-will, consistently affirms the ultimate sovereignty of God. Therefore, He gives us a willingness to choose Him as a result of our regeneration.

In addressing the matter of the effectual call, it follows, we must maintain that the doctrine of free-will suggests that God is at the mercy of human choice. Arminians believe that God’s foreknowledge of who would respond to the Gospel determined who He included as His elect. I certainly used to embrace that theory. But eventually He confronted me with Ephesians 1:3-10.

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (ESV)

Notice verse 4, which says that the Father chose us. It gives absolutely no indication that He looked helplessly down the “corridors of time” to see who would decide to follow Jesus. This passage depicts a God Who fully controls redemptive history (and all history, for that matter) according to His plans and purpose.

Making the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth dependent on whether or not or not we choose to be saved erodes His sovereignty. As a matter of fact, the doctrine of free-will pretty much transfers sovereignty to us. Isn’t that essentially blasphemous? I think so!

Additionally, the doctrine of free-will assumes that human beings possess an ability to choose to follow Christ. I’ll remind you, in considering this point, of Ephesians 2:1-3.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  (ESV)

These verses describe unregenerate people. In other words, this is who you and I were prior to becoming Christians (and who you are if  you don’t yet have saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ). Our physical bodies functioned, but we had no capacity or desire to  respond to the things of God. We lacked any ability to come to Him on our own volition (consider Romans 3:10-18). Consequently, we can only choose to follow Christ after the Holy Spirit does His regenerating work in us.

Of course, entire books devote themselves to refuting the doctrine of free-will, beginning with Martin Luther’s The Bondage of the Will (which I’m currently slogging through), so I hardly think that this minuscule article  will settle the question. But I wanted you to see the Scriptures that have most helped me work through this objection to Irresistible Grace.

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The Comfort Of Irresistible Grace: A Personal Account

544ed-tulip2bwaterThe Lord, in His mercy, blessed me with a husband who gently and patiently introduced me  to the doctrines of grace, and finally brought me to the idea  of Irresistible Grace. We’ll examine this doctrine in a little more depth tomorrow, but today I want to explain why this doctrine means so much to me. I’ll begin by giving you the back story.

But first, let me clearly state that I don’t know what may have transpired between my mother and the Lord just before she died two years ago. I begin today’s article with that admission, lest you suppose that I’m arrogantly judging whether or not she was saved. The evidence available to me indicates that she rejected Biblical Christianity up until the end, but 3000 miles separated us during the last nine years of her life. She didn’t even tell me she had been on Hospice for three months, or that her cancer had returned, until four days before her death, so she might not have told me about any conversion to Christ she may have undergone.

As a new Christian in 1971, I witnessed to Mom constantly. I continued being a typical teenager, rebelling against her authority, and I indulged my sins of anger and selfishness well into my 40s (I lived with her most of my life). So she saw, more clearly than most people, my failure to practice what I preached.

Whenever we’d talk about the Lord, she’d pretty much say that she  didn’t believe in heaven or hell and that the Bible, though inspirational and of tremendous literary importance, wasn’t God’s Word. Once, she declared that all my talk of Christ’s shed blood was rather gruesome.

At the time, I could only see that my hypocrisy kept Mom from “accepting” the Lord. I believed that God held me responsible for her salvation. Despite those convictions, I couldn’t seem to behave in a more Christlike manner, and I grew less bold in proclaiming the Gospel to her as years passed. I worried that I’d feel guilty if she died without coming to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. If she went to hell, it would certainly be all my fault!

Yet my mom supported my Christianity, always making sure I did daily Bible reading, insisting that I give money to my church and letting us hold Tuesday night Bible Studies in her living room. Looking back, I believe she respected my faith. As imperfect as my witness was, obviously the Lord made sure that He showed Mom His presence in my life. Furthermore, in the five years before I moved to Massachusetts to marry John, He did help me model a lifestyle more consistent with a godly character. Still imperfect, mind you, but much better.

Have you noticed, in reading this blog entry,  how often I’ve emphasized my actions?  Yes, I did many things badly in my evangelistic efforts toward Mom, and I’ve confessed those sins with a repentant heart. But as God has exposed me to teachings on Irresistible Grace, He’s enabled me to understand that His effectual call would have brought her to salvation (and indeed may have done so) regardless of my sins and missteps. Although I had to confess those sins before Him, I also had to repent of believing that Mom’s salvation depended on anything I did.

In reality, He had exposed Mom to the Gospel long before she even met my dad, and He certainly made sure that she heard it several times from me and my friends. As I’ll show you tomorrow, when He calls a person to salvation, His Word gives that person the faith to respond to His call. Therefore, if He called Mom, even on her deathbed, nothing could have possibly prevented her from believing in Him. Conversely, if He didn’t call her, nothing I did could have given her saving faith.

God does command Christians to evangelize, both by declaring His Word and by living holy lives. But He makes it clear that only He does the actual saving. We can trust His sovereignty and wisdom, finding peace in knowing that He has prefect control.

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Hey Jude –His Distinguished Readers

Tulip SilhoutteA few weeks ago, Clint Archer wrote a piece for The Cripplegate entitled To Whom It May Concern: The Called, Loved, Kept, in which he examined Jude 1 in relation to the doctrine of Irresistible Grace. Boy, did that blog post get me excited! I’d already planned to write this Bible Study on Jude, and I knew I needed to do some essays on Irresistible Grace, so it thrilled me that Archer showed me the connection between the two!

Since I don’t want to simply reduplicate Archer’s article in my own words, however, I implore you to read it yourselves. As you do, please scroll down to the comments section to see his response to Benders, which offers important keys to understanding the distinction between the general call and the effectual call. I hope to write my own blog entry on that distinction later this week, Lord willing.

Piggybacking off of Archer’s blog post, let’s start looking at Jude 1 for ourselves.

Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James,

To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: ~~Jude 1 (ESV)

Those words (“called,” “beloved ” and “kept”) obviously refer to Christians, and we usually read them rather quickly in our impatience to get to the meat of Jude’s epistle. But, as Archer’s essay so beautifully demonstrates, the three terms Jude uses to describe Christians should be examined in order to ascertain exactly who qualifies to be considered as a Christian.

Jude’s main theme (actually pretty much his only theme) in this letter concentrates on warning his readers about false teachers within their congregations (Jude 3-4). As we will see in later installments of this study, these false teachers had carefully infiltrated the churches, and their subtlety made them almost indistinguishable from the true  Christians. With that as the case, Jude wants to assure his readers of their secure standing with the Lord (Jude 24).

The second word, “beloved,” keeps the words “called” and “kept” from becoming dry theology, as Archer so poignantly explains, so I’ll say little about it here. Yet I   must emphasize his point that the calling and the  keeping both result from the Father’s love. They are, as a matter of fact, direct expressions of His love. Ephesians 1:4-5, a necessary cross-reference for this issue, clearly states  that predestination (the effectual calling to salvation) comes from the Father’s love.

So what does Jude mean by the term, “called?” Like Archer, I must go back to Romans 8:30 for explanation.

And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.  (ESV)

This  cross-reference blatantly shows the relationship between election and the effectual call to salvation. God calls Christians toward justification and glorification. False teachers, on the other hand, have been predestined to judgment and eternal condemnation (Jude 4).

In calling us to justification and  glorification, the Lord also calls Christians to proclaim His excellencies (1 Peter 2:9), in contrast to the false teachers who essentially served their own sensual desires (Jude 16). Our calling, therefore has a distinct purpose which points back to  bringing honor and glory to Jesus.

Let’s go back to Romans 8:30 as we briefly  look at the phrase “kept for Jesus Christ.” As Archer’s essay shows, this “keeping” assures us that God’s calling is secure. Again, because it’s effectual, it cannot be taken away. 1 Peter 1:5 says that God’s power actually guards us for final salvation.

Our calling is effectual because it takes us into eternity. And it does so, not so much for our sake, but for Jesus Christ.  The fact that the Father keeps us for Jesus lets us know that Jesus has a stake in whether or not our calling takes us all  the  way to salvation.

Sadly, I didn’t get to say much about Irresistible Grace in this entry today. When I address the topic later this week, however, perhaps you can draw from what we’ve studied today to gain greater understanding of how this doctrine works out in helping us discern false teachers. Certainly, Jude wastes no time in establishing a difference

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Saturday Sampler: September 18- September 24

raggedy-ann-samplerWriting for The Federalist, Hans Fiene tells us (tongue in cheek, of course) How To Make The Bible Support Any Sexual Practice In 3 Easy Steps. Dear sisters in Christ, we desperately need to understand Scripture properly exactly because people really do twist verses in the ways Hans describes in order to justify sin.

Along those lines, Rachel of danielthree18 shows us several Consequences of Mishandling Scripture in our conversations, or even on our social media posts. Ladies, we really must be careful to quote God’s Word correctly and with reverence.

In her article, Pastoral Propriety with Church Ladies and 7 Ways Women Can Help, Michelle Lesley offers practical tips for maintaining purity in interactions with your pastors. Most of her points reflect sheer commonsense, which really isn’t as common as it should be.

You might want to read Misconceptions of Grace by Sarah Bubar on the Biblical Woman blog, especially if you view grace as  something that God gives us freely. Sarah takes us back to God’s Word to remind us what Jesus paid in order that we might benefit from His grace. She also encourages us that grace empowers us to respond to the Lord’s generosity.

Glen Chatfield of The Watchman’s Bagpipes shares an interesting quotation from Lloyd-Jones on How to Preach the Gospel that is decidedly more relevant today than it was  when Lloyd-Jones first wrote it. How thankful John and I are to belong to a church that relies on the simple proclamation of God’s Word rather than than pragmatic gimmicks and worldly entertainment!

Superstitions permeate our culture, and even Bible-believing Christians struggle with them. Jessica Pickowicz of Beautiful Thing kicks off a new series on this seldom discussed topic with Portraits of Superstition: The Obnoxious Knocker. I like her gentle way of bringing us back to trusting the Lord.

Kim Shay has a wonderful article in Out of the Ordinary entitled Theological Objections that challenges the aversion to theology that floods evangelical circles today. She reminds us what theology is and why we need it.

I’m strongly recommending that you read Glen Chatfield’s Open Letter to “Worship” Leaders and share it on social media.  Yeah — it’s that important!

I absolutely love Does God speak in unidentified promptings? by Elizabeth Prata of The End Time. She approaches the matter differently than people usually do, which makes her point all the more effective. Please read this exceptional essay and consider its Biblical perspective.




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What’s Wrong With The Box?

walker_8th-gradeEveryone wants to “think outside the box” these days. And I do agree with the idea of innovation, creativity and exploration. My husband, for instance, ardently objected to wearing blue jeans until he was in his mid-50’s. His box told him that jeans were for farmers. But one day, our neighbor gave him three pairs of jeans. After I coaxed him to try on a pair, he decided jeans were comfortable! For a few years afterwards he only wore his Dockers to church!

So, I’m not opposed to broadening one’s horizons or trying new things. Having said that, however, I believe the box can be too quickly discarded. I believe, very firmly, that the box, more often than not, provides the framework for innovation, creativity and exploration.

Let me explain my position by taking you back to my verse writing class in college. My professor insisted that, before we could successfully write free verse, we needed to learn to write sonnets. Sonnets are very restrictive in their form. They must be exactly 14 lines of iambic pentameter, following one of two specific rhyme schemes. The first quatrain presents the main idea, generally in terms of a metaphor. The next quatrain adds to the metaphor, giving it a bit more complexity and texture. And then, the all-important third quatrain adds a twist (or, as my professor put it, “creates a problem”). The final couplet (not a quatrain this time) both resolves the conflict and gives the reader a new image.

To defend sonnet-writing to that 1977 class of  young adults still enamored with the free-spirited ideals of Woodstock, Betty Freidan’s bra-burning and the questioning of authority , my professor kept reminding us that “Freedom is in the form.” To my surprise, he was right!  As I practiced taming my thoughts into iambic pentameter, using the strict rhyme scheme to select vibrant words, and using the quadrants to unfold my metaphors, I enjoyed watching my sonnets come alive. The form, rather than oppressing my creativity, generated it. I saw my writing soar with a freshness that I’d never seen in the trendy  free verse I’d been producing since high school.

I often carry my professor’s dictum, “Freedom is in the form,” into my relationship with Christ. In contrast to people who live life as “free spirits” who have no concrete direction, I find solid guidance through the teachings of Scripture. Admittedly I do so very imperfectly (just as I still write sonnets very imperfectly) but I’m so thankful that God gives me a framework for my decisions, my relationships and my morals. The Lord, through His written Word, provides the structure that enables me to soar into worship.

King David, in Psalm 119, demonstrated that God’s Law provides wonderful liberty for those who abide in its principles.

25 My soul clings to the dust;
    give me life according to your word!
26 When I told of my ways, you answered me;
    teach me your statutes!
27 Make me understand the way of your precepts,
    and I will meditate on your wondrous works.
28 My soul melts away for sorrow;
    strengthen me according to your word!
29 Put false ways far from me
    and graciously teach me your law!
30 I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
    I set your rules before me.
31 I cling to your testimonies, O Lord;
    let me not be put to shame!
32 I will run in the way of your commandments
    when you enlarge my heart! ~~Psalm 119:25-32 (ESV)

That image of running in the way of His commandments reminds me of the walker I had in childhood that allowed me to run! I needed to be in leg braces, and to be strapped into the structure (pictured above), but once in it, I enjoyed running all over the playground. To this day, I remember the exhilarating feeling of freedom that running gave me. When I ran, I appreciated the walker. Rather than regarding it as an encumbrance, I took tremendous joy in my emancipation.

Obedience to God’s Word emancipates Christians from sin, setting us free to serve the Lord with abandon! The structure, which the world so often characterizes as restrictive, actually allows us to run like children. When I reject the supposed freedom to rebel against God’s commands, I enjoy the same exhilaration that so thrilled me when I ran in that walker.

It sounds so cool to “think outside the box,” but perhaps we can’t really think clearly  outside the box of Scripture. As I see life, the proverbial box gives me the framework so essential to innovation, creativity and exploration. Whether I’m writing, remembering my walker or working out my Christian faith, I’m grateful for the structure. Sometimes, I’ll “think outside the box,” but I’m so delighted to actually have that beautiful box!

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The Delight Of Irresistible Grace

Tulips01John didn’t hold a gun to my head, forcing me to marry him. Neither did he resort to blackmail. He never threatened me. In no way did he coerce me into this marriage. Rather, I married him both willingly and eagerly, absolutely delighted that he would choose someone like me for his bride. I guess you could say that, even though he chose me, I entered the marriage of my own free will.

But looking at it another way, I found John irresistible, even from our first online conversation. I’d arrange my schedule so that I’d almost always be home and on my computer by 4:00, when I knew he’d be online. I simply couldn’t stay away from him, even during that brief time when I’d broken our engagement. Obviously, I didn’t want to resist him. But that doesn’t negate the fact that I felt drawn to him in a way that I found…well, irresistible!

I say all this because it helps me understand the doctrine of Irresistible Grace. While all analogies break down at some point, reflecting on the way I felt inescapably drawn to John, as well as my sense of wonder that he selected me (when he could have had any woman on the planet), gives me a way of understanding how the Lord draws His elect.

Christians throughout the centuries have fought against the teachings on election, predestination and Irresistible Grace by arguing that God gives us a Free Will to either choose or reject Christ. They often interpret passages about election by emphasizing God’s foreknowledge. According to their theology, God elected those that He already knew would accept His invitation to salvation. Thus, a person makes the ultimate decision regarding whether or not they would be included in His elect.

I sympathize with those who take that position more than people might think. Until very recently, it may surprise you to know, I pretty much subscribed to that line of reasoning. Although it would be sinful for me to speculate on why others hold tightly to the doctrine of Free Will and the idea that election depends on God’s foreknowledge, I can explain my reason for embracing them: pride.

I wanted to take some of the credit for having become a Christian, and the whole idea that a sovereign God actually elected me was just too humbling. I admired myself for “deciding” to follow Jesus,  and I’d often word my testimony to gain the admiration of other Christians.

So yes, I actually understand why the very thought of Irresistible Grace troubles Christians who believe in Free Will. Furthermore, I acknowledge that most of those people probably have purer motives than I had.

Yet, Scripture always nagged at me, faithfully confronting me with the reality that God had called me to Himself without any assistance from me. Many passages worked together to convince me that He had done all the work, but I have neither the time nor the space today to show all of them to you. Therefore I want to limit myself to the one passage (familiar to my regular readers) that the Holy Spirit used to finally change my mind.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. ~~Ephesians 2:1-10 (ESV)

Notice the premise that, until God showed His mercy, we were spiritually dead. Ladies, let me state the obvious: dead people can’t do anything for themselves! But taking it even  deeper, dead people have no wills even to choose life. It follows, then, that God gave us the willingness to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ when He brought us from the death of our sins to life in Him.

Advocates of Free Will typically insist that the doctrine of Irresistible Grace reduces us to robots. But as I mediate on the beautiful description of transformation in Ephesians 2:1-10 (as well as other Bible passages about His sovereign grace in choosing His elect), I see myself willingly responding to Him. Rather than dutiful or grudging obedience, I take great joy in following Him. And, quite frankly, I find His grace totally irresistible.

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Hey Jude — Who Do You Think You Are?

Shadow BibleWe’re going to open our study of Jude’s epistle today by digging in to verse 1 pretty much immediately. But first, since the entire book consists of only 25 verses, I want you to click this link to begin to familiarize yourselves with its message. After all, in any Bible Study we must constantly keep the context front and center.

As we look at verse 1, we notice that Jude immediately introduces himself and identifies his readers:

Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James,

To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: (ESV)

Most people (myself included) tend to skim over such verses, eager to get to the  “good stuff.” This dismissive attitude, however, causes us to miss so much of what the Holy Spirit wants to teach us (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Jude’s opening words, far from being a necessary convention in First Century letter writing, reveal much about Christian humility as well as about God’s grace in calling us to Himself.

Today, we’ll only have time to talk about how Jude introduces himself. I had fully intended to work through the entire verse, but it contains just too much rush through it. And I want you to really grasp just how humbly Jude presents himself to his readers.

Jude starts out by referring to himself as a “servant of Jesus Christ,” which indicates his submission to the Lord. So right away he sets the example of putting himself at God’s disposal. He doesn’t expect Christ to cater to his petty demands. On the contrary, Jude expects to follow the Lord’s commands.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the implications of servanthood. Jude identifies himself as Christ’s slave. As such, he obeys the Lord by living for the sole purpose of pleasing Him. The Lord Jesus Christ owns Jude, having purchased him with His blood (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

The implications of Jude’s declaration of servanthood extend well beyond merely obeying the Lord’s commands, however. In the latter part of the First Century, service to Christ carried consequences that 21st Century Christians in America haven’t yet faced. Jude probably wrote his epistle between 60 and 70 A.D., after most of the apostles had been killed because of their service to Christ. Other Christians endured varying levels of persecution. Clearly, identifying oneself as a servant of Jesus Christ amounted to putting a target on one’s back and inviting people  to shoot. So Jude introduces himself as a servant of Jesus Christ, fully aware that doing so may sign his death warrant.

Next, Jude tells us that he’s the brother of James. Most of the commentaries I read tend toward the theory that he means James, the half-brother of Jesus. Scripture makes a pretty good case for this possibility by informing us that two of the Lord’s half-brothers were, in fact, named James and Judas (Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3).

If Jude actually is one of the Lord’s brothers, he shows remarkable humility in attaching himself to James rather than Jesus. One commentary suggested that, after the resurrection, both brothers saw the Lord as distinct from them, and yet James allowed the apostle Paul to identify him as the Lord’s brother (Galatians 1:19). I believe that Jude, in calling himself James’ brother, models a servant’s humble attitude.

Next Monday, if the Lord wills, we’ll meet Jude’s intended audience to learn a little about the doctrine of Irresistible Grace.
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