Monday, July 30, 2007

"Jesus" Gets A Divorce

It's sad that there are so many charlatans and deceivers claiming to represent Jesus Christ and Christianity these days. A story today on CNN highlights one such man, Jose Luis De Jesus Miranda, founder of cult group "Growing in Grace", who claims to be the second coming of Christ. According to the CNN report, Miranda's wife of five years, Josephina Torres, is now suing him for divorce, alleging he verbally and physically abused her, and that he committed adultery with many women in the church. The report also gives evidence that Miranda is an extravagant, admitted gambler.

A group whose leader claims to be the second coming of Christ, yet teaches his followers that there is no such thing as sin or hell; who flaunts his possessions and jokes about his gambling, is very obviously a blasphemer and not even a true Christian, let alone the second coming of Christ.

Besides the thousands within the group itself being misled and deceived, the other sad thing is that the world sees such people and finds perhaps another excuse to reject Christianity. But maybe they cannot be blamed for being unable to distinguish between such false teachers and true Christians, when there is so much bogus teaching even in "popular" Christianity.

Jesus warned us in advance about these kinds of false teachers (Luke 9:21, Matthew 24:4-5). These are signs that Jesus may be coming back soon.

May we then also rid ourselves of all hypocrisy, closing the gap between who are in Christ (perfected saints without sin) and what we are in current experience (not yet fully-redeemed saints who daily struggle with sin and fleshly temptations). Thank you Lord for your mercy and for your grace that has not left sin unpunished, but which placed upon Jesus, the Lamb of God, the sin of us all, as He bore the penalty for sin for those who believe in Him. Amen!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Compassion for Tammy Faye and other Health-Wealth Disciples

The other day an item appeared on a well-known Christian blog that showed a video clip of Tammy Faye Messner's last appearance on the Larry King show. The blog pointed out that Mrs. Messner, a long-time proponent of "Word-Faith" theology, was now (in her illness) a vivid illustration of the false hope of that brand of teaching. Sadly, a few days after appearing on Larry King, Tammy Faye died.

Now, while I have come to the view that the way healing is taught in the Word-Faith movement misinterprets Scripture in many instances and is therefore incorrect, nonetheless I feel that compassion should be shown towards someone like Tammy Faye. To me it is not in very good taste to show footage of a deathly ill woman just for the purpose of scoring a point against Word-Faith teaching-- even if one's point is correct. Christians especially ought to have, and show, compassion for the sick and dying. If her hope in God and in His healing was misinformed because of Word-Faith teaching, all the more reason to show sympathy towards her.

I wasn't very familiar with Tammy Faye, not ever having watched the PTL show, but she seemed to have many fans, even now long after the heyday of the popularity of her Praise the Lord telecast with then-husband Jim Bakker. In this, her last public appearance, Tammy Faye held herself with dignity, expressing her faith and hope, as best she knew how. She came across as a gentle, kind soul, yet with the courage to show her dying face to the world.

The Healing/Prosperity Message of "Word-Faith" Teachers (aka Health/Wealth Gospel)

These days as I surf the Christian channels it seems I keep encountering shows featuring testimonies and/or demonstrations of people supposedly miraculously healed. Are these "miracles" actually taking place? I must admit I view them with a mixture of desirous curiosity and strong skepticism. I wish that the miracles they say are happening were truly happening. But it seems that for every testimony one hears about people receiving healing, there are also the many who are not healed. This latter group includes people who "faithfully" follow popular Word-Faith teachings like "healing is in the atonement", or the notion that healing will come by spoken, persistent proclamation of certain scriptural promises (this demonstrates faith, through which God then brings about healing). I know, because my wife was one of those sincere people not instantly healed though putting such teachings into practice [She is however much better these days and we certainly thank God for her progress in healing. It's just that we don't think that there is a correlation between seeking God for healing via the Word-Faith approach and her progress to date].

Even as my wife and I several years ago were applying such teachings to our own circumstances, I had certain misgivings. I thought: if our expectation of healing is founded upon Christ's atoning work, so that together with forgiveness of sins, healing is the believer's birthright, then why isn't the believer in the atonement who seeks healing necessarily always healed?

Sin is always forgiven (without the one exception of "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit") through the cross of Christ. If then this "healing in the Atonement" teaching is true (that the atonement means sickness as well as sin is removed from the believer), we would expect that healing would occur in the believer's life in every case. Yet the reality is that there always are exceptions to healing- there are countless people who pray for healing with faith, but do not receive it. Some have prayed and been healed at one time, and yet have not received healing the next time they have asked. It is known as well that even prominent Word-Faith style teachers have experienced sickness and negative answers to requests for healing.

Unfortunately, lay people who follow these teachings and have not been healed may feel both discouraged and guilty. This is how my wife and I felt. Surely if God heals all, the fault for non-healing must lie with us, rather than with God. So people end up concluding that they have not exercised the right kind (or amount) of faith, and must be to blame for having missed out on the promised healing. Word-Faith teaching does try to explain non-healing, but their answers aren't satisfying: the bottom line in their explanations seems to be that a non-healing indicates defective faith somewhere, or something left undone by the believer.

But for my wife and myself, when healing did not come through the Word-Faith approach, we began to consider other explanations. Could it be that God is actually sovereign over all things our lives and did not want the healing to happen at this time, for His own reasons? This at times seemed like a horrible thought. For Word-Faith teaches that God doesn't inflict illness upon His children just for the sake of teaching them life-lessons, or to discipline them. But if sickness is a suffering, and suffering may be used by God to mold us in Christ-likeness, then why might He not allow a physical suffering in our lives to teach us? Why is the suffering of sickness put into a different category by this type of teaching? Indeed through study of the ancient viewpoint presented in classic Reformed theology, and also as we thought through these issues, we began to think differently about healing.

We Are Being Redeemed

The guarantee of physical healing in this life simply does not fit with the stage of redemption we are in-- we still live with mortal bodies that get sick and eventually die. The perfect physical healing that comes through the atonement will indeed become ours, but only when our bodies are fully redeemed. Until then, we deal with sickness and death in this life. God may, and often does, heal now in answer to prayer, but we cannot demand that our prayers for healing be granted because we apply a certain formula based on guarantees the Bible does not actually give.

There is a parallel to this "in-between" redemption in the spiritual realm. Although we are being sanctified by the Spirit of God and will someday be just as He is, becoming Christians did not completely remove sin from our lives as believers. We still live with a "sin principle" that resides within our mortal bodies, and therefore we can and do sin (Romans 7:17-18). Thank God that because the power of sin has been broken we do not have to sin (Romans 6:3-4). The power of the Spirit within us can always help us choose not to sin (1Corinthians 1:13), but in this in-between state of redemption we live in now (Romans 8:18-25), often we do choose to sin (1 John 1:8).

Therefore just as being in Christ doesn't entirely remove the presence of sin from our beings and from our lives, so also the presence of sickness is not yet completely removed from our bodies. Again, we have to deal with sickness and death in this life.

Prosperity Teaching
Closely related to the well-intentioned though mistaken doctrine of healing in the atonement is teaching that Christians must prosper financially/materially. Prosperity teaching says that special material blessings from God are, like physical healing, the birthright of every Christian. These come to us however, only as we "sow our seed", by tithing to our churches and by giving to this or that ministry. In the same way that proclaiming faith in God's promises to heal is supposed to be the vehicle by which God becomes obligated to heal, "sowing seed", in the form of sending money to a particular ministry, is supposed to demonstrate a faith God is absolutely certain to reward. I find preacher after preacher on TV teaching along these lines. Whether the ones sowing seed are thus being blessed by God or not, it may certainly be observed, from the lavish personal wealth of the leaders of ministries promoting this message, that they themselves benefit greatly from all this "seed-sowing". Are such teachers purposefully trying to deceive people then, and teaching these things just so they themselves get rich? I am not saying that. Many are no doubt sincere in teaching this doctrine and believe that they too ought to reap the material harvest that their teaching brings. In fact they may point to their own example, saying, "You can have what I have".

But even unbelievers can see that prosperity teaching does not correlate well with the biblical portrait of the lifestyle of Jesus Christ Himself, who lived humbly during in His time on earth. In contrast to telling followers that they would certainly reap a financial harvest by sowing seed into His ministry, Christ strongly and repeatedly warned against the dangers of covetousness.

Look at the fruit. Does prosperity teaching teach us to live humbly and be satisfied with what we now have materially, or does it promote covetousness? Prosperity teaching seems to say that if we don't have the material things we want (and supposedly ought to have, because God wants to give it) it is only because we have yet to exercise the right kind of faith. With the temptation that lies within the human heart to look to material blessings for comfort and satisfaction, this is a dangerous message. Jesus who knows human hearts more than all recognized this, and rightly warned us to "be on your guard against all kinds of greed".

Truth and Error in Word-Faith teaching
Truly God is our great Provider, and He richly blesses us spiritually, and often materially. But is the truth of the reality of the presence of God in our lives proven only if we are blessed with this world's goods and thus can show the world that "Christianity works"? Is it not rather demonstrated when we show our joyful satisfaction in God Himself, whether or not we have been richly blessed materially, and by our contentment with whatever we have been given?

Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs (1Timothy 6:6-10)

Is Word-Faith all wrong then? Personally, I think there is truth mixed in with a lot of error and mis-emphasis. The truth of course is that our God is indeed a miracle-working, "nothing is impossible" kind of God, and we should therefore raise our expectations of what He can do in and through our lives. Certainly God works through such faith in Him, faith that is depending upon Him alone to bring about wonderful results we can't even foresee or fully imagine.

But the great error and mis-emphasis in Health/Prosperity teaching is to make material blessings or physical healing the proof that God is at work in our lives, the proof that He is indeed a good God. What of poor Christians who live in underdeveloped nations? What of faithful Christians all over the world who get cancer and suffer or die? Are such believers ignorant of their supposedly invulnerability in Christ to such suffering? If they just knew how to pray with the right faith would they suddenly be healed of all sickness and poverty? The answer to these questions ought to be obvious. Despite the teaching of some, Jesus Christ was not a rich man leading an extravagant lifestyle and neither were His followers. They seemed to have what they needed (food, clothing) and even enough to be generous to others. But the early Christian community lived with a sense that Christ's return was imminent, and they were not living a lifestyle of building up for themselves "treasures on earth".

Also not every believer in this community always lived in perfect health. There are New Testament examples of those who were became ill (among them great leaders in the church, including Trophimus, Timothy and the great Apostle Paul). Since Jesus taught that it is "easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God," (because of the way wealth tricks us into worshiping it rather than God), does it make sense then that Christians should be exhorting one another to prosperity in this life?

Can a Christian Be Rich Then?
Does this mean that a Christian who seeks to do well in his field and to make a good living sins? Not necessarily. If in pursuing the course that God has mapped out for us and using our God-given talents we prosper and even become wealthy, we will be good Christians as we steward these resources to give generously to the work of the kingdom. We should also enjoy without guilt the blessings God has given. But what is driving us? Are we after the comfort and security of wealth, trusting in it rather than God for our security? Are we keeping money and material blessings in their proper place, as we pursue the priorities of God? These are difficult things for us all, for the human heart retains its temptation to make idols of riches and comfort and all sorts of worldly things, even though we have truly become new creatures in Christ. So we must be on our guard against covetousness, as Jesus warned.

May the Lord forgive us if we have made health and wealth the measure of our faithfulness to Christ or of His goodness to us. May He teach me and every believer to eradicate the idols from our hearts. May we have compassion for those lured by false ideas, whether they are in the world or whether they are Christians. May we learn to live fully by the truth of God's word, and teach others to do so as well, and so be set free.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money (Matthew 6:19-24)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The "Random" Meme (Isn't that Redundant?)

My Godblogger 2005 friend Charlie Lehardy has tagged me for a "meme". What's a meme, you ask? Well, on the Internet it seems to be defined simply as one blogger asking another blogger to answer a series of questions, so that we all can get to know each other a bit better. Isn't that special?

I don't always like memes, but this one looks like fun. Charlie's meme answers were both interesting and amusing.

Here's the rules for this particular "Random" meme (which, as I ask in the title of this post, seems redundant, since all memes are a bit random, right?):

* Let others know who tagged you.
* Post 8 random facts about yourself.
* Post these rules.
* Tag 8 others to continue the meme

And now here are 8 random facts about myself.

1. Lousy jobs I was lousy at: One of my first jobs was being a messenger (by foot) for a printing company in Manhattan. I once lost a package en route to my destination (left it on the seat in the subway platform--miraculously, I wasn't fired).

I was also an ice cream scooper at a popular Häagen-Dazs store in Greenwich Village. Somehow, I beat out an entire city block of people who had interviewed for this coveted position. Soon thereafter, I quit. (At the time, I could eat a pint of their ice cream and not gain an ounce. Now, I gain weight just thinking about eating a pint of Häagen-Dazs).

In the summer of 1985 I had a job folding towels in a factory- yes, really. I got fired because I wasn't folding fast enough (I don't know how I got this job in the first place--I suck at folding towels)!

2. To calm me down as a baby, my Mom would put on some music, which mesmerized and fascinated me. I was so cute.

3. When I was in fifth grade I won my school's spelling bee, but then lost in the regional competition. I remember the spelling of words by "seeing" them in my mind.

4. I didn't get a driver's license until I was already in my early twenties (which isn't completely unusual if you're growing up in the New York City area). My first car was a white Toyota Tercel I bought from my Mom for a dollar. It lasted a long time, but towards "the end", the steering wheel would shake almost uncontrollably whenever I drove the car, like it was possessed. Fortunately, I turned in the car to the dump before it killed me (turns out the axle was on the verge of snapping).

5. Charlie and I have this trait in common-- while I often don't remember the words to songs, I have fantastic "auditory" memory. Especially on songs I really like, I can recall their parts in detail; bass lines, harmonies, drums, guitar parts, etc.

6. When I was 18 or 19, I played the lead part of Tony, leader of the Jets, in a community production of "West Side Story".

7. I wasn't raised in a church-going family, but by God's grace came to be a Christian in my early twenties. Among the odd means God used to reach me was the Hal Lindsey book, "The Late Great Planet Earth, and also a documentary film called "Say Amen Somebody".

8. I would have thought I'd be interested, but for some reason I never examined the Arminian/Calvinist debate very closely until recently, after already being a Christian 20 plus years. However I believe life-changing and positive results will emerge from this study of the "doctrines of grace".

To continue the meme, I hereby tag the following bloggers:

Steve Camp
Dan Edelen
Josh Harris
Mark Swanson
Tim Challies
Rich Tatum
Amy K. Hall
LaShawn Barber

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Joe Carter, What Were You Thinking?

Joe Carter of the evangelical outpost has one of the most highly regarded Christian blogs, and just today he posted his top 100 influential Godblogs. Jordan's View was... not on his list. Therefore I must ask: Joe, what were you thinking?

Seriously though, I think that it would have been good to make the list, since it would have perhaps brought more readers my way. Did I not make it because I need to write about something other than my analytical Arminian vs Reformed theology series? Is my writing in the series too chunky and long-winded? Well, probably not. There are blogs on his list, like Parableman for example, that are probably a lot more "deep" than mine (certainly harder to understand I would think). Besides, as Joe admits, the list is highly subjective-- these are the blogs that have personally influenced him (Still, a plug from an influential and good blog like the evangelical outpost, well it sure would be nice).

Now for your information, I have written posts in recent days that weren't part of the ongoing (some might say "never-ending") series. Lighthearted, fun pieces even. I hope someone noticed.

But even if no one at all were reading it, I think "the series" has been a good exercise (for me). It's given me opportunity to do a kind of writing that I actually hadn't done that much of before on this blog. But more importantly, it has helped me think through the biblical validity of the Reformed view of the "doctrines of grace", and as I have done so, I have grown in confidence that these doctrines taught by the Reformers are indeed biblical, and thus, crucial to the building of a sound church and Christian life. Now I know many believe the exact opposite, saying that Calvinism actually paints a distorted picture of God and of His relations with human beings. My response is, judge the Reformed picture by the exegesis of the Scriptures of its best proponents and also, of course, by the fruit of their ways. (Plus, read my series...ha ha. I have had a few nice people tell me that they've found it helpful).

Sure, there are "immature" people who espouse Calvinism, people who may know some of the truths Calvinism proclaims but use the belief system to make themselves feel superior to others. But the true Calvinist must be humble, otherwise he's a fake who understands nothing of the doctrines of grace.

Anyway, it's too bad I didn't make Joe's list this time around, but I'll keep writing my series and trying to write consistently and creatively-- as the Lord leads-- and let's just see if I don't make the list next time. You're probably wondering why should I care? Well, I do admit-- I'd like to be read and to have an influential blog. But really, what's most important to me is to write a blog I think honors God, and is a reflection of my best, for Him.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Arminian vs Reformed Theology : Answers to Objections to Unconditional Election-Pt 4

Unconditional, Individual Election to Salvation in Romans 9

In a previous article I wrote about why I believe that Romans 9, though not written to be a treatise on the doctrine of election, nevertheless teaches an unconditional, individual election that is integral to the argument being presented by Paul in the chapter. Those who believe that Romans 9 does not teach unconditional and individual election hold different interpretations, one being the idea that Jacob and Esau represent nations, and therefore that the election spoken of in the chapter has to do with the fate of nations. I think that this is incorrect and in this article will further defend my reasons for thinking that Romans 9 reveals an unconditional election of individuals.

Paul's Concerns in Romans 9

Let's examine the chapter again. Verses 1-5 begin with Paul expressing "great sorrow and unceasing anguish" over the fact that his own people, the Jewish nation of Israel, are missing salvation through Christ because of their unbelief. And yet, he immediately asserts that the "word of God (to Israel)" has not failed. Thus we learn immediately that the nation Paul is concerned with in this chapter is Israel. It is in relation to Israel that Paul frames the following problem, for which he will provide an answer:

If Israel has been elected by God, why isn't everyone in Israel responding in faith to Jesus Christ, and receiving salvation through Him? In fact, Israel as a nation seems to be missing salvation through Jesus, and therefore, it would seem that the word of God to them has failed.

So we see that Paul's concern is this chapter (and continuing into Romans 10-11) is with the salvation of Israel. It is because many of his fellow Jews are missing out on salvation through Christ that Paul feels such tremendous grief that he even goes so far as to say that he would be willing- if it were possible-- to have himself cut off from Christ, if then somehow his fellow Israelites might find salvation. But Paul will go on to show that God's word to Israel has not failed because 1) there is a remnant in Israel, chosen by grace, that is being saved; 2) God's plan for the elect nation of Israel is being carried out; 3) all who believe in Christ are "children of the promise", elected unconditionally by God. The unconditional nature of election is shown in that the guarantee of the success of God's word to Israel and also, to believers in Christ, Paul is arguing, is not based on their faithfulness to the covenant (their meeting conditions), but upon God's.

Let's see how Paul presents this argument.

The Israelites were chosen by God and are therefore a greatly blessed nation. Paul writes, "To them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises." In addition, Paul says, to the Israelites "belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, [came] the Christ, who is God over all". Yet even with these great advantages, the result of her favored status with God, Jerusalem/Israel "did not know the time of [her] visitation" (Luke 19:44)-- many Jews were not putting faith in Christ and therefore not attaining to the righteousness that is obtained through faith in Him.

So it seems as if the word of God to Israel has failed. Now if this is true, then the great promises to believers in Christ that Paul has been both enumerating and extolling (Romans 8:12-37) are likewise in danger of failing. But Paul encourages his Roman readers to remain confident about these promises concerning their faith in Christ. He does so by pointing out that God is faithful- for He has been faithful to His covenant with Israel, in preserving for Himself a remnant of believers in Israel who have been "chosen by grace" (Romans 9:29, 11:5).

In Romans 11 Paul will also explain that a "hardening" of Israel (by God) has occurred, so that the full number of Gentiles may be added in, that is, be saved, by being included in God's covenant (Romans 11:25). God's purpose in this scheme of election is that the Jews, who had always enjoyed favored status with the Lord, might be provoked to jealousy by seeing the Gentiles being "grafted in", and that they will once again return to the Lord to be shown mercy.

A Methodical Argument

Paul develops the argument methodically. In chapter 9 he explains that "not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel", and "not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring", but that the true offspring of God are "children of the promise". In other words, there is a special blessing of God that is not passed down through the bloodline or by birth, but comes to those whom God chooses by His word of promise to believe. These chosen ones therefore become His "children of the promise". Another way to describe this would be to say that there is an election within election-- that is, the nation of Israel was elected to special privileges, yet within Israel, some individuals also are elected to receive the call to salvation in Christ.

To show how this happens, Paul first gives the example of Isaac, born to Sarah by a promise of God, "Through Isaac shall your offspring be named." Isaac is a "child of the promise." Now it is conceivable that one might challenge Paul by saying that the reason Isaac was chosen by God to receive the covenant blessing, rather than Abraham's first-born son Ishmael, was that Isaac was properly of the line of Abraham, (being a product of the union between Abraham and his wife Sarah), while Ishmael (conceived through Abraham's union with the maidservant Hagar) was not. But with the next example, Paul will show that the bloodline has nothing at all to do with who receives the special word of promise from God.

Paul points to Rebekah, the wife of Isaac, who was pregnant with twins in her womb. Here are two children to be born to the same mother, and having but one father (Isaac). Yet Jacob alone is chosen, while his twin Esau is not. Is this because Jacob is a better person than Esau? The biblical record of the life of Jacob reveals a cunning, deceitful man who tricked his older brother Esau out of the blessing that was due him as eldest son. Esau on the other hand is shown to be one who, by his actions, puts no value upon his birthright (Gen 25:34, Heb 12:16). Neither seems especially meritorious. Yet the question of whether the character of Jacob is superior to Esau and therefore merits God's call is a moot point. For Paul shows that when "they (Jacob and Esau) were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad— in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls", Rebekah was given the promise by God that "the older (Esau) will serve the younger (Jacob)." Therefore the election of Jacob and not Esau has nothing to do with any of their actions (including, of course, foreseen faith). To further emphasize the clear-cut nature of God's choice, Paul quotes God himself as saying, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Nations or Individuals?

Why does Paul refer to Jacob and Esau here? Is he speaking about the destinies of the nations Jacob and Esau represent? If so, it is strange that Paul neither indicates nor develops such a line of argument. It is true that the descendants of Esau-- the Edomites-- would someday serve the descendants of Jacob-- in fulfillment of the prophetic word of God ("the older will serve the younger"). But Paul in Romans 9 is apparently not concerned with contrasting the nation of Israel against other nations. He is not arguing for the right of God to choose the nation of Israel as the vehicle through which salvation would come (God has already made Israel the vehicle of salvation, he says in Romans 9:5). Rather, Paul's point is to emphasize the independence and unconditionality of God's choices in election ("Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated"), and to show that even within the elect nation of Israel, there is a further election, made by God, of individuals to salvation. This is why God's covenant word to Israel has not failed: because God is saving specific individuals. For this reason Paul's examples throughout the chapter are of individuals (Isaac, Jacob, Esau, Pharoah)-- for he is talking about the salvation of persons, in contrast to the nation of Israel, which, on the whole, was missing salvation.

Since God's Word to Israel has not failed, we may also trust God's word to believers in Christ

Again, one of Paul's chief objectives is to prove that the Word of God to Israel has not failed, so that believers in Christ may also be assured that God's promises to them are likewise secure. Having made possibly the most sweeping promises in the entire word of God concerning the elect-- those whom God foreknew-- Paul here demonstrates that such promises are dependable, because they are based upon the trustworthiness of God, who has fulfilled, and is still fulfilling, His word to Israel. In speaking of the elect in Christ, Paul had previously written,

"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.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:28-39)"

Paul now argues that his listeners may indeed trust these amazing and good promises-- since God's word has not failed His chosen people the Jews, neither will it fail in regard to these great promises given to believers chosen in Christ. Notice that God's power and faithfulness is the focus throughout this great passage. Nowhere in these inspiring words do we find the implication that God's promises depend on the faithfulness of those receiving the promises. Rather it is the powerful love of God in which Paul encourages us to put our confidence.

How do Paul's examples of Isaac and Jacob show God's faithfulness to believers as individuals? Paul shows that God chooses specific individuals (Isaac, Jacob) by an election that has its basis, not in the foreseen, "free" responses of men, but in God's compassion and mercy (Romans 9:15). Election is said to be not prompted by, or dependent upon, human works or will or exertion (Romans 9:11,16). God's elective call is generative-- it does not merely foresee what those chosen will do and thus formulate an elective call in light of such foreknowledge. Rather God's elective call is the catalyst by which His chosen ones come to Him, so that His redemptive plan might fully unfold in their lives (Romans 8:29-30). Again, Paul does not say that Jacob and Esau represent nations here; his focus in this chapter is the nation of Israel alone, and the problem of why some individuals in Israel are being saved, while others in Israel are not.

Israel's Unbelief is the Result of Election

What then is the cause of Israel's unbelief? If elect, why don't they all believe? In verses 30-33, Paul describes the problem of Israel's mis-targeted pursuit of righteousness:

What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written,

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

Note carefully that in these verses Paul does not answer the question of why Israel was unbelieving. He says that the Israelites have not attained the righteousness that comes by faith alone, because they were pursuing this righteousness as if it were based on works (Rom 9:32). But in Romans, chapter 11, Paul does explain the "why" behind the unbelief of Israel:

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God's reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”
So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened,

as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.”

And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs forever”(Romans 11:1-10)

Paul's explanation for Israel's unbelief is clear: it is the result of the fact that some were elected while the rest were hardened, both election and hardening being God's work. Paul even presents himself as an example of one who is a believing Israelite chosen by grace. [As an aside, it is hard to picture Paul giving an "Arminian testimony"-- that God chose him in light of his own "foreseen faith"-- for prior to being called by Christ, he was quite busy persecuting and killing Christians. Even after becoming a leader and a great apostle, Paul never forgot the evil deeds of his pre-Christian days-- this helped to keep him humble and to remember that God's grace alone had saved him and made him what he was (1 Cor 15:9-10)].

What is "it" (Romans 11:7) that Israel has failed to obtain? "It" refers to the righteousness and the salvation that comes through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 9:30-33, Romans 10:1-4). As in Romans 8:29, we find here again in Romans 11 that God's foreknowledge of His people-- ("His people whom He foreknew" Romans 11:2)-- is personal knowledge, not merely knowledge of what the people of Israel would do. Israel as a nation was chosen (known) by God and God has not rejected Israel, yet only the elect within Israel have obtained the righteousness unto salvation through Christ that they were destined for. The rest were hardened (Romans 9:18, Romans 11:7-8).

Objections Raised Demonstrate that Paul is arguing for an Unconditional, Individual Election

It is precisely because Paul says that this election to salvation pertains to some and not to others, and is being accomplished according to the prerogative of God alone (not in response to the meeting of any conditions by human beings), that Paul anticipates and then responds to objections (as stated in verses 14 and 19). There would be no objections if what Paul was arguing for was conditional election.

Now the first objection raised is the possible injustice of God in this type of election. Paul writes,

"What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills (Romans 9:14-18)."

Paul's response to the charge of possible injustice in the scheme of election he is presenting may at first seem to not answer the charge. The objection is a logical response to what Paul has been teaching, for it concludes that if God's elective choices, such as choosing Jacob over Esau, are not based on any merits within persons, but reflect solely God's choice of one rather than another, then there appears to be injustice on God's part. Notice that Paul does not correct the understanding behind the objection; there is nothing wrong with that. Paul's answer is to quote Scriptures demonstrating God's divine authority to dispense mercy or hardening just as He pleases, because of who He is. So the fact that God's elective choices are completely independent of, and not conditioned upon, human actions (verse 16) emphasizes the divine prerogative. Also, Paul describes election as dependent on God's mercy alone, which implies that all of mankind is in such a pitiful state that God's mercy alone is the only thing they must rely on.

Now Paul responds to a further objection. "You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”

Bob Deffinbaugh, in his article "Divine Election is Questioned" detects what seems to be a difference between these two objections (verses 14 and 19). The first (v14), raised by Paul himself, asks whether there is injustice when God chooses people according to His own counsel, and seeks an explanation of God's ways, rather than demanding a justification from God for His actions. But the second objection seems to have a different spirit. It is being raised, not by Paul, but by someone else ("You").

To paraphrase the objection, it states, "OK Paul, you say God can do whatever he wants and no one can stop Him. But if that's true, how can He then find fault with anyone? If God is controlling who is elect and who is not elect, if He is calling all the shots, how can anyone be held responsible? Who can fight God?" This objection, unlike the previous one, seems to challenge God and to put Him on trial, so to speak.

Take note of Paul's bold answer, which is really a rebuke. "But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles (Romans 9:20-24)"

If the Arminian understanding of election were true, one might have expected to find Paul responding to this second objection differently. He might have said, "No, no, you have misconstrued me. I am not saying that God chooses to elect people, as He did Jacob and not Esau, completely without regard to the faith He sees in advance in them. By His perfect foreknowledge, God does indeed take into account people's faith when He makes His elective choices. So you see, His elective choices are perfectly fair-- for they anticipate the choices His creatures will make and takes them into account, in accord with His wise purpose. Your accusation that God is being unfair or arbitrary then, is misguided; you have misunderstood my argument." But this is not how Paul answers! Paul does not correct the understanding behind the objection, for it has accurately grasped the basic facts of Paul's argument -- that God, completely independent of human influence, sovereignly chooses specific individuals for election to salvation, in accordance with His own good purpose, and also, hardens others. Nevertheless, Paul rebukes the attitude that lies behind the question. For by the question the objector dares to hold the Creator accountable to the creature.

As Bob Deffinbaugh writes in his article "Divine Election is Questioned":

"The question assumes that if God is sovereign and He has determined all that will happen, then men are no longer responsible. The premise is correct: God is sovereign. God does choose whom He will save and whom He will harden. The conclusion is entirely wrong. The question assumes that if God is sovereign, men are not to be held accountable for their deeds. The answer given later [by Paul] is that God’s sovereignty is such that it gives men a choice and holds them accountable for it [emphasis mine]."

The Potter and the Clay

Paul maintains that even if God chooses some and passes by others, it is His divine right to do so, and by this kind of election God is ultimately working out His own merciful purpose, one that will being the most glory to Himself.

He describes God as a Potter who has absolute rights over His creation (the clay), "to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use (Romans 9:21)." Not only that, but Paul addresses God's purpose in so doing, saying that in electing some and not others God is both "[showing] his wrath and [making] known his power (Romans 9:22)." For, Paul writes, God "has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles (Romans 9:22-24)". In other words, God endures the continual rebellion of the non-elect-- described here as "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction"-- with great patience (for if He wanted to, He could immediately destroy them). Restraining His power to execute judgment upon the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, He is calling out individuals to be saved, not only from among His chosen people of Israel, but now also, from among non-Jews (Gentiles):

"As indeed he says in Hosea,“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’” “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’” And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” And as Isaiah predicted, "If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah (Romans 9:25-29)."

Mystery, Justice and God's Glory in Election

So we find in Romans 9 Paul describing an unconditional election of individuals from among Jews and Gentiles, one that takes place according the merciful purpose of God, and which saves only a remnant. It is necessary that such an election would be not "of works", because otherwise it would not have as its only source the grace of God given through Christ, but would depend upon the will or exertion of men (Romans 9:16, 10:1-3, 11:6). Think of how industrious Jacob was, in a fleshly way, in his attempts to obtain the blessing of God throughout his life. Yet in the final analysis, the favor he did receive was due entirely to God's grace and not his exertions (Romans 9:16).

Election must also be unconditional so that God, and no other, receives the glory from it. If man can claim even the tiniest part for his election unto salvation, God does not receive the full credit He alone deserves. Of course Scripture teaches that in any case it is impossible for men to boast that it was something in them that enabled them to choose Christ (1 Cor 4:7). Our salvation is a resurrection from the dead; we make no contribution to it (Eph 2:4-7).

Despite the fact that God is sovereign over the process of election, Paul shows that God holds the vessels of wrath accountable for their sins against Him. Clearly there remains much mystery in all of this, for Paul provides no explanation as to why some are elected to receive mercy while others are passed over, when all are equally undeserving. But surely we must not therefore conclude that God's choosing to elect unto salvation some, while passing over others, is unjust.

For if God chose to destroy the entire human race He would be fully justified, since all have sinned and fall short of His glory, and the penalty for sin is death (as Paul has argued previously in Romans 3:23,6:23). Accordingly, there is no injustice if God withholds salvation from those who do not deserve it, and certainly none deserve it. On the other hand, God demonstrates incredible mercy and grace by choosing, from among the great mass of humanity that universally rejects Him, stands condemned in its sin, and deserves nothing but condemnation, some for election unto salvation. This great salvation extends far beyond mere mercy into amazing grace, for God lavishes upon the undeserving chosen ones blessings unimaginable (1 Cor 2:9). At the same time, the justice and wrath of God against sin will be shown in the reprobation that leaves others to the just deserts for their sins, for God will not let evil nor evildoers go unpunished, but will "carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay (Rom 9:28)."

Certainly a great deal more could be said about Romans 9, for example, about the differences between the views of the Calvinist vs the Arminian in their definitions of corporate vs individual election. I direct you however, to an outstanding analysis on this very issue by Tom Schreiner:


My intention had been to make this the "wrap-up" post for answering objections to unconditional election, but there are important objections I'd still like to address. I had better leave them for the next post. I hope however, that the points I've made here have helped demonstrate that there is a solid Scriptural case for unconditional election of individuals to salvation, particularly in Romans, chapters 9-11.

Resources for further study:
God's Purpose According to Election: Paul's Argument in Romans 9 by Steven M. Baugh

The Most Important Chapter in the Bible: Romans 9 by W.E. Best (free online book)

Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible- Romans 9

Divine Election is Questioned (Romans 9:14-23) by Bob Deffinbaugh, Th.M.

A Reformed Response to the Comments of R. C. H. Lenski on Romans 9 by James White

Has God Failed? A bible study on Romans 9 by Lambert Dolphin
Election: Individual vs. Corporate- Links to miscellaneous articles at

Pastoral Thoughts on the Doctrine of Election, Pt. 1 and 2- John Piper

The Joy of Romans 9 by John Piper

The Elect Obtained It But the Rest Were Hardened, Part 1- John Piper

The Elect Obtained It But the Rest Were Hardened, Part 2- John Piper

God's 2 x 4: Romans 9 on The Dividing Line with James White (free audio)

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Paris and Redemption (July 4th Update)

[This is an update on my original post Why Pick on Paris?]

Paris Hilton is out of jail after serving 23 days. Although she didn't have to serve the full 45 day sentence, it does seem that she has taken to heart the ordeal she went through and learned some important life lessons from it. She issued this statement to her fans on her MySpace page: "Happy 4th of July everyone, and remember to be responsible and have a designated driver! Just looking out for you all. I love you and have an amazing summer!" She also said that "she will cut down on her party lifestyle and will use her notoriety to do good." These are good developments, which we rejoice in and hope will come to pass. I wanted to point them out here, lest people think that Christian commentary is always only about moralizing or criticizing.

"I'm a good person?"
People are fond of saying things such as, "deep down, he's a good person", or "I'm really a good person." Often we say this when we're feeling guilty about something bad that we did. However, according to the Christian world view, no one-- by nature-- is a "good person". And yet, no one is all bad. No person is irredeemable by God, since we're all made in the image of God. God's gracious, transforming love through Jesus Christ can reach anyone, even the most evil persons in the world-- and God has reached out to people like that time and again. In fact, when I look inside my own heart, I find much evil still present within me, despite my being a Christian for many years. Many Christians I know would humbly reveal the same about themselves. We Christians don't see ourselves as naturally more righteous or "better" than others, but we do count ourselves blessed to be believers in the One whose death on the cross paid the penalty for our sins before God and transfers His perfect righteousness over to us. Now, by His enabling grace alone, we must live so as to please the the Lord Jesus Christ who has shown us such mercy and kindness.

Have a blessed fourth of July Holiday!

Monday, July 02, 2007

New at Jordan's View

Dear readers:

You probably noticed the new "Navigation jump links" I have added, near the top of the Jordan's View page, to help with jumping to the resource sections you might be interested in. Just click on the link, and the page will jump to that portion of the screen. Notice that some links are for the left-column resources, and others for the right column.

I have also recently added new resource sections. There is a section at the top of the right column containing links to several "Gospel Presentations". Right below is the "Jordan's Video" section, to which I will add videos that are educational as well as for just fun.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am a songwriter (and also play guitar), though I have been busy focusing on other things for quite awhile. However I am trying to get myself inspired and busy with music again, by setting some goals for the near future. One is just to work on my guitar skills, which for me tends to lead to more inspiration for new songs. Another is a longstanding goal-- to record everything I have written to date, in digital format. Another is to finish off many new songs already in process by writing the accompanying lyrics. And yet another objective is to begin sharing podcasts (or vodcasts) of my music right here.

To help with the goal of improving my guitar skills, I was researching guitar lessons and guitar software on the web. There is a wealth of good material and resources, many of which are free. I am sharing the fruits of this research with you in several new sections here, which you'll find under "Culture"-- Guitar Education Software/DVDs, Guitar Lessons & Music theory Online, and Guitar Lessons Software- Reviews. Click on the "jump-links" and you'll find these sections quickly. if I find a particularly helpful site or software that I am using myself, I'll be sure to recommend it to my readers.

Also, keep checking "Blips of the Blogosphere" for regularly updated link recommendations to interesting articles. I hope to post before the end of this week the next article in my series on Arminian vs Reformed theology.

Blessings to you,