Monday, July 18, 2011

TheoQ&A: Doubt vs. The Assurance of Salvation -Relevant Theology


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Doubt vs. The Assurance of Salvation

Why do people doubt their own salvation? There are several possibilities and if you doubt your salvation, it’s helpful to know why.

Some people who doubt their salvation do so because they’re not really saved. God has promised that His Spirit provides a ‘testimony’ to our spirits that we are truly His children, (Romans 8:16), so the best thing to do is to ask Him for that assurance.

There is also sometimes a sort of reverse pride that says: “I’m special - SO sinful that even the Creator of the universe can’t save me.” These people refuse the grace of God because to accept it puts them in the same category with all other sinners saved by grace. They would rather remain in their own special category, even though it leads them to hell.

But for those who are saved but who still doubt, there are several reasons why they suffer from a lack of assurance. For one thing, it could be that they have been in a home or church where confrontive, convicting preaching or teaching has not been balanced by strong teaching about the love and grace of God to undeserving sinners.

For sensitive souls with a strong natural sense of guilt, this can produce a relentless sense of sin so great that they feel they can’t possibly live up to the standard. Frankly, this doesn’t happen all that often today. The day of the pulpit-pounding, bearded, gloom-and-doom Calvinist preacher is a thing of the past.

Some people feel they are too sinful to be saved. They don’t understand the scope of the cross or the depth of the love of God toward sinners. Too many people listen to the whispering of demons in their ears telling them they aren’t good enough to merit salvation. This is one of Satan’s favorite lies. He gets us thinking we have to ‘do’ something, and then convinces us nothing we can do is good enough. That way we stay on his evil little merry-go-round, chasing our tails into an eternity in hell.

Some doubt their salvation because they have convinced themselves that every little thing has to be confessed to be forgiven. They obsess about every thought, word and action, trying to determine if it is sin and needs to be confessed. They don’t understand the completeness of the forgiveness in Christ, that He paid the penalty for all sins – past, present, future. They don’t understand that we have died with Christ and are resurrected with Him to “walk in the newness of life” (Romans 6:4).

That means we’re completely new creatures. Sin has no hold on us. Yes, we still sin, but we don’t have to obsess about it and fall on our knees every time a stray sinful thought crosses our minds. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

Some are so keenly aware of their sinful flesh that they don’t believe it’s possible to be saved and still have thoughts and desires when they are now new creations in Christ. They don’t understand the nature of the continual battle of the flesh against the spirit.

Paul experienced this same battle daily, and bemoaned the fact that he didn’t do what he wanted to do and did the things he didn’t want to do. This is the plight of all believers and causes us to say, with Paul, “Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25).

Believers also doubt their salvation because of the trials they experience, which they see as evidence God is not present in their lives. They lack the understanding of the role of trials in the Christian life, seeing them as either punishment from a God who is not pleased with them or evidence that God isn’t in their lives at all. If He were, they reason, this wouldn’t be happening to me. That simply isn’t true. The Christian life is a spiritual battle and anyone who tells you otherwise does not know the Scriptures.

Ultimately, those who are saved and still doubt their salvation usually don’t have a true understanding of the gospel. They believe faith is a work they have to accomplish, rather than a gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9).

Some accept that salvation is a gift, but after they are saved, they believe maintaining their salvation is a matter of their own effort. They misapply “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” with a heavy emphasis on “I can do”. When they fail to “do,” they doubt themselves. They just don’t understand the magnitude of being “in Christ.”




Thursday, June 30, 2011

TheoQ&A: Down with Dufflepudism! -Relevant Theology


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Down with Dufflepudism!

Is it possible that there is an epidemic of Dufflepudism in the evangelical church? The Dufflepuds are characters in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, part of the Chronicles of Narnia series. These amusing little one-footed creatures have the odd habit of agreeing with everything they hear—everything. When their Chief, a foolish pontificating creature, says something, the Dufflepuds all chime in enthusiastically, affirming what he says with great gusto. “Hear him!” they roar with glee. “That’s our Chief. You can depend on what he says! He’s telling the truth, he is!”

The only problem is that when someone else says the exact opposite, they are equally affirming, even though the two statements completely contradict one another. But no matter. Their enthusiasm for agreeing, with great gusto, with whatever sounds good to them is undiminished. Doesn’t this sound a little like what is happening in Christian circles?

When we hear something that sounds good to our ears, or when a new Christian buzzword appeals to our emotions—soaking prayer, a prophetic word from the Lord, spiritual formation—especially if it’s something that ‘sells,’ our enthusiasm for agreeing with it knows no bounds.

Is it really true that we can live our best life now? “Yes, absolutely! Of course we can! It must be true—just look at how popular Joel Osteen’s church is!” But wasn’t Jesus a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief with no place to lay his head? Isn’t that true? “Of course it is! Yes, yes, you couldn’t say it better! Speak on!”

Ok, well, God loves us and want us to have health, wealth, and prosperity, doesn’t He? “Yes, yes, of course! Truer words were never spoken!” But the Bible says the Apostle Paul was flogged, stoned, shipwrecked, hungry and thirsty. Yet we are supposed to emulate him. Isn’t that true if it comes directly from the Bible? “Yes, absolutely, by all means! Definitely!”

Hmm. Well, how about linking up with cultists and the Emerging Church to ‘get the word out’ about Christ? Isn’t that the best way to fulfill the Great Commission? The more people that are involved, the greater the ability to get the Gospel out, right? “Yes, indeed! I couldn’t say it better! Keep up the good work!”

But don’t these groups deny at least some of the basic doctrines of the Christian faith and didn’t Jesus say to ‘beware of false prophets’ who are ravenous wolves? And didn’t Paul say to avoid those whose doctrine is contrary to the doctrines of the faith? And didn’t he say of false teachers, ‘let them be accursed’? “Yes! Hear him! Absolutely right! Couldn’t have said it better ourselves! We agree totally!”

I fear that Dufflepudism is rampant in the evangelical world today as Christians buy into every new fad that comes along, subscribe to each new philosophy and blindly agree with all of it, even when the ideas contradict one another and, more importantly, when they contradict the Word of God. We have become a religion of consumerism, buying and consuming every new thing that comes down the road, regardless of its source.

In an effort to have ‘unity,’ we agree with everything and everyone, because to disagree with anyone is to commit the ultimate sin—divisiveness. But the Bible itself is divisive, dividing truth from error. Jesus said He came not to bring peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34) to divide even families and that those who follow Him would be hated for His name’s sake (Matthew 10:21-22). Now that’s something to which we can say “Yes! We agree totally! Absolutely right!”

Down with Dufflepudism. Up with discernment.



Thursday, June 23, 2011

TheoQ&A: The sovereignty of God and His unchanging nature – the Bible -Relevant Theology


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The sovereignty of God and His unchanging nature

Our God is completely sovereign, in control of absolutely everything at all times. There is not a single molecule floating about in the universe that is outside of His sovereign will and purpose. Everything that happens is either caused or allowed by Him for His own perfect purposes. As Nebuchadnezzar came to realize after being turned out to pasture, “he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’" (Daniel 4:35). Old Neb had it right.

But imagine for a moment a deity with that kind of sovereign power who was changeable or impulsive or unpredictable. Imagine that at any moment He could rescind a promise for any reason, or take back a gift simply because He felt like it. Imagine that He could break a covenant on a whim or change His mind or scrap one plan and come up with another. After all, He is sovereign. So who could stop Him?

But thankfully, that is not our God. His complete sovereignty is completely compatible with another of His magnificent attributes—His immutability, His unchanging nature. What God says He will do, He will do. No question about it. Isaiah 14:24 says “Jehovah of Hosts has sworn, saying, ‘Surely as I have thought, so it shall come to pass; and as I have purposed, it shall stand.’” Samuel writes “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind" (1 Samuel 15:29).

What God has planned from before the foundation of the world, He will bring to pass. He doesn’t revise His plans according to what people do, a popular notion called ‘open theism,’ the ridiculous idea that God doesn’t know the future and He is constantly having to adjust His plans according to what man does. But if the creature has such power over the Creator that our actions cause Him to change His plans, that would make the creature God, wouldn’t it? Of course we know the root of that heresy—the desire to be God that lurks in the heart of everyone since Satan tempted Eve to believe she would be like God (Genesis 3:5). “But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations” (Psalm 33:11).

When He says ‘forever,’ that’s exactly what He means. When He makes a covenant, He keeps it. His plans are not affected by changing, unfaithful man so that He has to be constantly updating them. What comfort would it be to pray to a god who, like the chameleon who changes color depending on its environment, God changed His mind every minute? Who would put up a petition before an earthly ruler who was so changeable as to grant it one day, then deny it the next?

Most importantly, our salvation is secure because the One who secured it doesn’t change, nor does He change the rules on us so that we may be saved one day and lose our salvation the next. We have His solemn oath that all who come to Christ in faith will be saved, not because we are faithful, but because He is. Because of His unchanging nature, we can be assured that once we are in His hand, we will remain there, “for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29).

Too many Christians who doubt their salvation would have their fears alleviated if only they studied the doctrine of God’s immutability and took it to heart. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). And salvation is the most perfect gift of all, given by our immutable God who promised that none of His children would be lost (John 10:28-29).

If God were changeable, we could not depend on Him or on anything His Word says. But He does not change and we can depend on Him. He is our Rock, like a huge boulder in a stream. The waters go around and over it, but it does not move. The tides ebb and flow, but the Rock remains. In the same way, the tides of human affairs ebb and flow, but God’s purpose and will remain unchanged, and His ability to bring them to pass remains unchanged. This is our magnificent God—sovereign, trustworthy, and immutable.



Thursday, June 16, 2011

TheoQ&A: God’s sovereignty and His true Word – the Bible -Relevant Theology


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God’s sovereignty and His true Word – the Bible

If God is in control of everything, and He is, that means that He superintended the writing of His Bible, as well as preserving it intact down through the centuries, and there are no contradictions, errors or discrepancies of doctrine in it. Written over a 1500-year span by approximately 40 men, each with a different style and a different perspective, to a different audience, for a different purpose, the Bible’s accuracy is nothing short of astonishing.

When we consider the number of times it was copied by hand for at least 1400 years by thousands of different people until the printing press was invented, there is no way to explain the incredible accuracy of the Bible except divine preservation. God was actively and sovereignly protecting the accuracy of that which He had inspired, literally “breathed out” (2 Timothy 3:16).

Who doubts the truthfulness of the Bible? Satan, for one. God haters and God rejecters, for another. The Genesis account of the fall of man into sin is a prime example of methods of the truth deniers. Genesis 3:1-5, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God reallysay, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" Technique number one: call into question God’s words. Cultists are really good at this. They argue passages of the Bible by saying, “yes, but that’s not what it really means.” Then they proceed to tell you that it means something it doesn’t say.

Eve reiterates God’s command: if we eat from the tree, we will die. But Satan says, "You will not surely die." Technique number two: directly contradict God’s Word. Then the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." Technique number three: call God’s character into question and float a new and improved, revised version of truth.

Not a day goes by at Got Questions that we don’t hear from those intent on challenging God and the truthfulness of His Word. These are the skeptics who bring up “contradictions,” some too ridiculous to contemplate. “How could God make light if He didn’t create the sun until the fourth day?” As though God is powerful enough to create everything from nothing, but He couldn’t come up with a light source other than the sun, like the light of His own incredible glory, for instance.

Or how about “God didn’t create the world in six days. It took billions of years.” Or “God created everything, but He used the process of evolution to do it.” Or “Jesus wasn’t God; He was just a moral man and a good philosopher. But He didn’t die for our sins.” While these might seem like nothing more than simple ignorance, the implications of doubting God’s Word on these issues are huge and eternal.

The attack on the inerrancy of Scripture has at its very core the effort by demonic forces and the unbelievers they control to deny the essence of the Gospel – that Jesus Christ came to save sinners from spiritual death and an eternity in hell. The poor, misguided skeptics don’t realize that when they deny the Genesis account, they also deny the fall of man into sin and ultimately, reject God’s plan of salvation from sin.

If evolution is true (millions of years of species living, dying and mutating), then God’s words in Romans 5:12 “..sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” must be a lie. Death occurred for the very first time after the fall of man in the Garden. It didn’t occur, as evolution demands, for millions of years prior to Adam and Eve. But if we can be fooled into thinking that death didn’t come by one man, Adam, that negates the doctrine of the atonement—that all who died because of Adam’s sin will be made alive again through one Man’s sacrifice (Romans 5:17-21). See how sneaky Satan is?

Once people are convinced that even part of the Word of God may not be true, they can be deceived into believing that Christianity itself is false. When we question the validity of the Genesis account, the doctrines of the faith begin to crumble – sin, heaven, hell, faith, grace, Christ, and the plan of salvation. The whole thing stands or falls on the truth of Scripture, beginning with the Genesis account. Once the deceiver convinces us that the Genesis account isn’t true, he has us in his grasp, because if we deny the plan of salvation as outlined in Genesis, our destiny is hell. And that, my friends, is exactly what he wants.

This is why God sovereignly and graciously protected and preserved His Word down through the centuries, from every bleary-eyed copyist’s hand-written symbol, to the numerous legitimate translations in nearly every language cranked out by the millions today. And He will continue to do so, despite every effort of the evil one to thwart Him. “The entirety of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever” (Psalm 119:160).



Thursday, June 9, 2011

TheoQ&A: Divine Sovereignty (The Faithfulness of God) -Relevant Theology


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Divine Sovereignty and

The Faithfulness of God

Knowing that God is completely sovereign over all of life can only give us comfort and peace if we also understand the totality of His nature—all His attributes and how they work together to make Him who He is and what that means in practical terms. What kind of marriage or friendship would you have if you only knew one thing about the other person? If all you knew about your husband is that he is athletic, that wouldn’t make much of a marriage, would it? No, you have to also know the rest of his character traits.

If all we know about God is that He loves us and has a wonderful plan for our lives, how can we be sure His love will last unless we also know He is infinite and that His promises are irrevocable (Romans 11:29)? How can we be sure that His plan really a is wonderful unless we know of His goodness and kindness? How do we know that the plan will come to pass unless we know that He is faithful and powerful enough to bring it to pass? How do we even know our salvation is secure unless we understand His grace, His mercy and His divine will?

So the impact of divine sovereignty on our lives is determined, in part, by our understanding of God’s other attributes. One of God’s attributes, His faithfulness, has an enormous impact on how we perceive His sovereignty as it affects us. The Bible is replete with assurances of God’s faithfulness (Psalm 100:5119:90138:8Isaiah 25:12 Timothy 2:131 Corinthians 10:13Hebrews 10:23). It’s one thing to know what the Bible says about God’s faithfulness to fulfill His promises, but it’s another to act upon and live according to that knowledge.

When my husband says he’ll be home at six o’clock, I make dinner for six because I know he does what he says he will do. If he doesn’t show up at six, I don’t throw up my hands and say, “That’s it! It’s over! I can’t trust him! He doesn’t love me anymore!” And I certainly don’t come to the conclusion that he is unfaithful. I know I can trust him and I know he loves me and I know he’s faithful. There’s just something about the situation I don’t know—he had a flat, he stopped at the store, he lost his watch, whatever. But I don’t come to wrong conclusions about him, his motives, his love and care for me or his faithfulness and trustworthiness. Why? Because after 35 years of marriage, I’ve been with him long enough to really know him. I’ve seen him in action.

But when God says He works all things together for good (Romans 8:28), even cancer, unemployment, rejection and heartache, do we believe Him? When He says no trial will be beyond our ability to bear it and He will provide a way out (1 Corinthians 10:13), do we believe that? Or do we try to dig out from under it in our own strength and power? It all comes down to this—do we know Him well enough to trust Him?

Jesus told Peter in John 13:7 "What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand." Can we have enough confidence in God to wait on Him? We can if we know Him well enough to believe He is faithful. But we can’t know Him that well in one hour a week in church or if we spend only a few minutes a day with Him, despite the claims of a recent book 7 Minutes with God: Daily Devotions for a Deeper Relationship.” Imagine telling your husband, “Honey, we have to work on deepening our relationship, so I’m going to carve out 7 minutes for you every day.” Would that lead to depth of understanding of your spouse? Of course not. How, then, can we possibly expect an intimate knowledge of God if we don’t spend time with Him—time speaking to Him in prayer and time hearing from Him through His Word?

If all you have for God is seven minutes a day, you’re going to hate it in heaven. Heaven is an eternity with God. So let’s seek to know God intimately and fully by drinking deeply of His Word and letting it fill our minds and hearts. Then the sure and certain knowledge of His sovereignty, His faithfulness and all His other attributes will bring us the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7).


Thursday, June 2, 2011

TheoQ&A: If God is sovereign, so what? (Who’s in charge here anyway?) -Relevant Theology


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Who’s in charge here anyway?”

– If God is sovereign, so what?

Ok, so what if I admit that neither ‘free’ will (mine or anyone else’s) chance, Satan, or demons can counter the plans of God or stay His hand in anything He purposes to do? How does that make a difference in my life? When the storms of life hit, when loved ones die, the economy crashes and I lose my job, what does God’s sovereignty give me? Will it bring back the dead, provide for my family, or ease the burdens I carry around daily?

When life seems to be nothing more than directionless chaos, considerHebrews 12:1 “…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” The race marked out for us? Huh! There’s a race marked out for us? Some versions say the race “set before us.” It means “appointed, made up in advance.” Like the slalom skier who races downhill at breakneck speed, seemingly out of control, we move through the appointed gates of life and God’s complete control of every aspect of our lives keeps us on the exact course He has planned out for us.

Nothing surprises Him; nothing takes Him off His game or thwarts His plan. His purpose for each of His children is foreordained. Jeremiah 29:11 “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Psalm 139:16 adds “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” So not only can we be sure that everything that happens is foreordained by God; we also have the assurance that His plan for us is for our benefit, our hope and our future.

The Lord Jesus certainly found solace in God’s sovereignty. He wasn’t answering Pontius Pilate’s questions, and Pilate said "Do you refuse to speak to me?" "Don't you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?" Jesus answered, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:10-11). Jesus knew where the power was and who was in charge of the plan. He also understood that God’s plan was for the ultimate benefit of millions who would come to Christ for salvation—the benefit, the hope, and the future promised inJeremiah 29:11.

The comfort and peace this affords to those who belong to God through Christ are huge! They are life-changing, monumentally encouraging, and profound. Imagine, though, what a horror a completely sovereign God would be if He were not also good, loving, kind, merciful, faithful, compassion, and immutable. We’ll consider that next time.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

TheoQ&A: Does Satan call (some of) the shots? (Who’s in charge here anyway?) -Relevant Theology


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Who’s in charge here anyway? –

Is God sovereign or does Satan call (some of) the shots?

My first post examined the question of who/what controls events in our lives. Neither “chance” (which has no power to control anything), nor the “free” wills of people—including us—is really in control of all events that occur in our lives. That leaves two more possibilities—Satan and his demons or God. Let’s face it, this is a huge issue. What we believe about who/what is in charge of our lives has an immense impact on how we live. 

Some people find it appealing to think that Satan has control over a certain amount of life, that God is constantly revising His plans to accommodate Satan’s tricks. Is that a comforting thought? Does the idea that Satan has control over any part of your life make you a fearless, confident person?

On a side note, I frequently hear people say that Satan is doing this, that and the other thing to them. This is unlikely. Satan is not omnipresent; he can only be in one place at a time. So the chances that he is in your house annoying you are extremely remote. He has more important people to harass. This is not to say that his demonic forces aren’t everywhere doing their dirty work. But Satan himself isn’t camping out at your place. The White House? Maybe. But your house? Not likely.

Remember the book of Job. Satan came to God and said “Job only serves you because you protect him.” So God gave him permission to do certain things to Job and no more (Job 1:1-122:3-7). Could Satan do more than that? No. God is in complete control over Satan and the demons who try to thwart God’s plans at every step.

Consider this. Satan knew from the OT that God’s plan was for Jesus to come to the earth, be betrayed, crucified and resurrected, and provide salvation for millions, and if there was any way to keep that from happening, Satan would have done it, wouldn’t he?

If just one of the hundreds of prophecies about the Messiah could have been caused by Satan to fail to come to pass, the whole thing would have collapsed. But the myriad of independent decisions made by thousands of people were used by God to bring His plan to pass in exactly the way He had planned it from the beginning, and Satan couldn’t do a thing about it. Jesus was “delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23) to be crucified for us, crushing forever Satan’s power. 

No action by the Romans, the Pharisees, Judas, or anyone else kept God’s plan from unfolding exactly the way He purposed it from before the foundation of the world. Ephesians 1:4 says we were chosen in Him before the world was even created. We were in the mind of God to be saved by faith in Christ. That means God knit together Satan’s rebellion, Adam and Eve’s sin, the fall of the human race, and the death and crucifixion of Christ, all seemingly terrible events, to save us before He created us. 

We sometimes get the impression that God and Satan are two nearly equal opposing forces continually battling for control of the universe. The truth is that this battle is as the battle between an ant and an elephant. The ant may be fiercely shaking his little fist at the elephant, but the elephant goes blithely on doing what elephants do and the ant is powerless to stop him. At any moment of the elephant’s choosing, his huge foot will come down, stomp the ant, and grind him into the dust.

Unlimited in power, unrivalled in majesty and not limited by anything outside Himself, our God is in complete control of all circumstances, causing or allowing them for His own good purposes and plans to be fulfilled exactly as He has foreordained. Tell me, who is going to stop Him?