Thursday, February 28, 2008

Dragged to Christ

While the enemy of Jesus Christ—Saul—was living in direct defiance of him, Jesus nevertheless knocked him off his horse. He blinded him and spoke to Saul in an audible voice, telling him what to do. This seems like a very strong-handed intervention by God into the life of an unrepentant sinner to me. Nevertheless, this is precisely the testimony of how the Apostle Paul got saved. My salvation experience 18 years ago was quite similar to his. I was walking in the exact opposite direction from God in defiance of Him, but He, nevertheless, intervened powerfully into my life. I say this because it is true, not to make Him sound ruthless or anything. For when God intervenes in a life it is to rescue.

A lot of people talk about God’s ‘gentle wooing’—that He is the ultimate gentlemen and never forces Himself on anyone. But the passage this concept is based upon has a much stronger meaning than simply ‘to woo’. This is the verse:

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44).

The Scripture would seem to use this word draw with a meaning rather like "drag". The word “draw” here does not mean a gentle tug or prod. It is often translated “to drag” in the New Testament. In his essay on election in the Fourth Gospel, Robert Yarbrough writes,

“Draw” in 6:44 translates the Greek helkuo. Outside of John it appears in the New Testament only in Acts 16:19: “they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace. . . .” John’s Gospel uses the word to speak of being drawn to Christ (12:32), a sword being drawn (18:10), and a net full of fish being hauled or dragged to shore (21:6, 11). The related form helko appears in Acts 21:30 (“they dragged him from the temple”) and James 2:6 (“Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?”). It seems hard to avoid the impression that John 6:44 refers to a “forceful attraction” in bringing sinners to the Son.

- Do you woo a sword from its sheath?
- Do you seize a prisoner by force and then just tug ever so gently for him to follow you freely?
- Do you look at a net full of fish and coax it to be drawn from the water on to shore? Do you not rather exert your own strength to haul the net while the fish flop around trying to get away from you?
- Does your opponent just invite you into the courthouse? Are you not rather compelled to come?

All of the above texts of scripture are obviously about being dragged, forced to do something, and the same word "draw" in those passages is used in John 6:44. The fact that the identical word is used in Acts 16:19 is quite compelling:

“But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities."

What about this passage sounds gentlemanly? Did they really “woo” Paul and Silas into the marketplace, or did they in fact force them to stand before the authorities? The text clearly indictes they were forced—compelled to go. Compare this with the indisputable fact that Jesus is saying “no one is able”; “no one is capable” to come to Him unless the Father “draws” or “drags” him in such a powerful way as described above and the conclusion is obvious. It seems clear to me that John 6:44 can rightly be defined as follows:

"No individual is capable of coming to Christ unless the Father drags him to Christ."

This fits well with my own testimony and that of the Apostle Paul, but not so well with the idea of God approaching people as a gentleman. God intervenes like a conquering soldier into peoples’ lives. He comes where He is unwelcome and where He is uninvited, and He does this in order to save us, for we cannot save ourselves. We are not merely drowning men that He will rescue if we hold out a hand. We are dead men (Eph. 2:1,5). We are spiritual corpses that He must grab a hold of powerfully and resurrect from death. That is grace. According to the Bible, grace is both unmerited favor (Rom. 11:5-6) and a transforming power which according to Ephesians 2:5, raised every follower of Jesus from spiritual death to new life. Grace is a powerful forcefulness that raises us from death and drags us to Christ. The Bible describes the testimony of Christians in such a way, and by so doing, gives Him every spec of the credit and the glory of our salvation.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

What is God's Blessing?

I believe China is far more ‘blessed’ than the United States. The true blessing from God is not material gain but rather to know Him. Riches are not a blessing but what actually lead men to deny God (Prov. 30:8-9). The true and greatest spiritual blessing of all is to belong to God (Eph. 1:3-5). China is clearly blessed because thousands of people are being added to the Church each day. Moreover, the Christians are blessed there, not because of peace and prosperity, but because of persecution for Jesus’ sake, which according to Jesus is a tremendous blessing: “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.” (Matt. 5:11)

Where are the true blessings the Bible speaks of? They are much less evident in America than they are in China, Nepal and places like that where God is granted people the blessing of both believing in Christ and suffering for His sake (Phil. 1:29). Where in America is God’s blessing found as shown to us in Hebrews 11:36-38? “Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy." This represents God’s blessing a thousand times more than a fat bank account. Passion for Christ is often replaced in America by new cars, bigger houses and retirement plans. Riches cause men to forget God. Biblically, much of the supposed ‘blessings’ seen in America (i.e. prosperity and lack of persecution) resembles God’s curse more than His blessing. And no wonder. We kill 4000 babies everyday and increase our riches in the process, and through Hollywood, we are impacting the entire world like no other nation on earth by exporting our lasciviousness, godlessness and greed. America did start out as a nation under God with our Puritan forefathers, but those days are long past. Who could deny that today it is one of the most godless nations on earth? Yes. Thanks to God’s mercy, He is still bringing people into His kingdom, but America has long become a harlot, not the place of God’s blessing.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A Few Pics from Nepal

Who you’d see if you stopped by at our house in Kathmandu (Triston, my wife Jaya and our daughter Mary)
The landscape you’re bound to see throughout Nepal’s foothills

One of the many sights you could see, besides Mt. Everest, if you trek in Nepal’s Himalayan region

Friday, February 22, 2008

Grace & Inability

Ephesians 2:1-10 opens up to us a deeper understanding of grace than the common definition "unmerited favor". The passage unveils a transforming grace. Unbelievers are portrayed as "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1). Hope for transformation hardly lies in the human will since people take pleasure in doing what the flesh desires. Thus, they are by nature under the sentence of God's wrath. Yet, God, because of his indescribable mercy and deep love, has not left all human beings in this state. Those who were dead in trespasses and sins, those who had no inclination whatsoever to turn to God, "He made alive together with Christ" (Eph. 2:5). Significantly, Paul immediately comments, "by grace you have been saved." This explanation is imperative for defining grace in Paul's writings. Grace is certainly unmerited favor--though it is not merely unmerited favor in the sense that one may choose to receive or reject a gift. Grace is also a power that raises someone from the dead, that lifts those in the grave into new life. Grace is both an undeserved gift and a transforming power.
Once we grasp this notion of grace, it is clear what Paul means when he says 'by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of yourselves; it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8). The power of God saved us by raising us from death when we were utterly unresponsive to God. This raises the question is faith included in God's gift, or is faith our contribution to God's saving work? The demonstrative pronoun this (touto) is neuter, and thus it cannot be the specific antecedent to grace or faith since the words grace (chariti) and faith (pisteos) are both feminine. Nor can it refer specifically back to saved, for the participle saved (sesomenoi) is masculine. Indeed, no word in the preceding context is neuter. What, then, is the significance of the neuter? Paul wanted to communicate that everything said in Ephesians 2:8 is God's gift. If he had used the masculine or feminine form of the pronoun, some might have concluded that some of the elements contained in this verse were not part of God's gift. By using the neuter he emphasizes that the whole is God's gift. Thus faith too is the gift of God.
Such an understanding of faith is also contextually persuasive because Paul describes God's work as raising the dead to life. Human beings who are enslaved to the flesh have no desire or ability to exercise faith.
This understanding of the neuter is confirmed by Philippians 1:28. Paul exhorts the Philippians not to be intimidated by their opponents, and he says that their opposition is "a proof of their destruction, and of your salvation, and this from God." Once again, the word this (touto) is neuter. As in the Ephesians text, no neuter word in the context serves as the antecedent. The antecedent is the whole event--the opposition and destruction of the opponents as well as the salvation of the Philippians. The neuter pronoun works precisely as it does in Ephesians. And that faith is a gift is also communicated by the very next verse in Philippians. God has granted believers the gift of both believing on and suffering for Christ (Phil. 1:29). The verb granted is echarishe, from which we derive our word grace. Our belief in Christ is a gift, granted to us by God's grace.
That faith is a gift is confirmed again by 2 Timothy 2:24-26, where repentance is ascribed to God's activity. Faith and repentance are ultimately inseparable, and they are constituent parts of the saving process. In the context Paul hopes that God might "grant repentance" to those who oppose them. Such repentance can only come from God.

-As a side note of interest: In Romans 11:6 (the text where we get our definition of grace as being unmerited favor), the very words preceding the text (v. 5) speak to God's election, that it too is entirely of grace.
Rom. 11:5b, 6: "...election by grace. And if (election is) by grace it (election) is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace."

This passage seems to fly in the face of any notion that something we did (such as believe) may have provoked God's election of His people. On the contrary, Election, Repentance and Faith are all gifts from God to us who are in Christ, freely given by His inestimable grace.

The natural flow of Ephesians 2 is that we were dead in sin; God made us alive; therefore we are saved only by grace. In the context of Ephesians 2, Paul says nothing about the natural man other than that they are dead in sin. Contextually that is what you have to work with. In the context, it makes sense that dead men can't believe without a work of grace bringing them to life first. To say otherwise would seem to go against Paul's argument.

The ultimate question is "Can the unsaved, natural man of his own volition believe?" I'm convinced Ephesians chapter 2 contextually and grammatically answers that question "No." Moreover, what does the rest of Scripture say?

Romans 8:7, 8: "The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God."
We have already established from Ephesians 2 that the unsaved man is enslaved to the extent of death in sin. And now we have a better picture of the depth of that slavery. The unsaved man does not have even the power in and of himself to please God. Paul does not merely say that those in the flesh refuse to keep God's law; he also teaches they cannot submit to it. They are incapable of pleasing God. What was that??? The natural man cannot please God?? How do we please God then? Through faith (Hebrews 11:6). But they are unable to please Him. This text leaves little room for the unregenerate to be capable of believing.

1 Corinthians 2:14: "The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned."
Dave, what is more "spiritual" than the Gospel of Jesus Christ? "Nothing!" I'm sure you would agree with me. Well then, this passage says the unsaved man CANNOT ACCEPT THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST. You spoke in your response that the unsaved man is capable of receiving the gift of his own volition. But this passage contradicts you. The Gospel is foolishness to the natural man and he cannot accept it. According to this passage the unsaved man is incapable of embracing the Gospel.

If you want to speak about metaphors regarding the lost, other than them being dead in sin then let's do that (although I don't think it is a metaphor that Paul referred to but the actual state of the unsaved--they are spiritually utterly dead in sin. They are entirely enslaved to it; they cannot escape from it without God resurrecting them. That is what Paul is saying in Ephesians 2).
The scripture says unbelievers are also blind to the things of God as well:
2 Corinthians 4:4 "The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." This passage goes on to say that "[God] made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." (v. 6)
So what do we have here? Again we have the scripture telling us that the unbeliever CANNOT accept the Gospel of Christ. He cannot even see it let alone embrace it! And once again, like in Ephesians 2, it leaves no doubt as to how we believers came to faith in Christ -- God made it happen.

What about the passage I had mentioned previously, that God grants repentance (2 Tim. 2:25). Why is it necessary for God to "grant" them repentance? Because just like in Eph. 2, , the very next verse (v. 26) says that unbelievers are enslaved -- captive to do Satan's will. People who are "enslaved to Satan's will" are not "free to call Godward". They have to be freed by God first!

The theme in Ephesians 2 is repeated again in Colossians. Paul does not want the church to forget that the reason they put their trust in Christ is that God made it happen: Col. 2:13 "When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive."
I'm trying to imagine how Paul would respond to your argument. Perhaps you would say to him, "But Paul, I believed in Christ." And Paul would respond. "Were you not listening to me? I said, God made you alive!" Or maybe Paul would quote his first letter to the Corinthians: 1 Cor. 1:30, 31 "It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God -- that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: 'Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.' "

And let us not forget Romans 3:10-12 "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one."
Dave, are you going to tell me that you agree with the first part of this text that there is no one righteous except Jesus Christ, and you agree with the last section of the text that no one is good accept for God, but are you then going to tell me you disagree with the center of the text that no one seeks God?? Just like in all humanity there is not a single soul (except Christ) who is righteous; equally true is the fact that there is not a single human being who seeks after God. Period. If the dead, blind, natural man could put faith in God, they would be seeking Him, and they would also have reason to boast.

In conclusion, Paul portrays unbelievers as disobedient to the law, incapable of receiving the things of God, blind, deaf, dead, proud, enslaved to sin and refusing to honor God. Unbelievers are in darkness (Eph. 5:8; 1 Thes 5:4, 5) destined for wrath (1 Thes 1:10; 5:9) and under the dominion of idols (1 Thes 1:9).

The rosy picture some draw of what the unsaved man can do, though perhaps attractive, is not the conclusion the Scripture leads us to. The unsaved man is quite incapable of coming to God of his own will. To sin, and sin willfully, is the only thing he will do of his own volition without the intervening, eye opening, dead raising, captive releasing, regenerating Spirit of God and by God's grace.

To Christ alone be all the glory of our salvation,

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Consider Christ's Death

Instead of thinking that Jesus' death proves God loves us too much to threaten us with punishment, consider that the death of Christ actually proves the severity of our sin. The only way God could restore relationship with us was by sacrificing His most beloved Son. Why do you think the Bible gives two such extreme alternatives: Heaven and Hell? Sin is that bad. Sin deserves eternal consequences. The death of Christ should convince us all that God will not allow sin to remain unpunished. It will either be punished on His Son for all who come to Jesus or the consequences will be laid upon us personally if we reject Him. The fact that God would go to such extreme measures to rescue us should terrify anyone who rejects His offer of rescue. Don't think that Jesus suffered for us because you or I were so worthy of it. Not at all! Jesus died because we are all worthy of damnation. Please don't reject God's offer of rescue.