I have a lot go through my mind, things I study, news items I read, and I choose not to share many of those thoughts. But this time, there’s something I think is important. It pertains to the end of the book of Ephesians. Specifically, Paul’s warning of the “schemes of the devil.” What are they, exactly? I’ll share my thoughts, and you can tell me in the comments what you think.
Remember those highly important, yet secretive little notes passed between desks in junior high? Each person in the chain must be trusted not to open the note, not on the way to the intended person, not on the way back. Yes, you guessed it, this was before cell phones and texting. Their content was simple, but vital. They had check-boxes with ‘like,’ ‘really like,’ ‘friend,’ and ‘love’ written next to them. One’s entire future depended on which box was checked. It meant the difference between getting a date after school, or walking home with despair. In reading certain verses in the Bible, it can really be the same sort of thing.
Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.
Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows on them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.
To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing.
Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Behold, all who are incensed against you shall be put to shame and confounded; those who strive against you shall be as nothing and shall perish.
You shall seek those who contend with you, but you shall not find them; those who war against you shall be as nothing at all.
For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.
A Useless Message?
Isaiah wouldn’t be considered a successful minister. Despite his prophecies, kings did what they wanted, repented only when it seemed they had to, then returned to their selfish, prideful ways.
Isaiah is remarkable because his prophecies pointed down the vast corridors of time to Jesus Christ, our Lord. He reminds us of God’s sovereignty over all matters of life. He reminds us that we don’t even have a frame of reference to interpret God’s ways.
That could be frightening. Imagining God looking down on humanity, regarding the lofty princes and powerful nations as “less than nothing,” and the people as grasshoppers, dust on the scales. We make no impact at all to God.
We don’t like that idea. We like to think that we have a purpose and make our mark on history. We want to be somebody. We want to make a name for ourselves. We believe we can reach the stars or build a tower to heaven. We prefer to think that we can know the deep things of knowledge both of good and evil, and that in that pursuit, we’ll become like God.
It’s all absurd. It would be like the comedy sketch Jim Gaffigan did about the toddlers who try to run away. “Where do you think you’re going?”
Only, with God, it’s even more absurd.
Who Is Like God?
There is nothing to which we can compare God. He is intimately involved in his creation, including all the stars in the galaxy, which he calls by name, not missing a single one.
Think about that when you think you’ve been forgotten by God. He doesn’t regard people the way we do. Pomp and status in our society means nothing to Him. When Jesus stood before Pilate, it was actually Pilate who stood before Jesus, his soul on trial.
With all our striving, we grow tired. Even when we are young, we do not possess the strength to go on forever. There comes a time when we are exhausted, hemmed in on every side.
True Hope of Deliverance
But if we look to the Lord, He renews our strength. He gives power to the faint. Though we be as lame, weak people, we’ll be more than conquerors by His might.
The promise that continues in chapter 41 is to God’s people, not to people in general. It is only the repentant who have put their faith in the absolute justice and holiness of God’s nature, have renounced all claim of control on their life that can then rest in the declarations that follow.
Our enemies will be as nothing at all. We’ll look for them and not find them.
The Lord holds us in His right hand. We need not fear. He is our Lord.
There’s a debate among evangelicals known as the Armenian vs. Calvinist debate. For those who don’t know Christianese, it relates to Free Will vs. Election. If I’m still getting the head-tilts of confusion I’ll explain this way: Free Will holds that Christ died for everyone’s sin, paid the debt for each person. It is each person’s responsibility to accept that gift of their own Free Will to be saved. Election refers to the divine plan for the elect, those who were chosen by God’s sovereign Will before Creation itself.
Both sides point to many of the same passages. They just interpret them differently.
Rather than parse out the two sides, I’m going to keep this short and address something that is at the center, the real question, IMO: Did Christ die for someone’s sin of not believing in Him as Lord?
I’ve heard John MacArthur, among others, claim that if Jesus bore the wrath of God for the sin of every human on earth and across time, but every human didn’t receive Him through faith, then those people would have to pay the penalty of God’s wrath for their sin. This would be, according to MacArthur, double-jeopardy. Two punishments for the same sin.
I’ll note that MacArthur is attempting to apply our understanding of legal justice to a God who is outside of our Created realm, time, and concepts of justice. I suspect our ideas of justice–when compared to God’s understanding–are about as accurate as a young child’s understanding of what his or her parent does for a living.
When I was studying the book of John, however, I came across this passage:
Joh 16:8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:
Joh 16:9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me;
Now, some will say that their sin remains because they didn’t pick up the free gift of Jesus’ sacrifice on their behalf (the Free Will argument). Or, that Jesus didn’t pay for their sin because they were not of the elect (the Election argument).
Before I move on, I’ll quote another passage:
Mar 3:28 “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter,
Mar 3:29 but whoever blasphemies against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—
This is the famous “unpardonable sin” passage. Jesus clearly states that “all sins will be forgiven the children of man…”
I’m sure there are various interpretations of this, but for the sake of brevity, I won’t delve into them. The plain meaning, to me, is that Jesus’ sacrifice will provide the basis for forgiveness of all sin, all blasphemy, except blaspheming against the Holy Spirit.
What does that mean? That’s the clincher, really. What does it mean to blaspheme the Holy Spirit? Remember, God is One, so we shouldn’t fall into modalism, or defining each member of the Trinity like a separate God.
The Holy Spirit is the work of God in the world. The Pharisees were trying to say that Jesus miracles–specifically casting out a demon–was the work of Satan. They denied the nature of Christ as the Son of God, and His work as the work of the Holy Spirit.
My reading of this is that the unpardonable sin is unbelief. They rejected Christ and all His work as the work of the devil and for such a sin, there is no sacrifice.
Here’s another applicable passage:
Heb 6:4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit,
Heb 6:5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come,
Heb 6:6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
Many find this to support the Free Will position, which holds that people can lose their salvation. Instead, I feel this supports the basic premise that our judgment will be based on the sin of unbelief, not the underlying sinfulness of our race.
To understand how this works with the other two passages, I look at a few key phrases: heavenly gift, shared in the Holy Spirit, tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come.
The heavenly gift is Christ, the bread of heaven that is true food to us. Those who have “tasted” of Christ would be like those who hear the gospel and respond (like in the parable of the sower).
The Holy Spirit would refer to the work of God among His people, not the indwelling of the Spirit in the life of these people. This would refer to those who say “Lord, Lord, we did all these things in your name!” and yet be told to depart from Him as workers of lawlessness. They share in the work of the Holy Spirit without being truly sealed by His indwelling.
The goodness of the word of God refers to understanding the scriptures. Many false Christians affirm that the Bible is good, but ultimately will not sacrifice their own comfort or advancement in its defense.
Similarly, the powers of the age to come means they understand God’s promise of the resurrection and the new heaven and new earth.
These are those who ultimately “fall away” as the seeds that start to sprout, but are choked out, burned and do not prove to be true converts. They fail because they do not believe God.
Our salvation ultimately depends on one thing: Believing God. This was the basis for Abraham’s righteousness, and it is the basis of ours, as well. We, of course, have far more information about God than our spiritual ancestor.
When someone holds to earthly applause instead of becoming an outcast for the testimony of Christ, it says what they believe about God. If someone is loath to surrender a popular ritual or even some religious ordinance because there is too much sentimentality or tradition attached to it, it says something about their belief in God.
Essentially, when we become the judge of what is right and wrong, rather than humbly submitting to the words of Christ, we join Satan in saying, “Did God really say?” We refuse to enter the Promised Land because we reject the idea that God will deliver the giants and warriors into our hands and allow us to occupy the land. We leave Ur, but settle in Haran.
We need to ensure we listen to the voice of the Lord when He calls us out of Haran to the wilderness. We need to travel forth into a land of godless warriors, pitching our tent and laying claim to a promise that is entirely absurd by earthly standards.
If we fail to do so, if we defame God’s character by rejecting His promise and His way, we reveal that we don’t believe Jesus is Lord. We reveal we don’t believe God’s power.
Can someone who has passed through the Red Sea, eaten of the heavenly bread, drank of the water from the rock, followed the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, then reject God’s nature of goodness, holiness, faithfulness, mercy and grace?
If they do, they have likely committed the unpardonable sin and there is no additional sacrifice to cover that.
Don’t judge! Don’t be so negative! If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all!
We’ve all heard those statements. I’ve cautioned myself and my kids with those words. There’s truth in them.
Truth, however, is only true when applied correctly. So, if someone is only looking on possible problems that don’t exist and are not very likely, they might be responding negatively, or judging for no good reason.
Other times, people will turn up their nose because of pride, thinking they are better than someone else.
Sometimes, negativity is good. In fact, in certain cases, it’s desperately needed.
I heard about a woman that was extracted from her home by a team of rescue workers after a friend called to inform them that she was no longer able to get out of her chair.
Oh, and that had been the case for months!
This woman put the morbid in morbidly obese. It was incredibly sad. She sat in the same place, relieving her bodily functions where she sat, relying on her friend to bring her food. I’m guessing the food probably didn’t include fresh vegetables, either.
At this point, I think we’d all agree that some intervention was long overdue. I mean, how many visits to a friend who is urinating and defecating in her chair would it take to say, “Suzie, I’m going to get you some help!”?
This friend had to make a judgment, for sure. He was judging the fact that ‘Suzie’ was incapable of taking care of herself on a basic, human level. In fact, they found her bones had suffered from lack of calcium and the overbearing weight of her flesh to the point that, even if she wanted to, she could not get up or walk.
Someone needed to tell her that she was in a very dire condition. She needed to be confronted with the reality that she was trapped by her gluttony and sloth, literally sitting in a cesspool of filth.
Her friend needed to judge the situation rightly and bring the negative news of truth.
The same is true if we go to the doctor. How would we react if we found that our doctor didn’t want to be negative, so he/she didn’t tell us that we had cancer? What if, instead, the doctor just encouraged us to try to eat a few pieces of broccoli or add a healthy smoothy to our diet?
Then, a few months later we end up in the hospital with untreatable cancer. It’s too late. there’s nothing medicine can do.
I think that doctor would have a law suit on his/her hands!
People might think true Christians are negative because we proclaim that no one is good. No one can stand before the measure of God’s Righteousness and not be found wanting. We all deserve eternal punishment for our rebellion and spite against our loving Creator God.
That negativity, that judgment, comes with a treatment. Jesus died to pay the debt we could not pay. He bore the wrath that we deserved. He was buried. Then, after completing that work, He picked up His life and was resurrected, giving us hope of eternal life through the same power of resurrection.
Why does this work? Well, death couldn’t keep Jesus because He died without sin. The “wages” of sin is death. Remember from Genesis where God told Adam that in the day that he ate of the fruit of the forbidden tree, he would die. Sure enough, Adam died. As did all of his descendants (except, perhaps Enoch, but that’s another blog to discuss that).
When Jesus died, He had remained spotless. He didn’t owe those wages, so death couldn’t hold Him. He resurrected.
He is referred to as the “first-born of the dead.” Meaning He is the first of a “new race,” just like Adam was the first of the human race.
Because Jesus defeated death, all who call on His name, or nature, who call out to Him as Lord and Savior, will be given righteousness.
Abraham believed God, believed His nature, and righteousness was credited to him.
This is how it works. We don’t have the righteousness. We can’t work up to enough righteousness. We can’t get out of our chair because we’re stuck with decaying bones and sitting in our own filth! Or, to use the Biblical example, we’re dead! Dead men and women don’t get up.
But, by faith, calling out to Jesus after recognizing the horrible truth of our condition, God clothes us with something we could never earn or deserve: His Righteousness.
Because we’re then clothed with His Righteousness, death will not be able to hold us any more than it held Jesus. We will be resurrected to eternal life.
That is the hope. But true hope doesn’t come from warm fuzzies that ignore the truth, or mask it with silly fantasies about dancing in the sky as a spirit or experiencing some ecstatic revelation.
I’ll leave off with this. Daniel in the lion’s den. Did he see the angel standing guard next to him? Was it bright, like in the pictures we’ve all seen? Or was it dark? Was he alone in a smelly cave, no light to see, and growling beasts all around?
I think it was the latter. Daniel states that the Lord sent an angel to shut the lions’ mouths. But he never said he saw the angel. It’s possible he did see the angel. But the Bible doesn’t say that.
Similarly, his three friends never said they saw the fourth person walking in the flames. It was the king who saw the fourth person.
We are never promised to see signs and wonders. We are called to walk by faith, obeying when it seems that to do so would be the worst possible thing for our future. That’s real faith. And it will make us seem negative, or judgmental. It won’t win popularity contests in the world. But we’re not here to please the world.
We’re called to glorify the Lord.
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls
It’s sad how this verse has been the go-to for so-called pastors and elders. I had a man tell me, “I’m your spiritual authority!” And the crazy thing is that he actually believed it. He believed that he “watched over my soul!”
I told him that, contrary to his ego-induced madness, he was not entrusted with my soul and would never steal the authority from Jesus Christ.
While this might be considered an extreme of what I see all over the place in so-called Christianity, it’s just a festering infection as opposed to the unseen cancer that has infected Christ’s congregation since the tares were planted early on.
Consider those who wanted to tack Christianity into Judaism. They insisted that converts had to be circumcised. That was a big battle. Then they swooped in and tried to lead the Galatians away from their freedom from dead rituals.
Others brought heresy of gnosticism, claiming that the body was the flesh and the true person was the spiritual person and not affected by what went on in the body. Basically, a creative way of saying, do all the sin you want, because this body isn’t the true reality.
Some taught that the resurrection already took place. I don’t doubt there were what we’d call universalists back then.
There were those who sought to bring others under control by their ego and personality. They saw the Gospel as a means of gain.
These are all things Paul, Peter and Jude address in their letters. None of this is new.
The first century congregations struggled against all the same temptations as we do. But one was perhaps the most detrimental: Acceptance by the world.
While Augustine and other theologians came to repentance and experienced the grace of God’s salvation, Constantine and his mother-in-law did great violence to centuries of God’s people. They established what we call “church” today. This includes the perversion of the “authority” of the church.
When I was young, I learned that the “church” was the people, not the building. That’s true. Although, a better translation for ecclesia is congregation, not church. Church actually comes from a root word from which we get circus. Interestingly, the two things today are very similar.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Jesus and I know there are congregations of humble, repentant believers who are groaning inwardly at the hell-bent condition of the world around them (and of popular Christianity). But many of those remnant people of God are also held captive in the Babylons of the churches that dot the countryside. They keep quiet under the dubious rule of the Herods and Pilates, Caiaphases and Annases.
But it is interesting how the “church” is the people, but when it comes to so-called authority, the “church” is the pastor and elders.
The truth is that Jesus didn’t leave us authority to use of our own accord. Rather, He is the only authority in His congregation. His Word is left with which we can study and share and encourage and reprove. And when I say “reprove,” I mean to warn our friends from something that is harmful to our glory of God. It certainly is not to re-prove how wrong someone is and how right we are.
Paul, Peter, John, Luke, Jude, etc. wrote letters and accounts under the inspiration of Jesus’ spirit. But, when they weren’t under that inspiration, they disagreed and confronted one another.
What I see in America is what I call Corporate Church. A church is big business (or it wants to be). It masquerades as a ministry, but it is really just designed to bring in paying customers. It does this by providing programs and promises. The programs entertain while the promises imply that people’s lives will be changed and improved.
The Roman church did this without the entertainment because they developed the authority to absurd levels. They held the power of heaven and Hell, having wrested it from Christ’s hands, apparently. Nobody wants to go to Hell, so they will listen to the glittering, pontificating priests in hopes of being granted access to Heaven.
The Reformation shook those foundations … to an extent. While Luther and Calvin stole the issue of personal salvation from the Roman Church, they left the blasphemous ritual of infant baptism alone, allowing the anti-christs to pretend they could ensure children’s entrance to heaven (should anything happen to them).
This is still used in politics today: It’s for the kids!
The true reformation was that of the Anabaptists. These brave, sanctified souls broke from the horrendous, gaudy buildings and blasphemous formalism. They met at lakesides and near rivers. They baptised believers in obedience to Christ. For this they were hunted, driven from their home and land, drowned, burned at the stake or impaled.
Oh, and all these horrors were done by the church.
This is still done. If someone brings up a doctrinal issue to a self-proclaimed shepherd of God’s flock, they castigate the person, the railroad them out of relevance within the congregation. Their e-mails will be deleted, their questioned ignored and their character assassinated. And they’ll do this in the name of peace and unity.
Same as the Roman Church.
So, what is the authority of the people of God, His congregation? Our authority is to exercise clear obedience to His Word through humble faith and meekness. We show this when we share the hope we have for the life to come (not this life). We demonstrate our obedience when we turn the other cheek when we’re struck by the world. We allow the power of God to flow when we boast in our weakness.
God’s people–the true people–will be seen as last in this world. But that’s where Jesus was, too. And yet, through this dark valley of death’s shadow, we’re accompanied by One who has trod these stony paths and come through victoriously.
I walk with Him. His authority is all that matters.
I’m reading In Christ Alone: An Evangelical Response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins, written by Michael E. Wittmer. This is an old controversy … but it really isn’t new, either. They say a sucker is born every minute … well, so are heretic teachers. The problem is … I think the suckers are the ones responding to the heretics!
I’ll get to the book in a moment, but I want to preface it by another example. A while back I listened to a debate on baptism between John MacArthur and R.C. Sproul.
Hear the debate below:
The positions are well argued, generally. R.C. falls back on an argument of “deafening silence” regarding the practice of baptizing infants in the early church, and then attempts to string together the usual disconnected and out-of-context passages to build his defense of straight up idolatry.
MacArthur, while presenting the Biblical case for believer’s Baptism founded upon the actual teaching of Christ and the Scriptures, falls short in the end.
He succumbs to the same problem I’m seeing with Michael Wittmer in his response to Rob Bell’s heretical Universalims-tinged paganism.