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Meditation on the Sovereignty of God: Never Abstract and Theoretical.

I can’t share all that’s been going on with me over the past 72 hours. My wife and I drove the 11 hours to Nashville and our family requires much prayer at the moment.

I may be beating the same drum again, but it needs to be said. The sound theology that so many people turn their nose up to during the days of sunshine is designed by God for the benefit of the believer when the storms come.

Sound theology doesn’t take the pain away. That’s not its’ purpose.

What it does is ground you in reality.

Romans 8:28-39, the doctrine of election, the perseverance of the saints and the rest of the doctrines of grace aren’t simply theoretical ideas that have no basis or real impact on the life of the everyday believer.  They are comfort when hard times come.

You see, every true believer defaults back to a position similar or identical to reformed theology when trials hit.

They know God is wiser than our desires (thanks for the reminder RaRa). And so when they have done all that they can do to fix the situation, they default back to trusting God in His infinite wisdom to do what seems right to Him. They may pray for deliverance and relief from the situation, but know full well that if their prayers are not answered in the affirmative, God is still good….and God is still God.

At times when most people would lose all hope, true Christians have hope. They rely and trust upon God. They acknowledge simple things about God: His goodness, His omniscience, His power and ability to rescue…and deep underneath it all, they know.

Romans 8:28-30 again. God is for me.  As a believer, I may endure all sorts of trials – even down to persecution and death at the hands of my persecutors (vv. 33-36). Think of the implications of that closely.  And the promise I have that God is for me is seen in the fact that He gave up the most valuable possession in the universe to Him – He gave Himself.

God the Father, who loves His son, gave His Son. His Son who did no wrong, took the penalty for my wrongdoing.

If God is capable of doing this, then Him choosing me, calling me to salvation, paying the penalty for my sin on the cross, preserving me, sanctifying me and eventually glorifying me is not an impossibly big deal.

And I take this promise and feed on it for comfort during times like these. I realize that God has not only called, saved, sanctified me, but also others.  And when those others are enduring their own pain, I point them to these promises as a source of comfort and hope.

No, the pain doesn’t ‘not happen’. Every day is not a Friday. Every day can’t be a Friday. Joel Osteen’s book is full of lies and is nothing more than paganism and selfishness wrapped in fake Christianese with a few misquoted scriptures tossed in. If your ‘BEST life’ is now, then your next life will be in hell.  God never designed the Christian life to be free of pain or struggle. But He did design it to be full of hope and joy even in the midst of tribulation and trial.

So I rest in the Sovereignty of God  and trust Him. The Judge of all the earth will always do what is right (Gen. 18:26), even when my finite, limited-understanding, easily moved and changed mind and emotions don’t understand why things have to happen the way they do when they do.

Pain, then, becomes a beacon pointing us back to the true and living God for comfort, and not simply our friends & family. It also points us away from things like alcohol, drugs and other destructive things that provide a false sense of temporary comfort. Suffering becomes an opportunity for trust, not dismay.  Nothing less than a God who is both Sovereign and in control of all human events (including, but not limited to earthquakes, death, famine, marriages, joy, celebrations, and accidents) is able to promise Romans 8:28-30.  He can be trusted. Nothing less than a God who is carries out election, calling to salvation, justification, sanctification and glorification is able to promise and carry out Romans 8:38-39. We don’t serve a God who simply wishes well for us or thinks well for us like a cheerleader on the sidelines watching the game.

Never theoretical. Never abstract. Always real. Because God is real, life is real and pain is real.

What are you resting on ?

Trust God.

New Series on Reformed Theology…..

Posting up a new series on reformed theology on the main site.

Why I won’t convince anyone of the doctrines of grace

10. Believing sound theology involves both the intellectual side of the mind and the emotional side of the mind (Deut. 6:5). I can’t make you love truth.

9. Believing sound theology requires work (2 Tim. 2:15). If you’re looking for quick and simple answers with one or two or ten proof texts, you won’t sit still long enough to meditate on scripture, I might as well be talking to the UBS guy. But the fruit of the Spirit is self-control, right ?

8. Believing sound theology requires time and patience (see above – Joshua 1:8). We live in a microwave age. But sound biblical theology isn’t just something you learn quick and then move on to something else. It’s like learning music theory and composition – you’re always referring back to the basics and your understanding of them grows progressively as you move deeper into them. That part falls on you…. but the fruit of the Spirit is patience, right ?

7. If you’ve got a particular personal reason for not believing the doctrines of grace, I can’t help you. You need to let go of whatever it is you’re holding on to and seek repentance and healing from it from God. Otherwise, question after question, response after response will make no difference. Your heart will be closed toward it no matter how many convincing arguments I posit to you.

6. If your idea of Christianity is ‘here’s a list of things you need to believe, okay got it, let’s move on to something else’, the doctrines of grace won’t appeal to you (Hebrews 5:9-6:14). In fact, most sound theological teachings won’t appeal to you, since spending time meditating on the word of God requires time, patience and ‘moving onto something else’ doesn’t work well with it.

5. If you’re irrational, the doctrines of grace won’t appeal to you. God Himself is the ground of all logic – the doctrines of grace work on that basis. So if you’re used to believing things that are mutually exclusive of each other (i.e. postmodernism), you probably will feel ‘tied down’ by the doctrines of grace. But hey, truth isn’t dependent upon how you feel about it, is it ?

4. If you’re walking around with unbiblical notions regarding the abilities of man and you’re not willing to have them checked, the doctrines of grace won’t make sense to you. But that requires you to approach them and admit to being wrong on something…and a lot of folks aren’t willing to do that when it comes to discussing salvation.

3. My understanding of the doctrines of grace and reformed and covenantal theology are still growing. Eight years ago, I would’ve told you that I’d never be presbyterian because ‘babies can’t believe! Why would you baptize them ?’ As my understanding grows, my ability to present a sound and convincing argument grows. Stuff I know now may not be convincing and intelligible to you the way I phrase it. Maybe five years from now I can present it better in a way that you might catch onto immediately.

2. If your acceptance is based on whether or not you like me and the way I say things at times, you’ll probably reject me. I don’t pretend to be perfect. I’m harsh at times, and even the best intentioned words sometimes come out wrong. Of course, even if I never existed, the doctrines of grace would still be true. So in that vein, I’m really unimportant.

1. You can argue with me all day (some of you have tried…LOL). At the end of the day, I always point you away from me to scripture first and foremost. You can dislike me and call me names all you’d like. You can’t argue with scripture. And God is the one who ‘convinces’ folk of sound doctrine once they take time and apply themselves to studying it. So I always encourage folks – study it till you can articulate it accurately. Then you’ve earned the right to attempt to critique it. But usually, by that time, God the Holy Spirit does something to make folk see….’oh wow. it’s there. and it’s RIGHT THERE. How did I miss it all this time ?’

Hilarity from Sacred Sandwich

HT to James White for this link:

Over the past 10 years, I can’t tell you how many discussions went exactly this way….

Over on Puritan Board, someone said that the author gave Arminians too much credit – they don’t quote that much scripture.

Calvinists attacked… what else is new ?

Over on LDM, someone posted a blogpost from someone who has decided to openly ‘speak out’ against and ‘warn’ folks regarding Reformed theology in Christian hip hop.  The writer says that because of his convictions against RT and the doctrines of grace, he actually went and deleted folk from his friends list on facebook.   More on this in a bit.

After giving it a read (which was a bit painful), I’ve come to the conclusion that this guy is simply another ignorant believer.  Ignorant simply because he doesn’t really have a solid clue as to what reformed theology is – either that, or he doesn’t choose to have a clue. In the case of the former, it’s cool. We can sit down like brethren and discuss these issues without the need for anyone to come off (as he comes off in his article) confrontational, divisive and ‘heated’.  Humility works both ways. 🙂 [side note: ever notice how most of the time, the people complaining about RT are usually the ones typing in all caps with exclamation points, yet they call reformed folks divisive and argumentative ?] Humility is especially useful when you don’t know what you’re talking about.

If the latter is the case, then dude simply needs to reserve his comments. God doesn’t tell people to speak up about things they aren’t equipped to speak on and aren’t able to represent properly.  Remember – we are (according to scripture) to speak the TRUTH in love (Eph. 4:15). Speaking the truth also means properly speaking what is true about what others believe, even when you disagree with it.  To personally and purposefully misrepresent brethren and what they believe is a 9th Commandment violation. I appreciate men like Pricilli and Oden because although they aren’t Calvinists, they do go to great lengths to explain what reformed theology is correctly.  Unforutnately, most of them are set in the shade by people like Ergun Caner, Vance, Dave Hunt and others who spend tons of time attacking Calvinists and Calvinism, but refuse to represent reformed theology accurately.   It’s much easier (for them) to tear down a lie than to deal with biblical truth.

And that brings us back to  Mynista’s post.  He writes:

I believe that man has a free will. Throughout the bible people are directed by God to make CHOICES. Starting with Adam and Eve.

Where’s the disagreement ?  Reformed theology teaches that folk do have a free will and that they do make choices. Reformed theology also teaches that those choices are not forced nor coerced, but the person freely makes them according to his/her nature. Human nature, after the fall, is not the same as it was with Adam and Eve before the fall.  Scripture bears this out repeatedly (Romans 5, Jeremiah 17:9, Eccl. 7:20, Ephesians 2:1-3). Fallen men, according to scripture, cannot and will not choose God of their own ‘free will’.  Their will is enslaved to sin, so their choices – FREELY – are limited. As an example, if I drop a marble in a box, the marble is free to roll around the box according to the shape of the box. It can roll to the corners, along the top, bottom and sides. The marble, however, is entrapped by the box (there’s a lid on it with no hole). The marble is not free to leave the box. The marble has freedom to roll around in the box, but does not have liberty (the marble’s options are constrained).

I think what he’s aiming for is trying to say that man has liberty to choose good and evil – something the bible explicitly does not teach with regard to the unregenerate person (Romans 8:6-9).

His problem with the concept appears to run along the lines of: “God tells us to make choices, therefore, we MUST be able to do what he asks us to do, otherwise, that wouldn’t be fair.”  I’ve seen many a non-Calvinist trip over this question in attempting to understand reformed theology (and/or argue against it).  Truthfully, it’s the same question that tripped up Pelagius in the early 400’s.  The assumption that underlies this question is command means ability to carry it out.

The major question, of course, is this: is this assumption a biblically accurate one ?

The usual answer to this, of course, is that God bases His commands on responsibility, not ability.   No one loves God perfectly (Deut. 6:5), something that we are indeed commanded to do.  What people have done (especially in the Weslyan tradition) is modify what being ‘perfect’ means to include a progressive sanctification that can eventually end in extended periods of sinlessness. Such a modification, however, doesn’t find a root in the biblical text, but in human assumptions. The question of God’s fairness will be addressed a few paragraphs down.

Another quote:

Yes, I believe that God is sovereign, and I believe (according to His Word) that in His sovereignty He will not violate His Word…this is a partnership, not a dictatorship. It’s possible to grieve and quench The Holy Ghost.

This statement’s a bit complex to deal with. Sovereign, by definition, implies dictatorship – at least it did back in ancient times. Folk in Babylon hearing Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4:29-37 wouldn’t have understood any part of that to mean ‘partnership’.  In fact, anyone reading Daniel 4:29-37 NOW would have to seriously strain and read foreign elements into the text to get anything of a ‘partnership’ from:

29At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” 31 While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, 32 and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” 33Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws.

34 At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,

for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and 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?”

36At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. 37Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

A few more quotes:

I don’t believe that His grace is irresistible, Man CAN resist God’s grace.

A common mistake that non-Calvinists make when they run into the term ‘irresistible grace’.   Arthur Custance corrects this error:

If a man by nature always resists the grace of God, then in order for that grace to be effectual it must in some sense be irresistible; for if the grace of God were ineffectual none would be saved, and this we know is not the case.

We know by experience that “the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness to him; neither indeed can he know them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). On the other hand we also know that “to them that received Him gave He the power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12).
Thus to speak of the grace of God as irresistible is not to say that man cannot resist it, for he does. It is only to say that human resistance is allowed to proceed so far and no further than God pleases. The Jewish authorities were allowed to resist the Holy Spirit to the very last (Acts 7:51), but Paul was allowed to resist only to a point when his resistance was suddenly brought to an end (Acts 9:5, 6). The grace of God is sovereign; but it cannot be said to be irresistible, for men do resist it. Loraine Boettner suggested that it might indeed be better to employ the term Efficacious Grace instead, for this is really what the saving grace of God is. This would spoil a widely accepted mnemonic aid, the acronym T U L I P, beloved of catechists for many generations, but in the interests of greater doctrinal precision it might be well to abandon it.
Arthur Custance, The Sovereignty of Grace, Chapter 9:

Again, this is simple reformed theology that anyone could ‘get right’ if they actually took the time to read it.

His next statement is one that most people who disagree with reformed theology get ‘hung up’ over:

I believe that Salvation is for ALL, and not only for an elect few. The elect & chosen are simply those who believe on Jesus (John 3:16). He chose to have mercy on ALL! The called are those who hear the Gospel period. ManyARE CALLED, few are chosen (believe).

Aside from turning words on their head (any ENGLISH dictionary shows that ‘chosen’ and ‘believe’ do not mean the same thing). A poster on HCR made this very wise observation which served to answer Mynista’s objection months before he wrote it:

Well this doesn’t help you. YHWH did not warn any of the Egyptians to put Blood on their door post. Thus the symbolic atonement there was completely limited to the House of Israel only. Thus that is an exact picture of LA. So it was a picture of Salvation.

This is also why, in Jesus’ high priestly prayer, He does not pray for the world, but only for those who were given to Him (the elect) by His Father (John 17:9).  Romans 9 is a very helpful passage in discussing this issue.  First, it directly contradicts what Mynista says – God does NOT choose to have mercy on all. He has mercy on some.  This is what He tells Moses and what Paul references in Romans 9.  It isn’t an issue of injustice with God (which is really what Mynista is objecting to) – God owes no man anything (another hidden assumption).  God didn’t choose to redeem fallen angels when they sinned. He provided no substitutionary atonement for them.  Does that make God less good ?  Of course not!  God is not obligated to provide a way of salvation for ANY of His creatures that violate His law.  His choosing to do so for humans (and not for angels) is a function of His mercy.   Mercy is not obligatory, but voluntary. Why God chooses to have mercy on any is a mystery!

Over the past 10 years of me being reformed, I’ve witness non-Calvinistic folk make horrendous statements against RT, to the point of treating it like a cult.  Some of Mynista’s comments are definitely divisive and downright destructive – much like a child with a nuclear weapon who thinks he knows what ‘the enemy’ looks like.

My personal assessment based on interactions with folk over this time period (especially on Holy Culture Radio during my years as moderator and then head admin there) have equipped me well to answer these same questions as well as give me a ‘heads up’ on things that people usually assume (unspoken assumptions) when it comes to the doctrines of grace.  Brother Mynista is no exception here – just another ignorant non-Calvinist who has problems (huge ones) with the doctrines of grace and isn’t very precise in his theology (or his understanding of others’ for that matter).  He’s also sloppy with his handling of the bible.

But let’s trek back in time, shall we ? How many of you current Calvinists had ‘sharp ears’ and ‘huge amounts of discernment’ so you could spot truth and error immediately, even after a few years as a believer ?  How ‘theologically correct’ were all of us who are now Calvinists when we first heard (and in many cases, heavily disagreed) with the doctrines of grace ?   How many of us reacted to them exactly or worse than this brother is now doing ? How many of us actually understood what we were arguing against ?  How many of us simply THOUGHT we understood (and arrogantly told people ‘you’re just saying that because I disagree with you’ when, looking back NOW, you really DIDN’T understand ) ?

So this brother’s rant has to be viewed also from the position of grace and graciousness. It takes some people years to get out of the muddle of messed up theology they become entrenched in and along the way, they are going to say some stupid things. Indeed, even afterward, there are many ‘new Calvinists’ who say plenty of stupid things that end up turning non-Calvinists off to any discussion, but that’s another blogpost series.

After reading, I felt a little sorry for dude. He’s fighting against stuff that’s pretty clear in scripture and he’s mixed up. I’ve learned to deal a bit gentler with folks over time because just like a kid who swears up and down that they know everything when they really know very little, when that emotional rant gets moving, the person cannot be reasoned with from scripture or otherwise.  Further could be pointed out about his post -  the cluelessness at the fact that most of the REAL (not imagined)  ‘Holy Ghost Fire’ he’s talking about has come as a result of believing (not rejecting) the doctrines of grace (from William Carey, the father of every modern missionary movement) to men like Wilberforce (abolitionist), Spurgeon and Whitefield (powerful evangelists who preached to thousands at a time) and these names could be multiplied a thousand times…. but it’s a small thing for now. The usual response is to accuse the other person of wanting to ‘debate’ and then running away from the discussion.  The reformed person in this equation should be the first person to show grace and graciousness in handling personal shots (and they will come). The reformed person should also be sure to keep the discussion on the Word and not get drawn off-topic into discussions on Calvin himself, the Institutes, Spurgeon, Piper or anyone else for that matter.  I think it’s probably part of the reason why dude said he was dumping people from his friends list – he really doesn’t want to hear biblical truth because he’s comfortable where he is and doesn’t want to be challenged.  And it can be a very difficult thing to re-evaluate one’s beliefs or have them constantly challenged….unfortunately, his reaction, instead of actually ‘defending’ what he thinks is the faith, is akin to turning, sticking one’s fingers in one’s ears, and running away while screaming (much like the Pharisees did when they rushed Stephen in Acts 7).

A lot of his post was a lot of zeal with very little knowledge and a boatload of emotion.  I can’t say it should be a surprise. It’s a bit of the normal reaction….seen it before and it won’t be the last time it happens.  Newly reformed folk should be aware of what to expect.

My advice to someone over on my board was pretty simple….

Let him be.  If you run across people like him (or those of you reading who run across him)…..if they bring up the topic, ask them first and foremost are they willing to discuss the issue from scripture and not divert over to talking about Calvin, Servetus, Slavery, Jonathan Edwards or anything else…but scripture.  Ask them if they are willing to discuss biblical teaching and not simply talk ‘about Calvinism and Calvinists’ (which is what a lot of discussions break down to).  If they divert, ask them again and tell them you aren’t willing to talk about anything else than scripture and whether or not these beliefs are taught in scripture.  If the usual advance accusations of ‘debate’ and ‘argumentative’ come to mind, remind them that right now, all you’ve done is ask them to discuss scripture as brothers (or sisters).  If they are unwilling to do this, tell them you’ll pray for them to one day be open to discussing scripture and not be so ‘defensive’ and willing to divert to other topics.

And walk away.  God will deal with them.

Sometimes, it takes God bringing folks to a point of crisis before they humble themselves.

As an additional resource, if you run into folks who constantly spend time spewing misconceptions on the doctrines of grace and you find yourself having to constantly correct them, refer them to this VERY helpful article on the subject: