Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Predestined - To Become Like Jesus (Romans 8:29-30)

In our studies of Romans 8:28 we have discovered that all of the negative things (all of the suffering) that would cause us to throw away our confidence, to lose faith, to quit trusting God, or to apostatize – these negative things or sufferings that we endure because of our faith – God is causing them to work for us and not against us. Every time we suffer for the sake of our faith in Christ, God causes that suffering to strengthen our faith, our character, and our godliness.

We also discovered that God isn’t doing this for everyone but only for those who love God and those who are called according to His purpose. We know that no man loves God in and of himself and the only reason any man loves God is because God first loved him. The only way to love God is to experience His love for you through the Gospel. This is why one of the biblical assurances of salvation is that we have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us (1 John 4:16).

The called are those chosen by God for salvation. Just as no man loves God unless God first loved him so no man chooses God unless God first chose him. This removes salvation from man’s doing and shows it to be a sovereign work of God. Because of this truth we know that salvation is not of works but by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Many balk at this biblical truth because they can’t understand what part human responsibility plays if salvation is all of God. They forget however the reason men that have not been chosen by God remain in their unbelief is because they will not believe. They cannot believe because they will not believe because their wills are in bondage to sin and they love their sin. This is exactly what the Lord Jesus said in several places. First, “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than Light, for their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). And then, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life” (John 5:39-40).

Therefore salvation is for everyone who believes or whosoever believes. All who are willing to believe are willing only because God chose them and called them and granted that they may come to Jesus.

This brings us to our text, Romans 8:29. All that are willing to believe are those whom God has foreknown. The word “foreknew” means “to know beforehand.” This does not mean that God knew beforehand that you would believe and therefore He elected you to salvation. If that is the case then our election to salvation is conditioned on something good that God saw in us. Was that the prognosis? No! “There is none who does good, there is not even one” (Romans 3:12). Election to salvation is unconditional. There is absolutely no cause in us to merit salvation. This is why we read, “Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). The word “gift” means “gratuitously or without a cause.”
So the word “foreknew”, then, means that God knew beforehand those whom He would justify as a gift by His grace. If you believe that salvation is by grace through faith and not of works so that no man may boast then of necessity you will also believe in unconditional election. The only alternative is to believe that God’s gift of salvation is conditioned upon some cause rather than no cause and then you would have merited grace and grace that is merited is not grace. A merited gift is not a gift. “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace” (Romans 11:6).

Those whom God foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son. The word “predestined” means to “predetermine or preordain.” God has predetermined or preordained that believers would be conformed to the image of His Son. This means that all the suffering that believers endure for the sake of righteousness is being used by God to cause them to look more like Jesus. What did Jesus look like? This isn’t talking about having long hair, a beard, or any other physical feature that the Lord may have had. This is talking about reflecting His image in and through our experiences. He suffered and yet kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously (1 Peter 2:21-23). This means that we are called to suffer and to do so by following in the steps of Jesus.

So God has predestined our suffering with Christ so that we may be glorified with Him. The wonderful truth of it all is that God is causing all our suffering for the sake of righteousness to work for us and not against us and is using it to make us more like Christ.

God’s ultimate goal or primary cause in the salvation of the elect is to glorify His Son through whom the grace and glory of God will be praised – “so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.” The firstborn has the preeminence and the glory.

God is conforming us to the image of His Son through what we suffer so that when others see how we bear up under suffering, maintaining our faith and trust in God, they see what Jesus looked like. This gives Christ the preeminence and glory and shows Him to be a glorious Savior worth suffering for – “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21).

Our suffering glorifies Christ; conforms us to His image; and benefits others.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

God's Promise to Protect Christians (Romans 8:28)

We know that the book of Romans is the Holy Spirit inspired explanation of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. In it we find God’s solution to the dilemma of how a holy God can pardon sinners and remain just in the process. It is here that we discover that there is one and only one way that God can extend His mercy without violating His Law and being unjust in the process. It is the high and holy doctrine of penal-substitution or you could say penalty-substitution. For God to pardon sinners and remain just in the process there would have to be a mutual agreement between Him and a willing sinless substitute who would live a sinless life; die a sacrificial death; and experience a supernatural resurrection on behalf of God and sinners. We know that this is exactly what God has accomplished through Jesus Christ His Son and that on this basis there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved other than Jesus Christ.

The implications of this truth are enormous and are explicitly taught in the Bible – unless people trust Christ based on His sinless life, sacrificial death, and supernatural resurrection, they cannot be saved because there is no other way for God to forgive and remain just in the process.

This is the Gospel; this is the message of truth that the church must know and guard because “he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber” (John 10:1). Jesus is the door of the sheep (John 10:7). No one comes to the Father except by faith in Christ and Christ alone (John 14:6).

So unless men hear the message about Christ and respond to Christ by trusting Him as Lord and Savior, they cannot and will not be saved. By this we know who the thieves and robbers are: the ones who say that there is another way or who tamper with the message about Christ in any form or fashion by adding to it or taking away from it. Those who would offer Christ as Savior only are libertine liars. Those who would say that you have to make Christ Lord are legalistic liars. Those who would say that God saves through Jesus and also has other ways to save are lunatic liars.

Only those who have trusted Christ for penal-substitionary atonement are saved and all others are climbing up some other way. Anyone who trusts Christ for penal-substitutionary atonement will love and obey Jesus as Savior and Lord and the two cannot be separated. Just as love and obedience cannot be separated neither can Savior and Lord be separated.

Those who have been justified on the basis of their faith in Christ will live in loving, loyal obedience to Christ and will be hated by the world because of it. It is this faith that is always tested by the enemies of Christ. Christians will be persecuted for desiring to live godly in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:12). This brings us to our text, Romans 8:28, where we see that God promises to protect Christians in and through their suffering for the sake of their faith in Christ.

For we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God – how do we know? We know by the testimony of two witnesses.

First we know because of the testimony of Scripture. We can look at the Biblical record and see how God has always protected His people by protecting their faith. This means that the suffering that comes to the child of God only strengthens his faith rather than diminishing it. Remember Joseph! Remember Daniel! Remember the three Hebrews! Remember Job! Remember Jeremiah! Remember Jesus! Remember the apostles!

Second we know because of the testimony of the saints. We can speak with anyone whose faith is genuine and 100% will testify of the unfailing faithfulness of God. The resounding chorus that will come from the lips and heart of every genuine child of God is “Great is His faithfulness!”

To those who love God – the promise of God’s protection is only to the redeemed. God doesn’t cause all things to work together for good to everyone because not everyone has saving faith. God will never prove a false faith to be true for then He would be a liar. I’ll remind you of what Adrian Rogers used to say, “The faith that fizzles before the finish was faulty at the first.”

So who are those who love God? Those who love God are the saved. Anyone who does not love the Lord Jesus does not love God and anyone who does not love God does not love the Lord Jesus. That is why we read, “If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed” (1 Corinthians 16:22).

Those who love God do not do so in their own power and of their own accord. Those who love God love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). No person who does not have saving faith loves God no matter how loudly he or she proclaims it. A person must come to know and believe (trust) the love which God has for us (1 John 4:16) and that love can only be known and believed by God’s demonstration of His love for us, in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

Those who love God are those who obey. Jesus said, “If you love Me you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). There is no love for the Lord when there is no obedience to His Word. The implication of this is that there is no love for the Lord when we will not trust and obey His Word. When we will not trust and obey His Word there is no faith and it is written that the righteous man shall live by faith (Romans 1:17).

Those who love God are those who obey His Word and because we obey His Word the world hates us. This is why the true believer experiences suffering and persecution for the sake of righteousness – but it is in and through this that God has promised to work all things together for God to those who love God. True Christians will be kept from stumbling (John 15:18-21; 16:1).

Great is His faithfulness!

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Called (Romans 8:28)

The context of Romans 8:28 is the suffering that believers encounter and endure for the sake of their faith in Christ so that they will be glorified with Christ (Romans 8:17ff). In the simplest of terms this means that God is causing our suffering to work for us and not against us. Believers will be more than conquerors through Christ (Romans 8:37) and their faith will be continually strengthened through their suffering and they will never apostatize (Romans 8:30).

So the “all things” that God’s Word is speaking of in Romans 8:28 are the negative things; the sufferings and afflictions that God is causing to work for us and not against us. And if God is for us and working all things together for us, who or what can be against us (Romans 8:31)?

We have already noted that God isn’t doing this for everyone but only for those who love God. And we know that no man in his natural state loves God but is in fact and enemy of God, hostile toward God, and hates the God of the Bible. He may be in love with a God of his own imagination but the holy, strict, and always just God of the Bible he hates with a passion and would even dare charge Him with evil, immorality, and a monstrous character – all because He will not bend to their lower standards of justice and morality which is in fact injustice and immorality. Those who are brave enough will even declare that they could never love a God who would send men to hell and who would punish them eternally for their crimes against Him. Others hate God because He saves some but not all. They would love a God who saves all but not a God who saves some and not others.

But we know that we love God not of our own accord but because He first loved us. So apart from men coming to know and believe the love which God has for them as demonstrated through the Gospel, they will continue to hate the God of the Bible. And here is the kicker – no man can will himself or make himself love God (John 1:12-13). God must choose him and cause him to see the love of God for him in the Gospel so that he responds to the Gospel in faith and love. Only men who receive the love of God in Christ Jesus can become lovers of God.

And that brings us to our text where we will study “those who are called.” The Bible distinguishes between the external call where the Gospel goes out to call all men to believe on Christ and the effectual call where the Gospel actually becomes the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. In other words the external call only becomes the effectual call to those who are chosen.

Jesus categorically declared that many are called but few are chosen (Matthew 22:14). He was saying that the Gospel invitation goes out to many but it is rejected by most because compared to those who are rejecting it only a few are chosen. This means that no man can respond properly to the Gospel in and of himself. This is why Jesus said, “No one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father” (John 6:65).

So salvation is a result of the work and will of God that excludes the work and will of man (John 1:12-13). Believers have never been called or chosen on the basis of their works or superior worth to other men but solely by the grace and mercy of God (2 Timothy 1:9; Ephesians 2:9; Titus 3:3-7). God didn’t choose you because He saw that you would choose Him; you chose Him because He first chose you and there’s no getting around that.

You may be wondering then, how did God choose? We are told in God’s Word, “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before the Lord. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, just as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).

God chooses according to the kind intention of His will (Ephesians 1:4-6), or as our text puts it, “According to His purpose.” This means that God’s choosing and calling us is totally a work of God and totally by grace and totally for His glory.

So the biblical conclusion is that the called are the effectually called and these are the chosen. Those that have not been chosen by God cannot and will not respond properly to Christ through the Gospel. This means that the Gospel then is to one group an aroma of death unto death and to the other group an aroma of life unto life. So we know for sure that for those who are perishing the Gospel is foolishness.

How do you know if you are called or not? The answer: “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God….But to those who are the called, Christ the power of God and wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18, 24).

Monday, April 5, 2010

Penal-Substitution: Fact or Fiction?

Penal-substitution is the word that theologians use to succinctly define how God accomplished atonement for guilty sinners so that He could issue what is known as a principled pardon – one that upholds justice. The Bible clearly teaches penal-substitution as the only remedy for the dilemma of how a holy God can pardon sinners and remain just in the process. However, the opponents of penal-substitution declare that it is unjust and that the Gospel of penal-substitution is immoral and illogical.

This means that those who oppose and reject penal-substitution do so on the basis of its supposed foolishness. This is precisely the biblical record for those who oppose the Gospel – “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God….For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18, 22-24).

However, as is evident from the biblical record and from sound reasoning, the Gospel of penal-substitution is both the power of God and the wisdom of God. It is the supposed superior morality and intelligence of the opponents of the Gospel that causes them to view the Gospel as foolishness. They do this to their own destruction and shame. All throughout their arguments, the opponents of penal-substitution violate the principles of sound logic (they are not so wise after all), confuse categories, and exalt their sense of morality as higher than that of God Himself.

So, is penal-substitution fact or fiction? Is it immoral and illogical or is it the highest expression of both morality and logic? In order to establish the morality and logic of penal-substitution we will look at both sides of the argument and see who is in violation of sound logic and who is exalting a superior sense of morality.

First, we need to deal with penal-substitution as the only law-upholding basis for the justification of capital offenders (sinners). When a person has committed a capital offense the law-upholding penalty is capital punishment. Any court that fails to uphold capital punishment for criminals that are capital offenders is unjust. Justice has not been served if a capital offender goes free without the law-upholding penalty of capital punishment being carried out. The court would be unjust and the law against capital crimes would be useless.

So we must ask and answer the question of how can a court justify capital offenders and remain just in the process. If the court declares the guilty, “innocent”, then that is fiction. If the court pardons the guilty without the penalty of the law being upheld then that is injustice and an unprincipled pardon. If the court executes an innocent man in the place of the guilty man then the court is guilty of the highest form of injustice (this is precisely what Pilate did when he released Barabbas and had Jesus crucified – Matthew 27:26).

Now it would have been something altogether different if Pilate and Jesus had entered into a mutual agreement where Jesus was willing to take the place of Barabbas and die in his place and Pilate had the power to raise men from the dead. If that were the case then Pilate could have executed Jesus in the place of Barabbas and then he could have raised Jesus from the dead which would have justified Barabbas, provided proof of the justness of Jesus, and maintained the justness of Pilate. But Pilate did not have and no court on earth has the power to raise men from the dead so the possibility of penal-substitution as a means of justifying capital offenders while maintaining the justness of the court does not exist among men.

So with men, justifying capital offenders is an impossibility; but with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:25-26). There was a mutual agreement between Jesus Christ and God the Father where Jesus would live a sinless life under the Law; die a sacrificial death in fulfillment of the Law; and experience a supernatural resurrection so that God could be both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26).

The common objections by the opponents of penal-substitution always fail to take into account the absolute necessity of the power to raise men from the dead in order for penal-substitution to be a moral and logical means of justifying capital offenders. When this happens then immediately categories have been confused and all sorts of unfounded objections arise which have no correlation to the subject at hand.

For instance, penal-substitution is declared to be a legal fiction by its opponents because they fail to take into account God’s legal transaction of transferring debt and payment of debt from one account to another. If a debt is actually paid by another who didn’t owe the debt then there is no fiction whatsoever as to the declaration of paid in full where the payment for the debt is credited to the account of the one who didn’t pay it. So if there has been a legal transaction by which an innocent party pays in full the debt owed on behalf of the guilty party, the declaration of justified isn’t legal fiction but is indeed legal fact!

This means that the certificate of debt that consisted of decrees of punishment against the capital offender has been cancelled and taken out of the way by a willing and able substitute that paid the debt (Colossians 2:13-14). There is now therefore no condemnation for the capital offender whose debt has been paid by another (Romans 8:1).

Does this mean that the capital offender can now commit as many crimes as he wishes? Absolutely not! His love for the One who paid his debt by dying in his place and being raised from the dead will move him to no longer live for himself but for the one who died for him (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). So God’s declaration of justification on the basis of faith in Christ is not only a legal fact of righteousness; it is also the beginning of the process by which the guilty sinner’s righteousness is becoming a literal fact. This is known as sanctification where the forgiven man’s actions are transformed into righteous acts by his love for and obedience to the One who died and rose again on his behalf. The life that the forgiven man now lives, he lives by trusting and obeying the One who loved him and gave Himself up for him (Galatians 2:20).

Also, penal-substitution is declared to be immoral because its opponents say that the innocent cannot die for the guilty. Says who? Again this would be immoral only if the innocent man wasn’t raised from the dead and thereby righteously and justly vindicated. Again this view falls short because it fails to take into consideration that God can do this without it being immoral precisely because He has the ability to raise men from the dead. The opponents of penal-substitution exalt their own morality above that of God.

From there the argument goes to penal-substitution being contrary to every known system of justice in the world. Duh! I guess so! No court on earth has the power to raise men from the dead and so even if an innocent man were willing to die in the place of a guilty capital offender, the court still couldn’t carry out the transaction in such a manner as to be just. And not only that, finding an innocent man willing to die for capital offenders isn’t going to happen in this world because this world doesn’t have that kind of love. The love that God bestows on undeserving sinners is an out of this world kind of love. Penal-substitution is the highest expression of love that can or ever will be demonstrated (Romans 5:6-8).

Penal-substitution is the only law-upholding, mercy-giving, and principled-pardon that a holy God can offer and still maintain His righteousness and His justice.