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In Whose Love?

“for Christ to dwell through faith in your heart, being rooted and established in love,”

(Ephesians 3:17)

Christ’s indwelling through faith is established and rooted in our hearts with love. The important question to ask, though, is “Whose love?” All too often, people look to this as a way to plug human works into either their salvation or at least into their sanctification. But, if it is our love that grounds and roots Christ in our hearts, then we are going to be on a roller-coaster ride with respect to faith. For indeed, our love is fickle and failing. When things go well, we may tend to burst with love for God, but when things go very, very well, we tend to allow our ego and pride to step in. When things go poorly, we are often on our knees and adoring God for his daily provision, but when things go really, really poorly, then we often doubt and ask where God is and once again, our human doubts give rise to pride and sin.

No, what roots and establishes Christ in our hearts is the love of God. The love of God for whom? Ultimately, it is the love of God for Christ and, as the elect are in Christ, the love of God for us (Romans 8:39). Does God love those outside of his elect? That is one of those questions that Christians have debated and created theological gymnastics to seek to defend. If we look honestly at Scripture, though, God clearly says that it is Jacob that he loves and Esau that he hates and then uses this to illustrate his election (Romans 9:10-14). It would seem that God has stored up the wicked for the day of wrath (Romans 9:22), and praise be to God that he has sovereignly chosen to deliver some of us from that day for his own glory (Romans 9:23). If you wish to be delivered, too, the call is to repent and believe…but it takes the work of God giving you spiritual rebirth before you can do so. 

But does that mean that God does not show any love toward the wicked? Some will argue for various forms of God’s love, but that seems to be importing philosophical categories into the Scriptures…categories that are not consistently found within the Scriptures and thus can make understanding God’s character rather subjective. It seems better to simply say that God brings blessings into the life of the just and the unjust alike  (Matthew 5:45) and that the blessings upon the life of the unjust come primarily as a byproduct of God’s blessings on the just. Did not God say to Abraham that the nations would find their blessings through his line (Genesis 12:3)? Have Christians not inherited the promises of Abraham (Galatians 3:29; 2 Corinthians 1:20-22)? Are we not the continuation of true Israel (Romans 9:6-7)? And, those crumbs that fall to the dogs (Matthew 15:26-27), will it not cause the reprobate to be doubly accountable for their sin?

Indeed, one of the great blessings is that Christ in us through faith does not rest on us, but that it rests upon the foundation of God’s love for us through Christ. While our love varies with our every disobedience to God’s covenant (John 14:15), God’s love does not vary. There is no shadow due to change (James 1:17). And that should instill in us a desire to praise and to serve Him.

Praying for the Peoples

“On behalf of this I bend my knees before my Father, from whom every family in heaven and on the earth is named,”

(Ephesians 3:14-15)

What is the “this” of which Paul is speaking? In context, Paul is referring to the trials and tribulations that the people of Ephesus (and by extension, the whole church) are facing and by which they will be refined in their faith. For it is God who has named every family or people — the Greek term here is πατριά (patria), meaning any body of people that can be connected by birth or lineage to a given line: families, peoples, nations, etc… Those in heaven (the elect who have died and entered glory) have been so named by God. Those remaining on earth (the elect who are the church militant along with those elect in whom God has yet to work to give them rebirth) also have been named by God. We have been so chosen and named by our Father in heaven because we are not our own, but belong to Him.

It should be noted that Paul is using a little wordplay here to reinforce his point. Paul bows his knees before his Father — πατἠρ (pater) — on behalf of the families — πατριά (patria) — of the heavens and earth. In a sense, he is saying, “I bow my knees to the Father on behalf of those who descend from fathers.” And, of course, the operable question with which we are left is whether we follow the Apostle’s model. Do you pray for the peoples? Do you pray for the lost? Do you pray for the church? Do you pray for your pastor? If not, you ought. You must.

God’s Great Love

“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us,”

(Ephesians 2:4)

Many of the great truths of the Christian faith are found in these verses that are before us — truths about grace, love, and sin. Yet, this is a verse that is often misconstrued as model for evangelism. People will say, “God loves you, so turn to him in faith…” And while it is true that God is the very standard by which love is measured and that his love is great beyond all of our comprehension, Paul is not saying that God loved all people in this case. Remember to whom he is writing. He is writing to saved Christians — people who are already believers — people who have already experienced the love that God has for them through their regeneration. God, indeed, has a great love for his elect, and that is all that Paul is stating. There is love indeed for God’s people, but not for all people without exception.

So, why can’t we say, “God loves you” as a general call to faith? The simple answer is that we do not know who the Elect are until faith is demonstrated in their lives. When it comes to evangelizing unbelievers, we just don’t know and it would be dishonest of us to promise a reprobate soul that God loved them and sent his Son to die for their sins. Sometimes the same question needs to be asked within the church. I have known many who say the right things about faith and God but yet live like pagans do. Could they be Elect? Maybe? It is hard to tell. To God’s elect, we can extend the promise of God’s love with a clear conscience, to others, not so much.

But what about children? Doesn’t Jesus love the little children, all the little children of the world? We do know that is a song and not a Bible verse. And we do know that song better suits a Unitarian Universalist church rather than a Bible-believing Church. Don’t we? Nevertheless, when we are talking to covenant children (kids of parents who are believers and thus are being raised in the church), we can say, “God loves you” with a clear conscience because we believe that God ordinarily builds his true church through covenant families — that the promises of God are said to be given to believers and to their children. Thus, when it comes to covenant children, we treat them as if they are regenerate until they demonstrate by their lives that they are not so. And part of treating a child as part of the covenant is reminding them of the covenant promises that God gives by faith to his own — one of those promises being his love.

So, yes, if you are a Christian this day and reading this, God loves you with a great love. Yet, if you are not, the only thing that can be said is “repent and believe.” Just as there is no neutrality on our part toward God, there is also no neutrality on God’s part toward us.

Dead Means Dead

“And you, having been dead in your the trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the fashion of this world, according to the ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit which now works in the sons of disobedience.”

(Ephesians 2:1-2)

Shall we simply begin with the notion of being dead in our trespasses? One might think that this is but a simple phrase or idea, yet the consequences of this idea are far ranging in the life of the church today. So Paul speaks to these Christians and tells them that they were once “dead in their trespasses and sins.” Clearly they were alive on a physical level, and so, it is of spiritual life and death that Paul speaks.

Jesus says that lest you be “born again” you cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). John speaks of the believer as one who has passed from death to life and that the love of the brethren is the outward sign of this inward change (1 John 3:14). Similarly, Paul writes that those who indulge themselves in their pet sins are dead even though they are spiritually alive (1 Timothy 5:6) and that those who have been raised with Christ (a reference to the resurrection) will seek things where Christ is (Colossians 3:1-4). It should be said that even earlier in Colossians, Paul wrote of those who were dead in their sins (Colossians 2:13) and that those who are born again are rising from the dead in a spiritual sense (Ephesians 5:14…note that the language of being dead in our trespasses also shows up again in verse 5 of this same chapter). In many ways, it is a reminder of Psalm 80:18 which prays to God that he should give life to his people so that his people will praise his name — a reminder that another litmus test of genuine faith is genuine and sincere worship. There is no spiritual life apart from God and thus, prior to the regeneration worked upon us by the Holy Spirit, we are dead before Him.

The notion is a fairly simple one and one that can be traced through the Scriptures. So, why would people contest it? Sometimes they contest it even without knowing it. Think of it this way: can a dead man do anything on his own? One of the responsibilities that goes along with being a pastor has to do with caring for those who have lost loved ones to death. I do not wish to sound disrespectful or discourteous, but the dead can do nothing on their own. So, if we are going to extend the analogy, it should be vigorously asserted that those who are dead in their sins can do nothing to serve themselves or benefit their spiritual life; there must be a supernatural work of God that is wholly done by God and God alone.

Even so, many in the church follow more of a Wesleyan or Arminian line of thinking about those who are spiritually dead. Instead of dead, they view the person who is not yet regenerated as being spiritually very sick. They still insist that God must do a supernatural work, but they also insist that God only works on those who first choose him. But if a person is able to make a choice — if a person is able to do anything — they cannot be spoken of as being dead, can they? And thus, many Christians, hoping to preserve the illusion that they have a free will to choose or reject the mercies of God, will deny this very clear language that the Apostle uses, suggesting that “dead” doesn’t really mean “dead.” 

No, beloved, dead means dead and a dead man can do nothing to either aide or harm himself. And those who are spiritually dead are just that; they are spiritually dead, unable to either aide or harm themselves spiritually. A supernatural work of God must take place. And that means that God does not work because man asked him to work; God works because in his eternal decree, he chose to work in the life of said person, whomever that person may be. It is about God’s doing, not ours. He chose to save us, we did not choose him. If you feel as it you did choose Him at one point, it is only ever because you were responding to the work he was already doing in you. God is sovereign over your salvation if you are saved; you are not. To argue otherwise is to do a disservice to the text.

His Power toward Us — Those who Believe

“giving light to the eyes of your heart to know the hope of his calling, which is the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints and  which is the exceeding greatness of his power toward us, those who believe, according to the outworking of his power and might.”

(Ephesians 1:18-19)

Okay, time to make some people grumpy. What a way to start off. Here’s the problem, people in the west have bought into the idea that human beings are all part of a “brotherhood of man” and that as such, we are all children of God. And in that myth, our problem lies. While there is but one race (the human race), which makes the prejudices that we might have a foolish proposition, within that one race, there are two lines of people. There are some who are children of God and others who are children of the devil (1 John 3:9-10). What distinguishes between the two lines? God’s seed abides in his children and the seed of the devil abides in his. 

This, beloved, is what we call election, plain and simple. God has chosen some as his own and places his seed in them. We do not deserve this privilege nor did we earn it or choose it (Romans 9:16). It is a work of God’s grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). And why might such an idea make people mad? It is plainly taught in the Scripture? It makes people mad because they have bought into a wrong side — a wrong paradigm that makes God responsive to the desires of man — and changing paradigms is often a difficult process. In addition, this very principle means that the blessings of God of which Paul is speaking in this text, only belong to the believer. They do not belong to those outside of the faith. 

And thus, Paul writes, that all of these things which we have been speaking, through the power of God, have been “toward us, those who believe.” The unbeliever is not adopted into God’s household and thus cannot address God as “Father.” The children of the devil can have no assurance of glory and eternal life in heaven. The reprobate do not have light for their eyes that would give them spiritual sight — they are left blind so that they will not turn from their wicked ways and repent (remember Isaiah’s language that we cited above). And yes, people often get testy when confronted with ideas such as these. 

Yet, if you are a believer, then these promises do belong to you. What makes one a believer? We talked a little about assurance above, but it is worth going back to Paul’s language of Romans 10:9-13. If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Indeed, there is much that can be said as we unpackaged these verses, but on the most basic level, there must be faith in the historical bodily resurrection of Christ. That does not mean you believe that he spiritually rose and “lives in your heart,” but that he physically rose and ascended into heaven where now he sits at the right hand of God as King over his Church and over his creation. 

Yet salvation is not just a matter of belief; it is a matter of confession that Jesus is Lord. That is simply another way of saying that Jesus is not just a King, but that he is your King and that you live your life in submission to him. That, of course, sends us back to John’s language which speaks of practicing righteousness or practicing sin. You cannot confess Jesus as Lord with any sense of integrity or meaning if you do not seek to live in obedience to His Law. No, we are not saved by our obedience; our obedience is the testimony that we are saved. If someone seeks to live life however they wish and cares not for what the Word of God commands of him, that person cannot be said to be a Christian and thus these promises do not belong to him. Sobering, isn’t it?

Being one of “those who believe” is not something that only requires church attendance from you — a couple hours on Sunday mornings. No, being “those who believe” is something that demands a lifestyle from you — one that is in submission to the Word of God in every way possible. No, we won’t get it right all of the time, but that is not the call. Our call is to strive in that direction so that our King is honored by the actions of those who profess Him. 

Grace Abounding

“In Him we have deliverance through His blood — liberation from trespasses — according to the riches of His grace, which abounds to us in all wisdom and understanding,”

(Ephesians 1:7-8)

Grace is said to “abound to us in all wisdom and understanding.” Some Bible translations prefer the more poetic language of God “lavishing” his grace upon us. And, while that is not a wrong choice of words in translation, for many of us, the term “lavish” carries with it connotations of wastefulness and extravagance where the word “abound,” reflecting the abundance in God’s grace, is better suited to the text. And indeed, when we realize the depth of our depravity, grace in abundance is the only thing that can compensate for our sins.

Yet, God does not give his grace out in a scattered or thoughtless manner. It is distributed abundantly as guided by the wisdom and understanding of God. God wastes none of his grace. It is not poured out into the lives of the reprobate but is abundantly extended to His elect. How oftentimes people portray God’s grace as distributed indiscriminately, but Paul is making it abundantly clear that God’s grace is intentional and flows out of his wisdom and his understanding. Such language as this can only be understood in light of the Reformed doctrine of election and reprobation, not in light of the Wesleyan doctrine of prevenient grace.

And so, while grace may overflow to us as our cup does at God’s table, it is not given unwisely or without knowing to whom it is given. And, when we really begin to understand the doctrine of God’s intentional grace, given abundantly to his elect, it should instill in us a sense of humbleness that responds with gratitude and worship. No longer is worship seen as being about “meeting my needs” but it is an outpouring of love to God for He has already met those many needs that we have and he has done so in and through his Son, Jesus Christ.

His Grace

“In Him we have deliverance through His blood — liberation from trespasses — according to the riches of His grace, which abounds to us in all wisdom and understanding,”

(Ephesians 1:7-8)

A dozen times in this Epistle, Paul speaks of grace. We have already defined it here as “unmerited favor,” but it is worth noting that in these verses, Paul is very clear that this grace is “His grace.” Indeed, this seems to be an obvious connection, but it is important for us to clarify that when it comes to grace, there is nothing in it that is generated by or originates within us. It is unqualified, unreserved, unlimited, and unambiguous. God knows to whom he has extended his grace (election) and the extension of grace is mediated by the work of the Son. For God’s elect it is unalienable and for the eternally reprobate it is unattainable. It is God’s grace and his grace alone to give and he chooses to give it through his Son and in no other ways. It cannot be requested by us and it cannot be either accepted or rejected on our part. For it to be grace it must be sovereignly given. 

How often people fall into the error that they think that they can accept or reject the grace of God. How often, the picture is painted of God universally offering grace and waiting upon man to accept it. Yet, beloved, if grace is contingent on our desire for it or upon our willingness to receive it, then it is not truly grace (Romans 11:6). It is something else entirely. Grace is not based on our human will nor is it based on the works we might do; it is based fully and entirely upon God and his mercy towards a fallen people in need of his grace (Romans 9:16). Woe to us when we demean the grace of God with notions of our choosing or of our acceptance. It is His grace and His alone to give. And that which is sovereignly given cannot be rejected on our part…it has been sovereignly given.

Six times in his epistles, Paul makes a point in referring to grace as “His” grace. How important it is for us to pay attention to those little pronouns if we are going to purge ourselves of the ideas of men that so proliferate the churches of our culture. The question is not really one of whether “you have received Jesus in your heart” (notice how that makes it something you do), but whether God has driven you to your knees, broken you of your pride, and brought you to repentance before the saving work of Jesus as an expression of his eternal and sovereign grace. It is not about what you want or do, dear friends, it is about God and what he is doing — whether you want it or not.

Elected to Holiness

“Blessed is God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; blessing us with every spiritual heavenly blessing in Christ, just as he elected us in Him before the foundation of the cosmos to be holy and blameless before Him in love.”

(Ephesians 1:3-4)

It is worthwhile to dwell on this notion that God has elected his people for a purpose. And that purpose is that we be “holy and blameless before Him in love.” In Christian circles, the word “holiness” is one that is used heavily but often misunderstood. People usually think that a “holy” person is a person who is exceptionally godly and spiritual. And while that ought to be the case, such is not what the word actually means.

Holiness refers to be set apart for God’s use and for his purposes. For instance, the clothing that Aaron and his sons would wear in their official capacity was set apart as holy (Exodus 28:2). These garments were for Aaron’s work in the temple. They were not to be worn casually or in his daily routine as it were, but he was to use them for God’s work and for God’s purposes. The same thing can be said of the other items in the Tabernacle and around the altar. They were set apart for God’s use alone and not for common usage. 

Yet, not only were the things of the Tabernacle and then the Temple set apart as holy, so too was Aaron (Exodus 28:36-38) and further, the people of God were also referred to as “Holy to the Lord” (Deuteronomy 7:6). And, if one would be tempted to suggest that this is only an Old Testament statement, the Apostle Peter cites the language from Leviticus 11:44 about the people of God being “holy as God is holy” and applies that to Christians (1 Peter 1:14-16). That means, as Christians, we have been set apart as holy to God — chosen by God and set apart for his purposes. The world may seek worldly pleasures but that does not belong to our being — we are called to pursue the blessedness of God (as Paul already mentioned) which is far greater than anything this earth can afford us.

How often Christians get their minds and priorities turned upside down. How often they forsake their calling to be holy and how often we slip into sinful ways and practices instead of pursuing the blessedness of God. And, how often the “godliness” that we often associate with holiness is seen as something for someone else to strive toward and not for us. Every word, every action, every thought that fills your life and your days is something that should be seen as being used for the glory of God.

This does not mean that every Christian is called to be a pastor, a missionary, or a street evangelist. What it does mean is that every Christian is called upon to point others toward Christ in their daily activities. This does mean that every Christian is called to live their lives deliberately that we may seek to please God in all we do, that we may seek opportunities to point others to faith and repentance in all we do, and that we are to seek to live and act in such a way that the name of Christ is not besmirched by our actions.

How remarkably sad it is when Christians compromise their holiness for worldly things. How remarkably sad it is that many Christians are willing to strive for excellence in worldly things yet compromise eternal things. As Americans, we often celebrate those Christians who are professional athletes in our midst. Yet, how many of them break the Sabbath because it happens to be “game day.” And no, there is no amount of argument that you can give that will convince me that watching or playing football on Sundays is “doxological” in nature. We are called to set apart the day as holy, not the hour. And holy is God’s use alone.

The Christian doctrine of holiness is not a convenient one nor is it an easy one in our day and age. Yet, it is meant to further set Christians apart to a different kind of lifestyle than is the world. Yes, the world may pursue earthly pleasures. Yes, the world might treat the Lord’s Day as the second day of the weekend — a chance to get things done, go shopping, and be busy with things of personal interest. True, it may be relaxing to go to eat on a Sunday, but you are breaking the Sabbath by employing others to provide for your leisure. These are things that Christians rarely ever contemplate. 

God did not elect a people so that people could spend their time however they wanted and then enjoy eternity. May that never be said. God elected a people to be set apart for his use and to find our pleasure in His blessedness, not in worldly things. That does not make us ascetics, but it does mean that we distinguish between worldly and divine and that even when we might enjoy a worldly pleasure, like a good meal or good fellowship, we recognize it as a good gift from God. If you are a Christian, you have been called to holiness; pursue it without reservation, it is what you have been set apart to do.

What God has Bent

“Look at the work of God: for who is able to straighten that which he has perpetually bent? On a good day be in good spirits; on an evil day contemplative — the one and the other are made by God; with regards to this, a man can find out nothing of what comes after it.”

(Ecclesiastes 7:13-14)

God is sovereign even over the evil day. Too often I hear apologists arguing that darkness is but the absence of light, so evil is just the absence of God’s presence. That argument, of course, begs the question as to where is God when the evil things come? 

The Bible presents a much clearer explanation. God brought it about. Indeed, God has good purposes and not malevolent purposes in the evil day, but nonetheless, God brings about the evil day — as Solomon says, “God made it.” In fact, God himself declares the same (Isaiah 45:7). And, as Solomon continues, man stands befuddled as to what is coming next more often than not.

There is an additional spiritual application of these words if we are willing to apply the text to the soul of man. For indeed, while there are some whom God has elected to life, there are others whom God has predestined for eternal condemnation. And what man is able to “unbend” that which God has bent? What man can deliver another man from his rightful eternal judgment? We live in a world dominated with a decision-based theology — “the work is done for you, all you need to do is to choose life!” Yet, is this Biblical? The Bible says that those who were appointed to eternal life believed (Acts 13:48), it does not say that those who believed were appointed to eternal life.

No man can unbend that which God has eternally ordained to be bent. At the same time, those whom God has elected to straighten — who can stop God’s hand? Oh how he is sovereign both in our salvation and in our sanctification. No man can undo, frustrate, or even speed up the hand of God and no man can add himself to the number of the elect by a force of their own will. God raises up and tears down and what man can know the designs of our almighty God (which is why we evangelize all — we do not know who are and who are not God’s elect).

Caiaphas’ Prophesy

It was Caiaphas who plotted with the Jews that it would be useful that one man die for the group.”

(John 18:14)


The language of Caiaphas’ warning to the Sanhedron is one worthy of reflection. This little parenthesis is meant to point us to an earlier event that took place shortly before Jesus’ Triumphal Entry. John records the event in this way:

“But one from their number, Caiaphas, who was the High Priest in that given year, said to them, ‘You do not know anything, nor do you understand that it would be useful for you that one man die for the group and not have the whole of the people destroyed.’ This he did not say on his own, but being the High Priest in that given year, he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the people and not for the people only, but also in order that the Children of God that are dispersed might be gathered together as one.”

(John 11:49-52)

Before we move further, there are some terms that we must understand if we are going to grasp John’s explanation. First of all, this is a plot. Some of our English translations render John 18:14 as if Caiaphas is giving advice or spiritual counsel. What they are doing is plotting and scheming to see Jesus dead because Jesus has upset their powerbase.

The second thing that we must clarify up front is “to whom” will this arrest and execution be “useful” or “expedient.” While John points out that these words of Caiaphas are prophetic, it is important to first understand Caiaphas’ motives for speaking such words. Thus, the “to whom” in Caiaphas’ mind, must clearly be referring to the power of the ruling party in the Sanhedron. Annas, Caiaphas’ father-in-law, showed himself to be a master manipulator of power for personal gain, there is no question that Annas has been coaching his son-in-law in these matters.

Thus, if we know for whom it is “useful” we must also ask for which group is Caiaphas thinking Jesus must die. In God’s economy, we know the answer is that Jesus died for the elect, but in what context is Caiaphas speaking when he utters these words? Some of our English translations imply that the group in question is that of the nation of Israel based on John’s use of the term e¡qnoß (ethnos) in verse 51 above. While e¡qnoß (ethnos) can be interpreted as “nation,” it can more simply refer to a group of people united by any given common tie — hence the derivation of our modern term, “ethnic,” from this Greek word. It is also clear from Caiaphas’ actions that he cares little for the people of Israel apart from his ability to use them for his own personal gain. Similarly, at this point in history, Israel cannot be said to be a nation, but is a Roman province, a status that Caiaphas clearly has no interest in changing due to the fact that an outright revolution would clearly bring Caiaphas’ downfall (the effects of revolt would be demonstrated 40 years later when the Romans would march on Jerusalem in 70 AD).

Thus, the answer seems to be that Caiaphas is still thinking about himself and about those in power. The presence of Jesus only shook up the status quo, interrupted their monetary gains (think of Jesus’ actions with the sellers in the temple courts), and risked the oppression of the Romans. From Caiaphas’ perspective, Jesus must die to preserve Caiaphas’ power and the power of those who were in the ruling class — these are the “people” — the e¡qnoß (ethnos) — of whom Caiaphas is speaking. Again, John points out clearly that Caiaphas is speaking prophetically here, much as the pagan, Balaam, spoke prophetically generations earlier. While Caiaphas’ heart was focused on one thing, God used him to speak truth. It was “useful” that one man should die for the people — and Jesus was the only such man that could do so, being both God and man. For in Jesus’ death, he would pay the penalty of sin for His people — believers throughout the generations — those that God had elected before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) and then drawn to Jesus (John 6:44). In God’s eternal plan, this is the group for whom Jesus was dying — a group that Peter would refer to as a nation of priests (1 Peter 2:9-10) — a nation of which, by God’s grace, I have been called to be a member. And you have been made a member of that nation as well so long as you are trusting in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.

Caiaphas spoke prophetic words — but words that pronounced his own ultimate defeat at the hands of sin and death. May these words stick with us and remind us not only of God’s sovereignty over even the wicked of this world, but over our lives as well. May these words remind us that it is only in Jesus’ death and resurrection that we can find hope and life for the dark days in which we live and for eternity thereafter.

My hope is built on nothing less

Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;

I dare not trust the sweetest frame,

But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;

All other ground is sinking sand,

All other ground is sinking sand.

-Edward Mote


“And it came to pass that Reu lived thirty-two years and he begat Serug. Reu lived two-hundred and seven years after he begat Serug. And he begat sons and daughters.”

(Genesis 11:20-21)


And the pattern continues. Sometimes we can get a little weighed down by lists of genealogies like this, but do remember always that these are real people in time and space that are striving to live faithfully before the Lord and to teach their sons and daughters the ways of God. More importantly, they are the line from whom God would raise up Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and eventually Jesus. It is important to be able to trace these roots — a reminder to all of the sovereign hand of God upon his elect through the ages.

The name Serug is typically understood to be an adaptation of Sarugi, an Akkadian place name marking a region about 35 miles from Haran. Perhaps this is where he lived and settled or perhaps his name is somewhat prophetic of the travels that his grandson, Terah would make when he left Ur and settled in Haran. This we do not know. Perhaps his name is simply a reminder that they were not a people to be settled in Ur, but meant for a place distant from there in the direction of Sarugi and Haran.

It is interesting to me how our nature can often be so radically distinct from God’s call. Abraham was to be a wanderer — a traveler — in a land promised to him and to his children, but not his own. I wonder how many of us would accept a call like that in our lives today. How often we choose comfort and security over the call that God places upon us. Yet God’s call and God’s way is always better than our own. Loved ones, do not despair, God is sovereign over all things — big and small! — and he has your life in his hand. When he calls you to step out in faith, do not hesitate to do so. Be messengers of his grace in all you do and trust the bigger plan to God’s hand.

Held by God as One (John 17:11)

“While I am no longer in the world, they are yet in the world and I am coming to you.  Holy Father, guard them, which you have given me in your name, in order that they may be one as we are.”

(John 17:11)

Jesus makes a rather sobering statement—even though he has not yet been arrested and sent to the cross, the events at hand are such that he has begun that road in earnest.  One might say that Jesus’ entire earthly ministry and life was a pathway on the road to the cross, and indeed, that is so, but here it is as if Jesus is staring down over the great and dark abyss of death.  From events that would transpire later, it is clear that the disciples still were not fully understanding what was about to take place—what it must have been like to be in their shoes on this night.  Jesus said he was coming to the Father and that means leaving behind the disciples; one can almost feel the sinking feeling that the disciples must have had in their heart when he uttered these words.

The request that believers may be one as Christ and the Father are one is one of those prayers that pastors have lifted before God for generations.  Yet, because of our sin, Christ’s church has been fragmented and divided on numerous matters.  Sometimes those divisions have been necessary, as Christ commanded us to cut off the limb and pluck out the eye that leads to sin (Mark 9:43-47), yet often, division has been caused by our own sin and stubbornness and unwillingness to fellowship with anyone who does not hold the exact same views or practice worship in exactly the same way as we do.  I am not suggesting that it is sin to have different churches that reflect different styles of worship, but when that local or stylistic separation becomes a separation of fellowship, that does enter into the area of sin.  Remember how the Council of Jerusalem handled the matter of practice when Gentiles were streaming into what was then a largely Jewish-Christian church:

“For it seemed to the Holy Spirit and to us that we did not want to lay upon you a weighty burden except these necessary things: to avoid things offered to idols, blood, strangled food, and sexual immorality.  In guarding yourself from these things, you will do well.  Goodbye.”

(Acts 15:28-29)

There is no question that we must fight for the truth—yet the thing to remember is that sometimes we fight and divide over non-essentials to the faith and not due to essentials.

The final thing that we need to note from this passage is the reason in which we may “be one.”  And that is due to the guardianship of God.  Jesus does not say, “help them to be one,” but he says, “guard them so that they can be one.”  If we are not being guarded and protected by God then unity is impossible.  Now, you might be tempted to ask, “doesn’t God always protect his people?”  Well, the answer is two-fold.  First we must remember that just because a person is a “card-carrying” member of a church does not necessarily mean that they have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ; there will be many who will say, “Lord, Lord, did we not do these things in your name?” yet, Jesus’ response will be, “I never knew you”  (Matthew 7: 21-23).  All too often we try and be unified with those who do not know and love Jesus Christ and how often it has disastrous consequences (2 Corinthians 6:14-17).  Don’t expect God’s blessed hand of unity if there is nothing for him to unite.

The second element is that when we pursue sin, sometimes God withdraws his hand somewhat.  Now, it is true that God never lets go of those who are his elect, but sometimes he can dangle us over the fires to rebuke, discipline, and burn away our sin.  And when God is doing this, he tends to remove us from unity with believers—again as a means to bring us back into fellowship and to repentance of sin.

Loved ones, unity is one of those things that we tend to have very little of in this world, mostly due to sin.  Pray that God would give you the unity that would point a doubting and a wondering world to the reality that there is an almighty God and that he reigns in this world.  Let us mark our lives and our existence by being held by God not only safe from the fire of eternal condemnation, but held in unity as well to the praise and glory of Jesus Christ, Amen!

Your Word they have Guarded

“I have made your name known to the people whom you gave me out of this world; they were yours, even so, you gave them and they have guarded your word.”

(John 17:6)

Note the emphasis that is placed here on God’s having given the disciples to Jesus.  This, of course, is nothing new to Jesus’ teaching, as he has said:

“No one has the power to come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; then I will raise him up on the last day.”

(John 6:44)

Yet, while this is not a new teaching for Jesus, in his prayer, Jesus is explicitly driving this point home.  Jesus has not made the name of the Father known to all mankind, but only to those whom the Father has drawn to the Son—and those who have been given to the Son have guarded the Word of God.  God has elected people to himself from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-4) for the purpose of presenting us to the Son and then for the purpose of conforming us into the image of his Son (Romans 8:29) to be presented holy and upright as the bride of our great redeemer (Revelation 19:6-8).  From beginning to end, we are not our own, but belong to our mighty and glorious God—praise be to God Almighty, Amen!

Also, note the logical progression of this line of thought.  God gave people out of the world to Jesus—it is to them that Jesus has revealed the name of God.  Then, the ones whom the Father has given the Son have guarded, or cherished, God’s word.  There is a pretty straight forward linear progression that is being reflected in this language—those whom the Father has given have guarded the Word.  In turn, those who the Father has not given, have not done so.  There does not seem to be any gap between the giving and the guarding—all who have been given will guard—it is a mark of genuine faith that we cherish God’s word and it is a reminder that the fact that we may genuinely cherish God’s word is given to us as a sign of our assurance of salvation.

But what does it mean to cherish or to guard God’s word?  The word that Jesus uses here is thre/w(tereo), which reflects the care of one who has been charged to protect something—in our case, to protect the integrity of God’s word in our lives and in the lives of those of our family, church, community, and world.   Just like a guard charged with protecting a famous painting from a thief, it is an active job in which we must not fall asleep.  We must also protect the integrity of the whole—it does the curator of the Museum if the guard only protects part of the contents, and not the whole—“Sorry sir, they did get away with the painting, but I saved the picture frame it was in!”  Somehow, that does not cut it.

Yet, how often Christians pick and choose what they want to protect out of God’s word and what they willfully will cast aside.  Christians are often guilty of saying, I like this grace stuff, but you can have that language that calls me to put to death my pet sins.  Loved ones, if we are to guard the good deposit entrusted to us, we must guard the whole—and apply it to our lives as ones who cherish it.  We must not become lazy or fall off to sleep in our duty, but must stand upon the Word in truth and with boldness, not allowing a jot or tittle—a yod or a serif, as Jesus would have said—to fall away.  Such is what it means to guard the Word that God has delivered to us.

Yet, our failure to guard God’s word is a very old failure.  As the serpent approached Eve in the garden of God, we find that she and her husband have not been guarding the word that God has given them.  She adds to the command of God by saying that she must not touch, and she also takes away from God’s word by decreasing the intensity of the punishment—“You will surely die” (an emphatic statement) simply becomes, “You will die.”  And, given that Adam had the responsibility of teaching the command of God to his wife (she had not yet been created when God gave the command), it shows his lack of attention to the Word as well.  It is almost as if Adam said to his wife, “Oh, by the way, here is the rule, don’t break it” and then never went back to it.

We may criticize Adam for his failure to teach in this case, but is this not the same trap that we sometimes fall into as parents?  We pay lip service to the responsibility we have to teach and train up our children in the faith, yet do we actively pursue doing just that?  Our children will learn quickly those things that we are passionate about and they will typically pursue them.  They will also learn quickly what things in which you are just going through the motions and will discard them.  If statistics tell a story about how we cherish God’s word, then the story it is telling right now is that the majority of church-going Americans are simply going through the motions, and not cherishing what God has entrusted to us.

Loved ones, hear the words of Jesus.  Guard the word of God that has been given to you.  Love that word and cherish it in your life.  Keep it in tact and do not compromise it.  Then, instill it into the life of your children in such a way that they will see your own love and zeal for the word that God has sent down.  It is said that children can spot a phony a mile away, sometimes I am not so sure about that, but they will quickly realize what it is in your life that you are being phony about.  Beloved, be authentic in the guarding of the Word given to you so that your children will learn to guard it themselves and so that the world will know that Jesus Christ is alive in you and be drawn to Him because of that testimony.

Warning of Coming Judgment

“And Enoch, the seventh son from Adam, prophesied these things saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with his holy myriads with him to bring judgment against all, to convict all human life of all their works of impiety, which they did impiously, and concerning all the cruelty that impious sinners spoke against Him.  These are grumblers and complainers, walking according to their cravings and their mouths speaking boasts, flattering to gain advantage.”

(Jude 14-16)


This is the second time that Jude quotes from non-canonical literature.  Here he quotes from the Apocalypse of Enoch, pointing to the second coming of Christ with his angels to judge the wicked (if you want a picture of those myriads of angels take a peek at Revelation 5:11).  Do you notice a theme in this section?  Impious, impious, impious…   Sin is impious and sin brings death.  It is only by being born again in Jesus Christ that we can be saved from the wrath that is to come.  Woe, Woe, Woe.  Revelation also contains three woes (Revelation 8:13).  Three is a number of completion or fullness.  Here we find the fullness of the woes of sinful man.  These men have made full and complete their ungodliness and impiety and their judgment to come will be equally full and complete.

Make careful note of verse 15.  When Christ comes again, he will execute judgment against all mankind, not just the evil ones.  The Apostle John tells us in Revelation 20 that God will judge all mankind according to their works, and all whose names are not written on the Lamb’s Book of Life will be cast into the lake of fire prepared for the devil and his minions.  No one can stand upon his own works, it simply cannot be done because of indwelling sin.  Only Jesus Christ has earned salvation by his works and he alone offers a way to paradise, being clothed in his righteousness.  That comes through faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.  There is no other way to avoid the punishment that we deserve.

The elect, those whose names are written on the Lamb’s book of life and were written there from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), are the ones who will escape judgment, but all else will face eternal damnation.  These, Jude reminds us again, are grumblers and complainers who chase after their own cravings.  The word that we translate as “cravings” is the Greek word e˙piqumi÷a (epithumia), which refers to cravings or lusts, more times than not, for things that are forbidden.  Also Jude points to judgment for the flatterers.  This is the word qauma¿zw (thaumazo) in Greek, which literally means “to marvel” or “to be amazed.”  This is not subtle flattery, but loud, boisterous flattery designed to inflate the ego of the listeners.

This is not to categorically state that all that are guilty of grumbling or flatterers are going to Hell, what it reflects is the idea that these things should not reflect the heart of the believer.  God forgives us when we stumble and repent of our sins, yet if we remain hardened and unrepentant, we will face eternal punishment.

All of Jude’s warnings can begin to weigh on you.  He warns you from the past, the present, and the future.  But there is a reason that we are given warnings—they often keep us from harming ourselves.  When I was in the Boy Scouts, I took Life-Saving Merit Badge.  A great deal of the badge dealt with water rescues.  But one of the things that the instructor impressed upon us was the value of preventive measures.  Those measures begin with clearly posted warning signs.  The letter of Jude is one of those signs.

Before we shift gears into Jude’s exhortation to the faithful of the church, I want to drive home the need to beware.  There are spiritual predators who seek to fill your pulpits and they will seek to guide you down a false path.  Watch closely through the eyes of scripture and prayer, not being impressed by flash or new ideas but holding true to the faith that was taught by the Apostles and handed down through the ages.


Not in Vain (1 Corinthians 15:10b)

“and his grace towards me is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:10b)


            Admittedly, nothing that God does is done in vain.  He effectively works out all things according to his divine purpose and pleasure, and praise God that he does, because if things were left to us, we would usually make a colossal mess out of them.  Yet, you knowing that God’s grace toward you was not in vain is a bit different from your neighbor knowing it.  When the world looks at you, would they say of you that God’s grace toward you is in vain?

            This is the same kind of language that Peter uses when he tells us to make our calling and our election sure (2 Peter 1:10).  Sure in whose eyes?  Certainly not in God’s eyes!  Peter is saying that we must build upon the faith that we have been given by God if we are to mature in godliness.  And if you look at the list of things that Peter commends us to add to our faith you will find that nearly all of them are things that have to do with the way we live toward others.  What Peter is saying and what Paul is saying is that if you have received God’s grace, you should strive for a life of integrity that draws others to the cross of Christ.  People should see you and recognize that there is something different in you that they want for themselves.  This is how you witness through your actions—by living out your faith before others.

            Sadly, I wonder how many Christians today could make such a bold statement as Paul is making.  How many times have we been in a situation where someone then looks at us and says, “oh, I didn’t know you were a Christian?”  Friends, endeavor to make your actions speak for themselves.  Preach the gospel and if necessary use words, as Francis of Assisi once said.  Live your faith humbly for the world and do so in such a way that the world is drawn to Christ.  No, we will not be judged by your works (and praise God for that), but our works are a reflection of the faith that God has worked within us.  And works are visible for the world to see.  May the world never say of you that God’s grace toward you was in vain.

Justified and Sanctified (Colossians 3:9-10)

“You must not lie to each other, having stripped off the old man with his practices and having put on the new, being renewed in knowledge according to the image of the one who created it.”  (Colossians 3:9-10)


Did you notice the subtle change in tense that Paul makes with his participles in these two verses?  He moves from “having stripped off” and “having put on” to “being renewed.”  Here we have two past participles followed by a present participle.  Now, while this is not meant to be a lesson in English grammar, or more properly, Greek grammar, this transition is incredibly important for theological purposes.  Here is one place in scripture where we have the framework for the difference between God’s act of justification and God’s work of sanctification.

When God begins to work faith in our heart, first he regenerates us, breathing new life into a sin-dead soul, then he gives us faith, drawing us to himself.  In our coming to Christ in faith, God declares that we are justified in his presence.  This, of course, is legal language reflecting not only that we stand in God’s presence fully pardoned of our sin debit, but we also stand before God’s presence in the righteousness of the one who redeemed us, namely Christ.  This is a declarative act of God.  We did nothing to earn it—that was Christ’s work—and it is not an ongoing process.  God declares it to be so and no one in heaven above or earth below can undo what God has declared to be so.

Beloved, there are many in our culture who would say that you can lose your salvation by backsliding into sin.  They have a theology that envisions you getting on or off the bus of salvation at your own discretion.  Oh, how we should reject those ideas!  Do you think that God is going to allow you to undo what it cost him so dearly to do in the first place?  Do you think so highly of yourself that you consider your own will to be superior to God’s?   Do you believe that while no power on heaven or in earth can remove you from God’s hand, you can yet do it on your own (John 10:28)?  How arrogant is this theology that would hold such things?  What God begins in you, he will bring to completion (Philippians 1:6)—beloved, that is a promise that you cannot undo.

But, do you see what Paul is expressing in these two verses as he transitions from the past to the present.  In God’s act of regeneration, you have put off the old man, and in His justifying act, you have been declared righteous before God.  Both of those take place once in the life of the believer.  Yet, the renewing is a present participle, this is ongoing, it is a continuing work of God that will continue in your life until you pass from this world into the next.  This is the work of sanctification in the life of the believer.  This is the difference between justification and sanctification.  Justification is a once-only act of God declaring us fit for his presence because of the work of Christ and sanctification is the ongoing work of God making us fit for an eternity in God’s presence as the bride of Christ.  What a wonderful theological statement is buried within these verses!

But there is one more note that must be made of a very practical nature.  And that is the command that Paul gives: do not lie to one another.  Oh, how often we fall into this trap.  It so often seems easier to lie than to be honest, but if we are to reflect Christ in our lives, how is it that we can allow lies to pass from our lips?  Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44) and if we allow ourselves to be known as liars, then we allow Christ to be identified with Satan by our actions.  Loved ones, flee from lies—even those “little white lies,” for they do not belong to you and they certainly do not belong to the one you serve.  Beloved, let your “yes be yes and your no be no” says our Lord (Matthew 5:37) when dealing with oaths—let it be that you are known for telling the truth in every area of your lives so that you might reflect the truth of Christ in every way.

Living for Jesus a life that is true,

Striving to please Him in all that I do,

Yielding allegiance, glad-hearted and free,

This is the pathway of blessing for me.

O Jesus, Lord and Savior, I give myself to Thee;

For Thou, in thy atonement, Didst give Thyself for me;

I own no other Master, My heart shall be Thy throne,

My life I give, henceforth to live. 

O Christ, for Thee alone.

-T.O. Chisholm

Understanding Predestination


The natural outworking of the Doctrine of God’s Decrees when applied to salvation is the language of predestination, of which election is a subset.  Regardless of how you understand predestination to be worked out in history, the term (and terms surrounding predestination) need to be dealt with because they are employed within scripture.  With this in mind, various views on the nature of predestination have been put forth including that of God’s foreordination of some to glory and some to reprobation (Calvinistic), God’s predestination based on divine foresight (classic Wesleyan), and God’s predestination of Christ as the only elect one and believers finding their election in him (modern Wesleyan). 

To better frame out this discussion, the first question that needs to be raised is whether God is active or passive in his predestination.  The Calvinist will typically hold that God’s predestination of believers to glory is active while his predestination of unbelievers to reprobation is a passive activity—that of literally choosing not to act in the life of some.  The Wesleyans will hold that God’s predestination of both believers and unbelievers is passive, the final decision in terms of salvation being left in the hands of the individual who chooses either to believe or to reject the things of God.

The second question that is addressed is the question of who forms the object of predestination.  The Calvinist will hold that all men, both good and evil, are the object of God’s predestinating work.  The Wesleyan will either argue that men ultimately choose to become the object of the predestinating work (as the work is passive) or that Christ is the only object of God’s predestinating work.  It is worth noting that these theologies typically apply the language of predestination to angels as well as to humans, thus it is God who predestinated Satan and his minions to fall or that it is Satan and his minions who chose to fall on their own free and un-influenced will.

The third question that must be addressed is that of the specific language of the New Testament surrounding predestination.  There are several terms that feed our understanding of God’s decretive work when it comes to predestination.

  1. proori/zw (proorizo):  This term that we typically translate as “predestine” is constructed from two root words: pro (pro), for “beforehand” and oJri/zw (horizo)—“to define, appoint, or set a limit to.”  Thus, when the terms are combined, this refers to something that is predetermined or decided upon ahead of time.  Thus, two ideas must be accounted for in interpreting this word.  First is that this word carries with it the idea of willful determination.  God determined to do something (scripture context and theology will determine what that something may be); there is an intentionality that is contained by this word.  Second, this willful act is an act that takes place before said events are realized, arguably, based on passages like Ephesians 1:4-5, said willful act takes place before the act of creation.
  2. proginw/skw (proginosko):  Again, this term can be broken down into two constituent parts:  pro (pro) and ginw/skw (ginosko), which means, “to know.”  Thus, this term refers to God’s knowing beforehand things and events.  There are two ways in which this “foreknowing” has been understood.  The Calvinists have consistently argued that God’s foreknowing is due to his foreordaining (God knows the end of the story because he wrote the book).  The Wesleyans have typically held that God, being outside of time and not bound by the linear time-stream as we are, equally sees past, present, and future, viewing the entire timeline of history from his divine vantage point (God knows the end of the story because he read the story beforehand). 

The Wesleyan view ties proginw/skw (proginosko) with proora/w (proorao), or “foresight.”  Thus God knows because he sees.  Yet, the Calvinist points out the theological connection between ginw/skw (ginosko) and the Hebrew term [d:y” (yada), “to know.”  The Hebrew concept of knowledge is relational, thus, when Adam “knew” his wife, she became pregnant.  The Calvinist would thus argue that it is impossible to have a relationship with something that is simply seen in time, but that the word demands the idea of God setting his affections on those he “foreknew” ahead of time.

  1. ejkle/gomai (eklegomai):  This is the verb that we translate as “to elect” or “to choose,” noting that this verb implies a certain degree of intentionality. This idea is also communicated through two nouns: ejklekto/ß (eklektos)—“chosen one” or “elect”—and ejklogh/ (ekloge)—“a choice” or “an election.”  This is a term with which we will deal in more detail in our unit on Soteriology, but it is an important part of the understanding of predestination in terms of God’s decretive work.  For our purposes here, though, it is important simply to understand the idea of election as being something that is a result of God’s intentional choice, regardless of the means by which you understand that choice being made (foresight or foreordination) or of your understanding of the object(s) of God’s electing work (Christ alone or all believers).

There is a fourth question that must be addressed, and this question, though it is one that tends to be more subjective than objective, is one that carries with it more pastoral connotations, and thus, in the eyes of many, is likely the most important question to address.  This question is, “Is the idea of God predestinating fair?”  Certainly, one may dismiss this concern by quoting, “Who are you, O Man, to answer back to God?”  And, indeed, it is important to be reminded that we are the ones who must answer to God and he does not answer to man or seek man’s counsel.  We were not the ones who set the world into place nor do we even know what tomorrow will bring.  God is sovereign and man is not.  As the German composer, Samuel Radigast, wrote: “Whatever my God ordains is right…”

At the same time, as we discussed before, God is not capricious and he is not unjust.  All God does, he does in perfect harmony and accordance with his will.  Thus, the question is raised once again, how do we understand the idea of predestination in terms of the “rightness” or “fairness” of the act that is consistent with the goodness of God’s character?  The answer that we must give falls under a right understanding of our fallen, sinful estate.  While we will discuss sin further when we discuss Anthropology, let it suffice to say that as a result of Adam’s fall, what every man, woman, and child deserves is the judgment of God—that is what we have earned.  Thus, in terms of “fairness,” what is fair is that all mankind would face eternal judgment.  In turn, the redemption that is seen in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ must be seen as the greatest of mercies delivered to an undeserving people.  Regardless of your particular view on the object or means of election, a right view of our sinful states places into its proper context the marvelous, gracious, and wonderful work of our Lord on the cross.  It can be said that the more seriously you take sin and its effects, the more you will appreciate the mercy of the cross.

One final note in terms of the language of predestination, in particular with respect to the Decrees of God:  while there are many and varying views on how one explains the theology and theological ramifications of predestination, one must not ignore the concepts because they are scriptural concepts.  One must deal honestly with the language of texts like Acts 4:28 and others, and while one’s theology may make less or more of them, one must make something of such passages in order to be faithful to scripture.

Ordinarily, this approach is rather backwards.  Normally, when doing exegetical work, one should examine the words and their meanings, working from what the text literally states within its context and then deriving an interpretation from that point.  Yet, in discussions as theologically charged as this discussion can be, it is worth noting that one’s theological presuppositions will often color one’s understanding of the context within which particular words may be found.  If one is aware of one’s own presuppositions as they approach a text like this, it is my belief that one will be more inclined to recognize the effect that said presupposition is having on interpretation, hopefully using more discernment as the words are defined and understood.

Acts 4:28; Romans 8:29-30; 1 Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 1:5,11.

Note that one must not be too hasty in assuming that a word can be defined accurately by combining the definitions of its constituent parts.  Just as the English word “hot-dog” does not refer to a cute, fuzzy pet on a summer-time afternoon, such is often the same with Greek terms.  At the same time, just as in English, many compound words do carry with them the combined meanings of their parts, and thus is the case with proori/zw.

Typically, when we speak of the Decrees of God, we speak of them as having taken place prior to his creative work.

Acts 26:5; Romans 8:29; Romans 11:2; 1 Peter 1:20; 2 Peter 3:17. 

pro/gnwsiß (prognosis—from which our English word comes), is the noun form of this term.

Genesis 4:1.

Mark 13:20; Luke 6:13; Luke 9:35; Luke 14:7; John 15:19; Ephesians 1:4.

Matthew 22:14; Matthew 24:22; Mark 13:22; Romans 8:33; Colossians 3:12; 1 Timothy 5:21; 1 Peter 2:4; 2 John 1; Revelation 17:14.

Acts 9:15; Romans 9:11; Romans 11:7; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Peter 1:10.

It is important to note that a related debate in terms of predestination is that of single/double predestination.  Some would argue that God actively elects some to salvation and passively permits unbelievers to condemn themselves to damnation.  Others would argue that God actively elects some to life and elects others to condemnation.  That debate is outside of the scope of this discussion, though it deserves to be referenced in this context.

Note that this question is often rephrased to say, “Is it just?” or “Is it consistent with my understanding of God’s character?”, but ultimately, if you read between the lines, the question that is being asked is whether or not God is being arbitrary and partial, which flies in the face of most of our understandings of “fairness.”

Romans 9:20—Here Paul is citing Elihu’s rebuke of Job (Job 33:13) and Isaiah’s illustration of a clay pot in the master’s hands (Isaiah 29:16).

Romans 11:34-35; Isaiah 40:13; Job 35:7, 41:11.

Job 38:4.

James 4:14.

Acts 4:24; 1 Timothy 6:15.

Job 8:3.

Romans 5:28,6:23.


Also note that predestination, even in a strict Calvinistic sense, is different from philosophical determinism.  God did not make automatons of mankind and though we make choices that are set within God’s will, these choices are not coerced in a negative sort of way.  This will be discussed further in our discussion of Anthropology.

Create a Clean Heart in Me: Psalm 51 (part 11)

“A heart that is clean, you must create in me, O God;

and a spirit that is steadfast, you must continually renew in my being.”

(Psalm 51:12 {Psalm 51:10 in English Bibles})


Oh, how little man can do on his own!  It is God who providentially equips him to do anything of lasting value.  Artists, composers, architects, writers, musicians, etc… all get their talent from the hand of God—whether they will admit to it or not!  Yet, there is one thing within which man can make no strides of his own—we are not providentially equipped or gifted in this area in any way.  This area God reserves for himself.  And that is the process of saving a man or woman and preparing that person for glory.  Paul poses the question of whether man seeks after God in Romans 3:10-18, and his answer is drawn from scripture, beginning with the words of the psalmist in Psalm 14:1-4.  Does any seek after God?  And scripture gives us a resounding, “NO!”

Oh, beloved, how highly we tend to think of our own actions!  Yet, salvation does not come from our works or from our will, but it comes from the will of God (Romans 9:16) and the exercise of his divine compassion on those he has chosen for his own.  In addition, as we reflect on both parts of salvation—the justifying work of God and the sanctifying work of God—we are reminded that both are again in God’s hands.  One is justified—made right with God in Christ—but only once in life—what God has done and promised to do, he will not relent upon.  Yet, there is an ongoing process of sanctification that is designed to grow us in our holiness, making us more like Christ, to prepare us for glory.  This work is ongoing, and it is a process that will not be complete until you cross over into eternity.  Yes, by seeking to be obedient to scripture and to apply the Ten Commandments to our lives, we participate in the process of our sanctification.  But a tilled field without seeds and rain will still produce nothing but weeds.  It is the Holy Spirit that convicts us of the sins we need to put to death, empowers us to put them to death, and who works in our heart to illumine us toward right living. 

There is a clear recognition of this principle in this verse.  David has two requests of God (they are in the imperative, so do not miss the force of David’s plea to God):  a clean heart and a steadfast spirit.  Yet, the theology of these two requests lies within the verbs.  The first verb is the word, ar:b” (bara), which means, “to create.”  In scripture, this word is only ever used of God and it is only ever used of God’s creative work from nothing.  There are different words that describe when mankind makes something, but creation is limited to the hand of God.  David recognizes that the heart of man is not one that is basically good and just needs some cleaning up.  No!  The heart of man is dark and wretched, putrid and warped.  There is no cleaning up the heart of man, for sin has forever bent it toward evil.  Thus, when God calls a sinner to himself through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, God does not simply go into the heart of man and scrub him out with steel wool, but he tears out that old wicked heart and creates a new heart and implants it into the new believer.  This is a once only act and it is an act that no one but God can do.

The contrast, though, is found in the second petition.  David asks that God would renew within him a steadfast spirit.  Rather than being the standard form of the verb (as we found in the first request), the verb is in the “Piel” construct, which implies not only intensification, but ongoing and repeated action.  In other words, in this verse, David is saying, “give me a new heart and never stop sanctifying my soul.”  Oh, were these things that we sought in our own lives!

The question that may be asked is whether or not David was “saved” prior to the writing of these words, for he is asking for a clean heart (something he would already have were he a believer).  Given the remarkable relationship that David had with God from the earliest days of his recorded life, it is hard to argue that he was not a believer.  Yet, even believers can loose their sense of assurance in the wake of grievous sins, which is what I would suggest we are looking at here.  This psalm is David’s desperate cry to God after one of the most wretched sins that a man can commit (adultery and murder of a friend).  How much we can learn from the saints that have gone before us, even in their darkest times.

Loved ones, may these words of David be your continual cry before the Lord.  In Christ you have been given a new and clean heart, but the old man still wages war against you on this side of glory.  That is why you need a daily, even moment by moment, work of the Holy Spirit in your life, to renew your spirit to the glory of God.  Oh, how dependent we are on the work of God in our lives!  And praise the Lord that it is no other way!

What a fellowship, what a joy divine,

Leaning on the everlasting arms;

What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,

Leaning on the everlasting arms;

Leaning, leaning, save and secure from all alarms;

Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.

-Anthony Showalter & Elisha Hoffman