Posted in Logic/Philosophy, Epistemology

Can We Know What Happened?

We all think about the past. We can do this to a great degree because of memory. We remember things that occurred in our personal experience. However, much of what we think about and talk about regarding the past has to do with things that did not come within our range of personal experience. Most of history that we study is in this classification of information. We do not remember these facts or alleged facts because we were never exposed to them in the first place. But in studying history, we come to learn and to know of things that we could not know about otherwise. The study of history is an enormously important branch of inquiry. The study of history is the key to our contact with most of what has happened in the past, since our experience with what is now the “past” is very limited.

At times more information regarding claims made about the past leads to correction of the historical record. And this is as it must be. If historians make mistakes or assume things or allege things that were not supported by actual evidence, then when further search leads to a correction of mistakes earlier made, we have an improved account. This is progress in the acquiring of truth from the past or a coming to knowledge with regard to what actually happened.

But sometimes, men begin to “rewrite” history. That is, instead of researching material and recording “facts as they are,” they insert into their writing of “history” views that they have not actually found in the material that they are studying, but rather they insert an “angle of perspective” that they already hold for which they are in search of support. Some men in looking at the past even go so far as to claim that we cannot really have any objective view of the past. Their claim is that it is impossible for us to really “get to the truth” of something long ago done, so that it is impossible for any person to have an objective look or view of the past. I remember in one of our debates years ago saying to the audience regarding my opponent at the time that he had no literary past. The way that he was looking at history prohibited him from having knowledge of the past. You cannot use the past against or even in behalf of the present if there is no objective knowledge of the past.

Must a person be personally present in order to have knowledge of a certain thing or event? No. We know a lot of things without being personally present when these things occurred because others testify or provide evidence to us of these things. This is knowledge by the testimony of other persons. Too, we have “testimony” by empirical data. When non-literary items are discovered such as pictures or pottery, etc., these become useful “witnesses” to us of things gone by.

To benefit from the past, we must not “play games” with the past. I used to asked my students, “How long must I be dead before my having been here becomes a matter of mere probability?” In one sense, such a question may at first seem silly. But at times positions are taken with regard to the impossibility of knowledge of the past that imply that the passing of time does render knowledge of the past impossible. But, if the present can be known (and this article is not proof of knowledge as such, though we have provided that proof in other articles), is there something about the past that makes it impossible for us to know absolutely and certainly something about it? Does the passing of time make it impossible for information once current to be recovered? Think of these classifications of the relationship that can exist between past information and us:

  1. Possibility (knowledge that is possible to have now, but not yet discovered so that this information remains non-knowable).
  2. Impossibility (knowledge that it is impossible to have of the past because no record was left so that this information is also non-knowable).
  3. Probability (certain information found leads us to draw a tentative conclusion, a conclusion that is bolstered by some evidence but which is not definite or conclusive; as things stand, this is yet non-knowable).
  4. Improbability (certain information found leads us to draw a tentative conclusion, a conclusion that is bolstered by some evidence, but the evidence is not sufficient to lead to a definite conclusion, though it does suggest that something likely did not happen at all; this intellectual conclusion of “unlikeliness” or “improbability” remains yet non-knowable).
  5. Falsifiability (certain information makes it necessary to draw the conclusion that something did not happen or was not the case in the past, which would entail any information found that conclusively proves that something did not occur or was not the case; falsifiability, unlike the other categories already listed is a matter of knowability rather than non-knowability).
  6. Verifiability (enough information is gathered and is of such a content as to make certain positive knowledge claims possible and actual).

Let us think, for a moment, about the status of the claim that a man makes when he suggests to us that none of us can actually know for sure anything in the past. What is he saying? He is saying that the past is “off limits” to human cognition or understanding. It is a category of information that is simply not available to us for comprehension. But what has he himself done in making such a claim? He has attempted to declare that he knows for sure that there is one thing about the past that he knows! It is one grand, summation point that he seeks to make, to be sure, but it is something about the past, after all! Furthermore, he is either saying something about the past or he is saying nothing about the past. He is certainly trying to say something about the past as we see in the formulation of his claim. He is attempting to enlighten us about our relationship to the past. And if he is saying something about the past (and he is), then he contradicts his own claim in the making of the statement that he makes. And affirming a logical contradiction is, in effect, the making of an irrational claim. It makes no sense! The claimant refutes himself in his own claim by affirming and denying the same thing. It is like this regarding the claimant: I know one thing about the past, and that is that none of us can know anything about the past! But if none of us can know anything about the past, then the claimant cannot know that none of us can know anything about the past.

Furthermore, if none of us can know that none of us can know anything about the past, then it is at least possible that one of us can know something or at least one thing about the past. And if we can know one thing about the past, perhaps there are other things about the past that we can know as well. Who can possibly prove that only one thing about the past can be known for sure?

It also needs to be noted that the very concepts of “improvement” or “correction” or “modification” with regard to the past in the rewriting of historical accounts entail the idea of actual historical fact and objective and absolute truth. Something either happened or it did not happen. Something is either the case, or it is not the case. And in both situations, just as the “fact” is not affected by the historian’s own point of view (any subjective bias or preference), so the “truth” about it is not affected by his own point of view either. The historian may or may not yet understand the fact, but if the fact is somehow revealed from the past, there is then a “record” of it, and if the historian comes into intellectual contact with the record of it, he is getting to the “truth” regarding the fact. And when he reveals that “truth” to the rest of us in speech or in writing, he is testifying to us with regard to what he has come to know about the past.

But every time that an historian attempts to “improve” the historical record in further research, the very idea of doing so implies the assumption that there is known improvement to be made. But if it is understood that known improvement can currently be made by the historian in the writing of history (writing about the past), then it is being implied that there is absolute and objective truth about past facts that can be objectively and absolutely currently known before the writing of the “improved” history can be made.

Let us give an illustration that might help us here. Let me suggest that I now say: “I like horses.” Now, there. I said it. That claim is already a part of history (the past). Now let us in analyzing that claim note that (1) if I presently say something that is the truth, and if (2) the truth is the unchangeable truth unaffected by any subjective viewpoint, and if (3) the present in which the truth is spoken (assuming I told the truth about my liking horses) now becomes the past, I can now accurately say something in this present moment about what I just said in the past moment. The movement of time that “carried” my claim from present to past did not affect its status as a claim, and my current or present relationship to the claim earlier made is one that allows me to know something about what I earlier said. In this case, I remember what I said.

But, as earlier mentioned, most of what we learn from history is not like that. We are having to deal with facts found and statements made by others. This makes the discovering of truth with regard to claimed facts and claimed truths more complicated, but it does not make the effort impossible. I am simply further removed, intellectually speaking, from the facts and truths that I seek, and I cannot use memory to locate them. The situation as it is means that care, much care, must be taken in attempting to contact the past. I must rely on something found outside my own experience but now located.

This is all very important because the past or at least some of the past can be enormously important to people presently alive. In the preface to his insightful and extraordinarily sobering 1973 book, The Gulag Archipelago, the Russian author, Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, in revealing to the world the horror of communism, related the following:

By an unexpected turn of our history, a bit of the truth, an insignificant part of the whole, was allowed out in the open. But those same hands which once screwed tight our handcuffs now hold out their palms in reconciliation: “No, don’t! Don’t dig up the past! Dwell on the past and you’ll lose an eye.” But the proverb goes on to say: “Forget the past and you’ll lose both eyes.” (p. x)

There are too many Americans today who are completely out of touch with the cruelty and danger of communism. So many of our young people now have been indoctrinated with lies about our past and that of some other cultures. In her excellent and informative book, Debunking Howard Zinn, Mary Grabar has done a great service in showing how, or at least partially how, America is now being subverted by so many of our own citizens. Why is it that so many young people now hate their own country? The subtitle of the book is “Exposing the Fake History That Turned a Generation against America.” Howard Zinn wrote a book entitled A People’s History of the United States. And on page 25, Grabar in her own book writes, “According to Zinn, there’s no such thing as objective history, anyway: ‘the historian’s distortion is more than technical, it is ideological; it is released in a world of contending interests, where any chosen emphasis supports (whether the historian means to or not) some kind of interest, whether economic or political or racial or national or sexual.’” And by his own distortion of history, evidently Zinn has been successful in influencing thousands and thousands of our own young people whose current worldview entails a distorted view of America’s past that has now erupted even into violent destruction of the symbols of our past.

The Bible’s own view is that it is possible to know the past and to learn from it. Before leaving this earth, Moses told his people, “Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will shew thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee” (Deut. 32:7). Over and over in the book of Judges, we read of the sad history of Israel who as a nation moved through repeated cycles entailing national tragedy and misery for over three hundred years because the people kept on neglecting to learn the lessons of history. May God have mercy on our own forgetful and troubled land.

Posted in Christian Living

A Difference of Perspective

Most of the readers will likely remember being involved in situations where some sort of serious accident has occurred which involved a dear loved one. Or perhaps it was a sickness or a heart attack or a stroke. Maybe you followed the ambulance to the hospital, and in the waiting room, you anxiously awaited a report of the condition of the loved one. You may have spent anxious moments at the hospital waiting for word from the doctors. Or you may have stayed in the ICU room day after day hoping your loved one would completely recover.

Scene One: Let us imagine an automobile accident in which a husband and wife are involved. Let us say that the accident was terrible, but that somehow though the husband was severely injured, the wife experienced only minor injuries. For days the husband lingers near death, but the wife is prayerful and hopeful and remains at his side or at least close at hand. But finally, the doctor brings to her the sad message: “He didn’t make it.” Oh the crying, the loss, the horrible, horrible sorrow that fills the heart of the mate now left behind! Most of us can identify with such an event which produces so much heartache in the souls of those who must now carry on. We soothe ourselves in the sacred promises of a most loving God who knows all and who has told us that in every situation, we simply must trust him (Prov. 3:5, 6). The word has to be circulated, and other kinfolk and acquaintances are informed of that sobering truth: “He didn’t make it.”

Scene Two: But now in our imagined scenario, we see the recently departed husband in Hades, the realm of the dead. By the grace of God, he has arrived in Paradise where the righteous dead go to await the end of the world and the resurrection (Luke 16:19-31; 23:43; 1 Thess. 4:13-18). The angels have carried him to a section of that domain where those he knows are waiting. He immediately recognizes some of his kinfolk who preceded him in death, some having died just a few weeks ago. Also, he sees members of his own congregation, some who died years ago. My, what greetings! The conversation is lively and wonderful as memories are evoked in the hearts of all as they ponder days gone by back on the earth. He sees some who now look so good, and he remembers how they looked in the midst of malady during their last days on the earth. What an improvement! Everyone is healthy in mind and body. There is no disease, no surgery scars, and no painful facial expressions. There is nothing that would indicate problem or distress in any form.

After the initial welcome and the first words of joy expressed by those who are so very glad to see him finally once again, he begins to express himself as to his impression of his new habitation. “I knew from what the Bible said that Paradise would be a wonderful place. But I could not in my wildest imaginations ever have pictured exactly the feeling of satisfaction, peace, and joy that I now do,” he explains.

One of his relatives asks him how it is that he, not yet an old man, got to come to Paradise when he did. So, he begins to explain about the car wreck. He can’t relate very many of the details of the accident because he simply doesn’t remember much about what really happened. He must have lost consciousness at the moment of impact. He does, however, barely remember hearing voices at some point. Maybe it was while he was still in the car or maybe in the ambulance or maybe even in the hospital. People seemed to be discussing his condition. Some were hopeful; others not. Frank statements were made. By whom he’s not sure. But he does remember that someone, a woman, seemed to be softly praying. The words were said very close to his ear. She must have been bent over him, and he remembers that the prayer was so sincere, so desperate, and he now recalls that though he can’t remember most of the prayer, he does remember the final words. The voice trembled, as the woman cried: “Let thy will be done.”

Just then at that point of his account, a kinsman who knew him and his wife very well back on the earth, upon hearing about a woman praying near him, suggests to his recently arrived kinsman that the voice must have been that of his wonderful wife. He asks whether or not she was in the car when the accident occurred. “Yes, she was,” he remembers. “Was she hurt?” “Yes, she was,” he recalls. He begins to reflect upon those moments just prior to his bodily release, and he remembers briefly seeing his wife in an ever so temporary moment of consciousness. She was battered and bruised, but she did not look seriously hurt at all. He ponders the thought: she lived; I died. “Is she here somewhere?” his kinsman inquires. And as he looks out on the faces of those waiting for his response, he replies, “No, she didn’t make it.”

Posted in Deity of Christ, Expository, Miracles

Which None Other Did

In John 15:22-24 Jesus referred to the fact that the Jews had no excuse for their sin of rejecting him because of his words that he had spoken to them. He also referred to the fact that their rejection of him was in spite of the fact that he had done works which none other did. Let us briefly consider in what way his works were unlike those of any others.

First, we need to consider the amount of the works that Jesus did. Peter would later describe Jesus as one anointed by God with the Holy Spirit and with power, and one who went about doing good (Acts 10:38). His life was a constant display of divine power in behalf of needy men. Near the end of his first book, John would say, “Many other signs therefore did Jesus in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book” (John 20:30), thus indicating that a complete record of all the miracles of the Lord was not being recorded in spite of the fact that a record of a lot of them is recorded. And in an obvious hyperbolic statement at the end of this book, John said, “there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that should be written” (John 21:25). No one performed the amount of miracles that Jesus did.

Second, we need to consider the variety of the works that Jesus did. Think of the kind of miracles that he performed. Jesus, himself, once referred to the partial variety when he said, “Go tell John the things which ye hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up” (Matt. 11:4-5). Matthew tells us that along with the Lord’s teaching and preaching, there was the “healing all manner of disease and all manner of sickness among the people” (Matt. 11:23). The Lord’s power was amazing. He did not even have to be present at the site where his miraculous power was activated (Matt. 8:5-13). And in addition to dealing with bodily sickness and infirmity, the Lord’s power was used to terminate a storm at sea (Mark 4:35-41), to walk on water (Matt. 14:22-33), to wither a tree (Matt. 21:18-19), to instantly increase food supply (John 6:1-14), and even to raise the dead (John 11:1-44)! Such an array of power the world had never seen!

Third, we need to consider the degree of the works that Jesus did. Of course, in one sense, it would seem that the raising of the dead would be the extreme measure of power displayed by Jesus or others. But, just here, however, I am concerned about the Lord’s activity regarding demons. The Lord’s compassion regarding human distress is evidenced in several specific instances of divine cure involving the casting out of demons, a specific kind of malady evidently providentially arranged for the express purpose of demonstrating in the first century the power of God over the power of Satan, and, thus, the power of light over darkness, and the power of truth over error. It seems that God arranged for a unique kind of confrontation between his own power and that of the devil in order to further convince men in the first century of the credentials of the Christ and truth of the gospel. Demon possession was a horrible thing causing tremendous distress and/or the loss of one’s freedom (cf. Mark 9:22; Matt. 8:28-34) in response to which even some of those not able to overcome the demons on occasion attempted to do so anyway (Matt. 12:27; Acts 19:13-16). Demons were responsible agents who knew who Christ was and who knew of their eventual destiny, and divine power easily disposed of them (Matt. 8:28-29; Acts 16:16-18).

Fourth, we need to consider the reason for the works that Jesus did. Jesus said that the very works that the Father had given him to accomplish bore witness to the fact that the Father had sent him (John 5:36). The writer, John, declared that the reason for the inclusion in his first book of the record of some of the Lord’s miracles was so that “ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in his name” (John 20:31). This was a part of the uniqueness of the Lord’s miracles when compared to the miracles performed by others before him and by others after him. No mere man’s miracles had ever been utilized to support the personal claim for the divinity of the person performing the miracle. Never! This sets the Lord’s miracles apart even from those of the apostles. The “signs of the apostle” (2 Cor. 12:12) set the apostles apart from everyone else who in the first century had miracle working power (cf. 1 Cor. 12:4-11), but the Lord’s miracles were used to prove that he was God in flesh!

Fifth and finally, we need to consider the climax of the works that Jesus did. The Lord once expressed the profound truth that he had received “commandment” from the Father regarding his right to lay down his life and to take it up again (John 10:17-18). This is an astonishing revelation. When Jesus died he did not die by physical exhaustion. Before releasing his spirit, he cried with a loud voice, something impossible for a person worn out to do (Matt. 27:50). No one simply took his life from him as Peter on Pentecost declared (Acts 2:23). Jesus surrendered his life on his own in the midst of an attempt by others to take it from him. He laid down his own life. But then, by the commandment of God, Jesus had the right to take it again. In fact, Jesus had said that the Father loved him because of this situation: he was going to lay down his life so that he might take it again (John 10:17)! No one ever in the history of the raised dead had ever by their own authority come forth from the grave. But Jesus did!

Paul would later write to the Roman brethren that by the resurrection of Christ, in a special sense God declared him to be his own Son. Speaking of Jesus, Paul wrote, “who was declared the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4). The Lord’s own resurrection was the product of power and of his own holiness. Having known no sin (2 Cor. 5:21), he was able to overcome the grave (Heb. 2:14-15; Rom. 4:25). In a sense, this was the climax to all the other miracles he had performed.

Posted in Christian Living, Doctrine, Salvation

We Can Keep the Commandments

The only faith that saves is the faith that obeys (James 2:26; Heb. 5:8-9). Paul speaks of the “obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5; 16:26). Jesus said that love would demonstrate itself by keeping his commandments (John 14:15) and that his friends were those who did that very thing (John15:14). Solomon in the long ago concluded that the whole of life was in fearing God and keeping his commandments (Eccl. 12:13-14). Anyone today who undermines the concept of keeping divine commandments does so to his own peril. But notice that we can only keep divine commandments if—

  1. There is a commander. The eternal God and creator of everything other than himself is in position to exact from humans what he wishes. In the three divine religions of which we read in Scripture (Gentile-ism, Judaism, Christianity), God obligates according to his holy and perfect will. Today, since the last will and testament of Jesus Christ is in effect, we are to listen to him (Matt. 17:5; Heb. 9:15-17; 12:25; 2 John 9-11). Anyone who would approach God today must believe that he is and that he is a rewarder of them that seek after him (Heb. 11:6; 4:16; 7:25).
  2. There are commands. Unfortunately, many have misconstrued the notion of salvation by grace to mean that there is complete exclusion of the requirement for obedience. There can only be obedience to commands, and if there are no commands, there can be no obedience. And if salvation by grace excludes commands, then obedience is not required. Some brethren take passages on grace to mean this very thing. For example, in Rom. 6:14 Paul wrote, “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under law, but under grace.” Notice that Paul said that sin would not have “dominion” over a Christian, for a Christian stood under grace while Jews in the previous divine regime stood under law. John wrote, “For the law was given through Moses; ‘the’ grace and ‘the’ truth came though Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Paul in Rom. 6 did not say that Christians had no law but that law itself could not hold sway over them because of the grace they had received. They surely had obligation and where there is obligation there is law, but Christians were not under the law of Moses (the contrast between law [which killed] and grace [which made alive] is elaborated in Rom. 7 and 8). Sin cannot dominate the life of a Christian because of the grace made available by the law (gospel) itself. Paul had in Rom. 6:1 earlier raised the question, “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” Of course, the answer was “no.” But the question is absurd if there is no law, for if there is no law, one could not commit sin, much less continue in it.
  3. We do know where to find them. We cannot obey the commands if we do not know where the commands are located. Where should a man go in order to find his obligations to God? First, he looks at his own conscience which declares to him the significant moral difference between right and wrong. Furthermore, his conscience convicts him of guilt when he violates it. He sees, or should see, that his own conscience is guiding him to find the source of it who is also the Creator of all. Paul told the Athenians that man was made to look for God who is not far from any man (Acts 17:27-28). Paul also told the Athenians that they (and we) would be judged by Jesus (Acts 17:30-31). Jesus had once said that anyone who rejected his sayings would by the Lord’s word be judged in the last day (John 12:48). If the word of Christ is the judge, and that word is the equivalent of his last will and testament (our New Testament), then men today will be judged by the New Testament. That is where we find our current obligations imposed on us by God. That new testament (or covenant) is now in force (Heb. 9:15-28).
  4. We do know what they are. One could conceivably recognize that the New Testament is the will of God operative today without really ever learning much about the contents of that will. He might never be serious in study so as to survey the scene to find his duty. The New Testament contains facts, promises, obligations. If a man would know what to do to be saved (Acts 2:37; 16:30), he must study and find divine answer to that question and accept no mere man’s conflicting answer to counter what God has said. Since the answer to the question is given in various pieces and places in Scripture, he must be diligent in his search to know all that he must do to become a Christian and to remain a faithful one. Can a man know “all” he must do to become a Christian? Indeed, he must know all. Can a man know all the principles to which he must submit in order to remain a faithful one? Of course. How can a man remain faithful if he does not know how to do so? Jesus promised that the knowledge of truth which would provide spiritual freedom would be accessible to those who would abide in his word (John 8:31-32). Christians today who deny the knowability of truth (that is, they deny that we can be certain about it) do not believe what the Lord taught about it.
  5. We have the right attitude toward them. Can a man obey a command of God without proper regard for or respect for the command? Can a man say, in effect, “Well, I’ll do it, but I don’t like it”? We might recall that Naaman had to put aside his anger before he would do what God’s prophet instructed him to do (2 Kings 5:8-14). Would not an honest sinner welcome the information regarding his duty to God? Is it possible for a practicing sinner to become a Christian while not loving God and not welcoming the saving information he has learned? Paul informs us that godly sorrow that produces repentance brings no regret (2 Cor. 7:10). Furthermore, if faithful Christians find grief, they do not locate it in the commandments of God (1 John 5:1-3).
  6. They mean what they did when first given. The duties imposed on all men today through the law of Christ are the same permanent obligations which rested on the first century church. We are far removed in time from that period in which the first obligations were preached to the whole world. The divinely given duty to take the gospel to the world was given to the apostles (Matt. 28:18-20). In thirty years they accomplished that noble and necessary assignment that once and for all changed human amenability from Gentile-ism and Judaism to the gospel (Col. 1:23; Mark 16:19-20). And the same obligations that were preached to sinners and saints still reside in God’s book, binding on men today our duty to God. The warning was early on given not to go against the gospel that was revealed (Gal. 1:6-10). The apostles’ doctrine or teaching (Acts 2:42) was the gospel of Christ (Rom. 1:16-17; Gal. 1:7). The pattern was and remains set regarding obligations (2 Tim. 1:13; 1 Tim. 1:16; Heb. 8:5). No one has the authority to change them. They are not fluid in nature. And translation does not alter human obligation.
  7. We have inherent capacity to obey. There are those who still maintain that a sinner cannot on his own make any move toward God, but that he must wait on divine help in order to get to repentance. The Bible simply does not teach this unholy doctrine. We simply cannot move from sinner status to saint status without utilizing our will to make the move. Do we want to do the right thing? Do we want to obey God? If we do, can we obey the gospel? If damnation is pronounced on all who sin and who do not obey the gospel, then either we can obey that gospel or God does not want us all to be saved. Damnation is pronounced against all sinners who obey not the gospel (2 Thess. 1:7-10), and yet God wants all men to be saved (2 Pet. 3:9, 1 Tim. 2:4). Then, it follows that there is an inherent capacity within the sinner to learn and obey the gospel. He can come to faith, repent of his sins, confess his faith, and be baptized into Christ (John 8:24; Luke 13:3; Matt. 10:31-32; Mark 16:15-16). And every Christian (one in whom the Holy Spirit now dwells per Rom. 8:9-11) has divine help within that helps him to hold sin down (Rom. 8:14) in the production of Spirit fruit (Gal. 5:22-24).
Posted in Abortion, Doctrine, Nature of Man

The God of Human Governance

The Bible offers plenty of passages that bespeak the sovereignty of God and his complete management of human affairs. After all, why would God make man in his image and then leave him unattended? I think, however, that the attention divinely given to our affairs on earth is far, far more extensive and encompassing than many of us Bible students have in the past realized. God is not simply an occasional visitor or infrequent penetrator into man’s affairs. It is only by constant involvement that God could control the history that is recorded in Scripture. And it is only by constant involvement that God today moves history to his glory and to the good of his family. If the prayers of the righteous avail much, then God is very, very involved in our lives and what affects them. Divine intervention in the past at times entailed the miraculous; today it entails the supernatural non-miraculous. But divine intervention is an essential feature of our situation on this earth.

Scripture assures us that God calls the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:10), and he calls the things that are not as though they were (Rom. 4:17). He never lies (Heb. 6:18; Titus 1:2), and yet in the ultimate sense of control, God claims to be the One who deceives the deceived prophet (Ezek. 14:9). He arranged the confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh in order that God’s name “might be published abroad in the earth” (Rom. 9: 17). No one can come close to the management of life’s affairs! And we must remember that man is not the center of reality. God is! “The Lord hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil” (Prov. 16:4). How God can mix his determinate counsel and foreknowledge with man’s free will only he knows. But he does know, and he does do that very thing, including his use of evil men (Acts 2:23; Amos 3:6; Isa. 45:7). Let us briefly notice a short summation of his governance in the affairs of any given man.

God governs the WOMB. This is indeed a most fascinating thought. According to Scripture God is the One who decides who is conceived. Those that are conceived, God knows beforehand (Isa. 49:1, 5; Jer. 1:5). God controls barrenness. You might recall that on one interesting occasion God “had fast closed up all the wombs of the house of Abimelech” (Gen. 20:18). Sarah’s barrenness was of divine design in order that in time she would become the mother to a child of promise in her older years (Rom. 4:19; Heb. 11:11). In fact, Paul says that while Ishmael was born “after the flesh,” Isaac was born “through the promise” (Gal. 4:23). And the definite article “the” is there in the Greek text. And Hannah became the mother of Samuel although earlier “the Lord had shut up her womb” (1 Sam. 1:5, 20).

The degree of the divine control of the womb comes down to a consideration of a single question: Does natural law determine conception in the sense that when natural law is in effect it “triggers” or necessitates human conception, or is it the case that God’s supernatural law governs natural law in procreation? In other words, is God’s power limited by human free will, or is human free will limited by divine power? Which is always the superior force: natural law or supernatural law? According to Hebrews 12:9, God is the father of our spirits. No human being is conceived unless God sends Holy Spirit to join human flesh! God controls natural law; he is not controlled by it. This is ultimately why abortion upon demand is wrong. Such would be the malicious taking of a life that God produced. God could have prevented the conception by simply not sending Holy Spirit. Human spirit comes from Holy Spirit (Mal. 2:14-15). And if God doesn’t send it to the womb, no child is conceived. Divine governance is extreme. If God knows when a sparrow falls and how many hairs are on each man’s head (Matt. 10:29-30), he certainly knows when and why he sends Spirit to flesh to form a human and when and why he does not do so.

God governs the ROOM. And just here by “room” I mean the space or the area or the atmosphere in which human lives operate. This is the place where we make our decisions as pilgrims and sojourners on the earth. Our choices are somehow attached to our will, and our will is a part of our rational and emotional makeup. Jesus once declared that salvation was determined by a man’s will (John 7:17). Salvation is not simply a matter of intellectual elevation. Rather, it is a matter of character and whether or not someone wants to do right and be right. And no one can ultimately want to do the right thing while having a heart that would reject the truth that demands the right thing (2 Thess. 2:10). There is a degree of trust that I must essentially have in myself as a truth searcher (Acts 17:26-28). But I know that my human capacity is inferior to God’s divine capacity when I personally come to the realization of his existence, and so when I find him, I trust him. The writer of Proverbs wrote, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Prov. 3:5-6). Here there is a definite line drawn between finally trusting in myself or in trusting God. But why should any man acknowledge God with regard to all of that man’s ways?

It is so because any man can see only so much. And it is not very much at all. That is why Jeremiah told us long ago, “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his own steps” (Jer. 10:23). It is in man to search for God and to find him (Acts 17:27), and it is in man that when he finds him he begins to lean on him. And when we lean on him, we are declaring the recognition of our need. We do need help in large amounts and all the time in all places! And the writer of Proverbs says that God will direct the paths of his people. Here our prayers and his paths intersect. The Proverbs writer also says, “Man’s goings are of the Lord; how can a man then understand his own way?” (Prov. 20:24). There is altogether too much for one man to comprehend regarding his own situation: (1) why he was allowed to be conceived in the first place, (2) why his conception entailed the two people who became his father and mother, (3) how that genetic mix contributed to the personality that he could and would in time have, (4) why he has a specific ethnicity, sex, and inherent capacity that he has, (5) how he arrived at the current point and place in his life—his present situation, and (6) how it is that he is currently making a personal contribution to the accomplishing of the Lord’s will either on the good side or on the evil one. This is TOO MUCH for any of us to know. It is one reason why we always should say with Christ, “Let thy will be done.” God controls the room!

God governs the TOMB. James warns us about depending on tomorrow. So far, every tomorrow that we thought was coming has, in fact, come. But the next one may not. And the arrival of the previous ones was not because it was guaranteed. We simply have no divine promise of more time on earth (Jas. 4:13-17). James reminds us that we do not know what will happen tomorrow even if it does come. We are completely dependent on God for the preservation of our earthly lives. In verse 15 James says, “For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall both live, and do this or that.” Did you notice that James by inspiration declared that our continuation in life or the termination of our earthly life is a matter of divine will. There is no way to get around the fact that if a man is still alive on the earth, it is because God has allowed his life to continue. And when, for reasons some of which are known only to God, a given man dies, we have to conclude that there is a sense in which God was willing for that man to die. Not all death cases are the same, but there is an identical truth respecting all of them. Given all relevant factors involved in God’s will for human living and dying, God did not choose to allow that life to continue. Each life reaches its final earthly appointment (Heb. 9:27). According to James, we live by permission. According to the writer of Hebrews, we die by appointment. I am glad that regarding my forthcoming death, I do not know when, where, or how it will come. But I do know, unless the Lord comes first (1 Thess. 4:13-18), I am fast approaching it.

Posted in Christianity and Culture, Church and State, Evangelism

Turning the World Upside Down

On Paul’s second evangelistic tour, he and Silas came to Thessalonica, and for three Sabbath days he reasoned with certain Jews in their synagogue. Some Jews were persuaded, and some were not. Later, those who were not persuaded stirred up trouble because of their jealousy. A crowd gathered, an uproar ensued, and the attempt was made to find Paul and Silas, but it failed. However, Jason and some other brethren were dragged before the rulers of Thessalonica, and the accusation was made: “These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; whom Jason hath received: and these all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus” (Acts 17:6-7).

Years and years ago we were taught that the church ought to “turn the world upside down.” The idea at the time seemed good, and the expression could be found in Scripture. And it was an expression that could certainly motivate evangelism. After all, part of the New Testament pattern involved evangelism, didn’t it? So, it seemed to me as a young preacher that our people ought to be doing what the first century saints were doing in turning the world upside down! Many years have passed now since I first heard the “encouraging words” that in confronting the world, we ought to turn it upside down.

It is clearer now, however. The expression is certainly found in Scripture, but it is no part of the pattern of New Testament evangelism. The expression was taken out of its context and unfortunately misapplied to the church. We did ourselves no service in this interpretive mistake.

Think about it: the statement comes from the enemies of the gospel. Sometimes wicked men did tell the truth, however, that was recorded (cf. John 9:3; cf. Prov. 28:9; Mark 7:37). But sometimes they expressed error (John 9:34). So, how can we tell whether the expression is accurate or not here in Acts 17? Were Paul and Silas attempting to turn the world upside down? No. They were trying to spread the gospel for sure, and Paul had a particular assignment to do that very thing (Acts 9:15-16; 1 Cor. 9:15-18). But the assignment did not and could not entail the planned and purposed cause of social disruption. Never!

Remember that any inevitable but sinful fallout of doing good is not the fault (much less the credit) of someone’s obeying God. Was it Jesus’ fault that some Jews fell over him (Isaiah 8:14; Rom. 9:33; 1 Pet. 2:6-8)? No. Is Jesus to be blamed for their sin? No. Is he to be credited with their sin? Of course not.

Jesus encouraged his disciples to be peacemakers (Matt. 5:9). He himself in his ministry, while attempting to make his message known, did so without trying to stir up trouble or to evoke hostility (Matt. 12:19-20). If we would follow in his steps regarding preaching and teaching, we would also—while trying to circulate the message—try hard not to cause social disruption and invite hostility, resentment, and rejection. We need to be “as wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matt. 5:16). And we are never to impose ourselves on others (Matt. 7:6). Whatever happened to “the golden rule” as applied to evangelism (Matt.7:12)? Is this an area where the rule doesn’t apply? Of course not.

Paul did not encourage the riot scene in Ephesus (Acts 19). We can’t blame him for it, either. Jesus had once told his apostles on the “limited commission” to the Jews to shake the dust from their feet when it became apparent that a city did not want the truth preached there (Matt. 10:14). Paul himself practiced this (Acts 13:51). And for public abuse, humiliation, and persecution, Paul did desire an apology from those who abused him (Acts 16:37). But, even in this, he did not attempt to create a scene. On one occasion, after being beaten to or near death, he returned to the city out of which he was taken, but Luke does not tell us why (Acts 14:19-20). Later, Paul was arrested (Acts 21), and before governor Felix denied the charge that he was an insurrectionist or stirring up a crowd (Acts 24:5-13). This was not his mission. It is not ours either. We all really know this, I think, but we sometimes face the fact that our practice is not the same as the principle we preach (like continually telling ourselves that we need to turn the world upside down). We either need to change our practice (and try to cause trouble) or change our principle (that is an encouragement to the causing of trouble)!

Sometimes we preachers have created false impressions because our own impressions were based on ignorance rather than truth. It is a confession I make. All honest preachers are in the same situation I am in, too. At times we have fostered a kind of obligation based on our faulty “understanding” of that alleged and supposed obligation. Trying to encourage brethren to turn the world upside down was one of those.

The picture in the New Testament of the life of any faithful Christian—including preachers—is a life of quietness and peace (1 Tim. 2:1-4)! According to Paul, it is social peace that is conducive to the spread of truth—not riot or turbulence or agitated resistance. So, why would we ever think that the intentional effort to stir up trouble (turn the world upside down) would be Scriptural? Even in the days when the “great commission” was in effect and being carried out, our brethren were still being taught by inspired men to be ambitious to be quiet, to take care of their own business, and to do their own work so as to produce the best effect in community (1 Thess. 4:11-12). Such an obligation was never intended to be an impediment to preaching and teaching the gospel, however (1 Thess. 1:7-8). These two passages from 1 Thessalonians show us that the brethren in the first century were involved in the spreading of the gospel without attempting to cause upheaval in the community and the world. Should error be exposed with truth? Of course (1 Tim. 3:15; 1 Pet. 4:11). Should sin be identified and condemned? Yes (Eph. 5:7-12). However, as the local church supports the truth (1 Tim. 3:15), we at the very same time do so while trying to be at peace with all men as much as possible (Rom. 12:17-18). We are not under obligation to make men angry. If they get mad at us, let it never be a fact that we tried to provoke such.

Honorable controversy (public debate) is, in my judgment, one way of helping people to understand more truth, but I do not ever plan on being a part of a mere fuss or wrangle, and certainly not a violent dispute. In our public services of the church, we still support the truth in our communities. It is not our fault when others do not come because they do not want truth. Men still know how to find the grocery store, the post office, and the hospital. They can find us, too. But, in TV programs, information sent out through the mail, newspaper articles, etc., we can still try to keep truth before a public, interested or not, without imposing ourselves on them. And in other cultures, we can do even more because of their interest in the gospel which is so new to them. Some efforts at evangelism will work in some cultures that will not work in others. But regardless of culture, it is never right to try to cause trouble. We can contend for the faith (Jude 3), and we need always to be ready to give articulated defense of our hope (1 Pet. 3:15), but we do all in love (1 Cor. 16:14). And even when the method for the moment must be sharper (1 Cor. 4:21), the motivation is still to be one of love, and never to be the willed desire that a scene is stirred up.

Finally, remember, it is God who ultimately controls evangelism. He is the only one who can open and close the doors (Rev. 3:7). Only God knows when and where and how the gospel is best spread (Acts 16:6-10).

Posted in Baptism, Doctrine, Expository, New Testament, Salvation

Baptism In One Spirit Per 1 Corinthians 12:13

Last Sunday, I listened to a faithful gospel preacher as he misinterpreted this passage. Sadly, I misinterpreted this passage most of my preaching life. It was all because I failed to understand that Holy Spirit baptism entailed no miracle whatever! As you, I was taught that there are three measures of the Spirit among men (while there actually are none—John 3:34), and that baptism in Spirit was a miracle. But this was all wrong, so sadly wrong, and these mistakes affected all of our biblical interpretation of passages that mentioned the Spirit and his relationship to us.

Think about the words in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were made to drink of one Spirit.” Please go immediately to Galatians 3:26-29 for the language of Paul there. And please return to John 7:37-39 immediately for the language there. Do you see concept and language connection?

But, because (1) we all knew there was only one baptism, and because (2) we all knew that water was for the remission of sins, we concluded that we must “interpret” 1 Corinthians 12:13 to mean that we were baptized “by” the Holy Spirit (usually taken to mean by the teaching of the Holy Spirit). How many times have you heard this “interpretation”? We were told that we were baptized in water in harmony with the teaching of the Holy Spirit. My, my! This was an honest but ignorant and unintentional interpretive mistake that we made. But most of us made it. Think! Is there any other passage in the New Testament that supports the claim that the Spirit is an AGENT who baptizes anyone? No! However, we do have passages that claim that JESUS HIMSELF would be the agent who baptized in the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16).

Interestingly, Luke in describing the difference between John’s baptism and the Lord’s baptism, says that John baptized “with” water, using the dative case of the word “water.” However, he used the preposition “in” (Gr. en) when he said that Jesus would baptize “in” Holy Spirit. Now, we do not reject water as the element in the first baptism on the basis that the proper translation is “with water” rather than “in water.” Do we? No, we do not. Secondly, John said that Jesus would baptize not “with” the Holy Spirit but “in” the Holy Spirit! So, we allow “with” to mean “in” but in 1 Corinthians 12:13 we force “in” to mean “by,” and the only reason we did this was because we took baptism “in” Spirit to mean a miraculous baptism! We were trying, in our ignorance, to be logically consistent.

Too, in Matthew’s rendering of the account, in both references to water baptism and Holy Spirit baptism, he uses the same preposition, “in” (Gr. en). Whatever John was doing with water, Jesus would do with Spirit. If John immersed people “in” water, then Jesus would immerse people “in” Spirit. There is no getting around this. John in his preaching used both water and Spirit as elements. John and Jesus were both agents! We must be fair with the text. Ephesians 5:26 is no help in trying to get around what Matthew says that John did. Paul in Ephesians 5:26 says that Jesus cleansed us by “the washing of the water with the word.” But “the word” is applied to cleansing, and not to regeneration. And they are not the same. So, the passage does not support the interpretation of 1 Corinthians 12:13 that the Holy Spirit “baptizes” us through his teaching in his word!

Also, if Jesus in John 3:3-5 said that a person must be born of both water and Spirit, and if to be born of water means to be baptized in water, then just so does to be born of Spirit mean to be baptized in Spirit.

My good friend, Glenn Jobe taught me several years ago that Acts 1:8 proves that there is no miracle in Holy Spirit baptism. The verb “is come” is an aorist participle which indicates action antecedent to that of the main verb, “shall receive.” That is, the power which would enable the apostles to be the Lord’s “witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” came after their reception of their baptism in the Holy Spirit. The power did not come before nor at the same time as but AFTER the baptism! The KJV is helpful in its translation: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.” We have correctly taught that salvation follows baptism in water as Mark 16:16 teaches. The passage says that the one believing and being baptized shall be saved. Both “believing” and “being baptized” are aorist participles which indicate action prior to that of the main verb, “shall be saved.” It is an aorist participle in Acts 1:8!

Furthermore, while water baptism in the book of Acts is always connected to remission of sins, baptism in Holy Spirit is not. It follows forgiveness rather than to provide it. It is the regeneration of which Paul speaks in Titus 3:5-6. Only a forgiven man can then be given spiritual life! But, think about it: when we were baptized in water, we had to come up out of and leave the water. Water is not the church! When we came up from the water, we were already in the Holy Spirit, and remained in him! Jesus had immersed us in Spirit while we were being immersed in water. This is how and why it can correctly be said that we arise to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4) because life was given us while we were under the water following forgiveness! But we remained in Spirit after we left the water. Following our immersion in water, we came up from it while remaining in Spirit! We are, Paul says, “in Spirit” (Romans 8:9). Being in Spirit is being in the non-personal but spiritual body of Christ (Romans 8:1; Colossians1:18). And just as with regard to any physical human birth, our spiritual birth entails two elements (John 3:3-5). And remember, before Paul mentioned our baptism in Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:13, he had already reminded the brethren at Corinth that the Jews had been baptized unto Moses by being baptized in two elements (1 Corinthians 10:1-2).

Posted in General

What Two Great Men Saw

In commenting on the prophets of olden times, the Lord once declared that they along with other righteous men desired to see things that the Lord’s contemporaries saw and heard, but they were never granted that privilege (Matt. 13:17). Peter informs us that the prophets made diligent search in their studies trying to find out the “when” of their prophecies regarding the Lord’s sufferings and the glories that would follow them (1 Pet. 1:10-12). Peter had earlier said that all the prophets from Samuel and those who came later prophesied with regard to the days when the Lord would be here on earth (Acts 3:22-26). All prophets spoke (Acts 3:24), and some prophets wrote (John 6:45), and some men, at least by their understanding of things revealed to them, saw remarkable things to come.

First, in John 8 we find the Lord in intense discussion with Jewish opponents who desired his death (John 8:37). They claimed to be the children of Abraham, and yet Jesus confronted them with the sad truth that they did not act like his children. In fact, they acted like their real father, the devil (v. 39-45). Jesus pointed out that if they were the genuine children of God, they would hear the words of God that Jesus spoke (v. 46-47). Just here in the dispute, as is so often the case in human history, when men are exposed for their error and they cannot justify their positions, they turn on their opponent and begin to attack him. And so, these Jews now claim that Jesus is a demon-possessed Samaritan. My! Doesn’t that just settle the dispute? They were in no position to falsify his words, and so they turned on him.

Of course, Jesus denied the charge and continued his discourse, and in his remarks he affirmed that if a man would keep the Lord’s word, that man would never see death (v. 51). The Jews thought they had him now, and were more confident in their claim that he had a demon because, after all, Abraham had died, and the other prophets had died, and Jesus’ words seemed to be at odds with history (v. 52-53). Jesus pointed out that though these Jews claimed to know God, they didn’t. It was God who was glorifying Christ whom they were rejecting. In their claim to know God, they were lying. And if he were to deny knowing God, he would be like them—a liar (v. 54-55). And then the Lord said, in one sense, an astonishing thing: “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it, and was glad” (v. 56). He admitted their physical relationship to Abraham (which he had never denied in the first place), but he now claimed a relationship between Abraham and himself that must have puzzled them.

In response, the Jews said, in effect, that such was impossible since Abraham had been long gone from the earth and Jesus was not yet fifty years old (v. 57). And then, more astonishingly, Jesus declared, “Verily, verily I say unto you, Before Abraham was born, I am” (v. 58). This was too much! And not having anything to rightly say to overcome the words of him who spoke like none other (John 7:46), they began to pick up stones to throw at him, but Jesus miraculously escaped (v. 59). But isn’t it interesting, that Abraham received gladness of heart over what he saw regarding the Lord’s day.

Second, in John 12 we find tension rising as Jewish religious leaders see their influence on the masses waning (v.19). Jesus knows that he is getting nearer to the cross (v. 23-24). He was wrestling with himself over the divine necessity of his death and normal human desire for the preservation of his own life (v. 27), but he resigns himself to the Father’s will, saying, “Father, glorify thy name” (v. 27-28). All of a sudden a voice comes out of heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again” (v. 28). In response to the sound, the multitude thought it had thundered, and some said it was the voice of an angel that spoke to Jesus (v. 29). Jesus said that the voice sounded not for his benefit but for the benefit of the people (v. 30). Jesus then declared that the judgment of the world was come and that the prince of this world would be cast out, and that by his crucifixion he would draw all men to himself (v. 31-33). Some hearing these words were unknowing and confused in their ignorance, and Jesus encourages them to believe on him (who is the light) that they might become sons of light (v. 34-36a).

Not trusting himself to these people, Jesus was hidden from them (v. 36b). And then the writer, John, informs us that even though Jesus had already performed so many signs before them, “yet believed they not on him” (v. 37). And John then connects their unbelief to something that the prophet, Isaiah, had centuries before said: “Lord, who hath believed our report? And to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? For this cause they could not believe, for that Isaiah said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and he hardened their heart; Lest they should see with their eyes, and perceive with their heart, And should turn, And I should heal them” (v. 38-40). This affirmation from John is based on the truth that Jesus had earlier declared that “the scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). Since the Old Testament said it, it was true, and if the Old Testament predicted it, it predicted it because God knew that it would, in fact, occur. It was not that God was forcing the wills of men to act in opposition to what men would otherwise do, but it was a prediction of what would humanly and freely occur as a part of and in response to God’s providential will (cf. God and Pharaoh [Exodus 10:1, 20, 27 with 8:32], and cf. what Jesus said about Judas [John 6:64; 13:18]). Peter summarized the complex entanglement of divine will and human will in his statement regarding the crucifixion of Christ (Acts 2:23).

But then in John 12:41 the writer, John, says, “These things said Isaiah, because he saw his glory; and he spake of him,” and he contrasts the glory of Christ that Isaiah saw with the glory that so many of the Jewish rulers preferred. “Nevertheless even of the rulers many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that is of men more than the glory that is of God” (v. 42-43). And just as Abraham was allowed to see the Lord’s day, Isaiah was allowed to see the Lord’s glory.

Posted in Expository, General

The World

It is insightful to realize that the word “world” in our English translations does not refer to the same thing all the time. There are several different meanings that surface as one contemplates the contexts in which the word is found. Let us consider this important English word in varying uses.

One, there is the “world” as universe. This is the world of “the heaven and the earth” of which Moses wrote. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). Years later Paul in Athens would assert that our Maker was “The God that made the world and all things therein, he, being Lord of heaven and earth…” (Acts 17:24). Our universe is most remarkable in its makeup and in its design. It is indeed a marvel. The psalmist would affirm, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world” (Psa. 19:1-4a). The world and its components testify clearly to the existence of our God (Acts 14:17). The evidence is so obvious that a man who in his own heart denies God is a fool (Psa. 14:1; 53:1).

Two, there is the “world” of sin. The apostle John wrote, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the vainglory of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passeth away and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever” (1 John 2:15-17). Here the world of sin is described. It is the description of evil and how it comes about in the lives of men. The three categories or vehicles for the expression of sin in humans have always been limited to the three classes John gives. Moses had written long ago before John, “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food (lust of the flesh, MD), and that it was pleasant to the eyes (lust of the eyes, MD), and a tree to be desired to make one wise (pride of life, MD), she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (Gen. 3:6). All of the sin of all of the people from Adam on down has come via these three routes. This is the world of sin.

Three, there is the “world” of sinners. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God did not send his son to die for the universe. And God doesn’t love sin. But he does love sinners in whose behalf he sent his son. But the sinners in whose behalf his son died were human sinners—not angelic ones (Heb. 2:16). I would offer the suggestion that the reason why Jesus did not die for sinful angels (2 Pet. 2:4), but did die for sinful men has to do with the nature of their sins. The free will of man was poised at the point of connection between flesh and spirit (Gal. 5:17). The free will of angels was not. And since there is an inherent weakness in flesh (Matt. 26:41), Adam’s sin was one of weakness while angelic sin has always been one of rebellion (cf. 1 Tim. 3:6). Jesus died for sinful men and in John 3:16 we are told that believers “should not perish” (not “shall not perish). The verb is in the subjunctive mood rather than the indicative. It is no promise that believers will be saved, but it is the affirmation that Jesus died so that believers could be saved, and that God wanted them to be saved.

Four, there is the “world” that is a period of time. When Paul affirmed that God made the world (Acts 17:24), he used a word that derives from “cosmos.” When John described the world of evil (1 John 2:15-17), he used the same word. The world that God loved (John 3:16) is identified by the same word. But when we come to Matthew 18:20 we find another word that is translated “world.” It is a Greek word that derives from aiown, which refers to a period of time or an era. When the Lord promised the apostles that he would be with them “even unto the end of the world” he was not telling them that he would be with them until he came again at the destruction of the universe (2 Pet. 3). What good would a promise like that be to them? By that time they would all have been long dead. In fact, right now they have already been long dead. The promise that he was making to them was that he would be with them to the completion of their work in carrying the gospel to the world. He said, “Go ye into all the world (cosmos), and preach the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). The promise of Matthew 28:20 to be with them to the end of the “world” was a promise to be with them to the end of the “age.” The transition from Gentile-ism and Judaism to Christianity which began with the work of John the baptizer (Luke 16:16) would be completed only when the apostles finished carrying the gospel to every creature. Then that era of transition would be over. Jesus told his apostles that he would be with them until that work was completed. Notice Mark’s ending: “And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by the signs that followed. Amen” (Mark 16:20).

Five, there is the “world” of mankind’s natural attachment to his physical environment. Consider carefully in the book of Ecclesiastes where Solomon points this profound truth out to us three times. Most of us are familiar with Ecclesiastes 3:1 where Solomon writes, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven” but we aren’t as familiar with what follows in verse 11. “He (God, MD) hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.” Isn’t that something? God has so deliberately arranged our human situation so that there will always be things we cannot find out! Actually, the original word for “world” in Ecclesiastes 3:11 entails the concept of “time.” Man is by nature a finite creature who is limited by time. The reader likely remembers Deuteronomy 29:29 which tells us that “secret” things belong to God. So, God has withheld things from our knowledge by not revealing them either in the revelation of his word or in the revelation of his world. But Solomon in Ecclesiastes says that the impossibility of our knowing certain things is at least partially attributable to the fact that we are connected to the material or natural world by our creation. In it we fit. To it we are attached. And by it we are limited. God has set the world in our hearts.

Our divine limitation by time and boundaries is designed to lead us to search for God (Acts 17:26-27), but even after finding him, because of our attachment to the material world, there are things that we will never be able to comprehend about God’s activities. Later Solomon put it this way: “In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him” (Eccl. 7:14). The exact “why” and the “when” of things in an individual’s life are open to interpretation. We cannot know for sure in many situations what God is exactly doing, though we can learn what our duty in regard to our experiences in those situations should be.

Solomon also wrote, “Then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun: because though a man labour to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; yea farther; though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it” (Eccl. 8:17). The Bible clearly teaches all Christians to trust a loving and caring Father who can only wisely operate in the affairs of men. And though we cannot tell what God is doing and intending by the detailed events that become a part of our human experience, we do have his precious promises to us regarding his will for us and what awaits us (cf. Rom. 8:28). May God be praised that it is so!

Posted in Apologetics, Doctrine, Logic/Philosophy, Nature of Man

God’s Fairness and Man’s Free Will

Historically, controversy has raged with regard to the nature of man and his relationship to God. In Christian Apologetics, one would have to find a way to defend both God and man as to (1) God’s justice or fairness in making man in the first place (2) with a human will put to a purpose that would evoke divine justice in the form of punishment in the second place. This short piece cannot survey the total scene of all relevant aspects of the complete picture (even if we were capable of such a survey). However, we can identify and explore briefly some elements involved in this complex matter.

First, God knowingly and lovingly made man in His image, having in mind an eternal purpose to save him from sin, even before the first sin by Adam had been committed (Gen. 1:26-27; 1 John 4:8; John 3:16; Eph. 3:10-11). God desired to bring many sons to glory (Heb. 2:10). Giving man existence and giving him nature in the image of God made heaven a possible destiny.

Second, man was free from the beginning to choose obedience or disobedience. This is the significance of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17). This provided man an opportunity for definite pure positive law choice in the expression of his free will. The punishment for the violation of the prohibition regarding the tree shows us that God considered man responsible enough to understand the prohibition and accountable for the violation of it. The initial punishment for the man and the woman (Gen. 3:16-19) enacted for the violation was based on the fact that the violation of the prohibition entailed a will that was (1) independent, (2) free to exert itself, and (3) accountable before God for the consequences that would follow.

Third, there was nothing wrong or imperfect about the nature of man as God made him. He was innocent and mature from the beginning. Solomon tells us, “Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions” (Eccl. 7:29). Adam and Eve when made were certainly inexperienced, but they were not imperfect creatures. It is something essential to the creation of man. Of necessity a created man could have no past (experience). But he had to be mature by nature in order to be responsible from his initial moments of existence, and he had to come without experience if he was to come at all. While Adam was not deceived into sin, Eve was (1 Tim. 2:13-14), but neither one of them could sin without a good will that was his/hers to be expressed in the selection made.

Fourth, after sin entered the human domain, several things changed, one of which was that the human heart in every human being born (remember, Adam and Eve were not born) would be a heart that would choose evil early on in its personal history. This is what we learn in Genesis 9:21. After the flood, God said to Himself that He would never again curse the earth (cf. 3:17 and 4:12) or kill almost everything off as He had just done, because “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” The exception, historically speaking, consisted of Adam and Eve who never had a youth. But beginning with Cain and Abel, this truth that God later has Moses record in Genesis 9 represented the things that were in place regarding all who came after Adam and Eve. The flood became necessary because “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). The “evil from youth” fact was cultivated by Noah’s contemporaries to the degree that they were no longer fit to live.

Now, while many people have over the years opted for the view that man is evil from his conception or birth, the Scriptures never declare that. They do say, however, that sin enters the heart of any given person during his youth. This was my experience and yours, too.

Fifth, this means that the universality of human sin following Adam was inevitable. Even now, none of us is waiting for an individual to arise who will never commit sin. One of the ways in which Jesus was and is so different from the rest of us is that by His divinity He kept His humanity under complete control. His sinlessness is a characteristic that proves His deity. When Paul wrote Romans around 57 or 58 A.D., the fact was then as it stands now: “for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). Furthermore, he later affirmed that after Adam “all sinned” (5:12).

Sixth, given the point just discussed, there must be an inherent “weakness” involved when Holy Spirit is joined to flesh so as to produce a mere human being. God is the Father of our spirits (Heb. 12:9), so there is nothing inherently weak about our human spirit. Our spirit comes from Holy Spirit (Mal. 2:14-15). After all, we are in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27). However, when combined with flesh, there is essentially a weakness that obtains because of the connection now initiated because spirit is now made vulnerable. The lust of the flesh is the spirit’s expressing desire via the flesh. So, the weakness of the flesh is because of the power of the flesh to weaken spirit. This sets up our freedom of will (Gal. 5:17). Consider: God cannot be tempted, but Jesus could be (Jas. 1:13; Heb. 4:15). We are not born in sin. But we are born with a nature that is now weak! This helps us to understand the “why” of Romans 3:23. Remember the Lord’s admonition to three apostles that they needed to watch and pray to avoid temptation, for “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). Every person born from Cain and Abel forward has been born with this weakness. That’s how it could be truthfully declared that Jesus tasted death for every one of us (Heb. 2:9).

Seventh, since God knew that all men would sin, there had to be a plan whereby all could be saved. That is, the solution had to be as large as the problem. In fact, in the language of Scripture, the solution was much larger than the problem, and so we read of such things as grace abounding “more exceedingly” than sin did (Rom. 5:20-21) or of “the riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:7). There has always been an “over supply” of divine blessing to deal with the sin of mankind.

Eighth, in Scripture we read of many sinners lost in sin and some who found salvation. The two categories rest on the free will of the men involved. Since God was always prepared to save any man from his sin, the finally lost condition of any individual bespoke what that man had decided in life to be on his own, and the salvation of any man bespoke the fact that he had decided to become what God would bless him to be. Man has never been finally lost because of his weakness; he has been finally lost because he has chosen weakness over strength. In other words, he chose flesh over spirit! And the spiritual law of kinds informs us that our crop can be no better than our seed (Gal. 6:7-8).

Ninth, this means that when Jesus spoke of the impossibility of people coming to Him unless the Father drew them to Him (John 6:44-45), He was referring to the two categories of people whom Paul later identified as (1) “vessels of honor” or “vessels of mercy” and (2) “vessels of dishonor” or “vessels of wrath” (Rom. 9:21-23). Furthermore, when Jesus referred to people who could not believe Him because they “were not of his sheep” and because of such could not hear His voice and follow Him (John 10:16-29), He was referring to those whom John would later identify as people who were characterized by the spirit of truth and the spirit of error (1 John 4:5-6). That is, the two classifications of people (regarding salvation and damnation) are: (1) those who are of the world, and (2) those who are of God. Christians and all those bound to become such today are in Scripture language “of God” (cf. 1 John 4:4; 5:19). They have an “honest and good heart” (Luke 8:15). Notice the possibilities and impossibilities just here:

T F 1. One can have an honest and good heart.
T F 2. One can have an honest and non-good heart.
T F 3. One can have a dishonest and good heart.
T F 4. One can have a dishonest and non-good heart.

The first statement is TRUE. In fact, this is the only class that can be saved or ever could be saved! The second statement might at first be considered “true” if picturing a man before he is willing to come to repentance and would seem to show the possibility of a man squarely facing sad facts about himself but yet unwilling to do the right thing about his sin (cf. Luke 15:17; 2 Cor. 7:10). But, on the other hand, if he is unwilling to do the “right” thing about his sin, he is not being honest about his sin. So, it would appear that this statement is itself FALSE. The third statement is FALSE. No one can be both dishonest and good at the same time. The fourth statement is TRUE. A person can have a non-good heart (evil heart) partly composed of his dishonesty.

Now regarding the third statement in the above list of True-False statements, consider again what Jesus said in John 6:44-45. No one can come to Jesus unless drawn by the Father, and he cannot be drawn by the Father unless he has an honest and good heart (Luke 8:15). Verse 45 shows that the “drawing” is done by Scripture. And those who are “drawn” are those who are taught of God, have heard from the Father, and have learned. These are the only ones that can come and do come to Jesus! The Father draws and the Father teaches, but all these students who are taught, who hear, who learn, are the ones who then come to Jesus.

So, all whom the Father draws to Jesus are those who are taught, who hear, who learn and who come. They all come! There is no class of those who learn, in this context, but who still do not come. My father used to refer to the word “learned” in verse 45 as a learning “in the sense of this passage.” What John said in 1 John 4:6 helps us with some clarification here. “We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he who is not of God heareth us not. By this we know the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.” Those who are “of God,” those characterized by “the spirit of truth,” those characterized by “an honest and good heart” upon hearing the truth are drawn by the truth. And they are the only ones drawn by it!

Tenth, if God wants all men to be saved, and He does (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9), then whatever are the full complexities of features that contribute to a man’s damnation, they all rest on the rock bottom foundation of a man’s own free will which (1) was given as a blessing and which (2) turned out to be a curse because (3) the man himself failed to use it as it was designed to be used (Acts 17:27; Eccl. 12:13-14). He used his own will against himself! Jesus once said it like this: “If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from myself” (John 7:17). So, God can never be rightly criticized for the damnation of anyone or of everyone who is lost, but He can be and should be praised for the salvation that He has made possible (1 Tim. 4:10). And it is a wonderful thing that God is able and willing to use the evil purposed free will of men to His own glory and to the ultimate salvation of all those who love truth (Acts 2:23; 2 Thess. 2:10-12).