Book Review: Four Views of Divine Providence by Dennis W. Jowers, ed.

I appreciate books that provide different views on theological issues.  (see my discussion on “Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?”  Wayne Grudem, ed.)  It’s important for objectivity to hear, read and understand opposing arguments or approaches to issues facing Christians today.  That challenge is to find people who will communicate in an understandable way and be objective themselves.  In this volume, there are four authors approaching Divine Providence: God causes all things,  by Paul Kjoss Helseth; God directs all things, by William Lane Craig; God controls by liberating, by Ron Highfield; and God limits His control, by Gregory A. Boyd.  Continue reading

Book Review: God’s Will & Man’s Will by Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum

God’s Will & Man’s Will by Arnold Fruchtenbaum is the best work I have read that explains the sovereignty of God and free will of man controversy.  Too much fire has been created over this discussion and countless brothers and sisters have been divided instead of brought together. Continue reading

Question: What is Prevenient Grace?

What is Prevenient Grace?

The word “prevenient” is no longer used today, but is common when discussing theology.  Prevenient is an archaic Latin term that simply means “to go before.”  It refers to the grace of God that precedes a person making a decision for salvation.  However, depending on the theological background of the person, the word can have different meanings.

Most people holding to the Reformed point of view will use the term Prevenient Grace to be the grace of God that goes before God’s work in a person’s life to regenerate and “give faith for salvation.” It will be used as a synonym for “Irresistible Grace,” that is, the grace of God that is irresistible by an elect person to believe.  In this sense, it is often equated with Effectual Grace, that is, the grace of God that is effectual to bring the elect person to the point of salvation.

Most people holding to the Arminian point of view will use the term Prevenient Grace as that which deals with the effects of the fall so that a person can choose to come to Christ or not.  It also can be a synonym for Effectual Grace, but used in a different manner in Reformed Theology.

Catholic doctrine would see Prevenient Grace as “assisting grace,” which assists those who are in the process of believing in Jesus and completing the work necessary for salvation.

Similar to Prevenient Grace is Common Grace, which is the grace of God that is common to all men. It is common, because it is for all mankind, not just those who might be elect as in Reformed Theology. Common grace is undeserved blessings extended to all mankind regarding God’s creative order, the restraint of sin from totally destroying man and man’s universal awareness of right and wrong.  Basically, the word is used according to the theology from which it is described.  It will mean slightly different things based on a person’s presuppositions.

I look at Prevenient Grace as the work of God prior to salvation.  It is unmerited favor that is not deserved and cannot be earned.  God made a universal call to man. Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28) Jesus was in prayer to the Father and He was also just talking to the multitudes about the sinners of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum. The disciples of John the Baptist had been sent to ask Jesus if He was the coming One and Jesus turned and spoke to the multitudes about the greatness of John the Baptist and to consider their own lives.  As he rebuked the rejection of God’s light to Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, He went into prayer to the Father.  From that prayer, He invited all to come to Him.

When Peter gave the first message in the Church Age, he invited everyone to Christ. He said, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38) Peter was talking to Jewish people who had assembled in Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks, which came to be known as Pentecost. Peter was not distinguishing between elect or nonelect.

Additionally, when Paul was in prison, singing with Silas, the Philippian jailer realized the potency of the moment, and humbly approached Paul,

  • 30 And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
  • 31 So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Act 16:30-31)

Paul made the invitation to a complete stranger. It was the call of God.  God does not desire than any should perish, The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Pet. 3:9) That is why the Holy Spirit convicts the entire world of sin,

  • 8 “And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:
  • 9 “of sin, because they do not believe in Me;
  • 10 “of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more;
  • 11 “of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. (John 16:8-11)

In that call and in that conviction, the grace of God works to ensure the certain futurition of God’s decree. The tension between the sovereign decree of God and freewill is the antinomy (literally the incompatibility) that holds us humbly submissive to the will of God.

We could not choose for God, if He did not work His grace in us.  We could not have a relationship with Him, if we had not chosen to accept what He had done.  No one believes apart from His grace (common and prevenient). No one could choose for God apart from His work of calling and conviction. No one is saved if God did not take our nonmeritorious faith and enter us into union with Christ. And God’s grace can be spurned as men suppress the truth in unrighteousness and are therefore without excuse (Rom. 1:18-20).  In that antinomy are the sovereign work of God and the free will of man in harmony.

Reconciled to God

I’m going to give you a quote that is utterly fantastic.  It’s a little long, but bear with me and you will greatly advance in spiritual understanding. It’s helpful to understand the antimony of God’s sovereignty and Man’s freewill.  An antimony is an apparently unresolvable conflict or contradiction, especially between two true statements.  For example, Scripture declares that God is Sovereign.  Scripture also declares that man has free will.  If one is true, the other cannot be some will say.  It’s like God is one and God is three.  Both are true statements, but man’s finite mind cannot fully understand, except by accepting them both by faith and making our best understanding of both true statements.

This is a quote that helped me greatly understand the antinomy of God’s sovereign work in salvation and man’s non-meritorious choice. It’s a quote from Merrill Unger who wrote Unger’s Bible Dictionary.  He defines what the word “reconcile.” He explains what God did to restore man to Himself.  Read this and I’ll break it down.

“Reconcile comes from a word that means to change thoroughly from one position to another (Eph. 2:16; Col. 1:20-21). It means that someone is completely altered and adjusted to a required standard. (Rom. 5:6-11).  By the death of Christ, the world is changed in its relationship to God. Man is reconciled to God, but God is not said to be reconciled to man.  By this change lost humanity is rendered savable.  As a result of the changed position of the world through the death of Christ, the divine attitude toward the human family can no longer be the same.  God is enabled to deal with lost souls in the light of what Christ has accomplished.  Although this seems to be a change in God, it is not a reconciliation; it is rather a ‘propitiation.’ God places full efficacy in the finished work of Christ and accepts it. Through His acceptance of it He remains righteous and the justifier of any sinner who believes in Jesus as his reconciliation.  When an individual heart sees and trusts in the value of Christ’s atoning death, he becomes reconciled to God, hostility is removed, friendship and fellowship eventuate.” 

            Let me break that down for you. 

“Reconcile comes from a word that means to change thoroughly from one position to another (Eph. 2:16; Col. 1:20-21). It means that someone is completely altered and adjusted to a required standard. (Rom. 5:6-11). 

He is saying that the word “reconcile” means that by the death of Christ on the cross, God changes a person to a completely altered state related to God and adjusts that person to the required standard of God.  What is God’s standard?  His own righteousness.  Because Jesus died on the cross for the sins of man, paying the penalty of sin, man is altered and adjusted to the righteousness of God.  Listen to what Paul writes in Romans,

10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. 11And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. (Rom. 5:10-11)

We were considered as enemies by God, but because of the cross, we were altered and adjusted to the required standard. The sin barrier was removed by Jesus’ death, so that God could now look at man in a different way. Note that last phrase, “we received the reconciliation.” We’ll see that below. It is the part man must do for the fullness of reconciliation. Then Unger says,

By the death of Christ, the world is changed in its relationship to God. Man is reconciled to God, but God is not said to be reconciled to man.  By this change lost humanity is rendered savable.

Here the change is caused by the death of Jesus on the cross, Who died for our sins.  Notice he says that man is reconciled to God, but nowhere does it say in Scripture that God is reconciled to man.  THAT is very significant.  Furthermore, man is then placed in a “savable” condition, whereby man can be saved.  Man has been placed in an altered condition and adjusted to the righteousness of God and rendered savable.  But man is not saved at that point, because there is a second part of the reconciliation that is necessary.

            Unger continues addressing the relationship,

As a result of the changed position of the world through the death of Christ, the divine attitude toward the human family can no longer be the same. 

Because of the death of Jesus, God’s attitude had to change toward mankind.  It couldn’t be the same. Why couldn’t it remain the same, that is, considering man as an enemy (Rom. 5:10)?

God is enabled to deal with lost souls in the light of what Christ has accomplished.  Although this seems to be a change in God, it is not a reconciliation; it is rather a ‘propitiation.’

Because of the death of Jesus, God is enabled to deal with fallen man. How does that work?  Because God’s righteousness was propitiated – satisfied.  Legally, the penalty for sins was paid by Jesus and God was satisfied with His death payment.  However, there hasn’t been a full reconciliation, because a second part is necessary.  God was satisfied with the death of Jesus for the sins of the world, so God could no longer look at man as an enemy, but a soul waiting to accept what God had done for him.   Catch this next section,

God places full efficacy in the finished work of Christ and accepts it. Through His acceptance of it He remains righteous and the justifier of any sinner who believes in Jesus as his reconciliation. 

Jesus did the work.  God makes effective, or considers of great value, the work of Christ. Why?  Because God the Father accepted the work of Jesus on the cross and therefore can place man in a position of being justified, if man makes a non-meritorious decision of faith to accept what Jesus has done, that is believe in Jesus as his reconciliation.  Finally, Unger says,

When an individual heart sees and trusts in the value of Christ’s atoning death, he becomes reconciled to God, hostility is removed, friendship and fellowship eventuate.” 

So God calls you to salvation and waits on you to put your faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior.  When you do, then the fullness of the hostility is removed and you can grow in fellowship with God.  That is deep, I know, but is utterly important to understand as you grow in your relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

            Consider how that helps understand the antinomy described above.

 

Explaining Divine History – Part 6

The previous five parts have established a foundation for understanding Divine History.   Part one noted a consistent means of salvation throughout history. Secondly, Scripture must be interpreted by a literal historico-grammatical interpretation approach. Thirdly, God’s promises to Israel in the Old Testament were unconditional and are yet to be fulfilled. Fourthly, the church began on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 and not before.  Fifthly, the only way to understand God’s plan is to know the completed canon of Scripture.  This sixth segment identifies that man is born spiritually dead and how he is able to receive salvation.

Man is born separated from God in a helpless and hopeless condition (Rom. 3:23; 6:23).  He is spiritually dead.  There is nothing he can do to gain acceptance before God unless God reveals Himself to man and man chooses to trust in God’s revealed will for salvation.  Note the following principles:

·         Man is born in sin and he possesses his body of sin until death or the rapture Rom. 6:6, 12;  7:24; 1 Cor. 15:51-57.  The body of the unbeliever will control his life in sin, because the unbeliever cannot please God in any way.  Even the body of the believer retains the sin nature and causes a battle in the soul of the believer who trusts in Jesus Christ. That body of sin will tempt him to sin unless he is totally dependent on God’s Spirit, which Scripture calls the filling of the Spirit (Eph. 5:18).

·         Spiritually, he is not able to please, to satisfy, or to approach God in any way because of his sin and God cannot look upon sin Gen. 2:16,17; Rom. 3:9-10; Eph. 2:1-3.  Man is spiritually dead.  The unbeliever cannot understand the things of God (1 Cor. 2:14) and cannot satisfy the righteousness of God from his works (Is. 64:6).

·         The unbeliever does have faith, because many trust in other gods, themselves or some system of doing to gain an afterlife Acts 17:18-23.   The unbeliever does not trust by faith in the right object of salvation. The unbeliever trusts in many things just like a believer, like flying in an airplane, but rejects trusting in the divine provision of Christ’s shed blood for atonement.

·         The unbeliever cannot understand the things of God apart from God’s convicting ministry John 16:8-11; 1 Cor. 2:14.  The unbeliever’s spirit is dead, therefore it will reject any revelation from or conviction of God’s revelation.

·         God provides the way of salvation through Christ’s death Rom. 5:8.  Even in the rejection of man, God provides that way because of His love.  God’s love is not dependent on a proper response.  God’s love acts regardless of the response.  Our godly love is only in response to His love for us (1 John 4:19).

·         God the Holy Spirit convicts of the whole world of sin, righteousness and judgment John 16:8-11.  The conviction is made to the entire world.  Conviction is necessary for man to see his lost state and separation from God.  Conviction allows for rejection.  God is bigger than some people think.  God handles the rejection of some people, likely a majority of people, because His love is infinite and He gives regardless of whether man responds to the conviction, or not.  God’s conviction shows that God’s grace provision is sufficient, but not necessarily efficient.  God allows man to reject God’s provision.  Rejection requires the Justice of God to leave man in condemnation and the ultimate consequence of the Lake of Fire.

·         Man can be saved by faith alone in Christ alone by God’s grace Eph. 2:8-9.  God provides the way of salvation through Christ’s death on the cross for the sins of the world.  Man must exercise faith in Jesus Christ.  God the Holy Spirit then takes that spark of faith and regenerates the  human spirit so it can relate with the infinite God (Titus 3:5). 

·         Man is redeemed from sin by the precious blood of Jesus Eph. 1:7; 1 Pet. 1:18-19.  Man can do nothing for salvation.  Faith becomes the spark, choice, or decision God then takes to carry the man from spiritual deadness to spiritual life.

·         When man exercises faith in Christ, he is only saved when the Holy Spirit regenerates him, not because of the decision made John 1:12-13; Tit. 3:5.  Man’s faith does not save him, but without faith man is not saved.  God does not force the issue.  God could force the issue, but then free will would not be involved.  God allows the human response to be the point where God sovereignly regenerates man to spiritual life.

·         God is not obligated to man regardless of what man does; God is only obligated to Himself and His Word Rom. 9:14-16.  God is no respecter of persons.  He does respect His own perfect character.

Man is born spiritually dead.  Through God’s conviction, which is the only way man could understand that he needs salvation and is the only way man could understand what he needs to do for salvation, man chooses to reject or accept God’s plan.  Man could not be saved unless God draws Him.  He could not understand unless God revealed Himself.  When man understands and humbles himself in totally dependence on the mercy of God, God obligates Himself to His character and regenerates man according to divine will.

A Bible Contradiction?

I was reading today about David’s numbering of Israel and how there seemed to be a contradiction.  A contradiction in the Bible?  How can that be? 

First let me set the stage. Look at 2 Samuel 24:1, “Again the anger of the LORD was aroused against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”  It’s very clear that the Lord moved David to number the people AND then David confesses his sin of numbering the people a few verses later in 2 Sam. 24:10, “And David’s heart condemned him after he had numbered the people. So David said to the LORD, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done.”   How can this be a sin, if the text says that the Lord moved David? ……

Now look at 1 Chronicles 21:1.  The Chronicler writes, “Now Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel.  This passage says that Satan moved David.  How can one passage say that God moved David and another passage says that Satan moved David?

That’s relatively easy to understand.  God is sovereign over all things and in His Permissive Will, God allows sinful things to happen, but God can never be accused of tempting someone, nor can He sin (James 1:13).  Satan must gain permission from God to tempt and do harm as when God allowed Satan to tempt Job (Job 1:12).  So, God may even allow the enemy to move persons to sin (in David’s case, not in Job’s case), yet because it is within God’s sovereign control it is recorded as God doing the action.  In reality, it is really God Who allowed Satan to move David to number the people.

But also notice, David was a believer.  Satan moved a believer to sin and do foolishness. Can Satan cause that kind of problem today?  Luke records in Acts 5:3 that Satan filled Ananias’ heart to lie. The same can happen today.  God can allow good people to be moved by Satan to do sinful things, even toward other people in God’s family.  Why?  Ultimately for God’s glory.  It reveals God’s sovereignty.  It reveals those who are approved by God in a faction of people. It reveals those who do not react, but respond with grace.  It reveals that the creature who acts independent of God, even believers, can be moved by Satan to do sinful things.

May our hearts be broken, purified and never used by the enemy, especially to bring harm to God’s people.

Book Review: What On Earth Is God Doing? by Renald E. Showers

What On Earth is God Doing? Satan’s Conflict With God written by Renald Showers is a short, concise big picture overview of the Angelic Conflict and God’s sovereign purposes. There is no question there is a conflict raging around us.  Many Christians and people are unaware, because Satan doesn’t want people to know about it.  Some people think they are in the heat of battle, when it is merely their own fleshly desires controlling their decisions and Satan’s organization is sitting back watching the Chrisitans flounder.  On the other hand, many Christians are actively pursuing godliness in Jesus Christ and are mounting victory after victory, because they are not giving in to the temptations of the evil one.

Showers brilliantly shows the Satanic plots seeking to thwart God’s purposes and will.  He also points out how God in no way allows Satan to have his way.  Showers addresses history from eternity past (pre-human history) to eternity future.  He describes the fall of Satan and the rebellion of other angels.  Then he shows Satan’s activities in the fall of man through biblical history.  Finally he demonstrates a great understanding of the angelic conflict in post-biblical history to the present and into the future as recorded in Scripture.

Showers makes it clear that God is the victor in this conflict.  He writes, “First, as a world and a race, we are headed for the ultimate defeat of Satan and his kingdom and the glorious victory of God and His kingdom.  Secondly, as individuals, we are headed either for eternal blessing or eternal punishment depending upon which kingdom we belong to.” (p. 118)   However, it would be helpful to address why this conflict is going on in the first place.  Why is God allowing the conflict to continue in history causing so much pain and grief?  God is not sadistic. The reader and Christendom have yet to resolve this fully.  I heartily recommend you read this book.