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Monday, August 31, 2009

...but what about 1 Timothy 2:4? Part 2

…[God] desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:4

Last time we looked at two of the four possible interpretations of this verse, namely, 1) God sovereignly wills all people without exception to be saved, and 2) God sovereignly will all kinds of people to be saved. If you missed that post, you can find it here.

That leaves us with two options, both of which hold that “desires” in 1 Timothy 2:4 refers to God’s moral will. The third and fourth options are 3) God calls all people without exception to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth, and 4) God calls all kinds of people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

I have already noted that the interpretation I prefer is one of these two. Some in the Arminian camp may be tempted to think, “Aha! We have you now.” They would accuse me of contradicting myself, or worse yet, causing God to contradict Himself. In their minds, taking this position while also holding that God sovereignly chooses to save only some sinners is to say that God “desires” two different things. And they would be right! I do believe that God desires two different things – but that is not a contradiction. He sovereignly wills the certain salvation of some, while morally willing that all people be saved.

Now the burden is on me to show that this is not a biblical contradiction. I assure you, it is no burden at all. Scripture consistently and frequently upholds this very thing. The purpose of this post and the next will be to show that God does have two wills, moral and sovereign, that at times do not coincide. This will legitimize the notion that the interpretation of “desires” in 1 Tim 2:4 as God’s moral will does not contradict the doctrine of unconditional election.

Even though I could draw on many examples, so as not to beat a dead horse, I will show two mainly, while making short references to a few others. These offer ironclad proof that God morally wills one thing while sovereignly willing something else.

First, God and Pharaoh. In Exodus 4, we find God giving instructions to a reluctant Moses to go to Egypt and lead the Israelites out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. God has a command for Pharaoh to be delivered by Moses, which he does for the first time in 5:1, Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.'" Clearly, it is God’s moral will for Pharaoh to release the people of God. He has commanded this. For Pharaoh to refuse is for Pharaoh to sin. This command is not given just once. It is given seven times (5:1, 7:16, 8:1, 8:20, 9:1, 9:13, 10:3).

At the same time, the text clearly shows that God sovereignly wills the exact opposite, that Pharaoh should not let God’s people go. In 4:21, as God is giving Moses His preliminary instructions, He expresses His divine intentions toward Pharaoh: And the LORD said to Moses, "When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.” God will harden Pharaoh’s heart in order to sovereignly prevent Pharaoh from obeying God’s moral will.

At this point, I feel it is necessary to make a preemptive strike against those who will respond, “Exodus also says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. So God was just hardening Pharaoh’s heart in response to his own self-inflicted hardening.” First of all, the text does not say that God did this in response to Pharaoh. Nor does it say that God hardened Pharaoh due to His foreknowledge that Pharaoh would harden himself. There are three reasons to see God’s sovereign will in the matter as the determinative force behind what transpired.

First, as I’ve already mentioned, God stated His intention to harden Pharaoh prior to Moses delivering God's command to Pharaoh. It is God’s clearly stated sovereign desire that Pharaoh not let the Israelites go (4:21). This is offered to Moses and to the reader as the framework for how to understand what was to come. God planned to give Pharaoh a command and also planned to harden Pharaoh so that he would not obey that command.

Second, once we get into the narrative that actually describes the back-and-forth between Moses and Pharaoh, there are 18 references to the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. These reference can be split up into four groups: (1) those that tell us that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (8:15, 8:32, 9:34); (2) those stating that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, without explicit reference to who was responsible for the action (7:13, 7:14, 7:22, 8:19, 9:7, 9:35, 14:5); (3) those stating that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh (9:12, 10:1, 10:20, 10:27, 11:10, 14:8); and (4) those in which God states, “I will harden the heart of Pharaoh” (7:3, 14:4).

[Of the second group of references, those stating that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, without explicit reference to who was responsible for the action, four contain the tag line, “as the Lord had said” (7:13, 7:22, 8:19, 9:35). “As the Lord had said” when? As the Lord had said in 4:21, “…I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.” For this reason, it is reasonable to put these references in the same column as those which explicitly mention God as the agent of the hardening.]

It is important to notice that the first reference to the hardening, 7:3, and the last reference to the hardening, 14:8, both state that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. These two references are like the bookends of this narrative. This repetition of similar material at the beginning and ending of a section of literature is referred to as an inclusio. It provides a frame for understanding what comes in between. Did Pharaoh choose to harden his own heart? Certainly he did, but trying to explain how that coincides with the Lord’s hardening of his heart is beyond the scope of this post. The point I am making is that God gave Pharaoh a moral command to let the Israelites go while at the same time sovereignly preventing him from doing so.

Third, in Romans 9 we get Paul's Spirit-inspired interpretation of these events. In his discussion of God's sovereignty over the salvation of men, Paul uses Pharaoh as an example of God's freedom to harden whom He pleases: For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills (Rom 9:17-18).

It would seem clear then that it is not contradictory for God to morally will one thing, while sovereignly willing something else. This one example from Exodus is definitive, but lest I appear to be arguing from an isolated case, next time I will give another huge proof – the greatest crime in history – the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Friday, August 28, 2009

An Appeal for a More Biblical "Challenge"

I’ve just come across another church doing a “sex challenge” sermon series. These commonly challenge the married couples in the church to engage in marital intimacy every day for a set period of time. The first one I ever saw was a 40-day challenge. Since then I’ve seen 30-day challenges, 20-day challenges, and finally the 7-day challenge.

Whenever I come across one of these, I always take 5 minutes to listen to the intro of the first message in the series. I don’t listen to hear something I’ve never heard. I listen to hear the one thing that every one of these pastors says in that first message: “Most churches are afraid to talk about sex. But not [insert name here] Church.” I always find that ironic. They each claim to be breaking the mold, daring to do what no one else will, and yet they all say the same things, tell the same jokes, use the same double entendres, advertise the same risqué sermon titles, and give the same local news interviews.

Is it wrong to preach about sex in church? Yes and no. It’s wrong to preach unbiblical things about sex. It’s not wrong to preach about sex straight from the biblical text. The wrong message that is often communicated by “challenge” sermons, either explicitly or implicitly, is that sex is the purpose of marriage and if you get that area working well, all other problems will melt away. “So, engage in relations everyday for forty days, and just see if your marriage doesn’t improve.”

There are numerous problems with this, but I’ll just address a few. First, there is absolutely no authority whatsoever behind these kinds of messages. What happens after the forty days or thirty days or whatever? Do we then go back to being selfish? What kind of preaching is that? These pastors are exhorting their people to do something that is not commanded in Scripture, i.e. have relations everyday even if neither of you want to. Therefore, when the challenge is over, the people are free to go back to their former routine. Preaching God’s Word on the other hand, draws a line in the sand between obedience and disobedience. It has no time limit and it has ultimate authority. It beckons people to conform to the truth everyday for the rest of their lives. The “challenges,” rather than convicting people of sin and pointing them to the grace and power of Jesus Christ, come across sounding more like an advice column from the local newspaper.

Second, these challenges teach absolutely the wrong thing about the purpose of marriage. As we saw in our sermon series on Ephesians 5:22-33, God ultimately created marriage for His own glory. Certainly, sex is a part of marriage, it is a gift from God for marriage, and He is glorified when it is mutually enjoyed. However, it is not the defining purpose of marriage.

And yet the way the issue is framed in these “challenges,” sex becomes the whole point, which can lead to one of two conclusions. 1) If the point is that after completing the challenge then all of a couple’s problems will be gone, then sex has become the means to their happiness, and that simply cannot be supported scripturally. God is not concerned about making us happy – He wants to make us holy. 2) If the point is that after completing the challenge, the couple will see how great life has become and will want to just keep going through an endless cycle of forty-day challenges, then it seems that sex has become the means and the end, and that cannot be supported scripturally either.

Third, sex does not sanctify. Increasing the frequency of marital relations will not make self-centered people selfless. It will not make someone more dependable, forgiving, kind, honest, or humble. In other words, all of the problems that existed before the challenge will continue to exist after the challenge because the challenge addresses a symptom, not the heart issues that precipitated it. On the other hand, the Holy Spirit using the Word of God as His tool of choice does sanctify. His Word lays the heart open so that the actual issues can’t be ignored. If people were exhorted from God’s Word to deal with their sin and pursue Christlikeness, they would find many areas of their marriages improving, including the area of intimacy.

Fourth, the motive is completely self-centered. One sermon series I saw was quite open about this – the series title was “Get Some.” This is exactly the opposite of what the Bible directs regarding sexual relations in marriage. In a stereotypical marriage, the husband might be thrilled about the challenge, and the wife might be hating it. Both are motivated by self-centeredness. The very framework of the challenge lends itself to this kind of selfishness.

Why do pastor’s resort to these gimmicks? I won’t speculate about their motives, but in a practical sense, it may be that they do not know the Word. Most of them reference Song of Solomon, which is fine, but typically they do so to prove that “God thinks sex is cool.” We find far more explicit instruction regarding sexual relations in marriage in 1 Corinthians 7. It prescribes an arrangement far more demanding, far more selfless, far more Christlike, and far more fulfilling than a 40-day challenge:

1 Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: "It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman."
2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.
3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.
4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.
5 Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (1 Corinthians 7:1-5)

Did you catch that? Rather than “engage in relations every day for 40 days,” this text teaches that a couple should engage in relations every time either partner desires it for the rest of their lives. The only legitimate reason mentioned for abstaining is prayer, and that only by agreement. Sex is about giving, not getting. In fact, rather than “Get Some,” a more biblically accurate series title would be “Give Some.” Every married person should view his or her own body as a gift for the pleasure of the spouse. Whenever the wife has the desire, the husband is to provide. Whenever the husband has the desire, the wife is to provide. And it's not a challenge, as if you can take it or leave it. It's a command, and if you deprive your spouse, you are sinning.

This passage calls us to selflessness. It calls us to service. It may not pack pews, but pew-packing is not the purpose of preaching. Preaching is expounding God’s truth from God’s Word with a view to the salvation and sanctification of God’s people.

God’s Word is sufficient to address all issues of life and godliness. May the Lord raise up an army of preachers with a deep conviction about that. I pray that someday rather than coming across a seemingly endless trail of "40-day challenge" kind of preaching, the mainstay of the spiritual diet of this country will be verse-by-verse exposition of God’s Truth. Then people will be taught the truth about sex, its place in marriage, and the true keys to dealing with problems in marriage.

My challenge to all the "40-day challenge" preachers out there: there is no reason to innovate. God's Word is sufficient. Just preach what's on the page.

Friday, August 21, 2009

...but what about 1 Timothy 2:4?

…[God] desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:4

1 Timothy 2:4 is one of the two most common prooftexts used to deny the doctrine of unconditional election. (The other is 2 Pet 3:9, already covered in this series.) Admittedly, on first glance it seems formidable.

But before we discuss that, let's take a quick theology refresher. The doctrine of unconditional election teaches that God has chosen some for salvation and that His choice is uninfluenced by any factor outside of His own person. He chooses according to His own good pleasure.

The related doctrine of predestination goes further teaching that God sets into motion the events that will inevitably lead to the salvation of those He has elected to save. In other words, not only does God choose to save certain individuals (election), He actually accomplishes it (predestination). And therein lies the conflict with 1 Timothy 2:4, so say those who would deny these doctrines. Their argument follows that if God chooses to save certain individuals to the exclusion of others, then how could Paul write in 1 Tim 2:4 that God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth? The two are incompatible, they say, therefore God does not unconditionally elect some, but truly desires to save all equally.

Open and shut case, right? Not exactly. In fact, like the case of 2 Peter 3:9, there is no possible interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:4 that turns out to help the Arminian’s argument. This is true because of the range of meaning of two words in the verse, “desires” and “all”.

The concept of God’s desire or will in the Bible can refer to two different ideas. First, there is God’s sovereign will, which refers to His eternal plan that includes literally everything that ever happens. It always succeeds, it cannot be thwarted, and it is meticulous in nature (Ps 33:11, 115:3; Isa 14:24-27, 46:9-10, 55:10-11; Dan 4:35; Eph 1:11). Second, there is God’s moral or revealed will. It includes all of the moral commands in Scripture, from the moral law in the Pentateuch to the imperative sections of the epistles. God "desires" that these commands be kept. So, in 1 Tim 2:4, “desires” must refer to one of these two concepts, either God’s sovereign will or His moral will.

The second word “all” can mean “all things or people without exception” (Eph 1:11), and “all kinds” (Exo 1:14). In order for the Arminian argument to ring true, the first definition must hold – “all” must mean “all people without exception.”

If we take the two possible meanings for “desire” and the two possible meanings of “all”, and look at each of the possible combinations, we end up with four ways to view this verse. We'll look at them one at a time. In the end, we’ll see that none of the four supports the Arminian’s case denying unconditional election.

The first interpretation holds that “all” means “all people without exception” and “desires” refers to God’s sovereign will. An expanded translation would be, “[God] sovereignly wills all people without exception to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

The second of the four interpretations holds that “all” means “all kinds,” and “desires” refers to God’s sovereign will. An expanded translation would then be, “[God] sovereignly wills all kinds of people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

The third interpretation holds that “all” means “all people without exception,” and “desires” refers to God’s moral will. An expanded translation for this interpretation would be, “[God] calls all people without exception to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

The fourth interpretation holds that “all” means “all kinds of people” and “desires” refers to God’s moral will. An expanded translation for this interpretation would be, “[God] calls all kinds of people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

Before looking at the context, let me eliminate one of the above, the first interpretation that God sovereignly wills all people without exception to be saved. This one cannot be considered a viable interpretation since it would amount to universal salvation. Even though there are people who believe in such a concept, this does not work biblically due to the voluminous references in Scripture to the damnation of some sinners (John 3:36, Rom 2:5-8, Matt 13:41-42, 2 Pet 2:1-3, and Jude 7 to name a few). Eliminating this option now will tidy up the coming discussion.

That leaves us with options 2, 3, and 4. Let’s start with option 2, “[God] sovereignly wills all kinds of people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” How can we say that “all” means “all kinds” here? Vv1-2 are the key: 1 “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

“all people” at the end of v1 are the same Greek words we find in v4. This is why vv1-2 are so helpful – they define “all people” for us so that when we see the same words in v4, we know what the author means. How does he define “all people”? The beginning of v2 tells us: kings and all who are in high positions. This kind of phrase is referred to by grammarians as an appositional phrase. This simply means that it functions to define the noun or noun phrase that precedes it. That this is the case is supported by the fact that the same Greek preposition hyper – “for” – precedes both “all people” and “for kings and all who are in high positions,” without the conjunction “and” between them. For this reason, we know that the two phrases do not refer to two different groups, as if it read, “for all people and for kings…” Rather, the grammar itself dictates that we understand the two phrases to refer to the same group: “for all people, namely, kings and all who are in high positions.”

To say then that God sovereignly wills all kinds of people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth does nothing but strengthen the doctrine of election. This is a sound interpretation and the one held by many strong reformed apologists. If this is the correct interpretation, the Arminian argument is destroyed. That’s now two interpretations out of four that do not help a synergistic attempt to deny unconditional election.

I will tell you now that I do not hold this second view. I do not see anything in the context that indicates “desires” is referring to God’s sovereign will. I think a much more natural reading takes this to be a reference to God’s moral will. So that this post doesn’t go too long, I’ll save the third and fourth options for next time. I believe the correct interpretation is one of these two. I encourage you to take a look at this passage yourself and see which view you believe is correct.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Book Review - A Gospel Primer for Christians

For years I viewed the gospel strictly from an evangelistic perspective. The gospel was the “plan of salvation,” or “how to become a Christian.” I may have never said it, but in my mind any personal interaction with the gospel after one’s conversion consisted solely of sharing it with other people.

By God’s grace, I’m understanding more all the time that the gospel is far more than the door to salvation. It is the means by which one can live the Christian life. The gospel goes past the day of salvation and provides the lifelong strength and desire for sanctification.

We’ve seen this clearly in the book of Ephesians. Paul preaches the gospel to the believers in Ephesus, presenting it as the motive and power for the obedience to which he calls the reader in the second half of the book. The book of Romans shows the same structure. Paul, penning a letter to believers, writes in 1:15, “I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” This shatters the idea of the gospel as merely the door to salvation. Believers need to hear it preached for the rest of their lives.

If the gospel is the motive and power to live the Christian life, we would do well also to preach the gospel to ourselves every day. To assist the believer in doing just that, Milton Vincent has written a wonderful tool, A Gospel Primer for Christians: Learning to See the Glories of God’s Love. In the introduction, Vincent writes:

God did not give us His gospel just so we could embrace it and be converted. Actually, He offers it to us every day as a gift that keeps on giving to us everything we need for life and godliness. The wise believer learns this truth early and becomes proficient in extracting available benefits from the gospel each day. We extract these benefits by being absorbed in the gospel, speaking it to ourselves when necessary, and by daring to reckon it true in all we do… Over the course of time, preaching the gospel to myself every day has made more of a difference in my life than any other discipline I have ever practiced. I find myself sinning less, but just as importantly, I find myself recovering my footing more quickly after sinning, due to the immediate comfort found in the gospel. I have also found that when I am absorbed in the gospel, everything else I am supposed to be toward God and others seems to flow out of me more naturally and passionately. Doing right is not always easy, but it is never more easy than when one is breathing deeply the atmosphere of the gospel. I am confident that you will find the same to be true in your life as well.

The book is written in a devotional format, with short snippets that can be read daily. The first section contains 31 “Reasons to Rehearse the Gospel Daily.” The second and third sections contain “A Gospel Narrative” in prose and poetry, respectively.

This short book is unlike any devotional I’ve ever read. I’ve been using it for a short while and have already found it to be enlightening, encouraging, challenging, inspiring, and full of truth. I can’t recommend it highly enough. But don’t take my word for it. The book is also endorsed by the likes of John MacArthur, C.J. Mahaney, Jerry Bridges, Bob Kauflin, and Stuart Scott, with the Foreword being written by Mike Bullmore. You can pick it up for under $9 at Amazon - not bad for a book you may find yourself using year after year.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

...but what about 2 Peter 3:9 Pt 3

If you have not read the two previous parts of this series on 2 Pet 3:9, you’ll want to read them both. Part 1. Part 2.

Now we move on the 2nd chapter of 2 Peter to see if the Arminian view of 2 Pet 3:9 accords well with the context. As we saw last week, Peter uses the 1st chapter to exhort believers to good works, as this serves as evidence of one’s genuine conversion. Toward the end of the chapter, in vv16ff, he encourages believers to pay close attention to the “prophetic word,” the Scriptures, reminding them that the Word is not composed of cleverly devised myths or man’s own prophecy, “but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

The purpose of chapter 1 becomes clearer once we read chapter 2. The two main points of chapter 1 – a) be assured of your election by bearing fruit, and b) stay close to the Word – perfectly setup the teaching in chapter 2 regarding false teachers. He warns in 2:1 that just as false prophets have come in the past, so there will be false teachers in the future. They will bring in destructive heresies. That is why it is so important for the believers to be sure of their election and to know the Word – so that they will not be caused to doubt their salvation due to false teaching and so that they will not be lead astray from the truth of the Word due to false teaching.

[Rabbit trail: In this chapter there are a couple of references that classical Arminians use to argue that a person can lose his or her salvation. Lest someone accuse me of ignoring this, I’ll address it. 2:1 speaks of the false teachers “denying the master who bought them.” V20 then speaks of them escaping the defilements of the world through the knowledge of the Lord only to become entangled in them again.

This is easily understood, if we look at the context. Remember why Peter exhorted the elect in chapter 1 to diligently pursue fruit? Because it is the evidence of their election (1:10). If they failed to show fruit, would that mean that they were previously elect, but lost their election when they failed to show fruit? No. Their lack of fruit would be evidence that they were never elect, although they may have claimed to be. This is precisely what we see in chapter 2. The false teachers claim a false or counterfeit salvation. Though they once claimed to have been bought by Christ, they will eventually deny Him, proving that they were never redeemed to begin with.

Some would say that the wording of 2:20-21 is conclusive for the Arminian argument, speaking of the false teachers as having escaped the world “through the knowledge of our Lord,” and that it would have been better for them to never have “known the way of righteousness.” But this word - knowledge - does not refer to a deep abiding knowledge, like I have of my wife, but to recognition or acknowledgement. Essentially, these false teachers have recognized the truth and have turned away from it.

We find multiple times in the NT that there will be those in the church who claim to be believers and for a time even appear to be, but who will fall away, proving that they were never redeemed in the first place (1 John 2:19; John 6:66, 13:10-11, 15:2, Gal 2:3-4). God has clearly promised that true believers will never fall away because He will keep them (John 10:27-29, Rom 8:28-39, Phil 1:6).

So these false teachers spoken of in 2 Peter 2 are not former genuine believers who lost their salvation. They are those who falsely claim to be believers but whose actions show that they are not. End of rabbit trail.]

It is important to note that from v1 on, Peter is speaking of the future false teachers, not the false teachers of old. Just follow the language, “there will be false teachers among you,” future tense (v1). And yet, he says of them in v3, “their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” Future false teachers with condemnation from long ago. What is the point? Their condemnation is sure. It’s not idle. It’s not asleep. It’s not being held in reserve just in case they don’t get saved. The thrust of the paragraph is that they will be destroyed.

This is a big problem for the Arminian: how to deal with the clash of tenses – future false teachers with certain condemnation from long ago. The classic way of dealing with this problem is to say that the condemnation from long ago represents God’s foreknowledge. He knew from eternity past that they would bring condemnation upon themselves, so He went ahead and condemned them. That’s not what it says, but lets pretend for a minute that it does. If God condemned them from long ago, in what sense does God will “that all should come to repentance,” as the Arminian interpretation of 2 Peter 3:9 suggests? He has condemned them from long ago, based on His foreknowledge (according to the Arminian) which cannot be wrong. There is therefore no hope for their repentance.

So the appeal to foreknowledge may get the synergists out of a tough spot in 2:3, but it destroys their interpretation of 3:9. Here we see that the context is not on their side. But it gets worse for them as we continue on in chapter 2.

Peter has now spoken of two different groups, the elect and the false teachers. Vv4-10 are dedicated to establishing the certainty of the Lord’s rescuing “the godly from trials” – the elect from chapter 1 – and the certainty of the Lord’s destroying the unrighteous – the false teachers from chapter 2. Peter establishes this certainty by reminding the readers of God’s prior works of saving the godly and destroying the wicked. His point is that if God did those things in the past, then He will certainly save the godly believers and destroy the false teachers in the future. The words used of the false teachers’ destruction are chilling: He will “keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment.”

These references to certain destruction are starting to pile up. And yet, the synergistic/Arminian understanding of 2 Peter 3:9 demands that “all” means “all humans without exception,” which would have to include the condemned false teachers. So to keep their interpretation of 3:9, they would have to say, “God is not willing that any false teacher should perish, even though Peter wrote that God condemned them from long ago. Rather, God is willing that all false teachers should come to repentance, even though Peter wrote that they are being kept by God for destruction.”

When all the context, syntax, and lexical evidence is weighed, it becomes clear that 2 Peter 3:9 does not deny the idea of God’s intention to save the elect. Instead, the evidence affirms that. Christ has not returned because He is patient toward those He has chosen, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

...but what about 1 Timothy 2:4?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The APA gets it right. Sort of.

Last Wednesday, the American Psychological Association declared that there is little evidence that one’s sexual orientation can be changed through therapy, therefore mental health professionals should not tell their homosexual clients that there is hope that they can become heterosexual through such treatments.

It's not often that I agree with the APA, but here I have to say, "Amen! Preach it!"

This is not to say that the APA and I are on the same page exactly. We have simply come to the same conclusion about the ability of psychology to change homosexuals. We come to that conclusion by very different means.

The APA is right – psychology cannot help homosexuals to change their sexual orientation. It's not that the psychological establishment has come to its senses all of a sudden, but rather it has an erroneous presupposition about the nature of homosexuality. There was a time when the APA considered homosexuality to be a mental disorder. However, in 1975, they removed homosexuality from the list of known mental disorders. At that point, homosexuality became “normal”. This development means that the APA’s understanding of this issue over time has gone from bad to worse.

It’s important to note that this change in the APA’s understanding of homosexuality is not why they made this announcement last Wednesday. Since homosexuality has been “normal” since 1975, it follows logically that the APA has held since then that psychology cannot change one’s sexual orientation. The actual reason for the recent announcement is the growing public awareness of Christian organizations offering to help homosexuals change their sexual orientation. Some of these organizations have had a good deal of success, which looks bad for the APA.

The announcement noted that one reason many homosexuals feel the desire to change is because of their religious beliefs. The APA urged therapists to consider a number of options to deal with this problem, including changing churches. We have to give them some credit – they recognize the inherent conflict between biblical Christian faith and the humanistic presuppositions of psychology. Something has to give. Unfortunately, their choice will always be to suggest the adjustment of one’s religious convictions rather than to re-examine their understanding of human nature.

So the APA’s conclusion that psychology cannot be used to change one’s sexual orientation does not represent an admission of the shortcomings of psychology, but rather a reiteration that homosexuality is normal.

I, on the other hand, have completely different reasons for saying that psychology cannot change one’s sexual orientation. Not only is homosexuality not normal, it’s not even a psychological disorder. This isn’t an organic disease of the mind. Plain and simple, homosexuality is sinful rebellion against and rejection of God’s holiness and God’s design. In that way, it is just like lying, murder, gossip, and envy. Homosexuality is a spiritual problem, not a psychological one. It is but one manifestation of the sin condition into which every human is born.

The first chapter of Romans shows that homosexuality is the fruit of human depravity. It is the eventual result of a rejection of God: (Rom 1:26-27 ESV) 26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

This portion of Romans is the first step in Paul’s argument that salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone saves men from sin. This tells us two things about homosexuality specifically: 1) It is just one manifestation of the root condition of sin; and 2) Because Christ saves men from the penalty and power of that root condition, Christ saves men from the penalty and power of all manifestations of that condition, including homosexuality.

Do the thoughts, desires, and compulsive behavior of homosexuality go away immediately? All things are possible with God, but Scripture teaches that sanctification is a progressive thing. One thing is certain, if the principles of sanctification are applied in the life of a regenerate person, there is no such thing as an unconquerable sin.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11, for the Bible-believing Christian, should destroy the assertions of the APA on this issue: 9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

There are at least a couple of things we can draw from these verses. First, homosexuality is sin that excludes one from God’s eternal kingdom. It is not normal. It is not a mental disorder. It is not a psychological problem. It is sin and it draws the eternal wrath of God.

(Some have argued that the Greek underlying the English versions does not mean what it appears to mean. There is some truth to that, but it does not help those who would defend the practice of homosexuality. Rather, it far more explicitly refers to the two participants in the act of sodomy. The word translated effeminate refers to passive partners in homosexual intercourse. The word translated homosexuals refers to the active partners. There is no question the original text is referring to homosexuality.)

Second, homosexuality can be overcome. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified… How? in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

So the APA is right. Psychology cannot help a person change their sexual orientation. That is true not because homosexuality is normal, but because the only solution to man’s sinful condition is the blood of Jesus Christ. He alone saves and sanctifies sinners. Just as surely as the Lord died and was raised, the homosexual can be freed from the penalty and power of his sin.

…Such were some of you…

Thursday, August 6, 2009

...but what about 2 Peter 3:9? Pt 2

(If you have not read part 1, it would be a good idea to do so prior to reading this one.)

The greatest hope that an opponent of the doctrine of election can have regarding 2 Peter 3:9 is that no one has read the rest of the letter. The whole-book context in which we find this verse refuses to allow any interpretation that would deny God’s absolute sovereignty over the salvation of souls. The context is deadly to the synergist position. (Synergism is the idea that God and man work together to initiate regeneration and salvation.)

This post will deal with chapter 1. A later post will deal with chapter 2.

In Chapter 1, the apostle states that the divine power of Christ has granted to us “all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature…” (vv3-4). God has granted salvation – “life” – and sanctification – “godliness.” Peter then exhorts the reader to “supplement your faith with virtue” and other various qualities that serve as evidence of salvation.

V10 is key: “Therefore, brothers be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” What does he mean? He intends for them to work hard to show evidence of their calling and election in the presence of these virtuous qualities in their lives. This tells us at least two things. First, their calling and election result in the virtuous qualities, for it is “His divine power” granted to them that empowers them not only to be saved, but also to exercise godliness. Without that divine power, there would be none of these virtuous qualities. V11 says that it is this exercise of godly virtue (which results from the divine power that saves and sanctifies) that secures their entrance into the eternal kingdom of the Lord.

So if we follow the chain backward, we see that an entrance into the eternal kingdom is the result of the way of life that is the result of their calling and election. Therefore, “be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure.” Election results in eternal life.

Second, this kind of exhortation is always two-sided. (We find similar exhortations and warnings elsewhere in the New Testament –1 Cor 10:1-12; 2 Cor 13:5; Heb 3:12, 4:1-11 – these are all exhortations that essentially say, “Make sure you’re saved!). On one side, it is an exhortation to the saved to work to show the fruit of salvation. Why? Because that evidence is comforting to the soul. It is a way that we can be assured of our salvation. On the other side, it serves as a way to show those who think they are saved that they really are not, and therefore should repent and believe. Both sides serve the elect – one by assuring the elect of their salvation, the other by drawing the yet-unsaved elect to salvation. In this exhortation is the implicit understanding that Peter is writing to a group in which there may be elect ones who have not yet been saved.

This point alone is enough to cast doubt upon the synergistic interpretation of 2 Pet 3:9. Since, Peter in 1:10 has already exhorted the readers to examine themselves to see if their lives show evidence of calling and election, it would make perfect sense that in 3:9 he would say, “The Lord…is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” 1:10 and 3:9 address the same issue – there are some elect who have not yet been converted.

So early in the letter, we have a clear reference to election, which does not fit with an Arminian understanding of 2 Pet 3:9. In order for the Arminian to win his case on 2 Pet 3:9, he must deal with this reference to election. However, the word “election” is a huge problem for those who oppose the doctrine of election. It’s a problem because it means “the state of being chosen”.

There are two ways that synergists try to deal with this. One is to explain away the word “elect,” taking it to refer to a corporate election. In other words, God chose the church to be saved. He chose the body, rather than the individuals, so that any individual who chooses to join the body may be considered elect by virtue of their membership with the church. The individual has the prerogative to join the body or not join the body. So where that word is found in Scripture, some synergists/Arminians read it as a corporate election.

I ask you, what kind of sense does that make in 2 Pet 1:10? Under this view of election, God does not elect individuals – election is corporate. Therefore, Peter would have to be saying here, “be all the more diligent to make the election of the church sure.” How does that fit with the exhortation that precedes it – the exhortation to show the fruit of salvation? How does evidence of individual salvation help to make the election of a corporate body sure? It doesn’t. It makes no sense.

The other way that synergists try to deal with the concept of election is to assert that election is based on God’s foreknowledge. In this view, God from the foundation of the world saw all those who would choose to be saved. He then did a “preemptive choosing.” Essentially, God chose to save those whom He foresaw would choose Him. Some synergists/Arminians read that understanding of election into each use of that word.

But it bears repeating that “election” means “the state of having been chosen.” It does not mean “the state of being recognized beforehand as one who will make a particular choice.” It also does not mean “the state of being chosen preemptively.” It also does not mean "the state of being foreknown." It simply means “chosen.” So the Arminian loses his case if he argues from semantics (what words mean).

But what about context? Cannot a context color the meaning of a word? Yes, but in order to get where the Arminian wants to go with this particular word, the burden is on him to find contextual markers that point to such a meaning. There must be something in the text indicating the basis on which the choice is made. There are no such markers in this text. There is nothing that would lead a completely objective reader to understand “election” to mean “election based on a foreknown choice.” So the Arminian loses his case if he argues from the context.

He is then left with theological arguments. Since he cannot argue based on semantics or context, the Arminian must build a theological case from biblical texts showing that the Bible teaches that God chooses the elect based on His foreknowledge of their choosing Him. There are a couple of prooftexts they might raise (which will be dealt with in this series), but no clear teaching. On the other hand there is clear teaching that God’s choice is based on absolutely nothing that man does – Rom 9:6-24. If we allow Scripture to interpret Scripture, the Arminian has no theological leg to stand on.

There is no way to take "election" in its truest sense out of 2 Peter 1. God chooses certain people to be saved. Therefore, I contend that the material in 2 Peter 1, especially the reference to election in 1:10, precludes any synergistic explanation of 2 Peter 3:9. Next time, we will look at chapter 2, which is far more devastating to the Arminian argument.