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Core Faith: Understanding the Essentials of the Christian Life

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The following series contains lessons related to foundational truths and practices related to the Christian faith and life. The series may be used in a small group setting, a one on one discipleship meeting, or for individual study. Powerpoint presentations are included for each lesson that can be used as a teacher resource.

Related Topics: Basics for Christians, Christian Education, Curriculum, Discipleship, Faith, Spiritual Life

Preface to Core Faith

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Preface

In the past several years my wife Trece has introduced me to the Pilates exercise program. Unlike me though, she has been faithful to consistently use this wonderful exercise system. I also to a much more limited degree have experienced its benefits. One time in particular I was experiencing nagging back and neck pain but after a few weeks of Pilates this pain began to subside and eventually disappeared. The basic philosophy of Pilates is to strengthen the inner core muscles of the body. The theory then is if the core of the body is strong the rest of the body will be strong and healthy as well. Thus, I have entitled this book and course Core Faith. It is the basic faith and practice that all Christians need understand and do whether they know it or not. If the Christian is strong in the basic core beliefs and disciplines then as with Pilates the entire Christian life will be strong and vital as well.

Welcome to Core Faith. E. M. Blaiklock, Professor of Classics at Auckland University once stated: “I claim to be an historian. My approach to Classics is historical. And I tell you that the evidence for the life, the death, and the resurrection of Christ is better authenticated than most of the facts of ancient history . . .”1 Our faith has a historical basis, the historical life of Jesus, the historical death of Jesus and the historical resurrection of Jesus. This should give us the confidence to pursue the path of Christian life with confidence. But as we get started on the Christian journey or are on the way we all have certain questions.

Questions that some of us may have are: 1) Who is God and what is he like? 2) How can I be sure I am going to heaven? 3) How can I grow in my Christian life? 4) What does God want me to do? 5) What is the nature of the Bible and where did it come from? 6) How do I interpret the Bible? 7) Who is Jesus and how does his life impact me? 8) Who is the Holy Spirit and what does he do? 9) What does the Bible say or not say about the future? These are some of the questions that the following lessons are going to address.

The first reference to a disciple in the New Testament is found in Matthew 5:1-2, which states, “When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain. After he sat down his disciples came to him. Then he began to teach them by saying: . . . .”2 What follows is perhaps the greatest Sermon of all time known as the Sermon on the Mount, a sermon for disciples of Jesus. The Greek word for disciple is Mathetes (Μαθητης). Its dictionary definition is: “1. one who engages in learning through instruction from another, pupil, apprentice 2. one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or a particular set of views, disciple, adherent.3 In short a disciple is a student, a learner. But let’s look at Jesus’ definition of a disciple. “Then he [Jesus] said to them all, ‘If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me’” (Luke 9:23).4 Being a disciple is for “anyone.” The invitation is open. But there are conditions. First, a disciple must deny himself and take up his cross. When we think of self denial it’s something like I will only eat one donut today instead of two. Jesus is talking about denial to the point of death, death on a cross if need be. Second, discipleship is daily. It’s not a one-time thing but every day I need to get up and be a disciple. Third a disciple follows Christ. It’s his example, his teaching, his call.

I would like to address two questions that are related to Core Faith. The first question is why is theology important? And secondly, why read this book or use it as a course? Why is theology important? The word theology means the study of God. Theology may seem intimidating but anytime we form an opinion about God or make an assertion about him or look to him for anything we are in essence doing theology. If we say God is good that is a theological proposition. If someone curses God they are saying God is bad. If we say a prayer to God, we are implying that he not only exists but that he acts in our lives in a personal way. So most of us are theologians whether we think we are or not. I would like to suggest two basic reasons of why theology is important.

First is that we are commanded to love God. This is referred to as the greatest commandment. Jesus was once asked, Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest? Jesus said to him, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment (Matt 22:36-38). If the most important commandment is to love God then we must learn who God is with our total being, heart soul and mind. How can we love someone we do not know and strive to know? Some people want to experience God emotionally which is good but then in practice neglect learning about God with their mind. The mind is an area that the evangelical church has neglected and it has even been described as serious as a scandal. Christian historian Mark Knoll states, “The scandal of the evangelical mind, is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”5 God has revealed himself in creation and more specifically and importantly in his Word. Theology then is learning about the one God we are to love. This may be dismissed as merely head knowledge but as someone once well said how can we love God less when we know him more?

Second, sometimes when we encounter difficulties in life we do not have the answers we want or need. The problem we face is perplexing and seems to defy resolution. It is times like this when we need to fall back on the character of God. But if we do not know what the character of God is for sure, we may lack confidence in it. Job in the Old Testament is a good example for us in this regard. He was a godly man with an abundance of blessings: wealth, health and family
(Job 1:1-3). But one by one these things were taken away. First, Job lost all his children when they were attacked and taken captive or killed. Also, all his possessions were destroyed or stolen (Job 1:13-22). He was stricken with some kind of malignant skin disease (Job 2:7). The question of the book then is why? Job
s friends bring many theologically wrong answers that suggest that Job had sinned and this was the result. But the trials were not due to Jobs sin. Finally, Job has an encounter with God and no final answer to Jobs suffering is given except that God is God and one has to trust in who he is in such problems. In the end, God blesses Job beyond what he had before (Job 42:10-17). But the point is that sometimes all we have is to accept and trust in the character of God. So we need to know that character to be able have assurance in it and to recognize our experience with it.

More examples include Joseph who was beaten and sold into slavery but reminded his brothers who had done the act, that even evil things can be used by God for his purposes. In theologically reflecting on the situation he stated, As for you, you meant to harm me, but God intended it for a good purpose, so he could preserve the lives of many people, as you can see this day (Gen 50:20). Jonah who was displeased that God had not judged Ninevah but rather saved them attributed this action to the character of God. He prayed to the Lord and said, Oh, Lord, this is just what I thought would happen when I was in my own country. This is what I tried to prevent by attempting to escape to Tarshish! – because I knew that you are gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in mercy, and one who relents concerning threatened judgment (Jonah 4:2). Jesus himself trusted in God and his character as he was dying on the cross and said, Into your hands I commit my Spirit (Luke 23:46).

So all these examples show how understanding God and his character can relate to hard situations. This is theology. So let’s go to the next question. Why use these lessons?

1) The first and foremost reason is to get to know God better and grow in our relationship with him. Jesus said: Now this is eternal life that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent (John 17:3). This course will have a God focus. We are on a lifelong and even eternal pursuit to know God and his Son Jesus Christ.

2) The second reason is to better appreciate and understand Gods gift of salvation through the gospel and basic Christian doctrine. This course will have a Bible focus. The Apostle Peter said “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation) (1 Peter 2:2; NASB). As physical food moves a baby toward growth toward adulthood, so the milk of the Word is how we grow spiritually. Its our spiritual food.

3) The third and last reason is so that we will be able to share the gospel with others and be able to help others to grow in their faith. This course will also have a people focus. Jesus gave the commission: Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” When I was in college, I benefited from a man by the name of Ted Boyls who met with me every week for about two years to help me understand God and the Christian life. Like Ted did, we should desire to help others.

We have a saying in America, “live and learn.” It refers to learning from mistakes or learning from the school of hard knocks. But the Bible encourages the opposite approach, to learn first and then live. What is the course procedure? This course has 11 lessons not including this introduction that give a basic overview of the Christian life and doctrine. Each lesson concludes with potential discussion and application questions. The material can be used in one of three ways. First you as an individual can study the material yourself. Second, this material can be covered by two individuals in a one on one discipleship relationship perhaps at a rate of one lesson per week. Both parties may read the lessons together or separately and then come together for questions, individualized application and use of the discussion questions. Thirdly, the following lesson materials may be used in a small group setting in Sunday School or home.

Whenever I have taken Bible courses, I always been interested in the person teaching me. What are their credentials? Are they qualified? My name is Dr. James Davis. You can reference my ministry profile on the Bible.org website. But in short I have been a Christian for over 30 years and have been involved in teaching the Bible in various venues since that time from dorm Bible studies, to small groups, Sunday school classes, and seminary classrooms. Since 1999 I have taught seminary classes as a professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, Capital Bible Seminary and Liberty University. I have a Masters in New Testament from Capital Bible Seminary and a PhD in New Testament from Dallas Theological Seminary.

I want to thank Dave Austin, Hampton Keathley IV, Bob Deffinbaugh and Lauren Menge for the help they have given me in producing these lessons by their encouragement, ideas, insight and editing.

So I now invite you to this journey of learning about Core Faith. And as a Christian or soon to be one I encourage you to be a better disciple of Jesus. May the Lord bless your study of Jesus and God’s Word.

Table of Contents

Preface

  1. The Study of the Gospel
  2. Understanding World Views
  3. The Study of God
  4. Personal Spiritual Growth
  5. The Study of the Bible
  6. Principles of Biblical Interpretation
  7. The Study of Christ
  8. The Study of the Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts
  9. The Study of the Church
  10. The Study of Future Events
  11. Principles and Practice of Disciple Making

Final Exhortation


1 As cited by Josh McDowell, “Evidence for the Resurrection”, http://www.leaderu.com/everystudent/easter/articles/josh2.html (Date accessed October 29, 2012).

2 Unless otherwise noted Bible citations are generally taken from the NET Bible, New English Translation © by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C.

3 Baur, Danker, Arnt and Gingrich, Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature  (3rd edition; University of Chicago Press, Chicago: 2003), 609.

4 Scripture references are taken from the NET Bible unless otherwise noted.

5 Mark Knoll, The Scandal of Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 4.

Related Topics: Basics for Christians, Discipleship

Lesson 1: The Study of the Gospel

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Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so ― reportedly said by prominent Swiss Theologian Karl Barth when asked at Princeton University if he could summarize the millions of words in his Systematic Theology entitled Church Dogmatics.1

Introduction

Christian apologist Josh McDowell once said: “The resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most wicked, vicious, heartless hoaxes ever foisted upon the minds of men and women, or it is the most fantastic fact of history.”2 Since the advent of Jesus Christ men and women have been willing to die for the gospel’s truth. It started with the 12 men who knew Jesus best, the disciples who saw the resurrected Lord and risked and gave their lives for the truth of this fact. The gospel has changed millions of lives of people who have responded to its message. It claims to be the exclusive and only way to God and has given offense to those in a pluralistic mindset. Jesus himself said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. Peter echoed this in Acts 4:11-12, “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, . . . And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved.”3

What is the gospel? What must I do to be saved? Did God choose me or did I choose him? How does the gospel affect my current life? What does it mean for my future? Can I lose my salvation? These are some of the questions that this lesson is designed to answer.

The lesson can be broken down into four separate segments: 1) the definition of the gospel and the five basic points of the gospel message, 2) theological past aspects of the gospel, 3) theological present aspects of the gospel, and 4) theological future aspects of the gospel.

Why is this issue important? For those of you who have not heard or believed the message of the gospel your eternal future depends on it, heaven or hell, bliss or torment, with God or without him? Others of you might say I already know the gospel so why is this topic important for me? First, I would say we are forgetful people and need reminders and review (cf.
2 Pet 1:12). Second, I would ask those that know the gospel, do you know it well enough to be able to share it with others?

What is the Gospel?

The English word gospel is from the Greek word euanngelion. This word in essence means “good news” and in the New Testament it specifically refers to God’s good news to people about Jesus Christ. It can also refer to one of the four books written about the life of Jesus.4 Paul defines the gospel concisely this way: “Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel that I preached to you, . . . that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:1-3).

The gospel is much more than a ticket to heaven; it’s an invitation to new life, forgiveness of sins and an eternal relationship with a loving eternal God. The gospel message can be broken down into five points:

1) God loves you and has a plan and purpose for your life.

The first piece of good news is that God loves you and has a plan and purpose for your life. Jesus stated, “For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Someone once well said that people matter to God. People are valuable in his sight. But how valuable are they? As this verse states, they are valuable enough to give something valuable. God gave his one and only Son so that we might have eternal life. For parents, how valuable would something have to be for you to turn over the life of one of your children?

Jesus explained, “I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly”
(John 10:10). God’s plan for us is life, eternal and abundant. Rick Warren Pastor of Saddleback church and author of the best-selling book The Purpose Driven Life well stated, “Without God, life has no purpose, and without purpose, life has no meaning. Without meaning, life has no significance or hope.”5 This leads us to the second point.

2) People are sinners and separated from God by sin.

The bad news, however, is that people are sinners and separated from God by sin. Paul states, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23) . . . “and the payoff of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). Notice that this verse does not say that a few sinned, or some sinned or even most sinned but rather that all sinned and have fallen short of God’s glory, God’s standards. Also, the payoff or consequence of this sin is death. From the biblical perspective not only do people do bad things called sin but they are sinners by nature that is they are “depraved.” All the physical death we see in this world is a consequence of sin. As bad as this is, there is a greater consequence for sin, which is spiritual death. Spiritual death separates people from God eternally in a fiery place of punishment. The Bible refers to this as the second death or the lake of fire (Rev 20).

One cannot really relate to the good news until one understands the bad news. Let me illustrate: if a cure for terminal cancer was discovered it would be good news but if I have terminal cancer myself, it’s more than good it’s great; it’s fantastic; it’s life changing; it’s lifesaving. That’s how the gospel is for those who understand that they have the cancer of sin, a cancer that is terminal.

3) Good works cannot earn your way to heaven.

The third point is an extension of this bad news. No amount of good works can earn one’s way to heaven and establish a relationship with God. In Ephesians, Paul writes: “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast” (Eph 2:8-9). One of the major problems with religions in the world and even in the church is the belief that certain types of good works or enough of them will merit one’s way into heaven. Baptism will not save you; having Christian parents will not save you; going to church will not save you; giving to the poor will not save you; and the list can go on and on. Yet the Bible over and over again states that it is faith alone in Christ alone that saves and that faith must be personally held. No one else can hold it for you.

4) Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins.

The way that God chose to deal with our sin problem is that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins. Paul states in Romans, “But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). The biblical concept of this point is referred to as the substitutionary atonement of Jesus’ death. His death paid the penalty that God required for our sins; it was him for us, or him instead of us. In the Old Testament, animal sacrifices for sins illustrated this concept. One example is in the Passover instructions that God gave to Israel in the Old Testament when they were enslaved in Egypt. God commanded them that a lamb without blemish was to be killed and the blood was to be spread on the door posts and lintel. For those houses that had made this sacrifice and applied the blood, the angel of death passed over the house but for those who did not the firstborn was struck with death. In this way God delivered Israel from the bondage of slavery in Egypt (Exod 12). In the New Testament, Christ is referred to as our Passover sacrifice (1 Cor 5:7). So when God sees the blood of Jesus applied to our life, death passes by and we are given life. Jesus stated, “I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the one who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned, but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).

5) You must receive Jesus by faith.

The last point is that you must receive Jesus by faith to receive the eternal life God has for you and start your new relationship with God. John writes, “But to all who have received him—those who believe in his name—he has given the right to become God’s children” (John 1:12). The gospel requires a faith response to its message, a personal trust response in which we receive the benefits of what Jesus did for us on the cross. I pray that all of us at some point in our lives say “yes” to God. Yes, I believe that I am a sinner and in need of salvation. Yes, I believe that Jesus died on the cross for my sins. And yes I receive him as my personal Savior to fulfill his plan of goodness for my life.

So in review, the five basic points of the gospel are: 1) God loves you and has a plan and purpose for your life; 2) people are sinners and separated from God by sin; 3) no amount of good works can earn ones way to heaven; 4) Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins; and 5) you must receive Jesus by faith to receive the eternal life God has for you.

One could express faith in Jesus with this example prayer asking God for salvation: “Father, I know that I have broken your laws and my sins have separated me from you. I am truly sorry, please forgive me. I believe that your son, Jesus Christ died for my sins, and was resurrected from the dead. I now ask you enter into my life and give me the gift of eternal life. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.” For those who have not responded to God’s plan of salvation, I would just challenge you to do this. Get answers to questions that you may have from someone who has believed in Jesus Christ already.

Theological Past Aspects of Salvation

Past aspects of salvation refers to what God did in an individual’s life prior to that person placing his or her faith in Jesus Christ. Someone might say who cares about the past in this regard, so what? My response would be that we need to understand it was God’s plan that we be saved. He is the one who gets the credit. He is the one who gets the glory, not me. There is nothing more distasteful for someone taking credit for something they did not do. So let’s see why God gets the credit or glory by examining the following theological concepts: election, predestination, and the drawing of God; it’s all to the praise of the glory of his grace
(Eph 1:6, 11, 14).

Election or Predestination is “Gods pretemporal choice of who would be saved” (Greek ekloge).6 Paul states, “Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ. For he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we may be holy and unblemished in his sight in love” (Eph 1:3-4). God chose us before we were even born and this is referred to as election or predestination. The question though that many theologians have asked is on what basis did God choose some individuals and not others? The response to this question has developed into two camps. One of which, the Arminian view, feels that God looked down the corridor of time and saw ahead of time those who would have faith and chose them on the basis of that. Another view, the Calvinist view, sees it as simply part of God’s sovereign choice without regard to anything an individual may or may not do, including faith. It seems that one must leave it in some senses to the mystery of God, trusting in his justice and goodness. The two passages that deal in part with this question indicate that God’s choice is not based on our works (Rom 9:16), but it is based on God’s foreknowledge of people (Rom 8:29; 1 Pet 1:2).

The Drawing of God is also something that God does to bring us to salvation. Jesus stated, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). In the drawing process one can include the idea of giving light to the truth (John 1:9) and conviction of sin
(John 16:8-9). The main point is that God not only choose us before the creation of the world, but he also took an active role in what we could call pre-conversion work by drawing us, giving us the light of truth, and convicting us of sin. This “drawing” put us into a position by which we would be receptive to the gospel. The God who shined physical light into the creation is the same God who shines the light of the glory of God into our hearts (2 Cor 4).

Theological Present Aspects of Salvation

Present aspects of salvation refers to what happens at the moment of salvation and the process of living out the Christian life. One can divide the theological present aspects of salvation into 1) the conditions for salvation/eternal life and 2) the results of salvation/eternal life. This is important since it addresses both the condition of salvation and the immediate impact in our life of receiving that salvation, a radically changed life in new relationship with Almighty God.

Conditions of Salvation

The conditions of salvation include both faith and repentance.

Faith (Greek pistis) can be defined as “belief or trust.” In regard to eternal salvation faith is trust or belief in what Jesus has done for us on the cross. It is the only means of how we receive the gift of eternal life. Faith or belief is mentioned in the New Testament “nearly 200 times” as the sole condition to eternal life.7 One example is found in Acts, “Then he [the Philippian jailer] brought them outside and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They [Paul and Silas] replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household”
(Acts 16:30-31).

Repentance concisely means “change of mind” (Greek metanoia). In regard to salvation, repentance is a genuine change of mind and heart about who Christ is and transferring one’s trust to him. On the Day of Pentecost Peter said to them, “Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). Fruits or good works are normally expected as a result of genuine repentance (Luke 3:8).

What is the relationship between faith and repentance? In short in regard to salvation one could consider them synonymous with a little different emphasis. Faith in Jesus emphasizes our trust in him, while repentance emphasizes the change of heart we have had about Jesus in regard to who he is, what we are and what he has done for us. An illustration would be to see salvation as a coin with two sides to it. One side is repentance and the other is faith, one coin but two aspects (cf. Acts 20:21).

Results of Salvation

The results of salvation include the theological concepts of regeneration, justification, redemption, reconciliation and sanctification.

Regeneration (Greek paliggensia) can be defined as “the work of God which gives new life to the one who believes.”8 Paul writes, “He [God] saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). Like questions about election, theologians have debated the issue of the timing and nature of regeneration. Asking if it precedes faith (i.e., the Calvinistic view) or follows faith (i.e., Armenian View). We are not going to be able to solve this issue here. But one caution though in my view is not to put a gap of time between one event and the other. In other words in my view, the reception of the Holy Spirit is not “before faith” or “after faith” but rather “when faith.”9 Regeneration is more a logical consequence of faith than a temporal one. When we believe we will be sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13).

Justification means “to announce a favorable verdict, to declare righteous” (Greek verb dikiaoo).10 In the New Testament justification has the idea of being declared righteous based on the redemptive ministry of Jesus Christ. Paul states, “Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1). We are all familiar with the judge who at the end of a trial hits the gavel and says guilty or not guilty. In this case God hits the gavel and says, “Righteous” based on the penalty paid by Christ.

Redemption in essence means to purchase with a price (Greek apolutrosis). In the New Testament it is the price that Jesus paid by his blood to rescue us from the penalty of sin and make us as owned by God. Paul states, “In him [Jesus Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph 1:7). In New Testament times it is estimated that approximately one third to one half of people in the Roman Empire were slaves. Potential owners would come to auctions of people looking to buy a slave. When they made the purchase the slave was legally owned by the master. In a similar way God purchased us. The price was the blood of Christ. And as a result we are owned by God. As Paul explains, we were slaves of sin but now we are slaves of God (Rom 6:22).

Reconciliation means the “change in relationship from hostility to harmony and peace between two parties” (God and man) (Greek katallage).11 Paul states, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, since we have been reconciled, will we be saved by his life?” (Rom 5:10). The two parties who were at war were God and us. We were at war with God by breaking his standards and sinning against him and his laws. He was at war with us bringing judgment and wrath, not a pretty picture. By the death of his Son, we have a peace treaty. No longer are we at war with God but at peace, no longer enemies but friends, reconciled in a right relationship with him.

Sanctification basically means to “set apart” (Greek hagiasmos). The believer is set apart in right standing before God (positional sanctification; 1 Cor 1:2) and also set apart for a life of holiness in this world (practical sanctification; Rom 6:19). Paul states in Romans, “For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification (Rom 6:19). Someone once well summarized sanctification by stating it this way,Be who you are.” You have been declared righteous now live righteously; you have been purchased by God submit to his lordship; you have been reconciled with God so pursue your relationship with him; you are sanctified now go and live holy lives and the list could go on and on.

Theological Future Aspects of Salvation

Future aspects of salvation refers to what happens for the believer after he or she dies. This topic is important because it can give us confidence about our future and security in our relationship with God.

Glorification (Greek verb doxazo) is the future state of salvation in which a believer has received an immortal body and been morally perfected. Paul states in Romans, “And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified (Rom 8:30). Notice in this verse there are no dropouts and, in fact, the last term “glorified” is in the past tense because it is so certain. All those who are predestined will also be glorified. When Jesus went up on to the Mount of Transfiguration the Bible says, “His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” Matt 17:2. Paul states that the glorified body will be immortal, incorruptible, powerful, glorious (1 Cor 15:42-55). This amazing condition is what awaits every believer.

Eternal Security is the objective fact that once a person is truly saved, his salvation cannot be lost. Sometimes this is stated, “Once saved always saved.” Some Christians (Arminian) believe that a person can lose his salvation based on certain passages of the Bible (e.g., Heb 6; 2 Pet 2:20-22) but there are other clearer passages that teach security. Romans 8:30 was one of these. Another one is from John 10 where Jesus said: “My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; no one will snatch them from my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can snatch them from my Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29). There is hardly a stronger way to say this, that the sheep will never perish from the hand of an all-powerful God. The Christian is kept for salvation by the power of God (1 Pet 1:5). How powerful is God? It’s not so much that we keep him but that he is keeping us.

What about people though apparently Christians who “fall away from the faith.” What about them? I once knew a man who went to church with me. We had Bible studies together and prayed together. Later I found out he fell into some sins of immorality and stopped going to church. What happened? For those who hold to the biblical teaching of eternal security generally two answers are given, either of which may be true. The first answer, is that the person was never saved to begin with. Perhaps they participated in the church or other types of Christian activities, but they never had a genuine conversion experience. This is possible in some of these cases. Someone like Judas Iscariot, one of the 12 disciples, extensively participated in Jesus’ ministry yet Jesus referred to him as the Son of perdition (John 17:12). The second possibility is that the person was truly a Christian but had fallen into serious and even prolonged sin and doubt. This does not mean that God has eternally abandoned this person but God will use discipline even to the point of physical death as a consequence. One biblical example could include Peter who denied Jesus three times, but was later restored. Also, there was the serious case of the Corinthian church who were abusing the Lord’s supper meeting and Paul stated that for this reason some are sick and sleep (= a euphemism for Christian death)(1 Cor 11:27-29). In both these cases though we have to remember that we have a limited and imperfect picture of what spiritually has happened and of what God is doing in people’s lives.

Related to the doctrine of eternal security is the topic of Assurance. Assurance can be defined as the subjective conviction that a believer personally possesses eternal life. This distinction is important because of the possibility of false assurance (= a person who falsely believes they are going to heaven but are not) and the possibility that a true Christian can have doubts about his or her salvation due to personal sin or misinterpretations of the Bible. The apostle John states that it is possible for a believer to have assurance of salvation. He writes: “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. The one who has the Son has this eternal life; the one who does not have the Son of God does not have this eternal life. I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5:11-13).”12 In short, God wants Christians to know for certain they are saved.

Summary

The gospel is the great news of God providing salvation for man though Jesus Christ. We were lost but now are found. We were guilty but now we are not guilty. We were unforgiven but now we are forgiven. We were an enemy of God but now we are at peace with him. We had eternal death but now have eternal life. God has justified us saving us from the penalty of sin. He is sanctifying us, saving us from the power of sin. Finally, he will glorify us saving us from the presence of sin. John Calvin stated, “Man’s only righteousness is the mercy of God in Christ, when it is offered by the Gospel and received by faith.”13

Discussion Questions

  1. What wrong ideas do people believe that they think will get them to heaven?
  2. If God loves us why does the Bible say that some people go to hell?
  3. In John 14:6 Jesus said that no one is going to come to the Father except through Him. How does our society react to such an exclusivist claim?
  4. How old does a child need to be before he or she can believe the gospel?
  5. Is baptism required for salvation? Why do some people think so?
  6. On what basis does God elect/choose some people and not others?
  7. How much evidence or fruit must there be in a person’s life to evidence genuine salvation?
  8. Can and do genuine Christians fall into serious and perhaps prolonged sins? If so, how does God deal with such a person?
  9. Based on the concept of God redeeming (= purchasing us). Paul in Romans states we are “slaves of righteousness” (Rom 6:18). Do most Christians view themselves this way?
  10. Why do some true Christians have doubts about their salvation and what can be done to correct this?
  11. How should the future certainty of glorification affect our daily life right now?

1 http://www.gci.org/history/barth (Date accessed March 5, 2013).

2 Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, 1979), 179.

3 Scripture passages are generally taken from the NET Bible unless otherwise noted.

4 A standard Greek dictionary to the New Testament defines it in three ways: “1. God’s good news to humans, good news as proclamation . . . . 2. details relating to the life and ministry of Jesus, good news of Jesus . . . . 3. a book dealing with the life and teaching of Jesus, a gospel account.” Baur, Danker, Arnt and Gingrich, Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (3rd edition; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 403.

5 Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life (http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/2265235-the-purpose-driven-life) (Accessed October 30, 2012).  In the book Pastor Warren gives five basic purposes of life which are: “We were planned for God’s pleasure, so your first purpose is to offer real worship. We were formed for God’s family, so your second purpose is to enjoy real fellowship. We were created to become like Christ, so your third purpose is to learn real discipleship. We were shaped for serving God, so your fourth purpose is to practice real ministry. We were made for a mission, so your fifth purpose is to live out real evangelism.” (http://www.purposedrivenlife.com/about/aboutthebook/)(Accessed October 30, 2012)

6 Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1986), 535.

7 Charles Ryrie, The Ryrie Study Bible, 1950.

8 Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, 537.

9 As Peter stated in the verse we mentioned earlier, “Repent,  . . . and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Thus while I would say there is no temporal sequence the Bible may indicate a logical relationship since reception of the Holy Spirit = regeneration is conditioned on repentance.  This would be similar to saying something like when I opened the door I saw my family inside = when I believed I received the Holy Spirit.  In any case though, preconversion work by God needs to be done prior to faith or repentance for faith or repentance to occur.

10 Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, 536.

11 Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, 292.

12 It can be noted that for those who believe in eternal security there is a division concerning the basis of assurance of salvation.  In other words on what basis can a Christian be assured he or she is going to heaven. Grudem summarizes a Calvinistic position that emphasizes and defines the “perseverance of the saints”  that assurance is based on 1)  “present trust” in Christ that continues throughout life 2) evidence of the regenerating work of the Spirit such as good works, and 3) long term patterns of Christian growth.  Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 803-806.  Radamacher with a different perspective takes the position that assurance of salvation “is based solely on belief in Christ.” And while believers are commanded to do good works, eternal salvation is not dependent on them.  Earl Radamacher, “How can a Believer Have Assurance of Salvation?” in Understanding Christian Theology (eds; Charles Swindoll and Roy Zuck; Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 926.

13 John Calvin, The Epistles of Paul to the Romans and to the Thessalonians, Calvin’s Commentaries; ed. Torrance, 5.

Related Topics: Basics for Christians, Soteriology (Salvation)

Issue 013. 2013 October Bible.org Translator's Newsletter

Thank You!

This last month has resulted in 2 new translated articles being added to the site. We are particularly excited for our main salvation article “Finding God” to have been translated into another language (Shona). This brings to “4” the number of new languages that the gospel has entered through Bible.org in the past 12 months (Russian, Polish, Vietnamese, and Shona). Thank you for your hard work this month, Wilson and Mariza!

What a blessing to be able to provide these new resources to our readers around the world. Thank you all for your ongoing translation work. See the Languages and Articles Here.

Hints and Tips

Tip: have you wondered how to improve your skills as a translator?

Rose Newell’s blog article entitled “What makes a good, successful and happy translator: PART 1” has a number of helpful pointers on improving one’s skill as a translator. While the article is written from the perspective of a professional earning a living through translation, its ideas are still quite helpful for those who volunteer. The whole article is an interesting read, but two of the “How to improve” points under the Target language section were especially pertinent:

#3. Read newspapers and journals in your target language.

#4. Read texts appropriate to your specialism in your target language.

To improve in any area we need continued interaction and exposure. So if we want to improve, then let’s keep reading!

Learn More Tips from our FAQ Section

Awarding Faithfulness

This month we had the joy of giving out one award for translation efforts. This award was to a new translator (Wilson). He received an ePub version of the NET Bible Full Notes edition. We pray that this resource is a blessing to you in your personal life and ministry.

For further Award program details see our Translators Group post.

Know someone else who is bilingual?

If you know of anyone else who would have the time and skills to translate articles for Bible.org please consider recommending this ministry to them. Sometimes the most obvious gifts (like preaching or being a leader) are not the ones with the most impact or need. This is a real opportunity to meet a need and impact thousands and thousands of people with the truth of God’s Word. Click here to contact us and begin impacting thousands around the world

Need help, have questions, or prefer to meet in real time?

I am available and would love to answer any questions you might have. We do have a Frequently Asked Questions section on our Group page, but you can always send me an email! I can also be available through Skype for a voice or chat conversation. Simply let me know through email that you would like to talk and we will get it worked out.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Click here to email us

Related Topics: Administrative and Organization

Should Christians Endorse The War? (2001)

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Aren’t Christians supposed to turn the other cheek? Didn’t Jesus say to love your enemies? So how can a Christian endorse war, even if it is against terrorists?

This is a fair question. Let me make it clear that I do not endorse war indiscriminately. Many wars have been wrong. Often there are multiple factors that make it difficult to sort out the moral issues involved. But in spite of wrong wars in the past, I do think that there is a Christian case for fighting just wars. And I believe that the current war against terrorism is both just and necessary if we desire to live securely in peace.

If an intruder broke into my home and threatened to rape my wife or daughters, I would be wrong not to come to their defense with whatever level of force it takes to stop him. If he threatened to come back and do it again, I would be negligent not to take adequate measures to prevent him from doing so.

If I can justify defending my family from an evil attacker, then I can justify a police force to defend law-abiding citizens. And if the police do that on a local level, it is right for the national government to defend its citizenry from aggressors who threaten from outside.

The Bible teaches that God ordains civil governments to promote peace through upholding justice in society. Of the civil ruler, the apostle Paul says, “He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4, New International Version). Obviously, the government must use some level of force to bring law-breakers to justice (they seldom turn themselves in willingly). This can even extend to the death penalty, according to the Bible (Gen. 9:6; Rom. 13:4, “sword”). If it takes force to apprehend a violent criminal on the local level, by extension it is necessary for a government to use force to stop violent groups or nations from attacking its citizens.

During a recent press conference, a reporter asked one of the top government officials, “You say that the United States wants justice, not revenge. What is the difference?” The difference is, vengeance carries with it the idea of evening the score. It means paying back an enemy in like kind for what he did to us. They came on our soil and killed thousands of our civilians; we will go on their soil and slaughter thousands of their civilians to get even. I must admit that when I see people cheering the attacks on America, trampling on our flag, and shouting, “Death to America,” it makes me want vengeance. But vengeance is God’s prerogative only: “‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

Justice, on the other hand, means bringing to trial those who have violated the law and imposing the appropriate sentences for their crimes. If it is not possible to capture them alive, they may need to be killed by police or military action. The objective is to make society safe for law-abiding people by bringing law-breakers to account. The penalties imposed must be severe enough to deter the law-breakers from repeat offenses and tempted lawbreakers from doing so. In the case of premeditated mass murder, death is the only appropriate penalty. The executed criminals will not repeat their offense. The death penalty sends the message to others that taking a life is such a serious offense (because innocent life is so sacred) that the offender will pay the ultimate penalty.

If my five-year-old doesn’t like what I ask him to do and defiantly throws a brick through a picture window, and I let him get away with it without appropriate consequences, I’m raising a terrorist. There must be severe consequences for severely wrong behavior. If not, terrorists will rule by terror, and we all will live in fear.

So what about turning the other cheek and loving our enemies? Read the context (Matthew 5:38-47). Jesus is talking about the need to bear with personal offences without retaliation, not about civil or national defense. As Christians, we should pray for the people of Afghanistan. We should help them with relief as we are able. But we should also support our government in its attempt to bring the terrorists and those who harbor them to justice. This is God’s ordained purpose for government. He is a God of love toward those who fear Him, but of justice toward those who do evil.

Related Topics: Character of God, Cultural Issues, Terrorism

What Christmas Has To Do With Hell

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December, 1997

A florist got the messages mixed up on the orders he sent out. A woman received flowers sent by her husband who was at a business meeting in Florida. She was puzzled to read on the card, “My deepest sympathy.”

But she was not nearly as surprised as the woman whose husband had just passed away. Her card read, “Hotter here than I expected. Wish you were here, too!”

We probably joke about hell because it is so uncomfortable to face squarely. I confess that it is one of the most difficult teachings in all the Bible. I would much rather set it aside or disbelieve it, but I cannot. Since Jesus taught it so plainly, I can’t claim to follow him and at the same time reject his teaching about hell. Frankly, it is no joking matter!

Jesus taught a lot about hell. Here I can only touch on some of what he taught. He said that it is better to pluck out your eye or cut off your hand or foot, if they cause you to stumble, than to be cast into hell, which he described as a place “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:43-48). It is a place of “outer darkness” where there shall be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” He called it a place of “eternal fire” and “eternal punishment” (Matt. 25:41, 46). In his graphic parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man in hell is described as being “in torment.” He wishes that someone might “dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame” (Luke 16:23, 24).

These descriptions are enough to show that Jesus did not picture hell as a wild party, a fun place to cavort with other sinners, as many jokes commonly portray it. He warned people of its agony in the most frightening terms. If Jesus knew what he was talking about, you want to avoid hell at all possible costs!

Many people think, “Yes, there is a hell and it is a terrible place. But I don’t need to worry about going there, because I’m a basically good person. The only ones who will go to hell are the mass murderers, child molesters, and that sort.”

Think again! Jesus indicated that if a man mentally lusts after a woman, he is in danger of his whole body being thrown into hell (Matt. 5:28-30)! If you are angry with someone, you are guilty of murder in God’s sight and are “guilty enough to go into the fiery hell” (Matt. 5:22). In other words, according to Jesus, we’re all in big, big trouble! We all are guilty enough many times over to be cast into hell.

By now maybe you’re wondering, “What does any of this have to do with Christmas?” Everything! Let me explain.

When Jesus was born, the angel announced to the shepherds, “I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10, 11). Have you ever thought about what it means that Jesus is called the Savior? What is he saving people from? Answer: God’s judgment, which is hell.

Savior is a radical word. People who just need a little moral uplift don’t need a Savior. People who are pretty good folks, but just need a little guidance, don’t need a Savior. The only people who need a Savior are those in desperate straits. If you are lost at sea in a small boat in a violent storm, you don’t need a little guidance. You need the Coast Guard to save you! You will perish if someone does not intervene. And if they do save you, you are overwhelmed with great joy!

In light of that, think about how Jesus described his mission: “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). If you’re lost in sin, under God’s just condemnation because you have broken his holy laws, then the message of Christmas is “good news of a great joy”: The Savior has come! If you receive him, you are saved from God’s judgment. That’s the only way to have a truly merry Christmas.

Related Topics: Character of God, Christmas, Christology, Hell, Soteriology (Salvation)

Christ’s Resurrection Is The Foundation Of Christianity

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It’s fascinating when engineers strategically place explosives and then set them off so that an old skyscraper collapses into a heap of rubble. With the Christian faith, you only have to set the explosives at one point: Blow up the resurrection of Jesus and the whole thing comes tumbling down.

That’s what the apostle Paul said. If you can blow up this one thing, you totally destroy Christianity. That foundation is the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Paul said, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, and your faith also is vain…. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:14, 17).

What evidence is there for the resurrection of Jesus? Books have been written on this, so I can only be sketchy. First, there was the fact of the empty tomb. If Jesus’ tomb had not been empty, when the disciples began proclaiming his resurrection from the dead, their enemies would have simply marched to the tomb, produced the body, and the disciples would have been laughed out of town.

There are several ways to account for the empty tomb. Jesus’ enemies could have stolen the body. But they had no motive to do so. It was to their advantage to leave the body where it was, which is why they had Pilate post the Roman guard and seal the tomb.

Another possibility is that the Roman guards stole the body. But again, they had no motive to do so. They weren’t concerned about this Jewish religious trial. The Jewish leaders, who were scrambling for ways to explain away the resurrection, didn’t accuse the soldiers of taking the body or allowing it to be stolen.

A third possibility is that the disciples stole the body. The Jewish leaders actually promoted this theory by bribing the Roman guards (Matt. 28:11-15). But there are many reasons the disciples could not have moved Jesus’ body. The tomb was secured by the Roman guard. The stone was large and heavy and could not have been moved without cooperation from the guards. The guards would not have risked their lives to allow the body to be stolen, even for a bribe. If the disciples had bribed the guards and stolen the body, they would not later have suffered beatings, imprisonment and even death to preach Jesus’ resurrection.

A second major evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is his many post-resurrection appearances to the disciples. These happened in varied circumstances to many different people. J. N. D. Anderson, formerly Professor of Oriental Laws and Director of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies at the University of London, wrote, “The most drastic way of dismissing the evidence would be to say that these stories were mere fabrications, that they were pure lies. But, so far as I know, not a single critic today would take such an attitude. In fact, it would really be an impossible position” (Christianity Today [3/29/68], p. 5). He goes on to give several solid reasons for his assertions.

A third evidence is the changed lives of the many different witnesses. None of them were expecting a resurrection, in spite of Jesus’ repeated predictions of such. They were confused, frightened, and depressed after the crucifixion. At the first reports of the resurrection from the women who saw Jesus, the disciples were skeptical. But they all became convinced witnesses to the point that they boldly proclaimed Christ to the very audience that had crucified him. Many endured persecution and martyrdom. What could account for such dramatic change, if not the fact that they had seen the risen Jesus Christ?

A fourth evidence (and my list is far from exhaustive) is the unique person of Jesus Christ. Study the Gospel accounts of who Jesus was, what he taught, the miracles he performed, and the prophecies he fulfilled. As C. S. Lewis observed in Mere Christianity, no mere man, let alone a great religious teacher, could have said and done the things that Jesus did. The only options, said Lewis, are that Jesus is a liar, a lunatic, or Lord of all. Although formerly an atheist, Lewis became convinced of the third option.

If you’ve never done so, Easter would be a good time to go to a church that proclaims Christ’s resurrection. Read the Gospels. Carefully weigh the evidence. Your conclusion may, as it did with the apostles and as it has done with many millions since, dramatically change your life.

Related Topics: Devotionals, Easter, Resurrection

Companions By Covenant

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February, 1998

When I was in seminary, I knew a man who married a woman he did not know. He had met her once and did not find anything objectionable. Since his parents and her parents had arranged the marriage, he agreed to it. In India, where this couple was from, that’s the way it’s often done. Before you knock their system, think about the results of ours! A quarter of a century later, they’re still happily married, by the way.

In our system, most marriages, even Christian ones, are built on a foundation of romantic love and strong sexual attraction (and often involvement). All too often, after a few months or years with all the pressures of daily life, the romance has long gone, sex is infrequent and not too exciting, and other problems have escalated. About then someone new comes along who seems romantically interesting and sexy. So the marriage dissolves and the partners try again with someone else. The missing or weak element in this system is lifelong covenant commitment.

The Bible brings together two crucial ingredients for satisfying marriage: covenant and companionship (see Prov. 2:17; Mal. 2:14). These elements are implicit in the original marriage in the Garden of Eden, where it is said that the wife was a helper suitable for (or, corresponding to) the man and that the man would cleave to his wife and that the two would become one flesh. They were companions joined together by lifelong covenant. The covenant is the foundation on which the companionship develops, the fence by which it is protected.

In the New Testament, Paul explains that marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. God’s gracious covenant is the basis for our relationship with Him. It assures us that He will not cast us off if we fall short or displease Him. The covenant is what holds the relationship together even when feelings may not be strong.

I’m not advocating covenant commitment without romance in marriage. That would be a drab situation. I am arguing that the covenant commitment is the basis for working on romance and companionship in marriage. The covenant is the glue that holds it together while the feelings fluctuate, as inevitably they will. The biblical command is not, “Men, marry your lovers,” but rather, “Husbands, love the woman you married.” The love is worked out on the foundation of the covenant.

This means that if a married couple says, “We don’t love each other any more,” the biblical response is, “Start working on it.” You are joined together by covenant before God for life. In that context, you can work at loving your covenant companion. Like a fire on a cold winter night, love must be tended and fed to keep burning.

A few years ago, Robertson McQuilkin resigned as President of Columbia Bible College and Seminary after 22 years there. His reason? To care for his wife, Muriel, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. He could have put her in an institution, and many of his trusted, godly friends urged him to do this. But when it came time to make the decision, he was firm in his resolve to stand by his wife, even though it meant giving up his career and ministry. “She is such a delight to me. I don’t have to care for her, I get to,” he said. He explained further, “It was a matter of integrity. Had I not promised, 42 years before, ‘in sickness and in health … till death do us part’? This was no grim duty to which I stoically resigned, however. It was only fair. She had, after all, cared for me for almost four decades with marvelous devotion; now it was my turn. And such a partner she was! If I took care of her for 40 years, I would never be out of her debt.”

Dr. McQuilkin was startled by the response to his announcement to resign. Husbands and wives renewed their marriage vows, pastors told the story to their congregations. It was a mystery to him until an oncologist friend, who lives constantly with dying people, explained, “Almost all women stand by their men; very few men stand by their women” (Christianity Today, October 8, 1990, pp. 39, 40).

In February we observe Valentine’s Day, which is all about romance. Maybe we need to think instead about love--biblical love, covenant love. After all, covenant love is God’s love. In our marriages, it must be the cake. Romance is the icing.

Related Topics: Christian Home, Covenant, Cultural Issues, Devotionals, Love, Marriage

Some Thoughts On Consensus Leadership And Decision-Making

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Description:

Consensus leadership refers to the process in a local church by which the elders make decisions by seeking the mind of the Lord, not by “voting their own mind.” The mind of the Lord will be revealed by an uncoerced unanimity among the elders, reached after thorough, biblically-based discussion and prayer. In some decisions, individual elders may not be in full agreement, but they may not have such strong disagreement as to prevent the group from taking action. But if an elder disagrees strongly or has a strong hesitation, either on biblical grounds or based on an inner sense that a decision is not from the Lord, then the rest of the elders should recognize his disagreement or hesitation as a check from the Lord and should withhold action. Then they must work through the matter with further discussion, prayer, and seeking of God’s will through His Word.

The key is corporate sensitivity to the Lord as He reveals His will to fellow elders. The Lord promises, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you. Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding, whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check, otherwise they will not come near to you.” (Ps. 32:8-9.)

Our human tendency is to be too quick to act and not to labor in prayer and waiting upon the Lord. The vote system enables and encourages a body of leaders to bypass the arduous process of prayer and submission to the Lord and to one another. While the consensus system is much more cumbersome and time consuming, it provides the Lord the check that He wants on our human wisdom and self-will. It forces self-willed brothers to face their stubbornness and to submit to others. It requires difficult matters to be submitted to the corporate wisdom of all of the elders. If the 12 spies had operated on this basis, perhaps they would have reconsidered the viewpoint of Joshua and Caleb. The minority had God’s viewpoint; the majority had a wrong perspective. As far as I know, this is the only biblical example of decision-making by vote, and it did not result in the group knowing the mind of the Lord.

A split within the leadership will be magnified throughout the ranks of the church, as members choose sides. However, a unanimous decision by a group of spiritually mature men, reached after open discussion based on God’s Word and prayer, while not infallible, will carry a lot of weight and will not be challenged lightly. It will promote unity in the church (see 1 Cor. 1:10; Eph. 4:3; Phil. 1:27; 2:2; 4:2-3).

Assumptions:

  1. Christ is the Head of His church and He administers His church through a plurality of spiritually mature men who depend upon the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.
  2. The elders are spiritually mature, sensitive men who approximate the qualifications specified in 1 Timothy 3 & Titus 1. Especially, a man must not be self-willed (Titus 1:7), or he could thwart the entire process by always insisting on his own way. This is a potential weakness of the consensus system.
  3. God has one will for His church. The Holy Spirit who indwells each elder in the one body will not lead His church in two directions at the same time (see possible exceptions below).
  4. We are interdependent, not independent, in the body of Christ. Together we have God’s wisdom, but we must learn to submit to one another and to learn from one another. (See Acts 15:1-29 for the principle in action in the early church.)

Possible Biblical Exceptions:

Concerning the principle that God has one will for a local church and that He will not lead His church in two directions at the same time: Does the split between Barnabas and Paul (Acts 15:36-41) invalidate this principle? Paul and Barnabas did not seem to submit to one another and reach a point of consensus before taking action. Rather, Paul chose Silas and went his way, while Barnabas chose Mark and went his way. Although the text is silent on the matter, neither man seems to have submitted the situation to the elders in Antioch for their decision.

It seems to me that they should have done so. Perhaps the elders would have agreed that Paul and Barnabas should part ways amicably, being called to different types of ministry at this point. The church seems to have sided with Paul, since he and Silas were “committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord” before they departed (Acts 15:40), but there is no such word concerning Barnabas and Mark, who pretty much pass off the biblical record at this point. On the other hand, years later Paul affirmed the ministry both of Barnabas and of Mark (1 Cor. 9:6; Col. 4:10; 2 Tim. 4:11), which may show that he admitted the wisdom of Barnabas’ approach in being patient with Mark after his failure on the first journey. In my opinion, the sharpness of the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas could have been softened if they had both submitted their quarrel to the elders, who had then sought the mind of the Lord.

Although there is disagreement among commentators on the following point, I believe that Acts 21 is another negative example where Paul should have submitted himself to what the Lord was revealing to others in the church, but he insisted on his own view. Acts 21:4 indicates that the believers kept telling Paul “through the Spirit” not to set foot in Jerusalem. This corporate testimony was further reinforced by the prophecy of the godly Agabus, Luke, and the church at Caesarea (probably including Philip’s prophetess daughters, v. 9), but Paul resisted their counsel (vv. 8-14). While God sovereignly superintended the situation, in that He used Paul’s imprisonment finally to get him to Rome, thus working things together for good, who can say what fruitful ministry Paul could have had if he had not been imprisoned in Caesarea for those two years? I argue that he should have submitted to the unanimous testimony of the brothers (who, the text specifically states, were speaking through the Spirit).

Application in Difficult Situations:

What do we do, practically speaking, if we reach an impasse, where one elder (or a minority of elders) feels very strongly in one direction, but the rest of the elders (the majority) disagree, and a decision must be made? Is there ever a time when we can move ahead in spite of the objections of one man (or a minority), or does any single dissenter (or minority) have complete veto power (a major criticism of consensus decision-making)?

Frankly, I’m not sure the Scriptures give us absolute guidelines for such situations. Normally, consensus can be reached by waiting on the Lord and discussing matters openly, from a biblical perspective. So we’re talking here about the rare exception. What do we do?

Any time we override a godly man’s strong, biblically-based (in his mind), prayerfully determined opinion, we really have to seek the Lord and examine our hearts with extra care. Prayer and fasting would not be inappropriate at such times. The fact that such a one disagrees ought to be a red flag that tells us that we are navigating dangerous waters. Caution is in order.

It may be that God is calling the man to a different work (as with Paul and Barnabas), so that we must agree to disagree. It may be that he is right, and time will prove him right; but we have to learn the hard way, and he has to patiently go along with us until such time as his viewpoint is vindicated. During such time, he must be careful not to rally church support for his point of view, and then to say, “I told you so,” when his view is proved correct. Of course, his view may be proved wrong, in which case he must humbly acknowledge his error, and the others must be careful not to put him down. No system of decision-making is foolproof because we all are fallen men who are in process. We must be gracious and forgiving to one another as we work together. In no case should we, as elders, force one of our members to go along publicly with an action that violates his conscience before the Lord.

Of course, if more than one dissenter is against the majority view, it raises the level of caution and the likelihood that we do not have the Lord’s mind on a matter (unless men are playing politics by building factions). In such cases, I would almost always rather default to not proceeding with a course of action than to risk erring by overriding the minority opinion. The only case where I would feel comfortable overriding the minority would be if there were some convincing evidence that they were deceived, biased, acting against Scripture, or self-willed. In such cases, there may be a need for disciplining the elder(s) in question and removing him (them) from office.

This system of corporate decision-making rests heavily on the assumption that each elder is a spiritually mature man of God, who knows the Word of God. A self-willed man like Diotrephes (3 John 9-10) will create major problems. If there is such a man among the elders (even if it is one of the pastoral staff), the other men must have the spiritual courage to confront him (Gal. 6:1) and, if necessary, remove him from office. Church politics, back-room maneuvering, gossip, and power plays are all built on the flesh. Godly consensus leadership takes place when men submit their wills to Christ as Head of His church, when they rely on the Holy Spirit through the Word, and when they are “devoted to one another in brotherly love” and seek to “give preference to one another in honor” (Rom. 12:10). “Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation” (Rom. 12:16). As we follow these biblical principles, Christ will be glorified in our midst as the rightful Lord of His church.

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church), Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Leadership, Pastors

A Review of "Debating Calvinism" (Multnomah Publishers, 2004), by Dave Hunt & James White

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Someone gave me a coffee mug for Christmas that has a picture of John Calvin and a quote from the great Reformer: “A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God’s truth is attacked and yet would remain silent.”

Please allow me to bark! James White does an admirable job of defending the truth in his part of Debating Calvinism, but Dave Hunt throws out so many errors in his sections that White can only pick the most flagrant ones to respond to. The sad thing is that those who are not well-read on Calvin will not spot Hunt’s many blatant doctrinal errors and his vicious misrepresentations of Calvin’s character and writings. Thus they may be tainted and miss the treasures that await the believer in the writings of Calvin and other Reformed writers (like the Puritans). I have read thousands of pages of Calvin’s writings, plus numerous biographies and works about Calvinism. On that basis and because of my personal correspondence with Hunt, I can categorically state that he is deliberately slandering the man and his teaching. I have told Hunt this directly and asked him to examine the facts, but he refuses to do so.

Throughout the book, White offers sound biblical exegesis of key passages, while Hunt responds with dozens of irrelevant verses, revealing that he does not understand the position he is attacking. He frequently stands verses on their heads, making them say the opposite of what they really say (John 6:44, for example). When he can’t do that, because it is so obvious what the verse says (as with Acts 13:48), Hunt says that it can’t mean the obvious because it would go against all the verses on the Bible about free will! But he never explains why Luke wrote it that way. He repeatedly accuses Calvinists of things that Calvinists themselves do not believe. For example, in spite of White’s clear correction, Hunt says that Calvinists deny that people have a will! Many more examples could easily be cited to show that Hunt simply misunderstands what Calvinism teaches.

But there are substantive differences between Hunt’s view of God and the biblical (Calvinistic) view. Hunt effectively robs God of His sovereignty (although he would deny this). He turns divine election into human election by insisting that it means that God foresaw who would believe and chose them. This means, of course, that God devised His eternal plan of salvation based upon what man would do, not upon His purpose and choice, as Scripture so plainly affirms (Rom. 9:11-18). Hunt dismisses White’s careful explanation of the Greek word for “foreknowledge,” and then accuses Calvinists of denying God’s omniscience! Amazing! Hunt’s view also undermines God’s grace, because it makes grace depend on something God foresaw that we would do, not on His unconditional favor (Rom. 11:6). Hunt asserts that all men can believe apart from God granting faith as a gift.

Hunt has the audacity to state, “It is not loving—period—for God to damn for eternity anyone He could save” (p. 260, italics his). In other words, if God has the ability to save a sinner, but He doesn’t do it, He is unloving. The only conclusion, then, is that God is impotent to save anyone without that person’s cooperation, which is what Hunt actually teaches! Strangely, Hunt is blind to the fact that his charge against God is precisely the one that Paul anticipates and answers when he presents the doctrine of God’s sovereign election, namely, “If God loved Jacob and hated Esau apart from anything that they did, then God is not fair” (Rom. 9:14). Hunt’s attempted dodge, that Romans 9 is about nations, not individuals, doesn’t solve his problem. Even if we grant the point (which is untrue), okay, so God granted the way of salvation to the Jews and shut out the Edomites. How does this make things fair for the Edomites (not to mention the Chinese, Africans, Indians, Australians, etc., etc.)?

Hunt repeatedly accuses Calvinists of making God the author of evil because we affirm that He ordains everything according to His sovereign purpose (Eph. 1:11). Hunt never explains an alternative, except that God permits (not ordains) evil. Calvin cited Augustine, who effectively answered this: “[Y]et he does not unwillingly permit it, but willingly; nor would he, being good, allow evil to be done, unless being also almighty he could make good even out of evil” (Institutes, I:XVIII:3). If God permitted evil unwillingly, you have moved into dualism (with an evil power at least equal to God), which is Zoroastrian, not Christian. But Hunt doesn’t bother explaining his view.

Hunt’s main problem is that he refuses to submit to God’s revelation of truth. He wants it all to be logical. But there are other difficult doctrines in the Bible that do not fit human logic, for example, the Trinity, and the two natures of Christ in one person. We can’t figure them out; we must submit to what God has declared, maintaining the fine balance of Scripture. The same is true of His sovereignty and man’s responsibility. They are both true. But God’s sovereignty prevails (Phil. 2:12-13). The crucial question is, who gets the glory in our salvation? Does God alone get the glory because salvation is all from Him, or does He share it with us because we decided on our own, apart from God, to believe in Christ? White’s view glorifies God. Hunt’s view shares God’s glory with the sinful, rebellious creature. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in theology to figure out which view is right!

Related Topics: Book Review, Election, Predestination

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