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Why Good People Don’t Go To Heaven

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A question I frequently ask people is, “If you were to die and stand before God and He said, ‘Why should I let you into heaven?’ what would you say?” Most people recognize that it’s a crucial question!

The answer I most frequently hear goes like this: “I’ve tried to do the best I could. I’ve never hurt anyone intentionally. I’ve been a pretty good person.” In other words, basically decent people will get into heaven. Only really bad people—thieves, prostitutes, and murderers—will go to hell.

There’s a “slight” problem with this common notion: It is totally opposed to what Jesus taught! In Matthew 9:12-13 Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick…For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Jesus spoke these words to the religious crowd—to the “good” people of His day. These folks were at “church” every time the door opened. You could set your watch by their prayer times. They tithed not only their money, but even their table spices. We’re talking outwardly good people!

What sparked the confrontation between them and Jesus was that Jesus had attended a dinner party thrown by a crook and attended by the crook’s unsavory friends. These people never darkened the door of a church. They didn’t even pretend to be good people. To make matters even worse, Jesus had just invited the crook to be one of His disciples, and the guy had accepted the offer! The religious folks thought that it was wrong for Jesus to offer God’s forgiveness to such riffraff. Let them clean up their act first!

When Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick,” He was not implying that the religious crowd were acceptable before God and didn’t need the forgiveness of sins He came to provide. Rather, He was getting at the point that there’s one thing worse than being sick, namely, being sick and thinking you’re well! Then you won’t go to the doctor for the cure. At least the crooks knew they were spiritually terminal. By confessing their sinfulness and by accepting God’s cure (His undeserved mercy through Jesus), they were made well. But those who thought they were spiritually well were terminal without knowing it.

Some years ago in a church I England, the pastor noticed that a former burglar was kneeling at the communion rail beside a judge of the Supreme Court of England, the very judge who, years before, had sentenced the burglar to seven years in prison. After his release the burglar had been converted to Christ and had become a Christian worker.

After the service, as the judge and the pastor walked home together, the judge asked, “Did you see who was kneeling beside me at the communion rail?” “Yes,” replied the pastor, “but I didn’t know that you noticed.” The two men walked on in silence for a few moments, and then the judge said, “What a miracle of grace!” The pastor nodded in agreement, “Yes, what a marvelous miracle of grace!”

Then the judge said, “But to whom do you refer?” The pastor replied, “Why to the conversion of that convict.” The judge said, “But I was not referring to him. I was thinking of myself.” “What do you mean?” the pastor asked.

The judge replied, “That burglar knew how much he needed Christ to save him from his sins. But look at me. I was taught from childhood to live as a gentleman, to keep my word, to say my prayers, to go to church. I went through Oxford, took y degrees, was called to the bar and eventually became a judge. Pastor, nothing but the grace of God could have caused me to admit that I was sinner on a level with that burglar. It took much more grace to forgive me for all my pride and self-righteousness, to get me to admit that I was not better in the eyes of God than that convict whom I had sent to prison.”

Jesus taught that good people don’t go to heaven because their pride keeps them from admitting their need for a Savior. The only ones who go to heaven are those who see their sinfulness before a holy God and cry out to Him for mercy. What will you say when you stand before God? Are you hoping to get into heaven by your goodness? Jesus didn’t call “the righteous”! Is your hope in God’s grace toward sinners through Jesus Christ? You’re in!

You may want to express your trust in Christ in prayer to God. A suggested prayer is, “Heavenly Father, I acknowledge my sin, rebellion, and self-centeredness to you. I rightly deserve your holy judgment. But I put my trust in your Son, Jesus, and His death on the cross, as the just payment for my sings. Thank you for giving me eternal life according to your promise.”

If you have just put your trust in Jesus Christ, you have been born into God’s family. As a spiritual baby, you need to grow by feeding on God’s Word (1 Peter 2:2). Purchase a good modern translation Bible and begin prayerfully reading it. I suggest you start in the New Testament, such as the Gospel of John or Paul’s letters to the Ephesians. As you read, ask two questions: “What are You, Lord?” “What do You want me to do?”

Also, you need to join a church where the Bible is taught and where God is truly worshiped. God bless you as you begin your new life with Him!

Related Topics: Character of God, Heaven, Soteriology (Salvation)

The Gospel Boomerang

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Preaching, I have discovered, is a hazardous occupation.

I first learned this a short time after starting in the pastorate, when I made the mistake of preaching a series on the Christian and his money.

I did not consider the subject personally threatening. My finances were above reproach. I sought to live a simple life style. I was not in debt. I was tithing my income to the Lord’s work. I was honest on my income tax.

I also was not blind. I had seen the nice cars in the church parking lot and the VCR’s and computers in people’s homes. “These people need to learn what God has to say about this important subject,” I thought. “They’re victims of living in materialistic America.”

I chose my texts as carefully as a hunter selecting his best arrows.

What I found was that God’s word works like a boomerang as well as like an arrow. I shot it at my congregation, and it came back and hit me. Over the weeks when I was preaching on money, the Lord nailed me on a number of areas.

For example, I came to realize that my “10-percent tithe mentality” was out of line. God owns it all; I am just the manager. Giving 10 percent does not get me off the hook so that I can squander the other 90 percent on myself. I had to start asking, “Lord, how much do you want me to give?” Since then, by faith, I have stretched to increase my giving. It turned out to be a very expensive sermon series.

Applying It to Myself

Experiences like this began to teach me that before I preach God’s truth to other, I must apply it to myself. If I don’t, God will.

The main benefit that results can be summed up in one word: integrity. This integrity runs in three directions.

1. Integrity toward myself. John Calvin said, “It would be better for the preacher to break his neck going into the pulpit than for him not to be the first to follow God.” Applying the truth to myself first enables me to say without pride, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” This enables me to preach God’s word with greater conviction, because I know experientially that it works.

If I have not “been there,” I have got to be careful not to imply in my sermon that I have. If I am struggling, I must admit it. I want people to know that I’m walking with God, but I don’t want them to think that means that I walk on water.

Feeling Their Struggles

2. Integrity toward my hearers. If God’s truth has hit me first, I can relate to where people are at in their struggles. This causes them to identify more with what I say, because they can sense that I understand what they are going through.

This perspective keeps me from raining down denunciations from the pulpit. While sometimes it must be done (a al the Old Testament prophets), too much scolding can be counterproductive. People come to church with their spiritual umbrellas ready, so that the preacher’s imprecations run off onto their neighbors. Scolding seldom motivates people to change.

Integrity toward my hearers gives me greater compassion and patience. I know how hard it is to apply God’s truth to myself—and I come from a Christian home where my parents loved me and taught me God’s ways. Those who have not enjoyed such blessing must struggle even more than I do.

Avoiding Formulas

3. Integrity toward God. If I have felt God’s truth hit me before I preach it to others, I know that I am not just sermonizing. I have met with God and have heard from him. I know that I have got his word for his people. With a clear conscience before God, I can preach with greater power and less fear.

Quite often after I have preached, someone will ask me, “Did anyone tell you what I’ve been going through lately?” They will proceed to tell me how my message dealt with specific things in their lives, as though I had been following them around that week. It is a great joy to reassure them, “I honestly had no idea what you were going through when I prepared this message. But it’s obvious that the Holy Spirit knew, and he prepared this message for you.”

Every preacher faces the danger of cranking out messages by formula. After you do it a few hundred times, you get the system down pretty well: “Attention-grabbing introduction; three main points; a dramatic story for the conclusion.” But maintaining integrity before God by applying his truth to myself first keeps me from formula preaching.

Before Hugh Latimer, the English martyr, preached before the high and might king, Henry VIII, who is able, if he think fit, to take thy life away. Be careful what thou sayest. But Latimer, Latimer, remember thou art also about to speak before the king of kings and Lord of lords. Take heed thou dost not displease him.”

That is the hazard of preaching—that we speak before the one to whom all things are open and laid bare (Heb. 4:13).

Related Topics: Christian Life, Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Pastors, Spiritual Life, Teaching the Bible

Grateful Or Grumbling?

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October, 1997

Helen Keller, born blind and deaf, wrote, “I have always thought it would be a blessing if each person could be blind and deaf for a few days during his early adult life. Darkness would make him appreciate sight; silence would teach him the joys of sound.”

Her words lead me to ask, Do we truly appreciate each day as God’s gracious gift to us? Are we filled with gratitude for the many blessings He gives us? It’s so easy to slip into a grumbling, negative attitude, frustrated by the problems and irritations we face, not seeing even these things as sent from the hand of a loving God. As His redeemed people, our lives should daily overflow with gratitude for His gracious salvation, even in the midst of trials (see Col. 1:10-12; 2:7).

I just finished reading a wonderful section in Calvin’s Institutes in which he argues that God’s providence rules over every aspect of His creation. Even inanimate powers, such as sun, moon, and stars, wind and rain, obey His every command. As he puts it, “It is certain that not one drop of rain falls without God’s sure command” (1.16.5). He reminds us that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without the Father’s will. How much more, then, does He care for us!

I just read this yesterday. This morning during my quiet time, a small gray junco flew into the window outside where I was sitting and fell to the ground. It stayed there for a few minutes, so I went outside and picked it up. It seemed to be alive, but stunned by the impact. It sat on my finger for a few minutes, blinking as if it was trying to come back to full consciousness. I tried to put it on the limb of a tree so the cats would not get it, but it took off over my shoulder. I thought it had flown off and I was about to go back in the house when I realized that it was sitting on my shoulder. Finally, after a few more minutes, it flew off into a tree, seemingly okay. Having just read Calvin on God’s providence over such trivial happenings, I rejoiced in the loving care of God for all His creatures, especially for my family and me.

After citing many biblical references that show God’s fatherly care for His people, Calvin concludes, “Indeed, the principal purpose of Biblical history is to teach that the Lord watches over the ways of the saints with such great diligence that they do not even stumble over a stone [Ps. 91:12]” (1.17.6). In the next section, he applies this to the theme of gratitude: “Gratitude of mind for the favorable outcome of things, patience in adversity, and also incredible freedom from worry about the future all necessarily follow upon this knowledge [of God’s providential care].” He goes on to show how God’s servants should relate every incident in life, even everyday common blessings, to His beneficent care. He concludes the section, “Admonished by so many evidences, [the Christian] will not continue to be ungrateful” (1.17.8). The beauty of Calvin’s teaching here is how he relates all of life, even the so-called trivial and commonplace happenings, to the providential care of the loving Sovereign of the universe. As he states, “If you pay attention, you will easily perceive that ignorance of providence is the ultimate of all miseries; the highest blessedness lies in the knowledge of it” (1.17.11).

In a “Peanuts” cartoon, Lucy and Linus are looking out the window at a steady downpour of rain. “Boy,” said Lucy, “look at it rain. What if it floods the whole world?”

“It will never do that,” Linus replies confidently. “In the ninth chapter of Genesis, God promised Noah that it would never happen again, and the sign of the promise is the rainbow ”

“You’ve taken a great load off my mind,” says Lucy with a relieved smile.

“Sound theology,” states Linus, “has a way of doing that!”

Precisely! Sound theology should make us grateful people, not just once a year at Thanksgiving time, but every day, in every incident, no matter how trivial. And our grateful lives should radiate the loving care of God to a world filled with gloom. Are you growing in gratefulness, or groveling in grumbling? Maybe you’d better re-focus on your theology!

Related Topics: Character of God, Christian Life, Devotionals, Spiritual Life, Thanksgiving

Happy Holidays And Sound Doctrine

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Nov./Dec., 1996

I sat staring at my computer screen for over an hour, trying to think of some warm, fuzzy thoughts on the holidays for this issue of our church newsletter. I’m sorry to disappoint some of you, but I’m just not a warm, fuzzy holiday sort of person. I truly hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year, but I often feel that articles on those themes tend to evoke wide yawns. If that’s not true for you, I’m sure you can find lots of warm, fuzzy articles in other publications you receive.

It’s not warm and fuzzy, but an issue that continues to be on my heart (I wrote about it in a newsletter article earlier this year) is the current push toward Christian unity. I received something today that informed me that it is indefensible if our church does not cooperate with other churches and ministries. If the proper biblical and theological parameters are added to that statement, I would agree. But it’s the blanket statements to the effect that we must drop all denominational and doctrinal differences and work together that concern me.

Another example: We received an invitation for our church to attend a prayer seminar in town, sponsored by many of the local churches. I feel that by not participating, I’ll be labeled as separatistic and even against prayer! But the seminar includes instruction in the latest fad, “spiritual mapping.” This involves identifying and praying against the territorial demons who have spiritual jurisdiction over our city. It’s a highly subjective practice with scant biblical support. There’s not a verse or an example of Paul doing this in his missionary endeavors. And yet we’re being told we must learn this latest technique if we want to evangelize our city! How can I be a faithful shepherd and support such spiritually weird stuff (Titus 1:9)?

Another example comes from a message given by Max Lucado to the 40,000 pastors at the Promise Keepers pastor’s conference in Atlanta earlier this year. Clergy from evangelical churches, the liberal National and World Councils of Churches, Roman Catholic churches, and even some from Mormon churches were there. Many Flagstaff pastors attended.

Lucado compared the Christian church to a ship and rebuked those who refused to acknowledge the presence of another group on the ship. He stated that the sin of disunity is at the root of our prayers not being answered and is a cause of people going to hell. He asked, “Would it not be wonderful not to be known as either Protestant or Catholic?” He then pled that every pastor who had ever spoken against another group or denomination find a member of that group and apologize. If Martin Luther and John Calvin had been there, they would have had to apologize to the Pope!

I’m sure that there has been much sinful sectarianism in the past on the part of pastors and denominational leaders. But the important question is, What does Scripture say about unity among churches? What about the importance of sound doctrine (read 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus in this light)? The current push toward unity and prayer de-emphasizes doctrine as being unimportant at best and divisive at worst. But in John 17, where Jesus prays for the unity of the church, He also prays, “Sanctify them in the truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17). Love without doctrinal truth is not biblical love.

We should be as loving and inclusive as we can be without compromising sound doctrine. But doctrine is not an impractical subject for theologians to argue about. It is the meat of the Word that nourishes healthy Christian living. I want us to be on guard against the “drop all doctrinal differences and just love one another” wave that is currently sweeping the American church. Unity is important, but not at the cost of biblical truth. Biblical love goes hand in hand with sound doctrine. So as you chew on your Thanksgiving and Christmas turkey, chew on these thoughts as well. They’re not warm and fuzzy, but I think they’re spiritually nourishing!

Related Topics: Christmas, Devotionals, False Teachers, New Year's, Thanksgiving

What Theology is This? Dave Hunt’s Misrepresentation of God and Calvinism

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As I read Dave Hunt’s latest book, What Love is This? subtitled, “Calvinism’s Misrepresentation of God,” I felt both profound sadness and righteous anger. I was sad because many unsuspecting and uneducated Christians will believe that Hunt is accurate and thereby miss out on one of the richest spiritual gold mines available, namely, the life and writings of John Calvin and his heirs in the faith. I was angry because Hunt deliberately misrepresents and slanders both Calvin and Calvinism, and in the process grossly misrepresents God Himself. I know that his misrepresentation is deliberate because many Calvinists, including myself, wrote repeatedly to Hunt as the book was being written, pointing out his errors and asking him to stop misrepresenting what we believe. But sadly, he stubbornly ignored our corrections and went full steam ahead.

The resulting book is a first magnitude theological and spiritual disaster. If you rely on the supermarket tabloids as your reliable source of news, you’ll probably find Hunt satisfying for your theology. It will give you the same sort of sensational slander as the tabloids, only it is presented as if it were biblically and historically based. But if you want to grow in your knowledge of the living God, I advise you to leave this tabloid theology on the shelf.

I have had to deal with the book because a former elder is giving it to some of my elders and others, telling them that it is a balanced critique of Reformed theology. On the back cover of the book are glowing endorsements from Chuck Smith, Elmer Towns, Tim LaHaye, and others. LaHaye even states, “Calvinism … comes perilously close to blasphemy” (ellipsis in the quote). Several families have left my church over this issue, because I teach what Scripture plainly affirms, that God sovereignly chooses to save some, but not all. Our salvation rests on the foundation of God’s sovereign choice of us. His choice of us is the causative reason that we choose to believe. Thus no one can boast in his salvation, but only in the Lord (1 Cor. 1:26-31; Gal. 1:15; Eph. 1:3-12).

Hunt’s main gripe with Calvinism is its view that God is not totally loving toward every person. He argues that if God could save everyone, but chose only to save some, He is immoral and unjust, just as someone who could save a drowning man, but chose not to, would be immoral (pp. 111-112, 114-115). Hunt’s view is that God wishes for everyone to be saved and He has made salvation available to all. Now it’s up to the individual to respond and every person is capable, in and of himself, to respond. If people are not able to respond to the gospel by their own free will, then God’s offer of salvation would not be genuine, but a mockery. It would be as if God were dangling a rope above the grasp of a man trapped in a deep well, saying, “Grab the rope.” These are Hunt’s arguments.

These arguments are quite in line with human logic, but the crucial question is, are they in line with biblical revelation? Hunt wrongly assumes that the free offer of the gospel to all requires that those to whom it is offered are able to respond. But there are many Scriptures that directly state the inability of the sinner to respond to spiritual truth (John 6:44, 65; 8:43; Rom. 3:10-18; 8:6-8; 1 Cor. 2:14; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:1-3; etc.). Hunt dismisses or waters down all of these texts, saying that they could not mean what Calvinists say they mean, because if they did mean that, sinners could not respond to the gospel and thus the offer of the gospel would not be valid. In other words, he reasons in a circle, assuming what he later “proves.” But he does not accept the plain teaching of God’s Word on the human inability to seek after God due to the fall. In so doing, Hunt pulls God in His absolute holiness down, making Him accessible to fallen man. And he lifts up sinful, proud man by telling him that he is able to choose God at any time he pleases.

Rejecting depravity (inability), he proceeds to reject all five so-called points of Calvinism. Hunt asserts that God could not possibly have sovereignly elected some to salvation, because then He would be unloving and unjust. Never mind that in one of God’s earliest revelations of Himself, He plainly states, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion” (Exod. 33:19). That statement loses all meaning if God is gracious and compassionate to every single person equally. From the outset, God establishes His right as the holy God to choose some and reject others, not based on human merit (there is none), but based on His sovereign will. But Hunt denies God this prerogative, in spite of abundant scriptural revelation.

In the process of setting forth and defending his humanistic (and unbiblical) view of God, Hunt rips Calvin and Calvinism, or at least he thinks that’s what he’s doing. Actually, Hunt does not understand even some of the basic teachings of Calvinism, although he thinks he does. Thus from the very start, and on virtually every page, Hunt misrepresents what Calvinists believe. Even though he does not agree with what they truly believe, for the most part he is setting up and attacking a caricature that at times has some resemblance to the real thing, but more often is so far removed that biblically informed Calvinists would attack it too. They just would not label it as Calvinism, as Hunt erroneously does. Here are a few (of many) examples:

*Hunt says that Calvinism limits God’s saving grace to a select few, leaving the majority of mankind without hope or possibility of salvation (p. 78). The offer of salvation is extended only to the elect (p. 103). The truth is, Calvinists believe that God’s saving grace is freely offered to the whole world, and that there will be an innumerable company in heaven from every tribe on earth, purchased by Jesus’ blood (Rev. 5:9-12).

*Hunt says that Calvinism puts the blame for sin and the damnation of sinners totally upon God who predestined everything to turn out that way (p. 84). God causes all men to sin (p. 42). The truth is, Calvinists believe that while all things are under God’s sovereign decree (Eph. 1:11), He is not the author of sin. Sinners are responsible for their own damnation, and none can blame God for being in hell. I personally referred Hunt to the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 3, paragraph 1, for the Reformed statement of how God is sovereign over all and yet not responsible for sin. But Hunt chose to ignore this and persist in his slanderous charge.

*Hunt says that Calvinism denies any genuine choice for mankind (p. 89). Coupled with this, Calvinists deny that men have a will (p. 94). “According to Calvin, salvation had nothing to do with whether or not a person believed the gospel” (p. 42). The truth is, Calvin and Calvinists believe in human choice and will. They assert, however, that fallen men are, as the Arminian Wesley even put it, “fast bound in sin and nature’s night,” unable to choose salvation apart from God’s sovereign working in their hearts. I’m not sure where Hunt dug up the ludicrous charge that Calvin separated salvation from faith. A simple reading of his chapters on faith and repentance in The Institutes (Book 3, chapters 2 & 3) will show that Hunt either has not read Calvin or he is deliberately misrepresenting him.

*Hunt says, “Calvinism presents a God who fills hell with those whom He could save but instead damns because He doesn’t love them” (p. 116). Hunt brazenly states that if God did not show mercy to all when all were equally guilty, then He perverts justice (p. 115)! The truth is, Calvinists affirm that God is mighty to save all whom He chooses to save (e.g., the apostle Paul). But He owes salvation to none. For reasons known only in the secret counsel of His will, God chose to be glorified both in the salvation of His elect, and in the just damnation of those who have rebelled against Him. Paul’s entire argument in Romans 9 is that as the divine potter, God has the prerogative to make some vessels for mercy and some for wrath, and that we have no basis to question what He does. The Bible is also clear that God’s love is not uniformly revealed to all. He loved Israel, but He did not choose to love the surrounding nations to the same degree (Deut. 7:6-8). In His inscrutable will, He permitted the nations for many centuries to go their own way in spiritual darkness. He gave them the witness of His goodness through creation and common grace, which is enough to condemn them, but not sufficient to save them (Acts 14:16-17; Rom. 1:18-32). Oddly, though, against both Scripture and history, Hunt argues that God loves all the heathen exactly the same as He loves His elect bride, the church. I would like him to answer how God loved the American Indians who lived here 3,000 years ago to the same degree that He loved King David and revealed Himself to him? A quick glance at the world today shows that not all have an equal chance of hearing and responding to the gospel.

In order to discredit Calvinism, Hunt has to discredit Calvin and his famous Institutes. Incredibly, Hunt dismisses the Institutes in one sweeping judgment by pronouncing that they came from the two primary sources of Augustine and the Latin Vulgate Bible (p. 38)! Since Calvin was a new convert when he wrote the first edition of the Institutes, they “could not possibly have come from a deep and fully developed evangelical understanding of Scripture.” But Hunt does not mention whether or not they actually do reflect such an understanding! If they were as shallow as Hunt alleges, why did they have such profound impact, not only on his generation, but also on godly Christian scholars through the centuries, up to the present day? I can testify personally, that of the hundreds of human books I have ever read, none rival The Institutes for their profound spiritual insight. Calvin uses Scripture to exalt God and humble me as a sinner as few writers can do.

As for the man Calvin, Hunt asserts that he was so heavily influenced by Augustine that he never really broke free from his Roman Catholic roots. He totally rejects Augustine’s writings by asserting, “Calvin drew from a badly polluted stream when he embraced the teachings of Augustine! How could one dip into such contaminating heresy without becoming confused and infected?” (p. 51). I must wonder, has Hunt even read Augustine? I have read substantial portions of Augustine’s works, and while he obviously was tainted in a bad way at points by the Catholic Church, he also had a solidly biblical grasp of much essential Christian doctrine. To dismiss the man as “a badly polluted stream” and as promoting “contaminating heresy” shows Hunt’s, not Augustine’s, ignorance and error.

Also, while Calvin often quotes Augustine favorably (because there is much favorable to quote, and because Calvin did not have nearly the theological resources to draw on that we possess), he often disputes with Augustine when he thinks that he failed to interpret Scripture rightly. Calvin’s sole source of truth was the Bible, as T. H. L. Parker’s excellent book, Calvin’s Preaching [Westminster/John Know Press] so capably demonstrates. Again, if Hunt had carefully read either Augustine or Calvin, he would have seen that these men sought to base their teachings on the Bible alone. Of course both men made errors. Who doesn’t? But read these men and you will sense, “They knew God in a way that I do not know God!”

Hunt portrays Calvin as the evil tyrant of Geneva who sought to force Irresistible Grace on the people, in line with his view of denying all power of choice to man (pp. 62-63). “Calvin exerted authority much like the papacy which he now despised” (p. 63) Hunt accuses Calvin of exercising “dictatorial control over the populace” (p. 64). He approved the used of torture for extracting confessions, including the cruel 30-day torture of a victim who was then tied to a stake, his feet nailed to it, and his head was cut off (p. 65). And, of course, Hunt blames Calvin for the burning of Servetus without giving any of the historical context for his readers (pp. 68-70). Hunt concludes, “Calvin’s conduct day after day and year after year was the very antithesis of what it would have been had he truly been led of the Spirit of God” (p. 72). In all of these accusations, Hunt is echoing militantly anti-Christian critics, such as Voltaire, Will Durant, Erich Fromm, and others (see Christian History [Vol. V, No. 4], p. 3).

Of course, Calvin had enemies, even in his own day, who picked up on his weaknesses and exaggerated them in an attempt to smear him, because they did not like his teaching. Every godly man can expect such treatment, to one degree or another (Matt. 5:11-12; Luke 6:26; 2 Tim. 3:12). But anyone who has read T. H. L. Parker’s life of Calvin, his Calvin’s Preaching, or Beza’s life of Calvin (Beza was Calvin’s understudy and successor in Geneva), will be horrified at how a professing Christian can attack a great man of God like Calvin as ruthlessly as Hunt does. Of Calvin, Beza said, “I have been a witness of him for sixteen years and I think that I am fully entitled to say that in this man there was exhibited to all an example of the life and death of the Christian, such as it will not be easy to depreciate, and it will be difficult to imitate” (Christian History, ibid., p. 2).

The plain fact of history is that the godly Puritans, including John Bunyan and John Owen, plus the spiritual giants Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Charles Simeon, Charles Spurgeon, the Princeton theologians, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Francis Schaeffer, and a host of others have all looked to Calvin not only as an astute theologian, but also as a great model of godliness. I have read the Institutes, about a half dozen biographies of Calvin, thousands of pages of his commentaries, numerous books about Calvin and his theology, and several books of his sermons. I have never picked up anything even close to resembling Hunt’s caricature of the man. I agree with the learned Scottish theologian, William Cunningham, who said, “Calvin is the man who, next to St. Paul, has done most good to mankind” (Christian History, ibid.). Hunt’s attack is simply impossible. An evil, cruel tyrant could not have written such exalted views of God and such deep insights into God’s Word as you find in Calvin’s writings. When so many great men of God pay tribute to Calvin, shouldn’t Hunt at least have stopped to consider that he might be missing something?

Another major problem with Hunt’s work is his unscholarly manipulation of source material to suit his purposes. For his attacks on Calvin, he often quotes the militant anti-Christian, Will Durant, without ever acknowledging that he is quoting an enemy of the faith. He often quotes the liberal, Frederic Farrar without acknowledging his theological bias. Even though Hunt in his other writings is militantly anti-Catholic, he uses the pro-Catholic leader of the Oxford Movement, Pusey, when he sides with Hunt against Calvinism. But there is no mention from Hunt, even in a footnote, of the theological bias of his sources. Ignorant readers would think that he is quoting great men of the faith.

But far worse is the way that he uses sources to “prove” blatant historical errors! He cites a source (p. 19) that claims that, among others, Richard Baxter, John Newton, and John Bunyan opposed Calvinism! Anyone who has read those men knows that they all were strong proponents of God’s sovereign election. (Baxter held to a universal atonement, but he also strongly held to human depravity and God’s sovereign election.) On the same page, he pulls a quote from Spurgeon’s Autobiography to prove that Spurgeon was against limited atonement. But in the original context, Spurgeon was arguing in favor of limited atonement (Autobiography of C. H. Spurgeon [Banner of Truth], 1:171-172)! In fact, Spurgeon states (1:172) that the teaching that Christ died for everyone is “a thousand times more repulsive than any of those consequences which are said to be associated with the Calvinistic and Christian doctrine of special and particular redemption.” Later (p. 122), Hunt cites “a British scholar who thoroughly knew Spurgeon’s writings and sermons” again to the effect that Spurgeon definitely rejected limited atonement and that he ascribed freedom of will to men. Yet in his bibliography (p. 428), Hunt lists Spurgeon’s sermon, “Free Will a Slave,” where Spurgeon refutes free will. Iain Murray (The Forgotten Spurgeon [Banner of Truth], pp. 81 ff.) cites numerous references to show that Spurgeon not only affirmed “limited atonement”; he also argued that those who deny it weaken and undermine the entire doctrine of the substitutionary atonement. In his autobiography (1:168), Spurgeon called Arminianism (which is Dave Hunt’s view, even though Hunt denies it, since he holds to eternal security) heresy and states plainly, “Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else.” Either Hunt is a very sloppy scholar, or he is deliberately trying to deceive his readers into thinking that Spurgeon is on his side when he very well knows that he is not.

On page 102, Hunt quotes Spurgeon again and claims that he “could not accept the teaching that regeneration came before faith in Christ through the gospel.” Obviously, he is quoting Spurgeon out of context for his own ends (as he frequently does), without any understanding of Spurgeon’s theology. Murray (ibid., pp. 90 ff.), thoroughly documents how Spurgeon believed that faith and repentance are impossible before God regenerates the sinner. For example, Murray (p. 94) cites Spurgeon as saying that repentance and faith are “the first apparent result of regeneration.” And, “Evangelical repentance never can exist in an unrenewed soul.” Murray cites many more examples. Spurgeon believed “that the work of regeneration, conversion, sanctification and faith, is not an act of man’s free will and power, but of the mighty, efficacious and irresistible grace of God” (p. 104).

On page 100 is another example of how Hunt uses quotations out of context to make his opponent look bad and himself look good. He quotes R. C. Sproul to sound as if Sproul is fully endorsing the view “that God is not all that loving toward” sinners. But in the preceding and following context of Sproul’s book, Sproul is raising an objection that a critic might ask, conceding the critic’s objection as true for the sake of argument, and then raising a further question to show that the critic’s question is misguided. Hunt omits the context and thus makes Sproul appear to be saying something he isn’t stating at all! This is incredibly bad scholarship and argumentation on Hunt’s part.

On page 99, Hunt reveals his ignorance of theology when he says that J. I. Packer contradicts his fellow Calvinists and even himself in declaring that regeneration follows faith and justification. Hunt then quotes a sentence from Packer that speaks of justification by faith, not regeneration! Those are distinct theological terms with distinct meanings, as anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of theology would know! But never mind, Hunt discredits Packer to the unsuspecting reader, which is all that matters to Hunt.

It would be easy to expand this review to book length, since the errors, faulty logic, and gross misrepresentation of Calvinism and the God of the Bible just keep on coming. My quandary both in personal correspondence with Hunt prior to the publication of the book and in reading the book itself has to do with Hunt’s personal integrity. If he is honestly ignorant about what Calvinists believe, he should not have written the book until he gained a fair understanding of their views. It’s not that Hunt was not confronted with this beforehand. A number of Reformed men besides me warned him that he was misrepresenting the Reformed faith. But he ignored these warnings and persisted in blasting away. He acknowledges as much in chapter 2, claiming that Calvinists are elitists and that if Calvinism is so difficult to understand that Hunt can’t understand it, it must not be biblical. However, I know many who are young in their faith who understand these doctrines quite well. Hunt should have stopped long enough to understand the opposing view so as not to misrepresent it. His attacks on his straw man simply discredit him as a reputable critic.

Although Hunt would vigorously disagree, I believe that at the root of his slanderous attack on Calvin and Calvinists, and his blasphemous charges against the God of the Bible, is his refusal to submit to clear biblical revelation that does not fit human logic. After stating that God has mercy on whom He desires and He hardens whom He desires, Paul raises the objection, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’” (Rom. 9:19). Dave Hunt’s logical answer is, “The reason that God rightly can find fault is that He has given free will and the opportunity for salvation to every man.” It makes perfect logical sense. But the problem is, that is not the biblical answer! The biblical answer is, “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it?” In other words, God’s answer is, “You don’t have a right to ask the question!”

I admit, that answer is not logically satisfying! Years ago, as a college student, I used to fight with Paul over it, accusing him of copping out right where I needed my question answered. Then one day as I was contending with Paul, the Lord opened my eyes to see. He was saying, “I did answer the question, you know! You just happen not to like the answer!” I realized then that I had to submit to what God had written through Paul. On that day, I became a “Calvinist,” although I had not yet read a single page of Calvin. If Dave Hunt would submit his logic to God’s revelation in Scripture, he would also become what he now hates and so grossly misrepresents—a Calvinist! Don’t waste your time reading Dave Hunt. Pick up a copy of Calvin’s Institutes and begin to feast on the majesty of God!

Related Topics: Book Review, Character of God, Election, Predestination, Scripture Twisting

Husbands Must Focus On Being Lovers

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Arizona Daily Sun

February 12, 1999

Twenty-five years ago next month, my bride and I exchanged our wedding vows of lifelong commitment to one another. Over the past quarter century together (22 years of which I’ve been a pastor), we’ve watched with sadness as the marriages of many friends and acquaintances have hit the skids. While each couple is unique, I’ve noticed some common errors that have led to divorce.

One of the most common problems is the passive (that’s a nice way of saying “wimp”) husband. He assumes that his marriage and family life will run on auto-pilot while he pursues his own career and other interests. He’s often a nice wimp. But he neglects his responsibility as a husband and father. His main goal when he’s at home is peace. When he gets home, he doesn’t want hassles. He wants supper, the evening paper, a couple of TV shows, and usually more sex than his tired wife is ready to give. If she complains about problems with the kids or with running the household, his standard reply is, “Do whatever you think is best, dear.” He thinks that this is an agreeable reply. He can’t understand why his wife is so unhappy.

Over the years, the wife’s frustration with the Wimp increases, along with her frequency in letting him know about it. He runs for cover—more time at the office, more time with his buddies, commiserating with other hen-pecked wimps who just don’t understand why women have to be that way. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to say, “Houston, we’ve got a problem here!”

The Wimp needs to dust off and follow the instruction manual on marriage: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Biblical love isn’t a passive feeling that overwhelms you when you see a beautiful body. It’s not something you activate on wedding day and let run on auto-pilot. Biblical love is an active, self-sacrificing commitment to seek the highest good of the one loved. Because we are all self-centered by nature, such love requires careful thought and deliberate, determinative action.

Contrary to popular belief, the Bible never commands husbands to be the head of their homes. It flatly declares that the husband is the head of the wife (Eph. 5:23). It does command him to love his wife and to train his children in the things of God. A Wimp neglects these duties. A responsible husband actively pursues them. But the fact of headship means that the husband can’t blame his wife or kids if his home life is not pleasant. He is responsible.

What can a wimpish husband do to take responsibility for his home life? First and foremost, he himself must live daily in a genuine personal relationship with God. This begins with turning from sin and trusting in Jesus Christ as his Savior. It is fostered by spending time often reading the Bible and praying. It requires seeking to please God every minute, beginning on the thought level. A man can’t lead his family where he isn’t walking.

Next, a husband must establish and maintain a climate of love in his family. Any rivalry or competition between him and his wife must be set aside. He must work to build a team spirit with his wife. Sarcasm, put-downs, name-calling, and abusive words must stop, since they destroy caring, loving relationships. The husband’s job is to nourish and cherish his wife and to protect and build up her and the children.

At the heart of all of this is daily dying to self in order to follow Jesus Christ (Luke 9:23). Selfishness is at the core of most anger and conflict. Again, biblical love is by definition self-sacrificing, not self-serving: “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”

The main reason Christian husbands should shrug off passivity and actively love their wives and children is not so that everyone will be happy. Paul says that Christian marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. Our homes should reflect the sweet fragrance of the love of Jesus to those who come near. Our aim is to exalt Jesus Christ; happiness is a by-product.

Humorist Sam Levenson says, “Love at first sight is easy to understand. It’s when two people have been looking at each other for years that it becomes a miracle.” But it’s not really a miracle. It’s a result of the deliberate choice to live in obedience to God and actively to love your wife as He commands.

Related Topics: Christian Home, Devotionals, Love, Marriage, Men's Articles

The Inefficiency Of God

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(Published in Kindred Spirit, Spring, 1987, in slightly edited form, under the title, “Now, Just a Minute”)

As I was speed-reading the latest book on how to be a more efficient executive, I realized that God is terribly inefficient. I say it reverently, of course. But really, the Lord could have been much more efficient in the way He administered His eternal plan. I’m not sure the Lord would do well in modern America.

We live in a culture obsessed with efficiency. We have instant everything: instant photography, instant coffee, instant copy machines, and instant information available on almost any conceivable subject. Computers can do in seconds what took a whole office full of people weeks to do a few years ago. We have the one-minute manager, one-minute Christian executive, and even the one-minute Christian father! If something is more efficient, we want it.

Take child development. We push our kids toward achievement. To stimulate creativity we are told to play recordings of great music to them while they’re still in the womb. One Christian leader says we ought to read the Bible to them during that time as well, to get a jump on spiritual development. We decorate the nursery for maximum intellectual and sensory development. We waste no time in signing up the little ones for classes to nurture their latent talents in music and sports.

We buy them educational toys and games, enroll them in progressive nursery schools, and get them a personal computer so they won’t be at a disadvantage later in life. Our goal seems to be to make childhood as efficient as possible.

Why did God design the maturing process to take so long, anyway? Most animals mature and reproduce before human beings are out of kindergarten. It seems to me that God could get a lot more use out of people if He had made them that way.

As I think over my own life, I can hardly remember anything from the first ten years. From the next ten years, I can remember a lot of things I’d rather forget. From the third ten there are a lot of things that I thought I knew that the last ten have proven wrong. What a waste! At least thirty years just to get me to a place where I could function not too poorly in serving the Lord. At 40 I feel like I’m just beginning to get up to speed.

When I think of the only perfect Man who has ever lived, I marvel at the inefficiency of God. If I had been His parent, I’d have had the boy out preaching before His tenth birthday. Certainly by the time He was 20 He could have launched His international TV ministry! Why waste 30 years in obscure Nazareth and then give Him only three years to work before His death? Obviously, God must not have read any books on developing a child’s full potential!

Or take sleep and rest. I feel like I could go full bore, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and still not accomplish all that needs to get done. Life is short enough as it is. But then my body requires almost one-third of my life just for sleep.

I’ve tried to get by on less sleep. I’ve even prayed about it. With less sleep I could pray more, read the Bible more, write more, read more books, and do all sorts of other productive things. But my body won’t cooperate. If I don’t sleep at least seven hours a night, I can’t function. What a waste!

Then there’s that weekly day of rest, which the Lord ordained and our modern evangelical world ignores. With church morning and evening and with all my projects, I’m too busy to rest on the Lord’s Day. The Lord must not have known about lawns and dirty cars when He ordained a weekly day of rest.

And consider people. God is so inefficient in the way He molds and uses them. Noah was 500 years old before God told him to build the ark. He was 600 when the flood came. He lived 350 years after the flood. What couldn’t I accomplish if I had 950 years! And yet all poor Noah is noted for is building an ark and planting a vineyard. Not much to show for all that time!

Abraham was 75 when he left Haran at the Lord’s command. That’s a lot better than 500, but still not too efficient. The Lord promised Abraham a son when he was 75, but he was 100 before the promise was a reality. That’s 25 years--a quarter of a century. People were growing old and dying. Wars were being fought. The world needed to hear about God’s promise to Abraham.

What did Abraham achieve in that span of time? Do you suppose he had well-defined goals? After all, becoming the father of a great nation is no small undertaking. It must have required careful planning. Did he keep his calendar full of key appointments to help move him toward the mark?

Maybe Joseph is our kind of man. He must have been an efficiency expert to administrate the famine relief program for Pharaoh. God must not have wasted any time with him. Sharp, honest, trustworthy, high moral standards--this young man had what it takes for leadership! After a brief apprenticeship with Potiphar, Joseph would be ready for a top management position in some ministry organization.

But God put this choice young man in an Egyptian prison for the better part of his twenties. At one point he had a good chance to get out. He interpreted the cupbearer’s dream. The cupbearer was reinstated. Joseph’s parting words before the man left the dungeon to resume his duties at Pharaoh’s palace were, “Remember me.” But the cupbearer forgot. Couldn’t the Lord remind him?

In Genesis 41, we read of Pharaoh’s dream, which led to Joseph’s release from prison and rise to power. Don’t miss those words in verse one which are so easy to skim over: “Now it happened at the end of two full years ...” It was two full years from the time the cupbearer was released until Pharaoh had his dream. You can read that phrase in a fraction of a second, but it was two choice years of Joseph’s life. Two years in a stinking foreign prison! Two years of wondering if there was a God in heaven listening to his prayers! Why couldn’t God have given Pharaoh his dream two years sooner? Maybe God would be interested in a seminar on time management?

It’s not hard to multiply example after example. Moses, the great leader, blew it at 40 (why didn’t the Lord call him at 25 or 30?), then had 40 more years tending sheep in the desert before he led Israel out of Egypt. Wouldn’t three or four years of seminary have been adequate?

David, the young man after God’s own heart, was anointed king as a teenager, but then spent his prime twenties fleeing from cave to cave to escape the mad king Saul. The nation had to wait for the glories of David’s reign.

The apostle Paul spent several years in Arabia, then more in Tarsus before his ministry took off. If there was ever a key man in the history of the church, it was Paul. He launched the whole thing in the Gentile world. Surely his few short years of ministry had to have been packed full. His appointment book must not have had a slack hour.

Yet as Paul dreamed of going to Rome, Spain, and points beyond, God saw fit to put him in custody in Caesarea. Sure, it was ultimately God’s way of getting Paul to Rome, all expenses paid. But in Acts 24:27 we read some words which shouldn’t surprise us by now: “But after two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus; and wishing to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul imprisoned.”

Two inefficient years sitting in Caesarea! Wasn’t the church praying for his release? Here was God’s greatest apostle sitting around, day in and day out, for two full years while the world was going without the gospel! Two wasted years when he could have been out preaching, planting churches, evangelizing Spain! The Lord sure could have used a course in efficient employee management!

Could God possibly be running His kingdom program differently than I’m running my hectic schedule? Could He be developing His children from a different perspective than I’m training mine? Could God be less concerned than I am about squeezing every spare minute of every day for all its worth?

Could there be any significance that His Word often refers to the Christian experience as a walk, seldom as a run, and never as a mad dash? Could God be less concerned about the efficiency of minutes and more concerned about the efficiency of eternity?

You’ll have to think about these things, if you have time. I’ve gotta run--I’m late for my next appointment.

Related Topics: Character of God, Devotionals, Discipleship, Wisdom

What We Should Learn From The Tragedy In Central America

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Arizona Daily Sun, November 27, 1998

The statistics from the recent storm in Central America are staggering—over 10,000 dead, over 600,000 homeless! In Flagstaff terms, that would be one out of five dead and over ten times our population homeless! It’s hard to fathom that much human suffering!

When something like this happens, skeptics always ask, “Where was God in this tragedy? If God is both loving and powerful, why did He allow this to happen?” These are not new questions, of course. For centuries, thinking people have wrestled with the problem of suffering. I can’t resolve it in this brief article, but I would point out that removing God from the equation does not solve the problem. If you assume that there is no God, you should get the bumper sticker that says, “Life is tough; then you die.” If you take God out of the picture, you remove all hope!

The answer to the problem of suffering given in the Bible is the only one I have found to make any sense. In a nutshell, suffering and death are in this world as the penalty imposed by God because of our sin and rebellion against Him (Genesis 2:17; Romans 5:12). Because He is just and righteous, God cannot dismiss our sin without penalty. But because He is also loving and merciful, God provided a means for us to escape the ultimate penalty, eternal separation from Him (called the second death in Revelation 20:14): He sent Jesus Christ to bear the penalty we deserve. All who trust in Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross are completely pardoned and receive eternal life as God’s gracious gift (Ephesians 2:8, 9).

But perhaps you’re thinking, “Does this mean that all those people in Central America who died or lost loved ones were greater sinners than the rest of us?” A story in Luke 13:1-5 answers this question. Jesus refers there to two tragedies that had happened in Palestine around that time. Pilate, the Roman governor, had slaughtered some Galilean Jews while they were offering religious sacrifices. And, in another instance, a tower in the village of Siloam had collapsed and killed 18 people. In both instances, Jesus asks, “Do you suppose that these victims were worse sinners than others because they suffered in this manner?” His answer in both cases is the same: “No, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

What did Jesus mean? Several things: First, when we talk about “innocent” victims in some tragedy, we are using the word “innocent” from a human perspective, not from God’s perspective. From God’s point of view, none are innocent. We all have need of repentance or we will come under His judgment. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). By “perish,” Jesus was referring not to physical death (which we all must face), but to the second death, perishing eternally because of God’s righteous judgment on our sin. By repentance, Jesus meant that we should turn from our selfish, sinful ways to God and trust in His provision for our sin—Jesus, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Also, Jesus is saying that when a tragedy hits, we who survive should take it to heart. We never know the day that we will die and stand before the holy God. Are we prepared to face Him should such a tragedy befall us? If not, the tragedy should be a wake up call: It could happen to us! If we do not repent before that day, we will perish!

In Romans 11:22, Paul marvels at both the kindness and severity of God. A tragedy like that in Central America should cause us to do the same. The suddenness and severity of what happened should warn us of the coming judgment which will be far worse (read the Book of Revelation if you need a reminder of what is coming!). You will not escape if you neglect the great salvation God now offers. But, also, marvel at God’s kindness. You are still alive. God is graciously giving you more time. Your first response to what happened in Central America should be to get right with God before it is too late.

Also, the kindness of God should move us to generous compassion toward the victims in Central America. At this holiday season, I urge you to show God’s compassion by sending a generous donation to a reputable charity that is assisting the victims there.

Related Topics: Apologetics, Character of God, Cultural Issues, Engage, Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Suffering, Trials, Persecution, Worldview

Looking Back From 60

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I cranked over the big 6-0 on my odometer last April. It was one of my most memorable birthdays, and not just because of leaving the fifties behind. My wife and I were in Nepal on a ministry trip, and before I spoke that day, we were able to take a one-hour flight to view the Himalayas and Mount Everest. God is an awesome Creator and a gracious Heavenly Father!

Turning 60 has caused me to do a lot of thinking about where I am at, what I have done with my life, and what I will do with any remaining years that the Lord grants me. By His grace alone, I have been a pastor now for almost 31 years. I really mean, “by His grace alone,” because I went into the pastorate overwhelmed with my own inadequacy for the task. I told the Lord that I would try it for three years and see what happened. He graciously has carried me all of these years, in spite of my many shortcomings.

One day in the early years of ministry, I was jogging in the woods near our house. I had been reading the autobiography of the incomparable C. H. Spurgeon, and as I jogged, I prayed one of those “go for broke” prayers. I asked the Lord to bless my ministry as He blessed the ministry of Spurgeon.

I didn’t hear an audible voice, but the thought popped into my mind with such a jolt that I believe it was the Lord speaking to me. He said, “What about John Spurgeon?” The question hit me with such force that I stopped jogging and just stood there thinking about it.

You may never have heard of John Spurgeon, but he was the father of his better known son, Charles. He was a faithful pastor. He lived into his nineties, whereas Charles died at 57, so he lived beyond Charles’ death. If he had not had a famous son, his name would mean nothing to any of us. He would have served the Lord in his day and gone to his reward without much notice. It was as if the Lord was asking me, “Are you willing to be a John Spurgeon, to faithfully love and shepherd your wife, your children, and My church, even if your ministry is never as phenomenal as that of Charles Spurgeon?” As I thought about it, I realized that my focus had to be on being as faithful as John Spurgeon, not on becoming as famous as Charles.

Some time after that, I read an interview with Jerry Falwell. At the time, he was the head of the Moral Majority, the pastor of a 20,000 member church with a TV show, and the president and founder of Liberty University. The interviewer asked him what he wanted to be remembered for. Falwell’s stock went up in my book when he said that he wanted to be remembered as a godly husband to his wife, a godly father to his children, and a godly pastor of his church, in that order. His fame and amazing accomplishments had not diverted him from his godly priorities.

So as I look back from 60, I haven’t pastored a super-church. I am not in demand around the country at leadership conferences. But, I’m not sorry that I spent time many evenings reading to my children and playing on the floor with them when they were young. My kids are all following the Lord, married to Christians, still coming to hear dad preach each Sunday, and rearing their families to follow Christ. I’m glad that we took time each summer to go camping and enjoy God’s beautiful creation together. I’m thankful that my wife and I maintained our relationship during the child-rearing years. Now that the kids are out of the nest, she and I are best friends with each other and we’re friends with our adult children.

As far as the ministry goes, I’m even more overwhelmed with my own inadequacy than when I began. There isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t exclaim with Paul, “who is adequate for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16). I’m glad that he went on to say (2 Cor. 3:5), “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.” I still stand in awe of Charles Spurgeon and try to learn all that I can from him. But, I’m content to keep on seeking to be as faithful as his father, John.

Related Topics: Christian Home, Christian Life, Devotionals, Discipleship, Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Parenting, Pastors, Spiritual Life, Wisdom

An open pastoral letter to a young Christian woman considering marriage to an unbeliever

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Dear Mary,

Last Sunday at church your parents told me of your wedding plans. Being in love and looking forward to marriage is an exciting time in life. I can imagine your hopes as you look to the future.

Your parents told me that your fiancé is a considerate, well-mannered gentleman with a promising career ahead of him. Knowing you, I am sure that he must have many fine qualities. I am concerned, however, because your parents also mentioned that he has not trusted Christ as his Savior. You know that I care deeply about you. I’m taking the time to write because I want you to experience God’s fullest blessing in your life.

Since you profess to know Christ as your Savior, you know how much He loves us as His people. He has given us His Word to tell us how to live in this evil world so as to experience the abundant life that Christ came to provide. His commandments are always for our good, never for our harm. They are like the rules of the road; if we break them—ignoring stop signs and driving on the wrong side of the road—we and others will get hurt.

Perhaps you have never considered what the Scriptures say about a believer marrying an unbeliever. Please look up the Bible passages I refer to below so that you can study them for yourself. Ask God for an obedient heart. There is much at stake here.

It was through wrongful marriages that Satan corrupted the human race, leading to the awful judgment of the flood (Gen. 6:1-7). Abraham, of whom God promised to make a great nation through Isaac, made his servant swear by the Lord that he would not take a wife for Isaac from the daughters of the Canaanites (Gen. 24:1-4). Isaac’s son, Esau, married two unbelieving wives. These women brought much grief to Isaac and Rebekah (Gen. 26:34-35; 27:46; 28:8). Later Dinah, daughter of Jacob, got involved with a Canaanite man. There was the danger that God’s fledgling people would intermarry with the Canaanites (Gen. 34:9; 38).

Because of this, God sovereignly (Gen. 50:20) had Joseph sold into slavery in Egypt, resulting in the whole family of Jacob moving there. Eventually they became slaves for 400 years. This solidified the people and hindered them from intermarriage with the Canaanites, which would have thwarted God’s plan to bless all nations through Abraham’s descendants.

Later, through Moses God plainly told His people not to intermarry with the people of the land (Exod. 34:12-16; Deut. 7:1-5). One of the most formidable enemies Moses had to face was Balaam. God prevented Balaam from cursing Israel. So Balaam counseled Balak, king of Moab, with an insidious plan: Corrupt the people you cannot curse. Lure them with your Moabite women. Israel fell for it. For this sin, God sent a terrible plague on Israel, killing 24,000 (Num. 25:1-13).

Throughout Israel’s history, intermarriage to heathen women created problems. Samson’s ministry was nullified through his involvement with Philistine women (Judges 16:4-22). Solomon’s idolatrous wives turned his heart away from the Lord (1 Kings 11:1-8). The wicked Jezebel established Baal worship during the reign of her weak Jewish husband, Ahab (1 Kings 16:29-22:40). Jehoshaphat, who was otherwise a godly king, nearly ruined the nation by joining his son, Jehoram, in marriage with Athaliah, daughter of Ahab and Jezebel (1 Chron. 18:1). The terrible effects of this sin did not come to the surface during Jehoshaphat’s lifetime. (Sin often has delayed consequences.) But later Jehoram slaughtered all of his brothers and turned the nation to idolatry. God struck him and he died after eight years in office. His son Ahaziah became king, but was murdered after one year. Then Athaliah slaughtered all her own grandsons (except one, who was hidden) and ruled the land in wickedness for six years. The Davidic line, from which Christ would be born, was almost extinguished, all because of Jehoshaphat’s marrying his son to an unbelieving woman (1 Chronicles 17:1-23:15)!

Years later, when the godly Ezra heard that some of the returned remnant had married women of the land, he tore his garment, pulled some of the hair from his head and beard, and sat down appalled (Ezra 9:1-4). This was followed by a time of national mourning and repentance (Ezra 9:4-10:44). When Nehemiah discovered that some Jews had married Canaanite women, he contended with them, pronounced a curse on them, struck some of them and pulled out their hair, calling their actions “a great evil”  (Neh. 13:23-29)! Malachi also condemned the men of Israel for marrying the daughters of foreign gods, praying that they would be cut off from Israel (Mal. 2:10-12).

The New Testament is equally clear: “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor. 6:14-16a). When Paul gives instructions for those who are married to unbelieving mates (1 Cor. 7:12-16), he is not endorsing entering such a marriage. Rather he is giving counsel to those who have become believers since marriage, but whose spouses have not. Concerning entering a new marriage, Paul states clearly that it must be “… only in the Lord”  (1 Cor. 7:39, emphasis mine).

Perhaps you would agree that marrying a non-Christian is not God’s best, but you may think that it isn’t a serious sin. But in Malachi 2:11, God calls it an “abomination.” The same Hebrew word is used elsewhere to describe homosexuality, sacrificing children to pagan gods, witchcraft, and idolatry. In God’s sight, it is not a gray area!

My point in going through all these Scriptures is to show you that there is a principle that runs throughout the Bible: God wants His people to be holy, separate from unbelievers in life’s important relationships. It is never His will for His people to marry unbelievers.

I know that your emotions run strong at this point. God gives us the feelings of romantic love to enjoy. But if you marry someone who does not love God, you will dishonor God and bring much trouble upon yourself and, someday, upon your children.

I have written strongly because I care so deeply. After all, this is the second most important decision of your life, after receiving Christ. A shepherd who saw a sheep heading toward a cliff would not be a good shepherd if he did not do everything in his power to stop the sheep from its course of self-destruction.

Remember, God loves you. My heart’s concern is that you will consider the Word of God and obey Him. Although it will be difficult in the short run, obeying God is the only course of blessing for your life.

Sincerely in Christ’s love,

Pastor Steve Cole

Related Topics: Basics for Christians, Christian Home, Christian Life, Cultural Issues, Discipleship, Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Love, Marriage, Relationships, Singleness, Spiritual Life, Temptation, Women