The Canons of Dordt: Perseverance or Preservation of the Saints.

When the Council of Dordrecht or Dordt began on November 13, 1618 it sought to refute the teachings of Jacob Arminius and his followers. The council did so by specifically addressing five points Arminius’ protestors, or Remonstrants, proposed. These five points were that (1) Election unto salvation is conditioned upon foreseen faith and obedience; (2) Universal or an unlimited atonement is taught in the Scriptures; (3) Regeneration enables sinners to contribute good works toward salvation; (4) God’s grace is resistible; and (5) Believers may fall away or lose their salvation.

Previously, we briefly examined the doctrine of Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement and Irresistible Grace. Today we conclude our study by examining the doctrine of the perseverance of the Preservation of the Saints.

The Perseverance or the Preservation of the Saints is often called eternal security. This is the teaching that once God has justified a sinner and called them into a covenant relationship they will never lose that salvation. It is often referred to as “being once saved always saved.”

However, there are those who insist that the whole concept of eternal security can mean a believer in Christ can live sinfully and yet rest assured they are going to heaven when life ends. Is this what the fifth and final point of the Canons of Dordt means?

Philippians 1:6 says, “He who has begun a good work in you will perfect it to the end.”  God promises that what He has begun in our souls He will complete. An old axiom in Reformed theology about the perseverance or preservation of the saints is as follows: “If you have it—that is, if you have genuine faith and are in a state of saving grace—you will never lose it. If you lose it, you never had it.

This is likely what the Apostle John meant in I John 2:19 when he wrote, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

We know people who make professions of faith, and then turn away and renounce those professions. Of course, they were in the church in terms of outward appearances before they left. They had made an outward profession of faith. The Bible makes it clear that it is possible for a person to make a profession of faith when he doesn’t possess what he’s professing.

Dr. R. C. Sproul says, “I think this little catchphrase, perseverance of the saints, is dangerously misleading. It suggests that the perseverance is something that we do, perhaps in and of ourselves. I believe that saints do persevere in faith, and that those who have been effectually called by God and have been reborn by the power of the Holy Spirit endure to the end. However, they persevere not because they are so diligent in making use of the mercies of God. The only reason we can give why any of us continue on in the faith is because we have been preserved. So I prefer the term the “preservation of the saints,” because the process by which we are kept in a state of grace is something that is accomplished by God. My confidence in my preservation is not in my ability to persevere. My confidence rests in the power of Christ to sustain me with His grace and by the power of His intercession. He is going to bring us safely home.”

Dr. Scott Clark writes, “Those to whom He gives the gift of faith, whom He “regenerates by the Holy Spirit, he also delivers from the dominion and slavery of sin.” Our ongoing struggle with sin gives us reason to humble ourselves and to seek heaven. Left to ourselves, we would fall away, but grace “mercifully confirms and powerfully preserves” us “even to the end.” Sometimes believers, such as David, fall into grievous sin and lose the sense of God’s favor, but God preserves them. God never allows His people “to proceed so far as to lose the grace of adoption.” Christ “certainly and effectually renews” His people “to repentance, to a sincere and godly sorrow for their sins.” The Spirit grants assurance to His people not, however, “by any peculiar revelation,” but rather it “springs from faith in God’s promises.” Assurance of grace does not produce immorality among Christians. Rather, “it renders them much more careful and concerned to continue in the ways of the Lord.” As the Spirit makes us alive through the preaching of the Gospel, He strengthens our faith and assurance through the sacraments.”

The Canons of Dordt are an extraordinary statement of conviction among the Reformed churches on five essential doctrines. The very Reformation was at stake at the Synod of Dordt. If we conclude God’s favor towards us is conditioned upon anything in us, then we are lost because we remain dead in sin. If the Gospel is to include our obedience in order to be justified, then it is no longer the Gospel. If the elect can fall away, then grace is no longer grace.

Soli deo Gloria!

The Gospel of John: We Wish to See Jesus.

“Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” (John 12:20-26)

As we continue our study in John 12, the setting remains the anticipated celebration of the annual Jewish Feast called Passover. While admittedly a Jewish feast, it attracted non-Jews as well as today’s text testifies.

There were some Greeks who came to worship at the feast. Most likely these were converts to the Jewish religion. They would be known as proselytes. These Greek converts want to see Jesus. Ironically, this is in contrast to the Jewish religious leaders who want to kill Jesus. These Greeks illustrate and embody the Pharisees’ concern that the world was going after Jesus (John 12:19).

It is interesting that they came to Phillip in making their request. Perhaps it is because Phillip, as John notes, was from Bethsaida of Galilee. This may be an indication that these Greeks were from the same region. Phillip then approached Andrew who also was from Bethsaida (John 1:44). When Phillip and Andrew approached Jesus on behalf of the Greeks, Jesus told His disciples three significant truths.

First, Jesus said, ““The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Jesus spoke particularly of His impending death, burial, resurrection and exaltation (John 13:1; 17:1). Prior to this statement, Jesus’ hour had always been future (John 2:4; 4:21-23; 7:30; 8:20). Jesus used the illustration of a dead grain of wheat which when planted brings forth a rich harvest. Consequently, the Jesus’ etc. will bring about a rich harvest of souls.

Second, Jesus said, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Not only is the principle of death and resurrection applicable to Jesus, but also to His followers. Jesus called for a self-renouncing faith with a trust, commitment, dependence and worship of Him alone. Such a faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ is the instrument by which sinners would be saved from the penalty, power and presence of sin.

Third, Jesus said, “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” Saving faith results in a serving faith. In other words, justification by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone results in sanctification, which is a life lived for the glory and honor of Christ alone. As James explained it, faith without works would be a dead faith (James 2:14-26).

Dr. John Walvoord comments: “They would see Jesus, would they? Yet a little moment, and they shall see Him so as now they dream not of. The middle wall of partition that keeps them out from the commonwealth of Israel is on the eve of breaking down,—a glorious event that will be for the Son of man, by which this is to be brought about. It is His death He thus sublimely and delicately alluded to. Lost in the scenes of triumph which this desire of the Greeks to see Him called up before His view, He gives no direct answer to their petition for an interview, but sees the cross which was to bring them gilded with glory.”

All too often believers in Christ fixate their attention upon the glorious return of Christ while forgetting the humiliating substitutionary death of Christ on our behalf which makes His glorious return so welcome. Let us never forget the cross and the impact such a work must have upon our lives as followers of Christ.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

The Canons of Dordt: Irresistible Grace.

When the Council of Dordrecht or Dordt began on November 13, 1618 it sought to refute the teachings of Jacob Arminius and his followers. The council did so by specifically addressing five points Arminius’ protestors, or Remonstrants, proposed. These five points were that (1) Election unto salvation is conditioned upon foreseen faith and obedience; (2) Universal or an unlimited atonement is taught in the Scriptures; (3) Regeneration enables sinners to contribute good works toward salvation; (4) God’s grace is resistible; and (5) Believers may fall away or lose their salvation.

Previously, we briefly examined the doctrine of Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, and Limited Atonement. Today we examine the doctrine known as Irresistible Grace.

At the outset, it would seem that the phrase Irresistible Grace is obviously misleading because many people have resisted the Gospel of Jesus Christ and continue to do so. This is the case even with people who eventually repented of their sins and trusted Christ for their justification. I, along with others, prefer the title “effectual grace.”

Dr. R.C. Sproul explains that, “The idea of irresistibility conjures up the idea that one cannot possibly offer any resistance to the grace of God. However, the history of the human race is the history of relentless resistance to the sweetness of the grace of God. Irresistible grace does not mean that God’s grace is incapable of being resisted. Indeed, we are capable of resisting God’s grace, and we do resist it. The idea is that God’s grace is so powerful that it has the capacity to overcome our natural resistance to it. It is not that the Holy Spirit drags people kicking and screaming to Christ against their wills. The Holy Spirit changes the inclination and disposition of our wills, so that whereas we were previously unwilling to embrace Christ, now we are willing, and more than willing. Indeed, we aren’t dragged to Christ, we run to Christ, and we embrace Him joyfully because the Spirit has changed our hearts. They are no longer hearts of stone that are impervious to the commands of God and to the invitations of the gospel. God melts the hardness of our hearts when He makes us new creatures. The Holy Spirit resurrects us from spiritual death, so that we come to Christ because we want to come to Christ. The reason we want to come to Christ is because God has already done a work of grace in our souls. Without that work, we would never have any desire to come to Christ.”

If you recall from our study of John 3:3, Jesus said to Nicodemas, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Notice the cause and effect structure of Jesus’ statement. Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Unless the condition of the new birth or regeneration occurs first, a sinner cannot see the kingdom of God or come to Christ. To put it another way, regeneration precedes faith.

Not only does regeneration, or the new birth, precede one’s faith but it is also monergistic. In other words, regeneration is a work done by the Holy Spirit alone in the heart of sinful man. This is what the phrase “born of the Spirit” means (John 3:6-8). John 6:63 says, “It is the Spirit who gives life, the flesh is not help at all.”

Dr. Sproul states, “An erg is a unit of labor, a unit of work. The word energy comes from that idea. The prefix mono– means “one.” So monergism means “one working.” It means that the work of regeneration in the human heart is something that God does by His power alone—not by 50 percent His power and 50 percent man’s power, or even 99 percent His power and 1 percent man’s power. It is 100 percent the work of God. He, and He alone, has the power to change the disposition of the soul and the human heart to bring us to faith.

Irresistible grace is an effectual grace. It’s a grace that works. It’s a grace that accomplishes what God wants it to accomplish. Since fallen sinners are dead in sins and trespasses (Ephesians 2:1-3), and since the sinner’s will is held captive by the lusts of the flesh the fallen sinner needs the freedom only God provides.

Dr. Sproul concludes, “In the final analysis, salvation must be something that God does in us and for us, not something that we in any way do for ourselves.”

Dr. Scott Clark adds, “We are so corrupt by nature that we are incapable of life or free choice apart from “the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit.” The natural knowledge and law of God only condemns us.  Only God the Spirit “through the word or ministry of reconciliation” raises His elect to life. We believe because God has made us alive (and not the reverse), but the Spirit makes us alive by working through the administration of the Word; the external proclamation of the Gospel is sincere and the Gospel promise sincere. Those who refuse the Gospel are responsible for their choices, and the regeneration of the elect must be credited only to God’s sovereign grace. God’s sovereignty does not make us “stocks and blocks” because the Spirit works through the Word. It “spiritually quickens, heals, corrects, and at the same time sweetly and powerfully bends it, that where carnal rebellion and resistance formerly prevailed.”

Soli deo Gloria!

The Canons of Dordt: Limited Atonement.

When the Council of Dordrecht or Dordt began on November 13, 1618 it sought to refute the teachings of Jacob Arminius and his followers. The council did so by specifically addressing five points Arminius’ protesters, or Remonstrants, proposed. These five points were that (1) Election unto salvation is conditioned upon foreseen faith and obedience; (2) Universal or an unlimited atonement is taught in the Scriptures; (3) Regeneration enables sinners to contribute good works toward salvation; (4) God’s grace is resistible; and (5) Believers may fall away or lose their salvation.

Previously, we briefly examined the doctrine of Total Depravity and Unconditional Election. Today we study the doctrine of Limited Atonement.

By far the most controversial of the so-called Five Points of Calvinism is the doctrine of Limited Atonement. You have heard, I’m sure, sincere Christians call themselves Four Point Calvinists. They acknowledge and submit to the doctrines of total depravity, unconditional election, irresistible or effectual grace and the perseverance or the preservation of the saints. But the point they have trouble with is the middle one: limited atonement. What exactly is meant by this phrase?

The doctrine of limited atonement is primarily concerned with the original purpose, plan, or design of God in sending Christ into the world to die on the cross. For whom did Jesus Christ die? Was it for the entire human race that ever lived or would live? Was it God the Father’s intent to send Jesus Christ to die on the cross to make salvation possible for everyone, but with the possibility that His death would be effective for no one? This type of atonement would be unlimited but at the same time indefinite with the possibility that no one would trust and believe in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

As Dr. R. C. Sproul poses, “Did God simply send Christ to the cross to make salvation possible, or did God, from all eternity, have a plan of salvation by which, according to the riches of His grace and His eternal election, He designed the atonement to ensure the salvation of His people? Was the atonement limited in its original design?

Limited, effectual or definite atonement means that God the Father provides a redemption for the elect in which Jesus Christ died for His sheep (John 10:1-11) and gave His life for those who the Father chose to give Him (John 6:35-66). The doctrine of limited atonement teaches that Christ’s substitutionary atonement on the cross was designed and intended only for the elect. Jesus Christ laid down His life for the sheep and only for the sheep. His atonement is therefore not a just potential work of redemption but an actual one.

While there is no way we can thoroughly examine this particular doctrine in this limited space, nor do we intend to, I do want to make the following observations.

First, while the death of Christ on the cross is sufficient or satisfactory for all sinners who ever lived, it is only efficient or effective for those God the Father gives to the Son. In other words, the death of Christ on the cross makes salvation possible for all but it is only effectual for the elect.

Secondly, the doctrine of limited atonement does not negate the responsibility of preaching the gospel universally. God calls Christians to share the gospel and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20) knowing that only those who repent and believe in the person and work of Jesus Christ will be saved. Those who sincerely repent of their sins and trust in Jesus Christ alone for their justification are the ones for whom Christ died and therefore the elect.

Dr. Sproul continues by saying, “One of the texts that we often hear used as an objection against the idea of a definite atonement is 2 Peter 3:8–9: “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” The immediate antecedent of the word “any” in this passage is the word “us”, and I think it’s perfectly clear that Peter is saying that God is not willing that any of “us” should perish, but that all of “us” should come to salvation. He’s not speaking of all mankind indiscriminately; the “us” is a reference to the believing people to whom Peter is speaking. I don’t think we want to believe in a God who sends Christ to die on the cross and then crosses His fingers, hoping that someone will take advantage of that atoning death. Our view of God is different. Our view is that the redemption of specific sinners was an eternal plan of God, and this plan and design was perfectly conceived and perfectly executed so that the will of God to save His people is accomplished by the atoning work of Christ.

Another proof text cited against the doctrine of limited atonement is I John 2:1-2 which says, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

The text is properly interpreted to distinguish between the words “our” and “whole.” John is contrasting that Christ’s atoning work is not only efficient for the Jew but also for the Gentile. The Gospel is extended to all kinds of people throughout the world. Christ is not only the propitiation for the sins of the Jewish elect but for the elect who God saves throughout the whole world who are not Jewish.

Dr. Scott Clark concludes by saying, “Christ’s death did not simply make salvation available for those who will, but rather our Savior actually secured the salvation of all His people. His death satisfied God’s justice for all the elect. Christ’s death is of infinite worth, but intended to satisfy God’s wrath for the elect. Therefore, the promise of the Gospel is that “whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life” Contrary to the caricature of Calvinism, the synod said that, by His death, Christ redeemed “out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given to Him by the Father.” 

Let me encourage you to read John 6:35-66; 17:1-12; Romans 5:1-10; I John 4:1-10; and Revelation 5:1-10 for further study.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

The Canons of Dordt: Unconditional Election.

When the Council of Dordrecht or Dordt began on November 13, 1618 it sought to refute the teachings of Jacob Arminius and his followers. The council did so by specifically addressing five points Arminius’ protesters, or Remonstrants, proposed. These five points were that (1) Election unto salvation is conditioned upon foreseen faith and obedience; (2) Universal or an unlimited atonement is taught in the Scriptures; (3) Regeneration enables sinners to contribute good works toward salvation; (4) God’s grace is resistible; and (5) Believers may fall away or lose their salvation.

Previously, we briefly examined the doctrine of Total Depravity. Today we study the biblical doctrine of Unconditional or Sovereign Election.

Unconditional Election means that God does not foresee an action or condition on the sinner’s part that induces or persuades Him to save sinners. Rather election, or God’s choosing to save sinners from the penalty, power and eventual presence of sin, rests on God’s sovereign decision to save whomever He is pleased to save. It is God’s sovereign choice to save and His sovereign choice alone.

Ephesians 1:3-5 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.”

Ephesians 1:3-5 explains that God chose sinners before He created the world. The purpose of God’s choosing to save was so that the redeemed should be holy and blameless before Him. God predestined to adopt some as His own through the person and work of Jesus Christ. God did this according to the purpose of His will. In other words, God wanted to do this.

There are those within the church who believe that God’ sovereign choice was ultimately based on His foreseeing who would believe the Gospel. Based on that decision to believe, God then made His sovereign choice to save. In other words, the sinner chooses Christ and on the basis of that choice, God chose the sinner. To put it another way, we choose to be chosen.

Rather than choosing to save based on those who God “foreknew” who believe the Gospel, God’s sovereign choice was not based upon any foreseen conditions the sinner could ever meet. God chose to save because that is what God independently chose to do.

Dr. C. Sproul explains that, “Many people who have a doctrine of election or predestination look at it this way. They believe that in eternity past God looked down through the corridors of time and He knew in advance who would say yes to the offer of the gospel and who would say no. On the basis of this prior knowledge of those who will meet the condition for salvation—that is, expressing faith or belief in Christ—He elects to save them. This is conditional election, which means that God distributes His electing grace on the basis of some foreseen condition that human beings meet themselves.

Romans 9:10-13 says, “And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’” 

Dr. Sproul explains that, “Here the Apostle Paul is giving his exposition of the doctrine of election. He deals with it significantly in Romans 8, but here he illustrates his teaching of the doctrine of election by going back into the past of the Jewish people and looking at the circumstances surrounding the birth of twins—Jacob and Esau. In the ancient world, it was customary for the firstborn son to receive the inheritance or the patriarchal blessing. However, in the case of these twins, God reversed the process and gave the blessing not to the elder but to the younger. The point that the Apostle labors here is that God not only makes this decision prior to the twins’ births, He does it without a view to anything they would do, either good or evil, so that the purposes of God might stand. Therefore, our salvation does not rest on us; it rests solely on the gracious, sovereign decision of God.

Unconditional election is another way of saying sovereign election. But is it fair of God to save people this way? The Apostle Paul, in Romans 9, anticipated this objection when he wrote: “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

It is God’s divine and sovereign prerogative to save those who He chooses to save. Some sinners received justice while others received mercy or non-justice. No sinner, the redeemed or the reprobate, receives injustice from God.

When we realize that there was nothing done on our part for God to choose to save us from our sins, then we become broken people. We fall, as it were, upon our faces with the utmost gratitude to God for choosing to save sinners such as us when He was under no obligation to do so. God chose to save on the basis of His sovereign grace and grace alone.

I recall during my first year at Detroit Bible College that this truth came upon me following a theology class. I was overwhelmed with gratitude to God for choosing to save me and also overwhelmed that He was under no obligation to do so. Ultimately, sovereign or unconditional election results in God receiving all the glory and praise for our justification.

Take this moment to thank God for choosing to save you.

Soli deo Gloria!

The Canons of Dordt: Total Depravity.

This week we are taking time from our study of the Gospel of John in order to observe the 400th anniversary of The Council of Dordrecht or Dordt. The council or synod began on November 13, 1618. It occurred in the Netherlands at a southern city called Dordrecht, which in English is shortened to Dordt. The resulting document from the synod is called the Canons (rules) of Dordt.

The followers of Jacob Arminius, otherwise known as the Remonstrants or protestors,  proposed five points: (1) Election unto salvation is conditioned upon foreseen faith and obedience; (2) Universal atonement; (3) Regeneration enables sinners to contribute good works toward salvation; (4) Resistible grace; (5) Believers may fall away or lose their salvation.

The synod met in order to address and biblically refute each of the Remonstrants’ five points. This morning we look at the first point which is known as Total Depravity.

Dr. R.C. Sproul explains that, The doctrine of total depravity reflects the Reformed viewpoint of original sin. That term—original sin—is often misunderstood in the popular arena. Some people assume that the term original sin must refer to the first sin—the original transgression that we’ve all copied in many different ways in our own lives, that is, the first sin of Adam and Eve. But that’s not what original sin has referred to historically in the church. Rather, the doctrine of original sin defines the consequences to the human race because of that first sin.”

David, in Psalm 51, acknowledged that human beings were marred by the fall when he wrote, “Oh, God, I was born in sin, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5). David was not saying that it was sinful for his mother to have borne children. Neither was David saying that he was evil because he was physically born.  On the contrary, David acknowledged the human condition of fallenness—that condition that was part of the experience of his parents, a condition that he himself experienced when born into this world. Original sin concerns the fallen nature of mankind.

Total Depravity does not mean that man is as bad as he can possibly be. Total Depravity does not mean utter depravity. We often use the term total as a synonym for utter or for completely. Therefore, some believe that the notion of total depravity means that every human being is as bad as that person could possibly be. Not at all.

Total Depravity does mean that sin has permeated, or affected, every part of man’s being. Sin has pervaded his intellect, emotions, and will. Perhaps another way of identifying this biblical truth is to say that fallen man is radically corrupted (Jeremiah 17:9; John 8:44). To put it another way, we are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are by nature sinners.

I submit the following biblical observations regarding Total Depravity.

  • Total Depravity means that fallen man is dead in his trespasses and sin (Ephesians 2:1; 2:12).
  • Total Depravity means that fallen man lives in worldliness and disobedience to God (Ephesians 2:2).
  • Total Depravity means that fallen man lives in the lusts of his flesh, indulges the desires of the flesh and of the mind (Ephesians 2:3).
  • Total Depravity means that fallen man is by nature a child and an object of God’s wrath (Ephesians 2:3).
  • Total Depravity means that fallen man has no fear, or reverence, of God (Romans 3:18).
  • Total Depravity means that fallen man is an enemy of God (Romans 5:8-10).
  • Total Depravity means that fallen man’s passions motivate all of his living (Romans 7:5).

Dr. John MacArthur explains that, “Total Depravity does not mean that the expression of sinful human nature is always lived out to the fullest. It does not mean that unbelievers are incapable of acts of kindness, benevolence, goodwill, or human altruism. It certainly does not mean that non-Christians cannot appreciate goodness, beauty, honesty, decency, or excellence. It does mean that none of this has any merit with God.”  

Total Depravity teaches that sinful man is incapable of doing anything to please God (Isaiah 64:6). He is incapable of truly loving God or obeying Him from the heart (Mark 7:21-23), of understanding spiritual truth (I Corinthians 2:14), of possessing genuine faith (Ephesians 2:8-9; Philippians 1:29; 2 Peter 1:1), and of truly seeking Him (Romans 3:10-20; Hebrews 11:1). Because of Adam’s sin, the entire fallen human race is totally depraved (Romans 5:12; I Corinthians 15:22).  Because of this reality, sinful and fallen man is incapable of achieving his own salvation

Theologian and Pastor J.C. Ryle explains, “The blind man can see no difference between a masterpiece of Titian or Raphael and the queen’s head on a village signboard. The deaf man cannot distinguish between a penny whistle and a cathedral organ. The very animals whose smell is most offensive to us have no idea that they are offensive and are not offensive to one another. And man, fallen man, I believe, can have no idea what a vile thing sin is in the sight of that God whose handiwork is absolutely perfect.”

Pastor D. Martyn Lloyd Jones says, “Why is it that man ever chooses sin? The answer is that man has fallen away from God, and as a result, his whole nature has become perverted and sinful. Man’s whole bias is away from God. By nature he hates God and feels that God is opposed to him. His god is himself, his own abilities and powers, his own desires. He objects to the whole idea of God and the demands which God makes upon him. Furthermore, man likes and covets the things which God prohibits, and dislikes the things and the kind of life to which God calls him. These are no mere dogmatic statements. They are facts. They alone explain the moral muddle and the ugliness that characterize life to such an extent today.”

The Apostle Paul explained Total Depravity as follows: “What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:9-20)

The only hope fallen man has is receiving the imputed righteousness of Christ by grace alone, through faith alone because of the person and work of Jesus Christ alone. Consider the words of the Apostle Paul from Romans 3:21-26.

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

Tomorrow we examine the biblical doctrine known as Unconditional Election.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

 

 

The Canons of Dordt: The Controversy Grows.

This week we are taking time from our study of the Gospel of John in order to observe the 400th anniversary of The Council of Dordrecht or Dordt. The council or synod began on November 13, 1618. It occurred in the Netherlands at a southern city called Dordrecht, which in English is shortened to Dordt. The resulting document from the synod is called the Canons (rules) of Dordt.

When Jacob Arminius died in October 1609, the controversy he created over the sovereignty of God in salvation entered a new phase. The Arminians, followers of Arminius, published a remonstrance, or formal protest, against the Reformed churches. They outlined and articulated five objections to Reformed doctrine. Some preliminary responses were drafted as early as 1611. However, it was the Remonstrants who first gave us five points to which the Reformed churches would respond at the Synod of Dordt.

Dr. R. Scott Clark, professor of church history and historical theology at Westminster Seminary California and associate minister of Escondido United Reformed Church, explains that, The Synod of Dordt almost did not occur. Political forces within the government worked mightily to prevent a national synod to address the problem. The theological crisis threatened to break out into warfare. Prince Maurice of Nassau (1567–1625), who sympathized with the orthodox, called for a national synod. The Remonstrants responded by organizing riots in 1617. Maurice’s chief rival threatened war, but when Maurice arrived in Utrecht (an Arminian stronghold) in 1618 with battle-tested veterans, the opposition melted.”

The resulting synod to address the Remonstrants convened in Dordrecht, on November 13, 1618. Attending were delegates from across Europe and Britain. Forbidden by Louis XIII from attending, the French delegation was notably absent.

The Remonstrants proposed five points: (1) Election unto salvation is conditioned upon foreseen faith and obedience; (2) Universal atonement; (3) Regeneration enables sinners to contribute good works toward salvation; (4) Resistible grace; (5) Believers may fall away or lose their salvation.

The synod met to address each of these specific five points. They responded that God’s election of sinners unto salvation is not preconditioned by any foreseen faith by God in the sinner. Second, the synod supported the doctrine of limited atonement. Third, the council refuted that man’s good works contributed anything to his salvation. Fourth, God’s grace is always effectual. Five, the truly converted will never, and cannot, lose their salvation.

Dr. Clark adds, “The Canons of Dordt represent a remarkable consensus of conviction among the Reformed churches on essential doctrines. Indeed, the very Reformation was at stake. If God’s favor is conditioned upon anything in us, then we are lost because we are dead in sin. If the Gospel is reconfigured to include our obedience, then it is no longer the Gospel. If atonement is merely hypothetical, if the elect can fall away, then grace is no longer grace.”

Tomorrow, we will examine each of the five points beginning with what is known as Total Depravity. I trust you will join me.

It is often said that doctrine divides and love unites churches. However, true love for God and for one another must be rooted and grounded in biblical doctrine or truth. Let us strive to remember this and maintain a proper balance between truth and love.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

The Canons of Dordt.

For the next week we will take a break from our study of the Gospel of John in order to observe the 400th anniversary of a council of which you may not be familiar. The council or synod began on November 13, 1618. It occurred in the Netherlands at a southern city called Dordrecht, which in English is shortened to Dordt. The resulting document from the synod is called the Canons (rules) of Dordt.

Many Christians are familiar with the acronym TULIP. It is a shorthand summary of the doctrine of salvation and God’s sovereign grace in that salvation. It stands for (1) Total Depravity; (2) Unconditional Election; (3) Limited Atonement; (4) Irresistible Grace and (5) Perseverance or the Preservation of the Saints. The acronym is most often associated with the Reformed pastor and theologian John Calvin.

However, not everyone knows that this acronym comes from the Canons of Dordt and was formulated 54 years after Calvin’s death. The Canons of Dordt are among the most famous but unread document of any Reformed Synod. The canons are more than just the five letters T.U.L.I.P. They teach a biblical doctrine of grace and provide a model for the stewardship of the Gospel. Along with the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism, they embody what is known as the Three Forms of Unity.

How and why did the Synod of Dordt occur? What were the reasons for writing the Canons of Dordt in the first place?

Dr. R. Scott Clark, professor of church history and historical theology at Westminster Seminary California and associate minister of Escondido United Reformed Church, provides helpful information and insight. He explains, The Canons (rules) of the Synod of Dordt were written after years of controversy within the Reformed churches in Europe and Britain. In the late sixteenth century the Reformed doctrines of sin, grace, faith, justification, atonement, perseverance, and assurance faced a growing resistance.”

It was at this time that James Hermanson (c. 1559–1609), commonly known to us as Jacob Arminius, was a student in the Genevan Academy where he evidenced promise as a biblical scholar. At the time, he displayed no obvious evidence of heretical doctrine or teaching.

However, concerns about Arminius’ doctrine began as early as 1590. However, Jacob supporters protected him. About 1594 he presented a new interpretation of Romans 7 in which he argued that Paul was not describing a regenerate person. Six years later, he concluded from his study of Romans 9 that a sinner’s inclusion in the covenant of grace was not determined solely by God’s sovereign grace alone. Instead, God chose to accept those who seek acceptance with Him by their own self-generated faith.

Dr. Scott states that, “This was a clever move. He (Arminius) appeared to be defending justification by faith all the while redefining the doctrine of election and the definition of faith. As time passed, his views became more-well known. Confessional pastors and theologians in the Netherlands and elsewhere began to sound the alarm. Dialogues were conducted and Arminius said the right things, leaving the orthodox uneasy but without hard evidence of error.”

In spite of growing concern and doubts about Arminius’ orthodoxy, the regents of the University of Leiden appointed him to be professor of theology. Almost immediately, Jacob Arminius was controversial. He taught that God elected those to salvation who He foreknew would believe. Arminius also questioned the Reformed doctrine of the covenant of works. Dr. Scott contends that, “In public, however, Arminius went out of his way to agree with his orthodox colleagues.”

By 1605, however, Reformed pastors were calling for discipline against Arminius and his growing band of followers (the Arminians). There were calls for a national synod to discipline the Arminians, but the politicians refused. Instead, leading Arminians in the government called for a synod to revise the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism to make them more agreeable to Arminius’ views.

Arminius died in October 1609, but the controversy he created entered a new phase. More to come when next we meet.

You might be asking where you might find a copy of the Canons of Dordt. A free downloadable copy of the entire document is available online from Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. You can also find a copy in the back of The Reformation Study Bible, which is published by Reformation Trust.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

The Gospel of John: The Dividing Line.

And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” (John 12:44-50)

Jesus Christ is the dividing line between life and death, forgiveness and condemnation, heaven and hell. This is inherent in the biblical truth that salvation from the penalty, power and presence of sin is by grace alone, through faith alone in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone.

Jesus said in today’s text, “If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.”

Dr. R. C. Sproul explains that, “If Jesus is the dividing line between condemnation and salvation, and if we are either saved or condemned, then it is not surprising that Jesus almost never talks about salvation without also talking about condemnation. We see this in today’s passage where in the same context that Jesus proclaims Himself as the way of salvation, He also sets forth rejecting Him as the way of condemnation. Having said that anyone who believes in Him believes in God, sees God, and walks in light, Jesus goes on to say that the consequence of not believing in Him and His words is to exist under judgment (John 12:44–48).”

This truth has never been popular and never will be with the fallen world. The exclusivity of salvation solely in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone strikes people as too narrow minded and not inclusive of other religious systems in which people have placed their sincere faith. The argument is that the litmus test for truth and faith must be the sincerity of the one believing in their truth system.

However, sincerity is never the foundation for whether something is true. Objectivity and reality is. Whether or not something is true is not based upon the sincerity of the believer but rather on the reality and objectivity of the truth which is proclaimed and believed.

Dr. Hans Madueme is associate professor of theological studies at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, GA writes, “God’s Word is our final authority precisely because it reflects the character and trustworthiness of God. Biblical Christianity is not an esoteric religion or an abstract set of ideas but is based on historical and material realities: God became incarnate in our world; the Messiah was born in Bethlehem; He lived in Nazareth; His biological mother was Mary; many witnessed His miracles; He was interrogated by the fifth prefect of Judea—Pontius Pilate—and convicted by the Sanhedrin; He was crucified on Golgotha; and He rose again. You cannot separate the salvific or spiritual component of our faith from the historical and the material. The two categories are inextricably bound together in the biblical story.”

On what side of the diving line are you standing? It truly is a matter of life and death. The Bible says, “But to all who did receive him (Jesus Christ), who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)

Soli deo Gloria!

The Gospel of John: Final Words to the Crowd.

And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” (John 12:44-50)

In Jesus’ final words to the crowd following His entrance into the City of Jerusalem, on what is commonly known as Palm Sunday, focus on several truths. These truths concern the benefits believers have when they place their God-given faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Remember, faith or belief in the person and work of Jesus Christ involves four key components. These are a trust in, a commitment to, a dependence upon and a worship of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

First, people who believe in Jesus Christ are believers in the God of the Bible:  God the Father. God the Father is the One who sent Jesus: God the Son. Therefore, it is true that those who “say” they believe in the God of the Bible, and yet deny that Jesus is that God, do not in reality believe in the God of the Bible regardless of what they say.

Second, people who believe in Jesus Christ recognize Him for who He truly is: Emmanuel. God with us. We do not have to guess what God is like for He has revealed Himself in creation and in the Scriptures. The pinnacle of God’s self-revelation is the person and work of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-4). We do not have to wonder what Jesus would do because the Scriptures reveal not only what He did but also who He is.

Third, people who believe in Jesus Christ are no longer in darkness but rather are in the light. This is a dominant and recurring theme within the Gospel of John (John 1:3-9; 8:12; 9:1-41; 12:35-36). Darkness is symbolic for sin and unrighteousness. Light symbolizes holiness and righteousness. Believers in Christ no longer belong to the kingdom of darkness and death but now belong to the kingdom of light and life.

Two familiar cults, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), both claim to believe in and to be followers of the One, True God of the Bible, Yet at the same time, both cults deny that Jesus Christ is the eternal God of the Bible. Therefore, we can biblically conclude that despite their claims to be followers of the God of the Bible, they truly do not know the God of the Bible because they do not believe and recognize Jesus Christ to be this God.

I’m sure you have heard people say that they believe in God, and yet at the same time deny that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh and the only Savior. Ultimately, to reject Jesus, God the Son, is to also reject God the Father. The unity of the Trinity is in view. To deny and reject one member of the Trinity is to deny and reject all three.

As one commentator has written, “Jesus is not merely “one way” to God or one option among many to whom we can look to figure out what God is like. No, to see Him is to see God, and the only way to see God is to believe in Him. We must be insistent that the only way to see and to know God is to believe in Jesus alone for salvation.”

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

 

The Gospel of John: Authentic Faith.

“Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” (John 12:42-43)

In spite of the widespread unbelief towards Jesus’ person and work (John 12:37), John records that many people trusted in, committed to, began to depend upon and worshiped Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. John takes special note that of these many people some of them belonged to positions of authority within Israel. The word authorities (ἄρχων; archon) refers to officials, rulers and leaders. While this could refer strictly to governmental rulers, it could also refer to the spiritual rulers at that time in Israel (John 3:1).

However genuine their belief was, these who believed in Jesus were also frightened by the Pharisees. The word “fear” is implied in the text. There were two reasons why the people would not confess their faith but chose to give in to their fear.

First, it was because of their fear of the Pharisees putting them out of the synagogue that the people did not confess Christ (John 9:22; 12:42). The word confess (ὁμολογέω; homologeo) means to acknowledge, profess, admit or declare something to be true. The people in question would not admit they became disciples of Jesus because they were afraid the Pharisees would kick them out of the synagogue. Along with their fear of the Pharisees, the people were also afraid of the consequences of following Jesus.

Jesus had just said in this context, “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” (John 12:26). Matthew 16:24-26 says, “Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (See Mark 8:34-37; Luke 9:23-25; James 2:14-26).

The 16h century Protestant Reformers explained that saving faith involved not only knowing the basic facts concerning Jesus Christ (notitia), but also belief that those facts were true (assensus). Finally, saving faith involved a personal act of the will of trusting in Jesus to save (fiducia) based upon that prior knowledge and agreement that the facts surrounding Jesus Christ’s person and work were true.

The Bible says that true, or authentic faith (knowledge; assent; trust), will reveal itself in good works done for Jesus Christ. One of the most basic of good works done for Christ is to admit and to acknowledge to others that one is indeed a follower of Christ. If a person is not willing to admit that they are Jesus’ disciple, then it remains suspect as to whether they are a true disciple of Jesus.

Jesus said, in Luke 9:26, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”

The people mentioned in today’s text would not confess Jesus publicly. They were afraid of the consequences from such a confession. However, there was a second reason they would not confess Christ. John 12:43 says, “For they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” Rather than take pleasure in their relationship in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, they preferred the pleasure of man’s glory or praise.

Dr. R. C. Sproul explains that, “John is not necessarily saying that all of the authorities he describes fell into the category of those who “loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (v. 43). It could well be that some of these authorities later made a public declaration of faith, for we know that religious leaders such as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea finally publicly identified themselves with Jesus by taking His body for burial (19:38–42). Still, John’s comment is an implicit warning and a call to commitment. It is not enough merely to say that we believe in Jesus; those who have actually received and rested on Christ alone for salvation will confess their faith before others.”

Do you publicly inform people that you encounter that you are a follower of Jesus Christ? While we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone, we do not have a faith which is separated from good works. While good works, including public confession of our faith, do not save us, they are a biblical evidence that we are saved.

May you seek the praise of God today rather than the praise of man. Soli deo Gloria!