Divine Life and Salvation: An Outline

At the request of some young friends at a recent young people’s Bible Study on Romans 7 and 8, I have made an attempt at outlining graphically what the scriptures teach on the subjects of the believer’s two natures, of the new birth and divine life, and of salvation. It is laid out in the form of three separate timelines portraying the lifetimes of three classes of men, from natural birth to eternity, and it is filled with scripture references. Complex as this graphic is, it is far from an exhaustive treatment of the wonderful subject of how God in grace works to save souls, and many applicable textual references and clarifying comments have been left out for lack of space, because it is merely an outline.

I insert it here as an image file, but if you wish to study it further and would like to have a pdf file sent to you by email, or a hard copy by mail, you may find my contact information by navigating to About Greater Riches on this site, or request it by commenting below.  You may also click here for a Dropbox link to the graphic.

I welcome any comments or corrections.

Soteriology chart

Do Mormons Believe On Jesus?

The short but incomplete answer to the question above is: It depends on what you mean by the words “believe” and “Jesus”.  No doubt many Mormons believe in the same way that many in Jesus’ day believed in His name when they saw the miracles He did, and like Simon the sorcerer did when the preaching of the kingdom of God in Samaria was accompanied by miracles and signs.¹  However, a fleshly belief in an intellectual or religious construct, no matter that you might be impressed by the supernatural power of the divine Person that provides the building blocks for your construct, cannot save your soul from hell and the wrath of God.

Thomas Monson, long-time “apostle” and president of the Mormon Church (“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints”), died this week at age 90. In a brief commentary on Monson’s life and death, Christian apologist James White wrote this just yesterday: “It should bring deep sadness to our hearts to consider how many times he uttered the name ‘Jesus Christ’ and in each and every instance he was referring to a fictional character who does not and never did exist. Oh the impact of false religion!”  It is not now necessary to go into the depths of the false doctrine that Mormons hold as to the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, but suffice it to say that they do not view Him as the uncreated Creator of all things, eternally “the same”.²

But the very character and meaning of faith, or believing, is at issue here as well. I was perplexed to find this on the website http://www.mormon.org, where even official Mormon teaching tries to distinguish between various forms of belief or confidence in Jesus Christ:  “Millions of people know about Jesus Christ. Is it enough to know who Jesus is and His role in our Heavenly Father’s plan? That knowledge is really only the beginning. Understanding and embracing Jesus Christ’s role as Savior is key to every Christian faith. And it requires more than having a theoretical belief that He lived and accomplished great things. It requires having confidence that He was indeed resurrected and that He suffered not only death but also spiritual pain for our sins.” An unsettling aspect of this quote is that it almost reads like it could have been spoken by a preacher of the gospel. Is there something lacking in this statement that would preclude the salvation of one who apprehends it? Let’s dig a little deeper into what it means to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation and eternal life.

Without question, and first of all, the Jesus that one must trust for eternal life has to be the One revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and cannot be a counterfeit, or an intellectual construct. But as to the essence of the faith that has Christ as its object, there are Christian teachers who have a rather reductionist view of the gospel, pointing to John 3:16 (“whosoever believeth in Him”) as almost like an evangelical “theory of everything”. Certainly, every single soul could be saved by hearing that verse alone in a gospel message, but to understand the gospel of the grace of God and the nature of “sincere faith”,³ more teaching is needed from both the Gospel of John and the book of Romans.

For example, Paul writes in Romans that justification requires “faith in His blood” as well as “believing in Jesus” (Romans 3:24-26). He adds to that in chapter 4:24 the necessity of “believing on Him (God) that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead”. And then in Romans 10:9, Paul stipulates that salvation comes by confessing with your mouth and believing “in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead”. John 1:12 speaks of “receiving” the One who is the Light, and in John 5:24, the Lord adds another factor prerequisite to having eternal life: “He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life”.  Also, in Ephesians 2:8, the required faith is declared to be not from oneself, but is the gift of God. Now it soon becomes evident that that wonderful and multi-faceted scheme of redemption accomplished by Christ and offered to man cannot be reduced doctrinally to one verse or phrase, even though a verse like John 3:16 (I repeat) is able to save any soul who hears it by faith. We cannot here cover all the facets of redemption and how believers enter into the enjoyment of all their spiritual blessings in Christ by faith.

However, one aspect of faith is too often missed, and even rejected by many, and that is that genuine faith is much more than (and different in character from) the kind of faith one might have in the laws of gravity or astronomy. It must be the result of a quickened or born again soul, that is, of a “new heart” given sovereignly by God (Ezekiel 36:26). When many believed in Jesus’ name after seeing the miracles, we are promptly instructed by John how that the Lord Jesus didn’t entrust Himself to them, because He knew what was needed first: new birth, a quickening work in the souls of men. Only then, only after insisting to Nicodemus that new birth was necessary to address “what was in man”, does Jesus reveal eternal life to be the result of God-given faith in Him. Read John 2:23 through 3:16 (especially connecting 3:2 with 2:23) to gain an understanding of what the Lord Jesus knew, and what He mandated as the requirement for faith to be effectual, that a man might even be able “to see (by faith) the kingdom of God”. Effectual faith must have the born-again soul as its spring, and any “faith” because of miracles, or any “belief” arising from the will of man, is still rejected by God as the fruit of the flesh, which cannot please Him. See John 1:12-13 and Romans 8:7-8.

No matter what a morally upright Mormon might believe, if he sees no need for a “new creation” order of faith and divine life, then his knowledge of Christ and his faith in Christ will be strictly “according to the flesh”.*  And when once a Mormon soul is quickened by God’s sovereign grace, his or her faith will come to rest on the One who “is the true God, and eternal life”,° and will no doubt soon turn away from the counterfeit construct the LDS system has set forth for fleshly belief. And many have already done so, praise God!

 

¹    John 2:23; Acts 8:5-24

²    “Thou art the same” (atta hu) is a Hebrew designation for Jehovah found in Psalm 102:27; also Hebrews 1 and 13:8

³     I Timothy 1:5 and II Timothy 1:5, ESV

*    II Corinthians 5:16-17, Darby’s New Translation

°    I John 5:20

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem

Political shock waves have rippled through the world for days after last week’s announcement by the Trump administration that it would begin the process of moving the United States embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  I do not wish to debate the political wisdom or timeliness of this move, but rather, accepting the policy change as the new reality, I hope to encourage my readers to take the longer view and to acknowledge God’s ways in the preservation of His earthly people from behind the scenes.

God chose the nation of Israel for the once and future administration of this earth, but because of their treachery and Jehovah’s consequent judgment upon them, we are more than 2600 years into a period the Lord called the “times of the Gentiles”. Jerusalem was taken captive and left to languish by the Babylonians around 600 BC.  During the ministry of the Lord Jesus almost 2000 years ago, He foretold the sad state of the city He mourned over, which would last from the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and its temple until “the times of the Gentiles (nations) be fulfilled.” That once-beautiful city, so favored by Jehovah, would be “trodden underfoot of the Gentiles” during that time (Luke 21:24).

A friend brought to my attention some ministry written close to a century ago and before the Jewish Holocaust, which I give here in part: “Men would do well to let God do His own work in His own time, and in His own way. Human meddling with God’s purposes can only lead to disaster. Amongst the many movements of our own day, all solemnly suggestive that the end of the age is approaching, is the proposal of the British Government to re-establish the Jewish people in the land of their fathers . . . Their restoration lies altogether outside men’s political arrangements.” (W. W. Fereday)   This is certainly true when the scope of our preview is what the Lord will work in and among his people to bring them to faith and establish them in triumph over their enemies in that day of Christ’s manifestation in this world. After God’s judgment on them for rejecting their Messiah, during that Great Tribulation, they will be given new hearts and a new spirit, as well as God’s own Spirit.¹ God will sovereignly quicken them, and no political maneuvering will have a hand in bringing this miracle about.

However, this blessed prophecy does not preclude God from using man’s political arrangements for the protection and prosperity of His earthly people even while they are under the sentence of Lo-ruhamah and Lo-ammi (I will not have mercy; and, you are not my people).²  In the book of Esther, we see how God protects and prospers the Jews in spite of the vitriol aimed at them by the Agagite Haman. Though God is not even mentioned in that inspired historical account, yet He was certainly working behind the political scene found there in Shushan and Medo-Persia.

More recently, God ended the career of Adolf Hitler and his Third Reich long before he could snuff out European Jewry, the object of his maniacal hatred. No doubt God’s protecting hand might be viewed as only sparing them temporarily for a yet greater judgment to come in which two-thirds of them will perish³, but any delay in judgment gives more opportunity for repentance and salvation for individual Jews during this day when God’s grace reigns.

But what about the Trump administration’s announcement fully recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital? Was this man’s meddling with God’s purposes, or was it God working on behalf of His ancient people by way of a man’s political ambition? I suppose the only way it could truly be “meddling” is if the agents were purporting to act on behalf of God, otherwise He is simply using the agents unwittingly to set the stage for the prophetic clock to start ticking again, after the church is raptured to be with Christ. Either way, the case could be made that the recognition of Jerusalem is of the same order as, and simply a logical consequence of, the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine many decades ago, and the establishment of Israel as a nation in 1948.

Early teachers of dispensational truth predicted that the Jewish people would have to flock to their ancient land, including Jerusalem, even while in a state of national unbelief, so the events of the last 100 years have not caught by surprise those who learned that truth from the scriptures. As an example, A.J. Pollock wrote this soon after World War I: “The Bible tells us that the Jewish nation is to go back to its own land in unbelief. Ezekiel 37:21 says, ‘Behold I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land.’ History is penning the fulfillment of these lines. In 1882 Jerusalem numbered 24,000 inhabitants, 4,000 of whom were Jews. In 1910 there were 100,000 inhabitants, 80,000 of whom were Jews. That is to say, in less than thirty years the population more than quadrupled, whilst the Jewish portion multiplied twenty times. This increase can only be attributed to God’s power; cities have been known to spring into being with mushroom growth, but there have been patent reasons for their so doing, such as big manufactories being set up, demanding labour, or the discovery of gold in the vicinity attracting population. But no such reason even remotely governs the increase in Jerusalem’s population.

How should a Christian respond to, or what sentiments are appropriate to, the rise of Jerusalem politically? There is nothing inconsistent about hoping to “see the good of Jerusalem”° on the one hand, while mourning its unbelief on the other. The Lord Jesus wept over that city with all the deep feeling of unrequited love and compassion, and yet He could pronounce centuries of judgment and desolation upon it in these words: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together . . . !  Behold, your house is left unto you desolate: and verily I say unto you, Ye shall not see me, until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.”*  For the fulfillment of this prophecy that previews an awakened desire for Messiah, the Jews must  have returned to their land in unbelief, and Jerusalem not only inhabited, but central to a collective Jewish psyche.

It really does not matter how you or I feel about the political wisdom of President Trump’s action on Jerusalem, or of the risks taken in doing so. The stage is being set for Israel’s greatest national trial and subsequent restoration, and that from a position far higher than an American president. But we who trust in the living God can rejoice that Israel’s preservation and prosperity, and even the very existence of the Jew, his land, and his precious city, is abundant testimony to the world that God is still moving behind the scenes to bring about blessing through faith for both Jew and Gentile, and for the glorious exaltation of His beloved Son over all this earthly scene.

 

¹   Matthew 24:21; Ezekiel 36:24-29

²    Hosea 1:6-11, but see I Peter 2:10

³    Zechariah 13:8-9

°    Psalm 128:5

*    Luke 19:41; 13:34-35

I Only Am Left

It has been troubling to me to take note of Christian men who withdraw from fellowship with other saints because of the shortcomings they find in their brothers and sisters in Christ. I would not question whether these souls are truly the Lord’s own, or whether He can still use them in a limited way to advance His purposes in the kingdom of God.  But there is loss suffered in the body of Christ and in the soul, when a Christian eschews godly fellowship in the assembly, or avoids real engagement with other believers even while perfunctorily attending a church.

Standing aloof from one’s brethren because they are simply weak and failing brings to mind the prophet Elijah, whom Jehovah sent to the wayward and idolatrous northern kingdom of Israel.  Elijah performed great and terrible signs by the power of God, praying for a three-year cessation of rain, calling down fire from heaven on the sacrifice and altar on Mount Carmel, and even calling down fire to consume the emissaries of King Ahab (I Kings 17 – II Kings 1). No doubt all this was of the Lord in His ways of judgment among His people, to the end that their consciences would be smitten and so that repentance might result. However, Elijah was a “man subject to like passions as we are” (James 5:17), and he missed the mind of God in a few important points which I believe might be used to exercise the hearts of some who may feel the way Elijah did.

Many readers will remember that Elijah’s failure of interceding against the people of God is the only failure of an Old Testament saint found recorded in the New Testament (Romans 11:2-5). This is instructive for us beyond the immediate context of God’s election of a remnant by sovereign grace. I believe we could say that there was a serious flaw in Elijah’s otherwise godly character that made his prideful disdain of other Israelites so noteworthy, and the subject of the Lord’s rebuke and censure.

It was this root of self-importance that caused him to flee into the wilderness from Jezebel and there complain: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers” (I Kings 19). One only speaks this way if he had once thought himself to actually be better than his fathers; it was a pitiful admission of his pride. Soon after this, upon reaching Horeb, the mount of God, he manifests it yet again by his speech to Jehovah: “I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant, thrown down Thine altars, and slain Thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left . . .”  After Elijah repeats this defense of himself, Jehovah in grace gives the gentle yet pointed rebuke: “Yet I have left Me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which has not kissed him.” We are left to wonder why Elijah failed to seek out these godly ones so as to have some fellowship with them in their isolation, particularly when we notice that the remnant of returned Jews at a later time “spoke often one to another” (Malachi 3:16). This desire for fellowship with the faithful is normal and approved of by the Lord.

The God of Israel had an important mission for Elijah among those tribes that rebelled against the rightful king of the house of David. Following Jeroboam, they had left the divinely-chosen center for worship (Jerusalem) for their own artificial and idolatrous worship at Dan and Bethel. I have often pondered Elijah’s seeming lack of esteem for the place Jehovah had chosen to place His name (Deuteronomy 12), seeing there were other faithful ones from the ten northern tribes that gathered at Jerusalem both before and after the days of Elijah¹, during the reigns of Asa and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Why this lack and failure? True, he had been led of Jehovah to build an altar of precisely twelve stones on Mount Carmel², indicating his appreciation for Jehovah’s perspective on Israel as being one undivided nation in His thoughts, but why did Elijah not go further in his thoughts and desires, even to Jerusalem, where true worship to the Lord was to be offered? It was during Elijah’s ministry that godly Jehoshaphat gathered the faithful of Judah to the house of the Lord in Jerusalem “to seek the Lord”, and Elijah would have done well to be gathered there with them³.

Elijah’s service was special and singular, and on its principle God was pleased to pattern the ministry of both John the Baptist and a future prophetic witness during the Great Tribulation period.*  But he is not a model for the Christian man today, and his lonely and isolated ministry of judgment and restoration presaging an earthly kingdom** is suited to periods outside of this day when “grace reigns” (Romans 5:21). The Lord Jesus indicated as much when He rebuked His disciples when they invoked Elijah’s action° in entertaining the thought of calling fire down from heaven on Samaritans: “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.”

The believer of this age ought to seek out companionship and fellowship with those “who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (II Timothy 2:16-22).  Truly, there should also be an exercise of conscience as to separation from evil doctrine and immoral practice among Christians. But it is antithetical to the proper spirit of a Christian to neglect this dispensation’s true gathering center for worship, prayer, and administrative authority (i.e., the Lord Jesus Christ – Matthew 18:18-20), or to think so highly of one’s own spiritual state as to separate himself with complaining spirit from simple but godly saints who seek to be gathered around Christ. God in wisdom uses the “spirit of Elijah” to accomplish His purposes of blessing in other days, but the spirit of a Timothy or of an Onesiphorus°° is what He really delights in using for the blessing of saints now, in the church of God.

 

¹  II Chronicles 15:8-10; 30:5-11      ²  I Kings 18:31   ³  II Chronicles 20:3-5   * Revelation 11    **  Malachi 4:5-5; Matthew 16:28 – 17:11    °  Luke 9:54-56; II Kings 1     °°  Philippians 2:19-23; II Timothy 1:15-18

Blessed Are the Dead Who Die in the Lord

I recently attended the funeral of a relative whom I did not know very well. Some who knew the man well lacked assurance as to his eternal well-being, and sorrowed over the uncertainty.   The uncertainty was due to the inconsistent Christian walk and testimony of the deceased loved one. However difficult a person’s passing may be for family and friends, it would only be my desire with God’s help to speak comfort to their burdened hearts by bringing some scriptural clarity to what it means to have “died in faith” (Hebrews 11:13), or to “die in the Lord” (Revelation 14:13).

The Bible does not direct us to look at the failures of Christians who die, or we might never have the assurance that a soul is merely “absent from the body” but “present with the Lord” (II Corinthians 5:8). It is possible that even the godliest believer commits a sin of the flesh or spirit immediately prior to death, and if that disqualifies one from dying in the Lord, how can we have assurance for anyone in their passing?

Repentance from every sin committed, even the very last one, is sometimes put forth as a prerequisite for entrance into God’s presence upon death. However, repentance is a change of mind and heart toward God and His claims upon a person, and does not really refer to an exhaustive confession of individual sins committed throughout one’s life. How worrisome would it be to the soul if a believer lived in fear that some sin of the flesh or spirit was not discerned or properly confessed? This is not at all the will of the Father for His own dear children. When John tells us in I John 1:7 that “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all (every) sin”, it is in light of the truth that He “bore our sins in His own body on the tree” (I Peter 2:24), and those who are “in the light” are in the good of this abstract and objective guarantee. The confession of our individual sins in I John 1:9 is in view of the practical cleansing a believer needs on a daily basis for fellowship with Christ and enjoyment of Him.¹

Hebrews 11 is often called the “faith chapter”, and we are given a long list of names in that chapter who “died in faith”. How many imperfections might we find in each of these who are commended by God for their faith? Was not Abraham justified by faith before his failure in the matter of Hagar and Ishmael? Was not David assured that the Lord would not impute sin to him,² though he sinned and acted foolishly numerous times? Was not Samson guilty of a sad departure from God, as well as a suicidal death?  (Judges 16:30)  Yet he also had faith, and it saved him in spite of all his failures, because God claimed him as His own. Jephthah was harsh and hasty, Isaac was apparently given to an inordinate appetite for good food that dimmed his spiritual eyesight, but what they did for God, they did by faith, and all is recorded for us to learn from. Their failures are all hidden in the New Testament, with but one exception.³

God’s dividing line in the matter of one’s eternal destiny is not whether or not every sin committed was properly confessed, or whether or not a man exhibits faith to his family and friends in the last days of his life. He divides the human race on the basis of whether or not one is born again by grace, and consequently has faith in the testimony of God with regard to His Son. The Lord Jesus put it plainly for the comfort of the believer’s soul: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24). The Lord did not intend for this great truth to be weakened by our conditions.

For the possession of new life (the new creation – II Corinthians 5:17) is in the final analysis the determining factor in one’s eternal destiny. All who have ever had new life from God throughout history are enjoying Him now, awaiting the resurrection. New life in Christ does not guarantee sinless perfection, but neither is that new life (the new nature) affected by the believer’s failures in the flesh, when he or she stoops to heed the desires of the flesh for a time, incurring the Father’s chastisement (Hebrews 12:5-11). This teaching is shown to be true by the warning and assurance wrapped up together in one verse in Ephesians 4:  “And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption”.

If the departed soul had eternal life and sealing by the Spirit, any fleshly act in his life no doubt grieved that Spirit.  But a sin could never negate the impartation of that life, nor undo the Spirit’s seal, which is unto the day of the redemption of our bodies, at the resurrection of the just. When a loved one dies who confessed Christ as Savior and Lord, our loving Father would desire to afford us the comfort of looking in hindsight for the evidences of that new life, which is the fruit of the Spirit of God, even if much of that Christian’s work may be burned up when “the day” declares it.*   For if he was a true believer, “he himself shall be saved”, but so as through the fire.

 

¹   John 13:7-11;  Ephesians 5:26

²   Romans 4:8

³   Romans 11:2

*   Galatians 5:22-23;  I Corinthians 3:12-15

What Causes Division in the Church?

There may be no failure so evident and so pervasive in Christendom over the last 500 years since the Reformation than the splintering of the Christian testimony into hundreds of sects founded on various teachings or following competing leaders. The failure is great because both the prototype and the principle of the church’s unity on earth were so pristine and ideal. There are few things more striking in the New Testament than the unity and love by which that prototypical assembly in Jerusalem functioned, as seen in Acts 2-15. How far the testimony of the church has fallen!

The Lord Jesus first laid down the principle of unity: “That they all may be one, as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us” (John 17:21).  The apostle Paul provides an illustration to the Corinthians, who were perhaps the earliest to manifest divisive tendencies¹: “Now are they many members, yet but one body” (I Corinthians 12:20). Each heart that honors Christ as Head of the body cannot but be grieved on His account for the disunity of the Christian testimony. But an outward unity of the whole church of God, in testimony toward the world, is impossible for any of us to restore, no matter our love or zeal for it. Ecumenism is not the answer, for there will not be a maintenance of holiness or righteousness where the underlying reasons for the divisions and disunity are ignored and glossed over by men, since “God requires that which is past” (Eccl. 3:15; I Kings 12 & 13; Rev. 18:4-7). Neither is the solution to break away from an established group with problems in order to start our own independent assembly, perhaps with better intentions or nicer people, for it would leave us with just another division, and perhaps no more truth or unity.

So what then are the causes of the divided state of the church of God? Or what causes rifts in individual assemblies? All believers must admit in their consciences that there has been general failure in “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3), and I would suggest there is a primary cause for the failure:  Reserving for oneself a right to choose one’s own religion or church. This diagnosis may sound strange to many believers, so allow me to explain further.

The words “heretic” (Titus 3:10) and “sects” or “factions” (I Corinthians 11:19, Galatians 5:20) are based on the Greek hairéomai, which means to prefer, or to choose². The sects called Pharisees and Saducees (Acts 5:17; 15:5) were results of the choices and preferences many Jews had made prior to the Lord’s first coming, and they bore similarities to denominations in our day. (Even the early Christians were called a sect, though they never considered themselves that – Acts 24:5, 15 and 28:22.) A heretic, or divisive person, is very often simply a Christian leader who draws saints after himself, perhaps by seemingly innocuous methods. Nevertheless, where pride of this sort is not judged for what it is, Corinthian sectarianism¹ bears the fruit of its disobedience just one more time in the church’s long history. Whenever we reserve for ourselves a “right to choose” our church affiliation or leader according to our preferences, we become guilty of sectarianism, and so at least tacitly approve of division in the church of God.

What is an earnest Christian to do if he or she ought not to choose a church based on preferences? The only scriptural principle of action when a believer is troubled about his religious or ecclesiastical associations is obedience. When Moses instructed Israel on the matter of acceptable worship to Jehovah when they would enter the land of Canaan, he addressed it as a matter of obedience to God, both as to the manner and location for worship. “Take heed to thyself that thou offer not thy burnt offerings in every place that thou seest: but in the place which the Lord thy God shall choose, there shalt thou offer thy burnt offerings, and there thou shalt do all that I command thee” (Deut. 12:1-14). The ramifications of obedience or disobedience to this command are seen frequently in the rest of the Old Testament. The old forms and location of worship do not apply to Christians, but the principle of obedience to the apostles’ doctrine does apply. Faith has no other operative principle than obedience.

A powerful example of an attitude of obedience to the Holy Spirit’s direction on how and where believers should meet for worship is found in Luke 22.  The Lord Jesus asked Peter and John to go on ahead and prepare the Passover, so that He could enjoy this memorial act of worship one more time with His disciples. They instinctively knew that it would be quite inappropriate for them to act upon their own preferences in finding a place, so they evidenced their dependence on the Lord in this question: “Where wilt Thou that we prepare?” He was ready with a clear answer in response to their sincere dependence upon Him, and the answer ought to speak to the heart of a believer even now, for it has a distinctly typical meaning. “Behold, when ye are entered into the city, there shall a man meet you, bearing a pitcher of water; follow him into the house where he entereth in.”  In other passages of scripture, we find that an unnamed servant represents the Spirit of God, and that water is a picture of the word of God,³ so it should not be difficult to understand the typical meaning of the Lord’s answer.

Does the error of partisanship and exalting leaders (whether from the recent or distant past) trouble you? It is encouraging to see the occasional individual exercised in his or her conscience to leave a religious group whose tradition, geographical or cultural limits, and sometimes its denominational or congregational name,* attests to its divisive inception. Such repentance and separation from what dishonors Christ, coupled with a desire to obey the Spirit’s leading according to the principles of the word of God, will be honored by Him.°

Choosing a church, or preferring one Christian leader above another, is not the path of obedience and faith, for it effectively perpetuates the historical failure of the church in maintaining the unity of the Spirit. If a Christian who finds the religious scene confusing is obedient to the Spirit of God (who always guides according to the word of God), blessing and satisfaction in God’s will is sure to be its pleasant fruit.

 

¹   I Corinthians 1:10-13; 3:3-6; 4:6-7; 11:17-20

²   As, for example, in Philippians 1:22, in a different context.

³    Servant: Genesis 24; Luke 14:17; John 16:13-15.  Water:  John 3:5; 13:10; Eph. 5:26

*   For example:  Lutheran, Calvinist, Mennonite, Hutterite; Zwingli, Wesley, St. Peter

°   II Timothy 2:15-22

“Limited Atonement” Examined

One of the tenets of John Calvin’s system of theology holds that the atonement made for sin by our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross is limited in scope to God’s elect – those souls chosen by Him before the foundation of the world. Let’s take a brief look at that teaching of “Limited Atonement”, which is the “L” in the TULIP acronym subscribed to by “five point” Calvinists.

Believers take comfort and rejoice in the plain words of the Lord Jesus in John 3:16, that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.” While some Calvinists have argued that the “world” in this verse means only the elect (a strained interpretation of the Greek word cosmos), most Christians would agree to this: that God desired the salvation of the entire fallen human race, and that He sacrificed His dearly-loved Son in order to offer salvation to all sinners.  Sadly, all do not believe on Christ for eternal life.

Why does it matter whether or not Christ’s atoning work has all men for its scope? Because both the truth of the love of God and the integrity of the scriptures are at stake, as they relate to men’s consciences. We have already addressed the scope of the love of God as being toward the whole world; now let us take note of what the scriptures have to say about the atonement.

The man Christ Jesus “gave Himself a ransom for all”, and “He died for all”, showing that all men were under the sentence of death¹.  What is helpful about this passage in II Corinthians 5, as it relates to the scope of the atonement, is that “they which live” (as new creatures in Christ) are viewed as a subset of the “all [who] were dead”. One could hardly make sense of a teaching that declares the word “all” within this narrow context to have two or three different meanings that are not coextensive in scope. But “they which live” – now there we have a group smaller and infinitely more privileged than the whole mass of mankind.

It is this smaller group of souls who have new life, and whose sins are washed away because the Lord Jesus bore them “in His body on the tree”². He suffered the wrath of a righteous God for the sins of all who believe on Him, and we see this clearly in Isaiah 53:5, 10-12. Peter refers to this remarkable prophecy when he quotes it: “By His stripes we are healed.”  This is usually referred to as the substitutionary aspect of Christ’s work, because He stood in as the perfect Substitute for all believers of every age, suffering for our sins because we could never bear the righteous judgment of God for them in order to stand in His presence as “holy and without blame” (Ephesians 1:4).

Yet at the same time the Lord Jesus was bearing the sins of believers, He was making atonement or “propitiation for . . . the whole world” (I John 2:2). In this aspect of His work, He purified the “heavenly things” with His own blood, an infinitely better sacrifice than ever was used to purify the earthly tabernacle.³  God has been propitiated (or appeased)  with respect to every sin ever committed against Him by members of the human race, so that He can reach out to man in mercy, without compromising His holy character (Romans 3:25-26; Psalm 85:10).

The two goats presented before Jehovah on the Day of Atonement provide a picture of this two-fold nature of Christ’s atoning work (see Leviticus 16). One goat was not enough to show in type how the Lord Jesus not only made atonement in the sanctuary for the totality of the sin and uncleanness of the people, but also acted as the sin-bearer, bearing confessed sins away forever. The first goat was Jehovah’s lot, and the effect of its offering was universal and general in propitiating God, providing a righteous basis for Him to be merciful toward all.  The second goat was the Scapegoat, and it took confession of sins and a transfer of guilt (v. 21) for the atonement to be effectual for the sinner.  Scriptures like Psalm 22:1-3, Psalm 69:1-9, Isaiah 53, and Matthew 27:45-46 show clearly how the Lord Jesus suffered under the judgment of God for three dark hours on Calvary for the sins of all of His own. Sadly, all who reject God’s mercy in Christ must suffer for their own sins, as shown clearly in John 8:24, Romans 2:8-9, and Revelation 20:12-13.

Believers on Jesus can know that He bore their sins, that He was their Substitute under the judgment of a righteous God, for they have by faith had their sins “laid on Him”. And they can have the comfort of knowing that for their unbelieving neighbors or family members, Christ is the Propitiation (Mercy-seat)* for all.  The offer of mercy and salvation ought never to be spoken of as limited, as though it had not the whole world for its scope. We have reason to speak of a definite atonement, or a particular atonement, for all who avail themselves of the offer of eternal life, and whose sins are borne away, but the infinite work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross should never be called a “limited atonement”.

 

¹   I Timothy 2:6; II Corinthians 5:14-15

²   Revelation 1:5; I Peter 2:24

³   Hebrews 9:23; Leviticus 16:15-19

*   Romans 3:25