Study Notes 7-21-13: The Mysteries of God

Notes for John 12:34-40 on the mysteries of God and His hardening of some and quickening of others unto His own glory and for His own pleasure

12:34-36 So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” [35] So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. [36] While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them.

Who is this Son of Man?

What the crowd was really saying here is not “who is this Son of Man” but “what kind of person is this Son of Man?”  They were confused about the role of the Messiah, as we’ve discussed before.  They had an odd conglomerate of ideas as to what the Messiah would be and do, but interestingly none of those ideas included the sacrificial death of their great hope!

Lifted Up

Now, as we look at the crowd’s reaction to Christ’s sayings we ought to note that earlier in John’s gospel Jesus has mentioned being “lifted up” – it’s during His discourse with Nicodemus (chapter 3). After telling Nicodemus that he must be “born again” in order to see the kingdom of God, He goes on to tell him “heavenly things”:

If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? [13] No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. [14] And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, [15] that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:12-15 ESV)

The moment in history Jesus was making reference to is recounted for us in Numbers:

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. [5] And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” [6] Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. [7] And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. [8] And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” [9] So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. (Numbers 21:4-9 ESV)

Interesting that when the people were being bitten by serpents they thought it was a good idea to look up at the bronze serpent, but by the time we arrive at this moment in history God’s chosen people were so hardened in their hearts that the serpent was no longer simply an enemy but their leader (see John 8)!  Besides, they didn’t need to look up to heaven for help, they had their laws and their moralism and they were just fine working things out on their own. Sound familiar?  We often don’t deign to lift our eyes to heaven for help and beg for mercy, nor do we trust that it is through the spectacle of the crucified Christ that we find our hope and strength. We would much rather work things out on our own, we would much rather plunge into Canaan on our own. But God will not be with us that way. Only through surrender is there safety for our souls.

Walk in the Light or Darkness will Close in…

During the time that Christ walked upon the earth, people from all over had the opportunity to listen to Him and repent, but few did that. Not until His resurrection and the sending of the Spirit and proclamation of the gospel did many millions of souls come to faith in Him.

Yet His call is not simply for those within earshot but for us as well. We all can guess at what it means to walk in the light, but we may easily miss what Jesus says in verse 35, “Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you.”  The presumption here is that without the help of Christ, there is no hope. When the light is gone we cannot manufacture light on our own! No amount of moralism or good deeds will bring you safely across the threshold of eternity. No amount of self-generated piety will create light enough for you to see your way through the darkness of the death that surrounds you.

In short, without Jesus’ light you are damned to the darkness of this world, and of Hell after you die. Outside of Jesus there is no light and there is no life.

Look how Paul describes people who are searching for God during his discourse at Mars Hill:

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, (Acts 17:26-27 ESV)

These people were searching around, feeling with their hands for the light switch. But it was not far from them…

Listen to what Christ stated in chapter eight of John’s gospel:

“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” (John 8:12)

And so let us not presume that we can generate a life outside of the life Christ gives us that is worth living. All “life” outside of Christ is darkness and a life of living death. It is a life of darkness, insecurity and eternal peril. Furthermore, if we have been given this light, why would we seek to turn off the light switch and live in darkness? Let us walk as people who can actually see their steps, and not trip over things we see very well but others do not. Let us walk in a manner worthy of our calling. As Paul says:

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, (Phil. 1:27)

12:37-40 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, [38] so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” [39] Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, [40] “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.”

The Total Depravity of Man

Let’s just take verse 37 first, for it’s the foundational verse in this series of verses. It states that Christ had done “so many signs” in front of these people, and what was the results? “They still did not believe in him.”  What is John trying to say here? He’s undoubtedly saying that no one in their right mind could see the outrageously wonderful things Jesus was doing and not believe in Him.  Yet, somehow these people “still” couldn’t find it within themselves to believe in him…and that’s exactly how I think its best expressed, they couldn’t “find it within themselves.”

A.W. Pink says:

“Fearful proof was this of the depravity of the human heart. The miracles of Christ were neither few in number nor unimpressive in nature. The Lord Jesus performed prodigies of power of almost every conceivable kind. He healed the sick, expelled demons, controlled the winds, walked on the sea, turned water into wine, revealed to men their secret thoughts, raised the dead. His miracles were wrought openly, in the light of day, before numerous witnesses. Nevertheless “they”—the nation at large—”believed not on him.” Altogether inexcusable was their hardness of heart. All who heard His teaching and witnessed His works, ought, without doubt, to have received Him as their Divinely-accredited Messiah and Savior. But the great majority of His countrymen refused to acknowledge His claims.”

J.C. Ryle says:

“The prevalence of unbelief and indifference in the present day ought not to surprise us. It is just one of the evidences of that mighty foundation-doctrine, the total corruption and fall of man. How feebly we grasp and realize that doctrine is proved by our surprise at human incredulity. We only half believe the heart’s deceitfulness. Let us read our Bibles more attentively, and search their contents more carefully. Even when Christ wrought miracles and preached sermons there were numbers of His hearers who remained utterly unmoved. What right have we to wonder if the hearers of modern sermons in countless instances remain unbelieving? ‘The disciple is not greater than his Master.’ If even the hearers of Christ did not believe, how much more should we expect to find unbelief among the hearers of His ministers? Let the truth be spoken and confessed: man’s obstinate unbelief is one among many of the indirect proofs that the Bible is true”

John is provoking us to ask the questions “why?”  “What is going on with these people that they can see all of these supernatural things and still not believe in Jesus?”  Well, as it turns out, it’s not what is going on with them, but rather, what is not going on within them.

John signals that he’s going to explain when, at the beginning of verse 38, he says “so.”  That word “so” in the ESV is iva in the Greek, which is best transliterated “that” or “in order that” or “so that”, and it signals that the reason for the aforementioned unbelief is about to be given, and it is namely that “the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled.”  In other words, “their unbelief has occurred in order that Isaiah’s prophecy would come to pass.”

Well, what is this prophecy exactly? “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” and He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.”

And the result? “Therefore they could not believe.”  God has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart in order that they not believe.  This is an incredible passage, the closest one I can find that’s comparable is found in Exodus where a series of passages explains that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh.

How Do We Understand This “Hardening”?

In order to understand this Biblically, we need to first understand what it means for God to harden a heart, only then will we be able to understand verse 44 when we look at that, and realize that God is hardening hearts, and at the same time calling on people to believe in Christ for salvation.  Our feeble minds want to ask, “How can these two things happen in fairness simultaneously?”

We believe that God is pure and holy and perfectly righteous, and there is no evil in Him whatsoever, so that we know that He does not harden a human heart by reaching in and infusing it with evil!  Rather, when scripture talks about God hardening a heart, it is God’s turning us over to our own desires. Without His arm of grace, without His showering us with protection from ourselves, we become completely given over to our own sinful desires. Paul explains in Romans:

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:24-28 ESV)

Three times Paul says that God “gave them up”, paradidōmi, to themselves. And what happens? They go from bad to worse. They continue in sin and their minds become more and more depraved. And so when God hardens a heart, all He is doing is allowing us to have what we naturally want, such is the ignominiously depraved condition of mankind’s heart.

God is Still Sovereign Over All…and That Means ALL

Lastly, while we understand that our own desires are naturally evil, and that God can give us up to these desires, we cannot run the fact that He is in complete control over all things. It is difficult for us to understand these truths in our finitude, and we usually like to find ways to vindicate God of some kind of self-perceived problem of God being involved in creating evil. These attempts at theodicy have resulted in the past in many errors, and its not surprising that many of these errors are rooted in an inappropriate view of God and a wildly distorted view of man. In his day John Calvin addressed many of these difficult questions and said (in chapter 18 of book one of Institutes) that we cannot excuse God from involvment in the hardening of men’s hearts simply because we do not understand His reasons. Those who suppose God is not sovereign over all details of our lives suppose incorrectly that he only “permits” things as though He had no control at all. Here is what Calvin says to sum up the matter:

The sum of the whole is this, – since the will of God is said to be the cause of all things, all the counsels and actions of men must be held to be governed by his providence; so that he not only exerts his power in the elect, who are guided by the Holy Spirit, but also forces the reprobate to do him service.

And so it is that God works all things according to His will, even in the lives of those who are not Christians, for nothing is out of His control, nor does He simply take His hands off the situation as if to allow Satan to rule independently. As Calvin points out, “With regard to secret movements, what Solomon says of the heart of a king, that it is turned hither and thither, as God sees meet, certainly applies to the whole human race, and has the same force as if he had said, that whatever we conceive in our minds is directed to its end by the secret inspiration of God.”

Therefore, though this is complex, and difficult to understand, we can know in the final analysis that God does all things according to His pleasure for His glory, and allows justice to be done upon those whose hearts He has turned over to their own evil desires. God does not owe man anything; He certainly does not owe every man mercy for man, in his natural state is depraved and will always seek the darkness and not the light (John 3:19-21).

As Augustine summarizes so well:

Great is the work of God, exquisite in all he wills! So that, in a manner wondrous and ineffable, that is not done without his will which is done contrary to it, because it could not be done if he did not permit; nor does he permit it unwillingly, but willingly; nor would He who is good permit evil to be done, were he not omnipotent to bring good out of evil… (Augustine re: Ps. 111: 2).

In Conclusion…

I think I have clearly stated the truth of God’s work here above, and so I cannot spend much more time addressing the question, but I recognize that this is a difficult concept to grasp.  Just how does God deal with man and why does He do it. But we can know that God is not the author of evil, while still maintaining that He is sovereign and involved in every detail of our lives. We also know that we all deserve Hell for our sins, and if God was not merciful to any of us it would be just for Him to send us to Hell. God is also completely sovereign over whom He quickens unto spiritual life. It is obvious that some go to Hell and some go to Heaven. But why He chooses some and not others is up to Him and not us, for who can question the Lord (Job 38)? It is also true that those evil people who are given over to their sinful desires cannot blame God for the justice they receive – for no one receives what is unjust. Some receive mercy, and others receive justice. Furthermore, we cannot know now why it is that God so chooses to use the evil deeds of men who are destined for Hell for His own glory – as He did when His Son was crucified in a monstrously evil act that has brought about more good than anything ever has in this world. I cannot understand why God chooses to act through these means, or why He allowed evil in the first place, or why He permits any of us to continue on in this life, as we must so often His holy nature by our dreadful sins. I simply know that it is His will and pleasure to do these things the way He does them, and I do not excuse Him from these acts as if He needed an excuse. He is both sovereign and hands-on, and completely just and loving. His ways are far above my ways and your way. His mind is so infinitely beyond our questioning that I dare not probe into His secret counsels. I simply stand in awe and fear of His might and magnificence, and wonder at the depth of His mercy to me, a sinner.

 

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God’s Sovereign Sustaining Grace

This week our church is in a study of ‘Grace’ – an apropos topic leading up to the Easter holiday.  One of my favorite passages on grace is Ephesians 2:1-10, and that’s what we’ll be looking at in class on Sunday morning.  Here are the notes, enjoy!

Ephesians 2:1-10 God’s Sovereign Grace

2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins

For thousands of years mankind has rebelled against the idea that he is sinful, or immoral, or in anyway imperfect – at least as long as that “imperfection” is measured against an absolute standard. He’d be perfectly willing to admit he’s not perfect, but by his own independent subjective standard.  One of the champions of this kind of thinking was 18th century philosopher Jean Jaque Rousseau whose romanticism philosophy declared that man is basically “good” until corrupted by outside influencers. This humanistic philosophy is alive and well in or own day as well.  In high school I remember a popular song by Sarah Mclachlan called ‘Adia’ whose refrain was “we are born innocent, believe me Adia, we are still innocent.”

Contrary to this, the Bible tells us that we are born in sin (Ps. 51:5), and it is not unintentional that Paul begins this section of his letter by pronouncing very clearly the true state of mankind before the intervention of God.

Paul surely realized the nature of what he was about to convey, more than a theory of being and nature, it was the very essence of truth.  In fact Paul was painting here a picture of reality that is so dark, so bleak, so scary, that only against the blackness of this backdrop will he lay forth the most precious light and purity of the gospel.

Steven Lawson, in his series on the Doctrines of Grace in John, gives the analogy of the black velvet display case you would see at a jeweler.  The jeweler uses the black velvet as a contrast against which he can lay the diamonds he’s selling you. Certainly the diamonds are intrinsically glorious and beautiful, but when set against he rich blackness of the velvet their worth and brilliance seems to shine all the more brightly.  So it is with the gospel of Jesus Christ when set against the darkness of our sin riddled lives.

I wish that the only people arguing for man’s innocence were the humanists, but historically, and contemporarily, there have been many in the church who see man as not completely fallen.  They argue for an “island of righteousness” in which man’s will and mind have the power to make moral decisions – most particularly these same thinkers reserve this power of right moral action for the most important “decision” one can make, the choice to follow Jesus.

Paul’s theology cannot be reconciled with such thinking.

The way I like to think of our pre-Christ situation is similar to a scene from the Matrix, where the inhabitants of the Matrix were “living in a dream world.” We thought that certain things were true, they seemed true, but until we took the red pill we were unable to see reality for what it really is/was. We were living in a world, which was mostly a lie – and no wonder, it was Satan who helped weave this lie around and about our minds as we willingly bought into his deceptions.  Now this is only a picture, and like so many analogies there are imperfections.  However, the main thrust is this: before we are born again by the power of the Holy Spirit, we cannot and will not see the kingdom of God (John 3) which is equivalent to seeing the reality of Christ’s reign and absolute power (in fact we will not agree to any absolutes until we realize that all absolutes find their ‘yes and amen in Christ’, but that is another matter).

Our status before Christ burst forth into our lives was like that of Paul before his dramatic encounter on the road to Damascus.  We were not simply dead, we were rebels.  We hated God, because we hated what God stood for – God stood for everything we stood against.  We were independent beings, after all!  We didn’t need anyone bossing us around, telling us what was right and wrong.  We didn’t need someone else’s version of absolutes!  We had our own minds and could think for ourselves, thank you very much!

The deep, deep sinfulness of our sins warranted Divine justice.  Paul wants to be clear as he begins this section that we were completely and utterly cut off from God: dead.

2:2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—

But it gets worse!  Not only were we dead, we were enemies of God (as I mentioned above).  And not only enemies, but also enemies duped into following a commander who was happy to use of and abuse us for his own purposes and his own pleasure and cared nothing for our souls.

Therefore, Paul outlines two concepts…

First, Paul states that we were walking in our flesh, in our sin according to a certain leader, “the prince of the power of the air”, which is Satan.  In Ligonier’s Tabletalk daily devotions this verse is referenced and they say that, “In ancient times, the term air often referred to the spiritual realm of angels and demons.”

Secondly, we learn is that those who follow this “prince” are “sons of disobedience.”  That’s us! In open rebellion against our Creator.  Jerry Bridges puts it this way:

No one ever has a valid reason to rebel against the government of God. We rebel for only one reason: We were born rebellious. We were born with a perverse inclination to go our own way, to set up our own internal government rather than submit to God.

But this disgusting description of our satanic sonship brings to mind the beautiful reality that we celebrate today, namely the fact that we have been adopted by God, that we were once sons of another – sons of the Devil (John 8:44) – but now are sons of God Himself!

2:3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

The result of living as sons of the Devil means that we are going to fulfill the passions of the flesh and the desires of the mind and body. There is a small shift here from Paul’s speaking directly to the gentiles to now addressing mankind as a whole, and the universality of sin on the earth. C.S. Lewis said that, “Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.” Paul contrasts these two types of slavery in Romans 6.

We have gone from being slaves of the enemy, under the cruel Egyptian task master, to being liberated from that slavery into the lovely bondage of Christ. Slavery to Christ may seem like a harsh term, but that’s how Paul described it over and over again.  Furthermore, Jesus reminds us that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. Slavery to Christ is actually, paradoxically, freedom!

2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,

Note that both Greek words used for “love” here are forms of the word agapē – the strongest and most profound of the Greek words for love.  Perhaps the most important word in this verse is the word “but.” This word marks the transition from our old state as sinners following the course of this world to our death, to the story of what God did for us in His richness and mercy.

Someone once said, “thank God for the ‘buts’ in the Bible.”  I couldn’t agree more.  This word is the turning point from Paul’s explanation of who we (humans) are, to what God has done for us, and, in essence, who He is.  He is love, and He cannot act out of His own character.

The most important concept in this verse is comprehending the motivating force behind why God did what He did.  Love – His character.  The fact of the matter is that he did what He did because He couldn’t deny Himself and His own love for His creation and His desire to be glorified by His creation.

He is rich in mercy!  He is a God of great love. And we are His image bearers, and the objects of His great love.

God does what He does because He is who He is.

2:5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—

Two concepts are again brought to bear: life and death.  We are reminded again that we were dead, and that even though we were dead we have been made alive together with Christ.  Paul has undoubtedly in mind the resurrection and powerful triumph over death of our Lord Jesus, and wants us to likewise picture our own powerful triumph over death – not in or of our own power, but by the power of the Lord Jesus Christ we have been “raised to walk in newness of life”(Romans 6:1-14, Eph. 1:20, and Colossians 2:12-13).

We are also brought to understand that if we were dead, then we couldn’t have made the decision to be saved on our own – it was purely by the grace of God.  Remember, grace is an active giving of something that we don’t deserve.  This isn’t passive.  This isn’t mercy, which withholds what we DO deserve.  This is the Spirit of God imparting something TO us, namely, spiritual rebirth.

A.W. Tozer says, “The love of God is manifested brilliantly in His grace toward undeserving sinners. And that is exactly what grace is: God’s love flowing freely to the unlovely.”

2:6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

The amazing and awe-striking paradox of this statement is that while we were the ones who raised Christ to His painful position on the cross, He repays us with grace and raises us up and seats us in the heavenly places.  I think about Rembrandt’s famous painting ‘The Raising of the Cross’ (circa 1633) where Rembrandt depicts the people lifting Christ up to die on the tree, and includes himself in the men who are responsible for the act.  Martin Luther also identified with this reality when he stated, “Take this to heart and doubt not that you are the one who killed Christ. Your sins certainly did, and when you see the nails driven through his hands, be sure to that you are pounding, and when the thorns pierce his brown, know that they are your evil thoughts. Consider that if one thorn pierced Christ you deserve one hundred thousand.”

In addition, I find it worth noting here that we are not only brought to life, not only forgiven of our sins, but we are adopted and then seated with Him in the heavenly places.  This says something of our spiritual royalty.  (Colossians 3:1 says “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”) Christ makes reference to this special place in heaven in Luke 22:29-30 and John makes reference to it in Revelation 3:21.

Lastly, and perhaps this should have been firstly, this verse tells us of the certainty of our salvation.  For what the Lord has gathered in heaven to Himself by the purchase of His Son’s blood will certainly not be foreclosed upon by any higher power in the universe.  As far as Paul is concerned, the matter is done.  Paul speaks similarly in Romans 8 when he says – in the past tense – that those whom God justified He also “glorified”, as if the thing had been done already, for God sees all time at one time. In Schreiner’s commentary on Romans he talks about how this kind of writing is indicative of Pauline theology – specifically, and I paraphrase, “the radical invasion of the future into the present.”

2:7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Notice again that we are said to be “in” Christ Jesus.  Our entire wealth and inheritance comes by way of Christ and what He did to earn it.  We haven’t done anything to deserve this, but are taking part in His wealth and just deserts.

The word “immeasurable” is also “surpassing” and “exceeding” and “incredible” in other translations.

If we contrast the nature of God’s grace with the situation in which we found ourselves prior to salvation we would also be able to use the same adjectives.  We were incredibly, exceedingly, surpassingly, immeasurably separated from God and lost in our sin.  So fallen were we, and so incredibly holy is God that the difference and the chasm that separated us was gigantic.  In Luke 16 that fixed chasm is called “great”, and great indeed it was.  How could we, by some human effort, seek to cross that chasm.  How could we of our own volition find a way across?  We couldn’t, we can’t, and we won’t.  Only by the One who bridges that gap are we saved.  He is the intercessor between God and man.  He is “the way”(the truth and the life) and no man comes to the Father but by Him (through Him).

2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,

Nothing could more clearly outline the basis for the doctrine of “sola fide” which was one of the doctrinal hallmarks of the 16th century protestant reformation. (Gal. 2:15-16 is a great reference – verse 16 says “We also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified”).

In a past issue of the devotional magazine ‘Tabletalk’ there is a great devotional addressing this passage/verse which says, “The man made religions of this world prove that without the work of the Holy Spirit, people think that they are basically good and can contribute something to their salvation. This strips glory from God and gives it to us, for if we can do even one thing to merit salvation, then we deserve some credit.  All belief systems except biblical Christianity encourage us to believe that we contribute our salvation, even if they deceitfully assert otherwise.”

I like what Jerry Bridges has to say in his book ‘Transforming Grace’:

God answered my prayer for only one reason: Jesus Christ had already purchased that answer to prayer two thousand years ago on a Roman cross. God answered on the basis of His grace alone, not because of my merits or demerits.

Lastly, as an aside, how do the Roman Catholics view this?  R.C. Sproul explains their view of the role of faith in salvation, “Contrary to what many Protestants think, Roman Catholicism affirms that we are justified or accounted as right before the Lord by faith in Christ and that no one is saved apart from Him. However, Roman Catholic theologians deny that faith is sufficient for justification. Instead, good works of obedience must be added to faith in order for God to declare us righteous. Justification comes first through the sacraments — justifying grace is poured into the soul at baptism, lost through mortal sin, and restored through confession and works of penance. Rome argues works cooperate with grace to make us righteous, and we are justified only if we have actually become righteous through our faith and works.”[i]

2:9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

A great cross reference on this verse is Romans 3:27, which states, “Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith.” And Paul also states this in 1 Cor. 1:29-31.

The idea here is that in our fallen state we cannot save ourselves, and if we were to somehow achieve a salvation of our own concoction we would then have reason to boast or brag or say that some part of our salvation emanated or originated from ourselves and something we did, thought, or “realized.”  This is the folly of so many other religions. They fail to take into account the holiness of God.  Once that is taken into account, our own radical falleness is revealed and any chance we thought we may have at saving ourselves is utterly destroyed.

The kind of pride it would take to both realize our radical sin and separation from God and yet devise a way of works with an end of salvation is the kind of pride that would certainly negate any successful achieving of this end.

2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Our Purpose: to Bless the Nations and Glorify God

Here we see the ultimate reason for our election.  Some might say that ‘now that we are elect why would we evangelize?’ and this is the verse that contradicts this thinking.  We were elected beforehand unto not only salvation, but unto good works, which are the fruit of salvation.

Because we are so naturally ego-centric, we think of salvation as the end, and that now we need to live this Christian life on our own, but God thinks of it as the beginning of His work of grace in us.

We must not miss the reason for which we were saved: good works. This means not only living a holy life, but also sharing the good news of the gospel to the world. For we are to love our God and to love the world.

In fact, we have been called to bless all the nations of the world through the spreading of the gospel.  This is the fulfilling of the great promise made to Abraham so long ago. It is through the spread of the gospel to a dying world that we bless the world and bring glory to God.

Now God does not leave us alone to this mission.  No indeed, for His grace is with us to sustain us throughout our life through the inward working of the Holy Spirit. John Piper says, “Grace is not simply leniency when we have sinned. Grace is the enabling gift of God not to sin. Grace is power not just pardon.”

So we see that eternal respite from hell and damnation is only the first part of God’s grace.  That is one part of the consequence of salvation, but there is also a plan of action moving forward that God in His righteous omnipotence has designed for us since before the foundation of the world.

Holiness

This means not only that we are to spread the gospel, but that we are to strive for holiness.  We can only do that be surrendering to God’s powerful working within us. We have to trust God, and lean on His truth and His grace.

He will indeed provide us grace in our time of need.  That is the magnificent difference between the New Covenant believer and the Old Covenant Jew.  We can obey.  God wanted to create a covenant with people who could actually keep the covenant (cf. Peter Gentry and Steven Wellum)! This is what Jeremiah emphasized over and over again.  No one was going to need to teach his brother because God was going to put His Spirit within His chosen ones.  HE would be the teacher! He would be the one helping us, enabling us to keep the covenant.

But what if we failed?  He had that part figured out as well.  For Christ would be sent to pay for every failing in the past, present, and future. His death on the cross paid for sins you haven’t even committed yet.  That should blow your mind!  Jerry Bridges puts it this way, “Furthermore, grace does not first rescue us from the penalty of our sins, furnish us with some new spiritual abilities, and then leave us on our own to grow in spiritual maturity.”

He does not leave us alone; His presence is the great blessing of the Christian life.  He is working through us to sanctify and keep us. Augustine said, “Nothing whatever pertaining to godliness and real holiness can be accomplished without grace.” Amen.

Conformed into His Image for a Reason

Lastly, we are said to be “His workmanship” which implies more than simply our good works are at issue here. There is a sanctification piece as well. Our very being, our soul, is at issue here.  He is molding us into a creation that will glorify Himself. (Ps. 138:8; Is. 29:23, 43:21, 60:21; Matt. 5:16; 2 Tim. 2:21) If He stopped at salvation He would certainly receive glory for His heroic and unfathomable love, mercy, and grace, but He doesn’t stop there.  He continues to mold us, shape us and refine us unto His own glory. (Phil. 2:13)

Now being the clay in the Potter’s hand is not always a pleasant experience.  There will be times when we are called to suffer. I do not want to here answer the reason in-depth for suffering except to say that it can be for molding, or discipline, or simply because we are under the attack of the Devil.  Whatever the case may be, we must realize that the servant is not greater than the master.  Christ promised that we would suffer as He did if we publically identified with Him. It is an honor to suffer in the name of Christ, but when we suffer we need to keep a few things in mind:

  1. The suffering of Christ – personally I like to mentally picture the walk of Christ up to the road at Calvary.  Suddenly my situation doesn’t seem so bad.
  2. The power of Christ – I am constantly reminded that the very Spirit who raised Lazaraus and indeed Christ from the dead is at work within me to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13).
  3. The triumph of Christ – when Christ rose from the grave, He defeated sin and death. Revelation 21:3-4 reminds us of this great truth, “ 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

The Ultimate Reason for Conformity…

The reason for this is because He wants to conform you to the image of His Son.  Why? Because He is at work to restore you to the original image in which He made you.  He delights in this because when He restores us to His original image, the image of His Son who reflects all the radiance of His glory and is the very embodiment of His character and goodness, then what He is looking at is a miniature reflection of Himself.  God loves Himself and cherishes His own glory – and when He sees us gradually conformed into the image of His Son whom He loves with infinite love, He smiles.  This is the essence of what it means to bring God glory.  To submit to the work of the Spirit within you, to respond in love both to God and to His image bearers.