Most Influential Books Part 1

Sometimes a book doesn’t have to be brilliant to have a major impact on your life. Sometimes it has to simply have the right message (assuming it is a truthful message, of course) at the right time. I’m a firm believer that books change lives and see us through the bright and the dull and the pain.

Of course the one constant book in my life has been The Book – the “Good Book.”  The scripture certainly has no rival in any library. There are no other pieces of literature that even play on the same field. It’s advantage, of course, is that it is alive. Not metaphorically, not allegorically, not even in the way that it makes us feel alive as if it were the sum of its’ effects or stimulations on the reader. Rather, its’ words are used by the Spirit of God to wake us up to unrealized truths as He begins to work in our minds and in our hearts. Christianity is not a “blind faith”, it is an informed faith which conquers both the mind and the heart.

Therefore, the Bible is unique and simply without rival.

Nevertheless, Providence has seen fit to use other literature in my life to bless me, entertain and brighten my day, and deepen my relationship with Him and others, all the while growing in my appreciation for life and creation and many other undeserved blessings.

Here are the books that have impacted me the most at the ripe old age of 31 – note that these aren’t all necessarily “favorites” per se, there are some I have no desire to read again, but all that will be made plain as you scroll through the selections.  There are so many of these that I think I’ll roll them out in a series.  There are far too many to write (or read) about before you fall asleep of boredom.  So here (in no particular order) goes the first five in the series…

  1. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austin’s masterpiece saw me through one of the worst illnesses I’ve had (which is saying something) – 10 days in bed with pneumonia.  I own several copies of this one, and will probably keep collecting nice editions. I love to open its pages and just get lost for a few minutes in laughter and pros. The writing is superb and brings me back to my childhood where we would watch the six-hour movie edition over and over again. We’d poke fun at the characters and put ourselves in their shoes as we watched the social instability and family upheaval course through the plot. It never gets old, and will always be one of my favorite books/stories of all time.
  2. Leadership as an Identity – I got this book for free at my church and it transformed the way I thought about pride and leadership – especially as a dad. It spoke very powerfully to me and brought my heart to a place where I was more open to leading my home as I ought to. I really appreciate Crawford Loritts’ writing and think he brings a unique perspective to the leadership book collection.
  3. Defending Your Faith – This was my one of my first encounters with Theologian R.C. Sproul and it whetted my appetite for more.  His intellectual approach drove me to understand that all truth is God’s truth. This is a book on apologetics and it is framed in a classical style, which means that he isn’t going to spend as much time on proofs for the resurrection or other modern arguments, but will address much of the philosophical and even scientific ground that Anselm, Aquinas, Newton and other master theologians and thinkers have laid down in bygone eras. As I read this I began to see that being a Christian didn’t mean I had to sacrifice my intellect. Read this book cautiously, it may open the door to deeper waters….
  4. The Religious Affections – This is a more recent one for me, though it is largely considered to be Jonathan Edwards’ magnum opus, I had not cracked it open until just last week.  It took me a week or so to traverse its 400 pages, but it was well worth the journey.  This is not a book for a young Christian, this is a book for someone who has read pretty widely and is now ready for the deeper things of God. However, if you have not at least sampled Jonathan Edwards’ work, this would be a great one to pickup and scroll through. The book seeks to explain the essence of what the true Christian life consists of, looks like, and how we can know we are truly Christians at all. Through many rigorous examinations I found again and again both challenges and assurances that woke me up to some things, and also secured my mind and soul in many ways. The influence this book has had has been significant even this week in shaping my thought and confirming many of my beliefs. I can tell this is going to be one I go back to time and time again, year after year. This is one for your book bucket list!
  5. Chosen by God – There may not be another book in recent memory that has so greatly altered and impacted my life as this classic by R.C. Sproul. I had read a few of his other books in recent months and wanted to keep going. This one seemed like another popular work from him, so I picked up a used copy and started pouring over the pages.  What ensued was nothing short of life changing. The book details how God’s election of sinners to salvation works. It confronts Calvinism (so-called) head on, and shows how men interact with these ideas, which as it turns out are rock solid Biblical teachings. There were several moments where I felt that the book had a great impact on me and others around me.  During an airplane trip for business with my business partner Matt, we got into a quite a severe argument based on the book’s propositions.  I was just starting to put the pieces together from all that I had studied growing up, and Matt was deeply offended at the idea that God chose people and not the other way around (at least that He is the antecedent Chooser). His temper flared, and the argument spilled out into the Nashville Airport (BNA) where we were awaiting a connecting flight. I was not an expert on theology at the time, but I knew Romans like the back of my hand, so everything Dr. Sproul said was clicking with me…but not with Matt.  I challenged Matt to read the book and sort it out for himself. A few days later, I returned home from the trip and had kept up my reading when around 2am one evening as I was sitting in the living room of my house I realized all at once that I had been a fool.  I had such a pride about my learning and my salvation and what hit me was that I was a moron…literally.  I knew nothing and was responsible for nothing good ultimately in my life. I got down on my knees and with tear-filled eyes prayed for forgiveness for my pride and ignorance about spiritual things.  Not long after that Matt read the book as well and his eyes were opened.  It was a transforming experience.  Soon he went to seminary and began pastoring a small church, I followed suit and enrolled at Southern Seminary in Louisville a few years later after much more learning, reading, and praying. I still have that copy of ‘Chosen by God’ and now its signed on the inside cover by its author, and is more marked and highlighted than those several years ago when I first turned its pages.

Stay tuned for my next installment of ‘most influential books’…

Reprobation and Predestination (Justice and Mercy)

Reprobation and Salvation

During last week’s class, near the end, I got a question as to why some people are saved and not others. The question was framed in the context of creation: “why would God create some people who He knew would never accept His gospel, and therefore go to Hell”?  The question is more bluntly put, “if God is the One sovereignly quickening us (bringing us alive from the dead), then why would He even create others who were not going to be saved?”

This question hits on a few important doctrines: predestination and reprobation.

Reprobation is defined in this way by the Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, “God’s action of leaving some persons in a state of their own sinfulness so that they do not receive salvation but eternal punishment.”

Predestination is defined in this way, “A term for the view that God predestines or elections some to salvation by means of a positive decree while those who are not saved condemn themselves because of their sin  (also: “God’s gracious initiation of salvation for those who believe in Jesus Christ”).”

But before I go to scripture to explain these doctrines, particularly that of reprobation, let me first say that there are certain things that we can know, and other things that we cannot know, and will not be able to figure out.  This is not a cop-out, but rather an understanding of the fact that God is greater and His ways are deeper than our minds can fathom (Is. 55:6-11).

Do Not Pry into His Eternal Council

But not only are there things our minds were not made to comprehend, but there are things which we must not pry – the sovereign council of God. There is a limit not only to our understanding, but to what God will allow us to search out – most particularly in arrogance (which is the attitude we humans tend put on when exploring big questions of the unknowable). Job found this out first hand when he questioned God’s purpose in his life.  What was God’s reaction to Job?  This is what He said:

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

He challenges Job over and over “Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare, if you know all this…Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars and spreads his wings toward the south? Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes his nest on high?

God concludes two lengthy chapters of rebuke with this “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.”

Some are Predestined…Others Are Not

It is supposed by the question that this blog post is being addressed that we believe that indeed some are saved and others are not.  But I want to just reaffirm this great mysterious truth once again by citing some Scripture.  Ephesians 1 tells us this:

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, [4] even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love [5] he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, [6] to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. [7] In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, [8] which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight [9] making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ [10] as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

[11] In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, [12] so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. [13] In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, [14] who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Eph. 1:3-14)

What this passage clearly teaches us is that before the world began, God predestined a chosen group of people for salvation, and that all of this was “according to the counsel of his will” for a purpose.  What was the purpose? “For the praise of His glory.”  I will come back to that in a minute.

In Romans 9, the seminal passage on predestination and reprobation, Paul says this:

[6] But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, [7] and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” [8] This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. [9] For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” [10] And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, [11] 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—[12] she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” [13] As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

[14] What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! [15] For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” [16] So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. [17] For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” [18] So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

[19] You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” [20] But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” [21] Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? [22] What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, [23] in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory (Romans 9:6-23 ESV)

Paul uses the example of Jacob and Esau, God loved Jacob and not Esau, in other words, God chose Jacob for salvation and for His work of redemption and not Esau.  Why did He choose one and not the other? Paul answers: “In order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls.”

Therefore the choosing is all of God.  Can the passage be anymore plain? He alone is sovereign and soverignly chooses whom He wills.  This is why Christ can confidently say in John 10 that His sheep know His voice and follow Him.  His sheep are discriminatory.  Why?  Because He has chosen them. His Spirit has quickened them. He has plucked them as brands from the burning to be the objects of His affection, and they have been given to Him as a gift from the Father to the glory and enjoyment of the Son.

Now in verse 19 Paul anticipates the same objections I received in class.  He knows that some will object.  He knows some will say, “that’s not fair!”  But how does he answer them?  God says, speaking through Paul, something similar to what He said thousands of years prior to Job:

But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?

Wayne Grudem says this about the text, “…we must remember that it would be perfectly fair for God not to save anyone, just as He did with the angels: ‘God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of nether gloom to be kept until the judgment’ (2 Peter 2:4). What would be perfectly fair for God would be to do with human beings as He did with angels, that is, to save none of those who sinned and rebelled against Him. But if He does save some at all, then this is a demonstration of grace that goes far beyond the requirements of fairness and justice.”

Then Grudem gets into the objection specifically raised in class:

But at a deeper level this objection would say that it is not fair for God to create some people who knew would sin and be eternally condemned, and whom He would not redeem. Paul raises this objection in Romans 9 (citation of the passage). Here is the heart of the “unfairness” objection against the doctrine of election. If each person’s ultimate destiny is determined by God, not by the person himself or herself (that is, even when people make willing choices that determine whether they will be saved or not, if God is actually behind those choices somehow causing them to occur), then how can this be fair?  Paul’s response is not one that appeals to our pride, nor does he attempt to give a philosophical explanation of why this is just. He simply calls on God’s rights as the omnipotent Creator (Romans 9:20-24)…there is a point beyond which we cannot answer back to God or question His justice. He has done what He has done according to His sovereign will. He is the Creator; we are the creatures, and we ultimately have no basis from which to accuse Him of unfairness or injustice.

Furthermore, this troubles us greatly because not only does it say that we can’t always understand His purposes or question His great purposes, but it goes further…that God is actually glorified in all of this.  Certainly He does not desire anyone to go to Hell (1 Tim. 2:4) but He is glorified in His actions because they magnify His perfect holy character.  Reprobation magnifies His justice, and salvation magnifies His mercy.

Why?

There is a certain point beyond which we may not pry, as I mentioned above, and as Paul alludes to when he says, “who are you, O man, to answer back to God?”  But I want us to understand that while we may not understand the eternal counsel of His will, we can still understand the basic parameters of His will and His actions, and these parameters have to do with His pleasure, His honor, and His glory.

Look at what that Ephesians passage said about the reason for predestination.  Verses 6 and 12 both said this was for “the praise of His glory” or “His glorious grace.”

Then look at what Romans says about the reason for reprobation. Verse 23 says this was “in order to make known the riches of His glory.”

In other words, all things work together not only for our good (Romans 8:28), but they will all eventually work together for His glory.  Indeed all of human history will culminate in Christ’s receiving the glory that is due Him.  No matter what the issue, we can be certain that God does it because He finds pleasure in His plan, and wants to receive glory in and through that plan.

The Example of Christ and Our Response

Perhaps the most grueling and baffling example of predestination was the plan set forth from before creation for the death of Jesus Christ. God predestined Jesus to die a horrific death on the cross. This plan was forged before He even made the world! He could have said, “No I am not going to do this act of creation because ultimately my Son will have to die.” But that is not what He did.  According to His own pleasure and plan to the glory of His son and the praise of His name, He created the world and all that is in it, and He did so with the full knowledge that one day He would send His Son to die for the sins of the world.

This is a great mystery. We ask, “Why would He create some whom He does not save?” When we ought to ask, “Why would God choose to send His Son to die for me even before He created a single solitary speck of earth?”  Asking the former appeals to our pride, asking the latter calls us to search out the depths of the love of God – love that is so unsearchable that we cannot understand or fathom it. We simply respond with Job:

“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-6 ESV)

1-6-13 Study Notes

10:14-15 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, [15] just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. [16] And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

The Mission of Christ

By saying that “I know my own and my own know me” Christ is saying that He is on a specific mission to rescue specific sheep.  This is what He’s been expounding upon and now by repeating it He gives even further emphasis to this.

Furthermore, Christ has more to say about the scope of His work.  For in verse 16 He says that He has “other sheep” to rescue as well – “not of this fold.”  And the end goal is “there will be one flock” – and this is certainly referring to the church of Christ.

So who are those who are “not of this fold”? These are the gentiles who are not part of the nation of ethnic Israel. He has specific sheep that He is rescuing from among all people’s on the earth. This speaks to what we call “particular redemption” or “limited atonement.”  The doctrine is described by Paul this way:

…even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love [5] he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, (Ephesians 1:4-5 ESV)

So the mission of Christ has been founded from before time began, and scope of this mission is worldwide (1 John 2:2). Paul is saying is that from the beginning God had a rescue plan for specific people – not all people, but specific sheep. These sheep (the “elect”) respond to their Shepherd because they have been united with Him through faith and by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who exercises the will of the Father and of Christ; they are all of one mind (vs. 30).

Carson comments on the call of Christ the Shepherd, “Jesus comes to the sheep pen of Judaism, and calls his own sheep out individually to constitutes his own messianic ‘flock.’ The assumption is that they are in some way ‘his’ before he calls them.”

That’s a HUGE insight by Carson.  There is ownership here.  Christ has purchased you by His blood, when He calls you by the efficacious power of the Holy Spirit, He will make sure that His love overpowers your enmity toward Him. Carson later says, “Christ’s elect sheep inevitably follow him.” He will not allow the sheep He has purchased to go astray into the hands of robbers and thieves.  He will certainly complete the work; He will come and claim those for whom He died!

The Trinity as an Example

Lastly, although I just mentioned this, I love the appeal Christ makes to the Trinity here and it’s worth just looking over closely again because it permeates the teaching of Christ. He says, “Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” He will even go on to say in verse 30 that, “I and the Father are one.”  The word “just” in verse 15 signals to us here that Christ is making a comparison between His relationship with the Father, and His relationship with us, His sheep.

MacArthur comments, “In these verses, “know” has that same connotation of a relationship of love. The simple truth here is that Jesus is love knows His own, they in love know Him, the Father in loves knows Jesus, and He in love knows the Father.  Believers are caught up in the deep and intimate affection that is shared between God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

That we can be united with Christ in this way is an amazing truth. He is talking about bringing us into a relationship with God, and there are a few things that ought to run through our minds when we think about what that mean – things we ought to be meditating on. For instance, this entire picture of the relationship between us and God, and between God and Christ is one that exudes love. The care and compassion of the shepherd for the sheep signals the sort of care and compassion that we will receive from our Shepherd. There are so many other things to consider here, but I think the love relationship between the trinity and its implications for our relationship with God are numerous and profound and worthy of our consideration and meditation.

10:17-18 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. [18] No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

The Reason…

This theme of love again permeates these verses, and Christ here expounds on what true love looks like in action. True love lays down one’s life for another man/woman. John wrote of this in his epistles, and Christ tells us that it is love – love for the Father, and love of the Father – that is the driving force behind His atoning death on the cross.

This ought to cause us to take a step back and ask if our actions are loving on a daily basis, and even ask if the larger plan and vision we have for our lives is being motivated out of love for God, and love for others. Can I say that what I plan on doing today, as well as my long-term vision for 5 and 10 and 25 years from now is being driven by love for God and others? I think we probably don’t plan that way normally.  Do we ask, “How do my plans show love for Christ? How can I adapt my plans or words to better glorify God and love others?”

These are difficult questions.  I don’t know exactly how to answer them, I’m sure that there are mixed answers – perhaps in some ways my life’s goals are motivated out of love, but perhaps they are mostly motivated out of greed, or self-seeking desires as well. These are questions that Christians alone must face. No unbeliever has to worry about these kinds of examinations. But if we are walking in the light, these kinds of questions ought to both encourage our hearts, and cause us to repent.

The Authority of Christ

The next thing we see in this passage is that Christ reiterates what He already told us in chapter five:

[19] So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. [20] For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. [21] For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. [22] The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, [23] that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. [24] Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

[25] “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. [26] For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. [27] And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. [28] Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice [29] and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. (John 5:19-29 ESV)

In chapter five as I note above, we see that Christ has been given all authority by the Father. In fact, in 5:26 we see that Jesus Himself has “life in himself.”  That means that in His very being He has life – the power of being is a very profound thing that we don’t have space here to cover, needless to say that the authority to create life from nothing at all has been given to Christ, and He has been executing that authority for a long time.

Now, if Christ has the authority and power to create life ex nilhilo, then certainly He has authority and power of when and where He lays down His own life.

This ought to give us great confidence in the power and plan of Christ. No one did a single thing to Him that He did not allow to happen.  Such was the magnificent meekness of Christ, that He possessed complete power and ultimate authority, yet He yielded all of His rights to exercise the privileges of His deity during His first advent in order that He might in humiliation die a bloody death as a disgraced and rejected Jewish man.

Yet because He has this power of being (of life) within Himself, we are told that the grave could not hold Him (Acts 2:24). You see it is impossible for darkness to swallow up the light of life.  And Christ, who embodied life in His very being, would inevitably triumph over the grave.

This is why it should not surprise us that when He calls us, when He powerfully transfers us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, His voice alone is powerful enough not simply for us to recognize Him, but for Him to create new life within us. His sheep hear the voice of the one who has created within them a new life, who has made us a new creation!

10:19-21 There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. [20] Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?” [21] Others said, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”

Just as in chapters 7 and 9, we see a division among the hearers of Christ. There are some who can’t stand what Jesus is saying, but others who are thinking logically and “swim upstream” as Henry puts it, and posit a more thoughtful/logical response (even if they aren’t believers yet).

I think there is also something interesting here about where life and the power of life comes from.  I just finished talking about how Christ had the power of life within Himself, and here we see that even the common folks of earth recognize that the Devil and his agents do not have this same power.  They state “can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” because demons don’t have that power – darkness doesn’t have the power of light. It is a logical impossibility.

Not only is it a logical impossibility, but it goes against all practical knowledge as well. What I mean by that is this: when was the last time you read of a demon doing something positive for mankind? Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? That’s because it is. And yet that was the argument that the Pharisees used against Jesus, that He was of the Devil and used the Devil’s power to cast out demons (Luke 11:15).  Christ explained how this was a logical impossibility, and also just didn’t mesh with real life. Demons don’t help people, they don’t cast each other out, they don’t heal people – even if they could they wouldn’t!

10:22-23 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, [23] and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon.

The Feast of the Dedication was a relatively new feast, it was not an old testament feast but rather a feast that celebrated the Jewish freedom from the oppressive persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes.  Wikipedia actually has a pretty decent outline of the background that largely agrees with what D.A. Carson has to say as well:

The Feast of Dedication, today Hannukah, once also called “Feast of the Maccabees” was a Jewish festival observed for eight days from the 25th of Kislev (usually in December, but occasionally late November, due to the lunisolar calendar). It was instituted by Judas Maccabeus, his brothers, and the elders of the congregation of Israel, in the year 165 B.C. in commemoration of the re-consecration of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, and especially of the altar of burnt offering, after they had been desecrated in the persecution under Antiochus Epiphanes (168 BC). The significant happenings of the festival were the illumination of houses and synagogues, a custom probably taken over from the Feast of Tabernacles, and the recitation of Psalm 30:1-12.  J. Wellhausen suggests that the feast was originally connected with the winter solstice, and only afterwards with the events narrated in Maccabees.

10:24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” [25] Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, [26] but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. [27] My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.

The Method of Christ

It seems to me that though Christ had been teaching these people, they did not like His methodology. Here they complain about His lack of clarity on the matter of His messianic role.

The Implication

When Christ says here that they don’t believe Him, He is saying that they don’t believe Him “because” of something.  There’s a reason attached, and that reason is because they are not His sheep.

The implication of this is that God must take the initiative to call them and create the belief within them before they will respond.  The ESV Study Notes put it well:

Those who belong to Jesus’ flock (i.e., those who are chosen by him) are those who believe. The reason people do not believe is because they are not among Jesus’ sheep, implying that God must first give them the ability to believe and make them part of his people with a new heart (see 1:13; 6:44). Eternal life (10:28) by definition can never be taken away (see note on 6:40), especially when Jesus’ sheep belong to him and to his Father.

Therefore, the fact that these people were still not able to understand what Christ was telling them signaled that they were not His sheep.  He even makes a distinction to serve as a sort of bookend the point, as if to say, “I’ve already told you who I am, and if you were one of my sheep you would already have picked up on this and be following me. Evidently you are not one of my sheep because you don’t follow me – and you aren’t my sheep because I have not enabled you to be my sheep.”

The idea that belief is a gift from God is not foreign to us, for we read of it in Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus:

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

10:28-29 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. [29] My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.

In this simple analogy of the shepherd and his sheep, there are many theological implications. We don’t have to read into the analogy too far to find them because Christ Himself brings to our attention exactly what He wants us to learn from the analogy.  He is quite explicit in this section of His teaching (contrary to what some in His presence felt), and in verses 28 and 29 He continues to explore some of the radical implications of our relationship with Him as our shepherd.

The Perseverance of the Saints

Perhaps no doctrine is more beloved among conservative Christians (I speak as a Baptist) than that of The Perseverance of the Saints.  The doctrine simply states that once one is born again, that person can never lose their salvation.

This belief is based on passages like the one we’re looking at now – as well as many others. For example, Paul says in Philippians that, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).

Here the picture is that no one will lose eternal life because of the power of Jesus to keep that life intact. “No one will snatch them out of my hand” indicates that Christ is powerful enough to keep us from death and hell (which are the same thing at the end of the day). What a beautiful truth to cling to!

A Love Gift from the Father

But in case His hearers were to be concerned about the power of Christ to live up to His word (I speak tongue-in-cheek), He takes this teaching a step further.  He claims that God the Father has given us who believe into His hands.  Who is going to believe that the Father would be thwarted?  No one – as Christ says for emphasis that “He is greater than all” to make this very point.

Therefore, we are a give of love from the Father to the Son. Think about that for a minute – that means that there is real value in each one of us.  We are valued because we are created by Him to bear the divine image. We are not valuable because of what we do, but simply because He made us and loves us. We bear His image and He is renewing us day by day so that we will be more and more like the Adam…the second Adam!

In Matthew 7 Jesus talks about how the Father knows how to give good gifts – this passage is referring to the blessings of God in common grace, and how He will take care of us. But it also reminds me of His character. He not only acts in love toward us, but also toward His son as well.  That is why it is so important to understand the nature and relationship of the trinity.  It helps us understand how God will relate to us if we understand His character and How the Father relates to the Son and the Son to the Father and so on. This has enormous implications for our hope for tomorrow, and our help for today. How we understand the trinity/the Godhead helps us understand the character of God in His dealings with us and consequently how we ought to deal with and behave (lovingly) toward others).

10:30 I and the Father are one.

The Shema in Deuteronomy six is echoed here.  The ESV Study Notes explain this, and also why it is that this would have caused such an angry reaction:

Jesus’ claim that I and the Father are one (i.e., one entity—the Gk. is neuter; cf. 5:17–18; 10:33–38) echoes the Shema, the basic confession of Judaism, whose first word in Deut. 6:4 is shema‘ (Hb. “hear”). Jesus’ words thus amount to a claim to deity. Hence, the Jews pick up stones to put him to death. Jesus’ unity with the Father is later said to constitute the basis on which Jesus’ followers are to be unified (John 17:22). As in 1:1, here again the basic building blocks of the doctrine of the Trinity emerge: “I and the Father” implies more than one person in the Godhead, but “are one” implies that God is one being.

One thing I especially note here is how the people expect a non-divine messiah.  They ask Him the question about His messianic role in verse 24, but they didn’t do it in order to bait Him into claiming deity so that they could then stone Him. Instead, they had a misconception about the nature of the messiah. They felt it would be a man – a great man yes, but not the Son of YHWY!  This is not at all what they expected, so the idea of deity and the divine nature of Christ had not entered their thinking, and, apparently from this text, it was very difficult for them to wrap their head this truth.

The Lengths He has Gone

This morning CH Spurgeon, the “Prince of Preachers”, has a wonderful devotional about the lengths God has gone to make you his own. I wanted to share this with you today, because as people of God we often forget who we are. God has gone to great lengths to bring us near to Him. He has purchased us and fought for us, and predestined us. Yet we run away from our identity as His children everyday. We live lives incognito and sometimes it’s hard to tell us apart from the world.

This morning I hope this post stirs you to praise your Heavenly Father and to once again return to His bosom in obedience and love.

“The Lord’s portion is His people.” Deuteronomy 32:9

How are they His? By His own sovereign choice. He chose them, and set His love upon them. This He did altogether apart from any goodness in them at the time, or any goodness which He foresaw in them. He had mercy on whom He would have mercy, and ordained a chosen company unto eternal life; thus, therefore, are they His by His unconstrained election.

They are not only His by choice, but by purchase. He has bought and paid for them to the utmost farthing, hence about His title there can be no dispute. Not with corruptible things, as with silver and gold, but with the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord’s portion has been fully redeemed.

There is no mortgage on His estate; no suits can be raised by opposing claimants, the price was paid in open court, and the Church is the Lord’s freehold for ever. See the blood-mark upon all the chosen, invisible to human eye, but known to Christ, for ‘the Lord knoweth them that are His’; He forgetteth none of those whom He has redeemed from among men; He counts the sheep for whom He laid down His life, and remembers well the Church for which He gave Himself.

They are also His by conquest. What a battle He had in us before we would be won! How long He laid siege to our hearts! How often He sent us terms of capitulation! but we barred our gates, and fenced our walls against Him. Do we not remember that glorious hour when He carried our hearts by storm? When He placed His cross against the wall, and scaled our ramparts, planting on our strongholds the blood-red flag of His omnipotent mercy?

Yes, we are, indeed, the conquered captives of His omnipotent love. Thus chosen, purchased, and subdued, the rights of our divine possessor are inalienable: we rejoice that we never can be our own; and we desire, day by day, to do His will, and to show forth His glory.

Scriptural Foundation for Election and the “Doctrines of Grace”

Because we’ve been closely studying the 6th chapter of John on Sunday mornings, the doctrine of election has come up frequently – mostly because Jesus brings it up frequently.  In an effort to give our class a deeper understanding of God’s foreordination in salvation, and his sovereign power over all things, I wanted to provide you with some scripture to look at in connection with the Doctrines of Grace.

Firstly, you may be saying “what are the ‘Doctrines of Grace’ anyway?”  They are the core doctrines of God’s grace toward sinners in salvation (at least that’s how I would describe them).  They comprise what is normally known as Calvin’s “Tulip” and involve 5 points of distinction: Man’s depravity, God’s unconditional election, God’s effectual drawing of sinners to Himself, God’s plan of atonement for His children, God’s ensuring that we are preserved until His second coming (we can’t lose our salvation etc).

Thanks to Parris for sending along this link (here) that summarizes pretty well the scriptural basis for these doctrines.  Though even after extensive study you may still not be able to put all the pieces together in your mind, I think that studying the word of God  is the first thing that needs to be done if we’re to understand God’s plan and purpose in the salvation of sinners.  Because these doctrines are so foundational we will continue to study them, and see how they help us understand God and His purposes and plan for mankind.

I think that before we start to look at man’s role in things (the free will question) its good to first have a right understanding of God’s role in things (i.e. salvation and sanctification), and that is what I’m going to try and lay out here with the help of Mongergism’s great research team.

 

Now here is the bulk of the scriptural foundation for the Doctrines of Grace:

Unconditional Election

God is Sovereign Exo 15:18; 1Chr 29:11-12; 2Chr 20:6; Psa 22:28

  1. He exercises that sovereignty in actively ordaining everything

Deu 32:39; 1Sam 2:6-8; Job 9:12; Job 12:6-10; Psa 33:11; Psa 115:3; Psa 135:6; Isa 14:24; Isa 45:7; Act 15:18; Eph 1:11

    • Including matters of “chance”

Proverbs 16:33; 1Kings 22:20,34,37

    • The wicked actions of men

Gen 45:5; Gen 50:20; Exo 4:21; Jdg 14:1-4; Psa 76:10; Pro 16:4; Isa 44:28; Amos 3:6; Act 2:22-23; Act 4:27-28

    • The actions of evil spirits

1Sam. 16:14-16; 1Kings 22:19-23; 1Chr 21:1/2Sam 24:1

    • The good actions of men

John 15:16; Eph 2:10; Phi 2:12-13

    • The actions of good angels

Psa 103:20; Psa 104:4

    • The actions of animals

Num 22:28; 1Ki 17:4; Psa 29:9; Jer 8:7; Eze 32:4; Dan 6:22

    • The operations of all creation

Gen 8:22; Psa 104:5-10; Psa 104:13-14; Psa 104:19-20; Mark 4:39

  1. Man is not permitted to question his sovereign acts

Job 33:12-13; Isa 29:16; Isa 45:9-10; Mat 20:1-16; Rom 9:19-24

God elects [i.e. chooses, predestines, foreordains]

  1. His angels

1Tim 5:21

  1. His peculiar people, Israel

Exodus 6:7; Deu 7:6-8; Deut. 10:14-15; Psa 33:12; Isa 43:20-21

  1. Individuals to salvation

Psa 65:4; Mat 24:24; John 6:37; John 15:16; Act 13:48; Rom 8:28-30; Rom 9:10-24; Rom 11:5-7; Eph 1:3-6; Eph 1:11-12; 1The 1:4; 1The 5:9; 2The 2:13-14

  1. Individuals to condemnation

Exo 4:21; Rom 9:13; Rom 9:17-18; Rom 9:21-22; 1Pet 2:8

His motivation in election

  1. His own good pleasure

Eph 1:5; 2Tim 1:9

  1. The display of his glory

Isa 43:6-7; Rom 9:22-24; 1Cor 1:27-31; Eph 2:4-7; Pro 16:4

  1. His special love

Deu 7:6-8; 2 Thess. 2:13

  1. His foreknowledge

Rom 8:29; 1 Peter 1:2

    • Which means his special love

Jer 1:5; Amos 3:2; Mat 7:22-23; 1Cor 8:3; 2Tim 2:19; 1Pet 1:20

    • But not:
    • Any good [nobility, wisdom, power, choice, seeking] he foresees in anyone Deu 7:7; Rom 9:11-13; Rom 9:16; Rom 10:20; 1Cor 1:27-29; 1Cor 4:7; 2Tim 1:9

Total Depravity

Man is constituted a sinner by his relationship with Adam Psa 51:5; Psa 58:3; Rom 5:18-19 He is therefore unable…

  1. To do anything good

Gen 6:5; Job 15:14-16; Psa 130:3; Psa 143:2; Pro 20:9; Ecc 7:20; Isa 64:6; Jer 13:23; John 3:19; Rom 3:9-12; Jam 3:8; 1John 1:8

  1. To believe in God (or come to him)

John 6:44; John 6:65; John 8:43-45; John 10:26; John 12:37-41

  1. To understand the truth

John 14:17; 1Cor 2:14

  1. To seek God

Rom 3:10-11

He is dead in sins Gen 2:16-17; John 3:5-7; Eph 2:1-3; Col 2:13 He is blinded and corrupt in his heart Gen 6:5; Gen 8:21; Ecc 9:3; Jer 17:9; Mark 7:21-23; John 3:19-21; Rom 8:7-8; Eph 4:17-19; Eph 5:8 He is captive to sin and Satan John 8:34; John 8:44; Rom 6:20; 2Tim 2:25-26; Tit 3:3; 1John 5:19 He performs actions freely according to his nature, but his nature is wholly evil Job 14:4; Mat 7:16-18; Mat 12:33; Mark 7:21-23; Jam 1:13-14

 

Limited Atonement 

God purposed to redeem a certain people and not others 1Chr 17:20-21; Mat 22:14; 1Pet 2:8-9 [see “God elects individuals to salvation”/God elects individuals to condemnation”]

  1. It is for these in particular that Christ gave his life

Isa 53:10-11; Mat 1:21; John 6:35-40; John 10:3-4, 11, 14-15; Act 20:28; Eph 5:25 [we are commanded to love our wives in the same way that Christ loved the church and gave himself for it; therefore, if Christ loved and gave himself for all people in the same way, we are commanded to love all women in the same way that we love our wives]; Heb 2:17; Heb 9:15

  1. It is for these in particular that Christ intercedes

John 17:1-2; John 17:6-12; John 17:20-21, 24-26; Rom 8:34

  1. The people for whom Christ intercedes are the same as the people for whom he offered himself up as a sacrifice

Heb 7:24-27; Heb 9:12 [note context, in which entering into the holy place is explicitly for the purpose of intercession], 24-28 [For a fuller understanding of the indissoluble connection between sacrifice and intercession, read Hebrews chapters 7-10]

The atonement of Christ is effective

  1. To justify

Isa 53:11 [the single effective cause of justification in view here is the bearing of iniquities; all whose iniquities Christ bore must be justified]; Rom 8:34[the argument here is that the fact of Christ’s death, resurrection, and intercession is in itself an incontrovertibly effective reason for non-condemnation; if this verse is true, then no one for whom Christ died and was raised to intercede may be condemned]

  1. To redeem and cleanse from sins

Eph 5:25-27; Tit 2:14

  1. To propitiate the Father

1John 2:2 [“propitiation” means “the turning away or appeasement of wrath”; therefore, by definition, the Father has no more wrath against those whose sins have been propitiated]; 1John 4:10

  1. To raise to new life

2Cor 5:14-15 [the argument is a simple “if/then” proposition: “if” Christ died for someone, “then,” with no other conditions, that person died with him and was raised again]; 1Pet 3:18

[See also, “Jesus’ death purchased for his people a new heart; – faith; – repentance”. Jesus died in order to establish the New Covenant (Mat. 26:26-29, etc.); the New Covenant promised faith, repentance and knowledge of God (Jer. 31:33-34, Ez. 36:26-27, etc.); therefore, Jesus died in order to provide faith, repentance, and knowledge of God, as the fulfillment of a unilateral promise. This means that his death had a definite purpose which was intended for some and not others. His death effectively purchased faith; not all have faith; and so his death had an effective intent that was limited to certain persons.] Those whom God purposed to redeem include all who believe John 3:16

  1. From every nation

Rev 5:9

  1. From every class

Gal 3:28; 1Tim 2:1-6 [the first “all men” is explicitly tied to all classes of men, which gives warrant for understanding the second “all men” in the same way]

  1. Therefore, Christ’s saving work is commonly spoken of in terms of “all,” “world,” etc.

John 1:29; Tit 2:11-14 [in the context of “all men” is the delimiting concept of a peculiar people, zealous of good works]; Heb 2:9-10 [notice that the many sons whom Christ brings to glory gives a contextual delimiter to the term “every”]; 2Pet 3:9 [note that this desire is explicitly limited to “us” (Peter was writing to fellow-believers) in the context]; 1John 2:2 [propitiation means “appeasement of wrath”; either Jesus appeases God’s wrath against all, and therefore hell (which is the place where God’s wrath resides) is non-existent; or the “whole world” means something different than “every individual who ever lived”. See John 11:51-52, and “The word ‘world’ is often used in the sense of ‘many,’ or ‘all of a set’”]

  1. The word “all” is often used to indicate all of a set, or even many representatives of a set

Mat 10:22; 1Cor 6:12; 1Cor 15:22; Mat 2:3; John 4:29; Act 10:39; Act 17:21; Act 21:28; Act 26:4

  1. Or, to indicate all “classes” or “nations,” not all individuals

Mat 5:11; Act 2:17; Act 10:12

  1. The word “world” is often used in the sense of “many,” or “all of a set”

Luk 2:1-2; John 6:33; John 12:19; Act 19:27; Rom 1:8

Additional reasons that the atonement of Christ is not for all the sins of all people

  1. God punishes people in hell, which would be unjust if their sins were atoned for

Mark 9:43-44

  1. If one were to say, “their sins are atoned for, but that atonement is not applied because of unbelief,” he fails to realize that unbelief is likewise a sin

Heb 3:12 [“The Father imposed His wrath due unto, and the Son underwent punishment for either: 1) All the sins of all men; 2) All the sins of some men; or 3) Some of the sins of all men. In which case it may be said: 1) If the last be true all men have some sins to answer for, and so none are saved; 2) That if the second be true, then Christ, in their stead suffered for all the sins of the elect in the whole world, and this is the truth; 3) But if the first is the case, why are not all men free from the punishment due unto their sins? You answer, Because of unbelief. I ask, Is this unbelief a sin, or is it not? If it be, then Christ suffered the punishment due unto it, or He did not. If He did, why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which He died? If He did not, He did not die for all their sins!” – John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ]

  1. God bears eternal wrath against people, which by definition means that his wrath against them has not been propitiated [appeased]

1The 2:16; 2The 1:6-9

Intentions of Christ’s death other than atonement

  1. To make a public display of demons

Col 2:13-15

  1. To rule over everyone

Rom 14:9

  1. To redeem creation

Isa 35:1-4; Rom 8:20-23

  1. To lay the foundation for a genuine gospel call

John 6:39-40; John 7:37-38

  1. To provide temporal mercies for the non-elect

Mat 5:45; 1Tim 4:10

Irresistible Grace 

Faith and Repentance (as well as the new heart which is able to produce them) are themselves gifts of God

  1. A new heart

Deu 30:6; Eze 11:19; Eze 36:26-27

  1. Faith

John 3:27, 6:63-65; Phi 1:29; 2Pet 1:1; Act 16:14; Act 18:27; Eph 2:8-10

  1. Repentance

Act 5:3; Act 11:18; 2Tim 2:25-26; 1Cor 4:7

The Father writes his own word upon (places the fear of himself in, etc.) his people’s hearts Jer 31:33; Jer 32:40; Mat 16:15-17; Luk 10:21; John 6:45; 2Cor 4:6 The beginning of salvation is the sovereign impartation of spiritual life into a heart which had been dead, thereby causing it to exercise faith 1John 5:1; Eze 37:3-6, 11-14; John 1:11-13; John 3:3-8; John 5:21; Eph 2:1-5; Jam 1:18; 1Pet 1:3; 1John 2:29 True offers of grace in the outward gospel call may be resisted by men who do not have this new heart Act 17:32-33 In fact, true offers of grace will always be resisted by such men John 10:24-26; John 12:37-40 But there are some whom God causes to come to him Psa 65:4; Psa 110:3; John 6:37-40; Rom 9:15

 

Perseverance of the Saints 

What God begins, he finishes Psa 138:8; Ecc 3:14; Isa 46:4; Jer 32:40; Rom 11:29; Phi 1:6; 2Tim 4:18 Of all whom he has called and brought to Christ, none will be lost John 6:39-40; John 10:27-29; Rom 8:28-31; Rom 8:35-39; Heb 7:25; Heb 10:14 God’s preservation of the saints is not irrespective of their continuance in the faith 1Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21; Eph 5:5; Heb 3:14; Heb 6:4-6; Heb 10:26-27; Heb 12:14; Rev 21:7-8; Rev 22:14-15 However, it is God who sanctifies us and causes us to persevere John 15:16; 1Cor 1:30-31; 1Cor 6:11; 1Cor 12:3; 1Cor 15:10; Gal 3:1-6; Eph 2:10; Phi 2:12-13; 1The 5:23-24; Heb 13:20-21; 1John 2:29; Jud 1:24-25.