My Opinions Won’t Save Me

Today I was reading in Steven Lawson’s book ‘Foundations of Grace‘, the book reads like a Biblical Theology on the Doctrines of Grace. Here I am at Chapter Four, and its as if Lawson never wrote the previous three chapters, such is his energy and enthusiasm for the topic.

This chapter covers some of the early leaders of the Bible ‘Joshua to Job’, and shows how God’s sovereignty in salvation was on full display in their life stories.

Here’s how he opens:

Strong men always proclaim a strong message. They do not read the polls and check the surveys before they give their opinion. In fact, they do not even have opinions – they have convictions. They bleed convictions. They are strong men anchored in the strong Word of God, and, as such, they bring a message with gravitas and punch.

That certainly sounds like the kind of man I want to be. Though I come from dust and will return to it, I want to stand for something during this life. Don’t you?

That phrase, “In fact, the do not even have opinions – they have convictions” is worth pondering. I believe what Lawson is getting at is that men and women who stand on the truth of God do not stand on the strength of their own ideas.

The ideas that a godly man or woman stand on are not always popular – in fact, they can be downright dangerous. But they hold them and speak them nonetheless.

Lawson continues:

When they (“strong men”) stand to speak, they actually have something to say – and they say it, whether anyone listens or not. When they sit to write, they do not skirt the issues – they tackle them. When they address the times in which they live, they do not tickle ears – they box them. They do not have one message for one group and a different message for a different group. Wherever they go and whomever they address, they have only one message – God’s message. This is what makes them strong men. They speak God’s Word, or they do not speak at all.

Indeed, very well said! As a Christian there are some difficult truths which we must embrace. Some are difficult because they are hard to understand, and others are difficult because we are sinners and do not like what they entail. Such is the case with the doctrines of grace, as Lawson states:

There is no stronger message than the truths of God’s sovereignty in the doctrines of grace. No other message is more God-exalting and Christ-glorifying than these truths. And yet, no other announcement is as sin-exposing, pride-crushing, and self-denouncing as these five theological points. No other truths are as sweet and previous to the soul that is humbled and submissive, but no other message is more offensive to the flesh or abrasive to the carnal mind than these doctrines. In fact, this message is unbearable to the natural man – just as it is sometimes intolerable even to those who are saved.

In my short time upon this earth, I’ve spent a lot of time in church. And in sermon after sermon, I have heard good men flee from preaching these truths. In fact, one of the things that seems to govern the phraseology of their sermons is a fear of man. A fear of offending either the sensibilities or intellect of their congregants.

I have heard men that I respect and love, equivocate on these truths with a subtlety that would be better left to politicians. And because I am a politician and communications and messaging expert by trade, I smell this stuff from 1000 yards away! I can tell when someone either doesn’t own up to the truths of God’s Word, or cannot fully come to embrace it intellectually.

I sometimes wonder how many other communications professionals – or just attentive people in the sanctuary – pickup on this kind of equivocation…phrases like “God won’t force himself on you, you have to let him into your heart”, which I heard even this week. These are really poor ways of communicating God’s work and your responsibility. And they are purposefully vague because they are meant not to offend, and to force people toward making some kind of “move toward God.” AS IF WE HAVE TO TAKE THE FIRST STEP!?

The truth is that Lawson is right. Without the sovereign in-breaking of God’s love into our lives we would never seek Him (John 3:19-21). I am personally glad that He “forced” His way into my life, and preached grace to my dead heart (Ephesians 2:1-10).

I wrote this post today because I really don’t have much to stand on for truth outside of Scripture and what it says. So that when I come to a more difficult truth in Scripture, I remember that the One who saved me doesn’t have to explain Himself to me. He doesn’t have to tell me why He does what He does. I know He does all for His own pleasure and glory. It is enough for me to know that He saved me, and that if He had not, I would still be standing on the shakiness of my own opinions. And, in the end, it is not my opinions that will save me.

John 15:16 Study Notes: Purpose in Life

Below are my notes from this past Sunday morning.  We examined John 15:16 and the purpose of a Christian life.  The very fact that we have a purpose is simply stunning – the fact that we know what that purpose is can be very comforting.

Enjoy!

PJW

15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

The Mission and Purpose of Christian Disciples

Jesus is reiterating some things that he’s been telling the disciples over the course of his ministry and their discussion in the upper room, and here he says that they are appointed to bear fruit, and that their fruit will abide – that it will last – and “so” whatever the disciples of Jesus ask for in the name of Jesus the Father will surely give to them.

One of the great comforts of the Christian life is to have a mission – a reason to live, and a sense for the meaning of life. The mission of a Christian is to “bear fruit”, and that fruit is good works (as we have seen earlier).  These good works are not from our flesh – that is, they are not works that we do on our own or in our own power – but they are in the Spirit.  They are the “fruit of the Spirit” so to speak.

As a young man matriculating to a secular university I noticed at once the attitude and conclusions about life that my fellow students held was vastly different than my own.  This was primarily due to a lack of understanding as to the reason for their life in the first place. They didn’t know the answers to “why am I here?”, “what is my purpose?” “how did I get here?” and so forth.

As Christians we know the answers to life’s most pressing and perplexing questions, and that is an overwhelming source of comfort that we must draw from if we’re to live life productively.

Those who do not have the Christian worldview have often been influenced by modern evolutionary thought, which has had a profound psychological impact on our culture.  Wayne Grudem explains the effect of evolutionary thinking on the way human beings think about their purpose in life:

It is important to understand the incredibly destructive influences that evolutionary theory has had on modern thinking. If in fact life was not created by God, and if human beings in particular are not created by God or responsible to him, but are simply the result of random occurrences in the universe, then of what significance is human life? We are merely the product of matter plus time plus chance, and so to think that we have eternal importance, or really any importance at all in the face of an immense universe is simply to delude ourselves. Honest reflection on this notion should lead people to a profound sense of despair.

As Christians, we know differently, and Jesus is saying as much in this passage. But this passage alone is not the only one that tells of His eternal purpose for us.  The entirety of Ephesians 1 screams this, and I have mentioned in commenting on previous verses that a great cross reference here is Ephesians 2:10 where Paul says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

Therefore Christ is here saying that He chose us not only for salvation (and a salvation that lasts, by the way), but also for good works (cf. MacArthur and Morris), for “fruit” that abides. MacArthur makes the point that the “fruit” is the souls of those saved through the spread of the Gospel, “When believers proclaim the gospel, those who respond savingly to it become fruit that will remain forever (cf. 4:36; Luke 16:29).”

He made us for a purpose – a destiny – and not simply an end, but a body of work that comes between our creation and our glorification.

In fact, the statement, “whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you” is qualified by the word “so”, which is very important. It is that word “so” that tells us that the reason we ask the Father for help (for anything) is for the purpose of the previously mentioned goal: to bear fruit.  That He would give us help and a way to ask for that help implies that there is something He will be helping with.

So the thrust of this passage is that Jesus is going away, but He wants His disciples to know that He is still sovereign. He wants them to know that He has a mission for them once He is gone.  He is sovereign over their mission and He is sovereign over He chooses to send on it – “I chose you” and “you did not choose me.”

God’s Sovereign Choice

We have discussed the overall “thrust” of the passage, and I don’t want to miss the importance of the emphasis on mission here because I think that is the central message of the passage. But it may also be valuable to examine the foundation of the message.  Jesus’ command to bear fruit is built upon the rock solid sovereignty of God in all things – including, as we see here, in the choice of his disciples.

Jesus explicitly states that they didn’t choose him – nor would they have chosen Him if they had the chance. These are men who saw the Lord Christ Incarnate – the Word made flesh!  Yet they didn’t choose Him, He chose them.

In fact, we learn elsewhere in Scripture that no one chooses to follow Jesus of their own unaided volition.  Paul makes that clear in Romans:

as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12)

This is because in our unregenerated state even if we saw the scars of Jesus, heard the words of Jesus in person, or saw Him resurrected, we would still find a reason to disbelieve. We would create lies to explain away what our eyes saw and ears heard.

Before He breathes new life into us we are radically depraved, totally faithless, spiritually dead, and totally unable to believe and be saved apart from His sovereign unconditional electing salvation.

The doctrine of God’s sovereign election and our radical depravity is seen clearly throughout the book of John.  This passage simply reiterates what John and Jesus have been saying for 14 previous chapters, namely that it is His choice, His plan, His initiative that rules the destinies of men. This is not only the case for the 12 disciples, but for us today as well. He sovereignly chooses those whom He will and appoints those chosen to a life that will abide forever in the bosom of the Father.

Those who have studied John with me to date know well the myriad times that the apostle has labored to show God’s sovereignty in electing those whom He has chosen to life. The evidence has been so overwhelming that I’ve come to believe that those who harbor belief of their will or “choice” preceding the internal work of the Spirit have serious Scriptural obstacles to overcome.

Consider just a few (for the sake of time and space) of the following passages we’ve looked at in our study:

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)

So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (Romans 9:16)

…even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him… (Ephesians 1:4)

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, (1 Thessalonians 1:4, ESV)

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. (John 6:37)

Commenting on John 6:37 Steve Lawson has this to say:

That word “all” is a collective word for all the elect. What this is saying is that before any sinner ever came to Christ, before any sinner is drawn by the Father to Christ, God had already given those to the Son. And the reason God had given them to the Son is because God had already chosen them by Himself and for Himself. That choice was made before the foundation of the world. And when God chose us God the Father gave us to God the Son to become His bride and to become His chosen flock….the giving of all of these to the Son precedes their ever coming to the Son, and we can trace this all the way back to eternity past.

John 6:39 and 40 show us once again that this is all done by the will of God:

And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day (John 6:39-40).

The Upshot of This Truth

When we weigh what we know about these disciples and what we know about ourselves against the sovereign choice of Christ, it ought to cause us to bow before Him in worship. It ought to cause us to acknowledge His lordship over all creation and give us great comfort.

This sovereignty extends from the choosing, to the keeping (the abiding) to the carrying out of the mission: He is in control!  Complete and utter control!

The implications of this are nothing short of astounding. He is not simply the deistic god who winds up the clock of the universe only to sit back and watch it flutter along until judgment day.  He is not the pantheistic god of the eastern religions who is so mixed “in” with creation that his transcendence is obliterated.

He is both transcendent and immanent: He is God. He rules over all and IN all as well.  Paul describes this in one amazing sentence:

“…one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:6).

All of this has led me to think that rebellion against the doctrine of election is just that: rebellion. It is not intellectually or Scripturally supportable to think that man in his fallen state would ever choose Christ over his sin, not have the inclination or desire to follow Christ on his own. Frankly, it is not the Spirit that motivates that kind of thinking. Most people who object to the doctrine of election object to it either because they either misunderstand the way in which God works, or they simply don’t understand the sovereign character and right of God to do whatever He pleases with His creation (you and me).

I will close this short thought by asking you to consider what the Psalmist says:
Our God is in the heavens
He does all that He pleases (Ps. 115:3)

“All” literally means “all.” There is nothing that falls outside His jurisdiction in the created order – how much more so the destinies of the pinnacles of His creation (mankind).

Summer Reading Group

A few weeks ago while I was at the Ligonier National Conference, it was suggested that several of us start reading and discussing Steven Lawson’s Pillars of Grace. So I have put together a summer reading and discussion program for whoever wants to be involved.  Parris Payden will be launching our discussion site (likely to just be a Facebook page) here in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, take a look Pillars of Grace Syllabus, and investigate more about the book here.

WHEN: The “class” begins the first week of June and goes through the end of August.

RSVP: Please let PJ know if you’re interested in joining the group for this study and we’ll get you signed up and pass along more information: pjwenzel@gmail.com

The Amazon summary is this:

The doctrines of grace are often known as the five points of Calvinism, but they were not the invention of John Calvin or his reforming cohorts of the sixteenth century. Rather, they are biblical doctrines, as Dr. Steven J. Lawson demonstrated in his book Foundations of Grace (2006). Now, in Pillars of Grace, Dr. Lawson shows that the doctrines of grace have been understood and taught sometimes in embryonic form, sometimes with great clarity throughout church history. From the time of the early church fathers to the years of the Reformers, there have been key men in the church, pillars as it were, who stood on the foundation of Scripture and upheld the truth of God’s sovereign role in salvation.

In Pillars of Grace, Dr. Lawson walks readers through the ups and downs of church history, profiling these voices for the truth. The inescapable conclusion is that the doctrines of grace are no innovation, but the consistent witness of some of the greatest men of the church.