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A Castle of Cards?

A Castle of Cards?

by Matt Shrader

Are you ever discouraged because of your circumstances and have turned really pessimistic? I am not talking about having a “glass half-empty” but more of a  “glass bone dry” kind of attitude.  What do we do at that point? How do we wade through those difficult times? How do we get out of such pessimism? Why is it that we ever got to that point?

It is not always easy to see the good in the bad, the positive in the negative. As a Christian, I know that I should have poise because providence tells me that all things are working as expected under the perfect direction of God. Millard Erickson defines providence like this: “By providence we mean the continuing action of God by which he preserves in existence the creation he has brought into being, and guides it to his intended purposes for it.”1

This gives me encouragement that God is working in my life. This gives me confidence and comfort in prayer, knowing that God wants and enables me to align my purposes with His. And, this can take away fear in times of difficulty because I know God is aware, interested, and involved. A doctrine such as providence is truly inexhaustible. As many situations as we can possibly produce, we can likewise apply the doctrine of providence to each and any.

We can look at the past and see several instances where God has been faithful. The Psalm-writers do this. Asaph in Psalm 78 relates to the next generation the stories of providence that were told to him. These are stories of God’s providential protection and covenant faithfulness to Israel from captivity in Egypt to King David.

We could also look through more recent history at difficult times and realize that ours is not the only trial that has ever happened. Although the difficulties of the Second World War were great, C. S. Lewis argues that the war generation ought not to end in pessimism, but in reflection upon God and His work: “The classic expositions of the doctrine that the world’s miseries are compatible with its creation and guidance by a wholly good Being come from Boethius waiting in prison to be beaten to death and from St. Augustine meditating on the sack of Rome. The present state of the world is normal; it was the last century that was the abnormality.”2 No matter the situation, we still assert that God’s providence is always at work.

Perhaps you could think of personal examples where the Lord put you through a trying time. Can you relate to Psalm 40 when David trusted in the providence of God? “I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry. He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps. He has put a new song in my mouth—Praise to our God; many will see it and fear, and will trust in the Lord.”

Providence has been at work and we ought to praise God for what He has done. When we look back and recognize that God does not disappear in difficulties, we become overwhelmed with the faithfulness of God in every trial and we trust God to be faithful in the present and future.  Reflecting on the provision of God for Abraham when he was going to sacrifice Isaac in Genesis 22, William Cowper wrote:

 

 

Blest proofs of pow’r and grace divine,

that meet us in his word!

May every deep felt care of mine

be trusted with the Lord.

Wait for his seasonable aid,

and though it tarry wait:

The promise may be long delayed,

but cannot come too late.3

 

 

When we look ahead and try to gaze through the lens of providence and see the ultimate goal to which we set our eyes, we gain excitement considering what Christ is accomplishing. Providence is leading us toward what Christ wants us to be. We have that blessed hope of salvation. And when we travail those tough times God has ordained for us, we need to remember that God does this for us because we are His beloved children and that we have a hope which rests in God alone. The book of Revelation is filled with the cry of the martyrs for vindication and rest. They wait in anticipation for the rest that is realized in the new heavens and new earth. “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

But, what do we need to learn from our trials as we are going through them? Why do we need them? What do they tell us about ourselves now? The author of Hebrews tells us that God chastens us just like a father does, “but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness” (Heb. 12:10). There are benefits to our trials.  In what is left of this short essay I would like to take a look at a specific way that God works in times of difficulty. I want to know something more than just how a Christian may get out of a pessimistic disposition. What may we learn from our difficulty about ourselves? I would submit that we need our trials.  We need those times when we are emptied of all of ourselves. They help us to see beyond what we have become to what we need to be. It could be that the glass was the problem and it needs to be bone dry so that it can be broken and made anew so that it may become something better than it was?

 

 

A New Perspective:

We have looked briefly back and forward to see how providence can reaffirm our understanding that God has worked and will work. We have been reminded of His faithfulness in times past and His direction in the present and His ultimate plan for the future. These reflections give us cause to look up and consider the greatness of God.

Consider Job’s reaction to his nearly unparalleled trials. In the book of Job we are presented with the story of a man’s immense trials under the providence of God (chs. 1-2), his and his friends’ debating of the trials (chs. 3-37),  God’s answer to Job (chs. 38-41), and then Job’s confession and vindication (ch. 42).

In the Lord’s speeches, Job had asked for the Lord to answer him (13:22; 31:35) and God spoke to Job “from the whirlwind” (38:1). Job initially responds in 40:3-5 with silence. This silence is good (Eccl. 3:7). However, the Lord still has more to say to Job and more for Job to learn. “It is good that Job says nothing here, But that’s not enough. There are still some things that Job needs to say.”4

The Lord then lays out the two creatures, Behemoth and Leviathan, in chapters 40-41 to show again the distinction between God and man. Finally, in 42:1-6 we see the confession of Job. In chapter 42 and verse 2, Job praises God for his superiority and his sovereignty. In verse 3, Job declares his incapacity to know God, God’s incomprehensibility, and then his own ignorance. Finally, in verses 4-6 Job repents because his understanding has been clarified and then Job shows his contrition.

There are at least two lessons that Job needed to learn through his trials. The first is a proper perspective of God. Job began by praising God for his greatness. Job declared that he had been speaking of “what I did not understand” and “things too wonderful for me.” Job confesses that after he had been confronted by the greatness of God (“now my eyes see you”) that he had a better understanding and needed to repent. Job needed to understand that distinction between God and man. Understanding better the infinity and omnipotence of God led Job to understand who it is that claims to be the sustainer of the world. It is interesting that there is so much discussion and debate in the book leading up to the Lord’s speeches and then so little of a response to the Lord after His speeches. In Job’s confession, only verse 2 declares anything about God: “I know that You can do everything, and that no purposes of Yours can be withheld from You.” In the end, this simple understanding of God changed everything for Job.

The second lesson we learn from Job is the other side of the coin from the first: he had to change his perspective of himself. When we try to understand all of how God provides, we realize that we are like Job and are speaking of things too wonderful for us which we do not understand. Our finiteness limits us. We see dimly, but God is eternal. “You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (42:3). Job teaches us to gain the proper perspective. When we do, we end in the same place as he did: “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (42:5-6).

When we look up and see God, we fall down before His greatness and at the same time we find peace under His wings. After seeing God, Job affirms God’s providence. The new perspective that we need is to see God for who He is. When we consider ourselves in such ineffable light we recognize our limitedness.

 

 

Considering Our Castles: 

Realigning our perspective should cause us to take a deeper look inside. When we do, we see that at our core there is merely a façade. We actually need trials sometimes to show us this. Trials have great benefit, not just because they give us some evidence that God is concerned about us and considers us to be His children, but we need trials because we need to see the inadequacy of our own selves. We need to recognize the problem areas in our lives. At the heart of Job’s problem was the fact that he had the wrong conception of many things. His understanding of God and of himself were weak. His faith in God and in himself were unbalanced. He had to see his own self-righteousness destroyed. Job needed to destroy the false conceptions of his understanding, faith, self-righteousness, and whatever else was lacking.

One of C. S. Lewis’s shorter works, A Grief Observed,  relayed his own struggle with the loss of his wife and how he faced the immense trial that came his way.  Lewis shares that as he reflected on his wife, he desired to not lose a true conception of her and to also remember their love for one another. He believes that his love for her is as mighty and as impregnable  as a castle. Thus, he must take care to keep the memory of her strong, no matter how the trial he is going through is testing that love. But, the more he reminisced, the more he found problems with his conceptions. So then, Lewis probed into what it means that trials come our way “to try us.” Lewis made a crucial distinction.

 

 

“But of course one must take ‘sent to try us’ the right way. God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.”5

 

 

Lewis understood that the love he was trying to protect was a love of her memory and not a love of her. Similarly, our conceptions of God can be distorted when we are more concerned with the conceptions than the reality behind the conceptions. Lewis did not want to be satisfied with his mental or emotional conceptions of such important realities. “Not my idea of God, but God. Not my idea of H., but H. Yes, and also not my idea of my neighbor, but my neighbor.”6

Lewis recognized that grief and trials are a part of reality. Our trials are sent to knock down the card-castles that we have built. We call them love, faithfulness, purity, understanding, prayer life, etc. God shows us that they are actually quite weak and in need of fortification. We consider them, like Lewis to be high and majestic castles of granite, impregnable and sure. In truth, they are merely a castle of cards which a wisp of wind leaves disheveled.

But, this is the greatness of the Gospel. The Gospel tells us that despite our deficiencies, God loves us! Despite what God knows about our inner conceptions, he loves us! When we become a child of God and follow after him, we still struggle with the sin in our own lives. God helps and chastens his own so that they may be presented holy and undefiled.

It may be hard to recognize, but sin can come in the form of an incorrect conception of what our faith or love is or what they ought to be. We need these incorrect conceptions to be destroyed. We need the card-castles to be knocked over so that they can be rebuilt. Trials do this for us. In times of intense trial, we are often laid bare in search of relief. We want merely to find rest from the stress and hardship. When trials become more and more difficult we find more and more that we need help from someplace or someone. We cannot simply rely on ourselves.

Where do we look? We look to friends and family and hopefully we fall to our knees before God, asking for help. Difficult times show the inadequacies of our own selves. They reveal what the difference is between our conceptions and the reality. They reveal the difference between what we think our faith is and what it is in reality.

Do we take the time in trials to consider that? No doubt, in the midst of trials we are not given to being introspective. But we ought to be. Trials will expose what is really there. It is perhaps the best opportunity to see what is truly in our hearts because our hearts have been probed by the depth of the trial. We ought to ask God amidst those times to open our eyes to see what wicked ways are in us. Trials will reveal what my prayer life really was. They will show how much faith I actually had. They will show how I truly did love God. These are the inner problems that trials can reveal that I need to change.

To repeat from the beginning of this essay, Millard Erickson defines providence like this: “By providence we mean the continuing action of God by which he preserves in existence the creation he has brought into being, and guides it to his intended purposes for it.”7 There is a lot to unpack when Erickson says that God “guides it to his intended purposes for it.” Trials are a part of God’s providential plan.

God uses trials to show that he cares for us. That is not so hard to see. God uses trials to help us and that is not so hard to see. But God also uses trials to break us down as we see. It can feel like God wants to use trials to destroy us totally. In fact, God wants to use trials to destroy what is defective in us so as to rebuild and improve us. Do we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear such a rebuke from God?

Trials are sent to test us and they are for our benefit, if we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear. As a blacksmith uses fire and heat to forge his utensils, so God uses trials to forge his utensils. How do we respond to the fires of trial? Do we even recognize what they can do for us and how they can expose the weaknesses in us? More importantly, does there dwell within our hearts a castle of cards?

 

1.Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, Second Edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004), 413.

2.C. S. Lewis, “Evil and God,” in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. by Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 22. 

3.William Cowper, JEHOVAH-JIREH, The LORD will provide. Gen. 22:14,” Olney Hymns. 

4.Layton Talbert, Beyond Suffering: Discovering the Message of Job (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 2007), 210. 

5.C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, in The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York: HarperOne, 2002), 678. 

6.Ibid, 684. Lewis refers to his wife Helen, as “H.” Lewis originally wrote the book pseudonymously and so concealed her name. 

7.Erickson, Christian Theology, 413. 

 

 

Saving Faith

Saving Faith

by Rick Shrader

This article originally appeared in the Sept/Oct 1996 issue of The Baptist Preacher under the title, “Why are there pious pretenders in the pews?”

In exalting faith, we are not immediately putting ourselves in contradiction to modern thought. Indeed faith is being exalted very high today by men of the most modern type. But what kind of faith? There emerges the difference of opinion.

Faith is being exalted so high today that men are being satisfied with any kind of faith, just so it is faith. It makes no difference what is believed, we are told, just so the blessed attitude of faith is there.       (J. Gresham Machen, 1923)1

Almost two years ago I wrote an article entitled “Worshipping Worship.” I thought it was time to write a follow-up on worship, so I pulled my “worship” file and perused the entries of the last two years. It has become a huge file with men of varied stripe offering comment and observation. Fundamentalists and evangelicals especially have been justifiably critical of the irreverence in today’s “worship style.” But I’ve noticed (as have many others) that there is an issue that mirrors worshipping worship, and that is trusting in trust or faith.

The nature of saving faith

An Easter article in our local paper was titled, “Many experience rebirth of faith at Easter time.” It seems a man was returning from his faith in the “material world” to a “sense of freedom and comfort” in his Catholic church. He said, “It’s not a change in belief but a change in the method of adoration.”2 The troubling fact is that such a faith has no object. Faith becomes its own object! It is faith in the ability to have faith which, of course, is not faith but works.

When the ECT (Evangelicals and Catholics Together) document appeared in 1994, the only good news was that the issue of saving faith was pushed to center stage. Sadly, many who call themselves “evangelical” have lost the distinctive of their name by proposing that the “good news” is that salvation is in one’s content of faith rather than in one’s object of faith. But I would also suggest that fundamentalists have often been as guilty in proposing that salvation is in one’s confession of faith. That, as well, is a trust in trust rather than in Christ. It seems to me that both errors can pack the pews with pious pretenders.

The Bible basis of saving faith

The New Testament furnishes us not only with examples of genuine faith, but with examples of unsaving faith. John 2:23-25 shows us a group of people who “believed” in the content of Jesus’ message, but John makes it clear that they were not regenerated (James reminds us that the devils “believe” in this way). Acts 8:13-24 shows us a man, Simon, who “believed” and was baptized but, it turned out, his public confession was not enough to bring him to salvation. On the other hand, Hebrews 4:3 speaks of “We which have believed” and have entered into rest. Alexander Maclaren commented, “He does not mean, ‘we which acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and the Savior of the world,’ but we who, acknowledging, let our hearts go out to Him in trust, and our wills bow down before Him in obedience and submission.”3

When I say that saving faith is not in the content alone I mean that it takes more than just believing that the facts are true regarding Jesus Christ to get saved. When I say that saving faith is not in the confession alone I mean that it takes more than just mouthing some words about Jesus Christ to get saved. The liturgical churches have often been guilty of the former, and the non-liturgical churches have often been guilty of the latter. One error creates an evangelism where faith, or trust, is in the ability to understand, while the other is in the ability to say so.

The vocabulary of saving faith

One biblical (and historic) way of defining saving faith is by using the three Latin words notitia, assensus and fiducia. The Baptist theologian, Augustus Strong, reminded us of these in his 1907 Systematic Theology.4 Recently, R.C. Sproul has defended saving faith against the ECT agenda by using these words.5 I find the three-fold (four, counting confession) definition in the New Testament.

Notitia means knowledge. One must hear of Jesus Christ before he will ever be saved. Faith cannot come before “hearing” (Rom 10:17). Heb 11:13 describes the saints as “having seen them afar off,” i.e., the promises which told of salvation. Obviously, no one can believe if they do not know that salvation is available.

Assensus means to give assent to something or agree. After one hears the message, he may or may not agree as to its validity. Many have never believed that the gospel story is actually true. Heb 11:13 (in KJV & TR) reads, “and were persuaded.” Rev 1:3 has, “Blessed is he that readeth (notitia) and they that hear (assensus). In 1 Cor 14:25 Paul said that prophecy was better than tongues because then someone can interpret and give the meaning so that a visitor may be “convinced of all” that is said.

Fiducia is trust or what Strong calls the “voluntary element.” Heb 11:13 says that they “embraced” the message of salvation which they had “seen” and were “persuaded of.” J.O. Buswell, in his Systematic Theology, stresses at length what he calls this “cognitive element” of faith.6 This is not just a hearing of the gospel and is more than just admitting that the gospel story is true. It is to realize that Jesus Christ can be your Savior and for you to want that more than anything else. (Note: This is where repentance comes in this progression. Paul, in 1 Cor 14:25, says that at this point the man will “fall down on his face.” The Thessalonians, in 1 Th 1:9, “turned to God from idols.”) Sproul speaks of this moment as a change in “perceived value.”7 Now, for the first time, the sinner sees Christ as something to be desired and to grasp with his whole heart.

The confession of saving faith

The Bible adds one more concept to these three, and that is confession. Hebrews 11:13 says that at this point “they confessed.” Rom 10:10 (a passage that deserves a fresh study) says that “with the heart man believeth unto righteousness and with the mouth confession is made unto (‘because of’) salvation.” Obviously there are no magic formulas for saving faith. Confession is just that, a public display of what the heart secretly has believed. If the belief is real, the confession will definitely follow.

True saving faith takes place when a sinner has exercised fiducia. After having learned of Christ and become convinced that His claims are true, he is willing to give up anything and pay any price to have Him. When this kind of faith takes place, confession will not only follow but will be impossible to silence; invitations will not have to rely on trickery; lordship will not be a problem; godly living and separation from the world will come naturally because a selfish nature has been overcome by a new nature in love with Christ.

The outgrowth of saving faith

Why does Peter (2 Peter 1:5-7) tell us to “add to your faith virtue?” Because a person who has true faith wants, first and foremost, to please the One with whom he has fallen in love. This simple obedience is virtue. Why does he then say to add “to virtue knowledge?” Because now this person wants to know what he should do to produce such virtue. And the progression continues through agape love.

If you think I am suggesting that a real problem in Christendom today is not that we are becoming too exclusive of all “faiths,” but rather that we have become too inclusive of any partial expression of faith, you happen to be right. And could this not be a vital reason why we see so many saying they have faith but having no interest in virtue? And because there is no virtue, there is little interest in knowledge?

This unsaving kind of faith is simply trust in trust, a faith in faith, but it does not have Jesus Christ as the lovely object and desire of reception. I don’t know how widely this may be the case in our church, but it must cause us some concern. A.W. Tozer wrote, “To the question ‘what must I do to be saved?’ we must learn the correct answer. To fail here is not to gamble with our souls; it is to guarantee eternal banishment from the face of God. Here we must be right or be finally lost.”8

Notes:
1. J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids: Wm.B. Eerdman’s, 1959) 141.
2. Fort Collins Coloradoan, April 3, 1994.
3. Alexander Maclaren, Exposition of Holy Scripture, Vol. 10 (Grand Rapids: Wm.B. Eerdmans, 1959) 304.
4. Augustus Strong, Systematic Theology (Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell, 1907) 836-844.
5. R.C. Sproul, Faith Alone (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995) 75-88.
6. J.O. Buswell, Systematic Theology (A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980) II, 175-186.
7. Sproul, 86.
8. A.W. Tozer, The Best of A.W. Tozer (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1978) 100.

 

Foxes Book of Martyrs

Foxes Book of Martyrs

by Rick Shrader

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I don’t like abridged versions of important books but sometimes it helps to be able to read through a history quickly to refresh one’s memory.  John Foxe (1516-1587) lived through the terrible times of “bloody” Mary Tudor of England.  He researched his book partly in exile on the continent and partly in the UK speaking to eye-witnesses.  It was first published in 1563 under the title,Acts and Monuments of These Latter and Perilous Days.  At some time, a version of this book should be read by every Christian.

 

The Holy War

The Holy War

by Rick Shrader

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John Bunyan was first imprisoned in 1660 for twelve years in the county jail during the reign of King Charles II, the grandson of King James.  After a short release he was imprisoned again for a brief time in the city gaol on the river bridge.  During these years Bunyan was writing and planning five major works.  His first was Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, completed during his first imprisonment.  During his second imprisonment in 1677 he completed his most famous work, Pilgrim’s Progress.  In 1680 he wrote The Life and Death of Mr. Badman, an indictment of the social evils of England.  This was followed by The Holy War in 1682, and then the second part of Pilgrim’s Progress in 1684.

The Holy War is an allegory somewhat like Pilgrim’s Progress and many like it better.  Its types and allegories are much more direct and usually easier to follow.  The holy war is fought over a city called Mansoul which is owned by King Shaddai but has been taken over by Diabolus, a mighty giant.  The city has five gates in which the giant took the city:  Ear-gate, Eye-gate, Mouth-gate, Nose-gate, and Feel-gate.  Those citizens who were overcome by the enemy are Mr. Resistance, Lord Will-be-Will, Mr. Recorder, Captain Resistance, Lord Innocency,  and many others.  They either become traitors and change sides or are replaced by such men as Mr. Vile-affection, Mr. No-truth, and Mr. Hate-reproof.  The war begins as King Shaddai decides to retake the city of Mansoul by His son Emmanuel.  This is done (a picture of salvation) and then  the city is returned to its rightful and joyful condition.  This, however, occurs only half-way through the book so that half of the war has to do with the proper defense of the city against Carnal Security and the Diabolonians.  In the end Mansoul is secure and a Mr. Godly-fear is established as the castlegate-keeper.  Other attacks are also repelled as the city remains secure.

 

Faith Undone

Faith Undone

by Rick Shrader

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My first read of Roger Oakland’s writings was a surprisingly good one.  The subtitle of the book is:  “The emerging church…a new reformation or an end-time deception.”  Oakland pulls no punches in identifying the Emerging Church movement as a threat to the true church of Christ.  It is well documented and full of current material from and about the leaders (McLaren, Sweet, Pagitt, Kimbell, McManus, Youth Specialties, etc) and sympathizers (Warren, Campolo, Leith Anderson, Drucker, Zondervan Pub., etc.) of this movement.  Oakland covers developments within the movement such as mysticism, Eucharistic adoration, contemplative spirituality, Celtic spirituality, panentheism, centering prayer, Taize, Yoga, Sufism, “thin place,” and more.  He also documents the movement’s growing love of Catholicism, hatred for Fundamentalism, passivity toward Israel, thorough ecumenicalism, and anti-evangelization of the world’s religions.  Having read and studied early postmodernism myself, I must say that the emerging church movement is the clearest expression of mainstream postmodernism that we have seen in twenty years.  The seeker-sensitive trend has been mere silliness compared to the outright assault by the emerging church movement on historic Christianity.

 

The Perfect Tense Will of God

The Perfect Tense Will of God

by Rick Shrader

Someone has said, “The will of God is just what I would choose if I had all the facts as God has them.”1 But, since we don’t have such facts, we often don’t choose what God would choose even though we may pray and ask God’s guidance.  Why?  The answer sometimes rests in understanding the three types of God’s will.  All agree that God has a sovereign will.  Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world (Ac 15:18).  In the end, everything will have turned out according to His plan and we will praise Him forever for it!  When things don’t happen the way we would like, we know that God has a purpose for allowing it to go another way.

Most agree that God has a moral will.  That’s why there are moral absolutes in this world.  Whatever God has revealed to mankind becomes His moral will to us.  Therefore we are unashamed workmen when we rightly divide the Word of truth, truth that was once for all delivered to the saints!  If we transgress or ignore God’s revealed moral will, we will find life difficult.  Good understanding giveth favor: but the way of the transgressors is hard (Prov 13:15).

The third kind of divine will is the individual will.  Believers often disagree as to its validity from Scripture.  Garry Friesen has become known for his denial of an individual will for each person.2 But I would say that such a denial is unnecessary as long as we don’t constantly search for miraculous interventions from God and we don’t think all apostolic or prophetic examples can be directly applied to our lives.  We will become frustrated trying to receive visions and revelations from the Lord as the apostles received (thinking God is too immanent in this age).  But to think that God is not concerned with what we do or doesn’t desire the best way for us to go, is to leave Him too far outside of our lives (thinking God is too transcendent in this age).  Paul was content to tell the Ephesians, I will return again unto you, if God will.  And he sailed from Ephesus (Acts 18:21).

There are other obvious truths from Scripture regarding God’s will.  First, God’s Word is always God’s will.  Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word (Psa 119:9).  James M. Boice wrote, “Nothing can be the will of God that is contrary to the Word of God.  The God who is leading you now is the God who inspired the Bible then, and he is not contradictory in his commandments.”3 Secondly, the Holy Spirit never contradicts His Word.  Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.  And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the spirit (Eph 5:17-18).  The more we are filled with the Spirit, the greater capacity we will have for understanding God’s will.  It is futile to claim the leading of the Spirit if it contradicts Scripture.

Thirdly, God is in control of the circumstances.  The believer should look for God to direct his life by natural means, not supernatural intervention.  God designed these by His will also.  Job said, For he performeth the thing that is appointed for me: and many such things are with him (Job 23:14).  Fourthly, the end never justifies the means.  This would be the same as suggesting that God allows contradiction to His own Word.  Moses surely got water from the rock by striking it rather than speaking to it as God had commanded, but he suffered dearly for his pragmatism.  Uzza kept the ark from falling by putting his hand to it, but he paid with his very life.  Vance Havner wrote, “The course of things does not work against the believer.  It may seem to.  It may work against his earthly fortune.  It may even appear to defeat him.  But in the eyes of God and in the light of eternity all things work together for good.”4 Fifthly, godliness is always God’s will.  Paul gave this simple instruction to the Thessalonian church, For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication (1 Thes 4:3).  It would be impossible for “ungodliness” to be “godly” and it would be impossible for true “godliness” not to be God’s will.

God’s will in the “perfect tense.”

One of the most descriptive passages on God’s will is Acts 16:6-10.  There, Paul and Silas set out on the second missionary journey but (I believe desiring to go directly to Ephesus) were told twice by the Holy Spirit (an obvious apostolic prerogative) that they could not go south toward Ephesus nor north toward Bithynia and ended up in Troas at the end of the Asia Minor road (which probably seemed like the end of the world).  At this point Paul may have thought his fight with Barnabas over John Mark had grieved the Holy Spirit, or perhaps that Silas was the wrong choice to replace him, or a number of other things.  But Paul kept moving until he could go no further.  That night he received a vision (again, an apostolic prerogative), the “Macedonian call” for the gospel to go into Europe for the first time.  Luke (later) records, And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavored to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them (Acts 16:10).

When Luke wrote “that the Lord had called us” he used the perfect tense, that is, “that the Lord had been calling us.”  If he was only referring to the vision, he could have used the aorist tense as referring to the one action.  By using the perfect tense, he was looking back to a time long ago when God began leading them, and includes all the steps along the way as God continued to lead them up to that point.  Paul especially realized that God had been directing them to Macedonia, not Ephesus or Bithynia, and He had done that in many ways.

This same word in the perfect tense is also used in Acts 13:2 when the Holy Spirit commanded the church at Antioch to release Paul and Barnabas “for the work whereunto I have called them.”  Again, “the work whereunto I have been calling them” over a long period of time and many circumstances.  I believe this is a New Testament pattern that is often how God leads us today.  When the Jerusalem church decided on a method to encourage Gentile believers, they concluded by saying, It seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord (Acts 15:25) and again later, For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us (28).  If hind-sight is better than fore-sight, this “perfect tense” sight is the best.  Luke described it as “assuredly gathering” that they now knew God’s will.

There were a number of things that God had done in Paul’s life that would lead him to know he was in God’s will.

1.  His training and preparation.  Early in his life God was forming the mind and mouth of the great apostle with the specific academic tools he would need.  When Barnabas traveled to Tarsus to seek Saul (as his name then was), it was because he was now ready to beginning his speaking ministry.

2. Difficult situations.  The first missionary journey had been extremely difficult, ending with Paul being stoned.  But rather than discouraging Paul, it was preparing him for a Philippian jail and many more trials.  John Broadus said, “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.”5 It will be if we will let Him form His will in us over periods of time, making us perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight (Heb 13:21).

3. Taking one step at a time.  Paul knew when to suggest, Let us go and visit again our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord (Acts 15:36).  We should ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established (Prov 4:26).  Spurgeon wrote, “We are urged to further action; but it would be far easier to take a foolish step than to retrace it.  We will move when we are moved, and not before.”6

4. Closed doors and open doors.  It was certainly obvious to Paul that the Holy Spirit had closed two doors on his way to Troas.  Now it was even more obvious that a door was opened to go to Macedonia.  Paul spoke of effectual doors (1 Cor 16:9); open doors (2 Cor 2:12); doors of utterance (Col 4:3); and the Lord rewarded the Philadelphian church with open doors that only He could close (Rev 3:7).

5. Personal burden and conviction.  We cannot discount Paul’s great burden to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Even the forbidding of the Holy Spirit was “to preach the word in Asia” (Acts 16:6).  Missionaries have specific burdens for their fields of endeavor which God has fostered and grown in them.  John Cotton once said, “There is poor comfort in sitting down in any place, that you cannot say, ‘This place is appointed me of God.’”7

6. Dead ends and disappointments.  Troas was the end of the road on the Asian continent.  Paul had run out of options for taking even the less traveled road.  Sometimes this is where the Lord brings us before He calls us.  David Jeremiah, in his battle with cancer wrote, “When we navigate troubled waters, God is the Master of not only the waves, but also the ship.  He never abandons His plans or His people.  He will see the voyage through to its final destination.”8 The end of the road to us always turns into a “commencement” to God.

7. Revelation.  Here, as I have noted, is an apostolic prerogative.  Paul’s vision was a real and tangible communication from God.  These revelatory gifts ceased with the apostles, but God’s Revelation which was put in permanent, written form continues with us today.  Our appeal to revelation is an appeal to chapter and verse!  We say with Isaiah, To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this Word, it is because there is no light in them (Isa 8:20).  When our circumstances are reinforced by Scriptural truth, we have great confidence in God’s will.

8. Logical conclusions.  Paul and his companions “assuredly gathered” that they had found God’s will.  There will always be the human factor in drawing the conclusion about God’s individual will for us.  We can’t see all the possibilities the future may bring but we pray and the Holy Spirit interprets our prayers so that God works in our lives “for the good” (Rom 8:26-28).  William Orr said, “If there is failure to ascertain God’s will, or a failure to follow that will, the failure will always be a human failure.”9 We won’t find the perfect will of God every time, but we must draw conclusions from the circumstances God has designed.  We can be sure He desires that we be successful.

And So . . . .

A.T. Robertson once wrote, “The highest test of any life is doing the will of God.  To do that one must be yielded to that will, and follow God’s guidance, as seen in the Scriptures and in the leading of the Holy Spirit.  Then, if one follows the way that God shows him, he will have the richest and most fruitful life and one full of pure joy.”10

Notes:
1. Quoted by W. Wilbert Welch in The Baptist Bulletin, February 1999.
2. Garry Friesen, Decision Making & the Will of God, (Portland, Multnomah, 1980) see p. 82-83.
3. James M. Boice, Philippians (Grand Rapids:  Baker Books, 2000) 205.
4. Vance Havner, By The Still Waters (Old Tappan:  Fleming Revell, 1934) 31.
5. In A.T. Robertson’s, Life and Letters of John A. Broadus (Philadelphia:  American Baptist Publication Society, 1910) 211.
6. C.H. Spurgeon, The Down Grade Controversy (Pasadena:  Pilgrim Pub., nd) 39.
7. John Cotton, “On God’s Promise,” Orations, vol 4 (New York:  Collier, 1902) 1427.
8. David Jeremiah, A Bend in the Road , p. 120.
9. In G. Christian Weiss, The Perfect Will of God (Chicago:  Moody Press, 1950) 29.
10. A.T. Robertson, Jesus as a Soul Winner (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, nd) 72.

 

What is Faith?

What is Faith?

by Rick Shrader

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Machen wrote this defense of the fundamental faith of Christians in 1925, two years after his more famous Christianity and Liberalism.  If the old adage is true, “Read one older book for every two new books,” I would add “unless you read Machen.”  Then, you ought to read one of his for each modern book you read!  Seldom do we find such clear thinking that goes right to the heart of a matter as we do with this older-thinking Presbyterian.  And when it comes to the subject of faith, it sounds as if it could have been written of today’s seeker, contemporary, postmodern, convergent church!  For example: “Christian faith, they say, is not assent to a creed, but it is confidence in a person.  The Epistle to the Hebrews on the other hand declares that it is impossible to have confidence in a person without assenting to a creed.”  Or this: “Faith is, indeed, nowadays being exalted to the skies; but the sad fact is that this very exaltation of faith is leading logically and inevitably to a bottomless skepticism which is the precursor of despair.”  Why?  Because “it is not as a quality of the soul that faith saves a man, but only as the establishment of contact with a real object of the faith.”  The importance of proper thinking about faith and creed, love or work, is highlighted by the first book reviewed in this column.  Today we have merely faith in faith where creed, or theology, must take a second place to the all-encompassing power of personal faith to gain what one wants.  Such faith, says  Machen, is human effort and never saved a soul.

 

Our Wonderful Counselor

Our Wonderful Counselor

by Rick Shrader

Jesus would have been a failure at counseling had He lived in our time.  Today we do not just want someone to counsel us who knows and feels our infirmities, we want someone who has experienced our failures; someone who has fallen into the same problem we are in and who will not judge us because he has done the same thing himself.  The problem with that is, of course, that such a person cannot really help us.

That Jesus our Lord never sinned is an abundant and necessary truth of the Scripture.  Peter quotes Isaiah when he writes of Him, Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth (1 Pet 2:22).  It is not an unrelated truth that this same, sinless Son of God is also called by Isaiah The Wonderful Counselor.  That is, the best counseling one can have is from another who has not done the same thing he has done!  It is not that such a counselor would be non-human, but that he would not have given in to the weakness of that humanity.

C.S. Lewis explored this truth some years ago in his Mere Christianity.  He wrote,

Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. . . You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down.  A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later.  That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness.  They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.  We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means—the only complete realist.1

Our desire to be counseled by someone who has fallen into the same sin is a secret desire, not for forgiveness but for acceptance.  The sinful counselor, speaking from his limited experience in fighting the temptation, might excuse where the sinless counselor could understand the depth of temptation, forgive and direct in a new path of victory.

The same reasoning seems to take place regarding leadership, organization, character building and other challenges in the Christian life and ministry.  It is amazing what some people can find in the life of Christ to support their own point of view.  To some Jesus is the ultimate CEO.  To others He is a great sportsman.  I even read a whole book by someone trying to show that Jesus went to the Greek and Roman theaters to borrow most of His preaching analogies and stories!

What Jesus actually taught—servant-hood, humility, self-abasement—simply does not fit into most modern vocabulary.  G.K Chesterton once wrote, “Humility is so practical a virtue that men think it must be a vice.  Humility is so successful that it is mistaken for pride.”2 And yet as Spurgeon wrote, “There is no worse pride than that which claims humility when it does not posses it.”3 Today, even humility becomes a tool for success!  However, if we will let Jesus counsel us, we may not be comfortable in this life, but we will be comforted.  And that in a realistic way!

We don’t get three chapters into the New Testament, or two events into the ministry of Christ, before we are faced with new and profound challenges from the Savior.  In His temptation in the wilderness, Jesus was tempted by Satan to follow all the conventional, tried and true wisdom that would help Him accomplish His goal.  He declined all three offers.

He did not gain experience through fleshly indulgence

3And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. 4But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. (Matt 4:3-4)

What’s wrong with bread?  The forty days of fasting were over and Jesus would eat bread anyway.  Why not now?  Does it matter if Satan has placed his own agenda on this otherwise neutral thing?  The Corinthians insisted, Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats! and Paul replied, but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body (1 Cor 6:13).  Thomas à Kempis wrote, “For all that is high is not holy: nor all that is sweet, good; nor every desire pure; nor is everything that is dear unto us pleasing to God.”4

The fruit of the forbidden tree in the garden of Eden was good for food, and pleasant to the eyes (Gen 3:6), but to partake of it was to use it in a way that was self-indulgent and disobedient to God.  For Jesus to use His divine power for such purposes would have been sin as well—not the eating of bread as such, but the satisfying of the flesh to the disregard of God.  Such satisfaction of the desires of our heart must not take precedence over all else.

The keeping of the Word of God ought to satisfy us enough when the flesh is telling us to make our own provision.  Today’s admonition is to look out for oneself above all else; to provide for one’s needs as if that is always God’s will.  Jesus’ counsel would be to deny that need and find our satisfaction in His Word.

He did not take popular risks for ministry purposes

5Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, 6And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. 7Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. (Matt 4:5-7)

The pinnacle of the temple may have been as high as 450 feet above the Kidron valley.  According to secular sources, Simon the magician promised to fly from this pinnacle but fell to his death.  James, the pastor at Jerusalem likely was martyred by being thrown from this place.5 Jesus did not want the kind of following that would demand miraculous displays from God.  In fact, such a thing is to tempt God by putting His attributes to the test.  That is not faith, it is sensationalism.

Barclay wrote, “This year’s sensation is next year’s commonplace.  A gospel founded on sensation-mongering is foredoomed to failure.”6 Yet our day and age is filled with such sensationalists trying to outdo each other for the largest following.  One pastor of a mega-church in Phoenix sometimes enters the pulpit by being lowered from the ceiling as if descending into the auditorium.  Some Christian singers make their platform as full of lights and smoke as any secular rock star.

There is a fine line between what some call stepping out by faith, and what others call taking risks.  Satan argued that this was no risk at all, for there was chapter and verse for doing it—Psalm 91:11-12!  Wouldn’t this be claiming a promise from God?  Jesus knew better, and threw the wet towel on the first admonition to risk-taking.

He did not accept the obvious path to success

8Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; 9And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. 10Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve (Matt 4:8-10).

Since Jesus had come to offer the kingdom to the Jews, Why not take the most direct and effective route to it?  After all, it was His by legal and ethical right.  He could dispel the usurper at any time He wished.  It was only, after all, the cross that stood in the way.

One has to wonder how many fast-track success leaders today would have taken Satan’s offer in a heart-beat.  As Tozer put it, “The new cross does not slay the sinner, it redirects him.  It gears him into a cleaner and jollier way of living and saves his self-respect.”7 Or as Chambers asked, “Will the Church that bows down and compromises succeed?  Of course it will.  It is the very thing that the natural man wants, but it is the lure of a wrong road to the Kingdom.  Beware of putting anything sweet and winsome in front of the One who suffered in Gethsemane.”8

Jesus often requested that the recipients of His miracles not tell anyone what had happened because of the danger of gaining a kingdom without saving faith as a requirement.  He had to refuse such an offer after feeding 5000 people because they ate the loaves and were filled.  There are many gatherings in the name of Christ today that are not gatherings of the people of Christ.  Someone has agreed to the kingdom by paying the wrong price.

What is the danger?  We might go to the wrong counselor!  “If the Divine call does not make us better, it will make us very much worse.  Of all bad men religious bad men are the worst.  Of all created beings the wickedest is one who originally stood in the immediate presence of God.”9

Notes
1.  C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1984) 124-5.
2.  G.K. Chesterton, Heretics (Nashville:  Thomas Nelson, 2000) 34.
3.  Charles Spurgeon, Treasury of David, vol 7 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978) 87.
4.  Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (Chicago: Moody, 1980) 112.
5.  William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, vol 1 (Philadelphia:  Westminster, 1975) 69.
6.  Ibid.
7.  A.W. Tozer, Worship and Entertainment (Camp Hill: Christian Publications, 1997) 148.
8.  Oswald Chambers, If You Will Ask (Grand Rapids: Discovery House, 1958) 24.
9.  C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (New York: Harvest Books, 1958.

 

The Potter’s Freedom

The Potter’s Freedom

by Rick Shrader

The sub-title of the book is “A Defense of the Reformation and a Rebuttal of Norman Geisler’s Chosen But Free.”  I reviewed Geisler’s book in the July, 2001 issue of Aletheia to which I gave a favorable review because I like Geisler’s position.  I have liked White’s material before, but I don’t hold his extreme position on Calvinism (the book is foreworded by R.C. Sproul) and I think he unfairly represents Geisler as shallow. Geisler’s sin is in being “contradictory to the historic Reformed position” (well!). I am sure Geisler will answer this book soon and we can read for ourselves.

 

God, Creation and Providence in the Thou...

God, Creation and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius

by Rick Shrader

These kinds of books take a great deal of patience to read through.  However, today’s debates over the nature of God’s foreknowledge demand that we make honest effort at understanding  men like Arminius.  He, no doubt, was a thoughtful theologian with a desire to retain the sovereignty of God and the free will of man without conflict.  While I find some of his thoughts too close to today’s Open Theism, I see his followers adding too much to his system of thought much like Calvin’s followers did to his.  Interesting but slow reading!