Monday, November 22, 2010

Response to Steven Berg

My good friend Steve, being a "rabid Arminian", has responded to my blog post entitled "Predestination and Voluntary Choice".  The following is my response to him.

There is overwhelming biblical supporting the Providence of God.

An interesting quote from Easton's Bible Dictionary along these lines:

Providence is generally used to denote God's preserving and governing all things by means of second causes (Ps. 18:35; 63:8; Acts 17:28; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3). God's providence extends to the natural world (Ps. 104:14; 135:5-7; Acts 14:17), the brute creation (Ps. 104:21-29; Matt. 6:26; 10:29), and the affairs of men (1 Chr. 16: 31; Ps. 47:7; Prov. 21:1; Job 12:23; Dan.2:21; 4:25), and of individuals (1 Sam. 2:6; Ps. 18:30; Luke 1:53; James 4: 13-15). It extends also to the free actions of men (Ex. 12:36; 1 Sam. 24:9-15; Ps. 33:14, 15; Prov. 16:1; 19:21; 20:24; 21:1), and things sinful (2 Sam. 16:10; 24:1; Rom. 11:32; Acts 4:27, 28), as well as to their good actions (Phil. 2:13; 4:13; 2 Cor. 12:9, 10; Eph. 2:10; Gal. 5: 22-25). As regards sinful actions of men, they are represented as occurring by God's permission (Gen. 45:5; 50:20. Comp. 1 Sam. 6:6; Ex. 7:13; 14:17; Acts 2:3; 3:18; 4:27, 28), and as controlled (Ps. 76:10) and overruled for good (Gen. 50:20; Acts 3:13).

And a similar quote by John Piper:

God "works all things after the counsel of his will" (Ephesians 1:11). This "all things" includes the fall of sparrows (Matthew 10:29), the rolling of dice (Proverbs 16:33), the slaughter of his people (Psalm 44:11), the decisions of kings (Proverbs 21:1), the failing of sight (Exodus 4:11), the sickness of children (2 Samuel 12:15), the loss and gain of money (1 Samuel 2:7), the suffering of saints (1 Peter 4:19), the completion of travel plans (James 4:15), the persecution of Christians (Hebrews 12:4-7), the repentance of souls (2 Timothy 2:25), the gift of faith (Philippians 1:29), the pursuit of holiness (Philippians 3:12-13), the growth of believers (Hebrews 6:3), the giving of life and the taking in death (1 Samuel 2:6), and the crucifixion of his Son (Acts 4:27-28).

My problem with your response is two fold:

First it is a philosophical response, not an exegetical one. You have problems with God's Providence philosophically. This is to be expected, as you have a degree in philosophy. However, your objections do not disprove the doctrine of Providence at all.   When it comes right down to it, if this is what the text teaches, then to the gallows with philosophy.  I am not obligated to reconcile your philosophical problems, but to demonstrate what I am teaching from the text of Scripture.  Un-liked implications do not disprove me at all. If you have a philosophical or emotional problem with the doctrine of Providence, then your problem is ultimately with God and not with me.

That leads to my second problem with your response. I think it is implied that you are essentially demanding that God should act and conform to your idea of right, and do what seems proper to you! So you reject the idea that God can do what he wants and rule all creation, including the choices of men, according to his will, because you don't like some of the implications.  These implications make you reject God's Providence because they don't fit into your categories of what is right or wrong. But who are you to judge God in what he does?

"But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? 'Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, "Why did you make me like this?"'" (Romans 9:20 NIV)

"The LORD said to Job: 'Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!' Then Job answered the LORD: 'I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer— twice, but I will say no more.'" (Job 40:1-5 NIV)

God has a sovereign right to do whatsoever pleases Him, and because it pleases Him, it is by definition equitable and right. Right and wrong are determined by God, and not by us.  If it can be proven exegetically that God governs everything, including our choices, according to his will and purpose, then we have no right, as mere creatures, to stand in judgment of God. Judging God by our fallen human notions of justice is the height of arrogance. If God does it, it's right, despite what you may think about it. You may not be able to reconcile everything. Anything God does is going to be mysterious to us.  God's providence doubly so because that's part of what makes him God. What kind of God doesn't govern his creation? All we are to do is sit in awe of his incomprehensible majesty.  This is a faith issue.  Providence is not an acknowledgment that we can make sense of what God is doing; it is an acknowledgment that He can make sense of it and that is all that matters. We are not called upon to explain providence, but to trust the God of providence.

Martin Luther responded to Erasmus the same way.

This is the highest degree of faith -- to believe that He is merciful, who saves so few and damns so many; to believe Him just, who according to His own will, makes us necessarily damnable, that He may seem, as Erasmus says, to delight in the torments of the miserable, and to be an object of hatred rather than of love.' If, therefore, I could by any means comprehend how that same God can be merciful and just, who carries the appearance of so much wrath and iniquity, there would be no need of faith.

You asked for a definition of Concurrence and secondary causes. 

Concurrence is "[a]n aspect of God's providence whereby he cooperates with created things in every action, directing their distinctive properties to cause them to act as they do." (Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology).

What are secondary causes? God and his decree is the first or primary cause of all events. Nothing happens by chance, randomly, or outside the sphere of God's decree. But just as a king grants his ministers the honor of executing his commands, so too God employs what are called "secondary causes" to execute his plan. By his providence God controls whatever comes to pass, but secondary causes play their part in bringing them about, working as either fixed laws like the laws of nature, or freely like the will of the creature, or because other causes have caused them. An example of a secondary cause would be the water cycle. But notice what the scriptures say: "For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." (Matthew 5:45 ESV) God "calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out on the surface of the earth, the LORD is his name" (Amos 5:8 ESV) (See also Psalm 135:7 and Acts 14:16-17). So what causes the rain, God or the water cycle? The fact that we have a natural explanation for rain in the form of the water cycle, doesn't mean that God doesn't send the rain. Calvin is right when he says, "It is certain that not a drop of rain falls without the express command of God." (Institutes 1:16:5) God is the primary cause, and he uses the water cycle as a secondary cause. 

Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae gives a good definition of secondary causes and concurrence:

"God has immediate providence over everything, because He has in His intellect the types of everything, even the smallest; and whatsoever causes He assigns to certain effects, He gives them the power to produce those effects [Thus,] there are certain intermediaries of God’s providence; for He governs things inferior by superior, not on account of any defect in His power, but by reason of the abundance of His goodness; so that the dignity of causality is imparted even to creatures. (ST I.22.3, respondeo)"

God governs the universe generally in a law-like way. Every single event within the universe is under His direct control. This does not take away the truth that secondary, natural causes also make things happen. It does not override or undermine the actions human beings undertake as a result of their own wills.

Aquinas says, “God’s immediate provision over everything does not exclude the action of secondary causes; which are the executors of His order” (ST I.22.3, rep. obj. 2). And again: “since the very act of free will is traced to God as a cause, it necessarily follows that everything happening from the exercise of free will is subject to divine providence. For human providence is included under the providence of God, as a particular under a universal cause” (ST I.22.2, rep. obj. 4).

God's providence and secondary causes are not in conflict but in concord. Natural events cause other natural events to happen, but not without God’s will concurring. God directs the wills and hearts of men, but not without their voluntary concurrence.

In other words, you get universal divine governance, providence over each particular event, providence even over the decisions of human beings – and you get it all without sacrificing secondary causes or making God the author of evil.

God does not directly cause or approve of sin, but only limits, restrains, overrules it for good. Foreordination renders certain an act to be performed by a person. Foreordination does not compel the person to perform the act. Men are at liberty to do what they desire. God does not coerce them. Man is a responsible agent who originates his own sinful acts. Sin is transgression of God’s law and is disobedience to the Lawgiver Himself. God does not influence men to sin against Him.  Humanity is primarily responsible for the sin in the world. But, God has a purpose he is working out. Because God sustains the universe's moment-by-moment existence, nothing comes about independently of his will. Nothing can happen unless God has willed it to be so. He governs all creatures and events so that they accomplish his own sovereign plan.  God's plan is accomplished either by their acting freely (like the will of the creature) or contingently (because other causes have caused them) or necessarily (as either fixed laws like the laws of nature).

By "freedom" and "freely", I do indeed understand that to mean, "we do what we want to do".  The source of what we want is our nature. "An evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of." (Luke 6:45 NIV) Our heart is what determines our choices. But that we are not absolutely free, Jesus gives his plain and clear testimony: "Jesus replied, 'Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.'" (John 8:34 NIV) Despite being slaves of sin, this is actually what we want. "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil." (John 3:19 NIV) But it simply isn't a matter of changing what we love. It isn't a matter of willing something different. We are slaves and in bondage. A Zebra could sooner changes his stripes then a slave of sin free himself. Paul explains this slavery to sin further, "The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God." (Romans 8:7-8 NIV) Our choices stem from our heart. Our heart is enslaved to sin. Thus our will is not "free" but in bondage. This is abundantly clear and the plain meaning of Scripture.

As Luther says, "But a man cannot be thoroughly humbled, until he comes to know that his salvation is utterly beyond his own powers, counsel, endeavours, will, and works, and absolutely depending on the will, counsel, pleasure, and work of another, that is, of God alone. For if, as long as he has any persuasion that he can do even the least thing himself towards his own salvation, he retains a confidence in himself and do not utterly despair in himself, so long he is not humbled before God; but he proposes to himself some place, some time, or some work, whereby he may at length attain unto salvation. But he who hesitates not to depend wholly upon the good-will of God, he totally despairs in himself, chooses nothing for himself, but waits for God to work in him; and such an one, is the nearest unto grace, that he might be saved."

Thus God, in ways beyond our understanding, works in and through everything to bring about his good purposes.  It is important for us to see God’s hand in our trials, our pain and suffering, even our own decisions. God’s hand operates in everything that happens to me and in everything I do, right down to my own choices. But it is harder to see God’s hand in our own sinful or unwise decisions. God’s hand of providence is in these decisions also. Indeed, the relationship between God’s providence and human sin is mysterious. We should not thank God for sin, but we should thank him heartily for using even sin to further his good purposes.

As far as my quote of Deuteronomy, I was not appealing to a "two wills" idea in this verse.  I was appealing to the fact that it is abundantly obvious that God has not revealed everything about himself and how he operates and rules his creation.  There are some things that only God knows.  He has revealed somethings to us, and these we can search.  But we must avoid searching for answers in areas that God has seen fit to keep secret and not to reveal. As D. A. Carson wrote, "The mystery of providence defies our attempt to tame it by reason. I do not mean it is illogical; I mean that we do not know enough about it to be able to unpack it."

"Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! 'Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?' 'Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?' For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen." (Romans 11:33-36 NIV)

Grace to you,
Matt

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Predestination and Voluntary Choice

 FROM all eternity God decreed all that should happen in time, and this He did freely and unalterably, consulting only His own wise and holy will.  Yet in so doing He does not become in any sense the author of sin, nor does He share responsibility for sin with sinners.  Neither, by reason of His decree, is the will of any creature whom He has made violated; nor is the free working of second causes put aside; rather is it established.  In all these matters the divine wisdom appears, as also does God's power and faithfulness in effecting that which He has purposed. (1689 London Baptist Confession, 3.1)

Thus says the confession to which I and my church hold.  What this is saying is that God ordains future events in such a way that our freedom and the working of secondary causes (e.g., laws of nature, free choice) are preserved. Theologians call this “concurrence.” God’s sovereign will flows concurrently with our free choices in such a way that our free choices always result in the carrying out of God’s will (by 'free choices' I mean that our choices are not coerced by outside influences).

I thought that it would be good to illustrate my view by way of example, and not just talking about it in theory.

Consider for a moment the Crucifixion of our Lord.

Notice how the Apostles talk about this event in their prayer to God:

Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. (Acts 4:27-28 NIV)

And again in the Pentecost Sermon:

This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. (Acts 2:23 NIV)

Jesus is described as "the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world." (Revelation 13:8 NIV)

So with that in mind consider this:

Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.” (John 19:31-37 NIV)

The question then is raised:

Were the soldiers acting upon their voluntary decision? Was it their own "free will" choice to not break Jesus legs? Yes to both. It was their free, non-compulsory choice to not break Jesus bones. They were not forced to do it. It was a decision that they made freely to not break his bones.

At the exact same time, in Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12; Psalm 34:20 God foretold that not one of Jesus bones would be broken. Indeed, as it says in Acts, Jesus legs not being broken was "by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge". Indeed this was something that God's "will had decided beforehand should happen." While the soldiers did not break his bones because of their own free choice, while they were not forced or compelled to do so save by their own desires, they were at the same time, fulfilling God's prearranged plan.

Put simply, it was God's prearranged plan that not one of his bones would be broken. God also planned the free choice actions of the soldiers involved. At the same time the soldiers acted freely, because of their own choice, and not because they were forced from without or under any compulsion. Both ideas are equally true and we should not sacrifice one for the other but hold onto both.

This is more then just God "foreseeing" the future.   The phrases that say that this event took place "by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge" and that God's "will had decided beforehand should happen" clearly preclude any mere and abstract foreknowledge and foretelling of the future.  What is in view here is clearly the predetermined plan of God coming to pass. "I foretold the former things long ago, my mouth announced them and I made them known; then suddenly I acted, and they came to pass" (Isaiah 48:3 NIV)  Prophecy isn't just God's ability to tell what's going to happen, but it is God foretelling what he has planned to happen, and what he is going to do in history.

So to the question at hand:

Does God predestine everything or is man free? My answer is, "YES".

If you ask me how that can be I will respond:

"The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever." (Deuteronomy 29:29 NIV)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Law and the Gospel Contrasted




LAW

GOSPEL

THE LAW DEMANDS WHAT WE MUST
DO
THE GOSPEL TELLS WHAT GOD HAS DONE FOR US IN
CHRIST

LAW COMMANDS US TO DO SOMETHING
GOSPEL PROMISES WHAT CHRIST HAS DONE

THE LAW IS BASED ON OUR PERFORMANCE
THE GOSPEL
IS BASED ON CHRIST'S PERFORMANCE ALONE


LAW KILLS
GOSPEL
GIVES LIFE

THE LAW DOES NOT SAVE
THE GOSPEL SAYS CHRIST IS THE ONLY WAY TO
SALVATION

LAW SEEKS CONTRITION IN THE HEART ON ACCOUNT
OF SIN
THE GOSPEL
SEEKS TO AWAKEN FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST

THE LAW PROMISES NOTHING BUT UPON OUR DOING...




. . . THE GOSPEL PROMISES NOTHING BUT UPON
CHRIST'S DOING.




THE LAW PROMISES LIFE IF WE OBEY IT IN OUR OWN
SELVES ...


. . . THE GOSPEL PROMISES LIFE THROUGH CHRIST'S
PERFECT OBEDIENCE IMPUTED TO US BY FAITH.



WHILE THE LAW DECLARES WHAT OBEDIENCE
REQUIRES ...


. . . THE GOSPEL PROVIDES THAT OBEDIENCE IN
CHRIST ALONE.



THE LAW IS THE MINISTRY OF WRATH,
CONDEMNATION AND DEATH ...


. . . THE GOSPEL IS THE MINISTRY OF GRACE,
JUSTIFICATION AND LIFE.



FUNCTION OF THE LAW: Serves to bring people under
conviction of sin (Rom. 3:20), make them conscious of
inability to keep the Law, and become the tutor to lead them
to Christ. (Gal. 3:24)


FUNCTION OF THE GOSPEL: It is a clear representation of the way of salvation revealed in Jesus Christ. It calls the
sinner to come to Christ in faith and repentance to receive all
the blessings of salvation in the present and in the future.



THE LAW BURDENS, THREATENS, AND PROMISES NO
FAVOR.


THE GOSPEL COMFORTS BY PROCLAIMING CHRIST
WAS SENT BY GOD TO PROCURE OUR ETERNAL LIFE.



WHERE WE FIND THE LAW: IN NATURE ". . . the
requirements of the law are written on their hearts" (Romans
2:15)


WHERE WE FIND THE GOSPEL: REVEALED ONLY
THROUGH CHRIST & IN HIS WORD (John 1:17)



THE LAW DOES NOT LEAD TO OUR SANCTIFICATION.


SANCTIFICATION MADE POSSIBLE BY CHRIST'S WORK
ALONE.



THE LAW IS OUR ATTEMPT TO OBTAIN GOD'S FAVOR
BY OUR ACHIEVEMENT.


THE GOSPEL IS CHRIST'S WORK TO OBTAIN FAVOR
FOR US THROUGH HIS ACHIEVEMENT.



THE LAW IS THE HEART OF MOST RELIGIONS AND
CULTURES.


THE GOSPEL IS FOUND NO WHERE BUT IN CHRIST.



THE LAW NEEDS HUMAN EXPERIENCE TO BE
FULFILLED.


THE GOSPEL DEPENDS ON CHRIST'S EXPERIENCE
AND NOT ON OURS.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Reprobation?

Martin Luther once wrote:
All things whatever arise from, and depend on, the divine appointment; whereby it was foreordained who should receive the word of life, and who should disbelieve it; who should be delivered from their sins, and who should be hardened in them; and who should be justified and who should be condemned.
What exactly is reprobation?  Wayne Grudem defines it as "The sovereign decision of God before creation to pass over some persons, in sorrow deciding not to save them, and to punish them for their sins, and thereby to manifest his justice. "

What is the Scriptural backing for such a view?
"What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction?" (Romans 9:22 NIV)

"They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for." (1 Peter 2:8 NIV)

"For certain individuals who were marked out for condemnation long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord." (Jude 1:4 NIV)

And also any verse like this:

"For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: 'He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them.'" (John 12:39-40 NIV)

"When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed." (Acts 13:48 NIV)

It is implied that those who were not appointed for eternal life didn't believe.

If God foresaw that in creating a certain person that that person would despise and reject the Saviour, and knowing this beforehand He brought that person into existence anyway, then it is clear He designed and ordained that that person should be eternally lost. 

Many Christians objection to this teachings is basically the same as the one Paul presents in Romans 9:

"One of you will say to me: 'Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?'" (Romans 9:19 NIV)

They demand that God should act according to their idea of right, and do what seems proper to them - or else that He should cease to be God! So they reject the idea that God can have mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he can harden whom he wants to harden. They say that this is unloving and unjust. In their view, God must be kept in order! God has to be given a list of rules, and He is not to condemn any but those who have deserved it by their own reckoning!

"But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? 'Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, "Why did you make me like this?"' Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?" (Romans 9:20-22 NIV)

Paul's answer is simple: God does whatsoever pleases Him, and because it pleases Him, it is by definition equitable and right. We have no right, as mere creatures, to stand in judgment of God.

Luther makes the same point:

You may be worried that it is hard to defend the mercy and equity of God in damning the undeserving, that is, ungodly persons, who, being born in ungodliness, can by no means avoid being ungodly, and staying so, and being damned, but are compelled by natural necessity to sin and perish; as Paul says:'We were all the children of wrath, even as others' (Eph.2.3), created such by God Himself from a seed that had been corrupted by the sin of the one man, Adam. But here God must be reverenced and held in awe, as being most merciful to those whom He justifies and saves in their own utter unworthiness; and we must show some measure of deference to His Divine wisdom by believing Him just when to us He seems unjust.

The same reply should be given to those who ask: Why did God let Adam fall, and why did He create us all tainted with the same sin, when He might have kept Adam safe, and might have created us of other material, or of seed that had first been cleansed? God is He for Whose will no cause or ground may be laid down as its rule and standard; for nothing is on a level with it or above it, but it is itself the rule for all things. If any rule or standard, or cause or ground, existed for it, it could no longer be the will of God. What God wills is not right because He ought, or was bound, so to will; on the contrary, what takes place must be right, because He so wills it. Causes and grounds are laid down for the will of the creature, but not for the will of the Creator - unless you set another Creator over him!

Besides, the wicked condemned, and predestined to condemnation, not arbitrarily, but because of their own evil acts. Never can they point their finger at God, declaring, "God has forced me to do that which was contrary to your Law. It's all your fault God, not mine." The wicked reprobate consciously and willingly sin, and for that sin they shall surely receive eternal desolation. The fault is their own. They receive nothing but God's good justice for their crimes and offenses against Deity!

John Calvin also makes this same point:


The ground of discrimination that exists among the elect is the sovereign will of God and that alone; but the ground of damnation to which the reprobate are consigned is sin and sin alone.
Some may argue that a person cannot be punished for what he cannot help doing. If that is the case, then a Christian may not be rewarded for what his new nature compels him to do. Let us not forget that the nature of a person is not a thing he possesses. It is something he is. If that is the case, neither can we be justified by something someone else did in our behalf.

We shouldn't misrepresent the nature of divine grace, making grace and mercy something God is obliged to show equally to all people. How mercy and grace can be both gratuitous and obligatory at the same? It can't be. Otherwise it isn't grace.
Many say that God loves everyone the same way or that God is obligated to love everyone the same way! But God has the freedom to love as we love. You love your spouse more then any other person. The idea that God loves each person equally results in a denial of any particularity in God’s love, even in His redemptive love. God is free to love whom he wants how he wants and how much he wants. God’s love is the basis of His redemptive work in Jesus Christ. If you are a saved Christian, then you are part of the bride of Christ and were loved by God before the beginning of the world. Are you denying God a freedom that even we as humans have?

Besides, love doesn't and never overturns God's justice. As I have already stated, the unregenerate are condemned because they have sinned against God and violated his law and justice will be served. Love doesn't come into it. If a judge let a serial rapist go scott-free and said, "I'm a loving judge", I'd call him a liar. The loving thing to do would be lock the guy up forever.

While sometimes men may not understand fully the justice and righteousness of God's ways, God's ways are often mysterious to fallible and sinful men and we have no right to question God.

Martin Luther Wrote:
This question touches on the secrets of His Majesty, where 'His judgments are past finding out' (cf. Rom.11.33). It is not for us to inquire into these mysteries, but to adore them.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Holy Spirit and Obedience.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 7:21 NIV)

Someone tried to use this verse to tell me that the person who will be saved and go to heaven has to "do the will" of God.  They denied justification by faith, and taught justification by works.  How do we respond to verses like this?

Yes, the one who "does the will" of God will enter into the kingdom. What does it mean to "do the will" of God?

What is this will of God? I let Jesus answer:

"For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day" (John 6:40 NIV)

It is not those who simply say, "Lord, Lord," but those who actually do the will of the Father, who are admitted into Heaven. In verse 21, Jesus seems to be making the same distinction that James makes in 2:14: "What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?" Also, further in verse 18 "Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds."

If it is claimed that we are not saved by faith alone, Jesus would be saying we are saved by legalism, by obeying the law. That interpretation of the phrase cannot be correct, because of what verse 22 says.

Verse 22: Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’

Notice, Jesus reports that many people will appear before him at the Judgment and will talk about their works, not their faith. These people-the ones who present works-will be excluded from the Kingdom of Heaven. Far from teaching a message of works, Jesus warns us that anyone who comes before him at the Judgment and offers their works, their covenant faithfulness, or their life as his defense will be condemned. Far from teaching that our works are necessary for our salvation, Jesus here teaches that all our works contribute not one whit to our salvation.

Why will many people not be admitted into the Kingdom of Heaven? What is wrong with their defense? Jesus tells us plainly: They will plead their own lives and Christian works. Jesus tells us that many people at the Judgment will argue that they deserve Heaven, that they have a right to Heaven because they have done many wonderful works in the name of Jesus. They will not acknowledge their depravity, for they think they are good men. They will not acknowledge the Satisfaction and Atonement of Jesus, because they do not believe it. Their prayer will not be, God, be merciful to me a sinner, but, Jesus, I did many wonderful works in your name, and now you ought to reward me with Heaven.

It's quite clear obedience is the evidence of faith. If you lack obedience, you lack faith. "Everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him" "does the will of" his Father. Romans 6 makes this point by saying you were once slaves to sin, now you're slaves to righteousness. Jesus said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." (John 14:15). If you love Christ, if you believe in him, you will keep his commandments.

Notice the promise of the New Covenant:

“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors[/b] when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34 NIV)

Notice the main difference between the Old and New Covenant is that members of the New Covenant have the law written on their heart. What does that mean? Well the contrast is between the Old Covenant which was broken. God's law written on the heart would make sure that the New Covenant would never be broken. Notice also that in the New Covenant "they all will know" the Lord. But those who are condemned in Matthew 7:23 are told, "I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!". They obviously were never part of the New Covenant, thus they never had the law written on their hearts and continued to not obey their Lord.

Notice also how Ezekiel describes this writing of the Law upon the heart:

"I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws." (Ezekiel 36:25-27 NIV)

God promises to those who are part of the New Covenant to put his Spirit in us. Jesus himself talks about the gift and promise of the Spirit. The Spirit will "move us to follow his decrees and be careful to keep his laws."

Jesus also says the same thing in Chapter 7 of Matthew:

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 7:7-12 NIV)

Luke puts it this way:

"If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Luke 11:13 NIV)

Notice how Paul describes the same thing:

"As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved." (Ephesians 2:1-5 NIV)

Did you see how Paul describes us outside of Christ? But Jesus says in the same Sermon on the Mount: "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48 NIV)

Are you perfect? Jesus commands your obedience to be perfect.

"For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it." (James 2:10 NIV)

Have you ever stumbled in just one point in everything that Jesus commanded you? Ever? I know you have. So you are already guilty of breaking it all!

"Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law." (Galatians 3:10 and Deuteronomy 27:26)

Do you continue to do everything that Christ commanded you? All the time perfectly? No you haven't. Therefore you are cursed.

You can't keep the law. You can't obey Christ as you ought. You can't be perfect and Jesus commands you to be perfect. Obeying Christ perfectly is part of those things which Christ says you need to do for your house to be built on a rock and you can't do it. You lack the ability.

"There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." (Romans 3:10-12 NIV)

You are not righteous. You don't understand. You don't seek God. You've turned away. You have become worthless. You have not done good.

"The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God." (Romans 8:7-8 NIV)

You are hostile to God. You don't submit to God's law, and you can't submit to it. You cannot please God.

In fact, Genesis tells us "that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time." (Genesis 6:5 NIV) God himself declared it to be thus, saying, "Every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood." (Genesis 8:21 NIV) That includes everyone. Every inclination of the thoughts of your heart is only evil all the time. It's been that way since you were a kid.


"As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath." (Ephesians 2:1-3 NIV)

You are dead in your transgressions and sins. You follow the way of this world. The spirit of the Ruler of this world rules in your heart. You spend all your time gratifying the cravings of your flesh and following its desires and thoughts. You deserve wrath.

Have you ever even managed to keep one of the Ten Commandments perfectly? Those who teach that we are justified by what we do are placing upon people a burden of helplessness and hopelessness. You can never obey enough to satisfy what God demands and God demands perfection. Not only that, we are corrupt, and evil at heart. Humanity hates God and wants nothing to do with him. Not only do we stand condemned by our own evil deeds and thoughts, but we also stand condemned because of the transgression of Adam. There is no hope for us whatsoever through obedience.

Do you know what God thinks of your obedience? "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away." (Isaiah 64:6 NIV)

If you teach that we are saved by obedience, then you are putting people under the Law. God placed humanity in a covenant with Adam as the representative for the human race. The terms of this covenant were perfect obedience to the Law. God promised life upon the fulfillment and threatened death upon the slightest infraction. Adam willfully broke that covenant and condemned us all by his transgression. He also passed on his own corrupt nature. God's covenant still stands. He commands perfect obedience and we can't give it to him. He still requires it and he will not lessen or lighten his standards. We can't give it to him because we don't want to.

Some might be thinking, "MAN. Matt, that was severe." I know. The law is severe. It brings death and the curse. But it also points to Christ because it points outside of ourselves for the answer:

God is merciful, and he has offered a New Covenant. The conditions of the first covenant were Man's obedience. The condition of the New Covenant is faith alone. The first covenant said "Obey and you will live". The New Covenant says "God has granted you life, therefore obey". In the first Covenant God commands you do it it and doesn't help you at all. In the New Covenant God gives what he commands through the Holy Spirit.

In the New Covenant God fulfills the terms of the first Covenant made with Adam by his Son, Christ Jesus. Jesus lived a perfect life and was perfectly obedient. That perfect life and obedience is credited to our bankrupt account upon trusting in Christ. Christ then takes the obligation of our covenantal debt to God. He also grants believers the Holy Spirit, empowering them and motivating them to obey Christ. Where once they loved their sin now they hate the sin they love. They now desire to obey Christ because the Holy Spirit is living in them. Their obedience is not perfect, because the flesh still kicks around and needs to daily be put to death. It's a struggle and a battle. But because we are justified by faith upon the basis of the obedience of Christ, God can see our imperfect obedience as if it were Christs. We were disobedient because we followed the ways of this world and were under the influence and work of the spirit of disobedience. We gratified the cravings of our flesh. But now God has made us alive. The Holy Spirit now dwells inside of us. He will write the Law on our hearts. He will move us to follow God's decrees and help us to be careful to keep God's laws.

Why do we need this work of the Holy Spirit? Paul mentions it here in Ephesians 2, but he also mentions it else where:

"There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." (Romans 3:10-12 NIV)

Notice what Paul says in Romans 8 about what we can't do, and notice what he says is the only way we are able to do it....

"Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you." (Romans 8:5-9 NIV)

But Jesus says in the same Sermon on the Mount: "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48 NIV)

Paul says that we are not perfect, nor can perfect obedience be expected. But it is a daily battle:

"I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:15-25 NIV)

Did you see Paul's only hope? It wasn't his good works, but Jesus Christ. The only reason God can accept our obedience and good works, which to him look like used menstrual rags (Isaiah 64:6), is because we have been Justified by faith and cleansed by the blood of Jesus.


If obedience is the result of the work of the Holy Spirit, and not what saves us, then what saves us?

"The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26 NIV)

This kinda says that it's not about obedience, but about faith. It also says that a person who has believed in Christ will live their Christian life not by works, but by believing in Christ.

What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them.” (Romans 4:3-8 NIV)

Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:28-29 NIV)

For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. (John 6:40 NIV)

We don't... do.... anything. Simply place our trust in Christ. That's it.

He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:5 NIV)


For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed beginning and ending in faith, as it is written, "The one who by faith is righteous shall live." (Romans 1:16-17 ESV)


Grace and peace,
Matt