Big Questions – Day 5

Question #5:
How much of our relationship with God is our responsibility? How does God’s Spirit and our actions work together? When are we walking in the Spirit vs. flesh?

I’ve got to say that this is by far the toughest question for me. It is a deep, involved discussion on which Scripture is not explicitly clear. I can tell you that if we are saved in Christ then we are not under God’s wrath, but under his mercy as his children. His grace covers our sin (and we do most definitely sin), and he does indeed discipline us when we disobey. 

At this point, I cannot offer you a 100% definitive answer, but I will do my best to tell you what Scripture says to this effect, and offer my best shot at an opinion. I do know that God has begun a good work in me, and will perfect it (Philippians 1:6). Our sanctification began by the regenerating work of the spirit, and cannot be perfected by our own efforts in the flesh (Galatians 3:3). So for sure, God is the one who drives our sanctification. However, we are still responsible for our actions, otherwise there would be no commands to obey God’s commands, consider ourselves dead to sin, and to stop sinning (Romans 6; 1 Corinthians 2, 10; Galatians 5; Ephesians 4, etc.).

See, there is this tension in Scripture that we find throughout Paul’s letters… there’s a sense of Christians already having the perfecting power of the Holy Spirit inside of us, but we are not yet perfected – that will only be when we are in heaven for eternity. It’s called the ‘already/not-yet’ paradox, and there have been many books written about it as well as the interaction between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.

The best thing that I can tell you from this point on is to fall on your face before the sovereignty of God and pour your heart into your relationship with him. Pray constantly that he will continue to drive your sanctification and trust that the Holy Spirit (God himself) is enough to help you as you live your life.

As far as knowing when you’re walking by the Spirit as opposed to gratifying your flesh, read the Scriptures and figure out what God’s heart is and where your convictions lie. Also, find a solid church that can teach you and sharpen your walk with the Lord, and get plugged in with a group of people who love you and who you will let speak into your life with authority, and hold each other accountable. Trust that God will convict you of sin, pray that he would open your eyes to it, and lean on the grace of Christ when (not if) you find it in your life. That, as far as I can tell, is how we can humbly work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).

As a final reference, I would encourage you to read Romans 6-8 (especially 8:1-17).

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Big Questions – Day 4

Question #4:
What message of Good News are we supposed to bring to people in light of God’s Sovereignty? Do we tell people that aren’t Christians yet that it is in fact God’s choice whether they will be saved or not? What would this message sound like?

I think a lot of people in the Reformed camp are confused about this, and don’t really know how their theology should practically work itself out in their lives. The best thing I can say to you on this question is that you shouldn’t let your theology get in the way of clear commands from Scripture. While it is very true that God is the one who brings souls to himself, he is also clear in commanding us to go and share the gospel with nonbelievers. Even though we don’t know who will respond in faith and be saved, God does – which lets us share the gospel confidently, knowing that God will ultimately act for his glory, whether the person we’re talking with comes to faith or not. It is simply not in our hands. It is not our job to predestine, but it is our job to obey our Lord Jesus and follow the commands he has set for us (Matthew 28:18-20).

So in a sense, the message would sound no different. We are to call people to repentance and a saving faith in Christ, and then the process of discipleship should kick into high gear. When we proclaim the gospel, only those whom the Holy Spirit has already started working in will respond – those who are still dead in their trespasses and cold toward the gospel will merely shrug it off and go on about their business.

I think another misconception about Reformed theology and gospel presentations (especially trips to other nations) has to do with us ‘bringing the gospel’ to that place. We don’t ‘bring the gospel’ with us… God is already at work in that place, beginning to stir in people’s hearts to bring them to repentance and saving faith. The gospel working and bearing fruit doesn’t depend on our presence, and it doesn’t depend on our ingenuity or our well-articulated phrasing of biblical truth. Rather, it rests in the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, and we as the ones who are there sharing the gospel are just spectators and get the incredible opportunity to see God’s hand at work saving people. Going on ‘mission trips’ is more about obeying God’s call and getting to see God at work rather than ‘taking the gospel’ somewhere because ‘if we don’t, they won’t hear the gospel and none of them will be saved’.

A while back I heard someone that I greatly respect say that we should ‘believe like a Calvinist, and act like an Arminianist.’ By that he meant that we should trust God to bring souls to himself, but we should also co-labor with God to bring them to faith in Christ. We as humans with a limited perspective do not know who will be saved – we can only know who true Christians are by their fruit and works (James 2:14-26; Galatians 5:16-26; Matthew 7:15-20, 13:1-9, 18-23). That should take the pressure off of us when we share the gospel and realize that there’s nothing that we can do to screw up God’s plan to bring someone to salvation, and on the flip side of that coin there’s also no amount of creativity or attractive speech that will bring someone to genuine repentant saving faith if they are lost and the Holy Spirit is not working in them.

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Big Questions – Day 3

Question #3:
Since God is sovereign and He does choose some people to be saved and others to go to hell, does he hate those he doesn’t choose to be saved?

The short answer to this question is yes – BUT with a large footnote for clarification and explanation. God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in faithful covenant love, and forgiving of all kinds of sin (Exodus 34:6-7). However, God is also holy and must punish sin if he is indeed a righteous and just God (Exodus 34:7). For example, would a state or federal judge be just if he acquitted a guilty criminal and dropped all of his charges without any form of retribution or punishment for the offense? Absolutely not. It’s the same way with God – he is infinitely holy, so our sin is infinitely offensive to him; therefore if he is just he must punish sin in keeping with his holiness. This is why the Old Testament has the sacrificial system (in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy), the prophets proclaiming judgment on disobedient nations (Jeremiah, Nahum, Obadiah, Malachi, etc.), and ultimately why God sent Jesus to suffer and die on our behalf, that we might become children of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

God hates sin and exercises his wrath toward and upon it (Romans 1:18-32 – especially verses 18, 24, 26, and 28). He also tells us through Paul in his letter to the Romans (3:23, 5:12) and through the prophet Isaiah (53:6) that we are all sinners and deserve to go to hell. But God, being rich in his mercy has chosen some to be examples of his grace to live for his glory (Romans 3:24, 5:8; Ephesians 2:8-10) and through his infinite wisdom has chosen some to be vessels of his wrath (Romans 9:13-23). For those elect, God punished Jesus so that he would be just in rightfully punishing our sin, but also so that he would be the one who justifies us by presenting Jesus as the one who takes that punishment (Romans 3:25-26).

So yes, God does hate sin, and he punishes all sin because he is a just and holy God. However, those whom He has chosen have the precious blood of Christ protecting them from God’s wrath, whereas those who do not know Jesus as their savior are left to endure the consequences of their sin and will ultimately face eternal judgment in hell. This is not a pleasant discussion, and it is not easy to see God as the righteous judge of the universe, but I believe that this is the picture that God’s revelation of himself (the Bible) paints of who he is. This is also why it is immensely important to trust and follow Jesus, for he and he alone is the one who can truly take our sins away and guarantee our favor with God by his perfect sacrifice on the cross.

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Big Questions – Day 2

Question #2:
How do you stay focused on God’s glory?
My goodness… this one could easily fill a book. Actually, now that I think of it, John Piper has written a great book on this subject called “Desiring God”… I highly encourage you to read it and plod through it. It’s a great read, but it is thick and deep – so pack a lunch and some Advil.

In a nutshell, we stay focused on God’s glory by understanding who he is in relation to us – in other words, we’ve got to have the right perspective. God is uncreated; we are created. God is infinite, omniscient, and holy; we are finite, limited in our thinking, and sinful. So, knowing that God is much grander than we will ever be means that we honor him as the most glorious being that ever will be.

Now, that’s not to say that I don’t get sidetracked and follow after less glorious things (the ‘created things’ from Romans 1) and spend my time and affections following after things that don’t deserve what only God deserves. Staying on track, then, takes diligence, discipline, and God’s grace. The Christian life isn’t always peachy – it’s tough being a sinner, dealing with sinfulness and other sinners. But, if we keep our eyes on heaven and have an eternal perspective (not a temporal earthly one), then we will stay devoted to prayer, knowing and studying Scripture, and following what God has willed for our lives. The Holy Spirit is instrumental in this, as Jesus calls him the ‘helper’ (see John 14:16, 14:26, 15:26, 16:7; Romans 8:15, 23, 26-30). Also, the community of believers is a huge help that God has given us a bunch of folks to run with, to live with, to worship with, to encourage us, to challenge us, to help teach and lead us, and to battle in the trenches with us.

The last thing that I can say to you on this is to keep the faith and study the parable of the talents from Matthew 25. The men who were entrusted with the talents (large units of money back then) were told to spend them wisely for their master’s glory. The ones who were faithful and wise stewards were praised, given more, and allowed into their master’s joy (heaven). But the one who was not diligent and neglected what his master entrusted him with was cast into the darkness (hell). Stay faithful, not out of fear of God’s judgment, but rather out of joy because God has enabled you to be faithful, and gives us grace and merciful discipline when we are not.

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Big Questions – Day 1

Recently, an acquaintance of mine sent me a list of really good, tough questions about Christianity and Reformed theology. I have decided to post the questions and my answers to them here over the next five days (1 question per day) in hopes that it may help someone else, or at the very least get a good discussion going. Please feel free to throw your comments out there, add some more Scripture, or offer counterpoints.

Question # 1:
What does it look like to have a daily relationship with God that is not going through the motions? The other day our pastor said that he didn’t think you had to have a quiet time to spend time with God, you could just hang out with God during the day. That sounds great, but how do you do that in practical terms?

I would guess that the majority of Christians know neither what this means nor looks like. So, being prideful enough to venture an answer, I’ll give it my best shot. The first thing that goes into having a daily relationship with God is to realize that we’re never outside of his sight or presence. That means that God is always with us, no matter whether we’re singing worship songs in church or cussing out bad drivers in our car.

Use the analogy of human relationships to consider the elements of your relationship with God. We communicate, we spend time with, we think about, and we act toward other people that we are in various relationships with. For example, if you are acquainted with someone, you will say hi and acknowledge their presence, and might meet up with them every once in a while for a special occasion (like a birthday or game night). But if you truly love someone, you will talk with them regularly, you will spend time thinking about them and want their desires to be fulfilled, and you’ll work toward that end with your actions, words, and thoughts. This is the same way with God. If we only know who he is, nothing in our life will drastically change at all. We will acknowledge him when we see a miracle or a spiritual thing on TV, and we will meet up with him every few Sundays, especially Easter and Christmas. But if we truly love him, it will show in how we treat others, in how often we talk with him (prayer), how much we think about and consider what he thinks about everything (ethical issues, morality, etc.), how often we read his revelation to us (the Bible), and how much his presence affects our lives (are we being sanctified on a daily basis, or are we limping along in our spiritual development, hoping we’re doing the right things?).

While it is insufficient and breaks down after a while, human relationships serve as a decent analogy for our daily walk with God. So when your pastor said that we don’t necessarily have to have a 20 to 60 minute block of time where we read the Bible and journal our thoughts (the proverbial ‘quiet time’), he meant that our daily relationship with God isn’t determined by how many pages of a journal we’ve filled or how many times we’ve read through the Bible. Rather it’s how deep a spiritual intimacy we have with the Lord (how well we know him and how well he knows us), and how much of an impact God is having on our daily lives (our progressive sanctification).

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