Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

L, I, and Evangelism

Introduction: TULIP and Evangelism

The Doctrines of Grace, commonly called Calvinism, are commonly explained with the acrostic TULIP, standing for:

Total depravity
Unconditional election
Limited atonement
Irresistible grace
Perseverance of the saints.

Evangelicals who raise objections to these doctrines most commonly place special scrutiny upon the "L" and "I" of TULIP. Some argue that if the atonement is limited, and if grace is irresistible, then the basis for why Christians should evangelize is undercut. They argue that belief in a universal atonement and a resistible grace more properly motivate evangelism.

Considered more carefully, it becomes apparent that belief in a universal atonement and a resistible grace inescapably lead to contradictions which undermine Christians' evangelistic impulses.

L and Evangelism

Regarding the idea of a universal atonement along with the reality that (largely by means of Christians failing to take the Great Commission as seriously as we ought) many people never hear the gospel, Daniel Strange points out:
[I]n the category of the unevangelized, proponents of universal atonement are caught between a Scylla and Charybdis with no apparent path through which to navigate. On the one hand, if they accept fides ax auditu, that people can be saved only through hearing of Christ from a gospel messenger, then their definition of ‘universal’ atonement is called into question, especially if they wish to hold to its objective character. On the other hand, if they accept that all people must have the opportunity to respond to what Christ has done because of his objective universal atonement, then they must deny that it is only through the medium of the proclamation of the gospel by human messengers that salvation comes, and approve some other theory of universal accessibility, theories which seem to counter the biblical testimony and which lead to some problematic theological and pastoral conclusions for evangelicals. Faced with these uncomfortable alternatives, I would encourage them [that is, evangelical proponents of universal atonement] to look once again at the doctrine of definite atonement, which I do not believe entails these dilemmas. [Daniel Strange, “Slain for the World?” From Heaven He Came and Sought Her (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 600.]

Strange raises the question of what-if anything-a universal atonement means given the readily demonstrable fact that there is not universal accessibility to gospel proclamation. Strange argues that the logic which leads a person to hold to a universal atonement would also inexorably draw that person to hold to an idea of universal accessibility. Since there are areas in which people are dying, yet there is no gospel witness, then either (at least experientially) the atonement is limited by God's providence (at least) in some way, or there must be a mechanism other than gospel witness by which people may be saved. It should thus be apparent that this idea of universal atonement undermines evangelism. Conversely, the doctrine of Limited atonement is consistent with the limited way in which God has ordained that people must be saved: through faith, which comes through hearing the message of Christ (Rom 10:17).

I and Evangelism

Regarding the idea that grace is resistible-along with the reality that all Christians have a God-given concern for their lost family, friends, and acquaintances, and they are prompted by the Holy Spirit (at least on occasion) to pray for their salvation-we must raise the question: how does a consistent proponent of resistible grace pray for God to bring salvation to others?

For if God is drawing all men to Himself equally, as some proponents of resistible grace would claim, then what is the use of praying for their salvation? God is already doing ALL HE CAN to save them, and it is up to their 'free-will' to either seal the deal or resist His grace. If this is not the case-if there are some men that God chooses not to draw to Himself-then proponents of resistible grace have a doctrine of irresistible reprobation that they must deal with as well. Except, instead of God choosing to irresistibly save some and leave others in their sin, the doctrine of resistible grace (if God does not draw all men equally) would have God granting some men the chance for salvation, which chance they must either resist or cooperate with by a free act of their will, while He also leaves some men without a chance, or at least with a greatly reduced chance at salvation.

And what if God is drawing some men to Himself with more fervor than others? If He does not make His grace irresistible for His elect, does He at least push against some sinners' resistance with significant force? And can those on whom He is exerting less energy still be saved? If this is the case, then it seems as if those who persevere to come to God with less "drawing"-those for whom He does less to overcome their resistance-would be given greater esteem for advancing toward God with less help. Can those whom He is not drawing still freely choose Him? If this is the case, then Pelagius (the heretic that said that God’s grace is a help to salvation, but not necessary for salvation) is vindicated indeed.

Yet all Christians know that God alone is given all glory for our salvation. We know this because of the Spirit-given conviction of our sinfulness that we have felt in reaching the humiliation by which we initially cried out to God for salvation, in a moment when we felt that His grace was irresistibly desirable. We know this because of the way in which we pray for the salvation of others.

The idea of resistible grace undermines evangelistic prayers, whereas Irresistible grace is consistent with truly evangelistic prayers. We do not pray, "God, please give my friend or family member a chance at salvation: a chance which he or she must either cooperate with or resist." Instead, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we boldly approach the throne of grace and cry out, "God, save my friend; save my family member! Take out his heart of stone; grant him a heart of flesh, that his love for sin and hatred for You would be miraculously transformed into a hatred of sin and a love for You!"

Conclusion: The Doctrines of Grace Matter

Theology matters. The Doctrines of Grace, even the most controversial of these doctrines, matter. Denying Limited atonement, accepting-instead-universal atonement, leads to inclusivism or universalism instead of safeguarding the exclusive nature of the gospel: that people must hear the message of Christ proclaimed in order to be saved. Denying Irresistible grace, accepting-instead resistible grace, leads to weak, ineffectual prayers to a resistible Holy Spirit, rather than to the One who is truly sovereign over salvation.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Do Not Grieve the Holy Spirit of God

The Command

Yesterday, dear reader, I called our attention to a negative command that the Apostle has given Christians concerning the Holy Spirit: "do not quench the Spirit" (1 Thess 5:19). The second negative command that Christians are given in Scripture concerning the Holy Spirit comes in Ephesians 4:30, "And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed unto the day of redemption."

Concerning the command, "do not quench the Spirit," I argued that violation of this prohibition occurs through sins of omission. As demonstrated by an examination of the verses immediately before and after Ephesians 4:30, grieving the Holy Spirit occurs through sins of commission. The command against grieving the Holy Spirit occurs in a paragraph that focuses on putting aside ungodly and harmful speech, but it also includes prohibitions on stealing and harboring anger (Eph 4:26-27). We grieve the Holy Spirit of God when we act in ways that are contrary to His character.

The Spirit's Work: Our Motivation for Obedience

Our motivation for being careful to not grieve the Holy Spirit of God lies in a recognition of what the Holy Spirit has done for us, is doing for us, and will do for us who are trusting in Christ Jesus. The Spirit sealed us [past tense] by grace through faith (Eph 2:8). This sealing preserves us in a state of God's grace in the present and it will last forever into the future: unto the day of redemption, when we will finally be set free from the presence and all effects of sin due to the sacrifice of Christ made on our behalf. A seal set by the sovereign hand of God cannot be broken by the 'free-will' of Man.

Warnings and Assurance

The New Testament, indeed, contains 'warning passages' against falling away into sin (e.g. Heb 6:4-6; 10:26-27).  In Ephesians 5, following the command against grieving the Holy Spirit of God-and just before the command to be filled by the Spirit (Eph 5:18)-the Apostle Paul issues the following warning: For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God (Eph 5:5 ESV). I would argue that the primary purpose of such passages is that professing believers make their calling and election sure (1 Pet 1:10): that those who claim to follow Christ would strive to make certain that they are "good soil" and not shallow or weed-choked soil (see Matt 13:1-23). As the Apostle John makes clear, "If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth"(1 John 1:6). A person whose course of life is normally characterized by a disregard for God's law (1 John 3:4), whose life regularly bears "bad fruit" (Matt 7:17-19), should not imagine that he or she is right with God.

However, lest believers fall into despair over the realization that we still fall short of God's glory, the Apostle John declares to Christians, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:8-9 ESV). The believer-the person who confesses sins (1 John 1:9) and delights in the law of the LORD (Psa 1:2), even imperfectly-can experience assurance: confident hope that he or she will persevere in faith. This assurance comes not through our own will or works, but through a trust in the sealing power of the Holy Spirit.

Believers are commanded to not grieve the Holy Spirit of God. We are warned to make sure that the Holy Spirit has indeed done a saving work in our lives. We are motivated by a consideration of the Spirit's activity in our salvation. But we are never threatened with the possibility that the Holy Spirit-though grieved-will remove His presence from us entirely. Anyone who has truly trusted in Christ and who has been sealed by the Holy Spirit of God will remain sealed unto the day of redemption.

The Holy Spirit in Redeemed Sinners

The sealing of the Holy Spirit in a believer's life is closely associated with the concept of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in a believer's life. This is the New Covenant promise that the LORD makes with His people: "I will put my Spirit within you" (Eze 36:27). John 20:22 records that Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit upon His apostles. After Jesus' ascension, the Father-upon the Son's request and in the Son's name (John 14:16, 26)-sent the Holy Spirit: first to the apostles, to empower them for authoritative Gospel witness (John 14:26; 15:26-27), then to all believers. Now each Christian has the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit: "if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His" (Rom 8:9b KJV).

Notice that in this last verse the Holy Spirit-called the Holy Spirit of God in Ephesians 4:30-is also called the Spirit of Christ. In John 14, Jesus says that the Father will send the Spirit; in John 15:26, Jesus says that He will send the Spirit from the Father. A comparison of these passages points to the grand theological reality of filioque: that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. Proceeding from the Father and the Son, the indwelling Holy Spirit brings us into the relationship of spiritual union between the Father and the Son (John 17:20-26). When believers are indwelled by the Holy Spirit and sealed by the Holy Spirit, we are graciously taken up into the eternal relationship existing between the Persons of the blessed Trinity, and thus we are made to become partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet 1:4). Why, then, would we ever choose to grieve the Holy Spirit?!?

Yet we may grieve Him. The impassible Holy Spirit of God has condescended to place Himself in such a position that He may-in some real way-be grieved by those whom He has chosen to indwell and seal. That the Holy Spirit has come to dwell within redeemed sinners is a precious, breathtakingly miraculous truth, as C.H. Spurgeon noted:
The incarnation is an infinite mystery of love, but we believe it. Yet, if it were possible to compare one great wonder with another, I would say that God's dwelling in His people and that repeated ten thousand times over is even more marvelous. That the Holy Spirit should dwell in millions of redeemed men and women is a miracle not surpassed by our Lord's adoption of human nature. 
Our Lord's body was perfectly pure, and the Godhead, while it dwelt in His holy manhood, did at least dwell with a perfect and sinless nature. However, the Holy Spirit bows Himself to dwell in sinful men. He dwells in men who, after their conversions, still find the flesh warring against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh. He dwells in men who are not perfect though they strive to be so. These men have to mourn their shortcomings and even to confess with shame a measure of unbelief. "I will put my Spirit within you" (Eze 36:27) means that the Holy Spirit is in our imperfect nature. Wonder of wonders! Yet, it is as surely a fact as it is a wonder. [Charles Spurgeon, Holy Spirit Power (New Kinsington, PA: Whitaker House, 1996), 122-123.]
"[T]he Holy Spirit is in our imperfect nature." The Holy Spirit has sealed us until that glorious day in which our imperfect nature will be perfected in the image of Christ. Therefore, out of gratitude for the Spirit's work, out of love for the Spirit and respect for His holy presence in our lives, let us be careful to not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.


Monday, June 23, 2014

Do Not Quench the Spirit

Do not quench the Spirit. (1 Thess 5:19)

In addition to the positive commands concerning the Holy Spirit-"walk by the Spirit" (Gal 5:16, 25) and "be filled by the Spirit" (Eph 5:18)-the Apostle gives Christians two negative commands concerning the Holy Spirit: "do not quench the Spirit" (1 Thess 5:19) and "do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God" (Eph 4:30).

Quenching the Holy Spirit indicates hindering the manifestation of the Spirit's power in an individual's life and/or in the life of a church. In the prohibition against quenching the Spirit, the picture is of a fire being extinguished. As demonstrated by an examination of the verses immediately before and after 1 Thessalonians 5:19, quenching the Holy Spirit occurs through sins of omission. These could be personal sins-like a failure to express thankfulness to God (1 Thess 5:8)-or corporate sins, like a failure of the church to heed prophecies (1 Thess 5:20, with "prophecies" understood as occurring within the congregation, hearing the proclamation of inspired words from God).


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Be Filled By the Spirit

"Be filled by the Spirit." (Eph 5:18b)

The Distinction Between "Walk by the Spirit" and "Be Filled by the Spirit"

How is this command different (or, is this different) from the command to "walk by the Spirit" (Gal 5:16, 25)?

As an explanation of what it means to "walk as wise" (Eph 5:15), this command is (at least) closely related to the command to "walk by the Spirit." Certainly, if one is to "walk as wise"-in terms of "wisdom that is from above" (Jas 3:17)-one must "walk by the Spirit."

Of the command to "be filled by the Spirit," Dr. Jim Hamilton notes, "[With this command, Paul] is calling for a way of life marked by the fruit of the Spirit... Thus for Paul, as for Luke, being 'full of the Spirit' is characteristic of life in the Spirit."[James M. Hamilton Jr., God's Indwelling Presence (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Academic, 2006), 197 n46.]

So is the command to "be filled by the Spirit" entirely identical to the command to "walk by the Spirit"? I believe that the commands can be distinguished, with some spiritual profit, based on the context in which the command to "be filled by the Spirit" occurs. As Dr. Hamilton also notes, "It is not unlikely that Paul means for the participles that follow to flesh out what it means to be 'filled by the Spirit'"[Ibid.] When we examine these participles ("speaking to one another in psalms... singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord, giving thanks always in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ... submitting to one another in the fear of Christ"), we see an interplay between public and private devotion, but the primary focus seems to be on a holy life within the body of Christ (the church), rather than an unholy life characterized by worldliness. If, as I've argued, the command to "walk by the Spirit" implies all the spiritual disciplines for the Christian life, the command to "be filled by the Spirit" is a more specific subset of this command, emphasizing the spiritual disciplines within the church.


The near context of the command is important as well. In Ephesians 5:18, the Apostle Paul sets up a comparison/contrast between being "filled by the Holy Spirit" and being "drunk with wine." The way in which the Holy Spirit controls the Spirit-filled person is similar to how alcohol controls the drunkard. Yet the mind of the Spirit-filled person, unlike the drunkard's mind, is active and unclouded. The drunkard turns inward-personal sorrows, amusements, or anger are magnified-so we think of a person wallowing in a drunken stupor, we think of a giddy drunk, or an angry drunk. But the Spirit-filled person is concerned with the Lord and with others (notice again how the participles listed above are all outward focused).

Why did the Apostle write, "don't get drunk with wine"? Is getting drunk or stoned with other things acceptable? Is it OK to shoot up heroin or kick back a bottle of absinthe as long as no fermented grapes are involved?

In contrasting being "filled by the Holy Spirit" to being "drunk with wine," the Apostle contrasted the Spirit-filled life with a life that is entangled with the world through: 1. sinful pleasures ("drunk"); 2. excess ("drunk with wine"). The combination of these things, or each individually, are enemies to growth in godliness. The Ephesian Christians were not so spiritually immature that they would have imagined that drinking to get drunk was permissible. Notice that the Apostle assumes that his readers want to avoid "debauchery" or "dissipation." He does not have to command the Ephesians to avoid strong drink or mixed wine: the substances in which the people of the first century would have commonly imbibed if they meant to get sloshed. The prohibition against getting "drunk with wine" would have reminded the Ephesian Christians how easy it is-in our flesh-to simply drift away from the Spirit's control. Thinking about life within the church, the Apostle may have envisioned a situation like that which occurred in the Corinthian congregation, where people were actually getting drunk while taking the Lord's Supper (see 1 Cor 11:20-21). So he commands the Ephesians against drunkenness with wine, he commands the Ephesians to be "filled by the Spirit," then he defines the Spirit-filled life by true Christ-and-others focused relationships within the church, expanded outward to Christ-and-others centered relationships at family and at work. The person who is "filled by the Spirit" is controlled and empowered to serve others for the glory of God in Christ.

Practical Application

How does a Christian obey the command to "be filled by the Spirit"? The answer, in large part, is apparent from the verses immediately following Ephesians 5:18. A Christian is filled by the Spirit as he or she:

1. speaks (and sings!) words of encouragement and instruction to others;

2. sings and makes melody in his or her heart to God;

3. offers prayers to God, which are characterized by thanksgiving;

4. respects proper roles of submission and authority within the church and the broader created order.


In considering the command to "be filled by the Spirit," three parallel passages should inform our thinking. The first in Colossians 3:16. Notice the similarity in Ephesians 5:18-19 and this passage.

"Don't get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled by the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord." (Eph 5:18-19)

"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, in all wisdom and teaching-admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs-in gratitude singing in your hearts to God." (Col 3:16)

These verses come from two sizable passages that show many parallel features: Ephesians 5:17-6:9 and Colossians 3:16-4:1. For purposes of exploring the meaning of "be filled by the Spirit," the most important feature to note is that in the Colossians parallel "be filled by the Spirit" is replaced by "let the word of Christ dwell in you richly." The "word of Christ" is the gospel. The Christian is "filled by the Spirit" as he or she meditates upon the gospel and allows the "message of reconciliation" (2 Cor 5:19) to radically impact affections and attitudes toward God and others, as well as motivating actions and admonishment within the church and the broader created order.

The second parallel and third we must note are 1 Thessalonians 4:3 and 5:18. Notice that the command "be filled by the Spirit" is immediately prefaced by the command to "understand what the Lord's will is" (Eph 5:17). The First Thessalonians passages illuminate the will of the Lord in similar terms as the Ephesians passage. In 1 Thessalonians 4:3, the Apostle declares, "For this is the will of God, your sanctification; you are to abstain from sexual immorality." As being "filled by the Spirit" is contrasted with the sinful pleasures and excess of being "drunk with wine" in Ephesians 5:18, "sanctification" is contrasted with the sinful pleasures and excess of "sexual immorality" in 1 Thessalonians 4:3.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, the Apostle defines "God's will for you in Christ Jesus" in terms of giving "thanks in everything." Similarly, one of the participles that define being "filled by the Spirit" is "giving thanks always in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ." Thankfulness is key to the Christian life.

Understanding the command to "be filled by the Spirit" is crucial to understanding the Lord's will for our lives and our relationships.