Let The Truth Set You Free

This week we celebrate the freedom of this nation. However, this country is full of people who are in spiritual captivity because their religious leaders have lied to them concerning the word of God, feeding them false doctrines that are contrary to truth. In fact, this problem is not prevalent only in the United States; it is a worldwide epidemic. Many people do not realize that they are still under the bondage of sin (Jn. 8:34), which is the work of the devil (Jn. 8:44; 1 Jn. 3:8):

44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

The only way to be freed from sin is by truth (Jn. 8:31), which comes from Jesus Christ. He is the way, the truth, and the life (Jn. 14:6). If you are following false doctrines and are being led astray by the traditions of men, you are being held captive by the devil (cf. Col. 2:8 ESV):

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

I exhort you to pick up your Bible and examine (not just read) the Scriptures as the noble Bereans did (Acts 17:11) to see if what your religious leaders or your spiritual gurus are saying is indeed the truth. If their teachings do not align with the doctrine of Christ, it is a lie from the devil.

The Sovereignty of God and the Will of Man #2

The Dilemmas and Contradictions of Calvinism

In this post, I continue to explore the role that man plays in God’s plan of salvation. Particularly, I will focus on the doctrine of Calvinism in order to highlight the dilemmas and contradictions that emerge in its interpretation of predestination and election. I do not intend to review fully this theology, as it would require a much longer essay. However, I will present some points that give us an idea of its falsity. As I mentioned in my first post, there are five main points that summarize God’s plan of salvation within the Calvinistic doctrine, which are represented by the mnemonic device TULIP: T- Total Hereditary Depravity, U- Unconditional Election, L- Limited Atonement, I- Irresistible Grace, and P- Perseverance of the Saints. These points are so intimately related that if you can see the fallacy in one or two of them, the whole system falls. Therefore, I will discuss specifically the concepts of predestination and election.

The details of Calvinist theology are laid out in the Westminster Confession of Faith. The following is stated concerning predestination and election:

“By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death”.

“These angels and men, thus predestinated, and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished”.

Calvinism teaches that God, in his sovereign counsel, determined before the foundation of the world certain individuals to be saved and others to be lost. That is, each person in this world and those to be born have been predestined for either salvation or condemnation, and there is nothing that can be done to change it because their design and God’s decision are immutable. God’s election of the saved is independent of any works that man could do, and therefore, it is unconditional (Chap. III, Secs. III-IV). Calvinism also teaches that, if you are elected for eternal life, God personally calls you in such a way that you are irresistibly drawn to Christ (Chap. X, Sec. I). Once you have been called according to God’s grace, it is impossible to willfully fall away. The Westminster Confession of Faith states, “[t]his perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election” (Chap. XVII, Sec. II). Although this summary is not exhaustive, the basic ideas of this theology present a dilemma because it contradicts basic truths concerning the righteousness of God and the free will of man. Calvinists claim to accept these truths; however, their teachings on these matters are conflictive and are based on an incorrect interpretation of the Scriptures. Note also that the implication of this doctrine is that once you are saved, you can never fall from grace, which does not align with what we observe in the Bible as it relates to the practice of sin.

One of the passages cited within Calvinism to support predestination is Romans 9:20-24:

20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

When these verses are taken out of context, and we do not consider the author’s original intent, they would indeed lead us to believe that God has predestined specific individuals to be saved or lost. However, this interpretation presents a serious conflict with verses concerning the righteousness of God (See Post #1). Even in the same chapter of the above passage, Paul asked the question, “[w]hat shall we say then? Is the unrighteousness with God?” (Rom. 9:14). His answer was clear, “certainly not!”

Calvinists support their interpretation of election with 1 Peter 1:2, 2:9 and Ephesians 2:8-10:

elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied (New King James Version)

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (ESV)

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (ESV)

These verses also have been taken out of their context, which has distorted the true message of the author’s writing. This abuse of the Scriptures lends to misunderstandings and false teachings. The idea that God elected certain individuals to be saved and others to be lost and that those who are saved cannot at any time fall from grace does not align with the word of God. If God’s decrees are unchangeable, and he has decreed that some will be saved and others will be lost, then we have to conclude the following: 1) God creates evil people who are designed this way from birth, 2) man does not have free will in making a decision to do good or evil, 3) even if a person wanted to be saved and actually lived a Christian life, it would be impossible because God has already decided that they would be lost, and 4) there is no way of knowing that you are saved or lost.

The Calvinistic view of salvation does not, in fact, teach anyone how to be saved. This doctrine contradicts fundamental principles concerning the Creator and his creation. It compromises the integrity of God, takes away our free will, and does not give us any assurance of salvation. The Scriptures teach that we should be confident in the fact that we are saved and are to have assurance in the faith (Col. 2:2; Heb. 6:11, 10:22, 11:1; 1 Tim. 3:13). The only way to have that assurance is to trust God’s plan and to choose to submit to whatever his plan entails; that is, we must be obedient just like Christ was (Rom. 16:26; Phil 2:8). This is not to say that we have the opportunity to boast because even when we are obedient, we continue to be unprofitable servants; we have only done what was our duty (Luke 17:10).

In my third post, I will attempt to resolve the contradictions that emerge in the Calvinist doctrine by defining predestination according to the Scriptures and by correctly interpreting Romans 9:20-24. We will see that, although God’s plan of salvation does involve predestination, it is not the type that is taught in Calvinism. The passage in Romans does not demonstrate that specific individuals are headed towards salvation or condemnation independent of their own free will and by an immutable decree made by God.

Saved by Grace, but what about Works?

Ephesians 2:8-9
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

James 2:24
24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

There is a lot of discussion on whether our salvation is based on grace through faith or on our works. The most prominent theme in the Bible is the grace and mercy of God. Grace is that God has given us what we do not deserve, and mercy is that He has withheld what we do deserve. He sacrificed His Son for our sins and withheld His wrath. His grace and mercy always have been taken for granted, which is evidenced in the Old and New Testaments and also in modern times. We should be thankful for the gift of grace, which was the atonement for our sins through the sacrifice of His Son. According to Ephesians 2:8-9, our salvation is based on this gift of grace, in which we believed (John 1:12-13; Acts 13:38-39; Romans 3:23, 4:4, 4:16, 11:6; Galatians 2:16). We believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that He came to die on the cross as a propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:2, 4:10). There was nothing that we could do on our own to cleanse ourselves of the sins we had committed before being saved. And even after receiving His grace, we still continue to sin against each other and against God. However, His grace is so sufficient that the blood of Christ cleanses us of our sins throughout our lives if we continue to walk in the light (cf., 1 John 1:7-10). It is clear that no one can boast of anything they do because we are all guilty of sin, and no matter how much we strive to be righteous, we will never be able to meet the standard (see Romans 7) because our righteousness is like filthy rags.

“as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God’” (Romans 3:10-11)

“Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:27-28).

“You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law” (Romans 2:23).

“But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (Isaiah 64:6 New King James Version).

So those who believe that we are saved by grace through faith and not by works are correct. It is clearly stated in the Bible. However, in James 2:24 it is also clear that we are justified by works and not by faith alone. Also, there are several verses in the Scriptures that express the fact that we are to do good works as Christians.

“…so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10).

“…waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:13-14).

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).

We know that God does not contradict himself, and I believe the reason why these verses appear to be contradictory is because we tend to look at passages without considering the historical context. Let’s start first with the texts that say that salvation is by grace through faith, and not by works. We see this idea emerging mainly in Paul’s letters to the Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians, and also when Paul addresses the Jews and Gentiles in Acts 13. The Jewish Christians were binding themselves to mosaic law (but not out of obligation), and were also trying to bind Gentile Christians to that law. They couldn’t accept the fact that Gentiles could be saved only by the gospel and not by adhering to the law also. They were requiring that the Gentile Christians be circumcised because that was part of their tradition. Paul had to explain to both Jews and Gentiles why their works of the law were no longer necessary (Ephesians 2:8-9): “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works…” The word “works” is referring to the different sacrifices and rituals of the law, such as sin-offerings and circumcision. Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice that would take care of what the law couldn’t do, cleanse them of their sins.

The context of James’ letter to the Jewish Christians was different from that of Paul’s letters. James was addressing Christians that supposedly had faith but weren’t doing the good works that showed their faith. They were hearers of the word but not doers. We could think of them as lukewarm Christians like those in the church in Laodicea (cf., Revelations 3:14-21). James was basically saying to them that just because you believe, it doesn’t mean that you stop there because even the demons believe in God and shudder (cf., James 2:19). According to chapters 1 and 2, these Christians had several issues: favoritism, false wisdom/teaching, lack of humility, lack of mercy and patience with one another, etc. All these things showed that they lacked faith. Their faith was dead because they did not have good works (cf., James 2:20).

So what can we take from these verses that appear to contradict each other? We are indeed saved by grace through our belief that Christ did die for the sins of mankind, and because of that, we should have an active faith, doing what we have been created to – good works (Ephesians 2:10). We cannot say that we love God and have faith in Him if we do not keep His commandments. Many of us think that love and faith in God is a feeling, and I believe many live a life of distress when they don’t “feel” these things. The fact of the matter is love and faith is doing. Galatians 5:6 says, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” (emphasis is mine). That is, faith is express through love, and love is action:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

“You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14).

“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).

“Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him…” (1 John 2:4)

“And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it” (2 John 1:6).

“‘Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.’ Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?’ Jesus answered him, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him’” (John 14:21-23).

God’s Tough Love

Hebrews 12:3-12 is a great reminder of God’s love for us as His people; however, the love shown here is different from what we normally imagine. God is loving and compassionate, and He will protect us from all our problems and forgive us of all our shortcomings. No matter how many times Israel rebelled against God, He forgave and protected them, and He does the same for us today. This passage, however, shows us God’s tough love. We must understand that, although He protects us in our struggles and forgives us of our sins when we repent, He must and will chasten and rebuke us so that we may grow in righteousness just as a father does to his child in order to set him on the right path. These verses jump out at me because they help me understand the hardship that I’m experiencing in my life right now. I’ve been constantly questioning God as to why I must go through this, and why it’s taking so long. I believe God is answering me through His Word in these verses, showing me that I need tough love in order to grow stronger and become a better Christian.

The term chastening can be expressed as discipline, training, instruction, or correction (Strong’s Concordance; Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). This is the sense in which it is used in the passage. Verse 11 uses the word train, but the verb from which it is translated has a sense of physical exercise. Thus, we can understand from this that chastening is a long process that one endures. The word rebuke means to expose or to show to be guilty (Strong’s Concordance). For example, we know, according to Romans 7:7, that the law exposed fault and guilt, for which Paul was grateful because, without it, he would not have known what sin was:

“What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, ‘You shall not covet’” (Romans 7:7).

As we study this passage of Scripture, we must keep in mind that chastening and rebuke is a process of discipline and correction that allows us to recognize our mistakes in life and helps us to endure the hard times in order to grow stronger.

Hebrews is a letter written to who are believed to be the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. These Christians are going through a time of struggle, in which they are being persecuted, but the Hebrew writer is reminding them that they should “not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens” (verses 5-6). This theme is very common throughout the Scriptures (Job 5:17; Proverbs 3:11-12; Psalms 94:12; Revelations 3:19):

“Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects; Therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty” (Job 5:7).

“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, Nor detest His correction; for whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:11-12).

“Blessed is the man whom You instruct, O Lord, And teach out of Your law…” (Psalms 94:12)

“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent” (Revelations 3:19).

In the first clause of verse 7, they are being reminded that they are children of God and are being treated as such. Notice in the Old Testament that the Israelites are told the same. In Deuteronomy 8, Moses tells them to remember all that God had done for them during the forty years they were in the wilderness, which was a result of their rebellion. The Lord humbled them because of their transgressions and tested them. He allowed them to hunger and then fed them with manna. Their clothes didn’t wear out, and their feet didn’t swell (8:2-4). The Lord carried them through this struggle so they could experience His love and mercy, and know that they could bear none of it on their own.

We should readily accept the chastening of the Lord because it shows that we truly are His children (verses 7-8), and He wants the best for us just like a human father does for his son (verses 7, 9-10). Many of us, as parents, can take a lesson from this when dealing with our children. We cannot just let our children live life without correcting and training them if we say that we truly love them. Correction and training does no harm, but rather produces many fruits, which is why we all must experience it (Proverbs 13:24, 19:18, 23:13; Ephesians 6:4; Hebrews 12:8):

“He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly” (Proverbs 13:24).

“Do not withhold correction from a child, for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die” (Proverbs 23:13).

“But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons” (Hebrews 12:8).

Sometimes God will allow Satan to have his way with us in order to humble us. Job suffered extremely at the hands of Satan, but he did not lose hope because he knew the Lord would deliver him from his suffering. We, as His children, must have the faith that Job had and know that we are not the only ones who war against the devil (1 Peter 5:9):

8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 shows us how God humbled Paul by giving him a thorn in his flesh and allowing Satan to strike him so he wouldn’t be boastful. Although Paul pleaded with God to remove this burden, He refused, but at the same time, gave him His grace so that he could be strong in his weakness.

“And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

The one thing that should encourage us in our troublesome times is what we know about the ultimate result of that struggle – righteousness and holiness. Notice that when an athlete trains in his sport, the process is painful and tiresome, but at the end of the training, he is stronger and able to perform at a high level. Our spiritual training is just the same; it is not easy. It is rather painful at times, as we read in verse 11, “[N]ow no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful…” However, we should be joyful because the end result is righteousness and holiness (verses 10 -11; 2 Timothy 4:8, 3:16):

“For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).

“…nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

“Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8).

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…” (2 Timothy 3:16).

And what is so beautiful about this is that it’s more than just righteousness; it’s the peaceable fruit of righteousness. Therefore, to those that have the opportunity to read this, I encourage them in their walk because I know it’s not easy. I pray that you would bear God’s tough love just a little bit longer because there is certainly a beautiful prize at the end.