Tuesday, December 30, 2008

C. S. Lewis on Calvinism and Free Will

Reading in Yours, Jack: Spiritual Direction from C. S. Lewis, a selection from among his many letters, I came across a couple of interesting takes on Calvinism and the question of free will:
On Calvinism. Both the statement that our final destination is already settled and the view that it still may be either Heaven or Hell, seem to me to imply the ultimate reality of Time, which I don't believe in. The controversy is one I can’t join on either side for I think that in the real (Timeless) world it is meaningless. (pp. 117-8)

All that Calvinist question — Free-Will and Predestination, is to my mind undiscussable, insoluble. Of course (say us) if a man repents God will accept him. Ah yes, (say they) but the fact of his repenting shows that God has already moved him to do so. This at any rate leaves us with the fact that in any concrete case the question never arrives as a practical one. But I suspect it is really a meaningless question. The difference between Freedom and Necessity is fairly clear on the bodily level: we know the difference between making our teeth chatter on purpose and just finding them chattering with cold. It begins to be less clear when we talk of human love (leaving out the erotic kind). ‘Do I like him because I choose or because I must?’ — there are cases where this has an answer, but others where it seems to me to mean nothing. When we carry it up to relations between God and Man, has the distinction perhaps become nonsensical? After all, when we are most free, it is only with a freedom God has given us: and when our will is most influenced by Grace, it is still our will. And if what our will does is not ‘voluntary’, and if ‘voluntary’ does not mean ‘free’, what are we talking about? I’d leave it all alone. (p. 186)
That pretty well says where I am on the matter. I wore Calvinism for about 25 years, from a couple of years out of Bible college until a few years back when I hung it back up on the rack because it didn’t fit. It just doesn’t seem to be relevant to anything real. The whole point-counterpoint between Calvinism and Arminianism seems to be trying to answer questions that the Bible does not ask or means to answer.

The discussion often proceeds as if God is bound by time, as we are. But He is the creator of time and as such is not constrained by it. We speak of foreknowledge, as if it is prior knowledge from God’s point of view, as it is from ours. But for God, it is simply knowledge with no “before” or “after” about it. He can know something as it happens — and it all happens for Him in one moment — without that knowledge being the cause of it happening. Knowledge does not equal causality. For example, if you and I were sitting together and you turned to me and said something, I would know what you were saying as you were saying it. But my knowledge of you saying it would not be the cause of you saying it. You would be free to say it or not. Likewise, God’s “foreknowledge” (which to Him is simply knowledge) of what we do, say, think or believe does not require that He be the cause of it.

In His sovereignty God has, for whatever reason, chosen to give us free will. That is a grace. And if He has chosen to influence our will by a further grace to turn to Him, it is still, as Lewis says, our will that does so. If we treat the will as anything other than voluntary and free to do or not do otherwise, then we are really not talking about will but determinism.

After years of batting the question around I have found no significance to it. With Lewis, I suspect it really is a meaningless question, and agree that perhaps the distinction it makes really is nonsensical after all.

Blessings to all my Calvinist friends, as well as my non-Calvinist ones.

Greetings to our friends in Dubai and Singapore.

Happy New Year to all.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Discerning a Heart of Faith

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrew 4:12)
This verse is often quoted out of the blue, as if it were not related to a context. But the word “for” at the beginning of this verse alerts us to the fact that it is connected to the idea of the previous verse: “Be diligent to enter that rest.” The “rest” in view is the rest God has for His people. In the larger context, the author illustrates his point by reminding us that the children of Israel died in the wilderness instead of enjoying the Promised Land, the rest God had prepared for them.

What does this have to do with the Word of God being living and powerful and discerning the thoughts and intents of the heart? Everything. Because it has to do with faith. The children of Israel did not enter God’s rest because of their unbelief, even though God had promised He was giving the land to them.

It is not that they were unable to believe. No, they were unwilling to believe. Had they been willing, they would have been able because faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Every promise of God carries with it the faith to believe that promise. The children of Israel heard the promise but they did not give any room for faith to arise in them to believe it. The word of promise tested them and found they had rejected faith.

The Word of God offers us many wonderful promises and gives us the faith to believe. But it also probes us with surgical precision to see whether we will lay hold of that faith. There is no fooling God. He discerns the thoughts and intents of our hearts to see whether we are willing to believe Him.

In the wilderness, God promised the children of Israel that He was giving them the land of Canaan, and that promise tested them: Were they willing to believe God above all else? Would they believe the truth of His Word more than the facts of their current circumstances? More than the giants in the land? More than their own eyes?

As we know, out of all that generation, only Joshua and Caleb choose to believe God. They were not unaware of the circumstances, and they had certainly seen the giants in the land, just as the other spies had. But they understood that the truth of God’s promise was far greater than what they experienced with their senses. As the author of Hebrews tells us, “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3). The greater reality is not that which can be seen or felt but is apprehended by faith. That is why Paul teaches us, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

The same Word of God by which faith comes also discerns our hearts. It cuts through all our rationalizations to reveal whether we are willing to believe the promise of God. Those who are willing enter into His rest.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Diligence of Faith

Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:11)
Be diligent to enter into rest. Sounds like a paradox. As verse 10 said, “For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works a God did from His.” To enter the rest of God, we must cease from our own works just as God rested from His on the seventh day of creation. Still, there is a diligence to which we must attend. But what is it?

Earlier, the author of Hebrews used the illustration of the children of Israel, who wandered in the wilderness for forty years and did not enter the rest God had for them, the Promised Land. “So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief” (Hebrews 3:19). “For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it” (Hebrews 4:2). Nevertheless, the promise of rest remains, even though “those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:6). Put simply, the disobedience of Israel in the wilderness was their failure to believe the promise of God. They were not diligent to believe God; therefore, they did not enter His rest.

To see how this happened, go back to Numbers 13. The Lord said to Moses, “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel” (v. 2). Notice the promise: God was giving the land of Canaan to Israel. Moses believed the word of God and sent out twelve men, one from each of the twelve tribes, on a reconnaissance mission.

Ten came back and reported, “We went to the land where you sent us. It truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Nevertheless, the people who dwell in the land are strong … There we saw the giants; and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight” (vv. 27-28, 33).

The other two spies, Joshua and Caleb, having seen the exact same things the ten had, came back and said, “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it” (v. 30). The ten answered, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we” (v. 31).

The children of Israel were persuaded by the report of the ten and, in their fear and unbelief, rose up against Moses, Joshua and Caleb. Joshua and Caleb exhorted them to be diligent in their faith and believe God.
If the LORD delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, “a land which flows with milk and honey.” Only do not rebel against the LORD, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the LORD is with us. Do not fear them. (Numbers 14:8-9).
Israel persisted in fear and unbelief. Except for Joshua and Caleb, that entire generation never entered the Promised Land but died in the wilderness. Joshua and Caleb, however, were privileged to lead the next generation into the land forty years later.

What made the difference? Diligence. Diligence in what? In believing the word of God. The same promise was given to all, but only a few believed. Joshua and Caleb were diligent in faith. The fact that God had promised them the land of Canaan settled the matter for them. Their focus was sustained on God. They saw the same giants the ten had seen but they did not let that, or anything else, distract them from what God had said. Their hearts were lined up with the promise, and when they spoke, their words overflowed from the abundance of their hearts and they spoke in accord with what God had spoken. They were diligent and focused in their faith to believe what God said, so they entered into the rest of God.

Faith is simply believing the Word of God. When we are diligent to believe what He says, we enter into His rest. When we move away from believing His Word, we get back into our own works, our own strength, and end up wandering in the wilderness of fear.

Monday, December 8, 2008

What We Have Tasted

Enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come. (Hebrews 6:4-5)
Though the thrust of this verse goes in another direction, it gives us a brief but amazing picture of what it means for us to know Christ.

  • We have been enlightened. This is a work of the Holy Spirit, who convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8). In other words, He reveals to us the Lord Jesus Christ, the Light of the World (John 1:4-9). The Spirit reveals the things of God which would otherwise be unintelligible to us (1 Corinthians 2:9-14). Early Church Fathers saw in this a reference to baptism, the sign of initiation into the truth of the gospel and the body of Christ.
  • We have tasted the heavenly gift. To taste is to experience. We experience the heavenly gift. “Gift” means that it is not earned by us or owed to us. It is given freely to us as an act of divine grace and we receive it simply by faith. It is not of this age but of the next. It does not come from earth but from heaven. It is the kingdom of God breaking into the present age, the will of God being done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). Early Church Fathers saw in this a reference to the Eucharist, the Table of the Lord, the continuing sign of Christ’s presence in the world.
  • We have become partakers of the Holy Spirit. “Companions” of the Holy Spirit is how the HCSB puts it. This is divine fellowship with the One by whom we cry out joyfully, “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15). He reveals and works in us everything that belongs or pertains to Jesus (John 16:15). He brings forth in us divine fruits, the character of Christ (Galatians 5:22-23). He gives us manifestations of divine power by which He works miracles among us (1 Corinthians 12:1-11; Galatians 3:5). He ministers to us the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of the Father.
  • We have tasted the good word of God. This is the message of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, in whom all God’s promises to us are fulfilled in every way. No good thing does He withhold from us who have become the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ (Psalm 84:11; 2 Corinthians 5:21).
  • We have tasted the powers of the age to come. The Greek word for “powers” is dunamis, often translated as “miracles” (for example, 1 Corinthians 12:10 and Galatians 3:5). It is the miracle-working power of God. It is not of this age but of God’s kingdom age now breaking into the world. It is the power of the Holy Spirit by which Jesus healed all who were oppressed of the devil (Acts 10:38). It is the power Jesus promised His disciples would receive when the Holy Spirit came upon them (Acts 1:8). Paul said that God is “able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us” (Ephesians 3:20).
Though we live in this present age, as believers in Jesus Christ, we are part of the next. We are not relics of the past but agents of God’s coming kingdom. Jesus taught us to pray, “Kingdom of God, come! Will of God, be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The tense of the Greek verbs speaks of a continuous action. We are not waiting for the kingdom of God to begin — it has begun already! We pray for it to increase until it is present in all its fullness. As John said, “The darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8).

Jesus also taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” This has usually been taken to be a request to meet today’s need with today’s substance. But the Greek word for “daily” actually speaks of “the coming day.” What day is that? The day of God’s kingdom fullness, the day when His will is completely done on earth as in heaven.

We have tasted the bread of this present age and it does not sustain. There is no life to it. It is full of darkness and is already passing away. The provision we need is the substance of God’s kingdom, the will of heaven manifest on earth — the bread of that coming day. The prayer is that God give us that bread today. It is a prayer God has been answering ever since Jesus taught us to pray it and will continue to answer until heaven and earth are one.

God gives us that bread today so that we may experience, in this life, the heavenly gift, the good word of God, the powers of the age to come and fellowship with God by His Spirit. Christ gave His body and shed His blood — tasted death for us — that we might taste these things (Hebrews 2:9).

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Under His Feet — and Ours

He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:22-23)
Paul was speaking about the working of God’s mighty power “which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (Ephesians 1:20-21). This is the same power He has at work for us and in us (Ephesians 1:19 and 3:20). And it is the power by which He put all things under the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ. Every principality, power, might and dominion, and everything that can be named in this age and the coming one has all been placed under His feet. That is, all things are under His authority and dominion.

Not only that, but God has given Him to be the head over all the Church. Pay close attention to what this means—it’s a real corker. The Church — every believer in the Lord Jesus — is the body of Christ. Christ is the head. All things have been placed under His feet. Where is Christ’s body in relation to His head? It is beneath. Where is His body in relation to His feet? It is above. His body is between His head and His feet. What a silly picture it would be otherwise — I mean, imagine His head sitting on top of His feet and His feet sitting on top of His body.

Now, remember that God has placed all things under Jesus’ feet and do the math: All things are under the feet—the authority of Jesus Christ — and we, the Church, are the body of Christ. That means that everything that is under His feet must be under our feet as well.

Process that for a moment, then consider this: Christ’s body, the Church, is the fullness of Him who fills all in all. He is the one who fills everything with His glory and power. We are full of Him, but we are not merely filled with Him along with everything else He fills. More than that, we are that fullness of Him which fills everything with His glory and power.

It is what God created us for in the beginning when He said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion” (Genesis 1:26). That fullness and dominion was lost to us when Adam sinned and separated from God, but it is restored to us in Jesus Christ. Now we are full of Him, but also the fullness of Him with which He fills everything else.

Notice carefully that this is not future tense. It is an accomplished work. God has already placed all things under the feet of Jesus. He has already given Him as head over His body, the Church. We are right now the fullness of Christ in everything.

When we try to understand this by our senses, our emotions and our circumstances, it simply does not add up. How can it be true when the world is still such a mess? Yet, God has spoken it so it must be true, because it is the Word of God, which created the world in the beginning (Hebrews 12:3) and sustains it today (Hebrews 1:3). No doubt, the world is out of joint with the Word, and that is because of sin. That’s a fact — but it’s not the truth. Paul tells us the truth in Colossians 1:19-20.
For it pleased the Father that in Him [Christ] all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.
That’s the reality, and all the facts of the world must eventually come into line with the truth of the Word and the blood of the Cross. The substance, the underlying reality of it, is already in place. We are merely waiting for the outworking of it in creation. More importantly, creation is waiting for the outworking of it in us. “For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19). It will happen as we embrace the truth of who we are in Jesus Christ and who He is in us.

This requires a revelation, a divine enlightenment, a realization from God. That is how Paul began the long and weighty sentence that forms Ephesians 1:15-23.
Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know …” (Ephesians 1:15-18)
Paul knew it would not be enough for him simply to write down the words. He understood that it requires wisdom and revelation, enlightenment by the Holy Spirit, to help us see and understand this world-changing truth.

My prayer for you, me and all the Church is that God give us Holy Spirit wisdom and revelation to see and understand that all things have truly been placed under the feet of Jesus, and under ours as well, as His body.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Where We Have Come

For you have not come to what could be touched, to a blazing fire, to darkness, gloom, and storm, to the blast of a trumpet, and the sound of words. (Those who heard it begged that not another word be spoken to them, for they could not bear what was commanded: And if even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned! And the appearance was so terrifying that Moses said, I am terrified and trembling.)

Instead, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God (the heavenly Jerusalem), to myriads of angels in festive gathering, to the assembly of the firstborn whose names have been written in heaven, to God who is the judge of all, to the spirits of righteous people made perfect, to Jesus (mediator of a new covenant), and to the sprinkled blood, which says better things than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:18-24 HCSB)
What the author of Hebrews writes here is true of every believer in Jesus Christ. We are in an amazing place. Notice that he does not say, “You are going,” as if he is just talking about our destination some day when we die. No, he says, “You have come.” This is about present reality, not future hope. It includes future hope, but the future is breaking into the present. It is now and we are there.

Yeah, it is different from the way we are used to thinking, the way we have been taught by the world and even by religion. We thought it was about us and what we could do, and we were painfully aware that we were very far from measuring up.

That is where we were, but where we have come is very different. It turns out that it’s not about us after all — never was — but about the reality of Jesus Christ, who He is and what He has done. That changes everything! We are no longer limited to the reality of earth but now free to partake of the reality of heaven. Consider where we have now come:

We have come to Mount Zion. This is in contrast to Mount Sinai, the place where the Law of Moses was given, the law that inevitably led to condemnation (see Romans 7 for Paul’s experience on that). Mount Zion, however, was the place where God chose to dwell and manifest His presence among His people. The author of Hebrews is not speaking of natural geography, though; he is talking about spiritual reality.

We have come to the city of the living God. In the natural, Mount Zion was the city of God, the place of His temple, His habitation. But again, the author is speaking of spiritual reality. He has noted already, in Hebrews 11, that Abraham was seeking “the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (v. 10). Indeed, of all the saints of the old covenant, he says, “But now they desire a better, that is a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” (v. 16). Now we have come to that city and Paul reminds us, “You are the temple of the living God” (2 Corinthians 6:16).

We have come to the heavenly Jerusalem. Earthly Jerusalem was situated on Mount Zion and was a type, or shadow, of heavenly Jerusalem. Heavenly Jerusalem speaks of a higher realm and in the Jewish mind represented the hope of a future age. Now we have come to that city and the reality of heaven is breaking into the world. It is just as Jesus taught us to pray, “Kingdom of God, keep coming! Will of God, keep being done on earth as it in heaven” (that is the sense of the Greek verbs). It is not a singular event but a continuous action, already begun, and will ultimately align earth with the reality of heaven.

We have come to myriads of angels in festive gathering. The angels of God are not gathered together to execute judgment on us but to celebrate Jesus, who endured God’s judgment in our place. It is a joyful convocation, a festival of praise, and Revelation 5:11-12 gives us a glimpse:
Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!”
We have come to the assembly of the firstborn whose names have been written in heaven. “Firstborn” shows that we have a Father, who is God. It speaks of the “double portion” we receive of Him, the very best of inheritances. Paul says that we are “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). “Joint heirs” means that everything the Lord Jesus receives from the Father we receive also. As David declared, “O Lord, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You maintain my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; yes, I have a good inheritance.” (Psalm 16:5-6).

Not only are we heirs of God, our names are written on the citizen rolls of heaven. Paul says, “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God”: (Ephesians 2:19). “Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). This citizenship we have received gives us every blessing and benefit heaven has to offer. We can now live out of a higher reality.

We have come to God who is the judge of all. “Judge” speaks of God’s sovereign rule and authority over everyone. He is the one who sets all things right. His judgment on our sin was poured out on the Lord Jesus. As Paul says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). “The chastisement for our peace was upon Him” (Isaiah 53:5).

We have come to the spirits of righteous people made perfect. This speaks of communion, connection stronger than death, with those who have gone before us and no longer walk this planet. While we are still in the process of reckoning ourselves dead to sin but alive to God, they have been made thoroughly and completely perfect in Christ. “Perfected at last!” is the sense of the text. It is a perfection that could never be achieved under the Law of Moses or by any work of our own, but is received only in Jesus Christ, through faith in Him.

We have come to Jesus, mediator of a new covenant. Jesus is the reason for all our coming, and all the blessing is summed up in the new covenant, of which He is the mediator. “Now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6). What could not be accomplished by the old covenant of law, and all our striving, is fulfilled by the Lord Jesus in the new and better covenant.

We have come to the sprinkled blood, which says better things than the blood of Abel. This is the heart of the covenant. In the Bible, no covenant was made without the shedding of blood, demonstrating the surety of the promise. In this new covenant of grace Jesus is the sacrifice—He gives us Himself. On the night before He was crucified, He took the cup after supper and said, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:20). This covenant, and the blood by which in which it was cut, speaks incomparable things for us than any other blood ever could. The blood of Abel cried out for revenge. The blood of Jesus speaks of our redemption, restoration and all the blessing that entails.

In Jesus Christ, we have come to a place we have never been before, a place we could never reach apart from Him and new and better covenant He cut for us in His own blood. Now we have access to heaven, and it is enough to change the earth when His will is done here just as it is there.