Trust and Obey


I started studying the Bible when I was in my early twenties. I had been in Sunday school classes, Vacation Bible school, and  church services but had never had an appetite for learning about God and the Bible. My interest peaked when I started growing up and realizing the responsibilities of being an adult. I was married, struggling financially much of the time, the few prayers I prayed were seemingly not being answered, and I was searching for truth.

As I began to read long passages of Scripture, (even whole books of the Bible), and tried to understand what they really meant to me, I was shocked that at least some of what I had been taught was in my view not biblical. Later, after I entered Bible school for ministry training, I was also shocked that there were so many different views of what I considered to be important doctrines among the staff. It was there that I first was convinced that people of good will can have differing views of many things in the Bible and still work together for the greater good of Christ and the gospel. I learned that the gospel of Christ is truly of first importance, it is the watershed of Bible doctrine and everything else is somewhat less important.

So it was that my training was a mixture of ideas, opinions, and traditions all of which were supported by the Bible according to those who taught them. We were Southern Baptists, we were “free will” people, with many of us coming from the Free Will Baptist perspective. My parents fit that description. Both of my parents were shaped by Free Will Baptist preachers from the hills of Western North Carolina. In their understanding of God and salvation there we many, many more ways to lose your salvation than to find it.

By the time I was in my late 30’s my mother (who was blind) had been exposed to many, many hours of Bible teaching by a variety of teachers by way of radio. She was greatly influenced by J. Vernon McGee, and by her fairly new pastor, Rev. Kenneth Ridings, a great Bible man. My dad had been saved and was on fire for Jesus, and he too, had left some of the old teachings that he had learned in his earlier years. He had been baptized in his 20’s but it was pretty obvious to my mom and everyone who knew him that he really was born again much later in life. His passion was Jesus and telling others about him until he went to meet him in the late spring of 1993.

I was in my late 50’s when I first started to grapple with what some refer to as “the doctrines of grace”, known more widely as Calvinsim, and more narrowly as “monergism”. It was not that I was reading writers who embraced the TULIP of Calvin, it was quite the opposite. I was reading my Bible and started to see dozens of texts that I usually either ignored or believed as I had been covertly taught, “they don’t mean what they say”. The more I studied and read the Bible the more I saw! I came to the place where I had to deal with those obvious truths, many of which were the opposite of what I had believed for decades and taught myself.

It became clear to me that I was in a theological pickle, so to speak. I could not embrace the 5 points of Calvinism, at least the way I understood them. Neither could I any longer believe as some of my friends that election and predestination are “not true”. I was and am a member of great Church of Christ and trust me, “Reformed” or “Calvin” are ugly words in the minds of most Restoration people.

Somewhere around my yearly 60’s, (I’ll be 68 this month) it all started to come together. My mountain of a problem had been that I was trying to find out which doctrine was right. I thought I must believe either the doctrines of grace, or be a full blown Armenian. I knew for sure I was not a true blue “free will” guy and I couldn’t buy all that the Reformed guys were saying, so I was “between a rock and a hard place’, as the saying goes”.

I have said this many times before but I don’t believe people get it. My options as a Christian, as to the written revelation of God is not “either, or“! Christians are not given the liberty to pick and choose what parts of the Bible they will believe and live by. Our’s is to try, the very best we can, with God’s help, to believe and live by ALL of the scriptures. Of course we must use the wisdom God gives to understand it in context, we can’t ignore the widely accepted methods of biblical interpretation.

When dealing with complex and difficult differences in the Bible there is a better option than “either, or”. The far better option is “both, and“. If it is in the Bible it is true! I now have peace about what I was finding in Scripture because I just believe it! Does God bring men to himself and open their understanding and cause them to repent and trust Jesus? Yes! Is man required to repent, and does he have the freedom to say yes or to reject? Yes! The Bible emphatically teaches both, and both are true. So let’s just believe what God says and let him be God!

Today I stumbled across something that perhaps makes much more sense of this idea than I can convey myself. I quote from Justin Taylor’s blog…

What is compatibilistm?

D. A. Carson provides a good introduction when he argues that the following two propositions are both taught and exemplified in the Bible:

  1. God is absolutely sovereign, but his sovereignty never functions in Scripture to reduce human responsibility.
  2. Human beings are responsible creatures—that is, they choose, they believe, they disobey, they respond, and there is moral significance in their choices; but human responsibility never functions in Scripture to diminish God’s sovereignty or to make God absolutely contingent.

Carson right argues that “We tend to use one to diminish the other; we tend to emphasize one at the expense of the other. But responsible reading of the Scripture prohibits such reductionism.”

“Hundreds of passages,” he suggests, “could be explored to demonstrate that the Bible assumes both that God is sovereign and that people are responsible for their actions. As hard as it is for many people in the Western world to come to terms with both truths at the same time, it takes a great deal of interpretative ingenuity to argue that the Bible does not support them.”

I agree! I was mowing my lawn today as I thought about these things and it dawned on me that most of us believe as Carson does to some degree. We hold that a sinner is required to repent and that he has the God given free will to choose to follow Jesus, to come to faith and be baptized. All very true. But, why do we pray for him to come to God? If we don’t on some level believe that God can move a man toward repentance and faith, why pray? If we ask God to change the person’s will are we not admitting that God can change it?

I believe that almost all of us who are Christians would agree that we would not be believers today except for the work of God in our lives. When Jesus said to those rough cut fishermen and others who would be his inner circle, “Follow me”, could they have refused? Yes. But it’s a big deal to me that they didn’t.

Royce Ogle

 

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It’s not about me.


Carved on the back of the pulpit at our church, facing the speaker, are these words. “It’s not about me.” Guess what? It’s not about you either! God lavishes his grace on you and me for the praise of his own glorious grace, a grace fully and finally expressed in God being pleased to crush Jesus (Isaiah 53:19), the righteous for the unrighteous (1 Peter 3:18) as planned by God before the world was created. (Acts 2:23, Ephesians 1:3-10)

God did not create us, or save us, because he was lonely, or needed a friend. The divine purpose of the holy scheme of redemption is stated clearly many times throughout the Bible but three times in the first chapter of Paul’s letter to Ephesus. “..to the praise of His glorious grace (vs 6), “..to the praise of His glory (vs 12), and “..to the praise of His glory” (vs 15).

Much of the confessing world makes the mistake of believing, and living as though, God’s plan is “all about me”. Far too often you and I focus on what’s in it for us rather than giving God praise and glory by obedient living, jubilant worship, and telling about what God has accomplished in the life and work of Jesus the Lamb of God with every means possible.

From guest blogger Edward Fudge – Sinful Through and Through


A graceEmail subscriber asks what David meant in Psalm 51 when he said that he was conceived in sin, and what Paul intended in Ephesians 2 in saying we once all were children of wrath.

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Some believers conclude that both David and Paul are using hyperbole, deliberately overstating the matter to emphasize the extent to which we all participate in sinful activities. That explanation probably contains some truth, but it stops short of the full reality. Sin is not only a specific wrong deed; it is also a malignant force embedded in our fallen nature (Rom. 5:12ff). David looks at himself and confesses that he is a sinner and that he always has been–since the moment he was conceived. Paul says that even those who are finally saved once were controlled by sin and under God’s judgment.

Perhaps the easiest way to see the truth in David’s and Paul’s spot-on statements (not overstatements at all, as it turns out) is to look at one’s own self. When I honestly inspect my own heart in the light of all that God wishes to do in making me like Jesus Christ, I am a total failure. Every moral command God has given, I have broken–in spirit if not in actual deed. If I ever deny that, I will be lying and further proving the point. If I should ever pretend that it is not so and that I am not guilty before God apart from Jesus Christ, I would be a hypocrite of the worst sort.

But instead of denying my sinfulness, I confess it. Rather than pretending to be something I am not, I constantly admit that my aims are higher than my achievements. My goals exceed my performance. My desires surpass my ability to carry them out. But because God is rich in mercy, I am now a saved one by grace through faith (Eph. 2:3-9). God has declared me righteous–and by declaring it, he made it so. He is now transforming me into the image of Jesus Christ. This is all from God, and it is a free gift. It is all to the praise of the glory of his grace.

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I couldn’t have stated this truth any better. Because what my friend Edward Fudge says is true is the specific reason we need Christ and what his work affords those who trust him.I, like Edward, often find that I fail to live up to my own expectations and my heart is not fully turned toward God. So, it is with thanksgiving that I proclaim that God is a God of grace, giving sinful, ungodly people what they don’t earn or deserve.

If you are not a subscriber to Edward Fudge’s gracEmail you should become one today. You will be blessed by the heart of this good man. Go to EdwardFudge.com and sign up for his weekly treasure of wisdom.

ewfatty

 

God came to me.


I’ve recently been thinking through what I believe about God, about His scheme of redemption, and how in the person of Jesus He brings sinners like me to himself. In two recent posts, here and here, I tried to display a snapshot of man’s sinfulness and his hopeless and helpless condition without God. In this post I want to show what I believe is the clear teaching of Scripture about how a person  is awakened to the grace and mercy of God in Christ.

It is very common to hear someone serve up the idea that salvation is a cooperative effort, “God’s part” and “man’s part“. For many years I have contended that this idea is not true, and cannot be true. Two verses come to mind that are convincing.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
1 Corinthians 2:14

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.
Romans 8:7

A person in his natural state of being is so alienated from God, and the things of God because of sin, that he does not and cannot receive the things of God. Look closely at these verses.

1. A natural man “does not accept the things of the Spirit of God“.

Left to his own devices and his own resources a person without God will not accept the truth of God. This is true every time, in every case. Why? Because the things of God are “foolishness” to him. The story of the passion of Christ makes no sense to him. I have spoken to many people who upon being told of God’s love expressed in the work of Jesus’ death for sinners, and that he now makes sinners pure without their participation, reject it outright. They want no part of it! Man always wants to get credit for his goodness.

2. A natural man “does not submit to God’s law“.

It isn’t that a person without God is neutral, that he just has no interest. Oh no, the truth is he is in rebellion against God. He is “hostile” toward God. He doesn’t “accept” the things of God, and doesn’t “submit” to God’s law because he is against God in his heart.

3. A natural man “is not able to understand” the things of God. And, he “cannot submit” to God’s law.

Here in these two verses is the picture of men and women apart from God who have NO ability on their own to receive the truth about God, to understand, or to submit to Him. You might say to yourself, “If these verses are literally true then how could anyone ever be saved”? It’s a legitimate question and there is an answer, but first one more passage to affirm the utter hopelessness of people without God.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Ephesians 2:1-3

Here the Apostle Paul is speaking to folks who are now God’s very own children. He is reminding them of their past and the awful condition of that ugly past. They were “dead” to the things of God, they lived in “trespasses” and “sins“, they were on a course like the rest of the world, following Satan (“the prince of the power of the air”), they lived only to please themselves, and were “children of wrath” like everyone else.

This is indeed a pretty sad state. Here is a people who are dead in sin, dead to the things of God, following the devil, against God, not willing to accept or submit to God, and in fact cannot possibly do so. How then can a person come to Christ and be saved? Thank God the passage above did not end with verse 3.

But God, being rich in mercy,because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.
Ephesians 2:4-5

Yes, people are helpless and hopeless. Yes, they are dead to God, are his enemy, and can’t do anything about it. They have absolutely NO ability to come to God. But God! 

God came to where we were. Right in the middle of our rebellion, our spiritual death, our selfish, ungodly lives and “made us alive together with Christ“! My salvation and yours was by God’s initiative, not mine or yours.

You see, this is precisely what grace is! God loves sinners and he provided a remedy for their sins and then comes to gather them to himself. Paul continues….

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. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10

But for God’s work in us and for us, shining the light of the truth of the gospel into our dark souls we should all perish in our ungodly condition. But He does come to us! The Holy Spirit stirs the heart to faith and repentance and the light of the gospel dispels the darkness of sin and unbelief and God gives LIFE to the lifeless!

“Nothing in my hand I bring, only to the cross I cling” goes the old song. I can claim no worth, no merit, no work. I can only give glory and praise to a loving God who makes the dead live and love! Oh how wonderful is the story of Jesus and his love for sinners like me. Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord! He alone can save the lost sinner.

May God’s truth grip our hearts and minds so that He alone has the glory he deserves.

Royce Ogle