Thursday, October 04, 2007


2 Articles of Difficult Theology

I received in my email inbox two very enlightening articles on controversial matters. the first is by John Macathur in California and deals with God's love to the non elect. The secdond is by John Piper in Minnesota, which speaks of election and justification and the moment of a sinner's acceptance with God.
Both articles touch on recent controversial topics and are well worth reading

John MacArthur Wrote:I realize that most of our readers will have no objection whatsoever to the idea that God’s love is universal. Most of us were weaned on this notion, being taught as children to sing songs like, “Jesus loves the little children; all the children of the world.” Many may never even have encountered anyone who denies that God’s love is universal.

Yet if I might take a moment to dwell on this issue, it is because I want to acknowledge that it poses a perplexing difficulty for other aspects of God’s revealed truth. Let us honestly admit that on the face of it, the universal love of God is hard to reconcile with the doctrine of election.

Election is a biblical doctrine, affirmed with the utmost clarity from beginning to end in Scripture. The highest expression of divine love to sinful humanity is seen in the fact that God set His love on certain undeserving sinners and chose them for salvation before the foundation of the world. There is a proper sense in which God’s love for His own is a unique, special, particular love determined to save them at all costs.

It is also true that when Scripture speaks of divine love, the focus is usually on God’s eternal love toward the elect. God’s love for mankind reaches fruition in the election of those whom He saves. And not every aspect of divine love is extended to all sinners without exception. Otherwise, all would be elect, and all would ultimately be saved. But Scripture clearly teaches that many will not be saved (Matt. 7:22–23). Can God sincerely love those whom He does not intervene to save?

British Baptist leader Erroll Hulse, dealing with this very question, has written,

How can we say God loves all men when the psalms tell us He hates the worker of iniquity (Ps. 5:5)? How can we maintain that God loves all when Paul says that He bears the objects of His wrath, being fitted for destruction, with great patience (Rom. 9:22)? Even more how can we possibly accept that God loves all men without exception when we survey the acts of God’s wrath in history? Think of the deluge which destroyed all but one family. Think of Sodom and Gomorrah. With so specific a chapter as Romans [1,] which declares that sodomy is a sign of reprobation, could we possibly maintain that God loved the population of the two cities destroyed by fire? How can we possibly reconcile God’s love and His wrath? Would we deny the profundity of this problem? (Erroll Hulse, “The Love of God for All Mankind,” Reformation Today [Nov–Dec 1983], 18–19).

Yet Hulse realizes that if we take Scripture at face value, there is no escaping the conclusion that God’s love extends even to sinners whom He ultimately will condemn. “The will of God is expressed in unmistakable terms,” Hulse writes. “He has no pleasure in the destruction and punishment of the wicked” (Ez. 18:32; 33:11). Hulse also cites Matthew 23:37, where Jesus weeps over the city of Jerusalem, then says, “We are left in no doubt that the desire and will of God is for man’s highest good, that is his eternal salvation through heeding the gospel of Christ.” (Ibid., 21–22)

It is crucial that we accept the testimony of Scripture on this question, for as Hulse points out,

We will not be disposed to invite wayward transgressors to Christ, or reason with them, or bring to them the overtures of the gospel, unless we are convinced that God is favorably disposed to them. Only if we are genuinely persuaded that He will have them to be saved are we likely to make the effort. If God does not love them it is hardly likely that we will make it our business to love them. Especially is this the case when there is so much that is repulsive in the ungodliness and sinfulness of Christ-rejecters. (Ibid., 18)

Biblically, we cannot escape the conclusion that God’s benevolent, merciful love is unlimited in extent. He loves the whole world of humanity. This love extends to all people in all times. It is what Titus 3:4 refers to as “the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind.” God’s singular love for the elect quite simply does not rule out a universal love of sincere compassion—and a sincere desire on God’s part to see every sinner turn to Christ.

Mark 10 relates a familiar story that illustrates God’s love for the lost. It is the account of the rich young ruler who came to Jesus and began asking Him a great question: “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Scripture tells us:

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother’ ” (vv. 18–19).

Every aspect of Jesus’ reply was designed to confront the young man’s sin. Many people misunderstand the point of Jesus’ initial question: “Why do you call Me good?” Our Lord was not denying His own sinlessness or deity. Plenty of verses of Scripture affirm that Jesus was indeed sinless—“holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens” (Heb. 7:26). He is therefore also God incarnate (Jn. 1:1). But Jesus’ reply to this young man had a twofold purpose: first, to underscore His own deity, confronting the young man with the reality of who He was; and second, to gently chide a brash young man who clearly thought of himself as good.

To stress this second point, Jesus quoted a section of the Decalogue. Had the young man been genuinely honest with himself, he would have had to admit that he had not kept the law perfectly. But instead, he responded confidently, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up” (v. 20). This was unbelievable impertinence on the young man’s part. It shows how little he understood of the demands of the law. Contrast his flippant response with how Peter reacted when he saw Christ for who He was. Peter fell on his face and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Lk. 5:8). This rich young ruler’s response fell at the other end of the spectrum. He was not even willing to admit he had sinned.

So Jesus gave him a second test: “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Mk. 10:21).

Sadly, the young man declined. Here were two things he refused to do: he would not acknowledge his sin, and he would not bow to Christ’s lordship. In other words, he shut himself off from the eternal life he seemed so earnestly to be seeking. As it turned out, there were things more important to him than eternal life, after all. His pride and his personal property took priority in his heart over the claims of Christ on his life. And so he turned away from the only true Source of the life he thought he was seeking.

That is the last we ever see of this man in the New Testament. As far as the biblical record is concerned, he remained in unbelief. But notice this significant phrase, tucked away in Mark 10:21: “Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him.” Here we are explicitly told that Jesus loved an overt, open, non-repentant, non-submissive Christ-rejector. He loved him.

Mark 10. But that’s not the only Scripture that speaks of God’s love for those who turn away from Him. In Isaiah 63:7–9 the prophet describes God’s demeanor toward the nation of Israel:

“I shall make mention of the lovingkindnesses of the Lord, the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord has granted us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which He has granted them according to His compassion, and according to the multitude of His lovingkindnesses. For He said, ‘Surely, they are My people, Sons who will not deal falsely.’ So He became their Savior. In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them; in His love and in His mercy He redeemed them; and He lifted them and carried them all the days of old.”

Someone might say, Yes, but that talks about God’s redemptive love for His elect alone. No, this speaks of a love that spread over the entire nation of Israel. God “became their Savior” in the sense that He redeemed the entire nation from Egypt. He suffered when they suffered. He sustained them “all the days of old.” This speaks not of an eternal salvation, but of a temporal relationship with an earthly nation. How do we know? Look at verse 10: “But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit; therefore, He turned Himself to become their enemy, He fought against them.”

That is an amazing statement! Here we see God defined as the Savior, the lover, the redeemer of a people who make themselves His enemies. They rebel against Him. They grieve His Holy Spirit. They choose a life of sin.

Now notice verse 17: “Why, O Lord, dost Thou cause us to stray from Thy ways, and harden our heart from fearing Thee?” That speaks of God’s judicial hardening of the disobedient nation. He actually hardened the hearts of those whom He loved and redeemed out of Egypt.

Isaiah 64:5 includes these shocking words: “Thou wast angry, for we sinned, we continued in them a long time; and shall we be saved?”

How can God be Savior to those who will not be saved? Yet these are clearly unconverted people. Look at verses 6–7, which begins with a familiar passage:

For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. And there is no one who calls on Thy name, who arouses himself to take hold of Thee; for Thou hast hidden Thy face from us, and hast delivered us into the power of our iniquities.

These are clearly unconverted, unbelieving people. In what sense can God call Himself their Savior?

Here is the sense of it: God revealed Himself as Savior. He manifested His love to the nation. “In all their affliction He was afflicted” (63:9). He poured out His goodness, and lovingkindness and mercy on the nation. And that divine forbearance and longsuffering should have moved them to repentance (Rom. 2:4). But instead they responded with unbelief, and their hearts were hardened.

Isaiah 65 takes it still further:

I permitted Myself to be sought by those who did not ask for Me; I permitted Myself to be found by those who did not seek Me. I said, “Here am I, here am I,” To a nation which did not call on My name. I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts. (vv.1–2)

In other words, God turned away from these rebellious people, consigned them to their own idolatry, and chose a people for Himself from among other nations.

Isaiah reveals the shocking blasphemy of those from whom God has turned away. They considered themselves holier than God (v. 5); they continually provoked Him to His face (v. 3), defiling themselves (v. 4) and scorning God for idols (v. 7). God judged them with the utmost severity, because their hostility to Him was great, and their rejection of Him was final.

Yet these were people on whom God had showered love and goodness! He even called Himself their Savior.

In a similar sense Jesus is called “Savior of the world” (Jn. 4:42; 1 Jn. 4:14). Paul wrote, “We have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers” (1 Tim. 4:10). The point is not that He actually saves the whole world (for that would be universalism, and Scripture clearly teaches that not all will be saved). The point is that He is the only Savior to whom anyone in the world can turn for forgiveness and eternal life—and therefore, all are urged to embrace Him as Savior. Jesus Christ is proffered to the world as Savior. In setting forth His own Son as Savior of the world, God displays the same kind of love to the whole world that was manifest in the Old Testament to the rebellious Israelites. It is a sincere, tender-hearted, compassionate love that offers mercy and forgiveness.

John Piper Wrote:

I have asked the question in public, “When does God become 100% for us?” And I have given an answer that rightly troubles thoughtful, biblical people. So this article is an effort to answer their question.

In my message to the Desiring God National Conference on Sunday, September 30, I answered the question like this:

What the Bible teaches is that God becomes 100% irrevocably for us at the moment of justification, that is, the moment when we see Christ as a beautiful Savior and receive him as our substitute punishment and our substitute perfection. All of God’s wrath, all of the condemnation we deserve, was poured out on Jesus. All of God’s demands for perfect righteousness were fulfilled by Christ. The moment we see (by grace!) this Treasure and receive him in this way his death counts as our death and his condemnation as our condemnation and his righteousness as our righteousness, and God becomes 100% irrevocably for us forever in that instant.

The question this leaves unanswered is, “Doesn’t the Bible teach that in eternity God set his favor on us in election?” In other words, thoughtful people ask, “Did God only become 100% for us in the moment of faith and union with Christ and justification? Did he not become 100% for us in the act of election before the foundation of the world?” For example, Paul says in Ephesians 1:4-5, “[God] chose us in [Jesus] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ.”

Is God then not 100% for the elect from eternity? The answer hangs on the meaning of “100%.” With the term “100%” I am trying to preserve a biblical truth found in several passages of Scripture. For example, in Ephesians 2:3, Paul says that Christians were “children of wrath” before they were made alive in Christ Jesus. “We all once lived [among the sons of disobedience] 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.”

So Paul is saying that, before regeneration, God’s wrath was on us. The elect were under wrath. This changed when God made us alive in Christ Jesus and awakened us to see the truth and beauty of Christ so that we received him as the one who died for us and as the one whose righteousness is counted as ours because of our union with Jesus. Before this happened to us, we were under God’s wrath. Then, because of faith in Christ and union with him, all God’s wrath was removed and he then became, in that sense, 100% for us.

Similarly in Romans 8:1, there is the crucial word “now.” “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The implication of “now” is that there was once condemnation over us and now there is not. A real change in God’s disposition toward us happened in the moment of our regeneration and faith and union with Christ and justification.

Notice the phrase “in Christ” at the end of Romans 8:1. This is why God’s disposition toward us is different when we believe in Christ. When we believe in Christ, we are united to him—that is, we are “in Christ.” This means that his death counts as our death and his righteousness counts as our righteousness. This is why there is now no condemnation, whereas before there was. Before Christ bore the curse of the law and we were united to him by faith, we were under the curse of the law. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13).

When Paul uses the language of God being “for us,” he speaks of it in the context of what Christ has done for us in history. For example, in Romans 8:31-32, he says, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Not sparing his Son is the act that secures God’s being 100% for us forever.

So was God 100% for us from eternity because we were elect? In one sense, yes. It was 100% certain that he would bring us to faith and save us. But when I ask the question, “When did God become 100% for us?” I mean more than: “When did it become 100% certain that God would save us?” I mean: “When did it happen that God was for us and only for us? That is, when did it happen that the only disposition of God toward us was mercy? Or: When did God become for us so fully that there was not any wrath or curse or condemnation on us, but only mercy?

The answer, I still say, is at the point when, by grace, we saw Christ as a supremely valuable Savior and received him as our substitute sacrifice and substitute righteousness. In other words, it happened at the point of justification. The implication of this is that all our works, all our perseverance, all our continuing faith and obedience does not cause God to be 100% for us, but is the result of his being 100% for us.

Paul’s logic in Romans 8:32 is that because God gave his Son to die for us therefore he will give us all things with him. That is, God will see to it that we persevere to the end not only because we are elect, but because Christ died for us and we are in Christ. That is the logic of 1 Corinthians 1:8-9: “[God] will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” The call is mentioned as the ground of God’s faithfulness to sustain us to the end.

Therefore, exult in the truth that God will keep you. He will get you to the end because in Christ he is 100% for you. And therefore, getting to the end does not make God to be 100% for you. It is the effect of the fact that he is already 100% for you.

Glorying in the gospel with you,

Pastor John

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