Few Find It

Christian Universalism is the teaching that all people will eventually be saved and enter Heaven. It sounds nice, the typical fairy tale happy ending to eternity, but is it true?

All people certainly would be saved if everyone earnestly sought salvation from God (1Ti 2:3-4), but even though all are invited to do so (Re 22:17), very few are willing to come, and none on their own initiative, apart from the drawing of God. (Jn 6:44)

Christ tells us to strive to enter Heaven, that many will seek to enter their own way but won’t be able to (Lk 13:24), that the way to Heaven is narrow, obscure, hidden, and that very few will find it. (Mt 7:14)

Further, Christ teaches that there are certain types and degrees of sin that are never forgiven, neither in this world, nor in the world to come. (Mt 12:32)

Since God is eternally merciful to those who repent and yield to Him (Is 55:7), it would appear that the problem with universalism isn’t that God is unloving or holds grudges, but that Man refuses to repent, even from the flames of Hell. If God waited for men to repent on their own accord, He’d wait forever. (Ps 81:15)

Man is incapable of transforming himself (Je 13:23), and no amount of external punishment or torment will make any difference in the end. (Pr 27:22) The only hope any of us have is the irresistible grace of God; God is able to work in the human heart according to His will (Php 2:13), moving in us to seek Him and obey Him.

It is perhaps a mystery why God does not choose us all; one must look to God’s purpose in Creation to find the answer. (Ro 9:22-23) Evidently, God will be the most glorified in the way He chooses (Ps 46:10), and this is enough for me.

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Continual Sorrow

What’s the proper response to all the sinfulness and brokenness about us? When others aren’t walking with God, asleep in dead works, should we be concerned that they’re heading for an eternal, fiery Hell?

Clearly, sorrow and concern is warranted: Paul felt great heaviness and continual sorrow over Israel’s rejection of Messiah (Ro  9:1-3), and wept over the worldliness of false teachers. (Php 3:18-19) But there’s a vast difference between grieving over sin, and grieving over God’s response to it; the former’s a concern for the pleasure of God, the latter an indictment of His character.

The godly grieve over wickedness (Je 13:17) as God’s Law is violated (Ps 119:136), but not over God condemning and punishing rebellion. Those in Heaven aren’t weeping over the suffering of the wicked (Re 19:1-2), knowing God’s perfectly righteous and just in everything He does (Ps 55:15); the problem is with Man, not God. (Re 15:4)

All the works of God should move us to worship (Ps 145:10), even His response to the lost. (Lk 10:21)

Concern for others springs from love, praying that they’ll turn from their ways unto God.  God is grieved when people neglect Him, and invites all to come to Him. Father, help me weep for the lost, and to do so for the right reason.

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Perverse Disputings

Assuming others might know something I don’t, and being open to learning from them, makes perfect sense; I don’t know everything about anything, so I can potentially learn something from everyone I meet.

But there are certain people with whom I should avoid engaging in prolonged or repeated discussions, those who fail to think in a certain way. Paul refers to perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and exhorts us to withdraw from such folk. (1Ti 6:3-5)

Evidently, there’s a certain kind of attitude in debate that’s perverted, unhealthy, irrational, twisting and corrupting the purpose of debate. When a person isn’t thinking clearly, having lied to themselves so often that they’ve seared their own conscience (1Ti 4:2), there isn’t any way to reach them with facts and evidence, so we must have some other purpose in engaging them in conversation, or we’ll be be frustrated and irritated. (Pr 29:9)

There’s a difference between being ignorant, and being self-deceived. I tend to make the mistake of thinking that if people just have enough evidence then they’ll change their minds. The longer I live, the more I think this is a rarity. Most people aren’t open to learning and changing their minds about anything; they’re just in the debate to exalt themselves by putting others in the wrong, but this isn’t the purpose of debate.

Healthy debate can only occur between two people who are both seeking truth, and it’s extremely beneficial, iron sharpening iron. Outside that unique context, we need to set expectations reasonably, and persist only to improve our own understanding, enhancing our own ability to give an answer to him who asks sincerely (1Pe 3:15), not expecting to help those who aren’t.

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Dead Works

One of the first principles of spiritual life is repentance from dead works. (He 6:1) What are dead works? How do we repent of them?

Dead things are missing that life force from God, the energy and vitality He gives to all living things (Ac 17:25), making them sentient, aware of their surroundings, causing them to change and grow and function as they ought.

To repent is to start believing the truth about something, and to start acting differently as a result. (2Ti 2:25-26)

So, repentance from dead works must be to start thinking differently about our lives, understanding why we’re living as we are, identifying what sort of works we’re doing, and to stop doing things which are not energized by God, activities that are apart from and outside of Him.

Christ says that unless we’re abiding in Him, we can do nothing that’s worth doing (Jn 15:5); unless we’re aligned with Him, seeking to honor and obey Him, we’re working against Him. (Mt 12:30) In other words, if we’re willing to continue living our lives apart from Him, out of fellowship with Him, for our own pleasure, then we’re the walking dead (1Ti 5:6), having only the outward appearance of life (Re 3:1): we’ve yet to begin the spiritual life. (Ep 2:1)

Everything we do, we choose to do; to repent of dead works is to start making different choices, in every choice we make. It’s a fundamental life change, living for a different reason than we’ve been living, living for God instead of for ourselves.

If there’s something we’re thinking that Christ can’t be thinking, that He would find distasteful or repugnant, let’s stop thinking that; if we’re going where Christ wouldn’t go, let’s stop going there; if we’re speaking words He wouldn’t speak, let’s stop speaking them. Let’s be thinking what Christ in us is thinking, doing what He’s doing, and going where He’s going. If Christ dwells in us, let’s let Him live as He will in us, incarnating Himself again in this evil world through us. Everything we do, let’s do it in Christ’s name (Col 3:17) and for God’s glory. (1Co 10:31)

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These Signs

Christ tells us supernatural signs will follow believers. (Mk 16:17-18) Does this mean we should all be healing the sick, casting out demons, babbling in foreign languages we haven’t learned, and handling deadly vipers without harm? That if we aren’t walking in the sensational then we’re carnal, or worse?

No; we don’t each have all the gifts, and this is by design. (1Co 12:29-30) Christ is speaking here about the body of believers as a whole over time; the supernatural has indeed been observed among the saints through the ages, but each believer has unique gifts based on the needs of Christ’s local body at any given time and place. (1Co 12:18)

The intent of God’s gifts is evidently not to entertain, or to inflate our egos, or make us appear super spiritual. The greatest mere man who ever lived (Mt 11:11) never performed a miracle (Jn 10:41); the Corinthians pursued supernatural gifts (1Co 14:12), yet remained carnal, babes in Christ. (1Co 3:1) Pursuing the supernatural for ungodly motives gets us nothing. (1Ti 1:5-6)

God gives gifts to help the church become more like Christ (1Co 14:26), to know Him as He is. (Eph 4:11-13) He also bears witness with evangelists (He 2:4) to enable them to proclaim the gospel to those who are seeking Him. (Ac 8:6) In themselves, even the best miracles don’t move those who aren’t seeking God. (Jn 12:37)

In a world full of churches little different from the world, and bibles seldom read, at least in 1st and 2nd world countries, where is the miraculous needed? (Mt 16:4) Can’t those who’re seeking God today find Him without signs and wonders? I, for one, didn’t need them, at least the kind most are seeking.

The miracles I experience enable me to navigate a perilous world without getting all tangled up in it; they help me live as I ought, facing an incessant stream of spiritual enmity. (Ep 6:12) It isn’t glamorous; no one can see it but me, but it’s what I need to live for Him.

As we seek God, wherever we are, and gifts from Him to help ourselves and others find Him, know Him and walk with Him, He will empower and enable us as He wills. In any case, to be safe in our pursuit of the supernatural, we must ever be seeking the Giver Himself, and not merely His gifts.

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The Word of Faith

Salvation’s a mysterious thing, for sure, how and why God intervenes in our headlong dash to destruction (Mt 7:13); His mercy is infinite, even in the best of us;  we’ve no hope apart from Him.

Medicine Root Trailhead, Badlands National Park, SD • Dan Anderson

In some ways, getting saved seems so simple, but simple solutions to complex problems are usually wrong. When we look closely at this one — and we’d better — it’s like most anything else about a living being: a flat-out miracle.

When first struggling with this, I was told I just needed to confess Christ as Lord, believe in His Resurrection, and sincerely ask Him to save me. (Ro 10:9, 13) It seemed scriptural, and so doable, but it didn’t work, not for me. Thus began my long and painful journey, striving to enter the narrow way, a trip few will ever make. (Mt 7:14)

As usual, context provides the key, revealing what accepting Christ is all about: “But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach.” (Ro 10:8) If we don’t understand this in context, we’re all out of context, and I’ve never seen a reasonable explanation of this verse, how it all ties together. So, here we go.

The quote is from Torah: “But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.” (De 30:14) The key to salvation is our heart, and the law of God (Torah, “the word”) becoming part of us (“in thy heart”) as we memorize it and meditate on it (“in thy mouth”) with the intent to obey Him (“that thou mayest do it”). 

We don’t start out this way, aligned with God’s Law from the heart (Ro 8:7), because our heart is evil (De 29:4), so we need a new one (De 5:29): we need to be transformed. (2Co 5:17) The gospel, the good news, is that God is able and willing to provide us a new heart (Ez 36:26)and write His laws into it (He 10:16), enabling us to keep them. (1Jn 3:24)

Eternal salvation is not found in ritual, but only in the mystery miracle (Mt 19:26) of becoming one with the eternal God through His Son Jesus Christ (Jn 17:21), entering into His rest by faith(He 4:3) Evidence of this transformation is a heart cleaving to God, delighting in Him and His laws above all else, obeying Him and following His Way (Jn 14:6)assured of our eternal destiny only in what Christ has done for us. (1Th 1:5)

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He Hardeneth

Scripture teaches God controls us all, even deciding our eternal fate, having mercy on a few of us and hardening the rest. (Ro 9:18) Is God then unfair to condemn us, since He controls us? (Ro 9:19)

This seems so obviously wrong, even asking the question is embarrassing. But obviousness is often the enemy of correctness; in the end, how can any complaint against the goodness of God be rational? (Ro 9:14) Perhaps an illustration will help.

Single block ice sculpture, World Ice Art Championship, Fairbanks AK

Suppose we dwell in a frigid climate where we enjoy three things: lounging in a hot tub under crisp, starlit heavens; ice water bathing; and competing in the annual ice sculpture festival. Being thrifty and innovative, we design special panels we can assemble into water-tight tubs of various shapes and sizes. When we want a steamy evening outside, we put one together, fill it with water and drop in a heating element. When we want our ice bath, we back off the heat to just above freezing and take the plunge; and at sculpture time we pull the heater, let it freeze, pull the panels and put our genius to work.

With a reliable water heater we can control the state of the water in our tub as we please, from steamy to frozen solid, by precisely controlling the heat we supply. In making ice we could say we’re “hardening” the water, but we’re really just withdrawing heat and leaving the water alone; where we live, water hardens naturally all by itself, and very predictably.

In the same way, God controls us by resisting our fallen, sinful nature (Ps 19:13), either reining in our depravity (De 18:14) (i.e. heating the water), or giving us up to pursue our own evil ways as He sees fit (Ps 81:12) (i.e. letting the water freeze). God never actively causes anyone to sin (Ja 1:13-14), or forcefully hardens anyone; we do that all on our own whenever He lets us.

God’s hardening is passive, simply letting us go our own way (Pr 1:31), not forcing us; when left to ourselves, we obey the law of sin operating within us (Ro 7:23), so we’re as predictable as the law of gravity. God knows exactly what we’ll do in every circumstance if He withdraws His grace from us. Just as we can control an object‘s elevation by only pushing it upward, never causing it to fall, God can precisely control us by restraining our evil nature without causing us to sin. (Pr 16:9)

God isn’t unloving or unjust in letting us sin; it’s the essence of free will, and we’re no less guilty because we always want to sin as much as He allows. (Ro 3:19) Neither is God unfair in restraining us, some much more than others: it’s all His mercy(Ro 9:23)

God’s purpose in all this is ultimately to glorify Himself by revealing His amazing nature(Ro 9:22) He could do it all differently and save everyone from themselves, but the end result would evidently not be as glorious. He’s doing it all perfectly.

The key to resolving one of the deepest spiritual mysteries, how God can be absolutely sovereign, yet also loving and just, evidently lies in the depravity of Man, the puzzle piece most of us overlook. Depravity is simply what happens when God let’s do our own thing (Ge 6:5), and nothing obligates Him to override everyone’s natural will. His choice to intervene and only quicken and transform some of us isn’t unfair, it’s brilliant. (Ro 9:16) Anything else is lackluster at best.

God is rejoicing in how He’s responding to sin (Mt 11:25-26), and we should be too (Php 4:4): He’s always in perfect control of it. (Ep 1:11) Exactly what it will all look like in the end remains to be seen, but I expect it will be amazing, like everything else He does. (Re 15:4) In seeing all of life from God’s perspective, we can give thanks always for all things with joy(Ep 5:20)

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Chambering

There’s an intrinsic wisdom in God’s instruction that’s easy to miss. What may seem like arbitrary, antiquated rules are divine insights that protect us and position us for blessing.

For example, Scripture forbids chambering (Ro 13:13), co-habitation1, sharing the same bed like husband and wife without the formal commitment.

If anything is selfish, acting like we’re married without getting married is. It’s saying, “I like being with you, but I’m not so sure about you; you’re still on trial. I’m not in for the long haul just yet; I might find something better.” This certainly isn’t love.

We might rationalize and say we’re saving on rent and utilities while we make a trial run, but how is this helpful? Living together can’t show us what a committed relationship’s like because that’s not what we have; we can’t see what that’s like until we’re actually in one.

When we invest deeply without the foundation of trust grounded in a formal marriage commitment, we’re building our house on the sand. (Mt 7:26) We force upon ourselves the unnatural and awkward process of sharing expenses and responsibilities as business partners without a contract, rather than in the permanent, God-ordained synergy and interdependence of marriage.

And as we normalize halfhearted commitment in cohabitation limbo, we’re preparing ourselves more for divorce than for the devotion and security of marriage. Without a sure foundation, when (not if) difficulty comes, the stress and strain of life can easily overwhelm and destroy a relationship. (Mt 7:27)

And while we’re doing this to ourselves, by default we’re limiting our freedom to find stable, permanent relationships; each year invested with someone who’s unwilling to make a formal commitment is lost, one less year we have in this short life to become one with another. (Ge 2:24)

And if it doesn’t work out, it’s really no less difficult to disentangle ourselves and get out of harmful, dysfunctional, transient relationships without doing even more damage to our hearts in the process. We simply aren’t designed to live this way.

If our partner isn’t going to be our husband or wife, and someone else is, aren’t we defrauding our true spouse while we experiment with someone else? Until we’re actually married to the person we’re living with, that’s the chance we’re taking with the most important relationship on earth. (Ep 5:24-26)

God calls us to purity in all our relationships (1Ti 5:2), not to using each other for our own pleasure; the essence of any healthy relationship is in the giving, not the taking. (Ac 20:35) Leveraging extended family and community to vet potential mates is much wiser than yielding to chemistry and convenience; those who know and love us can almost always see what’s best for us. (Ep 5:21)

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The Downside of Cohabiting Before Marriage: Jay, M; The New York Times, April 14, 2012.

Him Will I Confess

Christ says whoever confesses Him before others, He will also confess before His Father in Heaven (Mt 10:32); and whoever denies Him before others, He will also deny before His Father. (Mt 10:33) We either belong to both God the Father and the Son, or to neither; we cannot have one without the other. (Jn 17:10)

The word confess is from the Greek homologeo, meaning to speak the same thing, to be in agreement. Christ claims as His own those who agree with what He did and said, who are willing to stand with Him against the world; He’s ashamed of (Mk 8:38) and disowns everyone else. (Mt 7:23) Our eternal welfare hinges on what we think of Christ: there’s no middle ground.

Confessing Christ, agreeing with Him, is thus to find Christ, to belong to Him and obey Him. To know Him is to love Him supremely, to cling to Him above all else (Mt 13:45-46), to esteem Him exceedingly precious (1Pe 2:7), and to agree with Him that this world’s system is evil. (Jn 7:7) This implies a willingness to give up everything for Him. (Lk 14:33) We cannot have Christ and hold on to the world: He doesn’t give us this option. (Mt 10:39)

It’s a lie that we can be safe in God while loving this world (1Jn 2:15); to have Him we must let go of the world (Mk 10:21-22), we must be willing to count all things but loss for Christ. (Php 3:8) If we’re still focused on this life, if the temporal is our constant preoccupation rather than the eternal, if we’re denying His name as a manner of life for earthly benefits, then we haven’t found Him yet (Lk 14:26); we’re still His enemies, headed for destruction (Php 3:18-19), accursed. (1Co 16:22)

The world so hates Christ and His way (Jn 15:18) it moves them to despise those who know Him. (1Co 4:10) But my question to the world is this: What do you have that’s better than Christ? What fault do you find in Him? (Jn 18:38) Based on what standard? Don’t you mock because you’ve no rational defense for your hatred?

Though God’s given us all assurance in the historical fact of Christ’s Resurrection, the world blindly rejects its only treasure, the only One Who can satisfy our longing for perfection, beauty, significance, and purpose. (Col 2:3) Apart from Christ, the world has nothing worth having; of this I’m absolutely certain.

Being friends with the world makes us God’s enemy (Ja 4:4); yet from that darkness we can’t help it find the light. When knowing God is the most important thing to us, when we’re crying after knowledge, then we’ll find Him (Je 29:13) and be able to help others do so. (Ac 26:18) He rewards all who diligently seek Him. (He 11:6)

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Having Escaped

In believing on Christ, we’ve escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust(2Pe 1:4) This isn’t merely a possibility, it’s reality — already done.

Corruption (impurity, instability, disorder) occurs as we pursue lust (intense desire inconsistent with God’s Law). (Ja 1:14-15) Christ, in delivering us from both the penalty and dominion of sin (Ro 6:14), is giving us a new nature that delights in His law (2Co 5:17), so we no longer give ourselves to violating it.  It doesn’t mean we never sin; it means we’re continuing to grow in holiness as He performs His work in us. (Php 1:6)

Lust moves us to try to satisfy our craving for pleasure, intimacy, beauty, excellence and significance outside of God, as if we’ll find our authentic inner selves apart from Him. But our real self is who God’s designed us to be, perfect in every respect, and we can only realize the potential He’s designed into us as we cleave to Him. If we pursue anything else, we lose all. (1Co 3:15)

Since the purpose of God’s Law is to produce love, a clean conscience, and genuine faith (1Ti 1:5), departing from God’s Way, giving in to unlawful passions, tends to produce the opposite, producing the harmful effects of lawlessness: corruption. But walking in the light, pursuing and enjoying the living God, beholding Him, transforms us into the glorious being He’s destined us to be. (2Co 3:18)

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