How Can Ye Believe?

Christ asks how we can believe in God when we’re more concerned about Man’s approval than God’s? (Jn 5:44) The implication is we can’t: before we can believe in God we must be seeking God’s kingdom and pleasure first and foremost as a manner of life. (He 11:6) If we’re out to please others we aren’t servants of Christ (Ga 1:10); and if we aren’t obeying Christ we aren’t seeking Him – we’re His enemies, headed for destruction. (Php 3:18-19)

This follows from the fact that esteeming Man’s approval above God’s is to trust unfaithful sinners more than the Holy One; it’s believing in Man rather than God, disvaluing God by serving the creature more than the Creator. (Ro 1:25) So, preferring the praise of men is unbelief in God by definition.

This begs the question: what other conditions preclude us from having saving faith? Any disposition to sin intentionally, on purpose, means we don’t fear God (Ro 3:18): we don’t revere Him as our King. This also is to mistrust Him, to reject Him, to disbelieve in Him. Salvation is far from such a heart. (Ps 119:155)

Is believing in and trusting God even something we can decide to do? Is this subject to the power of our will at all? (Ro 9:16) Believing God exists is certainly a necessary first step, but that’s not the same as believing in Him, trusting Him, receiving Him as He has revealed Himself to be. (Jn 1:12-13)

Suppose a man stretches a tightrope across Niagara Falls and balances a wheelbarrow across the raging torrents. To cheering spectators he yells, “Do you believe I can push a man across in this wheelbarrow?”

How do you respond?  Can you make yourself believe? Is this an act of your will, like scratching your nose? Maybe you figure he can, so you nod in subtle agreement, but then, pointing directly at you he commands: “Get in!”

Ah! Now we’ll see if you believe! Perhaps you’d be willing to risk your life, but if you’re shaking like a leaf … if you have any doubt at all (Mk 11:23), any hesitation at all (Ja 1:6), any fear at all, this isn’t trust, belief – faithFaith is knowing you’re safer in that wheelbarrow than anywhere else in the universe – perfectly secure, chill enough to fall asleep. That isn’t something you can just will yourself into knowing. Faith in God is a miracle: it’s supernatural assurance. (He 10:22)

Consider, if placing saving faith in God is an act of our will then it’s a work; for if an act of the will isn’t a work, then nothing is a work. Acts of our will are works by definition.

However, believing on God saves us from sin (Ge 15:6), yet no work can save anyone from sin. (Tit 3:5) Since no work can save anyone from sin, experiencing saving faith in God can’t be our work; so faith can’t be an act of our will; this must be the work of God. (Jn 6:29)

Yet God commands us to repent and believe on Christ (Ac 17:30), so how can this not be an act of our will?

Well, God requires us to be perfect (Mt 5:48); this isn’t an action, but a state of being from which our actions originate, and one clearly beyond our reach. (Pr 30:29) God’s command doesn’t imply our ability; it’s righteous for God to demand perfection of us: He can’t rightly accept anything less. (Eze 18:20)

The reality is that faith and repentance aren’t things we do, or actions we take, but characteristics of our state of being as we’re transformed by God; they’re two sides of the same coin (Ac 20:21) – both are gifts of right beliefs, affections and desires, a new heart, a Godward disposition. We don’t do faith, we have faith … to trust and obey God when our blind heart is healed to see and know Him more as He truly is.

And to repent, to stop believing lies, to have faith and start believing truth, God must intervene: He must give us repentance and faith so we can identify and dismiss the lies as we acknowledge the truth. (2Ti 2:25) So, while God may command us to be a certain way (1Pe 1:15-16), this doesn’t imply that we’re actually able to obey; our will is broken and corrupt. (Je 13:23)

Faith is rooted in the divine nature from which godly action springs (Ja 2:18): what we need in order to believe in God is a new nature (Ga 6:15), and we just can’t decide to have one.

Our inability to align with holiness lies in our being in a state of unbelief and enmity against God (Ro 8:7); in this state we deliberately choose patterns of disobedience which further enslave our will. We are, in our broken state, eating the fruit of our own way and being filled with our own devices. (Pr 1:31) Engaging sin leads to deeper bondage, the continual weakening of our ability to resist sin and choose good. God isn’t responsible for this condition, for our inability to choose good: we are.

Alienation from God is the result of our own ignorance and blindness (Ep 4:18), which comes upon us as we reject the light (Jn 3:36) and respond inappropriately to God. (Ro 1:21) In blindness we make more choices which alienate us even farther from God (Ps 73:27), leading to ever deeper sin and bondage (Ro 1:24), such that we’re continually becoming more irrational, confused, deceived, believing more and more lies about God, others and ourselves. (2Ti 3:13)

We can no more escape this spiraling descent into bondage and corruption through the effort of our own will than a rotting corpse can raise itself up from the grave (Ep 5:14), or the non-existent can conceive and birth themselves (Jn 3:7), or the wicked can give themselves new hearts (Ez 18:31) – yet God requires this of us.

God isn’t cruel to command the impossible – He does this in mercy, as a promise: if we hear His command, humble ourselves and seek life from Him (Ps 119:107), trusting He’s faithful (1Co 1:9), He quickens us (Col 2:13), conceives us with the truth by an act of His own will (Ja 1:18), and gives us new spirits and hearts (Ez 36:26) which delight in His Law. (Ro 7:22)

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They Would Not Come

Christ gives us insight into the heart of Man, what we’re all like unless God interferes with our free will, in a parable about a king inviting his subjects to a wedding for his son. The king sends out the invitations and prepares a lavish feast (Mt 22:2), but when the time comes to celebrate, no one shows up: the prince has zero guests at his wedding.

So, the king sends messengers to call on all those he’s invited, encouraging them to come and enjoy the wedding, but all of them decline, every last one of them, refusing to attend. (Mt 22:3)

So, the king sends more messengers to plead with them, explaining that the food is ready, and that it can’t wait much longer; he’s laid it all out and it can’t be taken back. If they don’t come the food will spoil and the prince’s wedding will be ruined. As their king, he commands them to come. (Mt 22:4)

But the people don’t take their king seriously, having no respect for him; he’s a kind, patient and merciful man, so they presume he won’t do anything if they just ignore him. They simply go on about their busy lives, leaving the king and his prince to enjoy their little wedding alone; they’ve no interest in celebrating with royalty, to share in their joy and fellowship. (Mt 22:5)

However, a few citizens become so irritated by these invitations to the royal marriage that they capture the king’s messengers, treat them hatefully, and eventually kill them all. (Mt 22:6) The rest of the townspeople get wind of this, but don’t bother arresting the murderers or making amends with the king; they just go on about their business as if nothing’s happened, essentially making themselves out to be accomplices in the treachery.

When this terrible news gets back to the king, how his own people have murdered his servants in response to his generosity, though he is a temperate man, this outrage makes him so angry that he sends out the army to kill them all and decimate their city, razing it to the ground. (Mt 22:7) Those he has invited to his son’s wedding have shown themselves to be traitors and murderers; they have no right to dwell in his kingdom, much less attend the wedding.

The banquet is near to spoiling now, and there are still no wedding guests, yet the king is determined to share his celebration with others. So he sends out more servants to try to find travelers, vagabonds, the homeless, anyone at all that’s willing to come, no matter what their background is, and invite them. These servants do manage to find a few folk willing to oblige the king, and they provide each one with a special gift from the king: a garment in which to celebrate the wedding. (Mt 22:9-10)

The king is pleased that guests have arrived and enters the banquet hall to introduce himself, but notices one with no wedding garment. (Mt 22:11) The king is concerned about an intruder refusing to identify as his guest, and politely questions the man about it. Perhaps there was a misunderstanding, or he was overlooked. (Mt 22:12a)

But there’s simply no excuse for acting the way this man has, to ignore the king’s provision and crash the wedding as if he weren’t invited. As he faces the king surrounded by guests who are wearing the wedding garments, he’s speechless (Mt 22:12b): he’s treated the king, the prince, and the wedding celebration itself, with utmost contempt, and for no particular reason other than disdain for the king and his son.

The king is indignant at this insulting behavior, and commands his men to tie up the intruder and expel him into the darkness outside, leaving him to suffer indefinitely. (Mt 22:13)


What does this parable tell us about Man, about our natural state before God? If it tells us anything, it is this: Many are called, but few are chosen. (Mt 22:14)

In other words, everyone is invited to walk with God, but none of us will come to Him (Ro 3:11) unless God chooses (elects) us (Ep 1:4-5), and intervenes in our will by giving us a new nature that is not alienated from Him (Ez 36:26), a nature that is inclined to seek Him and draw near to Him, such that we are no longer at enmity with Him. In this way, God draws His elect to Himself, and these few precious souls do come to Him and are saved. (Jn 6:44)

Further, Christ is telling us that the root cause of this problem between Man and God isn’t a lack of information, or a lack of awareness; the root cause isn’t our ignorance of His interest in us, or not knowing how to connect with Him. (Ro 1:19) The problem is that we dishonor, dislike and despise Him (Ro 1:21): in our natural state we’re all at enmity with Him (Ro 8:7), such that we just won’t bother to seek Him out, even if He pleads with us to do so. And even if some of us happen to be willing to take advantage of His gifts, without His aid we won’t come the way He has provided; we insist on our own way, remaining obstinate, disobedient, alienated from Him (Ep 4:18), separate from Him and His way.

This universal behavior in Man is totally inexcusable (Ro 1:20), and we’re all guilty as charged. (Ro 3:19) If God left salvation up to us, to receive Him and His free gift of righteousness and eternal acceptance with Him, Heaven would be empty — not a single human soul would dance in its streets. God calls us all to the marriage of the Lamb, but He must choose some, working in us to be willing to come, or no one would. God is not obligated to choose any of us, but I am so thankful that He does!

The implication of the parable is clear: God is both the author and finisher of our salvation (He 12:2); apart from His aid, no one is saved. And salvation is much more than a willingness to take free stuff; it involves a supernatural heart-transplant, a new creature. (2Co 5:17) Those who are continually preoccupied with their own interests and focused on earthly things (Php 3:18-19), who are not actively loving and pursuing Jesus Christ, submitting themselves to God and to His way, remain His enemies, and will be destroyed. (1Co 16:22) No lukewarmness is to be tolerated within our hearts (Re 3:16); He has come to save us from that. (Ro 7:24-25) The springing forth of His new nature within us, delivering us from our evil ways and from this present evil world (Ga 1:4), demonstrates His choosing of us. (1Jn 3:18-19)

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Man of Sorrows

Our Lord is a man of sorrows (Is 53:3); grief is His companion. He weeps over our sin and stubbornness (Lk 19:41-42) and He’s looking for us to be afflictedManOfSorrow with Him. (Ez 9:4)

Does human brokenness move us to grief, sorrow and weeping? (Ps 119:158136) Or does a certain smugness, contempt or disdain pollute us? When we sense someone’s in error, is our first instinct to triple-check ourselves, hoping we’re missing something? Or do we jump too quickly to find fault? When we must discuss another’s brokenness, is it reluctantly … with tears? (Php 3:18-19)

ManOfSorrowsLoving our neighbors as ourselves means being as grieved in others’ failings as we are in our own. In seeking holiness and truth we often find ourselves confronting and exposing brokenness, but enjoying and feeding off of this is ugliness, enmity and pride. (Php 2:3) As C.S Lewis so elegantly observes, we must not wish black was a little blacker, for soon we’ll be wishing grey was black … and in the end inherit darkness.

The high calling of God is perfection (Mt 5:48), so through Christ we strive after it by faith. (Col 1:29) Christ’s love shines through holy sorrow (Ec 7:3); without it we’re nothing. (1Co 13:1-3) Let’s fellowship with Him in His suffering (Php 3:10), giving all diligence to add this virtue to our faith. (2Pe 1:5-7) It may not seem possible to get there from here, but God is willing and able to help us. (Ep 3:20)

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The Second Death

EtnaEruption
Mt. Etna, Sicily

Yeshua uses unmistakably graphic language to describe Hell. (Mk 9:43-44, 45-46, 47-48) He’s warning us to do all we can to avoid it. Who among us will go there? (Is 33:14) What would it be like do die the second death?

Before coming to faith I dwelt here, meditating on the terror of the Lord; it moved me to repent and seek God until I found salvation. This is, in fact, God’s norm in evangelism. (Jud 1:22-23)

The Lake of Fire is the dreadful fate of all who fail to find their eternal home in Christ. (Re 21:8) Fear of spending eternity in Hell drives the wise to ensure their election, until they’re as sure of Heaven as Christ Himself. Take no chances: perfect assurance of eternal salvation is available; nothing less is acceptable.

Only a few diligently secure their place in Heaven; whatever it takes, strive to enter: be one of them. (Mt 7:13)

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Too Painful

When I lose sleep over injustice, and recently it seems to be often, I know I’m not handling it well — it’s too painful for me (Ps 73:16); I’m letting the enemy steal my joy. (Php 4:6) It’s time for a little reminder: God is just. (Pr 2:8)

What if God always rewarded good and evil with immediate pleasure or pain,BarnStorm training us like Pavlov’s dogs? We’d never know the depravity of the human heart … or the goodness of God.

In order to fully reveal Himself God must allow evil to go unchecked for a season; this exposes the human heart, and provides Jehovah a venue to glorify Himself. (Ro 9:22-23) The season may be longer than we’d like, but it’s a necessity.

I remind myself that God is faithful; He will bring every secret thing out into light; all will be revealed (Mk 4:22), dealt with and straightened out. (Lk 3:5-6) He may not be as prompt we’d like, but He’s perfectly just (Ro 2:2) and His timing’s always best. (Ps 104:31) My focus is to walk worthy of Christ, in intimate fellowship with God, and leave the rest to Him. (Ro 14:4)

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None Good But One

When Christ is called, “Good Master,” He responds, “Why do you call me good? There is none good but one, that is God.”  (Mk 10:17-18) This is helpful: God is good, and only God is good.

So, Man is not good; Man is bad; desperately wicked. Man has free will: God gives Man freedom to choose, and in choosing freely Man always chooses badly. (Ge 6:5)

We should not be surprised that people are evil and that God’s angry — it’s a miracle that any at all are good … indeed some are (Lk 1:5-6), a mystery hid in God restraining evil. (Pr 16:1, 9)

God can make us good, and only God can make us good. If He can make anyone good, then He can make you and me good, by replicating His nature in us.

Do we want to be good? This is the beginning of goodness, itself the gift of God, working in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure. (Php 2:13)

I seem to need a constant reminder that my hope is not in politics, or in religion, or in my family, my friends, my job or my country … or in myself … but in a sovereign God Who always does according to His own purpose and will … which is always good. (Ep 1:11)

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