What is Sin?

Posted in Bible Study on November 28, 2011 by rundalel

My last post focused on Romans 3 verses 10-19. These verses had been quoted in a sermon focused on the idea of irresistible grace. My post looked at the scripture in detail noting that the entire reference is a string of Old Testament verses put together by Paul.  I reminded any readers here that to understand a quote you have to read it in context. The verses leading into the quote state that all are under the power of sin. The verses following the quote state that we cannot attain righteousness by following the law. So Paul’s purpose for the verses is clear:  All sin.

Looking at the verses that Paul quoted, Psalms of David, a verse from Ecclesiastes and a qoute from Isaiah, you see a noted difference than the point that Paul was trying to make. In these verses, their authors are contrasting “Evil doers” and “the righteous.” So, if all sin, how can there be “righteous?”

As I write this I am already seeing that this can lead to much scripture digging so consider this just my first thoughts…….

Here is what I know from the quotes Paul referred to. There are people who are seeking after God (David himself would be a great example) and those who are not. Today I heard the verse from Ecclesiastes that says that God has placed eternity in the hearts of men. I was the scriptural support for the common idea that there is “God shaped hole in the hearts of men, that only He can fill.” The speaker made the point that people are all going around trying to fill this hole through the wrong means – through fame, lust, money, power, health, friendships, drugs etc. The point I took from this is that everyone is seeking for something, most have just not (yet) recognized that everything fails except God.

So, Paul is making the point that “all have sinned” while David and Solomon (the probable author of Ecclesiastes) are making the point that some still seek God. Can a sinner seek after God?  David was certainly a sinner. He slept with a married woman and then arranged for the murder of her husband – Uriah. Even still, in Acts 13:22 David is referred to as “A man after God’s own heart.”  So it would seem that David was a seeker.

All of this was to lead to a brief discussion on what is sin.

  • You can look at the historical context of the word. I have heard many times that the word was an archery term that meant you missed the bulls eye. So it would imply anything less than perfection. Well, maybe….. A bull’s eye has a certain diameter and there is a little room to wiggle within that area.
  • I John 3:4 says that sin is “one that practices lawlessness.” This would imply that to sin you would have to have the habit of regularly breaking God’s law.
  • I John 5:17 says that all unrighteousness is sin. Righteousness refers to the act of following God’s law. Is it possible to live a whole life without breaking it? That would be doubtful but there have been a few called “righteous” in the Bible…. For example Luke 1:5-6 call Zacharias and Elizabeth “both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” Hebrews 11:5 says that Enoch was taken to heaven and did not experience death. I do not see how this could be unless Enoch were sinless. In 2nd Kings, Elijah is taken to heaven in a similar way with similar implications.
  • The simplest clearest definition for sin comes from James 4:17: “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin.”

So we know two things about sin:

  1. All sin or at least 99.99999999999% of us have.  That would still called “all” by the way. Paul could not have meant a total exact definition of all, because obviously Jesus himself would have to be excluded.
  2. Sin involves knowledge of right and wrong and a conscience choice to do the wrong thing (or to fail to do the right thing.)
  • My computer cannot sin. It can certainly “miss the mark.” It can fail to get me the information that I want in a timely manner. But the computer is acting on its programming. It has no conscience choice. It cannot sin.
  • My dog cannot sin. My dog simply acts on instinct and what she has learned from her environment. If she bites the mailman, it is not that she chose sin. It is because it is in her instinct to defend her territorial border which ends right at the front door. It is dangerous coming in the front door when my dog is there. Once you are in, though you are in. Once you are past the door she accepts you in her territory and does not threaten or harm you. So, my dog may bite you but it is not her conscience choice. To her it is not sin.
  • Let’s say that you encounter my dog at my door and my 2 year old granddaughter is there with her. My granddaughter has a hold of the dog but when she sees you she waves hi, letting go of the dog and the dog bites you. Did my granddaughter sin? That is absurd – she had no physical ability to restrain the dog and no cognitive ability to realize what would happen if she let go. The sinner in this example would be me for placing you, my dog, and my granddaughter in this situation.
  • So, can my granddaughter sin in other ways? Let’s say I put her in a cage (play pen) with another 2 year old and that I threw in just one toy. The two may push and grab and cray and do what they can to gain possession of that toy. Would that, to them be sin? I am not an expert on child behavior but my understanding is that infants begin life acting like animals. They act on instinct alone. When they experience a need they cry until it is satisfied. Over time they learn better ways to get their needs met. 2 year old children have learned that their parents and some others like to give them things. They have learned to play with these things and hopefully learn from them. They have not yet learned the concept of sharing very well. So for my granddaughter and the other child there is no conscience choice to share or not to share. For them it is not sin.

All of this sin, it seems to me is one basic thing – selfishness. We are born and our instinct places us as the most important thing in the universe. Over time we learn to consider others as equals to ourselves. I believe many never fully get this. Their lying, cheating, stealing, lusting, gossiping, coveting, even speeding on the freeway are just symptoms of one person putting their own needs and even desires ahead of others. So can a person ever conquer this selfishness? Adam and Eve failed right away. David failed. Moses failed. Peter failed. Paul failed. I could go one by one through all the heroes of the Bible and point out the times where they failed. Yet still through faith they were considered righteous.

So, going back to Romans 3, Paul says that All Sin. Every person who has ever lived has reached a time where he or she has made a conscience choice. They have known the right thing to do and they have chosen not to do it. There are two things, however,  that Paul is not teaching in these verses: Paul has not stated in these verses that we are guilty of sin at the moment of birth and Paul has not stated that our sin impairs us from recognizing and accepting God’s gift of grace.

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Warning….. Warning……

Posted in Bible Study on October 31, 2011 by rundalel

Okay, so this is going to be a long one. I noted long ago that the verses that I consider controversial from the writings or Paul are pretty much all quotes. They are verses where Paul is quoting from the old testament. Proponents of “reformed” theology often quote them in support of their points. The educator in me cries foul! You cannot use a quote from a person making a quote from another person to make crucial points. Well maybe you can, but you have to be absolutely sure that both the author of the original quote and the author of the secondary point have intended the interpretation that you are trying to make. This post investigates how looking at a quote of a quote (actually a series of seperate quotes strung together) has led to interpretations which neither author intended. Here is my paper:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
11 there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.”[b]
13 “Their throats are open graves;
their tongues practice deceit.”[c]
“The poison of vipers is on their lips.”[d]
14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”[e]
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 ruin and misery mark their ways,
17 and the way of peace they do not know.”[f]
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”[g]

The above is a quote from Romans 3 verses 10-19 – New International Version. The other day I was at a conference where the key note speaker used these verses to make the point that we are completely utterly dead and separated from God. Further, that we cannot on our own even respond to a call from God, that we cannot accept any time of rescue attempt by any exercise of our own free will. The speaker brought up the old analogy stating – that Jesus cannot throw us a lifeline and give us the choice to take it, instead Jesus must resurrect our dead souls and make us alive. He called this gift of new life – grace.

The speaker said that the word grace was from a Greek word that meant gift! The question is do we or do we not have the choice to accept this gift – this grace. The main point that the speaker was trying to make was that when we fully understand and are “overwhelmed” by God’s grace than we become worshipers. As the message continued one main point was that grace is not just amazing, but it is overwhelming. The speaker described an effort to go with a boogie board out into the ocean against some large waves and that time after time the waves rolled him right back up onto the beach until he gave in and gave up in his attempt to fight them. In his words, this gift, this grace is irresistible.

Of course, when I heard the “I” in the Calvinist TULIP acronym I was alarmed. The problem with the idea that grace is irresistible is the following:

  • If grace is irresistible then only those who are given the gift of grace are saved and all those given the gift of grace are saved.
  • Therefore, one of the two following must be true:
  1. God chooses to save some and God chooses not to save others. Meaning that God’s love then must not apply to everyone. Jesus work on the cross is not available to everyone.
  2. God chooses to save everyone.

I find it difficult to believe that God does not love everyone, or that Jesus only died for some, or that all are somehow saved. These positions are anti to the very purpose of our life on earth as described in the Bible. As I understand it, we were placed here on earth to be given a choice. Those who choose to live now and forever in God’s presence will get what they choose. Of course, they cannot earn this choice. They do not deserve this choice. Nevertheless, this choice is the gift, the grace that they are given. Those who choose to reject  the gift, those who choose to reject the grace, they get their choice. A life separated from God’s presence – hell.

So, when I hear something that does not seem to fit into the purpose outlined in the preceding paragraph, I question it. I am not saying that I cannot be wrong. I suppose it it possible that I am misunderstanding things and that one of the options above could indeed be true. But either of those positions would have to be proven beyond doubt.

So, all this was to say, let’s look at those verses and see what they say.

The first thing I noticed about the verses quoted above was that the entire section is a quotation. Paul is quoting scripture. When a writer quotes another writer you have to look not only at the point of the secondary writer – Paul, but the point of the original writer(s.)

To see Paul’s main point you have to widen the view a bit. The speaker only quoted Paul’s quote. He then used the quote for a different purpose than Paul did. Let’s look the passage again with the surrounding text included.

Romans 3:9-20:

9 What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. 10 As it is written:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
11 there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.”[b]
13 “Their throats are open graves;
their tongues practice deceit.”[c]
“The poison of vipers is on their lips.”[d]
14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”[e]
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 ruin and misery mark their ways,
17 and the way of peace they do not know.”[f]
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”[g]

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

The verses that Paul writes surrounding the quotation are Paul’s interpretation of the quotation. Paul’s interpretation is very clear. I underlined it. Paul is using those verses to prove that all are under the power of sin and that no one can be declared righteous by the law! To say we are under the power of sin is a far cry from saying that we cannot choose the gift of salvation when it is offered.

Okay, so now let’s look at the sources of the quote to see the intent of the original authors:

Psalms 14:1-3  and Psalms 53:1-3are duplicate Psalms that Paul has quoted. To interpret the Psalm you have to look at the whole thing:

1 The fool[a] says in his heart,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;
there is no one who does good.

2 The LORD looks down from heaven
on all mankind
to see if there are any who understand,
any who seek God.
3 All have turned away, all have become corrupt;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.

4 Do all these evildoers know nothing?

They devour my people as though eating bread;
they never call on the LORD.
5 But there they are, overwhelmed with dread,
for God is present in the company of the righteous.
6 You evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor,
but the LORD is their refuge.

7 Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
When the LORD restores his people,
let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!

Verse 2 and 3 alone seem to support the “everyone is completely dead” hypothesis. But verses 1 and 4 spell out the object of the Psalm: “The Fool”, “All these Evildoers.”  Verse 5 acknowledges that there is a company of the righteous and that the Lord is their refuge.

Ecclesiastes 7:20 “Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous,
no one who does what is right and never sins.” This verse makes the point that no one is without sin, but it does not make the point that no one can respond to an offer of salvation from God.

Psalms 5:9 is quoted by Paul but I am showing verses 8 – 11 so that you can see who is the subject of the quote.

8 Lead me, LORD, in your righteousness
because of my enemies—
make your way straight before me.
9 Not a word from their mouth can be trusted;
their heart is filled with malice.
Their throat is an open grave; 
with their tongues they tell lies.

10 Declare them guilty, O God!
Let their intrigues be their downfall.
Banish them for their many sins,
for they have rebelled against you.
11 But let all who take refuge in you be glad;
let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may rejoice in you.

(I italicized the portion Paul quoted.)

Once again, David is speaking of two groups of people: his enemies, those who have rebelled against God and those who, like David, take refuge in God.

Psalms 140:3 is the next verse quoted by Paul. I am including verses 1-3 to establish that “evildoers” are the subject of the Psalm. I am also throwing in the concluding verse of the Psalm to show that David speaks of a “righteous” group separate from these evildoers.

Rescue me, LORD, from evildoers;
protect me from the violent,
2 who devise evil plans in their hearts
and stir up war every day.
3 They make their tongues as sharp as a serpent’s; 
the poison of vipers is on their lips
.[b]

13 Surely the righteous will praise your name,
and the upright will live in your presence.

Psalms 10:7 is the next verse quoted by Paul. Once again I am including the preceding verses to show that David is referring specifically to “evildoers.” I am also including enough of the following verses to show that David eventually gets around to addressing that not all are in this group of “evildoers” – that to David there is another group – the afflicted.

1 Why, LORD, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

2 In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak,
who are caught in the schemes he devises.
3 He boasts about the cravings of his heart;
he blesses the greedy and reviles the LORD.
4 In his pride the wicked man does not seek him;
in all his thoughts there is no room for God.
5 His ways are always prosperous;
your laws are rejected by[b] him;
he sneers at all his enemies.
6 He says to himself, “Nothing will ever shake me.”
He swears, “No one will ever do me harm.”

7 His mouth is full of lies and threats;
trouble and evil are under his tongue.
8 He lies in wait near the villages;
from ambush he murders the innocent.
His eyes watch in secret for his victims;
9 like a lion in cover he lies in wait.
He lies in wait to catch the helpless;
he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net.
10 His victims are crushed, they collapse;
they fall under his strength.
11 He says to himself, “God will never notice;
he covers his face and never sees.”

12 Arise, LORD! Lift up your hand, O God.
Do not forget the helpless.
13 Why does the wicked man revile God?
Why does he say to himself,
“He won’t call me to account”?
14 But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted;
you consider their grief and take it in hand.

Psalms 36:1 is another verse quoted here by Paul. Once again, the original author, David is referring to Evildoers and as you read the entire Psalm it is obvious that David does not include himself within that group.

1 I have a message from God in my heart
concerning the sinfulness of the wicked:[b]
There is no fear of God
before their eyes.

2 In their own eyes they flatter themselves
too much to detect or hate their sin.
3 The words of their mouths are wicked and deceitful;
they fail to act wisely or do good.
4 Even on their beds they plot evil;
they commit themselves to a sinful course
and do not reject what is wrong.

5 Your love, LORD, reaches to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the skies.
6 Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
your justice like the great deep.
You, LORD, preserve both people and animals.
7 How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
8 They feast on the abundance of your house;
you give them drink from your river of delights.
9 For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.

10 Continue your love to those who know you,
your righteousness to the upright in heart.
11 May the foot of the proud not come against me,
nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.
12 See how the evildoers lie fallen—
thrown down, not able to rise!

Before I make my final point and refer to my final quote, let me recap what we have so far. So far you can see that Paul has quoted not just from one place in the Old Testament but he has quoted a bunch of different Psalms by David. When you read these quotes of David put together by Paul in the way that Paul has put them together it does look like maybe we are “uncapable” of responding to an offer of salvation from God.  But, remember, Paul himself asserted that his purpose for these verses was to say only that “All are under the power of sin.” Looking at the context of each of the verses individually, however, you see that David was talking only about the evildoers. In each Psalm David referred to the evildoers and he referred to others. So far I cannot see how you can conclude from these verses that man is incapable of making a choice regarding salvation. I do not see how these verses can support the idea of irresistible grace.  On the contrarty, David often reffered to people like himself. To people who did seek after him!

Finally, let us look at one more verse that Paul has quoted in his text. Paul quoted from the book of Isaiah, Chapter 59, verses 7 and 8. At first, as I read this chapter I was struck by the fact that the subject was not referred to as a separate “Evildoer.” This time the subject, the people being referred to is the nation of Israel. I went back to the preceding Chapter to read that God is calling them out for their corporate sins. The nation on one hand is calling out to God and seeking his help but on the other hand they are continuing to live in their sin and it is their sin that keeps their prayers from reaching God.

Once again, the quoted verse is not saying that all mankind is forever incapable of responding to God. It does not say that all mankind is permanently not seeking God. Indeed, the exciting thing about this Chapter is that it shows the contrary. However, ineffective, these people ARE SEEKING GOD. Look specifically at verses 9 -11:  “We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like people without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong, we are like the dead. We all growl like bears; we moan mournfully like doves. We look for justice, but find none; for deliverance, but it is far away.”

These verses describe just the opposite of the need for irresistible grace. These verses describe mankind that is indeed hungry for salvation. These verses describe men that are not dead, but instead they are blind. They are groping. They are striving. They are trying to earn and find their way to salvation. At the end of the Chapter the solution is provided. When they repent God provides salvation.  Look now at the Chapter in its whole:

Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God;
your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.

(God outlines their Sins) 3 For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt.
Your lips have spoken falsely, and your tongue mutters wicked things.
4 No one calls for justice; no one pleads a case with integrity.
They rely on empty arguments, they utter lies; they conceive trouble and give birth to evil. 5 They hatch the eggs of vipers and spin a spider’s web.
Whoever eats their eggs will die, and when one is broken, an adder is hatched. Their cobwebs are useless for clothing; they cannot cover themselves with what they make. Their deeds are evil deeds, and acts of violence are in their hands. Their feet rush into sin; they are swift to shed innocent blood. They pursue evil schemes; acts of violence mark their ways. The way of peace they do not know; there is no justice in their paths.
They have turned them into crooked roads; no one who walks along them will know peace.

9 So justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us.
(In spite of their sin they are seeking salvation:) We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows.Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like people without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong, we are like the dead. We all growl like bears; we moan mournfully like doves. We look for justice, but find none; for deliverance, but it is far away.

(Once again it is our sin that seperates us:) 12 For our offenses are many in your sight and our sins testify against us. Our offenses are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: rebellion and treachery against the LORD,  turning our backs on our God, inciting revolt and oppression, uttering lies our hearts have conceived. So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.The LORD looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene;
so his own arm achieved salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him. He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak. According to what they have done, so will he repay wrath to his enemies
and retribution to his foes; he will repay the islands their due.

(But still salvation will come to those who repent:) From the west, people will fear the name of the LORD, and from the rising of the sun, they will revere his glory. For he will come like a pent-up flood that the breath of the LORD drives along.[a]

“The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,” declares the LORD.

21 “As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the LORD. “My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants—from this time on and forever,” says the LORD.

Heap burning coals….

Posted in Uncategorized on August 27, 2011 by rundalel

A friend posted on his blog a reference to Romans 12:20: “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRYFEED HIMAND IF HE IS THIRSTYGIVE HIM A DRINKFOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.”  This verse, written by Paul is a quote from Proverbs written by Soloman. Proverbs 25: 21-22 “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For you will heap burning coals on his head, And the LORD will reward you.”

My friend explained that in many ancient civilizations there was a custom of carrying embers of fire in a container from one home to another. To do so was to give a gift. So when you do good to your enemy you make him turn to the good.  I had not heard this interpretation of these passages. I always took an opposite approach. Heaping burning coals on someone’s head hurts! I thought that to do kindness to an enemy would somehow enact some sort of revenge for me.

My curiosity piqued, I click around the internet for some more information. What I have found is (as my friend also said) that not everyone agrees on how to interpret the burning coals part of these verses. Matthew Henry describes the burning coals as part of a process of refining. To refine a metal, the metal is not just placed over the fire, but the fire is placed over the metal. So when you show kindness to an enemy you cause him to be refined – to be changed toward goodness. Calvin stated that there were two possibilities. Either the enemy would be changed by our kindness to good, or he would be tormented by his own conscience when he sees his evil returned in kindness.

So you turn your enemy into a do gooder (he delivers gifts of coal to you in a basket), you refine your enemy into someone better, or you cause your enemy to experience torment from his own conscience. As another blog poster expained – It does not matter. What matters is what we are told to do. We are told to be kind not only to our friends but to our enemies. We are told to repay evil with good. So regardless of the effect on the enemy, in obedience, that is what I intend to do.

Parable of the wedding feast…..

Posted in Bible Study on February 22, 2011 by rundalel

Matthew 22:1-14
Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

“But they paid no attention and went off-one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12’Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless.

“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
(from New International Version)

This parable of Jesus reads like an outline of the Bible. The King is of course, God the Father and His Son is Jesus Christ. God speaks many times in scriptures about preparing a feast for his Son and His bride. His bride would be the church.

At the beginning of the story He tells his servants to go gather the invited. They refuse to come. They even mistreat those sent to call them in. So the King sends His army and burns their city. The invited would be the chosen nation of Israel. God continually calls to them, but they mistreated and killed the prophets God sent to them. Eventually they were destroyed.

Here is where it the parable gets interesting. The King orders his servants to go out and invite in, everyone – “whomever they find – both good and bad.”  These people accept the Kings invitation and prepare for the feast. Since the “originally invited” refers to the Jews, the “whomever” refers to the Gentiles, or everyone else.  So, at this point it is clear that EVERYONE has been invited to the feast, both Jews and Greeks.

Now, the King arrives and He sees a man who is not wearing wedding clothes. He asks the man how he got into the feast without them and the man has no answer. That man is thrown out of the feast into the darkness. Jesus concludes with the phrase that many are called but few are chosen.

It is important to understand that it was customary during the time of Christ for a wealthy feast provider to provide suitable attire for His guests. A wealthy King throwing a wedding feast would have provided garments of his choosing for all in attendance. When God called EVERYONE off the streets and into His Kingdom, into His feast, He provided suitable robes. God provides us with the robe of salvation.

Isaiah 61:10
I delight greatly in the LORD;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
(from New International Version)

The man in the story, like any invited guest would have been offered the proper attire for the feast. He obviously refused. He chose to come in on his own terms. He tried to blend in with saved, but failed. Notice how the servants did not recognize his condition. He was probably wearing a pretty good knock off brand – he was a hypocrite.

Jesus concludes the story: “Many are called but few are chosen.” – indeed everyone was called, everyone was invited, first the Jew and then the Gentile. Who are the few? The chosen? Those who accepted the invitation and accepted the garment of salvation – the robe of righteousness.

I keep hearing the words “elect” and “chosen.”  Indeed, these are words used in the New Testament to refer to the believers. Are they intended to teach a doctrine where God chose individuals for salvation or do they demonstrate that God has chosen to save individuals?  In the parable, it is obviously the latter. The King did not send his servants out to gather specific individual whom He had chosen. The King sent his servants out to gather anyone who would come. They gathered everyone who did not consider themselves to busy or too important to accept the Kings gracious offer. Once again, ALL were invited. All were called. All were given multiple chances to come to the feast. At the end, those who were chosen to actually partake where those who chose to accept, those who accepted the proper garments.

It is proper for Jesus to refer to those enjoying the feast as His chosen, as it was His choice to have a feast! It was His choice to invite us in. It was His choice to arrange (at great cost) for the proper garments. It was His incredible gracious choice to love us that much. But still, it remains our choice to accept the invitation. It remains our choice to accept salvation. It remains our choice to stay with Him at the feast.

Favorite Bible Verse

Posted in Uncategorized on January 31, 2011 by rundalel

Watch this…..

Is Faith A gift from God?

Posted in Bible Study on January 27, 2011 by rundalel

Ephesians 2:8-9 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.”

The last couple of years I have occasionally noticed these two verses quoted to support an idea that faith is something given by God to man – That somehow, God gives man an ability to believe Him which is then exercised as faith. The troubling implication of this idea is that if faith and belief come from God, than those who do not have faith and do not believe do so because they have not received such a gift.

 

The other day, I once again heard these verses used this way and I began to wonder what the verses are really saying. If you hear the verses read out loud, depending on the inflection given you could come up with very different interpretations:

  1. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faithand this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.”
  2. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God9 not by works, so that no one can boast.”

The first puts the emphasis on faith and the word “this.” Faith is then understood to be a gift from God that allows us to be saved by grace. The second, however, puts the emphasis on Grace and that the grace is a gift from God. The key here is the word “THIS.” Does “this” refer to grace, salvation, grace and salvation, faith, or all three?

 

I confess that I got sidetracked from the rest of the message I was hearing because I wondered what was the correct way to read and understand this verse?  I mentally tried to replace the Biblical words with an everyday idea to take the pressure off and see if one way or the other made more sense. I came up with the following scenario:

 

  1. The child asks Mom? How do you make the car go? ….It is the engine that makes the car go, by burning gasoline —and this wasn’t my idea, I didn’t make it, some smart people made the car this way —  I can’t do anything to make the car go.
  2. The child asks Mom? How do you make the car go? ….It is the engine that makes the car go, by burning gasoline —and this you buy at the gas station — some smart people made the car this way, I can’t do anything to make the car go.

 

I quickly realized that I could engineer the sentence so that “this” could refer to either the engine or the gasoline depending on the words that followed. If the words following “this” speak of the engine, than “this” refers to the engine. If the words following “this” speak of the gasoline, than “this” refers to the gasoline.

 

So, going back to Ephesians, what do the words following “this” refer to?

  • “—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”

These words refer to a gift of God that we did not do ourselves and that cannot be earned by works. This sounds like a pretty good definition of the word grace! I looked up grace in a Bible dictionary and it is defined as “Favor or kindness shown without regard to the worth or merit of the one who receives it and in spite of what that same person deserves.” Looking up Faith it reads: A belief in or confident attitude toward God, involving commitment to His will for one’s life. (both definitions from Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright (c)1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers)  So, I had to conclude from my little exercise that “this” refers to grace and not to faith, because it is grace that is described in the rest of the sentence.

 

Upon completing my little exercise, I was unsatisfied. I figured the original greek text had to offer more clues and context to make an interpretation clear. So I researched a little more and what I found was surprising. EVERY commentary I found (and I read 10 of them) pointed out that the greek is actually pretty clear. Let us look at it one more time:  “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.”  The word interpreted as “this” (Greek touto) is of a neutral gender and faith (Greek pistis) in feminine. Therefore, the “this” cannot refer to faith. The greek words for grace and salvation in this text, however are neutral gender, so “this” must refer to either or both of them.

 

So, in conclusion, I am fairly confident that what Paul is saying in this text is that we are saved by grace, through faith.  And this grace, this salvation is not anything we can earn. It is a gift of God!

 

The verse does not really say where the faith comes from. I have been scanning the New Testament for hours now. The word faith is used 252 times and as you read you see an interesting variation in meaning.

  • People seemed to have their own faith.
  • Jesus was once amazed and peoples lack of faith.
  • He was unable to do miracles due to lack of faith.
  • He commended others for the strength of their faith.
  • He said that a little faith can do great things.
  • Jesus prayed for Peter’s faith.
  • Paul praised people for their faith.
  • Paul implied that faith could grow.
  • Paul spoke of using gifts according to amount of faith.
  • Paul referred to the scriptures and the teachings as “the faith.”

 

I plan to continue studying faith. But, like I said, Ephesians 2:8-9 should not be used to imply that our faith itself is a Gift from God. That interpretation is not merited in the text and that interpretation implies that the only reason to believe is because God made you believe.  If the belief is really God’s belief, than it is not really belief at all.

Does the Bible teach election?

Posted in Bible Study on October 7, 2010 by rundalel

Does the New Testament Teach Predestination?

Gruden’s extensive volume, Systematic Theology, defines election as follows: Election is an act of God before creation in which he chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but only because of his sovereign good pleasure. Though the word election is used in the Bible, it is important to note that the Greek word translated election simply means selected. When we elect a President, we are selecting a President.  We could say that we elect to have dinner out, it simply means that we are making a choice.  So, there are scriptures that refer to God’s choice, but the issue is who is chosen, when are they chosen, and why are they chosen.

Gruden’s definition of election is the Calvinist doctrine of election. It could also be called predestination. Did God really select specific individuals before time began and then cause them to be saved?  If so, it necessarily means that He also chose not to select everyone.  Some who look at both sides refer to this as double predestination. Gruden wrote about the term double predestination in his book stating that the term was not helpful. Calvinists do not like the term. Instead they prefer to speak of election and reprobation, but it is really the same idea. They are saying that the Bible says that God elected some for salvation and chose not to elect others, thereby damning them to eternal damnation.  Critics of Calvinism argue that this makes God out to be both unloving and unjust.  Calvinists counter that God is just because no one deserves to be saved in the first place. Their argument: Everyone deserves damnation and most people are getting exactly what they deserve.  And then they add “Praise God I am one of the elect!”   Now, if everyone were damned that would be just, but if God selects some based on his own will, those left out are certainly in a position to cry foul! It would be as if I caught every single one of my students cheating on a test. But then, because I knew some of the students, those I knew, well, I just took the test myself and gave them my grade. Then I called them in one by one and let them know of the grace I bestowed on them.  When the others find out, can I simply say, “Hey, you cheated you get a zero! Why does it matter to you what I did for someone else?”

The issue of love is even stronger. I have read commentaries who use Romans 8:29 – “ Those God foreknew, he predestined….“ They correctly point out that the word for know sometimes means to care for, or to love.  Calvinists are saying that those God fore-loved, He predestined.  That is certainly not Biblical. My Bible says that God IS love. To say that he foreknew or fore-loved some and predestined just them to salvation, is to say that God does not know the rest. It says that God does not love the rest.

So here is my dilemma, the doctrine of election as defined above, leads to the doctrine of reprobation which makes God out to be unjust and unloving. If such a doctrine is true, it had better be supported by multiple crystal clear scriptural references. If it is so thus supported than I will join those saying Praise God, Thank You for electing me!  But if the supporting scripture is less than overwhelming, If it indeed consists of just a few scriptures which can be interpreted in other ways, than the doctrine must be false.

A little side note. It is obviously best to interpret scripture with the most obvious and literal interpretation possible. But, if such an interpretation is in conflict with other scripture than look a little farther. One scripture of the other is being misinterpreted. If the weight of scripture seems to fall predominantly to one side, it is probably right and the few opposing are the most likely being misinterpreted. Gruden’s scriptural support for the doctrine election is only a few texts. This paper intends to see if perhaps these few are being misinterpreted.

The opposing scriptures, those that ask man to make a choice, those that testify that God is love, those that testify that God is just, these are on the side of the many.  The Bible is clear that God that Loves everyone – The Bible says that God says whosoever believes – that God that says If anyone hears my voice and opens the door – that the God Paul spoke of when He said that the Gospel is the power of God for the salvation for EVERYONE WHO BELIEVES!  The scripture is very clear that salvation comes from believe!  Calvinists proclaim that the belief itself has to come from God. I ask what does that mean?  God simply gave everyone the ability to respond to His word. Some do so quickly. Some do so only after they are broken. Some never will.  This is the cost of the free will God placed in us.  God loves, but His glory is best displayed when those who were truly given a choice, choose Him!

Okay, so my opinion and my thoughts about the justice and love are God are really inconsequential if predestination is CLEARLY and UNDENIABLY taught.  So is it?  I have been waiting for something convincing and have been so far disappointed. A concerned friend gave me the book already mentioned so that through it I could understand this controversial doctrine. So now let me examine, the teachings of the Bible on predestination. Remember, I am looking for concrete evidence that God selects SPECIFIC individuals based not on their merit or their choice, but only His selection.  Let me look at the scriptures cited by Gruden in favor of election/predestination.

1)      Acts 13:48 – When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.  If appointed here implies “pre” appointed we would have something. But the Greek word here is CHEIROTONEO which was the word used for voting in the Athenian Senate. It literally refers to the stretching out of their hands. Vines specifically states that the word is not used for pre-appointed.  So what does Luke mean? It is hard to say, because it is an unusual use of the word – there are other Greek words that Luke would have used if he meant a predestined interpretation of “appointed.”  Here is my uneducated guess. Maybe Luke was being quite literal and as many as stretched out there hands – a signal that they believed – those guys were saved.  (reference: Vines Ordained p144 and Appointed p69)

2) Romans 8:28 and 29 – My Bible commentary allows for two interpretations. God chose, in the sense that Gruden has defined, or God chose by looking into the future and seeing those who would believe. I see even a 3rd possible interpretation: First you need to look at the context. Look at Romans 8:26 – 39 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. 28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,[j] who[k] have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.  31What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”[l] 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[m] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” You see that Paul’s main point in this section is to give us hope!

a. The Spirit Helps us

b. The Spirit intercedes

c. All things work together for good…

d. We are predestined to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus!

e. No one and no thing can separate us from the Love of God!

f. After all God has invited us to His party! 

What? What Party? Let me explain. The first couple of verses tell us how the Spirit intercedes and then Paul goes on to tell us that all things work together for the good of those who love  the Lord, whom are called according to His purpose.  The Greek word interpreted here as “called” Kaleo. It means to call, to summons or to invite. Try looking at this passage with the thought that God has invited us into His plan. Paul is describing the benefits of having accepted the invitation to God’s plan. It is like items a, b, c, d, and e above are in the goody bag God gives us when we get to His party. Why does He give them to us? Because he invited us and a gracious host provides for the welfare of those whom He has invited to be His guests. Now in this case, God could certainly have invited everyone, but the goody bag is for those who have accepted the invitation. Let’s focus in on verses 28 and 29 now. Verse 28 identifies that the subject of the passage is “those who love God” – believers. So here is my paraphrase of what Paul is saying in these two verses: all things work together for the good of you believers, after all, you have been invited by God himself! Not only that but you believers, who were invited, are going to be made into the likeness of Jesus, and in order for that to happen, you invited ones, you will bejustified and glorified!  So, who is called? Everyone is called, but believers are being encouraged by the fact that God is for them!

3)      Romans Chapters 9-11 –  I have done an outline of Romans and I find these chapters particularly interesting.  To get a feel for them you really need to back up and read the whole book of Romans, or at least the first 11 Chapters, all in one sitting.  What you will quickly notice is an ongoing thesis that Paul is establishing.  God has historically, up to the point of Paul’s writing, dealt with the Jews one way and He has dealt with the Gentiles another way completely. Paul speaks of how the Jews had the law and the Gentiles did not, but still they were both without excuse for failing to honor God. He works in the plan of salvation – for those who believe (Romans 1:16.) The tricky part of this scripture is that you have to be careful to read these 3 chapters as a whole. It is a subsection that deals specifically on how God chose the nation of Israel and how he is now choosing Gentiles.  Here is my outline of these Chapters which I still stand by:

a.       Chapter 9:1-5  begins with a lament for the Jews. Paul would trade his own salvation for theirs. (Amazing)  Paul laments Israel’s rejection of Jesus.

b.      9:6 – 13 Israel’s rejection did not thwart God’s purpose. Paul states that the purpose of God and the promise of God given through Abraham and Isaac does not have to follow the lineage of Abraham and Isaac. vs 8 “The children of the promise are counted as seed.” In 4:13 Paul has already explained that those with faith (which came from belief) are the children of the promise. God’s covenant with Abraham is being passed on to those who believe, not the literal descendants of Abraham. Paul uses a couple of Old Testament quotes here to show God’s choice of people groups. He chose Jacob over Esau before either was born (yet He knew who would end up being faithful to Him.) Jacob and Esau are individuals, but they represent the nations they each established. The verse: “Jacob I loved, yet Esau I hated” is actually a quote from Malachi. In Malachi, God is telling Israel that He loves them. In Malachi it is very obvious that God is speaking of the nations of Isreal and Edom. When Paul quotes Malachi, the implication and interpretation MUST BE THE SAME.

c.       9:14-29 Israel rejected and the Gentiles honored. Paul begins this section defending God’s right to favor a people group. He uses the Exodus and His treatment of Pharoah as an example. God’s chosen people – the Isrealites. Pharaoh and Egypt were not. God has mercy on some people groups while hardening others. Paul goes on to say that the people involved have no right to question God in the matter. He is the potter and we are the clay. He can use people groups as He pleases. He gets to the conclusion of the matter as follows: “What if God bore with great patience the Gentiles to make the riches of his glory know to the Jews.”

d.      9:25-33 The Gentiles who did not pursue Righteousness have received it! But, there is a remnant of Israel saved because there are some who believe. Paul’s summary of the chapter begins in verse 30: What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; 31but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. 32Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the “stumbling stone.” 33As it is written:
“See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall,
and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.

e.      10:1-13 Confess with your mouth and believe with your heart…. Paul continues discussing the Jews. He states that they had great “zeal” for God, but that they were ignorant of God’s righteousness. They tried to establish a righteousness based on Moses’ law. But Jesus is the “end”, or fulfillment of that law. In verse 9, Paul once again asserts the path for salvation: Confess with your mouth and  believe with your heart that Jesus is Lord and that God raised Him from the dead. It works the same for both Jew and Gentile (v12.)

f.        10:14-21 Israel rejected God…. Paul spells it out. Israel has heard but rejected Jesus. “All day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” (v21)

g.       11:1 – 6 but not all the Israelis … Though Israel, as a people group has rejected Jesus, not all the individuals have. (Paul and the Apostles and believers who started the Christian church are the obvious examples.)

h.      11:7 – 10 Has God rejected Israel? … “God has given them over to a stupor.” “Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see.” Paul once again quotes from the Old Testament. He refers to Deuteronomy 29:4 and Isaiah 29:10.  In one Moses marvels that God did not “give them a heart to perceive, and eyes to see and ears to hear.” In the other Isaiah says that God has given a spirit of deep sleep.  These verses are not accusing God of treating his people (or any people) malevolently, in each case it is His people who have rejected him, and God has accepted their rejection.

i.        11:11 – 36 Israel will one day believe ….. This is a lot of verses to get to just a couple of points. Though Israel has rejected Jesus, their rejection is not final. Paul hope’s that some, who see the salvation of the Gentiles, will be won by jealousy. Verses 25 – 36 take it a step farther. Paul is prophesying that Israel as a people group will indeed eventually become saved – they will become believers.

SUMMARY OF CHAPTERS 9-11: God chose Israel to deliver His promise. The Jews, as a whole, have rejected Jesus (though some are believers.) Meanwhile, the gentiles are beginning to accept Him. Paul hopes that the salvation of the Gentiles will lead some Jews to salvation. Paul prophesies that one day the Jews will, as a whole, turn to Jesus. There is absolutely nothing here that supports Juden’s definition of election.

4) Ephesians Ephesians 1:3-11 –“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. 9And he[b] made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. 11In him we were also chosen,[c] having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will,”

Us has been:

i. blessed,

ii. chosen before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless

iii. predestined to be adopted as sons

iv. given grace

v. forgiven of sin

vi. showed the mystery of His will

vii. chosen and predestined.

The big question in this passage is who exactly is US? I see a few choices:

viii. Us is specific individuals chosen by God before time for reasons only He knows.

ix. Us is the nation of Israel, or the Christians specifically redeemed from the nation of Israel.

x. Us is the Church. Us is those who believe.

While Gruden quoted this passage of scripture. Look at where he left off. By ending the quote at verse 11 he left off at a comma.  If we include two more verses, Us is defined! “in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,”

 

Paul says that he has been talking about those who were the first to hope in Christ – that sounds like choice two, but going on Paul says to his readers – the believers in Ephesus – that when they believed they became “us.

 

So, the best interpretation of this passage is not to state that individuals have been chosen, but that God has chosen to have a church. When an individual believes he or she becomes part of the chosen people! Reread the quoted scripture using the word believers instead of us.

5) 1 Thesselonians 1:4-54For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. 6You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. and 2 Theselonians 2:13 3But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you[b] to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings[c] we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

In the first reference Paul states that God has chosen – or elected the believers of Thessalonica. Does it mean that God chose them before the beginning of time? Not necessarily. How does Paul know that they are chosen? He sees the movement of the Holy Spirit in them. When did they become known as chosen? When they welcomed the message – when they believed. So as in Ephesians, the new believers became “chosen” when they believed.  Now, the second reference adds, “from the beginning” which actually clears this up! The question is, from the beginning of what? Gruden interprets this “from the beginning” as from the beginning of time itself. However, if you look at the annotation, some manuscripts actually state this verse differently. They state that God chose them as first fruits. So, from the beginning must mean from the beginning of the era of the church.

 

So there you have most of the scriptures typically used to defend Calvinism.  But as you can see there is not much evidence there so far.  I am finding it interesting, also, that many of the verses often quoted from the New Testament – Jacob I loved, Esau I hated, Pharoah’s heart was hardened….. These verses are quotes from the old testament. You need to look at their Old Testament context and their purpose in the New Testament to understand them.  When you look back at the Old Testament scriptures, those I just mentioned are very definitely speaking of the nations, not people groups.  I have seen nothing sufficient to cause me to believe that God selects individuals apart from their choice to believe.