What a Prostitute Teaches Us About Worship: Extravagant Love, Radical Boldness Part 2

(This is Part 2 of a two-part blog series on the one true source of passion, boldness, and worship. It is a study on Luke 7:36-50)

We left the last post with a nameless woman giving wordless worship to Christ, as Simon the Pharisee looked on in utter dismay (Luke 7:36-38). 

In v. 39 the true motives of Simon are laid bare. He thinks to himself: “This woman is unclean according to the law!” Simon’s premise was this: If this man, Jesus, is a prophet he would know the character of this defiled woman. If he knew her character he would cast her from his presence. Jesus is accepting her affection, so He must not be a prophet. In other words, Jesus should do exactly what I would want him to do. 

Simon wanted a Messiah and God that acted and looked a lot like him. Do we do that? 

In v. 40 Jesus speaks to the thoughts of His dismayed host. In an efficient way Christ addresses Simon’s unvoiced doubts, proving himself to indeed be a prophet. The omniscience of God is mingled with mercy in Jesus. Instead of jumping down Simon’s throat for his critical ignorant spirit, Christ remains gentle with His rebuke.

He shares a parable.

The parable in v. 41-42 contrasts two men who owed debt to the same lender. The comparison is between a man who owed roughly 20 months wages and a man who owed two months wages. There is an important reason Jesus speaks of Debt. Sin is debt. The “wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) Our debt is infinitely great, and can never be repaid in a lifetime through our work. That is why it says in the story “Neither had the money to pay him back.” (42) Both men were unable to lift one finger toward their debt load.

The moneylender forgives both (42). And here we find our answer to the prostitutes scandalous display; it’s not a six step process or sowing a seed, it is beautifully simply this: Forgiveness.

 Why didn’t Jesus just tell a story about someone paying off a debt? Because grace and forgiveness of sin is the point. Notice forgiveness precedes gratitude in the parable. The woman did not pay off a debt to Christ by her generous giving. In fact, she sees how Christ has canceled her debt and it freed her to give out of a broken heart of gratitude. 

 Was Simon more holy than her? Did he “owe” less debt than her? No! He is utterly prideful! Simon is blind and hardened. His righteousness by no means exceeds hers. Remember, neither in the story were able to pay the debt off.

So the moneylender forgives both the debts of the two debt-laden, and Jesus asks Simon, “Which one of them will love him more?”

In answering Jesus’ question (v.43) Simon rightly guesses the debtor who owed more, adding, “I suppose.” What a snide attitude Simon displays. Yet Jesus still didn’t chastise him!

Jesus graciously affirms Simon’s response, “You have judged correctly.”

 In v. 44, our attention is brought back to the wordless worship of the unnamed woman.  The woman never changes her posture throughout the scene. In that day, a diner would sit at a short table on a floor cushion with their feet angled behind them. All of this time she was behind Jesus (v.38). She’s still weeping and kissing his feet. For the first time Jesus turns His back on Pharisee and faces the broken woman.

In v. 44-46, we see Jesus’ first rebuke of the Pharisee. Simon was a bad host for not doing the customary cultural greeting of kissing a guest. This was a cultural norm and the reason Paul charges brethren to “greet each other with a holy kiss.” At the very least a host would have a servant wash a guests feet as a sign of welcome. Since people wore sandals in their travels and the roads were dusty, this was common Jewish etiquette, like shaking an outstretched hand or not farting public is today. Simon fails to give the bare minimum cultural respect to Jesus.

The woman has done all this for Christ and more. Why?

“Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

In v. 47, Jesus overtly answers the question that troubles us: Where does such passion/worship/boldness come from?  Forgiveness is the root of every fruit of radical passion and extravagant obedience towards Christ.

Through the woman, we see such passion comes from knowing our great debt/ sinfulness before a holy God, and repenting and finding grace in the person Who can forgive us. This is where extravagant worship is birthed. The feet of Jesus is where a sinner belongs. 

Worship isn’t for the religious.

Worship is for sinners. 

Worship is for enemies of God. (Roman 5:6-11) We were once an enemy, but in Christ we are an heir of God.

Worship is for children of wrath. (Ephesians 2:1-10) We were once children of wrath, but in Christ we are adopted sons and daughters.

Worship is for slaves to the flesh. (Romans 5:12-23) We were once slaves to the flesh, but in Christ we are slaves to righteousness.

 Worship is for adulterers. (Ephesians 5:21-27) We were once spiritual adulterers, but in Christ we are a spotless bride.

No wonder such an unquenchable outpouring takes place at the feet of Christ alone.

With a realization of the deep depths of our sinfulness, comes a deeper depth of repentance, which comes with a realization of the deep depths of God’s mercy. And that cycle continues until death ends it for good.

The perfect lamb of God, Jesus, beckons such a lifestyle of joyful sacrifice. It reminds me of the declaration that helped spark the Moravian Missionary movement, as told by Paris Reidhead:

There was an island somewhere in the Atlantic, owned by a multi-millionaire slave owner, who also happened to be an atheist. For that reason, he would allow no Christian workers to come to his island to preach the Gospel to his slaves.

Two young Moravian believers, both young men barely out of their teens, were concerned that these slaves, who were living on this island, had no opportunity to hear the Gospel. After some thought, they decided that their only course of action would be to sell themselves into slavery, to the atheist British owner, so that they would be transported to the island, to live and work among the other slaves, and thus have opportunity to share the gospel with them.

Naturally, their families were quite distraught, and grief-stricken at their decision. This was not a temporary separation. These young men with their whole lives in front of them knew that they were selling themselves into a lifetime of servitude, with no hope of ever returning home to see their families and other loved ones.

When the time came for them to leave, their families and friends stood on the dock, weeping as they watched these two young men pull away from the dock. One of the family members cried out the question they had been continually asking; “Why are you going?”

After a few moments of reflection, the two young men cried out, at the top of their voice, for all to hear, what has since become the banner cry of Moravian missions:

“May the Lamb Who was slain receive the reward of His suffering”!

 

The Moravians and the “woman of the city” were displaying the virtues of the final Kingdom of God. At the feet of the Lamb who was slain, we will all likewise assume their broken posture for eternity.

(Rev. 5:8-13)

Yes, may Lamb who was slain receive the reward for His suffering, now and forevermore. 

Bryan Daniels

A Rebecca Black and Josiah Daniels Collaboration (Video)

Thought it may be time to take a blog break from the heavier things such as hell and predestination.

There has been a lot of big family news coming out of our household the past three weeks. On a personal note, husbanding, fathering, teaching, coaching, and blogging along with twittering, have all compounded into one lethal whirlwind of sleepless delirium. The tanks startin’ to run on fumes. But there is much to be thankful for in the daily routine of deadly diapers, fretful feedings, and bottomless bottle washings.

God grants levity in the midst of laundry.

Turns out, as the above video displays, my two-year old son, Josiah, is a big Rebecca Black fan. Don’t judge my son. To keep his street cred fresh he continues to get down to Lecrae and Trip Lee also.

I promise if you turn the volume up and listen really carefully, you WILL NOT hear me singing along in the background.

Black’s awesomely bad song, “Friday”, has garnered over 65 million viewers on YouTube the past few weeks. I wonder what it’s like to peak out at the age of thirteen.

After you’re done watching the actual Rebecca Black video, be sure to check out Conan O’Brien’s parody called, “Thursday.”

Bryan Daniels

What a Prostitute Teaches Us About Worship: Extravagant Love, Radical Boldness Pt. 1

{This is part one of a two part blog series on the one source of love, boldness and worship}

As Christians, we spend a lot of time wondering what is wrong with us.

We hear of martyrs on foreign soil  laying down their lives for the gospel in bloody extravagant fashion. Church history testifies of men and women who stood against fierce political and social opposition and proclaimed boldly the foolishness of the cross. In our bible reading the fearless radical passion of the early church in the book of Acts is an indictment on our listless and dry spiritual estate.

For every one Francis Chan there are thousands of other struggling saved sinners who will never be able to quit their vocation to visit the underground church and prayer walk the major US cities to find their call. And even reading a popular book calling us to “Radical” gospel commitments doesn’t necessarily bring the quick spiritual fix we long for.

It’s enough to make any solid sincere saint at the least question their own fruit, and at the most question their very salvation.

All of this begs the question.

Thankfully, as is always the case with the most important questions, the Bible is forthcoming with a more than adequate answer. It’s found in Luke 7:36-50:

36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. 39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

 40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

   “Tell me, teacher,” he said.

   41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

 43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

   “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

 44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

 48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

 49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

 50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Where does such passion, boldness, and extravagant worship come from?

In the verse right before this scene (Luke 7:34) Jesus speaks of eating with the “wrong people.” The Sinners and tax collectors were despised by the religious establishment. The Pharisees primary charge against Jesus was that he threw the best parties (“a drunkard”) and invited the lowest classes of a people. They probably were jealous they weren’t invited. Jesus turns that theory on its head in the very next scene.  Being no respecter of persons, Christ eats with the “right” person in v. 36. Pharisees were the creme de la creme of society, pillars of the first century Israeli religious system. The Pharisees were OCD in their religious zeal. They fasted frequently and even tithed out of their spice racks.  

In v. 36 Simon the Pharisee invites Jesus to dinner. Dinner was a sign of intimate acquaintance in ancient Israel culture. A gesture of supreme respect towards the person invited. Is it possible to pay outward respects to Christ and inwardly oppose him?

It takes no time for a broken vessel to rain on Simon’s party. 

In v.37 we have a very public “sinner” show up to the Pharisee’s house. The phrase “woman of the city” usually connotes sexual sin, which was probably committed as a prostitute. In that day, women were second class citizens on the level of children. For a woman to show up to a man’s dinner party uninvited was a serious party foul. For a known prostitute to show up at a Pharisee’s dinner party uninvited was a colossal Kanye Westesque error.  

The woman brings with her what is likely her most valuable possession, an alabaster flask of perfume. The expensive stone flask was probably used for her line of work. In a profound way, the jar contained her very livelihood. It was worth a healthy portion of her salary for the entire year.

Yet she pours it out in a reckless display of love.

 Because of our lack of historical context, the cultural significance of v. 38 is lost on us. She washes Jesus’s feet with her hair. A woman’s hair had a weighty impact on her identity in Jewish culture.  In 1 Cor. 11:15 Paul calls a woman’s hair her “glory.” The first century Jewish woman kept her hair up all her life. But on her wedding night when she was standing before her husband for the first time the man would reach up and take her hair down. Before the marriage was officially consummated the new husband would first see his wife’s long hair fall around her bare shoulders and back, and he would behold her there, standing in all her “glory.” Because of these implications it was scandalous for a woman to have her hair down before other men in public places. But this woman does not care that she scandalizes the mind of mere men. She is on a solemn mission to serve at the feet of her tender Savior. 

Her hair is down, she is vulnerable, she lays it all before the feet of the only man who will never use and abuse her.

And she uses her alabaster jar, her savings plan, her only resource of earthly value and pours it on the feet of Jesus. The sandaled, dusty, unkempt feet of love. This was a slave’s job. She does it with tearful joy. Her tears were the soap that anointed the Savior’s feet.

Worship is a deeply emotional response to Christ. It is not just that, but it at least has that heartfelt component in it. Dignified stoicism is not a virtue lauded by Jesus.

This passion, boldness, and extravagant worship was a response she couldn’t hold back, no matter how her culture condemned her.

The gaze of the religious cut her to pieces. But she was pierced only by the gaze of One.

We’ll answer the question at hand in the next post. The question(s) for now are: What is holding me back from unhindered displays for my Jesus? What can this prostitute teach me about love and worship? Do I identify more with the Pharisee than the prostitute in this scene?

Peace and Grace til next time.

Bryan Daniels

The Sound of A Hero Dying

[I wrote this after my Papa died six years ago. It’s about his last few days on earth. He was a World War II veteran and great debater]

Calloused hands that loved little dogs

and showed little boys how to hook a worm

Tremble now, involuntarily and soft

Armchair politician with a dagger wit

and humor more arid than the August Mojave

Forgets now, wets his own bed

Broad hard marine with a bulldog tattoo

and played keyboard for the church of st. waltz

Withered now, Hospice choir sings

First the grandson became nephew                                   

the nephew a Japanese conspirator

The sponge was a razor

the nurse a war criminal 

Escaped his cell block while sleeping

He always preferred the back door

No national day of mourning

No brash parade in his name

Just my hold it together sobs

The only sound left of another hero dying

Bryan Daniels

Romans 9 and Predestination-Part 4

(This is the conclusion of a four part blog series on Romans 9. Feel free to view Part I, Part II, and Part III for proper context)

Before we get lost in the theological high weeds, I would like to thank all of you for walking this treacherous road with me. Now let’s carry on!

In Romans 9:19 Paul answers another objection that arises from this revelation of God’s election of some and not others for salvation.

You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?”  But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? (Romans 9:19-21)

 In other words, if God is in control of who is hardened and who is not, then how can He condemn the hardened? Paul does not resort to “free will” language to resolve this problem.

Instead in Romans 9:20-21, we run into the much maligned potter/clay analogy of Paul. The apostle makes an argument from lesser to greater here. If a human potter has the right to form his clay as he pleases how much more does the King of the Universe have the right to form the destiny of His creatures as He pleases? We have no right to dispute with our Maker. The fact that God chooses to save anyone is amazing and a testimony to His great grace. Just as Jacob and Esau came from the same womb, God draws mankind from the same “lump”, or the same mass of fallen unredeemed humanity. No man has any merit over another, whether it be by pedigree or righteous choice. All are in the same sinking boat (Romans 3:23)

An objection is made by the Arminian in Romans 9:21 because OT passages like Jeremiah 18:1-6 have similar language and are referring to the corporate nation of Israel. This doesn’t necessarily help their case because we also have an OT passage like Isaiah 29:16, which has language that more closely parallels the potter/clay analogy in Romans 9:21 than other OT passages.  Isaiah 29:16 is talking about individual wicked men, so if this is the OT text Paul is drawing from it would confirm his flow of thought and the problem he raised from Romans 9:1-5 (unlike the OT passages with corporate meanings)..

There is an additional objection made by the Arminian in Romans 9:22 that goes something like this: “No potter makes a vessel for destruction, that would be ridiculous!”

It would possibly be ridiculous if “destruction” could only be referring to a shattering or annihilation of a vessel. But there is no need to restrict it to that meaning here. “Destruction” has a much deeper meaning, especially when eternal destinies are at stake. Hell is a place of eternal conscious “destruction” of the soul, not annihilation or a ceasing to exist. “Destruction” in Romans 9:22 is the same greek word used to intimate hell in Matthew 7:13.

Our understanding of  “destruction” should also be linked to “dishonor” in its parallel verse (Romans 9:21). Potters do indeed make vessels for dishonor. Consider first century waste bins, where unwanted trash, rotten food and maybe even human waste was disposed of. In the end, even a vessel of dishonor shows the skill and prerogative of the Potter.

There are also some pertinent grammatical nuances taking place in Romans 9:22-23. The word “fitted” in Romans 9:22, as in “vessels of wrath fitted for destruction,” is in the passive voice. The wording “He prepared” in Romans 9:23, as in “the vessels of mercy He prepared beforehand for glory,” is in the active voice. This has led many Reformed thinkers to propose that God is necessarily the divine action that brings men to glory, while God is passive in His treatment of the vessels of wrath. In a way, the vessels of wrath prepare themselves for hell by their own depraved heart, while the vessels of mercy must be born again by God to prepare them for glory (Titus 3:5-6). This is what becomes a stumbling point for many regarding the doctrine of “double predestination.”

“God doesn’t create babies just to send them to hell!” is sometimes the emotional argument used against the Reformed view.

But again, there is not an equal divine action that separates the elect from the nonelect, though in God’s sovereignty there is at least an equal divine ultimacy, as Romans 9 teaches. Man’s own willful sinful rebellion in this life is what sends him to hell, God’s active casting happens after man’s life at judgment (Matthew 10:28-30)

Here the Arminian has not carried out their own theology to it’s logical end. The free willer is not saving God from any supposed injustice by denying His electing grace or predestination. Let’s flip the table on their own argument and take up the Arminian view: If God has perfect foreknowledge (which all orthodox free willers hold to), then He at least knows who will accept or reject Christ. Yet God the Creator has still chosen to create people He knows will reject Christ and will be sent to hell.

My Arminian brethren, why would God choose to create people (or “babies” as some like to say) He knows He must send to hell for an eternity?

If you believe the biblical purpose God created all things was to display the “free will” of man, then you are a staunch Arminian indeed and no scriptural reasoning will do for you. But if the biblical purpose God created all things was to display His glory, then we are beginning to grasp the argument of Paul and, I believe, the Reformed view.

As was the case with part III covering Romans 9:14-18, God did not “work” evil in Pharaoh’s heart but did use Pharaoh’s evil for His glory. When mankind fell through the willful sin of Adam, the willful sin of all justly condemned all. God does not need to “work” new evil in any man, but evil man absolutely must have God “work” new righteousness in him for salvation (John 3:3).

Remember the discussion of part III, God’s glory is directly linked to His merciful election of us. Romans 9:23 refers to God’s glory twice, the first “glory” is the riches He gives to elect, the second “glory” is His purpose for saving the elect. Whether it’s His “power” He’s displaying through the vessels of wrath, or His “glory” He’s displaying through the vessels of mercy, God has His own esteem in mind. God’s mercy is the way His glory shines brightest. But for the star of God’s mercy to radiate in it’s full force it must be placed up against the dark backdrop of His wrath:

Daniel Fuller communicates this truth better than I could ever attempt to:

“It is surely right for God to prepare vessels of wrath, for it is only by so doing that He is able to show the exceeding riches of His glory, the capstone of which is His mercy. For God not to prepare vessels of wrath would mean that He could not fully reveal Himself as the merciful God. Then creation could not honor Him for what He really is, and God would have been unrighteous, for in the act of creation He would have done something inconsistent with the full delight He has in His own glory.”

If God failed to act with wrath against the prepared vessels of wrath He would be disregarding His own glory. If He disregarded His own glory not only would He fail to act with wrath, He would also fail to act with mercy, and He would cease altogether of being God.

If it weren’t this way no one would be saved, neither Jew nor Gentile. Romans 9:24 confirms the flow of the entire chapter up to this point and displays again that individual souls are the focus of Paul’s discussion, not a nation. Paul makes this election reality intensely personal to “even us, whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles.” (Romans 9:24) This calling given to us is the effectual calling of God that brings us to faith in Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:14).

In conclusion…

Romans 9 is not written as an obscure and solitary island in Pauline thought. The preceding chapters of Romans 1-8 have systematically brought the reader to this essential chapter:

Romans 1-3 deals with the utter sinfulness of man and His dire spiritual condition apart from God’s righteousness. It is made abundantly clear in Romans that God is righteous in pouring out His wrath on mankind (Romans 1:18). All men are without excuse and all men are condemned under the law (Romans 3:19-20). None are righteous, none seek God, and none do good (Romans 3:10, 11, 12).. Man is neither able nor willing to lift a finger towards his own salvation, he cannot seek God so God must seek Him. Man is totally depraved as the Reformed doctrine confirms. If we don’t rightly grasp the depravity of man posited in chapters 1-3, the gracious election of God in chapters 8-9 will never reach it’s full beautiful force in our hearts.

All men are justly condemned to hell, yet in Romans 3:21-4:25 Paul introduces the saving righteousness of God in Christ through faith. Though God is righteous is judging sinners condemned under the law, He is also righteous in saving sinners through the perfect person and work of Jesus Christ (Romans 3:23-26). Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God, has been put forth as the wrath bearing sacrifice for our sins so that we get the glory and righteousness He deserves. Paul makes it clear that Gentiles and Jews have both been offered this gift of free grace through faith.

In Romans chapters 5-8 Paul displays the living hope believers now have since acquiring the righteousness of God in Christ. Believers (both Jew and Gentile) are given an assurance of life eternal and future glory. Romans 8 has some of the most precious promises in the entire Bible, with it all culminating with the grand and beautiful conclusion of Romans 8:31-39.

In chapter Romans 9, Paul answers a question (he really answers it fully in chapters 9-11). If God’s promises to ethnic Israel were unfulfilled in Old Covenant, how can we be sure his promises to us will be fulfilled in the New Covenant? How can we be assured Romans 8 is for us?

The answer to that question has been the primary focus of this series: We have found that we can be sure of God’s faithfulness because of His electing grace He has given us in eternity past.

In Romans 10 we find the sovereign means by which God plans to draw people to Himself: By the sending of messengers who will preach the message of the gospel (Romans 10:14-16). How does one come to faith in Christ? Through hearing someone preaching the word of Christ (Romans 10:17).

Far from discouraging evangelism, the election of God ensures our success as evangelists! If we go and share Christ God has promised He will bring people to Himself (Malachi 1:11). He will be faithful to bear fruit with the proclamation of His Son. What an indescribable privilege God has given to those of us in Christ (Acts 1:8). All of our evangelism efforts are invincible through God’s sovereign grace. Reformed theology affirms evangelism as the only sure thing going these days!

Romans 11 deals with God’s future faithful treatment to a remnant in Israel. It’s a chapter almost as hotly debated as Romans 9.

Romans 12-16 deals with the practical implications of the Christian walk in everyday life. It displays how the staggering change saving grace made within us should look as outward living. Paul ends the book of Romans with some final instructions as the apostle to the Gentiles.

I am under no pretension that this brief series answers every reservation inquiring minds could bring up regarding election. But remember, the pressing matter is not whether it all makes sense to our finite and fallen minds; the real matter is whether this is what Scripture plainly teaches. While we rack our little brains trying to reconcile man’s responsibility with God’s sovereignty, these massive truths are easy for the mind of God. We can take heart and know His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are infinitely higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9).

We can’t conveniently dismiss Romans 9 as too controversial or ambiguous for serious discussion. Accusations of “intellectual grandstanding” or “schism” against those who would take up a sincere study of Romans 9 are unwarranted. I am sure both sides can improve on discussing the issue in a greater spirit of Christian charity. But God has intentionally spoken every word of Scripture for us to discover and delight in. If we are to know God we must know His word. So the meaning and mystery of every verse should be claimed and proclaimed whether we like the implications it brings or not. Romans 9 is no different.

If all Scripture is “God-breathed” and all Scripture is “profitable” then studying Romans 9 can be just as beneficial for the soul (even the lost one!) as studying John 3:16 (2 Timothy 3:16).  I hope that through the illumination of the Holy Spirit this brief study has benefitted you in some way.

I’ll end on a note I believe we all can agree on:

God bless and go share. To Him be the glory. (Matthew 28:18-20).

Bryan Daniels

Romans 9 and Predestination-Part 3

Welcome miscreants to our much maligned study of Romans 9! : )

Just in case you are a Johnny-come-lately to the discussion I suggest you check out Part I and Part II (Romans 9:6-13) for proper background. In Part III we are going to pick up where we left off and follow Paul’s reasoning through verse 18:

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. (Romans 9:14-18)

Considering what Paul just explained about the election of individuals in Romans 9:6-13, he knows a natural question will arise out of his readers. If God freely chose Jacob over Esau regardless of how good or bad they would be, then is God “just” or “righteous” in choosing the eternal destiny of one over another? (Romans 9:14)
Ask yourself: Would this controversial question over God’s justice arise out of God’s choice of a nation, or out of God’s choice over individuals? Paul knows he is introducing a truth that will be scandalous to the natural mind of men, so he anticipates the heated objection that will come up.

In Romans 9:15, Paul answers the objection in a very peculiar way. He quotes God’s words to Moses in Exodus 33:19: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” Theologians call this a “verbal theophany” which God concludes in similar language in Exodus 34:6, 7.

But how does this verse satisfactorily handle the objection brought up in Romans 9:14? It seems Paul is reasoning in an almost circular way, saying, “God can save whomever he pleases, because God can save whomever he pleases.” Paul may be saying that, for what it means to be God is that He is a Sovereign King who can decree what He wills when He wills according to His good pleasure. But Paul may be saying a little more than that when we look at Exodus 33:18-19 in context.

Moses is interceding on behalf of transgressing Israel when he asks God:

“Please, show me your glory.” And God said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” (Exodus 33:18-19)

Moses asks for God’s glory, and as a result what God proclaims to be a manifestation of His glory is His free sovereign prerogative to “show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” In other words God seems to respond: “Moses, if you want to see my glory, goodness, and name manifested, then observe my sovereignty in election.” We alluded to this in part II where we saw our election is clearly tied to God’s glory in the church. God’s glory is most clearly seen by us when we behold the mystery that He sovereignly bestows grace on sinful wretches who have no deserving of it.

Romans 3:23 directly ties “unrighteousness” with the “falling short of the glory of God”, not just law breaking (Romans 3:22-23). By deduction we can conclude that to be righteous would be to attain or display the glory of God. This confirms the great function of the law to display God’s glorious character, rather than a rulebook for legalists.

This is the heart of God in election: His glory.

God must act in defense of His own glory. He would cease to be God if He did not. In the election of persons, God has His highest glory in view and it would be unrighteous of Him to pursue anything less (Isaiah 48:11). As John Piper is fond of saying, “God is not an idolator. He puts no one above Himself.” So if God is acting in election for the full esteem of His name and glory then He is acting rightly, or righteously, according to His character. This reasoning is how Paul puts the charge of “unrighteousness with God” in Romans 9:14 to rest.

Along with this God centered revelation, comes a shocking bolt to any remnants of pride we may have for acquiring our gift of salvation in Christ.

Romans 9:16 is the death blow for any argument that would posit that a free will choice is the basis of one’s election in Christ. It was a devastating blow to my long held presuppositions when I began to study it. Romans 9:16 remained there, as an irritating thorn in my long held Arminian perspective until I began to grapple with it’s ordinary meaning.

The implications are clear. A person’s election for salvation is not based on any choice originating within their hidden will or any action of outward physical exertion. Saving faith does not naturally arise in the mind, heart, or affection of mere men any more than a diamond would naturally arise out of a sewage dump (Jeremiah 13:23).

Our election is God’s only prescribed medicine for the fallen Adam nature we all inherited (Romans 5:12). 

We can’t get frustrated here and just throw our hands up and say, “In the end, what we believe about Romans 9 doesn’t really amount to a hill of beans!” No,the very eternal throne of God’s sovereignty and glory is what is at stake here with our intepretation of passages like Romans 9:16. 

The prince of preachers, Baptist minister CH Spurgeon, said of this passage:

If it be as God wills, then Jehovah sits as sovereign upon his throne of glory, and all hosts obey him, and the world is safe; if not God, then you put man there, to say. “I will” or “I will not; if I will it I will enter heaven; if I will it I will despise the grace of God; if I will it I will conquer the Holy Sprit, for I am stronger than God, and stronger than omnipotence; if I will it I will make the blood of Christ of no effect, for I am mightier than that blood, mightier than the blood of the Son of God himself; though God make his purpose, yet will I laugh at his purpose; it shall be my purpose that shall make his purpose stand, or make it fall.” Why, sirs…I shrink with solemn awe and horror from that doctrine which makes the grandest of God’s works—the salvation man—to be dependent upon the will of his creature whether it shall be accomplished or not. Glory I can and must in my text in its fullest sense. “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.”

Dead men cannot muster up one inch of obedience and faith to warrant God’s grace, so it must be accomplished through God’s mercy and grace (Eph 2:3, 2:5, 2:8-10). We bring nothing to the table except a deep abiding need for mercy. Regarding our salvation, God’s perfect merciful will has the final say. This is a consistent thread in Scripture and is not confined to Romans 9 by any means (see John 1:12-13, Philippians 2:12-13).
 
Most importantly, consider the words of our own Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in John 6:

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes I will never cast out (John 6:37)

No one can come to me unless the Father who sends me draws him (John 6:44)

No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father (John 6:65)

No human being in the world has the natural spiritual or moral ability to come to Christ on his own unless God Himself gives him an inclination to do so. If we think Romans 9:16 is still strange it is because we mistakenly think God owes us anything, and we forget we deserve a sinner’s hell even on our best days (Romans 3:11-18).

John Newton used to tell a humorous story of a good woman in his church who said, in order to prove the doctrine of election, “Ah! sir, the Lord must have loved me before I was born, or else He would not have seen anything in me to love afterwards.”

So it is with us. Unless God chose us, we would have never chosen Him.

In Romans 9:17, Paul brings up the OT arch enemy of God, Pharaoh, to display and preserve the free election of God on individuals.

Even in the midst of Pharaoh’s hardened heart God carried forth his purposes to make his name great. Paul’s quotation of Exodus 9:16 in Romans 9:17 brilliantly displays this. In mercy (Exodus 33:19) and in hardening (Exodus 9:16), God’s sovereign freedom is the means by which He declares the glory of His name. Pharaoh’s repeated insults of God inevitably set the stage for awesome displays of God’s power throughout the Exodus narrative.

Whether the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was a passive or active hardening by God is of little effect. The Reformed view holds that all men will ultimately harden their heart towards God’s purposes apart from the restraining grace of God. God didn’t work “fresh evil” in the heart of Pharaoh, for Pharaoh’s fallen heart was already manifestly evil. God did choose to not work grace or regeneration in the heart of Pharaoh though. 

Here the Arminian usually constructs a straw man of the Reformed view in order to publically tear it down. They would opine that the Calvinist view would make God guilty of evil. What our precious free will friends fail to understand is that though God works all things according to His will (Ephesians 1:11), He does not work all things in the same exact way. He can work in man or around man to accomplish making His name great. Still, we can’t escape the fact that God promised Moses He would harden Pharaoh’s heart long before the evil ruler actually ever hardened his own heart in the narrative (Exodus 4:21). God’s own mysterious hand is indeed in the first act of resistance by Pharaoh in some way.

Men are not “merely pawns” as the Arminian intepretation of Calvinism would assert. They are really evil people who make really evil choices according to their nature (Romans 5:12-21).

To us, God’s election is a strange way to show there is no unrighteousness or injustice in God (Romans 9:14). But Paul’s view of God’s righteousness is this: God’s own commitment to preserve the honor of His name and display His glory (Ezekiel 36:22-27). God’s election of some and not others is righteous and just, for when God chooses unconditionally those who He will have mercy on He is acting out of full allegiance to His own name.

To keep the reader from assuming that such treatment by God was only relevant to Pharaoh’s day and age Paul draws the universal principle from his argument and applies it to all men: “(God) hardens whomever he wills, and he has mercy on whomever He wills.” (Romans 9:18)

We don’t deserve any better treatment than Pharaoh, but praise God for His mercy!

God’s election of individuals is indeed righteous because it is the way He intends to get the most glory for His name. If there were a better way to exalt Himself He would have done it.

Paul knows there is still some serious tension between man’s responsibility and God’s sovereignty in all this election talk. In part IV, our final installment of the series covering Romans 9:19-24, Paul will attempt to answer a final objection. Namely, if God is in control of man’s destiny in such an absolute way why does He still find fault with man?

Keep it classy. Grace and peace!

Bryan

Romans 9 and Predestination-Part 2

This little three part series has quickly morphed into a four part series. I encourage you to tough it out and delve into the Scriptures brought up here on your own, for there is no way I can do justice to all of the material that is warranted for this study.

Part I covered Romans 9:1-5, our focus for part II will be on Romans 9:6-13. Romans 9:6 puts a distinguishing mark between Israelites to answer the question of whether God has been unfaithful to them. So Paul’s argument goes:

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Paul brings up God’s sovereign choice of Isaac over Ishmael. Consider Galatians 4:22-30 in the thought of Paul to help interpret Romans 9:7-9 for us. When reading the Galatians passage we find Paul is making a distinction between those born of the Spirit or the elect (Isaac), and those born under flesh and the law (Ishmael). This is not a general distinction between physical and national identities but rather a distinction between those who are lost and those who are saved.

Ishmael’s mother was an Egyptian. So in the mind of the typical Jew that may have automatically excluded him from the covenant. So to fortify his argument and close a potential loophole Paul brings up Isaac’s twin sons born of the same Jewish womb (Genesis 25:23). In verses 10-13, God’s choice of one individual (Jacob) over another (Esau) cannot be due to any distinguishing marks between the two (Jewishness or righteousness). Before the two were ever born God had made His sovereign free elective choice.

A common statement the Arminian makes about God’s election is that God simply foreknows what we will do or believe, and He has chosen us because we have chosen Him. The Arminian polemicist should be applauded for effectively turning the plain meaning of “chosen” or “elect” on it’s head. But in Romans 9:11 Paul outrightly rejects the possibility of God’s foreknowledge of good works as being any basis of His election of a person for salvation. God did not make His choice based on what the boys would do (“not because of works”), but because of His own sovereign purpose.

Remember, we are finding a solution to the problem raised in 1-5. It’s found overtly in Romans 9:11, “in order that God’s purpose of election might continue not because of works but because of Him who calls…” Contrary to what the Arminian interpretation would claim, this is clear salvation language, similar to the language in Romans 9:24, 2 Timothy 1:9 and Romans 8:28-30. When God “calls” us in election, we can’t debate whether we would choose to answer it. There are two very different calls in Scripture, Romans 9 references the inward call that applies to the believer’s responsive heart (as does Romans 8:28), not the general public gospel call which should be proclaimed to all men (Matthew 22:14 shows this general call, the “chosen” in this verse actually confirms the Reformed view). This is the effectual calling of God that takes place in the heart of the called/elect that always reaches it’s desired end: their salvation and God’s glory. Look also at the goal of election according to Ephesians 1:3-6

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

He predestined us by His will to the praise of His glorious grace. Later in Ephesians 1:11-12 it is shown we are predestined by His will so that we “who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of His glory.” Our election is the sovereign means by which God intends to get glory and honor for Himself. He would not leave such an awe-inspiring overarching purpose alone in the hands of wicked men, rather He has an invested and active interest in acquiring His glory (Isaiah 48:9-10).

God’s allegiance to His own glory in His free election of men will become more crystallized in Part III, as we observe Romans 9:14-18.

In Romans 9:11, Paul is hammering home his point to any doubter of God’s covenant faithfulness to the Jew. This is his explanation for why “it is not as though the word of God has failed (for the Jews).” In effect, he’s saying with verses 6-13: “God is doing exactly what he has purposed to do. His word has not failed! He is a KING who has accomplished and fulfilled his promises to His sovereignly chosen people. His election stands for many individuals in Israel, though not for all of ethnic Israel.”

Romans 9:13 is a citation from Malachi 1:2-3 “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” “Love” is probably likened to “choice” here and “hate” to  “rejection”, rather than referring to affection and animosity. But that debate has little bearing on the passage for us. Because Malachi 1 references the descendants of Jacob and Esau, the Arminian interpretation holds that “Jacob” and “Esau” are only used as the representative heads of two nations: Israel and Edom. But Paul mentions neither Israel or Edom in verses 6-13, rather his focus is on the election of Jacob over Esau as individuals not representative heads (as the statement in Romans 9:6 indicates). God’s election of Jacob did have far reaching national implications that resulted in historic privileges, but it began with God’s grace towards an individual that had eternal implications. Jacob experienced God’s sovereign favor in his life, Esau experienced God’s rejection. Both deserved rejection. But praise God, one received grace and the messianic promise of Christ was preserved by God.

Consider the common Arminian interpretation. Ask yourself: why would Paul try to answer the problem of the unbelief of so many in Israel (v.1-5) by appealing to their national identity(6-13)? Is Paul really that random and absurd in his reasoning? The Arminian interpretation interrupts the flow and unity of Romans 9 as a coherent chapter. It says Paul begins with a concern about the salvation of his kinsmen (v.1-5), jumps to a tangential tirade about Israel’s elect “nationhood” (6-13), then randomly hops back to the salvation of men, both Jew and Gentile (Romans 9:24).

The Reformed view holds that Paul’s concern with the electing purpose of God in the salvation of men is the unifying thread throughout the whole ninth chapter of Romans.

As we have progressed it has become increasingly untenable to continue to try to hold the corporate view of Israel in Romans 9. Let’s try to apply another nail to that coffin.

When we interpret scripture with scripture we find that when Paul refers to people as “children of the promise”, “children of God” or “offspring” as he has in Romans 9:7-8, he is speaking of those individual Jews or Gentiles in Christ, not the nation of Israel in theocratic terms. For example, Galatians 3:29:

“in Christ, you are Abraham’s offspring (or seed), heirs according to the promise”

and later in Galatians 4:28:

“Now you brothers, like Isaac, are children of the promise.”

In the New Covenant, Christians have become the “elect” people of God, and such language is no longer restricted to an ethnic nation of Israel. Paul is applying the general OT principle of election specifically to individual believers now.
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In part III, Paul is going to answer the inevitable objection he knows is arising in the hearts of his readers: If God freely determines man’s eternal destiny before man can have any input on the matter, is God unrighteous or unjust? The reason Paul uses for postulating He is not is shocking to the senses of natural man.

Stay tuned and stay classy. Grace be with you.

Bryan Daniels

Romans 9 and Predestination-Part 1

I guess we’ll just go ahead and jump headlong into the theological fray. No matter, our impact won’t even be a lonely raindrop in the ocean of far more superior scholarly works. In the coming days I’ll try (imperative word) to tackle Romans 9:1-24.  It will be a three four part “series” for the sake of blog brevity. It won’t be nearly a final word on the matter, but I do want to encourage everyone to observe that there are at least good reasons to take the Reformed view seriously regarding Romans 9. Of course the invitation is open to all for any comments, encouragements or critiques throughout.

There are billions of resources out there if you would like to do a much more thorough and technical study of Romans 9. I recommend thoughtfully perusing what you may find here. If you are a Greek geek you may want to try John Piper’s excellent book on the matter, “The Justification of God.” As far as this blog is concerned, what follows are just some cursory observations about a highly controversial set of passages from a guy with no formal theological training. Yet none of this material is wholly original, I’ve stood on the backs of much wiser men for all of the grammatical and historical context. Read and proceed with caution.

Let’s begin with Romans 9:1-5:

I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.

Paul is rending his heart wide open here. He is heartbroken over his nation’s rejection of Christ. Even with all the national benefits of being God’s choice ethnic people, for some reason many of them have remained in their unbelief.

In Romans 9:1-5 there is a provocative question raised by Paul. Namely, why are so many in the elect nation of Israel cut off from Christ? Paul is clearly concerned about the salvation of his Israel brethren, specific individual Israeli brethren. Paul does not desire to be accursed because Israel has forfeited it’s national (or theocratic) privileges by its rejection of Christ, rather Paul is anguished because so many people in the Jewish nation are forfeiting salvation and eternal life by their rejection of Christ.

If we forget the backdrop of verses 1-5, then the rest of chapter 9 will hold no coherence for us whatsoever.

Remember, context is king when interpreting Scripture. The whole reasoning behind verses 6-13 are that they are the answers to the concern Paul raised in verses 1-5. What’s the concern? Namely this: Why has the overwhelming majority of Israel with all it’s historic privileges (covenant, prophets, law, patriarchs, etc.) rejected Christ and now has fallen short of the covenant promises? Has the word of God failed? Paul gives a succinct answer in the next verse, Romans 9:6:

“Not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.” 

Paul makes a very important distinction here between the merely ethnic Israel (circumcised in the flesh)  and the true spiritual Israel (circumcised in the heart).

Verse six is an important key to unlocking the meaning of chapter 9. Those of Arminian (free will) persuasion usually apply verses 6-13 to the collective national election of Israel, not the salvation of individual Jews. This is done in order to restrict election or predestination to nations rather than individuals. While listening to sermons on Romans 9 I’ve heard many Arminian preachers assert with vehemence, “These verses (6-13) have absolutely nothing to do with salvation!” Of course, this doesn’t make the predestination of individuals any easier to swallow for them in verses like Romans 8:28-30 or Ephesians 1:4-10, but it is doubtful those verses will be brought up in their handling of Romans 9 anyways.

Consider again the problem posed in verses 1-5 (why are so many in Israel in unbelief and going to hell?), and the response Paul gives to that problem in verse 6: Many Israelites of the flesh are not the true spiritual elect of Israel. Paul introduces similar language about the elect in Israel in Romans 2:28-29 and later in Romans 11:7:

What then? What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened…

Given the fact that Paul’s deepest concern in verses 1-5 is about individual Jews condemned in their unbelief, verses 6-13 cannot be talking about Israel in collective or vague general terms. Verses 6-13 are not talking about a distinction of elect Israel with the rest of the world, but rather distinctions within Israel, between those are individually elect and those who are not (Romans 9:6).

In part I, I have been purposefully repetitious regarding my main argument. If we can grasp these two major points here the rest of Romans 9 will begin to fall into place for us:

1. The nature and significance of Paul’s problem in Romans 9:1-5: Why are so many who are of Israel accursed and apart from Christ?

2. Paul’s introductory answer to that problem in Romans 9:6: There is a distinction between ethnic Israel and spiritual Israel. There is distinction between those of the flesh and those who are truly saved.

With those two points established it becomes clear Romans 9 is speaking not about corporate identities, but eternal destinies. To inject a corporate understanding of verses 6-13 makes Paul’s entire argument disjointed and incoherent.

In Romans 9:6-13, Paul tries to answer the next important question that comes by implication, “What then is the distinguishing mark of those who are saved/true Israel?” In part II, we will find the answer he gives has everything to do with God’s free electing mercy and little to do with man’s free will.

Grace be with you all.

Bryan Daniels

The Intimacy of Eternal Life-You Get Christ!

Eternal life is scary.

At least it was to me as a child. Every time I pondered for any amount of time about being somewhere forever, an incredible aching formed in the pit of my stomach. An aching that would persist to the point of either nausea or panic attack, until I drove all thoughts of immortality out of my mind for the moment. I understood heaven was preferable to hell as far as eternity went, but I couldn’t fathom being anywhere for forever, no matter how celestially blissful it may be. Even Earthworm Jim gets old after you’ve beaten it for the seventeenth time, right? According to my concept of heaven, after a couple of years the monotony would be mind-boggling. We get to run on streets of gold. But then what? We get to swing on gates of pearl. But then what? We get to hang out with our deceased grandparents, Moses, and maybe one of the band members from Creed. But then what? It all seemed a bit…..boring after awhile. As an atheist coworker told me recently, “I don’t want to imagine being anywhere forever. I’d die of boredom being in one place forever. Especially if there are no dogs there.” Nine year old Bryan would have wholeheartedly concurred with that statement (the man who made the statement  is  nearly fifty years old!).

The game that revolutionized the Sega Genesis

This sentiment of fear was held way before I came to the realization that eternal life and the book of Revelation was Christological and God centered; and nothing like anything I knew on earth (Revelation 1:1). In a word, the prospect of eternal life was frightfully boring to me before I came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. After that happened, I learned eternal life did not primarily consist of an infinite quantity of time, but an intimate quality of relationship.

It was Jesus Christ Himself who graciously gave me a wholly adequate solution to my childhood dilemma in (John 17:3):

“This is eternal life, that they may know you the only true God and the Son whom you have sent”

Here I found Christ never meant for us to be enamored with streets of gold, seas of crystal or gates of pearl; He wanted us to be enamored with Him.  A heaven of harps and cloud loitering satisfies not, but one vision of His grandeur and glories will enrapture us for an eternity.

What Christ says about eternal life in his High Priestly Prayer would be altogether shocking and ludicrous to the passive bystander. This is an average Jewish carpenter with no political clout, no royal entourage, and nowhere to even lay his head. And to his concerned disciples he gives this sure promise hours before He goes to the cross, “You will get to know my Father and me forever.” The Islamic Extremist gets 72 virgins. The Hindu gets a better cultural status next time around. The cultist gets his own world and god-like state. The prosperity propagator gets his best life now and maybe a private jet. But Christ makes all of those false promises burn in the light of this one profoundly simple assurance:

“You get Me.”

“You get to know Me.” Clearly, this is a ridiculously audacious promise if we are talking about a mere Jewish man.

The greek word for “know” here is ginōskō, which is translated in three primary tenses:

1) to learn to know, come to know, get knowledge of perceive, feel

2) to know, understand, perceive, have knowledge of

3) Jewish idiom for sexual intercourse between a man and a woman

To “know” God, in its fullest biblical sense holds much more weight than an introductory understanding of bible stories or an intellectual assent to a few orthodox doctrines.

We are called to an intimate knowledge of God, so much so the word is used interchangeably in Scripture with the way only a husband could physically “know” his wife.  You know, the way Joseph didn’t know Mary before Jesus was born? (Mat 1:25)  We are given the same type of relational status only it is eternally deeper than that of human marriage. This is a spiritual relational intimacy a holy God has granted us through Christ from the foundation of the world. This union is not only for monks and ministers, it’s for any who belong to the bride of Christ. And it belongs to all who are being washed in the water of God’s word. (Eph 5:25-28)

Paul called the heart of the gospel the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2Cor 4:4-6) You can find the glory of God in many places: Lightning storms, mountaintops and holding your first-born for the first time. But Paul says the highest point of the glory of God rests in knowing and beholding Christ Himself, His face, His person, and His work at the cross and resurrection.

Paul also called everything else a four letter word (in the original Greek) compared to the surpassing worth of the knowledge of Christ. (Philippians 3:8) That’s because Christ is the Alpha and Omega (Rev 1:17), who upholds all things by the word of His power (Heb 1:3), who sits on an unrivaled  throne as King of the universe (Isaiah 6:1), in charge of angel armies (Heb 1:7), with eyes blazing with fiery holiness (Rev 1:14), a voice that thunders like crashing waterfalls (Rev 1:15), who made all things as all things were made for Him (Col 1:16), and will righteously judge the living and the dead at the end of time (Revelation 19:11). And this all culminates at the cross, where He is the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world for our sins (Rev 13:8).

Indeed, this is no mere Jewish carpenter. Through Him we are called children and heirs of God (Rom 8:16-17). That means we get God; we are afforded the incomprehensible privilege of knowing this God through Christ. This is what we received when we received the gospel, and it all happened at the point of our conversion. Which means eternal life doesn’t begin when we die, eternal life begins when we come to know Christ. Eternal life isn’t just then and there, but it is a here and now reality for those who are in Christ.

In Christ alone, the glory of God is made manifest to us. In Christ alone, the blazing holiness of God is made tolerable and accessible to us. In Christ alone, the righteous Judge has become a righteous Father. In Christ alone, we can know God and not just know things about Him in a second-hand way.

In the life to come, we will be eagerly chasing down the unsearchable riches of His excellencies; and after an eternity we will not have even reached the foothills of the majesty of King Jesus and His kingdom.

Better than wealth, health, fame, sex, food, relationships, toys, self-esteem and all the glory of the world combined.

You get Christ.

What more do you want?

Bryan Daniels

Hell-The New Nintendo, The Old Biblical Truth

Hell is the new Nintendo.

At least it is amongst blogging Christendom as of late. Nothing can quite get public dialogue heated (?!) quicker than some good ole’ fire and brimstone-esque debate. In this day many, even those who call themselves Christian, want to say, “To hell with hell!”…at least as the Bible plainly teaches it.

Hell is an immensely important doctrinal matter, because if eternal destinies of individuals are at stake then what we believe about hell cannot be taken too seriously or studied too carefully.

I bet John the Baptist believed in a literal hell...

It is no matter whether it offends our modern sensibilities and we feel the notion of a literal place called “hell” is arcane and puritanical. What we “feel” about it has no bearing on the issue. The most pressing concern at hand is this: Is it biblical to posit hell as a place of constant physical torment and eternal spiritual separation from God? Or is hell just self wrought consequences of bad choices which we reap only in the here and now?

Let’s begin the discourse in Revelation 20:10. Admittedly, one can’t deny the heavily symbolic nature of Revelation and the difficulties that flow out of such language, but all symbols symbolize something. Symbols are used to illustrate a greater truth that can’t be wrapped in literal language, not a lesser truth. While symbolic descriptions of hell sound bad enough, we can be assured the reality is even worse than can be imagined (thankfully this works on the flip side with heaven too!). 

The fundamental nature of hell is spiritual separation from God, but this view does not account for all the particulars of hell. Revelation 20:10 verse to help illustrate this point: “the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur where the beast and the false prophet also were, and they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” There are several key inferences to make here: the lake of fire consumes the person, just as waters consume any person thrown into a physical lake; it is a place from which they cannot escape; the imagery of fire and sulphur is intended to show extreme pain and suffering that extends to all the senses. Furthermore, the punishment is obviously eternal, continual, total and conscious (“tormented day and night for ever and ever”) and human beings will be there, for the beast and the false prophet are humans.

It’s clear: “Anyone whose name is not written in the book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire.” (Rev 20:10)

Many proponents of a non literal temporal hell claim if we had a more thorough understanding of Jewish historical context we could not hold to the traditional view of hell. This is not corroborated by careful study though. The ancient Jewish belief of humanity includes an immortality of the human soul and human body, which is in direct contrast to the gentile view of a separated body and soul. Daniel 12:1-2 is a confirmation: “ . . but at that time your people shall be delivered, every one whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” If we hold tightly to the view of heaven as conscious eternal bliss, how can we not hold to the view of hell as conscious and eternal torment? Jesus confirms this when he says the unrighteous “will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” The biblical text is plain and does not change the grammatical meaning of “eternity” when referencing heaven or hell.

I find it hypocritical (and an indictment on human nature) that no one is propagating a “temporal” heaven with the same logic they claim a “temporal” hell. Could it be because we are making our interpretations of Scripture based on our subjective inclinations (eisegesis) and not the objective ordinary meaning of the text (exegesis)?

What can we make of Jesus’ NT exhortation to “Fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matthew 10:28)? Hell is the place the body and soul will be eternally destroyed by a Holy loving God. Hell is not just the suicidal and self-inflicted internal propensities of misguided men (though it is that in part), Hell is the external judgment of God being poured out on sinful men (Romans 1:18-21).

Why else would we be charged to “Fear Him”? If all religions end up in the same relativistic celestial melting pot whom is there to fear?

The most heart wrenching display of the nature of hell is Christ’s separation from His Father on the cross. In this tangible portrayal of hell we do see physical suffering, which is only a minute part of this hell, but we see even greater the spiritual suffering of the Son who cried, “Why have you forsaken Me?” In hell, all the goodness and grace of the Father is suspended from the person and they are completely isolated from anything of redeeming value. Self is the wretched cruel king in hell. This Spiritual suffering is the most severe aspect of hell, but this in no way denies the physical suffering of the individual.

Hell has an immensely devastating affect on the whole person. Hell happens to you and in you for eternity.

When we reject the hell Christ took on the cross for us, we are accepting the hell we deserve for an eternity. God gives us what we truly desire. As CS Lewis once said, “Either people will say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ or God will say to them, ‘Thy will be done.'” The self willed, self absorbed and God-hating will continue in that trajectory into eternity. They wouldn’t want it any other way.

Remember who we are rebelling against when we sin. This is no mere Joe Blow off the street, it is the High King and perfect Son we are scorning. This is a high crime with high consequences. When blaspheming the infinitely worthy ONE there are necessarily infinitely dire implications. The punishment (hell) fits the crime (treason). 

This is why the love of God and the wrath of God are inextricably linked. “This is love not that we have loved God but that He has loved us and given His Son as a propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10) In an ironic display of gospel ignorance many who claim “Love Wins” apart from God’s wrath (cough*Rob Bell*cough), are actually nullifying the love of God. God loves sinners because He poured out His just displeasure on His perfect Son who died as our substitute. Clearly, a denial of God’s wrath is a denial of Christ’s propitiation (wrath bearing sacrifice) which in turn is an outright denial of God’s love.

Universalism, in the end, destroys the very thing it is attempting to uphold.

 There is no biblical reason to uphold purgatory or annihilationism as a more sensitive route to hell. Christ was the most loving and sensitive man who ever walked the earth yet He talked more about hell than all other biblical writers combined. It was probably because He was more qualified to speak of such a horrible reality considering He was the creator of it, just as all things were created through Him (Colossians 1:15-17). The domesticated demure Jesus we have constructed in our minds declares in the “Rich man and Lazarus” parable that hell is place of personal consciousness, eternal torment, and no second chances (Luke 16:19-31). Even if we reject the hellfire and brimstone hyper fundamentalist preaching of the traditionalist past, we would do well to give an ear to what Jesus has to say.

If there were no Jesus there would be no hell. Or to say it differently, the only way there could be no hell is if there were no Jesus.

Our distaste for hell will not make it go away. In reality, that taste is designed by God so that we may shun hell and desire the heavenly kingdom He purchased for us with His own Son’s life. We may very well wish the notion of hell would just go to hell. But we would be consigning the love of God, the blood of Jesus, and all the goodness on heaven and earth to the same fate.

Bryan Daniels