How should the faith of American Christians affect their politics?
Bruce Riley Ashford, professor of theology and culture at Southeaster Baptist Theological Seminary, answers this question in a scholarly yet readable way in his new book, Letters to an American Christian (Nashville: B & H, 2018). He uses the technique of imaginary letters to a young new believer, named “Christian.” Imagining he is responding to Christian’s questions and experiences as a new believer and college student in a liberal secular university, he covers a vast array of topics from a Biblical worldview, including church and state, free speech, women’s rights, racism, Black Lives Matter, political correctness, big government, judicial activism, gun ownership, gay rights, transgenders, environmentalism, immigration, nationalism, war and peace, and fake news.
The author frequently includes catchy quotations, humor and personal references to his fictional friend that make the scholarly portions of the book come across more human. Yet he is clearly a scholar, drawing from a vast reading and rooted in Biblical references and concepts. In his chapter on immigration, I was surprised that he made no reference to the Old Testament injunction to protect the “sojourner” and “alien” among Israel, since they were once sojourners in Egypt. His political views are self-described as “center right” (p. 211), and this comes across consistently, as he defends most conservative views, but does it with compassion and moderation. He is strongly critical of secular and liberal political views. He also criticizes alt-right, ultra-conservative views, especially those that are mean-spirited.
Few people are likely to agree with every position Dr. Ashford takes on so many topics, but most Bible-believing Christians will find his book thought-provoking and helpful in forming their own positions.
(Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher, but I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)
Copyright 2018 by Bob Rogers
For three decades as a preacher and teacher, I have studied and taught the Book of Revelation. I have sought to balance symbolism with the literal return of Jesus Christ. One of the thorniest questions has been, How do we understand the chronological sequence of prophecy in Revelation? The most helpful way to see it is what I call the “Rising Tide” theory. Let me explain why I think this, and then explain the theory.
The problem: As one studies the Revelation, we notice that in numerous places, the prophecies seem to describe the end times long before the end of the book. Revelation 6:17 speaks of how the great day of wrath has come, and that’s in the very first chapter of prophecy after the Lamb breaks open the seals! Revelation 11:19 says that God’s temple in heaven opened, preparing for the end, yet in the next chapter, Revelation 12, the gospel story is repeated from heaven’s viewpoint with the images of the birth and resurrection of Christ. Revelation 14:14-20 speaks of the harvest of God’s judgment (again sounding like the end), but then the following chapters revert back, coming to a climax in Revelation 19 with the rider coming on white horse (Jesus), the beast (antichrist) and false prophet cast into lake of fire. From that point forward, the chronology in chapters 20-22 appears to follow a direct line to the end, with Satan bound a thousand years, then thrown into lake of fire, and a new heaven and new earth, and invitation to respond.
The “Rising Tide” explanation: How are we to find a chronological order of prophecy in all of this? Instead of seeing the prophecies in chapters 6 and following as a straight line chronological order, I think we should interpret them like the waves during the rising tide of the seashore. That is, the prophecies appear to move near the end, then go back and repeat, each time coming close to the end times, just as the rising tide comes in waves to the seashore, receding, then coming farther in, receding again but eventually coming in farther and farther. I believe this interpretation honors the reality of the text, taking seriously the symbolism but also trusting in its truthfulness. Revelation is a powerful book, inspired by God to steadily wash over us with our need to have our names written in His book of life. By repeatedly warning us of the end, instead of just one description of the end, the constant waves of its truth have a greater affect on our hearts to fall down in worship before the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.
Article copyright by Bob Rogers
Just because a person is in the pew doesn’t mean he or she will listen. How do you keep them from tuning out? Here are five ways:
1. Be creative. “It’s a sin to make the word of God boring.” So said one of my seminary professors. I agree. If the congregation knows that every sermon will have the traditional “three points and a poem,” they may tune you out simply because you are predictable. Why not try a different approach from time to time? If the passage is primarily a story, consider telling the story dramatically. If the text seems to have two main points or five main points, why not preach a sermon with that many points? If the passage is poetry, consider using music or other art to illustrate the text. Jim Burnett gives more advice on how to be creative in your preaching here.
2. Speak their language. Sometimes people tune us out because we aren’t speaking to their mindset. Failing to do so is like speaking in English to a French audience. Many women tire of constant illustrations from sports, and the well-educated and young people especially tune out statements that come across as judgmental or condescending. The best way to speak the mindset of your congregation is to know your people. Spending time with them, listening to their stories and opinions, and learning about their hobbies and interests, can make all the difference in the pastor’s preaching. The preacher does not have to agree with them; in fact, sometimes he will need to challenge their thinking, but if he knows them and has earned their trust, he can speak in a way that they will listen. Along these lines, the staff of Facts and Trends have compiled a useful article on how to engage nine different kinds of people with the Bible in this article.
3. Make messages on stewardship positive. One of the most challenging topics for ministers to discuss is stewardship. I have found it useful to do a stewardship emphasis by giving short talks on principles of giving early in the service, and then preach the main sermon on a different subject. This touches on stewardship, yet takes away the excuse that “all the church does is talk about money.” It is also important to keep the subject positive, praising and thanking those who give, and talking about the great ministry of the church that people want to support with their offerings. Todd McMichen has some helpful hints on stewardship messages here.
4. Learn how to defend the faith. Many preachers and teachers recognize the need for apologetics (defending the faith), but often feel inadequate doing it. When you prepare a sermon, stop and think what objections people may have. How might a non-believer or person from a different faith background disagree? Write down the questions of your imaginary skeptic. Then seek to give a reasonable answer to the objections of that imaginary person. A great resource is The Apologetics Study Bible, which has notes right in the text to answer objections of skeptics and explain responses to non-Christian interpretations of scripture. This article by Andy McLean should help, as well.
5. Preach with passion. Passionate preaching is not about using a loud voice; in fact, it may be a low voice. Passionate preaching is from heart-felt conviction. When the congregation can feel that you are deeply convinced of what you are saying, they will be impacted by the Spirit of God. This comes from being personally moved by God by the scripture, and bathing the matter in prayer. That is why there is no substitute for much study and soul-searching prayer in preparation for the sermon.
Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
Motivational author Jim Collins coined the term “BHAG” (BEE-hag), or “Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal” to inspire businesses to have a great vision. For example, the BHAG of Microsoft was, “A computer on every desk in every home.” The BHAG of Ford was “democratize the automobile.”
In Romans 15:20, the apostle Paul stated his ambition: “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known.” In fact, Paul had a BHAG to accomplish it:
Bold. In verse 15, Paul comments that he had written them boldly. In Ephesians 6:19, he asks the Ephesians to pray for him to be a bold preacher. He was bold. He boldly stood before Greek philosophers, Roman officials, and hostile Jewish synagogues all over his world to proclaim Jesus. Do you have a bold goal for Jesus?
Holy. In verse 16, Paul desires to be “sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” Sanctified means to be holy (set apart) to God. A bold goal does no good if it’s not a godly goal. Repeatedly in Leviticus, God said, “Be holy, because I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44; 20:8, etc.)
Acceptable. Also in verse 16, Paul says his ministry is “an offering acceptable to God.” Likewise in Romans 12:1, Paul urges Christians to offer themselves as living sacrifices, “holy and acceptable to God.” It matters not if our goals are acceptable to people, but it makes all the difference if they are pleasing to God. Are your ambitions acceptable and pleasing to God?
God-driven. In verses 17-19 Paul talks about God, not about himself. He speaks of his pride in Christ, not in himself; he says he doesn’t have anything to speak about except what Christ has done. Martin Niemoller was a German pastor who endured concentration camps in World War II. Two newspaper reporters went to hear him speak when he came to America, but they were disappointed. One said to the other, “Six years in a Nazi camp, and all he has to talk about is Jesus Christ.” May they say the same about you and me!
William Carey, the father of the modern missionary movement, said, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” What is your BHAG for God?
Article copyright by Brian A. Williamson
(Brian A. Williamson is a hospital chaplain and former pastor in Mississippi. He shares the following reflection on a funeral and on a hospital visit he made with a dying patient, which I found thought-provoking. He follows the reflection with a poem. Feel free to share your comments below.)
I recently attended the funeral of my dear friend Jack’s beloved wife of more than 30 years—Paula. Paula, too, was a close friend of mine, but not like Jack. I’ve told people many times about Jack’s faithful service as a devoted deacon of the first church I served as pastor. Being with Jack in this setting was different… Many times before Jack and I sat with others in a funeral setting, but usually he was the one walking around and ministering to others in the room. He was clearly uncomfortable on this occasion with all the attention he was receiving by those coming to pay their respects and offer condolences—a mark of an incredibly humble man. On this day, I saw no tears fall from his eyes while I marveled at his faith—he clearly knew that his wife’s final hope was realized.
Paula’s casket was beautiful; the drape of orchids, hydrangea, and white with light blue roses was the prettiest I’d ever seen on a casket. The colors of the flowers provided the eyes with a visual symphony in perfect pitch…and all of this matched the colors of the sanctuary of that little country church beautifully; and I thought, “Paula would smile if she could see all of this…” And then it hit me—I wonder, “what if she can?” I looked to and fro amongst all us mourners and supporters, contemplating this thought with a different curiosity than ever before. I thought, she’d cry at her own funeral—there were people everywhere sitting with this family, to support them and mourn with them over the loss of “the Queen of Banana Pudding” as she is known in the church. Paula isn’t used to this much attention, and I imagine she’d be uncomfortable with all this, too. Hmmm… I wonder, “What do dead people see?”
Flashback—I visited a terminal cancer patient in the hospital months ago who told me her only prayer request since being given a terminal diagnosis was to ask God to let her live long enough to see her first grandchild being born. Tearfully, she acknowledged the looming reality that she was dying faster than her daughter’s pregnancy was progressing. Several family members sat somberly with this woman as she lamented her death and God’s flat denial of her request. “Why would God take this from me?” she asked, seeming to genuinely hope that I had a great answer… But, I didn’t. Then she asked, “Do you think God will let me see my granddaughter’s birth even though I’m dead?”
I’d never considered a question the likes of this one before. Is it answerable? I pondered what it might be like once dead; is there Scripture to support such a notion? As I pondered the question further, her family began to offer her spiritual condolences… “Everything’s gonna be ok, why you won’t even care about us…things will be so beautiful in heaven that you won’t even think about us” said one man in a wheelchair. Another chimed in, “That’s right—you’ll just be worshipping the Lord, and you’ll be so consumed by his majesty that you’ll forget about us altogether…” Still another, “When you get to heaven, your sense of time will be like a warp or something; you won’t even think of being in a different place cause when you blink, we’ll all be there with you.” (Really? I thought…you gotta be kiddin’ me!) I thought more about the woman’s question…it was simple…yes or no…no other explanation needed.
“YES” I said; and the room fell quiet instantly, as if someone had thrown open the hatch in space and the vacuum sucked all the wind and words out of the room. My eyes were locked into the dying woman’s eyes as I had come to this conclusion, communicating my sincere faith in my response. She locked her eyes on mine as seconds passed in slow motion—she was processing. She looked interested and hopeful, and I repeated, “Yes. I do think that God will allow you to see the birth of your granddaughter even though you are dead.”
The others in the room leaned back as if lightning was about to strike me as God “took me out” for such heresy. I continued with my thoughts out loud: “It seems to me that God understands the beauty of birth, for God created it; and, God knows the love you have for your daughter as well as your love for the unborn child. If God formed this life and longs for her to spring from her mother’s womb, and I believe that you believe it is so; then, I’m certain that his love for you would not deny you the joy of such an anticipated event that is overflowing with hope and love from you. Because of his love, I believe he will allow you to see what He will see on that blessed day. Even though you will be dead, you will be alive by faith. You’re death won’t make you blind—you will still see. I don’t know how it will work, but I believe it will be so. You and your family will celebrate your granddaughter’s birth together—of this, I have no doubt.”
She held her breath for in silence; then, she believed and exhaled. It was as if the weight of the world had been lifted off the woman’s shoulders. Her mourning tears became happy tears, and the anticipation of the new birth again gave her hope. No one had ever considered the possibility that God had already granted this grieving woman’s prayer request because she continued to die; but, God had.
Though “in Adam” we all die; yet, “in Christ” we all live! In Christ we live and move [and hope] and have our being! In Christ, this woman will live to see the birth of her prized and much-anticipated grandchild! “Dead, and yet I see!” will be her anthem on that day. I can’t explain how it will work or what it will be like, I only know that is the truth.
Dead and yet I see
By: Chaplain Brian Williamson
I’m dead and yet I see, having crossed over to Promised Land,
‘Tis my home now, though it’s hard for you to understand.
Am I dead? Yes…and yet I see, for by my faith I’ve moved along,
Joyfully straining to be happy in life, while longing what lies beyond.
Now more than ever, by my hope in Christ, I see
That painful things in life make sense in eternity.
Dead, but now I see. I know you don’t understand,
But my life isn’t over, and I still see you from Glory Land.
God knew my love for you; and though we now live separately,
I’m closer than you think, beloved; for though I’m dead, yet I see.
Our God gives us hope through the promises contained in Scripture, and by faith in Him, I believe that he would never remove our love for others—if he did, He doesn’t understand.
The film Paul, Apostle of Christ, is unlike some recent Bible films that retell the story from scripture. This film creates a fictional story of the Gospel writer Luke (played by Jim Caviezel), who seeks out the apostle Paul (played by James Faulkner) in prison in Rome, to collect stories for the Acts of the Apostle.
All of the story of the film is set in Rome, with Luke going back and forth from visits to Paul in prison, to visits with the Christian community hiding in Rome, led by the Biblical personalities Aquila and Priscilla. Thus, it is a slow-moving plot. However, it uses these scenes to show the violent persecution of Christians by Emperor Nero, and for Paul to flash back to memories of his own persecution of Christians before coming to the faith. The Roman commander of the prison who has a sick daughter becomes involved in the fictional storyline, which serves to further illustrate the Christian faith and martyrdom of Paul.
While the plot moves slowly, this film is not so much about the plot as it is about the characters and what they experienced, and the characters are developed well, helping you feel the emotion and real struggles of trying to have faith in God in a dark and evil world. Faulkner is very convincing as Paul. Aquila and Priscilla also portray a Christian married couple who show respect and love for each other. The acting, costumes, scenery, music and cinematography are outstanding.
Although most of the film is fictional, it seeks to carefully follow what is known from the Bible. For example, the film shows Luke making sure a letter is delivered from Paul to Timothy, and quotes extensively from Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy. A study of the last part of that letter mentioned “Only Luke is with me” (2 Timothy 4:11) and sends greetings to Priscilla and Aquila (2 Timothy 4:19), whom the film depicts as escaping Rome to be with Timothy.
Especially powerful is how the film deals with Paul’s inner struggle with guilt over killing Christians, yet accepting Christ’s grace and forgiveness. This is beautifully resolved at the end of the movie in a particularly moving scene. The film should spark great discussions about what it is like to live out the faith in a non-Christian world.
Article copyright by Bob Rogers
There are more Jews in the United States than live in Israel, and more Jews in New York City than Jerusalem. Thus many American Christians have Jewish friends, and wonder about their eternal destiny. Many people believe that Jews will be saved just because they are God’s chosen people, but a study of Romans almost seems to say the opposite.
In Romans 9:6, the apostle Paul said, “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.” He said in 9:30-31 that the Gentiles had obtained a righteousness by faith, but Israel pursued a righteousness by the law and failed to obtain it.
In Romans 10, Paul said that the Jews had heard and understood, but failed to believe.
So he comes to Romans 11:1, and asks, “Did God reject his people?” His answer in verse 2: “God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.” So what does God say will happen to the Jews? Will the Jews be saved?
In Romans 11, Paul answers this question in the present, and in the future.
1. At the present time, only a few Jews are saved (Rom. 11:1-24)
In the first part of the chapter, Paul discusses the situation of the Jews during his time, a situation that we still observe today. The key statement is in verse 5: “at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.” They are saved by grace, not race.
Paul himself was a Jew. He stresses this in verse 1, saying, “I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.” Paul reminds his readers that there are still Jews like himself who follow Jesus, and that is true to this day, although they are a small percentage of the Jewish population (by some estimates, about 100,000 Jewish people are “Messianic Jews” who follow Jesus as their Messiah.)
Paul senses a danger here, and he issues two warnings to his Gentile readers. He says in verse 13, “I am talking to you Gentiles.” Then he proceeds to use an analogy of an olive tree to explain the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in the story of salvation. This is an appropriate illustration, because an olive tree was often used in scripture as a symbol for Israel. Paul says that the olive tree has some branches broken off, which represents the fact that many Jews have rejected the gospel, and then he says in verse 17, “and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others…”
Thus we who are Gentiles have no right to be proud. It is only by God’s grace that He has grafted us in to be part of His people. This should remind us that there is no place in the church for anti-Semitism. Throughout the years, people have persecuted Jews, forcing them to move out of their homes, calling them “Christ-killers.” While few of us would do such a hateful thing, how many Americans make jokes about Jewish people being stingy with their money? How dare we say such things about God’s chosen people?
2. In the future, the Jewish people will be saved (Rom. 11:25-32)
So will the Jews be saved? Paul finally brings this question to a climactic answer in verses 25-26. Paul says, “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved…”
Matthew 24:14 says the gospel must be proclaimed to all nations, and then the end will come. Apparently this verse is referring to the same matter, that God knows how many Gentiles are going to receive Him as Savior, and when that critical mass is reached, a revival will break out among the Jews, as they turn to faith in Christ. In this way, God will fulfill His promises and covenant with Israel. This is confirmed in Revelation 7:4-8, which names the tribes of Israel before the throne of God in heaven.
Over and over again in the Old Testament, God promised that he would not reject the Jewish people. The prophet Samuel said in 1 Samuel 12:22, “For the sake of His great name, the Lord will not reject His people…”
So the answer to our question is yes! In the end times, the Jews will turn to faith in Jesus, and be saved!
The miracle of the Jews
Frederick the Great, king of Prussia from 1740 to 1786, asked for proof that the Bible is true, in a discussion with his court chaplain. Frederick had been influenced by the atheistic French philosopher Voltaire. The king said, “If your Bible is really true, it ought to be easy to prove. So often, when I ask for proof of the Bible, people give me a large book that I have neither the time nor desire to read. If your Bible is really from God, you should be able to demonstrate it simply. Give me proof for the inspiration of the bible in a word.”
“Your Majesty, I can give you the proof you ask for in one word,” replied the chaplain.
Amazed, the king asked, “What is this magic word?”
“Israel,” replied the chaplain. Frederick the Great responded only with silence.
When you think about the history of the people of Israel, it is a miracle of God that they still exist. The descendants of Jacob, or Israel, went down to live in Egypt, and were made into slaves there. But God brought them out of slavery and settled them in the Promised Land. They were conquered again and again, but each time God delivered them from their invaders. Finally, the empire of Assyria destroyed the northern part of Israel, and deported the lost tribes of Israel to other lands, and the empire of Babylon destroyed the southern part of Israel, burned down Jerusalem and the temple, and deported the Jews to Babylon. But after the exile, once again God brought the Jews back to the land. The Greeks tried to exterminate Jewish faith and culture, sacrificing a pig on the altar in the temple, and trying to force the Jews to only speak Greek and adopt Greek culture, but the Jews fought a war for independence under the Maccabees, and restored their land and cleansed the temple. A few years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Jews fought a war with Rome in A.D. 70. Again the temple and Jerusalem was destroyed, millions of Jews died, and millions of Jews scattered all over the world. Despite all this, for centuries they maintained their language, faith and culture. They continued to be hounded out of nations, called “Christ-killers,” and persecuted wherever they lived. Then the communists tried to expel them from Russia, and Nazi Germany murdered six million of them in the holocaust. Did that eliminate the Jews? No! Instead, in 1948, the United Nations established Israel as a nation again. Surrounded by millions of Arabs who hate the Jews, Israel has had to fight war after war with their Arab neighbors, but Israel has won each war. In 1967, Israel fought a war simultaneously against Egypt, Jordan and Syria, and defeated them all in just six days, taking the Sinai peninsula from Egypt, the west bank from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria. Today over 5 million Jews live in Israel, along with about 2 million Arabs, and every year more and more Jews are returning to their homeland.
The only explanation for all these events is the grace of God. Or, as Romans 11:29 says, “For God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.”
This same God who has an amazing plan for his Chosen People has a plan for you. We who are Gentiles are only wild shoots, but God in His grace calls us, as well, to be grafted in to His spiritual tree. You can only come in by faith. One day the full number of Gentiles will come in, and it will be too late for us. As more and more Jews are beginning to turn to Christ, and more unreached people groups are reached, we do not know how long that will be, but one day it will be too late for us. How about you? Will you come to Him by faith while the door remains open?
My wife and I were deeply moved by the new film, I Can Only Imagine. I was so emotional that I had to compose myself before I could drive home– it was that powerful.
You may know the song, but do you know the story behind the song? “I Can Only Imagine” by Bart Millard of the Christian band Mercy Me is the best-selling, most-played Christian single of all time. The new film by the same title tells the moving true story of the songwriter and how he wrote the song.
The film tells how Bart Millard’s father abused him and his mother, and constantly told Bart he was not good enough. [Spoiler alert—skip the rest of this paragraph if you don’t want to know the basic plot.] Thanks to a football injury and a music teacher’s insistence, Bart discovered he had a gift to sing. When his father told him to forget his dreams, he left home, turned his back on the girlfriend who loved him, and tried to escape his troubles by singing with a traveling band.
I won’t give away the ending, because the circumstances of how he recorded the song have surprising twists and turns along the way, but suffice to say that Bart had to face his fears to reach his dreams. And yes, the film dramatically presents the full song near the end of the film.
Dennis Quaid is amazing as the actor playing Bart’s abusive father. People who have endured abuse will feel the pain Bart feels from his father, but many people with sins in their own past, like myself, will identify with the pain of the father himself.
This is a Christian film, but it is not “preachy.” The story is raw, real and unapologetically soaked with the hope of the gospel. Go see this film if you like music, if you like romance, if your dreams have been crushed, if you have been abused, if you have abused someone, if you have a broken home, if you are grieving the death of a loved one, if you need forgiveness, if you need to forgive, and if you need hope.
Article copyright by Bob Rogers, Th.D.
(This is the fourth in a series of five articles about predestination.)
Some people object to the idea of predestination because they think it takes away human responsibility and free will. Yet the Bible says predestination is “according to foreknowledge.” In other words, God can speak of something as destined to happen, because God already knows the future.
Romans 8:29 (ESV) says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined…” Peter said, “To those… chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father…” (1 Peter 1:1-2, CSB). This concept is plainly stated in the Gospel of John. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father” (John 6:65, ESV). That sounds like predestination, doesn’t it? But read the verse before it: “For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe…” (John 6:64, ESV). There it is again—foreknowledge!
Let me illustrate it like this. Once I was a passenger on an airplane coming into the airport in Savannah, Georgia, which is near Interstate 95. As we descended, I could see a wreck on I-95 that was several miles to the north. I knew that the northbound cars immediately below me were going to come upon that wreck, because I could see farther that they could see. In a similar way, since God exists beyond time, and knows the future, he can speak of it as certain to happen (predestined). He already knows what we will do, but we are still free and responsible for what we do.
Article copyright by Bob Rogers, Th.D.
(This is the third in a series of articles on predestination.)
On the subject of predestination, the verses in Romans 9 that are central to this discussion are Romans 9:22-23. These verses have been interpreted as teaching “double-edged predestination,” which is an extreme version of hyper-Calvinism that many Calvinists themselves to not take. What exactly is “double-edged predestination”? It is the idea that predestination cuts both ways like a double-edged sword– not only are the saved predestined to be saved, but that the lost are predestined to be lost. Some people interpret Romans 9:22-23 this way, because the verses speak of the “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” and “vessels of mercy, which he prepared beforehand for glory.” However, what many people miss here, is that Paul describes the vessels of wrath (the lost) and the vessels of mercy (the saved) in different ways in this passage. The Greek grammar in verse 22 describes the “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” with a perfect participle in the middle or passive voice. Thus it describes the objects of wrath, which refer to the lost, as “having been made ready for destruction,” which may mean they prepared themselves for destruction by their own unbelief. Notice also that God “endured with much patience the vessels of wrath.” In other words, God patiently waited for their free choices, because, as 2 Peter 2:9 says, God is not willing that any be lost. Paul speaks of the lost by implying it is the result of their own choices, which God in His omniscience already knew they would make. (More on that tomorrow.)
However, the Greek grammar is different when referring to the “vessels of mercy” in verse 23. Paul describes the “vessels of mercy” as those “which he has prepared beforehand for glory.” This time, Paul uses the active voice to describe God’s action of salvation. In other words, Paul speaks of the saved as actively being predestined by God. Paul uses the word “beforehand,” to speak of the predestination of the saved, even though he did not use the word “beforehand” when speaking of the lost.
Thus we may speak of the saved as being predestined to be saved, but it is wrong to speak of the lost as being predestined to be lost. Just as God announced the judgment of Nineveh through Jonah, but responded to Nineveh’s repentance with forgiveness, in the same way God announces that all unbelievers are “vessels of wrath,” but if they react with repentance, God, who foreknew they would do so, responds with grace and forgiveness.
Article copyright by Bob Rogers, Th.D.
Predestination is generally understood as God’s foreordaining of what will happen, especially who will be saved. It is often associated with the teachings of the Protestant Reformer John Calvin, and thus sometimes referred to as Calvinism. Presbyterians, Reformed churches, many Baptists, and some other Christians emphasize this doctrine, although they hold to differing interpretations of predestination. In this and the next four posts, I will expound on five truths about predestination, primarily from the ninth chapter of the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Romans. In the third post, I will give special attention to different ways of understanding predestination.
Truth #1: There are two kinds of predestination: nations and individuals.
In Romans chapter 9, the apostle Paul was trying to explain why most of his fellow Jews had rejected the gospel of Jesus Christ. He explained it by talking about God’s “election,” or predestination. Paul implies that there are two kinds of election: election of nations, and election of individuals. The Jews were, and are, God’s “chosen people.” Romans 9:13 quotes Malachi 1:2, “Jacob [Israel] I loved.” Despite this, not all Jews will be saved. Romans 9:6 says, “for not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.” That’s because there is a second kind of election, which is individual election to salvation, and that requires faith. Romans 9:30-33 says that many Gentiles became believers, even though they were not an elect nation, because they got “a righteousness that is by faith,” but Israel, which is an elect nation, “did not succeed… Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith…”
To be continued tomorrow…
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), was a brilliant French mathematician and scientist often remembered for “Pascal’s triangle.” But he was also a Christian writer. In his classic work, Pensees (Thoughts), he proposed a fascinating reason for believing in God, often called “The Wager.” Here it is. Feel free to share your reaction in the comments below:
Either God exists or he does not exist. But which view should be taken? Reason cannot answer this question. Imagine a coin is being spun which will come down heads or tails; how will you wager? Since a choice must be made, let us see where your real interest lies. You have two things at stake: truth and happiness. What is the gain and the loss if you call heads, that God exists. If you win, you win everything; if you lose, you lose nothing. A gambler, where there is an equal chance of gain or loss, would place a bet if the possible gain was twice the possible loss. But here the possible gain is infinite, and the possible loss nothing. Every gambler takes a certain risk for uncertain gain. Here you are taking a certain risk with the prospect either of infinite gain if you win, or no loss if you lose.
Here are a few of my favorite quotations from the great evangelist Billy Graham, who died today at age 99:
“Without the resurrection, the cross is meaningless.”
“The Bible teaches that we are to be patient in suffering. Tears become telescopes to heaven, bringing eternity a little closer.”
“The devil doesn’t need to invent any new temptations; the old ones work as well as they ever have.”
“In some churches today and on some religious television programs, we see the attempt to make Christianity popular and pleasant. We have taken the cross away and substituted cushions.”
“Thousands of pastors, Sunday school teachers, and Christian workers are powerless because they do not make the Word the source of their preaching and teaching.”
“The Bible is the one book which reveals the Creator to the creature He created! No other book that man has conceived can make that statement and support it with fact.”
“Evangelism is not a calling reserved exclusively for the clergy. I believe one of the greatest priorities of the church today is to mobilize the laity to do the work of evangelism.”
“Philip is the only person in the Bible who was called an evangelist, and he was a deacon!”
“If God were to eradicate all evil from this planet, He would have to eradicate all evil men. Who would be exempt? God would rather transform the evil man than eradicate him.”
“I have never been to the North Pole, and yet I believe there is a North Pole. How do I know? I know because somebody told me. I read about it in a history book, I saw a map in a geography book, and I believe the men who wrote those books. I accept it by faith. The Bible says, ‘Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God’ (Romans 10:17, KJV).”
“People do not come to hear what I have to say– they want to know what God has to say.”
“When we come to the end of ourselves, we come to the beginning of God.”
“We have changed our moral code to fit our behavior instead of changing our behavior to harmonize with God’s moral code.”
“If you are ignorant of God’s Word, you will always be ignorant of God’s will.”
“Go is the first part of the word Gospel. It should be the watchword of every true follower of Christ. It should be emblazoned on the banners of the church.”
“The Gospel shows people their wounds and bestows on them love. It shows them their bondage and supplies the hammer to knock away their chains. It shows them their nakedness and provides them the garments of purity. It shows them their poverty and pours into their lives the wealth of heaven. It shows them their sins and points them to the Savior.”
Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
There are more things to worry about than sand on the seashore. But in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Don’t worry about your life… or about your body” (Matthew 6:25, CSB). Jesus followed that statement with five reasons why we don’t need to worry. In each of these reasons is a truth that teaches us how to replace worry with something else!
1. Life is about more than things (6:25). Jesus said, “Don’t worry… Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing?” This question teaches us to overcome worry by changing our priorities in life. Once Jesus turned down lunch from his disciples and said, “I have food to eat that you don’t know about” (John 4:32). He was referring to the satisfaction in His soul of leading the Samaritan woman at the well to faith. Jesus didn’t worry about things, because His priority was spiritual.
2. Since God provides for His creation, you can trust that He will provide for you (6:26). “Consider the birds of the sky,” said Jesus. “They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they?” This truth teaches us to replace worry with faith. Instead of turning over negative things in your mind, meditate on positive gifts from God. “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything” (Philippians 4:6, NLT).
3. Worry doesn’t change your problem (6:27). Jesus asked, “Can any of you add one moment to his life span by worrying?” This truth teaches us that worry is a waste of time—time that could be spent doing something useful, such as taking action to deal with the problem. My friend Melisa Grubbs says, “I can be a worrier or a warrior.”
4. If you focus on God instead of your problem, God will provide (6:33). When you hold a small object close to your face, it looks bigger than any object in the room. Worry is like holding your problem close to your face, instead of looking to God. Jesus promised, “But seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.” He was teaching us to replace worry by looking closely at God instead of looking closely at the problem. Scripture and prayer help us focus on God. Some helpful verses are: Psalm 27:1, Psalm 34:4, Isaiah 26:3, Matthew 11:28-30, Philippians 4:7, and 1 Peter 5:7.
5. Learn to live in the present (6:34). Jesus said, “Don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself.” How often have you fretted in anticipation of something out of your control, and later learned it was not an issue after all? So, replace worry about tomorrow by living in the present. Don’t miss the beauty of today by imagining things that may not even happen tomorrow.
No wonder Jesus Himself could sleep through a storm, and then wake up and calm the sea (Mark 4:38-40). Rest in the Savior, and He can calm your storm, as well. “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7, NLT).