I have been reading your article on the Great Apostasy. Is it possible for someone who is an apostate to turn back to God? Is it possible for them to be restored? Could you call a backslider an Apostate?
When it comes to the Great Apostasy, those who turn apostate will do so by rejecting Jesus Christ and by following antichrist instead, taking his name/number on their bodies and joining in on the persecution of the true Church. As far as I am aware, scripture never decisively answers the question of whether or not returning from apostasy is possible (though it does describe entering that condition as rendering a person "worse off than before" in 2Pet.2:22). I would say and have said that where there is life, there is hope, and of course nothing is impossible with God, but the Bible does not describe such situations, leaving us to assume that even if possible they are at least very unlikely. During the Tribulation, I would imagine that this would be doubly true. So whatever we might theoretically call such a person who turns away then comes back (we would call everyone who believes in Jesus a believer, I should think), the real issue is one of present orientation. Those who follow God now, belong to God, regardless of what they have done in the past. Those who reject Jesus now, do not belong to Jesus, regardless of whether or not they once genuinely professed faith (Ezek.18:20-28; 33:12-20; cf. Ezek. 3:17:-21).
One point I would really like to take the opportunity to emphasize is that many genuine believers often worry unnecessarily or are even terrified at the thought that they have "become apostate" or "lost their salvation" and I have a suspicion that the false doctrine of "once saved always saved" was cooked up in order to reassure such individuals that had not in fact fallen away from Christ. It is wonderful to be reassured but only according to the truth. And the truth is that it is possible to fall away through turning away from the Lord to the point where a person no longer believes. But THAT is the key: believers are saved; unbelievers are not. Almost by definition, then, if a person is "worried about their salvation", that person may be in spiritual trouble but it is highly improbable (and in my view from a practical standpoint impossible) that they have "lost their salvation" if only because people who no longer care a fig about Jesus Christ (the definition of apostasy) are unlikely to be concerned that He is no longer their Lord. Between the extreme "pins and needles salvation" that some preach, terrifying weak Christians with the idea that losing salvation is an easy matter (it is not: faith has to be completely put to death for apostasy to result), and the equally false and problematic "once saved always saved" lies the truth: we are secure in Jesus Christ so long as we believe in Jesus Christ. Therefore neither hand-wringing about possibly lost salvation or complete lack of concern about our behavior and spiritual status is appropriate. We are not here on this earth either to mope or to nap. We are hear to get up or wake up and to start following our Lord down the path He has shown us: we are to grow up through faith in the truth, to make progress through applying truth to life and the tests which come our way, and to help others along the way through the ministries Jesus assigns us. If we do this, we will never have to worry, and apostasy versus security will be just an academic question.
Finally on this, there is the example of king Manasseh of Judah. If was not an apostate, he certainly gave a very good impression of it, indulging in every sort of idolatry and opposition to the Lord to a proverbial degree (cf. 2Chron.33:9) - and yet when he suffered the consequences he humbled himself and apparently did come back to the Lord (2Chron.33:12-23). If there turned out to be hope for this prime example of apostasy, there would seem to be hope for anyone who truly does repent and return to the Lord after falling far away.
I also address these issues more or less directly at the following links:
Restoration of Faith
Jesus' Cursing of the Fig Tree, Apostasy, and 'Feng Shui'
Apostasy and the Sin unto Death
Yours in our Lord Jesus Christ in whom we have life eternal.
Hey Mr. Bill!
I asked you a while back about moving mountains. How is it going? And yes, I have a question. I was wondering what your personal view on reality and the conscious and sub-conscious part of it is. Let me explain. A while back along with the question of moving mountains, I also included a question about God's will, and in that I told you why, which was because I a medical issue. Up in that time I was doing some serious research, and stumbled over the wrong reading material, on the subject of "self-hypnotism" and stuff on the same lines. I knew that things far out were possible, and I believed that I could do many of them. Not going as far as an "out of body experience" or anything. Even then, a newly born Christian, I knew that such is very foolish and is opening up to things other than God. However, I did find one thing very possible to me that I thought was ok unfortunately. The goal physical change. The association was conscious, sub-conscious, and the mind's connection to reality. I figured that a person grows during REM sleep. I also knew that while in that state, the mind's walls in many areas were broke down and the sub-conscious was all free play and awesomeness. So, yes, I stretched reality to appear, feel, be, in a dream. I made things look bigger, higher, stretched out, but wasn't good at it. Most of all though, I faded everything out. Hazed it out. Kinda like when you black out but not. It's hard to describe, but it was fun...at first. What I didn't realize is that I was chasing after a goal so hard that I missed out on the main point. My perspective, my goal, my well-being, my feelings were all aimed at one thing. And in the end I realized that that one thing I was chasing after isn't found in hardly any of the stuff I was chasing after. It's really found in people. And I was really chasing after happiness. I really was. Believe me when I say I got saved, but I was chasing after a sub source of supply. Good thing is, I'm not doing that anymore. Bad thing is, I'm stuck. Reality looks like a dull dream. Always the same. Like staring into a video game. When driving down the road I could just wreck into the ditch and laugh or get a little adrenaline rush. But it's really not funny because people aren't the same anymore. I know it was a partial release because before and during that time I was going through trauma and after it was partially over, I just abused myself with work I stay on the computer 12 hours a day doing internet code when I do other work I work hard I never get a break because I know people don't realize that you work hard when you do and even if they're just trying to get you to be better it usually doesn't help. But I am no longer afraid of the dark like before nor what's in it, because I KNOW God is all around me and I believe in Him MORE than them and that is the key.
My problem is 3 fold.
1. I am a normal person with a medical issue. Problems started before I started sub-conscious experiments. My condition requires a careful diet but even if I eat "right" I can have problems because I work too much. Before today, I had to.
2. I'm stuck in dream world. I'm sure spending 12 hours a day on the computer does not help and cannot be justified enough. I'm sure I could find work other places if needed. I want reality back.
3. During the trauma I accidentally programmed myself. I have never done real self-hypnotism. Somehow my mind has found it's way to program itself to be so afraid of people and be afraid around people that something really embarrassing happens when I'm around them. God has blessed me in this. I'm sure faith can always be increased, and someday I hope to be as knowledgeable as you and have the spirit of Elijah [more like the Spirit of GOD], but God has used this to increase my faith 100 fold. I'm not near as so called "afraid" of people, but in the same way, my mind can't get past this catch. I'll only go into detail if you have not one fear of this subject.
I feel like so many years have been wasted, and I realize it's only been 3 years in this stuff particular. I want to live. I want to be free. I want to just be able to sing and laugh and taste the dew of grass on my tongue. If you laugh, it's not my hearts fault, just my imaginations interpretation.
I'm not in any dire situation or anything, but in the end I know it affects a lot. I want...basically....I guess I want your wisdom in this situation
Thank you for reading my monstrous email again. Have a great rest of this week!
Good to hear from you although I am sorry to hear that you are going through some troubles. I am no MD, so I can't say for certain, but I would be reluctant to blame the physical problems you report on your experiments. I have known plenty of people with similar medical problems who were never into anything like this. We all have our particular crosses to bear. Some problems we have, physical or otherwise, are indeed the result of bad decisions we have made in the past. However, God is capable of undoing anything we have done; and He is also capable of giving us the grace means to deal with whatever He doesn't undo. A story I tell a lot (I may have told it to you already), is about a Christian who was an alcoholic before he was saved. After becoming a pillar in his church it was discovered he was suffering from cirrhosis of the liver. His explanation? "God gave me a new heart, but He didn't give me a new liver".
I know that the Lord is well able to help you through your physical troubles and to supply all of your physical needs. He may heal you soon; He may heal you over time; but whether or not He heals you at all, He will give you the grace help and support you need to accomplish everything He has for you in this life.
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.
2nd Corinthians 12:7-9
(12) I know how to handle humiliation; I also know how to handle prosperity. I have learned by experience in each and every way how to handle being abundantly provided for and being impoverished, being in prosperity and being in a state of deprivation. (13) I have the strength to endure all [extremes] in the One who empowers me to do so.
I have seen the Lord work deliverance in many such cases, and in a manifold variety of ways. Trust Him . . . and don't fail to keep the matter continually before Him in prayer (I will definitely keep you in prayer on this).
The second thing I would wish to say is that we Christians are all about looking forward, and not at all about looking back. Our true life will be revealed when Christ returns; this life is about serving Him and earning eternal rewards in the process. Everyone makes mistakes; everyone sins. We do not have to worry about beating ourselves up about our past mistakes, because we know that Christ has died for them, so that they were forgiven as soon as we confessed them forgiven once and for all and for good (1Jn.1:9). We also know that God has already disciplined us for our past sins, not so as to "make us pay" (Christ paid), but to teach us . . . as His sons (Heb.12). We may hurt for a while, but "rejoicing comes in the morning" (Ps.30:5). We are here to respond to the Lord, and that response always includes joy, even when the joy is tinged by pain or trouble, for we have the comfort of the Holy Spirit (2Cor.1:3-7; Jas.1:2-3). We look forward to the glories of the New Jerusalem, not backward to our past mistakes; for while the rest of the unbelieving world has and will have genuine cause for regret, we know on that great day of days God will wipe away all of our tears, and we will never have cause to regret the faith we put in Him and His Son our dear Lord Jesus.
"Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past."
Isaiah 43:18 NIV
But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:13-14 NIV
Finally, I do have some idea what you are talking about. I had some scary experiences something along these lines when I was an adolescent. Of course we have to realize that we human beings actually have very little control over the physical reality we face: "you cannot make even one hair white or black" (Matt.5:36). It sounds to me as if you have realized this and have turned away from danger good for you! I also do understand the addictive element you mention. People can become addicted to all manner of things, and each of us face different temptations in this regard. It is important to remember that a hole one has taken years to dig will likely not be filled back up again in an hour; it can, however, be filled back up. That takes persistence and determination, but it can and does happen for all who trust the Lord and work at the problem day by day, fighting the fight day by day.
You seem to have an uncommon ability to control your thinking. My advice to you is that just as in the past you used this talent for self-destructive ends, now you should harness it for blessed, spiritual ends. One of the most important features of the true Christian way of life (and one that is almost never taught out there in the contemporary church-visible) is the need for growing Christians to attain a certain mastery over their thinking. We are told this in a variety of ways and in a variety of passages (e.g., Col.3:1-17). Just the command to "love the Lord!" is one that to carry out fully requires concentration on Him and on His truth that few contemporary Christians ever come close to even realizing how massively they are failing! Moses "persevered, as one who kept seeing the invisible One" (Heb.11:27): that is to say, he became one of the greatest believers in history because he made a concerted effort to "walk with the Lord" in his heart at all times and he did this without the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit which we are blessed to possess! It is a greatly under-appreciated fact that all of the great Old Testament believers did much the same thing. All one has to do is read the Psalms to understand that David was well-advanced in this special, mental "walk with the Lord" even at a very early age. Just because we have few scriptural details about, say, the spiritual inner-life of Isaac and Jacob, doesn't mean that we cannot deduce from their ironclad faith and special status that this is exactly what they worked a life-time in perfecting. We have the advantages of the Spirit and the truth contained in the entire Bible; but those advantages do not do us much good if we do not choose to apply them. All this takes spiritual growth, because unless we know the truth, and unless we believe the truth, we cannot focus and concentrate on the truth. I encourage you to take up the challenge of growing spiritually, and making the Lord your life in every way. Here are some links that may help on this:
Who controls our thoughts and emotions?
Our New Reorientation as Born Again Believers (in BB 4B)
Don't look back. Don't worry about time lost (especially as you have so much ahead of you). Make the Lord your first and only true delight, and commit yourself to walk with Him at all times. In so doing, all of the other issues and problems you face will fall into line and into correct perspective, and you stand to gain a great reward, an eternal weight of glory that will be the cause of eternal joy, and no regrets.
Here are some other links addressed to believers who are discouraged or doubting for whatever reason:
Christian Trials and Testing
Have I Lost my Salvation?
On the Firing Line: Encouragement in Christian Trials
God's Forgiveness of sins
Repentance, Confession, and Forgiveness
Sin and Spiritual Transformation
Apostasy and the Sin unto Death, the Conscience and Sanctification.
In Your Anger, do not Sin: Ephesians 4:26 and the Sin Nature
Fighting the Good Fight of Faith.
Faith and Encouragement in the midst of Fiery Trials.
Encouragement, Isaiah 6:11-13, and the Hope of Repentance.
Encouragement in Christian Sufferings.
In need of encouragement.
Waiting on God.
Feeling desperate and alone.
The Peter Series: Coping with Personal Tribulation
In our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ whom we so deeply long to see,
Thank you once again for wonderful scriptures. As I awaited your reply I noticed this week's emails. I read them all and took note of the links you directed them to. Those of "In need of encouragement", etc. were so dear to me. I also began Peter's epistles again, but this time around, I found deeper meaning and a deeper understanding.
I was moved by the notion that I was "holy". And to "be holy for I am holy." That in and of itself spoke to me as to the importance of "me" to God. This awoke in me a different sort of love for myself, a role I never imagined I was worthy of or even dared to think I could be, but in His grace and with the sacrifice of our Lord, I am and that blew me away.
I also never really understood how to become spiritually mature and how to view myself within the Christian struggle or how to persevere during it. I always trust that God is with me no matter how terrible things seem. I can smile and not worry because I know things will be fine in His time. I have allowed those around me to put on me the worries of this world because they think I am uncaring of our troubles and that I should walk around wringing my hands over them, cursing and stamping my feet when there is not a thing in the world I can do to change them. I've allowed what's happening in the world to taint me. You warned me about these things and I didn't listen. Please forgive me! I've prayed on this and asked the good Lord to forgive me too. What's even worse is that I have lectured others for not caring enough to know about what is going on in the world. That they sit in their little "bubbles" completely unaware.
This too I had to ask forgiveness. I am just so sad that those I love don't wish to understand that the world is going to begin going downhill so fast and if they could just understand that then they would want to know more about our Lord's second coming, which would, I thought, lead them to wanting to know about Jesus in the first place. I thought I had to "know" everything so I could explain it to them. In the meantime, I have known so little about what is really important and that is that I have to become mature in the basics of the Spirit before I could ever dream of leading anyone else. Being so scared for the souls of others I forgot to build up myself.
The hopelessness of this world shouldn't steal the hope that is my Lord; it shouldn't steal my joy or what it is I can still accomplish for Him, but I can't do anything until I am on the journey to following Him completely.
The Peter series is a wonderful beginning platform for me. It has helped me very much. I am praying for instruction and guidance in Spiritual Growth. And the Parable of the Sower sort of frightens me. I do not want to be any other than that seed which is sowed in the good soil. That is where I am at right now in my reading. But, most of all, I wish to be a light, a positive reflection of the glory of God. Your thoughts on this are always welcome. In the meantime I continue in my studies and filling my mind with the hope that is our Lord instead of the dread that is this world.
I applaud your approach! This is the thing, alright, namely, to move forward spiritually. Everything else should be secondary in the Christian life. If we are advancing, we will not be retrogressing. Not that we won't be tested or tempted or sniped at by the evil one (for we surely will be). But if we have our priorities straight, we will be better able to keep all the other non-essentials in perspective. When we stand before our Lord on that great day of days, we will certainly realize then (even if we do not now) that 99% of the things that even most believers spent their time and energy worrying about were in fact unimportant at least in comparison to the things that really are important. For the opposition we face in this life really only has spiritual meaning in respect to our willingness to push through it towards greater growth and service.
To use a (poor) analogy, if we are standing in a thicket of bamboo hacking at it with a machete and getting all upset about the quantity and quality of the bamboo, we are just wasting our precious time. If on the other hand we are meticulously moving forward in the right direction, minding our compass, intent on getting from point A to point B, then the bamboo is just a fact of the journey, whether it is tall, or thick, or course or tough, or even gives way to clear patches from time to time. We are not interested in the bamboo; we are interested in getting through it to where it is we are supposed to go. Therefore we do not waste our effort or our emotion or our energy worrying about this "fact" of the journey; we deal with it as we must . . . and move on.
As I have probably said before, when it comes to any and all such "bamboo" on the trail to Zion, the only really important question for us to ask is "what is the right thing to do?" or "what does the Lord want me to do about this?" This question is much easier to answer when a person is moving up the trail than when a person is standing still or sitting down or lying down or giving up. Because it is a very practical question when viewed from the standpoint of progress in the Christian life. Once we fully accept the notion that we are indeed here for the Lord Jesus and not for ourselves, then all "bamboo problems" become very much secondary in nature. For we know very well (or should from even a basic level of spiritual growth), why we are here and what in general terms the Lord wants us to do. We know that we are supposed to keep growing spiritually, more and more, doing all the things that pertain thereto: reading our Bibles attentively and consistently, praying with regularity and in a focused way; availing ourselves of quality Bible teaching; believing what we are convicted of by the Spirit as being truth; applying that truth to our lives, mentally, verbally, and practically in making the course corrections that are necessary as our compasses become ever better "calibrated", preparing for ministry and ministering as the Lord calls us to put our spiritual gifts into practice. We know that we are here to pass the tests the Lord gives us (whether they are easy ones or whether they involve sharing Christ's sufferings in the manner of Job), not just enduring, but doing what it is Jesus really wants us to, whatever that may be (i.e., tests may require action we are reluctant to take just as often as they require perseverance in things we have to suffer through); and we know that we are to minister to others.
As we get better at slogging our way through this thicket and begin to zero in on the direct route to point B, we will become aware of our gifts (if we are not already), and we will discover opportunities to put them into use for the Lord. Soon enough, we will look behind us and see some others following us through the bamboo on the trail we are blazing. If we really are pushing on to that prize of great reward to which we have been called, the honors and awards that come from successful growth, negotiation of testing, and effective ministry, things that glorify Jesus forever (as well as resulting in eternal blessing for ourselves), then the "problems" of this life, however defined, become more clearly visible for what they really are for those who love Jesus Christ: practical problems rather than "personal problems" (please see the link: "Strangers in the Devil's Realm").
Mature believers, when they are responding correctly, at any rate, tend not to ask "Oh Lord, what in the world I am going to do now!", but "Alright Lord, what's the best way through this part of the thicket?" In my experience and observation, when we have that perspective correct, the specific answer we get will be different from what it otherwise might be, because we will be looking at the "problem" in the correct way, so that the "solution" will be much more likely to line up with the Word of God and the Will of God. For Jesus is working everything out for our first best good, no matter where we are at; wherever we happen to be in the brier patch, if we are focused on following Him, trusting in Him, seeing Him instead of the world, then we will be far less likely to invest the troubles we are having with the bamboo with more significance than they in fact possess. For all these difficulties are so insignificant and transitory in truth; it's just that it takes some spiritual growth to be able to see that truth, and a disciplined and determined application of what we have believed to hold onto the true perspective.
For I do not consider these present hardships in any way comparable to the glory destined to be revealed for us.
(17) For this present light affliction of ours is working out for us an eternal weight of glory beyond any possible estimation. (18) [Let us] not [then be] having [any] regard for what can be seen, but [instead] for what cannot be seen. For the things which can be seen are ephemeral. But the things which cannot be seen are eternal.
2nd Corinthians 4:17-18
So don't throw away this conviction of yours - it leads to a great reward. You need to keep persevering so that you may carry off in victory what has been promised - after you have accomplished God's will. For yet a little while, how short, how [short the wait], and He who is coming shall come, nor will He delay. "Then shall my righteous one live by his faith, but if he shrinks back, My heart takes no pleasure in him." Now we are not possessed of cowardly apostasy which leads to destruction, but we have faith which leads to [eternal] life.
Advancing with you through the bamboo, in complete and total confidence of our Lord's generalship,
Thanks for your nice email. As I've stated before, I've traded emails with many online pastors and Christians, some have been helpful, some not. However, I appreciate the fact that you are willing to take the time to type out a nice email, looking at your website, I know that you must receive dozens of emails a week, perhaps even more.
It's not just academia, and I should not simply paint them all of the same brush. Although I know that God is in control of everything, I have always been interested in meteorology. I also find that most scientists tend to be atheists or at the very least, agnostics. If I was to present a question to the National Weather Service requesting information, I am sure any mention of God would get my email deleted with no response. In my last email regarding Hurricane Katrina, I mentioned that the people affected will need prayers, not just money or other types of aid. I also mentioned that these people needed to look to God in their time of need. That was the last time I ever heard from the person. I don't take this kind of thing personally of course, because it's not personal. Be it weather, astronomy, geology, none of these areas of science really consider God I think it's that simple. Of course, that does not mean that there are no Christian scientists, but it must be a very difficult field for anyone who is a true Christian!
As you mentioned, where there is life, there is hope. My grandfather used to say that there are no atheists in foxholes, everyone has heard this but I think for many, it takes a brush with death, or a serious life-changing event to find Christ. I went through a lot of emotional pain and crisis before I did. This reminds me of a movie I watched about Sophie Scholl and her brother, along with the White Rose movement at the University of Munich during World War 2, mainly taking place after the entire 6th Army was cut off in Stalingrad and destroyed by the Red Army, although they were clearly active before this occurred. Around 100,000 prisoners were taken by the Red Army, but only 5 percent of enlisted men and 50 percent of junior officers survived the Russian (NKVD) POW camps, most were not summarily executed, but many died over the next year of diesase or starvation. Of course, higher ranking officers lived in relative comfort, most of the generals and colonels at least survived the war. I think this is what initially motivated the White Rose to move forward, increasing their risks, seeing the senseless brutality that Hitler had brought upon Germany. Sophie's boyfriend was also on the eastern front, but Sophie was also well aware of what had happened to the Jews and other so-called undesirables. I believe one of her Jewish professors she was very found of was hauled off to a concentration camp by the Gestapo, this also had a significant impact on her. Well, she and her brother were quickly arrested after dropping hundreds of leaflets inside one of the medical buildings on campus. After days and days of very *dedicated* investigative tactics by the Gestapo, both her brother were brought before probably the most brutal judge in history, Roland Freisler. The rest is history. Unfortunately for Sophie and her brother (along with many others) the timing was especially bad as Goebbels had delivered his famous "Total War" speech at the Sportpalast after the surrender in Stalingrad. I don't watch many movies but this was extremely moving, some of it was not entirely accurate though. Sophie is shown in the film to have called upon God, giving her heart and soul to him shortly before her death. I believe she was already a Christian before she was arrested. People often look upon her as a hero, I think she deserves to be recognized but I'm sure if Sophie were still alive today, she would not be willing to take any credit, the credit belonged to Jesus. It seems like (and I may be wrong here) that this kind of courage can only come from God or Satan. Suicide bombers are fearless, but there "courage" does not come from The Lord. Her, and those around her, must have been driven and under the guidance of Jesus. Not sure what your thoughts are on this, I may be wrong but it seems like this type of goodness would not come from Satan, and isn't everyone influenced by one or the other?
Have continued to pray for the people of Haiti, that they may also find Jesus in this incredible time of suffering, I have no doubt that they are in your prayers as well. They need aid yes, but so many are non-believers. I have a feeling that as we draw closer to the end of an age, we may see this type of thing happen a lot more often.
Maybe The Lord continue to bless you, your family and ministry,
Thanks for your email and for your good words. I hope that your family doing OK. I continue to keep them and you in my prayers.
I think I know what you mean about all technical disciplines. Not that it is true of all (nor restricted to them by any means), but I do think it is true that "hands on" people have a tendency to think that because they can "control" things in their own little niche, that they thus have some control over their lives as well though this is not the case in truth, especially if God determines judgment. The earthquake in Haiti is as much a wake-up call for us as it is for the people who live there. Jesus said about the collapse of the tower of Siloam and the people who died there that they were no more guilty than the rest of His generation (Lk.13:4-5). I suspect that a good deal of the outpouring of sympathy and aid from this country to Haiti has something to do with blotting out through effort the uncomfortable notion that there are tragedies which we cannot avert and whose consequences we cannot really measurably alleviate by our meager human efforts . . . and that the same or worse could easily happen to us. Since most people here in the U.S. are just as spiritually vulnerable as this foreign place to which we feel so superior, that is an uncomfortable notion indeed. So while the previous administration caught heat for the response to Katrina and the present one is catching it for the inability to do much about Haiti, the same sort of human view-point psychology is in play. People who do not have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ want to believe on some level that this world just needs some tweaking to be perfect, that all such troubles could be "fixed" if we just rolled up our sleeves, and that no disaster or tragedy has anything to do with behavior. The last part is really understandable, for if Haiti is receiving judgment, why in the world should we think we are exempt from future disasters, being in spiritual terms not much better off (and perhaps a good deal worse, especially in the areas of failed potential among believers and of evangelization for evil among unbelievers)? Too whom much is given, much is expected after all (Lk.12:48).
I did see this movie. I try not to worry too much about the representations of people's spirituality in cinema because I have learned through past investigations that the accuracy of any representation in the movies is entirely accidental, even when the film purports to be "a true story". That is the case in all details large and small, and when it comes to a person's spiritual status or beliefs, well, these are difficult enough for us to ascertain with any degree of certainty, even when we know the individual personally.
Thanks again for your continued encouragement and prayer support!
Dear Dr. Luginbill:
I have found your website very insightful and uplifting. One question I have is concerning your statement that "The fact that we have any opportunity to exercise free will at all, any latitude for choice, is because of God's grace" (Part 4). I believe that our will is under the dominion of the fallen nature (or lusts, as you have explained), so in itself, it cannot turn to God. This is the essence of grace, that He awakens us to the Gospel, and transforms our thinking through His Holy Spirit.
Pl. let me know your thoughts.
Blessings to you in your ministry.
Thanks much for your good words. On your question, I do understand where you are coming from. This sentiment places you in the mainstream of traditional Reformed thinking on this matter. Stressing the commonality of our understanding, I would point out that we both observe that nothing is possible without God; also, I would observe that even in this construct you provide, our will is involved, even if it "needs help" from God along the lines you mention (i.e., without the involvement of our free-will expressed in faith, there is no salvation even so). So regardless of how we phrase the issue, the critical points in my view are: 1) exercising free-will is impossible without God; 2) free-will is still free and must be exercised in order for a person to be saved. That, in my opinion, is the gist of it.
Even so, I would not choose to frame things in the traditional way represented here. There are several reasons for that. First, the idea that our will is not essentially free is not, as far as I can see, scriptural. That is to say, the idea that "it cannot turn to God until it is awakened by the Gospel and empowered by the Spirit" is not the language of scripture, even if it be true from one way of looking at it. Grace is another very simple term in scripture which has become loaded down with all sorts of theological baggage over the centuries; in fact, it expresses God's favor without anything mysterious going on at all. In my understanding of these matters, God's grace consists first and foremost in the provision of a Savior for all mankind.
The practical problem I have with the phraseology suggested is that is may make it seem to some who read it that free-will faith isn't really free at all: God picks out His favorites and gives them a special empowerment of grace that wakes them up and causes them to believe as He has ordained them to do. In fact, the ministry of the Spirit and the truth of the gospel are available to all who truly desire to be saved: God is just; His basis for decision is allowing us to decide whether we want to spend eternity with Him or not, whether we are willing to respond to Him by accepting the work of His Son on our behalf or not.
Finally, from a mechanical point of view, what I think your statement (and similar statements in theologically treatises) is really noticing is the problem of epistemology, not of grace or our ability to use our free will. The gospel is the truth, but how can sinful human beings process the unadulterated truth without adulterating it? How are we to be helped to overcome this obstacle? The answer, of course, is also contained in your comment: the Holy Spirit. He partners with the will of every human being in respect to clarifying truth of every sort. The wisdom, information, and lies of this world enter our hearts through the obvious channels; where divine truth is involved, the Spirit is the One who makes the truth understandable to our human spirits directly, overcoming the fleshly barrier that has so exercised epistemologists over the years. The biblical reality, therefore, is that perceiving the truth is not a problem for anyone who wishes to do so: God solves that problem for us through His Spirit on each and every occasion, most perspicuously in the case of believers in our processing of biblical truth:
(14) Now the unspiritual man cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God. They are foolishness to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (15) But the spiritual man (i.e., the believer with the Spirit) is able to discern all things, but he himself can be discerned by no one (i.e., no one can see how he "knows"). (16) For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he might instruct Him? But we possess the very mind of Christ (i.e. the Holy Spirit illuminating the scriptures which are Christ's very thinking).
1st Corinthians 2:14-16 (cf. v.12-13)
For the Spirit Himself testifies to our spirit that we are God's children.
So I think we are essentially saying the same things here. My preference as a teacher (rather than a traditional theologian) is to express things in language that is as close to scripture as possible. In the forthcoming part 4B of Bible Basics: Soteriology, I will have more to say on all of these subjects, including the pre-salvation sanctification ministry of the Spirit and His role as the Agent in evangelism).
In addition to the new posting, BB 4B: Soteriology, a study which covers all of these as well as all closely related issues in some depth (see the link), you might also want to have a look at the following:
Epignosis, Christian Epistemology, and Spiritual Growth.
The "Mind of Christ" in 1st Corinthians 2:16
Free-will Faith in Salvation
Thanks again for your encouragement; please feel free to write me back about any of this.
In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,
Thanks for taking the time to write to me. I plan to review the links you provided. However, since I have found great material on your website and commend your work, I would like to clarify my position, in case it is of any value to you.
We are really on the same page mostly, but our approach is slightly different. The Bible tells us that before conversion, "we were dead in our trespasses and sins", and repeatedly emphasizes in Genesis that "every inclination of their heart was sinful all of the time"... that is the diagnosis of sin, that it is a dominant entity that rules us. We do have a free will, but in that fallen state, it is at rebellion against God, so it is in our nature to sin. This sinful nature also blinds us to truth. (This proposition is very effectively defended in "Freedom of the Will" by Jonathan Edwards, a variation of the "Bondage of the Will" by Martin Luther).
It is from this predicament that we have been rescued, and are given a new heart (understanding from repentance) whereby our wills are now aligned to His, or we now can "will" to do His will; in this sense, we have a free will (although I might add that we do have remnants of that fallen nature in our flesh incline us to sin, but does not dominate us; see John Owen on "Indwelling Sin"). I realize that you may have an additional concern with the Calvinist position of election (which is where it is probably leading to). Regarding missions, if God did not have sheep in the other folds (by election or foreknowledge and decree), we would most likely have to despair, as there could not be much value in missions to the world if we were "spiritually dead". We can plant the seeds and water it, but God along gives the increase. I think this position is quite consistent with what you have written about the Fall, various other doctrines and God's purposes for mankind. However, it is also consistent with the attributes of omniscience, omnipotence and immutability of a Holy God (attributes ingrained in the fabric of Scripture) to Whom alone belongs the glory.
Blessings to you in your ministry.
Your brother in Christ,
As I say (and as your citations confirm), your thinking on this is certainly in the traditional, Protestant mainstream. I agree that we are not really very far apart on these matters especially in terms of the practical implications. Genesis 6:5-7 is indeed a blanket indictment . . . but of the pre-flood civilization (almost universally infiltrated by the Nephilim). However verse eight says: "but Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord". I think it is fair to say, and I have said, that the sin nature, literally the body of flesh we all inhabit since the fall, is indeed "desperately wicked", but we are not on that account forgiven the sins to which we are inclined to commit. These are only removed by the blood of Christ. We are held accountable for what we do, even though "the flesh is weak". It is unreasonable to argue that a person could ever resist sin entirely (as Pelagianism falsely did); it is also I think not a biblically defensible position to suggest that human beings are incapable of exercising their will in a non-sinful way, even as unbelievers:
For whenever the gentiles who do not have the Law do by nature the things [written in] the Law, these who have no Law are a Law for themselves.
As I suggested in my previous email, I think this is really more of a perception issue than a will issue, or, better put, an issue of how perception affects will and vice versa in either a vicious or virtuous circle or "feed-back loop". One of the important features of the moral regime that God has established in time for His moral creatures possessing free will is the "opportunity" to say no to Him:
(18) God's wrath is about to be revealed from heaven upon all ungodliness and unrighteousness on men who suppress the truth [in their hearts about God] in their unrighteousness. (19) For that which can be known about God [from everyday experience] is obvious to them, because God has made it obvious. (20) His nature, though invisible, is nevertheless plainly apparent, and has been since His foundation of the world, for it may be clearly inferred from this creation of His [this is true of] both His eternal power and His divinity so that they are without any excuse: (21) they knew about God, but they neither honored Him as God nor thanked Him. Instead, they gave themselves over to [the] vanity [of this world] in their speculations, and their senseless hearts were filled with darkness.
This ability to deny the truth is certainly not unrelated to the sin nature, but the impetus clearly comes from the free-will of the individual concerned. Scripture often puts this in an absolute sort of way that can be mistaken for God overruling free will in the case of the reprobate (whereas what we are really viewing is the result of the process wherein the individual concerned chooses the negative feed-back loop):
10 The disciples came to him and asked, "Why do you speak to the people in parables?" 11 He replied, "Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables: "Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. 14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: "You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. 15 For this peoples heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them. 16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.
Matthew 13:11-17 NIV
The reason for parables and the reason for the veiling of God's truth from the unbelieving world generally is not to obviate free will but rather to permit it. Were the human (and angelic) consciousness unable to blot out the truth of God's existence, His goodness, and the reality of having to stand judgment before Him when this life is over, then our will would be coerced and the choice would not be free. Unbelievers who decide against God and virulently so, are empowered to become ever more blinded to the truth until total darkness sets in and that is all and always completely their own fault for hating the truth.
(8) And then the lawless one (i.e., antichrist) will be revealed, [that same one] whom the Lord Jesus will slay with the breath of His mouth and destroy when He appears at His [glorious] return [that same lawless one] (9) whose appearance [will come about] through Satan's empowerment [and will be] accompanied by every [sort of] false miracle, both signs and portents, (10) and by every [sort of] unrighteous deception [designed] for those who are perishing, [namely those who will believe these lies] because they did not open themselves up to the love for the truth so as to be saved. (11) And for this [very] reason God is going to send upon them an empowerment of error so that they may believe the lie, (12) in order that they may be condemned, [even all those] who have not believed the truth but have [instead] approved of unrighteousness.
2nd Thessalonians 2:8-12
For all who respond to the truth, on the other hand, there is given a "new heart", meaning the (temporary) releasing of the sin nature's hold on our thinking processes, the liberation of our spirit to consider the truth after we have responded to the truth of the gospel so as to be saved.
Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel?
Ezekiel 18:31 NIV
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
Ezekiel 36:26 NIV
This is not a permanent state. Our internal, spiritual circumstance depends upon our decision making going forward, and even the most dedicated believers continue to lapse into occasional sin requiring renewed "cleansing from unrighteousness" (1Jn.1:9). Further, just as unbelievers can make all sorts of mental accommodations with reality (i.e., choosing to believe all manner of lies as part of their world-view), so it is possible for believers to accommodate their own thinking to the world instead of to God's truth, and it is not a cut and dried, either/or proposition. Confession of sin results in forgiveness of sin, but just as it does not result in the removal of divine discipline for the sin or the natural consequences of the sin, so confession of sin does not sweep away the cobwebs of truth-rejected/lie-accepted thinking, nor is it a substitute for Bible reading, Bible teaching, or believing and applying the truth to our lives. A believer's spiritual state is the sum total of his/her spiritual momentum and decisions after salvation, good and bad (a function in large part of taking in and believing the truth of the Word), and just as increased deviation from the truth is the one true way alienate a believer from God and lead to apostasy (even if the person in question practices occasional confession of sins), so the accompanying pattern of worldly thinking darkens the light within, gradually hardening the heart that was softened at salvation.
22"The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
Matthew 6:22-23 NIV
Once again, things do come down to perception, but perception is a function of free will (which in turn affects our heart), both in the case of individual points of truth and also in the overall ability to perceive it, with the clarity that follows salvation either continuing or dimming, and with the unbeliever's perception of basic points of right and wrong also capable of preservation or subject to degradation based upon his/her attitude to the truth.
These are not necessarily complicated points, but instead of explicating what scripture actually means, my feeling is that traditional theology has muddied the waters to a great degree. The essential principle is that God's truth can be known by all who wish to know it; and it can be completely rejected by those who choose to do so. All are given the ability to see the light of the truth and for those who respond to God's natural revelation then hear and receive the gospel the great light of salvation dawns, a light that can grow or diminish according to the choices each believer makes. The world, the flesh and devil most definitely oppose, complicate, and hinder this process, but nothing is impossible for God and God's Spirit is more than capable of overcoming all resistance: where there is a will there is God's way. What makes knowing the truth impossible is our choice to create our own reality apart from God, to choose to "be like gods" ourselves by remaking the world in our own minds rather than submitting to God's will and accepting His truth.
As I say, all of this can be found explicated in far greater detail at the following link:
BB 4B: Soteriology: The Biblical Study of Salvation
In the One who is the truth, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I think some clarifications are in order. It is true that Noah trusted God, but as the Bible says, "Noah found grace (favor) with God - meaning that God's grace reached Noah first, which resulted in that transformation in Noah that caused him to "walk with God". I believe that Noah's faithfulness resulted from God's grace as in Phil. 2:12: "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure." Again, we see a similar pattern in John 1:: "to all those who received Him,.....who were born not of the flesh nor of the will of the flesh, but of God" (John 11-13). Thus, when the sinner repents, it changes his thinking, but that repentance is also not of his doing, but is in conformity with the will of God. Again, in Romans 1:17: "For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith." I believe that was Noah's type of righteousness, and it began with God's grace in drawing him and culminated in God's grace in preserving him so he grew in righteousness. Other passages that further expand on the theme: Eph. 2:1-6: We were dead in trespasses and sins, until God, rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ.... Eph. 1:(18-19) I pray that the eyes of your understanding are opened.... The question we are grappling with is: How bad was the fall of man? The heart is desperately wicked, who can know it (Jeremiah 17:9)... Has it affected his will such that he is no longer capable of discernment, as God told Jonah (Jonah 4:11). That is the diagnosis of sin in Romans 1:18-32: what is known about God is evident to man, but they suppress the truth, and did not glorify him; as a result their thinking became futile....further deteriorating to all forms of darkness... The moral compass is present in man that gives him some indication that what he does is evil (as you pointed out from Romans 2:13-15), but the nature of sin causes his inclination to suppress truth (or that moral compass, the conscience). Thus, this compass will be the basis of judgment for those who do not have the law, as it is written in their hearts, "so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God". Thus, God will be just in His judgments, as man has the knowledge of evil, and he sins volitionally (lust of the flesh and eyes, pride of life...). Given man's moral compass, they are capable of doing some good without God, but such "good deeds are like filthy rags", when the motivation is not God's glory but one's own, resulting in pride and other sins. Man's attempts at religion also sees the effect of this same lack of discernment; while it has some elements of good, due to this presence of this "law in their hearts", but that is tuned to accommodate their sinful tendencies, due to the blindness caused by sin. Most importantly, their understanding of God is warped, so their understanding of their own sinful nature. Thus, they device religions of "good works" or rules to appease the flesh, but has no power to transform the heart. No man will be declared righteous through such "good works".
Overall, the Biblical evidence is that God's grace is not flowing with the tide of mans will and desire to know the truth but against the tide of mans evil and inclination to go his own way, the consequence of the fall. This is the best way that I can understand the events in the OT, as well as the very means of salvation, i.e., the cross, which was the ultimate rejection. I think the Puritans and Reformers were onto something, and the world certainly has greatly benefited from them for putting us on track again; (or more precisely, God using them for this great task). Being from Asian background, the reformers are not part of my tradition, so I have no other interests, than that their Biblically faithful writings have certainly benefited my soul and my understanding of the Word. Their razor sharp insights into Scripture derived from careful lives lived to glorify God, was intended to bring blessing to the world, which is what they achieved. I know that some doctrinal questions do cause divisions, but I pray that the church will be united on the essentials. I do see your work as very important and pray that it bears fruit in this fallen world.
I certainly allow as to how the Reformers and Puritans were "onto something"; my issue is that as a Church we should be circling in on the truth, getting closer to it, and not going back to the "older wine", just because of its vintage. These earlier ways of thinking about things were colored by their reaction to Rome; we are not laboring under the need to defend against that juggernaut of false doctrine today, and are free to pursue the truth wherever it leads.
While I do see where you are coming with in all these examples, from my point of view they represent a construct which, while it is not hostile to scripture, does not flow directly from scripture (and so can be misleading). No one would wish to argue that Noah (or anyone else) could have done anything apart from God. Indeed, we only exist by Him and for Him and in Him and through Him. However, while Moses could have put it another way, under the guidance of the scripture Noah is made the subject: "Noah found grace". This phraseology is indicative of what scripture everywhere teaches, rightly divided, namely, that while God "does everything worth doing", our free-will response in faith is critical: that is the reason we are here at all, that is the reason why history needs to play out, that is why Christ had to die for our sins in order for us to be saved, namely, that we might be genuinely free to respond (God, after all, could have created us perfect and incapable of sin but not with genuine free-will that was truly "in His image"). John 1:12 is similar: "to all those who received Him" (the receivers are the subject; they "receive Him" through faith). And as to Romans 1:17, "the righteous shall live by faith" shows very clearly Paul's introduction of "righteousness by faith" rather than by works; our "doing of good" apart from God is of no value to Him, it is very true, but He does desire our free-will response to His grace provision of salvation in Jesus Christ through faith. Our exercise of free-will in believing is certainly "non-meritorious" in every way since it depends entirely upon God's grace in the provision of the object of our faith, Jesus Christ (and the gospel can only even be understood through the ministry of the Spirit), but that faith response is the essential factor that divides between those who are saved and those who are lost. God sovereignly determines this, of course, but based upon the decisions we actually did make in time in genuine, uncoerced, free-will through the exercise of our faith (or of our failure or refusal to do so). Ephesians 2:5 is explained immediately thereafter in verse eight: "by grace", most definitely, "through faith" (without which faith there would be no salvation). God's grace is universally available; only those who appropriate it through faith are saved, however. As to Ephesians 1:18-19, this is addressed to believers whom Paul desires to grow spiritually; here too we see that the will is an integral part of the process. That is to say, we do not "grow up" spiritually by God's grace apart from our faith response. The verbal noun that Paul uses to express the means of growth is epignosis, not gnosis, and the difference is very important. Epignosis is "accepted-knowledge" as opposed to mere "knowledge", that is, truth which has been believed and is thus now useful for application in the Christian life; knowing and not believing gets us nothing; knowing and responding to the truth we have been taught through the agency of the Spirit through believing it in faith is the only way forward in the Christian life (see the link in BB 4B: "Faith Epistemology").
The heart is wicked = we have a sin nature. Apart from God we cannot know the truth; but all unbelievers who wish to know Him are given the gospel which is made understandable through the Spirit; and all believers now have "the Mind of Christ", the illuminating ministry of the Spirit which makes all truth understandable when we expose ourselves to it, and usable when we appropriate it through faith and apply it in faith (Jonah 4:11 is not speaking of moral issues).
All human beings have a fully operational moral compass since the fall: aka the conscience . That was the functional point of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. For in addition to the corruption that the act of rebellion in eating of the tree engendered, there was also provided thereby a highly functional conscience able to give the discernment between right and wrong needed to negotiate the evil world outside of Eden (please see the link: "The Conscience"). This is indeed a grace provision, but one we have internally through procreation via God's perfect setting up of things in the garden in anticipation of the fall. Romans chapter two demonstrates that the Law cannot save, and that the conscience suffices to accomplish God's natural law (although this too is not sufficient for salvation).
I find nothing "good" in religion. Romans two and similar passages are referring to the fact that there are honorable unbelievers in the world. Hard work, obedience to natural and civil laws, reciprocity to parents, following the golden rule, all these things can be and sometimes are carried out marvelously by unbelievers, and, generally speaking, those who respond to these divine principles reap the good natural consequences of a moral life. Those who get involved in religion at any serious level stand to have this natural-law "ethic" undermined or perverted. The best unbelievers only nod to religion where that is essentially a societal requirement. But, in the end, it is one and the same whether an unbelievers is completely honorable or completely reprobate; the distinction will only matter here on earth and in time. At the last judgment, all unbelievers will find themselves in the same category: those who knew about God and did not seek from their own free will His solution to the problem of sin, death and judgment (which problems are, after all, universally understood): they remained "without God in the world" from their failure to seek and accept the work of Jesus Christ and so will have to stand on their own works at the last judgment (please see the link: "The Last Judgment").
As I say, the major fault I find with the approach that places grace in control (which it certainly is) to a degree that runs beyond scriptural language is the misguided application that many have and do make, to wit, that free will is only apparent. Nothing could be further from the truth as the exercise of our choice in faith to believe in Christ (or not) is the entire reason for our going through this exercise of "life in history". Further, it completely misunderstands the plan, the justice, and, yes, the grace of God to reduce human choice to a secondary or tertiary matter. It is hard to find a page in the Bible where those addressed are not being commanded or encouraged or directed to "do" or "stop doing" something; very strange indeed if everything had already been "baked in the cake" to the degree that there was no real choice (e.g., Deut.30:11-19). As I say, I understand that this in not necessarily your position; it is just that the potential to take this line of thinking in that direction has proved very detrimental to the spiritual growth of those who have done so.
Thanks again for your email and good words.
In Jesus our dear Lord,
Thanks for taking the time to provide your scriptural insights. I had intended to write earlier but for a variety of reasons, was forced to postpone. However, I considered the topic important, so I needed to continue to develop the thoughts that you have stimulated. I feel that the area is important from the Scriptural perspective, and also in enabling us finally understand our destiny without falling prey to depression and hopelessness when we confront the continued apparent triumph of evil.
I agree on the points in general, and the direction of your overall arguments, for example that:
At the last judgment, they (i.e., those followers of other religions) will all find themselves in the same category of those who knew about God and did not seek from their own free will His solution to the problem of sin, death and judgment (which is, after all, universally understood).
However, my proposition, based on Scripture, is that although the "knowledge of good and evil" exists, our flesh dominates in our fallen state. We are dead in our trespasses and sins(Eph.2:5); yet we believe by faith (Eph. 2:8) (how do we reconcile these apparently conflicting ideas? When the Spirit awakens the man from the slumber of sin and death, they are empowered to believe and act by faith. That is why, in John's Gospel, our Lord points out that, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" (John 6:44). This is Will, not coerced, but free. However, it does not diminish the fact that it is the Spirit alone who awakened us, without which we would still be in our sins.
Another point I wanted to address: the purpose of creation and of our existence is to Glorify God, primarily we move and breath and exist for His Glory.... He did not need us, we need Him, and in His Glory do we have sustenance and attain our potential. Thus, even in the evil around us, and the consequences thereof of opposing the Goodness of God is for His Glory. Thus, He allowed evil to enter the world, that He might show forth attributes such as Love, Grace, Mercy and Justice, and also to show forth for all eternity the nature of evil and all that is opposed to Him, for He alone is true "goodness" (Mark 10:18). Thus, we will, through the working out of the Gospel, gain knowledge about His attributes and His goodness. The nature of evil cannot be sustained apart from His person and what is opposed to His Goodness, and we who are saved will always Glorify Him as we will have nothing to boast about.
This leads to an important aspect of salvation from Scripture, those who are saved by His grace, will on that day not have anything to boast about (Eph. 2:9). For my case, I can only attest that but for His grace in reaching me while my mind was set on other things, I would not have been saved. This grace extended to the circumstances and the seeds that were sown over a period of time, until one day, the Spirit illuminated my mind to an understanding of the Gospel of Grace. Therefore, not only was my salvation by grace through faith, but so were the circumstances of my being drawn to Him, and to the Word from which I could hear and respond. Thus, the very change in me was orchestrated by the Spirit. Was my will involved? Yes, but only as He opened my mind to the understanding that enabled me to exercise my will; the flesh was overcome by the Spirit that enabled me to understand. Thus, I am not in a position to say that I had a greater desire to know God than a neighbor who is oblivious to spiritual things. I cannot boast in my will or in my deserving His grace because I had a desire to know Him that my neighbor did not. Rather, while I was still "dead in trespasses and sins," the Spirit opened my understanding to His Word that Christ died for my sins.
Sadly, I have to agree with your conclusion that the doctrine has led to many distortions in application, such as "antinomianism" and other such forms. However, as we know, most truths have been distorted by the fallen nature of man with the continued work of the evil one. From our perspective, we are pursuing truth which in many ways is difficult to grasp with our finite minds. However, the difference to me in this overall doctrine does not change things, except that it provides a framework to understand Scripture, and also enables us to have the confidence that God will fulfill His purposes, that He will accomplish all that He has planned, and not than be thwarted in what He has set out to do. The Cross will accomplish its goal, as He said, I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.
I will review some of the work you have shown me, and pray for your continued success in the ministry.
Good to hear from you. As I say, I don't necessarily disagree with anything you have been saying (and particularly not with what I read here). I think we are speaking about the same sorts of things, only perhaps with a different emphasis. I would certainly affirm, for example, that the Spirit is essential for our learning of or understanding of any spiritual information. No human being has ever responded to the gospel or believed any point of specially revealed divine truth without the Spirit. That said, however, the Spirit has always been "with" any and all who were interested in responding, and now of course is "in" all who have believed in Christ. Further, because of the transformation of the human body at the fall to include a more highly functioning conscience and the natural revelation that pervades the creation, I would call attention to the biblical distinction between naturally revealed truth (which includes the principles of the right and wrong of how human beings ought to behave which are frequently mastered by unbelievers; cf. Rom.1-2) and divinely revealed truth which may only be spiritually appropriated and understood by believers ("special revelation"; please see the link: in BB 4B: "Natural Revelation and Accountability").
I would agree absolutely that it is ever by grace that we make any forward progress. One of the dangers I see in overemphasizing this truly important point, however, is the diminishing of personal responsibility which some have take from it. After all, Daniel, Job, David, Paul, Peter, etc. were greater men than we are but not because God was willing to give them more grace than He is willing to give us. God is willing; we are unwilling (at least to the degree that these great heroes of faith were willing). But we each have a responsibility to respond to Him, first for salvation, then for spiritual growth, progress and production. His grace is sufficient for advance and achievement beyond our wildest dreams; when we fail to measure up, it is the result of choices we have made, not because of any cap on the grace He might otherwise be willing to give us. So when I emphasize human free-will it is as the limiting factor in this equation, not as the motive force which makes everything happen: everything good comes from God. Human beings ought then to be motivated not to "help God", an impossibility, but rather to get their will out of the way of His WILL, or, better put, to respond to Him consistently and with humility just as our Lord Jesus wants us to do.
So, as the Holy Spirit says: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert.
Hebrews 3:7-8 NIV
Our decision-making is always non-meritorious where God's grace is concerned: if Abraham had had something to boast about, it would not have been before God. We only exist, are saved, and make spiritual progress because of His grace, because of His planning out of everything in the most exquisite detail, because of His mercy and forgiveness . . . because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. But it is nonetheless true that we do have to respond to Him in order to lay claim to that grace, and our response is what God desires, what Jesus desires. God has so constructed history that every scrap of human merit has been entirely removed from this process of salvation and spiritual growth, the adjustment of our will to His. If anything more were to be removed, there would be no issue of choice or free will at all! But God has indeed set things up for history to play out for the very reason that we are here to make those choices of responding to Him . . . or not. Our response is non-meritorious; our response is impossible without grace; but our response is the reason we are here, and must not be removed from the equation.
Please see the link: In BB 4B: "God's Plan to Save You"
Yours in the One who saved us by His grace, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,