Sermon 01-31-16: “Born Again”

February 9, 2016

John Sermon Series Graphic

In Jesus conversation with Nicodemus, he uses a striking analogy from Numbers 21 to describe the way in which his own atoning death on the cross saves us from our sin. In this sermon, I explore the meaning of this analogy and its relationship to the new life that faith in Christ offers us.

Sermon Text: John 2:23-3:21

[To listen on the go, right-click on this link to download an MP3.]

Recently, as you might have heard, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg became a father for the first time. He and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, had a daughter, Max Chan Zuckerberg. And they’re off to a great start as parents. For one thing, Zuckerberg is taking two months off from his job as Facebook CEO. Two months! Of course, Facebook offers its employees four months of paid leave for parents of newborns. But still… Taking two months paid leave is a lot! Nearly half of all working men in America take less than one week off when they have a child. Fully 97 percent of men are back on the job within two weeks. So Zuckerberg is setting quite an example to fathers everywhere. After all, if I were a new dad, I would worry that I couldn’t afford to be away from work that long—even if I were getting paid, I would worry that it would harm my career, that I would fall too far behind, that other people would get ahead of me.

Like… If I’m away from work that long, and the company gets on fine without me, then maybe they’ll decide they don’t need me at all. I’m supposed to be indispensable. I’m supposed to be irreplaceable.

Zuckerberg_baby

And yet here we have Mark Zuckerberg, of all people, proving to the world that being a dad is more important even than being a CEO of one of the world’s largest and most influential companies! It’s remarkable!

What’s even more remarkable is that, last December, he and his wife published a letter they wrote to their newborn daughter, telling her how they want to help create a better world for her and for everyone else’s children. To that end, they say they will donate 99 percent of their Facebook stock—valued at $45 billion—to fight hunger and poverty, to cure diseases, and to promote education around the world. The one percent of the $45 billion that they have left over is still a lot of money, of course, so they’ll do just fine.

But you gotta admit, of all the children born to any family anywhere in the world, Max Chan Zuckerberg could hardly have picked a better one, right? She has devoted, generous, compassionate, and incredibly wealthy parents. She is, by all objective standards, well-born.

But imagine that, when she gets older, Jesus comes to her and says, “You need to be born again. There was something wrong with your first birth. You need to belong to a new and different kind of family.” She might understandably be offended or indignant or confused. “What do you mean I need to be born again! I was born perfectly well—into the best family imaginable—the first time around!”

If you can understand her reaction, then you can also understand how Nicodemus felt when Jesus spoke these words to him in today’s scripture. John describes Nicodemus as a ruler of the Jews, which meant he was a member of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin. While he was no Zuckerberg, this at least least meant that he came from a prominent family; that he had money; that he went to all the best schools; that he possessed all the right credentials to be a theologian, a teacher, a pastor, and a leader of the Jewish people; that he was considered a righteous man, a good man.

colson2

The point is, if even someone like Nicodemus needs to be born again, well, guess what? So does everyone else! It used to be popular in the ’70s and ’80s to talk about being a “born again Christian.” One of Nixon’s most trusted advisors, Chuck Colson, went to prison for his role in the Watergate break-in; he was converted; and he published a best-selling memoir called Born Again. And then Jimmy Carter came along shortly after and identified himself as a “born-again Christian.” So a lot of Christians, along with the news media, began talking as if being a “born-again Christian” was one variety of Christians among other varieties—almost like a denomination. The truth is, to say you’re a born-again Christian is redundant—like referring to yourself as an “unmarried bachelor.” If you’re a Christian at all, you’re born again. It’s not some optional extra feature for certain kinds of Christians. It’s for everyone! Everyone in the world needs the new birth that Christ offers us! We come out of the womb defective, damaged, predisposed to sin and idolatry—this is what the Church has called “original sin,” the sin we’re born with and born into. We have what Charles Wesley, in his hymn “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” called a “bent to sinning.” We are bent.

This need for new birth means that humanity is broken beyond repair. It’s not a matter of God doing a little work around the corners of our lives. Our life is not like a house that’s mostly fine except the roof is leaking and needs to be patched, or a room needs to be painted, or a floor needs a new joist. No—the very foundation of the house is defective—and the whole thing is going to come crashing down without divine intervention! This is exactly the crisis we find ourselves in from the moment we’re born. So we all must be born again!

The first thing to notice about being born again, however, is that it’s not something that we do for ourselves. I said earlier that Max Chan Zuckerberg couldn’t have picked a better family to be born into… But of course she didn’t pick them at all. She had no choice whatsoever. Babies don’t really have much control over being born. In fact, every time one of them is born, you’ll notice the baby doesn’t even like it! I mean, they act like being born is the worst thing in the world. They always come out deeply upset—they’re crying; they’re unhappy! They’re like, “Thanks for nothing, Mom!”

But if it’s true that being “born again” is like being born the first time around, and it’s not something that we do but is something that is done to us, then how does it happen?

Jesus gives Nicodemus an illustration from scripture to help him—and us—understand how it is that this new birth is accomplished. In verses 14 and 15, he says: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” “Moses’ lifting up this serpent” is a reference to something that happens in Numbers 21, beginning with verse 4. The Israelites have become impatient with Moses while wandering in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. And they’re grumbling: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” They’re referring to manna, the miraculous bread from heaven that God has graciously provided them. They’re literally blaspheming against God.

“Then,” it says in verse 6, “the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.’ So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.”[1]

Get the picture? The Israelites would get bit by these poisonous snakes, and when they did, they would look up at this bronze snake on a pole and their lives would be saved. Similarly, Jesus says, when he is “lifted up”—by which he means lifted up on the cross, on Calvary—it’s like Moses lifting up this bronze snake on a pole. Christ on the cross is like that snake on the pole. I know this sounds like a really strange comparison, but let’s think about it:

Because of their blasphemy, because of their unfaithfulness, because of their sin, Israel was facing God’s judgment and God’s wrath. God was justifiably angry because of his people’s sin. As punishment, he was sending these poisonous snakes to kill them—until the people repented and Moses intervened and prayed to God. The bronze snake, please notice, wasn’t preventative medicine; it was only needed by those who were already snake-bitten. Once they had been snake-bitten, their only hope for rescue was to look upon this image of a snake—a symbol of the very thing that was killing them. That’s how they would be saved.

In a similar way, Jesus is saying, we are all snake-bitten by sin. We’re all dying. Because of our sin, we’re all under God’s judgment, and, unless we’re rescued, we will all face God’s wrath for our sins. And what do we do to save ourselves? Just as the Israelites looked at a symbol for the very thing that was killing them, we, too, look to the symbol of the very thing that’s killing us—not a poisonous snake this time, but our sin. That’s exactly what Christ represents for us on the cross. When we look at the cross of Jesus Christ, the Bible says we are looking at our sin. Remember 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”[2] On the cross, Christ became our sin—it’s as if he took within his own body the deadly venom that was killing us—and died in our place!

Last Thursday was the 30th anniversary of the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger. I heard a heartbreaking radio interview with a now retired engineer from the company that manufactured the solid rocket booster’s O-ring seals for the space shuttles. This engineer, Bob Ebeling, wrote a famous memo, months before the Challenger disaster, warning NASA that they shouldn’t launch the shuttle below freezing—that these O-ring seals would fail. And on that morning 30 years ago, the temperature was 18 degrees at Cape Canaveral. His warning, along with a briefing he gave to NASA officials on the morning of the launch, fell on deaf ears.

challenger

In the interview last week, however, Ebeling said he blames himself. He said he should have done more to warn NASA. Ebeling, whom the interviewer described as a deeply religious man—I’m guessing he’s a Christian—he said: “I think that was one of the mistakes that God made. He shouldn’t have picked me for the job.” He said he’s going to tell God some day, “You picked a loser.”

You picked a loser. Isn’t that heartbreaking? Especially considering that Ebeling was one of the good guys! He tried to do the right thing! Could he have done more? Maybe… but hindsight is 20/20.

Still, what breaks my heart is that for thirty years Ebeling has been haunted by these memories… these thoughts… these mistakes. He’s been plagued with guilt, and he can’t shake it! Ebeling, like these Israelites, has been snake-bitten, and it’s killing him.

So here’s what I would tell Bob Ebeling if I had a chance to counsel him: I would say, Look to the cross. Look to the cross! Some of the last words that Jesus spoke on the cross were, “It is finished,” meaning, all your sin and all your guilt—all was taken care of through Christ’s suffering and death.

In fact, I would tell him that God gives us the most amazing promise in his Word: “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” Or as Isaiah tells God: “you have cast all my sins behind your back.” And as God tells him, “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” Or as the prophet Micah says, “He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”

Whereas Bob Ebeling can’t stop thinking about his sins, God won’t even start thinking about them. Because Christ made himself guilty, so that Ebeling can go free!

It’s as if God forgets. Once we confess our sins, we should let go and move on. Why? Because God has let go! One theologian rightly refers to this divine amnesia. No, this doesn’t necessarily, or even usually, mean that God shields us from all the consequences of our sin—suffering consequences can be a necessary kind of discipline for us—but it does mean there’s no longer any guilt.

Because in God’s eyes we are now perfect. God looks at us an no longer sees our unrighteousness, but his Son’s righteousness.

And it all happens when we look to the cross. Anyone can do that, right? You don’t need to be born into the right family to look to the cross. You don’t need to have gone to the right schools. You don’t need an advanced degree. You don’t need to have money. You don’t need to be good-looking. You don’t need to be physically fit. You don’t need to be healthy. You don’t need to have a job. You don’t need to be popular. You don’t need to be a good parent or a good child or a good spouse. You don’t need to get 200 likes on all your Instagram posts; you don’t need to be retweeted a hundred times. You don’t need to get all your problems straightened out first… A child can look to the cross. A middle-aged person can look to the cross. An older person can look to the cross. We all can look to the cross—and understand what Christ has done for us—and believe in what Christ has done for us on the cross—and let that truth penetrate our hearts; let that truth melt our hearts.

That’s how it happens—that’s how we experience this new birth. Realize that you’re snake-bitten with sin; realize that your sin is killing you; realize that without the divine medicine that God offers you through the cross, you will die, you will face judgment, you will go to hell. But you don’t have to because you can look to the cross and be saved!

There are probably some of you within the sound of my voice this morning who need to be born again, and who need to look to the cross, believe in Jesus, believe that he died and was resurrected for you, and have your sins forgiven. Please look to the cross while you still have life and breath. Jesus is calling you. Don’t you hear him? Don’t wait!

Here’s a question: Do you think churches can be born again? Even small-town churches that have been around for, oh… 108 years or so? If our church is ever going to experience a new birth, and new life, and a refreshing wind of the Spirit blowing in our midst, I believe it’s going to happen in the same way: by looking to the cross. Reminding ourselves that it’s for the sake of that cross that we exist as the church. We look to the cross and remind ourselves, “Oh, yeah… I’m a sinner for whom Christ died every bit as much as that sinner sitting next to me, sitting at the end of the pew, sitting on the other side of the aisle. I’m no better than they are!”

Let’s face it: It takes a lot of mercy, a lot of pity, a lot of grace, a lot of forgiveness, a lot of patience just to put up with all of us sinners here at Hampton United Methodist Church. And we often run out of those virtues pretty quickly. And we get hurt—we get badly hurt—sometimes, just by trying to do the right thing and being misunderstood. It is hard to get along with each other—because we’re all sinners. But then we look to the cross and think, “As much as I have to put up with in order to be a part of this church family at HUMC, it is only the tiniest fraction of what God has had to put up with in order to have me in his family!”

And most importantly, based on what Jesus tells Nicodemus, if a new birth and a new life and a fresh wind of the Spirit are going to happen here, they’re not going to happen mostly because of what I do or what you do; they’re going to happen mostly because of what God does. It’s going to take divine intervention. It’s going to take a miracle. So we pray for a miracle.

But don’t worry: God is in the miracle business. If he weren’t, how is it that sinners like you and I—enemies of God, deserving of judgment, death, wrath, and hell—how is that sinners like you and I could become God’s beloved children?

[1] Numbers 21:6-9 ESV

[2] 2 Corinthians 5:21

19 Responses to “Sermon 01-31-16: “Born Again””

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    One question which might be considered is, what exactly is involved in “looking to the cross”? At a minimum, it would involve, I would think, a RECOGNITION that you need to be “born again.” You recognize that you are in dire straits, and without divine intervention, you will “die in your sins.” Is that all it takes, though? Recognition of our sin and our helplessness to remedy it, and faith that what Jesus did will “pay for that”? Just judging from the “lifted up” verse, one certainly might conclude that. But, as we know, we can’t take our theology on an issue from just one passage when there are numbers of others on the same subject. Thus, it may be that the “‘recognition” and minimal “faith” are “necessary” conditions, but not necessarily “sufficient.”

    So, this brings in the perennial question that I often raise–what is involved in “repentance,” given that John the Baptist and Jesus both preached, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”? Some, at least, teach that “repent” means “turning around”; i.e., that your life has been taking one direction (the “bent toward sin”), and you resolve to go the other direction (efforts towards righteousness). Of course, no one can ultimately succeed in that endeavor, and certainly not without the help of the Spirit indwelling, but is there some “resolve” that has to be made? Like, at least, on the order of making that “New Year’s Resolution”? It seems to me that it takes “something” on our part to receive salvation, and I don’t think I am necessarily being too skeptical. I don’t think we can take “analogies” too far, even biblical ones, again considering other passages (and other scriptural analogies) on the same subject. Thus, I don’t think that because you have “nothing to say in the matter” about being “born”–that it takes no “effort” on the part of the “baby”–that this is a foolproof exposition on the totality of what is involved in salvation. For one thing, if you take that too far, then you end up with absolute predestination–we do “nothing at all,” God just “births” us. But this very passage “disproves” that because we at least have to “look.” So it is not as simple as just being “born.”

    Well, in my view I believe there must be some “turning,” beyond simply “looking.” What is involved in that? I can’t say, specifically–I believe it to be more on the order of, what is God impressing you with? I really get a good deal of my theology on that subject from the rich young ruler incident, as I have noted before, of course. What did he “lack”? To give up all his goods to feed the poor, and come, follow Jesus. And he went away sad, because he had great riches. Therefore, how hard it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven! That has to mean something about what is involved in salvation, I would think. IMHO.

  2. Grant Essex Says:

    And yet, all the thief on the cross had to do was to say “remember me….”

    I think it’s a matter of the heart. Do you fall in love with Jesus? Do you give him your heart! Do you believe with all your heart? Jesus sees into our hearts.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Tom, even the Rich Young Ruler episode doesn’t disprove Grant’s words about “heart change.” It’s not that he needed to give up all his possessions to be saved, as if the mere giving were a meritorious work; rather, his unwillingness to do so was a symptom of his hard-heartedness toward the gospel. Had he fallen in love with Jesus, as Grant says, then this particular fruit of repentance would have followed naturally.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        But what does it mean to “fall in love with Jesus,” or to “give him your heart”? I agree that not everyone will have to “do something spectacular” for salvation to “vest,” but “loving Jesus” means more than “warm and fuzzies.” “If you love me, keep my commandments.” “Giving your heart to Jesus” means putting him above all else. (Even the thief on the cross did that, to the extent he was capable of, by “standing up” for Jesus.) Truly this is a “heart change,” but it is a heart change of repentance from the old and an embracing of the new. In order to “follow Jesus” you have to “turn around” or “turn off” the path you were on to follow Jesus’ “straight and narrow” path, which “few find,” according to Jesus. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord,’ “Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father.” So, while I agree with you in principle that it is a matter of the heart and God knows the heart, the question is, what is the heart change that is needed? And when I do as Paul enjoins and “test yourself, whether you be in the faith,” what do I need to be “looking for” in my life to corroborate that I did make the “heart change”? Too many people, I think, don’t really recognize what is actually involved in “giving my heart to Jesus.” I think scripture as a whole may suggest more than just “looking up.”

  3. Tom Harkins Says:

    I should note that what concerns me on this issue enough for me to keep offering my opinion about it is that people not be falsely confident of salvation–a dire condition to be in. “Many will say to me in that day, “Lord, Lord … Then I will say, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you workers of iniquity.'” I am particularly nervous in this respect about telling people who “pray to receive Christ” that it is enough to say, “If you SERIOUSLY MEANT THIS PRAYER, then you are saved.” What is it that they must “seriously mean”? That Jesus died to save them from their sins? Or do they instead FURTHER need to “seriously mean” that they are “turning their lives over to the Lord,” i.e., committing to follow Jesus in obedience? A “my life for your life” exchange. God gives us His eternal life, the indwelling of the Spirit, in exchange for us giving him our lives, i.e., letting the Spirit rule and reign in our lives. “He who keeps his life shall lose it, but he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” We are “crucified with Christ,” as Paul says. While no one can PERFECTLY do that, it is necessary to “try,” to aim in that direction, and the indwelling Spirit will then aid us in that effort. But, I submit, it is the “trying” (or, perhaps, at the least, the “willingness” to try) that is essential to “consummate” salvation, as I see it.

    It frankly does not bother me much if this view means that I am saying we “contribute” something to our salvation, or if some people might suggest that I am relying on a “work” as part of salvation. I think I can distinguish Paul’s single verse referencing “not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Again, it is always dangerous to base an entire theology on one verse when others bear on the subject, including many by Jesus himself. John MacArthur wrote a book, “The Gospel According to Jesus,” in that regard). Particularly, I am not saying there must be some “compendium” of works that we must “amass” to “earn” salvation. But it is “by faith that you are saved,” as Paul starts that Ephesians 2:8-10 discussion, and James says, “Faith without works is dead.” A person “proves his faith by his works,” James says. “Was it not by offering up Isaac on the altar that Abraham was justified?” James asks. “You believe in God; very well–the devils also believe, and tremble,” James notes. The REASON that “works” prove up “faith” is because the “works” show that there was a decision to “CHANGE DIRECTION” involved in salvation. So we need to emphasize to supplicants that “repentance” is also necessary to salvation, not “belief alone.” Even when the “belief” is that “Christ died to save me,” as I understand the matter.

    (It’s not that I could not be wrong about this–it is that this is a matter of such importance that I think it must be considered very seriously.)

    • brentwhite Says:

      I think I agree with this. At least a “willingness” to change as a sign of the sincerity of one’s commitment to Christ? By all means, Tom. Inasmuch as we’ve disagreed in the past, I haven’t interpreted you to be meaning it quite like this, but that could be me.

      Nothing we do saves us, aside from (and this is next to nothing) agreeing to be saved by believing in Christ. If our faith is genuine, then he will give us the willingness, desire, or ability to change. This is all a gift of God’s grace. How can we be assured of our salvation? In part by examining ourselves.

      I think you’re afraid I’m preaching cheap grace or “easy-believe-ism.” All I can say to that is that preaching is context-specific. “My” people, Methodist people in general, perhaps, but certainly people in my congregation, don’t tend be as guilty of this as, perhaps, Baptists tend to be. They tend to already believe that works play a role in salvation. (Granted, there’s also a universalist tendency among Methodists, but not so much in the small-town Methodist church I pastor.)

      So when I say, “Look to the cross,” or something like that, it’s a kind of shorthand that may not translate at your church, for instance. I think my people know that I’m not just talking about some one-time decision or event… They already know that the Christian life is a lifetime process of discipleship. I don’t have to spell that out very often. If I were in a different church, I’m sure I would preach a little differently for that particular congregation.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Brent, you say this that gives me pause in saying that “we agree”: “Nothing we do saves us, aside from (and this is next to nothing) agreeing to be saved by believing in Christ.” What I am saying is that there at least ALSO has to be a “willingness” to change, i.e., repentance, BEFORE salvation will occur (or, possibly it could be said, to bring salvation to “fruition”). The “working out” of that repentance may well FOLLOW with the Spirit’s assistance, but just “believing in Christ” is not sufficient, unless your “believing” entails repentance as a concomitant.

        (I agree that I may be reacting to more of a “Baptist” problem than a Methodist; however, I note that the “faith only” (as in meaning by that, “belief” only) teaching is pretty wide spread in “evangelical” circles more generally.)

        Also, true “willingness” will ALWAYS lead to some change in fact, once it is accompanied by the Spirit’s presence. Of course, I imagine that you agree with me on that front.

        Possibly another way of getting at this distinction I am trying to make, so that “linguistics” does not obscure the matter, is that “true faith” is an acknowledgement of “Lordship” as well as “Savior-ship.” You can’t “accept Jesus as your Savior” without simultaneously accepting Him as Lord. And to “accept” Jesus as truly your “Lord” involves a “commitment” to “obey.” So, if it seems like I am “adding to” the “faith” mechanism for salvation by insisting on “repentance” as well (which John the Baptist, Jesus, and Peter all preached in starting their ministry), perhaps a more “robust” understanding of “faith” gets to the same result.

      • brentwhite Says:

        I agree that there’s a willingness to change. But that’s part of what it means to have saving faith to me.

  4. Grant Essex Says:

    I don’t disagree with any of your major points Tom. In fact, I think that they are very consistent with the content of the Book of 1 John, which was written so that we might have assurance in our salvation.

    John always tell you why he is writing what he is writing. The Gospel of John, “so that we might believe”.

    1 John, “so that we might have assurance”:
    From the 5th chapter:

    “I write fthese things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 And this is hthe confidence that we have toward him, that iif we ask anything according to his will he hears us.”

    The whole Book pretty much says what you are saying in your post.

    Young Martin Luther struggled with assurance, as did John Wesley and so many other giants of the faith. It is not a good thing to fear that your salvation may not be real, so everyone should look to some of the “tests” in 1 John. I know it helped me.

  5. Tom Harkins Says:

    Also, consider this. Why did Jesus say to enter the “straight and narrow” gate and path, and that “few there be that find it” if salvation is “easy” to obtain? The “willingness” may need to be “thoroughgoing”; as in, willing to bring my “whole self” in line with Christ. It CAN’T be “next to nothing,” as I see it. Consider also the parable of the soils, where Jesus again intimates that of those who hear the gospel; indeed, “receive” it after a fashion, very many never get to the “fruit bearing” stage that truly signifies salvific life. Further, why did Jesus say that unless we are willing to give up our own lives also, we cannot be his disciples. All HARD things, it seems to me. Hopefully I am not being inconsistent, but we have to take the hard along with the seemingly “easy” to get to the right place, ultimately. Perhaps the key lies in “as to what” we are “truly willing.”

    • brentwhite Says:

      But you don’t mean we need to do hard things _in order_ to be saved, right?

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Not necessarily have to DO them first, but have to be WILLING to first. In other words, “repentance” is a prerequisite to salvation. “Repent and be baptized, and thou shalt be saved.”

        Whether someone wants to call “repentance” a “work” or not is beside the point to me–it is a “necessary” element. I don’t think Paul’s salvation being “not of works” was ever intended to go so far as to exclude the necessity of repentance. With respect to what I noted above with respect to “Lordship salvation,” Paul ALSO says, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth that Jesus is LORD, and shalt believe in thy heart that God has raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” We have to be “willing” to have Jesus as “Lord of our lives” for salvation to “vest.” I’m not saying that the “works ensuing” have to be done “first,” but certainly the willingness to do them has to be precedent (and, if in fact no works follow, then the necessary “repentance” was missing).

      • brentwhite Says:

        I agree. Repentance must be part of that first movement of saving faith—and ongoing thereafter—if faith is, indeed, genuine.

  6. Grant Essex Says:

    Well, now you are hitting on one of my pet peeves. Too many of today’s Christians are convinced that they and all of their loved ones are going to heaven. I have been to funerals of folks that I know were not even nominally good Christians, and listened to the assurances given to loved ones that this was so. Frankly, I think that’s cruel. If people are led to believe that the way is easy, and that the gate is wide, they are being done a great disservice.

    IMHO, if you love someone and suspect that their immortal soul is in jeopardy, then you need to tell them, pray for them, beg them to reconsider Jesus. I know that this is not a popular thing to do in today’s “all religious beliefs are equal” mindset, but popular isn’t the point here.

  7. Grant Essex Says:

    Calvinism v. Arminianism; the great divide.

    “Because salvation rests wholly with God, no one can say he chose Christ because he is wiser than others; he did so because God had chosen him and quickened him that he might believe. Calvinists have often accused the Arminians of taking at least a bit of credit for their salvation.”

    This anonymous quote nails my concern with man’s free will being the final determinate of one’s eternal destiny.

    • Tom Harkins Says:

      Grant, I agree to “the great divide.” However, I fall on the Arminian side. However, I don’t take the salvation “choice” to be particularly predicated on “wisdom,” but on the condition of one’s “heart,” something you have referenced above. In fact, scripture teaches that generally speaking the “wisdom of men” is foolishness to God and of no or little benefit to salvation. “There are not many wise among you,” I believe Paul says somewhere. So one person does not have a particular “advantage” over another with respect to salvation in terms of being “smarter.”

      As to the “final determinate,” why should man not be “involved” in what happens in “salvation”? Is God going to eternally punish or reward someone for something he had no say so in? I can’t believe that. God provided the “way and means and cost” of salvation, but it is up to man to “accept” it (through repentance and faith), “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. IF ANY MAN WILL OPEN THE DOOR, I will come in to him.” Revelation 3 something.

      • Grant Essex Says:

        It is a mystery, as is so much about God. Is the “condition of the heart” a cause, or a result? Is that what Wesley meant by “prevenient grace”? And, if God is responsible for that quickening, then where is the distinction between Calvin and Wesley?

        Somehow, I believe that God is totally sovereign, without doing damage to man’s free will. That somehow, both views can be true, in divine harmony, and not in conflict with one another. Maybe that’s just my “easy way out”, but then, I believe, “all things are possible with God”. 🙂

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        From what I understand, I don’t think I go with Wesley, so I can’t really comment about whether his view is “really” different from Calvin’s or not. My own view is this: God initiated the plan of salvation; he “paid the price” for it by Christ becoming incarnate, dying on the cross in penal substitution, and rising from the dead; he extends the offer of salvation to all who will receive it; and he “woos” us to accept it through scripture, sent preachers, and the Holy Spirit. That’s “90%” (or “99%”, or whatever) of what goes into salvation. But here is our 10% (or 1% or whatever). We have to say “Yes” to the Holy Spirit’s prompting (or “No”). That’s us. That’s our part. God does not “do that for us.” “For out of the heart come the issues of life.” (What is INVOLVED in saying “Yes” is being dealt with in the discussion we have all already been engaging in above.)

        I recognize your verse about “with God all things are possible.” However, even that has its “logical limits.” “God cannot lie.” “God does not tempt any man.” God cannot cede control of the universe to someone other than Himself. Thus, God cannot act contrary to his nature or his attributes. And our God is “just.” So, a corollary of that is that he won’t punish people for actions they had no choice in. It is easy enough to say that God can choose those for salvation, but the corollary to that is that he chooses those for damnation (either by active choice or by “negative” choice of simply not choosing to elect them). And that latter would not be “just.” So, no, I don’t think God can “damn” people for “God’s own choice” of what they will do, because that would be contrary to his nature. So, no, I don’t think predestination can be true, even in some “mysterious” way.

  8. Grant Essex Says:

    Don’t confuse God’s marcy with God’s justice. Since we are all sinners, we all deserve to go to hell. That God would spare some, by his own choosing or otherwise, is an act of mercy. “God is merciful and long suffering”. Who are we to tell Him who He can and cannot save?


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