Sermon 02-21-16: “In Spirit and Truth”

March 1, 2016

John Sermon Series Graphic

In his conversation with the Samaritan woman in John 4, Jesus exposes the woman’s sexual sin—an uncomfortable topic that she would rather avoid. So she changes the subject: Where is the correct place to worship God? Why does Jesus let her do this? In this sermon, I argue that it’s because Jesus recognizes the connection between worship and sin: In a way, sin is “worshiping wrongly.” Straightening out our “worship problem,” therefore, helps us straighten our our “sin problem.”

Sermon Text: John 4:16-30

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

I’ll never forget my first day on Emory’s campus when I started seminary. One of the main things I had to do on that first day on campus was go to the Financial Aid department and check on the status of my scholarships and loans. Now, I know from my experience at a large public university like Georgia Tech that dealing with the bureaucracy of Financial Aid means waiting in long lines, putting up with employees who don’t seem happy with their jobs, and who seem to enjoy telling people “no”—all of which is enough to make me want to gouge my eyeballs out. Needless to say, I was expecting the worst when I went to the Financial Aid office at Emory’s Candler School of Theology.

But Emory is not a large public university. I walked into the Financial Aid office of the theology school. I looked around. There was no line. Before I had a chance to introduce myself, I was ushered into the office of the director, who said, “Hello, Mr. White, how may I help you?” And I looked at my shirt to see if I was wearing a name tag or something. I wasn’t. And I’m thinking, “How does she know me?” And all I can figure is that she had names and photos of new theology students who were financial aid recipients. And she had been studying it to match faces with names. I had no other explanation… How did she know me?

And of course, the Samaritan woman at the well must have wondered the same thing after she tells Jesus that she has no husband. And Jesus responds: “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” And she’s never met Jesus before in her life! How does he know me? she must have thought.

In this case, of course, what Jesus knows is something that this woman would rather keep hidden: that she’s been married—and likely divorced—five times, and the man with whom she’s currently living isn’t her husband. This woman is guilty of very serious sin, and Jesus wants to get that out in the open first thing.

I saw this terrible meme on social media last week. In it, this educator and activist named Nicholas Ferroni says, “I was born a sinner too. My sin is mentioned in the Bible 25 times. I tried to change but couldn’t… Luckily society learned to accept us left-handed people.” I would suggest that this educator needs to be better educated about the Bible. Because it never, not even once, suggests or implies that being left-handed is sinful. The Church never interpreted the Bible to mean that being left-handed is sinful. It’s completely unfounded. In fact, one of the great heroes of the Bible, Ehud in Judges chapter 3, a man whom God calls to deliver Israel from the Moabites, is able to assassinate the evil Moabite king because he’s left-handed.

But it’s not exactly breaking news that something that’s popular on the internet is inaccurate or untruthful. I bring this up to say that we all know what this guy’s point is: that the Bible, far from being God’s infallible Word to us, is hopelessly outdated—even silly—so we Christians are nuts to take it so seriously, to try to live our lives by it! That’s the underlying message, which is increasingly popular in our culture.

But ironically, Mr. Ferroni gets one thing exactly right: He was born a sinner… He was! He would deny it, of course—and that’s another important message of this meme: Why do we Christians get so hung up on sin? It’s not that big of a deal! But of course, our Lord disagrees, and he’s the only one who gets to say whether it’s a big deal. But it’s true that Mr. Ferroni was born a sinner. And so was I! And so were you! And so was this Samaritan woman.

To say that we’re “born” sinners is what the Church has traditionally referred to “original sin.” It means that we can’t help but sin. We can’t escape it. We’re helpless over it. And apart from Christ we’re hopeless.

But here’s one important thing to know about sin: What God calls sin in the Bible isn’t arbitrary. That’s what we’re afraid of. We think that God gives us this list of do’s and don’t’s for no other reason than to spoil our fun.

We were at some friends’ house one time years ago, and the mother was letting her three-year-old “help” her cook dinner—help is in quotation marks. And she told the child, “Don’t touch the stove it’s hot.” And I promise, less than a minute after she gave that command, the child reached over and touched one of the hot burners on the stove! And of course, then he was crying uncontrollably for the next half hour! So when he disobeyed his mother, he got hurt. And that’s what God’s laws are like: He knows what’s best for us; we don’t. So we trust him when he says to avoid doing or thinking these things that he calls “sins”; otherwise we will get hurt. Sin is spiritually harmful to us and to others.

I’ve said this before, but God wants us to be happy. He does. In the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus says things like, “Blessed are the poor in spirit… Blessed are the meek… Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness,” that word translated as “blessed” means “happy”—a deep and lasting kind of happiness. That’s what God wants for us. Among many other harmful things, sin prevents us from knowing this deep and lasting kind of happiness.

The Samaritan woman was committing adultery and fornication—serious sins. But don’t you just know that, in her own way, she was just trying to find happiness? And she must have thought, “This time, this husband, this man, this relationship, will bring me happiness. I married the wrong guy before, but this time I’ll get it right.” And five times she did that. Until finally, she just gave up on marriage altogether—but I’m sure she imagined that her current relationship would bring her happiness. But Jesus knows that whatever happiness it did bring her, it was far less than the kind of happiness that comes from being a right relationship with God.

So when the woman realizes that Jesus knows her, she says, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.” Why does she perceive that? Because, she thinks, only a prophet could know these intimate facts about her life. But it makes her uncomfortable to talk about this painful part of her life, so she changes the subject. Besides, if he really is a prophet, then maybe he can settle a question that has been one of the main sources of contention between Jews and Samaritans: Where is the proper place to worship? The Samaritans said Mt. Gerazim in the north. In fact, they used to have their own Temple there, which was destroyed by the Jews in the second century B.C. Why did the Jews destroy it? Because they understood that the Temple belonged on Mt. Zion, in Jerusalem. This was an ongoing dispute between these two nations. So she asks Jesus, “Who’s right? The Samaritans or the Jews. You’re a prophet. You can settle this once for all.”

What’s interesting to me is that Jesus lets her change the subject—he lets her avoid talking about her sin. He knows what she’s doing. He knows she’s trying to avoid this uncomfortable truth—by talking instead about the proper way to worship God. Why does he let her get away with it?

It’s because Jesus knows that if she can learn to worship properly—as he says, “in spirit and truth”—then that will also solve her problem with sin. Sin and worship are closely related.

I have a friend, Chuck, who collects comic books. And many years ago—it’s been 20 years now—he and his wife were visiting Lisa and me at our house. They were newlyweds, and we were meeting his wife for the first time. And Chuck mentioned that he had recently purchased a rare and valuable comic book—it was the first issue of the “Silver Age” Flash, from 1956. And he mentioned how much he paid for it—and I don’t remember the exact price, but I remember it was four figures. And his wife’s jaw dropped. She had no idea he spent that much. She stared daggers at him. And she said, with this icy tone of voice, “Were you planning on telling me about this?” And for the rest of the visit, it was really awkward and uncomfortable—because this heated argument was just below the surface. I’m like, “Do you want us to step outside so you guys can fight it out, and we’ll come back later?”

I’m not saying that what Chuck did was right or wrong. But for him, spending this money was worth it. This comic book had a value to him that far exceeded the price that he paid for it. But what he clearly failed to do was to convince his wife of this comic book’s value.

It was worth a great deal to Chuck. I mention this because “worth” is at the root of the word “worship.” It literally means worth-ship: when we worship God, we are literally showing God what he is worth to us. If we worship properly, “in spirit and truth,” then that means that God is worth worth everything to usthat God is more valuable to us than anything else, including our very lives! I can’t help but think of Stephen in Acts chapter 7. Remember, he was one of the first deacons in the church, and he was a great evangelist. And he spoke the unvarnished truth about Jesus to a group of religious leaders who accused him of blasphemy, who picked up stones and stoned him to death. And as he was dying he looked up to heaven, and saw Jesus, and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And I don’t know how old he was… Probably early twenties. He was young. And from an outsider’s perspective, someone could say, “Why did he throw away his life like this? He had so much to live for.” But if you asked him, he would surely say he had nothing greater to live for than to live for Jesus, even when Jesus asked him to literally give up everything! Because Jesus is worth everything to him! That’s what it means to worship in spirit and truth!

And when we sin, we are proving through our thoughts, words, and deeds that something or someone else is worth more to us than Jesus!

Was this woman’s sin proving to Jesus that she placed a greater value on these relationships than she did on God? You bet!

In my first job out of college, before I got an engineering degree, I worked in sales for AT&T and later Lucent Technologies. We sold very large telephone systems to companies. My mentor when I was hired on was a man named Alec, and Alec was a very professional, very successful salesman, and he took me under his wing. And he told me one time that he wasn’t motivated by money—that even though he made a lot of it, that wasn’t what drove him to succeed. What drove him, he said, was recognition. He loved winning sales awards—and being recognized by the senior executives of the company. Being flown to exotic places on the company’s dime. That’s what motivated him. Not money.

And I was thinking, “Well, if you feel that way, how about giving me your commission checks because I’m motivated by money?”

My point is, I thought he was crazy at the time. Motivated by recognition! Whoever heard of such a thing?

And then, the very next year, the general manager posted a chart on the wall—which ranked all of us salespeople—there were a couple of dozen of us—in terms of the percentage of our annual sales quota that we had met year-to-date. It had bar graphs going across. And that chart became very important to me. I became obsessed with this chart. After all, anyone in this large office of employees—hundreds of people—could walk down this hall, and look at this chart, and see what my ranking was; to see how I measured up to others; they could see how valuable I was—or not valuable. If I’m down near the bottom of the chart, I’m worthless. If I’m up near the top, I’m special and worth a lot.

It became clear that like my friend Alec, I, too, was motivated by recognition, by what other people thought of me. This became clear the next year. Because the next year, I blew out my quota. I did great. I was at or near the top of the chart… Or at least I would have been, except the general manager had decided to take the chart down. So no one else could see how well I was doing. No one could see how valuable I was. And I was crushed.

So I’m not so different from this Samaritan woman: just as she was trying to find deep and lasting happiness, not from God, but from her relationships, so I try to find deep and lasting happiness, not from God, but from praise and recognition and awards. I’m constantly tempted to rank myself—even against other pastors, my colleagues, my friends. Where do I stand in relation to this guy? How do I measure up to that person? And this sinful kind of pride is at the root of the worst sins I’ve committed in my life.

So last week, Lisa got me a Fitbit. And it’s wonderful. It helps me keep track of my diet and exercise. Lets me monitor how I’m doing. And oh my goodness, it even buzzes on my wrist to let me know when I’ve attained certain goals: Congratulations! you’ve taken 15,000 steps today; you’ve climbed this many floors; you’ve run this many miles; you’ve exceeded this goal; you’re better than 68 percent of the population. And I feel it buzzing on my wrist, and I’m like, “Tell me, Fitbit, how valuable I am. Tell me how important I am. Tell me how worthy I am. Tell me how much better I am than other people.”

My problem, ultimately, is worship. I have too often assigned greater worth, a greater value, on recognition, on what other people think of me, than I assign to God and what he thinks of me. And when I do that, it makes me miserable. And God doesn’t want me or anyone else to be miserable—he wants us to be happy—with a deep and lasting kind of happiness. But he knows that that only comes from placing our ultimate worth on him.

And we do that when we worship. One of the best things I’ve done over the past couple of years is to use the Lord’s Prayer as a template for my own prayers. So the very first thing in the Lord’s Prayer is “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” So the very first part of the prayer is praise and worship. We praise our Father, we “hallow his name,” because of all the amazing things he’s done for us. So the first thing I do when I get on my knees to pray is to praise God for some of the good things he’s done for me. Even when I don’t feel like praising, I try to think of five things for which I can be grateful at that moment. And it has a way of softening my heart—reminding me that, oh yeah, God is in control. Everything’s going to be O.K. Worshiping has a way of keeping things in perspective.

I remember how good and faithful my Father has been to me in the past, how good and faithful he’s being to me in the present, and it reassures me that he will be good and faithful to me in the future. No matter what I’m facing. No matter what I’m going through. No matter what difficult circumstances I’m facing.

It’s not up to me! I’m not like Atlas, carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. In fact, I’m not doing much of anything apart from God who is working through me.

Speaking of which, let me share these words, which I got from a book called Law and Gospel, from Mockingbird Ministries:

Imagine you fall off the side of an ocean liner and, not knowing how to swim, begin to drown. Someone on the deck spots you, flailing in the water and throws you a life preserver. It lands directly in front of you and, just before losing consciousness, you grab hold for dear life. They pull you up onto the deck, and you cough the water out of your lungs. People gather around, rejoicing that you are safe and waiting expectantly while you regain your sense. After you finally catch your breath, you open your mouth and say: “Did you see the way I grabbed onto that life preserver?! How tightly I held on to it?! Did you notice the definition in my biceps and the dexterity of my wrists? I was all over that thing!”

Needless to say, it would be a bewildering and borderline insane response. To draw attention to the way you cooperated with the rescue effort denigrates the whole point of what happened, which is that you were saved. A much more likely chain of events is that you would immediately seek out the person who threw the life preserver, and you would thank them. Not just superficially, either. You would embrace them, ask them their name, invite them to dinner, maybe give them your cabin![1]

The most important way that we worship “in spirit and truth” is to praise God for what he’s done for us helpless sinners—what he’s done to rescue us, to save us from our sins, to make us his beloved children through life, death, and resurrection. That’s the kind of gratitude that changes our lives. Amen?

[1] William McDavid, Ethan Richardson, and David Zahl, Law and Gospel: A Theology for Sinners (and Saints) (Charlottesville, VA: Mockingbird, 2015), 73.

 

19 Responses to “Sermon 02-21-16: “In Spirit and Truth””

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    I like all of this very well except I do have a comment about the concluding “life preserver” illustration. I’m not quite sure salvation is exactly like that, much less “Christian living” following salvation. It is true we cannot “earn” salvation and are dependent on the grace of God to get it. And that we should be overwhelmingly grateful. But the same passage that lays out in Ephesians 2:8-9 about “by grace” also says that the grace of the matter is that it is “through faith” that we are saved, as opposed to “works.” What is involved in such “faith”? What does it consist of? If we look to the “faith” chapter in Hebrews 11 (or James 2), we see that faith means more than just “believing” in Jesus or the plan of salvation (as the demons acknowledge that). I recognize that there may be some other indicators about faith, but I think Hebrews 11 is primarily intended to exemplify what Christian faith is. I think it is verse 6 that says, “But without faith it is impossible to please God, for he that comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Then it gives a number of examples of people of faith. They “sought a city not made with hands” and were willing to make sacrifices with respect to this “city” in which we now dwell to get that, and as a result God was pleased to call them His children.

    Frankly, I don’t understand the “motive” to virtually totally denigrate our own “contribution” to salvation (not saying you do that exactly, but many do). Everyone camps out with Paul in Romans and Ephesians, but neglect the illustrations of Jesus himself and other indicia, such as Peter’s saying, “Repent and be baptized and thou shalt be saved.” Also: “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” by both John the Baptist and Jesus. When John was asked what the supplicants should “do,” he did not say, “Do? Why you don’t have to DO anything.” Instead, he gave specific instructions of what would constitute acts of “repentance” based on the circumstances of those who inquired. So it seems to me that the picture which is more appropriate is still that of the drowning person who fell overboard, but the life preserver lands some distance away, and he must use every ounce of strength left in him to get to it. He can’t survive without the life preserver, and of course his primary thought upon being lifted to the ship is thankfulness to he who tossed the preserver to him, but it is not as though he had “nothing” (or “nearly” nothing) to do with being “saved.”

    • brentwhite Says:

      I can’t quite get a fix on your belief regarding works. Are you saying, therefore, that we are not saved by faith alone? That we require an extra component in order to be saved, which is our works? Isn’t this precisely the conflict that started the Protestant Reformation?

      The doctrine of justification by faith alone emerges from an attempt to make sense of the entire biblical message. This is the task of systematic theology, for example.

      But I don’t understand why you have a problem with my view that, by all means, good works will always follow genuine saving faith (assuming it’s not a “deathbed” conversion a la the thief on the cross), but the faith comes first. If works don’t follow—or perhaps even the desire to do good works—then it seems likely that our faith isn’t genuine.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        “Faith without works is dead,” James said. However, I ran my comment past my Dad (retired pastor and Southern Baptist missionary to South Korea), and he says Romans tells HOW to be saved and James shows the PROOF of salvation, which may be basically the same thing as what you are getting at.

        I still have a difficult time with this point. Isn’t the very fact that “works will follow” as a “proof” of salvation necessarily a demonstration that a fundamental “heart change” (i.e., repentance) had to take place as part and parcel of the salvation itself? Don’t you have to “enter the narrow gate” to get on the path of salvation? Don’t we have to essentially be willing to “sell all we have to get that pearl of great price,” which is what “the Kingdom of Heaven is like”? Did not the rich, young ruler have to be willing to “sell all you have and give to the poor, and then come and follow [Jesus]”? Isn’t it true that “how hard it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven”? Don’t we have to be willing to “hate father and mother, yea, your own life also,” if need be, to be “able to be [Christ’s] disciple”? Don’t we have to “count the cost”? All of these are Jesus’ own sayings, and I submit when it comes down to a point of exegesis that we should interpret Paul in light of Jesus as opposed to the other way around.

        It may very well be that this “heart change” will not be “manifest” or “tested” until some point down the road. Thus, we are told by Paul that “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him as righteousness.” Yet we are told by James: “Was not Abraham our father JUSTIFIED when he offered up Isaac on the altar?” Genesis says, “God tested Abraham” in the Isaac episode. So, Abraham had the right “heart” all the time, but it did not get “tested” until later.

        So, I guess what I come back to is what is encompassed in the “faith” that saves us, as contrasted with being saved “by works” that everyone takes umbrage with? To analyze this, what “works” would we be required to do if we were saved by “works”? ALL of them, James intimates in James 2. But “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” So, nobody can be “saved by works,” so we have no basis for bragging that we “earned” our salvation. There has to be another way. And that way, by God’s grace, is by faith. But that simply leaves open what “faith” is. So that is why I go to Hebrews 11 to get the answer to that. There we see that we must believe that “God is a rewarder of them that DILIGENTLY seek him.” We have to “give ourselves over to God,” regardless of the cost. No one can do that perfectly, of course, as Paul and John tell us, but there still has to be a fundamental “heart change” to get salvation, as I see the matter.

      • brentwhite Says:

        I’m with your dad on this. If, upon listening to all the impossible demands that Christ makes on our lives—the “most” impossible of which is “be perfect”—we finally reach a point at which we say, “Lord, help me! I can’t do it!” then we are ready to receive God’s grace. Christ demands perfection; God demands perfection. The reason that Jesus says the tax collectors and prostitutes are entering God’s kingdom ahead of the self-righteous Pharisees is that they already understood they were lost and helpless, whereas the Pharisees thought they could still earn it.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        I agree totally with your point that when we see the “impossible” demands (notably, “Be ye perfect, even as my Father in Heaven is perfect,” as you note), we have to recognize our inadequacy and plead for mercy and grace. Hence, “God have mercy on me, a sinner,” went home justified.

        Nevertheless, that does not end the discussion. God still requires us to “repent.” Over and over this is stated. Thus, the publican’s recognition of being a “sinner” surely entailed a “change of heart” whereby he would strive toward “NOT sinning” in the future. I can’t see how anyone can really recognize that “I am wrong” without a longing to “be right.” Certainly we observe that no one is without sin (which is the reason why salvation is “not of works,” but John goes on to say later that “sinners” do not have eternal life in them. There has to be a “change.” “Without a change of direction, there is no change of destination.” (I just made that one up! 🙂 )

        So, is this change simply “down the road,” or do we have to see our “need for change” and “volunteer in that direction” to consummate salvation? Isaiah comes to mind. “Woe is me, for I am undone, for I am a man of unclean lips!” This is followed by, “Here am I, send me.” Jesus goes home with the tax collector (never can spell his name right), but it is not until he says, “Lord, the half my goods I give to the poor, and if I have wronged any man, I will repay fourfold” does Jesus say, “Today salvation has come.” I recognize that not all accounts have this type of discourse, but I think overall this is implicit. A “change of heart” is fundamental and entirely necessary. Even if the “proof of that” does not come until down the road.

  2. Tom Harkins Says:

    One other thought. Becoming a Christian is clearly the most momentous and significant event that can happen in one’s life. Does it make sense that we would have “very little to say” in the matter? To so conclude would be far too Calvinistic for my blood!

    • brentwhite Says:

      I know, but you’re about the least Reformed-minded Baptist I’ve ever met! 😉 Even we Wesleyans, whom Calvinists accuse of being semi-Pelagian, believe that we’re only able to say “yes” to God’s grace because of the work of the Spirit.

  3. Tom Harkins Says:

    Brent, consider this: If we can’t say “yes” except the Holy Spirit “do that through us” (as I am interpreting what you are saying), then how can God be “justified” in sending people to Hell based on “God’s own choice”? I realize that in one sense we can’t “question God” (He can do whatever He wants–we are merely “creatures,” Romans 9), but nevertheless we can expect Him to act consistently with His nature that He reveals in scripture. Thus, I am not “questioning God”–I am questioning what some PEOPLE say God is doing because I don’t find that to be “in character” with God. I am questioning how such a “reading of scripture” can be correct.

    As a scriptural example of this, consider Abraham, who said, “Far be it from you to do this, to treat the righteous the same as the wicked! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Abraham expected God to act as a “just Judge” because that was how Abraham understood God to be. Same thing with me. I expect God to act “justly,” so I don’t think he “indiscriminately” picks some for Heaven and some for Hell.

    Consequently, if not “indiscriminate,” there must be something “different IN THE PERSON HIMSELF” which God relies upon in choosing whom to select for Heaven and whom for Hell. He is a “just Judge.” And could that not be based on a person’s willingness to “repent” once confronted with his sinfulness? Some blind themselves to their sin (such as the Pharisees), and some refuse to repent even upon being faced with their sinfulness (as evidenced by the behavior shown by some in the OT, and certainly as is symptomatic of the demons). But there MUST be “something” in each person which determines his response to God, and hence his ultimate destiny. Whether we can “fathom” that or not. (There are a lot of things we can’t fathom but which are true anyway.) I think the “willingness to change direction” is surely a prime contender for what God is “looking to.”

  4. Tom Harkins Says:

    (This may show up twice–my computer did not show it to “take” the first time around.) Brent, consider this: If we can’t say “yes” except the Holy Spirit “do that through us” (as I am interpreting what you are saying), then how can God be “justified” in sending people to Hell based on “God’s own choice”? I realize that in one sense we can’t “question God” (He can do whatever He wants–we are merely “creatures,” Romans 9), but nevertheless we can expect Him to act consistently with His nature that He reveals in scripture. Thus, I am not “questioning God”–I am questioning what some PEOPLE say God is doing because I don’t find that to be “in character” with God. I am questioning how such a “reading of scripture” can be correct.

    As a scriptural example of this, consider Abraham, who said, “Far be it from you to do this, to treat the righteous the same as the wicked! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Abraham expected God to act as a “just judge” because that was how Abraham understood God to be. Same thing with me. I expect God to act “justly,” so I don’t think he “indiscriminately” picks some for Heaven and some for Hell.

    Consequently, if not “indiscriminate,” there must be something “different IN THE PERSON HIMSELF” which God relies upon in choosing whom to select for Heaven and whom for Hell. He is a “just Judge.” And could that not be based on a person’s willingness to “repent” once confronted with his sinfulness? Some blind themselves to their sin (such as the Pharisees), and some refuse to repent even upon being faced with their sinfulness (as evidenced by the behavior shown by some in the OT, and certainly as is symptomatic of the demons). But there MUST be “something” in each person which determines his response to God, and hence his ultimate destiny. Whether we can “fathom” that or not. (There are a lot of things we can’t fathom but which are true anyway.) I think the “willingness to change direction” is surely a prime contender for what God is “looking to.”

    • brentwhite Says:

      I agree we make a free choice. The choice is enabled by the Holy Spirit, not determined by the Holy Spirit. We are only able to make that choice because of grace. This is classic Arminianism.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Brent, you say: “We are only able to make that choice because of grace.” I am trying to understand what you mean by that. Are you saying that the Spirit gives that “grace” to EVERYBODY, but only some “accept” it (or “make use of it”)? If so, doesn’t that still pretty much mean that whether we come to God is still “up to us,” i.e., based on “something in us”? If not (i.e., that grace only given to some), don’t we still have absolute Calvinist predestination?

      • brentwhite Says:

        Grace is given to everyone, yes. It’s up to us, but only after God has softened us up with his grace. We agree with Calvinists that we are “totally depraved.”

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        I don’t think this solves the difficulty. Is EVERYONE “softened up”? If so, wouldn’t everyone accept? If not, don’t we still come back down to God’s own “indiscriminate” choice?

  5. Tom Harkins Says:

    See, “total depravity” is very problematic. If what is meant by that is that nobody would come to God based in part on his own initiative; i.e., except the Holy Spirit exclusively “graced” and “empowered” him to do so BASED ON NOTHING IN HIMSELF (i.e., he is “totally” depraved), then Calvinism has to be true. For Calvinism to be false, there has to be some “spark” in there that the Holy Spirit can “fan into a roaring fire.” Maybe the spark can’t become a fire without the Holy Spirit and a fire is required. But if no “spark” is required (i.e., for example, no “willingness” to repent, once shown to be a sinner), we can only have Calvinism. We can’t be “totally” depraved unless Calvinism is true.

    • brentwhite Says:

      I’ve never called it a spark, but, yes, there would be something within a person that would motivate them to respond one way or another. God respects our choice.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        So, is that “something within” consistent with “total” depravity?

      • brentwhite Says:

        As far as I’m concerned. Granted, total depravity isn’t a term that Arminians use; but the idea that we’re utterly incapable of finding God apart from God’s gracious initiative is there.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Well, I don’t want to beat this to death, but it’s the “total” in “total depravity” that bothers me. I am not arguing that we have a SUFFICIENT capacity within us to “find God”; I am arguing that there must be some NECESSARY capacity in us “from the start”; otherwise, we still come back to “All of God and none of man,” which is Calvinism.

      • brentwhite Says:

        That is, perhaps, why Arminians don’t use the term. Maybe I shouldn’t, either. But Arminians do say that the “depravity” that is within us is enough to prevent us from having the ability to “choose” God, so even if it’s not “total,” it’s bad enough. We need God’s prevenient grace, we say.

        I only wish I had asked my Wesleyan theology prof more questions in seminary!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s