Archive for the ‘Theologababble’ Category

GG&E Session Two Outline

Posted: July 18, 2011 in Theologababble

Regeneration: Me and You, or You than Me?

“You must be born again” – Jesus

 

The theological term is regeneration. Literally, “to be born again”. And Jesus says that this act is a vital necessity.

 

Why? Because as we concluded with last week, non-regenerate man is (1) wicked at his very core– Gen 6:5, 8:21, Mk… 7:21-23, Ps 5:9, Jer 17:9, Titus 1:15-16, Ecc 9:3, Eph 4:17-18, (2) Enslaved by his sinful desires – Jn 8:34, Titus 3:3, 2 Tim 2:25-26, (3) Perverted in his will – Jn 8:44, Eph 2:3, Pro 21:10, Jn 3:19, Rom 7:18, (4) Unwilling and unable to change himself – Jer 13:23, Matt 7:18, Matt 12:34-35, Job 14:4, (5) Born hating God – Jn 3:20, Rom 8:7, Col 1:21 (6) Separated from God and not seeking Him – Ps 58:3, Eph 2:12-13, Eph 2:3, Ps 10:4, Jn 3:20, Is 64:7, Rom 3:10-12, (7) Completely unable to please God – Pro 15:9, Pro 28:9, Is 64:6, Rom 8:7-8, (8) Uncomprehending the Gospel and thinking it foolish – 1 Cor 2:14, 2 Cor 4:3-4, 1 Cor 1:18, 21-24, Deut 29:2-4, Matt 11:27, (9) Unable to respond positively to the Gospel – Jn 3:27, Jn 14:16-17, Jn 1:12-13, John 6:44, 65, (10) Spiritually dead – Col 2:13, Eph 2:1, Jn 3:3, Jn 3:7

  1. So what exactly happens in regeneration?
    1. Spiritual resurrection – Ephesians 2:4-5 “ButGod, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…”
    2. Our dead heart is replaced with a live heart – Ezekiel 36:26-27 “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you,and cause you to walk in my statutes andbe careful to obey my rules.
    3. We are made a new creation – 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.”
    4. Regeneration is a demonstration of the power of God unrivaled even by the creation of the universe.
  2. Regeneration is the work of the God in conjunction with the word of God.
    1. John 3:5 “Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
    2. 1 Corinthians 6:11 “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
    3. 1 Peter 1:23 “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.”
    4. Colossians 2:13 “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.”

 

Here is a million-dollar question: what causes the New Birth? In other words, is there something we must do in order for God to make us a new creation?

 

There are two main camps in Evangelical circles: those who hold to synergistic regeneration and those who hold to monergistic regeneration.

 

Synergistic Regeneration

                Definition: Synergism is a cooperative venture, a working together of two or more parties. In terms of salvation, synergists believe that the New Birth is caused by man’s positive response to the Gospel. Salvation is then a joint effort between God and man in which God does His part, man does his part, and then God causes the New Birth. It is “…the doctrine that there are two efficient agents in regeneration, namely the human will and the divine Spirit, which, in the strict sense of the term, cooperate. This theory accordingly holds that the soul has not lost in the fall all inclination toward holiness, nor all power to seek for it under the influence of ordinary motives (Century Dictionary).”

 

Order of salvation in synergism: Calling, faith, repentance, election, predestination, regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification.

–          Calling: The synergist believes that God applies equal effort in calling all men to salvation. In other words, God will not “draw” one sinner and not another, but rather God will call all men to His Son.

–          Faith: Those that choose to believe the Gospel are those that have exercised their faith, thus meeting God’s requirement for faith to be saved.

–          Repentance: When a sinner sees their sin the way God does and this change of mind leads to a change of behavior, the second requirement for salvation is met.

–          Election: Having foreseen this faith in eternity past, God’s election of the synergist to salvation is His response. In other words, all those whom God chose to save before creation are chosen on the basis of this foreseen repentance and faith.

–          Predestination: Having been elected for salvation, individual sinners are predestined to salvation from before they are even born. This does not mean that men are born saved, but rather than salvation is a guarantee for them because of God’s infallible foreknowledge of their faith and repentance.

–          Regeneration: Upon seeing the sinner’s current faith and repentance, God now acts in giving them a new heart, which comes also with…

–          Justification: This is the process by which God looks at a sinner and declares them “Not Guilty”.

–          Sanctification: As a new creation, believers in Christ will be more and more conformed to Jesus’ image, through the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit. 

–          Glorification: This is the final aspect of salvation in which all who are saved will in Heaven be perfected.

 

Grounds for synergism:

  1. Biblical grounds: Arguments can be formed for this position on the basis of God’s love for the world, in conjunction with the invitation to all to be saved.
  2. Philosophical grounds: The idea is held that if God commands all men to repent and believe the Gospel, than all men are able to repent and believe the Gospel.
  3. Fairness principle: In this system, God works equally and lovingly upon all men, but God is a gentleman and will not force anyone to do anything against their will. Therefore, the offer goes out, and those who want to be saved will be, and those that do not want to be saved will not be.

 

 

Synergism is the prevailing position among most Evangelicals.

 

 

                Monergistic Regeneration

 

                Definition: Monergism is something that operates by itself or works alone as the sole active party. Monergism is the opposite of synergism. In terms of salvation, Monergists believe that the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit is effected solely by God; not as a response to man’s contribution.

 

                Order of salvation in monergism: Election, predestination, calling, regeneration, faith, repentance, justification, sanctification, glorification.

–          Election: This is the sovereign act of God by which He chose before the foundation of the earth who would be saved and with Him for all eternity. This election is not based upon a foreseen response from the individual, but is rather the result of God’s choosing for His own pleasure and glory.

–          Predestination: Another aspect of election, individual sinners are predestined to salvation from before they are even born. This does not mean that men are born saved, but rather than salvation is a guarantee for them because God has chosen to save them, and God’s plans cannot be thwarted.

–          Calling: There are two calls in the monergistic camp- the general call, which is extended to the entirety of mankind, and the effective call, but which the Holy Spirit speaks within a sinner, and they are effectively drawn to Christ by means of…

–          Regeneration: In giving spiritual life to a dead sinner, a man is made spiritual alive, able to respond to God, and whose subsequent twin-sister heartbeats are…

–          Faith: The inner awareness of the truth of the Gospel as well as the knowledge that apart from Jesus they are doomed, and they are doomed because they now have…

–          Repentance: They see their sin for what it is, and their sinful selves for who they are. No longer do they love their sin, but now they despise it for the offense that it is against god.

–          Justification: By means of the faith given to sinners, God declares men not guilty. This is not because of their faith, but through their faith. Faith is a necessary component to justification, but it is not the instrumental cause of it. God is.

–          Sanctification: As a new creation, believers in Christ will be more and more conformed to Jesus’ image, through the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

–          Glorification: This is the final aspect of salvation in which all who are saved will in Heaven be perfected.

 Grounds for monergism:

  1. Biblical: Is there Biblical evidence for this? We will see.
  2. Philosophical: See above.
  3. Fairness: Monergists will admit that this system makes God unfair.

 

Though the minority position among Evangelical Christians, many denominations, para-church organizations, seminaries, Bible colleges, missionaries, and prominent speakers are Monergists.

 

 

 

So which is Biblical?


 

Two Views of Regeneration by John Hendryx

Synergism

Monergism

Cause of Regeneration

Regeneration is the work of Christ plus the good will of unspiritual man. What makes men to differ from one another is not the grace of Jesus alone, but Jesus plus the good will of unspiritual man. Regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit alone applying the effectual cross work of Christ to the unspiritual man. What makes men to differ is Jesus Christ alone.
Faith is the cause that triggers regeneration Regeneration has causal priority to faith (Just as a person must have eyes before they see and ears prior to their ability to hear, so one must first have a new heart in order to understand spiritual truth)
Faith and affections for God are produced by the old nature. Faith is not produced by our unregenerated human nature. It is the immediate and inevitable product of the new nature. The new heart (by nature) loves Christ.
God and Man work together to produce the new birth. God’s grace takes us part of the way to salvation, man’s unregenerate will must determine the final outcome. In other words belief in Christ gives rise to the new birth. God, the Holy Spirit, alone produces regeneration with no contribution from the sinner (A work of God). The new birth is never spoke of in the imperative (not commanded), rather man must be born again by God.
God is eagerly awaiting the sinner’s will. God effectually enables the sinner’s will.
The persons of the Trinity have conflicting goals in accomplishing and applying salvation: The Father elects a particular people; The Son dies for a general people and the Holy Spirit applies the atonement conditionally on those who exercise their autonomous libertarian free will. The persons of the Trinity work in harmony – The Father elects a particular people (Eph 1:3-5), Christ dies for those the Father has given Him (John 17:9, 15; Rev 5:9) and the Holy Spirit likewise applies the benefits of the atonement to the same. (Regeneration is one of the redemptive benefits of Christ’s work)
Restoration of spiritual faculties comes after the man without the Spirit exercises faith with his natural (innate) capacities. Has the ability to see spiritual truth even before healed. (see 1 Cor 2:14). Has spiritual capacity/desire to receive the truth, prior God’s granting any spiritual ability. “Light” itself is not enough for a blind man to see, his vision must first be restored. (John 3:3,6). Needs spiritual ability to receive truth prior to receiving it (1 Cor 2:12; John 6:63-65 & 37).

View of Humanity

The fallen sinner has the ability and potential inclination to believe even prior to the new birth The fallen sinner has no understanding, moral ability or inclination to believe prior to the new birth. (1 Cor 2:14).
There is enough good left in fallen man to turn his affections toward Christ. Fallen Man has a mind at enmity with God; loves darkness, hates the light and does not have the Holy Spirit. “There is no one who seeks God” (Rom 3:11); Sinner would never turn to God without divine enablement and new affections.
Sinner needs help, is spiritually handicapped. Spiritually dead sinner needs new nature (mind, heart, will), regeneration.
Natural man is sick and disabled like a drowning man so God would be uncaring if He didn’t help by casting a rope. Natural man is spiritually impotent and morally culpable for sin. Our moral inability is not like a physical handicap or a drowning man for which we would not be culpable but, rather, it is like a man who cannot repay a squandered financial debt. Inability to repay, therefore, does not relieve us of the moral responsibility to do so. God, in His mercy, does not merely throw us a rope, He dives in to make certain we do not drown.
Needs salvation from the consequences of sin – unhappiness, hell, psychological pain. Needs salvation to remove the offense we’ve made against a holy God and from the power and bondage of sin.
The natural man is sovereign over his choice to accept or reject Christ – God conditionally responds to our decision. God’s love for the sinner is, therefore, conditional. The natural man can contribute nothing towards his salvation. Faith is a response rendered certain following the efficacious work of the Holy Spirit. We respond to God’s unconditional love. (Acts 13:48; John 6:37)
Those fallen men who are saved, either created a right thought, generated a right affection, or originated a right volition that led to their salvation while some others did not have the natural wherewithal to come up with the faith that God required of them to obtain salvation. Therefore salvation is dependent on some virtue or capacity God sees in certain men. Not Jesus alone, but Jesus PLUS… No Fallen man will create a right thought, generate a right affection, or originate a right volition that will lead to his salvation. We would never believe unless the Holy Spirit came in and disarmed our hostility to God. Therefore salvation is dependent on God’s good pleasure alone (Eph 1:4, 5, 11), not some virtue or goodwill He sees in us.
Man’s nature & affections do not determine or give rise to their choices. Even without the Holy Spirit working change in his heart, the sinner can still make a saving decision to believe the gospel. In this scheme God gives enough grace to place man in a neutral position which can swing either for or against Jesus. (An act of chance?) Man’s nature determines his desires/affections and give rise to the choices he makes. Jesus bears witness to this: “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.” Luke 6:43 Only Christ can “make a tree good and its fruit will be good.” (Also see John 8:34, 42-44; 2 Pet. 2:19).

View of the Gospel

The Gospel is an invitation The Gospel is not merely an invitation, but a command (1 John 3:23)
Christ died for all our sins except unbelief Christ died for all our sins including unbelief
Sinners have the key in their hands. Man’s will determines whether or not Christ’s death is efficacious. God has the key in his hand. God’s eternal counsel determines to whom the benefits of the atonement apply.
It would be unjust of God to not give everyone an equal chance. If God exercized His justice then none of us would stand, since each of us is in active rebellion against an infinitely holy God. He owes us nothing and is under no obligation to save any person. Regeneration is, therefore, an act of pure, undeserved mercy because the justice we deserved, He poured out on His Son (thereby turning His wrath away from us).
After God makes one’s heart of stone into a heart of flesh the Holy Spirit’s call to salvation can still be resisted. After God makes one’s heart of stone into a heart of flesh, no person wants to resist. By definition our desires, inclinations and affections have changed so we willingly and joyfully turn in faith toward Christ.
Salvation is given to fallen sinners (unregenerate) who choose and desire Christ of their free will. Apart from grace, there is no fallen sinner (unregenerate) who fits that description. A desire for God is not part of the old nature.
The grace of God is conferred as a result of human prayer It is grace itself which makes us pray to God (Rom 10:20; Isa. 65:1)
God has mercy upon us when we believe, will, desire, strive, labor, pray, watch, study, seek, ask, or knock, apart from his regenerative grace. To desire and seek God prior to the new birth is an impossible supposition. (Rom 3:11; 1 Cor 2:14) It is the infusion and quickening of the Holy Spirit within us that we even have the faith or the strength to will, desire, strive, labor, pray, watch, study, seek, ask, or knock and believe in the finished work of Christ.
Commands to repent and believe the gospel imply the ability of the sinner to do so. The Command toward sinners to repent and believe does not imply ability. Divine intent of the Law, according to Scripture, is to reveal our moral impotence apart from grace (Rom 3:20, 5:20, Gal 3:19,24). The Law was not designed to confer any power but to strip us of our own.
God helps those who help themselves. God only helps those who cannot help themselves. (John 9:41)
Unregenerate man contributes his little bit. Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy Cross I cling.
Repentance is considered a work of man. Repentance is a gift of God. (2 Tim 2:25)
One of the greatest gifts God gives humans is to never interfere with their free will. The greatest judgment which God can inflict upon a man is to leave him in the hands of his own free-will. If salvation were left in the hands of the unregenerate sinners, we would indeed despair of all hope that anyone would be saved. It is an act of mercy, therefore, that God awakens the dead in sin to life since those without the Spirit cannot understand the things of God at all. (1 Cor 2:14)
With Man’s will salvation is possible. With man’s will salvation (repentance and faith) is impossible, but with God all things are possible. (Matt 19:26; Rom 9:16; John 6:64,65) “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” John 3:6

 

Verse List

 

–          Ephesians 1:3-6 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined usfor adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

–          John 17:6-9 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.

–          Revelation 5:9 “…by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

–          John 3:3,6 “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born againhe cannot see the kingdom of God…That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.’”

–          1 Corinthians 2:12 “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.”

–          John 6:63-65, 37 “’It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.’ (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.’” “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”

–          1 Corinthians 2:14 “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

–          Romans 3:11 “No one understands; no one seeks for God.”

–          Acts 13:48 “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.”

–          John 6:37 “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”

–          Ephesians 1:4-5, 11 “…even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined usfor adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.”

–          Luke 6:43 “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit.”

–          John 8:34 “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slaveto sin.’”

–          John 8:42-44 “Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.’”

–          2 Peter 2:19 “They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slavesof corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.”

–          1 John 3:23 “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.”

–          Romans 10:20 “Then Isaiah is so bold as to say,’I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”

–          Isaiah 65:1 “I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, ‘Here am I, here am I,’ to a nation that was not called bymy name.”

–          Romans 3:11 “No one understands; no one seeks for God.”

–          Romans 3:20 “For by works of the law no human beingwill be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”

–          Romans 5:20 “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.”

–          Galatians 3:19, 24 “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary…So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.”

–          John 9:41 “Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no guilt;but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.”

–          2 Timothy 2:25-26 “…God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”

–          Matthew 19:26 “But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’”

–          Romans 9:16 “Then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”

–          John 6:64-65 “’But there are some of you who do not believe.’ (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65And he said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.’”

 

 

 Key passages:

 

John 10:22-30 “At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

Romans 8:29-30 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

 

Romans 9:14-24 “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?”

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Our journey into the Gospel, Grace, and Evangelism begins with this:

  1. We are a ­­­­­­fallen, corrupt race. All of us.
    1. Romans 3:23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”
    2. Romans 3:10-12 (cf. Psalm 14:1-3) “there is no one righteous”

                                                                           i.      Righteous means “perfectly upright, moral conduct.” Basically, “right living.”

  1. Psalm 51:5 “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”
  2. Psalm 58:3 “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.”
  3. Genesis 8:21 “the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.’”
  4.  Psalm 130:4 “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities (sins), O Lord, who could stand?
  5. Romans 5:12 “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned”
  6. Psalm 143:2 “Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.”
  7. 2 Chronicles 6:36 “”there is no one who does not sin.”
  8. Isaiah 53:6 “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way.”
  9. k.      Micah 7:2-4 “The godly has perished from the earth, and there is no one upright among mankind; they all lie in wait for blood, and each hunts the other with a net. Their hands are on what is evil, to do it well; the prince and the judge ask for a bribe, and the great man utters the evil desire of his soul; thus they weave it together. The best of them is like a brier, the most upright of them a thorn hedge.”
  10. 1 John 1:8,10 “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we say we have not sinned, we make [God] a liar, and his word is not in us.”
  11. Mark 10:18 “And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”
  12. Bottom line? Every single one of us is born in a sinful state due to our inherited sin nature and inherited guilt. Though this may seem “unfair”, recall that we sin just as soon as we possibly can, making Adam’s guilt fairly imputed.
  13. What exactly is sin?
    1. Literally, sin means “missing the mark”. It is everything we do that falls short of God’s standard of perfection.
    2. It is the willful, intentional, open rebellion against our Creator as we break His laws.

                                                                           i.      1 John 3:4 “Sin is lawlessness.”

  1. It is elevating ourselves above the One who made us.
  2. It is shaking our fist in God’s face and declaring, “I will do it my way!”
  3. What are the consequences of sin?
    1. Death, both physical and spiritual.

                                                                           i.      See again Romans 5:12

                                                                         ii.      Romans 6:23 “The wages of sin is death.”

  1. The word death means “a separation of,” and denotes either (1) the separation of the soul from the body (physical death) or (2) the separation of the soul from God (spiritual death).
  2. Final separation of the soul from God is an eternity in theLakeofFire.

                                                                           i.      Revelation 20:10 “The devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever…”

                                                                         ii.      Revelation 20:11-15 “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

  1. What are the effects of sin within the life of the individual?
    1. We are wicked at our very core.

                                                                           i.      Genesis 6:5 “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

                                                                         ii.      Genesis 8:21 “The intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”

                                                                        iii.      Mark 7:21-23 “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

                                                                       iv.      Psalm 5:9 “For there is no truth in their mouth; their inmost self is destruction; their throat is an open grave; they flatter with their tongue.”

                                                                        v.      Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

                                                                       vi.      Titus 1:15-16 “To the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.”

                                                                     vii.      Ecclesiastes 9:3 “Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.”

                                                                    viii.      Ephesians 4:17-18 “You must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.”

  1. We are enslaved to our sinful desires (a.k.a. our “will”).

                                                                           i.      John 8:34 “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.’”

                                                                         ii.      Titus 3:3 “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.”

                                                                        iii.      2 Timothy 2:25-26 “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”

  1. Our will is perverted.

                                                                           i.      John 8:44 “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.”

                                                                         ii.      Ephesians 2:3 “we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

                                                                        iii.      Proverbs 21:10 “The soul of the wicked desires evil.”

                                                                       iv.      John 3:19 “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”

                                                                        v.      Romans 7:18 “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.”

  1. We do not want to, and nor can we, change ourselves.

                                                                           i.      Jeremiah 13:23 “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.”

                                                                         ii.      Matthew 7:18 “A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.”

                                                                        iii.      Matthew 12:34-35 “How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.”

                                                                       iv.      Job 14:4 “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? There is not one.”

  1. We are born hating God.

                                                                           i.      John 3:20 “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”

                                                                         ii.      Romans 8:7 “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.”

                                                                        iii.      Colossians 1:21 “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds.”

  1. We are separated from God and not even looking for Him.

                                                                           i.      Psalm 58:3 “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.”

                                                                         ii.      Ephesians 2:12-13 “remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

                                                                        iii.      Ephesians 2:3 “Among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

                                                                       iv.      Psalm 10:4 “In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, ‘There is no God.’”

                                                                        v.      John 3:20 “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”

                                                                       vi.      Isaiah 64;7 “There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.”

                                                                     vii.      Romans 3:10-12 “No one seeks for God.”

  1. g.      We are completely unable to please God.

                                                                           i.      Proverbs 15:9  “The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord”

                                                                         ii.      Proverbs 28:9 “If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.”

                                                                        iii.      Isaiah 64:6 “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.”

                                                                       iv.      Romans 8:7-8 “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

  1. We cannot comprehend the message of the Cross (the Gospel), and we think it is stupid.

                                                                           i.      1 Corinthians 2:14 “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

                                                                         ii.      2 Corinthians 4:3-4 “Our gospel is veiled… to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

                                                                        iii.      1 Corinthians 1:18, 21-24 “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.”

                                                                       iv.      Deuteronomy 29:2-4 “And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: ‘You have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders. But to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.’”

                                                                        v.      Matthew 11:27 “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

  1. By ourselves, we cannot even respond positively to the Gospel message.

                                                                           i.      John 3:27 “John answered, ‘A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.’”

                                                                         ii.      John 14:16-17 “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.”

                                                                        iii.      John 1:12-13 “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

                                                                       iv.      John 6:44, 65 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

  1. Bottom line? We are born rebels, all we do is rebel, we hate God, we will not come to God, we reject the Gospel message, we are absolutely helpless, damned to Hell, and in need of spiritual life, because we are dead.

                                                                           i.      Colossians 2:13 “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh…”

                                                                         ii.      Ephesians 2:1 “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…”

                                                                        iii.      John 3:3 “Jesus answered him, ‘truly, truly, I say unto you- unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’”

                                                                       iv.      John 3:7 “You must be born again.”

 

 

Questions:

What is faith in the Gospel?

What is repentance?

How does one obtain these things?

How does all of this fit into Ephesians 1:3-14, Romans 8:28-30, Romans 9, 1 Peter 1:1-2?

What is grace?

A Peek into my Conversion

Posted: July 8, 2011 in Theologababble

[Author’s note: In retrospect, I believe from a Biblical standpoint that what happened to me in 2006 was a genuine conversion, rather than the “getting right with God” that I believed had happened at that time. Nonetheless, this article, written less than two weeks after the experience between God and me, bears great insight into the events leading up to this encounter. My theology has evolved, so to speak, and I can see some issues with things I said back then, but as a whole I think you’ll find this account edifying and enlightening.]

September, 2006
     Well guys, I’m sitting here in my room wanting to write this, and I’m not even sure where to begin. I think the best thing for me to do is just write whatever pops into my head. I think that’s how these blogs work, anyway. I’ll probably get off track more than once, but it’s ok, ‘cause it’s possible that the vast majority of y’all may end up losing interest. I can tell you right now that some of you will think I’m smoking crack, that I’m not being serious, and that this is definitely not the Richard Boyce that you all know. That’s fine, though. I’m not writing this seeking approval, or kudos, or anything. I’m writing this because I feel I need to, and also because I want to share what’s happened in my life this week.

     Let me start out with a little background information. I got saved when I was four years old. I don’t remember the date, but I remember praying the prayer of salvation with the Pastor’s wife. Of course, I was extremely young, so there was no profound life change for me. As I grew up, I stayed in church because my parents went. I got into my share of trouble, but nothing too serious.

 
     When I was old enough to join the youth group, things started changing in my life. I hit the typical rebellious teenager stage, and I got into the wrong group of friends. Well, my church started going to a youth camp called The Wilds, in either North or South Carolina. At the camp we had a blast. There was lots of events going on, and lots of preaching. We had a service in the morning, afternoon, and evening. There were several different speakers, with different preaching styles. Some were formal, some were informal. What was different about this camp was the isolation from anything that was not Godly. There were no TV’s, CD players, tobacco, or anything like that allowed. There was no co-ed swimming and no “away time” with members of the opposite sex. I know what many of you are thinking- borrring. And at first I agreed.
What this did, though, was create an environment that was conducive to focusing on God, and where we were in our Christian walk with Him.

      Well, the first year I went I had a life changing experience, as did the vast majority of teenagers there, as well as many of the adult sponsors and youth pastors. When I came home, I straightened my life out. I quit cussing, listening to the music I was listening to, changed my friends, got more involved in the Bible, spent time in prayer with God, etc. I did everything that I felt a Christian should do.
     Sadly though, it only lasted a few months. I gradually decreased the amount of time I spent reading the Bible and praying, and as I did it became easier to fall right back into the sinful lifestyle that I had once left behind. Well, this same pattern occurred year after year. I would get right with God, then gradually leave him. Some years it took longer than others, but it still happened nonetheless. Eventually it got to the point where I kinda dreaded going to camp. I knew I would have to change my life yet again, only to have it go away months down the road.
     During what I believe was my final year of camp, I found myself unsure of whether or not I was actually saved. I wondered if I had actually become a Christian like I thought I had. I couldn’t really explain my behavior over the past few years, and I wasn’t entirely sure of my memory of getting saved when I was four. I decided right then and there to settle things. I knew that if I wasn’t saved, I was a road headed straight for hell (John 3:3, “Except a man [or woman] be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God”). I acknowledged to God that I was a sinner, as is everyone (Romans 3:23- For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God). I then told Him that I believed that He sent His son Jesus to the world for the sole purpose of dying for our sins (John 3:16- For God so loved the world, that He sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life).
     Now of course, the Bible isn’t saying that Christians will never die. It merely means that when we do die, we’ll have eternal life in heaven, as opposed to hell. Lastly, I had the faith that God was true to his word. And that’s all it takes to gain salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast).

     Incredibly simple, I know. That’s the great thing about God, though. He doesn’t want us to jump through flaming hoops to go to Heaven. He merely wants us to put our faith in Him. And all it takes is one time. The Bible teaches us that once we’re a Christian, we’re always a Christian (John 10:28b-‘No man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand). Ok, enough with the preaching. Just wanted to give out a Biblical reference for the things I’m stating/believing. Time to get back to the story.

     So there I was, and at that point of my life I knew without a doubt that I was a Christian. Whether it happened when I was four or seventeen is irrelevant. Things were bound to be better this time around, right? Wrong. Details of the timing are sketchy, but sure enough I eventually decided that doing what I wanted to do was more fun than doing what God wanted me to do. I went back to the smoking, drinking, everything that was wrong for me. I knew it was wrong, too. I just didn’t feel like fighting the temptation. I also struggled with why life can be crappy for Christians. I didn’t think it was fair. I mean, if a person is going to live a godly life and resist temptations, you would think that God would make that person’s life easier, make them happier. Well, that’s just not how it works. This is an imperfect world, and crappy things happen to everyone. Christians have the ability to rely on God during the hard times, we just have to trust Him. Well, I didn’t.
     I wrote a poem once, and while I can’t remember the exact wording I used, it went to the effect of saying that I would rather be unhappy living my own life than continually feeling let down by God.
Then everything blew up on me. I got kicked out of the youth group of my church because I had finished school. This in itself wasn’t why I was asked to leave. My problem was the example I was setting for the younger kids. I’ve been a leader my entire life, and people were forever looking up to me. Being as how I had no qualms with the way my life was going, the powers that be deemed it necessary to keep me a little further away from my friends. Although I could never really blame the church for doing what it did, I would have to admit that it stung. A lot.
Then, I got in trouble again with the church. I had supplied one of the teens with alcohol, and word got out. Not good. Around the same time, I was going through a hard time with my then-girlfriend. Evidently she had gotten fed up with my crap and was refusing to take me back. Can’t blame her for that one either, but again it hurt.
     I had always hated school when I was growing up. Especially once my parents started home-schooling me. I swore up and down that I would never go to college. So from the time I got my GED at sixteen to the time I was eighteen, I had been working full-time. I drove a piece of crap vehicle, couldn’t afford to move out, and then everything with the church and girlfriend sprung up. So I did what a lot of people in situations similar to mine do: I joined the Army.
     Boy, talk about a wake-up call. Life during the onset of basic-training was so miserable that I ran to God as fast as I could. I found it incredible easy, too. I set my heart right, asked God’s forgiveness for turning away from Him, and then asked Him to help me grow closer to Him. Now I’ve already said that God is very forgiving, and He is. He doesn’t hold grudges against us. So I almost immediately got back on track. I read my Bible daily, prayed, and set a positive example for the guys in my platoon. I had nicknames floating around like Preacher, Reverend, etc. Life was good. I was living like I should be and seeing God work though my life.
     Then came Advanced Individual Training, or AIT. This was in Alabama, and it was a world of difference from basic training in Missouri. For one, we had access to TV, music, free-time, and a lot less attention from the Drill Sergeants. I tell you, trying to keep on trucking was hard. It was a constant bombardment from every direction. I fought it and fought it, but finally broke. I just couldn’t figure out why God would make serving Him so hard. So I said screw it, I’m doing my own thing. More fun that way, you know?
     Life from eighteen to twenty consisted of working in the construction industry, partying on the weekends that I had reserve drill, dating around, and taking a class here and there at the nearest community college. I wasn’t going to school to be learning; I was going because it gave me something to do, in addition to putting money from the Army in my pocket. I hung out with friends here and there, introduced myself to a few mild drugs, generally living for the weekend. During these two years I also dabbled with depression. Nothing clinically diagnosable- I just wasn’t happy. I had very few real friends that knew me well enough to try to change things. And of course, there was the issue of doing my thing, instead of God’s.
     Life has a way of repeating itself. There I was at twenty. I was living with mom and dad, driving a slightly nicer hunk of junk, and still nowhere near financially able to change a thing. I couldn’t even afford to go to school full time and make money off the army. My parents made too much for me to get any financial aid, but they didn’t have enough to put me through school. In a nutshell, I was in a rut. Life absolutely sucked.
     Then pulling into the parking lot of the Lynchburg YMCA to go to work one morning, I got a phone call from a buddy of mine in my reserve unit. “Boyce, we’ve been activated. We’re going to war, bro.”
I was initially excited. The next two days were a blur. I had to withdraw from school, cancel insurance policies, my cell phone, pack, etc. The next thing I know I’m at Fort Lee, where I stayed for six weeks. Then March 23rd rolled around and I was loading my machine gun, getting ready to move from one location in Kuwait to another one closer to the border. We crossed the border shortly afterwards, and I found myself living in a combat zone for some eleven months.
     Now I was optimistic about the deployment before I even left the states. I was thinking to myself, “Good. Now I can get right with God. I pretty much have to in a combat zone.” Well, that was a no-go. Instead of getting back into prayer and the Bible, I got into the partying and whatnot at Ft. Lee. And instead of turning to God when I hit the desert, I turned to my friends.
     Iraq screwed me up. There’s just no other way of describing it. I learned the first day in Kuwait with the countless scud missile alerts that there was no room for fear. I think we had six or seven drills that first day. We’d hear the PA system say “lighting, lighting, lighting”, and we knew there was a scud in the air somewhere, possibly carrying nuclear, biological, or chemical agents. So we’d suit up in our chemical gear, put on the gas mask, and pack into railroad containers like a bunch of sardines. Yep, that was our bomb shelter. Simple rail containers scattered here and there on the ground. We packed in there too tightly to even close the doors, gasping for air, pouring sweat, and wondering if we were about to die. And this was day one.
     Something changed in me then. I came to the harsh reality that out there, my life was a simple coin toss. Either I lived, or I died. And instead of putting it in God’s hands, I put my fear behind a wall. I buried it so that I wouldn’t have to deal with it. And when the homesickness hit me like a ton of bricks, I buried that, too. I spent a solid year learning how to lock up every conceivable emotion, how to bury them so they couldn’t bother me. I learned how to quit feeling. That was my safety mechanism.
     When I was in the desert, I decided to pursue school on a full-time basis if I came home, and that’s what I did. I knew as soon I came home that I had some mental issues. I don’t know if it was post-traumatic stress disorder or what, but I had issues. I missed the desert. I felt as if the large part of me was still over there. I felt as though I belonged there, that it was my home.
     I had emotional issues as well as mental ones. There was a movie I watched over there, and it’s like I somehow pulled feelings out from behind my wall and put them into this movie. Yeah, I know. Sounds real gay. That’s how it was, though. And once I came home, I bought the movie, but to this day haven’t been able to watch it. I saw part of it on TV once, and it messed me up. It put me back in the desert. It hurt me, but at the same time it made me feel good. It was like I had tapped back into those emotions. I could feel again. I spent years trying to pick out the movie soundtrack on my keyboard, because the composer never published the sheet music. I was like a junkie looking for a fix. Anyways, enough about that. Point is, I had some serious issues.
     Midway through the deployment I decided that I wanted my best friend to be my girlfriend, so we made things official several months before I came home. When I did come home, I bought a new car, moved out, and went to CVCC full time. The rest of my time was spent with my friends, family, or girlfriend. At this point I was twenty-one.
Much to my surprise, I found that I excelled in school. I busted my butt, picked up an associates degree, and transferred to Radford University. This was in August of 2005, getting close to turning twenty-three. It had been five years since things were right between me and God.

     Radford University, the party school of Virginia. Now, I had several reasons for picking Radford that concerned the army, location, programs offered, size, and cost. Needless to say though, it was the partying that latched on to me once I got here. I didn’t really party hard, cause by that time I was dedicated to school. I loved learning and I had no intention of letting the party scene change that. And I didn’t, either. I had great grades my junior year. What the partying did, though, was take me even further away from God, and deeper into a world of shallow associates and fewer friends. It helped change me into a stranger that most people, including myself, wouldn’t recognize or care to know. I really had no clue who I was, but I didn’t know it at the time. I cared less and less about anyone but myself. It drove a wedge between me and the girlfriend, although things had been crappy between us for a while. It put distance between me and my family, although I had been doing that since I came back from the desert. I had no foundation whatsoever. I was one guy with one group, another entirely with another. I had no ‘core’ self. I merely let my environment shape my behavior. Life was easier like that. In case you haven’t picked up on it yet, I’m all about taking the easy way out. To not do so would require caring, and by this point I had either forgotten how, or was doing anything to avoid having to.
     Junior year ended and by this point I had broken up with one girl and got into a relationship with someone else that had the qualities I was looking for. I went back home to live with my parents for the summer, which didn’t go as badly as I had planned on it going. It sucked though, because I didn’t know my siblings anymore, and I didn’t want them to know me.

     Senior year rolls around. I have a wonderful girlfriend, a nice car that I own, I’m living off-campus, I have a 4.0 GPA, I’m a sergeant in the Army, and my bank account is loaded. I have the world by its tail. Life is perfect, right? Ha. You couldn’t be further from the truth if you tried.

     A couple months ago I finally realized that I didn’t really know who I was, and it began to bother me. I mean sure- everyone acts a little differently around different groups of people. Sometimes we’re more open, more closed. We act differently among our friends and family than we do with strangers. I believe this is normal. Still though, there is, or should be, an underlying core that is always present regardless of who we’re with. Think of it as a gem with many facets. Different people see different sides of it, yet they all see the same stone.

     I didn’t feel this way, though. I had no clue what my ‘stone’ was, who Richard Boyce really was. And this started to bother me. I had an increasing urge to have a moment of self-discovery. I thought that maybe coming back to Radford would help me with that. I wanted to spend time figuring out what made me who I was, why I did the things I do. And yeah, I know this all sounds stupid. Deal with it.

     So I came back to Radford where things proceeded to go even further downhill. The confusion of everything started to build. The stress piled up, I pulled even further away from God, and then I did something really stupid; I broke up with my girlfriend, one of the very few people that could see how messed up I was, yet still cared about me.

     Things got even worse after that. I’ll not go into detail, but for about a week I just let myself go. Did whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I basically told God and the rest of the world to buzz off. I became so self-absorbed in my own little world that I did things I’d just never counted on doing. Then on a Saturday night, I became so miserable, so messed up, that for some reason or another God decided that it was time for me to be able to see who I really was.

     I have to tell you, I hated what I saw. I saw someone who for the last five years had done everything in his power to make only himself happy. I saw someone who shied away from almost anything that involved caring for anyone but himself. Someone who used people, presented a fake image in order to further his agenda. It made me sick to realize how much I’ve hurt anyone that’s ever known me. I hated myself. More importantly, I saw someone who had been fighting with God for so long, that anything else that mattered in life was in shambles.
     I doubt you’ll ever be able to comprehend the shame I felt that night. The shame of my actions, as both a ‘friend’ and a Christian. I missed out on so many wonderful things in life. I’d alienated myself from having a great relationship with my family, friends, girlfriend, and God. It made me sick.

     I wanted to find myself, and that’s exactly what I did. It was then time to change what I was. I decided it was finally time to stop doing things my way, and get back on track spiritually. I cried there, facedown on my bed, begging God’s forgiveness for the mess I’d made of my life. For the first time in years, I was truly repentant. I asked God to help me try to undo the mess I’d made, I asked Him for the strength and courage to do the right thing, rather than once again taking the easy way out. And then- it was like He left.

      I’ve been through some crap before in my lifetime. I’ve dabbled here and there in depression, I experienced the emotions that come with a combat zone and thinking you’re about to die. I’ve felt the hurt that comes with having a friend or relative die. Nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, can compare to the misery I had for about three days after getting my heart right with God. I can’t even adequately describe the range of emotions I lived with. As I’ve tried explaining to a couple people, it was a combination of feeling like someone died, like I was the only person left on earth, and like I had been abandoned- both physically and spiritually. I felt as though God had turned His back on me, like there was no one in the world that cared about me. It was the loneliest, most heart-wrenching ordeal I’ve ever had. I quit eating right, I quit studying, I couldn’t even focus my eyes on a book or at the bowling alley. Periodically throughout the day I would get hit with an anxiety attack that just blew me away. I didn’t even shower for those three days.

     I was in a living hell. I tried praying, and that didn’t work. I looked through a couple of the Christian-written books that I had in my collection. Nothing seemed to work. Nothing told me why God wasn’t there when I needed Him the most. It was so bad that a couple of my teachers told me that they knew something was going on. I had friends here at the school come by or randomly IM me to cheer me up (thanks, guys).

     Night times were the worst. I would feel so bad sitting here in my room that finally I would have to call someone, usually my sister. I tried getting in touch with my mom, but she was hard to get in touch with those three days. I could have left a message, but I just didn’t know what to say. Then, I called someone who cared, yet it was someone whom I’d hurt pretty badly. So bad that I didn’t even feel like I deserved to be seeking comfort from her. The advice I was given? Read the Bible. I hadn’t really tried to do this, because I just didn’t know where to look, where to find solace from God. She told me to randomly pick a passage and let God direct me to what He wanted me to read.

     I was slightly skeptical of this, but I gave it a shot. I asked her to recommend a book of the Bible to start in, and she suggested Ephesians. That night I prayed and asked God to show me what I needed, to speak to me through His word. I found the book of Ephesians, closed my eyes, put my finger on one of the pages, and then looked. I found Ephesians 6:16, which says “Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.”

     I wish I could explain the epiphany I had that night. That verse had so much packed into it. In a condensed version, the verse told me that #1, Satan or his demons were actively trying to trip Christians up. #2, by having faith, we can repel these attacks. Well, maybe not so much ourselves, but with God’s help we can. I felt instantly better and spent the rest of the night praying, crying, and sleeping more peacefully than I had in a long, long time.

     The next day went a lot better, although there were still moments where I felt alone. All I had to do though, was remind myself that regardless of whether or not I could feel Him, He was still there. And He is, too. God is everywhere, seeing everything. And every day since then has been better than the day before. In hindsight, I think I know why I went through those three days of hell. I’ll try to explain it to you.

     For so long, I’d had my back turned to God and was embracing everything else. Then, I knew it was time to turn back around. Well, somewhere between facing a life filled with nothing but sin and facing God is a void where I was facing neither. It was during that point in my turn that God was waiting there with outstretched arms, and Satan was doing everything in his power to keep me where he wanted me, where I was being one of the most ineffectual Christians you could find. I think those threes days of feeling alone, like God didn’t love me, didn’t care about me, was a last ditch attack from Hell.

     I’m a firm believer in spiritual warfare. Always have been, really. The Bible clearly says that Christians are in a constant struggle with Satan (Ephesians 6:12- For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places). I think this is the first time in my life I’ve actually felt the full brunt of this constant battle. I completed the turn, though. It’s been almost a week since I was hit with the depression or anxiety.

     I’ve learned so much in this past week. I’ve learned the importance of spending time in prayer, as well as getting feedback through the Bible. I mean, a relationship with God is like a relationship with anyone: constant communication is a must. It’s hard to develop a closeness without talking to Him or reading what He has to say back. I’ll tell you something else, too. I believe that the Bible has every answer for any issue you can possibly think of. Alright, enough preaching.

     Look guys, here’s the reason that I’ve written this. I’ve opened up, stripped myself down to the very bottom, so that you can believe me when I say how sorry I am for the things I’ve done, the things I’ve said. I’m sorry for being a lousy friend, boyfriend, son, brother, and Christian. I feel that merely saying that I’m sorry is too inadequate, but it’s all I can do.

     I’m not the same guy y’all knew a couple weeks ago, and I hope I never will be again. Right now my life is on track where it should be. Or it’s getting closer everyday, rather. I’m not a saint, and I’ll never be perfect. At some point or another you’ll all see or hear something that conflicts with everything I just told you. It’s gonna happen, people. I’m not perfect. The wonderful thing though, is that God knows we’ll never be perfect, nor does He expect us to. All He wants is for us to get right back up when we fall, instead of staying down like I’ve done for so long.
So don’t hold it against me. Rather than giving me grief for the times in my life when I let a word fly that I shouldn’t, or I make a small mistake, I want you to look at the overall person I am. This is who I am now. If I sound like a killjoy because I’m not going out on the weekends and getting wasted, or because I’m spending my Friday night at church, that’s too bad. I don’t apologize for it. But if you’re wanting to know the real me, here it is.

     It’s not going to be easy for me to do the right thing. It’s not easy for any Christian to. That’s why it’s so easy to just say screw it. Any kind of encouragement that you feel like offering is more than welcome. I’ve already put up with so much crap from some of my roommates for not drinking with them, or for going to church as much as I have this last week. It gets old, quick. But you know something? As long as they’re picking at me, it tells me that they can see the change in me. I only hope and pray that I can set a positive example for them. There are so many Christians at this school that blend in with everyone else. I won’t be that person anymore.

     Anyways, for those of you that have read this far, I just want to say I appreciate your time. I know I’ve ruined things with some of you. That’s just part of the price I have to pay. Part of reaping what you sow, ya know? Hopefully as time progresses things can change, but until then I want to leave you with two questions. One, are you saved? Do you know without any doubt that you’re a child of God, that you’re going to Heaven when you die? If you don’t, I strongly encourage you to call a pastor, your campus religious center, if you have one, or even going online somewhere. You can even follow the steps I outlined earlier.

     Question number two: For those of you reading this that know you’re a Christian- are you living it? Is there a difference between you and everyone else? There should be. You know as well as I do that we can’t love both the world and God. We’ve got to pick one or the other. For any of you that may be in the same boat I’d spent the last five years in, I hope that reading about my experiences will give you the courage to do what you know is right.

Earlier today the question was posed to me about whether or not babies and those under the Age of Accountability are innocent in God’s eyes. This is my polished-up response:

In its simplest form, the two-fold question is essentially this: (1) is it possible for a sinner to be saved apart from faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and (2) is ignorance of the law an excuse for breaking it? As the father of a miscarried baby, please know that I take this area of theology very seriously.

Even if we debate the condition of the human being upon birth, we need but an hour with a toddler to recognize them for the sinners that they volitionally are. My son is a sinner- no if’s, and’s, or but’s. According to the Bible, we are all sinners, and no one is righteous. None.

Now, in answering this question, let’s first see if there is a precedent in the Bible for a baby going to Heaven. As is often mentioned in conversations of this nature, there is the account of David’s son dying as a consequence for David’s sin (so much for fairness, eh?). The issues here are three-fold. One, 1 Chronicles 3:5 shows that David had four sons with Bathsheba, Solomon being the fourth. However, Solomon was conceived during the grieving period over the death of child number one, so we really have no way of knowing just how old David’s first son was when he died. This is validated by the Hebrew word for child used (נַעַר), which is also used in Scripture to denote young men. Therefore, the first issue is that, to my knowledge, the age of the child is never established, making it entirely possible that the child died being older than the infant he is commonly believed to be, effectively negating this story’s use as evidence for the AoA doctrine.

Even if we could establish that the child was indeed a baby, consider the words of David: “Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” To what is David referring? To Heaven? Hell? What if he is simply referencing the burial site of his son? So my second problem with using 2 Samuel 12 as a basis for the doctrine of the Age of Accountability is the fact that David is vague in what he is implying.

My third problem is this: even if David’s son was a baby, and even if David was referring to seeing his son in Heaven…so what? Is it right just because David says it? Consider the words of King Lemuel’s mother in Proverbs 31: 6-7: “Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.” Surely not prescriptive theology! The point is that the Bible often records the words of men to record them- not to teach prescriptively through them. Likewise, simply because David may have believed that his infant son was in Heaven doesn’t necessarily make it so. For these three reasons, I cannot use 2 Samuel 12 as a proof-text for promoting the age of accountability doctrine.

As mentioned, Jesus had a soft spot for children (think millstones and cliff-diving). However, coming to Jesus as little children does not mean to come to him picking our nose, fussing a lot, and being quasi-obedient, depending on our temperament. What it means is to rely upon Christ as a child would his or her mom or dad. It’s complete and total dependency, faith, and trust. That is what it means to come to Christ in child-like faith. It does not mean that children are innocent and thus guaranteed admission into Heaven. For them to be innocent, God would have to look at a law-breaker and say “Oh, it’s ok. I’m a loving and understanding God.” Well, He CANNOT do that. God cannot simply forgive sinners (see Proverbs 17:15). When a crime is committed, someone must pay, hence the need for a savior in the first place. I digress, though. The point is that God cannot justify a wicked person unless someone pays. And for God to allow a lawbreaker total freedom because they “didn’t know they were breaking the law,” we would have to turn a lot of Scripture on its head, namely the ones stating things such as, “there are none righteous,” “all have sinned,” “death passed upon us all,” etc. At this point, I have to maintain that there is no Biblical evidence of sinful infants who are ignorant of (1) their sin and (2) Jesus somehow getting a “free pass” into Heaven.

If children are sinners, as I believe the Bible is clear to teach that they are, and the wages of sin is spiritual separation from God, we have to then look at what a person has to do to be saved. In a nutshell, the answer is nothing. To claim that we must add something to the work of Christ on the Cross in order to gain admission into Heaven and have a relationship with God through His Son is heresy. Salvation is all of grace, and not something we merit of ourselves (Eph. 2:8-9).

That being said, as faith is the conduit of our justification, no one will be in Heaven apart from faith in Jesus. Is this faith something God gives? Absolutely. Can He give it to a child? Absolutely. Can He grant repentance to whomever He wills? Absolutely. Does He open hearts in whom He wills? Absolutely. Does He regenerate those whom He wills? Absolutely. When John the Baptist, as a not-yet-born baby, heard that Mary was pregnant with the Messiah, he leapt for joy. Imagine the implications of this! He was full of the Holy Ghost from birth, in such a way as to cognitively know that Mary’s pregnancy was wonderful news. Never underestimate what God can do with an infant!

Thus, to clearly and concisely answer your question, having laid the foundation to my position, I will longwindedly state this: The Bible does not explicitly teach that children are innocent, but rather instead teaches that we as a race are all fallen, sinful, and condemned. The Bible does not demonstrate that those ignorant of God’s Law are excused for breaking it, but rather teaches that God cannot simply justify those who break His Law. Someone must pay, and Jesus was the only payment ever made for sin. God, who is seen to love children, yet also the one who drowned them in the flood, is the one who will determine the destination of those dying in infancy or not yet born.  As we see in the Bible, God is the arbitrator of salvation, and He can without any problems give faith in His Son to a baby of any age, born or unborn. Does He do this? I hope so, and I pray so.

However, if He chooses not to, He is no less just or loving, for He is still just in His punishment of sin and loving in the protection of His character and holiness. I have no firm knowledge that God saved the child that my wife and I lost, but it’s ok. We know that either way, the Judge of all the Earth will do right, and whatever the outcome is, we will worship God for who He is, for how He acted, and for everything else He does. For me, I am content in knowing the character of God, and the fact that He saves any of us demonstrates His love and mercy. It is entirely possible that this is extended to babies; it is entirely possible that it is not. Therefore, I cannot be dogmatic on the issue one way or the other, because God is not dogmatic one way or the other. The destination of babies/mentally ill, etc. is in His hands, and for me that is enough. I will unwaveringly allow for the possibility of this Age of Accountability doctrine, but I cannot unequivocally state it as Biblical truth.

              One of the functions of my role as a student pastor is that of a teacher. From my experiences both as a professional student in a university and two seminaries, as well as a teacher to my youth group, I have found that teachers typically fit one of two molds: one style is to present a block of information and attempt, over the course of a semester or two, to have the student retain as much of that knowledge as possible. This style is necessary in many fields, such as biology or nursing. The other style devotes more time to the theory behind the fact, so that at the end of the teaching period the student is able to use his or her own brain to discover knowledge. You would see this style employed in the social sciences, music, and culinary fields. You will also find it in my youth group.

            While I am a firm believer in presenting a body of knowledge (i.e., the Bible) to my students, I am also convinced that unless they use their minds to form, understand, and grasp their own theology, their faith will never be as strong as it could be. For that reason I push my students, I encourage friendly debate, and I will sometimes play the Devil’s Advocate (no pun intended) in our group discussions. When the conversation winds down, we see what God’s say in the matter is, and from that we draw out principles for us to follow in that given area of interest.

            Some areas of theology are crystal clear. The Messianic identity Christ, for example, is not disputed among Christians. If you do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah, you are not a Christian. Don’t believe that, read 1 John 2:22. Other areas are not so crystal clear. Speaking in tongues is in the Bible, so it’s ok to do it now too, right? Not so fast, cowboy. See, what needs to be determined in the course of answering that question is this: what did speaking in tongues mean, why was it done, who did it, what were the rules established for the practice, and what does the Bible say about the continuation of the practice? The answer that one arrives at in the course of their study will lead them into one of several positions: (1) let’s do it, (2) don’t do it, and (3) still don’t know! I am pretty convinced that my position is right; others are equally convinced that they are right. It’s an argument that has raged for some time. The sad reality is that these differences in interpretation of Scripture are why the body of Christ resides within hundreds and thousands of different denominations.

            I say all of that to say this: some of what I teach is purposefully inflammatory, to a small degree (pun intended!). I do this because I want you to engage your brain. I will never knowledgeably teach heresy as the truth, but I am also aware that my understanding of Scripture is not inerrant or infallible. You are welcome to disagree with me, but I do not want you to simply say, “Well I disagree because I believe differently, and I’m right and you’re wrong!” This is narrow-mindedness, and it’s a reaction typical of those who know what they believe, but not why they believe it. Few Christians know exactly what they believe in all areas of theology; fewer still can take the Bible and show you why they believe it.

            Here’s another gentle admonition, as well: if your theology is based on one verse in the entire Bible, it’s a weak theology. I’m not saying it’s wrong, because it may be right, but it’s weak. It’s too easy for someone disagreeing with you to whip out a larger arsenal that disproves, on the surface, your verse. Here’s a perfect example. Someone had written on my chalkboard this week the phrase “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” My question to the students milling around was this: “Where would you go in the Bible to see that Jesus loves you?” Most had no clue where to begin, but one was able to come up to me and show me John 3:16, which says that “God loved the world.” So I kindly went to John 7:7 where Jesus says “the world hates me.” My question to him was, “Does ‘world’ in John 7:7 mean the entire global human population?” Of course it didn’t. So why would it mean that in John 3:16? And then I took him to Psalm 5:5, where we see that God “hates all evildoers.” Perhaps I was trying to give him a drink of water from a fire hydrant, but I wanted to show him what happens when our beliefs are not based on a myriad of Bible verses operating in harmony with one another, but rather on an individual passage. I ended our conversation with a discussion on what love and hate mean, along with 1 John 4:8, which teaches that God is love, and though there may be perhaps different levels of this love (think about Jesus and the beloved disciple, John), it would be wrong to say that God does not, in some way, love His entire creation- even those who are the objects of His hatred. Easily understood? Not really. Truth contained in the Bible? Certainly.

            The point to this article is this: you are welcome to disagree with my theology, but I challenge you to use God’s word, not one or two debatable passages, to frame your counter-argument. Simply disagreeing does you no good if you do not know why you disagree. With access to the internet, your resources are vast and varied. Study with discretion, but study, study, study!

Sermon audio from a message preached at church this week.

              So three weeks ago today I stepped on the scales and was frankly disgusted at what I saw. Stepping on the scale a few times to ensure that the glaring red “218.6” wasn’t simply a fluke, it dawned on me that I was now the heaviest that I had ever been in my life. When Sunday rolled around, I stepped on the scales again, hoping that Saturday’s weight was just the result of too much food the previous day. No such luck. The 218.6 continued to unflinchingly stare at me. Totally not cool.

 

            In the twenty one days since, I have increased my physical activity, I have decreased my food intake, and I have made huge cuts in the types of food I’ll eat. As a result, I am down 12.8 pounds, and if I keep this up I have no doubt that I’ll reach my target weight of 180 by the end of summer, Lord willing.

 

            I don’t like feeling hungry, and I’m not a fan of exercise. The physical pain that comes with hunger and exercise isn’t my friend. I don’t like it.

 

            So why in the world would I possibly do something that I don’t enjoy, when it’s in my power not to do it? Why would any sane person tolerate this type of discomfort when they didn’t have to? Yeah…in your head you’re thinking, “because it’s necessary to achieve your goal. Your plan is good, but to carry it out you’ll have to endure aspects that you do not like.”

 

            And you’re exactly right. The end result, the purpose of this discomfort, is well worth it. I don’t enjoy every part of accomplishing my goal, but I am pleased to do it because of the end result of it.

 

            I wrote a post a few days ago extolling the total and absolute sovereignty of our God, because the Bible makes it pretty clear that God is on the throne, and not mere men. It is impossible to derail God’s plan, and God does everything He wants to. Well, this raises the issue of evil’s existence, and this is a “problem” that atheists like to jump on. There’s even a term for it: theodicy. Their argument goes something like this:

 

  1. A loving and powerful God would desire to, and be able to, prevent sin/evil.
  2. Sin happens.
  3. God must not be (1) loving or (2) all powerful, or both.

 

            It’s a common argument used to justify their continued disbelief in God. Surprisingly, in response to the article I wrote the other day, I saw fellow Christians trying to explain the presence of evil by claiming that such presence was not part of God’s plan and not something that He wanted to happen in the first place. We can immediately reject this idea because Scripture is clear that God’s plan and purpose cannot be thwarted.

 

            So if God’s will is not being thwarted, then it would stand to reason that God’s plan was for evil to happen. Put in more personal terms, this would mean that God planned for the molestation of all the children that have suffered this evil.

 

            Yeeeep. Now you’re twitching a bit. To think that God would plan such evilness to occur is distasteful to the human ego. How dare God plan for such bad things to happen to good people! How dare God plan for sin to happen?!?

 

            But think about this: if God’s plan was for sin not to happen, than its occurrence demonstrates that God’s purpose can, and was, thwarted. If God’s plan was for sin not to happen, than God cannot do as He pleases, and He cannot have His will with His creation. So like it or not, the Biblical truth is that God’s plan is being carried out to fruition, and there is nothing happening on earth that God is not in control over.

 

            “So how, then, can God not be pleased with sin, if His plan was for the sin to happen in the first place?”

 

            This question was raised to me, and rightfully so. After all, if everything that happens, to include evil, is under God’s control and part of His plan, how could He both be happy to have it happen and yet angry and unhappy about it happening?

 

            And the answer to that question is simple. Remember my weight loss blurb? I don’t enjoy a lot of what I’ve done the last three weeks, but I did it because my desire was to accomplish my purpose, which was to lose weight. In that same manner, God has a plan for the human race that has an end goal in mind, and God is pleased to allow evil in the accomplishment of said plan. Remember when Joseph’s brothers beat him, threw him into a pit, and sold them into slavery? All of these actions were sinful and evil, yet Joseph himself recognized that they “meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” How could that sin possible be good??

 

            This is how: “God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

 

            Get that? God’s plan to save His nation included the sins that Joseph’s brothers committed. Even in their rebellion against God, God was pleased to allow such rebellion because through it He would bring glory and honor to His name in the saving of His people.

 

            This one will fry your brain too: Not allow is God pleased to use “bad” ingredients to make a great cake, sometimes He causes the ingredient to go bad in the first place. Does this make God the author of sin? No. Does it mean that God makes people sin against their will? No. Does it mean that God actively tries to convince a person to sin? No. All of these concepts are unbiblical.

 

            How, then, does God cause sin to occur without His being responsible for it? How does all of this make sense in passages like Exodus fourteen where God says, “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.” Reread that, if you need to. God clearly says that it is He who will cause Pharaoh to continue to defy God and chase the Israelites, and in the end God killed Pharaoh to bring glory to Himself.

 

            But…over in Exodus 8:15 we see Pharaoh hardening his own heart, though chapters before we see God explaining that he would harden Pharaoh’s heart. Who hardened what first? How is God not sinful in causing Pharaoh’s sin?

 

            Well, it works like this. If I wanted to appear more muscular, how can I accomplish this? There are two answers: one, I can work out more. The more I lift, the bigger the muscles grow, therefore I will appear more muscular. There’s another way, though. I can lose the fat that is currently obscuring my pre-existing muscles. In losing the covering, I would indeed appear more muscular. So we see that I don’t have to add anything to appear stronger- all I need to do is pull back the covers, so to speak.

 

            It’s the same way with sin. As we all know, men are evil. It’s who we are. We’re born this way. The question is, why aren’t we all “as evil” as Hitler? What prevents us from enjoying total chaos as we seek total hedonism? God is why, and it’s only by His grace that we’re not all as evil-acting as we could be. God prevented Abimelech from sinning- I have no doubts that He quite often prevents other sins from occurring.

 

            But what if God had not intervened with Abimelech’s plan to sleep with Abraham’s wife Sarah, what would have occurred? The sin. The point that I’m driving circles around in getting to is this: all that is necessary for God to cause sin is to remove His grace from any given sinner and give them over to the desires of their own flesh. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in the manner that He allowed Pharaoh’s evil heart to run its wicked course. He didn’t have to make Pharaoh rebel against Him- Pharaoh was going to do that of His own accord.

 

            Now here’s the kicker. God could have so flooded Pharaoh with grace so as to cause Pharaoh to love him and obey Him, but that was not God’s plan. God’s plan was to “get glory over Pharaoh and his host.” God’s plan included the willful rebellion of Pharoah, a willful rebellion brought about by God’s inactive hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. Such sin served God’s purposes. Does this mean that God reveled in Pharaoh’s sin? No. But it does mean that God intended it to happen, willingly allowed it to happen, and rightfully enacted His wrath against Pharaoh for his willful disobedience.

 

            So why does God allow evil? Because in the greater scheme, it is best to work out this way. Why does God allow bad things to happen to His children? Because we know that all things work together for good to those that love God- to those who are called according to His purpose. Why does God allow sin? Because He works all things according to the purpose of His will. Why does God allow the rebellion of sinful beings? Because the Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.

 

            What then do you prefer? A God who, though trying His best, is often foiled in His attempts to govern human action? A God who, try as He might, simply cannot obtain the end result He would like to? Or would you rather worship a God who in sovereign over all things, even those things which He hates, because everything that happens is happening because it is part of His master plan, a plan which no one can foil? I don’t know about you, but I sleep better at night knowing that God is still in charge, that Jesus is still Lord over all creation. This is God we’re talking about.

 

            An internet search on theodicy would lead you to many resources, some good and some bad. There are far more brilliant writers than I who do a vastly better treatment of the subject than I do on this issue. I hope, though, that you can see now how God’s omnibenevolence, omniscience, and omnipotence is completely compatible with the existence and occurrence of sin in the world.