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Archive for March, 2013

Regeneration Does Precede Faith (I Was Wrong)

Posted by Job on March 22, 2013

In the past, I have vehemently criticized the doctrine that regeneration precedes faith. The reason for this was my ignorance. I took regeneration to be another word for conversion in that it had the exact same meaning.

However, regeneration only refers to passing from death to life. It is what happened in the natural sense when Lazarus and a number of unnamed characters were raised from the dead by those such as Jesus Christ, Elijah and Elisha. Those natural regenerations were types, or prefigurements, of the spiritual regeneration that happens when a sinner becomes a believer. We can include the resurrection of Jesus Christ as this sort of natural regeneration, as Jesus Christ’s physical existence went from being dead to alive. Obviously, being the sinless perfect and pre-existing God and Son of God, Jesus Christ needed no spiritual regeneration of any sort. This is in contrast with Lazarus, who not only experienced natural regeneration after being dead four days, but being one born into original sin and having sinned – as the soul that sinneth shall die as Lazarus did – he needed to receive spiritual regeneration also.

The subject of confusion: being regenerated, being born again, is only part of the salvation process. The actual conversion process happens after regeneration. Further, the effectual calling occurs before regeneration.

1. Effectual call: this is when God (the Holy Spirit) calls the sinner to salvation. It takes place when the sinner hears the gospel. (Note: the providence of God must place the sinner in position to hear the gospel first.)

2. Regeneration: this is when the Holy Spirit raises the sinner from the dead.

3. Conversion: this is when the sinner receives faith from the Holy Spirit, believes the gospel of Jesus Christ and hence fulfills John 3:16, Romans 10:8-9 etc.

The effectual calling cannot and will not happen unless one has first been chosen (elected by God the Father unto salvation from before the foundation of the world). The regeneration will not occur until one has been called. And salvation occurs after regeneration.

Why must regeneration precede faith? I am certain that you have heard that “dead men tell no tales.” Similarly, dead men cannot have faith. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). How can a dead man have assurance or conviction? A secular dictionary defines faith as “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” How can a dead man have trust or confidence of any sort in anything, let alone a complete and total one in the unseen God? A dead man cannot even have wishy washy confidence in the casket that he is lying in. Why? Because he is dead. He doesn’t even know that he is in a casket. He has no feelings, thoughts or emotions.

This is not a contrivance of philosophy or idle speculation, but a truth clearly taught in scripture. Consider 1 Corinthians 2:14 “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know [them], because they are spiritually discerned.” Romans 8:7 “Because the carnal mind [is] enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” But that is Paul’s doctrine, right? Well from the words of Jesus Christ in John 3:3: “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Now John 3:3 is key. Seeing the kingdom of God or entering the kingdom of God is always used by Jesus Christ to refer to salvation. Always. So, Jesus Christ explicitly states that one must be born again before that person can be saved. Again, when Jesus Christ said “except”, He was making a condition. So, the condition of being saved was being born again. Regeneration precedes conversion or salvation. And take a look at Ephesians 2:8, which says “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God.” Regeneration precedes salvation. Salvation comes by faith. Thus, regeneration precedes faith. It is clearly, explicitly taught in scripture.

The doctrine of regeneration precedes faith is considered to be a Calvinist distinctive. However, many non-Calvinists believe so also without acknowledging or admitting it. Many non-Calvinists believe that God makes a change in the sinner that allows the sinner to make a choice to accept or reject him. Of course, the acceptance is a decision made through faith, and the rejection is a decision made through a lack of faith according to this doctrine. The non-Calvinist does not refer to this as regeneration, of course, because he recognizes that regeneration must necessarily result in salvation. So the non-Calvinist regards this as God’s merely opening the sinner’s eyes and hearts for the purposes of allowing him a free choice.

Problems with this doctrine are many. The Bible makes it clear that unsaved people are spiritually dead. So the person goes from spiritually dead to “sort of dead”, akin to the woman who says that she is “sort of pregnant”? Just as you are either pregnant or not, you are either dead or not … there is no in-between! Second, how can the “sort of dead/alive” person choose to believe and accept God on this basis in the absence of faith? Simple: he cannot. He cannot accept the gospel and believe without faith. And if God gives him faith, he will inevitably believe. There is no such thing as conditional, decision-based faith that is only activated on choice. So, for the sinner to choose God once God makes this choice possible requires the sinner to already have faith present within himself. And if this faith is present, he never was a sinner to begin with, and he was never spiritually dead to begin with. The Bible states that without faith it is impossible to please God. The converse would mean that those who have faith are already acceptable to God, meaning that they were righteous, justified, regenerate and converted already. Instead of being in a condition of original sin, this person would have had to have been inherently righteous already without having heard the gospel and without need of Jesus Christ. Moreover, if such a righteous person were to confess and repent of his sinful condition and state his need for Christ to be his savior, that person would be a liar!

The doctrine of regeneration coming after faith – or truthfully that regeneration and conversion are the same – is due to people being determined to believe that God must offer a man a free choice to accept or reject Him in order to be just and righteous. However, accepting God cannot be made in the absence of faith! The Bible is clear on this. Thus, denying that regeneration precedes faith is nothing more than an absolute determination to believe a lie.

This also solves the problem of those who fall away and confirms the doctrine of perseverance of the saints, or “once saved always saved.” Be not deceived: faith is not mere belief. Faith only comes by the Holy Spirit after the Holy Spirit regenerates you. And after conversion, the Holy Spirit seals you and keeps you in the faith. The Bible is clear on this. The Bible is also clear with the parable of the sower that it is possible to believe the gospel at one point but later renounce that belief. The Bible further states clearly that it is possible to believe the gospel, retain this belief but not bear fruit. The Bible further still states that it is possible to believe the gospel, do good works and bear fruit but not be obedient. These are the teachings of Jesus Christ, and Christ makes it clear that those people (the ones who renounce the gospel after believing at one point, those who believe but do not bear fruit, and those who believe and bear fruit but are disobedient) will be cast into the lake of fire! Why is this so? Because these people believed without receiving faith, and they did not receive faith because they are still unregenerate. You cannot have faith and be spiritually dead, but you can certainly believe and be spiritually dead. Hence, rejecting the truth that regeneration precedes faith is one of the reasons why many Christian denominations (Methodists and many Pentecostals for example) believe that it is possible to lose your salvation. The regeneration precedes faith doctrine provides both absolute proof that those who fall away were never saved to begin with, and provides absolute assurance that those who are truly saved will bear fruit, attain obedience and endure trials and tribulations until the end, even unto death!

So God will accept anyone who comes to Him through His Son, because those who come to God are those that God has called to do so. Is God calling you today? If so, repent of your sins, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. If you wish for more information on how to do so:

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Addressing The False Dispensational Interpretation Of 2 Thessalonians 2:6-8

Posted by Job on March 19, 2013

First off, allow me to be fair and state that not every dispensationalist adheres to this error. However, the wishful interpretation of this text is common among premillennial dispensationalists who believe in the pretribulation rapture. Now this is not intended to be a denial of the rapture doctrine. I was raised to believe in the rapture, and I am perfectly willing to adhere to this doctrine again the very instant that someone shows me justification for it in the Bible. Now to the text:

“And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth [will let], until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming:”

Now for some following verses, because, well, I like them.

[Even him], whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

Many rapture teachers frequently use this text as evidence for the rapture of the church. The teaching is that the “until he be taken out of the way” refers to the Holy Spirit’s presence being removed from the earth when the church that is indwelled by the Holy Spirit is raptured away. And – as the teaching goes – without the salt and light that is the church on the earth that acts as a restrainer against evil, the world will slip into evil chaos and great tribulation.

Now two problems with this “Holy Spirit being absent from the world during the great tribulation doctrine” are as follows:
#1. The “tribulation saints” that will be converted during this time (according to the rapture teachers) will somehow experience new birth without the Holy Spirit to accomplish it, and will also brave the vicious persecution of the anti-Christ without the ministry of the Holy Spirit to give them courage and comfort.
#2. A somewhat bigger problem than #1 … as the Bible makes it clear that God’s Spirit is what sustains creation and holds it together, were the Holy Spirit to be removed from the earth at any time, it would disintegrate into nothing quicker than an instant.

So while demonstrating how that doctrine is unworkable when measured against clear Biblical teachings is one thing, I was always unable to arrive at what the text actually meant until now, upon listening to this sermon by R. A. Hargrave, when he preached on the issue of the total depravity of man. Pastor Hargrave shared that it was God’s common grace that withheld man in his fallen condition from becoming as evil as he should, and this evil being reflected in the works of man’s hands, meaning the conditions of the cultures and societies of the nations. He went on to state that in the last days, during the great tribulation, God would remove this restraining influence and mankind would indeed reveal his true wicked nature. And lest there was any doubt, Pastor Hargrave specifically referenced that text.

This also should make one remember Jesus Christ’s prophecy concerning the timing of His second coming: “But of that day and hour knoweth no [man], no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. But as the days of Noe [were], so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” of Matthew 24:36-39 and a similar passage in Luke 17:26-30, except that text to the Noah reference adds: “Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed [them] all.”

Now I have heard it asserted many a time that these texts do not refer to the societal conditions, but rather the fact that Jesus Christ’s coming will catch people completely by surprise. Of course, those who believe in doctrines that deny the literal millennial reign of Christ and instead teach that human conditions will improve as a result of the church’s increasing its influence on the world – postmillennialism especially – have an interest in downplaying the implications of Matthew 24:36-39 and Luke 17:26-30. However, of all the ways to illustrate the point “my return will catch you by surprise”, Jesus Christ chose the days of Noah, where the Bible says that “the wickedness of man [was] great in the earth, and [that] every imagination of the thoughts of his heart [was] only evil continually” and “the earth is filled with violence through them.” And to the wickedness of the days of Noah, the Luke text adds Sodom and Gomorrah, which the Bible frequently uses as a metaphor for the depths of the human sin condition.

So, the fact that the Noah reference is repeated twice and the Sodom and Gomorrah is added to it makes it very difficult to claim that Jesus Christ was only referring to the suddenness of His appearance and not the condition of mankind when He comes again. The reason is a core rule of hermeneutics: we have to consider what the words meant to when the original audience heard them. Jesus Christ was speaking to Jews for whom “the days of Noah” and “as it was in Sodom and Gomorrah” were most definitely references to the human condition. So for Jesus Christ to use both of those (in the Luke version) very strong references to the wicked state of humanity without meaning anything by it would have only resulted in confusion and unintended meanings by the hearer, and it also makes very real the charge that Jesus Christ was trying to confuse and mislead the hearers on purpose (totally different from His parables, whose interpretations were simply hidden from people, not trying to trick or confuse them).

But 2 Thessalonians 2:6-8 makes the references to Sodom and Gomorrah and the days of Noah clear. That passage most clearly refers to the last days, the time of the second coming of Jesus Christ, as such is what the entire chapter was about, and it states that the common grace of God that is restraining evil will be removed, which will allow the mystery of wickedness to work its iniquity until it results in the personification of human evil in the form of the anti-Christ (actually the beast). This will result in the last days being a time akin to the days of Noah (wickedness on a global scale) and Sodom and Gomorrah (wickedness on a local scale), so the Luke text in particular reveals the comprehensive encompassing scope and penetration of evil. In this way, it forms a curious parallel with how Luke spoke of the spread of the gospel in Acts 1:8 from Jerusalem (evangelism on a local scale) to the uttermost parts of the earth (the global reach of the great commission).

Now one may ask how this pervasive evil will be possible when the church is present sharing its witness to the world. To answer:
1. We must be humble. It isn’t our witness or example to the world that restrains evil, but rather it is God.
2. Go back to the 2 Thessalonians 2 passage to verse 3: “Let no man deceive you by any means: for [that day shall not come], except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.” And incidentally, yet another parallel to Matthew 24 and 2 Thessalonians 2 that makes the postmillennialism doctrines even more untenable is Matthew 24:10-12’s “And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” The more modern translations render verse 10 to be “At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another” and “At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other”, and the reference to false prophets in verse 11 is obvious. Because of the great falling away, there simply won’t be very many of us left.
3. Please recall that the original Reformers referred to the righteous in the Old Testament, chiefly Israel, as the church of the Old Testament. So in the days of Noah, Noah and his family were the church of that period. Yet the presence of Noah and his being a preacher of righteousness did not stop the globe from descending into evil. And while Lot was most certainly no Noah, even in his “Laodicean” state of worldly compromise he was nonetheless the church of Sodom and Gomorrah, and his presence did not result in ten righteous people being in that city. So though God commands His church to be salt and light into the world, the reason for this is to glorify God, not to influence the world for the better. The world will remain wicked and in rebellion against God and His Son Jesus Christ, and this will be demonstrated when God removes His restraining Hand and allows the world to be exposed for what it is right before His Son returns so that it will be judged.

Now my suspicion is that the real reason why this text is interpreted erroneously by many is the desire for the church to escape persecution. However, this ignores that when the church endures persecution until the very end, God is glorified. We know this from the example of Job, the oldest book in the Bible. God told Satan that Job would remain in the faith no matter what torments Satan aimed at him, and when Job did so God was glorified. So we saints should be after doctrines that result in God’s glory and not our own comfort. We should also avoid doctrines that exaggerate our own power and importance, such as the claim that our presence on the earth is what keeps it from falling into chaos. Or that the Holy Spirit is on the earth only because we are here (clearly contradicted by Genesis 1:2, which states that the Holy Spirit was on the earth long before humankind even existed to make up a church in the first place).

Also, Revelation 13:7 states that the anti-Christ will make war against the saints and overcome them. Matthew 24:22 states that it will only be for the sake of the church that the days of the great tribulation will be cut short. Is our desire to avoid glorifying God by suffering persecution so great that we ignore what the Bible clearly teaches? One of the ways that dispensationalists who have this aberrant and false teaching concerning 2 Thessalonians 2 deals with those texts is claiming that they refer to Israel and not the church, and to the 144,000 Jews and those converted by them. As evidence of this, they correctly note that Jeremiah 30:7 refers to the great tribulation as the time of Jacob’s trouble. However, such teachings ignore that the church is grafted into Israel, and moreover that the combination of born-again Gentiles and believing Jews constitutes spiritual Israel, true Israel, or Israel of God according to Galatians 6 and Romans 9-11. (Yes, some dispensationalists deny this, and even go to the point of claiming that the new covenant is not the one that currently exists with Christ and the church, but is one that Christ will make during the millennium with natural Israel, showing that many dispensationalists are more rabbinic Jews than Christians or even Messianic Jews). This means that Jacob’s trouble is our trouble!

Again, this is not intended to be a broadside against dispensationalism and rapture teachings entirely, especially the partial rapture teachings for which Revelation 3:10 and the typology of Enoch and Elijah can be used to support, as well as perhaps the mid-tribulation rapture teachings. (Note that neither the mid-tribulation rapture or partial rapture doctrines make the totally heretical claim that the Holy Spirit will be removed from the earth.) However, it is incumbent upon the adherents to the rapture and other premillennial dispensational teachings to avoid false teachings that tickle the ears, provide false comfort, and glorify man in the place of God.

Ultimately, however, these debates are intramural in nature between Christians. Regardless of one’s eschatological beliefs, being born again means ultimately going to heaven, whether the route is being raptured before the tribulation or being beheaded by the anti-Christ during it. When the redeemed are in heaven, no one will care one bit about who was wrong and who was right concerning eschatological doctrines. And even more so, it will be totally irrelevant to those who are unsaved. Rapture, no rapture, if you have not repented of your sins and believed the gospel of Jesus Christ, your eternal fate is the same as that of those of Sodom and Gomorrah and the days of Noah who did not escape the wrath of God but perished. And the horrible ends of their earthly lives was nothing compared to the eternal torment of the lake of fire that is in store for these wicked sinners.

So now is the time to make sure that you do not share their fate if you have not already. Repent of your sins and believe upon the risen Lord Jesus Christ today! You can do so by:

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Putting John 3:16 In Its Place: The Meaning And Purpose Of This Text

Posted by Job on March 19, 2013

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Romans 5:8 “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

Some use passages like these to assert that those who believe in limited atonement (or particular redemption) instead of universal atonement deny that God loves everyone. The argument goes that if God loves everyone, then it means that Jesus Christ died for everyone and that those texts “prove” it and accuse men of twisting scripture in order to claim otherwise.. Well C.S. Lewis and other believers of religious pluralism and universalism use 1 Timothy 4:10 –“For to this end we labour and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of them that believe “ – and many other scriptures to justify it. Is it similarly twisting scripture to say that they are wrong also?

Of course not. Why? Because we know that 1 Timothy 4:10 is not the only thing that the Bible says about salvation. So, it is because that we put 1 Timothy 4:10 in the context of all the other things that the Bible says about how God saves – including John 14:6’s “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” – in order to deny that this text teaches that men above the age of accountability can be saved outside of personal faith in Jesus Christ.

Thus, the same is true of John 3:16. While that text is extremely popular, very well known and much beloved, that is no reason to make it the primary text on the issue of salvation through which all other texts must be judged, held subject to and viewed in light of. That is interpreting scripture according to human opinion and emotion – our tendency to grab hold upon and emphasize the things that please and comfort us while putting less emphasis on the things that disturb and challenge us – instead of letting scripture speak for itself.

It is all well and good to love John 3:16. But we cannot use John 3:16 to pretend that Proverb 16:4 “The LORD hath made all [things] for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil ” isn’t in the Bible, especially since Romans 9:13-23 clearly uses Proverb 16:4 in order to explain the nature and purpose of God’s election as it applies to the Jews and the Gentiles? Now that is what requires the twisting of the Bible scriptures. Accepting those texts and putting them into the proper contexts is why the so-called 5 point Calvinists exist. The only alternative is to deny the meaning and application of those texts, which is what most theologians and other Bible students do … precisely what they accuse the believers of limited atonement of. Perhaps the best example of this is the common explanation of deniers of limited atonement that predestinate in Romans 8:29-30 doesn’t mean, well, predestinate, or the many others who claim that it really means “foreknowledge.” Similar explaining away is done with and who do the same with Ephesians 1:3-12 and also with the many “Calvinistic” texts that appear in the Gospel of John just as does John 3:16.

So, for example, using John 6:65’s “And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father” and John 10:26-29’s “But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any [man] pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave [them] me, is greater than all; and no [man] is able to pluck [them] out of my Father’s hand.” to interpret John 3:16 is not imposing an artificial human framework on the Bible. Instead, claiming that John 6:37 is based on God’s foreknowledge – and doing so in the complete absence of textual evidence to support it and when so many texts like Romans 9:13-23 contradict it – is when the denying the plain meaning of scripture from its literal, contextual interpretation is being done.

Does this mean that God does not love the world — all people and not just the elect — with an unconditional love? That begs the question of whether unconditional love as our modern humanistic Enlightenment-driven society defines it is a Biblical concept to begin with. If it were, then that would necessarily mean universalism. You may ask whether “world” really mean world or does it mean only the elect and whether world can be both, meaning all people in general, but only or especially the elect in particular?

Many do precisely those types of interpretative gymnastics, but they are not necessary. The “world” of John 3:16 does mean the world. But understand this: God is perfectly capable of loving the world and saving only the elect. Again, making the case that God’s loving everyone obligates Him to save everyone can only lead to universalism. The non-Calvinist viewpoint deals with this problem by saying that God TRIED to save everyone but failed. Now if you limit this “failure” to those who made a free will decision to reject Jesus Christ then that “solves” the failure issue after a fashion. The problem is that “God tried to save everyone but His efforts were thwarted by the free will that He gave us to accept or reject Him” theology simply cannot be a sufficient answer for the fact that the overwhelming supermajority of humanity has never heard the name Jesus Christ, and moreover before His advent had never encountered Judaism or the pre-Judaic Yahwism.

Truthfully, the pluralism of types like C.S. Lewis and the Roman Catholics (purgatory) and contemporary religious moderates do a much better job of explaining this problem, which is so real and vast that it has been a source of great heartache for missionaries like Hudson Taylor, who knew that he could not possibly reach every person in the vastness of China with the gospel of Jesus Christ and fell victim to the slough of despond and the giant despair (see Pilgrim’s Progress) as a result. God rescued him from that fate with the instructions for Taylor to be satisfied with going to the people that that God sent Taylor to. (And incidentally Taylor was not a Calvinist).

And here is the real irony for those who reject the Biblical doctrine of limited atonement. Even if you do not believe in limited atonement, the requirement of faith in Jesus Christ for salvation serves as a practical limitation anyway. Again, the only way to avoid that practical limitation is to be a universalist or pluralist. How “general” is the atonement to the person who lives his entire life as a sincere, upstanding, devoted, honest moral adherent to the Hindu religion because he spent his entire life in India in the 1500s and Hinduism is all he ever knew? The only relevance of general atonement to that person is that even though that person had absolutely no possibility of ever being saved, Jesus Christ still died for him so that “proves” that God loved him. Christ’s death on the cross made this person’s salvation hypothetically, theoretically possible in the spiritual realm even though it was still impossible in the natural one. Which means that the true purpose of general atonement that it provides a comfortable, reassuring view of God to the people who hold it. The doctrine is of no use to the sinner whatsoever. Whether you hear the gospel and do not respond with faith and repentance or never hear the gospel at all, from the sinner’s perspective the extent of the atonement doesn’t matter because the fate of the sinner is still the same. The issue is all about whether serving a God who limits the atonement or serving a God who doesn’t IN THEORY but does IN PRACTICE “feels better.”

Still can’t look at John 3:16 and “see” limited atonement? Well, you may not see religious pluralism in 1 Timothy 4:10 either. But that is what C. S. Lewis saw when he looked at it … justification for the religious pluralism doctrines taught by the Roman Catholic Church – and Lewis fellowshipped with a lot of Catholics, including his friend J.R.R. Tolkien – and embraced by virtually all moderate (meaning neither evangelical or liberal) Christians and an increasing number of evangelicals like Rob Bell. So often we see what we want to see instead of what the Bible says, and that has to change.

Does limited atonement mean that God takes pleasure in the destruction of the wicked? Ezekiel 18:23 would tend to say otherwise with “Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: [and] not that he should return from his ways, and live?.” But just as we being in the image of God often have to do things that give us no pleasure but are necessary, God’s justice requires that His wrath must be poured out on the wicked. The key to remember that merely because destroying the wicked does not give God pleasure does not require God to act in order to avoid displeasure. Claiming that it does is judging God by arbitrary standards created by our own emotionalism; our refusal to accept things that appear to us to be unjust. But why do they appear to be unjust to us? Because we feel that God owes us something. The truth of what the Bible says, which is that we are the sheep of His pasture (Psalm 100:3) to do with as He pleases is denied because of our unwilling to countenance the idea that God is the measure of all things and not man; that the universe is God-centered and not man-centered.

It is curious: no Bible-based Christian (as opposed to the idolatrous animal rights activist) takes offense at the notion that man, a mere creature made in God’s image, has the right to breed sheep for the purpose of eating them even while they are juveniles (lamb chops, leg of lamb, rack of lamb etc.) Yet we are offended at the idea that God, who is worth more than the entirety of creation (meaning that the distance between man’s worth and a lamb’s worth is much smaller than the distance between man’s worth and God’s worth) has the right to do with us as He pleases or else be judged as unloving and unrighteous, so we stumble at Yes, the Bible does not say that God takes pleasure in the destruction of the wicked, but texts like “The LORD hath made all [things] for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil” and “Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?” as a result.To do this we must make God out to be worth less than He is or we make ourselves out to be worth more than we are at God’s expense. Either way it is man-centered heresy.

So if you are struggling with the question “how can I say that God loves you without knowing whether you are elect or not”, I emphasize again that this goes back to the fundamental question of whether God can love someone without electing them to salvation. This answer – yes – is most clearly given in Matthew 5:45 … “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” Also, an excellent teaching on this topic can be found here: http://www.gty.org/resources/articles/a294/the-love-of-god-and-the-nonelect

This brings about the inevitable question: how will this affect my evangelism? Well you can certainly everyone that God loves them, and use this truth clearly taught in the Bible as the basis for your evangelism. The Bible does not say to use the fact that God did not elect everyone to hinder evangelism, because quite the contrary God said that many are called (in that they hear the gospel … note that it does not say that ALL are called because all do not hear the gospel) but few are chosen (meaning that of those who hear the gospel, few will be saved). And this truth was illustrated by several of Christ’s parables, such as the parable of the sower of Matthew 13:1-23 and the wedding parable of Matthew 22:1-14.

So John 3:16 does not have to be abandoned by the Christian who believes in limited atonement. It means that when sharing the gospel we can tell sinners that everyone who believes – whosoever believeth – will be saved.The key is to stop right there and not add anything to it. Don’t say “Jesus Christ died for all of you so that means all of you can be saved if all of you believe.” Why not? Because the Bible doesn’t say so. General atonement is nowhere in the Bible. If it were, I would believe it and so would you. So whether in mixed company, hostile company (all unbelievers like Paul at Mars Hill) or all believers like Jesus Christ at His high priestly prayer or the disciples in the upper room awaiting Pentecost, limiting yourself to what the Bible actually says is all that is necessary, sufficient and justifiable.

So evangelist, just say “Christ died so that all who believe will be saved” and you will be true to the Bible. And that is the true meaning of the John 3:16. Before it was written, there was no promise, assurance or guarantee that everyone who believed would be saved. Now we contemporary Christians presuppose that and take it for granted because we have always known it. But keep in mind that the apostle John was originally writing that gospel not to people with 2000 years of Christian tradition behind them like us. Rather, the first audience who received his gospel was made up of pagans with a very different view of salvation than we have, and also to Jews who believed in justification by the works of the law in addition to faith.

So for both the Gentile pagans and even the Jews, it was very possible to believe in God (or the gods for polytheistic pagans) and still not be saved. For the Jew, one could believe and still be condemned if you did not keep the law. As for the pagans, their gods were arbitrary, unpredictable, conferring – and withdrawing – their favor on whims. So the true purpose of John 3:16 is not to talk about the extent of the atonement, but to teach the doctrine of justification by faith alone, sola fide, to the Jews first and then the pagan Gentiles.

This is evident if you stop taking John 3:16 in isolation and instead look at the entire chapter of John 3. This chapter begins with the rabbi going to Jesus Christ to seek instruction on spiritual things because He recognized that as God was obviously with Christ due to Christ’s miracles, Christ would know such things to teach. Christ in response taught the rabbi about the need for, meaning and nature of regeneration, being born again. The context of Christ’s discussion with the rabbi was never who could be saved, but how people are saved.

John 3:3 – by being born again. John 3:5-8 – by a work of the Holy Spirit, not of man. John 3:11-17 – Christ stating that it is by and through Him that this salvation will be achieved because of His divine sonship. And John 3:18-21 – the fate of those who do not believe, with 3:18 being the inverse of 3:16. In that context, the true context and meaning – it is crystal clear that the text never intends to claim that God gave Christ so that all can theoretically be saved! Instead, it states that God gave Christ so that all who believed would be saved, and that all who did not believe would not be saved! This fact that we today take for granted today was in complete opposition to the religious mindset of Jews and pagans of the time and place of John’s gospel. It was a truly radical, revolutionary groundbreaking idea that was foolishness to the Gentiles and an offense to the Jews.

So as this is all the scripture ever meant and was intended for, why claim that it says or was intended to proclaim more? Anything more is adding to scripture, which should not be done, chiefly because it is a sin, but also because there is no reason to. The sinner needs no more information than that, and the only reason to add more information than that is for the benefit of the evangelist sharing the message. It reassures the evangelist and makes his job superficially (by that I mean according to the flesh) easier, but the Bible makes it clear that our jobs in service to the God of the Bible are not going to be easy or flesh-driven to begin with.

John 3:16 is 100% true and very powerful. But the Christian should not and cannot impose meanings on it that do not exist because it makes us feel better. We Christians should cast aside such works of the flesh and acknowledge to ourselves that the Bible says what it means. God gives the evangelist the responsibility to share the gospel with all. God gives the sinner the responsibility to respond to the gospel with repentance. But the only ones who will be saved are those that God supplies with faith. Everyone who receives faith from God will be saved. No one who does not receive faith from God will be. It is this way because with our salvation as with everything else, God alone shall be glorified. That is the point of John 3:16, the point of the entire canon of scripture, and the point of all of creation in the first place. And when viewed next to the glory of the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent perfect God, such notions that God only wants to be worshiped by those who choose to do so out of their free will – as if it is illegitimate for God to compel the sheep of His pasture to worship Him, and to train and condition us into doing so by conforming us into the image of His Son and providing His Spirit to live in us – must be rejected for the plain betrayals of the Bible and the picture of God that is revealed to us through His creation that they are.

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. Colossians 1:16
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. Romans 11:36

“I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” Isaiah 43:6-7

If you are saved, walk in this truth. If you are unsaved, you are without excuse. Repent and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ today.

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