Why Divine Sovereignty Secures Human Responsibility: A Theological Reading of Exodus

clayIt is often argued that God’s absolute sovereignty disables or demotivates human responsibility. But I contend it is just the opposite: a biblical understanding of God’s sovereignty secures and strengthens human responsibility. In fact, the more we see how God’s sovereign actions work in human history, the more reason we have to trust God and move out in faith.

Much confusion exists between fatalism and biblical predestination. In the former, the world is mechanistic and impersonal, God will do what he is going to do, end of story; in the latter, God in his love is at work to bring all things together for his glory and his people’s good. To be sure, God is going to do what he wants (see Psalm 115:3; 135:6), but this is good news, not bad.

When understood according to God’s Word, God’s meticulous and exhaustive sovereignty is not a reason for despair or distrust. Rather, as we will see from Exodus, God’s predestined and pre-communicated control of events is the very foundation needed to walk in humble obedience to God and his commands.

Promise and Fulfillment in Exodus Evidences the Sovereignty of God

All of Scripture follows the pattern of promise and fulfillment. Since the Fall, God has made one promise after another. He has bound these promises in covenants. And he has bound himself to fulfilling his covenanted word (see Hebrews 6:13–20). We see this is large ways, as the protoevangelion in Genesis 3:15 directs all of redemptive history until all the subsequent promises of redemptive history are fulfilled in Christ (see 2 Corinthians 1:20). And we see this in smaller ways, like God’s promise to Sarai that this time next year she will have a son (see Genesis 18). From Luke’s perspective, all that was ever promised by God has been fulfilled in Christ (Acts 13:32–33). Hence, human faithfulness is undergirded by God’s faithfulness, which is to say human responsibility stands upon the sure, sovereign word of God.

In Exodus, a book that introduces the way God brings salvation to his people,  we can see how God’s promises are fulfilled, and how his sovereignty is more than helpful for human responsibility—it is necessary. More than five times, we find in Exodus Moses making the connection that what God said he would do, he has done. And thus, his people are meant to find confidence in Yahweh because of this, which in turn leads to greater trust and obedience. Let me mention each promise-fulfillment in Exodus, draw a couple points of application along the way, and show why God’s absolute sovereignty is good news for our faithful obedience to him. Continue reading

Augustine on the Trinity: Jesus Christ ‘In the Form of God’ and ‘In the Form of a Servant’

trinityYou heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.
— John 14:28 —

Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
— Philippians 2:6–7 —

In his excellent treatise on the trinity, De TrinitateAugustine of Hippo masterfully explains the various ways in which Scripture speaks of Jesus—sometimes in the form of God, sometimes in the form of a servant. In the following quote, he reflects on the way in which John 14:28  and Philippians 2:6, at first glance, appear to make the Son look less than the Father—a doctrinal heresy known as subordinationism.

In his explanation, Augustine reminds us all that Scripture when speaking about the God-man Jesus Christ will of necessity sometimes speak of him as lesser than he is. This is not to deny his status as co-equal (of one essence) with the Father. It is to recognize the limitations of finite language, and to help disciples of Christ to worship God in all of his triune glory and grace.

I encourage you to read the following quotation slowly—it comes from Book 1, section 14 of De Trinitate. Ponder it. Look up the verses (in italicizes). Read it again. And marvel at the God who is three in one, the God who became man when the Son of God took on the form of a servant. Continue reading

Is God the Author of Sin?

stormIs God the author of sin?

This question has been asked often in the history of Christian doctrine. Some theologians, ostensibly embarrassed by God’s absolute sovereignty and what that means for sin deny his total control of the universe.  For instance, open theist Gregory Boyd writes,

Jesus nor his disciples seemed to understand God’s absolute power as absolute control. They prayed for God’s will to be done on earth, but this assumes that they understand that God’s will was not yet being done on earth (Mt. 6:10). Hence neither Jesus nor his disciples assumed that there had to be a divine purpose behind all events in history. Rather, they understood the cosmos to be populated by a myriad of free agents, some human, some angelic, and many of them evil. The manner in which events unfold in history was understood to be as much a factor of what these agents individually and collectively will as it was a matter of what God himself willed. (God at War:The Bible and Spiritual Conflict53)

By contrast, others like Augustine of Hippo (5th C.), John Calvin of Geneva (16th C.), and Jonathan Edwards of New England (18th C.) have affirmed that God who never does evil still permits, decrees, and even employs evil so that his larger purposes of grace and glory might be accomplished.  On this Edwards says in his treatise on The Freedom of the Will,

If by Author of Sin, be meant the Sinner, the Agent, or the Actor of Sin, or the Doer of a wicked thing; so it would be a reproach, to suppose God to be the author of sin. In this sense, I utterly deny God to be the author of sin. . . . But if, by Author of Sin, is meant the permitter, or not a hinder to Sin; and at the same time, a disposer of the state of events, in such a manner, for wise, holy and most excellent ends and purposes, that sin, if it be permitted or not hindered, will most certainly and infallibly follow: I say, if this be all that is ment, by being the Author of Sin, I do not deny that God is the Author Sin, (though I dislike and reject the phrase, as that which by use and custom is apt to carry another sense) it is not reproach for the Most High to be thus the Author of Sin.” (p. 246).

Rightly, God is not evil and thus in his creative agency cannot do evil. Yet, in his divine sovereignty over time and space, he can “permit,” “ordain,” and even “author” sin in a way analogous to the way Shakespeare blamelessly authored the death of Macbeth. An author is not morally culpable for writing into their script the acts of evil men—whether fictitious (as in the case of Shakespeare) or real (as in the case of our Triune God). Therefore, since God did declare the end from the beginning (Isa 46:9–10), he wrote into the Script—what theologians call “his will of decree”—a world created inestimably good, ruined by sin, restored by his Son. Continue reading

Theology is Not Just for Theologians

theology

In other words, The­ol­ogy is prac­ti­cal: espe­cially now.
In the old days, when there was less edu­ca­tion and dis­cus­sion,
per­haps it was pos­si­ble to get on with a very few sim­ple ideas about God.
But it is not so now. Everyone reads, everyone hears things discussed.
Consequently, if you do not listen to Theology, that will not mean
that you have no ideas about God [i.e., theology].
It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones —
bad, muddled, out-of-date ideas.
— C.S. Lewis —

Theology rightly understood is not a tangential part of Christian faith; it is the source, strength, and substance of vibrant faith. As A. W. Tozer famously said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us” (Knowledge of the Holy1). This is the core of theology—thinking God’s thoughts after him. And true theology is thinking biblically-informed thoughts about God. Theology is not an academic discipline consisting of esoteric terms, but sound doctrine that gives life and strength to every child of God made alive in Christ.

Sadly, this way of thinking about theology is often missed. Even among pastors, those called to instruct in sound doctrine, there is a sense in which theology is secondary to the real work of the ministry. Evangelism, discipleship, worship services, and church growth are elevated above “theology,” but only because they assume that each discipline and practice of the church is a-theological. In the short run, such doctrinal inattention may not create observable problems, but in the long run it will.

Paul understood this and that is why he writes in 1 Timothy 4:16: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” Faithful shepherds and growing sheep follow Paul’s model and give appropriate emphasis to theology as it informs and energizes spiritual life. In fact, close attention to the New Testament shows that wherever the apostles are giving practical instruction, they are doing so from deeply theological wells.

Mark Dever, in the preface of his book on 1 Corinthians (Twelve Challenges Churches Facemakes this very point. Continue reading

Creation, the Trinity, and the Incarnation: What “God with US” says to “ME and God”

 

manger “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,and they shall call his name Immanuel”(which means, God with us).
– Matthew 1:23 –

At Christmas, we remember the Eternal Son of God took on human likeness, so that the people made in his image might be reunited with their Maker. Most often when we consider the birth of Christ, we focus on the historical details—and rightly so. But it is equally appropriate to consider what the Incarnation teaches us about the Trinity and how the Trinity (God’s one-in-threeness) teaches us to reject self-centered individualism in order to live in new covenant community. Continue reading

Marveling at God’s Direction in Our Lives: An Update on the Schrocks

obcThe plans of the heart belong to man,
but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.
All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes,
but the LORD weighs the spirit.
Commit your work to the LORD,
and your plans will be established. . . . 
The heart of man plans his way,
but the LORD establishes his steps.
— Proverbs 16:1–3, 9 —

On Wednesday August 26, the elders of Occoquan Bible Church in Woodbridge, Virginia (20 miles south of Washington, D.C.) unanimously called me to be the pastor of preaching at their church. Since June I have been in conversation with them about this position. In July Wendy and I had a wonderful visit with the elders. Following that trip, the elders announced my candidacy for the position of teaching elder (pastor of preaching) and for the last 30 days we (the church family and our family) have been prayerfully considering this call.

During this season of prayer, our whole family visited OBC. We loved it. Our kids loved it. And we felt increasingly convinced that God was leading in this process.

In our visit, we were deeply encouraged by the way the Word of God and the gospel was made central in all aspects of the church. We loved meeting the families at OBC and hearing their passion for Christ and work of the ministry in and through the church. I preached twice (on membership and eldership) and got to sit in on a handful of activities during the week. Long story short, we left Northern Virginia on August 17 hopeful and prayerful that we would soon return.

Next week, we will do just that. After six months of seeking the Lord and watching him direct and redirect our steps, we will load up all our earthly belongings and join God’s people in Woodbridge, Virginia.

We are incredibly excited about this move. We praise God for his faithfulness and love and provision during these months of uncertainty (=unemployment). We give thanks to him for all of you who prayed with us, encouraged us, and ministered to us. And we marvel at how he led us to OBC. It’s that story I want to share here—that this marvelous works might be magnified and that you might be encouraged in your own earthly pilgrimage. Continue reading

Theological Triage (pt. 1): Rightly Dividing Truth from Error

TriageTriage.

It is not a word that we often associate with church life, or if we do, the connotation is probably not positive. However, I think the word has great potential for helping us understand and promote unity in the church—local and universal.

In its original context, triage “means the process of sorting victims to determine medical priority in order to increase the number of survivors.”  While the term is usually placed on the battlefield or in the wake of a natural disaster, it also has an important application in the church for knowing how to rightly hold the doctrines we believe.

Applied to biblical doctrines, the term has been labeled by Albert Mohler as “theological triage,” and it basically indicates that we should sort out three different kinds of biblical belief—(1) those that separate Christians from non-Christians, (2) those that separate different churches and denominations, and (3) those that individuals may disagree about but which are overcome by greater unity on more primary matters.

Today, I will consider the first level, and later this week days I will follow up with the second and third levels to help us think about our relationship with other faiths, other churches, and other individuals in our church. Continue reading

Dying with Dignity: What Should We Think About Euthanasia?

deathOn November 1, surrounded by her family and friends, Brittany Maynard will take her final breath. Or so she intends.

Earlier this year, Brittany was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer at the age of 29. Living in California at that time, she and her husband moved to Oregon so that she could legally commit suicide. Oregon is one of five U.S. states that permit physician-assisted suicide, and so she relocated their to end her life before her cancer would take it.

Her decision has received great support from many, including her husband (Dan), as her viral YouTube video explains. Her story has also reignited the debate about whether terminal patients have the right to take their own life. And it has prompted many strong and compassionate responses.

For instance, Joni Eareckson Tada speaks about the societal impact of Brittany’s private decision. Mrs. Eareckson Tada also refers to many alternative options for people with life-threatening conditions.

Dr. R. Albert Mohler also responded to Brittany Maynard’s decision in his daily news program, The Briefing (audio, transcript). Considering a number facets of this sad situation, Mohler observes how our secular culture befriends death as a way of escaping the pain of life. In fact, he asserts that the support for Brittany is in large part an indication of how far removed our culture is from the Christian belief that God is sovereign over the days of our lives (Psalm 139).

Let me encourage you to read and listen to Mrs. Eareckson Tada and Dr. Mohler, but even more let me encourage you to pray for Brittany and her family.

Talking About Life in a Culture of Death

Even as we pray for Brittany and her family, we must also consider what God says about these matters. When it comes to matters of life and death, Christians are obligated to speak a word of hope for resurrection life after death. But we must also think clearly about euthanasia and wrongful ways our culture is permitting and pursuing death.

For that reason, I want to take note of three issues related to Brittany’s decision and then suggest five ways Christians must think about euthanasia. Continue reading

John 3:16: A Word-by-Word Meditation

john316For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Last night I preached at Bethel Baptist Church in North Vernon on who Jesus was, what Jesus did, and what it means to believe in him. (You can find the audio here). My text was John 3:16, actually John 3:14–16, and I sought to help those at Bethel’s revival service to understand how God is inviting them to come and be saved by faith in his Son.

John 3:16 is the gospel in miniature, a veritable gold mine for precious truth, and a passage that solidifies the believer’s faith with every word. Indeed, it seems that every single word contributes to the beauty of the verse. So, with that in mind, I want to run through the verse, word-by-word.

God

While there are many so-called ‘gods’ in the world (even if someone doesn’t call them what they are), there is only One, True, and Living God. He is the triune God who has existed eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The One who promised to turn back the curse through Abraham’s offspring, the holy God who gave Moses the law, the God who promised an eternal throne to a son of David, the God who inspired the prophets, and turned all of history to bring salvation to the world through the Incarnation of God the Son.

Specifically, in John 3:16 “God” refers to the Father, the One sent his Son to redeem the world. In this sense, he is not some angry deity in the sky who demands blood atonement; he is the loving Father who redeemed sinners by the voluntary death of the Son. This is the God of John 3:16. Continue reading

What Happened “Before the Foundation of the World”?

worldIn the beginning, God made the heavens and the earth. From nothing, the triune God made everything. Light, land, and lemmings all came from his all-powerful world. Genesis 1 records this marvelous, six-day creation, and the rest of the Bible treats the universe as one that had a beginning.

But what was there before the beginning?

Before the Foundation of the World

While Genesis starts with creation, later revelation explains that God was active before the beginning. John 1, which takes its cues from Moses’ introduction, says that in the beginning the Word already was: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning” (vv. 1–2). John’s grammar makes it plain that the Son of God, the Word, was already existing when the world was made. And John is not alone, Matthew, Paul, and Peter all reveal an awareness of events transpiring in the mind of God before he spoke light into the darkness.

On Sunday, my sermon considered one of the passages that speaks about what transpired before creation. Titus 1:2 says of eternal life that it was promised before the ages began. With such a phrase, it is worth asking what does the Bible say happened before the foundation of the world? Since the phrase “ before the foundation of the world” occurs five times in the NT, and “before the ages” three times, it will be profitable to list these verses and see what they say. While space doesn’t permit an explanation of each passage, let me simply draw your attention to them. Continue reading