Regeneration Precedes Faith: Six Passages in Paul That Prove Faith is a Gift

photo-1416958672086-951aa7064010 2Continuing the theme of monergism in salvation, we come to the debate regarding faith and regeneration. Does regeneration empower faith? Or does faith produce regeneration? Both are necessary for salvation, but what is their relationship? And how do we know?

Historically, Reformed theologians have understood faith as a divine gift to God’s elect, a gift that was planned in eternity, purchased at the cross, and personally granted in regeneration. By contrast, Arminians, Wesleyans, and other advocates of free will aver that faith is possible for all men and hence is not a special gift of grace to God’s elect, but a gift of grace to all who would freely receive it.

As one who gladly affirms a Reformed view of salvation, I believe this latter position minimizes the work of God in salvation. Instead of putting man’s final destiny squarely in the hands of God, an Arminian view conjoins the work of God and man. Theologically, this undermines grace. Pastorally, this contribution of faith produces (or leaves unchanged) man’s inveterate thirst for self-determination and creates communities that lack a spirit of humility. In God’s grace, other doctrines may ameliorate these realities or produce humility. But, by and large, a church that teaches—explicitly or implicitly—that you are capable of making such a decision for Christ impedes the humility which the gospel is meant to foster (see Rom. 3:27–30).

So, how we understand God’s work of salvation matters immensely for our sanctification, discipleship, and Christian fellowship. Still, it must be a doctrine derived from Scripture and not from tradition alone. To that point, we might ask: Where do we find teaching that says regeneration precedes faith and/or that faith is a gift of God? Good question. And in Paul’s Epistles, we find at least five passages that teach us that faith is a gift. Let’s consider each below. Continue reading

Monergism in Acts(ion): Seven Texts That Affirm The Priority of God’s Grace

crashing waves

. . . I am sending you, to open their eyes,
so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God,
that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
— Acts 26:17–18 —

When it comes to the doctrine of salvation (soteriology), monergism is doctrine that says God alone accomplishes salvation. Etymologically, the word means one (mono) energy (energos), and suggests that all the power for salvation comes from the triune God. Monergism stands against any form of cooperation in salvation whereby God’s work is joined with or completed by man.

Historically, monergism stands upon the writings of Augustine, Calvin, and others in the Reformed tradition. But more importantly, those writings stand upon the words of Scripture. Recently, as I read through the book of Acts, this doctrine stood out, in thinking about the way Luke often spoke of salvation and attributed the faith of believers to the antecedent work of God. In other words, Luke makes it apparent, salvation comes by faith and repentance, but faith and repentance come from the grace of God. (I also spent time laboring this point in my last two sermons on Romans 3 and Colossians 1–2).

In Acts, we find at least seven instances where Luke stresses God’s singular work in salvation. And for the sake of understanding this doctrine and our experience of salvation, not to mention its impact on evangelism and missions, we should see how the pattern of God’s monergism runs through the book of Acts. Continue reading

A Definite Atonement: John Murray’s Case for a Disputed Doctrine

jesus saves neon signage

For whom did Christ die? For all nations without distinction? For all persons without exception? For everyone? Or only for the elect?

In any doctrinal exposition of the cross of Christ, the question of the atonement’s extent (or intent) is necessary. And throughout church history, especially since the Protestant Reformation, a great debate has arisen in response to the question. That dispute has divided Calvinist from Arminian, Reformed from Wesleyan, and Particular Baptist from General Baptist—to name only a few. Thus, it is not possible in one blog—let alone in one book—to resolve all the difficulties, but it is possible to lay out some of the issues and a few of the exegetical debates.

To that end, I offer ten points from John Murray. His little book, Redemption Accomplished and Appliedprovides a concise argument for the extent of the atonement that comes from a Reformed position. If I were writing a chapter on the extent atonement, I would do it differently, but I appreciate Murray’s commitment to biblical exegesis in his chapter. Even though he leaves many proof texts unchecked, what he does say sets his readers in the right direction. And for that reason I offer the following points from his chapter as a superb model for entering this debate.

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From Predestination to Glorification: Defining Twelve Words Every Christian Should Know

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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 8:30 —

Last Sunday I preached a sermon with lots of big but important words. In two verses (Romans 3:24–25), Paul uses justification, redemption, and propitiation to speak of the saving work of God in Christ’s death and resurrection. Tomorrow, I will add to that list a number of other big words as our men’s group discusses John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied. In Part 2 of his book, Murray outlines the order of salvation (ordo salutis) starting with regeneration and ending with glorification. Added to this list we could describe God’s eternal plans for salvation in things like predestination, election, and adoption.

All in all, there are a lot of -ion words that Christians (at least English speaking Christian) need to grasp in order to understand their salvation. To be clear, salvation does not depend upon knowing how it works. We can fly on a plane without understanding aerodynamics. Just the same, we can be saved by faith in Christ, without understanding everything about it. There are many, indeed all of us, who possess wrong ideas about salvation who are still saved. So great is God’s grace.

Nevertheless, for those who delight in God and his salvation, we are urged (Ps. 111:2), even commanded (Matt. 28:19), to grow in a knowledge of our salvation (2 Pet. 3:18). And to that end, I share the following selection of definitions that start in eternity past, move to eternity future, and cover a basic pattern of salvation that is true for all those whom God has saved, is saving, and will save. I hope they will serve you as you study the Scriptures and work out your salvation with fear and trembling, grace and knowledge.

Sources

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The Heart of the Gospel: A Sermon on Penal Substitution (Isaiah 53)

1920x1080-it-is-finishedIn the Old Testament, there are a handful of passages critical for understanding Christ’s cross. Over the last few weeks, I have preached on many of them (Genesis 22, Exodus 12, Leviticus 16; Ben Purves also did an outstanding job preaching Psalm 22). There are other passage too that our current sermon series won’t cover (e.g., Numbers 21, Psalm 118, Zechariah 9–14, etc.) But the most important passage in the Old Testament for learning what Christ’s cross achieved is Isaiah 53 (technically, Isaiah 52:13–53:12). And that was the text I preached this week.

In this fifteen verse, five stanza “Servant song,” we are introduced to the One who will die for the sins of his people. In particular, he offers a guilt offering in the place of those who deserve God’s penalty of death.

In recent years, the idea of Christ’s penal substitution and God pouring out his wrath on the Son has not set well with many—both those inside the church and those outside the church, as well as those leaving the church. Indeed, with an appeal to God’s universal love, many have misunderstood how Christ’s death, as a penal substitute, is good news and necessary for salvation. Others have questioned how guilt can be transferred from one person, or one group, to another.

Many of these questions have been well answered in the book Pierced for Our Transgressionsas well as by many others in church history. In every case, Isaiah 53 plays a prominent role in explaining what Christ’s cross achieved. And in my sermon yesterday, you can hear why the most important thing about the cross is not what could be seen with the naked eye, but what the Father, Son, and Spirit achieved in the cross. Indeed, while Mel Gibson’s Passion captured the brutality of the cross, it did not explain the divine design of Christ’s cross, nor how Christ’s death might benefit those who believe upon him.

Truly, if you want to understand the cross, you have to look to the Scripture and especially to Isaiah 53. So here is a sermon that explains why the cross of Christ and especially penal substitution stands at the heart of the gospel and the good news that Christ died for sinners.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Getting Redemption Right and Understanding the Logic of Christ’s Cross

black cross on top of mountain

Recently, I have been watching, reading, and discussing the ways that the cross of Christ has being wrongly preached, taught, and explained in churches today. In particular the penal substitutionary nature of the cross, where Christ pays the penalty for sinners who have broken God’s law and deserve his righteous and eternal condemnation, has been redefined by scholars like N.T. Wright, popular teachers like Tim Mackie (and The Bible Project), and misrepresented by pastors who have adopted their teaching and succumbed to the God-is-love-and-not-wrath narrative. And this does not even include the opponents of Christianity (e.g., Tony Jones, Bart Campolo, Richard Rorty, and others in the following video) who have simply denied the historic meaning of the cross of Christ.

Often, false teaching about the cross affirms truths that Scripture teaches. For instance, the cross does defeat the powers and principalities (Col. 2:13–15); it does display the love of God (John 3:16); it does liberate mankind from the idols and ideas of this world (1 Pet. 1:18–19). Sadly, the error comes not in what is affirmed, but what is denied—namely, that the cross propitiates the wrath of God. At its heart, Scripture teaches that a holy God cannot turn a blind eye to human sin. Therefore, mankind stands condemned in Adam and ready to receive God’s righteous judgment. This is bad news. But it is biblical and it is the ground from which the good news of Christ’s death must spring.

In the Bible, we discover that God’s gospel declares that he has satisfied his own holy standards by substituting his own Son in the place of the people who he has chosen to redeem. Sadly, many teachers deny or distort this penal substitutionary view of the cross. Some caricature God’s wrath as divine child abuse poured out on Jesus, as if Jesus is not God himself; others make the problem of humanity some form of human, political, or demonic evil; and others simply deny the holiness of God, declaring that God has absolute freedom to do whatever he wants, including letting sinners go free—no wrath needed. Space does not permit a full response here to these errant views (but see this three-part response).

Instead, I want to offer a biblical definition of redemption and Christ as the redeemer.  Again, the problem with any view that denies Christ’s penal substitution stems from a dismissal or distorted view of Scripture. Yet, when we take Scripture on its own terms, we find a holy God who has made a single way of salvation in Christ’s death and resurrection. Explaining that redemption, Leon Morris, in The Atonement: Its Meaning and Significance, has helpful spelled out the nature of humanity’s need and the effect of Christ’s death. Writing about Christ the Redeemer, he says Continue reading

True Religion Consists in Holy Affections: Jonathan Edwards’ Reflections on 1 Peter 1:8

peter-lewis-D1kher2Zx2U-unsplashTrue religion, in great part, consists in holy affections.
— Jonathan Edwards —

In his classic treatise on nature of the Christian experience, Jonathan Edwards begins Religious Affections with a brief and fruitful examination of 1 Peter 1:8. As this verse stands in the middle of this Sunday’s sermon, I share the opening pages from the abridged and updated version.  As many have experienced, Edwards writing is challenging, but his vision of God is glorious. Thus, it is always worth wrestling with words. Here, however, we find in language more accessible to modern readers an explanation of the way trials purify believers and enlarge our love for Christ and our joy in Christ. The section is not long and I share it as an introduction to Edwards, Religious Affections, and some of the themes we will see on Sunday.

8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him,
you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,
— 1 Peter 1:8 —

With these words the apostle demonstrates the state of mind of the Christians to whom he wrote. In the two preceding verses, he speaks of their trials: *the trial of their faith*, their *being in heaviness through manifold temptations*. These trials benefit true faith in three ways.

First, above all else, trials like this have a tendency to distinguish between true faith and false, causing the difference between them to be evident. That is why in the verse immediately preceding the text, and in innumerable other places, they are called trials because they try the faith of people who profess to be Christians, just as apparent gold is tried in the fire to see whether it is true gold or not. When faith is tried this way and proved to be true, it is “found unto praise and honour and glory” (1 Pet. 1:7). Continue reading

Getting Into God’s Sovereign Grace: From Peter to the Elect Exiles to the Father, Son, and Spirit (1 Peter 1:1–2)

image001On Sunday, our church began a new series in the book of 1 Peter. Introducing the book, we focused on the salutation (1 Peter 1:1–2), two verses that introduce Peter, the elect exiles, and the triune God from whom all grace and peace come. From this short introduction we discovered a number of things about the book, its author, its setting, and the sovereign grace of God.

If you are unfamiliar with 1 Peter, it is well worth your time to study in 2021. Because, as those who are familiar with 1 Peter know, Peter’s message of living hope is tailor-made for Christians living in difficult times. For us living in a time of pan(dem)ic, political upheaval, and cultural breakdown, we need Peter’s strong words of encouragement. For the next five months, we will (as the Lord wills) focus on this encouraging book.

You can find the sermon audio. The video is below, along with these articles that might be of help after listening to the message.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Getting to Know God’s Foreknowledge: A Survey of the New Testament

silhouette of mountain under starry night

To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout
the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia,
who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father,
through the sanctifying work of the Spirit,
to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood.
— 1 Peter 1:1–2 NIV —

On Sunday, I preached the first message in sermon series on 1 Peter. Considering the opening salutation, we spent most of our time getting to know Peter, his audience (the elect exiles scattered in Asia Minor), and the triune God—Father, Spirit, and Son. As with many of Paul’s letters, Peter packs a robust theology into his greeting. And one phrase in particular is worth noting: “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.”

More fully, we have Peter addressing elect exiles who are “chosen” (see 1 Peter 2:4, 9) “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” In the ESV, the distance between the addressees and the source of their election stands in relative distance, with the five regions of Asia listed in between. This matches the way that Greek reads, but it can miss how Peter is qualifying “elect exiles” with verse 2. For this reason, the NIV supplies a repetition of elect, when it says “those who are chosen.” See above.

Still, the translation of the Greek is not as difficult as understanding what “according to foreknowledge” means. Is this a tacit admission that God chooses his elect based upon their future faith (an Arminian view)? Or is it a case where God chooses his elect based upon his free and sovereign grace without any consideration of what his creatures will later do (a Calvinistic view)? Or is it something else?

However one interprets this phrase, we can acknowledge this is one of those places in the New Testament where Christians do disagree on how to understand the biblical doctrine of election and predestination. I have written on this subject (here and here), preached on it (Ephesians 1 and Titus 1), and you can find an excellent treatment on this topic in Robert Peterson’s biblical theology, Election and Free Will: God’s Gracious Choice and Our Response.  

Still, the particular question of foreknowledge deserves a particular answer, and in what follows here, I will survey the use of the word “foreknowledge” (proginoskō) in the New Testament to see what we can learn. As we go, I will show why the best way to understand this word, and its use in 1 Peter 1:1–2, is to affirm God’s sovereign, eternal, and unconditional election of individuals to salvation. In other words, foreknowledge, as I will show below, should be understood as a word that conveys “loved beforehand” or even “loved by God before the world began.” Thus, 1 Peter 1:1–2 should be read as Peter addressing God’s elect, who were predestined in love before the foundation of the world. That’s the conclusion of the matter, now let’s consider the biblical support.  Continue reading

Redemption, Covenant, and Dwelling: Seeing the Three-Fold Pattern of Salvation in the Book of Exodus

jesus saves neon signage

Patterns are everywhere. In aviation, you have flight patterns; in economics, you have patterns in the stock market, in detective work, police look for patterns of suspicious behavior; and in sports, defensive coordinators look for patterns in the offensive schemes of opposing teams. In short, we live in a world full of patterns!

And these patterns are just one hint that behind the created order, there is a Creator who has stamped his design on creation. Similarly, in the Bible we learn that there are patterns in redemption. And nowhere is this more true than in the book of Exodus. In Exodus we are introduced to God’s pattern of redemption—substitution, conquest, covenant, and glorious dwelling. These patterns repeat again and again in Scripture, and they are so important that even Jesus says to Moses and Elijah in Luke 9:31 that he is soon going to lead his own New Exodus. So today, as we begin to look at Exodus, we do so by recognizing the pattern of salvation found therein. Continue reading