God, History, Time and Eternity

Before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God. (Ps. 90:2)

     The Bible is a record of what matters most to us.  It gives us insights into realities we could never know except that God has revealed them to us in understandable terms.  God has not revealed everything to us, but what He has revealed is perfectly true.  Scripture gives us insight into things eternal and temporal, heavenly and earthly, angelic and human, good and evil, and above all, the thoughts, character, and actions of the Triune God.  We live in time-space history, which is driven by divine choices, angelic choices, human choices, and natural causes.  God’s choices are always supreme, all creatures being subordinate, influenced and controlled.  The Lord allows fallen angels and humans to produce sin and evil, but never beyond or against His sovereign will (Job 1:1-21; Ps. 105:12-15; 1 Kings 22:19-23; 2 Cor. 12:7-10).  God’s providential control over creation guarantees there are no accidents in history, but that all is within His sovereign plan.  “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Ps. 135:6).  There is no one who can comprehend all His ways, or who can stand against Him when He acts.  “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Dan 4:35).

     Most of us think about history in time and space, which began when “God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1).  However, according to Scripture, history moves backward and forward beyond time and space and touches things heavenly as well as earthly.  The heavens and earth in Genesis 1:1 refers to material heavens and planet earth.  The Hebrew word translated heavens is plural (שָׁמַיִם shamayim) and refers to:

  1. The atmosphere around the earth (where birds fly; Gen. 1:20).
  2. The stellar heaven which is the universe beyond the earth (Gen. 1:14; 15:5).

Paul mentions a third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2), which is the heaven beyond the universe, and is the place where God rules all things (Dan. 2:44).  Most Christians think of heaven as the place where God rules from His throne.  “Scripture implies the existence of three heavens. The first is the atmosphere above us, that is, the blue sky. The second is the stellar heaven. The third is the highest heaven where the throne of God is.”[1] 

     It is important to be aware of these distinctions because there is both an earthly history and a heavenly history (i.e. the third heaven).  These are connected and touch each other, for things which occur in heaven have direct impact on the earth (Job 1:1-20; 2:1-7; 2 Chron. 18:18-22; Luke 22:31-32), and things which occur on the earth impact things heavenly (Matt. 18:10; Luke 15:10).  The fall of Satan first occurred in heaven (Isa. 14:12-14; Ezek. 28:11-18), and afterward he came to earth and influenced the fall of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:1-7; Rom. 5:12; 1 Tim. 2:13-14).  On the other hand, God the Son came to earth and became a man (John 1:1, 14; Gal. 4:4), lived a righteous life (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 John 3:5), died a substitutionary death on a cross (Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:6-11; 1 Pet. 3:18), was buried in a grave, and rose again to life on the third day after His crucifixion (Matt. 20:18-19; 1 Cor. 15:3-4).  In His resurrection body, Jesus bore the wounds of the cross (John 20:24-28) and carried those wounds with Him when He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9-11).  All this reveals that heaven touches earth and the earth touches heaven.

     In the Bible, God occasionally pulls back the curtain of time and space and gives us glimpses into things eternal, revealing a history before time, before the creation of the world.  We learn that God Himself is eternal, for “Before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God” (Ps. 90:2; cf. Deut. 33:27; Ps. 93:2; Isa. 40:28; Jer. 10:10).  From eternity past there was a loving and glorious relationship among the members of the Trinity, who exist as three distinct Persons (Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14; 1 Pet. 1:2): God the Father (Gal. 1:1; Eph. 6:23; Phil. 2:11), God the Son (John 1:1, 14, 18; 8:58; 20:28; Col. 1:17; 2:9; Heb. 1:8; 1 Pet. 1:20), and God the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17; Acts 5:3-4; 1 Cor. 2:11-12; 2 Cor. 13:14; Heb. 9:14).  All three Persons are co-equal, co-infinite, co-eternal, and worthy of all praise and service.  The Persons of the Trinity communicated with each other, loved each other, and made decisions and promises which impacted the world and entire course of history.  There was forethought and intentionality to the creation of the heavens and earth, to mankind, to permit the fall of Adam and Eve, and to provide a monergistic solution that righteously judges sin and saves lost sinners.  To deal with sin, the Father designed and prepared a body for Jesus, and this decision was made in heaven, for “when He [God the Son] comes into the world [time and space], He says, ‘Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, but a body You have prepared for Me’” (Heb. 10:5).  God the Holy Spirit created Jesus’ body in the womb of the Virgin Mary (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:23; Luke 1:26-38), for an angel from heaven told her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).  During His time on earth, Jesus lived a sinless life and walked in perfect obedience to God the Father (2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 2:8-11; 1 John 3:5).  Jesus offered a prayer just a few hours before going to the cross, a prayer spoken among His friends, a prayer in which He mentions a glory and love He enjoyed with the Father before the world existed.  Jesus said, “Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5), “for You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).  This prayer reveals a wonderful relationship that existed from eternity past, which relationship broke into time and space for our benefit, and resumed its full expression when Jesus returned to heaven.  It was also from their relationship in eternity past that God “chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4), which choosing was secured by means of the cross.  From His eternal choice, God promised us eternal life, which speaks both of a current relationship with the Father (John 17:3), as well as an eternal destiny forever in heaven (John 3:16). 

     Our current experiences are connected with our eternal destiny which is assured to us who are in Christ.  Throughout our earthly life, God works through His Word, through others, and through circumstances to grow us spiritually in order to form the character of Christ in us.  All of God’s work in us is intentional, designed to prepare us for the life we will come to know when we leave this world and enter into His eternal presence.  Life on earth—in time and space—becomes more meaningful when we live beyond ourselves, beyond our struggles, beyond our circumstances and see everything within the context of eternity to which we belong right now.  I say we belong to eternity “right now” because as Christians we possess eternal life from the moment we believed in Christ as our Savior (John 10:28).  Eternal life is not what we can have, but what we have from the moment of salvation onward.  Our eternal life is the forever-life that finds its greatest experiential expression when we leave this world and enter into the presence of God in heaven.  At death, the flow of time ceases and all worldly experience comes to an end when we pass into eternity.  Until then, we enjoy eternal life here and now with God who has saved us and adopted us as His own.

Steven R. Cook, M. Div.

Related Articles:

[1] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1865.

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Marriage Vows and Ceremonies

     Marriage BookMarriage is a covenant relationship (Prov. 2:17; Ezek. 16:8; Mal. 2:14-15; Matt. 19:6).  In Scripture, the word covenant (Heb. בְּרִית berith, Grk. διαθήκη diatheke) is used of a treaty, alliance, or contract.  The strength of a covenant depends on the person, or persons, who enter into it.  Some covenants are vertical between God and individuals or groups, and some are horizontal between people.  Some of God’s covenants are unilateral, in which God acts alone and unconditionally promises to provide and bless another, either a person or group (e.g. Noahic covenant, Abrahamic covenant, Davidic covenant, New Covenant, etc.).  In a unilateral covenant, God will always bless the recipients, and there is no fear of God doing otherwise, because the blessing is in no way conditioned on any action by those whom God assures blessing (e.g. Gen. 12:1-3; Jer. 31:31-34).  Some of God’s covenants are bilateral, in which blessing or cursing is conditioned on obedience to stated laws (e.g. Adamic covenant and Mosaic covenant).  In a bilateral covenant, God is faithful to bless and curse depending on compliance to the agreed upon conditions set forth (see Deuteronomy Chapter 28).  God is always faithful to keep His promises in both unilateral and bilateral covenants.  In the Bible there are examples of people who made bilateral covenants among themselves (Gen. 21:27; 31:44-54; Josh. 9:15; 1 Sam. 18:3; 2 Sam. 3:12-13).  Covenants made by people are generally bilateral, depending on the faithfulness of each person to keep their promise.

In making covenants God was solemnly invoked as a witness (31:53), whence the expression “a covenant of the Lord” (1 Sam. 20:8; cf. Jer. 34:18–19; Ezek. 17:19), and an oath was sworn (Gen. 21:31). Accordingly, a breach of covenant was regarded as a heinous sin (Ezek. 17:12–20). The marriage contract is called “the covenant of … God” (Prov. 2:17).[1]

     The marriage covenant is a bilateral agreement in which both persons promise, before God and others, to love each other faithfully.  It is regarded as a bilateral covenant—depending on the faithfulness of each person to each other—because God permits a way out of the relationship by divorce (Deut. 24:1-3; Matt. 5:32; 19:8-9).  A unilateral covenant would make no stipulations on the relationship.

     RingsThe marriage covenant glorifies God when the man and woman commit to love each other, to seek God’s best in each other, and to remain faithful to their promises.  Typically, marriage vows are thoughtful, addressing the reality of good and bad circumstances, the influence of wealth or poverty, sickness and health.  A vow is a promise, and a promise is only as strong as the person who makes it.  Often we vow to be committed to each other and to endure all tests and trials until separated by death.  We may not like the tests or trials that come our way, but it’s only in those situations that a person’s integrity becomes manifest.

     Marriage ceremonies mentioned in the Bible varied depending on the people and culture.  Sometimes we read about arranged marriages without any mention of a wedding ceremony at all (Gen. 21:21; 38:6; 1 Sam. 18:17).  Other times we read of great feasting and celebration during the wedding (Gen. 29:22; Judg. 14:12; Matt. 22:1-12; Luke 14:8-11; John 2:1-10).  The Bible does not prescribe a specific marriage ceremony, and each couple is free to follow whatever customs are particular to their culture so long as it conforms to the laws and customs of a nation (Rom. 13:1, 5; 1 Pet. 2:13-14). (this article is an excerpt from my book: Making a Biblical Marriage

Steven R. Cook, M. Div.

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[1] Merrill F. Unger, et al., “Covenant” in The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Rev. and updated ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988).

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Making a Biblical Marriage

     Marriage BookMarriage is a divine institution originally designed to permanently unite a man and a woman (Gen. 2:18-25).  It is not a human invention.  The first couple was created in God’s image to live under His provision and authority, to walk in fellowship with Him, and to fulfill the specific purpose of ruling over His creation (Gen. 1:26-28).  They were to complement each other.  All three members of the Trinity[1] were involved in the creation of Adam and Eve (Gen. 1:26-28).  “God created man in His own image [Heb. צֶלֶם tselem], in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen 1:27).  Adam and Eve were special, created with intelligence, volition, and purpose.  They were created for a relationship; first with God, then with each other, then the animals and world around them.  They were to fulfill the divine mandate to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28).  Adam and Eve were created in a state of maturity as perfectly functioning adults and were gifted with brilliant minds that were able to correctly perceive their environment and to properly communicate with God and each other.  They possessed a clear sense of purpose under the authority of God.

     Genesis chapter one provides a snapshot of the creation of the first couple; however, in Genesis chapter two, we learn there was a short lapse of time between the creation of Adam and Eve (cf. 1 Tim. 2:13).  Adam, by himself, was placed in the Garden of Eden with the positive command “to cultivate it and keep it” (Gen 2:15).  Adam was free to work and enjoy the beauty and fruit of the Garden.  God blessed Adam and provided for him (Gen. 2:15-16), but also promised spiritual and physical death if he sinned (Gen. 2:17).  Later, both Adam and Eve would eat the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3:1-8), but Adam’s sin alone would bring judgment upon himself and the world, for which he was responsible.  When Adam fell, the world under his care fell with him (Gen. 3:17-19; Rom. 5:12-14; 8:22-23; 1 Tim. 2:13-14).

     Originally, Adam was created sinless, with the unhindered capacity to walk with God and serve Him.  Though he was sinless, Adam was not complete.  God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper [Heb. עֵזֶר ezer] suitable for him” (Gen. 2:18).  Before God created the first woman, He took time to educate Adam about his relational incompleteness.  God brought a multitude of animals before Adam (most likely in pairs of male and female), and after observing and naming them (Gen. 2:19), Adam realized “there was not found a helper [Heb. עֵזֶר ezer] suitable for him” (Gen 2:20).  God corrected what Adam could not.  The Lord caused Adam to fall asleep and “took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place” (Gen. 2:21).  God then “fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man” (Gen. 2:22).  This was a divinely arranged marriage. 

Woman was taken not from Adam’s head to dominate him, nor from his feet to be trodden down, but from under his arm to be protected, and from near his heart to be loved.[2]

     The wife was created to “help” her husband (Gen. 2:20).  The word helper (עֵזֶר.Heb ezer) is an exalted term that is sometimes employed of God who helps the needy (Gen. 49:25; Ex. 18:4; 1 Sam. 7:12; Isa. 41:10; Ps. 10:14; 33:20).  Just as God helps His people to do His will, so the wife is called to help her husband serve the Lord and bring Him glory.  The wife is also to respect her husband (Eph. 5:33), both in private and in public.

     Sin changed humanity and the world in which we live.  Satan (a fallen angel) attacked the first marriage and tempted the man and woman to disobey God (Gen. 3:1-7).  Adam and Eve listened to Satan and rejected God’s will (Gen. 2:15-17; 3:1-8), and sin was introduced into the human race and the whole world is now under a curse (Gen. 3:8-19; Rom. 5:12-19; 8:20-22).  Eve was deceived by Satan, but Adam sinned with his eyes open (1 Tim. 2:14).

     christian_marriageThe institution of marriage continued after the historic fall of Adam and Eve and took on various ceremonies based on ever changing social customs.  The Bible directs believers to marry believers (1 Cor. 7:39; cf. 2 Cor. 6:14-15), but does not prescribe a specific ceremony to follow, or vows to take, but leaves these matters for people to decide for themselves.  Marriage is divinely illustrative of Yahweh’s relationship with Israel (Isa. 54:5), and Christ’s relationship with the church (2 Cor. 11:2).  Marriage is to be holy, because God is holy (1 Pet. 1:15-16).  Marriage is to be loving, because God is love (1 John 4:16-21).

     God designed the husband to be the loving leader to guide the relationship into His will, and the wife is to walk in harmony with him (Gen. 2:18; 21-23; cf. Eph. 5:25-33).  The husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the church (Eph. 5:25).  Biblically, this is called agape love. 

Love [Grk. ἀγάπη agape] is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails (1 Cor. 13:4-8a)

     Agape love brings God into every relationship, provides spiritual nourishment, conforms to God’s will, and seeks God’s glory.  It stands the test of time and survives in the furnace of affliction.  It is sacrificial (Eph. 5:25; cf. Matt. 20:28; John 13:34; 15:13; Rom. 5:8; 14:15; 15:3), understanding and honoring (1 Pet. 3:7), and greater than feelings (Col. 3:19).  It is, in fact, God’s love, born in the heart of the believer who walks with God and desires His closeness. 

     God’s love comes from God, and only those who know God and walk with Him will manifest His love (1 John 4:10-21).  There is a biblical love and there is a worldly love.  Biblical love has its source in God who always seeks our best.  Worldly love is deceptive, self-serving and destructive, just as Satan is deceptive, self-serving and destructive.  We cannot give what we do not have, and only those who know and walk with God can manifest His love.  Anyone who claims to love but does not know God or walk with Him is a deceiver, and this one leads others into sin.  A successful marriage is built on Scripture and displays God’s love. 

     Where there is constant spiritual development in the life of a Christian couple, there will be the gradual manifestation of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23a).  We manifest these qualities because we walk with God and desire to reflect His character.  Walking with God means we become more and more like Him, gradually manifesting His attributes, such as righteousness (Ps. 11:7; 119:137), justice (Ps. 9:7-8; 50:6), holiness (Ps. 99:9), truthfulness (2 Sam. 7:28; John 17:17; 1 John 5:20), love (Jer. 31:3; 1 John 4:7-12, 16),  faithfulness (Deut. 7:9; Lam. 3:23; 2 Tim. 2:13), mercy (Ps. 86:15; Luke 6:36; Tit. 3:5), and graciousness (Ps. 111:4; 116:5; 1 Pet. 5:10).  These attributes will strengthen the marriage, but they must be pursued intelligently and by choice. 

Steven R. Cook, M. Div.

[This article is taken from my book: Making a Biblical Marriage]

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[1] The three persons of the Godhead include God the Father (Gal. 1:1; Phil. 2:11), God the Son (John 1:1, 14; 20:28), and God the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4).  God is one in essence (Deut. 6:4), and three in Person (Matt. 28:19; 1 Pet. 1:2). 

[2] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 35.

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The Doctrine of Election

He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will. (Eph. 1:4-5)

     Chosen Before the Foundation of the WorldI struggled with the doctrine of election for over twenty years.  Like most, I believed God’s election (or selection) of individuals to salvation was predicated on His foreseen knowledge of man’s response to the gospel.  While it is true that God knows who will believe (John 6:64), it is also true that each person believes because God sovereignly draws him and illumines his mind to the gospel message (John 1:11-13; 6:37, 44, 65-66; 10:27-28).  Jesus Himself stated, “no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father” (John 6:65).  God determines who will be saved, and only the elect will be illumined to His saving truth.  This is troubling to some, because it strips them of any power to save themselves or others.  Salvation is not what we do for God, but what He has done for us through the work of Christ.  Salvation is appropriated only to those who believe, and a person believes because God has illumined his mind to the gospel.

The doctrine of Election is a cardinal teaching of the Scriptures. Doubtless, it is attended with difficulties which are a burden upon all systems of theology alike. However, no word of God may be altered or neglected. No little help is gained when it is remembered that revelation and not reason is the guide to faith. When the former has spoken the latter is appointed to listen and acquiesce.[1]

     Part of my struggle with the doctrine of election sprang out of a weak view of sin.  I did not fully understand the historical fall of Adam and the total depravity of all mankind.  I held to a semi-pelagian view of the fall in which I believed I could help bring myself to Christ for salvation, and once saved, assist in keeping myself saved.  This is a synergistic view of salvation (the work of two or more), in which I participated in my salvation.  The Scripture presents a monergistic view of salvation (a work of one), which means it’s a work of God alone.  All of us are helpless to save ourselves, and if it were not for the mercy and grace of God, we would all equally perish in sin.  The elect are simply the fortunate beneficiaries of God’s saving work. 

     Jacob and Esau are examples of God’s election, “for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was told to her, ‘the older will serve the younger’” (Rom. 9:11-12).  Some might want to charge God with being unfair.  However, Paul states, “There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!” (Rom. 9:14).  God’s choosing some over others “does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16), for “He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires” (Rom. 9:18).  Here are some points that portray my understanding of election.

     God elects based on His sovereign good pleasure and not because of any foreseen goodness in people (John 6:37, 44, 65-66; 10:27-28; Acts 13:48).  Election (eklego) is that free choice of God from eternity past in which He elected to save and bless those who are the objects of His love and grace.  The elect are the ones chosen.  God elects groups (Luke 6:13-16; John 6:70; Rom. 9:4; 11:26-28) and individuals (1 Chron. 28:5; Luke 4:25-27; 8:10; Acts 9:15); and His selection is based on sovereign choice (Rom. 9:10-21), not any foresight of good or worth (Deut. 7:7-8; 1 Cor. 1:26-31; Rom. 9:11).  Election is to salvation (Acts 13:48; Eph. 1:4-6), spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3), holy and righteous living (Col. 3:12; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 2:9), and service for the Lord (Jer. 1:4-5; Gal. 1:15-16; cf. Acts 9:15).  Scriptures related to election include:

All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. (John 6:37)

No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:44)

And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. (John 6:65-66)

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. (John 10:27-28)

     All people are totally depraved and helpless to save themselves (Rom. 3:10-23; 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-3).  Total depravity does not mean that people are as bad as they can be; rather, it means that sin reaches to every part of their being, mind, will and emotions, and that whatever they do, whether moral or immoral, has no saving value in God’s sight. 

The fact that all men are sinners, totally depraved—without any merit before God and without any ability to please God—makes the Spirit’s ministry essential. Scripture states clearly that the unsaved man cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:14). In fact, to the unregenerate the gospel is foolishness (1 Cor. 1:18). No amount of education and training will equip the unsaved to respond to Christ. That is the work of the Holy Spirit alone.[2]

     Satan blinds the minds of everyone (2 Cor. 4:3-4), but God illumines the minds of His elect to the gospel message, and once illumined, they respond willingly to His grace.  The good news about Jesus as the Savior is found only in the revelation of Scripture (John 3:16; Rom. 10:13-15; 1 Cor. 15:3-4). Once the gospel is communicated, God illumines the mind of His elect to understand and respond favorably to it, with the result that they believe in Jesus as their Savior. As a vehicle of communication, God may use a person, the Scriptures, a gospel tract, a radio show, or any means that accurately communicates gospel truth. However, gospel truth itself, no matter how perfectly stated, will never lead an unbeliever to salvation if God does not illumine the mind to understand it.

The blinding or veiling of the mind, mentioned in 2 Cor. 4:3, 4, is then a universal incapacity to comprehend the way of salvation, and is imposed upon unregenerate man by the arch enemy of God in his attempts to hinder the purpose of God in redemption. It is a condition of mind against which man can have no power. Yet God has provided a means whereby this satanic veil may be lifted, the eyes opened (Acts 26:18), the eyes of the heart enlightened (Eph. 1:18), and the soul come into the illumination of the Gospel of the glory of Christ. Then, after this “opening of the eyes” is accomplished, the way of life, which is the Gospel, will seem, to the enlightened person, to be both desirable and of transcendent import. This great work is accomplished by Divine energy, and is one of the mightiest movements of the “power of God unto salvation.” It is spoken of in Scripture as the drawing of God and the convicting of the Spirit: “No man can come unto Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him” (John 6:44). “And when He (the Spirit) is come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8).[3]

     Election is to salvation, sanctification and glorification (Rom. 8:29-30; Col. 3:12; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 2:9).  God saves His elect, and once saved, continues to work in them to produce the character of Christ.  This is their sanctification.  Finally, God will glorify His elect when He brings us home to heaven where we will spend eternity with Him. 

God chose us even before He created the universe, so that our salvation is wholly of His grace and not on the basis of anything we ourselves have done. He chose us in Christ, not in ourselves. And He chose us for a purpose: to be holy and without blame. In the Bible, election is always unto something. It is a privilege that carries a great responsibility…What began in eternity past was fulfilled in time present, and will continue for all eternity![4]

     Difficulty in understanding is not a basis for rejection of the doctrine of election.  There are some biblical teachings that are difficult to grasp, and in some ways the human mind will never fully comprehend them.  I’m referring to doctrines such as the Trinity or the Hypostatic Union.  These doctrines are difficult to comprehend because they involve the infinite personal God who is beyond what our finite minds can grasp.  Likewise, the doctrine of election, born as it is in the mind of God, has attending details that are simply beyond the grasp of our comprehension. 

There is no doubt whatever about the Bible teaching that God has chosen an elect people; but the contemplation of all that is involved in this truth reaches out into realms of existence that can be known only to God, far removed as they are from the human sphere of understanding.  Being thus limited, it ill becomes the earth dweller to sit in judgment on God respecting His divine election.  God’s essential character has been disclosed and He can be trusted where men cannot possibly understand.  He is infinitely wise, infinitely holy, and infinitely just and good.  When exercising His sovereign right in election, He does not transgress His character or deny Himself.  Since He does elect some for special glories and destinies and since He proves Himself infinitely right in all He does, it follows that His eternal elective purpose must be as righteous as He is righteous.[5]

     Election displays God’s love, mercy and grace to save (John 3:16; Eph. 2:8-9).  First and foremost, election displays God’s sovereignty; however, God has many attributes, and His choice of election includes them all.  The Christian who would rightly understand the doctrine of election must grasp several of God’s attributes such as His omniscience (Ps. 139:1-6; Matt. 6:31-33), omnipotence (Job 42:2; Isa. 40:28-29), righteousness (Ps. 11:7; 119:137), justice (Ps. 9:7-8; 19:9; 50:6; 58:11), love (Jer. 31:3; 1 John 4:7-12, 16), mercy (Ps. 86:15; Luke 6:36; Tit. 3:5), and grace (Ps. 111:4; 116:5; 1 Pet. 5:10).

The act of electing a people has to be compatible with all of His attributes. It is based on His omniscience, so that we may be assured that when He elected He did so knowing full well all of the alternative possibilities. It is related to the exercise of His sovereign will, so that He was in no way forced to do what He did. It was done by the God who is love, so that predestination was done in love (Eph. 1:4–5). It expressed His mercy; otherwise how could God have loved Jacob? (Rom. 9:15). It demonstrates His matchless grace (Eph. 2:7–8). And the ultimate purpose of election is to display His glory (1:6, 12, 14). Usually we put the emphasis on the fact that God elects. We need to remember that it is God who elects, and He can do nothing unloving or unjust.[6]

     Election encourages sharing the gospel, because we know God will use it to bring His people to salvation through faith in Christ.  Election encourages sharing the gospel (Acts 13:48; 18:8; 2 Tim. 2:10), which is the means by which people come to have eternal life as they place their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior (John 3:16; Acts 16:30-31).  Paul taught election, but was also very aggressive in his evangelism efforts, even pleading with others to believe in Christ for salvation (2 Cor. 5:20).  People come to know and accept Jesus because God opens their heart to know the truth. An example of divine illumination can be found in the book of Acts where Paul was preaching to a group of women, and one woman in particular “named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul” (Acts 16:14).  Here was a group of women, all hearing Paul speak the same message, yet Luke tells us that only one of them responded to “the things spoken by Paul,” because “the Lord opened her heart” to understand his words.  This is true in every situation where the gospel is shared and people willingly receive it.

     Faith in Christ is necessary for salvation (Rom. 10:13-14).  Faith is non-meritorious, having no saving value in itself.  Christ alone saves.  In order for a person to be saved, he must believe in Jesus as the Savior (1 Cor. 15:3-4). This, of course, is the Jesus of Scripture, for no other Jesus will do. From the human side of salvation, faith in Jesus is the necessary response to God’s call, and no one can be saved any other way (John 14:6; Acts 16:31).  When God’s elect hear the gospel message, they will believe in Christ as their Savior (Acts 13:48).  No clever argumentation or persuasive rhetoric is needed when witnessing to God’s elect (who are unknown until they believe in Christ), for they will hear the truth and respond with faith in Christ as God opens their hearts to the gospel. As believers, we are to know the gospel (1 Cor. 15:3-4), and be ready to share it at any moment as God gives us opportunity. We do not have to force the opportunity, but simply be ready when it comes; and then be clear in our speech, knowing that God is working in the hearts of His elect.  To be saved, an unbeliever must know and believe the gospel (1 Cor. 15:3-4; cf. Rom. 10:11-15).  

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? (Rom. 10:13-14)

     Election does not remove human guilt for those who reject Christ as their Savior.  Those who reject the gospel are left to stumble over the cross of Christ, which is an offense for them, “for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed” (1 Pet. 2:8).  The spiritual condition of the unbeliever is that he is dead in his sins and destined for God’s wrath (John 3:36).  His understanding is darkened, he has no spiritual life, and he hardens his heart toward God (Eph. 2:1-3).  They do not believe because of their personal choice.  “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).  Also, Satan imposes spiritual blindness upon them.  “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:3-4).  Regarding the nonelect, the Scripture states that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 33:11), does not desire any unbelievers to perish (2 Pet. 3:9), and that it is man’s sin that separates him from God (Isa. 59:2).

     Preterition teaches that the nonelect are simply passed over, or neglected, and left to their own sinful choices which will always operate in hostility toward God, Christ, and those who are His own.  There are Scriptures that seem to pertain to the non-elect (Prov. 16:4; Matt. 11:21; John 6:70-71; Rom. 9:17-24; 1 Pet. 2:7-8; Jude 4; Rev. 13:8; 17:8).

Retribution means deserved punishment, while preterition is the passing over of those not elected to salvation. Both terms avoid the concept involved in double predestination or reprobation, which means foreordination to damnation. None of these terms appear in the Scripture, though the idea is clearly taught in Romans 9:18, 21; 1 Peter 2:8; and Revelation 17:8. Therefore, the Scriptures do contain a doctrine of preterition, though there is not a decree to condemn in the same sense that there is a decree to elect. Obviously the very idea of election has to include the idea of the greater number out of which they were chosen, and those who were not chosen were certainly passed by. This in no sense implies that God delights in the destiny of the wicked, or that they are driven against their wills, or that the doctrine of election nullifies a “whosoever” Gospel, or that any individual can know he is not elect and thereby try to excuse himself for rejecting Christ. All are accountable to God for their attitude toward Christ.[7]

Summary:

     God does not bully men to believe in Christ, but neither will any of the elect fail to believe.  “Does the sinner respond to God’s grace against his own will? No, he responds because God’s grace makes him willing to respond. The mystery of divine sovereignty and human responsibility will never be solved in this life. Both are taught in the Bible (John 6:37). Both are true, and both are essential.”[8]  To be adopted as a member of God’s royal family and live forever in His eternal palace is a welcome blessing to anyone trapped in sin.  The humble and sensible person will gladly surrender a life of hurt and sorrow for one of magnificent love and joy with the eternal God of the universe, Who in wonderful love has “predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:5-6).

Though as Sovereign He could do so, God does not coerce the human will; He rather works within the individual both to will and to do of His good pleasure (cf. Phil. 2:13).  An efficacious call to salvation, then, is a call which none ever finally resists (cf. Rom. 8:30).  Everyone whom God predestinates He calls, and everyone whom He calls He justifies and glorifies.  There could be no failure in one instance among the millions who are called.  The vision He creates in the heart and the limitless persuasion He exercises induce a favorable reaction on the part of all thus called, which reaction is rendered infinitely certain.  The important truth to be remembered in all of this is that, though divine persuasion be limitless, it still remains persuasion, and so when a decision is secured for Christ in the individual he exercises his own will apart from even a shadow of constraint.  The divine invitation still is true that “whosoever will may come.”  However, it is also true that none will ever come apart from the divine call, and that the call is extended only to His elect.[9]

Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. The Sovereignty of God   
  2. The Gospel  
  3. Election and Illumination  
  4. Soteriology  
  5. Three Phases of Salvation
  6. Saved by God’s Grace  
  7. Essentials of the Christian Faith  

[1] Lewis S. Chafer, “Biblical Theism Divine Decrees” Bibliotheca Sacra, 96 (1939): 268.

[2] Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology: A Historical, Biblical, and Contemporary Survey and Review (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1995), 197.

[3] Lewis Sperry Chafer, True Evangelism (New York: Gospel Publishing House, 1911), 74-75.

[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1996), Eph 1:3.

[5] Lewis S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 7 (Grand Rapids, Mich., Kregel Publications, 1993), 133.

[6] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 362-63.

[7] Ibid., 362.

[8] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Eph 1:3.

[9] Lewis S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 7, 136.

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A Biblical Worldview

     Christian-worldviewA worldview is a biased perspective on life.  It is a mental framework of beliefs that guide our understanding of what is.  It’s the assumptions we employ to help us make sense of the world, ourselves, and our experiences.  Early in life—when our perception of the world is being shaped—we are influenced by the worldviews of family, friends, and surrounding culture.  As we grow older, we are confronted with different and opposing worldviews via religious and educational institutions, literature, movies, music and art.  At some point in our development—it’s different for each person—we choose what we believe and why.  Our worldview is important because it’s the basis for our values which directs our behavior, relationships, money habits, social and political decisions, and everything we do.  A well developed worldview considers the existence of God (Person or force?), the origin of the universe (intelligent creation or accidental bang?), human existence (where we came from and what we are?), the purpose for life (do we exist for a reason or by chance?), human morals (are values absolute or relative?), the problem of evil (is evil real or merely a construct of the mind), and the future (heaven/hell or nothing).  A biblical worldview answers all these concerns.  Here are some considerations regarding a biblical worldview:

     Berenstain Bear's Naturalistic WorldviewFaith is at the heart of the biblical worldview. Every worldview operates with some faith assumptions.  Even the atheist has faith, most of them believing the universe began with a spontaneous bang and that everything is the product of matter, motion, time and chance.  They believe this beyond scientific verification (which requires observation and repeatable testing).  This purely materialistic worldview is sometimes found even in children’s literature such as the Berenstain Bears Nature Guide, which states that nature is “all that is, or was, or ever will be.”[1]  The biblical worldview operates by faith, and our faith is rooted in Scripture which provides insights into realities we could never know, except that God has spoken.  “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible” ( 11:3).  Developing a comprehensive and consistent biblical worldview takes a lifetime of learning and living (Rom. 12:1-2; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18).  The final objective of a biblical worldview is love for God, love for others, and submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. 

     The Bible reveals the existence of God (Gen. 1:1) and portrays Him as Creator (Gen. 1:1-2:25). It also reveals His character, what He has done in history, what He is doing now and what He will do in the future.  God exists as Trinity ( 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14; 1 Pet. 1:2): God the Father (Gal. 1:1; Eph. 6:23; Phil. 2:11), God the Son (John 1:1, 14:18; 8:58; 20:28; Col. 2:9; Heb. 1:8), and God the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4; 1 Corinthians 2:11-12; 2 Corinthians 13:14).  All three Persons are co-equal, co-infinite, co-eternal, and worthy of all praise and service.  The three Persons of the God-head are one in essence (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 43:10; 44:6-8; 45:5, 18), sharing the exact same attributes.[2] 

     My Havanese - AriGod created the universe in six literal days (Gen. 1-2; Ex. 20:8-11). He created an open universe in which He continually operates in every detail, involving Himself in people’s lives, directing history for His glory.  The Lord assigns value and purpose to all His creation, whether rock or flower, wind or rain, light or darkness, cat or dog, etc.  From the biblical perspective I perceive my little Havanese as a part of God’s creation, having design and purpose because God created her to be what she is.  I know “a righteous man has regard for the life of his animal” (Pro 12:10); therefore, I feel responsible to care for my little dog.  “The character of a man is seen in the way he treats those under his care or at his mercy, even when they are animals.  This verse demonstrates that we are responsible to have dominion over the animals, while doing so in a way that reflects the tenderness of our Creator (Ps. 104:14, 27; 145:16; 147:8-9).”[3]

     God created mankind in His image, to think, feel and act (Gen. 1:26-27). God also created mankind for a purpose, to have a relationship with Him and other people, and to exercise responsible dominion over His creation, caring for plants and animals ( 1:26-30; cf. Deut. 25:4; Prov. 12:10).  As God’s unique creatures we find ourselves naturally bent Bookstoward art, music, literature, philosophy, science, mathematics, architecture, sports, and other activities that enrich the soul and glorify the Lord.  The Christian can engage in art and science to the glory of God, as this is consistent with Scripture.  As Christians living in God’s world, and understanding what the Scripture teaches about His creation, we are able to make sense of the world around us and enjoy the creation as God intended.  Knowing Scripture also allows us to understand and reject the sinful perversions of the arts and sciences that fallen men have corrupted.  Without God and Scripture to guide and give man purpose, man’s uniqueness is lost in the universe, as he is ultimately of no greater value than what he paints on the canvass or studies under the microscope.  Biblical thinkers know this to be true; because if there is no God and man is not unique (as the Bible teaches), then he is of no greater value than the tree, the rock, or the worm on a hook.  If there is no God, then man is a zero.  When he dies, his biological life is consumed by the material universe from which he came.  Consider this view of death by the atheist John Updike:

Without warning, David was visited by an exact vision of death: a long hole in the ground, no wider than your body, down which you were drawn while the white faces above recede. You try to reach them but your arms are pinned. Shovels pour dirt in your face. There you will be forever, in an upright position, blind and silent, and in time no one will remember you, and you will never be called by any angel. As strata of rock shift, your fingers elongate, and your teeth are distended sideways in a great underground grimace indistinguishable from a strip of chalk. And the earth tumbles on, and the sun expires, an unaltering darkness reigns where once there were stars.[4]

     God is the absolute standard for right and wrong, and He expects mankind to conform to that which He has revealed about Himself in Scripture (Ps. 11:7; 34:15-16; Lam. 1:18; Dan. 9:14; Hos. 14:9; Zep. 3:4). If there is no God, and no written revelation of His character and will, then men are left only with their conflicting opinions and there is no final arbiter to determine what is right or what is wrong.  However, God has spoken in the Bible, and what He says about men and their actions is the final basis for correct thinking concerning morals and behavior. 

     Evil exists in connection with the willful creatures who produce it. Evil first came into existence in the angelic realm when Lucifer rebelled against God (Isa. 14:12-14; Ezek. 28:12-18).  Adam and Eve introduced sin and evil into the human realm when they followed Satan and rebelled against God (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:1-7).  All humanity is corrupt in Adam, inclined toward sin, spiritually dead and powerless to change their spiritually fallen condition (Rom. 3:23; 5:6-12; 1 Cor. 15:21-22).  God alone corrects the problem of sin and evil through the cross of Christ.  Evil will come to an end in the eternal state when God destroys the current heavens and earth and creates a new heavens and earth where righteousness dwells (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 20:10-15; 21-22). 

     God is actively involved in the affairs of mankind. God has an agenda, a plan He formed before the creation of the world, and He is currently executing that plan according to His sovereign will and for His own glory (Ps. 33:11; Isa. 14:24; 25:1; 46:9-11).  Within God’s plan, He extends hope for the lost.  The Bible reveals God’s plan of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ, who took upon Himself true humanity (Gen. 3:15; John 1:1, 14), born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:18-25), lived righteously according to the Mosaic Law (Matt. 5:17-19; Gal. 4:4), never sinned (Heb. 4:15), died a substitutionary death on a cross (Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:8), was buried and rose to life on the third day (1 Cor. 15:3-4), and ascended to heaven where He is currently interceding for the saints (Acts 1:10-11; Rom. 8:34).  Salvation is a gracious and free gift to all who will accept it by faith alone in Christ alone (John 3:16; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8-9; Phil. 3:9; Tit. 3:5).

     Jesus Christ will return again to rule the earth (Rev. 19:11-16; 20:1-6). There is a future hope for those who trust Christ as Savior and look forward to His return in which He suppresses all sinful rebellion and establishes His reign on the earth.  This will be a time of righteousness and goodness for all those under Christ’s rule (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 20:1-6). 

     In summary, the biblical worldview considers the major issues of life and provides the most comprehensive answer for what is.  We should not think of the biblical worldview as merely an academic exercise to answer our burning questions.  No.  There is real life application for the biblical worldview, which should produce in us a love and appreciation for God, love for others, and submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. 

Steven R. Cook, M. Div.

Related Articles:

[1] Stan and Jan Berenstain, The Bears’ Nature Guide (New York, NY, Random House, 1975), 6.

[2] God is all-knowing (Ps. 139:1-6; Matt. 6:31-33), all-present (Ps. 139:7-12; Heb. 13:5), all-powerful (Job 42:2; Isa. 40:28-29), sovereign (1 Chron. 29:11; Dan. 4:35; Acts 17:24-25), righteous (Ps. 11:7; 119:137), just (Ps. 9:7-8; 19:9; 50:6; 58:11),holy (Ps. 99:9), immutable (Ps. 102:26, 27; Mal. 3:6), truthful (2 Sam. 7:28; John 17:17; 1 John 5:20), loving (Jer. 31:3; 1 John 4:7-12, 16), faithful (Deut. 7:9; Lam. 3:23; 1 John 1:9), merciful(Ps. 86:15; Luke 6:36; Tit. 3:5), gracious (Ps. 111:4; 116:5; 1 Pet. 5:10), and eternal (Deut. 33:27; 1 Tim. 1:17).

[3] John A. Kitchen, Proverbs: A Mentor Commentary (Scotland, Great Britain, Christian Focus Publications, 2006), 267.

[4] John Updike, Pigeon Feathers (New York, NY, Random House Publishers, 1975), 17.

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Do God’s People Ever Behave Poorly?

     Yes.  There are times we behave poorly.  As a Christian, there are times I behave poorly toward God by refusing to do His will (James 4:17).  There are times I behave poorly toward other Christians by not modeling the love or grace or truth that should characterize a growing believer.  And, there are times I behave poorly toward unbelievers by not modeling the love or grace or truth that reveals God to them.  Though I have eternal life by faith in Christ (John 3:16; 10:28), and am among the Lord’s righteous (2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9), I still sin (1 John 1:8, 10).  As a believer, Solomon understood “there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins” (Eccl. 7:20).  There are numerous biblical examples of believers who behaved poorly. 

Old Testament examples include:

  1. Lot’s daughters got him drunk and slept with him (Gen. 19:30-38).
  2. Judah slept with Tamar, assuming she was a prostitute (Gen. 38:13-18).
  3. Aaron led the Israelites in idol worship (Ex. 32:1-6).
  4. Samson slept with prostitutes (Judg. 16:1-4).
  5. David had an affair with Bathsheba and murdered her husband Uriah (2 Sam. 11:1-21).
  6. Solomon ended his life worshipping idols (1 Kings 11:1-10).

New Testament examples include:

  1. James and John (nicknamed Boanerges, or “Sons of Thunder”; Mark 3:17) wanted to call fire down from heaven to kill the residents of a Samaritan city (Luke 9:51-55).
  2. The mother of James and John requested special treatment for her sons, that they might have a place of prominence seated on thrones to the right and left of Jesus (Matt. 20:20-21). This upset the other disciples (Matt. 20:24).
  3. The disciples tried to send away a woman who had come to Jesus for help with her demon possessed daughter (Matt. 15:21-23).
  4. The disciples tried to prevent a man from doing the Lord’s work (Luke 9:49-50).
  5. The disciples argued amongst themselves as to who was greatest in the kingdom (Luke 9:46).
  6. Peter argued with Jesus and tried to prevent Him from going to the cross (Matt. 16:21-22). The Lord reproached Peter sharply (Matt. 16:23).
  7. Peter denied the Lord three times (Matt. 26:34-35; 69-75).
  8. Paul and Barnabas had a sharp disagreement that resulted in their separation as friends in ministry (Acts 15:36-39).
  9. The Christians at Corinth were guilty of quarrels (1 Cor. 1:11), jealousy and strife (1 Cor. 3:1-3), fornication (1 Cor. 5:1-2), selfishness and drunkenness (1 Cor. 11:21). 
  10. Peter engaged in hypocrisy and was publicly rebuked by Paul (Gal. 2:11-14).
  11. The Apostle John was twice corrected for worshipping an angel (Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9). John knew the depravity of his own heart and how easy it is to fall into idolatry, and he cautioned other Christians to “guard yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). 

Five of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3 behaved poorly by not doing God’s will, and the Lord Jesus reprimanded them. 

  1. Church at Ephesus – “you have left your first love” (Rev 2:4).
  2. Church at Pergamum – “you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality” (Rev 2:14).
  3. Church at Thyatira – “you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols” (Rev 2:20).
  4. Church at Sardis – “I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God” (Rev 3:2).
  5. Church at Laodicea – “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot” (Rev 3:15).

     Though there are numerous examples of believers, both in the Old and New Testament, who behaved poorly toward God, other believers, and unbelievers, this is never what God expects from us.  As His children, God calls us to live holy and righteous lives (Tit. 2:11-14), to manifest love (1 Thess. 4:9), grace (Eph. 4:29), and truth to others (Eph. 4:15).  When we fail, we should humbly confess our sins and move on (1 John 1:9), as we keep striving to know God and walk in His will (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18). 

Steven R. Cook, M. Div.

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Essentials of the Christian Faith

The essentials of the Christian faith consist of core doctrines taught in Scripture.  To depart from one or all of these doctrines is to be outside Christian orthodoxy.  Christians may disagree about non-essential doctrines (i.e. the rapture, millennial reign of Jesus, baptism, church government, etc.), and still be regarded as part of the church, the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23).  I like the statement, in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things love.  The central doctrines of the Christian faith are:

  1. The inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture.
  2. One God exists as Trinity.
  3. Jesus is fully God and Man.
  4. Jesus willingly died a substitutionary atoning death.
  5. Jesus resurrected bodily, ascended to heaven, and will return for His people.
  6. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

open-bibleThe Bible – Scripture is God’s inerrant and enduring written revelation that tells us who He is and what He’s accomplished in time and space.  The Bible does not reveal all there is to know about God or His plans and actions, but only what He deems important (Deut. 29:29).  Scripture was written by approximately forty human authors spanning nearly sixteen hundred years.  The human authors—without forfeiting their personal literary style—wrote under the direction and superintending care of God the Holy Spirit (Ex. 17:14; 34:27; Isa. 30:8; Jer. 30:2; Luke 1:3; 1 Cor. 14:37; Rev. 1:11), so that what is written is the inerrant and infallible “word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13; cf. Ps. 12:6-7; Rom. 15:4; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:20).  Some of the various literary styles include historical narrative, law, poetry, psalms, proverbs, parables, and symbolism.  Nearly one fourth of Scripture was/is prophecy.  The Bible is written in propositional terms and understood and accepted by those whom the Holy Spirit illumines (1 Cor. 2:14-16; 2 Cor. 3:14-16; 4:3-4).  Our spiritual sanctification depends on Scripture (John 17:17; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18).  Christians do not worship the Bible, but neither can we worship God without it (John 4:24).

Ancient Diagram of the TrinityThe Trinity – There is one God who exists as three distinct Persons within the Trinity (Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14; 1 Pet. 1:2): God the Father (Gal. 1:1; Eph. 6:23; Phil. 2:11), God the Son (John 1:1, 14, 18; 8:58; 20:28; Col. 2:9; Heb. 1:8), and God the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4; 1 Cor. 2:11-12; 2 Cor. 13:14).  All three are co-equal, co-infinite, co-eternal, and worthy of all praise and service.  The three Persons of the God-head are one in essence (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 43:10; 44:6-8; 45:5, 18).  God is all-knowing (Ps. 139:1-6; Matt. 6:31-33), all-present (Ps. 139:7-12; Heb. 13:5), all-powerful (Job 42:2; Isa. 40:28-29), sovereign (1 Chron. 29:11; Dan. 4:35; Acts 17:24-25), righteous (Ps. 11:7; 119:137), just (Ps. 9:7-8; 19:9; 50:6; 58:11), holy (Ps. 99:9), immutable (Ps. 102:26, 27; Mal. 3:6), truthful (2 Sam. 7:28; John 17:17; 1 John 5:20), loving (Jer. 31:3; 1 John 4:7-12, 16), faithful (Deut. 7:9; Lam. 3:23; 1 John 1:9), merciful (Ps. 86:15; Luke 6:36; Tit. 3:5), gracious (Ps. 111:4; 116:5; 1 Pet. 5:10), and eternal (Deut. 33:27; 1 Tim. 1:17).

Hypostatic Union DiagramThe Deity/Humanity of Jesus – At a point in time, the eternal Son of God added humanity to Himself, simultaneously being God and man, Creator and creature, theanthropic (John 1:1, 14:18; 8:58; 20:28; Col. 2:9; Heb. 1:8).  Jesus is the God-man (John 1:1, 14).  Jesus exists in hypostatic union, as a single Person with a divine and human nature (John 1:1, 14; 1 John 4:2-3), both natures being distinct and preserved, not mixed or confused, fully God and fully man.  The hypostatic union is forever, from conception onward.  Jesus was supernaturally conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary (parthenogenesis – Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:23; Luke 1:26-38), who is the mother of Jesus’ humanity (christotokos – bearer of Christ).  Jesus was born a son of Abraham, in the line David (Matt. 1:1), without a human father and without sin (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5).  The baby Jesus grew in wisdom (Luke 2:40, 52), and lived a sinless and righteous life before God and man.  In His humanity, Jesus walked in perfect conformity to God the Father’s holy character and divine revelation. 

The Cross of ChristSubstitutionary Atonement – God the Son became man that He might redeem fallen humanity from sin and death (Mark 10:45).  The Bible reveals, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7; cf. Col. 1:13-14; 1 Pet. 1:18-19).  In Jerusalem, on April 3, A.D. 33, Jesus willingly laid down His life and died a substitutionary atoning death on a cross (John 3:16; 10:11, 17-18).  He died a death He did not deserve, “the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18).  Jesus’ death forever satisfied every righteous demand God had toward our sin (Rom. 3:24-25; Heb. 10:10-14; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), and is the basis for forgiveness and reconciliation to God (Rom. 5:1-2; 2 Cor. 5:21; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:13-14; 20-22).  Christ died for the sins of everyone (Heb. 2:9; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), but only those who trust Jesus as their Savior will know eternal life (John 3:16, 20:31).  Salvation is never accomplished by what a person does for God, but rather, what God has accomplished for him through the Person and work of Jesus Christ who died for his sins (John 3:16), and gives him eternal life and righteousness (John 10:28; Phil. 3:9).

Empty TombThe Bodily Resurrection, Ascension, and Return of Jesus – After His death on the cross, Jesus was buried and resurrected bodily on the third day (Matt. 20:18-19; Acts 10:39-41; 1 Cor. 15:3-4, 20), never to die again (Rom. 5:9).   After forty days, Jesus ascended bodily to heaven (Acts 1:3-10), with a promise of a physical return (Acts 1:9-11).  The rapture of the church—which precedes Jesus’ Second Coming—is the next prophetic event to occur in history (1 Thess. 4:13-18; Tit. 2:13).  The rapture of the church is a world-changing event in which the bodies of deceased Christians are resurrected (1 Thess. 4:13-18) and the bodies of living Christians are transformed and removed from the world (1 Cor. 15:51-52; 1 Thess. 4:17), meeting the Lord in the air and going to heaven to be with God forever (John 14:1-3).  The rapture will be followed by seven years of worldwide tribulation (Dan. 9:24-27; Matt. 24-25; Rev. 6-20), culminating in the triumphal return of Jesus as the King of kings, and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:11-16).  After His second coming, Jesus will judge the nations of the world (Matt. 25:31-46), and establish a future reign in righteousness in Jerusalem, on the throne of David (2 Sam. 7:12, 16; Ps. 89:36-37; Isa. 9:6-7; Luke 1:31-33; Rev. 20:1-6).  After His reign, Jesus will judge all unbelievers (Rev. 20:11-15), and then make a “new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13; cf. Rev. 21-22).

The Gospel of GraceSalvation by Grace alone, through Faith alone, in Christ alone – Jesus is the only Savior for mankind, for “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Act 4:12).  God’s provision of salvation from eternal death was paid in full by the Lord Jesus Christ who willingly shed His blood and died on a cross, atoning for every human sin.  Because of sin, every person is spiritually dead and powerless to change their situation (Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-3).  Good works have no saving merit (Isa. 64:6; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5).  Salvation is offered to helpless, ungodly, sinners (John 3:16-18; Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-2; 8-9), and is received by grace alone (Rom. 4:1-5; Eph. 2:8-9), through faith alone (Gal. 2:16; 3:26; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5), in Christ alone (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4).  Salvation is “the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8), and is “according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Tit. 3:5).  God has prepared good works to follow our salvation (Eph. 2:10), but they are never the condition of it (Acts 16:30-31; Eph. 2:8-9; 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 3:5).  The matter is simple: Salvation only comes to those who believe in Christ as their Savior (John 3:16; 20:31; Acts 16:30-31). 

Steven R. Cook, M. Div.

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