Episode 25: Sovereignty and Salvation

Sermon text here

This week’s song: Truly You Are the Son of God by the Loverlies

I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about the truth of God’s sovereignty in all things, and in salvation in particular.  Honestly, it serves as a foundation stone of my worship of God.  I am compelled to kneel at the throne of a God who is truly, fully, the King of all creation.  And yet He is not just a distant monarch, some far off potentate who sends in messengers to remind us all that He’s in charge.  He is my King that knows me, that made me, and has His perfect purposes for me.

I talked last week about resting in the finished work of Jesus on the cross.  This truth of God’s sovereignty is the root of that work: because God is king of all things and because He is the one who gives purpose and motion to everything, He can use the most tragic and wicked event of man’s rebellion–regicide–to become instead the perfect payment for sin that covers all those who claim the name of Christ.

So what does that mean to me?  He still seems far off a lot of times.  That can be true, though personally I can only say that when I have been undisciplined in pursuing prayer and the Word, and instead toying with the foolishness of sin.  Yet even in that He hasn’t been far, and has never been slow in answering calls for help.  Day by day we all depend on God’s sovereignty, but how much do we take for granted?

We turn on the news and hear one distressing thing or another, and the temptation is to fret, to fear and worry, to complain.  For the believer this is deadly to our work as “ministers of reconciliation.”  I do not believe that we can both preach a bold and true Gospel that calls all people to turn away from their sin and look to Christ, to the healing and restoration that comes from trusting in Him and His perfect sacrifice, while at the same time engaging in hand-wringing about politics.  Don’t misunderstand: I’m not saying Christians shouldn’t be involved in politics.  But we can vote, and discuss, and disagree, without fearing.  What cause do we have to fear when we have a God who is truly over all and Who has no other who can hope to oppose Him?  We already know the truth:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.–Romans 8:28-30

This is work that is completed and fulfilled in the eyes of the Father, founded on the finished once for all work of the Son, and carried out in our lives through every circumstance by the Spirit.  The holy, just, loving, infinite-personal Trinitarian God of the universe really is in charge.  So, American voters: it’s true that it looks pretty likely that either way we’re going to end up with a wicked ruler.  I would agree with many that we are seeing the judgment of God coming on this land that has embraced so much wickedness.  But even in that we remember that God retains His remnant and cares for them perfectly.  We remember that His Word never goes forth without accomplishing His purpose.  And we remember the bold words of a man whose life ended under a Roman blade:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

 

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.–Romans 8:31-39

So we worship, we work, we rest, and we run the race set before us.  So leave the worry and fear behind, brothers and sisters, and let God’s sovereignty over everything–especially over you–be the constant reminder that leads you to worship and rejoice.

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A more excellent ministry: A response to Dr. Ken Boa (part 3)

Reminder if you’ve forgotten: you can read Dr. Boa’s paper in full here.

There is a greater issue that must be addressed in light of all this, and is the larger reason why I felt this response was necessary: this is an issue of how we, as believers, view Christ’s work on the cross.  As Dr. James White writes in his book The Potter’s Freedom:

[T]he ransom that Christ gives in His self-sacrifice is either a saving ransom or a non-saving one.  If it is actual and really made in behalf of all men, then inevitably all men would be saved.  But we again see that it is far more consistent to recognize that the same meaning for “all men” and “all” flows through the entire passage [referring to 1 Timothy 2:4], and when we look at the inarguably clear statements of Scripture regarding the actual intention and result of Christ’s cross-work, we will see that there is no other consistent means of interpreting these words….[1]

The doctrine of justification by faith is one that requires an understanding of the nature of Christ’s work on the cross.  The book of Hebrews discusses this at length, and while I won’t walk through the multiple chapters of argumentation here, I want to discuss some key texts and encourage my readers to read the whole book for themselves, to see the majestic work of salvation accomplished perfectly for God’s people in Jesus Christ.

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The importance of context: a response to Dr. Ken Boa (part 2)

In this next section I will address what I view as an incorrect use of Scripture to support his assertion, and show how it has led to a conclusion that is arguably not defensible scripturally.  Dr. Boa writes:

Finally, God’s plan is not always the same as His desires. Although His plan controls what men will be, the product often is not what He desires. This is partly because God has chosen to allow human will to operate. For instance, God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4; see also 2 Peter 3:9). Yet He has not elected all men: “… The elect obtained it. The rest were hardened” Rom. 11:7).

Thus, God’s plan and desires are two different aspects of His will. He has revealed His desire (what men ought to do), but His plan for what specific men will do has for the most part been hidden. This is almost a mystery within a mystery, because there is no way we can conceive of how these two aspects of God’s will relate together in His mind.

Now, the concept of the two wills of God–His decretal will, or God’s plan He will carry out in creation, and His prescriptive will, what Dr. Boa calls “what men ought to do”–are not at all foreign to the reformed believer.  One of my first introductions to reformed theology was through a sermon of Matt Chandler’s when I was first in the process of joining the Village Church some years ago called “Are there two wills in God?”  John Piper has a similar teaching available, and of course there is much discussion of this subject in the extensive writings of the reformers, all available for free online.  The difference, however, is that where Dr. Boa sees a conflict, the reformers saw harmony, and this is arguably a key part of the issue of compatabilism.  That is a subject we shall address later, but I argue that Dr. Boa has created division within God that is not warranted.  A big reason for that is the way he is handling some commonly abused texts here.  1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9 are cited here in support of the idea that God’s true desire is to save all of mankind, but I want to demonstrate here that this is not an appropriate exegesis of this text.

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Salvation belongs to the Lord: A response to Dr. Ken Boa (part 1)

This began as a single post I started some time ago, but it has grown until it has simply become far too long for a single blog post, so I’ve decided to carve it up into parts and post more of it as I write it.

I’ve had the opportunity to teach for an ongoing discussion group/class my church has been hosting, going through Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.  I recently was given the opportunity to teach on the doctrine of the Trinity, an opportunity I was extremely excited to take advantage of.  The discussion was good and I was very gratified to spend an extended period walking through large chunks of the Gospel of John to see how the doctrine is revealed by God’s Word: not in a singular verse that says “God is one being made up of three persons,” but by the manner in which God reveals Himself, the perfect cooperation of Father, Son, and Spirit in calling God’s people to Himself in salvation and completing that work perfectly.

And it is about that work, and about that call, that I wish I write.  In our discussion group our leader posted a link to this paper by Dr. Kenneth Boa on the question of God’s sovereignty in salvation versus human responsibility before God.  Dr. Boa says much with which I can agree; it is by no means a thoughtless screed like those so often written against the reformed position, and he goes to great lengths to insure that Scripture is looked at as a whole.  He does not deny God’s election of His people, nor the power of God to save.

Nevertheless, there are a few things I wish to consider in this paper, to discuss at some length and respond to in good faith and brotherly love.  I will argue that Dr. Boa has a tradition that is driving him to certain positions in opposition to what the Scriptures reveal, and I want to try to walk through the relevant texts to demonstrate that.  Not because I have a driving desire to spend my every moment defending reformed theology, but because I take the doctrine of God’s freedom to save His church to His own eternal glory very seriously, and I take just as seriously the doctrine of the depravity of man.

These two doctrines are analogs, they inform each other and are seen, I will argue, very clearly in Scripture: man’s complete inability to turn from his sin and the rule of his desires over his heart to his own ultimate destruction, and God’s perfect ability to take a man in that state of slavery and spiritual death and turn him into a man whose heart beats for the glory of Christ.  I consider myself an example of this by God’s grace, and therefore will say before any reader that the only boasting that will be done here will be done in the cross of Christ.  I believe that Dr. Boa would agree to this as well, and I hope that, should he actually read this, he sees that this is written in a tone of respect and a desire to glorify God by honoring the full measure of God’s revelation.

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