One of the clear teachings of Scripture alone is that our coming to faith alone in Christ alone for our salvation is all by grace alone. Yet it is this very teaching that causes some confusion in people’s minds about God’s sovereignty and our responsibility in the process of salvation. Some are quick to say that God is unfair in choosing some to be saved in Christ and not others. Others suggest that since it is all up to God’s choosing anyhow, why worry about it. If there is nothing we can do, let’s just sit back and let God do his work, if He so wills.
Usually, when I teach on this difficult doctrine I try to highlight both God’s sovereignty and human responsibility by asking people to imagine a closed door through which we must enter. Throughout Scripture we have this constant refrain, call, appeal if you will, for God’s people to choose life, not death (Deut 30:11-20), serve God, not idols (Josh 24:15), turn, repent and live and not die (Eze 33:10-11), repeated calls in the NT for repentance and belief in Jesus Christ; knock and it will be opened etc (Mat 7:7ff), choose rest in Christ rather than slavery (Mat 11:28ff), eternal life rather than eternal punishment (Jn 3:16), life rather than death (Jn 5:24), a call to reconciled unto God (2 Cor 5:20), to mention a few. In all these texts, there is an implied responsibility for us to respond.
Now imagine all these texts and many more are on the one side of this closed door, graciously placed there by the Holy Spirit to call us through the door. When we enter through the door and close it behind us, we see only one text, (Eph 1:4-6) “For the Father chose me, a sinner in Christ before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love, the Father predestined me to be adopted as his child through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will, to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves” [emphasis added].
Now some people feel a little uncomfortable with this analogy, for it seems that you are making the decision to go through the door. In a way that is true but then again, you didn’t place those wonderful texts on the door, calling you to enter through. That remains the gracious work of the Holy Spirit bringing God’s Word to bear on your heart. And even if people do initially think they have had a part to play in entering through the door, does it really matter? It may take such a person another five years or longer to realise that all of it was God’s wonderful grace working through the power of His word and Spirit, that brought them through the door, all to God’s glory alone.
And it is only after God has caused us to enter through the door that we can begin to experience the beauty of knowing Jesus Christ and our salvation in Him and not before. And it is only because we know the beauty of Christ that we continue to implore people to embrace Jesus Christ as Saviour. And it is only after we have been drawn through the door, we can sing with the saints, “I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew; He moved my soul, to seek Him, seeking me; it was not I that found, O Saviour true; no, I was found, was found by You. it was not I that found, O Saviour true; no, I was found, was found by You.” JZ
Have you ever thought about the fact that it is only the pinnacle of God’s creation who can actually say 'no' to God? It is true that all creation groans under the weight of sin, but it is only human beings who can disobey and say 'no' to God.
It is a foolish thing to say ‘no’ to God as Jonah also experienced when he was asked to go to the city of Nineveh. However, it is not only foolish, it is downright dangerous to say ‘no’ to God, for you may not be given too many opportunities to say ‘yes’ to God. God’s patience with the wicked, although long-suffering, is not limitless as was experienced in the days of Noah. Furthermore, there is evidence in Scripture to suggest that if you keep saying ‘no’ to God, He may withdraw His grace and allow your heart to be hardened against Him because of your disobedience.
In Exodus 7:3 we see God hardening Pharaoh’s heart and in Ch 8:15, 19, 32, Pharaoh hardening his own heart towards God. When people continually reject God and His gracious offer to embrace His Son as Saviour and Lord, then there may come a time when the opportunity to obey and embrace the offer of salvation is withdrawn and people will no longer be able to accept and obey.
According to trained children workers, this hardening is similar to what happens to children who have been neglected by their parents. Some parents have never taught their children the true meaning of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ or the way of obedience and hence some children do not know what they are or are not allowed to do. As a result, they do not take authority seriously until the police insist that ‘no’ means ‘No’. Sadly, trained children workers must often admit that such children are no longer teachable. They are hardened.
People who continually refuse to obey God and embrace Jesus Christ as Saviour are playing a dangerous game. While at the beginning they will not believe, in the end they may not be able to believe. The writer to Hebrews regular appeals to his readers, “Today, if you hear His voice do not harden your heart as you did in the rebellion.” According to Scripture, there is a connection to unbelief, disobedience and a hardened heart.
Now before we become judge and executioner, it is only God who knows the process of hardening. It is not up to us to declare that someone has reached the point of no return. In fact, our responsibility is to continue to reach out to the lost with the gospel, even towards those whose membership of the church has lapsed through whatever means. Our first step towards those who are outside of Christ’s kingdom is not condemnation, but a positive, loving, winsome approach with the good news of embracing Christ as Saviour. While doing so, all the time praying that the Holy Spirit would soften their hearts and wills towards the gospel and that they would no longer keep playing the dangerous game of saying ‘no’ and disobeying the good offer of the gospel. JZ
This past week Henk and I attended the Vine Project at the RTC Melbourne campus. Colin Marshall presented a one-day course on how to set up structures that may help in assisting churches in making disciples and hence fulfilling the Great Commission. He mentioned four ‘P’s, “Preaching, prayerful dependence on the Holy Spirit, people – engaging all of God’s people, and patiently persevering” and four ‘E’s, “engaging, evangelising, establishing and equipping.” One church who has started the Vine Project anticipates that it would be a twenty-one-year project. They have changed the name of their small bible study groups to ‘gospel’ groups so that the people attending are continually reminded of their purpose. Colin’s presentation was a timely reminder that churches need to be involved in reaching the lost for Christ. In some ways, Colin’s presentation was like the CRCA’s four-fold-task, set down by Synod some years ago, which also has to reach the lost in mind.
Thankfully, the ‘making of disciples’ is happening to some extent in our fellowship. Yes, it could always be better but that is true of every aspect of ministry. One of the things that perhaps slows our progress with the ‘P’s and ‘E’s and the four-fold-task is the reluctance to embrace another ‘P’, namely the “priesthood of all believers.” Paul reminds us that because of Christ’s once and for all time sacrifice, we have now become “living sacrifices” offering ourselves to the service of our Lord and King (Romans 12:1ff).
It seems we are pretty good at the ‘living’ part, but not always that good at being ‘sacrificial’ which Scripture calls on us to be. The role of being ‘priestly’ (serving sacrificially) is often left up to so few in so many churches. It has become the habit of some to just expect the elders, deacons or even the care-group to do the ‘priestly’ tasks. Sometimes, people will call the minister and ask him to do the ‘priestly’ task when someone is in spiritual or physical need. Of course, the elders, deacons, care-group nor the minister mind being asked to help serve someone in need. But hang on a minute, where has the ‘priesthood of all believers’ just disappeared to?
Just imagine, if each of us just set one hour aside a fortnight to be ‘priestly’ towards a fellow Christian or unbeliever. Be ‘priestly’ and visit someone who needs some encouragement or prayer. Be ‘priestly’ and offer a young couple to babysit for one night so that they can go out as a couple and enjoy dinner together. Be ‘priestly’ and get together with a few other young people and offer to cut the lawns for someone who is struggling. Be ‘priestly’ and go visit someone who is all alone and ask how you could serve them? Yes, it may take some ‘sacrifice’ on your part and it may even cost a dollar or two but that is what “living sacrifices” are called to do.
What does this have to do with the Vine Project? I dare say if Christians were a little more “priestly” it would have a positive impact on the spiritual and physical welfare of a Christian fellowship and our society. It may be used by God to ‘make disciples’ yes, may it be, even for our neighbours. JZ
Often when children are small you have endless ‘why’ questions to answer as a parent. In some way, it is true when it comes to explaining our Christian faith. For example, why did a perfect God allow heaven to have angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home? (Jude 6). Why did God then go and create a universe and a garden in which He placed the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Why did God create human beings that had the ‘free-will’ to obey or disobey him? There is only one short answer concerning these ‘why’ questions and that is the glorious, glorifying resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday morning.
It is helpful when considering the ‘why’ questions to remind ourselves that God’s glory is the goal of creation and all that God has made, including angels and mankind. When God created the angels, He could have created them in such a way that none would ever have fallen from their positions of authority. When God created the universe and this world we live in, He could have created a garden where there was no tree of ‘the knowledge of good and evil.’ When God created mankind, He could have created them with no ‘free-will’ and that they would just be eternally robotic in their obedience.
However, God in His infinite wisdom decided to give His created angels and mankind the ability to choose to obey and love Him. And although we cannot speak concerning angels, it seems that mankind has many reasons to obey and love God. They could love him for the gift of life, and if that was all, then they have more than enough reason to obey and love him. They could obey and love Him for the wonderful environment God created for them. They could obey and love him for His daily provision of their needs. All this and so much more is enough reason for mankind to obey and love their Creator God and give Him the glory which He alone deserves. In fact, mankind had no reason not to obey and love God for He was meeting their every need. Yet, Scripture records that mankind was not satisfied and disobeyed and fell into sin, showing their lack of love for their Creator God.
Thankfully, that is not the end of the matter. God in His immeasurable love, immediately sets about to redeem mankind. He promises the birth of the Saviour, none other than His Own Son. And that is what Easter is all about. God coming to us in the person of His Son, being the perfect sacrifice to redeem all who would come to faith in Him through the gracious work of the Holy Spirit. And now through His death and glorious resurrection, sinners who repent are forgiven and saved unto eternal life. Now we have more reason to obey and to love and glorify God and to sing His praises forever.
It reminds us of the words of John in Revelation 5 of what is happening in heaven now. They sang a new song, “You are worthy...worthy is the Lamb, who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise! ... To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, forever and ever!”
Because of the glorious resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday morning, all the ‘why’ questions are answered. As redeemed people, we join heaven’s chorus and bring praise and honour to our Saviour God, thus glorifying His Name. Not in a robotic fashion but because we love Him for all His wonderful works of salvation. JZ
One thing that I have learnt over the years and continue to learn is the danger of sin when too many words are spoken. On several occasions, I have said things (or even printed words or allowed them to be printed) without giving proper thought as to whether they were admirable or praiseworthy. On some occasions, they ended up giving offence, even when no offence was intended. The words of Proverbs 10:19 spring to mind, “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” James also gives us a timely warning, “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (Jms 1:19-20).
The reality is, that sometimes, some things just don’t need to be said. The words may be true and correct, but they still may not need to be said. If words spoken or even written are not admirable or praiseworthy, then they should not be spoken or published. Paul writes in Eph 4:29, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” I suggest the same rule applies when we publish written material. Paul goes on to say in the very next verse, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
So, should we ever speak the truth or admonish one another? Yes, but we need to do it in love. Paul encourages us to speak the truth in love in Eph 4:15. So, yes, we need to speak the truth, but we need to do it love for only then will they be admirable and praiseworthy. However, if love is missing from our spoken words or written material, then sin will be present and we will be grieving the Holy Spirit within us. No wonder James warns that not many of us should presume to be teachers because those who teach will be judged more strictly (Jms 3:1). Scary!
Perhaps we can learn best from the Chief Shepherd himself who when finally arrested, was mocked, beaten, spat upon and hung on the cross to die like a criminal when it was his right to reign as King. The Prophet Isaiah writes, “…he did not open his mouth; … he did not open his mouth (Isa 53:7) … nor was any deceit in his mouth” (Isa 53:9). On the contrary, Jesus, prayed to His Father to forgive those who had committed this terrible act for they did not know what they were doing (Lk 23:34). Now, that’s a pretty good example to follow. JZ
Nowadays, there is a lot of talk about ‘culture’ and especially how it relates to Christian worship and the gospel in general. The question with which we need to deal is whether our culture drives the gospel or should the gospel drive our culture. It seems to me that the latter is correct, but it is easier said than done. We certainly wish to be relevant to our culture, yet we don’t wish to compromise the pure gospel.
Jesus was born into a culture and presented a refreshing gospel, which was rather radical by the Scribes and Pharisee’s standards. Perhaps we may need to think seriously about how we present the gospel and all that we do as Christians so that we can affect our culture positively as well. And sometimes it may mean thinking ‘outside the square’ a little more than we tend to do.
For many in our present culture, the ‘church’ is a place where you go when there is a wedding or a funeral. For some, ‘church’ is the soup kitchen that is held every Friday evening, or a men’s breakfast or even our own ‘Lifted-Up’ on a Saturday morning. For others, it may be the Christian op-shop. Whatever it is, the reality is that it is at these ‘mission’ events where some non-Christian people gather and have ‘fellowship’ with Christians and each other. And if that is the case, it is important that these small, but important ‘mission’ events are saturated with gospel talk and good, Christian literature.
It seems to me that if we really wish to influence our communities and reach them with the gospel, a lot more thought needs to go into these types of mission ministries and also how we ‘do church’. That doesn’t mean that our normal worship services should be done away with, not at all. There is a time for coming together as the Lord’s people and to worship and just delight in our marvellous God and what He has done for us in Christ. And it is our hope and prayer that some people who come to the mission events will progress and join us in worship.
Yet, we should occasionally ask the hard questions. Why do so many churches struggle to keep their young people? Why don’t more ‘non-Christians’ come off the street and worship with us? Is the building we use for worship aesthetically appealing and welcoming? Maybe it isn’t enough to just have an ‘A’ board outside the steps announcing that we are open. Perhaps it is the seating or the arrangement thereof that hinders the gospel. Perhaps it is our worship style or format, after all, it can be rather monologue at times. All the above are food for thought.
Now I am not suggesting for a moment that we throw out our present structures or the way we worship. Yet, some of these things would be good to think about from time to time. Perhaps a small tweak here and another one there can have a great impact in our endeavours to reach the lost for Christ.
Of course, we all realise that the Holy Spirit needs to change hearts and bring people to Christ. Nevertheless, I have a strong suspicion He uses redeemed sinners like us to bring them to Christ. We just need to make sure that we are not only ready to be the willing instruments in His hand, but ensure that our buildings, furnishings, and structures are not a stumbling block. If they are then we may need to be radical and change some things so that with the Lord’s blessing, we may see the gospel impact our culture for God’s glory. JZ.
Sometimes when we discuss the third mark of the true church as listed in Belgic Confession Article 29 (i.e. the faithful administration of discipline), we could exchange the word ‘discipline’ with ‘love’ for discipline is a sign of love. The disciplining of Church members is always a difficult thing to implement, however, the ruling elders have been given this responsibility. They not only have to ensure the gospel is proclaimed and the sacraments administered, but to also discipline those who are behaving in a way that shows they have no regard for God’s word or live in obedience to it as it reflects the way of salvation in Jesus Christ.
Of course, the process of disciplining members can sometimes take months and even years. Part of the process is for the elders to make regular visits to encourage, implore, caution, warn with tears if necessary, those who are deliberately being disobedient to God’s word to repent and again love Him above all else, especially because of His great love to them in Christ. The ruling elders, as servants of the Chief Shepherd have a responsibility to keep the ‘bride of Christ’, the Church, as pure as can be humanly achieved (Eph 5:21ff). Just as a human bride wishes to stay pure for her future husband (also vice versa), so also, the ‘Bride of Christ’ needs to remain pure for her Husband, just as He who bought her with His own precious life is pure and holy. Hence those who deliberately live a life of sin and have no desire to repent, need to be lovingly disciplined, not unlike a parent disciplining a naughty child.
When little children are naughty, parents who love their children will discipline them. It may mean sending them to their bedroom for some ‘time-out’ or an occasional loving ‘smack’ to correct bad behaviour. In fact, if children are constantly allowed to do what they wish to do without boundaries, then they usually grow up to be teenagers and young adults without boundaries as well, often with vastly more serious consequences to their bad behaviour. As one wise father said, “Better that our children shed a tear when they are small than parents having to shed many tears when they are older.”
What does this have to do with church discipline? As ruling elders, we love our Church members dearly, but we love Christ more. Hence, when the need arises, we lovingly discipline those who are being disobedient so that they may turn and again love the Lord as they promised to do when they professed their faith in the Lord Jesus as Saviour. The Psalmist says that the man is blessed who the Lord disciplines (Psa 94:12). Solomon writes that he who heeds discipline shows the way to life (Pro 10:17).
Now I would be the first to admit that parents and ruling elders get it wrong on occasions with discipline. Sometimes they’re too slow and at other times far too quick. Sometimes they don’t act when they should have and at other times they have acted when they shouldn’t have. Please show patience and forgive them when they err.
Thankfully, our Father in heaven doesn’t get it wrong. The writer to the Hebrews writes, “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.” That’s good news, for none of us would want to miss out on glory due to lack of discipline. What a great sign of our Father’s love that He would lovingly discipline us to make us holy and fit for glory! When the need for loving discipline comes our way from the under-shepherds, may we also receive it as such. JZ.
For some people, the biblical doctrine of election becomes difficult to comprehend since some of our close friends, perhaps even family members that we love, have until now not responded to God’s call on their lives. At other times, we know our own hearts and wonder why God would make Jesus known to us, whilst other people, often morally decent, generous in love and giving, exemplary in behaviour, seem also to be passed over. It seems so unfair.
Well, perhaps we should state from the outset that God would have been perfectly just to pass us all by. Sometimes you will hear people say (even from pulpits), that God thought we were worthy and hence He sent His Son to redeem us. Not only does such thinking rob God of His glory, nothing could be further from the truth. No one is righteous, not even one (Romans 3:9ff). Hence, that God would call any of us to be saved and to enjoy eternity with Him is entirely a work of grace on His part. As Paul reminds us in Romans 5:8ff, “While we were still sinners … while we were still God’s enemies, Christ died for us.” Furthermore, who are wee to accuse God of being unfair? He is the Potter and we are the clay (Read Romans 9:14-26).
Our wonderful election to be God’s children forever is something that occurred in the counsel of God before the foundations of the earth were put in place (Eph 1:4ff). Furthermore, our election is unconditional. God did not look to the future and see that we would be nice people and thought that He should save us. On the contrary, He saw that we were rotten to the core with sin and that without His help, none would be saved unto eternal life.
Now, this doctrine of election is a great blessing and reason for great rejoicing for those of us who are saved and who can rest in the completed work of Christ. Yet, it is tinged with sadness for we see so many people we know, family members, friends, work colleagues, classmates, who are still walking without Christ as Saviour and therefore living in darkness. Should we then, write these people off? Absolutely not!
While they still enjoy God’s breath in their nostrils and while their hearts are still beating, there is hope for their conversion to Christ and salvation. So, let us pray for the world in general and that the Holy Spirit may bring about a great revival. But in our prayers, let us not forget to pray for people we know by name. Let us bring them before the throne of grace and ask for God’s Holy Spirit to quicken them to life. But don’t just pray, ask the Holy Spirit to give you the right words so that you can chat to them about the blessing of knowing Jesus Christ as Saviour in a winsome way (Rom 10:14ff).
Oh, they may not instantly be converted, but perhaps the Holy Spirit will use the gospel seed you have sown and caused it to be watered by someone else and spring it to life at some other point in time. Whatever you do, don’t write them off, for God only knows, that perhaps at a given point in their lives, He may overcome their resistance and answer our prayers and efforts concerning them in a marvellous way.
If God saved us, the unlovable with a love that stretches from everlasting to everlasting in Christ, surely, He can save them too! God knows, we don’t, but they may belong to the elect and are just waiting for us to bring the saving message. So, may we never be accused of just sitting back and writing people off. JZ.
One thing I thought that was interesting recently at our Lifted-Up during the Pako Festa was when some people came for a bacon and egg roll, they were reluctant to accept it for free. Some people even offered to pay for it or at the very least make a donation for the food received. Perhaps these people were reluctant to accept a free bacon and egg roll because they were aware of the saying, “There are no free lunches in this world” for their experience has taught them that there is nearly always a catch.
There are generally two obstacles to people accepting Jesus Christ as their Saviour. First, is coming to terms that forgiveness and salvation are free to receive. So, a sinner needs to come to terms with the fact that they cannot contribute or add to their forgiveness and salvation. They cannot make a monetary payment, not even a donation, indeed, not even their good works in response to the forgiveness and salvation received can be added. As soon as they think they can, they defile the work of Christ. The work of salvation wasn’t free for Jesus for it cost Him is very life, but for us it is free to receive. Yet, that is often where the difficulty lies. Our sinful pride raises its ugly head and thinks, “There are no free lunches in this world – where is the catch? Surely, we must have to donate or pay something towards our salvation! It can’t be for free!” Yes, it is!
Perhaps there is nothing more dangerous to receiving the free gift of forgiveness and salvation in Christ than our self-righteousness. Indeed, unless we come to Christ totally bankrupt of all our own righteousness, aware that we are rotten to the core and have nothing to offer, we cannot be made clean by Christ.
That brings me to the second obstacle when people don’t think they need saving. Sinful pride will not allow them to think that they are totally bankrupt and rotten to the core. Some may even think that they are ‘good’ people and don’t need saving, or worse still if there is a loving God, the onus is on Him to save them because they are so good. In fact, they are so good, they absolutely refuse to take a bacon and egg roll for free and insist on giving at least some loose change!
Scripture teaches that we must come to a point in our lives where we confess that we are “nothing else but sin.” Yet, even to come to a point where there is an acknowledgement of sin and the need for cleansing is a work of grace. Sinful pride will not allow us to make that confession, however, if the gracious Holy Spirit is working in our hearts and lives, it will spring spontaneously from our lips. All the dark, filthy clothes of sin need to be stripped off before we can be clothed with the clean clothes of Christ and be seen righteous in God’s sight. “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Your cross I cling; naked, come to You for dress, helpless, look to You for grace; stained by sin, to You I cry: ‘Wash me, Saviour, or I die.’” JZ.
I would hope that most of us reading this feel blessed to be part of a Christian fellowship. Of course, it is our prayer that we will continue to be a blessing to each other until the day the Lord returns victoriously on the clouds, or alternatively, calls us into His eternal presence some other way.
Sometimes being part of a Christian fellowship means that we need to have ‘awkward’ discussions before we pass into glory. A Pastor was once asked two questions concerning death. First, how many years can we reasonably expect the Lord to give us? He answered by quoting Psalm 90:10, “The length of our days is seventy years or eighty if we have the strength…” Second, what happens if we don’t get to seventy? After some thought, the Pastor replied, “If you are a Christian, early promotion.”
The reality is that unless the Lord returns quickly, the Lord will use various means to call us home, perhaps an accident or sickness or just heart failure that eventually comes with old age. Having said that, did you know some of the best thanksgiving services are held when people have planned their departure to glory before it occurs? So, may I encourage you to give that some thought. Here are some suggestions that you may wish to consider:
Pastor John Zuidema
Since 1997 Pastor John has been ministering to Churches across Australia and New Zealand.