Letting God Be God

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Letting God Be God

James R. Aist

“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10)

I don’t know about you, but I have had a difficult time surrendering everything – I mean everything – to the sovereignty of God. Now, I’m not talking about mental assent only; even that’s hard enough at times. No, I’m talking about mental assent plus the “no strings attached” submission and obedience to God’s sovereign will that makes mental assent genuine. This “letting God be God” is what I want us to think about for the next few minutes, and it’s one of the most important matters that we need to settle with God, once and for all, as discussed elsewhere (click HERE).

God has made it abundantly clear who is in charge, “Whatever the Lord pleases, He does in heaven and on earth (Psalm 135:6).” He also commanded us to relax and let Him be God, “Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10).” And how do we let Him do this? By trusting God to know best how to accomplish His will on earth and getting out of His way so that He can do it without our interference!

The Apostle Paul addressed this issue head on, saying “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you (1 Thessalonians 5:18, italics mine).” In other words, whatever happens to you, accept it as God’s sovereign will for you; He has allowed it, so maintain an attitude of thanksgiving toward God regardless of what comes your way. Now, I know this is a hard saying, but we have several good examples in the Bible where this high regard for the sovereignty of God in the face of severe testing is illustrated for us: 1) Job said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:20-22);” 2) Abraham agreed to sacrifice his son Isaac at God’s instruction, and would have gone through with it (Genesis 22:1-3); and 3) Jesus said, “Nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done (Luke 22:41-43).” Submitting ourselves to God’s sovereign will does not mean excusing ourselves when the going gets rough! After all, “For he who is called in the Lord while a servant is the Lord’s freeman. Likewise, he who is called while free is Christ’s servant. You were bought at a price. Do not be the servants of men. Brothers, let every man, in whatever condition he is called, remain there with God (1 Corinthians 7:22-24, italics mine).”

So then, what’s in it for us? Well, how about peace with God? I submit that peace with God comes when we accept, with joy, all that He allows to happen to us. Moreover, can we agree that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him (John Piper)?” And, that is why we were created in the first place, to glorify God (click HERE).

Finally, to balance out this discussion, let me point out that I am not suggesting that God wants us to just accept every evil thing that comes our way without asking Him to come to our rescue, if that is His will. No, we are instructed to Cast all your care upon Him, because He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).” That’s exactly what Paul did regarding his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7), and it’s what Jesus did concerning the kind of death He was about to suffer (Mathew 26:39). And, sometimes, like both Jesus and Paul, God may say “No.” But, I believe, God is always pleased that we asked and glorified by our asking, regardless of the answer. Furthermore, by asking in sincerity and humility, we are demonstrating that we are willing to accept whatever God’s sovereign will is in the matter. So, let us not be among those who “…have not because you ask not (James 4:2).”

(To read more of my articles with a biblical theme, click HERE.)

On “Assurance”

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On “Assurance”

James R. Aist

“The God who conforms our will to His will in order to save us (John 6:44), is the God who keeps our conformed will conformed to His will in order for us to remain saved (Philippians 2:13).”

The Christian doctrine of “assurance” refers to the absolute certainty that whoever God saves will remain saved and will inherit eternal life. The question then arises, “Upon whom does this absolute certainty depend, the one whom God saved or the God who saved him?” Many Christians believe that, because God never cancels our natural-born, misaligned, will to make choices, a born-again Christian can exercise that same free will to abandon his saving faith, deny Christ and forfeit his inheritance of eternal life with God in heaven. And, they believe that many choose to do just that. Other Christians believe, instead, that the God who saved them is the same God who will keep them saved, while not cancelling their freedom to use their, now realigned, will. And they believe that no one who is truly saved (i.e., born again) will abandon his saving faith, deny Christ and forfeit his inheritance of eternal life with God in heaven. So, which, if either, of these two opposing views is better supported by the biblical witness, and which offers genuine assurance? Following are 21 of the most direct and to-the-point Scriptures that I believe, when taken together and in context, provide an answer to this question, followed by my commentary on each:

Ezekiel 36:26-27 “Also, I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.”

Commentary: God is describing here some of the awesome details of the “born-again” experience that true believers in His promised Messiah (Jesus Christ) will undergo (click HERE for details). Note that God says that He will “cause” them to obey His statutes and that they “will” keep His judgments. In other words, the born-again believer will obey, and continue to obey, God, because God will cause him to do so, not because they will choose, of their own volition, to do so. Surely God’s statutes and judgments include salvation (cf., John 6:39-40); thus, God himself will keep them saved.

John 6:44 “No one can come to Me unless the Father who has sent Me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”

Commentary: Since Jesus will (not just can or may, but will) raise him up on the last day, he will not, even if he could, abandon his saving faith, deny Christ and forfeit his claim to eternal life with God in heaven.

Philippians 2:12-13 “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but so much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For God is the One working in you, both to will and to do His good pleasure.”

Commentary: Once you are saved, God himself works inside you to will to remain saved; that would certainly qualify as “His good pleasure”, would it not? Your will remains free to decide, but because your will is now realigned with God’s will, you have only one desirable choice and you’re “good” with that. So, “free will” becomes, in effect, a moot point, because you won’t ever want to abandon your saving faith, deny Christ and forfeit your inheritance of eternal life with God in heaven.

John 6:39-40 “This is the will of the Father who has sent Me, that of all whom He has given Me, I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Commentary: The Father’s will is that none (not some or most, but none) will be lost. Jesus will (not just can or may, but will) raise him up on the last day, because he will not abandon his saving faith, deny Christ and forfeit his inheritance of eternal life with God in heaven. Moreover, “everyone” whom God saves will stay saved, every one, and Jesus will raise all of them up on the Last Day…all of them.

John 10:28 “I give them eternal life. They shall never perish, nor shall anyone snatch them from My hand.”

Commentary: Never means never, and nor means nor, period! All who are saved will persevere to the end.

John 17:11b-12a, 20 “Holy Father, through Your name keep those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are one. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. I have kept those whom You have given Me. I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word…”

Commentary. Jesus is the one who “kept” the disciples saved while He was still alive in the world; they did not keep themselves saved. Here, Jesus asks the Father to keep them saved after He returns to heaven. So, who keeps us saved? Jesus’ Father, that’s who; we do not keep ourselves saved.

1 Corinthians 10:13 “No temptation has taken you except what is common to man. God is faithful, and He will not permit you to be tempted above what you can endure, but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

Commentary: God is faithful, and He has promised (elsewhere) to keep you saved. He will do that by limiting the temptations that you may experience and providing a way of escape, if necessary. Thus, God will control the influences that might otherwise convince you to abandon your saving faith, deny Christ and forfeit your inheritance of eternal life with Him in heaven.

1 Corinthians 1:8 “He will strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Commentary: God himself will strengthen you until the day of our Lord (i.e., to the end), so that you will not abandon your saving faith, deny Christ and forfeit your inheritance of eternal life with God in heaven.

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 “May the very God of peace sanctify you completely. And I pray to God that your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, who also will do it.”

Commentary: Simply put, the same God who saved you is the One who will also preserve (i.e., keep) you until the second coming of Jesus Christ.

John 8:31 “Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you remain in My word, then you are truly My disciples.”

Commentary: This verse is often passed over lightly, without really seeing the full implication of it. Jesus is implying that, of those “who believed Him”, those who truly accepted the Gospel are the ones who will remain saved (i.e., “in My word”). In other words, a true disciple will remain a disciple, and those who do not remain in His word are not truly disciples of His, but only appear to be. A parallel point was made more explicitly by John himself in 1 John 2:19, next.

1 John 2:19 “They went out from us, but they were not of us, for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have remained with us. But they went out, revealing that none of them were of us.”

Commentary: Here, John is speaking of  “antichrists”, those who denied Christ and left the fellowship of true believers. These folks appeared to be true believers, but they showed that they were not by denying Christ and walking away. True believers, on the other hand, will not deny Christ and walk away.

Romans 11:29 “For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.”

Commentary: This is a general truth, and Paul is applying it here to make the point that the Jews will, someday, also put their faith in the Messiah (Jesus) and be saved. Since this is a general truth, it also applies to the calling of all people to God and the gifts (i.e., grace, saving faith and salvation) given to them when they are converted; thus, salvation is not revocable, but permanent.

Philippians 1:4-6 “In every prayer of mine for you all, I have always made requests with joy, due to your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ.”

Commentary: The God who saved you is the One who will keep you saved until the day of Jesus Christ (i.e., the end). God will finish what He started!

Romans 8:34-39 “Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, yes, who is risen, who is also at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities nor powers, neither things present nor things to come, neither height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Commentary: Paul says that there is no outside influence whatsoever that can take our salvation from us (separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord). But what about our misaligned will; can’t we use that to separate us? Paul said “No”, when he included “any other created thing” in the list, because we are created things! So, nothing and no one – not even we, ourselves – can cause ourselves to revoke our salvation. Besides, the will of the saved has been realigned to agree with the will of God, and there will no longer be any incentive to disobey God.

Ephesians 1:13-14 “In Him you also, after hearing the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and after believing in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory”, with…

Ephesians 4:30 “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you are sealed for the day of redemption” with…

1 Corinthians 1:21-22 “Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and established the guarantee with the Spirit in our hearts.”

Commentary: Taken together, these previous three passages say that the Holy Spirit, dwelling in every true believer, seals our salvation and guarantees that we will not lose it, ever, and certainly not by an act of our realigned will.

1 Peter 1:3-5 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an incorruptible and undefiled inheritance that does not fade away, kept in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

Commentary: The power of God protects us, through faith, from denying Christ and losing our eternal inheritance. The God who saved us is the One who will keep us, by His power.

Hebrews 10:38-39 “Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who draw back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the saving of the soul.”

Commentary: Here, the writer is making it clear that those who shrink back do not have saving faith, whereas, those who do not shrink back have saving faith. He is not saying that true believers can or will shrink back or fall away. (Compare this to 1 John 2:19, above.)

Jude 24 “Now to Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with rejoicing…”

Commentary: God is able to keep you from “falling” (i.e., denying Jesus and revoking your salvation). So, if God is able to keep you saved, then would He not, in fact, do it? After all, it is His will that you remain saved (John 6:39-40). God both saves you and keeps you saved.

My Conclusions: In view of the considerable, clear and direct biblical evidence presented above, I conclude that it is, ultimately, God who keeps us saved, and that it is not primarily by the power of our own efforts that we will endure to the end, but by the power and the will of God working in us and for us. In other words, once God has saved us, He so re-enforces our will to remain saved that we will, in fact, remain saved. The God who conforms our will to His will in order to save us, is the God who keeps our conformed will conformed to His will in order for us to remain saved. He does this through various means, including the work and witness of the Holy Spirit in us, the continued preaching of His word to us, the witness of other believers to us and continued warnings to us to not “fall away.”

Genuine Assurance: So, which version of assurance offers absolute certainty for the true believer? If the saved person is able to renounce his faith in the divinity of Jesus and lose his salvation, then his is only a hope of assurance, a hope that is contingent upon his own power and strength to retain his saving faith. His eternal security is only as secure as his faith is. I liken this, somewhat, to a letter in the mail that says on the outside of the envelope, “Congratulations, you are the winner of $5,000 a week for life!” But, when you read the letter inside, it says “…if yours is the lucky number to be drawn soon.” You have to wait until the drawing to find out whether or not you have won, and you cannot guarantee that you will win anything! What kind of a God would go to such lengths and pay such a price to draw us and save us, only to leave it entirely up to us to keep ourselves saved? On the other hand, if, as the Bible says, the saved person is protected by the power of God and given the Holy Spirit as a guarantee that he will never renounce his faith in the divinity of Jesus and lose his salvation, then his is an absolute certainty – that is to say, real assurance – from the day of his salvation right on into eternity. His eternal security is as secure as God is faithful. Put another way, “Your faith will not fail while God sustains it; you are not strong enough to fall away while God is resolved to hold you.” (J.I Packer in “Knowing God”). Now, I don’t know about you, but I would much rather have God in charge of my assurance than me; He is far more trustworthy, faithful and able to keep me saved than I am!

Benefits and Potential Pitfalls: I have found that a right understanding and acceptance of this doctrine of assurance confers true peace with God and guaranteed security in my right standing with Him from the moment God saves me right into eternity. Such peace and security are true blessings of immense value to the born again believer. But, this same doctrine can easily be misconstrued to, seemingly, give us license to sin all the more, because of God’s abounding grace (Romans 5:20). To this erroneous manner of (wrong) thinking the Apostle Paul declares emphatically, “God forbid!” (Romans 6:2, 15). How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? And in Galatians 6:7-8, he issues this warning, “Be not deceived. God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” The fact that this doctrine can be misunderstood and abused does not diminish, in any way, either its validity or its blessings to the one who understands and practices it rightly.

(To read more of my articles on biblical topics, click HERE.)

On “Falling Away”

Jesus Rescues Sheep

On “Falling Away”

James R. Aist

“I never knew you.” – Jesus (Matthew 7:23)

“Falling away” (and its variants) is a term found several times in the New Testament to denote the abandoning of one’s Christian faith and/or practice. It is routinely used as biblical evidence that a Christian may abandon his faith and forfeit his salvation. But, is the mention of falling away really evidence of such a spiritual disaster, or could it be an indication of something far less devastating or even a blessing?

To “rightly divide the word of God” on this matter, I believe that we must first understand that the apparent make-up of the “church” includes both those who are truly born again and those who only appear (to us) to be born again. This was true of the New Testament church as well: Jesus used the Parable of the Sower to teach that some who heard and received the Gospel would later “fall away” when persecution came (Matthew 13:21 and Mark 4:17). With this in mind, we can begin to understand why so many “churchgoers” today seem to be born again and on their way to heaven, only to, later on, deny Christ and forfeit their salvation? I believe that the Bible provides us the answer to this question, if we are willing and able to accept it.

Jesus said, “I know My sheep…” (John 10:27) and also “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonderful works in Your name?’ But then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from Me, you who practice evil’” (Matthew 7:22-23). In other words, these churchgoers were not among His “sheep” (i.e., those whom the Father had given to Him), and so, He never knew them (i.e., they were not really born again). John declared a similar condition of the “antichrists” that left their fellowship when he wrote, “They went out from us, but they were not of us, for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have remained with us. But they went out, revealing that none of them were of us” (1 John 2:19). The writer of Hebrews also expresses this same understanding of the two categories of “churchgoers”: “Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who draw back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the saving of the soul” (Hebrews 10:38-39).” He is speaking here of those among the churchgoers who have saving faith and persevere as opposed to those who do not have saving faith and draw back (i.e., fall away). Only those who are born again have saving faith and endure to the end. Finally, in His parable about the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14), Jesus is talking about what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. In that parable, the King cast out of the wedding hall the “many” that came, but did not have on the proper wedding attire. Everyone, “both bad and good”, had been invited and brought to the wedding banquet, but these had not been “chosen.” Only the “few” who had been chosen were properly attired and allowed to stay and participate in the festivities. Once again, we see two categories of people – those who had been chosen (born again) and those who had not – all attending the same “church gathering.” Taken together, these passages all point to the Kingdom of Heaven (i.e., the churchgoers) as being comprised of both truly saved, born-again believers and unsaved, non-believers who are not born again though they may appear to be. We cannot know, with certainty, the one from the other unless they “fall away.” Then we can know for sure that they were not truly one of us and that they were not really born again, because, if they had been, then they would not have left us (1 John 2:19). Thus, those who only appear to be born again will seem to fall away and, thereby, they will appear to have forfeited their salvation. However, people cannot forfeit what they never really had, can they?

There is another scenario in which one may appear to have “fallen away” when, in fact they may not have. (This is an important distinction that merits our serious consideration.) This scenario is what we usually refer to these days as “backsliding.” When a truly born-again Christian stops attending church and begins to live as though he is not a believer, we may say that he has “backslidden”, because of the blatant disobedience to God that has become evident in his life style. And we would be accurate in saying that. But a backslidden person has not necessarily also denied Christ in his heart and thus revoked his salvation. Perhaps he has become, just for a season, a “carnal Christian,” and will soon begin living like a believer once again, having never denied Christ in his heart. Such a person would be like the one sheep who went astray out of 100 in the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:3-6); this one sheep still belonged to the man, even while he was astray for a while. Furthermore, we must not forget that even born-again believers still sin, and God has given us the remedy: confession with repentance (1 John 1:8-10).

Finally, there are several Scriptures that warn against “falling away”, and many people have taken them to imply that a born-again believer may, in fact, reject and abandon his saving faith and lose his salvation. At first glance, there may seem to be no other way to explain why such warnings appear in the New Testament.  But, in my view, those who reach such a conclusion are asking the wrong question. I doubt that anyone denies that the one who perseveres in the faith to “the end” will be saved.  The telling question, however, is “Who keeps him in the faith to the end, the saved person or the God who saved him? When one takes into account what the Bible teaches about how God draws unbelievers to Jesus to save them in the first place (John 6:44), a more biblically consistent and entirely plausible explanation then comes to light. As we know, God uses the preaching and teaching of the Gospel (including both the “bad news” about the wages of sin being an eternity of torment in hell and the “good news” about forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ) to bring unbelievers to saving faith (Romans 10:14-15). That being so, why, then, would He not use similar preaching and teaching as helps to preserve their saving faith “to the end”? I submit that it should, therefore, come as no surprise that there are several Scriptures that warn against “falling away.” In fact, I would be surprised if the New Testament did not include such warnings.

(To read more of my articles on biblical topics, click HERE.)

Keeping the Sabbath

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Keeping the Sabbath

James R. Aist

“For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” – Jesus

There seems to be some confusion within the modern Christian community concerning the commandment to “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). We cannot just ignore this commandment, since it is the Fourth of the Ten Commandments, but do we have to follow it, like the Old Testament Jews did? Let’s see if the New Testament provides clear instructions concerning this question.

Jesus’ Teachings

In Matthew 12:8, Jesus said, “For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” The clear implication here is that whatever Jesus said about the Sabbath is true and allowable for all, regardless of prevailing Jewish tradition. Jesus also said that “…it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:12).” It would seem to follow, then, that “doing good” would include enjoying the blessings and favor of God on the Sabbath and giving Him praise and glory for them. And, in Mark 2:27, Jesus declared that “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” In other words, the Sabbath was given to benefit man, not to rule over him. Thus, healing the sick, tending livestock, and harvesting grain (to use some of the examples used against Jesus to charge him with breaking the Law), as well as doing any “good” thing, such as teaching in the synagogue (Luke 13:10 and Acts 18:4), are allowed on the Sabbath.

Paul’s Teachings

In Colossians 2:14-21, Paul wrote: “He blotted out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us and contrary to us, and He took it out of the way, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed authorities and powers, He made a show of them openly, triumphing over them by the cross. Therefore let no one judge you regarding food, or drink, or in respect of a holy day or new moon or Sabbath days. These are shadows of things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Do not let anyone cheat you of your reward by delighting in false humility and the worship of angels, dwelling on those things which he has not seen, vainly arrogant due to his unspiritual mind,  and not supporting the head, from which the entire body, nourished and knit together by joints and sinews, grows as God gives the increase. Therefore, if you died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you subject yourself to legalistic rules?  “Do not touch! Do not taste! Do not handle!” These all are to perish with use and are aligned with the commandments and doctrines of men (Italics mine).” Read carefully and you will see three key and telling points made here: 1) Jesus nailed to the cross the traditional, Jewish requirements re. the Sabbath; 2) the traditional, Jewish requirements re. the Sabbath were mere shadows of things to come, so they perished after they had served their purpose among the Old Testament Jews (i.e., when Jesus, who is the substance of these requirements, appeared); and 3) the Sabbath requirements are no longer in effect for those who are in Christ Jesus, including both Jews and Gentiles; they have expired.

Conclusions

So, are we required to follow the practices of the Old Testament Jews concerning the Sabbath? The biblical answer is, emphatically, “No!” [For the record, this is why the New Testament church felt free to change the “worship day” of the Christian church from Saturday to Sunday (Acts 20:7)]. But, does this mean that we should ignore the Sabbath entirely? I don’t think so. God established the seventh day as a day of rest for mankind (Exodus 20:9-10 and 23:12), and as such, a weekly Sabbath would certainly serve us well, in accord with Mark 2:27, and it would be exercising wisdom. Moreover, the Judaic and Christian practice of gathering for worship on the day of rest is a way of obeying Hebrews 10:25 which says, “Let us not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but let us exhort one another, especially as you see the Day approaching.” So, let us remember the Sabbath by observing a weekly day of much-needed rest and by assembling together regularly to give God all the glory that is due Him. As Christians, these two practices should be our custom.

(To read more of my biblically based articles, click HERE.)