Monday, January 9, 2017

What is repentance and is it necessary for salvation?

Many understand the term repentance (from the Greek word metanoia) to mean “turning from sin.” This is not the biblical definition of repentance. In the Bible, the word repent means “to change one’s mind.” The Bible also tells us that true repentance will result in a change of actions (Luke 3:8-14; Acts 3:19). Acts 26:20 declares, “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” The full biblical definition of repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of action.

What, then, is the connection between repentance and salvation? The Book of Acts seems to especially focus on repentance in regards to salvation (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 11:18; 17:30; 20:21; 26:20). To repent, in relation to salvation, is to change your mind in regard to Jesus Christ. In Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts chapter 2), he concludes with a call for the people to repent (Acts 2:38). Repent from what? Peter is calling the people who rejected Jesus (Acts 2:36) to change their minds about Him, to recognize that He is indeed “Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Peter is calling the people to change their minds from rejection of Christ as the Messiah to faith in Him as both Messiah and Savior.

Repentance and faith can be understood as “two sides of the same coin.” It is impossible to place your faith in Jesus Christ as the Savior without first changing your mind about who He is and what He has done. Whether it is repentance from willful rejection or repentance from ignorance or disinterest, it is a change of mind. Biblical repentance, in relation to salvation, is changing your mind from rejection of Christ to faith in Christ.

It is crucially important that we understand repentance is not a work we do to earn salvation. No one can repent and come to God unless God pulls that person to Himself (John 6:44). Acts 5:31 and 11:18 indicate that repentance is something God gives—it is only possible because of His grace. No one can repent unless God grants repentance. All of salvation, including repentance and faith, is a result of God drawing us, opening our eyes, and changing our hearts. God's longsuffering leads us to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), as does His kindness (Romans 2:4).

While repentance is not a work that earns salvation, repentance unto salvation does result in works. It is impossible to truly and fully change your mind without that causing a change in action. In the Bible, repentance results in a change in behavior. That is why John the Baptist called people to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). A person who has truly repented from rejection of Christ to faith in Christ will give evidence of a changed life (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 5:19-23; James 2:14-26). Repentance, properly defined, is necessary for salvation. Biblical repentance is changing your mind about Jesus Christ and turning to God in faith for salvation (Acts 3:19). Turning from sin is not the definition of repentance, but it is one of the results of genuine, faith-based repentance towards the Lord Jesus Christ.

Recommended Resource: So Great Salvation by Charles Ryrie

Thursday, January 5, 2017

How can I learn to trust that God is in control?

Before we can learn to trust that God is in control of all of life’s circumstances, we have to answer four questions: Is God really in control? How much control does He have? If He is not in complete control, then who/what is? How can I learn to trust that He is in control and rest in that?

Is God really in control? The concept of the control of God over everything is called the “sovereignty” of God. Nothing gives us strength and confidence like an understanding of the sovereignty of God in our lives. God’s sovereignty is defined as His complete and total independent control over every creature, event, and circumstance at every moment in history. Subject to none, influenced by none, absolutely independent, God does what He pleases, only as He pleases, always as He pleases. God is in complete control of every molecule in the universe at every moment, and everything that happens is either caused or allowed by Him for His own perfect purposes.

“The LORD of hosts has sworn, saying, ‘Surely, as I have thought, so it shall come to pass, And as I have purposed, so it shall stand’” (Isaiah 14:24). Nothing is random or comes by chance, especially not in the lives of believers. He “purposed” it. That means to deliberately resolve to do something. God has resolved to do what He will do, and nothing and no one stands in His way. “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please” (Isaiah 46:10). This is our powerful, purposeful God who is in control of everything. That should bring us great comfort and help to alleviate our fears.

But exactly how much control does God have? God’s total sovereignty over all creation directly contradicts the philosophy of open theism, which states that God doesn’t know what’s going to happen in the future any more than we do, so He has to constantly be changing His plans and reacting to what the sinful creatures do as they exercise their free will. God isn’t finding out what’s going to happen as events unfold. He is continuously, actively running things—ALL things—here and now. But to think He needs our cooperation, our help, or the exercise of our free will to bring His plans to pass puts us in control over Him, which makes us God. Where have we heard that lie before? It’s a rehash of Satan’s same old lie from the Garden—you shall be like God (Genesis 3:5). Our wills are only free to the extent that God allows us that freedom and no farther. “All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:35). No one’s free will trumps the sovereignty of God.

Some people find it appealing to think that Satan has control over a certain amount of life, that God is constantly revising His plans to accommodate Satan’s tricks. The book of Job is a clear illustration of just who has the sovereign power and who doesn’t. Satan came to God and, in effect, said, “Job only serves you because you protect him.” So God gave Satan permission to do certain things to Job but no more (Job 1:6–22). Could Satan do more than that? No. God is in control over Satan and his demons who try to thwart God’s plans at every step.

Satan knew from the Old Testament that God’s plan was for Jesus to come to the earth, be betrayed, crucified and resurrected, and provide salvation for millions, and if there was any way to keep that from happening, Satan would have done it. If just one of the hundreds of prophecies about the Messiah could have been caused by Satan to fail to come to pass, the whole thing would have collapsed. But the numbers of independent, “free will” decisions made by thousands of people were designed by God to bring His plan to pass in exactly the way He had planned it from the beginning, and Satan couldn’t do a thing about it.

Jesus was “delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). No action by the Romans, the Pharisees, Judas, or anyone else kept God’s plan from unfolding exactly the way He purposed it from before the foundation of the world. Ephesians 1 says we were chosen in Him before the world was even created. We were in the mind of God to be saved by faith in Christ. That means God knit together Satan’s rebellion, Adam and Eve’s sin, the fall of the human race, and the death and crucifixion of Christ—all seemingly terrible events—to save us before He created us. Here is a perfect example of God working all things together for good (Romans 8:28).

Unlimited in power, unrivalled in majesty, and not thwarted by anything outside Himself, our God is in complete control of all circumstances, causing or allowing them for His own good purposes and plans to be fulfilled exactly as He has foreordained.

Finally, the only way to trust in God’s sovereign control and rest in it is to know God. Know His attributes, know what He has done in the past, and this builds confidence in Him. Daniel 11:32b says, “The people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits.” Imagine that kind of power in the hands of an evil, unjust god. Or a god that really doesn’t care about us. But we can rejoice in our God’s sovereignty, because it is overshadowed by His goodness, His love, His mercy, His compassion, His faithfulness, and His holiness.

But we can’t trust someone we don’t know, and there is only one way to know God—through His Word. There is no magic formula to make us spiritual giants overnight, no mystical prayer to pray three times a day to mature us, build our faith, and make us towers of strength and confidence. There is only the Bible, the single source of power that will change our lives from the inside out. But it takes effort, diligent, everyday effort, to know the God who controls everything. If we drink deeply of His Word and let it fill our minds and hearts, the sovereignty of God will become clear to us, and we will rejoice in it because we will know intimately and trust completely the God who controls all things for His perfect purpose.

Recommended Resource: Trusting God by Jerry Bridges

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

What does it mean to not be ashamed of the Gospel (Romans 1:16)?

In Romans 1, Paul addresses the Gentile believers at Rome and begins by explaining his mission, which was to preach the gospel to everyone. He concludes his explanation by saying, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Romans 1:16–17; cf. Habakkuk 2:4).

The word translated “ashamed” means “disgraced” or “personally humiliated.” A person “ashamed” in this way is like someone singled out for misplacing his confidence—he trusted in something, and that something let him down. The word can refer to being dishonored because of forming the wrong alliances. So, when Paul says that he is not ashamed of the gospel, he is saying his confidence in the gospel is not misplaced. There is no disgrace in declaring it. Paul had given his life to proclaiming the truths that Jesus Himself had revealed to him (Acts 9:3–6; 2 Corinthians 12:2–4). He explained to the Romans why he did not believe that he had wrongly identified with Jesus and why proclaiming Jesus’ message was his life’s work.

The application can extend to us as well. Just as Paul placed his confidence in the gospel of Christ, so can we. We can proclaim with boldness the truths that God has revealed in His Word, with no fear that our confidence is misplaced. “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame” (Romans 10:11; cf. Isaiah 28:16). We can rest in the knowledge that the Holy Spirit who inspired the writing of Scripture never changes (2 Peter 1:21; Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8). What was true thousands of years ago is still true. The offer of salvation that was presented to people of the first century is still open to us (Acts 2:39; John 17:20).

To live unashamed of the gospel means we proclaim it, but it also means we apply it to our lives and show we believe it. Paul’s life choices supported his message. He did not preach one thing and live another. We are “ashamed of the gospel” when we allow sin in our lives to go unchecked (Matthew 3:8). When we indulge in worldliness and carnal desires or blatantly disobey scriptural standards, we indicate that we lack confidence in our own message (1 Corinthians 3:3; 1 Peter 2:11). When we “walk in the counsel of the ungodly, stand in the path of sinners, and sit in the seat of scoffers” (Psalm 1:1), we are being ashamed of the gospel. We are not allowing its truth to penetrate our lives so that others see its changing power. To live unashamed of the gospel means that we, like Paul, allow it to dominate our lives to the extent that everyone within our sphere of influence can see that we have “been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

Recommended Resource: Ashamed of the Gospel: When the Church Becomes Like the World by John MacArthur

Is it true that everything happens for a reason?

The short answer is “yes”; because God is sovereign, there are no random, out-of-control happenings. God’s purposes may be hidden from us, but we can be assured that every event has a reason behind it.

There was a reason for the blindness of the man in John 9, although the disciples misidentified the reason (John 9:1–3). There was a reason for Joseph’s mistreatment, although his brothers’ purpose in what they did to him was very different from God’s purpose in allowing it (Genesis 50:20). There was a reason for Jesus’ death—the authorities in Jerusalem had their reasons, based on evil intent, and God had His, based on righteousness. God’s sovereignty extends even to the lowliest of creatures: “Not one [sparrow] falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will” (Matthew 10:29, NET).

Several factors help us know that everything happens for a reason: the law of cause and effect, the doctrine of original sin, and the providence of God. All these demonstrate that everything does happen for a reason, not just by happenstance or by random chance.

First, there is the natural law of cause and effect, also known as the law of sowing and reaping. Paul says, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7–8). This means that in every action we take or word we utter, whether good or evil, there are certain inevitable results that follow (Colossians 3:23–25). Someone may ask, “Why am I in jail? Is there a reason for this?” and the answer may be, “Because you robbed your neighbor’s house and got caught.” That’s cause and effect.

All that we do is either an investment in the flesh or an investment in the Spirit. We shall reap whatever we have sown, and we shall reap in proportion to how we have sown. “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (2 Corinthians 9:6). The believer who walks in the Spirit and “sows” in the Spirit is going to reap a spiritual harvest. If his sowing has been generous, the harvest will be bountiful, if not in this life, certainly in the life to come. Conversely, those who “sow” to the flesh are going to reap a life without the full blessings of God, both in this life and the life to come (Jeremiah 18:10; 2 Peter 2:10–12).

The reason some things happen can often be traced back to original sin in the Garden of Eden. The Bible is clear that the world is under a curse (Genesis 3:17), which has resulted in infirmities, diseases, natural disasters, and death. All these things, although under God’s ultimate control, are sometimes used by Satan to inflict misery upon people (see Job 1–2; Luke 9:37–42; 13:16). Someone may ask, “Why did I contract this illness? Is there a reason for it?” and the answer may be one or more of the following: 1) “Because you live in a fallen world, and we are all subject to illness”; 2) “Because God is testing you and strengthening your faith”; or 3) “Because, in love, God is disciplining you according to Hebrews 12:7–13 and 1 Corinthians 11:29–30.”

Then we have what is called the providence of God. The doctrine of providence holds that God quietly and invisibly works through the natural world to manage events. God, in His providence, works out His purposes through natural processes in the physical and social universe. Every effect can be traced back to a natural cause, and there is no hint of the miraculous. The best that man can do to explain the reason why things happen in the course of natural events is to point to “coincidence.”

Believers proclaim that God arranges the coincidences. The unbeliever derides such ideas because he believes natural causes can fully explain each event without reference to God. Yet followers of Christ are wholly assured of this profound truth: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

The book of Esther shows divine providence at work. The banishment of Vashti, the selection of Esther, the plot of the assassins, the pride of Haman, the courage of Mordecai, the insomnia of the king, the bloodlust of Zeresh, and the reading of the scroll—everything in the book happens, like cogs in a well-oiled machine, to bring about the deliverance of God’s people., Although God is never mentioned in Esther, His providence, working through “coincidence,” is plain to see.

God is always at work in the lives of His people, and in His goodness will bring them to a good end (see Philippians 1:6). The events that define our lives are not simply products of natural causes or random chance. They are ordained by God and are intended for our good. We often fail to sense God’s hidden guidance or protection as events in our lives unfold. But, when we look back at past events, we are able to see His hand more clearly, even in times of tragedy.

Recommended Resource: Cure for the Common Life: Living in Your Sweet Spot by Max Lucado