Ongoing Application

We believe that God saves sinners. We believe that the Father elected a people for His Son forever ago, that the Son laid down His life to pay for the sins of His people a while ago, and that the Holy Spirit grants new life and repentance and faith any time ago. Our sovereign, triune God designed, obtained, and fulfills all His saving work when He wants.

Because we believe that God drives salvation and that His eternal will cannot be derailed, we might ask, “When is a man saved?” Is he saved when God chose him? Is he saved when Christ rose from the grave for him? Is he saved when he confesses Christ as Lord and Savior? Is he saved when Christ returns and takes him to glory?

A man elected by God cannot not be saved. But from that man’s perspective, he cannot know that he is in that group unless he believes in Jesus. He can’t claim redemption without repentance. John Murray distinguishes between two works of God in his book, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied. Christ does not need to die again, but the Holy Spirit does need to apply Christ’s work at the appointed time. How will we know when it has been applied? The sign is repentance and faith in Jesus.

Even as believers who worship by confessing our sins each week, we don’t do it because we are uncertain about the outcome of Christ’s sacrifice. We seek forgiveness and restoration to fellowship as an ongoing application of the Son’s work. Humble admission demonstrates the Spirit’s ongoing work, and that should encourage us that God’s eternal plan is alive and being written out among us.

Lectures on Calvinism Audio Book

Here is a fantastic audio book for Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism.

*Abraham Kuyper has become a good friend the last couple years. His book on worship made me wonder why I’d never considered the potency of liturgy. George Grant’s lecture still fires me up to run toward the roar every time I relisten. I enjoyed James McGoldrick’s biography and the new study by James Bratt should be delivered to my house tomorrow.

Kuyper’s own Lectures on Calvinism continues to open my eyes as well. Our elders read through it together and I’m already rereading. A PDF is free, a Kindle copy is cheap, a print edition always carries heft. One of the men in our church, Glenn Wainright, recently recorded his reading of the book as a labor of love. If you prefer to listen, then now you can (and should) enjoy the audio book for free.

Chosen for Humility

Even Calvinists need to be humble. I preached all the way through John chapter 6 without using the word Calvinism once, though I most assuredly taught the truths from John 6 that Calvinism seeks to summarize. The Father chose a group of people to give to His Son. The Son gave His life, His flesh, for that group. The Spirit brings that group to life, giving them the desire to come to the Son. Each person in the group is guaranteed to be raised on the last day.

Not a one of them deserved it. They were hungry and Christ fed them. They could only behold Christ through unbelief until the Spirit opened their eyes. They were prone to walk away, and all of them would have except that Christ keeps them.

Peter’s affirmation of truth (in verses 68 and 69) was met by Jesus with another affirmation: Peter (and the staying disciples) believed because they were chosen (verse 70). There was no place for presumption, no place for uppityness, no reason to pat themselves on the back for theology well spoken. But for the grace of God they would have walked away with “many of His disciples” (verse 66).

Our time at the Lord’s table is similarly humbling. We affirm our belief that His sacrifice for sins is our only hope. We confess our personal trust in Christ when we eat and drink. We share a meal of peace with God and with God’s people. And the fact that we can do so says more about God than about us. But for the grace of God, we would walk away from the Table, not towards it.

We have every reason to be humbly thankful. We have every reason to boast in Christ. We have every reason to come to Him. He chose us for Himself.

Initiated without Our Interest

We love God because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). We live because He lives and we have eternal life because His Spirit breathed life into our souls. We rejoice in response to His initiating and effective grace.

Gospel is a one-word name for the New Covenant which is a two-word name for God’s eternal, Triune love story. From the first chapter to the last, the story is all about how He goes first. All things are from Him and then through Him and back to Him. Not only do we blow it when it is up to us, we don’t even have the brainwaves to know that we were blowing it or to care without God as antecedent.

Adam and Eve, with Adam representing all of humanity, ran and hid in shame after sinning. Adam’s sense of shame was a grace as God made man in His image; even conviction was something the pot was not entitled to. Adam did not draw near to God after he disobeyed. Adam did not seek forgiveness and reconciliation. He did not start preparing a sacrifice. Had not God gone and sought them, their bones would still be behind those bushes. God did not wait for them to cry out to Him.

Jesus did not wait for the Jews to cry out for Him. He clothed Himself with flesh to give life to the world (John 6:51), but not because the world wanted Him to. Jesus died on the cross, but not because we asked Him to. It wasn’t our idea, it wasn’t our petition. All we did was need Him to do.

The bread and the cup were prepared for us. Peter explained that Jesus was the spotless Lamb foreknown before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:19-20). Through Him we are believers in God, who raised Christ from the dead and gave His Son glory, so that our faith and hope are in God (1 Peter 1:21). He did not wait for us to draw near. The Incarnation and Redemption were planned, initiated, and executed without our interest or input. Then He let us hear His voice calling. Now He invites us to come by faith and be filled because He came to seek and save the lost.

The Same God

Many who love to profess their love of God’s sovereignty struggle to profess their love of God’s love. Perhaps that’s because it is easier to be proud about knowing that He’s sovereign, which is quite an ugly cacophony if you think about it. Nevertheless, if He acts for His own name (and He does), if He seeks His own glory (and He does), then how could He be for us? How can we know He loves us?

Yes, God controls everything. Yes, God punishes those who will not praise His infinite excellencies. But the same God who told us that He is omnipotent also told us that He is love. The creation story reveals God’s love for His image-bearers as He couldn’t wait to show them all He’d made for them. The Incarnation puts love into flesh and bones. The Word came who into the world because He loved the Father and those the Father was giving Him.

How do we know it was done by love? Look at the Lord’s Table. The Son gave His flesh, gave His life so that we who believe might share His life and know His love. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). The bread and the cup represent life laid down and that represents love.

God is autonomous; He has no need for others. His glory is untouchable; we cannot steal it away from Him. And yet the Father sent His only Son as a sacrifice to save and secure all those given to Him. Here is love vast as the ocean. Here is life in Jesus. Come to Him and commune with Him and He will raise you up on the last day.

Calvinism as Guaranteed Fellowship

On Calvinism as a life-system, or worldview, that explains how men relate to God’s eternal purpose:

Calvinism takes its stand with a fundamental thought which is equally profound. It does not seek God in the creature, as Paganism; it does not isolate God from the creature, as Islamism; it posits no mediate communion between God and the creature, as does Romanism; but proclaims the exalted thought that, although standing in high majesty above the creature, God enters into immediate fellowship with the creature, as God the Holy Spirit. This is even the heart and kernel of the Calvinistic confession of predestination.

In other words, our enjoyment of eternal life is part of God’s eternal plan to share His eternal life with us. Among other things, His eternal life is Triune communion, and Calvinism summarizes His intent to share communion with men. This is good news, and it is the “mother thought” of all God’s “heroes and heralds.”

[P]redestination was inexorably maintained, not for the sake of separating man from man, nor in the interest of personal pride, but in order to guarantee from eternity to eternity, to our inner self, a direct and immediate communion with the Living God.

—Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 21.

Theology to Justify Rebellion

There are at least two corrupt ways to witness about Christ to others that we must confess. The first sinful approach is thinking that witnessing depends on us. The second sinful attitude is thinking that witnessing doesn’t depend on us. Stated as such, we’re always in sin; so is there a way out after we confess?

It is sinfully proud to think that our timing, our tone, our terms make the difference in evangelism. Spiritual darkness and deadness are spiritual conditions that only God’s Spirit’s can overcome. God causes men to be born again, and we can no more make someone a child of God than a doctor can make a baby have life. God is not impressed when we act like we can do His job.1

Likewise, it is sinfully proud to think that we have no responsibility whatsoever in evangelism. This pride masquerades as humility, but this modesty poorly masks disobedience to God who commands His people to make disciples, to proclaim the gospel, to defend the eternal hope within them. God is not impressed when we use theology to justify our rebellion.2

Pride may open our mouths or keep them shut, but it must be confessed as sin either way. So how can we witness and not sin? How can we be bold without getting big heads? By believing Him.3

Belief is the problem in both. In the first case, belief is misdirected, put in a place He didn’t say to put it. In the second case, belief is partial, not held in all the ways He did say to hold it. As we call men to believe, we need to be examples of believers even in what we believe about our place and God’s place in calling them to believe.


  1. Pelagian and semi-Pelagian/Arminian evangelizers should confess their sin.
  2. Hyper-Calvinist non-evangelizers should confess their sin.
  3. There is only one other soteriological paradigm for evangelism that honors God’s sovereignty and man’s responsbility.

Inspiration

Series | Inside the Walls

Creation begins to make the case for the giving essence of God’s authority. The incarnation of His Son also demonstrates willing exposure of His sovereign Self. In both creation and the incarnation, God shows not only who He is, but also what His goal is with us: fellowship. The revelation of His Word is the third aspect that demonstrates the purpose of disclosed truth and the inviting nature of true authority.

Inspiration

The Scriptures reveal God’s righteousness and our unrighteousness. The law stops every mouth and makes every man accountable to God (Romans 3:19). None are righteous, no one understands, no one seeks God, there is no fear of God before our eyes (Romans 3:10-11, 18). The Bible exposes our weakness, our ungodliness, our rebellion, and our deadness (Romans 5:6, 10; Ephesians 2:1-3).

But the Word doesn’t see our deadness and mock us. It sees us dead and raises us to life. We “have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God, for ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever. And this word is the good news that was preached to you'” (1 Peter 1:23-25). The Word wields authority for our life.

David wrote about the potency of special revelation to change us for good.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
Psalm 19:7-11

Paul wrote about the efficacy of “the word of His grace” to protect and establish us.

I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:29-32)

The Word saves, the Word sanctifies, the Word builds. Authoritative truth seeks our good. Paul loved the truth, he wanted the Ephesians to be alert for the truth, and he gave himself ceaselessly and affectionately so that they might have the truth. Why? Because truth invites life. Revelation invites relationship with God (and with each other). Carl Henry’s second thesis was:

Divine revelation is given for human benefit, offering us privileged communion with our Creator in the kingdom of God. (God, Revelation, and Authority, Vol 2, 30)

That’s the authoritative Word at work for us, not against us or in spite of us or at a distance from us. Truth works and wins us. God uses truth to bring us into His true joy.

Incarnation

Series | Inside the Walls

I am trying to make the point that, in the revelation of the Triune God, God is sharing Himself and inviting us into joyful relationship with Himself. God, then, is the ultimate example of true authority that gives, overflows, and participates. We see this theme in His creation and, apropos on this Christmas day, we also see this reality in His incarnation.

Incarnation

The Son revealed the Father as well as the divine economy. He taught His disciples: “The greatest among you will be your servant” (Matthew 23:11). Why? Because the truth is that authority gives itself. It works on the other’s behalf. It doesn’t take from them. That’s the way it really is because that’s the way God is.

Jesus not only taught it, He embodied it. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:10-11). He didn’t come to take (as a thief), He came to give so that His sheep might have life.

Philippians 2 illustrates how glorious authority gave itself and shows that Jesus receives greater glory because of giving, humbling, and sacrificing. The Word become flesh, the revelation of truth in the God-man, exhibits the truth of authority that engages, works, meets needs, takes responsibility, serves, and draws others to life. That’s the truth.

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:4-11)

One of the reasons we have trouble believing Jesus and really considering others as better than ourselves is that we don’t buy that authority is established by giving. We think we’ll lose influence and respect and position if we serve.

Not only that, we think in order to keep the truth safe, we’ve got to keep it at a distance from questions and doubts. If so, we are thinking about a partial truth because the true Truth jumps into the ring. God not only opens truth up for a look-see, He created a world where those who look the other way corroborate the truth in a backdoor way. Bare-fisted truth can handle itself. He created a world where He would give His only Son to be killed to save the killers. That reveals something about His character and about the real potency of truth, even when born as a helpless baby.

Revealing Revelations

Series | Inside the Walls

Previously I asked, Why does God reveal truth? And what do we learn about authority by how God used His? The answer has far reaching implications.

God used His authority to reveal truth because the essence of authority, the way the Triune God really is, is to expose Himself, share Himself, and invite us into an intimate relationship with Him to share His joy. The truth, as revealed by God, is that true authority gives, overflows, and participates. The essence of true authority, therefore, is not distance, isolation, and demands.

Let’s see if we can blow away some of the smoke and see God’s revealed truth about revealed truth and what authority is good for. Today we’ll look at the first of four aspects of God’s revelation.

Creation

The mere fact of creation shows the reality of God’s eagerness to share Himself, and of God’s giving, overflowing use of authority. As Carl Henry wrote in his work, God, Revelation, and Authority, God gave up His privacy, and the thing He gave most was Himself. Henry’s first thesis was:

Revelation is a divinely initiated activity, God’s free communication by which he alone turns his personal privacy into a deliberate disclosure of his reality. (Vol. 2, 17)

There are things about an infinite God that are mysterious, yes.1 There are things that are above and beyond us because God didn’t make us gods. But He did make us to know Him, learn about Him in creation, learn about Him in providence, learn about Him in His Incarnation, and learn about Him in His Word. Revelation, giving us truth, opens Himself to us.

The way God created and revealed truth also shows the giving nature of authority. His first five and a half days of work prepared a glorious place for the crown of creation. He formed and filled a pristine, lush, and repeatedly “good” home for man. God interrupted Adam, parading all the animals before him, to teach Adam that he was alone. Adam didn’t even know what he was missing because he was busy enjoying all the other good gifts.

God also gave man purpose: to be bear His image in responsibility and in relationships. His authority overflowed as He shared His image; He didn’t distance Himself from men or take things from them to prove His superior position. The way things really are, the truth, is that God shares the best things with His creation.

That includes Himself. The pre-fall relationship between God and man was about sharing fellowship, not filling Adam’s mind with footnotes for a systematic theology book. The serpent’s lie was that God was holding something back with His authority. The truth is, God was giving them life. Disobedience took fellowship and life away.

Knowledge is not enough when it comes to the truth (revelation) of creation. It is inadequate to say that God revealed truth simply so that others could know it. Adam didn’t stop knowing the truth when he disobeyed, he stopped the enjoyment of God in truth. The truth is that knowing truth is not the end. The demons know the truth, things as they really are. More than that, every man knows the truth. According to Romans 1, all men know the truth and “suppress” it (1:18).

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (1:19-20)

They know who He really is. So what is their problem? It isn’t a knowledge problem.

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him. (1:21a)

How they responded to what they knew, dare we say, how they felt about the truth, was the problem. Failure to thankfully worship brought the revelation of wrath. What is implied about revelation is that the reality of things is that God is so open and giving that it is totally unacceptable to reject it.

The truth expects the right response. But the expectation is not a taking expectation, it is a giving expectation. It expects us to receive what is given, not that we have to give something. Truth invites life, and life abundant. Creation reveals the truth that God, in His supreme authority, invites us to relationship with Himself and with each other. Sin ruined the fellowship, but God gave His only Son that we might have it again.


  1. Henry’s third thesis was: “Divine revelation does not completely erase God’s transcendent mystery, inasmuch as God the Revealer transcends his own revelation.”