The Root of God’s Joy in Salvation

inkspill24258959.jpgWhy does God rejoice in saving sinners? This was the question I received from a friend not too long ago. As he reflected on God’s joy in salvation (particularly from the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15) it seemed to him that God would have greater joy in salvation if he did not choose those whom he was going to save from eternity past. In this thinking, if God chooses those whom he is going to save before he creates anything (Eph. 1:3-14) then his joy is necessarily reduced and maybe even eliminated since he already knows who is coming to him. So if we know that God rejoices in the salvation of sinners (which we find in Luke 15:7, 10) then doesn’t this mean that the idea of God choosing some for salvation – which, in this thinking, would limit and possibly even negate God’s joy – mean that Calvinism is wrong and Arminianism is right?

Instead of answering this question all in one long post I have decided to “eat the elephant” – if you will – one bite at a time. So I plan to answer this question in parts over the next few posts as time allows.

So why don’t we take our first bite out that proverbial elephant now? The idea implied in the criticism of the doctrine of election is that God’s joy is contingent or at least dependent in some way upon him not knowing our response to the invitation of the gospel. But if this is the case then it is clear that the Arminian teaching of conditional election doesn’t really help us at all. The doctrines of grace (often called Calvinism) teach that God chooses some on the basis of his mercy and grace alone and all for his glory. The Arminian understanding is that God chooses some on the basis of his knowing in advance who will freely choose him. Whether you are a Calvinist or an Arminian you can probably already see the problem. Both sides in this debate agree that God knows in advance who will come to him by faith. Both sides eliminate the element of surprise and of the unknown.

There is however another position, outside the bounds of historic Christianity and Scripture, that teaches that God, in fact, does not know the future. This position is called Open Theism. It takes the philosophical position (not the biblical one) that humans have the power of absolute self-determination. What this means is that God has no control over what anyone does and because we are all absolutely free from God’s providence we create the future as we make choices. So, because the future doesn’t exist unless we create it (with our absolutely free choices), God cannot know our (or anyone’s) future.

It is only in this view of Open Theism that God could be surprised by our response. This position is so clearly outside the bounds of what the Bible really teaches, however, that I will not take the time to deal with it at this point.

Bible and PenPart of the problem, it seems, is that this view (that God’s joy in salvation is in any way dependent on the element of the unknown) reduces God to being little more than like any one of us. And since so much of our joy is bound up with the element of surprise we have a hard time imagining a God who can’t be surprised and yet still knows real and boundless joy. But this ignores the reality that not all our joy – maybe not even most of it or the best of it – comes without the element of surprise. Yes there is a lot of joy when we are surprised by the ending of a movie or book. But I have watched the old movie “Rudy” so many times and it never gets old. I have read some books repeatedly and yet my appreciation and joy of them has grown deeper and deeper. I have watched my football team, the Eagles, win a game and still felt the need to read about it and watch the highlights. Yes I have enjoyed being surprised in the past at a birthday party. But I have enjoyed even more the anticipation of a birthday party I knew was coming all along. I have even had great joy in planning the surprise party for others. There are so many different kinds and degrees of rejoicing and joy that to say real joy is dependent on ignorance is true only if one ignores the evidence.

God, because of his infinite knowledge and presence, is never surprised. But I don’t think that mitigates his joy in any way. In fact I think it deepens it. He is never surprised by anything but always planning surprises for others. He is never ignorant of the end of the story and so he is able to take great joy in every little twist and turn because he knows how it turns out. Indeed, he is the one who is doing the twisting and turning to make it come to the end he designs!

Make no mistake, God takes great joy in saving sinners. But that joy is not dependent in any way upon ignorance. We will explore this theme in the posts to come.


Knowing God Truly

Calvin's Institutes

A few days ago we looked at how we might gain true knowledge of ourselves and of God. Today we look at what true knowledge of God looks like. We can see the need for this kind of thinking if we will but look at the lives of those who claim to know God yet regularly live as if he doesn’t exist, doesn’t care, or is just so in love with us that he will overlook any fault because that is just who he is.

But Calvin wants us to see that we cannot say that “God is known where there is no religion or piety.” “Religion and piety? That sounds pretty formal and probably something that none of us want. Religion is something most of us are tired of. And piety – that stopped being something people wanted in the 90’s (the 90’s of a long forgotten century). But by “religion” Calvin means holy devotion and faithfulness to God. And of piety he describes as “reverence joined with love.” So where God is truly known holy devotion and a reverence joined with love will increase. This is what Calvin is driving at when he says

“What help is it, in short, to know a God with whom we have nothing to do? Rather, our knowledge should serve first to teach us to fear and reverence; secondly, with it as our guide and teacher, we should learn to seek every good from him, and, having received it, to credit it to his account. For how can the thought of God penetrate your mind without your realizing immediately that, since you are his handwork, you have been made over and bound to his command by right of creation, that you owe your life to him? – that whatever you undertake, whatever you do, ought to be ascribed to him?. . . Again, you cannot behold him clearly unless you acknowledge him to be the fountainhead and source of every good.”

So what in the end does true knowledge of God produce in our lives? 

“Here indeed is pure and real religion: faith so joined with an earnest fear of God that this fear also embraces willing reverence, and carries with it such legitimate worship as is prescribed in the law.”

And unless we make the mistake of thinking that reverence and love for God is found best in religious rites or traditions, Calvin warns us to reconsider.

“And we ought to note this fact even more diligently: all men have a vague general veneration for God, but very few really reverence him; and wherever there is great ostentation in ceremonies, sincerity of heart is rare indeed.”

That last line is powerful for us to think on for it applies to every one of us. Ostentation – the desire to be front and center – is a temptation for many. And it is often mistaken for love for God when it is combined with religious rites and words. But over the top God-talk that draws attention to the “spirituality” of the speaker doesn’t exactly resemble the Christ who humbled himself to the point of death – even death on the cross. And the kind of empty ostentation that Calvin speaks of here is a danger to every church as well. Churches that emphasize rituals, ceremony, rites, and traditions can often fall into this pit. But this is no less a danger to modern churches where lights, drums, the carefully sculpted hipster look and feel, combined with fun and exciting programs for the whole family reign supreme. Different type of ostentation but still of a kind.

This is not meant to blast your church or accuse anyone. This is simply a reminder that the true remedy for dead religion and empty ostentation is the true knowledge of God. Humble and holy devotion combined with reverent fear and love for God must be the heart-beat of our lives. May this be true whether you wear a suit and tie or a graphic tee.

Oh… and by the way. You can order Calvin’s Institutes here if you want.

Parenting: The Last Bastion of Legalism?

Crazy BusyKevin DeYoung recently authored Crazy Busy, a book about the busyness that all too often runs and ruins our lives. There is much in it that calls for thought and reflection. One of my favorite sections that I was surprised to even find in the book covered parenting. As a dad of three very active boys I enjoyed his chapter on parenting so much that I have decided to pass it on to in hopes that it will cause you to get the book yourself. Kevin writes:

Parenting has become more complicated than it needs to be. It used to be, as far as I can tell, that Christian parents basically tried to feed their kids, clothe them, teach them about Jesus, and keep them away from explosives. Now our kids have to sleep on their back (no, wait, their tummies; no, never mind, their backs), while listening to Baby Mozart and surrounded by scenes of Starry, Starry Night. They have to be in piano lessons before they are five and can’t leave the car seat until they’re about five foot six.

It’s all so involved. There are so many rules and expectations. Parenting may be last bastion of legalism. Not just in the church, but in the culture. We live in a permissive society that won’t count any sin against you as an adult, but will count the calories in your kids’ hot lunches. I keep hearing that kids aren’t supposed to eat sugar anymore. What a world! What a world! My parents were solid as a rock, but we still had a cupboard populated with cereal royalty like Captain Crunch and Count Chocula. In our house the pebbles were fruity and the charms were lucky. The breakfast bowl was a place for marshmallows, not dried camping fruit. Our milk was 2%. And sometimes, if we needed to take the edge off a rough morning, we’d tempt fate a chug a little vitamin D.

As nanny parents living in a nanny state, we think of our children as amazingly fragile and entirely moldable. Both assumptions are mistaken. It’s harder to ruin our kids than we think and harder to stamp them for success than we’d like. Christian parents in particular often operate with an implicit determinism. We fear that a few wrong moves will ruin our children forever, and at the same time assume that the right combination of protection and instruction will invariably produce godly children.

You can buy the book here. The beginning of a new year is a great time to read it!

Worship is War

rthymns-of-graceThe “worship wars” are never behind us. They are always with us. Just because your church has settled upon what style of music it is going to use come Sunday does not mean that worship has ceased to be a war for you or your church.

A few weeks ago I finished Rhythms of Grace, a book by Mike Cosper. It is an excellent book that would benefit every pastor (especially those who are primarily responsible for the worship order on Sundays). It speaks to the power of the worship service shaped by the biblical story of the gospel. Here is what he has to say about the “worship wars” in particular.

Whoever dubbed the debate over musical style a “worship war” failed to realize that worship is always a war. The declaration that there is one god, that his name is Jesus, and that he has died, has risen, and will come again is an all-out assault on the saviors extended at every level of culture around us. We’re taught to find a sense of hope in a political party, trusting in our duly elected saviors to make the world right once and for all. We’re taught to find our identity in our friend counts on Twitter and Facebook. We’re taught that a victory at work or good news from a doctor or a bathroom scale will satisfy us. We look longingly into the eyes of other human beings and believe that they can affirm us enough and love us well enough to end our sense of loneliness.

We believe these things because we’ve been taught them again and again. Like the ascending pilgrims of Psalm 121, we’re surround[ed] by clamorous mountains advertising happiness, sex, and power, all available for consumption. Our entertainment in television, film, and literature paints the good life this way, and it grips our heartstrings, calling us away to worship at the feet of these idols.

Worship isn’t merely a yes to the God who saves, but also a resounding and furious no to the lies that echo in the mountains around us. The church gathers like exiles and pilgrims, collected out of a world that isn’t our home, and looks hopefully toward a future. Our songs and prayers are a foretaste of that future, and even as we practice them, they shape us for our future home. (pg. 103-104)

Just before this Cosper quotes Jean-Jaques von Allmen:

Christian worship is the strongest denial that can be hurled in the face of the world’s claim to provide men with an effective and sufficient justification for their life. There is no more emphatic protest against the pride and the despair of the world than that implied in Church worship.

These are powerful words. Gathering for church with the body of Christ is a private protest against sin, satan, and all the false hopes and dreams this world offers and which vie for our affection. It is a public rebellion against the false gods of our culture that tempt us to believe satisfaction, joy, and deliverance can be found in anything other than God through Christ. Worship is war.

The following are my favorite books on worship. What are yours and why?

  1. Worship by the Book ed. by D. A. Carson
  2. Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation by Allen P. Ross
  3. Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship ed. by Ryken, Thomas, & Duncan
  4. Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice by Bryan Chapell
  5. Rhythms of Grace: How the Church’s Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel by Mike Cosper
  6. Worship Matters: Leading others to Encounter the Greatness of God by Bob Kauflin

Thankfully Past the KJV

Bible and PenI have had the privilege of growing up in a family where both parents had experienced the new birth in Christ. One particular evidence of this reality was that we faithfully attended and supported our local church. That church, like so many other good churches, used the King James translation of the Bible. In fact it still uses that translation. It is a good translation. Up until the time of its publication in 1611 no other person or group had employed such resources in the completion of a translation. The men who were tasked with the responsibility of this new translation were the best biblical scholars of their day. They were also men with a reverent love for God. Even so, they utilized a series of checks and balances wherein their work would be reviewed by others. In many ways the King James translation is the finest example of how translation work should be done.

But this does not mean that the King James translation is the finest translation.

It especially doesn’t mean that the King James is the “only” translation that contains the word of God. The King James translators themselves viewed other translations as God’s Word. They write that even the “meanest” translation “containeth the word of God, nay, is the word of God: as the King’s speech which he uttered in Parliament, being translated into French, Dutch, Italian, and Latin is still the King’s speech, though it be not interpreted by every translator with like grace. . . . But we weary the unlearned, who need no know so much; and trouble the learned, who know it already.” So the King James translators themselves did not view their translation as the only right and good translation. Indeed, they recognized the need for improvements in all translations since “nothing is begun and perfected at the same time.” This truth is born out in history since between its publication in 1611 and 1800 the number of editions of the KJV as a whole or in part “reached nearly a thousand and produced tens of thousands of minor variations from the original edition” (David Beale, A Pictorial History of Our English Bible p. 43). And yet for all its revisions and editions many mistranslations still exist today within the text (though they are generally minor). The problem is that while the translators themselves were the best of their time they were working with defective tools. Their knowledge of the ancient languages that they sought to translate was insufficient regarding verb tenses and idioms. They also had no access to materials that would help them understand the dialect of the Greek of the New Testament. The three most ancient and greatest Greek manuscripts were as of yet unavailable to the King James translators.

codex_sinaiticusSo why do so many persist in using it? For some it is comfort and ease. They have been using it all their lives and can’t imagine switching to another translation. They struggle with the idea of a new translation (as so many struggled to accept the King James translation when it was published). For others it is the misinformation that the KJV remains the best possible translation. That is a farce but not a destructive one as long as it is not held as a means to judge others. Even so it is a farce that should be done away with.

Another reason one might persist in using the KJV is the (almost laughable) belief that every modern translation is of the devil or irreparably flawed. I will ignore the charge that new translations are the work of the devil because it is as preposterous as it is ignorant. Let me simply address one example of the concern that modern translations are irreparably flawed. Not long ago I heard a good man question the trustworthiness of the English Standard Version because it was based on the RSV (a translation not held in high esteem). That the ESV utilized the RSV at all was seen as a fatal flaw and a reason to continue using the KJV. And yet the KJV itself was based on the Bishops’ Bible, a translation initiated and overseen by the Romanist Archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker. The truth that I am pointing out is that we do not judge a translation solely on what lies behind it, but upon its faithfulness to the original text of scripture. In that regard both the ESV in our time (as well as many other fine translations) and the KJV in its time are faithful and dependent. Therefore I am thankful for the KJV as I thankfully move past the KJV.

In writing all this I have failed to address a primary concern: What should motivate us in choosing a translation?

Here are a couple short but excellent resources on the subject:

Moe Bergeron: Serving the King

I watched this video from Desiring God today. It is a powerful little video that displays for us the truth of why we exist – to declare and display the good news of God to a world in darkness. Moe Bergeron exemplifies this truth by the grace of God. A factory worker in a small New England town, he is the one for whom we ought to thank God for using to begin the website of desiringgod.org. May his testimony encourage you today.


Through the Gospel Lens

rose Colored GlassesSome songs you can’t unhear no matter how hard you try. Unfortunately musical atrocities come in surprising numbers these days. Of course auditory offenses are not a new problem. One such harmonic tragedy I heard the other day is an oldie by John Conlee entitled “Rose Colored Glasses.” If this happens to be a favorite of yours then I am truly sorry on so many levels. The central nugget of the song seems to be conveyed in these couple of lines.

“But these rose colored glasses, that I’m looking through,
show only the beauty, and hide all the truth.”

That got me thinking about how easy it is for us to view life through a lens that is misleading whether a positive “rose colored” lens or something darker. But this begs a question: is there a lens that will allow us to see others and ourselves as we truly are? Would we even want that lens?

As Paul writes in Philippians 1:1-2 he points us to see ourselves and others (if we are followers of Christ) through the gospel lens.

He identifies himself and Timothy as mere “servants of Christ Jesus.” Of course Paul could have used his title of apostle here (and he does in other letters to other churches as the need arises) and that would have been totally fine. But instead he chooses to identify himself as a servant. In fact the word servant would be better translated “slave.” He is a slave of Christ. This must have struck home for the church in a society where people are defined by their class and where slaves are the bottom dwellers in the class system. Especially when slaves were seen as the property of their owners. So why this kind low of self-identification? Is Paul struggling with some sort of self-esteem issues that we should be concerned about? I think identifies himself in this way for two reasons.

The first is because this is how he really sees himself. He really does know that he is merely a slave to Christ. He really views himself as the property of Jesus. Paul is not exaggerating or struggling with self-esteem issues. He is viewing himself (and Timothy) through the gospel lens. He has been bought with a price – that of Christ’s blood (1 Cor. 6:20). This self-understanding informs everything Paul does. He understands the depth of his sin (read Romans 1-3) and yet he knows that the grace of God is deeper still. Though he was in bondage to sin and satan was his slave-master he was freed to be Christ’s slave and this is what drives him to write this letter of love and friendship to this struggling group of believers in Philippi.

The second reason I think Paul decides to refer to himself as a slave of Christ and not as an Apostle of Christ is because he wants to deal carefully with this group of believers in Philippi. They are facing both external opposition from a culture and city that is extremely loyal to Rome and Caesar as well as what appears to be the beginning of some internal posturing and division. In that context Paul wants these believers each to see that their Apostle whom they love does not view himself merely as one with position and authority but one who is ultimately the slave of Christ. Paul wants his self-identification to become the self-identification of the Philippian believers. It is nearly impossible for believers who are viewing themselves through the gospel lens of slavery to Christ to fight and posture for position, respect, or influence in the church so that they can have their own way. Indeed if we, as Paul, would humbly learn to view ourselves as those whose lives have been purchased at the cost of the life of God our Savior then we would more easily rejoice in serving others.

Of course Paul doesn’t stop there but goes on to identify those to whom he is writing. And of course he keeps on seeing through the gospel lens.

Soli Deo Gloria

Back to the Writing Table


I am beginning to write again. It has been a couple of months since I last posted here. Some of this was due to laziness which had to be repented of. Much of this was due to prioritizing where the efforts of my life and ministry were needed. What I mean is that for a little while I could not justify giving up the time I had for the sake of such a little enterprise. I am now realizing that this little blog is as much for me as it is for anything else. I enjoy writing. I need to write. It helps me gather thoughts from the distant and dusty regions of my mind and order articulate them in ways that are beneficial to me – even if they are not so original so as to gain great fanfare. But as real as the enjoyment and satisfaction I get from punching the “publish” button is, it does not hold a candle to the profit I gain from the journey of having written. I learn and grow through writing as I do from the writings of others. It is because of this that I find myself back in front of this virtual writing desk clearing off the clutter and adjusting the inkblot’s placement for careful use. And so I write.

And so I write that I might exult and enjoy the resurrected Christ more and more – and lead you to do the same.

Gladly in Christ!

Choosing a Bible Translation

We live in happy times when we have the Word of God available to us in so many excellent modern translations. But this diversity also complicates how we think of the Word of God. It is much more simple (though fantastically wrong on many levels) to divinize one translation and proclaim that translation as “the Bible” while simultaneously eyeing every other translation with suspicion and/or hostility. And while you are probably thinking of those who hold the undefensible King James Only position, and rightfully so, I have noticed that other translations are sometimes quietly granted the “only” position by well-meaning individuals who refuse to recognize the high qualities of other translations. I believe this simply reflects the idolatrous pride in our sinful hearts that always wants “our” translation to be the best one…and on the highway of human pride this can transition from “best” into “exclusive” absurdly fast. This is most visible in the small group discussions where unless someone’s favorite translation is read and seen to be superior the study is not over.

What we need is a little dose of humility and perspective. It is with this hope that I am eager to read Which Bible Translation Should I Use? A Comparison of 4 Major Recent Versions: ESV, NIV, HCSB, NLT edited by Andreas J. Köstenberger and David A. Croteau. You can find out more about this excellent book over at Andy Naselli’s blog!

We must not be a people of a translation, but a people of God’s Word. Jeremiah 15:16.


The President’s Speech

I was asked recently by my stellar sister to comment on the recent speech that our President gave at the recent National Prayer Breakfast. This is not something that I would have normally wanted to write about but because I love my sister I decided to look into it. Now before I begin I want to make it clear that I respect our President. He is our God-given leader. Any doubt about that can be laid to rest by reading just a few passages in scripture. To make that point I wanted to offer the following extended quote and then I’ll get into the speech.

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good… 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

Now please remember that this was not written when Reagen (or whoever your favorite political leader is) was in power. It was written to the believers at Rome. And Rome wasn’t exactly a great country for religious freedom.

Okay, enough of that.

So I looked up this prayer breakfast speech that our President gave (he speaking around 1:07:00) and immediately a few things stood out to me. The first was that it was filled with the normal God-talk that is used so often in the public realm. The second thing I noticed was that our President made a concentrated effort to talk about how the uniqueness of Christianity wasn’t so unique after all but that it shares most everything with the other major world religions. To say the least I was disgusted with this kind of talk (as most Muslims, Jews and others would be). It is simply illogical, ignorant (bigoted?), and as D. A. Carson has said “self-defeating.” But I wasn’t as irritated as I usually get when I hear this kind of language. And that is because I noticed one a third thing. The President lacked all his usual charisma, charm and self assurance. Right from the get-go he looked unconvinced of his own speech. And his voice was uncharacteristically flat. It looked and sounded as if  he just realized that the speech that he had prepared for this event was the wrong speech.

So I rewound the video a little bit (to about 35 minutes in) and listened to the speech before the President’s and then I understood why there was such hesitancy on the part of the President. Eric Metaxas had just delivered a witty, pointed, yet inspiring speech that ended with him leading the entire audience in singing the old hymn Amazing Grace (without it being awkward at all which is a monumental achievement in and of itself). Metaxas is the author of the stunning new Biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was the German pastor/theologian who stood up against Hitler in defense of the Jews and was subsequently imprisoned and killed as a young man. You can’t read enough of these kind of biographies.

What made the President come out so flat wasn’t that Metaxas just had so much energy. It was what Metaxas said. He spoke of the false religiosity that parades as true Christianity. He gloried in the utter uniqueness  and truthfulness of Christ and Christianity. He accepted the fact that as Christians we are going to face trials and public criticism because we believe certain things about marriage and human sexuality. And then he talked about how those in Europe could accept slavery because they had denied that the African’s were indeed fully human and made in the image of God. He mentioned how the Nazi’s could do what the did to Jews because they denied that Jews were fully human and made in the image of God. And then he asked an astoundingly penetrating question: “Whom do we say is not fully human today?” And he just let that hang out there to let the audience muse themselves upon the obvious answer: unborn children.

As one writer has said “one could be forgiven for thinking that somehow Metaxas had been given an advance copy of Obama’s talk, then tailored his own to rebut the president’s.” It was that direct. So after hearing these two speeches I wasn’t really concerned with trying to attack what the President said. in the providence of God, Metaxas already did that.

So if you have a moment go listen and enjoy Eric Metaxas speak at the prayer breakfast (begin the video at 35 min in). I promise you it is worth it.