Category Archives: Theology

Sovereign Grace

I want to apologize for my recent lack of posts.  For those of you who regularly follow this blog, I am extremely grateful.  I know some of you have offered encouragement by saying how God is using His words posted here to make changes in your lives and I pray that He continues to do so and that I might in some way be used by God to continue to bring His Word.  Having said that, I’ve been busy recently with several projects, one of which is finishing up my first class in Seminary.  It’s been quite a time management adjustment and because of the amount of reading and writing required there, posts here have been sporadic.  Please pray for me as I’m finishing up the last two weeks there.  The final assignment for this class is a research paper/project.  For mine, I really feel like the Lord was leading me to develop a Bible Study based on the life of John the Baptist.  I don’t know how He plans to use it yet, but I wanted to share the first lesson that I’ve been working on and ask for any comments, recommendations, or criticisms.  This is NOT in final “Bible Study” format, but more so for the project submission, but the main ideas are the same.  Since it’s due this weekend, I’ll try to post each “lesson” as I finish them.  Thanks so much for reading.

John the Baptist: The Model Ministry

Sovereign Grace

John the Baptist’s life was the personification of God’s grace, from his prophesied ministry in Isaiah and Malachi to the very definition of his name, “The Lord is gracious.”  In beginning a study of his life, especially from the perspective of ministry, we must first examine the Old Testament prophecies of the Messianic forerunner to fully understand the impact of God’s sovereign grace on not only John’s life, but on our own as well.  In order for us to fully appreciate this impact, in this lesson we’ll briefly look at God’s grace in several supporting passages to establish this extremely important foundational truth.  Each of these elements of grace are not only applicable to John the Baptist, as we’ll learn in the subsequent lessons, but they are equally relevant to our lives.

Grace Saves

When we talk about God’s grace, we need to understand what grace is and why it is so fundamental to our spiritual lives.  In its true definition, grace is defined as unmerited favor.  But we must ask, where did this unmerited favor come from and just what kind of favor have we been given?  John states in his Gospel, “14And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15(John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because He was before me.'”) 16And from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John 1:14-17 ESV There’s a lot in this passage to digest that not only answers those questions we posed earlier, but also introduces us to the ministry of John the Baptist.  In verse 14, the Apostle John lets us know when Jesus came from God the Father in heaven to earth in human flesh (incarnation) He came “full of grace and truth.”  Since Christ is filled with grace, we can surmise that He is grace embodied.  Skip ahead to verse 16 and we learn that from “His fullness”, meaning grace, “We have all received grace upon grace.”  Here we have the answer to our question where does grace come from, it comes from Jesus Christ.  It’s in verse 15 that we find reference given to John the Baptist and his recognition of the Jesus the Messiah, but more on that in a later lesson!

So what about our second question?  The Apostle Paul states in his letter to the church at Ephesus, “8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV This passage clearly indicates that unmerited favor, or grace, provides salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.  In his book, My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers adds his thoughts on our passage from Ephesians, “The gospel of the grace of God awakens an intense longing in human souls and an equally intense resentment, because the truth that it reveals is not palatable or easy to swallow. There is a certain pride in people that causes them to give and give, but to come and accept a gift is another thing. I will give my life to martyrdom; I will dedicate my life to service I will do anything. But do not humiliate me to the level of the most hell-deserving sinner and tell me that all I have to do is accept the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.” If we can summarize both of the answers to our questions posed in this lesson we get, Jesus = Grace and Grace = Salvation, therefore we can surmise that Jesus = Salvation.

Grace Justifies

A second characteristic of grace that we need in order to lay the foundation for beginning our study on John is the justification of grace.  In his study Bible, John MacArthur observes that justification is a legal or forensic term that comes from the Greek word for “righteous” and means “to declare righteous.” Concerning this justification, Romans 3:23-24 ESV says, “23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Here the Apostle Paul is affirming to us that although every one of us has sinned we are justified by God’s grace as a gift through Jesus.  This is in accordance with what we learned about grace earlier that it is also a gift of grace from Jesus that saves.  From the legal perspective that John MacArthur was alluding we can look forward to the judgment of Christ that is forthcoming and know that our justification, or declaration of righteousness, saves us from the punishment of sin, which is eternal death and separation from God.

Grace Trains

Our third and final quality of grace recaps each of the previous two while establishing an additional truth all its own, that of the instruction that grace provides.  The Apostle Paul once again provides an example of grace as he writes in his letter to Titus, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” Titus 2:11-15 ESV In keeping with our other two descriptions of grace, this third example is no different in that it yet again points toward Jesus Christ.  In verse 11 we see that the “grace of God”, which is Jesus, has appeared bringing salvation just as we learned in the previous example.  Our particular focus in this passage draws us to verse 12, where we find that grace trains us by teaching us to avoid all things unholy such as worldly pleasures by living self-controlled and holy before God.

Summary

As we learned at the beginning of this lesson, John the Baptist’s life reflected the sovereign grace of God from before he was even born to the very name that God gave him.  Though salvation as we know it, including belief in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus had not yet occurred, John was in fact saved from eternal death and separation from God by His grace.  It’s grace that set him apart.  In being called and set apart, he was justified or declared righteous.  In fact, as we’ll learn later he was even declared “great” by Jesus, which would have been an impossible declaration if he had been neither saved by grace, nor justified by grace.  Finally through God’s grace John was trained for his ministry.  In order to preach repentance he must be above reproach himself, lest he be deemed hypocritical, not merely before men, but before God.  Therefore, it was critical we establish the foundational truths of God’s grace because as we progress through the life of John and examine his model for ministry it will become exceedingly clear that the grace of God is the preeminent attribute necessary for a successful, God glorifying ministry.

Application

Are you able to recognize the presence of God’s grace in your life?  If not, perhaps you have yet to make that life changing decision to receive Christ as Savior.  Hebrews 4:16 ESV instructs, “16Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  Draw near to Christ and He will draw near to you.  Repent of your sins and receive Jesus as your Savior so that He may shower you with His Grace.

For those that are saved, as Christians we use the term grace frequently, but do we really understand the magnitude of it?  Grace not only saves, not only justifies, and not only trains us to live holy, but Grace is Jesus.  It is by Grace we have been saved and never have more truer words been spoken than that old familiar hymn, Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound.

“The Wind blows where it wishes”

The other day I checked in on a Bible Facebook group that I sometimes follow and in the comments was an interesting request.  One member, perhaps passing through, indicated that he was an atheist and would like for someone to provide a convincing argument that a divine entity existed.  Now, it’s at this point I must say I don’t know what compelled me to message him, nor had I prepared any sort of conversation.  I was just honestly wondering what might have persuaded him to be an atheist, where his beliefs came from, and what convincing argument he was looking for.  I’ll also quickly mention that as Christians we should care for each and every lost soul and I still pray that Christ might reveal himself to this young man, perhaps even through this site as I recount our conversation.

When I first mention a conversation with an atheist, the initial thought might be to take an apologetic route.  I don’t claim to be an expert on atheistic issues, but I felt like I should try to find out what his beliefs were and admittedly to determine where his thought process fell, i.e. relativism.  I asked questions along the lines of “Do you believe we are born with the ability to determine right from wrong” to which he answered no.  I then followed up attempting to probe deeper into those thoughts, but each time I was thwarted in MY efforts.  At this point I prayed, “Dear Lord guide my steps, my thoughts, let my words be Your words” and the young man’s next response was essentially let’s stop being so apologetic and cut to the chase.  And then it hit me and with all the sincerity of my heart I replied with:

Ahh I see, well forgive me. I was merely trying to understand where you were coming from. Without apologetics, you’re left with one thing standing in your way between understanding whether a divine entity exists or not.

See where apologetics fails is that it presumes that all things can be broken down into logical concepts, arguments if you will, that prove or disprove one point or another. While on the surface this makes sense, as it appeals to the very intellectual nature of our being, it lacks a key, necessary component and that is faith.

We can banter back and forth about relativistic points of view, to establish morality or whether a divine entity created the earth or not and that is all well and good, nothing wrong with that at all. But at the end of the day, without faith you and I are the same person. We both do what we want, when we want, and live each day doing the best we can.

Without my faith in the only One and True living God, I am an atheist. Without my faith that God loved His only Son so much that He sent Him to die on the cross for me and all of my disgusting sins, I am an atheist too. But I have that faith. And through my faith I am saved from those sins. And through that faith I have eternal life through my Savior. And that faith is all I need. Because if I’m wrong and everything I believe in is wrong, have I lost anything? No, you and I would end up in the same place after we die. But if I’m right and my faith is all that’s needed in this world, then that’s a big difference isn’t it?

At the end of the day that’s the separation between us <name>, it comes down to faith. Neither of us were granted a higher knowledge over the other or have seen some great revelation that leads us to our beliefs. I have faith in my Savior Jesus Christ and perhaps you want proof so that you can believe in a higher power, but in the end it’s faith you are searching for. But I’m afraid you won’t find it by searching, no one is going to provide you with the answer you’re looking for, it’s within you already and it’s up to you to believe.

“So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” Romans 10:17

I’m sure it’s easy to look back on that and say, well you should’ve said this or that or phrased your response this way, but that’s the way it came out, so that’s the way it is.  Why is it that some have the capacity to have faith while others, like my young friend, seemingly do not, or at least not yet?  See what my friend, and so many others who are searching, long for is a god to mold into what they want.  What Christians have is a God that molds us to what He wants.  That’s the difference and it’s big.

In John 3, Jesus is approached by Nicodemus who says, “…Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” John 3:2 ESV To which Jesus replies, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3 ESV Ah, if only I had remembered this encounter before mine with my young friend, because here, it is Jesus who cuts to the chase.  He wastes no time in witnessing to Nicodemus.  He doesn’t even wait for him to ask the question, before He has already stated the answer.   Nicodemus is no fool, he understands the figurative language that Jesus is using, but nevertheless he asks, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”  John 3:4 ESV He knows that his question is not a possibility, but as he’s picked up on Jesus’ analogy, he inquires more.  Jesus replies, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.'” John 3:5-7 ESV Jesus reemphasizes His figurative language by pointing out the spiritual cleansing and Spiritual rebirth necessary for salvation and essential to entering heaven.  It should be noted that being born of water in this passage does not refer to baptism, but rather the spiritual cleansing through being born again.   As though He was perceived the potential next question from Nicodemus, Jesus follows up by explaining the root of this rebirth does not come from man, but from the Spirit Himself.  “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8 ESV

That last sentence of Jesus’ statement is so important to understanding our previous question of why is it that some people come to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, yet others don’t.  It’s this passage that so clearly points out that it’s not a human decision.  Meaning it is not within us to “make a decision” without the power of the Holy Spirit moving in our lives and in our hearts.  As Jesus indicates, the Spirit moves where He wishes and we never see Him, never know from where He comes, nor where He is going, but we see the impacts.  We see the impact on the lives changed by His presence.  Spiritual rebirth is as much or more a miracle than our original birth from the womb.

Our role as Christians is to preach the Gospel and expose nonbelievers to the Word of God. Mark 16:15 In accordance with this, in order to be faithful to Jesus’ commission, we need to be well equipped with a strong knowledge of the Bible, because it is through God’s Word that seeds of salvation are planted in the hearts of nonbelievers.  We can make rational arguments through apologetic presentations, present emotional “seeker sensitive” church services, and even present biblical truths, but without the power of the Holy Spirit, no true regeneration or even a desire for one can take place.

Prayer: My prayer is that the Holy Spirit reaches out to our unsaved friends and family that they might realize their need for a Savior in Jesus Christ.  That the Holy Spirit might bring them to repentance and that they might openly and willingly respond when this happens.  That the Spirit of the Lord might put each one of us in the path of the unsaved and that He might guide our steps, our thoughts, let our words be His words that we might be useful vessels in conveying the wonderful truths of the Word of God.

Additional Study: I Corinthians 2:6-16 ESV “6Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 7But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”-

10these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

14The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16“For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.”