Three Pillars of Encouragement
Scripture: John 6:26–71
Three Pillars of Encouragement
The Juxtaposition between Human Depravity, Divine election, and Eternal SecuritySunday, February 16, 2003
Pastor Randy Smith
Although Jacob Hermann was schooled in the reformed tradition, the humanistic influence of Erasmus greatly influenced his theology. Eventually Hermann began to develop serious doubts about the doctrines of grace as they were preached by his contemporaries. He therefore developed and advocated his own counter-theology. Shortly after his death in 1609, Hermann's disciples formulated his teaching into concise categories. They adopted the Latin version of Hermann's name (Arminius) and entitled the work "The Five Points of Arminianism."
Since the churches in the major Protestant denominations in Europe all ascribed to Reformed doctrine, those advocating Arminian doctrine carefully drafted a protest and submitted it to the State of Holland in 1618. A National Council of the Church assembled in Dort to examine the teachings of Arminius in the light of Scripture.
After 154 earnest sessions that lasted seven months, the Five Points of Arminianism we found contrary to Scripture and declared heretical. At the same time the theologians of the Church reaffirmed the position held by the Protestant Reformers as consistent with Scripture and formulated what is known as "The Five Points of Calvinism" (in honor of the great French theologian, John Calvin).
|Arminianism ||Calvinism |
|1||Free Will||T||Total Depravity|
|2||Conditional Election||U||Unconditional Election|
|3||Universal Atonement||L||Limited Atonement|
|4||Obstructable Grace||I||Irresistible Grace|
|5||Falling From Grace||P||Perseverance of the Saints|
Though attempts have been made to concoct new categories by "mixing and matching" these five points, most solid theologians understand the need to consistently ascribe to one or the other camp.
However, our goal as Bereans of the Word is never to derive our theological systems from the teachings of man (regardless of the overwhelming support) or even from our emotions. Rather, we are to establish our theology based upon the teachings from the inerrant Scriptures. Therefore we ask ourselves the question, what does the Bible have to say about the nature of man and the sovereignty of God in relation to salvation?
For the past few weeks this sermon has been on my heart because John 6 directly tackles this situation. Though we will not address all 5 points this morning, I would like to show you why I ascribe to the Calvinistic doctrines of Human Depravity, Unconditional Election and Eternal Security based upon our Lord's teaching that we have recently studied in John chapter 6. Yet the ultimate goal of this sermon is not intended to simply prove a theological position. Rather the ultimate goal is to encourage you with the blessings that blossom when these three pillar doctrines of the faith are rightly understood.
1. HUMAN DEPRAVITY
Let's begin in point one with Human Depravity.
My former pastor used to always defend the divine inspiration of the Bible by referring to its description of humans. He would hold up his Bible and repeatedly say; "I know this Book is written by God because man would never condemn himself to this extent." He's right! From Genesis to Revelation you will not find anything flattering about the human nature. The Bible declares that the entire human race is born in sin and lives in rebellion to the standard of God. We are described as proud, careless, thoughtless, self-serving and unbelieving. We prefer sin over holiness, selfishness over godliness and our glory over God's glory. Therefore theologians have rightly labeled this condition total depravity.
Even from the pen of John, the humble disciple whom Jesus loved, we see a stinging indictment upon humanity. We learned in 1:11 that "(Jesus) came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him." We learned in 3:19 that "the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil." We learned in 5:18 that the Jews sought to kill the sinless Son of God for religious reasons such as breaking the Old Covenant law and blasphemy. In chapter 6 alone we learned that Jesus' followers were only hungry for signs (Jn. 6:2) and hungry for material food (Jn. 6:26). In 6:41 they grumbled against Him. In 6:66 they deserted Him. And in 6:71, one of His closest would betray Him.
Due to the overwhelming evidence, J.I. Packer (and any student honest with the Word of God) has concluded, "Biblically and theologically, evangelicals are right to affirm that human beings are born rebels against God by reason of the heritage of original sin that is integral to our makeup. In other words, we are right to highlight our fallenness and to oppose any position that states or insinuates that we are not so bad after all" (This We Believe, pg. 57).
Now, you are probably saying if you remember my objective, "Pastor, I thought this was intended to be an encouraging sermon? What's so encouraging about the fact that I am born a rebel, strive to oppose the ways of God and deserve nothing but hell as my final destination?" Answer: If you seek to exalt yourself and find joy and satisfaction in your own accomplishments, the doctrine of total depravity will be offensive and you will fight against it with all of your heart. However, if you seek to exalt God and find joy and satisfaction in His accomplishments in you, the doctrine of total depravity will be embraced and cherished with all of your heart. Let me explain.
God's goal in creation is His glory. Isaiah 43:7, "Everyone who is called by My name, and whom I have created for My glory." God's goal in redemption is His glory. Isaiah 43:25, "I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake." Overall, God is jealous for His glory. Isaiah 42:8, "I am the Lord, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another."
This being the case, the child of God, now under the guidance and conviction of the Holy Spirit, seeks as his number one goal, God's number one goal, namely, God's glory. Or in other words, the Holy Spirit makes us holy whereby we might fulfill the command to "be holy for I am holy" (1 Pet. 1:16). The Christian with a new heart is now able to seek holiness in the pursuit of a holy God. And as he pursues God through the Word and the Spirit, He increasingly sees more of God's holiness contrasted against his own unworthiness. And even though the Christian is growing in godliness, the chasm between God's holiness and his sin (on a practical level) appears to increase. And that is a good thing!
Was this not the desire of John the Baptist when he said, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (Jn. 3:30)? Was this not the reality of the Apostle Paul's conviction when that godly man said at the end of his life, "I am (the) foremost (of sinners)" (1 Tim. 1:15)? This process (growing in holiness, but forever seeing who we are in relation to who God is) is forever decreasing our pride, the root of our sin, and increasing our humility.
Therefore it does not glorify God when we think highly of ourselves. Rather it glorifies God when we think highly of God and what He is accomplishing in us for His name's sake, or His glory. Jesus did not say, "Blessed are those who esteem themselves." Rather He said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Mt. 5:3). In other words, as you draw unto God, is your knowledge of His holiness surpassing the knowledge of your own godliness? And because of that, are you poor in spirit? Are you "sorrowful yet always rejoicing" (2 Cor. 6:10)?
Why is rightly understanding the human predicament of sin so essential? Originally because the comprehension of our sin pointed to our need for a Savior! The bad news led to good news! No one will ever surrender to Jesus if they think they are good enough to earn their way to heaven. Moreover, the better we understand the wickedness of our sin, the more we see it as the black velvet whereby the diamond of God's love and mercy and grace shines ever brighter. What a demonstration of His love that He would send His own Son to die on our behalf "while we were yet sinners" (Rom. 5:8). Oh "to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge" (Eph. 3:19). Even now as a redeemed believer, with a new heart no longer depraved but capable of obedience, we pursue God's holiness and allow Him to reveal our sin and make us more holy like Christ for His glory and our joy. And what joy we receive when we can forsake the ugliness of sin and display the glory of His grace through a transformed life!
J.I. Packer summarized this well. "Sin is an ugly and nauseating study. But if it leads us to acknowledge that God knows us better than we know ourselves and causes us to humble ourselves, then it is worthwhile. If it motivates us to lean harder on Christ, to live a life of grateful praise for His salvation, and to dedicate ourselves to Him as His disciples, then our ugly study will guide us along life-changing paths to a very joyful outcome" (This We Believe, pg. 58).
2. DIVINE ELECTION
Point two, unconditional election is a logical outcome from point #1, total depravity. Because we are depraved which leads to a rebellion toward God and a self-seeking mentality, natural man apart from the Holy Spirit, both will not and cannot choose God. Romans 3:11, "There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God." Therefore since we cannot choose God, the natural conclusion is that He must choose us.
Throughout John chapter 6 we saw this point clearly identified by our Savior. Verse 37, "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me…" Verse 44, "No one can (a word of ability) come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him..." Verse 65, "And He was saying, 'For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.'"
You may be thinking, what about Peter? What about his great confession that we studied last week in verse 68? Didn't he choose Jesus Christ? Absolutely! On the one hand, God does not make us robots. Our choices are real and genuine and logical and emotional. But on the other hand, looking back and understanding our depravity we realize that God enables us to make such a choice. After Peter's other confession in Matthew 16, Jesus said, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven" (Mt. 16:17). Therefore it was by God's grace that Peter was enabled to receive Christ. John 1:12-13, (on the one hand) "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, (on the other hand) who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." So Peter was a Christian because of Jesus Christ. And Peter was also a disciple because of Jesus Christ. Verse 70, "Jesus answered them, 'Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve…'"
About three years ago I had the privilege of enjoying dinner with Dr. Erwin Lutzer, arguably the most famous Pastor in the Chicagoland area. During that conversation he explained to me how he impresses upon his young seminary students the reality of human depravity and the necessity of divine initiation. To accentuate his point, he drives them to the local cemetery and makes them preach the gospel to the corpses. After some strange looks and no response from the corpses, his point has been solidified.
Every gospel presentation must be accompanied by the Spirit of God to awaken people from their spiritual slumber. Ephesians 2:1 declares that all humans are "dead in (their) trespasses and sins." They are spiritual corpses totally dependent on God to regenerate their spirit and give them life (Col. 2:13). God must sovereignly draw the sinner to Himself. Apart from His drawing and the divine enabling from the Holy Spirit, they remain spiritually insensitive and unresponsive to the gospel.
Across the street stands one of the most impressive radio transmitters in the state. Right now as you worship, your body is being pummeled with heavy metal music from the WRAT radio station. Nevertheless while you sang, "Open My Eyes Lord," you were totally oblivious to Ozzy Osbourne. Why? Because in order to pick up the airwaves from WRAT, you need a tuner to receive the message. God draws sinners to Himself by giving them a tuner in the Holy Spirit to make them receptive to the gospel message. That is why thousands without any spiritual tuner reject the good news of Jesus Christ. However, a few who God is drawing through His irresistible grace fall at the feet of the Jesus and cry as Peter did in verse 68, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life."
Divine enablement is necessary, but it is also a great blessing when rightly understood in the life of a believer. When I recall the greatest moments in my life, they always occurred when I was praising God through the praise of somebody or something else. My wife walking down the aisle, the birth of my 3 daughters, the sunset in the Florida keys, the snow covered Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone National Park. My greatest joy occurred when I forgot about myself and was caught up in the praise of another.
Did you know that many biblical verses conclude that God's purpose for divine election is His praise (Eph. 1:5-6, 11-12; 1 Thes. 1:2, 4; 2 Thes. 2:13)? So based upon the fact that we can't take any credit for our salvation, we are delivered from the praise of ourselves and lost in the praise of someone else, someone more beautiful and majestic than anything in the world! God! What joy!
I think John Piper captured the joy of divine election well in a recent sermon. "God's electing unconditionally preserves the praise of God from every level from eternity past to eternity future. So that we do not boast in ourselves and our vaulted will, we boast always at every level from election in the past to glorification in the future…in one thing, God's grace and not my self, my intelligence, my sensitivity and my wisdom that I somehow was smart enough to respond, while others, fools that they are, didn't. Nobody will be in heaven talking like that! Nobody in heaven will take credit for their faith or their obedience. We will all be on our faces saying, 'You chose me, You called me, You justified me, You sanctified me, You preserved me, You raised me. It is all Yours, praise to You!' The reason that is good news is because you were made for the joy of praising God, not being praised. You were made to find your everlasting happiness in making much of Him, not being made much of (by Him). Oh how the last 50 years of the West needs to hear this truth because you and I have been sold a bill of goods called the doctrine of self-esteem by which we have concluded mental health and love and happiness flow from being made much of either in the mirror or the mouth of our friends. It is a lie because that will have a very short term fix on your problem. It feels good to be praised for fallen unregenerate people so what grace is evident to enjoy it as a saved person? Personal praise is not supernatural. It is the chief corruption of the human soul after the fall that we have taken joy of making much of God and turned it into joy in being made much of ourselves. Therefore God, wanting to make us infinitely happy forever and ever will not save us in a way that enables us to boast in our self, but will save us in a way from beginning to end so that He gets all the praise and glory and we...forget ourselves in the joy of making much of God…You are made for joy in God. Therefore, unconditional election, which preserves for us the glory of God praised in every line of our salvation is good news because it takes from us every temptation to boast in ourselves which is not eternally satisfying" (Excerpted from his sermon on Romans 9:14-18).
3. ETERNAL SECURITY
Because of our depraved human nature we cannot choose God. Therefore He chose us. According to the Scriptures, it was a choice of redemptive love long before we were born, even long before creation. Ephesians 1:4 says, "He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world." At the appointed time, God regenerated us and called us with His gospel whereby we might respond by faith and repentance. But what about the future? Is there guarantee that God's children will persevere to the end? Is there any guarantee of their final salvation?
The Arminian belief, which places much of salvation in the hands of man, emphatically and consistently states that sincere Christians can fall away from the faith. However, the Calvinist, who places all of salvation in the hands of God, argues that God is faithful to finish what He has begun (Phil. 1:6). To the Calvinist, salvation is an unbreakable chain of events from eternity past to eternity future promised by an immutable God. Romans 8:30 declares, "These whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified." Future glorification is so guaranteed that the Apostle Paul can speak of it as if it is already accomplished.
However, let's stay within our text from John chapter 6. If we agree that salvation is an act of God contingent upon His drawing sinners to Himself, we would like to believe that perseverance is also an act of God whereby He will keep those who are truly His until the end. Let's see what the Scriptures say of eternal security in relation to election in John chapter 6.
John 6:37, (election) "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, (security) and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out." John 6:39-40, (election) "This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me (security) I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day." John 6:44, (election) "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; (security) and I will raise him up on the last day." John 6:54, "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, (security) and I will raise him up on the last day."
I strongly conclude based on these verses and many others (Jn. 5:24; 10:27-30; Rom. 8:35-39; 1 Cor. 1:8; 1 Thes. 5:23-24; Heb. 6:11; 10:22; 1 Pet. 1:3-5), that true believers can know for certain where they are going when they die (1 Jn. 2:25). They can know for certain that God has given them His Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 5:5). They can know for certain that God will bring them back to the sheepfold if they stray (Heb. 12:6). They can know for certain that God is working all things for good in their life (Rom. 8:28). They can know for certain that that have passed out of judgment into life (Jn. 5:24). They can know for certain that God will never leave them or forsake them (Heb. 13:5). They can know for certain that heaven is awaiting them (Col. 1:5). They can know for certain that they have eternal life. "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life" (1 Jn. 5:13).
God will never unregenerate, unelect or unadopt the ones who are truly His children. Salvation is the unbreakable chain of events from beginning to end firmly held in His control. "Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! O what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of his Spirit, washed in his blood" (Fanny J. Crosby, 1873). I don't know how people can live day to day without the assurance of knowing for certain that they will abide in God's continual presence from now into eternity.
Let me ask you my friend, are you finding great encouragement in these three pillars of the faith? Do you really believe that God shows Himself most loving and increases your joy not when He makes much of you, but rather when He allows you to make much of Him? Moreover, can you be certain that each of them applies to you? Does the Spirit of God live within you? We can't see the Spirit, just like we cant see the wind (Jn. 3:8). However, we can measure both the Spirit and the wind by its effects. As you consider these three doctrines, do you bear effects of a divine work in your life? The Apostle Peter worked backward, through these doctrines when he said, beginning with eternal security, "Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble" (2 Pet. 1:10). I'll work forward in the order they were presented this morning.
Has God granted you the ability to see the ugliness of sin from His perspective?
Has God helped you to realize that you cannot earn your way to heaven?
Has God enabled you to draw unto Jesus for complete forgiveness?
Has God granted you the ability to surrender your life to Jesus?
Has God granted you the desire and ability to repent from sin?
Has God enabled you to keep His commandments and turn from sin?
Has God been bearing spiritual fruit in your life?
Has God made it possible for you to persevere in the faith?
If these traits characterize your life, rejoice that you are a child of God. And if you are a child of God, rejoice in the three pillars that are intended to bring you great joy, confidence and assurance.
Earlier this week I received an e-mail from an individual in this church who was unaware of the topic of this sermon. I think his letter summarizes the divine work of God in a believer's life for His glory and the believer's joy.
"I got up as usual and headed up to the beach to say my morning prayers and see the sunrise.
The sky was one of the most beautiful sunrises I have experienced in a long time...perhaps ever. This morning, God filled the horizon w/ bright colors that only He could have shed on us. Words cannot describe what I experienced. Others who were present were in awe of the sheer beauty that was present in the horizon. I wonder if they know...
With the day off to a beautiful serene start and bright skies ahead, I began to pray. After asking the Lord for his will for this day, I spent a significant amount of my prayer asking the Lord to live through me. I surrendered to Him as I closed my eyes and gave myself to him completely.
I know in my heart and mind that it is time for me to live in his Word and allow His will for me to be done and give myself to Him and live through Him. I am no longer fearful of falling short, and am willing to face my sins.
The last couple Sundays, I have left Grace Tabernacle, thinking that you were talking specifically to me...what I need to remember and keep in mind is that in the grand scheme of things, I am pretty insignificant.
I would like to speak to you in length about the transformation that has been taking place in my soul. There is just so much going on in my heart right now...it's beautiful...truly beautiful...can't even begin to put my feelings into words."
Three great theological pillars of the faith; Human Depravity, Divine Election and Eternal Security. Understand them and feast upon them for God's glory and your joy!