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Archive for Election

Election: Navigating the Elephant in the Room

January 16, 2015

elephant-in-the-room-wip-leah-saulnier-the-painting-maniac“Dad, it’s the elephant in the room.” My son made a point that he felt was extremely obvious, but no one wanted to admit that they got it. That was the first time I remember hearing that expression. I have heard it many times since. The term refers to a question, problem, solution, or controversial issue which is obvious to everyone who knows about the situation, but which is deliberately ignored because to do otherwise would cause great embarrassment, or trigger arguments or is simply taboo.

It struck me that the words spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ are so very profound, yet they apparently go without notice. These truths become spiritual “elephants in the room.” I get the fact that His words – the words written in red in my Bible – are no more inspired by the Holy Spirit than those of Peter, Paul, James, and John. But I admit that His words weigh heavily upon this writer’s heart. This blog starts a short series on the seven “I Am’s of Jesus Christ.” In these “I Am” statements I want to look closely at some recognizably clear but painfully ignored statements (elephants in the room) of our Lord.

Why do people who hear the gospel reject the gospel? The short answer is that all are spiritually dead in trespasses and sin and the dead cannot hear.  Secondly, Satan blinds the minds of people to the truth contained in the gospel. Adam’s entire race is born dead and blind. It should be obvious that unless God works to allow His word to penetrate the mind of the dead by breaking the hold of Satan’s blindness, the person cannot hear and believe the gospel. The real reason why people do not believe comes from the lips of Jesus Christ.

Let’s visit our Lord’s “I am” found in John 10.  Jesus begins by identifying Himself in verse 11 as the Good Shepherd, “I am the Good Shepherd who gives His life for the sheep.” This was in contrast to the hired helper that really does not own the sheep and would most likely not lay down his life for them (vs. 11-13). In verse 14 He repeats, “I am the Good Shepherd, and I know my sheep, and I am known by My own.” How He knows His sheep or how they know Him, He does not say. Then in verses 27 and 28, He crystalizes this truth by a further explanation. The Good Shepherd uses the personal pronoun, “My sheep.”

He is plainly identifying a special group of people that He owns, a people branded as His own possession. This is obviously in contrast to some who are not His sheep. He continues, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me.”  Again, He does not tell us how He knows His sheep or how His sheep hear His voice or how they know Him or how they follow Him, He just states that it is so. One has to work hard to misunderstand these words written in red. Amazingly, He then says that He gives these sheep, the ones whom He knows and the ones who follow Him, eternal life,  that they will never perish.

This forced me to ask a few questions. “When were these sheep His sheep? Did they become His sheep after they heard His voice and decided to follow Him? Or were they His sheep before they heard His voice and followed Him?” They belonged to Him before they followed Him and before He gave them eternal life. As far as we know, they were always His sheep. A group of Jews surrounded Jesus and demanded that He tell them if He was truly the Christ (John 10:24).  He strongly informed them, “I told you and you do not believe.”

Belief in Him is the subject. He said that the works that He had done were sufficient to convince anyone that He was the Christ. He was obviously referring to His amazing miracles. Verse 26 answers the question as to why people do not believe in Jesus Christ. “But you do not believe because you are not of my sheep.” This can’t be missed! It is so very clear. It is the elephant in the room. The Jews who rejected Jesus Christ rejected Him because they did not belong to Him. Those who belonged to Him believed! This is the reason people reject the gospel.

Ah, Jews, you say. Yes, He is speaking specifically here about Jews. Those coming to Him were Jewish sheep not Gentile. But in verse 16 He says, “And other sheep have I which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear my voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.” These “other sheep,” which will hear the voice of the Good Shepherd are Gentile sheep.  Some Gentiles will hear His voice and come to Him. And then there will be one flock (made up of both Jews and Gentiles) and one shepherd. Who could miss this? It’s the elephant in the room.

Me, A Calvinist?

August 5, 2009

I was taught clearly from my years at Dallas Theological Seminary the extreme importance of studying the Bible word by word. I believe that all scripture – every word, every line, every paragraph – is inspired by God and profitable for truth, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness in order that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  I believe that every word – every noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, preposition and clause – is placed in the Bible exactly as the Holy Spirit designed it to be. There are no wasted words, and the words are to be taken in their proper context. This belief has been used by God to launch me into a lifetime of studying and teaching God’s word literally and word-by-word, line-by-line, paragraph-by-paragraph, and book-by-book.

It wasn’t long before I began to navigate through some minefields of truth that both puzzled me and challenged me.  I remember the first time I worked through the book of Romans.  Romans 8 began to plunge me into another world. The Holy Spirit opened to me small glimpses of an incredibly awesome eternal God who had a predetermined plan for this universe and for me.  I remember the excitement that filled me when I sensed in awe just how very small I am in comparison.

Then I ran into Romans 8:28-30 and Romans 9-11. As I weaved my way through this text, I began to ask myself why these words did not really mean what they appeared to be saying. I remember going back to the text time and time again to ponder its meaning and to find a way to escape the incredible truths that they were opening to my small mind. The truth that God had chosen to set His love upon me before time began. The truth that I had always been in His mind and in His plan.  He knew me long before I stood by the old fishpond at Boca Raton, Florida, and trusted Jesus Christ as my Savior. He knew me when he shaped me in my mother’s womb. I wept!  My continued study has led me to the fact that God’s divine election is indeed a part of His plan.

I had never read a book by any of the reformers in Europe. I had learned bits and pieces about these great men from Dr. John Hannah at DTS.  As a part of his required reading, I read books on the history of the Reformation.  I developed a deep sense of gratitude for the work of men like Luther, Calvin, Wycliffe, and Latimer.  They are a part of my spiritual heritage, and I’m proud of that. Their personal sacrifice retrieved and clarified the gospel message that had been confused for years by a web of religion. Every believer on the planet should feel a deep indebtedness to these men. But that had no bearing on what I began to see in the word of God concerning God’s elective purposes. Said simply, I had little knowledge of John Calvin and the system called today, “Calvinism.”

As I began to teach passages from Romans and Ephesians and John in their proper context using their plain common sense meaning, I noticed that people – even some of my friends – began to refer to me as a “Calvinist.”  A Calvinist?  I remember the first time this happened. A friend said to me, “Oh you’re just like Wayne Neal; you’re a Calvinist!” That line was used by God to launch me into a serious study of the issues. It seems that today I have to place myself in one of two camps, Armenian or Calvinist – although I do not totally agree with either group.  If I am going to teach the Bible’s view of election the way I understand it, then I am going to be branded a “Calvinist.” This is the case even though I have never considered myself as such at all.

I have discovered something else through this process. The Bible’s teaching of election has never been popular. In fact, it was this very teaching that led ultimately to the cross of Calvary.  In Luke 4 Jesus had begun His ministry and, as was His custom, He went to the synagogue in Nazareth to teach.  He read and explained a section of the prophet Isaiah and applied it to Himself.  The text implies that at first His teaching was well received by everyone. In fact, the people marveled at the gracious words that proceeded out of His mouth (Luke 4:22).

Our Lord knew that the people expected Him to perform miracles there in His hometown, but Jesus said that no prophet has honor in his own country. Then He said something amazing. He said that there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, but God sent him to only one, the widow of Zarephath (Luke 4:26). He also said that there were many lepers in Israel at the time of Elisha the prophet, but God cleansed only one, Naaman the Syrian. This is simply divine election!   But note the result. “So all those in the Synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and threw Him out of the city and led Him to the edge of a hill planning to throw Him off of it, but He slipped away” (Luke 4:28-30). This wrath against the teaching of Jesus Christ led men eventually to crucify Him. If you ask me things haven’t changed a whole lot.