God’s Plumbline

 There are many characteristics that shed light upon God. If you ask someone “Which of God’s characteristics define Him the best?” most will probably respond by saying His love or maybe His holiness. But according to the Bible that would be the wrong answer. As this writer has mentioned often, the beautiful biblical attributes that define who God is are His forever life (Psa. 90: 2), His sovereignty (His absolute control of everything in time and space (Dan. 4:34-35), His love (1 Jn. 4:8), His righteousness and justice (Psa. 89:14), and the fact that He is all-powerful (Gen. 18:14), all-knowing (Isa. 40:28), and everywhere present (Psa. 139:7-17), and finally the truth that He never changes (Mal. 3:6). And His love is a biggie. As the reader well knows, God is love. He is the very essence of love. The only reason that we know anything at all about love is because we have His image stamped on us (Gen. 1:26). This writer has memorized and meditated on the meaning of these characteristics for many years. I recognize that these are just some of God’s attributes making up His Godness, His holiness, His “set apartness.”

However, two of God’s attributes stand out from the rest and are almost always found together. These two characteristics hold the rest of His attributes together in a powerful unbreakable bond. The first is His righteousness, or His rightness. “I, the LORD, speak righteousness, I declare things that are right” (Isa. 45:18). When the Bible says that God is righteous, it does not mean that God is good, or even really good, or even really, really good. It does not mean that God is much better than any other being. The God of the Bible is the very essence of perfection. He is perfectly perfect. He is righteously right. He is the One who invented “good.” He is right in every thought that He has thought, every decision that He has ever made or will ever make, every action that He has ever done, and every word that He has ever spoken. The prophet Habakkuk says that His eyes are too holy to even look upon sin (Hab. 1:13).

He is the God of infinite integrity. The apostle John said that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all (1 Jn. 1:5). Not bad for an uneducated fisherman! God is pure unadulterated light that contains not one tiny speck of darkness. Not one! The psalmist tells us that God’s work is honorable and glorious, and His righteousness endures forever (Psa. 111:3).

The second of God’s characteristics that rises to the top is a counterbalance to His righteousness – His justice! “He is the Rock, His work is perfect; For all His ways are justice, a God of truth and without injustice; Righteous and upright is He” (Deut. 32:4, NASB). Carefully note that “all His ways are just.” That is powerfully plain-spoken. The truth of God’s justice is so important that Moses – probably because God revealed to him that God’s justice would be tested, resisted, and restricted time and again throughout history – said it two ways: positively he says that all God’s ways are just; and negatively, Moses says that “God is without injustice.”

He is making the fact of God’s justice as clear as possible. To this writer, the word “counterbalance” describing God’s righteousness and justice fits perfectly. They are like a sacred scale. I am thinking of a meat scale at a food market. God’s righteousness and justice must always remain perfectly balanced – always. God must maintain both and preserve them perfectly. Isaiah 28:17 says, “I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the level.” Measuring line is the Hebrew word mishpot – a unit of capacity, a measuring cup, and righteousness is tsedeqah – a leveling device. The reader who has spent time in the kitchen knows what a measuring cup is, and a carpenter knows what a leveling device is. Everyone knows that a plumbline keeps workers’ projects straight. Oh, the times that recipes have failed because the measuring cup was not used correctly, and the times a building project has failed because the plumb line was not used correctly. All that God is, what God does, and what God says must always be measured against his measuring cup and His leveling device – so they could very well be called His plumbline.

The fact that God’s righteousness and justice are His plumbline is exceedingly heavy truth! A negative way of saying this is there can never be an imbalance between God’s righteousness and His justice – never! What His righteousness rejects, His justice must condemn. God’s works – God’s decisions must always be realigned with His plumbline of perfection. Point! All of God’s works must always be in line with His characteristics of righteousness and justice. What God does – the decisions that He makes can never be out of balance with His character. God must remain right, and He must always remain just. Always! Every word that God speaks must be measured for truth against His plumbline. God can never say anything that is not true and believers can never sin against God and get away with it.

God’s discipline of a sinning Christian (His justice) must restore His righteousness (His plumbline) in the Christian’s life. Since Christians will never be sinless while in this fallen body then Christians must always endure God’s chastening. “My son do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him. For whom the Lord loves He chastens and scourges every son whom He receives. If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom the Father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they (human fathers) indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He (God) for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness” (Heb. 12:5-10).

“Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness [dikaiosune]” (Heb. 12:11). Remember this Greek word dikaiosune. This chastening gets extremely complicated when we take in both our thought life and our open sins. At the time the Holy Spirit convicts us of a rouge thought or a wrong act, agree with Him quickly and turn from it (John 8:11).

That is known as walking in the Spirit and not fulfilling the lust of the flesh (Galatians 5:16-17), and when we sin we are to confess it to God. “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness”(1 John 1:9). The word “confess” is the Greek word homologeo, and it means to “say the same” or, you guessed it, to agree. The Christian can do this in a matter of seconds and in the process “keep walking in the light (1 John 1:7). By the way, the words “one another” in this passage as in “we have fellowship one with the other” in context, is speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ – not fellow believers. We are to walk in fellowship with Christ moment by moment. It speaks of a vertical relationship, not horizontal. This spiritual exercise is to be an ongoing huge part of the Christians life. Therefore, God tells us to endure the chastening. If we respond correctly “we live.” Did the reader catch that little phrase? Desire a long life? Keep short sin accounts with God. Remember, its often the little words that make the greatest impact (Heb.12:9). Now……. Just how righteous and just is God?

David said this about God’s righteousness and justice, and he said it twice. “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; Mercy and truth go before His face” (Psa. 89:14). “Clouds and darkness surround Him; Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne” (Psa. 97:2). The foundation is the part of the building that holds the structure’s entire weight. If a building is to stand, a solid foundation must be laid strong enough to hold it up, to support it. “Foundation” is the Hebrew word makon. It means a fixed nonmovable established place. The foundation of righteousness (being right) and justice (being fair and just) is the firmly fixed makon upon which all the rest of God’s God-ness rests. He must always think right! He must always do right! He must always be right! He must always be just or fair. And He must always keep these two characteristics in perfect balance. He must always align Himself with His plumbline. He cannot alter His character one tiny bit. He cannot change (Malachi 3:6). He will not change! His deity depends upon it. Someone wrote long ago that God’s righteousness is the righteousness that God’s righteousness requires Him to require. That’s heavy language meaning that God must remain right in every sense of the word. His very being depends upon it.

God’s righteousness is mentioned in the Bible well over two hundred times, and always within close proximity to His justice (1 Kings 10:9; 2 Chronicles 9:8; Job 29:14; Psa. 72:2, 99:4, 119:121; Proverbs 2:9, Isaiah 1:27, Jeremiah 4:2, Ezekiel 45:9; Hosea 2:19; Amos 5:7, and Micah 7:9). I mention these few passages just to make the point! God’s righteousness and justice are mentioned together so often that they are called, “the way of the Lord” (Genesis 18:19). Proverbs says that to do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice (Proverbs 21:3). God is said not only to be righteous and just, but He is said to love righteousness and justice (Psalm 33:5).

These two characteristics, thought of as one (as we will see), are well worth memorizing and meditating on. Think of all the forementioned characteristics: sovereignty, love, eternal life, all knowingness, all-powerfulness, everywhere presentness and unchangeableness and even His holiness, must all be subject to God’s righteousness and His justice. That’s heavy!

Places where the Bible is silent make the biggest impressions. For instance, the Bible does not imply that God’s sovereignty is His plumbline, nor His love, nor His power, nor His eternal presence, nor even His holiness. Nor does God say that all these attributes are the foundation upon which His throne is built, nor does He call any one of them His way. This place in God’s holy character is reserved only for His righteousness and justice ……alone. God does not say that He loves any of the forementioned characteristics other than His righteousness and His justice.

One may think that God’s overwhelming characteristic is His love, but the Bible does not say that God loves His love. God is love (1 John 4:8). The only reason we know anything about love at all is because God’s image is stamped upon us. He is all the characteristics mentioned above, and more. But again, Scripture affirms that God loves righteousness and justice. The Bible does not even say that God loves His holiness – as important as that is. Wow! The importance of God’s plumbline keeps rising until it towers high above all.

So, God’s righteousness and justice – His plumbline – the Rock that never moves is established (Deut. 32:4). But this writer feels the necessity to be cautiously repetitious. The “why” will soon be discovered. God’s rightness and fairness are the same yesterday, today, and forever. His nature of righteousness and justice never wavers in the slightest degree. God’s plumbline must always remain fixed – always. His judgments are all forever righteous. His work is always perfect. He never makes missteps or mistakes. There is never a character flaw with God – not one. This truth magnificently glorifies the work of the cross. God made Him (the Lord Jesus) who knew no sin (God’s sinless Son) to become sin for us. Through the death of Christ, God forever balanced the scales of His righteousness and justice. God did this in order that we might be made the righteousness (dikaiosune, plumbline) of God in Him (1 Cor. 5:21). God can now be just (fair with Himself) and the justifier (declaring just) those who place their faith in Christ (Rom. 3:26).

The powerful prominent Old Testament Hebrew words tsedekah (righteous) and mishpot (justice) sing together in perfect harmony in the New Testament in the single word dikaiosune – translated simply, righteousness. This word is made by combining two Greek words, dikaios (righteous) and krino (just), resulting in dikaiosune(righteousness).  Dikaiosune (righteousness) became God’s New Testament word defining His plumbline.

The reader now knows why it is good to keep this word in mind. The word reveals that God forever realigned His plumbline of perfect righteousness and justice that was distorted by the sin and death of Adam. Through one man’s offense, death reigned, and judgment came upon all. Even so through one Man’s righteous act, the free gift of righteousness (dikaiosune) came to all, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous (Rom. 5:19). God credits the precious benefits gained by this cross work of His Son (of which there are many) to those who trust in Christ by faith alone. God made Him (Christ) who knew no sin to become sin for us (believers) that we might be made the righteousness (dikaiosune) of God in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21). Upon hearing the gospel and responding positively to it, at the exact moment that our faith is placed in Christ, God miraculously places us in Christ where He credits His plumbline of righteousness and justice to us – His dikaiosune. This is what it means to be “justified” (Rom. 3:24). God then sees the believer sheltered in Christ and being as righteous (dikaiosune) as Himself. God has forever settled His demand for righteousness and justice in Christ. Halleluiah! How can we even begin to reach the depths of this? This is grace! The question is do we really believe this? Do we really believe that God’s righteousness and judgment is always in play absolutely and perfectly even when it does not appear this way to our sin-fogged minds?

Let’s test it! It does not take long for new believers to realize that God did not choose to eradicate our sinful natures the moment we were saved. By faith in Christ, we have become new creations having new natures – and are given God the Holy Spirit to teach us and to guide us (John 16:13-14). Yet we still sin (1 John 1:8), and we live shoulder to shoulder with millions of other sinner/slaves – all trapped in a slave market of sin and death. As one of my mentors used to repeat, our sin natures are so powerful that they touch and affect every thought that we think, every word that we say, every choice that we make, and everything that we do. He said evil touches even the good things that we do. We live in fallen limited bodies that are growing more so every day – in a fallen world, with Satan at the helm. Therefore, God’s disciplining hand always remains present and active in us, always continuously reestablishing His dikaiosune. Let’s truck through a small portion of the chastening passage in Hebrews one more time and focus attention on the word “righteousness” (dikaiosune) – God’s plumbline.

“Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness [dikaiosune] – God’s plumbline – to those who have been trained [gumnadzo, strengthened] by it” (Heb. 12:11). God’s chastening of His spiritual children is continuous and continuously strengthens and reestablishes His plumbline in them, and for Him, for life. God is a good heavenly Father, and a good heavenly Father always keeps His righteousness and justice in perfect balance with all His children. He never lets any part of this realignment slip by one time – ever.

Even the best human parents are not perfect parents. There are just commands given to a child, but the justice slips by. Not once, but many times. It is said to the child, “If you do such and such again, I will do such and such,” but our part of such and such never comes. We are busy – too busy to follow through – or we are in a place where such a parental act would cause embarrassment. There are many such reasons. The writer of Hebrews says that we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. This correction lasted “for a few days,” and “as seemed best to them” (Heb. 12:9-10). But God’s chastening is maintained throughout life, and it is always done according to God’s character – it is perfect.

With this info in our mind a very big question is raised. Are sinners – even the best – ever in the position to judge how an infinite God carries out His righteousness and justice based on what is thought to be just and fair. One may think that a work that God does is good, fair, and just because it agrees with their fallen standards of goodness and fairness, and that is the reason that God wills it. Or said another way, one may think well of what God wills to happen because it is thought to be the right thing to do. The psalmist wrote, “These things you have done, and I kept silent; You thought that I was altogether like you; But I will rebuke you and set them in order before your eyes” (Psa. 50:21). God does not think like us, nor does He act like us (Isa. 55:8).

Humans must bow to the fact that whatever the living God wills to happen is just, good, and fair, because He wills it. That should settle the issue. God is in control, and He never loses control not one moment. If we are seeking true “right,” we must establish what is right from God’s Word. If we are seeking true justice, again we must go to God’s Word. God’s Word contains the unchangeable Rock of our salvation (2 Sam. 22:47). Blessed be our Rock! “Let God be true, exalted, and every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4). We must all give thanks to the Lord, “for He is good. His mercy endures forever” (1 Chron. 16:34). If all the above is true, then all should gladly worship and honor Him. He is truly a God worthy of our love and our worship, even when we fail to understand why He has determined to do what He does. “Let everything that has breath praise this LORD. Praise the LORD” (Psa.150:6).

But even with His eternal nature – His holiness – in mind, many will never choose to worship Him because there are places in God’s Word that do not square with human sense of fairness. The reason is clear. Adam’s fallen image continues to affect our human wills. I have often wondered why God left Adam’s nature in us, even after our new birth. It may be to continuously remind us of who we are and from where we have come. To this writer, this is the reason that people want a god that meets their own human standards – a god like them. They desire to worship a God who would never choose to do anything that they themselves would not do. Or a god who can be reasoned with and changed. This begs the question, “Do we really believe that God’s righteousness and justice always remains in perfectly balance – always?”

 

The Church in Decline

by Dick Hill

 

I was sitting with a good friend on the porch at the Ponderosa years ago. He asked me a very searching question. “Spiritually speaking, where do you think local churches are today?” This was long before the Covid pandemic which has been devastating on the church. I have thought about his question many times. I could only answer from my observations as a pastor of many churches here in the south over the last forty years.

 

Jesus Christ has not ceased to build His church – His spiritual kingdom – and will do so throughout history. That thought comforts this writer (Matthew 16:13-17).

 

  1. There are Birds in the Branches (Matthew 13:31-32)

 

There are many birds (unbelievers) positioned in the branches of the tree (or bats in the belfry if you please) that Christ is building. The birds represent unbelievers (verse 31). We are to continue to preach the gospel. Why? There are many who comfortably sit in the congregation year after year who have never embraced the gospel of God’s magnificent grace. They have learned to speak often repeated Bible language – I call it “Christianese” – but do not know the meaning of the language. They can use words like saved, redemption, regeneration, justification, or sanctification; but have no clue what they mean or where they are found in the Bible. They have become comfortable with their “profession of faith in Christ” – punched their ticket to heaven – but in truth they may be clinging to a different gospel (Galatians 1:6-9). They would be numbered in the category of those mentioned by Jesus who had said to Him “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name (taught in your name), cast out demons in your name, and in your name done many wonderful works. Jesus responded, “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:21-22). This confirms to me that God’s great adversary Satan is very good at blinding people to the truth of the gospel – very good (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).

 

  1. Babes on the Benches

 

There are many who have truly embraced the gospel but have remained baby Christians. They have failed to grow to maturity. Peter wrote, “As newborn babies desire the pure milk of the word that by it you may grow” (1 Peter 2:2). Note the phrase “the pure milk of the word.” The Greek word “pure” means unadulterated or not watered down. Many in the local church have become dependent on what others say the Bible says and have come to lean on that alone as their source of Bible truth. These teachers may have watered down the pure milk of Scripture. Weak Christians are drawn first to one teacher then to another. They vacillate and are never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. Many have never truly learned the doctrines of grace. This prevents other believers from ever receiving the necessary milk. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual (people) but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal (1 Corinthians 3:1-2).  The word “carnal” is translated “fleshly.” Paul had taught the people the ABC’s of grace and they received it quickly, but when he began to feed them solid food, they spit it out. He had given the people ample time and necessary teaching for them to have grown up and become profitable to God, but they had failed to do so on all counts.  The result was constant division and strife in the body. Some claimed to be followers of Paul; others claimed to be disciples of Apollos. According to Paul, the indication that there were babes in the congregation is that there was jealousy and the tendency to follow human leaders. This becomes the source of constant turmoil.

 

The writer of Hebrews speaks of this same truth. The subject was Melchizedek. This teaching is hard truth. It would be considered by Paul to be strong meat of the word. The result was the same. The hearers did not understand the truth of Melchizedek. They had become “dull of hearing” (Hebrews 5:10-11). They spit out the meat. The people had been given sufficient time and teaching to have become teachers themselves, but they still needed someone to teach them again the first principles of the oracles of God.  They had never learned the ABC’s of scripture. They still needed milk and not solid food. Those who receive only a steady diet of milk are unskilled in the word of righteousness, for they are babes. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. I’ve heard these words repeatedly from congregations: “That teaching is too hard.” The result should be obvious.  Christians have become content with drinking the milk of the word time and again and never have moved into the realm of spiritual meat – the steak.

 

  1. Blending with the Bandits

 

Go along to get along! We, the church, have failed to so live our lives and speak the gospel so that the Holy Spirit can use us to convict the world of sin, of righteousness, and a coming judgement (John 16:8). We have failed to become salt and light. We have lost our savor and our shine. We no longer convict the world; we are in competition with the world. We are here to impact the world with the gospel of God’s grace and the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit. As Dr. Donald Barnhouse used to say, “We are never commanded in the Bible to clean up the fishpond, we are told to fish in it.” Many people that I have had the privilege of sharing the gospel with and seeing them come to faith in Christ have been people that were members of local churches for many years, but they had missed the gospel. We are living with these results in many local churches today. How do we motivate the congregation to keep coming?  We entertain the sheep! We compete with the world for their attention and their loyalty. When we stop entertaining, the sheep quit coming. We are supposed to change the world; but the world has changed us.

 

The Way of the Lord

No one is comfortable with the thought of being born into slavery through no fault or choice of their own or being dead in sin through being connected to someone and something that happened thousands of years ago. There is little doubt that slaves will look for answers to get around being incarcerated, forever lost in slavery, dead in sin, and totally blind to that fact. 

 

It is far easier to believe and teach the songwriter’s words “Calvary covers it all” or “God’s love reaches to the highest mountain and it reaches to the lowest hell.” It is far easier to teach and believe that any slave to sin can at any time freely(catch that word) hear the gospel, freely believe the gospel, and freely trust in Christ, anywhere and anytime. If this is true, then our slavery is not a big deal at all; we are not blind at all; and we are not spiritually dead at all!

 

The truth of salvation is that God must make the first move, making the gospel known and removing the blindness, and making those who are born unwilling, willing to be saved. If God does not act, no one will be released from slavery – no one.

 

Many people believe that we are all locked in a slave market of sin, but not locked so tight that we cannot hear and believe the gospel. They believe that Satan is, in fact, blinding everyone’s mind to sin and death but that none are so blind that they cannot at least catch a glimpse of the gospel and be saved. Their thinking is that we are all born dead in sin, but not so dead that we cannot hear and believe. It is as though the Bible’s warning that Satan is sadistically blinding the entire world to the gospel is just not taken seriously. This is plainly stated in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4, but many just do not really believe it.

 

Said a different way, the comfort zone of eternal salvation comes to many through a belief system that is overwhelmed with the truth that “God so loved the world that He gave” (John 3:15-16). And I get this! God is certainly said to love the world. In fact, God is said to actually be love (1 Jn. 4:8). God’s love is His strong motive for our salvation. “Herein is love, not that we loved God but that He love us and sent His son to be the propitiation for our sin” (1 Jn. 4:10).

 

But for God’s love to trump all of His other attributes (Bible characteristics that make Him God), is just not true to the word of God. The entire fallen human race seems to require that God’s love stand as the pinnacle of truth that governs all His other traits. I personally admit that just the thought of this age-old passage of John 3:16 does wonders for me, and because of my personal feelings about myself, my wife, my children, my grandchildren, and their children; and all of my family members who have gone before, my neighbors and many personal friends whom I love who have left this world –this passage gives me a solid rock steadfast hope. And I use it most every time I present the precious benefits of the cross work of the Lord Jesus Christ and it (along with Ephesians 2:8-10 and 1 Jn. 5:13) are among the first passages that my grandchildren are encouraged to memorize.

 

Let’s just cut to the chase. God’s steadfast plumbline made up of His righteousness and justice should stand firm in every believer’s thinking.  God must remain faithful and true to this truth (Isa. 28:17).  He must be completely fair in His dealings with every member of the human race according to His divine standard of fairness, not fallen man’s sense of fairness. And God cannot overwhelmingly love at the expense of diminishing the value of any of His other attributes.

 

Not to belabor the point, but to make it crystal clear, let us revisit in a slightly different way God’s characteristics of righteousness (His rightness) and justice (His fairness).  God’s righteousness is mentioned in the Bible well over 200 times, and always within close proximity to His justice.

 

God’s righteousness and justice are cited together so often that they are called, “the way of the Lord” (Gen. 18:19). God’s love is never said to be the way of the Lord. To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice (Prov. 21:3). The Bible never says that to do love is more acceptable to God than sacrifice. The Bible says that God loves righteousness and justice (Psa. 33:5). The Bible does not say that God loves His love!  

 

King David says twice that righteousness and justice are the foundation of God’s throne. “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; Mercy and truth go before His face” (Psa. 89:14). “Clouds and darkness surround Him; Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne” (Psa. 97:2).

 

The foundation of God’s righteousness and justice upon which His throne rests must bear the weight of all of God’s other characteristics and this is only foundation for these characteristics to rest upon. The Bible never credits God’s love as the foundation for His throne. The Bible does not say that God’s holiness – and God is holy, holy, holy (Isa. 6: 1-3) – is the foundation of His throne, nor for that matter is His sovereignty, His eternal life, the fact that He is all powerful, and all knowing, and everywhere present. God’s righteousness and His justice stand alone as the foundation for His Godness. 

 

God’s love for this world, along with all that God is, is built on the foundation of His righteousness and His justice. God cannot exercise any of His attributes (including love) at the expense of any of His other attributes. This would not be right nor fair. It would not be righteous, and it would not be just.  And built upon that foundation of righteousness and justice – is God’s love. Nowhere does God limit the value of His love. It was God’s love that motivated Him to provide the God-Man as the eternal satisfactory sacrifice for our sin (1 Jn. 4:10).  Blessings!

The Conundrum

If I heard him say it once, I heard him say it one hundred times. “He made the unwilling, willing! Halleluiah.” And he said it just like that! These words came from the mouth of an old mentor, S. Lewis Johnson, a former professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and for many years pastor of Believer’s Chapel in Dallas, Texas. He is with His Lord now, but He has left a lifelong mark upon this writer’s life for which I am forever grateful.

 

Dr. Donald Barnhouse used the book of Galatians to help me – as a babe in Christ – learn to stand on my own spiritual feet, really learn to fly freely. It was years later that Dr. Johnson – along with others – picked up that mantle for me. And it was also quite a few years later while driving on a freeway outside of Atlanta that I learned that Dr. Barnhouse had in fact, years earlier, explained the gospel of God’s grace to Lewis Johnson. I almost had a wreck trying to remove the tears from my eyes.  I could not help but say audibly to myself, “God, you are The Great Genius of history.” I have used this line many times since then, and it is safe to say that I will use it again.

 

In math, to find the answer to a particular equation, the right formula must be applied. Let’s think back to God’s formula for sin. Why? Because it is so easy to get lost wandering in the weeds of words. The more words there are for some, the easier it is to lose their way. Remember, God’s underlying formula for sin is that we all sinned and died in Adam (Rom. 5:12).  “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” goes much deeper and wider than we at first realize. We do not become sinners when or if we sin; we sin because we are already sinners, born in sin, born dead in sin. Thus, we are all, every nation, tribe, tongue, every citizen of planet earth, a sinner before God before we ever personally choose to sin against Him. This is true because we were all there in the garden in Adam at the moment he sinned.  Some call this “original sin.”  We are sinners because we are inextricably (means it cannot be broken) connected to the corrupt seed of our first parents, the first Adam and his wife Eve. 

 

Our initial act of personal sin, far from taking a bite from a piece of forbidden fruit, may have been throwing our bottle across the room in a temper tantrum, or jumping up and down in our crib, or shaking and writhing on the floor holding our breath and screaming our heads off – simply because we did not get our way. We will all do something similar to this because we are born in Adam (like me stealing the candy bar). We are all bathed in Adam’s sinful shadow (Rom. 3:23; Eph. 2:1).

 

I recognize that all do not believe in original sin. But what are some of the ramifications if the sin formula spoken above is true to God’s word? Then we are all born into the slave market of sin. The only way out is death – physical and spiritual. Our final destiny – if the Holy Spirit does not invade this world of darkness and bring to us the gospel – will be to go physically back to the dust of the grave, meet with millions of other sinners at God’s Great White Throne Judgment, face our Maker, and then be cast bodily, soul, and spirit into hell forever and ever (Rev. 20:11-15). And all are, in fact, being spiritually blinded to all of this (2 Cor. 4:3-4). This does not sound encouraging in the least bit.

 

There is absolutely nothing we can do to free ourselves from this prison, and many add that we can’t even pray for the slaves. Wait! What? Why? Because it is thought by some that if sinners are not first willing to be saved, then not even God can save them. If we are not willing to repent, then God cannot give this repentance! God must not intervene! The choice must be freely and firstly ours to make and ours alone. Not even the odor of anything unfair can be laid at God’s feet. And He cannot intervene for some if not for all. This would mean that God is not righteous and not just.  This places the choice to trust Christ or reject him solely at the feet of the slave – the spiritually dead slave.

 

There are questions hanging silently in the background that will not go away. How can we move to the point of being willing to be saved if we are truly dead in sin? How can we decide to repent – change our minds about our sin and God’s goodness, and turn to Him – if we are dead in sin? I guess the question must be asked “just how dead is dead?”

 

How can the dead do anything? Remember Jesus’ words to a young wanna-be disciple who asked Jesus to first let him go and bury his father and then he would follow Jesus (he was no doubt the heir of his father’s estate). This young man did not get the response from the Savior that he expected. Jesus told him “Let the dead bury their own dead. As for you, you follow Me” (Matt. 8:18-22). Ouch!

 

Yet we are told to pray for the lost; pray for their salvation; ask God to save them; ask God to release them from the bondage of their slavery. How can He if sinners are dead and cannot become willing. Can God change their willingness and His throne remain solidly absolutely righteous and just?  Is this a forever contradiction? No! Is there an answer? Yes! Please hang with me!

 

 

 

All that the Father Gives to Me

I truly love these words written in red in my red-letter addition of the Bible. “All that the Father gives to Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of Him Who sent Me. And this the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me, I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day” (John 6:37-38).

 

Let’s look more closely at Jesus’ words! If the reader believes, like me, that God says exactly what He means, that He never misspeaks, and that every word is placed exactly where He wants it to be….then, “all” means……well, all!

 

But in this case Jesus qualified the “all.” He did not mean all as in “everybody.” He put a gigantic monumental big water swell condition upon it. He said “all that the Father gives Me.” I am sure these words gave many people listening that day pause. I have meditated on this portion of God’s word for many years with the understanding that each and every word in the Bible matters. Every word!

 

The truth that it conveys at one point in my life gave me pause, but now it gives me praise. Since I have come to Christ by placing my faith in Him, His words mean that I am a gift given by God the Father to Him. Wow! Then I pondered this piercing question: Which came first, the giving by the Father or the coming to the Son? First came the giving! This means that those of us who have come to the Son by faith were first given to the Son. Again, we are gifts given to God the Son by God the Father. No giving, no coming! Jesus confirmed this truth in John 17. This is why the people were not believing. They missed the “spiritual.”

 

As miraculous as this may sound, this truth is verified by God speaking to God in prayer. Hold it! Did you understand that right? God praying to God!  Yes! As my good friend Danny Forrest once said to me, when we read John 17, we are eves-dropping on a conversation of God talking to God. That entire chapter is a is a jaw-dropper of information.

 

The second person of the Trinity, the Lord Jesus Christ, is praying to the first person of the Trinity, God the Father. He said that He had given eternal life to as many as God the Father had given to Him. The exact same line from John 6. Of course, He was speaking in John 17 only of the disciples…… I thought? After all, He continued by saying that He had manifested the name of God the Father to as many as He (God the Father) had given to God the Son out to the world.

 

Speaking again of the disciples, Jesus made it crystal clear.  “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world.” We cannot deny this. Jesus confirmed this truth to them. He told His disciples,“You did not choose Me but I chose you out of the world” (John 15:16-19). I thought at the time, “That’s it! He just chose the disciples.” And then I thought, “Wait, do not underestimate the weight of this truth.” HE CHOSE THE DISCIPLES. HE WENT TO SPECIFIC ONES. HE CALLED THEM BY THEIR NAMES. HE KNEW THEIR PROFESSIONS. HE PERSONALLY CHOSE THEM.

 

Speaking of them, Jesus said, “They were Yours!” Note again meaning of the words, their tenses and their order. “They were (past tense) yours” means that they were always yours. They did not become yours at the moment or after I called them. Even before Jesus went to them and called them, they already belonged to the Father. The Lord Jesus Christ simply went only to God’s select group of men. He already knew their names, everything there was to know about them, every blemish of their skin and the number of hairs on their head.  The second person of the Trinity also said that He had prayed for them and them only.  “I pray for them (the disciples), I do not pray for the world but for those whom you have given Me!” The reason once again: “For they are Yours.”

 

And then He said, “I do not pray for the world!” That sounds strange, does it not? Are we not told to go into the world with the gospel and to pray for the unsaved of the world that they may hear the gospel and believe? Are we not to pray for the lost? Certainly! We are compelled! Why? Because there are many other “gifts” out there waiting for the good news. God has many waiting and wanting, hungering to hear, longing to learn the gospel! The Good Shepherd has many sheep waiting to hear His call. They will not recognize the voice of a stranger, but they will know His voice when He calls them by their own name (John 10:1-4; 24-31). Incredible!

 

Recall God’s words to Paul. God knew that Paul was afraid because of the treatment that he had received in response to the message God had given him to speak. “Now the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.’ And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (Acts 18:9-11).  Paul was not to worry because God already had many in the city who were waiting for the truth of the gospel. They were already gifts.

 

Continuing Jesus’ prayer, we discover that it was not just the disciples whom He would call. Jesus said in His prayer, “I do not pray for these alone (the disciples) but also for those who will believe in Me through their word.” That’s us! This includes numerous people throughout history. As we will see later, the seed of the gospel will spread like spiritual seeds blown in the wind throughout the world, generation after generation. “That they may all be one; as You, Father, are in Me and I in You; that they may be one of Us and the world may believe that You sent Me” (Jn. 17:20-21). Amazing!