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!

 

God’s Plumbline

This question is now hanging in the air: Do we really believe that God is absolutely righteous and just in everything – everything that He has done and everything that He is determined to do? Do we really believe that His righteousness and justice are the very foundation upon which His deity rests?

Like Christ’s disciples learned so long ago, it does not take long as we navigate God’s Word for us to run into some savage, stormy headwind swells of what is often called by sailors “big water,” and sizable speed bumps that severely shake our faith. These are swells of strange Bible truths that will challenge what we truly believe about God’s goodness and fairness. And really what we truly believe about God. It is truth that may weed out those who are not really “in.” It is these truths that become the motivation for much of the world’s hatred of Christians.

New believers soon come to realize that God did not choose to eradicate our sin natures the moment we were saved. Though we become a new creation and are given God the Holy Spirit to teach us and to become our spiritual GPS, we are still sinners and we live shoulder to shoulder with millions of other sinner/slaves – all trapped in a slave market.  Our sin nature is so powerful that it touches and affects every thought that we think, every word that we say, every choice that we make, and everything that we do. One of my mentors said that evil touches even the good that we do. God’s Word wielded by His Spirit is the only real, unchangeable truth that we possess.

Not one of us is in the position to judge God’s righteousness and justice on the basis of what we may think is just and fair. For example, we must never think that an action of God is good, fair, and just according to our fallen standards of fairness, and that is why God wills it. Or said another way, we should never think that God wills it because we think it is right.  We must bow to the fact that it is just, good, and fair because God wills it. Why? Remember, He is the God who gave us goodness, righteousness, justice, and truth! God’s character rests on it! It is truth because He says it! It is right because He does it! It is just because He says it is! He is the Rock! All His ways are just no matter how they appear to our sin-fogged minds (Deuteronomy 32:4).

God’s righteousness is the plumbline for all righteousness. God’s justice is the plumbline for all that is just. If we are seeking true “right,” we must learn what is right from God’s Word. If we are seeking true justice, we must go to God’s Word. God’s Word is the unchangeable Rock of our salvation (2 Samuel 22:47). Blessed be our Rock! Let God be true and exalted and every man a liar.   

We must all give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His mercy endures forever (1 Chronicles 16:34). He is light and in Him dwells no darkness at all (1 Jn. 1:5). Jesus said that He had come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Him should not abide in darkness (John 12:46). John wrote, “In Him is life, and the life was the light of men (1 Jn. 1:4).

God created us to believe He exists and that He is the God that we are to worship! He created us with an eternal nature like His (Eccl. 3:11). God also stamped within every heart a belief that there exists an eternal right and wrong, and that all will be judged against this eternal standard (Rom. 2:14-15). God demands from us worship and praise (Psa. 33:8; 96:9). 

God says of Himself that He is always just and always fair. And here is the big idea, no matter how any of His truth may appear to us: If all the above is true, all should gladly worship and honor Him. He is truly a God worthy of our love and our worship. “Let everything that has breath praise this Lord. Praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6)!

But even with His eternal nature (His holiness) in mind, many do not choose to worship Him. The reason is clear. They apply their own human standards to Him. They desire to worship a God who would never choose to do anything that they themselves would not choose to do.

Jesus’ disciples recognized that no one had ever taught things like Jesus Christ. Following His miraculous feeding of the thousands with just the use of a small boy’s lunch of fish and bread, the people – His disciples included – were absolutely amazed. The disciples who had just been standing around suddenly became waiters, running back and forth feeding the people and returning to refill their baskets with a delicious fish and bread. The food just kept on coming. Wow! Some probably ate all they wanted for the first time in their lives. They loved that satisfied feeling. Their hunger was gone. Others saw the gravity of the miracle and said, “Surely this is the Prophet that God promised us.” Jesus reminded them of the miracle of the manna in wilderness that God the Father had given to them that they would not die. I get that! Then He told them that that the manna was speaking of Him. Speaking of Him?

This was a spiritual truth that had to be seen with spiritual eyes and heard with spiritual ears. This truth had never entered the minds of men before (1 Cor. 2:9).  Jesus told the crowd that He was the very bread of life, and if they would just come to Him by faith they would hunger and thirst no more (John 6:1-35). 

 

God is Righteous and Just

This tiny earth is filled with that which sheds light upon the glory of God. “Glory,” the Greek word doxa, is all that sheds light upon God. I have illustrated this by using a small flashlight shining it upon an object in the room. The light glorifies the object. So, God’s glory is all that sheds light upon Him. Everything we see with our eyes in this entire universe sheds light upon the creative genius of God – but most do not see it this way. To them it is the creative beauty of “mother nature.”

 

There are many Biblical characteristics that shed light upon God: His sovereignty (Dan. 4:34-35), His eternal life (Psa. 90: 2), 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 He never changes (Mal. 3:6).  I have memorized these passages and pondered their meaning for many years. These are some of the characteristics that make up God’s holiness, His “set apartness.”

 

Just to say that God is righteous does not mean that God is really good, or even really, really good. It does not mean that God is by far 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 right in every decision that He has ever made or will ever make. He is the God of absolute integrity. The apostle John said that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). He is 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 (Psalm 111:3).

 

Two tandem characteristics of God are the scales, the plumbline, the measuring sticks up against which all of His characteristics must be measured. This plumbline is His righteousness and His justice (Isa. 28:17). They always appear together and must always remain in perfect balance.

 

Have you ever pondered where the concept for right and wrong came from? We inherently know it is wrong to murder, to steal, to lie, and to cheat. I remember as a ten-year-old attempting to steal a candy bar from our local grocery store. Did life from some faraway island, or Mr. Socrates, or green slime from the Nile River basin throw my young mind into an overwhelming sense of guilt? Did my knowledge of them raise my small heart rate or cause my palms to sweat? I think not!

 

Those of us who believe the Bible become aware that there is an ultimate right, a decisive right, up against which all standards of right and wrong must ultimately be held. This knowledge is in us because we are made in the image of our Creator (Genesis 1:27). His law is stamped indelibly upon every human heart (Romans 2:13-16). God’s righteousness and justice are in truth said to be His plumbline. It must remain standfast. God must always be true to His plumbline (Isa. 28:17).  He is completely fair in His dealings with every member of the human race according to His divine standard of fairness – His “fairness” – not fallen man’s sense of fairness.

 

God’s righteousness is mentioned in the Bible well over two hundred times, and always within close proximity to His justice. God’s righteousness and justice are mentioned together so often that they are called, “the way of the Lord”(Genesis 18:19). In fact, to do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice (Proverbs 21:3). God is said not only to be absolutely righteous and just, but He is said to love righteousness and justice (Psalm 33:5). Repeat! GOD LOVES RIGHTEOUSNESS AND JUSTICE.

 

King David said twice that righteousness and justice form the very foundation of God’s throne (Psa. 89:14, 97:2).  The foundation is the part of the building that holds the structure’s entire weight. As long as the building stands, the foundation must hold. It is the Hebrew word macon. It means a fixed or an established place. The foundation of righteousness (being absolutely right) and justice (being absolutely fair and just) is the firmly fixed place upon which God’s God-ness rests.

 

God’s righteousness and justice must hold all of the weight of His other characteristics. 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 change (Mal. 3:6). He must not change! He will not change! He is the Rock! The Rock that never moves. This means that His holy nature never wavers in the slightest degree.  It remains the same throughout all the ages. His work is always perfect (Deut. 32:4).  He never makes missteps or mistakes. There is never a flaw, not one. There is never an “uh oh” with Him.

 

All of these truths magnificently glorify the work of the cross. God made Him (the Lord Jesus) who knew no sin (His sinless Son) to become sin for us! God forever balanced His scales of righteousness and justice. He forever established in perfect place His plumbline of righteousness and justice – in Christ. How can we even begin to understand this? The question of the hour is do we really believe this? Blessings!

 

 

 

 

God is Not Like Us

Consider Solomon’s familiar words found in Ecclesiastes 3:  “To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, And a time to die; A time to plant, And a time to pluck what is planted; A time to kill, And a time to heal; A time to break down, And a time to build up; A time to weep, And a time to laugh; A time to mourn, And a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, And a time to gather stones; A time to embrace, And a time to refrain from embracing; A time to gain, And a time to lose; A time to keep, And a time to throw away; A time to tear, And a time to sew; A time to keep silence, And a time to speak; A time to love, And a time to hate; A time of war, And a time of peace” (v. 1-8). I want to hum, “turn, turn, turn.” Old fashioned, I am! I am impressed by the way Solomon finishes his point.  

What profit has the worker from that in which he labors?” (v. 9). A professor of mine often said that many spend their entire lives climbing the ladder of success only to discover at the end that their ladders have been propped against the wrong wall. To quote my grandson, “What a bummer!”

Solomon continued, “I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end” (v. 10-11).

Solomon was saying that no one can climb high enough, even to the farthest expanse of the universe, and discover what God is really doing from beginning to end. But King Nebuchadnezzar discovered that God does according to His will – His choosing, and He does it in the invisible realm of innumerable angels and in the historic generations of human beings. And no one can stop Him from doing His will or even begin figure Him out (Daniel 4: 34-35).   

It is because God is not like us. Repeat! The Source of all things is NOT LIKE US! God said, “You thought that I was altogether like you, but I will rebuke you” (Psalm 50:21).  We would be wrong to even think like this. Very wrong!  God does not think like us nor does He act like us (Isaiah 55:8). This is why the pagans, earth lovers and worshippers, do what they do.  They fashion gods of their own liking. They worship earthly things. They fall deeply and passionately in love with the things of this world.

We would never consider the seemingly innocent things in which we are passionately involved as being “idols,” would we? God does! Anything and everything that robs God of His time with us and our worship of Him is idolatry – anything.Life is all about His glory, not ours. The apostle John says simply, “Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 Jn. 2:15). Ouch! That is very clear, very broad, and exceedingly understandable.

Isaiah pondered the question, “Who would form a god or mold an image that profits him nothing?”  Yet the blacksmith fashions a god with the strength of his arms, but he goes hungry and thirsty from lack of food and water. The craftsman fashions an idol of wood. He plants and nourishes the tree, then cuts it down and makes a fire to warm himself and bake bread. With the rest, he makes a god to worship and falls down before it. God has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand.

This is absurd, yes! It does no good to mention a laundry list of all the ways that we today worship stuff or activities rather than God. The voice of the Holy Spirit is sufficient and shouts!

Isaiah concluded, “And no one considers in his heart, nor is there knowledge nor understanding to say, “I have burned half of it in the fire. Yes, I have also baked bread on its coals; I have roasted meat and eaten it; and shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?” He feeds on ashes; a deceived heart has turned him aside; and he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?” (Isaiah 44:6-20).

The idols have mouths, but they cannot speak. They have eyes, but they cannot see! They have ears, but they cannot hear (Psalm 115:5). The human race is like these idols. It is spiritually blind, living in darkness. But the living God both sees and hears to an infinite degree. God does not think like us. His thoughts are not like our thoughts, and His ways are not like ours. How far are His thoughts and actions from ours? They are as far as the heavens are above the earth (Isaiah 55: 9). That is an immense distance which is boundless and unfathomable. A distance that totally separates us from God – separates us that is, unless He deems otherwise. Blessings!