Free Will and the Sovereignty of God

I have been giving some thought lately to the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism. The reason for this is the book of Jeremiah. I have been reading with my family and I noticed something. The running theme of Jeremiah is a call to repentance that God knows Judah will not answer. Let me show you what I mean, just looking through selections of the first 18 chapters.

Jeremiah 3:14-15 “Return, you faithless children”—this is the Lord’s declaration— “for I am your master, and I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion. I will give you shepherds who are loyal to Me, and they will shepherd you with knowledge and skill.

Jeremiah 4:1-2 If you return, Israel—this is the Lord’s declaration—you will return to Me, if you remove your detestable idols from My presence and do not waver, then you can swear, “As the Lord lives,” in truth, in justice, and in righteousness, then the nations will be blessed by Him and will pride themselves in Him.

Jeremiah 7:16 As for you, do not pray for these people. Do not offer a cry or a prayer on their behalf, and do not beg Me, for I will not listen to you.

Jeremiah 11:14 As for you, do not pray for these people. Do not raise up a cry or a prayer on their behalf, for I will not be listening when they call out to Me at the time of their disaster.

Jeremiah 15:1 Then the Lord said to me: Even if Moses and Samuel should stand before Me, My compassions would not reach to these people. Send them from My presence, and let them go.

Jeremiah 18:5-10 The word of the Lord came to me: “House of Israel, can I not treat you as this potter treats his clay?”—this is the Lord’s declaration. “Just like clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, house of Israel. At one moment I might announce concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will uproot, tear down, and destroy it. However, if that nation I have made an announcement about turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the disaster I had planned to do to it. At another time I announce that I will build and plant a nation or a kingdom. However, if it does what is evil in My sight by not listening to My voice, I will relent concerning the good I had said I would do to it.

The first two examples here show that if Judah had repented God would have relented. However, the next three are directed at Jeremiah and God tells him that He will not relent the punishment He has for them, not even if Moses were pleading before Him. To some people this may seem contradictory, but take a look at the last verses in chapter 18. God has every right to do what He wills with the clay, but He is always just and good as is His nature. He rewards repentance and punishes disobedience. God knew Judah would be disobedient, in fact He knew this hundreds of years prior to this event. Look at Deuteronomy 29:16-30:10. I will summarize for the sake of space. God literally tells the Israelites, before they even took full possession of the land, that they would disobey Him, be punished and exiled, and even be restored. God knows what is going to happen, but we still choose it. God would have relented if His people had repented. God does not cause us to sin and does not make us sin. He knows, but His knowing does not force us to do it. In the same way if I know my wife is going to eat chocolate, I did not make her eat the chocolate. She chose to eat the chocolate, I just knew that was what she would choose, but she still had to choose. God’s sovereignty is not at odds with free will. God’s sovereignty is so great that He can accomplish all His plans even with man making his own choices. Do not limit God’s power. God is not one to offer salvation if he never means to give it. He does not lie, therefore His people could have repented. He did not make them sin or turn away, He only knew they would. A fact He knew before they were even a nation and a fact that saddened Him. God knows all and is in control, but we are still accountable for our choices. Always remember that.

Advertisements

James Chapter 4

Welcome back! I hope you have enjoyed James thus far. This post is going to be a bit long because James unpacks quite a bit. Please bear with me as this is a very important chapter.

1 What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don’t they come from the cravings that are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your evil desires. 4 Adulteresses! Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy. 5 Or do you think it’s without reason the Scripture says that the Spirit who lives in us yearns jealously? 6 But He gives greater grace. Therefore He says: God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

If you remember James 3 ended with the statement that wisdom and righteousness are from above. Continuing that theme James asks what the source of their fighting is. James points out that the fighting with others actually is a product of the fighting within themselves. They say they are Christians, but they have let the world influence and even stop them at times. Their Christianity wars with the desires of their flesh. They use wicked methods to get what they want. The irony is that by doing so they do not receive it. James says they must ask God, and he foresees their biggest complaint. “I have asked! They would likely cry and James answers by pointing out their motives were selfish and wrong. Why do you want a raise? Is it to glorify God or simply to make your materialistic life easier? We ask for more and turn around and use it to further our investment in this world and our own pleasures rather than giving it to God and helping those in need. The scary truth is we would rather let people starve than be even a little inconvenienced and that is wrong. By seeking our own ends and neglecting God and those in need we commit adultery against God. We cheat on God with the world! Not surprisingly that makes us an enemy of God because we no longer care to serve Him. Jesus told us we cannot serve two masters and that is what James is illustrating. If you desire the world you will shun God, if you desire God you will reject the world. God is jealous of our love and does not want to see us pour it out on things that He made rather than He Himself. James balances this by telling us of the great grace God gives. Turn and repent and a greater grace than you can imagine will be there for you. Do not be prideful of the things you have, but be humble remembering that all of it comes from God. Jeremiah 9:23-24 tells us the same thing, boast only in God.

7 Therefore, submit to God. But resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts, double-minded people! 9 Be miserable and mourn and weep. Your laughter must change to mourning and your joy to sorrow. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you. 11 Don’t criticize one another, brothers. He who criticizes a brother or judges his brother criticizes the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

So, what are we supposed to do? The world pulls and pulls how can we fight it? James’ gives us the hard but simple truth, submit. This is a work that our pride hates! The idea of lowering ourselves and listening to someone else kills our sinful nature. However, there is a second part, resist. We are called to resist the Devil. Notice it does not say fight or defeat, only resist. We cannot fight him, much less defeat him, but we can resist and we are held accountable for that. How do you resist? Draw near to God. Spend time in prayer seeking God and obeying His commands and will. Ask for forgiveness for your sins and confess to God who will clean you. We ought to weep and mourn over our sinful state. No longer laughing, but feeling the full despair that we might turn to God who comforts. We must humble ourselves before God. We criticize and enact judgment on others for their failures, but judgement belongs to God. There are times when we are called to carry out a judgement, but that judgement is from God and given to us in His word. We are fallen and sinful, how can we judge others for stumbling? Only God knows the heart and if a person has truly repented and so we leave final judgement to Him.

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will travel to such and such a city and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.” 14 You don’t even know what tomorrow will bring—what your life will be! For you are like smoke that appears for a little while, then vanishes. 15 Instead, you should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So it is a sin for the person who knows to do what is good and doesn’t do it.

Not only are we to trust in God for the strength we do not have, but also for all our plans. James points out that we make plans as if they are definite, but God may have different plans. It is arrogant to think that we can control what will happen. Now he does not say that planning is wrong, just that all plans are subject to God. Therefore, when you plan anything you must do so remembering that if God desires to change it He will. Finally, James caps off the whole section by pointing out a sin we often ignore. If you know what is right, what you are supposed to do, what God desires you to do and do not do it, then you have sinned. Never forget that.

So What?

What do we do now? Well there are several points of application here.

1 When we ask God for things we must do so with a desire to see His plans fulfilled, and not just the furtherance of our own entertainment. If you get a raise praise God and give to those in need. Praise God for provision and take care of those in need rather than over indulging in things that you do not need and will not last.

2 Submit yourself to God by spending time reading His word. Spend time in prayer with Him. Learn His character and obey His commands. We must love God and show that love. Our words mean nothing if our actions do not support them. Show your love for God and resist the Devil. The only way to resist sin and the Devil is by God’s strength, gained by being in a real relationship with Him.

3 Submit your plans to God. Never think that you cannot change a plan. Remember, Paul wanted to minister in Asia, but God redirected Him several times before he finally went there.

4 This is one of the most important. If you read about something that God commands, if you know about something you ought to be doing, then do it. If you do not, then you are sinning. There is no middle ground. If you do not do what you know you should do, then you sin.

 

Well, I know that was serious and very long. I just want to thank you for reading, and please take these words seriously. It could mean your very soul.

James Chapter 3

James chapter three picks up on the ideas of faith supported and visible to others through works. He also takes this chapter to expand upon the tongue and the power it has. First however, he starts with a word of warning to those thinking to be leaders. Let’s dive right in!

1 Not many should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive a stricter judgment, 2 for we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a mature man who is also able to control his whole body. 

Here James takes a pit stop and makes a great comment. He points out there are not many people who should be teachers. Why? Simple, you will be held to a high standard when Christ judges the world. Why will we be judged? Because all of us mess up in many different ways. If someone does not mess up then they are mature and in control of their body. But the human flesh is untamable by man alone. If you become a teacher in the church remember you will be judged for how you lead others.

3 Now when we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide the whole animal.  4 And consider ships: Though very large and driven by fierce winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs.  5 So too, though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts great things. Consider how large a forest a small fire ignites.  6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue, a world of unrighteousness, is placed among the parts of our bodies. It pollutes the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is set on fire by hell. 7 Every sea creature, reptile, bird, or animal is tamed and has been tamed by man, 8 but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  9 We praise our Lord and Father with it, and we curse men who are made in God’s likeness with it.  10 Praising and cursing come out of the same mouth. My brothers, these things should not be this way.  11 Does a spring pour out sweet and bitter water from the same opening?  12 Can a fig tree produce olives, my brothers, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a saltwater spring yield fresh water.

Now James comes back to the tongue. Above he talked about being in control of the body and now he shows just how hard it is to control our tongues (ie what we say). He points out we can tame huge animals and vessels but not ourselves. Much as the rudder is small but guides the whole ship the tongue can affect our path. Like a small spark burns a forest so can the tongue destroy. The tongue can pollute the whole body and set people on a course to he’ll. We cannot tame the tongue. It is restless evil full of poison. We can praise God one moment but curse men as well. Bitter words contaminate the whole body.

13 Who is wise and has understanding among you? He should show his works by good conduct with wisdom’s gentleness.  14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, don’t brag and deny the truth.  15 Such wisdom does not come from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.  16 For where envy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every kind of evil.  17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without favoritism and hypocrisy.  18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace.

James issues a challenge to his readers. He points out, if you are wise then your deeds should prove it. If you really learn God’s word, then you will apply it to your life. If you apply it to your life others will see it. There is a false wisdom the world flaunts. This wisdom is rooted in bitterness, envy, selfish ambitions and other evils that come from an evil heart. This kind of wisdom, in reality, is from not only Earth, but demons. Selfishness is a direct of cause of many kinds of evil. In contrast wisdom from God is pure. It seeks peace and is gentle. It is full of mercy for others, good fruits and does not have favorites or show hypocrisy. The deeds of righteousness are done with a peaceful intent by those who are peace-loving. To be in God does not mean to always be fighting, but as Paul says in Romans 12:18 we must live in peace as much as it is possible on our end.

Whew! Made it to the end! So, what do we do next? Well, there are several points to apply. First, if you are asked to be a leader in the church, remember that you will be held accountable to that position by God. Check your heart and be sure God has called you to it before you jump in. Second, be careful what you let leave your mouth. Your words have the power to praise, and the power to destroy. You must do your best to control it. Thirdly, remember that true wisdom is rooted in gentleness and humility, not selfishness and bitter envy. This is opposed to what the world tells us. God is the only source of wisdom. Thank you for reading and I hope you will apply what you have learned. And if you can join me next week as we dive into chapter four.

James Chapter 2

Well thankfully this week is shorter than last weeks, but it is deep toward the end. Here we start examining the debate on works and faith. My goal is to show you what the Bible really says. To be saved you must have a real relationship with God and comes through faith and obedient works as I will show you. Please do not get me confused, works do not save you, there serve as visible proof of your faith. Well without further delay, lets jump in.

1 My brothers, do not show favoritism as you hold on to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. 2 For example, a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and a poor man dressed in dirty clothes also comes in. 3 If you look with favor on the man wearing the fine clothes and say, “Sit here in a good place,” and yet you say to the poor man, “Stand over there,” or, “Sit here on the floor by my footstool,” 4 haven’t you discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my dear brothers: Didn’t God choose the poor in this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that He has promised to those who love Him? 6 Yet you dishonored that poor man. Don’t the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? 7 Don’t they blaspheme the noble name that was pronounced over you at your baptism? 8 Indeed, if you keep the royal law prescribed in the Scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing well. 9 But if you show favoritism, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

Looking through the Bible you will see God does not show favoritism. Romans 2:11 especially makes this point, and Jesus told the disciples that the last would be first in Matthew 19:30. Here James is making the same point. God does not show favoritism and neither should we. Matthew 19:16-22 shows us the rich ruler who wanted to follow Jesus, but would not give up his possessions. In comparison, the poor are rich in faith. James ends this by making the offense clear. To show favoritism is to sin. There is no way around that. We must care for all.

8 Indeed, if you keep the royal law prescribed in the Scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing well. 9 But if you show favoritism, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the entire law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of breaking it all. 11 For He who said, Do not commit adultery, also said, Do not murder. So if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you are a lawbreaker. 12 Speak and act as those who will be judged by the law of freedom. 13 For judgment is without mercy to the one who hasn’t shown mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

These two sections bleed into each other so I have included those verses again. James reminds the reader that loving our neighbor is very important. To show favoritism and not love to your neighbor is a sin. Now remember that we were saved from our sin by Jesus. We broke the law. Even if you broke only one law you are still guilty. Therefore, remember that because of Jesus we are under the law of freedom. If we do not show mercy and love to others than we cannot expect to be shown mercy. We must show this undeserved forgiveness to others as we received a much greater forgiveness from God. In Matthew 18:21-35 Jesus illustrates the foolishness of not forgiving others by telling a parable. A slave had an unimaginably high debt that he could never repay. His master forgave the whole thing, but that slave went out and found a man who owed him a small amount and threw him into prison. Imagine that, being forgiven millions of dollars just to go right out and beat a fellow worker for the ten dollars he owes you. That is what our unforgiveness looks like to God. We must forgive as we have been forgiven.

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith from my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. The demons also believe—and they shudder. 20 Foolish man! Are you willing to learn that faith without works is useless? 21 Wasn’t Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active together with his works, and by works, faith was perfected. 23 So the Scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness, and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way, wasn’t Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by a different route? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

Now we hit the deep stuff. Chances are you have heard the kind of debate this passage and others in James have brought up. Many believe James is in direct contrast to Paul’s words in Romans. But what is James saying here? James looks at what these people called faith and points out a problem. They say they believe in Jesus, but if they won’t take care of their brothers and sisters do they really show God’s love? 1 John tells us repeatedly that those who love God know God. How do they show they love Him? By obeying His commands. Love, trust, and relationship with God, cannot be divorced from obedience to Him. Let’s put it in an analogy. You have a mentor, the best mentor anyone could have. You tell him you love working for him because he cares for you. Now whenever he asks you to do something you look at him and say no. Time and time again this happens. Would you say you truly loved that mentor when you refuse to listen to him? How much more with God Himself. James has a harsh comparison for those who claim to love God but do not obey Him. Demons called Jesus name and acknowledged Him as God (Mark 3:11 and many others), and yet they are not saved. Jude 1:6 tells us they are in chains awaiting judgement. They tremble in fear while we arrogantly lecture God on why we won’t obey His commands. Faith works with deeds. Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac in obedience to God. His action showed His faith. It was not the action but the faith that saved, but that action was what showed his faith. Look at what Jesus says in Matthew 25:31-46. Many said there loved Him, but those who did not take care of those in need were sent away. We need to really see this. There are two parts to life changing belief. There is the belief in who Jesus is and trust that He will do as He said. There is also the obedience out of a desire to please God. These two together are a true relationship with God. One cannot function without the other. Belief in Jesus without loving obedience is a faith that does nothing in your life. As James said it is dead. Likewise works without faith is legalism, trying to earn salvation. Both are wrong and both demonstrate and indifference to Jesus. This is what Paul tells us through the book of Romans. We love God by what we believe about Him and by what we do in His name. Paul and James are not contradicting each, but supplementing each other. Paul tells us works without faith is worthless and James tells us faith with obedience is dead. You need faith and obedience to be in a true relationship with Jesus, the one who saves our soul.

You made it to the end! Good job. I hope I put all of this simply, but please do not be afraid to ask more questions. I do my best to put the truth at a level anyone can reach, but I do not always reach it. I prayer these words benefit you and I hope you will apply them to your life. God bless.