Christ Jesus Came Into the World to Save Sinners (2)

MIS85-2TAs a follow up to this post I wanted to note that Rosaria Butterfield and the pastor who (by God’s providence) led her to Christ have recently been interviewed here. As Mrs. Butterfield states in the interview, the book that resulted from her conversion was written for believers. As I noted, you would do well to purchase it and read it. You may also view more resources at her website: http://rosariabutterfield.com/

Despite all this, I would caution us from being too captivated by this story and the ‘media’ that arisen as a result of her conversion. Now don’t misunderstand me: I do not doubt that Mrs. Butterfield’s conversion is of God, nor do I think she has done anything wrong by writing a book and promoting it. In fact I think she is doing a service to and for the Christian community and I applaud her for it. Rather, I caution the reader from being entranced by a conversion account, instead of the God who saves. We are to give glory to God for His Son, whom He has sent into this world to save fallen, wrecked and ruined people (you and I). In light of that, all His conversions are glorious and worthy of praise. Why, don’t the angels praise God every time even
just one sinner is saved? (Luke 15:10) We can and should do no less.

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Hope Well for Your Children

The title of this post is taken from Matthew Henry’s excellent book on childrearing entitled “Family Religion.” Amongst other things, in this portion of the book Mr. Henry seeks to comfort, assure and rightly instruct those who children have turned against the Lord (under the heading “Should They Rebel”). I post his counsel below in an effort to help those who may be dealing with this situation. 

What may we have to comfort and encourage us if our children should prove wicked and vile; if they should forsake their God, and the God of their fathers, and walk in the paths of the destroyer, notwithstanding our utmost endeavours to engage them for Christ? It is very often a case in fact; we cannot deny it; it is possible that the best parents may have the worst children; yet if we should suppose a falling from grace and holiness adherent, which, through the divine condescension and compassion, might have availed to the salvation of such as die in infancy, that will not infer a falling from grace and holiness inherent: what Christ does herein, we know not now, but we shall know hereafter (John 13:7).

But disputes in this case are cold comforts to the poor parents whose hearts bleed and break to see the destructive courses which their children take, whom they thought they had lodged safe in the hands of the Mediator, for whom they have prayed many a prayer, and shed many a tear. They thought Christ had taken them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them, but it does not prove so. What shall we say to comfort such?

It may be some satisfaction to them, that however it goes with their children, Christ will be glorified; if they do not give honour to him, he will get him honour upon them. And if God be sanctified, we ought to be satisfied, and with reverence to behold both the goodness and severity of God; on them which fall, severity; but towards them who stand, goodness, if they continue in his goodness (Rom. 11: 22).

But it will be yet more satisfaction to them, if they have the testimony of their consciences for them that they have done their duty; which they did, with a resolution to leave the event with God. They knew they could not give grace to their children; but their hearts can witness for them, that to the best of their power, they digged about these barren trees, and dunged them, as the dresser of the vineyard did (Luke 13: 8-9); and if they bring forth fruit well, they shall have the comfort, and God the glory; but if not, they must be content to see them cut down, and though they cannot have comfort in that, yet God will have glory, and they acquiesce.

But the greatest comfort of all in such a case is, that the unbelief and disobedience of their children shall not make void God’s promise to them, and therefore ought not to make void their comfort in God. ‘Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious’ (Isa. 49: 5). Abraham is happy in heaven, though there be those in hell who can call Abraham father. It was the comfort of holy David, though he saw a great deal of sin and trouble in his family: Although my house be not so with God as I could wish it, yet I am sure of this, he has made with me an everlasting covenant, which is well ordered in all things and sure, and that is all my salvation, and therefore shall be all my desire (2 Sam. 23:5).

I will only add one more point which is this: we must never stop praying for our children for while they are alive there is still hope for “now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). It appears that the prodigal’s father never gave up hope as he saw his son afar off: he looked for him day after day and did not see him, until, one day, he did and then ran to meet him. And who knows? They may even come to faith after we have died and gone to be with the Lord. May God grant us rest in these things. 

2 Peter 2:1 and the Atonement

Though I did not receive this question from the internet community, I thought it might be helpful to post it here (along with an answer) since it is frequently raised. The question pertains to the Reformed presentation of the doctrine of Christ’s atonement and the extent of said atonement as mentioned in 2 Peter 2:1. The passage reads:

But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.

Reformed theology confesses, in the words of the Canons of Dordrecht (2.8), that:

it was God’s will that Christ through the blood of the cross (by which he confirmed the new covenant) should effectively redeem from every people, tribe, nation, and language all those and only those who were chosen from eternity to salvation and given to him by the Father…

In other words, for the Reformed, only the elect are redeemed by Christ for only the elect are the objects of Christ’s redemption according to God’s eternal plan. However, this seems to contradict Peter’s statement that false prophets and teachers are bought by the Lord and yet perish, indicating that the atonement is for more than just a particular people (the elect) and does not guarantee final salvation (contrary to the Reformed teaching concerning the “Perseverance of the Saints,” namely that all those for whom Jesus died are infallibly saved and kept by God’s grace). 2 Peter 2:1, therefore, would be the death knell to the Reformed understanding of what is popularly presented as a ‘limited atonement’.

However, several questions must be asked of the text before we surrender the aforementioned article of the Canons of Dordrecht. They are as follows:

1) Who was bought?
No one but false teachers. Even if this verse teaches that there were some who were effectually redeemed by Christ’s blood and fell away it does not teach that everyone in the entire history of the world was redeemed by Christ. So already this verse fails to teach a universal atonement even if it contradicts the teaching of the Canons of Dordrecht.

2) Who bought them?
The Lord, or despotes (in the original Greek), the master, lord, owner of His people. This word is not a term of affection or intimacy. Its meaning is closer to explaining the relationship between a master and slave than a Father and child. It does not necessarily speak to the atoning, or reconciling work of Christ nor is one required to read it in this fashion.

3) What were they bought with?

The text does not say nor does the context indicate anything in particular. In fact one must assume that Christ’s suffering and righteousness were the cost. However, Peter later compares these false teachers to the fallen angels, the world in days of Noah, and Balaam, of whom it is not indicated were ever redeemed from their sins or saved by Christ. Quite the opposite is true: we know that demons are not saved, the world perished in the time of Noah, and Balaam was not of the children of Israel.

4) What were they redeemed from?

The text does not say. So we should not assume that they were redeemed from the condemnation or power of sin. Indeed Peter says that they are yet “slaves of corruption” (vs. 19). They remain as dogs and sows (vs. 22). Thus they are not bought with the blood of Christ which ensures our salvation from sin (1 John 1:7), reconciliation (Ephesians 2:3) and sanctification (Hebrews 9:14). Indeed if, according to Peter, these false prophets will be destroyed, how can that be if by the blood of Jesus we are saved from God’s wrath? (Romans 5:9)

5) What were they redeemed unto?
I believe that vs. 20 provides the explanation of this verse: these false prophets escaped the pollutions of the world for a time. They were professors of Jesus and members of the church. Thus they had knowledge of Christ (similar to Hebrews 6:4-6) but never had a saving relationship with Him. “They went out from us but they were not of us” 1 John 2:19. Indeed, Jesus Himself declares that He never knew them in a redeeming way (Matthew 7:23).

Therefore this verse fails to provide a solid and irrefutable basis for rejecting the Reformed understanding of the atonement as summarized above.

Of course this post does not answer all the objections people have to the Reformed understanding of the extent of the atonement, but it does indicate that 2 Peter 2:1 cannot be used to militate against it. It also instructs us to take great care when we use scripture in our theological conversations so that we properly understand the intent of a verse or text before we proclaims its true meaning.

Heal thyself!…?

We tend to treat sin more like a scrape on the knee than the cancer that it is. It seems counterintuitive to us not to do anything when we have a problem in our lives. That is, we are more prone to clean up or cover what we believe to be cuts and bruises, instead of submitting to the radical surgery that we really need.

God said to His people through the prophet Jeremiah: “Your affliction is incurable, your wound is severe. There is no one to plead your cause, that you may be bound up; you have no healing medicines” (30:12-13). The only way for sin to dealt with is to recognize we cannot do anything for it, nor do we possess anything for its cure. Rather we must trust and believe that God has carried it away in Christ so that we can justified in His sight. Only then are we healed; only then are we cured. Only then can we be truly thankful; only then can we live the life that God wants for us.

1 Peter 2:24-25 “who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness — by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

Could it be said any better?

Martin Luther tells us about our sin & God’s grace:

If you want to know how to become holy and do good – which is a common question – I have said in answer that the first and foremost thing to know is that a man cannot become holy or do good of himself but that he must despair of himself, forget about his own actions, deplore his own worthlessness in the eyes of god, and call upon divine grace, in which he should firmly trust. And he who teaches and seeks another beginning than this, errs and misleads himself as well as others as they do who say: Why, you have a free will. Do the best you can. God will do His part. They think we should not drive people to despair. Of course, we should not drive people to despair; but despair must be properly understood. Of God’s grace no one should despair; rather we should firmly rely on God’s help despite all the world, despite our sin. However, we should completely despair of ourselves and in no way depend on our own free will to do even the smallest work. (quoted from “What Luther Says”, by Ewald M. Plass)