Monday, March 31, 2008

Review: What's So Great About the Doctrines of Grace?

I recently received a pre-release copy of a forthcoming book from Reformation Trust. The title is What's So Great About the Doctrines of Grace?, by Rev. Rick Phillips. It's a relatively small book, only about 100 pages. But what I found in those few pages was one of the most concise and readable explanations of the major points of Reformed doctrine that I have ever seen.

The book isn't intended to be a deep theological examination of all the nuances of Calvinist doctrine, but Phillips does a very adequate job of outlining the essentials of each of the five points. But what each chapter does best is look at the implications of each of these doctrines and examine why those of us that hold these truths dear find them so great. The first chapter addresses the underlying principle of the doctrines of grace, that being the sovereignty of God. Phillips then looks at each of the five points and asks the question, what's so great about them?

I particularly was struck by the chapter asking what's so great about total depravity. Here's a paragraph that sums up the flavor of this chapter, and the book as a whole, very well:

It is the distinction of adherents to Reformed theology in general and to the doctrines of grace in particular that, following the Scriptures, we hold to the worst possible view of man—and therefore, we exercise the highest possible reliance on God’s grace. If the question is “How bad am I really?” we answer, “Much, much worse than you have dared to think.” It is against the backdrop of this terrible news about man in sin that we see the good news of the gospel as something far more wonderful than we have ever imagined.

Phillips' intended audience for the book is the unconvinced, those who view Calvinist doctrines as objectionable or arrogant. And as I read each chapter I found myself thinking of particular people who I have discussed Reformed theology with, some even recently, who would benefit from reading this book. Most people's objections to Calvinism is a result of their not understanding the doctrines properly, and the outlines and defenses of these doctrines in this book are very clear and concise. But the best parts of each chapter are Phillips' exploration of what makes these great doctrines so great. For example, when examining what's so great about limited atonement, Phillips makes the following points:

I am writing to praise the doctrine of limited atonement because it so exalts the cross of Jesus Christ, which gained a full redemption for all those appointed by God to eternal life. But what is the cash value of this doctrine? Does it offer something to my Christian experience or is it just abstract theology? What’s so great about the doctrine of limited atonement? First, whenever a doctrine receives the prominence the Bible gives to Christ’s atonement, it must be significant to our lives. The solemnity of the subject matter of Christ’s atonement urges us to consider it of great significance and to think carefully about it, in conformity with the Scriptures. In this respect, limited atonement should be received as a great doctrine simply because of its importance to Jesus and His saving work. Second, if we grasp how personal in its application and how efficacious in its effects is the cross of Christ, we will find solid ground for our assurance of salvation. There can be no assurance if the ultimate cause of our redemption is found in ourselves. The Arminian concept of a universal atonement, Packer remarks, “destroys the Scriptural ground of assurance altogether. . . . My salvation, on this view, depends not on what Christ did for me, but on what I subsequently do for myself.” This is why assurance of salvation is a field of theology and Christian experience plowed only by the Reformed.

Do you know of others who have struggled with understanding rightly and appreciating the sovereignty of God in the Doctrines of Grace? I would eagerly recommend this book to them as a concise introduction to the truths of these Biblical truths and the reasons why we hold them so dear. The book is scheduled for release in April. Go see the folks at Reformation Trust and get your copy.

Friday, March 28, 2008

A Band of Bloggers

I'm sitting here in the airport in Orlando waiting for my flight back home. Amazing, they have free wi-fi internet here! So I decided to make some use of it. While reading Tim Challie's blog last evening I noticed a link to a site for bloggers that are attending the Together For the Gospel conference in Louisville, KY in a couple of weeks. Which I am. That is, a blogger and also attending T4G. The link took me to a site that told about an event being held in conjunction with T4G called The Gospel Trust. It's a gathering of Christian bloggers, intended to encourage and connect with others doing the same kind of cyber-ministry. I immediately registered for this, and am really looking forward to getting to meet face-to-face with over 100 people who I have read and discussed with via the net but never seen before. People like Tim Challies, Justin Taylor, Frank Turk, Abraham Piper and many others. Should be a great addition to the whole T4G experience.

If you're a brother blogger-in-Christ and haven't heard of this and are going to T4G, be sure to register to join the Band of Bloggers. Go here and do it now. And I'll see y'all in St. Louie on the 15th!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

What is The Truth?

I am in Orlando for most of the week at a work-related conference, dealing with IT stuff. I was just in a session where they were talking about information quality, which is a big deal since any business these days has to view their data and information contained in their computer systems as an asset to be managed. And of course, with most companies having many different computer systems, there are always problems with this information not matching or being consistent between these systems. For example, have you ever got two of the same magazines or other mailings, both addressed to you but with slightly different names? And a term I keep hearing over and over for fixing this is a need to have a single version of the truth. A single, central repository of information that can always be trusted to be right, correct, the master reference.

It occurred to me as I heard this term again this morning that it seems to be such an oxymoron in our postmodern society, to speak of this single version of the truth. We live in a world that is wary of truth claims, that tends to reject authoritative statements of truth, that often views truth as being an individual decision, a pragmatic determination as to the "truth" that works for you. Funny how this paradigm simply doesn't work in the mundane business world, where absolute numbers and data are a requirement for any kind of success. But so many people seem to have no problem rejecting this need for an absolute and single version of the truth in matters much more important that business, matters like morality and spirituality and eternality. What a paradox this seems to be. We are so fastidious in our business, both corporate and personal, about getting true numbers, but so cavalier about truth in areas that have much more important consequences. A postmodernist would never settle for lack of certainty in things like their bank account, their investment portfolio balance, their utility bills and the like. Yet they are skeptical and highly value uncertainty about eternal questions of God and His nature. Dogmatic about mundane things, but anti-dogmatic about eternal and sacred things.

I guess that's what Paul meant when he wrote to Timothy and said that in the last days men would be lovers of themselves and lovers of money rather than lovers of the truth and lovers of God. Once again, the Word of God is true. It is The Single Version Of The Truth. And thank God for that.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Puppy Prayer Primer

Here's a portion of a news story I spotted today:

NAHA, Japan — At a Zen Buddhist temple in southern Japan, even the dog prays. Mimicking his master, priest Joei Yoshikuni, a 1 1/2-year-old black- and-white Chihuahua named Conan joins in the daily prayers at Naha's Shuri Kannondo temple, sitting up on his hind legs and putting his front paws together before the altar.

It took him only a few days to learn the motions, and now he is the talk of the town. "Word has spread, and we are getting a lot more tourists," Yoshikuni said Monday.

Yoshikuni said Conan generally goes through his prayer routine at the temple in the capital of Japan's southern Okinawa prefecture (state) without prompting before his morning and evening meals. "I think he saw me doing it all the time and got the idea to do it, too," Yoshikuni said.

The priest is now trying to teach him how to meditate.
OK, this is a cute story, isn't it? Fluffy little Conan folding his paws and doing his doggy prayers. And likely having just as much real results as his Zen Buddhist master is getting from his prayers. But this lack of praying to the One True God is not the main point of my post. Yes, I do have one.

Did you catch the statement about how Conan started doing his canine vespers? "It took him only a few days to learn the motions." So that's what prayer is all about, eh? Just learning the right motions, the right posture and style and words such. OK, so we know that's not true. But how many of us enlightened and Biblically-grounded Christians fall into the same kind of routine as fluffy ol' Conan here? How many of us have just learned the motions, the acceptable words and popular prayer phrases, the closed-eyed bowed-head posture that makes prayer all that more acceptable to God? It surprises me sometimes to hear how relatively new believers pray, full of spontaneity and genuine communication with God, like talking to someone sitting next to them. But after a while they begin to learn the "correct" way to pray, using all the right terms like, "Lord I just want to..." Anybody else observe this? It bothers me a bit since it's our popular Christian culture once again setting the externals of what's acceptable or right. Rather than what's authentic and real.

A second point I picked up from this story, that in a positive way seems to me to state what our approach to learning to pray should be. Note that it says that little Conan was "mimicking his master." The dog was just doing what he saw his master doing. Wow. Is that not the right way for us to learn to pray? Looking to our Master, seeing how He prays, and doing likewise? Imitating Jesus in the ways that He spoke to His Father God, praying about the same things that occupied His prayer life, seeking to mimic Him in how and what to pray about.

I think Conan has some things to teach us about prayer. I just wonder what the Zen dude is going to teach him to meditate on. Perhaps a Milk Bone?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

More from Obama's "Church"

So here's the first Easter message from the new, improved pastor of Obama's church in Chicago, the guy who replaced Jeremiah Wright. You know, the guy who preaches that America is damned by God, that we were responsible for 9/11, that the government invented AIDS to kill of blacks?

I try to avoid political commentary here, but these guys are, well, wacko. And for Obama to claim he's never heard this stuff or isn't affected by it after 20 years in this congregation is a bald-faced lie.

And here's a quote from a letter by another supporter that is in the story: "An attack on this man of God is an attack on all those of the cloth who believe in the social Gospel of liberation." This is why I put quotes around the term "church" above. Because the "social Gospel of liberation" is not the Gospel of Christ. It's a perversion of it, a twisting of Scripture to meet another end result. And by definition, any "church" built on anything other than the real Gospel of Jesus Christ is not a church. These quotes from the likes of Wright and company should make that pretty clear.

Three "R"s

In the Biblical Worldview class I taught this morning, we were discussing how having a solid Biblical theology is the foundation for a solid Biblical worldview. And a basis for a solid Biblical theology is a good understanding of the person and nature of God. So we looked at three aspects of God's nature that summarize His character and attributes:

  • God is Ruler - He alone is the almighty sovereign God. He rules in power and might.
  • God is Righteous - He is perfect and right in all His ways.
  • God is Relational - God expresses relationship in His tri-unity. And He desires relationship with His creation, specifically with man.

These "Three R's" are not an exhaustive list of God's attributes, but they are a useful summary to keep in mind. All of His other attributes can be fit into one of these categories. For example, God's omnipotence and omnipresence are expressions of His being Ruler. God's justice and wrath are expressions of His being Righteous. And God's mercy and grace are expressions of His being Relational. Not a bad way to think of the character of our God in shorthand.

And as I was teaching, it occurred to me that all three of these aspects of who God is are expressed in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we celebrate today.

  • God as Ruler sovereignly decreed before the foundation of the world His redemptive plan for fallen humanity. And He powerfully brought it to pass in real history.
  • God as Righteous required a payment for the sin of mankind so that He could remain just. And so He provided that propitiatory payment through the sacrifice of Christ.
  • God as Relational did not remain aloof and distant, but entered His creation as the God-Man in order to live the righteous life we could not, and die the perfect death in our place. All so He could make a way for us to enjoy a relationship with Him, for His glory.

And He continues to express these aspects of His character today as He applies the truth of the Gospel to His elect. He sovereignly brings His people to faith in Christ. He righteously justifies them when they come to Him, and empowers them by His Spirit and His Word to live righteously. And He sustains them as they live in relationship with Him for eternity. All for His purposes and His glory.

Great truths to remember and reflect on this Resurrection Day. He is risen indeed!

Friday, March 21, 2008

"Good" Friday?

So today is Good Friday. I remember over the years before I came to faith in Jesus Christ wondering why it was called "Good" Friday. I mean after all, what a tragic event occurred on this day. The innocent man Jesus was unjustly tried and found guilty and cruelly executed by crucifixion on this day. How on earth could any of that be considered good? Oh sure, I knew that He didn't stay dead, that three days later He rose from the grave, that's what Easter Sunday was all about. That sounded really good. But Friday, Good? Just didn't make any sense to me. But praise be to God by His marvelous grace that He sovereignly chose to bring me to faith in His Son, and opened my eyes and mind and heart to be able to understand the truth of the Cross.

Because this day can be called "Good" by all who have trusted in the One who was killed on this day. It's Good because it was the ultimate act of God's goodness. The substitutionary sacrifice of Christ by crucifixion, for all the sin of all time for all those who will trust in Him and believe and receive eternal life in Him. We hear this substitutionary intent in Jesus' words in Mark 10:45: "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." Did you catch that term, "ransom"? Christ's life given as the ransom payment, the redemption price that was due to buy His people out of death and slavery to sin, and into freedom from sin and condemnation. And not as a means to appease God's wrath for sin, but rather as the just payment for that sin, so that God could remain both just and also be the Justifier of those who believe.

So do you see today as "Good", in this ultimate sense? Do you have the perspective that sees this pivotal event in history, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, as the ultimate act of Good of all time? And have you partaken of that Goodness, the ransom paid for your life?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Gospel is the Solution

I've been outlining a brief message I will deliver in a few weeks on a communion Sunday, along with three other men. We will each be doing brief summations of the essentials of the Gospel. First, God is holy and requires holiness. Second, we are not holy, we are depraved and unrighteous. Then my section, dealing with the solution to our problem. And last, what must our response be to our problem and the solution.

When I was given this preaching assignment, the first passage that came to mind was 2 Corinthians 5:21. What I like to call the Great Exchange passage. So here is the exegetical outline of this verse. How applicable to be reviewing these foundational Gospel truths on this week when we celebrate the sacrifice of Christ that is explained here.

What do we need?
  • The acquittal of our sin

  • The application of righteousness
The Solution is detailed in 2 Corinthians 5:21 - “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
  • “He made Him” – God’s redemptive plan in action. An amazing statement of the purpose and plan of God the Father.

  • “who knew no sin” – Christ’s perfect freedom from sin and perfect righteousness. Jesus as the perfect, sinless Lamb of God, the only suitable sacrifice for sin.

  • “to be sin on our behalf” – Christ made the substitute for the acquittal of our sin. Here is the first half of the exchange. All the sin of all people who will believe for all time, placed on Jesus Christ. Imputed to Him, transferred from us. Christ was literally made to be our sin. The punishment for our sin that would require an infinite death, Christ bore in our place.

  • “so that” – God’s statement of purpose, the reason/result of Christ’s atoning work.

  • “we might become the righteousness of God” – God’s perfect righteousness applied to us, The second half of the exchange. Christ's perfect righteousness expressed in His perfect, sinless life, credited to our account. What we lacked and could not obtain, Christ obtained for us.

  • “in Him” – the place and Person where this transaction takes place and is applied. Personally identifying ourselves with Jesus Christ in faith is how and where we enter into this eternal transaction. Our sin transferred to Him, His righteousness applied to us.
The Solution:
  • Exchanging our sin for God’s righteousness in Jesus Christ.

  • The Person and Work of Jesus Christ is the Solution!

Think on these things this week as we enter into the day that this transaction was put in place. Think and consider the weight and impact of these marvelous words. Be amazed at the sovereign grace of God in crafting this redemptive plan. Be humbled by the sheer injustice on the surface, but the perfect justice of God expressed and fulfilled in the Cross. Ask yourself, have I truly trusted in Jesus Christ and received the eternal redemption of this transaction on my behalf? And if so, give glory to God for His incredible mercy and grace.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Last Basketball Weekend


This weekend marked the end of the season for daughter Hannah's 5th grade basketball team. They played in a tournament here in town, and won their division. That makes for an undefeated season record of 20-0 for the Columbus Flames, with four tournament wins. And all the girls had a lot of fun doing it. They played really well as a team, and as friends. It's been fun to see them grow in their skills and their friendships through the season.

So congratulations to all the flames: Hannah, Amber, Nicole, Monica, Haley, Lisa and Melissa. And to coaches Dave and Jerry. Well done!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Pending Book Review & T4G Blogging

I just received a pre-release pdf of a new book being published by Reformation Trust. The title is What's So Great About the Doctrines of Grace?, by Rick Phillips. It looks to be a quick but good read, only being a little over 110 pages. The chapters are broken down by each of the doctrines of grace and are meant to propound the greatness of God revealed through these truths. Look for a review to be posted here in the next few weeks, assuming I get time to read the pdf. Maybe week after next while I'm spending four days in Orlando for a work-related conference.

Also, I've been thinking about doing blog coverage of the Together for the Gospel conference that I and about 16 others from my church will be going to in Louisville the middle of April. I want to do some good note taking and summarizing anyway, so I thought why not share those with others via the Den. Probably won't be a real "live-blogging" thing, but as close to it as I can get. Hopefully not dead-blogging either. Stay tuned.

Monday, March 10, 2008

A Fan Base!

I just had to post this one. It's an email I got from my son Mike, who is a Bible Exposition student at The Master's College in Santa Clarita, CA.

So this guy and his wife from (my roommate's) church in Minnesota have been around this week for Shepherd's Conference, and they were here this afternoon. We were talking, and I happened to be reading your blog, when he (his name is Jacob) saw I was looking at it. This was a brief synopsis of what happened:

Jacob: "Hey, the Doulos' Den. I haven't been there in a couple weeks."

Me: " mean this one?"

Jacob: "Yeah, Doulos. He's got a pretty good blog with some good things to say. I read it fairly frequently."

Me: "Really?"

Jacob: "Yeah, Doulos posts alot on Pyromaniacs and I read his stuff quite a bit."

Me: "He's my dad."


Haha, I thought it was pretty funny. Evidently, his mom absolutely loves reading your stuff and told him about it. We thought thought it was pretty funny. I'm not trying to inflate your ego or whatever; just wanted to let you know that you are read on the Internet.

So for Jacob and the two or three others out there that read this stuff, thank you. Sometimes I wonder if I am just posting into the ether with no one even seeing it but me and Google. And rest assured, my ego is not overly inflated.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Sin or Sins?

So which is it that we are forgiven on through faith in Christ? Is it our “sins”, or is it our “sin”? Have you ever noticed that both terms are used as nouns in the Scriptures? Have you ever noticed that we seem to use the terms interchangeably? Are you thinking right now that I am making a hair-splitting distinction based on a plural form of the noun that is meaningless?

I’ve thought about this for a while, and I think the real answer to the first question I posed above is “both”. When we see the plural form “sins” used, and when we use it in our speech, we are referring to the specific actions that we commit that come from our sinful nature. These are acts of rebellion and disobedience to God, whether they be only thoughts that we entertain or direct actions that we physically carry out. Each of our “sins” are a willful, deliberate act that we commit. Acts that need to be forgiven and remitted. Acts that can only be forgiven and remitted by the application of the blood of Jesus Christ to our personal lives by faith. All of us understand this sense of being forgiven by God through faith in Christ for the wrongs we have done, for our sins.

But what about when the Bible uses the singular noun “sin”? For example, consider John the Baptist’s statement in John 1:29 when he sees Jesus coming to the Jordan: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Notice that he doesn’t say “the sins of the world”, referring as we said above to the specific acts that need to be forgiven. No, here he says that Christ removes the sin of the world. Not just forgiveness of the specific acts of sin which have been carried out. No, more than that it seems. The statement here is that Jesus removes the actual sin, that He not only forgives the acts but also takes away that which the sinful acts spring from.

We see Paul use these kind of terms all over the letter to the Romans, where the singular form of the noun is almost exclusively used. For example, in Romans 6:6-7 where he states that “our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.” What we see here is not the specific acts of sin, but rather the power and dominion and bondage of sin in the life of the believer in Christ. Repeatedly we are told that through Christ, we are freed from this bondage, released from slavery to our depraved natures, and enabled to refrain from committing “sins”.

So again, the answer is “both”. We are forgiven for every willful act of sin that we ever have or will commit, through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and our participation in that sacrifice by faith. And we are released from the bondage to our sin natures that resulted in those willful acts, and are given new natures which are renewed in righteousness.

So why do I think this is important? Because I think far too often we only refer to our “sins” when we talk of forgiveness in Christ, and forget about (maybe intentionally) the truth of our depraved sinful hearts that we had to be freed from. That we were so mastered by that there was no way we could ever free ourselves. This focus on “what I did” to the exclusion of “who I was” in my view trivializes the real root of our spiritual deadness that Christ died to redeem, and makes it far too easy to begin to think of acts of sinful rebellion as merely “mistakes” or “errors”. Unless we have a fully developed understanding of the depth of our depravity apart from Jesus Christ, we cannot have a full understanding and appreciation for the sovereign grace of God in Christ that redeemed us from those depths. And we will never give Him the glory and worship He so richly deserves.

Friday, March 7, 2008

A Theological Dia-logos

An acquaintance of mine started a theological dialog with me on Facebook (yes, I do have a Facebook account, rarely used though), so I thought I would share the discussion here. First are his questions, followed by my initial responses. Please join in the "conversation" if you like.

Q: Are you ready to start some theological conversation? Can I begin with a with a broad question and narrow the focus a little? How would you define Lordship? What is your understanding of Lordship and its relationship with salvation (Lordship Salvation)? And lastly, do you believe that repentance is necessary for Salvation? I would love to get your thoughts on these matters as I wrestle through them in my educational and personal studies.

A: The term "lord" simply means master or ruler. The common term in OT Hebrew for lord is adonay (except where we see LORD, a translation of the Hebrew name for God, YHWH), in the NT Greek it is kurios. Both mean master or ruler. They are applied to God, and to Jesus Christ, in recognition of His being the rightful sovereign master and ruler of all creation. Therefore, "lordship" is not something we as creatures ascribe to Christ, but rather an aspect of Him as a person of the Godhead that we recognize. No one "makes Jesus their Lord", He simply is Lord. Lordship, as it pertains to the believer in Christ, is the recognition of this truth and a proper response to it and to Him, namely submission and obedience.

I think it is significant that Jesus is referred to as Lord far more often in the NT than He is called Savior. It would seem that the gospel as proclaimed by the apostles and by Jesus Himself implicitly and explicitly contains a call to recognition that Christ is Savior precisely because He is Lord. Consider some of Christ's statements, where He says that if we love Him we will keep His commandments. Or Matt 11:28-30 where He gives a call to come to Him for salvation and rest, coupled with submitting to His yoke of Lordship. Nearly every proclamation of the gospel in the NT contains an element of submission to Christ as Lord, it's inseparable from receiving Him as Savior.

"Lordship salvation" is an intentionally derogatory term that was invented by certain theologians and teachers as a response to Dr John MacArthur's book "The Gospel According to Jesus" around 30 years ago, where MacArthur sought to point out the Biblical inseparability of Christ being Savior and Lord in the life of a believer. There are those who call themselves "Free Grace" theologians, like Zane Hodges and Charles Ryrie, who take issue with this Biblical view and argue that submission to Christ as Lord is a meritorious work and therefore can't be a condition of the Gospel. But as Jesus and the NT writers define Lordship, and as MacArthur explained it, recognition of Christ as both Savior and Lord is not a condition or work to merit salvation, but rather the proof of the reality of that salvation. The "Free Grace" view even came up with a new, non-Biblical category to support their position, the so-called "carnal Christian." I see nothing in the Bible that allows for this.

Is repentance necessary for salvation? Let's define repentance first. In the NT the Greek is metanoia, literally meaning a change of mind or a turning. So to repent means to turn from one thing and to another. In the case of salvation, it is to turn from my sin and to turn to Christ for forgiveness and eternal life. Is repentance a necessary part of salvation? Absolutely. What did Jesus say when starting His earthly ministry? "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!" It seems absurd to think that one could turn to Christ for forgiveness of sin, while still holding onto those sins. So what does true repentance look like? A life that turns to Christ in faith and from sin in holiness. Not perfect, but directional. Repentance is a one-time act in saving faith in Christ, that has long-term effects and fruits in the life of the believer.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

On the Left Coast

I'm kind of off-line for a couple of days while I am here in San Diego to attend and speak at a conference. Unfortunately it's work related. Flew out here today, amazing that ExpressJet has a direct flight from Omaha. Unfortunately, it was in a tiny little plane, one of those I like to call "syringes". 3 1/2 hours in the air. All in all it wasn't a bad flight though, had a single-row seat. And it's like, green here. And warm. And sunny.

While flying I almost finished reading Perelandra by C. S. Lewis. I've been reading the Space Trilogy series by Lewis, never had before. These are definitely not kid's books. An amazingly rich and deep allegory of creation, fall, redemption, all that. If you have read them you know what I mean. If not, put them on your list. Not so much science fiction in these, but lots of thought-provoking spiritual matter.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

"Limiting God..."

Several years ago I was teaching an adult Bible class, on some subject that quite honestly escapes me now. But what I do remember is that we were discussing the purposes that God has in the situations and difficulties and people that He brings into our path in bringing us to the point of faith in Christ. And I recall one of the members of the class who asked many questions about this, as she was beginning to see how God had sovereignly shaped even her life before knowing Christ, to show Himself to her and to communicate His Gospel to her. And as she began to understand the sovereign grace of God in this way, she began to see the reality that the fact of her coming to faith in Christ was completely and wholly of God, and not really of her at all. This was new teaching for her, and she was readily accepting of it and glimpsed the glory of God in these truths. However, several other members of the class took issue with my teaching on these doctrines of grace, and began to question and argue against this view. Since this wasn't the main focus of our study, I simply stated my position (a Calvinist) and my reasons for my position (because my own study had convinced me of the Biblical truth of these doctrines). As I attempted to move on, one of the other members of the class leaned over to the woman who had been questioning and understanding and said, loud enough for everyone in the class to hear, "That Calvinism stuff can't be true. It limits God."

Oh, how I wanted to respond to that, but I bit my lip and moved on. Many times since I have recalled the situation and thought maybe I should have taken the time then to respond to this clear misunderstanding. I would have pointed out that it is not the Calvinist view that "limits God", but rather the man-centered free-will view of the Arminian and semi-Pelagian. The doctrines of grace put the full power and activity and cause of salvation wholly in God's hands, placing no limits on His purposes at all. While all other views place the will of man in some means as the ultimate determining cause of who will believe and be saved and who will not, thereby limiting God's role to making salvation available and making the Gospel available but then standing and waiting for men and women to decide to embrace Christ. Any time that the will of man is placed as a determinant factor in anything over against the will of God, that position by definition puts limits on God. The Calvinistic view of election and salvation is the only view that places absolutely no limits on God's sovereignty, His grace, His salvific purposes, His love and mercy, His eternal redemptive purposes, or His glory. That's why I accept it wholeheartedly as Biblically true.

Of course, I know what this person meant when they stated that Calvinism "limits God." They meant that the concept of God's elect, chosen before the foundation of the world, somehow limits those who may come to Him for eternal life. In effect, they make several wrong assumptions, about man's ability and about God's purposes. They misunderstand the truth of man's depravity and utter inability to respond to Christ in any positive way, apart from the intervention of God to enable them to. They misunderstand that this depravity places all of us under the just and righteous condemnation of God's wrath, so that if God were "fair" we would all be subject to eternal punishment. They misunderstand the "whosoever will" passages of the Gospels, reading more into them that is intended. In short, they misunderstand the power and glory and sovereignty and true grace of the God whose name they seek to protect. They limit God by subjecting Him to their wrong ideas about who He is and who we are.

The truth is that our God is the Limitless One. And the only limits placed on Him, are the limits of our own faulty understandings of Him and His Word.