Fate (2 of 2)

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(Continued from yesterday)

Regarding providence, let me quote from Easton’s Bible Dictionary: “God preserves and governs all things by means of second causes. His providence extends to the natural world:
Ps 104:14 He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, And vegetation for the labor of man, So that he may bring forth food from the earth,
• Acts 14:17 and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.

the brute creation:
Mt 6:26 Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?
• Mt 10:29 Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.

the affairs of men:
Prov 21:1 The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.
• Job 12:23 He makes the nations great, then destroys them; He enlarges the nations, then leads them away.
• Dan 2:21 It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men And knowledge to men of understanding.

and of individuals:
1 Sam 2:6 The LORD kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up.
• Jas 4:13-15 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.”

It extends also to the free actions of men:
Ex 12:36 and the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have their request. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.
• Ps 33:14-15 From His dwelling place He looks out On all the inhabitants of the earth, He who fashions the hearts of them all, He who understands all their works.
• Prov 19:21 Many plans are in a man’s heart, But the counsel of the LORD will stand.

and things sinful:
2 Sam 24:1 Now again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”
• Rom 11:32 For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.

as well as to their good actions:
Eph 2:10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
• Php 2:13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

As regards sinful actions of men, they are represented as occurring by God’s permission:
Gen 45:5 Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.
• Acts 3:18 But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled.

and as controlled and overruled for good:
Job 1:12 Then the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.” …
• Job 2:6 So the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your power, only spare his life.”
• Gen 50:20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.

God does not cause or approve of sin, but only limits, restrains, overrules it for good.

So Christians recognize divine providence, not fate. Furthermore, we have responsibility before God for our actions. We can do something about it, and not just accept what seems to be inevitable.

Fate (1 of 2)

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Q. How do you Christians view fate? So many things are happening in the world right now and we can’t do anything about it. Is it inevitable?

A. First, let’s define our terms. By fate people generally mean “the development of events beyond a person’s control, regarded as determined by a supernatural power.” Furthermore, this power is usually regarded as an impersonal force, which people sometimes call “destiny“, or “karma“.

Second, let’s look at what the Bible has to say. The word “fate” appears in the NASB 9 times in 8 verses:

Num 16:29 If these men die the death of all men or if they suffer the fate of all men, then the LORD has not sent me.
• Job 18:20 “Those in the west are appalled at his fate, And those in the east are seized with horror.
• Eccle 2:14-15 The wise man’s eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I know that one fate befalls them both. Then I said to myself, “As is the fate of the fool, it will also befall me. Why then have I been extremely wise?” So I said to myself, “This too is vanity.”
• Eccle 3:19 For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity.
• Eccle 9:2-3 It is the same for all. There is one fate for the righteous and for the wicked; for the good, for the clean and for the unclean; for the man who offers a sacrifice and for the one who does not sacrifice. As the good man is, so is the sinner; as the swearer is, so is the one who is afraid to swear. This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that there is one fate for all men. Furthermore, the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives. Afterwards they go to the dead.
• Lk 13:2 And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate?

Notice the following:
• There is one fate for all men – death. The Bible does not recognize fate in the affairs of men. Whether they are wise or foolish, men or beast, righteous or wicked, good or sinner, clean or unclean, devout or irreligious, all die. In this sense fate as death is inevitable.
• This end result is always in the passive sense, never an active agent in determining the outcome of anything, big or small. The Bible is therefore diametrically opposed to the view that fate is an impersonal force determining people’s destiny. Only God can decide on our “fate”.

In contrast, the Bible teaches that God is sovereign and has plans for our lives, which we call providence:
Jer 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
• Job 10:12 You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in your providence watched over my spirit.

(To be continued)

God’s Choice vs. Man’s Choice (2 of 2)

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(Continued from yesterday)

Yesterday we examined 3 out of 4 combinations of God’s choice versus man’s. Let’s look at the last one today:

God vs Man Choice

4. God bypasses the person, but he chooses to receive Christ:
a. If God has the final say (Calvinist), he is lost.
b. If man has the final say (Arminian), he is saved.

The Calvinist view is that if God passes over an individual and leaves him to his devices, his fallen state is such that without the enabling of the Holy Spirit, he does not have the ability to choose Christ on his own. Arminians disagree, believing that though a sinner is spiritually sick, he still has the capacity to receive Christ. Who is correct?

The Bible description of a fallen man is:
Jn 6:44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him;
• Eph 2:1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,
• Eph 2:5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, …
• Col 2:13 When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, …

Jn 6:44 says “no one can”. “Can” speaks of ability. No one has the ability to come to Christ “unless the Father draws him”. The precondition for coming to Christ is the Father’s drawing, His enablement. Why can’t he come on his own? Because he is “dead” according to Eph and Col. A spiritually dead person does not have the ability to respond to Christ’s invitation, unless the Father draws or enables him. Arminians feel that man has prevenient grace so that he is only sick and not dead, and can still choose to accept Christ. I don’t find this in Scripture. It is a view held by many who overvalued man’s ability and understated God’s sovereignty, but there is no biblical basis for it.

Furthermore, the Arminian position would lead to an absurd conclusion, a reductio ad absurdum. Let’s play along and assume that a non-elect person does have the capacity to exercise his free will to choose Christ. If man has the final say, he is saved despite God bypassing him. Man becomes sovereign, not God, which is wrong by definition. What if God has the final say? Since God did not choose him, He overrules the man’s free choice of Christ. This would make God a capricious despot denying eternal life to a person who receives Christ. That is certainly not the God of the Bible. So I am persuaded both by Scripture and logic that the Arminian position is untenable.

Finally, why would God waste time in letting us convert those predestined to hell? He wouldn’t waste time. We witness to all as we don’t know who the elect are, but we won’t succeed in converting the non-elect. They would either resist God’s offer of salvation, or there would be false conversion in which there is an emotional response which withers away, but no real life that perseveres because it does not abide in Christ. God permits such activities to train us to be obedient and sharpen our evangelistic skill. Plus we learn to be more Christ-like in the process as you pointed out. Hope this is clear.

God’s Choice vs. Man’s Choice (1 of 2)

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Q. Seems to me that allowing men to choose does not eliminate God’s sovereignty. God in His sovereignty allows man to exercise his free will in the matter of accepting Christ, just like He allows man to decide things in his every day life. However, He can also overrule and take that away any time. (Just like parents to kids.) He can choose to have mercy to anyone He wants, and He can choose to allow man to exercise his free will within the confines He defines. Otherwise why would God let us waste time to convert those who are predestined to hell?

A. I never said allowing men to choose eliminated God’s sovereignty. What I said was allowing men to have the final say eliminates God’s sovereignty. One word makes all the difference. Arminians claim that man has the final say in matters of accepting Christ, otherwise how can God hold man accountable? Calvinists claim that God has the final say in who gets saved, otherwise God is subject to man’s choice and not sovereign. The two views are mutually exclusive as both can’t have the final say. I side with the Calvinists based on scriptural evidence.

We can analyze this issue logically and biblically. For the moment, let’s put who has the final say aside. From God’s perspective, He can either elect (choose) to save a person, or pass over (bypass) him. From man’s angle, he can choose either to accept or reject Christ. There are thus 4 possible combinations:

God vs Man Choice

1. God chooses the person, and he chooses to accept Christ. The outcome is that he is saved.
2. God bypasses the person, and he chooses to reject Christ. The outcome is that he is lost.
So far so good. Both Calvinists and Arminians agree on the above outcomes. But 3 and 4 is where who has the final say becomes important.

3. God chooses the person, but he chooses to reject Christ.
a. If God has the final say (Calvinist), he is saved.
b. If man has the final say (Arminian), he is lost.

Sometimes the Calvinist view is caricatured as God dictating and cramming His will down man’s throat. We must avoid such fallacious straw man arguments. In fact God the Holy Spirit works on man’s conscience to draw him to Christ:
Jn 16:8 And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment;
He arranges events and circumstances such that man comes to Christ willingly, because his eyes had been opened to see the plight he is in, and his heart, mind and will convicted of his need for the Savior. Calvinists call this irresistible grace or effectual calling, which precludes the possibility of those called rejecting Christ.

The Arminian view maintains that God gives prevenient grace prior to conversion that offsets the damaging effect of sin on a man’s ability to understand the gospel, releases him from bondage to sin, restores his freewill, but which comes short of efficaciously saving the person. This leaves the final decision of whether to accept or receive Christ with man, not God. Biblically, who is correct? I believe the former.

Who has the final say?
Prov 16:9 The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.
• Prov 19:21 Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the LORD will stand.
• Dan 4:34 All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’

Obviously God.

Is God’s will resistible?
Job 42:2 I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.
• Isa 14:24, 27 The LORD of hosts has sworn saying, “Surely, just as I have intended so it has happened, and just as I have planned so it will stand, … For the LORD of hosts has planned, and who can frustrate it? And as for His stretched-out hand, who can turn it back?”
• Rom 9:19-21 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, …

Obviously no. God as Creator has a right over man as creature, who are not His equal and can resist His will. They can try, but they won’t succeed.

(To be continued)

What will we Do in Heaven?

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Q. It seems that God’s project for mankind at the present moment is to save as many lost souls as possible according to His plan, and He is engaging men in His divine plan as we witness to non-believers and share with them the gospel. When the end times finally come and we meet God face to face, we will live in His presence forever. Does the bible give any glimpse on what He has destined for us to do next other than worshiping, praising and enjoying a wonderful heaven?

A. Yes it does. Cynics think it will be very boring in heaven since they don’t sing or play the harp, but they are wrong. The Bible does not give us a full picture of what we will do in heaven, but there are snippets:

First, we will be surprised:
To borrow from Eph 3:20, heaven will be beyond all that we ask or think.

Second, for those who have been faithful in witnessing, the fruits of their labor will welcome them into heaven:
Lk 16:9 And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.
And of course you will see all your family and friends who belong to Christ.

Third, besides worshipping and praising God, we will celebrate:
Mt 8:11 I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven;
• Rev 19:7, 9 Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” … Then he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.”

Fourth, we will learn. All those unanswered questions we have, the things we don’t understand, we will know and comprehend fully. We won’t be omniscient and know everything, which is God’s attribute, but we will continue to learn and know more and more:
1 Co 13:12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.
• Eph 3:18-19 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.

Fifth, we will serve:
Rev 22:3 There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him;

Serve in what way? The Bible does not give details, but one assignment will be to judge angels. And our responsibility will be proportionate to our faithfulness on earth:
1 Co 6:3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life?
• Mt 25:21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ (Also v 23)
• Lk 19:17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good slave, because you have been faithful in a very little thing, you are to be in authority over ten cities.’ (Also v 19)

Some commentators hypothesize that we will be assigned to develop other galaxies since it seemed such a waste to create such a vast universe with millions of galaxies and countless stars and unpopulated planets. But that would be pure speculation as the Bible is silent on the subject.

Contradicting God’s Power?

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Q. Jesus dying on the cross is the only way to take us from our punishment for our sins. If there is any another way, God would have answered Jesus prayer of taking this cup away from Him. But doesn’t this contradict the fact that with God, everything is possible?

A. No it does not. We need to be careful how we interpret theological statements:
Mt 19:26 And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Also Mk 10:27, Lk 18:27)
• Lk 1:37 For nothing will be impossible with God.

When the Bible says with God all things are possible, and nothing will be impossible with God, it was contrasting what’s humanly very hard, to the point of being almost impossible, namely for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, or a barren woman to conceive a son in her old age, with what’s divinely possible. It does not mean absolute impossibility, since rich people like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are in God’s kingdom (Mt 8:11; Lk 13:28).

What it means is that anything that can be accomplished with power is possible with God, as God’s power is unlimited, and nothing is too difficult for Him:
Gen 18:14 Is anything too difficult for the LORD?
• Num 11:23 The LORD said to Moses, “Is the LORD’S power limited? Now you shall see whether My word will come true for you or not.”
• Jer 32:17 ‘Ah Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You,
• Jer 32:27 “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?

But doesn’t God’s omnipotence means He can do anything and everything without limitation? The answer is both yes and no. Yes He can do anything achievable with power, but no He cannot act against His own nature:
2 Tim 2:13 If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.
• Tit 1:12 in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago,
• Heb 6:18 so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us.
• Jas 1:13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.

There is no external limit to His power; but His power is subject to His nature of being absolutely holy and utterly opposed to evil. As such He is faithful, cannot lie, and cannot be tempted, because He cannot deny His nature. His divine being, who He is, demands this, and He can never change (immutable). Therefore it is more theologically correct to qualify the statement “with God all things are possible” with the clause “consistent with His nature“, which the biblical narrative omits as it is not a theology textbook.

Now back to the question “does Jesus’ death on the cross being the only way to save us contradict with God all things are possible?”. No it does not. Humanly speaking it is impossible to save mankind any other way. Only the perfect Son of God becoming our substitute can atone for our sins, and Jesus did exactly that. What’s impossible with people is possible with God.

In classical logic, the law of non-contradiction states that contradictory statements cannot both be true in the same sense at the same time i.e. something cannot be both true and not true at the same time in the same sense. Here the statements “Jesus’ death is the only way” and “with God all things are possible” are not mutually exclusive. There is no contradiction.

Being Like Christ

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Q. 2 Co 3:18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord…”. What is the final state of being Christ-like and being united with Him? Will we have all His moral characters, think and act like Him? Will we be able to comprehend what He does and why? Will we acquire ultimate wisdom?

A. The final state of being Christ-like is conformity to His image – we are predestined to that. When that happens, we will be like Him:
Rom 8:29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;
• 1 Jn 3:2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.

His image does not mean physical resemblance, but His attributes such as wisdom, righteousness and holiness, along with morality, decision-making and aesthetics.
See https://rayliu1.wordpress.com/2015/11/28/image-of-god/
We will also be changed from perishable to imperishable, and from mortal to immortal:
1 Co 15:51-53 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.

So I believe we will have His moral character, and think and act like Him. I also believe we will understand what He does and why:
1 Co 13:12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.

However, I don’t think we will acquire ultimate wisdom. Christ is God and infinite. Christians are creatures and finite. By nature we have limitations; He does not have any. What’s finite, even though it may be astronomical compared to what we know now, can never compare to what’s infinite. The creature will be like his Creator, but never His equal. That’s what Satan wanted, and his downfall.