John 3:16 vs. Election

Q. One question bothered me all along. When I first learned the Bible, Jn 3:16 moved me with God’s forgiveness of sinners. Yet at the same time, the Bible often mentioned “election” e.g. “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated”, which led me to feel God loved some people more. Perhaps “God so loved the world” does not mean He loved everyone the same as I first thought. What’s your view?

A. Some feel either God loves everybody equally, or He wouldn’t be fair. The Bible actually does not teach this “either/or” type of love, but a “both/and” kind – God loves both the elect and the non-elect, just not in the same way. Let me show what I mean:
Mt 5:44-45 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
• Acts 14:16-17 In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; 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.
• Rom 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
• 1 Tim 2:3-4 This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
• 2 Pet 3:9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
• 1 Jn 2:2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.

At a basic level, God loves the good and the evil by sending physical provisions to both, not just the righteous but the unrighteous as well. He desires all to be saved, and does not wish any to perish, even though some do not receive Him. God loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to die for us, while we were yet sinners. Jesus’ death is not for our sins only, but also for those of the whole world.

However, at a deeper level, God has a saving love for the elect, those whom He had chosen:
Jn 10:14-15 I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, 15 even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.
• Jn 17:9 I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours;
• Rom 1:7 to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
• Rom 8:28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
• Eph 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,
• 1 Tim 4:10 For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.

Believers are beloved of God and called as saints. The Lord knows them and asks on their behalf, not of the world. God causes all things to work together for their good, and has blessed them with every spiritual blessing. He did not do the same for those who reject Christ.

Not only did God differentiate between the elect and the non-elect, we are supposed to do the same:
Ga 6:10 So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.
• 1 Tim 5:8 But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

We are to do good to all people as He did, but especially those of the household of the faith. This is understandable. Those with a good heart love all people, not just their own, but it is reasonable for them to love and provide for their family first. Not to do so is worse than an unbeliever. Hope this helps.

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Firstborn

Q. Heb 12:23-24 “to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” I thought firstborn refers to Jesus, (Rev 1:5), but why is plural used i.e. whose names are written in heaven?

A. Yes, firstborn refers to Jesus, not only in Heb 12:23, but also in:

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;
• Col 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
• Col 1:18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.
• Heb 1:6 And when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, “AND LET ALL THE ANGELS OF GOD WORSHIP HIM.”
• Rev 1:5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood—

Firstborn, or first begotten, is not just first chronologically, but also first in preeminence. He is the firstborn of all creation, the firstborn from the dead, and the firstborn among many brethren.

The text reads “church of the firstborn” i.e. “church of Jesus Christ”, not “firstborns”. “Church” is a collective noun, referring to the whole assembly. That’s why it is “whose names are written in heaven”, meaning all those who are born-again. There is no contradiction.

Origin of the Universe

Q. Someone told me you don’t need God to create the universe. All you need is an infinite regress of causes. What do you think?

A. I am a pastor with engineering and finance background, not a philosopher. I draw my conclusions based on evidence and logic. There are many with philosophy training who can articulate the reasoning behind why an “infinite regress” doesn’t work. Just go on YouTube and you can find many clear and concise answers e.g.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w4AHFBft2L8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uiq1dyKcfhU

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N6UW3Imn5b8

But just for fun, I cite an illustration I heard this Sunday in a sermon by Tim Barnett of Stand to Reason, on the Origin of the Universe. Tim cited that originally Einstein did not like the idea of an expanding universe, and introduced a fudge fact, the cosmological constant, in his general theory of relativity, to produce a static and stable universe. This was until he looked at the evidence from Hubble’s telescope, which showed that there is a “red shift” in the light from distant galaxies, which means that the wavelength of the light is stretched, or that the light source is moving further and further away. In other words, the universe is expanding, not static! Einstein retracted his fudge factor and called it the greatest blunder in his life!

Since the universe is expanding, it means that in the past the universe was smaller. Now if you go back further and further in time, you can go all the way back to when the universe was infinitesimally small, beyond which it did not even exist. In other words, the universe had a beginning, and a beginning requires a Beginner. Remember “infinite regress” is only a mathematical abstraction, but does not exist in the real world. This Beginner must be outside of space-time to create space-time i.e. infinite, infinitely intelligent to design this complex universe with all its order and finely tuned conditions for life to exist, and infinitely powerful to call everything into existence from nothing (creation ex-nihilo. This eternal, omniscient and omnipotent Being, the First Cause, is whom we call God. Infinite regress have no reality. It is a figment of the imagination of those who refuse to accept scientific evidence.

The Lie

Q. 2 Thes 2:11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie. What is the lie? Why would God send people a powerful delusion? Wouldn’t that make God responsible?

A. The phrase “the lie” appears only twice in the NIV NT, here and in 2 Thes 2:9. To answer your question, let’s start with the immediate context – 2 Thes 2:1-12, which talk about the Great Apostasy in the end times, and the Man of Lawlessness, the Antichrist. We analyze 2 Thes 2:9-12 by dividing the 4 verses into three parts – that which the lawless one does, the people’s response, and what God will do:

9 The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie,
10 and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.
11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie
12 and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

Note the chronological sequence:
• First, the lawless one, empowered by Satan, will use power, signs and wonders to deceive.
• Next, the people who refuse to love and believe the truth to be saved, choose to believe the lawless one’s lie and delight in wickedness. That’s why they perish.
• Then God sends the people a powerful delusion to confirm their refusal to love the truth, so that they will be condemned.
So God’s sending the delusion did not cause their unbelief, but in response to it. They perish because of their own choice and love of wickedness.

What is “the lie”? In the NKJV NT, the phrase appears one more time:
Rom 1:25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

“The lie” is contrasted with “the truth of God”. The background goes all the way back to Genesis 3, the temptation and fall of man:
Gen 3:1 Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”
• Gen 3:4-5 Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

The very first lie in the Bible is a direct contradiction of God’s word in:
Gen 2:17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.
claiming that it cannot be trusted. It imputes an ulterior motive to God’s prohibition, not for our good to protect us, but to selfishly guard His superiority so that we won’t be like Him. Therefore obedience keeps us down while disobedience will promote us to be like God. This lie has been repeated throughout the ages in all religions, men trying to establish their own goodness apart from God. Men had fallen for it time and again, and will continue to do so until the end.

Strange Command

Q. I find 1 Kings 20:35-37 hard to digest. I don’t understand why the man who refuses to strike the prophet is punished so severely. Is there any other context that I should be aware of in understanding this? To simply have someone walk up to you and say “Hit me” is probably something I would refuse to do as well. And supposing that it was already known that the person asking was a man of God, wouldn’t the person being asked be even more fearful of punishment for striking the man that asked for that exact reason? How is the person being asked supposed to know that what he was being asked to do was permitted by God when it seemingly goes against how we are asked to treat each other?

A. This looked like a strange demand, until you examine the text carefully:
1 Kings 20:35 Now a certain man of the sons of the prophets said to another by the word of the LORD, “Please strike me.” But the man refused to strike him.
• 36 Then he said to him, “Because you have not listened to the voice of the LORD, behold, as soon as you have departed from me, a lion will kill you.” And as soon as he had departed from him a lion found him and killed him.

First, “another” in v 35 is literally “his neighbor”, not someone living next door, but another “sons of the prophets”. This is clearer in the ESV or NIV:
ESV And a certain man of the sons of the prophets said to his fellow at the command of the LORD, “Strike me, please.” But the man refused to strike him.
• NIV By the word of the LORD one of the company of the prophets said to his companion, “Strike me with your weapon,” but he refused.

So he is not asking a stranger, but a fellow prophet, who should know better.

Secondly, he asked “by the word of the LORD” i.e. at the LORD’S command. The text did not say how much he explained, but one can infer from v 36 “not listened to the voice of the LORD” that, as a minimum, he did say that his request is the LORD’s voice, not his own, otherwise he couldn’t pronounce judgment on his companion for refusing to obey God’s command. There are no punctuation marks in the Hebrew. This interpretation takes the translation to be:
1 Kings 20:35 Now a certain man of the sons of the prophets said to another, “By the word of the LORD, please strike me.” But the man refused to strike him.
This position makes it clear that the punishment was for disobeying God’s command.

In this connection, an earlier incident in 1 Kings 13:1-24 involving another prophet being killed by a lion for disobeying God’s command is instructive. There, the LORD commanded the prophet directly:
1 Kings 13:9 For so it was commanded me by the word of the LORD, saying, ‘You shall eat no bread, nor drink water, nor return by the way which you came.’
• 1 Kings 13:17 For a command came to me by the word of the LORD, ‘You shall eat no bread, nor drink water there; do not return by going the way which you came.’

Yet, despite his knowing God’s command, he listened to the lying old prophet and returned, with dire consequences:
1 Kings 13:21 and he cried to the man of God who came from Judah, saying, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Because you have disobeyed the command of the LORD, and have not observed the commandment which the LORD your God commanded you,
• 22 but have returned and eaten bread and drunk water in the place of which He said to you, “Eat no bread and drink no water”; your body shall not come to the grave of your fathers.’”

God’s commands sometimes are not what we expected e.g. His asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, but odd or reasonable, they are to be obeyed. They are not optional. So make sure whether what’s asked of us is from God or men. For that we need discernment, which God gives to those who seek for it:
Prov 2:3 For if you cry for discernment, Lift your voice for understanding;
4 If you seek her as silver And search for her as for hidden treasures;
5 Then you will discern the fear of the LORD And discover the knowledge of God.
6 For the LORD gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.

I Don’t Believe in God!

Q. “Don’t tell me about your religion. I don’t believe in God.” How would you answer that?

A. There are many ways to approach this. Let’s start by defining what, or who, we mean. The Oxford Dictionary defines god as “the creator and ruler of the universe and source of all moral authority; the supreme being”:
• Creator means “a person or thing that brings something into existence”;
• Ruler and source of all moral authority implies, as a minimum, intelligence and goodness; and
• Supreme being means the highest person.

For people who don’t believe in God, even though they may not say it, essentially they are denying:
A creator or First Cause. The Law of Cause and Effect states that every material effect must have an adequate antecedent or simultaneous cause. If you trace our physical universe to its beginning, it must be caused by something or someone outside of itself. It cannot cause itself into existence, otherwise it would violate the law of non-contradiction. This is because the universe must exist in order for it to create anything, and it must not exist such that it has to be created. But self-creation requires both to be true simultaneously, and it simply can’t be, otherwise logic breaks down and there is no basis for reasoning. So a transcendent First Cause must pre-exist our universe, whom we call the Creator.
A designer. If you examine our universe, you will observe order (e.g. planetary orbits), symmetry (e.g. structure in organisms), and intricate design such that things work together. Just as a building requires an architect and a painting requires a painter, so this careful design requires a highly intelligent Designer who planned and executed everything.
A person. Not only is the First Cause all-powerful in order to create the universe, and all-knowing to design all living and inorganic matters, He must have personality as we have intellect, emotions, an innate sense of right and wrong (morals), and a will to decide, as that which is created, namely us, cannot be greater than the creator.

So simple logic tells us that an omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), moral being (person) exists, and we call this First Cause Designer God. To say that you don’t believe in God simply tells us that you do not want to accept the evidence, which are plenty. It does not change the fact that God exists, who you can know if you care to find out.

Jacob wrestling with God

Q. In Genesis 32 Jacob wrestled with a man and asked him to bless him, and he changed his name from Jacob to Israel. Who is he? What does it mean?

A. Skeptics laugh at the Bible claiming it is full of contradictions e.g.
V 24-25 Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him.
• V 30 So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.”

They say Jacob obviously wrestled with a man according to v 24, for how else can God not prevail against him. But in fact they do not understand and presupposed many wrong ideas.

First let’s observe what the passage said:
V 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
• V 28 He said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.”

Jacob obviously knew that his opponent was someone higher than him, for he asked Him to bless him, buy probably did not know His identity until His self-disclosure in v 28, after which he realized that He was God. But didn’t the Bible say no one has seen God? Yes, in:
Jn 1:18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.
• Jn 6:46 Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father.

No one has seen God the Father at any time. Who Jacob saw was God the Son, the only begotten God, the One who is from the Father, the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ, and He allowed Jacob to prevail against Him in order to bless him. There is no contradiction. Skeptics do not know God, and presumed the Bible to be wrong, when actually they are the ones who are in error.