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:

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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)

I Don’t Feel I Need Jesus

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Q. I am doing fine just as I am. I don’t feel I need Jesus or any religion.

A. This is a classic case of allowing the subjective to influence one’s decision, to the detriment of objective reality. The unbeliever feels that everything is fine and going his way. He is content with his situation and doesn’t feel the need to change. So why bother? The reality is that Satan had deceived him and lulled him into a false sense of security. He doesn’t see his true spiritual condition and the plight he is in, so he rejects the gospel:
2 Co 4:4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
• Rom 3:10-12 as it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.”
• Rom 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
• Rom 6:23a For the wages of sin is death,
• Jn 3:18b he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

It is the same in physical life. Some have terminal illness but do not feel a thing. No pain, no suffering, as if nothing is wrong. But when finally the symptoms manifest itself, it is too late. You see feelings do not change the facts; they only change how you behave. Emotions affect your personal preferences, and when you are self-deceived about how deplorable your actual situation is, you choose against your own best interests, which unbelievers tend to do:
2 Co 10:12b but when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding.
• Eph 4:18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart;

So the wise thing to do is to investigate for yourself what the gospel is all about, and then decide after you know the facts. That’s like deferring a prognosis until after a proper diagnosis, instead of refusing medication before even knowing how sick you are.

Why Evangelism?

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Q. If God foreordains who would be saved, then why bother with evangelism at all? He has already predestined everything, so it really does not matter what we do.

A. We evangelize because:
1. Christ commanded it:
Mt 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,
• Mk 16:15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.
• Lk 24:47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
• Jn 20:21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”
• Acts 1:8b and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

When our Lord commanded it in the Great Commission, that alone is more than enough reason for us to evangelize.

2. God ordained not just the ends, but also the means:
Rom 10:13-15a for “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.” How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent?
God chose who would be saved, but He also chose that they would be saved through hearing the gospel. So He sent preachers to preach the good news.

3. It is our privilege:
Rom 10:15b Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!”
Most feet are not beautiful, but those who bring the gospel are. It is an honor for those who are given the opportunity to share, and brings great joy when those we witnessed to come to know Christ as their Lord and Savior. That’s why we evangelize.

Leading Seniors to Christ

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Last Sunday we received an urgent call from a former church member C. (name changed), asking whether we could visit her parents before her mom goes for surgery next week. They are in their mid to late 70’s, with health issues.

The mom had been a staunch Taoist, even pledging herself to be a disciple of Zhang Daoling, the first Celestial Master (張天師) in second century BC. However, when she had a near fatal illness nearly 10 years ago, she professed faith in Christ, but hesitatingly, as her husband was not a believer. He had been a businessman in Hong Kong (HK), but does not believe in any religion. Both retired and emigrated to Canada to live with their daughter in 1997, when HK was repatriated to China.

Two weeks earlier the church caring team had visited them to share the gospel, inviting them to trust in Christ alone for their salvation. The mom said she already believed in Jesus, but will follow her husband’s decision as head of the household, as many older Chinese wives are accustomed to do. The dad said he also believes in Jesus, otherwise why would he follow his daughter to church every Sunday? But he cannot trust in Jesus alone, since previously he followed Master Zhang and could not be disloyal. The team explained that Christianity is exclusive and that he could not put his faith in both, but he wouldn’t budge, as disloyalty is a grave sin with dire consequences. That’s when someone suggested C. contact us.

Prior to our appointment the team explained to us how their meeting went, so we were aware of the impasse. What the team said was correct, but there is a better way to present the truth to avoid the deadlock. After inquiring about their health to establish rapport, we transitioned to the gospel. We agreed with him that loyalty is important. Just as in a marriage the partners need to be faithful to each other and not leave room for a third-party, so in matters of faith one should commit wholeheartedly and not have divided loyalties. However, important as that is, there is an even more important issue to be resolved first. And that most important thing is to determine who the one true God is, and commit to Him alone and no one else.

We explained to him that in time past many Chinese did not know any better as they had not heard the gospel. They followed blindly the beliefs of ancestors without questioning, and were conned by demonic deception such as healing from a sickness or winning a fortune. Little did they realize that these are like sugar-coated poison, because the cost is to forfeit their soul (Mt 16:26; Mk 8:36; Lk 9:25). So the priority is to find out who the true God is, and then commit to follow Him only. He was a businessman and understood right away Satan’s tricks to lure people to follow him, so we invited them to settle their commitment once for all, which they accepted. After further clarification questions we asked them to pray to tell Jesus their commitment to trust Him alone. All were glad as we welcome them into God’s family. Hallelujah!

The gospel never changes, but how you present it can vary with the need. Always be ready to share with anyone, any place, anywhere. You’ll be glad you did, just as there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents (Lk 15:10).

Reflections on “It’s a Wonderful Life”

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We attended the live-radio play “It’s a Wonderful Life” hosted by our church. It’s a classic Christmas movie (1946) about “an angel who helped a compassionate but despairingly frustrated businessman by showing him what life would have been like if he never existed.” (For those who do not know the storyline, please refer to http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0038650/) The story held our attention and the performance was very good, but I left with mixed feelings about the plot.

On the one hand, I like the theme “No man is a failure who has friends. Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole. All you can take with you is that which you’ve given away.” Not many of us are wise according to human standards, not many mighty, not many noble (1 Co 1:26), but all of us have friends. What we have given away have left a mark, great or small, on their lives. Had we never existed, our friends’ lives would have been different by virtue of the fact that our impact would have been absent.

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I thought back over the last few decades. A lot of the things I did would not amount to much. Whatever trophies or awards I earned in school or university had long been forgotten, as soon as the next school year came along and there were new students competing for those top spots. What achievements I had with my employers were a thing of the past too, as everyone’s attention quickly refocused on the latest quarterly and annual results. Vanity of vanities. All is vanity. (Eccle 1:2; 12:8)

However, if I had never been born, for sure I would not have any children or grandchildren! And they are important! Even though I had not done anything great according to the world’s standards, I shared the gospel with quite a few, and by God’s grace some did trust and follow the Lord. Many I did not have the opportunity to meet again, but I expect to see them again the other side of heaven. Had I not existed, I guess the Lord would have used others to lead them to Himself, but I’m glad I was there at the right time and place and obedient in carrying the message. To me that’s significant! So I’m thankful for the play’s reminder to reflect on what matters in life.

On the other hand, I am bothered by the play’s utilitarian value system. What if, unlike the story’s hero, I had not saved anyone life? Or contributed to society’s well-being by stopping evil oppressors in their tracks? What if I am just an ordinary citizen trying hard to make ends meet? Or perhaps I was born physically or mentally challenged? Does that mean my life has little value because I had not influenced others for the better? I don’t think so. Even with all the disadvantages and looked down by the world, I would still be fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps 139:14). I would still be made in God’s image, a child of God and precious in His sight.

So I have mixed feelings about the play. But I suppose that’s the best I can expect from humanitarian philosophy – good from today’s moral decline perspective, but far short of God’s ideal. That’s why we need to share the gospel to as many as we can as best as we can. Other things pale in comparison.

Salvation by Works?

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Q. Does Mt 19:16-26 teach salvation by works?

A. No it does not. In fact, the story of the Rich Young Ruler teaches exactly the opposite. What threw some people off is the part b of v 17: “but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments” which seemed to teach that the “good thing” he should do “to obtain eternal life” is to “keep the commandments.” But actually Jesus was correcting the ruler’s misunderstanding. V 17 b is governed by 17 a, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good”. By saying that only One i.e. God, is good Jesus was telling him that none of the things he does or could do are really any good at all. They are not meritorious.

When the ruler did not realize how far short he was off the mark, Jesus continued by listing the commandments in v 18-19:
• YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER (6TH COMMANDMENT);
• YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY (7TH COMMANDMENT);
• YOU SHALL NOT STEAL (8TH COMMANDMENT);
• YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS (9TH COMMANDMENT);
• HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER (5TH COMMANDMENT); and
• YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” (2ND GREATEST COMMANDMENT).

That is, Jesus listed 5-9 of the 10 commandments about loving your neighbor, but purposely left out the 10th on “You shall not covet” (Ex 20:17). When the ruler still did not catch on, Jesus probed one last time by asking him to “go and sell your possessions and give to the poor” (v 21). At that he finally realized his shortfall and went away grieving, because he coveted and could not let go of his properties.

In other words, Jesus was showing him that no one can keep the commandments by his own effort, and that’s why no one can enter into life or be saved by works. Asking him to keep the commandments is simply to let him discover for himself the impossibility of doing so (v 26), and that he should commit himself to God’s grace and mercy instead. Using a negative object lesson to drive home the positive point is one of our Lord’s powerful teaching methods.