Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Once Saved Always Saved?

A dear brother in Christ challenged the expression "once saved, always saved" by citing the verse Colossians 1:23.  If (if indeed, seeing that) ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister; My friend made the inference that this verse sets the condition of staying in the faith if we are to continue to have salvation.

Colossians 1:23 does indeed begin with the word “if” and has been interpreted by many as presenting a condition to our salvation, i.e., that we continue in faith and not be moved away from it. But where is the “then” to the “if” in this verse? For this, we have to go back to verses 21-22 and even then we find no “then” but rather a statement of accomplished fact. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled 22In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: Theif” in this case is not setting a condition that has to be met but is drawing attention to the evidence that the accomplished fact of the regeneration of the Colossian believers has taken place. This “if” is in the sense of “seeing that” or “in that” or, better yet, “since” you are continuing in the faith, shows that Christ has redeemed you. Because of the construction of the statement and in particular the order of the two phrases it follows that Paul is establishing that continuing in the faith is a result of Christ’s reconciliation of believers through the work accomplished on the Cross and not a condition of that reconciliation.

But then a new question arises. What if a person does not continue in the faith in Jesus Christ? The implication would seem to be that Christ has not then reconciled that person to Himself (or to the Father). Since the reconciliation in verse 21 is presented as an accomplished fact the clear implication is that the person who does not continue in the faith was never reconciled in the first place, and since reconciliation is through faith (Ephesians: 2:8,9) the faith that the person had was/is a mere profession and not true saving faith at all but akin to the faith described in James 2:19: You believe that there is one God; you do well: the demons also believe, and tremble. Saving faith involves believing that God is and that He rewards those that seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). Saving faith involves calling upon Christ (Romans 10:13) and receiving Him as one’s personal Messiah/redeemer (John 1:12). Saving faith involves opening the door and inviting Jesus in for fellowship (Revelation 3:10). Saving faith means being born again or born from above.

Now, another question arises. If one is truly born from above, which is God’s doing and not our own, can he be unborn, i.e., lose his position in Christ by turning away from Him according to  his volition as some interpret Colossians 1:23 to be saying. To answer this, we must consider the fact that being born does not mean that we no longer sin. Yes, if any man be in Christ he is a new creation 
(2 Corinthians 5:17) and we have been crucified with Christ yet we live through Christ within us (Galatians 2:20), however, we still sin as described in 1 John 1:8 and struggle to do right as Paul wrote in Romans 7:19 before expressing the desire to be freed from this “body of death.” And so, the believer in Christ constantly battles sin which as long as he is in his earthly tabernacle. At what point then has a believer who sins crossed the line and is no longer saved?

I would guess the strength of this argument hinges on the interpretation one has of sin. The Bible defines sin as “missing the mark” or failing to obey God’s commandments. From this, various denominations and individual churches have devised a list of individual sins that comprise the standard of one’s standing as a Christian. But putting these lists aside, consider what took place in the Garden of Eden when man first fell into sin. There, our original parents took up the tempter’s offer to become as God by disobeying His one command (Genesis 6:3). Man has since been seeking to be his own God ever since. Salvation comes when we receive the living God back into our lives was we are born again.

At this point many biblical scholars bring up the objection that fallen man has not the capacity to receive  God and they are right according to Romans 3:11: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. Jeremiah 17:9 describes man’s sinful nature in this way: The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? Since this is the case, there is no way a man can come to salvation except God draws him (John 6:44). This is the miracle of the new birth. God in his grace gives us a new nature that has the capacity to choose to receive Him. Salvation is all of God and not dependent on us. As one pastor of note has stated God gives us a nature that desires Him and will not choose otherwise.

Are we saying then, “Once saved, always saved?” First, consider the fact that this statement does not adequately express the position that a truly born again individual cannot lose his position in Christ. For starters, the words “once saved” insinuate that salvation is an experience that I initiate by something I have done. We must be clear. Salvation is not happening because I walk down an aisle or pray a sinner’s prayer although these things may be evidence of what God has done in me. Salvation comes when God recreates a new spirit within me that receives Christ into my life. Salvation is not dependent on something that I have done, but rather on something God has done within me. The concept that I can sin my salvation away puts the onus back upon me. It ignores the truth that since God saved me in the first place, He will keep me. Romans 8:35 and following verses address this very issue beginning with the question of “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” What then is the love of Christ? Does this refer to  the concept that Christ still loves me though I reject His love for me? No, see verses 31-34 where Paul is referring to our position in Christ. If we are in Christ then nothing can separate us or remove us from Him.

What then, is left for me to do? I can do nothing as far as earning salvation. But there is much if I am to more fully experience salvation. Philippians 2:12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, is a verse that is often given to support the idea that we must work to keep our salvation. This, if true, would completely contradict all that has been said up to this point. However, a closer look at the verse reveals that Paul is not advocating in any way that our works have anything to do with our earning or keeping our salvation.  Paul is, however, advocating that we work out as in the idea of exercising our salvation because it is God who is working in us.

So, If any man be in Christ he is a new creature. Old things have passed away and behold, all things have become new. As Christians we will still sin, but God does not leave us there. The Holy Spirit works within, correcting, reproving and bringing us back into fellowship with our loving Father. Blessed be the God who creates in us new life that does not pass away.

Monday, November 14, 2016

A (Grand) Father's Contemplations

As a dutiful grandfather I have, over my work desk, pictures of my grandchildren. It has been a delight and privilege to see this new generation as they are born and as they grow in the process of becoming what they will be. When our youngest grandchild was born recently his picture went up there with the rest receiving the place of honor of center stage as the newest grandchild. And so my attention is drawn to him as I sit at this desk and I begin thinking as I did with each of his cousins before.

He looks so innocent, so trusting, and so vulnerable and I begin to wonder what he will become. In a world that has so much disorder I tremble to think of all the temptations and pitfalls that lay before him. What kind of a man will he grow to be? What kinds of choices will he make? As I thought on this I was reminded of the following that my father wrote of his sons

                                A Father’s Contemplations

                                 Little boy, little son:
                                     Content upon my knee:
                                 I contemplate your future,
                                     And I wonder what you’ll be.

                                A doctor, lawyer, preacher:
                                     A boon to every man,
                                Or will you be a Satan’s scourge;
                                     Do evil when you can?

                                Will you develop character
                                     And strength and fortitude;  
                                Or will you live a careless life:
                                     A wasted interlude?

                                I pray that you will grow to be
                                     An upright man of God;
                                That you will dare to walk the path
                                     Our loving Savior trod.

                                I know whatever course you take:
                                     Whate’er you’re going to be,
                                All depends on a loving God,
                                     And His control of me.

As I read the above poem I realize it is in God’s hand that I commit this and each of my grandchildren, as  I committed their parents before them. God is faithful and  I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day (1 Timothy 1:12 ).God is not slack concerning His promises. I can trust Him.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

What Can I Believe?

As we draw close to the election of a new president and Congress we are bombarded we political ads in all sorts of media advising us who to vote for or actually in most cases, who not to vote for. Every indiscretion, every vote or missed vote, any action that can be put in a negative light is held out for us as a reason not to vote in for a the opposition’s candidate while little is said as to what the so-called “preferred” candidate would do or even what he or she truly stands for. Negativity appears to be the rule leaving one to wonder what is really true and how the candidates can say such things about one another.

This question was brought to my attention recently and led to the more fundamental question of what we can believe. The person behind this question gave the opinion that the only thing we can be sure of is what we can see, hear, taste, touch or prove through Science. Consequently, since God is not seen, neither can we touch Him or prove Him through Science, this person finds it difficult if not impossible to believe in God. If only God (if He truly exists) would appear before us and prove in some substantial way that He is Who He claims to be.

But what if God did come to earth and performed irrefutable feats that would show that God not only exists but that He is Who He claims to be? Would everyone believe or would some find “reasons” to explain away what is done openly before them? The Bible makes the astounding claim that God has indeed appeared to men even dwelling among them and that He has left written evidence through those who witnessed His appearances. And so, to those who can only believe what they can see, hear, taste or touch, I submit this: consider the Bible. 

The Bible claims to be the written Word of God and as such it claims to be Truth. Those who have yet to receive the Bible as Truth most commonly lump it together with the numerous religious writings in the world today. The fact that the Bible does not seek to establish a religion (man’s efforts to earn favor with God) but instead depicts God’s efforts to reconcile man to Himself is generally missed. And so the Bible claims to be a unique, even miraculous book. And, if it is truly the Word of God, then God has set out for us a record in writing that can be tested, proven and relied upon.

The skeptic probably would challenge the above statement noting that the Bible begins with the simple assumption that God exists and no one can prove that, at least not through the empirical methods we call Science. However, there are many theories highly regarded and accepted in Science as “the best explanation” of things that cannot be proven due to their far reaching nature either.  However, many claims of the Bible can be tested and proven to be true. This in turn points to the veracity of its whole. The point is, however, most skeptics have never read the Bible and as such do not know what its claims truly are. Instead, they pass judgment on it as just another religious writing.

Let's go back a minute to consider the opening question of this discussion of how  the politicians in this election cycle can act the way they do to the point of intentional deception just to get elected? The Bible has the answer that they are sinners fallen from the grace of God and are seeking to what is right in their own eyes. They may even be sincere in what they are attempting to accomplish and accept the idea that the end justifies the means. Therefore, character assassination, deception, and various cover-ups are considered legitimate means to their desired ends. This is what the Bible says sin is all about—men throwing off God’s authority to replace it with our own. It doesn’t take much astute observation to see that this is the case in all of us. We all reserve judgment to our own thinking unless we submit to higher authority such as is found in the Bible. Thus we see the biblical claim and see evidence of its veracity. 

So where do we go from here? One might truthfully say that this discussion has not proven anything. However, it was not intended to do so. On the other hand, it is intended to arouse inquisitiveness into the trustworthiness of Scripture, and to present a challenge. There is nothing wrong in being a skeptic if that skepticism leads one to honestly seek for the facts before dismissing the Bible as religious myths. It is the hope of this writer that the sincere skeptic will read the Bible to find out for himself/herself what its claims really are and then honestly consider them. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

God Is In Control, So Why Do I Think I Have To Be?

It’s been almost two years since my wife and I brought home our Boxer/Ridgeback mix. He has been a delight for us in many ways. However, it did not take us long to discover that the shelter from whence he came did not disclose all that we should have known before getting this dog. In particular, Jack has separation anxiety that has resulted in chewed auto seatbelts, broken window screens and broken window frames and much more. His behavior is fine when he is in our presence. In fact, people who have seen him with us remark how well behaved he is, but when he is left alone he is an altogether different animal.

Early on during our adventure with this new dog, we took Jack to a trainer, looking for advice as to what we could do to manage his anxiety. The answers we received had to do with control and domination. Jack is trying to control and dominate his environment.When we are out of sight a large part of his environment (us) is out of his ability to control. Consequently, he gets anxious and does what he can to escape the situation. He wants to be with us so he seeks to break out of our house even though he has no idea where we are. In fact when successful in his escape attempts he has awaited our return on our front porch knowing nothing else to do. Anything that seems to be between him and escaping his situation is subject to destruction, hence torn shredded curtains, chewed leashes, and mangled dog crates.The problem, according to the trainer is for Jack has not learned that we are in control and that he does not have to be. The goal is for him to develop trust to the degree that even when we are out of his sight or not physically present he senses that we are in control. In other words, according to the trainer we need to train Jack to “keep it simple”, that is, he doesn't have to sweat things, because we have them covered. We are in control, so he doesn't have to be. He can simply relax and do what we tell him.

Now I could go on with a full description of leash and crate training and the recognition of doggy behavior that are signs of domination and the correction of those things, but this is not meant to be a blog about dog relationships but one about our relationship to God. There is a parallel thought here. As Jack tries in his way to control and dominate his environment, so we try to control and dominate our environment. Psalm 46:10 tells us to be still and know that God is God. He is in control; we are not. The truth of this verse is so central to the Christian walk. As written elsewhere in these blogs, the fall of man came when Adam and Eve, as described in Genesis 3:6, accepted the offer to be their own God. Each of us have been doing the same ever since. Domination and manipulation is the rule of the day and it extends to circumstances, other human beings and even God Himself. We want, we seek, ultimate control and are frustrated and often fall into despair when we don’t get it. The solution is to recognize that God is God and to accept His authority over all things, including ourselves. Only then can we find deliverance from our self destructive attempt to be our own God. Salvation and restoration comes when we submit to God by receiving His Son.

Recently when discussing this with a brother in Christ, my friend had some objection to the emphasis I was making linking salvation to receiving Jesus. His very valid point was that all is needed for salvation is belief in Jesus Christ (faith alone). However, it is very important for us to define what belief is according to biblical terms. Accordingly is it enough to believe He is God? No, The demons believe there is one God and they tremble (James 2:19). Saving faith not only recognizes the existence of God but His authority as well. It includes receiving God into our lives. To some, however, there seems to be a resistance to this receiving for salvation on the grounds of a misconceived notion of Lordship salvation. Receiving is falsely seen as a work while believing is simply saving faith.

 So then what separates the belief of saving faith from the belief of demons? One is the acceptance of life changing truth while the other is mere acknowledgment of that truth. John 1:12 states it clearly when it says that when we receive Jesus we have the power or authority to become the sons of God even to them that believe in His name. Life changing belief and receiving are inseparable. One does not exist without the other. Receiving God's Son is indeed an action but one that comes directly out of our belief that He is God and has done what we cannot do in providing the means of salvation for us.

Consider this, if I believe in something but never act on it, have I really believed? If I believe a chair will hold me but never sit on it do I really believe in the safety of  that chair? If I say I believe in Jesus, but never receive Him into my life, do I believe any more than the one who won’t trust the chair but continues to stand until he drops? Receiving is believing that God is God and I am not. Receiving is believing that Jesus is not only God but that He is my God.

When I received the Lord Jesus Christ into my life through belief in Him the door to the truth of Psalm 46:10,  “Be still and know that I am God.” was opened. I came in belief, but I now I grow as I learn to continually yield control. When I learn to be still, ceasing from my own efforts to control my circumstances and allow God to be God in my life, I receive all that comes in knowing, and having a relationship with, Him, This includes having peace and joy that I can never obtain on my own. The burden of trying to maintain control over an uncontrollable world is lifted when I trust in my loving Father Who is in control. Salvation came when I believed in the living Lord Jesus Christ by receiving Him. But growth continues as I yield to His reign in my life by ceasing my attempts to control my circumstances by my own might, recognizing He is in control even when I don’t perceive His presence. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Greatest Gifts

Christmas has just passed for this year, and one of my greatest joys of the season is to be present on Christmas morning as my grandchildren tear into their long awaited gifts, full of excitement. Wrapping paper is flying, having been torn to shreds to expose the precious prized possessions it had once hidden. Then, as each gift has been revealed and a brief time of obligated display of appreciation given, it’s on to the revelation of the next gift until the once voluminous supply under the tree has been exhausted. It’s certainly a time of excitement as the event moves on to the next stage which is our grandchildren playing with and otherwise making use of their new things. As the excitement diminishes favorite treasures emerge and other items are set aside. After all there is just so much time with so many new things to experience that, there is naturally an unplanned prioritizing that takes place.

As I reflect after many such Christmases dating back to when my own family was young I have noticed that it is some of these items which are first set aside that later emerge as the most cherished life time treasures. As the children have experience with their new possessions they soon learn to appreciate some more than others.  It is fascinating to me that things that at first are not attractive at first blush become increasingly appealing as time passes and things that are initially very appealing fade in value.

As I continue my reflection on Christmases past, I consider the gifts that God has given to his children when we receive Christ as our Savior and Lord. As babes in Christ we desire the best God has to offer and much as a child during the Christmas season, we make our list of things we most desire from our heavenly Father. And very much like a child at Christmas, we are initially attracted to certain things on which we place high value, and in effect we set other gifts aside.  Usually it is only through a life time of experience do we see the relevance of what proves to be the most essential gifts of God’s grace so freely offered to us. Unlike the child at Christmas who knows a particular gift is there, but has merely set it aside for future consideration, we are often completely unaware of the existence of some of the most precious gifts God has bestowed upon us.

However, it is these gifts so often overlooked by us that are the most essential to our daily walk. Paul’s letters to the believers in Corinth are an interesting study in this. These Christians desired the very visible spectacular gifts that come with great emotion. But Paul warned that God’s gifts are not given merely to build up the individual. Rather, Paul tells the Corinthians, desire the gifts that foster edification in others. In illustration of this, he redirects his readers from the most popular spiritual gifts to a detailed discussion about the gift of love. In his letter to the believers in Galatia, Paul doesn't even mention the popular gifts at all, but encourages believers to evidence the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. This fruit of the Spirit is nothing less than the gifts the Spirit brings to enable us to live our lives effectively. It is a very unfortunate matter that we so often ignore that God has given us these gifts of His grace in our pursuit of other things. Too often do we petition God to give us what we think will make us more successful in our daily walk, when He has already given us these things which we have set aside.

Accordingly, we suffer defeat in our daily walk when we overlook these gifts. Anger, resentment and bitterness overtake us when we fail to trust God for and to walk in His love. Dejection, anguish and depression follow when we fail to walk in God’s joy. Fears overwhelm when we don’t claim His peace. 

And so it continues even into the confines within the walls of our churches, where we see tension and unrest between believers. Why is this so when God has given us the keys for victory rather than defeat? James wrote the equivalent of that very question in James 4:1 which says “From where come wars and fightings among you? come they not from here, even of your lusts that war in your members?” But note here the reason for our failings given. James says it is our lust which is our inner selfish desires which run in contrast to the gifts of grace God gives to us. We will not desire, nor make use of the gifts God gives us for victory as long as our lives center around ourselves rather than our loving Savior. Once again we see the basic truth given in Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God”. It is God’s voice that calls to us, “Be still”. It is by surrendering our hearts, our longings and desires to the One who sent His Son to take our sins at Calvary that we can know the stillness He speaks of. And in this stillness we can perceive the gifts of grace He has given to us so that we can experience His presence and His victory.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Don’t Panic—Be Still…

Last December this writer posted a blog based on Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God”. Since that posting, as so often is the case when someone preaches on something, times and events provided circumstances that have tested my faith concerning the things I wrote. Yesterday, one more opportunity to learn in the School of Trust has presented itself following a routine visit to my doctor. My yearly check-up revealed something that needs immediate attention. While arrangements for treatment for this condition have been made, along with much prayer, concerns over how serious the matter could be, along with guarded statements from my doctor, have fed my natural inclination to panic. Amid the countless thoughts swirling inside my brain since the hour of my visit to my doctor, I hear the still small voice of God’s Word saying, “Be still.”

It seems, sometimes that it takes circumstances such as these when I am forced to face my own mortality, to remind me of what is the basic principle of the Christian life—be still and know that God is God and I am not. When problems come up, whether they are my own or those of others around me, I want to fix things, to make everything right. And so, I begin my mental calisthenics through which I attempt to work out solutions to problems I soon find I am ill equipped to solve.  So much futile effort and much frustration on my part could be avoided if I can only learn to first go in complete faith and trust to my Heavenly Father, Who has been and always will be, in complete control.   In fact, this is what the Gospel that leads to salvation is all about.

To fully understand why this matter of being still and knowing that God is God is so central to the whole teaching of the Bible we have to go back to the Garden of Eden. It was there that the old serpent made the promise that man did not need God. In fact, by disobeying God man would know good and evil and would “be as (on the same level—equal to) God (Genesis 3:5).” This is now the state of man, having cast God out of our lives we substitute our own selves attempting to be little gods. While the knowledge of what is good is still within us according to Romans chapter one, we all “like sheep, have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; Isaiah 53:6a. The Bible is clear that there is none that is truly good (Romans 3:12). This then, is why there is so much evil in this world. Men, having rejected divine authority,  do what is right in their own eyes (judges 17:6). While many esteem themselves to be good, this is only by comparing themselves to others. God, however sees our hearts and has declared that the heart of man “… is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked:…(Jeremiah 17:9”.

This indeed is the hopeless situation of man until we consider the rest of Isaiah 53:6,  “and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” The New Testament more fully explains what this all means. Man has sinned (Romans 3) but Jesus died for our sins, blotting out the ordinances that were against us, “… and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross (Colossians 2:14)”. Man can be restored to his intended relationship with God by receiving God’s Son, trusting and relying upon what He did for us on the Cross (John 1:12; 3:16). This is what Jesus meant when He said “…Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). Man died in the Garden of Eden, just as God promised in Genesis 2:17. Man’s spiritual death was immediate. His physical body began to die immediately as well. Paul calls man’s present condition as being in a body of death from which he (Paul) yearned to be freed. (Romans 7:24). And so, the words of Jesus make sense, “we must be born again.” This is the great salvation from man’s sinful condition offered to each and every one of us. We begin a new relationship with our Heavenly Father which includes a new nature that is alive to Him. We have a promise concerning our physical bodies as well. They too will be changed at the coming of Jesus Christ and this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:54)”. What a wonderful salvation we are promised.

There are two words in the New Testament that are used in relation to receiving this salvation. In John 1:12 we see them both. There we are told to receive and to believe. The connection between these two words is strong. We are to receive the Lord Jesus Christ into our lives and to believe in Him, by accepting Him to be Who He said He is, God the Son John 8:58, and trusting in His provision for us on the Cross. Romans 10:13 says, it clearly, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.Where man died in the Garden of Eden by rejecting God’s authority over him, he now has the opportunity for new life through receiving God back into his life by trusting the Son of God to do what we cannot. When we make such trust, the words of Psalm 46:10 resonate within us. “Be still”—cease from your own efforts to achieve what I have promised, and “know”--understand and acknowledge—“that I am God”.

Unfortunately, we have versions of the Gospel today that promise a relationship with God on man’s terms instead of what God has outlined for us. Foremost is religion where men seek to earn God’s favor through works.  Instead of placing faith in what God did for us on the Cross at Calvary, religion binds men to a system of dos and don’ts in an effort to earn God’s favor. More insidious though is a very common teaching that sounds close to the Gospel but would have us remain as little gods. Naming a Jesus that is anything but God the Son described in Scripture, this false gospel contains the concept that we have the authority of God to name what we desire and to claim it. While some who teach the “name it—claim it” practice of faith, do not openly hold to the doctrines of a false Jesus, they do reduce God, to the subservience of men, subjecting Him to men’s wishes. While claiming to hold to the principles of salvation by grace, the name-it, claim-it teachers replace works religion in which man seeks to earn God’s favor, with one that demands it. This is so far from the teaching of Psalm 46:10 as to be its direct opposite.

The teaching if Psalm 46:10 is clear, not only in the matter of salvation where I am to trust that He has done for me what I cannot do for myself, but also in my daily walk. When I receive the Lord Jesus Christ into my life, I acknowledge that He is God and I am not. This is salvation, the new life and the rebirth that I so desperately need. However, I don’t always live accord to this faith. Paul in his tongue twister section of Romans seven described the situation as knowing what to do but not always doing it. Living in the new life that God gives is something of a battle between my old and new natures. So often do I forget and begin to take back control of my life. So often do I forget to be still and to know that God is God and I am not.

And so this morning, as I reflect on the circumstances before me, I am reminded of Who God is. He is the One Who created all there is to see. He made me. He brought me to saving faith in His Son. He has supplied all my needs and has promised to continue doing so. He knows my circumstances, and while I do not know exactly what he will do, I do know He loves me and has promised to work all things together for good to those that love Him. I can only pray, “Lord, I love you. Help me to love you more. Help me to love You enough to trust Your love for me. Help me to be still and know that You are God.”

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

When God Chooses Not To Heal

My brother was forty-nine, a loving husband and father faithfully serving as a pastor for several years. While others who had graduated with him from seminary when to population centers where it would be possible to grow large churches, he had a burden for the people in his hometown in rural New York State.  His desire was to see people won to Christ and established in Him. Then came a time when his personality seemed to change. He began to act in poor judgment with the result that people around him were becoming alienated. He gave up his position of pastor at his church. Then, the news came that he had a malignant brain tumor. Those of us who knew and loved him were stunned. Prayer was made from all quarters, but his illness continued to progress. Before the year went by from the time he was diagnosed, his worn out body gave out and he passed from this earth.

Some would question as to how and why this would happen to one of God’s servants. Why did God not choose to heal this one for whom so many were praying? Why did God not choose to hear my brother’s own prayers? Was it sin on his part? Was it, as some would suggest, that those of us that were praying were doing so ineffectively not expecting and demanding the healing to come? However, one day during the time of his illness my brother shared with me what he saw was going on in his life. He related that he felt one day God speaking to him in the stillness of his heart telling him, “I can heal you, by taking away this cancer, but you will still have the problems you were having, or I can take you home and be glorified in your passing.” I still remember my brother’s words, “I choose to let God be glorified.” He later passed and the church building where he had been serving was packed with those who came to honor this one who had served God so faithfully. And God was glorified.

I am sure there are those who would have definite disagreement with this story as I have related it. The basic facts, however, are undisputable, for I was there and can attest to them. The major disagreement would be over the implication that God would purposefully choose not to heal my brother and that His choice was not based on a lack of faith, or misguided prayers, but simply that His purpose and plan involves something greater than what we who were praying could imagine. For many who profess to know the Savior, it is difficult to accept the idea that God does not always choose to heal our physical bodies when illness comes and to accept the idea that God can receive glory even when His child is in the midst of illness.

I was given a book recently that presented the case for faith healing. The book is considered a classic and represents the thinking of those who stress faith healing. While it is not my purpose to answer the arguments presented in this book because of limited time and space, I do want to address three suppositions the author makes. He presumed it is never God’s plan for Christians to have illness. He also alleged that Christians will be healed if they have enough faith and that it is evidence of a defective or weak faith that prays, “God’s will be done”. Christians, according to this author, have the right to demand and expect healing in every case, with anything less being a denial of the Blood that bought them.

The arguments for faith healing can seem to be quite convincing until they are put under the scrutiny of Scripture. For example, the fact is, Scripture reveals that God does not always choose to heal. Consider the case of David’s son (2 Samuel 12). David prayed that God would deliver His sick child yet the child died. David did not turn on God nor did he blame a weak faith. Instead, he picked himself up and went about his business proclaiming with eyes fixed on eternity that he would someday be reunited with his child. Paul, addressed the issue of physical infirmities in 2 Corinthians 12 when he mentioned his “thorn in the flesh”. While the faith healers cannot conceive that this could be a physical condition Paul is referring to, Paul made it clear when he declared that God’s grace is sufficient and that he would glory in his infirmities. The word translated infirmities is virtually always taken to mean physical weaknesses elsewhere throughout the New Testament writings. Later, when writing to Timothy, Paul addresses Timothy’s stomach issues with, “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities.” (1 Timothy 5:23). Paul acknowledged Timothy had reoccurring physical infirmities, but did not advise him to claim divine healing, but rather to learn how to deal with them through ordinary means available. Paul was aware that God does not always choose to heal.

Consider the following passage: For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. 19For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. 20For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope,21Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. 23And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. 24For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? 25But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it (Romans 8:18-25). In this passage, Paul describes the physical decay of this present time. All creation suffers. All creation is subject to pain and decay (corruption). Paul goes on to inform us that we have not yet received relief from this physical decay (as faith healers proclaim) as he states that we groan within ourselves waiting in hope for the redemption of our bodies.

The next two verses in Romans 8 make things even clearer. 26Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. In these verses Paul is still talking about physical infirmities (from the context of vv. 18-25) when he says we don’t even know what to pray for, but the Spirit of God searches our hearts and intercedes for us according to the will of God.

If then we are to pray according to God’s will what hope is there for people who have just received the diagnosis of a terminal disease or other severe illness. Their lives have been turned upside down and they look for something to hold onto. Their future that once appeared to be so secure has turned into a very uncertain one. And so they search for certainties in an uncertain world. Enter those who promise faith healing with the promise that God has given us the power to heal ourselves promising that those who are ill, have but to claim their healing. It doesn’t seem to make any difference to these advocates of faith healing that they are taking the matter out of God’s hands, consequently ignoring the sovereignty of God and in its place exalting the autonomy of man. This is not unlike what took place in the Garden of Eden as described in Genesis three. There we read the story of man’s fall from grace. Adam rejected the sovereignty of God, taking up the offer to “be as God” in His place. Indeed, that is what the fall from grace is all about. All of Adam’s race have sought to be our own god ever since. Jesus came so that we can receive God back into our lives and live according to His will, trusting Him for His goodness. However, faith healers in their assumptions claim unto themselves the authority that God has reserved for Himself. It is no accident that it is common for them to refer to themselves as “little gods”.

The fact is, we can expect to face all manner of circumstances that are unpleasant and undesired by us, which is why Paul next exhorts,  “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). In the Book of Ephesians, Paul prayed that God would strengthen his readers in the inner man (Ephesians 3:16) and proclaimed that God is able to do far above what we can ever ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). The problem with those that promote the idea of faith healing by demand is that they do not consider that can be glorified in any way that He chooses. Should we not then pray as did Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, “Thy will be done.” If these were the words of our Lord and Savior, why should they not be ours as well? True faith takes all our circumstances and places them into the hands of our gracious, living God, trusting His love for us, and expecting the outcome to be His best for us even when we may not understand until eternity comes.

Should we, then, not pray for God to heal our bodies? No. Not praying would contradict what we see in Scripture. We are to pray, but not demanding, but trusting God to give us His best. There is nothing more certain than God’s love for us. While we might not know what He will do, we do have His promise that He loves us with the certainty that He will work all things together for our good. In addition, He has promised to provide all our needs (Philippians 4:19) and to never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Even in illness we have the certainty of His provision for us. Whether this provision is healing or some other way, God will provide, for we are never out of His care. All He asks is that we trust Him. That is neither weak nor misguided faith.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. (Isaiah 55:8)

Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.6In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.7Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil.8It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones. (Proverbs 3:5-8)