Passion 2012 has just wrapped up. It really is an interesting conference because it manages to draw all stripes of Christians from a broad theological spectrum. Notice, I did not say multiple religions or those with differing views on the essential nature of Christ and God. I believe all the speakers, musicians, and most of the students were genuine beleivers who were genuinely passionate for the things of God, to some degree or another. And people of various theological persuasions, which were represented at Passion, will be together in heaven worshiping God as well. To gather with other believers who don't share all the same convictions as I do yet are still genuinely passionate for Christ and living for Him was refreshing and encouraging, and on the other hand reminded me how important good theology actually is.
Having said all that, much of Passion this year felt a bit like a pep rally, more so than last year. There is a place for that- I am not saying it is wrong- but I was hoping for more biblical teaching, something that Passion had more of last year. Regardless, in the end what they did this year was good. They focused on the theme of freedom and yes, social justice. Now as you may know I think social justice is dangerous and, the way many define it, grossly unbiblical. Some may have been motivated out of that wrongheaded sense of justice, but I think many understood that the gospel is what it is all about, that without the gospel message there is no reason to fight slavery and oppression.
Frankly the teaching barely started prior to Chan. He gave a few good sprinkles in his typical style, but the meat was, not surprisingly, from Piper. If you are a Calvinist, what he talked about would be very basic and fundamental to you- that we do not have free will, that when we are saved we go from being slaves of sin to slaves of righteousness, that we need to be regenerated, born again, or to fit the theme of the conference, resurrected by the power of the Holy Spirit as it softens our rebelliious and God hating hearts then transforms it into a heart set on grace, forgiveness, love, and holiness.
Now I was very pleased how Piper straight up said free will is a lie and that free will doesn't exist. He even called out us students, a la Paul Washer, saying many of us dangerously believe in free will and think that freedom is the ability to do whatever you want, either right or wrong. Piper explained that true freedom- the freedom that Christ provided for His people through His life and atoning death on the cross, is being set free from slavery to sin and becoming a slave of God, a slave of righteousness, because that IS where true delight, happiness, joy, and satisfaction come from, and by taking delight in God as He created us to do, we fulfill our purpose in life and thus glorify the splendors of God.
Unfortunately Piper was on a time limit. If he had, oh I don't know, another hour or so, he may have connected the issue of free will to predestination, or more specifically, election. I want to spend the rest of this blog doing just that, because it is a necessary connection that, once you grasp and embrace it, will increase your love, devotion, zeal, and yes, passion for God, more than ANYTHING else in your life. In fact, you may very well realize you have truly understood the love of Christ and the full meaning and power of the cross for the very first time once you grasp the electing love Christ has for you.
The issue of free will and the doctrine of election may seem inconsequential to many, but it is probably the most important theological issue of our time because of the power and meaning behind it and the lack of understanding of it. The debate on both sides has been raging at least since the time of Pelagius and Augustine in the 4th century. To cut to the chase, free will says that man can choose to give up sin and start living for Christ in his own strength and power. Some, like arminians, say that God has to restore free will due to the fall, and thus they sort of tip their hat to the grace and mercy of God, only to then turn back to the will and power of man, still putting the decision to repent and believe, to stop sinning and start living for Jesus, within the scope of man's capabilities. Thus, whether an Arminian or Pelagian, you still believe in free will, and you still believe that it is man who must rise up and defeat the power of sin in your life. That has logically lead to things like the modern day altar call, where many are encouraged to make a decision for Jesus, to live for Him and love Him, and to fight against sin. Those who have chosen to do this are strangely said to have been "saved" by God. But I implore you, ask yourself the obvious question- if it is MAN who chose to live for Jesus and turn from sin by HIS OR HER OWN POWER, how can Christ be said to have saved man from sin, death, and hell by His power? In truth, it is robbing Christ of His glory, and it is robbing the cross of its glory and meaning. It is blasphemy, and rips the story of calvary of much of its significance, power, and purpose.
So if we do not have free will and if we do not come to Christ by our own power or by changing our own hearts, what happens? The answer is simply this: Jesus Christ saves us. Christ saves us from slavery to sin. We cannot save ourselves from sin; we are enslaved to sin, because like a drug addict or alcoholic, we are in love with sin. We love sin more than God, and this bent-on-sinning desire is the desire of our hearts. It is this desire, our own sinful heart desire, that we must be saved from, that we must be set free from. And if you are saved, that was done for you, not when you thought you made some "decision" for Christ, but at the cross, when Christ bore the wrath of God that you deserved upon Himself, both physically and in His soul, as the perfect, sinless substitute, fulfilling all required righteousness in His life, bearing our sins in His death, and proving He defeated the bonds of sin and death and hell by rising from the dead. The profound truth, the truth that changed me forever, the truth that I said earlier would help you see the real meaning and power of the cross and of the shed blood of Jesus Christ, is that Christ came to save His elect, His chosen people, FROM THEIR ENSLAVED WILLS,FROM THEIR SLAVERY TO SIN, IN ORDER TO GIVE THEM A FREE WILL, A WILL FREE TO LIVE FOR HIM!
Notice the words of Christ in John 8:
31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
33 They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?”
34 Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. 35 And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. 36 Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.
Jesus says in verse 32 that the truth shall make you free. The truth of which he refers is of course Himself, for He is the way, the truth, and the light. Specifically it refers to what He was going to do on the cross to save sinners and adopt them into the family of God, which is the gospel. The gospel, as Jesus says in verses 34-36, is a story of freedom from sin in order to be enslaved to Christ, which, as Piper pointed out, IS TRUE FREEDOM and where true delight and happiness are found. It is, in essence, going back to the garden of Eden, before the Fall, where Adam and Eve walked with God, fellowshiped with God, and loved God with all their heart, soul, and mind. On this side of heaven that is a battle, a progress in sanctification, but its end is glorification in heaven where even the presence of sin and evil will be done away with, and we will fellowship with God in our very midst yet again.
All this talk, and still no specific clarification on the doctrine of election. The truth is I've been teaching it already, but now it is time to isolate it and bring out its full weight and glory. To elect means to choose out of a group. So when God chose Israel to be His people, He elected them, He chose them out of all the other nations to be a people for Himself. Now some think this is because God foresaw some goodness in them, and thus chose them based on that goodness. That belief is picked up on by many churches today that are baptistic and/or arminian and applied to us gentiles today, believing that God merely forsees who will trust in Him for salvation and then in that sense 'chooses' them after the fact. Not only does that not make any sense, but it is unbiblical. Look at what God says concerning Israel in Deuteronomy 7:
6 “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. 7 The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; 8 but because the LORD loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt."
A few things to point out. Firstly, God says He didn't choose Israel because they were more in number or anything special in themselves. Secondly, His reason for choosing them is, in one sense, simply that He chose to. He did not set His love on them because of them, but for His own purposes. He made a covenant, a promise, to be Israel's God and they His people, to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, Israel's fathers; yet they too were sinners chosen and saved by grace. So why God chooses to save Israel and make them His holy people and no other nation, and why He has extended His electing salvation to some but not others from every nation here in the Church age remains a profound, holy mystery at its root (which Romans 9-11 speaks to). However, we can discern clearly from Scripture the general reason God chooses some to be saved, and passes over others, not choosing them and thus predestining them to eternal torment in hell- the reason is for His glory. God does everything, including sending people to hell, for His own glory. His glory is His highest concern. If you are unconvinced of this, just look at these 32 Bible passages that Piper assembled a while back demonstrating that God's greatest concern and desire is His own personal glory: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/articles/biblical-texts-to-show-gods-zeal-for-his-own-glory
I strongly encourage you to peruse all those passages, but for now I just want to take two of them from Isaiah. The first is from Isaiah 48:9-11:
"For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another."
God here restrains His wrath from His people, not for their sake, but For His own, to demonstrate His glory.
The second is Isaiah 43:6-7
"Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, every one who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory."
Here we see that God created us for His glory. His glory is our story, it is glorifying God for which we have been made.
Actually, let's include one more verse, this one from Jeremimah 13:11:
"I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the Lord, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory."
Here we see that God chose and elected Israel for His own glory, praise, and name. And apparently because He wanted a people for Himself. So God elects not because of our goodness, but for His name, praise, and glory. He also damns to hell for his name, praise, and glory, as Proverbs 16:4 shows, "4 The LORD has made all for Himself,
Yes, even the wicked for the day of doom."
Now here is the big connection that needs to be made. If we had free will, we wouldn't need to be elected to salvation. We wouldn't need what the cross provided. We wouldn't need the saving love of Christ. But because we are enslaved to sin, Christ had to die to set us free from slavery to sin and make us slaves of righteousness. THIS IS THE GOSPEL! Unfortunately it has been reduced to making a decision for Christ in our own strength and living for Him by your own willpower. This tragedy is symbolized in what is commonly called the Romans Road. A few passages from Romans are stripped from their context and often used in tracts and evangelism to "get decisions for Christ." That kind of stuff is ruining churches and producing false conversions literally by the thousands. It angers me to no end, particularly how the Romans Road uses Romans 6:23 as a verse for salvation but stripped of the entire chapter's context. I am going to post the entire chapter, however, and you will be able to see that the true gospel is being saved from slavery to sin and being made slaves of righteousness, which is actually real freedom, freedom in Christ:
Dead to Sin, Alive to God
1 "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? 3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
5 For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. 7 For he who has died has been freed from sin. 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. 13 And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
From Slaves of Sin to Slaves of God
15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! 16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? 17 But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. 18 And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. 19 I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.
20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
When you sing of Christ's love for you and the love He had for you on the cross, you need to realize it was an electing love that He had for you, that true love IS electing love:
10 "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another."
Please take your time to reflect on this and digest it. It is the heart of gospel, the heart of the cross, the heart of Christ, the love of God. Free will robs God of His glory and blasphemously states "In this is love, that we loved God and God chose to love us based on our first loving and choosing Him." No, it is a lie, He loved me first! He loved me when I did not, would not, and could not love Him. This is the gospel, and this is the message God uses to transform our hearts into lovers of Him.
It is His electing love sovereignly shed into our hearts that transforms us and turns our hearts, our affections, and our wills toward Him. It is His electing love that frees us from the dominating and enslavaing power of sin, freeing us to be enslaved to His righteousness, to want His love and salvation! And it is His electing love that Has been shed abroad in our own hearts by the Holy Spirit with which we are to love others:
"Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us." Romans 5:5
Thus, there is a real sense in which to the degree you do not understand or know the electing love of God, you miss out on Christ and God's deepest, truest layer of love for you.
To close, I want to go to the first chapter of Ephesians, and then post a video to a song that I think aptly demonstrates the true gospel, the true message of the cross, the true meaning of how sinful we are and what Christ has done to change it:
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, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.
7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, 9 having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, 10 that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both[a] which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him. 11 In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, 12 that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory."
Predestined and chosen ( v.4-5) to be adopted as God's children through Christ's atonement (5) FOR the praise of the glory of God's grace (6). This is the profound beauty of the cross, this is the wonder of the gospel. This is the electing love of Christ and God. Love is here, and love has won indeed.
This is the link to the song "All I Have Is Christ," I pray that you would uncover the reality that the difference between you a believer and a nonbeliever is not that you rightly exercised free will, but the grace and mercy and love of God sent Christ to die for you and pay for your sins on the cross, thus giving you saving faith as a gift from God that He creates in you (Eph. 2) rather than a work that you create from your will which is enslaved to sin. Remember the words of Jesus in John 8, that it is He, the Son, who sets you free from slavery to sin in order to be His slave, which is true freedom.