Nobody expects the Asbury Inquisition!

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I have a lot of questions.

And as the alleged revival at Asbury University winds down this week, I think we’d do well to ask them, and I have some I haven’t seen anyone ask.

One of the issues I already know I’ll run into with some readers is the assumption that everything that has happened at Asbury is fantastic, and I’ll be burned at the stake for my myriad heresies, including believing that God’s Not Dead is a bad movie and that Tim Tebow was an objectively bad NFL quarterback. If you’re making that assumption and feel a knee jerk reaction coming on, stick with me.

Credit where it’s due
I don’t doubt that most participants in Asbury have been genuine, but genuine does not equate to authentic. However, the university must be lauded for their efforts. They’ve turned down professional worship bands in favor of their own students, and they’ve told Todd Bentley that he can’t speak, and they’ve stopped flag wavers from doing their thing. These are all good things, but they also have a previously scheduled prayer event on the books in conjunction with heretical groups like The Call and Jesus Culture, and they’ve allowed Trinity deniers to use the same chapel where this revival has taken place. Their discernment skills are a decidedly mixed bag.

They’ve also decided that this shindig should be for college age people and younger – it is a university campus, after all – and that this thing couldn’t go on forever. Bravo to that.

And now, as opposed to my normally analytical and sarcastic take on things, I’m just going to rattle off some questions. Some are pointed, of course, but they are all honest, and then we’ll be done. I honestly believe thinking through these will be beneficial for the Church, regardless of where one falls on the spectrum of support or disavowal of Asbury.

The Inquisition
What do we do with the fact that revivals were basically not a thing in church history until the Great Awakening in the 1730s?

Why have the claimed revivals of the last 300 years been largely in the Western world?

Where is the fruit of those claimed revivals?

Who or what is being brought back from the dead during a revival?

Is the excitement held by many about Asbury necessarily a good thing?

What does it mean that the sermon that led to this alleged revival mentioned tacos more than grace, the cross, salvation, repentance, and sin combined?

Is the spread of extended worship services actually the work of God or emotionalism?

Does John 4:21 have any application to those who traveled across the country to attend? For reference:

The hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.

Or Luke 17:20-21?

The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.

Have young people responded in this way because they’ve been starved for robust, scriptural teaching in their youth groups and churches?

Do American Christians flock to the next big thing because they’ve been taught that the ordinary means of grace are only symbolic and don’t really do anything?

Is it possible for a “move of God” to be him sending deceiving spirits in order to test those who have taken his name for themselves and to harden those who aren’t his sheep?

Could it be that if we trusted that God’s Word doesn’t return void, were faithful in church attendance, and discipled our families and church members, that we wouldn’t need revival?

How is God going to use the events of Asbury, whether they were a net positive or net negative, for his glory and his people’s joy in him?

He Gets Us?

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Jesus disagreed with loved ones. He didn’t disown them.

So says one of the myriad commercials in the nine-figure He Gets Us campaign, one of which will air during this Sunday’s Super Bowl.

That’s all I have for an introduction. Let’s just pick this apart.

What does the Bible say?
Whenever a claim is made about Jesus or his earthly ministry, our immediate response should be to ask where in Scripture that claim could be made. The only primary source material we have about Jesus is Scripture, so any and all claims must be supported with Scripture.

So, was Jesus prepared to disown his family over a disagreement?

Well, yes.

Mark 3:21 tells us that his family thought he had lost his mind, and when they went to get him, he retorts, “’Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.’” (Mark 3:33-35)

Jesus seems to be ready to disown his family for not doing the will of God, which would include believing in him, yes?

Additionally, I don’t think Jesus’ words from Matthew 10 even need comment.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Matthew 10:34-39

Time for some Pepto
The reason your stomach churns when you see these lame He Gets Us commercials is the same reason your stomach churns when you eat Taco Bell. They’re both full of artificial ingredients meant to mimic the real thing. Taco Bell’s horse meat is HGU’s’ watered down liberalism. And watered down liberalism is the technical term for seeker sensitivity.

While some may attack me for not being very charitable, I have historical backing on this. Nineteenth-century liberalism (And modern day liberalism, for that matter) attacked Bible-believing Christianity with the simplistic summary that man is very bad, and God is very mad about it, to which they turned around and said that man is not so bad and God isn’t mad about it. God is everyone’s Father, so they said, and the only real goal of the gospel is to make the world a better place. It was basically universalism with a Jesus fish car magnet.

Where seeker sensitivity has adopted liberalism is in both its anthropology and its theology proper. Regarding man, sins become “mistakes” or “brokenness,” while God is just yearning to have a relationship with you. Check yes, no, or maybe. And if you check the latter two, he won’t hold it against you. In fact, could you lead worship next Sunday for us?

Altar calls and judgment calls
All this misses the fact that the very first words Jesus uttered in his public ministry were, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 4:17) He commanded that people change their minds, for Yahweh’s rule was breaking in. The results would be glorious for those who obeyed but bonecrushing to those found in rebellion (Joel 2:28-32).

And who talked about hell more than anyone else in the Bible? Jesus.

And who told people to eat his flesh and drink his blood, lest they be unworthy of him, in order to weed out the posers? Jesus.

Man, he gets us.

He gets that we are incapable of the slightest hint of obedience apart from the Spirit. He gets that apart from his atoning work, we’re God’s enemies (John 6:35-40, 63; Rom. 5:10).

But does the seeker sensitive crowd ever warn of a coming judgment or God’s wrath? Of course not. They do preach a sermon and cap it off with, “If you’d like to make Jesus your Lord and Savior,” before walking people through a “sinner’s prayer,” but what are they being saved from? From my oopsies and mistakes and times when I should have taken out the trash earlier? From being lonely? From feeling like I don’t belong?

“But,” they’ll say. “It’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance.” That’s true enough from Romans 2:4, but how about we read that whole paragraph?

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

Romans 2:1-5

Goodness, even their favorite verse disagrees with them. It’s almost like they want to be nicer than God.

The results are in
If we’re being honest, the results speak for themselves. The church growth “experts” like to tout numbers of this or that church growing exponentially over however many years, neglecting that the overwhelming majority of those numbers come from other churches that simply don’t have a fog machine in the budget.

But if their strategies actually worked, let’s look at them in the big picture, and the big picture says that church attendance has declined for decades, basically since the attractional model’s advent. Christianity has never made up a smaller percentage of the population in the Western world than it does now. By their own metrics, seeker sensitivity has been an abject failure.

The cure is simple. Preach the Gospel. All of it, including the parts that might get you canceled, the parts that would cause half your church to leave, and the parts that may get you on the local news because someone egged and TPed your church. Your people will not know how sweet the Gospel is until they know how sour their sin before a holy God is. Stop playing around with the message; it’s not yours to alter.

Grace, gifts, glory

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‘Tis the season for last minute Christmas shopping, traffic jams, and hoards of grumpy people in the electronics section at Target. As for myself, I personally had a pleasant time with my in-laws last Sunday, and my wife thankfully knocked out the Christmas shopping promptly, meaning yours truly has not been left in a pickle as to whether to brave the traffic at the mall or to risk Amazon not delivering a package in time, and this whole process of preparation for Christmas celebrations has gotten me thinking about Christmas gifts in particular.

Now, before we proceed to the bulk of the blog, I must note to the Truly Reformed™ brethren that this is all under the assumption of Romans 14 Christian liberty. There is no command for the Christian to observe or celebrate Christmas, but you also have a command to not judge those who do celebrate the Incarnation on a particular day (Rom. 14:3).

There is also a clear command from Scripture to do everything to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31), so while the Christian is at liberty to celebrate or not, he must do it in honor of the Lord (Rom. 14:6). This means that whether we’re cooking a family dinner for the holiday or giving/receiving gifts or decorating a tree, we must do it as Christians, because Jesus is Lord.

So, why do we give Christmas gifts?

Honestly, the history is murky at best, so I can’t really make a solid, historical argument without veering into speculation. But before I make the case of why we give gifts, I want to address two possible missteps.

Two ditches
There are two ditches one can swerve into, especially with the weather most of the country is dealing with right now.

The first is materialism. Whether it’s someone buttering up family members for the last several months to sweeten the pot, or whether it’s telling kids about an imaginary fat man who turns children into advocates of the Prosperity Gospel, this error amounts to finding satisfaction rooted in our stuff. This is why we see hoards throwing punches at Black Friday sales over flatscreens and Furbys, and this is why so many get stressed out this time of year. If the stuff isn’t just right, it’s ruined.

But Jesus told us that our lives aren’t comprised of our possessions (Luke 12:15), and that includes not only gifts we receive but also the ones we give, and Jesus actually went so far as to say that your family should be counted as nothing compared to your love for him (Luke 14:25-33).

On the other side of the road we run into a pseudo-asceticism, the kind you might feel like participating in after doing a Francis Chan book study or hearing a presentation from your church’s sponsored missionary to Sub-Saharan Africa. “All of this crap can burn; the Gospel and what people do with it is literally the only thing that matters,” you might say. This is the exact inverse of the previous problem. Instead of the material and possessions being ultimate, we deny that the material and our possessions are good in the first place.

And when God says that the material world is good eight times in the first chapter of the Bible alone, you’re left with accepting the fact that Jesus actually came to redeem creation. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be groaning in anticipation of the revealing of the sons of God in order to be set free, not to be destroyed and replaced (Rom. 8:19-21).

No, we are to receive material blessing from God with thanksgiving, because it really is from him, for him, and to him, and we possess all things as co-heirs with Christ (Rom. 11:36, Rom. 8:14-17).

Gifts, grace, glory
So, why? Why do we spend time and money we won’t get back in order to give other people stuff that they may or may not enjoy?

We give gifts because we’re made in the image of God, and it is fitting in this season of celebrating the best gift ever given in the Incarnation of the Son by also giving gifts. And when God gives gifts, all of which are grace, he doesn’t measure them out by the milliliter of some off-brand knockoff. He instead inundates us in oceans of his grace out of his fullness (John 1:16).

We give not out of some trite sentimentalism about eight-pound, six-ounce baby Jesus and hokey living Nativity scenes. We do it because God the Son became a zygote, an embryo, and a fetus. He had a real umbilical cord that had to be cut. He had to have his diaper changed, all while upholding the universe by the word of his power (Heb. 1:3). This was God’s opening salvo in his 33-year blitzkrieg to crush the serpent’s head. Christ’s active obedience started in the womb (1 Cor. 1:30; Heb. 5:8).

So when we give, we give because God has given us much, and when we receive, we receive because we have received much (1 Thess. 5:18; Col. 3:17).

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end. – Is. 9:6-7a

Jesus is the reason for this season, too

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October is a glorious month. Among its features are playoff baseball, football season at full throttle, white girls dressing like Han Solo and ordering trash from Starbucks, men wearing flannel, leaves changing color, German beer, and Evangelicals freaking out over Halloween.

And whether it’s an invented quote by Anton Levay about Christians letting their children worship Satan once a year, the well intentioned Fall Festival/trunk or treat held on church grounds, or the supposed pagan roots of the holiday, I’d like to go about the process of reclaiming Halloween for Protestantism.

Something about those who don’t know history
There is truly only one objection that Evangelicals present against Halloween, and that regards its supposed pagan or otherwise satanic nature. That argument is that because there may be the occasional similarity with something like the Celtic festival of Samhain – which is likely anachronistic and not even accurate – then it must jettisoned. 

And what if I told you that the true roots were at least more innocuous or even more glorious?

The truth is that feasts in honor of particular martyrs started being held at least as early as the 300s and probably even earlier than that. A problem quickly developed, however, in that there were quickly more martyrs to be celebrated than days available on the calendar, so the church condensed the celebration into one day in the 600s as All Hallows’ Day. The three consecutive days of All Hallows’ Eve, All Hallows’ Day, and All Souls’ Day came about in the next hundred years or so.

Yes, Roman Catholic superstition creeped in over the centuries, including prayers for the dead and other such nonsense, but the real root of the matter was a feast unto the Lord in honor of the church triumphant with an eye looking forward to the resurrection on the last day.

The same is true of Halloween and its associated traditions. Depending on who you ask, some started dressing in costumes of dead nobility, reminding themselves that death is indeed the wages of sin. Others say that costumes developed in holy mockery of Satan and his minions, as they understood that the serpent’s head was already crushed and that death had lost its sting. Of course, superstition creeped in here as well, but we’re often guilty of what CS Lewis called chronological snobbery, thinking ourselves more intelligent than our forebears because they believed something silly, but we’re not here to call out the Boston Children’s Hospital for anything that our descendents will find repugnant.

The unneeded retreat
The tremendous irony about Halloween is that Christians use the same argument on each other that some unbelievers use on Christians regarding Christmas and Easter. It’s literally no different than claiming Christmas and Easter were really Saturnalia and Eostre. Ergo, so goes the argument, Christmas, Easter, and Halloween are actually cheap Christian imitations and our entire faith is a myth that simply adapted the story of Horus to some Jewish rabbi.

But we who 1) have actually read our Bibles and 2) know the smallest piece of church history know these claims to be absurd. The origins of Christmas trees and Easter eggs and Halloween costumes are Christian, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

In truth, Halloween has been corrupted for the same reason that Christmas has become about tacky lights and a mythical fat man fulfilling every child’s hope in the prosperity gospel. The church gave up on it. For the last hundred-plus years, the church has allowed the world to infiltrate and steal our holiday while keeping the name, leading to screachy yet accurate declarations of Christ’s birth being the “reason for the season.”

But the same reason for the season is true of Halloween. Remember, Halloween is ultimately about the church triumphant, which only became triumphant in the power of the Spirit through faith in the finished work of the crucified and resurrected Christ.

A Protestant Halloween proposal
First, I am under no delusions that this proposal will be taken up and made into a federal holiday anytime soon. I will also make a quick disclaimer that this is not to bind the conscience of any Christian one way or another. We are not to judge based on whether someone decides to celebrate a holiday (Col. 2:16), but we also must recognize that Jesus celebrated Hanukkah, which was not prescribed by God in the Torah (John 10:22-23). He did that in freedom and was not bound, just like the Christian is not forced to celebrate Christmas or Easter.

With that premise, I present my Protestant Hallowtide proposal.

First, we keep Halloween and its general festivities of costumes, candy, and the like, but we primarily orient them toward a celebration of the Reformation and Luther posting the 95 Theses. We would celebrate the recovery of the Gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

Halloween would truly be an All Hallows’ Eve, and could involve a Psalm 2 style mockery of the serpent’s crushed head as well as holy mockery of the Pope and his ilk. Of course, this would not include things such as grotesque costumes or off-color jokes about Mary, and we may need to avoid costumes reminding ourselves of our mortality like those possible original Halloween costumes until we actually learn how to think about death properly again. And before I’m accused of not acting like Jesus, remember that this is light compared to what Jesus has already done to Satan in his triumph (Col. 2:15).

The tradition of handing out unseemly amounts of candy as a reminder of the sweetness of God’s grace would, of course, remain intact (Ps. 19:10). And all the dentists said, “Amen.”

The next day, Nov. 1, would then be a day of feasting to the Lord in remembrance of all those who have died in Christ – truly all the saints – and tales would be told from church history, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, and of departed loved ones. The feast would then conclude with reading 1 Corinthians 15 and our great gospel hope of the bodily resurrection on the last day and the consummation of Christ’s kingdom.

What this would result in is an extension of the American holiday season, which currently begins with Thanksgiving and ends with the New Year. We would have an opportunity to go from Halloween as distinctly Christian through the New Year in a new rhythm of celebrating Christ’s gifts in the resurrection, his provision, his birth, and his allowing us to survive another cycle around the sun, all in Christian liberty to God’s glory and his people’s joy.

Feel free to comment on my respective social media posts with your thoughts and suggestions.

John Gray is a conman and we should just admit it

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I promise that my intention here isn’t to turn this blog into a discernment blog, since my last post addressed the former Satanist’s supposed conversion, which has really just turned into a grade-A gong show. It’s John Gray’s turn now.

I will admit to being biased in writing this, as Gray pastors Relentless Church in my hometown of Greenville, South Carolina, so when I see theological weeds growing in my backyard, I’m prone to immediately grab the Roundup and go to town.

Mind you, I’m not about to disparage the fact that the man had a saddle pulmonary embolism that threatened his life and required a hospital stay. That was a legitimately serious, life-threatening situation that I wish upon no one. What I will take umbrage with, however, is the claims Gray has made since being released from the hospital.

Pearly gates turned matte silver
Gray said a lot of things in his 95-minute comeback sermon, and while it’s entirely possible to get lost in the weeds of secondary and tertiary issues, and I take major exception to how he handled Scripture, I want to hone in on a particular claim he made, which is that he went to heaven. Just after he correlates his own experience to that of Paul in 2 Corinthians 12, he spins a fantastic tale. I’ll quote at length and edit for grammatical clarity and brevity while retaining the context.

“I saw an arena and the outside of the arena was matte silver… The door may have been a thousand feet high. With my left arm I tried to open the door but it opened on its own.. Inside of this arena everything in the arena was made of light. There [were] no shadows; I saw no faces; I heard no sound. I saw the form of people but not their faces. Where their face[s] [were], was light.

“I was getting ready to walk in. I was right there. The floor was all light. I was about to step in and go around the corner, and something pulled me back [and] closed the door, which means, ‘Not yet…’

“I believe what I saw is what is described in Hebrews, ‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.’ I believe that I caught a glimpse of the gathering place of the witnesses who observe the affairs of men while the plan of God unfolds out of eternity into time. And I caught a glimpse of this arena and then I was pulled back…

“But the sadness of not raising my children or loving my wife properly was motivation and I said, ‘God, let me live to finish my course… I want to walk my daughter down the aisle. I want to get my son ready so he can be a mighty man of God… I want to love my wife like Christ loved the church.’”

Gray, according to his claim here, actually one-upped Paul. Paul “heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (2 Cor. 12:4), but Gray is totally free to talk about what he allegedly saw and heard. Let’s even ignore Proverbs 30:4 and John 3:13 regarding those who ascend and descend from heaven, and let us for the sake of argument ignore Colossians 2:18 and the admonishment against going on about visions. Let’s assume that Gray really experienced what he claims. Did you catch his response? Let’s look at it again.

“But the sadness of not raising my children or loving my wife properly was motivation and I said, ‘God, let me live to finish my course… I want to walk my daughter down the aisle. I want to get my son ready so he can be a mighty man of God… I want to love my wife like Christ loved the church.’”

A terrifying prospect
For one, Gray apparently doesn’t trust God in his sovereignty to work out those details. For two, Jesus had something to say about this.

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”

– Luke 14:26-27

Gray did not relish an eternity with the triune God enough to depart his own family. He did not count all things as garbage for the sake of knowing Christ (Phil. 3:8). There is apparently not fullness of joy in Yahweh’s presence, because he’d be too sad about not being with his family (Ps. 16:11). He even apparently counseled God on his decision (Is. 40:13, Rom. 11:34).

At best, this can be seen as God saying, “You really don’t want eternity with me starting now? Go ahead.” A Romans 1:24 style of handing over doesn’t always mean someone is handed over to the rankest of sins; it’s ultimately about anything else taking priority over glorifying God and enjoying him forever.

And this is what Word of Faith/prosperity gospel proponents miss (Listen to his offering every week for proof of that). They use Christian language without having biblical, orthodox definitions, and they miss the boat entirely. Sure, he’ll use the terms glory and grace and sin and even Jesus, but when he fleshes it out, it’s hollow at best and narcissistic at worst.

0/10 on the surprise scale
Of course, this should come as a surprise to no one. Gray is, after all, Joel Osteen’s former associate pastor, and he took over Relentless from prosperity hack Ron Carpenter, with whom Gray has had some legal wranglings over building leases. Sexual misconduct allegations also follow Gray like a lost puppy, and he was on the receiving end of another one in June. Can someone please read 1 Timothy 3:7 already?

So, for the record, we have a guy who has a track record of misconduct, who butchers the Scriptures and hangs out with those who do the same, while also suing those who claim to be his spiritual brethren.

Can we just call John Gray a conman and be done with it?

I don’t feel bad about it
No, I don’t feel bad about calling Gray a conman, because he consistently shows himself to be one. And, no, I don’t feel bad about calling him out by name, because it’s biblical. One cannot read the Bible and not find the places where false teachers are called out by name. 

But even beyond that, we’re commanded to “watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” (Rom. 16:17). And how else are we supposed to avoid the wolf without calling it a wolf? “One if by land; two if by sea” only works if we know that we’re talking about a potential invasion specifically by the British from the east, not an Indian attack from the west. The Canadians had already been ruled out and sent their apologies.

So if Paul Revere hadn’t warned the colonial militia about that specific enemy using their specific tactics, the militia’s blood would have been on his own hands.

This is an eternally bigger deal. So, no, I don’t feel bad about it. Protect the Church. Tell your people to avoid John Gray, because he’s a conman who preaches heresy.

Our discernment blackhole

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Every so often, Christians in the West are able to latch onto a celebrity of sorts who claims the name of Christ. Sometimes it’s Chris Pratt, who kinda sounds the part for a while before the facade is eventually dropped. Other times it’s the likes of Tim Tebow, who, though his theology is far from a ribeye and closer to Gerber, at least has a completion percentage greater than 50 percent, which is more than can be said about his NFL career.

And then there’s the story of Riaan Swiegelaar, co-founder of the South African Satanic Church, who resigned his post three months ago and has now gone public with the claim that he has met Jesus. And there was much rejoicing, particularly by the likes of Charisma News, Christian Post, and the Christian Broadcasting Network.

But by meeting Jesus, I don’t mean that he heard a gospel proclamation and walked an aisle or said a sinner’s prayer or was baptized. I mean, the guy claims he actually met Jesus face-to-face. For the previously named outlets, that’s apparently enough, and no further inquiry is necessary. “Don’t you see?” They’ll say. “We have a former high level satanist on our side now; this gives us so much credibility,” not realizing how much the credibility of the faith is at stake with such claims.

So let’s examine Swiegelaar’s claims and see how they stack up against Scripture and the core claims of Christianity. So you can check his claims and my accuracy in representing those claims, you can see his Facebook live here, an interview he did shortly thereafter with a YouTuber here, and a second Facebook live wherein he doubles or triples down on previous statements here.

Which Jesus did he meet? Was his reaction anything like those in the Bible?
According to Swiegelaar in his first Facebook video, he “encountered” Jesus when he did a Church of Satan ritual meant to increase his power and influence. In his YouTube interview, he adds that he was summoning demons in order to help in that effort. More on the ritual shortly, but the important part here is that he claims to have met Jesus Christ face-to-face when he did this ritual.

Swiegelaar is inconsistent in how he describes his reaction to supposedly meeting the King of Kings. In his YouTube video, he says he was kind of scared, because if that’s really Jesus then he’s in trouble. But in the first Facebook video, he said he didn’t care and that if it was really Jesus then he’d have to prove it. Jesus responds by “filling him with love” while telling him, “I need you for the kingdom.”

Did Swiegelaar react how anyone in Scripture did? By no means. To cut to the chase, when Isaiah meets the Lord in Isaiah 6, clarified as being Jesus in John 12, his response is lament over the fact that he’s a sinful wretch in the presence of the holy, triune God. When John sees the resurrected Jesus while on Patmos, he “fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Rev. 1:17-18). The constant refrain of those who experienced Christophanies and the appearance of angels through Scripture is, “Fear not,” because they encountered a holy entity while not being holy themselves. In reality, this sounds closer to Kim Walker-Smith’s reaction to a Jesus that sounds more like a mix of Pride and Prejudice and Stretch Arm Strong, and I’d like to claim the mantle of the only person in the history of the world to reference those two in the same sentence.

But beyond that, since when does Jesus prove himself when we ask him to? Jesus explicitly denies the Pharisees a sign in Mark 8, because they had all they needed, just like Swiegelaar has all he needs in Scripture as a testimony. In fact, it’s foolish unbelievers who ask for a sign (1 Cor. 1:22).

And to simply address this supposed Jesus’ statement of his need of a former New Ager turned Satanist, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:24-25).

So, to sum up, we have a Jesus who does not strike fear in the hearts of the unholy, responds to demands for a sign, and has a need for a man he created. We’re already batting 0-for-3 here, but Scripture, along with its commands to not engage in divination, only lists one instance of a pagan ritual being performed and God showing up instead, and it does not end well for Balaam (Num. 31:8). According to Scripture, this is already caved in, but let’s plumb the depths of his other claims to see if maybe he just missed the mark on something important, or if we’re talking about a different Jesus altogether.

What’s his good news?
A repeated phrase in Swiegelaar’s videos is “my truth” or “my experience,” which should immediately raise our post-modern red flags. I don’t care about what you claim to be true or what you have claimed to be experienced if it doesn’t comport with reality, but what does Swiegelaar claim to be his truth? I’ll rattle off a few of Swiegelaar’s quotes with Scripture references that immediately refute what he claims. You can look them up on your own time.

“Jesus didn’t come to earth to sacrifice himself.” He also shared an article on his Facebook page denying the Atonement and decrying a “violent” God. – 1 Peter 2:24

“Telling someone you love them is more powerful than preaching” – Romans 10:14

“God doesn’t care” if you believe. – John 3:16

“Nobody is a bad person. Do you understand that? Nobody in their essence is bad.” – Romans 3:9-20

“We are all equally God’s children.” – Ephesians 2:3

“We get new spirit bodies when we leave this earth plane.” – Isaiah 26:19

“If that is the New Age Jesus, I’m in. I’m happy,” while denying the “Old Age” Jesus to be Christ. – Galatians 1:8-9

“Say a prayer to your god or whatever your concept of that is.” – Jeremiah 10:10-11

“‘No, that can’t be. It doesn’t fit into the Bible,’” said with an incredulous shrug. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

He claims direct revelation from God and has “information people aren’t ready for,” which includes, “The love that he – or they – have for people.” – The entire book of Jude

But wait, there’s more (For less than $19.99…)
Allow me to continue in my deceased equine abuse with another list of things he claims, but I’ll skip the Scripture references because these are even more obvious. 

He uses crystals for healing.

He still practices being a medium.

He is unrepentantly homosexual.

He said that God told him, “There’s nothing to forgive,” and that he doesn’t regret his involvement with Satanism.

He unironically said, “It was never my intent to instruct people on what they should believe,” all while instructing people on what they should believe.

His cosmology is, “As time began, we were all one thing, connected, and we as God, as consciousness, as a collective…” 

His solution is, “We need to grow back into each other.”

He says he does not plan to find and attend a faithful church, saying, “Why would anybody? That was the first 2,000 years of religion.”

He denies his need for instruction because he “met Jesus.”

And after all these claims, he has the audacity to say, “If you question my salvation, then I’m going to question the Holy Spirit in you.”

And it doesn’t stop there, but we have more pressing matters.

Shame where shame is due
For all intents and purposes, we’re a month out from this story breaking, and for all the hoopla about Swiegelaar’s supposed conversion, there is exactly one post on Charisma News that actually questioned the narrative, and all it could muster was that Swiegelaar “may not have had a legitimate born-again experience.”

Shame on Charisma News, shame on CBN, and shame on Christian Post, when all they had to do was 30 minutes of original research of primary material. We all gave CNN grief over their coverage of the “mostly peaceful” BLM riots, but this is bearing false witness not of morons burning down cities, but of the One who holds those cities in the palm of his hand.

Jesus told his disciples that the world will know that they are indeed his disciples by their fruit (Matt. 7:16), and that fruit was born out after his commission to them to disciple the nations (Matt. 28:19). In so doing, they aided in reconciling the rift between Jew and Gentile (Eph. 2:14-15), in becoming stewards of the Word and of prayer (Acts 6:4), and by being willing to be brutally executed for the Name (Heb. 11).

In other words, the tree rooted in Christ produced fruit that smelled, tasted, and felt like the triune God.

So why is it so difficult in the Western Christian world to be truthful when the tree produces fruit with the taste of Eastern mysticism, the firmness of jelly, and the stench of the inner bowels of New York City’s monkeypox infested sewer system? Could it be that our star of discernment has gone supernova, leaving nothing but a blackhole that consumes everything in its path and doesn’t even allow light to escape? In our escapist, rapturous Christian culture, are we so starved for good news that we’re willing to invent it? God help us if so.

But there is, in fact, good news, for Charisma News, for CBN, for Christian Post, and for Riann Swiegelaar. The good news is that they can have their sins, including all of the aforementioned, wiped clean by faith in the Christ who was born of a virgin, lived, died a gruesome death, was resurrected in glory, and now possesses all authority while seated at the right hand of God. He is putting his enemies under his feet, the last one being death. But between now and the final enemy, he will crush the enemies of faux conversions, false religions, and fake news, and we along with the parties mentioned above must repent of those and kiss the Son, lest he be angry and we perish in the way (Ps. 2:12).

The first post-Roe Independence Day

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The United States celebrates the ratification of the Declaration of Independence every July 4, wherein we eat hot dogs, collectively become pyromaniacs, and reflect on the fact that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

And if you were born after July 4, 1972, this is the first Independence Day you have ever seen that does not involve the tyranny known as Roe v. Wade and federally protected prenatal homicide.

A new holiday season
As with any holiday, Independence Day should be marked by doxology (1 Thess. 5:18), but this particular holiday coming so soon after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v Jackson decision – which upended Roe and rightly called it “egregiously wrong from the start” – makes our thanksgiving all the more congruous.

It is purely providential that Dobbs was decided so close to July 4, but even more so Juneteenth, which celebrates the emancipation announcement to slaves in Texas on June 19,1865. Yes, the nation struggled through Reconstruction and Jim Crow, but the promises of July 4 began to be applied to African Americans on that day.

In the same vein, everyone knows that Dobbs will not immediately end bloodshed and dismemberment in the womb. But June 24, 2022, will be remembered in history as the day that the promises of July 4 began to be applied to the preborn. In the long run, this will become a new summer holiday season. Just how we have a rapid succession of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day in late fall and winter, we’ll eventually have celebration of liberty from slavery, liberty from murder, and liberty from generalized tyranny within the span of 15 days.

True freedom
For the Christian, it is imperative that we not see the United States as an end unto itself. Every gift, whether the founding of a nation or the ending of infanticide, is from God and must be treated as such (James 1:17). And this celebration of liberty is but a shadow of our own liberation from the shackles of sin, death, and hell, accomplished by Jesus Christ.

And because Jesus rose from death, he rules the nations with a rod of iron. He has asked for the nations as his heritage, and the Father has granted that request. This is why we proclaim to the nations to repent, or, “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you perish in the way” (Psalm 2). In an ultimate sense, we celebrate Juneteenth, Dobbs, and Independence Day because, at least in some minute sense, the nations are being brought into accordance with God’s law, and because of Christ’s greatest victory.

Particularly poignant is the fact that as Christ reigns and makes his enemies his footstool, the last enemy to be destroyed is death itself (1 Cor. 15:25-26). What better way to look forward to our own resurrection this Independence Day than to celebrate the innocent millions who will be saved from death in utero, to the glory of God?

This was a victory won by the King of kings; raise a glass to him today.

Easter season week 3 – John 11

Listen to the audio version at Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

My church, Resurrection Church in Greer, South Carolina, is taking a month out of our normal pattern to explore the doctrine of salvation in the weeks leading up to Easter. I’m also endeavoring to write a complementary blog each week, for what that’s worth, and attempting to connect some overarching themes while allowing the elders to do the real grunt work in the pulpit on Sunday.

This week, our emphasis text is John 11. 

I will also note here that all opinions are my own and that this blog has not been officially sanctioned by my church, because some of these opinions may be a tad spicy to some.

The setup
The very TL;DR version (and seriously, go read the full account) is that Jesus had a dear friend named Lazarus who was sick, and Jesus intentionally waited around a couple of days for him to die before going to his tomb in the town of Bethany. After a conversation with Martha about the resurrection, Jesus commanded Lazarus to come out, and lo and behold, he did.

That said, let’s extrapolate some meat from Jesus’ conversation from Martha.

The text
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” – John 11:21-27

We won’t fly away
Unlike most evangelicals who basically take a pan-millennial approach, saying that they don’t know the details, but that everything will pan out in the end, Martha actually has her eschatology figured out. The dead will rise on the last day.

Note: She didn’t say that we’ll fly away, o glory. The chariot is not coming to take us home. The goal of the Christian life is not to slip the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.

To put it bluntly, heaven is not our home. The escapist mentality of just trying to get to heaven and out of our bodies has more in common with gnosticism and paganism than it does with historic Christianity. In fact, modern evangelicals treat resurrection more like 19th century liberals by spiritualizing the whole affair.

To get a feel for the resurrection, it seems that looking at the first fruits of the resurrection would benefit our discussion.

For starters, Jesus invited Thomas to actually touch his wounds from the crucifixion (John 20:27). Jesus then ate breakfast with the Apostles in John 21. It therefore follows that the resurrected Lord had flesh and blood and sinews and rods and cones in his eyeballs and neurons firing in his brain.

But his body was perfected and glorified, not subjected to decay (Ps. 16:10), and he still possesses that physical body (Phil. 3:20-21, 1 Tim. 2:5).

What’s the big deal?
What’s the big idea? Why does it matter, as long as I don’t end up in God’s deep fryer?

Well, to continue in our refutation of gnostic paganism, we’re not just androgynous souls trapped in husks who are waiting to be swept into true life in the ether. We, along with creation, await the redemption of the entirety of creation, including our bodies (Rom. 8:23). We’re creatures consisting of body and soul, and our bodies along with the whole of creation will not be destroyed but be made new (Rom. 8:21). Anything less means the serpent won the war in the garden.

What it’s not
If you’ll excuse me, I’d like to make everyone uncomfortable, because I think we’ve tilted the already/not yet scale far too much to the not yet.

We’re waiting on the resurrection, not the new heavens and new earth. We’re already there.

But, Cody, that’s in Revelation 21! There’s no way that could have happened. Well, when we take into account that the overwhelming majority of Revelation is either directly quoting or referencing the Old Testament, we should probably familiarize ourselves with a couple of passages.

God uses his creation of heaven and earth as confirmation of his covenant promises (Jer. 33:23-26). “I made all that,” God says. “Of course I’ll follow through on my promises.”

And then we have the promise of new heavens and new earth in Isaiah 65, meaning we’re promised a new covenant. Isaiah 65 can’t be the eschaton, because we have people dying at 100 and sinners living, dying, and going to hell (v 20).

Eschatology that’s cooler than Apache helicopters and microchips

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

Rev. 21:1-2

So, according to my reading and interpretation, John sees the new covenant, and then he sees the new Jerusalem with a huge literary clue for us. This city is prepared as a (checks notes) bride? And then we’re told that the city is the Lamb’s wife (v 9). I posit that this bride of Christ is the church (Eph. 5:25-27, Is. 62:5). If you disagree, that’s okay; you’ve been wrong before, but this chapter is about the bride making her way down the aisle of church history.

And the church doesn’t need a temple, and God the Spirit illuminates life for us. The nations will walk by the church’s light, and the nations will enter its gates and be cleansed (Rev. 21:22-27).

One more misconception about Revelation
I promise I’m getting to Martha’s point, and I don’t mean to have eschatological diarrhea. The resurrection – the resurrection – will be on the last day.

Here’s all I’ll say about the first resurrection in Revelation 21. Those who were raised were 1) those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and 2) those who had not worshiped the beast (Rev. 21:4). Their coming to life is regeneration, as discussed in Ephesians 2.

If I’m not right, then you have the grotesque situation of the sons of God being revealed in the resurrection while you still have the creation groaning under sin. Think about that.

But we also have clear passages. God will swallow up death forever (Is. 25:8). Once death is dead, it doesn’t come back like a Friday the 13th sequel.

And besides, the last enemy Christ will defeat is death (1 Cor. 15:26), while the predominant reading of Revelation says that death is defeated before Satan.

But no, the beauty of this position and of 1 Corinthians 15 – which is what Martha saw in her Hebrew Scriptures – is that the Christ must reign until he puts his enemies under his feet, including death at the end, and all Paul did was quote Psalm 110.

So in a time of rampant end times speculation, the traditional lens of truth, goodness, and beauty comes into play, and this series of events provides all three:

Christ lived, died, and rose.

Christ reigns, and he will continue to do so until and while he conquers all of his enemies.

The last enemy that Jesus will defeat is death, and he’ll do it in one fell swoop as he closes history and delivers the kingdom to the Father.

Easter season week 2 – John 4

Listen to the audio at Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

My church, Resurrection Church in Greer, South Carolina, is taking a month out of our normal pattern to explore the doctrine of salvation in the weeks leading up to Easter. I’m also endeavoring to write a complementary blog each week, for what that’s worth, and attempting to connect some overarching themes while allowing the elders to do the real grunt work in the pulpit on Sunday.

This week, our emphasis text is John 3:22-4:54, and I’m going to zoom in on parts of Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well at the beginning of John 4. I will also note here that all opinions are my own and that this blog has not been officially sanctioned by my church, because some of these opinions may be a tad spicy to some.

You should read the passage for yourself, but for the purposes of this blog, I’d like to focus on three ideas that this story topples, which of course have counterpart ideas that are substituted in kind.

So, then the story of the woman at the well destroys the following:

Racism and ethnocentrism
Our 21st century, Western minds don’t grasp just how scandalous Jesus’ conversation with a Samaritan woman was. For one, men didn’t talk to women in public. For two, Jesus traveled through Samaria and engaged with them, instead of going around as was custom for the time.

The reason for this is not that they were halfbreeds, as some have posited, but that they claimed to be descended from members of the northern kingdom of Israel who weren’t deported, meaning they weren’t Jews, who were descended from the southern kingdom of Judah. They were basically apostate Israel before it was cool. The Samaritans also still claim to have a monopoly on the proper worship of Yahweh to this day. Effectively, you have both enormous ethnic and religious tension. I’ll deal with the latter in a bit, but let’s briefly focus on the former.

The woman appeals to “our fathers” in verse 20 as part of her case against Jesus. While not quite Hatfield and McCoy levels of drama worthy of a History Channel special, these groups just didn’t like each other, and the combination of truth claims and claimed superiority combined to form a giant Middle Eastern snowball.

But it’s important to note that in John’s Gospel, this is just the second time Jesus has actually preached the Gospel to someone, and it happens to be directed to one of those dirty Samaritans, and a woman at that. But he has created one new man in himself, reconciling both groups to God by his own blood, eliminating the wall of hostility (Eph. 2:13-16).

The eschatological system – most known for the rapture and poorly written novels – called dispensationalism also falls apart in John 4.

Again in verse 20, the Samaritan woman tells Jesus that one of the wedges in between them is the fact that the Jews worship on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, while the Samaritans regarded Mount Gerizim as their most holy place.

Jesus’ response in verses 21-24 is often interpreted by dispensationalists as something like, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming sometime in the distant future, after the rapture and seven-year tribulation but during my literal 1,000-year reign from Jerusalem when true believers will once again worship me with animal sacrifices in a third temple.”

But no, when the woman told him that she knew the Messiah was en route, Jesus tells her, “I am he,” conjuring myriad references to God saying “I am he” in references to his covenant promises to judge the nations, blot out our sin, be our comfort, carry us to and through death, and that he is the Alpha and Omega (Is. 43:13, 46:4, 48:12, 51:12).

What we have in the New Covenant is infinitely better. Jesus is greater than the temple and doesn’t desire sacrifices (Matt. 12:6-7). In fact, he sat down after he made the final one, meaning that any blood sacrifice made after his Atonement is superfluous at best and blasphemous at worst (Heb. 10).

In fact, the verse from Ephesians 2 that I cited in regards to Jesus eradicating ethnic hostility immediately flows into:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Eph. 2:19-22

The church, in fact, is the temple that the Old Testament pointed to all those years. We ourselves are God’s dwelling place (Rev. 21:3). We don’t need bricks for a building when we’re already living stones (1 Peter 2:5).

Seeker sensitivity
Unlike the prevailing ecclesiastical wisdom, Jesus doesn’t appeal to the Samaritan woman’s felt needs, and he doesn’t beat around the bush regarding her need for a Savior.

Instead, he delivers a masterful presentation of Law and Gospel. “Go, get your husband,” he tells her in verse 16, and when she says she doesn’t have one, he replies, “Right. You’ve had five, and you’re shacked up with a guy you’re not even married to.” Her response is an acknowledgement that he’s a prophet, which leads to her theological misdirection about mountains and worship that we’ve already addressed. But after Jesus hooks her with just how gross her sin is, he reels her in by revealing himself to be the Messiah.

If we’ve learned one thing from the seeker sensitive church movement, it’s that its teachings don’t prepare Christians to suffer, be hated, or even be questioned. Immediately after this interaction Jesus’ disciples are asking what his deal is, talking with a woman (John 4:27). Jesus was clearly willing to be ostracized by his most-inner circle if need be, even staying two more days to teach this dirty, hated group of people (John 4:40).

Maybe this is a stretch, but I’m reminded of the martyrdom of Polycarp in AD 155. Polycarp was an early church father who was personally discipled by John and lived in Smyrna in what is now western Turkey.

In the Roman Empire at the time, Christians were often referred to as “atheists” because they denied the Roman pantheon and that Caesar was a god incarnate. A Roman Proconsul had Polycarp dragged into a coliseum to apostatize or be executed. In a bittersweet moment of church history, this time being the prequel to last week’s reference of Lattimer and Ridley, the crowd in the coliseum where he was to be executed heard a voice tell Polycarp, “Be strong, Polycarp and play the man!”

The Proconsul then adjured him saying, “Have respect for your old age, swear by the fortune of Caesar. Repent, and say, ‘Down with the Atheists!’”

Polycarp, apparently one for sarcasm, gestured toward the crowd and said, “Down with the Atheists!” He didn’t request a pause for some evidence and massaging the message, and maybe if we just unhitch from that angry God in the Old Testament…

“Swear,” urged the Proconsul, “reproach Christ, and I will set you free.”

“86 years have I served him, and he has done me no wrong.” Polycarp responded. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”

When threatened with being torn by animals and then burned at the stake when he didn’t bat an eye at the animals, Polycarp replied, “You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and is then extinguished, but you know nothing of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. Why are you waiting? Bring on whatever you want.”

And as his last words before being burned alive, Polycarp prayed:

“O Lord God Almighty, the Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of you, the God of angels, powers and every creature, and of all the righteous who live before you, I give you thanks that you count me worthy to be numbered among your martyrs, sharing the cup of Christ and the resurrection to eternal life, both of soul and body, through the immortality of the Holy Spirit. May I be received this day as an acceptable sacrifice, as you, the true God, have predestined, revealed to me, and now fulfilled. I praise you for all these things, I bless you and glorify you, along with the everlasting Jesus Christ, your beloved Son. To you, with him, through the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and forever. Amen.”

Easter season week 1, John 1-3

Hear the audio version of this episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Anchor.

My church, Resurrection Church in Greer, South Carolina, is taking a month out of our normal pattern to explore the doctrine of salvation in the weeks leading up to Easter. I’m also endeavoring to write a complementary blog each week, for what that’s worth, and attempting to connect some overarching themes while allowing the elders to do the real grunt work in the pulpit on Sunday.

This week, our text is the first three chapters of John. Like I said, I’ll only be able to provide a flyover, but after the flight attendants show you how the emergency flotation devices work, I’ll be sure to point out some landmarks.

Big God Theology
John 1 starts out letting you know who the star of the show is.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.John 1:1-5

John 1:1-5

We have the Word, who is God but is also with God, which makes sense because if the Word weren’t God, then he would be lumped in with the created things in verse 3, but he’s not created. He’s God. At the same time, we don’t have two Gods but one. John comes out swinging with the deity of Christ and the rumblings of a rich trinitarianism.

God’s sovereignty, man’s inability

And while John is swinging, he moves right from God’s sovereignty to bruising our collective ego with what might be bricks in his boxing gloves.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

John 1:12-13

I’ll be blunt here. The amount of people who read this who claim to “take the Bible seriously” or “take the Bible literally” who are squirming right now is likely pretty high. Our pride doesn’t like this verse, and we’ll start to appeal to the “receiving him” portion of verse 12, forgetting that verse 13 tells us how Christ is received.

He is not, in fact, invited into our hearts. He is not received by a free will decision. If you have an issue with that, read the sentence again. The children of God are not born by the will of man, period. It’s all God, from start to finish.

It doesn’t stop there. In verse 29, John the Baptist calls Jesus the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus takes away your sin; he doesn’t wait for you to give it to him.

Moving along to the end of chapter 2, when some had believed in Jesus when he cleansed the temple the first time, but he entrusted himself to no one, “for he himself knew what was in man.” This is because Jesus is the only man to ever live to know exactly how sinful sin really is. He knew all along that no one seeks after God (Rom. 3:11) and that man is dead in his sin (Eph. 2:1). And despite what people may believe; our natural condition is no better than our prediluvian forebears. Outside of Christ, we too are totally evil in our thoughts and intentions (Gen. 6:5). It simply follows that if all our thoughts are evil before regeneration, then we neither can nor want to “make a decision” to follow; that would require our intentions being changed.

Which brings us to chapter 3 with one of the most famous conversations in the Bible, when Jesus tells Nicodemous of his need for rebirth. To go along with our theme, not a single one of us, no matter how stubborn, dictated the time of our births to our mothers or the doctors who assisted in the process. We were entirely passive in that process, and Jesus intentionally picked that picture as his illustration of salvation.

Jesus also beautifully hijacks the Numbers 21 narrative of Moses erecting the bronze serpent to save Israel from their venomous snakebites and correlates the Genesis 3 promise that the seed of the woman will crush the serpent’s head by himself being lifted up, because God’s intention was global salvation, not ethnic purity (John 3:16).

In our final stop in chapter 3, this theme is hammered home once more by John the Baptist, who explains, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven” (John 3:27).

So what?
Really, what difference does it make whether I muster up a free will decision for God, or whether God unilaterally chose to give me salvation, like he did with Abraham, Old Covenant Israel, the prophets, and the apostles? Like a good Baptist, I have three reasons.

If salvation is all of God, then grace is not only necessary, it is sufficient, which means the faith that has been given to me is actually enough, and my assurance of salvation also rests on the work of Christ alone. My salvation doesn’t hinge on whether I was “authentically broken” or whether I “meant it” when I prayed a sinner’s prayer. It hinges on Jesus.

My favorite story along these lines comes from the Proestant Reformation, when Bloody Mary had Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley burned at the stake. When Ridley showed signs of panic, Latimer told him, “Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”

Only sovereign grace can turn torches made of men into candles of grace.

If God is sovereign and I’m invited to play a role in his Kingdom, one which has been promised to grow until it fills the earth while we plunder hell (Dan. 2:35, Matt. 16:18), then what is produced is Christian life with backbone.

This is why the bulk of evangelicalism acts more like evanjellyfish. In most of American Christianity, God is not sovereign and it’s up to us to goad or hoodwink or guilt trip people into “saying yes to Jesus,” which results in capitulation to the pop culture diktats of the hour.

This is in stark contrast to the Apostles’ teaching that the most heinous act of all-time, the execution of the only innocent Man to ever live, was predestined by God (Acts 4:28). It’s this understanding that gave them the boldness not only to teach in light of persecution, but to be generous and to withstand martyrdom, rejoicing that God counted them worthy to suffer dishonor for his name (Acts 5:41).

The final conclusion to God’s unilateral grace is radical humility. All orthodox Christians understand they deserve to go straight to hell (Rom. 3, Ps. 58:3, Eph. 2:3), but the deciding factor in our conversion and faith makes a real difference in our countenance toward other sinful image bearers.

Work with me here. If my salvation and faith ride on a free will decision to follow Jesus, then what is the difference between me and an unbeliever? The difference isn’t grace but my own decision. The difference lies in me.

But, in fact, both God’s grace and our faith are gifts from God(Eph. 2:8-9), which eradicates our pride to his glory and our eternal joy.