The Idea of Free Will

Do we really have free will? What is free will? Can we choose to accept Christ in our natural condition? These are all questions that have raged for centuries. Of course, there is an answer to this debate that is not hard to discover.

What exactly is free will? Well, that depends on what you are talking about. We do have free will in the sense that we can choose to do what we desire. But that does not mean that we can choose to accept Christ on our own. Why? Because that is not the desire of the natural man. Romans 3:10-12 confirms this.

We also know that salvation does not come from the will of man. John confirms this in his Gospel.

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 ESV

It is not the will of man or the flesh. It is the will of God, his sovereign election, that chooses us. It is not the other way around.

Later in John’s Gospel Jesus says:

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

John 6:44 ESV

We cannot come to God unless He draws us. This is not a denial of free will. This is actually an affirmation of free will. However, the will of natural man will never desire God.

Does John 12:32 Go Against The Doctrines of Grace?

John 12:32 is a verse often used to go against the Reformed Doctrine of Sovereign Election. The argument is that Christ will draw “all people” to Himself, therefore this is not something only reserved to a subset of people known as the elect.

Here is the question. Does “all people” in the verse mean every person on earth or is it talking about something else? How can we answer this question?

To make this verse mean every person you have to ignore a basic rule of biblical interpretation. That is, you must take this verse out of the context of the passage.

If you single out this one verse then yes, it definitely says all people and one can assume that it means every individual person. However, if you look back at verses 20-22 you get the context of what Jesus is talking about.

There were Greeks that had come to the disciples in order to talk to Jesus. This gives us the context. The Jews (which included the disciples) were under the impression that since they were God’s chosen people, they were the ones to whom salvation was promised.

However, John 12:32 shows that Jesus is proclaiming that salvation is to both Jew and Gentile. So “all people” in verse 32 means all people groups Jew and Gentile.

When interpreting Scripture it is crucial that the full context of the passage be looked at in order to arrive at the proper interpretation of that passage.

Forgiveness

Often we are reminded of a passage in Matthew about what it means to forgive. Peter asks Christ how much he should forgive someone? Seven times? Christ comes back with the answer of seventy-seven times. Does this mean if number seventy-eight comes up we do not have to forgive? Obviously not! So what does this passage mean? What does it mean to forgive? First, let’s look at the text itself.


Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Matthew 18:21-35 ESV

This is a stunning passage, a convicting passage. Often we find ourselves as the one who has been released from a great debt refusing to forgive the one with a small debt. But again, what does it actually mean to forgive.

The word forgive in this passage is the Greek word ἀφήσω (aphiemi). And what does this mean in the original? ἀφήσω carries the idea of releasing from a legal or moral obligation (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature).

This has amazing implications for what it means to forgive. You have gone to court with that person and the judge threw the case out, said the person is innocent or no longer obligated to the debt, or otherwise it has been satisfied. From that point forward, from a legal sense, you act as if the wrong has been fulfilled or never occurred in the first place. It has been satisfied.

When we choose to forgive we are taking that legal and moral stance. You are no longer obligated to me for what happened. I am wiping the slate clean. It is over and done. And Jesus says we are to do this seventy-seven times. This means we are wiping the slate clean, never to bring it up again. It has been cleared from the record.

What a picture of grace and what God has done for us and now expects us to do the same for others. It is a tall order. It is not easy by any stretch of the imagination. But it is what we are called to do. May we all learn how to forgive.

Is Baptism Part of Salvation?

I have heard it argued that people take the third chapter of John’s Gospel, the story with Nicodemus, and use it as a claim for baptism being necessary for salvation. The claim is that water birth in the chapter is actually baptism. However, a simple and logical look at the passage will show us that this is not the case at all. Let’s take a look at John 3:1-6


Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.


John 3:1–6, ESV

Verse 1: We are introduced to Nicodemus and that sets the stage for the conversation he is about to have with Christ.

Verse 2: Nicodemus is searching for truth and tells Christ he knows that He is of God.

Verse 3: Jesus said you cannot enter the Kingdom of God unless you are born again.

Now, we need to stop for a minute because this is key. Born again. Born a second time in some way. Nicodemus understood that Christ meant a second birth but he does not understand how this is possible which brings us forward.

Verse 4: Nicodemus, confused by the born again, asks if we are somehow to reenter the womb.

Verse 5: Jesus answers saying that you must be born of water and spirit.

Now, the spirit is the second birth, the water is clearly the first birth. That is the logical progression Jesus is following. Yes, Nicodemus, you were born the first time of water (womb) but this new birth, the born again, is a spiritual, not physical, birth.

Verse 6 further confirms this interpretation by saying flesh is born of flesh and spirit is born of spirit. Water is interchanged with flesh but spirit remains. Why? Because water is talking about physical birth, not baptism.

That is the full context and proper interpretation of this passage. It has nothing to do with baptism and baptism certainly is not required for salvation.

One Passion Ministries: The Men’s Bible Study

Dr. Lawson leads the Romans Study

Over the last couple of years, I have had the privilege to be a part of the Men’s Bible Study led by Dr. Steven J. Lawson. We have been going through a verse by verse study of the book of Romans. While we may not be moving through Romans fast, I assure you that this has been one of the most profitable Bible Studies I have ever participated in.

Dr. Lawson brings clarity to the Word like few others are able to do. He has focus and drive and his passion for the Word of God shines through with each session. You will find yourself immersed in the book of Romans and gaining insights on how this great masterpiece fits in with the whole of Scripture.

The Men’s Bible Study meets regularly. The physical group meets at Herb’s House in Dallas, TX but you can enjoy the study online via Livestream. All of the studies are recorded so you can go back and watch them again and again.

I encourage everyone to watch videos of this study. You will be challenged in your faith and grow in your knowledge of Scripture.

How To Study The Bible

I am often asked, how do you study the Bible? How do you know that your interpretation is correct? Are there rules to follow? Are there tools to use? Where do I begin? All of these are very good questions, and all of these questions have good answers that follow them. This post is not meant to be an exhaustive look at how to conduct Bible Study. This is simply a brief overview of the topic.

The Bible was written in three primary languages, Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. It was also written to various people groups in various cultures spanning over 1,000 years and none of those were cultures and people that are still present today. This is known as the gap of Biblical Interpretation. In order to arrive at a proper interpretation, we must close this gap and find the original meaning of any passage in Scripture that we wish to study. So how do we accomplish this?

First, you must become familiar with your passage in your native tongue. To do this, you must read the passage in several English translations. Preferably, a few translations that are essentially literal and one that is dynamic equivalent. Dynamic equivalent translations, such as the New International Version, do not necessarily follow the literal translation of a passage and add in commentary-like supplements in phrasing and word usage to help the reader understand the meaning. Essentially literal translations are just that, translations that are as literal as possible compared to the original. Translations that I recommend are the English Standard Version, New American Standard Bible, and the, Christian Standard Bible.

The second step is to look at the original languages. You need to find words, using a concordance and lexicon combination or Bible software such as Logos Bible Software, that are key to the passage. Then you need to look up the corresponding Greek or Hebrew word to find out what the author meant by using that particular word.

The third step is to understand any historical and cultural contexts that may be applicable when looking at interpreting a passage. Where was this written? When was this written? To whom was this written? Were there any significant events going on at that time that might be alluded to in the passage? Were there any geographical features that need to be taken into account? These types of questions help give insight to things that are not plain in the text itself.

When you look at these steps, the next thing to do is to figure out, what did this mean to the original audience? How would they have understood this passage?

When following these rules, you are well on your way to framing proper interpretations of Scripture. We can know what Scripture says with confidence. Remember, there is only one possible interpretation but an unlimited number of possible applications.

The Importance of Scripture Memorization

One of the things that many churches seem to have lost in today’s culture is the discipline of Scripture Memory. Growing up, Scripture memory was a huge emphasis at our church through programs like AWANA. I remember being on the Bible Quiz team for our church competing against other churches. I remember those verses and definitions that I learned decades ago and I am thankful for it.

But is there any indication from Scripture that memorizing God’s Word is important? The answer is an overwhelming yes!

We see verses like Psalm 119:11, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart that I might not sin against thee.” (KJV) While this verse is not a command, it is a clear principle. Hiding God’s Word in our hearts gives us the tools we need to resist temptation.

Jesus was the perfect model of this in the New Testament when He went under temptation by Satan in the wilderness. This passage is found in Matthew 4:1-11. Jesus goes into the wilderness and is tempted three times by Satan.

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Time To Build The Kingdom?

In Haggai’s first chapter we see a rebuke of the people of Israel for allowing the Temple to lay in ruin after their return from exile. On the surface, this seems reasonable, the Temple had been destroyed while the Jews were exiled out of the land and they did not immediately rebuild when the returned. However, they saw fit to rebuild their houses with possible lavishness.

God recognized that Israel would not rebuild the Temple without prompting. It was simply not a priority for them. They were too busy with their own endeavors to bother themselves with the Lord’s house.

There are many parallels with Israel and the Church today, particularly in America. How many times is there something that God has told us to do but we put it off? We put it off out of fear or perhaps inconvenience. We have other pursuits. Jobs, hobbies, family, the list goes on and on. Meanwhile, the Kingdom of God is waiting. It is waiting to be staffed with the people of God. It is waiting for a generation to rise up and do the Lord’s work.

This does not mean that we have to give up everything and go into full time ministry. But there is something for everyone in the church to do. What are your gifts and talents? What can you do for God’s glory in His house?

It is time to build the Kingdom!