God’s Persevering Grace

(The Rev. Dr. Curtis Crenshaw, Th.D.)

“He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6 NKJ)

Several years ago I had a discussion with someone who was ready to give up on the Christian life, saying it was too difficult, that it seemed that the Triune God did not care. In our frenetic speed of life,[1] we sometimes forget that God is persevering with us more than we are with Him. God finishes what He begins, unlike us. If He did not, we would never make it to heaven. As humans, you and I are always beginning things that we never seem to find time to finish. But consider God’s matchless grace in Philippians 1:6, that what He begins He finishes: “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Look at the butterfly wing—was it begun and not finished? Look at the woodpecker—was its specialized bill not finished? Look at the atom—was it a partial work? Look at the moon—is it a work abandoned? Are the tides out of control? Look at yourself, the apex of God’s creation—will you be thrown away after the work was begun? God works by a plan. He begins a work of grace in us, not as an experiment to see if we and He can make it together, but that He may complete His design in and for us. Can you imagine an architect who begins a project without plans, just going along to see how things work out? (Of course, non-Christians have no future except the judgment. Our appointment would be the same if God the Father had not chosen us to be His: Eph. 1:3-4.).

If the Triune God began a work in us but did not finish it, who would lose more, God or us? It would definitely be God, for then He would be known as a failure. Others could say that God just could not handle it, that He gave it His best effort but finally gave up on us, that we were just too much for Him, that our sins were more than He could overcome in us. But that would nullify the cross, that God the Father could not bring justice and mercy together, yet that is precisely what Romans 3:26 says He did; namely, that He was both just in His judgment and the justifier of sinners:

“to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

That is my favorite verse, and quite contrary to Islam. The verse says that God the Father was just in putting to death His Son but also quite merciful toward us. In other words, we deserved eternal death for our sins, but the Father is just so He offered One to take that judgment, even JESUS, the final solution for us, who volunteered to be our substitute. Moreover, the Father is merciful so He extended His mercy to us through the Son. Thus at the cross, God was both just and the justifier of us sinners. If He failed in this endeavor, He would not be God.

Islam, on the other hand, has a god who can’t be both just and justifier. Muslims say Allah does not require payment to show mercy but just hands out mercy. Thus, their god is compromised. But the Triune God, in the same act, the cross, demonstrates both justice and justification (mercy). My only hope in life and in death is the cross of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.

Moreover, according to Paul here in Philippians 1:6, who initiated the work in you, you or God? God! And if God did, will He decide against it later? As one man expressed it in a hymn:

  • “I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew
  • “He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me;
  • “It was not I that found [Thee], O Savior true;
  • “No, I was found [by] Thee.”

And is it not true that we love Him because He first loved us?

“We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19 NKJ).

Notice, by the way, that most modern translations of this verse leave out the word “Him.” It is true of course that we cannot love anything without Him, but that is not the point John is making. Rather, he wants us to know that our love for the Triune God was not first, was not the cause of Him reciprocating His love back to us. No, indeed, God’s love initiates and we reciprocate. We are not masters of the sovereign King’s grace to use as we wish; we do not make Him “fall in love” (I hate that expression) with us because we are so lovely, and He could not help Himself. Our loveliness did not overwhelm Him, because we have none.  His love and grace are initial and ours responsive, for it was He who began the work in us, not we in Him!

And how do we know that God has begun a work in us? We can tell by our obedience, by the love we have for God, mankind, God’s Bible, by our faithful attendance at worship on the Lord’s Day, reading His word, the Bible, partaking of Holy Communion, praying, and so on. Faith, hope, and love will be the hallmarks of our lives.

Let me give you a good example. Years ago I led a man to Christ who was only 18 years old. He mouthed some words, good words, but I wondered how committed he was to them. He was very much in love with a young lady, but she was not a Christian. When I told him and showed him from the Bible that God did not allow a believer to marry an unbeliever, he paused for a long time and said with tears in his eyes: “If that’s what God says, that’s what I’ll do.” His life has revealed the same commitment for decades. More than anything else, one’s obedience to God reveals whether there has been true conversion or not, but our obedience does not merit our acceptance with God:

Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him (1 John 2:3-4 NKJ).

And do you know why it is God who first seeks us, and why we are responsive to Him, why it is that He saves us in this way? One reason is so that we cannot boast (see Ephesians 2:8-10). We’ll never be able to say that God did 99%, but if it were not for the 1% I did, I would never have made it to heaven.

Let us rejoice that for all those who trust in the death and righteousness of Christ for forgiveness of sins, our Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has taken charge of our salvation, that our sins are forgiven, that His Name and reputation are on the line, and that by His persevering grace, we shall make it home! AMEN.

PS:

(Just for the record, the word “him” is widely supported in many—if not the majority—of manuscripts. Here are some of those manuscripts: ‎‎  א 048 33 81 436 1067 Augustine Byz Lect etc. Here is why “Him” was left out of most modern versions as stated by modern critics of our NT: “Feeling the need of an accusative object after the verb . . . some copyists added Him.” How, in the name of all that is rational, can one get inside a copyist head to know he would “feel”? I call that subjective nonsense. Moreover, I can’t imagine why we would give our New Testament to unbelievers to determine what should compose it. As the 39 Articles states, “the Church [is] a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ”, Article XX). The Church, not unbelievers, should be in charge of our most precious deposit, the written word of God. Part of the problem today with so many versions is that we’ve given our most precious heritage to those who hate the Author. Publishing houses who translate and sell Bibles for money have control over the text and its translation, but that is the Church’s bailiwick. Barth Ehrman, who writes a lot in the area of textual criticism (what should be in the New Testament Greek) is an avowed atheist. I’ve read his books closely; they are full of subjective theories as the one I just quoted. More on this to come.)

 

[1] Our lack of time for anything significant is part of God’s judgment. In our refusal to obey His Sabbath, He is taking away time by rubbing our noses in so many details that we don’t have time for family or for Him. We run around doing nothing and think we are accomplishing something. We are self-deceived.

Forgive Only When One Repents (sweat the big stuff)

 (Sweat the Big Stuff)

(by Curtis I. Crenshaw, Th.D.)

So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses (Matthew 18:35).

    14 For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matthew 6:14-15).)

Many people think we should forgive others even if there is no repentance, and sometimes they invoke the verses above. But if you recall the context of the first verse above, an employee is considerably in debt to his boss, more than he could pay in many years. He falls before his employer, begging forgiveness, and he is forgiven. Later, the employee had a fellow employee who owed him a very small amount, probably a day’s wages, but this forgiven employee would not forgive his fellow employee. Rather, he cast him into jail. When the employer heard of that, he took the employee he had forgiven and cast him into jail.

Notice what difference a little context makes. In the first case, the forgiven employee suddenly became unforgiven when his former repentance was seen to be hypocritical. We are not told about the second employee, but we can assume that his repentance was genuine, and so he was forgiven. Elsewhere, the Lord said, “If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3). Repentance is required.

The other two verses above are from the Lord’s Prayer, and the condition for us to be forgiven is to forgive. But does this mean to forgive without repentance, without confessing one’s sins and seeking to turn from them, without making restitution? Absolutely not. How can we be so sure? The Lord Jesus said: “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). Even God does not forgive unless we repent.

So if a person rapes and murders your 16 year old daughter, will you forgive him without repentance? If he laughs at you in court, and plea bargains to 15 years in jail, will you be satisfied? There is obviously no repentance. If you have an opportunity to shoot him without anyone finding out, will you?

First, let me give the biblical principle and then I’ll comment on the particulars just given. The biblical principle is that forgiveness always takes place in the context of justice. To forgive without justice is moral compromise. For example, in Romans 3:24-26 we read of Jesus:

24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom 3:23 NKJ).

Verse 26 overwhelmed me in a theology class decades ago, and I’ve been enamored with it since then, and with Jesus, my propitiation. The word “propitiation” means justice, and Paul the Apostle is saying, by the Holy Spirit, that justice was upheld by Jesus, who took our punishment, so that God the Father “might be just and the justified of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

Now, let us consider the points above about someone raping and murdering your daughter—would you forgive him? Indeed, you must not without repentance, for he needs to see the justice of the Triune God to bring him to repentance. That does not mean that you’re mean to him, curse him, scream at him, or try to take justice in your own hands by shooting him. As corrupt as our courts are, they are still in charge of capital crimes, though many times the punishment is too light. You should pray for his conversion, not personally seek revenge or be vindictive. But forgiveness is always conditioned on repentance and justice. Moreover, forgiveness is more than just not seeking revenge; it means four things (see Ephesians 4:32): the particular sin is repented of (redemption); justice is upheld (propitiation); the parties are reconciled so that communion is reestablished (reconciliation); and we based those three points on the death of Jesus, both our justice and our righteousness.

Consider a true life example. Some years ago in Texas, a young woman, Karla Faye Tucker, was executed for murdering several people with an ax. She was converted to Christ while in prison by going to church service in prison that she virtually never attended and only went that night to socialize. While there, she got a Bible and began reading it. In the middle of the night, she got on her knees and asked the Triune God for forgiveness. Here is part of an interview Larry King did a month before her death.

KarlaFayeTucker

 

KING:

Does it get worse every day?

TUCKER: No. It gets a little more exciting every day.

KING: Interesting choice of words, Karla.

TUCKER: Yes.

KING: Exciting, how?

TUCKER: Just to see how God is unfolding everything. Every day something new comes up, and it’s exciting to be a part of it because there’s a lot going on, and it’s going to affect a lot of people. And it’s a blessing to be a part of it, and it’s exciting to know that God has a plan for this. [She is speaking of her soon execution.]

KING: So you’re not down?

TUCKER:No. I am not down. A little tired sometimes but not down.

KING:Not pessimistic?

TUCKER: No. Never pessimistic. . . .

[skipping part of the interview]

KING: Finally, you remain up.

TUCKER: Yes.

KING: You have to explain that to me a little more. It can’t just be God?

TUCKER: Yes, it can. It’s called the joy of the Lord. I don’t — when you have done something that I have done, like what I have done, and you have been forgiven for it, and you’re loved, that has a way of so changing you. I mean, I have experienced real love. I know what real love is. I know what forgiveness is, even when I did something so horrible. I know that because God forgave me, and I accepted what Jesus did on the cross. When I leave here, I am going to go be with him.

As she approaches the death chamber, she says to all present:

Yes sir, I would like to say to all of you — the Thornton family and Jerry Dean’s family — that I am so sorry. I hope God will give you peace with this. (She looked at her husband.) Baby, I love you. (She looked at Ronald Carlson.) Ron, give Peggy a hug for me. (She looked at all present weeping and smiling.) Everybody has been so good to me. I love all of you very much. I am going to be face to face with Jesus now. Warden Baggett, thank all of you so much. You have been so good to me. I love all of you very much. I will see you all when you get there. I will wait for you.

Now that is a repentance and forgiven soul! Justice was upheld in the state by executing her, and upheld with God the Father by the atoning death of the Lord Jesus who took her penalty. She had genuinely repented, justice was upheld, the relatives should have forgiven her, but she still had to face the state’s death penalty. She was the first woman executed in Texas since 1863. Her last words were:

Yes sir, I would like to say to all of you — the Thornton family and Jerry Dean’s family — that I am so sorry. I hope God will give you peace with this. (She looked at her husband.) Baby, I love you. (She looked at Ronald Carlson.) Ron, give Peggy a hug for me. (She looked at all present weeping and smiling.) Everybody has been so good to me. I love all of you very much. I am going to be face to face with Jesus now. Warden Baggett, thank all of you so much. You have been so good to me. I love all of you very much. I will see you all when you get there. I will wait for you.

She died by lethal injection in 1998.

But did not Jesus unilaterally forgive those who were crucifying Him with the words “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” Was that not unilateral forgiveness without repentance? The answer is determined to some extent by those to whom He was speaking. If to the Jews, the Lord gave them 40 more years to repent before the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. If to the Romans who were doing the crucifying, that particular sin may have been sovereignly forgiven. Likewise, regarding Stephen in Acts 7:60 when he was being stoned, said, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” Was that sin answered unilaterally without their (the Jews) repentance? Again, it seems that they were given time to repent regarding who Jesus was, but the majority did not, so the judgment came on them in A.D. 70, about 40 years later, when the Roman General Titus destroyed the city. Truly, if they had repented, there would have been no judgment.

But what about brothers and sisters in Christ; do we forgive them all the time without repentance? Yes, no. We are in a covenant relationship with them by faith in Jesus, and we are family, brothers and sisters. As I pointed out last time on judging, we should overlook 99.9% of problems within the Body of Christ because “The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression” (Proverbs 19:11). All forgiveness in the Body is based on the blood of the covenant that Jesus shed on the cross.:

And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).

(You must read the one tomorrow (8 October 2014) for balance.)

AMEN.

Reclaiming Verses: “Don’t Judge Lest You Be Judged”

 (Matthew 7:1-2)

There are several verses in the Bible that everyone knows, and Matthew 7:1 is at the top of the list:

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you (Matthew 7:1-2).

Some use this verse as an excuse not to take a stand against evil doers in our society or churches. If we confront them, we are judging, they say. But if we take that in the absolute sense, we would have to empty our jails and murderers would go free, for we could never judge them. Obviously, that is a distortion as Romans 13 that commands the government to judge evil doers, even to the death penalty.

Others claim that we must not judge one another as individuals, but here is the balance of the verses in Matthew on judging:

3 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5; see also Romans 2:1).

Obviously, the balance of the context is not telling us never to judge, but the Lord is telling us how to judge: first consider ourselves to see what our faults are, and then we are prepared to help our brother or sister overcome a matter, which is a mild form of judging. Moreover, the idea of the verse is that we must not be putting down people around us. Politicians and our whole culture—the whole world!—are constantly bearing false witness against those around us.

One case where Matthew 7:1 would apply clearly is the recent riots in Ferguson, MO where the lynch mob had already judged the policeman guilty before hearing the matter or knowing the facts. In fact, a number of the participants were asked if the policeman should just be judged and go to jail without a trial, they said “Yes”! Rendering a moral decision against someone without knowing the facts is a violation of this verse and many other verses in the Bible. That is obviously judging in the wrong sense.

However, we who are Christians are required to judge, though not by our own standard but by the righteousness standard of God’s law:

But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one (1 Corinthians 2:15).

The idea of this verse is that the spiritual man, the Christian, discerns all things but is not discerned or understood by others outside the faith. But the general tenor of our lives is not to be picky, condemning others because they sin differently than we do, and we don’t like it. If they had decency, they would sin like we do. (See 1 Corinthians 4:5). Moreover, we all must stand before the judgment seat of God (Romans 14:10, 13).

Conclusion

Yet, not only are we required to judge, but we must do so not as self-righteous, holier than thou, or looking down our hypocritical noses at others, but solely according to God’s Ten Commandments and other moral statements He commands us throughout Holy Scripture. But I would say that 99.9% of the time, on a personal matter we should let things go:

The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression (Proverbs 19:11).

AMEN. Ώ

(See my book, NOT Ten Suggestions.)

 

 

 

Why I Am No Longer Dispensational

© Rev. Dr. Curtis I. Crenshaw 2001, 2010

(please do not sell)

(This is a personal letter to one of my past dispensational Bible College professors who wanted to know why I had left dispensationalism after I graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary.  I have rewritten some of the letter for broader distribution.  In particular, some of the harder hitting points, such as the section on repentance, were not in the original letter, though they were in the book (Dispensationalism Today, Yesterday, and Tomorrow,) I wrote that I sent him.)

Also, the issue of repentance and Lordship I have addressed in my book, Lordship Salvation: The Only Kind There Is, available at www.footstoolpublications.com.  My other books may be found there also, though the site still needs a lot of work.).  The book on dispensationalism just mentioned is due out again soon in its fourth revision and seventh printing; please check the same site for it.

Dear Dr.  . . . ,

You asked me about my ecclesiology (doctrine of the Church); you have asked me about it previously.  I have deliberately not pursued it with you as I do not want that to come between us.  I did not want to debate you about it at lunch recently but to enjoy the fellowship in the Gospel.  Indeed, the ecclesiology issue is an “in house” debate among evangelicals.  The basic theology I learned at Mid-South Bible College (MSBC, was Crichton College and changed names again to Victory University) and from my mother and grandmother (2 Tim. 1:5 applies to me) I have never laid aside but adhere to it tenaciously.  The Trinity, hypostatic union, Virgin Birth (actually virgin conception, as Dr. Crichton rightly stated)—in short, the Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, Athanasian Creed, Chalcedon on the Person of Christ, are what the Church has defined as evangelical orthodoxy for centuries, with justification by faith alone in Christ alone added during the Reformation as a necessary implication of the Apostolic faith.  Cranmer quotes many early fathers who held to “faith alone,” even using those very words.  Our doctrinal statement here at Cranmer Theological House is the Thirty-Nine Articles, which you would find quite satisfying in most points.

But regarding my ecclesiology, I have enclosed my part of a book that Grover Gunn and I wrote in 1984, Dispensationalism Today, Yesterday, and Tomorrow.  I graduated from DTS; and Gunn finished all the courses, but they would not allow him to graduate because of his change of theology, which seems to me both illegal and immoral.  Most of your questions regarding my ecclesiology will be answered in the pages from the book you now have.  But I shall give you my personal history.

When I went to Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) in 1972 (as the first MSBC student with an accredited degree), I was convinced of dispensationalism.  The first year there I had no doubts, but mid-way through the second year I was in rapid Greek reading when a professor (Dr. Ed. Blum) stated that there were two views of sanctification on campus.  (The question was raised from the passage we were “Greeking,” as we used to say.)  We were told that there was the Walvoord/Ryrie/Pentecost view, which was Arminian, carnal Christian, and higher life without perseverance, denying the lordship of Christ in salvation, and then there was the perseverance or Calvinistic view.  Naturally, I told myself that I was of the former view since I had been taught that at MSBC.  But the seed Blum planted stayed with me, causing me later to question my assumptions regarding grace and later the assumptions of dispensationalism itself. (For the 11 1/2 pages that go into theological reasons why I left dispensationalism, please click here.)

Keith Ward, What The Bible Really Teaches (Not)

When one sees the title of a book like that (What the Bible Really Teaches), it always breeds caution.  The author, Keith Ward, is retired as Regius Prof. of Divinity at Oxford.  About the only thing good about this book is that it gives us what not to believe. I’ve never seen so many passages twisted in one short book of about 200 pages.  He denies the infallibility of Scripture but assumes it himself.  He says the Bible has authority, “but that authority is not unchangeable, final, or complete” (p. 15).  How does he know this without assuming such himself?  As one theologian has pointed out, infallibility is an inescapable concept.  It is only denied to show up somewhere else, in this case, as is so often true, it is transferred from text to reader.  Now Ward will infallibly tell us which parts are infallible.  Among his many denials are these:

  1. Creation is symbolic
  2. No one could possibly know about a second coming
  3. Everyone will be saved in the end

I could name many more heresies in the book, but you get the point.  If you want to know how liberals think, read this one; otherwise, read a novel.

G. K. Beale, D. A. Carson, Old Testament in the New Testament

G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, editors Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament, Baker Academic, hardback and over 1200 pages, double column. This is a research book, and the contributors read like a Who’s Who of conservative scholarship. This volume takes every New Testament reference to the Old Testament in New Testament canonical order and studies the usage of the Old Testament quote, allusion, type, or analogy. It deals with the New Testament context, the Old Testament context, textual issues, Septuagint usage, usage in Judaism, theology, and other matters. For the serious interpreter, this will be a necessary reference.