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Election and Problem Verses

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 ASK THE PASTOR BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor, Oakwood Presbyterian Church

      Question: “There are some verses in Scripture that seem to contradict the idea that God chooses only the elect to be saved – for instance, 1 Timothy 2:3-6, John 3:16, and 2 Peter 3:9. How are we to understand these “Arminian”-sounding verses?

     1 TIMOTHY 2:3-6“This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.”

     There are two potential problems with these verses: first, Paul says that God "desires all people to be saved;" and later, he says that Jesus Christ "gave Himself as a ransom for all." Taken out of context, these statements seem to contradict what the Bible says elsewhere - that God chose some people, not everyone, to be saved, and that Christ died for those whom God chose, not for everyone.

     However, if you look at these statements in the context of what Paul says just before them (in verses 1 and 2), it takes care of the apparent problem. In verse 1 Paul says, "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people..."It's obvious that "all people" in verse 1 must mean the same as it does in verse 4. In verse 1 "all people" cannot mean every single person in the world - who of us could attempt to offer four different kinds of prayers (supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings) for all 5 billion people who are currently alive! Paul goes on to mention Kings and people in positions of high authority, because he recognizes that we tend to neglect praying for people that influence our lives from a distance. It's obvious that, in context, "all people" means the same thing in both verse 1 and verse 4, namely, "all kinds of people" - rich, poor, black, white, powerful, powerless, etc.

     This is related to one of the most important "mysteries" that God revealed in the New Covenant in Christ; that the people of God would no longer be ethnically and geographically limited primarily to Israel. The inclusion of the Gentiles and the “universalization” of the church was a new and exciting message that Paul was called by God to announce to the world. Therefore, he often emphasizes that the Gospel and the Kingdom are for all people, people from all nations, tribes, tongues, races, and social classes, no longer primarily for the Jews. Christ is the Savior for all men without distinction, not all men without exception.

     JOHN 3:16“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  

     It’s ironic that this verse is seen as contradicting Reformed theology, because I see the third chapter of John as one of the clearest presentations of the Reformed view of God's sovereignty over the process of salvation. The Bible does teach that God will save anyone who will come to Him by faith in Jesus Christ. However, the Bible also teaches that, in our fallen state, we are hostile to God and would never even want to come to Him unless He first changed our hearts (Romans 3). That change is what Christ is referring to in John 3:3-5, when He says, "...unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God...unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." He makes it clear that unless the Holy Spirit gives you a new, spiritual birth you will not see, understand, or desire to enter God's kingdom. In verse 8, Jesus refers to the doctrine of God's election, "The wind blows where it wishes...So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." In other words, no one controls God's Spirit; He regenerates all whom God has chosen. Paul says essentially the same thing in Romans 9:15-16: "For [God] says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.' So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy."

     So, what is the meaning of "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish...?” The issue here is similar to the question of what "all men" means in 1 Timothy 2. Here the problematic word is "world." If you do a concordance or word study on how the word "world" is used in Scripture, you find that it has at least four different meanings: 1) the created world: land, sea, sky, and creatures 2) the world that is under Satan's dominion, that is in opposition to Christ and the church 3) all the people in the world and 4) all the different nations and types of people in the world - not only the Jews, but the Gentiles also. 

     In the immediate context, "the world" corresponds to "whoever believes in Him," and in verse 17 Jesus says that God sent His Son "that the world might be saved through Him."

     Since Scripture is clear that everyone in the world will not be saved, the word "world" in these must mean all the elect from all nations, races, and social classes. Again, "whoever believes in Him" will not be lost, but we know from the rest of the chapter (and the rest of Scripture) that only those whom God chooses and regenerates by His Holy Spirit will have the ability to see and believe in Christ, and to enter God's Kingdom.

     2 PETER 3:9“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

     This verse says that God is delaying the return of Christ and the Day of Judgment because He is patient and is "not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." Again, the key issue is who do the words "any" and "all" refer to? The context of these verses answers the question very clearly. The whole sentence makes perfect sense if the specified audience ("you") corresponds to the words to the words "any" and "all": "The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise...but is patient towards you, not wishing that any [of you] should perish, but that all [of you] should reach repentance." So, again, the words "any" and "all" refer to the elect, not every single person on the earth.

     So, the doctrine of election affirms that everyone who turns from their sins and believes in Jesus Christ will be saved; however, sinners in their fallen state do not have the ability to repent and believe unless God takes away their heart of stone and gives them a heart that grieves over its sin, desires to come to God, and believes in the promises of Christ (Ezekiel 11:17-20). That's why God must choose us before we choose Him - a choice that He made, Scripture says, before the foundation of the world. Salvation is God's work, from beginning to end.

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Satan's Location

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ASK THE PASTOR BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor, Oakwood Presbyterian Church

      Question: “My child asked me today where Satan lives. How should I answer him?”

     Answer: I'll answer the question here as though I were answering an adult, and let you decide how to simplify/edit it for your child’s sake. Your description of Satan's whereabouts will play into your child’s assessment of Satan’s threat to his own well-being. As I see it, the main thing is to avoid the errors on both sides of the spectrum – making Satan seem either more dangerous or less dangerous than he really is. This is especially tricky when talking to young children. They will probably tend to overestimate his power, so it's good to stress God's love and protection for those who trust in Him at the beginning, middle, and end of any discussion. It is important that children understand that Satan is a fallen, high-ranking angel, a created being, far inferior to God in his being and power. Satan has powers far beyond mortal men, but he is not omniscient, omnipresent, or omnipotent.

     The Biblical answer is that Satan has been cast out of heaven and is active in the world. The idea that he is currently in hell is probably rooted in Milton's Paradise Lost, misinterpretations of the beginning of Revelation 20, and depictions in the “Far Side” cartoons. Whether Satan spends time in hell (the place where unbelievers are held in punishment for Judgment Day) or not, I don't know, but he won't be confined to the "lake of fire" (the place of eternal punishment) until after Christ returns. The Bible shows him to be right now in the world deceiving, tempting, and afflicting believers and unbelievers, and scheming against Christ and His church. Some Scriptures to consider:

     Revelation 12:10-13; "Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: 'Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down...Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.' When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child."

     Ephesians 2:1-2: "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient."

     1 John 5:19: "We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one."

     1 Peter 5:8-9: "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings."

     Ephesians 6:11-12: "Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. "

     On the positive side, Christ has defeated Satan at the Cross, and, in Christ, we have a far greater power available to us. As the Apostle John reassures us, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4). Jesus has the power and authority to command Satan to “get behind,” and He displayed absolute authority over the demons that He encountered while on earth. The Bible teaches that Satan is now “bound,” meaning not that he is totally confined, but that he can no longer deceive the nations (Revelation 20:3).

     The book of Job shows that Satan can do no more to us than what God permits for our testing and our good. In 2 Corinthians 12:7, Paul shows how God incorporates Satan’s attacks into His sovereign plan to sanctify Paul: "To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me," (It is God's purpose to keep Paul humble, not Satan's!). We are ultimately completely safe in Christ, although, for His good purposes, we may have to go to battle with Satan and get hurt in the process.

     “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7).

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