Prayer: The Catalyst of God’s Actions

Something to reflect and meditate on as you seek the Lord’s will.

Prayer is how God accomplishes his will—through moving the hearts and wills of others to carryout his purposes in bringing lost sinners to Christ, sanctifying and preserving them to glory.

So, though God is sovereign, it doesn’t negate the necessity and power of our prayers to move God to action (not to be understood as open theists see it).

Prayer is how God works to bring about his purposes. Our salvation and sanctification are the effect flowing from causal prayer. Lets see some Scripture to demonstrate what I mean.

Jesus says in Matthew 9:38, “therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” That is a very interesting statement, considering that the harvest belongs to the Lord and is the one who brings the growth (1 Cor. 3:6-7). While God has decreed to save a people for himself (Revelation 5:9-10), and nothing can stop him from doing so (Matt. 16:18), Jesus asks that we pray earnestly for the Lord to send out laborers to do this work in building the church. Why is that? God desires for us to earnestly want that (Matt. 6:33).

Prior to Peter’s betrayal, Jesus says to Peter that he has prayed for him that his “faith may not fail” (Luke 22:32). Peter’s faith doesn’t fail because Christ prayed for him. God ordained for Peter to have enduring faith, but that secured salvation was brought about through the prayers of Christ.

In John 17:9, Christ says that he is praying for those whom the Father has given him. Why is he praying for them, considering what he said earlier: “I give them [those whom the Father has given him] eternal life and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. . . . [And] no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (10:28,29)? God has ordained to save those whom he has called, but his saving them is through the prayers of Christ.

In Acts 8, Peter rebukes Simon the magician for his desire to purchase the power of the Spirit to use as he pleases. Peter said for him to “pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you” (v.22). If God is going to forgive him, prayer is going to be the means through which this forgiveness will come about.

Paul’s prayers under gird the sanctification of the churches he shepherds and the power of his ministry.

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul and Timothy, since hearing of their conversion to Christ, have not ceased praying for them, asking that God would fill them with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding (Col. 1:9). The praying serves as the catalyst—the desire to God—that he would fill them and grow them in Christ. Their sanctification is rooted in answer to prayer. Paul and Timothy ask in prayer because they have the confidence in God that if they ask anything according to his will, they are heard (1 John 5:14), with full assurance that God will supply every need, according to his riches in glory in Christ (Phil 4:19). God’s will is for our sanctification (1 Thess. 4:13), and it is brought about through the payers of the saints.

He asks for the Ephesians to be “praying at all times in the Spirit . . . and also for me that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel” (6:18,19). And he asks the Colossians to “pray . . . that God may open us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ” (Col. 4:3).

The advancement of his ministry—the power of the gospel—is brought about through prayer.

Even for us to increase in love to each other is rooted in prayer for the Lord to bring that about (1 Thess 3:12).

What is of the utmost importance to realize is that . . .

Because God has ordained all events to come to pass, even the prayers leading to and/or serving as the cause of those events, then the events cannot come to pass unless the prayers that are ordained come to pass before hand.

That is huge.

God’s working in the world is mountain-moving work (Matt. 17:20). That is why he says to have that kind of faith. And to see lost sinners changed from children of wrath (Eph. 2:3) to children of light (1 Thess. 5:5), is a mighty work, requiring mighty prayer.

We must pray to move mountains; nature-changing is mountain moving.

That is why we are called to be “devoted to prayer” (Romans 12:12)

 

–Romans 11:36

 

The Doctrine of Original Sin: If You Reject it, then You Have to Reject Christ’s Righteousness

In my recent discussions with a few open theists, the doctrine of original sin became a source of contention. They argue that the Bible doesn’t teach such a doctrine—that is, all are born in the sin of Adam, inheriting his sin nature, which God has given over to all of mankind (This is also known as Pelagianism).

So, when theologians speak of original sin, they are not speaking about the first sin of humanity per se; rather, they are referring to the effects of Adam’s first sin upon his posterity. All born after Adam have inherited the guilt of his first sin, the loss of original righteousness (that state of fellowship as God originally created man to exist in with him), and the corruption of our whole nature. Adam was the head of the human race, and when he fell, we all fell in him. What it ultimately teaches is that we are all sinful not by actions but through progenation; specifically, we are not sinners we because sin; we sin because we are sinners.

Stemming from the doctrine of original sin is the teaching of federal headship. And open theists reject this doctrine as well, (1) which teaches that Adam’s action, as the head of the human race, to disobey God’s command, results in our condemnation.

What open theists believe is we are only culpable for our individual sins. Our individual sins alone are what count against us. While it is true that we are all going to have our sins brought before us (Romans 2:16), what they don’t realize is that if we don’t accept Adam’s headship, we have to reject Christ’s headship for the new humanity, for Paul is the one who makes this contrast in Romans 5:12-19 between the head of the old, fallen humanity and the Head of the new, redeemed humanity. Now, I know we would never consider rejecting Christ’s free gift; however, I think many want to reject Adam’s freely chosen trespass. But we need to be consistent!

Let’s examine these verses:

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 

– Sin came into the world through the Adam’s sin, producing death.
– All die because all sinned (both Adam and his progeny, which the biblical narrative demonstrates clearly in the idolatrous nature of mankind)
– There is a causal inference here.

The Bible is clear that all people without exception sin (except Christ) (Romans 3:23). As Adam’s progeny, we are all under the power of sin (Romans 6:14). While we will answer for each sin, our judgment remains because of Adam’s sin, for Adam’s sin is imputed to us. This will be more apparent in verses 18-19. We are all separated from God. That is why Christ did not come from Adam, so he would not be in sin by virtue of Adam’s imputation of sin to all his posterity. Furthermore, if you remember the Genesis 3 account, it was Eve who actually sinned first; however, it was Adam who was held accountable for it. But what did he do? He immediately tried to pass the blame on her. So even then, we see the headship role Adam had over humanity, with the first being his wife.

13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 

– Sin was in the world before the law. Why? Because of Adam’s sin.
– Though sin was not counted before the law, people still died. Why? By virtue of entering the world in a state of death, all humans sinned. Adam’s transgression meant condemnation for all (see vv.18-19)

14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

– Again, ‘yet’ death reigned from Adam to Moses, explaining why people died though they did not have the law.
– Adam was a type, being head of humanity, as Christ is head of the new humanity.

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.

– Christ’s free gift was his perfect life of obedience to God, his offering for reconciliation, leading to eternal life and fellowship with God—which is not like Adam’s trespass; his act of unrighteousness severed that relationship.
– Many died through Adam; many are made alive through Christ (his act of righteousness).
– Though all die through Adam, the ‘many’ are those who are in Christ (Unless you are a universalist).

16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.

– The free gift results in life; Adam’s sin resulted in death (for all, the many included).
Key point: Judgment followed the one trespass, bringing condemnation—for all
Key point: The free gift, Christ’s act of righteousness, brought justification—for many
– Christ’s act does not include all, otherwise that would mean universalism.

This is really important to understand, for I know many may struggle with this. As I mentioned in my introduction, we are under judgment for Adam’s sin; it brought condemnation for all.

17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. 

Death reigns because of one man’s trespass (to all and many).
Righteousness reigns because of One Man’s righteous act (only to the many).

  • Here is the conclusion of vv. 15-17; therefore
  • Adam’s trespass resulted in condemnation for all men.
  • Christ’s act of righteousness results in justification and life for all men.
  • By Adam’s disobedience many were made sinners.
  • By Christ’s obedience many will be made righteous.

It may sound a bit repetitive, but it is important that you see the contrast and groupings of the old humanity under Adam and the new humanity under Christ.

-What is the relationship between Adam and us?
-Why do all without exception sin? Verse 18-19 explains

18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

– Because of Adam’s trespass, death reigned through him, leading to condemnation for all men.
– Because of Christ’s act of righteousness, justification and life is given to all men in Christ.
– Verse 19 shows us what Christ’s gift does for the many, who were made sinners by Adam’s disobedience—they, the many, are made righteous.

So, what we see is that all men are physically born, stemming from the root of Adam; therefore, all men receive condemnation for Adam’s trespass. Christ’s, representing those who are born of God (the elect), act of righteousness results in justification for all of those he represents. The many that were made sinners through Adam’s disobedience are the many that will be made righteous through Christ’s obedience.

Here are some important points to see in this:

Did we do anything to earn righteousness on own individual efforts? No
Did we do anything to earn condemnation by our own individual efforts? No

However, after the fall of Adam, our nature in Adam is corrupted, and we can do nothing but sin, so we are judged by our works. But after the resurrection of Christ, our nature in Christ is restored, and we can now live righteously.

This is the big picture of Paul’s argument. And if one rejects the portion regarding Adam, then one also has to reject his argument about Christ because the logic of the argument is the same for both.

If you don’t get the sin from Adam, then you don’t get the righteousness from Christ.

If you struggle in accepting Adam’s sin, just think of it this way: if you were in his place, you would have done the same exact thing, and we could all be under the headship of Bob or Jack or Steve. We know we sin because we are sinners and that is why we need a Savior who can redeem us and regenerate our hearts to love God and no longer turn away from him

 

—Romans 11:36

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1. I don’t intend to speak for all open theists; however, my experience has demonstrated that this is so.

Penal Substitutionary Atonement a Lie? Part 1

In the beginning of December, one of my pastors took a detour from his normal feeding of expositional preaching to go through a systematic exposition on the cross. Though Christmas is generally focused on the sending of the Son, he wanted to spend some time on the giving of the Son. Ultimately, Christ came for a purpose, and that purpose was to give his life for his sheep (John 10:15).

What Christ did on the cross for his sheep is the crux (Latin for cross, which is where we get the term when speaking of the central issue of a situation—thanks pastor Mo!) of the New Testament. In fact, it is the pivotal moment in all of redemptive history, of which God purposed to come to pass before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:20), with the cross itself, what it stands for, becoming the archetype of the Christian faith.

Christ’s giving up his life was The Great Exchange, which is really a reversal of which man originally exchanged—the glory of God for that of images resembling mortal man (Romans 1:23). Mankind exchanged the truth of God for the lie of man.

Paul makes man’s guilt quite clear:

“Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what not ought not be done” (Romans 1:28). “They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (1:29-32).

“He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality” (2:6-11).

When reading this, the Christian should feel a deep sense of gratitude for what the Savior has done for us. Paul says, Christ was “delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). Christ “died for the ungodly” (5:6), giving “himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Galatians 1:4). His life was “a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

God’s grace is truly amazing grace. However, there are those who want to diminish this grace by denying this great exchange. In theological terms, the great exchange is called the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement. Second Corinthians 5:21 most pointedly expresses this doctrine: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

I came across a blog article by pastor Adam Ericksen titled, “The Nonviolent Atonement: God’s Grace Upon Grace.” His understanding of grace was quite saddening because it diminishes the work of Christ on the cross.

He begins his article telling a story about an 85-year-old woman, who was nearing the end of her life. She was on her death bed and “felt the weight of guilt and anxiety of abandoning God.” She was raised a Catholic but fell away from it and never felt at home in a Protestant church. And because of her not going to church, she felt she had turned her back on God. She was “not in a state of grace,” she said.

She is using terminology of the Roman Catholic Church, which doesn’t teach that salvation is through grace alone, which the Bible clearly teaches (Ephesians 2:8-10).

His next paragraph is where I began to see that his theology of man, sin, and grace is quite flimsy. He writes,

That’s when my heart broke. She felt guilty because she believed she had abandoned God and so God had abandoned her. I began to think of all the damage many religious people have caused throughout the centuries by imposing guilt upon people. A religion that piles on the guilt isn’t worth following. A god who inflicts guilt upon us isn’t a god worthy of belief.

While there is some truth to his comments regarding the damage that other biblical religions and cults have done to their members, his statement regarding her guilt . . . broke his heart?  Now, since I do not know this woman, I do not want to speculate about her spiritual condition further than what I can pick up in the article. However, a sinner should feel guilty for abandoning God. Mr. Ericksen should be happy that she feels that way because it demonstrates she has an awareness of sin and idolatry in her heart. Did we not just go through a few verses from Paul, raking mankind over the coals for its transgression of God’s law? If she feels guilty for turning her back on God, then praise the Lord! Second Corinthians 7:10a says, “godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation.”

The last sentence was perplexing. He writes, “A god who inflicts guilt upon us isn’t a god worthy of belief.” I must ask then, “What does the Holy Spirit do?” In John’s Gospel, Christ says that when he goes to the Father, he will send the Holy Spirit, who “will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).

The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Trinity, God of God, holy and righteous. If he brings conviction upon a person’s heart, making him see his guilt for turning from him, that makes him . . . unworthy of belief? The only way a person can believe is if the Spirit inflicts guilt upon him. The Spirit must open the sinners heart and mind, showing him his sin and transgression of his sin, causing him to go to the cross. Because without the Spirit, the sinner is unable to see and discern things of God (1 Corinthians 2:14-15; cf. Romans 8:7-8). If a person does not feel guilty for turning from God, then the Spirit is not in him; one can only proclaim Christ as Lord in the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3).

Mr. Eriksen needs to remember that man in his depravity does not seek God (Romans 3:11); therefore, guilt brought on by God is needed if man is to see ‘Grace Upon Grace.’

Part 2 will be posted next week. God bless.

—Romans 11:36