Wrong Doctrine, Mystery, and Faith

The Introduction of Bondage of the Will is summarizing Luther’s words on two main issues of salvation:

1. Can man save Himself outside of God’s willing it and making Him saved? Luther’s answer is no.

2. How can God send people to hell for doing what God made them do? Luther doesn’t know.

On both points, the conclusion is that God does stuff that doesn’t make any sense to us. In fact, God often does stuff that contradicts Scripture.

I kid you not, that’s what the Introduction says: God does things that contradict Scripture. Of course he tones it down a bit to say “it seems” like it contradicts Scripture, but let’s be real here. Luther says stuff that contradicts Scripture is clearly what is being said.

Here’s a quote from Luther:

If I could by any means understand how this same God, who makes such a show of wrath and unrighteousness, can yet be merciful and just, there would be no need for faith. But as it is, the impossibility of understanding makes room for the exercise of faith.

The author of the Introduction then says in the sentence after this quote:

And it is here, when faced with appearances that seem to contradict God’s own word, that faith is tried; for here, reason rises up in arms against it.

I already had trouble with what Luther has said about free will. I already thought Luther contradicts Scripture on any number of points. But to hear him come right out and admit that he does, AND FURTHER, to say that he has to contradict Scripture in order to have faith is unreal.

Let me throw one verse at you to contrast with the two quotes above, one of my favorite verses because it clarifies so much, Romans 10:17:

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

According to the Bible, God’s Word, faith means listening to God’s Word, believing exactly what God says.

According to Bondage of the Will, Luther’s word, faith means what you have when what you think disagrees with God’s word or when you don’t understand it.

It’s always amazing to me to watch people believe things and then struggle with how what they believe does not agree with the Bible. This is where “mystery” comes in.

Back to the Introduction:

Everything that God reveals about Himself transcends man’s comprehension; every doctrine, therefore, must of necessity terminate in mystery, and man must humbly acquiesce to having it so.

This is completely false. If everything God reveals is revealed to make no sense, then why did He reveal it? What’s the point of God revealing things if even after revealing it we don’t understand it?

God reveals things to be understood; that’s kind of the point of revfelation. The secret things belong to God; the things that are revealed belong to us.

Are there aspects of what God says that leave us with wonder and further questions? Certainly, but to assert that every doctrine God reveals leaves us sitting here not comprehending things is just nuts.

It’s mind boggling when theologians come to see that the Bible doesn’t say what they believe, that they don’t use that opportunity to change what they believe. Oh no! On the contrary, they get busy saying how the Bible is wrong or unclear.

They then use their non-sensical doctrine that the Bible disagrees with to be a sign of mature faith! You have faith when you have no clue what you’re talking about!

The Bible says faith is hearing God’s word. Faith is not what you have when you don’t understand God’s Word. God said stuff to be understood. Understanding God’s Word is actually what Faith is.

“By faith, all the people in Hebrews 11, sat around wondering at the mystery of what God told them to do.” Not what it says.

By faith, all the people in Hebrews 11, did exactly to the letter what God said because that’s what faith is: understanding and acting on exactly what God says. Faith does not show up in mysterious unclearness and uncomprehendingness.

If faith means trusting God when you’re clueless, then Romans 10 is out. I sincerely would mistrust anyone who told me faith is what you have in confusion. “I don’t understand anything, but oh well, guess I’ll push through and just believe.” That’s not faith.

Faith is unshakable confidence that God speaks truth and regardless of what I believe, think, or prefer, what God says is true, right, and understandable and then acts on it.

I fail to see how Luther’s understanding of faith would foster spiritual growth. Luther’s end of faith is complete confusion, not certainty–all doctrine terminates in mystery. That has to mean that the more you grow, the less you know. That’s just crazy.

Grace and Free Will

The other day I wrote a post about the long standing Christian tradition of opposing grace with human effort.

Human effort is the opposite of God’s grace. If you do stuff, you can’t have any relation with God’s grace.

Therefore, the people who emphasize grace the most are the ones who say they don’t do anything.

This explains why Calvinist doctrine, summed up with TULIP, are referred to by them as “the doctrines of grace.”

Calvinists go whole hog on this issue. They don’t think we do one thing on our own. Every single molecule of creation is always doing exactly what God tells it to do. Therefore, you don’t do anything. In their mind, this is why their doctrines are “THE doctrines of grace.”

The Introduction to Luther’s Bondage of the Will (yes, I’m still reading the Introduction), says:

The denial of ‘free-will’ was to Luther the foundation of the Biblical doctrine of grace, and a hearty endorsement of that denial was the first step for anyone who would understand the gospel and come to faith in God.

The author goes on to say that Erasmus (the guy Luther argues with in Bondage of the Will) thought people had an ability to do a small thing to be saved, we had something to do with it, not meriting our salvation, but there was something we did to initiate it.

Luther says “No.” There’s nothing we contribute. Salvation is of grace. If we did something then God owes us salvation, and God does not have to pay anyone for services rendered.

This is funny. Read the quote above again.

Did you see it?! Luther says heartily denying free will is the “first step” in coming to faith in God! Isn’t that something I have to do to get saved then Marty?!

This is where this whole “there’s no free will” argument just gets ridiculous.

Luther goes on to say that people who think they are saved by work and effort at least put a high price on salvation. Erasmus, who thinks it’s only a little thing we do to get salvation, treat salvation as though it’s cheap.

OK, but if people who do a lot for salvation hold salvation highly, and people who do a little to get saved value salvation cheaply, then please tell me how people who don’t think you do anything to get saved value salvation!

I’m still in the Introduction and I’m about to lose my mind.

Luther, Erasmus, and Weird Things Done With Grace

The next book on my pile is a book that’s been there a long time: The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther. I haven’t read much of it, I’m still in the Introduction. The Introduction is long. I’m going to be reading this book for a long time!

Luther’s Bondage of the Will is him responding to the ideas of Erasmus, a theologian type who didn’t like stuffy theologians. Erasmus was more of a mystic than an academic. Luther represents academic theology. They liked each other but had disagreements about grace and free will.

The Introduction says:

Erasmus followed Jerome in interpreting the justification by works against which Paul writes as merely justification by outward ceremonial observance. Luther, believing that any kind of effort or any contribution man may attempt to make toward his own salvation is works-righteousness, and therefore under condemnation, preferred the thorough-going exegesis of Augustine, who magnifies the grace of God.

Let me just pause to let you know how much I’d like to puke now.

This is going to be a long book.

I’m no scholar on Erasmus, I imagine I will learn more about what he taught by reading this book. I am not defending him since I don’t know what he said.

I would like to point out the trend I’ve noted in my time in Christianity that is plainly evident in the above quote.

Human effort is the opposite of God’s grace.

That’s the underlying assumption of the quote. Therefore, the more you emphasize grace; the less you’ll emphasize human effort.

This is a handy way to promote sloth and laziness as spiritual virtue.

This has been my experience in the church. I’ve seen Grace-Happy people try to outdo one another in how little they do. Their complete absence of any virtuous effort proves how much they love God and His grace.

In fact, some even go so far as to say that sinning is better than doing good works. Sin requires grace; good works make grace unnecessary and lead to self-sufficient pride.

“Should we sin that grace may abound?” Paul asked. His answer was no. Much of Christianity’s answer has been, “Yeah, actually, that sounds reasonable.”

It is clearly true we are not saved by works. It is also equally clearly true that good works always come out of salvation. Ephesians 2:8-9 are always followed by an Ephesians 2:10.

“Faith without works is dead” is how James put it.

Luther wanted to throw the Book of James in the furnace.

Faith without obedience and works is not faith. It just isn’t. By faith people do what God says. If you don’t do what God says, then you’re not exercising faith.

The Bible is clear on this point.

People who like to sin muddy the clearness of the issue. We like to think that what we do doesn’t matter. God tells us what we do matters quite a bit; every judgment in the Bible is based on works. There are no exceptions.

But the popular belief in Christianity is that you doing stuff means you hate grace and are trying to merit your own salvation.

People need to read their Bibles more.

God provided the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the only means by which we can be saved. It’s the just way to justify the ungodly. We give ourselves to Him, to His grace, to save us, to deliver us from sin. One of the main reasons you come to the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to be freed from sin. Upon receiving His grace and the new birth, becoming a partaker of the divine nature, you can now use all that God has given you to pursue Christlikeness and spiritual growth.

If there is no change in character, if righteousness doesn’t show up, then you didn’t get God’s grace. If there’s no new life, you’ve not become a servant of righteousness, there’s no sanctification and progress in faith, then grace didn’t show up.

You don’t prove you have God’s grace by how little you do; you prove you have God’s grace because you are able to do, and desire to do, what God says.

And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work
–2 Corinthians 9:8

Cain and Abel and Who Can You Listen To?

The point of Cain and Abel is that we don’t like people who make us look bad. Instead of reforming our ways, we’ll eliminate those who look better. People who look better than you, show that it’s possible to be better. How annoying.

Therefore, humanity decides not to listen to people who are better than us.

Here’s the funny thing though: we don’t listen to people who are worse than us either!

Why would I listen to someone beneath me? Humans ignore people who are beneath us.

This leaves humanity in an odd place of only listening to people who we deem to be on our level, which is about four people. Maybe. Depends on what day it is. Probably only two on average.

Humans don’t listen. That’s why faith is hard. Faith comes by hearing. We don’t hear.

God is infinitely better than us. When God became flesh and dwelt among us; we killed Him.

At the same time, people constantly judge God for all His wrath and why He does things the way He does and “if I were God” I would certainly run things differently.

God is simultaneously above us and beneath us, bottom line then is that we don’t listen to Him. Not a chance. We can’t figure out what level He’s on, but we know it aint ours.

Learn to listen. This doesn’t mean you agree with everything, but be careful of dismissing people. If they annoy you with their smarts, chill. You can learn from people who are smarter than you. If they annoy you with their lack of hygiene and mental insight, chill. Knowledge puffs up, there are a lot of dumb smart people out there. Sometimes getting a fresh, uneducated opinion is refreshing and insightful.

Don’t cross people off your list because of how they look, think, or smell.

This is very difficult. I’m not saying I’m the expert at this, but I do think it’s true. As Paul said, “Prove all things, hold fast to that which is good.”

Doing that is hard. It takes study and thought. That’s why your brain makes assumptions about people based on their appearance and intellectual attainments. It’s easier to dismiss someone for who they are than it is to think about what they are saying.

In the end, listening is the backbone of faith. Faith is a big deal in Christianity. Learn to listen, and above all, learn to listen to God. He has the words of eternal life. Everything God says is good, you can let down your guard with Him.

For people, test the spirits. Hold fast to that which is good. Every person says stupid stuff. Be discerning, do the work and be gentle with those you deem are wrong, cuz it might be you.

Unger’s Dictionary on Moses Being Meekest Man on Earth

Numbers 12:3 says, “Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.

This is often laughed at because Moses wrote the Book of Numbers, therefore, Moses is saying he is the meekest man on the earth! How does the meekest man on earth say such a thing about himself?!

Unger’s says this under the entry on Moses: Character

The word meek is hardly an adequate reading of the Hebrew anaw, which should rather be much enduring. It represents what we should now designate by the word disinterested. All that is told of him indicates a withdrawal of himself, a preference of the cause of his nation to his own interests, which makes him the most complete example of Jewish patriotism.

Unger says he gets this from Smith’s Bible Dictionary.

I cannot find any other dictionary that takes this approach to the Hebrew word anaw. Therefore I am left wondering if this is legit or just one guy’s idea.

Most dictionaries give the definition as depressed, bowed down, lowly. The word is used 18 times and is either translated meek or poor.

Much enduring and disinterested seems foreign to the essential idea and appears to be a reading into the word.

It’s important to remember that many Bible dictionaries are biased toward interpretation and doctrinal camps. You should use a multitude of these resources and stick with how the definitions overlap rather than some guys idea that makes him feel better about a verse.

That’s my idea anyway.

T. W. Hunt on Jesus and Eating Food

In The Mind of Christ, author T. W. Hunt says this about Jesus and food:

Jesus was the most wholesome man who ever lived. He loved his friends and cultivated their companionship. He even loved to eat. Every Pharisaic charge held some grain of truth. They called him a glutton, so obviously they had noticed that he enjoyed eating. Some of them invited him for meals. Jesus was no more a glutton than he was a drunkard, but he evidently ate with relish. He also knew when the next bite would be sin.

Now, I could easily make a joke about Jesus eating with relish, but I’m not going to do that.

I’m going to be mature and comment on the point.

My comment would be this: I don’t know about that.

I like the idea, I’m not opposed to it. One of my favorite points from the Bible is that one of the few things Ecclesiastes says isn’t vain is eating and drinking well. I think Jesus being a good eater fits nicely.

At the same time, I also know Pharisaic judgments are grossly overstated opinions based on very little factual evidence. Therefore, I’m not sure the conclusion would be that Jesus ate in the manner of a glutton.

He didn’t have a home. He ate out a lot. He ate in public. Pharisees saw him eating in public. Only gluttons were seen eating that much, but he didn’t have a home to eat it.

That’s how I always interpreted their criticism.

The criticism might mean he ate with relish, but I guess I’d have to come up short from being sure about it. I don’t even know that he liked pickles.

I like the idea. It made me think. I had to pause and read it again and think about it. I’m not totally opposed, just not sure I can digest the whole thing with relish.

Andrew Murray on Unanswered Prayers

Prayer is a misunderstood and totally beaten to death subject.

The Bible is pretty clear about prayer, how it works, and what it does.

The problem Christians have is that our experience does not measure up to what it says. And when push comes to shove, we cling to our experience more than the Bible.

One verse that puts things clearly is John 15:7:

If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.

Every Christian is going to claim that they abide in Christ; yet every Christian must admit they don’t get what they pray for. Jesus seems to say that getting what you pray for is the proof you’re abiding in Christ. We don’t get what we pray for, therefore, Jesus must be wrong.

It is at this point where creativity joins Christianity. How can we justify our ineffective prayers and still feel good about ourselves? Surely there must be another verse we can throw in to loophole our way out of this jam.

Here’s what Andrew Murray has to say about John 15:7

In all God’s relations with us, the promise and its conditions are inseparable. If we fulfill the conditions; He fulfills the promise.

Now, already I can hear certain Christian heads exploding. “That’s Law! That’s a yoke of bondage! Grace just gives promises; we don’t have to do anything. Christ did it all for us!”

I’m inclined to agree with Murray on this one because that is indeed how the Bible presents things, even in the New Testament. All God’s promises will be realized only if we do things the way He says. God is not mocked; you reap what you sow.

Fully abiding in Him, we have the right to ask whatever we want and the promise that we will get an answer. There is a terrible discrepancy between this promise and the experience of most believers. How many prayers bring no answer? The cause must be either that we do not fulfill the conditions, or God does not fulfill the promise. Believers are not willing to admit either and therefore have devised a way of escape from the dilemma.

They put a qualifying clause into the promise that our Savior did not put there–if it be God’s will. This maintains both God’s integrity and their own. If they could only accept it and hold fast to it as it stands, trusting Christ to make it true! And if only they would confess their failure in fulfilling the condition as the one explanation for unanswered prayer. God’s Spirit would then lead them to see how appropriate such a promise is to those who really believe that Christ means it.

The problem with going with Murray’s idea is that the burden is on us. No one likes burdens on them. We like fuzzy notions of grace and happy thoughts.

But we also know we’d really like our prayers to be answered and for our prayer life to be richer. But as long as we hang on to fuzzy happy thoughts don’t count on your prayer life going anywhere.

The issue is not about getting stuff; the issue is about abiding in Christ. As we abide in Christ we will pray better, more informed, God-honoring prayers.

God does not answer our prayers to feed our flesh. He answers prayers so that we grow in Christ. Answered prayer is not a slot machine payout; it’s a proof that we are abiding in Christ.

The Father intends the answer to be a token of His favor and of the reality of our fellowship with Him.

Your experience with prayer falls short of how the Bible speaks of prayer. Instead of chalking it up to fate and some murky idea of “God’s will,” maybe consider the substance of your prayer, the state of your heart in asking, and your growth in Christ overall.

If these things are going well, I’d fully expect more answered prayer and I fully expect people to be ticked about me claiming that.