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

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.

Health and Wealth is American Christianity

A recent LifeWay study found that 75% of Evangelicals believe that God wants them to materially prosper.

The Health and Wealth Gospel used to be a peripheral message in the church; it is now one of our new fundamentals of the faith.

The Bible is massively against materialism and material success. It, in fact, says that the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke out faith.

If you trace back the Health and Wealth Gospel you will find it originated around a guy named DL Moody.

Moody, in order to fund his revivals and his schools, hit up businessmen constantly for money. In order to get money from rich guys, you have to preach a message that doesn’t make rich guys feel guilty.

Mr. John Wanamaker was a successful businessman. He invited Moody to speak at a lecture for businessman that would be “tailored more than any that preceded it to the needs of business and professional people who wanted to be freed from the guilt of doing what they were doing.”

In other words, don’t make them feel guilty for making money.

Moody dipped into Health and Wealth teaching when he wrote, “It’s a wonderful fact that men and women saved by the blood of Jesus rarely remain subjects of charity, but rise at once to comfort and respectability.”

He later said, “I don’t see how a man can follow Christ and not be successful.”

Clearly, DL Moody was not as extreme as some of our modern televangelists. But he got awful close. There is a dark side to American revivalists, one that seems to follow the tents. DL Moody, Billy Sunday, right on up to the modern televangelists.

There’s something about coming up with a message that appeals to a large audience that seems to feed on materialism. Perhaps because people want wealth and desperately want to get rich quick. If we can make the Gospel sound like the trick, people will “get saved.”

I’m not trying to besmirch anyone’s character, I merely point out Church History facts. The Health and Wealth Gospel didn’t drop out of the sky! There’s a logical and recorded development that got us where we are today.

If you think Christianity is going to make you rich, successful, and respectable, I suggest not reading the Bible, for that will end your dream.

American Postmillennialism

Postmillennialism is the belief that humans, by revamping society by means of taking over the world with Christianity, will usher in the Kingdom of God.

After this Golden Age ushered in by God’s people, Christ will return (hence “Post” millennium–Christ returns after the Golden Age we establish).

This used to be a standard view of many people, and was particularly popular in America in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

Jonathan Edwards, one of America’s most famous theologians, was a postmillennialist. When he looked upon the results of the Great Awakening, he said:

‘Tis not unlikely that this work of God’s Spirit, that is so extraordinary and wonderful, is the dawning, or at least a prelude, of that glorious work of God, so often foretold in Scripture…. And there are many things that make it probable that this work will begin in America.

The Great Awakenings felt like the start of something big. It also fed into the notion that America was the shining city on a hill, leading the world to the coming of the Lord.

The Millennium, for postmillennialists, is not necessarily 1,000 years. When Revelation 20 mentions 1,000 years 7 times, 1,000 years merely represents an age.

In order to believe Postmillennialism you have to interpret the Scriptures symbolically, or spiritually, or at least not literally. This is true whether you are dealing with the 1,000 years of Revelation 20 or the prophecies about judgment in Revelation before then, or prophecies concerning the regathering of Israel, etc.

You also have to believe in the power of humanity to reform the world and that the church will win in the end. A little too ambitiously optimistic for this guy!

It was a heady time in America when Postmillennialism was popular. The Enlightenment filled humans with grandiose ideas of their potential. America was optimistic and two Great Awakenings swept the land. Christianity was large and in charge. The Battle Hymn of the Republic is pretty much a Postmillennial rally song.

A funny thing happened on the way to the humanly ushered in Millennium: the world wide scope of evil on display in the 20th Century. Pretty hard to come out of two world wars, depression, sexual revolutions, and whatnot and conclude we were making progress toward a Golden Age of Christian Victory.

Very few people are postmillennialists today. But I imagine it will come back if we have a sustained period of peace.

In fact, the modern Social Gospel movement borrows much postmillennial thought.

It is my contention, that when the Church concentrates of societal reform, they will lose their identity and purpose. The Church does not exist for the world. The Church exists for the edification of believers so they can be edified and built up to love their neighbor.

It’s easy to blur that line, or put the cart before the horse on that one, or replace “neighbor,” which is a person, with “society,” which is an unidentifiable mass of people. Regardless of how well the Church does in their mission, I guarantee you human endeavor will not bring Christ back.

Postmillennialism is basically Humanism with a Christian veneer. I suggest not falling for it, or its modern manifestation: the Social Gospel.

R C Sproul’s Calvinism is Mind-boggling

Here are two quotes from RC Sproul. These are not obscure quotes. These are oft repeated quotes from him.

If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled.

This quote says that every single piece of creation is doing exactly what God tells it to do. “Sovereignty,” for Sproul, means God is in meticulous control of everything. Being in charge means dictating absolutely everything that everything does. If God is not dictating every element of creation, then God is not sovereign.

So now, the exact same man says this quote:

Every sin is an act of cosmic treason, a futile attempt to dethrone God in His sovereign authority.

Every sin is going against God’s sovereign authority. Sin is cosmic treason.

I don’t get it.

I know this is where the Calvinist chalks things up to “mystery.” But no, this isn’t a mystery, one of the two has to be false.

If every molecule is doing what God tells it to do, then how can molecules join together to commit cosmic treason?

The best solution to the contradiction is not chalking it up to mystery, and it certainly isn’t deciding that nothing is really sin, but admitting his understanding of sovereignty is wrong.

God is sovereign. Sovereign does not mean making every part of creation do what He wants it to do.

God establishes boundaries. Creation is free inside those boundaries. God is in control to restrict any violation of the boundaries. Nothing is out of His reach to intervene.

I do believe sin is cosmic treason. I’ll take that quote over his molecule quote, that one is just nuts.

Don’t get carried away in your theological ideas. Pretty soon you don’t make sense. Incoherence isn’t proof of mystery; it’s proof your theology has derailed.