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Written by: C. W. Booth

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Is It a Blessing or a Sign?

My teenaged son returned from summer camp this past week. I never know what to expect when that happens. Last year it was an appeal to be allowed to pursue attending college (in a couple years) at Cedarville. His camp counselor was a Cedarville attendee and he wanted to emulate him (as much esteem as I hold for Cedarville, it is far too expensive for me and my son, yet, a year later he is still dropping hints that he wants to attend there).

This year he sat on the couch reading a book that the camp speaker had given out. I could not pry it from his hands to see what the content was about. A day later he looked up and said, "Dad, do you believe you can know the will of God?" That was followed by several hours of questions, including, "Do you believe that God does miracles today?" and "Do you believe that God gives you signs?" I just love summer camp (for those who do not know me, I am not joking or being sarcastic in the least--I just love Christian summer camp because little else floats my boat than to have my own child ask me penetrating theological questions).

Even my wife was surprised at my response that I do not look for, or expect, supernatural signs from God to make decisions or confirm decisions already made. She asked, "But we just got those tax refunds in exactly the amount we spent on his summer camp--surely that was a sign that we were supposed to have sent him to Christian summer camp--otherwise, what would you call it?" I replied, "I would call it a blessing."

Looking for signs is an indication of disbelief. Gideon lacked faith to believe the prophetic word of God, so he invented a sign by which he demanded that God affirm that He was not lying when He prophesied Gideon would be victorious. Similarly, when the scribes and Pharisees could not believe that Jesus was from God, they demanded Jesus prove Himself by giving them a supernatural sign. Jesus declined and told them that those who demand a sign so as to believe God are perverse and evil because they lack faith.

God has given us the faculties to make godly decisions, the Holy Spirit within guides our thinking toward the scriptural principles of wisdom, and He continuously makes our hearts and minds to desire to do the work of holiness (just as He hardens the hearts of those who hate Him). Those three things, logical minds, scriptural wisdom, and a desire to be holy in His service, are sufficient to make "good" decisions.

Signs in the Scriptures were not often used by God to affirm the decision making process, but mostly to give evidence that His messenger spoke for Him: Jesus used signs to make it evident that He was the Messiah (but declined to give signs when it was demanded that he do so), Moses used signs to demonstrate he was a prophet to Pharaoh, Paul used signs to show he was an apostle. Signs, supernatural miracles, were used to give evidence that the speaker was true, but not to indicate what choices to make in the decision making process, and never "on demand" by the unfaithful.

For that reason I view the unexpected tax refunds as blessings, gifts, from the Lord and not signs. In fact, the sign would have been too late anyway. We had already made the decision to send our son to camp without knowing about the tax refund money. We made the decision based on what we thought would be best for our son and best for Godís kingdom. The decision was already made. Could the refunds be seen as confirmation that the right decision had been made? No. My sonís response to the spiritual instruction he received was already sufficient confirmation that it was a wise decision. Would lack of a refund have been a counter-sign? No, for it never was expected and would never have been missed. The refund was a blessing. It was unexpected and had played no part in our decision making or in our sonís response to camp.

But, without signs, how will we know how to make the right decision? We donít, not always. Just as Paul continually wanted to get to Rome (he eventually did, but not in the way he had wanted), or just as Paul desired to go to Bithynia and the Holy Spirit prevented him, our decisions are subject to "the will of the Lord" which means He institutes unexpected redirection (James 4:13-17). Was not the entire point of Jobís story to demonstrate that God does everything for His own hidden purposes, He redirects or undoes our best plans, and He owes us no explanation? Does not Ecclesiastes tell us that God hides from man the outcomes of his decisions (Ecclesiastes 6:12, 10:14) and that neither days of adversity nor wealth can reveal Godís true purposes or even what the next day will bring to a man (Ecclesiastes 7:14)? Does this not all teach us to NOT rely on circumstances as "signs"?

Paul did not rely on signs, but rather looked for opportunities to evangelize and teach. He called these opportunities open doors (Colossians 4:3 1 Corinthians 16:9), and the lack of them, closed doors. And all such times are of the Lord. Paul did not see circumstances as signs of Godís favor on his decision making, but that all circumstances were good for one thing, "is this a chance to preach and teach?"

No, I do not believe in looking for signs to make my decisions. I try to ask with sincerity, "Is this the right thing to do for the kingdom, for my family, and as a steward of what God has entrusted to me?" There are no signs, only opportunities, so that "man will not discover anything that will be after him." The decisions are ours, but only as the Lord wills, because the outcomes are entirely up to Him for His own good purposes and reasons which He need not share with anyone.



Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Only One Gospel: From Cain and Abel to the Apostle Paul

Below is an email sent to some students summarizing a set of classes in Romans 3 which I recently concluded. Since the email was originally only meant to summarize the contents of the classes for those who attended, the language and grammar are a bit irregular, and I am not going to take the time here needed to smooth them out. Nonetheless, I hope the summary conveys the gist of the global, timeless, and unchanging aspects of the gospel message.

We discovered that the gospel, the good news, is "God's promise of salvation to humankind to those who have faith."  We learned the staggering truth that the gospel delivered to Cain and Abel (remember our Hebrews 11 study?) was the same gospel delivered to King David, which was the same gospel delivered to John the Baptist, which was the same gospel delivered by Jesus, which was the same gospel delivered by Paul, and is the same gospel we deliver to the world today!

Just one gospel.  God saves sinners on the basis of the faith they place in Him as Savior.  Before the Law, Abraham was saved by faith in God.  During the Law, the Law saved no one--it was not the gospel.  During the Law, people were saved only by faith; they had their hearts renewed, their spirits revitalized, and their sins forgiven on the basis of faith.  After the Law, now, people are saved only by faith, and their hearts are renewed, their spirits made alive again, and their sins forgiven.

The only difference between then (during the Law) and now is that we know now that Christ is the begotten God, the God Who became a man, to save His creatures.  Before He came, during the Law, they knew only that God saves.  How did God save before Jesus became the sacrifice?  The animal sacrifices did not save, but God did "pass over" sins confessed with an animal sacrifice, but He only passed over them until the final sacrifice.  That final sacrifice brings forgiveness of all past sins, present sins, and all confessed future sins.  The animal sacrifices were symbols of the faith that the people had placed in God, as Savior, and God promised them He would forgive them.  God always honors His promises.

Salvation is always a promise of ultimate final redemption.  Salvation is both "now" but "not yet."  We have the renewed hearts and spirits now, the promise of ultimate salvation now, and the Holy Spirit as the guarantee of that ultimate salvation now.  But what need do we have of a promise if we have salvation now?  Because there is a final redemption coming, a final change from this corruptible body (which will be resurrected) into an incorruptible body for eternal life with God--He has promised and God never lies. We have salvation now, but the final form of it yet to come.

The gospel, the promise of God's salvation on the basis of faith, has not changed age to age. The exact nature of the fulfillment of that promise, that is that Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise via His life, death, and resurrection, was not given until 2000 years ago, but the gospel itself, the promise of God's salvation on the basis of faith, is still the same as it always was. The Law never saved anyone, faith in the Law never saved anyone, and faith in sacrifices did not save anyone. Faith in God saved all who believed, all who believe, and all who will believe.

As Paul said, a Jew could be a Jew via his blood line, and keep the Law (as best he could), but not be a Jew in heart, and so not be a spiritual son of Abraham, but merely a son of Adam. A gentile may ignore the Law of Moses but embrace Christ by faith and so become a spiritual son of Abraham in spite of having once been a son of Adam. So it is our goal to be known as sons and daughters of Abraham, spiritual Jews, adopted by God our Father, joint heirs with Christ.

Scripture Passages on the continuity of the gospel message:

There only ever was one Savior of humanity

Isaiah 45:21, 49:26, John 4:42

Messiah (the coming Savior) foretold (not a contradiction of Isaiah 45:21, but the fulfillment of it)

Daniel 9:25-26, Isaiah 9:6-7, Jeremiah 31:6-13

There never was a distinction between Jews and Gentiles

Romans 3:22, Jeremiah 3:17

All humanity sinned - Jews and Gentiles

Romans 3:23, Isaiah 53:6-7, Psalm 14:1-3

One gospel for all humanity for all time

Hebrews 10:38-12:3, Matthew 4:23, 9:35, 11:5, 24:14, 26:3, Mark 1:1, 1:14, 8:35, 10:29, 13:10, 14:9, 16:15, Luke 3:18, 4:18, 7:22, 9:6, 16:16, 20:1, Acts (seamless transition from the gospel of faith and repentance that Jesus taught to the gospel of faith and repentance that Paul ended up teaching)

Old Testament View of What Happens to a Man of Faith

New Heart: Ezekiel 36:25-26, 18:30-31, Psalm 51:9-13, Jeremiah 32:40

Spirit Made Alive: Nehemiah 9:30-31, Psalm 104:29-30, 139:4-10, Isaiah 57:15, 63:10, Lamentations 5:21, Titus 3:5

Yes, the gospel was always the same, as was the means of salvation:  God saves by His mercy and grace those who have faith in Him, and He gives them a new spirit and a renewed heart--that's a promise!


I know that there are some sincere Christians who will take exception with the above posting. However, a careful reading of Hebrews 10:38-12:3 should help asuage any fears one has about the validity of the proposition that the gospel has not changed. Jesus did not preach one gospel, John the Baptist another, and Paul still another. That Jesus only became known as the Messiah, the Savior, in 30-33A.D. does not negate the fact that faith has always been the means of God's grace for salvation, from Abel, to Abraham, to Paul. Blessings.




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Page Originally Posted: October 29, 2009
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