Did God choose to not save certain people?

The Bible teaches that God is sovereign over all things, including salvation. God has mercy on whom He will have mercy. (Romans 9:16, 18) He loved Jacob and hated Esau so that the purposes of His divine election would be accomplished without the work of men but by His own will. (Romans 9:11-13) God is the potter who makes some vessels to honor and some to dishonor. (Romans 9:22) Passages like Romans 9 seem to indicate that God chooses who will be saved.

Jesus said that the way which leads to destruction is wide. The way that leads to life is narrow and only a few find it. (Matthew 7:13-14) This raises a troubling question. If people are saved by God’s choosing, then why are so few saved?

Passages like Romans 9 are only one side of the story. The Bible also teaches that man is fully responsible for his reception of the gospel. Esau made the choice to sell his birthright. He was the one who despised the promises of God. God in no way caused Esau to sin. God does not sin, does not cause men to sin and does not tempt men to sin. (James 1:13) God is the one who draws men to Himself, but none can say God is responsible for their unbelief. God’s sovereign working in salvation is such that it does not negate the responsibility of the individual to respond to the gracious working of God and to receive the legitimate offer of eternal life.

The Bible does not tell us how God does His choosing. Scripture does tell us some things His choosing is not based upon. God does not choose based upon some favoritism which selects people based upon personal qualities that may be advantageous to Him. God is not a respecter of persons. (Colossians 3:25) Nor can it be said that God chose based upon a knowledge of who would believe Him. That is just another form of salvation by works in which the saved merit salvation because God knew they were the only ones who would believe.

None can imagine that God is cruel or capricious in salvation. The Bible clearly says that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. Instead, God’s delight is in the repentance of the wicked so they can have life. (Ezekiel 33:11) God is not willing that any should perish. He desires the repentance of all. (2 Peter 3:9) God’s choosing is not evil in any way, but is the outworking of His compassion and grace.

These truths of Scripture are hard to understand. We will not have a full answer to this question until we reach heaven. Right now we cannot fathom the wisdom, grace and glory of God. We do not understand how God chooses or how His sovereignty works in man’s salvation. We know God is sovereign and man is responsible. God’s sovereignty is not limited by man’s responsibility, nor is man’s responsibility limited by God’s sovereignty. Both are true though we may not be able to explain how they can be true at the same time. Just like we cannot explain how the Father, Son and Spirit are each fully God and yet God is One God. Difficulty in understanding a truth should not cause us to refuse to believe it.

The proper response to this problem is to worship the God who is so wise His plan of salvation baffles the greatest of minds. The right response is to praise the God who is so gracious His salvation can be received by the simplest of children. Those who are saved must rejoice in their salvation. They ought to preach the gospel faithfully to all and pray earnestly for the salvation of the lost. Each Christian must glorify the God who chose to save him and who invited him to receive His salvation.

What is Heaven?

The hope of every Christian is that they will go to Heaven when they die. But what is Heaven? Common perceptions of Heaven seem to involve sitting on clouds and playing harps, large gates guarded by genial old men, or beautiful golden mansions lining streets of gold. You may be surprised to learn none of those things are found in the Bible’s descriptions of Heaven.

Heaven is a real place, but it probably does not exist in the physical universe as we know it. Heaven probably exists in a the spiritual plane or a spiritual dimension. This is not certain, but what is certain is that Heaven was created by God. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Heaven was created by God and is the place where He dwells (1 Kings 8:30). In Heaven resides the throne of God (Isaiah 66:1) and the temple of God (Revelation 14:17). Heaven itself is called God’s throne (Matthew 5:34)

Aside from God, the other inhabitants of Heaven are the righteous angels (Mark 12:25) and the souls of believers who have died (Luke 16:22; Revelation 6:9). Contrary to popular opinion, Satan has not yet been barred from Heaven. The book of Job describes a time when Satan appeared before God (Job 1:6). Revelation says that Satan always stands before God making accusations against Christians (Revelation 12:10).

Isaiah 6 gives a brief glimpse into Heaven by describing the throne room of God in Heaven. God is seated on His throne and His glory fills the Heavenly Temple. Surrounding the throne of God are mighty angels who cry out the praises of God. Revelation 4 fills in the details of God’s glorious throne room. God’s appearance is described as a brilliant jewel surrounded by a glory like a rainbow hewed gemstone. In front of the throne of God are seven burning lamps and a great crystal basin. Joining the angels in praise to God are saints of God. Heaven echoes with the perpetual praise of God. The glories of Heaven itself are never really described in the Bible because the true glory of Heaven is not found in it’s buildings, streets or environs. The true glory of Heaven is God.

Heaven is the temporary residence of all believers. At death every Christian enters immediately into Heaven (Philippians 1:23). At the end of this age Christ will return from Heaven to take all Christians to be with Him in Heaven. (1 Thessalonians 4:16) In Heaven the Christian’s inheritance is kept secure for them (1 Peter 1:4). Christ will descend from Heaven with His angels and saints to conquer the antichrist and to establish His thousand year kingdom on earth.

Following the millennial reign of Jesus Heaven and the entire physical universe will be destroyed (Revelation 20:1) to be replaced with a new Heaven and a new Earth. But that new Heaven will not be the Christian’s eternal home. Instead, God and all the redeemed will dwell in the New Jerusalem on the new Earth. (Revelation 21:2-3) It is the New Jerusalem, not Heaven, which has its streets paved with gold. Heaven is the glorious dwelling of our glorious God, where the souls of saints reside and where dwells the One who is the hope of all believers (Colossians 3:1-3)

Why does God allow bad things to happen to Christians?

A question came up at church Sunday that offers helpful distinction from the often asked, “Why does God allow evil to continue in this world?” This other question is much more specific and focuses on those who are followers of Christ. A preacher once said to a group of Christians, “You are either facing a trial in your life, just coming out of one or about to go into one.” While such a statement may be overly pessimistic, it does seem to many that following Jesus is the beginning of difficulties, not the end. So why does God allow bad things to happen to Christians?

The Bible offers several reasons why Christians must endure intense trials. Contrary to much popular preaching, the Bible never promises the Christian that faith will lead to an easier life. Instead, “All that will live Godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 3:12) Jesus told the disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation.” (John 16:33) and “If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:20) The apostle Paul told newly formed churches, “That we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22) Suffering should not surprise anyone, least of all the Christian.

The Christians suffering is never pointless. James says that the trying of your faith produces patience. (James 1:3) Romans says that tribulation produces patience. (Romans 5:3) Second Corinthians says, “For our light affliction which is but for a moment worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” (2 Corinthians 4:17) Suffering for the Christian always has a good purpose. The New Testament teaches that tribulation is permitted by God to produce Christlikeness in His children and to bring them eternal benefit.

Sometimes God brings suffering on a Christian to chasten them for sin. This chastening is Divine correction that brings punishment on His children for persistent sin. God disciplines His children in the same way loving parents discipline their children. “For who the Lord loveth, He chasteneth.” (Hebrews 12:6) God does not punish in anger. God does not punish His children because they are irritating Him. God’s brings painful correction for the good of His children. “He (chastened us) for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness. . . afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness.” (Hebrews 12:10-11) The chastening of God is painful, but it is profitable because it produces righteousness in His people.

God also allows suffering in the life of Christians to make them more fruitful. This suffering is not punishment for sin, but preparation for more fruitful service. In John 15 Jesus likens His followers to branches. The fruitless branches will be cut off and the fruitful branches will be pruned so that they will be more fruitful. The fruitful branch does not escape the cutting, but it will not be entirely cut off. Instead, in God’s grace He cuts away much that is unnecessary and hindering the productiveness of the Christian.

The Christian’s suffering is never pointless. Trials in the believer’s life are never an indication that God has forgotten His child or that His love has decreased. The Christian’s suffering is always a part of the gracious working of God to purge from sin and produce greater Christlikeness. Suffering is never fun, but it is always a cause to rejoice.

What is the Apocrypha

Older copies of the Bible include a section that may be unfamiliar to many Bible readers. This section includes books with names like Maccabees, Ecclesiasticus, Tobit, Esdras, and Susanna. These just a few of the fourteen books of the Apocrypha, a collection of books written after the book of Malachi and before the birth of Jesus.

Some of these books, like Maccabees, are historical. They help fill in the gaps of what happened to Israel between the conclusion of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New. Some of these books present further stories about Biblical characters, such as Daniel and Esther. Some of them may be aids in worship, like the Prayer of Azariah. Most Protestants do not believe the Apocrypha ought to be considered part of the Bible, while Catholic doctrine teaches that it should.

The Apocrypha was included as part of the Septuagint, a very early Greek translation of the Old Testament. This has lead many to conclude the translators of the Septuagint considered the Apocrypha to be Scripture. The Council of Carthage, a church council held in 397 A.D., declared the Apocrypha to be part of the Bible. This led to the Catholic church viewing the Apocrypha as Scripture. During the Council of Trent in 1547 they officially declared the Apocrypha to be Scripture.

The New Testament may contain some allusions to Apocryphal books, but this is not certain. Even if the Apostles did reference the Apocrypha this does does not mean they considered the Apocryphal books to be Scripture. The Apostles quoted other books they did not consider to be Scripture. For example, Jude quotes the book of Enoch and seems to treat is as an accurate history. Though he quotes Enoch, Jude does not refer to it as Scripture. In the book of Titus Paul quoted a Greek poet and said the poet’s words were true. His use of the poet is hardly an affirmation that those words are Scripture. The New Testament never directly quotes the Apocrypha and it most certainly does not claim that any portion of the Apocrypha is Scripture.

The Apocrypha cannot be Scripture because it teaches several significant errors. Portions of 2 Maccabees seem to present the ideas of praying for the dead to be forgiven of their sins. This passage is a part of the Roman Catholic basis for their doctrine of purgatory. Another example of false doctrine in the Apocrypha is found in the book of Tobit. “Alms do deliver from death and keeps you from going into the darkness.” (Tobit 4:10) Tobit also says, “Alms … shall purge away every sin.” (Tobit 12:9) This Apocryphal book clearly teaches that salvation can be earned by giving to the poor. The Bible plainly teaches that salvation can never be accomplished by any works we do. (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-6) These apocryphal books cannot be considered the Word of God because they contradict the plain teaching of Scripture.

The Apocrypha is not Scripture, but it does have historical value. The histories presented help us better understand the silent years between the Old and New Testaments. However, this information must be treated like any other ancient historical work. The Apocrypha is helpful and interesting but its teachings must be verified before accepting them as true. Most importantly, no doctrine should ever be developed based upon the Apocryphal writings for they are not the words of holy men of God who spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. (2 Peter 1:21)

Is Galatians about Cultural Elitism?

Some modern Bible teachers have been teaching that certain passages of the New Testament are rebukes of racism or classism. The text in question is not the instruction of James 2, which is a direct rebuke of showing favoritism to the rich. Nor are they referring to the statements in Paul’s letters like Colossians 3:11, “Where there is neither Jew, nor Gree, circumcision, uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond, nor free: but Christ is all and in all.” These words are a clear statement that racial, national and social differences are eliminated in Christ. All believers are united together a one in Jesus. These truths are clear and are powerful opponents of racism and favoritism in the church.

However, some teachers have turned to other texts to decry elitism. Some have pointed to Galatians and Paul’s rebuke of Peter as a rebuke of promoting Jewish culture to the exclusion of Gentile culture. Paul is confronting Peter’s gospel error, not Peter’s cultural errors. Paul told Peter he was not acting according to the gospel. The climax of Paul’s argument comes when he says, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ.” Peter’s actions compromised the clarity of salvation by faith alone. Peter’s refusal to eat with Gentiles was not just a cultural thing, it was a gospel issue. Peter was forgetting that they Gentiles were saved by faith in Christ, just like the Jews. He was forgetting the Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit, just like the Jews. Paul rebuked Peter because his actions in refusing to eat with the Gentiles indicated that the Gentiles were not full members of Christianity, that Christ was not sufficient to save them, that they had to keep the law and become Jews to really be Christians. Paul’s rebuke of Peter is a gospel rebuke. It has cultural issues as the background, but Paul is not fighting for cultural differences to be set aside. Paul is fighting for the clarity of the gospel.

In a March 2021 Christianity Today article, Michael Rhodes taught that Paul’s rebuke of the Corinthian church was a rebuke of elitism and classism. He said, “The way they came to the Lord’s Supper reinforced socioeconomic divisions among them.” In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul confronted misuse of the meal associated with the Lord’s Supper. Apparently, the church in Corinth shared a meal together before taking the Lord’s supper. The Bible doesn’t tell us why they had the meal, only that some were going hungry because others were eating before them. Some had too much and others did not have enough. Rhodes said that the rich were being promoted and were establishing their elite status by going first in line, but Paul says nothing about social class in 1 Corinthians 11. Paul rebuked the Corinthians for their selfishness, not their elitism. He tells the believers to eat at home if they are hungry and to let others eat before them. He speaks of of their selfishness and callousness to the needy, not their promotion of the wealthy. Paul’s words have a direct application to how the church handles social and financial status, but Paul’s focus is teaching about class warfare. He is confronting the selfish, greedy, gluttony that will fill its belly at the expense of others.

The Bible clearly teaches that Christians must reject all forms of status oriented, external driven favoritism. Classism, elitism, racism and nationalism have no place in the church. Since the Bible condemns favoritism, what is the harm in teaching a Biblical truth from a wrong passage? The danger is in thinking we can use any passage of the Bible to prove a point. Every passage of the Bible has a meaning that was intended by the original authors. Any meaning drawn out of that passage today must be in accord with the original meaning. To misuse the Bible for a good purpose is still a misuse of Scripture. We have no need to misapply Galatians or Corinthians to make a good point today. God’s Word speaks clearly against racism, let’s pay attention to those passages.

What is the Day of the Lord?

“The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night.” The day of the Lord is mentioned a couple dozen times in the Bible and is a significant idea in the study of end times. The term may be a little confusing because it is not actually referring to a single day, but a period of time. This phrase is an idiom, a phrase that means something other than the literal meaning of its words. Calling someone your sweetheart is an idiom. The literal meaning of a sweetheart- a sugary, blood pumping organ has nothing to do with the idiomatic meaning of sweetheart- someone you love deeply. Likewise, the day of the Lord is not an entirely literal phrase. It is an idiom referring to a period of Divine judgment.

The phrase is used in the Old Testament to refer to several different kinds of judgment. It is used to describe the judgment of Israel (Amos 5:18-20) and Judah (Ezekiel 13:6) for their idolatry. In the book of Obadiah the day of the Lord is used to describe God’s judgment upon certain Gentile nations. (Obadiah 1:15)

In most cases the day of the Lord is used to describe the return of Jesus to earth in judgment and to establish His millennial kingdom. The Bible describes several specific events as making up the day of the Lord. The seven years of the Tribulation (Joel 2:31; Matthew 24:21, 29; Revelation 6:12-13), the second coming of Jesus to the earth (Zechariah 14:1-2; Revelation 19:11-15), the thousand year reign of Jesus over the earth (Zechariah 14:8-11; Isaiah 11) and the destruction of this universe (2 Peter 3:10).

The most lengthy single description of the day of the Lord is found in the book of Revelation. Almost all of the events foretold in chapters 6 to 20 of Revelation take place during the day of the Lord. The day of the Lord is described as a day of judgment (Matthew 25:31-46), of vengeance (Isaiah 34:8), of fierce anger (Isaiah 13:9) and of darkness (Acts 2:20). The day of the Lord will include the battle of Armageddon, a great battle against Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:2; Joel 3:14). The day of the Lord is a great and terrible day (Joel 2:11)

The day of the Lord will also be a day of restoration, of peace and of righteousness. (Zechariah 14:16-21). During that day the world will be restored to a portion of the perfection it had before man sinned, including the absence of predators and venomous creatures (Isaiah 11:6-9), long life (Isaiah 65:20) and the removal of all sorrow (Isaiah 65:19). In the day of the Lord Israel will no longer worship false gods. Jerusalem will be the center of universal worship of Jesus as God and King.

The day of the Lord will come suddenly and unexpectedly. The coming of the day of the Lord is repeatedly described as coming without warning, like a thief in the night (Luke 12:39-40; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10) When the world is going about life as usual, with little thought to the things of God, then Jesus will return. The suddenness of the day of the Lord teaches us to ready ourselves now for that terrible day. We must heed the warning given by Peter in Acts 2:20-21. We must turn to Jesus and call upon Him for salvation from His wrath.