We’re excited about the opportunity to be with you tonight, and we want to be a help by letting you know that the Bible has answers to your questions and directing you to them. I would say this: based upon the literally hundreds and hundreds, if not into the thousands of questions that we have received leading up to tonight, it’s obvious to me that there are unanswered issues in the lives of thousands of people. Some of the questions are very simple short questions, and others are pages and pages of explaining issues in life that led to a certain question. So I know this is reality, I’ve always known that; that’s part of pastoral ministry to help people get answers to their heart-searching questions.
But I want to encourage you that Grace Community Church has a lot of resources, and you may not get your question answered tonight, you may feel like the answer that was given was not as complete as you would like it, so I just want to mention a couple of things for you to think about. One is there is almost boundless sermon material on the Grace Church website, gracechurch.org. All of our pastors, all of our Bible teachers have been teaching the Word of God for many, many years. There are many, many resources, many subjects, many themes, many issues obviously that are covered there.
We also have gracebooks.com. Gracebooks.com is a resource where you can order good Christian books, good Christian literature. And we only have the best, the kinds of things that we believe honor the Lord and are going to be of tremendous encouragement and help to you. And I would suggest a couple of things. If you go to gracebooks.com, maybe to start you might want to think about ordering one of the MacArthur Study Bibles. They come in all kinds of different formats: hardcover, premium leather, kind of a middle type. They come in several translations that are available: the New American Standard from which I preach, the ESV, the New King James. Get a Study Bible, because basically the Study Bible has about 25,000 footnotes spread all through the Bible which explains the text. So if you want to know an answer to a question you go to a text that deals with that and there’ll be a footnote or a number of footnotes that’ll help answer that question. It’s commentary on the Word of God itself. And I would suggest, if you don’t have a Study Bible, that’s a good place to start.
For those of you that are digging a little deeper I would suggest a volume called Biblical Doctrine, Biblical Doctrine. It’s about three-and-a-half inches thick and it’s a big book. It’s a resource book, it’s a reference book. It’s not a book that you necessarily would sit down and read, although you certainly can do that. But it has an index in it and it has chapter headings in the front of it so that you could look up any issue, any issue that the Bible deals with, and you will find a paragraph, a section, several pages explaining what the Bible teaches about that issue. It covers all, essentially all the doctrines in the Bible and gives you a thorough biblical answer. It’s not intended to interact with multiple views, it’s not intended to necessarily track church history, it’s intention is to go to the Word of God, and based on the Word of God comparing Scripture with Scripture, coming up with right understanding of doctrine, the right understanding of all the issues that we face in the Word of God in a single volume. It’s a profoundly rich resource that you would do well to order. And you can always have that as your kind of go-to source. So it’s called Biblical Doctrine and it’s available through gracebooks.com.
One other resource – while I’m doing a little commercial here – is Grace to You. If you go to the Grace to You website gty.org there is an endless array of issues there. You can find blog articles, you can find all kinds of other articles. You can find sermons; essentially fifty years of sermons are there dealing with all kinds of issues, all kinds of series. Everything is available, you can look it up by topic or by Scripture. There’s even a search part where you can put in the subject and you’ll get all kinds of help. So we have all those resources, they’re ready, available. We’ve accumulated them over half a century. Take advantage of those, okay.
And now for tonight, it’s my joy and delight to be able to answer some questions; and we’ll jump right into the first question.
QUESTION: “Does Revelation 3:5 mean a regenerate Christian can lose their salvation? What does it mean to have our names blotted out of the book of life?” From Aida?
Well, it certainly doesn’t mean that you can lose your salvation. If you were with us this morning I preached a message basically entitled “The Faith That Cannot Fail.” Eternal salvation is just that, it’s eternal. If you were chosen and predestined to salvation, you were chosen and predestined to be glorified. “Whoever the Lord chose, He predestined. Whoever He predestined,” – Paul says in Romans 8 – “He justified. Whoever He justified, He glorifies.” Jesus said, “All that the Father gives to Me will come to Me, and I’ll lose none of them, but raise him up at the last day.”
So what does it mean in Revelation 3:5 in a letter to one of the churches when it talks about your name being blotted out of the book of life? Interesting history about that. In ancient times cities were sort of proud assemblies of people. People were proud of their, you could say, hometown, and they were proud to be a citizen of that city. That meant they were in good standing, that they were a respected person in the community. And the cities had a role, they had a record, they had a listing of their citizens. And if you were a citizen of a town, you were honored in that sense. If you committed a crime, if you did something scandalous or if you became an enemy of the purposes and plans of that city, they would blot your name out of the book; you would no longer be counted worthy to be a part of that city.
And what the book of Revelation is saying is this – and you have to understand and not confuse this – they may blot your name out of a list in this life, but you will never have your name blotted out of the book of life that’s in the presence of God. This world may reject you; that’ll never happen with God. So rather than suggesting your name could be blotted out of the book of life, it says just the opposite: “You will never have your name blotted out of the book of life,” because that’s permanent; and you’re there, not because you’re worthy, but because Christ is worthy and you’re in Christ. So that is a promise that it can never happen. It doesn’t introduce the possibility that it could, just the opposite of that.
QUESTION: Now the next question: “Can you explain predestination?” That’s a very popular question. “How is it that Jesus can create someone and then doom them to hell knowing they will never accept Him? Why did He do that?”
Now at the risk of repeating the sermon from last Sunday, a week ago, I’m going to give you a short answer so I don’t do that. But let me suggest this: all of the messages that have been done livestream over the last number of weeks are posted at Grace Church’s website, gracechurch.org. I would suggest to Diana who asked this question that you go to the Grace Church website and you look up the message “Why Does God Allow Such Severe Suffering?” and it’s from a week ago Sunday. The full answer to that question is there.
But let me go back to the original question that Diana asked: “Can you explain predestination?” Absolutely. Predestination means God predestined some to eternal salvation. When did that happen? It happened before the foundation of the world. You were chosen in Christ before the world began, the Bible says. “In love He predestined us,” – Paul says to the Ephesians – “in love He predestined us.” He predetermined our eternal destiny. He predetermined that our destiny would be heaven. That is obviously connected to the doctrine of divine sovereign election.
God chose before the foundation of the world who He would save, wrote their names in His book of life from which they can never be blotted out, and He brings them to Himself in justification and brings them to heaven in glorification, and no one is lost. Predestination means exactly that, that our eternal destiny as believers to be in the presence of God in heaven forever was planned by God before the foundation of the world. That’s predestination. You can’t really hedge on that. You can’t redefine that. The Bible doesn’t allow you to do that because it’s very, very clear that God chose, that He chose before the world was created, that He wrote our names down, and that all He chose will come to faith and all who come to faith He will keep and bring to eternal glory. That’s the doctrine of predestination.
And that leads to the question that always follows that: “What about the people that are lost?” And here’s what’s going to stretch you a little bit. If you’re saved it’s because the Lord determined to save you, and by His own power He saved you, not apart from your will, but He moved your will. He gave you life. He gave you understanding. He acted on your will, He brought about repentance, and you responded because He chose you and He initiated that justification. That’s His work.
But on the other hand, when you talk about those that are lost, the Bible never says that they perish, they go to hell because they weren’t chosen, never says that. It always says they died, they perished, they ended up in hell because they would not believe. Jesus said it as simply as it could be said. He said, “Where I go you will never come,” – why? – “because you believe not on Me.”
Hell is for people who reject Christ. Hell is for people who are unbelievers. Divine judgment falls on those who will not believe. Jesus even pensively said, “Why will you die?” He said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often I would have gathered you as a hen gathers her brood. But you would not.”
That seems hard to understand, doesn’t it. If you’re a believer and on your way to heaven it’s because God chose you. If you’re an unbeliever and you’re on your way to hell it’s because you failed to believe. But those are exactly the things that the Bible teaches. I can’t resolve those two things in my mind; that is a transcendent reality. God has no problem with that. But I know this: as a believer, I thank the Lord for my salvation. He gave it to me as a gift.
And I can also say to an unbeliever, that “You need to come to Christ, and you need to embrace Christ as Lord and Savior. And if you come and believe in Him, He will receive you.” Jesus said, “Whoever comes to Me, I will under no circumstances reject. I will receive, I will keep, I will raise.” You have to believe both of those things. How they harmonize is in the mind of God. But clearly if you are on your way to heaven it’s because God graciously chose you. If you’re on your way to hell it’s because you rejected the gospel. And I would repeat the words of Jesus: “Come unto Me all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” He calls all to come; and those who come, He will receive. Someday in heaven it may be more clear how those things go together, but both must be taught.
QUESTION: Here’s another question. This comes from Abigale, and she’s 11 years old. “If you feel God is calling you to be a missionary what should you do? How do you know where God is sending you?”
Am I ever glad to hear that, Abigale, from you. At 11 years of age you’re already thinking about being a missionary. Let me make a very simple statement. If you’re going to be a missionary don’t wait till you go somewhere else, start where you are. Right? If you’re going to be a missionary start right where you are, at 11, in your home, in your neighborhood, at school, with your friends.
What is a missionary? Someone who is sent on a mission. What is the mission? It is to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. And if you’re a Christian you’re a missionary already. You may not be a missionary in another place, you may not be a missionary across an ocean in a foreign country, but you are a missionary. And if you belong to Christ you have been given the Holy Spirit so that you can be a witness to the gospel and that you can present that gospel to your own mission field. Don’t think of being a missionary as being in some certain place, think of being a missionary as the responsibility for every Christian.
Abigale, how wonderful for you know some friends, maybe some of your friends at school that you know aren’t Christians. Start now to pray for them for their salvation and talk to them about the Lord Jesus. You don’t need to argue with them. You don’t need to hassle with them. But you do need to proclaim the wonderful message of the love of God sending Jesus to die for us so that our sins could be forgiven and we could enter eternal heaven. That magnificent message, you begin to preach and proclaim and share now. And if you’re faithful in doing that now when you’re 11 and 12 and the next number of years, if you’re faithful doing that now where you are, there is no end to where the Lord in the future may send you. This is a time to begin to be a missionary, and then someday it’ll become apparent just exactly where it is that God wants you to fulfill that plan in the most wonderful way. But start now.
QUESTION: “What does the Bible say to a Christian couple who deliberately chooses never to have children even when there are no actual circumstances preventing them from doing so?”
That’s an interesting question. Look, you have that choice, you have that choice. There may be a thousand reasons why a couple decides not to have children. Sometimes there are genetic defects in a couple and they’re concerned about bringing a child into the world that may have difficulties, severe difficulties of struggle. Sometimes life circumstances, circumstances – they may be economically living in some parts of the world, dangers, being ubiquitous. There may be a reason to say, “Well, I don’t know if I want to bring a child into this situation that I’m in.”
But, look, it’s obvious that you have that prerogative, because the Bible doesn’t make it a command. I mean, generally the plan is in the book of Genesis, “Be fruitful and multiply,” because we have to have people, we have to populate the world. Somebody’s going to be having the children. But that is not an individual command. And I think I can undergird that in a simple way. You’re married and you have a sexual relationship as husband and wife, but you know that not all the time will that relationship end in a child. God has cycled a woman’s ability to conceive, and in doing that God put the decision in the hands of that couple.
Married people know when it’s time that likely there could be a conception if they come together. That puts the choice in that couple’s hands. God didn’t intend that you get married and just have nonstop children or He, I think, would have made women capable of having those nonstop children. So the very fact that you make the choice really every time in the will of God whether you’re going to try to have a child or not indicates that God has given you that choice. The number of children is, again, your choice. No number is right, no number is wrong, and if the Lord directs your heart and you feel that all of the things are what they should be and you feel like they’re reasons not to have children, there may be strong reasons for that. But there may be some that are selfish reasons for that; that’s what you have to find out and examine in your heart.
But know this: children are a heritage from the Lord. Children are profound blessing, but they are a heritage from the Lord and they are a profound blessing when you’re prepared in every sense to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; and where that is not something you want to engage in, then you have the choice to make that decision. Don’t feel guilty about it unless you’re simply trying to avoid responsibility. Think about it this way: you have the opportunity to give a life into this world back to God. To train up your child in the way he should go, and when he’s old he won’t depart from it. You have the opportunity to raise a child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. You have the opportunity to raise a child to love Christ, to add another voice to the hallelujah chorus. But that’s between you and the Lord, a decision that He’s left with you.
QUESTION: Here is a question that is often asked, from Rebekah: “Will we be able to see down on earth from heaven?”
Simple answer: no, we won’t. That would make heaven less heaven, right, because what’s down here is sin and turmoil and difficulty and disappointment and despair and sickness and death. Once you leave this world and enter into heaven, heaven is all you know, heaven is all you will experience. There will be nothing left of earth except the remnants of your love for Christ, your love for His Word, your love for His truth, your love for His people magnified an infinite number of times. You’re not going to be looking down here and wondering what’s going on with everybody else; that’s going to make heaven less than heaven. No, you are literally set free from all the bondage.
And how do I know that, the evidence of that? Heaven has no tears, no sorrow, no crying. And if we were to look back from heaven – it’s tough enough to live in this world without tears and sorrow and crying, and we’re in the world and the contrast is still great enough to break our hearts, if you were in heaven, perfected in heaven and looking down on what’s going on earth, you were looking from absolute holy, eternal perfection in the morass of sin here, you couldn’t keep back the tears. No. Heaven is all glory and wonder, and you’re lost in the praise of our God and His Son the Lord Jesus Christ.
QUESTION: “What is the role of the Holy Spirit in the eternal state after the saints are glorified and perfected in the image of Christ?” Deborah.
really good question, Deborah. The Bible doesn’t tell us that the Holy Spirit necessarily has a role. When you ask about a role in heaven that’s a bit of an odd question because you could ask, “What is the role of God in heaven? What is the role of Christ in heaven?” There’s nothing that is in the Scripture that says, “Okay, in heaven God is going to be doing this, and in heaven Christ is going to be doing this, and in heaven the Holy Spirit is going to be doing this.” It’s going to be more like this: “In heaven we’re going to be worshiping God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. We’re going to be serving God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We are going to be the recipients of God’s love: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
But having said that, because the Bible doesn’t say anything about roles that the Trinity has in heaven, I want to say this. Heaven is not just an endless experience of worship. It’s not just sitting on a cloud playing a harp and singing forever. There will be enterprises in heaven. There will be enterprises that are beyond our comprehension. At this point, “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man the things that God has prepared for them that love Him.”
God has prepared things for us there. It’s not going to be boring. It’s not going to be some kind of eternal vacation. There are things that God has prepared for us to do in the glories of heaven in another dimension, an everlasting dimension that will bring God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit glory. The Holy Spirit will not function in heaven the way He has here because we’ll be perfect. He will have made us perfect, so He doesn’t need to be our convicter, He doesn’t need to be our instructor, He doesn’t need to be the one who purges us and cleanses us. He doesn’t need to lead us and guide us away from error and sin because there won’t be any of that.
So I don’t know exactly what the role of the Trinity each member will be, but it’s going to be more wonderful than anything we’ve ever experienced here. And the enterprises of heaven will be vastly beyond our wildest imaginations. If you think there’s things in this life that you’re interested in, you don’t know what being interested really is. You are going to be so swept away at the glorious activities and wonders of heaven in which you participate that every moment will be sheer joy and bliss. In fact, the best way to understand heaven is there’s no time, so it’s a moment of sheer exhilarating joy, peace, satisfaction, and fulfillment, a moment that never ever ends.
QUESTION: Jerome asks, “When evangelizing Roman Catholics what is the best way to help them see their religion is false?”
Whether you’re evangelizing a Roman Catholic or anybody else, the best way for them to see that their religion is false is to show them the truth. It’s not necessarily helpful to just try to dismantle Catholicism, although at some point you need to show the errors that make up that false religion. But it’s much more important for you to present what the Scripture says, and then the conclusions can be drawn against the plumb line of the Word of God.
For example, I wouldn’t say in talking to a Roman Catholic, “Do you know you’re a heretic? Do you know you’re on your way to hell, you’re a part of a false religion, a damning religion?” I mean, that might come up eventually in a conversation. But what I would say to a Roman Catholic is this, and this has been my pattern: “If you were to die now soon and go to heaven and stand before God, what would you say to Him to have Him let you into heaven? What would you say?” That is the question, because Catholics have the wrong answer.
What would a Catholic say? “Well, I’m a good person. I went to Mass. I went to confession. I tried to be a good person. I went to the church, I gave my money.” That’s a problem. “So you’re saying that when you face God you’re going to tell Him that you’re religious enough and good enough that He ought to let you in His heaven? That’s what you’re hoping for? That’s not going to work. That’s not going to work. For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. By the deeds of the flesh, no one will be justified. For by grace are you saved through faith, not of works, lest any man should boast.”
You’re not going to go to heaven on the basis of your religion. You’re not going to go to heaven on the basis of your confessions, your attendance at the Mass, your good deeds, your philanthropy, your kindness. Hell is full of people who pull that out. It doesn’t work. The problem is, to be good enough to go to heaven you have to be perfect. Jesus said, “Be perfect” – Matthew 5 – “as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Really? That’s what He said.
He said in the same message, the Sermon on the Mount, “Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees, you’re not entering My kingdom.” And they were the most fastidious, righteous, legalistic religionists in the world. It was not enough. The Lord requires perfection to enter heaven.
“Well now you’ve raised a serious question. You mean my works don’t get me into heaven.” That is the issue with Roman Catholicism, frankly, all false religion. No. And you can show verse after verse after verse that says you’re not getting there by works. Then the question is, “How do I get into heaven?” and then comes the gospel.
So rather than attack the system, I think you need to attack the deception that is in the heart of all people who are part of a false religion. Show them that works will not save them; they will be condemned by their works. Then show them that salvation comes by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ. And the only righteousness that will get us into heaven is the righteousness of Christ given to us when we put our faith in Him. So you go from their condition and the impossibility of them getting into heaven by their works to the person of Christ, and then show them the wondrous reality of Jesus Christ and His provision for our forgiveness and our righteousness, which is a righteousness that God will accept.
That’s a good question. We all engage in those conversations. I hope that’s helpful.
QUESTION: “What was the role of the Holy Spirit to Old Testament believes compared to New Testament believers?” Ben from Afghanistan.
Well, thank you, Ben. I think that could be a complicated question, but I’ll try to make it as simple as I can. No one in the history of redemption, no one from the fall in Genesis to the end of human history will ever be regenerated, no one will ever be forgiven their sins, no one will ever believe in the true God, no one ever will bow the knee as a true worshiper to God, no one will ever be saved, no one will ever be delivered but by the Holy Spirit. No one will ever come to salvation in any time, Old Testament, New Testament, today, or in the future except by the work of the Holy Spirit. You see that way back in Genesis.
In the book of Genesis the Spirit, before the flood, says, God speaking, “My Spirit will not always strive with man.” What is that telling you? That way back in the book of Genesis before the flood the Spirit of God was working on the hearts of men, and they rejected and resisted that, and their deeds were only evil continually, and judgment came.
In the Old Testament, the Spirit was a life-giving Spirit. Go back to creation: “The Spirit moved over the waters.” And everything came into existence under the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the Spirit of life. He is called the Spirit of life. Everything that lives lives because of the Spirit. So there is not spiritual life in the Old Testament or the New Testament apart from the work of the Holy Spirit.
In the Old Testament there was additional moving of the Holy Spirit on certain people for certain ministry. The Spirit would come upon a prophet and he would proclaim divine revelation. The Scriptures call out from the heart of the psalmist, “Do not take Your Spirit from me.” There was an anointing of the Holy Spirit in a special way that came on a preacher, a servant, a king, one who spoke for God. And, in a sense, that’s true even today. Those of us who preach and teach the Word of God do so under the influence of the Holy Spirit. So there was that normal work of the Holy Spirit of conviction in salvation in the Old Testament, as it is in the New Testament and always will be. And then there was that special ministry of the Holy Spirit where the Spirit came upon someone for a certain gifting in the Old Testament and certain ministry and remained in order to make that ministry fulfilled; and that would be true in the New Testament even as well.
So you say, “What is the difference?” The difference you’d have to say is in degree. It is not the Old Testament is without the Holy Spirit, the New Testament’s with the Holy Spirit. The difference is simply the degree of the Holy Spirit’s fullness and presence is greater in the New Testament. Why? Because it’s post-Christ: it’s after the coming of Christ, it’s after the cross, it’s after the resurrection. And now the Holy Spirit comes on the day of Pentecost in the book of Acts, Acts 2, and the Holy Spirit takes up residence in the believer, and there’s now a fullness of the Holy Spirit. We are filled with the Holy Spirit.
So I don’t know how to kind of distinguish any differently than to say Spirit did the same work in the Old Testament, but there is a sense in which it is done to a greater degree because we are post-Christ, sort of like the book of Hebrews talks about. In chapter 11 it says, “All of these heroes of the faith didn’t see what we see, who have seen Christ.” We have the fullness of the revelation of God in Christ, and we have with that full revelation a fullness of the working of the Holy Spirit.
One other thing to say about that is that when Jesus was on earth He was doing His ministry under the power of the Holy Spirit. So He said to the disciples, “The Spirit has been with you. The Spirit has been with you, with you particularly in Me, because everything I’m doing the Spirit has been doing. But soon the Spirit who has been with you in Me and with you as well to some degree will take up residence in you.” And at that point, the New Testament coming of the Holy Spirit is He takes up full residence in the heart of every believer with His fullness.
And I hope that helps. I can’t distinguish it anymore than to say it’s a matter of degree; and we’re on the side of redemptive history where we have the fullness of the Spirit.
QUESTION: Here’s a question: “Should a person take Communion if they refused to be baptized?” From Vicky.
I don’t understand why someone would refuse to be baptized, and I would say that if someone refuses to be baptized that would prevent me from telling that person they could come to the Lord’s Table. “Why are you refusing to be baptized?” That in itself – and here’s the point – that in itself is an act of primary disobedience. It’s an act of primary disobedience, not secondary disobedience, but primary. “Repent” – Peter says on the day of Pentecost – “and believe, and be baptized.”
Baptism doesn’t save you, but baptism was the public confession. Jesus said, “Whoever confesses me before men, I’ll confess before My Father who is in heaven.” Well, if you’re not willing to confess Him before men in the waters of baptism, then you’re not willing to be obedient. And that’s at a primary point. If you have come to salvation and you have confessed Jesus as Lord, and Jesus who is your Lord says, “The first thing you need to do is to be baptized,” and you say, “I’m not doing that,” then your confession of Jesus as Lord is meaningless.
Repent and be baptized. That was the call on the day of Pentecost. And immediately the three thousand people who repented and believed were baptized, immediately, all over the city of Jerusalem, three thousand people were baptized. That was primary obedience. If you say, “Jesus is Lord,” then the first way you show that is in willingness to be baptized. To reject that, to deny that is to call into question whether your confession that Jesus is Lord is really legitimate at all. But if you’re willing to obey and you’ve demonstrated it by being baptized, then your obedience opens up the Lord’s Table to you.
You don’t want to come to the Lord’s Table in disobedience. Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “You eat and drink judgment to yourself.” You want to make sure that when you come to the Lord’s Table you’ve confessed your sins, you’ve examined your heart, and you find a willing obedient spirit when you come to that Table. That is not where you want to go if you’re stubborn and disobedient. So for that reason, if you’re not willing to be baptized, you’d put yourself in jeopardy if you go to the Lord’s Table.
QUESTION: Here’s another question: “What do you see happening with regard to baptism during this time of social distancing? Many are very eager to be obedient to the Lord’s command in this area. But how can this be possible?” Carol.
Can I quote the New Testament? Look, here is water. What hinders me to be baptized? Find water and baptize people. Gather your believing friends together and baptize someone. You say, “Well, shouldn’t it be done before the church?” Sure, you can always do it again when we’re back together. But that would be a beautiful and simple way to express that person’s desire and to bring about around that person some loving believers, and let it be what it is. Talk about the significance of baptism and baptize them. And later on we can make it more official in the life of the church. But I wouldn’t hold back on that if that’s in someone’s heart.
Now I don’t know where we are in the history of this episode we’re in. Maybe, maybe we can have a baptism service in a few weeks. If it’s coming pretty soon, we don’t know that, but if it’s coming pretty soon maybe you say, “Well, just hang on for a few more weeks and let’s see what happens before we do this in a kind of unofficial way.” But if someone really desired that, there would be no restraint for not doing that.
You think about the day of Pentecost, three thousand people were baptized on the day of Pentecost. I remember a friend of mine who wrote his dissertation in seminary on how three thousand people could be baptized in Jerusalem on one day when there were so few fountains. So it was sort of statistical paper. They must have been using every small little pond of water to get those three thousand people baptized that day, it was that important. So if it’s that important for you, find a way to do that; and later it wouldn’t be wrong to do it again in front of the whole church.
QUESTION: “Following up on last week’s sermon on ‘God’s Sovereignty’ please help me understand the difference between sovereignty and God’s providence.”
Well, there is not a difference, Bob and Leslie. There’s not a difference between God’s sovereignty and God’s providence. God’s sovereignty simply says He rules, He rules; and by that I mean God not only decides what to do, but He acts. That’s really important to say that: He acts. He is constantly acting. He is the dominating, sovereign actor. His purposes are always being fulfilled and accomplished. So God acts and God acts in this world. He acts in history. He acts in people’s lives.
And basically speaking there are a number of ways in which God acts. He acts spiritually. In other words, He does spiritual work. He regenerates through the Holy Spirit. He illuminates through the Holy Spirit. He empowers through the Holy Spirit. He gives us gifts that are used in the energy of the Holy Spirit. God acts spiritually in our lives. He acts through the preaching of Scripture. He acts through the testimony of a faithful believer. He is alive and powerful; we are literally the temple of God, the temple of the Son, the Father, and the Holy Spirit if you put it all together in the New Testament.
And God is acting spiritually in this world. He acts in spiritual ways in the hearts and lives of people through believers, through their gifts and ministries, and in unbelievers by bringing them to repentance and salvation, and moving us all in sanctification toward Christlikeness. He’s leading and guiding. He’s moving all the time nonstop in the spiritual dimension.
And then in the sort of physical dimension of life, what we can see externally, He acts primary in two ways historically. One is in providence and the other is in miracles. Let me tell you the difference between those two. A miracle is when God acts by suspending natural law: in other words, somebody’s raised from the dead, somebody walks on water, an axe head floats, a massive upheaval comes on the world like the flood that drowns the entire human race except for eight people back in Genesis. God acts miraculously by suspending natural law. He makes what appears to be the sun stand still. The sun doesn’t stand still; for a while, the earth stopped rotating – wow – and we didn’t fall off, or the people who were alive didn’t fall off. Suspending natural law is something God can do.
The life of Jesus is literally packed with miracles where God suspends natural law. For example, He feeds five thousand men plus women and children, maybe twenty-some thousand people. He’s just creating food out of His hands, just creating food. Or He stops a storm, or He reads somebody’s mind. That’s all miracle power that basically either suspends or transcends natural law and natural order. But that was primarily done by our Lord during His ministry.
There were a few eras in the Old Testament where miracles happened somewhat frequently. The time of Elijah and Elisha, and certain judgments in the Old Testament. But even for most of the history of the Old Testament there weren’t a lot of miracles, suspensions of natural law. And then Jesus came, and when Jesus came, He did miracles daily for the duration of His three-year ministry in the land of Israel. That was an explosion of miracles in the suspension of natural law.
But those are rare times, just a few times throughout all of Old Testament history, and really during the life and ministry of Jesus, and subsequently the apostles. But even in the ministry of the apostle Paul, as you go through the book of Acts, the miracles begin to disappear pretty fast, and by the time you get to the epistles and instruction for the church nobody’s told to do miracles. So it was a special time to validate Jesus as the Messiah and validate the apostles as the true preachers of the divine message. Those are rare occasions.
The other way that God works in the physical world, the temporal world, the visible world is through providence. That’s what it’s called, it’s called providence, and it means without suspending natural law, without transcending natural law. He organizes all the contingencies, all the people, all the movements, all the attitudes, all the choices, all the decisions in an infinite number of variables. He pulls it all together to accomplish His will exactly.
And I’ve always said that’s a greater miracle than a miracle. What would be easier for God to say, “Okay, stop natural law, I’m going to do a miracle,” or to take a million free radicals, you might say, a million different items flowing around with sort of random perception and organize them constantly to fulfill exactly His will? If you want to understand the power, the sovereign power of God, providence is where you want to look. God orders every single detail without overturning natural law, without superseding natural law, and without turning people into robots. They make their choices, they do what they do, and God orders all of it to His own ends. That’s the power of His sovereignty.
QUESTION: “Where did Christ go between His death and resurrection: paradise, Sheol, hell?” Trisha.
That’s a good question: “Where did He go?” Well, essentially He went two places. His body was on the cross, and then in the tomb. So His body we know exactly where it was: on the cross, taken down, wrapped, placed in the tomb.
But where was He? He was not dead, He was alive, He is life. Two things happened. He showed up in hell, we know that, because He proclaimed His triumph over the demons who were holding a party. Satan thought he had won. The demons of hell thought he had defeated the Son of God. The celebration in hell He invaded, and He triumphed over them. That’s what the apostle Paul says. So He showed up and pronounced His victory over the hosts of hell. What an astonishing reality that must have been.
And then, secondly we know, He went to heaven. How do we know that? Because He said to the thief, “Today you’ll be with Me in paradise.” So the very day that He died He was in paradise. And where is paradise? That’s just another term for heaven. He was with that thief in heaven as well. So in those hours when His body was dead, He announced His triumph in hell, and He met that thief in heaven. Those are specifically mentioned in the Word of God. He is both the Lord of heaven and the Lord of hell.
QUESTION: Another question comes from Lori: “If someone holds to Arminian theology – i.e. coming forward asking the Lord Jesus into your heart, making a decision for Christ, free will, et cetera – are they believing a false gospel?”
Well, there’s a lot there, Lori. Let’s talk about Arminian first of all. That’s not a group of people, that is basically a term that comes from a man named Arminius who lived a long time ago, who didn’t believe that God chose people for salvation, didn’t believe God saved them by His power. He believed that humans had the capacity to basically turn and believe on their own, that free will was the way people were saved, that all human beings had enough natural ability to come to God on their own so that salvation was a matter of a human choice. That’s what Arminius taught, and that sometimes is called Pelagianism or semi-Pelagian theology because it’s named after some others as well.
But the contrast is between believing that salvation is a work of God and salvation is a work of man. Even though God provided the sacrifice, the Arminian view is that man comes by his own power to take the sacrifice of Christ into his heart and believe it. I’m convinced clearly, as are all faithful theologians, that salvation is a work of God. Why? Because every sinner is dead in trespasses and sin, blind, double blind, triple-blinded by Satan, with no capacity, no will to save himself. So it has to be a work of God.
But there are those who believe that it is a human work. Now the question is, “If someone believes that they came to Christ based upon their own will unaided by God could that faith be real?” and the answer is, it could. Of course, it could. If you were told as a sinner that you need to come to Christ and you were told that you need to repent of your sin and you need to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you were given the gospel so you knew who Christ was and you knew what you were believing, and you said, “I want to be forgiven, I want to go to heaven, I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, I believe He died on the cross, I believe He rose from the dead, I believe He can forgive my sins, I confess Him as Lord,” you’d be saved.
And maybe you’d say, “Wow, I’m so glad I did that.” And maybe it would be months before somebody would say to you, “Hey, by the way, that was all the work of God,” you might say, “Nobody told me that.” “Did you know it was God who drew you to repentance? It was God who opened your heart to believe the truth. It was God who gave you the faith to believe. It was God who gave you salvation, conversion, justification, sanctification.”
I think many people actually come to Christ not really understanding that this is a work of God, they find out about it later. I have known those people through my whole ministry. When sometimes you go into a conference or a church and you preach that salvation’s a sovereign work of God, some of the most faithful Christian people in that church are going to say, “That’s not what I was taught. I thought we came on our own will. How wonderful to know it was all the work of God.” That adds to your worship capacity. So, yes, as long as you believe the gospel, the Lord will accept that faith because He regenerated you because He granted you that faith whether you really knew it or not.
QUESTION: We have time for maybe a couple more. “What is the unforgivable sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit? I’m trying to explain it to my children but I don’t feel like I fully understand what it is myself.” Thanks, Katie. Maybe we can give you a little bit of help with that.
What is the only unforgivable sin? What is it? The only unforgivable sin is not to believe in Christ. Jesus said it, I mentioned it a few moments ago: “You will die in your sins, and where I go you’ll never come. Why? Because you believe not on Me.” That is the only unforgivable sin, not believing in Christ. Any other sin is forgivable.
Well look at the apostle Paul. He was a blasphemer, he was a murderer, he gives that testimony, and he received mercy. There is only one unforgivable sin. There’s only one unpardonable sin and that is to reject Jesus Christ. And that’s exactly what our Lord was talking about in Mark 3 and also in the parallel passage in Matthew. And here’s the setup.
The leaders of Israel, the scribes, and the Pharisees, they had seen Jesus do His miracles. Massive display of divine power. They had heard His teaching for three years in Galilee and in Jerusalem and in the surrounding areas. There was no question that His words and His works were evidence of His divinity, evidence of His Messiahship, evidence that He was the promised King. But this is what they concluded. They said this: “He does what He does by the power of Satan.” That’s their conclusion. They looked at all the evidence of His miracles and His incredible teaching, and they said, “He is from hell. He is empowered by Satan.” And Jesus said, “Wow, you have committed the unpardonable sin. If you have had the full revelation of His words and His works, you’ve seen it all, you’ve heard it all, and you conclude that He’s from Satan, you can never be forgiven.”
But why did Jesus call it blasphemy of the Holy Spirit? Because in His incarnation when He came into the world, He as an obedient Son laid aside the independent use of His attributes and submitted Himself to the Holy Spirit. As He submitted Himself to the will of the Father, He submitted Himself to the work of the Holy Spirit.
You remember early in the gospel accounts it says, “Jesus was filled with the Spirit; the Spirit came upon Him and He went out preaching and teaching”? Everything He did was in the power of the Holy Spirit. So if you concluded that He’s satanic, you blaspheme the Holy Spirit who was working through Him. And if that’s your conclusion that Jesus is satanic, that’s unpardonable.
Then Jesus said in the Matthew account, “This sin will not be forgiven in this age or the age to come.” Well, what’s the age to come? The kingdom age. When Christ comes back to the earth, He’ll reign on the earth for a thousand years. He’ll be teaching, preaching, and He’ll be for sure doing miracles again. And there will be people who reject Him then, perhaps even attributing what He does then to Satan as they did when He was on earth the first time. That will be also unpardonable in the age to come. Hope that helps. Thanks.
QUESTION: “How can we as believers in Christ reach the lost during this time of pandemic when we are isolated and under quarantine?” Travis.
Well, I’m here trying to do it this way. This is a weird time, isn’t it? The Lord knows all about this. I don’t want to get in trouble with the powers that be, but I think if you live your life with a certain amount of reasonableness you don’t have to be afraid. And I would take every opportunity I could to be with people that you know need the Lord. You don’t need to draw a crowd, but there’s nothing to prevent you from inviting somebody to come over to your house and spending some time with them. There’s nothing to prevent you from getting a few friends together in their home or your home or wherever you could gather.
It’s, in some ways, easier to get people together now than it’s ever been because nobody’s going anywhere. Nobody has a schedule. People say to me, “Would you be available Tuesday for a phone call?” and my answer is, “Are you kidding? I’m available all the time, I don’t have a schedule.”
I think you just have to be creative. Find ways to connect with people. Use the phone. Use the iPad or the computer, Skype. Take advantage of the fact that there is a sort of latent fear that’s pervasive today. I think it’s unrealistic the statics would indicate that when this whole thing is said and done the death rate is something like 0.003 – I’ve heard figures like that. So while this appears to be a fast-moving kind of flu, it’s not nearly as deadly as they said it was in the beginning. But still, it’s been promoted as if it’s a deadly thing; and that does raise people’s fear.
And you can address that in talking to people, you know, “How do you feel about death? How do you look at death?” Start with that stark reality and take them to the person of Christ and His resurrection, “And because He lives, you can live also and live eternally.” I’m going to pray the Lord will use you maybe in ways you didn’t know. But be creative, take every opportunity you can.
Well, it’s been a joy to be with you. Thank you for your questions. And for those myriad of questions that didn’t get answered, go to gty.org, the Grace to You website, lots of resources. Go to gracechurch.org, lots of resources there. Go to gracebooks.com, lots of resources there, and take a look at the opportunity to get a MacArthur Study Bible with a lot of notes and answers explaining the Bible as you go through it, and maybe take a look at that book Biblical Doctrine as a resource, okay. Join me a word of prayer.
Father, we thank You for our time tonight, it’s been refreshing. We thank You for those who’ve gathered with us all over the world, and many, many who have been asleep during this particular time, but will download this on Wednesday, or will join us on the website on Wednesday and catch up to where we are. May the truth that we have discussed, the truth that we have proclaimed in Your name and from Your Word be a blessing and an encouragement to all who hear. May Jesus Christ be glorified. It’s in His name that we pray with thanksgiving. Amen.
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