Monday, December 27, 2010

Bearing Fruit in Every Good Work

There is a phrase from a verse in Scripture that has been on my heart and mind lately, and it is from the book of Colossians. The first portion of the verse, Colossians 1:10, was written about here regarding walking in a manner worthy of the Lord and what it is to please Him in all respects. And the phrase that has been on my heart lately is quoted below in bold . . . .

“. . . so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;”

This “bearing fruit” is a part of what it is to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord . . . it is an integral part of our walk and life with Christ. As I thought about ‘fruit’, the parallel between this fruit of Christ and a fruit tree came to mind. 

For example, we have peach and apple trees planted on our property and in order for them to bring forth good fruit, certain care and attention must be given to them. Things such as watering, fertilizing, pruning, cultivating, protecting them from deer and other pests, and preventing and treating diseases.

The watering and fertilizing provide for the nourishment of the tree giving it health and strength and growth . . . this parallels our time spent in the word of God and taking in “the bread of life” (John 6:35) and the “living water” (John 4:10.) And not just reading the words, but taking them in as a part of who we are. 

For the water and nutrients can do no good to the tree, unless they are absorbed into the roots. This watering and fertilizing is also time spent with our Lord in prayer and in fellowship with Him. And in part, it can be time spent learning from those whom the Lord has brought into our lives for teaching and instructing . . . godly older men and women, our parents, and other brothers and sisters in the Lord.

Pruning, while necessary for the tree, also brings forth some loss and pain, but it is all for the good of the tree and the good fruit that will be produced. The pruning not only increases the fruit, but the tree is strengthened as dead, dying or non-productive growth is removed. 

This pruning is what the Lord also does to us, His children . . . He gently prunes us for our good and He refines us “like gold and silver” (Malachi 3:3.) And as we yield our lives to our loving Potter’s hands, He will mold us into vessels for His use. This pruning seems to also be something that we can in part do ourselves. 

For example, when we see bad ‘growth’ or ‘branches’ that negatively affect the tree, we can remove them from our lives. Much as Christ shared figuratively “if your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off” (Mark 9:43.)

Cultivating around the tree helps to remove the weeds and also softens and loosens the top of the soil to allow the water and nutrients easier access to the roots of the tree. How this brings to remembrance the parable of the sower and the seed! 

Once the ground was cultivated and the thorns and rocks were removed, the seed could then grow and bear fruit abundantly in this good soil. May we take to heart what is shared in this parable, and be seeking to practice this continual cultivation of our hearts, and thus, giving no time for the ‘weeds’ to become firmly rooted in our lives.

Protection of the tree from deer and pests is also so important as we found with our peach trees this year! The deer came and nearly destroyed one of the trees and ate all of the fruit. Yet if we had been vigilant and had put up some means of protection, this loss and damage could have been avoided. 

Yet again, this is the same in our spiritual life, as we put up a ‘hedge of protection’ of God’s word in our hearts and minds, as we seek to put up ‘barriers’ to prevent evil influences from infiltrating our hearts and minds, as we are careful of what things we watch, read, participate in, etc., lest they, like the deer, come in and bring destruction and loss.

Closely related to this is the prevention and treatment of diseases. With our trees, we have found that it is much easier to take care of the problem before it begins, or at least when it is just in its beginning stages, than later on when the disease is prevalent. 

May we be ever watchful so that these ‘diseases’ do not infiltrate and grow in our lives! The diseases of habitual sin . . . may we recognize what areas we are sinful in and seek in “the strength that God supplies” (1 Peter 4:11) to overcome them.

As we seek to practice all of these things in our lives, then the result will be this good fruit being borne for the Lord and for His glory. And what a comfort it is to know that the Lord does not demand perfection . . . He desires a striving after to maturity. 

Forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead . . . press[ing] on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13b-14.) 

We will never attain to perfection in this life, but with perseverance, we can have growth . . . and just like the fruit tree, it does not happen overnight, but it is a continual process with each of the aspects working together to yield the abundant and good fruit from the tree.

The verse in Colossians gives further understanding to this ‘bearing of fruit’ in that it is to be in “every good work.” We should be seeking in all things to bear fruit unto the Lord for His glory. There is so much instruction given in Scripture as to what this fruit is, yet there is specific instruction given to women of the Lord. 

There are certain fruits that the Lord desires us to be bearing in our lives which we should be seeking after. The fruit of a gentle and quiet spirit, a submissive heart, graciousness, fearing the Lord, prudence, discretion, being reverent in behavior, being sensible, pure, modest and kind, being a keeper at home and more.

With all of that said, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and also to have the focus of our hearts become inward, in seeing all of these things that “we” need to do. But it should not be so, for it is only us bringing our will into subjection to Christ, and then Him working through us as we seek to grow in these areas. 

And it is a process, little by little . . . an infant cannot instantly become a mature man, but the growth and maturation take place over time through learning, training and practicing.

I have recently been reading through once again a book written by A. W. Tozer titled The Pursuit of God. There was a portion of it that kept coming to mind as I thought about the things that have been shared so far, and it seems to relate well . . .

“The pursuit of God will embrace the labor of bringing our total personality into conformity to His . . . I speak of voluntary exalting of God to His proper station over us and a willing surrender of our whole being to the place of worshipful submission which the Creator-creature circumstance makes proper . . . . The moment we make up our minds that we are going on with this determination to exalt God over all, we step out of the world’s parade . . . .  
“ ‘Be Thou exalted’ is the language of victorious spiritual experience. It is a little key to unlock the door to great treasures of grace. It is central in the life of God in the soul. Let the seeking man reach a place where life and lips join to say continually, ‘Be Thou exalted,’ and a thousand minor problems will be solved at once. His Christian life ceases to be the complicated thing it had been before and becomes the very essence of simplicity.” (The Pursuit of God; pg. 102 and 103.)

So it isn’t about us, but it is all about Him. May that be our heart’s cry, our goal, to always be able to say “Be Thou exalted” . . . in our lives, our words, our actions. May we ourselves be a sacrifice unto Him, and all for His glory and His exaltation. 

May we be seeking and striving after this “bearing fruit in every good work.” For He is worthy of all that we are . . . He has redeemed us from the pit of destruction and covered us in His precious blood. What a very small sacrifice it should be, then, to give ourselves fully and completely to our Savior and Redeemer!

-Posted by Sarah

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Psalm of Encouragement

The other evening when reading my Bible before bed, Psalm 89 was read, and the portions of it below especially blessed my heart, and I thought I would share them here in the hopes that they would be a blessing to you all as well . . .

"I will sing of the lovingkindess of the LORD forever;
to all generations I will make known Your faithfulness with my mouth . . .

"The heavens will praise Your wonders, O LORD;
Your faithfulness also in the assembly of the holy ones.
For who in the skies is comparable to the LORD?
Who among the sons of the mighty is like the LORD,
a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones,
and awesome above all those who are around Him?
O LORD God of hosts, who is like You, O mighty LORD?
Your faithfulness also surrounds You.

"The heavens are Yours, the earth also is Yours;
the world and all it contains,
You have founded them.
The north and the south, You have created them;
Tabor and Hermon shout for joy at Your name.
You have a strong arm;
Your hand is mighty, Your right hand is exalted.
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne;
Lovingkindness and truth go before You.
How blessed are the people who know the joyful sound!
O LORD, they walk in the light of Your countenance.
In Your name they rejoice all the day,
And by Your righteousness they are exalted.
For You are the glory of their strength,
And by Your favor our horn is exalted.
For our shield belongs to the LORD . . .

"Blessed by the LORD forever!
Amen and Amen."

Psalm 89:1, 5-8, 11-18a, 52

-Posted by Sarah

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Do you ever have times when the Lord seems to be impressing a certain area, a certain thought, upon your heart? As of late, He has often been bringing to my heart and mind “grace” . . .

Grace is so often spoken of in Scripture, yet I find it interesting that it is specifically mentioned in regards to women in the book of Proverbs . . .

A gracious woman attains honor, and ruthless men attain riches.” Proverbs 11:16

Being a gracious woman is a part of the beautiful, internal adornment that God desires His daughters to have . . . and it is an aspect of having the “gentle and quiet spirit” that is spoken of in 1 Peter. Yet what is this ‘grace’, and how should it be evidenced in my life? In my words, my thoughts, my actions, my service?

According to Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language ‘grace’ is:

“Favor; good will; kindness; disposition to oblige another”

And ‘gracious’ is defined as:

“Favorable; kind; benevolent; merciful; disposed to forgive offenses and impart unmerited blessings; expressing kindness and favor”

How convicting these definitions are! One with a heart that is gracious will have kindness towards others flowing from them . . . their words will be kind and merciful . . . they will be seeking ways to unselfishly serve and bless others . . . when offenses are done against them, instead of responding with anger, bitterness, or self-pity, they respond with love and forgiveness, giving and serving and “turning the other cheek” . . . imparting “unmerited blessings.”

As young women of God, grace should be such a near and real aspect of our character that it becomes our ‘disposition’ (as the definition of ‘grace’ shows), that it becomes a natural outflowing from us.

While this is our desire, how important it is to recognize where this wellspring of grace is derived from! It is only through our Lord . . . it is through Him that this grace is given, it is through His strength that we are able to have this grace, for God is the originator of grace. 

When looking in the concordance for verses that speak of ‘grace’, the vast majority are in reference to the grace of the Lord, and the grace that is bestowed on all of mankind, and specifically given towards us, His children. For He is “the God of all grace” (1 Peter 5:10.)

Recognizing that it is only from the Lord that we are able to have this grace, may our hearts be ever seeking to draw near to the Lord, seeking to walk in accordance with His word, and asking in prayer for the Lord to fill our hearts with His grace so that this grace can then be poured out to others. To our families, our friends, and yes, even our enemies.

One area that this grace is often evidenced (or not evidenced) is through the words that we speak. In the book of Colossians, exhortation is given for our speech to be with grace . . . 

Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” Colossians 4:6

One of the words that stood out to me as I read this verse yet again, was the word “always.” Grace should adorn our speech not only when it is easy, not only when we feel like we are in a ‘good mood’, not only when someone is deserving of grace, but always. Every word that proceeds from our mouths should be adorned with this grace . . . being kind, merciful, benevolent, obliging and giving towards others.

The parallel given in this particular verse is “as though seasoned with salt.” The thought that first comes to mind is that salt is a preservative, and gracious words spoken from a pure heart can preserve relationships, preserve good will, preserve our witness for Christ, and so much more.

Being a preservative also inhibits bacteria from growing and reproducing . . . our gracious words can do the same. A gracious word given to one who is downhearted can uplift and encourage. A gracious word falling from our lips when anger is present, helps to bring calmness and helps to dispel the tension there. Like an abundance of water upon a spreading fire . . . or a gentle and soft breeze on a hot day.

A gracious word spoken to ones who have wronged us also demonstrates love and forgiveness, and is a picture of the abundant grace and forgiveness that Christ has shown towards us. A gracious word spoken to those we love, allows the light of Christ to shine through us to them, and again, demonstrates to them our love and care that we have for them.

Salt is also something that enhances the flavor . . . and if our words are ‘seasoned’ with grace, they are more encouraging, more edifying, more uplifting to others than if they were absent of this ‘flavor enhancer.’

And again, it is only as our hearts are yielded to the Lord, that this grace can become a part of our character. May this be the earnest desire of our hearts, as young women desiring to be obedient to our Lord, to seek to adorn our hearts with this God-given grace.

So then, the next time the opportunity for hasty words or angry looks or an unforgiving spirit arises, we will instead let the grace of Christ flow through us to everyone that the Lord brings across our paths . . . first of all to our dear families, our parents, our brothers, our sisters; and to the church, friends, neighbors, strangers we meet on the street, the checker at the grocery store, to everyone. And with practice and the yielding of our will to Christ, may this adornment of graciousness become such a part of who we are, that it will be the natural outflowing from our lips and from our hearts.

-Posted by Sarah

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Reformed Doctrine – Does Scripture Teach and Support it?

As was shared at the beginning of this writing, apart from writing here for Follow in His Steps, the Lord often gives opportunities to correspond with others regarding different scriptural topics, whether it be in answer to questions that someone may have about a particular area, or if questions are asked about our family’s faith practice. A number of times these letters have later been shared here on this blog such as the ones on modesty, headcoverings, trusting the Lord, and most recently, on the Old and New Covenants.

As mentioned in the previous post, I had hoped to share a few of these letters . . . This particular one, which was written to a young lady whom I had corresponded with regarding this topic, has been ‘reworked’ since the original writing of it to take out as many personal references as possible, yet while still giving clarity to the writing. A number of ‘headings’ have also been added to make the readability a little easier.

And as the title suggests, this writing is regarding Reformed theology (otherwise known as Calvinism), and while it is fairly long, it barely scratches the surface of a topic that is so very broad and deep. So while it is not anywhere near an exhaustive look at this theological system, it is shared here with the hope that it will provoke thought and encourage us to earnestly search the Scriptures to discern what is indeed truth, and what is not . . . to earnestly seek to ensure that the foundation that we are standing upon, and the structure that we are building upon it, is solidly founded upon the word of God.

Thank you so much for sharing all that you did, in response to my question! I very much appreciated that. :) You brought up many points and verses that I would love to discuss further with you . . . . 

. . . As I read what you shared (and again, I really appreciated it!), I realized that we believe quite differently on these points. For while we each have the same evidence (Scripture), we are interpreting that evidence differently. Here is what I had shared in my earlier e-mail:

Under the New Covenant, we see that Christ died for all of mankind (Isaiah 53:6; John 1:29; John 3:14-18; Romans 5:6; 1 Timothy 2:6; 1 Timothy 4:10; 1 John 1:9-2:2; 1 John 4:14) giving each man the choice to believe in Him for He draws all men to Himself (John 12:32; 1 Timothy 2:4; 1 Timothy 4:10; Hebrews 2:9). It is because of His great love for us and His drawing us to Him that we can recognize that we are sinners, in need of repentance, and in need of His salvation that comes through faith by believing in His name. Yes, He is faithful, but as we see repeatedly in Scripture, God does not force anyone to believe in Him (Matthew 23:37; Mark 10:17-22; etc.), nor does He force or coerce their heart to make them believe in Him . . . this is the man’s responsibility and was given to Him by God through His sovereignty. And the choice to either believe in Christ for salvation or to reject Him is a choice that each man has the ability to make and must, and will, make for himself. (John 7:37; Romans 1:16; Galatians 3:22; 2 Peter 3:9.)

Whereas you believe that God chose some to believe in Him, and chose some to go to hell. In a brief summary, you shared that:
God is the one who chooses who will be saved . . . Several passages in Scripture remind us, that we are chosen by God, and it is He who gives Salvation. (1 Peter 1:1-2, Ephesians 1:1-7, Acts 13:48, 1 Corinthians 1:2-5, 2:12, Titus 1:1, Romans 8:29, John 14:6) . . . It is God who decides who will be saved and who will perish. He has already chosen His elect. Just as it says in Romans 9:15, He is the decider of who will receive his compassion and mercy and who will not. . . . God chose each and every one of His people ahead of time. He convicts and opens, hearts, minds, and eyes. It is through His convictions we sense our need for Him, but we would never have been so, had He not chosen us . . . He allows us to make choices in our lives, but the choice of Salvation, is not our choice. It is God’s.

From these two explanations of what we believe, we can see that contradictions are present. Yet we know that if two things are contradictory, both cannot be true. Why is it, then, when we both have the same evidence, we can interpret that evidence in two different ways? 

The reason is that we both have our own presuppositions . . . that is, things that we have been taught, experienced, and/or see in the world around us which influence our interpretation of evidence. And as fallible humans, our interpretation is subject to error. 

I know on more than one occasion where I had a certain understanding of Scripture, but when challenged, or upon further study, I found that the understanding I had held to was either untrue, or it was an incomplete understanding. So how do we know if the interpretation that we have of passages of Scripture are true? Or in what way should we interpret Scripture? Well, God answers that question for us:

But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation . . .” 1 Peter 1:20

“. . . they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scripture daily to see whether these things were so.” Acts 17:11

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17

From these verses, and others as well, we can gather that our own interpretation of Scripture needs to be examined in the light of Scripture to see if it is true and right. And Scripture is adequate for training us in righteousness. We also know that there are no contradictions in the word of God for God is truth and there is no lie in Him, and therefore, His word is true.

So let us let Scripture interpret Scripture, let the living word of God (Hebrews 4:12) guide us into truth through the working of the Holy Spirit.

To begin, let us look at a verse that you shared that has apparent ‘contradictions’ elsewhere in Scripture (which we know can not truly be contradictory) . . .

Verse:For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy” (Romans 9:15-16.)

Appearing Contradiction: “For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all” (Romans 11:32.)

Here is one example then, where our interpretation of one or both verses can be in error when considered solely by themselves. But when studied together, and in context, we find that they are in harmony with one another. (Hopefully we will be able to discuss these verses more later!) Again, we must let Scripture interpret Scripture to come to a correct and true understanding.

Letting Scripture Interpret Scripture

Like the above example, erroneous interpretations can come about by reading one verse that makes a statement without letting the rest of Scripture expound and explain that verse, or to let the verse be broadened and deepened by other passages of Scripture.

For example, I can say that “I went to the store today.” By that statement, someone might infer that I only went to the store today. Whereas I simply did not give the full information by my statement. A later statement (or statements) could give more information without contradicting the first statement. “I went to the store today, and I also went to the park” or “I went to the store today and yesterday” or “I went to the store today, but I didn’t go to the store this morning.” These do not contradict the first statement, but they do give a fuller and more complete understanding to what actually took place.

Examples of this type of scenario can be found in Scripture; and it is because of these that critics of Scripture often discredit the Bible (in that, it is just a book of tales and not the inerrant word of God) without investigating further. Such as in the account of Christ’s birth that is given in the gospels. The account in Matthew states that Magi visited Christ, and there is no mention of others visiting. 

When we go to the book of Luke, however, we find that shepherds visited Him, but there is no mention of the Magi. Is this a contradiction? No, but each book does not give all of the information. But if I read Matthew first and came to the conclusion that only Magi visited Christ since that is all that is mentioned, I would have an erroneous interpretation unless I also read and believed Luke and found that the shepherds also visited Christ. 

And yet another conclusion that could be arrived at is that the Magi and the shepherds were one and the same since they were never mentioned together in one account; but with careful reading and comparing of the texts, we find that they were most certainly not the same.

Unfortunately, yet often quite easily, this type of error occurs when we read and study Scripture. Sometimes it is through simply ignorance on our part, and sometimes it is through our own choice. Or it is through relegating one passage of Scripture to a higher ‘plane’ and if other verses seem to contradict or add more information, we simply say that we just do not understand them (and again, this is letting our conclusions rest upon our lack of understanding, our presuppositions, or both.)

The Drawing of God

One verse that this often happens to is the verse that has been shared from the book of John:

No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44.)

When reading this verse from the understanding (or presupposition) that God only chooses to save some (the elect) and without preconditions (repentance, belief, etc.), it would be assumed, then, when reading this verse, that the Father would only draw the elect to Himself, as they would be the only ones who would come to Christ.

It is verses such as this one, though, where a thorough study and examination of the words used within it can be a great benefit. So let us take a look at the word “draw.” What is this "draw"? How is it applied? Who is it applied to? And again, let us let Scripture interpret Scripture.

The word ‘draw,’ as used in our English translations of the Bible, is translated from two variations of a Greek word and these variations are helkuo and helko, and both mean “to drag.” These Greek words are used eight times in the Greek texts (which are what our English translations come from) and of these eight times that helkuo and helko are used in Scripture, only two are used in the context of men being drawn to Christ. Interestingly enough, both of these two times were spoken only by Christ and are recorded only in the gospel of John.

One of these two uses is found in John 6:44 (which is the verse that we are discussing) . . .

No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.”

The second and last use is in John 12:32 . . .

And I if I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself.” (John 12:32; this is a direct translation from the Greek text. All major Bible versions would support this translation [KJV, NKJV, NRSV, NASB, and NIV] as well as the three major Greek texts used.)

Here is a case of letting one verse (John 12:32) bring more understanding to another verse (John 6:44.) We see in John 6:44 that no one can (is able to) come to Christ unless first the Father draws (helkuo/helko—to drag) him. And we see in John 12:32 that this drawing (again, helkuo/helko—to drag) is applied to all men for Christ says “I will draw all men to myself.” (And remember that Christ stated “I and the Father are one” [John 10:30])

When we hold these two verses together, letting Scripture interpret Scripture, we find that God states in His word that no one can have the opportunity to come to Christ unless they are drawn (man cannot do it alone, meaning without this drawing of God, it is impossible to be saved); and He also states that everyone has the ability to come to Christ for Christ draws all men to Himself. 

And it is clear that the usage of ‘all’ here does not identify a specific man or woman, or a specific factional group. However, all (meaning everyone or anyone) is used alone. Though the writers of the New Testament certainly use many other terms in Scripture to identify a specific person or people group; here, in quoting Christ, John did not use terms such as ‘brethren,’ or ‘believer,’ or ‘faithful,’ or ‘saved,’ or ‘predestined,’ or ‘elect’ to identify a uniquely identifiable group.

He could and would have done so if any of these were the words of Christ, and, if the context required it. But John chose to use 'all' (Greek-p├íntes [which is gender neutral]), without using another identifying noun in transcribing the spoken words of Christ as he was inspired by the Holy Spirit—his choice of words, then, must be used, and must be used contextually with the rest of Scripture.

To quote John 6:44 again . . .

No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.

So then, is everyone that is drawn to Christ raised up on the last day? There is another precondition that while not mentioned in this specific verse (John 6:44), when held in context with the rest of Scripture, it becomes clear who this 'raising up' refers to:

For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40)

The above verse is just a few verses earlier than John 6:44, yet it brings more light and understanding to who specifically Christ will “raise . . . up on the last day.” Yes, it is those who are drawn to Christ, but it is also those who behold the Son and believe in Him. And this is the choice that man makes after Christ “draws all men” to Himself. (John 12:32)

This is all a beautiful picture which exemplifies so clearly the great love, and the great mercy, of the all-powerful, all-knowing God. And one of the last verses in the Bible presents this in a poignant way . . . “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes to take the water of life without cost.” (Revelation 22:17.) Oh, what a precious Savior He is!

The Spirit of Man

Before going further, I would like to touch on the fact that in the beginning God created man in His image, and He placed in man the ability to know Him and recognize Him. Even after the fall, this ability to know God, and recognize who He is is still a part of mankind. The reason why, is that God has given us a spirit. 

This spirit differentiates us from animals (who have a soul [the breath of life] but do not have a spirit.) This spirit, which all men possess, gives us a conscience—the ability to recognize right and wrong, good and evil, and morality and immorality. Through this spirit, man is able to then recognize and know God.

For example . . .

“. . . because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them . . . For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations and their foolish heart was darkened” (Romans 1:19, 21)

For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written on their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (Romans 2:14-15.)

In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons . . .” (Acts 14:17.)

And in Christ’s words:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling” (Matthew 23:37; also given in Luke 13:34.)

“I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality” (Revelation 2:21.)

But how would all of this fit with the verses that have been shared about being ‘chosen’? I would love to go into greater depth on and examination of those verses, but as this is already getting fairly long, I’ll share just a bit and save the rest for a later writing. :)

A Brief Look at Predestination

Those who hold to the understanding of God choosing whom to save and whom not to save, closely tie this choosing with predestination. And one of the verses that is often quoted by those who hold to Reformed theology, speaks of this predestination . . .

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified” (Romans 8:29-30.)

A question that is important to answer in regards to these verses is, what were they predestined to? Is it unto salvation? And how/when did this predestination take place? According to verse 29, it is not unto salvation but it is “to become conformed to the image of His Son.” 

With this being the case, and given the fact that belief in Christ is a precursor to salvation, it would seem that this predestining is in reference to believers and that the Lord predestined that those who would believe in His name would be “conformed to the image of His Son.” 

This conforming is likely in reference to when our mortal bodies are changed to immortal bodies; when the corruptible is exchanged for the incorruptible (as is seen in Philippians 3:2, which is the only other place in the New Testament where the Greek word from which ‘conformed’ is translated in Romans 8:29, is used.)

More importantly than this, though, is the fact that the foreknowledge comes before predestination, foreknowledge precedes God predestining. God is an omniscient God, He sees and knows all (and He always has), and He knows what is going to take place in the future. Because God does know all, He also knows the choices that man is going to make, and thus, He can predestine certain things to take place based upon His foreknowledge of the free choices of man (for example, Job.) 

Not that God causes their choices to take place, but that He knows that they will take place so He predestines other events around them. While this may not seem to make sense to us how the foreknowledge of God works, we must recognize that there are so many things that our finite minds cannot comprehend about an infinite and amazing God! 

It is in areas such as this where we must have faith in the Lord that His word is true. Yet even if we do not understand all of these things, God has given us in His word what is necessary to know Him, to love Him, and to be obedient to Him.

Another important point, and one that is directly linked to what was just shared, is that in Scripture, predestination is based upon foreknowledge; and never once in Scripture is the predestination unto believing in Christ or unto a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. 

It is instead, always, without exception, to specific things that come to those who have already believed in Christ (such as the “becoming conformed to the image of His Son” in Romans 8:29.) [There is one verse in Acts (Acts 13:48) which would seem to not fit with this, but if we look at this verse in context with the rest of Scripture as well as examining the Greek words used (of which the Greek word for predestine is not used; and again recognizing that Scripture cannot contradict itself), we can understand what it means.]

The Choosing of God - What Does it Mean?

Having the understanding that predestination is based upon the foreknowledge of God, helps to form the foundation for understanding about the ‘choosing’ and ‘choice’ of God.

As we look at the verses that speak about the Lord choosing people, it is found that this 'choosing' is often in reference to the nation of Israel (and as mentioned in an earlier writing, not all of Israel was saved, so this particular ‘choosing’ of God was not unto salvation). This ‘choice’ or ‘choosing’ is also used in reference to Christ choosing the apostles which I’d like to touch on briefly here as it can, like what was shared earlier about Scripture interpreting Scripture, help bring a fuller and more clear understanding of the other passages that speak about ‘choosing’ . . .

In John 15:16 it reads “You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain.” When reading this verse (and all others as well), we should first ask ourselves “Who is being spoken to in this passage?”, and “What is the simple meaning of the text?” 

When we look at the context, specifically chapters 13-17, we see that Christ is speaking to, or of, the apostles specifically. The apostles were men that were chosen for a specific ministry by Christ, a ministry that was unique unto them—they did not choose to be His apostles, but Christ chose them.

Was this choosing of them as apostles also a choosing for salvation? If we always interpret the words “chosen,” “choice,” “choosing,” etc. as meaning for salvation (a presupposition), then, yes, this choosing of the apostles would have to be for salvation. But again, let us let Scripture interpret Scripture . . . 

If we look at the life of Judas, we see that the “choice” of Christ of the apostles was not for salvation: “Jesus answered them, ‘Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?’ ” (John 6:70). If the choosing of Christ was for belief in Christ and for salvation, then Judas could not have been “a devil.” As Scripture shows, then, just because the word “chose” is used, it does not mean that that choice is for salvation. In fact, from this passage it is clear that Christ chose someone, yet that person chose to reject Him.

With the above examples (Christ choosing someone and then them rejecting Him [Israel and Judas]; and also Christ’s choosing of the apostles), we see that when the words “choice”, “chosen”, etc. are used, it does not mean that it is for salvation. To assume so is again building on our presuppositions and not allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture. 

And as this is the case, we need to examine each and every time that these words are used to find out what is in actuality being referred to . . . what they are being ‘chosen’ to. Which brings us to looking at the passages of Scripture that speak about being chosen (or that use other similar phrases) . . . . 

Examining "Chosen" in Context

When we examine the passages of Scripture that speak of the ‘chosen’ or being ‘chosen,’ there are some questions that can be asked while reading these verses that can help us to understand them better. Questions such as: “What are they being chosen to?” (we cannot automatically assume salvation as was seen when we looked at the verse about Christ choosing the apostles), and then some other good questions are “When is the choosing being done?” and “Is it based upon God causing things, or upon His infinite foreknowledge?” (as was shown in Romans 8:29-30.)

Let’s quickly take a look at one of the verses that has been mentioned:

. . . who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood . . .” (1 Peter 1:1b-2.)

First, let’s ask: “What are they being chosen to?”

--to obey Jesus Christ
--to be sprinkled with His blood

There is no mention of being chosen for salvation, or being chosen to be drawn to God. And when we look carefully at the two things that they are chosen to, we find that both follow a genuine belief in Christ. 

In Scripture, the majority of times when obedience to Christ is mentioned, it is in reference to after belief in Him has taken place—this obedience is an outpouring of our love for Him (1 John 5:2-3, etc.); and the sprinkling of His blood, being washed in His blood and being forgiven of sin, also follows genuine belief in Christ.

“When is the choosing done?”

-- In this passage, Scripture does not mention when this choice is made here.

“Is it based upon God causing things, or upon His infinite foreknowledge?”

--Once again, we find that it is based upon His foreknowledge (and not His predestination) which is His knowing what will take place in the future. And as God knows who is going to come to believe in Him, He can choose the blessings that will come to those who believe in His name, such as, being "sprinkled with His blood." 

By examining the verse in this way, we find that it does not at all support that God chose some men to be saved and others not to be saved. And again, we must not add or subtract from the word of God, but let Scripture speak for itself, as well as interpret itself.

A similar examination of Ephesians 1:1-7, 1 Corinthians 1:2-5 (which does not mention 'choice,' but 'calling' which is another whole area for study! :), and Titus 1:1 will yield similar results. What I have shared here is very brief, but it is a good starting point and can help us understand a passage of Scripture more clearly. 

A much more thorough and complete understanding can be gained when we study specific words in the passage (what Greek words are used, their definitions, etc.) and how they are used elsewhere in Scripture, as well as examining the passage in context with the verses around it, the chapters, the book, and eventually, all of Scripture.

A Quick Look at “Calling”

Romans 8:29 also states that “these whom He predestined, He also called.” Let’s take a quick look at what this ‘calling’ is in reference to. First, the verse makes it plain that He called those whom He predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. Yet it does not exclude the others. 

This verse cannot be taken to mean that He only called ‘an elect’ for it does not say that He only called a certain group of people. That is like saying (in a very poor analogy), “I called my sister.” This statement does not exclude my calling of anyone else, but instead that this is the information that accurately states (though is limited) the particular thought I am attempting to communicate at that time. And also, if everyone who was called was also justified and glorified, how would that be in harmony with Matthew 22:14: “Many are called, but few are chosen.”?

In Conclusion

Hypothetically, however, if the Reformed interpretation of Scripture was correct in that God chose who was going to be saved and who was going to go to hell, there arises some significant difficulties and apparent contradictions . . . how would the below be reconciled? (And we know that there can be no contradictions in Scripture as God is non-contradictory.)

--God desires all men to be saved and does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23, John 3:17, 2 Peter 3:9, 1 Timothy 2:4) 

--Christ died for all (Isaiah 53:6; John 1:29; John 3:14-18; Romans 5:6; 1 Timothy 2:6; 1 Timothy 4:10; Titus 2:11; Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 1:9-2:2; 1 John 4:14)

--God is not a God of partiality (Deuteronomy 10:17, Acts 10:34, Romans 2:11, Galatians 2:6)

--God has revealed Himself to all of man (Romans 1:18-23)

--God chose the nation Israel, and they are not all believers in Christ (many verses)

--All the many, many verses that say if anyone, everyone, whoever, etc. is thirsty, hungry, etc. come to Me/believe in Me

As I mentioned earlier, this e-mail is quite long, so we can save a further study of the verses that you shared until a later point (I would love to discuss each and every verse that you brought up! They are all such wonderful ones. :)

. . . . And if there is one thing that I hope to express my heart clearly on, it is that all of Scripture is important in understanding God, His character and our (man’s) relationship with Him. We can never know all of who God is in our small, finite minds, but, God in His love has given us what He desires us to know of Him and all that we need to know of Christ . . . His love, His atoning work in conquering sin and death, and the glorious salvation that He has brought to mankind. May we continue to learn and grow in this understanding of Him!

*Edited to add: Given some of the comments and e-mails received, I thought it wise to mention here that while my family and I believe that Scripture does not support nor teach Calvinism, we do not hold to Arminianism either. Both are theological systems designed by men, and they are not the only two ‘choices’ of belief structure. My family and I hold to neither one, but instead, strive to hold to God’s pure and true Word alone. Just thought I should clarify that. :)

-Posted by Sarah

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Should Believers in Christ Follow and Hold to Old Testament Law?

Apart from writing here for Follow in His Steps, the Lord often gives opportunities to correspond with others regarding different scriptural topics, whether it be in answer to questions that someone may have about a particular area, or if questions are asked about our family’s faith practice. A number of times these letters have later been shared here on this blog (such as the ones on modesty, headcoverings, and trusting the Lord.)

As I haven’t had a great deal of time lately to write specifically for this blog, I thought that I would share a few more of these letters that have been written. This particular one has been ‘reworked’ since the original writing of it to a young lady, to take out the personal references as much as was able yet while still giving clarity to the writing. 

It is shared here with the hope that it will provoke thought and stir each one of us to search the Scriptures and to seek to learn more and more about our Lord and His Word . . .


Thank you for your gracious response, for sharing what you did, and for sharing your all’s website address. I visited the site, and found that, yes, we do believe differently in regards to the Law, the Old and New Covenants, etc. While we both have the same evidence (i.e. Scripture), our interpretations of that evidence are contrary to one another.

The interpretations of evidence that we arrive at are often based upon our presuppositions, or preconceived ideas, which can either arise from previous teachings that we have heard, commentaries, our own minds, etc. Presuppositions are those things that are already assumed and taken for granted before a thorough investigation of the evidence has taken place. 

These presuppositions are often influenced by, or arise from, the worldview that we have whether it be atheism, Catholicism, Judaism, etc., or any belief that we may already hold to (such as believing that baptism is necessary in order to attain salvation, etc.)—these types of previously held beliefs will very likely influence our interpretation of Scripture. 

Because of this, often as we read, instead of gleaning the pure meaning of the text, we read into God’s word these presuppositions, these previously held beliefs, that we already have. And as a result, they influence our interpretation of the evidence. Thus why it is so very important that when we read and study Scripture, that we let Scripture define and show what the true interpretation of it is. 
As Peter stated by inspiration of God “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation . . .” (2 Peter 1:20.) We must let Scripture interpret Scripture.

Having this as the basis for any discussion that one may have regarding God’s Word will help greatly as we study and examine Scripture together. And with that in mind, I have some thoughts that I would like to share. Please take to heart what is shared, prayerfully examine it in the light of Scripture, and set aside any presuppositions that you may have so that you may be able to understand the pure meaning of the Word. Whether it be in favor of your interpretation, or mine.

In a previous correspondence, one of the verses shared was Galatians 3:17-19:

What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise. Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made.”

For a brief timeline, first came the promise that was to Abraham which was “by faith,” and then “four hundred and thirty years later,” was the establishment of the Old Covenant. And as the above verses show, the Law did not nullify the previously made promise to Abraham, the promise of Christ. 

We see that the Law was added “because of transgressions,” and it was to be in place “until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made.” That seed being Christ; and the promise being that which was made to Abraham.

To further support this, we find in Hebrews that “. . . on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment [the Old Covenant] because of its weakness and uselessness (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.” (Hebrews 7:18-19.)

From these verses, it is shown that there are two separate ‘sides’ if you will, two contrasts, Scripture calls them ‘hands.’ On one side is the Law, which Scripture says was weak and useless (it made nothing “perfect”—it did not bring salvation), on the other side is the “better hope” which is Christ. Here is a ‘picture’ of both the Old and the New Covenants. And as God says in His Word, it is through the New Covenant that we draw near to Him, not the Old.

Scripture is replete with distinctions between the Old and New Covenants (as well as how the Old prepares the way for the New), and a key, and very foundational verse, is found just a bit further in the book of Hebrews . . .

When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.” (Hebrews 8:13)

The Greek word that was used in this verse and from which the word “obsolete” was translated is palaioo which means “to make obsolete; to wear out, become obsolete, become old” (definition taken from Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance.) According to Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, it means “to declare a thing to be old and so about to be abrogated.” 

So here in this passage, God is saying that He has made (past tense) the first covenant obsolete and abrogated! Obsolete means “gone into disuse; disused; neglected,” and abrogated is to be “repealed; annulled by an act of authority” (definitions taken from Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language.)

Again, a clear and contextual distinction between the Old and New Covenants—the Old was made obsolete by God, to make way for the New which was established by Christ.

Christ Himself uses even more strong and clear language in Matthew to support this:

But no one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and a worse tear results. Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:16-17.)

This is a word picture given by Christ of the New and Old Covenants. As He states, the unshrunk cloth (New Covenant) is not compatible with an old garment (Old Covenant); and again, new wine (New Covenant) is not compatible with old wineskins (Old Covenant.) The two are incompatible. The purpose of the Old Covenant was to reveal man’s sinfulness, his inability to save himself, and to point to the Savior, which would be the induction of the New Covenant . . . 

Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made.” (Galatians 3:19.)

Elsewhere in Scripture it is also shared that the Law was a tutor to lead us to Christ, but now that there is faith, we are no longer under a tutor (Galatians 3:24-25); that the Old Covenant was but a “mere shadow” of the substance which was Christ (Colossians 2:16-17); and that the Law was only “a shadow” of what was to come, that being Christ and the New Covenant that He established (Hebrews 10:1a.)

Scripture instructs repeatedly that the Law was a precursor to the New Covenant; that it pointed to Christ, but was only a shadow. And again, as Christ presented so distinctly, the New Covenant and the Old Covenant are not compatible with one another. The Old instead prepared the way and led to the establishment of the New.

Which leads to a verse which is often quoted when this topic is discussed . . . but again, we have the same evidence, yet different interpretations . . .

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-19.)

Words have tremendous meaning, and it is important that we have an accurate understanding of those words to fully and accurately understand what is being communicated. If we use our own interpretation of those words, we can, and likely will, run into error. In this particular passage, there are two very important and key words that we must know the proper defining of; those words being “abolish” and “fulfill” . . .

“Abolish” – kataluo - “to destroy, to overthrow” (according to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance)

“Fulfill” – pleroo “to make full, to complete” (according to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance)

Let us look at ‘abolish’ which is “to destroy, to overthrow” . . . first we must recognize that God's Word is always true and always good. Every part of it has a purpose, whether it be instruction to follow, things to watch for, historical accounts, prophecy, things to look forward to, etc. There are also different purposes in the different types of law given (mosaic law, ceremonial law, etc.) 

By using Scripture to interpret Scripture, we can discover what the purpose of each passage is. Knowing all of this, we can know for certain that the Old Covenant should never be destroyed as it is God’s word and it has a specific purpose, that being to not only give a history of what God has done and what foreshadowed and led to the New Covenant, but as mentioned earlier, it is to reveal man’s sinfulness, our inability to save ourselves, and to point to the Savior, Jesus Christ. 

As we can see by the definition, there is a significant difference between ‘abolishing’ something and ‘not observing and/or following’ it any longer; or as Christ makes so plain, between ‘abolishing’ and ‘fulfilling.’

Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language defines 'fulfill' as “to accomplish; to perform; to complete; to answer in execution or event what has been foretold or promised; as to fulfill a prophecy or prediction; to fulfill a promise” and “to accomplish what was intended.”

With those definitions in mind, let us look at this passage of Scripture in context. The verses that follow it contrast the Old Covenant (what had previously been held to and followed) to the New Covenant (what Christ was beginning) . . .

“You have heard that the ancients were told ‘You shall not commit murder’ (Old Covenant) . . . but I say to you (New Covenant) . . .” (Matthew 5:21 and 22)

You have heard that it was said ‘You shall not commit adultery’ (Old Covenant) . . . but I say to you (New Covenant) . . .” (Matthew 5:27-28)

Again, you have heard that the ancients were told ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord (Old Covenant) . . . but I say to you, make no oath at all (New Covenant) . . .” (Matthew 5:21 and 22)

You have heard that it was said ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth’ (Old Covenant) . . . but I say to you, do not resist an evil person (New Covenant) . . .” (Matthew 5:21 and 22)

You have heard that it was said ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’ (Old Covenant) . . . but I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (New Covenant) . . .” (Matthew 5:21 and 22)

From these passages of Scripture, we are told and instructed that the old was fulfilled in Christ and the new was established. Christ was establishing a New Covenant that was different than the Old.

Going back to what was shared earlier about the fulfillment of the Old Covenant and the beginning of the new (“You have heard that it was said . . . but I tell you . . . .”) leads to a very applicable passage . . .

Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man. Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:1-6.)

We are to die to the Law . . . if one is dead to something, do they still take part in it? Do they continue to follow it? Do they hold it as a part of who they are? No, for just as new wine cannot go into old wineskins, we cannot hold to both the New Covenant (Christ) and the Old Covenant (Law.) We are to die to the Law and live to Christ, we cannot live both.

The question has also been asked “we are all saved by faith...the question is, ‘What does your faith cause you to do?’” As Scripture says, “If you love Me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15.) If we love the Lord, we will strive to keep and follow His commandments; and that encompasses all of God’s Word (in keeping with the context that He has given.)

There is much, much more that could be said on this topic and a great many more verses that could be shared, but as this has already become fairly long, I will bring it to a close for now. Please, examine the Scriptures. Set aside any presuppositions that you may have, any man’s interpretation and commentaries that you have read or that you follow; go to Scripture and Scripture alone and find out what God says in His Word. Examine the passages shared . . . examine the words shared here, as a Berean, to “see if these things are so."

-Posted by Sarah

*Here are a few other verses that relate to this topic as well:

Galatians 3:24-25 – Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.

Galatians 4:9-10 – But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.

Galatians 5:1-4 – It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.

Galatians 5:16-18 – But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not be carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

Colossians 2:16-17 – Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.