April 3, 2023
Is it the case that God chose some individuals, before time began, to be saved? Did God choose others, before they were born, before they had an opportunity to choose or reject Christ, to be eternally lost? If so, is it therefore the case that Jesus died only for the elect and not for the whole world? These are doctrines that are taught by many well-meaning people in Christendom. But do these doctrines line up with scripture?
Hear the words of Jesus: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:16-17 NAS95) Did Jesus die only for the elect, or for the whole world? Is His offer of salvation only for some, or for anyone who will believe?
Jesus says in John chapter 5, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgement, but has passed out of death into life.” (John 5:24 NAS95) Again, is Jesus offering eternal life to all? Is He offering life to anyone who will hear and believe? Or is He only offering life to those individuals who were already chosen for salvation before time began? If that is the case, how can Jesus say they have passed out of death into life, if they already had life?
What about the following scriptures? Paul writes to Timothy that God, our Savior, “…desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4 NAS95) Or consider what Peter wrote, that the Lord is “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9 NAS95) What is God’s desire? It is for all people to be saved! He does not wish for any to perish, but for all to repent! Is this really God’s desire? If so, how could we conclude that He was pleased to condemn the majority of mankind to the fires of hell before they had a choice to accept or reject Jesus? Are we to believe that God truly desires for all to repent, but created most people with the complete inability to do so? Do these ideas line up with the plain statements of the word of God?
I am so thankful that God does indeed desire all people to be saved. He gives all people the opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel. This is the plain testimony of scripture. Praise God for sending His Son to rescue from eternal condemnation any and all who will hear and believe!
Leave a Comment » | 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9, available to all, John 3:16-17, John 5:24, not wishing any to perish, salvation | Permalink
Posted by Russell Holden
March 2, 2023
Some people make me nervous when they quote scripture. It is because what they seem to mean by the verse doesn’t seem to be what the verse appears to mean in context. For example, consider Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians.
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17, ESV)
What some seem to mean is that their impulses are so Spirit guided, they don’t need to worry about what scripture says. Now I’m not opposed to feelings and impulses. When I have impulses to give, serve, or speak a good word for Jesus, I’m endeavoring to act on those impulses. I do believe in God’s providence to put opportunities in our way. But feelings are not a test for truth. Hopefully our feelings flow from our acceptance of truth and are tested by truth.
So, what does Paul mean by freedom? It is helpful to look at other places where he explains his concept of freedom.
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1, ESV)
“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Galatians 5:13, ESV)
For Paul, freedom in Christ is freedom from the bondage to law which condemns us when law is used as a means to salvation. We can’t be saved by our perfect law keeping (by merit), because we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
Our freedom in Christ is also the freedom not to sin. We have forgiveness of our sins by the atoning death of Christ, so our past burdens are removed. We have spiritual help in the present to aid us in the battle against temptation and to grow in Christian graces. Paul warns Christians of the two paths in life that we still face: “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace…. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:6, 13, ESV)
Freedom in Christ is not freedom to do as you please and ignore scripture. Scripture, after all, is the Spirit’s inspired message. It is freedom from perfect law keeping and merit when we accept God’s grace in the atoning death of Christ. It is freedom from the bondage to sin, when we find and use the spiritual resources that God has richly provided for our victory. The journey in Christian living has taught me that this is true Christian freedom. The freedom to be the human being God intended me to be for there is found love, peace, and hope.
Leave a Comment » | 2 Corinthians 3:17, freedom, freedom in Christ, Galatians 5:1, Galatians 5:13, grace, Romans 8:13, Romans 8:6, salvation | Tagged: bondage to law, Christian freedom, freedom from sin, grace, sin | Permalink
Posted by Russell Holden
December 25, 2022
“And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, ‘Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation, Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, And the glory of Your people Israel.’ And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him.” (Luke 2:25–33 NAS95)
Can you imagine taking God in the flesh, the Savior of the world, into your arms? What joy! What hope would fill your heart! Simeon had been waiting and watching for the Messiah to enter the world, and as he held Jesus in his arms, his longing was finally fulfilled. He knew that he could now die in peace because the Lord had let him see with his own eyes the salvation of God, the light of the gentiles, and the glory of Israel.
At this time of year, as many are reflecting on the birth of Jesus, may the Lord present us with opportunities to help people move from appreciation of the beautiful baby, Jesus, to an understanding of why He was born. May we help people to see the glory and hope that Simeon saw in Jesus as he held Him in his arms. Jesus was born to show us the Father. He was born to die on the cross, and to be raised again for the salvation of mankind. Jesus Christ is the salvation of God! May we never lose our awe and wonder as we contemplate His life. Let us fall on our knees today and worship Him!
Leave a Comment » | birth of Jesus Christ, Luke 2:25-33, presentation of Jesus in the temple, salvation, Simeon | Permalink
Posted by Russell Holden
July 26, 2022
We live in a world filled with religious confusion. How many times have you heard someone say something like this: “I believe we’re all going to heaven; we’re just taking different paths to get there.” Or maybe you have heard something like this: “I believe all of the world’s religions are filled with truth and that they all lead people to God.” As commonplace as these statements are, it is even more common for people to have thoughts like this: “I’ve made plenty of mistakes, but I’m basically a good person, and I think God will accept me in the end!” Or, “I think the good things I have done will outweigh the bad things!”
These kinds of statements sound religious and can bring people a sense of comfort about death and the afterlife. Sometimes we in the church can even start thinking along these lines. But of course, just because something sounds good and is accepted by most people, that doesn’t mean that it is true! We need to remind ourselves what God has said. His word is the source of what is true and what is real.
In John chapter 14, Jesus is preparing his disciples for his imminent death, resurrection, and ascension back to the Father. He assures them that He is going to prepare a place for them, that He will receive them to Himself, and that they know the way where He is going. “Thomas said to Him, ‘Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.’” (John 14:5-6 NASB) Listen carefully to the words of Jesus. No one comes to the Father but through Jesus! Jesus is the only way! There are not many paths to God provided through various world religions. There is only one way to God, and that way is through Jesus. There is no path to God that comes from “being a pretty good person.” The only path is through Jesus, not through trying to establish our own righteousness.
No one will come to the Father except through Jesus Christ. No one! We need to know and understand this fact for our own sake, and for the sake of our loved ones, friends, and acquaintances in the world. Because He is the only way, we need to be clinging to Jesus with all our might! Because He is the only way, we need to be sharing the truth about Jesus with as many as we can. Jesus Christ will take us to the Father. May God help us to know and believe this truth.
2 Comments | Jesus is the way, John 14:5-6, salvation, the only way | Permalink
Posted by Russell Holden
December 26, 2020
It is an outburst of praise as if Paul could no longer contain himself, and a prayer pours out of his heart. The prayer is simple; the prayer is profound. “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15, NIV)!
The context of this praise is Paul’s discussion of the special collection for Jerusalem that is the subject of chapters 8 and 9. In fact, commentators have divided on what Paul means by this phrase. A few have suggested that the indescribable gift is the special collection itself. That’s the impression left by the New Living Translation’s rendering, “Thank God for this gift too wonderful for words!” But even they footnote that the Greek says “his gift.”
It seems more likely that the indescribable gift is what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. It’s as if Paul’s thoughts about Christians giving naturally leads to what God has given us. No matter what we give, we cannot out give God.
God’s gift is indescribable. The word that Paul uses for indescribable has its first occurrence in Greek literature in this passage. Some think that Paul may have even coined the word. It is one of those words that simply has a negative prefix attached as we do with un- (unhappy instead of happy) or a- (atheist instead of theist). The word without the negation means “to tell in detail” or “narrate in full or completely.”
Paul does not mean that the gift cannot be described. Indescribable in English has two senses. If I go to the doctor and say that I have an indescribable sensation, it means that I have a feeling that I can’t put into words at all – frustrating to both doctor and patient. But if I were to say that I have indescribable joy, I would mean that it is surpassing description. I would have words, plenty of words, and quite possibly a rushing torrent of words. I would mean that all of the words put together could never completely describe it.
That’s the way it is with God’s gift. Can I get my head around the concept “the word became flesh and dwelt among us”? What was it like for the one who knew the glory of heaven to experience a peasant’s birth, a carpenter’s life? How do I depict the meaning of the death of Christ? I can imagine myself standing before the judgment seat of God deserving “guilty as charged.” Yet Christ brings me acceptance. I can imagine myself in chains – a slave to sin. Christ’s death redeems me out of my bondage. He has paid the price to set me free. I can imagine myself in front of an altar. The wrath of God is coming upon me because of sin. What sacrifice can I offer to appease God? My hands are empty. In the midst of my predicament, God provides the sacrifice of His own son.
And so it goes. Many words can describe what God has done, but we are approaching something wondrous. Whether we approach the task with great analytical skill and precision or whether we burst out with the evocative words of a poet, words fail. “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”
— Russ Holden
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Posted by Russell Holden
December 17, 2014
It is one of our funny, family Christmas stories. By funny, I mean awkward, painful, and only slightly humorous at the time. It has become funnier with time and retelling.
My wife and I purchased a Christmas gift for one of our nephews. The gift was a hardback copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, one of the books in The Narnia Chronicles. This C.S. Lewis children’s story is a favorite in our family. I had read it in college and had wished it had been read to me as a child (and yes, the books are old enough that it could have happened). Before our son was born, we had purchased a set of The Narnia Chronicles, so they were his first, earthly possession. I say this to indicate from our point of view, this was a precious gift.
Our nephew opened our gift and immediately his face fell with disappointment. He threw the book on the floor and stormed off nearly in tears. The adults experienced the laughter of awkward moments. As I said, it’s become funnier with the retelling.
To be fair, he later read the book and enjoyed it, and maybe he wasn’t old enough at the time we gave it. But I suspect that many of us have that awkward, painful, and only slightly humorous gift story to tell.
Gift giving involves the transaction between two parties: the giver and the recipient. What is precious to the giver may not be precious to the recipient. If in doubt on this point, please check the gift exchange line the day after Christmas at your nearest, busiest store.
This brings me to the most important gift. God gave his only son. God had no more precious gift to give. The gift was costly beyond measure. The price included the suffering of crucifixion and death. It was costly to be a sin offering for others, and our need for the gift couldn’t be greater.
So how have your responded to this precious gift? Have you headed to the exchange line for what the world can offer in its place? Or have you received with joy and learned how precious is the gift!
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Posted by Russell Holden
May 2, 2014
Elizabeth was on her way to coffee in her Upper West Side neighborhood in New York City. She spotted it among the garbage bags set out for the morning collection. It was a canvas with red, purple, yellow, and grey. She walked past it at first.
But she would later tell that she just felt that she had to go back. It was a huge, powerful and beautiful painting. She believed it was wrong for it to be in the garbage, so she rescued it.
She hung the painting in her home. She appreciated it; it was not trash to her. But she was also curious. She did research on the Internet which led her to the truth. The painting was “Tres Personajes” by Mexican artist, Rufino Tamayo. It was a masterpiece stolen from a storage warehouse about decade and a half prior to Elizabeth finding it in the trash. Elizabeth returned the painting and was rewarded. The painting was expected to sell for a million dollars.
To someone it was trash. To Elizabeth it was a beautiful painting to hang on the wall. To the art experts at Southeby’s it was a very valuable piece of art. Sometimes it helps us to see something through another’s eyes. I suspect that is part of what Peter is doing in the following passage.
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. (1 Peter 1:10–12 ESV)
The prophets searched and carefully inquired. They knew that what lay ahead was valuable, but it was not for their generation. Christ’s sufferings and subsequent glories are for those of us on this side of the cross. But will we value this salvation? Will we set this treasure out with the trash, or will we recognize its profound worth and risk everything to have it? Prophets wanted what we now have. Will we share this salvation with the world that desperately needs it?
Sometimes we become discouraged when someone treats this treasure as trash. Peter reminds us of its value through the eyes of others. Salvation is so precious that even angels long to look.
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Posted by Russell Holden
January 17, 2014
In many ways, Genesis 1-3 and Revelation 21-22 serve as the bookends to the Bible. The new Jerusalem of Revelation has Garden of Eden imagery. The earthly paradise of the Garden of Eden is found in Genesis 2-3. In both places the Tree of Life is found. The curse because of sin (Genesis 3) finds its reverse in the making of all things new in Revelation 21. I used the phrase, the reverse of the curse, in a recent lesson, and someone asked me what I meant by the curse.
When sin entered the world, God’s punishment involved a curse. The pain of woman’s childbearing was increased. Men too would experience pain laboring by the sweat of their brow and finding thistles and thorns (see Genesis 3:16-19). The greatest curse, of course, is death: “for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19 ESV).
Paul reflects on the problems sin has caused.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:18–23, ESV)
Creation is personified in this passage, which is also common in the Old Testament. The important thing to note is the creation was subjected to futility, and this subjection to futility has led to a lot of groaning.
Humanity was intended to have dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:26), and there is still a sense in which we do. We are stewards of God’s creation. Yet, the point of these passages seems to be this: because humanity rebelled against God, God made the creation “rebel” against humanity. We experience thistles, thorns, and weeds. We experience droughts, storms, and calamities. We can only ponder how different life in the Garden of Eden would have been. But the frustrations, calamities, and the decay of death are our present experiences of this curse.
Because of the death of Christ, God will some day make all things new: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4 ESV) In hope, we look forward to the reverse of the curse.
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Posted by Russell Holden
August 9, 2013
April 14, 1912—a night to remember, the night the Titanic sank in the cold waters of the North Atlantic. As James Cameron’s movie has proved, the story of the Titanic still captures our imagination. Recently, my family visited the Titanic exhibit. Artifacts from the shipwreck were on display. Each of us received a boarding pass as we entered the exhibit. Mine was of course male, which didn’t give my person very good odds of survival even though he was a first class passenger. At the end of the exhibit, I was able to check the list of lost and survivors. The man with my boarding pass had died that fateful night. The impression of the exhibit is sobering.
It also brought reflections at the time of the tragedy as well. R. H. Boll was editor of the Gospel Advocate in 1912. Eleven days after the tragedy, in the April 25th issue, Boll reflected on the Titanic:
A catastrophe like this should not pass over the minds of the people of God without making its deep impression. It is, as it were, a miniature reproduction, and, like the destruction of the cities of the plain, a type forewarning and foreshadowing the goal of the world. Just as the Titanic sank, just so shall pass away the world and the lust thereof. So unexpectedly; so utterly beyond the reach of help; so irretrievably, shall it all perish, with its pomp and its glitter, its social distinctions, its pride, its folly, its wealth, its sins; and so shall it all be swallowed up in ruin.
“Salvation” was a great word that night on the Titanic. They may never have known the significance of it before. But they learned the meaning and the value of it that night in at least its temporal aspect; and possibly in its eternal import also. Most of them too late. Yet there was a remnant that escaped.
And was it not a privilege to each one of those that were called and permitted to enter the lifeboats, even if they did have to leave their things behind, and perhaps some friends and loved ones; even if they did have to endure discomfort and exposure on the small boats? But there are the many to-day, Christians, too, who “mind earthly things;” who count the salvations of God too difficult and inconvenient; who cleave to the world, and shall therefore be engulfed with it in its ruin and condemnation. “He that findeth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”
Finally, if you or I had been before enlightened of God as to the fate that awaited the Titanic on this voyage, we should have felt bound by every consideration of honor and regard for human beings to warn them each and all; and we would have endured their skepticism, their jeers and ridiculing and scorn, insults even, if by any means we might dissuade some from the ill-fated ship. But God has told us what shall come and must come to the world and how “the end of all things is at hand.” If you know the Savior, if you know the Way of escape, will you not for His sake and for the sake of the perishing souls go tell it to-day?1
Today, high-tech explorers bring us artifacts from the sunken Titanic, and movie special effects vividly portray that fateful night. May these reflections from 1912 give us some additional spiritual insights from the tragedy of the Titanic.
1Gospel Advocate 54/17 (25 April 1912): 513-14
Leave a Comment » | death, salvation | Permalink
Posted by Russell Holden
May 17, 2013
A recent article describes the disasters that have befallen people who followed their GPS even when it was wrong.*
- A man in the Upper West Side of Manhattan followed the directions of his GPS to turn west. He suddenly found himself driving down the steps in Riverside Park.
- Japanese tourists in Australia were attempting to get to North Stradbroke Island, which is actually nine miles off the coast from Brisbane. They followed the instructions of their GPS to drive down a gravel road, but ended up driving into the sea. The preferred method for getting to the island is by ferry boat. The car was a total loss.
- A woman in Brussels was picking up friends at the train station. She continued to follow her GPS even when it required her to stop and refill her car up with gasoline twice. Finally when she arrived in Zagreb, Croatia, she decided there was a problem.
Some of these cases are humorous (as long as your not the one making the mistake), but faulty GPS directions can also be life threatening. A man in the UK followed his satellite navigation system even when the road became a path. His car finally bumped up against a thin wire fence — the only thing between him and a 100-foot drop. Cases have also occurred of people running out of gas in the desert because of faulty GPS information resulting in a search and rescue.
The old computer adage is garbage in, garbage out. It is still true even when it is a GPS giving you spoken, turn by turn directions. The problem with the machine is that humans make mistakes.
What about the spiritual directions in your life? Someone will say so-and-so told me this is the way to be saved. Are they right? How do you know for sure? Human beings make mistakes, and they sometimes give faulty directions even when well-intentioned. (By the way, this is why I frequently say: “I don’t want you to believe it because I said it, but because you found it in Scripture.”)
Jesus spoke of the narrow gate and the narrow road that leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14). Jesus says that few find it. It is worth checking your directions. After all, the Bible is the only infallible guide of directions for the narrow road.
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Posted by Russell Holden