For When You Feel Hopeless :: By Scott Countryman

The Gospel

A few years ago, I found Jeremy Myer’s blog Till He Comes and began surfing around and reading. I came to the conclusion that I like Jeremy but we hold to some pretty different views on theology.

That’s okay by me. I am much more like folks such as Robert Jeffress, Adrian Rogers, and say, David Wilkerson; but even then, there are differences (and okay, heck, add Alistair Begg in there too minus the Calvinistic hang-ups). I look at it like this: if you are secure enough in your beliefs such that you can read many different people in order to expand your ability to understand others and better reach them with God’s truth, why not do it?

At any rate, in my readings I came across an article on the Unforgivable Sin (a topic that anybody should be interested in, IMHO), and encountered a comment from a reader with the handle “RC” that made me want to reply in the best way that I could.

“RC” wrote this, and it broke my heart:

“I have sought after God but He has soundly rejected me. I am legally changing my first name to Reprobate. I am morally disciplined but I am predetermined for damnation. Why, I don’t know. It’s very discouraging. I didn’t seek God my own way but His, via accepting Jesus into my life. I’ve tried my best to follow His will but I am going to Hell…God does not accept everyone, and I am proof of that. I am Reprobate. I ‘knocked on the door’ so many times. I work for a Christian organization, and I am damned to Hell.”

My desire to give a really full reply to RC sort of shunted things out of the realm of a regular blog comment to more of a post of my own, but directed to RC. But not just to him, but to everyone who feels hopelessly distant from God. Perhaps like RC, even feeling like there is no chance for salvation – that God has fully and finally rejected you, for whatever reason. In the parlance of the general culture, “This Bud’s for you.”

Hi RC,

I’m sorry that I am somewhat late to the party, so to speak.

As I was surfing around on the site, I came across your comment; and if you are willing to hear it, I’d like to offer you some food for thought and also let you know that I will pray for you.

I have to admit that I originally had a bunch of theological stuff typed in here but I just deleted it. I’m a bible nerd and self-styled “armchair theologian” (if that’s even possible), so it’s sort of in my nature to go off in that direction. In fact, mark my words; I’ll probably end up there by the time I’m done writing this! Please forgive me for that. But at any rate, that kind of thing isn’t what I sense you need. My hope is that this impression is the Holy Spirit speaking and not me. Actually, that’s my hope with everything I write.

My assumption is that you already know the stuff I was going to say – maybe not exactly like I would have said it, but the gist would have been the same. You’re a sinner and you know that. Jesus came to die for sinners and you know that. By accepting Jesus as your sacrifice and resurrection through repentance and faith, you can be right before God with everything that entails here and beyond. You said you work for a Christian organization, so I’m working under the assumption they aren’t completely off in the weeds as it concerns God and His salvation.

I don’t think those things are your problem. I think the issue you may be struggling with is not an understanding of the letter of God’s salvation; but instead your problem is a problem of the heart. Specifically, your heart.

So, in thinking about how to speak to your heart, I first want to speak to your head. There are a couple of things that I want to point out in God’s Word; and then I want to say a few words, and then I’ll shut up.

The first place I’d like to talk about is Romans chapter 5. I cover much more of this in an earlier blog post called “All or Many….”  I hope you’ll read it.

But to say that all of Romans is ‘great’ is like saying that a Ferrari is a ‘pretty cool car’ or that drinking liquid nitrogen is ‘sort of dangerous.’ Romans is awesome because it is Paul’s fullest explanation of the Gospel, and Paul was nobody’s dummy. He was quite bright, and He was saved. In our day and time, we have many supposed Christian speakers that couldn’t think their way out of a wet paper bag, and many of them are not saved; but thanks be to God for the witness He has left us in Scripture.

In Romans 5, Paul is speaking about all the benefits we receive through faith in Christ, and He works around to the truth that we can have these things because Christ died for us – not when we had made ourselves ‘good enough to die for’ by our own efforts (or our own asking, seeking, and knocking by the way), but when we were rebellious sinners with nothing at all going for us to make us attractive to God – Jesus died for us.

The possibility of salvation is about God being love, not about there being anything inherently lovable about us. In fact, that’s part of the definition of agape love. All of the other words for “love” in Koine Greek must find something lovable or of merit in their object (be it beauty or lust), but not agape. Agape is the concept of love in the Greek that inherently loves the unlovable. It loves because of who and what the lover is, not because of who and what the object of that love is.

But Paul knew, just as I and others know, that this brings up another question. It isn’t a question that heads off in a different direction; it’s one of those questions that begs a more specific answer.

See, Paul – writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – knew that there would be those that would say that Jesus didn’t really die for everyone. Or, as a variation on a theme, there would be those that would say that Jesus didn’t really die for everyone in the same way. And even worse, that there would be those that would deny God’s Word concerning the proclamation of the Gospel as the source of faith, and would insist on something different: something over and above the preaching of God’s Word to enable belief (as Romans 10 teaches).

There are many flavors of false gospels that meander among these different themes, but the best representation of them since the 1500s is classical Calvinism. To prove my point, let me quote John Calvin himself from his lengthy work, “Institutes of the Christian Religion” from 1561. Concerning the nature of the Gospel on this account, Calvin writes (in section 3.21.5):

All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death.”

In your comment, you mentioned the term ‘reprobate’ and made the statement that ‘God doesn’t accept everyone.’ Based on those words, my assumption is that you have been fed a false gospel instead of God’s gospel, and as a result, you are suffering. I feel for you because I’ve been there.

It’s a hard thing for me as well because I have Calvinists in my life that I love, but I detest the theology because it goes beyond what God has given, it directly contradicts what God has said, and it is needlessly hurtful as you well know from personal experience.

Calvinism is very logical. When it is presented by someone with even a little bit of intellect, it can be very, very convincing. But if you examine it closely in the light of Scripture, you’ll see where it falls down. Specifically (sorry for waxing nerd here), it is logical, but it is not rational.

“Logical” just means an idea follows a clear and sensible path of thought. But for a logical idea to be “rational,” the idea has to be sensible outside of itself. If you take it as a whole and pull back and compare it with known truth, does it stand up to the scrutiny?  Does it have legs of iron or legs of clay?

As it turns out, in the light of God’s truth, false Gospel falls down, and hard. You then come to understand that the basis for the arguments in Calvinism stem much, much more from human reasoning than any evidences found in Scripture. When evidences from Scripture are given, they are ripped out of context or they rely on interpretations that favor Calvinism. Acts 13:48 being probably the best example of that last point. One of these days I’ll get around to addressing that topic as well.

So, returning to Romans 5, Paul starts in verse 12, and he explains that sin entered into mankind through the trespass of Adam; and it killed all of us because we were bound up in Adam. His fate was our fate.

Romans 5:12 “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.”

Sin existed outside of our creation in Satan and his demons, but Adam let it in our door and into us.

Paul continues to explain (verses 15 and 16) that if such a sweeping effect of death could come through a mere man, and through a trespass against God’s Word no less, how much better and more effective is it when God Himself – God the Son in all of His deity, became also a man and brought about a new effect for us – not through disobedience, but through perfect obedience to God.

Romans 5:15 “But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!”

Romans 5:16 “Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.”

This is why in 1st Corinthians 15:45, Paul calls Jesus the “last Adam.”

“So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.’”

Paul goes on to explain that this effect of ‘justification,’ – which means we are right before God in regard to our sin – this justifying effect that Christ brings is for the exact same group that was damned in Adam. This is a critical point, and I hope it comes home to your heart. What Christ won was the cure for everyone who was damned by the curse. No one was left out. No one was shoved aside. No one was passed over. Jesus died for all of us because we were all cursed under Adam.

Verses 18 and 19 hammer home this truth:

Romans 5:18 “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.”

Romans 5:19 “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”

The “all men” (Greek: pantas anthropous) in the first part of verse 18 is the same “all men” (pantas anthropous) in the second part of verse 18. The Holy Spirit through Paul is talking about the same group of people. The first Adam killed all of us, but Jesus (the last Adam) brought justification for all of us through His own blood shed on the cross.

You will notice that in verse 19 Paul is speaking about the same group of people (everyone), but he changes his term from “all men” to “the many.” Calvinism likes to ignore verse 18 and pull verse 19 out of context and twist it to say that God indeed did not send Christ to die for everyone – or if He did, He didn’t send Jesus to die in the same way for everyone.

But note what the Holy Spirit is saying here: “the many” in verse 19 that were made sinners through Adam are the exact same group for which Christ died. That’s all of us. Me, you, everybody. It’s the “all men” in verse 18. It’s the same group. Don’t get confused by ‘many’ versus ‘all.’ In the Greek of this passage, the definite article “the” is included before “many” (Greek: hoi polloi). This means Paul is talking about a specific group, not just some large group of people. “The many” is humanity – it’s the “all men” of verse 18. “The many” that the first Adam made sinners is the same “the many” that the last Adam (Jesus Christ) made righteous.

I often give an illustration where I hold up “all” of my car keys, and “all” of my house keys. I have one car key in this example, and many house keys. The point is: “all” can be singular or “all” can be plural (one or many). It just depends on the category about which we are speaking.

There is no grammatical problem in the Greek of equating “all” and “many.” “Many” simply describes the “all” as plural (and large) rather than singular. When you hear someone taking verse 19 out of context and twisting it to try and say that Christ died for the “many” (some subset of everyone – the elect) and not the “all,” what they are doing is forcing an improper English understanding of “many” on the underlying Greek in order to support an erroneous theology. It is eisegesis, and it is ignorant. I hope you’ve seen that this isn’t the idea the Holy Spirit is communicating there.

So am I preaching what is called “Universalism”? Universalism is a heretical teaching that all people are automatically saved because of Christ’s sacrifice, and all people will go to Heaven as a result.

The answer to that is “no,” and the reason is because I believe God’s Word, and Universalism is not being taught here by Paul.

Look at verse 17. I left it until now for this very reason:

“For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.”

Here is the difference that keeps this from being about Universalism. Whereas we were damned through Adam’s fall because all of us were ‘in’ Adam, we are not all automatically ‘in’ Christ.  We are born under Adam’s sin, but we are not automatically ‘reborn’ under Christ. As Jesus told Nicodemus in John chapter 3, we must be ‘born again.’ But there is something we must do for that to happen.

Verse 17 tells us how we can be in Christ like we are already in Adam. The “those who receive” is in the Greek: hoi lambanontes. “Hoi” is the definite article (translated here as “those” in the NIV), and it tells us we are talking about a specific group of people. In this case, not the “all men” of the previous verses. There is something special about this group. This is the group that “receives” what has been offered through Christ. Lambanontes (to take or to receive) is in the active Greek voice. That means the subject is the one doing the action of the verb. So the “those” are the ones doing the receiving of what is offered.

God isn’t forcing this on anyone, nor is He tweaking around in people’s heads so that they will accept Him. This group are those that hear the Gospel and respond to it as God has indicated they should: they accept it for themselves.

As we know from the balance of Scripture, this “acceptance” comes through the mechanisms of repentance and faith that God has made available to us. Repentance and faith taken together are what the Bible means by ‘belief.’

Repentance is not the Catholic idea of penance (doing something to pay for sin). Jesus has done that for us). Repentance (from the Greek: metanoeo) simply means to change one’s mind in such a way that we take a different direction. It isn’t within our power to make ourselves stop sinning. That isn’t repentance. Repentance is when one decides they do not want to sin anymore and they want to exercise saving faith in Christ.

Jesus’ message was one of repentance (Matthew 4:17). Jesus had harsh words for those that refused to repent (Matthew 11:20-24); this is because they could have, but they refused. Repentance is made available to everyone, but it is a choice we each must make.

But I will say this, RC.  One of the toughest sins from which to repent is the acceptance of a false theology. Some things hit us at the surface, but others burrow down deep. It’s these deep things that are the hardest to shake, but you can if you simply believe what God has said. That’s really the simplest way I can describe the problem: you have the choice of believing what God has said, or believing what man has said…. choose well.

I’m afraid the real problem you are fighting is not the fact that God loves you, died for you, and wants to save you. The real problem is that someone has fed you Calvinism, and you ate it. Please spit it out and take the bread of life instead.

But even without Calvinism in the picture, there are pitfalls. Repentance is also a place where so many fall down. Some feel they have to be ‘good enough’ to be worthy of salvation, so they try to save themselves by their own works. God says that only leads to death (the end of Romans chapter 9).

After being saved, some feel they then have to make themselves “worthy” of the salvation they have received. This is closer to the mark but still wrong. It degenerates into works-based salvation. Salvation is about God living in us and through us. Even when God declares us “justified” in regards to our sin, we still have a sinful nature against which we struggle (see Romans chapter 7 and weep along with me. We suck, but God knows we suck and saved us anyway because He loves us (John 3:16-21).

So how is someone saved?  How can you be saved?

The way that God has ordered His salvation is as follows, and all of it flows from His very character and nature:

Because God is holy and righteous, He must judge sin in every one and everywhere that He finds it. That judgment for sin is always death. Death is the kill switch God has built in to creation, and rebelling against God throws the switch. Irregardless of our descent from Adam and what that means to our composition as spiritually fallen creatures, both you and I have sinned willfully and are culpable from within our own persons. But because He is God, He has the freedom and authority to decide how He will carry out His judgment.

God is never robbed of the sovereignty of His will by any of His other characteristics. He is never at the mercy of His love OR His anger against sin that results in judgment. Whereas we are often creatures of a divided mind (ruled by emotion one day, by our rationale on another), He is the master and creator of all, and He is undivided and one in all senses of the word.  He is the master of His will or else He isn’t God.

God has decided to extend his love and mercy to us, and that’s all of us. Please don’t buy the classical Calvinist line and their interpretation of election and predestination; they are part of a false gospel. They attribute things to God that He has not attributed to Himself, they directly contradict Scripture, and they cause many to be estranged from God over a lie.

The truth is this: because God has decided to love all of us and extend mercy to all of us, He does so. It really is quite that simple. God will not be shoved into a theological box of human manufacture.

As our story goes so far, we are lost by nature and by our own willful actions, but we are very much on the sidelines as spectators to God’s saving actions.

Because God is sovereign over all things, He has decided to exercise His judgment upon sin and His love for us simultaneously. He exercised this will in the very body of His own Son, Himself God, upon the cross.

As I have said when I’m trying to wax poetical, the cross is the nexus where God brings together seemingly mutually exclusive truths. It is the royal standard of His sovereignty thrust into the ground of Calvary whereby He proves that He can indeed do all things – that nothing is too impossible for Him. In short, He can judge the sinner, slay the sinner, forgive the sinner, redeem the sinner, and raise the sinner to glorification all at the same time without any insult to His love or injustice to His declaration that the soul that sins must die.

In His sovereignty, God has allowed the concept of a substitute. This allowance was the basis of the Old Testament animal sacrificial system, which itself was merely a foreshadowing of the eventual sacrifice of God the Son Himself for all mankind… the “all” and the “many” of Romans chapter 5.

Yes, God gave the Law to describe what human righteousness looks like. The problem is that no one outside of Jesus was or is ever able to perform it, and that was never the goal that God set before man.

It sounds like either you are trying to be ‘worthy’ of salvation to be saved or you are struggling to stay saved by your own efforts. You are failing in this, which is to be expected because it is an impossible mission, and therefore you feel you aren’t saved and are being rejected by God.

RC – the ONLY thing that God has put on our plate concerning our salvation is John 6:28-29:

“Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’
Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’”

We must remember Romans chapter 4. Long before the Law was given, Abraham was justified by faith: God told him something, and Abraham believed it. He made the conscious choice not to look at his own situation and inabilities, but to instead look to God and His abilities. This is how he believed God: he repented from the desire to look to himself, and instead he exercised faith in God.

God made a promise, and Abraham believed it. When God saw that Abraham had believed Him, God credited true righteousness to him on the basis of his faith.

The message of the Gospel is a promise from God. We receive the benefits of the Gospel by believing the promise. That’s it. Full stop. That’s the full extent of what one must do to be saved. Of course, God means true belief. And, of course, because of the particulars that the Gospel promise contains, we understand that repentance and faith are tied together and cannot be separated; but at its root, what God has laid at our feet to do is to simply believe what He has said, and live our lives accordingly.

The messenger bearing the promise of the Gospel from God is God Himself in God the Son, Jesus Christ. To believe in Him is to believe His message.

We must also remember that, as part of the Law, God gave the institution of sacrifice for a three-fold purpose: the forgiveness of sin, re-dedication to God, and face-to-face fellowship with God over a meal. These by name are the Sin Offering, the Whole or Burnt Offering, and the Fellowship Offering. I won’t go into those in detail, but my point is this: God knew Israel could never perfectly fulfill the demands of the Law because, like us, they were all sinners. That’s why God made provision for forgiveness and restoration within the Law via the altar of sacrifice.

And once a year, God provided an event called Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). On this day, a sacrifice was provided for ALL of Israel for ALL of their sins.  See, there were some limitations as to what the daily sacrifices could cover. But on this once-a-year event, ALL sins could be forgiven. But like the daily sacrifices, there was a requirement upon the sinner: they had to repent and believe.

Here we have an even clearer Old Testament picture of Christ on the tree. We have a sacrifice to God, made available by God Himself, for the purpose of forgiving all who would repent and believe what God has said concerning this sacrifice. It was given for all of Israel, but it was only effective for those that accepted its benefit though repentance and belief: exactly how the Holy Spirit describes the cross of Jesus Christ in Romans 5. An all sufficient sacrifice given for all, but only beneficial to those that believe (that accept it in the manner God had indicated they should).

But as sinners, how can we believe?

Calvinism likes to point out that in and of ourselves we cannot believe God – and they are absolutely correct. They truly are. How sad that they seem to leave the topic alone at that point and introduce puppet strings into the mix that change men and women from how God created them in His own image into veritable muppets.

The answer is that, left alone, none can believe. That is what sin has done to us. But the answer after that is that GOD HAS NOT LEFT US ALONE (see John 3:16). God didn’t send His son to enhance His own glory – it cannot be enhanced as it is already full and infinite. God sent His son because He loves us.

I’ll close with God’s solution to the problem from Romans 10 and Hebrews 4:

But what does it say? ‘The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,’ that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

As Scripture says, ‘Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.’ For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’ But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’ Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Romans 10:8-17).

But how can being presented with the Gospel enable faith? How does that work? Well, it works because God says it does – but aside from that, never forget the message of Hebrews 4:12:

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

See, to people dead and dying in the dark who are powerless because of the devastation of sin – God sends His word: both the written word and the living Word (His Son). The word in the Greek above for “alive” is “zoe” – the express Greek term for life in all its fullness. The word for “active” is “energes” – where we get our word energy. It is the motivating means by which work is done – something is accomplished – the immovable is moved.

God knows what He is doing, my friend. To people dead and dying in the dark, God has sent light, life, and motivating energy to enable belief. The exercise, the apprehension of that possibility, is up to you.

My prayer for you is that you will shrug off the deadly coils of the snake that is Classical Calvinism, and instead embrace God’s gospel with all of your heart. He has made it possible through the agony and blood of Calvary, but you must make it real through the very real agony of dying to yourself – and all false notions – and instead running to the safe harbor of Christ that God has provided.