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“God So Loved the World,” John 3:1-17

1There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, JesusOnCrossOverWorldunless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

      9Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

      16“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (ESV)

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Perhaps the most “well-known” words of today’s Gospel reading are those of v16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Rightly so.

But such words, as truly expressive as they are of God’s love in Christ, can be easily misunderstood and misapplied, as if to suggest that man has to do something to keep from perishing, to suggest that man has to believe, and that such believing is within his own power to do so, or else he does not have eternal life.

Other errors applied to this text, though apart from the words of the text, include the idea that believing is only the beginning part or that faith in Christ alone is insufficient for salvation.  Something else is still needed other than simple faith. Something remains dependent upon us—what we do, how we live, for eternal life to be and remain ours.

As an example of this are the words of this “testimony” found in a Thrivent magazine article, without qualification and without correction:

“Even though I had been a Christian for many years, it was on a mission trip…that a friend reminded me that if I was a believer but didn’t include ‘service’ in that belief system, I wasn’t really living the way God wanted me to!…I know that simply believing in God isn’t enough.  We must be His servants…” (Thrivent, March 2017, p3).

Within Christianity, these and similar words are accepted as true, the idea that “believing” is not enough.

But “enough” for what?

That service to others is necessary, we wholeheartedly agree, as does Holy Scripture.

“Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus says (Matthew 19:19||Leviticus 19:18).

St. Paul the apostle writes, “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.  For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:8-10, NKJ).

Service to neighbor, however, is not the main thing of the Christian faith and life, though it is not excluded from the life of the Christian.

Our Lord directs our attention to His Word, in which He says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17, NKJ).

If you want to do what God says, hear and believe Word.

But if such belief is in a god, generically, and not in God’s Son, Jesus, who died on the cross, that faith is not at all sufficient, because such a faith is a false faith and not at all that which saves.

If belief in God is such a faith that looks to something other than God’s mercy in Christ alone for help and salvation, even to one’s own service as completing faith, then, again, that faith is not godly faith through which is eternal life.

The faith that saves is that faith which does not at all believe in self or any other, but rests all hope in Jesus alone for forgiveness and only upon God’s mercy.

It is not our service to others that completes faith by which we are then saved, nor is it our love that makes faith sufficient for salvation.

It is God’s love in Christ alone by which you have your sins forgiven, God’s mercy, and heaven itself as your promised inheritance.

Only in God sending His Son and the Son being sent and lifted on the tree of death in crucifixion is your salvation.

God did, and does, so love the world.

God’s love is unconditional.

God’s love is not conditioned by the response to that love with which God so loves the world.

God’s love is not only for the believer and those who will believe.

For the worst of sinners and for the ungodly did God send His Son into the world.

“When we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6 NKJ).

“To him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:5 NKJ).

God’s love extends to all people, none excluded.

Such words, however, don’t make sense to sinful reason. They seem utter nonsense.

Who would give something for nothing in return?

Who would freely give a gift to someone only to have it rejected?

God’s kind of love for us sinners cannot be understood by sinful man.

“O love, how deep, how broad, how high, Beyond all thought and fantasy,

 That God, the Son of God, should take – Our mortal form for mortals’ sake.”

“For us by wickedness betrayed, For us, in crown of thorns arrayed,

He bore the shameful cross and death; For us He gave His dying breath.”

(LSB 544 “O Love, How Deep,” v1)

What is sin before God is not only that which others can see.

Sin before God includes also what others cannot see.

Sin before God includes not only the “big” sins, as we define them, but the “little” sins, too, those sins which perhaps we have little concern about, yet are still condemned by God, regardless of how we think of them.

Sin includes not only that which is known, but also that which remains hidden, even to ourselves.

Sin is not only an action.  It is a condition, which all people since the Fall have inherited.

God shows no partiality (i.e. Acts 10:34).

Before God, one sinner is just as guilty as the next.

The sin might look bigger when compared to another.

But before God, sin is sin. Even eating a forbidden fruit brings about eternal death, not because of the size of the violation (as we see it), but because of who the violation is against.

Adam and Eve were not cast out of Paradise for simply eating fruit.

They were cast out of Paradise for eating fruit that God had forbidden them to eat.

It was not the fruit that got them into trouble.

It was their disobedience God, their disbelief in His Word.

In addition to their being cast out, their disobedience, their unbelief, brought death and destruction into the world.

The consequences of their sin we, too, receive.

“Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12 NKJ).

“All mankind fell in Adam’s fall; One common sin infects us all.

From one to all the curse descends, And over all God’s wrath impends.

(LSB 562 “All Mankind Fell in Adam’s Fall, v1)

Because of the sin of Adam and Eve, and because of our own sin, we are all lumped together before God as sinners.

Some sins might be more obvious than others; other sins are more concealed and hidden (1 Timothy 5:24).

But for this world full of open and secret sinners, God sent His Son, because He so loved the world.

Because He so loved you!

What encouraging words these are!

You are in the world.

Therefore, has God sent His Son for you.

Because of Jesus, you know that the God who made heaven and earth loves you with an enduring love, an unconditional love, an everlasting love.

God’s love is yours, for Christ was lifted in death.

Your belief or unbelief cannot and does not change what Jesus has already done.

Christ already died and lives forevermore.

Lest there be those who hear this as license to sin, St. Paul writes, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?”  “Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Romans 6:1-2, NKJ)

Rather, it means all the more that you try to resist temptation, are earnest in prayer, and seek all the more to do what pleases the Lord.

For absolute confidence of God’s love, however, look only to Christ, who says, “Whoever believes—Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

It is not in or by your progress, or lack thereof, that is either your encouragement or reason to despair.

Only see Christ, for in Him is your true and only hope and certainty before God.

There are many who say that God is a “God of love,” for so He is (1 John 4:8, 16).

But many of these do not believe in Jesus Christ.

They believe God to be a god who allows everything and anything, a god who is open to all kinds of different lifestyles, a god who allows all kinds of sins to continue, a god who is  tolerant of the worst kinds of sins, a god who does not condemn sin, a god who simply looks the other way, a god who pats on the back and says, “keep trying” and “just do your best, for that is all that I expect” (as you determine what that “best” is and what that “trying” means).

Such a god is a god of one’s own making and not the God of the Bible.

The God of the Bible says “no” to sin and condemns it.

The God of the Bible does not tolerate godlessness.

Rather does He promise sure punishment upon all who do not turn from their sinful ways and seek mercy, the mercy that is found only in the One whom the Father sent.

God gives you to believe His Son, His Son who gave Himself freely in sacrifice for the debt of your sin, the punishment for which you are not able to pay but by eternal death.

Jesus has truly paid that debt, by means of His death on the cross.

“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).

Such is God’s love.

It is not by what you do or how good you are that have the certainty of God’s love for you in Christ.

True joy and peace does not come from you or from what you do, but from God, from God in and through Jesus Christ.

This Good News is not made known by the work of man.

It is not gotten to by man’s reason.

It is not rational according to human logic.

It is not deserved or merited.

The Good News of sins forgiven in Christ is the gift of God, revealed by Him through His Son.

By nature, we do not know this Good News of Jesus Christ.

We were born of the flesh, and being born of the flesh, we could not know, for “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14, NKJ).

But thanks be to God! “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6).

In the waters of Holy Baptism, God birthed you anew in the spirit.  Now, you are born from above, born-again, “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn. 1:13, NKJ).

“When the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Tit. 3:4-7, NKJ).

You are heirs of the kingdom—through faith in God’s Son.

You believe this, not because of you or because of your own choice, decision, or work, but because such faith is from the very God who gives it.

“Flesh and blood” neither reveal the wonderful works of God, nor the Savior (Matthew 16:17; 1 Corinthians 15:50).

It is the Giver, the “Father…who is in heaven,” that does (Matthew 16:17). Amen.

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasHeavenly Father, because You so loved the world, because You so loved me, You sent Your 0nly-Begotten Son to die my death and to be my Savior. Give me faith to believe, for I am not able to believe without You creating the faith within me and sustaining that faith so given that I remain Yours. Amen.

 

 

“The Defender’s Guide for Life’s Toughest Questions”–some observations

The Defender’s Guide For Life’s Toughest Questions

(Ray Comfort)[1]

Some observations

Ray Comfort, in the preface of this book, writes, “Most of the questions and objections in this book come from those who call themselves ‘atheists.’  Many have placed their faith in erroneous information…and because of it have hardened themselves against God and Christianity (Romans 1).  They ask questions but don’t really want answers.  My hope is that you are open to reason, and that you will find that that the answers will give you another perspective” (7).

I agree with Comfort’s observation that many atheists have placed their faith in erroneous information.  The same, however, could be said of many groups, including some who call themselves Christians, for not all who call themselves Christians exclusively use the Bible as the “rule and norm” for faith and life.  Again, I agree that some atheists really don’t want answers, that is, the truth that the Bible provides.  Similarly, there are others who follow suite, not wanting the truth at all, but only evidence that seems to support their conclusions.   This applies not only to atheists, but to all people, including Christians as well.  None are immune to the deficiencies and limitations of human reason.  And none perfectly resist the temptation to defend only that which benefits oneself.

These are dangers for which all need to be aware—trusting erroneous information and not really wanting the truth.  These do not lead to honest and forthright investigation at all, but only intensify the divide between the two or more contrasting positions.   Incorrect information only leads further away from the truth and may further confuse the issues.  Not wanting the truth but only that which supports one’s own position really only demonstrates an unwillingness to consider the truth at all, not as anyone sees it, but as it is—the truth.

Such a comment certainly does assume that absolute truth does indeed exist.  However, truth exists, not because I or anyone else believes it to exist, but because truth is truth, regardless of my own presuppositions or assumptions.  In the words of Comfort, “unbelief or belief doesn’t negate reality” (p48).

John 3:16, for example, as all of Holy Scripture, is true, even if I don’t believe it.  Whether I believe or not doesn’t make something less true.  It only means that I don’t believe it.  I can believe that gravity doesn’t exist should I jump out of the plan while in the air, but that won’t at all change what is true, that gravity will result in my falling to the ground.

In the same way, the Bible is God’s Word and is therefore true, whether I believe it or not.  Only Christians take this truth seriously.  Others may joke about the Bible and act as if it means nothing at all, but their attitude does not change the true and faithful Word of God  (i.e. Psalm 119:89), nor what it is or what it says.

Comfort’s belief that the Bible is God’s inerrant Word is welcome and encouraging.  Christians can give reasonable explanations to the many questions and statements of the day as posed by atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and others.  They can do this, not only using their God given reasoning abilities, but Christians also and especially have the Word of God.  Christians can not only address faulty logic and false conclusions.  They can also say what God has said.

Should the “scientific evidence” seem to contradict the Word, Christians can rightly question the evidence and the assumptions held concerning the evidence, and therefore, get to the deeper conflict that the nonbeliever has with reference to sin and grace.

In five chapters, Comfort addresses these topics:

  1. Humanity: Rights and Suffering
  2. The Bible: Biblical and Theological Issues
  3. Science: Scientific Thought and Evolution
  4. Philosophy: Beliefs and Worldviews
  5. Religion: God and Atheism

Throughout these topics, Comfort often points to man’s inability to keep the law.  He exposes the error of false belief and seriousness of the human condition.  For the most part, Comfort does a fine job addressing many of the issues between the covers.

However, in certain responses, I believe that he could have answered more charitably.  In some places, he seems to write with a bit of sarcasm and/or what may sound as derision.  It seems to me that he does not entirely stick with the issues at hand.

Overall, I found this work to be of benefit for two primary reasons.  The first reason is that Comfort does present a number of arguments, comments, and questions by mostly nonChristians.  These are beneficial in that they present the Christian with a greater understanding of what is being said about Christianity and what Christians believe concerning matters of faith and life.  Secondly, Comfort can help Christians consider answers to the critics based on the Bible and sound reason.  Sound reason will not convert anyone, but it may give critics reason for considering their position.  God’s Word creates faith (Romans 10:17).  Man’s word does not.  Nevertheless, Christians are to use the gifts God has given them, in service to the Gospel, and directed by God’s Word.

Among the weaknesses of this work is the constant refrain of “if…then” statements.  Comfort is coming from a background that assumes sinners can “make a decision for Christ.”  This is what we call “Decision Theology,” and this book is loaded with phrases that place the burden of sinners in need of a Savior, not fully on Christ, but on themselves.  Comfort does indeed articulate the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins, but in many instances, this is not as clear as it could be.

Though Comfort does indeed call for the sinner to repent, and though he does speak about the depth of sin, he doesn’t seem to go far enough, for he at least implies that man can somehow “choose God,” even in his sinful condition.  The Bible, however, indicates that man is much more corrupt than this, and must be completely born again, something that Comfort doesn’t adequately address (i.e. Genesis 6:5, 21; Psalm 14:1-3; 19:12; 51:3-5; Matthew 15:18-20; John 1:12-13; 3:3, 5-6;  Romans 3:10-20; 5:6-11; 7:24-25; 10:4, 14-17; 14:23; 1 Corinthians 2:14; Galatians 2:20-21; Hebrews 11:6)

Because of Comfort’s inconsistency about the depth of human sin and man’s corruption, he is unable to fully declare God’s grace in Christ.  He doesn’t rightly distinguish Law and Gospel throughout.  He therefore also fails to consistently articulate man’s salvation by God’s grace through faith (salvation, God’s grace, and even faith) as pure gift (i.e. Ephesians 2:8-9).[2]

This doctrine, that sinful man is saved only God’s grace in Christ through faith, is known as the doctrine of justification.  This doctrine teaches that man can do nothing for his salvation, that God has done it all in Christ through His death on the cross.  Salvation and God’s grace, and even faith, are fully gifts of God (as is Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper).

The doctrine of justification is objective, sure, and certain.  Anything of man, even any decisions or choices he makes, is uncertain and doubtful, whereas the things of God give only confidence and certainty.

Unbelievers, including atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and any others, will not know such certainty or believe God’s grace apart from Jesus Christ.  They will not believe the forgiveness of sins without the Holy Spirit.  Christians can address the faulty and limited logic of the naysayers.  They can give rational arguments for their understanding of the evidences.  But only God, by means of His Word, creates faith to believe that Word, even that Word which is now flesh, Jesus the Christ.  It is this Word, also, that God calls His people to speak consistently and truthfully throughout, as in Jeremiah, “He who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully” (Jeremiah 23:28).


[1] Ray Comfort, The Defender’s Guide For Life’s Toughest Questions (Green Forest, AK: Master Books), 2011.

[2] Cleary absent from this book is any reference to baptismal regeneration.  Comfort often confuses Law and Gospel, too.

To God be the Glory

The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

1 Corinthians 2:14

In the Augsburg Confession, Article 2 (Original Sin), we confess:

 1 It is also taught among us that since the fall of Adam all men who are born according to the course of nature are conceived and born in sin. That is, all men are full of evil lust and inclinations from their mothers’ wombs and are unable by nature to have true fear of God and true faith in God.   2 Moreover, this inborn sickness and hereditary sin is truly sin and condemns to the eternal wrath of God all those who are not born again through Baptism and the Holy Spirit.

Corresponding to this article of our confession is Article 18 (Freedom of the Will), where we also confess:

1 It is also taught among us that man possesses some measure of freedom of the will which enables him to live an outwardly honorable life and to make choices among the things that reason comprehends. 2 But without the grace, help, and activity of the Holy Spirit man is not capable of making himself acceptable to God, of fearing God and believing in God with his whole heart, or of expelling inborn evil lusts from his heart. 3 This is accomplished by the Holy Spirit, who is given through the Word of God, for Paul says in 1 Cor. 2:14, “Natural man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God.

4 In order that it may be evident that this teaching is no novelty, the clear words of Augustine on free will are here quoted from the third book of his Hypognosticon: ‘We concede that all men have a free will, for all have a natural, innate understanding and reason. However, this does not enable them to act in matters pertaining to God (such as loving God with their whole heart or fearing him), for it is only in the outward acts of this life that they have freedom to choose good or evil.     5 By good I mean what they are capable of by nature: whether or not to labor in the fields, whether or not to eat or drink or visit a friend, whether to dress or undress, whether to build a house, take a wife, engage in a trade, or do whatever else may be good and profitable. 6 None of these is or exists without God, but all things are from him and through him. 7 On the other hand, by his own choice man can also undertake evil, as when he wills to kneel before an idol, commit murder, etc.’

The teaching that sinful man has freedom to “choose” God or to “make a decision for Christ” apart from God’s gift of faith in Christ (and thus, being created anew, i.e. John 1:12-13; 1 John 5:1; 2 Corinthians 5:17) is not in accordance with Holy Scripture.    Sinful nature always wants its own way.  This is the way of the flesh (see Matthew 15:19-20; Galatians 5:19-21; Colossians 3:5-9).

The way of the spirit, however, desires the way of the Lord, which the Lord Himself makes known to us by means of His Word (see Romans 8:1-17; 10:17; Galatians 16-18, 22-26; Colossians 3:12-17).  Such desire of the spirit comes from a changed heart, produced by God’s work according to His Word and not without it or apart from it.  By means of Law and Gospel, God creates a people for Himself, people diligent to be about His Word, people believing it, and people who desire to live in accordance to it.  Such people do not create themselves, nor do they make the changes themselves (John 1:12-13; 3:5-8; Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 2:13; 1 Thessalonians 2:13).  Rather, does God form and mold His people to be as He would have them, loving Him above all things, and loving one another (see Isaiah 64:8; Jeremiah 18:3-6; Romans 9:14-24)—by means of His Holy Word.

Instead of glorifying and praising man and what he does or accomplishes, the Christian confesses, praises, and glorifies God for what He does, even what God does through poor sinners like ourselves.

Thanks be to God for His goodness!  And thanks to be God that His will is not at all according to our nature!  Amen.

 

Luther

 

“Let us praise God the Father, therefore, and give Him thanks for His indescribable mercy, that when we were incapable of doing so by our own strength, He delivered us from the kingdom of the devil, in which we were captives, and did so by His own Son. And with Paul let us confess that all our works and righteousness, with all of which we could not make the devil stoop down one hairbreadth, are nothing but loss and refuse (Phil. 3:8). And let us tread underfoot and utterly abhor, as a polluted garment (Is. 64:6) and the deadly poison of the devil, all the power of free will, all the wisdom and righteousness of the world, all religious orders, all Masses, ceremonies, vows, fasts, hair shirts, and the like. On the other hand, let us praise and magnify the glory of Christ, who has delivered us by His death not only from this world but from this “evil world.”  (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p41-42).

Prayer: Father, I praise you for all your goodness to me.  I am humbled by all that you do for my good, even as I do not see it or fail to see it because I am a sinner who looks to my own ways and seeks my own glory.  Forgive me for abiding by my own expectations.  Shape me, form me, and mold me to be nothing but Your humble and lowly servant.  In Jesus’ Name I pray.  Amen.

 

Review of Josh McDowell’s, “The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict”

The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict

A Brief Review

Josh McDowell does a helpful service to Christians everywhere in this updated volume.  In four main parts, 1-The Case for the Bible, 2-The Case for Jesus, 3-The Case for and against Christianity, and 4-Truth or Consequences, McDowell gives compelling evidence for the credibility and the rationality of the Christian faith.  Christians need not be unprepared for giving defense for the hope that is within them (1 Peter 3:15) with reference to giving answer to the historicity and the logic of the Christian faith.

Christians increasingly recognize the value of Christian apologetics (defending the Christian faith with sound arguments, in distinction from apologizing for it) as a necessary tool for answering questions of both Christians and nonChristians alike.  However, apologetics is only a beginning.

As helpful and necessary as Christian apologetics is, including this work by McDowell, it is not the Gospel.    It is only the Gospel through which God creates saving faith in the heart, not apologetics, nor the will of man, as we shall see (Romans 10:17).[1] The reader is to be aware of this as he begins study of this book.

The reader should also be aware that Josh McDowell comes from a certain Christian background, one quite different from confessional Lutheranism.  As such, he has a different confession concerning faith (what it is) and conversion, Law and Gospel distinctives, and the means of Grace (Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper), to name a few.  The following are some of those differences that more readily show themselves…

Speaking about faith and conversion, McDowell writes in the forward, “Not all—not even the majority—of these whom I have spoken accepted Him (Jesus) as their Savior and Lord.  This is not because they were unable to believe—they were simply unwilling to believe” (italics his).

On the same page, he writes, “The majority of people in most cultures do not need to be convinced of His (Jesus’) deity, nor of their need of Him as Savior.  Rather, they need to be told how to receive Him as Savior and follow Him as Lord” (xii).

In saying that the majority of people he has spoken with were unable to believe, McDowell emphasizes man’s willingness or unwillingness to believe.  The how of receiving Jesus as Savior thus becomes a matter of man’s decision rather than the gift of God given through Word and Sacrament (Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper).  McDowell supports this testimony by using his father and himself as examples in the section entitled, “He Changed My Life” (see esp. xxv-xxvii).[2]

Christian faith is not of the will.  It is the result of God’s law convincing and convicting of sin, putting the sinner to death as damnable before God; and then the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the forgiveness of sins, giving new life and peace with God (Romans 5:1ff; 8:1ff); and believing the same, saying “for me” Christ died, with confidence according to God’s promise.

Christian faith is not a matter of “making a decision for Christ.”  We cannot! (Genesis 8:21; Deuteronomy 7:6-8; Psalm 14:1; 130:3; Matthew 15:18-19; Romans 3:10, 23; Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:4-5; 1 Peter 2:9-10).  Faith is the gift of God (Romans 10:17).  Faith takes God at His Word, denies oneself (Matthew 16:21-26), and believes God’s promises (2 Corinthians 1:18-20).  Faith does not place any confidence in self, but in Christ alone—in Christ and in His Word and in His Work (Luke 18:9-14; Romans 4:2-25; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31).

Inherent in such a discussion is the power (the efficacy, effectiveness) of God’s Word.  By placing emphasis on man’s decision and will, McDowell, knowingly or unknowingly, teaches wrongly about the power of God’s Word, not man’s, to change the sinner.  God’s Word will not return to the Lord void (Genesis 1:3ff; Isaiah 55:10-11; John 6:63-69).  It will humble the exalted and exalt the humbled (Luke 18:14).  God’s Word hardens the self-righteous and gives peace to those trusting God’s salvation in Christ.

McDowell also minimizes Christ and His work in converting the soul.  By impressing upon the sinner the need “to choose,” McDowell lessens Christ and praises man’s ability.  This is not an insignificant point!

Closely connected to McDowell’s emphasis on the human will and “making a decision” are the Four Spiritual Laws[3] as described in the last section of the book (p757ff).  With Law Four, McDowell, Campus Crusade for Christ, and all who use such “Laws” place the decision on the sinner, ultimately, for salvation.  If such is not the case, why such an emphasis?  However, it is not the sinner who chooses God, but God who chooses (and desires to save, 1 Timothy 2:4) the sinner (Deuteronomy 7:6-8; John 15:16, 19).  God is the One who seeks (Luke 15).  Only in Christ is salvation certain and secure, not because of one’s decision, but because of Christ!

When McDowell speaks of “receiving” Christ, he means to say, “choosing Christ.”  Grammatically and in common usage, to receive something does not mean to choose it.  “Receiving” is a passive word, whereas “choosing” is an active one.  What McDowell is speaking about is a contradiction in terms.  According to McDowell, prayer is “talking with God.”  This is a correct definition.  Prayer is what the Christian does, having confidence in the Lord that He will hear and answer.

Yet McDowell contradicts himself when he says that prayer is “talking with God,” on the one hand, something in which we are active, and then goes on to say that “we receive Christ,” something in which we are passive, “through prayer.”  Receiving means “to be passive.”  Choosing or deciding means “to be active.”  So which is it?  Is it through what God does that we “receive” Christ, or is it through what we do, through prayer, that Christ becomes our Savior?

According to Holy Scripture, we received Christ through what God does.  See John 1:11-13; 3:3-8; Ephesians 2:1-10, etc. Receiving Christ is only what we passively do.  It is God who gives.  It is we who benefit from His gifts as He gives them to us.  Faith and salvation are not even remotely our work (Ephesians 2:1ff).  Our own decisions or choices before God do not save.  Only Christ does.  McDowell here does not write clearly according to Scripture.

Another area in which the emphasis on man’s will shows itself is in quotes like the following and others like it:

“You can laugh and Christianity.  You can mock and ridicule it.  But it worksIf you trust Christ, start watching your attitudes and actions—Jesus Christ is in the business of changing lives.

Christianity is not something to be shoved down your throat or forced upon you.  You have your life to live and I have mine.  All I can do is tell you what I have learned and experienced.  After that, what you do with Christ is your decision.” (xxvii) [Italics mine, for emphasis]

According to the above, McDowell would have the reader believe that he has the ability to decide for or against God.  But the Lord speaks of “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:14), and “being” called children of God (passive; Romans 6:1ff; Galatians 3:26-27; 1 John 3:1[4]; note the verbs).

Christ is not an option (John 3:17-19; 8:23-24, 42-43).  Nor is Christ better than any other.  Rather, He is the Savior; the only One.  There is no other (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

McDowell would also have the reader believe that Christianity is right because it works.  Christianity, however, is right because it is the truth.   Practically speaking, Christians live under the cross.  They live by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).  Therefore, whether Christianity seems to work, or not, Christianity remains true just the same, because it is of God, and Christ is the Church’s Head (Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 1:18).  McDowell’s testimony is only human testimony.  But God’s Word is God’s testimony and not man’s.  Man’s word will change others little, but God’s Word is “living and powerful” (Hebrews 4:12).

Apart from McDowell’s errors concerning man’s will, faith, conversion, and Scripture, the general content of this book is worthy of study.  If one be able to set aside the former, one will greatly benefit from the latter.  McDowell’s personal doctrinal positions aside, and that of Campus Crusade for Christ, this work is a valuable contribution to the apologetic task (John 5:25).[5]


[1] McDowell also notes that apologetics is ‘not the end’ when he writes, “The presentation of evidence (apologetics) should never be used as a substitute for sharing the Word of God” (xv).

[2] The prayer of McDowell’s father (xxvii, last paragraph of first column) is a clear example, not of faith, but of faithlessness, for the writer of Hebrews writes, “He who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).  Also, St. James writes, Let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6).  That McDowell’s father did not pray in faith is clear from his use of the words “if God can do…,” “If you’re really God,” (implied– “if…Jesus died on the cross) “If Jesus can do…”  The prayer of faith does not pray with such uncertainty and doubt, but with confidence, not because of another’s experience, but because of God’s Word and promise.  See also Mark 9:24; Luke 17:5-6; John 14:1.  Also, note that the father had said, “I want to give God the opportunity.”  Is it we that give God ‘opportunity?’  God, rather, is the one who is, does, and says without our permission.  (Romans 9:14-33)

[3] McDowell’s and Campus Crusade for Christ’s use of Law here is telling.  Essentially, what saves is not the Gospel, but rather, the law.  The “Four Spiritual Laws” are just that—Laws.

[4] We do not become children of God by “decision.”  Nor do “birth” ourselves into the kingdom.  God gives life to that which was dead.

[5] Other works by Josh McDowell include, A Ready Defense and More than a Carpenter.

Comment on an advertisement for the movie “The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry”

An advertisement for the movie, “The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry” reads, “There have already been hundreds of decisions for Christ as a direct result of watching this movie.”  This could actually be a sad commentary on the movie.  I haven’t seen the movie, but such an ad is reason for caution.

That phrase, “decision for Christ,” carries the baggage of a false theology of conversion.  It advances the belief that we ourselves can “make a decision.”  Though few might believe this, the phrase itself cannot but lead to such conclusions.

The Bible says that “All have sinned” (Romans 3:23) and that there are none righteous, “no, not one” (Romans 3:10).  The Psalmist states, “There is none who does good” (Psalm 14:1).  Isaiah writes, “All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6).

Since the Fall of Adam and Eve in the garden, just as recorded in the book of Genesis, man is unable to “decide” for God or for Christ.  Since the fall, man doesn’t have the “free will” that so many dream he has.  The sinner in his inherited sinful state hates God and doesn’t “fear, love, and trust” in Him above all things.

The only remedy for such a predicament is not “making a decision,” but Christ Himself, who through His Word creates faith in the heart (Romans 10:17).

Instead of “making a decision for Christ,” rather hear His Word preached, and there you will hear God’s goodness and kindness towards you in Christ—sins forgiven.

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