“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”Ephesians 2:8-9 (NASB)
The flow of salvation is such that, there is no way that any man has ever come to God by himself. The Bible says, “All we like sheep have gone astray…” (Isa. 53:6), no one is turning to God, and no one can come to God unless God draws him (cf. Jn. 6:44). I believe in predestination, and the other term for that is Grace. Grace is the unmerited, undeserved, no-strings-attached love of God for man. It is fully culminated, it is fully flowered, fully matured in the birth, life ministry, teachings, death, resurrection, and coming again of Jesus Christ. We are saved by grace. “For by grace you have been saved (perfect passive participle – it happened in the past by an outside agent, and it’s a continuing experience) through faith…” Are we saved by grace or are we saved by faith? We are saved by grace, but there’s no other way to be saved than through faith. By that i mean, man must respond to it. Faith is not a work. Faith is a response to grace. Faith in Greek can be translated three ways – BELIEVE, TRUST, FAITH. Biblical faith primarily is the word trust, trustworthiness, loyalty. Faith is not something that focuses on man. Faith is something that relates to God. Faith is the trustworthiness of God demonstrated in the Bible and experienced in a person’s life. We trust God because He has proved Himself to be dependable and trustworthy. Faith is a response in man to the trustworthiness of the promises of God. Faith is not how deep you feel. Faith is not how emotionally high you can get. Faith is not how committed you are. Faith is directed toward God, not toward you. Grace is unconditional, and faith is the condition. But how can something be unconditional and yet conditioned? Think with me > salvation is absolutely 100% free. You can’t earn it, you can’t deserve it, and you can’t merit it. God gives it with no strings attached, but it costs everything that you are. It is the pearl of great price (cf. Matt. 13:45-46) that when a man finds Jesus, everything else becomes insignificant compared to Him. He becomes the consuming desire and motive of human life. Our response to Him is the condition of unconditional love.
The key principle in Bible interpretation is the intent of the original author. The intent of the original author is the meaning of Scripture – not you, not your denomination, not your experience. The only inspired person in Bible study is the original author, so what you must do is to put yourself back in the place of the first hearers. WHO? WHAT?, WHERE?, WHEN?, WHY? – these are exactly the questions we have to ask. We must ask who wrote this? when did they write it? who did they write it to? Why did they write it? These are the crucial questions in Bible study? Just think of the difference between a letter from your lawyer and a letter from your sweetheart, wouldn’t you interpret those differently, would you? Wouldn’t you be mad if someone got a hold of a love letter you’ve written a long time ago, that’s 5 pages of drippy, gooey, “I love you” stuff, and puts one sentence from the 3rd page of that letter on the blackboard. Wouldn’t you be embarrassed, and say, “wait a minute, you’ve got to know when i wrote that, you’ve got to know who i wrote that to, and you’ve got to read the whole letter”. And that’s what we’re doing to the Bible every day, if you could just hear God screaming at you. We jump in His Book, pull out one verse, redefine the words based on our own culture, apply it into our life immediately, and say, “Thus saith the Lord”. It’s called proof-texting, and we’re horrible at it. Every book of the Bible is one connected, succinct, unified message. That’s why we read through Romans, that’s why we read through the entire Book. You cannot study the Bible without moving through the entire book. There is no way to jump all over, pick one verse from Daniel, 2 from Matthew, 1 from Amos, 2 from Revelation spin them together, and say, “This is the word of the Lord”. That’s not the Lord speaking! It’s you who’s speaking. It’s your denomination that’s speaking. The tragedy is, we just buy it like, “if it’s in the Bible, it must be true”. You can’t do that to the Bible and make it prove anything!
A case in point: Through the years I have heard sermons on 2 Chronicles 7:14 applied invariably to a nation or to the church whenever it is stricken by a disaster or a calamity. This text refers particularly to God’s covenant people Israel, of which we are not, by any stretch of imagination. We (modern-day believers) are not part of a performance-based covenant (cf. Acts 15; Galatians 3; Hebrews), but under the covenant of grace (cf. Jer. 31:31-34; Gen. 15:1-21; Eph. 2:8-10). This text could apply as an application or significance but not as an original intent of the inspired author of Chronicles. Be careful of proof-texting Old Testament texts and bringing them directly into the New Testament covenant of grace.
Here’s a good quote from the CSB Study Bible by the Holman Bible Staff:
“(2 Chronicles 7:13-16) This promise presupposes a very specific context. It was given to God’s people, who bear his name, and it is a part of God’s answer to Solomon’s prayer. It refers to times when the Israelites have become faithless to God and are enduring the consequences, whether it was a famine, an invasion, or even the deportation to another country. To be humble . . . pray . . . seek God and turn from sin are four aspects of one attitude: repentance. If Israel would repent, he would forgive them and heal their spiritual relationship with him associated with the promised land. Furthermore, as was established earlier, the prayer mentioned is specifically intended to refer to prayer in the temple or, if that is not possible, prayer said facing in the direction of the temple. This promise is given specifically to God’s covenant people, and by itself it should not be applied to other nations or to the church. However, these verses reflect God’s gracious nature, and on that basis, we may draw out a more fundamental principle—that any person, regardless of ethnicity or location, can come to the Lord with a repentant heart and find forgiveness (see 6:32-33; Jl 2:32; Ac 2:21; Rm 10:13; 1Co 1:2).”
In the course of my personal Bible study, I have struggled with a realization that has somehow defined my over-all worldview and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This has become a path that led me to great peace about the Bible in a day when there is still tremendous controversy about the Bible even among sincere Christians. One Christian focuses on this passage, and another focuses on that passage, and they disagree and build walls of denominations. We are all guilty as human beings, and I understand where it’s coming from, because our mind is like a gigantic computer, and we categorize all kinds of information into some meaningful grid. What we have done, of course, is to systematize the Bible into certain categories – Calvinism, Arminianism, Dispensationalism, and so forth and so on. We forget that these are man-made structures that the Bible does not really fit well, because the Bible is not primarily a theological dictionary which we just turn to for a certain topic, and look up what God says about it. To a very large extent, we are all influenced by western culture, and western culture is primarily Greek. We think as the Greeks, and we structure our thoughts as the Greeks. We tend to be logical, rational, and literal. We tend to order our thoughts on precepts built upon precepts. The only problem is, the Bible is not a western book. The Bible is an ancient eastern book. The people of the near eastern world would never have structured their thoughts in those ways. They are much more used to tension in their presentation. They are much more used to overstatements, understatements, and exaggerations. They are used to presenting truths not in ‘black and white’, ‘either/or’ categories, but in categories of stories that pointedly tell this truth, and another story that seems to say what looks like exactly the opposite truth. It is for this reason that the Bible is so greatly misunderstood, and so easily proof-texted, that we say, “Well, God said it right here, and that settles it”. I think in doing that, we have destroyed the very nature of Biblical truth itself.
I believe that most Biblical truths come in paradoxical pairs, sometimes called dialectical pairs. In other words, the Bible seems to speak out of both sides of its mouth. Like in the Parable of the soils, on one hand, it teaches the absolute necessity of fruitfulness as an evidence of a true salvation – not the means to that salvation, but on the other hand, John 10:28; Ephesians 2:8-9 and a whole lot more teach believers about grace as a bedrock truth on which to base their assurance of salvation. Here is an obvious tension created by two paradoxes; perseverance on one hand and faith assurance of grace on the other, and both truths are divinely inspired. Other examples are: God as transcendent versus God as immanent; security vs. perseverance; Jesus as equal with the Father vs. Jesus as subservient to the Father; Christian freedom vs. Christian responsibility to a covenant partner; etc. Therefore, we need to take these scripture texts to a balance by living our Christian lives within the tension created by these seemingly opposing truths. We do not have the right to affirm one inspired Bible text and at the same time reject or relegate to second importance another equally inspired Scripture text. Therefore truth is found between the two seemingly paradoxical extremes. Denominationalism tends to proof-text one side of the paradox and radicalize truth by literally and dogmatically interpreting one expression of truth without seeking to relate it to the opposite truth. We must live within the tension created by these truths no matter how seemingly paradoxical they are because all Scriptures are divinely inspired. If all Christians will have this kind of mindset, i believe Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20-23, for the unity of all believers will be realized.