God's Word Has Not Fallen, Q & A

The Cove | Asheville, North Carolina

I like to see the face and hear the voice of the people asking a question so that I know where it’s coming from. It really is helpful to me. So I’m going to let you go first. And if you don’t have any questions, I’ll look at this pile.

There is an aspect of election that I personally struggle with. I celebrate the fact that God is calling me, an undeserving sinner, to be saved. And I thank God for that and I give him all the glory. But over the last couple of years, thanks to a couple of fantastic friends, I have been turned on to your ministry and have really been wrestling with election. And the part that I struggle with is in Romans. I’m sure we’ll get to it later today. It’s Romans 9:18–23, the double predestination aspect of election. How can we rejoice in the double predestination aspect of election? It says there’s nothing we can do to be taken out of God’s hand and we’re saved forever, but there are other people here on Earth that don’t have a chance. They really have been created so we can further understand God’s glory. But rejoicing in that aspect of election is something I struggle with, and I’m guessing I’m not alone.

No, you’re not alone. I want to go back and affirm and qualify what you said. I would never say there’s a person on planet Earth who doesn’t have a chance, because I don’t think the Bible addresses people that way. It doesn’t move through the world saying, “Well, there’s a person that doesn’t need the gospel because they don’t have a chance to believe, and there’s a person that doesn’t need the gospel because they don’t have a chance.” The Bible urges us to preach the gospel indiscriminately, to pray for all people, to labor for all people, and to lay down our lives for all people, because whoever believes will be saved. Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. And if they don’t, it is their choice not to, and they are guilty for that choice, and judgment will be owing to their guilt. For those outside the gospel, the judgment will be based, as Romans 1 says, on the way they responded to general revelation in suppressing the truth. The wickedness of men suppresses the truth.

So I just want to be careful in the way we state the problem. That’s not the answer to your question yet. I’m just saying we should be careful that we don’t state they don’t have a chance. I think that would be falling off one side of the mystery in a way that would be unbiblical. That still leaves the question of emotionally, how do we handle the fact that we know God has chosen that not all be saved and that therefore some be lost forever? And can you rejoice over that, especially if they’re your loved ones? And you’re right, we will get to that tonight in Romans 9, but I’ll go there with you right now, since maybe we won’t get there tonight. Who knows? I’ll just say it very quickly now, because I meant to get there today. Romans 9:22–23 says:

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction (then comes a purpose clause), in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—

So the purpose is “in order that” at the beginning of Romans 9:23. That is the closest you get to a divine explanation for why he would ordain that there be vessels of wrath prepared for destruction. If there were no lostness, there would be no grace, and there would be no justice manifest. There would be no severity and power against sin in light of the holiness of God.

I have this long quote from Jonathan Edwards. I’ll save and maybe read tonight, but that’s as close as I can get to the fact of why it’s that way. You sound like you’ve thought this through and you know that already, that in ordaining that there be lostness and judgment, God provides a way whereby he justly displays his power and displays his wrath, which would not have been displayed in the same way for the enjoyment of and the trembling of and the gratitude of the elect for all eternity. To balance that out, we have to say the judge of all the Earth will do right. I have preached at the funeral of unbelieving people. Those are much harder than any other kind of funeral. These are the funerals of professed unbelievers.

You don’t become mealy-mouthed and try to say sweet nothings about nature and going to the ground and lilies will grow up or something. That’s the stupid stuff that gets said at unbelieving funerals. You preach the gospel, and at the end, you say the judge of all the Earth will do right. We leave it in his hands. And here’s my bottom line answer to your emotional question, the question of the emotions. Right now, I’m a sinner and my emotions are imperfect in every direction, and therefore in all likelihood, I cannot properly respond fully to anything God does, including judgment.

The day will come, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet, when I will be changed and see things the way God does. I will know even as I’m known. And at that moment, I think I will be granted the emotional capacity to have the joy in God’s justice that God has. And it probably is just beyond us right now. We can’t look at hell right now and heaven right now and feel the kind of moral affirmation emotionally that God, in his infinite wisdom, seeing the end from the beginning, has. But someday, I think we will be able to look upon the whole of God’s dispensations, heaven and hell, election and non-election, reprobation and election, and say, “God is good. God is just. For all these reasons, that was wise. And he did wrong by nobody. He was not unjust toward anyone.” If that seems impossible right now, I think that’s just an emotional counterpart to the mystery and we should just suspend our emotional judgment and say, “I’ll wait.”

I’m just curious as to why this conference is on Romans 9–11. What’s the process that you went through? I’m grateful for it. I’m just wondering how God led you to it.

I was here last year on Romans 8 and people said, “Are you going to do 9–11?” That was one reason. I also just finished preaching through it, so it makes preparation easier. I’ve spent two years on it. I’ve been in Romans for six years at my church, just preaching on Romans. You paid money to come hear Romans 9–11, and you’re going to get Romans 9, it looks like. You should get back two-thirds of your money. What brought me some relief as I came into this is that every sermon I have preached — and there’s about 34 of them in these three chapters — you can listen to and read free online at desiringgod.org. You can hear me preach it or you can read it. Everything I have ever said about Romans 9–11 is free online. So if I don’t get through it all, then I just gave you two-thirds of your money’s worth on the website.

Galatians 5:4 talks about people who are trying to be justified by the law but are severed from Christ and fallen from grace. In light of the perseverance of the saints, I have a hard time understanding that. From Romans 9, I can see how you can be cut off from Christ and never be with Christ, but I don’t understand how someone could have fallen from grace.

Right. I’ll read the verse that she’s talking about. Galatians 5:4 says:

You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.

It sounds like you’re assuming that you understand the perseverance of the saints and would affirm that, and I do too, which means that if you are saved — that is, if you’re born again — you will persevere in faith to the end. You will not be lost. God will see to it by grace that he completes the good work that he began in you (Philippians 1:6).

In view of that, I would simply ask, does falling away from grace mean falling away from saving grace, or falling away from regenerating grace? Does this text demand that the person who has now fallen away was regenerate or was saved? And I don’t think anything in the verse demands that. In other words, right now I would say all of you are sitting under grace. You’re hearing the truth of God spoken. The Holy Spirit is at work in this room. He loves Christ and he loves the gospel, and the Holy Spirit is moving through word and through testimony in this room. Grace is happening in this room.

You can find yourself even brought by the Holy Spirit to conviction of sin and to consider Christ seriously and begin to go to church, and not yet be born again. And if at any of those points along the way you turned around and began to do the works thing over again, I think we could legitimately say, “You have fallen away from grace.” Grace was moving you towards salvation. It was moving you towards the fullness of God’s regenerating work in your life, and you, halfway in, partway in, you stiff-armed it and turned around and went the other way.

So my answer is that there is a kind of falling away that isn’t from regeneration and isn’t from salvation; it’s from God’s gracious work in your life that doesn’t come to completion. And I would go to texts in Hebrews to show that very same thing. In fact, it might be helpful to do that, because this relates to what somebody else asked me a minute ago. Let’s go to Hebrews, because many of you are familiar that Hebrews 6 and Hebrews 10 sound like you can get pretty far with God and then be lost. But the text in Hebrews that is most significant in that regard is Hebrews 3:14. And it all hangs on the tense of the verb, which I’ll have to bring out. Hebrews 3:14 says:

For we have (the “have” is crucial) come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

That is why we believe in the perseverance of the saints. If you persevere, what does it say? You shall share in Christ? No. It says if you persevere, you have shared in Christ. And if you don’t persevere, you haven’t shared in Christ. In other words, perseverance is the evidence of a past reality, not merely the striving towards a future reality. So anybody who goes to church for 20 years, teaches Sunday school, is a deacon, and then rejects Christ, falls away from the church, lives in a life of dissolute sin, and dies in his sin, I do not assume he’s a Christian, in spite of 25 years of church membership, being a deacon, and keeping his nose clean. Because the saints persevere to the end. You don’t say he lost his salvation. You say, “We have shared in Christ if we hold our confidence firm to the end. And if we don’t, we haven’t. We were never born again.”

Another clearer text than this one is 1 John 2:19, which says:

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

So there’s a situation in which people are in the church, it looks like they’re of us, and then something happens and they’re gone, and they go into sin and reject Christ. And you don’t conclude, “Oh, they were really of us, they were born of God, and now they’ve lost their salvation. They became unregenerate. You can get in and out of Christ and in and out of salvation.”

You don’t find that in the Bible. You find that there can be these remarkable, seemingly spiritual attainments — Sunday school teaching, attendance, being a deacon, being an elder, preaching, being an evangelist, an Elmer Gantry type — and not be Christian. It’s very scary. Jesus said, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:22).

So it’s much easier for me to handle that text by saying the grace you fall from is not saving grace or regenerating grace, but rather the grace of God that was brought you into the fellowship of believers, brought you into a Christian family, brought you under the teaching of God’s word, and brought you under conviction of sin, and then you threw it away.

Hate is a pretty strong word, and normally, we are taught that God loves the sinner but hates sin. What we have seen this morning is completely opposite of that, which is that God hates the sinner. How is the word hate compatible with the word love, where God is love and his attribute is love? And then the second part of my question is regarding John Stott’s views on the love of God, where he’s come out talking about annihilation versus eternal damnation. He says that God is such a God of love that he would not let these sinners perish and suffer eternally.

Right, those are two different questions. You were supposed to ask one question. Let me see if I can treat them as one. Whenever we talk about love and hate, we have to talk about kinds of love and kinds of hate. Your question is how do you talk about God’s love for sinners if in fact he hates Esau? And I think the first thing I want to say is that God hates all that is evil. A proper emotional response towards corruption of creation and distortion of God-centeredness is evil and should be responded to with strong moral disapprobation, that is, hate. That means God hates the sinner in the sense that if the sinner himself is corrupt, rebellious, and God-defying, a proper response to that is strong disapproval and hate, which does not rule out his love for that very person.

I wrote this little book called The Passion of Jesus Christ: Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die. And the first chapter I wrote was that God sent Jesus to absorb the wrath of God. I wrote it knowing that’s the hardest one for people to get at. God sent Christ to die for God, first. The reason for that is because God’s angry at sinners. Now, I think that’s not very different from hate, because Malachi 1:2–5 says he’s angry at Esau. God is angry at sinners who rebel against him and don’t believe him. He’s angry. He hates them in their corruption, which is who they are. So it’s not wrong to say he hates them. Psalm 139:22 says, “Do I not hate them with perfect hatred?”

But God can love a person that he hates that way. He did. He looked upon me and he said, “The way John Piper is in himself, I hate that. And he is doomed and he deserves hell. Now, I also have more in my heart than hate. I have love. And I will therefore — since I cannot just let bygones be bygones and sweep his sin under the rug and treat all that God-dishonoring sin as though it didn’t impugn my infinite worth — put my Son between me and him. And I will pour that wrath out on my Son. I will hate my Son, in that sense. I will kill him. I will bring all my anger and all my wrath against my Son, precisely to spare the one that I am so angry with, and thus remove my anger.”

That’s what propitiation means. It’s so sad that we take that word out of the Bible. It only occurs about three times: Romans 3:25, 1 John 2:2, and one other time in 1 John 4:10. God put forward Christ as a propitiation by his blood. Propitiation means wrath-removing. It’s appeasing an angry God. But God did that. You don’t do that. God did that. He appeased his own wrath.

So my answer is that it is okay, in a carefully worded way, to talk about God hating all sinners, and then inserting Christ to talk about absorbing that hatred, that anger, and thus forgiving and removing it. And now, this is the glorious thing about the atonement. Now, the only disposition God has towards you in Christ is mercy. There is no hatred anymore. There is no judging anger anymore. There’s only fatherly disapproval followed by chastisement, which is all love, according to Hebrews 12:7–11.

I think John Stott is just dead wrong about annihilation. Most of you don’t know what he’s talking about, perhaps. I love John Stott. He’s a father in the faith to me. I remember his little yellow book in 1966, Men Made New, that turned me on my head and set me on an exegetical course. I met him last summer, shook his hand almost with tears. I wanted to bow down in worship almost because of the reverence I feel for John Stott and what he’s done for the church and the 98 percent beauty of everything he writes. So read John Stott. And if he hears this tape, I hope he feels loved. But he’s wrong about annihilation. And I think deep down, he knows he’s wrong.

He has backed up a little bit. What he said was, “Annihilation happens to people rather than hell.” He believes there’s no eternal conscious torment. There’s only obliteration. And now if you ask him what he believes, he says, “I’m just agnostic on what happens,” which is not good enough, because I think as terrible as it is, the Bible is clear that there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, and that just as eternal life is eternal, Matthew 25:46, so eternal punishment is eternal. They are coordinate times and coordinate experiences.

It just does not make any sense to say to an unbeliever, “Your punishment for your sin will be obliteration.” That’s not punishment. That’s exactly what they want. They’re expecting it, and they’re so glad for it to happen. That’s not a judgment; it’s a deliverance from judgment. That’s my bottom line argument. He’s saying judgment now becomes annihilation. They go into nothingness and have no consciousness at all. I say that is salvation from judgment, which most sinners desperately want to happen. They think, “Just take me out when my time is over, and if I’m conscious of nothing good or bad, I can’t regret it.” They can’t feel regret, and that’s not punishment. So I answered both your questions, whether I should have or not. Let’s just keep going.

This may be a place you’re going tonight, but would you comment on, “believe,” like in Romans 10:9–11? There are no denominations in the Bible, we know that. But if you could, in some sense, define “believe.”

Amen. Romans 10:9 says:

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

How should I do this? Taking all that I see in the New Testament into account with regard to the word believe — some of it here, some of it not here — I’m very happy to go with the historic pieces of faith that say faith is first affirming factual content about Jesus. He is God. He died for my sins. He rose from the dead. He is the ground and fulfillment of my righteousness and the fulfillment of all of God’s promises. But those are facts which the devil can affirm, which means they’re inadequate to save anybody. But they have to be there. So that’s an indispensable but not a sufficient definition of faith, that we affirm certain true facts about Jesus.

Secondly, we accept those facts as true. Maybe that’s not so different from the way I said the first one. We see the facts, and we accept the facts. Then the third one is trust. It’s entrusting your life to those facts and saying, “I bank on you, I count on you, and I rest in you.” Now, I’m going to go one step further in defining faith, based on texts like John 6:35, where Jesus says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will not hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” I define faith there as a coming to Jesus for soul satisfaction, such that we never thirst again, that is, we don’t go after our soul’s cravings outside him. We know where they’re found.

So I’m bringing in a very strong emotional component to faith, which I think is missing in a lot of places, which is why you can have these nominal, carnal Christians who think they’re Christians but there has been no change in their emotional framework whatsoever. You listen to them pray and you think, “Are they connected at all? Is there any love at all?” Faith here focuses on the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead. Then it says, “Believe in your heart.” That’s important. It’s in your heart, not just in your head. You believe “that God raised him from the dead.” And that implies if he raised him from the dead, he’ll raise you from the dead. And all the things that he obtained for us by the resurrection I think are embraced there.

So I think that the faith that saves is a faith that sees the truth, embraces the truth of Christ, affirms it, and has an experience of resting satisfaction in all that God is for us in Jesus. It’s a change inside, in your moral, spiritual preferences. You prefer Jesus now.

First of all, thanks for The Prodigal’s Sister. It is beautiful, very beautiful.

Thank you.

Secondly, I wrote this question down so you could exercise your free will in whether or not to answer it, then you gave that up. There are two things you said last night, given that Jesus Christ is God and that our nation now is more pluralistic than ever before, how would you prefer that President Bush, as a believer and as the leader of the whole nation, publicly address, acknowledge, or affirm people of other faiths, specifically Islam?

Excellent question, and I will use my will to answer it, and God knew a long time ago what I’m about to say. And I’m totally responsible for whether I make a mistake. What I would like President Bush to do is publicly say he’s a Christian and that Jesus is his Lord. Now, whether he’s able to do this next thing or not, I don’t know. If he can’t, I don’t think he should try, because he’d get himself in big trouble. I think he should say, looking right into the camera, into the eyes of every American Jewish person, Muslim person, Hindu person, or pagan unbeliever of any sort, and say, “You’ve all heard I’m one of those evangelical Christians. I believe in the Scriptures as the foundation of my life. I believe Jesus has forgiven my sins. And I believe this is true and that all people need to believe this. However, precisely because I believe in Jesus Christ, who teaches me that faith in him is useless when it’s coerced in any legal way or any forced way, my faith in Jesus demands that I endorse laws that do not require faith and protect people from being coerced in any faith.”

Most people agree with the second half of that. They think, “Let’s all have laws that are not coercive and don’t push you to be a Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, etc. Don’t institutionalize and coerce any faith.” And we think that in order to provide room for that kind of pluralism and protection of freedom of religion, we have to keep our mouth shut about what we believe. We just shoot at people all over the place in public life who go public with what they believe in. And the reason I think is because nobody has made a case publicly and clearly from a bully pulpit like the presidency that it is because we believe in the biblical Christ that we will never, ever coerce faith in the biblical Christ. We will labor to make room for everyone’s faith because the only faith that counts with Jesus is freely given faith.

If you put a gun to someone’s head and say, “You go to jail if you don’t become a Christian,” that’s not a faith Jesus approves of, therefore, he disapproves of that law. And therefore, ironically, the Lord of lords and the King of kings, who will one day cause every knee to bow, would, I think, in a fallen world, where faith must be given freely rather than coerced with the gun or the law, would approve of laws that protect Islam and Judaisim and so on from persecution in America.

Now, that’s sort of easy for me to say. I thought you were going to ask a harder question, but I won’t tell you what it is. The harder question is, how should we address lifestyles that are condemned by Christianity? Abortion is a lifestyle of murder. Homosexuality is a lifestyle of sexual misbehavior. And there, it’s trickier. Do you go to the next step, Piper, and say you should also have laws that protect the marriage of homosexuals? And here’s the way I would say it, I think, “I’m a Christian. I believe that God has ordained male and female for the good of the world and ultimately for the glory of his name and the demonstration of Christ and his church in a marriage of one man and one woman. And therefore, personally, I am totally committed to marriage as one man, one woman for a lifetime. And I believe that is built into our natures, and that is good for a culture.”

And now my argument, in order for me to make a case for a law that says you can’t marry that way, I have to move from my religious conviction, which is the foundation of my argument, to the kinds of argumentation that might win a large majority. And if I can’t, I lose, and it’s okay. I can live with that. If I lose, I lose. I’m a citizen of heaven. I do not expect America to be a reflection of the kingdom of heaven. And if it goes that way, I’ll be grieved, and our society will pay big time. It will probably end as we know it and judgment will fall. But you don’t coerce with laws unless you can get enough people to say they agree, like we do with stealing.

We all agree you can’t steal from me. We put you in jail for that. And that’s rooted in morality. We don’t let you kill. We don’t let you commit perjury and break contracts. In fact, you can be fined if you don’t clean up the dog poop in your backyard in Minneapolis. It’s incredible how much coercion we use because we have consensus as a culture. You can’t put up a rock band at 3:00 AM in the morning outside my bedroom window. We have laws that say you’ll be fined if you do that. We coerce people all over the place because we have consensus as a culture on what will work. Now, if we lose that consensus on marriage, we’ll pay for it, but we might lose it. So it’s not wrong. It doesn’t fall out of bounds to argue for a law in regard to a lifestyle. I don’t think that would contradict, in other words, what I said about protecting religions.

Once again, thank you for your ministry to the body. I believe that I would speak for all of our folks at our church that we’re aware of Abraham’s situation. Assuming that he was a member of Bethlehem, would you mind speaking to the church discipline process in that case?

I would not mind at all. It was very painful and very wonderful. We excommunicated my son, and I read the letter of excommunication with tears. The elders worked with my son for a long time. They did not want to do this. I made them do it. I mean, they knew it was right to do, but they knew this would be awful. And by the way, they labored for six months studying the Scriptures to see if I needed to resign, because it says in Titus that an elder should have believing children. Now, what does that mean? Does pista there mean faithful, reliable, or honest? Does it apply to little children, all adult children? What if you have four children who are walking with the Lord and one isn’t? Does it mean all the children have to be?

This was a very complex issue, and my elders didn’t blow it off. I said, “Guys, you must be faithful to Scripture here. You do what you have to do.” So they spent six months studying Scripture, and then they spent months with Abraham. They would go pray over him. They would invite him in and pray over him, put their hands on him, and ask for God to open his eyes. This was not a precipitous thing that they did. I’m not saying you get one person who seems to become an unbeliever, and boom, you have to kick him out of the church, just like that. It’s not easy or simple, but eventually, it came that Abraham was where he is and the church was where we are in our commitment to Scripture. And so the elders voted unanimously to put him out of the church. I read that letter at an open meeting, and the church voted with trembling. They said, “All in favor says, ‘Aye.’” There’s a certain kind of “aye” to some votes and a certain kind of “aye” to other votes. And that “aye” was a very sober, painful, tearful “aye.”

I went home, I got on the phone, and I said, “Abraham, we voted to excommunicate you tonight.” And he said, “Good, I knew you would and that’s the right thing to do. I admire you for it.” That’s the way he was. That’s where he was spiritually. He never had any animosity towards me or the church. Strange, isn’t it? That lasted then for how long? Maybe two years. That’s how much grace they were giving him early on. And then when he wrote that email, I sent that out to the elders, and we all rejoiced. It took about six months of a process for them working with him and me to be assured this was real and he’s back. And that night, that public meeting was sweet.

And that’s the goal of church discipline. Every excommunication is with a view to restoration, right? You don’t just say, “Good, we got rid of that group.” That’s not the point of excommunication in the New Testament. The whole point of severing relations, holy ostracism, and “don’t even eat with such a one” is not mean-spiritedness. The point is brokenhearted longing and praying and wooing and winning back. Well, a lot of painful things happened in his life emotionally, I think. And he stood before the people. One of the elders, who’s a good friend of his, administered to him the church covenant. We usually do it with larger groups of people, but here was one kid in front of several hundred people” Do you engage to this and do you engage to this?” He said, “I do, I do.” And then they asked him to give a testimony of God’s grace in his life.

I was sitting beside my wife, my eight-year-old, and Abraham’s new girlfriend, Molly, who he’s married to now. It’s six months into his walk with the Lord. And we were all sitting about eight rows back at the business meeting. And he just narrated the story. He pointed over to us and said, “I was sitting right there by that post when I decided I was not a Christian four years ago. My dad was teaching.” That’s just like Isaiah, preaching and making the heart of these people fat. You preach and you bring reprobation on some people. He continued, “So under my dad’s preaching, I decided I’m not a believer.” And then he just took off and did his own thing for four years.

And he said, “Here’s the way God brought me back.” And then he looked up right at me. He’s a really non-emotional, matter-of-fact, down-to-earth, get-it-done, in-your-face, argumentative guy. And as he tried to say, “I’m so sorry I brought so much shame upon you and the church,” he just broke down and wept uncontrollably for about a minute. And the people just kind of sat there. And I could tell people just wanted to go up and hug him, and grab him and say, “It’s okay, it’s okay. We forgive you.” But nobody moved, and he got control of himself and finished his statement. So I felt really good about those tears. They were, I think, what everybody needed to see at that moment. We thought, “Is his heart really there, or is he just doing this for other reasons?” Thanks for asking. It was a happy ending.

How do you use these texts in your personal evangelism? And do you have successful or effective analogies or word pictures to use to expound the doctrine of reprobation?

These would not be the first texts I’d go to in personal evangelization. In personal evangelism, there are different kinds, aren’t there? There’s a relational kind where you know the people, you know what they’ve been struggling with, and you’re talking into a situation you understand. And then there’s cold turkey evangelism, going out on Tuesday nights, knocking on doors. I call mine jogging evangelism. I go out in the morning and I carry two Quests for Joys in my back, sweaty pocket, and just start jogging for half an hour, praying that God would lead me to people. And usually there’s street people, or people walking to work at 7:00 a.m. or something downtown. There’s that kind of evangelism, and you just want to sow a seed. You’re not going to get very far. You’re dripping sweat. They don’t want to talk to you anyway.

Into the relationship, you find texts that are suited to the need. And there are so many glorious promises in the Bible. You want to speak the word of promise and then draw them toward the cross and toward Christ and get them to that simple place of Acts 16:31, which says, “What shall I do to be saved?” You answer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” Now, for the average American today, probably “saved” doesn’t mean anything. So you need other texts that draw them in.

These texts about election I think are going to come in through encountering obstacles with people. I gave you an illustration of the fact that if a person says, “I’m too evil, I’ve done too much, I’ve sinned too much,” there are two ways you could go with that. One way is to say, “Don’t treat the cross that way. The payment paid here was so full, so rich, and so deep that it’s sufficient to cover all the sins you’ve ever done.” That’s one. The other way would be to go to an election text where people are chosen before the foundation of the world without reference to anything they’ve ever done, and therefore you can’t use the bad things you’ve done to rule you out of whether you’re chosen.

Now, I don’t know if I’d even want to bring up chosenness to an ice-cold, new, inquiring believer, but they often bring up things like that. Do you know where it comes up most? It’s in the doctrine of irresistible grace. They get wind you’re a Calvinist. So here they’re sitting in my office, “Do you think I can believe?” And the glorious thing about irresistible grace — “The Lord opened her heart to give heed” (Acts 16:14), or, “As many as were foreordained unto eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48) — is to say to a person, “Look, right now, can you make yourself love Jesus? Can you make yourself feel that Jesus is more precious to you than money and sex and power and family and health and life itself? Can you just push a button by your will and make yourself adore Christ?”

Everybody knows you can’t. I say, “So, your only hope is grace. And I’d like to pray with you right now that as I share texts with you about the gospel and the beauty and glory of Christ, he would open your eyes to see.” And you pray, “Lord, grant that Mary would have eyes to see that when Christ died on the cross, it was enough; that when God sent his Son, it was to save sinners. He didn’t come to save the righteous. He came to call sinners to repentance.” And as you pray, you’re just longing that the Lord brings texts to your mind that will be used by the Holy Spirit to penetrate right through whatever obstacles are there.

So I find that the doctrines of grace — total depravity, unconditional election, limited or definite or effective atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints — are very helpful and useful in dealing with people’s souls, because sober people know that they can’t turn it on and off. They can’t make themselves a Christian. By the way, I think the reason evangelism in America has become, in large measure, so decisionistic in calling for a choice, or having someone sign a card, or having someone walk an aisle or go to a church, is because we can control that, and we want effects. We want to be able to report to the guys that are supporting us: “We’ve had these many decisions.”

I can control decisions. I can get people to make decisions. I can get people to sign cards and do stuff. Anything you just use your will to do, I can get them to do it. But you don’t have to be born again to sign a card. You don’t have to be born again to walk an aisle or anything. You have to be born again to see Jesus as glorious, to see Jesus as beautiful, to see Jesus as attractive and winsome and more valuable than life and health and stuff. So evangelism is impossible without the Holy Spirit. I mean, I just read it again yesterday in Luke 14:33, “Unless you renounce all that you have, you cannot be my disciple.” And he says, “Unless you hate your mother, father, sister, brother, wife, and children, and your own life also, you cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).

There has to be such an emotional Copernican revolution that you now look upon mom and dad and wife and brother and sister as tremendously less to be desired than Jesus. Then you’re born again. But nobody can make that happen in his own soul. You can choose to do a few things, but you can’t make that happen. You have to cry out, “Oh God, take out the heart of stone. Put in the heart of flesh. Write your law on my heart. Draw me to the Savior, open my blind eyes, raise this dead corpse.” So I find praying like that with people is dictated by my theology, and is exactly what they know they need.

I was wondering if you could summarize Edwards’s beliefs on the Trinity, and whether you agree or disagree.

Yeah, I do agree. I recommend that you read Edwards’s Essay on the Trinity. It’s only about 30 pages, and it really is quite understandable, unlike Freedom of the Will, which is harder to understand. But his view is that God, the Father, from all eternity, has had a perfect idea of himself, a perfect picture of himself, a perfect, to use the biblical word, image of himself. Jesus is the exact image, radiance, and essence of the Father.

And this idea is invested so fully with all that God is that it has stood forth as long as God has been, which is eternally, as a separate person, so that God knows himself in his Son, and the Son knows himself in his Father. So his conception of the Son is that he is the perfect personal idea of God, only way more than an idea, because when God has an idea of himself, the wholeness of God is in his idea, and therefore he stands forth as a completely distinct and separate person, though one in essence because it’s his idea of the Father.

Now, the Holy Spirit is that there’s a love and energy and delight that goes back and forth between the Father and the Son. And as they have a communal relationship with one another, which they’ve always had from all eternity, this communion that they have is like an esprit du corps (a spirit of the body). It stands forth as a separate person, embodying all the love and all the delight and all the admiration that the Father has for the Son and the Son has for the Father, so that the essence of the Holy Spirit is all that the Father is toward the Son and all that the Son is toward the Father, and a third person stands forth.

And what’s so remarkable about the Essay on the Trinity is that Edwards uses texts to support this. He finds texts, and the texts become illuminated in relation to the Trinity in a most remarkable way, because you had never taken them that way. For example, it says in Romans 5:3:

We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

What does that mean? In its fullness, what does that mean? His argument is that God’s love is poured out because God’s love is his Holy Spirit, or God’s Holy Spirit is the embodiment of the love that he has for the Son and the Son for the Father, so that all the love that God has had from all eternity in delighting in the Son and the Son delighting in the Father, he now pours into us so that what the presence of the Holy Spirit is in us is admiration for and delight in the Son, which is why the Holy Spirit is given, namely, to glorify the Son.

The Holy Spirit comes with the very energy that the Father has for the Son, so that in us there is the presence of God loving the Son with the love of the Father for the Son. That’s the kind of thing you read in Edwards’s Essay on the Trinity, and it causes you to see the relevance of the Trinity. But back to your question about agreement or disagreement, I’m fully willing to simply say this is a human construction, in some measure, to say the Son is an idea known by the Father, which becomes a person because it’s so full of the Father and is the Father in reflection. And then the Holy Spirit is the energy and the life and the love and delight that goes back and forth, so much so that all of them are in that and he is a person in his own right. That’s a human effort to get our hands around what probably will never be fully understandable for us. But it’s one that I think does not contradict Scripture and has been personally very helpful to me as I’ve tried to conceive of the Trinity.