Saturday, March 29, 2008

God Promised Abraham and His Seed an Everlasting Possession

Genesis 17:8 says, "8 And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God."

How could God make this promise uncondtionally to ethnic Israel, since unbelieving ethnic Jews will be in hell suffering everlasting destruction? The only Israelites that will enjoy Canaan as an everlasting possession are believing Israelites. And, believing Gentiles will be enjoying it right alongside of them (Matt 5:5; Rev 21:1-3).

Thus, the promise of Canaan as an everlasting possession is infallibly certain, yet it is only certain for Israelites who meet the condition of faith. This promise will certainly be fulfilled because God will work faith in all elect Israelites, guaranteeing that they will inherit the promised blessing along with the believing Gentiles, who are one people in Christ (Eph 2:11-22).

Friday, March 28, 2008

Have Abraham's Descendants been as Numerous as the Stars of Heaven?

In Genesis 15:5, God told Abram, "Look toward heaven, and number the stars if you are able to number them. Then he said to him, so shall your offspring be."

Has this promise been fulfilled? Yes.

Nehemiah 9:23-24 says, "You multiplied their children as the stars of heaven, and you brought them into he land that you had told their fathers to enter and possess. So, the descendants went in and possessed the land, and you subdued before them the inhabitants of the land of the Canaanites, and gave them into their hand, with their kings and the peoples of the land, that they might do with them as they would."

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Are the Land Promises to Israel Fulfilled?

YES! The Bible teaches that Israel has already realized all of the land God promised her.

"So the LORD gave Israel all the land which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they possessed it and lived in it. And the LORD gave them rest on every side, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers, and no one of all their enemies stood before them; the LORD gave all their enemies into their hand. Not one of the good promises which the LORD had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass" (Joshua 21:43–45).

See also Joshua 23:14-15, "14 And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the LORD your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed. 15 But just as all the good things that the LORD your God promised concerning you have been fulfilled for you, so the LORD will bring upon you all the evil things, until he has destroyed you from off this good land that the LORD your God has given you, 16 if you transgress the covenant of the LORD your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them. Then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you, and you shall perish quickly from off the good land that he has given to you."

Nehemiah 9:8 "You found his heart faithful before You, And made a covenant with him To give the land of the Canaanites, The Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, And the Girgashites -- To give it to his descendants. You have performed Your words, For You are righteous."

Some Bible teachers refer to Numbers 34:2–12 and Joshua 13:1–7 as proof that Israel did not ever reach the boundaries God promised it. However, those texts, which teach that Israel had not yet inherited the promised land, come before Joshua 21:43–45. But when we get to the end of the book of Joshua (21:43-45), we find that Israel had finally inherited what God promised it.

Some argue that since there were other nations in the midst of Israel (Josh. 23:4–7), Israel never truly possessed the land. However, that fact doesn't mean that Israel failed to possess the land in truth. In fact, Scripture calls the nations “an inheritance for your tribes” (23:4). They are part of the spoils of war. God also makes Israel's retention of the land of Canaan conditional. He says, “Be very firm, then, to keep and do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, so that you may not turn aside from it to the right hand or to the left” (23:6). If Israel failed to obey these stipulations, then the nations in their midst “shall be a snare and a trap to you, and a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good land which the LORD your God has given you” (23:13). Thus, the fact that Israel had not driven out all of the occupants of Canaan did not mean that they failed to possess and inhabit the whole terrritory God promised them.

The Witnesses' Sixth Visit

Today, I received my sixth visit from the Jehovah's Witnesses. There were three of them this time. Two were the same, but the third was a new person. I started off our talk this time by responding to their belief in "soul death." I handed them a paper with an outline of some of the Bible's teaching on the continued conscious existence of the human spirit after death. They're going to look that over and get back with me next week.

I was prepared today to talk with them about the "kingdom of God/heaven," but they wanted to discuss the doctrine of the Trinity. We ended up re-hashing a lot of ground that we've covered before, but I think it was good to go over it again. They started off by pointing out the places in the Bible where it strongly affirms that there is only one God. I heartily agreed with them and told them that I am a "strict monotheist." Then, they said that the encyclopedia calls the "Trinity" an incomprehensible doctrine. They argued that God is not a God of confusion; therefore, the Trinity must not be of God. I responded by asking them if they fully comprehend Jehovah, that he never had a beginning, that he is the Alpha and the Omega, etc. I argued that though the Trinity is incomprehensible in the sense that we cannot understand it fully, it is nonetheless coherent, takes into account all of the biblical data, and it is without logical contradiction. They then pointed out places in Scripture that show a distinction among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I explained that there is one God who is three distinct, but not separate, persons. God is one in essence but He is three centers of consciousness, each of whom perfectly loves the others. The personal name of this one triune God is "Yahweh."

I argued from John 20:28 that since Thomas says to Christ, "My Lord and my God," Jesus is God. They said that Thomas was calling Jesus "God" in a sense subordinate to Jehovah (citing 1 Cor 8:5-6). They also said that Isa 9:6 prophesied that Christ would be called "God." Therefore, Thomas was fulfilling prophecy. I argued that since Isa 9:6 prophecies that Christ would be called "God," doesn't it make sense that He actually is God!? I also asked them if they would call Christ "my God," just like Thomas did. They said that they would not. So, they admitted that they would not refer to Christ in terms that Scripture itself affirms are appropriate.

They asked me, "If Jesus is God, then did God die?" I said, "The humanity of Christ died, but not His divinity." They asked me whether the Bible teaches that. I responded that the Bible teaches that Christ's physical body hung on the tree and perished. The Bible never teaches that Christ's divinity perished because divinity cannot perish. Next week, when they come back, I may mention that in the death of Christ, Scripture recognizes that in some sense God died. Acts 20:28 says, "Care for the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood." There are some textual issues with that verse, but the weight of evidence is on the above rendering. Also, Revelation 2:8 says, "The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life," and the phrase "first and last" refers to God throughout the Bible. These passages are not saying that God's essence died, but that the second person of the godhead died in the death of Christ's human nature.

I again argued that Christ is "worshipped," according to the Bible. That happens in the resurrection story: Matthew 28:9, speaking of Christ, says, "And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshipped him." This is not an isolated event in Scripture. Jesus is worshipped, but worship is to be reserved for God alone. God will not share His glory with another (Isa 48:11), and salvation is of the Lord (Jon 2:9). If Jesus saves, as they say He does, and if Jesus is not God, as they teach He is not, then Jesus shares in the glory of our salvation and robs God of the glory that He alone is due. Their response was to say that while we glorify Christ and do Him "obeisance," we do not worship him, and He gives all the glory He receives in our salvation back to Jehovah. But that response will not work because the Greek term for worship (esp. proskuneo) does not simply mean "obeisance." It means "worship." And, even though Christ gives all glory to God, the fact that He receives any glory at all for our salvation demands that He is God, since God alone saves and God alone gets all the credit for our salvation.

I learned today that the Witnesses don't believe that Jehovah is omnipresent. He is located in space, though His "spirit" emanates from Him, such that He has knowledge and contact with all everywhere. They want me to exchange a limitless God for a limited one. I must say, I'm not tempted to do that in the least.

Finally, they closed our discussion today by inviting me to their annual celebration of Christ at their kingdom hall. I told them that I would go to their meeting if they would come to our church. I said, "It's only fair!" They said that they can't do that. We parted on good terms and they will be back next week.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Jehovah's Witnesses Came

The Witnesses came to my door for the fifth time today; so, I'll need to catch you up on what happened last time too. Last week, they spent most of their time trying to argue three things from the Scriptures. There were three of them this time: two men and a woman.

1. The human "soul" is identical to the human "body." The "soul" is the whole person. And, they said, our persons have no immaterial aspect.
2. Our souls die, just like our bodies. They argued that there is no consciousness, life, or existence after human beings die.
3. Naturally, it follows from this that there is no "hell" or eternal conscious torment of unbelievers. But, the converse is also true: there is no heaven awaiting believers who die. The best believers can hope for is to be resurrected to reign in paradise on earth in the future. No Jehovah's witnesses believe that they will go to heaven because only 144,000 who have already lived and died get to inherit the blessing of heaven.

This is their gospel. Our only hope of any future existence after death is to do enough good works under the authority of the Watchtower organization so that we will be raised to live in paradise on earth when God raises us from the dead.

After listening to their presentation and answering their questions, I asked them if I could ask a few questions of my own. I used the outline posted below, and they were not impressed. They said that there is a sense in which Jesus is the "Alpha and the Omega" but He's not God (Jehovah). They also said that the speaker changes from Jehovah to Jesus in Revelation 22:16. They called it a "quote within a quote." However, I responded by saying that it seems to be the same speaker because of the drumbeat refrain, "I am coming soon" in verses 7, 12, 20, which refers to the return of Christ, who identifies himself as "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end" (v. 13). I argued that they have no contextual warrant to say that the speaker changes in verse 16.

I then asked them about the cross and whether Christ fully satisfied God's justice on their behalf. I asked them whether they were saved by their works and the work of Christ or by Christ's work alone. They said that we must cooperate with God's grace with our free wills. I then said, "So, you believe that God shares the credit for your salvation with you? Doesn't the Bible teach that God will not share His glory with anyone (Isa 48:11)?" I then pressed them, saying that if salvation is on the basis of works, then it is no longer by grace (Rom 11:6). I explained that Christ purchases a whole salvation for us. He fully satisfied the justice of God to purchase the double blessing of justification and sanctification. Christ's work alone satisfies God's justice for our justification. And, Christ's work purchases the work of the Spirit in us for our sanctification, such that all who are purchased by Christ, not only believe for justification, but also produce fruit in keeping with repentance and endure in a pattern of good works to the end.

They asked me if I believe in free will. I said, "no, not like you do." I cited Romans 3:10-12, and said that God has to change our hearts and powerfully bring us to Himself if any of us are to be saved (John 6:37, 44, etc.). They didn't know how to deal with that and soon after they said they had to go.

Today they came back. This time there were four of them. I began our conversation today with arguments that the human spirit is personal (not just a life-force), and that it continues after death. Our spirits have a will (Matt 26:41); they can rejoice (Lk 1:47); they render service to God (Rom 1:9); they have knowledge (1 Cor 2:11); they speak (1 Cor 14:2); they pray (1 Cor 14:14); they can sing (1 Cor 14:15). Therefore, our spirits are not an impersonal life force! They are the immaterial part of us, which is very personal! Paul said, "I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Cor 5:5). Thus, this personal spirit may be saved! They had no response to this other than to say that 1 Cor 5:5 refers to one of the 144,000 and does not apply to us. They didn't deal with my argument for a personal spirit.

One of them then asked me how it could be "just" for a man who has lived 100 years as a sinner to go to hell for all eternity. They said that an eternal hell would violate God's justice. I cited Rev 14:9-11 and Rev 20:10-15 to prove that Scripture teaches that hell is eternal. They argued that the Revelation passages are simply figures of speech. I said, no, Christ is said to be present for this (14:10) - Christ's presence is not figurative. Then, I told them that God's justice positively demands eternal punishment in the form of conscious torment for unbelieving sinners because God is infinitely holy. A single sin against an infinitely holy God demands infinite punishment because to sin against God at all, even once, is to sin against God in all of His infinite holiness. I then explained that this is why Christ must be God. He must be God, a being of infinite worth and holiness, in order to satisfy the infinite offense of sinners. At this point, I tried to clearly preach the gospel to them again and explain that our whole salvation is in Jesus Christ when we come to Him by faith, which is always accompanied with repentance. They had no idea how to reply to that; so, we moved on to another subject.

The last thing we talked about was the Watchtower organization. They believe that the Watchtower organization provides an authoritative interpretation of Scripture. Those who disagree with that interpretation can be subject to discipline and shunning. I explained the doctrine of the Bible's sufficiency (2 Tim 3:17, etc.). This was interesting because they seemed to want to agree with me on this. They admitted that the organization could be and has been wrong on certain things. I asked them what would happen to them if they were to come to a correct interpretation of the Bible that disagrees with the organization's wrong interpretation at some point. They wouldn't answer me. They said we should humbly wait for the Lord's light. I asked them whether the organization would require them to believe something that we are convinced is untrue on the basis of the Bible. They were a bit unclear on that.

They could only stay for an hour today. But, today's meeting was much better than last week's. They listened more and more communication took place. I gave them a copy of the 2nd London Confession of 1689 and told them that I think it well summarizes the teaching of Scripture, though it is not authoritative above the Bible and is a fallible document.

We parted on good terms and they said they would be back next week, and we'll talk about "the kingdom." Please continue to pray! And stay tuned.