Lesson: 1st Principles.mp3
Color coded topics below:
- Olive green – is always scripture.
- Red – is concerning sin.
- Teal – is God’s Character.
This is a new class we are offering in place of Sunday School. This is quite a departure for us who have grown up with traditional “Sunday Schools” all of our lives. Not that there has ever been anything particularly “traditional” about our church, but loosing the name alone is a type of fresh start. In this class we are exploring the topic of prayer. Prayer in its purest and in fact only true form is open verbal communion with our heavenly Father. However, to assume that there are not “right” and “wrong” ways to approach Him is to ignore a copious amount of New Covenant doctrine laid down by the Apostles and Jesus Christ Himself. In the Words of Paul, “…we know not what we should pray, nor how to offer that prayer in a worthy manner as we must…” Romans 8:26. The Greek words Paul used are accurately depicted in the Wuest translation I just quoted. The idea Paul was conveying was not just that we don’t know how to pray – we don’t even know how to offer the “right” prayer in a way which is acceptable before God. Furthermore this ignorance is a serious issue for Paul tell us that the correct way of approaching God is a “MUST” issue! Now – let me offer those who immediately play the “that’s legalism” card (that I am quite honestly getting nauseous of hearing) – I am aware of the fact that God compels us to come to Him “boldly” – Hebrews 4:16. This speaks to one of the “hows” Paul is referring to here. The problem is that Christians have become SO OVER familiar with God that He functions more as a “buddy” with connections than an All-Powerful God and Father. Boldly does NOT mean flippantly nor irreverently! There are proper ways even in the natural world to approach our earthly fathers and ways which are inherently wrong and irreverent (disrespectful). The same is true of our heavenly Father.Furthermore, John tells us that the only confidence we have that our prayers are even heard is if we ask in accordance to His will – I Jn. 5:14,15.
“And this is the boldness which we have toward him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us: and if we know that he heareth us whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of him.” ~ 1Jn. 5:14-15
We decided to begin these classes and prayer times with “known” 1st principles. By this we mean, those truths which we know for a fact must be understood and considered in our times of approaching God in order for our prayers to be more than empty words. The first consideration is the sovereignty of God. By sovereign we mean God’s unchallengeable authority and power over all He has made. This authority also includes His purposes for creation, humanity, His Kingdom and everything else. Overlooking or choosing to ignore God’s sovereignty is perhaps the most frequent obstruction we encounter as Christians in prayer. God has a purpose and a plan. People, so long as they are allowed expressions of freewill, encumber the plans of God – but not His purpose. What God purposes He will accomplish. I am writing this after the class took place and having listened to the recording so I will just say here that this is a further refinement of I actually said. In class I blended the concepts of purpose, plan and will with abandon. It was not so much that I did not see then what I see now, but just that in teaching the lesson I did not choose my words carefully. So here in this written review it is helpful then, to distinguish between what God purposes and what He desires. His purposes are immutable and cannot be challenged in any way. His purposes will be fulfilled!
“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” ~ Job 42:2
“In Whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him Who worketh all things after the counsel of His Own will” ~ Eph. 1:11
This tells us that certain things are predestined according to His purpose. It also says that He works all things according to the counsel of His will. The word “works”implies much! The word means to apply effort. We can imagine that before the fall of man (and Lucifer) no additional effort or “work” had to be applied to His creation because it was perfect and therefore accomplished both His purpose and His will. In a post-fall world however, though His sovereign declarations concerning His purposes cannot be thwarted, His desires have to be worked. For the Christian all one needs to do to see the truth of this is to consider the following verse in comparison to how often we fail to comply with His promptings.
“For it is God Who is working in you, enabling you both to will and to act for His good purpose.” ~ Php. 2:13
A simple cursory search of scripture will reveal that God’s purposes are always accomplish through His sovereignty. This is NOT however true of His desires, for we know of a certainty that His desire is that no one perish.
“This is good and pleasing in the eyes of God our Saviour; Whose desire is that all men may have salvation and come to the knowledge of what is true.” ~ 1Tim. 2:3-4
Never the less the scriptures are filled with proofs that the majority of the human race past, present and future will be lost.
“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad the road which leads to ruin, and many there are who enter by it; because narrow is the gate and contracted the road which leads to Life, and few are those who find it.“ ~ Mat. 7:13-14
While “all the purpose of God” is a subject well outside the scope or knowledge of this class, the fact that His purposes will always succeed while many of His desires will not is VERY instructional and begins to lay a foundation for our knowledge of how to pray. So the first two points are:
- God is Sovereign.
- God accomplishes His purpose and works out His plans and will.
- Every prayer MUST have in view the accomplishing of God’s purposes.
- If the prayer is for ourselves and a personal self-interest, it is not necessarily wrong, but it may go unanswered.
The next issue which does not seem immediately attached to this one, but none the less plays a vital role is this: Man’s freewill!
Freewill is a stewardship given us on lease. One will search in vain seeking an absolute affirmation of man’s autonomous will given unconditionally by God. It appears from what we know of history (and our own lives) that “freewill” exists. Never the less, I believe it to be in error to assume that it is a guaranteed fact in every life all of the time. Traditionally there are two theological “camps” from which Christians hail concerning this issue. The Calvinists and the Armenians.
The Calvinists believe that God’s purpose, will and grace are irresistible and cannot ever be broken. In my view that would eliminate the concept of sin or the harmony of God’s will and character one!
So let’s consider both…
Sin is an affront to His character. The specific “things” we identify as actions of “missing the mark” a.k.a.- ‘sin’, are in fact identified as such because the “mark” they are missing is His character and likeness. Any attribute to which we yield, which is not in 100% conformity or harmony with God’s character is by nature wrong and thus sin.
God’s Character…we have it on firm biblical authority that God never changes but remains the same yesterday, today and forever. This being known, tells us that God will not be okay with “robbery” on Monday and then hate it on Tuesday. If it ever was against His character it will forever BE against His character. One serious way in which humans “miss the mark” is in enticing another person towards sin – See Example Below. This is called an “offense” in scripture and is considered a very egregious sin. (by egregious I ‘DO’ in fact mean worse than many sins. For information on ‘types’ and levels of sin please refer to this article. I am aware that the PENALTY for ALL sin is the same, but that is NOT to say that all sin is of the same importance. This is a very, very common misconception which is NOT supported ANYWHERE in the whole Bible.)
“And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.” ~ Luke 17:1-2
The interesting thing is that many Calvinists believe that if a person sins it was ultimately by the direct decree of God that they do so – they were “created” to be vessels of His wrath. So in effect, God “enticed them to sin” and then punishes them for doing His will by sinning. While Romans 9 does speak of this, the example it offers is of Pharaoh which we address a little later in this overview. Far from enticing Pharaoh towards sin, God gives Pharaoh 11 very good encouragements to NOT sin. Pharaoh chose to rebel and in response God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. It is by misunderstanding the nature of God and passages like Romans 9 (which could be easily understood if you just look up the reference Paul used) that silly doctrines propagate.
God cannot sin Himself, neither does He pre-ordain certain people for destruction by creating them TO sin. This would require God to stop being Himself. It would be an example of “disharmony” between God’s will and His Character. He would have to will something to happen which defies His Own character. This position is rife with problems.
The Armenians believe that God’s purposes, will and grace are free to be rejected with no restraining principles ever at play.We could point to Pharaoh again to debunk this idea. While Pharaoh did not let God’s people go – that did not stop God from getting what He purposed. There was an appointed ‘DAY’ for Israel to be brought out of Egypt and scripture tells us that God accomplished it on that very day – Exod. 12:41. The same was true of the birth of Jesus and will be true of His second coming. The point to the Armenian is that all the freewill in the universe will NOT thwart God from accomplishing all He has purposed in His heart to do.
So, I suggest that both of these positions are extremes which have profound theological difficulties. I believe this issue is not so much one of “either/or” but “both/and”! There are known things listed in Romans the first chapter alone which demonstrate that man can continue in his “own ways” long enough that the judgement of God will be an effective removal of free will.
“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness…” ~ Rom. 1:28-29a
Three words of import for our subject appear in this verse.
- The first is God “gave them over“. The words translated as “gave them over” is representing one Greek word – namely paradídōmi; παραδίδωμι and it means to hand over to someone or something else. This demonstrates in that the mind of man is in the power and control of God.
- The second word reprobate is another key. It is the Greek word adókimos; αδόκιμος and carries the general meaning of be unapproved, unworthy, spurious, worthless. In a pass. sense meaning disapproved, rejected, cast away (1Cor. 9:27; 2Cor. 13:5-7; Heb. 6:8 [cf. 2Tim. 3:8; Titus 1:16]). With an act. usage meaning undiscerning, not distinguishing, void of judgment (Rom. 1:28); although in this text it may be understood in the pass.: a reprobate abominable mind, a mind to be abhorred by God and man. In any case the idea is a mind that lacks judgement and discernment. It loves unrighteousness without any abhorrence to it at all. All the built-in “governors” have been removed and this one sins with reckless abandon because their ability to discern has left them.
- The last word is “full of” all unrighteousness. The word “full” here is a Greek word meaning replete – to the complete top having no room for anything else – full. While this is not necessarily the removal of freewill – it IS the removal of the discernment one would require to exercise freewill towards what is good, so the results are the same.
Furthermore we know of Nebuchadnezzar – that God took his sanity and gave him the mind of a beast – Daniel 5:21. This was presumably not within the scope of Nebuchadnezzar’s will, but his reason and will were stripped of him and he became as undiscerning as an animal.
Now, we have addressed this topic of freewill simply because man’s will often appears to be free and though it often is, it need not be so! All that is required is a simple command of God and all reason would leave us.
In light of all of this it never the less seems that man’s will rarely proves more than an inconvenience to God’s overall purpose in creation in that we do not witness His suspending freewill very often. This however, does NOT mean that man having freedom of choice is not a matter with which God must contend. God’s desire to give mankind the choice to choose to love Him and pursue His purposes often creates situations in which God’s actions take on a more pragmatic tone. He will allow many things and use them in the fulfilling of His overall purpose, which in many cases requires Him to surrender some of His desires. Sadly the losses are often measured in human lives.
Here is a very practical and biblical example… God desired Israel to prosper and grow as a nation, because one of His purposes was to establish a godly lineage under covenant through which the Messiah could come. Due to multiple sin issues , however, justice required Israel to go into bondage for 400 years under Egypt. This was a rural route to God’s ultimate purpose for Israel rather than a straight line “highway” approach, but God worked with it to provide a place in which (though in slavery) Israel was protected from its enemies within “Egyptian walls”, fed and enabled to multiply. Moses was spared death because of God’s purpose – He needed a leader to come of age and be His representative before Israel in leading them out of bondage. God’s purpose provided training for Moses as a shepherd of people by having him shepherd his father in law’s sheep. God rose Pharaoh to power for the purpose of proclaiming God’s Name and show forth His power. – Rom. 9:17.
In fact let’s examine this last one as our case in point:
“For the Scripture tells Pharaoh: For this reason I raised you up: so that I may display My power in you, and that My name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” ~ Rom. 9:17
The interesting thing here is how God’s purpose was accomplished while His desire was unmet. God did not desire Pharaoh to be destroyed anymore than anyone else. [Remember it is God’s will that NONE perish. – 1Tim. 2:3-4] Pharaoh made choices to reject the miraculous displays of God over 10 times! At every decision God hardened Pharaoh’s heart a little more, until it brought destruction upon him.
These miracles coupled with the release of Israel from the Egyptian nation were enough to accomplish God’s purpose. One has to consider though, what would have happened if Pharaoh had responded? If he let God’s people go after witnessing even one miracle which his magicians could not repeat, the effect would have been even greater! It is not unheard of for a nation to revolt against it’s captors and win. It is however, unprecedented for an ungodly nation to simply let the oppressed go free! If that had happened the fame of the God of Israel would have been great among the other nations.
You see, Pharaoh’s stubborn expressions of freewill were nothing more than an inconvenient speed bump to God on His journey towards accomplishing His purpose – but it served as no true deterrent! The price however was quite high both for Pharaoh and for God. It was paid in human lives!
So what is the lesson here in regards to prayer? What if the nation of Israel decided 200 years into their 400 year captivity to think, “God said He chose our father Abraham and brought him out of Chaldea to make a nation of him. He promised to bless him and provide him an inheritance in the land of Canaan. So why are we here in bondage? We will seek forgiveness for our forefather’s sins and require God to release us according to His promise to Abraham.” – what would have happened? Absolutely nothing!
God had already spoken that they would be in captivity for 400 years due to actions of their forefathers who preceded them. If such a repentance was going to effect a change of the decree it would have had to been done by the initial perpetrator. At this point they were simply in a season of reaping and God had already proclaimed a pre-appointed day of their deliverance – Gen. 15:13.
You see, praying God’s words (‘logos’) and not His Rhema will create all kinds of difficulties in our understanding and will sorely frustrate our prayer life. It causes us to make unfounded assumptions about the person and character of God.
Such assumptions often lead people to conclude that…
- God must have left me
- He does not care about me anymore
- He does not honor His promises…etc.
All of these subjective conclusions are the result of unanswered prayer! The question though is WHY did He not answer? The third point then is:
3. Prayer cannot be ‘I’-centered it MUST be Kingdom focused!
If we pursue right standing with God (the fruit we bear) and placing the purposes and furtherance of His kingdom in the place of preeminence in our lives all the things we “need” will be added to us.
Other teachings of Jesus which enforce this necessity in our prayers are found in John 15:7-8 & Mat. 6:5-13.
“If you maintain a living communion with Me and My words are at home in you, I command you to ask, at once, something for yourself, whatever your heart desires, and it will become yours. In this My Father is glorified, namely, that you are bearing much fruit” ~ John 15:7-8
Notice the condition here is that we have to be maintaining a living communion with Him and His words must be at home within our hearts. This is a very relational way of saying what the Psamlist said,
“Take delight in the LORD, and He will give you your heart’s desires” ~ Ps. 37:4,5
The word desire in this verse means to be pliable in His hands. So it would read, “If you will not resist God’s influence, but yield your will to His inner promptings and commands He will create those desires within you which are in conformance to His will and purpose – thus allowing Him to bring them to pass.”
“Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! … “Therefore, you should pray like this: Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.]” ~ Mat. 6:5-13
Notice the first things Jesus mentioned in prayer…
- He acknowledged God and His Name as holy.
- He acknowledged and asked for God’s kingdom to be established on earth.
- He desired God’s will above all else – “Your will be done!”
It was not until after these genuine and heart felt acknowledgements that Jesus made His requests which were amazingly general…
- Feed us bread from heaven (both spiritual and natural)
- Forgive as we forgive.
We will explore much more in the coming months, but this is an excellent beginning!