Does Jesus have something against us?


Each year, during November, the Morning Prayer weekday lectionary takes us through the first few chapters of the Book of Revelation. In chapters 2 and 3, we have messages to the ekklesiae in seven cities of Roman Asia, the west end of what we now know as Turkey. There are some important and challenging things to note about these messages.

First, these are not ‘letters’ as they are commonly called, since they do not have the features of first-century letter-writing. In fact, the whole of Revelation is a letter, with part of the introduction looking very similar to Pauline letters elsewhere in the NT. There is some debate in scholarship about how best to characterise this section, but the most persuasive suggestion is that these are royal proclamations from the risen Jesus who, having been raised, ascended and vindicated, exercises royal power from the throne he shares with the One seated there. And they are not written to ‘churches’ in the way we often think—institutions with buildings and leadership structures. They are addressed to the collective (and occasionally gathered) new Israel of God in Jesus.

Secondly, as is easy to see, the seven messages are striking in their consistent structure of seven main elements, including opening and closing phrases which are repeated word for word:

  1. To the angel of the ekklesia in (place name) write:
  2. Thus says he who (appellation drawn from the vision of chapter 1)
  3. I know your (attributes and actions, varying considerable from one message to another)…
  4. But this I have against you…
  5. (Command to respond, often including the requirement to repent)
  6. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
  7. To those who are conquering (promise drawn from the vision of the New Jerusalem)

The messages vary considerably from one to another, the longest being the one to the assembly at Thyatira (222 words in Greek) and the shortest to the assembly at Smyrna (90 words). The variation in length arises from the differences in the content of elements 3 and 4, the affirmations and rebukes. The final message, to Laodicea, includes no affirmation, and both the second and second last, to Smyrna and Philadelphia respectively, include no rebuke, which lends the seven a degree of symmetry. The final two elements of the messages, ‘whoever has ears’ and ‘to those conquering’, switch their order from the fourth message to Thyatira onwards, and this gives the seven a structure of 3 + 4—though it is not very clear what the significance of this change is. (Any coherent suggestion welcomed—and could form part of a thesis!)

Thirdly, within this clear structure there are other elements of structural inter-relation with the rest of the book, ensuring that though these chapters are the most un-apocalyptic-looking section, they are interweaved into other sections. The opening proclamation of Jesus in each of the messages draws on the vision John records in chapter 1, and the promises to those ‘who conquer’ anticipate some aspect of the final vision of the New Jerusalem in chapters 21 and 22—though not in any obviously structured way, and without any consist link between these two elements of each message.

It is worth noting that, as with other parts of Revelation, John combines things which are clearly structured and predictable ordered with things that appear to have connections in other places, though with no obvious systematic order. Interpretative readings of Revelation often err on one side or another—either assuming that nothing is ordered and all is random, or assuming that we can find an ordered explanation for everything. The fact that there is always a mixture of the two suggests to me that John is deliberately keeping his readers on their toes, demanding that we attend to nothing more or less than what he has actually written.

But, fourthly, as elsewhere in Revelation, the messages also manage to interweave details from the local context of the first century. The best-known example is the description of those in Laodicea as lukewarm rather than hot or cold, an allusion to their water supply, which was lukewarm in contrast to the cold waters of Colossae and the hot waters of nearby Hierapolis (Pamukkale). But there are plenty of other examples, including:

  • the promise of a crown to those in Smyrna, which was known as the ‘crown of Asia’ and held its own games
  • the contrast of a white stone at Pergamum, whose white buildings contrasted with the local black basalt
  • the command to ‘wake up’ to those in Sardis, a city twice in its history taken at night when the guards were asleep.
  • the rebuke of being ‘poor, naked and blind’ to those in Laodicea, a city made wealthy through the manufacture of eye ointment and its clothing industry.

The combination of common structure, integration with the rest of the book, and connection with the local settings show these messages to be remarkably careful compositions.

But reading these messages through again, I have been most struck by the occurrence of a phrase repeated in three messages, but expressed in a further two: ‘This I have against you’. After lavish praise for their endurance and steadfastness, the risen Jesus ‘has against’ the Ephesian Christians that they have lost their first love. After assurance that he knows where they live, he ‘has against’ the Christians in Pergamum that they have compromised their loyalty and been led astray by misleading teaching. After short but emphatic praise of the Christians in Thyatira, in the most extended of the messages, he ‘has against’ them that they have been misled by ‘Jezebel’. There is also serious rebuke to those in Sardis and Laodicea. It is worth noting that at the end of each message, we are commanded to pay attention to ‘what the Spirit is saying to the ekklesiai‘ (plural). So although they have a specific relevance to each community, the messages also apply more widely—and of course, it means that their ‘spiritual dirty washing’ is being hung out to dry in front of others.

There are not a few reasons why we struggle with the idea of Jesus ‘having things against us’, not least because of the central message that the reason he died for us was because ‘God loved the world in this way’ (John 3.16). In fact the Johannine language of love is notably absent from Revelation as a whole. It does occur twice, in Rev 1.5 and Rev 20.9, but it is mostly displaced by the language of power and faithfulness. Perhaps we struggle with the idea mostly because it does not look like good pastoral practice; you neither grow churches nor nurture children by going on to them about what they are doing wrong. (For a mildly terrifying example, watch Mark Driscoll’s talk ‘God hates you.’) Against this, we need to remember that the rebukes come in the context of the assurances of the vision of Rev 1, and of Jesus as the one who walks amongst his people (the lampstands) and holds them firmly in his right hand—in other words, these are rebukes arising from presence and nearness, not from absence and distance.

We might also see a contrast with Pauline language about the relationship of God with his people. He has poured his love into our hearts by his Holy Spirit (Romans 5.5), and if God is for us, who can be against us? Will not God, who gave his Son for us, give us all things (Romans 8.32)? Yet this is the Paul who sees judgement coming to test the works of all (1 Cor 3.13) and who even sees God’s judgement being played out in the congregation in the present (1 Cor 11.30). As Peter found out, and we can read in Galatians, when Paul thinks that people are going wrong, he has no difficulty in offering a rebuke in God’s name. Peter appears to have agreed, at least in principle, when he comments that ‘judgement begins with the household of God’ (1 Peter 4.17).

This leads us to a broader question about Christian discipleship. Does God disciplines those whom God loves? At first glance, this question is easy to answer in the light of Prov 3.12: clearly, yes. But a single text cannot settle an issue, especially a text that talks of discipline in physical ways (‘spare the rod and spoil the child…’; compare Prov 13.24) which we now find problematic for all sorts of reasons. And yet the principle is reappropriated in the new covenant in Hebrew 12.6, and in the context of the eschatological struggle between the power of sin and the work of the Spirit, as an illustration of what it means to be children of God—so it is not easily set aside.

But the question needs to be grappled with for at least two specific reasons. The first is in response to the ever-common mantra ‘Love is love’. Well, it isn’t. Love is sometimes self-seeking love, manipulative love, co-dependent love, immature love, needy love, indulgent love, self-giving love, or selfless love—and not all of these could claim to accurately picture the love that God has for us in Jesus, poured into our hearts by the Spirit (Rom 5.5). To proclaim that ‘God is love’ without explaining what this love looks like is at best meaningless, and at worst misleading.

The second reason is our ongoing struggle to actually understand the Jesus we encounter in the pages of the gospels. On the one hand, here we find the Jesus who is radically inclusive and welcoming, who preaches the coming of the kingdom of God to the unexpected and the marginal, who confronts the powerful and the religiously complacent, and who brings healing and forgiveness to those who never expected it. On the other hand, here we also find the Jesus who does not shy away from the reality of God’s judgement, who urges a response to his message without which there will be catastrophic consequences, and who is ferocious in his condemnation of those who refuse to listen. Having flung open a wide gate of invitation, Jesus directs us to a very narrow path of discipline and discipleship if we are to follow him. At one moment it is all about God’s grace; at the next it all hinges on our response. It is the same Jesus warmly inviting us to ‘Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ (Matt 11.28) who also warns us that ‘Unless you repent, you too will all perish!’ (Luke 13.3). Many traditions in the church focus on one of these Jesus’ and not the other—but we are not following the real Jesus unless we listen to both.

There is a tendency, particularly within the Church of England, to see the idea of Jesus having something against us as belonging to one (rather extreme and often angry) end of the theological spectrum. But in fact bishops are commissioned to ‘refute error’ when necessary at the point of their ordination, and Rev 2 and 3 highlight the unavoidable reality within biblical theology—not least when put in the wider context of God’s rebuke of his people in numerous places throughout the canon. Although it doesn’t feature much in current thinking about church growth and ‘renewal and reform’, this suggests we need to consider carefully what God might ‘have against’ us. And it is even more pertinent in discussions about unity within and between denominations. Our desire to be polite and inoffensive seems to rule out that idea that a church or denomination might have fallen into error, and that God has something against this.

The messages in Rev 2–3 suggest that the possibility that God might have something against us this is, in fact, rather important, that the consequences are dire if we fail to respond, and that our response needs the one that the risen Jesus calls for in these messages—that we should ‘repent’, which after all, is an integral part of Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom.

For more on the Book of Revelation, you might be interested in my Grove booklet How to Read the Book of Revelation, my commentary in the Tyndale Commentary series, or my group study booklet published by LICC, Revelation: Faithfulness in Testing Times

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91 thoughts on “Does Jesus have something against us?”

  1. I suspect, Ian, that this piece might have been prompted in part by recent events at Lambeth 22; I also suspect that you couldn’t possibly comment. More generally we do well always to understand and hold in our minds a complete picture of God, humanity, and the gospel which can repair the rift between the two. The fact that the cross and resurrection can bridge the gap between sin and salvation by no means softens the binary separation between the two.

    Not having heard of Mark Driscoll, the linked YouTube clip came as a rigorous introduction! Given that the clip has been made freely available for the world to watch it is more than unfortunate that, as presented, it was only half the picture and gave a worrying sign of being Driscoll’s projection of himself onto both God and his listeners.

    On the other hand the awfulness of sin and God’s reaction to both sin and the sinner (all of us) cannot be downplayed – if only because of the repercussions for our eternal future. In holding both God’s hatred for us as sinners and his love for us as his redeemed children together at the same time, surely it’s the case that his love is ultimately the stronger because the power of the cross (if we choose to plead it for ourselves) takes the place of weighing scales which would only ever condemn us. Why then, if we are saved, should we still be bothered? Clearly, as the Revelation passage tells us, our sin still angers God – and that should be enough. But it’s not all. Unconcern about our sin involves the risk of no longer valuing our salvation. And that’s a small step away from losing it. I’m sure God hates that prospect on our behalf just as we should too. So he reminds about it in clear language.

    I think I’ve probably said what you said all over again – if so, apologies!

    • Ian makes no mention of losing one’s salvation, rather he says “Against this, we need to remember that the rebukes come in the context of the assurances of the vision of Rev 1, and of Jesus as the one who walks amongst his people (the lampstands) and holds them firmly in his right hand—in other words, these are rebukes arising from presence and nearness, not from absence and distance.”

      • Hi PC1,

        Ian doesn’t need to make mention of losing one’s salvation – the bible does it for him repeatedly and in indisputable words. Here are three examples.

        1. The verse below shows that people continuing in God’s kindness (which has to mean they are saved as long as they continue as they began) can stop continuing – and if so – be cut off (their no longer continuing being a choice – or why would Paul tell them to continue?).

        Romans 11:22 ESV
        Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.

        2. The verse below shows that some are ‘sanctified’ – which has to mean that they are saved as long as they continue as they began – but have chosen not to continue. (Or if the Calvinist prefers he can attempt to interpret Hebrews 10 to be about people who never were in a saved state – but if that were the case then the sanctifying being referred to in the verse below must be referring to the cross having sanctified all people – proving that limited atonement must be wrong – the Calvinist therefore has no path forward either way).

        Hebrews 10:29 ESV
        How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?

        3. And finally the verse below refers to people who have escaped the defilements of the world – what is this if not being in a state with God which if one endures to the end sees one saved?

        2 Peter 2:20 ESV
        For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.

        The Calvinist can respond to these verses by saying that God predestines some to be indistinguishable from true believers for a period of time and then abandons them – eternally punishing them. But this introduces an even greater level of insurmountable difficulty for the Calvinist than already imposed on him in the cross not being the place where God is entirely known (if God’s actions towards the non-elect are not included in the cross) – he must additionally explain why God has seen fit not just not to save some people – but to act in OPPOSITE ways to some of the non-elect – while being unchanging of character (his being unchanging of character being the only thing that makes God’s words authoritative). There would also be no possible sense in which those made unable to turn to God could be said to have disobeyed the gospel (2 Thess 1:8) – or are we to imagine that a God who makes people subject to total depravity is not the author of sin?

        • Philip

          There are verses as you say which suggest failing away. There are other verses that suggest those to whom God gives eternal life can never fall away. That is why many believe that those who fall away have never been saved in the first place.

          You’re right that the language used comes close to suggesting these people were saved but I think it is legitimate to say ‘close’ to being saved. Because of other texts we cannot say they were actually saved. They seemed to all appearances to be saved yet turn away. Some commentators will agree with you on these verses many, I think most, will agree with me.

          Philip, you muddy things by wrong ideas about calvinism. For example God does not make people subject to total depravity humanity has made itself depraved through Adam. Total depravity simply means there is no part of us that is not affected by sin and ruled by it.

          Incidentally, if God has decided not to elect some sinners to eternal life but instead harden them in their sin then the Bible’s response to any protest we may make is ‘who are we to question God’. He dos not need o justify what he does to us.

          • Hi John,

            We know that people who fall away were never saved because Jesus says that only those who endure to the end will be saved (Matthew 24:13).

            Therefore strictly speaking we shouldn’t talk about people losing their salvation.

            The issue that is really being discussed then is whether people can be in a state with God at a particular point in time which is accompanied by motives and repentance which if they continue in both would see them saved – but they then choose to no longer continue.

            In seeking to answer that consider the verse I quoted – Romans 11:22. What is “continuing in God’s kindness?” Is it proof that those continuing are repentant – rightly motivated – and only need to continue in that? I believe so. But why do I – because Paul is making judgements not only based on people’s continuing declaration of faith but their obedience. Here is Galatians 5:7
            You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump.

            It is clear that Paul is assessing obedience and that obedience is over time IS proof that the person has been – and is currently – repentant and well motivated. We must wait for a good period of time before able to reach that conclusion – before believers are appointed to responsibilities – but when we wait we can have assurance that the person being appointed has TO THAT POINT been acting as one who is obedient and rightly motivated. The Galatians verse shows that those who are rightly motivated and repentant can be drawn away by allowing themselves to become subject to external influences. The bible therefore does teach that people who are repentant – rightly motivated – can choose to change direction – depart from what was a state of right relationship with God.

            This means that the Calvinist must account for the fact that according to their beliefs God raises up some people to be obedient only for a period and then decides to no longer provide them the ability to continue to be so. The Calvinist must not only explain how God eternally damning some people before they are born is part of his love – but also how a God of unchanging character can act in OPPOSITE ways towards the one person – leading them towards himself – but ultimately damning them.

            I chose to quote the verses I did because I believed that PC1 was implying that people who start out professing a faith are assured of never being rejected by God. Romans 11:22 says otherwise – in raising the possibility of people being cut off.

            You say John that “God does not make people subject to total depravity humanity has made itself depraved through Adam”. In what way does a person who is born choose in being born to be depraved – in what sense does he represent one of those you call “humanity”? No person under your beliefs is part of the “humanity” that is responsible except Adam and Eve – the only thing the rest of humanity has done is be born.

            Your final paragraph refers to Romans 9. With verses like those I have already quoted in another reply to you (Romans 5:18 and 1 John 2:2) which show that the cross provides a path for ANY person who wishes to turn to God in Christ to come to him (Acts 10:34-35 showing that if God did not provide any path for some people this would make him partial) it is clear that the way one should interpret Romans 9 MUST be consistent with that. Romans 9 cannot be about a God who is a mysterious excluder – it must be interpreted consistent with the rest of scripture – God is a knowable includer. I therefore conclude that the typical non-Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9 – that God is hardening ethnic Israel in order that both Jew and Gentile can come to him in Christ – is the only available option – this interpretation explained by William Lane Craig’s video at the link below.


          • Phillip

            As with us there are different kinds of love in God. OUr love of a sunset, a comfy chair, a dog, a friend, a relative, or family are all different kinds of love. God loves his children, the elect, as family, as a bride,

            The lump of clay that is humanity that God as the potter has to work with before anything is made is already marred. God’d election always assumes a flawed and fallen humanity – mercy and hardening in Roms 9 assumes the fall. Vessels of mercy are those he has chosen in grace to save. Vessels of wrath are those invincibly opposed to God he has chosen to Damon; the first group get what they don’t deserve (grace) while the second group get what they do deserve (judgement). There is nothing unjust in this. God in love holds out the gospel to them in life not willing that any should perish. God’s special love, however, reaches out to his own from eternity determined to save,

            There is a sense in which God’s spirit strives with men and may even for a time seem to be heeded but be ultimately stifled and rejected. There is also a sense in which people quite apart from the spirit may for a time be attracted to Christ in some kind of superficial way only to fall away. I think our responsibility is to think as the bible thinks and resist resorting to our own logic which can be very shaky. I suppose I am a Calvinist but only as far as I see it taught in Scripture.

            Actually, the Galatians have not fallen away but are in danger of falling away which is a different thing. The Hebrews are the same.

            I don’t think Peter was referring to those who professed a faith but those who were saved; the truly saved will never fall away in a final sense; the proof of conversion is continuance.

            When a person is born they are born with all the potentialities their nature and environment provide. Their nature is sinful and their environment polluted. Do you deny this Phillip. We know his nature is sinful because what he says and does reveals the sin of the heart. But it is his sin. It is part of who he is. This does not mean he is not responsible for it. Hitler was responsible for the choices he mad. At every point he chose to do what he did. Is it not obvious Hitler was responsible for his actions. Is it not obvious we are responsible for ours. We are free agents making choices according to the inclinations of our own heart. In essence you. Are asking the question Paul poses when his interlocutor says to God ‘why have you made me thus?’ Paul’s answer is – ‘who are you to question God’.

            It is clear the offer of the gospel is a genuine offer to all – all who look at the cross will live. It is equally clear that left to their own resources none will come. Romans 9 is about God ensuring some will come. This is why Romans 9 is so amazing and so essential. The startling thing is not that some are damned but that some are saved.

            In Ex 33,34 Moses is on the mountain with God. Israel has sinned seriously in the valley below and by rights as covenant breakers deserve to die. God decides instead to ignore the demands of the covenant and act according to his sovereign rights as God; he decides to show mercy. ‘I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy’ he says. And that is the spirit of Roms 9 . God has always a remnant chosen by grace.

            I agree God hardens Israel to allow for the salvation of the gentiles. But he hardens them nevertheless. At a deeper level God always acts for his own glory… hence the raising up of Pharaoh.

            My point again is we must allow Scripture to m create the contours of our thinking. We must the direction of the text.

          • Hi John,

            Thank God we don’t need to argue anymore. It’s over.

            Romans 5:18 ESV
            Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.

            Calvinism is shown to be completely wrong in a single verse – a verse for which you have offered no explanation – having been presented with the need to respond – because you cannot. (And also 1 John 2:2). There is simply no possible explanation for why Jesus would die for the sin of all people while God intends for some people to never be able to turn to him.

            Have the humility to accept your Calvinism must be wrong John.

            I won’t be replying any further – I will read any explanation you offer about Romans 5:18 without replying to it – leaving it to others to decide if it causes Romans 5:18 to come to mean the opposite of what it says on plain reading.

            I have come to this decision (not to further engage) both because Romans 5:18 on plain reading defeats Calvinism – and also because despite having been presented with Romans 5:18 you chose not to offer any explanation for it.

          • Hi Phillip

            I hadn’t noticed your reference to Romans 5:18. You can be sure of course that those who hold to a calvinistic view ‘God’s sovereign choice in salvation) are aware of Roms 5:18. Three views are possible to explain the ‘all’. One is that God intends to save everyone. This, I hope we both agree is wrong. The second is that God’s salvation is potentially for everyone . The problem is that the effect of Adam’s act is not potential but actual; all die. Also ‘by the one act of obedience the many will be constituted righteous’ suggests there is a specific group who will be declared righteous. The third possibly is that the ‘all’ is all who are in Christ Cf. 1 Cor 15:22. This, I believe is the right meaning. In fact he defines the ‘all’ as ‘those who receive the gift of righteousness’ v17. They are ;the many who will be constituted righteous’. I’m not sure that this interpretation would be limited to calvinists. I am not convinced that the view I have taken is necessary for calvinists to take.

            My own personal understanding of the atonement is that Christ’s death is sufficient for all but effective for the elect. Clearly this must be so since only the elect are saved. I have no problem with the view that the gospel supplies a route for any who trust in Christ to be saved nor does any calvinist. It is here Benjamin I don’t think you have really got to grips with what so-called calvinists believe. Your view is a straw-man caricature. If you want to disagree with calvinism more accurately I think you must begin by reading its best proponents and not its worst. Read Piper. (PS I know we cannot read extensively on every view we oppose but some reading here would help).

            Benjamin – believe it or not I had forgotten we had engaged on these issues in the past. Apologies if we’ve simply covered old ground.

  2. Ian,
    Thank you for reminding us that these seven messages show how from the beginning Christian congregations and the church as a whole have been caught up in culture wars and called to remain faithful as salt and light to a dark and rotten society. From without they face pressure from the larger, more powerful established Jewish communities along side which they have sprouted up; and from within strong forces to conform to prevalent cultural norms from the factions designated as Balaam, Jezebel and the Nicolaitans. We may not have a precise understanding of what these individuals and groups advocated and practiced, but perhaps the general warning is all the more powerful to contemporary ears for that.
    One of the few references in the NT to “tolerance” is found here, and in an unequivocally negative way, and the traditional Jewish communities are repeatedly designated the “synagogue of satan”. What modern bishop would be found prepared to use the language chosen by Christ to be clear about the threat faced by his precious congregations from without and within?
    Your observation about the repeated use of the plural in element 6 is very helpful. If we have ears, we can all learn so much 2000 years on from what the Spirit says to each of these beleagured congregations.

    • Evidently from Chris Blainey’s initial comments, he is unaware of the overriding presence of Rome during this period. Indeed it would appear that the primary source of anti- Christian opposition came from those ” more powerful established Jewish communities.”Moreover we are informed that these communities “are repeatedly designated the ‘synagogue of Satan’.”
      Actually as far as I am aware, this term only occurs twice (Rev 2:9 and 3:9).Indeed, precisely where is the term related to Jewish *communities*? The author of this monumental work is clearly from a Jewish/Christian background; the work, being prophetic/ apocalyptic in nature, is replete with OT prophetic allusions and figurative imagery. As the compiler of an article in the New Bible Dictionary on *Synagogues* says on this issue:” It is impossible with certainty to identify those who are meant by the apostle John.”
      Ian Paul makes it abundantly clear in his final two paragraphs that the objective of this post is raise the issue of a threat “within” not without! To describe as you do these churches as “beleagured” flies in the face of much of the evidence. For example your reference to Balaam, Balak and the Nisolaitans ( the church in Pergamum) ends with a powerful call to repentance !
      Finally I would submit that another more potent issue we can learn from “2000 years on from what the Spirit says” is the call to repent as a Church for our relentless connivance in anti-Jewish propaganda, persecution and slaughter.

      • Colin,
        I think you have missed the point. I am not anti-Jewish at all.
        Of course Rome was the obvious threat, but Christ clearly identified, and warned against, a more insidious influence from the local Jews in at least two of the cities. This warning is very context specific – you may find Tom Wright helpful in unpacking this (other commentators are available!).
        For most of subsequent history the Jews have not been a threat to the churches in this way. Our responsibility in reading these texts is to consider what the corresponding insidious threats might be, that require us to guard against them in our situation – it is certainly not the Jews!

        • Thanks for that clarification Chris, However I do feel that your contribution could have done with a bit more elaboration, particularly in relation to the exegesis of Revelation 2.
          Best wishes and blessings!

  3. Thanks for saying what I’ve thought for years – we need to define what we mean by ‘love’! And I don’t find it difficult that God should ‘have something against us’ – we’re sinners. And he is truth as well as love, so we shouldn’t be surprised by this. So he will point out what’s wrong, it is surely part of his nature.

    • Yes we do Gill. I hope that in the name of that you will read my long comment (the one which is not a reply) in which I attempt to explain why people are so confused about how to rightly understand God’s love.

  4. Oh the irony of Driscoll’s message to his listeners. He lost his ministry due to bullying God’s children and ensuring he had firm control over them – if only he had put a mirror in front of his face as he spoke those words.


    • Yep. Driscolls are far more common in evangelical circles than anyone wants to admit. Safeguarding is also an amateur time joke in the CoE. If you go up against one of them, and they are bringing in the money, the church (congregations and hierachy) will quickly close ranks with your abuser.

      • Joe – I’d be interested to know (a) what do you do for church these days (are you associated with any fellowship / congregation? and if so – what?) and also (b) what do you understand by the term `evangelical’ (for example – would you consider Karl Barth an evangelical? TF Torrance wrote a book explaining that he was (`Karl Barth, Biblical and Evangelical Theologian’ which is worth a read).

        Throughout my life, I’ve continually found the situation where I believe that I fall into a certain category, but, without moving an inch, discover that the category wasn’t what I thought it was – and that I don’t belong to it. I think it started with `fundamentalist’ – which sounds good. Yes – the fundamentals of the faith are understanding that I am a sinner, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God – and that includes me – the wages of sin is death – that is what I deserve, my sin was dealt with fully in the crucifixion and the resurrection. I then discovered that to be a proper `fundamentalist’ you have to believe that God created the heavens and earth in 6 days flat, approximately 6000 years ago, etc … etc …. so I’m not a fundamentalist.

        Also, I thought I was an evangelical. But if the term `evangelical’ includes mentally deranged clowns such as Driscoll (and I use the word `clown’ because it does have huge entertainment value – if one has to listen to such drivel then it is good to do so with Hunter S. Thompson in the other hand) then clearly I’m at the opposite end of the spectrum from `evangelicals’ and I have nothing in common with them.

        In fact, when I get a glimpse of this sort of thing, I think of Revelation 13, Satan doing an imitation of Christ, which a Christian sees through instantly, but those who have hardened their hearts and are heading to perdition think that it is really good, they think it is solid Christian material, and they follow after it. That (I believe) is what the mark 666 is all about; it’s symbolic for something that, at a superficial glance might appear Christian, but on closer inspection is way off the mark. The number 6 is repeated 3 times – and 3 is a holy number. 6 is close to 7 and 7 is also a holy number. They way Satan is presented in Revelation 13, he is trying to look like Christ (the deadly wound which was healed, etc … etc ….).

        But in response to Peter who is worried that Driscoll is `bullying God’s children’ I would say `no’, anyone who actually follows after someone like this has already hardened their hearts against God – and God has sent them a powerful delusion.

        • Jock,
          I’m not attending any church at the moment and apprehensive about joining another one. I’ve been turned off church by a Driscoll style bully – a person I admired/respected for many years but who turned out to be a fraud (clanging cymbal). I want to stick with a ‘conservative’ tradition because I turned my back on a normal gay life when I became a Christian and I assume that this decision would be mocked/dismissed by members a liberal church. Sometimes I think I would find nicer people in a LGBT affirming church but I can get that type of social support anywhere.

          I’ve heard Barth’s name mentioned several times but I don’t really know anything about him. My knowledge of church culture/history is rather limited so I could easily be mis-using the term evangelical.

          • Joe S – glad to hear that you saw through it and left.

            I can’t really recommend any church (or solution) to you, since I’m not affiliated to any church myself.

            You’re probably using the term `evangelical’ correctly – in the sense that that is what it has come to mean. See PC1’s comment below. He seems to be more aware of these things.

        • 666 referred to Nero. End of.

          As for Driscoll, dont blame God for his followers or for Driscoll. His teaching was standard evangelicalism, at least in America. He abused by way of bullying and control those who not only attended the church but also those in leadership positions including elders. Some may have continued to support him, but many including elders came to see him as he was, and left. Any deception was not by God.

          • PC1 – well, it looks like a ‘powerful delusion’ to me – and 2 Thessalonians 2:11 tells me that God sends powerful delusions. If the cap fits, let them wear it.

            But you may be right; this particular `powerful delusion’ looks as subtle as a brick with woodworm.

          • Yet in Rev 13 he seems to have a world-wide acclaim far beyond Nero

            And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, 8 and all who dwell on earth will worship it,

            Moreover in ch 19 he is destroyed by the Second Coming of Christ.

            Nero must indeed have been revidivus.

          • The problem is insufficient checks and balances within the system. In USA too many churches are built around charismatic personalities who often display these dominant bullying features.

  5. Peter – I’d never heard of this fellow Driscoll before. As a result of your comments, I clicked on the link – and it took me all of 5 seconds to understand that he is certifiably insane. I didn’t bother listening to it long enough to get an idea of the content – 5 seconds of that style of delivery was enough to make the whole thing completely clear.

    It could (of course) be that he’s doing it for a laugh – I’m reminded of Hunter S. Thompson’s sermon based on Rev 20:15 from ‘Fear and Loathing at the Superbowl’.

    • The description of the sermon, which makes it look similar to the bilge offered by Driscoll, is the following:

      I howled at the top of my lungs for almost 30 minutes, raving and screeching about all those who would soon be cast into the lake of fire, for a variety of low crimes, misdemeanors and general ugliness that amounted to a sweeping indictment of almost everybody in the hotel at that hour.

      Most of them were asleep when I began speaking, but as a Doctor of Divinity and an ordained minister in the Church of The New Truth, I knew in my heart that I was merely a vessel — a tool, as it were — of some higher and more powerful voice.

  6. Revelation is a book about God’s judgement on the world. Rev 2,3 is an example of the principle that judgement begins with the house of God.

  7. I have tried working out the symmetry. This was my solution:-

    John-right hand (in the Spirit) E (left hand) Laodicea
    Ephesus S Philadelphia
    Smyrna U Sardis
    Pergamum S Thyatira

    We have already been told that Jesus is standing among them and that John is in the spirit.
    I can’t see how any symmetry can appear without them in the same picture. Looking for a 4+3 solution is to take the words of Jesus out of context! 😉
    But what you say is intriguing and I’ll try and see if it can be bludgeoned into my framework. Thank you Ian.

  8. I think that a lot of preaching through the ages would at the present time be classed as bullying, which is why definitions and cultural context are both important. Some things are called bullying because they assume that high standards and expectations are important; but of course high standards and expectations are also one of the main prerequisites for flourishing.

    • That doesnt describe Driscoll’s behaviour towards the congregation and elders. Thankfully he left, and no longer has the influence he once had. Judgement.

      • I’m sure you’re right. But boy do we need better categories than ‘bullying’ in making such analyses.

        For example, whatever the truth of the matter, Priti Patel was accused of bullying when she *may* simply have been trying to get people to pull their socks up in a leisured culture.

          • steve – I always thought that the books of Nehemiah and Ezra were in Scripture for a reason – and the reason was that, through these books, God wanted to show us just how twisted church people, especially people in leadership, who felt they were on a mission to sort everybody out, could be.

            Ezra the priest is a sincere man; he is sincerely wrong when he comes along and duffs up marriages which seem to be working perfectly well in all respects other than that the woman is `foreign’ in order to establish racial purity. (Note: Ezra doesn’t bother asking if the women have converted to the Jewish faith – there is nothing in the text to suggest that that is actually relevant for him).

            You do get people like Don Carson (Geoff quoted him to us when I mentioned this before) who try to say that Ezra wasn’t all bad and that if one considers the context of the situation at that time it was all perfectly reasonable. However, this misses the point that in the books of Nehemiah and Ezra, God wants to show us what Church leadership, in its most rigorous form is actually like, preparing us for the central event in the New Testament, where the church (i.e. the church leadership at the time) played a central role in having Jesus crucified.

          • Jock, Ezra pulled his own hair out. At least he did to himself what he was prepared to do to others.
            All I think it says is that we get the leaders we deserve. If we persist in delusion we get deluded leaders. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Luther, Cromwell …Trump?

            now have you thought about 4+3 Jock.. Give me an answer or I’ll get my tongs out.

        • Why do those who say that they have been bullied need to pass a definition test? Listen to them. Take their complaints seriously. Abusers love to shift the blame onto their victims.

          • Joe S – I believe you! And agree with you. Don’t worry. If you look back, you’ll see other places where C.S. has his own definitions of certain vocabulary items (which may have been correct and standard 60 years ago, but aren’t the generally accepted definitions nowadays).

  9. Here are four reasons for why there is great confusion about God’s character – as explained by Ian in this important article.

    1. Many people’s doctrine is consistent with the idea that God is love until he gets angry instead of always and only love. If God was love until he got angry then as those in dwelled by him we would also be called to love people until we got angry. But instead the summary of the law is two great commandments – each ONLY about love – loving God and loving neighbour. God loving people until he gets angry is therefore an incorrect understanding of God. (And therefore the Calvinist must explain how God damning those not chosen to be saved before the creation of the world is love).

    2. We are in a state of confusion about God’s attitude to sin – because of the influence of two different doctrines which veil the truth. The doctrines are original sin and total depravity. They suggest that from the moment we are born we are subject either some or all of the time to inclination towards sin in our thoughts, words, and deeds. See my comments below the video at the link below for a full explanation of why original sin cannot be correct doctrine.

    With some of the reasons listed there also being reasons for why total depravity cannot be correct doctrine.

    What these two doctrines help to hide is that there are three types of sin revealed in scripture:
    A: Sin which is free, knowing, and wilful (this is the choice that not just Adam and Eve make but also all of us in rebelling against God’s love revealed in creation when we reach an age of responsibility (see Deuteronomy 1:39 and Genesis 8:21 where the age of responsibility is alluded to).
    The result of this act of rebellion are two other types of sin which are the result of the two judgements of God explained in Romans 1:21-26 – he allows us to become inclined towards sin – and he allows our understanding to become darkened.
    B: Sin which is the result of weakness -inclination towards sin – (see Matt 26:41 where Jesus explains that the disciples want to please God but their flesh has drawn them away.
    C: Sin which is ignorance (see 1 Tim 1:13 – where Paul explains that the reason God shows him mercy is because he was ignorant).
God’s anger in the case of sin type A above is directed at both the person and the act (see Eph 2:3 as proof of this – we are all objects of wrath before we believe – and yet also loved – John 3:16). However in the case of sin type B and C God’s anger is not directed at the person or the act FOR THE ACT – but at the person and the act for the prior act of rebellion which sees them now come to sin of type B or C. Original sin and total depravity have caused this to be muddied – they lead people to conclude that God hates all sin – when the bible doesn’t say that – it only says that God hates evil and evil doers (Psalm 5:5-6) and we must also hate evil (Romans 12:9) and evil doers (Psalm 26:5). If the words translated as sin and evil in scripture were two words for the one thing it would mean that God hated all sinners and also all sin EVEN WHEN A PERSON CAME TO BELIEVE. Why? Because the cross – while satisfying God’s justice – has not satisfied his holiness (and therefore when we sinned as believers God would hate us – our sin – while also having forgiven us for that sin). This leads to the third and final reason I wish to present provide for our confusion.

    3. There is confusion about how the cross relates to God’s holiness. The bible is clear that Jesus’ death has satisfied God’s justice however there is absolutely no indication that the cross has also satisfied God’s holiness. But to prove that it cannot have – consider the implications if it had. It would mean that believers could through any action move the heart of God (recognising that all actions are the result of beliefs and attitudes to God). This would make our attitudes and actions as those who profess a faith meaningless.

    4. A result of “God is love until he gets angry” theology (which incidentally is not limited to Calvinism – it is also something liberals are comfortable with because it allows them to imagine that God is angry only with bad people – and since no-one is a bad person – God never gets angry) we are inept at explaining how people can be become alienated from a God who is only love – and also how hell relates to God’s unchanging love. The way I say it currently is this – that we can position ourselves in relation to God’s holiness and justice in such a way that instead of God’s justice falling on Jesus it falls on us (this not being a double application of justice since justice is only applied in the cross when someone chooses to identify themselves with Jesus’ sacrifice – this idea about needing to identify oneself with a sacrifice being revealed in the entire Old Testament sacrificial system). The justice that falls on those who run from God is delayed on earth (present only at times and in part on earth) because God is providing people a chance to repent.

    So – in summary – no wonder we are confused! That is an awful lot of fundamental things to be unclear about!

    • I forgot to mention how we should rightly understand hell in the light of God only being love.

      Hell therefore is NOT a place away from God’s presence – but a place where God is present in exactly the same way as he is present with those who will be in union with him for eternity. Even God’s mercy and grace are no less present in hell – however just as is the case with the gospel – no-one is able to see or experience them (expect on earth in a limited form in creation) before repenting in response to God’s holiness and justice and our sin.

      So 2 Thessalonians 1:8 is therefore I gather wrongly translated – hell isn’t about being shut out from the presence of the Lord.

      • ‘Hell’ is final destruction from existence. God will not allow the existence of evil and rebellion to continue for all eternity. There will come a time when it no longer exists.

        • Hi PC1,

          Why will there come a time? To satisfy some human need for completion? (Of course I believe that the devil is now defeated and will be destroyed – my question relates to why there will be a time when human beings who rebel against God will be destroyed.

          Here is why this will not happen – because if it did it would mean that any free will we have now to love or not love God is artificial. All of Christianity collapses if God is able to eliminate us when he doesn’t like our choices – it does because it immediately makes our choices of lesser value – and therefore sin less serious – and therefore Jesus’ death of lesser significance.

          What God giving us true free will shows is that we have huge status in being made for relationship with him – this confirmed in those who repent living with the Father with Jesus as our brother. And we will have the same nature as him. That is absolutely extraordinary to me! What does that say about God – his heart – his reasons for asking us to submit to him? He could not be less power hungry.

          If my reasoning above does not impress you then I trust that the following verse (which directly compares eternal destruction with eternal life – ensuring that should one be viewed as not eternal then so must the other – will:

          Matthew 25:46 ESV
          And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

          • I find it odd that you seem to believe satan, who most would view as the ultimate rebellious being, will ultimately be destroyed, but ‘unsaved’ human beings will continue in never-ending conscious suffering.

            I also dont quite understand your free will argument. Human beings were never made immortal, and Jesus made it clear only God can destroy the whole being – body and soul. Therefore the only ones who God grants never-ending life are the redeemed. The rest literally die. It seems you believe all human beings are immortal or God grants immortality to all, which simply isnt true. This in no way lessens the meaning of the cross. Those who choose to not follow Jesus, ie God, then suffer judgement and final death.

            As for Matthew, the punishment is indeed eternal – death with no possibility of return.


          • Hi Peter (PC1),
            Your response has led me to look again deeply at scripture on this question of whether hell is eternal punishment – or a moment in time punishment with eternal permanence. However while doing so I was suddenly freshly aware of why I expect to find that the bible teaches eternal punishment instead of once in time punishment with eternal permanence. And it was this – hell is not only God saying how much he hates evil – but also God saying that his passion – but not just passion – his absolute insistence – for all that is love is unfettered – unlimited. God cannot express his absolute passion for love without expressing unlimited contempt for what is not love. If his contempt for what is not love only lasted for a particular amount of time (and incidentally the idea that anything that a God outside time does which is limited in time is problematic!) that would show that God’s passion for all that is love is limited.

        • Cessation of hell is nowhere mentioned. Moreover we don’t tell God his business. I sometimes wonder how people can possibly know (as opposed to speculate) such huge cosmic things as that.

        • Well that’s not what the Bible teaches Peter. I wish it was but its not and we must bow to what God reveals. I know Ian will not agree with me.

          • Probably, but its stronger than that 🙂

            O don’t see how the language of Rev 14 although imagery can be interpreted in any other way than eternal punishment. There is never the suggestion that you’ll be in hell for so long then cease to exist. Far less that annihilation follows the day of judgement,

      • Oh Philip, I believe you are far astray here. God is not only love. God is holy and righteous and angry with sinners all the day long (Ps 7:11). There are numerous verses that speak of people being cast away from God’s presence. 2 Thess 1:8 is surely rightly interpreted. Hell is outer darkness. ‘Outer’ suggests a place away from God. Nor can there be any repenting in hell. God has determined – he that is filthy let him be filthy still. Between heaven and hell a great gulf is fixed with no way between (Lk 16). No one in hell will wish to repent. The Spirit of God is not active there renewing the heart,

        I’m afraid Philip most of what you are saying is wishful thinking. I have one son and he is unconverted so I don’t write this lightly.

        • Hi John,

          It was not my intention in what I wrote to say that God does not get angry. If this was your conclusion from reading my long initial comment let me clarify that my say that God is only love – instead of God being love until he gets angry- was not intended to mean that God does not get angry – it was intended to mean that God’s anger is part of his love.

          Would you not expect that a friend of yours – if you were beaten by someone to within an inch of your life – would feel anger towards both the person and the act that caused you harm – instead of merely feeling sad that you were injured – in pain? Would you not consider part of love to be LOVING what love is – and therefore hating what is freely, knowingly, and wilfully contrary to love? God’s hatred of evil (his holiness) MUST therefore be part of his love. It also applies to God’s justice – how could your friend not treat the injuries you experienced as an act of injustice – how could he limit his love only to considering the effect of the act on you – and not consider the need for the person who hurt you to experience justice for his sake as much as for everyone else’s? As part of proving that godly justice is never outside his love we must understand that God’s justice is always administered in a way that does not contravene his unchanging mercy. Even when God’s anger is vengeance (see Nahum 1) God’s mercy continues to provide a path to restoration to anyone willing to repent. God – in never being influenced by anything external to himself (this being absolutely fundamental to the reliability of all evangelical faith) – cannot have changing motives for his justice without there being an unknown part of his character which must then place a question mark over our being able to authoritatively know God in the cross – and over all primary character attributes of God revealed in the cross (we don’t know how they are affected by this unknown element or elements of God’s character). So then it’s clear that God’s justice always has a single motivation – that being his mercy – and is therefore always – part of his love.

          Above I proved that God’s holiness is part of his love a different way – in pointing out that the bible doesn’t instruct believers in dwelled by God to love people until they become righteously angry – at which point they should stop loving. It isn’t as if we are offering OUR love to people – we are only able to be what God created us to be by being in fellowship with God – relying on his presence and power.

          So then of course I recognise Psalm 7:11 (although I point out that the context does not reveal that God hates all sin – it shows that the indignation God feels is towards unrepentance – free, knowing, and wilful sin – evil. Here is the next verse – verse 12:
          If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and readied his bow;

          That only leaves your comments on 2 Thessalonians 1:9 (sorry I said it was verse 8 – my apologies).

          All I am wishing to say about this verse is that the preposition apo – translated by almost every translation as “away from” – has a second meaning which doesn’t appear to have been considered – or if it was that it was not the chosen meaning – when for the reasoning I have shown from all of scripture (that love must include hatred of evil and that hell is hatred of evil) it should have been chosen. See the link below it says that apo can also mean “as a result of”.

          If one inserted that meaning into the ESV translation it would say:

          They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, as a result of the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,

          To rule out this possibility all you have to do is present me with verses which show that hell is a place away from God. I know of no such verses.

          • ‘why I expect to find that the bible teaches eternal punishment’. And there lies the problem. It seems you have your own ideas of why God ‘needs’ hell and then project those ideas onto the Bible.

            I would also remind you that God has no problem dealing with reality within time – Jesus was sacrificed at a point in time, and his suffering and death were limited by time. His suffering ended. As will others.

          • Yes, I wrote the comment about there being issues with God in time in passing – and having pressed Post I wish I hadn’t. It doesn’t make sense.

            As for your other comment – “It seems you have your own ideas of why God ‘needs’ hell and then project those ideas onto the Bible” I am not unhappy with that – you summed it up well. There is no need to feel ashamed about this – as long as the bible proves to be consistent with the idea I bring to it – and no other idea makes sense in the theological ecosystem of scripture – that is fine. There are other times when I have realised the need to do this. For example a key part of what has led to my current theology is that God is never externally influenced – and also must be all of his character attributes all the time. I could have realised this first from scripture – which says that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever – but I realised it logically first – that God’s words would not be reliable unless God was unified of character and unchanging – and also that there were no unknowns about who God is in respect of character. It’s the same with eternal punishment – there are passages which support eternal punishment – for example Revelation 14:11 – and Revelation 20:10 which says that the devil will be eternally “tormented in day and night forever and ever” in the lake of fire (I was wrong in saying that he will be destroyed in a point in time) – and then in Revelation 20:15 (a few verses later) it says that those whose names are not written in the book of life will be thrown into the same lake of fire (these verses lead us to realise that other verses which have some doubt about the eternal dimension of hell should be interpreted to include it) but in the last few days I was driven more strongly by realising the doctrine was necessary to show the infinite passion of God for all that accords with his nature – his justice, mercy, and grace – that there would be no way to express this without his anger for violating his love also being infinite.
            God cannot be the fullness of love unless he acts as if love is not only desirable but infinitely necessary.
            Also imagine that if when those who knew God were with him for eternity God was not maximumly loving – it would be a terrible kind of prison because human beings need to be able to believe in the infinite in order to maintain strength of spirit and fullness of hope – and joy that is infinite enough to fill eternity – we would otherwise decay as those outside of eternity who lose hope that life has meaning cannot maintain strength of character.

          • Philip

            There are different kinds of anger. There is the anger of a parent to a child and there is the anger of a state towards a criminal; the latter need not include love.

            All I can suggest is that you read the OT prophets. They are full of God’s anger and love is not always evident. God’s hatred of evil is because of his love for holiness. It says nothing of his feelings for sinners.

            You write Phillip

            Hell therefore is NOT a place away from God’s presence – but a place where God is present in exactly the same way as he is present with those who will be in union with him for eternity. Even God’s mercy and grace are no less present in hell – however just as is the case with the gospel – no-one is able to see or experience them (expect on earth in a limited form in creation) before repenting in response to God’s holiness and justice and our sin.

            Where in the Bible do you find justification for this? Now I will agree that God’s presence is everywhere but you are talking about his presence being the same in hell as in heaven. You are talking about his felt presence. The nearest we have to what hell must be like is Jesus bearing the judgement of God on the cross. There it is the keen absence of God’s presence Christ felt.

            Sorry I’ve not been able to engage with your other replies thus far Phillip. I shall try to do so tomorrow.

          • Hi Philip

            We don’t build our theology on possibilities and especially remote possibilities. Given that serious translations translate 2 Thess 1:9 as ‘away from his presence’ then this is surely the best reading, Your sentence doesn’t make sense. The final clause is disjunctive.

            It is not for me to rule out a remote meaning but for you to disprove a well established meaning, I could however point to the forsakenness of the cross as a model of final forsakeness. Also, in the OT, Israel under the judgement of God, believed themselves to be forsaken in Babylon.

            Jeremiah announces the climatic judgment against Jerusalem in this way (52:3-4):
            It was because of the LORD’s anger that all this happened to Jerusalem and Judah, and in the end he thrust them from his presence…So in the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon marched against Jerusalem with his whole army. They camped outside the city and built siege works all around it.

            2 Kings 17:18-23 says, “the LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them from his presence…he afflicted them and gave them into the hands of plunderers, until he thrust them from his presence…the Israelites persisted in all the sins of Jeroboam and did not turn away from them until the LORD removed them from his presence.”

            God’s judgement is exclusion from this felt benificient presence. Clearly banishment from his presence is not banishment from his omnipresence, That could not be.

            It is better to say that God is absent in any sense of blessing, He us present in wrath and judgement, Rev 14 says of the damned they will be tormented in the presence of the angels and the lamb. The image suggests the lamb is ensuring the sentence is carried out. There is no sense that God is present in grace and mercy. Spacially God is everywhere but relationally he is not with the dammed.

            Thus eternal jusdgement is described as separation from God.

            “I never knew you, depart from me, you workers of lawlessness,”? (Matt. 7:21-23). Will he not on the last day, as the enthroned King, say to those on his left “depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire” (Matt. 25:41)

            Don’t allow convoluted logic to get in the way of clear texts Philip.

    • ‘Because the cross – while satisfying God’s justice – has not satisfied his holiness’

      Really. So is the imputation of righteousness meaningless?

      • Hi again PC1,

        I want to confirm that we are on the same page in respect of the context of my comment. I was explaining the consequences IF God hated all sin. I don’t believe that the bible says anywhere that God hates all sin – only evil – only free, knowing, and wilful sin.

        Because I don’t believe that God hates all sin I define God’s holiness as:
        – his passion for all that conforms with his nature
        – his abhorrence for all that is FREELY, KNOWINGLY, and WILFULLY opposed to it (evil – not all sin).
        But the person who believes that God hates all sin believes that God’s ‘negative’ holiness is:
        – his abhorrence for all ACTS which oppose his nature
        even when the act is absent of any sinful attitude. (Some people who believe in original sin don’t believe that people are guilty for the sin that arises from their inclination – only alienated from God – they clearly must believe that what makes sin sin is the act). Calvinists believe that even if sin arises from an inclination towards sin in thought, word, and deed which controls us at every moment – and which we had from birth – total depravity – we are still guilty – and God is not for creating us this way (despite Acts 10:34-35 saying that if anyone was unable to turn to God this would make God partial).

        Imagine for a moment that sin was the act not the attitude that led to the act. It would mean that God would consider a person who was kidnapped by a gang – addicted to drugs against their will – and then released – who then stole money to get a fix – guilty of stealing. For THE ACT of stealing. Would a first world court consider the person guilty? No. The drug fueled inclination is exactly analogous to the inclination which original sin and total depravity say we are born with – unless the Calvinist can show how we can have free will while God also predestines everything. How compatibilism is true. And no Calvinist has explained to my satisfaction how it is. In my first post I linked off to a separate comment which gives many reasons why original sin cannot be correct doctrine – enough of the reasons also apply to total depravity to prove that it also cannot be correct doctrine.

        So then – with those things in mind – I leave it to you – if you wish – to express your view on each of the reasons I gave why it cannot be right to believe that God’s holiness has in some way been satisfied in the cross – like his justice. I said that if God’s holiness was satisfied in the cross there would be no way in which we could express relationship with God that would have any meaning – since God would not be moved by our obedience or sins of weakness or ignorance. Do you agree with that? And as regards my second reason – that God hating sin sets up a tension between God’s holiness and his justice in respect of believers who then sin – if there is an irreconcilable between God’s holiness and justice – and if I then describe the result of that tension – what I say won’t be correct doctrine. If I attempt to describe the result of the tension (it seems that I should not have) whatever I say will dishonour one of the two. That’s my point – that one is being dishonoured! So instead of focusing on the result of the tension I ask that you simply recognise my second reason why God must not hate all sin – because it sets up a tension in the case of believers in respect of God’s justice (which sees our past, present, and future sin forgiven) and God’s holiness (which cannot abide unrepentance) – when believers sin – and they all do. There would only be no tension if in some way God’s holiness had also been satisfied in the cross – enabling him to abide unrepentance. This is what Calvinism amounts to – behind Calvinist belief there is no express statement that God’s holiness is satisfied for believers in the cross – only a belief which amounts to the same thing – that the cross enables God to irresistibly grace the unrepentant person – leading them to repent. But this must be incorrect doctrine because Acts 3:19 says that people must repent BEFORE being forgiven – in order to be forgiven. (No Calvinist I have encountered has argued that God’s irresistibly gracing someone is not their conversion – that they are converted only after they repent).

        • I apologise – my final paragraph has a major and a minor mistake.

          First the major – this sentence:
          “So then – with those things in mind – I leave it to you – if you wish – to express your view on each of the reasons I gave why it cannot be right to believe that God’s holiness has in some way been satisfied in the cross – like his justice”.
          was the completely wrong idea. It should have said:
          “So then – with those things in mind – I leave it to you – if you wish – to express your view on each of the two reasons I gave why it cannot be correct doctrine to say that God hates all sin”.

          And the minor mistake – also in the final paragraph – the sentence below should have had the word ALL added where I have added it:
          “And as regards my second reason – that God hating ALL sin sets up a tension between God’s holiness and his justice in respect of believers who then sin – if there is an irreconcilable between God’s holiness and justice – and if I then describe the result of that tension – what I say won’t be correct doctrine”.

          My apologies.

        • Philip

          Have you really thought about what you’ve written here: god doesn’t hate all sin! Does he love some sin? Is he indifferent to some sin? Your example of ‘free’ sin, the worst kind, you say, was based on Eph 4 – the sin of believers. Believers it seems, with their dual nature, are those who are not enslaved to sin. Theirs is the sin to incur greatest judgement.

          Your comment on what calvinists believe is not clear. Calvinists do not believe we are culpable for an inclination though it arises from a sinful nature. The inclination is initial temptation which if pursued is sin.

          The person would be guilty of stealing for enough moral compass remains to know this is wrong yet does it anyway. However, there would be extenuating circumstances. Jesus speaks of those punished with many stripes and those punished with few. Let us suppose in your (unlikely) example that the forced addict murdered for the money or joined a terror it organisation to make money to feed his habit. Would he still be viewed as excused because of being made an addict? Why didn’t he listen to his conscience? Why didn’t he seek help?

          Of course God sees degrees of sin (as do we) but it is all sin whatever the degree and contrary to what you say, God hates sin, all sin. He must do because all sin is rebellion and assault on his holiness. All sin is lawlessness – an attack on God’s rule.

          • John – I have already gone into detail on these issues – quoting scripture to explain how I reach my conclusions. To see where search this page for the words “three types” (and then start from the beginning of that sentence) – reading all the way down to the words (which end a paragraph) “This leads to the third and final reason I wish to present for our confusion”.

    • Philip

      God loves and hates sinners at the same time.

      (ESV) The boastful shall not stand before your eyes;
      you hate all evildoers.
      6 You destroy those who speak lies;
      the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.

      The LORD tests the righteous,
      but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.
      6 Let him rain coals on the wicked;
      fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
      7 For the LORD is righteous;
      he loves righteous deeds;
      the upright shall behold his face.

      We need only read the OT sacrifices foreshadows of the cross to see that God’s holiness is tied into the atonement. Or perhaps Hebs 9 which is the fulfilment of the day of atonement in Christ. Purification pervades the chapter. Holy things are not holy enough without the blood of Christ,

      Ezek 36 shows the holiness of God is intimately involved in salvation. He sprinkles clean water etc. cleansing is to do with holiness.

      22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. 29 And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. 30 I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. 31 Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. 32 It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord GOD; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel.
      33 “Thus says the Lord GOD: On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places s

      Ps 51 (ESV) Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
      wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

      A little searching would yield any number of verses suggesting that cleansing is part of the atonement and so the cross. God’s holiness is clearly involved in the atonement. Philip, I’m taken aback at your views here,

      • Hi John,

        My response to this post is relatively brief – I have already explained in my other reply to you why it is impossible to think of God’s hatred for evil – his holiness – and his justice – as separate from his love. My reasoning was this – that God’s holiness is his love for his own nature – it is therefore his love for love. His love for love must logically also be hatred for what is opposed to love – hatred for what is freely, knowingly, and wilfully opposed to his nature. His love must also be his hatred for evil.

        Since this is the case the onus is on you to show how scripture in some way contravenes that straight forward logic.

        Correct me if I am wrong there are no places in scripture which combine God’s love and his hatred for sin in the one place – implying that they are different things (if they were it would prove that God’s anger should be thought of as not being included in his love). To be absolutely clear here is an example of what you won’t find in scripture – John 3:16 doesn’t say “for God so loved the world AND HATED EVIL that he gave his only son…”.

        I have probably at times failed my own principles in describing God as both being angry with sinners and also loving them. What I should instead say is that God’s love for sinners is expressed in two ways – in his holiness and justice directed at them for their acts of evil – and in his mercy and grace.

        The verses you quote here show that God’s is holy and just – that he hates evil – but they don’t prove that the holiness or justice of God is not part of his love – they only prove that God’s holiness and justice exist.

        Of course if you believe your Calvinism must be right you are looking to prove that the bible shows that the cross is both God’s love for the elect and also his hatred – his announcement of judgement – towards the non-elect. But the bible doesn’t say this. But the bible is absolutely clear that the cross does not predetermine a different future for the elect and non-elect. See for example the verses below:

        Romans 5:18 ESV
        Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.

        1 John 2:2
        He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

        • Philip

          ‘ My reasoning was this – that God’s holiness is his love for his own nature – it is therefore his love for love.

          This seems to be a fundamental principle to you. Don’t you think you should have some texts that support this premise? I think it is. His love for what is good makes him hate what is evil just as his love for what is holy makes him hate what is unholy. His love for what is righteous makes him hate what is unholy. His hate is a holy, righteous, wise hatred. I’m not so sure as a direct step it is a loving hatred. I don’t think Scripture normally reasons that way. It is clearer to say his love of righteousness means he hates all unrighteousness,

          Again, I don’t like going to far in logic without some Scriptures to back it up. Logic has a habit of making mistakes.

          • My definition of God’s holiness is nothing more than an A therefore B conclusion. Do you disagree with A – that God’s holiness is his love for his own nature and his hatred for all that opposes it? Or B – that since God is love if we merge that in to A we get this statement – his holiness is his passion for love? Or love for love?
            You say “Don’t you think you should have some texts that support this premise?” – but I already have given you some – with three arguments – one of which was about the two great commandments – you didn’t respond to them. To read the arguments now search for the words “Since you return to the older subject”.

    • Sin is not free. Whoever sins is a slave of sin. This is nor freedom. Moreover men are led captive by Satan to obey his will. Your type A sin which you find in Eph 2 is in bondage.

      • We know there is a type of sin which is the result of a free choice (free as in not subject to inclination). Ephesians 4:22-24 proves there is – in explaining that there are three parts to us – US, our OLD NATURE, and our NEW NATURE – this proving that we never WERE our old nature. It tell us to put on the NEW NATURE and put off the OLD NATURE – proving both that we are neither of our natures – and proving that we are not controlled by either in respect of the decision to put one or the other on.

        If total depravity was correct doctrine we would expect the Ephesians passage to say that we WERE our old nature and as a result of our conversion we ARE our new nature. We would also expect that as believers we were now inclined to do right in every thought, word, and deed in the same way as we were once inclined towards sin in every thought, word, and deed (or otherwise in whatever area of our lives where this was not the case we would still be controlled by the old nature – unable to obey God). But the Ephesians 4:22-24 doesn’t say this – and importantly this also isn’t our experience – believers still sin – the passage proves that instead of being controlled by either nature (as total depravity suggests we were) – that we are only influenced by each only as a result of our giving ourselves to them.

        The passage therefore shows the nature of the slavery to sin being described in John 8:34 and Ephesians 2:2-3 is not about being controlled at every moment.

        There are two reasons then why the Calvinist cannot say that the reason we were controlled by our old nature before we believed was because we did not have a new nature. The first I just explained – that Ephesians shows we were only controlled by our old nature in as much as we gave ourselves to it. And the second reason is that we are able to repent – repentance being to put on the new nature even as someone not yet saved. John 6 – in telling us that no-one is able to come to God unless God draws them – shows that grace enables people to repent.

        I again don’t intend to engage with any responses you make about the Ephesians passage John – I don’t accept that there is any way to interpret that passage that could possibly see the non-believer one with their old nature – completely controlled by it.

      • I might add Phillip that although I think your distinctions in sin have merit (the OT distinguished between intentional and unintentional sins; there was no sacrifice for intentional sin) I think you are being a bit too precise.

        We are on such different wavelengths in these matters that’s it is hard to know where to begin. From my side it looks like you have such a visceral dislike for ‘calvinism’ that it leads you to arguments that to me at least just look bizarre (you probably think the same of me). Why would you say God’s holiness is his love for his own nature? Where do you find this in Scripture? To love his love is hardly a biblical way of reasoning. Of course God loves himself though I suspect this is to be found in trinitarian relationships.

        The point about logic Phillip is that it is dangerous unless backed up by some Scriptures.
        Hatred for all that is opposed to his nature is true..

        I have not disagreed that God is angry with sinners and loves them at the same time. I think this is true. That does not mean his anger is included in his love. Anger is a function of his holiness . The onus is firmly on you to prove with reference to Scripture that anger is a function of God’s love for those without a relationship to him.

        Again you’re reading into calvinism what it doesn’t say. The cross is a revelation of God’s love for all and that his holy nature must punish sin.

        Calvinists believe there are universal aspects to the atonement and that there are also particular aspects. He died for all but he didn’t die in the place of all. If he did then all will be saved since God cannot judge the same sin twice.

        • John, you didn’t say a single word about Ephesians 4:22-24 in your six paragraph reply! Did you forget what we were talking about? We were discussing if sin is ever free (not subject to inclination) – the subject YOU brought up in your brief post above.

          I just proved from Ephesians 4:22-24 – my whole message was centred on it – that some sin must be free and yet your reply to that post doesn’t even mention the passage!

          You change the subject back to the broader issue of whether God’s holiness and justice is part of his love – but on that – as if I am the one not engaging with scripture – you then say to me:
          “The point about logic Phillip is that it is dangerous unless backed up by some Scriptures”. Indeed John – indeed.

          I await your explanation of how there cannot be free sin in the light of the Ephesians passage.

          Since you return to the older subject of whether God’s holiness and justice are included in his love you said that I haven’t used any bible passages which prove God’s holiness and justice being part of his love – that all of God’s character is summed up in the single word love. That’s not correct John – in previous comments I gave both a logical and biblical justification for that view.

          The logical view was that holiness – which God is – and which we are commanded to be – is God’s passion for all that confirms with his nature – and abhorrence for all that is not. It is therefore correct to say that holiness is AT LEAST – since we agree that God is love – God passionately loving love. I then explained that if that’s the case it must also (in the case of moral things) also be God being passionately opposed to what is not love. That is I believe a watertight proof. You never engaged with the logic.

          But then I also made a biblical argument – that all we are called to as Christians is summed up in two great commandments – each of which mention only love – love of God and love of neighbour. There is no separate command calling us to hate what is not holy and not unjust – and obviously not for the reasons I just explained.

          And finally I challenged you to show me a bible passage in which God’s love and his hatred for evil were grouped together – proving that God’s holiness and justice were not part of his love and you provided me with no such passage – the bible constantly centring on these subjects. You did not engage on ANY of these three proofs – one logical and the other two biblical. So – I ask you to explain (when you have responded to the Ephesians 4:22-24 passage – what is less than convincing about my three proofs on the question of whether God’s holiness and justice are included in his love.

          I replied because you gave no response to Ephesians 4 at all – but I reiterate my intention to leave your reply on Ephesians 4 – letting others decide between our two explanations of it (if you don’t agree with me). I choose this path because I do not believe there is any way to make it say the opposite of what it says (that we and our natures are not one and our putting natures on shows we aren’t controlled by any nature).

          • When I said “There is no separate command calling us to hate what is not holy and not unjust” I meant there is no THIRD command (to go with the two great commandments which sum up the law). There are of course separate commands to be holy and to be just.

          • Benjamin

            Sorry – I skim more than I should. As believers we live between the ages and have two natures – the old nature and the new nature. Having said this Eph 4 is more accurately translated by a past perfect ‘ Having put off… and having put on’. He is referring to conversion and the constant decision to say no to the old and yes to the new. He goes on to spell out the implications of this. The believer, I agree, is not a slave to sin unless he makes himself such by continually sinning – he that sins is a slave of sin (Roms 6). We are all slaves to whatever we serve.

            The unbeliever has but one nature and that nature can do nothing but sin. It is called the flesh. It is hostile to God, does not submit to God and indeed cannot. Those in the flesh cannot please God (Roms 8).

            God is passionate for all that is true to his being and hates all that is not. This is at least in part a function of his holiness. But it is also a function of his love, wisdom, jealousy, goodness – his godness.

            To say that God is love (as John does) does not mean that God is only love or that love always motivates God. It is to say that the most dominant motivation within God is love. However, it is a mistake to think that love controls every act of God towards humanity. When God condemns people to eternal perdition that is not an act of love it is an act of judicial judgement,

            Phillip, I’m not sure how much you realise this, but it is you who is making the ‘new’ arguments therefore you are obliged to prove them and by prove I mean bring some Scriptures to bear that back up key ‘controversial’ points you make. I think you are aware your views are irregular and if you hope to convince you need more texts. I also think you need to use shorter sentences when making an argument because the structure of your logic is hard to follow. This time I’ve read carefully without skimming and I’m still not sure I’ve understood you.

            Love and hate. This text from Romans comes near to saying both in the one breath: Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.

            Of Messiah God says with approval ‘ You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.

            save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. Jude

            6 I hate those who cling to worthless idols; as for me, I trust in the LORD. Ps 31:6

            10 Let those who love the LORD hate evil, for he guards the lives of his faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked. Ps 97

            It seems to me these are commands to hate.

            Phillip there are a great many verses calling upon us to hate what is evil.

            Regarding God loving love it depends what kind of love we are talking about. He does not love illicit sexual love. He does not love other forms of illicit love – narcissistic love for example.

            There are many times when God’s attributes intermingle just as ours do. So his love is a holy love and a righteous love and a wise love and a jealous love. Etc. Also his holiness is normally loving etc. However, they do not always intermingle. Sometimes one attribute will be dominant even exclusive in action. It will never will and act in contradiction to other attributes but it may be the sole motivator. The same is true with us. Thus we can say it was not God’s holiness or righteousness that moved him to save us but his love. Equally, it is not God’s love that damns a man but his holiness and justice. Show me a Scripture where God’s love is the motivating factor in the destruction of the wicked. I dont think you can.

            I’ll leave it there.

          • You used Romans 8 as a substitute to explain what you believe to be the relationship of people to their sin. You didn’t explain how Ephesians 4:22-24 can be made compatible with total depravity (hint – it cannot be – because it presents us as distinct from our old nature and new natures and able to put off our old nature – this being what conversion is) – instead you focused on Romans – and as I am about to show – you didn’t notice how Romans 8 also disproves total depravity.

            You mentioned only Romans 8:8 which says that “those in the flesh cannot please God” (ESV) – which makes it sound like we are controlled at every moment by our sinful nature. But the context shows that 8:8 doesn’t mean that – the three previous verses contradict total depravity in explaining that our being in the flesh is our FREELY CHOOSING to “set our minds on the flesh” (ESV). In other words Romans 8 presents exactly the same relationship of us to our natures as Ephesians 4:22-24. Here are the three previous verses – Romans 8 verses 5 to 7:

            For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.

            The last verse – even though it says “cannot” is not control but domination – we know because otherwise if the way we came to put on the new nature was in having our wills overridden – the passage wouldn’t describe conversion as “setting our minds on the things of the Spirit” – since the very same language was used to describe what is a free choice in respect of our old nature.

            You took only one thing from Ephesians 4:22-24 and ignored the rest – in so doing never having to deal with the fact that it disproves total depravity) – the only thing you took from it is that believers have two natures.

            So Romans 8 and Ephesians 4:22-24 both disprove total depravity in showing that our being dominated – not controlled by sin – is the result of our freely choosing to be.

            On the other issue of whether God’s holiness and justice are included in his love – you made no comment on any of my three arguments (or two and a half) – and for some reason gave examples of verses of the bible telling us to hate evil. But that wasn’t the issue – the question is whether there is anywhere in the bible where our hating evil is presented as ADDITIONAL to love by being mentioned alongside love – proving it cannot be part of love. The verses you presented weren’t examples of that. So I am still waiting on an response to the arguments I put forward in favour of God’s holiness and justice being included in his love.

            You say that my ideas are unusual and the onus is on me to prove they are correct. I reject that idea – the fact that others don’t recognise that to hate evil and what is unjust is the logical partner of loving what is love doesn’t make my ideas unusual – it just means that lots of people are in error.

          • Philip

            1’. A number of the verses I quoted juxtapose our attitude to good and evil’. Ie Let those who love the Lord hate evil Ps 97.

            2. The crux of your human freedom argument in Eph 4 was your claim that two natures taught this. I showed that Eph 4 is not actually teaching what you claim. It is not an imperative to ‘put off’ but an indicative ‘having put off’. However, I accept a conflict at work between flesh and Spirit (Gals 5).

            3. This conflict is not present in the unbeliever. The verses you cite from Roms 8 are addressed to the believer. They show the incongruity of setting the mind on the flesh. However, they show that the direction of serving the flesh is death. He then focuses on the flesh as an entity. He shows that it is hostile to God and goes on to say – the text you leave out – those that are ‘in the flesh’ cannot please God. He has shifted from discussing the effects of the flesh as a nature within the believer that has no dominance unless we give it dominance to unbelievers who are ‘in the flesh’. That is, they are ruled by the flesh. They have no other nature. Thus they are controlled by sin. He has earlier said of the world that all are ‘under sin’. In Ch 5 he has said ‘sin reigned in death’. In Ch 6 he has said believers were previously enslaved to sin – We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin.

            That unbelievers are slaves to sin is incontrovertible. Notice how often I am citing Scripture in a bid to argue my case and convince.

          • John,

            The reason that Ephesians 4:22-24 disproves Calvinism is not because it tells us that we have two natures. It disproves Calvinism because:

            – It shows that there is something called US which is separate from our two natures – (we are never our natures) – so there are three elements – us, our old nature, and our new nature.
            – It speaks as if we can put off the old nature and put on the new (or if your past tense understanding is correct – that we have been doing this).
            – The Calvinist believes that whether at conversion or during the process of being sanctified that God must put off our old nature – which means that as he reads about people either needing to put off – or having put off – the old nature – he reads it imagining that the person is doing something that their will has been overridden to achieve – this requiring compatibilism to be true. Setting aside whether compatibilism is true (no-one has explained to me how it can be) this isn’t a possible explanation of what is happening. Why not? Because the Calvinist believes that repentance – the putting on – is THE RESULT of the application of the new nature – whereas the passage is saying that it’s the other way around – that we are FREE to put on the new nature – but only when we set our minds on the new nature is there orientation towards pleasing God. So then Calvinism is inconsistent with Ephesians 4:22-24 – just as it is with Acts 3:19 (which says that we must repent IN ORDER to be saved – instead of repentance being the result of our being saved).

            As part of any reply I want you to my reasoning from Ephesians I ALSO explain how Acts 3:19 can be reconciled with Calvinism please.

          • Philip

            I agree there is an ‘us’ or a responsible ‘I’. The ‘I’ makes the decisions however these decisions are governed by a nature. In the unbeliever there is only one nature ‘the flesh’. The flesh is opposed to God and cannot please God. Thus the ‘i’ of the unbeliever is enslaved to sin. (In addition he is controlled by the world and the devil.).

            The believer has in a sense a civil war. He has two natures – the flesh dominated by sin and the new nature which by the Spirit is committed to godliness. The flesh can only produce sin and the new nature/life of God in the soul can only produce godliness. The flesh wars against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh (Gals 5).

            In the new heavens and new earth we will only have the new nature. We will be unable to sin. The point is the responsible ‘I’works according to its nature.

            Re Acts 3:19. We must remember that theological sequences and experiential sequences are not necessarily the same. Which comes first for example belief or the new birth? In the bible the order is sometimes both ways. I would add that sometimes the Bible shows us things from God’s perspective and some times from the perspective of human experience.

            So we may read verses that say ‘I will give unto my sheep eternal life and they shall never perish. Then we read other verses which show things from the standpoint of human experience and some go on a while then fall away. Acts 9:31 is simply saying repent and be saved. The act of repenting saves. It is not addressing the issue of God granting repentance that other texts do.

          • John, you refuse to see the obvious implications of Ephesians 4:22-24. Right at the start of your reply you make the statement which sets the foundation for the rest of what you say:
            “The ‘I’ makes the decisions however these decisions are governed by a nature”.
            No John. The natures don’t control the ‘I’ – the passage shows that the ‘I’ controls the natures – it’s there in front of you in black and white. That’s the whole point of the passage – to say that we are only governed by natures to the extent to which we give ourselves to them (or as Romans 8 puts it – set our minds on them). The passage shows we AREN’T indistinguishable from any nature – nor entirely controlled by one – we can put off natures and put on natures.
            Your Calvinism is defeated John – by this important passage.
            You could at this point attempt to say that this ability to put off and put on natures is limited to the believer (contradicting your Calvinism which says that even in sanctification we only put off the old nature when God sovereignly enables us) – but there is no reason to believe that the relationship of the non-believer to their sinful nature is any different to what is described here. Being converted is choosing to allow the influence of the new nature for the first time.
            What am I to do John? When the key principle you apply in interpreting a passage is the opposite of the plain message of the passage?
            You will not let the plain meaning of texts teach you anything if it contradicts your Calvinism. Why not John? You act as if committed to your Calvinism more than the word of God and submission to the Holy Spirit.

            And then you dare to tell me that Acts 3:19 could just as easily mean the reverse of what it says. If it could why does it exist John? What possible value would the verse have if it wasn’t seeking to establish the order of events? You dare to say that in fact the passage could mean “be forgiven and you will repent”. That’s ridiculous John. But you simply refuse to recognise it. Why does a verse exist in order to have its opposite meaning?

            You will never be able to say that someone didn’t go to the trouble of showing you that your Calvinism was wrong doctrine. Remember this – that there was literally nothing they could do to change your mind about it – since you were able to look at a passage and then as part of interpreting apply the opposite principle of its plain meaning as the first step in interpreting it!

          • Philip

            We cant find any point of meeting can we? I do wonder if you have others you can find a point of meeting with. In my view you are likely to have trouble with some Arminian folks too for certainly some would hold views not so dissimilar to mine.

            The responsible ‘I’ in Eph 4 has put off the old man and put on the new. This is conversion. We are not told in Eph 4 how he managed to put off the old and put on the new. We are given a view from the standpoint of human experience. We are not told the role of God in the conversion experience. For that we need to go to other Scriptures.

            There are two ways that Scripture reveals truth to us. One is from the standpoint of human responsibility (or experience). From this perspective we: hear, feel conviction, repent, believe, convert, follow, stray, return, persevere etc… all the experiences of Christianity that we know. The other perspective is divine Sovereignty. It is often the hidden activity of the Spirit etc. It includes divine choice, election, calling, convicting, enlightening, drawing, justifying, sanctifying – working within us to will and to do. The two are not incompatible. They are the same realities viewed from a different perspective. Thus when we read yhe last section of Romans 8 to fall away is impossible yet if we read Hebrews it seems possible.

            Philip verse after verse could be cited to show that the nature controls the ‘I’. Do you think in heaven the ‘I’ will have the ability to overcome thee new nature and sin? Romans 8 explicitly says those in the flesh (unconverted folks) cannot please God.

            Regarding acts 3:19 I made it clear that I have no difficulty in seeing it as true and also seeing that the repentance God requires he supplies. He grants repentance. That faith and repentance are them self conversion and so salvation. Please don’t twist my meaning which I think is clear.

            Philip may I ask what church you go to? Do the people there share your views? With how many on line do you find common ground? My views are conservative mainstream evangelical and softly calvinistic. I have been online many years and have never encountered your way of thinking.

          • Romans 8:8 says those in the flesh cannot please God. But the three previous verses show what it means to be in the flesh – it is TO SET ONE’S MIND on the flesh. Ephesians 4:22-24 shows that setting one’s mind on the flesh is a choice we are FREE to make. It proves this in its speaking about putting off and putting on natures. The passage shows we control our natures (in respect of whether we ALLOW ourselves to be ruled by them) – instead of our natures preventing us from putting on other natures.

  10. Hello – The elements spoken of and interwoven in other sections are emblematic of the Gnostic style found for instance in the Pistis Sophia. The text should therefore be read in the light of this consideration. There is of necessity a repetition of a phrase such as “have against you” which should be interpreted as “My suggestion to you is …” and which is part of the didactic code of the early Church Fathers, whose unenviable task was to structure the new religion in such a way that it would be comprehensible and acceptable to the early populace, to whom, prior to that, was a foreign concept. The Book of Revelation can only ultimately be fully explained by the Initiate after the required deep study of seven to fourteen years of the Mysteries, and then its full import may not in any case be imparted to the profane. This is the province of the Masters only. Blessings – RevDrD

  11. Hi Ian,
    Perhaps Rev. 2&3 is a broad-brush image of the whole of Revelation. If it is overlaid so that John, Eph, Smy, Per, etc overlay Stars, Seals, Trumpets etc the pattern may appear. Rev. 2&3 does have the entrance lobby feel about it. A sort of synopsis of what lies ahead. A board on which to plan.
    Does anyone have an opinion or is going over endless washings the only way to comment on this blog?

    • Steve – well, that’s pretty much the view taken by William Hendriksen (More than Conquerors) and the view that I take – the book of Revelation gives 7 pictures of the time between the ascension and the eschatological return. The first of these is the letters to the seven churches, which are specific, but also within them you can recognise all the issues in churches today (and which have been present ever since the beginning). The time, times and half a time, the 42 months, the 1000 years all represent the same thing – and yes – in this context Rev 2&3 does have the introductory feel about it – giving some sort of synopsis. I for one feel that this is a very good way of looking at it.

      • Thanks Jock, we’re on the same page. Ian’s complicated analysis is too wonderful for me. I was hoping someone would have a stab at answering the question, or have an idea what passages correspond to, and flesh out the pattern he cites.
        Obviously one would need to read afresh the whole of Rev. with this in mind to find anything relevant.

  12. Here’s me thinking that Ian’s article was in relation to churches!
    While Revelation refers to horses, I had no idea that any were metaphors for hobby horses.

    • Wat are you saying? That wanting to discuss the subject and keeping it tied to Revelation amounts to being on a hobby horse? It seems to me that most of the comments thus far are very much fixed to the nursery floor.

    • Geoff – I find some of the comments on here very pertinent, even though the explicit connection to Revelation 2 and 3 perhaps hasn’t been made as clearly as we might like.

      For example – Joe S has expressed very clearly some serious difficulties with churches he has experienced – so that now he is no longer affiliated with any fellowship.

      I believe that if we studied the letters to the seven churches carefully enough and with enough insight, we would be able to see that the problems that Joe S is pointing to are already present in at least some of these 7 churches.

      As I pointed out to steve, I think that the approach to Revelation presented by William Henriksen in his `more than conquerors’ makes a lot of sense and it is the model that I follow.

      It may be a `hobby horse’, but it is an important `hobby horse’ when good Christians feel bullied by the churches they attend ant the people in them. A careful reading of Rev 2 and 3 will probably indicate that the problem was already present.


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