Chris Ortiz offers a needed reminder to seminarians and anyone else who might love to live in the abstract world. We must constantly seek out ways to make theology applicable and show why it is important. Otherwise, Christians who want to make a difference in their communities will sacrifice good Bible teaching for the sake of doing something.

It is a serious mistake to see theology as an academic exercise. The word theology means God’s word; it begins with the presupposition that Scripture is the word of God, and the duty of the theologian is to understand it and to apply it to every area of life and thought.

Theology belongs in the pulpit, the school, the work-place, the family, and everywhere. Society as a whole is weakened when theology is neglected. Without a systematic application of theology, too often people approach the Bible with a smorgasbord mentality, picking and choosing that which pleases them…. For me theology means the total mandate of God through His word. What I have written only scratches the surface; it is an introduction to the subject, and it is written to move men to faith and action.
(R.J. Rushdoony, Systematic Theology, Vol. I, p.xv, xvi)…

Herein lieth the purpose for Christian Reconstruction: applied Calvinism. It’s the recognition that since God is wholly other, and superintends all things through creation and providence, then we are dependent upon His infallible revelation as creatures a part and distinct from His eternal being. And, knowing that the primary intent of His written revelation is to teach us “what we are to believe about Him, and what it is He requires us to do” (WCF Larger Catechism, Q.6), then we must move beyond abstract discussions of His anomalies and move ourselves to Christian action. We have spent much time on the first aspect of the catechism in determining what we believe about Him. Now let us discuss what it is He requires us to do.
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This post has 17 Comments

  1. I had responded…and when I went to post it, it had been sovereignly prohibited from doing so.
    Rick wrote: “So where does that leave us, Matt? Are we merely actors in a play? Am I not typing this, but it is God typing these words through me?”

    In answer to your questions, we are not robots as the charge often goes. I find it demeaning and a strawman argument for the sovereignty position. You are in fact an actor in a play written by God. Granted, I don’t think that the working through our members is the best explanation for divine sovereignty but it does help in explaining that God is wholly other in the way he affects us. It is not like a friend trying to persuade us of something. God in his grace takes out the heart of stone (something against a rebel’s will) and give him a heart of flesh.

    What I find fascinating is how folks define “free will”. How would you define it?

    I find it more fruitful to make shorter comments…

  2. I got in a conversation about this free will thing while on a backpacking trip last weekend. Turns out that we had two different definitions of free will. I define it as simply having the freedom to make our own decisions. This other girl (a Calvinist) defined free will has being able to make a decision that is not at all influenced by environment, feelings, childhood, family, etc.

    Well, I have to admit that going by her definition of free will that of course nobody can eliminate all those factors from the decision making process. But do we have the ability to make a choice, regardless of what influences that choice? I say yes, we do.

  3. This is how I see it:

    Will is the power to choose.

    God allows us to choose for ourselves, independent of his will. This is what we mean by free will. The will is “free” (that is independent) from God’s determination. God does not determine, or predetermine, what we are going to choose. He lets us choose for ourselves.

    Granted, he will give us the grace to do the good and avoid the evil. But he still gives us the choice to either accept or reject that grace.

    God will not force his will on anyone. In this sense, our wills are free.

    Agree? Disagree?

  4. Thank you, heyirishman. To anyone who wants to answer:
    1) If our wills are free from God’s will, how can any of the promises of God be fulfilled?
    2) If Christ came to die for his people, how can there be any guarantee that the will choose it?
    3) Is God in control of the universe or is it moving along by its own power?

    Before we continue this dialogue I want to reiterate that belief in God’s complete sovereignty does not mean that we are automatons, thereby having no choice. I whole-heartedly affirm that we have choice.

  5. 1)If our wills are free from God’s will, how can any of the promises of God be fulfilled?

    So, God somehow needs to manipulate/arrange our wills in order that our wills choose what he desires? God somehow needs to exert his will on ours, in such a way that we willfully choose what he desires? I don’t think so. That is what electrical engineers do. They build robots; they wire them in such a way that the robot can do nothing other than what the designer wants it to do. But in the case of humans is it all the more intense—because humans have wills, robots don’t. If God were to wire our wills so that our wills would only choose what he wants us to choose, then we don’t have free will. In that case, our wills are not free from God’s determination. We may think we have free will, but it is not free will.

    Can you give an example of what you are talking about?

    God doesn’t need to manipulate/arrange our wills in order for us to choose his will over and against some other possibility or in order for him to be able to keep his promises.

    Agree? Disagree?

    2) If Christ came to die for his people, how can there be any guarantee that the will choose it?

    God knows that some will choose faith in Christ and that others will reject it. God knows all things. But just because he foreknows something, doesn’t mean that he predestined it to be such. So, God does have a guarantee that there will be some who will choose faith in Christ. Why would God go through with creating mankind only for mankind to turn his back on him and not repent?

    3) Is God in control of the universe or is it moving along by its own power?

    I’d say it’s a little mixture. It’s like asking if the falling object is falling by God’s power or if it is falling by itself. Obviously, gravity is a law that God set in place. So, it’s both and. If God wants to intervene and stop the universe from acting the way he designed it to act, he can go ahead and do that if he wants. But God is not going to arrange your will to choose this and choose that, though he knows what you will choose.

  6. It’s not just in engineering, but in plays, movies, etc. To say that God orchestrates the symphony does not mean that the violinist does not enjoy nor have a will.

    I would say that God not only sets gravity in motion, but he sustains that it continue. Romans 11.33-36; Psa 41.3;Acts 17.28…If one molecule were out of God’s control how is that it would not cause some cataclysmic reaction that God did not ordain?

    God does not wire us to choose only what he wills. That is not what the Reformed doctrine of divine sovereignty teaches. Nor does it teach that we are robots. I do not deny we have a will. If our wills are free from God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee of the promises in the Bible. I say that God inclines the will to seek, obey, and love him.

  7. God does not wire us to choose only what he wills. That is not what the Reformed doctrine of divine sovereignty teaches. Nor does it teach that we are robots.

    Are you sure you are not a Catholic?

    I do not deny we have a will.


    If our wills are free from God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee of the promises in the Bible.

    What do you mean by saying that our wills are not free from God’s sovereignty?

    I say that God inclines the will to seek, obey, and love him.

    Are you SURE you are not a Catholic?

  8. I am very sure I am not a Catholic. And I am pretty sure that once some of the misconceptions of the Reformed doctrine are explained rightly you will be convinced. I am planning on working on a paper on human will for my Systematic Theology II class. If you would like a copy I will send it.

    It sounds like a lot of what you think the Reformers teach about freedom and responsibility is not what they teach. Better, what do you mean that they are free from God’s sovereignty/will? You have not answered that yet. Once you do I should be able to explain where we differ and agree.

  9. “And I am pretty sure that once some of the misconceptions of the Reformed doctrine are explained rightly you will be convinced [that I am not a Catholic].”

    Can’t wait!

    “Better, what do you mean that they are free from God’s sovereignty/will? You have not answered that yet.”

    If you had *asked* me how we are free from God’s sovereignty/will, I would have tried to answer. Sheesh!

    Anyway, let me try to explain. A few things:

    “The act of faith is of its very nature a free act” (CCC 160).

    But our freedom is taken away (only to a certain extent) by concupiscence, bad habits, circumstances, fear etc. Thus we are responsible to the extent that our will is free from such factors. As Pope John Paul II wrote:

    “Sin, in the proper sense, is always a personal act, since it is an act of freedom on the part of an individual person and not properly of a group or community. This individual may be conditioned, incited and influenced by numerous and powerful external factors. He may also be subjected to tendencies, defects and habits linked with his personal condition. In not a few cases such external and internal factors may attenuate, to a greater or lesser degree, the person’s freedom and therefore his responsibility and guilt. But it is a truth of faith, also confirmed by our experience and reason, that the human person is free. This truth cannot be disregarded in order to place the blame for individuals’ sins on external factors such as structures, systems or other people. Above all, this would be to deny the person’s dignity and freedom, which are manifested-even though in a negative and disastrous way-also in this responsibility for sin committed” (RECONCILIATION AND PENANCE 16).

    So we see that a person’s dignity is bound up with his freedom. If he is not free, his dignity is taken away. If God were to take away our freedom to choose for ourselves, from among two or more alternatives, then we would not be acting as human beings created in the image and likeness of God.

    Since the fall of mankind, humanity has become inclined to choose the wrong thing (sin). But we still belileve that God gives us the sufficient grace to do the good and avoid the evil. Yet at the same time, he will not force that grace on us; he gives us the choice to either reject or accept that helping grace.

    God knows from eternity what we will choose. And so, God makes his plans accordingly. How the twain work together I do not know :)

    In Acts 17:26-27, we read: “He made from one 8 the whole human race to dwell on the entire surface of the earth, and he fixed the ordered seasons and the boundaries of their regions, 27 so that people might seek God, even perhaps grope for him and find him, though indeed he is not far from any one of us.”

    This passage tells us that God has us born into certain times and places for a reason. God provides us with the environment, he places us in the enviornments we find ourselves in, specifically so that we *can* choose him. God desires that all men be saved and so he does all he can to give us the opportunity to say yes to faith.

    How God’s sovergnity and man’s free will work together is a mystery.

    So, what do you believe about man’s free will?

  10. No you didn’t. You wrote the following:

    1) If our wills are free from God’s will, how can any of the promises of God be fulfilled?

    Then later on you asked: “Better, what do you mean that they [human wills] are free from God’s sovereignty/will?”

    Two different questions Matthew.

    When you do the paper, I’d love to see a copy.

  11. Are you kidding? Look aty April 11, 5 am, not to mention the rest of the dialogue. It seems that you make statements of the human will being free from God’s will (April 12, 9 am) but offer no explanation as to what “free” means. That is what my question entails. Your quote from “Reconciliation and Penance 16” is telling. It says all these things influence the human will, and then it lays out a big “but”. It also does not define what “free” is. It just makes this statement without defining the word. It then goes on to say that to deny “freedom” (however the quote defines it – benefit of the doubt, maybe it is somewhere else in the writing, which I would like to see) denies human dignity is untenable.

  12. Dude…do you like playing this cat and mouse game? Spit it out already! What is your view of free will and how it interacts will God’s soverignty?

    What do *you* think “free” will means, or does not mean?

    Do *you* believe in free will?

    Jason explained what will is. I tried to explain that the will is free from God’s determination. I also showed how other influences such as social upbringing, fear etc. can not take away our free will totally, but can only encroach on our will to a certain extent.

    You say that I “offer no explanation as to what “free” means.” All I can say is, “free” will means a will that is not coerced or manipulated in any way. Our wills are free because God will not coerce our wills or manipulate them to choose one thing over and against another possibility. After that, it might help to look up the word “free” in the dictionary. After that, if you have some secret knowledge (which it seems you do) please enlighten us all.

    If you find that anything I have wrote this time is “telling” please inform me what exactly it “tells” you.


  13. I hope you don’t consider this a cat and mouse game. I don’t want to wrangle with words, but I want definitions to be clear, that is what I am aiming for by being direct with you in how you define “free”. I appreciate you telling me now that it is “a will that is not coerced or manipulated in any way.” Before I hadn’t heard that from you.

    What is telling about the quote I mentioned (I apologize for not being clearer about that; I was technically using it to refer to the fact that something is alluded to without explicating it) was that it claims that the human will is affected by many things “but the human will is free” as evidenced from experience and such – thus making an assertion without a defense of how (and like I said in my comment above, given the benefit of the doubt, maybe it is defined elsewhere). I believe that “free will” has not been defined and that there is this looming idea that everyone knows what is being referred to; I did not/do not know what that definition was/is referring to. The last two lines sounds as though the document is merely defining “will”.

    As for your definition, is someone always able to choose either one of two objects. For example, if you are offered two, three, or ten flavors of your favorite ice cream, could you always choose anyone of the flavors you would eat? In other words, is your will “free” to choose any option that sits before you?

    As for my understanding of “free”, it does not have to do with secret knowledge ( I am definitely not a gnostic). Like I said, I want to be absolutely clear on what your definition is. As you probably know it is easy to engage in a conversation with someone assuming your definition for a word (i.e. justification, sanctification, free, and will) and realise that you did not have the definitions right at the first. I sense your irrateness, and apologize for not explaining why I was asking my questions.

    I hope you understand. When people begin to talk with those of the Reformed camp, they assume that we advocate some kind of robot-ness to the whole debate (as has already been evidenced). I merely wanted to put the other side on the defensive by asking all you how one even defines “free”, in hopes that there would be common ground, rather than myriad assumptions.

    As for free will, I will send you my paper once I get it done. I offer this snippet reluctantly because the Reformed understanding has been made into a strawman too many times and I know that people are ready to pounce on it…but here is a short explanation:

    Since Adam’s Fall the entire human race has been infected with sin (Original Sin, concupiscence). Scripture teaches that man is enslaved to sin, indeed, he is spiritually dead (Eph 2.1, Col 1.21 ). Man is an enemy of God. Because we are held captive by king sin we do not want to bow our knee to Christ…Our eyes have been blinded by unbelief and the devil (2 Cor 4.4). Due to this affection we are unable to choose anything other than sin. We need a miraculous work of God’s grace to shine on our hearts and reveal the glory and beauty of Christ (2 Cor 4.6). He must take out our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh (promise fulfilled by the New Covenant in Christ). This is a work he does. It is glorious and gracious.

    There is much more to be said. I will leave that for another time…I hope this helps.

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Abiding in Christ?

How do you abide in someone you can’t see or touch or audibly listen to? When Jesus told his disciples to abide in him, was it merely for them or is it something we are called to emulate?

To the first question, Jesus most certainly expected his disciples to abide in him despite not being able to touch him and hear him and see him. After all, John 15 (where the speech comes from) is right before his crucifixion. Too often our faith is wedded to too much wooden-ness in understanding. We veer toward, “Yes, but…” Like Thomas who would not believe unless he put his hand in Jesus’ side, so also our faith is not expansive enough. Blessed are those that have not seen and yet believe–which leads to the second question.

Jesus prayed not only for his disciples in the Garden, but for all those who would hear the Good News from his disciples testimony. When he responded to Thomas that those who have not seen and yet believe are makarios (“blessed”), he had you and me in mind. What we see unfold in Scripture after the Resurrection is the kind of effulgent life he wants us to live…and abiding life.

So how do we abide?

I would suggest three ways.

Keeping His Word

Throughout John’s Gospel and his epistles, Jesus tells us that if we love him we will keep his commands. Like a father who loves his child, like an older brother looking out for his younger brother, Jesus tells us how to navigate God’s world. Do we trust him enough to actually follow his steps?

This explicit teaching is what is called the Revealed Will of God. While God is constantly working in his world for his own purposes, part of that working is his condescension to tell us how to understand his world. That is, unlike the gods of the Ancient Near East, Yahweh determined to tell his people how to live. His Law is gracious and kind to reveal his ways to us.

All the Law hangs on Jesus’ admonition to love God and people.

Throughout the New Testament we see what it looks like to abide in Christ when we hear the Apostles telling people to put others before their own whims and preferences. We see this worked out as the Spirit comes at Pentecost and the Church extends to the uttermost parts of the world.

Led By the Spirit

It is no accident that John 16’s (continued) discourse on the preferment of the Spirit’s coming follows on the heels of Jesus’ command to abide in him. While the Law is gracious and good, we botch it up with our self-seeking and short-sightedness. We need the Spirit of God to guide us into all truth.

As I shared in my sermon on Sunday, there are three witnesses: water, blood, and Spirit. The first two speak to the doctrinal clarity and objective reality of who Jesus is. The third is the subjective application of these truths into the life of the believer.

Unfortunately the Spirit is equated with emotionalism and awkward and outlandish activity by those claiming to be Spirit-led. This is an unfortunate state of affairs, indeed. While the Spirit blows where he will, and does things outside our meager understanding, this does not necessarily mean that his working in incomprehensible or outlandish or alien (more on this in the third point).

What are some ways we can be led by the Spirit?

Well, he inspired the text of Scripture and has clearly spoken there. Go there.

In Ephesians 5.18, we are told to be filled with the Spirit. How? The participles that follow this command tell us how: Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. The Spirit is guiding and directing God’s people. Go there.

It would be good to reflect on each of these four participles and consider how you might be filled with the Spirit in ever-increasing measure. Are you speaking God’s songs over people? Are you singing to soothe the angst in your own heart? Are you grateful? Are you putting others’ needs before your own–considering them more significant than yourself?

Being Attune to God’s Working

One of my charges as a pastor is to help us see God’s continual work in the world. It is easy to wax on about God’s omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence but to deny his power and that this means right here right now. He is not all these characteristics merely in heaven. While you may say, “Obviously!” In fact, many of us affirm these aspects of God yet we live life as though he is not at work in the mundane stuff of life. We talk about him and his superintendent work int he world…but we fail to see his work in my making coffee or standing in line or talking to a stranger.

The shift in our lives happens when we see him always at work. Always. In the mundane. In the suffering and pain. In the exciting. That is God working and shaping you.

Every conversation. Every. Conversation. Is opportunity to hear God speak to you. For him to shape you. Every appointment is a “divine appointment.” He graciously guides our footsteps. The person in the checkout line needs to hear of God’s grace. Your co-worker needs to know that God loves him. The annoying neighbor needs to see God’s mercy. Your family needs to experience peace in your words and actions. These are all God’s ever-present work. His beckoning us to abide in his word and his world.

Redeeming the Serpent



Israel found itself in the wilderness complaining against God for his ways of redeeming them. For the mundane activities he had them take part in (i.e., walking around in circles).

Side note: If you and I were led in the wilderness for 40 years we would be murmuring as well. We get in a tizzy when we have to do anything mundane for more than an hour typically.

So Israel complains and God sends serpents to bite them in judgment (see Numbers 21 for the full account). This act of judgment reminds us of the serpent in the Garden who is ever present with us. He tempts us to murmur and blame others rather than confessing and growing and trusting. These serpents become a vivid reminder of what each of our little speakings of our minds are really saying. That is, when we speak out against a circumstance or a person, we are setting ourselves up as the arbiter of right and wrong. Of truth. We are the ones to whom others ought to ask for permission.

But the act of healing did not come by taking a potion or jumping in a river or screaming out loud, “I’m sorry” followed by self-flagellation. The act of redemption came in the simple form of looking. Looking. Not reaching out. Not even crying out. Merely looking away from the self and to Another. There is no strength required. A mere acknowledgment of something outside of ourselves that needs to redeem.

What is fascinating further about this act of redemption is the object to which Israel was to look. They were to look to…a serpent. The Act of Rebellion against their Maker that started in the Garden is turned on its head. The Serpent is powerless to hold sway the delights of rebellion. He becomes the tool in God’s hands of redemption.

God doesn’t just say, “Stay away from serpents.” He doesn’t rid the earth of what would be deemed evil. Surely, the Adversary is not redeemer. That is not what we see in the text! Rather, we see that those things connected with and that can easily be lumped in with the hopeless, in this case a serpent, God redeems this seemingly hopeless object. He doesn’t merely get rid of the evil, he redeems the evil.

This is scandalous and you might find yourself saying, “Matt, you go too far!”

Do I? I venture to say that you have not entirely grasped who you are. You were an object of wrath. You were children of the Adversary. You delighted in your own desires and your universe orbited around your wants. God, being rich in mercy, took you out of that darkness. He didn’t merely remove you from the filth. He transferred you into the kingdom of his Beloved Son. The One he loved from before the foundation of the world. He not only transferred you into that kingdom. He has given you all the privileges of that kingdom. He has made you a son and daughter!

God is not in the business of just getting rid of his adversaries, but to those who will merely look to the Son who was also lifted up, he will give you the inheritance of his Beloved Son. No more to be destroyed. No more to be reviled and written off as hopeless. He gives you all that he has and all that he is.

How the Gospel Integrates

This past Sunday I preached from John 3.14-21. In an effort to help us hear with fresh ears, I offered my own translation from the Greek. Of note in the translation, instead of “perish” as is typically used for the word apollumi in the Greek, I opted for “destroy.” The lexical range for the word can also include “to undo” as in “untie.” What a strange word or concept to consider that to be destroyed is to be untied or undone. What is John (and Greek!) getting at?

As we consider the biblical storyline of Creation>Fall>Redemption>Consummation, the idea of being untied is a beautiful picture of what happened at the Fall. That is, when our first parents fell to the temptation of the Serpent they were untied, unglued as it were. They were broken down from the integrated selves God had made them as.

So many times we can understand the death we experience from the Fall as puntiliwr in nature. That is, as in that moment in the Fall death happened. What we see as the biblical storyline unfolds is that the concept of “death” is one of living under the reign of death. That is, the moment we close our eyes for the last time is merely culmination of living under the tyranny of death. Prior to that moment, we are being undone, untied, thread by precious thread.

I believe this coheres with our own experience. Consider the moment by moment decisions you and I make. Each one of those decisions could potentially be one more thread pulled out of our already threadbare sweater. Sin entices. We get hooked. Sin unravels us. After a life of this, we become naked and unashamed–where there should have been a covering and shame for the rebellion we relish. At the end of such a life, we come to the final thread being snapped.

The Gospel, however, is about the work of integrating us. Of bringing us into wholeness. Whereas we continue to live under the reign of death, we are merely tenants and not inheritors of such death. We have been given the life of Christ and are being knit back together into the integrated self that God had intended from the beginning. And so, the Gospel saved us, saves us, and will save us from the frayed existence of those who do not believe on the Son. Those who refuse to come to the Tailor to receive their garments of praise, will continue to wear the ashes. Those who do not submit to the rectifying work of the Author and Finisher of our lives, will find that they are undone. They are ultimately destroyed.

In this way, the Gospel of Jesus a moment of transference into the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son. And it then acts as the agent of reifying the imago Dei that was unraveled. What a beautiful picture of how God works in our lives moment by moment! When confronted with a juicy morsel of sin, by the power of the Spirit to say “No” to ungodliness and our own rule, another thread is tighter in our fabric. Each moment when the promises of slavery seem enticing, instead of being undone and destroyed, we are made into wholly, integrated image bearers.