by

R. S. Sproul

 

God is most free; that is, His freedom is unlimited. He is sovereign. The most frequent objection to His sovereignty is that if God is truly sovereign, then man cannot be free. Scripture uses the term freedom to describe our human condition in two distinct ways: freedom from coercion, whereby man is free to make choices without coercion, and moral freedom, which we lost in the fall, leaving us slaves to the evil impulses of our flesh. Humanists believe that man can make choices not only without coercion but also without any natural inclination toward evil. We Christians must be on guard against this humanist or pagan view of human freedom.

The Christian view is that God creates us with wills, with a capacity to choose. We are volitional beings. But the freedom given in creation is limited. What ultimately limits our freedom is God’s freedom. This is where we run into the conflict between divine sovereignty and human freedom. Some say that God’s sovereignty is limited by human freedom. If that is the case, then man is sovereign, not God. The Reformed faith teaches that human freedom is real but limited by God’s sovereignty. We cannot overrule the sovereign decisions of God with our freedom, because God’s freedom is greater than ours.

Human family relationships provide an analogy. Parents exercise authority over the child. The child has freedom, but the parents have more. The child’s freedom does not limit the parents’ freedom in the way that the parents’ freedom limits the child’s. When we come to the attributes of God, we must understand that God is most free.

When we say that God is sovereign, we are saying something about His freedom, although we tend to think that sovereignty means something quite different from freedom. God is a volitional being; He has a will and makes decisions. When making decisions and exercising His will, He does so sovereignly as the ultimate authority. His freedom is most free. He alone has supreme autonomy; He is a law unto Himself.

Humans seek autonomy, unlimited freedom, desiring to be accountable to no one. In a real sense, that is what happened in the fall. Satan enticed Adam and Eve to reach for autonomy, to become like God, to do whatever they wanted with impunity. Satan was introducing a liberation movement in the garden to free human beings from culpability, from accountability to God. But He alone has autonomy.

“I know your works, that you are neither hot nor cold. If only you were hot or cold!

So then: Because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am poised to spew you out of my mouth.”

Revelation 3:15-16

 

In what is surely the sternest reproof addressed to any of the seven churches in Asia, the Lord directed the words of our text to professing Christians at Laodicea. Was he speaking to born-again believers? Is it really possible that he would spew lukewarm Christians out of his mouth? Can backslidden born-again believers “cross the dead line” and be rejected and lost after all?

To find our answers we must begin by noting carefully that here Christ is speaking to the church as a whole. Early on it doubtless was aflame for him; all together were on fire for the King and his Kingdom. Now, a generation or two later, it has grown lukewarm. Practically speaking, this means that while a few of the Laodicean Christians were surely dining intimately with their Lord (v. 20, 3:4), the vast majority were either badly backslidden or Christians in name only. As a result, the church as a whole was in danger of falling under Christ’s judgment.

What might that have looked like? Strong persecution driving nominal believers into hiding and apostasy? A judicial hardening of hearts, such that many who once professed the faith now suddenly turn against it? Numerous Laodiecean house churches folding altogether? A tiny remnant of true believers (and alarmed back-sliders) forced to start the work of the Kingdom from scratch?

Whatever the Lord had in mind, we meet him here speaking urgently, lovingly, and mercifully, both to the nominal and the backslidden. Standing at the door of the church, knocking, extending a sincere invitation to a fellowship meal with the High King of Heaven, he offers the nominal new birth, and the backslidden renewed fellowship, all on condition of honest repentance and faith. If the nominal spurn his offer, he may indeed spew them out of his mouth, in the sense of finally severing their external connection with the life-giving ordinances of the Church, and so from the Head of the Church as well (John 15:1-7, Col. 2:18-19). As for the backslidden, if they will not repent he may simply take them home (1 Cor. 11:30). Sadly, they will be numbered among those who largely built with wood, hay, and stubble; whose works will be burned up in the judgment while they themselves are saved only as someone who escapes through a fire (1 Cor. 3:12-15). But the Lord will never spew them out of his mouth (Psalm 89:30-37, John 6:37, 10:27-30).

But what of earnest Christians? Are these words meant for them as well? Indeed they are, for here faithful believers learn once again to steer clear of all worldliness, and to dine daily and intimately with the High King, who will gladly warm their hearts and make them hot for the knowledge of God and the work of his Kingdom (v. 15, Rom. 12:11). But if, as they read those words, they find themselves stricken with a fear of rejection, let them swiftly remember the King’s precious promise to his own: “All that the Father gives me will come to me; and the one who comes to me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37, 1 John 4:18). Most assuredly, that includes “spew out” as well.

A wonderful old hymn reminding us that our comfort, especially in old age, comes from spying our wise, loving, and all-controlling Heavenly Father in the pages of his trustworthy word. Enjoy!

How Firm a Foundation

How firm a foundation,
You saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in
His excellent Word!
What more can He say
Than to you He has said,
To you who for refuge
To Jesus have fled.

Fear not I am with you,
Oh be not dismayed,
For I am your God
And will still give you aid.
I’ll strengthen you, help you,
And cause you to stand,
Upheld by My righteous
Omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters
I call you to go
The rivers of sorrow
Shall not overflow.
For I will be with you
Your troubles to bless
And sanctify to you
Your deepest distress.

When through fiery trials
Your pathway shall lie,
My grace all-sufficient
Shall be your supply.
The flame shall not hurt you,
I only design,
Your dross to consume and
Your gold to refine
Your dross to consume and
Your gold to refine.

The soul that on Jesus
Has leaned for repose,
I will not I will not
Desert to his foes.
That soul though all hell
Should endeavor to shake
I’ll never no never
No never forsake!

A Poem by George Herbert:

LOVE

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lacked anything.

‘A guest,’ I answered, ‘worthy to be here.’
Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
‘I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on thee.’
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
‘Who made the eyes but I?’

‘Truth Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.’
‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘who bore the blame?’
‘My dear, then I will serve.’
‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’
So I did sit and eat.

 

A Reading of the Poem, by Simone Weil:

“I used to think that I was merely saying beautiful verse; but though I did not know it, the recitation had the effect of a prayer. And it happened that in the autumn of 1938, as I was saying Herbert’s poem Love, Christ himself came down, and He took me.”

O (LORD) our God, will You not judge them?

For we are powerless before this great multitude coming against us,

nor do we know what to do; but our eyes are on You.”

( 2 Chron. 20:12)

 

King Jehoshaphat was scared. A great confederation of enemies was coming against Judah from the south—Ammonites, Moabites, and Edomites without number. In his fear—but also in his trust—he assembled all Judah to fast and pray. And when the time to pray in public arrived, he called to mind both the character and the promises of God. Then, in the words of our text above, he laid his petition before the LORD.

What words they were, and what a reminder and admonition to us, as we fight our own good fight of faith! Note well in these words three great and unalterable facts that mark our Christian life as we journey through the wilderness of this world to our heavenly homeland.

First, Jehoshaphat acknowledges his powerlessness. “We are powerless before this great multitude coming against us.” And so we are—but only in and of ourselves (John 15:1f). For outside of ourselves there is a great power that created the world, that raised Christ from the dead, and that is eager to suit us up daily with the weapons of our warfare. How sweet to read that in Jehoshaphat’s day it pleased the Lord to do all the fighting by himself. All that Judah was required to do was “stand and see the salvation of the Lord.” And so they did. We, of course, will often be called on to participate in the various “salvations” that the Lord grants us. But that changes nothing essential. Essentially we are powerless—unless and until we are empowered by his invincible power from above. It is not just true of Jehoshaphat’s battle, but of all battles: They belong to the Lord.

Secondly, Jehoshaphat admits he doesn’t know what to do. What a liberating confession! Can you not the feel the weight lifting from your shoulders as you realize that God does not hold you responsible for coming up with bright ideas to advance his Kingdom? No, all he holds you responsible for is to do exactly as Jehoshaphat did: sometimes fast, always pray, and always seek God’s face (20:3). Was this not what Paul and the prophets in Antioch did? And did not one of the prophets, just like Jahaziel in Jehoshaphat’s day, bring a word from the Lord? And did not the execution of that word turn Asia and Europe upside down, and storm the kingdom of Satan in those lands? (Acts 13) Our walk with God is never easy, but it’s always simple: We are simply to seek the LORD.

This brings us to the third and greatest fact of all. In the face of his spiritual powerlessness and ignorance, Jehoshaphat spoke these wise and memorable words: “But our eyes are on You!” Amen and amen! Do you remember how our Lord said, “The lamp of the body is the eye. If then your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is diseased, your whole body will be full of darkness. And how great that darkness will be!” Well, strong warnings protect vital truths and ensure great blessings. We MUST fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:1f). Read Hebrews 11, and ponder the men and women of Faith’s Hall of Fame. Did they not all walk in the footsteps of king Jehoshaphat? Did they not see, feel, and acknowledge their utter powerlessness; did they not admit their ignorance; did they not look to the Lord alone for help; and did he not graciously give them the wisdom to know his will and the power to walk in it?

If you will take time to read the whole story of Jehoshaphat’s reign, you will see that he was not a perfect king. More than once he took his eyes off the Lord, putting his trust in man rather than God. And for those failures he more than once earned a rebuke, and more than one experienced a measure of defeat. But O what a great king he was, for over the great long haul he did indeed look to the Lord, walk in his will, enjoy his blessings, glorify his Name, and therefore earn his everlasting “Well done!” (17:1-6)

What then is the take-away of our text? Simply (but never easily) this: Let us ask for Jehoshaphat’s eyes. And let us do all we can to maintain them, fixing our eyes on Jesus as we meditate in daily on his word, pray always in the Spirit, and faithfully step out in obedience to his will. This is not a one-time experience; it is the pattern and trajectory of the whole Christian life. But as we keep rising to it, more and more will we find ourselves in the place of king Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah, of whom it is written that they fell down before the Lord, worshiped him in joy, and declared, “Give thanks to the Lord, for his covenant love endures forever” (20:18)!