A Question About Calvinism

August 17, 2017 at 8:10 am | Posted in It's All About God, Questions for Pastor Glenn, Theology | Leave a comment

I work with a college ministry called Campus Ventures, and occasionally get questions of a theological nature from the staff there.  I got a question yesterday, and the following text conversation ensued.   I wanted to keep the wording, and thought it would be appropriate to post here.

Glenn, what’s your take on the Five Solas of the Reformation?  We have a volunteer staff that is from a Reformed background wanting to do a Bible study on this.  Any chance this can twist off into Calvinism?  Doesn’t seem like it, but I wanted your thoughts about both questions.

The authority of the scriptures alone.  Salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone.  To me that’s just good solid Christian doctrine.  The real Gospel.  Yes there are some areas you can get off into Calvinism, especially grace and glory.  Personally, I have trouble with the Arminian doctrine actually expressing those five things in truth.  But that shows my own bias in the matter.

Thanks, Glenn.  I couldn’t see any problem with it either, but there has been such a problem of late with people here going off the deep end with Calvinism, I wanted to make sure before getting back to him.

The true heart of Calvinism is the glory of God in all things, unfortunately too many people who call themselves Calvinists emphasize things in such a way that they give the glory to themselves. They’re the ones who know it all.
They’re proud to be the elect, but that misunderstands the whole point!

Wow!  That is good stuff, Glenn.  Thanks for sharing that with me.

I would add here that Calvinism correctly understood should make us fully aware that we are very sinful people; that we are separated from God; that we can do nothing about our situation; that our salvation is completely the work of God; that even our good deeds after salvation are God working through us; that it is ultimately all about God.  That should promote humility.

Note how much of what I said in the last paragraph is expressed in this famous passage:  “By grace you have been saved through faith, and not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works that no one should boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Forgive me, God, when I am proud of what I know or of what I think are my own accomplishments.


Isaiah 53 and the Jews

July 30, 2015 at 9:31 am | Posted in Questions for Pastor Glenn | Leave a comment

I preached through Isaiah 53 the weeks leading up to Easter this year.  A number of people asked me how Jews could read that chapter and not believe in Jesus.  I’ve pondered that same thought myself and didn’t have a good answer.  It turns out that Isaiah 53 is no longer read in the synagogues, so many Jews have never heard it.  My friend Loren Pankratz, who pastors a church in Utah, posted this video.  It is well worth the ten minutes it takes to view it.  A Jewish man interviews other Jews about Isaiah 53.

You can view the video here.

And you can listen to the messages here

Did the Translators Slightly Alter the ESV?

May 23, 2014 at 6:22 pm | Posted in English Bible Translations, Questions for Pastor Glenn | 1 Comment

I was asked this question in the past, and didn’t know the answer at the time.  I’ve since discovered the answer.  Here’s the note I sent to the original questioner:

You asked me once if the original ESV had been slightly altered at some point in time, and though I wasn’t sure, I thought I’d seen something different in my first edition from what I read in a later edition.
Last week I was preaching through Jesus’ baptism in Mark 1.  My first edition ESV, which I keep on my desk said, “he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending . . .”  As I did a word study on “opened” I was surprised that the ESV translated it the way they did, since it is a stronger word than what Stephen saw in Acts 7 and what John saw in Revelation.  The NIV says “he saw heaven being torn open . . .”  (HCSB is the same; NET says “splitting apart”)  But when I switched to my ESV preaching Bible and was reviewing my sermon, I noticed it said, “the heavens being torn open.”  So yes, they have made a few changes from the first edition.  This was definitely a good one.
Just for curiosity sake, I looked it up a little history:
The ASV (1901) translated it “rent asunder.”
The NASB (1995) which came from the ASV surprisingly softened it to “opening.”
The RSV (1946) which also came from the ASV softened it even more to “opened.”
The NRSV (1989), which came from the RSV returned to “torn apart.”
The ESV also came from the RSV, and though they kept the RSV wording in the first edition, they changed it for later versions.

Five Years of Blogging

April 8, 2013 at 7:43 pm | Posted in Questions for Pastor Glenn, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

WordPress sent a “Happy Anniversary” telling me I have been blogging for five years now.  It’s hard to believe it’s been that long already.  If you are fairly new to this site, I thought you might like to see my most popular posts of all time.  So here are the five most popular PastorGlenn posts of the past five years:

1.  I wrote “Grieving the NIV” in June last year, as a conclusion to the year-long decision of switching my preaching Bible to either the NIV2011 or the ESV.  Yet in less than ten months it has surpassed all the earlier posts I’d written, and it still gets numerous hits everyday.  A lot of people are grieving the NIV1984, just like I am, and wondering what to do about it.  If you’re interested in the changes made to the NIV in 2011 and why I am not using the NIV anymore, you’ll find this fascinating.  And you will want to read the links and the comments as well.

2.  I wrote “Samson:  Strength, Weakness, Grace” three years ago, and though it didn’t have the sudden popularity of the above post, people search for sermons on Samson’s strengths and weaknesses almost every day.  It is the second most popular I’ve written.  When people read it, I pray they would discover God’s grace in their weakness.

3.  My third most popular is another one I posted in just the past year.  It’s not an article so much as a picture.  Herod’s Family Tree is another thing that someone somewhere searches for almost everyday.  I guess it should come as no surprise, since four generations of the Herod family show up in the Bible, and they are easily confused.  This chart is simple to follow and shows only those family members who have a role in the biblical narrative.

4.  I wrote “Seven Problems with the Prosperity Gospel” two years ago as a summary of many other things I’d said in this blog and in my sermons.  The gospel of prosperity that is preached from many American pulpits today is not the Gospel of Jesus.  It is a distracting addition at best and a dangerous substitute at worst.  When I see this on the list of blogs read on any given day, I pray the reader would discover the true Gospel, the real good news, of Jesus.  If this topic interests you, be sure to read the eighth problem that I added a few days later.

5.  Finally, the fifth most popular article is “Life Can Be Empty” — a presentation of the biblical message using Solomon’s book of Ecclesiastes.  It is so relevant in our American culture today.  I added a separate tab for this one very early in my blogging days in hopes that some might find it who need the message.

Thanks for reading.  Whether you visit on a regular basis or you just happen by once from some search, I hope you are blessed by it.  May you grow in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.    –Pastor Glenn

Did Moses See God’s Face?

September 10, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Posted in Questions for Pastor Glenn | 3 Comments

Hello Pastor Glenn,

I’m reading the NASB and in Exodus 33:11 it says “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend.”  But later on, in Exodus 33:20, we read that God said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!”  So did Moses see God’s face?

The whole idea of God’s face is interesting.  I was asked this question a few months ago but haven’t had time to answer it.  However, since I preached on Psalm 13 last week, and had to give some thought to God’s face, I was reminded of this question.  In Psalm 13 David prays, “How long will you hide your face from me?”  And in Psalm 27 the same author writes, “Your face, Lord, I do seek.”  There are probably many more thoughts on God’s face we could find, but these suffice to show that the passage in Exodus 33:20 can be confusing.

The face, in the Hebrew language, literally is the front of the physical head, but, since God doesn’t have one of those, the language must somehow be metaphorical.  (As are references to God’s wings, eyes, mouth, etc.)  Metaphorically, face can be a reference to a person’s countenance, attitude and sentiments; it can mean a person’s presence; it can also mean a person’s character, entire being,  and even his glory.  In addition to this, we see in the OT numerous idioms using the word for face, such as “hide your face,” and “seek your face” in the passages cited above.

When we read of God’s face in the Old Testament, there are many possibilities what it could mean, and usually the context will help us understand the passage.  In some cases, the translators have already determined for us what the passage means.  For instance, in Exodus 34:20, a literal “none shall appear before my face empty-handed” is translated by most as “none shall appear before me empty-handed.”  However, often times the metaphor is left in the text for us to figure out.

So the “face-to-face” language in Exodus 33 must also be a metaphor.  That phrase in English can mean not only literal looking-at-each-other conversations, but also intimate conversations or direct personal conversations.  Thus I take the verse in Exodus to mean God talked directly and personally to Moses.  Notice the qualifying phrase which supports this idea, “just as a man speaks to his friend.”  This language clarifies that, though God didn’t talk to anyone else at that time in such a personal way, he talked to Moses personally.  There is a parallel phrase in Numbers 12:8 where God was said to speak to Moses “mouth to mouth.”

However, God’s face in Exodus 33:20, “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live,”  must mean something else.  I take it as a reference to God’s total character, his glory.  He lives in unapproachable light, if we were to see him in that light while still mortals, we would die.  Remember that God allowed Moses “to look on his back side (v23),” probably meaning to see a part of his glory, and that experience gave Moses a glow the people could not look at!  That part of God’s glory was all that Moses could stand.  This understanding is also clarified by the words surrounding the metaphor; in this case the request Moses had asked God, “Please show men your glory.” (v18)

For us who came after Christ, the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament adds this encouraging thought, “In the New Testament God is manifested in Jesus, who alone has seen the Father (John 1:18; John 6:46; 1 John 4:12).  Christ is not only the Word through whom God is heard.  He is the image through whom God is seen.”   As we study Jesus, we see more of God’s glory in him than most OT saints ever saw.  He is for us “the image of the invisible God.”

The Nature of True Confession (part 2) Two Examples

June 7, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Grace and Faith, Questions for Pastor Glenn | 6 Comments

I was on vacation for a week with no electronic communication.  My family had a wonderful time camping at Mesa Verde National Park.  We took all the guided tours through the ruins and a number of the self-guided ones too.  I thought it might get boring after the first few tours, but the rangers kept it interesting.  One guide was a forester, one studied history and the third anthropology.  They each had a different perspective on the evidence of who lived there and why they left.

So many people read the previous post on confession, that I wanted to follow it up with some other thoughts.  Then yesterday morning I read Ezra’s prayer in my devotions (Ezra chapter 9).  As a teaching pastor, Ezra is one of my heroes, for he devoted himself to study God’s word and teach it’s truths to others.  Ezra 7:10 is one of my “life verses.”

After Ezra moved to Israel from Babylon to teach God’s Law, it was discovered that the people were doing what God had forbidden, and that “in this faithlessness the hand of the officials and chief men had been foremost.” (v2 ESV)  Ezra was appalled.  He fasted and mourned until evening, then fell on his knees to pray.  He confessed Israel’s sin before God, even though he had not taken part in it.  His entire prayer is not about “their sin,” but about “our sin.”

There are probably books that could be written about the sin Ezra confessed and the nature of corporate sin and corporate confession.  But in this context I just want to point out that Ezra was quick to confess.  He demonstrated sorrow for and hatred of sin (“As soon as I heard this, I tore my garment and my cloak and pulled hair from my head and beard and sat appalled.” v3).  He recognized the guilt that was theirs because of sin (“O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens.” v6).  And he demonstrated a willingness to repent (“Shall we break your commandments again?” v14).  This prayer is a good example of a true confession.

Another example can be found in David’s prayer known as Psalm 51.  David wrote this prayer after the prophet Nathan confronted him about his sins of adultery and murder.  He too demonstrated sorrow and hatred for sin (“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” v3); he confessed guilt before God (“Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” v4); he wanted to turn away from the sin (which vv10-15 demonstrate in many ways).  Reading the prayers of these old saints (or should I say redeemed sinners) can teach us much about the nature of true confession.  God’s people are quick to confess their sins and their sinfulness.

The Nature of True Confession

May 24, 2012 at 10:25 am | Posted in Grace and Faith, Questions for Pastor Glenn, Theology | 6 Comments

“If I’m pretty sure that I’m going to commit the same sin again, how can I repent and turn the other way?  Does confession at some point become a lie?”

What a great question!  It came to me from the comments of a fellow blogger, who then asked me for my opinion on it.  It’s a great question because it is so honest, because it reveals the depth of our sinfulness, and because it reveals the nature of genuine faith in Christ.

The simple answer is, “No.  Confession of that nature is not a lie; it is, in fact, more honest than most confessions.”  Moore to Ponder’s words about 1 John 1:8-10 are a great commentary on this point.  (My gut reaction is to say that the most damaging lie we could utter is “I have no sin.  I sinned once, but I will “never” commit “that” sin again.)  True confession recognizes not only the sinful act but also the sinful heart from which the act proceeds, and it admits dependence on God to overcome that sinfulness because we know we probably will do it all again, if not the same act, another which comes from the same heart.

A more in-depth, theological answer could take an entire book, and indeed the theological issues that touch on this have filled many books.  But here is my brief attempt:

Those who follow the biblical teaching are quick to confess that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone.  And this question was wisely asked on a post about that very issue.  However, those of the Reformed tradition are also quick to point out that, though salvation is through faith alone, genuine faith is never alone.  In other words, saving faith is always demonstrated by how we live our lives.  Biblical faith is not simple head knowledge, or even assent to the facts of Jesus’ death for our sins.  Biblical faith is a total trusting of one’s self to those facts.  Faith and repentance, as understood correctly, are two descriptions of the same thing.  Faith emphasizes turning to Christ, while repentance emphasizes turning away from other things; for if genuine faith is total trust, then nothing else can be trusted, and whatever one trusts before following Jesus must be trusted no more.  Just like faith in Jesus has a beginning, sometimes in an event, but is an ongoing experience for the Christian, so also repentance may have a beginning in an event, but is really an ongoing experience of Jesus’ disciples.  In other words, confessing and repenting should be a part of our normal and daily experience.

This thought raises the question of what confession really is.  We often think of it as admitting certain acts of sin to God.  However, confession should go much deeper than that; it must include the heart attitude that gives rise to the act of sin we committed.  Acts of sin come from a sinful heart, a heart that in some way or another puts self on the throne where the Lord belongs.  Many Christians may confess a certain act, like offending people by speaking out of turn (I know that one well), but never confess the heart attitude of wanting to be noticed or thinking of one’s self as the expert or of wanting to prove someone else wrong.  Yet those things are the deeper sins that also must be confessed.  Sometimes we don’t even know the depth of our sinful motives. I addressed that issue in this post.

Also confession must never be seen as the condition of our forgiveness.  That attitude puts our salvation into our own hands, but the truth is that our salvation is in God’s hands and not ours.  We are forgiven because of Jesus, not because we confess.  The popular misunderstanding of 1 John 1:9 that gives rise to this idea is one I addressed here.

There is much in 1 John that touches on this topic.  This little New Testament book was written so that Jesus’ followers would have assurance of their salvation (5:11-13), and it gives many tests of the true believer.  True believers, according to John, trust in Jesus; they confess their sinfulness; they love Jesus’ other followers.  However, there is one particular test in 1 John which is important to this discussion:  True believers make some sort of progress in righteousness.  Though we are and always will be sinful, if we are truly regenerated by God’s Spirit, then we will demonstrate that regeneration by how we conduct our lives (2:4-6, 15-17, 29; 3:4-10; 5:4-5).  The discussion of faith in James makes this same point; genuine faith is demonstrated by good works.  I mention this here because we must understand the nature of new life and of true repentance.  If your attitude is, “I will go out and sin as much as I want, because I can confess it to God and be forgiven,” then you either confuse the sinful act with the sinful heart or you may not have experienced a genuine conversion.  God’s people may have to confess the same sins over and over, maybe even for a lifetime, but they will not intentionally sin with the attitude that they can simply confess later.  When they do sinful acts, and when they see the depths of their sinful attitudes, they will be repentant in attitude and action.

If you struggle with certain sinful activities and attitudes, confess those to God, trust Jesus’ death as the payment for your sin, and tell God that with his help, you will go out and live a righteous life.  When you fail, do it all again, knowing that Jesus’ sacrifice has already covered all your sinful acts and all your sinful attitudes and motives.

I think this post is too long already.  If some of you are interested in more on this topic, read a good theology book about regeneration and/or perseverance of the saints.  Those are the theological terms that I’ve touched on here.  In the meantime, keep pursuing righteousness and keep confessing when you don’t

Herod’s Family Tree

May 8, 2012 at 11:52 am | Posted in Questions for Pastor Glenn | 3 Comments

Below is a simplified family tree of Herod the Great.  It shows the descendants who appear on the pages of scripture,  including the four I have written about in the previous posts.

Here are links to my articles on Herod the Great;  Herod Antipas, also known as Herod the Tetrarch;  Herod Agrippa I;  and Herod Agrippa II.

Are Ghosts Real?

February 7, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Posted in Eschatology, Questions for Pastor Glenn, Theology | Leave a comment

Hello Pastor Glenn,

I have a question about “spirits” or “ghosts.”  Recently a family member of mine called his ex-wife and told her he keeps seeing a man in his house whose always dressed in grey.  When he called the landlord, the landlord asked if he was dressed in grey.  He said the previous owner saw this spirit as well.  What is that?  Is it something evil?  Buy the way, this took place in Sweden.

Phenomena like this have been reported in popular tales for centuries.  The common accepted explanation is that these are ghosts, particularly spirits of dead people who may have passed away in the building or area where they appear.  Does the Bible have something to say about this?  Is the popular explanation a viable one within a biblical world view?  To answer, I will assume that at least some of the stories are factual, though to some people that is a big assumption.  Because of the human nature to embellish stories, I tend to think many of these are just fictional folk tales, but let’s say for argument purposes that some of them are true.

The Bible recognizes the existence of a spiritual world and of spirits.  However, the Bible calls those spirits “angels” (messengers from God) or “demons” (fallen angels, who oppose God).  Demons and angels are created beings, separate from humans.  The popular notion that good people die and become angels in God’s service is not biblical, nor is the idea that dead people are spirits just kind of hanging around this world until the end of time.  When believers die, their spirits are immediately in the presence of God (2 Corinthians 5:1-10; Philippians 1:22-23; Luke 23:43), and their bodies will someday be resurrected to live forever (1 Corinthians 15).  When unbelievers die, their spirits are immediately in torment (Luke 16:19-24), and they too will be resurrected (John 5:25-29).

Between the time of death and resurrection, can these spirits of dead people visit the earth and appear to or talk to others who still alive?  Apparently not.  Jesus’ story of Lazarus and the rich man indicates that such a thing cannot happen (Luke 16:19-31).  Even if they could appear, they would have more important things to do than haunt people; for this story indicates they would want to give warning of what is to come.

What then of these ghostly appearances?  I believe we are left with two possibilities.  Either they are psychological in nature, or they are demons.  The psychology explanation, in my mind, leaves a lot to be desired,.  For instance, it can’t explain why appearances in the same location are often the same to different people, like the case you mention from Sweden.  That leaves only one possible explanation, and that is that such appearances are demons.

If that is the case, then why do they appear as they do – sometimes in the same form to different people in the same location?  I do not know.  Remember that Satan and his army are out to deceive and mislead.  They are liars, so anything spirits say is suspect, unless they prove to be spirits from God.  The Bible gives a clear test of a true spirit (1 John 4:1-4), and one would be wise to memorize it.  A spirit that cannot confess the true Jesus as the divine one in the flesh is not a spirit from God.  Finally, remember that all spirits are under the authority of Jesus, for he is the King of kings and Lord of lords; he is their creator, and they must answer to him (Colossians 1:15-20).

Saved During the Tribulation?

January 17, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Posted in Eschatology, Questions for Pastor Glenn | 3 Comments

Dear Pastor Glenn,

The past few weeks I have been attending a new church – a Baptist church – that is much closer to me.  Because I am new, I’ve been paying attention to doctrine … and something finally hit me last night in our Sunday night get together.  In his sermon, the pastor mentioned that he did not believe there would be any salvation after the Rapture.  That “Even if you want to believe, you will not be able to.”  That God would not permit it.

Something about that rubbed me the wrong way.  So I decided to look through Revelation.  Right away, I found in Revelation 7 the image John writes about the Multitude from every nation and every tongue, washed clean and clothed in white robes … washed clean by the Blood of the Lamb and by the Great Tribulation.  This seems to me to describe that people will find Christ in the end times … in fact, a multitude beyond count will!

Glenn, could you offer any opinion or insight you have on this?

Thank you!


Dear _______,  It’s good to hear from you.

This whole area of what will happen during the Tribulation is a complicated one.  I grew up being taught one perspective, and have, over the years, migrated to another.  You can read many reasons for that transition in my blog by clicking on the Eschatology category link.  Not all those posts are about that matter in particular, mostly just the older ones.  Basically, I have become convinced that what we call the Rapture will take place after the Great Tribulation, not before it.  Again, it’s complicated, and related to some other major theological matters, but in it’s simplest form, I find Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 24:29-31, and the parallel in Mark 13, to be the clearest teaching about the time of the Rapture.  It will take place after what Jesus calls “a great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now – and never to be equaled again.”  I am assuming from your question that your pastor teaches that the Rapture will happen before the Great Tribulation.  If that is untrue, then much of what follows doesn’t apply.

Within my framework of understanding, your interpretation of Revelation 7 makes perfectly good sense (though some of that multitude will have been saved before the Tribulation).  I’m sure your pastor would have some other explanation for it.  The trouble with Revelation is that one’s end-time theology (that what “Eschatology” means) impacts the way it is interpreted more than the other way around.  When it comes to interpreting Revelation, I would be leery of anyone who can’t admit that.  Everyone admits that the book is full of symbolism, but just where the literal ends and the symbolism begins is not real clear.  And this is just one point where so many interpretations of Revelation are possible!

My perspective is that these matters are minor in comparison to some other issues.  However, these matters impact how we understand other theological issues, and visa-versa.  I don’t know that I’m familiar with the perspective your pastor is teaching, but it would make me question some other areas carefully.  Someone could come to that conclusion because they have what I might call a “hyper-dispensational” theology or because their understanding of the Gospel is different that what I believe the Bible teaches.  I grew up under dispensational teaching, but am no longer a dispensationalist; however, most who are dispensational are committed to the true Gospel, that is salvation is always a matter of grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, and that is true in every era of history.  Some who call themselves dispensational, believe that God saves people in different ways throughout different eras of history.  Various views of this nature could lead to an understanding that no one can be saved during the Tribulation.

If this is where your pastor is coming from, I would be careful about what he believes is salvation.  Please note, I’m not saying he must have an errant view of salvation, I’m just saying, if it were me, I would pay close attention.  Even some whom I might call “hyper-dispensational” teach the true message of salvation in this era, but might believe it to be something else in other eras.  Personally I find that inconsistent, but I’m sure there are those who believe that way.

Finally, your comment “Even if you want to believe, you will not be able to.  God would not permit it” opens another big theological “can of worms” and demonstrates how different areas of theology impact our understanding of this matter.  This quote seems to confess that God is sovereign over salvation, but indicates that some who want God to save them cannot be saved.  Those two matters are totally inconsistent in my understanding.  I believe God is sovereign over matters of salvation, and that God draws to Jesus those who will be saved.  Jesus’ words in John 6:37, 44 are sufficient to prove this.  In other words, if someone wants to be saved, God is drawing him.  This last matter could take up shelves of theology books, and, in the past it has!

In conclusion, this is probably a minor issue (unless, of course, the pastor there makes it a major one), and if everything else lines with scripture, then this would not be a deal breaker.  If he makes it a major one, then I would carefully check out these other matters as well.  By the way, what he is telling you is not a Baptist distinctive, so don’t connect those in your mind.

Blessings, Pastor Glenn

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