by Mike Ratliff
Sin and Shin. Princes persecute me without cause, but my heart stands in awe of your words. I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil. I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law. Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules. Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble. I hope for your salvation, O LORD, and I do your commandments. My soul keeps your testimonies; I love them exceedingly. I keep your precepts and testimonies, for all my ways are before you. (Psalms 119:161-168)
History is my forte. I love it. God gave me an insatiable appetite for it. When I watch the TV game show "Jeopardy," I can usually answer all of the questions that relate to history. This hunger helps when I read books written centuries ago in a form of English that many modern readers refuse to read. I love it. I am learning how to pattern my reading to match the way they wrote.
When I was a senior in High School, I had to take a sophomore level World History class because, for some reason, I had skipped it. Our teacher was an Italian man who had become a naturalized U.S. citizen. When we got to the era of the Protestant Reformation, he challenged all of those in the class who were not Catholic with his understanding of it. My concept of John Calvin and historic Calvinism came from that class. We certainly never studied anything about it in church. This teacher called Calvin a superstitious egomaniac who made up the doctrine of predestination that proclaimed that God predestined a certain small group of people for salvation and no one else. The teacher made it look like this was a very short period that, thankfully, the Renaissance replaced. He made John Calvin out to be an ignorant product of the European Medievalism. We learned a little about Martin Luther as well. Our history books gave more credit to Henry VIII of England for the Reformation than it did Theodore Beza, Martin Luther, John Calvin, William Tyndale, and John Knox. That seems strange to me now since I have studied the facts for myself. King Henry's agents betrayed Tyndale to the Catholic authorities in Holland. Tyndale was found guilty of translating the Bible into English then having it printed and widely distributed. As they strangled and burned Tyndale at the stake in 1536 his last words was a prayer for God to open the eyes of the king of England.
Contrary to what I learned in that history class, John Calvin did not invent the doctrine of predestination. Neither did he formulate the 5 points of Calvinism. That happened in 1618-1619 at the Synod of Dort in Holland. Calvin died in 1564. The more I study Reformation Theology the more strange it seems that it is referred to as Calvinism at all. He did formulate much of the doctrine of the Reformation, but others did as well. Luther's fantastic work, The Bondage of the Will, for instance, is a vital part of Reformation Theology. So where did the reformers get the doctrine of predestination? Luther was an Augustinian monk. John Calvin knew Augustine's works as well. Aurelius Augustine (354-430), St. Augustine of Hippo, was a North African. His was not a believer until the year 386 when he read the Apostle Paul's epistle to the Romans. He was ordained a priest in 391.
He wrote the following prayer, "O God, command what you wouldst, and grant what thou dost command." This aroused the ire of a British Monk name Pelagius who did not believe in "Original Sin." The doctrine of "Original Sin" states that Adam and Eve's sin in Genesis 3 plunged the entire human race into sin. That means all of Adam's descendants are born with a sin nature. The presence of this sin nature cuts Man off from having a relationship with God. God has graciously provided salvation to those whom He elected before the foundation of the world. That salvation is by grace through faith via repentance and belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. Pelagius believed people were not inherently sinful and could live perfect lives. Hence, there is no need for a savior for them. The false doctrines of Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, and Arminianism have their roots in the doctrinal statements Pelagius and his disciples developed. Augustine wrote against both Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism. His writings against these false doctrines are Biblical treatises on predestination and salvation by grace through faith alone. Both Calvin and Luther were Augustinian Christians. Both quote Augustine in their writings. A close examination of all three shows that the real source of their doctrines was the Bible. They expounded upon what the holy and inerrant Word God tells us. The doctrine of predestination is Biblical. Calvin did not invent it.
What is predestination? I believe most believers' resistance to it stems from the same misunderstandings of it that I had. To get a clear picture of its makeup let's look at the source.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6 Emphasis Mine)
This passage states in plain language that God predestined "us" according to the purpose of His will. The word predestined simply means to determine the destiny of the object beforehand. Who is the object? The "us" in this passage are all believers. Therefore, if a person is in Christ they are so because God predestined them for salvation. Why did He do that? He did it to the praise of His glorious grace. He did it for His glory. When did He predestine all believers? He chose us "in Him before the foundation of the world." That means He predestined all believers before the fall of Man in Genesis 3 ever happened. What is the outcome of those He predestined? He predestined His elect to be holy and blameless before him. How in the world can sinful man ever attain this?
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:29-30)
In this passage, we see that there is something God did before He predestined anyone. He foreknew them. That means He set His affection and purpose specifically on them. We have already seen that the purpose for predestination is to make those He foreknew to be holy and blameless before Him. Look at the passage above. We see that to be holy and blameless before God is the same thing as being conformed to the image of His Son. His Son is the Lord Jesus Christ. The purpose of predestination is specifically this. All in Christ have this destiny. If we look closely at this passage in Romans 8, we see a chain or set of processes God initiates to bring this about. What is the last link in the chain? It is glorification. Glorification is what awaits all believers in Heaven. Glorification is the final product of predestination. A glorified believer is holy and blameless before God because he or she is conformed to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ. We will look more closely at this process in a later chapter called The Curse of Mediocrity. Until glorification happens all living believers will be in the process of sanctification. This is how God matures believers unto Christ-likeness.
The title of the stanza we are looking at in this chapter is," Sin and Shin." Your translation may say, "Shin" only. The first line in this stanza is, "Princes persecute me without cause, but my heart stands in awe of your words." The Spirit-led believer reads this line and identifies with it immediately. The Soul-led will resent it. They see no purpose in adversity. The Spirit-led knows adversity drives the believer into the arms of God. God uses adversity to accomplish His perfect work of sanctification in the hearts of His people. Believers who cooperate with God in this process grow in grace. They shed pride and treasure humility. They understand what and where their treasure is. What awaits them in eternity far outweighs any temporal, physical glorification they can derive from the pursuit of fleshly desires. They know the pursuit of God and His holiness is part of the process of growing in grace. Where do they learn these truths? They get into the Word of God and get it into them. They stand in awe of it. The psalmist claims that he is persecuted without cause. For most of us that would mean we would respond with some form of retaliation or self-protection. Instead, the psalmist turns to the Word of God with his focus and devotion. He is standing on the promises from God that he finds in the Word.
As David fled from Saul he had many opportunities to avenge himself, but he never did it. The following passage shows the attitude we must have against all who persecute us. David had Saul at his mercy yet he spared his enemy's life.
See, my father, see the corner of your robe in my hand. For by the fact that I cut off the corner of your robe and did not kill you, you may know and see that there is no wrong or treason in my hands. I have not sinned against you, though you hunt my life to take it. May the LORD judge between me and you, may the LORD avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you. (1 Samuel 24:11-12)
Our pride screams in agony when we read something like this. This act of mercy on David's part is meekness and humility in action. Jesus told us this is His standard for us as well.
"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?" (Matthew 5:38-47)
How can we do this? My nature is not conformed to this at all. However, my nature is conformed to this when I am Spirit-led as well as actively walking the Walk by Faith. Why? When we are Spirit-led, the Holy Spirit leads us into the Righteous behavior that is our destiny. In other words, when we are Spirit-led we are experiencing a preview of our future glorification.
The second line in this stanza is, "I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil." Worshipping the Lord in spirit and truth (John 4:24) is seemingly continuous when we are Spirit-led. After all, we maintain our Spirit-led Walk by Faith by praying and worshiping the Lord as much as possible. When we focus on the Lord, we draw near to Him. What does He do when we do that? He draws near to us. (James 4:8) Our spiritual treasure is far more valuable than any temporal thing. As we remain Spirit-led, our old sin nature will try to recapture us, but if we resist that temptation, it will be because we value our spiritual treasure above anything the world has to offer. Here is an example. I love Ford Mustangs especially the 1965-1966 GT fastbacks. My natural man wants me to own one that looks good, sounds good, and runs good. Why? What purpose would any of that serve? All I see there are temporal things that would feed my pride. As God matured me, I saw the fallacy of pursuing anything that would do that. Now when I see a beautiful red 1965 Mustang GT in perfect shape I run my desire for that through my understanding of treasure. I see immediately that that car does not fit the bill. My "great spoil" is the godly treasury in my heart and my treasure that awaits me in Heaven.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21 Emphasis Mine)
The third line in this stanza is, "I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law." This is what happens when we are Spirit-led. The problem is we tend to fix that hate and abhorrence upon the unregenerate people who live within and practice it. We must be careful to stay away from any form of self-righteousness. Those who fall in love with Reformation Theology as I did after years of existing in false doctrines usually turn into flaming Calvinists. That means they aggressively go after all believers who refuse to believe the truth. I found out very quickly to stop doing that. First, God told me to stop it and second, some of my friends became upset with me. That was when I found the best way to be a Reformed Theology adherent was to be Christ-like in all of my dealings with doctrine. I refuse to teach error though. If I have a lesson to teach that is obviously Arminian, I will prepare my own lesson or at least replace the error with truth. God has blessed me with the ability to retain each point of doctrine as I have learned them. Part of me worshipping God now is to bless and praise Him with a thankful heart for my salvation that resulted from Him predestinating me to be conformed unto the image of my savior.
The fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth lines in this stanza are, "Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules. Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble. I hope for your salvation, O LORD, and I do your commandments. My soul keeps your testimonies; I love them exceedingly. I keep your precepts and testimonies, for all my ways are before you." These statements are a way of saying that the psalmist lives in God's Word. "Seven times" was a way of stating perfection. He was really saying God's Word was so important to him that he stayed in some form of contact with it continuously. I do not think I have ever been able to maintain an entire day in Spirit-led mode. I have had many great days, but there are always lapses of focus of which I repent by turning my heart back to the Lord for fulfillment. Of course, there are also way too many days where it is a struggle to do that at all. This is why scripture memorization and meditation are so crucial to our being able to remain Spirit-led. If we walk through our day with God's Word on our mind as we apply His truths to our circumstances then we are walking the Walk by Faith as a way of life. Our little taste of Heaven we experience as we do this will fill us with joy and peace. We are content and fulfilled. Why would we want to be anywhere else? Why would we want to do anything else? If we have answers to either or both of these questions then we are still dealing with Soul-led issues. If that is the case, we must pray for God to chisel or cut away the part of our character that is dragging us back to feed the flesh. Of course, that will appear to be costly and painful to us because we are still in love with whatever is causing that problem. The psalmist says aright that when we are Spirit-led nothing can make us stumble into sin. To sin we must revert to Soul-led mode. That, of course, is a sin in itself.
As God matures us through our cooperation with Him in our sanctification, we will experience tastes of our future glorification. Any act of true Christ-likeness in this life qualifies. The Spirit-led do not attempt to be Christ-like. That is what the Soul-led do. Instead, the Spirit-led seeks God's presence in humility and self-denial. The Spirit-led are godly, but not because of trying to be godly. They are godly because their character is becoming Christ-like through the leading of the Holy Spirit. God edifies all whom He matures. He gives us a taste of glorification now, but what awaits us in Heaven is beyond our finite comprehension.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™ Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.