Russell and Duenes

Archive for the ‘Acts’ Category

What Is Your Free Will To God?

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God is sovereign in converting people to Christ. It’s interesting to me to hear Christians pray that God will “influence” someone or “work on” their hearts, but somehow we’re uncomfortable with the idea that God would actually take over a person’s heart to the point of conversion, because that might impinge on their “free will.” But my question is always, why is it OK for God to get into their hearts and work on them a little, but not OK for God to get in there and go the whole way? If God alters a person’s motivations, inclinations or thinking at all, hasn’t He impinged on their autonomous free will already? Why not rather pray, as St. Paul prays for the Jews, that God would save the other person. As John Piper says, “Save ’em, God!”

That’s what God does with Saul of Tarsus. Saul was on his merry way to Damascus when God struck him down with blindness and told him what would happen next. God speaks to a man named Ananias and tells him to go to Saul and give him a message from God. Ananias is afraid, but God reassures him that Saul is “a chosen instrument of mine.” God had sovereignly decided that Saul would convert and carry out God’s special purpose, and God had not consulted Saul’s free will.

Not only does God save Saul, but He saves him for the purpose of preaching the gospel, and that is what Saul begins to do immediately upon his conversion. Thus, God’s will is effectual in Saul’s life. When God chooses a man or woman for His purposes, those purposes get accomplished. And we can trust that this is true in our lives, even if we may not know God’s purposes, or though those purposes may involve pain and affliction. We may implore God in His sovereignty to have His way with us. As the hymn says, “Change my heart, O God, make it ever true; change my heart, O God, may I be like You.”

-D

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Written by Michael Duenes

May 19, 2015 at 4:38 am

Turning Every One of You

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As I’ve been reading through Acts, God’s sovereignty has come clear in a more global sense. In other words, we see that God is directing all the growth and outreach of the new church.

For example, in Acts 1, God directs who is to replace Judas among the twelve apostles. In Acts 2, God shows his power over human tongues, giving the young believers the ability to speak new languages so that the gospel can go forth. God also “adds” souls to the church. In Acts 3, Peter, on the way to the Temple, says to a beggar: “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” Healing in Jesus’ name means Jesus is the sovereign power behind the healing. Indeed, Peter tells the amazed crowd: “Why do you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk?” Peter concludes that “God raised up His Servant [Jesus] and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.” God does the turning. 

In Acts 4, Peter and John are hauled before the Jewish leaders and told to stop preaching about Jesus. Having been duly threatened, they pray that they will ignore the threats and keep preaching. “And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.” God gives power for them to preach so boldly. Of course, in Acts 5, God takes Annias and Sapphira’s lives by His sovereign act, and also frees the apostles from prison so that they can return to preaching Jesus. In Acts 6, God gives Stephen power to work signs and miracles, and also gives him such strength in his witness that the Jewish people “were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.”

All of this serves as a brief illustration of the way that God sovereignly orchestrated all the growth of His young Church. His strategy prevails and He moves things forward. He is the one who allows persecution, and delivers from it. The Church is His project and plan. We do well to remember it today.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

May 17, 2015 at 5:47 am

You Won’t Be Able To Stop Them

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The death of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 shows God’s sovereignty over life and death. Clearly this couple did not die a “natural death,” but then again, there is no such thing as a purely “natural death,” seeing as Christ controls when we are born and when we die.

God continued to work sovereign miracles by the hand of St. Peter, bringing people to salvation. We see that God opens the door of the prison where Peter is being kept, so that Peter is freed. Does this not show that God controls every circumstance of our lives, every molecule in existence?

God’s sovereignty is seen also in what Gamaliel says to the Jewish leaders. He explains to them that they should let the apostles go free, for if the apostolic preaching is of human origin, it will fail, just as other recent Jewish cult leaders failed. But if their preaching is from God, “you won’t be able to stop them, and you may even discover that you are fighting against God!” Indeed, once God sets about doing something, you cannot stop him. He is sovereign, and gloriously so.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

May 7, 2015 at 4:52 am

By God’s Hand and Plan

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In Acts 4, Peter and John are hauled before the Jewish leaders and ordered to stop speaking in Jesus’ name. They famously reply that they must listen to God and not to men. The leaders threaten them some more and send them away, to which the apostles and other believers respond:

And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,

   “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’

for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”

The very first thing the believers speak is an affirmation of God’s sovereignty, seen in the fact that He made heaven and earth and everything in them. God speaks a sovereign word about what is to come, and how the peoples will rebel. Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel set themselves against Jesus, to kill Him, because that is what God’s “hand and plan had predestined to take place.” God’s control is made explicit here.

The wicked events against Jesus were all set up and controlled by God. Indeed, the prophecies in Psalm 2 above were ordained to come to pass by God’s rulership over history. Thus, even the negative things in this world and in our lives come about from the sovereign hand of God. God’s hand and plan predestines the events of our lives. We certainly make choices, as did Pilate, Herod and the others. But our choices are constrained by God’s sovereign choices and plans. And those choices and plans are good, we can be sure.

God’s sovereignty was a bedrock belief by the apostles, one which gave them great encouragement and boldness. It should do the same for us, which is why I am emphasizing it recently. When God’s church begins to go wobbly on God’s utter sovereignty, she goes wobbly in her witness and influence in her communities.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

May 4, 2015 at 4:45 am

What God Predicted Would Happen

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In Acts 3, St. Peter gives an extended meditation on the outworking of God’s plan in history. Having healed a crippled man by God’s power, Peter says to the Jews:

But what God predicted through the mouth of all the prophets—that His Messiah would suffer—He has fulfilled in this way. Therefore repent and turn back, so that your sins may be wiped out, that seasons of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus, who has been appointed for you as the Messiah. Heaven must welcome Him until the times of the restoration of all things, which God spoke about by the mouth of His holy prophets from the beginning. Moses said: The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from among your brothers. You must listen to Him in everything He will say to you. And everyone who will not listen to that Prophet will be completely cut off from the people. “In addition, all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those after him, have also announced these days.

The events in which Peter and the other apostles are involved are events which fulfill prophecies. This means that they are sovereignly ordained by God to come to pass, as indeed they are doing, just as Jesus’ death sovereignly came to pass. This is how history works, as an overarching plan and purpose of God among humankind. This is true even when godless cultural and academic mobs seem to be gaining the ascendancy, when the functionaries of pagan sexuality are having their way in their arrogance. God is fulfilling His purposes, and we need not fear.

The Scriptures may not have “announced” our days specifically, as they did the days of Acts, but our days, and the course of events in our lives among the nations, are surely ruled by God’s sovereign hand just as much. As St. Paul says elsewhere, “From one man [God] has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and He has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live.” (Acts 17:26).

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

May 3, 2015 at 6:39 am