“The fields of youth are filled with flowers
The wine of youth is strong
What need have we to count the hours
The summer days are long”
From “The Road to Old Man’s Town" ~ Banjo Patterson
Jemimah paused at the archway to steady her nerves. The dining area lay at one end of the formal living room, separated from it by a wide fireplace. The frosted glass fitting above the table sent a mellow glow through the alcove while leaving the rest of the room in shadow. While the effect made it seem unfamiliar, Jemimah reassured herself it was still the same room where she sat for the Bible Study each Tuesday night.
And I’ve had to work through other difficult things from the Bible in here before, Jemimah reasoned as she waited for Michael to return, and there’s no reason to feel any more threatened tonight. It’s just another Bible study.”
That thought made her feel empty-handed, and she turned and ran along the hallway to Angie’s room. It took her a little while to retrieve her Bible from the bottom of her suitcase, and when she pulled it out she felt a sudden flush of heat as she remembered the decision certificate in the back.
Jemimah took a deep breath, lifted out her notebook and pen as well, and resolutely headed back to the dining room. It didn't matter what Michael thought was right or wrong - or even what she thought - it only mattered what the Bible said. And that was what she was hoping to find out now.
Michael already had his Bible spread open on the table in front of him, but he looked up and smiled when he saw Jemimah returning with her Bible and notebook in her hand.
"So, that’s where you got to," he said and pulled out the chair to his right for her. As she settled herself into the seat beside him, Michael cleared his throat.
"Jemimah, I really am sorry about the way I thrust all this on you earlier.” Despite the throat clearing, his voice was low and husky. "I really didn't mean it to come across so negatively toward you--"
"I know. Truly, I do," Jemimah cut him off quickly, her tears beginning to well up in response to his apology. From the moment she’d seen him by the door when she’d come from the shower, she’d seen the pain in his eyes - the pain she’d caused by reacting so emotionally to what he’d said. His words had hurt her, but as soon as he’d begun to explain himself to Angie, Jemimah had known that - right or wrong - Michael had had only the best motives in trying to make her see his point of view.
When he’d spoken about the teenagers he’d witnessed to, and the girl in his class who had been tragically killed - what he was saying almost made sense in that context, yet Jemimah couldn’t make it fit with what she’d always believed the Bible taught. But she trusted Michael, and right now was grateful he was willing to talk it all through with her.
“Okay, I’m ready,” Jemimah blinked back her tears and opened up her notebook in a business-like manner, keen to reassure him. “Can you - do you mind starting from the beginning again?”
"Not at all. Let me try and lay the foundation first, and then we’ll take it step by step from there." Michael pulled a lined notebook from the back of his own Bible, seamlessly slipping into teacher mode.
"Let's start with man." He wrote the word ‘MAN’ in capitals on the top of the page. "Or, if we're being politically correct . . . " he added 'all people' in brackets beside it and looked up at Jemimah.
"What does the Bible say about us?" he asked.
Jemimah said the first thing that came into her mind from Sunday School days. "That we're made in God's image?"
"Yup." Michael drew a bullet point under the heading and wrote 'made in God's image' beside it, then added an arrow that led to the next line. "Are we still in God's image?"
"Well, sort of. But it's spoiled by sin now."
Next to the arrow he noted 'God's image in man corrupted by sin' and then asked, "How did that happen?"
"Ummm," Jemimah let out a slow breath as she realised she was going to have to keep her thoughts marshalled.
Michael looked up and grinned. "You thought I was going to do all the work of sorting this out, did you?"
Jemimah chuckled, the last of her awkwardness evaporating. "I guess in the first place, it was when Adam and Eve sinned against God in the Garden of Eden by disobeying him by eating the forbidden fruit."
"Yes, you're right. They chose to reject God's rightful authority over them and trust their own assessment of what would be good instead. But what does that have to do with us?"
"That's why we're all born sinful?" Once again Jemimah knew it was the right answer, but as soon as she said it, the whole idea of “original sin” seemed strange - in the same way a familiar word sometimes looked weird once she’d written it out several times.
Michael nodded then wrote: Adam and Eve's sin as representatives of the human race brings death to all. "Let's note a couple of passages that establish that clearly, since this is the foundation that we're going to build on top of. Can you think of any?"
He looked at Jemimah keenly and she wondered if he had picked up on her momentary doubt.
She thought for a moment. "Since through the one man, the many were made sinners ..."
"A-ha," he said, thumbing through his bible. "That’s in Romans, I think. He flicked to the concordance
in the back of his Bible. "Yes, Romans chapter 5, verse 19. Let's read that."
As he looked up the book of Romans, Jemimah noticed how the margins of his Bible were crammed with neat pencil notes of words and references. Jemimah turned to the passage in her own Bible, finding the place quickly in the familiar pages.
“This whole section from verse 12 is helpful,” Michael said.
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—
“But I’ll just note down the passage and you can read it through later. We’ll go down to verse 18 and 19.
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.
Can you think of any others?”
Jemimah thought for a minute, then shook her head. “No, not at the moment.”
"Okay, I’ll give you another one from the New Testament – it’s in 1st Corinthians chapter 15," Michael said, and paused while Jemimah turned to it. “Why don’t you read from verse 21 to 26?”
She nodded and read:
For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
Michael wrote down the references on his notepad and referred to the concordance in the back of his Bible again. “I’ll just give you a couple from the old Testament too. Here, in Psalm 51 the psalmist writes:
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
and in Genesis 8 God says that:
the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth
So we've established that because of Adam’s sin, we're all born sinners in the sight of God.”
Jemimah nodded in agreement, her fleeting qualms about the concept of the human race inheriting Adam's sin put to rest by the clear reminders from the Scriptures that that was simply how it was.
“So the image of God is marred in man,” Michael went on, “But to what extent? How does it affect us?"
Jemimah tapped the top of her metal pen against her lip, too engrossed with the conversation to think of taking her own notes.
"We're sinful, and we can't please God any more. We choose sin instead of choosing what is good. Our sin deserves punishment, so that's why Jesus had to die on the cross to pay for our sins so that we could be forgiven and go to heaven."
Michael nodded. "Our sinful nature is inherited at conception, but a lot of people think of it more along the line of a crippling disease, that makes it hard for us to do good - that we need a bit of God's help to reach him. But the Bible makes it clear our condition is far worse than a crippling disease - we are not just spiritually sick or impaired, we are dead. Completely, totally, stone cold spiritually dead. There is nothing good in us, no thought to please God. That’s what God thought before he sent the great flood in judgement on the earth. It’s in Genesis . . . six.”
Michael read the words:
“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
and then turned the pages of his Bible again.
“And things weren’t any better in New Testament times. Here is the description of mankind in Romans chapter 3:
As it is written:
and a few verses later:
"There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands,
no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one."
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
And add to that in Isaiah God says all our righteous deeds are like filthy rags
and in Jeremiah that the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.
In Ezekiel God describes his rebellious people as having a heart of stone
and back in the New Testament, here in Ephesians 2
it couldn’t be clearer what our spiritual state is before salvation.”
He paused, and drew Jemimah’s attention to the passage before he began to read.
"And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked
and again a few verses later he repeats:
we were dead in our trespasses.”
Michael noted down each reference as he read it, and beside each one a couple of words from the text. Jemimah glanced at the list: "only evil continually”, “none righteous”, "heart of stone", “dead in transgressions and sins”.
"Now this is where it all becomes very relevant to salvation. How dead is dead?" Michael held her eyes steadily for a few moments and then went on.
"A lot of people hold the idea that while man is sinful, he is yet able to act in a way that is spiritually good and is able to turn from his sins and choose God for himself. They believe God’s grace through the death of Jesus takes all men part of the way toward God - but only those who complete the final part themselves by choosing God will become Christians and be saved. That view of salvation is known as synergism."
He wrote 'SYNERGISM' on the next line on his note paper and then turned to Jemimah. "Have you heard that term before?"
She shook her head. "No. What does it mean?"
"It’s from the Greek words “syn” - meaning together, and “ergon” - to work. Synergism means two or more parties working together to bring something about. A co-operative work. When it is applied to salvation it is describing the idea that man does his part, and God does his part and together salvation is obtained. Man can't do it without God, and God can't do it without man. This is the understanding behind the teaching that Jesus can’t save you unless you first open the door of your heart and invite him in."
Jemimah frowned in thought, thinking back to Michael's comment in the ute on the trip home. A God who can't save unless we let him. She always believed that God could do anything - but at the same time had believed that a person had to turn to God, make a choice or a decision to open their heart, before God could save them. Could salvation really be the one thing God did not have full control over?
"And that's why laying the biblical foundation of the condition of man is so very important," Michael drew a circle around the last few verses he'd noted on the paper.
“Dead in transgressions and sins. Dead. Dead”.
"How dead is dead?" he asked again. "Can we be just a little bit dead, so we are able to still reach out a little of the way to God? No," he shook his head. “The Bible makes it clear again and again that we are completely spiritually dead. Before God saves us, we are all utterly lost in our sins, wilfully and continually rebelling against our Creator. 'No-one seeks God’
Unsaved people are not in a position to make God-pleasing spiritual choices. In fact the sinner hates the light, and will not even come into it.”
He spread out his hands in appeal. “How can a spiritually dead man choose Christ? How can a dead man repent of his sins? How can a corpse call on God to save him? He can't, it is simply impossible. If the Bible is true and Adam and Eve and all their descendants died spiritually - then there is nothing man can do to bring about his own salvation.”
Jemimah ran her tongue across her lips, wishing she'd brought a glass of water in with her. The Scriptures they'd read together certainly seemed to support what Michael was saying, but . . .
"If that is true, then how can anyone turn to God?" she asked, her tone unintentionally sharp.
"With man this is impossible, but with God everything is possible, " Michael quoted the words of Jesus with an encouraging smile. "God and only God can raise the dead to life."
He wrote the word 'MONERGISM' beneath 'SYNERGISM' on the notepaper. "Can you guess what monergism means?"
"Well," Jemimah began, "I know mon refers to one, like monorail, or monotone or monopoly – and you said before that the erg part meant work - so would monergism be like just one person working to achieve something?"
"Exactly. And that one person who works to bring about new life in the spiritually dead is God. The dead can't do a thing for themselves - not even the smallest thing. Just like the physically dead can't do the tiniest thing - not even move their little finger a fraction of a centimetre, so the spiritually dead can do nothing. If anyone is going to act to bring about salvation, it is not going to be the dead person. That's why I believe that monergism is the only biblical understanding of salvation."
"Are those words - synergism and monergism - in the Bible? I've never noticed them before."
“No, they're not - they're just theological terms that are useful to label exactly what we're talking about. Like the word 'Trinity' is never used in the Bible, although it is very clear from the Scriptures that God exists in the three persons of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit," Michael explained. "But just like we see the reality of the triune nature of God throughout Scripture, we also clearly see that God alone is able to bring about new life in the sinner. A great place to start is the Gospel of John with Jesus’ own words. Would you turn to that with me?"
Jemimah's well used Bible opened in John nearly of its own accord, a rainbow of colour highlighting her special verses as she turned the pages.
"Okay, I'll just mention briefly in passing from chapter one about who the children of God are – verses 12 and 13:
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
But the part I really wanted to show you is in chapter 3
- when Nicodemas, an important Pharisee, comes under cover of darkness to speak with Jesus. After Nicodemas acknowledges that Jesus is a teacher that has come from God, Jesus teaches him something completely unexpected – that unless a man is born again he cannot even see – let alone enter the kingdom of heaven. There simply cannot be any understanding of God’s reign unless God first opens the eyes of the heart.
When Nicodemas asks Jesus how a grown man could possibly re-enter his mother’s womb to be ‘born again’, Jesus makes it clear that he is not speaking about physical birth – but about being born again spiritually."
Michael put ‘BORN AGAIN’ and the Bible reference on his list. "These days people tend to use the term 'born again' a little casually, as though it is just another way of saying 'Christian' or a certain type of Christian. But Jesus very deliberately describes salvation with this picture of a new birth. New life - not something a dead person can do, or new clothes or a new direction for a dead person - but a whole new life."
Jemimah read the passage in front of her again. "But Nicodemus didn't understand, did he?"
"He responded the way many people do," Michael replied. " 'But how can I do that?' I can almost see Jesus shrugging as he says 'That’s the point, you can't. It is work of the Spirit - just like the wind, you can't see it or know where it comes from or goes to, but you can see the effects of its power."
While Jemimah stared at the verses, Michael added, “You see, the new birth is all of God - we can contribute no more to our spiritual birth than we could to bringing about our physical existence – our natural birth - in the first place.”
"But then why does the Bible tell us to turn to God? I know I turned to God."
"You desired Christ, felt your sin and longed to be saved because he first breathed life into your dead soul. You wouldn't have cared to obey his command to turn to him otherwise. You know the verses in John’s letters:
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. and
We love because he first loved us.
Regeneration precedes faith - new spiritual life must occur before we can turn to God. I think a wonderful illustration is Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead."
Michael skipped back through the pages of his Bible, and Jemimah leaned closer to see the passage he was pointing to. “Here in John 11. When Jesus arrives in Bethany, Lazarus has been in the tomb four days already. He was really and truly and completely dead. His sister even commented that by now his corpse would have begun to smell. The wording of that in the old King James Version always tickles me, “but Lord, by this time he stinketh!”
He chuckled and then cleared his throat, “Anyway, there was no doubt he was dead, but when Jesus called him he came out of the tomb, fully and completely alive. How would Lazarus describe what happened? 'I heard Jesus calling my name, and when I saw I was in a tomb and wrapped in grave clothes like a dead man I came out to him.’ Would someone then say, ‘So, you were dead but because you got up and walked to him Jesus gave you life?’ No, of course not. We come to Jesus BECAUSE he gives us a new living heart to feel our sin and our desperate plight; he takes away our blindness and deafness - then when we hear his voice we come. He doesn’t give us spiritual life as a reward for our act of faith in coming to him. That faith - the working of the new life he has given us - is the gift of grace, entirely unearned by us.”
He leaned on his elbows, his face turned to look intently into her eyes.
“You see, this is why understanding the doctrine of monergism - that salvation is entirely the work of God - matters so much to how we approach evangelism. If we have the idea that making that final step of salvation is all up to man, then it makes sense to dress up the Gospel to make it appealing to sinful men. Forget taking up Christ’s cross and dying to self - it becomes all about them - how they can be happier, have a better life, escape hell. Instead of focussing on God and his holiness and mourning our sin, the focus becomes man and what is attractive to him. Christianity is constantly being re-invented to reflect whatever today’s culture considers cool, hip or entertaining.”
Jemimah nodded, so absorbed with what he was saying that she could almost have forgotten to breathe.
“We can be confident in the power of the biblical Gospel,” Michael went on, “the Gospel that was offensive to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks. We sound out Christ’s voice as we speak of God’s holiness, as we speak of the law and our sin, as we speak of man’s need for salvation and know that it will be effective to those who hear it - just like---" he broke off suddenly, and Jemimah jumped as Nan put a tray with two cups and a plate of biscuits in front of them and sat down opposite. With their heads bent together over the Bibles and Michael's pages of notes they hadn't even been aware of her arrival.
As though waking from a dream, Jemimah sat quickly upright, even more aware of Michael’s nearness now the intensity of their discussion had been diffused.
"Maybe it's time you two wound up for tonight?" Nan suggested, nodding meaningfully toward the clock. “I’m sorry I didn’t bring this through much earlier. I got caught on the phone with my cousin in Scotland. It’s only early afternoon there - not getting on to midnight like it is here.”
"Oh, dear!" Jemimah was dismayed to see how much time had passed. "It only seemed like a few minutes - I'm so sorry, Michael."
"Don't worry about it - it's been my pleasure. Obviously we've only scratched the surface, but it's a good start. Have you got any more questions or shall we leave it there for now?"
Jemimah put her cup on the table without taking a sip. What he'd said made sense - and she certainly saw it in the Bible - but the answer to her original question of how you could become a Christian seemed further away than ever.
© R. L. Brown 2008