Pastor David B. Curtis


Spiritual Understanding

Acts 13:42-48

Delivered 06/23/2013

For our study this morning I want us to look at a question that Don Preston has been dealing with in his morning musings. I received a text last week with a link to Don's Morning Musing asking me what I thought about what Don had to say. So this morning's message is what I have to say about this subject.

The question was asked Don, "Do we today need the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit in order to understand the Bible?" To which Don answered, "NO, we do not. What we need is to understand the proper rules of hermeneutics." Although I certainly agree with Don that we must apply the rules of hermeneutics to understand the Bible, I also believe that the Spirit must enlighten us to the truth.

The first thing we have to understand in this question is who is the "we"? Is the "we" referring to believers or non-believers? Either way I think the answer is, "Yes." Unbelievers do not have the Spirit and cannot understand the Bible. All believers have the Holy Spirit, but that does not mean that they understand the Bible automatically. So, much of what Don says I agree with. Many today are saying, "The Spirt showed me this or that," and what they are saying is totally off base.

Don says:

"There are many people out there, good people to be sure, who take the position that man in sin, unregenerated man so to speak, is simply incapable of understanding the Bible, believing the Bible, and obeying the Lord unless God first opens his heart and mind to understand the Scriptures. I believe this is a fallacious view." ("Must We Have the Holy Spirit To Understand Scripture?--Part 3"

The position that Don calls fallacious is the view that I hold, this is the Reformed view. There are many different views of soteriology within the Church. The Pelagian view says that regeneration is a moral transformation, a work of man. Most liberals today hold this view. It was condemned by the Church in 431 at the Counsel of Ephesus. Practically, the Pelagian says, "I can save myself by my works." Adam was the first Pelagian; he tried to cover his sin with fig leaves. God killed animals and clothed Adam and Eve with the skins to picture Christ's righteousness.

The Catholic view says that regeneration is accomplished by baptism, so it is a work of man through a divine ordinance. The Church of Christ also holds the view of baptismal regeneration. The Arminian view is called "semi-pelagianism": Regeneration is not exclusively God's or man's work--it is the fruit of man's choice to cooperate with the divine influences. They teach that the work of man, a decision to trust Christ, is prior to the work of God. This view is held by most evangelicals. They believe it was necessary for them, in an act of their own will, to cooperate with the grace found in the preaching of the Word.

Then there is the position that we hold here at Berean Bible Church, called the "Reformed view," which teaches that "regeneration is of the Lord"; God made us alive who were dead; God made us willing who were unwilling. Salvation from beginning to end is a work of God, according to the Reformed view.

To prove his argument that man does not need the Spirit to understand the Bible Don uses:

Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. Acts 17:11 NASB

Don says, "We have unregenerate listeners. There is no discussion whatsoever either here or anywhere else for that matter about God touching their hearts, opening their hearts, for them to understand the Scriptures. [Now Don knows the Scripture as well as anyone I know, so I assume that he is speaking here strictly of the Bereans.] The testimony of Scripture is, Paul preached the Scriptures, they listened to what Paul had to say, they took what was said, they went to the Old Covenant and there they compared what the Old Covenant had to say with what Paul was saying, and then they accepted it as the Word of God, and they accepted Jesus as Messiah." Now unless we can find some additional testimony about these individuals that God had in fact opened their hearts and opened their minds, then here we have a real good clear cut case."

This is an argument from silence, which is a conclusion based on silence or lack of contrary evidence. The text doesn't say it, so it didn't happen? The argument from silence is a logical fallacy. It's true the text here doesn't tell us that Yahweh opened the hearts of the Bereans to understand the Scripture, but we must apply the hermenutical principle of the "Analogy of Faith." We must interpret this text in light of Scripture as a whole. And I think that Scripture as a whole clearly teaches that unless Yahweh opens the heart of man he will not, he cannot respond to His Word. And the Bereans are no exception. So then, we would understand that the reason they "received the word" was because Yahweh opened their hearts.

Let's look at what the Bible says about man and his ability to understand the Scriptures. I see the Bible as teaching that fallen man, in his natural state, lacks all power to commune with God, because man is spiritually dead. Apart from Yahweh giving life, man cannot even understand God. This idea is taught in:

But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him; 38 that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke, "LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT? AND TO WHOM HAS THE ARM OF THE LORD BEEN REVEALED?" 39 For this cause they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, John 12:37-39 NASB

They did not believe, because they could not believe. It wasn't because they lacked an understanding of hermeneutics, it was because they were spiritually dead. Paul teaches this same thing in:

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 1 Corinthians 2:14 NASB

Notice carefully what this verse says, "Natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God...". That would definitely include His Word. Paul says, "He cannot understand them." Who is the natural man? The word "natural" comes from the Greek word psuchikos. Jude uses this same Greek word:

These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded [psuchikos], devoid of the Spirit. Jude 1:19 NASB

Jude says, "worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit." So, the natural man is the man without the Spirit of God. God's effectual calling--regeneration, is absolutely necessary, because apart from it, man has no ability to understand or desire the things of God.

Two things are true of the natural man. First of all, he does not "accept" the things of the Spirit of God. The word that is used here for "accept" is a word used for receiving guests. His attitude toward spiritual things is like your attitude toward an unwanted guest visiting your home. This man does not welcome the things of the Spirit, because he considers them foolish. Secondly, the natural man cannot "understand" the things of the Spirit. He can't know them, because they are spiritually discerned. The word "appraised" is a legal term that was used for a preliminary hearing, and it came to mean: "scrutinize, to examine, or make a judgement." The natural man has no capacity to spiritually evaluate these things, because he does not have the Spirit of God. The natural man is like a man trying to pick up a radio station without a radio receiver-- he cannot do it. He does not have the equipment to receive spiritual things, because he does not have the Holy Spirit. This is not Calvinism, this is Bibleism. Notice what John said:

Whoever believes that Yeshua is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. 1 John 5:1 NASB

"Whoever believes [present tense] that Yeshua is the Christ has been born [perfect tense] of God." Now someone will say, "Well, that's just a general truth, that every believer has been born again." Well, you must notice the tenses. The moment that you believed in Yeshua Christ, you did so because you had been (past tense) born of God. Let's look at the testimony of the Book of Acts as to man's ability to understand the Scriptures. In chapter 13 Paul and Barnabas are in the City of Antioch. This is part of Paul's first missionary journey. They go into the synagogue, and Paul preaches the Word. In his message he traced the history of the Jewish nation from the time of their deliverance from Egypt through the family of David, from whose loins came Yeshua, the Messiah. The apostle spoke of the rejection of Yeshua by the chief priests, His crucifixion and resurrection, and the forgiveness of sin that God offers through faith in Him. Paul preached that God has given to Yeshua the sure mercies of David:

"And as for the fact that He raised Him up from the dead, no more to return to decay, He has spoken in this way: 'I WILL GIVE YOU THE HOLY and SURE blessings OF DAVID.' Acts 13:34 NASB

This means the Messianic Kingdom was being established. Then He gives a warning from Habakkuk. Paul is preaching: "You must trust in Yeshua as God's Messiah or be judged." So how did they react to his sermon?:

And as Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people kept begging that these things might be spoken to them the next Sabbath. Acts 13:42 NASB

Those gathered that day at the synagogue wanted to hear more of what Paul was saying. They asked that these two return the next Sabbath, and that they continue with their teaching.

Now when the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and of the God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, were urging them to continue in the grace of God. Acts 13:43 NASB

Notice what happened after the meeting ended--"many...followed Paul and Barnabas." The word "followed" is from the Greek word akoloutheo, which means: "to be in the same way with, i.e. to accompany, especially as a disciple." I think Luke is telling us that they followed them as disciples. This is strengthened in the last part of the verse; "Urging them to continue in the grace of God." This signifies that they responded to God's loving kindness and mercy, His unmerited favor, received forgiveness and justification in His Name, and were being urged to continue in it. To continue assumes that they got there, right? You can't continue to be where you aren't.

And the next Sabbath nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of God. Acts 13:44 NASB

Nearly the whole city came to hear the next Sabbath, and verse 49 indicates that the whole region heard of the Word of the Lord. This is a revival! These believers went everywhere telling everyone about it, so that the whole city knew of these men and what they had to say. The crowds were lined up outside the synagogue.

It was one thing to have a few Gentiles present, those who converted to Judaism and thus who did not threaten the system. But now the place was flooded with a bunch of pagans. This little "Jewish island" situated in the middle of a Gentile sea seemed to be sinking out of sight. These people were threatening the Jews very identity:

But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy, and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming. Acts 13:45 NASB

I don't think that their jealousy is related to a popularity contest. I doubt they were jealous of Paul and Barnabas. They were jealous for God. It did not seem right that all these idol-worshipers should gather to join in the worship of the synagogue.

The word "jealousy" is from the Greek word zelos. It is used 17 times in the New Testament. It is translated as: "envy, jealous, covet, zealous, and desire." It comes from the Greek verb that means: "to boil." It is used both favorably and unfavorably in Scripture. Here it is not used favorably. That's a sad state, and when they saw the whole city full of Gentiles come to hear the Gospel, they began to "boil." Nothing infuriated them more than the privileges of God extended to uncircumcised Gentiles.

The main issue seems to be Paul's willingness to receive Gentiles directly into the people of God. He offers them an equal share in the spiritual blessings of the Messiah's Kingdom simply based on faith, without requiring that they become Jews first, so the Jews speak out against Paul's message; they contradict, deny, and speak against what Paul was teaching. They even blaspheme--this has to do with abusive and degrading language directed towards Yeshua, whom Paul preached. Most of the Jews in Antioch did not believe that Yeshua was the Messiah. They were "blaspheming" by saying that He was not.

And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. Acts 13:46 NASB

"The word of God should be spoken to you first"--when our Lord gave His apostles their commission to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature, He told them they must begin first at Jerusalem (Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47). In obedience, therefore, to this command, the apostles (in every place where they preached) made their first offers of the Gospel to the Jews.

"You repudiate it, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life"--the Jews' rejection of the Gospel was a decision to judge themselves unfit for eternal life, the life of the age to come. They have pronounced their own sentence.

The Gentile mission is not "plan B." Paul proves, from the Scriptures, that the Scriptures authorize them to turn from the Jews and go to the Gentiles if the Jews refuse this message. He quotes Isaiah:


This is a quote from Isaiah 49:6, which in context was to include the restoring of Israel to her land (vs. 8). This meant that the land was being restored in Christ, which meant it was a spiritual land, a heavenly land. In the First Testament a phrase used over and over is "in the land" (322 times in the NASB) whereas in the New Testament the phrase "in Christ" is found 90 times in the NASB. Christ is our dwelling place!

And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. Acts 13:48 NASB

No more second-class citizenship in the kingdom, as proselytes; no more being under the Law, no more working in a futile effort to earn God's favor. If the Jews were angered by grace, which they were, the Gentiles were overjoyed by it.

Now notice carefully what the inspired text says, "As many as had been appointed to eternal life believed"--he could have just said, "And many believed" as he has so many times in this book, but he is careful to tell us that "those appointed to eternal life believed." Luke uses predestination terminology to point out here, as elsewhere, that this faith is, above all, God's work. Salvation is of the Lord.

The commentators are divided on this, of course. One group of commentators view this as referring to "The doctrine of election--to God's ordaining men to eternal life. I would be in that camp. Another group views this to their being disposed themselves to embrace the Gospel--to those among them who did not reject and despise the Gospel, but who were disposed and inclined to embrace it. They were disposed, but not of themselves. They were disposed to believe, because God gave them a new heart.

Those who argue against the plain meaning of this text say that the Greek verb used here, "tasso,"does not imply predestination. This word should be somewhat familiar to us, does it ring a bell? We're all familiar with the word hupotasso, which means: "to line up under." Hupotasso comes from two Greek words: the word hupo, which means: "under," and tasso, which means: "to set in place." In other words, the word means: "to set something in place up under something else.

Tasso is used but eight times in the New Testament. The etymology of the word tasso is: "to place; to place in a certain rank or order." Its meaning is derived from arranging or disposing a body of soldiers in regular order; to arrange in military order. The word is used to denote the following things: To command, or to designate (Matthew 28:16; Acts 22:10; 28:23); to institute, constitute, or appoint (Romans 13:1); to determine, to take counsel, to resolve (Acts 15:2); to subject to the authority of another (Luke 7:8); to addict to, to devote to (1 Corinthians 16:15).

From these eight texts we learn that the word is never used to denote an internal disposition or inclination arising from one's own self. It does not mean that they disposed themselves to embrace eternal life. It has the idea of an ordering, disposing, or arrangement from without, i.e., from some other source than the individual himself; as of a soldier, who is arranged or classified according to the will of the officer.

Tasso does not actually refer to an eternal decree, or directly to the "Doctrine of Election"; but that may be inferred from it; it refers to their being disposed to embrace eternal life. This implies the Doctrine of Election. It was because of God's disposing that they embraced eternal life.

This idea of predestination is seen in many manuscripts. The Vulgate has, "As many as were foreordained to eternal life believed." And there is papyrus evidence to indicate that the verb "tasso" means: "to inscribe or enroll," and that it is used to make out a list, and what it's saying is that as many as were put on the list for eternal life believed.

We see this idea of the elect being on a list in:

Indeed, true comrade, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. Philippians 4:3 NASB

What is the book of life? It is only mentioned here and in Revelation in the New Testament. Some say that everyone's name is written in the book, and if they do not accept Christ, their name is erased at death. This verse, in Philippians 4:3, makes no sense if everyone alive is in the Book of Life. What can we learn about this book from Scripture? When are the names written in the Book of Life?

Everyone living on earth will worship it except those whose names are written in the Book of Life belonging to the Lamb slaughtered before the world was founded. Revelation 13:8 CJB

We see here that there are some people who are not written in the Book of Life. When was Christ slain? From the foundation of the world. We can see from this verse and Revelation 17:8 that some are not in the Book of Life, and those who are have been there from eternity past. That old Baptist Hymn, "There's a New Name Written Down in Glory", is wrong! There are no NEW names written in the book. Those written have been there from the foundation of the world.

And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. Acts 13:48 NASB

Luke is clearly teaching a Doctrine of Election or predestination here. You may not understand it, you may not like it, but the Bible clearly teaches that God chooses people to salvation. Paul tells the Thessalonians that they were chosen for salvation:

But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. 2 Thessalonians 2:13 NASB

Why is it so hard for people to accept that God chooses people for salvation? I think it's because realizing that God chooses people ultimately destroys the idea that an individual can get to heaven of his own volition; he has to be chosen.

The Doctrine of Election is taught throughout the Scriptures:

"For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. Deuteronomy 7:6 NASB

Yahweh chose Israel. Yahweh wasn't sitting up in heaven saying, "I hope some nation will believe in me and choose me." Yahweh says, "I choose you, because I love you.":

"For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. Deuteronomy 14:2 NASB

The nation Israel was elect, chosen by Yahweh. Why? Because Yahweh willed to. Do you have a problem with that? Why Abraham? Did Yahweh choose him because he was godly? No! Abraham was a pagan moon worshiper when God called him. Paul began his sermon at the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch by referring to God's choice of the fathers of the nation Israel (13:17). Why did God choose you? The "why" rests in God's will. Yahweh doesn't call the good people, because there are none:

The fool has said in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; There is no one who does good. 2 The LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men, To see if there are any who understand, Who seek after God. 3 They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, not even one. Psalms 14:1-3 NASB

Yahweh chose His people Israel by His own free choice. The idea that man has some personal integrity and freedom that God dare not violate is the reverse of what the Bible teaches:

How blessed is the one whom Thou dost choose, and bring near to Thee, To dwell in Thy courts. We will be satisfied with the goodness of Thy house, Thy holy temple. Psalms 65:4 NASB

It is clear from the Scripture that the nature of our election rests in God's sovereign choice:

In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we might be, as it were, the first fruits among His creatures. James 1:18 NASB

You are a Christian, because God has chosen you. You might think that you are a Christian because you believed the Gospel, but the only reason you believed the Gospel is because God chose you and gave you a new birth. God chooses, He appoints. That is why Luke tells us , " many as had been appointed to eternal life believed..."

God must do a supernatural work on the human heart in order for it to believe. Notice why it is that Lydia believes the Gospel:

And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled. 14 And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. Acts 16:13-14 NASB

This is the only place in the New Testament that uses the phrase "...opened her heart...," and the Bible gives the whole credit for this "opening" to God's power and not to man's will. Arminianism insists that man's free will must furnish the willingness or power, and the Bible says that the Holy Spirit of God furnishes that power or ability in the new birth.

Notice exactly what God did. God opened Lydia's heart (or gave her faith), so she was able to believe. Her natural mind was blind, her natural heart was averse to God, and her will was in bondage to sin and spiritual death. Only the power of God can free her from this spiritual depravity. The giving of this life and power is solely the work of God. Notice that the Bible explicitly gives God alone the credit for Lydia's heart being opened. It is impossible not to see that in this text, unless you simply refuse to accept what God clearly says.

Look at the words carefully: "the LORD OPENED her heart...." If you try to deny that the one single reason that Lydia understood and believed the Gospel was because God deliberately opened her heart and enabled her to believe, you are fighting God's Word. If you try to get man's "free will" as the one determining factor into this text, you are consciously corrupting the Word of God:

Apart from God "opening the heart," no one can in and of themselves come to God:

"No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:44 NASB

Yeshua clearly teaches here that "no one" can come to Him "unless" the Father draws him. No one comes unless God does something first. What is it that God does? Some have tried to interpret the word "draw" here as "call or invite." But this is not what the word "draw" means. The Greek word translated "draw" is helkuo, which means: "to drag." It is used eight times in the New Testament. To understand what it means, let's look at a few of its uses.

Simon Peter therefore having a sword, drew [helkuo] it, and struck the high priest's slave, and cut off his right ear; and the slave's name was Malchus. John 18:10 NASB

Now, did Peter invite or call his sword to come out? No! He grabbed it, and pulled it out.

But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged [helkuo] them into the market place before the authorities, Acts 16:19 NASB
But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag [helkuo] you into court? James 2:6 NASB

The usage of this word makes it very clear that helkuo means: "to draw by irresistible superiority." So, John is saying that no one comes to Christ unless the Father draws them by irresistible superiority.

A sinner absolutely cannot (notice it is not "will" not) come to Christ until God first does something in that sinner's nature. That "something" is what the Bible calls "regeneration," or the new birth, and it is the exclusive work of God, the Holy Spirit. Man has no part whatever in regeneration.

The Doctrine of Election is hard for man to accept. It's hard for man to acknowledge that his salvation is an act of God. In his fallen state, he wants to assume some responsibility, even if it's a small responsibility, for having believed. He wants some credit for having made the right choice. The Doctrine of Election is repulsive to us, because, by our standards, it seems unfair that God should, out of all the human beings, choose some at His own discretion to be saved, and not the rest. Man, in his fallen state, wants a part, because he wants to exercise his pride! Pink states, "The doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of God is a great battering-ram against human pride."

Not to us, O LORD, not to us, But to Thy name give glory Because of Thy lovingkindness, because of Thy truth. Psalms 115:1NASB

Calvin says, "We shall never be clearly persuaded, as we ought to be, that our salvation flows from the wellspring of God's free mercy until we come to know His eternal election, which illumines God's grace by this contrast: That He does not indiscriminately adopt all into the hope of salvation but gives to some what He denies to others."

I think it is important to believe in the Doctrine of Election if you are going to be involved in sharing the Gospel, as we all should. If you go out thinking that salvation depends on man's decision, you have no guarantee that anyone will decide to trust in Christ. As a matter of fact, you have the Bible's guarantee that none will trust in Christ, because it plainly states that none seek after God of their own free will (Romans 3:11). None come to Yeshua unless the Father draws them (John 6:44). And, the people you are trying to convince to trust in Christ are dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:1). So, good luck in trying to get them to trust in Christ.

But, if God has an elect people whom He chose for salvation before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4); if He has ordained that they will be saved by the proclamation of the Gospel (Romans 1:16); if He has the power to raise them from the dead and impart faith to them (Acts 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25); then you can share the Gospel with the confident faith that He will use the foolishness of the message preached to save some (1 Cor. 1:21).

The Gospel did not originate with religiously clever men thinking up how we can be reconciled with God. All of the world's religions that originate with man involve a system of human works that supposedly will bring us into harmony with God. Whether Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, or whatever, all these systems have one thing in common: They bring glory to man because salvation is by human works or merit.

But the Gospel is altogether different. It wipes out all ground for our boasting. It takes away every human work and attributes salvation to God alone, who chose us before the foundation of the world before we ever did any good work, including choosing Him. This is why the Doctrine of Election is crucial, because it alone humbles human pride.

Horatius Bonar, writes, "Faith is not work, nor merit, nor effort; but the cessation from all these, and the acceptance in place of them of what another has done--done completely, and forever" (Justification by Faith Alone, ed. by Don Kistler [Soli Deo Gloria], pp. 65-66).

So back to the original question: "Do we today need the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit in order to understand the Bible?" Don says, "No" and I say, "Yes". So who do you believe Don Preston or David Curtis? Neither, without first being a Berean and doing a study of your own. You need to take what you hear to the Scriptures to find out what it is that the Scripture supports. May

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