The Open Door

In our everyday life, we tend to move forward without much pause. We make decisions and act on those decisions. We decide on a restaurant and eat at that restaurant. We decide on an activity, and we pursue that activity. These choices are simple and straightforward.

But occasionally, we encounter bigger decisions that make us nervous. In those moments, we fear a misstep. We fear picking the wrong college or choosing the wrong career or marrying the wrong person. How do we know what to do?

In these situations, Christians often make decisions based on the presence (or absence) of the now-famous “open door.” If there is an “open door,” that option must be from the Lord, and if the door is closed, well…you get the picture. But is this right? Is this biblical decision-making? If the door is closed, does that always mean you should give up? Or, if the door is open, does that always mean you should walk through it?

I have been considering these questions and the apostle Paul’s use of the “open door” concept. I will refrain from drawing any definitive conclusions for you, but I would like to at least draw your attention to a few situations in Paul’s life where he mentions an open door.

Praying for an Open Door
Paul writes to the Colossians and asks them to pray for him. In particular, he requests, “At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison” (Colossians 4:3, ESV). Though Paul was not averse to hard work, he also knew that God must be at work. God needed to open a door. So, Paul prayed and asked for prayer that a door may be opened to him.

But what happens when a door opens? How does Paul respond? In at least two cases, he responds in two different ways.

Walking In
On one occasion Paul decides to walk right through the open door. Paul says to the Corinthians that he has decided, “I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries” (1 Corinthians 16:8-9, ESV). In this case, Paul actually desired to see the Corinthians (the context of this excerpt), but he had decided to stay longer because there was an open door for ministry. His heart desired to see the Corinthians, but he could not resist the open door for ministry.

So, does Paul’s example here mean you should take every open door? Well, not necessarily.

Walking Away
In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he describes another episode in his life. Paul recounts, “When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia” (2 Corinthians 2:12-13, ESV). This example is a fascinating one because Paul says he had an open door in the Lord. It seemed to be a God-ordained open door. And yet, because of his concern for Titus, Paul had no peace; he could not stay. The Lord had provided an open door, but ultimately Paul concluded it was not for him.

What do these examples mean for you? I don’t know exactly. Maybe the decision before you is more complicated than you think; the opened or closed door is not the final answer. Or, maybe you are more free to make the decision than you realize; the door is open, but God is letting you make the decision.

John Frame on the Forensic Nature of Justification

John Frame (2013) discusses the forensic nature of justification in this way:

The language [for justification in the Westminster Larger Catechism] is forensic, that is, the language of a law court. In that court God is the Judge, and we are on trial for our sins – both the sin of Adam and the sins that we have committed in this life. The wages of sin is death, so clearly we deserve to die. But Jesus has taken that death penalty in our place. So the divine Judge turns to us and pronounces us not guilty. Indeed, he even goes beyond that, as a secular judge would never do, and says that we are positively righteous because of Christ. That is our justification.

It is important to distinguish between justification and sanctification, though Roman Catholic theology makes them overlap. In justification, God declares us righteous; in sanctification, he makes us righteous. Justification is forensic. It is about our legal status, not our inner character. For the important thing is that in justification God justifies theungodly, those who by their inner character are wicked. Contrary to Roman Catholicism, God does not justify us because he likes our inner character, even because he likes what he himself has done with us (our “infused” righteousness). He justifies us only because of Christ.

In Scripture, many passages indicate the forensic nature of justification. In Deuteronomy 25:1, judges in Israel are to justify the righteous and condemn the wicked. Clearly, this mean that judges are to declare the innocence of the righteous and the wickedness of the wicked. It cannot mean that judges are to make people righteous or wicked. In Luke 7:29, we read that some people “declared God just,” literally, “justified God” (as in the KJV), because of Jesus’ words. Clearly, that cannot mean that the people made God just. “Declared God just” is the correct translation.

In Romans 4:5, God “justifies the ungodly” apart from works. Since it is apart from works, justify cannot mean “to make righteous,” only “to declare righteous.” In Romans 8:33-34 and other passages, the word justify is the opposite of condemn. But condemn means “to declare someone guilty,” not “to make the person guilty.” Thus, it makes sense to take justify to mean “declare righteous.”

This is the consistent meaning of justify throughout Paul’s writings, when he is talking about the justification of sinners unto salvation (see Rom. 3:20, 26, 28; 5:1; 8:30; 10:4, 10; Gal. 2:15; 3:24) (pp. 966-967).

What then do we make of the relationship between sanctification and justification? Frame (2013) later notes that “justification, adoption, and subjective salvation are ‘inseparable.’ They are not synonymous, nor is one the ground of the other. But they are never found apart, and each proves the presence of the others. The point is this: that the redeemed man is justified, adopted, and sanctified” (p. 971).

Frame, J. M. (2013). Systematic theology: An introduction to Christian belief. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing.

Clarify the Gospel

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“[W]hen we assume the Gospel instead of clarifying it, people who profess Christianity but don’t understand or obey the Gospel are cordially allowed to presume their own conversion without examining themselves for evidence of it – which may amount to nothing more than a blissful damnation. Our ministries are ultimately about ‘ensur[ing] salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you’ (1 Tim. 4:16).”

Mark Dever and Paul Aelxander, The Deliberate Church: Building Your Ministry on the Gospel (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2005), 43.

The Cause Behind Our Unbelievable World

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“There can be no easily believable explanation for everything I’ve seen in this little ball-happy universe of ours. Occam’s well-worn razor will do us no good. There will be no ‘simplest’ explanation. A single world combining galaxies, black holes, Jerry Seinfeld, over 300,000 varieties of beetle, Shakespeare, adrenal glands, professional bowling, and the bizarre reproductive patterns of wasps (along with teams of BBC cameramen to document them), precludes easily palatable explanations.

“A neutral observer would not find this world to be believable. Ergo, the cause of said unbelievable world must place similar stretch marks on the imagination.”

N.D. Wilson, Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009), 4-5.