A tale of the things we believe and why we believe them
© Copyright 2020, Steve Sabin. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Episode 2: Brotherhood
It’s Tuesday night. Our acolyte has completed his homework assignment (reading John 6:44 and Acts 13:48) and is making his way across the floor to a corner table in a trendy brew pub in midtown where Thiely and four friends gather weekly to study the Bible. He’s greeted by Thiely and four others: Jake, Andre, Peter, and Xavier (who goes by X-man).
Jordan, our acolyte, is in italics. Thiely and the others are in bold.
[Thiely] Jordan – glad you made it. I was getting a little worried you were gonna be a no-show.
Sorry I’m late. Siri got me here fine, but I had trouble finding a parking place.
[Thiely] That’s my bad. I should’ve told you to get here 20 minutes before. Parking can be a real zoo. Sometimes I just punt and take a taxi. Anyway, guys, this is Jordan – a buddy from work and brother in Christ.
(The four all greet him warmly. Jake, like Thiely, is sporting a long, but immaculately manicured beard. Jake is in a plaid Carhartt shirt – Theily is in a black NOTW hoodie. Andre is bald and clean shaven, and from his heavily muscled build visible through the tight-fitting UnderArmor shirt, obviously a serious lifter. Peter looks very Fortune 500 and tailored – out of place with his companions. Balding, trim, and in his 60s, he looks like he came straight from a boardroom without stopping to change, but his tie is loose, and his jacket is off. X-man seems to be the artsy one of the bunch, wearing a Lamp Mode Records t-shirt and a huge cross necklace; he is also the only one with glasses – a pair of blue Warby Parker’s. His arms are covered in tattoos – nothing like Thiely’s lone Celtic ring with the Five Solas. These all appear to be pre-conversion ink – skulls and other stuff he’d probably like to erase. The group is an eclectic collection of ethnicities and backgrounds, but everyone knows each other, are obviously good friends, and have their beers already. And from the shades of the five glasses of liquid, Jordan can tell that each one has a slightly different preference in beer – just like their differences in attire.)
[Thiely] Know what you want? I recommend the Vortex IPA.
Hmmm. You know what? I think I’m gonna do a sampler tray. IPAs are a little on the bitter side and maybe a selection of tasters will help me dial in a favorite for next time.
[Thiely] I like your thinking, bro. Keep your options open. Bring your Bible?
How could I forget? That’s why we’re here, right?
[Thiely] You know it. So – we’re gonna be on the move in the scriptures tonight. We usually camp out in a single passage and talk about it at length, but tonight will be a little different. I told you we were going to visit two more letters in TULIP: “I” and “P”. I’ve asked the guys to split things up and each take a letter tonight. You and I did “T” and “U” last week in the lunchroom, but they’re worth another review – so we’ll actually be covering T, U, I, and P. You in?
[Thiely] So X-man – will you open us in prayer?
[X-man] Lord, I love gathering with my brothers and I thank you that you’re adding to our numbers. We love your word because it is truth for every aspect of our life. Open our eyes to see and our ears to hear. May your Holy Spirit enlighten us and guide our conversation. In Your name we pray, A-men.
(X-man takes a healthy drink of his Rock Bottom Amber and the others follow, settling themselves into comfortable positions.)
[X-man] Well, Jordan, you can probably tell I wasn’t raised in church. Just sayin’.
(Jordan laughs, along with the rest of the gang.)
]X-man] Let’s just say, I wasn’t the kinda guy you wanted your sister dating.
(another round of laughs)
[Thiely] Hey, don’t be so hard on yourself. NONE of us were guys you wanted your sister dating!
(still another round of laughs)
[X-man] Jordan, we don’t have time for my full testimony – that would take all night – but here’s the 30 second version: I was like literally in the back of a cop car, drunk, pulled kicking and screaming from a party where I started a fight with some guy who insulted my girlfriend. Beat him up pretty bad. I was swearing at the top of my lungs and had to be restrained. By the time we got to the station I’d settled down enough for them to take the cuffs off. I spent the night in a cell there. Woke up in the middle of the night, couldn’t sleep, and asked for something to read. They told me I could have my pick: Book of Mormon or Holy Bible. My mother was Baptist, my dad was a hellion, and I’d been inside a church building maybe 10 times in my life, so I went with the Bible. But it was the craziest thing. I was just thumbing through it aimlessly – a Gideon’s New Testament – and when I came to Romans chapter 1, I started reading.
(Jake makes a foreboding sound, letting the table know the axe is about to fall; everyone laughs again and takes another drink of their beers.)
So I’m sitting there in my cell at like 3 in the morning and it’s like Paul is describing ME. I’m not sure what happened. I just became so aware of my sin in that moment. I really knew for the first time that I wasn’t a good person. I was actually a really bad person and there was nothing I could do to change that. I didn’t know much about church, so I just sort of stammered out a prayer. “God, Jesus, Lord. I’m not sure how You like to be addressed, but I need some help here. Can you please forgive me – change me?” That was it. I can’t describe it, but something changed. I actually felt Him in the cell with me. I felt peace. Long story short, I got plugged into a church and Jake here became one of my best friends. I am a walking testament to “U”. Looking back now, I know exactly why I couldn’t sleep. It was my day of visitation. My appointed time. His grace gave me the faith to believe.
Whoa! That sounds a lot like your story, Thiely.
[Thiely] Yeah. I was a dead man walking. Not looking. Not asking. Then BAM! And the rest is history. My middle initial should be “U”.
[X-man] Nobody had to convince me of “T” or “U”. I was like the poster child. Especially for “T”. I’m Mister T.
[Jake] We all were bro. We all were. Totally Depraved.
YOU Jake? You’re the ONE guy in this room who looks like he IS dating material for my sister. What’s your story?
[Jake] Porn. Big time. It was pretty much the only thing I used my iPad for in college. Totally addicted. I went to jail for date rape. It was a wakeup call. You wanna talk about T? I’m your man. Looks can be deceiving, Jordan. I was the exact guy you SHOULDN’T trust with your sister.
Whoa! How’d you get saved?
[Jake] I guess a little bit like X-man. In jail, I had a lot of time to think. I was scared. I knew I was in way over my head. My parents are agnostic so I couldn’t really turn to them for spiritual guidance. I asked for a chaplain to come and see me. He visited me a few times and explained the gospel. I practically begged him to lead me in the sinner’s prayer after the third visit. I don’t think I had ever really heard it laid out for me like he did it. I felt compelled. That’s the only way I can really explain it. Compelled.
[Thiely] What Jake’s really describing is the “I” in TULIP. “Irresistible Grace”. When God sovereignly decides its your time, you respond. He awakens you from your lifeless condition, extends His grace, and you respond. It’s all Him and His grace. Remember the Five Solas?
Let me guess – Sola Gracia?
[Thiely] Bingo! By grace alone. When His grace hits you, it is irresistible. You can’t NOT respond. Peter, can you turn to Ephesians 2:8-10?
(Peter finds the passage in the ESV on his iPhone, quickly takes a last sip of his Lawn-Boy Pale, and starts reading)
[Peter] “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
[Thiely] Do you see it? Grace alone, through faith alone – faith is also one of our Five Solas. Do we initiate EITHER of these according to God’s word? Or are they GIFTS?
Yeah – it says it right there: it is the gift of God, not a result of works. I don’t see how anyone could argue with that.
[Thiely] Peter, can you skip up to verses 4-5 and read those?
[Peter] “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.”
[Peter] See Jordan, HE initiates. We don’t make ourselves alive. HE DOES. It says it right here, in plain English.
[Andre] I think you mean in plain Koine Greek!
[Peter] OK wise guy. The point remains: HE loves us. HE does the work. HE makes us alive. WE can’t respond because WE are DEAD in our trespasses. It is by GRACE we have been saved. He doesn’t fail at His mission. It requires grace, and when He gives it, it succeeds. Always. When His grace is extended, and it is your hour of visitation, that grace is irresistible. You cannot help but have the faith to respond because He gives you both – grace AND faith. It’s all about Him, not about us.
[Thiely] Are you starting to see the logical interconnections here Jordan? We’re totally dead. We CAN’T respond. That means, HE has to resurrect us. That’s our “T”. Total Depravity.
[Andre] HE elects us, not vice-versa, and HE first loved us. HE doesn’t fail in any of His missions because He is sovereign. He always gets His way. That’s what sovereignty means. And if He wants you saved, it happens. If He doesn’t, it doesn’t. That’s our “U”. Unconditional Election.
[Peter] We can’t come to him except through grace, and He doesn’t fail in His mission. He CAN’T. He’s GOD. So when He extends grace…
[Peter] Exactly! It’s irresistible. It can be no other way. And that’s our “I”. Irresistible Grace.
OK guys – you’re killing me here! What’s the “P”?
[Thiely] Andre, why don’t you take this one.
[Andre] So Jordan, let me ask you a question: if God wants you saved, is ANYONE or ANYTHING going to stop Him? Is He sovereign or not? Is His grace given in vain?
I feel like I’m being set up here!
OF COURSE nobody can stop Him! He’s sovereign. His grace isn’t extended in vain.
[Andre] So if HE elects you, HE resurrects you, HE gives you grace and faith, HE irresistibly draws you – How can anyone think He’ll let you walk away from all that and disqualify yourself from salvation? Is this about HIM or about you? It’s either all about HIM or it’s man-centered. It’s that simple. Remember, you didn’t qualify yourself to be saved – HE DID. And the only one that is going to disqualify you once you are in Him is HIM. Newsflash: Ain’t. Gonna. Happen. Just ain’t! He predestined you to be one of the elect and He didn’t do that to later say, “Oops!”
No – the pieces all FIT. If you are elected, you WILL finish the race. You will PERSEVERE. You can’t do otherwise. He elects you, and He always gets his way.
[Andre] You said it yourself. Perseverance. THAT’s the P-word. Peter, you’ve got your Bible open. Turn to John 10:28-29 and read it for us, would you?
[Peter] “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and NO ONE WILL SNATCH THEM OUT OF MY HAND. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”
[Andre] BOOM! Any questions? NO ONE. Zip. Zero. Nada. He even says it TWICE!
[Thiely] But wait – there’s more!
(everyone laughs; Jordan has now found the verse in his own Bible)
[Thiely] Do they come to Jesus of their own volition, or are they GIVEN to Jesus?
It says here they are given by the Father.
[Thiely] Uh huh. And do they find Eternal life or is it given to them?
Is says here that it is given.
[Thiely] Oh yeah. That’s what I’m talkin’ about. When you start seeing it, you start seeing it EVERYWHERE. That’s how it is with TULIP. All the little nuances in those verses you never quite understood? They start making sense.
(everyone nods in agreement)
[Jake, imitating Lawrence Fishburne] Now that you’ve taken the red pill, Neo, you can never go back!
No, seriously guys – Jake’s RIGHT. This stuff really is like the Red Pill. It’s like I can’t see things the same anymore. Where has this been hiding? It’s like a whole new Bible!
[Andre] I hear you, bro. For me, it was like “BAM! Right there. RIGHT THERE! But hidden in plain sight.”
Exactly. Hidden in plain sight.
[Thiely] Jordan, since your Bible is open, turn to the homework verses I gave you. I’d like you to read them again, and then talk about what God showed you as you read and meditated on them this last week.
OK. Let’s do Acts 13:48 first. I’ll read it: “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” I mean, this verse has “U” all OVER it. They were APPOINTED to eternal life – they didn’t believe and then get appointed; it was the other way around. They were appointed first, and THEN they believed. Appointed. Elected. Pretty much just different words for the same thing. Now I’m starting to see the cause-effect sequence here. He appoints – er – elects, we believe.
[Thiely] Do you see any “I” in there?
I’m not sure I follow.
[Peter] Did SOME of those who were appointed believe, or did ALL of them?
Um – looks like all of them. “AS MANY AS were appointed…”
[Peter] Exactly. It was irresistible. They could not do otherwise. They HAD to believe, BECAUSE they had been appointed. Election THEN belief. That’s the biblically accurate sequence.
[Thiely] OK. Now how about the other verse I suggested? John 6:44.
OK. Here it is: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”
[Thiely] And what did you see in there?
Well, I certainly saw “U”. They cannot come unless He draws them. They don’t come on their own. And since not all of them come, it must mean he doesn’t draw everyone.
[Thiely] Exactly. Once you start seeing this stuff, you can’t un-see it. It’s everywhere. But I’m thinking that’s a good stopping place for tonight. You in for next week?
Wouldn’t miss it. Guys, this was great.
[Jake] I can tell you liked it dude. You’ve hardly touched your sampler platter. Too busy listening, eh?
Guilty as charged!
(everyone laughs; Thiely closes in prayer, everybody bro hugs, and everyone start slow-walking towards the door, conversing)
[X-man] So Jordan, are you a cigar man? There’s a room in the back where me and Jake sometimes go to keep talking. It’s pretty cool. Quiet, plush, great atmosphere, low on pretension. Perfect place to get into some of the more advanced topics. I think you’ll find that talking about the Bible can get pretty intellectual and can lead to some really interesting discussions. Hard to get your head around some of this stuff, but a blast to talk about. More than once, we haven’t gotten out of there until well past midnight.
Hey guys – thanks. It’s tempting, but I need to pass. Got an early day tomorrow and I really need to hit the gym. Maybe next time?
Our acolyte is well and truly hooked now. He’s in the honeymoon phase and all is right with the world. He’s got a new band of brothers. He’s got a mentor that’s taking him under his wing. Everything is making sense. But most importantly to our story, the glasses are even more fully in place than in episode 1. In fact, they’re quickly turning into contact lenses.
Our mentor is proceeding along a very carefully curated path of scripture, helping our acolyte reassure himself that he’s on the right path by simply reading scripture. SOLA SCRIPTURA. He’s not balancing these scriptures against any others, and that’s intentional at this stage. The roots must be given enough time to go deep enough, lest the winds blow and topple the TULIP tree before it even bears fruit and spreads seeds. The key is that he’s already learning how to read the word with only a single perspective: that imparted by his TULIP lenses. And as we will see, this will eventually get him into a very deep quandary.
Stay tuned for Episode 3 next month – where we introduce our young acolyte to “L” and watch him overcome his initial protests, settling into gradual acceptance. Because T,U, I, and P are now firmly in place, he’ll be shown that “L” fits like the missing puzzle piece.
Indeed, it cannot be otherwise.