Barry Cooper


I’d like to talk about omniscience.
What would you do if you knew absolutely everything, even things that hadn’t yet happened? I imagine many people would pop into their nearest 7-Eleven and choose the winning lottery numbers. But for me—honestly, just once in my life, I’d like to join the fastest-moving line at my local branch of Target.
Unfortunately for my plan to triumphantly reach the checkout before other people, omniscience is one of God’s so-called “incommunicable” attributes, meaning that it’s an attribute that we do not share with Him. (We looked at two other incommunicable attributes in two earlier episodes of Simply Put when we thought about God’s omnipotence and His omnipresence.)
The word omniscience comes from the Latin omnis meaning “all” and scientia meaning “knowledge.” So literally, omniscience refers to the fact that God has all knowledge. There’s nothing hidden from Him—past, present or future—so there’s nothing that would surprise or confuse Him. And as well as knowing everything about the world and everything about Himself, He also, unlike us, knows how everything appears from every possible point of view.
Psalm 139 says:
O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways…Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.
The Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought (1 Chron. 28:9).
Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Heb. 4:13).
What difference does this make? How does knowing that God knows everything make a radical difference to a person’s life?
Let me suggest three ways that’s God’s omniscience changes our lives for the better.
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Sometimes we think of our regeneration as the moment when we first put our faith in Christ, but as Jesus himself says in John chapter 6: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” Regeneration, then, is something that must happen before we can put our trust in Christ. Before we can reach out for the life preserver, we must first be given life.

Regeneration is a word theologians use to describe how someone becomes a believer.
I became a believer in Oxford in 1992, during the spring semester. And as I look back at that time, it’s tempting to wonder, Why is it that I reached out for Christ, while it’s quite possible that the person sitting in the pew next to me did not?
Was it because I listened a bit more closely, or read the Bible more attentively? It’s embarrassing to talk like this, but was it because I was slightly more teachable, or slightly more humble? Maybe I was a bit braver or more selfless than the person sitting next to me?
I’m not talking about taking a huge amount of credit here. Some have said that a person becoming a Christian is like a drowning person reaching out for a life preserver. You wouldn’t exactly say that by doing that, the drowning person was rescuing themselves. But they do at least have to make some effort to reach out and grab it. Christ, the life preserver, is clearly doing the heavy lifting in this act of rescue, but nevertheless, you’ve got to take hold of Him in order to be saved.
Is that the biblical picture of salvation?
At the heart of the issue is the question, What does God actually do when a person comes to faith?
One writer puts the question like this: “When the Holy Spirit regenerates a sinner, does He contribute only some power, such that the sinner must add some of his own energy or power to bring about the desired effect [that’s the life preserver view of salvation], or is regeneration a unilateral work of God?
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The Perspicuity of Scripture

There are some things in the Bible that can be tricky to grasp. But that doesn’t mean that they’re impossible to grasp. And the perspicuity of Scripture assures us that even when they are hard to grasp, the Author intends His words ultimately to be understandable by anyone.

What do people mean when they talk about the perspicuity of Scripture?

I just came back from a trip to China, and it’s fair to say there was a bit of a language problem. I’ll spare you the details, but the first day I was there, my credit card was swallowed by an ATM, so I spent a good few hours sitting in a bank in Shanghai and trying to work out the Mandarin for “My credit card has been swallowed by an ATM.” I think the Mandarin for “ATM” is “ATM,” but that’s about as far as I got.
It’s fair to say that Mandarin is not, for me, “perspicuous.”
Ironically enough—given that it’s not very clear—perspicuity is a word that means “clarity” or “clearness” or “understandability.” So when we talk about the “perspicuity” of Scripture, we’re talking about the idea that God’s Word is clear about things that are necessary to be understood and obeyed in order for a person to be saved. The Bible’s teaching on salvation can be understood by anyone and everyone.
Psalm 119 puts it like this: “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” Even though, at times, the Bible requires us to patiently and humbly wrestle with it, we can indeed come to know what it means regarding salvation and the basic principles for pleasing God, even if we don’t have a college degree or subscribe to an enjoyable podcast that explains big theological words in a simple way.
In fact, God’s Word is simple enough that it can be taught to children, as it says in Deuteronomy chapter 6: “These words that I command you today shall be on your heart….”
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The Revealed and Hidden Will of God

In all things, ask the Lord for wisdom and then apply the principles of God’s Word when choosing between options. If you make your choice according to wisdom and aren’t sinning in making the choice, you need not worry. You don’t need a sign from heaven to know God’s will. As long as you are seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness, enjoy the freedom you have in Christ.

How can you discover God’s will for your life?
On my website once, I posted a spoof news item which was taken from a satirical website. The headline was “Man, 91, Dies Waiting for Will of God.”
It was meant to be a joke poking fun at the way many Christians think that we need to pray and pray and pray for God to supernaturally and unmistakably reveal His will for our life before we can actually do anything.
However, something strange happened. Some visitors to my blog didn’t realize it was a joke. They thought it was true.
Take this comment, left by a Christian man called Evan: “Oh man, this hit me hard. . . . Dang if I didn’t have to get up and walk around in the middle of reading this tragic post. . . . [It] made me cry.”
I did feel a bit guilty about making Evan cry, but actually, that is an entirely appropriate response to this idea that we somehow can’t make decisions about who to date, who to marry, where to live, and where to work unless God gives us some kind of clear supernatural “nudge” or inward “impression.”
So how can we know God’s will for our lives in any given situation?
Biblically speaking, God’s will is spoken of in two ways. There’s what theologians call “the revealed will of God,” and there’s also what’s known as “the hidden will of God.” You see both referred to in Deuteronomy chapter 29, verse 29, which says: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
“The things that are revealed”—this is what theologians mean when they talk about “the revealed will of God.” God has revealed His will for our lives by giving us His law, His commandments.
What is His will for your life? That you should obey His commands.
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The Visible and Invisible Church

Not everyone in the visible church—those who go to church, take part in the worship, even preach from the pulpit—is a Christian. According to Jesus, there are many people in the church who believe they are Christians and are quite wrong. We should examine ourselves, as the Apostle Paul says, to see whether we are in the faith. And as Jesus Himself says, the fact that we call Him Lord doesn’t necessarily prove that. One of the signs that we are in the faith is that we are hearing His words and obeying them. Not that any of us are able to obey Christ perfectly, of course, but are we sincerely looking to obey Him and repenting when we fall short?

What do people mean when they talk about the visible and the invisible church?
I hope I’m not getting anyone into trouble here, but I have a—well, let’s call him a close relative—who has a gift for getting into places he really shouldn’t be. He once took me to an airshow when I was a child, breezily ushering me into an area that was intended exclusively for members of the media. When challenged by an official, he nonchalantly flashed a laminated badge—it might have been his library card, for all I know—and the door was duly opened for us. It was like that bit in Star Wars where Alec Guinness waves his hand mysteriously in front of the stormtroopers and says, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for,” except without a library card, obviously.
Not everyone who identifies as a member of the media is actually a member of the media. And in the same way, not everyone who seems to be a member of God’s church is actually a member of God’s church. That’s what we mean by the visible and invisible church. The visible church comprises all those who claim to be or identify as followers of Christ. The invisible church comprises all those who really are followers of Christ.
Jesus tells a story about this in Matthew chapter 13. A man sows good seed in his field, and his servants are perplexed when the field turns out to have weeds in it as well as wheat. “We thought you only sowed wheat—what’s with all the weeds?” The master says rather ominously, “An enemy has done this.”
“So, what would you like us to do?” say the servants. “Shall we go and root up all the weeds?”
“No,” says the master, “if you do that, you might accidentally root up the good stuff. Let them both grow together. I’ll separate them once and for all when the time comes for the harvest.”
The thing about wheat and weeds—as I discovered in the mid-1980s during a short-lived stint as a gardener—is that it isn’t always easy to spot the difference between a weed and a prize-winning flower. Some of the most destructive weeds look beautiful.
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It cannot be bought. It cannot be perverted. It cannot be misused. God wields His power as the Father of the fatherless and the protector of widows, orphans, and outcasts. The One who binds up the hearts of the broken-hearted. This is ultimate power.

God has often been said to be “omnipotent,” meaning, literally, “all-powerful,” “almighty.” If you listen to Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus, it’s the most repeated line: “Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.”
But someone raises the question, Is God really omnipotent? Can God make a rock so big that He can’t lift it?
Ohhh, clever. If you say yes, then it sounds as if you’re denying God’s omnipotence, because you’re saying He can’t lift it.
But if you say no, then again it sounds as if you’re denying His omnipotence, because you’re saying He can’t make a rock that big.
It’s trying to be a “gotcha.” But it’s based on a misunderstanding of what God’s omnipotence is. Does omnipotence mean God can do literally anything—anything at all?
Well, you can certainly line up individual Scripture verses which seem to support that idea. In the Old Testament, for example, Job says to God: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”
In Luke 1:37, the angel Gabriel says to Mary, “Nothing will be impossible with God.”
In Matthew 19:26, Jesus says to His disciples: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
In fact, you could take any verse which refers to God as “almighty,” because it’s saying the same thing: God is all-powerful.
It certainly sounds like God can do anything He wishes. But does that mean God can go against His own character? No. God cannot—and I’m very glad of this fact—be unjust, or lie, or act with evil intent. He’s not all-powerful if by “all-powerful” we mean “able to do things which go against the goodness of His nature.”
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Paul makes the point in Romans chapter 9 that God chose Jacob rather than Esau even before they were born and before they had done anything good or bad. According to Paul, He did this specifically to show that His saving of Jacob had nothing to do with anything Jacob or Esau did and was wholly because it was God’s good purpose to do so.

Why did the Lord choose us to be His people? Is it because of something we did, something He did, or maybe a little bit of both? Today, Barry Cooper shows that the Bible’s answer to this question is abundantly clear.
It began one day in late 1991, when a student worker called Tony invited me to meet him for coffee one afternoon in his study at St. Ebbe’s Church in Oxford. To be honest, I didn’t really see the point. Even after we’d met, I still wasn’t sure I saw the point. Pretty much all we did was look at a short Bible passage together. He threw out some questions to make sure I understood what I was reading, asked me how he could be praying for me, and that was it. Then we’d doggedly repeat the process a week or so later. Poor man, I thought to myself. He’s obviously lonely.
By the time we reached Easter 1992, I realized when I sat down in Tony’s overstuffed armchair that I wasn’t doing it for his benefit. I had been introduced to Jesus Christ.
There’s much more I could say, but the question I want to focus on is this: Why did all this happen? Why did God choose to write my name in His book of life? Was it because of something I did, or because of something He did, or perhaps a bit of both?
The answer to this is tied up in the biblical idea of predestination, the fact that God determines everything in advance, including who will be saved. Historically, it’s been a very big deal, and Martin Luther even called it “the heart of the church.”
You see the concept of predestination across both the Old and New Testaments. Listen, for example, to Ephesians chapter 1:
“In love [God] predestined us for adoption. . . . In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.”
In other words, God predetermines, or pre-destines, those He will adopt into His family, to know and enjoy Him forever.
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Assurance of Salvation

I was a serial go-to-the-fronter during the 1980s, first as a kid, and then as a teenager. As a fourteen-year-old, I’d already “prayed the prayer” on multiple occasions. I went to the front at a Billy Graham rally and said the prayer. I went to the front at a Luis Palau meeting and said the prayer. I sat with head bowed at numerous churches, in numerous denominations over the years, and said the prayer. I said it ever more fervently, ever more anxiously, and often with tears. And I kept praying and going to the front because I was never entirely convinced that I’d prayed and gone to the front enough.
What would you say to fourteen-year-old Barry, once you’d told him to get rid of that ridiculous fluff on his upper lip? Many Christians, I think, would say something like this: “As long as you were sincere when you prayed the prayer, you are saved.”
The thing is, looking back, I’m really not sure I was.
It wasn’t until I was twenty, and in my second semester at university, that I felt a deep, inner assurance that I was truly saved.
Where did that suddenly come from? According to Scripture, this profound inner sense of assurance is something that the Holy Spirit gives us.
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Total Depravity

Perhaps the supreme indication of the deadly seriousness of our depravity is the deadly seriousness of God’s solution. The way that He uses death to defeat death, and not just any death, but the agonizing death of His only beloved Son, the eternal Christ of God, nailed to a Roman cross. If that is the cure for sin, then sin must be is unimaginably serious. 

Back in the 1930s, the poet and dramatist T.S. Eliot wrote a play called The Family Reunion. In it, he tried to describe the depth and extent of human sin.
Sin is portrayed as an old house afflicted by an all-permeating stench that no one can seem to get rid of. Sin is an inconsolable sobbing in the chimney, bumps in the cellar, a rattling of the windows, evil in a dark closet. It is a private, discomfiting puzzle, deeper than cancer.
As Eliot knew, this tireless “evil from within” affects every part of our human nature. We’re in a state that the Scottish pastor Thomas Boston described as “entire depravity.” The eighteenth-century theologian Jonathan Edwards says the same thing when he writes, “All mankind are by nature in a state of total ruin.” What they’re describing is what theologians have called total depravity.
Now, that’s not to say that every part of our nature is as bad as it could possibly be. No; thankfully, by God’s grace, that’s not the case. What the term total depravity describes is the fact that no part of our nature escapes the defilement of sin.
And the reason for that is because sin isn’t some kind of virus that lurks outside us; it’s not a contamination we can somehow isolate or avoid by doing certain things or not doing certain other things—which is the view of every religion apart from Christianity. Sin is already, as T.S. Eliot knew, “inside the gates”; it’s inside each one of us.
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The New Heavens And The New Earth

Read Revelation chapters 21 and 22, and you’ll see that at the heart of heaven is a wedding. The love story that began in Genesis chapter 1 reaches its climax. The promise God made to Abraham, that He would draw to Himself a multiethnic group from every different social class and background, from across every era of history—this is where we see it finally fulfilled.

In 2014, a group of artists and musicians in the United Kingdom asked thousands of people one question and based a live show on the answers. The question was, What is your happiest memory?
As you might imagine, there were lots of first dates, first dances, first loves, first houses. Memories of weddings. Memories of births—lots of births, apparently. Then there were memories of glorious holidays, and memories of precious faces—the faces of loved ones now lost.
And as they collected these memories of happiness, the creators of the show noticed three things.
The first was that less than 1 percent of these happy memories had anything to do with material things.
Secondly, the memories were nearly always about relationships of one kind or another. Family or friends or lovers.
They discovered the third thing when they fed all the happy memories into a database and looked for recurring words and phrases. The word that came up most often was the word “home.”
So anyway, they put the show on; they toured it all round the U.K. And when the director was interviewed afterwards, he said that the performances were extraordinary—like a cross between a wedding and a wake. It was a celebration, but it was mixed with sadness—sadness, because of course these were memories of happiness. The happiness had gone; it had faded into nostalgia.
What was left was a longing for relationship, and a longing for home.
Why do we have these desires? Could it be that we were made for another world, one in which these longings are fully and finally satisfied?
We were. Open up Revelation chapters 21 and 22, and you’ll catch a stunning glimpse of the world you were made for.
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