A book review by Stuart Brogden
If there is one foundational problem within the professing body of believers it is too low a view of God, compounded with the attending view of man which is too high. The theme of almighty God, and the implications that biblical truth has for the salvation and preservation of sinful men is woven throughout this book by Bela C. Strickland. This brother has written about the golden chain of redemption found in Romans 8:28-30, a chain that was fashioned in the blood of Christ and gives comfort to those who have been purchased by the Lamb.
Unbreakable is divided into 7 chapters which are gathered into 2 parts; plus a conclusion that takes us through verse 39. Bela’s main concern is that those who profess Christ rightly understand Who saves who so God gets the glory and the saints gain confidence in Him.
Chapter 1 is titled, We Must Know. If there is truth about how a sinner is reconciled to holy God, we need to know it! For us to have sure footing as in Psalms 18:33, we must have the right view of Scripture. Bela tells us, “To find such solid footing in the truth of God’s Word, even while the ground is shifting under our feet, we need to avoid slipping into two unhealthy, unbiblical extremes: to obsess over what we can’t know about God, or to be apathetic about what we can know about God.” (page 10) To know the Word rightly takes work. The Spirit of God gives understanding to those who seek earnestly. We cannot live the Christian life on auto-pilot. What we must know is God Himself; such knowledge comes through the Word by the Spirit.
What We Do Know is the second chapter, with verse 28 as the focus. Our author points out a very important but often misunderstood aspect of this verse: “Paul doesn’t say that God causes all thing for good.” (page 19) The passage says, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God.” This is not a promise to all, but only those “who love God and are called, according to His purpose.” Bela wisely counsels that this truth must be present in the minds and lives of the saints, especially in bad times. God will cause the worst thing you face to work out for good, if you are His child – trusting the faithful One to do what He has promised is a safe place, even if your world is crumbling. In our current day of hysteria, this is truth we must cling to.
Chapter 3 begins with verse 29, which opens with a statement that can only be rightly interpreted one way. God foreknew a people; it doesn’t say He foreknew everyone or things about them. Note this: in every instance in the New Testament where God’s foreknowledge is mentioned, it is a people, not events, that He foreknew. This knowledge is a personal, intimate knowledge as between a husband and wife; not the mere awareness of the existence of anyone. Certainly God knows about everyone and all that we think, say, and do; but He foreknew only some.
And those He foreknew, He predestined (chapter 4). Bela notes that many think God predestines people according to what He sees them doing or choosing during their lives. But the word, predestine, does not allow God to be influenced by history or the future; neither does His nature permit it. If God’s choosing of sinners for salvation was based on any part of the creature’s doing or choosing, the creature would be the one in charge! Strickland cites Psalm 139:16 in support of his view – God wrote in His book all the days He had ordained before David was conceived! If God is sovereign, the creature does not determine if or when he gets reconciled to God.
On page 46, Bela twice declares that the righteousness of God which is imputed to the elect is also “infused into” them, saying “We stand before God and live for God, in Christ, positionally being declared righteous and practically being made righteous.” I do agree that the Spirit works in us to sanctify us as we walk with the Lord, but I struggle with the concept of righteousness being infused to us – our flesh will not be made righteous in any degree until Jesus returns and we are glorified – our new bodies will be righteous. For now, our souls (which includes our minds) are being renewed daily and this the work of the Spirit.
In chapter 5, Bela reviews the call of God on those being saved (verse 30). He points out (page 51) how so many wrongly herald John 3:16 as a universalist passage, but he misses the opportunity to show the correct language behind the Greek, as the KJV is misunderstood and many translations use the KJV phrasing because it’s familiar to the reader – not because it’s accurate. In a nut-shell, John 3:16 reads more accurately like this: “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His one and only Son, and all who are believing on Him will not perish but have life eternal.” The Greek work behind “so” is an adverb (as in John 3:14), not an adjective; it describes the manner in which something was done, not the degree or magnitude of the action. The English word “whosoever” has no Greek equivalent. The phrase in Greek is “the believing ones.” Lastly, as Bela points out, “whosoever” does not convey ability, it merely identifies a group. He later declares, rightly, “that Jesus died for people in spite of their hatred, not in response to their love.” (page 53), citing parts of Romans 5 as evidence.
Strickland (page 58) makes an assertion that “only the New American Standard Bible and the New King James Version bring through in translation” a nuance Paul intended us to grasp. Bela says only those two translations specify “those whom [God] foreknew, He also predestined,” rightly observing that only those specific people among the masses were called. A review of translations shows the vast majority of them bring out what Bela wants us to see. It makes no sense to me to call out two translations as unique when a) the NASB specifies “those whom” while the NKJV does not include “those,” and b) the NIV, ESV, CSB, Berean Literal, NET, and others agree with the specific emphasis our author wants us to see.
Bela properly brings lots of Scripture to bear in this chapter, to make sure his readers get the message: God calls men to salvation; man can do nothing to influence this.
Justification is covered in chapter 6 and while Bela and I are in agreement here (and throughout this book), I think he brings some confusion into the topic. Again, our brother emphasizes man’s inability at do anything that can reconcile him to God. When he gets into describing the sin that afflicts mankind, Bela says, “Sin is the rebellious breaking of God’s Law” – but he give no citation for this. To break a law of God is sin, even if it’s done in ignorance. But the definition of sin is not given in Scripture as the breaking of God’s Law, rebellious or not. Many run to 1 John 3:4, which does not state, “Whoever commits sin transgresses the law; for sin is the transgression of the law.” It says, “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.” There is no reference to ‘Law’ or “transgressions’ in that verse – it was added by the Geneva Bible translators, and other translations (KJV, Jubilee 2000, American KJV) simply followed suit. The NIV, New KJV, ESV, Berean Literal, NASB, CSB, NET, NAS1977, ASV, ERV, Young’s Literal all agree: sin is lawlessness. That’s the biblical definition.
Bela’s case is further complicated in that in none of his references to “God’s Law” does he tell us what law he means. One more ambiguous mention of Law (capitalized in the book), page 82. “Having been justified, we can now live out His Law, rather than living without His Law.” Again, which law? There are many laws in Scripture that God gave to man at various times, to people in different covenants. Knowing which laws are for the saints in the New Covenant is critical, as people are just as willing today as they were in the first century to put the heavy yoke of Moses’ law on the backs of the saints.
The main point of this chapter is found on page 79; speaking of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:20: “His point was to stress the hopelessness of external self-righteousness for entry into God’s kingdom, as well as the hope of exceeding, surpassing, righteousness for entry God’s kingdom, which they could have.” If they were given ears to hear, faith to believe, that righteousness would be theirs. This is the message of the Kingdom: God predestines, calls, justifies, and glorifies.
The last chapter, 7, focuses on glorification. In this part of the book, our dear brother shines the light on Christ, contrasting the Christian’s hope with the hopelessness of other, false religions. “If you are jealous for the glory of God, that statement (“and these whom He justified, He also glorified”) should give you pause, especially in the awareness of so much man-exalting, God-diminishing doctrine.” AMEN! Contrary to those who lift up man with emotionally stimulating talks, Christians ought to see things differently: “So, with the statement that the effect of Christ’s resurrection and the end of all Christ’s redemptive work is the glorification of fallen man (and, primarily, I would add, the glorification of God Himself), you should expect a very careful, biblical, Christ-centered, Christ-exalting explanation.” AMEN!
“The hope of being raise by God comes only with the hope of being right with God. This hope of glory is only for those from whom He has removed the guilt of sin – these whom He has made perfectly righteous with the perfect righteousness of His Son – these whom He has made perfectly right with Himself, as His Son is perfectly right with Him.” This is the truth! Our union with Christ means EVERYTHING! There is no hope apart from Him; there is only sure hope if joined with Him.
Bela’s closing encourages the reader to stay focused on Christ and the truth recorded in Scripture. “There is no guarantee that you will always feel firm.” (page 117) We cannot trust our emotions or feelings – Jesus is trustworthy, He is worthy of our devotion, worship, and service. “When discouragement is threatening to crush your spirit, you must take courage in the truth of what Jesus has done for you and given to you.” (page 118) On that note, we close – thankful for the work our brother has done in this book to encourage and equip us to do just that.