By Ron Foster
Apprising Ministries Correspondent

In Erwin McManus’s sermon entitled “Is Faith Nonsense?” [1] he commented on Isaiah 6:9-10 saying, “This is God in one of His most facetious moments.” He goes on to say, “This is God speaking into the human condition saying, ‘You are broken and your capacity to know me and even be aware of my presence.’” Is God being facetious in this passage, as Erwin claims? Is it even in God’s nature to be facetious? Well, let’s look at the context.

Part 1: Redefining God’s Character, Salvation & the Nature of the Kingdom of God (Misuses of Is. 6:9ff, Eph 2:1-2, John 3:3,8; Luke 17:20-21 and other related passages)

1. “God is Being Facetious”: The Misuse of Isaiah 6:9ff:

The prophet Isaiah had been called by God to pronounce judgment on Israel for their abominable idolatry. The Word of God, when proclaimed, is a double-edged sword, calling to repentance those who are the elect of God and hardening those who are reprobate. This passage is a vivid description of that reality, of what happens to those who hear the Word and choose to remain in their sin. God turns His face away from them, releasing His restraining grace upon them, abandoning them to their ever-deepening wickedness. Romans 1 is one of the clearest portrayals of how God’s abandoning judgment works. Paul begins in verse 18 by saying that God’s wrath is being revealed “against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” Verse 24 says that God, therefore, gave them up to dishonoring of their bodies, which led to false worship. This sinfulness leads to great judgment, and in verse 26, God again gives them over to dishonorable passions, which led them into an inflamed desire for unnatural relations. Then again, in verse 28, God gives them over to a debased mind “to do what ought not be done.” This passage is a detailing of God’s progressive abandoning of sinners to their own depravity. This vividly describes one aspect of the wrath of God – abandonment. The withdrawal of God’s restraining grace upon our corrupted inclination to ever-increasing evil propels us toward being what we truly are without God’s constant gracious intervention, debased and utterly depraved. [2]

This was Israel’s condition when the prophet Isaiah came onto the scene. Israel was whoring after other gods, and God’s righteous indignation and jealousy was already at work, revealing His wrath against Israel for their abominable wickedness in His eyes. This passage is not the facetious ramblings of a love-smitten god, but the pronounced judgment of a sovereign, righteous and holy God who is indignant toward the sins of His people.

Later is Isaiah 63:17, Isaiah says to God, “O LORD, why do you make us wander from your ways and harden our heart, so that we fear you not?” Is Isaiah also being facetious? No, the prophet understood God’s sovereignty in salvation. Israel chose to despise the word of the Lord. And God released them in His wrath, turning them over to their own sinfulness, which brought about greater degrees of spiritual deafness and blindness. This was a judicial decree, a judgment upon Israel for not obeying the word of the Lord. Amos prophesied that God would no longer speak to a stubborn, obstinate, idolatrous people who would not listen to truth (8:11). Rather, he would hand them over to those things they took pleasure in. 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 says that God Himself “sends them a strong delusion so that they will believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” There comes a time when God says, “Enough” and gives people over to their depravity, removing His restraining grace, even sending strong delusions Himself so that people will be swept away in the very lies they have chosen to believe (also see Ezek 14:9). This is strong judgment from the hand of God. Woe to the nation or the person on whom this judgment of God comes.

Isaiah 6:9ff is a revelation of this judicial decree of God to Isaiah, and a disclosure to the prophet that his prophecy would not have the positive effect Isaiah desired – the repentance of the people. Rather, it would produce in the hearers spiritual hardness, deafness and blindness until God’s wrath consumed them. This passage is not to be understood to have some facetious undertones of a scorned but desperate God babbling to His prophet about the human condition. Facetiousness has no place in God’s nature, and it has no power to win back His people to reason and faith.

2. God as an Energizing Reality: Misinterpreting Ephesians 2:1-2 and John 3:3

Commenting on Ephesians 2:1-2, Erwin says, “What Paul was telling us is this. There’s this spiritual reality that’s all around us. And when we live our lives outside of God, it’s not that we’re not connected to this reality, we’re disconnected from it, but that all of us are spiritual beings… The scripture tells us that we’re all connected to an invisible reality and because we are broken, we are blind to this reality. It exists, but we can’t hear it…smell it…taste it…touch it, even though we were created to live in it.”

Erwin is saying that this “spiritual world” all around us exists but we cannot access it unless we have faith enough to get connected to God. “God is everywhere and He’s this energizing reality that sets us alive, and faith is what grounds us so that we can actually receive the Spirit of God. And faith doesn’t just allow us to believe in God but to be aware of this spiritual reality all around us.”

Let’s analyze this quote. “Faith doesn’t just allow us to receive God…” First of all, believing in God, that is, receiving God, being reconciled to Him and becoming His child and He becoming our Father is salvation! Receiving God, not spiritual extrasensory gifts, not even spiritual gifts, and not even heaven itself, but God and God alone is the good news. The end aim of sending Christ to die in our place was so that we could have fellowship with God. John Piper sums it up best when he said, “God is the gospel.”

Second, it is not faith that allows us to believe in and receive God, but grace. “It is by grace you have been saved through faith” (Eph 2:8). There is a difference. Grace is freely given to us through faith, and even faith is not our own, but a gift from God. If anything grounds us, it is grace, because grace is what came to us freely through Christ’s atoning death on the cross. God’s wrath was propitiated by Christ’s substitutionary atonement on the cross. And when we believe and receive this gift of grace, God imputes Christ’s righteousness to our account. This is not a subjective, mystical experience, but an objective reality verified in God’s word.

“…but to see this spiritual reality all around us.” The emphasis of the entire sentence is placed on this clause, which makes the previous event, that is, our salvation and reconciliation to God, secondary to “seeing this spiritual reality.” Erwin is saying that God is this invisible super-reality all around us and we need to exercise faith in order to “plug into” Him. There are two major flaws in this theology. First, it makes salvation our responsibility. In this theology, we have to dig deep into our souls and come up with enough faith so that we can be “grounded” into this reality known as God. The Bible, however, is very clear that God is the One doing the saving from beginning to end. He is the one who calls, justifies and glorifies (Rom 8:30). He is the One who works in us “both to will and to act according to His good purpose” (Phil 2:13)

Second, this theology makes the end of salvation into something other than receiving God’s free gift of forgiveness for sins and eternal life, which Jesus defines as knowing God (John 17:3). No, in this salvation, we also receive divine insight into unseen realities, seeing things as God sees them. Faith becomes this doorway to another “universe” where we can perceive invisible realities through a kind-of enlightenment of our spirit. Using John 3:3, where Jesus tells Nicodemus he must be born again, Erwin says, “You need faith because the realities of what it means to be alive cannot be seen with the senses. There is a reality that is ‘nonsense.’” Again, he boils being born again to entering into this mystical reality rather than being called to life by God by grace so that we can believe the truth and be saved. Then going on to verse 8, “The wind blows where it wills…,” he comments “What Jesus is telling us is there’s more going on that meets the eye. What faith does is it reenergizes us; it brings us back to life. And when we come to life we begin to see what we could not see.”

But the Bible defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen” (Heb 11:1) What is unseen is not a mystical spiritual reality beyond our senses, but the finished work of Christ as atoning sacrifice and His ongoing work as our High Priest. God gives us faith to believe in Christ’s objective work, but He has already laid it all out in His word. There is no other source where we will find God’s truth. We are not instructed to “connect” to anything, just to believe, to put faith in Christ.

Faith rests squarely on Christ’s finished work. Hebrews 11:1 follows ten chapters that demonstrate Christ’s supremacy over all things and His role as THE eternal High Priest who makes intercession for His people in the heavenly temple. The Jewish recipients of this letter were struggling with believing in Christ’s invisible priesthood, which was in heaven and were being tempted to return to Judaism, to a priest they could see and a sacrifice they could touch. The writer of Hebrews reminded them that faith was the “evidence” that Christ’s work was an objective reality by which He has “once and for all perfected those who are being sanctified” (10:14). It doesn’t seem to me that that is the kind of faith Erwin is talking about. His faith is a mystical doorway into an enlightened spiritual experience with God and the supernatural where a person obtains or realizes an ability to perceive another reality.

3. “The Kingdom is Within You”: The Misinterpretation and Misapplication of Luke 17:20-21 and Related Passages

Erwin comments on Matt 12:22ff, “If you want to know how Jesus sees reality, this is what He says. He says that there is a war going on and there are two kingdoms: the kingdom of Satan and the kingdom of God. And that every human being is integrated into this conflict… And when you live a life connected to God by faith, all the sudden, the invisible becomes clear to you.” Going to Matt 12:43, Erwin says, “He’s telling us that there’s more going on than what you can [see, hear, feel, taste, touch]… The invisible reality shapes the visible reality. ‘I’ve come to war against this kingdom that holds you captive, and by the way, you are spiritually permeable.’” Erwin is affirming a dualistic, mystical religious experience. We are integrated into this spiritual world, this spiritual war between the forces of good and evil. We can’t see it, but it exists. It’s all around us.

Erwin then takes us to Luke 17:20-21, “Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” Erwin uses a translation that says, “…the kingdom of God is within you.” Erwin comments on this passage by saying, “Jesus is saying that you are a portal, an intersection of the kingdoms. And if you want to begin to find the evidence that you are more than just flesh and blood, begin to look inside of your soul.” This concept of looking inside your own soul is also heavily reinforced in Erwin’s book entitled Soul Cravings. The concept goes like this – God, or some intrinsic imprint of God, is inside of you, and if you want to find God, begin a spiritual journey inside of yourself. You’ll find that God was there all along. But this theology runs completely contrary to what scripture actually says. Nowhere are we ever told to look within our own souls for God. Rather, we are told to look without to divine revelation – His revealed Word. “Faith comes through hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.” Faith does not come by looking within, as Erwin suggests, but by hearing and believing the word of Christ.

Concerning Luke 17:20-21, Bob DeWaay writes:

Whether “within” or “in your midst” is the preferable translation is often determined by one’s eschatological views. Many wish to teach that there never was or will be a visible manifestation of the Kingdom; but that it only exists inside of people. However, those who favor “within” are not considering the many other passages in Luke/Acts about the Kingdom. The Kingdom is something people enter by faith, not something that enters them (Luke 18:17); The Kingdom is something that has come near (Luke 10:9, 11); some there will see the Kingdom (Luke 9:27); People will eat bread in the Kingdom of God (Luke 13:29; 14:15); The Kingdom will be restored to Israel (Acts 1:6, 7) and many other similar issues. None of these passages makes sense if the kingdom is internal to humans. The Kingdom was present in the person of Christ, so “in your midst” is the translation which fits everything else we learn about the Kingdom in Luke/Acts. [3]

It is clear that when Luke refers to the Kingdom of God, he is not talking about some mystical kingdom that dwells within the soul of every individual waiting to be discovered. No, the Kingdom of God must be entered into by faith, it is not something that enters or already resides within them.

Looking at the context, to whom was Jesus responding when He answered this question about the Kingdom? It was none other than the Pharisees. Was Jesus answering them by saying, “Look inside yourself and you’ll find God there.” That would be ridiculous. Luke 10:21 plainly states that God had chosen to hide the Kingdom from these “wise and understanding” ones and reveal them to “babes” – to the outcasts – to tax collectors, fishermen and other unlikely recipients. If Jesus meant the Kingdom was inside the very Pharisees he was responding to, then He also meant that they could look inside their souls to find it, extending to them the hope that they could find what God had in fact hidden from them. Take a look at John 10:26:

Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock.”

Notice the cause/effect relationship here. Jesus did not say, “You are not part of my flock because you do not believe.” No, just the opposite. “You do not believe because you are not part of my flock.” What is Jesus saying? He’s telling the Pharisees that their unbelief is a result of not being part of Jesus’s flock. And why were they not part of Jesus’s flock. Verse 29: “My Father, who has given them to me…” God the Father gave Jesus His flock. As a result, they believed. These Pharisees Jesus was addressing were not part of this flock. Therefore, they did not, and in fact could not, believe. So the Kingdom of God could not be within these Pharisees!

What Jesus speaks of the Kingdom, He is referring to is an objective, external Kingdom. The translation “the kingdom is in the midst of you” makes much more sense contextually, since it was in fact the King that they were unknowingly addressing when they asked Jesus this question. It was the King Himself who was right in their midst, but they could not “see” Him because they were “blind.” “Be ever hearing but never understanding, be ever seeing but never perceiving.”

Erwin is saying, based on this passage, that humans are some kind of doorway between spiritual worlds, and therefore there can reside in them both spiritual good and spiritual evil, like some kind of personified Venn Diagram where good and evil interlock in each person. But what Jesus is in fact saying is that He is the King and His kingdom had arrived in a Person, namely Himself. The Kingdom of God can be found in no other place than in the King of Kings, an external, Personal reality, not an internal, mystical imprint on the human soul.


1. This Podcast sermon, preached on October 8, 2006, is available for download from or through iTunes. My entire article is addressing scriptures used in this sermon.
2. Dr. John MacArthur’s sermon entitled A Nation Abandoned by God is a remarkable exposition of Romans 1:18ff.
3. This excerpt is Footnote 11 in Bob DeWaay’s article.