The God Who is There - Romans 9:1-10:4 (Part 2)

(Read the series so far.)

Recognition of God’s sovereignty in His work with people can be a tough subject to tackle. Even believers can become so earthly minded that we forget that God is not an elected leader Who seeks our approval. He is the Supreme. He is the Creator. All answer to Him, and He answers to none.

That can be deeply offensive to the American mind, but that makes it no less true. God is God—and as such, He is the Planner, the Author and the King. Don’t skip what Paul wrote and focus only on the offense: Paul made the point that God had (and has) a plan. He is at work. He has decided on the basis of His own desire to work through some people, and that wasn’t based entirely on them—but on His sovereign right to make such a decision.

Before you dive into what seems objectionable about those words, look at them. If you have a relationship with the Living God, you can celebrate the fact that you are not a cosmic accident. God has a plan He is working. He wanted you, and He chose you! How can that not be an exciting reality?

To be fair, any sensitive believer immediately thinks beyond their own chosen status and considers those who don’t know God. The converse of the choosing of God seems harsh. As a result, almost in the same breath, Paul recognized the objection of people to this stark truth about God, so Paul offered a bit of further explanation…

Because in God’s Plan He Chose to Have Only Some Relationships, Has God Been Unjust?

“What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!” (Rom. 9:14).

Paul un-spooled answers to this objection along several lines of reason.

  • He attacked an “underlying presupposition” (that people deserve a relationship with God).
  • He unraveled an “approach error” (that people can sit eye to eye with God and call His judgment into account).
  • He suggested a “limitation error” (that we may not fully grasp what God is doing in His choices).

The objection was over the justice of God. Let’s take a moment and see how Paul responded.

First, he made clear there was a “Presupposition Error.”

Such a challenge to God’s justice begins with the notion that people deserve a relationship with God—but that is wrong! Look at Paul’s writing for a moment, and follow the words closely:

For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it [does] not [depend] on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate my power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. (Rom. 9:15-18)

It is easy to frame these words in the harshest way, and make God look uncaring and unloving in His justice. That is a mistake. The qualities of God are so deeply intertwined that they do not separate from one another. God isn’t merely just—His being defines justice. God isn’t merely good—His being defines goodness. God isn’t merely merciful—His being defines mercy. Christians need to stop viewing life through dualism There isn’t “good” and “bad” and God falls into conformity to doing good. God defines good and evil. He is the beginning template of all things. No one loves more than His love—since He is the core definition of love. No one is more just than He, since His character is the basic form from which the idea of justice flows.

We believe the Bible explains God’s revealed perspective of humanity. In the beginning of the human experience, the Bible explained that people began with a relationship with God and after a time they rebelled against Him. Given an opportunity to stand with God against the temptation of God’s enemy or follow that enemy—man chose rebellion. He didn’t do it because He was underprivileged or ignorant of God’s will—it was a mutiny pure and simple. That set the tone for the entire story of the Bible between man and God.

Don’t think of people in terms of innocence anymore—that isn’t the biblical view at all.

Think of the woman who walks into the house and discovers her man with another woman for the fifth time. Later, you meet the man and the line of his reasoning is that “He deserves more chances from her.” Do you agree? His desire for a renewed relationship overcame his memory of infidelity—but she remembered! HE abandoned the relationship, and now HE feels he is entitled to more chances. That is the kind of mutiny men pulled on God in the Garden. It isn’t right to blame God and assume people have a right to a relationship after a mutiny.

God wasn’t heartless—He made a way to bridge the gulf of man’s mutiny. Yet, here is the interesting thing: even today, a great many men seek another way to God that isn’t according to His plan.

They choose religion or good deeds over the plan God revealed of the gift of Jesus’ full payment at Calvary. When they attempt an alternative way to God, they continue their mutiny. Mutiny is a willful rejection of God’s plan in favor of our own. It happened in the Garden of Eden, and it is happening in churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and philanthropic pursuits around the world even now. When men make their own way to God, they continue to deny His absolute right to set the rules for all things—including how He is to be accessed.

Let’s be clear: God loves more than any of us. God is just in the purest sense of the word. Yet, God has been snubbed. Men are not innocent. They cheated on Him. They have no right to claim they deserve God’s changing of the plan to overlook their mutiny.

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Of course, we know that the Holy Spirit is working on Ralph, and Ralph makes a decision of his own free will to believe these Good News.

On the other hand we have Lars.  Everything is the same with him, but he rejects the truth which Ralph has heard.  Lars does not believe these Gospel facts.  He doesn't believe it is in his interest to stake his future on them.  He would rather pursue a life of self-interest, believing that his sins will not be judged.  Guided by his own self-deception, he chooses to reject the Gospel and thus take his chances.  He perverts the use of his God-given freedom to choose to his own damnation.

It is God who established the way of escape, which is available to both Ralph and Lars, but although each is enlightened by the Spirit with the same facts, each is guided by his own "reality."  One believes and is saved, and the other rejects the gospel.

You seem to have restated the result but still not identified the cause. Why does one reject and one not reject? You describe them thinking differently about what they've heard, but why do they think differently?

I asserted earlier that the answers all boil down to two options:

a. Either God does something different to the one who believes, or
b. There is something different already in the one who chooses to believe.

Should I take your answer to be "b"?

...

Also wanted to point out that in "Calvinism," everybody who rejects the gospel or accepts the gospel does exactly and only what they want to do at that that moment. At times you seem to put it as though the views are either that a person who uses "free will" to choose or a person is forced. But this is not what "irresistible grace" means.

Those who believe are actually freer than those who do not because the latter are constrained by their nature to only desire rebellion against God. But those who are drawn are liberated from that and see the truth for what it is. The choice to believe is "irresistible" a that point because there is no longer anything in us to motivate resistance. We no longer want to resist... and freely choose.

So... to come full circle, results have causes. Always. And our choices are constrained by our nature. We choose according to what we are. The natural man irresistibly and freely (as in, not constrained from outside himself) rejects, and the one who believes, irresistibly and freely (as in, not constrained from outside himself) accepts.

Of course, there are "Calvinists" who overstate the dynamic, but I think they are not doing well by Calvin,  or Augustine either... who is really the one most of this should probably be named after.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

jimcarwest's picture

To comment on your analogy, the electric circuits behind the scene are the resource, but they are useless to produce an effect without the child flipping the switch (free will).

The “selection process” of John 3:16 is “whosoever believes.”

You are saying that “the elect will respond.”  Here is where you have introduced the Calvinistic idea that the elect will eventually respond because God chose them.  The Scripture, however, makes election “according to foreknowledge,” which means “God knew before they responded that they would respond, not that He decided they should or would necessarily respond.”

It’s interesting that in order to maintain your sequence of events related to salvation, which you quote from Romans 8, you conveniently leave out any mention of a person’s choice because it doesn't blatantly appear in the text.  That choice is implied, however,  in “foreknew” (foreknowledge indicating God knew beforehand whether a person would receive Christ or not), and on that basis He “predestinated," and in sequence of time, He called, justified, and glorified the foreknown one, etc.)

Consider:  it is not only the saved man who declares “Christ died for me.”  Before one is saved, one must believe this also, or he wouldn’t call on the Lord to be saved” in the first place.

I will not call you a “heretic;”  that’s pretty strong language.  In my opinion you are probably not in the mainstream of N.T. theology, having ignored that part of the Gospel which requires human participation.  It seems to me that you have under-emphasized the words “whosoever believes,” and turned human will into a robotic-type action.  The fact that this view has been tolerated at 4th for 10 years says more about 4th than it does about the validity of your position.

jimcarwest's picture

Yes, my answer would be “b.”  The something “different” in the one who chooses to believe is his response to the conviction of the Holy Spirit.  The one who chooses not to believe closes his heart to the work of the Holy Spirit.

 

I think I stated that the “cause” of rejection is that the one sinner does not accept that it is in his best interest to believe, and the other does.  This is where free will allows the sinner to make that decision.  Both are convicted by the Spirit; both decide what is in their best interest.  The rejecting sinner thinks ONLY of himself; the believing sinner relates what is best for him to how undeserving he is and how grateful to God he is for loving, forgiving, and accepting him.

 

Yes, Calvinism says everyone does what he wants to do.  But Calvinism goes on to admit that, in the case of the elected one, it is God who has made him want to do what he wants to do.  Like the old song: “He didn’t make them go against their will; He just made them willing to go.”  That’s just another way of denying the use of one’s free will. 

 

Your explanation of “irresistible grace” which you say prepares a sinner to accept salvation, either depicts God as being a respecter of persons for choosing one and damning another, or it depicts God as being capable of convincing one and not the other, or it shows God as desiring one and not the other, or it portrays one sinner being more depraved than another.  I can admit that the basis of such a choice of one and not another may be unexplainable to the human mind and not have anything to do with any reasons that we are presently able to understand.  If so, then the whole discussion is nothing more than academic, and we may all be shown to be ignorant when God shows us His wise scheme. 

 

I do agree with you that Calvinism should be aptly named Augustinianism, for that is where it began, and owing to the many errors of its founder, makes it even more suspect as a Bible doctrine.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Just because I can, I'll share a graphic I made for our church's discipleship lesson on God's calling to salvation:

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Jim's picture

My view of free will

I believe in free will, I don’t believe in libertarian free will. We make the choices we make because of who we are. We are responsible for these choices. God will judge each person accordingly with a righteous judgment.

Is there tension? Absolutely. We hold in tension our belief in God’s sovereignty, determining who we are, when we live, where we will live, who our parents will be, our DNA, etc. and human responsibility. While this might seem uncomfortable, I believe that it is not only the best biblical option, but the only philosophical option outside outside of fatalism

Jim's picture

jimcarwest wrote:
  The Scripture, however, makes election “according to foreknowledge,” which means “God knew before they responded that they would respond, not that He decided they should or would necessarily respond.”

It’s interesting that in order to maintain your sequence of events related to salvation, which you quote from Romans 8, you conveniently leave out any mention of a person’s choice because it doesn't blatantly appear in the text.  That choice is implied, however,  in “foreknew” (foreknowledge indicating God knew beforehand whether a person would receive Christ or not), and on that basis He “predestinated," and in sequence of time, He called, justified, and glorified the foreknown one, etc.)

 

You misunderstand foreknowledge and you underestimate the deadness of the human condition. 

Learn from the great AW Pink on foreknowledge!

What is meant by "foreknowledge?" "To know beforehand," is the ready reply of many. But we must not jump at conclusions, nor must we turn to Webster’s dictionary as the final court of appeal, for it is not a matter of the etymology of the term employed. What is needed is to find out how the word is used in Scripture. The Holy Spirit’s usage of an expression always defines its meaning and scope. It is failure to apply this simple, rule which is responsible for so much confusion and error. So many people assume they already know the signification of a certain word used in Scripture, and then they are too dilatory to test their assumptions by means of a concordance. Let us amplify this point.

 

TylerR's picture

Editor

If you disagree with a position, it is always helpful to actually read about that position so you actually understand it. For example, I completely disagree with Arminian soteriology, especially prevenient grace, and I've read what they have to say on this issue. I have Roger Olson's book, I have Thomas Odom's book on grace, I've read H. Orton Wiley's systematic, and I've read some of Wesley's sermons. I'm certainly not an expert, but I have a reasonably accurate idea of where they're coming from and why. 

In this thread, there have been a number of misrepresentations about Calvinist soteriology. If anyone still reading this thread would like to see what the other side has to say, I would recommend the following:

You may not ever agree, but that's not the point. We should at least want to understand the other side. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

jimcarwest's picture

Let me get this straight, Tyler. According to Calvinistic doctrine, "nothing prevents the salvation of the greatest sinner EXCEPT HIS OWN VOLUNTARY REFUSAL to accept Christ as Savior, but then the sinner's salvation rest solely upon his having been chosen by God before he accepts the gospel.  Thus the exercise of his will to be lost is his own responsibility, BUT the exercise of his will in salvation is only in consequence of having been prior elected.  I can't understand that this is biblical.

Jim's picture

jimcarwest wrote:

Let me get this straight, Tyler. According to Calvinistic doctrine, "nothing prevents the salvation of the greatest sinner EXCEPT HIS OWN VOLUNTARY REFUSAL to accept Christ as Savior, but then the sinner's salvation rest solely upon his having been chosen by God before he accepts the gospel.  Thus the exercise of his will to be lost is his own responsibility, BUT the exercise of his will in salvation is only in consequence of having been prior elected.  I can't understand that this is biblical.

Correctly represented:

  • All have sinned & deserve death
  • The Gospel is to preached to all
  • All invited
  • Without God, none would respond
  • Elect respond in faith
  • The ones who do not are accountable for their failure to repent
  • God is not blamed / nor the author of sin
  • Some things our finite minds cannot fathom

 

jimcarwest's picture

I suggest that some may overestimate the effects of the "deadness of the human condition."  We understand that all who are outside of Christ are spiritually dead.  This is characterized by their being depraved, and we generally quantify this depravity with the adjective "total."  But in Scripture this does not mean deadness as in "unable to respond to God in any way."  It means a lack of ability to produce the rigteousness that God requires for a relationship with Him. And in this man is totally incapable.   It does not imply, however, an inability to communicate with God in this spiritually depraved state.  There are instances in Scripture where God did speak with the depraved, did command them to do things, did hold them accountable without their first being made alive spiritually.  This belief by Calvinists has led to the false belief that regeneration must precede justification, holding that a sinner cannot repent and believe unless he is first made spiritually alive.  However, the  order of salvation, as stated in Scripture makes becoming a son of God contingent on first receiving Christ by believing on His name (John 1:12-13).  

As for Pink's comment that rejects the use of a dictionary for understanding the word "foreknowledge."  Well, how about the customary practice of arriving at the understanding of a word by viewing its other uses in Scripture.  The common use in the NT of the word "foreknowledge," according to well-recognized W.E. Vine''s Expository Dictionary of N.T. Words is: A. Verb.  "proginosko -- to know before is used of (a) Divine knowledge, concerning (1) Christ 1 Pet. 1:20, R.V. "FOREKNOWN" (A.V. foreordained); 2) Israel as God's earthly people, Rom. 11:2; (3) believers, Rom. 8:29; the foreknowledge of God is the basis of His foreordaining counsels; (b) of human knowledge (1) persons, Acts 26:5; (2) of faccs, 2 Pet. 3:17. B. Noun. proginosis, a foreknowledge (akin to A.) is used, only of Divine foreknowledge, Acts 2:23; 1 Pet. 1:2.  Foreknowledge is one aspect of omniscience; it is implied in God's warnings, promises and predictions.  See Acts 15:18.  God's foreknowledge involves His electing grace, but this does not preclude human will.  He foreknows the exercise of faith which brings salvation.  The Apostle Paul stresses especially the actual purposes of God rather than the ground of the purposes, see, e.g. Gal. 1:16; Eph. 1:5,11.  The Divine counsels will ever be unthwartable.  

I don't find anything Vine says the word contains to be inconsistent with the viewpoint I have espoused in this post.  I also do not find some of the theological interpretations some have advanced here to be consistent with the meaning of the word foreknowledge.  That is, I don't find the word advances the idea that God's election overrules the choice of man, but is simply the Divine awareness and prior knowledge of man's choice, which God requires man to exercise. 

I do find this Calvinistic "double talk" interesting.  Man cannot be saved unless God chooses and elects him, but if he is not saved, it is not due to God's not electing him, but rather it is man himself who is at fault because he does not believe and repent, which is unable to do because he is depraved beyond even being able to respond to God when the Spirit convicts him.    The logic of that view is really difficult to justify.  But I suppose if one starts out with a premise, and the end result is not consistent with the premise, it is a favorite tactic to just relegate the inconsistency to the realm of the unknown or a mystery or something that will be explained one day.  God invites us in Isa. 1:18 to come and reason with Him, and then, according to this view, He promptly informs us that what He says to us does not have to make sense.  

 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

jimcarwest wrote:

Yes, my answer would be “b.”  The something “different” in the one who chooses to believe is his response to the conviction of the Holy Spirit.  The one who chooses not to believe closes his heart to the work of the Holy Spirit.

I think I stated that the “cause” of rejection is that the one sinner does not accept that it is in his best interest to believe, and the other does.  This is where free will allows the sinner to make that decision.  Both are convicted by the Spirit; both decide what is in their best interest.  The rejecting sinner thinks ONLY of himself; the believing sinner relates what is best for him to how undeserving he is and how grateful to God he is for loving, forgiving, and accepting him.

Second paragraph first. Why does the rejecting sinner think differently than the other guy?

First paragraph: the two options were (a) Ralph believes because God did something to him that He did not do to Lars or (b) Ralph was already different from Lars.

As it happens, both explanations are a problem for popular "free will" views. 

  • Identifying the cause of Ralph's believing as something God did is pretty much what most of the variants of "free will" views object to. If God even nudges him a little bit toward faith and doesn't nudge the other guy in exactly the same way, it's seen as unfair, or "being respecter of persons" (though it's the opposite of that) etc.
  • Identifying the cause of Ralph's believing as something in himself is, however, even worse for most "free will" views I've heard. For one, it means that Ralph got saved because he was wiser than Lars. He is now a Christian because he was a better man, less blinded by sin, less deluded by sin's lies, less hostile toward the truth. If God did not make him better than the other guy, how did he get that way? He must have, by his own efforts, improved himself. 
    So now, instead of salvation by grace through faith, we have salvation by the faith that results from being a better human being.... I think most readers probably don't need me to explain why that is incompatible with the gospel.

At times your assertions seem to require (as with most free-willers I've explored this with) that "free will" means a choice that is somehow uncaused. But it should be clear that we have to reject that idea a priori. There is only one Uncaused Causer. All else is contingent.

Sometimes I use a variant of Ralph and Lars, but another metaphor might help.

Suppose a sinner, let's stick with Ralph, is standing on a knife edge ridge on top of a mountain, perfectly balanced between faith and unbelief. This is where the most common "free will" views I've heard require him to be. Every sinner has to be equally absolutely neutral toward the gospel so that he is entirely able to choose faith.

So there he is perfectly balanced. But eventually he will either believe or reject. He tips one way or the other. How did it happen? Was it something in him or something outside him? The instinct of most free-willers seems to be that it must be something inside him, but this destroys grace. If it is something outside him... this destroys their idea of "free."

But at least two insurmountable problems confront this view of free will:

  1. The Bible does not depict natural man as neutral toward God and the truth of the gospel. It clearly depicts them as dead in trespasses and sins, blinded by the god of this age, hostile toward God. People are not balanced perfectly between life and death equally able to choose either one. They are sunk in the miry clay unable to escape unless someone sets them on a rock.
  2. There is no reason to insist that "free" must mean uncaused or able. By this definition, man must be freer than God. God is not free to do evil, desire evil, think evil--because His nature limits His ability. Yet this popular free will theology insists that natural man is somehow not constrained by his nature.
    The Bible doesn't even use the term "free" in reference to natural man at all (which is interesting, no?) But it certainly nowhere defines "free will" as "ability to make choices that transcend your nature, yet without any special divine intervention." This idea of "free" is an entirely humanly devised concept.

No, the only freedom any being has--if he has freedom at all--is freedom from external constraint. Nobody is free from the boundaries of his nature.

One more note in conclusion. I find it endlessly fascinating to listen to people share their testimonies of conversion, for multiple reasons. Each story is unique and yet, in broad outline, they are all quite similar. Even among the most passionate "free will" champions, believers speak of God sending someone to share the truth with them, God arranging circumstances to change their attitudes, God using a tragedy or a blessing, God using the example of another believer, God... God.. God.

They are absolutely right.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Larry Nelson's picture

 

Fundamentalism historically has held, and continues to hold, true believers who differ on the extent of the Atonement.

 

R.V. Clearwaters was the pastor of Fourth Baptist Church & the President of Fourth Baptist Christian School while I attended (from 1972-1981). I recall him being known for saying something to the effect of "All means all---that's all all means."  (Whether that was original to him or not, I have no idea.)

--------------------------------------------------------

Looking at the Statement of Faith of the FBFI, I find this: "We believe the Lord Jesus Christ died as a substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of all men according to the Scriptures, and all who receive Him are justified on the grounds of His shed blood (2 Cor. 15:3; 2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 3:21-26; Heb. 2:9; 1 Jn. 2:2)." -

http://fbfi.org/constitution/

--------------------------------------------------------

Prominent in the FBFI is Dr. Mark Minnick.  He preached a 3-part sermon last year arguing for an Unlimited Atonement:

http://pastoroesterwind.com/2014/09/06/universal-propitiation/

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Online, one finds lengthy papers arguing for an Unlimited Atonement.  Example:  

http://home.earthlink.net/~ronrhodes/Atonement.html

-------------------------------------------------------

Meanwhile, others are convinced that the Atonement is limited to the Elect.  So be it.

 "Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind." (Romans 14:5b ESV)

TylerR's picture

Editor

Larry, a few quick comments:

This thread has shifted from election, to effectual calling, to limited atonement and back again many times. These are each related, but separate issues. 

You mentioned that, in fundamentalism, the matter of limited atonement is a non-issue. Well, maybe, maybe not! This really depends on what area of theology is of primary importance to somebody. For example:

  • If ecclesiology is your issue, then being a "Baptist" can cover a multitude of sins!
  • Likewise, if one's philosophy to ministry (e.g. "I'm a fundamentalist!") is of primary importance, then you'll be willing to tolerate a wide variety of theological opinions as long as you're together for the Gospel and the need to fight together against theological liberalism within Christianity (similar to the "big-tent" approach during the original fundamentalist-modernist controversies)
  • If soteriology is your burning issue, then you'll be very critical of folks who are fuzzy on the details of something you feel is really important. 

That's why I don't think you can really make that kind of sweeping statement. Some fundamentalists are big on being Baptist, others are more inclusive and focus on having a fundamentalist philosophy to ministry, and still others feel that the sovereignty of God in salvation is of primary importance.

For many fundamentalists, the whole issue of predestination, effectual calling and the intent of the atonement are not peripheral issues at all. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

jimcarwest's picture

jimcarwest wrote and my replies are underlined:

 

(Is this the first paragraph to which you refer below?)  Yes, my answer would be “b.”  The something “different” in the one who chooses to believe is his response to the conviction of the Holy Spirit.  The one who chooses not to believe closes his heart to the work of the Holy Spirit.

(Is this the second paragraph?)

 

I think I stated that the “cause” of rejection is that the one sinner does not accept that it is in his best interest to believe, and the other does.  This is where free will allows the sinner to make that decision.  Both are convicted by the Spirit; both decide what is in their best interest.  The rejecting sinner thinks ONLY of himself; the believing sinner relates what is best for him to how undeserving he is and how grateful to God he is for loving, forgiving, and accepting him.

 

 

Second paragraph first. Why does the rejecting sinner think differently than the other guy?

First paragraph: the two options were (a) Ralph believes because God did something to him that He did not do to Lars (I didn’t choose this one.) (or (b) Ralph was already different from Lars. (I didn’t choose this one either.)

As it happens, both explanations are a problem for popular "free will" views. (So neither of them is a problem for me, right?)

Identifying the cause of Ralph's believing as something God did is pretty much what most of the variants of "free will" views object to. If God even nudges him a little bit toward faith and doesn't nudge the other guy in exactly the same way, it's seen as unfair, or "being respecter of persons" (though it's the opposite of that) etc. (Rom. 2:4-6.  God shows His forbearance, goodness, and longsuffering for the purpose of leading all to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9), even to those who harden their hearts and treasure up wrath against the day of wrath and judgment of God.”  Those who have not the law of God in tablet form are still accountable because God has written His law upon their hearts (consciences) which bear witness, and their thoughts accuse or excuse them on that basis.  When it comes to salvation, God is no respecter of persons. (Rom. 2:12-16).  I believe it is clear that He does not treat anyone to their hurt.  Rather, he reveals enough about Himself to make salvation possible.  The Calvinist view would be that those whom God intends to save, He treats differently.  He gives them more light.  He generates in them a desire that enables them to be saved, and in others He simply relegates them to judgment because He never intended to save them anyway.  He passes over them, and the determining factor in their eternal judgment is that God never wanted to save them.  Somehow this is supposed to reveal God’s sovereignty, and anything less is said to challenge God’s authority.  I cannot see the whole tenor of Scripture teaches that.
 

Identifying the cause of Ralph's believing as something in himself is, however, even worse for most "free will" views I've heard. For one, it means that Ralph got saved because he was wiser than Lars. (Maybe Ralph, after using the powers of reason that God gave him, responds to the convicting power of the Spirit by accepting God’s love and offer of salvation.  Lars, using the same gift of reason, does not respond to the conviction of the Holy Spirit because he does not believe it makes any sense to him; he doesn’t see it is in his best interest to repent and believe.  God would save him, but he will not submit to God’s desires.  This is what seems to make Lar responsible for his own condemnation and at the same time allows Ralph to accept salvation, while showing God to be loving to both.  In either case, it is God who has established the rules, and He who makes the rules controls the game.  God ends up being both Sovereign and at the same time generous to both the saved and the lost.   He is now a Christian because he was a better man, less blinded by sin, less deluded by sin's lies, less hostile toward the truth.  Not true.  All of those statements can as easily be said about both Ralph and Lars.  In the interim that leads to salvation, both have contributed to their own damnation or salvation by their response to the light.  If God did not make him better than the other guy, how did he get that way? He must have, by his own efforts, improved himself. Those who believe in free will do not believe that man can make improve himself to qualify for salvation.  But one’s response to the light conditions on to receive more light just as rejection of the light cuts one off from more light.  The light is the same; it is the response to the light that conditions one be more open to the Gospel.
So now, instead of salvation by grace through faith, we have salvation by the faith that results from being a better human being.... I think most readers probably don't need me to explain why that is incompatible with the gospel.  That is a Pelagian viewpoint, and I certainly would not accept that.

At times your assertions seem to require (as with most free-willers I've explored this with) that "free will" means a choice that is somehow uncaused. But it should be clear that we have to reject that idea a priori. There is only one Uncaused Causer. All else is contingent. You are wrong, my brother.  I agree that God is the First Cause, but that does not negate that, as the “Causer,” He gave to that one created in His image, the capacity to make choices.  When man makes a choice of salvation, he is not acting on his own; he is acting in concert with the freedom God gave him.  This is true of those who exercise the will to be saved and those who exercise it deliberately or by neglect to be lost.  In the end both are acting with the same free will that God granted.

Sometimes I use a variant of Ralph and Lars, but another metaphor might help.

Suppose a sinner, let's stick with Ralph, is standing on a knife edge ridge on top of a mountain, perfectly balanced between faith and unbelief. This is where the most common "free will" views I've heard require him to be. Every sinner has to be equally absolutely neutral toward the gospel so that he is entirely able to choose faith.

So there he is perfectly balanced. But eventually he will either believe or reject. He tips one way or the other. How did it happen? Was it something in him or something outside him? The instinct of most free-willers seems to be that it must be something inside him, but this destroys grace. If it is something outside him... this destroys their idea of "free."

But at least two insurmountable problems confront this view of free will:

The Bible does not depict natural man as neutral toward God and the truth of the gospel. It clearly depicts them as dead in trespasses and sins, blinded by the god of this age, hostile toward God. People are not balanced perfectly between life and death equally able to choose either one. They are sunk in the miry clay unable to escape unless someone sets them on a rock.  This all true, but to follow your analogy of the miry clay, while both are equally in danger, one has the choice to keep struggling until he has no more strength and then just sink, or one may give up his own efforts and take hold of the rope that a savior has thrown to him.  The one is saved because he accepts the offer of salvation; the other is lost because he will not.

There is no reason to insist that "free" must mean uncaused or able. By this definition, man must be freer than God. God is not free to do evil, desire evil, think evil--because His nature limits His ability. Yet this popular free will theology insists that natural man is somehow not constrained by his nature. There is no Scriptural reason not to believe that every sinner may be lost, nor that every sinner may be saved.  Certainly, the Scripture affirms that “God will have all men to be saved.”  And yes, man can only be as free as God has willed to make him

The Bible doesn't even use the term "free" in reference to natural man at all (which is interesting, no?) But it certainly nowhere defines "free will" as "ability to make choices that transcend your nature, yet without any special divine intervention." This idea of "free" is an entirely humanly devised concept.  The question is not whether man can make a choice that transcends his nature.  Left to himself, he can only expect eternal damnation.  The question is, whether God leaves the salvation of sinners subject only to the use of their will, and He does not.  The question is whether God determines to take either those sinners and help one to salvation while ignoring the other.  And the Scriptures reveal the God who loves every sinner without being a Respecter of persons and desires their salvation, while allowing man to choose to receive Christ or reject Him and to suffer/enjoy the consequences of his own choices.

No, the only freedom any being has--if he has freedom at all--is freedom from external constraint. Nobody is free from the boundaries of his nature.  No one is questioning whether a person’s choices influence his nature, which is corrupt through and through.  But if all men are equally totally depraved, how do you explain that some are more vile than others.  Both share the same degree of depravity.  Are you saying that God helps some sinners to be better than other sinners, and that environment, nature, and human choice are of no consequence?

One more note in conclusion. I find it endlessly fascinating to listen to people share their testimonies of conversion, for multiple reasons. Each story is unique and yet, in broad outline, they are all quite similar. Even among the most passionate "free will" champions, believers speak of God sending someone to share the truth with them, God arranging circumstances to change their attitudes, God using a tragedy or a blessing, God using the example of another believer, God... God.. God.  And why wouldn’t they.  To Him alone belongs the honor and the glory for everyone’s salvation.  I don’t see how your statement here has any consequence beyond my reaction to it.

They are absolutely right.  On this, we both find agreement.

jimcarwest's picture

If Calvinists were satisfied with those two statements, Jim, there wouldn't be such disputing of viewpoints.  No, Calvinists have to go about qualifying plain Scriptures in order to agree with some Roman priest from the 4th century and another French theologian from the 16th.  

TylerR's picture

Editor

Consider that the Scriptures say that repentance is granted by Jesus:

  • Acts 5:31 Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins

I'd like somebody to correct me if they disagree with this. I translated it myself, and I don't see any way around this:

  • "He [Jesus] has God exalted as Captain and Savior to His right hand, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins."
  • The infinitive δοῦναι is being used to give the grounds or reason why God has exalted Jesus Christ - so Christ can give both repentance and forgiveness
  • We do have to repent and believe, but Peter says the ultimate cause of our repentance is Jesus Christ, Who sent the Spirit to convict us in the first place!

Food for thought . . .

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

jimcarwest's picture

Som if it is Jesus who causes the repentance and faith, the sinner has nothing to do with it but to respond because he is under another's control..  You can't have it both ways: either the sinner does something, because God has made a human response necessary for salvation, (and this destroys your premise), or Jesus does it all, and the sinner bears no responsibility.  I can't see that your exegesis of the verse is correct.  Yes, because God exalted Jesus to be a Prince and a Savior, there is ground for Israel to repent and believe.  If the resurrection had not occurred, no amount of the sinner's repentance would have produced the result of salvation.  Paul said it: "If Christ be not raised from the dead, ye are yet in your sins."

TylerR's picture

Editor

Please explain what Acts 5:31 means. The intent of the infinitive δοῦναι, in this instance, is to explain the reason why God has exalted Jesus Christ. The reason is supplied in the second half of the verse - so that Jesus could grant both (1) repentance and (2) forgiveness. 

This verse has nothing to do with the grounds for repentance. It has to do with Jesus giving both (1) repentance and (2) forgiveness. God exalted Him so that He would give both to sinners. This verse clearly attributes the ultimate source of a sinner's repentance to Jesus. Once all the layers are stripped away, the only reason why people repent and believe is because they've been granted repentance by the Holy Spirit, who is sent by Christ.  

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

jimcarwest's picture

This is a very weak verse to prove your argument.  The context is Peter's words to the Jewish Council (Israel).  It is an indictment on  the leaders of Israel who demanded Jesus' crucifixion.  After they killed Jesus, He was buried (2nd element of the gospel), thinking that they were finished with Him.  God overruled their evil deed.  He raised Him up to be Israel's Prince and Savior, and through him to grant repentance and forgiveness (to Israel).  Though God grants repentance to Israel, He also does to all those who obey Him. Though it is God who gives repentance and faith, the rest of Scripture is consistent in laying down the conditions of both -- human response of contrition and believing faith.  The capacity for both is granted by God, but He does so without partiality or being a Respecter of persons.  His will is that "all should come to repentance."  He desires all men to be saved.  He thus makes it possible for all to be saved in that Christ gave Himself a ransom for all.

That was a good try, but it went beyond the general tenor of Scripture.  I wish people would stop trying to limit salvation to only a few, when God says He wants it to be available to all the world, and to prove the sincerity of the offer, He commanded His disciples to "go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, i.e., to make the offer available to all without exception.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Help me here. You wrote:

Though it is God who gives repentance and faith, the rest of Scripture is consistent in laying down the conditions of both -- human response of contrition and believing faith.  The capacity for both is granted by God, but He does so without partiality or being a Respecter of persons. 

According to Acts 5:31:

  1. Do you believe Jesus Christ gives repentance to everybody, or only certain people? 
  2. Are you saying that "human response and believing faith" is a pre-requisite to the granting of repentance and faith? That's what you seem to be saying. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

They are absolutely right.  On this, we both find agreement.

I'm remembering now why I usually don't participate in exchanges on these topics.

As a (probably) last contribution this time around, it's pretty clear to me that starting out with particular ideas of what's fair, loving and "being a respecter of persons," then working from there to conclusions about the nature of man and God is backwards.

The better course is to start with what Scripture clearly reveals about God's nature and man's--without reference to soteriology--and then, having gotten straight what the natural man is actually like, and what God does and does not owe him... things fall better into place.

  • That human beings are not neutral toward God is quite clear in Scripture.
  • That they do not all become neutral when hearing the gospel is clearly absent from Scripture.
  • That nothing is free to transcend its own nature is self-evident.

So... once we get free of Pelagius and his derivatives, most of how the saving transaction must work is really pretty obvious.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

jimcarwest's picture

The Scriptures teach that Jesus Christ grants a changed heart when people respond by turning to the Lord and believing in Him. You are implying in your argument that only some sinners may repent because God does the repenting for them, i.e. He changes them without the operation of their will,, i.e. He makes unwilling people willing because He, for some reason unknown to man, prefers one over another.  I don't believe that is consistent with Scripture.  

The example you cite in Acts specifically relates to Israel, a covenant people.

I am saying that human response to the Gospel by repentance and believing faith in Christ are pre-requisites to salvation. The divine order is "Repent, and believe the gospel."  Why would you want to distort the message given to sinners in order to support some extraneous theology that was not preached by the Apostles?

jimcarwest's picture

Since you insist on wanting to exegete Acts 5:31 in a way that it becomes the principle guide for interpreting how repentance is dispensed, i.e., to show that repentance is a gift from God, and man has no part in repenting, and since you want me to answer your question solely on the basis of Acts 5:31, then let's be specific.  Acts 5:31 says that God grants repentance unto Israel.  When God deals with Israel in the OT about repenting and restoration, He does so on a national basis.  Times of declension in the Judges were punished on a national basis, and the following deliverance was also on a national basis.  The passage in Acts 3:12-26 should enlighten on this subject.  Peter there is addressing Israel and its leaders.  Verse 19 addresses repentance in the manner of commanding Israel to repent of having rejected and killed Jesus Christ.  God is commanding repentance (human side) and promising the result of repentance (Divine side) to produce conversion.  Acts 5:31 is consistent with this passage.  God will grant repentance, forgiveness, and restoration to Israel in the sense of accepting their returning to the LORD, and times of refreshing will come from the presence of the Lord.

I believe it is a big mistake to make Acts 5:31 the primary verse on repentance and thus to cause all other references to the human response of repentance contingent upon this verse which you want to make support a Calvinistic position.  

TylerR's picture

Editor

Acts 5:31 is not a "go-to" verse for me on this topic. I simply encountered it during my sermon prep this week, and wanted to know what you thought about it. 

Please help me understand:

God is commanding repentance (human side) and promising the result of repentance (Divine side) to produce conversion.  Acts 5:31 is consistent with this passage.  God will grant repentance, forgiveness, and restoration to Israel in the sense of accepting their returning to the LORD, and times of refreshing will come from the presence of the Lord.

Are you saying that repentance is something granted after men return to the Lord? What is your ordo salutis

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

TylerR's picture

Editor

This is a horrible forum for discussing this kind of issue. All I hope to do, for people who care, is to get you to think about the other side. I hope that those of you on the other side can at least understand where we're coming from. I hope some of you are at least willing to spend 0.99 and buy one of the books I mentioned on Kindle. You may not ever agree with a Calvinistic soteriology, but at least you'd understand the other side. 

Jim - you simply don't understand Calvinist soteriology. There's a difference between not understanding it, and disagreeing with it. You don't understand it. 

I've spent time trying to understand Arminian theology. Many conservative Christians are functioning Arminians, whether they realize it or not. The idea of so-called "prevenient grace" is a common one. Many conservative Christians hold to it, whether they've ever heard the term or not. I've taken the time to try to understand that position, and will keep trying to understand it better. I wish folks on the other side would reciprocate. 

Jim - to your continued remarks about God "violating our free will," etc, I will reply with a quote from Edwin Palmer (one of the authors of the books I recommended in the above link):

  • "So, in the name of God, I command and invite you: believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s up to you. But if you do believe, then thank God for making you want to believe," (Edwin H. Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism: A Study Guide [reprint; Grand Rapids, Baker, 1996], 113).  

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

jimcarwest's picture

You asked me to answer your question "according to Acts 5:31.  If you wish me to establish a truth on that one verse alone, I would have to answer that, based on that one verse, it would appear that God grants repentance only to Israel.  You want to make it a treatise on whether "Christ gives repentance to everybody, or only to certain people." That verse all by itself doesn't answer your question.  This is the danger of trying to base a doctrine on one verse, as you well know.  Alone it doesn't answer your second question either.  

Here is a verse that is more all-encompassing than Acts 5:31, that speaks of the the universality of the offer.  It is Titus 2:11, "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us..."  It doesn't say that God's grace saves all men.  It is not teaching universalism.  It says that God's grace has appeared to all men.  It is that grace that brings salvation, i.e., it opens the door for all to be saved.  By the words, "teaching us," it seems to show that "us" distinguishes between those who have received the grace and those who have not.  

I will admit that none can repent but those to whom make His grace is available.  Repentance does not lie in the realm of any man's ability to do on his own.  Where you and I seem to differ is that I believe the Scriptures teach that God's grace has been made available to all men and that God has not excluded any person from His loving provision of Jesus Christ to forgive their sins, no matter how depraved they are.  God is able to save to the uttermost all who come unto God by Him (Heb. 7:25).  

How is God more glorified if He excludes from the offer of salvation anyone on the grounds that they just don't measure up to some standard that man doesn't know or understand?.  His grace is not limited.  No one's depravity disqualifies him from the capacity of God to save him.  How is it understandable that God would select by some standard known only to Him some for heaven and others for hell?  

 

From the beginning of the story of redemption, did God select Abel over Cain by some arbitrary method known only to Him?  It appears not.  He chose Abel because he responded in faith and brought the bloody sacrifice.  Cain He rejected because he would not.  Was it because Cain could not?  Absolutely not!  God scolded him for being angry that his sacrifice was not accepted.  Then He offered him a second chance to come in the right way.  He was warned that if he would not (not could not), "sin lieth at the door."  From the very beginning, salvation required a human response, and the soul's destination depended upon that response.  Cain was lost, not because he wasn't chosen, but because he wouldn't surrender his will to God's.  Isn't this how you see it? 

jimcarwest's picture

The best beginning point is with the character of God.  One of His character attributes is Justice.  Another is Love.  God's attributes do not contradict each other.  When we talk of fairness, we are talkiing about a Just God.  A Just God is revealed in Scripture as one who always does good, always is righteous, never violates the principle of right and wrong, always deals with His creatures in a fair and just manner.  Because of man's sin and rebellion, that Justice also demands retribution.  

At the same time He is a God of Love.  His love extends to all His creatures.  He rains upon the just and the unjust.  If in the material realm this is true, how much more in the spiritual.  The Scripture plainly and incontrovertibly declares that God's love encompasses all mankind.  "For God so loved the WORLD that He gave His only begotten Son, that WHOSOEVER believeth...."  There is no unrighteousness with God.  He saves "all who come unto God by Christ."  He condemns only those who finally reject His provision for their salvation.  

Who says that "human beings are neutral towards God"?  Humans are an enmity with God.  None become neutral when hearing the gospel.  There are all sorts of responses, ranging from obstinate resistance to an easy compliance.  Of course, man's nature influences and controls his responses.  Yet man does possess a capacity to respond to the reasonings of God's Word.  And the Scriptures teach that God holds him accountable for doing so.  

It seems to me a very self-serving comment to accuse those, who do not understand Scripture to teach Election as taught by a Calvinistic view of salvation truth, to be followers of Pelagius.  One might just as fairly say that, once we get free of Augustine and his heretical derivatives, we might understand how salvation truth is presented in Scripture.  

Since God is Sovereign, He can establish whatever rules are consistent with His character and attributes for saving lost mankind.  And He will be glorified by the rules He establishes.  He has established that salvation will be by grace and not by works, lest any man should boast.  Requiriing man to repent, to believe, to be converted does not make salvation partly of man nor does it rob God of the glory, majesty and honor that is due him.  It does place the responsibility of man's condemnation on man himself.  It does not make man his own savior.  Man might repent all he wanted or was capable of, but if God had not provided the death, burial, and resurrection of His Son, all that human effort would be of no value.  Those human responses, which God commands, do not save man one iota.  It is Christ alone Who saves.  To Him be glory forever and ever.  Amen.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Who says that "human beings are neutral towards God"?  Humans are an enmity
with God.  None become neutral when hearing the gospel. 

I only have a second this AM, so a quick thought or two.

A position can suffer from problems of principle/premises or problems of reasoning, or both. In this case, it may be that the problem is mostly with the reasoning. You're affirming at least some of the same premises I do, but not seeing where they necessarily lead.

If indeed human beings are at enmity with God and those who hear the gospel are not brought to a neutral state, there are conclusions that these truths force us to accept, whether we want to or not.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

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