05
Feb
16

Calvinistic Evangelism-Chapter Sixteen-The Place of Law Preaching in Evanglism

 

In this chapter, I want to examine what place, if any, the preaching of God’s law has in the proclamation of the evangelistic message. What do we find in the biblical record concerning this question? Did the apostles first proclaim God’s law in their evangelistic message? If so, did they always do so?

Law Defined

We should never engage in a discussion of the law without first identifying in what sense we are using that term. I want to list a number of different ways in which the terms “law” (nomos) is used in the Bible. It is my view that a large part of the difficulty surrounding this issue [and every issue for that matter] results from a lack of accurate definition of terms.  I believe it will become clear as we proceed that “law” cannot simply be used as a synonym for the Ten Commandments.

  1. God’s universal and perpetual standard of righteousness–The word “law” may be used of God’s universal and perpetual righteous standard that exists by virtue of the righteous character of the Creator and Governor of the universe. It is this overarching righteous standard that provides the foundation for every other expression of law.
  1. Natural law–God’s universal law is expressed in what some might call “natural law.” Human kind possess an innate understanding that certain actions and attitudes are right and others are wrong.  Even those who proclaim their autonomy and freedom from moral constraints most vociferously still suffer from guilt for having violated universally accepted norms.  Paul wrote concerning Gentiles who do not have the law [Mosaic law], “. . .they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law [Mosaic]” (Rom. 2:14).  We should not understand “a law unto themselves” according to common usage.  Generally, when we say a person is “a law unto himself,” we mean he is lawless and acts as though there is no law. He simply does as he pleases. Instead, what Paul seems to mean here is that though they do not have the Mosaic law, they, through their innate knowledge of God’s righteous norm, perform the function of the law for themselves.  When he says they “do what the law requires” he does not mean they live in complete conformity to the law, but that they practice certain righteous requirements of the law. His point is that these people obey certain aspects of the law, not because it comes to them in codified form but because they possess an innate sense that certain actions are right and others wrong.
  1. Law as Covenant or Mosaic Law—It is important to understand that when the New Testament writers refer to the Old Covenant, their reference is to the Mosaic law, specifically, to the Decalogue or Ten Commandments. Whenever we find the phrase “hupo nomon” (under law) in the New Testament Scriptures the reference is always to law as covenant. The contrast between being “under law” and “under grace” is not an existential contrast, but a covenantal contrast.

Moses wrote, “and he wrote on the tablets [the two tables of stone] the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments [or ten words]” (Ex. 34:28).  The Ten Commandments are the words of the covenant.  This was the document that officially constituted Israel as a nation.  It is clear, or should be clear,  that this law was neither perpetual nor universal.  Paul makes it clear that “it was added” 430 years after God granted the promises to Abraham. This indicates it came into being long after the creation. Additionally, he stated that it was to endure only “until the Seed [Christ] should come to whom the promise was made” (Gal. 3:19).

The law as covenant was a conditional covenant of works that promised the continuation of life in the land of promise to all who observed its commandments. It foreshadowed the eternal life and everlasting rest of all those on whose behalf its rigid demands were met. Additionally, it provided the stage on which the drama of redemptive history would be played out. It is interesting that in Romans 5:20 Paul wrote, “WHERE sin increased or overflowed, grace overflowed all the more.” It was in the very place, “under law,” WHERE sin took on this intensified character, namely, “trespass” or “transgression” that grace entered and superabounded in establishing the reign of grace in Christ.

God’s intention in giving the law/covenant was to give sin an intensified character.  There are several phrases in the Pauline corpus that lead to this conclusion. For example, he wrote in Romans 5:20, “but the Law came in alongside (presumably alongside the imputation of the Adamic transgression) so that the offence might overflow or be multiplied. Jesus won our redemption on a stage where the definition of sin had been honed to a fine point and sin itself had been given the character of transgression. It was not in the nebulous atmosphere of natural law but in the intensified milieu of codified covenant that Jesus wrought the work of redemption. No one, having read the law, could ever have a question about the kind of behavior God loved and the kind of behavior he hated. In Galatians 3:19, Paul stated that the purpose of the law was to give sin the character of transgression.  Many of our translations render his words “because of transgressions” as though the law was given so that transgressions that were already in existence might be curbed. But this cannot be Paul’s meaning. Paul writes in Romans 4:15, “For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.” Transgression is a deliberate overstepping of a clearly defined boundary. Such an overstepping cannot occur in this case apart from codified law. It is better to understand Galatians 3:19 to mean that the law was added for the sake of transgression, i.e., to more clearly define sin and righteousness and give sin the character of transgression—deliberate rebellion against God.

Apart from the emotional attachment people have to the Ten Commandments and the belief that apart from the Ten Commandments believers would “be left without a moral compass” [perhaps someone should put in a good word for the Holy Spirit and the New Testament Scriptures here], it should be obvious to any thinking person that God never intended the Ten Commandments to be a universal and perpetual document. It would require extreme prejudice in favor of the perpetuity of the Ten Commandments/Old Covenant to produce sufficient blindness to cause one to ignore Paul’s clear teaching in 2 Corinthians. Verses three and following.  It is beyond the scope of this article to give a full exposition of that passage, but I wish to call your attention to one aspect of that passage that is pertinent to our point here. Paul contrasts that which is permanent, the New Covenant/gospel, with “that which is being brought to an end,” the Old Covenant/law, and identifies that covenant as “the ministry of death, CARVED IN LETTERS ON STONE.”  What part of the law was “carved in letters on stone?” Clearly, it was the “ten words.” If the Ten Words have perpetuity, how can it be that they are “being brought to an end?” It is not merely the civil and ceremonial commandments necessary for the implementation of the covenant that have been fulfilled and brought to an end.  The covenant itself [the Law as a covenant in Ten Commandments] has been fulfilled and replaced with a New Covenant.

Of course, there will be those Reformed folks who will have a visceral reaction to what I have just written and accuse me of being an Antinomian, but nothing I have written should give the slightest impression that I am against the law or that I believe Christians should live as libertines.  I honestly believe some of these folks are more concerned with being faithful to their confessional standards than they are with being faithful to the Scriptures.

  1. Law as Torah—At times “nomos” refers to Moses’ writings– E.g., John 1:45— “we have found him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets wrote.”
  1. Law as Old Testament Scriptures—E.g., Psalms 19:7— “The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul. . ..” “Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Ps. 119:18). See also Ps. 119:70, 72, 92, 97, 113, 174.
  1. Law as the Law of Christ—Paul wrote that he was “. . .to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God, but under the law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21).
  1. Law as a principle or rule of operation—At times, “law” refers to the way things work. Paul wrote, “I find then a law, that when I would do good, evil is present with me” (Romans 7:21).  “What then becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law [principle or rule of operation]? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith” (Rom3:27).

God’s Law as the Standard of Justification

It seems clear that God’s law must be the standard of justification. If we deny that perfect obedience to the law is the standard of justification before God, we must be prepared to answer what that standard is. Since justification is a forensic declaration, how else could one define it if not in terms of law? If righteousness is not to be defined in terms of law, how would one ever know if God is pleased with him? Micah wrote, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 5:8)? How can one know if he is “doing justice” if there is no judicial standard of righteousness? Was not law the standard by which one was to know if he was indeed “doing justice?”

I am not arguing that the Covenant that God established at Mt. Sinai is the universal standard by which God will judge all humanity. That covenant is but one expression of God’s eternal standard of righteousness. Biblically, when we think of the Ten Commandments, we should think of the temporary covenant God made with the nation of Israel. It did not exist before God established it on Mt. Sinai and it lasted only until Christ came. Paul wrote, “it was added [it did not exist when God made the Abrahamic covenant], until Christ came [to fulfill it and establish a new covenant].” As a codification of God’s overarching righteous standard, it gave sin the character of transgression. The Bible does not teach that sin does not exist where there is no law. It teaches that transgression does not exist where law is not explicitly stated in a codified form.

The Scriptures clearly teach us that there are some who “have sinned without the law” (Rom. 2:12). Verse fourteen of that chapter also tells us that the Gentiles do not have the law. Does that mean there is absolutely no standard of righteousness for them? Of course not! It could mean they do not have the Scriptures, but it most likely means they are not under the Covenant God made with Israel. The commandments of that covenant are not God’s standard of righteousness for Gentiles. For this reason, I believe the standard of righteousness for justification is not Mosaic Law, but the two commandments on which that covenant depends.

We read in Matthew’s Gospel,

And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:35-40).

Jesus does not say that the Decalogue “is summarily comprehended” in these two commandments, but that the Law and the Prophets “hang on” these two commandments.

Law Preaching to Prepare for the Gospel

Must We Preach the Decalogue?

One area in which my understanding of the evangelistic message would depart from that of many in the Reformed camp is that I find no biblical and theological evidence that we must preach the Decalogue to sinners before we preach the gospel to them. I will come back to my exegetical reasons for that conviction in a moment.

Several years ago, Pastor Walter Chantry wrote a book entitled, Today’s Gospel: Authentic or Synthetic. In that book, he argued that a person cannot rightly proclaim the gospel without first proclaiming the law as Jesus did when a rich young ruler approached him seeking eternal life. It seem clear in light of other books he has written that by “law” he was referring to the Ten Commandments. Though his book is helpful in many ways, its major flaw is that it fails to take into account other examples of Jesus’ evangelism that do not follow the same pattern. We cannot argue that we must do what Jesus and the Apostles did not always do. The fact is we have not a single biblical example of gospel preaching in which the preacher told sinners of their responsibility to keep the Sabbath or upbraided anyone for failure to do so. This is significant since the fourth commandment was the ceremonial sign of the covenant (see Ex. 31:13, 17; 34:28;), not a perpetual, universal, moral commandment.

Supporting Texts?

There are two primary verses on which the proponents of law preaching in preparation for gospel proclamation base their view. One is Romans 3:20, “for by the Law is the knowledge of sin.” The other is Galatians 3:24 which in the A.V reads, “Therefore, the law was our school master to bring us to Christ.”

Romans 3:20

In the case of Romans 3:20, the apostle is merely stating that it was not the function of the law to justify any sinner. It was the function of the law to demonstrate the depth of human guilt, not to remedy man’s sinful condition. The law was not intended to justify sinners but to magnify the nature of sin. The codification of God’s eternal righteous standard gave sin the character of transgression. Where there is no [codification of] law, there is no transgression (see Romans 4:15). That is to say this passage is descriptive of the law’s function and not prescriptive relative to gospel preaching. I have argued elsewhere that Israel’s experience under the law was intended to show the full depravity of the entire race.  In The Fullness of Time: A biblical-theological study of Galatians, I wrote,

It is obvious that Israel enjoyed privileges that the nations of the world knew nothing about. But, along with these privileges came great responsibility. Israel as the servant of Jehovah had as her task to reflect the light and glory of the Lord to the pagan nations around them. One of the ways in which Israel was to function in this witness bearing capacity was to be dealt with by God as a representative sample, a sort of microcosm, of the entire race. Thus, Israel’s failure under that covenant mirrors the failure of all. Because of this failure, every mouth is stopped and all the world becomes guilty before God.

T.L. Donaldson has made an important and insightful observation in relation to this function of the Mosaic law. He wrote,

Israel, the people of the law, thus functions as a kind of representative sample of the whole. Their plight is no different from the plight of the whole of humankind, but through the operation of the law in their situation that plight is thrown into sharp relief. Being under νόμος [law] is a special way of being under τὰ στοιχεῖα το κόσμου, [the elemental principles of the world] because only under the former can the true nature of the bondage to the latter be clearly seen (Donaldson 104, 1986).

 

Douglas Moo seems to be sounding the same note when he writes, “Perhaps it is best to view Israel’s experience with the law as paradigmatic of all nations (Moo, 213, 1988).

The experience of Israel and the experience of the Gentiles is the same as far as their sinfulness is concerned. The difference is that Israel was being dealt with in terms of more specific and more clearly revealed requirements than those imposed on the Gentiles. Since the boundaries were more clearly defined for Israel than they were for Gentiles, the people of Israel had greater responsibility.

Israel’s rebellion against God’s law (see for example, “My people are like a heifer that backs away from the yoke” (Hosea 4:16)), tells us how all of us would have reacted had we been subjected to the same law. For this reason, the apostle Paul wrote, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, (“under law” in the New Testament Scriptures always refers to God’s covenant relationship with the nation of Israel), so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God” (Romans 3:19). In demonstrating the culpability of God’s covenant people, the law shuts everyone’s mouth so that no one can boast of his own righteousness. In condemning those under the law covenant of Sinai, God condemned us all.

Galatians 3:24-Three Interpretive Issues

The other text, Galatians 3: 24, has been understood to mean that the law is the school teacher who instructs us individually about our sin so that we will flee from our sin and be justified by grace through faith. There are at least three factors that have led people to understand the verse this way. The first is the failure to understand the text in a redemptive-historical way and not in an individualistic, existential way. The second is related to the first and results from the third factor. The second is the mistranslation of the verse. The third is the failure to take the context into account. Perhaps it would be best to consider these factors in reverse order since it seems it is in that order the misunderstanding has occurred. By that I mean if the translators had considered the context, they would not have translated the text as they did and we would have understood it in a redemptive-historical sense and not in an individualistic sense.

Context

The apostle is answering the question “Why then the law?” If the law could not alter the promise made to Abraham in any way, then why did God give the law? He answers, “It was added. . . until the Seed should come to whom the promise had been made” (v. 19).  In verse twenty-three we read, “Now before faith came [I understand this as a reference to THE FAITH in terms of the full-blown revelation of God in Christ as opposed to our subjective act of faith in God’s promises], we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.In verse twenty-five he wrote, “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.”  The word translated “guardian” was used of a slave whose task it was to discipline a minor child. This guardian represents the law. What Paul is saying is that the law covenant has come to an end now that Christ has come. The law was our guardian until Christ came, but we are no longer under that guardian. That is the clear teaching of verse twenty-four. Everything in the context would point us to the conclusion that the law produced an uneasy confinement. Verse twenty-two speaks of “imprisonment.” Verse twenty-three speaks of being “held captive” and “imprisoned.”

Translation

Because of the failure to note the context, the text has been misunderstood by the translators. The word translated “school master” in the A.V. speaks of the same uneasy confinement. A friend of mine who attended Catholic school said that when he understood the real meaning of that word, it made him think of a nun with a ruler. It referred to a slave whose task it was to discipline an underage child until he came to his majority. When necessary, he was hard and harsh so that he might keep the child in line. His task was not to instruct, but to discipline. Understanding that, if we remove the italicized words “to bring us,” and understand eis in a temporal sense, i.e. “until” Christ came, the verse fits perfectly into the context. A better translation would be “the law was our child trainer until Christ came.” It was the function of the law to provide the stage on which Christ would redeem his people “that we might be justified by faith.”

Redemptive Historical Understanding

Paul teaches the same idea in Galatians chapter four and expands the idea of the law as disciplining slave. Though the believer in Israel under the law was heir to the Father’s entire inheritance, he was no better off than a slave since he was under tutors and governors until the time appointed by the Father, at which time the heir would be placed as a son, i.e., be adopted, and receive his inheritance. Verse four “when the fullness of the time had come” corresponds to the phrase “the time appointed by the father” in verse three. It follows that “the fullness of the time” refers to the time of fulfillment in contrast to the period of Israel’s nonage, a time of promise and expectation. As a sign that our inheritance has been granted and as a pledge that the full inheritance will be ours, God has send forth his Spirit into our hearts, crying out Abba, Father (cf. Romans 8: 23-25). The contrast between being under the tutelage of the harsh taskmaster and no longer under that taskmaster is clearly redemptive-historical, and not existential in nature. That is to say, Paul’s focus was not on what God is doing in us but on what God has accomplished in Christ. If we consider this as an existential reference to our coming to personal faith and thus no longer being under the law, we will have great difficulty explaining Paul’s statement that the law was added, until the seed should come to whom the promise was made. He was speaking about the law as covenant, and that covenant was expressed in Ten Commandments.  He was not saying the civil and ceremonial aspects of the law were added until the seed should come. He knew of no such artificial theological distinction.

I would conclude that there is not sufficient exegetical evidence to induce us to proclaim the Decalogue to every sinner before we can witness the gospel to him or her. This is especially true since we do not find evidence in the biblical record that the apostles included an exposition of the Decalogue in their evangelistic messages.

God’s Righteous Standard in Apostolic Preaching

In Romans 1:18, the apostle Paul begins to explain why he is delighted with God’s method of putting sinners right with himself. He begins to explain why sinners are in need of his saving grace. He writes, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” This verse speaks to us of the sinner’s two most serious problems in their relationship with God. The word translated “ungodliness” focuses attention on our sinful hostility against God. The word translated “unrighteousness” focuses attention on our wrong relationship to our fellowman. Hodge wrote, “The first represents impiety toward God and the second injustice toward men.”

This verse also indicates that our proclamation of the gospel must not gloss over the vast gulf that separates the sinner from God. A message that begins by assuring sinners that God loves them and that Jesus has died to pay for all their sins proclaims peace where there is no peace. If we would pattern our evangelism after the example of the apostles, we must begin where they began. I cannot find a single example of New Testament preaching that began with a proclamation of God’s universal, redeeming love. Instead, New Testament evangelists began their messages by telling their hearers that God’s wrath was engaged against them because they were both unrighteous and hostile toward him. Romans 1:18 speaks of the sinner’s impiety. This indicts the sinner for his guilt in breaking the first and great commandment— “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Deut. 6:5). As evidence of this impiety, the apostle shows that in the face of all God’s self-revelations, in spite of all his benevolent goodness and patience, and in defiance of his proffers of mercy, sinners remain recalcitrant and obdurate in their rebellion against him. Here it is patently clear again that the sinner is not inclined toward God and goodness. One could not even draw from the New Testament Scriptures that he is neutral toward God. Instead, the apostle alleges that the sinner hates God and is at cross purposes with him.

Sinners are Ungodly and Unrighteous

In the indictment that follows Romans 1:18, Paul, the apostle presents cogent evidence of the sinner’s failure to love God. Consider the following statements.

  1. “For although they knew God (from his revelation of himself in the creation), they did not glorify him as God” (v. 21).
  1. “. . .or give him thanks (v. 21).
  1. “. . . exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and bird and animals and creeping things” (v. :23).
  1. “. . .they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, . . .” (v. 25).
  1. “. . .they did not see fit to acknowledge God, . . .” (v. :28).
  1. “They are . . .haters of God. . ..” (v. 30).

In the same way, Paul indicts sinners for breaking the second commandment. In consequence of their impiety in breaking the first commandment, God gave them over to unrighteousness in breaking the second commandment.  Consider these verses:

  1. “Therefore, God gave them up in the lust of their hearts to impurity, . . .” (v. 24).
  1. “Therefore, God gave them up to dishonorable passions. . ..” (v. 26).
  1. “God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness. . ..” (vv. 28-31).

It is important that we understand that when the text tells us God “gave them over to unrighteousness,” it does not mean he made them worse than they were already. It merely means that, as an act of judgment, God withheld from them his restraining grace and allowed them to act out their natural sinful desires. Apart from God’s hand holding us in check, we are all capable of the most heinous sins imaginable.

Sinners are Unrighteous Because Impious (Ungodly)

The order in which Paul places these terms is significant. All our problems with our fellowmen stem from our impiety toward God. A brief survey of Romans one makes this order quite clear. Verses nineteen through twenty-three concern the sinner’s impiety toward God that is evinced by his suppression of God’s self-revelation. These verses speak of the sinner’s failure to glorify God as God and his failure to show him appropriate gratitude for his gracious benevolence. Additionally, they charge the sinner with idolatry since he has exchanged God’s glory for images of created beings. Verse twenty-four describes their unrighteous acts in dishonoring their bodies between themselves. This verse is connected with the foregoing passage by the word “therefore.” The meaning is clearly that God gave them over to unrighteousness as a result of their impiety toward him. Likewise, verse twenty-five describes impious behavior toward God in exchanging his truth for a lie and in worshipping and serving the creature rather than the Creator. For this reason, God gave them up to unnatural relations between themselves (vv. 26-27). This behavior was unrighteous. Notice the words “For this reason.” They indicate that these acts of unrighteousness resulted from their impious behavior toward God. We observe the same order in verses twenty-eight through thirty-one. Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, he gave them up to a debased mind. The result was that they were filled with all manner of unrighteousness. All our unrighteous actions result directly from our rebellion against God.

Conclusion

It should be clear that we should never consider proclaiming a message to sinners that is not calculated to deal with their great plight in sin. Any message that skims lightly over the sinner’s grave predicament that has resulted from his persistent rebellion against God will heal the sinner’s wounds “slightly saying ‘Peace, Peace’ where there is no peace.” For this reason, we must confront the sinner with his failure to love God and his neighbor. It is in this sense that the good news of Christ’s victorious redemption, must be preceded by a clear proclamation of the sinner’s guilt as a transgressor of God’s law. The cross cannot be understood properly apart from the context of God’s wrath that is revealed against impiety [refusal to love and glorify God] and unrighteousness [refusal to love and do good to our neighbor]. Additionally, any biblical presentation of God’s good news must include a clear call for sinners to leave their rebellious way that is characterized by high handed insurrection against the Lord of heaven and earth and return to him in humble submission to his revealed will. It is clear that the good news of redemption in Christ and the demands of the gospel cannot be adequately understood and appreciated apart from a clear explication of God’s holiness and righteousness and our consequent duty.

How, then, do we answer the question, “Must we preach God’s law in preparation for gospel preaching?”  The answer depends on what we mean by “law.” If by “law” we mean the Ten Commandments, it seems to me we face an insuperable problem if we answer that question in the affirmative. We do not find a single example of a New Testament gospel preacher upbraiding any sinner or group of sinners for failure to observe the Sabbath commandment. The New Testament Scriptures make it clear that nothing prohibited in the other nine commandments is permitted under the New Covenant. If this commandment were a universal moral commandment, as we are told it was, would it not have been important for first century preachers to have informed their hearers of their duty to observe it and their sin in failure to do so?  Certainly, there must have been many in the pagan world who knew nothing of the fourth commandment. The preachers of the first century were bold in crying out against other sins; why not this one? It is my view that this commandment was not a “moral” in nature at all. Instead, it was the sign of the covenant (See Exo. 31:16-17) just as the rainbow was the sign of God’s covenant with Noah and circumcision was the sign of the Abrahamic covenant.

If when we ask this question about preaching the law we are asking whether we must press upon the unconverted their duty to love God and neighbor as that duty is clearly set forth in the New Testament Scriptures, the answer is clearly that we cannot preach the gospel unless we do so.

Donaldson, T.L.  (1986) “The ‘Curse of the Law’ and the Inclusion of the Gentiles: Galatians 3. 13-14,” New Testament Studies 32, pp.94-112.

Moo, Douglas, 1988.  “The Law of Moses or the Law of Christ,” in Continuity and Discontinuity, ed. John S. Feinberg. Westchester, Ill.:  Crossway Books.

Please visit my author’s page–www.amazon.com/author/randyseiver

 

04
Feb
16

CALVINISTIC EVANGELISM–CHAPTER FIFTEEN–PREVENIENT GRACE OR EFFECTUAL CALLING?

Many have posited what they call the doctrine of prevenient grace which, according to their view, universally grants the power of “libertarian free will.” Many in our day who posit a synergistic view of conversion are not even aware of the concept of prevenient grace but believe sinners possess the ability in themselves to respond positively to what they call “Holy Spirit conviction.”  Others who would use the term do not seem clear about what they mean by it or how prevenient grace works.  The more intelligent of them will actually attempt to define what they mean by “free will” as enabled by prevenient grace. They define it as “a person’s ability to choose other than he has chosen.” If I choose to eat chicken, I have equal ability to choose to eat steak. I have no issue with the idea that God has granted people freedom of choice. Even the vilest sinner is free to choose to leave his sins and follow Christ if he wishes. If he should choose that option, he would do so because he had chosen to do so freely and apart from external constraint. God sets life and death before sinners and calls on them to choose between these two options. The question of the sinner’s ability to choose anything he wants is not at issue here. Everyone agrees on that point. What is at issue is whether a sinner possesses either the innate ability or the ability granted by prevenient but ineffectual grace to choose that for which he absolutely no desire and to which everything in his being is absolutely averse. If I am able to choose to eat steak, does that mean I have equal ability to choose to dine at the local sewage treatment plant? The issue is not whether we are free to choose what we want. The issue is whether we have the ability to desire what we ought to desire. Can we choose what we abhor?

 

Those who tout prevenient grace are quick to resort to “mystery” when anyone begins to press them on the particulars of that doctrine.  For example, if we should ask them why the Scriptures never say a word about an ineffectual preceding grace, they will tell us this doctrine must be drawn from inference. Apparently they reason that if God has expressed his sincere desire for the salvation of sinners, he must give everyone a chance. How and when all this happens is a “mystery.” That is their way of saying they have no idea at point the ability to believe is actually but ineffectually granted and we should be ashamed of ourselves for being so bold as to actually ask them to defend their indefensible view. With the understanding that those who believe in salvific monergism also believe in prevenient grace, I would like to pose a few “philosophical” questions about their position.

 

  1. If the will is free to choose other than it has chosen, would that not suggest that it is as inclined to choose what it does not want as it is to choose what it does want? Would that not suggest that, according to this view, the sinner is in a state of absolute neutrality? In this case, his reason or reasons for what he has done or chosen would be the same as would have been his reason or reasons for choosing to do what he did not choose.

 

  1. Unless some sinners have virtues others lack, if God grants prevenient grace equally and universally, what is it that for some tips the scale toward God and leaves others in their state of neutrality? If sinners are all born in the same state of depravity and prevenient grace elevates all of them to the same state of neutrality or “libertarian free will,” it seems to me there are only two choices: A. Some sinners must naturally possess a virtue or purpose of heart that others do not possess, or B. There must be some external influence in addition to prevenient grace that tips the scale one way or the other. Clearly such an influence could not come from God without violating the sanctity of the human will.

 

  1. Since those who believe in ineffectual* prevenient grace, affirm with the monergists that sinners are born in a state of sinful depravity or inability, when, in their view, is this power of free will granted?

 

  1. If prevenient grace is granted at birth, why are the wicked described as going astray as soon as they are born? If you should answer that this passage is not speaking about every person but only about “the wicked,” are you not arguing that some are born in a state of total depravity and others are born in a less depraved state? Or perhaps you are arguing that as soon as they are born they consciously choose to be wicked.

 

  1. If prevenient grace is granted in God’s universal revelation of himself as he is clearly seen in his works of creation, why is it that the apostle Paul does not say, “some sinners suppress the truth about God they see in creation, while others freely receive it, rejoice in it, thank God for it, and glorify him because of it?”

 

  1. If prevenient grace that grants “free will” to sinners is conferred in God’s universal grants of benevolence to his creatures, why did Paul describe the hearts of those who had received the benefits of God’s goodness as “hard and impenitent?” (see Rom. 2: 5). That doesn’t quite sound like neutrality does it?

 

  1. Perhaps you would argue that prevenient grace is universally granted through the preaching of the gospel. Would that not mean that those who do not hear the gospel do not receive this grace? Additionally, why is it that even those who have been confronted with the clear light of the gospel are not neutral about it.  John tells us in regard to the clearest revelation God has ever given of himself, “This is the condemnation that light has come into the world, but people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. And everyone who does wicked things hates the light, and does not come to the light lest his works should be exposed”(John 3:19-20). That some come to the light is not at issue here.  Of course some come to the light and embrace Christ in faith. The question is not if some believe but why some believe. The New Testament Scriptures make it clear that those who have heard the gospel clearly and faithfully proclaimed in its fullness continue to regard that message as foolishness (1 Cor. 1:18). It does not appear that gospel preaching is in and of itself accompanied by prevenient grace?

 

  1. Perhaps you will suggest that God grants prevenient grace in Holy Spirit “conviction.” The problem is that the reproving work of the Spirit seems to be integrally related to the preaching of the gospel. It is not that he presses on sinners who have never heard the gospel, the sin of rejecting Christ as he is offered in the gospel and only in the gospel. If that is true, prevenient grace could not be granted universally in the Spirit’s work of reproof unless the gospel is proclaimed universally. If the gospel is not preached to every individual on earth, the prevenient grace of the Spirit’s reproof could not be universal. Additionally, their proof-text in Acts 7:51 does not merely tell us that sinners resist [the word means to fall against or to hurl oneself against] the Holy Spirit as he presses the evidence of the gospel against them. It tells us they ALWAYS resist.

 

Wesley wrote concerning prevenient grace,

 

Yet this is no excuse for those who continue in sin, and lay the blame upon their Maker, by saying, ‘It is God only that must quicken us; for we cannot quicken our own souls.’ For allowing that all the souls of men are dead in sin by nature, this excuses none, seeing there is no man that is in a state of mere nature; there is no man, unless he has quenched the Spirit, that is wholly void of the grace of God. No man living is entirely destitute of what is vulgarly called natural conscience. But this is not natural; It is more properly termed, preventing grace.”(Wesley, 1986, 6:512) He continues saying, “Every one has some measure of that light, some faint glimmering ray, which, sooner or later, more or less, enlightens every man that cometh into the world. And every one, unless he be one of the small number whose conscience is seared as with a hot iron, feels more or less uneasy when he acts contrary to the light of his own conscience. So that no man sins because he has not grace, but because he does not use the grace which he hath. Therefore, inasmuch as God works in you, you are now able to work out your own salvation. (Wesley. 1986, 6:512).

 

There are several insights we can gain from Wesley’s statement. First, it is clear that he is concerned that no one blame his sin on the fact that God has not granted him enabling grace. This grows out of the classic Arminian presupposition that responsibility implies ability. It is the belief that God cannot hold a person responsible unless he also gives that person ability. We can show this to be false by appealing to Romans 8:7. God clearly holds sinners responsible for obeying his law, but Paul tells us that those who are in the flesh CANNOT do so. Wesley tries to answer his inability/responsibility dilemma by saying that every man has some measure of the grace of God. The monergist would argue that every sinner is responsible for his own sin whether he has been given grace or not. That God who gives grace is to be praised when he restrains us from sin relieves us of none of the blame if he does not restrain us. The sin is ours alone.

 

Second, what Wesley called “prevenient grace,” we would call “common grace,” which at times is restraining grace. The consistent witness of Scripture is that in spite of God’s common grace and restraining mercy, sinners continue to presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead them to repentance. But in spite of all this kindness, the hearts of sinners remain hard and impenitent. All God’s patience apart from his effectual grace does nothing to soften his hard heart and produce repentance.

 

Third, even he did not seem to see this “prevenient grace” as having been granted equally to all since he wrote, “. . .which sooner or later, more or less (italics mine) enlightens every man that cometh into the world.” Additionally, he apparently believed some sinners had escaped the benefits of prevenient grace since he wrote, “And every one, unless he be one of the small number whose conscience is seared as with a hot iron (Italics mine), feels more or less uneasy when he acts contrary to the light of his own conscience.” One would have thought that prevenient grace would have granted free will to these as well.

 

One would think that if God loves every sinner equally and in the same way, he would have granted this grace equally to all. It seems likely that John, in 1:9 of his gospel, had in mind the enlightenment of people from every nation through the proclamation of the gospel of Christ as opposed to the enlightenment of every individual who has ever been born whether he has heard the gospel or not. Whatever the meaning of that verse, there is not the slightest hint that John had in mind that this enlightenment restored free will to the sinner. That concept must be read into the text; it cannot be drawn out of it. It is important to remember that sinners need more than light; we must have sight. This God’s common grace does not grant. What Wesley called “prevenient grace” only gives light. What monergists call prevenient grace gives both light and sight.

 

Fourth, this statement of Wesley’s implies that God has given to every sinner sufficient grace to enable him to avoid sin. He offers this as the reason why there “is no excuse for those who continue in sin, and lay the blame upon their Maker.” His clear implication is that if God had not granted this prevenient grace to all, his creatures could rightly blame him if they continued in sin. One wonders why one needs the grace of regeneration if prevenient grace has enabled all to put away their sins and rest on Christ. It would seem logical if sinners have been enabled by prevenient grace to obey one command of God, they should be able by prevenient grace to obey every command of God. Where is the evidence that all the universal blessings of God’s common grace put together have caused one sinner to put away his hostility toward God and rest on God’s promise of mercy? The effect of a mind controlled by the flesh is hostility toward God (see Romans 8:7), and our minds continue to be controlled by the flesh until he by his free grace replaces our stony hearts with hearts of flesh.

Fifth, it is biblically impossible to argue that God has granted equal revelation of himself to all. Even common sense should tell us that that a blind man does not enjoy the same revelation of God’s glory in the night sky as a sighted individual does. Some are born into Christian homes and hear the gospel taught regularly; others are born into an environment of pagan darkness. It seems incontrovertible that he grants greater grace and privilege to some than he does to others (see for example Matt. 11:20-24). If God loves everyone equally and in the same way, why does he not grant to everyone the same light and opportunity? Is this inequality in God’s dealings with different individuals a random occurrence or has he previously determined to grant greater light to some than he does to others? We are often told that God would be unfair if he called and enabled some to believe according to his purpose and not others.  Why does this charge not equally apply to the fact that he has granted greater revelation and privilege to some than to others?

Sixth, tt is often suggested as a proof of ineffectual prevenient grace that there are those in the Gospels and in the book of Acts who showed evidence of a desire to know God in a saving way prior to coming to faith in Christ. If only they had improved on this grace and used their freed will properly, they would have been saved. We do not deny that there are those who show interest in the kingdom and may even come to a temporary faith and receive the gospel with joy, but this is no evidence of any more than a self-serving desire to enjoy God’s blessings in one’s own way. Those who showed evidence of a desire to be right with God on his terms and not on theirs ultimately came to genuine and lasting faith in Christ. We do not deny that God’s Spirit awakens sinners to their need and to the glories of the gospel prior to the consummating act of effectual calling.  He may woo some for an extended period of time before he at last converts them. Additionally, we do not deny that some may feel their guilt and fear their condemnation as the Spirit presses the evidence of their sin and doom on them. These may or may not come to conversion. Still, this is no evidence that prevenient grace has granted them the power of free will.

 

*[I use the term ineffectual prevenient grace to distinguish it from that preceding grace that actually unites sinners to Christ].

 

Effectual Calling

One issue about which synergists and monergists agree is that sinners in a state of sinful corruption are unable to come to faith in Christ apart from divine enablement. The difference between their beliefs concerns whether that “grace” is effectual in bringing sinners into union with Christ or not. Those who believe in ineffectual prevenient grace ultimately have to confess that such grace leaves the issue in the sinner’s hands. As I will show, nothing short of effectual grace could removes the sinner’s disposition to resist all God’s overtures of grace and turn recalcitrant rebels into grateful worshippers. This enabling grace is what we refer to as effectual calling.

“Without Me You Can Do Nothing” (John 15:1-5)

As I begin to write this I am painfully aware of the plethora of opinions concerning the correct interpretation of this passage. It has been used as support for views along a broad continuum. In my view, this is not true because Jesus lacked clarity in his teaching, but because there is a universal tendency to read one’s theology into biblical texts. I would not dare to suggest that I am immune to that tendency. With that consciousness, I would like to offer a few remarks about Jesus’ teaching in this passage.

 

In my view, one of the more important considerations in the interpretation of any passage concerns the issue the writer or speaker is discussing. If we fail to understand the question being discussed, it is almost inevitable that we will misinterpret the answer. For example, if we believe Jesus is answering the question, “How can I leap from the carnal Christian life to a life of fruit bearing?” we are going to understand the passage differently than we would if we believe he is showing it is possible for a believer to lose his salvation. Or, perhaps the issue is something else altogether.

 

It seems to me the key to understanding this passage is to understand Jesus’ “I am” statement with which the passage begins. To understand that statement it is crucial that we comprehend the way in which he and John used the words “true” and “truth” in the fourth Gospel. They did not use these terms in contrast to that which is false or in error but in contrast to that which is typical. For example, when John wrote “. . . the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17), there is not the slightest suggestion that John means what Moses wrote was false or in error. Instead, John means Jesus brought the fulfillment of what Moses wrote. In the same way, Jesus said he was the true bread who came down from heaven. He was not suggesting the manna God gave Israel in the desert was not real bread. When he said I am the true bread, he meant he was the fulfillment of that of which the manna was but a fleeting and fading shadow. Just as Israel was sustained physically by feeding on manna, so believers are sustained spiritually as we go on feeding on Jesus by faith. When he says we must worship God in truth, Jesus does not mean we are to worship according to the Scriptures, though it should be clear to anyone that worship that is contrary to Scripture will not be acceptable to God. He means that the time has come when his people will no longer worship God according to the types and shadows of the Mosaic system. They must now worship God according to the reality of fulfillment.

 

Now the question is this. If Jesus is the true vine, who was the typical vine and what is his reason for introducing this teaching to his disciples? There are several passages in both Testaments that put the answer to the first question beyond doubt. Consider Isaiah 5; Psalm 80: 8ff; Matt. 21: 33; Luke 20: 9ff; Mark 12. It is clear the vine was the nation of Israel. God not only planted this chosen vine on a fruitful hill, but he clearly had a right to expect fruit from this vine. He built a wine press in his vineyard because he had a right to expect fruit from his vine. Yet, when the time of harvest arrived, the vine brought forth sour grapes.

 

What Jesus is saying is that he is the true Israel who, by his perfect obedience to God’s covenant, has produced the fruit God had the right to expect from Israel but did not receive. Additionally, he is saying that not only has he produced good grapes [the fruit of obedience] but also that in union with him his disciples would also produce fruit that is pleasing to God. They were not to trust their physical heritage to enable them to produce fruit. They, like Nicodemus, needed to be born again. They needed to be called into union [fellowship) with Jesus Christ. Only in union with the true vine would they be able to produce any fruit at all, much less “much fruit.”

 

Their duty was very simple. It was not that they were to try to produce fruit, but that, through faith, they were to remain in union with him. For most people “abiding” is a word they can only say in a hushed and holy tone. For them it is some sort of mystical, ethereal experience that is reserved for only the most holy. In reality, abiding [the word simply means to remain] must be the experience of every child of God. Jesus is teaching us there is never a time when it will be safe for us to give up our confident reliance on him. Genuine faith is persevering faith. There are those like Judas who have never had a vital union with Jesus. These are to be cast into the fire and burned.

 

Now, I have said all that to say this. The context is all about union with Christ. When Jesus says, “. . .for without me you can do nothing” (A.V.), he does not mean without my help you can do nothing, although that is certainly true. He means that just as a branch cannot produce any fruit if it is severed from the vine, you cannot bear fruit if severed from me. Apart from me you can do nothing. In other words, he is saying that the person who is not in union with him cannot produce a single work of obedience to God and is incapable of pleasing God in any way. I quote now from the Five Articles of the Remonstrance, Article 3, “That man has not saving grace of himself, nor of the energy of his free will, inasmuch as he, in the state of apostasy and sin, can of and by himself neither think, will, nor do anything that is truly good (such as having faith eminently is).”

 

To me, that would mean that as long as a person is in union with Adam and not in union with Christ he has no ability to produce any obedience that is pleasing to God. That inability “to do anything that is truly good” would include the sinner’s inability to believe the gospel. Now, mind you, this is not the statement of a rabid Calvinist, but of the original Arminians.

 

My question is a simple one. When and under what circumstances does Jesus teach us we are able to produce fruit (including faith) that is pleasing to God? It seems to me the only answer one can give to this question is that we can only “do anything that is truly good (such as having faith eminently is)” if we are united to Christ.

 

Now the question remains, how does a person come into union with Christ? The Scriptures do not leave us to wonder about the answer to that question. “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship [participation] of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9). Throughout the chapter Paul writes about God’s call as that which distinguishes believers from unbelievers. It separates those who continue to view the message of Christ as foolishness and a stumbling block from those to whom Christ is the wisdom of God and the power of God. Paul’s use of the word “call” cannot be a reference to the outward proclamation of the gospel—the universal call. Those Jews and Greeks who went on regarding the message of Christ as a stumbling block and folly are the very ones who had been called outwardly by the preaching of the gospel. It would make absolutely no sense to say “These who have heard the outward call of the gospel continue to consider this message as a stumbling block and foolishness, but to those who have heard the outward call of the gospel, Christ is the wisdom and power of God. Instead, there is a clear contrast in these verses between those who have heard the message of the gospel and those who have also been “called.” It is God’s call that distinguishes between those who believe and those who continue in their rebellion.

 

In agreement with this, Paul wrote in verses twenty-nine and thirty, “so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness, and sanctification and redemption,”

 

It must not escape our attention that Paul did not write that it is by your cooperation with the universal prevenient grace of God that you are in Christ, or by your libertarian free will you have distinguished yourself from the rest of mankind who continue in unbelief though they have been given equal grace with you. Paul seems to have had no difficulty expressing himself. I am fairly certain he could have formed such a sentence had he wished to do so.

 

Charles Hodge wrote,

 

It is to be referred to him [God] alone that ye are in Christ. Your conversion or saving union with Christ is not due to yourselves; it is not because you are wiser, or better, or more diligent than others that you are thus distinguished. This which is the turning point in theology, and therefore in religion, is here most explicitly asserted. And it is not only asserted, but it is declared to be the purpose of God to make it apparent, and to force all men to acknowledge it. He so dispenses his grace as to make men see with regard to others, and to acknowledge with regard to themselves, that the fact that they are in Christ, or true Christians, is due to him and not to themselves (Hodge, n.d.,46).

 

Nothing but union with Christ delivers from sin’s bondage. Paul’s argument in Romans six is that believers are no longer under sin’s reign, because we have been united with Christ in both his death and resurrection. He wrote, “We know that our old self [all that we were in union with Adam] was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (v. 6). It doesn’t seem to me that bondage under the dominion of sin is a very good way to describe libertarian free will. In truth, it is not until God calls us into union with his Son that he breaks sin’s tyranny and enables us to receive Christ gladly and freely as he is offered in the gospel. “Apart from him, you can do nothing.”

 

Two Types of Calling

There is no question but that there is a general and universal call of the gospel. It is a sincere and bona fide offer of salvation in Christ and all who respond positively to this call in faith and repentance will assuredly be saved. It is this call Jesus spoke of in Matt. 22:14 when he said, “. . .. for many are called, but few are chosen.” The problem is, this call is always ineffectual unless it is accompanied by God’s internal and effectual call. We refer to this internal call as “effectual” because it effectively brings sinners into partnership (union) with Christ. Paul wrote, “God is faithful, by whom you were called in to the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9). This is clearly not true of everyone who is invited by the gospel. In keeping with this, he wrote in verse thirty of the same chapter, “Because of him [God] you are in Christ Jesus. . ..” In other words, the fact that we are in Christ is the result of God’s activity and not ours (see–1 Cor. 1:30). John Flavel wrote,

. . .the external voice is evermore ineffectual when it is not animated by that internal spiritual voice. It was marvelous to see the walls of Jericho falling to the ground at the sound of ram’s horns. There was certainly more than the force of an external blast to produce such an effect: but more marvelous it is, to see at the sound of the gospel not only weapons of iniquity falling out of sinners hands, but the very enmity itself falling out of their hearts. Here you see is a voice within a voice, an internal efficacy in the external sound, without which the gospel makes no saving impression (Flavel, 1689, 218).

Unless the Father Draw Him (John 6:37-44).

It seems likely that “calling” in Pauline literature refers to the same work of God as “drawing” does in John’s gospel. In both calling and drawing, it is clear that it is God, the Father, who calls/draws. In both, the result is faith in Christ. Apart from calling or drawing, sinners cannot or will not come to Christ. Jesus said, “No one can (is able to) come to me unless the Father who has sent me should draw him, and I will raise him up again at the last day.” In this same context (v. 37), Jesus has told his hearers that all the Father is giving him (he uses the present tense to indicate action that is going on) will come to him and that he will never by any means reject those who come. This should be distinguished from what he teaches in verse thirty-nine where he speaks of those the Father has given him with the continuing result that he still has them. This was an action completed in the past. The latter donation speaks of God’s decree before the world was. In accordance with that decree, the Father is, by drawing them to Jesus, giving them to him. Jesus tells us that all he “draws” in this way will come to him. “Every person therefore having heard and having learned of the Father comes to me” (45b). In other words, this drawing is an effectual drawing. This teaching clearly accords with what the apostle Paul wrote about “calling.”

“Calling” in the New Testament Epistles

A careful examination of the New Testament Epistles will reveal there is not a single occurrence of the words, “called,” “call,” or “calling” in which it refers to the universal call of the gospel. The New Testament writers consistently used it to refer to that effectual call by which God the Father unites his chosen people to Christ. So much is this the case that at times they refer to believers as “the called ones,” for example, see Rom. 1:6 and 8:28. I would like you to consider two passages in which it is clear that “calling” cannot refer to the external call or invitation of the gospel. They are Romans 8:30 and 1 Cor. 1: 22-24.

Romans 8:30

In the first of these we encounter what some of the old writers referred as “God’s golden chain of redemption.” This chain began to be forged by God in eternity past and stretches into eternity future. It should be clear that every link of this chain has reference to the same people. Those who are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ are the same as those who are glorified. The first link of this “golden chain” is God’s predetermination of the elects’ full conformity to the image of his Son. He determined to restore his image in his redeemed people even before that image was lost in the early days of human existence. Then, Paul informs us that those, only those, but all of those he thus predestined, he also called. It is important that we understand the identification of the ones called with those he predestined. If God’s predestinating activity means anything, it assures us that all he has planned will certainly occur. Every one of those God predestined will be glorified or conformed to Christ’s image. Each link of this chain concerns the same group of people. He does not write, “Some of those he predestined, he also called” or “some of those he called, he also justified,” or “some of those he justified, he also glorified.” The entire purpose of this argument, which he began to pursue in chapter five, is that those whom God has justified, may “rejoice in hope [the confident and settled assurance] of the glory of God [again becoming reflectors of his glory by bearing his image, i.e., glorification]. His specific argument in this immediate context is that God’s eternal purpose guarantees the believer’s glorification. Since this is true, it is impossible that “calling” in this verse refers to the universal call, i.e., invitation, of the gospel. If that were the case, everyone invited by the gospel would be included in those God predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son– “whom he predestined THEM he also called.” Additionally, we would have to argue that everyone who has been invited by the gospel is also justified– “whom he called, THEM he also justified.” This clearly cannot be the case. We must conclude that “called” in this verse refers to God’s activity that effects faith in those who are outwardly invited by the gospel. Otherwise, apart from faith, they could not be justified.

1 Corinthians 1: 22-24

In 1 Cor. 1: 22-24, Paul describes the prevailing attitude and recalcitrant rebellion of those to whom he preaches the gospel. He informs us that the Jews to whom he preaches go on requiring a sign and the Greeks to whom he preaches go on seeking wisdom or philosophy. Instead of tickling their ears or trying to produce signs to authenticate his message, he goes on proclaiming to them the naked, unvarnished truth that God’s anointed one has been crucified on a Roman cross and now stands as the crucified one. Then he describes the reaction of both Jews and Greeks to this message. As far as the Jews are concerned this is an offensive message. The idea that their expected Messiah would die as a vile criminal by crucifixion was more than they could tolerate. Left to themselves, they routinely rejected this message. To the Greeks, this message was moronic. They, too, roundly rejected it. When we read these words, one of our assumptions in the case of both Jews and Greeks must be that they had heard the gospel. They could not regard it as an offense and foolishness if they had not heard it, could they? To state the matter differently, both the Jews and Greeks to whom Paul proclaimed the message of Christ had been “called”, i.e., invited by the outward call of the gospel. But, in contrast to those who persistently rejected this outward call Paul wrote, “BUT TO THOSE WHO ARE CALLED, BOTH JEWS AND GREEKS, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. What effected such a change? How is it that Christ and the message of his crucifixion which before was offensive and foolish is now power and wisdom? The answer can only be God’s internal and effectual call. If we insist that the call must refer to the external invitation of the gospel, we would have to believe the passage teaches something like the following: Both Jews and Greeks persistently reject the gospel invitation every time they hear it, but to those who are invited by the gospel, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is now God’s power and wisdom. That is pure nonsense.

 

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03
Feb
16

CALVINISTIC EVANGELISM–CHAPTER FOURTEEN–VICTORIOUS REDEMPTION (PART TWO)

Exegetical Evidence Continued

Propitiation Vindicates God’s Righteousness (Romans 3:24-26)

 

In the first two and a half chapters of his Epistle to the Romans, Paul has labored to demonstrate the universal need for justification before God. His argument has emphasized the vast gulf that exists between God’s unsullied holiness and unbending righteousness and the sinner’s rebellious depravity and aggravated guilt. He has distilled this argument succinctly in chapter one, verse eighteen. He wrote, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold [hold down or suppress] the truth in unrighteousness.” This verse reveals to us not only the sinner’s failure to live in conformity to God’s law but also his rebellious suppression of God’s truth wherever and in whatever way that truth is revealed (See chapter three and seventeen of this book for a fuller treatment of this passage). He has concluded the entire section by quoting or alluding to a number of Old Testament passages that assert that there is not even one member of Adam’s fallen race that is righteous in God’s holy sight.  All, both Jews and Gentiles are under sin (3:9), “. . .all sinned and are falling short of God’s glory” (3:23). Yet, Paul boldly states that believers have been justified freely by grace (3:24). The logical question that should leap to everyone’s mind, at this point, concerns the essential character of God himself. Does God’s absolute sovereignty over his creation allow him simply to overlook his creatures’ persistent violations of his righteous standard, or must even God act in keeping with his standard of righteousness? What are we to make of texts like Exodus 34:6 and Nahum 1:3 that tell us that God will by no means clear the guilty? Is that not precisely what he has done in justifying the ungodly (Rom. 4:5)? How could God have declared Abraham, David, and a multitude of other believers during the Old Testament period righteous in his sight when they were clearly guilty of grievous violations of his holy law? This was the great question that plagued C. H. Spurgeon while he was in the conversion process. He wrote, “I felt that it would not satisfy my conscience if I could be forgiven unjustly. But then there came the question, “How could God be just, and yet justify me who had been so guilty” (Spurgeon, n.d., 16-17)?  It is just at this point that the gospel preacher must pour the healing balm of the gospel into those gaping and festering wounds that have been left by the ravages of sin. It is significant that Paul did not broach this issue until he had identified his readers as those who had been “justified freely by his grace.” It is at this point, and not before, that he begins to explain what God was accomplishing in setting forth his Son [publicly placarding him] as a satisfaction of his wrath [propitiation] in his blood, through faith. God intended Christ’s redemptive work not merely to form the basis for the sinner’s justification, but to publicly vindicate his own righteousness in declaring sinners to be righteous. Paul’s argument was that God had pardoned [had passed over without punishing them with the full penalty they deserved] the sins of many who lived during the Old Testament period without any visible basis for doing so righteously. The good news Paul preached was that God has thoroughly satisfied his own rigorous demands of strict justice, so that he might be both just and justifier. It would be unrighteous of God and unsatisfying to the awakened sinner’s conscience for him to justify sinners without his demands having been satisfied.  In commenting on the peaceful relationship the justified enjoy with God, Charles Hodge wrote,

 

Peace is not the result of mere gratuitous forgiveness, but of justification, of a reconciliation founded upon atonement. The enlightened conscience is never satisfied until it sees that God can be just in justifying the ungodly; that sin has been punished, the justice of God satisfied, his law honored and vindicated. It is when he thus sees justice and mercy embracing each other, that the believer has that peace which passes all understanding; that sweet quiet of the soul in which deep humility, in view of personal unworthiness, is mingled with the warmest gratitude to that Savior by whose blood God’s justice has been satisfied, and conscience appeased (Hodge, 1953, 206).

 

I have offered a brief explanation of this passage primarily to show the timing of the gospel proclamation, “Christ died for you/us.” This message is not intended for those who prefer their sin over righteousness, but for those who have been brought, by grace, to embrace Christ in the free offer of the gospel.

 

In addition to this, there are several other observations I would like to make before leaving this passage. I do not intend to elaborate on these points, but simply state them in the form of questions/propositions and leave it to you to draw conclusions. Consider the following:

 

  1. The phrase “sins that are past” does not refer to pre-conversion sins, but to sins committed prior to the dawning of the New Covenant era.
  2. Christ’s work of propitiation mentioned here related not to those who were yet to be born and to whom this work would either be appropriated by libertarian free will or applied by effectual calling, rendering it effectual for those to whom it was applied or not applied at all if they continued in unbelief. For those about whom Paul speaks in this passage, justification [or non-imputation of sins] had already occurred before Jesus completed the work of propitiation. In this case, the work could not be considered “potential” since the application [or non-application] had occurred before the propitiation was made.
  3. If God’s righteous requirements needed to be met in the work of propitiation in order for him to be just in justifying sinners, what would be required for him to be righteous in condemning sinners for whom Jesus had fully satisfied God’s righteous wrath toward them? For the Arminian/Amyraldian, this question can only be answered by supplying the word “potential” before the word propitiation, but unfortunately for them, the phrase “potential propitiation” never occurs in Scripture.
  4. It should be clear that the propitiation in view was offered for a particular purpose in reference to “the sins God passed over” without the full punishment they deserved. There is nothing mentioned in this passage about any work of satisfying God’s wrath on behalf of those whose sins he had not passed over. Are we to believe God intended Jesus’ work of propitiation to satisfy his wrath on behalf of those who had already perished in pagan darkness and unbelief when he died? Sound reason would dictate that God did not intend the propitiatory work of Christ to satisfy his wrath for those who had already died and were facing condemnation in judgment.

 

Objective Reconciliation While We Were Enemies (Romans 5:1-12)

 

In the entire context of Romans five through eight, Paul is driving home a single point. That point is that God will certainly bring all his justified people to glory.  If God has justified us, he will certainly glorify us. Paul has set forth this theme by saying “we rejoice in hope [confident assurance] of the glory of God” (5:2). Consider the broad outline of this passage. We are certain to be glorified because:

I.We have a new relationship with God (5:1-11).

II.We have a new representative before God (5:12-19).

III.We are under a new reign (5:20-21).

Parenthesis in which Paul considers four objections answered by “May it never be!” (μἠ γἐνοιτο) (6:1-7:25)
A.  Shall we continue in sin so that grace may abound 6:1-14)?

B.  Shall we continue in sin because we are not under law but under grace (6:15-7:6)?

C.  What shall we say? Is the Law Sin (7:7-12)?

D.  Did that which is good [the Law] become death to me (7:13-25).?

 

IV. We are under a new rule and ruler—the ministry of the Spirit (8:1-17).

V.  Paul describes the glory that shall be and assures his readers that it is certain because we have the “first-fruits,” namely, the Holy Spirit who now helps our weaknesses (8:18-27).

VI.  We are the objects of divine resolve (8:28-30).

  • Conclusion: What shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can prevail against us (8:31-39).
  1. He has delivered up his Son for us, he will certainly grant us every other gift of his grace that belongs to our salvation, including glorification (8:32).
  2. God has justified his elect ones. Who is going to successfully accuse us before the supreme court of the universe (8:33).
  3. Christ is the one who died for us, rose for us, sits at God’s right hand for us, and intercedes for us. Who will successfully condemn us (8:34).
  4. Nothing whatsoever shall separate us from Christ’s love. Through him who loves us, we are more than conquerors (8:35-39).

 

It is important that we understand to whom Romans 5:1-11 was addressed. Since we considered that issue in Chapter Two of this book, I will refer you to that chapter. Suffice it to say that when Paul made reference to “us” in this passage, he was not referring to “us human beings” but to “us believers.” His argument in these verses is that since we have a new relationship with God through Christ’s work of reconciliation, it is certain that we will be saved by his life. The entire passage speaks to us of a new relationship that God has established between himself and believers. When he wrote, “Therefore, being justified through faith, we have peace with God. . .,” he was not referring to a feeling of tranquility that results from having been forgiven. Instead, he was referring to the fact that we have now been introduced to a new standing with God, in which his holy enmity against us has come to a decisive end. His argument throughout this section of the Epistle rests on the establishment of this new relationship that God has accomplished through the death of his Son.

 

Christ’s work of reconciling sinners to God is closely related to his work of propitiation. His work of propitiation focuses our attention on the problem of God’s wrath and his gracious provision in the sacrifice of his Son to satisfy his righteous demands and quell his holy wrath. His work of reconciliation focuses our attention on the sinner’s estrangement from God and his redemptive activity in restoring sinners to a state of amity. Because of Christ work of reconciliation, believers have now become God’s friends. Paul’s argument is that if God loved us and gave his Son to reconcile us to himself when we were his enemies, he will certainly not cast us away now that we are his friends.

 

It is important that we observe several important factors in this passage before we arrive at a conclusion concerning the objects of redemptive design:

 

  1. It is into the hearts of believers alone that the Holy Spirit has abundantly poured out God’s love (v.5).
  2. The Spirit demonstrates that love in his ministry of “glorifying Christ by taking the things of Christ and showing them unto his people” (see John 16:14) by pointing us to his victorious redemptive work. The word “For” (γάρ) links verses five and six. Nothing demonstrates God’s love for his people so effectively as the fact that he has given the best that heaven could offer to die for the vilest and most recalcitrant rebel who will repent.
  3. When Paul writes about Christ dying for the ungodly, he is not concerned with the identity of those for whom he died but the nature of those for whom he died. He died not for godly people but for helpless sinners. It was while we still sinners that Christ died for us [the same people into whose hearts the Holy Spirit has poured out his love] (v.8).
  4. Justification by Christ’s blood (v. 9) is parallel to “being reconciled to God by the death of his Son,” while we were enemies. This objective work of reconciliation did not occur at the point of application, but at the point of accomplishment. At the point of application, believers were no longer at enmity against God and his holy hostility was no longer engaged against us.
  5. Reconciliation in verse ten does not refer to our putting away our unholy hostility toward God but to God putting away his holy enmity toward us. Like justification, reconciliation is an objective work of God, i.e., a work that occurs outside of us.
  6. Paul distinguishes between the objective work God has accomplished in Christ’s death (v. 10) and the subjective reception of that reconciliation “. . .through whom we have now received the reconciliation” (v.11). Those who receive the reconciliation are those and only those for whom God has objectively accomplished this work in the death of his Son.
  7. The “much more then” statements in verses nine and ten introduce an a fortiori Paul’s argument is that if God has granted us a greater gift, he will not withhold a lesser gift. If he has given his Son to die for us while we were still his enemies, he will certainly save us [in the ultimate sense of that word] from wrath through him.

 

Paul is not speaking here of a potential reconciliation but of an objective reconciliation that God accomplished in the death of his Son. His argument is not that if we have “now received the reconciliation” so that God has not only put away his holy enmity toward us but we have cast away the weapons of our rebellion against him, we are certain to be saved from wrath through him. Instead, he argues that if God loved us when we were still his enemies, he will certainly save us [glorify us] in connection with his resurrection life.

 

Based on Paul’s argument in this passage, if we insist that Jesus died for every sinner equally and in the same way, we must conclude that God will ultimately save every sinner from wrath through him. Alternately, we could conclude, as many have done, that the work of Christ did not secure the final salvation of any for whom he died. If Jesus’ death did not secure the salvation of everyone for whom he died, it did not secure the salvation of anyone for whom he died. That would be “limited atonement” indeed.

 

Paul returns to this argument in chapter eight of this Epistle where he asks, “If God is for us, who can be [prevail] against us?” He answers the question using the same greater to lesser argument.  He writes, “He that did not spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not, along with him [the greater gift], also graciously give us all things [the lesser gifts].” (Rom. 8:32).  The “all things” about which he writes are all things that belong to salvation, including glorification. There is not the slightest hint of potentiality here. His argument is that if God has given his Son to die for us, our final glorification has been secured. The “for us all” in this context cannot refer to all sinners without exception but to the foreknown [fore-loved], to those whom God has predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, to the called according to his purpose, to the justified etc. If we understand “us all” to refer to the entire human family, we must conclude that God has promised the enjoyment of every spiritual blessing to every person without exception.

 

Christ Our Representative Head (Romans 5:12-19)

 

Since I expounded on this passage in relation to the imputation of Adam’s sin in the chapter on “The Nature and Extent of the Sinner’s Fallen Condition,” I will simply ask you to refer to that chapter for a review of its structure and general argument. Suffice it to say that the apostle was expounding on the typical relationship that exists between Adam and Christ. Understanding that relationship is essential to understanding the absolute certainty of the believer’s glorification. The essential point of theological correspondence between Adam and Christ is that they are both divinely appointed representatives of those who are united to them by divine decree. Paul’s point in this passage was not simply to introduce the doctrine of original sin as an interesting theological exercise without any particular connection to his overall argument, but to advance his argument concerning the firm ground of the believer’s justification and the consequent certainty of his glorification. That argument is quite simple. The believer’s justification is absolutely secure and his glorification certain because neither his justification nor his glorification depends on the perfection of his obedience or the tenacity of his faith, but on the obedience to death of his representative.

 

Paul is not here setting forth the possibility of justification and ultimate glorification for all without exception but the certainty of these blessings for all represented by Christ in his obedience and death. Just as the death and destruction that have occurred as a result of Adam’s transgression are not potential in nature, so the life and blessings that have resulted from Christ’s obedience are not a mere offer of grace but grace itself. For this reason, the “all” in the first half and the “all” in the last half of verse eighteen cannot be co-extensive. The first refers to the “all” represented by Adam and the second refers to the “all” represented by Christ. Paul’s argument in these verses is that just as Adam’s transgression guaranteed the condemnation of all those he represented, so Christ’s obedience has guaranteed the justification and ultimate glorification of all those he represented. Just as it was in the act of Adam’s transgression that we (by divine decree) were condemned, so it was in the act of redemption that we were (by divine decree) objectively justified.

 

All for Whom Christ Died Will Die with Him to the Reigning Power of Sin (Rom.6:1-10)

 

In Romans six, one, Paul begins to deal with an objection to his teaching about the freeness of justification before God. He had stated that sin and guilt can never be so great that grace cannot super abound in forgiving the guilt of that sin (see Rom. 5:21). In verse one of chapter six he introduces an objection (whether real or anticipated) to this teaching. It is as follows, “What shall we say, then? Shall we continue in sin so that grace may overflow [increase]? His answer is powerful. He writes, “May it never be, for how shall we who have died to sin, go on living in it?” His teaching is this: If Christ has died for us, then we have died with him to the reign of sin over us. He does not say “If Christ has died for us, we OUGHT TO DIE with him,” but “we have died with him.”

 

Paul expressed this idea in 2 Cor. 5:14-15.  He was explaining why he lives to please Christ and does not continue to please himself. He answered, “Because the love of Christ [probably Christ’s love for him] controls us. The word translated “controls” has the idea of confining and restricting.  Christ’s love did not allow Paul to go on living for himself.  Then he wrote, “. . . we have come to this decision because if one died for all, then all died. . .” The A.V. has translated this verse differently but without any textual justification. In that version, the text reads “if one died for all then were all dead,” but the verb “died” is in the same tense in both parts of the verse. In both cases, it should be translated “died.”

 

If we insist that Jesus died for everyone without exception, then we must conclude that everyone without exception has died [or will die] with him to the reigning power of sin. This clearly is not the case.

 

 

Christ’s Work of Sacrifice and His Work of Intercession Are Inseparably Linked (Romans 8:34)

 

In Romans eight, verse thirty-four, Paul asked, “Who is he that condemns? Then answered, “It is Christ that died, who is also risen, who is even at God’s right hand, who also makes intercession for us.” It should not escape our attention that he had, in the previous verse, made reference to the absolute judicial invulnerability of God’s elect to condemnation. He wrote, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God who justifies.” He did not intend to deny that there are many who will rise to accuse us. Instead, he denied that anyone could be successful in an attempt secure a guilty verdict from the Supreme Ruler of the universe.

 

Sound reason would lead one to understand that the reference to “us” in verse thirty-four refers to none other than “the elect” who are the acquitted ones of verse thirty-three. In fact, the references to “us” and “we” throughout the entire passage designate believers/elect ones. Additionally, verse thirty-four states four reason why God’s elect cannot be successfully prosecuted. It is not God’s love for his elect that forms the basis for our justification before him. Instead, it was his love that moved him to accomplish the redemptive work that formed the righteous basis for our full pardon. Thus, there is a clear link between the acquittal of the “elect” in verse thirty-three and the redemptive work of Christ in verse thirty-four. If the result of Christ’s redemptive work is the justification of the elect, that consequence must have been by divine design and intention.

 

Additionally, as in other passages of the New Testament, there is here a clear link between Christ’s sacrificial death and his work of intercession. His work as our advocate involves the perpetual presentation of his redemptive work before the Father’s throne. We must never imagine that he advocates for anyone other than those for whom his propitiatory sacrifice was offered and visa versa. The writer to the Hebrews teaches the same truth but couches it in a different theological motif. He writes, not of an advocate before a court, but of a high priest before the ark of the Covenant. The blood the high priest sprinkled on the mercy seat was sprinkled for none but those for whom the sacrifice had been offered in the outer court of the Tabernacle. The work of sacrifice and the work of intercession are co-extensive. If we insist that Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice to redeem all without exception, we will not be able to escape the conclusion that he is also interceding for all without exception.

 

One of the favorite proof-texts of those who insist on the potential universality of Jesus’ redeeming work is 1 John two, verse two. Yet, one would think few would argue that Jesus is actually acting as an advocate for unbelievers who will finally perish in their sins. If such is the nature of his advocacy, believers need better advocate. The ground of our confidence is that “If anyone should sin, we have an Advocate with Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one, and he is the propitiation for our sins. . .” If even one of those whose case he pleads is finally lost, then all for whom he acts as advocate may be lost. And if such should prove to be the case, then all the ground of the believer’s blessed consolation has crumbled.

 

Jesus’ advocacy and his propitiatory sacrifice are inseparably linked. If we understand the phrase “whole world” to refer to every individual without exception, we cannot escape the conclusion that his advocacy will prove in the end to have been a miserable failure and can grant the believer no present solace. If Jesus is the propitiation for those who will finally perish, he will have also been their ineffectual advocate, and if they can be lost notwithstanding his best efforts on their behalf, believers have no security or ground of confidence.

 

When a person stridently contends that we must tell every sinner, “Jesus died for you,” he is insisting that we proclaim to the unconverted a message they do not need to hear. The only message they need to hear is that God has commanded them to repent and that he promises that if they do so, he will freely and abundantly pardon them. An unintended consequence will be that in proclaiming that Jesus accomplished no more for believers than for those perishing in their sins, we rob believers of the ground of their joy and consolation.

 

Our ground of exultation is that there is no one, not even God himself, who will condemn us because “It is Christ that died for us, rose for us, sits at the Father’s right hand for us and makes intercession for us.” Augustus Toplady has beautifully expressed the believer’s ground of confidence in the words of one of his great hymns: He wrote,

 

Complete atonement thou hast made,

And to the utmost farthing paid

Whate’re thy people owed;

How then can can wrath on me take place,

If sheltered in thy righteousness,

And sprinkled with thy blood?

 

If Thou hast my discharge procured,

And freely in my room endured

The whole of wrath divine,

Payment God cannot twice demand,

First at my bleeding surety’s hand,

And then again at mine.

 

Universal atonement abolishes that foundation without remedy.

 

Preaching the Saving Work of Christ

 

If Jesus’ redeeming work was not intended to secure the salvation of every sinner, how can we preach the gospel freely to all without exception. To answer this question, I have paraphrased a passage from Robert Haldane’s commentary on Romans. These were his comments on Romans chapter five.

Many seem to believe if they are going to proclaim the gospel they must tell every sinner Christ died for him. Additionally, they believe that if Jesus did not die to take away the sins of every individual, they cannot preach the gospel. This is very erroneous. The gospel declared that Christ died for the guilty and that the guiltiest sinner who believes shall be saved… ‘It is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,’ even the chief of sinners. The gospel does not tell every individual to whom we addressed it that Christ died for him. Instead, it simply tells him that if he believes, he will be saved. On this basis, we can proclaim the gospel to every sinner. It is only after a person has believed the gospel that he can know Christ died for him individually. Since the Bible reveals that whoever believes shall be saved, it is quite consistent to proclaim the gospel to all sinners and declare that they will be saved if they believe. If the guiltiest person in the human race should believe, it is an absolute certainty that he would be saved. If anyone feels he cannot proclaim the gospel freely and has difficulty calling everyone to faith unless he can say, “Jesus died for every member of the human race,” he does not clearly understand what the gospel is. It is the good news that Christ died for the guiltiest who believe, not that he died for every individual whether he should believe or not [emphasis mine]. To the truth that every person who believes shall be saved there is no exception. The only sins that will not find God’s forgiveness are those that belong to sinners who refuse to believe the gospel; if they believe, they will be saved. . ..

Some would have a problem calling sinners to believe in Christ if His redeeming work was not intended for every sinner. This is no different from the difficulty some experience when they feel restrained in calling on sinners indiscriminately to believe the gospel because they know God will never save those he has not chosen for eternal life. Here is where they go wrong. According to the commandment of the everlasting God, we are to make the gospel known to all nations for the obedience of faith. It is certain those whom God has not graciously chosen and for whom Christ did not die will never believe. These are secret things that belong to God alone. They will be made known at the proper time. . .. We are not to inquire first, either for ourselves or others, about the identity of the chosen ones or the redeemed before we determine to whom we should preach the gospel. We must preach it to all, assured that whoever believes it shall receive forgiveness. When we believe the gospel, we come to understand for ourselves that Christ bore our sins in his body on the tree. We learn that, from the beginning, God has chosen us to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.

The work of Christ is of unlimited value. The reason all are not saved by it has nothing to do with insufficient value but simply because it was not intended to redeem all. In itself it was valuable enough to take away all the sins of mankind, had that been God’s intention. If Christ’s sacrifice had not been sufficient for all, it would not have been sufficient for anyone. Every sinner who will be saved needed a redemptive act of unlimited value; no more could be required to redeem every individual. We proclaim the all-sufficiency of Christ’s redemptive work to all who hear the gospel. We invite all to rely on it for pardon and acceptance. We address them as freely as if we knew God had designed it for them from all eternity. All who rely on it in saving faith shall surely experience its power and unlimited value (Haldane, 1966, 203).

Conclusion

The only reasonable conclusion one can draw from this inquiry is that the death of Christ was intended not merely to provide the possibility of salvation for sinners, but to effectually accomplish salvation for those God has chosen.  As should be clear, no true Calvinist questions the abundant sufficiency of Christ’s redeeming work. The only issue dividing evangelicals is whether his death was intended to save all, to make all savable, or effectively to secure the salvation of a multitude no man can number. Since, as I have shown, his death guaranteed freedom from the reigning power of sin, effectual intercession and final glorification for all for whom He died, we can arrive at only one conclusion. God intended Jesus’ death effectively to secure these spiritual blessings for all those, but only for those, who believe the gospel.

It is not faith in the promises of God or faith in Christ that justifies sinners before God, it is Christ who justifies, through faith. Faith does not form any part of the basis of our justification. It is not that Jesus did His part by dying, we do our part by believing, and these acts taken together turn God’s wrath away. No,

 

Jesus paid it all.

All to Him I owe;

Sin has left a crimson stain,

He washed it white as snow.

 

Haldane, Robert,  The Epistle to the Romans, (London:The Banner of Truth Trust), 1966.

Hodge, Charles, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,) 1953.

Spurgeon, C.H., All of Grace, (www.philmorgan.org), nd.

 

Please visit my author’s page–www.amazon.com/author/randyseiver

 

02
Feb
16

CALVINISTIC EVANGELISM-CHAPTER FOURTEEN-Victorious Redemption (Part One)

 

There is perhaps no issue that impacts our evangelistic proclamation as deeply as that of the nature of Christ’s redeeming work. Those who believe in salvific synergism, i.e., that salvation results from a combination of God’s work and the sinner’s cooperation with him, have insisted that we cannot proclaim the gospel unless we are able to say to every sinner we meet, “Jesus died for you.” The issue I would like to consider in this chapter concerns the accuracy of that contention. I would assert that not only is that idea erroneous but that it is highly destructive to the biblical gospel.

 

The Issue

 

Before we proceed with a consideration of this doctrine, I would like to clarify the issue under discussion. I want to say at the outset that I do not regard a glib citing of a list of out of context proof-text a legitimate approach to resolving this issue. It is naïve and simplistic to suppose that such an intricate issue can be resolved by locating texts that use the words “all,” “world,” and “every man,” in relation to Christ’s death. Is there anyone who would argue that the apostle Paul actually met and preached the gospel to every person in the known world? I suspect not, yet I can offer a clear text that states unequivocally that he warned and taught every man. He wrote, “. . .which is Christ among you, the hope of glory whom we preach, warning every man and teaching every man that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Col. 2:27-28). Would it be reasonable to accuse a person who suggested that the words “every man” in these verses does not refer to every individual on the face of the earth of failure to believe the Scriptures? I think not. Yet, those who believe Jesus is a redeemer who truly redeems are often accused of pursuing a philosophical system and failing to believe the Scriptures.

 

The concern of the New Testament writers was to show that Jesus’ redeeming work was universal in the true sense of that term. They used the word κόσμος (kosmos) translated “world” to refer to sinners from every nation as opposed to sinners from the nation of Israel alone. One of the clearer expressions of this idea occurs in the song of the redeemed in Revelation, chapter five, verse nine. John wrote, “. . .and they sang a new song saying, ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals because you were slain and redeemed to God by your blood, men from [ἐκ—out of] every kindred, tongue, people and nation.” This accurately describes what the writers often meant when they used the word κόσμος (kosmos). It is exegetically irresponsible  simply to assign an English dictionary definition to a biblical word, then plug it in every time we encounter that word. Those who insist that κόσμος must always mean every person without exception bear the burden of proof to establish that contention. Additionally, we need to understand that the word “all” is often used to denote all without distinction and not all without exception. If we are to make any progress in understanding this important issue, it will require more than a proof-text approach to the matter. Instead, we will need to engage in a careful, exegetical study of the pertinent theological passages that relate specifically to this issue.

 

Since it is beyond the scope of this somewhat cursory examination of the foundation for biblical evangelism to scrutinize this issue in great depth, I would refer you to the author’s short book, A Faulty Compass: An Examination of Arminian Presuppositions, available at Amazon Kindle Books. For a fuller treatment of this issue I would recommend Definite Atonement by Gary Long Th.D., From Heaven He Came and Sought Her by David and Jonathan Gibson, Christ, Our Penal Substitute by Robert L. Dabney, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, by John Murray, and of course the classic The Death of Death in the Death of Christ by John Owen.

 

One of difficulties we face in dealing with this issue arises from a misunderstanding of the doctrine itself. This misunderstanding is due, at least in part, to faulty labeling. The Calvinistic doctrine has been referred to as “Limited Atonement” and this label has led to false suppositions. It has led to the assumption that Calvinists are concerned above all else to restrict the boundaries of divine beneficence. As I have tried to reflect in the title of this chapter, the true focus of the doctrine is that Jesus is a victorious redeemer who actually redeems his chosen people. In the days when the church actually sang theological hymns, we used to sing a song titled, “I will sing of my Redeemer” by Philip P. Bliss. The last line of the chorus reads like this— “On the cross, he sealed my pardon, paid the debt, and set me free.” The issue is whether those words are true or not. If the salvific synergists [usually known as Semi-Pelagians or Arminians] are right, then those words are in error.  In their view, Jesus did not seal anyone’s pardon on the cross. Professor John Murray wrote the following insightful comment,

 

Whether the expression “limited atonement” is good or not we must reckon with the fact that unless be believe in the final restoration of all men we cannot have an unlimited atonement. If we universalize the extent, we limit the efficacy. If some of those for whom atonement was made and redemption wrought perish eternally, then the atonement itself is not efficacious. It is this alternative that the proponents of universal atonement must face. They have a “limited” atonement and limited in respect of that which impinges upon its essential character. We shall have none of it (Murray, 1955, 64).

 

If we insist on telling every sinner we meet that Jesus died to redeem him, something no first century preacher ever told his unbelieving hearers, we unwittingly cut the theological legs from under much of the apostolic argumentation in the New Testament Scriptures. I want to consider several of those apostolic arguments later in this chapter, but for now I want you to understand that in telling sinners something they do not need to hear, we rob believers of truth they do need to hear. Our hope rests on the redeeming work of Christ alone, not on his death and our faith.

 

Three Evangelical Views

 

There are three main evangelical views regarding the nature of Jesus’ death; the Arminian view, the Amyraldian view, and the Calvinistic view.  These three groups view the death of Christ in radically different ways. Which of these do you think can most accurately speak of “the saving work of Christ?”

 

The Arminian View

 

The first is the Arminian view that Jesus’ death was intended to save all sinners but actually saves no one but believers.

 

That, accordingly, Jesus Christ the Savior of the world, died for all men and for every man, so that he has obtained for them all, by his death on the cross, redemption and the forgiveness of sins; yet that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins except the believer, according to the word of the Gospel of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And in the First Epistle of John 2:2: “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (The Remonstrance, Article 2).

 

The Amyraldian View

 

The second is the view of the “hypothetical universalists” also known as Amyraldians, that Jesus’ death was universal in its scope in terms of its design which was to give all sinners the potential of salvation. According to this view, Jesus died equally for all sinners, yet, his death did not, in itself, secure the salvation of anyone. Only the application of Christ’s redeeming work secures salvation for the elect.

 

Moїse Amyraut posited the idea of two separate divine decrees relative to the redemptive work of Christ. According to him, God first decreed to provide redemption for every sinner, on the condition that they believe; a condition he acknowledged no sinner in a state of nature would be able to fulfill. According to him, Christ’s work was not only sufficient for all but was intended for all. Yet, he did not posit this idea in the sense that it secured the salvation of any sinner in particular. In reality, according to his view, the work of Christ in itself did not objectively accomplish the salvation of any sinner.

The second divine decree concerned the application of redemption to the elect. He argued that, by this second decree, God intended to bring the elect absolutely to saving faith.

 

He wrote,

 

. . .for this was the most free Counsel and gracious Purpose both of God the Father, in giving his Son for the Salvation of Mankind, and of the Lord Jesus Christ, in suffering the Pains of Death, that the Efficacy thereof should particularly belong unto all the Elect, and to them only, to give them justifying Faith, and by it to bring them infallibly unto Salvation, and thus effectually to redeem all those and none other, who were from all Eternity from among all People, Nations and Tongues, chosen unto Salvation.

 

Such statements form the source of the popular formula, “Sufficient for all but efficient for the elect.” Such a statement is fine as far as it goes, but it falls short in that it fails to specify the source of this efficiency. Was the work of Christ efficient in itself, or did it only become efficient in its application? The work of Christ was sufficient for all because of the nature of the person who died, not because of a second and contradictory decree that designed that it would be offered equally for all but with no saving efficacy in itself. According to hypothetical universalism, the death of Christ did not, in itself, secure salvation for anyone. It is because of this contradiction that the arguments that are usually leveled at the particular redemption position, if granted, would also be effective in arguing against the divine decree. It is my view that the true difficulty in understanding and accepting “limited atonement” is not so much with the concept of a limitation in Christ’s redeeming work as it is with the decree that determined that not all would be the objects of saving grace. Unless we accept a Universalist position, we must acknowledge that the effectiveness of Christ’s redeeming work is limited to believers.

 

The view that Jesus’ death was particularly designed for the elect in its application alone and not in its design faces a logical problem. One would assume that those who hold this view believe God has decreed all that actually occurs. If it happens in time, it must have been planned in eternity. If God the Father has limited Christ’s redeeming work in its application to the elect only so that only they actually come to saving faith, that limited application must have been decreed before time began. That is, if God designed Christ’s work to be applied only to the elect, he must have intended it to redeem only the elect. Its design cannot be both limited and unlimited at the same time unless one is content with the idea that God is self-contradictory. In reality, the entire idea of “sufficiency for all” seems irrelevant since Christ’s work only needs to be “sufficient” for those to whom God applies it in effectual calling.

 

Amyraut’s intent seems to have been to insure that no one could accuse God of injustice because he did not provide a remedy for his sins. The argument would run like this–If Jesus did not die for a person with the intention of saving him on the condition that he believe the gospel, he could plead in judgment that he was condemned not through his own fault, but for the lack of a remedy. In truth, if no remedy existed for anyone, all would be justly condemned and without a legal defense before God. It is not the existence of a remedy and one’s refusal of it that is the cause of guilt and condemnation. Sinners stand condemned as the result of sin. As we shall see, arguments such as those posited by hypothetical universalists are unnecessary since Calvinists generally agree that the work of Christ is abundantly sufficient to save every sinner if they should believe the gospel and that his death guarantees the salvation of the guiltiest sinner who will believe. Additionally, The Canons of Dort clearly state that sinners perish by their own fault and not through any deficiency in the work of Christ.

 

It is important to remember that the gospel call does not require sinners to believe Jesus died with the intention of saving them in particular. No biblical evangelist ever said to a sinner or to a group of sinners indiscriminately, “Jesus died for you.”  The promise of the gospel is that if you believe it, you will be saved. To this, there is no exception.

 

The Calvinistic View

The third view is the Calvinistic view that Jesus’ redeeming work is unlimited in its value, but particular in its design. It was designed actually to accomplish the salvation of God’s elect. In all these views there is a limitation. The first two view the work of Christ as limited in its effectiveness; it did not actually and objectively accomplish the salvation of anyone in particular. In regard to the second view, there was no objective accomplishment of propitiation, redemption, reconciliation, or justification. If we were to take either of the first two views, we could not speak of “the saving work of Christ,” since His sacrifice was offered equally for all. If it, in itself, did not accomplish the salvation of all for whom He died, it did not, in itself, accomplish the salvation of any for whom He died.

As we have seen, there is no debate over the sufficiency of Jesus’ redeeming work. Both Arminians and Calvinists acknowledge its sufficiency. His death was more than sufficient to redeem every sinner who has lived, is living, or shall ever live. It possesses such value because of the dignity of the one who was crucified. If he chose to save every sinner who ever existed, He would need to do no more than He has done. A.A. Hodge wrote,

 

Christ’s righteousness, therefore, consists of his obedience and death. That righteousness is precisely what the law demands of every sinner in order to justification before God. It is, therefore, in its nature adapted to all sinners who were under that law. Its nature is not altered by the fact that it was wrought out for a portion only of such sinners, or that it is secured to them by the covenant between the Father and the Son. What is necessary for the salvation of one man is necessary or the salvation of another and of all. It is also of infinite value, being the righteousness of the eternal Son of God, and therefore sufficient for all (Hodge, 1972 420).

 

The Canons of Dort make it clear that the issue in this doctrinal dispute has nothing to do with a limitation in the value and sufficiency of Jesus’ redemptive work. If all repented and believed, all would be saved. Additionally, it is clear that there is to be no limitation in the freeness of the gospel offer. The issue is whether God designed Christ’s redeeming work to make it possible for all to be saved without accomplishing the salvation of anyone in particular or to accomplish the salvation of all who would believe, i.e. those the Father had given the Son in the decree of election. I want to quote a rather large portion of the Canons so that you will be able to see these statements for yourself.

 

Canons of Dort–Second Head of Doctrine, “The Death of Christ, and the Redemption of Men Thereby.”

 

Article 3. The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin, and is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world.

 

Article 4. This death is of such infinite value and dignity because the person who submitted to it was not only really man and perfectly holy, but also the only-begotten Son of God, of the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit, which qualifications were necessary to constitute Him a Savior for us; and, moreover, because it was attended with a sense of the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin.

 

Article 5. Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to all whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel.

 

Article 6. And, whereas many who are called by the gospel do not repent nor believe in Christ, but perish in unbelief, this is not owing to any defect of insufficiency in the sacrifice offered by Christ upon the cross, but is wholly to be imputed to themselves.

 

Article 7.  But as many as truly believe, and are delivered and saved from sin and destruction through the death of Christ, are indebted for this benefit solely to the grace of God given them in Christ from everlasting, and not to any merit of their own.

 

Can you imagine a stronger affirmation of the abundant sufficiency of Christ’s redeeming work? Surely, the most committed Arminian could never have stated the truth about the sufficiency of Christ’s death more forcefully.

The real issue we need to address is whether God intended Jesus’ death merely to provide the possibility of salvation for all sinners or infallibly to secure salvation for every sinner the Father gave to the Son before he created the world. The answer of the of the Canons is this— “According to the sovereign counsel of God, the saving efficacy of the atoning death of Christ extends to all the elect [and to them only], so as to bring them infallibly to salvation” (Emphasis Mine).

 

The Design of Jesus’ Redemptive Work

 

Since there is little disagreement among evangelical Christians concerning the value of Jesus’ redeeming work or the freeness of the gospel offer, we need to focus on what the Bible teaches about the Father’s intention in sending his Son and the Son’s intention in coming. Was it God’s intention in sending his Son merely to make salvation possible for everyone but with the possibility that everyone might be damned despite his best efforts? Did Jesus give himself as a sacrifice merely to make sinners savable or did he die to secure the salvation of those the Father hand given him to redeem?

 

Potential or Actual?

The first issue concerns whether Scripture speaks Jesus’ death as potential or as actual. Did Jesus die merely to make it possible for us to be saved or did He die to secure the salvation of his elect people by His redemptive work?

The following are just a few of the many verses that speak about Jesus’ redemptive work on behalf of His people. Notice that these verses all represent His sacrificial death as an actual work of reconciliation, redemption, propitiation etc.

“You shall call his name Jesus for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).

“. . .to care for the church of God which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).

“For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:10).

“And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight” (Colossians 1:20-21).

“When he had made purification of sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:3).

“But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all [for all time], having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:11-12).

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10).

Notice all these verses indicate it was His work on the cross, not the application of that work, that accomplished the salvation of His people. For example, the reconciliation about which Paul writes in Romans 5:10 is objective, not subjective in nature. That is, it occurred outside our experience, “when we were still enemies.”

Additionally, notice the words “potential” and “possible” are not even implied in any of these verses relative to the work of Christ. His work is represented as an actual accomplishment, not a tenuous provision.

 

This is the Will of Him Who Sent Me

 

Since, as we have seen, the issue is the design of Christ redeeming work, it would seem to make sense to examine passages of Scripture that state the purpose of the Father in sending his Son and the unity of the Trinity in pursuing that design. There is no paucity of biblical passages that actually address this issue. Jesus addressed it quite unequivocally when he said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:38-39). I want to revisit this passage when I discuss “prevenient grace” vs. effectual calling/drawing, but for now I would like to make a few observations about these two verses:

 

  1. There is an indissoluble unity of purpose among the persons of the Trinity in the plan, accomplishment and application of redemption. Jesus here stated that he had not come down from heaven to pursue a purpose that was different from or contrary to his Father’s will. He had pursued that line of argument extensively in chapter five of this Gospel.
  2. As he did in verse thirty-seven of this chapter, he here employs a negative statement to emphasize a positive truth. When he said, “. . .he who comes to me, I will never by any means cast out” (v. 37), he intended his hearers to understand that he would by all means save and keep all who came to him in genuine faith. In stating that it was the Father’s will that he should not lose one individual of all that he had given him, he intended to emphasize the point that it was the Father’s will that he should certainly secure the salvation of all those he had given him.
  3. It was the work of the Son to secure the salvation of all those the Father had given him in the eternal decree. It was not the work of the Son to make salvation a possibility for all, so that the Father and the Spirit or alternately the sinner’s libertarian free will might make salvation effectual in the application phase of redemption. He said, “. . .that of all those he has given me, I should lose nothing [or I should certainly save and keep].” In John ten, verse sixteen he stated that he had other sheep that were not of the fold of Israel. It should be clear to any unbiased reader that these sheep were not yet believers since he said “them also I must bring, and they shall [future tense] hear my voice. . .” Please notice that he does not say “I must make it possible for them to be brought” but “I must bring them.” It was his work to secure their salvation. Additionally, Jesus prayed in his intercessory prayer, “. . .since you have given him authority over all flesh to give eternal life to all you have given him” (John 17:2). It was the work of the Son to secure eternal life for those given to him in the eternal decree, not to provide a possibility of salvation.
  4. The phrase, “raise it up again at the last day” points up the unity of the Trinity in the accomplishment of redemption. In verse thirty-nine, Jesus used it to refer to both those the Father had given him and to those he would certainly save and keep. He describes these people in verse forty as those who “see the Son and believe on him” and declares that he will raise them up on the last day. In verse forty-four he not only affirms the sinner’s inability to respond positively to the gospel apart from the Father’s drawing, but uses this phrase again to show that all those who are thus drawn by the Father will be those who “see the Son and believe on him.”

 

In his intercessory prayer recorded in John seventeen, Jesus clearly stated the purpose of the mission his Father had given him. He prayed, “. . . Father the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh [humanity], to give eternal life to all whom you have given him”(vv. 1-2). The phrase beginning, “to give eternal life” is a purpose clause beginning with the word, hina, (in order that).  The Father’s purpose in giving Jesus all authority is clear. That purpose was to give eternal life to all those the Father had given him.  His purpose was not to make it possible for all to be saved if they chose to believe on him, but to give eternal life to God’s chosen people.

 

Even John 3:16, a verse touted by synergists to prove the universal but ineffectual good wishes of God for no one in particular, states the particularistic purpose of the Father in giving the Son.  It was in order that “the ones who believe in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Jesus did not die to make salvation possible for everyone but to make it certain for all who would believe.

 

Exegetical Evidence

 

Since I have stated my view that ripping texts from their context and using them as proof-texts is illegitimate, it seems incumbent on me to show how this doctrine is set forth contextually in the New Testament Scriptures. I intend to do that by considering the argument of the apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Romans and related passages. It is in such contexts that we begin to understand how essential this doctrine is to our understanding of God’s good news.

 

I have stated more than once in this book that the assertion “Jesus died for you” was never part of the message that first century preachers proclaimed indiscriminately to sinners. A careful examination of the biblical record will demonstrate that to be true. Still, someone is bound to object that Paul included the phrase “. . .how that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures. . .” in his description of the gospel he preached (see 1 Cor. 15:1-4). In light of this, how can we contend that this was not a part of the good news he had preached to them? The answer is that we do not deny that Paul proclaimed Jesus’ death for sinners as part of the good news he preached. What we contend is that the timing of that proclamation was entirely different from its proclamation in modern preaching. In modern “evangelism” the preacher/witness often begins where he should end. As we shall learn from our examination of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and related passages, his declaration that Christ died for us or for our sins is a message he reserved for those who had been justified through trusting God’s gracious promise to pardon every rebel who bowed before the throne of the exalted Christ. He proclaimed that message to explain how God could, in righteousness, declare guilty rebels to be righteous in his holy sight. Additionally, “Christ died for us” formed the foundation of the believer’s assurance of glorification. The apostle did not argue that believers are certain to be glorified because we have believed Christ died for us, but because Christ has objectively secured our salvation by his redemptive work.

 

Though it is far beyond the scope of this brief consideration of Christ’s redemptive work to provide a detailed exposition of every pertinent passage in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and related passages,  in part two of this chapter, I would like us to consider the following elements of Paul’s argument and how they relate to that doctrine:

 

  1. God intended Jesus’ work of propitiation not merely to form the righteous basis for the justification of sinners but also to vindicate himself in the justification of sinners (Rom. 3: 24-26).
  2. Christ’s death objectively accomplished our reconciliation with God while we were still enemies. He will not cast us off now that we have become his friends having “received the reconciliation” through faith (Rom. 5:1-11).
  3. Jesus’ obedience as the head and representative of all in him, secured their justification just as Adam’s representative act of disobedience had guaranteed the condemnation of all in him. Adam did not represent those in him because they had chosen him as their representative. He was their head by divine decree and appointment. In the same way, Jesus became the representative of believers not because we chose him to represent us, but because the Father appointed him as our representative head (Rom.5:12-19).
  4. Everyone for whom Jesus died also died with him to the reigning power of sin (Rom. 6:1-10).
  5. If God has given us the greatest gift possible [he did not spare his own Son for us all], he will also grant us every other spiritual gift that belongs to our salvation including glorification (Rom. 8:31-32).
  6. Paul linked Jesus’ death with his intercessory work and argued that he who died for us and intercedes for us will certainly not condemn us (Rom. 8:34).

As I expand on these elements of Paul’s argument in the second part of this chapter, I think it will become clear that the synergist’s insistence that Jesus died equally and in the same way for every sinner without exception, cuts the theological legs from under that argument and must, for that reason, be rejected.

 

Hodge, A.A., Outlines of Theology, (London:The Banner of Truth Trust), 1972

Visit my Author’s Page–www.amazon.com/author/randyseiver

 

03
Jan
16

What Kind of Love is This?

I recently received the following post on a discussion site I have been visiting. I thought it might be helpful to post it and the following answer here,

The negative way my rant may have come across as reveals my frustration as a believer who is struggling with who this God is. What sort of love is this that the God of the universe has to give the “love potion” to make us love Him. Is not true love freely given not manipulated?

There is no potion. There is God restoring a people to himself and granting us the ability to perform the function for which he designed us, i.e., to make his glory known. It helps to understand that the issues in salvation do not primarily concern man’s eternal destiny. The biblical evangelistic question is never “Do you want to go to heaven when you die”” The biblical question is whether you want to leave your life of sinful rebellion against God and live your life for his glory. Such a desire is not natural to any of us. If God left us all to our futile and self-destructive existence, he would be perfectly within his sovereign rights to do so. That he even allows us to live on his earth, feel his sunshine, drink his water, and that he gives to all life and breath and all things is incontrovertible evidence of his universal mercy toward his creation. If he allows us to draw one breath after we are born, he has granted us more than we deserve. But, he has not stopped there. He has not left himself without a witness but “gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our heart with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17). He didn’t stop there. Though having clearly seen the evidence of his being and glory all around us, we have refused to glorify him and show him gratitude. We have become futile in our reasonings, our foolish hearts have become darkened and we have exchanged God’s glorious image for idols of our own making. We have decided that neither God nor his truth are worth knowing. We have squandered and despised the advantage of his forebearing patience that is calculated to lead us to repentance and have, in the hardness and impenitence of our hearts treasured up for ourselves even more wrath.

As if this were not enough, God has sent his uniquely begotten Son to die for his enemies. The Puritan, John Flavel asked “What is a child but a piece of the parent wrapped in a different skin? And what one of us would give the worst child that we have to die for our best friend. But God gave not his worst, not even his best, but his only Son to die not for his best friend but for his worst enemies” (free citation from memory). The death he died was to quote the Canons of Dordt, “. . .of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate of the sins of the whole world” (Second Head, Article 3). They continue,

And, whereas many who are called by the gospel do not repent nor believe in Christ, but perish in unbelief, this is not owing to any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice offered by Christ upon the cross, but is wholly to be imputed to themselves” (Second head, Article 6).

Immediately on completion of this redemptive work Jesus commanded his disciples to proclaim the good news of free pardon to men and women of all nations and to announce to them that if they would repent, he would abundantly pardon so that where sin had overflowed, God’s grace overflowed all the more. This is what the Canons of Dordt state about that proclamation.

. . .the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have everlasting life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel” (Second Head, Article 5).

Additionally, God has sent his Holy Spirit to press the claims of the gospel on the sinner’s conscience, yet in spite of all this, sinners in a state of sinful nature “ALWAYS resist the Holy Spirit” and consider “the word of the cross,” the gospel to be foolishness. This is a universal response. There is not a single one who by sinful nature seeks God. We desire salvation no more than we deserve it. Left in such a state, we would have all been doomed and God would have been absolutely justified had he left us to languish and perish in a pool of our own blood. But he has gone beyond all of this. He has determined that there will be a seed to serve him and has promised in accord with his electing decree to sprinkle clean water on us that we might cleansed from our sins. He has promised to remove our cold and hard hearts of stone and replace them with a hearts of flesh. He has promised to put a new spirit [disposition] within us and to put His Spirit within us to cause us to be obedient to his commands. This is no magical potent but the power of regenerating grace. Without such grace and mercy that is freely and sovereignly bestowed not only on undeserving sinners but on ill deserving sinners, not one sinner would have been delivered from the pit.

You asked “What sort of love is this. . . ?” It is marvelous, infinite, unmatched, unthinkable, love that God would stoop to redeem any rebel much less an incalculable multitude of recalcitrant dissidents all of whom would have persisted in their high treason to their own destruction. Paul wrote, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the GREAT LOVE with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ, (by grace you are saved)” (Eph. 2:4-5).

Remember that if we think of God as only love, we will wonder why he doesn’t save everyone; if we think of him as infinitely holy, we will wonder why he saves anyone.
rseiver@icloud.com
Blog: http://www.truthunchanging.wordpress.com
YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIDEGMAR73Cd4OadCtXKa_A

https://www.amazon.com/author/randyseiver

06
Dec
15

Hitler Learns that New Covenant Theology is Spreading.

http://captiongenerator.com/71778/Hitler-Learns-that-NCT-is-Spreading

04
Dec
15

Calvinistic Evangelism–Chapter Thirteen–God’s Eternal Purpose

If we adhere to the biblical pattern for evangelism, our understanding of this doctrine will make little difference in the content of our message. If we preach only what the apostles preached, we will be on solid ground. Still, an understanding of God’s eternal purpose in the salvation of an elect people will not only enable us to understand the apostolic message but will also prevent erroneous statements in our presentation of what we imagine must be the gospel. We are often asked how a consistent Calvinist can tell sinners, indiscriminately, that God loves them and Christ died for them. We can answer those questions with no reference to this doctrine at all. The answer is simply that we find no such statements in apostolic preaching.

 

The reason this doctrine will make little difference in the freeness of our proclamation is that Calvinists can preach God’s offer of mercy in Christ no less freely than those who tout the sinner’s free will. The terms of the gospel are clear—If you wish to be free of your sins, repent and God will forgive you. There is mercy in God and virtue in Christ for the vilest sinner who returns. We do not proclaim God’s good news to elect sinners but to sinners as sinners.

 

The reason I include this doctrine as foundational to biblical evangelism is that it provides a valuable assurance of the success of the gospel to those who proclaim it. If the free will doctrine were true, it is conceivable that all our evangelistic efforts could be fruitless. Since the free grace doctrine is true, we may be confident that God’s Word will not return without success but will accomplish the purpose for which God has sent it (see Isa. 55:11).

 

Additionally, this doctrine is of great practical value to those who have believed the gospel. The Philadelphia Confession of Faith states,

 

The doctrine of the high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men attending the will of God revealed in his Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election; so shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God, and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel (Chapter 3, article 7).

 

Our Lord assured his hearers that he will bring all his elect sheep to his fold. He said, “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16). It seems clear that he is speaking of the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s great fold. Additionally, it should be clear to any unbiased reader that the sheep of which he speaks have not yet come to faith in him. He said, “I must bring them also and they will [future tense] listen to my voice.” They are his sheep though they have not yet believed. “I have other sheep.” He did not say “I will bring them if they are willing,” or “I am going to do everything I can to bring them.” He said, “I must bring them also.” He is proclaiming the certain success of his mission. Later in the same chapter he told some of his hearers that the reason for their unbelief was that they were not among his sheep (see v. 26). He did not say they were not among his sheep because they did not believe, but they did not believe because they were not among his sheep.

 

Remember the Lord’s words to Paul to encourage him concerning his mission in Corinth. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that when he came to them, he did so “in weakness and in much fear and trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3). When the Lord spoke to him, it was not to tell him that he should never be afraid, but to tell him that he should stop being afraid [μή with the present imperative]. What remedy did he offer to allay Paul’s fears? It was this, “I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:10). Since Paul had just arrived in the city, it is unlikely that the Lord meant there were already many believers in the city who would come to his aid and protect him. Additionally, he could not have merely meant that he had foreseen that there would be many who by their free will would become his people. Based on what we have learned in the previous chapter, their free choice would not make them his people. Instead, it would leave them in a state of condemnation. Genuine faith does not grow in the soil of corrupt nature. Based on what God saw when he looked down from heaven, “there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God” (See Psalms 14:2). As we shall see in greater detail in a subsequent chapter, faith results from God’s call. That call is always effectual (“Whom he called, he also justified”), and that call is according to his purpose (See Romans 8:28-30). For this reason, we should conclude that what the Lord intended in these words of encouragement was that it was his purpose to save a people for himself in Corinth and that he would certainly protect his servant until his purpose was realized.

 

Biblical Words Related to God’s Purpose

 

It should be clear to anyone who has read and studied the Bible that God is in control of even the most seemingly insignificant details of life. Jesus told his followers that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without their Father (See Matthew 10:29). He did not merely mean that such events do not occur without the Father’s knowledge but that even the most insignificant event imaginable does not occur apart from the divine purpose and without divine superintendence. Even the most seemingly fortuitous events are disposed by him.  The wise man wrote, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD (Proverbs 16:33). Additionally, the biblical writers make it clear that this divine disposition of all things is according to his purpose.

 

Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “In him [Christ] 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,” (Ephesians 1:11). When he speaks of those who have obtained an inheritance, he refers to those who have already come to faith in Christ as the following verses make clear. They have received this inheritance [I understand Paul to be saying they have received the inheritance not that they are the inheritance] because they have been predestined to do so. He has introduced this idea in verse five where he wrote, “In love, he has predestined us for adoption as sons [lit. son-placing] through Jesus Christ according to the purpose of his will.” When we find the word “adoption” in the New Testament we should think in terms of that act of a father in which he granted his son his inheritance when he came of age. Paul used this custom as an illustration of that period of Israel’s tutelage under the Law during which they were treated as underage children (Gal. 4:1-4). This “son-placing” occurred at “the time appointed by the father.”  Paul referred to this as “the fullness of the time;” (Gal. 4:4) the redemptive-historical moment at which both believing Jews and Gentiles began to receive the predestined inheritance. He makes it clear in several passages (e.g., Rom. 8:23-25; 2 Cor. 1:21-22; Gal. 4:6; Eph. 1:13-14) that the grant of the Holy Spirit is the first part [first-fruits] of that inheritance that guarantees the granting of the full inheritance. The apostle makes it clear that Jesus’s accomplishment of all Israel’s covenant obligations and his ratification of the New Covenant by the shedding of his blood has granted believing Jews the promised inheritance (see-Galatians 4:4-7; Hebrews 9:15). Believing Gentiles have become heirs to God’s promises because he has brought us into union with Christ, the seed to whom the promises were made and the consummate Israelite. Paul tells that believers have been made heirs because of God’s predestined purpose.

 

PredestineΠροορίζω/ορίζω (proorizŌ/orizŌ)

 

The word translated “predestined” in Ephesians one, verse eleven (προορίζω) is used for the marking out of a boundary beforehand. God has drawn a boundary line between what he has determined by decree either to permit or cause or to restrain and prevent. All that occurs in time has been previously ordained in eternity.  Please note that God does not cause to occur everything he has ordained. Instead, he has decreed to permit and use the wicked actions of evil men to accomplish his purpose. For example, he did not cause Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles and the people of Israel to perpetrate the most wicked crime in human history, yet Luke stated clearly that in the perpetration of that wicked act they were doing what his hand and his counsel determined beforehand (predestined) to be done (See Acts 4:27-28). He did not cause Joseph’s brothers to act wickedly but he predestined [intended] their wicked actions and the ensuing results to effect his good and holy purpose.

 

The Philadelphia Confession of Faith 1742, stated the following concerning God’s decree,

 

  1. God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken way, but rather established; in which appears his wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing his decree (Philadelphia Confession of Faith,1742, “Of God’s Decree” Chapter 3).

 

Purpose or Plan—Πρόθεσις (prothesis).

 

Ephesians 1:11 teaches us that God does not govern his universe without a previously determined plan or purpose (πρόθεσις). This plan is to God’s providential governing of all things [he “works all things according to the counsel of his will.”] what an architect’s blueprint is to a building. Everything that occurs in the construction of God’s building is in accord with his eternal blueprint. If an event occurs, we can be certain that it is not without divine purpose. Nothing that occurs in time in the construction of the building is missing from or contrary to God’s architectural blueprint.

 

We must not conceive of God as the cosmic custodian who comes in to clean up our mess after the party is over. He is not the “fixer.” The party and the consequent “mess” was in his plan from the beginning. He not only uses the evil intentions of wicked people to accomplish his plan, but he intended to use those evil intentions for his glory and his people’s good long before the evil machinations were contrived. In Genesis 50:20, Joseph said to his wicked brothers, “As for you, you meant [intended] evil against me, but God meant it [intended it] for good. . ..”  He saw in the same wicked act an evil intention and a good intention. God did not merely fix what had occurred; he had intended it all along and planned to bring good out of it.

 

Counsel–Βουλή (boulē)

 

This word along with the following (θἐλω) refers to the same plan or purpose of God but each word emphasizes different characteristics of that purpose. Βουλή “counsel” refers to the decree in general but emphasizes that God’s purpose is based on wise counsel and is not arbitrary.

 

Will– θλω (thelŌ)

 

θἐλω refers to God’s purpose and emphasizes the volitional character of that purpose. God does what he does because he has decided to do it. Nebuchadnezzar said, “. . .he does according to his will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth and none can stay his hand or say unto him ‘What have  you done?’ ” (Dan. 4:35).

 

Good Pleasure–Εδοκία (eudokia)

 

Εὐδοκία, often translated “good pleasure”emphasizes God’s freedom and his delight in the execution of his purpose. In Ephesians one, verse nine, Paul wrote, “Having made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he purposed in himself.” Paul had already written in verse five that God’s purpose to place us as sons was according to the good pleasure of his will (v. 5). He now tells us that this mystery has been revealed.  Remember that a “mystery” in Scripture is not an enigma that we cannot understand but a truth that was heretofore hidden but has now been revealed. It is a truth that was not previously known and could not have been known apart from divine revelation. This term also occurs in such passages as Matthew, eleven, verse 26. In the execution of his purpose, God acts as the sovereign potter who fashions vessels as he pleases.

 

It is in such terms the biblical writers described God’s gracious purpose in governing his universe and in dispensing his favor. He does as he pleases, and his creatures have no right to question him. Paul wrote, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this’” (Romans 9:20).

 

The Nature of God’s Purpose

 

When we speak about the purpose of God, we are referring to the will of his eternal decree that will infallibly come to fruition in time. Paul asked an important question in anticipating an objection to his teaching. He wrote, “You will then say to me, ‘Why does he still find fault, [How can he hold people responsible for their actions?] for who has resisted his will” (Rom. 9:19)? It should be clear immediately that he was not referring to God’s will revealed in the Scriptures since all at some time or another resist that will by our disobedience to it. He must have been referring instead to God’s eternal purpose that is certain to be accomplished. The objection is this—If all our actions have been ordained by God so that even in our acts of wicked rebellion against him we perfectly fulfill his decree, how can he hold us responsible for our actions? Would this not have been a perfect opportunity for the great apostle to have informed his objectors that God has in his sovereignty relinquished his sovereign rights to the libertarian free will of man? God could have governed his universe but instead he has decided to let human decision govern. He could have told them that God can hold people responsible because everything is determined by human free will and not by divine decree at all. Instead, he doubled down on the truth that God is the sovereign potter whose decisions must not be questioned. I want you to read and get the full impact of his answer. He wrote,

 

Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, – in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory- – (Romans 9:21-23).

 

He basically answers his objector by saying “You need to understand that God is God and you are not.” If he wants to use your free, rebellious and culpable actions to accomplish his purpose, then judge you for your rebellion, it is his prerogative to do so. He is the Sovereign and you are the subject.

 

In this section, it is my purpose to consider God’s decreed purpose as it relates to all his creatures and all their actions. Then, in the following section I intend to narrow the focus of our study to consider God’s saving purpose of grace and what the Scripture has to teach us about that purpose. In both sections, the focus of our attention will be on the nature of God’s decreed purpose.

 

The Divine Purpose is One Decree

 

We often speak of the decrees of God as though he had made a series of decisions, each one following on the heels of and logically dictated by another. In reality, the decree of God is one. Additionally, his decree did not come into being at some point in eternity past.  All he has purposed to effect in time has been in his great mind for all eternity. Though theologians may speculate on what must have been the order of his decrees from a point of logic based on biblical statements, the reality is that there was no temporal priority of one divine intention above another. There is one all inclusive plan that embraces all that is to occur in time.

 

The Divine Purpose Belongs to Eternity

 

Though God’s decree is integrally related to those events he effects in time, the decree itself belongs completely to eternity. God has saved his people according to his purpose that was in his mind from all eternity (See Acts 15:18; Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9. As there is no succession in divine thought, so there is no succession in the divine decree. All God knows, he has known for eternity. All he is effecting in time, has been his purpose since “before times eternal.”

 

God’s Purpose is Based on His Infinite Wisdom

 

A common caricature of the doctrine of the divine decree is that God has acted arbitrarily in framing his purpose. In reality, there was nothing arbitrary about God’s decree at all. His decree resulted from his infinite wisdom that would be manifested in his creation and in his acts of providence. Nowhere is that wisdom more resplendently demonstrated than in his plan, accomplishment, and application of redemption.  Paul wrote,

 

Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, (Ephesians 3:7-11).

 

In the proclamation of the gospel, God’s brings to light his manifold [many sided—one might say intricate and variegated] wisdom that was hidden for ages. None but an infinitely wise being could have devised such a plan the details of which would never have entered into the human heart apart from divine revelation. In Romans eleven, the apostle marvels at the inscrutable wisdom that is displayed in God’s judgments [decree]. He writes,

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33).

 

How humbling it is when we plumb the depths of our human understanding and wisdom and quickly hit the bottom, but the depths of God’s wisdom and understanding are impossible to sound. “. . . his is understanding is unsearchable” (Isa. 40:28). Though God’s design and all his works may be beyond human comprehension, there is nothing in them that is random or unreasonable. “The LORD by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens. . ..” (Prov. 3:19).

 

God’s Purpose is Universal

 

God’s decree extends to all his creatures and all their actions. Paul tell us in Ephesians one, verse eleven that he works all things according to the counsel of his will. The word translated “works” means to be energetic, effective, to accomplish. God accomplishes all he has planned to do. Daniel said to Belshazzar, “. . .the God in whose hand is your breath and whose are all your ways, you have not honored” (Dan. 5:23).  He described Jehovah as “the Most High God [who] rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will” (See Dan. 4:17; 5:21). Isaac Watts wrote,

 

There’s not a sparrow or a worm,

But found in his decrees;

He raises monarchs to their throne,

And sinks them as he please.

 

“God hath decreed in himself, . . .all things, whatsoever comes to pass.” If an event occurs or an act is perpetrated in God’s universe, we can be sure it has happened according to God’s eternal purpose.

 

God’s is Sovereign in the Framing of His Purpose

 

When we say that God is sovereign, we mean he the absolute ruler of the universe, the only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15). He acts as he pleases and is beyond the reach of human judgment. No one has the right to question his decisions or impugn his actions. No one can say to him, “What have you done? (Dan. 4:35).  No one has been his counselor or taught him wisdom.  He reigns supreme in his universe.

 

The Philadelphia Confession of Faith begins by saying “God has decreed in himself, from all eternity. . ..” From this we should understand that his decisions were not determined by anything outside of him. He acted sovereignly in determining what would occur in his universe.

 

Though there is no question that God knows all things future as though they were present, his decree was not based on what he foresaw. Instead, he foresees what will occur because he has ordained that it will occur. It is not as if he merely saw what would happen and decided to rubber stamp it. God’s purpose was sovereignly fixed long before he spoke and created light out of darkness. To suggest that God has merely decreed what he foresaw would occur is to deify the creature and humanize the Creator. It was by the wise and holy counsel of his own sovereign will that he freely decreed all that comes to pass. His decree depends exclusively on his good pleasure which he has purposed in himself (See Eph. 1:9).

 

The purpose of God is unconditional and independent of any circumstances outside itself. The means by which it is to be accomplished are decreed no less than the ends God intended to effect.

 

God’s Purpose is Effectual

 

God’s purpose will certainly and infallibly come to fruition. He does not long to accomplish his decree but find himself frustrated by his creatures.  Consider the following passage from Isaiah’s prophesy:

 

Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose, calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it. (Isaiah 46:9-11).

 

Though these words refer specifically to God’s purpose to deliver the Jews by Cyrus, they nevertheless have a broader application to all that God had purposed. If he has purposed an outcome, he will infallibly accomplish it. Nothing can thwart his purposes.

 

This does not mean that God is causally involved in bringing about all he has decreed. He does not need to force sinners to rebel against his revealed will, and he does not, as in the case of the regenerate, work in them to purpose to do what he has decreed. At the same time, we should not think that God merely permits sinners to have their sinful way but has no control over their actions. His decree, though not causing their violations of his revealed will, guarantees that those violations will occur. He has made this certain by determining that he will not prevent their acts of sinful rebellion. Additionally, he has determined to control the results of their sinful actions and bring out of them the holy result he has decreed.

 

God’s Purpose Is Immutable

 

The writer of the Book of Hebrews penned these words concerning God’s purpose, “So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath,” (Hebrews 6:17). The word translated “unchangeable” was used of legal rulings, documents, or contracts that were incapable of being set aside or invalidated.

 

There are several reason we human beings might and often do change our plans. It could be we simply have not taken our plans seriously enough to consider the cost of pursuing them. Maybe in the midst of our project, unforeseen circumstances will arise that will require that we abandon our purposes. Perhaps we will find that we lack the resources necessary to execute our plan. It could be we discover that our original plan was faulty. Any of these issues, or perhaps a combination of them, could force a change in our plans.

 

It is impossible to imagine any of these difficulties in relation to God and the realization of his purpose. He lacks no strength of resolve. There are no circumstances that are unforeseen to him. He has abundant resources. There are no flaws in his plan. In short, there is no reason for God to change his eternal plan. His purpose is immutable.

 

God’s Salvific Purpose

 

When we read that God works all things according to the counsel of his will, that “all things” includes his salvific purpose in Christ.  The apostle Paul makes it clear that God saves and calls his elect people according to his purpose (See Rom. 8:28 and 2 Tim. 1:9). There are three aspects of that salvific purpose that I would like to explore in the remainder of this chapter. They are foreknowledge, election and predestination.

 

Foreknowledge

A proper understanding of the Bible’s teaching about “foreknowledge” is essential to an understanding of God’s predestined plan or purpose. The way in which we view this issue will determine how we understand the biblical doctrines of election and predestination. If we rightly understand the biblical doctrine of human depravity or inability, the idea this verse teaches that “foreseen faith” forms the basis of God’s choice of certain individuals for salvation is out of the question. That is to say, if we believe in the innate inability of an unregenerate person to seek God, the idea of God foreseeing a faith that is produced out of depraved nature, a faith that could not exist apart from divine intervention, is unthinkable. The divine call produces faith and that the call is according to God’s eternal purpose, plan, counsel which was formed before time began. The order is, God’s purpose produces the call [God calls people because he has purposed to call them] and the call produces faith. In the scheme of those who believe in “free will” and not in “free grace,” what God purposes is determined by what he foresees will happen, and the call is unnecessary since the issue is determined by the sinner’s free will decision and not by God’s free grace. What is certain is that a sinner’s faith cannot be, at the same time, the determining factor in what God decides and the result of what God has decided.

 

Three Ways of Understanding “Foreknew”

We can think of the idea of foreknowledge in three ways. First, we can think of foreknowledge simply in terms of God’s omniscience of all things future. To my knowledge, the word is never used in this sense in the Bible though the idea that God knows all things future is clearly there. There is nothing “future” to God. God knows what will occur before it occurs. He dwells in eternity and sees every event as present. Isaiah 46: 10 informs us he “declares the end from the beginning and from ancient times things that are not yet done.” He knows about everything that is going to happen before it happens and he knows what his creatures will do before we do it. He knows about all his creatures and all their actions. In this sense, God foreknows everyone. Keep that thought in mind because it will become very important when we discuss the meaning of “foreknew” in Romans 8:29. The question is, does God determine what is going to happen because he foresees it, or visa versa? I believe the answer is he foresees what he has determined or purposed.

 

That brings us to the second sense in which “foreknowledge” is used. It is knowledge beforehand based on a divine decree. Jesus was handed over by the “determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (see Acts 2:23). Notice the order in which Peter mentions counsel or purpose and foreknowledge. It is not simply that God sees ahead of time what is going to happen and decides to go with it. We have already learned that God is actively involved in governing all his creatures and all their actions according to his purpose. The idea that God merely foresees what is going to happen and decides to “rubber stamp” it is foreign to the teaching of the Bible. The issue, then, is not whether God foresees the believer’s faith and final perseverance, but whether his foresight of that faith and perseverance is the reason he decided to choose them.

 

Third, we can think of foreknowledge as an intimate, loving, approval of people beforehand.

 

What Does “Foreknew” Mean in Romans 8:29?

What does the Text Actually Say?

If we simply read the plain text of Romans 8:29, do we find the words “Those in whom God foresaw faith?” Of course, unless you are reading from a paraphrase of the biblical text and not the text itself, you will not find these words. The text says absolutely nothing about God foreseeing anyone’s faith or perseverance. The text teaches that God foreknows people. Paul does not write about what he foreknew but about whom he foreknew. In fact, the word “foreknow” in the New Testament if always used of God’s knowledge of people and never of people’s actions.

God “Foresees” Everyone’s Actions and Responses

Let us assume for the moment the text actually reads “‘For whom God foresaw’ or ‘For those whose actions and decisions God foresaw,’ he also predestinated to be conformed to the image of his Son.” What would that mean? Since God has foreseen all events and all actions of all people, and since the text indicates nothing that limits what God foresaw, it would make Paul mean that God has predestined everyone without exception to be conformed to Christ’s image. God foresaw not only the actions and responses of those who will at some point believe the gospel; he foresaw everyone’s actions and responses. Even understanding that God’s knowledge extends to an intimate, penetrating, extensive acquaintance with every person’s inmost being and personality does not alleviate the problem. He knows everyone in this way. Unless we believe God has predestined everyone to be conformed to the image of Christ, we cannot consistently believe Paul is merely speaking about God’s extensive knowledge of all people, future events and future actions.

What Does God Foresee About All Sinners?

If God’s decree to save some (i.e., restore his image in them and bring them to glory) and pass over others was based on what sinners will invariably do when confronted with the gospel, he would have decreed to pass over everyone. As we have shown, [foreseen] faith cannot be both the basis or cause and the effect of God’s decision to save. God cannot decree to save people based on his foresight of a faith that would never exist if he had not purposed to bring it about. Do passages like Psalm 14:1-3 say anything about God seeing some who would be willing to understand the things of God and seek a loving, believing, obedient and worshipful relationship with him? Of course, the answer is that God sees exactly the opposite. God sees that no one will seek such a relationship apart from his enabling grace. Nothing short of God’s inward call and his regenerating grace will cause sinners to seek after him.

The Importance of Context

Let us assume again that Paul intends us to understand that God has predestined to conform some people to Christ’s image based on his foresight of their persevering faith. How would that idea fit into the context of Paul’s argument in this passage?

The main point Paul continues to make in these verses is that if God has justified a person, he is certain to glorify that person. He has adduced argument after argument in support of that proposition. His argument in these verses is that the believer’s glorification is certain because the entire work of salvation, the work of bringing his chosen people to glory, is God’s work in fulfillment of his eternal, electing decree. That work has been likened to a chain that is anchored in eternity past and extends to the end of time. Every link in that chain represents some aspect of God’s work. It began with his sovereign purpose to redeem a people marked out for himself. He loved these chosen people before they ever had being and determined beforehand that he would conform them to the image of his Son. Then, according to that divine determination, he calls them out of the world, effectually uniting them to his Son. Since they are in union with Christ, he declares them righteous in his sight. Additionally, he guarantees their glorification because they are in him who has already entered into his glory.

Everything in these verses concerns God’s work of bringing his chosen people to glory. Paul does not even mention God’s work of sanctification. I would presume he omits any reference to that work because, unlike justification, it brings within its scope the believer’s works of obedience which, in this life, will never be perfect. God has promised that he will ultimately bring the believer to complete and perfect holiness, but that work is anything but complete in the present.

The point is these verses are about what God does, not what believers do. It would be completely incongruous to introduce the believer’s faith into this context. God does not love sinners because he foresees we are going to love him. We love him because he first loved us.

Use of the Words “Know” and “Foreknow” in the Scriptures

The Greek verb translated “foreknew” is the aorist tense (point action, usually past tense) form of the verb proginōskō. It is a compound verb made up of the words pro-before and ginōskō to know by experience, to regard with love, approve. The word ginōskō is used to translate the Hebrew (yada) in the LXX, the Greek translation of the Hebrew O.T. Consider a few examples of this word’s usage in the Old and New Testament Scriptures.

Genesis 4:1 “Now Adam knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain. . . .”

Psalm 1:6 “The LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish.”

Amos 3:2 “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore, I will punish you for all your iniquities.”

Nahum 1:7 “The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.”

Matthew 1:24-25 “. . .he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. . . .”

Matthew 7:23 “And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of iniquity.”

John 10:14 “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,”

2 Timothy 2:19 “ The Lord knows those that are his. . . .”

It is obvious this word is used of a knowledge that goes beyond awareness of facts about a person. Instead, it is used to express intimacy and approval. It carries with it the meaning “to regard with love.”

Consider also the use of the word proginōskō in the New Testament Scriptures:

“God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew” (Romans 11:2a).

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you (1 Peter 1:1-2).

Notice the text reads “according to the foreknowledge of God,” not “based on the foreknowledge of God.” These people were not scattered abroad because God foresaw it would happen.

“He [Jesus] was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you (1Pet. 1:20).

In these verses, it is the people who were foreknown, not their actions.

Conclusion

What should we conclude about the idea Paul meant to convey in Romans 8:29? When we consider the actual words of the text without reading our own ideas into them, the context in which they are written, and the usage of the words “know” and “foreknow” in the rest of Scripture, there is only one conclusion we can reach. The word means to regard with loving approval beforehand. Paul could have well written, “For whom God loved before hand, he also predestinated. . ..” God’s choice of sinners to be conformed to his Son’s image was not a cold and arbitrary decree, but was according to his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses (see Eph. 2:4-5).

 

Election

 

The words “elect,” “election,” “choοse,” ¨“chosen” are translated from such words as the verbs  ἐκλέγω (eklego) and ἐκλέγομαι (eklegomai)  and the nouns ἐκλεκτός (eklektos) and ἐκλογή (eklogē). The verb αἱρέομαι (haireomai) is used in  2 Thessalonians 2:13. It is important to note that in that verse it is salvation that is through sanctification and belief of the truth and not God’s choice that is through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.

 

All these words have at least three characteristics in common:

 

  1. The choice in view is made from several objects that could be chosen.
  2. The person choosing is free to choose as he wills.
  3. The person choosing has at his disposal the objects chosen.

 

Types of Election in Scripture

 

It is important that we understand that not everyone who is referred to as “elect” has been chosen for spiritual and eternal blessings. For example, Israelites should not believe they have been chosen to spiritual and eternal blessings and blessedness because they are members of God’s chosen nation.

 

The Scripture speaks of several different types of election, but only one of those secures eternal blessedness.  They are:

 

▪                 National election— (Deuteronomy 7:6).

▪                 Election to Office:

▪                                   Kings, priests, prophets (1 Samuel 2:28, 10:24; Jeremiah 1:5).

▪                                   Apostles (John 6:70).

▪                 Of Good Angels (1 Timothy 5:21).

▪                 Of Christ (Isaiah 42:1).

▪                 Unto Eternal Salvation (Ephesians 1:4; John 15:16; 2 Thess. 2:13).

 

We would define election to eternal salvation as follows:

 

Election is the eternal, sovereign, unconditional, and immutable decree of God, whereby, according to the wise counsel of His own will and for His own glory, He has selected for Himself some individual sinners from among all mankind, and of every nation, to be redeemed and everlastingly saved by Christ.

 

The issue in the debate over election is not over whether the Bible says anything about God’s choice. Instead, the issue is what or whom God chose and the basis of that choice. Please consider the following observations:

  1. The texts that speak of election say nothing about God choosing a plan. Instead, we read such statements as “he has chosen us” and “chosen you.” There is no question that God has chosen a plan, but the texts under consideration have nothing to do with that choice. They speak, instead, about God’s choice of sinners.
  2. The texts that speak of election say nothing about foreseen faith and perseverance as the basis of God’s choice. God’s choices are made “according to the good pleasure of his will.” There was nothing in the objects of God’s choice that moved him to choose them. “It [God’s decision to show mercy]is not of him who wills or of him who runs but of God who shows mercy” (Rom. 9:16).
  3. The texts that speak of election say nothing about a believer becoming a part of the “corporate elect” when he believes. This should be clear to anyone who carefully and exegetically considers what the Scriptures teach about the order of election [God’s purpose], calling, and faith. It is through faith that we are united to Christ. It is through calling that we are brought to faith. As we will see in a later chapter, everyone who is called is also justified (See Rom. 8:30) and no one is justified apart from faith. It follows that everyone who is called will become a believer. We are called “according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). God’s electing and salvific purpose is antecedent to the believer being brought The biblical order is 1. God’s purpose, 2. calling according to his purpose, 3. faith and union with Christ. Since this is true, it is completely irrational to think that we become a part of God’s purpose when we choose to be in Christ. We would never have chosen to be in Christ apart from God’s effectual call, and we would not have been called effectually apart from his saving purpose.
  4. The texts that speak of election say nothing about heaven or hell since this is not the issue in salvation. Instead, they speak about God’s purpose to make his people holy and blameless before him. They speak about bringing sinners to glory and conforming us the Christ’s image. Those who argue that God’s electing and predestinating purpose is not about salvation, simply do not understand what salvation is.

 

Characteristics of Election to Eternal Salvation

 

The biblical writers teach us the following about the nature of God’s choice of sinners to be conformed to the image of Christ. Notice the similarity between this list and the characteristics of God’s broader predestinating purpose.

 

▪                 It is eternal (Ephesians 1:4, 3:11; 2 Timothy 1:9). It was not determined by anything in time but was settled before time began.

▪                 It is sovereign (Matthew 11:25-27; Romans 9:15-18).

▪                 It is unconditional, i.e., not conditioned on anything in the creature (Deuteronomy 7:6-8; Romans 9:11, 11:5-6; Ephesians 1:5).

▪                 It is immutable (Isaiah 14:24, 46:10-11; Romans 8:28-30; Hebrews 6:17).

▪                 It is wise (Romans 11:33).

▪                 It is individual (Romans 16:13).

▪                 It is for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 1:31; Ephesians 1:4-6, 12).

 

Predestination

 

When we read in the Scriptures that God has predestined us to certain blessings, we are simply to understand that he has made certain beforehand that those he has chosen for himself will become partakers of those blessings. He has not only set his everlasting love on the objects of his choice, but he has determined to rescue us from our sins and grant us an inheritance in Christ. It is on the basis of this gracious purpose that God can make exceeding great and precious promises to his chosen people.

 

The alternative is either that God learns and grows along with us or that he has merely foreseen [or sees now from the vantage point of the eternal present] that everything will by some strange quirk of fate or chance and apart from any interference or intervention on his part, turn out for the best. Perhaps God has merely witnessed all the pieces falling into place by the fortuitous working of blind chance so that he can confidently promise us that apart from any purpose or design on his part and apart from any control he exerts in his own universe, all things are going to work together for good to those who love God. If this were the case, God would no longer be God; he would be reduced to a helpless spectator who could wish us well but could do nothing to save us. This is a far cry from the biblical representation of our glorious God who sits in the heavens and has done whatsoever he has pleased (See Psalms 115:3).

 

It is because of his predestined purpose that God is able to assure us he will glorify all whom he has justified (See Rom. 8:28-30). He who has given up his Son to die for us will most certainly grant us everything else that belongs to our salvation including glorification (Rom. 8:32). He has determined beforehand to grant us an inheritance in Christ (See Eph. 1:5, 11). He has determined beforehand to conform us to the image of his Son (See Rom. 8:29). He has appointed us to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (See 1 Thess. 5:9). He has prepared beforehand that believers would walk in a pattern of good works (See Eph. 2:10). The apostle Paul told the Corinthians that the wise scheme of redemption that had been hidden for ages, i.e., God’s hidden decree, had now been revealed in the gospel he preached. Additionally, he told them that God’s secret decree concerned their glory. By this he meant that all the glorious blessings that believers enjoy in Christ find their source in the divine decree (See 1 Cor. 2:7). Charles Hodge commented on these words, “. . .the scheme of redemption, which the apostle here calls the wisdom of God, was from eternity formed in the divine mind, far out of the reach of human penetration, and has under the gospel been made known for the salvation of men. . .” (Hodge, 1997, 56).

 

Application

 

The relevance of this doctrine to evangelism should be clear. Nothing should give us confidence in proclaiming God’s message as much as the truth that God guarantees the positive result of our gospel presentation. God has not left the matter to the caprice of the human will. He has promised that his Word will not return to him empty; but it will accomplish that which he purposed, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it (See Isaiah 55:11). What God has intended to accomplish by our preaching is none of our business. Our task is to be faithful in proclaiming God’s message in his way and leave the results to him.

 

 

 Hodge, Charles, An Exposition of II Corinthians,  (Albany, OR: Books for the Ages) 1997.

 




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