“. . .so that no one may boast. . . .”

This morning I had the unhappy experience of watching and listening to a YouTube video in which the speaker was trying to “refute Calvinism” by his “exegesis” of Romans 9.  Apart from his deplorable communication skills, and his ignoring of the context in which we find this passage, (an error of which he accused his opponents) the Pelagian speaker* actually said many things with which most Calvinists would probably agree.  In fact, I confess I became impatient as I listened waiting for him to state something that would not be obvious to a poorly educated third grader.  Finally, he came to points of difference.  His primary argument seemed to be that God is sovereign in choosing and rejecting nations but is not sovereign in the salvation of sinners.  The truth is, God is sovereign everywhere, or he is not sovereign anywhere.  And, if he is not sovereign everywhere, he simply is not God.  The speaker on the above mentioned video finally concluded, though he did not state it in as many words, that the sinner is the potter who must make himself either a vessel of honor or a vessel of dishonor.

The reality is, Romans 9 is intended to answer a concern that arose out of Paul’s teaching in Chapter 8.  Paul had made it quite clear that God has effectually called believers according to his eternal electing purpose.  If he has called us according to his purpose, he has declared us righteous by his grace.  God’s act of justification comes to those, and only those, who are united to Christ by faith.  This meant many of Abraham’s natural offspring were going to perish in their sins since they had obstinately refused to believe the gospel of grace.  It was for this reason Paul wrote, “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (v.6). As his argument unfolds in chapters 9-11 it becomes clear God is certain to justify all his foreknown and chosen people, in this case the remnant among ethnic Israel.

In verses 9-13, the Apostle’s intent was to demonstrate God’s sovereign right to choose whom he wills and pass over whom he wills.  His choice of Jacob [Israel] to national blessings is a figure of his choice of his New Covenant people to spiritual and eternal blessings.  The way in which he chose Jacob, i.e., before birth, without consideration of good or evil actions [Had he considered Jacob’s actions, he would never have chosen him], illustrates the manner in which God has chosen New Covenant believers to salvation, “not because of works but because of him who calls” (v. 12).

A large portion of the remainder of the chapter is taken up with two objections to the idea of sovereign election:  1.  Someone is going to say, “but that’s not fair.” “What shall we say then, is there injustice on God’s part. . .”  (v. 14)?  and 2.   Someone is going to say, “If this is true, how can God hold sinners responsible” (“Why does he still find fault, for who can resist his will” (v. 19)?

Interestingly, these are the same two objections that invariably arise whenever we teach the biblical doctrine of sovereign election.  The way Paul answers these objections is extremely significant. If the doctrine of free will salvation were correct, Paul would simply have answered that God is not unjust in choosing one sinner over another since his choice is only a rubber stamp of the “free will”decision he foresaw the sinner would make.  It is not God who determines who is saved, but the sinner.  This is not the way he answers.  Instead, he answers that God is the absolute sovereign who in his holiness is free to do whatever he pleases.  He concludes that God’s display of mercy does not depend on the sinner’s will “it is not of him who wills,” nor the sinner’s exertion “nor of him who runs,” but of God who shows mercy.

In answer to the second objection, Paul merely replies that God is the sovereign potter who has the right to dispose of his creatures as he pleases.  If he wishes to leave us in our sins and then judge us for committing those sins, he has the right to do so.  Who are you to reply against God?  If the free will position were correct, he would simply have answered that the matter is really under the control of the sinner’s free will and not under the control of the potter.

There are two questions the proponents of “free will” salvation need to consider.  One concerns this issue of boasting; the other concerns the issue of God’s purpose in creating and redeeming us.

The New Testament Scriptures are clear that God has so planned the sinner’s salvation that no room will be left for boasting in anything but God and grace.  Consider the following verses:

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 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, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1: 26-31).

Please notice the Apostle says, “it is because of him [God] you are in Christ Jesus.” It is God’s work, not the sinner’s.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).
“For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it”  (1 Cor. 4:7).
The question the proponents of the free will doctrine or the prevenient grace doctrine need to answer is how their view excludes boasting on the sinner’s part.  If faith in Christ  arises from sinful nature, i.e., the sinner finds something he is not seeking and to which by nature he is averse, or in the case of the Pelagian faith arises from the person’s neutrality toward God,  or in the case of the Arminian, faith results from prevenient grace  that inexplicably enables some but not others [one must assume some sinners must be better than other sinners.]  In all these cases it is the sinner who ultimately tips the scale toward a reception of the gospel.  The one who receives the gospel apparently has some virtue others do not possess and he has this virtue apart from any special grace.  If this were the case, he would have cause for boasting, would he not?

Martin Luther wrote, “If any man doth ascribe aught of salvation, even the very least, to the free-will of man, he knoweth nothing of grace, and he hath not learnt Jesus Christ aright.”

Centuries later, C. H. Spurgeon echoed these words in his sermon, “Free Will–a slave,” He said,

It may seem a harsh sentiment; but he who in his soul believes that man does of his own free-will turn to God, cannot have been taught of God, for that is one of the first principles taught us when God begins with us, that we have neither will nor power, but that he gives both; that he is “Alpha and Omega” in the salvation of men.

The other issue is the purpose for which God created us and redeemed us.  God’s purpose in all things is the manifestation of his glory.  By “glory”  we understand the sum of his glorious attributes.  Peter wrote, “. . .whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies-in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:11).
My question is, which view most magnifies God’s glorious attributes and most deflates the sinner’s pride, the free will doctrine or the free grace doctrine?
Boast if you will in your choice as though it were all of your own doing;  I intend to boast in the free, sovereign and distinguishing grace of God.

*A Pelagian is a person who believes the doctrines set forth by Pelagius who denied the doctrine of original sin, and the imputation of Adam’s guilt and sinful nature and affirmed the ability of humans to be righteous.  Pelagianism was condemned as heresy by the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D.

5 Responses to ““. . .so that no one may boast. . . .””

  1. June 9, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    Reblogged this on The Battle Cry and commented:
    I think you really handled the topic of ‘boasting’ really well! I can’t tell you how many times I have brought that subject up in conversations. If I think my decision for Christ was all on my own I indeed have reason to boast. Another argument I have received many times, and because the topic of predestination cannot be refuted, is that God only predestined a plan, but not His people.

    • June 11, 2012 at 12:29 am

      It is good to see you here again brother. I have missed communicating with you. It is true, is it not, that once we push the issue back as far as it can be pushed, it comes down to this–either salvation is the product of the human will or of the divine will. The glory of it cannot be shared by God and the sinner, and God has revealed that he does not intend to share his glory with anyone else. He hymn-writer stated it well when he wrote,

      The glory Lord, from first to last, is due to you alone,
      Aught to ourselves we dare not take, or rob you of your crown.

      • June 11, 2012 at 7:23 pm

        ‘Tis true – to God alone be the Glory. there was a time, many years ago now, when I figured that God, IN his Sovereignty gave us the ‘free will’ choice (determinant action), However that’s like saying that God in his sovereignty gave up his sovereignty – a notion very ‘flesh pleasing’. I have heard that very thing of late. But as you say, God or man is sovereign – it cannot be boath.

  2. September 24, 2013 at 12:52 am

    When I initially commented I seem to have clicked on
    the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now each time a
    comment is added I recieve 4 emails with the exact same comment.

    There has to be an easy method you can remove me from that service?
    Many thanks!

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