Arminian Presuppostion #3 Refuted

Arminian Presupposition #3. –God would not be fair unless he at least gave everyone a chance to hear the gospel and believe. He owes everyone an opportunity. If God has chosen some and passed over others, then God is not being fair or acting fairly.

It is interesting that the objections to sound doctrine have not changed during the past two thousand years. The apostle Paul anticipated such an objection to his assertion of God’s sovereignty in choosing Jacob over Esau and reversing the normal order so that the elder would serve the younger. Additionally, he stated that God did so that his electing purpose might stand. (See
Romans 9:10-13).

Then, he asks, “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part” (v.14)? In terms of the presupposition we are considering, the objection might be phrased as follows, “But, would God not be unfair if, before people were even born and apart from any acts they had performed, good or evil, he decided to favor some over the others?” Implicit in such an objection is that God would be unfair if he didn’t treat all sinners equally. I, for one, don’t want God to treat all sinners equally. If he did, we would all perish.

It is, of course, impossible to say with certainty whether this is an objection he had actually heard or if he was merely anticipating such an objection. What is instructive for us are the answers Paul gave to such objections. We may learn as much from what he did not say as we can from what he said. For example, let’s suppose for a moment that the Arminians are right in their doctrine of election based on foreseen faith. What would have been Paul’s most logical answer to this objection? Would it not have been that there is no unrighteousness with God since he was, in his decision to bless one and curse the other, merely confirming the decisions he foresaw they would make? Would he not have said, “God is not unfair at all since it was not truly his decision that determined the destinies of these two men and their offspring; it was the decisions he foresaw they would make that ultimately decided destiny.” If every there would have been an excellent opportunity to insert such a teaching, this would have been it. What a missed opportunity!

Before I proceed, I would like to make a couple of observations about this passage: 1. I would be remiss if I did not consider the context in which these verses occur and answer a number of questions about the apostle’s argument at this point. 2. It is important to ask whether these verses really concern the issue of eternal salvation at all or if they merely concern national blessings for Israel? 3. This passage has, in the minds of some, raised the issue of corporate as opposed to individual election. I would like to address that issue before proceeding.

Let’s take these issues one at a time:

1. Let’s consider the context in which we find these verses. As you are no doubt aware, in this entire section of his epistle, the apostle is responding to another anticipated objection in light of Israel’s rejection of the gospel. He wrote, “But it is not as though the word of God has failed, For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring.” In the verses that follow, he shows that not only has God determined beforehand who will be heirs to his promises, but he has done so contrary to the natural and normal order. Incidently, this plays into his argument later in the section in regard to the Gentiles being grafted in “contrary to nature.” Ishmael was the child of the flesh; Isaac was the child of promise produced supernaturally through faith (see verse eight). Paul tells us the significance of this–the manner in which these two sons were conceived and brought forth is intended to illustrate that not every member of the nation of Israel belongs to the true Israel of God. His teaching in Galatians four makes it clear that the two mothers involved represent two distinct covenants, one of the flesh and the other of promise and their sons are types of two ways of seeking salvation, one by the law, the other through the promise. One represents natural Israel (the Jerusalem that is now), the other represents the true Israel, “Jerusalem that is above.” Ultimately, God’s promise to Abraham is fulfilled in Christ, and all who are in union with Christ become heirs of that promise.

The question with which Paul is grappling concerns why some members of the nation remain the mere physical and natural offspring of Abraham, Isaac and Israel and others, through faith, become his spiritual children. The case of Jacob and Esau provides an excellent illustration of the principles at work in God’s sovereign choice of a spiritual people. Keep in mind that national Israel stood as a type or foreshadowing of the New Covenant people of God. Thus, the manner in which God chose Israel (Jacob) forms a typical representation of the manner in which God has chosen those who are the true, spiritual seed of Abraham. Consider the principles that govern characterize God’s choice:

A. Unlike in the case Ishmael and Isaac in which one could argue the preference of son above the other resulted from their conception by separate mothers, one legitimate, the other illegitimate, these were twins boys conceived by the same mother, and begotten “by one man.”

B. God’s decree occurred before the children were born (v. 11). God’s decree of election was made before he created the universe.

C. God’s decree occurred before either of these unborn children had performed any act, either good or bad (v. 11). Let it be said that had God based his choice on Jacob’s character, choices, and actions, he would never have chosen him. In reality, had his choice been base on actions or choices, he would have rejected them both.

Paul states clearly what this illustrates to us. “That God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works, but because of him who calls–she was told. ‘The elder shall serve the younger.’ As it is written, Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (vv. 11-13). This is the way God chooses sinners to be his heirs–It is not because of works, but it is because of him who calls. It is God’s free, sovereign and uncaused choice. He calls whomsoever he pleases.

D. According to the normal order, the firstborn would have the birthright and receive the blessing and inheritance. God’s chosen receive nothing because we have a right to it. We receive all God’s blessings contrary to rights. “It was said to her, “the elder shall serve the younger.”

2. Let’s consider whether the passage is speaking of spiritual salvation or mere natural and material blessings for Israel. It should not escape our notice that this chapter is bracketed by Paul’s expressions of intense desire that Israel be saved, so much so that he says he could wish himself accursed and cut off from Christ for his brothers according to the flesh. Toward the end of the chapter he explains why, though Israel “pursued righteousness” they did not obtain it, because they did not pursue it by faith. Then, in verse one of the following chapter he states, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.”

Additionally, within the chapter itself Paul discusses the salvation of the remnant, which he links back to vessels of mercy which he has prepared beforehand for glory (v.23) “even us whom he called. . . .” (v. 24), which, in turn, he links back to God, the sovereign potter who makes one vessel to honor and another to dishonor (v. 21).

Then there are all the references to mercy and compassion, terms which clearly speak to us of spiritual salvation. All of this makes one wonder how anyone could imagine the chapter is speaking of anything but salvation.

3. Is election corporate or individual? To ask the question another way, has God chosen individual sinners and marked them out to become his heirs, “In love, he predestined to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:5), or has he merely chosen the corporate body which people enter through their “free will” decision and, at that point, become “the elect.” This question arises because the verse Paul cited from Malachi one, “Jacob I loved, and Esau I hated,” includes not only these two individuals but also their descendants. For this reason, some have suggested Paul was not referring in this passage to God’s choice of individuals but the corporate body of the elect into which people enter by their free will decision.

First, in this case as well, this the objection to Paul’s teaching and his response would make no sense if this view were true. How could anyone think God is unjust in this matter if sinners are the ones who determine their own destiny?

There is no question the corporate body composed of believers in Christ can be referred to as “the elect” people of God, but this does not explain how one enters this body. By this I mean not only must this view ignore a host of relevant Scriptures concerning God’s eternal purpose, but it also fails to explain how people enter this corporate body when, by nature, we are averse to the things of God and run away from whatever revelation God has given us.

The Scriptures teach us that we, believers, are “the called ones according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28). The “call” in this verse refers not to the universal call of the gospel, but to God’s effectual call. We know this because Paul tells us those who are thus called are also justified (see v. 30). Not all those who are invited by the gospel are justified. Paul then explains that the purpose to which he refers is the electing and predestinating purpose of God.

But, if all I have written here is true, doesn’t that not mean God has acted unfairly in what he has decreed? “Is there injustice on God’s part?” Paul answers, “May it never be!” Such a thought is unthinkable. The very question itself indicates the questioner believes God is somehow obligated to sinners. The first question that should occur to us is, who could obligate God to do anything? Do we rebels against God truly deserve his smile? If he condemned all of us, would he be unjust in doing so? If we deserve anything but his wrath and curse, then grace would cease to be grace.

Who determines what righteousness is? Does Paul argue that God is clearly just because he has conformed to a standard of righteousness externally imposed on him? Who could impose such a standard? Does he defend God or make excuses for his decrees? Not at all! He simply reminds his readers that God showed Moses his glory, but explains to him that such a concession was an act of sovereign mercy. Then, he reminds his readers that God used Pharaoh’s sinful stubbornness to accomplish his sovereign purpose, then drowned him in the Red Sea. Paul boldly states, “so then, it [the showing of mercy] is not of him who wills or of him who runs [exerts himself], but of God who shows mercy.” God can do whatever he wishes and is just in doing whatever he does. He is God! He is the standard of righteousness. God’s righteousness is whatever he chooses to do in keeping with his holy character.

The question we need to answer is whether Moses or Pharaoh, Jacob or Esau, or any other sinner deserves God’s favor. If God condemned everyone of us, would he be unjust in doing so? Would anyone who truly knows himself and his sinfulness ever think of saying, “But that would make God unfair?” I don’t think so? Why, then, would anyone ever think of saying God would be unfair if he rescues some by his mercy and grace and justly leaves the rest to perish in their sins?

Always remember this, God cannot be unjust in withholding from some what no one deserves.


3 Responses to “Arminian Presuppostion #3 Refuted”

  1. January 11, 2013 at 11:30 am

    When those with whom I have this discussion realize the ZBible tells us we are ALL born on death row, theiy sometimes examine their presuppositions.

    • January 11, 2013 at 1:36 pm

      “ALL born on death-row” is exactly right,” and still angry at the system that put us there. We hate the warden and would kill him if we could. Even if he pardoned us, but did nothing to change our attitude toward him, we would want to remain as far from him as we could be. This is the presuppostion that drives our train. Even if God took us to heaven in our current state, we would hate being there and do everything we could to drag him from his throne. If our presuppostion is correct, the Arminian system could never work.

      Sent from my iPad

  2. January 11, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    Your last comment, “God cannot be unjust in withholding from some what no one deserves.” is pure gold. This is what natural man – including the fruit of Pelagius – cannot comprehend. The natural man says he wants “fairness”, but cannot begin to define that word. What the natural man wants is accommodation – which Holy God cannot give. Press on!

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