Posts Tagged ‘Calvinism vs. Arminianism

12
Oct
16

The Gospel–A Manifestation of God’s Glory.

 

Having lost its grip on the biblical gospel, the church has bartered that priceless treasure for a pot of fool’s gold. We have all but eliminated any idea that salvation involves a thorough turning from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, and we have reduced faith to a “decision” and a rather superficial and vacuous decision at that. In our concern to maintain the freeness of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, we have forgotten that salvation is about more than pardon. It involves the deliverance of the whole man, indeed in the ultimate sense the entire cosmos, from the corruption of sin into the liberty of the glory of the sons of God. It is God’s unswerving purpose to “bring many sons to glory” (Heb. 2:10). Augustus Toplady was clearly on target when he wrote about Christ’s redeeming work being a “double cure.” It not only saves us from wrath but it is also intended to make us pure.

Biblical writers and preachers spoke much differently than we about this magnificent message of all-sufficient grace. For them, salvation involved nothing less than a revelation of the resplendent glory of God. It is significant that in Stephen’s vindicatory sermon he began with the words “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham. . . .” (Acts 7:2). It is God’s manifestation of himself as the “God of glory” that turns sinners from darkness to light. When the Scriptures speak of God’s glory they are simply describing the sum of his glorious attributes. It was not without reason that the theologians who framed the Westminster Confession of Faith began their statement regarding God’s decree concerning salvation with the words, “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory. . .” When Jesus described his earthly mission and, indeed, the nature of eternal life itself, it was in terms of knowing God in all the majesty of his glorious being. He said, “I have finished the work you gave me to do. . .I have manifested your name [“name” was more than a mere appellation; it was a description of a person’s character] to the men whom you have given me out of the world” (John 17:4-6).

When Isaiah began to proclaim his message of comfort based on the work of the coming Anointed One, these were the words he used—“The glory of Jehovah shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together” (Isaiah 40:5). The splendor of the New Covenant is that it reveals the glory of God in a way the Old Covenant never could. Paul indicated that the glory of the Old Covenant had been so eclipsed by the glory of the gospel covenant that, by comparison, the old had no glory at all (see 2 Cor. 3:8-11). When John described the apostles’ experience with Jesus, he wrote, “. . .we gazed on his glory, the glory as of the uniquely begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” It should be obvious that he was asking us to recall what should be a well-known event in the history of redemption. In Exodus thirty-three, we read the account of Moses’ request to see God’s glory. Jehovah had responded to him that he would allow him to see his back but not his face, since no one could see his face and live. It should not escape our attention that even this inferior revelation was a blessing that was granted by sovereign mercy (33:19). When Jehovah caused all his goodness to pass before Moses and when he proclaimed his name [his character] before him, part of what he declared is that he is “abundant in goodness [loving-kindness] and truth [covenant faithfulness].” This was the near equivalent to John’s words in John 1:14 “full of grace and truth.” What the law revealed in type and shadow, has now been fully revealed in Christ. “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth [fulfillment as opposed to type] came by Jesus Christ” (v. 17).

We must always remember that the biblical gospel does not proclaim Christ in his state of humiliation but in his state of exaltation. The gospel not only “concerns his Son who, according to the flesh was made of the seed of David” but also “who was declared [determined] to be the Son of God with power [the powerful Son of God] according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead” (See Romans 1:3-4). We must never, in our minds, separate “Lifted up was he to die” from “Now in heaven exalted high.” It is not Jesus dying on a cross who saves, but the Jesus who died on the cross who saves. It is the one “who was dead, but is alive.” It is “Christ HAVING BEEN CRUCIFIED.” The Savior we proclaim is one who, as the result of his victorious redemptive work, is now enthroned in majesty and glory as the embodiment of the redemptive work he has accomplished once for all. He is enthroned as the crucified one. He is “the Lamb in the center of the throne.”

The issue of whether coming to faith in Christ is the result of human decision or of divine intervention should be a simple one for anyone who understands what conversion truly is. If conversion is simply “letting Jesus come into my heart so I can go to heaven when I die” it is conceivable that a sinner in a state of corruption could make such a “decision.” After all, who wants to suffer in the lake of fire for eternity? As long as I can continue to be the master of my life, why wouldn’t I go for the goodies? The message of the modern “church” is so far removed from the biblical gospel that it bears almost no resemblance to it whatsoever. Look how the apostle Paul described conversion. He wrote, “If our gospel stands veiled, it stands veiled to those who are perishing, in whom the god of this age [He is “the god of this age” in the sense that the children of this age have chosen to follow him and worship him as their god] has blinded the minds [It is the minds that are veiled by darkness, not the gospel] of those who do not believe with the result that the light of the good news of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God does not shine [the word means dawn] upon them” (2 Cor. 4:3-4). He then describes conversion in terms of a creative act of God for the purpose of making his glory known in the face of Jesus Christ, He wrote, “For it is the God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness who has shined into our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). Conversion involves nothing less than God’s creative power by which he manifests his glory in the face of Jesus Christ and only God can manifest himself in this way. We must never forget that the merciful decision to manifest his glory “. . .is not of him who wills or of him who runs but of God who shows mercy” (Romans 9:16).

04
Oct
16

Burning Straw Dummies

Watch Burning Straw Dummies on Youtube

12
Mar
16

Calvinistic Evangelism–Conclusion

The broad conclusion we can draw from this study is that one’s doctrine matters. We act as we do because we believe as we do. The modern church has bought the lie that doctrine is unimportant, and this capitulation has rendered devastating effects. It seems many evangelicals are content if the message they hear from the pulpit bears a faint resemblance to biblical truth. As far as most are concerned, as long as the “praise songs” say some nice things about Jesus, it really does not matter whether they are theologically accurate.

 

We often hear that it does not matter whether we take a monergistic or a synergistic view of God’s saving work, since we all preach the same gospel. As I believe I have shown, this is simply not the case. Only one message conforms to the apostolic gospel; the other is a cheap and tawdry counterfeit.

 

The Synergists (Arminians) have been quite successful in conforming their message and methods to their doctrinal beliefs, and we commend them for their consistency. If we believe the issue of salvation ultimately rests in the hands of sinners, we are remiss if we do not use every trick in the book to bring them to a point of decision. If the outcome is now in the sinner’s hands alone, we should use mood music, emotional stories, psychological manipulation, high pressure sales techniques, long “invitations,” and whatever other clever innovation that pops into our heads to induce them to “decide for Christ.” All of that is consistent with the Synergist’s doctrine.

 

From the Arminian viewpoint, the best God can do is wish sinners well since he has already done everything he can to secure their willing compliance to his plan of salvation. In their view, if his attempts to save them were to go beyond moral persuasion [a gentle nudge] their compliance with it [love, faith, obedience] would not be meaningful. Their entire view stems from a philosophical view that is based on a handful of proof-texts that are ripped from their context. If God wants everyone to be saved, he cannot have decreed to save some and pass over others. For this reason, it is necessary for them to reinterpret the mountain of biblical texts that talk about God’s sovereign purpose in the sinner’s salvation. They must view God as a well-meaning but ineffectual deity who truly wants the best for every member of the human family but has done nothing to secure the eternal good of anyone in particular. In their view, he has sovereignly determined to leave the matter of salvation to the sinner’s free will. They are quick to resort to “mystery” when asked where the Bible mentions their brand of prevenient [preceding] grace. The only mystery is why, even after sinners have heard the gospel and been reproved by the Holy Spirit, they continue to regard the gospel message as foolishness and remain “stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears.” It does not matter to the Arminian that the Bible nowhere hints that God performs such a work in which he neutralizes the effects of sinful corruption and grants every sinner the ability to respond favorably to the gospel. In their view, it must be true because it fits their philosophical view of God.

 

In keeping with their erroneous presuppositions they have developed a system of evangelism that bears little resemblance to the New Testament pattern. It is impossible to find in the biblical record the jargon to which Evangelicals have become so accustomed. Neither their message nor their methods conform to the biblical paradigm.

 

In closing, I would invite you to consider just a few of the differences between the authentic gospel and its counterfeit:

 

  • The authentic gospel calls on sinners to leave their sinful ways and return to the Lord; the counterfeit gospel calls on sinners to leave their seats and come to the front of the building to be saved.
  • The authentic gospel calls on sinners to bow before God’s throne in adoration and worship; the counterfeit gospel invites them to kneel at an “altar.”
  • The authentic gospel addresses sinners who are helplessly and hopelessly lost and who must be carried to the fold or they will wander aimlessly forever; the counterfeit gospel addresses sinners who are a bit disoriented and need a nudge in the right direction so they can find their way back to the fold.
  • The authentic gospel emphasizes the sinner’s impotence; the counterfeit gospel emphasizes his ability. In fact, according to it, the sinner alone has the ability to make the final decision.
  • The authentic gospel represents sinners as stubborn rebels against God whose stony hearts must be replaced with hearts of flesh; the counterfeit gospel represents sinners [if people are represented as sinners at all] as those who are badly affected by sin and who need to make a decision to let Jesus give them a new direction.
  • The authentic gospel represents Jesus as an all-sufficient Savior whose redeeming work has secured the everlasting salvation of an innumerable multitude; the counterfeit gospel represents Jesus as one who has made it possible for people to be saved if only they will effectuate his redeeming work by their free will decision. According to the counterfeit gospel Jesus’ death did not in itself procure the salvation of any.
  • The authentic gospel is concerned with the sinner’s deliverance from the cruel reign of sin and death. It focuses on Jesus’ work of bringing many sons to glory and bringing them into conformity to the redeemer; the counterfeit gospel is solely concerned about sinners going to heaven when they die.
  • The authentic gospel is focused on the manifestation of God’s glory through the grand Trinitarian work of redemption; the counterfeit gospel is centered on the sinner’s happiness and perceived well-being.
  • The authentic gospel presents faith merely as the empty hand that receives God’s bounty; the counterfeit gospel presents faith as the stimulus that provokes God to action. It is the sinner’s contribution to the process without which God can do nothing more than he has done.
  • The authentic gospel presents Christ as the actual Savior of the guiltiest sinner who will believe; the counterfeit gospel presents Christ as the potential Savior of all sinners without exception.
  • The authentic gospel presents Jesus as a Savior who, on account of his redeeming work, has been enthroned in glory and is the embodiment of the salvation he has accomplished once for all in his redeeming work; the counterfeit gospel presents him as a forlorn stranger who stands helplessly at the door of the sinner’s heart with no power to save apart from the sinner’s free will choice to open the door.
  • The authentic gospel calls sinners to leave their wicked and God dishonoring way and promises that if they repent God will abundantly pardon them; the counterfeit gospel often assures them that God will grant them pardon even if they continue in their hostile rebellion.
  • The authentic gospel promises salvation from sin’s cruel bondage; the counterfeit gospel often promises deliverance from the meaninglessness of life. It aims at giving people purpose and contentment.
  • The purpose of the authentic gospel is to transform rebels against God into worshippers; the aim of the counterfeit gospel is to make people feel better about themselves and their relationship with God.

 

It seems the contrasts between these two messages could not be clearer. These differences are not merely a matter of different emphases. Instead, they represent a radial difference in our understanding of salvation itself, and a fundamental dissimilarity in our conceptions of the salvific work of the Trinity. If we understand these issues at all, one matter should be clear; the differences between these two messages and approaches to evangelism are not insignificant or inconsequential. It is not the same gospel we proclaim at all.

In the body of this work, I have presented the major evangelistic passages in the New Testament Scriptures, and I have expounded the major doctrines that form the foundation for a biblical and meaningful proclamation of the gospel. Now, I want to leave you with a simple question. After carefully examining the pertinent passages, and these foundational doctrines, which of these messages do you find to be more in line with the biblical record? Which is authentic evangelism and which is the counterfeit?

12
Mar
16

Calvinistic Evangelism–Chapter 18–The Nature of Repentance and Faith.

The Nature of Repentance and Faith

The Issues in This Discussion

Saved from What?

Since our evangelistic message calls sinners to repent and believe, it is essential that we understand the nature of repentance and faith. As a background for the subject matter I will cover here, I would suggest that you review the chapter on the nature and purpose of salvation. If we imagine that the purpose of God’s great work of redemption is simply to take people to heaven when they die, we are going to think of the gospel offer in a completely different way than we do when we understand that God’s purpose in saving sinners is to conform us to the image of his Son. God does not save us because we promise to get rid of our sins and follow Jesus. God saves us when we bring our sins to Jesus and confess that we are helpless to break the fetters that have bound us. If he does not break our chains, we are doomed to a life of bondage in sin. No one who rightly comes to Jesus for salvation would say, “I want to be forgiven, but I love my sins too much to leave them.” The issue in salvation is not heaven or hell; the issue in salvation is sin and righteousness. The purpose of Jesus’ death was not merely to take us to heaven when we die. His purpose was to restore God’s holy image in us. J.C. Ryle wrote,

He who supposes that Jesus Christ only lived and died and rose again in order to provide justification and forgiveness of sins for His people, has yet much to learn. Whether he knows it or not, he is dishonoring our blessed Lord, and making Him only a half Savior. The Lord Jesus has undertaken everything that His people’s souls require; not only to deliver them from the guilt of their sins by his atoning death, but from the dominion of their sins, by placing in their hearts the Holy Spirit; not only to justify them but also to sanctify them. He is, thus, not only their “righteousness but their “sanctification.” (I Cor. 1:30). (Ryle, 1952, 31).

If salvation involves no more than God’s pardon so that a person can go to heaven when he dies, then repentance is clearly unnecessary. The prodigal may remain in the pig pen and merely write a letter to the father asking his forgiveness. If we took that view of “salvation,” it would be necessary to define repentance and faith very differently than we do when we understand salvation to involve a radical transformation of God’s redeemed ones. The differences I am discussing in this chapter concern not only the nature of faith and repentance but the very nature of salvation itself. Salvation is not about being forgiven while in the pig pen; it is about returning to the Father’s house and being freely pardoned. William Bates wrote,

The most universal hinderance of men’s complying with the conditions of pardon by Christ, is, the predominant love of some lust. Although men would entertain him as a Saviour to redeem them from hell, yet they reject him as their Lord. Those in the parable, who said, “We will not have this man to reign over us,” expressed the inward sense and silent thoughts of all carnal men. Many would depend on his sacrifice, yet will not submit to his sceptre; they would have Christ to pacify their consciences and the world to please their affections. . .they would have Christ to die for them but not to live in them. . .they lean on his cross to support them from falling into hell, but crucify not one lust on it” (Bates, 1832, 217).

This is Not a Discussion about Justification

I want to make it clear that this is not a discussion about the nature of justification before God. Those on both sides of this debate state that justification before God is through faith alone and is based on the work of Christ alone. One of the chief proponents of “Lordship Salvation” has made the following statement about justification.

Because Christians are justified by faith alone, their standing before God is not in any way related to personal merit. Good works and practical holiness do not provide the grounds for acceptance with God. God receives as righteous those who believe, not because of any good thing He sees in them — not even because of His own sanctifying work in their lives — but solely on the basis of Christ’s righteousness, which is reckoned to their account. ‘To the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness’ (Romans 4:5). That is justification (John MacArthur on justification by faith).

I do not believe it would be possible to give a clearer statement on justification by grace alone, through faith alone, and based on Christ’s righteousness alone. One may only conclude that anyone who argues that “Lordship preachers” are adding good works to the gospel is simply presenting a straw man argument.

The Relationship between Regeneration and Obedience

If we believe that sinners who have been granted “prevenient grace” determine, by their free will decision, whether they will be saved or not, it should be clear that we believe regeneration is unnecessary. If we have the ability to obey one of God’s commands, the command to believe the gospel, we should be able to obey any other command. Incredibly, many who would take the “autonomous will” position do not even think believers need to be obedient to Christ at all. Once they have come to a moment of clarity that enables them to give intellectual assent to the historical facts of the gospel, nothing that occurs subsequent to that “decision” is of any importance. According to the OSAS [once saved always saved] Arminians who like to call themselves “free grace” believers, though a person has made “a decision for Christ,” he may have no love for God or desire to follow Christ and may even stop believing the gospel. In their view, as long as a person has been “once saved,” he is eternally secure no matter what.

Those who hold this view must give a different definition to the biblical words “repent,” “repentance,” and “faith” than those who believe repentance and faith are the result of God’s sovereign, regenerating work in sinners’ hearts. In their view, faith is nothing more than a momentary decision and repentance is simply a change of mind about Christ. Although they are correct in their assertion that a sinner’s justification before God is received through faith alone and apart from the works of the law, their message goes astray because they misunderstand the nature of faith and repentance and, ultimately, they misunderstand salvation itself. The often discussed passage in James chapter two, had nothing to do with the basis of justification before God. The question James was addressing was not whether that basis was faith or works. Instead, the question concerned the nature of that faith that justifies. Paul’s message was identical to that of James. He wrote, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). The NIV translates this verse as follows, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Genuine faith is working faith. Regeneration produces a faith that produces obedience. We should remember the words that characterized the Protestant Reformers’ thinking on this issue— “Justification before God is by faith alone, but never by a faith that is alone.”

Would any reasonable person think that steam coming from a tea kettle was either producing the heat under the kettle or was the direct product of the kettle itself? Of course not!  Yet, some allege that if we tell people genuine faith, produced by the free grace of God, will generate evidence of itself in works of obedience to God, we are telling them they must produce good works that will cause God to save them.  This is not the case. What we believe is that when the fire of God’s regenerating grace is applied to kettle of our souls in the production of genuine faith, the result will be the steam of heart-felt obedience.

 

Repentance and Faith—The Results of Free Will or Free Grace?

If the OSAS Arminians were correct in their view that faith and repentance are the result of the sinner’s “free will” decision, they would be correct in their assertion [read accusation] that those who believe and proclaim that repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of life are preaching a “works salvation.” But, as we have seen, there is no obedience, including the obedience of faith, that grows in the soil of corrupt nature. The performance of every act of obedience the gospel demands results from God’s work. When we preach that sinners must believe and repent, we are not calling on them to do something that will prompt God to act on their behalf. Instead, we are calling on them to perform acts they cannot perform unless those acts are effected by the sovereign grace of God. Apart from the implantation of a new governing principle of life in a person’s inner man, there will neither be faith nor obedience. This order becomes abundantly clear in God’s promise of regenerating grace in Ezekiel 36:25-27. God said,

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit [disposition] in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”

It seems clear that Paul was thinking of this passage when he wrote to Titus about “the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit.” (See Titus 3:5-6). It should not escape our notice that these passages are not about pardon alone or even primarily, but about cleansing and renewing.

One issue we need to examine is the idea that the believer is constituted of two “men” or two natures, neither of which is capable of change. Florida Bible College has been one of the chief purveyors of the “free grace” teaching. The following is taken from its statement of faith:

We believe a true child of God has two births: one of the flesh and the other of the Spirit. The flesh nature is neither good nor righteous. The Spiritual nature does not commit sin. This results in warfare between the Spirit and the flesh, which continues until physical death, or the return of the Lord. (The new birth cannot change in any way the flesh nature of man, but the flesh nature can be controlled and kept subdued by the new man.) (https://www.floridabiblecollege.us/what-we-believe.html).

 

Such a view would make repentance not only unnecessary but also impossible. It would involve no removal of the “stony heart” at all. The stony heart remains along with the addition of a heart of flesh. Additionally, it would make growth in grace unnecessary and impossible. The “flesh nature” cannot and will not change, and the “Spiritual nature” does not need to change. One would think the “Spiritual nature” would not even need exhortation since that nature is perfect and cannot sin. Since it is perfect, could the “Spiritual nature” desire to subdue the “flesh nature” any more than it does? The “flesh nature” cannot repent or believe; the “Spiritual nature” has done nothing for which it needs to repent. Furthermore, those who espouse the “free grace” view believe that sanctification (becoming a disciple) is a separate and optional act of the believer. In their view, every believer should become an obedient disciple but not all will. One wonders what changes within the believer when he becomes a disciple. Does the “flesh nature” improve in some way? According to their doctrine, that nature “cannot change in any way.” In their view, it is incapable of improvement. The “spirit nature” certainly cannot improve because it is perfect and sinless already.

If we perceive of faith as being in any way pleasing to God, and the Bible seems clearly to state that it is, one has to question how a being that is “neither good nor righteous,” could produce faith. Paul stated, “those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” How can a being that is “neither good nor righteous” ever desire that which is both good and righteous? It would seem that faith would be impossible unless some previous change had occurred in that nature. Hear C.H Spurgeon’s words, “Do not sit down and try to pump up repentance from the dry well of corrupt nature. It is contrary to the laws of mind to suppose that you can force your soul into that gracious state.”

In contrast to this view, Paul described the work of conversion as nothing less than the crucifixion of the old man. He wrote, “We know that our old self [man] has been 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” (Rom. 6:6). When Paul wrote about the “old man,” he referred not to a part of what we are as believers, but to everything that we were prior to conversion in union with Adam. Our pre-conversion life has been crucified with Christ. This is true not only in terms of the divine reckoning in the believer’s forensic union with Christ. That is, this is not only true in the accomplishment of redemption but also in terms of the application of Christ’s death in the believer’s conversion. The purpose of this crucifixion is stated clearly. It was “. . .in order that the body of sin might be rendered inoperative, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” For this reason, he has stated that we who have died to sin, can no longer go on living in it. We should not think that Paul was drawing a contrast between the body as evil and the spirit as good. Such a dualistic idea is nowhere to be found in his theology. Instead, he was speaking of the body [and its members] as the instrument that is often employed by sin as its weapon.

Paul was not describing an action a believer must perform, but an action that God has performed that will inevitably and invariably affect the believer’s actions. Conversion is God’s work. There is not a single command in the first ten verses of this chapter. Instead, Paul was describing the work God has accomplished in uniting the believer with Christ. There is no “ought to” in these verse. God has liberated the believer from the reign of sin and death, transferred him into a new realm and placed him under a new reign. He does not say, “We who have died to sin ought not to continue in sin.” Instead, he asks quite emphatically, “How shall we who have died to sin, go on living any longer in it” (v. 2)? If believers commit sin, it is not because we are being held captive to it. We will only commit acts of sin if we willingly yield our members to the temptation to do so. In verses eleven through thirteen, Paul did not exhort believers to stop being slaves. Instead, his exhortation is clear. We should stop acting like slaves since we have been emancipated from sin’s bondage. There is a tendency for those who have been set free from slavery to continue to act like slaves. Paul’s exhortation “Therefore, do not allow sin to reign in your mortal bodies,” was simply the exhortation necessary for the implementation of their freedom from sin’s bondage. He followed this exhortation with the assurance that if we are true believers “Sin will not have dominion over us, because we are not under law but under grace” (v.14).

What is Repentance?

It might be helpful at the outset to quote the Westminster Shorter Catechism answer to this question.  In answer to the question, “What is repentance unto life?” the Catechism answers, “Repentance unto life is a saving grace whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavour after, new obedience.” A thorough understanding of the component parts of this definition will go a long way in enabling us to understand what the biblical writers meant when they used the word “repentance.” Consider the following four aspects of this definition. It teaches that repentance is 1. a saving grace which results from an understanding that we have strayed from God’s way (“out of a true sense of his sin. . ., with grief and hatred of his sin”). 2. It is encouraged by an understanding of God’s promise to pardon those who return (“an apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ”). 3. It involves a return to God (“turn from it to God”). 4. It involves a heart-felt desire and purpose of heart to obey God’s commandments in the future (“with full purpose of, and endeavour after, new obedience”).

It is important to understand that nothing in this definition speaks of the sinner doing anything to merit God’s favor. Like the lost son in the pig-pen, he feels no sense of worthiness. His only hope is his “apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ.”

It is impossible to say whether faith is prior to repentance or visa versa. John Murray has suggested that not only is this question impossible to answer but it is unnecessary that we answer it since “the faith that is unto salvation is a penitent faith and the repentance that is unto life is a believing repentance” (Murray, 1955, 113). The interplay between faith and repentance is intriguing. Embedded in this definition is a clear statement about the mercy of God in Christ.  The sinner does not turn back to God’s way primarily because he fears God will damn him if he does not, but because he becomes convinced that God’s promise of pardon is reliable.  Consider the words of C. H. Spurgeon,

While I regarded God as a tyrant, I thought sin a trifle. But when I knew Him to be my Father, then I mourned that I could ever have kicked against Him. When I thought that God was hard, I found it easy to sin. But when I found God so kind, so good, so overflowing with compassion, I smote upon my breast to think that I could have rebelled against One who loved me so and sought my good (C. H. Spurgeon, # 2419).

Misconceptions about Repentance

There are many misconceptions about the nature of repentance. There are also many faulty ideas about what “Lordship preachers” teach about it. For this reason, I would like to consider a few of the ideas we must exclude when we teach the biblical command to repent.

 

  1. Repentance is not, in itself, sorrow for sin. When people hear the term “repentance” they often think about feeling sorrow for some sin they have committed, but repentance is not, in itself, sorrow for sin. In 2 Corinthians 7:10, Paul mentioned two different kinds of sorrow. He wrote, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” There is little doubt that Judas regretted his decision to betray Jesus into the hands of sinners, but there is no evidence of true repentance. There is no doubt a connection between the sorrow for sin that God effects in the sinner’s heart and his resolve to return to the Father’s house, but repentance goes beyond sorrow.

 

  1. Repentance is not a promise to stop sinning in exchange for which God will grant a person eternal life. Repentance does not involve striking a bargain or contract with God in which the sinner promises to stop sinning if God will grant him eternal life. God would never enter such a contract since he knows full well that a sinner does not exist who could fulfill the terms of such a contact. Additionally, sinners who have been taught by God’s Spirit the depths of their own guilt and sinful corruption understand that they are unable to “rid their souls of one dark blot.”

 

  1. Repentance is not penance. The gospel summons to repentance is not a call to self-flagellation or a call to make reparations for our misdeeds. We must never give sinners the idea that they must clean up their lives before they can return to the Father’s house. The is no reason to believe the prodigal bathed and changed his clothes before he returned home. There was no thought of making himself worthy of the father’s acceptance. Repentance is not leaving our sins behind so God will accept us; it is bringing our sin to him so that he might break its chains and set us free. William Bates wrote, “The saints who now reign in glory, were not men who lived in the perfection of holiness here below; but repenting, believing sinners, who are washed white in the blood of the Lamb” (Bates, 1832, 216).

 

  1. Repentance is not a work that merits God’s favor. Repentance is no more meritorious than is faith. Just as the Bible never tells us that sinners are justified before God on account of our faith, so it never tells us we will be forgiven because we have produced enough evidence of leaving our sins that we merit pardon. In answer to the question raised by the title of his book, How Shall I Go to God? Horatius Bonar wrote, “It is with our sins that we go to God—for we have nothing else to go with that we can call our own” (Bonar, 1977, 1). There is no merit the sinner can plead apart from the merit of Jesus Christ.

 

  1. Repentance is not a work a sinner must perform before he can return to God; it is a change of mind that produces a return to God. Isaiah wrote, “Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts and let him return unto the Lord. . . (Isaiah 55:7).” As Paul stood before King Agrippa, he made it clear the commission Jesus had given him involved more than the proffer of pardon. Consider his words— “[I] declared . . . that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance” (Acts 26:20). I want to consider the entire context of this verse later in the chapter, but for now it should be clear that repentance produces a change in one’s behavior.

When we engage in evangelism, it is essential to remember that we are not approaching people who are inclined toward God or even neutral toward him. Instead, we are presenting his terms of peace to obdurate and recalcitrant rebels who are hostile toward him and prefer to continue in their own sinful life-styles. The Scripture describes such rebels as “those who are out of the way [misled, deceived, astray]” (Heb. 5:2), “. . .turned to his own way. . .” (Isa. 53:6), “sheep going astray” (1 Pet. 2:25). In describing the salvation of such rebels, Peter wrote, “But [he used a strong adversative] you have been returned to the shepherd. . .” Any message that proclaims a supposed “salvation” that pardons rebels and straying sheep without returning them to the Shepherd is a counterfeit gospel.

 

New Testament Words for Repentance

New Testament writers used two words that are translated “repent” or “repentance” in our English versions. The first is μετανοέω (verb) repent μετἀνοια (noun) repentance. It simply means a change of mind or heart.

The second is μεταμέλομαι. It is used for a feeling of regret that one feels after and act has been performed. It can mean to be sorry for a deed or attitude. Judas regretted his betrayal of Jesus after the deed had been done.

The issue between so-called Free Grace teachers and so-called Lordship teachers relative to the meaning of repentance does not revolve around the lexical meaning of the word. Both agree that the word μετἀνοια (metanoia) means a change of mind or heart. The issue concerns the arbitrary limitation of its meaning to a change of mind about Christ. Such a limitation would make repentance synonymous with faith. Yet, there seems to be no effort on the part of those who hold to the “free grace” position to justify that arbitrary limitation. They simply assume it to be valid. Even if the word metanoia had never occurred in the Scripture, it would be clear that God’s gospel purpose is to turn sinners from their own ungodly way back into his way.

A Universal Change of Mind

God’s work of regeneration causes a universal change of mind or heart. When a person repents, there are at least six matters about which he changes him mind. Repentance is a change of mind about God, about oneself, about sin, about merit, about Christ and about obedience to God. “Conversion turns the balance of the judgment, so that God and His glory outweigh all carnal and worldly interests” (Alleine, 1989, 13).

A Change of Mind about God

Sinful rebels will never trust God’s promise of pardon and restoration as long as they continue to have wrong thoughts about him. It is for this reason the prophet Isaiah wrote, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts. . .” (Isa. 55:7). Sinners may harbor any number of wrong thoughts about God that will keep them from returning to his way. Perhaps they think that he is a tottering old grandfather in the sky who wishes them well no matter what they do. Maybe they think he is a wicked tyrant whose design is to spoil all their fun. It could be they think he can be no more merciful and compassionate in forgiving them than they are in forgiving their enemies. As long as sinners harbor wrong thoughts about God, they will, like Adam and Eve, seek to hide their sinful nakedness with the fig leaves of human ingenuity.

No wonder Paul described the purpose of his ministry as he did. Consider his description of the life long process that begins with initial repentance. His aim was to cast down imaginations and every high thing [pretension] that exalts itself against the knowledge of God and to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (see-2 Cor. 10:5).

A Change of Mind about Oneself

When God makes himself known as he does in the gospel and when he causes the light of his glory to shine into the hearts of dead sinners, they will inevitably begin to think differently about themselves.  Consider Job’s words. He said to the Lord, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen of you. Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5). When Isaiah beheld the beatific vision of Jehovah in his glory, his response was “Woe to me! I am ruined. I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips” (Isa. 6:5).

 

Consider this matter specifically as it relates to God’s work of regeneration. In Ezekiel 36:25-27, Jehovah makes the well-known promise to cleanse and renew his elect people by removing hearts of stone, replacing them with hearts of flesh, putting a new spirit [disposition] in them, and putting his Spirit in them. One of the results of that divine work is self loathing because of sin. “Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations” (Ezek.36:31).

If the message we have heard causes us to feel good about ourselves and what we can do instead of making us feel good about the Savior and what he has done and is doing, it is a substitute product that will have no saving effect. “Oh wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death?” will be the cry of every repentant sinner.

A Change of Mind about Sin

Peter told the Jews to whom he was preaching “When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each one of you from your wicked ways” (Acts 3:26). God’s salvation is salvation from sin. There can be no turning to light without turning from darkness. There can be no turning to God without turning from the power of Satan. Consider Paul’s words as he stood before King Agrippa.

And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles-to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance (Acts 26: 15-20).

There can be no turning to God without turning from idols (see-1 Thess. 1:9), and there can be no outward turning from sin without a radical change of mind and purpose. Joseph Alleine wrote the following about the change in the sinner’s mind that occurs in conversion.

Before conversion he had light thoughts of sin.  He cherished it in his bosom, as Uriah his lamb; he nourished it up, and it grew up together with him; it did eat, as it were, of his own plate, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was to him as a sweet daughter. But when God opens his eyes by conversion, he throws it away with abhorrence, as a man would a loathsome toad, which in the dark he had hugged fast in his bosom, and thought it had been some pretty and harmless bird. When a man is savingly changed, he is deeply convinced not only of the danger but the defilement of sin; and O, how earnest is he with God to be purified!  He loathes himself for his sins. He runs to Christ, and casts himself into the fountain set open for him and for uncleanness. If he falls into sin, what a stir is there to get all clean again!  He has no rest until he flees to the Word, and washes and rubs and rinses in the infinite fountain, laboring to cleanse himself from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit. The sound convert is heartily engaged against sin.  He struggles with it, he wars against it; he is too often foiled—but he will never yield the cause, nor lay down the weapons, while he has breath in his body. He will make no peace; he will give no quarter. He can forgive his other enemies, he can pity them and pray for them; but here he is implacable, here he is set upon their extermination. He hunts as it were for the precious life; his eye shall not pity, his hand shall not spare, though it be a right hand or a right eye. Be it a gainful sin,  most delightful  to  his nature or  the support of  his esteem  with  worldly friends—yet he will  rather  throw  his gain down  into  the gutter, see his credit fail, or  the  flower  of  his pleasure  wither  in his hand—than he will  allow  himself  in  any known way of  sin.  He will grant no indulgence, he will give  no  toleration.  He draws upon sin wherever he meets it, and frowns upon it with this unwelcome salute, ’Have I  found you,  O  my enemy!’ (Alleine, 1989, 18-19)

A Change of Mind about Merit

Perhaps the classic New Testament passage that deals with merit before God is Philippians, chapter three. In the first few verses of that chapter, Paul warns his readers of a group know as Judaizers. These folks claimed to have recognized Jesus as the Messiah but insisted that circumcision and adherence to Mosaic Law were necessary to justify sinners [in this case, especially Gentiles] before God. Paul refers to these people as dogs of the street and as members of the mutilation party. He basically challenged them to a boasting contest and states that if anyone had a reason to boast about what sinful humanity is able to accomplish, he had more reason than they. He then followed that assertion with a list of virtues in which he had trusted to merit God’s smile. John Blanchard, in his book Right with God, suggested that Paul had trusted in four factors to make him right with God. He had received the right ritual— “Circumcised the eighth day.”  He was a member of the right race— “Of the people of Israel, a Hebrew of the Hebrews.” He was respectableOf the tribe of Benjamin. He was religious— “regarding the law, a Pharisee.” To these four, I would add that he was rigorous— “concerning zeal, persecuting the church, and he was righteous as far as external obedience to the law was concerned— “As for legalistic righteousness, blameless.”

Prior to his conversion, Paul had trusted in these qualities to merit God’s favor. He had regarded them as a “gain” in that regard. “But those things I considered to be a gain. . .” After God’s grace became operative in his heart, his attitude toward these assets was completely and continuously different. Not only did he come to consider these matters as a complete loss in terms of his standing before God, but went on counting them as loss, even to the extent that he considered them as refuse. He wrote, “. . . I have considered [those assets] to be one big loss and I go on considering them as a loss. . .and I consider them as rubbish. . .”

A Change of Mind about Christ

Before God produces repentance in a sinner’s heart, there is, for him, no form nor comeliness, no beauty in Christ that he should desire him. He despises and rejects him as an imposter. To him, the gospel is foolishness and he does not wish to come to him that he might have life (see Isa. 53:2-3; 1 Cor. 1:18; John 5:39-40). But, when God moves on his heart by the power of renewing grace his entire view of Christ is altered. Christ to him is now altogether lovely, the most handsome of the sons of men; he stands head and should among ten thousand others (see Song of Solomon 5: 10,16; Psa. 45:2). There is sufficient beauty in him to render him the desire of every nation (see Haggai 2:7). The believer wishes to say to everyone he meets, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him” (Psa. 34:8).

A Change of Mind about Obedience to God

Prior to conversion, the sinner’s hostility toward God was manifested in his obstinate refusal to subject himself to God’s law (see Rom. 8:7). He was led captive by the cruel prince to whom he had willingly yielded himself and all his members. He lived consistently according to the course of this dark world (see Eph. 2:2). He delighted in the darkness of his dungeon, and embraced sin’s shackles that held him captive as if they were diamond studded jewelry. His voice could be heard among the servants that cried out “We will not have this man to reign over us” (see Luke 19:14).

Once converted, there is one goal to which he presses. It is now his all-consuming desire to lay hold of that for which God has laid hold of him. He presses toward to mark and will not be satisfied until the victor’s laurel crowns his brow (see Phil. 3:12-14). I quote again from Joseph Alleine’s classic work on conversion. He wrote concerning the genuine convert,

He takes not holiness as the stomach does the loathed medicine, which a man will take rather than die—but as the hungry man does his beloved food. No time passes so sweetly with him, when he is himself, as that which he spends in the exercises of holiness. These are both his nutriment and element, the desire of his eyes and the joy of his heart (Alleine, 1989, 14).

This is not to suggest that any believer walks in perfect obedience to Christ, or that his halting obedience forms any part of the foundation of his righteous standing before God. It simply means that the object of his delight has changed. Whereas prior to conversion sin was his primary pursuit, now God’s glory is his chief pursuit and obedience to his revealed will is the jewel that he highly treasures. He can say with John Newton,

In evil long I took delight,

Unawed by shame or fear,

Till a new object struck my sight,

And stopped my wild career.

Such is the nature of true repentance. God’s basic terms of reconciliation and peace have not changed since Isaiah wrote, “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isa. 55:6-7). I have provided a fuller list of verses dealing with repentance in chapter four of this work.

What is Faith?

In addition to the words translated “faith,” “believe,” “trust,” and “confidence,” Jesus used several different terms to express the idea of faith in him. The following are some of them: 1. Come to me, 2. Eat my flesh and drink my blood, 3. Come to me and drink, 4. Hear my voice, 5. Follow me, 6. Know me. Paul also speaks of “calling on the Lord’s name” as an act of faith.

The New Testament writers also used the following words to express faith, confidence or persuasion. Πίστις–pistis (noun) faith, confidence, πιστέυω pisteuo (verb) believe, trust, have confidence, πείθω peitho to pursuade, obey–Paul used the word in the perfect tense in the sense of pursuaded or confident. John used the word in the negative form (ἀπειθέω—disobeying, not confiding in) in John 3:36 in contrast to believing.

When we think of the biblical command to believe the gospel, whatever terms may be used for that faith, we must never think in terms of a decision we make that is our contribution to the work of salvation or that in any way completes God’s saving work. The Bible does not teach that sinners are justified before God “by faith” or “on account of faith.” It teaches that we are justified through faith. In truth, it is not accurate to say sinners are justified by faith or even by faith in Christ. It is not faith that justifies but Christ who justifies through faith.

The Nature of Faith

Faith is more than a decision. It is more than a knowledge of and an assent to certain biblical propositions. I am not suggesting that such propositions are not essential to faith but that intellectual assent is not, in itself, what the biblical writers meant when they wrote about faith. All genuine faith involves three elements. There must be comprehension of truth, conviction that it is true and that its provisions correspond to our deepest needs, and there must be confidence in the one whose truth it is.

Comprehension

Though faith involves more than comprehension of biblical truth, it cannot exist where there is no biblical understanding. How can I trust someone of whom I know nothing? Why would I trust a person to deliver me from a predicament of which I am unaware? The gospel apprises us of such information before it calls on us to believe. I must first believe that certain matters are true before I can believe in or into Christ. Though it is not necessary to know everything the Bible teaches in order to become a believer, a person must comprehend certain basic facts about the nature of God, the nature of sin, the nature of salvation, and the nature of Christ’s person, work, and his session at the Father’s right hand as the embodiment of the saving merit he has accomplished once and for all.

Conviction

Not only must one understand certain biblical truth proposition, but he must be convicted and convinced that they are true. Additionally, having been convinced of their truthfulness he must embrace them as truth. The more an unregenerate man knows of biblical truth, the more intensely he will hate it. The more sinners understand of God’s sovereign reign, the more they will gnash their teeth in defiance of him. An unconverted man may give mental assent to the idea that God’s Word declares him to be a sinner and that he can be forgiven by grace, but such is not the faith required by the gospel.

Faith also requires a conviction that God’s grand work of redeeming sinners directly corresponds to our deep needs as mendicant rebels against God. John states in his Gospel that his purpose in writing is that his readers might believe [or go on believing] that Jesus is God’s Anointed One. Throughout that Gospel he has recorded several of Jesus’ statements about who he is and what he is in his capacity as the Messianic redeemer. Faith’s proper response should be clear and in clear correspondence to that revelation and others like it. In terms of his spiritual needs the awakened sinner says the following:

  • I am a spiritually thirsty vagabond wandering in an arid and parched desert, but Jesus gives abundant and ever-flowing water (see John 4:10-14; 7:37-39).
  • I am a starving man surrounded by beggars, but Jesus is the bread of life, the true bread that came down God out of heaven (see John 6:31-32).
  • I am groping in spiritual darkness, but Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12).
  • I am a blind beggar sitting in the shadow of death, but Jesus can give me sight (John 9:6-8).
  • I am a wandering sheep, but Jesus is the good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:11-14).
  • I am alienated from God, but Jesus is the door (John 10:7).
  • I am dead in trespasses and sins, but Jesus is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25; 14:6).
  • I am lost, but Jesus is the way (John 14:6).
  • I am ignorant, but Jesus is the truth (14:6).
  • I am a barren and withered branch that cannot bring forth fruit to the glory of God, but Jesus is the true vine; united to him I can produce abundant fruit to God’s glory (John 15:1).

In short, faith sees in Jesus God’s abundant provision to meet the sinner’s deepest needs.

Confidence

Finally, faith is confidence in Jesus Christ as the all-sufficient Savior and confidence in God that he will be faithful to pardon us for Jesus’ sake. Faith is clearly the belief that all the gospel’s pronouncements are true, but it is more than that. It is faith in, on and into Christ. It is through faith that sinners are united to Christ in whom they are blessed with every spiritual blessing. In this way, all the virtue of his saving work becomes ours.

It is in union with him that God pours his unsearchable riches into the empty hand of faith. John Murray wrote,

. . .the essence of saving faith is to bring the sinner lost and dead in trespasses and sins into direct personal contact with the Saviour himself, contact which is nothing less than that of self-commitment to him in all the glory of his person and perfection of his work as he is freely and fully offered in the gospel (Murray, 1955, 112).

Faith is the transference of the sinner’s confidence in himself and in his best efforts to Christ in all his fullness as the all-sufficient Savior. It would be difficult to find a clearer expression of this truth than we find in A. Toplady’s well known hymn, “Rock of Ages.” He wrote,

Nothing in my hand I bring;

Simply to thy cross I cling;

Naked, come to thee for dress;

Helpless, look to thee for grace;

Foul, I to the fountain fly;

Wash me, Savior, or I die.

 

Characteristics of Faith

I would like to mention and briefly comment on the characteristics of genuine faith as the biblical writers present them to us. Jesus clearly distinguished between a mere historical faith that was prompted by what people saw and the faith of God’s elect (see–John 2:23-25). Though we do not know what is in people’s hearts as he did, we can examine our own hearts to discern whether our faith matches the biblical criteria. If, for example, our faith does not resemble the faith of Abraham, the father of the faithful, and that of those believers about whom we read in the Scriptures, we have no reason to believe it is the sort of faith that unites sinners to Christ.

  • Faith rests on the naked promises of God in the face of circumstances that appear impossible and hopeless. “Against all hope, Abraham in hope [confident assurance] believed, and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him. . . (Rom. 4:18; see also v. 17 “as it is written,” v. 20,”the promise of God,” v. 21 “what he had promised” as well as similar expressions throughout Hebrews, chapter eleven). To expect faith to be begotten in the stony hearts of sinful rebels is as “contrary to hope” as the conception of an heir in the barren womb of Sarah.  Jesus said, “with men, it [salvation] is impossible” (Matt. 19:26).
  • Faith faces head on the reality of the impossible. “Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was a good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead” (Rom. 4:19).
  • Faith is strengthened in giving glory to God. “He was strengthened in his faith as he gave glory to God” Rom. 4:20). To give glory to God is not to in any way augment his glorious character; it is to ascribe to him the glorious attributes he has revealed to us in his Word. As we worship him in this way, our faith in him and in his promises is strengthened.
  • Faith is the persuasion that God is faithful and able to do what he has promised. “. . . being fully persuades that God had power to do what he had promised” (Rom. 4:21).
  • Faith looks away from itself; it has no merit of its own. Abraham’s faith did not rest on any ability he possessed or on his faith in God’s ability. Instead, it rested on God’s faithfulness and ability to accomplish what he had promised. Faith is never faith in faith. Any “faith” that rejoices in itself is not the faith that unites sinners to Christ.
  • Faith excludes boasting in ourselves, in our obedience, or in our “decision.” “Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded [it has been shut out once and for all]. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith” (Rom. 3:27).
  • Faith promotes glorying/boasting in the Lord. “He that boasts, let him boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:31; see also Rom. 5:2, 11; 15:17; 1 Cor. 15:10; Gal. 6:14).
  • Faith is always empty handed, but looks to the fullness of Christ. “Not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ. . . (Phil. 3:9). Donald Macleod has written, “Our faith needs a solid rock. It cannot itself be that rock. . .Faith cannot look to faith or to repentance, or love or obedience. Scarcely conscious of itself, it can look only to the Lord our Righteousness, and to his one great all-accomplishing and all-securing sacrifice (Gibson, 2013, 433).
  • Faith perseveres. It is striking to read in Hebrews chapter eleven, “These all died in faith” (Heb. 11:13). That is to say, “All of these were still living by faith when they died.” When we consider that the writer’s purpose in this chapter was to illustrate and explicate the nature of faith, this statement becomes very significant. He had ended the previous chapter by stating that we [true believers] are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed but of those who go on believing to the saving of the soul (10:39). This has been his emphasis throughout this book. Consider his words in chapter three, verse fourteen where he wrote, “We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had a first.” There is no suggestion here that those who have been truly justified in union with Christ are able to lose their right standing before God and be lost. This is simply a warning that we should never imagine that we have been united to Christ by faith if the confidence we had at the beginning does not continue. This does not mean that believers must struggle to maintain their initial level of faith. We did not struggle to obtain this confidence and we do not need to struggle to maintain it. Though the responsibility is ours to continue believing, it is the indwelling Spirit who maintains genuine faith.

 

It should not escape our attention that when Jesus described faith as “eating his flesh and drinking his blood” (see John 6:54), not only did he use the present tense [signifying continuing action] as was his custom in describing genuine faith, but he used a word [τρώγω] that was used of munching, nibbling, grazing and in the present tense indicates a continuing appropriation. The idea of a faith that was a mere temporary assent to propositional truth was foreign to the apostolic mind.

  • Faith provokes the believer to action. As one reads the so called faith chapter (Hebrews 11) it becomes clear that the writer has a much to say about works/obedience as he does about faith. For example, “By faith Noah . . .built an ark” (v. 7). “By faith Abraham. . .obeyed” (v. 8). Such is always the case with genuine faith. A faith that does not act is not biblical faith.

 

The apostle Paul made it very clear that “Faith works by love” (Gal. 5:6). Since, in this life, our faith will never be perfect, the obedience that is prompted by it will never be perfect, but any “faith” that leaves a person indifferent to the commandments of Christ, is not the faith that flows from having been born again.

The Warrant of Faith

One issue that has direct bearing on our presentation of the gospel concerns the warrant of faith. What must sinners know before they rest on Christ for salvation? How can they be assured that God is willing to pardon them and that if they embrace God’s good news, he will receive them? Perhaps it is best to consider this issue negatively before we answer it positively. There are points of truth with which sinners do not need to concern themselves in order to be assured that God will receive them. Though we have considered this issue in chapter five of this work in regard to the free offer of the gospel, I would like to make a few additional comments in reference to the warrant of faith.

We do not proclaim the gospel to sinners as elect sinners, or effectually called sinners or to sinners for whom Christ died. None of this information is necessary as the warrant of faith. As we have seen, there is no evidence in the inspired record of early evangelism that any preacher assured unrepentant sinners indiscriminately that Jesus died for them. That is information that rebels do not need to be concerned about. No New Testament evangelist ever suggested that if sinners could show evidence of their divine call to salvation they would be warranted to embrace Christ in faith. We do not limit the gospel invitation to those who can give evidence that God has chosen them for salvation. Our message is directed to guilty rebels who have persisted in pursuing their own sinful delights contrary to the revealed will of their Creator.

In Peter’s second Epistle, he exhorted his readers to make sure for themselves of their calling and election (See 2 Pet. 1:10). His use of the middle voice indicates that he was not instructing them to make these acts of God any more certain than they are. Instead, he was telling them to make sure for themselves that they are among those whom God has called and chosen. It was not without reason that he phrased this exhortation to his readers as he did. One might have expected “election and calling” since election is logically and chronologically prior to calling, but he had something else in mind. He was concerned with the order in which a person can discover and make sure for himself whether he is among those God has chosen. Such knowledge is not directly available to sinners. I cannot know that God has chosen me and that Jesus has redeemed me in accordance with that divine plan (See John 6:38) without first knowing that he has called me according to his electing purpose. I cannot know that he has effectually called me unless I have a credible faith in Christ. To rest on Christ as he is offered in the gospel, sinners do not need to know anything about these secret things that belong to the Lord.

There are two important and clearly revealed truths that should give believing sinners confidence that God will pardon and receive them. The first is God’s universal proffer of mercy; the second is the fitness and fullness of Christ the exalted Savior.

God’s universal proffer of mercy

Sinners need nothing other than God’s universal proffer of mercy in Christ to assure them that he will receive them if they return and receive his offer. Paul wrote, “This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. . .” (1 Tim. 1:15). The invitation is to everyone who wishes to come (See Rev. 22:17). The offer is to people of every nation. It is to people of every condition. It is to the immoral as well as to the moral. It is to the poor as well as to the rich. It is to the uninfluential as well as to the powerful. There is but one stipulation. One must come as an empty handed sinner.

 

The fitness and fullness of Christ

Sinners should never think of faith in Christ as a decision that enables Jesus to be our Savior. He is no pandering politician who must stand in helpless silence while the electorate “decides for [or against] him.” He sits in sovereign majesty on an unshakable throne as the quintessence of saving virtue and power. Not only is he a willing Savior, he is also an able Savior. The gospel presents him in all his regal majesty and in the fullness of his saving power. He is the one who is enthroned as both Lord and Christ. Sinners will either bow before his holy throne and “kiss the Son,” or they will perish in their sinful way (see Psalm 2:12).

The gospel authorizes sinners to approach him in our emptiness, helplessness, and brokenness to receive of his fullness and fitness as our all-sufficient Savior. Additionally, it promises that all who come to him in this way will receive of his fullness. John wrote, “. . .out of his fullness we have all received and grace on top of grace” (John 1:16). Emptiness is the only requirement for coming to him. All the fitness and fullness is his. John Murray wrote,

The sufficiency of his saviorhood rest upon the work he accomplished once for all when he died upon the cross and rose again in triumphant power. But it resides in the efficacy and perfection of his continued activity at the right hand of God (italics mine). . .When Christ is presented to lost men in the proclamation of the gospel, it is as Saviour he is presented, as one who ever continues to be the embodiment of the salvation he has once for all accomplished. It is not the possibility of salvation that is presented to lost men but the Saviour himself and therefore salvation full and perfect (Murray, 1955, 109).

Conclusion

Repentance and faith are more than a change of mind about Christ and a temporary, mental assent to a list of biblical propositions.  If we believe our “faith” grows out of a corrupt nature that is hostile toward God and aided by some sort of prevenient but ineffectual grace, it may be consistent to entertain such a superficial view of faith and repentance, but we cannot do so if we understand that both faith and repentance result from God’s renewing work. This is true not only of the initial acts of faith and repentance but also of their ongoing activity. Our continued obedient responses to God’s commands result from God’s ongoing work in our hearts.

Repentance is a purpose of heart to leave behind both our course of sinful rebellion against God and the very best acts of  obedience we might have offered him as the ground of our acceptance. Faith is an empty handed reception of Christ as the personification of all the goodness, righteousness and merit that poor sinners need.

 

 

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

 

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.