Posts Tagged ‘Calvinism

26
Aug
17

An Appeal to Closet Calvinists

This appeal is addressed to those evangelical pastors and Christian teachers who admit to a belief in God’s sovereign grace but, for reasons which we shall discuss in this booklet, never preach or teach this truth. For the lack of a better designation, we will refer to such pastors and teachers as ‘closet Calvinists.’

A Description of a Closet Calvinist

Like many of his contemporaries in the Lord’s work, the closet Calvinist is quite bold when he expounds those truths that he knows his hearers already believe. Notice how courageous he is when he proclaims popular evangelical opinions that are calculated to please the ears of those who have gathered to fulfill their religious obligation for another week. Yet, there are some biblical truths that cause him to cower in the cloistered safety of his ‘study’ where, if cornered, he might own up to believing some of the ‘deeper truths’ of Scripture. On these rare occasions, he will quickly explain that the ‘meat of the Word’ is not for everyone. Meat is only intended for the mature to masticate in the seclusion of their closets. It is surely not good for the sheep.

Devastating Effects

The truth is, the closet Calvinist knows that, to fleshly minds, some biblical truths are more palatable than others. His loud proclamation can be heard for miles when he declares some of these more tasty truths. He is often heard by thousands of people who will marvel at the great work that he is doing. The tragedy is that his ministry is having a devastating effect on the Church. Closet Calvinists are guilty of allowing fleshly hearers to persist in the delusion that they love the truth of God and the God of truth. The reality is that if he were honest in his teaching about God’s attributes and His discriminating decrees, many of his hearers would go back and walk no more with him (see John 6: 65-6). A more serious effect of the closet Calvinist’s sinful silence is that he is robbing Christ’s sheep of the very truths that God intended for their spiritual growth and edification.

In his classic book, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul, written over a century and a half ago, Octavius Winslow warned of the devastating effects of holding back God’s revealed truth. He wrote,

Is there not in the present day a criminal keeping back by some, and a painful undervaluing by others, of the scriptural and holy doctrines of grace [italics his]?-The doctrines which unfold the eternity of God’s love to His people-the sovereignty of his grace in their election-the effectual power of the Spirit in their calling-the free justification of their persons through the imputed righteousness of Christ, and the entire putting away of their sins by his atoning blood-the solemn obligation to ‘live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present evil world,’ and the certainty of their final glorification in the world to come,-are not these Divinely-revealed truths, at the present moment, and by the great mass of Christian professors and preachers, excluded from our pulpits and exiled from our land” are they not considered mean and unfashionable? and, having lost their savor with many, are they not cast out and trodden under foot of men? We verily and solemnly believe that it is so. By some they are professedly received, but criminally held back; by others they are professedly preached, but with such timidity and obscurity, as to render them of none effect: and by the many they are disbelieved altogether, and therefore openly and boldly denied! And yet, these are the doctrines which shine so luminously in every page of the apostle’s writings-these are the doctrines which formed the grand themes of Christ’s ministration,-and these are the doctrines, to the preaching of which by the reformers, we owe all the civil and religious liberty which, as a nation, we now possess. We hesitate not, then, to say that, along ‘with the denial or the undervaluing of these doctrines of grace, there will go forth an influence that will wither the spirituality and obstruct the prosperity of the churches of our land. It is true, an outward appearance of fruitfulness may follow the exhibition of opposite and conflicting doctrines,-crowds may flock to their standard, and multitudes seem converted by their influence,-but soon these delusive appearances are seen to pass away. The time of trial and sifting comes’, and then it is found-when, alas! too late to close the floodgate against the overwhelming evils which the preaching of error has produced-that the truth, and the truth only in the hands of the Eternal Spirit of God, can really enlighten the dark mind, regenerate the lifeless soul, and subdue and sanctify the rebellious heart: it is then discovered, that the true prosperity of a church, its stability, its spirituality, its vigor. and its holy influences, are essentially, and therefore inseparably, connected with a fearless and holy maintenance of the doctrines of grace; that where they are denied, or held back, or in any way obscured, there may indeed exist the form of godliness, but the power-the glorious, Divine, and sanctifying power-is wanting.1

Knowing Concealment of the Truth

Now, let’s be clear that we are not talking about those who are ignorant of these precious truths that God has revealed in His Word, the Bible. They have another reason for which they ought to be ashamed of themselves. Instead, we are talking about those who profess to know the truth, but willingly conceal it for expedience sake.

For example, there are many pastors who will tell you, behind closed doors, that they believe that, before the world began, God unconditionally chose those whom He intended to save. They will even admit that He determined beforehand to bring these chosen people to faith in His Son. Yet, they will tell you that these truths constitute the ‘meat of the Word’ and are not intended for everyone. The sad reality is that such preachers seldom, if ever, teach these truths to anyone.

Hard Questions

There are several questions that I would like to ask the closet Calvinist and his companions. I would be very grateful if they would give me a straight and satisfying answer.

First, what criterion do you use to distinguish the “meat of the Word’ from the ‘”Milk of the Word?”

I suggest that the distinction between “milk” and “meat” prevalent in evangelicalism today is one that was foreign to the mind of the Apostle Paul. When he distinguished between the milk and meat of the Word, e.g., Cor 3:2, he referred not to two different classes of teaching but to two different ways of presenting the same teaching.This was the view of Charles Hodge, among others. Commenting on I Cor 3:2, he wrote,

What is the distinction which the apostle here makes between milk and meat? It is evidently not the distinction between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God’ Paul did not preach the wisdom of the world to babes in Christ and the wisdom of God to advanced Christians. Neither does he sanction anything of the nature of theDisciplina Arcani, or doctrine of the hidden essence of Christianity, which was introduced in later times. For the sake either of conciliating the heathen, or of preventing believers from forming false notions of the gospel, it became common deliberately to conceal the truth. This is the foundation of the doctrine of reserve, as it is called. which the Romish church has so extensively practiced and taught, inculcating a blind faith, and keeping the people in ignorance [Does this sound familiar?] . . . The import of the figure leads to the conclusion that the difference is rather inthe mode of instruction, than in the things taught. The same truth in one form is milk , in another form strong meat. “Christ,” says Calvin, “is milk for babes, and strong meat for men.” Every doctrine which can be taught to theologians, is taught to children. . . . The important truth is that there are not two sets of doctrine, a higher and a lower form of faith, one for the learned and the other for the unlearned; there is no part of the gospel which we are authorized to keep back from the people [emphases mine].2

God plainly revealed the teaching of free, sovereign and distinguishing grace in the Epistles of the New Testament Scriptures. Are we to assume that there were no new or weak believers in the churches to which the apostles published these truths so clearly. How can we explain the fact that they did not conceal these teachings, if they are only suitable for mature Christians?

Second, what right do you have to conceal the truth that God has revealed?

At times, closet Calvinists resort to Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God. . . . ” in an effort to excuse their lack of faithfulness in proclaiming God’s truth. It is true that God has concealed the answers to some of our questions. These matters belong to Him, and we have no right to pry into them.This is a truth that should stand without controversy. Yet, this is not the only truth that is disclosed in Deut 29:29. The verse continues, “but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.” Just as we have no ability to reveal or pry into what God has concealed, so we do not have the right to conceal what God has revealed.

Tell me, you who love to quote the well-known Spurgeon, have you not heard Spurgeon? He was no closet Calvinist who exulted in the truth of unconditional election in the solitude of his study. No! He loved to preach on these grand old themes. He said in one of his many sermons on election,

It is no novelty, then, that I am preaching; no new doctrine. I love to proclaim these strong old doctrines that are called by nickname Calvinism, but which are surely and verily the revealed truth of God as it is in Christ Jesus. By this truth I make a pilgrimage to the past. and as I go, I see father after father, confessor after confessor, martyr after martyr, standing up to shake hands with me. Were I a Pelagian, or a believer in free-will, I should have to walk for centuries all alone. Here and there a heretic, of no very honorable character might rise up and call me brother. But taking these things to be the standard of my faith, I see the land of the ancients peopled with my brethren. I behold multitudes who confess the same as I do, and acknowledge that this is the religion of God’s own church [emphases mine].3

In his farewell address to the Ephesian elders, Paul reminded them of his faithfulness in declaring all the revealed wiII of God. He wrote,

I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable. . . . Therefore I testify to you this day, that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God (Acts 20:20-25).

The reason for such boldness is that Paul unequivocally believed these truths. For him, they were not mere academic propositions with which he might entertain himself in his more private moments. He perceived their value, as God’s revealed truth, for abasing the sinner’s arrogance and for training believers in practical godliness. Since he valued God’s truth, he could not conceal it. In his second epistle to the Corinthians he wrote, “But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, ‘I BELIEVED, THEREFORE I SPOKE’ we also believe, therefore also we speak,”. . . (2 Cor 4:13). If God’s truth is burning in our hearts, “. . .we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard”(Acts 4:20). See also Jeremiah 20:9.

Paul tells us in the second chapter of I Corinthians that God’s purpose in revelation is ‘that we might know the things freely given to us by God’ (I Cor 2:12).

If God has plainly revealed the truth of His sovereign grace, what right do you have to conceal it from those to whom it belongs?

Third, if your hearers remain fleshly after hearing all those teachings that your call ‘the milk of the Word,’ what do you now plan to do for them to bring them to maturity?

Such a situation existed among the addressees of the Epistle to the Hebrews.The writer of that treatise had many truths to teach his readers about Melchizedek, but they were dull of hearing. He told them that they needed milk and not solid food (meat).

Concerning him [Christ, a priest after the order of Melchizedek] we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness’, for he is a babe. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil (Heb. 5:11-14)

What did he propose to do in that situation. Did he plan to leave them in their state of stupor and continue to feed them nothing but the ‘milk of the Word?’ Did he intend to conceal this important truth from them until they came to maturity? No! He understood that if they continued in this state, they would do so because they had never become Christians at all. It would profit nothing to continue to teach them those doctrines that belonged to the infant state of God’s family. Pursuant to that purpose, he pressed on, in Hebrews seven, with the meaty doctrine of Melchizedek.The lesson this teaches is that we can never hope to mature God’s people as long as we continue to conceal from them those truths that God has revealed for their growth and development.

Fourth, if it is not yet time to teach your people the truth of God’s distinguishing grace, how will you know when that time has come?

What evidence do God’s people give that they have become ready to hear the truth of God’s distinguishing grace? Will they tell you that they have now become disenchanted with your “free will” approach to preaching and ministry and wish to delve into the”meat of the Word?” How do you expect them to become ready to hear the “deeper truths” of God’s Word if you continue to steer them away from such truths? If some of your sheep began to mature through their personal study of the Scriptures, would you continue to starve them in your public teaching and preaching? Would you rob them of God’s revealed truth because there might be some weak believers in your audience whom you fear would be offended by a plain description of their Father’s character and work? If you do not intend to teach the truth now, when do you plan to start?

Finally, I ask you in all candor, is it not true that you have concealed these truths because you have undervalued them?

Is having a large and “successful” church more valuable to you than being faithful to God’s truth? Have you counted the cost of standing up with those who have suffered for the faith and judged it to be to high? Is the approval of your peers more important to you than the smile of God? If so, it is time for you to get your priorities right.

In his excellent, little book, Warnings to the Churches, J. C. Ryle reminds us of an occasion when Bishop Latimer was called on to preach before King Henry VIII. He cites, from memory, the manner in which Latimer began his sermon.

‘Latimer! Latimer! dost thou remember that thou art speaking before the high and mighty King Henry VIII. before him who has the power to command thee to be sent to prison; before him who can have thy head struck off if it please him” Wilt thou not take care to say nothing that will offend royal ears” Then after a pause, he went on: ‘Latimer! Latimer! Dost thou not remember that thou art speaking before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords; before Him, at whose bar Henry VIII will stand; before Him, to whom one day thou wilt give an account of thyself’ ‘Latimer! Latimer! be faithful to thy Master and declare all God’s Word.’4

I leave you with two words of exhortation from Paul’s Epistles. In his closing words to the Corinthians he wrote, “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (I Cor 16:13). Never has there been a time when there was a greater need for pastors and other Christian teachers to act like men and be strong. In his final exhortation to Timothy, Paul identified the area in which lies our greatest need for manly strength when he wrote,

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship. do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Tim 4:1-5).


1 Octavius Winslow, Personal Declension and Revival of religion in the Soul, (London: The Banner of Truth Trust reprint ed. 1962), pp. 121-2.

2 Charles Hodge, Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., reprint ed. 1969), pp. 48-9.

3 Charles H. Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Sermons Vol. 2, (Grand Rapid: Zondervan Publishing House, n.d.) pp. 69-70.

4 J.C. Ryle, Warnings to the Churches, (London: The Banner of Truth Trust. reprint ed. 1967) pp. 34-5.

Advertisements
25
Aug
17

Issues in Romans Nine

It is common for Arminians and other Synergists to accuse Calvinists of taking verses in Romans 9 out of context and using them to prove a doctrine they were never intended to support. This is quite common among Dispensationalists who imagine that God is pursuing two separate programs for two separate peoples. For this reason, they imagine that because Paul is addressing an issue that concerns ethnic Israelites, the doctrine he sets forth must have no application to the Church and to spiritual salvation at all.

Now, it is true that Israel is not the church and the church is not Israel in the sense that Israel as a nation was a body of believers washed in the blood of the Lamb. One does not enter the community of New Covenant in the same way that people became a part of the Old Covenant community. What we must understand is that because the nation of Israel stood as type or prefiguration of the Church, the same principles that applied to that nation in a typical sense are now applicable to the Church in a spiritual sense. None of the blessings the members of Christ’s body now receive were granted to the Israelites, as mere natural descendants of Abraham, in the same sense as they are now granted to believers in Christ. They were chosen, redeemed, called, adopted, granted inheritance etc., but none of those blessings are spiritual or eternal in nature.I

My approach to this passage will necessarily depart from both the classic Reformed view and from the classic Dispensationalist understanding of Israel and the Church. The Reformed view is that the Church is the visible Kingdom of God that is, by design, comprised of believers and unbelievers [i.e., believers and their infant children] in the same way that Israel was the visible Church in the Old Testament. The Dispensational view, as already mentioned, is that God is pursuing two perpetually distinct purposes for two perpetually and perhaps eternally distinct peoples. But we must understand that God has not planted a separate olive tree called “the Church” that is separate and distinct from the good olive tree that is rooted in covenant promises. Instead, he has grafted Gentile believers into “the Righteous Branch” of the good olive tree through faith in Christ, so that they have become heirs of the spiritual promises made to Abraham. According to the Dispensational view, Romans chapters nine through eleven can have little if any significance for anyone other than natural Israelites.

My view is that natural Israel stood as a type or prefiguration of the true people of God [I am using the word “true” here in the same way John and Jesus used the it, i.e., to denote the fulfillment as opposed to the type and shadow. Consider as an example, “I am the TRUE bread.” Jesus did not mean that the manna in the desert was not REAL bread, but that he was the fulfillment of the type]. It helps to understand that the study of typology is simply a matter of recognizing that there are repeated patterns in God’s dealings with his creation.

Some time ago I posted an article titled “Thoughts on Romans 9-11” which I intend to repost at the end of this article since I believe it is important to understand the issues involved in the entire context. What I would like to do here is simply consider this important chapter in its context in an attempt to discern whether Calvinists are truly guilty of misusing it to illegitimately support their doctrine of God’s sovereignty in the matter of the sinner’s salvation.

Romans Nine Is About Spiritual Salvation

My first observation is that the entirety of Romans nine though eleven concerns spiritual salvation. There is not a single word in the entire passage, if properly understood, that concerns the reestablishment of Israel as a political entity, the restoration of the land to that nation, etc. It should be clear to any thinking person that Paul would not be willing to be accursed from Christ for such mundane reasons. It was for the spiritual and eternal salvation of his people that he was concerned. We must remember that after types or prefigurations are fulfilled, they cease to exist. Paul understood that “If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to promise.” The issue here was salvation through union with Christ. This becomes clear as we near the end of the chapter and move into chapter ten. In verse twenty-three Paul wrote about the “vessels of mercy which he [God] had prepared beforehand for glory.” Since this is set over against “destruction,” it must be a reference to spiritual salvation. In verse twenty-seven he wrote, “the remnant will be SAVED.” In verses thirty-thirty-two he wrote specifically about the attainment of righteousness through faith, another clear reference to spiritual deliverance. If any question remains about the subject of this pericope, it should be laid to rest once for all by Paul’s opening statement in chapter ten, “Brethren, my prayer to God and heart’s desire for Israel is that they may be saved.” Finally, Paul closes his argument with the conclusion, “and thus, all Israel shall be SAVED.”

The Apostle’s Argument in This Chapter

We must first understand that this entire section is intended to answer a single issue. That issue concerns the promises God made to Israel during the Old Covenant period. It seems that Paul has anticipated an objection about what he had written in the foregoing chapters. This was the objection. When we consider what has happened to Israel, “his own people” to whom he came, does it not appear that the promises of God have fallen to the ground without fulfillment? His initial answer to that objection was, “but it is not that the Word of God has taken no effect.”

The remainder of chapter nine is concerned to address two issues relative to that objection:

  1. The first issue is the identity of the ultimate recipients of God’s promises to Israel.
  2. The second issue is whether those who were the recipients of these promises were to receive the blessings promised as a matter of right or by sovereign disposition.

These two issues are related in that, due to their physical ancestry, the Jewish people of the first century had developed a sense of entitlement. One can see this attitude reflected in such statements as we find in John 8:33 “We are Abraham’s descendants and were never in bondage to any man.” Paul’s argument in this passage is reminiscent of John the Baptist’s words to the Pharisees and Sadducees when they came to him for baptism–“Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Therefore, bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’  For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones” (Matt. 3:7-9). Paul’ s two-fold argument is that his brethren according to the flesh are entitled to no spiritual blessing by virtue of their physical lineage. The inheritance is not of bloods [bloodline], and the reception of spiritual blessing is a matter of sovereign disposition.

The Identity of “Israel”

Paul began to speak to the first of these issues in verse six of this chapter, “. . .for they are not all Israel who are of Israel.” This understanding must control our thinking concerning everything else Paul wrote in this entire passage. When he speaks of “Israel” he is not referring to all the physical seed. Toward the end of the chapter, Paul introduces a theme that recurs throughout the passage, i.e.,  it is not to the nation as a whole that the promises are made but to the elect remnant (see 11:5) within the nation. The physical promises [e.g. the promise that they would be blessed in the land as a result of their obedience to the covenant] that God made to members of the nation, based on covenant fulfillment, [promises of living and being blessed in the land of promise] find their fulfillment in Christ, the consummate Israelite, and in those united to him by faith (cf. Exo. 19:5-6, 1 Pet. 2:9-10). True believers in Christ have entered into the inheritance of which the land was a type. God did not promise eternal, spiritual blessings to any of Abraham’s natural offspring except Christ.

There can be no question that the supernatural character of Isaac’s birth stood as a type of the believer’s supernatural birth. The true seed, the true heirs are children of promise as was Isaac (see Gal. 4:28). The point Paul was making is that God’s promises to Israel have not fallen to the ground without fulfillment at all since those promises belong to those who are born supernaturally as was Isaac. Surely, this is what Jesus had in mind when he told Nicodemus that he needed to be born from above. Though one could enter the material kingdom of Israel by physical birth, one can only enter Christ’s kingdom by supernatural, spiritual birth. That which is born of flesh belongs to the realm of flesh and has no ability to function in the spiritual realm.

In the same way, Paul intended the recounting of God’s choice of Jacob over Esau to illustrate that God’s promises to Abraham were not intended for all the physical seed but for those sovereignly chosen by God and blessed contrary to the natural order. The fact that the reference to Jacob and Esau in Malachi extends to their descendants does nothing to diminish Paul’s argument in this passage. The principle remains the same; God’s blessings are granted according to promise and not according to physical descent and are determined by God’s elective purpose. This does not in any way suggest that every descendant of Jacob was an heir of God’s spiritual blessings. That is simply not the case. What it does suggest is that just as God’s love for Jacob and the physical and material blessings he granted to the nation of Israel were determined by God’s electing love, so the spiritual blessings that flow to the antitypical Israel are determined by the sovereign will of God. Additionally, Paul showed that God’s choice is not only made apart from merit but contrary to merit. Jacob was not the most likely candidate to father a holy nation. It is quite true that in this context these principles have primary application to Paul’s brethren according to the flesh, but, as he stated in verses twenty-three and twenty-four, they are no less applicable to those God calls from among the Gentiles.

The Basis of Blessing

The second of these issues rises out of Paul’s explication of the first. Paul wants his natural brothers to understand that they have no rightful claim to God’s blessings since those blessings are sovereignly granted and not a matter of right. If they are blessed it will be due to God’s sovereign mercy granted contrary to merit, and not because they are entitled to his blessing.

This truth could not have been elucidated more clearly than Paul has expressed it in verses eleven through thirteen of this chapter. He wrote, “(for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of him who calls), it was said to her, ‘the elder shall serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau I have hated.’” At the very least, one would have to conclude from the Malachi passage from which Paul has quoted that God did not love Jacob and Esau equally and it the same way.

It should be clear to any reader that Paul’s intention was to show that the salvation of his brethren according to the flesh has been determined by the same sovereign principle as that enunciated in these verses. It they are saved, it will not be because they deserve God’s favor but because he has sovereignly decreed to show them mercy.

Some, e.g., Norman Geisler, have had the temerity to suggest that God foresaw the actions of the nations that came from these two individuals and chose them on that basis. There are two basic and, one would think, obvious objections to that view. The first is that it absolutely contradicts Paul’s clear statement in verse eleven, “before the children were born, and had not done any good or evil, THAT the purpose of God according to election might stand. . .”. The second reason his assumption cannot stand is that it would obviate the need for Paul’s entire argument in the following verses.

Two Common Objections to Sovereign Election

There are two objections that are commonly brought against the doctrine of divine sovereignty in the salvation of sinners. Paul introduces both these questions in Roman’s chapter nine. It is impossible to say whether these are objections that had been introduced by real detractors or if he introduced them for the sake of making a point. One is that if sovereign election is true, it would make God unfair–“What shall we say then, is there unrighteousness with God?”. The other is that if the bestowal of mercy is not of him who wills or of him who runs but of God’s who shows mercy, and if God grants mercy to whomsoever he will show mercy and hardens whomsoever he wills, how can he hold his creatures responsible? –“Why does he still find fault, for who has resisted his will?” The will about which the apostle has written must be God’s will of decree since we have all resisted his revealed will from time to time.  If all that occurs has been decreed by God, how can he hold people responsible for our actions?

Both these question could have been answered very simply with one statement.  All Paul needed to explain is that God has left the issue of our salvation to libertarian free will.  If only he had explained that God’s choice of certain sinners was based on the faith and perseverance that he foresaw in them, neither of these questions would have arisen. Their very presence is the evidence that God’s foresight of certain sinners’ faith could not have been the basis for his choice. What better place could there have been for Paul to give such an explanation? Yet, there is not the slightest hint that God’s choice was determined by the sinner’s free will choice. Instead, he doubled down on his insistence that salvation depended on the will of the sovereign potter.  There are two important truths he offers to help his readers understand the true doctrine of God’s saving activity.  One concerned the proper relationship between God and his creatures. He asked, “Who are you, the creature, to question the Creator?”  As you consider this issue, you need to remember that there is only one true God and that God isn’t you. You aren’t in control, God is. The second answer to these questions concerns the nature of that “lump” out of which God forms one vessel for honor and another for dishonor.  Notice that he refers to the vessels of honor as “vessels of mercy.” That tells us that these vessels did not deserve God’s favor any more than did the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction.  God being righteous [fair] would have condemned the entire sinful lump.  How can God hold sinners responsible for our sins when we are simply fulfilling his decree? Because when we sin we are doing what we desire most. We are acting according to the sinful nature that we share with the rest of mankind.

The Nature of Salvation Itself

One reason people wish to argue that Roman’s nine is not about the sinner’s salvation but about some future work God intends to perform in restoring Israel as a nation grows out of their inadequate view of salvation itself. If we persist in defining salvation in terms of heaven and hell, we will not only continue to misinterpret passages such as Romans nine but will miss the entire biblical teaching about the nature of salvation itself. I am willing to concede, and I am sure others are as well, that Paul does not speak a word in Romans nine about some sinners being chosen to go to heaven when they die and others being left to perish in hell. That is clearly not the issue. But that does not mean this passage does not concern the sinner’s salvation or the teaching that salvation is granted to sinners by the sovereign good pleasure of God alone.

Not once in the entire inspired record of first century gospel preaching do we have an example of any preacher asking sinners if they wanted to escape hell and be assured that they will go to heaven when they died. The reason we find no such example is that such was never the issue in the salvation of sinners. Jesus framed the issue succinctly when in his intercessory prayer recorded in John seventeen he said, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (v. 3). He immediately follows these words with “I have glorified you on the earth. I have finished the work which you have given me to do” (v.4) from which one could argue that eternal life is principally concerned with the manifestation of God’s glory [the sum of his glorious attributes].

It is my belief that much of the controversy that persists between Monergists and Synergists exists because the latter view salvation in such a superficial manner. Often they speak of salvation as “simply reaching out and accepting the free gift,” or to put it in the terms they like to use, “taking the life ring that has been thrown to the sinner [indeed, to all sinners equally].” Among the many biblical issues that this simplistic approach completely ignores is the universal hostility of sinners to the rescuer. If being on the lifeboat requires being in the presence of the lifeguard, they would prefer to drown.  Additionally, this view reduces Jesus to a mere means to an end. All the focus is on the sinner. Once the rescue is accomplished, the life ring can be hung out of view and ignored. All the life ring represents is the possibility of salvation, not salvation itself. We would agree that unregenerate sinners are able to walk down a church aisle, sign a card, repeat a prayer, and submit to “baptism.” What we do not believe is that such actions constitute genuine salvation from sin.

The assumption of some seems to be that since Paul does not speak of heaven or hell in Romans nine, the passage must not concern the salvation of sinners, but this simply reflects a faulty understanding of the nature of salvation itself. The primary purpose of God’s salvific activity is not to establish the eternal destiny of sinners, but to restore in sinners the ability to reflect his glory. Please understand that I am not denying that there are two distinct and different destinations for the saved and the lost. I am simply denying that establishing that destiny is the primary consideration in the salvation of sinners. I would challenge you to examine those biblical passages that state the purpose of Christ’s redeeming work to either verify or falsify my contention here. Let me simply suggest three verses for your consideration—Ephesians 5:25-27; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:24-25. As you consider these verses, note well the purpose clauses introduced by the words “that” or “in order that.”

The modern church has become so absorbed with the idea that Jesus died to forgive our sins so we can go to heaven when we die, that we have forgotten that salvation is not principally about the forgiveness of sins. Justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, based on the promises of Scripture alone is certainly a key doctrine that we must not surrender for a moment, but being declared right with God is not the ultimate end of his salvific purposes. In reality, it is a means to an end. Before we can approach God with any kind of confidence, we need to know that he has cancelled our guilt and that he has declared us righteous in his sight. Justification is necessary because people burdened with a sense of unpardoned guilt do not love, glorify and enjoy God.

We must remember that God’s redemptive plan is concerned not only with saving sinners from his wrath but also with purifying them so that they will be able to glorify him. Remember Paul’s words, “That we should be to the praise of his glory. . .” God is concerned not only with our guilt but also with our sinful hearts that are hostile toward him in a state of nature.

Unlike his remedy for our guilt that is wholly outside of us, his remedy for our spiritual blindness, hostility, pollution in sin, and deadness toward him must be internal. To use one of Paul’s metaphors, “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness has shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor.4:6).

Paul has framed salvation in terms of glory just as Jesus did. When he was praying to the Father about finishing the work he had given him to do his words were, “I have glorified you on the earth. . .I have manifested your name to the men whom you have given me out of the world” (John 17:5-6). One of the primary differences between soteriological synergists and monergists is in their view of God’s purpose in saving a people for himself. It should not escape our notice that in its statement on the decree of God concerning the salvation of his people, the Westminster Confession of Faith begin with these words, “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory. . .” The Scripture reveals no higher motive for God’s creative, providential and salvific activity than this. This must be our starting point in all our thinking about His purpose in the world.

God’s Sovereign Bestowal of Mercy

It is as Paul begins to answer the first objection to his doctrine that his argument begins to turn from an articulation of general principles regarding God’s sovereign disposition of his favors to an application of those principles in the sovereign bestowal of saving mercy.

As we have seen, Paul does not even hint that God maintains the integrity of His righteous kingdom by merely rubber stamping decisions he foresaw his creatures would make. He has tersely dismissed the idea that God could be unrighteous in anything that he has done with the words, “Certainly not!” or “God forbid!”  Literally he wrote, “May it never be!”(μη γένοιτο). Then, he proceeded to show that God is himself the standard of righteousness who has the absolute right to dispense his mercy to whomsoever he will. He owes mercy to none. If it were a debt, it would cease to be mercy. So then, he concludes, it [the showing of mercy and compassion] is not of him who wills [it is not based on human decision] or of him who runs [it is not by human exertion] but it is of God who shows mercy (see verse sixteen).

In the verses that follow, Paul illustrated this truth from the life of two men.  One was the Pharaoh of Egypt; the other was the leader of God’s people, Israel. God treated these two men very differently but showed no injustice to either of them. In hardening the Pharaoh’s heart, God made him no more evil or rebellious at heart than he was by nature. He simply removed his gracious restraints and permitted him to be himself. He did nothing to him that he did not deserve.

In treating Moses as he did, he gave him nothing that he did deserve. The verse that Paul quoted in Romans nine, fifteen is found in the context of Moses’ request to see Yahweh’s glory (see Exo. 33:19). Remember here what we have written about the nature of God’s saving activity. Salvation is ultimately a matter of God’s self-disclosure. It is a manifestation of his glory. When John summed up his and his companions’ experience with the eternal Word, in what words does he express that experience? He wrote, “and the Word became flesh and tabernacled [pitched his tent] among us, and we gazed on his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth [compare “full of grace and truth” with “abounding in goodness [lovingkindness] and truth [covenant faithfulness]” in Exodus 34:6.

What is it that Paul tells us the unconverted are unable to see when the gospel is preached to them because the god of this world has blinded their minds? He answers, it is “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (see 2 Cor. 4:4). I believe we think of salvation rightly only when we think of it in terms of the manifestation of God’s glory as it now stands revealed to us in Christ.

Paul clenched the case we are making when he wrote in verses twenty-three and twenty-four, “and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom he called, not of the Jews only but also of the Gentiles.” We must understand the word “called” here not in the sense of a mere invitation but in the sense in which Paul has used it in chapter eight, verse thirty where he wrote, “. . .those he called, he also justified.” He is referring to that divine activity by which believers are called into union with Christ (see 1 Cor. 1:9),

It should be clear to any but those who have deliberately closed their eyes to God’s truth that Paul was writing about God’s saving mercy in revealing his glory to Moses. The point that he would have his readers take away from what he has written is that the bestowal of his favor was altogether of sovereign mercy. It is not that the Pharaoh deserved condemnation and Moses deserved a manifestation of God’s glory. No, Paul writes, “It is not of him who wills or of him who runs, but of God who show mercy.”

We should not forget that in the case of both the Pharaoh and Moses there was a manifestation of God’s glory. In the case of the one, it was a manifestation of his glorious justice but also of his power. God showed his power in the case of the Pharaoh not only in his destruction but also in his patient endurance of Pharaoh’s recalcitrant rebellion. Time after time God gave him opportunity to repent and let his people go, but Pharaoh hardened his heart. God demonstrated his longsuffering in giving him space to repent. In the case of Moses, God made known his glorious attributes and all by his sovereign mercy.

I invite you to visit my author’s page at http://www.amazon.com/author/randyseiver

 

 

Thoughts on Romans 9-11

  1. One should understand everything in the entire section in terms of the issue Paul is addressing and not import other issues that are not mentioned.

The issue is the spiritual salvation of Israelites and whether God’s promises to them have fallen to the ground without fulfillment. Paul begins the section by expressing that his prayer to God and his heart’s desire is that Israel might be “saved.” There is no justification for the assumption that the Israelites for whom he expresses concern are on a separate and different trajectory from Gentile believers. There is nothing in the entire context about Israel being restored as a nation, the establishment of an earthly, Jewish kingdom, the nation’s restoration to the land etc.

  1. One should understand “Israel” in the entire passage according to Paul’s definition caveat in 9:6-7, “they are not all Israel who are of Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring.” There is an “Israel” that is not Israel and Paul refers to this group of unbelievers in this section, but it is to the true Israel God’s ultimate spiritual promises were made, not to the natural offspring of Jacob.
  2. The entire issue hinges on God’s sovereign decree. God will have mercy on those he will save not because of debt but because of grace (9:10-25). Not even all who are of the promised seed, Isaac, are heirs of the promise.
  3. Paul further narrows the focus of God’s saving grace to that remnant within Jacob’s (Israel’s) offspring who are called. Here we must understand “called” not as an invitation but as an effectual divine action that unites the called ones to Christ (9:23-29). Those “called” are the vessels which he “prepared beforehand for glory.” This agrees with Paul’s previous statement in chapter eight that “those he predestined for future glory [being conformed to the image of Christ or glorified], he also called. (8: 29-30).”
  4. Paul lays the burden of responsibility directly at the feet of Jacob’s offspring who had rejected “God’s righteousness” [I understand the term “God’s righteousness” in Romans to refer to his method of putting sinners right with himself in faithfulness to his covenant promises] and insisted on going about to establish their own method of self-justification (9:30-10:21). God presents himself as an ever willing and able Savior for all who will call on his name.
  5. When Paul answers the question “Has God cast away his people?” (11:1), his answer is conditioned and delineated by the definition he has already given of “his people.” There is no question he refers to those who are the physical descendants of Abraham, but the reality is God has cast many of them away. The burden of his question at this point seems to be whether God has completely abandoned all Abraham’s physical descendants because of the unbelief of the majority of them. Paul’s answer is that though God has cast away unbelieving Israel, he has not cast away those whom he “foreknew” (according to the law of first mention, “foreknew” should be interpreted in light of Romans 8:29). Paul himself is an ethnic Hebrew of the tribe of Benjamin yet he has not been cast off. Even now there is a remnant according to the election of grace. (See 11:5-7).
  6. The blessings God will grant restored Israelites are the same as those now enjoyed by believing Gentiles. Paul’s concern is to “save some of them,” not to see a Davidic dynasty established under Christ’s Messianic rule and a fulfillment of land promises (see–10:1, 13; 11:14, 26-27, 30-32). Note: the mercy now granted to the Gentiles is parallel to the mercy God may show to believing Israelites. The mercy he has shown us is the forgiveness of our sins and in parallel must refer to the same kind of mercy granted to believing Israelites.
  7. The blessings Gentile believers now enjoy result from Israel’s unbelief. The inclusion of the Gentiles was to have the effect of making the Israelites jealous so that some of them might be saved. Verses 11 through 15 of chapter eleven give us important insight into the way the New Testament writers used the word translated “world.” It should be obvious that “world” in these verses does not refer to every person without exception since every unbelieving ethnic Israelite is excluded from it. Their exclusion has resulted in the reconciliation of the “world,” i.e., believing Jews and Gentiles.
  8. It seems clear the root of the “good olive tree” refers to the covenant promises made to Abraham. The good olive tree grows out of that root. It is important that we remember there were natural branches of that tree that should have produced good fruit but did not. Ishmael and his descendants were branches of the tree as were Isaac and his descendants. Isaac was the heir produced by faith, the child of promise; Ishmael was the child of the flesh, a child of unbelief. Still, both benefited physically and materially from their paternal relationship with Abraham.

The family tree on Isaac’s side of the family continued to branch until the ultimate offspring to whom the promises were made was born. He was the true offspring who was the ultimate heir of the Abrahamic promise. All the promises of God find their fulfillment in him. None of the branches of the olive tree were fruitful as the mere natural offspring of Abraham. Abraham was “the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised” (Rom. 4: 12). What Paul was saying is that physical descent from Abraham is of no value at all in terms of the spiritual inheritance. To be a son of Abraham in the spiritual sense, one must walk in the footsteps of the faith of Abraham.

Natural birth is no advantage in the spiritual realm. The reason the natural branches were broken off was unbelief–rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. They thought they could receive the inheritance apart from the heir, merely because they were Abraham’s natural offspring. Gentile believers have become “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19), because, through faith, we have been united to the Christ, the seed of Abraham. Assuming God intends to graft believing Israelites back into the good olive tree, it will be a grafting into Christ, a natural branch of the tree, by faith. It is in him that God has made believing Israelites and believing Gentiles one. He has made us one with the true Israel by grafting us into Jesus who is the true Israel. Jesus and those united to him by faith are the true seed of Abraham. We are not a replacement for Israel; we are the fulfillment of Israel and the promises made to them.

  1. This passage does not necessarily teach a future salvation of ethnic Israelites, though I would lean toward that position. It is possible Paul is stating that the full number of the elect remnant within ethnic Israel will come to faith before the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. “In this way, all Israel will be saved” (11:26). There are several considerations that might lead one to this conclusion:
  2. Throughout the entire section, Paul has focused on passages that speak of the salvation of a “remnant.”
  3. He speaks about God grafting them in again more as a possibility than as a certainty, “And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again” (v. 23).
  4. He writes, “Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (11:25). It is possible he means this hardness will never come to an end. In 1 Sam 15:35 we read, “And Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death: nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul: and the Lord repented that he had made Saul king over Israel.” This does not mean that Samuel came to see Saul on the day of his death, but that he never came to see him again. In the same way, Paul could be saying that this partial blindness will never come to an end until the full number of the elect from among the Gentiles have been saved and the full number of the remnant of ethnic Israel and the full number of elect Gentiles will occur at the same time.
  5. The focus of verses 26-27 is on the redeemer coming to or out of Zion to establish the new covenant by his redemptive work, not on the redeemer coming out of heaven to apply that accomplishment. That is, he is speaking about the basis on which this salvation about which he speaks has been accomplished, not about the time at which it will be applied. It is the certainty that all of these who have been redeemed from sin will be saved that is in view, not the occasion on which it will be accomplished.

I have mentioned these issues not to argue for them but to show that in such areas as this, dogmatism is probably unwarranted. What is clear is that there is not a word in the entire text about restoring Israel as a nation. One must read this idea into the passage since the passage says absolutely nothing about it.

  1. The part of the olive tree into which members of ethnic Israel will be grafted is not merely a natural branch but also the spiritual branch, namely, Christ. Paul’s concern is not with those promises that granted the natural seed of Abraham physical, material, and nationalistic blessings, but with spiritual and eternal blessings. They will not be grafted into Jacob; they will be grafted into Christ and thus become the “true Israel.”
    12. In 11:28-32, Paul’s focus is on God granting mercy to sinners, not on God granting nationhood to Israel. In other words, Paul clearly saw the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel in their spiritual salvation “But it is not as though the Word of God has failed, for. . .” (9:6) “all Israel will be saved” (11:26).
24
Feb
15

Calvinistic Evangelism–Part Two–The Apostolic Pattern: The Message

I have heard many say that those who believe salvation is a work of God’s sovereign grace should be able to live in unity with those who believe salvation is a cooperative effort between God and the sinner, because, after all, we are all preaching the same gospel. My answer to that is that if we are preaching the same message they are preaching, we should be ashamed of ourselves. I say that because the message they preach has no precedent in apostolic preaching. I contend that if our message is not a reflection of what the Apostles preached, we need to change our message.

There are several themes that are consistently repeated in the message of the first century church. Those themes are so prevalent that it is difficult to escape the conclusion that they provide a pattern that we must follow in evangelism if we are to be faithful to the Lord under whose authority we have been sent. It is quite true that those preachers whose proclamations of the evangel have been preserved for us in the New Testament Scriptures did not preach from a uniform script. There were differences in their messages that were dictated by the different needs of the audiences they addressed. For example, when they preached to Jewish audiences, they said little about the attributes of God. One would assume a person who had been well schooled in the Old Testament Scriptures would have known God’s attributes.

When they preached to Gentiles who knew little of God’s character, they spent time instructing them about the God who gave them being and who in his sovereign government of the world, gave them life, breath and all things (see, e.g., Acts 17: 22-31). Additionally, in addressing Gentile audiences their focus was often on God’s common grace and universal benevolence. There is powerful evidence of this theme in the passage just cited. When they preached to Jewish audiences their focus was often on God’s faithfulness in fulfilling the promises he made to the fathers. Paul spent a great deal of time in the Synagogues demonstrating that Jesus is the Messiah.
My purpose in this section is to examine those themes in both the Book of Acts and the Epistles of the New Testament that seem to form the basic framework of the apostolic message. The following are a few of the questions I intend to explore:

1. How does the Spirit’s ministry of reproving sinners relate to the apostolic proclamation?

2. How and in what sense should we proclaim God’s love to sinners? Did the apostolic message ever begin with a proclamation of God’s redeeming love?

3. How does God’s fulfillment of Old Testament apply to the proclamation of the gospel?

4. What basic spiritual needs must the gospel address?

5. What does the apostle Paul mean when he uses the phrase “wrath of God” (Romans 1:18)?

6. Must we precede gospel preaching with a proclamation of the law of God? How did the Apostle Paul confront sinners with God’s law in his Epistle to the Romans?

7. How does the gospel’s demand for both repentance and faith relate to the sinner’s basic spiritual needs?

8. How should we preach repentance to avoid giving sinners the impression they must rid themselves of sin before God will receive them?

9. What part does the message that Jesus is Lord play in our evangelistic preaching?

10. What should we make of the fact that the Apostles never told an audience of unconverted people that Jesus died for them?

11. What part did Jesus’ resurrection and enthronement have in apostolic preaching and what significance should it have for our gospel witness?

It is my view that a proper understanding of the answers to these questions will radically affect the way we witness the gospel. I would urge you to lay aside your preconceived notions about the gospel message and search the pertinent New Testament passages with a ready mind to find answers to these important questions.
The subject matter of this section will be similar in some ways to the section on the theological foundation for evangelism. The reason for this should be obvious. They preached as they did because they believed as they did. I intend, in this section, first to show what they preached and then, in the following section, examine the theology on which they based their message.

In the introduction to this work, I proposed a definition of what I believe the evangelistic message must include, I suggested three components:

1. It must include a clear communication of the biblical teaching concerning the great chasm that exists between God and the sinner. The sinner needs to know what the Bible teaches about God’s character, his purpose in the world, and his own rebellious condition and guilty standing before God.

2. It should include an urgent call for sinners to obey the commands of the gospel and bow before God’s sovereign throne in humble adoration.

3. It should include a communication of the good news that God has promised to save guilty sinners. It promises pardon through Christ and what he has accomplished to all who call on him

This section will include three chapters:

The Great Chasm
The Gospel Call
The Gracious Commitment

It is my intention to arrange the components we find in the apostolic message under these heads to see how those elements relate to the definition I have suggested. It is my hope that you will not only begin to see how radically the evangelical church has departed from the apostolic pattern, but that you will also purpose to conform your message to the message they preached. Once we have considered these component parts of the gospel message as set forth in the Epistles, I want to consider how they are illustrated in the preaching recorded in the book of Acts.

09
Sep
14

Free Choice vs. “Free Will”

Regrettably, it has been necessary for me to delete one of the comments of a person who visits my blog from time to time. Not only does he fail to follow the rules; he has stated that he does not intend to do so. I will not allow any comments that are demeaning and degrading.

I will comment on the issue he addressed since it is an important one. It concerns the comment Born4battle made yesterday concerning the distinction between free choice and free will. The commenter has accused us of making a distinction where no difference exists.

If all he means by “free will” is that people have the ability to make choices, we would be in full agreement with him. We believe people choose freely apart from external constraint. A person who bows to Christ’s sovereign Lordship does so because he truly wants to. A person who chooses to reject Christ and the gospel does so because he truly wants to. God does not drag anyone into the kingdom kicking and screaming and rebelling against the gospel. Instead, he, by sovereign grace, makes sinners willing to do his will. This idea is expressed well in the promises of Ezek. 26:25-27

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

This describes what theologically speaking is called “regeneration.” This work of God does not force people to obey contrary to their desires. If God causes people to walk in his statutes, does this not indicate they would not do so otherwise? Yet, those who obey God’s rules do so because they genuinely choose to do so.

Every person who comes to genuine faith in Christ does so because he freely chooses to do so. Every person who chooses to reject Christ and continue in his sins does so because he genuinely desires and freely chooses to do so.
The issue in the discussion of “free will” is completely different. It concerns whether the will, unlike the other elements of human personality, is autonomous [self-governing] or not. Does the will act independently of nature or does the nature of a person determine his choices. In a sense, the discussion brings us back to a very basic question. Are we sinners because we sin, or do we sin because we are sinners? This question expresses the decisive difference between Pelagianism and Calvinism. We Calvinists believe we think what we think, feel what we feel, choose what we choose, because we are what we are. If this is not the case, it doesn’t matter whether regeneration causes faith or faith causes regeneration. Such a work of God would be superfluous. If sinners are able to obey any command of God [the command to repent and believe], we are able to obey every command of God and don’t need God tinkering around with our hearts.

The biblical writers represent sinners as hostile toward God, his law, and his gospel. Additionally, they assign the reason for this recalcitrance and obduracy to sinful nature. People don’t come to Christ because they don’t want to come to Christ. All we are saying is that a person in a state of sinful nature will not and therefore cannot choose that for which he has no desire and to which he is absolutely averse. His will is held captive by his nature.

12
Nov
13

“For Whom He Foreknew”–Romans 8:29

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. We have learned that 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.

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 word 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).

Questions for Study

1. In what three ways can we understand the words “foreknew” and “foreknowledge?”

2. What does Romans 8:29 say about God foreseeing faith?

3. Why is the word “whom” important in verse 29?

4. Since God foreknows everyone in the sense that he knows altogether about them and knows everything they will do or choose, could Paul have been using the term in the sense of foresight of future actions in Romans 8:29? If not, why not?

5. How does what God actually sees about sinners in a state of sinful nature (Psa. 14 for example) affect the question of foreseen faith as the basis of God’s saving decree?

6. How does the context of Paul’s main argument in this section affect this question?

7. What ideas are expressed by the word ginōskō in the Bible?

8. What do we learn by considering the of the use of proginōskō in the New Testament Scriptures?

9. As it is used in the New Testament Scriptures, does proginōskō refer to a knowledge of people or of their actions and decisions?

10. How could we legitimately translate Romans 8:29?

12
Nov
13

God’s Decreed Will and His Declared Will

We must distinguish between God’s decreed (or predestined) will and his declared (or prescribed) will. They differ in that:

1. God’s decree is not revealed to us. We only know an event was decreed by God after it has occurred. God’s prescribed will is revealed to us.

2. What God has decreed always occurs (Job 9:12, 23:13; Psa. 115:3; Dan. 4:35). What God declares often does not occur.

3. What God has decreed is often contrary to what he has declared or commanded. (see Gen. 50:20; 2 Sam. 16:5-12; Lk. 22:22; Acts 2:23; 4:27-28).

4. We are not responsible to fulfill God’s decree. We are responsible to obey his declared or revealed will.

This principle has application to the issues of evangelism, prayer, and everyday Christian living. Often people ask if God has chosen to save some and pass over others, why do we need to evangelize. Won’t God save them no matter what we do or don’t do? The answer is, we witness the gospel because God has commanded us to evangelize. We are not responsible to fulfill God’s decree, but we are responsible to obey his commands. Additionally, God uses the means he has commanded to accomplish his decreed will.

If God has decreed everything that will happen, why should we pray? Again, the answer is that God uses the means he has commanded to bring about his decreed purpose. From our point of view, prayer changes the circumstances we find ourselves in. James wrote, “you don’t have because you don’t ask.” From God’s point of view, prayer is merely the means for effecting his purpose.

The same principle applies to everyday decisions about living to the glory of God. We are not to try to figure out what God has decreed for us during a given day. We are to order our lives according to God’s will revealed in his Word.

“Providence is a Christian’s diary–but not his Bible.”
Thomas Watson

Study Questions

1. In what ways must we distinguish between the decreed will of God and his revealed will?
2. How do these principles help us understand our duty relative to evangelism, prayer, Christian living.
3. Cite two verses that indicate God always accomplishes his decreed will.
4. Cite three biblical examples in which what God has decreed is contrary to his declared will.
5. Consider the following verses and answer whether “God’s will” in the verse refers to his decreed will or his declared will.
Daniel 4:35
Matt. 6:10
Matt. 23:37
Rom.9:19
Eph. 1:5
Heb. 13:21
James 1:18
2 Peter 3:9
1 John 5:14-15

16
Sep
13

Who Sends Calamity, God or Satan?

I am troubled by the biblical ignorance that pervades the world today. This ignorance is so pervasive it even saturates the “evangelical church.” It is clearly not due to a dearth of information. Today, as never before in history, an abundance of truth is at the fingertips of anyone with an internet connection. Solid doctrinal sermons are available to listen to and watch on YouTube. [Of course, the converse is also true. There is a plethora of error to be found as well. A great deal of discernment is needed when surfing the web.] I am able to download many of the classic biblical commentaries free of charge, and a discussion of most any subject is easy to find. Yet, people who profess faith in Christ and profess to know God seem more ignorant of God and his Word than ever before. I am reminded of Paul’s words to Timothy concerning people who are “ever learning but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” They fill their note-books with notes, but remain ignorant of God and his truth. During the past several generations, we have bartered God’s truth for catchy and pithy sayings that betray our abysmal ignorance of God and his ways with men. Many of these mantras have now become the standard of “orthodoxy” for many so that to question them is tantamount to heresy. Evangelicals glibly sing of a helpless and ignorant “savior” who stands at the door of the sinner’s heart waiting to see if he is willing to let him come in. According to this little vacuous musical ditty, not only is the matter out of his control, but he is ignorant of what will happen next. He must wait and see. How far removed this is from the biblical description of the one who stands knocking at the door of the church of Laodicea (not at the door of the human heart). He is “. . . the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens” (Rev. 3:7).

It is my view that all erroneous ideas about biblical truth spring from an ignorance of God’s character and his dealings with his creation. Our lament is the same as that of the prophet, “There is no truth (faithfulness), or mercy (steadfast love) or knowledge of God in the land” (Hosea 4:1). For a lack of this knowledge, God’s people are destroyed (Hos. 4:6). I was recently asked if I actually believe God sends calamities like tornadoes. The interrogator’s tone seemed to indicate that no one but a drooling and babbling fool would hold to such a ridiculous idea. Of course, my mind immediately went to all those biblical passages that state quite clearly that God is the first cause of all such calamity. There is no question he uses second causes such as Satan, natural phenomena, wicked men and nations to accomplish his purpose, but ultimately it is God who does all these things. The book of Job provides what is perhaps the clearest example of this truth. Though there were many second cause involved in the calamities that fell on Job, God was in control of the most minute detail. Job was surely right when he exclaimed, “. . . The LORD gave and The LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

Then, in response to his wife’s suggestion that he “curse God and die” he said, “You are speaking as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from the hand of the LORD and shall we not receive evil (adversity, calamity)”? Lest we imagine that Job was speaking emotionally and not theologically, we have God’s own utterance to Satan on the matter as a basis for our belief. He said regarding Job, “He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason” (Job 2:4). Notice he does not say YOU have gone against him, or the Sabeans and Chaldeans have gone against him, or the fire from heaven, or the great wind have gone against him. These are only second causes. The LORD says, “you have incited ME against him.” When Job said, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him. . . .” (Job 13:15), he was not speaking about Satan but about God.

A Scripture verse that has been a mainstay for Christians in their sufferings and trials throughout the centuries is Romans 8:28. Whether we accept the textual rendering “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good. . . .” or the alternate reading, “And we know that all things work together for good . . . .” the meaning is clearly that it is God who is accomplishing this end. There are several erroneous ideas about this verse of which we need to disabuse ourselves. 1. The verse does not teach that all things are good in and of themselves, 2. The verse does not teach us that we know by experience or feeling that all things work together for our good. Such knowledge is a matter of divine revelation and is to be received by faith, 3. The verse does not mean that somehow everything is going to work out O.K. This is not unfounded optimism, but confidence founded on the truth of God’s sovereign providence, 4. the verse does not teach that God works all things together for our material, physical, and temporal good. The “good” in view is the believer’s conformity to the image of Christ, 5. The verse does not teach that God will cause everything to turn out well for unbelievers. The promise only concerns those who love God and are called according to his saving purpose.

One clear implication of this verse is that God must be in control of all his creatures and all their actions. Even those events that appear to be contrary to his purpose and are clearly contrary to his will revealed in the Scriptures are under his sovereign control. If this were not true, he could never fulfill such a promise as this. He can only cause all things to work together for good if he controls all those things. If God is not in control of all things we are wasting our time praying. If he doesn’t control circumstances, he can’t change them. There is no need to pray for the salvation of lost people if God has left the matter in the sinner’s hands. The truth is, we pray because we believe God is in control. We rest on God’s promises because we know he is able to accomplish them.

Not only is God in control of all things, but he controls all things according to the counsel (translators often use the word “counsel” in place of purpose or plan to emphasize the wisdom of that plan. God’s plan is not an arbitrary roll of the dice.) of his will (Eph. 1:11). God does not react to catastrophes after the fact. He has planned beforehand how he will use the event he has decreed to glorify his name and bring spiritual and eternal good to his people. J.I. Packer wrote, “Our God is a God who not merely restores, but takes up our mistakes and follies into His plan for us and brings good out of them.”

It is important that we remember God does not cause everything he has decreed. He often uses secondary and evil causes to bring about his decreed goals. God “intended” that Joseph be in Egypt in a position in which he could save many people though the means by which he brought him there employed the wicked intentions and actions of his jealous brothers. “As for you, you meant if for evil, but God meant it for good” (See Gen. 50:19-20). In the midst of his dark trial, Job said, though I can’t seem for find God or understand what he is doing, “He knows the way that I take, and after he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” Such confidence was completely unfounded if Satan or some other second cause is the prime mover in such calamity. If we believe God controls all thing according to his predestined plan, we can have confidence, when facing the most difficult circumstances of life, that we are precisely where God has purposed us to be. Andrew Murray wrote concerning what the believer should think and feel in the midst of such circumstances,

First, He brought me here; it is by His will that I am in this strait (difficult) place. In that fact I will rest. Next, he will keep me here in His love, and give me more grace to behave as His child. Then, he will make the trial a blessing, teaching me the lessons He intends me to learn and working in me the grace He means to bestow. Last, in His good time He can bring me out again … how and when He knows.”

There are several verses I would like you to consider in answer to the question about the origin of adversity and calamity. Does God do “bad stuff,” or is all that stuff the work of the devil?

“By your appointment they stand this day, for all things are your servants” (Psa. 119:91).

“I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things” (Isa. 45:7).

“Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come” (Lamentations 3:37-38)?

“Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it” (Amos 3:6)?

“For the inhabitants of Maroth wait anxiously for good, because disaster has come down from the LORD to the gate of Jerusalem” (Micah 1:12).

“For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own” (Habakkuk 1:6).

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father” (Matt. 10:29).

Any imagined God who is not in control of his universe is no God at all. A good friend of mine who was a missionary to Mexico once translated A. W. Pink’s Sovereignty of God into Mexican Spanish. Since the book had already been translated into Spanish using the original title, it was necessary for him to choose another name for the book. He wisely titled it, “El Dios Que Sí Es Dios”–“The God Who Is God.” A “god” who does not do according to his will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth, a “god” whose hand can be restrained when he wishes to work and who can be called into question for any of his actions, is not the God of the Bible (see–Dan. 4:35).