Posts Tagged ‘God’s eternal purpose


If God is For Us


In Romans 8:31, Paul asks his readers to begin to draw encouraging conclusions and he does so by asking a series of rhetorical questions intended to lead them to rejoice in the absolute certainty of their final glorification. It should not escape our attention that he does so, not by asking them to focus on a decision they have made but on the salvific work of the Triune God.

In that verse, Paul asks his readers to begin to draw encouraging conclusions and he does so by asking a series of rhetorical questions intended to lead them to rejoice in the absolute certainty of their final glorification.

It is to the first series of questions that I would like to draw your attention and then leave you with a question. Paul asks, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Then, as evidence that God is for believers, he writes concerning this God, “He that did not spare his own Son but delivered him up for us all [In the context he is clearly referring to all those who have been foreknown, predestined, called according to his purpose and justified by his grace through faith in Christ.]” then asks, “How shall he not along with him [the greatest gift he could give] freely give us all things [all the lesser gifts that belong to salvation including glorification].” His point is that if God is for us and if Jesus gave his life for the purpose of securing our redemption, our glorification is certain. In whatever sense God “gave Him up for us all,” He also “gives (the same people) all things.” After all, the “will he not also along with him freely give us all things?” is clearly rhetorical and expects an emphatic “Yes,” not an “I will…If you decide.”

I am amazed at the number of professing Christian people who will quite unabashedly state that Jesus did not save anyone by his death. Additionally, they will be quick to add that it was their faith that saved them. If one should ask them about the origin of that faith, they never seem to even question the idea that God has given a measure of faith to everyone without exception, then it is up to us to decide for or against Jesus. Apparently, the idea of God giving a measure of faith to every person is taken from a gross misrepresentation of Romans 12:3 that speaks of God granting to each believer a measure of faith for the exercise of the gift God has given them. There is no indication anywhere in Scripture that has granted to sinners universally the ability to believe.

It is difficult to blame these people because they are merely parroting what they have been told from “Evangelical” pulpits. In fact, I think they are rather astute in drawing the conclusion from what they have heard that Jesus did not save anyone by his death. If he accomplished no more for those who would believe than for those who will perish for eternity, his death, in itself, did not save anyone. If his death did not save everyone it was intended to redeem, it could not have, in itself, saved anyone it was intended to redeem.

We often hear the analogy of a ship being dispatched for the rescue of shipwreck victims who are in danger of drowning. To effect this rescue, the captain of the ship instructs his crew to throw a life ring into the water. He must not do anything more because if he did, he might violate the free will of the perishing. Apparently, since he has not determined to save any of these victims but merely to give them the potential for salvation by tossing the life ring, it is conceivable they will all perish because he clearly cares more about the preservation of their free will than about their rescue. If any are rescued, it will be solely because they made the right decision and grabbed the life ring. The life ring is nothing but the means of rescue. The true savior is the victim who is willing to use the means provided to get himself to safety.

This is far different from the image the Bible paints for us. In the biblical picture, the victims are murderous and pillaging pirates who have attacked the very ship that is being sent for their rescue. They are hostile toward the captain and his crew and would rather perish than dine at his table. At his own peril, the captain’s son dives into the frigid water, overcomes their hostility and brings them to safety. Had they been left to the ability of their wills, their doom would have been certain.

The question I would like you to ponder is this. Assuming for the sake of argument that synergists are correct in their views, would one not have to assume that God is for every person without exception and that he gave his Son to make salvation possible for every sinner without exception? Would we not have to conclude that God gave up his Son in that sense for every sinner? And if that is the case, how can one escape the conclusion that God has pledged himself to grant “all things” that belong to salvation including glorification to every sinner without exception?


Arminian Presuppostion #3 Refuted

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s take these issues one at a time:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


God is not willing that any should perish.

A visitor to this blog posed the following question:

“why does God in Election only grant ‘some’ the faith to believe? does God ‘want’ all to be saved? Is He ‘not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” as it says in 2 peter 3:9?”

First, God does not grant faith in election but in effectual calling and regeneration. This calling is according to God’s eternal purpose.

Secondly, the Scriptures do not inform us as to God’s reasons for his action. The reality is, He has done as was pleasing to Him and we have no right to question why He has done as He has done.

To the question, “Who is responsible if sinners perish in their sins?” we answer unequivocally, it is the sinner alone who must bear the burden of his guilt before God. God’s free offer of mercy in Christ is openly and universally published, and sincere. His self-disclosure in His created universe, in the human conscience, in His commandments and in His Christ is so resplendent that only creatures whose hearts have been blinded by sin could fail to see His glory. In fact, the Apostle Paul, in the Epistle to the Romans, has informed us that God has revealed Himself in such a way that He would leave us sinners without a reasonable defense if we refuse to glorify Him as God (Romans 1:20-21).

Yet, this is not the only question we must consider if we would be responsible students of God’s Word. We must also ask, “Who is responsible if sinners turn from their sins, embrace Christ in saving faith and enjoy God’s glorious presence for a blissful eternity?” Again, our answer and the consistent answer of Scripture is that it is God and God alone who saves sinners all by Himself.

Some, apparently in a well-meaning but misguided effort to protect God’s character and emphasize the sinner’s responsibility, have imagined a God who never intended that anyone be lost and has limited His sovereignty in this matter to the imagined freedom of the human will or made the success of His efforts to save sinners contingent on the faithfulness of Christians to spread the gospel. Such an idea is reflected in a line from a well-known gospel song that reads, “Jesus would save, but there’s no one to tell them….” Is God so impotent He can find no one to tell them? Romans ten clearly teaches that preachers proclaim the gospel because God sends them to do so. “How shall they preach unless they are sent?” Where is the verse that tells us God has limited His sovereignty in the salvation of sinners to the almighty “free will” of man?

One of the stock proof texts in the arsenal of those who would protect God from any charge of unfairness to sinners is 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord. . .is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” This text is often cited as the absolute proof that God is really helpless in the matter of the sinner’s salvation. “If the sinner goes to hell, we are told, it is not because of God’s will but because of the sinner’s will.” Now, there is little question the Scripture teaches that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked but that the sinner turn from the evil or his way and live. Because He is righteous and holy, He cannot but desire that His creatures also be righteous and holy. In His mercy and compassion, God stretches out His arms to His erring creatures and invites us to return. Yet, though we believe this is clear and incontrovertible truth, it does not tell the entire story. These truths concern the character of a God who delights in mercy. The other issue that is most often ignored concerns God’s eternal decree to glorify Himself in the salvation of sinners. We believe it is impossible to interpret 2 Peter 3:9 as it is commonly understood if we understand the Bible’s teaching about God’s eternal and immutable decree.

We would call your attention, first, to the ellipsis points in the citation of the verse in question. Ellipsis points are inserted to indicate that a portion of a text has been omitted. It is always a good rule of thumb to beware of the dots. We should always ask what has been omitted and why? We must always consider the context out of which proof texts have been extracted. What is the subject under discussion? How does the text fit into that discussion? Does the text appear to be in contradiction to any other portion of the Scripture and, if so, how can the seemingly contradictory texts be reconciled. It is in the effort to seek reconciliation between such texts that theologians are born. The reason we have so few good theologians in our day is that most are accustomed to sweeping under the rug any texts they can’t fit into their “theological systems.”

We rarely hear any quote 2 Peter 3:9 fully and in context. This is how the entire verse reads, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise as some men count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” These words should immediately raise the following questions in your mind.

1. To what promise does Peter refer?

2. How have some counted Him slack [slow] in fulfilling that promise?

3. Who are those who have considered Him slow concerning his promise?

4. Are those he calls “us” different from the “some who have considered him slow concerning His promise?”

5. Does the text say anywhere God has willed to save all sinners?

6. Is there anything in the context that tells us what the effect of God’s longsuffering will be?

If we answer these questions correctly according to the context, it will be impossible for us to hold on to the erroneous belief that God is willing to save sinners, but they just won’t let Him. This view of an impotent deity is absolutely foreign to the Scriptures.

Let’s take these questions one by one and see where the context leads us.

1. To what promise does Peter refer?

Verses three through eight make it clear that the promise about which Peter is writing is the promise of the Lord’s coming to judge and destroy ungodly men. “First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised.”

2. How have some counted Him slack [slow] in fulfilling that promise?

They have scoffed at the idea of judgment and implied He will never come and punish them for ungodliness and unrighteous behavior.

3. Who are those who have considered Him slow concerning his promise?

These are the scoffers Peter has mentioned.

4. Are those he calls “us” different from the “some who have considered him slow concerning His promise?”

Peter clearly distinguishes between these scoffers and those he calls “beloved [dear friends NIV]” and “us.” In this context, he does not talk about God’s longsuffering toward the scoffers but His longsuffering toward “us.” In other passages other New Testament writers address the issue of God’s patience toward the ungodly and state the effects of that patience. In Romans 2:4-5, Paul states that God’s patience and kindness that should cause the sinner to repent actually has the effect of sinners treasuring up more wrath for the day of God’s wrath and judgment. In Romans nine, twenty-two Paul tells us God bears with great patience the objects of His wrath so that He might show His wrath and make His power known. In neither of these cases does the space God gives sinners to repent have any saving effect on the non-elect.

5. Does the text say anywhere God has willed to save all sinners?

The answer is a simple “no.” Before we finish this discussion, we want to address the issue further and ask what would happen if God had willed the salvation of all sinners. Please note there is a difference between God’s published desire and God’s eternal decree.

6. Is there anything in the context that tells us what the effect of God’s longsuffering will be?

Yes. Peter states in verse fifteen that. . .our Lord’s patience [longsuffering] means salvation. . .” In other words, the Lord’s patience eventuates not in the frustration of His purpose but in the salvation of His people. He is longsuffering toward us, not wishing that any of us (His beloved ones) should perish, but that all of us should come to repentance. Interestingly, the text says nothing about God wishing that anyone repent. A better translation would be, “. . .but on the contrary, that all should have room for repentance.” In Romans 9:22, Paul states that God’s purpose in patiently enduring the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction is “to show His wrath and to make His power known.”

Now, consider the popular assumption that God has willed the salvation of all sinners. First, ask whether there is a text of Scripture that states this concept. I suggest one does not exist unless the reader reads the concept into the verse. Second, ask whether such an assertion would contradict other clear statements of Scripture. What does the Bible tell us about everything God has decreed? The answer is unmistakable. God’s will always comes to pass. If God had decreed the salvation of all sinners, all sinners would be saved. God always accomplishes what He has purposed. Consider the following verses.

Psalm 115:3 “But our God is in heaven; He does whatever pleases him.”

Isaiah 46:9-11 “Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say; My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. From the east, I summon a bird of prey; from a far off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do.”

Daniel 4:35 “All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?”

Eph. 1:11 “In him 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.”

These are just a few of the texts that teach us that God acts according to His purpose [decree], and His purpose is never frustrated. What God has willed certainly comes to pass exactly as He has willed it. God saves the sinners He tries to save. Not one of them is lost. Paul wrote,

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. Moreover, those he predestined, he also called, and those he called, he also justified, and those he justified, he also glorified. What shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:28-31)?