Thursday, December 2, 2010

God the Sovereign restrainer of evil

When speaking of God's sovereignty, like many, I sometimes forget about God's restraining power over sin.  The Reformed position is that God's omniscience is based on his decree (Isaiah 46:10).  That is that God knows all things because He has so ordered them to be that way.  What happens in space and time happens because God's decree gives form to the whole of history.  People often object that this makes us robots, and that the Reformed understanding of God's sovereignty impinges on human free will.  What people often overlook is the fact that God's sovereignty actually restrains the sinful hearts of men and brings about His own good purposes.  The story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis serves to illustrate the sovereign power of God to restrain human freedom that produces evil.

"When they saw him from a distance and before he came close to them, they plotted against him to put him to death.  They said to one another, "Here comes this dreamer!  "Now then, come and let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; and we will say, 'A wild beast devoured him.' Then let us see what will become of his dreams!" But Reuben heard this and rescued him out of their hands and said, "Let us not take his life."  Reuben further said to them, "Shed no blood. Throw him into this pit that is in the wilderness, but do not lay hands on him"--that he might rescue him out of their hands, to restore him to his father.- Genesis 37:18-22

Joseph's brothers were dead set on taking Joseph's life.  Reuben steps in (maybe for selfish reasons) to save his brothers life, but despite Reuben's plea, the rest of his brothers still want to kill him.  Showing the depths of the depravity of man's fallen condition Judah says "...What profit is it for us to kill our brother and cover up his blood? "Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh," And his brothers listened to him"(Genesis 37:26-27). The brothers of Joseph opt to not kill Joseph simply in virtue of practical convenience.  Trying to be somewhat rational Judah feigns some familial emotions to cover up his motives by saying "he is our brother after all."  It is vital to point out that the original intention of Joseph's brothers was to kill Joseph.  The brothers then changed their minds and Joseph was sold into slavery, and not killed.  But this happened not simply because of the sinful whims of man.  This happened because God had a purpose in Joseph being sold into slavery: "Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God..." (Genesis 45:8), "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive."(Genesis 50:20).  Keep in my mind that the text doesn't say that God used what the brothers did and then turned it into good. In one action we have God's good intentions and the evil intentions of the brothers.  The brothers were not robots, they acted on their own sinful desires.  God didn't hold a gun to their head, they did what they desired.  God's decree and purpose are what kept the brothers from carrying out the more sinful action of murdering Joseph.  God's sovereignty restrains the freedom of the fallen sinner.  But how can this work on a system centered around man's free will?  The answer is simple, it doesn't work because free will doesn't exist for man, but for God it does exist.  The brothers did not have the freedom to do other than what God had decreed.  If God hadn't decreed that Joseph would be sold into slavery, and He let them do what their free will desired, then Joseph would have been murdered by his brothers.

Another example earlier in the book of Genesis shows God's freedom to order events as he pleases for His good purposes.  In Genesis 20 Abraham lies to Abimelech by telling him that Sarah was his sister, as a result Abimelech takes Sarah. V.7, God speaking to Abimilech, "Then God said to him in the dream, "Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her."  Again the question needs to be asked, if Abimelech had free will then why did God not let Abimelech sin against Him and touch Sarah?  The answer is obvious, God purposed to preserve the relationship of Abraham and Sarah by restraining the evil of Abimelech.  God's will is what stands, not the freedom of the rebellious sinner. 

The doctrine of God's sovereignty has huge implications for how we view evil and mans freedom.     God's sovereignty is a good thing for it serves to restrain the evil that mankind wants to carry out.  If evil is happening outside of God's decree then it means that purposeless evil is happening throughout the world.  Evil has a purpose because God has a decree to bring about his will through it.  Is there any comfort in the idea that God doesn't want evil to happen and yet it still does?  The Christian can have comfort in God's sovereign hand for He is "...working all things after the counsel of His will" (Ephesian 1:11).  This is why all things have purpose, because God is bringing His will to pass.  God isn't letting things happen because man's freedom is so important, and then getting His purposes out of them later.  He isn't the great cosmic reactor.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

2 Peter 3:9 God is not willing that any of His elect perish.

 "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance." -2 Peter 3:9

A quick citing of the second part of this verse is usually enough for my non-reformed brethren, "not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance."  It's usually enough, it is thought, to put that annoying Calvinist who likes to argue in his place.  This will not do if we are ever going to let the text speak for itself.  The non-Reformed usually assume that "any" and "all" refers to all of the human race. When the context is taken into account this is shown not to be true.  2 Peter 3:9 is a text that strongly supports the Reformed position and not the non-Reformed position.  Adding bold to the following text will help to make this point.

"Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation."  For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water.  But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.  But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.  The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.  But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.  Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!  But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells." -2 Peter 3:3-13

It should be noted that the context of this passage is speaking of the second coming of our Lord, salvation is mentioned in passing.  When reading this text it is obvious that there are two different groups of people being addressed, "Mockers"(unbelievers) and the ones "looking for new heavens and a new earth"(believers).  The "Mockers" are making fun of believers because Jesus hasn't come back yet, much like non-believers do today.  But Peter is quick to point out that God's time isn't like our time.  The "your" in "do not let this one fact escape your notice" and "beloved" in V.8 are addressed to Christians.  This gives us the meaning of: "you," "any," and "all" in V.9.  In V.9 When Peter says that God "is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance," he is referring to Christian's who have the promise of Jesus' second coming and of the new heavens and new earth.  In 2 Peter 1:1 Peter tells us the audience to whom he is writing, " those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours..."  God's elect are the audience of Peters previous letter as well, 1 Peter 1:1 " those who reside as aliens...God's chosen."  The contrast between Christian and non-Christians informs us on how Peter uses "any" and "all" in V.9 as well as his use of "patient toward you."  The use of "you" in V.9 is obviously a reference to Christians.  This is especially the case since only Christian's have the promise of His coming, and the fact that God's patience is only towards Christians.  Thus the "any" and "all" in V.9 are God's elect who God will certainly bring to repentance without fail.

The non-Reformed interpretation of 2 Peter 3:9 has God trying to save as many as He can, but is frustrated since man will not cooperate with His saving grace, as if God's grace needs man's cooperation in order to be effective.  God's effectual grace is a powerful force and cannot fail.  Rather then contradicting the Reformed position 2 Peter 3:9 affirms that God is not willing that any of His elect should perish.  Peter tells his audience that Jesus' second coming has not been delayed but that God is patiently gathering His chosen people.  God isn't trying to bring people to repentance and then being frustrated by the will of Man.  God does require repentance for all of His creatures but He only grants it to His chosen people by His sovereign hand.

Monday, November 1, 2010

2 Peter 2:1 Who is the Master and how did he buy them?

 "But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves." -2 Peter 2:1

On one occasion my significant other and I spent over an hour arguing about this passage.  We were both misinterpreting very key words in the text and it resulted in us being slightly miffed at one another.  Such is the case with a great many whenever discussion of 2 Peter 2:1 ensues.  It is usually assumed that "Master" refers to Christ, and that "bought" is a reference to the atonement.  Hence the interpretation follows that Jesus bought the "false teachers" in a redemptive fashion but they denied "the Master who bought them" by teaching heresy and were lost despite Christ's redemptive work.  The interpretation of this passage just cited is then used to support the idea that Christ's atonement was made on behalf of every single individual and not specifically for His elect.  It is assumed that Jesus can die for someone, and yet never see redemption.  If this "Master" is not Christ, and "bought" does not refer to the atonement, then the interpretation cited above does not fit the text. So then to whom and what do "Master" and "bought" refer?

In 2 Peter 1, Peter urges those that have obtained a faith of equal standing to make their calling and election sure.  He also gives an account for the veracity of the prophetic word, that it is of the Holy Spirit.  Peter does this so his readers can have confidence in what they have been taught, and so they can be aware of false teachers.  Then Peter says this in 2 Peter 2:1 "But false prophets also arose among the people,  just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves."  2 Peter is filled with OT imagery, he refers to Noah, Lot, Sodom and Gomorrah, and Balaam.  In 2 Peter 2:1, he makes a parallel between the false prophets that arose in OT Israel and the false teachers in the NT church, when he says "But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you."  The phrase "the people" is a clear reference to OT Israel. The "false teachers among you" are the false teachers that the NT church had to strive so much against.  It makes sense that Peter would write using OT phraseology since he is referring to the people of the OT, this is important especially when we turn to the phrase "bought".  But first who is the "Master who bought them"?  There are two Greek terms that can be translated "Master" or "Lord," depending on the context, kyrios or despotes.  The normative Greek word applied to Jesus throughout the NT is kyrios for Lord.  That word isn't used here, instead Peter uses the Greek word despotes for the word "Master."  So why doesn't Peter use the normative phrase kyrios? Although Jude verse 4 uses despotes translated "Master" to refer to Jesus, despotes usually refers to God the Father (Luke 2:29, Acts 4:24, Revelation 6:10).

As for the phrase "bought," there are two Greek terms that are used, ktaomai and agorazo.  In 2 Peter 2:1, Peter uses agorazo for "bought." Luke uses ktaomai for the word "acquired" in Acts 1:18, "Now this man acquired a field..."  In Deutoronomy 32:5-6 ktaomai is used for "bought" in the Septuagint.
       "They have acted corruptly toward Him,
         They are not His children, because of their defect;
         But are a perverse and crooked generation.
         Do you thus repay the LORD,
         O foolish and unwise people?
         Is not He your Father who has bought you?
         He has made you and established you"-Deuteronomy 32:5-6

Here we have parallel phraseology with ktaomai in Deuteronomy 32:6 and Peter's use of agorazo.  In both instances they refer to ownership not redemption, especially since not all OT people were saved in virtue of being "bought."  All of Israel would have thought to have been purchased by God out of Egypt in the Exodus account.  By rebelling against God the OT Jews were "denying the Master who bought them" after being "bought" out of Egypt.  Peter is comparing the rebellious Jews of the OT, to the false teachers in the NT.   He is saying that the false teachers of  the NT are in the same place as the OT people, and that by denying who God is they are "bringing swift destruction upon themselves."  Just like the OT people denied the sovereignty and ownership of God over them, the NT false teachers were acting in the same way, they were "denying the Master who bought them," by their false teaching.  As I pointed out above, Peter is using OT phrases to communicate his message, Peter's reference to Deuteronomy 32:5-6 defines how "bought" should be interpreted in 2 Peter 2:1.  It should also be mentioned that everywhere in the NT where it mentions bought, purchase, obtain, acquired in a redemptive sense, a price is always mentioned.  Revelation 5:9 "...and purchased for God with Your blood...."  In 2 Peter 2:1, Peter never mentions a purchase price.  The lack of mentioning the purchase price points us to the fact that Peter is not using "bought" in a redemptive sense.

Given the analysis above it is safe to say that "Master" does not refer to Christ, but to the Father, and that "bought" refers to sovereignty/ownership and not redemption.  The normative word for Jesus isn't used and a purchase price isn't mentioned.  All of these factors make sense given Peter's OT allusion.  They make no sense on the general atonement position.  The idea that Jesus' death paid for the false teachers and yet were lost does not fit the text.  I agree with Wayne Grudem when he refers to 2 Peter 2:1, "Christ's specific redemptive work on the cross is not in view in this verse" (Systematic Theology 600). The context in 2 Peter 2:1 is about false teachers not the atonement.  For clear passages about the atoning work of Christ we must turn to Hebrews 7-10 and Romans 8-9 where the atonement is the main topic of discussion.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Does 1 John 2:2 contradict Calvinism?

"and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world."- 1 John 2:2.

There have been many interpretations of this text throughout church history.  Some see this text as a basis for universalism, the idea that all men without exception will be saved.  Others see the "ours" in the "propitiation for our sins" as a reference to the Christians John was writing to, and the "those of the whole world" to refer to all of humanity.  This then is the basis for what is called universal atonement.  An interpretation strongly clutched by my Arminian/synergistic brethren.  Universal atonement says that the Cross of Christ did not secure the salvation for anyone in particular, and that it only made salvation possible for all men.  The Reformed see "those of the whole world" as a reference to Christians throughout the entire earth.  It is the position of this author that the Reformed stance is the most consistent.  In giving an apologetic for this interpretation it will be vital to define the word "propitiation", and to look at similar texts by the pen of John that are similar in context.

In 1 John 1, John is writing  about the Word of life which is Jesus, and that walking in the Light cleanses us from sin.   Then in 1 John 2:1-2"1My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world."   In V.1 we are told that "we" have an  advocate (gk. paracletos) with the Father.  Advocate means to come alongside in an intercessory manner.  "My little children" and "we" are references to Christians.  Only they have an advocate with the Father, that is what it means to be Christian.  Non-Christians don't have this privilege.  The propitiation is only for the ones that have an advocate with the Father.  This is what is meant by propitiation for "our" sins, the "our" refers to Christians, and "those of the whole world" refers to those who have an advocate with the Father throughout the entire earth.  Paul confirms that Christ's intercession and atonement is only for God's elect in Romans 8:33-34, V.33 "Who will bring a charge against God's elect?...V.34 "Christ Jesus is He who died...who also intercedes for us."  The "us" is God's elect.

"Propitiation: A sacrifice that bears God's wrath to the end and in doing so changes God's wrath towards us into favor" (Grudem Systematic Theology, 1252).

A great many when reading 1 John 2:2 overlook the meaning of  "propitiation" (gk. hilasmos).  If the "world"(gk. kosmos) is universal here, then it means that God's wrath has been satisfied on behalf of the elect and non-elect.  Then the question must be asked: on what basis are the non-elect condemned?  The proponents of the universal atonement position will say "Well it is on the basis of their unbelief."  But such a response is unconvincing since God's wrath has been satisfied on their behalf, and their unbelief would be part of that satisfaction. "For the wages of sin is death," Romans 6:23.  People are condemned ultimately based on their sin.  To say that people are condemned because of their unbelief misses the point, this is like saying a gunshot victim died because he didn't go the the hospital.  Although the victim might have survived if he went to the hospital, that isn't the cause of his death.  It was the gunshot, not his lack of hospital care.  If we take the universal position on 1 John 2:2 than we are left with the grim prospect of God demanding double payment for the sins of the non-elect.  After having the non-elect's sins payed for, they are then left in eternal condemnation to "repay", so to speak, for their sins again.  A grim prospect indeed, John must be using "world" in a different way than the universal atonement position assumes.

Scholars have identified about 14 different uses of the word "world" throughout John's writings.  A brief analysis reveals how John uses "world" in various ways.   It cannot be just assumed that "world" is universal, and that it always means the same thing whenever ever it is used.  In the same chapter as 1 John 2:2,  1 John 2:15 says, "Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him."  If we take "world" to mean all of humanity here, this means that were not supposed to love them.  This is certainly not the case.  In context John is referring here to the "world" as a present evil system and not to all of fallen humanity.  John 17:9, In the glorious high priestly prayer of our Lord, Jesus says, ... I do not ask on behalf of the world..."  Why? because Christians are not of the "world"!  Words like "world" and "all" are often used in the New Testament to emphasize the fact that salvation has been brought to Jews and Gentiles.  They were used to correct the Jewish mindset that the Messiah would only come to save the Jewish nation.  To get a better insight into what is meant in 1 John 2:2 we must look at other texts that have been revealed by God through John.  The following two texts are significant because they both discuss the atonement and the objects of that atonement:

"And they sang a new song, saying,"Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.  You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth."-Revelation 5:9-10.
Notice that the scope of Christ's atonement here is specific, it is has purchased "men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation."  It doesn't say that Jesus purchased by His blood every man "from every tribe and tongue and people and nation."  The specific objects of His atonement are then made "to be a kingdom and priests to our God," "You have made them," "them" refers to the ones He purchased by his blood "from every tribe and tongue and people and nation."  The Reformed see "them" as a parallel concept to the "world" in 1 John 2:2.

"'But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, "You know nothing at all,
nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.  Now he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad."-John 11:49-52.
Here we have Jesus' death bringing about a particular end.  The end being that He gathers the "children of God who are scattered abroad."  These are ones that have been given to the Son by the Father (John 6:37-44).  John 10:11, "I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep."  Here Jesus' life is laid down for a specific people, His sheep.  The shepherd chooses the sheep, not the other way around.  Here again we find a parallel concept to the "world" found in 1 John 2:2, that is the "children of God who are scattered abroad."

This is why the Reformed position is the Biblical position, it is because the Bible presents the atonement as definite and not potential.  It is personal and not general.  Does God really only love those who love Him?  Is His love conditional?  No, He loves whom He chooses to love (Romans 9:11-13).  Can we really say that the precious Blood of Christ comes to no avail for some? Could He really be the propitiation and not the advocate.  No, He is the advocate for those whom propitiation is made.  Is it even possible that the wrath of God being poured out on His beloved Son would somehow, in any way not be effectual?   From all of eternity, the perfect unity in the One Triune God being broken in some sense at the Cross, only to be rendered non-redemptive by the sinner is absurd.  Will their be any condemned sinner in hell yelling "I have rendered Christs' Blood ineffective, He tried to save me but I wouldn't let Him."? Certainly not.  The incalculable cost of the Cross should make us all meditate about this doctrine deeply.  Our redemption is costly, may we never say that Christs' Blood is ineffective in any way.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Does 1 Timothy 2:4 teach "unlimited atonement"?

Discussion of the scope of the atonement of Christ is important.  That is why Christians fight so vigorously for their particular interpretation of this doctrine.  Is the atonement limited or unlimited, and for whom is it intended?  It can be easy to get bogged down by just asserting the "plain meaning" of the text and not giving any foundation for it.  Scripture interprets scripture, and that is why we cannot simply quote a verse without giving the context, this especially is the case when speaking of weighty matters like the atonement of the Son of God. It is also essential that other texts that speak to the issue at hand must be taken into account.  Sadly, some passages are bandied about without assessing the issues within the text; for example, 1 Timothy 2:4 "who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth."  At first glance, it might seem that hundreds of years of reformed theology have just gone out the window with the "simple reading" of this text.  A closer examination of the context surrounding it reveal otherwise.

In 1 Timothy 1 Paul was warning Timothy about teachers that didn't have correct doctrine. Then Paul speaks of others who have been cast out of the church because of their conduct.

 Then, in 1 Timothy 2:1-7 Paul says:

"1 First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men,2 for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.3 This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.5  For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,6 who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time."

In the end of V.1 we get the first use of the phrase "all men."  Then Paul tells us what he means by "all men" in V.2, "kings and all who are in authority."  Paul is saying that all classes of people, even those in authority, should be the objects of prayer.  But why does Paul have to say this?  There are some reasons of note:1. Paul was implying that the false teachers from chapter one were teaching the people not to pray for those in authority, 2. Paul has to command that the those in authority should be prayed for, because those in authority were persecuting the church, hence the church wasn't praying for those that persecuted them.  So Paul is speaking here of a class of people, namely "kings and all who are in authority."  This has bearing on how we interpret V.4, "who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth."  Here in V.4, "all men" means the same thing it did in V.1.  Namely that it refers to "all" different classes of people, not every single person ever to live.  Paul isn't commanding that prayers be made for every single individual in the whole entire world.  Rather, he is urging them to pray for the people that they had been neglecting to pray for.  Not that praying for the whole world is wrong, Paul is just not specifically commanding prayer for every single individual in V.1. V.5 Paul then bases this admonition to pray in the fact that Jesus is the only way to be reconciled to God.  V.6 This is then linked to the mediation and atonement of Christ.  If this mediation is on behalf of every single individual, does it not follow that Christ's mediation fails for some, since all are not saved? If "all" means every person ever to live in V.4, then is it not the case that God's purpose is frustrated by the sovereign will of man?  If we are to take the "all" in these texts as extensive, then it follows that the "ransom" spoken of in V.6  is merely a potential one.
The same thing is going on in Colossians 3 as in 1 Timothy 2:4.  Colossians 3:11 "a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all."  Paul is speaking again about classes of people.  He is saying that the Gospel renews all different kinds of people.  He is obviously not saying that Christ is renewing every single "Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman."

In Mark 10:26-45 Jesus is explaining the need for humility in order to be great in His Kingdom.  Jesus' words in Mark 10:45 are helpful here: "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."  Here Jesus' serving isn't a mere potentiality, and neither is His ransom.  "Ransom" carries this idea of actually paying for the freedom of a slave, and thus resulting in the freedom of that slave.  Notice also that the "ransom" here is for "many" and not all.  This is exactly the testimony of the Bible; that the atoning work of Christ is definite, and it does what it's intended to do.  If this isn't the case, how can one say the atoning work of Christ is perfect when it doesn't reached it's intended goal, which is the salvation of the whole world?  In Isaiah 46, God establishes Himself as the one true God over the idols of Babylon.  In V. 10, God says "... My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure."  If it was God's purpose and good pleasure for the entirety of the human race to be saved, it would happen.  In fact, the intercession of Christ is only for His Bride.  Romans 8:34 "who is the  one who condemns?  Christ  Jesus is the one who died...who also intercedes for us."  Romans 8:33 says who this "us" is--"who will bring a charge against Gods elect? God is the one who justifies."  The "us" is God's elect.  These two texts spell out clearly that the intercession of Christ is only on behalf of His Church.  The reason  a charge can't be put to God's elect is because they have been justified ("He also justified" Romans 8:30).  These verses speak nothing of Christ interceding for the non-elect.  Part of the purpose of God's election is the election unto His intercession.   Intercession and mediation, the ransom and the atonement are all unalterably connected; they are for all kinds of people, but not for every single individual, if it was for every single individual then every single individual would be justified.  Christ intercedes for those He died.  God doesn't try, He accomplishes all of His holy will.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Does Matthew 23:37 teach "resistible grace"?

In discussing issues of soteriology, many resort to asserting the meaning of certain scriptures without offering a Biblical exegesis of the text which is being presented. We all can be guilty of this, so it is important to give a solid interpretation of specific scriptures in light of it's context. One of the big passages that comes up in a discussion of freedom and salvation is Matthew 23:37, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling." Many look to this passage as a proof text for the doctrine of "resistible grace." That is, that Jesus can offer saving grace to some who will ultimately reject it, and frustrate His purposes in trying to save them. Some see "Jerusalem" and "your children," as individual Jews who are rejecting the saving grace of Christ. As we will see, the context of this passage suggests nothing of the sort. It is amazing that those who promote this position will often miss quote this passage,"... how often I wanted to gather you...," changing "your children" to "you." Due to presuppositional bias, this passage is interpreted to fit a certain understanding about freedom and salvation. The understanding being that Jesus is trying to save them but they were unwilling and so Jesus can't save them now, because man will not allow Him. This is what is called "synergism," the idea that God is dependent on the human will to save. But is this really what Jesus is saying here? Context, like I said, is key.

In Matthew chapter 23 while speaking to the crowds and His disciples, Jesus rips into the scribes and Pharisees for the entirety of the chapter. Jesus announces 7 woes over the leadership of Israel. One of the woes is that the leadership of Israel throughout it's history continually shuts out the kingdom of heaven from the people V.13, "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in," a theme that is parallel to V.37. When Jesus rebukes "Jerusalem," he is rebuking the leaders of Israel. Prophets were sent to the leaders of Israel, and consequently it is the leaders who kill the prophets who were sent to them. This is what the Pharisees were doing by trying to hinder the message of Jesus. They were shutting out the kingdom of heaven from the children they were supposed to be leading. The phrase "your children," is referring to the people under the leadership of Israel, the Pharisees. In this passage it isn't the "children" who are "not willing", it is the leaders. Throughout the ministry of Christ the leaders were doing everything they could to hinder Jesus and His message. The common people flocked to see Jesus and hear His teaching, but the Pharisees tried desperately to obstruct the progress of Christ and His ministry. Therefore Matthew 23:13, and V.37, are judgment passages directed towards the leaders of the people Israel for obstructing Jesus' ministry. They are not passages that teach man's free will to resist the "effectual grace" of God in salvation. In fact, the specific inner work of the Spirit of God which draws men to salvation is not in view here.

But are we surprised that the Pharisees tried to shut out Jesus and His message? Especially given the 5th woe in Matthew 23:25-26, that they are clean outwardly but their hearts are darkened on the inside? Of course they are unwilling, as sons of Adam they are radically enslaved to a corrupt nature. Listen to the word of our Lord in John 8:43-44, "Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies." How can fallen man turn to the truth of God if he can't even hear it? As children of the devil, fallen sinners are free to do what is natural to them, lie and reject God. John 8:32, "and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." John 8: 34, "... everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin." If we are all free to accept and reject God at our leisure then what are we being set free from here? As slaves to sin, sinners cannot choose anything outside of their nature. Jesus has to set sinners free so they can hear his word. John 8:36, " So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed." Jesus is telling the people that they cannot hear Him because they are not free. They are children of the devil and enslaved to sin.

The unwillingness of the Pharisees doesn't show that God is dependent on them, in fact it leads us straight to the doctrine of "total depravity." It points to the condition of fallen humanity. Unless God shows mercy on the fallen sinner's heart, he will always be unwilling. We know what happens at the end; Jesus conquers death and secures the salvation of His bride. The unwillingness of the leaders of Israel didn't hinder Jesus. Jesus doesn't try, He accomplishes.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sovereignty, Ability, and Responsibility.

Whenever someone makes the objection that God wouldn't command something that we cannot do, they are in effect echoing the very words of the anonymous objector in Romans 9:19, "You will say to me then, 'Why does He still find fault for who can resist His will?'" This is in response to V. 18, "so then, He has mercy on whom He desires and He hardens whom He desires." Paul anticipates the very objection that we still hear so often today; the fallen sinner is outraged that God is sovereign over his choices. The objection above presupposes that in order for man to be responsible, God cannot be sovereign over his will. If God is sovereign in that way, it means that what God does is somehow unfair to the rebel sinner. However, we need to say that God is absolutely sovereign, not partially sovereign or sovereign to a certain point. To say that God is only sovereign to a point in order to preserve human freedom is to severely delimit God to the will of the creature, in effect, making Him not actually sovereign. I have even heard some say, "He is so sovereign that He gives up His sovereignty!"

The presuppositions are many; another is that God is in some sense obligated to give an equal opportunity to all of fallen humanity, and that God wouldn't command from us what we cannot do because that wouldn't be fair or just. But do wicked sinners really want justice? No they don't, they should want free grace and unmerited mercy. If they received justice they would receive wrath. These misconceptions come from a distorted picture of how God accomplishes salvation in the Bible, as it pertains to sovereignty and freedom. I know what you're going to say--"you can't explain the unexplainable!"-- but doesn't this border on a denial of the perspicuity of scripture? I agree that there are aspects of scripture that cannot be fully known or are hard to grasp, but does this mean that their isn't a certain level of clarity of scripture? Isn't scripture clear that God is the author and finisher of our faith? Could it not be argued along the same lines as the objection above, that God wouldn't reveal what we can't understand?

Some think that God looks down the corridors of time and sees who will believe, and based on that, He predestines them for salvation. This is called the prescience or foreknowledge view. The problems with this view are many. One problem is that it essentially says that God learns, that He flings a world into existence and then sees what is going to happen. Then, after He passively takes in knowledge about this world, He gets His purposes out of it. In prophecy this makes God not the One who decrees all things, but basically a reporter of future events. That is not how scripture reveals God's knowledge. Scripture defines God's knowledge as being based on His decree (Daniel 4:35, Isaiah 46:8-11). The foreknowledge view is based on a faulty interpretation of the golden chain of redemption in Romans 8:29-30. "Those whom he foreknew" is seen as God having foreknowledge of certain facts about people, namely that they would choose Him (for example H.C. Thiessen, LST, 260). But "foreknew"(gk. proginosko), is an action; it is a verb not a noun. God is actively having a saving relationship with His people in eternity past. To be known is to be intimately involved and saved by God. 1 Corinthians 8:3,"but if one loves God, one is known by Him." God foreknows people--not merely facts about them. Also, if we take the prescience view, then we are essentially talking about a "salvation based on works," as Spurgeon has so aptly pointed out. If God is drawing all men without exception, that means that salvation is ultimately based on something in the believer, rather than in God's choice in election (Romans 9:11). God's grace can be free and unmerited, if and only if God's purpose in election, not man's will, is the determining factor in its distribution. That is why Romans 9:16 says, "it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who shows mercy." Paul here denies any human action as being the cause of salvation, and places everything wholly in the hands of God. These are the main reasons the reformers said, "Soli Deo Gloria!," "to God alone be the Glory!" God makes no room for man's glory in His redemptive economy.

Some object that if people do not have the ability to repent and come to God, then it is disingenuous for God to command that which we cannot do. However, God throughout the Bible commands us to do things that we are simply not able to do. Matthew 5:48 "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." My friends, that is not good news. Is Jesus being deceitful here because he commands us to be perfect--something that cannot possibly be accomplished? Certainly not! Also, in Romans 8:5, Paul compares the people in the flesh and people in the Spirit. V.7 "the mind set on the flesh is hostile towards God, for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so," V.8 "and those who are in the flesh cannot please God." It is clear that Paul makes a distinction between believers and non-believers; for, in V.9, Paul says,"however you are not in the flesh, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you..." Douglass J. Moo put it this way, "What Paul says in vv. 8-9 makes clear that the contrast between "being in the flesh" and "being in the Spirit" is a contrast between non-Christian and Christian" (NICNT Epistle to the Romans, 468). Man in his radical corruption is incapable of pleasing God and following His commands. Man's choosing God is obviously pleasing to God. We need the Spirit of God to please Him. These passages above demonstrate that not all have the Spirit of God and therefore not all have the ability to please Him. Only those with the Spirit of God can please Him. These passages lay to waste any concept of prevenient grace (the concept that God gives everyone the equal grace to respond to the Gospel).

There are also misconceptions about God's decrees, which usually cause the reformed and non-reformed to talk past each other. The non-reformed seem to think that because God requires Holiness from His creatures, that must mean that those commands for holiness wrap up the entirety of his decree. Some also seem to think that this means God doesn't have a will that decrees all that comes to pass in space and time. The reformed see a biblical distinction between the prescriptive will of God (Matt 5:48), which is expressed through his law and prophets, and the will of God that decrees all things that come to pass (Isaiah 46:8-11), Isaiah 46:9, "Declaring the end from the beginning...." Nebuchadnezzar knew the reality of God's will that decrees all things; Daniel 4:35,"All of the inhabitants of the earth are counted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the Host of Heaven, and no one can ward off his hand, or say to Him ,'what have you done?'" Nebuchadnezzar then praises God in V. 37, as we all should. If God isn't decreeing all things to come to pass, then who is? The presence of evil and the fall are all seen in God's eyes as having an ultimate good, His Glory. For if He decrees sin, He shares not the responsibility of that sin with the sinner. His intentions are always Holy and Good and the sinner's are always evil.

The synergistic system also sees two different aspects to God's will. On the synergistic system, God wills that all men be saved, and that man has the capacity to respond to God. But all men aren't saved, so it follows that the preservation of man's free will is that part of God's will that He, in a sense, wills more than the first part--that is, that all men be saved. This then makes man the very center of what God does. It makes God's ultimate purpose the preservation of freedom for the sinner. What this amounts to is man centered religion. J.I. Packer pulls no punches, "Arminianism is 'natural' in one sense, in that it represents a characteristic perversion of Biblical teaching by the fallen mind of man." The reformed take a different approach; they say that ultimately God's purpose is to glorify Himself in the perfect salvation of a particular people. His decrees being to the end that He glorifies Himself.

There is also confusion about the term "irresistable grace." This term is a little misleading, because people obviously resist the grace of God constantly, and they will continue to do so (unless God opens the heart of the sinner in His rebellious crimes against God). This is why the reformed have opted for a more definitive term: "effectual grace." Reformed theologians make a distinction between God's common grace, which is given to all, and effectual grace. Effectual grace means that God doesn't just initiate salvation, but that He also follows through and completes that action. If God initiated and left salvation in the hands of men, then heaven would be void of human presence, given man's radical fall into sin, as we have seen from passages above. Common grace has to do with the fact that God gives all men different types of blessings; like the fact that they are created and they get to live in God's created universe. Even the non-elect get common grace, they succeed in life and sometimes prosper more than the elect. These are all examples of God's common grace. Effectual grace is different because it deals specifically with salvation. Reformed theologians also make a distinction between the outer gospel call, and the inner gospel call. Jesus says in Matthew 22:14, "many are called (outer call) but few are chosen (inner or effectual call)." The gospel call goes out to all (outer), but God only shows "effectual grace" to some in opening their hearts to respond (inner). God mercifully changes the God hater to a God lover in the new birth. If we all have the same ability, then what does the new birth accomplish? The new birth gives the fallen sinner the ability to respond; this is impossible without the inner call, or effectual grace.

As we saw earlier, this is the only way for God to be wholly the author and finisher of our faith. This pleases Jesus; that God only gives revelation to some and not others. Matthew 11:25-27, "At that time Jesus said, 'I praise you Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well pleasing in Your sight. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, nor does any one know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills reveal to Him.'" God's revelation is hidden from some, because God has hidden it from them; He hasn't opened their hearts to see it. Furthermore, man's darkened and stony heart doesn't want God; Romans 3:11 "...There is no one who understands, not even one, There is no one who seeks after God...." How can people come to God if no one understands or seeks Him? Men can come to God, if and only if God removes their hearts of stone and gives them a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26-27), and changes their hearts desire to desire God. Man cannot perform this action or even want this action to take place, only God can. The doctrine of effectual grace is throughout the Bible.

John 6:36, "But I have said to you that you have seen me, and yet do not believe." Jesus is explaining the unbelief of the people. V.37 "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out." The non-reformed try to put an emphasis on the coming of the sinner. Essentially they put the text on it's head making it say "All who come to me the Father will give to me!" But that emphasis is totally foreign to the text and context. It is the giving of the Father that results in the coming. Notice, the giving comes first, then the coming. God doesn't just initiate and leave it there. The theme of God being the author and finisher of our faith continues. V.44, "No can come to me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day." The word "draw"(gk. helkuse) used here is the same word translated as "dragged" in Acts 21:30, when Paul was dragged out of the temple. It is also used when Simon Peter draws up a net of fish (John 21:11). The word means "to compel", it indicates an initiated and completed action. Jesus is speaking of the inability of man, "no one can come to me." Something has to happen before someone one can come, namely the drawing of the Father. The people Jesus was talking to were following him for the wrong reason. He's basically implying that they are not being drawn by the father, because their intentions are not of God--they were seeking physical bread and not the true Bread of Life. If this is not the case, then why is Jesus saying all these things repeatedly? At the end of the passage in V.44, the ones drawn are then raised. We are not universalists. All are not drawn; since all are not raised up.

The non-reformed try to get around this by positing two different "hims" in V.44. They jump to John 12:32 to make their point, "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men unto myself." This supposedly is evidence that you can be drawn and not raised up. Since "all men", is thought to be every single person to live after the cross. But this is hardly a convincing argument, for it completely ignores the context. In John 12:20, Greeks are seeking to see Jesus but cannot due to the divisions in the temple. Jesus never reveals himself to them, and then says in V.32," ...if I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men unto myself." I think the NKJV captures the sense by translating all men as "all peoples." The indication of the context is that when Jesus is crucified, he will then draw people of all races without distinction, since He never reveals himself to the Greeks. His crucifixion breaks all bounds of racial segregation; He says that He will draw "all men," meaning Jews and Gentiles when He is crucified. Jesus breaks down the "parameters of Sinai," as D.A. Carson Puts it (PNTC John, 438). The meaning the non-reformed try to put on John 12:32 and then try to import into John 6:44 makes no sense given that the contexts in both instances are different. Also, the people in John 6 would not be aware of John 12:32 thus making Jesus' words to the people in John 6 meaningless. In John 6:65, Jesus repeats what He has been saying again! "...for this reason I have said to you that no one can come to me unless it has been granted him by the Father." Jesus said this because in V.64 it says He knew who would believe. In V.66, as result of what Jesus said, many of them left, demonstrating Jesus' truthful testimony about them; V.37, they were not given by the Father to the Son; V.44, the Father was not drawing them; V.65, and it had not been granted to them by the Father to come to the Son. Any idea of previenent grace is alien to Jesus. In these tremendous texts we see the expression of the glorious "Doctrines of Grace," known by the acrostic T.U.L.I.P.

The presupposition for God to be genuine in the gospel call, people must have the ability in themselves to respond to that call is not a biblical concept. In fact, Paul answers that objection in Romans 9:20; "On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, 'Why have you made me like this' will it?'" Then in V.21, Paul asserts God's right to do with His creation what He wills. Paul states the very absurdity of clay speaking to its molder. In the same way, Paul says this simply isn't an objection we can make; it is as absurd as a piece of clay talking. God is the potter and we are the clay; God commands holiness for His creatures, even though they are not capable in themselves of this holiness. This way God does everything and has all the glory. God is the standard of what is true, genuine, and just. To say that God wouldn't do this is an objection that comes from somewhere else, it does not find itself in the pages of scripture. The idea that commands and responsibility presuppose ability, or that ought implies can, is primarily a secular philosophical notion. The reformers saw philosophy as the handmaid of theology, not the other way around. We can't drag secular philosophical notions into scripture. If we are to allow scripture to interpret scripture (which is a reformed concept) in light of its context (the analogy of faith), then we must let scripture define freedom and responsibility. Freedom does not make us responsible, God does. All we need to be responsible is someone to hold us accountable. Why is there so much concern over man's freedom? We should be more concerned with the freedom of God. When God's freedom and mine meet, I lose. Therefore, these contentions aren't with those pesky prideful Calvinists', they are with the Biblical testimony.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Does talking about calvinism and arminianism divide the body?

In a short answer to the title of this post, one word is sufficient. Yes. This topic divides, even more than any other Christian doctrine it seems. Tempers can flare and world-views are challenged whenever this doctrine comes up. For some, the word predestination is a high and lofty theological word. Tradition gets in the way of interpreting the scriptures, so much so that even devoted Christians don't even know that the word predestine (Romans 8:29, Ephesians 1:5, Acts 4:28) is even in the bible. This is because people fail to identify their presuppositions when reading the Bible; so, when words like election and predestination come up, the tradition broom comes and sweeps them away. Yes, this subject divides, but does that mean that conversation stops?

Whenever this issue comes up, someone is bound to say "hey what you are doing is divisive and Jesus doesn't like it!" Notice that this is essentially a conversation stopper. No arguments are actually addressed. Discussion stops because what the synergist does is more or less throw out a red herring. When the synergist's arguments fail, they reach into their back pocket next to Servetus and pull out the ole "dividing the body" card. It should be obvious that whenever two parties disagree, there is division, one on one side and the other on the other side. That is the nature of disagreements. Division. So when that card is pulled, its like saying "stop disagreement", "move along and stop talking about this."

Now don't get me wrong, I want to be united with my brothers and sisters in Christ, but that unity is to be in TRUTH. There is a tendency in modern evangelicalism, which has been brought in by secularism, to promote love over truth. Why? Because love is easier and it's a nice, warm and fuzzy concept that everyone can agree on. I often hear "I guess in the end it doesn't really matter." This is another tactic for avoiding conversation. What it does is protect the person from being wrong, and it just puts the subject in the back of the mind. This one is especially mind boggling to me because on any other doctrine, whether it be the trinity or the deity of Christ, Christians seek to be correct. What you believe about God will change your life. Would any true Christian say "well I guess the doctrine of hell doesn't matter" simply in virtue of its divisive nature?

One other conversation stopper I frequently hear is "they are both wrong". You certainly won't hear a Calvinist making that argument. I really think this one is simply disingenuous or just mistaken, because asking about what this person believes will most of the time unveil some type of synergistic system. It also fails to take into account that Calvinism and Arminianism, monergism and synergism, are two completely different systems of thought, and that there simply is not a middle ground. Four point Calvinists are not Calvinists. You cannot hold to unconditional election and then turn around and deny limited atonement--well I guess you could if consistency isn't a matter you hold in high regard. As if the atonement could be for the elect and non-elect, in which case the words atonement, and elect would lose all meaning. This is why historically the doctrine of substitutionary atonement has been a reformed doctrine. You can't be crucified with Christ and at some point not be crucified with Him, and not gain the benefits of the atonement(Galatians 2:20, Romans 8:29-34). If someone has their sins atoned for then that means they will be justified. Early Arminians recognized this and by doing so they adopted what is called the governmental theory of the atonement, which says that Christ suffered because of sin and didn't die for it.

"You worship Calvin and not Jesus."
Absurd as this comment is, amazingly it still gets an enormous amount of use. Allow me to interpret this, " I can't answer your arguments about: John 6, Romans 9, Ephesians 1, Hebrews 7:23-25, Acts 2:32, Acts 4:28, Genesis 50, Isaiah 10, and Isaiah 46:8-11. So I will accuse you of idol worship." Calvinists don't believe that Calvin saved them. I don't quote from Calvin's institutes as inerrant scripture. I do believe some of the same things that Calvin taught especially about soteriology, and so did Luther, Augustine, Spurgeon, Edwards, and others throughout church history. Along with them I also don't agree with everything that Calvin taught. The title Calvinist carries a lot of baggage. Largely this is due to misinformation and misrepresentation. Calvinism means you believe a certain set of propositions concerning Christianity, and none of those propositions entail Calvin worship.

Another one is "hey, you're into theology and I'm not". Everyone believes something about God, especially Christians. Christians read and study their Bibles; they listen to their pastors. All of these are ways of studying God. All Christians are theologians, the only question is: are you a good one? A huge problem in the western church is, as Dr. Greg Bahnsen puts it, "anti-intellectual pietism." There is this idea about studying theology--that it is this dry, non-spiritual act. What most Christians today are really seeking after is an emotional experience, if something doesn't feel good or fair then it must be wrong, and if you think too much you are going to miss the point. Does this mean that we should think less? Is this really the message of the Bible? Or is the message of the Bible to have Christ as Lord over everything, even in our realm of thought; to have Christ as Master, as He has revealed Himself--not how we want Him to be. That is why this issue deserves so much attention; because fundamentally what we are talking about is, who is Christ? how has He revealed Himself? It totally distorts who Christ is if we sacrifice truth for some kind of illusion of unity, which is exactly what unity is if there is no foundation of truth.

The ultimate reason why debating Calvinism and Arminianism, monergism and synergism, is divisive, is because one side strips man of his so-called "autonomy", and emphasizes man's fallen nature. One side has God on His throne doing what He wishes with His creation (Isaiah 46:8-11), the other has God waiting desperately for man to turn His key because God has already turned His. One side has God saving perfectly (John 6:37-44), the other has God trying but failing to save. If you believe that salvation depends ultimately on your "free will" decision for God, then that will affect your life. What you believe about God has a huge impact on the way you: worship, tithe, pray, eat, breathe, live, you name it. Believing that God saves sinners by Himself, and not after you allow Him, will change you. Theology matters.