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.

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