Monday, August 24, 2009

God's Sovereign Choice (Part 3)

by Bruce Mills

As I promised at the end of Part 2 in this series, this post will deal with the next word used in Romans 8:29-30, which is "predestined." According to these verses, God starts by foreknowing his children, and then it says that the people whom He foreordained to a relationship of loving intimacy, He predestined. It comes from the Greek word proorizw, which means “to mark out beforehand.” He marked them out ahead of time; He wrote down their names; He designated who would be the recipients of His grace and love. Those whom He predetermined to love, He “predestined…to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will” (Eph. 1:5). He started out with a predetermination to love certain ones and on that basis, He marked them out.

Predestination is not synonymous with foreknowledge. Foreknowledge focuses on the distinguishing love of God whereby people are elected. Predestination points to the decision God made regarding what He intended to do with those whom He foreknew. Predestination is that act in eternity past in which God ordained or decreed that those on whom He had set His saving love would inherit eternal life. They are eternally chosen to be the beneficiaries of God's love and grace in salvation, and because God's plans are unchangeable and irrevocable, there can be no other result.

One of the major problems with Arminian theology, and much of contemporary evangelism today, is that it teaches that salvation is predicated on a person’s decision for Christ. But we are not Christians first of all because of what we decided about Christ, but because of what God decided about us before the foundations of the world. Why God would choose certain people to eternal salvation and to eternally set His affections on them and not on others whom He also created is beyond the human mind’s ability to comprehend. When people say that man’s salvation is based on his own choice to believe or not to believe, they are making man the sovereign in salvation, and grace becomes nothing more than the just and fair wages of man’s decision.

So to reject the doctrine of sovereign foreknowledge, predestination, and election is to leave man in charge of his eternal salvation and to make God a lesser god; a diminished deity who sits in heaven wringing his hands, hoping that the people He created will exercise their will to choose Christ, incapable of guaranteeing their salvation apart from their own sovereign choice over the matter. I ask you: Is that the God of the Bible? Absolutely not.

I’m not saying that there aren’t questions such as, “Why did God create unbelievers if He knew in advance that He was not going to choose them and thus, they would always reject Him and never choose to follow Him?” There most certainly are such questions, and it’s okay to ask them, so long as when we ask them, we are not questioning God’s wisdom and justice in these matters. Many people ask those questions because they don’t think it is right for God to act as He has chosen to do.

Paul deals with those issues much more in Romans 9:18-23. Paul is talking about why God chooses some but not others, and here’s what he says. Remember now, this is God speaking to us about how we are to think about these matters.

So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory.

What’s God’s answer? It’s basically, “Shut up. Who are you to question the infinite wisdom of the sovereign Almighty God? I did it in order to reveal My wrath and power and glory to mankind, and that’s all you need to know.”

So be very careful about your attitude and motive in asking such questions about God’s righteousness and justice in His foreknowledge, predestination, and election of individuals to salvation. Just accept what He says in His Word as true and then praise His name that He chose to foreknow, predestine, and call some to Himself rather than justly condemning all of mankind to eternal hell for their rebellion against Him.


Jim said...

Will you explain how your Calvinistic Gospel differs from the Armenian Gospel. I am asking you to clarify the distinction between what differs from your evangelism verses the "much of contemporary evangelism" that you refer to. Seems that most who think they are Calvinists use the doctrine to explain theology, but in reality have in essence the same gospel as an Armenian, resulting in instructing a person to do something. So please expound on how your gospel is different from an Armenian or most "contemporary evangelism" that conveys dependance on man's actions.

Bruce Mills said...

I thought I explained what I meant when I stated "When people say that man’s salvation is based on his own choice to believe or not to believe, they are making man the sovereign in salvation, and grace becomes nothing more than the just and fair wages of man’s decision." But let me clarify.

Arminian theology, on which most contemporary evangelism is based, teaches that man's decision to follow Christ is solely his own, thus elevating human responsibility above divine sovereignty. In effect, man becomes the decisive factor in his salvation.

By way of contrast, Calvinism teaches that God is the one who is sovereign in man's salvation. He foreknew, predestined, and called those who believe. In fact, He regenerates them to new life and grants them the faith to believe, and then they willingly choose to turn to Christ for eternal salvation.

So my point in the post was not to differentiate between a Calvinist's presentation of the gospel as compared to an Arminian, but rather to point out that the Arminian's claim that man is the one who determines whether or not he will become a believer is faulty because it rejects the doctrines of predestination and election and the doctrine of efficacious, irresistible grace.

I might point out that I did not say that the Arminian's presentation of the gospel "conveys dependence on man's actions." Those were your words, not mine. I have many Arminian friends who present the gospel very effectively, but I have many others who present the gospel in a way which attempts to manipulate the individual's emotions to choose to follow Christ. Those efforts are based on their understanding that it is the individual who makes the decision to follow Christ without God's choosing and calling the individual with irresistible grace.

Unknown said...

I'm finding it interesting that anyone would suggest that there is little difference between an Arminian and Calvinist (Reformed) view of salvation. Apparently, those great theological minds of centuries ago missed this as they hammered out tremendous documents, such as the Belgic Confession (Reformed), followed by the Remonstrance (Arminian). As if that weren't enough to demonstrate the divide, those in the Calvinist camp answered yet again with the Synod of Dort. Apparently, they didn't realize that they were all holding to the same soteriology!

Bruce - would you agree that in a sense, when we present the Gospel, what we mean when we say "believe in Jesus", might be better said "receive faith in Jesus"? Faith, the ability to believe in Jesus as the Christ, is a gift of God in and of itself, is it not?

Bruce Mills said...

Josh - I concur that the faith to believe in Christ is granted to us by God. Ephesians 2:8, one of the most famous verses in the Bible, says "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God." So the faith which saves us is given to us by God. It doesn't come from us at all. We can only believe if God gives us the ability to do so.

At the same time, we don't want to make it sound like men are simply robots who receive the gift of faith and then passively trust Christ. In the Gospel of John, Jesus spoke many times of the need to believe in Him, and His statements clearly indicate an active decision on the part of those whom He calls.

In conclusion, how God's sovereignty in our salvation and man's responsibility to believe fit together cannot be fully understood or explained in the finite human mind, but they wonderfully dovetail together in God's infinite mind.

Jim said...

you stated "When people say that man’s salvation is based on his own choice to believe or not to believe, they are making man the sovereign in salvation, and grace becomes nothing more than the just and fair wages of man’s decision."

You see the point I was driving you to, is to demonstrate how the Calvinist who knows these truths actually accomplishes the avoidance of this blunder. You have not accomplished this, in fact you dug the hole deeper, by declaring that many Arminians you know do properly accomplish this?

You seem to be indicating that a proper proclamation should be done in such a way that does not make man the sovereign. I have not heard many "Calvinists" do that and wanted to know how you accomplish that in the message you convey and the instructions. If you could simply explain how you accomplish that in the instruction to the hearer?

You are saying that a proper conveyance and instruction should result in the hearer understanding that he has not the ability to decide.. I do not hear Calvinists accomplish that for the most part. Their Gospel is simply the same. They only differ in the explanation of the results. They do not tell men that God is sovereign and that man is dependent on God. I have rarely heard a “Calvinist” accomplish that but certainly never an Armenian presenting the Gospel. More importantly, how do you accomplish this, and how did the Arminians you know and affirm accomplish this?

Jim said...

To Josh’s comments. These men did not have the same soteriology; it would pain them for someone to think that. The message conveyed to the hearer by the Calvinist of old was different. You do not hear that today. The “Calvinist’s” Gospel has become effectively the same (rendering instruction to man to act and conveying an inferred ability to the hearer in the process). Ironically it is those who think they are Calvinist who have come around to proclaiming the same Gospel those writers arduantly refuted and went to great lengths to warn of its destruction. They did not have the same Gospel and certainly did not have the same soteriology. They proclaimed a different message to the hearer of the Gospel and their sheep differed in the good news that they proclaimed. Today, most who think they are Calvinists are only so in the analysis of the results. These great men labored with these great works, because it affected the message that was proclaimed, not merely an exercise for the accomplished to debate the results.

Bruce Mills said...

Jim, you stated: "The “Calvinist’s” Gospel has become effectively the same (rendering instruction to man to act and conveying an inferred ability to the hearer in the process)."

That statement implies that the gospel does not call the hearer to repent and believe. If that is your definition (and I must assume it is since you wrote those words), you are accusing John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, and Paul of "rendering instruction to man to act and conveying an inferred ability to the hearer in the process," because every one of them called on their listeners to repent and believe.

Your view can only be described as hyper-Calvinism, an approach which has been rejected as incorrect by historic Calvinism. Spurgeon, in particular, had a great deal to say in opposition to that view.

Because I see no reason to continue to debate on this issue as we will not reach agreement, this will be my last comment on this matter. But I sincerely hope you will reconsider your view on these matters, as it does not fit within the parameters of historic Calvinism.

Jim said...

Best wishes on the matter, disappointed that you did not answer the question posed. Third time is a charm they say. It is a valid question to inquire how you accomplish avoiding the very concern you studiously presented. I have the privalege of reading what you wrote and asking for clarification. You did not read an article by me. So please don't take one line and impose on me the logic that your imposing that is not valid. But you do have the ability to answer the question if you choose. How do you insure that you are not gulity of making God the debtor to man's decision. Simple question, not to be refuted as an invalid question because you sense that I am a hyper calvinist based on imposing error to a line that I typed. I want to know how you insure you do not do this, not a trick question and not wanting to argue.

Bruce Mills said...

Jim, I answered your question in my original response to your question. You did not like my answer, so I guess that's where we have to leave it.

I was describing the theological understanding of the gospel from the Arminian's perspective which makes man's decision the basis of his salvation. You want to know how the Calvinist's gospel presentation differs from that of the Arminian. My response is that Jesus and the apostles' presentation of the gospel called men to repent and believe, and both Calvinists and Arminians should do the same in their gospel presentations. The difference is that the Calvinist believes that the ability to repent and believe is entirely God's doing; the Arminian believes it is man who, of his own free will, chooses to repent and believe. As a result, many Arminians present the gospel in a way which essentially says, "God has done His part; the rest is up to you," and they will use strongly manipulative methods to attempt to manipulate the emotions of the individual to make that decision. They use those manipulative methods because, whether they are consciously aware of it or not, they believe that man is the ultimate sovereign in his salvation.

On the other hand, the Calvinist simply says, "Now is the time for you to turn from your sin and trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins." There may be a strong call to repent and believe, but the use of manipulative methods that play on the emotions is unnecessary because the Calvinist knows that God is completely sovereign in a person's salvation.

That is the gospel according to Jesus. And that is how the evangelism of the Calvinist and many (if not most) Arminians differ from one another.