Saturday, April 3, 2010

Understanding God and Predestination (Second Edition)

by Babu G. Ranganathan

How do we as Christians reconcile the freedom of man's will with God's sovereign and unmerited grace in salvation? Many Christians will give God all the credit and glory for the payment of their sins at Calvary but when it comes to believing in Christ they give themselves either all or some of the credit and glory. This issue, therefore, needs serious Biblical examining.

The will is only as free as its nature. For example, God has free will but He cannot choose to do evil since it is contrary to His nature. The Scripture says in Hebrews 6:18 that it is impossible for God to lie. God cannot even want to lie or do evil. In 1 John 1:5 we read that "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all." God isn't a robot just because He doesn't have the free will to do evil!

Are you going to say a fish in the sea isn't free because it can't live on the land? A fish is only as free as its nature. God is only as free as His nature. Man is as only as free as his nature. None of these are robots just because they don't have an absolutely free will. That robot example Arminians use is way over done!

But, doesn't Scripture say "All things are possible with God" (i.e. Matthew 19:26)? How can both be true? How can it be impossible for God to lie and, yet, all things be possible with God? The word "all" must be understood in the over-all context of Scripture. The Bible doesn't explain itself. We must compare Scripture with Scripture and study carefully the context of all of Scripture. What the Bible is teaching is that all things which are not contrary to God's nature are possible with Him. So, there is no real contradiction.

Fallen man has free will but he cannot choose God on God's terms. Fallen man is free to choose God on man's terms, but in order for an individual to choose God on God's terms that individual must first receive a new nature, a new heart - he must be born again, otherwise he cannot want God on God's terms.

The Apostle Paul said to Timothy that he was persuaded that Timothy had "unfeigned" faith (2 Timothy 1:5). The word "unfeigned" means "genuine." Thus, it is not simply enough to have faith in Christ for salvation, but Scripture teaches that faith must be genuine. Only genuine faith in Christ will save. Our motives for believing must be right. Tell me whose free will has the ability to control one's motives. The natural man cannot ever have spiritual motives that are Godward. He must be born again in order to have such motives.

The Bible teaches that the carnal mind is enmity with God and cannot even be subject to God (Romans 8:7). Before a person is born again that is all that he has - a carnal mind which is only free to think, will, and desire carnal things including carnal religion. Fallen man's will is only free to hate God either actively (i.e. Atheism) or passively (not having any interest in God's glory). God must choose to save a person and give him new birth before such a person can ever desire God on God's terms.

Romans 11:5-6 teaches that election (God's choosing those who would be saved) is by grace, that is it is not based on our works. God didn't choose those who would be saved because they would choose Him, but, rather, we who are saved chose God because He chose us by His grace in Christ before the foundation of the world.

Doesn't Romans 8:29 teach that God chose those whom He foreknew would choose Him? No!That is not what the verse teaches. The verse does not say "Whom God foreknew would choose Him ..." The verse says "Those God foreknew He also predestined ..." What the verse is saying, in context, is that those whom God knew intimately and personally even before they were born God predestined to be saved. The word "know" or "knew" here has an intimate connotation. Just as God said to Jeremiah in the Old Testament "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you" (Jeremiah 1:5). Yes, God knows everything, but it's not in that sense that the word "foreknow" is being used here in Romans 8:29.

In Scripture God's foreknowledge also has the meaning of His design or plan, not just that He knows beforehand what will happen. The Book of Acts says that Christ was crucified according to the "determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:23). Thus, God's foreknowledge was the primary cause of Christ's crucifixion because the Father planned and designed for His Son to be crucified.

If God's choosing us was based upon our choosing Him then we have something to glory in, but we don't have anything to glory in because Romans 11 teaches that God elected (chose us) for salvation by His grace. Election was unconditional. God's choosing us to be saved was not based on any condition in us or from us. The Biblical fact is if we are truly saved then we chose God because He chose us. That is what makes the doctrine of election precious. Of course, God knew that we who are saved would choose Him but He only knew that because He had already chosen us (predestined us) to choose Him!

Jesus says in John 6:37 "All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me; and him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out." And we read in Acts 13:48 "For as many as were ordained (predestined) to eternal life believed." Only those chosen in Christ by God the Father will ever truly and genuinely believe and trust in Christ for salvation.

He died for His sheep, not only for His sheep in Israel, but for His gentile sheep in every tribe and nation of the world. It's in that sense He died for the world. Those whom He died for cannot go to hell otherwise they would be paying a double price. If He truly died and paid for someone's sins then how can that someone go to hell and pay a debt that was already paid on his behalf.

A co-signer to a loan is legally responsible for paying the debt of the person whom he legally stands in the place of in case the borrower defaults in his payment. Once the co-signer pays the bank can no longer go after the borrower!

In Romans 5 we read that the First Adam represented the whole human race, and when he fell the whole human race fell with him and became guilty, but the Second Adam (Christ) represented all those for whom He died and all of them will one day be saved. The guilt of Adam was imputed to all mankind even though we didn't individually and personally commit Adam's sin, but because we were connected to Adam and Adam was our head Adam's guilt became our guilt. Romans 5 says we were made guilty. We were guilty before we were conceived in sin. It would be unrighteous for an innocent (non-guilty) being to be conceived in sin or inherit a sinful nature.

Because Christ represented His sheep (His elect) the righteousness of Christ is imputed to all His sheep. Unlike in Adam's case the imputation doesn't happen automatically. Christ's sheep must personally believe in Him to have Christ's righteousness imputed, but God guarantees that. That's what Romans 8:29-30 is all about. Then why preach the Gospel? God ordains the Gospel of preaching to accomplish His ordained end of saving His sheep. God works in our hearts to do His will (obey His command) to share the Gospel towards that end. More on that later.

But, you ask how can it be fair for us to become guilty of Adam's sin? Well, how could it be fair for Christ to become guilty of our sins on the Cross? This is the way God arranged it. Look at it this way. No one can do good apart from God's sovereign grace. We would have committed the same sin Adam committed if God left us to ourselves as He did to Adam. God didn't force Adam to sin but God ordained Adam's fall so that He could show He could show His glory and undeserved grace and love in redeeming us through Christ.

Even the words "all" and "every" in Scripture must be understood in their context. Sometimes in Scripture the word "all" means every single person and at other times it means all kinds (i.e. Jew, Gentile, every tribe and people, etc.) or everyone in a particular category such as when Paul says in Romans 5 that "all will be saved.” Obviously, Paul didn't mean every single person but the “all” whom Christ died for through His substitutionary sacrifice. Christ died for His elect only, Jew and Gentile, from every nation.

If Christ paid for everyone's sins then no one should go to hell because that would mean a double payment on the debt. If you owe a million dollars in debt and someone paid that debt for you then you shouldn't have to owe that debt anymore by having to pay a million dollars yourself.

Yes, we have to personally believe in Christ to be saved, but that is guaranteed because Scripture teaches in Romans 8:29 that all whom He predestined will believe.

Now, I truly believe God wants every single person on earth to be saved but His sovereign (or effectual) will is to save only His elect (from every nation and tribe, both Jew and Gentile) whom He chose in Christ by His unconditional, unmerited and undeserving grace from before the foundation of the world for the purpose of glorifying His grace that no flesh may glory in His presence.

In John 3:16, when our Lord said, "whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life," in the context of Scripture what He meant by the word "whosoever" is "Jew or Gentile." The Jews thought salvation was meant only for them. Christ corrected that by saying that salvation was for the world, for all nations and tribes. For we read in other Scriptures that Christ has His sheep, His elect, chosen by God's grace, in every nation and tribe. This is what Christ meant when He said to the Jews "I have other sheep" (John 10:16). By "other" He meant His elect Gentile sheep in other nations.

2 Corinthians 5:19 says, "To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation." The word "world" here has to mean His elect, His sheep, because it says that their sins were not imputed to them. The only ones in the world who don't have their sins imputed to them are Christians, so by the word "world" He must be talking about His elect, His sheep in every nation, who, by God's grace, will one day become Christians, believers, through the preaching of the Gospel.

The Kingdom of God is spiritual. Jesus Himself said so when He said "the Kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21). The Kingdom of God is not a physical place. So, when Christ said that "Except a man be born again, He cannot see the Kingdom of God" (John 3:3), by definition He could not be talking about seeing the physical beauties of heaven. He was teaching spiritual truths about the Kingdom through His parables. So, the word "see" in John 3:3 cannot be referring to physical sight. Again, in the Greek, the word for "see" in John 3:3 has the meaning of "understand." Just like when you ask someone, "Do you see (understand) what I've been saying?"

The new birth is necessary before a person can see (understand) the Kingdom of God. This understanding of the Kingdom begins with a person really seeing his sin (not in a mere intellectual way, but knowing and feeling his deep sinfulness, his utter wretchedness, and being truly, genuinely sorry for his sin and looking outside of Himself to God alone for His salvation). I'm talking about genuine sorrow. Judas was sorry for his sin but not genuinely. Judas was only bothered by the guilt of his sin. There was no true sorrow over the sin accompanying his guilt. Peter, on the other hand, after he denied the Lord had both guilt and true sorrow over his sin.

Until a person is born again, he only has a sinful nature. How could that sinful nature produce true faith in Christ? If the sinful nature could produce true repentance and faith in Christ, then why receive a new nature at all? Why be born again? The sinful nature would then be good enough to live the entire Christian life by faith!

Where in the Bible does it say we need to have genuine faith? In 2 Timothy 1:5 the Apostle Paul says, "When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also." The word "unfeigned" in the passage means "sincere," "genuine." Only genuine faith in Christ saves. The old nature cannot produce true faith in Christ. Only the new nature, given and directed by the Holy Spirit can produce true and genuine faith in Christ.

There are other passages in Scripture teaching that true and genuine faith in Christ is necessary for salvation. The sinful nature can produce false faith in Christ but not true or genuine faith in Christ. That's only possible through the new birth.

In John 2: 23-24 says that some believed on Christ but were not saved because their faith was false, "Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. 24 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men."

Does Hebrews 6 teach that a believer who becomes an apostate can't be brought back to repentance? No. Is it possible for a true believer to commit apostasy? Yes. And, such a one can be brought back to repentance. Hebrews 6 has been misinterpreted even by Calvinists.

Christians may commit apostasy and still be saved but they will not escape God's fiery judgment here on Earth. After judgment they will be able to come to renewal of repentance but not before!

In Hebrews 6, the Apostle was telling certain Christians that they were in danger of their hearts becoming so hardened that they would not be able to repent before they are judged. The Apostle gives an example towards the end of Hebrews 6 of how land that does not bear fruit will be burned of its weeds, thorns, etc. The land itself will not be destroyed and may afterwards become profitable to produce fruit. The Jews were known, in ancient times, to burn land that only produced weeds, thorns, etc, so that it may be used afresh again. Obviously, the use of the word "land" represents Christians (believers). He wasn't saying it was impossible altogether for apostate Christians to repent. In context, the Apostle was simply saying that it would be impossible for apostate Christians to come to repentance before they experience fiery trial and judgment for their apostasy. (These thoughts were gleaned from reading The Bible Knowledge Commentary a work of the Dallas Theological Seminary faculty).

In 1 Timothy 1:19-20 Paul tells us that certain Christians who committed apostasy will remain saved but not escape judgment here on Earth. Paul says, in the passage, that he delivered Hymenaeus and Alexander, who had shipwrecked their faith (committed apostasy), to Satan so that that THEY WILL LEARN NOT TO BLASPHEME. The Apostle is saying that they would come again to repentance because they would learn not to blaspheme. God will use Satan to discipline them, and God only disciplines His true children. God leaves reprobates alone! (Donald Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles from The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries).

But, doesn't Scripture say that we're kept by faith? How, then, can an apostate Christian still be saved when he has shipwrecked that faith?

The Apostle Paul said, "For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day" (2 Timothy 1:12).

Paul was talking about everything concerning him, not just his ministry, but also his soul, his faith. That is true of every true believer. Notice the word “committed.” It’s in the past tense. So, even if a Christian shipwrecks his faith, the faith that he once committed to God, will be kept by God and keep the Christian from utterly failing, even if it means severe judgment before bringing the Christian back to repentance.

Most Christians don’t understand the difference between our position in Christ and our condition.  For example, haven’t you ever asked yourself why, as a believer in Christ, you need to ask forgiveness to God for your sins but, yet, the Bible says before God’s eyes you are as righteous and as sinless as Christ because God sees you as you are in Christ. How can both be true?

Our being as righteous as Christ is our position in Christ, not our condition now. Position has to do with our legal status. When the Bible says that by faith in Christ we are justified (declared not guilty), it is referring to our position. The term “justification” has solely a judicial meaning. Judicially we are declared not guilty, but in our condition we still have guilt because we still have sin.

Here’s an example. A murderer is pardoned by the Governor of a state. Does that mean he didn’t commit the murder? Legally he is considered as if he never committed a murder, but in actual history (his condition) he did commit murder. So, too, before God the believer in Christ is legally considered as sinless, but in his condition the believer still has sin.

One day the believer’s condition will be the same as his position (the same as his legal standing before God). That day will be in heaven. Until then, the believer experiences sanctification, which is the gradual experiencing in his life what he has in his legal standing (position) before God.

Our position in Christ is forever secured by the one time act of faith in Christ, but our being saved (condition) requires our continued faith in Christ. But, the Scriptures teach, in various passages, that the ultimate completion of the believer’s sanctification is guaranteed by God. That is why Scripture says in Hebrews 10:14 “For by one offering he hath perfected (past tense) for ever them that are sanctified.”

There are various passages in Scripture that teach there are differences between those who are truly Christian and those who just profess to be Christian. This is why the Apostle John says in his epistles "They went out from us because they were not of us" (1 John 2:19). They were never true Christians to begin with. So, that's another possibility to consider. Some who commit apostasy may never have been truly saved at all!

There are passages in Scripture (1 Corinthians 3) that teach some Christians will enter heaven by the skin of their teeth - no rewards or anything! Christians can be in danger of that!

It is because of Christ's obedience and for His sake that the genuine faith of those who belong to Him, His children, His sheep, will not ultimately fail and cannot fail. Scripture says the "gifts and calling of God are without repentance" (Romans 11:29). The context in Romans 11 has to do with God's sovereign and unconditional election. For Christ's sake, and for His sake only, none of His can or will ever perish.

How can fallen man be accountable or responsible to give God genuine faith if the ability is not there? Just as a bankrupt borrower is still morally obligated to pay his debt even though he cannot do so fallen man is under moral obligation to believe in Christ genuinely and spiritually as his Lord and Savior on God's terms even though he is spiritually bankrupt and unable to offer God such faith.

Then why preach the Gospel? Because God not only ordains (predestines) the ends but He also ordains (predestines) the means by which He accomplishes those ends. God has ordained the means of the preaching of the Gospel to save His elect, and He works in our hearts to will and to do of His good pleasure to accomplish His ordained ends. God is glorified by both the means and the ends He ordains.

Reformed author A.W. Pink makes an instructive point. Scripture says that no one was able to take the life of Jesus until it was His time. Then why did Joseph and Mary have to take the baby Jesus and flee to Egypt to save the Child's life from Herod? Ah, but this was God's appointed (ordained) means for preserving the life of His Son.

Scripture shows that God can have contrasting wills: one will that is non-effectual and another will that is effectual towards the same object. However, God cannot have two contrasting sovereign wills towards the same object.

For example, God says in Scripture that He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked but that the wicked turn from his way and live (Ezekiel 33:11), but we also know from Scripture concerning God that His counsel will stand and that He will do all His pleasure (or purpose) and that He works all things after the counsel of His Own will (Isaiah 46:10; Ephesians 1:11). How do we explain this paradox? On one hand the Scripture says God will accomplish all His pleasure (Isaiah 46:10), and then we read Scripture saying God doesn't accomplish everything He pleases because He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Obviously, this particular will of God had not been not accomplished or, otherwise, the wicked would have repented (turned from his way) and lived (Ezekiel 33:11). How can Ezekiel 33:11 and Isaiah 46:10 be both true?

From one perspective God does not desire (or will) the death of the wicked and this must be His non-sovereign (or non-effectual) will or otherwise the wicked would not have died in their sins, but we also know from other Scriptures that God wills or ordains the death of the wicked that He may be glorified in exercising His righteous power and judgment against evil and sin. This, then, is His sovereign (or effectual) will.

The point is that God does have both a non-effectual as well as an effectual will. Ezekiel 33:11 shows His non-effectual will (because the context shows that it's a will that is not accomplished), whereas Ephesians 1:11 shows His effectual will (a will that is always accomplished). This is something 99.9% of Calvinists fail to see or refuse to see. That's unfortunate. It's no mystery that He has both types of will. They're revealed in Scripture.

God's heart is not in everything He ordains but His purpose is. For example, God ordained evil but God's heart is not in the evil that He ordains. His purpose, however, is. Nothing can happen (including sin and evil) unless God ordains it because nothing can happen outside of His power and Scripture confirms this abundantly (i.e. Ephesians 1:11, Acts 17:28). Nothing can come into existence or continue in existence apart from God's power. Evil cannot and does not come from God's nature but God can use the evil in the nature of fallen humanity to accomplish His purposes.

God's heart is not in the judgment of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11), but His purpose is. God's non-effectual will always reflects His heart, whereas God's effectual will does not always reflect His heart.  Many times God's effectual will does reflect His heart, but not always. His effectual will, however, does always reflect His purpose. Understand these things to better understand God.

How could evil originate by God's sovereign decree or will without God being the author of it? Just because God ordains evil does not mean that He does evil. God ordains birds to fly through the air, but that doesn't mean that it's God Who's doing the flying. God brought mass/energy into existence but that doesn't mean God is mass/energy. God is Spirit. It is true that many things God has ordained in the physical world reflect His moral nature, but that is not the case with evil. Although God ordained evil, it is not a reflection of His moral nature.

If God withdraws His grace then angel and man can do nothing but sin. Good is only possible by God's grace for God is the only source of good. God was not obligated to uphold Adam from morally and spiritually falling. When God's grace was withdrawn and Adam was left to himself then Adam instantly acquired an evil nature which could do nothing but sin. Again, although the evil nature in fallen men and angels exists and is directed by God's power, evil does not in any way originate from God's moral nature or being. In ordaining evil God is not doing evil. As absolute sovereign of the universe God has His rights. There is much mystery here, but the Scriptures unequivocally teach God as being absolutely sovereign over all His creation. God only ordained the existence of evil to serve His purposes not because He delights in evil or because it is a reflection of His nature.

Some have argued that God has an obligation to man for creating him in a similar way as parents have an obligation to a child for bringing him into this world. This is not a correct analogy. The reason why parents have an obligation to their children is because their children were given to them by God. It's for God's sake that parents have an obligation towards their children. Scripture says in Romans 11:35 "Who has first given to God, that God needs to repay him?" 

A careful reading of Romans 9:22-23 shows the reason for God ordaining reprobation - so that He may make known the riches of His grace on the vessels of mercy which He ordained beforehand for glory. That reprobation glorifies God's justice is true but the primary reason given in Romans 9:22-23 for reprobation is so that the vessels of mercy may know - appreciate - the riches and depths of God's undeserved grace towards them.

God's wrath is not an end in itself but is a means to an end - that end being the eternal and literal destruction of the wicked (Romans 9:22). A holy God will not allow sin to exist eternally by keeping sinners alive eternally in hell. But, then how do we explain "eternal fire," eternal punishment," "weeping and gnashing of teeth forever." We must understand the context of Scripture in the use of these phrases and compare Scripture with Scripture. Read the author's popular Internet article, TRADITIONAL DOCTRINE OF HELL EVOLVED FROM GREEK ROOTS

Wrath (the means) is swallowed up by destruction (the ends). Mercy (the means) is swallowed up by glory (the ends). God’s wrath is not eternal. His destruction is. God’s act of mercy is not eternal (He doesn't have to keep on forgiving for eternity) but the effect of mercy is eternal because it ends in eternal glory.

In glory, when we the vessels of mercy experience perfectly and fully the happiness and joys of fellowship with God and all that He has to offer, we then will be utterly grateful and thankful to God that we were not the objects of His well-deserved destruction. We will perfectly value His undeserved salvation and all that comes with it.

Notice in Romans 9:19 that after giving his argument on God's absolute sovereignty in determining who will be saved and who will not, the Apostle Paul expects someone to give the counter argument of how then can God find fault with people rejecting Him if that's what God He ordained for them to do. Paul doesn't respond by saying, "Oh, no, you misunderstood me." Instead Paul says, who is anyone to argue with the Creator. He has absolute rights.

Romans 9:

17 For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.

18 Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.

19 Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?

20 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?

21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?

God doesn't force anyone against their will to reject Him. He simply leaves their hearts in their natural condition. No one can ever have a will to come to God on His terms unless God Himself first gives it to them.

We see again and again in Scripture that from one perspective God can have one attitude towards someone but from another perspective He can have a totally different attitude towards the same person. From one perspective He loves the same object but from another perspective His wrath can hover over the same object.

In certain cases we too can have contrasting attitudes (i.e. In Scripture Jesus says we are to love our mother and father from one perspective but yet from another perspective He tells us whoever does not hate father and mother for His sake is not worthy to follow Him). God is not being egotistical. Truth demands that the Creator be the center of our lives!

Of course, God has not given us the right to have every feeling, emotion, and intention that He possess in relation to others (i.e. Scripture teaches that vengeance for personal wrongs committed against us belong to God and not for us to take into our hands).

Finally, it should be understood that Hebrews 6 in Scripture was written to true and genuine believers but it does not teach that believers can lose their salvation through apostasy. Please read the author's article "Christians and Apostasy: A Fresh Look At Hebrews 6"

These are just some brief thoughts on the subject. The reader may find some excellent books in a Christian bookstore giving more in-depth analysis from Scripture. An excellent booklet and introduction to the subject of God's sovereign grace in salvation is "The Five Points of Calvinism" by WJ Seaton which is published by The Banner of Truth Trust. And, again, another excellent, and probably the best book on the subject, is Arthur W. Pink's classic work "The Sovereignty of God" also available through The Banner of Truth Trust.

Are you a Christian? Will you then give God's grace all the credit for your genuine faith in Christ?

“The old truth that Calvin preached, that Augustine preached, that Paul preached, is the truth that I must preach to-day, or else be false to my conscience and my God. I cannot shape the truth; I know of no such thing as paring off the rough edges of a doctrine. John Knox's gospel is my gospel.”

C. H. Spurgeon