March 02, 2011

Laus Deo Part 6

Here is the Sixth installment of my guest blogger Ben Hogan's discussion on Free Will and Grace.  You can read it (and Ben's other posts) in it's entirety at http://www.bzhogan.blogspot.com/.  As always my comments are either in [] or at the end in bold.

"The doctrine of Election and Predestination does not undermine that Christ came to die for the sins of the world because He certainly did (John 3:16). Notice in this same passage, though, that it says the world is already condemned and those who do not believe will stay condemned because they haven’t believed. Then it explains how the light that came into the world was rejected because the people who did evil loved the darkness… “Everyone who does evil hates the light […]” (John 3:20a).

John 3:16 [see note at bottom] is commonly used to support the idea of free will and that people can decide for themselves if they accept Jesus’ claims since Jesus came for everyone, but it does no good because whether or not sinners accepted Christ out of their own free will, others still wouldn’t. Others will still reject Christ. So what’s the difference if they have free will or not? Not everyone is going to be saved. Would it make it more fair if they had more will?

The only thing it does is make the anti-Calvinists upset because it doesn’t seem fair that “they don’t make up their own mind”. It comes down to the issue of the heart and the refusal to accept the truths of God’s sovereign purpose in election. Remember, though, that people, before being wakened up to God’s truth through the quickening of the Holy Spirit, are willingly living lives apart from God. No one is mad that God is not saving them, so they still have the responsibility of their sin upon them.

I want to emphasize the issue of human responsibility for sin having mentioned that people are still responsible for it even if God hasn’t regenerated them. Like I mentioned earlier, this is one of the difficult parts of understanding our will, versus God’s, and how we are held accountable to it. I will do this with the help of Calvin who used Job as a great example.

Let’s set the story: Satan goes to the throne room of God after roaming throughout the Earth, looking for things to mess up and people to corrupt. God asks if Satan has noticed Job and how upright, devout, and Godly he was. There was no one like him, God said (incredible compliment!). Satan retorted that Job was a good man because he had everything he could ever need: lots of family, food and money. He said that if God took it all away and struck his livelihood down, then Job would curse God to his face. God said, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”

First, as I mentioned before. God is so in control of everything that not even Satan can touch us without God’s express permission. Nothing is done without God’s willing or allowing it. What’s the rest of the story? One day Job’s servants came running. One by one, in a matter of minutes, they relayed that they barely escaped to say that they witnessed Job’s possessions disappear. The Sabeans stole all their cattle and donkeys and killed all the servants. Another said that fire from the heavens burned up the sheep and the other servants. Another said the Chaldeans came and stole all the camels and put many more servants to the sword. Yet another came and gave the worst bit of news: While his sons and daughters were feasting and celebrating together at one of their homes, a giant, sudden, wind hit the house and knocked it down, killing everyone inside. All of his kids were dead.

There are many things we can learn from this story, but the question for the time being is this: Who is responsible for the calamity that transpired against Job? Was it the Chaldeans, for example, who played the part in taking Job’s camels and killing his servants? Was it Satan, since he was the one who inspired the Chaldeans to act? Or was it God, since He had to give the permission for all of it to happen in the first place? Are all three equally responsible, or if one is guilty, then do the other two parties hold no responsibility for the terrible act?

Here, I quote from Calvin’s “Institutes of the Christian Religion”, Book 2, Chapter 4, Section 2:

“How can we attribute the same work to God, to Satan, and to man, without either excusing Satan by the interference of God, or making God the author of the crime? This is easily done if we look first to the end, and then to the mode of acting. The Lord designs to exercise the patience of his servant by adversity; Satan’s plan is to drive him to despair; while the Chaldeans are bent on making unlawful gain by plunder. Such diversity of purpose makes a wide distinction in the act. In the mode there is not less difference. The Lord permits Satan to afflict his servant; and the Chaldeans, who had been chosen as the ministers to execute the deed, he hands over to the impulses of Satan, who, pricking on the already depraved Chaldeans with his poisoned darts, instigates them to commit the crime. They rush furiously on to the unrighteous deed, and become its guilty perpetrators. Here Satan is properly said to act in the reprobate, over whom he exercises his sway; because even Satan, when he is the instrument of divine wrath, is completely under the command of God, who turns him as he will in the execution of his just judgments. I say nothing here of the universal agency of God, which, as it sustains all the creatures, also gives them all their power of acting. I am now speaking only of that special agency which is apparent in every act. We thus see that there is no inconsistency in attributing the same act to God, to Satan, and to man, while, from the difference in the end and mode of action, the spotless righteousness of God shines forth at the same time that the iniquity of Satan and of man is manifested in all its deformity.”

God’s sovereignty is truly manifested when we see how he can use all of these players in his plan to show different things to different people, all the while, bringing glory to himself. There is nothing outside of God’s knowledge or foresight. He is always in control of every situation, good or bad, pleasant or painful. This is where Christians can have real hope and real peace through the worst of times. This is how martyrs can stay faithful to the end without denying Christ under persecution.

As an incredible encouragement from Job himself, he saw the Lord behind everything when he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.”

In all this, the passage tells us, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. God is just and he uses everything for the good of those who love him and are called according to His purpose. While we are still to pray to the Lord and ask for wisdom if we don’t feel like we have it, or pray for an unsaved friend, or pray for healing for someone, etc.; we know that God has always had a plan and purpose for everything.

The focus for the Christian should still be ministry. The big reason why this topic is such a big deal is because it minimizes grace in salvation, which misses the mark of Christ’s sacrifice. This doctrine is kind of “behind the scenes” as a new believer comes to Christ. He couldn’t tell you the process of regeneration until he learns about it later. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t saved or doesn’t understand he is a new creation in Christ, or that God did, in fact, change them. All a new believer often knows is that he made a decision to dedicate his life to Christ for a new life and spirit, so it would be no wonder that people get upset when they are told they didn’t make a choice in the matter. I don’t blame them. To say that is technically incorrect because they do make a choice once God has inspired them to do so.

In fact, once the Spirit prompted them to do so, they willing did make the choice to confess their sins and admit Christ as Lord. God acted first, but the individual responded to his call. When you are prompted by the spirit, you can’t say no. You will accept Christ. It would be silly to argue about that, too. The only reason that someone would push the issue of this free willed choice is in their own twisted desire to see that humans have more will power for their salvation, which is absurd. It is sinfully selfish.

I also want to point out that the apostle Paul, who understands the doctrine of election very well, still pleaded with people to examine themselves and test themselves to see if they were in the faith. “Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless of course you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13) The author of Hebrews says, “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” We are still supposed to urge those in unbelief to believe.

Listen to the pleading in 2 Corinthians 5: “The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

Just because God has a plan through election does not mean we are to be dismissive of the lives of our brothers and sisters if we see them stumble and it doesn’t mean that we should be indifferent to the statuses of other’s hearts just because ‘God will take care of who He wants’. God uses us to accomplish His work. We wouldn’t be obedient to Him if we threw all care to the wind just because we “came to grips” with election. Election is God’s work; ministry and witnessing for Christ is ours.

So, we must believe the doctrine of election and just keep preaching the Word, knowing God is using us to fulfill his purpose planned long ago in the past (Isaiah 37:26). We will see people come to Christ and we will give God glory for it. Election shouldn’t be a big issue, it really shouldn’t. We can just keep obeying the Lord in what we’re doing in ministry and leave the rest to Him. Where we assert our own will and effort into the equation we are stealing glory from God; minimizing grace; denying God’s omnipotence, omniscience, supremacy and sovereignty. Is it worth it?"

I want to point you to a more in depth Study of John 3:16.  It is the most quoted group of Words that Christ ever Spoke, and yet it is most often misquoted and misunderstood.  Cntrary t what you think it says in English, it does not say that God loves us so much, that he proved it though Jesus' death on a cross.  Please Read my commentary on this in my new book (which you can download above for free) "12:2", and John MacArthur's Commentary on it in  The Gospel According to Jesus.
God Bless.  Thank you for joining Ben and I this last week.

With you for His glory