February 28, 2011

Laus Deo Part 4

Here is the Fourth 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 next million dollar question is: Does God then create people who will live, just to go to Hell? The best answer I find is in Romans, chapter 9. Chapters 8 through 11 are perhaps some of the heaviest and most convincing passages on election and predestination, and subsequently, free will. Verses 11 through 24 are especially helpful in this area because the apostle Paul poses arguments that we still get today and answers them for us. This should be the passage to clear up all other passages, really.

Verses 11-13: “Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’”

Paul immediately follows up with the question on all of our minds: “What then shall we say? Is God unjust?”

We see that before these babies had a chance to do anything to merit their destiny or determine the outcome of their “karma”, which has become a popular idea in the western world now, God had decided how they were going to turn out. Why? Well, Paul already said two things: 1) God’s purpose in election would be shown clearly through this example; 2) This would show that works had nothing to do with God calling people. Again, this defies Arminian thought to its face. God acts first; He doesn’t wait for a human decision to determine who comes to Him. God is omniscient and God is omnipotent.

Paul says, “What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion’.”

This is sometimes the best answer we will get from God. When we ask the big question: Why?! He can simply tell us, “My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please” (Isaiah 46:10). As God: creator, master, ruler, ultimate superior…Can we question that? We must accept that God does as he pleases to the purpose of his glory and will and sometimes that does not make sense to us, but we are only finite humans trying to understand an infinite God. The limitation is in us.

Paul comes to his first conclusion in this and then makes another great example in verses 16 through 18: It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.”

Did you catch that first part? The point that Paul is trying to make is that human desire and effort has no bearing on our salvation whatsoever. Let me clarify that it does not cause salvation. Once we are regenerated and renewed by the Holy Spirit, then God works in us to will and to act according to His purpose (Philippians 2:13). From start to finish, it is all based on God’s sovereign acts of grace in our lives.

This is a real reason to praise God for his mercy and grace in your life. He chose you! If he hadn’t and you thought you made that decision on your own, then you could never have a legitimate assurance of your salvation, since it was based on you. If God made that decision do you think you have any reason to doubt your salvation or whether or not you can lose it? Isaiah 43:13b says “No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?”

As a side note, Calvin’s fifth point is about the Perseverance of the Saints. Basically, you cannot lose your salvation upon being regenerated by the Holy Spirit. Arminius taught that you can lose your salvation and fall from grace. No wonder he believes it if he teaches that salvation is up to you!

To really challenge our grasp of this idea that God basically determines people to never follow Him, let’s look at the example of Pharaoh that Paul brought up. Paul was quoting Exodus 9 when He said that Pharaoh was raised up for the very purpose of making God’s glory known through his rebellion. Not only that, but at least four different times, Exodus says that the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 9:12, 10:20, 10:27, & 11:10). Again, because God has mercy on who He wants and He hardens who He wants.

Paul knew the difficulty in understanding this concept and what people would naturally want to say in response to his writing so far, so he says in verses 19 through 21: One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?”

Since God made everything and planned everything and is control over everything, then it is not a difficult thing to accept that He even determines who will come to Him and who won’t. He’s in charge of it all. Again, no one is going to die as a non-Christian, mad that God never saved them. People are willingly sinning and rejecting God. But, then, how can we agree that God decides who’s going to be saved; There is no free will; He raises people up for the purpose of using them to display His glory, yet agree that people are sinning willfully? How does that not contradict itself?

The answer to this conundrum is found in man’s original state and fallen nature. Adam’s sin and subsequent fall from perfection has caused every person to be inherently sinful. No one is born with the hopes that they can remain perfect because they haven’t made any mistakes yet. Everyone is, by default, headed for damnation. Romans 5:12 says, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” This is an understanding we need to have of our original life because it makes the mercy and grace of God that much sweeter when we’re rescued from it."

I want to clarify my position on this topic of "selection".  All men were condemned in Genesis 3.  As Ben said, all men are born fallen.  It is not a matter of human beings walking through life in a neutral state until God determines whether or not to save them or damn them to hell.  Everyone is headed for Hell in Genesis 3 even before they are born.  God doesn't damn anybody to hell when He didn't chose to save them; all are already damned.  God simply chose a group out of the damned before time began that he would redeem for His glory.  Scripture absolutely backs up Ben's statement that no one will die and  go to hell having wanted to be saved.  Romans 1 very clearly states that they will suppress the truth, celebrate wickedness and turn from God, and He will give them over to their depravity until they can't even recognize the hopelessness of their situation.  
The language of "hardening hearts" in scripture is a hardening against specific revelations for specific purposes, not an eternal damning that had not occurred yet; nor an antithetical declaration, opposed to justification.  That is what makes salvation all that much more sweet.  You have been called out for no other reason than He wanted you in that group of redeemed Image Bearers.  You were not in a neutral place, you were headed for Hell.  Praise God for that.

With you for His glory

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