Thursday, November 14, 2002

Mail Call

I received a gracious letter from Michael, taking exception to this recent post. (That post also generated some ungracious mail!)

I thought Michael raised some interesting and fair points, to which I would like to respond. I trust the format below of his points (indented and italicized) followed by my response is self evident.

I stumbled across your blog tonight and was reading a few of your recent posts on universal redemption and such. I want to respond to a couple of sentences and give you my perspective on the situation, for whatever it's worth.

I believe that when Genesis says that we were "created in God's image", the essence of that image is our possession of free will. If you believe that humans are indeed imbued with free will, and are thus responsible moral agents, then it is clear that at least on some level God restrains his power and authority and allows us to do some things that are against his will. The natural extension of that, then, is that God has chosen to use us Christians to do his work in the world (as evidenced by the Great Commandment and the Great Commission) and therefore to some extent the success of that plan rests on the exercise of our free will.
I don’t disagree that the essence of likeness to God is our free will, but it is speculative (I don’t know of any scripture that tells us specifically in what manner we are made in His image). I agree that we are moral agents. I agree that we can do things against his will (but not his decretive will). I agree that God uses men as secondary causes, but I disagree that his plan can in any manner be thwarted by man (Dan 4:35).

In a way, I can see how you would then determine that some sins would be punished twice, but I don't think that's an accurate way to look at the situation. Christ's death is available as payment for our sins, if we choose to accept it. How and why would a sinful person do that? By the prompting of the Holy Spirit. But that prompt is not irresistible, as Jesus clearly teaches when he says that blasphemy against the HS is the only unforgivable sin (because it causes us to reject his death).

It is true that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the only unforgivable sin, but that is not the same as saying that it is the only punished sin. Let me indulge in a cliché and pick on the archetype, Hitler, and assume he had no deathbed conversion. Was Christ punished for all of Hitler’s sins (except the unforgivable blasphemy), just in case Hitler converted, so that in hell Hitler receives no punishment for mass murder? I don’t think that is biblical. Hitler is being punished for all his sins, not just the unforgivable one, so if Hitler had the opportunity for salvation, then both he and Christ were punished for those sins.

Note that I am not saying Christ’s atonement was not big enough to cover Hitler’s sins, but rather it was never intended (not effectual) for that purpose.

So is salvation not 100% by grace? No, it is all grace, because without grace we could never have the "willpower" to make a decision to accept Christ.

I have to admit that I never understand the argument that it is "it [salvation] is all grace, because without grace we could never have the 'willpower' to make a decision to accept Christ ". Exactly what does that mean? If the grace can be resisted, then what it does (all it does) is make us more willing, but there is still part of us that must assent. Then I agree that one could say making us more willing to accept Christ is 100% grace, but not our salvation, which requires not just our enhanced willingness to accept Christ, but our actual acceptance. So in this schema salvation is still not 100% by grace; grace is necessary, but not sufficient.

But if you take out the element of free will, then no "choice" we make can have any significance whatsoever, because nothing we could do could honor or dishonor God.

Left to our fallen free will we all are lost. Scripture teaches us that no one seeks God (Rom. 3:9-11) and that all of our righteousness is like filthy rags (Isa. 64:6). God violates the wills of those vessels of mercy, changing the desires of the elect, who then choose Christ from their new heart of flesh (Ezk 11:19). We then have the opportunity to choose to sin or (finally) not to sin. This gives us the rest of our lives to make choices that are God honoring (or not). I concede that in our salvation we did nothing of ourselves to honor God. It is how we live after this total gift of grace, by our free will, that will glorify or shame God.

Romans 9 emphasizes points that would tend to support your perspective, but when you take that chapter in context with chapters 3 and 4 it seems clear that our free will -- the very essence of God's image in us as human beings plays a role as well.

I guess you are referring to that fact that Paul is teaching salvation by faith. The question becomes whether we provide any of the faith from within, or whether it too (as a saving faith) is, as I believe, also completely from God. (Eph 2:8).

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