Friday, May 09, 2003

Predestination, Once Again

This is my one year anniversary blog. It’s hard to believe. As a reward to myself, I will post yet again on my favorite subject: Predestination. This time I am even going to allow myself to take off the gloves and shout:


To me, the Bible is clearest on the following points, more or less in order, with the top three tied in absolute perspicuity:

1) God made everything
2) God is Sovereign
3) Jesus died as a substitute for us
4) Man is totally depraved
5) God has predestined some for salvation
6) Salvation (Justification) is by faith alone

I don't want to quibble over this list. Quite possibly I left some things out. The point is that I think the Bible is amazingly clear when it comes to predestination.

Numbers 4 and 5 are the T (Total Depravity) and U (Unconditional Election) in the TULIP acrostic.

Now I don’t want to spend too much time on Total Depravity. If you like, take a look at this post.

Here is the irony. Almost all Christians, including Arminians, as long as they are not alerted as to where you are going, will agree with the doctrine of Total Depravity. (Of course you had better not call it that, just present what it means.) But they will absolutely reject Unconditional Election (Predestination). Yet the T without the U means nobody is saved. Total Depravity coupled with Conditional Election means (a) we cannot choose God in our natural state, yet (b) we must choose God in our natural state. That impossibility results in an empty heaven, as far as people are concerned.

So if you accept that man is totally depraved and does not seek God of his own volition, then you had better hope the Bible teaches predestination, or we all are lost.

Fortunately it does. So clearly. In so many places. Let’s look at just one passage, from Romans 9.

10And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac 11 (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), 12it was said to her, "The older shall serve the younger." 13As it is written, "Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated."

The important part comes in verses 11-13, where God has reversed the natural order, and has blessed the younger rather than the older (firstborn) son. And why does he do that? The text tells us both the reason as well as what is not the reason.

The reason is so that the purpose of God according to election might stand.

The reason is not because of anything good or bad either twin had done (manifestly true since the choice was made before birth) or would ever do. The choice is independent of any work, good or evil. It is simply that it pleased God to love Jacob, and to hate Esau.

At this point, I’d like to paraphrase an argument from R. C. Sproul. The apostle Paul must be teaching either an Arminian or Calvinistic perspective. It seems clear that it is the latter, especially in light of what comes next. For if Paul is really saying that Jacob was predestined for salvation and Esau wasn’t, and it had nothing to do with something good that Jacob would do of his own natural will, then anyone who has ever taught predestination knows what the immediate objection will be: hey, that’s not fair!

That is exactly the objection Paul, as a good teacher, anticipates:

14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!

If Paul had been teaching the Arminian view, something like: Jacob and Esau were both presented with a chance to place their faith in God, and God foresaw that Jacob would assent while Esau would reject, and that is why God loved Jacob and hated Esau, well then nobody would complain hey, that’s not fair!, and Paul would not have anticipated that complaint. But he did. Because he was teaching predestination, and he knew it would immediately be criticized as unfair. He then goes on to explain why there is no basis for that criticism.

15For He says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion." 16So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. 17For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth." 18Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.

We all deserve hell. God would be on solid moral ground to send us all to eternal damnation. Yet to save a people for Himself, He has decided to have mercy on some. Not for what they do of themselves, for none of us can do anything pleasing to God in our fallen state. It is not because anyone runs or anyone wills, but entirely of grace. How could scripture be clearer?

But Paul is not done. He then goes to answer another objection to predestination, the complaint that we are just puppets. Again, this objection is never raised to Arminianism, only to Calvinism. Ask yourself, if it is Paul’s intents to teach the Arminian position, why does he bother to anticipate another objection to predestination, and then provide an answer?

19You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?" 20But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, "Why have you made me like this?" 21Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? 22What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, 24even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

In verses 20-21 we read a rebuke to those who would foolishly challenge God’s sovereignty. In verse 22 we read of the utterly non-Arminian notion of vessels of wrath prepared for destruction. Their purpose? To demonstrate God’s glory to the vessels of mercy, prepared beforehand.

Do you find comfort in the doctrine of predestination? I do. What a burden it relieves. What if you don’t like it? Again, a paraphrase from Sproul: You are required to believe and teach what the bible says, not what you wish it said.

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