Thursday, October 02, 2003

Objects of Mercy, Objects of Wrath

Brother Caley posted a comment yesterday that I wish to respond to in the form of a post. Some if not all of my arguments will be familiar to long time readers. Tough! I paid for this blog!
Dear Dave,

The use of dead in your article is in question to me. Check out Romans 1:18-20. A dead object has no sense of anything. It can not go in the opposite direction. If you cont. to think of man as dead to everything including choice then I think you miss it. (Also, Luke 20:41-44).

Dear Caley,

Romans 1:18-20 is one of my favorite passages, being a scientist. It says that the beauty of creation should be enough evidence anyone would ever need to acknowledge the Creator. I do not see its direct relevance when it comes to spiritual death. Though spiritual corpses, unregenerate men are physically alive and can see creation with all their senses, and so are without excuse. I also do not see the connection to Luke 20:41-44.

Let us talk a bit about spiritual death. In the garden God promised death as a consequence of disobedience. He kept that promise. Adam and Eve died spiritually, and that state of death is passed on to the rest of us. God wasn't talking about physical death as the punishment, but spiritual death. In fact, I happen to believe that Adam and Eve would have died physically even without the fall, but that issue, while interesting, is irrelevant for this discussion.

Just how dead are we? Well…
  • The intent of our heart is "only evil continuously". (Gen. 6:5)
  • We were sinful from the time of conception. (Ps. 51:5)
  • Our "righteous" deeds are filthy garments. (Isa. 64.6)
  • Nobody is good. (Luke 18:19)
  • We cannot see the Kingdom of God . (John 3:3)
  • We are not righteous. (Rom. 3:10)
  • We do not understand; we do not seek God. (Rom. 3:11)
  • We have turned aside; we are useless. (Rom. 3:12)
  • None of us does good. (Rom. 3:12)
  • We do not fear God. (Rom. 3:18)
  • We are hostile to God. (Rom 8:7)
  • We are unable (not just unwilling) to submit to the law of God. (Rom 8:7)
  • We cannot please God. (Rom 8:8)
  • We were dead (not just gravely ill) in our sins. (Eph 2:1)
  • We walk according to Satan. (Eph 2:2)
  • We live in the lusts of our flesh. (Eph 2:2)
  • We are children of wrath. (Eph 2:3)

That list is not exhaustive. It describes the attributes of one who is spiritually dead. The passage from Romans 3:10-12 is perhaps the most straightforward:

10As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; 11there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. 12All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Rom 3:10-12)

Here we are told in no uncertain terms that none seek God, and none please him. Is it not so that choosing God requires that first you seek Him? Is it not so that placing your faith in Christ would please God? The passage attests to the impossibility of such activities for natural man.
Did God want John the Baptist to say and mean "Repent!" or was it a cosmic joke. Work hard to repent(Lk 13:24-27) The power of choice still remains. Anyone who is not in God is dead b/c God is life. Also, they will experience the second death. In this passage these people are not dead in the way a rock is dead, they are choosing to reject and for this reason God is angry. Why is God angry if they have no other option than evil? That does not make sense. People turn to evil of their own accord and we are all born as sinners but not devoid of everything good.
All men are called to repent, but unregenerate man is morally incapable of doing so. Just as all are called to believe and yet are incapable in their natural state of spiritual death.

When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, "So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life." (Acts 11:18)

Here (and elsewhere) repentance is described as being granted from God, not mustered from within. Now in a real sense it does come from within, just as faith does, but not until God has turned our heart of stone into a heart of flesh (Ezek. 3:26). Repentance and faith do come from within a man who has been given a new birth, but are otherwise impossible.

Another point, why will there be a judgment if God is pulling the strings - this seems point less. He chose to die for the sins of the world though. This means that anyone who comes to Jesus He has chosen. We have nothing to boast about b/c He has redeemed us. If someone truly comes to Jesus, He will save them and they will bear fruit. Luke 13:1-8. Repent, know Jesus, bear fruit. Or don't repent, don't know Jesus, be cut down. This life is a gift yet we are born into a fallen state. I believe we can choose Jesus or deception. This is an important choice and some will go to eternal life others to eternal death. I believe that God is willing that none perish and that He draws everyone, but not everyone accepts. Do you grieve over what a dead rock does? (Mt 24:37-39)

God is not pulling the strings. I came to Jesus 100% of my own free will, just like previously I did not seek him but instead sought only the pleasures of this world, again completely on the basis of my free will. But God loved me and changed my heart, and slowly (in my case) I longed for him. I did not first long for him, only after which he changed me. That is backwards.

Again, the impressive but non-exhaustive list above demonstrates that unregenerate man is incapable of choosing God. What is God's response to this? If man cannot choose God, then God must choose man. That is the essence of the Reformer’s mantra: grace alone. If it is mostly grace and a little man, it is not grace alone. There is a little bit of payment due unto man for directing whatever good is left within him in God's direction, even before he was regenerated.

There are many verses in scripture in support of this view, including but not limited to John 6:44, John 6:65, Eph. 1:4-5, Eph. 1:11, and Rom. 8:29-30. Let us examine just one in detail:

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:44)

What does draw mean? Does it merely mean encourage, or entice, or woo? No, it means compel. The same Greek verb is used in two other places, where it is translated as drag rather than draw:

When the owners of the slave girl realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities (Acts 16:19)

But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? (James 2:6)

Paul and Silas were not "encouraged" or "enticed" or"wooed" or "invited" into the marketplace. They were compelled. Likewise no one comes to Jesus unless the Father drags Him. He compels them with a new heart, one that is desirous of Him. He regenerates first, faith follows. It is not the other way around.

If you think than man choosing God somehow makes the system fair, I would heartily disagree. If unregenerate man has to make a decision for God from within, what enables that decision? It has to be something other than God, or else we agree that is all of God. What is it? Is it education? intelligence? environment? circumstances? Whatever it is, it is not fair that one person has it while another doesn't. Is it harder for a rich man to choose God? How unfair to be born rich. How unfair that Paul had a Damascus Road experience to make it easy for him to choose, while I had to overcome doubt without the benefit of an epiphany.

Not to mention that millions die without ever hearing the Gospel. How unfair for them. And if you say God can choose to save them anyway, because He is God, I say welcome to Calvinism, brother, that is precisely the point.

Another question you should ponder is that your view, at least theoretically, allows for the possibility that nobody chooses God. That is, while (in your view) Christ's death has made all men savable, it has not guaranteed the salvation of anyone. Christ could have died in vain. The Sovereign God of the universe has made salvation possible for all, and now kind of waits with His fingers crossed hoping that someone takes Him up on the offer. I don't think the bible teaches anything like this.

What the bible teaches is not that Christ's death made all men savable, but that it accomplished salvation for some.

Let me conclude with probaly the greatest biblical exposition on predestination, from the ninth chapter of Paul's letter to the Romans. Starting in verse 9 we read:

10Not only that, but Rebekah's children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. 11Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad--in order that God's purpose in election might stand: 12not by works but by him who calls--she was told, "The older will serve the younger." 13Just as it is written: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." (Rom. 9:10-13)

Here we are told that to demonstrate God's election He announced, before the twins were born, before they had done good or bad, that He loved Jacob and hated Esau. We can argue about what hate means here, but whatever it is, it is not love because God specifically contrasts it with love.

God loves everybody? Not according to the bible. And surely nobody believes that Esau is the only person in history God does not love.

Now the apostle anticipates a common objection to election, it is not fair. He doesn't bother to point out that the alternative is not fair either, as I did above. Instead he gives a pretty in-your-face response:

14What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."16It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. 17For the 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." 18Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. (Rom 10:14-19)

Paul is saying, rather clearly, that man has nothing to do with it. As Creator of the universe, the omnipotent God is privileged to have mercy on whomever He chooses. An explanation is not owed.

Now Paul further addresses the fairness question :

19One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" 20But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' " 21Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? 22What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath--prepared for destruction? 23What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory (Rom. 9:19-23)

Paul once again lashes out at the impertinence of demanding an explanation from God. The pot is not owed anything from the potter. Paul does, however, offer a hint of a reason. To make His glory known to the objects of mercy which Paul says were prepared in advance, God patiently endures the objects of wrath, prepared for destruction.

Objects of mercy. Objects of wrath. Prepared in advance. That is unconditional election.

Notice that at no time does Paul write: It is fair, because God, in His foreknowledge, knew that Jacob, when offered, would accept Him while Esau would reject Him. Given the golden opportunity to teach unconditional election or the foreknowledge view, Paul chooses the former.
Dave, I hope you enjoy this argument. I know this is a big issue and I'd like your feed back. I appreciate you and want to let you know I convey these thoughts respectfully.
I am so glad that God is good and that there is salvation in Him. The main point, regardless of arguments, is that we continue to walk with Jesus with all of our hearts. Thanks for your love for the saints -it has been a direct blessing and an example.
In Him,

I do enjoy the argument. I would leave you with this thought. Your objections to Calvinistic predestination are the same that everyone has at first. I had the same thoughts. Many brilliant theologians have believed in predestination as God's unconditional choosing (as opposed to foreknowledge). Here is a partial scorecard (they varied in the details, but all would say: yes God chose us ahead of time unconditionally, not because he looked ahead to see what we would do):
  • Augustine
  • Thomas Aquinas
  • Martin Luther
  • John Calvin
  • Jonathan Edwards
  • Charles Spurgeon
  • Francis Schaeffer
  • Cornelius Van Til
  • Roger Nicole
  • James Boice
  • Philip Hughes
That doesn't mean those who believed it were necessarily right, impressive and varied as the list may be. But it should get your attention in the sense that these men surely have responses to your objections that will be much better crafted than mine, and worthy of further investigation. I guess my point is, don’t dismiss the view as "obviously" wrong, for men of this caliber do not advocate something that is easily dismissed.

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