News

Puritan Gems

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Myth of Libertarian Free Will

"A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the stony heart out of your body, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgements and do them." (Ezekiel 36:26-27)1

"For doubtless, against thine holy Son Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel gathered themselves together, To do whatsoever thine hand, and thy counsel had determined before to be done." (Acts 4:27-28)

We see in these two scriptures, both a contrast and a similarity. The contrast is that, in the Ezekiel passage, God causes His People to walk in His Statutes while, in the Acts passage, God is actively working in the hearts of wicked men to whatever His counsel had determined to be done. The similarity is that God is sovereignly at work in both cases. There is a lot of talk among today's Christians about "Free-will". It is said that those of us who hold to the Doctrines of Sovereign Grace, otherwise known as Calvinism, oppose human "free-will". This is certainly not the case, for the Westminster Confession of Faith devotes the entire Chapter 9 to defending the free-will of man. The issue, however, is that those who oppose us insist on a sort of "Libertarian" free will, a free will without boundaries, a free will able to manipulate events in the Spiritual realm . In the end, however, all must acknowledge that man's will indeed has limitations. Just ask, "Is it possible for anyone to live an entire lifetime without sinning?" If the hearer has any Biblical sense about him at all, he will have to acknowledge that men are indeed "slaves to sin". (Romans 6:17-20; Titus 3:3; 2 Peter 2:19). See also, August’s Blog “Freedom of the will”.2

It is acknowledged by any sober-minded person that man does have a will. Furthermore, it is easily proven than man's will is "free" to do what he wants to do. The problem arises when man's "free will" seeks for itself to become divine, able to save lost sinners, and effecting what Christ's work on Calvary was apparently unable to complete. For the Arminians tell us that 'God is a gentleman, who will never go against man's "free will'", as if the Almighty God who created the universe and all things in it, sovereignly working all things to the council of His will (Ephesians 1:11), must bow to the liberty of His own creation. Thus God's Sovereignty is denied, and God is not God.

Man's will is no cure for the sinful nature, but is instead the cause. Man's will has been corrupted by the Fall, and therefore, must be redeemed along with the rest off our wicked selves. Even the most basic philosopher quickly learns that man's will is neither libertarian nor autonomous. It is a secondary entity which depends on many things. The very definition of a rational person is one whose will is under the control of reason and rational thinking. To be "free" from such would make one insane. Wills are controlled by emotions, love, hate, anger, sadness, etc. Diseases can affect wills. Drug addicts "freely" partake in the substance that enslaves them, a perfect illustration of man's willing slavery to sin, but slavery nonetheless. Every part of man has been spiritually killed by the fall. He is totally depraved, and will be condemned forever unless God intervene on His behalf. For, "he that believeth not is condemned already..." (John 3:18).

The weak "free will" philosophy has taken over modern evangelism. Instead of preaching "Good News", we have limited ourselves to "good advice". We plead for men to come to a begging Christ, who is standing on the sidelines just hoping that the wicked sinner can muster up enough faith of his own resources to let Jesus save him. Oddly enough, most Christians who preach this doctrine won't hesitate to pray for God to "save" lost loved ones, even though they teach that "God is a gentleman, who will never violate our free-will" (see Psalm 33:10-12). As John Owen pointed out in his chapter "The Idol of Free-will", man's will is not "free" until the Son makes him free. (John 8:36). Man's will is free only in the sense that he does what he wants to do. Man's will is not free to change his own sinful heart, as Ezekiel 36:26-27 shows. This is the work of God alone.


Total Depravity - What it isn't


Total Depravity does not mean that man is as bad as he could be, or that all men are equally bad. There are definitely some men who are worse than others. No one would suggest that Ghandi and Charles Manson were equally bad. In fact, the Bible teaches that there are stages to depravity (Romans 1:28-32), and that some are guilty of greater sins (John 19:11). What total depravity means is that man is totally helpless in initiating his own salvation. He is, in fact "dead in trespasses" (Ephesians 2:1). Every part of man; his body, soul, mind, emotions (and will), has been spiritually killed by the Fall, and in order to be redeemed, one must be born again (John 3:3).

The Sovereignty of God

Charles Spurgeon right observed that "Men will allow God to be everywhere except on his throne. They will allow him to be in his workshop to fashion worlds and to make stars. They will allow him to be in his almonry to dispense his alms and bestow his bounties. They will allow him to sustain the earth and bear up the pillars thereof, or light the lamps of heaven, or rule the waves of the ever-moving ocean; but when God ascends his throne, his creatures then gnash their teeth; and when we proclaim an enthroned God, and his right to do as he wills with his own, to dispose of his creatures as he thinks well, without consulting them in the matter, then it is that we are hissed and execrated, and then it is that men turn a deaf ear to us, for God on his throne is not the God they love. They love him anywhere better than they do when he sits with his scepter in his hand and his crown upon his head. But it is God upon the throne that we love to preach. It is God upon his throne whom we trust."3 Attempts have been made by many in all camps to "reconcile" the paradox between God's Sovereignty and man's "free-will", and volumes have been written in an effort to do just that. However, this alleged paradox is built on the assumption that man's will is capable of acting independent of God's decrees in even the least way. This idea is completely refuted in the opening Scriptures, as well as many others. God's sovereignty is openly declared throughout the Scriptures, whereas "free-will", especially as defined by Arminians and Pelagians, is absent.


"Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none other God, and there is nothing like me, Which declare the last thing from the beginning: and from of old, the things that were not done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do whatsoever I will. I call a bird from the East, and the man of my counsel from far: as I have spoken, so will I bring it to pass: I have purposed it, and I will do it." (Isaiah 46:9-11).

"But our God is in heaven: he doeth whatsoever he will." (
Psalm 115:3)

"And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and according to his will he worketh in the armies of heaven, and in the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, nor say unto him, What doest thou?" (
Daniel 4:35)

"The Lord breaketh the counsel of the nations, and bringeth to nought the plans of the people. The counsel of the Lord shall stand forever, and the plans of his heart throughout all generations. Blessed is that nation, whose God is the Lord: the people that he hath chosen for his own inheritance." (
Psalm 33:10-12)

He "... worketh all things after the counsel of his own will," (
Ephesians 1:11)


These Scriptures alone should be enough to refute libertarian "free-will".

God's Sovereignty in the Works of Man


Isaiah tells us that God "hast wrought all our works for us." (Isaiah 26:12). With regard to the continued attempt to deify man's will, Stephen Charnock asks, "But what if the foreknowledge of God, and the liberty of the will cannot be reconciled by man? Shall we therefore deny a perfection in God to support a liberty in ourselves? Shall we rather fasten ignorance upon God, and accuse Him of blindness to maintain our liberty?"4


Both Calvinists and Arminians believe in some sense that God has two "wills". The Calvinist holds that God has a "revealed" will (as given through his commandments"), and a secret will, His eternal decrees that are not revealed to man. Both of these are scriptural (Deuteronomy 29:29). The Arminian holds that God has a "perfect" will (which can be compared to His secret will) and a "permissive" will, a horrible monstrosity in which God relinquishes His sovereign governance and turns a portion of His kingdom over to who knows what (man, fate, the Devil)? The fact that God predestines all the works of man is offensive to the rebellious human heart, but cannot be denied from the Scriptures. God decrees and wills all things that have been and will ever be, “Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure,” (Isaiah 46:10). God controls the steps (Jeremiah 10:23) and words of man (Proverbs 16:1) as well as heart of a king (Proverbs 21:1). In God “we live, and move, and have our being,” (Acts 17:28). He "upholds all things by the word of his power,” (Hebrews 1:3), that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without the will of his Father (Matthew 10:29). God fashioned the days of man, before they ever existed (Psalm 139:16). This is the God of the Bible, not the poor helpless being who sits on some distant throne hoping that His people will use their "free will" and let Him save them.

One of the most sobering aspects of God's sovereignty is His working in the sinful acts of wicked men. To most Christians today, it is a theological bombshell to hear that God wills all that happens, including man’s evil deeds. Not only that, but he uses the wickedness of man to bring about His Divine, immutable decree. According to Scripture, even Satan himself is in the hands of a Sovereign God. It is for this reason that many have sought to distinguish the will of God from the “permission” of God. However, God Himself has repudiated this distinction with His own Word, stating that He "works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11). God does not alter His decree based on our “free-will”, but acts totally independent of this idol.

While feeble-minded man attempts to remove God’s purposeful will from all calamity and replace it with only His distant permission, Job, after passing through his many trials at the hands of Satan, his friends, his family, and his enemies, declares, “Who among all these does not know That the hand of the LORD has done this?” (Job 12:9) Thus the idea of mere “permission” is fiction. As punishment for David’s sin, God proclaimed concerning Absalom’s incest that He would "raise up evil out of" David's own house, and declared it to be His work, stating boldly that “I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.” (2 Samuel 12:11-12). The envy, kidnapping, and lying of Joseph's brothers was a direct act of God (Genesis 45:7).

Christ was the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” (Revelation 13:8) It was not only the permission, but the will of God for His Son to be slain (Luke 22:42). In fact, it was God Himself who performed the work, because it pleased Him to do so (Isaiah 53:10). God was actively working in the following sinful acts; that Judas betrayed Christ; that the Jews plotted to kill Him; and that the Romans carried out their act, for all these did nothing but "what the hand and counsel of God had decreed" (Acts 4:27-28). This is affirmed by Peter, that Christ was delivered to death by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God (Acts 2:23); in other words, that God, to whom all things are known from the beginning, had willed (not just permitted) what the Jews and Romans had executed. He repeats the same thing elsewhere, “Those things, which God before had showed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he has so fulfilled,” (Acts 3:18). They were all "disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed. (1 Peter 2:8).

"I form the light and create darkness: I make peace and create evil: I the Lord do all these things." (Isaiah 45:7)

These are just a few passages that show that God not only created all things, but sovereignly governs all things according the council of His will, decreeing even sinful acts without being their author. Any other belief is an attempt by rebellious man to remove God from His throne and thrust His church into Deism, or even fatalism.

How does God decrees and work in the sinful acts of wicked men without being the author of sin (James 1:13)? The answer is that God does not force man to sin. He doesn't have to. While "in Him is no darkness" (1 John 1:5), man has enough sin in himself to accomplish all the evil that God could ever decree, for when a person sins, "each one is tempted, by his own desires being led away and enticed, afterward the desire having conceived, doth give birth to sin, and the sin having been perfected, doth bring forth death." (James 1:14-15). All God has to do is withhold grace, and "[deliver] them up unto a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient..." (Romans 1:28). This is what man's "free will" profits him. While God Himself is not the tempter, but He does send evil and lying Spirits to accomplish these acts (See 1 Kings 22:19-23; 1 Samuel 16:14-23, 1 Samuel 18:10, 1 Samuel 19:9). God is said to "lay a stumbling block to make men fall" (Romans 9:33) and "send strong delusion, that they should believe lies," (2 Thessalonians 2:11). It is God alone who "hast set them in slippery places, and cast them down into desolation. How suddenly are they destroyed, perished and horribly consumed..." (Psalm 73:18-19). Thus, God can decree even man's evil deeds, and work to bring them to pass, yet a man's sins remains man's own, and he is fully responsible for them.

Salvation is of the Lord

"Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts..." (Psalm 65:4)

God is sovereign over the eternal destination of man. God Himself predestines the salvation of His elect (Acts 13:48; Ephesians 1:4-5; Ephesians 1:11; 2 Timothy 1:9; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14), and He predestines the destruction of the wicked (Proverbs 16:4; Romans 9:21-22; Jude 1:4). However, it must be pointed out that, in both cases, men are still free to do what they want to do. There is a temptation here for many to stand in judgment of the Almighty. Paul, however, offers a stern rebuke to those who do so.

"Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doeth he yet complain? for who hath resisted his will? But, O man, who art thou which pleadest against God? shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power of the clay to make of the same lump one vessel to honour, and another unto dishonour?" (Romans 9:19-21)

You must be born again.

The worst part of "free will" theology is that it undermines the need for the new birth. For free-willers tell us that man, by virtues of the intelligence, reason, and wisdom that he was created with, is able to effectively come to Christ an obtain salvation. This is commonly referred to as "Human Ability" and is refuted time and again by Scripture. Jesus tells us that "No man can come to me, except the Father, which hath sent me, draw him" (John 6:44), and again "no man can come unto me, except it be given unto him of my Father. (John 6:65). Human Ability, if taken to its logical conclusion, denies the need for the New Birth (John 3:3). It makes the work of the Holy Spirit in salvation either unnecessary, are at best, ineffective. However, the Bible is clear that a man must be born of the Spirit BEFORE he can even see the kingdom of God, let alone choose it. Human Ability gives natural man ability to receive the things of God, which the Scriptures specifically deny (1 Corinthians 2:14). Furthermore, Human Ability, as a contribution to salvation, is expressly denied in Scripture (John 1:12-13, Romans 9:16). Without the new birth, the things of the Kingdom of God appear to be foolishness. You must be born again. This is a supernatural event; one that man is totally incapable of doing.

Conclusion

The so-called paradox between God's Sovereignty and Man's "Free will" is a paradox invented by the minds of men. God's Sovereignty is clearly spelled out in the Scriptures, while man's freedom to act outside that sovereignty is but a pipe dream, and figment of man's vain imagination, the product not of the Divine Letter, but of human neurons. Nothing of this sort exists in the Scriptures. John Owen writes concerning the "Idol of Free Will", “What a stout idol is this, whom neither the Holy Spirit, the grace and counsel of God, the calling of the gospel, the knocking at the door of the heart, can move at all, or in the least measure prevail against him! Woe be unto us then, if when God calls us, our free-will be not in good temper and well disposed to hearken unto Him! For it seems there is no dealing with it by any other ways, though powerful and almighty. “For grant” saith Corvinus, “all the operations of grace which God can use in our conversion, yet conversion remaineth so in our own free power that we can be not converted; that is, we can either turn or not turn ourselves,” where the idol plainly challengeth the Lord to work His utmost and tells Him that after He hath so done, he will do what he please. His infallible prescience, His powerful predetermination, the moral efficacy of the gospel, the infusion of grace, the effectual operation of the Holy Spirit, all are nothing, not at all available in helping or furthering our independent wills in their proceedings. Well, then in what estate will you have the idol placed?”5

Objections

1.) God offers choices, and commands us to "choose" and "repent".


A common objection to this Sovereignty are the commands to "choose this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15), and to "Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out," (Acts 3:19). This is true, and God does offer this choice to all. However, man, in his fallen state, is unable to make that choice. Jesus commands us to Come to Him (Matthew 11:28), but then clearly states that no one can come to Him unless is has been granted to him by the Father (John 6:65). Paul tells us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phillipians 2:12), and then immediately adds, “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phillipians 2:13). The Scriptures are clear. The ability to repent, obey, and respond to the gospel call is itself a gift from God. Therefore, God’s commandments to “Repent” do not presume our ability to do so. The sinner does not need good advice. He needs new life, and only God can give that. This was the basis for St. Augustine’s prayer that brought the Pelagian heresy out of the woodwork. “Lord, command what you will, and give what you command.” This is most necessary, for without Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5).

You will say to me, "I repent and ask for forgiveness". Why do you do that? Do you not see the hand of God in all of this? Did God not bring about all the details of your life to make you a Christian? Could you have just as easily been born the son of a Muslim, being taught that the best way to heaven is to blow yourself up in a Jihad? How is it that you came to the faith? Was it not Providence that allowed you to even learn of the Gospel? Did he not change your heart? What makes you different from others who do not believe?

2.) Doesn’t Calvinism make men out to be “Spiritual Robots”?

Man is not a Spiritual Robot. He is spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1). We have already acknowledged that man has a will which is free to do what he wants to do. The problem is that what man wants to do is sin. It is his nature, and he is a slave to it (Romans 6:17). The entire man must be born of the Spirit before he can see the kingdom of God (John 3:3), and man's will is not exempt from this need (John 1:12-13).Angels are a perfect example of how to correctly view the Scriptures concerning will and predestination. It is no coincidence that the saved “angels” are referred to as “elect” (1 Timothy 5:21), whilst Hell is prepared for the Devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). If anything in scripture is clear, it is that the final estate of angels is predestined. Yet, even the angels have the ability to think and morally reason independently. Hell was created specifically for the wicked angels. Yet, the substance of what guides their actions does not cease to be “will”. Therefore, with angels, we see a prime example of beings that have a “will”, yet their wills are not free. Elect Angels cannot be damned, nor can wicked ones be saved. Most Christians have no problem with God predestining angels, but yet they get most offended at the idea that God could do this with people. Why do we assume that our wills are freer than that of angels?In heaven, we cannot sin (Revelation 21:27). Does that mean that we will be Spiritual Robots? Of course not. It means that we will serve Him (Revelation 22:3), and do so willingly. In heaven, our wills will finally be free to "not sin".

3.) Why preach?

If God has already predetermined who would be saved, then why bother to preach the gospel? There are a few reasons. 1.) Jesus told us to (Matthew 28:18-20). 2.) The means in which God gathers His elect is "by the foolishness of preaching" (1 Corinthians 1:21). We don't know who the elect are, nor are we to presume who they are. What we do know is that some will accept it, and some will reject it. Why? If our answers are anything other than the sovereign election of God, then we have to assume some inherent goodness or wisdom in men that enables them to do this. Someone once commented to Charles Spurgeon that if he really believed in Calvinism, he shouldn't bother to preach. He replied, “God has called me to preach His Word, and if I knew that all the elect had a yellow stripe painted down their backs, then I would give up preaching the gospel and go lift up shirt tails.” As Calvinists, we can preach the Word, knowing that "...My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it." (Isaiah 55:11). Is this verse always true, or only when people are saved?

4.) Love and obedience cannot be true love and obedience without free will.

Says who? The opening verse (Ezekiel 36:27) is very clear in that God gives His people a heart to obey Him, and causes them to walk in His statutes (See also 2 Chronicles 30:12). Love must come from the heart, and true Godly love must come from a true Godly heart, not a deceitful and desperately wicked heart (Jeremiah 17:9). Man, by his fallen nature, drinks iniquity like water (Job 15:16); does not seek God (Romans 3:11); loves darkness and hates the light (John 3:19-20); is dead in trespasses (Ephesians 2:1); cannot understand things that are Spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14); is a slave to sin (John 8:34); can no more choose good than a leopard can change his spots (Jeremiah 13:23). This is why Jonah tells us that "Salvation is of the Lord" (Jonah 2:9). Paul agrees, telling us that "it is by grace alone, not of works, lest any man should boast". (Ephesians 2:8-9). Ezekiel could have prophesied to those dry bones until he was blue in the face (Ezekiel 37:1-10), but unless the Spirit of God comes down to give them life (Ezekiel 37:5-6), they will never choose anything. They are dead. So is fallen man spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1, Colossians 2:13). Sinners do not need good advice. What they need is new life, and only God can give that.

5.) How can we be held responsible for our sins?

Man sins because he chooses to do so, making him fully responsible for his sins. Man's sins are his own. His "free will" is the cause of, not the cure for, the sinful nature. Man sins willingly, but out of necessity, because that is his nature. No mere human can go through life without sinning, no matter how much "freedom" he may claim for himself. Man is not "free" to change his own heart. This is the act of God alone.

For further study, I recommend the following Books.

The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther
The Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards
The Sovereignty of God by A.W. Pink
A Display of Arminianism by John Owen
The Existence and Attributes of God by Stephen Charnock


Footnotes:

1 Compare this Scripture with the statement by Corvinus that “God by his influence bestoweth nothing on the creature whereby it may be incited or helped in its actions.”

2 It must be noted that even God does not have Libertarian Free Will. There are some things God cannot do. God cannot lie, sin, change, or learn, etc.

3
Charles H. Spurgeon – Divine Sovereignty

4 Stephen Charnock - The Existence and Attributes of God

5 John Owen – A Display of Arminianism

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi there,

Interesting defense of the Calvinist viewpoint; certainly you have Scripture that you have used to back up your points. However, I can't reconcile what you're saying to the actions of, for instance, an Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime. How was it God's will that men, women, children, and infants be tortured, raped, have obscene medical experiments done on them, etc? This is only one extreme historical example--there are of course many others.

How do you reconcile 2 Peter 3:9 with your theology?

I'm not raising these points to belittle or even to be argumentative, I just honestly can't easily reconcile the two in my mind.

Puritan Lad said...

Hey Anonymous,

Thanks for the comment. You certainly didn’t belittle anything or sound argumentative. In fact, you asked some very fair questions, and as a former Arminian myself, I can understand your objections. I’m not saying that you are Arminian as I don’t really know where you are coming from.

First and foremost, I’m glad that you have recognized the Biblical basis for my defense of the doctrines of sovereign grace. This is where we must start. Scripture and Scripture alone must define out doctrinal beliefs, otherwise we are tempted let our own humanistic opinions override God’s Word, and leave us in a sea of confusing doctrines created by self-opinionated thinkers. And we’ve all done it.

Second, I hear where you are coming from with regards to God’s Sovereignty and tragedy. However, let me point out that the “free will” view does not adequately answer the issue any better than the Calvinist view. After all, if God “foreknew” Hitler’s actions, and yet did nothing to stop him, how is He any better than if He simply predestined them? Of course, a third alternative is the “open-theist” view; that Hitler’s actions took God by surprise. Thus God was neither wise enough to know Hitler’s actions, nor was powerful enough to withstand them. In this case, however, God’s most glorious attributes are denied, and God is not God, but rather a very wise chess player.

We have similar examples of tragedy in Scripture. In some cases, God sent wicked men as a judgment against other wicked men (See Babylon over Egypt in Isaiah 20:1-4). In other cases, God raised up wicked men to try his own people (See Pharaoh in Romans 9).

One of the most sobering passages dealing with tragedy can be found in Luke 13:1-5. Jesus was dealing with a couple of tragic events, namely “the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices” and “those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them”. He didn’t resort to questioning God’s purpose or power concerning these events, but instead offered a rebuke. “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:3, 5). The point being that God owes no man a tragedy free life, much less salvation. Anything we get from Him is by His grace, totally undeserved.

We don’t know why God allows wickedness at all, except for His own glory and to bring about his own ends. As you read in the post, even the most tragic event in history, the crucifixion of the Son of God, was predestined and brought to pass by the sovereign work of God. We don’t know why or how God was at work in Hitler’s monstrous acts, but we can be sure that God will be glorified by them in whatever way he so chooses.

Regarding 2 Peter 3:9, I addressed this in more detail in my limited atonement post, but I’ll copy it here.

” 1.) ”The Lord is ... not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9)

This would be a big problem for Limited Atonement, if this is actually what the verse said. What it actually says is...

2 Peter 3:9
"The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance."

The promise and the patience is “toward us”, not to every person on planet earth. Who is "us"? Who is Peter writing to?

2 Peter 1:1
"Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:"

Peter is writing this to the elect, "To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ". This verse is absolutely true. God is not willing that any of his elect should perish, but that all of them should come to repentance. And they will, as we have already established in dealing with the intercession of Christ.”

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the response. As for my background, since you asked, I was raised in the Pentecostal denomination, and would consider my own viewpoint somewhere in the middle between the extreme Calvinist or extreme Arminianist viewpoint. However I'm not a biblical scholar (other than in the sense that all Christians are as students of the Word); so I lean heavily on the works and questions of others in forming some of my theological viewpoints.

I disagree with your interpretation of the above passage, as I don't believe that God "is not willing that any should perish" refers to the elect alone. Paul was writing to the elect; why would this passage be directed to them, as he was already writing to those that would not perish by default?

Also, 2 Timothy 2:1-4 certainly talks about the need for us to pray and intercede for all, and that this is good and pleases God, "who wants all men to be saved". I don't see any indication of this being reserved to a subset of humanity, but that it applies to everyone.

I guess my personal belief, which has been taught to me, and which I believe is consistent with Scripture, is that God's will is that everyone to believe and be saved. It is up to each person, having heard the message, and having been convicted by the Spirit of God, to receive or to reject this free gift of God. God has given us the freedom to choose Him or not.

As to the problem of tragedy above, I agree that there is no very satisfactory answer from either side--as you say either God causes the evil events to occur, or He does nothing to prevent them.

I do favour the latter answer, as it is consistent with the concept of free will, which I do believe is as much supported by Scripture as the opposing viewpoint is.

panta dokimazete said...

2 Peter 3:9
"The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance."

Anonymous - I appreciate your viewpoint, but you need to contextualize - who is Peter addressing in the letter?:

2 Peter 1

Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ

To your overall point - if God's wills that none at all by your definition - meaning anyone and everyone, should perish - isn't God failing?

Unless you believe in the universal redemption of everyone, this does not make sense.

Would you embrace a heretical belief to support your rationale or except the clear teaching of Scripture - that is - Peter is speaking to the elect of God with a clear presumption that the elect would be taught and edified.

Blessings!

Puritan Lad said...

I too, struggled with these passages at first. The concept of Limited Atonement is the most difficult of all of the “five points” to wrestle with, because it does, at first glance, seem to conflict with the two passages to have mentioned.

Regarding 2 Timothy 2:1-4, Paul is clearly defending his ministry to the gentiles (verse 7). Therefore, the phrase “all men” refers to all men without distinction, rather than all men without exception. This is the case in most of the passages like this.

So how do I know that my interpretation is correct? First of all, if you are correct in stating that “God's will is that everyone (without exception) to believe and be saved”, then we have a God who is incapable of doing what he wills.

Second, How would you reconcile your interpretation of these passages with Proverbs 16:4, Romans 9:21-23, or Jude 1:4?

Ultimately, however, the entire debate really comes down to the work of Christ at Calvary. What exactly did Jesus accomplish on the cross? Did He actually save anybody, or did He just make salvation a mere possibility and leave it to us to apply it with our own virtuous resources? The Scriptures are pretty clear that Christ’s work actually saves.

"She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21)

"For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." (Luke 19:10)

"The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost." (1 Timothy 1:15)

You see, if God were to leave salvation up to our own "free will", then none would be saved. Free will is the cause, not the solution, to our sinful nature. Our free will cannot change our own wicked hearts.

Again, Christ "gave himself to us to redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar (chosen) people, zealous of good works" (Titus 2:14)

"He entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking ... his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption" (Hebrews 9:12), so "...that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2 Corinthians 5:21). Has this been accomplished for every single person on the planet? Who did Christ "secure an eternal redemption" for? Again, Christ came to “lay down His life for His Sheep…to give them eternal life, and they shall never perish” (John 10:11, John 10:27-28).

"He redeemed us from the curse, being made a curse for us" (Galatians 3:13), to “purge your consciences from dead works to serve the living God." (Hebrews 9:14). This was the completed, effectual work of our Lord Jesus Christ at Calvary. Can it be rightly said by anyone that Christ did this for every person who ever lived? This is the question that the non-calvinist will have to wrestle with.

Anonymous said...

I won't address all of your questions; suffice to say that we differ in our interpretations of what some of them mean.

As for what exactly Jesus accomplished on the cross: I believe he died for the sins of all of mankind. [1 John 2:2, Romans 5:18] To believe otherwise to me implies that Jesus' sacrifice was in some way insufficient or found lacking to be able to cover the sins of all humanity.

Rather, he died for the sins of everyone. Unfortunately, some people never accept his sacrifice for their sins. This isn't saying that God is unable to make his Will happen. This is saying that God is unWilling to force people to accept His sacrifice--they must do it willingly out of the knowledge of what He has done for them, and under the prompting of the Holy Spirit, which confirms in their hearts what they are hearing (or reading).

Puritan Lad said...

Here is where the rubber meets the road regarding the atonement. You suggest that “he died for the sins of everyone. Unfortunately, some people never accept his sacrifice for their sins.” First of all, if Jesus died for everyone, then you must reject the idea that He actually paid for sins, securing eternal redemption. Otherwise, it would be impossible for anyone to ever go to Hell. In other words, if what you say is true, then there are millions of souls currently burning in the fires of Hell that are just as much bought with the blood of Christ as you and I. It is that view that makes Christ’s sacrifice “insufficient or found lacking”. In fact, it makes the blood of Christ absolutely worthless to the vast majority for which it was intended.

You are correct that the saved are those who willing accept Christ’s sacrifice. But this cannot happen unless the will is changed. Let me ask you, why are you saved, while your unbelieving friends are not? If you attribute the difference to “free will” as opposed to election, then you must believe that there is some virtue in you that enabled you to believe, whereas the unbeliever lacks this virtue. You are saved because you made a better decision that the unbeliever. This virtue, whether it me some goodness or wisdom, enabled you to make a better decision than the unsaved. What is this virtue? I know not of it. Thankfully, God did not turn me over to my wicked free will, but gave me a new heart, and a new spirit He put within me. And He removed the heart of stone from my flesh and gave me a heart of flesh. And He put His Spirit within me, and causes me to walk in His statutes and be careful to obey His rules. (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

I ask you to consider, are you being true to all of the Scriptures, or are you trying to force your will upon the text? It is an important issue for a variety of reasons, and one the we need to get right.

Anonymous said...

My assertion that Christ died for all sinners is backed up by Scripture. And yes, I believe that Christ's sacrifice paid the debt that everyone in the world owes or ever owed. Christ died for Hitler, Stalin, Jeffrey Dahmer, etc. just as much as he died for me. They (as far as I know, and their actions certainly indicate they didn't) did not choose to accept his sacrifice.

I do not believe that God forces his will upon us to accept or reject Him. What kind of love forces the other to love him or her? Rather love is chosen.

I am saved because I have confessed with my mouth that 'Jesus is Lord', and do believe in my heart that God raised him from the dead [Romans 10:9]. My unsaved friends have not done that. Whether they haven't done so because they are predestined not to do so, or because they haven't exercised their free will to do so is essentially what we're debating right now. Ultimately I don't entirely care what the answer is because my job isn't to analyze why, it is to do my job of "going into all the world" and sharing the Good News, regardless of whether that news is accepted or not, and for what reason.

I disagree with your opinion that the blood of Christ is made worthless by people not accepting it; if I give you a cheque for $1,000,000.00 and you choose not to deposit or redeem it, the cheque itself does not become worthless. Or, since you may argue that a cheque is merely a piece of paper, a promissary note: if I buy you a million-dollar mansion and give it to you, and all you have to do is accept the deed to the house to transfer ownership of it from me to you, and you refuse to accept it, the home does not suddenly become worthless; you have merely chosen not to accept such a gracious and undeserved gift. Obviously the analogy doesn't begin to compare with the free gift of grace that has bestowed on us through Christ's supreme sacrifice, but I believe it somewhat makes my point.

Anyway, you asked if I'm being true to all of the Scriptures or trying to force my will upon the text. This is a serious matter for us all to consider any time we read Scripture and interpret and apply it to our lives. I don't profess to know everything there is to know about Scripture or that my understanding is flawless. However I trust that each day God is revealing more and more of Himself to me, and that someday "I will know as I am known", and these questions all become moot when I am face-to-face finally with my Saviour.

Garret said...

A great sermon that may help answer this question comes from Tim Keller. He discusses the problem of evil and suffering in the world and he establishes that without a loving and all powerful God, the problem cannot be adequately understood nor dealt with. It can be found here: http://download.redeemer.com/sermons/Suffering_If_God_is_good.mp3

Garret said...

Or you can go here: http://www.stevekmccoy.com/reformissionary/2005/07/tim_keller_arti.html and scroll down to the "Suffering: If God is good, why is there so much evil in the world?"

Brian said...

My friend, I know the background you come from. My wife and I were raised in a pentecostal holiness denomination (Church of God). But scripture is very clear to me now and I have no problem accepting it as Romans 9 was the final straw for me. Scripture says that Christ was a propitiation for our sins. Propitiation essentially means a wrath remover. If Christ has removed the wrath of God from unbelievers then why are they in Hell? To believe otherwise is to believe in a cosmic double jeopardy. This is what the atonement of Christ does...it pays for the sins of those intended and it never fails.

John 5:21 says 21"For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes." Does he wish for all to be saved? John 6:65 says it must be granted by the Father and John 10:26 Jesus tells the Pharisees that they do not believe because they are not part of His sheep-not they are not part of his sheep BECAUSE they do not beleive- that is a key distinction in this verse.

Mark 4:10-12 states it like this:

10As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables.

11And He was saying to them, "To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables,

12so that WHILE SEEING, THEY MAY SEE AND NOT PERCEIVE, AND WHILE HEARING, THEY MAY HEAR AND NOT UNDERSTAND, OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT RETURN AND BE FORGIVEN."

Puritan Lad said...

Anonymous,

Your analogy of the check and the mansion are flawed on a number of points, but the most significant is what I brought up earlier. Did the work of Christ actually save anybody, or did it make salvation merely a possibility for everybody? Scripture supports the former, that Christ actually seeks and saves. Your analogy, however, only works in the latter case.