Puritan Gems

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Faith: A Gift From God

"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)
"Scripture does not seem to support the idea that faith is a gift from God. The Bible simply calls upon people to believe." (Gregory Sapaugh - Is Faith A Gift?)
The question of where saving faith comes from and how it is obtained is a sticky issue, particularly among those who oppose the doctrines of sovereign grace. As pointed out in The Christian "P" Word, the majority belief today is that God's "predestination" (for lack of a better word) is contingent upon His foreknowledge of a person's faith. Yet even if this were true (it's not), one still has to account for the faith that a person does have, since not all have faith (2 Thessalonians 3:2).

Thus it is no surprise that the most straightforward, clear meaning of Ephesians 2:8-9 has been challenged. For if it can be established that faith itself is a gift from God, then the opponents of sovereign grace are still stuck with Unconditional Election, since they would have God predestine people based upon something that God alone can give.

The objection states that the word "faith" in the passage is not a suitable antecedent to the pronoun "that" (despite the fact that every translation of the Bible has it as such), because the term used for faith (πίστεως) in this passage is a feminine noun, while the pronoun “that” (τουτο) is a neuter demonstrative pronoun. However, as Robert Reymond states, "It is permissible in Greek syntax for the neuter pronoun to refer antecedently to a feminine noun".

That faith is a gift can be confirmed in this passage by examining the possible antecedents for "that" in Ephesians 2:8. They are as follows:

1.) Faith.
2.) Grace.
3.) The concept of salvation by grace through faith.

#2 is the weakest possibility. Not only does the term "grace" have the same feminine gender as "faith", but it would be quite silly and redundant for Paul to suggest that grace is "not of yourselves, it is a gift of God". #3 is the most popular interpretation among those seek some sort of human autonomy in salvation, but the concept of salvation does not appear as a noun in the passage, leaving us with no real antecedent for the pronoun. Yet, even if we were to allow this, it still leads to the conclusion that faith is a gift from God. One cannot allow for the concept of salvation by grace through faith to be "not of yourselves" while at the same time allow for any component of that salvation to be of ourselves. If, as Gregory Sapaugh suggests, "Faith is not a divine gift from God" but rather a "personal conviction which a person exercises...", then Ephesians 2:8-9 is incorrect, and we do have a right to boast.
"However the text is exegeted, when all of its features are taken into account, the conclusion is unavoidable that faith in Jesus Christ is a gift of God." (Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, p. 732)
Thanks be to Jesus Christ, who is both the author and finisher of our faith.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Knowledge Of God Part IV


"Human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and can't really get rid of it…Whenever you find a man who says he doesn't believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later." (C.S. Lewis – Mere Christianity)

In preparing for this series on the Knowledge of God, the approach concerning ethics has been the most difficult for me for a variety of reasons. For one, I’ve never been well read on the subject of secular ethical theory. To me, as a Christian, the very idea that a material world can produce moral obligation is absurd. In reviewing the current ethical theories that are currently being promoted, this absurdity is verified, proving that all men know God on some level, and one way that we know Him is by the moral standards that he has written on our hearts. We know that there are moral standards, and we also know that we have failed to live up to them.

“For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.” (Romans 2:14-15)

When Paul tells us that the Gentiles “by nature do what the law requires”, he is not saying that all people are naturally obedient to God. Rather, he is saying that all societies, even those who haven’t been given the written law, are aware of God’s standards to the point of enacting rules to follow suit. For example, all societies view dishonesty as immoral, even though all men are clearly not honest. Even so, they know that, on some level, they are wrong because “…their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.”

All people have moral standards (even those who deny that there is any standard), yet as with knowledge and science, unbelieving worldviews cannot account for these standards. In their attempt to ascend to the heavenly throne and establish their own kingdoms, secularists have sought to erect their own versions of morality.

Cultural Relativism

"The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, "Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us." (Psalms 2:2-3)

The Cultural Relativist argues that, since moral standards differ from culture to culture, there is no moral absolute by which one may judge cultural morality. Of course, even is the premise were true, the argument is a Non Sequitur. It does not follow that, because two cultures disagree, that there is no absolute moral standard. One could be right and one could be wrong, or both could be wrong.

Cultural differences in moral standards aren't as widespread as the relativist would make them out to be. All cultures view dishonesty, murder, etc. as morally wrong. In addition, ethics themselves have little to do with many of the differences in behavior that cultural relativists point to. For example, cultural relativists like to point out that people will not kill or eat cattle in India, while beef is a mainstay of western diets. But the differences in this respect are not ethical, but metaphysical. Indians believe animals, especially cattle, to be divine, and possibly be reincarnate loved ones. Ethically speaking, we would be in full agreement that it is wrong to kill and eat ones ancestors.

Consistent cultural relativism would result in individual societies being morally infallible (including Nazi Germany, etc.) Within those societies, morality would be reduced to a mere “societal norm” based on popular vote, while immorality would simply be defined as non-conformity. Yet another implication would be that the idea of "moral progress" would be a sheer myth and a useless endeavor.

Individual Subjectivism

"In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes." (Judges 17:6)

The various forms of subjectivism have a common thread, that ethics are a matter of personal taste rather than being a universal, objective standard. Simple Subjectivism argues that moral opinions are not fact, just feelings of personal approval or disapproval, and nothing more. Emotivism suggests that moral language itself is not "fact-stating" language, but rather behavior-influencing language. Regardless of the category, subjectivism results in a world where any and all actions would theoretically be beyond moral judgment.

Of course, the most obvious problem is that no one lives this way. In the world of subjectivism, individuals are morally infallible. Yet subjectivists do make moral judgments, especially against people who make moral judgments. By suggesting that no one has a right to hold another person to a moral standard, they are establishing a moral standard. This is especially true of emotivism, where moral judgments are beyond reproach since they aren't really judgments, only expressions of attitudes.

Subjectivism cannot account for disagreements in ethics, nor can it account for moral truth or falsehood. While attempting to honor the ethical standards of individuals who have various opinions in this matter, subjectivists must presume a moral obligation to honor such standards (or else you are being “judgmental”). Subjectivism is thus self-defeating, and cannot justify moral absolutes, since it denies that such an absolute exists.


"The truth is that the only rational basis for morality is a concern for the happiness and suffering of other conscious beings." (Do We Really Need Bad Reasons To Be Good? by Sam Harris / Boston Globe October 22, 2006).

Altruism bases its ethical standard on what is deemed to be an impartial concern and benefit to other people. Indeed, those who show concern for other people are often held up as heroes in our society (especially when such concerns are made with the TV cameras rolling.)

But eventually we must ask the question: What obligates one to be impartial or to have concern for the well-being of others? Where does this obligation come from? Altruism arbitrarily favors one group of people (others) over another (ourselves). Rather than being a “rational basis” for morality, Altruism begs the question by assuming that we have a moral obligation to live for the sake of others. Pragmatic concern for others cannot produce an obligation to any duty, nor can it provide a rational basis for morality since it must presume a moral obligation to be concerned with others as a basis for itself.


“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7-8)
"The achievement of his own happiness is man's highest moral purpose." (Ayn Rand - The Virtue Of Selfishness 1961)

Egoism is the idea that morality is based upon rational self-interest. It is suggested that all people, even altruists, act out of self-interest, doing what they want to do. While altruism, as a moral philosophy, degrades the value of the individual, egoism promotes it. Taken to its logical conclusion, unrestricted egoism would lead to hedonism, the desire to maximize individual pleasure.

As to the charge that altruists do what they want to do, that may well be the case. However, no matter how one slices it, wanting to act with others in mind is contradictory to egoism. Even the egoists "peace of mind" can be rooted in the interests of others. In addition, egoism as a philosophy is self-defeating, ie. "It is everyone's best interest is to act out of self-interest".

Egoism also cannot resolve conflicts of interest. If person A can benefit from murdering person B, yet person B clearly benefits from not being murdered, then what is the correct moral behavior? Faced with this dilemma, revisionist egoism calls for restraint based on self-interests in:

• Duty not to harm others
• Duty not to lie
• Duty to keep promises

Again, we would have to ask what the basis is for the above duties. Duty presumes obligation, and often the "duties" to not harm others, not lie, and keep promises conflict with self-interest. We often do things that we OUGHT to do instead of what we WANT to do.

Egoism fails to account for the value that it places upon individuals, thus arbitrarily favors one group of people (ourselves) over another (others). Pragmatic self-interest cannot produce an obligation to any duty, nor can it provide a rational basis for morality since it must presume a moral obligation to self-interest as a basis for itself.


"Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign." (John Stuart Mill, On Liberty - 1859)

Utilitarianism holds that morally is based upon whatever is required to promote the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people. While many people have never heard the term “utilitarianism”, the effects of this philosophy are felt in nearly every corner of modern western society. Utilitarianism is heavily influential in the pro-euthanasia, pro-abortion, and animal rights movements. It is also the foundation of socialism. In modern democratic societies, any groups of people are clambering for all kinds of “rights” that are defined by whoever is speaking and whatever axe they are grinding.

There are two types of utilitarianism. Act utilitarianism judges each individual act on its own merits as to whether or not this act has increased happiness as a whole. In doing so, it places impossible demands on people, and is often used to manipulate people through false guilt. Modern socialists try to push their “live simply” philosophy by blaming western consumption for poverty in parts of the world. Rule utilitarianism, rather then judge each individual act, seeks to establish a basic set of rules to follow.

One area where utilitarian philosophy is quite apparent is out modern judicial system. Utilitarianism cannot allow for retribution or punishment for immoral behavior, since such punishment would increase misery in the world. Instead, the judicial system has taken on the label of “corrections” (even though they don’t “correct” anything). The Department of Justice has become the Department of Corrections. Prison guards are now called “corrections” officers. This radical change in how we treat criminals can be best spelled out by utilitarian philosopher Karl Menninger, (cited in James Rachels; "The Elements of Moral Philosophy", 2007 McGraw-Hill, p. 135).

"We, the agents of society, must move to end the game of tit-for-tat and blow-for-blow in which the offender has foolishly engaged himself and us. We are not driven, as he is, to wild and impulsive actions. With knowledge comes power, and with power there is no need for the frightened vengeance of the old penology. In its place should go a quiet, dignified, therapeutic program for the rehabilitation of the disorganized one, if possible, the protection of society during the treatment period, and his guided return to useful citizenship, as soon as this can be effected.”
What has been the result of this approach? Depending on the area, it appears that anywhere from 56% to 90% of violent crime in the United States is committed by repeat offenders. In its attempt to replace judicial penalty with rehabilitation, the utilitarian approach accomplishes neither. It assumes that man is basically good, while arbitrarily defining what “good” is (an increase in “happiness” as a whole.)

Utilitarianism is at odds with justice in other ways. In order to be consistent, one would have to consider any act to be morally acceptable if it results in an increase in happiness. What about a thief who steals something that is never missed, or a peeping tom who is never noticed?

Like any other secular ethical theory, utilitarianism cannot be a foundation for an ethical standard, since it must presume a standard a priori, that being the obligation to promote the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people. Where does such an obligation come from?

Kant's Categorical Imperative

"Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." (Immanuel Kant, “The Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals” - 1785)

Immanuel Kant suggested that morality should be based on human dignity and reason, sort of like the "Golden Rule", but without the Golden Rule Giver. From a practical perspective, the categorical imperative fails when trying to resolve two evil choices (ie., lying to save a life). From a secular standpoint, neither human dignity nor reason can be justified, thus the categorical imperative begs too many questions. Consider the following quote from atheist Richard Dawkins:

"For the first half of geological time our ancestors were bacteria. Most creatures still are bacteria, and each one of our trillions of cells is a colony of bacteria."

From a secular standpoint, human dignity and human reason must be accounted for before any moral standard can be build upon them. Finally, we must ask yet again,

What obligates us to act “according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law”? Like all other secular ethical theories, the categorical imperative cannot be a sound basis for ethics, since it must assume a moral standard in order to build rules by which we act.

Social Contract

The “Social Contract” holds that humans, by virtue of being human, are contracted to obey ethics laws which are necessary for peaceful, cooperative, social order.

Aside from the fact that what makes up a "peaceful, cooperative, social order" is subjective at best, the social contract does not justify ethical standards as much as it assumes them in advance. What obligates humans to be concerned about a peaceful, cooperative social order? Like relativism and subjectivism, the social contract reduces immorality to mere "non-conformity", thus has no objective meaning.

The Moral Argument Revisited

In dealing with the various secular theories of ethics, two questions immediately come to mind.

1.) Why so many? If the secular worldview can justify morality, I would have expected there to be a predominant theory, with maybe one of two non-conforming theories. Instead, however, what this study shows is that there is no moral standard in a secular world.

2.) All of these theories have in common the fact than none of them can account for moral obligation. Instead, they must assume their standard in order to promote their theory.

As we have shown, not only are secular moral theories logically inconsistent, they are also unjustifiable. It is one thing to invent a moral theory, as many secularists have done. It is another thing to give a rational justification for that theory, and all secular moral theories have failed in this regard. The natural, materialistic worldview simply cannot justify obligation, “IS” cannot produce “OUGHT”.

John Owen correctly observed:

“Without absolutes revealed from without by God Himself, we are left rudderless in a sea of conflicting ideas about manners, justice and right and wrong, issuing from a multitude of self-opinionated thinkers.” - John Owen

Therefore, we may conclude with yet another transcendental argument for God’s existence…

P1: If Moral Absolutes exists, then God exists, since God is the precondition of Moral Absolutes.

P2: Moral Absolutes exists.

Conclusion: God exists.

There are many transcendental proofs for God’s existence. We hit only three in the areas of knowledge, natural law, and ethics. But we could also include areas such as intelligible experience, free thought, free will, personal identity over time, etc. None of these things can rationally be justified in a godless worldview. Man may makes attempts at autonomy, but like Nimrod, he is doomed to failure. All men live in God’s universe, and cannot even function without acknowledging him in some way.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

The Christian "P" Word

Predestination: Just a cursory glance through the Scriptures will inevitably lead the reader to this word. Yet even the majority of those who view Scripture as the Word of God tend to dance around it. In their attempt to hold on to some semblance of human autonomy, the opponents of sovereign grace have cojured up several ideas in an attempt to redefine this term, or avoid it altogether:

1.) Predestined according to foreknowledge of faith.

According to the system of doctrine know as Arminianism, God predestines individuals based on His ability to look ahead through the portals of time and see who would believe in Christ and who would not. Those who hold this view focus on the word "foreknowledge" and attempt to wrest the word from it's biblical context and redefine it as a "pre-known mental ascent". However, the word "foreknowledge" is Scripture has a much different meaning. In Acts 2:23, the word is used in conjunction with God's "determinate counsel". In Romans 8:29, it refers to the elect, "predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son". To view "foreknowledge" as mere mental ascent concerning the faith of a person does not work in this passage, since God also "foreknows" the reprobate in that sense as well. Rather, it can be defined more accurately defined as "divine favor". The same definition would apply to the term in Romans 11:2 and 1 Peter 1:1-2, referring in particular to the elect Israelites to whom God has granted salvation. 1 Peter 1:20-21, like Acts 2:23, uses the term to refer to Christ and to define His preordained work as the lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8).

In contrast to the very popular interpretation, nothing is mentioned in Scripture about God predestining people based on a foreseen faith. In fact, by definition, this would not be predestination. It would be ratification, like a divine "stamp of approval" on the faith that we apparently must generate of our own resources. In scripture, God's foreknowledge always refers to people, never to their actions. God has determined who will believe (Acts 13:48), not determined on the basis of who would believe. This view requires that God must learn something about his own creation before he acts accordingly, and makes salvation a reward for the faith we've obtained, rather than by grace alone.

2.) Corporate predestination.

A newer, more covert theory suggests that God only predestines an abstract, impersonal entity of Christian believers, those who choose to be "in Christ" are the ones who are corporately predestined to salvation. According to this slick display of literary gymnastics, the phrase "in him" in Ephesians 1:4 does not refer to what Christ chose for us, but rather the position that we chose for ourselves in order to Christ to choose us. In other words, we choose to be in Christ, and based on that wise and nobel decision, God predestines us to that we should be holy and blameless before him.

"even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved." (Ephesians 1:4-6)
However, it is quite clear from the Scriptures that God predestines individuals (2 Timothy 2:19), not some abstract corporate entity. For, to what purpose was Christ death other than to provide actual atonement for His people, "that he might be the firstborn among many brothers" (Romans 8:29)?  This requires a particular and personal atonement, or else Christ could not have been assured of being the firstborn of many. In fact, it would have been quite possible for Christ to have died for nobody. The only possible answer would be to revert back to the "foreknowledge of faith" approach, which we have already shown to be both unbiblical and irrational.

3.) Optimistic Predestination

This view is common among Pelagianism and, to some degree, Open Theism. In this view, God predestines everyone to eternal life. In contrast, Satan predestines everyone to damnation, and we humans are left with the deciding vote. Such a view is nothing short of a denial of God's Sovereignty, and actually teaches that Satan plus man can overcome God's eternal decrees.

"Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases." (Psalms 115:3)
"The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!" (Psalms 33:10-12)
"all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, "What have you done?" (Daniel 4:35)
According to Job, Satan himself cannot act outside of God's will, much less aid us in ascending to Christ's throne and overturning his immutable decrees. Once again, this is not predestination, by definition.

4.) Just ignore it, it's not important. We can't understand it anyway.

For many who come face to face with the Biblical view of Predestination, this is the unfortunate option they go with. But one cannot be a herald of the whole counsel of God and ignore any part of Scripture, for it was given to us that we might have hope. If the Prophets and Apostles, inspired by the Holy Spirit, thought that this doctrine was important enough to teach us over and over again, who are we to say otherwise? As for the second charge, is it that predestination is really that hard to understand, or is it that we understand it all too well, and just don't like it? Our depraved nature loves to have authority that it doesn't deserve. Charles Spurgeon illuminates the real reason why Christians run from this doctrine.

"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." – CHARLES SPURGEON
The real reason why man rejects the idea of predestination is because our natures strive for autonomy.  We want to be in control, and it grates our sensibilities to find out that we are not.  "...apart from me you can do nothing."  (John 15:5).

So, having concluded that God predestines everything that happens without being contingent upon his own creation, the obvious question is, why do Christians pray and evangelize? After all, if God has already foreordained everything that comes to pass, wouldn't such exercises be an exercise in futility?

This type of questioning focuses on the fact that God ordains the ends, but ignores the fact that God ordains the means. God has determined who will believe (Acts 13:48), but He also has determined that these will be reached by the foolishness of preaching (1 Corinthians 1:21). Likewise, prayer is the means by which we "...may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding," (Colossians 1:9). In fact, it is the sovereignty of God that is the basis for the confidence we have in prayer. If God isn't absolutely sovereign, on what basis will we have such confidence? Maybe our prayers could be hindered by the "free will" of others. It is God's sovereignty that gives meaning to everything that happens in history, both good and evil, aside from which there could be no meaning at all.