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Posts Tagged ‘Human Responsibility

Determinism And False Doctrine

Arminians are often said to be teaching false doctrines.  While my Calvinist brethren are willing to admit that Arminians are saved, they say that we are saved by not being consistent in our theology.  Our inconsistency allows us to believe the gospel and be saved.  However, Arminians, in the words of Dr. James White, are “sub-Christian.”  Our “gospel” is flawed from the beginning because of our lack of biblical understanding from the entirety of Scripture.  When we see the Bible from the bigger view, the Calvinist view, we see that Calvinism is proclaimed from Genesis to Revelation.  This is a common view.

However, I want to stretch out the deterministic view of Calvinism by saying that God determined for me to be an Arminian and He determines all “false” teachers the same.  All world religions and all false teachers within Christianity are the products of God’s will and decree even if you use the language of permission.  No true Calvinist will hold to libertarian free will or contra-will (that a person can decide freely between choice A or B without any previous determination from God).  Compatibilism is defined by Monergism.com as:

Compatibilism (also known as soft determinism), is the belief that God’s predetermination and meticulous providence is “compatible” with voluntary choice. In light of Scripture, human choices are believed to be exercised voluntarily but the desires and circumstances that bring about these choices about occur through divine determinism (see Acts 2:23 & 4:27-28). It should be noted that this position is no less deterministic than hard determinism – be clear that neither soft nor hard determinism believes man has a free will. Our choices are only our choices because they are voluntary, not coerced. We do not make choices contrary to our desires or natures. Compatibilism is directly contrary to libertarian free will. Therefore voluntary choice is not the freedom to choose otherwise, that is, without any influence, prior prejudice, inclination, or disposition. Voluntary does mean, however, the ability to choose what we want or desire most. The former view is known as contrary choice, the latter free agency. (Note: compatibilism denies that the will is free to choose otherwise, that is, free from the bondage of the corruption nature, for the unregenerate, and denies that the will is free from God’s eternal decree.)

Notice that Monergism.com is clear that free will is not part of Calvinism in their estimation.  They are clear that neither soft nor hard determinism believes man has free will.

So the Calvinist view is that man can only please God if God wills it so.  Philippians 2:12-13 is often cited.  When a disciple does that which honors or pleases the Lord, they are doing so because God gave them the necessary grace to do so.  If the person sins, they are only doing what God did not give them the grace to resist.  They are not choosing not to sin because they have no true contra-free will but they are doing only what is in accordance to the will of God (Ephesians 1:11 is cited).

Thus if a person does not hold to Calvinism, it is not because of free will or contra-choice.  The person cannot take a biblical look at both Arminianism and Calvinism and freely choose to believe whichever they desire.  Remember there is no such thing in free will in either soft or hard determinism.  The person chooses only what God has first determined that person to choose.  Take the case of Adam and Eve.  Where they free to choose to eat or not eat of the forbidden fruit?  The contra-free will believe that Adam had a genuine choice.  The compatabilist does not.  Calvinist John Frame is clear:

Neither before nor after the fall did Adam have freedom in the libertarian sense.

In other words, Adam could not freely choose.  Adam fell because it was first the will of God for him to do so.  God determined Adam’s choice for him and for all humans after him.  That doesn’t mean that we are not responsible for our actions.  All Calvinists believe we are.  They hold in human responsibility and by that they mean “human punishability” or that humans can be punished for their sins despite God choosing for that sin to be done.  An example would be Adam’s sin or the sin of Joseph’s brothers (Genesis 50:20) or the sin of the Jews and Romans in murdering Jesus (Acts 2:23).  Some point to Romans 9:16-18 with Pharaoh.

So when a person is not a Calvinist, they are only doing what the predetermined plan of God was.  The Calvinist could argue that the non-Calvinist needs the Calvinist to show them the way into the gospel of grace by the predetermined plan of God but the Calvinist must admit that the non-Calvinist is only doing what God determined for them to do.  This is the nature even of soft determinism.

There are biblical problems with such a view.  For example, in Jeremiah 7 God says that the children of Israel have done wicked deeds.  The LORD says that He will keep the people in the land if they do His will (v. 7) but they have acted in wickedness toward Him and His house (vv. 8-11).  Because have rejected Him as Lord, Yahweh will cast them from the land of Israel (v. 15).  Yahweh commands His saints to not pray for them, these rebellious people (v. 16).  God pleads with His rebellious house (v. 23) but they refused to repent (vv. 24-26) and hardened their hearts.  In verse 31, Yahweh makes a statement that is very much against the compatibilist view when He says:

And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind.

Notice Yahweh says that the children did what He did not command nor did it come into His mind.  God cannot do nor think of evil (James 1:12-15).  He is too pure for evil to dwell with Him nor near Him (Habakkuk 1:13).  God is completely holy (1 John 1:5).  All of this is held true even by soft determinists.  Yet compatibilism requires that God determined the sins of those in Jeremiah 7.  Remember they have no ability to choose freely other than that which is determined by God who creates our nature.  Yet God says these Israelites did what He did not command nor came to His mind.  How can this be if God has determined all since the foundation of the world?  I can understand that the children of Israel did not do what He command but how can God say that they did that which did not even enter into His mind if in fact God knows and plans all from the beginning?

There truly is a mystery here and one that I admit no answer to.  The Arminian dilemma is how free will can be involved with God’s sovereignty.  I have no true answer here.  I only admit that it is so.  The compatibilist cannot.  They only say that people are punishable for their sins that were predetermined (though not caused by God but not permitted either without His either giving or denying grace to do or reject the said sins).

In my next post, I will take a look at the issue of evangelism and divine determinism.

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Hating Sin

Within the heart of every disciple of Jesus should be an intense hatred for sin.  We despise not just the sins that we sin in the world but we detest even more so the sin that we sin in us.  We hate the sin of pride, the sin of hypocrisy that we sin in us.  We long to be like Jesus in all that we say and do (1 John 2:6) but we see that we are often far from that perfect standard (Matthew 5:48).

And I believe this is a great assurance that we are truly saved.  This hatred for sin.  There is no denying that the Bible forbids us from dwelling in sin (1 John 3:4-10).  Paul the Apostle teaches us in Romans 6 that having been baptized into Christ Jesus, we are now free from sin and its power.  We are free to be slaves of righteousness.

However, I still see sin in my life.  I don’t mean that I wake up and commit sin.  I hate sin.  But I still find the Holy Spirit placing His gentle hand upon me and revealing to me my own arrogance, my own pride, my own self-righteousness and my sins of the tongue (James 3:1-12).  There are seasons it seems where the Spirit will give me that assurance that I am focused on Christ and He truly is my reward but then there are times where the Holy Spirit reveals to me my sins.  I have learned to love those times.  I have learned that the Holy Spirit is doing this out of love for me and not out of condemnation (Romans 8:1).  I remember that Hebrews 12:5-6 and I keep coming back to that text as the Spirit opens my wicked heart up to show me what I need to repent of.

Repentance is an ongoing process.  I have been a disciple of Jesus for over 20 years and I find that He is still working on me.  The Spirit of God is still in the process of making me more like Christ.  I don’t doubt that I am much different from when I first repented.  I have come a long ways.  Yet I still have far to go.  I might not struggle with what I struggled with as a 17-year-old when I was baptized into Christ but I am still far from what I want to be.

We live in a sinful fallen world.  We live in a world with sin all around us.  Satan uses these tools to attract the world to its destruction.  For the disciple of Christ, we hate this world (1 John 2:15-17).  We long to be clothed in perfect righteousness where we will not struggle with sin.  We long to forever with our Lord and away from this sinful world.  Yet we remain here and we have to fight against sin.  We do this not by our own will power but in the power of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-17) and through the hope that we have in the gospel.  Our salvation is based on the work of Jesus Christ and what He has done (John 19:30; Ephesians 1:7).  Our salvation is based not on our works but upon the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9).  This does not take away our personal responsibility before God but empowers us toward holiness (Titus 2:12).  Holiness flows from grace (Ephesians 2:10).

I pray that all disciples of Jesus will hate sin.  I pray that we all would long to be like Christ in all that we are (Ephesians 5:1-2).  God calls us to holiness (1 Peter 1:15-16) and this is accomplished one step at a time.  Along the way, I trust the Lord to be faithful to His promises and sanctify me (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).

The Definite Plan of God and Free Will of Mankind

Acts 2:23 shows us both the definite plan of Almighty God and the freedom of mankind.  While God offered His Son according to His own purposes and plan, He also still held the people responsible who crucified the Lord of glory (Acts 3:13-15; 5:30; 7:52; 13:27-28; cf. Luke 22:22).  While this verse clearly shows the sovereignty of God in the giving of His Son, it does not speak of man’s relation to God nor of our individual salvation.  To read into Acts 2:23 “unconditional election” to personal salvation does not do justice to the text and is reading our theological notions into the words of Dr. Luke in Acts 2:23.

What we do see in Acts 2:23 is that God decreed that His Son would be given for the sins of the world.  Jesus died according to the definite plan of God.  However, the acts of evil men in killing the Son of God on the cross is their own acts that God will hold them accountable for.  To read into Acts 2:23 that God “caused” people to mistreat the Son of God and kill Him is misleading.  God foreknew all this because of His omniscience but He did not cause the evil acts no more than He did not cause the fall of mankind into sin.  God foreknows all things but He does not cause all things.  He controls all things and upholds all things by His own power (Hebrews 1:3) but He does not directly cause all things otherwise He would be guilty of sinning (James 1:12-15).  Furthermore, that God foreknows is not the same as cause.  Foreknowledge means that God knows beforehand.  God knows does not mean God causes.  That God knows evil acts will occur does not mean that He causes them.  Because He foreknows all things, He is able to take the evil acts of mankind done by their own sinful will and He is able to turn them for His own purposes and glory (Romans 8:28).  This is the case here in Acts 2:23 and with other passages such as Genesis 50:20.

Dr. Harry Ironside wrote about Acts 2:23 some good words:

Notice how two things come together here that often trouble thinkers among men.  First, God’s predetermined purpose and wicked man’s free will.  God had predetermined that His blessed Son was to come into the world and give His life a ransom for sinners.  But God had not predetermined that men should curse Him, spit upon Him, and heap every kind of indignity upon Him.  These things were of men’s godlessness led on by Satan.  Peter says, “God sent Him; God knew all that would take place; but you are responsible for your sins in that you laid hold of Him and with your wicked hands crucified and slew Him.

One point about this is that God did foreknow the evil acts of men toward His Messiah.  Notice in Psalm 22:16-18 how the Scriptures prophesy about how evil men would treat the Lord.  Further, Isaiah 53 points to the evil acts of men toward the Lord’s suffering Servant, our Savior.  God did foreknow all that be done to the Lord Jesus but He allowed these free acts to continue to fulfill His own decreed purpose, salvation to those who have faith in Him (John 3:14-18).

The twin truths of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are clearly seen in this text.  God foreknows the evil acts of sinful men but He also has His own definite plan that will come to pass according to His own will.  What a mighty God we serve!

The Twin Towers of Sovereignty and Responsibility

I was listening to Dr. John MacArthur teaching through John 3:9-21 and he preached on the twin towers of divine sovereignty and personal responsibility.  It was a great sermon.  While I have a few issues with some of the wording, his sermon was one that an Arminian could agree with nearly the entire message.

One point he made was from Matthew 11:25-30 (NASB).  This passage reads:

25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. 26 Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. 27 All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.

28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Notice how Jesus teaches the sovereignty of God in verses 25-27 and then He turns around and exhorts people to come to Him in verse 28.  Both pillars are true.  Both the sovereignty of God in revealing the Son (v.25) and the call to come to the Son in verse 28 for rest.  God calls and God draws but mankind is responsible for their actions.

The key difference I can discern as an Arminian would be the issue of unconditionality.  Calvinism holds to God’s unconditional election and irresistible grace in regard to His sovereign election.  Arminianism contends that God’s call to salvation is conditional and those who meet those conditions are the elect of God.  God’s grace assists us to be saved and His grace enables us to be saved apart from our works (Romans 4:5) but we are responsible to believe just as Dr. MacArthur taught above.  These twin towers are not to be isolated.  We should not lift up the tower of responsibility above the tower of God’s sovereignty.  However, we equally should not lift up divine sovereignty above human responsibility.  When we lift up one above the other, we  find errors occurring.  Hyper-Calvinists lift up sovereignty above responsibility while Pelagianism lifts up responsibility above sovereignty.  Both are equally wrong.

Our duty is to preach salvation to all and God will draw sinners to Himself.  The work of salvation is a work of God.  The work of belief is man’s.  This is the command of Scripture.  Mark 16:16 (NASB) says, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.”  Notice that the condemnation comes from a lack of belief.  To come to God, we must come in true faith (Hebrews 11:6).  Yet when we come, we find that it was He who was drawing us to Himself (John 6:44-45; 1 Corinthians 1:21).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

03/13/2013 at 12:21 PM

Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God: Chapter One

I point out again that this is a friendly Arminian chapter by chapter review of the book, Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer.  I will admit as I have stated before that I enjoyed this book.  This book has been a source of great comfort for godly Calvinists who love the Lord and love to tell others of His grace.  I have no doubt that God has used Packer’s book to help Calvinists find a purpose in evangelism.  Behind Packer’s premise is the idea that the doctrine of unconditional election does not hurt evangelism but enhances evangelism as the disciple learns that God is sovereign in salvation and He saves sinners by His grace and for His glory and not by the works of the flesh.  This takes the pressure off as we realize that God saves sinners and not our work.  No Arminian would disagree.  Salvation is of the Lord!

In chapter one J.I. Packer opens by discussing Divine sovereignty.  He begins by pointing out that all Christians believe in the sovereignty of God and he knows this because of prayer.  Why do you pray if in fact you doubt the sovereignty of God?  You pray because you believe that God hears your prayers and He is able to answer your prayers.  He writes,

“When we are on our knees, we know that it is not we who control the world; it is not our power, therefore, to supply our needs by our own independent efforts; every good thing that we desire for ourselves and for others must be sought from God, and will come, if it comes at all, as a gift from His hands” (p. 11).

Packer goes on to write that it is prayer that shows that all Christians agree in the sovereignty of God.  He states that we not only ask God to meet our needs but there is another point in prayer that proves we believe in God’s sovereignty and that is that we pray for the salvation of others.  If we do not pray for others to be saved or if we do not pray for God to meet our needs, writes Packer, we likely are not saved.  It takes humility to pray because we recognize that God is holy and that we have no right to come into His holy presence except on the basis of the person and work of Christ (Hebrews 4:14-16).  When we pray, we are trusting that God is Lord of all and that He rules all things by His power.

Packer jumps from this to point out two basic facts about salvation: that we pray for others to be saved proves that we believe God is sovereign in salvation in Him saving us and secondly that He alone can save others.  Packer points out that we know deep inside that we did not save ourselves no matter how earnest we might have been in seeking salvation.  We could have read the Bible, study apologetics, heard Christian arguments or sermons but in the end, we know that it was not us who saved ourselves but that God saved us in Christ.  Jesus is our salvation and not our works.  And we know that Jesus alone not only saved us by His grace but He also is the One that we pray to for others to be saved.  We labor in prayer for others to be saved because we know that He alone saves.

No Arminian will find anything to debate in chapter one.  We fully agree with our Calvinist brethren that salvation is found only in Jesus (John 14:6).  We acknowledge with our Calvinist brethren that we are saved by grace through faith and apart from works (Ephesians 2:8-9).  We agree that the Holy Spirit is the One who drew us to Christ to be saved (John 6:44) and that He opened our hearts to the gospel (Acts 16:14-15).  We agree that in our total inability, mankind hates God and does not seek God (Romans 3:10-18) but rather He seeks us (1 John 4:10).  The Lord uses the gospel to save us by His grace (Romans 10:14-17).  Salvation is all of grace (Acts 15:11).

Secondly, we Arminians agree that we pray for the lost to be saved.  We do this because we believe, like our Calvinist brethren, that salvation comes directly from the Lord and without His grace, none can be saved.  We are asking God to draw people to Himself through the blessed gospel (John 12:32).  We do all this because Scripture commands us to (Matthew 9:37-38; Romans 10:1; 1 Timothy 2:1-6).

Packer ends the chapter by briefly discussing the issue of human responsibility and divine sovereignty.  Scripture, he admits, teaches both.  Charles Spurgeon was asked about how to reconcile human responsibility with divine sovereignty and he said, “You don’t have to reconcile friends.”  These are not opposed to each other.  That God is sovereign in salvation does not mean that man is not responsible to believe.  They are both true.  Only the hyper-Calvinist would deny human responsibility but I see both truths in the pages of Scripture.  God knows all things which would mean that He does foreknow all who would believe (Romans 8:29) yet while God does know who will believe, He does not force people to believe.  This is where Packer and I would likely disagree.  I reject irresistible grace.  I believe grace can be resisted but this does not deny that salvation is all of grace nor does this deny that God is sovereign in salvation.  God knows all things including the free will rejection of Him by humans.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

10/08/2012 at 10:22 PM

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