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Posts Tagged ‘Unconditional Election

Grace For All Book Review (Chapter 5) Part One

In this post, I will be looking at chapter 5 of the book Grace For All edited by Clark Pinnock and John Wagner.  You may find the first post of these reviews here and the previous review post here.

This chapter was written by Dr. Jack Cottrell.  I have always appreciated Dr. Cottrell.  His book on baptism is a must read as well as his commentary on Romans (one of the best Arminian commentaries on Romans in my estimation along with Dr. Vic Reasoner’s).  His book on the sovereignty of God is the best I have ever read on the subject from an Arminian view.

In this chapter Dr. Cottrell dives into the issue of conditional election.  If you are a Calvinist reading Grace For All, this will be the chapter that really gets you focused on the differences between Arminianism and Calvinism.  I know that many Calvinists love the doctrine of unconditional election and view it as the heart of the gospel.  They believe that the doctrine protects not just the sovereignty  of God but also destroys the pride of men by teaching that God alone saves for His own glory and purposes.  God, within the Calvinist system, chooses whom He will save and whom He will damn based on His own choice and nothing in mankind (in other words, God doesn’t choose those who choose Him or foresee their faith but instead He chooses based on His own sovereign choice for His own glory).  Calvinists teach that God is just in choosing His elect from among the lump of sinful humanity because He could justly send us all to hell but instead He saves some for His glory and purposes that are known only to Himself (Romans 9:22-23).

Cottrell differs with such a view but he does believe the Bible teaches election.  This is important since some Arminians have tried to argue against Calvinism by saying that the Bible doesn’t even teach election.  Of course election is taught but the question becomes what does the Bible teach about election?  Does the Bible teach the Calvinist view of unconditional election to salvation or does the Bible teach something else?  Does the Bible teach that God elects the plan but not the man?  Does the Bible teach that God elects classes or does He elect individuals and how does He elect?

First, let us establish the biblical truth of election.  Cottrell shows us that the Bible teaches several elections.  We must not assume that since the Bible teaches election that it is always unto salvation or unto service.  In some cases it is both and in some cases it is just to service.  Cottrell points out that God has elected and He has elected:

  • Jesus (Isaiah 42:1; Matthew 12:18; Luke 9:35; Acts 2:23; 4:28; 1 Peter 1:20; 2:4, 6).
  • Israel (Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2; 1 Chronicles 16:13; Acts 13:17; Romans 9:4-5) which led to Him choosing men to build up the line of Israel such as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Nehemiah 9:7; Romans 9:7, 13), Moses (Psalm 106:23) and David (Psalm 78:70) to carry out His purpose for Israel.  He even used Gentiles such as Pharaoh (Romans 9:17) or Cyrus (Isaiah 45:1).
  • The Church (1 Peter 2:9; 2 John 1, 13).  Just as God used individuals in His building of Israel, so He used the Apostles whom Jesus chose to build His Church (Luke 6:13; John 6:70; 15:16) along with Paul the Apostle (Galatians 1:15-16) for His purposes.  Both Israel and the Church were corporate elections with certain individuals chosen for special roles in connection with each.

Up to this point, the Calvinist probably would not take exception with what Cottrell has written.  It is his next discussion, election of individuals unto salvation that begins to show the key differences between the Arminian view and the Calvinist view.

Cottrell first shows that while a person could be chosen by God to service in Israel, this did not mean that the person was saved.  Pharaoh is a case in point.  Yet this is not the case with God’s election in the Church.  To be in the Church and chosen by God to serve the Church, one had to be saved.  God chose Paul the Apostle to serve the Church but He also called Him to service through His salvation.  In Romans 11:7 Paul shows us that one could still be among Israel and not be in the Church.  Merely to identify with the Jews was not enough to be saved.  One had to repent to be in the Church (Luke 13:5; Acts 2:38; Romans 10:9-10).

Cottrell shows the Calvinist understanding of God’s election of people to His Church.  This election is unconditional and based on God’s divine choosing that is known only to Himself.  God has reasons why He chooses one person over the other but He has not made that known to men.  Calvinists often appeal to mystery when it comes to unconditional election and Deuteronomy 29:29.  God does not chose people based on any merit of their own nor is it based on foreseen faith or anything else mankind does.  God simply elects whom He elects and saves whom He saves by His own sovereign choice.  This choice is based on love but not because God sees something in the elect but because God, by nature, is loving and good.  Again, God could will to send all of us to hell and that would be just (Romans 5:12) but instead He chooses to save people out of sinful humanity for His glory.

Cottrell contrasts this view (unconditional election of individuals unto salvation) with a view held largely by many Arminians of class or corporate election.  This was the view of men such as Dr. H. Orton Wiley who held to corporate election.  Robert Shank holds to this view in his book Elect in the Son.  Dr. Cottrell points out the flaws of such a view by saying that the Bible speaks of people being chosen to salvation and not merely a plan.  For example, Cottrell points to Romans 8:29-30 as speaking of persons and not a plan.  2 Thessalonians 2:13 is speaking of people and not a plan.  Ephesians 1:4-5, 11 speaks of people and not a plan.  Romans 16:13 says that Rufus has been elected.  1 Peter 1:1-2 speaks of elected Christians.  Revelation 17:8 speaks of people who have been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world.  These are all persons and not merely a plan.

The key to understanding election, according to Cottrell, is that election is conditional and particular.  Those who meet the conditions are saved and thus become part of the elect of God.  This salvation is not unconditional (as Calvinists teach) but is conditional and particular.  God has indeed chosen the Lord Jesus to save lost humanity and Cottrell believes (as all Arminians do) that His atonement was unlimited but is applied only to those who meet the conditions of salvation.  God is sovereign and just to make conditions part of His saving.  Does this mean then that mankind saves themselves?  Of course not!  The humble sinner who repents is not saving themselves but is looking to Christ alone to save them by His grace.  Was the lost sinner in Acts 16:30 trying to earn his salvation when he asked what he must do to be saved?  Paul didn’t reply, “Nothing.  Salvation is unconditionally based on God’s sovereignty and choice.”  No.  He replied that he had to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved (Acts 16:31).  Once the sinner met the condition, he was baptized (Acts 16:33-34) just as Jesus taught (Matthew 28:19-20) and Peter preached (Acts 2:37-38).

In the next post on this chapter, we will dive into Dr. Cottrell’s understanding of how election can be individual while maintaining that it is conditional.  Cottrell rejects corporate election in favor of God’s divine foreknowledge (which is a strong Arminian view).  Others disagree of course such as many Southern Baptists who hold to corporate election.

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Under the Wrath of God

The Scriptures teach that God is impartial in His judgments (Exodus 32:33; Deuteronomy 10:17; Romans 2:9; 2 Corinthians 10:6; Colossians 3:25; 2 Peter 1:17; 1 John 3:15; Revelation 21:8; 22:15).  God is opposed to the wicked (Isaiah 52:15; Hosea 13:2; 2 Peter 2:14).  God is just in His punishment of sin.  The person sins because they use their free will to rebel against God and against His will so that the sinner is convicted by God’s law of their sins (Romans 7:7).  The law of God shows them they are sinners and have rejected the law of God by living in rebellious sin.  Thus God does not make people sin but rather He allows people to choose to sin by misusing their wills against God and His law.

The act of the cross is an act of mercy where God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).  A true loving relationship exists where the disciple of Jesus humbles himself and repents of his sins and turns to Christ alone for forgiveness and reconciliation to God.  This is not a force relationship but one in which God, who first loved us despite our sinning (1 John 4:10), and we in turn freely love Him (Ephesians 1:13).  The beauty of salvation is that God has provided atonement for those who repent of their sins (1 John 2:1-2).  God truly wants to have a relationship with sinful humans (Romans 3:23-24; 1 Timothy 2:3-4).

The Calvinist understanding of the atonement is that the wrath of God is satisfied by the cross.  I would agree.  But Calvinists teach that the atonement was meant to save only the elect.  They believe this brings true glory to the work of Christ.  After all, they reason, the Arminian understanding of the atonement saves no one but only makes men savable.  In Calvinism, they assert, the atonement is not a failure but actually saves when Christ died to save the elect of God on the cross.

Of course, Calvinist evangelists often preach the atonement much as an Arminian would.  How often have I heard Calvinist preachers calling for sinners to repent, to embrace the Lord Jesus, to turn from their sins, to place their faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ.  I have no problem with this whatsoever.  I preach the same thing.  Some Calvinists will even plea with sinners saying that Christ died for them or that God loves them and has shown His love though the cross.  They will preach that men are under the just wrath of God for their sins.  They will preach that all sinners are in danger of the eternal judgment of God.  I agree with this all!

Yet I ask this question: when are the elect under the wrath of God?  If Christ truly died for the elect then the wrath of God cannot be against the elect since the elect were justified when Christ died on the cross.  Some hyper-Calvinists teach this.  They teach the doctrine of eternal justification.  They are consistent in their view though I completely disagree.  Their logic is that since God knew the elect before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), in the eternal decree of God, the elect were already justified in Christ who is the lamb slain from the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:20).  This view holds that God chose the elect and then He ordained the fall.

The logic of eternal justification makes sense if you hold to the divine determinism of Calvinism.

Let us go back to the issue of God’s wrath.  Are the elect ever under the wrath of God?  Most Calvinists that I know would argue that the sinners they are preaching to and pleading with to come to Christ are indeed under the wrath of God.  Yet if election is true, the Calvinist is preaching the judgement of God to those who are not under His wrath.  After all, the atonement did not fail right?  The atonement accomplished redemption for the elect.  Jesus laid down His life for His sheep (John 10:14).  The Calvinist then pleading with sinners to repent as the means to salvation is wrong.  The sinner is not under the wrath of God.  The sinner is already part of the elect even before time (or at least when Christ died to save the elect) in the mind of God and so the Lord was not angry with the wicked since they are part of His elect that He saved in His Son.  This is logical.  This is not biblical.

The Bible teaches that sin brings the wrath of God.  Again, the Lord is not partial in His judgments.  The soul that sins shall die (Ezekiel 18:4).  All who sin are under the wrath of God because of His absolute holiness and righteousness.  Scripture is clear that anyone who sins, rebels, or fails to live up to God’s perfect standard is under His condemnation (John 3:19; Romans 1:18; 2:6-11; Hebrews 10:26-31; 1 John 3:8, 15, 20; 2 John 1:9).  God is opposed to the wicked (Psalm 5:5; 7:11).

One need only consider the preaching of the gospel in the book of Acts to see whether the Apostles preached whether people were under the wrath of God.  In each sermon the Apostles preached against the sin of the people.  For example, Acts 3.  Here Peter the Apostle preaches that the Jews killed the holy and righteous one (Acts 3:14) and he called their acts “wickedness” (Acts 3:26).  He called them all to repent (Acts 3:19) and said that all who refuse to listen to the prophet will be destroyed (Acts 3:23) who is Jesus (Hebrews 3:1).  Notice that he was not partial in his judgment of the people.  They had all sinned (Romans 3:23) and all were under the wrath of God.  All needed salvation.  The call was for all to repent.

Again, I ask, if the Calvinist view of the atonement were true, the elect would not be under God’s wrath nor would they be guilty of wickedness since the sins of the elect are placed on Christ.

The answer, of course, is that Calvinism teaches that the atonement is only effectual for the elect and thus while the elect are wicked sinners before Christ saves them, the atonement is only applied to the elect when the elect believe the gospel.  This is based on logic and not Scripture.

Scripture is clear when the atonement is applied to the wicked sinner and that is when the believer repents and believes the gospel.  Before this, the sinner is under the wrath of God but after the sinner repents, the wrath of God is turned aside through the propitiation of Christ.  The atonement is available for all but only affective for those who repent and place their faith in the work of Christ.  The cross saves no one apart from faith (Romans 3:22-27).  Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).  Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is what saves us (Romans 5:1).  Notice in Romans 5:1 that we are not justified unto faith (as in Calvinism) but through faith.  Plus our faith is in Jesus and not a theological construct about Jesus.  We are not saved by faith in faith or by faith in the faith but faith in Jesus (Acts 4:12).  So many think that their system saves when no system saves.  Faith in Jesus and His saving work is what saves us (1 Timothy 1:15).

The Calvinist evangelist is correct to call sinners to repent and turn from their sins.  He is correct to preach that Jesus will save all who come to God through Him.  He is correct to preach that the blood of Jesus will wash away all our sins (Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 9:14).  The Arminian would do the same.  The key difference lies in our theology.  The Arminian is preaching out of their theology while the Calvinist is preaching counter to their theology.

Does Calvinism Truly Glorify God?

A Calvinist writer wrote about predestination and concluded with these thoughts:

This doctrine is also the most God glorifying doctrine. It gives God all the glory. God elects us, sends Christ to pay for our sin, sends the necessary faith and grace to save us, and sustains us until the end. Man does absolutely nothing. Calvin’s doctrine of election magnifies the glory of God and reduces us to true humility, “neither will anything else suffice to make us humble as we ought to be nor shall we otherwise sincerely feel how much we are obliged to God”(Inst. III, 21, 1).

His words got me to thinking, “Does Calvinism truly glorify God?”

A Calvinist will answer with a hearty yes!  After all, as the writer above points out, God receives all the glory in unconditional election because He does all the work.  Notice that God elects us, sends Christ to pay for our sin, sends the necessary faith and grace to save us, and sustains us until the end.  Of course, this leaves much out like whether a person believes using their “freed” will (or their will made willing) or whether God believes for us (which no Calvinist holds to)?  Must a person continue in the faith till the end to prove their election?  What evidences must a person show to show they are elect or is it possible to never show signs of election?  Could a person be, as Augustine taught, given a false assurance from God for His glory?

But even more, does the God that Calvin wrote about really worth glorifying if He doesn’t love all?  If Jesus teaches us to love our enemies so that we may be sons of our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:44-48), how can God also hate the reprobate with His perfect hatred and not only because of their sins but because God simply decreed that they be reprobate based purely on His arbitrary choice?  How can I worship the God who would send Jesus to heal the sick (Matthew 8:16-17), die for the wicked (Luke 19:10), pray for sinners (Luke 23:34), call His disciples to love their enemies (Matthew 5:44-48), to be the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and yet God Himself sends people to hell because of His arbitrary choice?  How is He worth glorifying?

I know the answer is that we are sinners and I need to humble myself before the God of glory.  Who am I (Romans 9:19-21)?  I should just do as Paul does in Romans 11:33 and praise God for His infinite wisdom.  This is what I am told.

Yet how can I?  John Wesley said that the Calvinist teaching of predestination makes his blood boil.  I concur.  The picture of God from Calvin is not a God who loves humans but a God who is fixed on His decrees.  God’s glory is God’s highest desire.  I don’t see this in Jesus.  In Jesus, I see God humbling Himself to the point of death on the cross (Philippians 2:5-11).  I see a God who loves people so much that He would rather die for them than to see them in hell.  In the cross, I see a God who a wiling to lay aside His glory, His rights, His power to take my place for my sins.  Sure, I deserve hell along with all of humanity and God would be just to send us all to hell but the Calvinist goes too far by asserting then that the only solution is that God must elect from the lump of wicked humanity those for His honor and purposes (Romans 9:22-23).  This is not the answer to our sinful problem.  The answer God gives is the cross.  The cross satisfies the wrath of God for those who come to Jesus in saving faith (Romans 3:22-27).  In Jesus, our sins are forgiven (Ephesians 1:7).  In Jesus, we are part of His elected ones (Romans 8:29).  In Jesus, His Father becomes our Father (Romans 8:16-17).  In Jesus, we are saved (1 Timothy 1:15).

The God of Calvinism is thus a God who not only does all that the writer said above but He also condemns merely based on birth and He reprobates because of His own arbitrary choice.  Even Calvinists admit that God does not elect based on any merit in man but He chooses because He chooses.  God does not take any notice of mankind in His election but He chooses because of His divine sovereignty.  And this is worthy?  And this is glorious?

I would rather worship the God I see in Jesus (John 14:9).  I love this God.  He is worthy.  He is glorious.  He does not fear.  He is mighty.  He is loving and good (Psalm 145:8-9).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

10/12/2015 at 10:51 PM

The Purpose of Signs and Wonders By the Apostles

The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.
– 2 Corinthians 12:12

While God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
– Hebrews 2:4

In the previous post, I pointed out that Jesus did signs to point to Him being the Messiah sent from God.  Certainly one could also agree that Jesus healed people because He was God and He loves people (Matthew 4:24).  This is true of God hearing our prayers and answering them even for healing.  If God heals, He heals because He loves us and desires to glorify His name through our healing.  I also pointed out that Jesus’ signs and wonders provoked people to faith (John 2:11, 23) and the Jews to anger (John 12:37-38).  My question was, if divine determinism is true, why would Jesus need signs and wonders at all?  If the elect are chosen by God before time, why does the elect need a sign?  Will the elect not believe simply because God has chosen them beforehand?  Signs and wonders point to the reality of free choice among humans.  God is giving people signs and wonders in the ministry of Jesus to cause them to question and either come to Jesus for life or reject Him.  Whenever a person reads the Gospels now, the same is still true regarding signs and wonders.  They point to Jesus as Lord and Christ (Acts 10:38) but they cause people to either accept Jesus as the Messiah of God or reject Him but one cannot be neutral about Jesus.

In this post, I want to examine the purpose of signs and wonders done by the Apostles.  I am not debating whether signs and wonders continue today.  That is not my point here.  My point is simply to point to signs and wonders done by the Apostles and why God allowed them.

We must remember that the Apostles were chosen by Jesus Himself (John 15:16).  Matthew 10:1 tells us that Jesus gave His Apostles the authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.  This power came from God and was given by the Lord to those whom He had chosen.  Even Judas (Matthew 10:4).  Signs and wonders then do not prove one is elected to salvation despite the choosing here by Jesus.  Signs and wonders do not prove one is a true disciple (Matthew 7:21-23).

The Apostles continued this display of unique power after the Lord’s resurrection and ascension to the Father’s right hand.  The Book of Acts is filled with healings and signs and wonders.  Acts 14:3 tells us:

So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.

The Lord was bearing witness to His Word by allowing the Apostles to do signs and wonders.  Acts 19:11-12 reads:

11 And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.

The signs and wonders were true signs to point to two truths.  First, the Apostles were preaching without a New Testament.  The signs validated their gospel message as we read in Acts 14:3 or Hebrews 2:4.  The signs pointed to the Apostles being chosen by Jesus Himself (2 Corinthians 12:12).

Secondly, the signs pointed to the risen Messiah.  Peter the Apostle is clear in Acts 3:12-16 after the healing of the lame beggar:

12 And when Peter saw it he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. 14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16 And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.

The signs continued to point to Jesus.  The Apostles did not make money off the signs nor did they advertise their signs.  They simply obeyed the Lord, He granted them power to perform miracles, and the signs pointed to the greatest sign of all: Jesus Christ, the mighty Son of God.

But again, why?  If divine determinism is true then why did God allow for signs and wonders?  Could not God have merely granted faith and repentance to His elect without signs?  If men are born totally dead in their sins without any ability whatsoever to come to faith in Christ, why does God need signs and wonders?  Who are the signs for?  The elect need none.  The elect in Calvinism will come no matter what.  One need not even preach for the elect to come.  Calvinists, to be fair, are not consistent here and preach the gospel to all and even call all to repent while believing that only the elect will come and be saved.  They hold that God has sovereignly chosen both the elect and the means to their election.  However, in the end, God, in His arbitrary choice, chooses whom He will save and whom He will damn (or pass over and leave in their sins).  The means, while sovereignly chosen by God, is not what saves the elect.  What saves the elect is the election of God before time.  I believe that consistent Calvinism should hold to eternal justification since God foreknows His elect and counted them as justified in Christ (the Lamb chosen by God’s sovereign choice even before time).

Yet why signs and wonders?  Would could argue that God has merely chosen in His sovereignty to allow for signs and wonders among the Apostles but this ignores the question of why.  It simply takes Deuteronomy 29:29 and applies it here too.  The elect will be saved.  This not debatable among Calvinists.  The elect will come to faith in Christ when God sovereignly decrees it so.  Whether the elect comes by hearing a gospel sermon or seeing a sign is not the point.  The point is that God chose the sinner for salvation by His own sovereign decree and placed the elect’s sins on Christ even from the foundation of the world.

The Arminian answer is easy and simple.  Signs and wonders are given by God to point to the Lord Jesus Christ as the Messiah of God sent to die for our sins.  The gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16-17) and the gospel saves sinners who repent and believe (John 3:16).  Signs and wonders in Acts are pointing to the reality of the gospel and God is bearing witness to the message of His grace (Acts 14:3).  Signs then validate the Apostles as from God.

The Purpose of Signs and Wonders In the Ministry of Jesus

Why did Jesus do miracles?  What was the point of signs and wonders in the ministry of Jesus?  In Matthew 8 we get a reason from Matthew about why Jesus did miracles (at least just one among others as we shall see but this point is the overwhelming reason why Jesus did miracles).  In Matthew 8:16-17 we read:

16 That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”

Here Matthew quotes from Isaiah 53:4.  Adam Clarke commented on Matthew 8:17:

Christ fulfils the prophecies in all respects, and is himself the completion and truth of them, as being the lamb and victim of God, which, bears and takes away the sin of the world. The text in Isaiah refers properly to the taking away of sin; and this in the evangelist, to the removal of corporeal afflictions: but, as the diseases of the body are the emblems of the sin of the soul, Matthew, referring to the prediction of the prophet, considered the miraculous healing of the body as an emblem of the soul’s salvation by Christ Jesus.

The Messiah would come and He would bear the sins of Israel (and the world; see John 1:29).  Part of this was to “reverse the curse” (Romans 5:17-18).  Part of the fall into sin is suffering, pain, and sickness.  In Revelation 21:4 assures us that in the new heavens and new earth, there will be no more pain, suffering, crying, death.  In fact, death will be destroyed completely according to Revelation 20:14.  Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8) and part of that work is death itself whom He abolished (2 Timothy 1:10).  Death has been swallowed up in victory through Christ (1 Corinthians 15:54) so that Jesus could say to Martha that He was the resurrection and the life even before the cross (John 11:25-26).

What point then does signs and wonders serve for the Messiah?  They point to Him being the true Messiah.  John the Apostle mentions “signs” in John 2:23.  The Greek word here is “semeion” which can be translated “sign, signal, mark.”  Jesus, by doing signs and wonders, was giving a sign, a signal, and a mark that He was in fact the Son of God.  In John 2:11 John the Apostle states that Jesus did these signs or signals or marks and His disciples put their faith in Him.  The signs and wonders of Jesus were not for a show.  They were to point to a greater, deeper meaning and that was that Jesus was the Messiah of God.  Jesus was the promised one from the Old Testament (Genesis 3:15).

When Jesus appeared on the scene, He was unlike any other who had ever been or will be.  I know some charismatics like to quote John 14:12 to say that we as believers can do greater works than Jesus but that was not the point of John 14:12.  I know of no charismatics who would claim to do greater miracles than Jesus.  Who can claim to be sinless?  Who can claim toward others that if they destroy them, they will raise themselves up again?  Who can truly make blind eyes open just by a touch?  Who can raise the dead by a word?  Who can claim to seeing the lame walk just by taking them by the hand?  Even the Apostles pointed to the Lord Jesus with their signs and wonders in Acts (more on that in the next post).

In the Bible, God allowed signs and wonders for a purpose.  In biblical history we only find three main times when miracles were rampant.  Moses.  Elijah and Elisha.  The Gospels and Acts.  In each case, the purpose was a sign from God.  For example, in Moses’ case the Lord was delivering His people out of Egypt and He gave great power to Moses as he led God’s people out.  While the Lord allowed Joshua, Moses’ aid and successor, to do miracles, they were not on the same level nor quantity as Moses.  The point of the signs and wonders was to point to Moses as God’s faithful servant and deliver (Exodus 4:1-9).

In the case of the Lord Jesus, He did miracles to point to Him being the true Messiah.  In Luke 4:18-19 Jesus appeals to the words of Isaiah 61:1-2 as about Himself.  The Jews take an exception to this (Luke 4:29) but Jesus escapes from their grasps (Luke 4:30).  Jesus points to the Old Testament Scriptures about Himself and to His miracles (John 5:36-40).  The purpose of the signs and wonders was to reveal that Jesus was in fact the Son of God who came down from heaven to do His Father’s will (John 5:30; 6:32).

So let me return to my original question: what is the purpose of signs and wonders in the ministry of Jesus?  They were to validate Him as the Messiah.  Yet if divine determinism is true, why is this necessary?  If God can make a person believe and make another not believe by His own determinism then why do we need signs and wonders?  The elect would believe because God makes them believe and not because of signs and wonders!

The very nature of signs and wonders in the life of Jesus points to the reality of contra-casual free will.  God was not making people believe or disbelieve.  He was sending His Son to redeem fallen humanity just as Isaiah stated in Isaiah 53.  This good news (gospel) would be for all people and not just the Jews (Luke 2:10).  All of humanity is under the curse of sin but Christ came to redeem us who were under the curse of sin (Galatians 3:13-14).  Just as Moses lifted up the serpent on the poll to redeem all who would look upon the poll, so the Lord Jesus was lifted up for all sinners so that whosoever can come and be saved by looking to Him alone to save them (John 3:14-15).  The purpose of signs and wonders is to point to the truth that Jesus is the Messiah and by believing you might have life in His name (John 20:31).  The signs and wonders are signs, signals, and marks that Jesus is the Son of God who gave Himself for our sins (Galatians 1:4; 2:20; 1 Peter 3:18).

If unconditional election were true what point would signs and wonders play?  The elect will believe because God makes them to believe (or at least makes them irresistibly willing to believe).  A Calvinist may argue that the purpose of signs and wonders is so that the elect will believe but if God chooses whom He will save and whom He will damn, the elect will believe no matter what by God’s determined decree.  The signs are not true signs then but just merely a show for the purpose of the Bible.  Even if Jesus never did miracles, the elect would believe if in fact divine determinism is true.  The very reason for signs and wonders points to free will.  The signs are to invoke people to consider Jesus and His claims.  The wonders are to cause people to question if Jesus is truly the Messiah.  Read John 9 and notice how signs and wonders play into the reasoning of the people about Jesus.  Jesus healed the blind man to provoke people to debating about Him.  The signs provoked the people as well in John 7:31 to consider Jesus.

One final point about signs and wonders.  The purpose of signs and wonders in the Gospels seems to me to be three-fold.  First and most obvious, the signs point to Jesus as the Messiah.  This is God manifested in the flesh (John 1:14) so we expect Him to do miracles since He is God.  This is the anointed one (Christ) of God who is sinless and is the perfect Son of God.  He does miracles to point to Him being both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:22, 36).

Secondly, signs and wonders provoked the Jews to consider Jesus as the Messiah.  I point again to John 9 as a case in point.  I would also point to Acts 10:38.

Thirdly, I believe that signs and wonders also provoked the Jews to kill Jesus.  We read this in John 12:36-43.  Some of the Jews (such as the Apostles) believed in Jesus because of His signs and wonders and His teachings but many Jews rejected Him as the Messiah and killed Him for it.  The signs worked to provoke some to faith while others to rejection.  This is still true today.  Why does God do this if in fact divine determinism is true?  Why does God need to harden the Jews according to John 12:40 if total depravity (in the Calvinist sense) is true?  If man is born depraved, dead in their sins, wicked sinners from birth then why would God need to provoke the Jews to harden their hearts toward His Messiah?  There is no logical answer for the Calvinist here.

In my next post I will jump into the purpose of signs and wonders among the Apostles.

The Supremacy of Jesus Christ

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

  • Ephesians 1:3-14

This wonderful passage of Scripture has often been used to teach individual, unconditional election.  Calvinists often turn to this text and to others such as John 6 or Romans 9 to try to teach that God elects His elect based on His own sovereignty and He hardens the non-elect to damnation in hell for His glory.  Romans 9:22 speaks of God choosing to show His wrath and make His power known through objects of His wrath that He prepared for destruction.  John Calvin clearly saw double predestination in this verse and interpreted it that way.  R.C. Sproul Sr. likewise sees Romans 9:22 as affirming double predestination though he seeks to avoid this.  Others such as John MacArthur see Romans 9:22 as graceful toward the reprobate as the text says that God has great patience toward the non-elect.  My question would be why?  Why does God have patience toward the reprobate?  If God prepared for their destruction and misery in hell, why does He have patience with them?  What is God being patient for?  It cannot be for their salvation since God does not offer them salvation.

Ephesians 1:3-14 is another abused text.  Rather than focusing on the Lord Jesus Christ, the Calvinist theologian turns to man. I argue that Calvinism, in this text, is man-centered as it looks to mankind as the focus of the text rather than on Jesus Christ whom I see as the focus of Ephesians 1:3-14.  The text is very much focused on Jesus with Jesus dominating the text.  Jesus is the elected one.  He is the chosen one of Israel.  Jesus is the elect one.  Even in Ephesians 1:4 we see that God has chosen us in Christ Jesus.  Jesus is the ark of our salvation.  Just as Noah escaped the wrath of God in the flood in Genesis 6:13-14; 7:1-10, so the child of God escapes the wrath of God in Christ Jesus (1 Peter 3:18-22).  Jesus has bore the wrath of God for those in Him (Romans 5:8-9; 1 Thessalonians 1:10).  The Father is just to punish sin and He must punish all sin but if we trust in Christ alone through faith, we are justified in Him (Romans 3:24-26).

Too often the object of election is the person.  The Calvinist will argue that God in His sovereignty chose people from among the lump of sinful humanity (Romans 9:21) to save by His grace.  God did this before time began.  The Calvinist argues that only this view of election protects the sovereignty of God from the abuse that Arminians bring.  However, in reality the Calvinist doesn’t begin with a Christocentric view of election (as Arminius does) but rather they begin with the sovereignty of God and to a lesser point, the glory of God.

The Arminian begins with the Lord Jesus Christ.  The love of God is manifested in the Son.  Jesus is the exact representation of God’s glory (Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:15).  Jesus is the representation of God because He is God manifested in the flesh (John 1:14).  Jesus fully revealed God (Colossians 2:9).  What we don’t see when we study Jesus in the Gospels is unconditional election.  Instead we see Jesus calling all sinners to Himself to repent and have life (Matthew 11:28-30).  We read that God has sent His Son to die for the sins of the world (John 1:29; 3:16).  We read that Jesus is the Savior of the world (John 4:42).  We read that Jesus will lay down His life for the sheep (John 10:15) and we read that He came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).  We read Jesus telling His disciples to love their enemies to be like God (Matthew 5:44-48) yet are we to believe that God, if the Calvinist view is true, really loves His enemies?  We read of Jesus telling the rich young man how to obtain eternal life (Mark 10:17-19) and Mark even says that Jesus loved him (Mark 10:21) which could not be true if Romans 9:22 teaches that the reprobate are damned by God.

From the start of the Gospels to the end of Revelation, we read of our God calling out to sinners to repent and believe the gospel (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:14-15; Revelation 22:17).  Even Calvinists acknowledge this.  Calvinist evangelists plead with sinners to repent just as Arminians do.  Yet I argue that they are not consistent with their theology.  They labor under the view that God alone knows who the elect are and thus we must preach the gospel to all men and call all to salvation though God will save only those whom He has chosen.  Yet if God will save the elect, He will save the elect.  What has that to do with us?  I know the standard answer is that preaching is the means to salvation but I argue that the reason preaching is the means is that God truly desires all to be saved and to come to the Lord Jesus for eternal life (1 Timothy 2:5-6).  Jesus died for all men but only those who appropriate His saving work are saved (1 Timothy 4:10).  The gospel must go out because the gospel is the means to salvation (Romans 1:16-17; 10:14-17; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; Ephesians 1:13; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).

Let us now return to Ephesians 1:3-14.  The key to this text is Jesus.  We should not be looking for predestination in this text.  That is not the focus.  The focus is Jesus.  If you begin your hermeneutic as Jesus and not your ism, you’ll not fail (Hebrews 12:2).  While I confess that we bring our presuppositions to the text, we should strive to filter our presuppositions through Jesus.  Does our view focus on the Jesus who is revealed in Scripture?  Is our view a view of Jesus who shed His blood for all?  Is our view a view of Jesus that truly desires to save sinners?  Is our view focused on exalting Jesus Christ?  If our view is doing nothing but furthering our pet doctrines but not exalting Jesus, we should rethink our position.

I urge you to re-read Ephesians 1:3-14 with an eye on Jesus.  Notice how much the text lifts Him up.  Notice how much Jesus is exalted in the text.  The center of attention here is not the sovereignty of God in unconditional election but the focus is on Jesus.  Mankind is not the focus.  Arminianism or Calvinism is not the focus.  The focus is on Jesus.  Just as all of Scripture testifies to this fact (Luke 24:27, 44-49).  John 20:31 is clear that these are written (the Gospel of John here but all of Scripture as well according to 2 Timothy 3:15-17) that we might believe in Jesus and have life.

Friend, the focus of Scripture is Jesus.  Jesus is supreme.  Jesus alone is the King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Timothy 6:15).  Jesus is the exalted one (Philippians 2:5-11).  Jesus is our salvation (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).  Jesus is the cornerstone of the Church (1 Peter 2:7).  Jesus is the apostle and high priest of our faith (Hebrews 3:1).  Jesus is the one who is worthy of worship and praise (Revelation 5:13).  The heart of the Bible and of Christianity is Jesus.  It is not a prophet or a building or a place or a ritual or a church group.  The heart of Christianity is the Lord Jesus Christ who died and is risen from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-4, 17).

May Jesus be preached, worship, adored, and proclaimed among the saints of God!  Praise be to His glorious grace!

Grace For All Book Review (Chapter 3) Part 1

You can find the previous posts here and here.

This is chapter 3 of the book Grace For All.  This chapter is entitled, “Calvinism and Problematic Readings of New Testament Texts or, Why I Am Not a Calvinist.”

This was an excellent chapter.  The first two chapters laid down the biblical and philosophical foundations to why Arminians reject Calvinism but now we turn completely to the Word of God for our understanding of why Calvinism is flawed.  It begins with what Arminians have the most problem with in regard to Calvinism and that is the Calvinistic teaching of divine determinism.  I was surprised once when talking with an educated Calvinist and he said that he had never heard of divine determinism.  However, we Arminians view Calvinism as divine determinism.  As Glen Shellrude points out in the opening of this chapter, “Theological determinism affirms that everything that happens does so because God has ordained it to happen that way.”  Shellrude points to the Westminster Confession of Faith which clearly teaches that all things come to pass by the ordaining of God.  While many Calvinists affirm unconditional election and thus they affirm divine determinism from a salvation perspective, many Calvinists fail to see that Calvinism (when taken logically) must affirm God’s sovereignty (all-power and all-rule) as “specific sovereignty” meaning that even the “trajectory of the smallest raindrop” is controlled and ordained by God.

Taken further, divine determinism affirms not just the good of the saints (Romans 8:28) but the evil as well (Genesis 50:20).  Yet as Austin Fischer asks, “What about the reprobate? How does God work good for them?”  Of course, He doesn’t.  God’s plan for the reprobate in Calvinism is hell.  This is said to be for His glory.  Reading Calvinist works on the issue of God’s love and the reprobate one understands why John Wesley said that unconditional predestination makes our blood boil.  It simply doesn’t fit the picture of the Bible about God, His nature, His creation, His love, and those whom He created in His image.

Shellrude points out that Calvinists often try to use the language of permission when speaking of evil and divine determinism but this will not fit with the Calvinist understanding of the sovereignty of God.  Divine determinism means that all that happens happens not because God merely permitted it but rather that He plans and renders everything certain for His glory.  So what about evil deeds done by evil men that God did not permit but purposed and rendered certain?  Some Calvinists simply appeal to mystery but some such as Gordon Clark affirm the goodness of God despite His planning evil deeds and events:

God is the ultimate cause of sin, He is not the author of sin. The author is the immediate cause of an action. Man is the immediate cause of his sin. But he was not free to do otherwise. For God is the ultimate cause of sin.

God’s causing a man to sin is not sin. There is no law, superior to God, which forbids him to decree sinful acts. Sin presupposes a law, for sin is lawlessness.

So how does God in Calvinism escape sinning?  Because He is God.  Because God can do what He wants, God cannot be held responsible for sin since He is above the law.  Reminds me of the cops I see flying down the highway going too fast without their emergency lights on yet cops would argue that they are above the law.  I find Clark’s answer less than satisfying.

In the next post I want to jump into this chapter.  Chapter 3 was excellent at exploring how Calvinism fits into the Bible but it doesn’t.  One must have presuppositions of Calvinism to make Calvinism fit into the Bible.  We will examine the many texts that Shellrude looks at in this chapter.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

09/05/2015 at 1:11 PM

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