Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Sovereignty of God (Pt. 2)

    I'll be continuing my series on the sovereignty of God, tonight specifically aiming at explaining why I believe God is sovereign specifically in the area of salvation, though in theory that is included under the blanket sovereignty I was speaking of yesterday. Tonight's goal is more specific though, and I will be honing in on one area of His sovereignty: sovereign election. Again, I'll begin with texts as my first line of argument.

     "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 

     "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to the kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him, we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory." (Eph. 1:3-12)

     I know that's a long passage, but it is the foundation of God's sovereignty in salvation. This passage is nine solid verses of God "choosing", "predestinating", "intending", "purposing", and "willing". But let's walk through this. Notice the recurring "us". There is a specific group to whom all of this applies, not an open ended "everyone". These are those for whom Christ's death secured these blessings. From the onset, there is a specific group (us) who are the beneficiaries of this, and there is thus, apparently, a group excluded.

      But why are we accepted and others not? Why are we the "us" and those who aren't included not? I think the next verse articulates very clearly, "...just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world..." The reason some are included in this mass blessing is not ultimately because we chose to accept and others did not, because that answer doesn't take us anywhere. We're still left to answer why did we accept and others not? The answer of our acceptance simply does not satisfactorily answer the question, because all we did was rephrase it and push the question further down the road. It still has to be answered, just differently worded.

     Paul goes straight to the answer. Why are we blessed, why did we accept and thus are blessed? Because He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world. The necessary implication of that is that He did not choose others, because not all are included in this blessing. Not all have obtained an inheritance or forgiveness.

      Again, why has He made known this great mystery of His will to us? Because of the kind intention of His will. Not because we chose for Him to do so, that's only the result of this kind intention of His will. Paul is taking the question back as far as it can go, past all of the "why" questions, to the root of the matter: God willed it this way. We were blessed by the kind intention of His will. We received an inheritance by the kind intention of His will. We received forgiveness by the kind intention of His will. Not by our wills, but because of His.

      One more point I want to make from this passage is that every active verb in this passage is an action on God's part, not ours. He willed, He predestined, He chose, He lavished, He blessed, He bestowed, He made known, He purposed, He works, in the active sense. We are blessed, are chosen, we are predestined, we are redeemed, we are forgiven, in the passive sense. Basically, this is monergism in its clearest sense; God acting, man receiving. We are not the authors, the perfecters, or the choosers of our faith. We are the beneficiaries of God's authorship, perfection, and choice.

     At no point does Paul describe God's actions as the result of our choice or as a result of God having looked forward in time and then acted based on what we were going to do (which would make us the sovereign ones, wouldn't it?). At every turn in this passage, Paul goes above on beyond to point to our salvation as entirely God, not a synergistic work of God and man together.

     "For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified." (Rom. 8:29-30)

      I want you to read the verse and follow the chain of logic. Those He foreknew, He predestined; who He predestined, He called; who He called, He justified; who He justified He glorified. Now, following this chain, are there any He justified who He did not foreknow and thus predestine? Are there any He foreknew who are not justified? I think it's very clear from how the passage is worded that there is a specific number of people, each of whom are specifically known and chosen by God, who are justified, and only that number. Those glorified and justified are exactly the same as those foreknown and predestined.

     I have heard people try to say that this is not predestination for salvation but rather predestination to being conformed to the image of Christ, which is God's desire for everyone. But isn't that salvation? The imparting of Christ's righteousness to my account, perfectly conforming me to Christ's image, if done for every person, would, in fact, save the entire world. So if we hold to this non-sovereignty position, we are forced straight into universalism, the belief that all are saved.

     There are more passages, most notably Rom. 9 in its entirety, that point to the same doctrine. However, I think those two are sufficient at this point to at least show my reasons for my belief. I'd like to move on and point out some more systematic and logical arguments for my belief beyond simply the texts.

     In geometry, there are two methods of proofs (that I was taught). First, the direct method. List your reasons in a chain of logic for your conclusion with the axiom, theorem, or corollary that makes your reason true. This is what I've attempted to do with the texts above. The second method is the indirect method. Basically, you assume for the moment that what you're trying to prove is false and that an alternate statement must be true.

     That is what I'm going to do. For the moment, I am going to accept the idea that man chooses God, and that God's choosing is only based on having looked forward in time and then chose based off of our choice. The most glaring problem there is that it directly contradicts the two passages I just went into depth about, which speak of God as the initiator and continuer of our faith. If God's decision is based off of mine, I am, in fact, the author of my faith.

      Secondly, this view of salvation makes me the final arbiter of my own redemption. God does His part (admittedly the larger, harder part), but I still must do mine. But that doesn't fit into the Biblical picture. If God has a part and I have a part, we're back to a synergism, a co-working of God and man, not a salvation from God. So, how is God glorified in doing His part for everyone (so effectively saving no one), and leaving the actual act of salvation (choosing Him) to us?

      When Eph. 1 spoke of God's redemption of us being for His own glory, how is He glorified in this? Is it not a much smaller glory, a glory that makes us simply nod and thank God for making it possible for us to save ourselves rather than fall on our knees and gasp out our thanks for such a radical redemption?

      Lastly, this view leaves all of us on an equal plain, those who are destined for heaven and those for hell, all people for whom Christ died in exactly the same way, then lets decide on their own. So, why does one choose and not another? Inerrant goodness? Inerrant wisdom? If God calls all men equally, then there must be differing levels of good or wisdom in different people which gives them to the tools to respond or turn to or away from God. But if God is our Creator, doesn't He create us with all our traits, including wisdom? If that's the case, then does He not still control who does and does not accept Him?

      If we keep following the logic backward, is there any way we can escape that our salvation ultimately was based on God's choice and not ours? If we say that we choose and God's choice is based off ours, then we must answer the question of why some men accept Christ and others reject. They are His creatures, ones He created. Secondly, it's undeniable that some men receive more opportunity than others. Aaron and Pharoah did not receive the same revelation of God. So even here, God showed more grace in His revelation to Aaron than in His revelation to Pharoah. Even if you accept the free will position, is this not simply another method of election, choosing to show this knowledge to the one and less to another?

     I think that's probably enough for today. I encourage you to please, please, examine this issue in the light of Scripture and critical thinking. Do not decide for yourself how God must behave and then attempt to fit the Bible into that. God doesn't like boxes. Please think through your position, more than just "I believe x". Why do you believe x? Is it Biblical? Is it systematic? Is it consistent? If any of those three questions are answered with a no, I think you should begin rethinking where you stand on this topic, even if you agree with me. Truth is far more important than winning the discussion.

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