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Monday, March 27, 2006

Grace Revealed: Perseverance of the Saints

Thus, with the Totally Depraved man Effectually Called out through Unconditional Election, the question of that man’s eternal home is permanently directed heavenward.

Understanding that the call is Effectual, in that it is irresistible, and that it is also unconditional, meaning that we neither earned it nor “chose” it, this can be the only answer.

While often perverted into a very shallow, unbiblical, easy-believism way of thinking, this doctrine teaches us the true nature of saving grace, when properly presented in all its parts. Through the window that perseverance provides into the grace of God, one sees whether a person’s repentance and faith have been prompted failingly by the fright of the moment or desire for “your best life now”, or rightly by the sovereign effectual working of the Spirit. This window also casts a beam of light on the deceitfulness of the human heart and – conversely but consequently – reflects the beautiful colors of the power of God’s grace.

There are three areas to the perseverance of the saints: God’s activity in preserving the believer, the believer’s activity in persevering, and the reality of the believer’s continued sinfulness or “perfectionlessness”.

Consider John 3:16. What kind of everlasting life is anything but everlasting? Does a believer gain everlasting life that is destroyed in a while? How absurd. Other passages imply the same perseverance. John 5:24 so combines the sequence of hearing, believing, possession of eternal life, avoidance of condemnation, and passing from death to life that no other conclusion than that of final perseverance can be drawn.

Paul also writes of “no condemnation” for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). If that verdict could ever be changed, little assurance would be given. Ephesians 2 pictures the saved person as the object of the movement of resurrection and ascension power. Only the reversal of Christ’s resurrection and ascension could reverse this salvation. Obviously, the doctrine of perseverance follows from unconditional election and effectual call. Jesus tells us that those who drink the living water will never be thirsty, and those who come to him as the bread of life will never go hungry. He tells us that he will lose none that the Father has given to him (John 6, and John 10).

The life of the believer is also one of perseverance. It is perseverance because life is a struggle against sin, even for believers, and it is perseverance because the believer never abandons their faith. Romans 8:1-17 and Ephesians 4:17-32 show the spiritual lifestyle exhibits by true disciples of Christ. The grace of God teaches us to live godly lives (Titus 2:11-12). In Colossians 3:5-10:

Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them. But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:

The message is clear – the life of sin which once characterized every man is no longer a possibility for the new man. Paul could not conceive of a Christian who did not progressively pursue the way of the Spirit.

The idea of Struggle is also pervasive in Scripture, as Paul describes how he must keep his flesh under subjection and live the life of one who has the Spirit of Christ (1 Cor. 9). Fleshly, lusts continue to war against the soul (1 Peter 2:!1)
Finally, the human heart is deceitful, and concluding that true faith exists cannot be drawn from any apparent sincerity, fervency, or emotion at the initiation of a supposed Christian life. Although the first moments of repentance and faith may have all the marks of genuineness, they may fail to produce a continued harvest of righteousness – thus the parable of the sower. Remember, in the parable of the sower, three of the four plants sprung up – but only on lived to bear fruit. The other two were false converts, who appeared to receive the gospel but in fact did not. A true biblical understanding of saving faith must always include the element of longevity – for the faith that ends never really partook of the nature of true saving faith.

This element of perseverance, then, allows for the deceitfulness of the human heart. Men fool others, and even fool themselves, that they are saved, but their actions or renunciation of Christ show that they were never among the elect. 1 John 1:6 and 1 John 3:9-10 make it clear that a Christian is evidenced by their life, as do Galatians 5 and Ephesians 5:5-6. James’ discourse on false faith shows that faith is proved in action, not in sincerity or knowledge, especially in James 2:14-26.

Finally, while living in the light we are not that light, but reflections of Him. Thus, we are never made perfect while living in the world. The evidence of saving faith is not perfection, but a striving for perfection in word, deed, and doctrine.

In conclusion, the grace of God is made manifest in his Unconditional Election of specific Totally Depraved people, whom he Calls Effectually out of their bondage to sin and ensures their Perseverance in life – both in a life of obedience and a life eternal.

To be continued...

25 Comments:

  • Hammer,
    This is your weakest article in this series, I'm afraid. You've not shown any biblical (or, indeed, logical) evidence that the saints must persevere to the end once they have been "elected". Indeed, I don't think that you could show real biblical evidence.

    For example, you've shown in the previous articles that you are happy to say that God created many human beings knowing that He would not "elect" them to salvation. In other words, they were created for destruction. That being so, what assurance can we have that God may not call us and then discard us - that "call" not being a true call but just another tool to advance God's mysterious Purpose? For if God is willing to discard His creatures by the simple act of not choosing them, can we be in any way sure that God would not choose to use and then discard us?

    Saying that the Bible makes promises to the "elect" doesn't mean that those promises are intended to be an assurance. So, when you say "Paul also writes of “no condemnation” for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). If that verdict could ever be changed, little assurance would be given.", I ask "So what?" You've already disposed of the argument that those who are "in Christ" can be discovered at any point before their death (your "failure to persevere" argument). Which means that none of us can take assurance from such verses anyway. Even personal spiritual experience is, from what you've said, no assurance, because what is required is not knowledge of God but "election".

    You've shown that we must struggle and that we are called to persevere through our troubles. But there is nothing here to say that we need not fear falling away. If that were so, why would we need exhortations to persevere?

    You know that I disagree quite profoundly with the understanding of the faith that you've presented in this series. And this final part might show the weakness of the whole. Such an interpretation requires no less extension of biblical ideas than does a less totally Calvinist/Augustinian one. It requires no less tweaking of the Scripture and no less building of castles of logic.

    Any serious attempt to systematise the teaching of the NT will cause problems of this sort. The art, I think, is not to systematise too much and to be more willing to say, not "either-or", but "both-and".

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 3/27/2006 02:04:00 PM  

  • John,

    The art, I think, is not to systematise too much and to be more willing to say, not "either-or", but "both-and".

    If two propositions are in conflict with one another (e.g. free will and determinism), they cannot both be true—at least not in the same way or the same relationship. This is not a “castle of logic”; it is reality.

    As Hammer mentioned in this article, Jesus said ”I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand”. Therefore, the perseverance of the saints is not dependent upon our ability to persevere; rather, perseverance is the sole work of the Holy Spirit.

    Even personal spiritual experience is, from what you've said, no assurance, because what is required is not knowledge of God but "election".

    Election is the determining factor…the elector being God alone. That said however, the extra-biblical assurance that the elect receives is Faith, which is not mere trust, but rather hard evidence: Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1. So you see, Faith is knowledge; it is knowledge that is imparted, not learned, which is a consequence of God’s grace.

    By Blogger Robert, at 3/27/2006 02:59:00 PM  

  • "Finally, the human heart is deceitful, and concluding that true faith exists cannot be drawn from any apparent sincerity, fervency, or emotion at the initiation of a supposed Christian life. Although the first moments of repentance and faith may have all the marks of genuineness, they may fail to produce a continued harvest of righteousness"

    This is the part that I have trouble with. First of all, I do believe that the only evidence of Christ living within someones soul, is by the fruit that their tree bears. However, I run into a road block with the idea that this is apparent to others. Why? Interpretation!

    Interpretation of ones soul and subsequent salvation is a mighty task to take on. I would be the last person to evaluate whether or not someone is saved, because I am not worthy to do so. I don't believe that falling away from Christ leaves someone without salvation.

    I do completely believe the commandment to take up your cross and follow Christ, in that without a complete rebirth in Him, the title of Christian is without merit. I don't, however, believe that any of us are incapable of appearing to others that we have fallen away from God.

    With our totally depraved state, comes the likliehood that our daily behaviours do not consistantly exemplify what the life of a Christian should. We are not able to live perfectly in this world, despite our trying to do so.

    So, which sin, which act or which choices take back our being born again? Again, I may be just hitting a road block in this particular take on scripture. However, I don't believe God has created some to choose Him yet some of those are not saved because they weren't chosen themselves. A choice to follow Christ is a choice. I do believe that the amount of actual saved Christians may be numbered, just as the hairs of our head, I don't believe that the number waivers with our waivering and hedging faith that is a trademark of human nature.

    While a person may be a "young Christian" in their study, they are still just as much a Christian as a theologist who has chosen the Bible as their profession. I believe that God created everyone differently, (their soul, their flesh, their minds) therefore their route to finding God, and their subsequent method of study, worship and spiritual growth differs, as well.

    I don't believe their is a litmus test for who belongs in the kingdom of heaven, other than what was laid out biblically. To believe in Christ, become baptised, and to follow Jesus with our desire to be more like Him, and grow closer to Him. I don't believe the Bible to be deceitful in that it teaches that we are saved when we openly accept Christ and follow Him, just so long as we never falter. God wouldn't have created us fallible, if we had our salvation on the line each time we were what we were created as-a sinner.

    By Blogger Rightthinker, at 3/27/2006 05:16:00 PM  

  • Robert,
    So, if we say that God is One, we cannot also say that God is Three? And if we say that Christ was fully human, we cannot also say that Christ was fully God? The Christian faith is full of these "both-and" mysteries, and they are among our most sacred beliefs. Interpreting the Bible in this manner is following the great Christian journey into mystery - and insisting on a theology that satisfies our human desire for logic can be dangerous. Logic is important (even essential) but should not be used to ignore what the Bible says.

    In your example (and Hammer's), you nowhere say who "they" are. That is, who are the "elect"? And can my questions about them be answered? There's nothing in the Bible that I can think of that insists on this rigorous combination of election and perseverence. It's simply a human theology - and one that I believe is too limited.

    Finally, I'm rather confused by your appeal to faith as the indication of assurance. Because, according to what both you and Hammer have posted, our own perception of our faith is entirely irrelevant to whether we are truly "elect" - "the human heart is deceptive" and all that.

    The thing is, as I've said elsewhere in this series, insisting on God's sovereignty in the process of salvation is Biblical and crucial. My problem is with taking this one truth and saying that we will ignore everything else because of it. Whereas the Bible is simply not that dogmatic.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 3/27/2006 05:24:00 PM  

  • I just wanted to say that I read my previous comment for the first time, and please forgive me for my spelling and punctuation errors. With four kids, sometimes I don't take the time to proofread, and then the rest of you have to suffer reading it! I apologize!

    By Blogger Rightthinker, at 3/28/2006 03:00:00 PM  

  • John,
    I agree entirely that this is my least exegetical post. However, that was intentional.

    Perseverance of the Saints cannot stand alone. Of the five Doctrines of Grace, three cannot be looked at alone. This is why I started with the two that do stand alone - Total Depravity and Unconditional Election. Effectual Call is descriptive of the election. Perseverance, however, truly says nothing new.

    If you reject unconditional election (as you do), then a discussion of Perseverance is of no value.

    Honestly, I could have posted this doctrine in proof form, using the previous posts as true assumptions as follows:

    1) God chooses the elect.
    2) Man does not choose his election.
    3) God's election is complete and life changing such that the man is made a new creation, reborn, and made free from sin.
    4) Because God chooses, man does not, and the election is complete, the elect persevere in eternal salvation and in their regeneration.

    No Scripture is necessary to deomonstrate the unflappable logic of Perseverance. You are not questioning Perseverance based upon itself, but instead questioning the election and the effectiveness of the call.

    hat being so, what assurance can we have that God may not call us and then discard us - that "call" not being a true call but just another tool to advance God's mysterious Purpose? For if God is willing to discard His creatures by the simple act of not choosing them, can we be in any way sure that God would not choose to use and then discard us?

    We know because he told us, and I noted as such in the post (as Robert quotes below). Further clear statements of God's precise election and assurance:

    Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. Romans 8:30

    Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. 34 Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. 37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. 38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
    Romans 8:33-39

    Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
    Eph 2:19

    And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.

    Finally, one of the most powerful statements of the faithfulness of Christ:

    All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.
    John 6:37-40


    That's pretty clear. If you wish to deny the words here, that is another matter entirely. However, I see no other way to which one can interpret "all shall come", "I shall in no wise cast out", "I should lose nothing", and "will raise it(all) up on the last day" except that God is faithful to do exactly what he says he will.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 3/28/2006 03:51:00 PM  

  • Andrea,
    We actually agree. There is nothing that causes a saint to lose their sainthood.

    What I am describing is the same thing that Jesus, Paul, Jude, Peter, amd the writer of Hebrews describe - false converts. There are many who will say in that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not do these things", yet he will tell them that he never knew them. (Matt 7:21-23, Hammer translation)

    The Bible has many warnings of those who will be in the church yet are not of the kingdom of God. I do not advocate some investigationinto the lives of our church members - after all, it is the angels who will separate the wheat from the chaff, not us.

    Have you ever heard a testimony like this: "I was saved at age 9, fell away, became a drunk, drug abuser, beat my wife and kids, robbed my company, had multiple affairs, but now I'm 40 and just came back to God."

    That is not a testimony of salvation - it is a testimony of nothing. Whether that man is saved at 40 I can't say, but he was not saved at nine. The call is Effectual, and we are regenerated in Christ.

    Clearly, we mature in our faith. Clearly, we can backslide - for a season. However, faith is evident by our works, and a consistent failure to strive for the things that are of Christ is evidence of a false conversion.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 3/28/2006 04:00:00 PM  

  • Hammer-I am agreement with your last comment, completely. I think perhaps I hadn't read deeply enough into your series to completely understand where you were going with it, until the end. Perhaps I was actually reading more into it, by suggesting that salvation was retractable, when in fact, it was the first "saving" that hadn't happened in the first place. Total agreement there!

    By Blogger Rightthinker, at 3/28/2006 05:17:00 PM  

  • Hammer,
    You quote the following:
    "him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out...this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day"

    Which sounds, to me, somewhat injurious to your position that it's not our belief that matters but God's election! Let me repeat, though, that I know that there is a context there also of "who the Father gives to me" as well. And that's, again, my point - that we find "both-and" in the Bible. This is why I don't like formulations that turn it into "either-or".

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 3/29/2006 02:44:00 AM  

  • John,
    I am studying Hebrews right now, and would agree that there are certainly a number of "both-and"'s in the critical areas of Christology and soteriology. I would like to discuss it a bit more, in my typically contrary style.

    We agree that Christ can be both God and man - thus the both-and. However, is it not true that he cannot be both God and not God? Can he be both man and not man? Of course not. God is omnipotent - does that mean he can make a square circle? (That is, a "circle" which is square, not transform a square into a circle, which he can certainly do).

    It is impossible for something to be both yes and no, although the promises of God in Him certainly are both Yea and Amen.

    Do you agree? Or does your concept of God include a God who can somehow be a true contradiction - both A and NOT A?

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 3/29/2006 02:39:00 PM  

  • Hammer,
    You're right, of course. But when discussing free will / divine sovereignty, we aren't presented with the logical contradiction that you address. I'm not claiming "God is in charge and we are in charge". I'm making the very different claim that "God is in charge and we have (some, but real) freedom of choice". These two aspects to the claim are not trivially contradictory.

    It is, of course, possible to frame the debate in terms that make them a contradiction. However, it is also possible to make them complementary. And it is this second path that I believe is the better path - the "both-and" path.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 3/29/2006 04:55:00 PM  

  • If Hammer is right then we all might as well go home and go back to bed, because God decides all and we have no say, no choice.

    I really don't know (or care) what the Bible says about this, but any religion that makes the above claim isn't worth much. Fortunately, I don't think many Christians believe this.

    (And I'm fairly sure Hammer doesn't mean what I claim he means, that humans have no part, no choice in salvation, but I don't see how his argument leads to any other conclusion.)

    By Blogger Mark, at 3/30/2006 01:31:00 PM  

  • Mark,

    "You really don't know, and you really don't care"? Wow! What a sad thing for you! While I generally enjoy discussing on an intelligent and respectful manner, I can't seem to grasp why you would comment about something that you care and know so little about?

    By Blogger Rightthinker, at 3/30/2006 02:03:00 PM  

  • Mark,

    I just wanted to add that generally, discussions about theological specifics within a faith, are reserved for those who participate in that belief system. While theology itself can be discusses among people who don't believe, actual doctrinal understanding is something only believers will "get". So, in the absence of a belief in Christianity, it is mighty presumptious of you to have evaluated how all of us Christians regard Hammer's commentary and doctrinal understanding.

    By Blogger Rightthinker, at 3/30/2006 02:35:00 PM  

  • John,
    I bring up the contradiction aspect because I believe that you are merely giving lip service to God's sovereignity.

    In an earlier thread, your description of Romans 9 was "God is sovereign." Of course he is - but that is not the issue. The First Question is merely this - does man choose or does man not choose? We certainly come down on opposite sides here. You say that man chooses, I say he does not - at least not in the eternal sense. We certainly feel like we choose!

    The Second Question is this - Does God choose or does God not choose? I say he does, but I think you believe that he does not. If so, you are at intellectually honest, which I would expect you to be. I think you are avoiding saying whether he does or not because you are not willing to impugne sovereignity.

    The Third Question is - can man choose something that God chose otherwise? Can a man frustrate the will of God - not his desire that all men should be saved, but his will that he chose us - "I have chosen you".

    I would present that calling God sovereign yet also claiming that we make ourselves elect paints a picture of a God who really hopes it all works out, instead of a sovereign. God is not "in charge" like I am in charge of my employees.

    He master like the potter is of the earthen vessel.

    He is the author and finisher of our faith. Thus we believe as a function of grace, not a prerequisite of it.

    He is the giver of the Holy Spirit.

    He is the one who will prevent men from believing in the Tribulation.

    He is the one who made Artaxerxes consent to the wall being built.

    He is the one who calls, and we answer, not because we choose, but because He calls.

    Anyway, I'm not sure what you mean by "God is sovereign." Robert means that God chooses every single thing we do. I mean that God chooses the important things we do. I really don't know what you mean.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 3/31/2006 01:30:00 PM  

  • (that should be "during" the Tribulation)

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 3/31/2006 02:45:00 PM  

  • Mark,
    That is kind of a silly thing to say.

    "any religion that makes the above claim isn't worth much"

    Unless, of course it is true. There are two levels of silliness in the rejection of the Doctrines of Grace as "not worht much", as opposed to some kind of works-righteousness in which man chooses God instead.

    One: Imagine that you are, in fact, a Christian, who has died and gone to heaven. You think that you chose Christ. Instead, God tells you, "No, Mark, I chose you. Enter into my heaven." You reply, "No way, I only want in if I chose it. Send me instead to eternal damnation."

    Silly.

    Two: Imagine that you are, in fact, an unbeliever, who has died and gone to heaven. God says to you, "Mark, you are not among the elect. Proceed to eternal damnation for the sins you have committed - lying, theft, adultery of the heart, covetousness, taking my name in vain, murder in your heart, not putting me first, dishonoring your parents, rejecting the holiness of the Sabbath, and worshipping the idol of your intellect over me."
    You reply, "You didn't choose me for damnation, I chose myself. So send me to hell - yeah!"

    Silly.

    Thus, Andrea's position on theological discussions comes to the fore - debating Calvinism, Arminianism and Open Theism is a silly endeavor for a non-believer. Instead, you must consider:

    What will you do with this Jesus?

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 3/31/2006 02:53:00 PM  

  • Anyway, I'm not sure what you mean by "God is sovereign." Robert means that God chooses every single thing we do. I mean that God chooses the important things we do.

    While you’ve correctly characterized my position, I’ll grant that, ultimately, the tripod of election: salvation / justification / sanctification is the most important thing that God chooses, in terms of the human experience.

    That having been said however, I would argue that “small things” add-up to “important things”. That is, consequences are preceded by actions, which are preceded by intent, which is preceded by thoughts, which are affected and informed by the will. My argument is that God manipulates (or directs, if you like) the human will. This is so that He may control consequences—and indeed all of history—in order to fulfill His Plan, which is for His Glory.

    By Blogger Robert, at 4/01/2006 05:03:00 PM  

  • So, in the absence of a belief in Christianity, it is mighty presumptious of you to have evaluated how all of us Christians regard Hammer's commentary and doctrinal understanding.

    Andrea,

    You are of course correct, and if I somehow left the impression this is what I was trying to do, I appoligize. I thought I was going out of my way to not pretend to be commenting for anyone in the Christian community. Hammer already knows I'm no longer a Christian, but others may not, so I felt the need to reiterate the point.

    But it sounds to me like Hammer is arguing, like Robert was before, that we have no free will, at least when it comes to salvation. Perhaps I misunderstood, but I don't think so.

    Hammer claims this isn't silly if it is true. While I always believe that truth is more important than just about anything else I believe Hammer may have found the only exception -- free will. If we can't assume free will than nothing else matters. If there is no free will I can't even choose to believe in free will or not.

    Either I'm correct and we all have free will or I'm wrong and you can't blame anyone for believing incorrectly; For example, I was predestined to type that. :-)

    By Blogger Mark, at 4/02/2006 07:49:00 PM  

  • Hammer,
    Perhaps here is our fundamental problem:
    "The First Question is merely this - does man choose or does man not choose?"
    I do not believe that this is The First Question. It can never be The First Question. Whether or not we can choose comes a long way after a great many other questions have been answered - it's a derived answer, not a fundamental answer. So, I believe that we must start with the Incarnation and reason from there; we must not start from philosophy and apply it to God.

    So, when you say that I'm giving only lip service to God's sovereignty, I believe you to be wrong. Indeed, I believe that understanding God's sovereignty in a power-based way actually limits our understanding of God! My belief in God's sovereignty is strong enough to survive a belief that we can choose - I need not eliminate human choice in order to leave God in charge. As to what "God's sovereignty" means, I believe that it means that God created and sustains the world, and that God has plans for Creation that will come to pass. Nothing can prevent God's purposes from being worked out. But that in no way requires every event in Creation to be foreordained and desired by God. God isn't limited to a mechanistic way of working, as that implies. God is sustainer, not mechanic.

    Indeed, though, we aren't in totally different categories (as Robert and I perhaps are). We both believe that humans can make real choices - our difference lies only in the spheres in which those choices are possible. Actually, I'm a bit puzzled that you allow us freedom of choice everywhere except our faith. The only barrier you've erected between us and God is God's willingness to move towards us. This, it seems to me, is at odds with the Incarnation. Rather, I believe (and I believe I am here in line with traditional Christian belief) that the barrier between us and God is our own sinfulness. God always desires us to come to Him, and comes as close to us as He can.

    This division of choice also seems to run against the testimony your wife's been writing recently, in which she talks about her own desire for God that she was unable to bring to fruition until a certain point. According to the idea of election you've been suggesting, either she was elect before she could desire God (in which case, why the years of frustration without God?) or she was not elect until later (in which case, how could she really desire God, as she did?). I mean no disrespect in referring to her story like this! It just interests me that her own story doesn't fit the categories you're trying to impose here.

    I believe that our choices may affect (but not effect) our salvation. That is, we have a say in our salvation, but God is the one who causes it to happen. I see no other way to understand an Incarnate God than in relationship. I could believe that a God who remained transcendent, ruling from on high, would impose His Will on Creation. But the God revealed in Christ Jesus does not work that way - the life of Jesus makes that plain in His every word and action. This God is one who walks among us, becomes one with us, becomes one of us, in order to redeem us from sin and death. There is no hint here of divine fiat, no sign that we are mere actors. Rather, Jesus imbues human beings with the dignity and responsiblity to act for themselves - and, crucially, brings us the power to act in accordance with His will. The two are inseparable, both God's will and our action. Not, however, because God over-rules us but because God loves us and works with us.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 4/03/2006 05:39:00 PM  

  • John,
    I agree with your assessment of the phrasing of my statement – especially with the capitalization. I suspect I was seeking some dramatics, and should have instead used my brain to linguistically devise one, not cheap theatrics. You are correct that it can never be The First Question. We must start with the Incarnation, because that is the only question that matters – “What will you do with this Jesus?” Everything else is, indeed, subordinate to that.

    Also, I appreciate you bringing up the apparent disconnect between my wife’s testimony and the Doctrines of Grace. I suppose I should have led with a disclaimer to all of this, that read something to the effect of:

    While the following posts are true and orthodox, we must remember that He walks among the heavens, and we walk on the earth; that He lives in eternity and we live in time; that he lives in radiance, and we live in skin. Thus, the things of God may not always have an immediately obvious consequence in our perspective of things. Hence, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Cor 2:9)

    With the exception of a few things, I don’t typically feel God making me do anything. I only understand sensation, emotion, physical action and mental activity. Thus, God enacting his purposes, which are none of those, can be manifested in any or none of those ways.


    Therefore, whether we are predestined or not, every decision feels like it is new and fresh right now – so what am I going to do about it? The Doctrines of Grace are not carte blanche for inaction. Rather, they are incentive for bringing the gospel to everyone, since God has purposed preaching the Gospel as his earthly “means” of bringing men to Christ.

    Now, to my disagreements:

    “My belief in God's sovereignty is strong enough to survive a belief that we can choose - I need not eliminate human choice in order to leave God in charge. As to what "God's sovereignty" means, I believe that it means that God created and sustains the world, and that God has plans for Creation that will come to pass. Nothing can prevent God's purposes from being worked out. But that in no way requires every event in Creation to be foreordained and desired by God.”

    Please give me an example of one of the purposes of God that cannot be thwarted by man, yet still give man the full “freedom to choose”. Obviously, a human must be involved in the purpose. The creation of the universe would be one, but the interference of a man with a will is not a consideration there. This will help me immensely to overcome my conviction that you are giving lip service to sovereignty.

    “Actually, I'm a bit puzzled that you allow us freedom of choice everywhere except our faith.”

    I am willing to admit that Robert’s position may be more intellectually honest than mine. I simply don’t see the necessity of the Almighty to decide which tie I wear on Sunday, or if I use the pink or yellow highlighter in my notes. I also know he chooses the things that matter for sure, so I sit between the two of you.

    “The only barrier you've erected between us and God is God's willingness to move towards us. This, it seems to me, is at odds with the Incarnation. Rather, I believe (and I believe I am here in line with traditional Christian belief) that the barrier between us and God is our own sinfulness. God always desires us to come to Him, and comes as close to us as He can.”

    To me, the paradox of this position seems evident. If God has only “moved as close to us as he can”, was the sacrifice of Christ just a hope? Was he hoping that some would, since he couldn’t come all the way to us, and therefore, quite possibly, none would have ever come to Christ? Of course not. I erect no barrier for God – he erects it himself. However, it is no barrier at all, for all receive either the justice they deserve or the mercy they do not. None receive injustice.

    I don’t refute your description of the Incarnation – I dispute your (to me) paradoxical statement that he saves us, but we “have a say”. Why do we need to have a say?

    Lastly, I address the “Relationship”, which you have mentioned before. The defining aspect of human relationships is that it requires the assent of both parties to maintain, but only the dissent of one to dissolve. When we consider the Biblical descriptions of those saved by grace through faith, we do not see this. Instead, we see that it is God Himself who describes us as his friends – not we who declare ourselves to be friends of God. It is God who declares Abraham righteous, not us. When David appeals to the Lord, he asks Him to test his soul and his righteousness, and to make a declaration regarding it. He is not just our relationship friend, but our prophet, priest, and king. He is wonderful, counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. These are names not of our buddy at the pub, but of the one who, as you state, created and sustains us. How we could assume we could dissolve a relationship that God has purposed is something I will have to leave to you to explain – not how we men, in general, are separated from God (clearly I agree with that), but how the Almighty can declare one righteous, then we thumb our nose at him and prove him wrong.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 4/17/2006 02:44:00 PM  

  • Hammer,
    First, I don't believe that we have total freedom to choose - indeed, I've explicitly said that I don't. I believe that we have some freedom, and that this is real freedom. The difference between us here, I think, is your exclusion of our choice from the area of faith. And that's why I find this odd - you allow us freedom everywhere except here.

    Second, when I say that God moved "as close to us as He can", I am not implying that God cannot come as close as God desires. Rather, I'm saying that God comes as close as it is possible to come. Right next to us, alongside us.

    Where I have a problem with your position is that you are saying that the only difference between the "elect" and the "damned" is God's choice. This means that the difference between salvation and damnation is not our sin but an admittedly arbitrary and random choice by God of some and not others. The "elect" are just as sinful as the "damned" but are forgiven purely because God chooses them - and, by direct corollary, the damned are not damned because of their sin but purely because God chooses not to forgive them. This is the direct consequence of the ideas you've been talking about here. And I cannot reconcile a God who damns His beloved creatures for no reason other than because He chooses to with the God who "so loved the world", the God who dwelled as one of us, the God who died for us. I cannot reconcile such a picture with the God revealed in Christ. You say that none receive injustice but your picture of salvation has no consistency, only capricious whim.

    Finally, relationships do not always or necessarily occur between equal parties, even here on Earth. I may have a relationship with a dog, a child, a wife, a policeman, a judge, a taxman, a king, a corporation, a country. These are all different but share characteristics with one another. In just the same way, we have a relationship with God. Not one of equals, no. But a relationship nonetheless. And even among human beings, we may maintain relationships when only one part assents - the rebellious teenager, the comatose wife, the senile parent, the dead friend. Just so with God, who declares us to be His sons. We may rebel, stray away and spend our inheritance, but God always wants us to return and welcomes us with open arms when we do.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 4/18/2006 09:53:00 AM  

  • John,
    You've correctly identified my position on what separates the elect from the damned. Our difference is this - you think I describe the result of a "capricious whim", while I insist I describe the righteous choice of a God who is both just and loving, merciful and holy, sin-hating and sinner-forgiving. I find no sense of capriciousness or whimsy in Him - I am content to leave the eternal fate of men in his hands alone.

    My post on the "dual wills of God" may assuage your concerns about what you feel is my dismissal of the love of God for the world - a position neither of us would deny!

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 4/18/2006 04:59:00 PM  

  • Hammer,
    I'll await that post, but:

    "you think I describe the result of a "capricious whim", while I insist I describe the righteous choice of a God who is both just and loving"

    My problem is that I do not see how we can describe a random "choice" as righteous. If God chooses one and not another based on no criteria at all (as you've said) then that choice cannot be righteous in its nature. It could, I concede, possibly be made by a righteous being (for example, I have no problem with Jesus choosing between two bread rolls at dinner). But that choice itself is not righteous - it is random. Indeed, it barely deserves the name "choice" at all, for the two objects of that choice are equal in all ways (according to what you've said, and as is required by the position you've laid out).

    This is why I use words like "capricious" - the person who is saved and the person who is damned differ in no way, not even in the dignity of their response to the choice. For you have allowed no freedom of response to God. The one who is saved has no choice but to respond positively (you will not allow us to reject God's choice) and the one who is damned never had any hope of salvation.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 4/19/2006 03:39:00 PM  

  • "My problem is that I do not see how we can describe a random "choice" as righteous. If God chooses one and not another based on no criteria at all (as you've said) then that choice cannot be righteous in its nature. It could, I concede, possibly be made by a righteous being...[b]ut that choice itself is not righteous - it is random."

    I am glad you put it that way, John. That will lead my final post on Arminianism, Calvinism and Open Theism.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 4/20/2006 03:55:00 PM  

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