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Monday, April 17, 2006

Grace Revealed: Particular Redemption

After recognizing that we are all Totally Depraved, that God saves us through his Unconditional Election, that said election is manifested in an Effectual Call, that the call results in the Perseverance of the Saints, it is a simple thing to arrive at the Particular Redemption - or, perhaps more precisely, “Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures.”

It must have delighted the apostle Paul to flash before his readers some of the brilliance and breathtaking magnitude of God’s purpose from eternity past to eternity future. Romans 8:29-30; Ephesians 1:1-14; 2 Thessalonians 2:11-17; and 2 Timothy 1:9-12 constitute a portion of these dazzling displays of divine activity. Common elements in these passages are several, either expressed or implied: God the Father has set his purpose of grace upon some individuals before the foundation of the world and has elected them to salvation; these individuals will be set apart by the Holy Spirit to a belief of the truth and will be sealed by him with the result that they come at last to glory; the connecting link between the purposeful and specific choosing done by the Father and the equally particularistic sanctifying work of the Spirit consists of the work of the Savior, Jesus Christ.

As represented in these passages (and please read them before you comment), Christ’s work consists of dying as a result of being delivered up by the Father (Rom. 8:32, 34) to become Redeemer (Eph 1:7) and Savior (2 Tim 1:9) and Intercessor (Rom. 8:34) and Guarantor of an incorruptible eternal life (Rom. *:30, 34; Eph. 1:10-12; 2 Thess. 2:14, 2 Tim 1:10).

These passages have no hint of tentativeness or incompleteness about them when describing the results of the work of Christ. According to these Scriptures, Christ accomplished absolutely what his appearance upon the earth was designed to accomplish. When Paul poses the rhetorical question, “Who is he that condemneth?” his answer – designed to alleviate fully any fears “God’s elect” might have (Rom 8:33) – is, “It is Christ that died.” And he continues, “…that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us” (v. 34). Christ’s heavenly intercession exactly parallels in purpose his death – both are for God’s elect.

Thus, we come to what seems to me to be the obvious conclusion. While historically this understanding of the atonement has been termed a “limited atonement”, I prefer “particular redemption” because the word “limited” implies inability instead of scope – but the content of the reality to which they refer is the same. Christ died for the same people for whom he intercedes; these are the same ones the Father has elected and the Spirit has effectually called.

It must be the logical conclusion for the proponents of Grace – for is God elected before of old, and Christ died for our sins, he would not have died for the sins of those who were not foreordained to election. In short, particular redemption affirms that Jesus Christ in dying bore the sins of his people, enduring all the punishment that was due to them by becoming for them the curse that the law demanded. It pleased the Lord God to set him forth and bruise him for this purpose, for in doing so he gained – by his meritorious death – forgiveness, righteousness, sanctification, and eternal glory for a large and definite number of people, all of whom he knew and to whom he was joined before the foundation of the world. It is for this reason that Christ is called “that great Shepherd of the sheep” in relation to the “blood of the everlasting covenant” (Hebrews 13:20).

Honestly, I have difficulty seeing how this doctrine presents the problem that it seems to. There are many “4 point Calvinists” who deny the doctrine of particular redemption. I understand the emotional reason – we want to say that God loves everyone just the same. However, that is not the issue. Even Arminians, who believe that God does not elect, but foreknows, should agree with this doctrine. After all, if God foreknew who would “choose” Christ, wouldn’t Christ still have died only for them? Only the open theist seems to have a logical leg to stand on when considering this doctrine of Grace.

Thus, the doctrines of Grace have been presented, and I appreiate everyone's comments that have sharpened my faith. I will continue with two more sections of posts on the subject – one that addresses the Biblical truth that “God our Saviour... will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:3-4); the other to describe what I believe is the reason that the mass of Christians remain Arminians, and why the natural progression of Arminianism is Open Theism.

6 Comments:

  • I don't think there's much to add here that we've not talked about before, except to note that you missed an extremely interesting verse. You quote 2 Thes:11-17. If you read verse 10 of that chapter, you'll see this sentence:

    "They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved."

    This shows precisely what I've been saying all along - that the Bible teaches both God's choosing and our choosing. We cannot ignore either but must deal with them. My fundamental problem with your position is that you ignore our role - despite what the Bible clearly says - preferring instead to focus only on God's choice.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 4/18/2006 05:05:00 AM  

  • John,
    One reason I quote exclusively from teh KJV is because it is a word-for-word translation. I'm not sure what you quote, but it is obviously a thought-for-thought translation, which leaves much more room for the translators to insert their theology into the text.

    The KJV is: "because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved".

    The Greek word translated as "received" is "eh-dex-an-toe", the Aorist middle third-person plural form of the word, "dech-oh-mai", which is ALWAYS translated as "receive".

    The word "love" in the Greek is explicitly a noun, not a verb. No act of "loving the truth" is being described.

    There is not failure to love here - it is a failure to receive the love of the truth, where God has not elected them to receive it.

    Traduttore, traditore - "translator, traitor", says the well known Italian phrase. It has never been made more clear to me than this moment.

    John, please do not tell me that I ignore what the Bible "clearly says". Consider this -

    If I retain the right to "choose", who looks more powerful, me or God?

    If God alone retains the right to choose, who looks more powerful, me or God?

    I do not claim the odd "sixth Sola", that God's sovereignity drives the train, that many proponents of Calvinism do. Instead, I use the questions to demonstrate that I have no dog in the fight.

    My pride is only fed by my choice. If God chose me, arbitrarily, not because of any thing I have done but because he wished to for his glory, I have nothing in which to boast. However, if I chose God, I do have something to boast of. As a man who is aware of pride in my life, I am certain that the only answer is one which leads to "Where is boasting? It is excluded." (Romans 3)

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 4/18/2006 03:38:00 PM  

  • As you know, I don't know Greek, so I have to follow the translations I've got to hand. And this convenient parallel translation shows me this.

    KJV - "they received not"
    New American Standard - "the did not receive the love of truth so as to be saved"
    NIV - "they refuse to love the truth"
    Amplified - "they did not welcome the truth but refused to love it"
    Rheims - "they receive not the love of truth"
    New American - "they have not accepted"
    NRSV - "they refused to love the truth"

    What I gather from this is that there is no consensus that the verse means what you say - nor that it means what I said :-)

    The danger with using just one translation is, as you know, that we can make mistakes by relying on it. The KJV, to my mind (and whatever its virtues) carries an additional and subtle danger. The English language has changed significantly since it was translated, which means that many passages may not mean what we think they mean because the meanings of words have shifted. Take, as one example, the use of "Thou" for God - most people now think that this is a formal usage of respect for God. However, this is directly opposite to the truth. "Thou" was the familiar, intimate form used to friends and family - similar to "tu" in French.

    I agree that we should avoid boasting. But this isn't a foundational principle. Rather, it's derived from the theology. In reply, I would say (in line, I think with Paul) that we cannot boast because God is the one who achieves our salvation. We have no power to do so ourselves. I do not believe that this must render us entirely passive.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 4/19/2006 03:29:00 AM  

  • I have enjoyed this series—and the discussions it has engendered—immensely. Since I began thinking seriously about the subject (some 10 years ago) I’ve been hard-pressed to find anyone who is willing to dig in and really hash it out. This is one of the reasons that I don’t mention the subject on my blog very often. So thanks for the iron-sharpening Hammer…and John and everyone else.

    My fundamental problem with your position is that you ignore our role - despite what the Bible clearly says - preferring instead to focus only on God's choice.

    I realize that John is addressing Hammer, but my position is similar enough to respond.

    If “our role” is given more weight that it actually has, then a couple of problems arise. For example: if salvation were a collaborative effort, humans could conceivably deprive God of one of His own, for whom Christ died. And conversely, what would prevent a life-long heathen from using her “power of choice” to “repent” moments before death? Yes, one of the criminals that died beside Jesus repented on his cross; but in light of the totality of Scripture, he was obviously one of God’s elect, whereas the other was not.

    Ultimately, if human choice affects salvation, God’s power is diluted, in that He depends upon our cooperation. This simply runs counter to the main and plain teachings of the Bible.

    By Blogger Robert, at 4/19/2006 12:28:00 PM  

  • Robert,
    "if salvation were a collaborative effort, humans could conceivably deprive God of one of His own, for whom Christ died"

    Ah, but you're presupposing here that salvation is limited (or particular, to use Hammer's language). That is, IF we believe that God only chooses a few of His creatures for salvation and that Christ died only for them (not for the sins of the whole world) then, yes, we cannot allow any human action - as you say, this would limit God's total control over which few would be saved.

    However, if we believe that God does not call only a few but rather wants all to be saved, we have no such problem. For God knows that some will be saved and some will not; God calls many but not all respond. Such a view is entirely consistent with Scripture (not with your reading of it, of course, but there are other consistent and defensible interpretations out there, some of which pre-date your own in the history of the Church).

    So, this criticism is not fatal to Christian faith - although it would be a problem were we assuming TULIP.

    "conversely, what would prevent a life-long heathen from using her “power of choice” to “repent” moments before death? Yes, one of the criminals that died beside Jesus repented on his cross; but in light of the totality of Scripture, he was obviously one of God’s elect, whereas the other was not."

    Exactly. Nothing prevents the deathbed conversion, if that is the moment of conversion. However, cynically putting off one's salvation to the last minute (as it were) is just that - cynical. Can a person with such a spirit really convert themselves on their deathbed? To that, I would answer with you, "No". We cannot convert ourselves - I've said that clearly all along.

    And in your reply, you've again simply assumed your position to be true. You admit that almost the only conversion that we have from Jesus' own lips (that of the thief on the next cross) is a deathbed conversion. To say that he was "obviously" one of the Elect is to assume what you're supposed to be showing!

    This is what I mean by saying that you simply disregard anything that speaks of human choice - you say that "in view of the totality of Scripture" it can be completely ignored. What I've been trying to say is that it cannot be ignored. If our view of the "totality" of Scripture clashes with parts of that Scripture, we have a problem. Which I why I resist this idea that the Bible teaches only that God chooses and that we are chosen arbitrarily, randomly, passively. The Bible says too much about our choices for that to be true. We must, I believe, hold this "both-and" tension - that God chooses and that we also choose. Exactly how this works out, I do not know. But I am sure that simply denying human beings a choice is unbiblical.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 4/19/2006 03:32:00 PM  

  • John,
    As I finish my "heavy" theological series, I will be transitioning to a few more "application-centered" topics. You have inspired me to do one on Bible Translations.

    In a nutshell, you, I, and the myriad of believers have enough trouble interpreting the written Word of God. We should not have to strive with those who "interpret it for you". Translators are suppose to simply render the words as they are written, not as they think they mean.

    I am correct in my translation, as is the NASB and the KJV.

    I've never met anyone who thought that "thou" was some kind of formal reference for God. Good grief, "Thou shalt not steal" isn't directed toward God. Thou is 2nd person singular nominative, Ye is 2nd person plural nominative. "Thee" is second person, Accusative or dative case. "You" is second person plural, Accusative or dative case.

    All, of course, are just "you" in English. The KJV translators were making it more clear, not less.

    Whoever told you that "thou" was like "tu" made it up. It is both formal and informal you (singular) in the nominative case.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 4/21/2006 02:48:00 PM  

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