googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: Predestination: A Series on Election, Part 2 – The Total Depravity of Man

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Predestination: A Series on Election, Part 2 – The Total Depravity of Man

As I discussed in my last post, the 5 points of Calvinism are summarized with the acronym, TULIP. The letters stand for:
  • Total depravity of man
  • Unconditional election
  • Limited atonement
  • Irresistible grace
  • Preservation of the saints
Fundamental to Calvinism is the idea that mankind is totally depraved. He is a hopeless sinner who is not only completely unable to do good works but also lacks even the desire to do good. Therefore, a man is totally without any power to even call on God to save him. According to Calvinism, a man lacks the ability or desire to be saved in the same way a dead person lacks the ability or desire to come out of the grave. It's impossible.

There are some verses in the Bible that support this concept:

John 6:63, It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing

Romans 3:10-11, as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God.” (Paul is paraphrasing Psalm 14)

Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?”

John 6:44, No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.

If I read only these verses and nothing else in the Bible, I would have to agree 100% that a man could not and would not come to God by his own will. However, there are other verses that we must consider.

Joshua 24:15, “If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

1 Kings 18:21, “Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.””

Isaiah 1:18, ““Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool.”

As clearly as the first passages seemed to say we are unable to come to God, these other passages seem clearly seem to say we have a choice. I admit that it seems to be a dilemma. I think the key to understanding all verses in harmony hinges on the realization that God is sovereign but even the sovereignty of God is a difficult subject to grasp.

My point here is not to establish which verses are “correct.” The fact of the matter is that all the verses are correct. Neither am I trying to suggest what is the more likely understanding. Like I've already said, I only intend to discuss the different points of view. As we can see, Scriptural support for either view can be found. It would be rather narrow minded of us to cling dogmatically to one or the other and “explain away” the opposing verses. A better course of action would be to trust that God is loving, merciful, and just and know that He will always do what is right.

We need to simply trust in Jesus as our Savior without worrying about whether or not we were predestined to do so.


Steven J. said...

It seems to me that the doctrine of unconditional election (since "predestination" by itself might refer to corporate predestination: God has willed irrevocably and unilaterally that the church will be saved, without necessarily choosing who will comprise the church) rests on two problems.

The first is that the Bible, in various places, declares that God chooses who will be saved, that God desires none to perish, and that not all will be saved. This seems like a classic "pick any two" (or at least, emphasize two and downplay the third) situation: pick the first and third, you get Calvinism, pick the second and third, you get Arminianism, pick the first and second, you get universalism). Pick all three and you get a splitting headache.

The second is the relationship between free will and cause and effect. What, as Michael Gazzaniga asks, do we want free will to be free from? Or, as Daniel C. Dennett puts it, is a free will so libertarian that it is not even constrained by our own desires and beliefs "a type of free will worth wanting?" Both argue (against classical "libertarian" free will supporters) for "compatibilism," the view that our will, although determined by our history and nature, is free as long as it is not constrained by mental illness or coercion. Note that this is also the position, as I understand it, of John Calvin (Luther rejected both libertarianism and compatibilism with regard to the will); as some early Calvinists put it, we are free to choose as we please, but we are not free to choose what to be pleased by.

Thus it is in principle possible to have free will but to be unable to make certain choices (because they are contrary to one's nature, innate desires, and core beliefs). The contrary, libertarian view (note: this is distinct from the "libertarian" view in politics and economics, though there is some overlap among adherents of the two) might seem more free, but implies that you could someday end up making "free" choices that don't follow in any ways from one's own nature and deepest wishes -- you might "freely" decide to do the opposite of everything you'd ever freely valued.

RKBentley said...

Steven J,

It's difficult to reconcile the concept of “free will” with God's sovereignty. How can God be sovereign if I can choose to disobey Him? I believe the answer lies in what some people have identified as God's “perfect will” and His “permissive will.” Obviously, God does not want me to sin. However, I still sin. If I decided to commit some particular sin (say going to a men's club to see women dancing), surely it is in God's power to stop me. I could drop dead in the parking lot even before entering. The fact that I can enter at all is only because He has allowed it to happen. In other words, it is only by His “permissive will.”

God already knows the choices we will make. He also knows the consequences. A person might be completely opposed to God but cannot help but do His will. I've often used the example of Judas, the Pharisees, and Pilate. They all might have believed they were destroying Jesus, but it had already been determined before the creation of the world that Jesus would give His life on the cross. They acted according to their own free will but only succeeded in accomplishing the very thing God had already ordained would be done.

Another example is from Genesis concerning Joseph and his brothers. God showed Joseph in a dream that his brothers would one day bow down to him. In a fit of jealously, his brothers beat him, threw him in a pit, and then sold him into slavery. After his many years in Egypt, Joseph became a ruler and the very thing God had showed him in a dream came to pass – his brothers bowed down to him. What the brothers meant for evil was used by God to accomplish His will. Their free will could not thwart the plans of God.

I used to play chess. I was pretty good, actually. It was funny during some games when I could see the checkmate coming in 4 or 5 moves but my opponent kept playing without seeing it. In his mind, he thought he was still playing the game but I already knew it was over. I was just waiting for it to play out. That must be how our lives seem to God.

Thanks for your comments. God bless!!