googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: February 2015

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Predestination: A Series on Election, Part 5 – Irresistible Grace

Intrinsic to the idea of predestination is the belief in Irresistible Grace. Obviously, the term suggests that if God has chosen us, we cannot turn away from His election. However, irresistible grace runs a little deeper than that. We've already talked about the fact that carnal man does not want to come to God. We are totally depraved – not only are we not able to come to God, we completely lack the desire. However, if God has elected us, we come willingly to Him. So He gives us not only the ability to call upon His name but an irresistible desire to do so.

Consider these two verses:

Ephesians 2:8-9, For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

John 1:12-13, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

According to Ephesians, not only are we saved by faith, one understanding of the verse is that even the faith is not your own – it is the gift of God. So even the ability to call on Him comes from Him.

The verse from John suggests something similar. Note that it says those who believe in His name were not born of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man. Instead, it says rather clearly that God Himself gave them the right to become His children. In other words, we believe in Him not because of our will but because of His will.

I would not describe myself as a Calvinist but certainly I'm sympathetic to Calvinism. It's a doctrine that is not completely without merit and there are many verses that have caused me to seriously consider the issue. However, there is one verse especially that gives me pause. I find it completely incompatible with Calvinism in general and the point of irresistible grace in particular.

Matthew 23:37, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.”

Jesus uttered those words before making His triumphant entry into Jerusalem. He knew that the crowds who flocked to see Him and hail Him as their Messiah would soon be shouting for His death. It says very plainly that Jesus longed for those Jews to embrace Him and that it was they who rejected Him.

Yet men wiser than me have read this same verse and still view is as compatible with Calvinism. While commenting on this verse, Charles Spurgeon wrote:

The great destroyer of man is the will of man. I do not believe that man’s free will has ever saved a soul; but man’s free will has been the ruin of multitudes. “Ye would not,” is still the solemn accusation of Christ against guilty men. Did he not say, at another time, “Ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life?” The human will is desperately set against God, and is the great devourer and destroyer of thousands of good intentions and emotions, which never come to anything permanent because the will is acting in opposition to that which is right and true.

I agree with his comments to a point and I can see how this verse could be used in defense of Calvin's first point, the total depravity of man. Yet I still can't see how this verse can be reconciled with the idea of irresistible grace. Matthew still says that Jesus desired them to come and they, by their own will, would not.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Predestination: A Series on Election, Part 4 – Limited Atonement

The third point in Calvin's acronym is Limited Atonement. According to this belief, Christ's death on the cross was only to redeem those who God had already chosen to be saved. The forgiveness found in Jesus' blood is not available to the un-elect. In other words, Christ's atonement for sins is limited to only the elect. Of the five points, I believe this is definitely the weakest but it's not entirely without merit. First, there are some Bible verses cited in defense of this position.

Matthew 1:21, She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.

On its face, this verse could be understood to say, “He will save only His people from their sins.” This same sentiment is found in Acts.

Acts 20:28, Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

Again, it seems like Christ's blood was shed to purchase only His church.

Finally, some people try to make hay out of the Bible's frequent use of the word, “many.” Consider the following verse, for example:

Matthew 26:28, “for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.

The use of the word “many” here could be understood to mean “a large number but not all” - that is, the verse means, “poured out not for all for the forgiveness of sins, just many.” However, the use of the word “many” is ambiguous and can refer to the number instead of the percentage. For example, I could say, “There are many people in the world.” In that case, “many” includes all; I'm saying there are a lot of people. Likewise, a large number of people (i.e. “many”) are saved through Jesus' blood.

In contrast to the idea of limited atonement, we could consider John's words:

1 John 2:2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

The phrase, “the whole world” seems a lot less ambiguous than the term, “many.” Yet even though the term “whole world” seems to include everyone, we must still be on guard against the false doctrine of universalism. The Bible is clear that not everyone is or will be saved. Revelation 20:15 warns sinners that when the dead are judged by their works, anyone whose name is not written in the Book of Life will be cast into the Lake of Fire.

As is always the case, we must reconcile those verses which seem to suggest a limited atonement with the verses that suggest universalism. I believe the solution is rather obvious: Christ died so that He might make salvation available to everyone but only those who repent and accept His forgiveness are saved. In that sense, atonement truly is limited to the elect.