The Sovereignty of God and the Will of Man #3

Predestination and Salvation

The gospel of Christ is the power of God to salvation to those who believe (Rom. 1:16). If we do not study God’s word to come to an understanding of it, we cannot believe the gospel (cf. Rom. 10:17), and therefore, there is no salvation (2 Tim. 3:15). That is why it is important to rightly divide the Scriptures (2 Tim. 2:15). When studying God’s word, we must understand passages in terms of the immediate context, which are the verses before and after, the context of the chapter, the context of the book, and the overall context of the Bible. Additionally, we need to know the meaning of words and how they are used in the Scriptures. In this series of posts, I am dealing with the sovereignty of God and the will of man as they relate to God’s plan of salvation. I have discussed the importance of not allowing a particular interpretation of the Scriptures to contradict the basic principles of God’s character and man’s nature. The Calvinist view of concepts such as predestination and election is in opposition to the righteousness of God and the free will of man. It conflicts with the Scriptures due to an incorrect interpretation. One of the misinterpreted passages is Romans 9:20-24. These verses have been used to prove that certain individuals have been predestined to salvation, and others have been predestined to condemnation. The issue is that this belief is due to either not analyzing the verses within their context or completely misunderstanding the context. In this post, I will discuss Romans 9:20-24 and resolve the contradictions presented by Calvinist theology.

As I mentioned, it is important to understand the meaning of words used in the context of the Scriptures. The verb “to predestine” is used in several verses of the Bible (see Acts 4:28; Rom. 8:29-30; 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 1:5,11), but contextually, it has nothing to do with the Calvinist view of predestination. According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, it is a translation of the word proorizó, which is the combination of pró “before” and horízō “to establish boundaries”. That is, it means “to limit in advance” or “to determine beforehand”. Some synonyms found in different Bible translations are “to predetermine” or “to foreordain”. We could take 1 Corinthians 2:7 in three Bible translations as an example of the use of proorizó by Paul in discussing the plan of salvation that was determined by God before the beginning of time. These translations illustrate a clear meaning of the word – to determine before. No other definition can be derived.

King James Version: “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory”

New American Standard Bible: “but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory”

English Standard Version: “But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory”.

The letter that Paul wrote to the Romans is rich with doctrinal topics that are outside the scope of this essay. However, it is important to keep in mind that one of the main issues that the early church dealt with was the fact that Jewish Christians were binding the Law of Moses on newly converted Gentiles. They taught that, in order to be saved, the Gentiles had to be circumcised according to the Law of Moses (see Acts 15). Paul responds to this false teaching in his letters to the Christians in Rome and Galatia by revealing to them the great mystery of the gospel (Rom. 11:25). He explains in Romans 1 – 3 that both Jews and Gentiles were under sin (Rom 3:9), and that they could not be freed from sin by works of the Mosaic Law, particularly circumcision. The only means by which a man could be justified was through the death of Jesus Christ, which was offered by God as a gift and appropriated by man through faith (Rom. 3:21-26). Justification is attained by faith apart from works of the law because God is the God of both Jews and Gentiles (vv. 28-30). For this reason, there is no longer any condemnation for those who are in Christ (Rom. 8:1). As Paul continues his discussion, he focuses on the role of his kinsmen, the Jews, in the salvation of the Gentiles (Rom. 9:1-5 ESV):

1I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

The Jews had rejected Christ and demanded his crucifixion (cf. John 19:6). Although Paul felt great sorrow for his race, the rejection of Christ and of the gospel by the Jews was part of God’s plan, which was spoken forth by the Prophets (cf. Isa. 53). God knew that the Jews would not accept the good news of Jesus Christ, and he used that rejection to offer salvation to the Gentiles (Isa. 56:8; cf. Jn. 10:16). The book of Acts reveals the fulfillment of God’s promise in the salvation of several Gentiles, such as Cornelius in chapters 10 and 11 and Lydia and the Philippian jailor in chapter 16, just to name a few. Paul then says in Romans 9:20-241:

20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

The Calvinists use this passage to prove their view of predestination. Based on verse 22, they claim that God has prepared certain people for destruction and others for mercy, which is false according to the context. This passage refers to the fact that God used the rejection of the Jews in order to save the Gentiles. Verse 22 says that God “endured with much patience”. That is, he abstained from punishing the Jews (cf. Rom. 3:25), who were steeped in sin. Paul referred to them as “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction”. The word “prepared” is used in the original Greek text as a verb that is expressed with the meaning of doing something to oneself (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). Therefore, we understand verse 22 to mean that the Jews prepared themselves for destruction by hardening their own hearts. They stored up wrath for themselves (Rom. 2:5) by not submitting to the righteousness of God (Rom. 10:1-4). In doing this, they served as God’s vessels in order to make known the riches of his glory for the vessels of mercy, which were not only the Gentiles but also the Jews who believed. Reading chapters 10 and 11 helps to further comprehend God’s plan.

The Jews were God’s chosen people. He always intended to save them, and he secured that promise by making covenants with their forefathers (e.g., Gen. 6:18, 15:18). However, he incited jealousy in them by turning to other nations, and he was justified in doing so because Israel was a disobedient people (Rom. 10:18-21). Paul then explains that, although they stumbled, it was not so that they would fall. That is, God did not predestine them to be completely destroyed or lost. These same vessels of wrath would still have the opportunity to be saved (Rom. 11:11-15):

11 So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. 12 Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!

13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14 in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. 15 For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?

It is clear in this text that Israel’s trespass brought salvation to the Gentiles, which in turn, would make Israel jealous in order that they also would seek salvation. In this way, God grants salvation to both Jews and Gentiles, that is, the whole world (11:25):

25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved…

God was loyal to the covenant that he made with Israel’s forefathers (11:28-29): “28 As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” These verses teach us that God keeps his promise. He has not revoked the gift of salvation. All you need to do is accept it by being obedient (Rom. 16:26).

These chapters most certainly reveal the everlasting wisdom, love, and mercy of God (Rom. 11:30-36). They also show that he does not show partiality towards men and would never predestine specific individuals to be saved or lost. What he predestined, or determined beforehand, was a plan. His plan involves an election, which I will discuss in the fourth part of this series. I will argue that God’s election as taught in the Bible is different from the type of election taught in Calvinist theology.

Footnotes

1. Since it deals with election, Romans 9:6-19 will be discussed further in part 4 of this series. Predestination and election are closely related.

The Sovereignty of God and the Will of Man #2

The Dilemmas and Contradictions of Calvinism

In this post, I continue to explore the role that man plays in God’s plan of salvation. Particularly, I will focus on the doctrine of Calvinism in order to highlight the dilemmas and contradictions that emerge in its interpretation of predestination and election. I do not intend to review fully this theology, as it would require a much longer essay. However, I will present some points that give us an idea of its falsity. As I mentioned in my first post, there are five main points that summarize God’s plan of salvation within the Calvinistic doctrine, which are represented by the mnemonic device TULIP: T- Total Hereditary Depravity, U- Unconditional Election, L- Limited Atonement, I- Irresistible Grace, and P- Perseverance of the Saints. These points are so intimately related that if you can see the fallacy in one or two of them, the whole system falls. Therefore, I will discuss specifically the concepts of predestination and election.

The details of Calvinist theology are laid out in the Westminster Confession of Faith. The following is stated concerning predestination and election:

“By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death”.

“These angels and men, thus predestinated, and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished”.

Calvinism teaches that God, in his sovereign counsel, determined before the foundation of the world certain individuals to be saved and others to be lost. That is, each person in this world and those to be born have been predestined for either salvation or condemnation, and there is nothing that can be done to change it because their design and God’s decision are immutable. God’s election of the saved is independent of any works that man could do, and therefore, it is unconditional (Chap. III, Secs. III-IV). Calvinism also teaches that, if you are elected for eternal life, God personally calls you in such a way that you are irresistibly drawn to Christ (Chap. X, Sec. I). Once you have been called according to God’s grace, it is impossible to willfully fall away. The Westminster Confession of Faith states, “[t]his perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election” (Chap. XVII, Sec. II). Although this summary is not exhaustive, the basic ideas of this theology present a dilemma because it contradicts basic truths concerning the righteousness of God and the free will of man. Calvinists claim to accept these truths; however, their teachings on these matters are conflictive and are based on an incorrect interpretation of the Scriptures. Note also that the implication of this doctrine is that once you are saved, you can never fall from grace, which does not align with what we observe in the Bible as it relates to the practice of sin.

One of the passages cited within Calvinism to support predestination is Romans 9:20-24:

20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

When these verses are taken out of context, and we do not consider the author’s original intent, they would indeed lead us to believe that God has predestined specific individuals to be saved or lost. However, this interpretation presents a serious conflict with verses concerning the righteousness of God (See Post #1). Even in the same chapter of the above passage, Paul asked the question, “[w]hat shall we say then? Is the unrighteousness with God?” (Rom. 9:14). His answer was clear, “certainly not!”

Calvinists support their interpretation of election with 1 Peter 1:2, 2:9 and Ephesians 2:8-10:

elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied (New King James Version)

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (ESV)

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. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (ESV)

These verses also have been taken out of their context, which has distorted the true message of the author’s writing. This abuse of the Scriptures lends to misunderstandings and false teachings. The idea that God elected certain individuals to be saved and others to be lost and that those who are saved cannot at any time fall from grace does not align with the word of God. If God’s decrees are unchangeable, and he has decreed that some will be saved and others will be lost, then we have to conclude the following: 1) God creates evil people who are designed this way from birth, 2) man does not have free will in making a decision to do good or evil, 3) even if a person wanted to be saved and actually lived a Christian life, it would be impossible because God has already decided that they would be lost, and 4) there is no way of knowing that you are saved or lost.

The Calvinistic view of salvation does not, in fact, teach anyone how to be saved. This doctrine contradicts fundamental principles concerning the Creator and his creation. It compromises the integrity of God, takes away our free will, and does not give us any assurance of salvation. The Scriptures teach that we should be confident in the fact that we are saved and are to have assurance in the faith (Col. 2:2; Heb. 6:11, 10:22, 11:1; 1 Tim. 3:13). The only way to have that assurance is to trust God’s plan and to choose to submit to whatever his plan entails; that is, we must be obedient just like Christ was (Rom. 16:26; Phil 2:8). This is not to say that we have the opportunity to boast because even when we are obedient, we continue to be unprofitable servants; we have only done what was our duty (Luke 17:10).

In my third post, I will attempt to resolve the contradictions that emerge in the Calvinist doctrine by defining predestination according to the Scriptures and by correctly interpreting Romans 9:20-24. We will see that, although God’s plan of salvation does involve predestination, it is not the type that is taught in Calvinism. The passage in Romans does not demonstrate that specific individuals are headed towards salvation or condemnation independent of their own free will and by an immutable decree made by God.

The Sovereignty of God and the Will of Man #1

The Character of God and the Nature of Man

This post is the first of a series on the importance of man’s role in God’s plan of salvation. My interest in this topic was sparked by various conversations and bible studies that I have had with people that agree and disagree with the notion that each individual has a role to play in his salvation. Man’s primary goal in this life should be to fear God and keep his commandments (Eccl. 12:13). If we expect to be where the Father is when we part from this world, we must rightly divide his word in order to know what we must do to be saved (2 Tim. 2:15, 3:16-17). There are several doctrines on salvation that do not align with God’s word. One of the most prevalent is Calvinism. Calvinistic theology is summarized in five main points that are represented with the mnemonic device, TULIP: T- Total Depravity, U- Unconditional Election, L- Limited Atonement, I- Irresistible Grace, P- Perseverance of the Saints. The basic idea that underlies this doctrine is that man has no role to play in his salvation, and that God does all the work. This theology involves the concepts of predestination and election, which are found in the Scriptures. However, the Calvinistic approach to the interpretation of these concepts produces false doctrine because it contradicts basic principles about the character of God and the nature of man. I believe that in order to understand the topic of salvation, we must know who and how God is and how he has created mankind. Therefore, in this first post, I will explore passages from the Scriptures that reveal this information to us.

The only way to know God is by reading his word. He has revealed to us his character traits so that we know how he deals with his creation. I believe that the most important trait to know about God is that he does not change who he is. We learn this from Malachi 3:6, “for I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed” (English Standard Version). He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). There is no variation in him (Jas. 1:17). When we accept this, we know that whatever we learn about his character is just as true now as it was in former times.

The Scriptures teach that God is sovereign. The psalmist says in Psalm 115:3 and 135:6 that the Lord sits in heaven and does as he pleases. No one can direct the Spirit of the Lord. No one can teach him or make him understand (Isa. 40:13-14). He is the only Sovereign One, King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Tim. 6:15-16). God is also righteous and just. He is a faithful God who does no wrong (Deut. 32:4; Rom. 2:11). He is also a jealous god, forbidding all other gods and idols (Deut. 4:23-24). The Scriptures also teach that God does not and cannot lie:

19 God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it (Num. 23:19 ESV)?

in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began (Titus 1:2 ESV).

17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us (Heb. 6:17-18 ESV).

Additionally, we learn in 1 Corinthians 14:33 that God is not a god of confusion, but rather, a god of order. There is no division in him, and he does not teach conflicting ideas in his word. Some other important features of God’s character are that he is patient, merciful, loving, and gracious (Eph. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9). However, he is also wrathful and vengeful against disobedience, ungodliness, and unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18; Eph. 5:6; Heb. 10:29-31). God is light, and in him, there is no darkness (1 John 1:5).

The other necessary part of understanding salvation is knowing how God has created human beings. The basic truth about mankind is that God has created us upright and perfect; however, we stray away and seek to do our own will (Eccl. 7:29). God has made us in his own image (Gen. 1:27, 5:2; 1 Cor. 11:7) and has given us the free will to choose our own paths. This concept is made clear in the words of Moses and Joshua. In Deuteronomy 30:19, when Moses pronounced the covenant that the Lord made with the people at Moab, he told them to choose between life and death. Joshua also told the people in the renewal of the covenant in Shechem to choose whom they would serve (Josh. 24:15). We are encouraged to choose God’s will. The whole duty of man is to fear God and keep his commandments (Eccl. 12:13); however, our selfish ambitions lead us to do our own will. When we do our will and not the will of God, it alienates us from him because of our hardened hearts and evil actions (Eph. 2:12, 4:18; Col. 1:21). It makes us his enemy (Rom. 5:10). The only way to be saved is by being reconciled to him (Rom. 5:11; 2 Cor. 5:18), and the only way to be reconciled to him is through Jesus Christ (Jn. 14:6; Col. 1:20,22; cf. Acts 4:12).

All of our bible studies should be guided by these basic truths, but it is particularly important to keep these in mind when we study salvation. We need to be sure that we follow the Scriptures in this matter because the consequences are costly. In upcoming posts, I will refer back to these principles as I continue to explore man’s role in God’s plan of salvation. There will be various references to Calvinistic theology, particularly concerning predestination and election, as I believe the Calvinistic interpretation of these concepts conflict with the basic principles about the character of God and the nature of man.