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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « John Hendryx Interviews John Samson, Pastor of Faith Community Church | Main | An Evangelical Calvinism: Lessons From Iain Murray »

    Sovereignty, Responsibility, Moral Inability: Problem Solved by John Hendryx

    The purpose of this short essay is to respond openly to the occassional emails I receive from persons who seem to think that the sovereignty of God in salvation and human responsibility to obey the gospel is a conundrum, a mystery. But, in the Bible, a mystery is something that has not been revealed to us, that is, the secret things of God which have hidden from our sight, but those things that God reveals in the Scripture are for us and our children forever. (Deut 29:29) We believe this issue is one of those things that has indeed been revealed in Scripture. In fact it is a great deal simpler than many people think.

    Imagine a venture capitalist lends $1 billion to a businessman who has, in the past, proved himself by building great companies, and has now presented a great idea for a new company. The VC transfers the money into the bank of the man ... but on impulse the man decides to take the $1 billion he borrowed from the VC and go to Las Vegas for a week of wild living. He squanders it all including his own money and comes home empty handed, with no money of his own in the bank. Now the question is, does this person still have the responsibility to pay back the money ? Yes. But is he capable to pay back the money? No. Which means that he is both responsible and unable to repay the money at the same time. In other words, inability does not in any way negate responsibility. This is because it is a moral inability, not a physical inability. This happened as a result of poor decision-making. Take note that this is just like our condition in Adam. We are fallen in him and are in bondage to the corruption of nature. We are fully responsible to repay the debt owed to God for our rebellion, yet we are utterly impotent to do so. So here we see once for all how simple this issue is. That is why salvation is by GRACE ALONE. God is sovereign and determines those whom he will save according to his sovereign good pleasure. Man is impotent yet also responsible. It is the grace of God and grace alone that makes us to differ from those who refuse to believe... Augustine once said,”...not those who are elected because they have believed, but who are elected that they may believe."

    CH Spurgeon likewise once said....

    "...Any one who believes that man's will is entirely free, and that he can be saved by it, does not believe the fall... did you ever meet a Christian man who said, "I came to Christ without the power of the Spirit?" If you ever did meet such a man, you need have no hesitation in saying, "My dear sir, I quite believe it-and I believe you went away again without the power of the Spirit, and that you know nothing about the matter, and are in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity." (Spurgeon's Sermon, Free Will - A Slave)

    Now, let’s make a Scriptural case for exactly the same concepts (above) that the natural man, left to himself without the Holy Spirit, is both morally impotent to believe/obey the gospel and yet is also responsible to obey, and yet only the grace of God can free us to believe and obey.

    One of the main purposes of the Law of God is to strip us of all self-sufficiency and autonomy. Consider that God has given man His Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 as well as a host of Jesus' commandments to us in Matthew 5-7 in the Sermon on the Mount. Can you or anyone obey the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount? No, not a chance. If God were to scrutinize your life gazing into every detail of your thoughts and life and compare it to what He has revealed to us none of us would stand for a moment. Obeying God’s Law is required of you, yet you have woefully fallen short and justly deserve the wrath of God, as do I. If you are able to obey the commandments, then what need have you of a Savior like Jesus? If not ... that is, if you are not able to obey the commandments perfectly, then you would have to agree that what God requires of man in his law, does not mean he has the ability to keep it. In fact, God has the total opposite in mind. He gives us His law to reveal our impotence. That is the purpose of divine legislation as stated by the Apostle Paul at Romans 3:19, 20:

    “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”

    In this Text is the concept of responsibility (since the whole world is accountable to Him) AND the concept of inability (in that we are impotent to obey God commands) in one and the same Scripture text. He says through the Law we become aware of our sin. Not that we now have set before us the way to salvation in the Law, since we fail the test. Inability, therefore, does not alleviate us of responsibility.

    And this verse in Romans comes at the end of a long explanation by Paul of man's condition. That is that Jews and Gentiles are ALL under sin... that there are none who can keep the Law.

    IN fact ANY TIME someone claims to me that the command of God proves the natural man has free will or that we have the moral ability to obey it, I simply point to this above verse (Rom 3:19, 20) which claims that the purpose of the Law is to strip us of all hope in ourselves.

    To go deeper, the beginning of Romans asserts that all men “ by their unrighteousness suppress the truth ." (Rom 1:18 ) and as Paul builds his case that both Jew and Gentile are hopelessly in bondage to sin he makes a huge claim:

    "None is righteous, no, not one;
    11no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
    12All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one."

    He couldn't have been clearer that all men without exception are in rebellion against God, hostile to God, LOVES DARKNESS AND HATE THE LIGHT and will not come into the light (John 3:19, 20). No one seeks God of their own desires and ability. Left to themselves, men would never seek Christ as He has revealed himself. Like the Romans passage above, the First Epistle to John even says that the command of God is to believe in his Son Jesus Christ. This command itself is too hard for us apart from grace according to the passage just cited in Romans. (Also see Romans 8:7). In fact, nothing is more difficult, nothing that our pride resists more than the command to believe on Christ, for the command itself strips us of any and all hope we have to save ourselves. Natural man is wholly disinclined and hostile to such a pride humbling move as to trust in Christ. This is so hard that it requires a supernatural work of grace in the heart to disarm our natural hostility, illumine our darkened understanding and open our blind eyes.

    In John chapter 6 Jesus tells the Jews, that he is speaking with, that the work of God is to believe in Him whom God the Father has sent. That Jesus is the true bread from heaven and “whoever comes to Him shall not hunger and who ever believes on him shall not thirst.” “Coming to Him” and “believing on Him” here means the same thing as it does elsewhere in the Bible. He asserts that only those who believe on Him will live. The will of the Father (vs. 40) is that everyone who looks on the Son and believes has eternal life. (Here we clearly have man’s responsibility) But in the same discussion with the Jews, Jesus also declares man’s inability to believe, “…but no one will come to me unless God grants it” (John 6:65). Remember that “come to Me” and “believe in Me” are synonymous.

    Can a person come to faith APART from God opening their heart? (Acts 13:49 , 16:14)

    Jesus in this passage says no. Let’s have a clear look at what Jesus tells the unbelieving Jews:

    “…is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail.” (6:63)

    ”And he said, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father." ( 6:65)

    “All that the Father gives me will come to me , and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” ( 6:37 )

    Please take the time to meditate on these passages carefully because it reveals a very important truth. This is a syllogism in fact. In the context of unbelief in John 6:64 Jesus issues a UNIVERSAL NEGATIVE “... no one can come to me UNLESS God grants it. As you recall "come to Jesus" is spoken of all over Scripture as a synonym of believing on him. So, in other words, no one can believe on Jesus UNLESS God grants it. Only the Spirit gives life (6:63). But in John 6:37 (the same dialogue) Jesus also issues a UNIVERSAL POSITIVE. He says “All that the Father gives to me WILL COME TO ME”

    So if you put these two verses together it says, no one will believe unless God grants it, and ALL to whom God grants it will believe. Jesus is making sure that no one thinks that anything apart from grace is what saves them. That even the very desire for faith that we have is a gift of God. This is profoundly important.

    Then at the end of John chapter six many of those who previously were with Jesus left because his teaching was too hard and only the twelve were left. Peter confesses belief however, and Jesus responds, “…have I not chosen you?” But what is so hard that everyone leaves? Hard because the gospel of grace alone strips man of his pride. It forces him to see his own impotence to contribute anything or even lift a finger toward his own salvation. But those who do believe the gospel we can know that God has and is doing a work of grace in them.

    We agree with the Scripture that man has no free will to believe the gospel apart from grace. His will and affections are in bondage to sin until the Spirit does a work of grace in him to set him free. Can a man believe the gospel apart from grace? The Scripture continually witnesses that the Spirit has a clear role for "no one says 'Jesus is Lord' apart from the Holy Spirit."

    Posted by John on October 19, 2005 12:18 PM

    Comments

    John

    Good article, thanks for sharing it.

    ~Paul

    John,

    Your analogy is ok, but imo it doesn’t go far enough (at least for me). Because the question then arises: “What caused the man who borrowed the $1 billion to impulsively squander the money?” In other words, yeah as Reformed believers we all know that we are fallen and completely helpless, but what caused the fall in the 1st place? Did Adam and Eve or Satan have “free” wills relative to God? If so, then we can’t say that God was sovereign over them or that the fall was part of God’s predetermined plan. At best, all we can say is that redemptive history is the story of God’s response to the evil that was brought into the world by the “free will” actions of some of His creatures, viz, Satan, Adam, and Eve. This is basically what Arminians affirm, and precisely what I myself believed for the 1st 17 years of my Christian life as an Arminian.

    Has there ever been a time when God wasn’t sovereign, when He was unable or unwilling to control the actions of His creatures? Has anything ever happened that was outside of God’s predetermined plan?

    Job 42:2 "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”

    Dan 4:35 “all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’”

    So, what I’m getting at is in order for your analogy to be more precise it should read something like: “Then one day the vc moved the businessman to ‘impulsively’ squander all the $ that the vc had lent him. Even so, the vc held the man accountable for the debt, even though the man was helpless to repay him.” Does that sound harsh? Does that sound unfair? Consider this then:

    Rom 9:13 “As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’
    Rom 9:14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means!
    Rom 9:15 For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."
    Rom 9:16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
    Rom 9:18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
    Rom 9:19 You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?"
    Rom 9:20 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?"
    Rom 9:21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use?
    Rom 9:22 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,
    Rom 9:23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—“

    Paul says, in effect, “So you think God is unfair because out of the same ‘lump’ of humanity He creates some to be reprobates destined for His wrath and He creates some to be recipients of His mercy destined for eternal glory without any respect whatsoever to anything within the creature? So what? Who are you to question God? I dare say it’s because the doctrine of God’s sovereignty ultimately cuts across the grain of our human standards of fairness that so many tenaciously cling to Arminianism and Pelagianism, or some watered down inconsistent form of Calvinism that tries to assert both God’s sovereignty and some kind of human self-determinism, crying “Mystery” and “Paradox” when confronted with the inconsistency. Of course, this too must’ve been determined by God; else, yet again we cannot say He is sovereign. Or are we to suppose that God is in Heaven wringing His hands over why so many of His own can’t grasp His “sovereignty”? If so, then we need to redefine what it means for God to be sovereign from “He determines all things” to “He determines a certain number of things, the rest being determined by man”.

    In closing I highly recommend the writings of reformed apologist Vincent Cheung, who I now quote from his essay “Author of Sin”, which can be found on his website http://www.rmiweb.org:

    “Apologetics is easy, but it is often made difficult by unbiblical traditions and irrational assumptions.
    When Reformed Christians are questioned on whether God is the "author of sin," they are too quick to say, "No, God is not the author of sin." And then they twist and turn and writhe on the floor, trying to give man some power of "self-determination" and some kind of freedom that in their minds would render man culpable, and yet still leave God with total sovereignty.

    On the other hand, when someone alleges that my view of divine sovereignty makes God the author of sin, my first reaction tends to be, "So what?" Even Christians who disagree with me stupidly chants, "But he makes God the author of sin, he makes God the author of sin…." However, a description does not amount to an argument or objection, and I have never come across a half-decent explanation as to what's wrong with God being the
    author of sin in any theological or philosophical work written by anybody from any perspective.

    The truth is that, whether or not God is the author of sin, there is no biblical or rational problem with him being the author of sin. For it to be a problem, it must make some point of Christianity false, or contradict some passage of

    Scripture. But if God is the author of sin, how does it make Christianity false? One must construct an argument showing this by citing established premises that necessarily lead to the conclusion that Christianity
    would be false if God is the author of sin. What is this argument? And what passage of Scripture does it contradict? You can cite any passage you want, but you have to show that it necessarily applies to the question and makes it impossible for God to be the author
    of sin. Where is this passage of Scripture?”

    Respectfully,
    Lee Bridenstine

    I find it amazing that so many will argue for the free will of men, but yet say nothing of the free will of God. "Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens." (Romans 9:18)(Eph. 1:5,9,10)

    Response to Lee Bridenstine

    First of all thank you for your thoughtful post. Before I respond it should be noted that my essay, in the first line states that I was dealing with "the sovereignty of God in salvation and human responsibility to obey the gospel" not God's eternal decree.

    Your response to me, however, appears to assume, for some reasonthat I do not think God ordained the fall, which is an incorrect assumption. I affirm that God created a world that would fall into sin, (He decreed it) and He subsequently redeemed them from that sin.

    Next, there are two different ideas usually presented when speaking of free will. One is a biblical one, which I was speaking of, i.e. the bondage to sin. Man is not free, NOT because he is coerced, but because of the corruption of nature. His choices are determined because he always chooses with regard to his fallen nature and therefore does not choose Christ.

    With regard to Adam and to the corruption of nature, you could say he did indeed have a free will for his will was not yet corrupted ... not speaking relative to God but with regard to the fact that he was not in bondage to the same corruption we have. So this would make him all the more guilty given that his choice was made over the positive inclination of his created nature.

    When refering to free will as you are ... that is, relative to God, we do not claim man is free in this way. We are never free to thwart God's decree, and yet we voluntarily choose what we do because that is what we want most. That is the compatibilism which Vincent Cheung is against and where he and I disagree even though I love the guy.

    This is exactly the compatibilism that John Calvin believed. He said the will...

    "... is free, bound, self-determined, or coerced. People generally understand a free will to be one which has in its power to choose good or evil …[But] There can be no such thing as a coerced will, since the two ideas are contradictory. But our responsibility as teachers is to say what it means, so that it may be understood what coercion is. Therefore we describe [as coerced] the will which does not incline this way or that of its own accord or by an internal movement of decision, but is forcibly driven by an external impulse. We say that it is self-determined when of itself it directs itself in the direction in which it is led, when it is not taken by force or dragged unwillingly. A bound will, finally, is one which because of its corruptness is held captive under the authority of its evil desires, so that it can choose nothing but evil, even if it does so of its own accord and gladly, without being driven by any external impulse. According to these definitions we allow that man has choice and that it is self-determined, so that if he does anything evil, it should be imputed to him and to his own voluntary choosing. We do away with coercion and force, because this contradicts the nature of the will and cannot coexist with it. We deny that choice is free, because through man’s innate wickedness it is of necessity driven to what is evil and cannot seek anything but evil. And from this it is possible to deduce what a great difference there is between necessity and coercion. For we do not say that man is dragged unwillingly into sinning, but that because his will is corrupt he is held captive under the yoke of sin and therefore of necessity will in an evil way. For where there is bondage, there is necessity. But it makes a great difference whether the bondage is voluntary or coerced. We locate the necessity to sin precisely in corruption of the will, from which follows that it is self-determined. (John Calvin, BLW pp 69, 70)

    Calvin states that our accountability arrises because we choose voluntarily you will notice.

    I do not have any problem with God ordaining evil since in both Acts 2 & 4 it clearly shows that the crucifixion of His own Son was predetermined. Acts 4:27,28 "for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place."

    God ordained this yet these men were accountable for what they did because they desired it.

    I have no issue in putting this same reasoning together with the fall but it is not entirely related to the discussion I was having in the essay - since my opening line qualified the whole essay by noting that this was a discussion about salvation.


    John,

    Thank you for the dialogue.

    I whole-heartedly agree that our choices are determined by the corruption of our nature, and that we all inherited that corruption from Adam, who although he was made good and perfect, disobeyed God. I was simply taking your analogy to the next logical progression, because especially in light of God’s sovereignty, it still begs the question: If all mankind is fallen and helpless because of the disobedience of Adam, then what caused Adam, who was originally perfect, to disobey? Someone may answer, “Well, he was deceived by Satan.” Ok, then what caused Satan, who also was made perfect, to disobey? In other words, what ultimately got this whole redemption story started? I’m simply asserting that the rebellion of Satan and the fall of Adam were part of God’s divine decree, because to say that any choice that has ever been made by any creature was ultimately out of God’s control makes Him less than sovereign, at least what I understand sovereignty with respect to God to mean.

    So, I wasn’t necessarily questioning what you believe, I was saying that your analogy (at least for me) stopped short of the whole picture. But then, I’m the kinda guy that likes to see the bottom line in everything.

    Thanks again for your kind response and for the great resources.

    Lee Bridenstine

    Lee:

    Thanks for the response. Again, no one here ever denied that God ordained the fall but this is a different issue than the topic of the short essay. Sovereignty in salvation and meticulous providence are two seperate ideas.

    The fall could be said to have occurred in the same way that it shows Christ crucified in Acts 2 & 4. Both passages reveal that God ordained the crucfixion of His Son through the hands of evil men. But this does not mean they did not choose voluntarily to do so. God did not coerce them. He can ordain circumstances around people where He decrees and knows the outcome but the persons themselves voluntarily choose to make the decision. God can therefore ordain sin sinlessly.

    After the fall all bets are off because anything .. any judgement that befalls is better than we deserve. Thank God for his mercy in Christ.

    Personally, I like John's analogy. It was helpful for me at a time when I had a question (I forgot the question. lol). I noticed the word "self-determination." In Chosen By God by R. C. Sproul, he talks about self-determination, which is different from determinism.

    He talks about the "free will" that Jonathan Edwards had in mind. He separates the natural ability from the moral ability. So, while we are able to do things that are natural to us, such as walking, running, swimming, what we cannot do naturally is fly, like a bird.

    Then we have the moral ability, and since we have fallen into sin, we are unable to do what is good, and we have no desire for Christ. Only when the Holy Spirit has regenerated us, then we have the desire for Christ. But the natural man is inclined to do what is sinful, because he loves the darkness (John 3:19). The sinful mind is hostile to God (Romans 8:7).

    We will do what is sinful, because we are sinners. We desire to do sinful things. If man had free will in the sense that it was neutral, it would be, as R. C. Sproul says, unbiblical and irrational. It would be like a man who had no choice, since he had no desire to do anything, thus, he would stand in one spot and die.

    I noticed that you talked about compatibilism, John. I am interested in learning that right now, because some people wonder how we can have free will (the Calvinistic view) and be predestined.

    Response to Rick Dillinger:

    Thanks, appreciate your response.

    Per your excellent question on compatibilism, in short, it means that determinism is compatible with voluntary choice.

    You could say that it means we all have freedom to act within the bounds of nature ... which also means that we are determined to act within the constraints of nature. Both determinism and voluntary choice are, therefore, true. ie. a prisoner is free to move about as much as he wants in his cell, but he cannot move outside of it.

    To us this means that the natural man is free to act within the corruption of nature, but without the Holy Spirit, we are not free from sin. We are in bondage to it so cannot act outside its constraints. So, as you can see, both determinism and voluntary choice are at work in us simulteneously. We cannot and will not believe the gospel until the Spirit opens our blind eyes and changes our hostile disposition. We are deterined to voluntarily choose to rebel against God until the Spirit brings us to see we have no hope save in Jesus Christ. This requires a change of nature. IN 1 Cor 2 the Apostle Paul states, "Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. He is saying we cannot understand the gospel (the things freely given of God) until the Spirit illimines our minds and changes our hearts.

    Taken from another perspective, compatibilism could be applied to the saints in heaven who have been sealed in righteousness (which is bibilically defined freedom). But you could say they are no longer "free" to sin because they do not want to. Their new nature drives and compels them to always choose righteousness and this is what they want. They will act in accord with their new nature (glorified).

    If I may says this reverently, God is likewise holy and cannot sin or lie, always acting in accord with his nature. So in every sense His acts are determined because He is always faithful to Himself.

    But it is He who defines what freedom is for us so when he sets us free in Christ we are free indeed. Biblical freedom is defined as freedom from bondage to sin. (Rom 6) Biblically defined, therefore, the fallen man has no real freedom (only within the constraints of nature) until the Spirit does a work of grace in him. So the freeom of the natural man is a hallow freedom indeed.

    4 ways in which we are not free:

    We deny that (1) an agent is free to thwart the divine decree; that (2) the unregenerate are free to believe the Gospel; that (3) the regenerate are free to commit apostasy, or that (4) the glorified are free to sin.


    For more on this see these essays
    The Unregenerate Will: Self-Determined But Not Free: Coercion vs. Necessity by John Hendryx

    Eleven (11) Reasons to Reject Libertarian Free Will by John Hendryx


    What is "Compatibilism"?

    Compatibilism is the idea that God has absolute control over every event that happens (as an author controls his story), including the actions and choices of man, and yet man can still be held responsible for his actions. In other words, human beings are responsible creatures (who can choose, decide, obey, rebel, and so on) but our responsibility does not limit God's ability to have absolute control. We cannot resist God's decree and plans. What follows is a simple description of compatibilism:

    God can have absolute control over men's actions and men can still be held responsible for their actions. These two claims are not logically contradictory, even if they seem so at first glance.

    A moment of reflection will reveal this principle at work in the death of Christ. Everything that happened, including Judas's betrayal and Pilate's apathy, which led up to Calvary was not only in God's plan, but was ordained by God to happen the way it did. These events are described with the words of the early church in this way:

    For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur (Acts 4:27-28, NASB).

    They did what God decided should happen. Does that mean they were not held responsible for their actions? Absolutely not! In John 17:12, Jesus refers to Judas as the one "doomed to destruction." This is but one Biblical example (see also Isaiah 10:5-7, Genesis 50:19-20).

    If a man performs an evil act or falls away, God "made" him do it because God controls everything. The compatibilist will not explain why the man may be held responsible and punished. He simply asserts, along with the Bible, that the man can be held responsible.

    Modern compatibilists also present the following philosophical arguments which show that we do not have enough understanding to deny compatibilism. The following approach was taken from a discussion by D. A. Carson.

    First, we cannot understand how an eternal God operates within time. We do not understand timelessness or eternity. Does God know sequence? If God makes a promise, then later adds a condition, how does that affect his faithfulness?

    Second, if free will involves the ability to choose something other than what you chose, compatibilism disintegrates, because God can not have control. But if free will depends on choosing what you want, then Jonathan Edwards's argument preserves compatibilism.

    Third, we have no concept of how God can be both sovereign and personal – yet the Bible asserts both. D.A. Carson explains:

    We talk with one another, ask questions, hear answers, respond with love or wrath, cherish friendships, and so forth – and all of these elements demand the passage of time and presuppose finite actors. Similarly, in Scripture God can be portrayed asking questions, hearing answers . . . yet other texts insist he is also sovereign, the one "who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will" (Eph. 1:13). . . . In short, the mystery of compatibilism is traceable . . . to what we do not know about God.

    But because the compatibilist cannot explain why men are held responsible for something they are "forced" to do, their opponents often chide them, claiming that they must "cry mystery" when they are cornered.

    However, the appeal to mystery is made by many facets of Christian belief! If we could understand everything, what need would we have for faith? Most of us, in asserting Christ's deity, are careful not to understate his complete humanity. In developing a concept of Christ that focuses on passages which demonstrate his deity, we must be careful not to deny those which show his humanness. Some, by focusing on one pole or the other, have purported a Christ who either so spiritual he was not "made like us in every way" or else so human he was not "God the One and Only." Likewise, in this issue, we acknowledge the mystery and take pain to see that we do not focus on some texts to the exclusion of others.

    And so, we must be careful in our thoughts to reconcile God's sovereignty with our responsibility. We can't leave some of the Bible texts behind! The strength of compatibilism is that it asserts, along with many Biblical passages, that God has absolute control but it also acknowledges that men are held responsible, in accordance with the Bible. It does not deny one Biblical concept in order to preserve the other.

    The information above was copied from:

    http://home.rochester.rr.com/matthewl/predestination/

    how is the human person amidst today's moral trends?

    This is something I've been struggling with ever since I became a "Calvinist" in November, 2007. My struggle has led me to this blog. After much thought, reading and listening to many fine theologians, I wonder if the difficulty in reconciling God's sovereignty and our responsibility can be explained like this: Let's say that God made a movie about my life. I have no idea what will happen in the movie, only that the star is me. As I watch the movie, I see myself committing all sorts of sinful acts. As I watch this movie, I am engrossed in my sinfulness and find myself enjoying what I'm seeing.

    Then, the Lord regenerates my heart and I begin to watch the sinfulness of my behaviors and cry out at the screen, "No, don't do that!" Each scene leads up to a new situation in which I see myself making choices between actions that either rebel against God or glorify Him. I find myself cheering myself on to doing the right things, but often watch in utter disappointment when I watch myself sin.

    Let's say that everybody in the world gets to watch a similar movie about themselves written by God. He leaves some to their own desire to enjoy watching themselves sin. To others, God causes them to hate watching themselves sin and rejoicing when they watch themselves glorifying God.

    Later, after the movie is over, God sends those who enjoyed watching their sinfulness to hell while He sends us who He caused to love Him and hate our sins spend eternity with Him.

    Do you suppose this is what it's like? Is our freedom only in our desires, not in our actions? Is it all about our attitude and desires towards holiness/sinfulness for which we are really held responsible by God?

    Hi John

    Thanks for your reply.

    You asked, "Is our freedom only in our desires?"

    We always act on our greatest desire but could you define what you mean by the word "freedom"?

    Do you mean freedom from sin? Freedom from God's Decree? Man is not free from either of these things. If you mean freedom from outside coersion then yes, we are free in that respect. Our choices are all voluntary, but not free, because the natural man choose sin by necessity because he does not have the Holy Spirit.

    So man has no fredom, unless Christ sets him free. It is not about ourt choice but God's grace. We are responsible to choose YES, but due to a necessity of nature, we do not choose.

    John 3:16 says whosoever believes in him has life ... but a couple of verses later it says BUT men loved darkness and will not come into the light. SO man is required to believe and will not. But God knowing better than we do what is best for us has mercy on many. Thus the necessity of the new birth in John 3.


    Thank you for your quick response, John H.

    What I mean by freedom is that attribute in us which makes us responsible for our sin. It seems to me that God has made us as creatures which necessarily sin. What I am trying to get a grasp on is, if God made us as sinful creatures and even decrees every sinful act we do, then how do I find justice in God's wrath and judgment of eternal torment towards creatures who do what they were designed and even made to do by His decree? Since we are not free not to sin--even after we're saved--is our freedom which makes us responsible for our sin only in our choice to enjoy our sin rather than hate it?

    John K

    God did not make us sinful creatures. When he created Adam and Eve He declared they were "very good". They had the freedom to sin or not to sin. The four fold state of man is as follows

    (a) able to sin, able not to sin (posse peccare, posse non peccare); (b) not able not to sin (non posse non peccare); (c) able not to sin (posse non peccare); and (d) unable to sin (non posse peccare). The first state corresponds to the state of man in innocency, before the Fall; the second the state of the natural man after the Fall; the third the state of the regenerate man; and the fourth the glorified man.

    So the regenerate man is actually free not to sin. He is no longer TOTALLY depraved but regenerate, able to believe and obey the gospel because God has granted him a new heart which loves Christ and his law. The regenerate man has the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was removed from Adam and his decendants. Apart from the Holy Spirit man's thoughts and actions are unspiritual by nature. God's decree is merely that man, left to himself could only choose what he desires. Since his desires are always evil, God determined to have mercy on some setting them free from the bondage to sin.

    We preach the gospel to all. People are responsible to obey the gospel even though they are UNABLE, just like someone who owes a debt they cannot repay is responsible to repay it nonetheless. Inability does not alleviate responsibility.

    I pretty much have a grasp on the 4 states of man. However, I still am having difficulty understanding how anyone could be responsible for doing what they were made to do. I can understand that we cannot work our way to heaven, but I don't understand why God would send sinners to eternal torment for not having the ability to work their way to heaven.

    >>God did not make us sinful creatures.

    If we are born in sin, shaped in inequity, come into the world speaking lies, did God not make us this way? We didn't choose to be born as creatures owing a debt we couldn't pay. Paul says in Roman 9:20-21 that God did make us as sinful creatures. As such, some will receive His wrath while others receive His mercy.

    If God is truly sovereign, then how can anything we do--even sin--be outside of His immediate control or eternal decree?

    >>People are responsible to obey the gospel even though they are UNABLE, just like someone who owes a debt they cannot repay is responsible to repay it nonetheless. Inability does not alleviate responsibility.

    Isn't that like saying that a bird with clipped wings is responsible to fly south for the winter? Would an animal trainer punish a dog born with no legs because it didn't jump through a hoop on command? I am still having difficulty with understanding how anyone could be held eternally responsible for doing what they were born by nature to do, i.e., sin.

    I suppose this is something that God probably hasn't give us all the information we need in order to make sense of it. I don't know the answer, and apparently nobody else does, either. That's why I asked if our responsibility is not in being creatures of sin, but being creatures who like to sin. Like a person watching a movie of themselves, maybe God will hold us responsible for enjoying the sinful scenes rather than hating them.

    I know that no analogy is perfect, and I certainly don't want to minimize God's grace and mercy towards us. I know we are fully dependent on Him for our salvation, and I am so grateful that He did save me.

    I guess all I can do is trust God that He is truly a just, merciful and sovereign as He said. Thank you for your responses.

    Hi John K

    You said, "We didn't choose to be born as creatures owing a debt we couldn't pay."

    Yes actually we did, we chose to be autonomous from God in Adam. He is our federal representative which means that what He did, we did. Jesus Christ is also our federal head. God counts what Jesus did to be what we did and thus counts uos righteous. I know this does not sit well with modern individualistic autonomous Americans but it is how God set up the world. You can like it or not but this is what the Scripture reveals.

    Next you ask: "Isn't that like saying that a bird with clipped wings is responsible to fly south for the winter?"

    No its not like this. A physical inability is not the same as a moral inability. You cannot blame someone who has no wings for not flying. However, if I squander the gifts I have and rebel against the giver of them then my now moral inability to pull myself out is not imputed to to anyone but myself.

    When you speculate that our desires may be free, I can only respond that the Scripture declaress that this is the very thing that is not free, but in bondage to sin. Without the Holy Spirit man has lost all freedom to choose. Of necessity he chooses what is evil. Only Christ can set him free. The issue is that we have plunged ourselves into ruin with no hope at all in anything we do, desire or think. Rom 9:16 says it does not depend on mans' desires of effort but God mercy. It is not about God giving people a chance. The chance has ALREADY beed squandered. Whosoever believes has eternal life >>BUT MEN LOVED DARKNESS and will not come into the light. But if God choose to cancel the debt of some that is his prerogative.

    Remember, regarding the death of Jesus the Biblical text says, "...both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done." (Acts 4:27-28)

    So the Bible itself testifies that God ordained evil men to crucify Jesus yet He imputes the guilt of their act to them alone. Acts 2 teaches the same. So we need to be able to develop a theology which embraces the whole council of Scripture. God ordaining an event is different from him doing it, since we do are not kicking a screaming against it. God does not coerce us to make evil decisions. We do so gladly, so you could say that God, in his great power can ordain sin sinlessly. He ordains all that comes to pass, but is not the author of evil. The Bible clearly teaches this.

    You may be interested in this article
    Letter from Visitor on Calvinism, Evil and God's Holiness
    http://www.reformationtheology.com/2006/06/letter_from_visitor_on_calvini_1.php

    When I said, "We didn't choose to be born as creatures owing a debt we couldn't pay," you replied,

    >>Yes actually we did, we chose to be autonomous from God in Adam. He is our federal representative which means that what He did, we did. Jesus Christ is also our federal head.

    That's what I can't seem to wrap my mind around. I can understand Jesus, out of mercy, becoming our federal representative, but I don't understand in what way we chose Adam to be our federal representative at the very moment of our conception.

    >>A physical inability is not the same as a moral inability. You cannot blame someone who has no wings for not flying.

    Why couldn't you also say you can't blame someone who has no moral ability for not being moral?

    >>God ordaining an event is different from him doing it, since we do are not kicking a screaming against it.

    If He is sovereign, then we have no choice than to do what He ordains. Our sinful nature obeys His will, whether we like it or not, doesn't it? Aren't our lives kind of like a Rube Goldberg machine? God ordains and starts the process and we carry out the final events. Like the game, "Mousetrap". We don't actually place the cage over the mouse, but we ordain it to happen by constructing and starting the mechanism that causes it to happen. We wouldn't say the cage is responsible for trapping the mouse. The cage only did what we ordained it to do.

    Thank you for your article. I read through it last night, and I agree that we must have an answer based on Scripture rather than emotions or feelings. I appreciate your responses, as well. Would you mind praying for me, because this one aspect of Reformed Theology is very perplexing to me. Until this issue is resolved in my mind, I will continue to trust God that in His omniscient mind, it all makes perfect sense somehow. Lord bless you.

    John

    Thank you for your reply. These are good questions. Difficult but good and I will indeed take the time to pray the Spirit increasingly illumine your understading and stir your affection for Christ. And ultimately how this doctrine opens up our understanding to the majesty and greatness of God in ways not previously imagined.

    You said >>>>I can understand Jesus, out of mercy, becoming our federal representative, but I don't understand in what way we chose Adam to be our federal representative at the very moment of our conception.

    We did not chose Jesus or Adam. Both chose us. God created the world in such a way where federal representation is the norm. If someone is born in Beverly Hills, he did not choose it just as someone who is born starving, under a tyrant or under a genocidal government. These persons were born into their condition apart from any choice of their own. We must disconnect our "enlightment" ideas which demand autonomy and recognize that God created the world with the intent of the human race being radically interconnected in ways we not reject. Only our sin has blinded us to see ourselves as removed, fragmented individuals. So what Adam did has direct effect on me because we are, in a sense, part of him, united to him, and thus have solidarity in his acts. Jesus came, not merely to save individuals but a bride for Himself. There is a collective consciousness that somehow western culture has missed and innoculated us against.

    This above answer should perhaps help answer your next question --- "Why couldn't you also say you can't blame someone who has no moral ability for not being moral?"

    Because it was squandered by a choice we ourselves made in Adam. If I owe a debt I cannot repay because I squandered the money in riotous living then I am still responsible to repay it.

    I recommend that you spend some time studying the doctrine of original sin. Here are some essasy on the topic
    http://www.monergism.com/directory/link_category/Original-Sin--The-Fall/

    God ordaining an event is not the same as fatalism. Fatalism is a mechanistic determinism, antithetical to the notion of a personal God. The difference between Determinism & Fatalism: Determinism means that all events are rendered unavoidable by the cause, which include our choices. Fatalism says all events will happen, regardless of our choices.Compatibilism is the view that God is absolutely sovereign (as explained above) and yet our choices have real meaning and we are responsible for them. It is what I believe the Bible teaches, and is often called "Calvinism." Fatalism, on the other hand, teaches that no matter what you choose or do, things will turn out the same. For example, if it is determined that Bill will get an "F" on his test tomorrow, then no mater how hard he studies or how well he knows the material, he will fail. His choices do not really affect what will happen. Compatibilism means that God's sovereignty is compatible with voluntary choice. Our choise are not coerced.Compatibilism, in contrast to fatalism, says that our choices really do affect the future, and that if different choices had been made, the future would have been different. On this view, if Bill doesn't study, he will fail. But if he does study hard, then his studying will be the means that brings about a good grade. In regards to God's sovereignty, this means that God does not just ordain the ends (for example, a good grade for Bill) and then say "this will happen no matter what." No, God also ordains the means to His planned end (for example, God ordains that Bill will study as the means to the good grade that He decreed). Our decisions are each links in the chain of means ordained by God to bring about His planned ends. If different decisions had been made, the consequences would have been different. But God works to ensure that the means He has ordained will most certainly occur so that none of His purposes can fail. This makes human decisions truly significant and vital.

    Paul is not my Master or my Savior, nor is Luther, Calvin or Spurgeon (thank God!) So their words are meaningless, and their teaching is an affront to God, who taught, though His Son Jesus that we are to obey the Moral Law.

    Without the ability to begin to obey God (strengthened thereafter, obviously, by God's ongoing Grace) the commands of His Son to have faith, to perform Good Works, or to even love and serve God by imitating him in all things, would be mere suggestions, and unworthy to be uttered by a Just God, and equally unworthy of our attention.

    These other men are teaching a Hellish, "Wide Gate" doctrine that are leading billions astray.

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