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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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  • « Why Do You Speak to Them in Parables? | Main | Another Common Objection to Augustinian Soteriology »

    Three Common Objections to Election Addressed

    Although it is certainly inexcusable, it is nevertheless to be expected that the world, lying in the power of Satan, should take offense at the doctrines of God’s free and sovereign grace in the gospel. But it is even less excusable, and certainly less understandable, that among professing evangelicals, the same sort of reaction is likely to occur. True, evangelical Christians dress up their objections in different ways, viewing them as a vindication of God’s character, or even as an adherence to biblical truths; but the plain fact of the matter is that anyone whose eyes have been opened by the Spirit to understand the scriptures, if he is honest in his pursuit of biblical teaching, must admit that such foundational gospel principles as election are shouted in the clearest of terms throughout the entire gamut of scripture. Hence, those Christians who are opposed to the doctrines (due to natural human ways of thinking), tend for the most part to skirt over exegetical and textual arguments, and immediately bring to bear certain logical arguments against the doctrines of Calvinism. This is not true of every non-Calvinistic Christian: but I think it is a fair observation for the bulk of Arminian Christianity in America. From this group in particular, I have innumerable times heard the following three arguments against the precious and biblical doctrine of election: (1) God’s choosing us makes him an arbitrary and unjust dictator; (2) God’s choosing us destroys personal responsibility; and (3) God’s choosing us eliminates the motivation to evangelize the lost. In this brief article, I hope to demonstrate that these objections are not logical – and they are certainly not scriptural. My desire is that these simple thoughts may be used by God to convince some of our dear Arminian brothers that their view of God is not biblical, and hence to give them a more accurate glimpse of the Lord in his sovereign majesty. Because to see him for who he is is to love him more deeply and passionately.

    I. God’s choosing us is the greatest display of his goodness

    God would be perfectly just, and still good, to give us nothing but wrath.

    If it is true that all have sinned (Romans 3:23), and that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23); then it would be fitting for the righteous and good God immediately to consign all of us to eternal death. The word to Adam in the garden was that, “In the day that you eat, you shall surely die.” Adam’s only desert was instant death; and so we, who all sinned in Adam (Romans 5:12;18-19) and continue to rebel against God in the same manner every day, deserve only immediate death.

    God pours out his undeserved goodness on all his creation – even those who are still wicked.

    How gracious and good it is of God that (because of the cross) he did not immediately return to Adam the due reward of his sin, but extended free and undeserved mercy to him. this goodness and forbearance of God is displayed in sinners every day. Even though the wicked deserve judgment, God causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall upon them (Matthew 5:45). Even though the entire earth is under the curse of sin, God displays his goodness by providing and caring for all his creatures (Psalm 104:10-28). This is not only goodness – it is undeserved goodness, a goodness that arises from the simple truth that God in his very nature is a good God. His goodness is clearly seen in the least of his mercies to an undeserving people.

    God’s free gift of the greatest good does not negate the lesser goods he has shown to others; it merely demonstrates his innate goodness in the highest degree.

    God has marvelously displayed his goodness by his forbearance toward all men. But for some, he has purposed to show forth a far greater goodness, a goodness that contains within itself every good thing under heaven – free justification through the cross-work of his Son. This is certainly the greatest good God has given to men. But the fact that he gives this greatest good only to some does not mean that his lesser goods upon others are therefore evil. We would do well to heed Christ’s parable of the laborers (Matthew 20:1-16): if the owner of the vineyard decided to give one person far more than he deserved, that generosity did not make evil his decision to give to the other person exactly what he deserved – it just set in brilliant relief his own freeness to distribute his gifts as he saw fit.

    II. God’s choosing us in no way violates personal responsibility

    Humans are responsible for the choices they make - particularly the choice to reject/refuse to believe in Christ.

    John 3:18 clearly tells us that, “the one not believing is condemned already, because he has not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God.” The bible consistently tells us that humans do make choices and that they are responsible for the choices they make. Therefore, when the bible tells us that God chooses who will be saved, it is not denying the responsibility that humans have for the choices they make.

    Humans are naturally unable to choose to believe in Christ, because they are morally depraved and in bondage to Satan.

    In John 8:43,44, Jesus tells the Pharisees, “Why do you not understand what I say? Because you are not able to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and you desire to do the will of your father...whenever he speaks lies, he speaks his own language, because he is a liar, and the father of it. But because I speak the truth, you do not believe me.” Christ does not tell the Pharisees that they are not responsible for their choices - but he does tell them that they are not able to make choices that are pleasing to God. They are not able to make the choice to believe on Christ.

    When God chooses to save someone, he does not take away his choice, but he does give him a new nature that is able to choose Christ.

    God tells us in Jeremiah 31:33, “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Jesus tells Nicodemus, “Unless a man is born again, he is not able to see the kingdom of God. God has to change our hearts [give us a new nature, write his law in our inward parts] before we can choose Christ. But when he does that, we will choose Christ. God does not force us to Christ against our will – rather, he gives us a new heart that is willing. God’s election of some to salvation does not violate the free choice/responsibility of those he chooses or of those he does not choose to elect.

    III. God’s choosing us is the very foundation of genuine evangelism

    We as believers are clearly responsible to evangelize/preach the word.

    In Matthew 28:19 Jesus commands us to teach all nations whatever he has taught us. In John 7:37, Jesus gives the invitation, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.” This invitation is given to all men under heaven, and it is vital that we are faithful in proclaiming the good news of Jesus’ free offer of salvation to every creature. Romans 10:17 declares, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Therefore, in verse 14, Paul questions, how shall they hear without a preacher?” We have a solemn and delightful responsibility to preach the gospel to all the nations.

    If we did not recognize that God elects some to salvation, we would be hopelessly discouraged by Christ’s teaching in John 7 that natural man is unable to believe the preaching of Christ.

    We’ve already looked at Christ’s clear statements in John 7 that those who have Satan as their father [natural man] cannot believe Christ. If we thought that our response to the gospel was based on our natural ability to choose Christ, think how discouraging this would be! That would mean that no one would respond to our teaching, and be saved. Seen in this light, God’s election is the most motivating and encouraging truth we have to follow Christ’s commands to preach the gospel!

    Therefore, the doctrine of God’s election is the very foundation of evangelism.

    Because God elects some to salvation on the basis of his mercy alone, we have confidence in giving the gospel. It is only because of God’s election that we can find hope in the face of deep-seated human antagonism to our message. God uses this truth to encourage the evangelistic efforts of Paul when he tells him in Acts 18:9-10, “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent, because I am with you and no one will lay a hand upon you to harm you, because I have many people in this city.” What encouragement! Paul knew his evangelization would not be in vain, because God elects some of those who hear the gospel to believe and be saved.

    Conclusion:

    If you are, on the one hand, a non-Calvinistic believer, I ask you to take a moment to pray with a humble and open heart that the Spirit would confirm to you from the scriptures the truth or falsehood of these simple thoughts. The Spirit of God delights to answer our prayers to understand God more deeply; and he loves to use the scriptures to increase our knowledge. It may be with you, as it has been with so many of your fellow-Christians, that those things you once despised could become a great cause of joy, confidence, and worship of God.

    On the other hand, if you are simply struggling with seeing any practical significance in these “deep” or “irrelevant” theological discussions, be encouraged! God has a reason for everything he reveals to us in the Bible. If we are patient in searching beneath the surface to discover the rich treasures of scripture, we will find them immensely satisfying and rewarding. We will also find them extremely practical. Studying the truths of election and seeing the wondrous mercy and effectiveness of God’s choosing us to salvation should have the practical effect of motivating us to be confident in giving the gospel. Furthermore, it will give us a better understanding of the greatness of God and our own desperate need for his mercy. When we see God as high and lifted up, and ourselves as hopeless and helpless, we can have no other reaction than to worship him more fervently and love him more devotedly and rejoice in him more deeply. This is also immensely practical. What is more practical than learning to fulfill the very purpose for which we were created - worshiping God? Let’s seek to be united in spirit on this difficult doctrine of election. Let’s use this study to channel our hearts to worship Christ together in love.

    Posted by Nathan on April 11, 2006 03:06 PM

    Comments

    Great piece. It has been my experience that the vast majority of evangelical Christians reject the doctrines of grace out of a lack of understanding. They have heard the term "free will" for so long they have almost developed an inability to recognize that the will is necessarily bound to desire and that their desires are a reflection of their nature.

    It is true, we are free to choose whatever we want but we only want what our nature wants. And, since our nature is sinful, it is clear we will never WANT God unless He changes our desires first.

    I recently went through this whole thing with many in my Sunday School class. It was apparent our discussion was their very first exposure to these ideas. Many of them understood what I was sharing with them but almost all of them continue to reject the doctrines of grace, so ingrained is the notion of a "free will" on their thought processes.

    Very good post. Here are some refutations to objections to election - refutations I made:

    Aspiring Theologian's Blog Entry on Calvinism

    Of course, I am only an Aspiring Theologian, not a Theologian, but I have learned a lot from Monergism.com and other sources.

    Again, a good post! Thanks, y'all, for inspiring me...

    God be with you,

    A. Shepherd
    The Aspiring Theologian Blog

    I also had a similar experience with our Sunday School class. We had just broached the topic of predestination, and most of them reacted negatively, in manners ranging from skepticism to outright hostility. On the other hand, we had those to whom the issue didn't really matter -- it was impractical and irrelevant to engage in these "deep" theological discussions. I wrote this little paper for them, because those three arguments occurred over and over in our class discussion. I decided to post it in case there were others in similar situations (as I had a suspicion there might be).

    Soli Deo Gloria

    Good post! I used to have many (maybe all!) of these objections too, until I finally heard it explained in a systematic and intelligent fashion by someone who actually understood it. Most people, if they've heard the word at all, have only heard some warped "puppets on strings" version from somebody who also doesn't understand. That's how I first heard it. For years, I thought "predestination" was some word that these mysterious, shadowy "Calvinists" had invented to make God into a bad guy. Then I finally opened the Bible and (gasp!) the word was actually there! As I look back only a few years, I'm ashamed of how strong my opinions were, when there were based on nothing more than my own whims.

    I find the indifference mentioned by Pitchford to be very common. Foreknowledge vs. election...who cares, as long as God gets everyone He wants? Christ dying for all men, or only for the elect...who cares, since either way, only those who believe in Jesus will be saved? Sweeping the "deep" stuff under the rug makes for a quick path to superficial unity, but a building can't stand for long if you gut the foundation!!!

    -- End Rant --

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