Sunday, September 23, 2007

Dishonorable vessels

After many, many months, the predestination issue resurfaces here on HoldFast. This post comes about because one of the favorite topics of discussion up here is the topic of predestination/election, especially between the Lutherans and the Calvinists. After one such discussion, I read Romans 9 in my quiet time and was struck down, because this passage answers the single most difficult question the Calvinists have to answer: Why would God create people just to damn them? This question was posed by Claire back in my post The Line Cannot Comprehend the Cube, and had been posed since I've been here. This passage literally had me jumping up and down in my seat because it was so amazing, so I'm going to quote it at length here. If you're interested in this topic, you don't want to miss this:

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.”

And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 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?” 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?

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, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:6-24)

Whoa! I read that again and I'm floored again! Let's walk through his argument here step-by-step: Paul states that the entire nation of Israel will not be saved, i.e. just being an Israelite is not enough to save you. Those who are saved are children of the promise, not the flesh. As an example, he relates the story of Jacob and Esau, a set of twins, who are about as close to natural equals as you can possibly get. Yet before they were even born, before they could do anything to make up his mind, God chose Jacob to love and bless and Esau to hate and curse. It was a free choice, and had nothing to do with what they did or were going to do.

He continues by refuting the idea that this is unjust. He exercises his divine Creator's prerogative by showing mercy and compassion to those whom he chooses. Paul gives the example of Pharaoh, who was raised up by God entirely so that he could be brought down again. He never had a choice (in the free will-position's sense of the word), but was "forced" to harden his heart, and was then damned for it.

Then comes the question of the hour: Why does he blame us for this? If he forces/predestines us to sin, why are we then damned for that same sin? He responds as God responds to Job: Who are you to question the decisions of God? Does the creature have any right to demand reasons of the Creator? The Creator has the right to do whatever he wishes with his creation. He creates vessels for honorable use (those who will be saved) and some for dishonorable use (those who will be damned).

Then comes the answer to the question posed at the beginning: Why would God create men to damn them? The answer is this: by making known his wrath and his power against those vessels "prepared for destruction", he glorifies himself by saving others whom he has predestined for heaven. He makes known the riches of his glory by showing mercy to some and and not others.

This is a big deal! Paul is stating that God damns people to hell for sins that they are predestined to commit. How does that fit in with the idea that men have a free choice, uninfluenced by God, whether or not to accept salvation? It really doesn't.

Edit: I should point out that I have not addressed at all the way free will fits into the Calvinist paradigm. I'm only looking at one side of the issue in this post, and the issue is more complicated, because although God predestines us to sin, we are still responsible for it. This does not remove responsibility from us in the slightest. How do those two views synthesize? I'm honestly not sure. Ultimately, I think it's just one of those mysteries we'll have to wait for heaven to answer. I just think it's a mistake to give humans too much credit, as I think the free will position does. End Edit.

I know that I will now begin hearing arguments based on verses such as 1 Timothy 2:4, "[God] desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." I would just like to point out the distinction between God's secret (or decreed) will and God's revealed will. God's revealed will is, according to Wayne Grudem, "God's declared will concerning what we should do or what God commands us to do." God's secret will, on the other hand, is "his hidden decrees by which he governs the universe and determines everything that will happen." Grudem gives a detailed exegesis of these concepts and the differences between them on pages 213-216 of his outstanding Systematic Theology (the new 2007 edition, I'm not sure about the old one), and I can relate some of his arguments for that, but suffice it to say that passages like 1 Timothy are statements of revealed will, not decreed will: we are to evangelise everyone because we don't know who is predestined to be saved.

I'm sure that this post will stir up much controversy, so let the argumentation begin. But let's keep it civil, folks.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Just and the Justifier

Yes my friends, he's back! After a long period of settling down in my new college environment, I have finally made it back to the blogging world. I'm having a great time, but life keeps me busy, so I'm not sure how often updates will be coming. I'd like for them to be at least once a week, but I make no guarantees. I have an insanely massive Odds and Ends post that's been collecting for two or three months now, so I might actually break it up into two, but until that time, enjoy this little reflection I wrote this morning as a meditation on a verse first brought to my attention by John Piper at New Attitude.

In reflecting on God's glory (his favorite topic), John Piper directed our attentions to Romans 3:21-25, a wonderful passage that dwells on man's depravity, Christ's sacrifice, and our justification. As I was looking at the passage in my Bible, however, I noticed the very next verse, and it absolutely floored me:

It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Just and the Justifier. What does that mean?


God is perfect and holy in his whole being. Holiness is the sum total of all his attributes; he is separate and apart from his creation. Sin cannot enter his presence, for it is absolutely antithetical to his character. He is completely just, and must punish sin fully and completely. For him not to punish sin and still bring the sinner into fellowship with himself would be an offense to his character, and demonstrate that he is not truly just. In other words, for him to be loving and not just would mean that he is not God. He would be fallible. He would be a disgrace to himself.

The Justifier

Yet God loves us, and he desires to be in fellowship with us. But how can he do that when we are sinful, and cannot possibly pay for our own sins? We can never enter his presence, because everything we do is an affront to God, a direct act of rebellion. Yet God made a way: he sent his own Son to die on the cross for our sins, bearing the full wrath of God against our sins. He, as the previous verses say, "put forward [Christ] as a propitiation by his blood." And now, we humans can put on Christ's righteousness and enter God's presence without fear, because we have been justified. God has justified us, and reconciled us to himself.

And herein lies the beauty of this verse: it captures this essence in just one phrase: "so that he might be just and the justifier." Christ came to show that God is both just and loving at the same time; only God could have come up with a plan that would present him as just and the justifier at the same time. What a glorious mystery this is!He is utterly holy, and yet stoops down to associate with vile sinners such as me, who have scorned him and rebelled against him. He pays for the offenses we have leveled at him with his own blood, and reconciles us to himself forever. What a glorious God we serve!