In our last blog, I engaged in a little game of theological chess with an ambiguously British theologian. To recap, I was asked why the act of believing is not considered a work, so I demonstrated that even our faith is a gift from God, which means we can take zero credit for our salvation. This of course raised the question “Then why are some people punished for not believing?”
“Answer it, boorish American: If God enables some to believe, why are others punished for not believing? Check.”
First, can we stop the chess thing? I’m already bored with it. I’m sure the readers are too.
Second, you have asked the age old question regarding the doctrine of predestination, which holds that God elects some for salvation, meaning that they have been predestined to believe in him, but the non-elect willingly reject the gospel and are fully responsible for damnation.
“Bollox! That is a contradiction!”
Not exactly. That is a paradox.
"Paradox? Give me a bloody example! I need clarity."
Ok, here's one. This is pastor Rick Reeves from Living Stones:
And this is Rick’s favorite drink:
These two things seem like they contradict each other. People who administer roundhouse kicks for pay don't drink mild, fruit-based adult beverages. But in Rick's case these are both true. He is a living paradox.
The concept that we cannot take credit for our salvation but are responsible for our sin is also a paradox. However, we simply don’t have the full picture as to how this all works together. Only God does.
The Bible is clear that God chooses some for salvation (Eph. 1:4-6, 1 Peter 1:1, Acts 13:48, Deut. 7:6). And those who do not believe were destined to do so: (Jude 4, 1 Peter 2:8). God is such control that he causes all things to happen (Is. 45:7). There is nothing outside of his will. God is never to blame for evil (James 1:13), but he hardens hearts (Ex. 9:12).
“British expression of disgust! But what about my free will? Are you saying we are really just mechanical motor men?”
“That’s the spot!”
No, and that's the flipside to this paradox. The Bible also shows that we have wills, and that we make real choices. You are assuming the fallacy of fatalism, which holds that human choices do not make any difference. In the Bible, people are commanded to believe in Jesus, which assumes that we have wills to do so (Acts 16:31), and the Bible is also clear that people willingly reject God (John 5:40, 1 Sam. 10:19, Luke 10:16).
Hell, it has been said, is locked from the inside.
But free will, in its truest sense, is a myth anyway. No choice is ever really free - it is always influenced by someone or something else. I have the perceived freedom to choose whatever I want to eat for dinner, but this choice is restricted not only by what’s available, but also by what I am craving from within. I can never be truly objective or free with my choices, even one as simple as that.
“Grant me another analogy to satiate my curiosity in the matter!”
Deal. A thirsty man is wandering in the desert and is presented with a glass of water. He has the ability to choose to reject the water, but internally he is craving it because of his dehydration - he would never choose to reject it. In a similar but divine way, we are presented with the call to believe the gospel and are led internally by the Holy Spirit to make this choice, if indeed we are elect. All souls crave a reunion with their maker, and if he extends that invitation to us we will not reject it. Saving grace is irresistible.
“So God predestines the good chaps to believe in him so that they can be saved?”
Hardly. Election is completely unconditional. It is not even based on the anticipation that some will believe and others will not. The elect were set apart before time began (Rom. 8:29-30). Israel was the national equivalent of a rebellious teenager who can't pass lunch, and God still chose them for his good purposes (Deut. 9:6, 24). Likewise, believers now are not chosen because of any merit on their part.
I have tried my best to biblically explain this within my word limit, but the paradox of predestination cannot be fully comprehended. If this was concocted by man, it would be something we could wrap our minds around, but we can't. So if we assume that our minds must fully grasp this teaching for it to be true, then we're not being consistent with what Scripture teaches. Since Evangelical Christians presuppose the validity of the Bible, we must be honest and agree that all of it as valid, not just the parts we want. To reject predestination because of its paradoxical nature means that we must also reject other incomprehensible doctrines, like the eternally infinite Trinity and Jesus being both fully God and fully man. Those are not up for negotiation.
You have a real choice to trust that Jesus died for your sins, and your decision was predestined before the world began.
“Well what of it then, my dear boy?”
If we accept it, this teaching gives freedom. The assurance is that if you are God’s, he will never let you go. He is in control and will succeed.
“But how does one know they are God’s elect?”
Some people have moments of awakening where they know they have been saved. Others (like myself) can trace it to a general period of time. In the end, our faith will be proven genuine or not (1 Pet. 1:6-7).
“So the sinners prayer is irrelevant, you say?”
Technically, it is unnecessary. It’s an act of faith, but it does not conjure up faith. However, the elect will trust in Jesus as their king and savior, will demonstrate a life pattern free from continual sin through repentance, will love others, and will overcome the world (1 John 5:3-4). The elements of the sinners prayer will be expressed in a true believer’s life.
For now, we have assurances for ourselves (2 Peter 1:10), but we do not make the decisions as to whether or not others are elect.
“Yarr, this still troubles me, matey.”
What, you’re a pirate now?
“Why, matey, why did God set this plan?”
The Bible doesn’t say, so I’m not going to pretend to know. Paul calls on God’s right as creator, but doesn’t give us an answer as to why it’s this way (Rom. 9:20-24). If God chooses to save some and not others, that is not for us to disagree with. God does this to make known his justice and glory, and he deems his glory more important than saving everyone.
The truth is, the elect can take as much credit for their election as they can for the sunset. If we understand that, we can actually mean it when we say “Soli deo gloria!”
“Use the Queen’s English, man! I don’t speak French.”
It’s Latin. "Glory to God alone."
You have a real choice, my friend, whether or not to trust that Jesus died for your sins, and your decision was predestined before the world began.
So I believe we’re finished here.
“Hardly. I have one final question. If a man is elect, then why does it matter if he obeys God's commandments or not?”
Can open. Worms everywhere. I’ll answer that for next week’s blog.