Category Archives for Election

Can Human Acts like Prayers and Childrearing Really Affect Someone’s Salvation?

May 10, 2018

By: Ronnie Rogers, Pastor
Trinity Baptist Church Norman, OK

Both Calvinists and Extensivists speak as though things such as prayers, trials, testimonies, child rearing, education, and other influences play a vital part in salvation; these, along with a host of other influences may be categorized as events.[1] It seems as though we all really mean these kind of events play a similar role in God’s salvation plan. However, such is not the case. The only thing similar is that Calvinists and Extensivists use the same words, but the way Calvinists use these words are essentially dissimilar to the way they are normally used and used by Extensivists. And Calvinists themselves tend to obscure the real differences.

These events may be classified as either uncertain or certain. By uncertain I refer to events in which human involvement can actually affect the outcome. This is in contrast to certain events in which God has predetermined that human involvement does not affect the outcome. Extensivism recognizes that Scripture includes both certain and uncertain events, whereas Calvinism recognizes only certain—determined—events. The difference between these two viewpoints is Extensivism actually believes these uncertain events really do play a part in God’s salvation plan.[2] Keep in mind, while it is quite common for Calvinists to speak libertarianly, Calvinism utterly rejects man having libertarian moral freedom. Speaking libertarianly is especially misrepresentative of Calvinism’s determinism.

Calvinism’s belief in unconditional election and compatibilism, wherein everything is micro-determined, necessitates a different meaning than is normally understood when speaking of the correlation between events and a person’s salvation.[3] It requires understanding that while such events may be a part of the process of God’s predetermined elective plan to bring his unconditionally elected into redemption, these events do not, in any way, play a role that includes the idea they could have been different or resulted in a different outcome.[4] That is to say, all direct or suggestive talk by Calvinists of how pivotal events, someone’s prayers, or a person’s involvement in an individual’s life was not determined or played a non-determined role in someone’s salvation is misleading. It misrepresents the true meaning of Calvinism.

In contrast, according to Extensivism God comprehends libertarian freedom in his salvation plan so that these uncertain events do play an undetermined part; they can even play a part that actually affects the outcome. I refer to the relationship of these events as being constitutionally, organically, and substantially related. This is in contrast to Calvinism’s determinism in which nothing actually matters in an effective way but unconditional election and its partner, selective irresistible grace.

Here is the way I define the relationship of uncertain events in God’s salvation plan:

Constitutionally related: Constitutionally related speaks to the nature of God’s salvation plan wherein grace enablements are essentially, sequentially, and operationally incorporated into the structure of God’s plan.[5] Since God’s work of salvation is a grace work, every aspect of the plan exists and functions according to his grace; therefore, such things as prayer, witnessing, listening with understanding of the gospel, other uncertain events, and exercising faith are not reducible to purely human works or virtues; for them to be merely human works, they would need to exist outside of God’s grace work of salvation; that is to say, they would need to be unconstitutionally related to his salvation plan. Since they do not so exist, they are grace components in God’s redemptive plan (Rom 3:28; 4:1–5).

Organically related: Something being organically related speaks to the complex relationship between libertarian freedom and God’s preconversional grace enablements that work according to his salvific plan of grace so that these really do matter in a person’s salvation. They have a systemic arrangement and interaction with other parts of God’s plan. To wit, they play an actual non-determined and non-meritorious role in one’s salvation. The outcome of this organic relationship is that many factors can actually be involved in the salvation of a person, salvation is available to every person, and man is saved by non-determined and non-meritorious faith (John 4:39–42; 11:42, 45; Eph 2:8–9).

For example, we may say the prayers of a grandmother were instrumental in a person’s salvation; by this we mean if the grandmother had not prayed, which she could have chosen to do, the person may not have been saved at that time. The influence of the grandmother’s prayers in the gospel encounter is solely because God included such non-determined components in his salvation plan. These components have an organic relationship to other aspects of God’s salvation plan; they do in fact matter (John 17:20–21; Rom 2:4; Titus 2:1–11; 3:1–8; 1 John 2:2).

An example of such a constitutional and organic relationship may be illustrated by considering a flower. Flower is the name we give to a particular plant that includes certain and various components in its structure; being organic means there is a systemic arrangement and interaction between the various components. Included in these components are things such as roots, stem, bud, petals, sepal, stamen, and pistil. Some of these are substantially related so that if they did not exist, the flower would not exist.

Substantially (substantively) and insubstantially related: Substantially and insubstantially related speaks to the relationship between things, people, personal experiences, and other events as part of the process and the process’s final product. Something substantially related indicates if it were not present in the process, the product would be different, or at least would likely be different. In contrast, components that are insubstantially related would not change the product by their absence; given libertarian freedom, some events (uncertain events) may or may not be present because these relationships are not predeterminately fixed. In Extensivism some events are substantially related to salvation, but in Calvinism, events are determined and can only be insubstantially related because they cannot actually change or change the process or the product.

In other words, even though strictly impossible in a compatibly free world,  if some events were not there, the product, such as unconditional election, would still take place in precisely the same way. It is unconditional. If Calvinism accepts that uncertain events exist and are substantially related to one’s salvation, then things like unconditional election are really organically related to them so that election incorporates these grace contributors in the production of the end product; this means the abandonment of compatibilism and transforming unconditional election into conditional election.

In Extensivism, given libertarian freedom, events are substantially related because if they were not a part of the process in the way they are (and that could have been the case), something different would be happening; therefore, the result could be different in various scenarios (Matt 11:20–24).

Calvinists and Extensivists may speak similarly about salvation, but this is because Calvinists are constantly speaking libertarianly about people being saved, praying, witnessing, and events substantially affecting one’s life. I can only ask my Calvinist brothers and sisters to be as resolutely committed to speaking determinatively (so that all understand, including the Calvinist speaking) as they are in pedestaling compatibilism and denouncing libertarian freedom as depending on something other than grace.

Then, we can have meaningful discussions about the merits of Calvinism and Extensivism. And people listening can make a clearer and more informed decision about what label they wear.

[1] I use Extensivist and Extensivism, in its general sense, as a positive term for non-Calvinist.
[2] Uncertain does not mean unknown to God, but only that these events are contingencies; they are not determined, and therefore, did not have to happen.
[3] One may also add the other elements of Calvinism’s decretal theology.
[4] It is true these things can be a part of the process of a person’s salvation in Calvinism, but it is not true they can be an alterable part of the process, or alter the product, which is how they are most often portrayed.
[5] By grace enablements I mean things which God has to do in order to make salvation available to all. See a list of some of these enablements at https://ronniewrogers.com/?s=grace-enablement.

 

Born Dead?

April 30, 2018

By Dr. Leighton Flowers
Apologists for Texas Baptists

The analogy of being “dead” is seen throughout the scriptures, but can it be demonstrated to mean that mankind is born morally unable to willingly respond to God Himself, as the Calvinists presume? Are we born dead like Lazarus, a corpse rotting in the tomb (a link scripture never draws), or are we dead like the Prodigal, a loved one living in rebellion? Scripture supports the latter rather than the former:

“For this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate” (Luke 15:24).

Spiritual deadness seems to be equated with “separateness,”  “lostness,” or “in rebellion,” not as “total moral inability to respond.” Likewise, in Romans 6:11, Paul also teaches the believers to count themselves “dead to sin.” A consistent Calvinist would have to interpret this to mean that believers are morally unable to sin when tempted. Of course, that is not the case. Paul is teaching that we are to separate ourselves from sin, in much the same way we were once separated by our sin from God. “Deadness” here connotes the idea of being separated, like the son was from his father, not the incapacitation of the will to respond to God’s appeal to be reconciled from our separation.

Plus, if we examine the story of Lazarus more closely it reveals a truth that flies in the face of the Calvinistic conclusion.

“So Jesus then said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe…’ (John 11:14-15).

The lesson the Lord wishes to teach his followers is not the conclusion that Calvinists draw from this text (i.e. God effectually makes the spiritually dead alive in the same way He raises Lazarus); but instead, the Lord’s expressed desire is so that the witnesses “may believe.” Clearly, an outward sign is said to have the ability to help individuals believe, something that seems completely superfluous given the effectuality of regeneration on the Calvinistic system. The text goes on to say:

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?’  She said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world’ … Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?’’ (John 11:25-27; 40).

Once again, it is the faith of the eye witnesses, not Lazarus, that Jesus seems to be focused upon in this discourse. Furthermore, the responsibility is put onto the individual to believe so as to live, not the other way around. The focus of this text is on the believing response of the witnesses to Christ’s miracle and the believers eventual resurrection from the dead. Remember, Lazarus was a believer, not Totally Depraved, so this miracle more likely represents the believer’s resurrection from the dead than a irresistible soteriological drawing of the lost to faith.

“So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me’… Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Him” (John 11:41-42; 45).

Jesus expresses a desire for the witnesses to believe based upon what they have seen, something on Calvinism that is a certainty for the Elect ones and absolutely impossible for the Reprobates, regardless of what miracle either of them witness. Notice that Jesus describes the faith of the eye witnesses as being a direct response to what they saw, not a supernatural inward work of regeneration, or an unconditional choice before time began.

No where in this passage, or any other, do we find the concept of spiritual deadness as being in reference to total inability, yet the story of Lazarus is one of the most referenced proof texts cited by Calvinists in defense of this doctrine.

Let’s consider other passages which use the analogy of “deadness.” For instance, take a look at Jesus’ own words to the church in Sardis:

“To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.” (Rev. 3:1-6)

Clearly, Jesus fully expects this church to heed his warning and respond in repentance despite the fact that he called them “dead.”  The Calvinist may object saying, “But, Jesus is speaking to the church, not to the lost, so that does not apply to our point of contention.”  I disagree, and here is why:

1.  The point is simply to show how the analogy of being “dead” doesn’t necessarily imply “corpse-like inability.” This use of the word illustrates that point because clearly those in the church are expected to “wake up” and “repent.” The burden is on the Calvinist to produce examples where the analogy explicitly demonstrates the concept of “total inability” to respond to God’s life-giving Word.

2.  The Calvinistic teachings on “Compatibilism” equally applies to the choices of the Saints (the elect) and the Reprobates (the non-elect). According to the Compatibilist, a person will always choose in accordance with his or her greatest desire, which is determined by the God given nature and Divinely controlled circumstances in which that individual makes the choice.[1]Therefore, the choice of a Christian is as much under the “sovereign meticulous providence” of God as are the choices of the Reprobates.  So, according to a consistent Calvinist, the “dead” believers in Sardis were as incapable of response to Christ’s appeals to repent, as were the “dead reprobates” being called by the gospel to repentance for the very first time.  In other words, if Compatibilism is true, then both the “dead” believer in Sardis and the “dead” reprobate is equally incapable of repentance apart from God’s gracious work to effectuate that willing response. Thus, the burden of proof is still on the Calvinist to demonstrate that the analogy of being “dead,” in both instances, equals “corpse-like inability.”

Paul is known to use the analogy of being “dead” along side the concept of being included “in Him,” as we see here:

In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions” (Col. 2:11-13).

Here Paul seems to relate circumcision to being made alive. Deut. 10:16 says, “Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer,” which strongly seems to indicate it is man’s responsibility to humbly repent, as seen repeated in Jer. 4:4:

Circumcise yourselves to the LORD and remove the foreskins of your heart, Men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, Or else My wrath will go forth like fire And burn with none to quench it, Because of the evil of your deeds.’”

This parallels Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 1 and 2, which likewise references the saints as having once been dead but being made alive by God. Both Calvinists and non-Calvinists affirm that we were all once dead in our sins and have been made alive together with Him.  The point of contention is over whether the dead sinner has any responsibility in his being raised up. Is the concept of “deadness” meant to suggest that mankind has no responsibility (ability to respond) to God’s appeal to “repent and live” (Num. 21:8-9; Ezk. 18:32; 33:11; John 6:40; John 20:31).

The text indicates that we are “made alive together with Him,” and it is mankind’s responsibility to be included “in Him,” through faith:

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:13-14).

When were you “mark in Him?”

“When you believed,” according to the text.

Clearly, one must believe in order to be marked “in Him” and receive the Holy Spirit, not the other way around.  It is “in Him” that we are “made alive” or “raised,” according to the texts quoted above.

No where in the Bible is the concept of being “dead” connoted to mean that mankind has no responsibility to humble themselves and repent in faith so as to be “made alive together with Him.” As Paul teaches in Romans 8:10, “If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.”

The theme of being “raised up,” “made alive,” “exalted,” or “lifted up” is carried throughout the scriptures, and it is not difficult to see the expectation God has for those who He will graciously raise up:

1 Peter 5:5-6:  “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

James 4:10: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

Matthew 23:12: For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Psalm 18:27: You save the humble but bring low those whose eyes are haughty.

Psalm 147:6: The Lord sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground.

Matthew 18:4: Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Luke 18:14: “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Not once in scripture does it teach that God is the one responsible for humbling us so that we would be “lifted up,” “raised up,” “exalted” or “make alive together with Him.”

In James 1:14-15, it states, “But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” Likewise, Paul says in Romans 7:9-10, “I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me.” Yet, Calvinists teach that we are born dead already. So, which is it? Clearly, the analogy of “death” can carry with it different connotations, none of which can be shown by the text to mean “total inability” from birth.

Finally, if spiritual deadness is taken in a woodenly literal way by the Calvinist when it comes to mankind’s moral inability to respond willingly, then why can the “corpse-like dead man” respond unwillingly? A corpse could not “grab the life preserver when it is offered,” as the Calvinist likes to point out, but a corpse also could not actively swim away from it either, as is the rebellious response of many to the gospel. In fact, there are all different kinds of responses to the life preserver.  Some swim around it for a while and seem genuinely interested. Others mock it angrily. In fact, no two “dead” people respond in the exact same way to the life preserver, which obviously would not be true if they literally responded like a corpse.

Once again, the Calvinistic presumption is just that, a presumption they read into the text that is simply never substantiated by any explicit biblical teaching.

For more on this subject, CLICK HERE.

Does God REALLY Love Everyone?

April 4, 2018

By Leighton Flowers
Apologist for Texas Baptists

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared at soteriology 101 and is used by permission.

John MacArthur wrote,

“How we address the misconception of the present age is crucial. We must not respond to an overemphasis on divine love by denying that God is love. Our generation’s imbalanced view of God cannot be corrected by an equal imbalance in the opposite direction, a very real danger in some circles. I’m deeply concerned about a growing trend I’ve noticed — particularly among people committed to the biblical truth of God’s sovereignty and divine election. Some of them flatly deny that God in any sense loves those whom He has not chosen for salvation.

I am troubled by the tendency of some — often young people newly infatuated with Reformed doctrine — who insist that God cannot possibly love those who never repent and believe. I encounter that view, it seems, with increasing frequency.

The argument inevitably goes like this: Psalm 7:11 tells us “God is angry with the wicked every day.” It seems reasonable to assume that if God loved everyone, He would have chosen everyone unto salvation. Therefore, God does not love the non-elect. Those who hold this view often go to great lengths to argue that John 3:16 cannot reallymean God loves the whole world. …

The fact that some sinners are not elected to salvation is no proof that God’s attitude toward them is utterly devoid of sincere love. We know from Scripture that God is compassionate, kind, generous, and good even to the most stubborsinners. Who can deny that those mercies flow out of God’s boundless love? It is evident that they are showered even on unrepentant sinners.”

Many Calvinistic brethren, like MacArthur in the quote above, when discussing the sincerity of God’s love for all people, seem to distance themselves from the inevitable conclusions drawn by the implications of their own systematic. While attempting to maintain some semblance of divine love for those unconditionally rejected by God in eternity past, they appeal to God’s common provisions such as rain and sunshine. But can such provisions be deemed as genuinely loving given the Scripture’s own definition of love found in 1 Corinthians 13?

Paul, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, clearly explains what love is not when he writes,

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:1-3)

So we can conclude love is not:

? Having the power and ability to do all things (vs. 1)

? Having knowledge of all things (vs. 2)

? Giving gifts and showing kindness to the weak and poor (vs. 3)

Omnipotence without love is impotent. Omniscience apart from love is worthless. And even benevolent gifts, like the provisions of rain and sunlight, apart from love are nothing. We know that God is omnipotent, omniscient and graciously benevolent to all humanity, but we also know that these characteristics do not necessarily reflect the true nature of love. God, through his servant, tells us what true love is:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Cor. 13:4-8)

No Bible believing Christian questions the truth that “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8). “The Lord is gracious and merciful; Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness. The Lord is good to all, And His mercies are over all His works.” (Ps. 145:9). This biblical truth is simply undeniable, which is why many Calvinists attempt to offer these types of rebuttals in defense of God’s love for all people from their Calvinistic worldview. But, can one objectively conclude that God’s treatment of the reprobate within the Calvinistic system is truly “loving” according to God’s own definition above?

? Is God patient with the reprobate who he “hated” and rejected for salvation “before he was born or had done anything good or bad.”

? Is God kind to those he destines to torment for all eternity without any regard to their own choices, intentions, or actions?

? Does God honor the non-elect by allowing them to enjoy a little rain and sunlight before they spend an eternity suffering for something with which they had absolutely no control over?

? Is God not easily angered by those who are born under His wrath and without hope of reconciliation?

? Does God keep the record of wrongs committed by reprobates?

? Does the so-called “love” of God for the non-elect fail or does it persevere?

I must ask, as Dave Hunt so succinctly inquired, “What love is this,” and by what measure can it ever be deemed “great!?”

Lest someone accuse me of being uncharitable, it should be noted that some “higher” forms of Calvinism do not even attempt to defend the idea that God sincerely loves everyone. In a work titled, The Sovereignty of God, by A. W. Pink, he wrote, “God loves whom He chooses. He does not love everybody.” He further argued that the word “world” in John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world…“) “refers to the world of believers (God’s elect), in contradistinction from ‘the world of the ungodly.’”[1]

The issue comes down to how one defines the characteristic of love. According to Paul, “love does not seek its own,” and thus it is best described as “self-sacrificial” rather than “self-serving” (1 Cor. 13:5). As Jesus taught, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” It seems safe to say that love at its very root is self-sacrificial. Anything less than that should not be called “love.” One may refer to “kindness” or “care” in reflection of some common provisions for humanity, but unless it reaches the level of self-sacrifice it does not seem to meet the biblical definition of true love.

Given that biblical definition of love as “self-sacrifice,” let us consider Christ’s command to love our enemies. Is this an expectation Christ himself is unwilling to fulfill? In other words, is He being hypocritical in this command? Of course not. The very reason He told His followers to love their enemies is “in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven…” (Matt. 5:45).

The meaning is undeniable. We are to love our enemies because God loves His enemies. He loves both “the righteous and the unrighteous” in exactly the same way we are told to love our enemies. The greatest commandment instructs us to “love our neighbor as ourselves” (Lev. 19:18; Matt. 22:37-38). “And who is our neighbor?” (Lk. 10:29). The pagan Samaritans, who were detested as enemies of God.

In short, Jesus is teaching us to self-sacrificially love everyone, even our worst enemies, because that reflects the very nature of God Himself.

Now, we know that Jesus perfectly fulfilled the law in every way (Matt. 5:17-18), which would have to include the greatest commandment. Christ’s self-sacrificial love for His enemies was certainly as encompassing as what He demanded from His followers in Luke 10. Without a doubt, Jesus loved everyone, even His greatest, most undeserving enemies; otherwise, He would have failed to fulfill the demands of the law.

Paul taught, “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” And again in Romans 13:8: “He who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” Thus, to deny Jesus’ self-sacrificial love for everyone is to deny that He fulfilled the demands of the law. This would disqualify Him as the perfect atoning sacrifice.

If we accept that Jesus fulfilled the demands of the law by self-sacrificially loving all people, then how can we conclude that God’s love is any less far-reaching than that which is reflected in the Son? Would God expect our love to be more encompassing and self-sacrificial than His own?

When God invites His enemies to be reconciled (Isa. 1:18; 2 Cor. 5:20; Mt. 11:28-30), He is making an appeal from a sincere heart of self-sacrificial love. “‘As surely as I live,’ declares the Sovereign LORD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’” (Ezek. 33:11). “The Lord loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods…” (Hosea 3:1). Obviously, God does sincerely love even those who turn from His provision and grace.

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