God Decides 2008!- Answers to Common Objections of this View (part 1)

October 21, 2008

Having fully developed an argument for a specific view of the doctrine of election, the issue of objections must now be addressed. So, in the next two posts I will be doing my best to faithfully recall those objections and then to quell the concerns they raise.

Thus, let’s begin with the big one:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” -John 3.16

Objection: How can you hold to such a view of election (namely, unconditional election) and at the same time affirm John 3.16?

This is a common objection to both unconditional election and to the Calvinist understanding of limited atonement, but here we will only face the election side of it. The thing that really gets me is that, even though so many people are dead convinced that John 3.16 is the end game for Calvinistic beliefs, the solution seems quite simplistic. The question I have is, where is this supposed problem?

Of course, what will be said is that when the verse says “that whoever believes in him shall not perish” that this necessarily nullifies any possibility of there being an unconditional elect, unless election is for us all, and in which case election cannot be effectual for salvation without taking on universalism.

Working backwards, I think we can safely say that we are in no place to argue election for all, since Scripture seems to speak plainly that this is not the case. Romans 11.7 says, “What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened.” If everyone is elect then this is a pointless thing to say, which I doubt anyone is jumping on the bandwagon of saying that God inspired pointless statements. Therefore, we must look at the charge that this necessarily nullifies the unconditional aspect of election.

But does it? Let’s analyze what the verse says more closely:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

It is that one clause, “that whoever believes” which I think is the hinge this all swings on. To say that John 3.16 means that election cannot be unconditional is actually presupposing something, namely it is presupposing that anybody is capable of believing. But is that what we see in Scripture? What is believing but coming to Christ (John 6.35)? And what does John 6.44 say about coming to Christ?: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” So, according to Jesus, those who believe have to first be drawn by the Father. Well, unless the Father draws all men, which again would be saying a portion of Scripture is useless babble (as well as contradicting John 6.64-65), it must be the case that, even without a well-formed doctrine of unconditional election, the “that whoever believes” must be limited.

It is at this point that I would go back to previous arguments and make the case that the full thought is “that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life, and the ones who do that are all and only those elected by God from the foundation of the earth,” and thus, it appears that this objection is no problem for our view.


God Decides 2008!- How Should We Respond?

October 20, 2008

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. . . . In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.” -Ephesians 1.3-6, 11-12

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion . . . . May grace and peace be multiplied to you. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” -1 Peter 1.1a, 3-5

Now that we have waded through the theological waters of how the Bible presents the doctrine of election, it is time for us to address what was my initial impetus in starting this conversation in the first place, that being the question of how should this make us respond?

Looking back we see that what we have said is that God does have a group of people who he has set apart which are called the elect, that that election was based purely on God’s unmerited grace and not on anything that the elect did to earn it, that all of whom are numbered among the elect will be saved, and that none apart from the elect will be saved.

It is after the exposition of all of this where the main cry inevitably comes out, in some sarcastic tone by some smirking know-it-all, asking, “So you think you are elect?” Well, yes, I do. And if you are saved then I think you are elect too! But, should my conviction that I am among the elect lead me to the conclusion which has been implied, namely that I must be something on a stick if God chose me? Absolutely not!

Read Ephesians chapter 1. What does Paul say? Yes, we have returned time and again to see that he says that the elect were chosen “before the foundation of the world” and “predestined” to salvation, but what does he say the response should be? “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ . . . . In love he predestined us . . . to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (vv.3-6). This whole passage, while being a great theological treatise on the doctrine of election, is almost a thank you note, a groveling show of gratitude and unworthiness for a gift which has been given.

Read 1 Peter 1.1-5. What does Peter say? He opens by addressing himself to “the elect exiles.” And then what does he say to them, before anything else? “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again” (v.3a). Again, gratitude and humility. In fact, the humility is amplified as you continue reading, as Peter lists off regeneration, adoption, and perseverance, all of which he declares as being handled solely by the Godhead and not by us. Peter’s high view of election is aligned with a high view of God’s sovereignty and low view of man’s ability, in one coherent theology of dependence on God.

This is the attitude we should take. Yes, as I said, I believe that I am among the elect. That is because I believe that I have been saved by God through the blood of Christ and it is my conviction that that salvation is given to all and only the elect. And my response to that can be no more inward looking than Peter or Paul’s. It is not of my own doing, not a thing, nothing at all, for which I have been chosen. It is solely by the grace of God that he would “caus[e me] to be born again,” though I was “dead” and “by nature [a child] of wrath” (1 Peter 1.3, Ephesians 2.1, 3). Election, instead of being a doctrine of arrogance as is often portrayed (and sometimes even carried out), can only be properly handled as a doctrine of grace, of wholly unmerited mercy, and of humility.

Yes, I believe that I am elect, and believing that way gives me all the more reason to think lowly of myself as I raise up glory to the blessed God of my salvation!


The Peace of Atonement- A Devotion on Isaiah 6.7

October 18, 2008

And he touched my mouth and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.‘” -Isaiah 6.7

Isaiah receives peace at the knowledge of the propitiation for and expiation of his sins. I too must learn always to dwell in this peace, be it from the burden of my own uncleanliness (Colossians 2.13-14) or from the general unworthiness I have to serve God to begin with (Romans 3.23). God is my only hope for peace. Against him alone have I sinned (Psalm 51.4) and from him alone comes mercy and grace (Jonah 2.9). Amen.


The Measure of a Man- Spurgeon on Proper Perspective in Ministry

October 17, 2008

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.” -Proverbs 11.2

One of my biggest problems, a concern I am reminded of most every time I present a Bible study lesson or special message before a crowd, is an unholy preoccupation with the responses of men. My own pride and desire to see myself elevated has many times gotten in the way of my ability to advance the cause of Christ in my circumstances, and it seems that, as someone who has recently received the call into pastoral ministry, this is an issue I will have need to focus on for the remainder of my ministry on earth.

Of course, this problem goes beyond just a desire for people to like me, extending out into areas such as innovation and uniqueness of my work. It is here that the words of God to an Elijah who thought much too highly of his own importance should be heard:

And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” And the LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19.13-18)

Another quote which I find helpful here is the following from Charles Spurgeon in his book An All-Round Ministry:

Let us not judge ourselves by others, and say, with deadening self-complacency, “We are getting on well as compared with our brethren. There are not many additions to our churches, but we are as successful as others.” . . . Let us measure ourselves by our Master, and not by our fellow-servants: then pride will be impossible, but hopefulness will be natural.

Elijah held himself in too high an esteem, Spurgeon warns against measuring by inappropriate markers, and the onus falls on me to take these thoughts to heart. Pride comes before the fall (Proverbs 11.2). This is certainly a lesson that I must learn if I am going to be able to execute a God-honoring ministry with my life. Maybe this will find you too.


How Dead is Dead?- Thomas Manton on the Ability of Man to Save Himself

October 16, 2008

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” -Ephesians 2.1-3

The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” -Genesis 6.5

We have spoken here numerous times, and probably alluded towards a number more, that there is somewhat of a controversy over just how capable man is of “deciding” for God, i.e. if it is man’s choice to follow God or if God sovereignly leads man to following him.

As a personal apologetic, I often find myself referring to Ephesians 2.1-3 (above) as my key passage in favor of the view that, aside of the regenerating work of the Spirit in our hearts, man is utterly unable to do anything pleasing to God or decide to live in anyway for God.  However, this is certainly not the only passage in favor of this view.  It is because of that that I was so struck by a quote of Thomas Manton, taken from his sermon “Man’s Impotency to Help Himself Out of that Misery,” where he appeals to the shear bulk of evidences for this view.  Quote:

If the scripture had only said that man had accustomed himself to sin, and was not “born in sin;” that man were somewhat prone to iniquity, and not “greedy” of it; and did often think evil, and not “continually;” that man were somewhat obstinate, and not a stone,” and “adamant;” if the scripture had only said that man were indifferent to God, and not a professed “enemy;” if a captive of sin, and not a “servant;” “rebel;” then there might be something in man, and the work of conversion not so difficult.  But the scripture saith the quite contrary.

There is certainly something inside man which longs to be able to save ourselves, but Scripture is, in my opinion, overly clear on the fact that this is simply something that we cannot do.  As a result of Adam’s sin in the Garden, the whole lineage of humanity has been corrupted and there is not a person born (aside from the miraculous birth of Christ) who is not subject to a fallen, depraved nature which leads them “astray from birth” (Psalm 58.3).  This is such an enlightening doctrine, and to stubbornly hang on to “man’s ability to choose” puts us at risk of elevating man to the place of God, a place of worship, in violation of the second commandment.


Are We Truly Being Disciples?- Baxter on the Necessity of Christian Studies

October 14, 2008

And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” -Matthew 28.18-20

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” -Hebrews 5.12-14

This is a pet peeve of mine, and maybe I get a little too harsh on it sometimes, but I was excited to see Richard Baxter address it in his book The Reformed Pastor. The issue is that of Christian brothers who are not interested, sometimes even disdainful, of studying the deeper things of God.

Maybe you know who I’m talking about. Those brothers and sisters who week in, week out want to come to church to hear the same old message on John 3.16 or Philippians 4.13 or Jeremiah 29.11, a message of encouragement and self-esteem, and maybe even a word or two about someone else’s sin. The ones who get mad at you or think you are trying to act smart when you use words like ‘justification’ or ‘penal substitutionary atonement.’ The ones who put books like Your Best Life Now and The Shack on the best-seller list while skipping over more edifying works such as Don’t Waste Your Life or Knowing God. On this, I know I have much to say, but I really liked the way Baxter said it, with all his Puritan tongue-in-cheek:

Convince [the church members] what a contradiction it is to be a Christian, and yet to refuse to learn; for what is a Christian but a disciple of Christ? And how can he be a disciple of Christ, that refuseth to be taught by him? And he that refuseth to be taught by his ministers, refuseth to be taught by him; for Christ will not come down from heaven again to teach them by his own mouth, but hath appointed his ministers to keep school and teach them under him. To say, therefore, that they will not be taught by his ministers, is to say, they will not be taught by Christ; and that is to say, they will not be his disciples, or no Christians.

As I finish The Reformed Pastor and as I move on into Light and Heat: The Puritan View of the Pulpit, I am becoming more and more convicted of the need of strong, deep, challenging Biblical teaching from the pulpit and Sunday School classes of our churches. As a Sunday School teacher myself, I see the tendency of church-goers to slip into a humanistic coma, unaware that the doctrines of God’s majesty and man’s total inability to reach him are just as applicable as passages on prayer and the Proverbs.

More importantly, the church continues sliding away into liberalism and pluralism, neglecting the Word of God, because, I believe, they see so much of the Word of God as unnecessary. What matter is it if we deny a fifth of the text when we see half of the text as being of no use to begin with? The battle for the authority of Scripture is more than just a battle over inerrancy, it is a fight over the proper purview of the Living Word in our everyday lives.

We can no longer be satisfied being Christians that aren’t disciples of Christ. We must be committed to the study of the Word or else we might as well neglect the whole thing!


You Didn’t Really Mean That, Did You?- Answering the Hell Question, Wrap-Up

October 13, 2008

He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” -Titus 1.9

I just wanted to thank all of you who have taken the time to read this series of posts on the question of “If God is loving/good, how can he send someone to hell?” As I mentioned in the posts, and as I have stated before in various comments (here and here), this doctrine of hell is one of the most contentious points for evangelical Christianity today. It is being attacked from all sides and as such we need to have a strong, well-formed, and biblical position on it.

To close us out I would like to post a sermon by JD Greear from The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC that he gave a few weeks ago dealing with this question. In it I think he does a great job of answering the objections as well as using the doctrine of hell to give way to the Gospel. Please take the time to listen to this and to begin formulating your own response for the next time this question is asked to you.

JD Greear- How Could a Loving God Send Someone to Hell?


You Didn’t Really Mean That, Did You?- Answering the Hell Question, Part 4

October 12, 2008

(This is the last in a four part series of posts dealing with the age-old question “How can a loving God send someone to hell?” This answer was originally developed as a reply to an email I received. Today’s post deals with the objection of “Hell does exist, but I don’t see how a loving God could send people there, therefore he doesn’t [or at least not forever].”)

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” -John 3.18

So, then, let’s return to the question, “Does anyone get sent to hell (for eternity)?” or, rephrasing it in terms of what was just said, “Will God (eventually) justify everyone?” To say “Yes” to this question is to assume one of two things, either everyone will profess faith before they die, or God will not hold a lack of faith against people. But I think it is easy to disprove the first assumption, so we must be assuming that God will just overlook people’s lack of faith, and if he doesn’t then he is responsible for sending them to hell.

Can God overlook a lack of faith? Numbers 14.18, “The LORD is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.” To think God can overlook our sins is to play down the severity of our sins. Romans 6.23 says “For the wages of sin is death.” Psalm 1.5 says “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.” Our sin is so awful to God that we cannot even stand in his presence. He is so holy that he must be separate from all sin. It is for this reason that he could not even look upon his own son when Christ took on our sins on the cross (Matthew 27.46, 2 Corinthians 5.21). As JD Greear from The Summit Church in Raleigh, NC said, we find hell so severe because we don’t think that trampling on God’s glory is that a deal.

Thus, if God can’t overlook a lack of faith, then isn’t he still in some way responsible for sending us to hell? Certainly not. John 3.18, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” Jesus here clearly tells us that the responsibility for a person’s condemnation is on them because they have not believed. Yet, if you are a Calvinist like myself, believing that “No one can come to [Jesus] unless the Father who sent [him] draws [them]” (John 6.44), then how does God escape responsibility here? Because, the only reason we are cut off from coming to Jesus in the first place is because of our sin (Psalm 51.5, 58.3, Romans 3.10-12, 23, Ephesians 2.1-3), which is necessarily our responsibility since “God made [us] upright” (Genesis 1.31, Ecclesiastes 7.29). Therefore, no matter how we turn, the responsibility for hell falls solely upon our rejection of God and our hardness towards him. As CS Lewis so famously said, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’” It is us who sin and make ourselves unworthy of God’s presence, and the punishment of hell is the natural end of this.

To close, though it is mostly clear from all else we’ve said here, hell is an eternal punishment. Just look at 2 Thessalonians 1.9, “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” Some people will argue that the Greeks had no word for eternal, which is right, but the word that is used here is ‘aiōnios’, meaning ‘without beginning and end,’ which is what the English word ‘eternal’ means. So, Paul is warning of an eternal punishment, as do Jesus in Matthew 25.41 and Jude in Jude 7.

As a note, there is simply no evidence anywhere, anywhere that God will offer up redemption to man after this life passes. In fact, Revelation 20.11-15 accounts for us that the final judgment will be passed upon the dead for what they had done, ergo, since dead people don’t do anything after dying it would seem fitting that this argues towards our point.

Therefore, in the end, we must conclude that hell is real, God is good, and man is ultimately the one responsible for his own condemnation. Of course this is not exhaustive on the debate, as it has brewed for two millennia with ceasing yet, but hopefully it is extensive enough of a treatment on the subject to be of help. May grace and peace be multiplied to you.


You Didn’t Really Mean That, Did You?- Answering the Hell Question, Part 3

October 11, 2008

(This is the third in a four part series of posts dealing with the age-old question “How can a loving God send someone to hell?” This answer was originally developed as a reply to an email I received. Today’s post deals with the wording of the actual question from the email, which was “If God is good then why would he send good people to hell?”)

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” -Ephesians 2.1-3

I believe that in order to properly deal with the question of “Does anyone get sent to hell (for eternity)?”, I must first return to what the actual text of the original question you posed says: “If God is good then why would he send good people to hell?” The word I want to point out, and what I think affects our whole perspective on this thing, is the word ‘good.’ How could God send good people to hell? This is certainly a fair question if our conception of ‘good’ is the same as God’s, that we have Christ’s imputed righteousness in us, cleansing our sins so that we may be declared not guilty by God (2 Corinthians 5.21, Romans 3.23-26). If indeed we are ‘good’ because we have received Christ’s blood by faith and been justified by God the Father, then it God would not be good/loving in sending us to hell because he would have no grounds for doing so and would thus be in conflict with his perfect justice.

However, I think very few people have this conception of ‘good’ in mind when posing such a question. Instead, what I believe is commonly meant to be a ‘good person’ is someone who does things which are nice and which appear ‘good’ to men. Yet what is it that God says about man’s inherent ‘goodness’? Isaiah 64.6, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” Our ‘goodness’ is no more than “a polluted garment” to God (literally, in modern language, a used tampon). But, isn’t God pleased when we do things that it says are good in the Bible, even if we don’t have faith in him? Hebrews 11.6, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Thus, we must see that what we esteem as ‘good’ is of no value to God, and so it is no matter if we think a person is good or not, what matters is whether they have been justified by the blood of Christ.


You Didn’t Really Mean That, Did You?- Answering the Hell Question, Part 2

October 10, 2008

(This is the second in a four part series of posts dealing with the age-old question “How can a loving God send someone to hell?” This answer was originally developed as a reply to an email I received. Today’s post deals with the objection “I don’t see how a loving God could send people to hell, therefore hell must not exist.”)

They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” -2 Thessalonians 1.9

Now, let us first deal with the question of “Does hell exist?” The denial of hell is currently a very popular position, particularly among the emergent camp of Christianity and from people like Brian McLaren. In fact, I would argue that the doctrine of hell is one of the top issues that Christians need to be given sound instruction on these days in light of this trend. To deny the existence of hell is simply something that we cannot do and not, at the same time, deny the authority of Scripture, for Scripture speaks so plainly on it quite often (Matthew 5.29, 30, 10.28, 23.33, 25.41, Luke 12.5, 2 Thessalonians 1.5-9, 2 Peter 2.4, Revelation 20.11-15).

Of course, the objection which arises to this type of analysis is that when Christ and others spoke of “hell” as a place they were just being symbolic and therefore those passages are useless. But to that I would say, What is hell but being “away from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 1.9)? For us, though we may not realize it, the greatest gift is to be fully in the presence of God and the greatest torture is to be fully away from his presence. Thus, the first, wherever it may take place, is rightly termed ‘heaven,’ and the second, again, be it a literal fiery furnace with weeping and gnashing of teeth or not, would be rightly called ‘hell.’ This also takes away the argument that this current life is what hell is, since in this life on earth we know we are neither fully in God’s presence nor fully removed from it.

Therefore, our conclusion on the first question, Does hell exist?, must be “Yes,” and so, the one remaining question must be then “Does anyone get sent to hell (for eternity)?”