Saturday, September 17, 2016


A discussion developed on the comments on "Setting Aside" this week about the doctrine of election. I'd like to make some comments that apply to that thread, but I think they'll fit better in this format than on a comment thread.

I listened to a message on "Divine Sovereign Individual Election", and I'm going to steal the phrase. Let's quote the first sentence: "Scripture teaches divine sovereign individual election." It has taken me many years to accept, but I am convinced it's true. Let me give you the short summary of what changed my mind:

A few years ago I was sitting in a Bible Reading discussing Romans 9. It was a terribly uncomfortable meeting, because I was trying my best to ignore the central thrust of the passage: God sovereignly chooses. That was the beginning of a long road for me: I realized what I wanted it to say wasn't at all what it actually said.

Another step came when I was listening to a message where the author quoted Matthew 11:21–26. The speaker wasn't talking about election at all, but I suddenly realized the implication of vv. 21 and 23 – God knew exactly what it would take to make Sodom, Tyre, and Sidon repent, and He chose not to do it. There are some other stunning implications of this passage, but that was what I noticed at the time.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this is the story of everyone who perishes. If we believe God is omnipotent, then we have to conclude that God could save everyone, but chooses not to. That's not to say I came to believe in the doctrine of Reprobation, but I reluctantly concluded that God frequently chooses not to save.

The final step came when I was listening to a message by William McCrae on "Scripture's Greatest Theodicy" on Romans 9:1–13. I was driving to work when I got to the 30 minute mark and he quoted Donald Grey Barnhouse as saying, "Nothing provokes the flesh like the doctrine of election." In a rare moment of honesty, I asked whether my problems with Romans 9 were not really that I didn't understand what it was saying. Perhaps I understood perfectly what it was saying and just didn't want to believe it.

So let's consider what Scripture says. "Calvinism" is no better than "Arminianism" in the sense that they're both "-isms". The challenge isn't to choose the right "-ism", but to hear what Scripture actually says.

The most succinct statement is probably Romans 8:29–30. What do these verses say?

  1. whom he has foreknown, he has also predestinated [to be] conformed to the image of his Son (v. 29)
  2. whom he has predestinated, these also he has called (v. 30)
  3. whom he has called, these also he has justified (v. 30)
  4. whom he has justified, these also he has glorified (v. 30)

whom he has foreknown, he has also predestinated [to be] conformed to the image of his Son. We notice first that the end result isn't salvation per se, but conformity to Christ. Justification is a necessary step in the process, but it's not the end goal. The end goal is to make us like Christ. And that rests on predestination, on God sovereignly choosing to make it so.

There are many who teach predestination rests on God's knowing who would eventually believe – God looked to see who would choose Him, and chose them first. I believed that for many years, but it doesn't really stand up to the test of Scripture. First, we notice the verse says whom He foreknew, not what He foreknew. The idea here isn't that God foreknew something about us, but that He foreknew us personally.

Scripture uses the word "know" to indicate relationship in both the Old and New Testaments. This is how we understand Matthew 7:23 ("I never knew you"), Galatians 4:9 ("but now, knowing God, but rather being known by God"), Amos 3:2 ("You only have I known of all the families of the earth"), and Hosea 13:4–5 ("I knew thee in the wilderness"). We don't think Amos 3:2 indicates God was ignorant of the nations around Israel, or that the Lord Jesus will claim to be ignorant of the workers of iniquity in Matthew 7:23. We don't think God became aware of the Galatians when they believed. We understand God's knowing to indicate relationship.

whom he has predestinated, these also he has called. This is ties in closely with the next statement: we certainly see a "general call" in Scripture, but this is talking about something different. This is the call to the predestinated.

whom he has called, these also he has justified. The people God called are exactly the same people He justified. They are equivalent sets. There is not one person He called but didn't justify, there is not on person He justified and didn't call.

whom he has justified, these also he has glorified. This obviously hasn't actually happened yet (Romans 8:23). It will, though, and Scripture states it in the past tense because it's that certain.

Why do people who sincerely love God and respect His word not believe in election? It's a reasonable question; it might not have a clear answer.

One reason is that we just don't want to accept it. I once heard someone say this in message on the dangers of "Calvinism":

I'm going to have to change my whole preaching style if I accept Calvinism, and I don't want to do that. Now maybe I'm wrong but I don't want to do that...
This isn't the language of someone bowing to Scripture. I've met this preacher, there's no question in my mind that he loves God. But at least in this one area, he's dead wrong. He's wrong even if his statements on "Calvinism" are correct, because he's openly admitted it all comes from his own self will, his own unwillingness to change.

I've talked about this before ("Why hast Thou made me thus?"), Romans 9:19–20 deals with the objection of a man who sees election as unjust, and it condemns the objector on the ground that we have no right to judge God.

And this takes us back to "Setting Aside". We don't want to admit that God has tried Adam's race and found it wanting. If we accept what Scripture says about election, we've taken a huge step towards the acknowledgment that there's nothing in me for God. That's something the flesh will never admit.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Active passivity

I'm re-reading Francis Schaeffer's excellent True Spirituality. I love this book for several reasons, one is that it's not written by "brethren". Not that I'm a hater on "brethren" or anything, but it demonstrates that what we talk about as far as the Christian life isn't some fanatical "brethren" view.

One of the best things in this book is Schaeffer's dealing with the issue of trying to serve God in our own strength. His illustration is excellent. He talks about how the angel told Mary she would be the virgin mother of Christ. She had three options, according to Schaeffer (p. 52):

  1. She could have said, "no way, leave my body alone"
  2. She could have said, "I'll get right on that!" and attempted to become a virgin mother
  3. She could have said, "I'm on board! I trust God to do it."
Of course the first option would mean having no part in the blessing she was promised. The second would end in failure (it was entirely out of her power to become a virgin mother). What she actually said was, “Be it unto me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). She expressed at once her inability to do it and her desire to be used of God. This is what Schaeffer calls "active passivity".

Sometimes I sound like I'm urging passivity when it comes to Christian living: you can't please God, only Christ can please God in you. I need to be careful about that: like Schaeffer says, it's an active passivity. We do have a part to play in the Christian life, and it's not purely passive. Certainly there is a godly desire involved, to be used of God to glorify Christ.

There are some other excellent things in this book, but I think this is the most helpful.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Setting aside

R. A. Huebner says

There is a fact to be observed with attention in the book of Genesis the special blessing is not given to the firstborn son. This setting begins with Cain and is seen in every case where there is sufficient information given so that this phenomenon in Genesis may be observed. We should see in this a foreshadow that God’s purpose is to set aside the firstborn. (God’s Sovereignty and Glory in the Election and Salvation of Lost Men, p. 31, downloaded 2016-09-05)
Galatians 4:21–24 supports his view that there is an allegorical truth here.

1 Corinthians 15:42–49 give two descriptions of Christ in contrast to Adam: there is the "last Adam" (v. 45) and the "second man" (v. 47). The "last Adam" carries the idea that Christ is the end of Adam's race, the "second man" carries the idea that Christ is the start of something new.

We see the same pattern in Matthew 27:15–23. Pilate presents Barabbas and Jesus in that order. Of course the crowd chose the first man over the second Man.

Their choice of the first over the second carries on the pattern from Genesis. When Joseph saw that Israel's right hand was on Ephraim's head, it was "evil in his eyes" (Genesis 48:17). Joseph wanted his older son to get the older son's blessing (quite naturally!). Jacob chose the second over the first (v. 20)

When God told Abraham that He would give him a second son (Genesis 17:15–21), Abraham's response was "Oh that Ishmael would live before You" (v. 18). This is remarkable: God is telling Abraham that He would provide the "son of promise" (Galatians 4:28), but Abraham wants the "son according to flesh" (Galatians 4:23) to please God. God certainly promised to bless Ishmael, but He insisted it was Isaac with whom He would establish a permanent covenant (vv. 20–21).

Let's pause and say that it was good and right for Abraham to long for Ishmael to please God. And we don't want to downplay the blessing of God on Ishmael. But we want to see the truth of Galatians 4 here: these things have an allegorical sense, and the Spirit of God is teaching us something in this story.

By the time we come to Genesis 22:2, we have God referring to Isaac as Abraham's "only son". God is no longer acknowledging the first man, only the second.

I fall into the trap of Abraham again and again, as I suspect most of us do. I long to see the "first man" walk with God. What I fail to see is that God is no longer acknowledging that man: He only acknowledges the "second Man." I, like Abraham, have to see that God is now dealing with the son of promise, not the son of flesh.

If you look at Facebook, or listen to so much so-called Christian ministry, you'll see people say things like, "we have two natures within us, the one we feed is the one that grows." I suppose there's a grain of truth there, but it's not at all what Scripture actually teaches. Scripture teaches that in God's sight, there is only the second Man. When we start down the path of thinking we have a choice between "two natures", we leave the teaching of Scripture behind. We aren't to choose between two natures, we are to consider ourselves to have died (Romans 6:11), and to be entirely new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17). Of course I'm not denying that we have "the flesh" in us, but we are to consider that as a dead thing (Galatians 5:24). To think of ourselves as some sort of umpire between two warring sides is to give a place to "the flesh" that Scripture doesn't give it. J. N. Darby wrote,

Other differences have disappeared: there remains but the old man, which we only acknowledge as dead, and the new man. [emphasis added] (J. N. Darby, Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, Volume 5, last checked 2016-09-05)

So this is a challenge to me: don't fall into the trap of Genesis 17:18. Don't think the "first man" will walk before God. He won't. Don't think God will acknowledge anyone except the "second Man". God has found in Christ what He was looking for, and He's stopped looking. My only place before God is "in Christ", which means I've given up on myself (Philippians 3:9), and – by extension – on Adam's race.