Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility?!?!

Lake Country Bible Church is committed to preaching and teaching the whole counsel of God.  Our overarching goal is to bring everything into conformity with the perfect Revelation of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16; Psalm 19).  This includes our doctrinal convictions, our worship, as well as our daily lives (John 17:17; Psalm 119:105-112).  Our theology is built solely on the Word of God because Scripture alone is inerrant, inspired, infallible, and the source of Divine wisdom.  God speaks to us, both of Himself and His truth, through the Holy Bible.

Having said this, not all Scripture is as straightforward as John 3:16 or 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.  Peter makes this very assertion in 2 Peter 3:14-16; “Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord to be salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.” 
Passages such as Romans 9-11, Ephesians 1, and 2 Thessalonians 2 are but a few texts that require greater effort (2 Tim. 2:15) in order to interpret them properly.
The Bible teaches twin truths with regards to God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. Both are equally true.  The absolute sovereignty of God does not lessen or eliminate human responsibility and/or human culpability one iota. 

Concerning God’s absolute freedom to be God passages of Scripture such as Psalm 115:3 remind us, Our God is in the heavens and he does whatever he pleases “As our sovereign Lord, He does always as He pleases, only as He pleases, and all that He pleases.”

In reference to this holy attribute one author writes, “Our God remains incomprehensible and retains His simplicity. He tells us in His Word that He is not a God of confusion but of order. He is not at war with Himself. He is altogether good, altogether holy, and altogether sovereign. This we must affirm to maintain a biblical concept of divine sovereignty. Yet we must always balance this understanding with a clear understanding that God always exercises His power and authority according to His holy character.
He chooses what He chooses according to His own good pleasure. It is His pleasure that He does.  He chooses what is pleasing to Himself. But that pleasure is always His good pleasure, for God is never pleased to will or to do anything that is evil or contrary to His own goodness.

In this we can rest, knowing that He wishes for, and has the power to bring about, all good things for us His children.”  Note also Psalm 103:19; Psalm 66:7; 1 Chronicles 29:12.

If God is in control of all things (Romans 8:28) does not this make the Almighty the author of sin and evil? How can God be infinitely good and totally sovereign?  What sayeth the Scriptures?  How God governs all events in the universe without sinning, and without removing responsibility from man, and with compassionate outcomes is mysterious indeed! But that is what the Bible teaches. God "works all things after the counsel of his will" (Ephesians 1:11).

This "all things" includes the fall of sparrows (Matthew 10:29), the rolling of dice (Proverbs 16:33), the slaughter of his people (Psalm 44:11), the decisions of kings (Proverbs 21:1), the failing of sight (Exodus 4:11), the sickness of children (2 Samuel 12:15), the loss and gain of money (1 Samuel 2:7), the suffering of saints (1 Peter 4:19), the completion of travel plans (James 4:15), the persecution of Christians (Hebrews 12:4-7), the repentance of souls (2 Timothy 2:25), the gift of faith (Philippians 1:29), the pursuit of holiness (Philippians 3:12-13), the growth of believers (Hebrews 6:3), the giving of life and the taking in death (1 Samuel 2:6), and the crucifixion of his Son (Acts 4:27-28).

From the smallest thing to the greatest thing, good and evil, happy and sad, pagan and Christian, pain and pleasure - God governs them all for his wise and just and good purposes (Isaiah 46:10). Lest we miss the point, the Bible speaks most clearly to this in the most painful situations. Amos asks, in time of disaster, "If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it?" (Amos 3:6). After losing all ten of his children in the collapse of his son's house, Job says, "The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD" (Job 1:21). After being covered with boils he says, "Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?" (Job 2:10)…

...all of us are hell-bent sinners (Eph. 2:1-3; Rom. 3:1-10). We deserve to perish (Rom. 3:23, 6:23). Every breath we take is an undeserved gift. We have one great hope: that Jesus Christ died to obtain pardon and righteousness for us (Ephesians 1:7; 2 Corinthians5:21), and that God will employ his all-conquering, sovereign grace to preserve us for our inheritance (Jeremiah32:40). We surrender this hope if we sacrifice this sovereignty.” (unquote)

If one is to have a right view of God and eternal salvation he/she must have a right view of him/herself.  The Word of God is a mirror that helps us to see ourselves for who we truly are.  Post-fall, pre-conversion man has nothing to brag about! 

1) Scripture teaches that we are natural born sinners. Psalm 51:5 declares, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” Sinners beget sinners (which is why the virgin birth is a fundamental doctrine).  In other words, you don't have to teach a toddler how to sin (see Genesis 4-11).  We are sinners by nature, choice, and practice.

2) Scripture teaches that we are physically alive but spiritually dead.  Ephesian 2:1-3 states, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.  Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.”  

3) Left to ourselves, we are helplessly hopeless and hopelessly helpless.  Colossian 1:21 says, “And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds.”  Romans 3:10-12 adds, "There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one."

In short, we are spiritual bankrupt, dead in sin, with a will that is enslaved to our fallen nature (see also Jeremiah 13:23, 17:9; Mark 7:21-23; Eph. 4:17-19).  What’s a hell bent sinner to do? 

Jesus said that we must be “born again” (note John 3) in order to enter the kingdom of God.  In context, Jesus is clearly talking about the doctrine of regeneration.  Scripture teaches us that God is not only the giver of life physically; He’s also the One who “makes us alive” spiritually. Like the wretched tax collector in Luke 18:9-14 we must cry out to God to save us! "Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner." 

Ephesians 2:4-7 goes on to say, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”  (Note also Colossian 2:13).

In this regard the only thing we contribute to our salvation is the sin that made the cross necessary.  Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved an undeserving wretch like me.  Therefore, salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9)!  This is why we sing praise songs with lyrics like this; "You alone can rescue! You alone can save! You alone can lift us from the grave... To You alone belongs the highest praise."

Jesus himself taught “no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44).  A few verses later the Master Evangelist added, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the father.” 

An unbreakable chain of eternal salvation is spoken of in Romans 8:29-30.  “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”  Scripture clearly teaches that true believers can never lose their salvation (note also Philippians 1:6; John 10, 17; Jude 24-25).

The doctrine of election and predestination are spoken of in both Old and New Testaments.  For example in Deuteronomy 10:15 the prophet Moses declared to the Israelites, "Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it.  Yet on your fathers did the LORD set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day.”  (See also Exodus 33:19; Deut. 7:6-7; Psalm 33:12, 65:4, 106:5; Haggai 2:23).

During his own ministry Jesus made many statements related to the internal call of salvation.  For example in Matthew 11:27, the Lord said, "All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son, except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father, except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.”  Later in chapter 22, verse 14 he asserted that “many are called, but few are chosen.”  (see also Col. 3:12; 1 Pet. 2:8-9; Rev. 17:14).

The Word of God clearly teaches that this sovereign choice was made “before the foundation of the world.”  Ephesians 1:1-12 puts it like this, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are at Ephesus, and who are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just 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 to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.  In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.”

Romans 9 is an entire chapter devoted to the subject of God’s glorious (sovereign) grace.  In this “hard to understand” text Paul reminds Israel that her salvation and special calling is based in the unmerited favor of God.   It is the prerogative of God to “have mercy” on whom He wills to have mercy. In other words, redemption and heaven is an expression of God’s amazing grace; while judgment and hell is the expression of God’s perfect justice. 

Roman 9:1-24 illustrates these twin truths; “I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; neither are they all children because they are Abraham's descendants, but: "through Isaac your descendants will be named." That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.  For this is a word of promise: "At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son."  And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God's purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, "The older will serve the younger."  Just as it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."  What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!  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 does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.  For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth."  So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.  You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?"  On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it? m Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use, and another for common use?  What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?  And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles."
The book of Acts describes the miracle of salvation in a way that is perfectly consistent with every passage that has been listed above.  For example, Acts 13:48 says, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.”  In Acts 16:14 “a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.”  Here you have the twin truths of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility in the same passage. 
On this same note, 1 Thessalonians 2:13-14 notes that “God chose you from the beginning to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.  To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Those who cannot stand “theological tension” will be especially tempted to reinterpret biblical texts in order to perfectly resolve various tensions in their finite mind(s).  For example, how can Jesus Christ be both 100% man (John 1:14) and 100% Divine (John 1:1)?  How can our Triune God be one in three and three and one?  How can God be totally sovereign and man be totally responsible for his/her behavior?  Yet God's Word clearly affirms all of these doctrinal realities.
It is imperative that the Church of Jesus Christ say no more and no less than what the Word of God reveals.  Sometimes, that means humbling acknowledging that, “the secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law (Deuteronomy 29:29).”