Friday, June 29, 2007

Sing Your Song

So I was thinking how focused I have been, in thinking and writing on the reformed doctrines of grace, to the point that I have had difficulty shifting gears to writing or even thinking about other things (or so it seemed to me at first, as I began writing this). I thought-- maybe it's a male thing-- since men's brains supposedly get locked into thinking on only one thing at a time (wired to be problem-solvers, you know) and so, once we're "locked on" and focused on the problem at hand, it may be difficult for us masculine types to concurrently focus on other things. Now I think this is partly true about men, but still, I have noticed a creative process going on within myself, at the unconscious level. Even as my "left" brain has been preoccupied with wrestling through these doctrines, answering objections to them, thinking logically and formulating arguments, I am also semi-conscious of another part of my brain, quietly doing its own creative thing. What is it doing?

Well, for example, I write songs-- specifically, my strength is in coming up with melodies. Many times as I'm walking along, or perhaps, when I first wake up, my mind will be running through bits of melody and playing around with them, trying to come up with something that's pleasing. It may be that the melody my mind is re-arranging is something I've heard before, but now it is busy trying to change it around, to make it into something new. Eventually, I will focus my conscious mind on this process that is happening, and will try to "write a song"-- yet the catalyst or creative inspiration is something already happening within me (and apart from me, in a sense).

The part of my brain that strains to concentrate its focus, as it deals with argumentation, logic and systematically putting together ideas, sometimes seems to me at odds with the part of my brain that likes to improvise in this relaxed way, without strain, playing with ideas and musical notes. And yet, both ways of thinking are happening and both are expressions of the wonderful way God has made brains to work.

Music seems to be a medium perfectly suited for this "creative" side. Music has its own kind of logic, but to come up with a fresh, original sounding melody is different than merely solving a logical problem. There is the need for constant improvisation; to put together the same elements one may have used hundreds of times before, but in a way that creates something altogether different, something unheard. And it is interesting that so often such a process seems to happen on its own, when the brain is at play.

I began writing this piece with the purpose of stimulating my "creative" side and I was thinking that focusing upon just one subject all the time might be causing a creative rut. But in writing these thoughts I realize that I can learn something about the creative process from the workings of my own brain, which likes to be creative even when I'm off working on my logical essays. Actually I am probably making an artificial designation with my previous statement-- because writing a logical essay on reformed doctrine and writing an original melody might both be viewed as equally "creative"-- they just happen to involve different modes of thinking and perhaps, different parts of the brain.

The real lesson I want to learn from my musical activity is how to tap into that playful, relaxed, improvisatory mode of my brain. Perhaps if I just remember that my good God is in control-- sovereign over even my creative inspirations-- I can relax in the faith that if there's something creative and original within me that's meant to come out, it will. Such faith and hope will actually give me more courage to experiment and get past the fears generated by my perfectionism-- what if I haven't covered everything, what if I can't answer a question, what if I used the wrong phrase, what if someone else has already said this better than me, what if they don't like my song?

Stop worrying! If they don't like my "song", it's not the end of the world, right? Who do we write for anyway? Why do we write? The important thing is to use one's gifts to serve the Lord and others, to keep developing them, yes, but not wait until they're perfect before using them. Here's to your creativity and mine-- go write a song, fly a kite, sing a song, dance a dance, write a bad essay or a good one, but don't wait till it's perfect, my friend. Let your brain play; put it out there; sing your song!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Blips on the Blogosphere- Reformed Theology Resources

Even as I continue working on my next post in the series on Arminian vs Reformed theology, it is my desire to try to post more often on other topics as well, but I find that I just haven't had much time to do so. In lieu of my own writing then, I would like to point you to a sampling of excellent articles and resources written from a Reformed perspective that I have recently encountered on the web. It's really amazing how much good material is available on-line on this subject.

Whenever I do find something of interest, I make sure to include it on my "Blips in the Blogosphere" sidebar (left column)-- so keep an eye on that section.

For additional resources, please also check out the "Reformed Theology" section (below, left column), which is regularly updated.

You may have noticed as well a new section at the top right,"Video of the Day"-- in this section I am, at least for now, uploading videos that teach on Reformed theology.

I know, you're thinking-- this guy has a "one-track" mind. Not really. But Reformed theology is my current preoccupation, and I find that it is helping me "connect the dots" in my thinking theologically, by providing a kind of framework through which to view a lot of biblical truths. Is it always right? Probably not. And do I subscribe to everything Reformed? Well, I haven't been sold on infant baptism, though I know there are reformed people who believe this is biblical.

It's been taking me much longer to get through the series on TULIP than I had originally anticipated, and I have been eager to post my "big picture" thoughts on this topic-- how Reformed vs Arminian theology affects church practice and practical Christian living. So I may begin to write on that before I have completed the entire step-by-step comparative series I have been writing.

In the meantime, check out these great links:

Reformed Distinctives (links to study resources from

Reformation Essentials by Michael Horton

God's Invincible Purpose: Foundations for Full Assurance

Reformed Perspectives Magazine

reformation21- The Online Magazine of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals

Ten Reasons Why the Bible Teaches Definite Atonement

Reformation Theology Reading Guide

Monday, June 11, 2007

Arminian vs Reformed Theology : Answers to Objections to Unconditional Election-Pt 3

With this post (together with a subsequent one) I aim to finish responding to various objections to the Reformed teaching on unconditional election. I will begin my defense with a further response to the idea that unconditional election makes God's elective choices "arbitrary".

Additionally, I will defend the Reformed position by showing that the Arminian picture of election (which is its opposite on so many issues) is seriously flawed. Arminianism downplays the awful spiritual condition of man, turns election into a reward for foreseen faith and in the process reverses its order, making man the chooser of God (who in turn "elects" man). And since it makes the destiny of men turn upon their actions and not God's sovereign plans, the sovereignty of God must necessarily suffer in its scheme.

Does Unconditional Election make God "Arbitrary"?
I will begin my defense of unconditional election by responding to a few comments reader Daniel Jordan wrote in reference to the previous post. In a discussion which took place in the comments section of the post, one question being debated was whether Reformed unconditional election makes God's choices in election arbitrary. I argued no, saying that "there is a good reason for God's elective choices: His mercy, which He bestows as He pleases."

Daniel responded,"If you equate his mercy with his election in Romans (which you seem to do) then this is highly illogical. God's mercy in election can't be the reason for God's mercy in election."

I am not trying to explain the mercy of God, but pointing to the reason given by Scripture as to why God elects anyone: His mercy and compassion (Romans 9:15-16, Eph 2:4-7). Can the mercy/love of God for sinners truly be explained? We know that God has chosen to set His love upon His elect. But is His love for anyone based on their worthiness to be loved? Every well-taught believer knows that this is not the case. It is while we were still "sinners" and "enemies" of God that Jesus died for the "ungodly"(Romans 5:6-10). Yet the Arminian point of view (which you seem to champion) turns God's election, one which Scripture declares flows from His love and mercy and compassion, into an election conditioned upon His foreknowledge of who the "good guys" are-- the ones whom God foresees displaying their own faith. But of course such a basis for election makes God's mercy and grace unnecessary. If God chooses to set His love upon those who have shown their worthiness for election, due to their persevering faith, then grace is no longer grace! God's mercy and grace towards sinners is merciful and gracious precisely because the sinner has not done anything, nor can he do anything, to merit or earn them.

During this discussion I also asked Daniel, "Why then would you not accept that God's elective decisions, made according to His own counsel alone and in harmony with His own righteous character, will produce choices that are fair and just?"

He replied as follows:
"In fact I do accept this. Here you concede that God's decisions are CONDITIONED on the counsel of his purpose and His own righteous character.

Here is my logic:
1. God's elective decisions are made according to His purpose and His character in what will amount to the wisest stewardship of the universe.
2. Part of God's purposes are future.
3. God's character includes omniscience and justice.
4. Therefore, it is not an illogical stretch to imagine God taking his foreknowledge of the future into account when making elective decisions."

How can I "concede" a point that I have not argued against? I have emphasized the difference between the Reformed view that says God elects people based on His own purpose and according to the righteousness of His own character, vs. the Arminian view, which has God choosing people according to their righteous character (and we must remember that when people choose God by faith that this is an act of righteousness, since all are commanded to believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ). The Arminian position makes the absurd claim that God is only fair (and not arbitrary) if He rewards with election those whom He foresees displaying such faith. This is what is being called "election". This is absurd for several reasons:

1. God doesn't foresee something that doesn't happen. The natural person does not hear the gospel and say "Yes, that makes sense. I will repent and believe it". Unless God has appointed or called people to eternal life, their natural reaction is to regard the gospel as folly, and to scorn, mock and reject the Christ (Acts 13:48, 1 Corinthians 1: 20-25, Luke 23:11,36, Matthew 27:29-31,41, Mark 10:34, Psalm 22:6-8, Isaiah 53:3, Matthew 21:42, Mark 8:31, Luke 9:22,17:25). In addition, as I argued in my last post, the source of salvific faith is God (see Eph 2:8:10, Phil 1:29, 2 Tim 2:25, Acts 11:18, Phil 1:29, 1 Corinthians 1:30). Therefore God does not elect those who have somehow generated faith on their own but rather gives faith to those He has chosen.

2. Moreover, there is no real choice by God involved in this Arminian "election". Whereas Scripture clearly states that God chose some before the foundation of the world (emphasizing that no human efforts are therefore taken into account in the election choice- see Eph 1:4, 2 Tim 1:9, Romans 9:11, Gal 1:15, Eph 2:10, Titus 1:2) and also ordained that His chosen would be called, justified, and glorified (this means providing all the means by which this redemption is fulfilled- see Romans 8:28-30), the Arminian view wants election to mean that God chose only those He foresaw doing something (i.e., having faith and persevering in it). According to the Arminian view it is these "doers" that are chosen and not others. Thus the Arminian view makes God's choice secondary to, and predicated upon, that of the creature, so that the Sovereign of the universe is merely ratifying the choice that the creature makes (a choice made by a sinful creature, as yet unregenerated)! This system presents then, an election not by God but by men. For in effect, men choose themselves to be elect (I choose God by my own faith. He sees it. He therefore chooses me).

3. Either God is sovereign (not only foreseeing, but foreordaining all things) and His purposes will therefore be established, or else, we all must rest our fate upon our own faithfulness. The Arminian would have us believe that God has left the outworking of His marvelous plan of redemption, His intention to have a people for Himself, up to the fickleness of sinful human hearts, and that (for the reason of maintaining "fairness") He is not to interfere with the choice-making of His sinful creatures, but only woo them by "prevenient grace". By such a scheme the Arminian claims that God will indeed have a people, and that such elective choices are fair to all. But how can the Arminian make any such claim? If God does not sovereignly act so as to bring His plans and desires to fruition then no one will come to Him and He will not have a people (Romans 10:21, Romans 11:1-7). Does His Spirit minister grace equally to all, merely waiting and hoping that a few totally depraved sinners will somehow distinguish themselves by choosing Him by their own wills? Or does He not rather give new life to His elect who were dead in trespasses in sins, this new life bringing spiritual connection to God and changed desires to beings who were totally lost and without hope (John 15:4-5, Romans 4:17, 5:10, 17-18, 6:13, 22-23, Eph 2:5, 12, 4:24, Col 2:13)?

Moreover, the Arminian view cannot assure that even after regeneration anyone will persevere in their faith. So for this reason too, Arminians can really make no guarantee that God will have a people.

4.God's promises are not dependent on man's faithfulness to the covenant (for man has shown himself unfaithful again and again), but upon God's sure word and His faithfulness to fulfill the covenant that He established by His word.

..."if we are faithless, he remains faithful (1 Timothy 2:13)"

The Arminian scheme sacrifices the sure promise of God in Romans 8:28-30-- that His chosen ones will fulfill all the purposes He has for them-- on the altar of its carnal idea of fairness. At the same time, it accuses those who would argue that God has indeed sovereignly chosen particular individuals as recipients of grace as making God arbitrary. Give me this "arbitrary" sovereignty any day over a dethroned impotence! As sinful as my flesh remains, I am most comforted in knowing that my God is indeed powerful enough to finish the work He started in me (Romans 8:31-37, Jude 1:24, Phil 1:6). I don't want God to be fair (for by justice alone I am doomed). I want Him to be merciful (thank God He is- James 2:13, Romans 5:20, 11:32). The Arminian scheme of election is not only false to the biblical record, but impugns the might, sovereignty and faithfulness of God in His dealings with man.

God is not arbitrary for choosing to save some and not others, for since all have sinfully rebelled against Him, none are due His mercy. Yet because of His great mercy, He has indeed chosen to save people, not based on anything they have done, for then mercy would no longer be mercy.

There is nothing wrong with the logic you described, if in fact God had designed election to happen that way. However, since the Scriptures clearly say that God's elective choices are not conditioned upon anything His human creatures perform (see verses mentioned above), there is no reason to "imagine" or surmise by such logic that election is informed by foresight of conditions met.

Does Perfect Foreknowledge = Conditional Election?
Daniel wrote,"If you agree that God knows the end from the beginning, why can't we accept that this knowledge may play a role in his decisions? Though it is not explicitly stated here, twice foreknowledge is used as a rationale for election.

1 Peter 1:1-2 To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father,

Rom 8:28-29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

Yes I know, you think foreknowledge means 'people fore loved'. I can't help that. But even so, wouldn't 'People fore loved' include everything about them, including future faith or unbelief?"

The fact that God has perfect foreknowledge/omniscience, which includes complete knowledge of everything His creatures will do, in itself says nothing about whether or not His election of people is conditional or unconditional. If we did not have explicit statements to the contrary, one might reason that God could take such knowledge into consideration in election. However we know that His elective choices are not conditioned upon such knowledge because Scripture tells us they are not.

Problems with Arminian foreknowledge as grounds for a conditional election

Where does saving faith come from? What makes one to differ from another?
Let's say though for the sake of argument, that God does indeed use His foreknowledge of people's faith and their perseverance therein to decide whom to elect. This leaves unanswered a crucial question: what causes faith to arise in some but not others? The Arminian says all receive the same grace and have equal opportunity to respond to the gospel, but that God is not the ultimate cause of faith. The person who believes supplies his own faith, while another who receives equal grace refuses to believe. So what is the cause of faith? The Arminian is forced to admit that the difference lies within persons -- one makes themselves to differ by somehow believing and persevering in that belief.

Arminianism necessarily gives man the credit in part for his salvation
Some Arminians don't want to say this, however, perhaps sensing that such an admission seems to exalt the powers of man and give him reason to boast before God. So they claim that there is nothing really meritorious in this "yes" to God. But obviously there is, for in their system, God elects to salvation the one who says "yes", and rejects the one who says "no". There is no escaping that such a scheme rewards the one who has made a positive response and since the sinner is partly responsible, he or she must receive part of the credit. But contradicting this, the Word says, "For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? (1 Corinthians 4:7), and also "God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. It also tells us that because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:28-31)", and also, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9)".

If what the Arminian says is true, the one who is saved may truthfully say that he is in part responsible for his own salvation. By his choice to believe and his persistence in faith, he makes himself "worthy" of election. God foresaw this choice and faith and therefore elected him and made him born-again. But if the Scriptures we have quoted are true, they starkly contradict these Arminian conclusions. They remind us that we have nothing that we have not received and that any difference between us and others is due to God alone. Since it is because of Him (God) that we are in Christ, none but God is due the glory both for our faith and for our salvation.

Arminian foreknowledge defeated by logic and the truth of God's sovereignty over all

Additionally the idea of God using foreknowledge to choose the elect is refuted by logic and the scriptural truth that God is sovereign over all things. If God foresees what is going to happen, those events must be certain. Yet if God is not the ultimate cause behind such events, then who or what is fixing them so that they will definitely happen? Behind every event there is a chain of cause and effect. Does God foresee actions and events only, but not participate causally in the chain of events that would lead to someone choosing Him? Yet the picture of God's sovereignty presented in Scripture declares that God "works all things according to the counsel of His will (Eph 1:11)".

Here again the Arminian argues that the Spirit woos and by the Word convicts, but in the final analysis admits that in his system the person must believe on their own. This leads to the problems we have described: How does the unregenerate person make the most important, righteous choice he/she will ever make? And having made this choice, how can one avoid the taking credit for that which God alone is said to be responsible? If it really is my choice, I must share in the credit for my own salvation. After all others with the exact same opportunity and equal ability to choose rightly failed to do so, while I succeeded.

In any case, foreknowledge in the verses you quoted (Romans 8:28-29, 1 Peter 1:1-2) means those "whom God foreknew", not those whom God knew something about. Even if you don't think the verses can mean "fore-loved" (which I previously argued and you conceded is a legitimate interpretation, at least in the context of Romans 8) the verses are speaking of God's foreknowledge of people, not their actions.

As Sam Storms writes in his article Election Texts- Part III,

"God's foreknowledge is an active, creative work of divine love. It is not bare pre-vision which merely recognizes a difference between men who believe and men who do not believe. God's foreknowledge creates that difference! Or again, "speaking about God's foreknowledge may be a way of expressing his eternal commitment to individuals as part of his determination to bring them to faith and to all the glories and benefits of Christ's work" (Baugh, 196)".

Conditional Mercy?
Daniel presented the following illustration to show that "God has the right to show mercy and to set the conditions of that mercy." He also made the point that the ones who merely receive mercy would not then be in a position to boast about it.

Illustration: A king decides to show mercy on murderous insurrectionists on the condition that they appear before him to lay down their arms. Those that fulfill the conditions are shown mercy. Fulfilling the condition does not make it any less merciful. The king is not obligated to show mercy. He could by the law, hang them for treason, yet he shows mercy based on his conditions.

Daniel went on to explain that the insurrectionist in his illustration could not boast, for "the insurrectionist was sentenced to die, yet was shown mercy and was pardoned by the King, from the guillotine, on the condition of laying down arms. After receiving his pardon, would he go home bragging how smart he was, or how merciful the King had been when he didn't have to be. I think the latter."

Conditional mercy is an oxymoron
The king in your illustration has made it a condition of His mercy that the insurrectionists lay down their arms. Where is the implied condition in God’s declaration “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy”? Isn't God's statement saying that it is God’s choice alone to whom He will show mercy? His mercy and grace through Christ not only forgives our sin but changes us into the people we ought to be. Your illustration fits somewhat with our situation in that, like the king in your story, God is not obligated to show mercy to man, who is a rebel against God by nature and through sin.

However your illustration falls short in describing our condition before God. For sin not only makes us guilty but also blinds us to our own guilt. The means by which we receive God’s mercy is faith in Jesus Christ, but the mercy of God extends to enabling man, who because of sinful blindness would otherwise reject this grace, to receive this faith and thus also the mercy offered in Christ.

The rebels in your illustration apparently lay down their arms voluntarily when they understand and accept the offer of mercy from the king. Yet your illustration does not show whether they are merely trying to save their own lives, or have really appreciated the gracious offer of the king and would from that point forward no longer be insurrectionists, but good citizens. Assuming it is the latter, the illustration still falls short because the Scriptures say that none will come to Christ unless God grants it, that repentance is a gift of God and the natural person regards the gospel as folly (John 6:44,63-65, 2Timothy 2:25, 1 Corinthians 1:18). It is not just a matter of being morally persuaded that the way of God is best. The Spirit must also do a supernatural work of conviction/regeneration in the soul, making the truth of the gospel intelligible. Only upon receiving this gift of faith and repentance do any become willing to "lay down their arms". Or to use another illustration, God mercifully grants life to the spiritual corpse that is the unregenerate person (pictured by the raising of Lazarus by Jesus in John 11).

In the next post I will return to Romans 9 and recapitulate my argument that it presents an unconditional election that is a crucial part of Paul's argument (that God's word to Israel has not failed).

I will also discuss the purpose of God in election, particularly the phrase "chosen in Him". Does being chosen "in Him" mean that only Jesus Christ is elect, and that those chosen in Him only partake of the benefits of being "in Him" by supplying their own faith? Or does it mean that the elect as a group cannot be thought of as separate from Christ, for He is the means by which all the purposes of God in election come to His chosen?

Finally, I would like to respond to a few other common objections: is the teaching of unconditional election a hindrance to evangelism? Does unconditional election negate the genuine or sincere offer of the gospel to all? Does unconditional election make God the "author of sin"?

For further study:
Sam Storms series on Divine Election

Ra McLaughlin Unconditional Election, part 1, part 2, part 3

Friday, June 01, 2007

Arminian vs Reformed Theology : Answers to Objections to Unconditional Election-Pt 2

Total Depravity/Inability in relation to the doctrine of Election

There is a firm, logical connection between the Reformed doctrines of total depravity/inability and election. It’s hard to get past total inability. Remember that the doctrine of total inability does not mean that people are as evil as they could possibly be, or that they cannot act in accordance with their God-given conscience. It does not mean that they do not have their own wills and cannot act upon their own desires. Total inability describes the fact that man, as a result of the sinful nature he inherited by the Fall of Adam, is not able to respond to the gospel of himself, in order to be saved. Classical Arminians acknowledge the truth of the Scriptural teaching of total depravity/inability but posit their notion of prevenient grace by which man, despite his deep sinfulness, is brought to the position of being able to respond to the gospel. We have shown however, that Arminian prevenient grace is not supportable scripturally (series posts on prevenient grace, 1 and 2). Others (Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians) claim that man is “not so dead”, and that despite the severity of man’s fallen condition, prevenient grace isn’t really necessary for man may respond to, or cooperate with, God in the salvation process.

Dead Men Walking
In part II of my article on Total Depravity, I described man’s spiritual condition before God this way (the description has been expanded here):

–- Scripture portrays fallen man as the walking dead (Ephesians 2:1-2); blinded to the truth of the gospel (2 Cor 4:4); enslaved and led by our own sinful, fleshly desires (Eph 2:3, John 8:34, James 1:4-15), and also by Satan (1 John 5:19; Eph 2:2, 2 Tim 2:26); in our consciences aware that the things we do are wrong, yet suppressing the truth of that knowledge as we progressively sink into evil (Romans 1:18-32), and store up for ourselves the wrath of God (Romans 2:5). In our unrighteousness, we are not seeking God (Romans 3:10-11) nor do we acknowledge and worship Him; rather, we worship and follow after gods we have made (Romans 1:21-23). We are alienated from the life of God; disobedient, led astray, envious, malicious, hating, and being hated (Titus 3:3); not only are we darkened in understanding and hard-hearted, but also we personify "darkness" (Ephesians 4:18, Colossians 1:13,21, Ephesians 5:8); we are separated from Christ, excluded from God's covenant promises, without hope and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:12). And unless we believe in Jesus, we remain under the wrath of God (John 3:36).

So obviously, anyone "in the flesh" (unregenerated, not "born again", not believing in Jesus) cannot and will not please God- (Romans 8:7-8). Can unbelievers do anything good at all? If we define "good" as obedience to the moral law that God has established and is universally binding, even unbelievers may perform actions of relative good. It's as if a man were saying to God, by his actions, "I know you are probably there and therefore have a claim on my life, but I want to live my life my way, so I'll try to forget that you are there. I know that there's right and wrong, so I'll do my best to appease my guilty conscience over not acknowledging you by not being as bad as others (you know, the murderers, thieves, abusers, etc.). In fact, I'll try to be much better than those guys (give to charity, give good gifts to my children, be a productive worker, etc). OK, God? So you just leave me alone, and I'll make you proud of me, don't worry." Such a person may become highly regarded in the world as a decent, moral, productive member of human society, lauded for their humanitarianism and their good works (sure, he's been divorced five times, but he has such great friendships with all his ex-wives, and always visits the kids when he's supposed to).

The standards of good according to the Lord and according to the world are completely different. Man's good deeds apart from the Lord are relatively good because the unbeliever essentially is in sinful rebellion against his Creator, refusing to honor Him as Lord. Also, man's "good" deeds don't change the fact that he is by nature a sinner whose sins condemn him before a holy God whose standard is moral perfection. How then can God be pleased with the rebel who, though not as evil as he might be and perhaps doing some acts of good, adamantly refuses to acknowledge His Creator? As the prophet Isaiah wrote,

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment (Isaiah 64:6)

Now it is true that believers too may live "according to the flesh" (that is, live by responding to the flesh that remains in us though we have been born of the Spirit and are indwelt by the Spirit; see Romans 7:7-25), but the unregenerate have no other choice than to live a "fleshly" life. This is because until a person is born-again he/she does not possess true spiritual life (John 3:6, Romans 8:9, I John 5:12). Therefore, they live "in the flesh", which, as we have said, is naturally dominated by sin and Satan (Eph 2:3) --

If the above biblical statements about mankind's unregenerate condition provide a true picture, it must be then that our wills and choice-making faculties are also gravely affected by the Fall. Scripture describes our unregenerate condition as "dead in our sins". What can this "deadness" mean, since the unregenerate obviously are alive physically and make choices? It means that the natural person is "dead" to the things of God. 1 Corinthians 2:14 states:"The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned."

The use of the word "dead" (Eph 2:1,5, Col 2:13) to describe man's spiritual condition, inspired of course by the Spirit of God, is no accident. There is an implication of unresponsiveness and inability in the word "dead". Unregenerate man is indeed dead in a spiritual sense and therefore, he cannot respond to God who is Spirit. God therefore must make people fit for the kingdom by birthing them into it.

So can those fitting the portrait of unregenerate man described above make a willing choice for God, as if their wills were free from the pervasive and deadening influence of sin? Can the man dead in sin make the most important and righteous choice he will ever make-- the choice to receive Christ as Lord and Savior? Those who downplay the state of sinful man as a result of the Fall must ignore or sidestep the Scriptures that describe how utterly without hope man is to save himself and how completely he is dominated by his sinfulness. The unregenerate cannot and do not act in such a way as to cooperate with God in their salvation.

Total Depravity Necessitates an Unconditional Election
Again, if man is really as fallen as these Scriptures describe, unconditional election is what makes salvation possible for those whom God chooses. Sinful men are not searching for God (Romans 3:11). As natural beings, they do not understand the spiritual truth of the gospel(1 Cor 2:14), and as sinners prefer the darkness of their sinful lifestyle to the light of the gospel (John 3:19). Thus only the mercy of God will convict the sinner and override his natural hostility by giving the sinner what he does not have-- spiritual life that can perceive and willingly respond to the truth of the gospel.

Due to the Fall, We Must Be Born Again
As we have said, Adam's sin had the effect of making his progeny dead spiritually. So unless regenerated, men do not have that life which is the light of men, or the light of life, dwelling inside of them (John 1:4,8:12).

If men had only been injured by the Fall, then perhaps the enlightenment and conviction brought by the Spirit of God would be enough to enable people to perceive the truth of the gospel. But man is in a more dire state than this. The Fall utterly ruined man, such that sin permeates his entire being, and such that he is spiritually dead. The fact that man must be "born again" proves that enlightenment and conviction by the Spirit is not all that is necessary to save him.

Jesus said that unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God, and also that unless one is born of the Spirit, neither can that person enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3,5). In other words, the kingdom of God is not a place for natural people, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (John 3:6)." Jesus also says, "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life" (John 6:53).

Again, for these reasons an unconditional election is the only way anyone may come to Christ. Man in his natural, sinful, "in the flesh" state is unable to respond to the gospel because his sin makes him a rebel who does not desire God and therefore rejects the gospel, and because as a natural man he is unable to spiritually comprehend (see) the gospel. God in His mercy has saved ungodly human beings, not because they merit anything, but because He is full of mercy and compassion. "God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved" (Ephesians 2:4). Election is not a response to a human act of faith-- for it is while people are still sinners (Romans 5:8) and dead in their trespasses (Eph 2:2, Colossians 2:13) that God saves them. The election which leads to this salvation took place in eternity past: He "chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him (Eph 1:4)".

Man's Responsibility and Man's Inability

Now in response to this the objection is raised, "If man is unable to respond, then why all the biblical commands to repent? Why would God give men commandments He knows they cannot obey, yet hold them responsible for not obeying?"

But it is a logical fallacy to conclude that because we are commanded to do certain things that we must have ability to do them. The commands do not speak to ability. For example, Jesus said, “Be perfect”— but apart from complete dependence upon Him we have not the ability to obey a single command (John 15:5), let alone be perfect.

We are responsible to obey the law of God because it is His good and righteous and holy law that He has given us for our benefit (Romans 7:12), and because as God's creatures we are under His authority. But since all are sinners by nature and by choice, mankind is incapable of keeping the law so as to be justified by it (Romans 3:9-12,20,28, Romans 5:12,19-20, Gal 2:16). The law itself is good, Paul says, but the reason the law cannot justify us is because of the weakened flesh (Romans 8:3).

Nevertheless God considers us guilty and holds us responsible for the sin of Adam, as well as for our own sins (Romans 5:12). So the critical question is this: can man obey the commands of God in such a way that he will be justified by his keeping of them? The Bible's answer to this is a resounding no, as seen in the above verses.

The law is meant to reveal sin, showing that our works cannot justify us (Romans 3:20), and pointing us to the only solution for sins God has mercifully provided: the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ. But since due to our sin we will not and cannot choose this faith, God has mercifully and graciously intervened, not waiting on sinful man to choose Him by their wills, but choosing many people and then effectively saving them.

The following chart is adapted from Greg Gibson's excellent website comparing Calvinism and Arminianism in regard to who gets the credit for salvation (I have added a verse or two to his original table):

We see from this chart that there are bible commands to repent or to believe, or to exercise one's will to do the will of God. However we also see many places where Scripture says that apart from God, man is unable to change his ways or come to God.

From such verses we may conclude that man does what it is in his nature to do. Since man's nature is set against God, only a divine act which changes man's nature will allow man to come willingly to God. In Scripture man's moral responsibility to repent and come to God are not negated by man's inability to do so, for we find that human responsibility and human inability are taught side-by-side.

Faith and Works in Relation to Election

The Reformed/Calvinist position holds that faith is a gift of God, and the Arminian view, while denying that faith is a work, nevertheless holds that faith is something that man can do; indeed, that he is responsible to do.

The origin of saving faith is a key issue in the debate between classical Arminians and Calvinists on election. Both would agree that faith is the means by which we are saved and considered righteous before God. Both would say we cannot trust in works to justify us before a holy God, for our works would then need to be perfect (of course, this is impossible for fleshly, sinful creatures to accomplish). But the Arminian claims that unregenerated man, while still a sinner, can exercise faith in Christ. The Arminian reasons that since he is commanded to have faith, it must therefore be possible for him. Yet we have shown in the sections above the fallacy involved in such a conclusion.

Is faith a work?
In a comment on my previous post on election, reader Daniel Jordan wrote:

"Faith could never be a work no matter its source. Faith is completely along a different line and has to to do with a simple heart commitment to God and His Christ".

What defines a "work"? Is it not something man does of his own accord in an effort to win God's favor? If faith were something that man is able to do of himself then it would also come under the definition of a work. The Arminian view claims that while man is influenced and wooed by the Spirit, ultimately his faith in Christ is his own doing. To label it a "simple heart commitment" does not change this. If faith is man's own doing, then by definition this faith is a work. And if, as the Arminian argument goes, this faith that is man's own doing is also the condition for being chosen by God, then it follows that in this view, man is being saved by his own work of faith.

Now Jesus said something interesting, to those who asked him the question “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

Does Jesus mean then that faith is actually a work that all are called upon to perform? Let's try to answer this question by looking at what Paul says about the relationship of faith and works in the matter of election and of salvation.

Faith in relation to Election
In the matter of election, Paul says, "though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad— in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

We see here that election is "not because of works", but originates from "Him who calls", so that "God's purpose in election might continue". Though Jacob and Esau are twins from the same womb (that of their mother Rebekah), Jacob rather than Esau is chosen by God -- and this choice the text says is made by God prior to their birth and when neither Jacob or Esau had done anything good or evil. The faith of Jacob or Esau, foreseen by God or not, is not mentioned at all here. Why? Because election does not require it; God's choice is not conditioned upon it, since election is not conditioned on anything done by man.

The Role of Faith in Salvation
What then is the role of faith in salvation? In Romans 3:28 Paul says "one is justified by faith apart from works of the law". Paul says that “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness (Romans 4:4-5). Paul goes on to say that "the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring— not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (Romans 4:13-16)."

Notice that Paul says "to the one who works, his wages are not counted to him as a gift but as a duty". Now if Abraham's faith was his own doing, would it not be then a work which God would be duty-bound to reward? The point Paul makes however is that Abraham is not working-- He is believing God (by a faith that is not self-generated and therefore not a work of his own).

So then, faith is the means by which we are justified before God and saved from His wrath, for by it we receive the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, a righteousness given to us by grace through faith and not by works of the law (See also Eph 2:8). Believers in Christ do not trust in their own works (attempts to obey God's law as a means of gaining God's favor) for salvation, but rest in faith upon the finished work of Christ. And yet, this faith is not a condition for election. For as we have seen, someone not yet born, who has done nothing either good or evil, would have neither works or faith as a possible ground upon which God would choose them.

So to return to our question, is faith a work, as Jesus seems to imply in John 6:29? As we have seen, Paul in his epistle to the Romans contrasts faith against works to make the point that human effort cannot and will not justify us with God, or bring about the righteousness that God requires. But Paul is not necessarily saying that faith is not a work-- he is concerned with whether man is relying upon his own efforts or relying upon God. If the faith to believe comes from God, then it is not a human work, but it is a work of God. Jesus' statement is actually saying something quite similar to Paul, for He is answering the question what must people do to "do the works of God" by pointing to man’s responsibility to simply believe in the One whom God has sent, rather than to do many other “works”.

However, Jesus is using the word “work” a little differently than Paul. Whereas in Paul’s argument “works” are human efforts to achieve righteousness, in Jesus' statement the work of believing in Him whom God has sent is being contrasted against the doing of many other works to please God. Yet we know from other Scriptures that this work of believing is not something man summons up from within himself. For example, Jesus commended Peter for believing in Him as the Messiah saying, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven (Matthew 16:17), but pointed out that this revelation came from God and not from man (nor from within Peter himself).

So man’s faith is the result of God’s revelatory work within the soul. It is not a work of man, but a work of God. We do the "work of God" as we believe in Him who God has sent (in other words, have faith in Jesus, John 6:29). But this work of faith is "of God", for it is generated by His power within us. It is not something we-- in ourselves-- have the capacity to do, as we will now examine further.

The Source of Faith: God Alone

So then, faith is the vehicle by which believers are saved, but it is not a condition for election unto salvation. Where then does salvific faith come from?

We find the answer in Scriptures such as these:

And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed (Acts 13:48)

We see here that those Gentiles who believed (had faith) were those whom God had appointed to eternal life. This passage shows that faith is God's work in those He elects.

You do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me (John 10:26-27)

Who are the ones that believe? According to Jesus, the reason some don't believe is because they are not part of His flock. Notice that He does not say that because they do not believe, they are not His sheep: it is the other way round. His sheep do hear His voice (that is, believe) and follow Him and are granted eternal life by Him (v 27-28).

We can deduct from these statements that the cause of unbelief is exclusion from the flock of Jesus, while the cause of belief is inclusion in His flock. Since inclusion (or exclusion) in the flock is shown to be the work of the Father (v 29), we conclude that God is the source or cause of the faith of His flock.

In a famous passage, Jesus spoke these words to Nicodemus:
The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit (John 3:8)

Jesus likens the experience of being born of the Spirit to the working of the wind. The illustration shows that the Spirit of God is both sovereign and mysterious in the way He works. Like "the wind that blows where it wishes", so too the Spirit blows where He pleases, sovereignly regenerating. His work is mysterious because, like the invisible wind, the Spirit works unseen. Nevertheless, we feel and experience His effects.

Thus the faith which regenerates a person is caused by the Spirit of God working mysteriously, yet unmistakably. As we have said, it is no accident that the metaphor used for spiritual regeneration is a new "birth". Just as we have no part in our natural birth, so too we have no part in our spiritual birth. We were dead and unresponsive, but God has made us alive.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God (1 John 5:1)

A continuous theme in this first letter of John is that the one who has been born of God, who is now a child of God, and whose very nature has been changed by God, brings forth certain fruit (such as love and ceasing the pattern of sin). In this verse, we find that another fruit of having been born of God is the belief that Jesus is the Christ. So faith is the fruit of being born again.

God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”(1 Corinthians 1:28-30)

Paul writes here that God chooses, not those who are "something" in this world-- the one who seem especially deserving of honor. Instead He chooses those who are low and despised in the world. The divine choice operates according to a different pattern, one which rejects the false values of the world. The world says we ought to pick the beautiful and reward those who show merit, but God's system doesn't play by these worldly rules. And Paul here reminds us that the reason we are in Christ is "because of Him"-- in other words, because God chose us and caused it to happen. For this reason, he says, no human being can "boast in the presence of God". The cause of our own salvation, our faith in God, is found in God alone.

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have (Phil 1:27-30)

In exhorting the Philippians to live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that their lives might give clear testimony of its truth to the enemies of the gospel, Paul says that it has been granted to them, for the sake of Christ, not only to believe but also to suffer. Paul does not go into an elaborate defense or explanation here of the fact that the source of belief in Christ is the granting or gift of God, he merely states it simply and clearly. We are granted faith to believe, just as also God grants suffering as part of the walk of faith.

To summarize then, in this article we have defended election as unconditional because:

1. The total depravity/inability of man that is revealed in Scripture means that man is dead spiritually and a rebel against God by nature. Unless the Lord gives the individual a new nature that will cease its rebellion against Him, man will not come to God.

2. Scripture teaches also that the source of faith is God alone. The unregenerate person does not understand the things of the Spirit and therefore does not have the capacity to self-generate faith in a gospel that is necessarily received by spiritual revelation. To see and enter the kingdom of God, man must be born again, and this is a sovereign work of God, who makes those who are dead come alive.

For these reasons man is unable to meet the condition of faith that the Arminian claims God foresees as He elects people for salvation. Contrary to this man-centered formulation, the Reformed view finds in Scripture that God has shown mercy upon individual sinners, electing those who would otherwise prefer to remain in their sin and would have no movement towards Him. His election sovereignly ordains that the means by which the sinner is called, converted, justified, sanctified and glorified will be granted to those whom He has chosen.

In the next post I hope to conclude my responses to the objections on this doctrine by further defending unconditional election as being expressed in Romans 9, and also discussing the bible truth that we are chosen "in Him"-- how this relates to the question of the whether there are conditions we must meet to be elected.

I plan also to speak again to the issue of whether the Reformed concept of election makes God arbitrary, and also show how sovereign election does not remove the motive to evangelize. I may also address a few other issues, space permitting. If anyone has any other questions to objections they would like me to address on this topic, please let me know. I will be happy to attempt to do so.

For further study and consideration:

Arminian vs Reformed theology series completed to date

Objections: Answered, Loraine Boettner

Objections to Election Answered- links at