Tag Archives: salvation

The law of love

Here is a snippet from a comment series on a previous post that I thought was worth highlighting:

Incest was necessary given the nature of God’s creation of human lineage. And polygamy and concubines run rampant in the Old Testament among those deemed righteous.

Incest is not unnatural in the biological sense. One could, and rightly so, argue that it is a very bad idea today given the degree of genetic mutations. However such genetic factors are not a guarantee nor is our present revulsion at the notion a negation of the biological reality of procreation.

You are correct that polygamy and concubines run rampant in the OT. And many who participated in the practice were considered righteous. However none of them were considered righteous for their polygamy or marital indiscretions. In fact, it is abundantly clear that these men were deeply flawed individuals and only considered righteous through grace on God’s part. So to assume their righteousness incorporated all of their deeds is to commit the basic fallacy of assuming salvation or favor with God is merited through works and not through grace.

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Not of the will of man

A friend of mine recently asked me what I made of John 1:11-13:

He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Calvinists (of the sort who deny free will) like to point to this passage, especially verse 13, as proof that man cannot choose to place his faith in Christ.

The first thing that needs to be pointed out here is that “His own” in verse 11 are the Jewish people. “Borne not of flesh and blood” refers to the fact that it is not physical dependency that determines one’s placement within the promise of Abraham. This sentiment is also echoed elsewhere by Paul in Romans and Ephesians.

Verse 13 is very far removed from verse 11 in that Jesus is primarily addressing the notion by the Jews of his day that they were among the chosen people and because of that they were guaranteed to be the “children of Abraham” who were to inherit all of God’s blessings.

So verse 13 is emphatically stating that the blessing is not seminal. It does not pass down generation to generation no matter what the fathers or “will of man” is. The Jewish audience of John would likely remember Jacob and Esau here and how Esau was not included in the promise even through his father clearly wanted him to be.

This idea of the promise not coming in the form of the law or according to the way the Jews expected it to come is at the heart of John’s whole gospel. To make verse 13 to be about a philosophical notion of whether man can actually place their faith in Christ is actually to go against the whole book John wrote by ripping it out of the clear context it is in.

For example, John goes from his introduction straight into John the Baptist who preaches according to the soon to be Old Covenant based on law. Then John moves to Jesus, then Nathan (law), then back to Jesus (wedding). So I would say that verse 13 is simply referring to the core theme John is writing about throughout his book, namely that Jesus is the promised messiah through which the blessings foretold will come.

In sum, you can’t say that verse 13 of chapter 1 has anything to do with our inability to place our faith in Christ since that is exactly what John is persuading his audience to do.

Does the Bible require circumcision?

Here’s another post in my “dispelling the notion that the Bible contradicts itself” series:

Does the Bible require circumcisions? Did it in the Old Testament? Why not in the New Testament?

Yes the Bible requires circumcision. And, like the ritual purity required in order to be considered clean before God, it is still required today. It’s just that the means of circumcision as well as the means of attaining the purity required by God are different today (they were fulfilled in Jesus and the benefits offered freely to us) than they were back then.

And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?
To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the LORD set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today. Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. –Deuteronomy 10:12-16

Does regeneration precede salvation?

RC Sproul writes:

Yes, the faith we exercise is our faith. God does not do the believing for us. When I respond to Christ, it is my response, my faith, my trust that is being exercised. The issue, however, goes deeper. The question still remains: “Do I cooperate with God’s grace before I am born again, or does the cooperation occur after?” Another way of asking this question is to ask if regeneration is monergistic or synergistic. Is it operative or cooperative? Is it effectual or dependent?

This is an excellent example of the problem in viewing faith as a work under the law. You see, if Sproul is right and faith is a work under the law then it certainly does mean the debate between Calvinists and non-Calvinists is one of synergism vs monergism. However since it is impossible to show how faith is a work under the law (because it isn’t) raising the issue of monergism vs synergism is simply a red herring thrown out to merely obscure the real issue, which is what we mean when we say that man exercises his faith and that God does not “believe for us”.

And here is where we also get to see the double-speak employed by Calvinists like Sproul.

The reason we do not cooperate with regenerating grace before it acts upon us and in us is because we can- not. We cannot because we are spiritually dead. We can no more assist the Holy Spirit in the quickening of our souls to spiritual life than Lazarus could help Jesus raise him for the dead.

That is very interesting, mostly because if people are dead in the way Sproul seems to think they are, then they can do _neither_ good nor evil. If God were to punish such a person, we would have to accuse him of literally beating a dead horse, that is, something that can do nothing other than lay there.

However the language of the whole of Scripture simply doesn’t support such a notion and Sproul knows it, that’s why he stated at the outset that:

“Yes, the faith we exercise is our faith. God does not do the believing for us. When I respond to Christ, it is my response, my faith, my trust that is being exercised.”

Well if Sproul says that at the outset and yet by the end comes to the conclusion that we are totally dead without the quickening of the Holy Spirit, what is he doing in the interim to alleviate the apparently logical paradox he has created?

The answer: He fundamentally redefines what faith is.

In the reformed view faith is simply a mechanistic system predicated on a chain of causes that eventually rests on God. Where faith is traditionally and commonly accepted to mean an act of the will (albeit not a directly volitional act).

Therefore Sproul’s assessment that faith is evidence of regeneration preceding salvation is only valid if we add in a hidden premise that faith is merely a mechanistic output of a predefined set of inputs. The trouble with that view is that if the will is reduced to a machine where faith is nothing more than a product of a series of causal inputs (regeneration being one of them) then the very words used such as “will” and “faith” loose their meaning.

Moreover, on this view of faith, we end up begging the ugly question of why God does not choose to regenerate all men so that they will automatically choose to place their faith in Christ and be saved. Then again, this butts up against another ugly reformed doctrine which is that God does not really love all men nor does he want them to all be saved.

In the end, however, I would agree with Sproul’s assessment that regeneration precedes faith. That the Holy Spirit’s prior operation is a necessary precondition to one’s placing their faith in Christ. however it is far from certain that such regeneration is a sufficient condition for one’s placing their faith in Christ. Indeed, Scripture indicates in many places that it is not sufficient as we have many accounts of people freely spurning the love and drawing of Christ. In other words, regeneration may precede faith, but it by no means causes faith.

So while a positive contribution can not be made in regards to one’s salvation, a negative contribution (ie. choosing to reject the drawing of the Holy Spirit unto salvation) is certainly possible.

Some may point out, however, that Sproul thinks that people are dead such that they only do evil. And that “it would, perhaps, be “double-speak” if he didn’t believe other things in lieu of those two.”

This is where the double speak comes in. You see, if I were to ask whether sinful man sins of his own free volition then you would undoubtedly say “yes”. However, if I asked if man knew he were sinning you would either have to say no in order to remain logically consistent within your own system or you would have to say yes if you wish to affirm what the Bible says on the matter. You see, throughout Scripture we are entreated with language that makes it appear (that is, if we do not presuppose a doctrine that claims otherwise) that man knows he is sinning (in spite of knowing what good is) and yet chooses to forgo God’s will thereby making himself, of his own free will, a rebel just like Satan, the rebellious angel and Adam and Eve, the rebellious progenitors of our race.

However, men like Sproul seem to think that if they redefine “faith” and “will” to mean something which is slavishly enslaved to some other causal entity (ultimately controlled by God, so the number of gears in the causal machine is really irrelevant) they can use the same words the Bible does without doing fundamental damage to language itself. Faith or belief, while not a volitional action, is still an action taken by a will that must be free in some capacity or else the word is emptied of its meaning.

So when men like Sproul, who are smart guys that know better, equivocate on the meanings of the words they are using, they are being deceptive and dishonest. They are practicing double-speak in the classic Orwellian sense by attempting to subvert the very words being used. They would be more honest and respectable if they were to say what they plainly mean in language everyone can understand. But then, they would have to resort to mechanistic language wherein we would have to take great pains to avoid words like “puppet” and “robot” which, while derided by Calvinists far and wide, continue to provide an apt description of the epistemic bankruptcy of Reformed epistemology.

Consequently, this equivocation or redefining of words is one of the reasons that it is so hard to have a productive discussion with Calvinists. Then again, for a system of doctrine that ended up burning many men at the stake merely for disagreeing with it, I suppose being intellectually dishonest is but a small price to pay.

For an extended treatment of this topic I highly recommend this article from the Society of Evangelical Arminians.

Also, if you are interested in what I consider to be a more credible alternative to irresistible grace, I suggest overcoming grace.

Is unbelief a sin?

I received the following question from a friend of mine on Facebook during the course of a conversation regarding salvation and whether or not all men are given the opportunity to be saved.

If unbelief is a sin and Christ died for the sins of all then wouldn’t all be saved?

The question of unbelief being a sin is a rather common one so I decided to address it here for the benefit of all. I imagine like several of my posts, I’ll end up referencing it a lot.

Unbelief is not sin, otherwise we are faced with a dilemma of charging to one’s account something they had no control over. Rather, what is a sin is all the actions we commit that are against the law of God. I believe it is critically important to reject the premise that what we are talking about is a person’s beliefs as if the person is heading to heaven if but for one thing, their intellectual acceptance of a set of facts.

No, the real picture I believe best fits the Biblical model is one of a slave who has no hope of escaping on their own. And then someone come in, beats down all the guards, sets the prisoner free, and opens the door.

All we have to do is walk through that door and we are free. In fact we all have the potential to be free and have done nothing whatsoever to contribute positively to our being free. The only thing we can contribute to our freedom is a negative contribution in the form of rejecting it all in favor of remaining in prison.

As Ken Keathley so eloquently put it in “Whosoever Will” (HT: Wardrobe Door):

Imagine you wake up and discover that you are in an ambulance being transported to the emergency room. You clearly require serious medical help. If you do nothing, you will be delivered to the hospital. However, if for whatever reason you demand to be let out, the driver will comply. He may express his concern, warn you of the consequences, but he will abide by your wishes. You receive no credit for being taken to the hospital, you receive all the blame for getting out.

Death according to Buddhism

I’ve recently come across an author for American Thinker, Robin of Berkley. I absolutely love her work and story telling style. Here is an ex-script from her post titled “Tiger, the Buddha, and me”:

Here’s my favorite story about the Buddha: A grieving young mother from a poor background begged him to revive her dead son. Not only was she heartbroken, but she feared her husband’s wealthy family would punish and shun her for the child’s death.

The Buddha promised to bring the boy back to life if she returned with a mustard seed from a home where death had never visited. She thanked him profusely and set off for town.

The young mother knocked on door after door and heard heartbreaking stories of loss. Finally, she grasped the Buddha’s teaching: that sorrow is a part of life. She returned, bowed deeply to the Buddha, and asked him to help her bury her child.

It’s too bad that the mother didn’t visit Jesus’s home. While He may not have given her a mustard seed, He might have given her faith of about the same size1. That faith might have been large enough to move mountains, including the mountain of death that we all face2. She might have also realized that while the Buddha is right, death has touched every house3, he was wrong in that death is not just a natural part of life. That we should just dispassionately accept it and move on.

Death is not natural4, it is the result of evil5. Not everyone has tasted death6, and even those who have are not without hope of having their condition reversed.7

The good news is that death will one day be defeated.8. Then, those of us who have decided to stand with Jesus will say:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
-Isaiah 25:8, 1 Corinthians 15:55

  1. Matthew 17:20 []
  2. Romans 6:23 []
  3. Including God’s own house. []
  4. Genesis 2:17 []
  5. James 1:15 []
  6. Hebrews 11:5 []
  7. John 3:16 []
  8. 1 Corinthians 15:26 []

Was I ever saved in the first place?

I was recently sent the following challenging response to a previous post regarding the deconversion of those who once claimed to be Christians:

Apply your reasoning to any other area of life, and no one can ever stop believing something that they really believed in. True belief PRECLUDES assimilating newly discovered evidence which causes re-evaluation of what you once would have given your life in defense of????

So an Amazon tribal person who once believed that the sun revolves around the earth, who is shown through diagrams and scientific language he understands, then stops believing that and then believes that the earth revolves around the sun, DIDN’T REALLY BELIEVE IN THE FIRST PLACE THAT THE SUN REVOLVES AROUND THE EARTH????

It’s ridiculous isn’t it? And yet that is the same faulty logic you are applying to us former Christians (in my case, a Th.B. from Multnomah Bible College, several years as a missionary in Europe, and 46 years as a witnessing, praying, worshipping, fervently passionate evangelical.

If you apply your logic to all of life, no held belief can ever change, and if it does, it was never a true belief. The only infallible test of true belief is DEATH. If you can make it to the grave without ever denying a belief, then that proves it was “true”. There is NO OTHER WAY to prove whether the belief was genuine, according to your test of belief.

I started penning a response but it quickly grew past the size that could be comfortably included or contained within a comment field. So I’ve chosen to include my response below and post it outside of my normal post schedule. Enjoy!

You raise some interesting questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them in the following.

I think it would be a useful exercise to step back and define what we mean by terms such as belief, faith, and knowledge. Generally these terms are the concern of epidemiologists and admittedly there is not, strictly speaking, widespread consensus even among them.

Since greater men than I have been exploring this subject longer than I have been alive I must apologize in advance for any confusion I may inadvertently bring into the discussion and encourage you to, instead, seek out works by epidemiologists such as Alvin Plantinga, Thomas Flint, etc. if you seek a more academic discourse on the matter.

At any rate, I’ve written elsewhere in regards to how beliefs are formed and would like to simply cite the following from Alvin Plantinga’s “Warrant” series as the basis of how “true beliefs” are formed:

A belief has warrant (and can thus be considered true) if and only if:
1. it is produced by cognitive faculties functioning properly,
2. in a cognitive environment sufficiently similar to that for which the faculties were designed,
3. according to a design plan aimed at the production of true beliefs, when
4. there is a high statistical probability of such beliefs being true

With that definition in place I would like to turn to your underlying question of objectively claiming to have held a belief or not. Specifically I would like to examine the case of the African bushman you mentioned above.

I freely accept that the bushman held a belief in the sun’s rotation around the earth and that he believed such a belief to be true. However one factor was working against him and at least one more, I believe, likely played a part in working against him which caused his resulting belief to not be true and thus not to constitute knowledge.

1.) He lacked the epistemic faculties (or access to the proper epistemic sources, rather) required to detect the truth regarding the relationship of the earth and the sun.
and
2.) He lacked an environment that was geared towards the production of true beliefs. That is, his culture more than likely played a role in the continuation of the belief that the sun revolved around the earth. Thus the environment he was a part of was not, strictly speaking, wholly interested in the pursuit of truth and thus not geared towards the production of true beliefs, at least in this instance.

Absent these crucial pieces we can see that there was a clear breakdown in the epistemic process which, while producing many other true beliefs, failed to obtain to the production of a true belief in this case.

Now I want to apply the same criteria to the subject of whether a person who no longer believes in Christianity (or Christ moreover) ever was a Christian in the first place.

This is a fairly complex subject and I apologize if my initial treatment of the issue failed to be as well defined as it could have been.

Let me begin by saying at the outset that not being omniscient I cannot, of course, know what epistemic warrant you or anyone else who has since renounced their once-held belief in Christianity has had access to. That is, I do not know how your belief was formed, what it was formed on, or how it was sustained for such a lengthy amount of time. However I am curious since, as a person who holds Christianity to be objectively true, if sufficient defeaters were to exist (along with sufficient positive competing explanations) for the facts Christianity is based upon (specifically the resurrection of Jesus Christ) then it would stand to reason that no one ought to be a Christian and we ought to prefer the competing explanation over the one we currently hold.

Were you a believer at one time? I believe you were, and I would further concede that your actions at least appear to back up your claims. However this does not answer the question as to what your beliefs regarding Christ were or were based on. Many times I run across even professing Christians who are unable to clearly articulate what they believe much less why. If these believers were to renounce their faith tomorrow I would be hard pressed to make a case of their ever truly having held a clear and objective belief in Christ in the first place.

Now, to switch gears slightly.

So far I’ve dealt with this issue primarily from an epistemological and philosophical standpoint. However I would like to turn to the theological standpoint since I believe it also has some bearing in this discussion. After all, Christianity is not merely about the cold acceptance of facts, but also work of a being we hold to have objectively occurred at one point in history which opens the door for a real relationship with this same being.

I’m speaking, of course, about Jesus and his work on the cross. Now I’m not sure where you’ve come from theologically, but what I am going to outline I believe is a fairly orthodox position ascribed to by most of the major creeds down through Christendom.

What saves a man?

Is it merely our mental assent to a cold hard fact? While I believe such a mental assent and acceptance of at least a bare minimum of facts is required (such as the ones outlined by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8), I do not believe that our mental assent to the facts alone is what saves us or brings us into relationship with Christ. What saves us is the righteousness imputed unto us from Christ in such a way as to be irrevocable . Such an event, I would maintain, is also an irreversible event in time in much the same way as the decision to jump off of a cliff or walk through a door.

So the question becomes: Could you have been imputed Christ’s righteousness at one point in the past and still be saved even though your current belief structure no longer affords the same degree of warrant you once held? Possibly.

You see, one of the curious things about mankind’s ability to form, change, and reform beliefs is that while we do grow in our epistemic capacity and acquisition of new beliefs (and rejection of previously held beliefs) we don’t reject ALL of our beliefs. If that were the case we would never be able to grow at all since we would merely be in a constant state of flux.

The same holds true when it comes to Christianity and it all hinges on how our beliefs in Christ were formed and what our basis was (if any) for the rejection of those beliefs.

We must also keep in mind that when 1 John 2:19 was written, there weren’t such things as cultural Christians who had grown up on the church. Believers in that day, for the most part, either accepted or rejected the claims of Christ’s objective historical actions and claims. In John’s case the people who “went out” were (according to the context of the letter) not even claiming what Paul proclaimed as a minimum criteria of one being a Christian in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 and were, instead, attempting to essentially hijack the Christian religion for their own ends (and we later see from the Gnostic movement that many were unfortunaly successful in their efforts).

So, the answer to “was I ever a Christian in the first place” is a lot more complex and more often than not it cannot be answered by a simple “yes” or “no”, even by the person asking the question. The evidence of a person’s present state of unbelief, while making it very hard to accept that the initial state of belief hard to accept, is ultimately not a question that is of no import if asked of a fellow human.

You see, the final question here must be directed at God.

It is his answer that ultimately matters and if you no longer believe that he exists then I suppose you will have to wait until you meet Him (or not) after you die in order to ask Him.

Is salvation available for all men?

I was recently asked on twitter about my view of salvation and how I viewed it in light of my recent postings on Molinism.

My simple, twitterish, response was: “I believe that the Holy Spirit moves on, prompts, and draws all men to Christ.

This prompted an email from one reader who wanted to probe deeper. Here’s my response.

Going deeper

The first place I would probably point for this verse is John 12:32 which is in reference to the golden snake from the Exodus which was fashioned for all the people of Israel, not all of whom chose to look upon the symbol for salvation.

Does all mean all?

The response from my new friend was along the lines many proponents of limited atonement use which is to claim that verses that contain unqualified references to mankind aren’t really talking about mankind but rather are talking about all ethnic groups, tribes, tongues, nations, etc.

Here’s my response to this objection.

The problem with interpreting “all” to be people groups as opposed to all people is that in Revelation 5:9 we are explicitly told that the author is referring to nations as opposed to people. This is ironic since it is the same author who chose to use the words “all”, “whosoever”, and other unqualified terms to refer to the wide availability of salvation that is offered through Christ.

I think we can both agree that not all will accept Jesus, the question rather is whether everyone has within their power (given, obviously by God) the ability to choose Christ in the first place. In that respect I think that the entire third chapter of John should suffice to show us that God does indeed will that no man should perish (2 Peter 3:9) but that the decision to accept the grace freely offered has indeed been given by a sovereign God to his creatures in the interests of love.

I think we should back up to John 3:14 where, before the famous verse in John 3:16, Jesus mentions the snake being an archetype of the salvation he is about to offer. Was the snake only offered to those who were going to look at it anyway? Hardly, since many still perished even after the snake was fashioned as a means of grace offered to a rebellious people.

Skipping ahead to the verses you mentioned1, I fail to see how they present a general view of election wherein many are called and yet few are chosen with chosen being chosen in Christ based on repentance and free acceptance of a freely given gift.

Not that God doesn’t know whom will be saved. I think the verses you pointed out clearly present God as possessing the foreknowledge of who will and won’t accept or reject him.

I simply question, however, the notion that God’s foreknowledge is logically tied to a causal decree. In other words, I don’t see how God’s foreknowledge is inextricably tied to the causally deterministic notion that God also causes those he foreknew to accept the grace he has offered.

I also don’t see how God’s foreknowledge necessitates the other reformed doctrine that the atonement is somehow limited because, based on my understanding of the reformed doctrine of limited atonement, if Jesus’s sacrifice were to have been made for the whole world, many of whom willfully reject Him, that his death and subsequent atonement would have somehow been wasted.

The above aren’t merely rhetorical questions. While I think they pose significant barriers to belief in reformed doctrine, I’d love to hear what you think. Whether you agree or not, leave a comment below!

  1. John 6:37, John 6:44, John 6:65 []