Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Wresting Scripture to Make "Free-Will" Seem Biblical

II Pet. 3:9 "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance."

I Tim. 2:3-4 "For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth."

Those who attack salvation by grace alone, by the unbiblical doctrine of "free-will" often use verses like this in an attempt to deceive the unwary who do not read their Bibles as they ought and check the context in which verses are situated.

It ought to be said at the outset however, that it is the common practice of heretics to point to short verses here and there in which the main thrust of the context is not the subject at hand. When we come to the Bible with a specific question, we ought to first go to those parts of Scripture which clearly deal with the question head-on - not those which may touch on it briefly when dealing with a separate issue. Some parts of Scripture are more difficult to understand than others, and we must go to the most clear passages first, and interpret the less clear passages in their light, according to the rule, "Scripture interprets Scripture". Those who studiously avoid doing this are following the practice of heretics which the Holy Spirit describes in the same chapter as one of the verses above:

II Pet. 3:15-17 "And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness."

We'll return to this portion of Scripture later, but for now notice, "the unlearned and unstable wrest" Scripture - in particular "things hard to be understood", of which there are "some" in Scripture; so not all Scripture is hard to be understood, and even those difficult parts may be understood far more easily and clearly, when we follow the practice advised by the Apostle's warning here: interpret the more difficult in light of the more clear passages.

So then the first question we must ask in this controversy is which passages especially deal with the issue of salvation by grace alone, and the issue of "free-will"? This is what people refuse to do. Romans speaks at length about human depravity, and salvation by grace alone because it is in this letter that the subject which is dealt with most clearly and fully. No wonder then that Arminians studiously avoid chapters 8 and especially 9 of this letter (not to mention the rest of it to greater or lesser extents).

The letter begins by stating its intention to set forth a summary of the Gospel, and immediately declares God's wrath against all humanity who are presented as those who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (not who have a "free-will" to accept or reject the truth). The second chapter continues to abase all humanity, explaining that in terms of wickedness there is no difference between the Jew and Gentile, religious or irreligious - all are condemned, even self-condemned with or without the Law, all are alike "under sin". Any supposed "free-will" to do moral good in any sense, is utterly destroyed by this emphatic statement that all are "alike under sin". There is therefore none who makes himself to differ in the righteous eyes of God with respect to His wickedness. In chapter three, the subject continues to be human total depravity, and the Holy Spirit unleashes a barrage of proofs from the Old Testament to throw mankind into the dust and annihilate his pride and supposed "free-will". "There is none that doeth good, no, not one". If it is a good thing to accept the truth, or accept a gift of salvation and grace from God (and it is), then man is utterly incapable of it - indeed the disposition of his entire being is wholly against any such choice or decision.

Only when man is put in his right place, does the Holy Spirit begin to explain the atonement of Christ, and the righteousness of God that is without the works of the law (which are the only works that "free-will" can do). Those whom Christ has died for are freely justified, by their faith in God who justifies the ungodly. God does not justify those with "free-will" to accept or reject Him, He only justifies the ungodly, that is, those who are actively opposed to Him. Length prevents us from examining everything in any detail, but suffice to say that the letter goes on to prove that this is how Abraham was justified, before the law even was revealed through Moses, and before even he was circumcised - and that salvation and grace are given by the promise of God (which Hebrews also speaks about at length), not by means of an offer which man may accept or reject by means of his "free-will" (because then, as Paul already proved, man would certainly only reject such an offer, being ungodly and under sin, ruled by Satan), and because if the promise of God relied upon man's "free-will" it could not be sure to all the seed (Rom. 4:16). Because the promise must be sure to all the recipients of it, it is granted by the necessary means faith, so that it is all by grace (not by anything man does, which would mean that man could merit with God, which is impossible and a blasphemy).

Since we know the certainty of the promise of God to us by faith, the letter goes on to explain the blessedness of those who are justified by means of this gift of faith, and of the certain results of Christ's atonement for us. It is an effectual atonement because Christ took the punishment for our sins (while we were His enemies - so far were we from making ourselves acceptable above others by means of "free-will"), so that "much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him" and "when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life." There is the effect of the atonement, all those for whom Christ died have been reconciled to God, and therefore much more then, are saved from wrath, and are saved by His life. This salvation of all for whom Christ died is completed, as Christ said "It is finished" on the cross. Because this is the unchangeable effect of the cross for all those for whom Christ died, it is impossible that Christ died for everyone, because not everyone is saved, and many are already in hell suffering for their sins, because Christ did not suffer in their place.

The letter moves on to compare and contrast Adam, explained that as all in Adam are imputed with Adam's sin and are condemned for it to death, so all who are in Christ are imputed with Christ's righteousness and are therefore justified by it, and saved to eternal life! And the imputation of Christ's merits as opposed to Adam's demerits, causes much more grace to abound, than the offences of sin, so that our blessedness is far greater than Adam's original state before the Fall. And it is clear that just as "free-will" did not give us a choice whether to be condemned in Adam or not (but God determined it alone), so "free-will" cannot give us a choice whether or not to be justified freely in Christ.

The obvious objection to such concrete exposition of salvation by grace alone, is that should we therefore sin, so that grace may abound all the more? And this is emphatically denied, and declared impossible, because all those for whom Christ died are united to Him in His death and resurrection by the Holy Spirit, so that all who are saved will certainly walk according to the new life which they have received by grace - in obedience to God, being freed from slavery to sin and Satan, but a servant of God. Finally the freedom of the will is spoken of! But it is not freedom to do anything whatsoever to accept or reject God, but rather freedom from the slavery of sin (in which there was certainly no "free-will"), to be a servant of the living God (it even removes the freedom to reject God which is no freedom at all!) - that is true freedom! Yet who has this freedom? Those who have been given eternal salvation by the promise of God and the death of Christ and who have been born again by the Spirit of God who applies this salvation to all the elect - and no-one else, because no-one else is saved.

The next chapter (seven) proves that the law can no longer condemn those who are united to Jesus Christ by the Spirit of God, since He died, and the law has no hold over those who have died (which is why a person who remarries is an adulterer if their previous spouse is still alive). The Holy Spirit explains the purpose of the law (which is not to tell people that they have "free-will" to accept or reject God's grace - which is not only not the purpose of the law, but not part of God's law at all anyway, which if broken in the slightest, condemns to hell), which is to give the knowledge of sin. The law does not give the knowledge of "free-will", it gives the knowledge of sin; so that when you read, "THOU SHALT BE PERFECT AS I AM PERFECT", you do not conclude that we therefore have the "free-will" to be perfect as God is perfect, but rather you conclude that we are wretchedly depraved and sinful, condemned by this law to hell, and emphatically do NOT have "free-will".

Why must we be condemned by the law? To seek our salvation only in Jesus Christ, and flee only to Him, and trust only in Him. To guard us from ever daring to trust in our own "free-will" which is totally depraved and can do nothing except condemn us further. This was the Apostle Paul's attitude to the law, because he had received the Holy Spirit (and therefore saved eternally), he sees that, even having been born again, having the new life of a Christian, he cannot keep the law, but fails miserably and has only a small beginning of obedience, the law therefore pushes him to Jesus Christ, and keeps him trusting only in Christ for salvation, and makes him more and more thankful for such great salvation, so that he never trusts in his "free-will" or his ability to keep any of God's law.

Paul goes on to contrast the flesh and the Spirit - nothing good proceeds from what we are naturally, even the carnal mind is enmity against God (i.e. "free-will" is only the enemy of God, not a friend), nor can it ever be subject to the law of God. To be spiritually minded however, is life and peace. And if anyone does not have the Spirit, they do not belong to Jesus Christ, but conversely, if anyone does, he belongs to Christ and has eternal life which cannot be taken from him. The letter continues to exalt the blessedness of all true Christians, teaching us that the faith which we have (by which we can call God our Father) is by the witness of the Spirit in us, and that since we are children (and know it by the Spirit of God), we are therefore heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ. We cannot inherit hell, but only the new heavens and the new earth, with Christ. So, Paul begins to explain how the creation will certainly be renewed, as surely as we know that we are God's children, and that Christ has died for us.

And as if we didn't get the point already in all this so far, he goes on to speak of the intercession of the Spirit for us which cannot be uttered, because our prayers are feeble and ignorant, and how Christ who knows the hearts, and the mind of the Spirit prays for us according to the will of God (which we only know in a very small part). By this we are given us confidence that there is no greater intercession for us in heaven, nor must we dare seek any which would be a blasphemy against Christ whose intercession is greater than all because He purchased our eternal salvation with His blood, and is very God of very God.

Considering all this, we know (and this is not a sin of presumption, but the confidence of faith), that God works everything for our good, and that nothing whatsoever, not even our wicked and pernicious "free-will" which remains in us battling against the Spirit, can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ. Again, Paul reminds us of the unchangeable effect of the atonement: if God is for us, who can be against us (because God alone is almighty)? Who can lay anything to the charge of us who are God's elect (which we know by faith)? God is the one who has justified us. Who is the one with the right to condemn? Christ is the Judge, who is also the one who died for us, and who rose again, and now is making intercession for us. So, all those for whom Christ died, must and will go to heaven, and cannot go to hell, as surely as God cannot deny Himself and is the only Almighty.

I haven't got to Romans 9 yet, but already "free-will" is obliterated by the Word of God, and condemned as a wicked enemy of salvation and of the Gospel of grace which is the Gospel of Christ alone, not of "free-will". Study the chapter yourself, and notice verse 16 which specifically denies that the will of man determines whom God saves. The chapter explains how God's promise has not failed with respect to the many Jews who do not believe in Christ, because His promise was never to every single one of the children of Abraham, but to the elect, who are chosen unconditionally, not on the basis of anything good or evil that they do, or their will or any other work, but by God's sovereign mercy whom He grants to some from eternity and withholds from others. And it answers the objection (an objection which is only raised because this unconditional sovereign election and reprobation in predestination is what the passage is exactly teaching) that it is unrighteous for God to elect without any respect to any form of merit whatsoever (whether "free-will" or anything else).

Much as I would like to continue at least to the end of chapter 11 (after this the subject deviates too far into a different though related area - gratitude for this salvation), We must return to what the verses first quoted mean:

I Tim. 2:4 speaks of God's will to save all men. First of all, it is abundantly clear from everywhere in Scripture that God's will is almighty (because He is almighty) and that whatsoever He wills certainly comes to pass. It is also clear throughout Romans which we have just discussed, that God elects some to salvation and not others. God wills to save some men and not others. But of course this verse can't contradict that because God cannot lie. And the explanation is simple. "All men" used in this context refers to "all kinds of men" just as it means in verse 1 of the same chapter. This is why context is so important in correctly understanding Scripture. "All men" in verse one cannot mean that we are expected to pray for those who are already in hell, for example, or for the Antichrist, for example. The context explains that it is speaking of men from all social strata, even kings, because God is not a respecter of persons (because He's the One who determines everything about us anyway), and Christ has redeemed people from every tongue, tribe, and nation (Rev. 5:9). That verse is simple to understand once the context is understood, and once it is considered that Scripture cannot contradict Scripture.

II Pet. 3:9 is perhaps even simpler. The passage is all about the second coming of Jesus Christ. The first part of the verse tells us that Christ is not slow to return, but rather He is longsuffering towards us and, so that before He returns all must be brought to repentance. It is obvious from the long clear passages discussed above that God will not bring every single person to repentance (as we know from history too, such as Judas, or the Canaanites, or the wicked before the flood, to name a few!), and we know that God's will is always almighty (Psalm 115:3, for example). It is also clear that if Christ were to wait for every single person to be brought to repentance, then He would never return! The purpose of the verse is to assure us that Christ is certainly coming, and will not delay! The obvious meaning is that "all" in this context refers to "all the elect". The elect are the only ones who are ever brought to repentance as we saw from Romans - so this verse really ought to be simply understood. The "us" in the same verse qualifies the "all"; so that the meaning is "all of us, the elect".

It has to be said that very often when heretics try to twist verses into their own false doctrines, the verses prove too much for them. There's a beautiful irony here, and a demonstration of the power of God's Word. Such verses lead them into impossible contradictions with the rest of Scripture. If that verse really meant that God willed for not a single person to perish, then first of all, that means He is not all-powerful (because many do perish), and secondly, what about the clear examples of where God did will for certain people to perish, such as Judas, the son of perdition. Or take for example, Pharaoh and his armies, God says very plainly that He raised them up in order to display His great power and salvation to the Israelites when He drowned them in the Red Sea. Or what about the Canaanites whom God sent Joshua to destroy? If God did not will for the antediluvians to perish, why did He send a Flood to kill them all? If Christ does not will for any to perish on the Last Day, then why does it describe Him treading the winepress of His fury? A terrifying quote from Nahum should help us to think rightly about how God views the wicked who are not in Christ:

"God is jealous, and the LORD revengeth; the LORD revengeth, and is furious; the LORD will take vegeance on His adversaries, and He reserveth wrath for His enemies. The LORD is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the LORD hath His way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of His feet." - Nah. 1:2-3.

We ought to remember that sometimes when Scripture speaks of the Lord being "slow to anger" it is speaking of His longsuffering towards His saints (which II Pet. 3 that we quoted earlier says, is salvation), and otherwise it is speaking of Him storing up wrath against the wicked for the Day of Judgment, when their cup of iniquity is full, and the wicked world is ripe for judgment. If God willed for no-one whatsoever to perish, there would never be a judgment.

People who stubbornly misinterpret Scripture by trying to use difficult passages to explain the clearer parts, end up tying themselves in knots and unable to understand the Scriptures at all, because one error leads to another. This is because the truth is simple and united and one - as God is. The reason we find it so hard to be corrected when we are plainly in error, is our pride. This is why we must have humility (which is the fruit of the Spirit, not of "free-will") when we come to Scripture, and come to it with other believers, knowing that in two thousand years of the church since Pentecost, there have no doubt been many much wiser saints than ourselves who have studied Scripture, and recorded the good fruit of their studies (even though we must test everything, because even the most spiritual Christian makes errors).

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