Theological Positions I Don’t Understand, Part 2

Unconditional Election and Irresistible Grace

This is the second in a series about Christian doctrines that make no sense to me.

There are several theological doctrines that are widely held by Christians that I just plain do not understand.  I have dug into the Scriptures and read commentaries both pro and con, and cannot find cogent explanations for these doctrines.  If these doctrines are correct, I would like to understand why, so that I can correct my thinking in these areas.

The doctrines I’d like to consider in this blog entry are Unconditional Election and Irresistible Grace.

I know that several of my readers hold to these doctrines.  The reason I am posting this is because I do not understand these beliefs.  My intent in this series is not to offend anyone, but rather, I’m hoping someone can give me a well-reasoned, cogent explanation.  I’m seeking to understand the truth, not to attack anyone’s theology.

John Calvin

John Calvin

Unconditional election is the Calvinist doctrine that before God created the world, he elected to save some people according to his own purposes, apart from any conditions related to those persons.  This basically means that God’s act of saving is not based on what man chooses or wills, but man is chosen by God solely by God’s grace, thus unconditional election.

Irresistible Grace is the doctrine which teaches that the saving grace of God is efficaciously applied to those whom he has determined to save (the elect) and, in God’s timing, overcomes their resistance to obeying the call of the gospel, bringing them to faith in Christ.  Since man is so corrupt that he cannot decide and cannot be persuaded to follow after God, God must powerfully intervene.

These two doctrines together are commonly referred to a predestination, which is basically the belief that God predestines or predetermines who will be saved, and there is nothing we as fallen depraved human beings can do about it.  If God has elected a person, they will be saved; if He has not elected a person, they will not be saved.  Human beings have no choice in the matter.

There are literally thousands of Bible passages dealing with the topic.  Some verses emphasize the sovereignty of God; others emphasize mankind’s choice.  It seems that most arguments against unconditional election and irresistible grace ignore the passages that discuss God’s sovereignty and predestining, while most arguments for unconditional election and irresistible grace ignore passages that discuss man’s choice to respond or not respond to God’s calling.

The biggest problem I have regarding unconditional election and irresistible grace is the flip-side of the doctrines:  what happens to the unelected?  If God has predetermined who will be saved, then He has also predetermined who will be unsaved.  If human beings have no choice in the matter whatsoever, then God has created billions of people for the sole purpose of sending them to Hell for all eternity.  God has not and will not reach out to them to save them; they cannot respond to the Cross of Christ; they were damned before the creation of the world.  The Westminster Confession, after stating the doctrine of election, adds:

“The rest of mankind, God was pleased, according to the inscrutable counsel of His own will, whereby He extendeth or withholdeth mercy as He pleaseth, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice.”

This doctrine, called unconditional reprobation, is problematic if God is omnibenevolent or completely loving.  How could a loving God create people to whom He will never offer a chance at redemption?  How could God, before the creation of the world, select vast numbers of human beings, and allow them to come into existence specifically for the purpose of sending them to Hell?  Since God is love, why would He not want to offer salvation to everyone?  How can it “pleaseth” a loving God to “witholdeth mercy?”  This makes no sense to me!

It seems to me that unconditional reprobation is logically necessary if unconditional election and irresistible grace are true; yet, unconditional reprobation is inconsistent with the loving character and nature of the God of the Bible.  I’ve read numerous detailed attempts to explain how unconditional reprobation does not mean God is arbitrary and how God is still loving, but I have yet to find one that makes sense to me.  Most of the arguments I’ve read simply involve trying to redefine terms so that they mean something other than what they mean, which does nothing but make my head spin.  The problem is still the same, even if the terms are redefined.  How can a loving God pick and choose some that He wills to go to Heaven, and others He wills to send to Hell?

If unconditional reprobation, unconditional election, and irresistible grace are true, then John 3:16 should read, “For God so loved the elect that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever He elected shall believe in Him and not perish but have everlasting life.”  The fact that God so loved the world implies that God’s salvation through grace is available to everyone; the fact that whoever believes in Him should not perish implies a choice of the will.

BibleThe Bible clearly teaches that God is sovereign; it also clearly teaches that man has a will, and is responsible for his choices.  It’s not an issue of God’s sovereignty or man’s will – it’s a matter of understanding how both exist at the same time.  It appears to me that the Calvinist doctrines of unconditional election and irresistible grace focus too much on God’s sovereignty, at the expense of God’s love; Armenians focus too much on the opposite.  There must be a reality that fully includes both God’s sovereignty and His love.

If someone can explain to me how irresistible grace, unconditional election, and unconditional reprobation do not contradict God’s absolute love, I’d appreciate a comment clearing up my understanding.  Otherwise, this doctrine will have to stay filed under “Christian Doctrines I Don’t Understand.”

Everything’s Free in Heaven

A 95 year old couple died in a car crash after having been married almost 70 years. Thanks to the wife’s interest in health food and exercise, they had been in great health.

When they reached the pearly gates, St. Peter took them to their mansion, which was decked out with beautiful marble tile and gold trim. As they marveled, the old man, who had been a bit of a tight-wad, asked Peter, “How much is all this going to cost?”

“It’s free,” St. Peter replied, “this is Heaven.”

Next they went out to the backyard to survey the championship golf course that the home backed up to. They would have golfing privileges every day, and each week the course changed to a new one representing the great golf courses on earth.

The old man asked, “How much are the green fees?”

St. Peter replied, “This is heaven, you play for free.”

Next they went to the club house and saw the extravagant buffet table, with marvelous cuisines beyond their wildest imaginations laid out.

“How much is it to eat?” asked the old man.

“Don’t you understand yet? This is heaven, it is free!”

“Well, where are the low fat and low cholesterol tables?” the old man asked timidly.

St. Peter replied, “That’s the best part…you can eat as much as you like of whatever you like and you never get fat and you never get sick. This is Heaven.”

After hearing that, the old man went into a fit of anger, throwing down his hat and stomping on it, and shrieking wildly. Both St. Peter and the man’s wife tried to calm him down, asking what was wrong.

The old man looked at his wife and said, “This is all your fault! If it weren’t for your bran muffins, I could have been here twenty years ago!”

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani

Youcef Nadarkhani

Youcef Nadarkhani

Youcef Nadarkhani is an evangelical Christian pastor, born to Iranian Muslim parents.  He has been sentenced to death for converting to Christianity, despite the fact that he says he was never a practicing Muslim, and is awaiting execution in Iran. Nadarkhani was first arrested in Oct. 2009 for protesting the teaching of Islam at his children’s school. The charges were later changed to apostasy and evangelization of Muslims. He was sentenced to death for apostasy, but after considerable international pressure the Iranian courts delayed implementing the verdict, sending the case to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for review.

At the time this was posted, it is unknown whether Pastor Youcef will be executed, or not.  It is unknown whether Nadarkhani will be permitted to appeal his execution order, since most of Iran’s executions are conducted in secret.  There has been tremendous public outcry and international pressure on Iran to free Pastor Youcef, but given Iran’s antagonistic relationship with the rest of the world, it may not do any good.

How should Christians respond to this?  The obvious answer would be to pray for him and his family.

A less obvious response is to consider the fact that the Bible warns us that persecution is to be expected for the Christian:

  • Matthew 5:10 (NKJV) Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Acts 14:21-22  And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”
  • 2 Corinthians 12:10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
  • 2 Timothy 3:12 Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.
  • Hebrews 11:36-38 Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.

Crucifixion of Peter

The persecution and martyrdom of Christians has been common since the time of the Apostles.  In Acts  7, Stephen was stoned to death for blasphemy.  In Acts 12:2, James the brother of John was martyred with a sword, and Peter was imprisoned immediately after.  Of the twelve Apostles, only John was not martyred, although tradition says he survived being boiled in oil, and died in exile on the Island of Patmos.  Peter was crucified upside-down.  The list goes on:

  • Ignatius of Antioch martyred in 107 AD.
  • Justin Martyr of Palestine in 165 AD.
  • Polycarp of Smyrna, probably around 160 AD.
  • Origen of Alexandria, about 250 AD.
  • King Edward the Martyr, 979
  • Thomas Becket, 1170
  • William Tyndale, 1535

This is but a tiny percentage of those who have given their lives for the Gospel in the past.  Thousands more are in prison today in places like China, Pakistan; and Iran; untold thousands more die annually in places all around the world.

Here in the United States, we don’t see this kind of persecution.  When someone calls us names or mocks God, we complain about how persecuted we are.  We have no idea what real persecution is.

Nadarkhani has refused to renounce his Christian faith, even though he has repeatedly been pressured to recant.  I wonder how many American Christians would do the same, under similar circumstances.  Too many self-proclaimed Christians are walking away from their faith in the United States without even being persecuted.  Many of us hide our faith, just because we are too embarrassed, afraid we won’t “fit in.”  What would we do if we faced a death penalty for proclaiming Jesus Christ?

As a Christian, I must continue to pray for Youcef Nadarkhani and others like him around the world.  However, I must also pray for Christians in America who are too ashamed of the Gospel to let their friends and co-workers know they go to church; too soft to stand up to a little mocking, let alone imprisonment or death; and so uncertain of their own relationship with Jesus Christ that they just walk away from God and the church.  I must pray for my fellow Christians, that they may be bold witnesses for Jesus Christ, despite any persecution that they may encounter.  Lastly, I must continue to pray for myself, that I may boldly proclaim the Gospel, whatever the cost, whatever the consequences, no compromises, no backing down.

CHRISTIAN:  If you are not being persecuted for your faith – WHY NOT?

Open Mouth, Insert Foot

The Taming of the Tongue

Usually, when I get in trouble, it’s because I’ve said something stupid.

Sometimes, I’ll say something sarcastic, and somebody gets offended by it.  Other times, I’m angry, and I say something in the heat of the moment that I later regret. Or, I’ll blurt out something before I’ve really thought about what I’m saying.

Open mouth, insert foot.  I’ve done it so many times, I’ve developed athlete’s tongue.

Why is it so hard to not say something stupid?

Sometimes, the problem is that I like to hear myself talk too much.  In my arrogance, I think everybody’s got to hear what I have to say.  Sometimes, however, I just need to learn to shut up.  Proverbs 18:21 tells us,

21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
And those who love it will eat its fruit.

When I talk, there are consequences for my words.  My words can either point towards life in Jesus Christ, or towards death apart from Him.  When I start talking just because I love to hear myself talk, I will “eat of the fruit” of my words – I will suffer consequences for my speech.  Proverbs 10:19 tells us,

19 In the multitude of words sin is not lacking,
But he who restrains his lips is wise.

In other words, when I talk too much, I’m going to eventually say something stupid and sinful.  So, if I’m wise, I’ll just shut up.  James 3:8-10 tells us even more bluntly:

8 But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.

Why is it that “no man can tame the tongue?”  All of us were born with a sin nature inherited from our parents, who inherited it from the first man, Adam.  We were born with bodies cursed by Adam’s fall in the Garden of Eden.  When a person receives Christ as Savior, we receive a new nature; however, we’re still trapped in our cursed bodies and in a fallen world, until the transformation is completed after we die, or are raptured.  In Romans 7, Paul explains it this way:

13 Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. 16 If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.

So, for the time being, in this present life, Christians are stuck with the physical bodies and brains we were born with, until we get new, perfect ones in eternity.  What do we do about the stupid things we all say, in the mean time?  Psalm 34:12-14 tells us:

12 Who is the man who desires life,
And loves many days, that he may see good?
13 Keep your tongue from evil,
And your lips from speaking deceit.
14 Depart from evil and do good;
Seek peace and pursue it.

We must consciously choose to control our tongues.  Although we will never be able to control everything we say in this life, with reliance on the Holy Spirit, we can certainly say a lot less stupid stuff.  The key is to focus on the things of God, not the things of this world, or about ourselves, as Paul puts it in Philippians 4:

8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. 9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.

The things we focus on in our minds are the things that will come out of our mouths.  If we want to stop saying stupid things, we need to stop thinking about stupid stuff.  If we want to say things to build others up and draw others toward God, we need to be thinking about the things of God.  Taming the tongue is something we cannot do in our own strength, wisdom, or power; it is only through depending on the grace and power of God through Jesus Christ that the tongue can be controlled.

Is Racism Biblical?

Racism is alive and well.  Consider the following:

  • In January, two men were found guilty of the racist murder of a black teenager in London and were sentenced to more than 14 years in prison each.
  • After Jeremy Lin, the NBA’s first U.S.-born player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent, committed several turnovers during a game, ESPN published an article about the game with the headline “Chink In The Armor.” ESPN later issued a formal apology and announced the firing of the editor responsible for the headline.
  • An all-white Appalachian church in rural Kentucky has recently voted to ban interracial couples from joining its flock. The resolution states that the church “does not condone interracial marriage.”

Many atheists claim the Bible promotes racism, citing passages such as Nehemiah 13:23-25:

23 In those days I also saw Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. 24 And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and could not speak the language of Judah, but spoke according to the language of one or the other people.  25 So I contended with them and cursed them, struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, “You shall not give your daughters as wives to their sons, nor take their daughters for your sons or yourselves.

So, what does the Bible actually say about racism?  First, the Bible teaches that there is only ONE race.  In Genesis 2-5, the Bible describes all of humanity as having descended from one literal man and one literal woman – only one race.  In Genesis 8-9, all of humanity, except for Noah’s immediate family, was destroyed in a global flood.  All humans after the flood were closely related – one race.  At the tower of Babel, God confused the languages – not the “races” – and humanity was divided into different people groups or nations – not races.  Acts 17:26 tells us that God “has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth…”

What about Bible passages such as Nehemiah 13:23-25?  First, note that the passage mentions different nations, not races.  The issue was not physical characteristics, but spiritual.  The Nehemiah 13 passage continues:

 26 Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? Yet among many nations there was no king like him, who was beloved of his God; and God made him king over all Israel. Nevertheless pagan women caused even him to sin. 27 Should we then hear of your doing all this great evil, transgressing against our God by marrying pagan women?” (emphasis added.)

The issue was that the people of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab were pagans – they worshipped false gods.  The Israelites were to worship only the One True God.  Nowhere in the Bible is Israel told to separate itself from other peoples because of physical traits or race – the issue is always spiritual.

What about Christian churches that claim interracial marriage is unscriptural?  Again, the Bible passages they use to justify such a position are always taken out of context, and usually refer to not marrying someone who is not a Christian (or, in the Old Testament, not Jewish).  To put it bluntly, any church that prohibits so-called interracial marriage is WRONG, since the Bible makes it clear there is only one race.  People can pull passages out of context from the Bible to justify almost anything, and this is just plain wrong.  Rather than starting with our own ideas, then finding something in the Bible to justify our thinking, Christians should start with the straight-forward meaning of the Bible, in context, and adjust our thinking to fit what the Bible actually says.

Galatians 3:28 tells us:

26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Christian:  Racism should have no place in your thinking.  Period.

God hates racism.  Racism comes straight from the pit of Hell, in order to divide people and lead them away from God.  From God’s perspective, there is only one race.  God created all people through Adam and Eve, and the entire human race descends from Noah and his sons.  From God’s perspective, there are only two kinds of people:  Sinners who have received forgiveness through the blood of Jesus Christ, and sinners who have not received forgiveness.   “Race,” culture, skin color, and ethnicity have nothing to do with our standing before God; the only thing that matters is whether we have received the forgiveness and reconciliation with Him available only by trusting in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

Life’s “Escape Button”

EscOn computer keyboards, the Esc (or Escape) key is traditionally used to initiate an escape sequence.

Many people have wished that life had an “escape button” that we could push to temporarily get away from the difficulties we all face.  A way to escape from the pressures, temptations, responsibilities, and suffering.

Although we can’t just push a button to escape from the world for a while, for the Christian, there is escape through our relationship with God.

King David wrote in Psalm 71:

1 In You, O Lord, I put my trust;
Let me never be put to shame.
Deliver me in Your righteousness, and cause me to escape;
Incline Your ear to me, and save me.
Be my strong refuge,
To which I may resort continually;
You have given the commandment to save me,
For You are my rock and my fortress.

David tells us that our escape comes only by trusting the Lord.  It is not in our own power that we can escape from the pressures and problems in this life.  We are fallen sinners trapped in a cursed, fallen world.  It is only in the power of the holy, omnipotent God that escape is possible, and it is only by placing our faith and trust in Him that we can take refuge.

The apostle Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 10:

12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

When we try to stand on our own against temptation and sin, we are guaranteed to fall.  Because we are all sinners, we do not have the capacity to stand against temptation.  No matter how hard we try, our best works are certain to fall short.  It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that anyone can escape temptation and overcome sin.  What we cannot do, God does, when we place our faith and trust in God through Jesus Christ.  God does not promise that the problems will go away, but rather, that we can overcome them through Him.

The Word

One of my favorite passages of scripture is from the Gospel of John, Chapter 1.

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it…

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

Before I received Christ as my Savior, I struggled with the question, “Who is/was Jesus Christ?”  I wondered if Jesus was a prophet and a good teacher, or something more.  As I studied this question, I realized that the Bible – and Jesus Himself – claimed he was no mere mortal, but actually God in the flesh.  I also realized that if Jesus was just a man – even a very good man – then the crucifixion and resurrection meant nothing.  If Jesus had been just a man, then he had sin, the same as all men.  The only way Jesus could take away my sin is if he was actually God, come to earth in human form, without a sin nature, and living a sinless life.  Only then could the crucifixion and resurrection take away sin and guarantee eternal life.

One night, as I tried to sleep, these verses from John kept swirling around in my head.  Somehow, through the leading of the Holy Spirit, it suddenly “clicked.”  I understood that Jesus was indeed Who He claimed to be – God, in the flesh.  And, as God, He had the ability and power to take away my sin, and to forgive me.  I re-read John 1, and came to these verses:

10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own,and His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

I understood that all I needed to do was to receive the forgiveness God offered through Jesus Christ’s death, and eternal life through His resurrection.  At 1:04 am, on October 22, 1979, I asked Jesus Christ to come into my life.  I was forever changed.  Thirty-two years later, I am more in love with Jesus than ever before.  He is continuing to change me, continuing to mold me into His image.  I long for the day when I will meet Him face-to-face.  In the meantime, I will continue to serve Him, and to grow in my relationship with Him.

If you have never received Jesus Christ as Savior, contact me.  I’d love to help you to come into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

If you have already received Christ as Savior, but are struggling with your faith, I’d love to pray for you, and help, if I can.  Contact me.