In Between Sundays

Predestination and Free Will

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Here at Fellowship, I recently taught on Romans 9 (we drew straws and mine was the shortest). I taught for about 30 minutes, which, as you can guess, isn’t nearly enough time to answer the many questions this chapter poses. I hope to use this post to help further your study in this area and address some of those unanswered questions

The debate surrounding the topic of free will and predestination will happen long after I am gone and people will still be trying to make their point. I am not merely trying to make a point, but rather hoping to make a difference. My first goal is to help become critical thinkers. Many people would rather be told WHAT to think rather than HOW to think. I hope this helps in that area.

1 Peter 3:15 says, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” My second goal relates to this verse – and that is to help give people an answer to the hope that lies within!

This topic is not an essential issue to salvation. Although it’s fun to think and debate about, let’s agree to disagree agreeably when it comes to this issue! Let’s start with where these ideas really began to flourish.

Arminianism/Free Will:

Jacobus Arminius lived from 1560-1609. He was a theologian and a product of the reformation, which was started by Martin Luther. He nailed the 95 thesis on the Wittenberg Cathedral door declaring and proclaiming theological difference from Catholicism and what is now Protestantism. If you aren’t familiar with Luther’s 95 thesis, I suggest reading church history. After much study, Jacobus and his pals came up with the 5 points of Arminianism. They are:

  • Humans have Free Will
  • Conditional Election
  • Universal Atonement
  • Resistible Grace
  • Perseverance of Some Saints.

Let’s define these points.

Humans have Free Will: this one is self-explanatory. In Genesis, God created Adam and Eve with a choice to eat from the tree or not. They were free to choose to obey or disobey God. Although we don’t have total free will, we do have choices. Pepsi or Coke, Chevy or Ford, PC or Mac However, I can’t choose to turn into the Hulk or fly like Peter Pan.

Conditional Election: There is a condition based upon which a person is chosen for salvation. An example that has been used to explain “foreknowledge” or “predestination” is that God knew who would choose him and He consequently chose them.

Universal Atonement: When Jesus died, He died for every person and His blood would cover anyone who chose to follow Him.

Resistible Grace: Even when God pursues you, you can still resist His call for salvation and go your own way.

Perseverance of Some Saints: When someone becomes a Christian, there is a chance that they could lose their salvation and a particular point of unrepentance.

Calvinism/Predestination:

John Calvin lived from 1509-1564 and was a French theologian and Catholic. While the reformation was taking place thanks to Martin Luther, Calvin converted to the protestant movement. Even after his death, his teachings were still as strong and alive as they are today. Although Jacobus was a product of the reformation, he challenged the reformation theology. This is where the 5 points of Arminianism comes from. Calvin’s loyal followers were unnecessarily distraught by the 5 points and decided that there needed to be an opposite 5 points. I’ll throw my opinion in here by saying I don’t think the best way to do theology is an opposite reaction to an action. Anyway, Calvin’s posse created the Synod of Dort. They met 154 times. I did not mistype that. 154 meetings. They should have read the book Death by Meeting. After 154 separate meetings, they concluded the 5 points of Calvinism. They are:

  • Total Depravity
  • Unconditional Election
  • Limited Atonement
  • Irresistible Grace
  • Perseverance of all Saints

Total Depravity: People are depraved because of what happened in Genesis 3. Sin entered the world and tainted our thoughts, motives, actions, and words.

Unconditional Election: There is no condition on which a person is to be elected by God. No matter how good or bad a person is, God can save them in spite of their good or bad behavior.

Limited Atonement: When Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world, it was only for the elect. His grace and forgiveness only covered those are would become Christians.

Irresistible Grace: This doesn’t mean that no one can never resist God’s grace. It means that if God so chooses, He can make His grace totally irresistible. Paul’s conversion in Acts 9 would be the most popular example of this.

Perseverance of all the Saints: If a person were to become a Christian, there is no way that God would reject them or lose them.

Below are some Bible verses to help get your study started. Happy reading!

Ezekiel 33:11, 1 Tim 2:3-4, 2 Peter 3:9, John 3:16-17, Matthew 11:28, Acts 17:30, 16:31, Revelation 22:17, Psalm 33:12, Isaiah 41:8-10, John 6:7, Matthew 22:14

Where does logic end and faith begin?

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Maybe another way of asking this question is, “How much effort do I put into something before I let God take over?” I think this question is valid for anyone wanting to live a life for Jesus. Although valid, I think the presuppositions are wrong for the question. I believe this question poses an “either/or” type of scenario, when in reality I believe it should be “both/and.” Maybe a better question would be, “How do I integrate Jesus in and through my daily life?”

 I know we have all heard it said, “God helps those who help themselves.” This is not a proverb. Although, you might find it somewhere in 1st Hesitations. This phrase is actually unbiblical. The assumption is that we have to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps first before God will intervene. I’m thankful Jesus doesn’t apply this principle. Romans 5:8 says that WHILE we were still sinners Christ died for us. Jesus didn’t wait for us to help ourselves before He died for us. He loved us the most when we were at our WORST! Think of some of the worst sins you have ever committed. Got them? Those moments are when Jesus had (and still has) His unending, covenantal love for you.

Does God reward laziness then? Is this an excuse to be lazy? By no means. The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about a person who is slothful, none of them are good things. We have to put in effort. The trick is not doing it without Jesus. Let’s not make plans and then expect God to bless those plans. Let’s seek wise counsel. Let’s be on our face at the feet of Jesus before plans are implemented. Prayer should be our first line of defense, not the last. I believe all throughout scripture God speaks through wise counsel. If we ask God for wisdom, He gives it freely and liberally. He is generous beyond your wildest imagination.

The problem with thinking that logic is somehow devoid of any type of faith is deeply rooted in the enlightenment era (another blog for another day). Christians adopted parts of this philosophy and said that God is number one, family is number two, work is number three, etc. This is very flawed. I believe this has truly produced what has been referred to as a “Christian Atheist.” This is when you go to church and act like a Christian on Sunday, but live nothing like it throughout the week. Your finances don’t look like Jesus. Your marriage doesn’t look like Jesus. Your singleness doesn’t look like Jesus. Investing in the next generation through discipleship is nonexistent. Putting all of this into separate categories has created a strong sacred-secular divide. What I think it should look like is: God in family, God in work, God in your sporting events, God in your school, etc. Let God work through every aspect of your life.

I am in conversation with students frequently. They range in age from middle school to college. If they are a Christian, they are on the hunt for a girlfriend or boyfriend with prayers that sound like this, “I am just waiting for God to bring me the person I will marry.” To which my response is this, “Do you use that logic in any other area of your life?” Of course the answer is always “no.” If I’m hungry, I don’t pray for God to make me a sandwich and bring it to me on the couch. I get up and make a sandwich! I tell them (especially the guys) to actually go ask someone out -- not over Facebook or a text. Do it face-to-face. You are praying and you have faith that God will provide a Jesus-loving spouse, and that usually starts with a first date. Get date #1 and we can talk from there.

Let me give you another example. Several years ago, I had started a new job at a bank. I was being trained by a guy in my department and I knew I would interact with him every day for the next 3-4 weeks during training, and then frequently after that. I prayerfully asked God for opportunities to share my faith not knowing if he was a Christian or not. I soon initiated a conversation about church and spiritual things. He said he wasn’t interested in any of that. I then simply offered to him, that if he ever did have any questions, I am here to listen judgment free -- because if I’m honest, I still have many myself. What transpired over the next year in a half was not only a great working relationship, but a friendship as well. He’d ask spiritual questions on occasion and we would have great discussion. I would ask him about spiritual topics and his perspective. I made fun of him for being a Steelers fan. He strongly reciprocated words that were unkind about me being a Rams fan, all of which were justified.

After many spiritual conversations and laughs, a foundation of trust was built, and I was convicted by the Holy Spirit that I hadn’t shared the gospel with him. I had talked about Jesus plenty, along with many other theological topics, but I was feeling pushed to do more. So, I prayed for an opportunity to really lay out the gospel: we are all wicked sinners who have refused, rejected, and cheated on God, and deserved to be punished eternally for sinning against an eternal God. I would then tell him how God became a man. That God/man is named Jesus. He came to save the sinners, heal the sick, and ask all people everywhere to repent of their sins and put their faith and trust in Him alone. I would then tell him that the reason we could put our faith and trust in Jesus is because He is the only One in the history of ever who has provided a sufficient solution for our wrongdoings. I would say that Jesus was beaten to the point where His own mother couldn’t recognize him. This showed what our sins do to God and how we should be punished. Instead, Jesus took our punishment. I’d then tell my friend that Jesus went to a cross to take on the wrath that should be on us for our sins. Instead, Jesus took that wrath. He died and was buried. Three days later, He rose from the dead conquering our enemies of Satan, sin, and death. He showed that death and the grave couldn’t hold Him like it had everyone in years past. That’s why we can trust Him. I wanted to say that, but I was just looking for the opportunity.

A great deal of work was put in along with many prayers. Two days after praying, and continually being watchful for my prayers to be answered, he asked me point blank, “How do I get right with God?” We had a fantastic conversation about the gospel.

It is not “either/or,” it is “both/and.” I pray you would work hard for the Lord, being prayerful in your decisions and conversations. Some prayers will be prolonged like the Daniel of the Bible. He prayed every day for years and years. He was finally faced with a situation in which he had to pray a shotgun prayer – quick, silent, and to the point. He didn’t only use logic when he faced Nebuchadnezzar. He also used faith. Read a section of, or the entire book of Daniel. You will find his marrying of logic and faith in chapters 1-3, and learn more about how God has called us to use “both/and.” 

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