Election is not the problem…sin is (part ii)

4 11 2006

In Romans chapter 1 the apostle tells us that humanity is ‘without excuse’. There has been much discussion on this post relative to what and how this could be. I thought it might be better to take this text insert it in another post and make some comments relative to the verse. Hopefully this serves as helpful.

In Romans 1 God is clearly angry as “the wrath of God” is being revealed from heaven. Notice the object of this justified anger: “men”. Humanity is in the cross hairs of divine wrath.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness /18

And why? It is because they “suppress the truth in unrighteousness”. Notice that the immediate reason given for unleashing heaven’s judgment upon man is that they are actively suppressing the truth. God is angry because of humanity’s rejection and suppression of his revelation (much more could and probably should be said here…).

Paul goes on to demonstrate how this revelation has been given and the persistent and dedicated truth suppression or rebellion that ensues:

because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them /19

It was God who has acted to implant his truth within his creation. The kindness and grace of God are expressed here in his loving creative act, even revealing his character within his creation.

Well God states even further the nature of his gracious self-disclosure:

For since the creation of the world

>His invisible attributes

>His eternal power and divine nature,

:have been clearly seen,

:being understood through what has been made

I broke it out a bit here for effect, but notice the full force of these statements. God has revealed his invisible attributes, his eternal power and his divine nature; these things have been ‘clearly seen’. There is no problem with the transmission or the clarity of the revelation but rather with the reception.

To recap this far:

1) God is very angry and is showing it

2) God’s anger is rooted in the active suppression (denial, rejection, devaluing) of his revealed truth

3) God has graciously revealed this truth to man in creation

4) This revelation of God has been ‘clearly seen’ and ‘understood’.

God has, without compulsion or obligation, revealed himself clearly in and through creation only to have this truth rejected and suppressed. It is this fact that has God so angry and man without excuse.

so that they are without excuse /20c

Further enhancing the indictment the apostle goes on to write in verses 21-23:

For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man

It is not as if humanity is passive in their sin, somehow afflicted with some type of medical ‘condition’ but instead we see the fruit of active truth suppression coming out. God is ‘de-godded’ in the sinner’s mind, he is not just marginalized but rather he is assinated, stripped of all his power, glory and splendor. Further as unregenerate sinners we do not give him thanks. God has been overly kind and his gracious providence continues to supply life and enjoyment, however, he is not thanked. Man also claims wisdom in this atheistic worldview of truth suppressing God assignation and as God would have it, they become fools (cf. Ps. 14.1). And in the ultimate bad trade, they exchange the glory of God for the glory of man. This really is what strikes at the core of God. God is replaced. The eternally glorious and infinitely beautiful God is devalued and replaced by a comparatively temporal, aging, corrupting, decaying, devalued creation. It is worse that trading a Lexis for a used band-aid.

In a grand summary fashion the Apostle concludes in verse 25:

For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

Election is not mentioned in this passage. As we have seen the passage deals with God’s wrath being revealed against sin and this wrath being justified. Mankind is without excuse because it is not only sinful but is actively sinning. God has been more than kind in revealing himself to humanity and humanity has repaid God by rejecting his truth and smudging his glory. The lack of excuse deals with the culpability of man in their offense against God. The image bearer has de-godded God while actively suppressing the revelation and turning around to worship himself at the expense of God. This truly offends and angers God.

There is no indication that man would ever stop suppressing the truth in unrighteousness, for it is the pattern and product of his life. So to say that anyone would actually choose God is ridiculous in this passage. For God is being suppressed by the unbeliever at every turn not chosen.

It is with this theological backdrop that the Apostle turns to chapters 2 & 3. In chapter 2 concluding that moralists cannot earn God’s favor, and in chapters 2 & 3 that religious folks cannot extricate themselves from the bonds of sin. So we then come to the 3rd chapter and find a text like this:

as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; /10

no one understands; no one seeks for God. /11

All have turned aside; together they have become worthless /12

no one does good, not even one. /12

There is no fear of God before their eyes./18

In this light it is who we are that is depraved, not just what we do. There is nothing inside of us that seeks for God (v.11), there is nothing good (v.12), we are in fact ‘dead’ in sin (Eph. 2.1). You are more likely to find a Wi-Fi signal in the middle of a cornfield in Nebraska than you will find a heart that is ‘seeking’ God. You can ping all day long and into eternity and find no connection, mankind is dead spiritually.

God has not changed his dealings with man; he has always said ‘walk with me’ instead mankind has chopped off his legs in sin. So not only is he unable, but he is unwilling. This inability must not be taken to cancel out responsibility; we are all responsible to respond to God and his call to walk with him, however it is the active suppression of truth and fascination with the glory of ourselves at the expense of God and his glory that pervades our affections and pursuits. Therefore, it is necessary that God employ divine grace to rescue sinners from themselves. God acts independent of human will to crush that will and then regenerate them by his power and grace unto new life.

Ephesians 2:1-10

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

Election is not in the equation in Romans 1-3 instead it is the sinful suppression of clear and gracious divine revelation. Election however, is the gracious means by which God solves the humanly unsolvable equation. So I stick by the original title, ‘Election is not the problem, sin is’.

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8 responses

4 11 2006
javaguy

Erik,

Thank you for this post. I loved reading it. You really broke it down without damaging the message. You extracted the core without damaging the apple. It was very well done. I still don’t think that it answers the question of excuse. Forgive me for being a little hard-headed, but the issue really isn’t with the sinner. It is with the chosen. I fully agree that the sinner is fully accountable for his sin. But so is the chosen one . . . except for the fact that God has treated him differently. That is why I have a problem with this. It seems like there is no point in saying it this way at all. Paul could have written that the sinner condemns himself because of his sin and gotten the same message across. But instead, he says – excuse. Could it be that Paul was scared of saying that the sinner was condemned because God had not chosen him for salvation? NO. He says almost that exact thing later on in Romans when talking about the vessels. There is no need to make a paradox out of it when it can be read and understood clearly the way it was written. That requires an Arminian view though. The Arminian finds absolutely nothing wierd or hard to explain about this verse. It means what it says.

Just to clarify – I am not educated on the Arminian view and so I do not mean to come across as an authority on it. I may believe some things they don’t and would be appalled that someone was making claims about their view which are wrong. I use that name because to my knowledge, it is the closes view to my own and so I use it.

5 11 2006
javaguy

Just a quick addition: It would be different if we all started out saved then the sinner lost that salvation because of his sin, but that is not how it is. We all start out dead in sin and must recieve salvation through some means or other, depending on your view. The Reformed view believes that the only way to recieve that salvation is if you are predestined and God chose you. That is why I say that it is not about why the sinner is condemned, but why the Christian is saved. If we had all been saved, then held responsponsible for losing that salvation, then I could see this by the Reformed view.

5 11 2006
jimbaxa

Genesis 3…It is about “why the sinner is condemned.” Adam was in a paradise with no sin, then sinned, then was “held responsible for losing” his position in paradise. The whole point of salvation must center on the difference between God’s holiness and our sin, so it is about why the sinner is condemned.
Romans 5…We are are guilty in Adam but saved in and only in Christ’s gift.

But that is only a response to your sidenote. To go back to the main point….

The only way that God can treat some sinners different than other sinners is by His grace given apart from all perceived merit. There is no way for us to do anything to become part of this group by anything that we do. It all depends on God who chooses. You have responsibility in this. Your responsibility starts with your need to recognize that you are completely unable to do anything good (and as we discussed earlier….choosing God is a good thing). It must start with, “I can’t do it. I need help.” Only then can one be on the narrow way. This is where our responsibility works with God being in control.

For this conversation to be truly fruitful, we all need to be bowing before the King in recognition of our sinfulness and God’s holiness! Wrap your mind around this truth as Paul explains it in Romans 1-3. Read that passage in recognition that Paul is writing about us….unable to do good.

5 11 2006
javaguy

Please be patient with me. I am not trying to beat a dead dog and I am honestly trying to be open-minded. I still am not seeing where anything you are saying addresses the fact that if you believe that it is God who chooses who has any hope of eternal salvation then how can a sinner not have an excuse. I realize the reality of our responsibility even with the Reformed view and I don’t think you take it lightly, but even with that responsibility, it is only because God chose that person that they are able to fullfill that responsibility at all. The sinner has absolutely no other option. How can they be responsible for something that is totally out of their hands? Thus, why is it written that they have no excuse? I read what you wrote about God’s grace. I realize that this was an attempt to answer this question I keep asking. The problem is that what you say next is something I would say, not a Calvinist. You say,

“You have responsibility in this. Your responsibility starts with your need to recognize that you are completely unable to do anything good (and as we discussed earlier…,choosing God is a good thing). It must start with, ‘I can’t do it. I need help.’ Only then can one be on the narrow way. This is where our responsibility works with God being in control.”

For a Calvinist, our responsibility only begins when we are chosen by God. All that stuff you said applies, but it is not the first thing for the Calvinist. It is the first thing for an Aminian. Would you consider acknowledging our inability to do good an act of goodness?

I can’t go into it in depth right now, but have you ever read the footnotes on Romans 3? Have you ever looked up the passages that Paul took those things from? Not a single one of them is referring to man’s sin in general. Every one of them is talking about the wicked and their effect on the righteous. This is important because it means that these authors, and maybe not even Paul, were not making general statements about Adam’s sin. They were refering to specific things wicked men do. The reason I say maybe not even Paul is because he was talking about the Law and how simply following the Law did not merrit salvation. He was comparing the Jews with the Gentiles. He could very easily have been saying that sin exists in both the Jews and the Gentiles, not in a general sense, but that there are those of the Gentiles who are wicked just as there are those of the Jews who are wicked. The Jews are not saved because of the Law and neither are the Gentiles saved because of the Jews’ disobedience. If you haven’t read the footnotes, I would encourage you to do that. It definitely gave me some insight that I had not seen before in what Paul was trying to say by quoting those passages.

6 11 2006
Wisecarver

This has little to do about election. But a lot to do with sin. Another good reason to go to war with the flesh and the heart.

Haggard: ‘I am a deceiver and a liar’
By Stephanie Simon, Times Staff Writer
6:33 PM PST, November 5, 2006

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — In the hush of a Sunday morning, 9,000 believers grieved, struggled and forgave as their pastor, the Rev. Ted Haggard, confessed his sins.

“I am a deceiver and a liar,” Haggard told his followers in a letter read from the pulpit of New Life Church by one of his spiritual mentors. “There’s a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I have been warring against it for all of my adult life.”

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Men rubbed at their eyes. Women clung to one another. A grandfather hugged his baby grandson. Haggard had founded this church in his basement. He had grown it to a congregation of 14,000. He had guided them to God and helped them triumph over sin, and he had done it always with a smile, ever exuberant, ever strong.

They wept to hear what he’d been hiding.

“For extended periods of time, I would enjoy victory and rejoice in freedom,” Haggard wrote. “Then, from time to time, the dirt that I thought was gone would resurface, and I would find myself thinking thoughts and experiencing desires that were contrary to everything I believe and teach.”

A male prostitute in Denver came forward last week claiming that Haggard had visited his apartment almost monthly over the past three years for sex and drugs. Haggard at first denied it. Then he said he bought meth from the man, but threw it away. On Sunday, he said this: “The accusations that have been leveled against me are not all true, but enough of them are true that I have been appropriately and lovingly removed from ministry.”

Having resigned the presidency of the National Association of Evangelicals and been dismissed as senior pastor of New Life, Haggard said he and his wife, Gayle, “need to be gone for a while.” He pledged to put himself under the guidance of several pastors who will help him work toward restoration.

“Please forgive me,” he wrote. “I am so embarrassed and ashamed…. I am a sinner. I have fallen.”

Then the Rev. Larry Stockstill, a Louisiana pastor, read aloud a short letter from Gayle Haggard. She said her heart was broken, but she promised to stand by her husband.

“For those of you who have been concerned that my marriage was so perfect I could not possibly relate to the women who are facing great difficulties, know that this will never again be the case,” she wrote, evoking a ripple of laughter. “My test has begun; watch me. I will try to prove myself faithful.”

The congregation rose as one. For a long minute, they stood, applauding, hugging, sniffling. Interim senior pastor Ross Parsley bounded to the podium. “Listen,” he said, “we all feel worse than we did a week ago. But we were worse off a week ago. Today, we all are more obedient, more repentant, more transparent than we’ve been in a long time.”

Here and there in the vast sanctuary, members of Haggard’s congregation called out: “Amen.”

Afterward, in the lobby, many worshipers echoed Parsley’s words. Some were angry at Pastor Ted; many were bewildered. But all said that their faith was not shaken; it was renewed. They would hold fast to all Haggard had taught them over the years, including his preaching that homosexual behavior is an affront to God.

“He believes that what he taught us is true,” said Carol Groesbeck, 61.

“I don’t think there’s anything that needs to be re-evaluated,” put in her husband, Jim, 61, an elder at New Life. “We know what we believe, but it’s difficult to live that out. That’s not just Ted’s struggle. It’s our struggle.”

Michelle Gatson, 37, said she felt reinvigorated by the service after a week that left her so spent, all she wanted to do was “be lying on the floor at home, crying.” A member of the choir, she said she found healing in the songs of praise — praise not for any man, but for God. “I love my pastor,” she said. “But I’m glad I didn’t put my faith in him. He’s human.”

Added Ian Kallenbach, 26: “I hope he can deal with his demons.”

Stockstill — who has been the Haggards’ personal pastor for years — said he saw only relief in Ted Haggard’s face when he informed him on Saturday that he was being removed from his position at New Life.

Haggard had been struggling for three years to balance his duties as pastor with the high-profile role as head of the evangelical association — a job that raised his political profile and got him invited to the Oval Office and in on conference calls with the White House.

Haggard had tried to carve out time to reflect and to write his books by secluding himself now and then in a Denver hotel. That is apparently when he first contacted the prostitute, Mike Jones, who advertised as a masseur in gay magazines.

Haggard alluded to this period in his letter, saying that his pride had prevented him from seeking counseling; he hadn’t wanted to disappoint those who loved him. “When I stopped communicating about my problems,” he wrote, “the darkness increased and finally dominated me.”

6 11 2006
jimbaxa

We can be responsible for something that we are not able to do because it is our desires that lead us to do what is contrary to what is right. It is not God who causes us to want to sin, it is not God who causes us to worship ourselves instead of Him. It is our desires for wickedness (apart from Christ) which cause us to fail in our responsibility. Your point would be worth thinking about if we were desiring to come to repentance and trust in Christ but unable to because God was for some reason holding us back, but this is not the case. We hold ourselves back from trusting in Christ because we don’t want to trust in Christ, we want to trust in ourselves.

My thoughts on responsibility that you thought were not Calvinistic:
They are indeed the beliefs of true Calvinists, and can be preached whole-heartedly by the Calvinists. The difference is that I recognize that I am unable (apart from Christ) to do the very things that I wrote that I need to do. I am unable because I cannot do good. I need God! This is the same point that our discussion keeps coming back to. We agree with what the responsibility of man is, but we disagree on the ability to man to do good. This is a problem with your view on what total depravity is and the fact that it is taught in the scriptures.

I dont completely understand what you are trying to say in your comments on Romans 3. It seems that you are trying to wiggle out of the clear language of the chapter that makes it clear that man cannot do anything good. It is evident that in the context Paul is writing, he is proving total depravity by his preaching that man is totally unable to attain his own salvation. This is the core of the argument that I am making. Man is unable to attain salvation because he is totally bad. Same core argument that Paul is making….man is totally bad so he is unable to attain salvation.

To back up Romans 3 to prove that the whole context of the Bible demonstrates total depravity as I have been explaining, read Genesis 6:5 to learn that “every intent” of the thoughts of man was “only evil continually.” That is a harsh condemnation, and one that our nature shares with those of earlier man.

7 11 2006
erik

JG: I would suggest that you stop using terms such as ‘calvinistic’ or ‘arminian’ because I don’t think either are being very accurately portrayed and perhaps the theological boundries you may have may even be impeding the discussion/understanding. Let’s emphasis Scripture and then at the end of the day you’ll be a Calvinist J All joking aside, let me hit a couple of things you said:

>>>“I still am not seeing where anything you are saying addresses the fact that if you believe that it is God who chooses who has any hope of eternal salvation then how can a sinner not have an excuse.”

The sin of suppressing truth is what is labeled without exuse. (anapologetos) The idea here is that the truth suppressor is without ability to justify his actions or defend himself and his actions not because a want of election but because of the active suppression of truth (i.e. depravity). There is no indication in Scripture that depravity stops, in fact a passage like Rom. 3.23 could literally be rendered, “for all have sinned and keep falling short of the glory of God” it is not a condition but a character…we are totally depraved and spiritually dead because of our sin. This is the other thing, this sin is ours. It is personal and it is persistent. We have no business minimizing the effects of this disaster.

This is why your statement here is so revealing:

>>>“The sinner has absolutely no other option. How can they be responsible for something that is totally out of their hands? Thus, why is it written that they have no excuse?”

It is not out of our hands, but quite in our hands. In fact our ‘finger prints’ are all over the truth…we are suppressing it. Again, let’s not forget why we need election / salvation in the first place…it is because of our sin! It is not like we are all ok apples and then God has picked some for salvation and others to damnation…no! We are all bad apples, filthy, rotten to the core, and God has, by grace and according to his wisdom, sovereignly picked some out of the rubbish and given them life. We are all bad and have no excuse.

Now if the next thought or question in your mind is about God’s fairness, please remember the Apostle Paul’s words:

Romans 9:18-21 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. 19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” 20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?

God is just to save/elect none and he is just to save/elect multitudes. In either case the unrepentant sinner is without excuse because he has sinned. There is no defense for the crime of truth suppression. And there is no remedy apart from God’s sovereign and benevolent grace storming the hearts of sinners and arresting their rebellious wills with his lovingkindness.

7 11 2006
javaguy

Jimbaxa,
The reason I say that it is something I would say and not you is because you said it starts with us acknowledging our inability to do good. This seems to me like doing good. It seems like seeking God. It seems like knowing the first step on the path to salvation. These are all things that you have pointed out that we are unable to do. I would think that the first step would be for God to work on a person and reveal himself to him. Without God, a sinner doesn’t even know what good is let alone acknowledge that he can’t do it. If man can acknowledge he can’t do good on his own without God acting on him first, why can’t man acknowlege that he needs God without God acting on him first. When I say, act on him, I am not talking about making himself known, I am talking about whatever you feel it is that God does that causes some to be saved.

I honestly don’t think we disagree on our need for God. I have no illusions about our abililty to do good without God. I think we disagree on one instant. That instant being the moment we are saved. Is it a choice on our part made because of what we have seen, or heard, or felt, or experienced? Or is it a choice made by God to let you make that choice? That is the critical moment that this all hinges on. See, Romans 3 doesn’t say anything about how we come to the realization that we can’t do good. It may be assumed, if that is what you believe, that it is only God actively working on someone to insure that they choose Him. But, it really doesn’t say that. Nor does it say that anywhere that I can think of. It says things similar that can be taken that way if you look at them that way, but they can also mean something totally different when looked at another way. I just have a hard time believing that every time the scriptures say something like, ” for all those who believe,” or “to those who PERSIST in doing good,” (which has direct implications to our current discussion, by the way) or “those who would call on my name,” or ” whoever knocks,” or . . . you get the point, that the word “chosen” could have been inserted an it mean the same thing. I honestly believe that what is written is what is being said. It is for whoever believes, not just the chosen. All of these instances would just be other names for the chosen. It takes out the active part of the sentence and turns it into a name. Do you believe because you were chosen, or were you chosen because you believe? The Bible is absolutely filled with thing like what I wrote. It is also filled with warnings that those who don’t do these things will perish. There are even warnings about those who don’t continue, or persist in doing good perishing. If they weren’t chosen and so were never truly saved, then how could they do good? Yet it says “continue” and “persist.” Romans 11 –
” 17If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. 21For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.

22Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. 23And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!”

What does it mean “provided that you continue in his kindness?” Was it a bad graft (impossible for God, I would think) or does he actually mean what he wrote?

Erik,
I’ll try to make this shorter. I agree with you 100% on using theological titles that I dont know enough about to accurately portray them. I was not saying that sinning was out of our hands, I was saying that our ability to not sin is out of our hands. It is kind of a double negative, but in essence, if God is the only one who chooses who has the ablility to not sin, then it is, in fact, out of our hands. I won’t drag that point on because in order to fully grasp it, you would have to let go of some of your beliefs in order to understand it. That is the wall that I feel I am banging my head against. I know you think you understand what I am saying, but I don’t think you understand how I am thinking. I’m not saying that it is a fault or problem, it is just a fact.
No, I wouldn’t dare question God’s fairness. He has every right to do what he pleases. Also, I do think we are all bad apples.

Thank you both again for your patience and discussion

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