Soteriology

On Facebook I came across the following post in one of my Calvinist groups:

Spoke with my brother about my Calvinist theology and one question I struggled answering was “So you believe that there are just a set group of people that are hopeless and bound for Hell, that God won’t even give them a chance to believe?”

I also struggled a bit with the “God makes us robots” argument. Have any of you run into a situation like this, and, if so, how did you handle it?

Having encountered this myself, I’ve seen both bad and good arguments in response to the question. That said, here is what I typically aim for in that conversation:

God, in his kindness, allows all people to live on this life for their “best life now”. They can pursue that which their hearts desire to the fullest extent of that, until God directly prevents them from sinning beyond what he allows, or until he prevents their influence upon others.

That said, God has placed the conscience in the hearts of all men, and they have to overcome this conscience in order to begin pursuing this desire to sin. No one is just free to sin without the knowledge of the consequences that are at hand. You have to push past your conscience time and again before it becomes comfortable for you to just continue living in that way, and the reason most people rile against the teaching of scripture is that it reminds them that they’re living beyond the bounds of their conscience. So no one stands uncondemned before God. No one is pure from sin in the eyes of God. Also, due to our sin nature, no one lives their lives in any way that’s pleasing to God. The 10 commandments aren’t a simple rule set for a life of blessing, but it’s God’s holy standard of perfection. This is his “you must be this holy to enter My rest” marker that stands before the entrance before the gates of Heaven, and only a life spent in constant obedience to that will allow you to enter. As James 2:10 says, to violate one point of the law, you have failed in all of it.

More than that, no one, because of our self-focused, sin-sick hearts, would ever want to have a redeemer, much less would pursue this savior unless there’s a significant, personal pay off for that man. As we know from Psalm 51, the only sacrifice that God desires – the only one he acknowledges is one that comes from a contrite and humble heart. You cannot be truly contrite or humble if you’re coming to the throne of grace for how it will improve your life. If you’re looking for a salve for your conscience, or some kind of religious rite or procedure that will help you to balance out the sin you enjoy and the guilt you feel over it, then this is not the place for you. This is what the vast majority of Jews in Israel and Judah were pursuing prior to the Babylonian captivity and it led to their public humiliation and destruction.

Since we know that the heart of men only ever seeks its own interests and comfort, and since God has provided to all men both the natural revelation around them which point to his existence and guiding hand in all of creation, and the conscience which lives in their heart, revealing their sin to them, the question about those who are clamoring for salvation and are “turned away” just doesn’t happen. Sure, there are many in the church who are there for their own benefit, but those are the ones who will be told at the last day, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Mt 7:23). God, knowing the hearts of men, and knowing that only those who enter the throne room of grace with a contrite and humble heart are those who are the ones who are there for God’s purpose and not their own, has chosen from the vast throng who are sprinting headlong into hell to interfere in the lives of his elect, to radically change the attitude of their hearts away from themselves and toward him, then to bombard them with his grace and mercy until they can do nothing but cry out in repentance and faith in the God and King of all creation who died in their place.

The kindness of God allows sinners to pursue their own desires – their own dreams, despite the fact that they’re both living in rebellion to him, but also knowing that they’re doing it to their own hurt. It is therefore the God who interferes, the God of the “but God” statements in the Bible, who steps in and violates the autonomous rule of man’s heart to turn him to Himself for the sake of the sinner, and for the glory of the King of mercy and grace.

This is something that has come up a few times on Facebook and it seems to keep coming up so I figured I’d write about it here for easy access.

The term “peccability” is from the Latin term, “peccō”, which means “to sin”, or in this case, the capability of sinning. This is where we get the term that Martin Luther used, “Simul justus et peccator”, which describes the state of man in the “already and not yet” of our sanctification – we are “simultaneously justified, yet a sinner”. The peccability, or impeccability of Christ as it’s commonly stated, is where we have this discussion. The impeccabilty stance simply stated declares that Jesus is God and therefore incapable of sinning as it would violate his nature. Therefore Jesus is merely totally incapable of committing sin and any other view is negated. I think that this is a little naive. Don’t get me wrong – Jesus IS God. As God he cannot violate his own nature and, as that nature is the one which embodies perfect justice, and as the law giver for all of his creation, it would clearly violate that nature if he committed sin. My point is that his ability to sin is necessary to our salvation. Let me explain…

Jesus contained the moral breadth to sin and the physical capability to sin but chose not to at every moment of every day. As Adam’s selfish sin (to be like God) led him to sin, breaking his ability to choose not to sin (as the only person who could do that outside of Christ), we all are lost by his sin in the inheritance of our sin nature. Jesus, born without an earthly father, is the last man in this chain who could make that decision on his own, and as God he had the moral capability to keep from sinning. This is why not only Jesus’ death on the cross matters, but also why his perfect life does as well. It’s not merely enough for Jesus, as a robot who is incapable of sinning to merely exist, but his day by day, moment by moment choice not to sin is what grants his perfect life credence. Jesus’ life of perfect obedience on my behalf is transferred to me on the cross and my life of perfect disobedience is transferred to him. So Jesus had to have the capability to sin, but because he is God and therefore of a perfect moral character, he could choose at every moment to do that which honored God the most in each situation – in exactly the way that I can’t. Therefore, the peccabilty of Jesus is what makes my salvation possible, because he is the perfect lamb, the last Adam, and the end of my striving whose sacrifice on my behalf makes it possible for God to save a man like me.

To quote Charles Hodge:

The Mediator between God and man must be sinless. Under the law the victim offered on the altar must be without blemish. Christ, who was to offer Himself unto God as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, must be Himself free from sin. The High Priest, therefore, who becomes us, He whom our necessities demand, must be holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners. (Hebrews 7:26.) He was, therefore, “without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22.) A sinful Saviour from sin is an impossibility. He could not have access to God. He could not be a sacrifice for sins; and He could not be the source of holiness and eternal life to his people. This sinlessness of our Lord, however, does not amount to absolute impeccability. It was not a non potest peccare. If He was a true man He must have been capable of sinning. That He did not sin under the greatest provocation; that when He was reviled He blessed; when He suffered He threatened not; that He was dumb, as a sheep before its shearers, is held up to us as an example. Temptation implies the possibility of sin. If from the constitution of his person it was impossible for Christ to sin, then his temptation was unreal and without effect, and He cannot sympathize with his people.

Hodge, C. (1997). Systematic theology (Vol. 2, p. 457). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc

I’m not saying that Jesus would ever have sinned, nor that his nature would have allowed it, but just that it was possible from the sense that he made conscious decisions to only ever honor God first in all that he thought, said, and did. The implication here is that, as I mentioned before, his actions were real actions and not some pre-scripted process which would eliminate the depth of his compassion for mankind or his ability to relate to us in our struggles. Jesus’ active obedience hinges on his ability to disobey, and because he never sinned at all, we can reap the benefit of this, whereas in our own lives, we try to do our best and fail at every turn.

Who is responsible for my salvation? God CALLED Abraham to himself just as Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb. Both were dead in their transgressions and sin before Him and God was under no obligation to save any of them. All of mankind stands condemned before our holy and perfect Creator and God is not obligated to save any of us. WE acted in rebellion against HIM. If my daughter steals my car and drives it off a cliff, totaling it, but she herself is saved. Am I obligated to forgive her? Is there some law on the books that requires me to forgive her for this transgression of my trust? In the same way, God is not obligated to forgive anyone. He has, by His own choice and on His own terms, chosen certain people before time began to save them by sending His own Son to suffer and die in their place. Jesus willingly substituted Himself for these undeserving haters of God and God the Father accepted His sacrifice on our behalf. If God, in His mercy, has done all this work for you, then does the work necessary to bring you to true repentance and trust in Himself, imparting to you faith and love beyond measure, are you then capable of rejecting His good mercy and act of grace on your behalf? What kind of a harsh and uncaring God would allow that to happen to those whom He has forgiven for all of their sins? You are not capable of out sinning God’s grace, and you are not able to thwart the plans of a perfect, holy, and uncontrollable God who has purposed to save you from yourself to Himself.

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
~ Titus 3:3-7 ESV

Remember that prayer that you prayed, or the time you raised your hand during an “altar call”? Yeah – that didn’t save you. Jesus saved you. You’re not good enough to save, you’re not smart enough to have God look at you and say, “I HAVE to have THAT GUY with me in Heaven!” There’s no amount of “good deeds” that you can do to warrant God’s saving work to be applied to your life. If anything, everything you do to “work off” your salvation or make yourself worthy is just an affront to God and mock Him for His work on your behalf. It’s not you who hold onto God, but God that holds onto you. You can’t be lost – you can’t “walk away” from your faith because it’s not “your faith” to begin with. God is the one who started the ‘good work’ of salvation within you and He will not lose a single one whom the Father has given Him. You are secure because of God’s love for you, not because of God’s love of you.

For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

~ Romans 10:10

This is not the order of salvation but a confirmation of what God has already wrought. The heart of a man is in the hands of the Lord (Exo 14:8; Deut 2:30; Ezra 7:27-28; Proverbs 21:1) and it is up to Him to direct him and his thoughts by either enlightening him to salvation through the good news of Jesus (that our sins have been paid for and our work is irrelevant) or hardening his heart to the gospel for God’s glory. Therefore the heart merely reflects that which the Lord has already produced within us through the power of the Holy Spirit and the mouth overflows with that which the heart produces.

In other news, this is my 400th post! Huzzah!

I’ve read this before and heard him speak on it numerous times. This is something that I wholly support and think that every person needs to read and consider.

Ten Reasons To Not Ask Jesus Into Your Heart by Todd Friel

The music weeps, the preacher pleads, “Give your heart to Jesus. You have a God shaped hole in your heart and only Jesus can fill it.” Dozens, hundreds or thousands of people who want to get their spiritual life on track make their way to the altar. They ask Jesus into their heart.

Cut to three months later. Nobody has seen our new convert in church. The follow up committee calls him and encourages him to attend a Bible study, but to no avail. We label him a backslider and get ready for the next outreach event.

Our beloved child lies in her snuggly warm bed and says, “Yes, Daddy. I want to ask Jesus into my heart.” You lead her in “the prayer” and hope that it sticks. You spend the next ten years questioning if she really, really meant it. Puberty hits and the answer reveals itself. She backslides. We spend the next ten years praying that she will come to her senses.

Telling someone to ask Jesus into their hearts has a very typical result, backsliding. the Bible says that a person who is soundly saved puts his hand to the plow and does not look back because he is fit for service. In other words, a true convert cannot backslide. If a person backslides, he never slid forward in the first place. “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation.” (II Cor.5) No backsliding there.

Brace yourself for this one: with very few if any exceptions, anyone who asked Jesus into their hearts to be saved…is not. If you asked Jesus into your heart because you were told that is what you have to do to become a Christian, you were mis-informed.

If you have ever told someone to ask Jesus into their heart (like I have), you produced a false convert. Here is why.

1. It is not in the Bible. There is not a single verse that even hints we should say a prayer inviting Jesus into our hearts. Some use Rev. 3:20. To tell us that Jesus is standing at the door of our hearts begging to come in.

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” There are two reasons that interpretation is wrong.

The context tells us that the door Jesus is knocking on is the door of the church, not the human heart. Jesus is not knocking to enter someone’s heart but to have fellowship with His church.

Even if the context didn’t tell us this, we would be forcing a meaning into the text (eisegesis). How do we know it is our heart he is knocking at? Why not our car door? How do we know he isn’t knocking on our foot? To suggest that he is knocking on the door of our heart is superimposing a meaning on the text that simply does not exist.

The Bible does not instruct us to ask Jesus into our heart. This alone should resolve the issue, nevertheless, here are nine more reasons.

2. Asking Jesus into your heart is a saying that makes no sense. What does it mean to ask Jesus into your heart? If I say the right incantation will He somehow enter my heart? Is it literal? Does He reside in the upper or lower ventricle? Is this a metaphysical experience? Is it figurative? If it is, what exactly does it mean? While I am certain that most adults cannot articulate its meaning, I am certain that no child can explain it. Pastor Dennis Rokser reminds us that little children think literally and can easily be confused (or frightened) at the prospect of asking Jesus into their heart.

3. In order to be saved, a man must repent (Acts 2:38). Asking Jesus into your heart leaves out the requirement of repentance.

4. In order to be saved, a man must trust in Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31).

Asking Jesus into your heart leaves out the requirement of faith.

5. The person who wrongly believes they are saved will have a false sense of security. Millions of people who sincerely, but wrongly, asked Jesus into their hearts think they are saved but struggle to feel secure. They live in doubt and fear because they do not have the Holy Spirit giving them assurance of salvation.

6. The person who asks Jesus into his heart will likely end up inoculated, bitter and backslidden. Because he did not get saved by reciting a formulaic prayer, he will grow disillusioned with Jesus, the Bible, church and fellow believers. His latter end will be worse than the first.

7. It presents God as a beggar just hoping you will let Him into your busy life. This presentation of God robs Him of His sovereignty.

8. The cause of Christ is ridiculed. Visit an atheist web-site and read the pagans who scoff, “How dare those Christians tell us how to live when they get divorced more than we do? Who are they to say homosexuals shouldn’t adopt kids when tens of thousands of orphans don’t get adopted by Christians?” Born again believers adopt kids and don’t get divorced.

People who ask Jesus into their hearts do. Jesus gets mocked when false converts give Him a bad name.

9. The cause of evangelism is hindered. While it is certainly easier to get church members by telling them to ask Jesus into their hearts, try pleading with someone to make today the day of their salvation. Get ready for a painful response. “Why should I become a Christian when I have seen so called Christians act worse than a pagan?” People who ask Jesus into their hearts give pagans an excuse for not repenting.

10. Here is the scary one. People who ask Jesus into their hearts are not saved and they will perish on the Day of Judgment. How tragic that millions of people think they are right with God when they are not. How many people who will cry out, “Lord, Lord” on judgment day will be “Christians” who asked Jesus into their hearts?

So, what must one do to be saved? Repent and trust. (Heb.6:1) The Bible makes it clear that all men must repent and place their trust in Jesus Christ. Every man does have a “God shaped hole in their hearts,” but that hole is not contentment, fulfillment and peace. Every man’s heart problem is righteousness. Instead of preaching that Jesus fulfills, we must preach that God judges and Jesus satisfies God’s judgment…if a man will repent and place his trust in Him.

If you are reading this and you asked Jesus into your heart, chances are good you had a spiritual buzz for a while, but now you struggle to read your Bible, tithe, attend church and pray. Perhaps you were told you would have contentment, purpose and a better life if you just ask Jesus into your heart. I am sorry, that was a lie.

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(e.g., John 1 or God's love)

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