Wednesday, April 12, 2017

My Response to a Post I Recently Read

            Lastly (as I wrap up April's posts on "predestination vs. free-will"), I want to share my response to a post I read.  (But for more on this, see "Links To My Anti-Calvinism Posts.")  

            The person who wrote the post quoted Acts 2:23: “This man [Jesus] was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to a cross.”
            The writer’s point is that God pre-planned Jesus’ death and chose to use wicked men to accomplish this.  I can agree with this.  However, the underlying point of his post is that God basically caused the men to be wicked (that He planned for them to do evil), to accomplish His purposes.  And that God – even though He planned for these men to be wicked – cannot be accused of doing evil or wrong.   
            He also goes on to say that God planned for Adam and Eve to rebel, to fall.  That it is for His glory that they fell.  The implication is, once again, that God caused them to fall, for His purposes.

Acts 13:48: Not as "predestination" as it sounds

Calvinists often point to Acts 13:48 as the ultimate predestination verse.  "... and all who were appointed (ordained) for eternal life believed".  They say, "See, God appointed them, predestined them, chose them to go to heaven.  And because He chose them, they were predestined to believe.  And those who weren't chosen can't believe."

But look it up online and you'll see that it's not that cut-and-dried.  It's not as "predestination" as it sounds.

First off, it's important to not take it out of context or separate it from the rest of Scripture.  If you do, then it could definitely sound like God predetermined that specific unbelievers would obtain eternal life.  But we need to look at it in context and in relation to the rest of Scripture.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Some Problems with Predestination (And What I Think The Bible Really Says)

            Those who believe in predestination – the we don’t have a real choice about salvation – say that we have to evangelize and pray because God told us to and because God knew that this is how the lost would be saved.  This is a pretty flimsy reason for evangelizing, given that (according to predestination) no one really has a choice in where their souls end up anyway.
            If evangelizing didn’t really make a difference, then doing it just because God told us to do it would just be “going through the motions,” acting out a part just for the sake of acting it out.  We would just be “pretending” to evangelize because it wouldn’t really be needed or have an effect anyway.  This really waters down the Christian message and the urgency to reach the lost.  And I think it can cause believers and unbelievers alike to not take seriously God’s call to salvation and Jesus’ sacrifice for them.  What does it really matter what you think about these things anyway if it doesn’t really matter what you think and if you are just going to end up where God assigned you?  It kind of makes a mockery of thinking and of faith and of sharing the Good News. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Pre-chosen People? Is God's Call Irresistible?

            John 6:37:  “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.”
            This one confused me for awhile.  It sounded like Jesus is saying that all the people that God has pre-chosen to be believers are destined to come to faith in Him.  And that only those who are chosen by God will come to faith.
            But I’m not sure if that’s what this is really saying. 

The Holy Spirit and "Dead People"

            Maybe you've wondered this, "Isn’t it the Holy Spirit’s job to convict people and draw them to God?  Aren’t we “dead people” before the Spirit wakes us up, unable to even think about or seek God because “dead people” can’t do anything?  And so we need the Spirit to make us become believers?  Isn’t there a verse about Him opening people’s minds so that they can understand God’s truth?  So if He doesn’t draw someone and doesn’t open their minds, then they cannot become saved?  Isn’t it His job to save people?
            I would answer this way:  Yes and no.
            I used to think this was the case - that if the Holy Spirit didn’t open your eyes, you would not be able to come to God.  That basically, the Holy Spirit decided who to “enlighten” and who to leave ignorant of God.  And I guess, then, that if you wanted someone to become a Christian, you would have to pray, “Lord, make so-and-so become a Christian.”  Because it’s all up to Him, right?  He decides who to let into heaven and who to keep out. 
            But as I have learned more over the years, I now see it just a touch differently.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

God Does Not Cause Us To Sin

            James 1:13-15: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’  For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” 
            God does not tempt us or encourage us to sin, but He does bring us opportunities to decide if we will choose to sin or not (see the previous post, “God Set Pharaoh Up”).  And if we sin, it’s because it is what we were willing to do.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

God Set Pharaoh Up

            If you’ve read the previous posts, you know that I believe that God does not cause us to sin or to be disobedient.  We decide if we want to believe in Him and obey Him or if we want to rebel against Him. 
            But I read a post recently by someone who believes that God causes people to sin, for His reasons and His glory, such as causing Adam and Eve to eat the fruit and causing Pharaoh to have a hard heart so that he would release the Israelites.  
            I don’t agree.  I do not think God causes (“forces”) people to sin.  I think obedience or disobedience is our decision.
            However (not to confuse you), I do think that God can set us up to make our decision to obey or disobey.  He can put us in a situation that forces us to decide.  But He already knows from the beginning if we are going to obey or disobey.  And if He knows that He can work our disobedience into His plans, He might just set up the circumstances so that we make our choice to disobey, so that we act out the rebellion that is already in our hearts.  And then He uses our disobedience for His purposes. 
            But He never forces us to disobey.  He just gives us the chance to do it, knowing full well what we would choose to do. 

Friday, April 7, 2017

According to the Concordance ...

            As I have studied this issue of “predestination vs. free-will,” I have found it immensely helpful and clarifying to look up certain words in Strong’s Concordance.  The concordance lists each word of the Bible, what it means in the original Greek or Hebrew, and how the word is being used in that particular verse. 
            I used to be really scared of looking up words in the concordance.  I was afraid that I would learn that my “free-will” view was wrong all along.  But I was determined to learn the truth, even if I didn’t like it.
            But, thankfully, the more I have looked up words and their meanings, the more convinced I have become that salvation is a choice, that it’s not predetermined for us by God.  God has made salvation available to all.  We have the responsibility to choose whether to believe in God or to reject Him.  And we will justly reap the consequences that go with our choice. 
            This post is a quick overview of some of the words that I have looked up and what I learned about them.  However, due to copyright laws, I cannot quote directly from Strong’s concordance.  So I will do my best to explain it in my own words.      

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Prepared for Destruction/Hard Hearts - Romans 9

            Romans 9:22-23:  “What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath – prepared for destruction?  What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory . . .” 
            Ah, the big chapter!  (Read it all if you want to.)  The one that really does make it sound like God decides who to make for heaven and who to make for hell.  But I don’t believe this passage is talking about individuals being specifically, deliberately created for destruction. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Predestined to be Adopted - Ephesians 1

 Predestined to be saved?
Predestined to be the first generation to obtain salvation through Jesus's death and the work of the Holy Spirit?

Two very different statements with very different implications!

            Ephesians 1:4,5, 11:  “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.  In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will . . . In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will . . .” 
            This is one of the key passages that makes it sound like we are predestined to choose Him or not, like He hand-picks who becomes His sons and who doesn’t, according to His pleasure and will.

            However, I think it’s possible to view it this way: God has chosen and predestined mankind in general to be His people.  From the very beginning, His plan was that we would know Him and choose Him.  This was His over-arching Will for mankind, the reason He made humans in the first place.  And it’s how He created it to be in the Garden of Eden. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Elect - Foreknown by God

            1 Peter 1:1-2:  “To God’s elect . . . who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood.” 
            People who believe in predestination define the “elect” (the “chosen” ones) as those whom God has pre-chosen for salvation.  And everyone else is destined for hell, with no chance of being saved.  They would say that this verse confirms it.  That we are chosen by God to be obedient or disobedient. 
            For starters, I don’t think the “elect” means that specific people are chosen by God to be saved.  I think this verse means that God foreknows who will believe in Him and that He has planned to help them grow in obedience to Jesus Christ, through the work of the Spirit. 

Are we "forced" to be obedient or disobedient?

            Does God cause us to be obedient or disobedient?  If you believe in predestination – that God has predetermined that some people will go to heaven and that many people will go to hell and that there is nothing they can do to get to heaven – then you have to say that God causes us to either be obedient or disobedient. 
            But I strongly believe that we have the responsibility to decide if we will obey or disobey.  And I think the whole Bible attests to this, from the Fall . . . to the fact that God lays out “the blessings path” and “the curses path” for the Israelites to choose between . . . to the many calls to “obey” and “choose whom we will serve.” 

Does God cause childhood abuse?

            In the earlier post called "What Does 'God is Sovereign' Mean?", I explored the issue of God’s sovereignty and what it means that He is in control.  However, I want to address one issue in particular today: childhood abuse. 
            I heard someone speak recently who strongly believes that God controls everything (even when we sin or reject Him) and that everything that happens is because God caused it to happen.  He said that God has the right to ordain (“cause”) evil to happen in your life, and that He is still good, and that He does this for His purposes and for your good and because He knows what trials you need to humble you.  And this speaker included childhood abuse in this list of “God-ordained evils.”  He says that the bad things that happened to you are God's "Plan A" for your life, and you just have to trust Him about it.  (He seems to believe that God causes everything that happens and that everything that happens is because He made it happen, for His purposes and glory.)     

Monday, April 3, 2017

Finding "The Next Step" For Your Life

            Okay, onto something a bit more practical.  Sometimes figuring out the “next step” is the next thing that God wants us to do.  We are standing at a crossroad and we ask God, “What do You want me to do next?”  And the thing we need to figure out is ...
            I’ll confess that I often struggle with decisions I’ve made, always wondering if I made the wrong one, if I missed His guidance and got off-track.  I do this a lot.  I always doubt myself and then have to re-evaluate my choice before I can feel confident that I made the right one (unless, of course, God lets me know that I was wrong.)  In this post, I want to look at ways we can evaluate our decisions and do our best to figure out which one God wants us to pick. 
            How can we know that we are making the “right decision”?

How to know God's Will

            Let’s look at Romans 12:1-2: 
            “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
            This verse says that we can “test and approve” what God’s will is.  I have always wondered about this phrase, about what it means and what it means for us.  The conclusion I have come to is that as the Holy Spirit renews our minds, we will come to better understand God’s goals - His desire to reach people, to save people, to pour out love and forgiveness and grace and mercy and compassion and truth on them.  As we grow closer and closer to the Lord and let the Holy Spirit transform us, we will be able to grasp this concept and our responsibilities more and more.  We will learn to work for His kingdom and righteousness.

Do We Have an Effect on "God's Will"?

            At some point, most Christians struggle with the idea of “God’s Will.”  What is it?  Can we know it?  And what do we mean when we say “God’s Will”?  Are we talking about what He wants for/from us (the path He wants us to take)?  Or are we saying that He has pre-determined and set-in-stone plans, things that will happen regardless of what we do?  Do we have to find His Will or do we have to do His Will?  Do we have an effect on His Will or does His Will always happen, regardless of us?  Can we miss out on His Will for our lives?   

What does "God is Sovereign" mean?

            “God is all-wise and all-powerful, so He always does whatever He wants.  And everything that happens is because He wanted it to happen and made it happen.  Since God is in control, He controls everything.  And we have no influence on Him and no ability to exercise our own free-will.”

            I think this is how many of us view God’s sovereignty.  We think that because He is all-powerful, He always uses His power and controls every detail. 

            And this view of “sovereignty” is used to support the idea of predestination, that God decides who goes to heaven and who goes to hell.  If you end up in hell, it’s because He wanted you there . . . because He always does what He wants.  We don’t have any real free-will because He is all-powerful.  If we sin, it’s because God made us sin, because He wanted us to sin, for His purposes. 

            And this view is also used to support the idea that He controls every detail on earth.  If there is a tornado, it is because He put it there.  He decided the exact path and who would be destroyed and who wouldn’t.  He puts the cancer there and causes it to grow or not grow.  He decides if a child should be born with a handicap or abnormality. 

            But is this what “sovereignty” means?  That because He is all-powerful, He controls every detail of our lives?  Our eternal destination?  Every tragedy?  That we have no choice?  That He makes us sin?  That He caused the Fall of Adam and Eve? 

            Or do we misunderstand what “sovereignty” is?

Sovereignty and Free-Will working together

            There is a fascinating story in the Bible which I think helps shed light on how God works out His Will in conjunction with mankind’s free-will, not overriding it (like would be the case with predestination).  I guess you could say that it’s a story of predestination (not in the eternal “heaven and hell” sense) working with free-will.  Read 1 Kings 22, and then we’ll talk about it.  Go ahead and do it now . . .  I’ll wait.

            Interesting, right?  When I first read this, it really sounded like a story of God forcing what He wants to have happen, as though He overrides mankind’s free-will in order to accomplish what He wants.  He wanted Ahab dead, and so He forced Ahab to go into battle where he would die.  Could this then also mean that He does indeed “force” heaven or hell on people, giving them no choice? 
            Yet the more I read it, the more I see how God gets His Will done by working with free-will (maybe even by playing to our free-will), not against it. 

How Could a Loving God Condemn People to Hell?

            So if God is all-loving, why does He then condemn people to hell?

            When encountering the idea of “predestination,” this dilemma often comes up:  How could a loving God deliberately condemn people to hell?  How could He predestine people for hell, and then still be called “loving”?  It doesn’t make sense.
            And I think the reason it doesn’t make sense is because it assumes that predestination is true, that God does indeed predetermine that many people will go to hell, with no chance of being saved. 
            And so the problem with this question is the question itself.  “Why does God condemn people to hell?”  When we ask it this way, it sounds like God deliberately removes some people from the bus to heaven and puts them on the bus to hell (or He predestines them for hell), for one reason or other, such as for punishment or to show off His sense of justice or to highlight His grace and love to those being saved.  

Does "In Control" Mean "Controlling Everything"?

            If God is all-powerful and He wants all people to be saved, surely He would force everyone to be saved, right?  So if He hasn’t done this, it must mean that He is not all-powerful or that He is not very loving or that He wants people to go to hell, right?  And since He is in control of everything, doesn’t that mean that He controls everything (even people’s decisions), that He always does everything He wants and that everything that happens is because He wanted it to happen?  So if people end up in hell, it’s because He wanted them there, right? 
            I think that this is where a lot of people go wrong.  (And I used to think this, too, and it caused me a lot of confusion.)  They assume that since God is all-powerful, He forces whatever is important to Him, that He always forces His Will and His plans on people.  And there can be no free-will if God is always exercising His all-powerfulness. 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

"Predestination" Manipulation

           As I pointed out in the last post, I have noticed some “techniques” that predestination-believers use to manipulate people into agreeing with them, such as claiming that predestination is “just what the Bible says and so you have to accept it, even though we can't understand it.”  (I am sure that free-will-believers have similar techniques, too, but I am only looking at the other side right now.) 
            And I am sure that while some of the people do this on purpose, as a sort of “power play,” I am also sure that many are not doing it on purpose, that they are not trying to manipulate others as much as they just want to honor God by being true to what they think Scripture teaches. 
            So before I get into the specifics, I want to give the benefit-of-the-doubt to those who are really just trying to be true to Scripture and who are not intending to “bully” others into agreeing with them.  But I still think it’s important to point out some of the “manipulation techniques” that people use, so that we don’t get distracted and diverted by them.

Should "predestination vs. free-will" matter to Christians?

            Should it matter to us Christians whether God caused us to become Christians or whether we chose it ourselves?  I mean, how we got to be Christians doesn’t change the responsibility that we have in living out our faith, does it?  Should we bother with trying to figure out this confusing, controversial topic, or should we just let it rest?  And if we should be concerned about it, how should we approach it?

Saturday, April 1, 2017

"Predestination vs. Free-Will" Overview

            Okay, I know this is meant to be a blog for the broken-hearted, but I have one topic (among others) that really gets me fired-up: “predestination vs. free-will.” 
            I was listening to a speaker recently who strongly believes in predestination, that God decides who to save and who to condemn to hell and that He causes everything we do, even our sins, for His glory and purposes.
            And I . . . well . . . I couldn’t disagree more!