Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Election and Reprobation

Recently I read a blog entry at Vision Forum on the topic of Margaret Sanger. Click here to view it. I commented in another public forum just how despicable and evil this woman was.

A friend of mine saw my comments and gave a gentle reminder that:
When we speak of such people (in the past) with our children who did great evils, we remind them that perhaps there was never a true Christian to share the light of Christ with them.

I responded to this with a very brief explanation of the doctrine of election. My friend’s response back to me was basically that we will just have to agree to disagree. Can we “agree to disagree?” Is this such a minor issue that we can simply place our differences aside and move on, pretending that it is not an issue at all? I suppose the answer to that question depends on the depth of the friendship. In this case, I have never met my friend personally. We “met” online. Additionally, this friend is of the opposite gender of myself, and we are both married. So, that fact alone means that this friendship should remain somewhat on an “acquaintance” level, unless, of course, both of our spouses are in this friendship together, and as couples and families we get to know one another in that context. Regardless of the implications for this friendship, of which I still consider her a friend, I feel the root of the issue must be addressed. We live in an age where the majority of those who name the name of Christ are preoccupied declaring God’s mercy to the exclusion of His justice.

There are many facets to this issue. I’m only going to attempt to discuss a few. First, for whom did Christ die? Next, can we know who are the elect? Lastly, must we always give the “benefit of the doubt” to those who have passed on that they may have had a deathbed conversion?

At the heart of this issue is the question, “For whom did Christ die?” Stating it another way, “For whose sins did the Lord Jesus redeem?” John Owen declared that there are three possibilities. Christ paid for all the sins of everyone. Christ paid for all of the sins of some. Christ paid for some of the sins for all. If we declare the first statement to be true, then we hold to a doctrine of universalism, for it would mean that no one will go to Hell. If Christ paid the cost of sin, it would be unjust for anyone to go to Hell in order to pay the penalty once again. This is obviously an unscriptural doctrine. We see Jesus’ story of the rich man, for example, in Hell. The Bible is full of references to people being cast into Hell. (Matt 5:22, Matt 5:29, Matt 5:30, Matt 10:28, Matt 23:33, 2 Pet 2:9…and so on) Therefore, we know the first assertion can not be true.

As we’ll see shortly, I believe the second statement to be the truth. But first, let me show the fallacy of the last statement. If Christ paid for some of the sins of all, then there remains sin for which we must pay in order to gain entrance into Heaven. This is the heresy of purgatory, and the like.

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.
(Eph 2:8-9)

We are wholly unable to earn any of our salvation. It is 100% given to us by God Himself.

The last option is that Jesus Christ paid for all the sins of some. This view represents the orthodox view of Christianity. The fact is that we are all corrupt.

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:
(Rom 5:12)

Each and every one of us deserves eternal hellfire for our sins. God would not be unjust to give to everyone the just punishment that we all deserve. Yet, God, in His sovereign grace, has elected some unto everlasting life. This is a glorious truth! This speaks of a loving and merciful God who has compassion on sinners! There are those who say, “Wait a minute. It is unjust to choose some to the exclusion of others.” I ask you, “How so?”

Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?
(Mat 20:15)

My sister and her husband just adopted a baby from Russia. Were they unjust because they didn’t adopt all the rest of the children in that Russian orphanage? No. They were gracious and merciful toward their new daughter in rescuing her out of those conditions. In no way can they be said to be unjust toward the other children just because they showed kindness to one.

Therefore, in my very futile attempts, I have presented a short case for the doctrine of election. There are volumes of literature on the subject, with the primary source being the Bible itself. If you are not convinced, read Romans 9. Read:

Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.
(Rom 9:18)

Read the rest of the chapter. It is very convincing.

So, the second question I will address is, Can we know who are the elect? The short answer is, As long as they are living, No! The Apostle Paul was formerly Saul who persecuted the church. The Lord came upon him mightily and thwarted Saul’s purpose. Modern examples abound. Norma McCorvey was the “Roe” in the infamous Roe v. Wade decision that has legalized the murder of over 45,000,000 babies since 1973. However, “Miss Norma,” as she became to be known was converted to Christ by a little girl who loved and prayed for her. The crux of this is that we must faithfully proclaim the Gospel to all. There are those who we may judge to be “holy” that the Lord does not know (Matt 25:41) Likewise, there may be those whom we may judge to be hell bound that experience the effectual call of the Lord Jesus Christ, like Miss Norma. We should remain faithful to proclaim this Gospel, understanding that God’s elect will hear and turn. Those vessels of wrath, will never heed the warning, and they will run headlong into destruction. Returning to our previous point for a moment, remember, that no matter how much preaching is given to a reprobate, they will choose death. When my friend wondered if Margaret Sanger had no true Christian to share the light of Christ with her, my friend is implying that somehow we, as Christians, are at fault if someone dies in their sins. It’s as if there’s an accusation saying, “If you had only been more faithful in declaring the salvation of Christ, this sinner would have repented.” Yes, we are to be faithful in declaring His Gospel. However, the glorious truth of the doctrines of grace is that it is God who calls forth His elect through these means. Therefore, when the unrepentant sinner dies in his sin, that sinner receives his just punishment.

Finally, are we to always give the dead the “benefit of the doubt” and declare that we “cannot know” the state of their soul? This sounds nice. After all, we would never wish eternal hellfire on anyone. Hell is unimaginable. I would never wish hellfire on even the vilest child molester. It is such a great punishment that no one can bear it. Yet, billions are bearing it and will continue to bear it throughout eternity. In considering the deceased, we can look at their lives. We can note the fruit that they bore while in their bodies. We can ask their family if a profession of faith was ever made. Some will die that we truly can not tell their eternal destination. The scripture tells us that wide is the gate that leads unto destruction, and narrow is the way that leads unto life. (Matt 7:13-14) So, in reality, we have a much better chance of being right if we assume that someone dies and goes to Hell than we do if we assume that they went to Heaven. So, what are the consequences of making an assumption on someone’s eternal destination? One fact can be observed: The consequences of our assumptions only affect the living among us. Whether I think someone is in Hell, or whether I think they are in Heaven, it does not change where they actually are. If I’m wrong, it wouldn’t be the first time, because I am a fallible creature. Therefore, let’s consider five possibilities on claims I may make after someone dies:

1) I claim that the person is in Heaven, and they are really in Hell.

In this case, I’m wrong. My sentiments may give the family a “warm fuzzy.” It may cause them to imitate their loved one. After all, it all worked out OK for them. So God would not treat them any worse, they reason.

2) I claim that the person is in Heaven, and they are really in Heaven.

Hopefully, I have based my claim on the fact that I knew this person to be a God fearing person whom the Lord Jesus Christ had called as one of His own. It was obvious they were one of His elect, because the fruit of their life bore it out.

3) I claim that the person is in Hell, and they are really in Hell.

I am able to teach my children that the unrepentant sinner is reaping the consequences of their actions. I am able to tell them that we all deserve Hell. However, the Lord Jesus Christ has made a way for His elect to escape that punishment. I can point to specific ways that this person’s heart was hardened by God Himself, and we can learn how to oppose these views in our lives. God’s just punishment for this sinner is bringing the fruit of repentance to those of us who can learn from their example how “not to live our lives.”

4) I claim that the person is in Hell, and they are really in Heaven.

In this case, the proverbial “death bed conversion” most likely happened. For if the conversion happened earlier in life, their fruits would have been apparent. In this case, I am wrong. Maybe I am guilty of bearing false witness? Good thing that the grace of God has forgiven me of my sins. I would not knowingly make this claim. If the fruit of this life was such that I would make such an accusation, then all the benefits I described in point #3 also apply here. For if I can’t know they made a last minute decision, then others probably don’t know that either. My claims will not alter their eternal state. So, I’ve served them no injustice by making such a claim. However, the lessons I can teach my children through their bad example in life will serve the same purpose whether or not they really ended up in hell.

5) I claim that “no one can know” their eternal destination.

This is a wishy washy answer. Sometimes it’s the best we can do because we truly have no idea. However, if we really have a good idea and yet we “hold our tongue” out of politeness or another reason, we may miss a good opportunity to share the Gospel. If someone truly had the fruits of a Christian and we know they publicly professed Christ, why would we ever want to tell anyone that “no one can know” their destination. Likewise, if the subject under discussion is Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and yes, Margaret Sanger, then we miss an opportunity to tell why a hater of God is now burning in Hell for all eternity. No, it’s not a pleasant thought. However, sometimes this needs to be spoken. Jonathan Edwards did not hold back in declaring the dangers of hellfire in his, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Neither should we, as the modern “church” is wont to do, fail to declare the realities of Hell to a generation that is heading there just as fast as they possibly can.


Anonymous said...

Hi, Mike.

I'm glad our mutual internet friend prompted you to think and write about this stuff. I have thought about these things quite a lot in the past, but not so much recently. I haven't decided exactly where I stand, but one thing I've concluded is this: Given that the Arminians started the whole five-points thing, and the Calvinists were just forced to respond, isn't it a shame that our whole theology should be based on this five-point framework? It seems like the whole thing is based on being anti-Arminian, rather than being based on the Bible. (I'm not saying it's against the Bible, of course.)

I would be very happy to hear your comments on this, and I will probably have some more questions in the future. (But my brain can only handle one small thing at a time!)


Mike Southerland said...

It is true that the five points of Calvinism came as a response to Jacob Arminius who issued the Remonstrance. However, I submit that although the five points of Calvinism do make good doctrine, and can be nicely summed up through the acronym, TULIP, these five points are not the entirity of the Reformed Faith. This one article on Election and Reprobation is, I believe, the only article that has pulled from that doctrine explicitly. Earlier in my blog, I expounded on the Five Solas of the Reformation. Another thing to keep in mind is that the Confessions of Faith (Westminster, London Baptist, etc.) give a very thorough presentation of Reformed Biblical doctrine without depending solely on a response to the heresy of Arminianism. So we see that Calvinism stands on its own without regard to unscriptural teaching.

For the public record, TULIP stands for:

T - Total Depravity
U - Unconditional Election
L - Limited Atonement
I - Irresistable Grace
P - Perserverence of the Saints

I grew up most of my Christian life living out an Arminian viewpoint on these things, though I never called it that. About 3 years ago, or so, the Lord showed me the "Doctrines of Grace" as they are called, and it gave me such a sense of freedom. Whereas previously I used to stress over trying to "win the world" for Christ, now I can freely share the Gospel and trust the results to God. I'm not made to feel guilty that someone is going to burn in hell for my lack of obedience. Certainly the Lord has commanded us to share the Gospel, and I am to be obedient to that command. However, my disobedience will not thwart God's purpose in calling forth His elect. He will use another willing vessel to share His message if I am undependable.

These are just a few thoughts from someone who's been "saved" for about 33 years (since the age of 5), but who's only been "reformed" for about 3 years.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Mike. That was really very helpful!

I've got just one more question, and then I think I'll let it rest for now. Calvinists say that Christ died only for the elect. (I don't really have a problem either way with this.) But isn't it Christ's death and resurrection which is the basis for everyone's resurrection? Elect and non-elect will all be resurrected for the judgment. Couldn't it be said that Christ died for EVERYONE, and on that basis EVERYONE will experience bodily resurrection? And if not on the basis of Christ's work, then on what basis do the reprobate gain bodily resurrection?

Thanks again for your time!

Mike Southerland said...

I am hesitant to speak authoritatively on this, as I have already mentioned that I am a "babe" in the understanding of the doctrines of grace (about 3 years...though this was preceded by about 30 years of my Christian walk, so I am fairly well versed in the basics and familiarity with the scriptures).

So, with that disclaimer, here is my understanding as to how to answer that question.

What you call "death and resurrection," I will just refer to as "atonement." The scriptures tell us that all will be resurrected.

And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.
(Heb 9:27-28)

So, I see that God "appointed" all men to die, then be resurrected to face judgment. So, I wouldn't say that Christ's atonement became the "basis" for this resurrection. It was simply God's appointment. What Christ's atonement secured was the eternal security of His elect to life eternal. The resurrection of the reprobate will not be a joyful experience for them, as they will be supplied with bodies that are capable of burning for all eternity and never be consumed.

Notice in the above scripture, Hebrews 9:28 that Christ was once offered to bear the sins of *many.* If Christ bore the sins of all, then double payment would be made for sin, first at the cross, then in the eternal suffering of the reprobate. God is just and will not require double payment for sin.

On my "reading list" is a work that covers this topic practically exhaustively. John Owen's "Death of Death in the Death of Christ" is a very thorough examination of this topic. Though I have not yet read it, I have a CDROM with that work contained on it. I look forward to delving into it, though I've heard that Owen (also known as the prince of the Puritans) can be quite a challenge to read. Regardless, I look forward to the challenge as it should make answering questions as you have proposed much easier.

Mrs E Grey said...

"My sister and her husband just adopted a baby from Russia. Were they unjust because they didn’t adopt all the rest of the children in that Russian orphanage?"

A rubbish analogy my friend... No your sister wasn't unjust for "electing" the one child. (I assume) she was totally incapable of adopting all the children from the Russian orphanage.

Can the same be said for God? Could He choose to forgive the sins of everyone? Is he able to "elect" everyone?

Just a thought...

Mike Southerland said...

Mrs. Grey,

Yes. God "could" elect everyone. He "could" also elect noone. The point is that He is sovereign and absolutely just. Therefore, everything that He ordains is right. We know that everyone is not elect because the Bible tells us so.

As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?
(Rom 9:13-21)

God "owes" none of us eternal life. He would be completely just if He were to leave all of us to suffer an eternity for our sins.

Yet, His Amazing Grace declares that His elect is saved from this misery that they so justly deserve.

And yes, you are right that my sister and her husband do not have infinite resources. However, even if they did, they would not be unjust in selecting just one child from the orphanage to adopt. It was not their "duty" to adopt any children. Yet, it was an act of mercy to rescue one child from such a life of poverty. I think it is a very good analogy. For we are all adopted into God's family by *His* own free will.