Monday, February 9, 2009

The Undeniable Doctrine of Election

There exists in the church today a misconception that election represents a controversial topic. When this misconception is perpetuated, we do an injustice to students of the Word who seek to deepen their love of God. The doctrine of election is not controversial. The doctrine of election is rarely even debated. It is the doctrine of salvation, particularly the aspect of free will, that is the root of so much strife and that is often inappropriately linked to the doctrine of election causing so many people to shriek at it's mention. But with those misconceptions and debates aside, the doctrine of election should be the most unifying truth in all of Church doctrine.

Regardless of where one may fall in the free will debate, the doctrine of election is an undeniable fact found throughout scripture. The proof texts are too numerous to count, but among the more prominent are Deuteronomy 7, John 10, Ephesians 1, and 1 Peter 1. In fact, even popular memory verses that we teach our children to recite echo the truth of election: "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 4:10). Or, when we sing together, "I once was lost but now am found... T'was Grace that taught my heart to fear," we are proclaiming and extolling God for His election of those whom He foreknew.

So why do I say so strongly that to misrepresent the doctrine of election is an injustice to followers of Christ? Is it because I am just another radical and irrational Calvinist to be quickly dismissed and ignored. Not at all. Need I remind you that Arminius, too, believed in election, though his definition of foreknowledge differed from mine. For that matter (though I have no evidence) I would suggest Pelagius as well would not have denied the obvious Biblical teaching that we, the Church, are chosen of God.

No, it is an injustice to pass over, as many timid teachers do, the truth that God chose us because it is in His choosing of us that we are filled the most awe and wonder. Yes, it is wondrous that He would send His Son to die, but can we really view the cross as a cosmic roll of the dice? God, hoping that some might accept His gift, crucified His Son with blind hope in our acceptance? No. Be it born out of His foreknowledge of us or His foreknowledge of our faith, God chose us before we chose Him. And therein lies the wonder and mystery of the love of our God.
"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." -- Romans 5:8

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Impeccability: Could Christ Have Sinned?

In this week's class, as I had somewhat expected, the discussion of Christ's humanity led directly to the question of whether or not it was possible for Christ to have sinned. The Impeccability Doctrine (for those of you who may not be familiar with the debate) hinges on the dilemma that if Christ could have sinned, then we are at risk of implicating His divine nature in sin as well, and yet if he could not have sinned, then how was He truly tempted? It's no trivial matter and one that is hotly disputed in the study of Christology.

Could Christ have sinned? No. How can we know? We know today that He could not have sinned becayse we know today that He did not sin. Confused? Allow me to explain.

I'd like to begin by reducing the debate to it's core. To posit that Christ could not have sinned on the basis that He was God assumes the fact that God Himself is impeccable. So I ask: why is God unable to sin. As I consider the truth of His sovereignty, it's become more and more troubling to me to resolve that He cannot sin simply because He is moral. Can some outside moral structure of existence impose upon God the limitations of His action? As gravity dictates our abilities as humans, is God dictated to be sinless by some moral order of the universe? No.

This view is known as voluntarism, which is a deeply entangled term that can have many implications. For this topic, I simply mean to present that God is sinless because God has willed to be sinless. God, being omnipotent and omniscient, determined and willed according to His good pleasure to be sinnless, moral, faithful, and the host of other communicable attributes that we identify in God.

As we consider this, the question of Christ's impeccability becomes invariably clear. Could Christ have sinned? No. Why? Because God the Father ordained it. In the same way that He ordained that the pharisees would reject Him, that Peter would deny Him, and that Rome would Crucify Him, God ordained Christ to be sinless.

Now, as surely as we recognize this exhibition of God's sovereignty we must also recognize the mysterious reality of compatible free will. Inasmuch as we each have the genuine choice of what to eat for dinner tonight, that choice is no less real to us in the present despite the reality that God already knows what we'll eat. In the same way, Christ's temptation was no less real to Him during His life on earth. In fact, to all of creation—Jesus' human form included—the impeccability doctrine was yet undecided prior to Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension. However, to the only God the Father, it most certainly was. He was not sitting on the edge of His seat for some 30 years, hoping like mad that His plan would come true. No, the sovereign Father says:

"I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is
still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I
please" (Isaiah 46:10).
So, what can this possibly mean for us? How can I take this philosophical proposition that appears to be nothing more than an extension of the age-old free will debate and actually apply it to my life? First, take heart: we have a mediator who was indeed tempted in every way we were. Not only that, but rejoice in the confidence that we have. The child of God is predestined to be conformed to the likeness of the Son, not because he can stand sinless in his own power, but because "the Lord is able to make him stand" (Romans 14:4). This power of God has been evidenced for us in Christ's life that He might be the firstfruits among many brothers: the second Adam, our glorious Head.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Compatibilism & Libertarianism

First, a follow-up for last week. We ended our discussion with the debate over human free will. I want to round out that discussion with a little final commentary, then I'll move on to our preview for next week's lesson in 1 Peter.

Free will that is "compatible" with God's is described like this: Man will do that which he most desires. This means that—in theory—God's will is carried forth through Man's so-called "free" will in that He knows what we desire, what we would choose given various circumstances, and thereby guides human history with this infinite knowledge. This stands in contrast to the libertarian freedom most advocated by Arminians where man's will is not imposed on in any way by God's will—compatible or otherwise.

Now, I included one key phrase "in theory" in this final commentary that (hopefully) wraps up this discussion for our class... at least for now. What I want you to realize is that neither "compatibalism" nor "libertarian" appear anywhere in my concordance, and unless you have some radical new translation of the Bible, I venture to say it's nowhere in yours either. The only authoritative word that we have to go on is the Word itself (or Himself, I could go either way there). I encourage you—nay, implore you—to seek answers FIRST in scripture and make every effort neither to add to its teaching nor dismiss any of its truths despite the understandability and/or logic of what you find.

I don't ask that everyone agree with me, nor Calvin, but only this: that you base your beliefs solely in scripture. Everything else is merely "in theory."

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