Understanding God in Reformed Theology
By Babu G. Ranganathan
|God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.|
How do we as Christians reconcile the freedom of man’s will with God’s sovereign and unmerited grace in salvation? Many Christians will give God all the credit and glory for the payment of their sins at Calvary but when it comes to believing in Christ they give themselves either all or some of the credit and glory. This issue, therefore, needs serious Biblical examining.
The will is only as free as its nature. For example, God has free will but He cannot choose to do evil since it is contrary to His nature. The Scripture says in Hebrews 6:18 that it is impossible for God to lie. God cannot even want to do evil. In 1 John 1:5 we read that “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.”
Fallen man has free will but he cannot choose God on God’s terms. Men by nature are certainly free to choose God on man’s terms, but in order for an individual to choose God on God’s terms, as revealed in the Christian Gospel, that individual must first receive a new nature, a new heart – he must be born again, otherwise he will not, even cannot, want God on God’s terms.
The Apostle Paul said to Timothy that he was persuaded that Timothy had “unfeigned” faith (2 Timothy 1:5). The word “unfeigned” means “genuine.” Thus, it is not simply enough to have faith in Christ for salvation, but Scripture teaches that faith must be genuine. Only genuine faith in Christ will save. Our motives for believing must be right. Tell me whose free will has the ability to control one’s motives. The natural man cannot ever have spiritual motives that are Godward. He must be born again in order to have such motives.
The Bible teaches that the carnal mind is enmity with God and cannot even be subject to God (Romans 8:7). Before a person is born again that is all that he has – a carnal mind which is only free to think, will, and desire carnal things including carnal religion. God must choose to save a person and give him new birth before such a person can ever desire God on God’s terms.
Romans 11:5-6 teaches that election (God’s choosing those who would be saved) is by grace, that is it is not based on our works. God didn’t choose those who would be saved because they would choose Him, but, rather, we who are saved chose God because He chose us by His grace in Christ before the foundation of the world.
Doesn’t Romans 8:29 teach that God chose those whom He foreknew would choose Him? That is not what the verse teaches. The verse does not say “whom God foreknew would choose Him …” The verse says “Those God foreknew He also predestined …” What the verse is saying, in context, is that those whom God knew intimately and personally even before they were born God predestined to be saved. The word “know” or “knew” here has an intimate connotation. Just as God said to Jeremiah in the Old Testament “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5). Yes, God does know everything, but that is not what is meant by the word “know” or “knew” here in Romans 8:29.
If God’s choosing us was based upon our choosing Him then we have something to glory in, but we don’t have anything to glory in because Romans 11 teaches that God elected (chose us) for salvation by His grace. Election was unconditional. God’s choosing us to be saved was not based on any condition in us or from us. The Biblical fact is if we are truly saved then we chose God because He chose us. That is what makes the doctrine of election precious. Of course, God knew that we who are saved would choose Him but He only knew that because He had already chosen us (predestined us) to choose Him!
In the context of Scripture God’s foreknowledge has to do with His design and plan, not just that He knows beforehand what will happen. The Book of Acts says that Christ was crucified according to the “determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). Thus, God’s foreknowledge was the primary cause of Christ’s crucifixion because the Father planned and designed for His Son to be crucified.
Jesus says in John 6:37 “All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me; and him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.” And we read in Acts 13:48 “For as many as were ordained (predestined) to eternal life believed.” Only those chosen in Christ by God the Father will ever truly and genuinely believe and trust in Christ for salvation.
He died for His sheep, not only for His sheep in Israel, but for His gentile sheep in every tribe and nation of the world. It’s in that sense He died for the world. Those whom He died for cannot go to hell otherwise they would be paying a double price. If He truly died and paid for someone’s sins then how can that someone go to hell and pay a debt that was already paid on his behalf.
A co-signer to a loan is legally responsible for paying the debt of the person whom he legally stands in the place of in case the borrower defaults in his payment. Once the co-signer pays the bank can no longer go after the borrower!
In Romans 5 we read that just as the First Adam represented the whole human race when he fell and, therefore, we all fell in him and inherited a sinful nature, so, too, the Second Adam (Christ) represented those whom He died for and all whom He represented will be saved!
How, then, can fallen man be accountable or responsible to give God genuine faith when the ability is not there? Just as a bankrupt borrower is still morally obligated to pay his debt even though he cannot do so fallen man is under moral obligation to believe in Christ genuinely and spiritually as his Lord and Savior on God’s terms even though he is spiritually bankrupt and unable to offer God such faith.
God truly does desire to save all men but His sovereign (or effectual) desire and will is to save only those whom He chose in Christ by His unmerited and undeserved grace before the foundation of the world.
Then why preach the Gospel? Because God not only ordains (predestines) the ends but He also ordains (predestines) the means by which He accomplishes those ends. God has ordained the means of the preaching of the Gospel to save His elect, and He works in our hearts to will and to do of His good pleasure to accomplish His ordained ends. God is glorified by both the means and the ends He ordains.
Reformed author A.W. Pink makes an instructive point. Scripture says that no one was able to take the life of Jesus until it was His time. Then why did Joseph and Mary have to take the baby Jesus and flee to Egypt to save the Child’s life from Herod? Ah, but this was God’s appointed (ordained) means for preserving the life of His Son.
Scripture shows that God can have contrasting wills: one will that is non-sovereign (or non-effectual) and another will that is sovereign (or effectual) towards the same object. However, God cannot have two contrasting sovereign wills towards the same object.
For example, God says in Scripture that He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked but that the wicked turn from his way and live (Ezekiel 33:11), but we also know from Scripture concerning God that His counsel will stand and that He will do all His pleasure (or purpose) and that He works all things after the counsel of His Own will (Isaiah 46:10; Ephesians 1:11). Thus, from one perspective God does not desire (or will) the death of the wicked and this must be His non-sovereign (or non-effectual) will or otherwise the wicked would not have died in their sins, but we also know from other Scriptures that God wills or ordains the death of the wicked that He may be glorified in exercising His righteous power and judgment against evil and sin. This, then, is His sovereign (or effectual) will.
Although God’s purpose is in everything He ordains, His heart is not. For example, God ordained evil (although He cannot do evil) but God’s heart is not in the evil that He ordains. His purpose, however, is. Nothing can happen (including sin and evil) unless God ordains it because nothing can happen outside of His power and Scripture confirms this abundantly (i.e. Ephesians 1:11, Acts 17:28). Nothing can come into existence or continue in existence apart from God’s power. Evil cannot and does not come from God’s nature but God can use the evil in the nature of fallen humanity to accomplish His purposes.
How could evil originate by God’s sovereign decree or will without God being the author of it? If God withdraws His grace then angel and man can do nothing but sin. Good is only possible by God’s grace for God is the only source of good. God was not morally obligated to uphold Adam from morally and spiritually falling. When God’s grace was withdrawn and Adam was left to himself then Adam instantly acquired an evil nature which could do nothing but sin. Again, although the evil nature in fallen men and angels exists and is directed by God’s power, evil does not in any way originate from God’s moral nature or being. In ordaining evil God is not doing evil. As absolute sovereign of the universe God has His rights. There is much mystery here, but the Scriptures unequivocally teach God as being absolutely sovereign over all His creation. God only ordained the existence of evil to serve His purposes not because He delights in evil or because it is a reflection of His nature.
A careful reading of Romans 9:22-23 shows the reason for God ordaining reprobation – so that He may make known the riches of His grace on the vessels of mercy which He ordained beforehand for glory. That reprobation glorifies God’s justice is true but the primary reason given in Romans 9:22-23 for reprobation is so that the vessels of mercy may know – appreciate – the riches and depths of God’s undeserved grace towards them.
We see again and again in Scripture that from one perspective God has one attitude but from another perspective He has a different attitude towards the same object. From one perspective He loves the same object but from another perspective He hates the same object. He even told us in certain cases to have such contrasting attitudes (i.e. In Scripture Jesus says we are to love our mother and father from one perspective but yet from another perspective He tells us whoever does not hate father and mother for His sake is not worthy to follow Him). God is not being egotistical. Truth demands that the Creator be the Center of our lives!
Of course, God has not given us the right to have every feeling, emotion, and intention that He possess in relation to others (i.e. Scripture teaches that vengeance for personal wrongs committed against us belong to God and not for us to take into our hands).
These are just some brief thoughts on the subject. The reader may find some excellent books in a Christian bookstore giving more in-depth analysis from Scripture. An excellent booklet and introduction to the subject of God’s sovereign grace in salvation is “The Five Points of Calvinism” by WJ Seaton which is published by The Banner of Truth Trust. Another excellent, and probably the best book on the subject, is Arthur W. Pink’s classic work “The Sovereignty of God” also available through The Banner of Truth Trust.
Are you a Christian? Will you then give God’s grace all the credit for your genuine faith in Christ?
*Some other Internet articles by the author are: “Why The Traditional View of Hell Is Not Biblical,” “Early Christianity Before The Papacy,” “Free Will and Sovereign Grace,” “Christ Was Begotten, Not Created,” “Artificial Life By Intelligent Design,” “Any Life On Mars Came From Earth!,” “Creationists Right On Entropy, Evolution,” “Are There Natural Limits To Evolution?,” “Where Are All The Half-Evolved Dinosaurs?” The most up-to-date versions of these and other articles may be accessed at: Babu G. Ranganathan’s Articles.
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The author, Babu G. Ranganathan, is an experienced Christian writer. Mr. Ranganathan has his B.A. with academic concentrations in Bible and Biology from Bob Jones University. As a religion and science writer he has been recognized in the 24th edition of Marquis Who’s Who In The East. The author’s articles have been published in various publications including Russia’s Pravda and South Korea’s The Seoul Times. The author’s website may be accessed at: http://www.religionscience.com.