Scott Swim Message Summary:Thursday, July 23, 2009
Dear Friends,I preached a sermon this past Sunday out of Ephesians 1 which says, "we were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world." I received an email this week from a young lady inquiring about more information on what I believe to be true about the theological system known as Calvinism. Below is my response and I thought it might help anyone else who might be trying to "sort through" what it means to be "chosen" by God!...when we all get to heaven I'm not sure whether this will be near the monumental issue that it was on earth. It ought to be obvious to both Calvinists and Armenians that what matters most to God is the salvation of men, which should make the Great Commission the focus of our energy much more than debating the theology of "how" exactly God goes about redeeming fallen man. None the less, when preaching through a book like Ephesians, one can't "preach around" the subject, so I chose to deal with it on Sunday knowing that it is a very controversial doctrine that theologians have debated for centuries and will continue until Christ comes....I stand by my statement that when God "chose" us before the foundation of the world, in the mind of God there was no difference between the moment God "chose" us and we "chose" Him. I don't believe this is an extra-biblical statement at all when one considers the definition of "eternity". God does not dwell in our dimension of time. Where He dwells, there is no past and there is no future - only the eternal "present" where past/present/future all exist together. I don't fully comprehend this, as none of us confined to time can...but this I know - The "time-delay" between us choosing God and God choosing us does not exist in the dimension known as eternity. We became the "elect" of God because at the moment God "elected" us, we "elected" God. It was a simultaneous event in the mind of God "before the foundation of the world."
I fully believe that neither the five-point Calvinist nor the Armenian view are totally right nor totally wrong. The Armenians error because they emphasize "too much" man's "free will". The Calvinists error because they emphasize "too little" man's "free will". While man cannot exercise his "will" to choose God apart from the grace of God, that does nothing to eliminate the fact that God has given human beings a "will" to choose God or reject God. It cannot be exercised of his own "personal volition" like the Armenians say, but he still has one none the less and is therefore responsible for his own eternal destiny, which he would not be if he had no will of his own and his eternal destiny was "fixed" before he was ever born....In regard to Romans 9 - this is THE "proof text" the Calvinists use to illustrate that God does indeed raise up some for eternal salvation and others for eternal damnation. This is unfortunate as Paul clearly states the context of the entire chapter at the beginning! The entire 9th, 10th and 11th chapters of Romans is dealing exclusively with the salvation and restoration of Israel - not the salvation of individuals. It is not a doctrinal statement at all on the salvation of individuals, but rather a doctrinal statement on the restoration of Israel!
When it says, "Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated," this is not in view of these men's "salvation" or these men's eternal destinies, but simply a statement that God chose Jacob to father the 12 tribes of Israel, instead of the firstborn, Esau. Calvinists always like to point to the example of Pharaoh in this text - but again, the salvation of Pharaoh's soul is not in view! It does not say God "raised him up" to send him to hell eternally, but God simply "raised him up" for the purpose of bringing Himself glory through the release of the Hebrew slaves so that He could transform these slaves into a nation of "priests and kings". It doesn't say God raised him up for eternal damnation, but that he would be God's vessel to bring about God's plan for His chose people, the Jews. It's often pointed out by Calvinists by going back to the text in Exodus that it says "God hardened Pharaoh's heart" as if Pharaoh had no choice. But a careful reading of the Exodus account tells us first that "Pharaoh hardened his heart" and only after "Pharaoh hardened his heart" does it say later on that "God hardened Pharaoh's heart"...God simply gave Pharaoh over to the choice Pharaoh had already made to harden his own heart.
I completely agree with the Calvinist doctrine of the "Total Depravity" of man, given in the verses I quoted on Sunday. Man is far too "depraved" apart from God's grace to seek God or to choose God solely on his own free will or personal volition. I also agree with their doctrine of the "Perseverance" of the Saints, given that salvation is completely a work of God's grace apart from any of man's works. It's God's grace that gives us our "eternal security" since salvation is not a work of man and solely a work of God. However, I stand by my interpretation of 1 Peter 1:2, "Elect, according to the foreknowledge of God"...Foreknowledge simply means God "knew beforehand" in His omniscience of who would "elect" Him and therefore He "elected" them. Anything else would seem to me to be "stretching" the definition of foreknowledge.
I stand by my statement that God has never "arbitrarily chosen some for salvation and arbitrarily chosen not to choose others for salvation, thereby choosing them for damnation" based on the same Scriptures I quoted Sunday. 1 Timothy 2:3 couldn't be clearer to me, "For this good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." Honestly, why is this not clear? Has God "chosen" some ahead of time for eternal damnation when He says clearly in His Word He "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth"? It's clear he desires all men to be saved, even though all will not be saved. 2 Peter 3:9 says God is "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." If it was the "will of God" to choose some for eternal damnation "before the foundation of the world" then why in His Word does He say He's "not willing that any should perish"? Is God confused as to His own will?
Finally, I believe the whole idea that God would purposely raise up human beings with an eternal soul and "predestine" them to spend eternity in a fiery torment goes entirely against not only the clear teaching of the Word of God, but also the very nature and character of God. Calvinists like to say that God "choosing" some for salvation is the ultimate expression of a loving, compassionate and gracious God. I couldn't disagree more! This would not make God "compassionate", but rather "cruel" - very, very cruel. It would not bring God glory - for what glory is in it for God that He MAKES His creatures worship Him? The glory is in it for God in that we WILLINGLY worship Him. Worship that is not freely given is not worship. Love that is not freely given is not love. If we had no choice but to love and worship God because He "fixed" it in eternity past so we would have no choice - that would not bring God glory. If God is the "puppeteer" and all we are is His "puppets", that would bring absolutely no glory to God. The glory we have to offer God is in that He does not make us love Him or worship Him, but that we offer it freely.
I reject completely the concept of "Limited Atonement" and John 3:16 ought to be enough for anybody to reject the idea that Christ died only for the "elect", but not for the "non-elect". That "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son..."is clear that Christ died for ALL, even though all won't be saved. The blood was shed for ALL, but it will only be appropriated by the few - God's elect. Christ shed His blood for the world, but it will only be appropriated by His bride. I think 1 John 2:2 should clearly settle this dispute as well, "And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world." It doesn't get any clearer to me.
I reject the concept of "Irresistible grace" as I fully believe that man does have a "free will' and that while mankind cannot choose God apart from the grace of God, man can still choose. Joshua 24:15 ought to make this clear, "choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve...whether the false gods of your fathers...or the gods of the Amorites..." Clearly Joshua was telling them to make a choice to serve the true and living God or the false gods - but choose. Would God give us a command in Scripture that we couldn't really do? It's clear to me that it's God who gives us the grace to believe - but He does not make us believe! Did Adam have a choice when He chose to sin against God and eat of the forbidden tree - or did God make him eat? The answer seems obvious. God gave him a "free will" as He has every human being since.
To say man doesn't have a "free will" of some kind is to make God the author of evil. But James 1:13 clearly tells us that God is not the author of sin or evil. The fact that even as a Christian I can and do still sin ought to be evidence enough that I do indeed have a "free will". Obviously I have a "free will" of my own and I exercise it every time I choose to sin - or are we going to say that because I have no "free will" that God has "foreordained" even my sin before the foundation of the world - so that I really have no choice when I sin? That is certainly what some Calvinists believe, but it's not Scriptural.
When I study the Bible I'm convinced there are aspects of Calvinistic theology and Armenian theology that are both biblically valid and biblically in error. Too much of the time people begin studying their "theological system" and then begin interpreting Scripture through the lens of their "theological system" instead of forming their "theological system" through their careful study of Scripture. I'm not saying Calvinists are the only one's guilty of this - we all have to be careful to "rightly divide the Word of truth" (2 Timothy 2;15).
In the end, we as the body of Christ should remember to have unity on the "essential" doctrine, liberty on the "non-essential" doctrines, and remember that any attitude that causes disunity is sin. God bless you!