Daily Decisions (Part 2): We’re Like Clay

Part two, continued from yesterday…

‘If God is sovereign and knows eternity past to eternity future and knows every decision we’ll ever make then it makes us like robots, right?’

I’ve got two responses to this question.

1) Honestly, I would frame it in a little more biblical language – I would say it makes us like clay in the Potter’s hands (see Romans 9).  God has formed us and shaped us.  He has secured and guaranteed our salvation and sanctification.  Why would we want to hold onto our own ‘freedom’ if we know our hearts are prone to wander?  A logical response to this is, ‘okay, so why do I sin?’.  Who’s to say that God isn’t sovereign over your sin and uses it to show you your depravity, but also for your good and his glory… to show you how much you still need him?  He uses affliction, suffering, hardship, and many other circumstances – why not sin?  Why not allow satan the leeway to tempt us to sin (like we see in Job)?  His ways are much higher than ours.  This doesn’t make him responsible for sin, but it does hold him as sovereign over it in such a way as to use sin to his own glory (e.g. stories of redemption and grace in sinful lifestyles, wicked situations, etc.).

2) Lots of folks are uncomfortable with saying that and following that line of thinking, so I offer this second response… Just because God is sovereign and knows everything because he’s outside of time doesn’t mean that we do.  We make decisions.  I choose certain shirts and meals to eat and sins to engage in.  God knows, and we are sealed, but it doesn’t mean he’s controlling every aspect of who we are and guiding our hand to sin.  It does mean that he knows the path he has set and how it all plays out, but that doesn’t mean that we in the passing of time in our lives don’t make decisions.  We must remember that God is outside of time and we are in it.  He knows eternity and we do not.

Even if God were controlling every aspect of who we are and everything that we do, we would not know it because we’re locked into a temporal mindset and cannot operate outside of that no matter how hard we try. Therefore, we operate as Scripture says to operate – trust God, fear him, obey him, and trust him with our sin as well.  He has guaranteed our salvation, set in motion our sanctification, and has propitiated our sin by Christ on the cross.  And that’s not merely our past sins, but our sins in the near future and the sins of our distant future.  Our grandchildren’s sins.  All of them were taken care of by Christ on the cross.

I see no contradiction between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility (though it is a very difficult issue to be sure), and none of this discussion should change what God has clearly revealed about how we are to live.  We must avoid and combat sin in our lives, pursue holiness, and give him the ultimate glory for it is he who is at work within us (Philippians 2:13).

If you want to read some solid resources, I would point you to “On Free Choice of the Will” by Augustine, “The Bondage of the Will” by Martin Luther, and “God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility” by D.A. Carson.  None of those are light, easy reads, but they will delve into this issue as well as anything I’ve read.

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Daily Decisions (Part 1): How Far Does God’s Sovereignty Reach?

Another friend of mine sent me a question that I’ve honestly wrestled with for a while.  Here’s what we dug into…

In all the talks I’ve heard about God’s sovereignty I think what most people fail to address is man’s choices. I get the argument against free will, and I agree that there is biblical precedence for God intervening (Sarah, Paul, etc), which would be an invasion of free will. So absolute free will doesn’t make sense to me. But, nobody seems to address everyday choices that I believe I am making, even though I still feel like they are in God’s sovereignty.  So I feel pretty strongly about what I believe in my head, but I’ve never heard someone speaking against free will tackle daily choices.

Honestly there are a lot of issues to take into consideration with a topic like this, and ultimately it’s difficult to know, but I’ll give it my best shot.

One perspective comes from the Reformed tradition and was popularized (though not first proposed) by Augustine.  This view holds that God gave Adam and Eve free agency (the ability to choose ultimate good or evil and either holiness or sin), and they chose sin because they were imperfect (though sinless).  This broke humanity’s relationship with God and spread death to all humanity (see Romans 5), sealing them to be only evil all the time (see Romans 1-3).  Thus, Adam and Eve were given free agency (or ‘free ultimate will’ in choosing their eternal fate) while we are only able to sin and are destined to hell.  God has, however, elected some before the foundation of the world to be his people and awakens them by regeneration in the Holy Spirit and makes us alive in Christ.  At that point, though God does not give us free agency like Adam and Eve (he has sealed us unto himself, and our place is in heaven), he frees our will to where we can choose sin or obedience (‘moral will’ ).  So we don’t choose our fate, but we do choose obedience and disobedience – and those who persevere in obedience to the end by the power of the Spirit are proven to be the elect.  That’s the traditional Reformed or Augustinian view of ‘the freedom of the will.’  Note that this is not in any way an Arminian way of viewing self-determination or free agency or whatnot.  For the record, the Reformed tradition is what I fall in line with.

Calvin, I believe, doesn’t go as far as Augustine and leaves the issue open.  He says that God, in his sovereignty, elects and secures the eternal destination, but does not choose our everyday actions.  Therefore he leaves open our moral everyday decisions and we’re culpable for our sins in that way.  His followers around the time of the Synod of Dort sort of galvanize what he taught, and took it farther than he intended for them to.  For the record, I don’t like Calvin’s view because it seems a bit weak in a few spots.

The last perspective is more of a logical and philosophical accompaniment to the above material.  It holds that God is sovereign and knows all of eternity without question.  In holding the world together by the word of his power (Colossians 1, Hebrews 1), he is ultimately sovereign over everything including our salvation or damnation, our obedience and sanctification, and our disobedience and sin.  The main question here is this:  ‘If God is sovereign and knows eternity past to eternity future and knows every decision we’ll ever make then it makes us like robots, right?’

Tune in on Wednesday for my response to that one…
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Big Questions, Round 2 (part three): Old Testament Faith in Christ


How were the people in the Old Testament made right with God?

Before I thought it was through faith in God in general, and perhaps sacrifices. Then I listened to Mark Driscoll preaching over Genesis. He said that all the Old Testament people who were faithful also believed in Jesus.

The only things I have found that seem to support the idea that the Old Testament patriarchs had faith in Christ is 1 Peter 1:10-12.  Also, I found several predictions and prophecies about Jesus, the Messiah. Maybe the Old Testament prophets knew Jesus would come, and it was their job to tell other people.

Also, Luke 24:25-26 says that the whole Bible is about Jesus. But, did the people in the Old Testament know that?

About Abraham: it is clear that he was made right with dad by faith… but faith in who/what?

       Galatians 3:8 says that God told Abraham the gospel by telling him that the nations would be blessed through him.
– Did Abraham know this was because of his offspring (Jesus)?
– Romans 4 seems to suggest that Abraham’s faith was in God and his promise. 
John 8:56 says that Abraham rejoiced that he would see Jesus’ day.
Please let me know what you think and also if there are other helpful Scripture passages to read about this. 
Thank you for your questions – you’re thinking and working through some really deep stuff, and I’m both excited and impressed by the way you’re looking to God to teach you what he has told his children.

To answer your question, our ancient ancestors were made right with God because of Jesus.  They knew him (not necessarily by name, but they knew him nonetheless) and had an assurance – though they didn’t see him – [see Hebrews 11] in who he was going to be.  So folks were made right with dad because of our big brother and what he did.  It’s that assurance of things unseen that let them be right with dad.

This topic is discussed in Romans 3:21-26 and Hebrews 11.  It says that Moses chose to trust Christ and endure the shame of being one of God’s people rather than be rich in his comfortable palace as an Egyptian (Hebrews 11:26).  But remember, Jesus (although he existed eternally past) hadn’t been born as a man yet.  So something else was going on.  Which leads me to Romans 3:21-26.  It says Jesus died so that he could save us from our sins and make us right with God, but also to prove that God was a just judge.  What I’m getting at is that Jesus died not only so we could know God, but also to show that God was a righteous God.  Because if what we know about God from Romans 3:25 is true, and if Jesus didn’t die, then God wouldn’t be just – he would allow sin and disobedience to go on without punishing them, which isn’t justice.  There are lots of other places where this concept is, but it’s mostly in Romans, especially chapter 5.  Look into Ephesians 2 also.

I think Driscoll is right – our Christian forefathers have always believed in Jesus.  If you look at Genesis 3:15 it’s the first time Jesus is mentioned (the seminary word for this is “proto-evangelion”).  It says that Eve would have ‘seed’ which is a reference to a single male child… But it’s weird because women don’t have seed – men do.  And this seed would grow up and kill the serpent (the devil) but it would hurt Jesus too (i.e. ‘bruise his heel’).  So when Jesus died, that was the bruising – it was a seeming victory for the serpent, but ultimately it killed him because Jesus crushed him in the same act.  The rest of the stories leading up to the New Testament and Jesus talk about him being a king, a servant, etc. – like in Isaiah 53 and 2 Samuel 7:12.  There are many stories about Jesus in all of those books, and it’s really cool to read about him.  Jesus even says so himself – John 5:39, and Luke 24:27 among others.

I believe Abraham did believe in God’s promise, which was Christ Jesus, the Messiah.  When you mentioned Galatians 3:8 you’re exactly right.  Those Old Testament prophets all speak of Jesus coming to earth – God in the flesh.  So you’re right on the mark there.

The biggest thing to keep in mind is that dad says (in Romans 3.21-26) that Jesus died for all of the sins that God had overlooked from previous generations.  He withheld his judgment because he knew Jesus was coming and would absorb that wrath and punishment.  So God knew that even though they weren’t punished for disobeying, the punishment would fall on the shoulders of Christ.

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Big Questions, Round 2 (Part Two): God’s Intervening Grace

1) You said that the wicked are people who directly oppose God at every point of their lives and are hardened against him. Don’t all people act like this unless dad intervenes?

2) Sometimes like in Romans 9 the Bible says that God hardens people’s hearts. So is everyone who will never belong to dad “wicked,” or is it just certain people that the Bible  says God especially hates? (For example, false teachers and people who stir up dissension among Christians).  So are you saying that dad loves everyone, but chooses only to adopt some people?

As far as your questions, I think you’re definitely thinking and praying hard through some really deep topics, and that’s awesome.  I think as far as the Romans 9 part, you’re right on – Romans 1 and 8 talk about the same topics.  I think God uses us like clay and uses us for his glory, whether we show his mercy or his justice.  To answer your first question, I do believe that people are bad until God steps in and changes their heart (see Ephesians 1-2).  That said, there are places where certain people will have a worse time than others – like people who lead children astray (Jesus speaks about this in Matthew 18:6), people who teach wrong things, etc. (see 2 Peter 2:1).

I definitely think that God has a love for everyone because they are part of what he made and they bear his image.  But when we (meaning humanity in the Garden of Eden) rebelled against God and rejected him we were broken, dead, and separated from him (Romans 5).  Then we were all rejected because of that rebellion and pride in exalting our own wants and reasoning above God’s revelation.  And then when God showed us his grace and mercy, he chose some to come back to him as an example of his grace in our lives.  That’s why we live everyday for him – because without him helping us on a constant basis, we wouldn’t be anything other than broken, sinful people without hope, rescue, or faith in anything.  And that’s also why every part of our lives that is great and glorious is a result of his grace, because it’s all due to him ultimately.  So when we see awesome successes, it’s all for him.  And when we mess things up, we can still thank him and rest in Christ because our failure doesn’t mean he doesn’t love us – quite the opposite… He loves us more and loves us in spite of ourselves because Christ Jesus stepped in on our behalf and took our punishment on when he went to the cross to bear our sins and give us his obedience and righteousness.

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Big Questions, Round 2: God’s Grace and Hate

Recently one of my friends who is doing mission work in a closed country sent me some really great questions and I gave it my best shot at answering them.  I thought it might be interesting and maybe beneficial to post them here to get some discussion going.  So over the next few days I’ll be posting a distillation of those conversations in a new series called “Big Questions, Round 2.”

Please feel free to comment, submit questions of your own, and/or just entertain your curiosity.

1) In the Bible, sometimes it says that God loves the world, but other times it says that he hates the wicked. Isn’t everyone wicked? So does that mean that he hates everyone?
2) Also, why does God give so much common grace to the people he hates?
3) Ezekiel 33:11 says that God does not delight in the death of the wicked. And Genesis 6:5-8 says that he was grieved that he had made men. After it says this, then he destroyed nearly everyone. But, this seems to show that he didn’t want to destroy them out of hate, but he did destroy them out of justice.

1) The ‘world’ you’re referring to needs to be viewed in context in the book and passage it appears in.  It usually means a more global understanding of salvation given to God’s people – that is, Gentiles or people from every nation… folks he wouldn’t normally love.  The ‘wicked’ are people who directly oppose God, who sin without remorse at every point of their lives and who are hardened against him.  Since God is jealous for his own glory and his own fame, he hates those who don’t love him because they are worshiping idols or false gods.  Pretty much every time God says he hates someone it’s in connection with idols and misplaced love and affections that should go to him.  Ultimately God does love his creation because it reflects his glory.  But when, like in Romans 1, we see people worshiping the creation rather than the Creator to whom it all points, God’s wrath is poured out on those people – and rightfully so.

2) The reason God lets even the worst people have common grace is that he is a loving and merciful God who is showing his glory and mercy to the world.  But that doesn’t mean he won’t punish those who oppose him… he is just as well as merciful.  Read Exodus 34:5-9 where God reveals his own nature… it’s right after the Israelites built the golden calf and God forgives them for what they’ve done.  Then he makes another promise to them and reminds them of his love. But he also talks about his justice and exercising his right to judge.  Therefore, when we see people cursing God and not falling dead on the spot, that is an example of God’s immense grace and patience (see Romans 9:22-24).

3) As far as God not delighting in the death of the wicked, it does grieve him to punish those he desires love from, but his character is such that he will be himself rather than go back on who he is in order to gain their love.  He is ultimately about his glory and his purposes, which are hard for us to delve into because God has chosen to not reveal his purposes to us.  In addition to that, God does not need to justify himself – see Job 38-42 and Romans 9… they testify to God’s absolute sovereignty.

Also read Romans 3:21-26 where it talks about God’s mercy – he looked over (or postponed judgment of) the disobedience of his children early on because he had decided to punish Jesus for what they did.  Therefore when his Jesus was crucified on the cross, it established not only peace between elect sinners and God, but also established God as a just justifier… it upheld his character as well as made certain that we are his people and in his love.   Without Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, God would be unjust (because he would have let the patriarchs’ – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc. – disobedience be forgiven without punishment).  This is the main reason why the cross of Christ is such a big deal – it does secure our salvation and hope, but it also is an integral part of God’s very nature.

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