Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Inability Does Not Remove Responsibility (Romans 9:19-24)

As we examine and study the gospel of salvation by grace in the light of what God has revealed in Scripture we notice that it is offensive, foolish, and a stumbling block to the natural man. Since this is true we are not to be surprised that the real gospel has built into it some objections from those who oppose it. If we know what the light of God’s Word has revealed those objections to be then we can know and discern all other gospel proclamations by holding them to the light of God’s Word and seeing if they raise the same objections. Counterfeit gospels do not have these objections built into them because they are designed to remove the gospel’s offensiveness and therefore they do not raise the objections that the real gospel raises.

In Romans 9:6-24 two objections are raised by the doctrine of unconditional election which establishes that salvation is by grace. The first objection raised by the real gospel is one concerning the justice of God (Romans 9:14). God is viewed as being unfair and unjust because He saves by grace and not by merit. He doesn’t save by physical descent (Romans 9:6-8) or personal desire (Romans 9:9-13). He doesn’t save by doing good or doing bad (Romans 9:11). He doesn’t save by the will of man or the works of man (Romans 9:16). He saves by His choice (Romans 9:11) to have mercy on whom He desires (Romans 9:18). Since man is totally unable to merit God’s favor God is viewed as unfair for giving His unearned favor to some and not to others.

The second objection raised by the real gospel is still concerning the justice of God but taking it a step further. The second objection calls into question God’s holiness which is the foundation of the justice of God (Romans 9:19). Here the accusation is that God is the author of sin by man’s inability being God’s fault. This is the false belief that inability destroys human responsibility and therefore God is wrong to find fault because He made us this way! In other words, if God hardens whom He desires (Romans 9:18) their sin and hardness is His fault. The Holy Spirit rebuked such thinking in Romans 9:19-24.

The Illogical Conclusion Considered (Romans 9:19). Here we see two illogical conclusions against the truth of unconditional election that Paul was preaching: (1) The preacher is lying about God and (2) unconditional election makes God the author of sin and man a robot.

One: The preacher is lying about God – “You will say to me then….” The complaint was against Paul the preacher and he was perceived as lying about God. When men will not receive the revealed truth of God they reject the preacher of that truth believing that they are rejecting a lying preacher rather than the truth of God. This truth is revealed in several places in the Bible – when the people rebelled against Moses they were rebelling against God; when the people rejected Samuel they were rejecting God; and when people refuse God’s preachers they are refusing God. One of the ways men have Biblical assurance of salvation is by knowing who is and who isn’t preaching truth (1 John 4:1-6). It is illogical to believe a preacher is lying because he preaches unconditional election.

Two: Unconditional election makes God the author of sin – “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” If what Paul was preaching about unconditional election was true then surely he was preaching that God is the author of sin; that man doesn’t have “free-will” and therefore must have “no-will”; and because of this, human inability destroys human responsibility, making God unjust for finding fault with men who cannot be held responsible. This is the false notion that unconditional election means that God made us the way we are and therefore He is wrong to find fault with us. It’s no different than someone claiming that he is homosexual because he was “born that way” and therefore shouldn’t be held responsible for his actions. That lame excuse could be applied to any sin that men commit but still wouldn’t remove their responsibility for their actions. This is precisely the argument raised against unconditional election by the opponents of the gospel. It was an illogical conclusion that Paul considered.

The Illogical Conclusion Condemned (Romans 9:20). Paul condemned the illogical conclusion of his opponents by revealing the truth that their argument wasn’t with him but with God – “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God.” Unconditional election wasn’t a doctrine that Paul made up but one that God revealed. So the conclusion that the preacher was lying was condemned and the truth that the preacher’s opponents didn’t have a problem with the preacher but with God was firmly established. Also the conclusion that unconditional election makes God the author of sin was condemned with the assertion of God’s absolute sovereignty – “The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it?” It was an illogical conclusion that Paul condemned.

The Illogical Conclusion Confronted (Romans 9:21). Paul confronted the illogical conclusion of his opponents by revealing the truth that God has the right to deal with sinners either in mercy or in justice for serving His glory as He sees fit. Here we see that God’s decree to permit the fall of man into sin logically preceded His decree of election. So when God chose the elect and passed over the non-elect, He was contemplating them all as fallen, sinful creatures – “Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump…?” God is not the author of sin and men are responsible for their sin. It was an illogical conclusion that Paul confronted.

The Illogical Conclusion Contradicted (Romans 9:22-24). Paul contradicted the illogical conclusion of his opponents by revealing the truth about God’s sovereign purpose behind His choice for saving some undeserving sinners – “to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory” (Romans 9:23). The illogical conclusion is that men must either deserve to go to heaven or deserve to go to hell by their “free-will” or else God is unjust in saving some and not others. However, God has the right to give mercy to whomever He desires and harden whomever He desires for His own purpose of displaying both the glory of His righteous wrath and the glory of the riches of His mercy. It was an illogical conclusion that Paul contradicted.

Inability does not remove responsibility. That illogical conclusion has been considered, condemned, confronted, and contradicted.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Culpable but not Capable (Romans 9:19-24)

The book of Romans is the Holy Spirit inspired explanation of the gospel of salvation by grace. It goes against the natural man’s false belief of being able to merit God’s favor through the will or works of the flesh. The gospel is offensive to the natural man and is foolishness to him. It embitters those who are perishing (Acts 14:2); gets accused of confusing whole cities (Acts 16:20-21); sets cities in an uproar through those who oppose it (Acts 17:5); upsets the world (Acts 17:6); divides congregations (Acts 19:9); fills men with rage (Acts 19:28-29); and is viewed by the unsaved religious as a dangerous heresy (Acts 21:28).

All throughout the book of Romans the apostle Paul has been making the Biblical case for the gospel of salvation by grace which runs contrary to the whims and wishes of the flesh. He established the total inability of man in Romans 1-3 including the truth that the Jews were also under sin and were just as unable to merit God’s favor as any uncircumcised Gentile. In Romans 3:24-31 the truth of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus was proven as the only means that God can forgive and remain just. In Romans 4:1-25 the truth of salvation by grace was proven from the life of Abraham who was saved by grace and not by works (Romans 4:1-8); and not by circumcision (Romans 4:9-12); and not by the Law (Romans 4:13-16); and not by personal ability (Romans 4:17-25).

The book of Romans deals with the truth that salvation by grace is based upon unconditional election or else it is not by grace. Those who maintained that salvation is based on conditional election thought that Paul was preaching that God saves on the condition of doing evil rather than doing good and concluded that he was preaching that men should do evil in order to be saved (Romans 3:8). This resulted in Paul being slandered as a preaching against the Law and giving a license for sin. He dealt with this error in Romans 5, 6, and 7.

Paul wasn’t preaching any form of conditional election because salvation is by grace and not by any type of work – he was preaching unconditional election which establishes salvation by grace. So in Romans 8 Paul began to deal with the truth of both the suffering and security of the true believer who has been unconditionally elected by God and saved by grace. They will suffer because of their faith and their proclamation of the truth of salvation by grace and will be secure because of the Lord’s faithfulness.

It was in Romans 8:28-30 that Paul introduced the truth of unconditional election. Romans 9:6-33 is Paul’s Biblical case for unconditional election. Here he established the truth that election isn’t based on physical descent (Romans 9:6-10) or personal desire (Romans 9:11-13). The truth of unconditional election which establishes salvation by grace raised the question of God’s justness or fairness. If God chooses unconditionally then isn’t He unfair or unjust (Romans 9:14). Paul answered that question Biblically showing that God, by His free-will, can have mercy on whom He desires and can harden whom He desires while remaining totally just (Romans 9:14-18).

It is the truth of unconditional election that magnifies the truth of man’s total inability to do anything to earn or merit God’s favor. Man is so helpless and incapable because of his sin that he cannot act morally to rehabilitate himself and he cannot act willingly to exonerate himself. There is nothing he can do to merit God’s favor. He deserves damnation and that is all that he can or will ever earn.

The truth of man’s total inability – that he is incapable of doing anything to merit God’s favor – raises the question of man’s culpability. The question is that if man is incapable then how is he also culpable. If man is incapable then how can God hold him responsible? This is the argument that if men don’t have “free-will” then he is a robot and God made him the way he is. In other words, if man doesn’t have “free-will” then God is the one to blame for man’s sin, his inability, and his unwillingness to be saved by grace. Romans 9:19-24 is Paul’s answer to prove that inability doesn’t remove man’s responsibility. Man is culpable but not capable!

The faulty reasoning (Romans 9:19): If salvation is by unconditional election based on God’s will to have mercy on whom He desires and harden whom He desires then how can he still find fault because who can resist His will? If I’m incapable how can I be held culpable? Isn’t my hardness God’s fault? This is the faulty reasoning of the opponents of the gospel who haven’t understood that their inability to do good doesn’t remove their responsibility for sinning. God doesn’t make men sin and therefore men are responsible for their sin. Since the fall of man into sin all men sin because all men are born with a sin nature. Man is totally incapable of freeing himself from sin but is totally culpable for his sin. Man is not a helpless robot doing what he really does not want to do – he is a helpless sinner doing exactly what he wants to do! The wages of sin is death. Inability does not remove responsibility!

The proper reasoning: Man is not capable (Romans 9:20-21)! Notice in verse 21 the words “same lump.” There is no difference in the clay in which a potter decides to make a vessel for honorable use or for common use. Because all men are sinners from the same lump it is totally up to God what he does with each one. Here we see that man is incapable and that his only hope is the mercy of God.

Man is culpable (Romans 9:22)! Here the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction took an active role in the hardening of their hearts. The Greek verb rendered “prepared” is passive. God is not the subject doing the preparing – men are (see Romans 2:5)!

Mercy is God’s choice (Romans 9:23-24)! Against the backdrop of the truth that man is not capable but he is culpable, God demonstrates the riches of His glory and the riches of His mercy by saving men apart from any merit or work of their own. Those that God saves He prepared beforehand for glory! Here the Greek verb for “prepared” is in the active voice and God is the subject and the One doing the preparing. Men are culpable but not capable! God saves by grace; owes salvation to no man; and enables those whom He has prepared beforehand to receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Mercy is by God's Free-Will (Romans 9:14-18)

Many wrongly conclude that salvation is dependent upon man’s free-will. Overlooking the Biblical truth of man’s total inability to do anything to merit God’s favor many opt for the unbiblical notion that sin has left man’s will unaffected and that he has the ability to merit God’s favor either by exercising his free will to choose God or by exerting his free-will to pursue God. However, the Biblical record and human history proves that man’s will is not free but is enslaved to sin. This was the whole purpose of God giving His Law – to show that men are enslaved to sin and cannot and will not obey God (see Romans 8:5-8).

If man’s will was free in the sense that most use it then of necessity it would mean that man is free to obey God’s Law. As a matter of truth it would be in the choosing to obey and the actual obeying of God’s Law whereby the man with “free-will” would prove that he is “choosing” God. Disobeying God’s Law by not subjecting oneself to it is “choosing” sin and not God. Every man has made his choice - and it hasn’t been “for God.” Man in his unregenerate state operates his will enslaved to sin. It is for this reason that he cannot and will not do that which is truly good (obey God’s Law or choose God). Being enslaved to sin the only freedom of will that a man has is that he is free to sin and free from being able to do righteousness (Romans 6:20; John 8:34). This proves man’s inability!

Is this not the Biblical record? “There is none righteous not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one” (Romans 3:10-12). Where is free-will in that? Where is human ability in those verses?

Since man’s will is enslaved to sin and free from being able to do righteousness his total inability is established rendering him unable to respond properly to God’s mercy apart from supernatural assistance. This is why regeneration precedes the ability to exercise saving faith. We are not regenerated because we exercised saving faith (we are unable in and of ourselves); we exercised saving faith because we were regenerated by the Word of God and the Spirit of God. This is what Jesus was speaking of when He told Nicodemus that a man must be born again by the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit using God’s Word in order to enter into the kingdom of God (John 3:5-8).

The Lord also spoke of this same truth (that regeneration precedes saving faith because of man’s inability) in John 6:45, 63-65 – “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me....It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe…. For this reason I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” I want you to notice something very important in John 6:45 – everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me – Jesus said. This means that all who are regenerated come to saving faith in Christ. There are none who are regenerated that resist the grace of God – they all come to Christ.

Since all that we have said is Biblical and true then salvation doesn’t depend upon man but upon God who has mercy. It is precisely this point that salvation isn’t by man’s will but by the grace and will of God that brings about the accusation of God being unjust. This is what the apostle Paul was dealing with in Romans 9:14-18. Here he was proving that salvation is by God’s free-will to have mercy on whom He desires and is not by man’s free-will.

Anticipating the wrong conclusion about the Gospel of salvation by grace, Paul brought up the question of God’s justness in Romans 9:14; stated the emphatic and obvious truth that it is impossible for God to be unjust; and then he went directly to the Scriptures to prove that dispensing mercy is solely the prerogative of God on undeserving sinners – “For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion'” (Exodus 33:19; Romans 9:15).

Salvation doesn’t depend on man but on God who has mercy! Paul stated the obvious application of Exodus 33:19 – salvation does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy (Romans 9:16). Moses didn’t find favor in the sight of God because of his will or his works but solely on the grace of God. This was true for Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all other true believers – they were saved by grace and not their will or their works.

That salvation doesn’t depend upon the will of man is made abundantly clear not only from Romans 9:16 but also from John 1:13 – “Who were born, not of blood [physical descent] nor of the will of the flesh [personal desire] nor of the will of man [popish decree], but of God.” Esau is a perfect illustration of this truth who was the firstborn of Isaac (not of blood/physical descent); he later desired to inherit the blessing (nor the will of the flesh/personal desire) but was rejected and found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears (Hebrews 12:16-17); and his father was intent on giving him the blessing (nor the will of man/popish decree) although God had already said that the older would serve the younger and that they younger was to be the heir of the promise (see Genesis 25:23 and Genesis 27:1-38).

To further prove that salvation doesn’t depend upon man but on God who has mercy, Paul gave the Biblical illustration of Pharaoh (Romans 9:17). Pharaoh was a king who thought that he had free-will but found himself in bondage to sin, an object of God’s wrath, for the proclamation of God’s glory. Moses was a slave, Pharaoh was a ruler, and yet God had mercy on Moses and withheld mercy from Pharaoh. Neither deserved mercy! So the logical conclusion is given in Romans 9:18 – “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens who He desires.”

Pharaoh was confronted with enough truth that we marvel at why he didn’t repent and believe in the Lord. The hardening of Pharaoh was judicial. He should have seen his need for mercy – but he didn’t! Mercy is by God’s free-will!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Unconditional Election: Is God Unjust? (Romans 9:14-18)

The truth that salvation is by grace means that salvation is unmerited – it is unearned. Since salvation is by grace and is unmerited or unearned then that means that salvation is unconditional. There are no conditions that one must meet that would merit or earn salvation or else salvation is not by grace but by works. Romans 11:6 says, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.” Let’s state it another way which still means the same thing: But if it is by grace, it is no longer conditional but unconditional, otherwise grace is no longer grace.

Paul has been teaching the truth of unconditional election unto salvation which forever proves that salvation is by grace and not of works so that no man can boast. There is nothing in any person that would merit God’s choice of him or her for salvation. The only thing that any of us have merited or ever will merit is the wrath of God. There is nothing in us that can change that. We can’t start living a good life to merit God’s mercy for that would be salvation by works. We can’t rehabilitate ourselves in order to cause God to choose us for salvation for that would still be salvation by works. None deserve to be saved. And yet God saves undeserving sinners according to His purpose, His choice, and His desire (Romans 9:11).

An improper response to this truth is given in Romans 9:14 – that this means that there is injustice in God. Unconditional election is viewed as being unjust because men cannot get over that God would save by grace and not by merit. God is accused of being an unjust God if He chooses to save some men by grace while leaving others in their sin. The response is: “That isn’t fair” or “that isn’t just.” So in order to remove what appears to be an injustice in God or unfairness in God, men devise a scheme of salvation that is conditional rather than unconditional and they remove the offensiveness of the Gospel by making election unto salvation conditional. Under the false notion of conditional election unto salvation this improper response isn’t given because it no longer exists. This is one of the ways we know whether or not we are preaching the Holy Spirit inspired explanation of the Gospel of salvation by grace (unconditional and unmerited) which Paul preached or if we are preaching a false gospel of salvation by works (conditional and merited).

Those who teach conditional election are in error. Even if that condition is that God looked down through the corridors of time and saw who would have faith and who wouldn’t – it is still salvation by merit which turns that faith spoken of into a work. What those who teach this have forgotten is that faith is a gift (Ephesians 2:8-9; John 6:65; John 12:39-40), and that faith is generated in man and is not innate in man (Romans 10:17; John 6:45, 63). They have also forgotten that their explanation of conditional election isn’t election at all but ratification. In their scheme of things God isn’t choosing based on His purpose or desire but is consenting to man’s choice. This would mean that God chose you because you chose Him, that God loved you because you loved Him and that God drew you because you drew Him. This is a reversal of the Biblical record. We didn’t choose Him, He chose us; we didn’t love Him first, He loved us first; and we didn’t draw Him, He drew us to Himself.

Since all men are sinners and have earned God’s wrath then of necessity it means that there is nothing in us that could ever earn God’s favor. So if God decides to show His favor on any sinner then the choice is totally His according to His purpose and His desire. That God would choose any undeserving sinner for salvation has nothing to do with any cause within the sinner but has everything to do with that which is in God Himself – the desire to make known the riches of the glory of His grace (Romans 9:23; Ephesians 1:3-14).

It is the Gospel of salvation by grace that is offensive to man because it establishes man’s total inability – not partial inability but total inability – to merit God’s favor. This is the error of conditional election – it teaches partial inability but not total inability and therefore leaves man in his pride believing that his being elected by God was based on some condition that he met.

The Jews who believed in conditional election so understood the implications of the Gospel of grace which Paul was preaching that some of them slanderously reported that Paul was preaching that men must do evil that good may come (Romans 3:8). The Jews reasoned that Paul was saying that God didn’t elect on the basis of their ability to keep the Law so he must be preaching that God elects on the basis of doing evil. They could not grasp the truth of unconditional election as the necessary grounds for salvation by grace.

Since election is unconditional, men believe that there is injustice with God for choosing some and not all for salvation. At the heart of this response is still the embedded false notion that those whom God didn’t choose deserved to be chosen. If one deserved it then all deserve it. It’s the attitude that if you’re going to do it for one then you’ve got to do it for all. That’s simply just not true and there is no injustice in giving mercy in a manner that upholds the Law or giving wrath to uphold the Law. So dispensing grace is God’s sovereign prerogative. Grace is sovereign in its administration.