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.


Michael Gormley said...

The statement, “I will show mercy to whomever I choose; I will have pity on whomever I wish” (Romans 9:15) seems to be saying that God blindly chooses to save some people.

This implies that God also blindly chooses to condemn others to hell. St. Paul has quoted Exodus 33:19 for that statement. The quote is following the Golden Calf incident of chapter 32. God chose Moses over firstborn Aaron. It was not blindly that God chose Moses, but because of Aaron’s sin in forming the idol for the people to worship. The inclusion of this story by St.

Paul in Romans 9 continues his motif of the firstborn being passed over in favor of the younger brother. In v. 9 Isaac is chosen over Ishmael and in v. 13 Jacob is chosen over Esau. St. Paul’s point is not that God predestines to heaven and hell, but rather that God will pass over the unrighteous firstborn (the Jews) in favor of the righteous younger brother (the Gentile).

God did not do this arbitrarily. He did this because the Jews hardened their hearts against the acceptance of Jesus. They refused to accept the obvious fact that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus spoke to the Pharisees on this very subject. “If you were blind there would be no sin in that. But 'we see’, you say, and your sin remains” (John 9:41).

“But you refuse to believe because you are not my sheep” (John 10:26). St. Paul then introduces the example of Pharaoh as one who refused to believe something that was obvious (vv. 17-18). Some have wrongly concluded that these verses prove that God arbitrarily makes some people hard-hearted against the Gospel.

It is important to note that when Scripture says that God hardened someone’s heart it means that God let that person suffer the consequences of his freely chosen action. “And Pharaoh seeing that rest was given, hardened his own heart, and did not hear them, as the Lord had commanded” (Exodus 8:15; see also 8:28 & 9:34).

God deals with individuals according to their decisions. If one refuses God then God may let that person suffer the consequences of his own freely chosen action. “And so God has given those people over to do the filthy things their hearts desire” (Romans 1:24 GNT [Good News Translation]).

olan strickland said...


I appreciate your comment and you have done a good thing to show the physical pattern God gave of His rejecting the firstborn and choosing the second born in order to illustrate a spiritual reality - namely that you must be born again.

However, your explanation of election falls dreadfully short of being biblical. You are attempting to establish conditional election where God's choice of whom to save is based on something good in them and His choice of whom to condemn is based on something bad in them. You said, "St. Paul’s point is not that God predestines to heaven and hell, but rather that God will pass over the unrighteous firstborn (the Jews) in favor of the righteous younger brother (the Gentile). Not only is that salvation by merit but it is also violates what Paul was establishing in Romans 9 - salvation is by GRACE and therefore God's choice is by GRACE which means that election unto salvation is UNCONDITIONAL.

Michael Gormley said...

Dear Olan,

Some will look at Romans 9: 19-22 and believe that God arbitrarily makes some people “vessels fit for wrath, ready to be destroyed” (v. 22).

In other words, ready to be sent to hell.

This is actually the opposite of what St. Paul has in mind. He is quoting from Jeremiah 18:1-12. In this passage the potter, God, does not make vessels, people, to be destroyed.

He reshapes the vessels giving them another opportunity to be useful. “Can I not do to you house of Israel, as this potter has done? says the Lord. Indeed, like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, house of Israel.

Sometimes I threaten to uproot and tear down and destroy a nation or a kingdom. But if that nation which I have threatened turns from its evil, I also repent of the evil which I threatened to do."
(Jeremiah 18:6-8).

Therefore, St. Paul is saying if the Jews repent and turn to Christ they will receive salvation, but if they stubbornly refuse then they will receive damnation.

His point is that either way it is a personal decision not an arbitrary one that God makes. This is very much different then those that say St. Paul is teaching that we have no choice in what our final destiny will be.

St. Paul himself was once a vessel set for destruction so he is well aware that God can remold the vessel and make it useful if we desire it.

St. Paul received a second chance when he repented of attacking the Catholic Church and become a missionary bishop of God’s Church.

The Potter remolded St. Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 26:5-20). So you see that this passage actually means the opposite of what the Reformed Calvanist says it means!

olan strickland said...


You are making the error that inability removes responsibility. Men are culpable but not capable. Since I have not disputed man's culpability or his responsibility then you will find that I'm not arguing that men don't take an active role in the hardening of their hearts - they do and that is all that they can do!

You are making the mistake of overlooking the truth that God's election before the foundation of the world was based on His decree to allow the fall of man into sin so that 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.

You'll notice in Romans 9:22 that the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction took an active role in the hardening of their hearts (the verb is passive) but in Romans 9:23 the vessels of mercy prepared for glory were inactive and God was the "active one" doing the preparing (the verb is active with God as the subject). Mercy is by God's Free-Will, not man's will (Romans 9:11, 16; John 1:13).

You'll also notice that in Paul's conversion his "second chance" wasn't based on his repentance but his repentance was based on his "second chance." Had God not have elected Paul unto salvation (unconditionally/by grace) and given him a "second chance" then Paul would have never repented.

Your explanation continues to make salvation by merit rather than by grace.

Michael Gormley said...

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...

Dear Olan,
The issue of chronology which played so well into St. Paul's hands is the same issue which confounds and frustrates the Reformer.

If, as the Reformer claims, St. Paul is citing from Genesis 15:6 to show when Abraham was first "saved" by God, then he must answer the fact that Genesis 15 takes place many, many years after Genesis 12, in which account Abram obeys God and sets out on a journey to an unknown land.

The inspired commentary in Hebrews informs us that this was, in fact, an act of faith and obedience on the part of Abram.

Given that faith and obedience are the two key ingredients in the work of salvation, how can the Reformer posit that Abraham was not justified until Genesis 15:6, when clearly, he had faith in God and obeyed in Genesis 12?

The reality is that Abraham was "saved" no later than Genesis 12, when he showed his faith by his obedience (a combination that meets the criteria for salvation according to both St. Paul and St. James), and he was further justified in Genesis 15:6 for an additional act of faith.

Beyond this, St. James says, "Was not Abraham our father justified by works, offering up Isaac his son upon the altar," referring to Genesis 22, which comes after Genesis 15:6, thus giving us a total of three times in Scripture where Abraham is justified.

Certainly, this does not fit well into the Reformed system, wherein a man is justified once, and never again after that.

olan strickland said...


The chronology from the life of Abraham in no way undermines God's order of salvation - it establishes it. God's order of salvation is given in Romans 8:30 - And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

In Genesis 12 we see God's call of Abram which included the preaching of the Gospel to him which included the salvation of Gentiles (Galatians 3:8). In Genesis 15 we see God's justification of Abram which was on the basis of believing in the Christ and not on the basis of works (Romans 4:1-3; Galatians 3:6, 16). So in Genesis 12 Abram is called by God and in Genesis 15 Abram is justified by God - those whom He called He also justified.

Since God never fails, His call of Abram guaranteed not only Abram's justification but also his glorification - that is God's order of salvation. The same thing happened with the apostle Paul on the Damascus road. He was encountered by the Lord Jesus Christ; told to go into Damascus where he would be told all that was appointed for him (that was his call); and then justified by calling on the name of the Lord (Acts 22:6-16).

This actually proves the Reformer's position that regeneration precedes justication and enables faith - also known as the effectual call.

As to the book of James and his use of the term "justification" you have failed to use proper hermeneutics and grasp not only the context but the author's intent. James wasn't speaking of HOW a man is saved - he did that in James 1:18. He was speaking of how a man SHOWS that he is saved so that a mere profession of faith is valueless. Reformers do not teach salvation by works and neither do they teach that saving faith doesn't issue in loving, loyal obedience to Christ.

Don't forget that context determines meaning and so Abram was only justified ONCE in how he was saved and justified MANY TIMES to show that he was saved.

Michael Gormley said...

Dear Olan,

Is Half of The Story Sufficient For Salvation?

How many sides are there to a story? If you say two, then you are wrong. If you had one side and I had one side that would make two sides. However, there is a third side, the side of truth.

Rule # 1... One half of truth does not a truth make. Neither does one half of a story make the full story.

No intelligent person can hear one side of a story and decide which side has the truth.

Both sides have to be heard, then analysed, and then a decision has to be made as to which side (if either) has a valid story, and after that, the right side(s), or truth side, can be determined.

This thinking holds true for discerning what Holy Scripture tells us.

Throughout the Bible there are double standards, yet the fundamentalist thinking shows only one standard, or one side of the story, or only one half of the truth.

Their thinking is in violation of rule # 1. With only one half of truth, you do not have truth. Anything less than the whole truth is error.

In the following example, side 'A' is the first side, side 'B' is the second, and side 'C' is the right, or truth side.

Example ... Sola Fides... Saved by faith alone. The fundamentalist believes he is assured of salvation. All he has to do is to accept Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and savior and salvation is automatic and irrevocable no matter what he does for the rest of his life.

Oh Yeah? What happened to the ten commandments?

A. Many verses in Scripture attest to salvation by faith alone. Joel 2:32, "...that every one that shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved."

Acts 2:21 says the same almost word for word, and likewise for Rom 10:13. "...I live in the faith of the Son of GOD...", is from Gal 2:20. Again, these are beautiful words that should be heeded by all.

B. However, elsewhere in Scripture there is quite a different side of the story. Start with Mt 7:21, "Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of my Father in Heaven shall enter the kingdom of Heaven."

It is very clear that you have to do the will of the Father to gain salvation. I like 1Cor 10:12, "...let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall."

That one says you cannot be guaranteed of salvation. Then James 2:14-26 says over and over, "...Faith too without works is dead...Faith without works is useless...so Faith also without works is dead." Again, words to be heeded by all.

C. So what is the answer to this dilemma? Is this one of those Bible 'conflicts' you keep hearing about? No, not at all. The answer is very simple.

There are two types of salvation, 'objective salvation', and 'subjective salvation'.

The verses in 'A' are examples of objective salvation. Jesus Christ did atone for all of our sins, past, present and future.

He did His part and did it well, but He left the burden upon each one of us to complete the second side of the story by atoning for our own sins, by doing the will of the Father.

We have to keep the commandments. We have to practice 'subjective salvation'. There is no salvation by accepting only part of Scripture as shown in 'A', and by rejecting, or trying to explain away the verses in 'B'.

Yet this is what some non-Catholics are doing. Again, we have to combine 'A', and 'B', to have the full truth.


olan strickland said...


If that is your hermeneutic then I feel sorry for you. Had you been faced with the heresy of the Judaizers in Galatians then by your method of interpretation you would have to affirm their teaching rather than denounce it for the lie that it was. That is one of the reasons that you are held captive by Roman Catholic heresy.

You cannot add licentiousness (your example of Sola Fide) to legalism and come away with truth. Two lies never add up to truth!

A. Licentiousness/Libertinism/Easy-Believism attempts to be justified by words alone and removes sanctification in its relationship to justification - sanctification always flows from justification or there has been no justification (this is what James was teaching).

B. Legalism attempts to be justified by works and reverses sanctification in its relationship to justification by attempting to be justified through sanctification and this can never be because the Law does not give the power to live a sanctified life but is in fact that which gives power to sin (see 1 Corinthians 15:56). Sanctification never causes justification but is in fact caused by justification (see Understanding Sanctification).

C. Lordship salvation is the truth. The missing element in both legalism and license is love. Jesus said, “If you love Me you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Our obedience to Jesus is based on our love for Him which is based on His love for us which was demonstrated to us through the gospel. We love Him because He first loved us and we obey Him because we love Him.

Lordship salvation is not a mixture of "A" + "B" but stands all by itself as the truth with God's proper order of salvation intact - justification is the cause of sanctification and always causes sanctification and never any other way.