The following is a highly modified reply I gave to a fellow who argued that God predestinates people based on His foreknowledge of who would love him and who wouldn’t. After making this point, he reacts to the possible objection that some might consider the act of having love a “work,” and that God therefore saves according to debt for labor provided. You can find the original exchange here: http://www.gracecentered.com/christian_forums/theology/is-love-a-work-suppose-god-foreknew-those-who-loved-him/30/, which might still be ongoing by the time of this posting. I thought this was worth sharing here on the blog, and also expanding it here.
This is not meant to be a reply to him on my blog (I am replying to him directly over there). Think of this as just a regular post, but using him as a spring board for my content. Therefore, it will likely be expanded, changed in some way, include more quotations, whatever I thought would make it better.
My opponent wrote, trying to preempt the charge that he argues that salvation is by merit:
Is Love a work? If love is not a work, then God is not indebted. For example, a stalker love you, but you are under no obligation to respond positively, or negatively. You can ignore if that is the good pleasure of your will.
The easy response is, “love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God” (KJV, 1 John 4:7). The ESV translates the verse in this way: “for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” Love is not something that is native to ourselves in the first place, as we are born “children of wrath,” (Eph 2) walking in both the vanity of the flesh and of the mind, and incapable of believing in God, as seen in Romans 3 and other places. We are explicitly told “there is none that are righteous, no not one”(Rom 3:10). I once had someone claim that Paul here was speaking only of the Jews because he quotes from the Psalms, but Paul condemns both Jews and Gentiles in the preceding verse, saying that he had “proved” that all were under sin, all are condemned and incapable of believing or seeking after God, because our ways are evil from the very core of our being. We have no love for God, and must rely on receiving it from above. Thus love is not a quality that we have which is rewarded by God. It is evidence that we are the children of God, made so by the grace of God.
Love also is clearly a work, it must be done to “fulfill” the commandments. We are ordered to “love one another, as I [Christ] have loved you” (John 15:12). It is also a merit that differentiates us from those who are condemned. We do not say “I love you,” and not intend the “love” here to be a verb. We do not say that we are “filled” with love, if we do not mean that love is a characteristic of our heart. If a person possesses love in their heart, it is a favorable characteristic which, the Arminians and Pelagians of the world would hold, God rewards with salvation. But since love is given by God, when God rewards our love, He crowns only His own grace which had worked in us. Therefore it is not we who are rewarded, but God giving grace for grace.
He goes on, and he is dealing in his post with verses out of Romans 8 and 9, so you understand the context:
So if God chose to foreknow (specially and uniquely know) those who loved Him, and elected them to be predestined according to His purpose—its still salvation by grace alone, according to the good pleasure of His will—and not according to anything in the chosen. God can have Mercy upon whom He will have Mercy:
But if love in the heart of the believer is the factor that determines who He predestinates, or we may also consider “faith” as well, then it is a merit that God rewards with salvation that others do not possess. They are condemned because they lack love and faith, and we are given salvation because we have love and faith. But the scripture says we are all guilty and dead in sin, and thus salvation is all of God and owes nothing to ourselves. When God saves us therefore, or gives us a new heart that willingly believes in Him, this is His act of mercy, because we were His enemies before He intervened. If God chooses not to intervene, it is in righteous judgment that He chooses not to, for the man is guilty of His sins and God is not obligated to bestow His mercy.
He goes on:
This solves a lot of problems with free will and Reprobation. It would mean God foreknew those whose free will would not be subverted if He predestined them unto salvation, but left the rest to make their choice after the Fall. In other words, God foreknew those who loved Him before the founding of the world, as they would have been before the fall; AND lest any of these be lost after the fall, He predestines them to salvation.
This is all over-complicated silliness and is the result of defending something that does not exist. If man has free-will, then he should be able to choose God at any time. But the scripture says that a person cannot confess Christ “but by the Holy Ghost.” (1 Co 12:3). Now you can either interpret this verse in two different ways (but not equal in merit). The first is, that a person cannot believe but by the working of the Holy Ghost. The second interpretation is, a person cannot have the opportunity to believe until God enables him by the Holy Ghost. In this latter instance, only then would your “free will” exist, and that under the power of the Holy Spirit. But then you must affirm that there is some island of goodness within the man that differentiates himself from those who refuse under the same influence. The convert must have his “love,” he must have his “faithfulness,” he must have his wisdom, he must differ in some way from the infidel. But if he differs from the infidel because of some merit in himself, then this is cause for boasting, and contradicts the Apostle who asks “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Co 4:7).
If salvation is not gratuitous– based on the pure goodwill of God alone and not based on our merits– but is based on differences in the quality of our hearts in comparison to the infidel, either of faith dwelling within us or love, then Paul’s question is absurd. Christians must differ from the infidel in some way, and this difference is not a gift from God.
This next bit actually occurred on a separate thread (http://www.gracecentered.com/christian_forums/theology/arminius’-conditional-and-calvin’s-unconditional-election-are-logically-unsound/), with the same guy, but the topics are basically the same.
In this section, he addresses the scripture from Romans 9 dealing with the twins and says this:
As God loved Jacob, but Esau He hated, election cannot be unconditional, God saw something in Jacob and Esau that inspired these opposite responses.
Just looking at this comment here, my response is: this contradicts how Paul’s own hypothetical opponent understood these words. To say that God hated Esau but loved Jacob “before” either had been born or had done good or evil is the same as saying that it was not because of any merits or demerits in them that they were elected. Otherwise it serves no purpose except to invite misunderstanding. Paul might have simply said, “God chose them for election based on His foreknowledge of their meriting it,” but this is never done, even when the opponent complains “Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?” (Rom 9:19). Now this response is impossible if the interpretation of this passage is that God foresaw something in Jacob and Esau. If salvation is determined not by man, but by the purpose of God’s will, then and only then can a man object “for who have resisted his will?”, because God’s will is directly implicated as the sole factor for salvation. There is no sense of injustice (for the human mind, which believes itself righteous and not sinful), for example, in the idea that God elects someone based on foreseen merits, whether of faith or good works. Yet Paul declares,
Rom 9:14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.
Rom 9:15 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.
Rom 9:16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.
Now this passage on God’s mercy can also only make sense if God’s mercy isn’t given to all, but only some. If God’s mercy is offered to all, and not given to some, then a man cannot object since everyone has a “fair chance” to get to heaven. But if God’s mercy is exclusive and based on no merit in man, then the human heart naturally complains, which leads Paul to justify God in acting as He does.
Next, if it is not of “him that wills,” and anyone who has faith in God surely wills to do so, and it if not of “him that runs,” that is, him who works for his salvation, then it follows it is all of God’s mercy that anyone is saved. Otherwise we will be forced to say, “It is not of God who has mercy, but man who contributes his willing and running to be saved.” But such an idea is blasphemous and contradicts the clear spirit of the text which attributes salvation solely to God’s will, running and mercy.
Another quote of his I reply to:
God called to those who loved God because “all things” work together for the good of those who love God and God’s calling is “a thing.”
I didn’t really understand where he was going with this, so I just responded in this way (though I have changed some things I wrote and expanded others– see the link for the original):
All things can only work together for good for the elect because God works all things together for them. And not only “some” things, but every action that occurs on this Earth. This makes the concept of free-will and the contingent nature of God’s foreknowledge untenable, since God can only allow you to “will” what will work together for His purpose.
Luther says basically the same thing when he writes: “It is fundamentally necessary and healthy for Christians to acknowledge that God foreknows nothing uncertainly, but that He foresees, purposes, and does all things according to His own immutable, eternal and infallible will. This bombshell knocks “free-will” flat, and utterly shatters it; so that those who want to assert it must either deny my bombshell, or pretend not to notice it, or find some other way of dodging it.”
To prove that God does indeed rule over all events, let’s begin with “matters of chance,” which are shown to be the work of God.
God rules over all matters of “chance,” such as the casting of lots:
Pro_16:33 The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD.
This includes even the “chance” actions of men that results in a loss of life, despite their not planning to kill (see Deut 19:5 for an example of an “accidental” killing):
“He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death. And if a man lie not in wait, but God deliver him into his hand; then I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee.” (Exo 21:12-13)
Or the “chance” doings of evil men, such as invading at the best moment to rescue David:
1Sa 23:27 But there came a messenger unto Saul, saying, Haste thee, and come; for the Philistines have invaded the land.
God moves the heart of the King however He desires:
Pro_21:1 The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.
Even the words from our lips cannot utter forth but by God’s permission:
“The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord,” (Prov. 16:1)
The man does not determine His own steps, but it is God who directs him:
“O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” (Jer 10:23)
“Man’s goings are of the LORD; how can a man then understand his own way?” (Pro 20:24)
Man’s life is not his own in any way, but it is God who has absolutely established the time of his birth and death:
Job_14:5 Seeing his days are determined, the number of his months are with thee, thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass;
We are God’s hirelings, our life is in His hands:
“Is there not an appointed time to man upon earth? are not his days also like the days of an hireling?” (Job 7:1)
This is true even of the smallest and most insignificant animals:
Mat_10:29 Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.
He grants food to all flesh, and determines when it shall rain or when it will not, when the grass shall grow and when it will not; the withholding of it is His doing:
“Who covereth the heaven with clouds, who prepareth rain for the earth, who maketh grass to grow upon the mountains. He giveth to the beast his food, and to the young ravens which cry.” (Psa 147:8-9)
“There go the ships: there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein. These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season. That thou givest them they gather: thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good. Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust. Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth.” (Psa 104:26-30)
The same is true of men, for whom no good thing can come unless it is granted from heaven:
Joh_3:27 John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.
He determines who will be promoted and who will not, who will be rich and who will be poor:
“Promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: he putteth down ones and setteth up another,” (Ps. 75:6, 7)
Good and “evil” things come from the Lord. The loss of our jobs, our spouses, tragedies (upon first glance) on friends and family, all these things are from the Lord, though what seems evil to us is really for God’s own good purpose.
For example, the selling of Joseph into slavery by his brothers:
Gen_50:20 But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.
The tragedies that befell Job:
Job_1:21 And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.
The evil acts of spirits ordained by God. Compare these two verses:
1Ch_21:1 And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel./2Sa 24:1 And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah.
“And the LORD said, Who shall persuade Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramothgilead? And one said on this manner, and another said on that manner. And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the LORD, and said, I will persuade him. And the LORD said unto him, Wherewith? And he said, I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail also: go forth, and do so.” (1Ki 22:20-22)
How does God remain clean of the evil deeds of evil spirits and of men, and yet be the first cause of it? Because what they mean for evil, God does for righteous and holy ends. It is a question of motivations. For example, 1) The devil wants to destroy, and thus he tempts wicked men. The evil impulse is always present in the devil, and is thus regulated by God’s providence and commands; 2) men do evil, perhaps, because of jealousy and wickedness, and thus they willingly go forth when pricked. The will to do evil is always there, but is restrained by Grace and God’s providence; 3) but God works all for holy ends. Thus the former remain dead in their guilt, but God reigns supreme over all acts. Hence we read that the men who crucified Christ did so as they were both “foreknown” and “ordained” to do so, and yet are counted as “wicked”:
Act_2:23 Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:
“For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.” (Act 4:27-28)
I like the way Augustine explains this also. From Chapter 33 of his book On the Predestination of the Saints, the chapter is titled “It is in the Power of Evil Men to Sin; But to Do This or That by Means of that Wickedness is in God’s Power Alone.”
“What is the meaning of, ‘as concerning the gospel, indeed, they are enemies for your sake,’ but that their enmity wherewith they put Christ to death was, without doubt, as we see, an advantage to the gospel? And he shows that this came about by God’s ordering, who knew how to make a good use even of evil things; not that the vessels of wrath might be of advantage to Him, but that by His own good use of them they might be of advantage to the vessels of mercy. For what could be said more plainly than what is actually said, ‘As concerning the gospel, indeed, they are enemies for your sakes?’ It is, therefore, in the power of the wicked to sin; but that in sinning they should do this or that by that wickedness is not in their power, but in God’s, who divides the darkness and regulates it; so that hence even what they do contrary to God’s will is not fulfilled except it be God’s will. [Note from me: Augustine here distinguishes between the prescriptive will of God– such as don’t sell your brother into slavery or crucify a holy man– and God’s secret counsel] We read in the Acts of the Apostles that when the apostles had been sent away by the Jews, and had come to their own friends, and shown them what great things the priests and elders said to them, ‘they all with one consent lifted up their voices to the Lord and said, Lord, you are God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein; who, by the mouth of our father David, your holy servant, hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the peoples imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the princes were gathered together against the Lord, and against His Christ. For in truth, there have assembled together in this city against Your holy child Jesus, whom You have anointed, Herod and Pilate, and the people of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and counsel predestinated to be done.’ See what is said: As concerning the gospel, indeed, they are enemies for your sakes. Because God’s hand and counsel predestinated such things to be done by the hostile Jews as were necessary for the gospel, for our sakes.”
All events, therefore, are for “our sakes,” since they are under the control of God in order to work together for the good of God’s elect. If any events are random, then, so also is their consequence, but the scripture dismisses this:
Rom_8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
Another quote from him, this time referring to the verses on the vessels of wrath and mercy, and how we might interpret the phrases that would contradict his views:
“What if” God gave these space to repent, endured them much long suffering although He knew ultimately these who hated Him before the foundation of the world would reject Him in this life—YET He waited patiently giving them all an equal opportunity to repent and be saved. What if God did that, is there still unrighteousness with God? Of course not!
Yet it does not say that God had “long suffering” over them for the purpose of mercy, but instead for the purpose of wrath for the sake of the elect. For example, of Pharaoh:
Rom 9:17 For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.
God rose him up not to plead with him to be saved, but to show His power.
And of the vessels of wrath:
Rom 9:22 What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction:
Rom 9:23 And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory,
God’s purpose, again, is to raise up the vessels of wrath “to make his power known… [on] the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction.” This is the purpose for His long suffering, not to save them, but to destroy them when the time is just right, for His own good purposes. They are being fitted to destruction, and not weighed in the balance. Obviously, God already knows they will be damned from before the foundation of the Earth. This is their purpose, for which they were made:
Pro 16:4 The LORD hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.
A final quote:
God’s sovereignty does not reduce humans to helpless automatons.
Of course, but to say that God saves us and damns another is not to make us automatons. It merely expresses a sad necessity of how God must deal with our own evil wills. We are children of wrath by nature, and incapable of being saved. We are, to paraphrase David, shapen in iniquity; and in sin did our mothers conceive us (Ps 51:5). It is not really so much a problem with our “will” as it is a problem with our hearts. We are evil and unwilling to believe, and thus we are free only to do evil. This can only be changed if God gives us a new heart that has been given sight, and life, and ears to hear, that it may believe and be saved by the Father. But if God elects one of us to salvation, it must follow that He chooses to make the other a vessel of wrath in this same choice.