Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Compatibilism

Someone asked me recetnly,
"How do you now feel about the workings of free will and predestination in our lives?

It is Sunday morning and a young family are driving their compact auto to their place of worship. There is mom and dad and three children under five years. They are committed Christians who serve their Lord and Saviour. In another part of town an unregenerate man who has been high on drugs and alcohol steals a truck to drive across town to his prostitute girlfriend so he can get money for his next fix. He jumps the traffic lights when our Christian family is crossing the same lights on green! Their auto overturns in the ensuing collision - they are trapped and their gas tank explodes – the screams of the conscious family as they are burnt alive can be heard blocks away. However the unregenerate man in the truck gets away unscathed!

Are such events planned by God before time?"


My view of "Free Will" depends on how you define free will.

The only truly "FREE" will, is God's will, because only HE can do whatever he wants to do. However, Human choices are real and make a difference in the outcome of events. We are not robots. The problem is, our will is only as free as its nature permits it to be free. Because of the fall, our nature has been corrupted. Our will is in bondage to sin. It makes sense to say that our choices are limited to the scope allowed by the description set forth in the Bible. This is what Genesis 6:5 means when it says that every intention of the thoughts of man's heart is only evil continually. What God does is come to me and free me from the bondage of my blindness and deafness and hardness so that, finally, I become rational and can act as a truly free human being. This is called being "born again".

I believe that Bible repeatedly shows us that God decreed all things, and that people are still held accountable for their actions, especially their sinful actions. I found out later that Theologians refers to this concept as Compatibilism: God's decree is compatible with a person's will. They don't contradict each other. Free will and predestination are compatible ideas, and it is possible to believe both without being logically inconsistent.

The problem here is, that even if you don't believe that God has foreordained everything, you still have the same problem.

What I mean is this:

God knew the future perfectly before He even created the world. He knew everything that would take place in time.

God knew that the accident was going to happen.

It was within God's power to stop the accident. But for some reason he decided NOT to stop the accident, but allowed that family do die. And God made this decision to not change the course of the accident before he ever created the world.

You see, there is no avoiding the problem.

Now take this a step further.

If God foreknew the future perfectly before creating the world, then the future he foreknew would come to be. There would be no future other then the one he foreknew. All of the decisions and events that take place could happen in no other way then in the way he foreknew them to take place.

God also has a purpose allowing the accident. We may not know what it is, but we can bet it's a really good one.

What if, that drug addict, because of this accident, becomes a Christian and repents of his sins? From God's perspective, was it worth it?

"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." - Romans 8:28

I think the alternative, that there is no purpose in these events, is unbiblical, and detracts from God's sovereignty. God has a plan which He is working out for His own glory.

The Bible says that, God "works all things according to the counsel of his will" (Ephesians 1:11) This is even to such an extent that Solomon was inspired to say, "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord. " - Proverbs 16:33

Think back to Joseph's life.

"As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." - Genesis 50:20

Here we find Joseph, whose brothers sold him into the evil of slavery, who lied to their father breaking his heart, claiming Joseph was dead. After being sold into slavery, he was falsely accused of adultery and spent who knows how long rotting in prison. When he had a chance to get out, the guy who was supposed to get him out forgot. In front of his brothers, years later Joseph states, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive." The two statements in Hebrew are in direct parallel. Joseph's brothers meant evil by their actions, but God intended the same actions for good. The text shows one action with two intentions.

This same principle can be found in Isaiah 10: 5-12, where God uses Assyria as an instrument of judgment on the rebellious people of Israel, and then holds Assyria responsible for her sinful attitude and desires against Israel. The text shows one action with two intentions, a sinful intention and a holy intention.

The most important example of Compatibilism though is Acts.

"This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men." - Acts 2:23

"For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and b your plan had predestined to take place." - Acts 4:27-28

Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles and the Jews all sinfully join forces to crucify Jesus. Yet God?s predestined the entire event for his holy purpose.

To summarize, I quote from the London Baptist Confession of 1689 Chapter 3 Section 1 which conforms to the Westminster Confession as well.

FROM all eternity God decreed all that should happen in time, and this He did freely and unalterably, consulting only His own wise and holy will. Yet in so doing He does not become in any sense the author of sin, nor does He share responsibility for sin with sinners. Neither, by reason of His decree, is the will of any creature whom He has made violated; nor is the free working of second causes put aside; rather is it established. In all these matters the divine wisdom appears, as also does God's power and faithfulness in effecting that which He has purposed.


"Oh, the depth of the riches and s wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" - Romans 11:33

Saturday, March 20, 2010

1 Corinthians 15 and the Millennium

I think 1 Corinthians 15:23-28 provides a great outline of events:


23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that s God may be all in all.


The first thing to notice is verse 23:

"But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits"

This chapter is obviously talking about the resurrection. The verses 20 and 22 make this clear.

Christ is the firstfruits of the resurrection. He is the first to be raised. Christ was raised, therefore we will be raised, because he has defeated death. But when will we be raised?

"Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ."

The word "then" (verse 23) indicates an indeterminate amount of time between Christ's resurrection and his coming. The word "then" as Paul uses it, doesn't mean immediate succession. This is evident from its use in verses 5 and 7. The word is sometimes translated "afterward." It implies an intervening period of time. It talks about the next in an order of specified events but does not mention the issue of time between. Over nineteen hundred years have already elapsed between the resurrection of Christ and His return. I believe that this intervening period is also synonymous with:

a) Times of the Gentiles (Luke 21:24 compare Romans 11:25)
b) It is described as "this age" in various places (e.g. Matthew 12:32, Luke 20:34-35, Ephesians 1:21)
c) Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:21, compare Luke 21:24)
d) Includes the signs of the times (Matthew 24:5-14; Revelation 6:1-11)
e) The 42 months (Revelation 13:5)


"Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ."What happens after this time?

This period of time, this age, is ended with the Second Coming of Christ (verse 23), along with Armageddon (Revelation 19:11-21; Zechariah 14:1-4, 12-16).

Notice when "those who belong to Christ" are raised, "at his comming". This resurrection includes the rapture (or catching up), and the binding of Satan. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, Revelation 20:1-4)

Then comes the end

The word "then" (verse 24) indicates another period of time; what we know from Revelation 20 as 1000 years or millennium. Paul's explanatory "for" in verse 25, tells us the purpose of this intervening time.

For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.

Paul's assertion is that after Christ returns "He must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet". Christ's reign (at least the full expression of it) is said to follow his return, and it is said to be in order to put down opposition.

After this rule, there is the end.

"Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power."

Satan is let loose to deceive the nations for a final battle, but is utterly crushed. (Revelation 20:7-10). Death, is defeated (verse 26, Revelation 20:13-14) and the resurrection and judgment of the unbelievers takes place. (Revelation 20:11-15).

"When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that s God may be all in all."

Christ hands the kingdom over to God the Father ("...when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father... "). There are numerous prophecies in the Old Testament, and the new Testament that teach that Christ will return to reign. Amillennialists would disagree that there is a period of time after Christ's coming where Christ reigns, and that he is reigning now. He is indeed reigning now, (Matthew 28:19-20), but indeed the consummation of his reign will happen after his coming. However, if Amillennialism is true, then Christ doesn't reign after his coming, but must immediately hand over the kingdom to God the Father to rule as this text shows, and we are living in the consummation of the rule of Christ now. However, I believe this does too much injustice to this and many other texts to be allowable.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Justification by Faith Alone

Martin Luther said that Justification was the doctrine "by which the church stands or falls".

What is justification, (or as it is sometimes translated as "being declared righteous")? Who is justified? Who is the one doing the justifying? Why is there a need for justification? What happens at justificaiton?

Justification, as far as I can tell from the Bible, is a legal act God, which in free grace to sinners, he fully pardons all their sins (past, present, and future). Like a judge, God declares them "Not Guilty". The reason He accepts and considers them righteous in his sight is not because of any thing done in them, or done by them, but it is only because of Christ's perfect obedience and full satisfaction to God's justice he made on their behalf. Christ lived the life we couldn't live and died the death we should have died. God counts the righteousness of Christ as theirs, and credits it to their accounts. This is sometimes called "the great exchange". My sins go to Christ, his righteousness goes to me.

Justification is received by faith alone. What happens is a sinner is convinced of their sin and misery, and of their inability to get out out of this lost condition. They hear the good news, then the sinner not only assents to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receives and rests upon Christ and his righteousness alone for salvation. This faith is a gift from God. It is an instrument by which we receives Christ and his righteousness.

The WT Society, and the Catholic church both agree that this position is wrong, and that Justification is not by faith alone, but Faith and works combined. However, good works, are the fruits and effects of this type of faith. Paul stresses this three times in one verse:

"Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified." - Galatians 2:16

Salvation from beginning to end is all of God's grace. Humans try to insert themselves into the process so many times and in so many different ways. But that is completely not what Paul or the rest of scripture says.

"But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life." - Titus 3:4-7