Predestination vs. Free will. John Calvin vs. James Arminius. Calvinism vs. Arminianism. “The Battle of the Titans” that began long ago still rages on today. I could easily spend several weeks going through the “tell of the tape” of these two Bible teachers, but we have more important matters to deal with this morning. I do want to give you who are unfamiliar with these guys a brief run-down.
John Calvin was born on July 10, 1509 and died on May 27, 1564. Calvin is considered by many to be one of the most brilliant theologians who ever lived. He was an influential French theologian and pastor during the Protestant Reformation. Originally trained as a humanist lawyer, he suddenly converted and broke from the Roman Catholic Church in the 1520s. His most important work, which you can read today, is called, Institutes of Christian Religion. He wrote the book when he was 26 years old. His systematic theology later became known as Calvinism.
You may have heard of the “five points of Calvinism.” They summarize John Calvin’s view of salvation. They are: Total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints. Calvin believed that God chose a limited number of people, before the creation of the world, who would be saved. There is no choice on our behalf whatsoever.
James Arminius was a Dutch pastor and theologian who was born on October 10, 1560 and died on October 19, 1609. He was taught by Theodore Beza, who was John Calvin’s hand-picked successor. Arminius greatly admired John Calvin, but he rejected the idea of unconditional election for salvation. Arminius believed that there is nothing a person can do to “earn” salvation. Salvation is all of God’s grace, but Arminius did believe that we have to choose to accept what God has done for us in Jesus. For Arminius, God’s election was conditional based upon our acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. Arminius, although he disagreed with Calvin, had tremendous respect for him. He said that apart from Scripture, he urged his students to study Calvin’s works more than any other Bible teacher.
There are variations of these two schools of theology, but what we have just discussed is a brief summation of what the two men believed. The reason I wanted to introduce you to a brief outline of the two theologies is because of our Scripture for this morning found in Romans 8:29-30. Let’s begin with Romans 8:28-30.
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30 NIV)
Paul spent the first seven chapters of his letter to the church in Rome describing the mess that we are in. Paul says that our thinking is “futile” and our hearts have become “darkened.” Look at Romans 1:21 with me.
21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:21 NIV)
Paul also says that we have “all sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23 NIV) In Romans 7, Paul ends his long discourse about our predicament by adding his own predicament. Paul writes,
24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24 NIV)
Beginning in chapter 8 a new day dawns for God’s people. The first verse of Romans 8 tells us that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Following this powerful statement we find the ministry of the Holy Spirit emerge in all of its glory! The Spirit helps us “put to death the deeds of the flesh,” He enables us to cry out, “Abba Father,” He helps us in our weakness, even interceding for us with “groans that words cannot express,” and He reminds us that we are children of God. The Spirit within us empowers us.
What an amazing, encouraging truth this is for those who are followers of Jesus! In the Scripture that we looked at last week we learned that even in the most desperate and trying times of our life, God is at work for our good, for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purposes. I hope that you are beginning to see with increasing clarity that God knows you by name; He knows your situation even better than you do, and He is working in ways that you cannot even imagine to mold you into the image of His Son.
This week’s Scripture is an even bolder expression of that truth. Read verses 29-30 with me once again.
29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Romans 8:29-30 NIV)
As you read the Word of God and you become more and more familiar with the teachings of those 40 authors who were used by God to write His Word you see two glaring truths—the Sovereignty of God and the responsibility of God’s people. From Genesis to Revelation the Sovereignty of God shines like a diamond on a black velvet cloth. Let me give you just a small sampling of some Scripture that speaks to the Sovereignty of God. In Psalm 135:6 we read,
6 The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths. (Psalm 135:6 NIV)
“The Lord does whatever pleases Him…” What pleases Him? His perfect will for His creation, including you and me.
Nebuchadnezzar was the greatest king of Babylon’s history and God had a plan for him. He had been blessed with great success and yet he had somehow convinced himself that he was the maker of his own destiny. God humbled Nebuchadnezzar and once he came to his senses he said,
35 All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:35 NIV)
God’s purposes for Nebuchadnezzar were accomplished. He learned that He was not god and that it was not his “majesty” that was on display in Babylon. God has a plan for you as well as Nebuchadnezzar. Our wills are strong, but they are finite and feeble. God’s will is perfect and His power to accomplish His perfect plan is infinite. In Ephesians 1:11-12 we read,
11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:11-12 NIV)
Those of you who are followers of Jesus, you were chosen by His Sovereign grace as part of His glorious plan. I could share many more passages with you to show you God’s Sovereignty, but for the sake of time we have to move on.
There is another glaring gem that shines brightly from the pages of God’s Word and it is our responsibility. Throughout Scripture we find that we are responsible for this life that we have been given. God led the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt, He had a plan for them, but He also reminded them of the responsibility they had to walk in obedience. In Exodus 19:5-6 we read,
5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” (Exodus 19:5-6 NIV)
One of the most powerful scenes in the Old Testament is found in Deuteronomy 30. Moses was 120 years old. His days as the leader of God’s wandering people were winding down. He had a message from God to deliver to the people. In verses 19-20 he said.
19 This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (Deuteronomy 30:19-20 NIV)
In the New Testament, Jesus didn’t lower the bar of responsibility one inch. Jesus said, in John 15:10-12.
10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. (John 15:10-12 NIV)
“If you obey my commands…” That is responsibility. “Love each other as I have loved you.” That is responsibility. David Darnell says, “Jesus holds His followers to the highest ethical demands of any other teacher in the history of the world.” I would agree. Jesus doesn’t simply call people to act or behave in a certain way, but He probes the depths of our hearts to see what is there.
In our Scripture for today we see the same interaction of God’s Sovereignty and our responsibility. Paul says, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son…” There are two words in this phrase that cause people great concern, but which should actually serve to stir great confidence in each of us. The words are “foreknew” and “predestined.” We need help in understanding these words. The word, “foreknew,” is a compound word. “Fore” means “before” and “knew” refers to “knowledge.” Paul doesn’t say that God knew beforehand those who would believe in Him, but he says that God knew us—“For those God foreknew…” In Ephesians 1:4-5 we read,
4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will– (Ephesians 1:4-5 NIV)
God knows all things. There is no new knowledge with God because God is not confined to time like you and me. He told the prophet Jeremiah,
4 The word of the LORD came to me, saying, 5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:4-5 NIV)
Do you take great comfort in knowing that God knew you before your parents ever welcomed you into the world? This is one of the greatest sources of strength in my life. As difficult as life can be at times, I can press on knowing that my Father, who formed me and breathed into me the breath of life, continues to lead and guide me through every experience of life.
The second word that we need to understand is the word, “predestined.” The Greek word is “????????” (proorizo) and it means, “to predetermine, decide beforehand, to foreordain, or to appoint beforehand.” God’s foreknowledge barely registers on the scale of concern compared to the topic of predestination. The thought that God would order the events of history and even choose some over others is preposterous to some of us. You and I may not understand the concept of predestination, but if you believe the Bible then you can’t get around it. In Acts 4:27-28, Peter explains what happened to Jesus as the determined will of God, the predestined life of Jesus if you will. Read along with me.
27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. (Acts 4:27-28 NIV)
Those who are most opposed to even considering that God has ordered things are missing evidence right before them. Let me ask you some questions. Did you choose your mom and dad? Did you pick the city in which you were born? What say did you have in the arranging of your physical attributes? How about your I.Q.? Tommy Griffin was the basketball coach at John Marshall for several years when I first came to Britton Christian Church. He had a couple of little boys who would run around the gym while he was coaching. They were just little guys. Tommy is about my size, but those little guys grew up. Taylor is 6’7 and Blake is 6’10. Did Tommy will his boys to such great heights? You know better than that!
Paul went to Athens and he was hanging out with all of those who liked to talk about the latest ideas. You know the type. They like to go to Starbucks and talk about ethereal, esoteric things. Paul was not addressing Christians, but he told them,
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. (Acts 17:24-27 NIV)
God has it under control. He has a plan for you my friend. He knew you before you were ever even aware of yourself. At the same time He calls you this very morning to make the decision to choose life, choose His plan over yours, and choose to cry out to Jesus the Redeemer of your lost soul. We are lost and don’t even know the way, but He is the way, the truth, and the life.
There is a paradox in the Bible that you can’t escape, you shouldn’t even try to escape. It is this: It is all of God, not “go and get busy doing it.” You cannot escape the choices that are before us. I don’t care if you are a 5 point Calvinist, you can’t escape the choices that are before us. Moses spoke to the people of his day and said,
29 But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deuteronomy 4:29 NIV)
“If you seek the Lord you will find Him…” What was true in Moses day is true in our day as well. Seek the Lord with all of your heart and you will find Him my friend. The same Paul who wrote our text for today also shared this truth with the folks in Rome. Turn with me to Romans 10:9-10.
9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11 As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” (Romans 10:9-11 NIV)
So we have this paradox. An amazing paradox that should be marveled at and not explained away. I read a quote this past week from John MacArthur that was helpful to me. I hope it will be helpful to you as well. Dr. MacArthur writes,
So, the Bible teaches God’s predestining plan, God’s electing plan. It says that over and over, “elect” according to the foreknowledge of God, “elect” in Him… The Bible also says, “Whosoever will may come. Him who cometh to me I will in no wise cast out?” You believe that? Okay. So, you believe that, too. So, you believe in man’s volition. Free will is not a biblical term, because man’s will isn’t really free. It is bound by sin. When you became a Christian, did you say to yourself, “Oh! I am elect! I think, I’ll get saved.” No. No, you made a decision, didn’t you? You made a choice. The problem is not whether you believe those truths. The problem is how you harmonize them, right? You know how you harmonize them? No, you don’t. You don’t know how to harmonize them. Because there is no way to harmonize them. And, the way that I like to illustrate it is this, is Jesus God or man? Both. Is He all man? 100% man? 100% God? How can He be 200%? It is a paradox. Who wrote Romans? Paul wrote Romans? God wrote Romans. They alternated verses? Who wrote Romans? Was it Paul’s words from his vocabulary and his heart? Was every word inspired by the Spirit of God? How could every single word come out of the mind of God, and yet every single word came out of Paul’s own heart? You know what is going to happen if you try to synthesize those things? You know what happened in the early church councils? They got so confused and said, ‘Okay, he is half God and half man.’ And, you know what you have got when you have half God and half man? Nothing. What is half a man? There is no such thing. What is half a God? A nothing. So they arrived at heresy. So, on the one hand they said he is all deity and the idea that he was a physical being is just a phantom. And, they came up with a phantom view. And the others said, “No. He was all man, and he is not deity at all. Because they tried to resolve it, they came up with heresy every time. They either said he is all God and not man, or all man and not God, or half and half, and that is a nothing. You have to leave the paradox. (http://www.biblebb.com/files/macqa/1301-Q-11.htm)
That was so helpful to me. My friend David Darnell has told me a million times, “Don’t say, ‘either/or,’ say, ‘both/and.” It is all of God. There is nothing we can do to merit our salvation. Salvation is all of God’s grace. We are sinners. Each and every one of us are sinners. There is no question about these matters. At the same time, you and I are compelled to choose God.
This debate among the Calvinists and Arminians reminds me of another debate that has taken place for a long time, the debate between the Evolutionists and Creationists. Which is it? Well, to shorten the argument all you have to do is go all the way back to the beginning—what happened and what caused it? This is the question of the cosmological argument. It goes like this:
Consider some event in the Universe. No matter what event you choose, it will be the result of some cause, or, more likely, a very complex set of causes. Each of those causes is the result of some other set of causes, which are, in turn, the results of yet other causes. Thus, there is an enormous chain of events in the Universe, with the earlier events causing the latter. Either this chain has a beginning, or it does not.
For the Evolutionist, many would say it was the Big Bang. Ok, but what or who caused it? There has to be a “Mover” for the “movement” to begin.
On the matter of salvation I would urge you to consider the same question—what happened and who caused it? Did you find God or did God find you? I don’t know of anyone who would say that they “found” God. We, all of us who follow Jesus, know that God, in His glorious grace, found us and showered us with His mercy.
The debate among those who are hardcore Calvinists and Arminians will continue, but I want to urge you to recognize this morning that you have been chosen to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus. That is what Paul says,
29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son… (Romans 8:29 NIV)
We are the people of God. We are here for a purpose. That purpose is to live out the life of Jesus before a lost and broken world. As long as we sit in Bible study and debate this, that, and the other they will never know, they will never hear. We must gather to grow and then leave the sanctuary, the classrooms, and invade the darkness with the light of our glorious Savior.
13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? (Romans 10:13-14 NIV)
How will they know unless you and I tell them, show them, walk with them, love them, encourage them, pray for them, and lead them to the One who has transformed our lives? The more we allow God to do His gracious work in our lives the more we will be conformed to the likeness of His Son, and the more those around us will see Jesus and the hope they have can in Him. All of this begins with the call of God and the invitation that is before you this very morning. Can you sense God calling you to something more, something different than what you have been living? Won’t you respond to that call this morning and ask Jesus into your heart?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
February 4, 2014