The Grace Of God: “Co-Operant With Human Will” ?
““The Grace of God and the human will are co-operant, but not on equal terms. Grace has the pre-eminence.”
― William Burton Pope
This quote appears to honour the grace of God. I have no reason to doubt that the one who said it was sincere in his opinion and faith. But upon closer examination, does it really honour the grace of God? Grace and the human will, are CO-operant.? Meaning they operate equally. But not on equal terms? Grace has the pre-eminence? What does this actually mean in practical terms?
The word “pre-eminence” comes from the word “pre-eminent, an adjective which means, “eminent above or before others; superior, surpassing”.
Herein precisely is one the glaring inconsistencies I see with Arminian/synergistic doctrine – it pays lip service to this surpassing grace, while it hasn’t the foggiest clue as to what it is, or actually does!
> You see, if indeed grace is “superior” and “surpassing” the human will, then they are not in any way, shape or form, CO-operant! This ought to be self-evident.
The WORD that changed my life
I have often said of Arminian theology – of which I was reared and raised, taught and assumed, of which I possess two earned degrees in Theology from respected Bible Colleges – that those who embrace it as professing Christians, are no doubt genuine and sincere. Many if not most of them, I believe are at best genuinely ignorant, misinformed of truth. This is not to say they can’t quote scripture which on the surface appears to support their position. Rather, that they are incapable of thinking through the implications of their assumptions and conclusions in the light of numerous other passages which clearly qualify them. They have some truth to be sure! But they are incomplete…and sadly, this often means they end up with sincerely held half-truths, rather than the whole truth! And sadly, there are also many of them who are at worst, openly arrogant. I know….I was formerely both arrogant and ignorant myself once too! Until the day the Lord spoke to my heart in such a clear way, humbled me to my core, magnified only His grace, and literally turned my theological world upside down and inside out! That was 18 years ago. The word was this – “You are who you are, where you are and what you are only because of My grace. Don’t ever think you are better than anyone else”
But surely, I did not think I was “better” than anyone else!…did I? Our world view shapes our thinking. Why is correct doctrine so important? Because it informs our thinking, faith, attitudes. My immediate response to the Lord revealed my proud heart – “I’ve had to make right choices!” I protested. This response was the direct result of my former synergistic view of salvation. The Lord’s reply was instant, crystal clear in my mind…and irrefutable – “My grace enabled you to make right choices”. I was stunned! Something deep inside caused me to instantly realize this was God! Satan would appeal to my pride …but God would humble me and exalt only Himself! …and man, did it have theological implications!
Please note: The Lord did not dispute that right choices were in fact made by myself , nor that they had to be made. What He did was correct my false assumption of how they were made! Thereby taking self out of the credit realm and placing grace entirely in it. There is no salvation apart from faith and no forgiveness extended by God apart from a humble choice to admit one’s sin and ask for forgiveness, based on the cross of Christ. So before you read another sentence, let’s just be clear on this. In everything that follows do not misunderstand me to be denying the need for right choices in the believer. God forbid!
I am however, without apology or ambiguity, denying that we who do believe and thus, make right choices are solely or ultimately responsible for either our faith by which we are saved, or the choices which inevitably spring from salvation and faith. Grace is! …and to propely understand grace in scripture, we need to be careful to distinguish between the grace that saves – the exertion of the grace of God which results in saving faith, and that dynamic of grace by which we can grow in grace.
The former is always effective in every person God has chosen to believe (Jn 6:37, 44, 65; 17:2; Acts 13:48; 18:27; Eph 1:4-6; 1 Cor 1:29-30; Jas 2:5 etc). It precedes humility and faith since it is the efficient and sole cause of repentant faith. The latter God dispenses in response to humble request. And God allows the latter to be “resisted” up to a point. People often quote scriptures referring to the latter, out of context of course, and assume it applies to the former. False premise always leads to false conclusion.
So, the same word, but in different contexts, means two very different things! Failure to so distinguish will inevitably lead to false doctrine. Friend, do you sing as “worship” to God things you believe to be false? Or a lie? If so, may God forgive and help you! When you sing words like “T’was grace that taught my heart to fear”, do you in your heart deny it, and affirm self where the lyric had only grace?
My life as John the self-boasting, synergist/Arminian was over that day. I felt like Saul on the road to Damascus…stunned, overwhelmed, humbled! My theological world had instantly been thrown upside down and turned inside out. I went back to scripture with a profound new sense of humility, desperation pleading “Open the eyes of my heart Lord!” …this article is the result of those days, weeks, months of prostrating myself before the Lord, crying often, early morning, late night prayer and study of Scripture afresh.
Scripture, Not Theology Books Which Came Later
Please understand during this time of renewed intensive “searching the scriptures to see if these things be so”, I did not consult with any book on theology, nor any commentary. I went to scripture only. And was amazed time after time by what I now saw! It has always been in there mind you…but I had missed so much of it. So do very many others! How do I know they also miss it? I listen to how they talk…how they, like that Pharisee of old, acknowledge some credit to God, but invariably boast of self. You remember him right? The guy who “prayed to himself” Jesus said, “God I thank You that I am unlike other men, for I do…and I don’t do…” (Lk 18:11-14). Jesus concluded that portion of scripture with these words “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled” . Just ask yourself how – in what ways did this Pharisee exalt himself? I mean, he did thank God too, right? Well, God was not fooled!
Here is the heart of the matter: Giving God some credit..or even most credit for the difference in our lives from others who do not understand and believe as we do, and sincerely, humbly giving Him all the credit are not the same thing! Is this a mere semantic, trivial thing to God? Not a chance! The very people who insist on humility must not be guilty of self boasting! The former amounts merely to lip-service to grace while in reality boasting of self. The latter is sincere recognition of grace…both preceding our faith and response and following it. Thus, when I hear sincere professing believers preach saying James and Peter admonish us to “Humble ourselves n the sight of God because God gives grace to the humble”, and fail to quote such in context, I am always grieved by the shallow way God’s word is mishandled. To whom was James and Peter addressed? Who were they writing to? They were clearly writing to believers! Peter addressed his epistle “TO those who through the righteousness of God our Saviour have OBTAINED a faith as precious as ours” (2 Peter 1:1).
The Greek word translated “obtained” by the KJV or as “received” by the NASB, is a passive word meaning “to lot, allot, to obtain as by lot“. Not only did Peter write to believers, the first verse of his first epistle clearly states how and from whom those who now possesssed this “precious fath” do so. IT (their faith), came through the righteousness of Ood the Saviour. So when Peter writes to believers to be humble in the sight of God that they might obtain “grace”, the grace they are admonished to receive there is not and cannot be saving-grace! For they are already believers …and such by God having alloted to them this preciOur faith they now possessed, but did not produce! In short, apart from consideration of context, again, we will invariably come to incorrect conclusions. Thus, grace has different meanings and applications on different contexts. There is the grace which comes to us by means of which alone we are anabled to understand and believe the gospel for salvation. This is rightly called saving grace. And then there is the “grace” which comes to us in different aspects thereafter, which empowers us for service and living. Or even giving. Paul writes to the Corinthians of “the grace of giving”. So since scripture makes such distinction between the grace of God which saves and the grace of God by which we thereafter grow in grace and knowledge so must we!
This experience with the Lord those 18 years ago has not made me popular among my Arminian friends! I have been slandered, ridiculed, rejected by many of them as a result. But thankfully the same grace that spoke to me, changing my heart that day, has faithfully sustained me every day since.
Oh sure, I taught the truth that “we are all sinners who all fall short”. But quite unawares by myself at the time, as a devout believer in the Pentecostal church, a Bible College graduate, and ordained minister, the sinister leaven of self-righteousness had been steadily growing in my heart. How so? Because everytime I preached or taught that we must choose to believe, obey, serve, live – and did not preface or qualify such comments with “We by grace alone, do so choose…”, though I was truly not aware of it at that time, I was nevertheless, boasting of self! Since others did not also likewise choose as I and some had, and since the same opportunities to do so we’re made available to all alike, (so I both assumed and had been taught), the real difference could not possibly be God or His grace. It therefore had to be self! Herein then is the sin God exposed in my heart that day 18 years ago.
A false premise always creates false conclusions:
“There is no real response to God without a choice, and there is no choice without a free will (as I often argued in my former days), we are not robots, and God does not ‘ force’ Himself on us” was my former presupposition. Therefore, in such a mindset. the decisive act in salvation, wasn’t not and could not possibly be Jesus and His death (Isa 53:11-12; Rom 4:25; Heb 10:14), or the fact of His powerful and effective intercession for us, which is why we cannot be condemned (Rom 8: 33-34; Heb 7:25) plainly state. No! The decisive factor was therefore what self brought to the equation.
If a person stands up saying ‘Jesus is a literal lamb. The bible says so!’, does that make it so? If they get a concordance or lexicon and look up the Greek word for ‘Lamb’ only to see that the actual word does in fact mean lamb, does that then make it literally so? You see, if one proceeds from a false premise (or in this case, a misunderstanding of what a metaphor is), tey will persist in false conclusion quite certain they are right ‘Because the bible says it!’ And yet, there is no doubt the bible does say Jesus is the ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world‘ (Jn 1:29). But you see, in this case unless one understood what a metaphor was, they would think Jesus must be a literal lamb. And unless they understood the figurative, literary meaning of synecdoche, they will invariably end up with a false conclusion, based on their assumption of what the text means. The false conclusion is the impossible contradiction between the proposition that Jesus takes away THE SIN of the world, and the second proposition that sinners are in hell because their sins are not taken away! According to Jn 16:9, the sin of the world, is unbelief. So we are still are square one. Why are any in hell when Jesus by His death and resurrection has supposedly taken away their sin? Unbelief would be the answer from the synergist. Fine. But unbelief is a sin! In fact it is the sin of the world! So which is it? Jesus has taken away the sin of “the world”? Defined as Arminians/synergists define it to be every person without exception? Or, it is obviously synecdoche and Jesus actually “loved and gave Himself for the church” as Paul said (Eph 5:25). You see, a false premise even one sincerely, but erroneously held, always leads to irreconcilable error.
A strange inconsistency:
We who believe are possessed of the same sinful nature and corruption of all other men who do not so choose as only a few of us do – as Paul reminded the Ephesians “We were all by nature, children of wrath even as the rest” (Eph 2:4). This being the case, why then we who do only some of us choose more wisely regarding the gospel? Why is it that for some of us, we see in th gospel “the power of God for salvation” whereas most see mere foolishmess? (1 Cor 1:18;2:21). Unless grace alone is the answer, we are left with bosasting of self. We were obviously so much wiser and more noble than the rest of sinners…for look how we chose! Supposedly God gave everyone the same experience of His grace, but not everyone was or is so moved to faith by it! So why then is “the preaching of the cross foolishness to those who perish” (1 Cor 1:18)? Grace can’t be the answer according to the false premise of the synergist. So self must be! Obviously we were so much wiser than the rest since we were so deeply moved by the conviction of the gospel. Others, evidently presumably knowing full well the consequences, are quite content with the idea of burning alive in eternal torment, and so reject Christ! Really?!?
‘T’was GRACE that taught my heart to fear’:
God warned, ‘Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom, nor the strong man in his strength nor the rich man in his riches’ (Jer 9:23). Does God care only of boasting in physical, material ways? But He is fine with boasting in spiritual? What is the only alternative to boasting of one’s own wisdom, virtue or strength? The strange inconstancy among so many sincere Arminians is that while they will enthusiastically sing ‘T’was grace that taught my heart to fear’, they don’t really believe it! Deep down, they really think ‘T’was I myself who chose to fear’ – and again, herein is the leaven of self-righteousness!
Definite, Actual, Accmplished Redemprion Replaced By Mere Potential
You see, in this mindset, nothing Jesus did actually saves anymore! It merely made salvation possible. Isaiah the prophet strongly disagreed! As did the writer of Hebrews. As did Paul who wrote
“He was delivered over because of our offences and raised because of our justification” (Rom 4:25 NASB) .
“who was delivered up because of our offences, and was raised up because of our being declared righteous” (Young’s Literal)
According to Paul, Jesus was raised to life not to make justification possible. But rather as Young phrased it, “because of our being declared righteous”. As surely as His suffering and death was vividly real, horrific, agonizing – actually atoning for sin, so also His resurrection also actually accomplished justification. In context, Paul makes no distinction between “our” and “us” in this text. Both pronouns refer exclusively to We who believe. To claim Jesus died for every person without exception, rather than in figurative synecdoche, but then turn around and claim “But not every person is redeemed/justified by that atoning death” is an open, absolute oxymoron.
And so by that subtle pride what did I end up doing? Downgrading the atonement and efficacy of Jesus’ most holy, precious death and resurrection to being only a potential atonement for all, but a specific atonement for none – quite contrary to Matt 1:21; Acts 28:28; Eph 1:4-6; 5:25; Gal 1:3, Jn 11:52-53; 17:2, Rev 5:9! In this way, so I thought, I had a credible answer for why everyone else was not as thrilled and eager to embrace Christ as I obviously was! They just choose not to! They could just as easily. But they prefer to die instead! ..and this was precisely the same mentality of the Pharisee Jesus condemned in Luke 18:12-14 – Others could also be as zealous, moral and obedient to the Law as he was. But since they were not, he was therefore unlike them. On what basis? His choice of course!
A dramatic life experience taught me profound spiritual truth:
It was not until a few years later when I literally had to swim with all my might in very rough water, to my son about 40 yards away, and I pulled my son out of the raging water in Lake Ontario where he was in real danger, that the truth hit me – I did in fact use my force as I jumped into the water swam with all my might against crashing waves knocking me backwards to reach my son, pulled him to my shoulders and swam to the safety of the rocks where I again used my force to lift him up and onto the rocks thereby saving him by my will, desire and force!
God did no less folks! As surely as I did not stand there and clap out to my struggling son “Do you want me to come save you?” before I acted on my initiative and just saved him! Nor did I swim within arms reach of him and tread water saying “I’ve done all I can do. Now you need to do the rest and reach out to me”! What kind of absurd definition of “love” would that be? Let any synergist parent in a similar situation do with their own loved one, what they claim God does with a His loved ones and they will immediately see the absolute folly of such preposterous thinking! Folks, I …myself…by myself…decisively acted….using my force…and by my will and effort, I saved my son that day!
“No one can come to Me unless My Father draws (lit. Pulls) him” (Jn 6:44)
Did this mean I did not “love” my son? As so many who truly haven’t the foggiest idea of what they are talking about, suggest? Hardly! I so acted because I loved him! Because it was not my will that he perish that day, I acted not merely to make rescue possible for him! Perish the thought! Imagine had I come home to my wife, His mother saying “Josh was in armsreach of me, but he did not choose to reach out and grab my hand. So I just watched him drown”! You think such a preposterous response would satisfy my wife?!? …and yet millions of sincere, devout professing believers, who are the by-product of misinformation, assumption, “proof texting” rather than serious biblical study, say that the God of love, who loves far greater than any human parent could love, does just that!
I now say, Perish the thought! Should such nonsense be ascribed to God? – that He merely makes salvation possible. That Jesus only made a potential atonement, rather than an actual one. Such glaring inconsistencies (and blasphemy) can only be tolerated so long friend! The truth must be proclaimed. Along with Paul, and by the same grace which worked so mightily in him, I now say “In LOVE, He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph 1:6). Predestined folks! Not left to random chance! Certain….accomplished! Finished! This is the truth of the gospel!
Selfishness/self-preservation are universal axioms: So why reject eternal life?
The truth is, I had never until that moment the Lord spoke to me, ever really thought it through. I mean look what people will do to save themselves, or preserve their own life. Yet when presented by the so called “offer” God extends to save them from their sin and its eternal consequences, by forgiving them and giving them eternal life in His presence which is unspeakably glorious, satisfying and incredible, that the vast majority of intrinsicly selfish sinners, who would do anything to pr serve their lives, supposedly in full understanding, knowingly choose to burn alive for eternity instead? Really?!?
“Men loved darkness and hate the light”, said John (Jn 3:19). This is the common answer I myself used to give…almost as if pre-programmed by a system of thought, rather than because I truly thought it through. Do I deny the truth of Jn 3:19? God forbid! Not at all! What I now realize though is that, that description described me too! Paul reminded the Ephesians “We were all by nature children of wrath, even as the others” (Eph 2:1-5). There was nothing therefore in my own nature to which I could look and say that is different than the rest! I had the same nature. So we are still at square one! Why did I suddenly possess the wisdom and therefore, the will to embrace Christ? My sin and nature was the same as all sinners. So it now became crystal clear, I could not look to self for the answer! Looking to self was the seedbed of pride and the very essence of self-righteousness! Therefore, I was now constrained by the Lord to look elsewhere for the answer. As He graciously taught me, opening the eyes of my understanding to what His word had always said, but which I genuinely missed for so many years, the answer was clearly expressed by Paul in Eph 1:6 – “To the praise of His glorious grace“! This is how Paul summed up God’s pre-time work of electing, predestining some to be saved by Jesus. It was all to thought elraise of His grace! And since by His grace it is therefore not and cannot be of self…in any way, to any degree! Those who argue that God did 99% but we had to do the last step, are no doubt sincere as I myself also was. They are nevertheless sincerely wrong here, as I myself also was. “To the praise of His grace” leaves no room to boast of self in any way, for anything!
So friends, either your testimony is that of Paul – a former self-righteous legalist who despised and persecuted the church, who after he came to faith in Christ summed up his testimony thus “BY THE GRACE OF GOD, I am what I am and His grace to me wasnot without effect for I worked harder than the rest -yet NOT I, but the grace of God with me” (1 Cor 15:10) , OR, your testimony is that must be some wisdom, virtue, strength in self for having had the wisdom to say ‘Yes’ to God, whereas most say ‘No’. And make no mistake about friends, that subtle but no less evil pride is the lie of the flesh and the devil! The Pharisee Jesus illustrated in Luke 18, thought and prayed like synergists do “God I thank You that I am unlike other men…for I do this and this and do not do this and this!” Jesus said he “prayed to himself”. God never hears such arrogance! Just ask yourself, whose theology is most closely represented by that Pharisee? Like all synergists, he gave God some credit …I mean, he did start by staying “God I thank You…” But he did not truly stop there! Whatever credit he ascribed to God initially, was eclipsed by his insatiable need to boast of self . Friends this is serious to God! It was in this context that Jesus said “So then whoever exalts himself will be humbled!” (Lk 18:14). God always rejects and will always judge self-boasting! What is the only alternative to boasting in self in any way? To boast in the Lord totally!
In that word to my heart so many years ago, the Lord did not dispute that I had in fact made right choices, or worked hard. Rather, He affirmed the only context in and by which I did either – His grace! This is precisely what Paul declared of himself.
“I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision”
“But Paul also said he was not disobedient to the heavenly vision!” (Acs 26:19) is another common, pre-programmed response of a self-boaster. I know, I quoted it often myself back then. First, the specific which Paul said he was not disobedient to, was not at all His being converted from Christ-hater, to saved sinner. Rather, as Christ’s apostle who had been called to testify, Paul said that was what he was not disobedient to. The next sentence in Acts 26 says – ” but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.” (Acts 26:20). This is about Paul’s ministry folks! It says nothing at all about how he was brought to saving faith. To confuse these two, and to get them out of order, is to invariably err in one’s thinking and preaching. Ok, so how was Saul the Christ hater converted to Paul the saved sinner, chosen apostle and faithful witness? HIS testimony of that is “But when it pleased God to reveal His Son to me…” (Gal 1:15). To what did Paul credit his newfound faith in Christ to? Don’t take my word for it, take his – “But the GRACE of God was exceedingly abundant, ALONG WITH FAITH…” (1 Tim 1:15). There it is again folks…GRACE! Here Paul attributed been his faith to the grace of God. There is zero room to boast of self in His presence.
To rightly honour God we must know what He did:
Martin Luther, in his superb “The Bondage Of The Will” argued, (which I will paraphrase), “Unless one knows what God did and does, verses what I do, How then can one honour God rightly? How can a man thank God for something, if he is unsure whether that credit be God’s or his own? Therefore, to rightly honour God, requires that one must know where God’s work begins and ends”. He hit the nail on the proverbial head here!
Q. How then can we know where God’s grace ends and our own will begins?
-This is no mere semantic, nor academic query! As Luther correctly observed, the honour of God is at stake in how we answer this. For the true believer, the honour and praise of God ought to be of paramount concern. And so if it could be shown that there are ways in which we could honour God more rightly, truly giving Him all the credit and praise He rightly deserves, then this issue is as much connected to worship as any song we sing in church! Thankfully, scripture answers it for us…plainly
And that answer is that while God is surely to be credited, thanked, praised for the objective fact of His giving of the Saviour and His death – the only means of salvation, God is also to be thanked and praised for the very understanding and faith by and with which, we who do understand and thereby believe in Christ and the gospel, do so! In short, as Peter said “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). Friends, everything we need, does not exclude the most important things like understanding, desire, conviction – faith itself! How incredible that in my former self-boasting arrogance wherein, I thought I understood what grace was and did for me, that I so completely missed what scripture had always said. God gave everything needed for life and godliness! The self boasters must here either submit and admit the truth. Or, be arbitrary in their reading, and ignore the word everything?
Our FAITH in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ is wrought in us BY the powerful, prevailing grace and influence of God. It is not generated by self. It is wrought entirely by God in those to whom He grants it to believe
Before the inevitable “Wait, that sounds like Calvinism!”, or “We are not robots! We have a free will” ad infintum objections which invariably spring to mind when we read something like this, I urge the reader to pause, take a deep breath and continue reading.
“Apollos helped those who through grace believed” :
Luke’s simple, profound and comprehensive summation of faith in Acts 18:27 – “When Apollos was come, he was a great help to those who BY GRACE, believed”. Friends, where is the caveat “Through faith and their own…”? Why would Luke just summarize the faith of those who possessed it as being simply through grace? Answer: Because Luke correctly understood that grace is not merely a mechanism through which one may believe. But rather, is the means by which those who do believe, do so. Luke emphasized the same principle a few chapters earlier when he again summarized the faith of those who did believe, attributing the whole of it to God when he said,
“Now when the Gentiles heard this, they glorified the word of the Lord – and all who were appointed/ordained to eternal life, believed” (Acts 13:48).
Friends, obviously this truth was quite important to Luke and the Spirit who inspired his words!
It is our instinctive pride, self-righteousness and the assumptions which we have brought to the scriptures, and not the scriptures themselves, which cause reason to question this wonderful truth!
“By the grace of God, I am what I am”
Paul’s comprehensive summation of what he was and what he did as a saved sinner who now believed the gospel he formerly persecuted, a chosen apostle and faithful servant was,
“By the GRACE of God, I am what I am (saved sinner by grace through faith, chosen apostle, faithful servant)
“And His GRACE was not without effect (IT produced real results in me)
“For I worked harder than the rest – Yet not I, but the GRACE of God with me” (1 Cor 15:10)
What was Paul when he wrote these words? He was a believer! He was a saved sinner! He was a chosen apostle. He was a faithful witness, worker! Paul attributed everything good in him and what he did, to the grace of God. Period! In fact, the moment he boasted that he “worked harder than the rest” ( a rather significant boast indeed, had the next sentence not followed it), he instantly qualified that by deferring the credit to God and His grace…which is where all the credit belonged! Friends, do thou likewise!
Paul attributed everything that was wrong in him to his sinful nature. Friends, do likewise! When Paul acknowledged his own will in fighting sin, he admitted it was of itself, powerless to overcome it! (Rom 7:14-25). Um yeah, so much for his will being “CO-operant” with grace!
For it is God who is working in you to WILL” :
Paul affirmed that the very will to do God’s will, is itself the result of GOD “working” (Greek, ergon : accomplishing, performing, producing) it IN us” (Phil 2:13).
God Himself told His people of old, “I will put My Spirit in you and cause you to keep My Statutes” (Eze 36:26 NIV, ESV, NASB etc).
Yes. You read correctly. God said He would cause us to obey Him! Did that make Him a “monster”? Or we mere “robots”? Well, even if for sake of argument both of these propositions were true (they are not of course), the fact is, He still said what He said…and meant it by the way!
The prophet Isaiah made a similarly sweeping, comprehensive attributing of all to God when He said “O Lord, You will ordain peace for us. For You have accomplished (wrought) in us, all our works” (Isa 26:12)
…Had Isaiah some 700 years before the birth of Christ, been secretly reading the works of John Calvin? Because where did Isaiah get such an idea from, if not from the Lord?
“To this day the Lord has NOT given you a heart to know”
Moses, near the very end of his life, as Israel was about to cross over the Jordan with Joshua, having spent the last 40 years wandering the desert with the people, also made a staggering, sweeping, comprehensive summary. After all that time with Israel, what had Moses ultimately concluded? For sure he had witnessed the grumbling, unbelief, rebellion of the people. No doubt. But here at the end, to what did Moses attribute their lack of faith, sincerity, obedience? Friends, this is essential! Moses said,
“And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them, “You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh and all his servants and all his land; the great trials your eyes have seen, the great signs and wonders. Yet to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to know, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear.” (Deut 29:2-4.
Did you catch it? The people physically saw signs and wonders like no one else ever had! And yet, they did not see! To what did Moses ultimately attribute this sad reality to? To what God had not given them!
Why would Moses attribute their dullness of understanding, and lack of spiritual response to what God had not given to them? Such a statement from Moses, is hardly consistent with the modern affirmations of free will which abound in the professing church! According to synergistic assumptions and error, the only reason why the people did not understand, know and respond was themselves! But Moses, here in the negative affirmation, still affirmed the point I herein make – the very will to do God’s will, is and must be supplied by Him. It is something God gives. Or on this case, something He does not give. Either way, when it is given, it came from Him! When it is not given, He made that choice.
“But He did that only because they were rebellious!”
This is of course, the next inevitable objection that would arise (Or something similar). To which I will add, Everyone has sinned, gone astray, turned to his own way! There is none who are righteous, not even one (Rom 3:11-12; Ps 53:1-3; Ecc 7:20 etc).
Thus, the condition of human sin is not unique only to Israel in the wilderness. It is systemic in the race!
The only way to argue the obvious here is to end up boasting of self! Here is where leaven runs deepest! The insatiable need to get self in the mix, somewhere…even if just a little!
How do you know if you are a SELF-boaster?
“But …I did, chose, worked, accomplished…!”
Word to the wise? Like Paul, state what it was you did (or assume you did) if you must. But always sandwich in the middle of grace! Begin and end with “By the grace …yet not I, but the grace of God” and I promise, you will be ok. Do it not, and I assure you that what Jesus said in Luke 18:14 “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled”. Friends, just look at the “prayer” of the Tax Collector Jesus illustrated and condemned in Luke 18, and ask yourself whose mindset does he represent? The synergist who boasts within and without of his own choices, works – what he does do right, and does not do wrong? Or, Paul’s life statement in 1 Cor 15:10? What is the only alternative to exalting self?
“I will give them a heart to know Me”
Through Jeremiah the Prophet, God seeing and knowing the obvious waywardness of Israel under the Law said “I will give them a heart to know Me” (Jer 24:7).
Wait a minute! In a “free will” scenario, all that is needed is the command to believe, know…obey! So why did God He will give a heart to “know” Him? Why is this necessary? We have a free will right? With it, we can just choose to do so on our own, right? Wrong! Friends, God does not engage Himself in meaningless action! If He says He will give something for something else to occur, believe Him, it is essential!
David picked up on this theme in Ps 51: 12 where he prayed “grant me willing spirit to sustain me”. In Ps 86:11, he further prayed “give me an undivided heart so that I may fear Your name”! Again, if the fundamental premise of the free-will argument is valid, such a promise by God and such requests from godly men of old, are irrelevant! All that is needed is the choice to do so…but as you can see that is not the case at all! God must give everything needed! This is why Paul categorically stated all he was and did as a believer was by the grace of God!
“The Heart: Thinks, Knows, Devises, Intends, Chooses”
In scriptural lingo, “the heart” is that internal part of us which thinks, feels, imagines, knows, wills, chooses.
After the flood, God said of humanity in general –
* “The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.” (Gen 8:21). Thus showing that nothing had changed in human nature after the flood than before. For prior to the flood God said of humanity at that time “Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is on evil continually” (Gen 6:5).
Jesus said sin proceeds from “the heart” (Matt 15:19)
Solomon said God abhors “a heart that devises evil plans” (Prov 6:18)
The writer of Hebrews said the word of God separates and judges the “thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb 4:12).
Through Jeremiah, God said of humanity categorically that “the heart is desperately wicked and deceitful above all things and who can know I?” (Jer 17:9).
Jesus told the entire group of people in front of Him, listening to His teaching, “If you then who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him?” (Matt 7:11).
Did you hear His summary of humanity? Not merely “fallen”, but evil!
Jesus said categorically of every person, that apart from dependent union by faith to and with Himself, that each person will like a branch severed from the vine, “whither and die” (Jn 15:1-8). Hardly a description of human moral virtue! Paul said of humanity that Christ died “When we were without strength” (Rom 5:6). How many ways and times must God’s word state and re-state the awful, terrible reality of humanity in sin?
The theological truth known as “Total Depravity” is in fact what the scripture teaches concerning humanity in sin. “There is no soundness in you. From your head to your feet you are full of wounds” Isaiah said of Israel (Isa 1:6-8). Isaiah further declared “We are all as an unclean thing…and all our righteousness is as filthy rags!” (Isa 64:6). Think about it, since our righteousness is as filthy rags to the thrice-holy God, what does that say of our sin?
And if we in fact truly possess a free will apart from the enabling of grace, then why is our righteousness – our best attempts at obeying God’s law, so described?
– Total depravity is not to be misunderstood to be absolute depravity. While sin has corrupted every part of our human nature, not ever sinner outwardly manifests sin to the same outward degree. Not every sinner is as openly, obviously bad as some sinners. But every sinner is totally ruined in and by sin, nonetheless!
“In the HOPE that God might GRANT repentance”
In 2 Tim 2:24-26, Paul admonishes the “servant of God” not to be quarrelsome with those who “oppose the truth” (in any way).
Rather, Paul admonished that God’s servants ought to patiently instruct those who are in error…”in the hope that God may grant them repentance”.
This is rather strange language indeed, IF in fact Paul understood the “free will” assumptions so common among professing believers!
What need was there for God to grant repentance on an individual basis? Supposedly, repentance belongs to the free will of each person who must, of themselves, simply choose to repent…at least that is what is preached from most pulpits. So then, what is Paul suggesting by such language? Why does Paul declare that the hope of the sergeant of the Lord lies in what God grants? Rather than what sinners choose? Synergism has no credible, consistent answer here.
Please note, that Paul also clearly described the result of God granting repentance:
“So that they may come to their senses, acknowledge the truth and escape the snare of the evil one who holds them captive to do His will”. Does this sound like a description of free will to you? Only if one totally ignores the text!
And notice also, this is said to be a hope the servant of God has. It is by no means certain that God will in each case so grant this! Nor does He have to. Mercy is by definition, unmerited favour. Thus, God is in no way obligated to any sinner to show them His saving mercy! And thus, the charge that God would be “unjust” if He withheld it for any, is also shown to be false. It is the humanistic conclusion of the pride of man, assuming God owes mercy to anyone. Paul said it clearly, “So then, it is not of him who wills or runs, but of God who shows mercy” (Rom 9:16). Paul comprehensively summarized the truth of sovereign-grace thus,
“So then, He has mercy on whom He wills and whom He will, He hardens” (Rom 9:18). Paul wrote this to professing Christians, teaching them New Testament truth!
> The testimony consistent through both testaments. While Adam indeed sinned with a “free will”, meaning he voluntarily chose to eat after Eve did. Every person born since though, with the exception of Christ, has and will sin. Without exception, every single person who is born and grows will fall into sin.
Surely, if the promise of “free will” is valid for humanity in sin, after the fall, then from among the billions alive now and countless more who have lived through the ages, there ought to be some who simply do not sin! Sheer statistical probability alone should ensure this! And yet, there is none righteous, no not one! There never has been one son or daughter of Adam of whom this is not, has not been, or will not be true!
So apart from the truth of “Original Sin” – that the sin of Adam is imputed to all of his posterity, and that the corruption of human nature as a result of the fall is also passed on to every person from birth (Ps 58:3), there is simply no credible answer for why some are not entangled by sin!
GRACE is to be credited with everything good and right in our lives, including both our understanding and faith itself, our on-going faithfulness to God and the desire to even want to obey Him!
This brings us back to Luther’s observation – In order to rightly thank God we must therefore know what His work in us, for, to us actually is and did! Lest we sin by robbing God of His rightful glory by boasting of self!
Jesus credited everything to the Father in Him
The Lord Jesus Himself, did not boast of Himself! Surely if anyone could, it was Him! And yet, we see Him deferring all credit to the Father! Consider His words,
“So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” (Jn 5:19)
Friends, Jesus did not say He should not do anything of Himself. He said He can do nothing of Himself!
“Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me? The words I say to you, I do not speak on My own. Instead, it is the Father dwelling in Me, carrying out His work.” (Jn 14:10).
As the Lord Jesus deferred all credit and praise to the Father who lived within Him, and not to Himself, so also the believer, ought to follow the Lord and deflect all credit and praise for everything good and right within, to the grace of God! This is what Luke, Paul, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel did…wanna be on safe, solid ground? Go do thou likewise!
Why did God save us? “To the praise of His grace” Paul said (Eph 1:6). Not to the extolling of human wisdom, virtue or strength…but to the extolling of grace! Everything good, right is to be credited to God and His grace!
…Everything else we can safely say “That was me!”
Appendix: Synecdoche And “Universal Atonement”
Failure to recognize and thus, understand the presence of synecdoche in scripture – and it is pervasive from Genesis and the mouth of God Himself through to Revelation, will lead to absolute error, confusion and impossible to reconcile contradiction to the expressly declared truth of particular, accomplished, specific atonement/redemption. This appendix is offered only a very brief example of numerous passages which could be cited to demonstrate how pervasive synecdoche was used by God Himself and the writers He inspired to write scripture. This list is not exhaustive. It is a sample only. I have included statements by God, Jesus, Paul, Mark and the Pharisees who lived and interacted with Jesus. Their testimony is included in this list only to demonstrate how the culture of day used synecdoche in common expression. These examples clearly establish that the words “every”, “all”, “whole world” can be and often are synecdoche. Just consider what type of error would be the result if people took these passages at literal face-value, as they have either assumed or been taught to accept the so called “universal atonement” passages!
I. “You know that everyone in Asia has deserted me” (2 Tim 1:15)
Wow! Since “everyone” must mean literally everyone, then every single believer had openly abandoned Paul? Who knew? …what about vs 16?
II. “And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.” (Mk 1:5)
– You mean literally every single man, woman, boy, girl, young, old, sick went to see John? To be baptized by him? Every single Pharisee? Every Gentile? Herod? I mean, it HAS to mean that right? Because “ALL” means all! And can’t mean anything else, right? OR, there must be an disclaimer like a “synecdoche alert” in scripture? Right?
Because surely God would not mislead people by suggesting “all”, when it did not literally mean all…right?
III. “Look! The whole world has gone after Him!” (Jn 12:19).
Well this proves it, right? When the Pharisees said this on Palm Sunday, they meant it, right? I mean, just like 1 Jn 2:1-2, they did not say “world”, but said “WHOLE WORLD”, so that proves it, right?
IV. ” The Law was until John. Since then the kingdom of God is preached and every man presses into it” (Lk 16:16)
– So Jesus here taught that EVERY person is pressing into the kingdom, right? I mean, it HAS to mean that, right? Cuz, where is the disclaimer “synecdoche alert”?!
“Never again will I destroy every living as I have done ” (Gen 8:21).
– Must mean God killed every living thing in the flood, right? I mean it has to mean that, right? Surely God Himself would not be confused as to what “EVERY LIVING THING” means, right?
Synecdoche folks! And thus, the “universal atonement” myth is debunked, exposed, and refuted! It is illogical, unbiblical and creates impossible to reconcile contradiction to other revealed truth . It creates the false idea of an “atonement” which did not in and of itself, actually atone! It presents an Advocate/Intercessor whose advocacy does not actually avail! It suggests a satisfactory payment to appease God’s holiness and justice, which was of itself, insufficient and therefore, imperfect since billions for whom it was supposedly made are still in hell, paying for their own sins! It creates an impossible contradiction by saying on the one hand that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, but then tells men they are still damned for their sins! Since unbelief is a sin, the circular and illogical argument which is passed on to professing “sheep” is self-evident.
God declares the End FROM The Beginning:
Matthew 1:21 is the first mention of salvation in the context of Jesus coming to earth…and why He would come…who He came to save. The answer so begins the testimon of Jesus, is His people! Revelation 5:9 is the last mention in the NewTestament of who Jesus actually saved – “men from every nation, tribe, tongue”. Together the first word confirms the last and vice verse and thus, gives us the only correct blueprint for how to rightly understand and interpret everything in between.
Friends, either the atonement of Jesus was and is perfect, fully securing every person for whom it was offered and intended, those who are justified being so because Jesus “bore their sins” (Isa 53:10-11), OR the unthinkable suffering of Jesus made nothing certain, actual. It only made things possible. Understanding synecdoche is, I submit, the only correct way to “rightly divide the word of truth” and not end up with a schitzophrenic God and Saviour who both accepts and does not accept the suffering of His Son as the truly full payment for sin and sinners.
“As Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her ” (Eph 5:25)
“Greater live has no one than this – to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13)
“who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are His very own eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:14)
“who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Gal 1:4)
“that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures” (1 Cor 15:5)
“by His knowledge shall My righteous servant justify the many – for He will bear their iniquities” (Isa 53:11-12)
“He said this to signify that Jesus would die for that nation – and not for them only but to gather the children of God scattered” (Jn 11:52-63)
“shepherd the Church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28)
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.” (Jn 10:15-16)
“For You have given (Me) authority over all flesh so that (I) should give eternal life to all You have given to (me)” (Jn 17:2)
“All the Father gives Me will come to Me” (Jn 6:37)
“…and all who were ordained to eternal life, believed” (Acts 13:48)
Pronouns and context folks!
May God give light.
John M. Platanitis, April 14, 2017