Why Does One Person Choose God and Not Another?
(Why God Chooses Some and Not Others?)
Recent debate with Roger, a self-proclaimed Arminian ....
The following are some excerpts of a debate I recently had with a self-proclaimed Arminian over their belief that man's unregenerate will can cooperate with the Holy Spirit to make their own decision for or against Christ without effectual grace. While it is important to understand that Arminians themselves teach salvation by "grace alone", in a doctrine they call "prevenient grace," but how they define "grace alone," I believe, does not match up with the Scriptures and I hope to show how and why it does not. The following begins with my question (John) and his response follows (Roger) - from a debate that was in progress:
(John) - Why is it then that one unregenerate person believes the gospel and not another? Was he able to generate a right thought, produce a right affection, create right belief while at the same time man #2 did not have the natural wherewithal to come up with the faith to be saved? If they both made use of the same grace, did one make better use of it than the other? If prevenient grace places us in a neutral state, then what motivates one man to believe and not another? What principle in him made him choose what he did? If all men are neutral in prevenient grace was it by chance that one believed and not another? Is it the grace of God that makes you differ from unbelievers or is it your faith? If it is your faith then you indeed have something to boast of. "The flesh counts for nothing"
(Roger) - I will answer just as Calvinists do when asked why God selects one person for eternal bliss in heaven and selects another person for eternal punishment in hell. Every Calvinist I have ever asked gives the same response: "We don't know but it has nothing to do with merit." (Saying "for his own good pleasure" doesn't answer the question; it just begs it.) If Arminians are to accept that appeal to mystery from Calvinists why can't Calvinists accept Arminians' appeal to mystery? But all Arminians adamantly deny it has anything to do with merit.
(John) - [The question itself is quite presumptious because assumes in its premise that God must have a reason which is higher than Himself, which is an impossible supposition. It reveals quite a bit about the low view of God which Arminians hold. God is never subject to something outside of Himself, so if the Bible gives the reason for something as "God wills it" then this answer should suffice. To claim it does not, as Arminians suggest, is to presume on God. It is to say that God's own purpose must yeild to some higher purpose then Himself. Similarly it is quite disturburbing that anyone would claim that the answer "for his own good pleasure" doesn't answer the question; it just begs it." Disturbing because, when discussing election, this is precisely the reason and language the Bible gives for why God sovereignly elects: Indeed it is God's good pleasure (Eph 1:4,5; 2 Tim 1:9; Rom 9:15-18) The text does not say he chose us because we chose him, but He chose us accrording to the good pleasure of His will. This reason should suffice, because there is none higher. The Calvinist gives this answer because the Bible does. Is that not good enough for an Arminian? Is your unaided logical construct more authoritative than the Scripture?
Further, we know and trust the character of God in things He has yet to fully reveal to us, so we must not think that, on His side, God had no reasons or causes for saving some and not others since the divine purpose always conspires with His wisdom and does nothing without reason or rashly. In His counsels and works no cause is apparent, it is yet hidden with Him, so that He has decreed nothing except justly and wisely according to His good pleasure founded on His gracious love towards us. Just because we dont know what his internal reasons are that He chooses some to faith and justly passes over others this reason is not reason enough to reject something plainly revealed in Scripture. In the absence of relevant data, we, therefore, have no reason whatsoever to assume the worse of God, so there are no legitimate grounds for doubting the goodness of God here. The Reformed theologian ultimately answers these hard questions by saying that God is infinitely great and can do far more than we can fathom and we can rest assured He is good in all He does even though we don't understand all data. If God does not reveal why He chooses some and not others, the Scriptures still testify that He does and that this is His will. This should be good enough for any Christian. If we don't trust that God can choose whom He will, isn't that the same as not trusting in His goodness to do what is right? He knows better then we do. Certainly those he does not save deserve the justice they receive, no? And although we deserved the same justice our salvation is a free act of His mercy. So the unanswered questions of mystery such as this really serve to increase our appreciation of God's greatness. But the Arminian's unanswered questions appear to magnify our appreciation of man. Why man rejects Christ, apart from the new birth, should be obvious and plain in the Scripture, because man naturally loves sin more than he loves God. (John 3:19) Why a person is saved should also be plain: because of the sheer grace of a just, holy and merciful God, not that one person was more wise than his neighbor to make the right choice (Eph 2:5, 8; John 1:12, 13; 6:37, 39, 44, 63-65). (1) ]
[Actually Calvinists do not say "we don't know". There is no better reason in the universe for anything than God wills it according to His good pleasure. This does not "beg the question" but is the ultimate answer.] You speak of "mystery" in man's choice. I other words you are saying you don't know the answer, which is fair enough. But while there may, indeed, be mystery with God, when does the Bible ever express that the reason for man's internal disposition is a mystery? Where is the mystery in the choices man makes? There really is no mystery in why a man chooses to receive or reject Christ. The Scripture testifies that rejection of Christ is for one reason alone: because one is wicked ...[that he does not belong to God] and trusting Christ likewise is for one reason alone: the grace of God. The mysteries that the Bible speaks of are those things hidden from our eyes which are from God (Deut 29:29). The Bible never speaks of man receiving or rejecting Christ as a mystery. In fact, Scripture clearly indicates a very good reason for man's choices through all its pages ... Jesus Himself says, "...every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit." (Matt 7:17, 18).
Your position also has a problem of logic here: We live in a universe that makes sense with simple laws of logic (aided by the Scripture). So either God saves us or man saves himself. It is the law of excluded middle. Either God saves us or He does not. One of two possibilities. One or the other has to be true. They both cannot be true because of the Law of Non-contradiction. Not at the same time. And they both can't be false because of the Law of Excluded Middle. Simple. There is nothing mysterious about that. The failure of synergists to resolve these great questions tends to diminish God's greatness, omnipotence, omniscience and reliability and exalt the greatness of man since his choice, in your schema, is the sine qua non of salvation..
(To Repeat, Roger): "Every Calvinist I have ever asked gives the same response [to why God chooses one and not another]: "We don't know but it has nothing to do with merit." (Saying "for his own good pleasure" doesn't answer the question; it just begs it.)
Again what is truly amazing is that, in your above comment, you seem to mock the idea that says God predestined us "according to His good pleasure" and yet this is precisely the language Paul uses in the Bible to describe why God chooses us:
"...having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will." (Eph 1:5,6)
With all due respect I do not believe you purposefully have such a low view of Scripture, but saying that Paul's statement "begs the question" appears to reveal just that. Is your human reasoning to take higher authority in formulating your understanding of the gospel than God's Self-revelation? [that is a rhetorical question, but a serious one]. Can you actually come up with any purpose in the universe greater than God's good pleasure?
(Roger): "God's goodness which is precisely why I cannot accept Calvinism as true. The God of the Bible is a good God; our heavenly father and not a despot who could save everyone apart from any free choices they make but chooses rather to torture some in hell for eternity to glorify himself. This is not the God of Jesus Christ and of Scripture. Calvinism, in my opinion, impugns the character of God which makes it unacceptable. Furthermore, irresistible grace, limited atonement and unconditional election were unheard of among Christians before Augustine. How could something that crucial be missed for almost four hundred years?"
(John): Unheard of? The pages of Scripture, written all the way up to the turn of the first century, is filled with clear unambiguous statements that we are saved by grace through faith (Eph 2:5, 8). All that the Father gives to Christ will come to Him. Most of Paul's letters begin with explicit statements of the calling of God's elect. If the doctrine is good enough for Jesus, John and Paul it is good enough for me. This provides more than enough to know that the early church taught them, because the apostles did. But to further make the case, your fallacious reasoning would then mean that because the early church never discussed the doctrine of justification by faith alone it therefore has no place.. Using your language: "How could something that crucial be missed for... [1520 years]. The answer is because it was well understood that we were saved by grace through faith ... that is the language of Scripture. "Grace" meaning that God choose us, not because he saw any righteousness in us, but because of His great mercy (free and unconditional). "Faith" meaning our response to the free grace of God which opened our spiritual eyes so we would understand and turn to embrace Christ. Faith has always been penultimate to grace. This teaching is not hidden. For a listing of some prominent passages teaching election click here. There is many more where that came from. Lastly, the early church was embroiled in other controversies such as the doctrine of the Trinity and the divine and human nature of Christ. Salvation by grace through faith was taken for granted.
I find it interesting that your reason for not thinking we are saved by grace alone (the doctrine which believes that faith is not produced from our unregenerate nature) is that it makes you worry that it will impugn God's goodness and character. That is a good thing to be worried about. But even if you don't understand it there is a better reason to believe the truth of election: the Bible teaches it. We should always embrace what the Scripture teaches over and above our sometimes faulty reason. I wouldn't want to be in your position that so absolutely sees the doctrine of election as automatically making God unjust. It is a fearful thing, to make such comments about God's character. What if you're wrong? Then you are calling God unjust - You had better be pretty certain about your assertion.
I am glad that God chose many, for, left to ourselves, no one would have chosen God. My advice: trust in God's goodness - His reasons are always just and right. It must be remembered that if He passed over all of us and saved no one, He would be just in doing so. Even Arminians agree with this. Then why is it so easy to believe that He would then be unjust if He saved only a certain number of these same people??? We all justly deserve the wrath of God to begin with and that is why we call it mercy when He saves some. Your thinking is, therefore, inconsistent. Those who go to hell do so by their own choice. God has given them a free will and they use it to willfully rebel against Him. But to those God graciously imparts His grace, their sensibilities are restored and they freely choose to embrace Jesus as their Savior.
Conclusion: if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility
or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that
we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What
have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the
grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). If anyone affirms that we
can form any right opinion or make any right choice which relates to the salvation
of eternal life, or that we can be saved by assent to the preaching of the gospel
through our natural powers without the effectual work of the Holy Spirit, who
makes all whom He calls gladly and willingly assent to and believe in the truth,
he is led astray from the plain teaching of Scripture by exalting the natural
ability of man, and does not understand the voice of God who says in the Gospel,
"For apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5), and the word of
the Apostle, "Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything
as coming from us; our competence is from God" (2 Cor. 3:5). - Adapted
from The Counsel of Orange (529 AD)
(1) An everyday experience of this can be shown from the example of a child in an impoverished third-world country who is born into squallor, disease, war, famine and all around bleak circumstances, while the child born in a developed country is born into opulance, health, peace, security, and plenty yet there is no readily apparent reason why. Neither child deserved to be born into wealth or poverty more than the other, yet as Christians we all resolve this difficulty by trusting in the goodness of God; that He knows and has a purpose in all this beyond what we can fathom. It certainly does not appear fair from the naked eye. Election is similar. The Scriptures plainly teach that we were chosen in Him before time according to His own purposes (Eph 1:4-6) and we resolve this apparent problem in the same way. Because we trust in the goodness of God, that his pruposes are greater than our own. Again, if we cannot trust that God is good enough to make the choice Himself for His good pleasure, then it is not far from saying that one does not trust God to do what is right, and just and good. That is an inescapable conclusion. Not to mention that none of us deserve God's grace to begin with. If the Arminain says that He must allow us to have the ability to personally choose Christ, apart from the effectual grace of regeneration, or else God would be unjust, this is a conclusion based soley on unaided human reason, and not Scripture.
comments or criticisms?
(I made some grammatical corrections to the original debate and added the conclusion)