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God’s sovereignty vs. Human responsibility in Salvation – Matt. 22:14f

Updated: Dec 12, 2019

March 25, 2012 INTRODUCTION – My purpose today is to do my best to help you better understand and appreciate God’s sovereign, aggressive, merciful role in our salvation, and how that fits with our human responsibility. My purpose is not to present both sides of the controversy between Calvinism and Arminianism. There is tons of material on the internet on this controversy. But I must warn you – some of it, if not much of it is in the wrong spirit, and seems to be tainted by the accuser of the brethren.

Last week we sought to understand and respond to the parable of the King’s Banquet or the Marriage Feast in Matthew 22:1-14. Jesus Christ says in the last verse of that passage, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” Referring to the King who issued a legitimate invitation to all through His servants; but who then chose who truly belonged at His banquet, or the terms by which one can come and enjoy His banquet.

When we get to ch. 24 of Matthew -twice Jesus is going to refer to His disciples as “the elect”.

If you’ve been reading through the gospel of John with us in our daily bible readings, you might have noticed some statements by Jesus Christ such as: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him;” Jn. 6:44 and in vs. 65, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.”

Perhaps to reinforce this – and to cut Peter’s tendency toward pride off at the pass – – when Jesus later asked His disciples who they thought He was, and Peter answered correctly that He was “the Christ, the Son of the living God” – Jesus responded, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” In other words – had God not initiated revealing this truth to Peter, Peter could have never seen it or understood it.

Luke – the writer of the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts – made an interesting statement in Acts ch. 13 vs. 48 regarding Gentiles who had just come to faith in Christ. I quote, “When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” Note the word “appointed” in this context denotes God’s specific appointing or choosing these people to be saved.

The apostle Paul uses various terms to convey that God has very specifically and intentionally determined to save those who would become His children. For instance in Romans 8:29,30 he uses two different terms – foreknow and predestine. I quote, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom he predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” This is one of only two times where the term foreknew is used in the new testament; the other time it is used of Israel (Romans 11:2). But foreknowledge is used twice as well – once by Peter in his sermon speaking of Jesus whom he said was “….delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God..” (Acts 2:23), which would imply they are two different things, not one and the same – – similar to the phraseology of Rom. 8:29,30. The other time “foreknowledge” is used is also by Peter in his first epistle where he says of those believers he was writing to: “To those who reside as aliens….who are chosen according the foreknowledge of God the Father…” (1:1,2). If that was the only verse we have on this subject one might conclude that God chose those whom He knew would turn to Him for salvation. But alas we have so much more on this subject.

I resonated with the comments Paul Cedar wrote in his commentary on I Peter, when he said, “There is a great and marvelous mystery in our understanding of the Scripture regarding the relationship between the sovereignty of God and the freedom of the will of man. The Bible teaches that both exist. As mere fallible human beings, we have difficulty in understanding how they can coexist. And so, historically, systematic theologians have tended to emphasize one more than the other.”

Let me at this point provide a working definition of the terms foreknowledge and predestination: foreknowledge comes from the greek word – pro nosis where we get the English medical term prognosis from. Pro = before; gnosis = knowledge. Something known before it happens or takes place.

Predestination – predestined – comes from the greek word proorizo – pro = before; orizo = to mark out definitely, or to determine – – so to predetermine or determine before. Tis a more aggressive determinative word or concept than to foreknow something or someone.

Back to Paul, have you ever noticed how he speaks of his conversion in terms of God’s role in saving and calling him? In Acts 22, Paul was sharing his story with the Council of Pharisees and Sadducees in Jerusalem. I pick up the story with him telling of his being struck down by the bright light of God on the Damascus road – in vs. 10. Note the use of the word “appointed” both by God and Ananias: “And I said, What shall I do Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go on into Damascus, and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do. But since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me and came into Damascus. A certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me, and standing near said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very time I looked up at him. And he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear an utterance from his mouth.”

F.F. Bruce, the great greek scholar and biblical commentator – in his commentary on the book of Acts said of this verse and concept of being appointed by God, “…..God had foreordained Paul to be his servant; his choice and call were prior to Paul’s response.”

Perhaps the clearest and most instructive use of the term predestined is in Ephesians ch. 1 where it appears in both vs. 5 and vs. 11. Paul is seeking to help the believers in Ephesus understand how great their salvation is, and how great all the spiritual blessings that come with it are; and how great the Father’s initiative in it all is. Actually first Paul states in vs. 4 that the Father chose them “…before the foundation of the world,..”. Then in vs. 5 he says, “In love, He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.” Then in vs. 11 he says “we have been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.” 3 times in this passage Paul gives the ultimate purpose for all of this blessing, “to the praise of the glory of His grace” in vs. 6, and in vs. 12, 14 “to the praise of His glory”. Clearly when it comes to our salvation God wants and deserves the glory, not man.

I think it is important to note that all 6 occurrences of the word “predestined” are in conversations with or to or about believers. There are no hard, cold, mere theological statements about predestination in the Bible. And no where does it say God predestined that some would not be saved. What I find interesting about human nature is how we Christians read chapters like Ephesians 1 which was designed to help us see how great a salvation we have been given, and to elicit praise for our great God and His amazing grace toward us; but instead we see these references to our being chosen or predestined as indictments of God’s injustice – since in our limited minds – it seems logical that if God chooses and predestines some to be saved; He most definitely chooses and predestines that some would not be saved, and thus they are not given a choice in the matter. Scripture is clear in many places that the reason people are not saved is because they have rebelled against God and refused to bow the knee to Jesus Christ and receive Him as their Savior.

Perhaps at this point it would be good to look at one of the strongest passages in the New Testament about both the absolute justice and goodness of God and His absolute sovereignty – Romans ch. 9. You probably know that in Romans chps. 9-11 Paul is trying to help us understand God’s sovereign dealings with Israel and also with the Gentiles; and he is trying to prevent Gentiles from being arrogant toward the Jews. Starting with vs. 14, I want to read through vs. 23. “What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH.” So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.” You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will? On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which he prepared beforehand for glory…”

God is just and God is good and He will never treat any person in any way that goes against His character. But He is the infinite almighty God; and we are finite – born in sin – a people who see through a glass darkly… so we must examine these things with this in mind.

Because of time and space limitations, I’m not going to take you through all the references to elect and choose or chose or chosen in the N.T. that bear on this subject. But here are the ones pertaining to our salvation that you might want to look at on your own: Elect = Mark 13:20; Rom. 8:33; Chosen = Romans 11:7, Col. 3:12, II Thess. 2:13, II Tim. 2;10, Titus 1:1, I Peter 1:1,2 & Rev. 17:1; Chose = Eph. 1:4;

As we leave this side of the coin, and go to the other – I leave you with this question: Did God choose us because we chose Him, or did we choose God because He chose us?

Some would say – if you believe the truths that I just stated, you cannot believe the ones I’m getting ready to state. I beg to differ with that proposition. The reality is that while scripture clearly teaches that God predestines and chooses and elects and appoints those who will be saved, the scriptures are equally clear about the following four truths: 1. While God has instituted eternal punishment for those who rebel against Him and reject Him/Christ – – He clearly takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked – and He pleads for them through His servants to repent. “Say to them, ‘As I live! Declares the Lord God, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?” Ezekiel 33:11; Peter says, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” II Peter 3:9

2. God loves the whole world, Jesus died for the whole world, and His invitation to be saved is for the whole world. “ But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name,” John 1:12; “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16; “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom he has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” Acts 17:30; “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” I Timothy 2:3,4; “for “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.” Romans 10:13; “and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” I John 2:2

3. Jesus Christ clearly expects His church to go to the ends of the earth, to preach the gospel to and establish His church among every tribe, tongue and people, and to do our best to reach every person for Christ. “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” Matthew 24:14; “…Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations….” Matthew 28:19; “….I have become all things to all men so that I might by all means save some.” I Corinthians 9:22

4. Hell/eternal punishment is solely a result or consequence of the rebellion of man and his refusal to bow the knee and place his faith in Christ and repent of his sins. “ The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 13:41,42; “So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 13:49,50; From the parable we looked at last week – Jesus said re: the man who sought to enjoy the bounty of the banquet on his own terms – “Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 22:13; “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” Revelation 20:15;

8 Things that have helped me reconcile or learn to live with this tension that I have been aware of for at least the last 30+ years: 1. Working on my trust in the goodness (Psa. 86:5) and justice (Rom. 9:14,15) and mercy (Psa. 86:5) of God.

2. Coming to grips with the absolute inability and unwillingness of man to seek and turn to God on His terms. Another way of saying this is – embracing the reality of the depravity and the utter lost-ness of man. King Solomon wrote “Indeed there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.” Ecclesiastes 7:20; The apostle Paul wrote in Romans ch. 3 – quoting from various Psalms and from Isa. 53 “…THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.”….THE PATH OF PeaCE THEY HAVE NOT KNOWN.” THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES.” Romans 3:10-18; To me the most instructive passage actually is Ephesians 2:1-3 because Paul clearly is trying to help us see in that passage why it was necessary for God to take the initiative and intervene in the course we were all taking as described so wonderfully in Eph. Ch. 1. “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.”

3. Coming to terms with the fact that there a number of antinomies in this universe that won’t be solved until we are with Him and freed of these mortal bodies and limited minds. Ken Boa – in his excellent book that can be found in our church library entitled, “God, I Don’t Understand” stated it this way, “We need a word which describes the fact that God’s revelation to man sometimes goes beyond the level of human reasoning and comprehension by stating as factual two things which men cannot reconcile. The word antinomy describes these phenomena in God’s Word. Antinomy is defined by Webster as “a contradiction between two equally valid principles or between inferences correctly drawn from such principles.” Earlier in that chapter Boa writes, “The Bible forces any man to crash into the ceiling of his own comprehension, beyond which he cannot go until he sees the Lord face to face.”

I’ve been put in my place a number of times over the years with Paul’s declaration in Romans 3:4, “May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar as it is written, “THAT YOU MAY BE JUSTIFIED IN YOUR WORDS, AND PREVAIL WHEN YOU ARE JUDGED.” This declaration was in response to the accusation mentioned in the prior verse that God is not faithful to His word.

4. One of the most instructive examples in history of two equally godly men who differed greatly on their understanding of the concept of predestination is that of George Whitefield’s letter to John Wesley re: his sermon on this subject. This article will require some focused time as it is quite long and includes both Whitefield’s letter to Wesley and you can click on Wesley’s sermon that provoked the letter from Whitefield. Both of these men were great evangelists and Christian leaders in their day.

5. Reflecting on my being chosen by God is a motivation for my holiness – Col. 3:12 “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

6. Learning to focus on what God tells me to focus on, and not wasting time going in my thoughts where God doesn’t want me to go. I had two roomates in college that literally paralyzed themselves from any real fruitfulness – over this issue of God’s sovereignty vs. human responsibility – by allowing their minds to get wrapped up in the what if’s that our fallen minds love to dwell on. Will McCabe was sharing with me this last Thursday how he was wrestling with this issue this week, and he felt at one point God told him, “Just wear the clothes” referring to the spiritual clothing we have been provided or given in Christ, and that I referred to last week when we were discussing the man who showed up at the banquet without the proper attire.

7. For what it’s worth, just so you know I have not come up with something novel – in my take on these truths – – I’m pretty confident that I’m in decent company with the likes of: John MacArthur; Chuck Swindoll; Tony Evans; Chip Ingram; George Whitefield; Jonathan Edwards; John Piper; R.C. Sproul; Joseph Stowell; Greg Parsons; David Jeremiah, Charles Spurgeon, John Owen, William Wilberforce, and I’m pretty sure Dennis Peacocke and Jim Hamann are with me on this, but I intend to ask them to be sure; John Piper has written and spoken quite extensively about this doctrine. Here is his website if you want to read more:

8. Finally one of the things that has helped me embrace this doctrine of predestination is the oft repeated emphasis in scripture of the fact that our salvation is not of us, but of God. Vs. 4-10 of Ephesians ch. 2 just jumps out after 3 verses detailing our depravity and helpless lostness by saying, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (see also Titus 3:5-7).

Even after we are saved, we have a strong tendency to want to take credit for our salvation; or to not want to give God all the credit He is due. Spiritual pride is a pitfall we all are subject to; and one of the ways it is meant to be guarded against is by constantly reminding ourselves of what God has done for us in Christ; and where we would be had He not taken the initiative that He did.

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