Calvinism and Free Will, an Exegetical Vindication of Matthew 23:37

[Guest article by Kangaroodort; originally published on my old site in 2007]

Arminians have long pointed to Matthew 23:37 to respond to the Calvinist doctrines of determinism, limited atonement, and irresistible grace.

Calvinism teaches that Christ died only for the elect (particular atonement), that he has decreed whatsoever shall come to pass in human history (determinism- no human free will as pertains to true contingencies), and that man has nothing to do with his own salvation (monergism), which necessitates their doctrine of irresistible grace.

Matt. 23:37 poses serious problems for all of these doctrinal positions. It would seem that though Christ genuinely desired the salvation of the Jews, they were not saved. They were not saved because they were unwilling. If this be the case, then Calvinism cannot stand. Why?

Calvinists believe in unconditional election and reprobation. God determined from all eternity who would be saved and who would be damned. This determination was unconditional. This choice was according to God’s good pleasure. It pleased God to unconditionally elect some for eternal life. It also pleased God to unconditionally reprobate others to eternal punishment [this may be an active or passive reprobation]. Arminians feel that any such choice, if truly unconditional, would make God arbitrary. Very few Calvinists want to claim such a word as a description of God. They contend that God’s choice was not arbitrary but was still unconditional. If God’s choice was not arbitrary, then he must have had some reason for choosing one and rejecting the other. The Calvinist avoids this conclusion by appealing to God’s inscrutable counsel. God had a reason, but it had nothing to do with those being chosen or rejected, and it is simply beyond our understanding. This is the approach taken by Peterson and Williams in Why I Am Not An Arminian. They state, “His gracious choosing ultimately transcends our reason, but it is not arbitrary.” [pg. 66] The Arminian finds this unacceptable given the clear Biblical assertion that one is saved or rejected based on whether or not that person believes the gospel or continues in unbelief (Jn. 3:16-18, 36). The Arminian contends as strongly as the Calvinist for the Biblical doctrine of election, but believes that God’s decision to elect was based on the free response of his creatures to either accept or reject the gift of salvation.

Matt. 23:37 lines up perfectly with the Arminian view. In the Arminian view God genuinely desires that all of his creatures be saved (see also Ezk. 18:31, 32; 33:10, 11; 1 Pet. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:3). If they are not saved, it is due to their own refusal of God’s gracious gift, and not because God has unconditionally determined from all eternity to damn them (Hosea 11:1-2; Jer. 13:15-17; Rom. 10:21; Heb. 3:7-13). The Calvinist feels that determinism is the only way to reconcile human choices with God’s sovereignty1. There is no room for libertarian free will in their theology. Some Calvinists then deal with these passages by dividing God’s will into parts which are plainly contradictory. They maintain that God does not desire the eternal death of the wicked while at the same time unconditionally determining from all eternity that some should remain wicked, never know his saving grace, and perish eternally, according to his good pleasure. Here is pictured a God who stretches his hands out to the perishing while refusing to give them the grace they need to be saved. He can say that he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, while secretly desiring and guaranteeing their eternal death. The Arminian points out the inherent facade and is met with responses like, “God’s ways and thoughts are high above ours; his counsel is inscrutable”, or “Who are you O’ man to talk back to God?” etc. John Wesley summed up the problem well,

Our blessed Lord does indisputably command and invite “all men everywhere to repent” [Acts 17:30]. He calleth all. He sends his ambassadors in his name, “to preach the gospel to every creature” [Mark 16:15]. He himself “preached deliverance to the captives” [Luke 4:18] without any hint of restriction or limitation. But now, in what manner do you represent him while he is employed in this work? You suppose him to be standing at the prison doors, having the keys thereof in his hands, and to be continually inviting the prisoners to come forth, commanding them to accept of that invitation, urging every motive which can possibly induce them to comply with that command; adding the most precious promises, if they obey; the most dreadful threatenings, if they obey not. And all this time you suppose him to be unalterably determined in himself never to open the doors for him, even while he is crying, “Come ye, come ye, from that evil place. For why will ye die, O house of Israel?” [cf. Ezek. 18:31]. “Why” (might one of them reply), “because we cannot help it. We cannot help ourselves, and thou wilt not help us. It is not in our power to break the gates of brass [cf. Ps. 107:16], and it is not thy pleasure to open them. Why will we die? We must die, because it is not thy will to save us.” Alas, my brethren, what kind of sincerity is this which you ascribe to God our Saviour? [Excerpt from Predestination Calmly Considered; Readings in the History of Christian Theology, Volume 2, pg. 97]

Consider the Lord’s words to Judah in Jeremiah 13:15-17,

Hear and pay attention, do not be arrogant, for the LORD has spoken. Give glory to the LORD your God before he brings the darkness…But if you do not listen, I will weep in secret because of your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly, overflowing with tears, because the LORD’s flock will be taken captive.”

With regards to this passage, Walls and Dongell make the following observation,

Knowing that Judah did not turn and listen, the Calvinist concludes that God had already chosen to withhold his transforming grace from them, though he could easily have granted it. So while the text seems to identify Judah’s pride as the root cause of punishment, the Calvinist instead concludes that Judah’s ability to repent depends on God’s eternally fixed plan. Again, although the text seems to identify salvation as God’s deepest desire, the Calvinist must conclude that at a deeper level God never intended to bestow transforming grace on Jeremiah’s hearers. In other words, the true intentions of God cannot be discerned from his words. [Why I Am Not A Calvinist, pg. 57- emphasis in original]

It would seem that some Calvinists are rather uncomfortable with appealing solely to contradictory wills within God, and prefer rather to undertake exegetical wrangling in order to conform these passages to the tenets of Calvinist theology. This is the approach taken by James White in, The Potter’s Freedom. His handling of Matthew 23:37 is revealing, and ultimately does more harm than good for his position.

In Chapter 6, Mr. White attempts to explain away what he refers to as Norman Geisler’s “Big Three” verses to which he makes constant appeal in his book (Matt. 23:37; 1 Tim. 2:4; and 2 Pet. 3:9). His treatment of Christ’s lament over Jerusalem in Matt. 23:37 is not only problematic, but detrimental to his Calvinism. The passage reads, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” This passage seems to plainly indicate that Christ genuinely desired the salvation of the Jews (cf. Ezk. 18:30-32; 33:11), but their unwillingness prevented him from saving them. Mr. White wastes no time in helping us understand that we have it all wrong, and this should be very plain to us if we would just focus very hard on the context. The passage in question comes after a lengthy rebuke of the Pharisees and Scribes for being blind guides, hypocrites, etc. Therefore, Mr. White concludes that when Jesus says “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem”, he is not speaking of the Jews in general, or Jerusalem personified, but the leaders of Jerusalem (the hypocritical Pharisees and Scribes), and saying that he wanted to gather their children [in some sense, then, the Jews are the Pharisee’s and Scribe’s children?], but these corrupt leaders were not willing [to let Jesus gather “their”, i.e. the Pharisee’s and Scribe’s] children to himself, and therefore it was not the children themselves that were not willing. Mr. White concludes, “Jesus speaks to the leaders about their children that they, the leaders, would not allow him to ‘gather’…This one consideration alone renders the passage useless for the Arminian seeking to establish freewillism.” [pg. 138]

This “exegesis” is problematic for several reasons. First, it is hard to fit the further comments made by Jesus of these people (in verses 38, and 39) with the idea that Christ is only addressing these corrupt leaders. It is to the same people that Christ says, “For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” [vs.39] If Mr. White’s interpretation is accurate, then this statement must also be directed to the wicked Scribes and Pharisees. Were they the same who would call him “Blessed” when they saw him again? Such an interpretation does not seem to fit the historical context, for the Scribes and Pharisees certainly saw Christ again after this event and continued to be hostile towards his ministry to the point of securing his death. If Christ is speaking of the final restoration of Israel, as many scholars believe, then surely all of the people of Jerusalem are in view and not just the Scribes and Pharisees. Again, if Christ was addressing the Scribes and Pharisees that he had just rebuked, it is quite clear that none of them survived to see Israel’s final restoration. Even If we apply these passages to the triumphal entry (as very few scholars seem willing to do), it was the common people who called him “blessed”, and the Pharisees who called on Christ to rebuke them. Mr. White does not even address these verses in his book.

Second, this same lament is recorded in Luke 13:34-35 in a completely different context; one which will not so easily lead to Mr. White’s conclusions (in Luke, the Pharisees are trying to protect Jesus from Herod). Mr. White does not even mention the Luke account.

Third, there is no exegetical warrant for making such a strong distinction between “Jerusalem” and the “children” of Jerusalem. Such was a common use of Biblical language to use two terms to describe the same object. In the Old Testament We find God both calling his people “Israel”, and the “children of Israel”. Consider the word usage in Jeremiah Chapter 4, “At that time this people and Jerusalem will be told, ‘A scorching wind from the barren heights in the desert blows toward my people, but not to winnow or cleanse; a wind too strong for that comes from me. Now I pronounce my judgments against them…O Jerusalem, wash the evil from your heart and be saved…Tell this to the nations, proclaim it in Jerusalem…Your own conduct and actions have brought this upon you. This is your punishment…My people are fools; they do not know me. They are senseless children; they have no understanding.” [11, 14, 16, 18, 22, NIV-emphasis mine] It is clear that, in these passages, The Lord speaks to the city, the people, and the children as the same entity. When Jeremiah speaks of Jerusalem it is an obvious personification of those who live within the city, for he says of Jerusalem, “wash the evil from your heart”. Just as in Jeremiah’s day, the city is about to be destroyed due to the sin of its people. These are the very people whom the Lord desired to save. Their destruction is deserved due to their continual rebellion. They were “unwilling” to submit to their Lord, but instead killed those sent to them who were calling them to repentance. They will compound these sins by rejecting and killing the very Son of God. The city will therefore suffer destruction, and the rebellious “children”, unless they repent, will suffer the loss of their eternal souls,

When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” [NAS- Luke 19:41-44-emphasis mine].

Notice that in this parallel lament Christ says that the city’s enemies will level “you” and “your children within you”. If we assume again that “Jerusalem” is shorthand for the leaders of Jerusalem, then we need to explain how “your children” can be within these corrupt leaders [Jerusalem]. Obviously, as in Matt. 23:37, Jerusalem is personified, and is not a reference to leaders as contrasted with the common people of the city.

The fourth and most glaring problem comes from the fact that if we accept Mr. White’s “exegesis”, it creates an even bigger problem for his Reformed doctrines. Remember, according to Calvinism, God is sovereign over his creatures to such an extent that they have nothing to do with their own salvation (monergism). When God desires to save his elect, nothing can stop him, not even the unwillingness of the rebellious sinner (God will simply “make” him “willing”). Man can do nothing to thwart God’s saving purposes, they are irresistible. This is the very doctrine that Mr. White is trying to preserve with his “exegesis” of Matt. 23:37. But does he succeed?

Listen again to Mr. White’s explanation, “Jesus speaks to the leaders about their children that they, the leaders, would not allow him to ‘gather’.” [pg. 138] He reinforces this by connecting it to a previous verse [13], “But woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from the people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.” [138] Mr. White, then, trades one problem in for another, for the text plainly states that the Pharisees and Scribes were not allowing those who were entering to go in!! Now we have really opened a can of worms! If those who are saved are the ones that God has unconditionally elected from all eternity, how could anyone, including the Scribes and Pharisees, prevent them from entering in? How could they possibly “shut off the kingdom of heaven” from them? How could anyone “not allow [Jesus] to gather” them to himself? If they are the elect, then nobody can effectively “shut off the kingdom” from them; and if they are reprobates, it is God who has “shut off the kingdom” from them (by refusing them his saving grace), and not the Pharisees! And if they are reprobates without hope (for God has eternally and unconditionally decreed to reject them), then in what sense could Christ possibly have “longed” to gather them unto himself? Perhaps Mr. White did not think through the ramifications of his conclusions, or perhaps he just hoped that we would not. Whether we accept the traditional Arminian interpretation, or Mr. White’s proposed exegesis, Calvinism still suffers a fatal blow.

1 The Arminian typically holds to a libertarian view of free will. This view maintains that when a person makes a choice, he could just as truly have chosen otherwise. The person himself is the cause of his choice, gives weight to the options presented to him, and is therefore truly responsible for his choices. Calvinism typically holds to either determinism or compatibilism. For an excellent treatment on the various views of human freedom, see Jerry L. Walls and Joseph R. Dongell, Why I Am Not A Calvinist, pp. 96-153.

How Can Election Be Based on Foreknowledge if There is Nothing Good to Foreknow?

One argument often used by Calvinists against conditional election based upon God’s foreknowledge is that there are no conditions to being elected that man could possibly meet for God to foreknow. Calvinists contend that conditional election is not possible, because man is so utterly depraved, he could not possibly fulfill any of said conditions on his own, being devoid of God’s grace entirely.

“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10-12)

An argument sound in its logic, but not in its assumptions. The problem with this line of reasoning is that it assumes that God only foreknows the lives of men outside of the context of His grace and the gospel. If God only foreknows us by ourselves without His grace, then of course all humanity is hopeless, as we are totally lost without Him. While I’m sure that God is well aware of that fact, He also knows if we actually will receive Him or not when we hear His Son.

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.” (John 5:25)

God’s foreknowledge of the future also encompasses His doings as well as man’s: What He knows will occur is who will receive Him when they hear His word and the voice of His Son, not what we would do if He were to never show any grace at all to us. This argument takes God’s foreknowledge completely out of context, for if God were to foreknow us only by ourselves without His mercy, then we could not even exist.

“And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him, and find Him, though He be not far from every one of us: for in Him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.'” (Acts 17:26-28, emphasis mine)

Who hath given Him a charge over the earth? Or who hath disposed the whole world? If He set his heart upon man, [if] He gather unto Himself His spirit and His breath; all flesh shall perish together, and man shall turn again unto dust. (Job 34:13-15)

We cannot even exist outside of God’s mercy, much less believe the gospel. God foreknows not only how men will be in their natural state, but how men will react to His grace as well: Whether we will hear the voice of His precious Son and be brought to new and abundant life through Him (see John 5:25 above), or refuse to listen and reject His mercy (Zechariah 7:11, Romans 11:22).


Bottom Line:

  • God’s foreknowledge of men includes whether they will receive His word, not merely what they would do without Him.

Double-Talk From a Double Predestinarian

Dr. John Piper recently responded to the question, “What did the death of Jesus on the cross accomplish for the non-elect? Anything?” His reply, oddly, raises more questions than it answers. Despite his views on unconditional election and reprobation, Piper frames his answer in terms of God giving those who aren’t chosen a “chance” at salvation. Ted Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber, was identified partially by his unusual, but correct use of an oft-misquoted proverb that’s very applicable here: “You can’t eat your cake and have it too.”

To understand the issue, the reader should understand that Piper is a 5-point Calvinist, and believes that whether one is saved or not is strictly up to the choice of God, with no input from man or conditions fulfilled by man whatsoever, and that God unchangeably chose or rejected each individual before the world was ever made. He also believes that Christ didn’t die for the ones that weren’t chosen in any sort of way by which they could be saved (this is commonly called “limited atonement”), and that whether one accepts the gospel or not is entirely dependent upon whether he has been “regenerated” by God beforehand (per Calvinism, one who is regenerated inevitably will believe the gospel, one who isn’t regenerated never can). With that said, let’s examine Piper’s response.

In one sense, as soon as we sin we should be punished eternally. We shouldn’t get another breath. There should be no reprieve. There should be no time given to us. So clearly then, in some sense, the time given to us is grace. And grace for a sinner requires some kind of payment or purchase or warrant from a holy God. And Christ would be the one who provides that.

So I’m inclined to say, “Yes, the fact that the non-elect, the unbelievers all over the world are still breathing and have another chance to believe is a gift, just like the offer of the gospel is a gift. And that offer is provided by the cross.”

I’m not sure I agree with that logic. I do believe God, in His just nature, punishes sin; and that atonement is required to escape one’s being punished. But now there has to be some sort of payment for delaying that punishment? I also did a double-take when I read this. The guy who regularly stresses double-predestination just used the phrase “chance to believe?” Read on, it gets weirder.

Now here’s the catch. Romans 2:4 says, “Don’t you know that the patience of God is meant to lead you to repentance? But you, by your hard and unrepentant heart, are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when the righteous judgment of God is revealed.”

So if a non-elect person spurns-which they do-they spurn this grace, the grace itself becomes added judgment. Which makes me wonder, “In what sense was it grace?” In some sense it is. It’s a real offer, it’s a real opportunity. But if you spurn it, if you reject it, it backfires and mounts up with greater judgment.

I would agree with Piper’s sentiment that one who spurns God’s grace opens himself up to harsher condemnation. What’s confusing about his answer is his use of terms like “real offer” and “real opportunity.” Per Piper’s own views, whether you will believe and be saved or not has already been unconditionally and immutably settled before you were ever born.

Previously, Piper insinuated that the non-elect are given a “chance to believe” (“chance” apparently not implying randomness, but being used in the idiomatic sense to convey opportunity). But the only “chance” involved is the [to us] unknown factor of whether you are already one of the chosen ones: If you are one of the elect, there’s no chance that you won’t believe; if you’re one of those who have been unconditionally rejected with no possible appeal or recourse, there’s absolutely no chance that you will. And whatever you are, your position as elect or non-elect can’t and won’t change. It’s not a matter of there being a “chance” of backfire for the unchosen in the Calvinistic view, such “grace” cannot do anything but backfire.

It’s like the more kindness is shown to a person that they resist, then the more wicked they show themselves to be. And the more wicked they show themselves to be, the more judgment falls upon them.

I think the answer is yes. I think real grace, real common grace, real offer of salvation-right now, just watching this-is grace. And if you’re a non-Christian, grace is being offered you at this very moment in my warning you that, if you spurn this, judgment will be greater.

Again, I’d largely agree with the sentiment. The question is how can this kind of statement square with Piper’s divinely fatalistic views? It’s also notable that Piper isn’t just talking about how people perceive things, but about things that God intentionally does.

And that’s a gift to you right now that God may be pleased to then use to awaken you to say, “Whoa. I don’t want to multiply my judgment. I want to respond to this moment of grace.”

That’s what I think the upshot of this conversation should be: respond to the grace. You’re alive! There’s still a chance to believe and be saved.

Again, per 5-point Calvinism, if you’re not among those elected to salvation, tough beans. God hasn’t chosen you, Christ didn’t die for you, and the Holy Spirit most certainly won’t regenerate you. You are lost without remedy, condemned already beyond repair, there isn’t a single ray of hope, and you never had a prayer. The accessibility of salvation to you is absolute zero. Nothing. Zilch. Nada. So how can a person to whom salvation isn’t even remotely applicable have any sort of “opportunity” to be saved?

Put even more simply, if Christ didn’t die for the forgiveness of one’s sins in any sense, then there can never be an “opportunity to be saved” for him, because there is no way to be saved unless Christ died to forgive his sins.

Such doublespeak is strong cause to question Piper’s personal theology. If his determinist views are so repugnant that he has to “balance” them with concepts that flatly contradict his doctrine, then he’s essentially embraced cognitive dissonance. If you reject universalism, but believe that God still genuinely offers salvation to all men, then which is more consistent and less convoluted to believe?

1. Christ died provisionally for the sins of all, such that any who believe in Him will be forgiven.

2. Or Piper’s view, where if you’re not one of the elect, you’re given an “opportunity” that you can’t possibly take, to accept an “offer” of salvation from God that isn’t really His will that you accept, just so you’ll have a “chance” to obtain faith that isn’t even accessible to you, wrought by a Savior who didn’t die to forgive your sins, but whose death fortunately did provide “grace” that will inevitably backfire and condemn you even more. Makes perfect sense. Where do I sign?

The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics – Fallacies #14: Conditional Election Makes God a Respecter of Persons?

Related Fallacies:

John Hendryx, who we’ve noted has employed numerous fallacies in defense of Calvinism and distortions against Arminianism, is at it yet again. This time he’s trying to prove that it’s conditional election, not unconditional election, that makes God into a “respecter of persons.” Before I address his points, I believe that the idea that God is impartial has to be defined and qualified carefully: God being impartial does not mean that He treats everyone exactly the same in every respect, nor does it imply that He gives the same circumstances or blessings to everyone. Scriptural references to God’s impartiality appear to refer primarily to how He makes His judgments of men’s hearts and actions, and how He accepts people who fear Him. It doesn’t imply God having some kind of warped, hyper-egalatarian mentality where He ensures everyone’s lot in life is exactly on par. Having examined the issue myself, I think it would be difficult to make a solid case for either conditional or unconditional election violating the principle of God’s impartial judgment in scripture, since election isn’t really the same thing as judgment. However, Hendryx seems to think this does make a good case against Arminianism, and so he tries to paint Arminian doctrine as making God into a respecter of persons, while exonerating his own doctrine. As we shall see, this is one of the worst possible maneuvers, and backfires on him badly.

Redefining Partiality

Hendryx cites Leviticus 19:15, Proverbs 24:23, 1 Peter 1:17, Acts 10:34, Romans 2:11, and James 2:1-9 among others, to prove that God is impartial. Quoting him,

They are clearly warning the believer against showing favoritism or partiality, because they declare that God Himself does not show partiality or favoritism. And. most importantly, in each of these instances it means neither we nor God give special treatment to a person because of his position, merit, wealth, influence, social standing, authority or popularity. Thus ‘respecter of persons’ means we are not to favor one person over the other because of ANY superior personal trait in the one favored, and likewise we are not to show prejudice toward those who lack these characteristics.

Hendryx’s definition of “respecter of persons” is too narrow: to show respect to persons extends beyond just showing favoritism due to superficial personal traits, it implies special treatment based upon any unobjective, uneven or irrelevant criteria. Let’s give an example: Suppose a judge renders his verdict in a case, but bases his decision not upon guilt or innocence, but upon how much he personally likes the plaintiff and defendant. Is that showing partiality? It most certainly is. Keep that in mind as we continue….

So when God unconditionally elects a person in Christ does he first determine who he will choose based on their position, wealth, good looks, influence etc? No.

We’re agreed on that point.

By definition unconditional election means unconditional. It is not conditioned on ANYTHING in us or potentially in us.

This is also technically correct. Judgments are to be based upon what is actually done (guilt, innocence, or other objective criteria pertaining to action), not personal traits.

God does not stand to gain from currying anyone’s favor … even those who are in high positions … because God gave them that position, wealth, authority or social standing to begin with. The Bible unambiguously teaches, therefore, that God is no respecter of persons in election. Those who are chosen are chosen “in Christ” not because God is thinking about what he has to gain by helping them over others.. God has no need for such things, so, by definition, his choosing us cannot be tainted with such a motive.

This is something of a non-sequitur: having a motive of personal gain is one way to show partiality, but is by no means the only way. Proving that God has need of nothing and that He doesn’t judge on the basis of material gain or influence doesn’t automatically establish impartiality. Looking at our example of the judge above, if asked why he rendered the verdict that he did, which responses would indicate partiality or impartiality?

“The evidence that came out in the proceedings made it overwhelmingly clear.” – impartial
“Multiple eyewitness accounts establish this beyond reasonable doubt.” – impartial
“The argument was logically sound and airtight.” – impartial
“I rendered judgment strictly as the law dictates.” – impartial
“I scratch his back, he’ll scratch mine!” – partial (motive of personal gain; but there are plenty more than just this)
“He looked guilty.” – partial
“I just had a feeling.” – partial
“He’s my nephew.” – partial
“The other guy made his case much more eloquently.” – partial
“I don’t like his type.” – partial
“I just wanted to do it that way.” – PARTIAL

Note that the last example is unconditional, a verdict rendered simply by arbitrary fiat (hereafter, just “fiat”). It is not objective, and it therefore doesn’t really matter what other reasons he has for declaring one guilty and the other innocent in such a case, such a ruling is partial. Hendryx refers back to the quote from James 2:1-9,

James question is rhetorical, of course. Because yes indeed God HAS chosen the poor of the world … i.e. those who are spiritually bankrupt who have lost all hope in themselves… S0 God is not looking to benefit from those who are already full, but shows special care those who are empty or impoverished. … So according to the Bible, showing special favor to the poor is the very antithesis of what it means to show favoritism or respect of persons.

Hendryx again displays a misunderstanding of what impartiality is. The quote he cited above from Leviticus declares,

“You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor.” (Leviticus 19:15, NKJV)

Which plainly indicates that it is partiality to show favoritism in judgment to a poor man simply because he is poor. I would instead interpret James as referring to correlation and contrast: people are seldom granted riches in both spiritual and material possessions. Hendryx also unwittingly argues for conditional election in stating,

“[So] God is not looking to benefit from those who are already full, but shows special care those who are empty or impoverished.”

If God elected on that basis, that would still be conditional election, since being empty and impoverished would be a condition to being elect.

So far, Hendryx’s major errors have been in equating partiality as being based upon,
1.) personal traits
2.) motive for personal gain

And in concluding that judgment that isn’t for personal gain must be impartial (which is not necessarily true, since judgment based upon fiat is also partial).

Redefining Synergism

…it is actually those who defend CONDITIONAL election who make God a respecter of persons. This is because, if it were true that meeting some condition prompted God’s decision to elect his people then His choice of them would be based on their wisdom, prudence, sound judgment, or good sense to believe. He would therefore be looking at the character or merit of that person and choosing them because of it.

This is entirely incorrect for one simple reason: election based upon whether one does (or will) believe is not rooted in traits, but action: belief in Christ. Hendryx’s reasoning falls completely apart when applied to actual cases of judgment. If a judge discerns from the evidence that a man is innocent, and declares him “not guilty,” is he showing favoritism because of the man’s “good sense not to commit the crime?” Not at all, his judgment is based upon action, not character. Whether the man is smart, stupid, sensible, foolish, etc, is irrelevant. A just and impartial verdict is based upon the objective criteria of his actions.

The Bible, on the contrary, declares that we are all ill-deserving and, as such, God reserves the right to have mercy on whom he will, which is not based in any way on the will of the flesh (John 1:13; Rom 9:15, 16).

Simply having the right to do what one wishes doesn’t make on impartial, those are separate issues (as supreme power allows for fiat). God is both sovereign and impartial (and therefore doesn’t rule by fiat).

If God is basing his election on who will have faith then this would, in fact, make God a respecter of persons because these persons are meeting God’s criteria in order to be chosen.

In synergism God’s love for his people is not unconditional but is given only when someone meets the right condition… i.e. whether someone has faith or not. He chooses them only if they believe in him. Isn’t that favoritism?

Here is Hendryx’s third major error: basing decisions upon objective and relevant criteria (such as action) is not showing favoritism. Complaining about objective criteria as a basis for decisions is directly analogous to (and exactly as ridiculous as) accusing a judge of partiality in his rulings because he’s “biased in favor of the innocent.” Decisions based upon objective conditions (rather than merely who the persons involved are) are the very epitome of impartial judgment. In labeling that as “favoritism,” Hendryx has the issue completely and totally backwards.

God loves his people because he loves them. Is there some better reason OUTSIDE or ABOVE God that should make him do so? The Arminian would have us think so.

This is also a bit strange, nothing makes God love anyone; He does so freely, and extends saving grace to those who freely believe. And Arminians don’t believe in anything “above” God, so Hendryx seems very confused in his verbiage at this point.

Redefining Conditionality

It is the synergist who believes God shows favoritism or partiality because it is based on whether or not that person meritoriously meets the condition God gives him.

To define believing as a “meritorious” act goes completely against the theology of all major Synergists. Something being a condition does not make it meritorious, as even demeritorious things can be conditions (sin is a condition for damnation). As orthodox Synergists maintain, faith is a condition to salvation, but is of itself of no intrinsic worth or merit. Hendryx is in such a fervor to promote his Calvinist agenda that he’s stooped to badly misrepresenting Synergist theology.

Redefining Context

Hendryx drones on with his ridiculously Westernized canard about parents unconditionally loving their children and making sure they don’t get hit by oncoming traffic (apparently while making sure that the children they don’t like do get run over). He tries to use this analogy to establish that God’s love for His children isn’t conditioned upon things like faith. This is countered easily enough: first, God does love all men in the world unconditionally, which is why Christ was sent (John 3:16, which also specifies the condition of faith for eternal life). Secondly, trying to frame God’s relationship to His children as being strictly analogous to the relationships between human parents and our children is fatally flawed: none of us (apart from Christ) are His children in any sense pertaining to salvation, but we’re rather children of wrath. But the scriptures declare,

“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26)

So faith is a condition to even being His child to begin with; Hendryx’s analogy, contrary to Galatians 3, incorrectly assumes that the elect are God’s children in some special sense apart from faith.

So now God is partial?

He leads into this with some minor issues, noting that God is not obligated to save anyone and his choices are always good (I agree). He cites people’s varying circumstances and stations in life, people treating their own children differently from their neighbors, Jesus’ selective healings & resurrections of the dead (e.g. Lazarus), and so on, to prove that in actuality, God does show favoritism. As I pointed out at the beginning, God’s impartiality is descriptive of His judgment and acceptance, trying to twist it to mean that people should have identical circumstances in the world is stretching it well beyond its intended meaning. Nonetheless, we now start to see a subtle shift in Hendryx’s argument: he was just arguing that condtional election (as opposed to his view of unconditional election) makes God out to be playing favorites, but now he’s actually acknowledging that he believes God is showing favoritism, and that he extends it to election as well. He argues,

…everyone is born equally guilty in Adam and so it is perfectly just that not all get the same benefits in this life when they are born. If this is true of everyday life why is it such a stretch to carry the same idea into eternity? it is hypocrisy not to recognize this inconsistency.

The question really is not whether God shows favorites but IN WHAT SENSE does God not show favorites because God chose Abraham out of all the people’s of the earth, not because he saw something good in him, nor because he earned God’s favor, but because God chose to.

I agree that not everyone gets an equal lot in this life; I don’t believe that’s what the Bible’s teachings about God’s fairness and impartiality are in reference to. But Hendryx has turned it into a problem for himself: No sooner has he finished arguing that conditional election implies God playing favorites, than he takes supposed examples of God’s “favoritism” in regards to people’s life circumstances and tries to extend them to election. As the saying goes, “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.” It’s a stunning display of cognitive dissonance for him to condemn one view of election for allegedly being partial (and therefore inferior to his view), then holding up alleged examples of partiality, and proceeding to use those to promote his own view of election! This inconsistency is Hendryx’s fourth major error. First he tries to blast conditional election for making God partial in His choosing, yet now he’s backpedaling and making the claim that God is partial in His choosing, He’s just partial in a different way.

If God doesn’t satisfactorily explain to you the good reasons He has for what he does, do you thereby condemn Him for it?

No one’s arguing that God needs to explain all of His reasons, we’re discussing how God’s revelation of His impartiality relates to divine election. Despite his decrial of condemning God based upon not understanding His reasons, Hendryx himself is quick to condemn the Arminian understanding of God as partial, and he does so without even understanding what partiality in judgment means.

Sanity Check

The issue of people having different circumstances in life doesn’t necessarily denote God being partial at all. As a counter-example, if I give my children different chores according to their ability, different bedtimes appropriate to their ages, different gifts to fit different interests, and different rewards and punishments fitting for differing behavior, I’m not playing favorites. However, if both are equally guilty of willfully disobeying a rule that carries a standard penalty, it would be playing favorites and partial judgment for me to unconditionally punish one and unconditionally pardon the other. The last major underlying error apparent in Hendryx’s reasoning is the idea that everyone being guilty makes God’s choosing some unto salvation impartial. Everyone being guilty of offending the supreme God would make His treatment, at the very least, equal to or less than what we deserve. I must stress though that this is not the same thing as impartiality. The issue is not fairness to just an individual, but partiality between individuals.

Take for instance a judge who is rendering his judgment against two men who have been proven to be equally guilty of the same crime. If he unconditionally shows leniency to the one, but condemns the other, his judgments are at worst, what the men deserve, but they are not impartial, as he is showing favoritism to one over the other. While this example pertains to judgment, not election, it is nonetheless exactly analogous to the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election. Hendryx condemns conditional election as making God partial, yet himself proposes a scheme of election that is partial by definition. By that token, conditional election would be akin to the judge offering both men an opportunity for acquittal: say he offers that if one or both of them will sign a pledge of loyalty and service to their rightful ruler that apologizes for and renounces their evil acts, then the judge will show undeserved leniency to whoever signs it. One signs it and goes free, the other does not and is condemned. Was the judge showing favoritism in giving a different verdict? Not at all. The conditions were laid out; he judged them worthy of condemnation by the same standard to both, and showed undeserved leniency (or not) based upon the same objective (yet non-meritorious) condition to both. This is likewise analogous to how election is conditional per the Arminian view, and plainly demonstrates that God shows no respect of persons, but rather shows leniency based upon the objective standard of faith in Christ.

If God’s impartiality does apply to election, then unconditional election will invariably be shown wanting. The only options when choosing impartially are,

1.) Everyone is chosen unconditionally.
2.) No one is chosen unconditionally.
3.) Only some are chosen, but upon an objective basis.

The only way for God’s choosing to be impartial is if only some are chosen unconditionally, AKA unconditional election. If God is impartial in election, and only some are elect, then conditional election is the only game in town.

Bottom Line:

* The impartiality that the Bible attributes to God has to do with His righteous judgments and acceptance of righteous men; it doesn’t follow from this that everyone will have identical life circumstances.
* Hendryx’s definition of partiality is too narrow. There are more ways to be partial than simply judging based upon personal traits or for personal gain.
* The act of choosing one over another by fiat is, by definition, showing favoritism.
* That all men are guilty of sin is irrelevant to the issue of God’s impartiality: choosing one over another unconditionally is still being partial.
* God choosing according to one’s belief is not basing His choice upon a personal trait.
* God choosing based upon objective and relevant criteria (like faith) is not showing personal favoritism.
* Something being conditional is not the same as it being obtained by merit.
* If God’s impartiality does extend to election, then conditional election is the only impartial method by which some (not all or none) can be chosen. Thus such an argument ultimately backfires on the Calvinist.

Chosen From the Beginning: The Doctrine of Election

Election? As in every four years?

It is quite a surprise for many evangelical Christians to learn that God chose (elected) them to be saved before the world began. A majority of evangelical Christians (in my experience anyway) are all but totally unfamiliar with the concept of election, some even refusing to believe it at all. But regardless of what objections are raised, the Bible is quite explicit on the matter:

“But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the very beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth…” (2 Thessalonians 2:13)

The Bible does clearly teach the concept of election, yet it also undeniably teaches the concept of free will. Many have a hard time reconciling the ideas that we were chosen by God even before we were born and us having any choice in the matter. Most end up thinking the two concepts to be mutually exclusive and believing only one or the other. Nevertheless, I believe the two fit together perfectly with an all-knowing God, which is exactly what I endeavor to show in this article.

Okay, I’m taking it for granted that you know that God is omnipotent (all-powerful – even over the human will), and omniscient (all-knowing, not only of things now and past, but of things that will yet be). I cite the following scripture to prove both:

“Remember the former days of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure…” (Isaiah 46:9-10)

The key to understanding election and free will is God’s supreme knowledge, His foreknowledge specifically. Though it is hard for us to understand as mortal men, God knows everything that has occurred, is occurring, and will occur in the future. God knew even before He created you what you would be like: your physical characteristics, your decisions, the clothes you wear, the things you like to do, your favorite beanie baby, etc… God knew from the beginning of time what you would decide given the choice to believe or refuse the gospel of His Son. He knows if you will stop your ears and refuse to understand, if you will receive it, but not be committed, if you will believe, but love the world more, or if you will accept and follow with all your heart. Because God knows beforehand what every man will do when the word is preached to them, it hardly seems unbelievable that He appoints to salvation those that He knows will humble themselves and hear His word.
That sounds a little left-field. Is that in the Bible?

Of course its’s in the Bible.

“For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified.” (Romans 8:29-30)

[Peter writing to other believers] “…Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 1:2)
It is interesting to note that God’s reasons behind election and predestination revealed in the Bible are few:

  • It is according to God’s grace (Romans 11:5)
  • It is according to God’s good pleasure (Ephesians 1:5)
  • It is according to God’s purpose (Ephesians 1:11)
  • It is according to God’s foreknowledge (1 Peter 1:2, see above)

For this reason, I believe a good emphasis on God’s foreknowledge is important when teaching about the subject of election.

What exactly did God foreknow about us?

Though it is not exactly stated in these passages, I believe that it is speaking of God’s knowledge of who will humble themselves and receive His word when He reveals it to them. I base this on what the Bible says about who God shows mercy to: Romans chapter 9 indicates that God chooses to show mercy to whoever He wants to, and that He chooses us, not we ourselves; but it is also consistently taught in the Bible that God shows His mercy on the humble and rejects the proud. You can read about that in more detail in my article on free will. There is also a clear Biblical example of God’s foreknowledge of the human heart:

[speaking of the children of Israel] “For when I shall have brought them into the land which I sware unto their fathers, that floweth with milk and honey; and they shall have eaten and filled themselves, and waxen fat; then will they turn unto other gods, and serve them, and provoke Me, and break My covenant. And it shall come to pass, when many evils are befallen them, that this song shall testify against them as a witness; for it shall not be forgotten out of the mouths of their seed: for I know their imagination which they go about, even now, before I have brought them into the land which I sware.” (Deuteronomy 31:20-21)
Keep in mind that God knew this despite the fact that He did not cause it.

“And they have built the high places of Tophet, which [is] in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded [them] not, neither came it into My heart.” (Jeremiah 7:31)
The meaning of the phrase that their idolatry had not come into God’s heart does not indicate that God did not know of their rebellion (obviously, as He predicted it in Deuteronomy 31), but it is clear evidence that God was not the engineer of such licentiousness. As well as knowing wickedness, He also knows if we will heed Him.

“For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and [without] teraphim: Afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the LORD their God, and David their king; and shall fear the LORD and His goodness in the latter days.” (Hosea 3:4-5)

For good or evil, God knows our ways from the beginning. God knew the children of Israel, that they would be unfaithful to Him in generations to come, as well as their future return to Him (not to say that we can come to God on our own, but we respond to His call and grace). God knows us in the same way; we are all sinners by nature and do not know His ways, but even before we decide, He already knows if we will follow Him or not when He does show us His way. So this is where the two concepts of free will and election tie together: You do have free will to humble yourself and hear God’s call (as in Hosea 3:4-5 above), or stiffen your neck and reject Him as Israel has done:

“But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear. Yea, they made their hearts [as] an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the LORD of hosts hath sent in His Spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the LORD of hosts.” (Zechariah 7:11-12)

Whatever choice you make, God already knew beforehand, and has appointed you to be conformed to Christ’s image and inherit eternal life if you will receive His Son, or eternal destruction if you will stop your ears and refuse Him.

“What if God, wanting to show His wrath and make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy which He had prepared beforehand for glory…?” (Romans 9:22-23)
So does being humble earn us a place as elect?

Not in the least. No one can earn God’s grace in any sense. Just because God requires that you humble yourself to receive His mercy does not make you deserve His mercy. Otherwise, it would not be mercy. Mercy can however, be conditional, as can be clearly seen in the case of Solomon and Shimei (1 Kings 2:36-46). Many people get hung up on the idea of God’s election hinging on us in any way. Yet the Bible does teach the concept of conditional election.

“And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to your virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-11)
Even after we are saved (and this passage is definitely speaking to and about saved people), we must abide in Christ (see also, John chapter 15) and make our calling and election sure. Since this passage shows that election is conditional even after one is redeemed, it should not be too hard to understand that our election from the foundation of the world was conditioned by God on His knowledge of us hearing and receiving His word.

I know the idea that election is conditional even after we are saved may raise some questions, so I have posted an article on the security of salvation.

Bottom Line:

  • Believers are ‘elected’ (chosen) by God unto salvation before the foundation of the world
  • Election is according to God’s grace, purpose, pleasure, and foreknowledge of us
  • Because God already knows who will humble themselves* and hear His word when He calls them, the doctrine of election does not contradict the concept of free will

* Note that humbling oneself and hearing God’s word are not within the ability of the natural man alone, but only by the intervention of God’s grace. When grace is granted a man he can then hear and believe, but is also free to disbelieve.

“John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.” (John 3:27)
For further study into the scriptures:
A Closer Look at Romans 9

God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Free Will

Many who read the word of God and believe that God is sovereign (all-powerful and in control of all things) come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as free will, since God is in control and man is not. They apply this especially to the process of salvation, stating essentially that God chooses who will be redeemed and who will not before they are even born, to the point that a man basically has no choice as to whether he will be saved or not. Some even go so far as to argue that if someone believes in free will, that they must not believe that God is Almighty (since man, not God makes some decisions), but this teaching is ignorant.

God’s Ultimate Authority

First off, the Bible teaches unmistakably that God has power over all things, even the human will. Let’s look at a few passages:

The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever He will. (Proverbs 21:1)

For it was of the Lord to harden their [the Canaanites’] hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that He might destroy them utterly, and that they might have no favour, but that He might destroy them, as the Lord commanded Moses. (Joshua 11:20)

A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps. (Proverbs 16:9)

Man’s goings are of the Lord; how can a man then understand his own way? (Proverbs 20:24)

Wherefore the king hearkened not unto the people; for the cause was from the Lord, that He might perform His saying, which the Lord spake by Ahijah the Shilonite unto Jeroboam the son of Nebat. (1 Kings 12:15)

There are several cases in the Bible of God moving people to do things, so it follows that free will outside of the control of God (I’ll call it ‘unlimited free will’) cannot be true.

Okay, so we don’t have free will?

Though many Christians seem to polarize to either total determinism or unlimited free will, I believe that the concept of limited free will finds more support in the Bible than either extreme. Despite the passages of the Bible that assert God’s power over the human will, the Bible is also full of instances of men going directly against the will of God.

“But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel [will] of God against themselves, being not baptized of him [John].” (Luke 7:30)

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!” (Luke 13:34)

So it is apparent that God does not choose to completely control the will of men either, otherwise they could not go against His will.

The Principle of Delegation

To understand free will and God’s omnipotence, you have to understand the principle of delegation. Delegation is when one gives a measure of authority to someone below him or her; though ultimate authority is still retained by the one who delegated it. For instance, a general in the Army has a lot of authority, whereas a private has virtually none. But if said general trusts one of his privates, he can delegate some of his authority to that soldier. He could say, “I don’t care who wants to come in here, you have my authority to stop anyone trying to enter here except for me.” The soldier now has the word of the big boss behind him, and it doesn’t matter who comes there, sergeants, officers, even people in his chain of command, he has the authority to stop them from entering. Of course, with the general being the boss, he also has the power to limit or take away the power he delegated at any time. Okay, so, nice lesson in military command structure, but what does that have to do with God? Being omnipotent, God is capable of not only making decisions, but also delegating the power to make decisions to His creatures below. God still maintains ultimate control, and has the power to guide or change the human will as He pleases, but generally lets us make our own choices. This could be referred to as ‘limited free will;’ that is to say, free will within the confines of the will of God. To state it more simply, we have free will to the extent that God lets us have free will, for if He wanted to, He could surely control every single facet of our lives. So it is then logically possible for God to be truly all powerful, while at the same time permitting us to have a free will within the limits He imposes.

Bondage of the will

One major argument used by those who don’t believe in free will is that the human will is in bondage to sin, so it cannot be free to follow God unless God changes them. The Bible does in fact teach that the human will is in bondage to the sin nature that is in us, making us carnal and wicked, and unable to truly serve God.

For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that I do not; but what I hate, that do I. (Romans 7:14-15)

A sinful nature makes you spiritually dead, and incapable to being subject to the law of God (Romans 8:7), putting even the strongest human will into bondage.

What is the solution for our hearts being in slavery to sin? Though men are spiritually dead and in darkness by nature, Christ is the light of the world and can give life to the dead.

“Indeed I say to you, he that hears My word and believes on Him that sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. Indeed I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.” (John 5:25)

Understand that Jesus was not speaking of a future resurrection, (He spoke of that as a future event in verse 28 of the same chapter), but said that the time was even now. Just as Christ called the physically dead Lazarus forth from the grave (John 11:43-44), so when He calls those who are dead in sin and trespasses, they will live if they will hear Him. So though we are spiritually dead by nature, our very hearts enslaved by our own sinfulness, when Christ chooses to call us, we are free to believe or reject Him. If we hear Him and receive His words, we will be granted life through faith in Him, else, we will remain dead in our sins. The fact that our wills are in bondage to sin and we are spiritually dead does not stop us from being able to hear the life-giving voice of the Son of God; so to say that we do have a choice in whether we are saved or not (i.e. free will to receive Christ or reject Him) is correct. I feel it is important to emphasize that free will in no way takes away the fact that salvation is not of us, but of God, because if God does not draw us to His Son and opens our hearts that we may hear Him (see Acts 16:4), there is no way that we who are sinners by nature may serve Him by ourselves. It is not we who sought God, but He us; for the dead cannot come to life on their own, but only by hearing the voice of the Son of God.

Wait a sec, are you just making this up? Where do you find that in the Bible?

God must draw us to Christ before we can come to Him.

“No man can come to Me [Jesus], except the Father which hath sent Me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:44)
To receive His word, a man must humble himself.

“Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.” (Mark 10:15)

Even faith is not of us, it is of God.

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

But we must hear Christ to receive God’s gift of faith.

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:17)

And when He calls us, we still have the choice to humble ourselves and accept Him, or harden our hearts and refuse.

“See that ye refuse not Him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused Him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape if we turn away from Him that speaketh from heaven…” (Hebrews 12:25)

If we do believe in Him, we will have spiritual and eternal life through Him (hope you knew that already).

“But these things are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name.” (John 30:31)
To What Extent Does God Control Our Wills?

As I stated previously, God has complete power over the human will, though granting us a measure of control over it. The Bible does indicate that God opens the hearts of some people to the truth, but hardens the hearts of others. Some find this hard to believe, but it is indeed true.

“…And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him who calls), it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” So it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. For the scripture says to the Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.” Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens. You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” Butindeed O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? What if God, wanting to show His wrath and make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He has called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:10-24)

Many people take this passage of scripture to mean that God chooses who will be saved with man having no choice at all in the matter. But that is not what it says: it says that He shows mercy to whoever He wants to, and who He wants to He hardens. Who does He want to harden?

“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient [right]…” (Romans 1:28)

Notice the reason that God gave them over to a totally wicked mind: because they grew proud and forgot Him — not because He just arbitrarily wanted them to be damned. As we saw in the passage from Mark 10 above, unless one humbles himself like a little child, he cannot enter the kingdom of God; the same idea is taught consistently in the Bible.

“…God resisteth [or scorns] the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” (Proverbs 3:34, James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5)

Therefore, if one humbles himself when convicted of his depravity and sin by God, he will be shown mercy by Him through Jesus Christ; but if one’s heart grows haughty and he despises his Maker, it is no surprise that God would scorn him and harden him to the truth of the gospel.

So does God choose for us to be saved before we are born?

The answer, which may come as a surprise to some, is yes.

“But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the very beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth…” (2 Thessalonians 2:13)

You might be wondering at this point how I can believe that and still believe in free will, but the two concepts fit together perfectly if you understand the concept of election.

For further study:

Calvinism and Free Will in Matthew 23:24

Bottom Line:

  • God is all-powerful, even over the human will
  • God does choose to exercise some control over men
  • God obviously does not choose to control everything about men, since men sometimes directly violate His will; therefore men only have free will within the range of what God permits us to have
  • Men are inherently sinful and depraved by nature, and cannot come to Christ on our own: God the Father must draw us first
  • Though we are spiritually dead because of our sins, when God the Father draws us to Jesus Christ, we have the choice to hear Him and live or reject Him and suffer the second death (hell)

A Closer Look at Romans Chapter 9


Probably the favorite “proof-text” for the Calvinist view of unconditional election is Romans 9, starting from about verses 6 and going through 27. Many people who don’t buy Calvinism’s claim of a very partial God find themselves a bit intimidated when an eager determinist spouts off as proof:

“Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they [are] not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, [are they] all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these [are] not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. For this [is] the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sara shall have a son. And not only [this]; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, [even] by our father Isaac; (For [the children] being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. What shall we say then? [Is there] unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For He saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then [it is] not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew My power in thee, and that My name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will [have mercy], and whom He will He hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth He yet find fault? For who hath resisted His will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed [it], Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? [What] if God, willing to shew [His] wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that He might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory, Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? As He saith also in Osee, I will call them my people, which were not My people; and her beloved, which was not beloved. And it shall come to pass, [that] in the place where it was said unto them, Ye [are] not My people; there shall they be called the children of the living God. Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved…” (Romans 9:6-27)

Key Points

Romans 9 is very telling about the nature of God and His work of salvation, yet many Christians and even pastors are so unlearned about this and similar scriptures that when someone quotes them, they are not sure what to think. Such an ignorance of Biblical doctrine even among clergy may be the cause of the recent surge in “Reformed Baptists” (Baptists who have embraced the five points of Calvinism). When an argument or piece of proof is submitted with only the bias of one side, it always seems to work in that side’s favor — often due to the bias through which it is viewed. But as we shall shortly see, evidence does not always imply what one tries to make it say; and sometimes, what evidence does not imply is as important as what it does.

Let’s examine several key points in Romans 9:

“…but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, [even] by our father Isaac; (For [the children] being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.”

“What shall we say then? [Is there] unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For He saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then [it is] not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.”

“For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew My power in thee, and that My name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will [have mercy], and whom He will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth He yet find fault? For who hath resisted His will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed [it], Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? [What] if God, willing to shew [His] wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory…”

When faced with a sudden flood of alleged proof, it is hard for those who do not know their Bible well to respond to the Calvinist doctrinal assertions that:

  • God chooses some for salvation and leaves others for damnation before they are born, simply because He loves some and despises the others. Nothing about the person determines this love or hate, God simply does.
  • The mercy God shows to His elect, He shows simply because He wants to, with no requirements on their part.
  • God hardens the hearts of those who are not elect so that they will not be saved because He does not will them to be saved, seeing as Christ did not die for them.

Now let’s examine these claims and the proof text used to back them up.
Does This Passage Indicate Unconditional Election?

“…but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, [even] by our father Isaac; (For [the children] being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.”

What the text does indicate: The concept of election is nothing new if you study your Bible. The scripture is quite clear that God chose us from the foundation of the world, so it should come as no surprise that we were chosen unto salvation before having done any good or evil. It is evident then that election is not according to works, but according to the will of God who calls us.

What the text does not indicate: It does not imply that God simply chooses some and rejects others in some seemingly arbitrary manner. It states that He loved Jacob and despised Esau, but gives no conditions or lack thereof. And while it is true that election is not according to works, it is according to the foreknowledge of God (Romans 8:29-30, 1 Peter 1:2), which would indicate that there are conditions concerning those whom He elects apart from their works. This text therefore lends no credence to the concept of unconditional election.

But Doesn’t God Show Mercy to Whomever He Wills?

“What shall we say then? [Is there] unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For He saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then [it is] not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.”

As opposed to what? Showing mercy to whomever He does not will? Now that would make some interesting theology.

What the text does indicate: Paul is simply saying that God is perfectly just in choosing His elect before they are born, I don’t recall disagreeing with that point. It also states plainly that God’s mercy to His elect is not of us, but comes from Him.

What the text does not indicate: There is no hint that God requires nothing of those whom He chooses to save. In fact, the exact opposite is indicated throughout the scriptures.

“But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.”
James 4:6 (see also Proverbs 3:34 and 1 Peter 5:5)

This would imply that election and receiving of God’s grace are not earned or merited by works, but still conditional. Election coming from God and not from us and Him setting conditions to us receiving His mercy are not mutually exclusive ideas. To say that this passage of scripture implies that there are no conditions to receiving God’s mercy simply because it is according is to His will is to flatly assume that God wills to elect people unconditionally — a classic case of begging the question. This portion then is proof only of election, not unconditional election as has often been purported.

Doesn’t God Harden the Hearts of Those Whom He Does Not Wish to Save?

“For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew My power in thee, and that My name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will [have mercy], and whom He will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth He yet find fault? For who hath resisted His will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed [it], Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? [What] if God, willing to shew [His] wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory…”

What the text does indicate: That God both shows mercy and hardens the hearts of whom He wills, making some into vessels of His mercy and others into the vessels of His wrath by hardening them against the truth, and is not unrighteous in doing so.

What the text does not indicate: That God hardens the non-elect because He does not desire that they be saved.

Reading this passage in a vacuum, Calvinists conclude that God must harden people because He simply does not want them to be saved (presumably because Christ did not die for them, what they call limited atonement). Based on this interpretation, they attack the meaning of passages like this regularly:

“For this [is] good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have
[i.e. desires] all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4)

But the ninth chapter of Romans is meant to be interpreted in the context of the rest of the book it was written in as well; take a look at Romans chapter 1 (emphasis mine):

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed [it] unto them. For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, [even] His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified [Him] not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in [their] knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity…” (Romans 1:18-29)

Far from the picture the Calvinists paint from the text a few chapters ahead in the same book, Romans 1 clearly states that God darkens peoples hearts and gives them over to a wicked mind because they reject and forget Him. Romans chapter 9 simply states that God hardens the hearts of whomever He wishes, which should be taken in the context of what Romans chapter 1 has already stated. This text is no proof of limited atonement or unconditional election; but it is proof of God’s absolute power over the human heart, and that God bears with and uses even those who hate Him for His greater glory. I once watched a friend of mine who was quite a proficient potter at his wheel. A good potter has absolute control over the clay he molds; and in the same way, God’s sovereignty extends to and supersedes the human will. Though the Bible does indicate that free will exists, it is apparent that it is a free will ultimately limited by the will of God. But this is no cause for concern if you remain in Christ and follow His teachings, for it is also written:

“Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father. ” 
(1 John 2:24)
Bottom Line:

  • Romans chapter 9 addresses the issues of God’s election of, mercy to, and hardening the hearts of men.
  • There is no evidence in the entire passage that election unto salvation and God’s mercy are unconditional, nor that God hardens the hearts of men because He does not wish them to be saved.
  • There is ample evidence throughout the Bible that God desires that all men be saved, but that His election unto salvation is conditional.