Whole Counsel Theology

Monday, January 16, 2006

An Analysis of the Position of the Assemblies of God on Security, Part Two

As before, I'll have their words in bold and quotes; mine will appear in normal type.

"I. Salvation Is Available for Every Man"

This is the title of their section. It's something natural to say, but there are exegetical issues with even that statement. I hope to show those below.

"Two questions may be asked: 'Are some predestined to be saved and others to be lost?' and, 'Who are the elect?' The answer is clear when it is recognized that the message of the gospel is one of 'whosoever will.' No one reading the New Testament can miss the impact of this great truth."

I will readily agree that the questions that they ask are very important, and I commend them for pointing out those issues. I will also agree that the message of the Gospel is one of "whosoever will." However, their last sentence, though I wish it to be true with my greatest desire, it indeed is NOT true. MANY people miss the impact of this great statement, and I weep at times when I think about it:

Psalm 119:136 My eyes pour out streams of tears because people do not follow Your instruction.

I have done this, and I credit it to the glory of God alone. Dr. James White on his website (Alpha and Omega ministries, click the link at the right if you like) deals with the issue of "whosoever will" on his site, pertaining to John 3:16 (which I cannot help but think the AG church is referencing here with their statement). However, the issue of John 3:16 came up in our youth group at church a while back, and I posted an exegesis on it and the surrounding verses here on the forums of our youth group. I strongly encourage you to hit the link and read it in its entirety, paying special attention to the FIRST and LAST TWO posts in the thread (because I correct myself a little there at the end). I reference a lot of Dr. White's material in it, and it will show by exegesis of Scripture, that yes indeed, it is a matter of "whosoever will" but it is NOT what the AG is assuming it means.

In answer to their first question above, "are some predestined to be saved and others lost," is that the answer is a little complicated. The short answer is YES, but there is a little more to it than that. I'll address how election works later in this post, since the AG mentions it. However, election does not work the same as reprobation; this doesn't mean that God doesn't sovereignly "pass over" those whom He hasn't chosen, but it is not that God is unjust in the matter, nor is He forbidding people to come to Him who really want to come. Election is unconditional (which I'll discuss more later); reprobation is not. I mention this in my post I linked to earlier, and it explains it quite well I think:

It is critical to understand that in the Bible, God is never the one to blame for the sins of mankind. Even though it is true in a sense that people are not saved because God has not elected them, there [can be] an inherent mistake in that line of thought. The blame is always placed on man, because man is determined to go on sinning. It is not as if God was dangling a carrot in front of us and then laughing at us when we wanted to follow Him and could not. NO! Verses 19 and 20 [of John chapter three] tell us clearly that while we were lost in sin (and all those who still are) we HATED the light! This passage tells us of a few reasons why we don't come to Christ:
* We loved darkness -- that is why we didn't come to the light!
* Our deeds were evil -- that is why we didn't come to the light!
* We practiced wicked things -- -- that is why we didn't come to the light!
* We hated the light -- that is why we didn't come to the light!
* We avoided the light -- that is why we didn't come to the light!
* We didn't want our evil deeds to be exposed -- -- that is why we
didn't come to the light!

With that said, I will leave the issue of election until later in this post; much more digging must be done, by the grace of God.

"However, in Romans 9-11 there are some statements that seem to imply that man's free will is excluded in the matter of the believer's salvation and that God in His choice of the elect exercises His divine sovereignty entirely apart from man's volition."

The AG is correct; these chapters do indeed imply, in fact, MORE than imply -- blatantly state -- that God's election is not based on man's volition. This is not to say that man doesn't willingly follow Christ; most certainly man does this, but when dealing with the issue of God's election of individuals to salvation, man has NOTHING to do with it. I'll explain further below, following the example the AG puts forth.

"For example:
(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;)...Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.... 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 showeth mercy.... Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth (Romans 9:11, 13, 15, 16, 18).
When this passage is considered in the light of all that God's Word teaches concerning election, however, it is evident that man's will is involved in his election. Jacob was chosen before having done good or evil, but God's choice was on the basis of what He foreknew Jacob would do.
This truth is brought out in Peter's letter to "the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia." These believers were recognized to be "elect according to the foreknowledge of God" (1 Peter 1:1, 2).
This same truth is stated in Romans 8:29. Paul wrote, "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son.""

Ah, here is the crux of the matter; what does "foreknew" mean? Clearly, the AG position is that God foresaw what those people would do (Jacob, the elect Peter addresses), and that this is the basis for God's choosing of them -- their foreseen faith and other activities. This is a common interpretation today -- and a common mistake. There are a couple of reasons I would like to discuss why this is a mistake in interpretation, and why it amounts to a mishandling of the Word of God. In fact, it teaches a salvation that is, at least in some way, based on works.

First, I'll address the works issue. Allow me to quote from Ephesians:

Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God's gift--
Ephesians 2:9 not from works, so that no one can boast.

To say that God chose people on the basis of what they would do (and the "what they would do" is often called their faith) makes some kind of good work the basis of God's grace. The problem with this is critical, and may be obvious: if you add ANYTHING to grace, it CEASES to be grace. By definition, grace is "unmerited favor." That is, it is favor showed to someone that is completely unearned, and there is nothing in the object of this grace that would cause the giver of this grace to give it; it is completely unmerited. God is free to elect those He wants, and He does so (or rather, has done so already) based on His freedom only. Some of the verses that the AG cited in their paper were:

Romans 9:11 (for though they had not been born yet or done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to election might stand,
Romans 9:12 not from works but from the One who calls) she was told: The older will serve the younger.
Romans 9:13 As it is written: Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.

Note the difference here when compared to Ephesians 2:8-9 as cited above. Ephesians tells us not from works, but by faith and grace, and that this faith and grace are not from ourselves, not by works (see Hebrews 12:2; Jesus is the SOURCE of our faith). But what do we see in Romans 9? We have a similar phrase "not from works." Great! Knowing Ephesians 2, we would expect the reasoning to be "but from faith" right? But we don't see that -- we see "not from works but from the One who calls."

Why is that? The reason is this: salvation is dependent on faith (which has its source in Christ); election is dependant on NOTHING that man does. Christ gives faith, and we then put the faith He gives us in Him willingly; however, we have nothing to do with our election. It is solely an act of God that He does in His freedom, not depending on anything that man does, period. Those who receive the gift of faith to believe in Christ are those who God has elected from "before the foundation of the world" as we will see in another Ephesians passage in just a bit. For now, I'll move on to my second reason the AG's interpretation is a mistake.

Second, they use the term "foreknew" incorrectly. Remember how I addressed it above? I didn't use the term "foreknow" when talking about God looking at future events; I used the word "foresee." There is a difference here, and the Bible makes the distinction even though we often do not in our modern vernacular.

The word in Romans 8:29, "foreknow"(prognosko) {and the related word in 1 Peter 1:2, "foreknowledge (prognosis), does not only mean to look into the future and see something that is going to happen. Strong says it means "to know beforehand, that is, foresee: - foreknow (ordain), know (before)." Thayer indicates it means "
1) to have knowledge before hand
2) to foreknow
2a) of those whom God elected to salvation
3) to predestinate."

The word "foreknow" is a word that carries with it the meaning of "foresee," but it means much more than that. It is a word of relationship, similar to the Hebrew word in Genesis 4:1. In fact, the Greek word used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) is the root word of "proginosko", ("ginosko"). Therefore, for God to "foreknow" someone is for God to know them intimately beforehand. It has nothing to do with their "foreseen faith" as many would suggest; rather, as Thayer mentions in his last definition (and Strong when he says "ordain"), the word is a synonym for "predestinate." Those who God foreknew were the ones He elected, the ones He knew beforehand out of His freedom; they are the ones upon whom He chose to set His love. These He knew beforehand, these are the ones He chose to conform to the image of His Son, as the rest of the verse states clearly. They were NOT the ones who had part of Christ's character already, some work in them that God used as the basis for His choosing. God is not bound in ANY sense by man's works; He is completely free, doing things because He decided that they would be done, and not because He is responding to anything anyone else does.

"God determined beforehand the conditions on which He would show mercy."

Yes, He did, and we saw those conditions above. What are, rather, what is that condition? Romans 9 tells us: "the One who calls." The only condition is God's freedom, His sovereign choice.

"And on the basis of His foreknowledge believers are chosen in Christ (Ephesians 1:4)."

I agree, on the basis of His foreknowledge. However, that doesn't mean what they are saying it means. We biblically defined foreknowledge above, using language analysis and some context.

It is interesting that they talk about Ephesians 1:4 and not the following verses. As we know, context is the king of interpretation. So then, let's get it! (I'll be brief since I'm also working on an Exegesis of Ephesians that is currently saved as a draft)

Ephesians 1:4 for He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love
Ephesians 1:5 He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will,
Ephesians 1:6 to the praise of His glorious grace that He favored us with in the Beloved.

First, I want to address the issue of the word "chose." Some say in Ephesians 1:4 that God chose Christ, and that those who come to Him would be a group of people who would then be called the elect. There is more to this belief, but that is the root of the matter. The correct interpretation is that God chose us to be in Christ; not that He chose Christ here! The object of the word "chose" (eklegomai) is US and NOT Christ; the grammar you learn in school is helpful! :) Not only that, but the word for "chose" means to "pick out of a group." The world, past and present, is a big group of people -- who else is in the group with Christ? There is only ONE Christ; so then, the word MUST be talking about individuals being chosen.

Furthermore, what does the Bible here give us as the reason for God's election, predestination and adoption of the elect? It was "according to His favor and will"! Not surprisingly, this is the same reason that is given in Romans 9 -- the One who calls decided it would be! The ONLY basis for God's election is His favor and will, His freedom, His sovereign choice! He does it according to His favor and will so that we will "praise His glorious grace" as verse six tells us. God pardons us for the same reason He, in some sense, decided to pardon Israel:

Isaiah 43:25 "It is I who sweep away your transgressions for My own sake and remember your sins no more.

Though we certainly benefit when God chooses and saves us and loves us, He acts for His own sake. Our salvation, from first to last, is about our awesome, wonderful, holy, loving, perfect, indescribable God, and not ultimately about us. He is the focus; we are not.

"Thus God in His sovereignty has provided the plan of salvation whereby all can be saved."

No, God has provided the plan where all the elect can and WILL be saved. Only they will be, and not every person who will ever live. It was His freedom to do this, and He is completely just in doing so, since we all deserve Hell. God chose to pardon some, and it was all an act of grace.

"In this plan man's will is taken into consideration."

Well, as I said before, man does willingly trust Christ. However, relating to election, no, we do NOT see man's will taken into consideration. God did His electing "before the foundation of the world" and it had nothing to do with any good we would have had in the future, lest salvation become not entirely of grace, but of works, which, in reality, is not by grace at all; anything + grace is NOT grace.

"Salvation is available to 'whosoever will.'"

I agree! However, the only ones who "will" or will want to, are the elect. The rest will always hate the idea for the reasons that John gives in chapter three of his Gospel that I referenced near the beginning of this post.

Parts 3 and following to come shortly.

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