Friday, October 7, 2016


I am convinced that many of our doctrinal differences arise because we conceive of our Lord too narrowly. For example, Arminians and Calvinists might be opposed more than necessary. 

Is it possible that they both can be true - that we are both the product of our efforts and choices and yet we are still the product of God's plan for our lives?

I think that our view of Scripture embodies both perspectives. For example, we observe that Paul's letters reflect his style, interests, vocabulary, choices, experiences, and personal associations. Meanwhile, Paul asserted that Scripture is still entirely the Word of God (1 Thess. 2:13).

Perhaps this point can be illustrated even more clearly by the Psalms. While they cry out with accusations against God (and are often followed with words of repentance), they are still the Word of God, as even Jesus had often asserted:

·       Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." (Luke 24:44)

I think that this says something about God that we have to accept. He can work through our free choices, even the sinful human outbursts, to fully accomplish His purposes. This means that our efforts and freewill choices are compatible with God’s sovereignty and plan.

In fact, we see evidence of this perplexing association throughout the range of Scripture. For example, Paul declared that he had worked hard, but even his efforts were the result of the grace of God:

·       But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10)

Somehow God’s plan is married to our efforts. Elsewhere, Paul held us responsible for working out our salvation, but explained that it is actually God’s work:

·       Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)

In contrast, we have a tendency to dismiss one aspect of the marriage in favor of the other. If we are discussing sanctification, we (Calvinists) tend to leave our responsibility out of the equation and simply declare that it is God who sanctifies. Meanwhile, we (Arminians) tend to conceive of God as passively offering all the same thing, making us the key agents in our holiness or sanctification.

Both sides are able to supply verses to support their position. However, God’s truth seems to be more mysterious. We even find this same tension between our respective roles in the Hebrew Scriptures:

  • Keep my statutes and do them; I am the LORD who sanctifies you. (Leviticus 20:8)

Did you notice the overlap expressed here? We have to keep ourselves holy by avoiding sin, by keeping His commandments, but it is God who makes us holy (“sanctifies”).

We find the same tension or overlap also in the area of salvation. We are told to believe and to have faith, but we are also taught that it is God who provides faith as a gift (Eph. 2:8-9). Which is it? It is both – our responsibility but, first of all God’s. He has to give us a new heart so that we can believe.

Admittedly, it has to begin and end with God, but we cannot dismiss our biblically prescribed role.

Instead, we strenuously try to squeeze God into our zip-locked understanding, and we should try to do this, but we also must appreciate our limitations. We only see in part. Consequently, we fail to appreciate the magnitude of God and His Word. If this is true, we have to view ourselves as servants of the Word and not its masters.

Our belief in the Trinity exemplifies this. We believe in the Trinity even though we cannot fully understand this revelation. I think that the same is true about our freedom of choice, culpability, and responsibility in view of God’s sovereignty. We have to embrace both. To do otherwise is to put our understanding (theology) above God’s revelation, His Scriptures. Also, to do otherwise is to create needless divisions within the body of Christ.

No comments:

Post a Comment