You are on page 1of 12

Chapter Eleven Building a Biblical Doctrine of Double Predestination Part 1: Sin, Grace, and the Glory of God Now

that we have dismantled an unbiblical view of doublepredestination, we will still be left in confusion unless we try to build a biblical view. And not only that, but the biblical view has got to make senseto a certain extent that is. It continued to frustrate me to no end whenever I would be a third party to conversations that Alex had with others in the community. The frustration built each time I heard something else because just about everything I heard had one drum to beat. Pastor Robs views dont make sense. While the Bible is clear that man stands condemned from birth because of the sinful nature with which he was born, the Bible also teaches that God is somehow actively involved in the lives of the nonelect with regards to their sin. And I trust I have satisfactorily shown this to be so in the exegeses of the various texts I've already dealt with. But while I believe I have proven that double-predestination is a biblical doctrine, I have not yet explained how God is actually involved in the lives of the non-elect with regards to their condemnation and sinful actions, words, and thoughts. I believe the Bible teaches both truths - that the non-elect sinner stands condemned because of his own sinfuless, and also that God actively condemns the non-elect, somehow actively involving Himself in the sinful actions of the non-elect. Such a belief is wrought with problems, to be sure. And even saying something like that may have sent some readers into a spastic fit! If you need to stop here, I completely understand. I don't blame you, for I am about to tread on thin ice. But before you put the book down, let me say a brief word about matters like this one. Developing a Category For This Truth The statement I just made may seem offensive to some readers, if for no other reason than that it is a totally foreign concept. Some folks simply do not have a category in their minds for these kinds of truths. I recall one of the more memorable events in my life being a lunch with John Piper, who has since become an ardent prayer warrior for my ministry. As we were eating together with some friends of mine at a small restaurant in a rural Georgia town, I discussed the reaction of those who at that time were opposing me with their straw-man arguments. His reply was just what a young minister expects from one of his heroes: profundity and practicality.

In reply to my plight, Pastor John stated that some Christians have not developed certain categories of truth that allow for such statements as, "it is not sin for God to will that sin be." Wow! That's incredibly deep and amazingly insightful. He's so right! I agree wholeheartedly and I'm also sympathetic towards those who can't and don't think this way as Christians. I used to think without these categories. But after a rather troubling bout with pride, there was enough of a breach in that dam that the ability to contain those kinds of categories in my thinking was developed. Yet, again, it was developed through an arduous process of painful humiliation and humility under the tutelage of the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. And once humbled, every Christian will put their hands over their mouths, as did Job, and respond with a silent, awestruck, fearful submission of this sovereign God of the universe who does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3). If God hasn't brought you to that point yet, and if you find that you are still fighting with your tradition and human reasoning, then the dam of pride that exists in every human heart has not yet breached enough to let the fresh water f the sovereignty of God into your heart and mind. Developing the Truth Now as to the matter of God's actual involvement in the condemnation of men, the texts already observed clearly point to that. Proverbs 16:4 teaches that God has created the wicked for the day of judgment, which is a reference to the final judgment at which the punishment of eternal condemnation is declared on the unbeliever. Romans 9:22-23 also points to this, where Paul describes vessels prepared for God's wrath, a word picture for God's final judgment. But there are two other texts that undeniably declare god as being somehow involved in the sinful actions of men. In our observation of 1 Peter 2:8 we saw that God was the ultimate active agent who had appointed unbelievers to their unbelief and disobedience, both of which were described in terms of stumbling over the Cornerstone, Jesus Christ. As I noted in my dealing with that passage, the consequences or final judgment for these actions were not in view, but rather the actions themselves. This much is also clearly reflected in the Acts 2 and 4 passages where every sinful action related to the crucifixion of the Lord of glory was predestined or determined long beforehand. So how does this work then? Honestly, I have no certain idea, although I'm obviously going to give you my best educated belief. The Scriptures, while explicit that God is in fact involved in the condemnation and sinful actions of the non-elect, do not explain how God involves Himself in such a way as to ensure that man's will is not

violated. This has always been the precise point of offense with the opposition to predestination, becasue if God makes a person sin, God can't very well hold that person responsible for sinning, can He? The Reformers, and more particularly those who forged the Westminster Confession dealt with this very problem in the following way. "God [fore]ordains whatever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature; nor is the liberty of second causes taken away, but rather established.1 Basically, this is 17th century wording for the concept that God does what He wills yet never in such a way as to violate the will of a person. Or stated the other way around, the unbeliever sins as he wills, but this does not mean that liberty of God to act or involve himself in some way with the person's sin is negated. In the confessional statement above, the "liberty of second causes" refers to God's activity over the will of the creature. How do these things work together? Again, that much is a mystery to us, not revealed in Scripture. But Scripture does give us a glimpse so that what little theology flows from it may enlighten us just a little. The result of attempting to harmonize God's reprobating activity and man's freedom to act within the bounds of his sin nature is a mysterious work in which God both ordains and orchestrates the some (if not all) of the non-elect's sinful actions as well as his ultimate penalty of eternal condemnation. And He does this with the cooperation of the sinful nature of the unbeliever. That's about as far as I see Scripture allowing me to go in my attempt to draw an interpretive conclusion. Key Number One: The Sin Factor Regardless of the conclusion, however, there are three factors to developing a biblical view of double-predestination: the sin factor, the grace factor, and the glory factor. Starting with the first one, the sin factor is the key to both argument and conclusion, something to which I've already alluded. Everyone is already born in sin, so it takes no special work or activity on the part of God to create sin in them. It's already there. God merely decides to sovereignly leave them in that state so that the effects of their sin nature will work themselves out, the result being condemnation. And in leaving them to live and eventually die in their sinful state, it is in this way that God is said to have predetermined or predestined them to condemnation. Yet again, God is involved even in their sinful state orchestrating His will, yet without coercing a person. God works in a sinner's sin in such a way that the

Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 3, Articles 1 and 7.

sinner is responsible, yet God has accomplished His will. The Scriptures provide us with at least one explanation of how God goes about this flip side of predestination. It is found in the life of Pharaoh. As youll recall from Romans 9:17-18, Paul taught the church there, For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may demonstrate my power in you, and that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth. So then, God has mercy on whom he chooses to have mercy, and he hardens whom he chooses to harden. The reference to hardening regards Pharaohs heart, and recalls to mind two different passages in Exodus, 4:21 and 7:2-4. In these passages, God said to Moses, The Lord said to Moses, When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the wonders I have put under your control. But I will harden his heart and he will not let the people go. (4:21). You are to speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron is to speak to Pharaoh that he must release the Israelites from his land. But I will harden Pharaohs heart, and although I will multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you. (7:2-4). From this text we may deduce to facts with certainty. First, God did in fact harden Pharaohs heart. This is clearly stated, and is not debatable. God is somehow involved here with Pharaohs heart so as to bring about His own previously designed plan for His people. And this leads to the second fact, namely, that God did this in order to glorify Himself. This second fact will be dealt with in the next two chapters. The first will be briefly dealt with below. The sin factor remains the key to understanding Gods involvement in the sin of the non-elect. Pharaohs own sin is the factor to understanding how God was involved in Pharaohs sin of oppressing Gods people. It works like this. Pharaohs heart is already fallen, depraved and wicked. The fact that his heart is already sinful means that God does not have to exert any activity or energy at all to cause Pharaoh to sin. Pharaoh can sin and will sin as much as God allows him. And therein lies the next key. Key Number Two: The Grace Factor

There is a second key to this side of the double-predestination equation called the grace factor. There are two kinds of grace in theology, common and special. Special grace is the grace God gives to those He saves. It is the grace that enables them to believe in the gospel message (Eph. 2:8,9). And it is also the grace that performs miracles to help people believe. Common grace is the grace that God gives to all mankind, saved and unsaved alike. It is the grace that sustains all mankind on the earth: food, water, clothing, air, rain, sunshine, etc. (Matt. 5:45; Acts 14:17). When the sin factor is plugged into the equation with the grace factor, the result is simple. Grace restrains sin or exacerbates it. Consider first that common grace restrains sin. Also included in the category of common grace are police officers, laws, public opinion, balances of power, etc. Together with the other parts of common grace, sinners are restrained from being as evil as the possibly could be. In fact, the only reason why man is not as evil as he could be is partly because of Gods common grace. R. C. Sproul words this truth well. One of the most important elements of common grace we enjoy is the restraint of evil in the world. That restraint flows from many sourcesThough the world we live in is filled with wickedness, it is not as wicked as it possibly could be. God uses the means mentioned above as well as other means to keep evil in check. By his grace he controls and bridles the amount of evil in this world. If evil were left totally unchecked, then life on this planet would be impossible.2 According to Sproul, Gods common grace restrains sin, and when it is removed, man is given a longer leash. When his heart is no longer restrained by common grace, their freedom is no longer restricted but rather increased. And when they have more freedom, they get their own way. In a sense he gives them enough rope to hang themselves. It is not that God puts his hand on them to create fresh evil in their hearts; he merely removes his holy hand of restraint from them and lets them do their own will.3 In light of this, consider second that common grace can also

Sproul, R. C. Chosen by God (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishing, 1986), Ibid.

p. 145.

exacerbate sin. Not much example is needed to prove this point. One need only to read the history of the nation of Israel and see that the more God blessed them, the more they sinned against Him. David even prayed a prayer regarding the prosper and success of the wicked, asking God why they got blessed from Gods hand with common grace, turned to act so wickedly, and yet still got blessed by God. This particular aspect is clear for us to see today. How many wicked persons do you know today who seem have it all together, who seem to have so much, who prosper and do well in life, and yet remain wicked? It is in this way that God exacerbates a persons sin by actually pouring out more grace upon them. So whereas common grace sometimes restrains sin, it also exacerbates it. Third, consider that special grace restrains sin. The special grace of salvation is a special grace of God that makes sure restrains sin in a person forever! This is the most beautiful form of special grace to me. It saves and keeps, rescues and preserves. But special grace is also found in the form of signs, wonders and miracles. When these were performed whether by prophets in the Old Testament, or Christ and the apostles in the New Testament signs, wonders and miracles actually restrained peoples sin also. In John 3:2, Nicodemus confesses his belief that Jesus was indeed a teacher sent from God, no one could perform the miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him. In John 6:2 it was these signs that caused so many to follow Him. Having been fed miraculously, healed of diseases, rid of demons, etc. the sin of the people was restrained, wickedness was limited. Because of it the gospel message was able to be spread all over that part of the world. It was because of the miracles, signs and wonders, in fact, that kept the Jews from killing Him earlier. Even after the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead, John records for us, So the chief priests and the Pharisees called the council together and said, What are we doing? For this man is performing many miraculous signs. If we allow him to go on this way, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away our sanctuary and our nation (11:47-48). But in reality, it was only because Christ was a miracle-worker that they did not put Him to death sooner. This text in John 11 provides a wonderful connection to the fourth and final truth that special grace also exacerbates sin. Even after Lazarus was raised from the dead, the leaders of Israel were plotting to kill Jesus. This is confirmed once again, just one chapter later when we read, Although Jesus had performed so many miraculous signs before them, they still refused to believe in him (12:37). The following verses explains how this special grace of miracles would in fact induce further unbelief.

so that the word of Isaiah the prophet would be fulfilled. He said, Lord, who has believed our message, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For this reason they could not believe, because again Isaiah said, He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and understand with their heart, and turn to me, and I would heal them (vv. 38-39). So while His miracles restrained wicked men from killing Him sooner, they also served to simply accelerate their plans to kill Him. In other words, His special grace of miracles only wanted to make them kill Him even more. This is clearly seen in the context surrounding Lazarus resurrection from the dead. If we dont stop him now, everyone will put their faith in him. Then the Romans will come and destroy our temple and our nationFrom that day on, the council started making plans to put Jesus to death (11:48, 53). This truth is also seen all throughout the gospels and the book of Acts. It seems that the more God poured out His special grace on sinners, the more they wanted to get rid of Christ and His apostles. These then are the four ways that Gods grace restrains and exacerbates the sinfulness that is already present within men from birth. And when applied to Pharaohs situation, the case becomes clear. God poured out common grace on Pharaoh, and he was restrained from becoming more oppressive than he already was. God removed common grace in many of the plagues, and Pharaohs heart hardened. God also manifested special grace to Pharaoh in the form of miracles, which restrained Pharaoh from oppressing the Israelites even more than before. Finally, Gods special grace in signs, wonders and miracles served only to harden his heart even more than before. All God had to do to harden Pharaoh further was to remove his arm. The evil inclinations of Pharaoh did the rest. In the act of passive hardening, God makes a decision to remove the restraints; the wicked part of the process is done by Pharaoh himself. God does not violence to Pharaohs will4 Gods grace had a certain effect on Pharaohs heart. That effect was intended, according to the texts on Exodus and Romans. God used His grace to harden Pharaohs heart so that God could demonstrate His

Ibid, p. 146.

power and glory by freeing His people from bondage. Paul wrote of Gods activity in Pharaohs heart, that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth And in Exodus 7, God exercises His grace, that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of EgyptAnd the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord Gods grace works in and on the already sinful heart of a person to produce a result that glorifies Him. Key Number Three: The Glory Factor And speaking of Gods glory, this becomes the third key to our equation. Behind all of this is the truth that God is in fact actively involved in the sinful hearts of men to produce circumstances, events and situations that glorify Him and spread His name and fame around the world, to all peoples and nations. He doesnt have to jump into a persons heart and create evil ideas for them to commit. He doesnt have to do that at all because their hearts are already sinful and capable of doing sinful things by themselves. No, God simply has at His disposal the sinful hearts of human beings and He uses them to accomplish His will. He takes what is already sinful and merely utilizes it for a purpose. And that is the point behind Romans 9:18. God hardens whoever He wants to harden, and He has mercy on whoever He wants to have mercy. He does both because both accomplish His purpose and glorify His name. A Wrong Solution to the Equation However, I cannot close this section by simply allowing anyone to form a wrong conclusion here. Those who dont like this view of doublepredestination will counter with the view that this is simply God using the hand that is dealt Him and turning into good. God is a cosmic spindoctor, in this view, who can do amazingly wonderful and creative things with the sinful actions of man. But the Scriptures wont allow this view. Nor will they allow a lesser view which says that God has planned to accomplish His, and the sinfulness of man is somehow fit into His plan. The Scriptures are blatantly clear that God has planned the good as well as the bad. He has planned the end from the beginning, according to Isaiah 46:10 (cf. 40:21). He planned the death of His Son from before the foundation of the world, and He planned to do it through the sinfulness of man. And not only that, but He planned to use the sinfulness of particular men. Gods purpose included everything.

The Example of Judas Iscariot One more example will suffice, and it has to do with the subject just mentioned, namely the death of Christ. Judas Iscariot provides a wonderful example of how the already sinful heart of a human being is used to accomplish Gods will. Did the evil Judas committed arise because God created it in his heart? No, Judas was born sinful. He was not a righteous man. He was greedy. He betrayed Christ for money. But God also used his sinful nature to accomplish His will. He used Judas evil inclinations and acts in order to accomplish our redemption at the cross. If there was no Judas, there would have been no cross. And if there were no cross there would be no redemption. Judas case is not about God forcing someone to sin. Rather it is a glorious case of Gods redemptive triumph over evil. The evil desires of mens hearts cannot thwart Gods sovereignty. Indeed they are subject to it.5 What then does the Bible mean when in it we read Jesus saying that Judas was the son of perdition from the beginning (John 17:12)? In John 6:64, while explaining and applying the whole feeding of the five thousand incident, Jesus turns to His disciples and says, But there are some of you who do not believe. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. In this one verse we see Judas own unbelief, and yet the design from the beginning that he would not believe but would betray Jesus. Both are true. And while they seem contradictory to us, they are not in the mind of God. God predestined Judas to betray Christ, ensuring the death of His only begotten Son. And He used Judas sinful nature to accomplish our redemption at the cross. Whose Responsible Then? Who then is responsible for Judas betrayal of Jesus? Is Judas responsible since he sold Jesus? Or is God responsible since He planned from the beginning that Judas would sell Jesus out? Heres where our finite minds can get us into trouble. We are immediately tempted to have an either/or mentality, arent we? Either Judas is responsible or God is responsible, so which one is it? Dont ever fall for that old trick, beloved. When Gods Word gives you ample ground on which to stand for both sides of a truth, stand with one foot firmly planted on one truth, and the other foot firmly planted on the other truth. Many times in theology it is not an either/or situation,

Ibid, p. 147.

but is a both/and situation. Judas is without a doubt, unquestionably responsible for his act. He is the one who chose not to believe in Jesus Christ. He is the one who chose to be greedy. He is the one who chose to betray Christ. And he is the one who chose to commit suicide. The result of Judas unbelief, greed, betrayal and suicide is Gods judgment, and eternal condemnation in hell. But God is unquestionably responsible as well. God predestined Judas to be the son of perdition. He predestined Judas inclusion as one of the twelve disciples. He chose to use Judas as the one whom Satan would control. He chose Judas to betray His Son. And He did all of this using the sinfulness already inherent in Judas heart to help orchestrate the redemption of mankind through the cross. So both are responsible. Judas cannot blame God for the evil he chose to commit, because he chose to commit it. God will hold Judas responsible for what He has done because he did it. God did not enter Judas heart and make him do what he did. But He did predestine that particular event as well as all the other events that precluded and led up to the crucifixion of His Son. And included in that predestination was the utilization of Judas inherent sinful nature. As one pastor preached, I have heard it often: It is his own fault that wicked man is reprobated. This is utter nonsense. Man ought to say, God works out His reprobation of man through the wickedness of man. That is correct.6 Conclusion Now the last paragraph makes many people uneasy. They feel incredible tension because they cant get their finite minds wrapped around the issue completely. Both sides seem to conflict with each other. They feel theyve just got to make both sides make sense, to harmonize them or somehow reconcile them, as if they were at odds with each other. But we cant let ourselves fall into that trap. There is a famous reformer who is so often caricatured to be this ugly, skinny old man who loved burning people at the stake, and who supposedly preached a God who makes people sin and loves to damn billions to hell. His name is John Calvin, from whence the name Calvinism comes. When we read him in context, he doesnt sound so
Gerrit Vos. Absolute Sovereignty, in Reformed Witness, Volume 9 (February 2001) No. 2. Available online at

bad. Listen to his explanation of what I just said, one that is far better and more timely than mine. Let those roar at us who will. We will ever brighten forth, with all our power of language, the doctrine which we hold concerning the free election of God, seeing that it is only by it that the faithful can understand how great that goodness of God is which effectually called them to salvation. I merely give the great doctrine of election a slight touch here, lest anyone, by avoiding a subject so necessary for him to know, should afterwards feel what loss his neglect has caused him. I will, by and by, in its proper place, enter into the Divine matter with appropriate fulness. Now, if we are not really ashamed of the Gospel, we must of necessity acknowledge what is therein openly declared: that God by His eternal goodwill (for which there was no other cause than His own purpose), appointed those whom He pleased unto salvation, rejecting all the rest; and that those whom He blessed with this free adoption to be His sons He illumines by His Holy Spirit, that they may receive the life which is offered to them in Christ; while others, continuing of their own will in unbelief, are left destitute of the light of faith, in total darkness. Against this unsearchable judgment of God many insolent dogs rise up and bark. Some of them, indeed, hesitate not to attack God openly, asking why, foreseeing the Fall of Adam, He did not better order the affairs of men? To curb such spirits as these, no better means need be sought than those which Paul sets before us. He supposes this question to be put by an ungodly person: How can God be just in showing mercy to whom He will and hardening whom He will? Such audacity in men the apostle considers unworthy a reply. He does nothing but remind them of their order and position in God's creation: "Who art thou, O man, that replies against God?" (Rom. ix. 20.) Profane men, indeed, vainly babble that the apostle covered the absurdity of the matter with silence for want of an answer. But the case is far otherwise.7 These are truths which are almost too difficult to handle and believe. This is because they are truths that completely run against the grain of our human nature, especially for those of us who are products of
John Calvin, A Treatise on the Eternal Predestination of God. Internet article from The Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics. See predestination.html.

twenty and twenty-first century American, individualistic Christianity. But the fact that it hurts doesnt make it any less biblical or any less truth. Terrible truth, you say? Yes, but it is the truth nevertheless. It is the same truth that is trampled under foot by the church of our day. Where do you find a church today that dares to confess the hardening by God of the reprobate? And all through the ages the Lord had it written down, and, later, printed in a million Bibles. And still God is the absolute Sovereign. He sovereignly loves, and the objects of His love receive His mercy. He sovereignly hates, and the objects of His hatred receive His hardening. But He is Sovereign. With Him is a terrible majesty!8

Vos, Absolute Sovereignty.