Friday, May 13, 2011

The Perils of Limited Redemption

Earlier this week, I covered the false notion of universal forgiveness.  In keeping the spirit of fairness and balance, today I want to address the opposite view of universal forgiveness (and therefore universal salvation) with the idea of predestination or limited redemption.  This is a particularly Calvinist view and is the belief that Jesus only died for the elect and that those elect were predetermined by God before the foundations of the earth.  The main issue I have with this belief is something God said through Peter.
The Lord is not slack concerning [His] promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9 NKJV
I know the argument that a Calvinist might give in that the Lord desires that all who are called should not perish and come to repentance.  The problem with that argument is that if God has chosen a certain group of people for election, then they can not perish.  Predestination is the idea that certainly people were created already destined for Heaven.  In other words, there is never any danger for the predestined to perish.  What this verse does say is that God is giving mankind every last chance at coming to faith in Jesus Christ. 

The other problem this verse brings up is the idea that God is not willing that "any" should perish and desires that "all" should come to repentance.  The idea that Jesus only died for some means that Jesus did not die for others.  If Jesus did not die for others, then those others have no hope of salvation.  Why would God, who desires all to be saved, create a plan for redemption that did not give many of those "all" to have any hope of redemption?  If God's desire is for all to be saved, then why would God create a system of redemption that undermines that very desire?  The answer is that He would not. 

Another verse that gives the idea of selective redemption is one of the most popular Bible verses.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  John 3:16 NKJV
Two parts of this passage give problems to the idea of limited redemption.  First of all. Jesus declares that God so loved the "world."  Using "world" includes all who live, lived, and will live.  Jesus did not say "For God so loved the elect."  He included the whole world.  Can you say that God loves someone if He creates him or her for the express purpose of an eternity in Hell?  Furthermore, Jesus says that "whoever believes" in Him will have everlasting life.  This call goes out to all and this general call is repeated at other times in the New Testament.  Again, Jesus offers no qualifier to indicate that this only applies to the elect. 

So how do we handle those verses that indicate that God has chosen those who follow Him.  The Bible does refer to us as the elect and declares that election to have occurred long before we even existed. 
Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly [places] in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.  Ephesians 1:3-6 NKJV
This passage seems to contradict everything I just said.  It declares all of us in Christ to have been predestined to make that choice for Jesus.  It almost seems to imply that we had no choice in the matter at all.  If we were chosen before the foundations of the earth, we were chose long before we even existed let alone had any chance at choosing Him.  So what are we to make of this seeming contradiction to everything I just said?  We need to do what to do when anything is confusion to us in Scripture, we must compare it to other Scripture.  Here is a helpful passage in understanding predestination.
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.  1 Peter 1:1-2 NKJV
You see, the error of selective redemption originates in Ephesians and adds an assumption not in Scripture without testing against the rest of Scripture.  The assumption is that if we were elected, that other were unelected.  What I mean is that they assume that if God elected some for eternal life, then He must have elected others for eternal death.  The Bible never says that.  The failure in their logic is in the assumption of time being just as linear and unidirectional for God as it is for us when that is not true at all.  For us, we can only hear about or remember the past, guess at the future, and we can barely understand the present.  All we can have any knowledge of us here and now.  For God it is not so.  God knew the end of Revelation before He even performed the act of creation at the beginning of Genesis.  God knows everything that has happened, is happening, and ever will happen and He knew it before He even set the whole thing in motion by letting there be light.  Not only that, but God has bound us to time and to traverse it in a forward linear motion whereas God has no such limitation. The the Bible declares that God is the same today, yesterday, and forever it is being quite literal.  God exists, always.  That is as hard a concept to understand as it is to explain, but for our purposes, we just need to understand that God knew the end before the beginning and in that He knew all who would choose Him.  As Peter declares, God chose us according to His foreknowledge.  And what did God have foreknowledge of?  He had foreknowledge that we would choose Him.  And so who did God choose?  He chose us before we chose Him.  He chose us because we would choose Him. 

God did not create anyone to go to Hell.  The invitation to come to Christ is open to all, and God's desire is that all should come to that decision.  To say that Jesus only died for certain people undermines the Gospel.  It turns our loving just God into a tyrant who arbitrarily choose who will live and who will die.  It declares that our God created a system for redemption that is only open to certain people He chose for some arbitrary reason.  I say that because we know He did not choose the righteous, because none our righteous.  He did not choose His friends, because the Bible declares that Jesus died for us while we were still His enemies.  Furthermore, as we have seen earlier, why would God invite everyone to receive a Gospel that was only available to some?  Finally, I do not see how a just God can create people for the sole purpose of eternal judgement.  That makes our loving God into a sadist.  That is not the God of the Bible and that is not the God I serve.

The glorious truth is that all of us in Christ were predestined to spend eternity with Him.  The issue is that the election is not premised on some arbitrary unknown standard, but on whether or not we accepted the free gift of salvation offered through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Jesus died for all the sins of the world, but it is for us to choose to receive that gift.  If we choose to receive that gift it means that God has chosen us. It is a wonderful mystery to know that I chose Christ because He first chose me, but he chose me because He knew I would choose Him.  The mechanics of how that all works out in the end is well beyond my comprehension.  How our gift of free will works with God's sovereignty is well beyond my pay grade, but I would expect nothing less.  I have such a limited understanding of the things of God and that is a good thing.  I would be very concerned if I, as a mere mortal man, was able to every truly grasp the things of God.  I just rejoice in the fact that God chose me and God and the angels rejoice because I chose Him.  If you have not received Jesus as Lord and are wondering if God chose you, I have an easy way for you to find out.  If you choose God, you know He has already chosen you. 
And the Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.  Revelation 22:17 NKJV

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