Forgiveness and repentance (part 7): Does God only forgive us when we repent? (i)

(Read parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.)

We have been considering the question of whether we can or should forgive in the absence of repentance by the guilty party. We began by looking at whether we forgive in exactly the same way that God does, and then turned to consider the question in light of a series of pastoral issues. With this post and the next, we will conclude by addressing the really big question in all this—not what we do, but what God does. Is God’s forgiveness of us dependent upon our repentance?

Let’s run with the ‘yes’ case. God cannot, or should not, forgive when we do not repent. Well then, can we be in relationship with God and yet unforgiven? Hopefully, we’ll all agree that no, we can’t. God does not tolerate sin, and would have no fellowship with an unforgiven (and hence unrighteous) man or woman.

Well then, what happens with the uncountable sins we commit as we live life even after we become Christians? Do we drop out of a saved status with each sin we commit, and then as we repent and receive forgiveness, do we move back to a saved status—a never-ending cycle of apostasy and conversion? What happens if we die with some sins unrepented of? As God only forgives repented sins, I think such a scenario must be close to a nightmare.

If we say that God forgives each specific sin only when that specific sin has been specifically repented of, then we are well on our way for the need for something like Purgatory, and the need for a specialist confessor in a confessional-like situation who can walk us through our lives since our last session and identify each and every sin of omission and commission (good luck with that) so that each can be properly repented of. Heaven help (and I say that with all seriousness) the believer who commits even one sin and never realizes it in order to be able to repent of it properly.

To such an argument, I am sure someone will argue that God does not need us to repent of our sins, but of sin. We don’t need to repent of each individual act of wrongdoing, but of the basic attitude of rebellion and unbelief against God that stands behind and produces the various acts we commit. So when it comes to God and us, one covers all. The first repentance we do when we turn to God covers all declensions from a repentant life as long as we don’t deliberately revoke that primordial repentance. (For the record, I think that this theory, despite how regularly it is wheeled out in various contexts, is for the birds. Repentance in the Bible has to do both with sin and sins. Zacchaeus’ repentance in Luke 19:1-10 is clearly aimed both at his specific actions against other people as well as the underlying attitudes and pattern of life. But once again, we’ll let things stand for the sake of the argument.)

I’m not sure how such a theory, even if true, really helps the problem. If we forgive in the same way God forgives us, then we have two options, much as we had in the previous post. What kind of repentance does the person who sins against us have to offer to justify our forgiveness of them? I don’t mean repentance for their specific sins against us, but for their underlying sin. So what sort of underlying sin do they need to repent of?

If it is their sin in the absolute sense that they have to repent of for us to forgive them, then we are again in the position where we have to forgive Christians and cannot forgive non-Christians. Christians have already repented of ‘capital S’ Sin and have been forgiven. That repentance covers any ‘small s’ sins they commit—of which their offence against us is merely one item in that set. God forgives them for that sin they commit against us because they have repented of their rebellion against him. So if we forgive just as God does, then we need to forgive them irrespective of whether or not they repent of their sins against us. And we cannot forgive the non-Christian of their sins against us, even if they repent of them. They have not repented of their ‘capital S’ Sin, so God has not forgiven their sins. And as we mimic God, we cannot forgive them either. So, let’s agree that this isn’t a good solution.

But let’s say that it isn’t sin in the absolute sense that needs to be repented of, but the attitude that stands behind the acts. God forgives sins when the attitude of rejection against him is repented of, and does not require repentance for each individual sin. In the same way, it could be argued, we don’t need repentance for specific sins against us, but only for the basic stance of rejection of us. So once we are in a right relationship with God, we can’t lose a right relationship with God unless we apostatize. Similarly, then, where we already have a relationship with someone, there is no need for them to repent of any particular sin they commit against us—as long as they don’t deliberately seek to sever the relationship itself. In other words, no specific sin needs to be repented of by anyone in relationship with us, short of a complete rejection of us or attempted murder. Even adultery does not require repentance for those who do believe that marriage cannot be dissolved by anything other than death, because on that view, adultery is not an act that repudiates the marriage, merely a sin within it. So even adultery must be forgiven without repentance. Anything short of complete and absolute rejection (our analogy for apostasy) should be forgiven without repentance. Such a position has the distinction of combining almost every complaint people have against the idea of forgiving without repentance with every problem I’ve raised against the alternative. So it isn’t a great way forward either.

That leaves three bad options: God requires repentance for every sin, or we only forgive Christians and do that without repentance for their sins against us, or we forgive every sin against us without repentance unless it is a total attack on the relationship itself. However, all this so far is merely waddling in the toddler pool. The real problem is that to make God’s forgiveness conditional on our repentance is to utterly and completely deny justification by grace through faith alone (or, given the name of this blog, sola fide). It is to that issue that we’ll turn in our final post.

(Read part 8.)

Since this series was written a particularly excellent long article on the topic was published in the inaugural edition of The Catechist by Chew Chern. It is well worth checking out. Chern takes the reader on a different guided tour over different theological issues, and arrives at a location comparable to that argued in this series, but possibly distinct from it at some key points. For those who like something more integrated than the way I tend to blog, the article has the added advantage that it explicitly engages with several different scriptural passages at some length as it proceeds and is self-contained in a single article.

29 thoughts on “Forgiveness and repentance (part 7): Does God only forgive us when we repent? (i)

  1. Thanks again, Mark – looking forward to the final installment. I’m planning on leading some discussions on the issue with the Chilean students at our little Bible college here, which will be fun and challenging…

    Sadly, the Catechist site is down just at the moment :(

  2. Hi Stephen,

    Sounds like a great conversation to have.  I can honestly say that the time my year at Moore spent with Peter Jensen on these issues in third year was quite seminal for my life and ministry.  I’ll pray that it goes well and that is similarly life changing for your students.

    As far as the Catechist site being down – yars, a bit of a shame there.  Hopefully it’ll be up again soon.  It’d be worth bookmarking it I think – the whole first issue is on forgiveness (with some other unthematised treasures thrown in) so there’s a lot of resources there. 

    From memory I was able to access a fair bit by judicious use of google’s cache function.

  3. Thanks for the google cache tip – worked a treat. And yes, the article is very good, and it’s helpful having another person’s “take” but with a similar outcome.

  4. Mark,

    I whole-heartedly agree with your position. Thanks for your blog. I wonder if many become confused by 1 John 1:8-9? This confusion begins when we interpret the passage as strictly saying that when we satisfy the condition of having confessed our sin(s) that then and only then does God proceed to forgive us our sins.

    The woman with the alabastar jar in Luke 7 got it right, I believe. She shows up with her jar ready to annoint the Master’s feet, knowing both who he is and that she is forgiven her sin(s). She doesn’t come to the dinner party, confess her sins to the Master, then go home and retrieve her alabastar jar. No. She knows that she is forgiven and weeps tears of confession, service, and worship at the feet of the Master.
     
    My understanding is that God has already extended forgiveness to me and to all in every age and place. However, we demonstrate our acceptance of this forgiveness, and so become a conduit or agent of this forgiveness when we do the following on an ongoing basis:

    1) We confess our need of God’s forgiveness; and, 2) Forgive others just we have been forgiven (Luke 11:4).

    Grace,

    Sayer Strauch

  5. The real problem is that to make God’s forgiveness conditional on our repentance is to utterly and completely deny justification by grace through faith alone (or, given the name of this blog, sola fide).

    Mark, I feel this very unfairly – even dangerously – drives a wedge between faith and repentance.  The two are never seen separately, as far as I can tell, in the Bible, with a few possible exceptions;  James 2:14-26 and 1 John 2:3-6 are a couple of those exceptions.  Here, we see that if someone claims to have faith yet does not have the works to match, then that person is (at the very least) mistaken about having faith in the first place.

    Hence, I believe a fairer conclusion, with regard to faith and repentance, is that true trust in Jesus as Lord will always lead the believer to seek to put to death the deeds of the sinful nature and to live by the Spirit (to borrow the language of Romans 5-8).  (“Repentance” itself is not the entirety of what “faith” means, but it is an entirely-necessary component of true trust in Jesus Christ.)  In every practical respect, a Christian cannot have repentance without faith and cannot have faith without repentance.

    So, to say that forgiveness is conditional on repentance is, if repentance is understood correctly by the speaker, akin to saying that forgiveness is conditional upon faith!  The rule of sole fide is not violated.  Indeed, we see faith and repentance used interchangeably in John 3:36 (ESV): “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”

    Or else, are we to conclude that a person can trust in God as Saviour, yet not in any way seek to live with God as Lord, and still expect to be saved?

    On repentance itself, I feel, Mark, that you have been a bit too clinical.  There is another option that I don’t think you addressed (though you came close) – that repentance is about “where your heart is”.  If a person seeks to be reconciled to God and to turn away from what God hates, I’d call that person “repentant”.  And the inverse: a person who does not seek to be reconciled with God is “unrepentant”.

    If we were to apply the same logic to people, a “repentant” person would be a wrongdoer who seeks to be reconciled with the wrongly-done-by.

  6. Hello Sayer,

    You’re welcome for the post.

    I wonder if many become confused by 1 John 1:8-9? This confusion begins when we interpret the passage as strictly saying that when we satisfy the condition of having confessed our sin(s) that then and only then does God proceed to forgive us our sins.

    Great pick-up.  I quite agree that it is a tragic misunderstanding of the point of 1 John 1:5-2:6.  While it is setting forth a rigorous ethical and spiritual demand upon believers, it is doing so on the ground of assurance that sin has been dealt with and forgiveness is in play.

    To sieze upon the ‘if…then’ as a strict condition undercuts the thrust of the passage.  The point is that there is real forgiveness for us when we acknowledge that we’ve sinned and realise that our works condemn us.  It’s not that we need to undertake a specific process to receive forgiveness.  Great point, I wholeheartedly agree.

    I’d also want to query whether ‘confess our sins’ is really an expression of ‘repentance’ and not an expression of ‘faith’.  I would have thought that ‘confessing our sins’ is really an asking for forgiveness, not a turning from sin in and of itself (though obviously they’re connected, just as faith and repentance are). 

    In which case the passage isn’t pushing something we have to do to be forgiven at all.  Because faith isn’t something you do, it is to stop doing in order to trust God for God to do something Rom 4:4-5.

    The woman with the alabastar jar in Luke 7 got it right, I believe. She shows up with her jar ready to annoint the Master’s feet, knowing both who he is and that she is forgiven her sin(s).

    Yes, she loves much because she’s been forgiven much.  She’s forgiven before she comes and weeps on Jesus’ feet, she doesn’t do that in order to get his declaration of forgiveness.  In fact, in v50 Jesus explicitly says that its her faith that saves her, not her confessing, weeping, or the like.  It’s not what she does out of love, but her trust in God’s Messiah and what he will do for her that saves her.  Again, this is great stuff.  Thanks.
     

    My understanding is that God has already extended forgiveness to me and to all in every age and place.

    Yars, Fiona made a similar point on in a comment on the previous thread.  I agree that it is not simply that God forgives sins, but that he forgives and justifies people – and if I was justified and continue to be justified apart from works, then, by implication all sins still off in my future must be already forgiven. 

    That’s pretty important, otherwise I fall in and out of a righteous standing with God as I sin and then am forgiven. 

    Still, I’ve always been uncomfortable about putting it this way – I do it in pastoral situations where the person is crippled with guilt and I’ll throw the kitchen sink at the problem.  I don’t think I’d ever put it this way in a sermon though. 

    It’s something about how time features in the statement that I’m uncomfortable with.  While I think that God does not exist in our time frame – I have no idea how God experiences time or sequence of events but I’m very confident that he’s not part of relativistic time that is the feature of this world – nonetheless he relates to me in a timebound way.  My time-bound frame isn’t a problem for God. 

    So there is some sense in which my relationship with God is affected by my actions – I experience God as being pleased with and grieved by things I do when I do them.  He doesn’t simply relate to me as being pleased with and grieved by everything I do past, present and future in one eternal ‘now’ moment. 

    It makes a difference whether I confess my sins to God or whether I do not, even though I’m already forgiven.

    In a sense, what I’m trying to uphold there isn’t really to do with forgiveness (or justification, the unmentioned issue throughout this whole series of posts) at all – it’s my version of what you put as:

    However, we demonstrate our acceptance of this forgiveness, and so become a conduit or agent of this forgiveness when we do the following on an ongoing basis:
    1) We confess our need of God’s forgiveness; and, 2) Forgive others just we have been forgiven (Luke 11:4).

    The way we begin is the way we continue.  We come in by faith and confessing our need of forgiveness.  We continue the same way – continuing to confess our ongoing need, and seeking to treat others the way that God has and continues to treat us.

    Different language, but I think we’re very much on the same page here, Sayer.  Thank you for the comment, was a very helpful contribution.

  7. Hello Alex,

    It’s great to hear from you again.  I you haven’t seen this, I have sketeched out my take on Luke 17:3-4 beginning here:
    http://solapanel.org/article/forgiveness_and_repentance_part_5/#5135

    Thank you for going into bat on such an important topic and making the case so clearly and well.  I’m going to do a lot of jumping up and down in my response, but that isn’t aimed at you, it’s about the issues that I think are at stake. 

    From my point of view, I’m nothing but grateful that you’ve entered the lists on this, and have done it so well.  Thanks.

    This is going to take a bunch of words, because I think this is the issue that really matters in all of this.

    Mark, I feel this very unfairly – even dangerously – drives a wedge between faith and repentance.

    Yes, it’s dangerous.  I’ll wear that.  Justification by grace through faith alone and apart from works has often been accused of being dangerous.  mea culpa

    But I’m not wanting to drive a wedge between faith and repentance.  When it comes to God, me, and the issue of forgiveness (or justification), I want to dig a trench at least as deep as Mariana. 

    And I want to put an old guy carrying a big stick on the ‘faith’ side of the chasm, and each time that repentance tries to cross over and pass itself off as faith, I want him to bang the stick on the ground and say in an outrageously melodramatic voice, “You. Shall Not. Pass.” 

    about :35 to 2:04 unless you’d like to watch the whole scene).  When it comes to the question of salvation repentance is a grubby interloper constantly trying to sneak in and get itself added to faith.  It needs to be driven off with pitchforks and torches.

    And I really don’t care if I’m being unfair to repentance or not.  It can just take it on the chin.  I’m happy to say something nice and fair about it once it has been established and agreed upon that our only hope is that God justifies the ungodly, not the righteous.  Once that’s established then I’ll praise repentance, hold it up, extoll it, even push upon people who claim to be believers that they must be godly, and that to walk in darkness is to be cut off from Christ.  I’m no exponent of cheap grace.

    Apart from these final two posts, I’ll make a gift of every other part of the series: 

    We need to forgive others only when they repent?  Go for it. 

    Someone seriously sinned (e.g. abused) against has to hold onto that sin for life but has to immediately reconcile with their offender when their offender comes claiming to have repented or else we need to start applying Matthew 18 to them?  I’ll giftwrap it for you. It’ll be through clenched teeth, but I’ll do that before I deny the gospel. 

    This bit you’ve touched on really is a ‘here I stand’ moment.

    The two are never seen separately, as far as I can tell, in the Bible, with a few possible exceptions;  James 2:14-26 and 1 John 2:3-6 are a couple of those exceptions.  Here, we see that if someone claims to have faith yet does not have the works to match, then that person is (at the very least) mistaken about having faith in the first place.

    When it comes to discussions about how we receive God’s forgiveness and justification, then the two are normally separated. 

    Read Romans 4 and point out where Paul brings out the need to repent as part of his discussion on how God justifies the one who has faith. 

    The only places where it occurs at all is implicit in its discussions on works and the Law in verses 1-8 and 13-14 and then only to say reject it as a means for receiving forgiveness and justification.

    I agree with your take on James and 1 John.  But my view is like I said to Craig:
    http://solapanel.org/article/forgiveness_and_repentance_part_4/#5098 (need to read on to the comment following as well to get the whole point)

    There’s a big difference between saying that something is the fruit of faith and so is evidence that faith really exists (my view) and saying that something is part of what faith is and so needs to be done in order to be justified (your view). 

    I believe that the presence of the Spirit in my life, being seated with Christ in the heavenlies, being made part of the Church, and having the hope of resurrection from the dead are all fruits of faith.  But none of them are a part of faith.  If I find someone who doesn’t have them, well that means that they don’t have true faith either.  But that doesn’t make them part of what faith is.  It just means that they will always be present when faith exists. 

    And repentance is like that, it is a fruit of faith, not a part of faith.  You cannot have faith and not repent, but repentance is not faith, not a part, not an aspect, not even a ‘kissing cousin’.  It’s something else.

  8. continuing

    true trust in Jesus as Lord will always lead the believer to seek to put to death the deeds of the sinful nature and to live by the Spirit (to borrow the language of Romans 5-8).  (“Repentance” itself is not the entirety of what “faith” means, but it is an entirely-necessary component of true trust in Jesus Christ.)

    Okay.  So, repentance is a ‘necessary component of true trust in Jesus Christ’ so is a condition for God to forgive me and give me his Spirit.

    But you’ve also just said that faith means to put to death the deeds of the sinful nature and to live by the Spirit and gestured at Romans 5-8 for the evidence for that. 

    So, is Romans 5-8 about how we live once we become Christians, or is about how we become Christians?  Do I live by the Spirit and put to death the deeds of the sinful nature (what you seem to have defined repentance as at this point) in order to be forgiven?  Is living by the Spirit and putting to death the deeds of the sinful nature a ‘necessary component of true trust’? 

    Is this really a component of faith?  Or is the fruit of faith?.

    Reread what you wrote and I’ve just quoted, Alex. Are you happy with that as an explanation of what you should say to someone who under the wrath of God?  “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ – which means, at least in part, live by the Spirit and put to death the deeds of the sinful nature, because these are necessary components – and (then) you will be saved?”

    How can I live by the Spirit before I receive him? 

    So, to say that forgiveness is conditional on repentance is, if repentance is understood correctly by the speaker, akin to saying that forgiveness is conditional upon faith!  The rule of sole fide is not violated.  Indeed, we see faith and repentance used interchangeably in John 3:36 (ESV): “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”

    I’m glad it doesn’t violate sola fide because faith alone really means faith + repentance.  Apart from minor trappings like the Mass and the Pope, what distinguishes what you’ve just written from what any well taught Catholic or Orthodox would say?

    Thought through Catholics and Orthodox Christians get rightly quite offended by the way in which Protestants accuse them of adding works to faith.  They will respond that that is a caricature – that love of God, and obedience to his commands, is a necessary part of faith.  And that to drive a wedge between faith on the one hand and love for God/obedience to his commands/repentance/good works (pick whatever terminology you prefer) is ‘unfair and dangerous’.
     
    God only justifies those who love him, who cease their enmity, who cease their disobedience, who obey him, who put to death the deeds of the sinful nature, and who pursue righteousness.  Ask any Catholic, they’ll tell you.  And none of that is ‘adding’ to faith, it’s just making it clear that faith includes all that as part of its definition.  To trust God is to love God, to obey God, to do good, to repent.  It’s all included under the heading of ‘faith’.  That’s good Catholic doctrine. 

    So I have here someone who used to hate God, used to disobey him, used to practice unrighteousness.  I think we could fairly call such a person ‘ungodly’. 

    Let’s say that they repent.  What does that mean in such a situation?  Surely it means that they start to love God, obey him, and put to death sin in the body and practice righteousness.  What should we call someone like this?  Isn’t ‘godly’ the right term?

    So, in light of Romans 4: 4-6

    4Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works

    I have two basic questions for you:

    1.  Is the gospel that God justifies the godly or the ungodly?

    2. If repentance is something I do – as you’ve clearly indicated by talking about walking in the Spirit, putting to death sin, and obeying Christ as ways of talking about repentance – then how can it be a part of faith, which, in v5 Paul defines as not doing but trusting?

    And then my declaration in response: God justifies the ungodly.  He justifies the one who does not work, who does nothing but simply trusts God and so receives forgiveness as a gift.  That is the gospel.  Repentance is what I do because I have been saved.  It’s not how I get saved.

  9. concluding

    Or else, are we to conclude that a person can trust in God as Saviour, yet not in any way seek to live with God as Lord, and still expect to be saved?

    No.  In fact, if you look at those churces which teach that repentance (good works) are not part of how we get saved, and those that teach that they are, which tends to expect more of its followers?  Getting repentance out of the conditions of needing to be met so that we can be forgiven actually frees you up to make huge demands on people. 

    If you have to repent to be forgiven, I need to not ask more repentance from you than you can cope with – because then you’ll turn back and cease to repent.  But if it is faith that saves you and it produces repentance I am free to press on you the full weight of the Bible’s impossible ethical demands knowing that I don’t imperill your salvation as a result. 

    Catholics have to lower the bar as to how much repentance God demands in order to open the gates of salvation to all and not just to saints.  Evangelicals, when we’ve grasped justification by grace through faith alone, have no so problem.

    One of the reasons why I think our circles can sometimes be a bit weak in their ethical demands on Christians is that preachers think they might condemn people by preaching morality.  And they tend to think that because they’re fuzzy on repentance and faith and think that repentance is an instrument whereby we receive justification.  If that’s the case, you can’t afford to ask too much of people – you might break the link by putting too much load on people’s ability to repent. 

    And those (like the Jensen brothers senior) who have a clear grasp on the distinction between faith and repentance tend to have ministries characterised by their cutting ethical edge – without creating lots of little moralists in the process.

    On repentance itself, I feel, Mark, that you have been a bit too clinical.  There is another option that I don’t think you addressed (though you came close) – that repentance is about “where your heart is”.  If a person seeks to be reconciled to God and to turn away from what God hates, I’d call that person “repentant”.  And the inverse: a person who does not seek to be reconciled with God is “unrepentant”.

    If we were to apply the same logic to people, a “repentant” person would be a wrongdoer who seeks to be reconciled with the wrongly-done-by.

    Yep, I’m happy with that definition for repentance.  But it doesn’t solve the problem.  Here’s my response to Craig when he raised the same concern:
    http://solapanel.org/article/forgiveness_and_repentance_part_4/#5107

    I’ll happily admit that I have pushed an aspect of repentance that we tend to pass over – that repentance is not just about turning to someone in a personal, relational kind of way; it is also about turning from specific things I’ve done, turning to doing better things, and recompensing for the harm I’ve caused. 

    But that’s not a denial of the personal/relational dimension.  I’ve taken the tack I have partly because that personal/relational dimension on its own is just empty words (see James 2:15 for an analogy) – I ‘love’ you, but it doesn’t change what I do. 

    And partly because my case was easier to establish by fronting the aspects of repentance that I fronted. 

    While you might have wanted to say more about repentance to give a full description of it, I hope there’s nothing I said about it that you said, “that’s just wrong, repentance isn’t that at all’. 

    I emphasised those aspects of repentance that I think ‘repentance without forgiveness’ most tends to let slip from its grasp because it can’t handle them without becoming legalistic.  That was a teaching/argumentative strategy.  It wasn’t advocating a sub-Christian view of repentance. 

    Alex, I’m very grateful that you’ve raised this so strongly and so well.  I’ve been strong in response – but that’s not at you.  Thank you again for pushing this so well, please feel free to come back again.

  10. Mark,

    Thanks for your follow up!  You’re right that I overstated my point in saying that repentance is a part of faith.  Sorry.  And I with you, as you agree with Luther, that we are saved by faith alone, and (but?) that faith is not alone.

    While it may have come across that way, I did not mean that repentance is something that must be done to be saved (where “repentance” is about good works).  After all, what opportunity would the criminal on the cross next to Jesus have had to repent if this were the case? 

    Rather, I meant it much the same way that you meant it in your comments to other articles (which, unfortunately, I haven’t had opportunity to read yet) – that there will never be a situation where repentance or justification exist without the other (where “repentance” is about who rules your heart).  The reason for this is that faith and repentance cannot ever, in any meaningful, practical way, exist without each other (this idea of “separate existence” is what I meant by “separately” in my original comment).

    Perhaps, therefore, we can settle on this statement: An unrepentant person will not be forgiven by God.

    Or maybe something even less contentious: A person will not be reconciled with God if that person does not want to be reconciled with God.

    (The Captcha chose for me, of all words, “peace”.  I think that’s very appropriate.  So, Mark, peace?)

  11. Hi Alex,

    Thanks for your follow up!

    You’re welcome, and thank you for yours!

    You’re right that I overstated my point in saying that repentance is a part of faith.

    I don’t think you overstated your case, I think you argued that repentance has to be seen as a condition for God’s forgiveness.  In so doing, you concluded that in John 3:36: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” ‘believe’ and ‘obey’ are interchangeable. 

    That means that Jesus’ words to the rich young ruler – “keep the commandments and you shall live” are the same as the proclamation of the gospel – “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved”.

    Once I pointed it out to you, your commitment to justification by grace kicked in.  But you weren’t pushed into saying that in the heat of argument, you chose those words to encapsulate that repentance has to be a condition of God’s forgiveness. 

    That’s part of my point hovering in the background in these final two posts.  On almost any other issue we seem to be clear about justification by grace apart from works.  But drop the word ‘justification’ and replace it with ‘forgiveness’ and all of sudden people start talking as though we have to do some basic obedience/love of God/turning to God before he will forgive.  We’ll tell people that they can’t be good enough for God, but then say that God only forgives those who have taken the first step on the journey from being bad to being good.

    While it may have come across that way, I did not mean that repentance is something that must be done to be saved (where “repentance” is about good works).  After all, what opportunity would the criminal on the cross next to Jesus have had to repent if this were the case?

    No, I meant (and mean) that.  My argument is that repentance simply is a good work, it is something you do.  Even if you avoid entirely actions and just focus on relational attitudes and the heart repentance is still a ‘good work’.  I’ll try and illustrate:

    Is love for God a good work?  Is it something I ‘do’?  Surely not, in one sense.  It’s a stance I take towards God, it’s an attitude of the heart – that’s more who I am than what I ‘do’ .  “Good works” is about doing specific things – like praying, or being nice to people, or giving money, or the like.  But the first and greatest commandment is to ‘love God’.  In the Bible’s language, keeping the commandments is ‘doing’, is a ‘good work’.  The person who truly, perfectly loves God has no need of salvation – they perfectly keep the law, they are righteous.

    What about sorrow for sin?  Or a desire to be reconciled?  These too please God when they are ‘done’ correctly.  It is right to mourn one’s sin – that’s the godly response to sin.  It’s right to desire to be reconciled with God when one realises that one is estranged from God by one’s sins.  That’s a godly response as well.  These aren’t morally neutral responses to our sin and alienation from God.  The godly person mourns and longs for reconciliation.  The ungodly person does not.

    And, again from Rom 4, does God justify the ungodly or the godly?

    Catholicism will tend to say – “Godliness and ungodliness are on a spectrum, and no-one is perfectly godly, which means that everyone is, to a greater or lesser degree, ungodly.  So God justifies the ungodly because they don’t have to be perfect – they just have to have taken the first step, have to have turned from sin and to God, have to have begun to love God.  They’re still ‘ungodly’ because they’ve got such a long way to go, but the first step towards God has to happen first.”

    I’m saying. No!  God justifies the ungodly.  He justifies the sinner in their sin.  He takes his enemies and makes them his friends and his sons and daughters.  He takes people who hate him and pours his love into their heart by his Holy Spirit.

    As much as you want to stand with me on justification by grace and apart from works, I think your position is still closer to the Catholic one than mine.  God doesn’t justify the really deep down ungodly for you, God justifies the repentant ungodly – the ones who have started to respond rightly to God by rejecting their sin and seeking God.  And that means that he justifies those who are godly – because that’s about as godly as a sinner is capable of being.

  12. concluding

    The reason for this is that faith and repentance cannot ever, in any meaningful, practical way, exist without each other (this idea of “separate existence” is what I meant by “separately” in my original comment).

    As I’ve indicated in my comment on the final post, number eight, I think repentance can exist without faith – I think Scriptural examples exist, and if the two have to always exist together then it is impossible to ever forgive non-Christians on what I think is your view.  As they don’t have faith, then they can’t have repentance either, and so we can’t forgive them as repentance is a condition for forgiveness.

    I think faith can’t exist without repentance.  But I think that when it comes to the gospel, the two must be kept strictly separate – something everyone agrees on when we stop talking about ‘repentance’ and start talking about ‘good works’ or ‘being good’ or ‘trying to love God first before becoming a Christian’ or the like.  It’s just on this issue we seem to throw all that out.

    Perhaps, therefore, we can settle on this statement: An unrepentant person will not be forgiven by God.

    Heh.  Close.  The only way anyone will be forgiven by God is when they are unrepentant.  Once forgiven then they will be repentant as well.  I’d agree with:

    An unrepentant person has not been forgiven by God.

    Or maybe something even less contentious: A person will not be reconciled with God if that person does not want to be reconciled with God.

    No.  I think this still makes a praiseworthy response to my sin and alienation from God that is truly my own – a product of my heart – the condition for reconciliation.  God reconciles his enemies, not his former enemies that are now suing for peace.

    Again, I’d put it in the past tense:
    A person has not been reconciled by God if that person does not want to be reconciled with God.

    God’s action of saving us makes our response possible and inevitable.  Our response is not the condition for God’s grace.  That’s what is still between us, as far as I can see.

    (The Captcha chose for me, of all words, “peace”.  I think that’s very appropriate.  So, Mark, peace?)

    Heh.  Between you and me?  Absolutely, let’s have drinks (whatever you choose) whenever I have the privilege of meeting you. 

    Between what we’re saying?  I think we’re getting closer, but we’re not quite there yet…

  13. I wonder if what might also be helpful to explore, and remind ourselves, is the difference between kairos and chronos. Kairos is the Greek word representing the concept of God’s time and chronos represents linear time as the world knows it.

    (This is also where some get hung up,I expect, on the concept of predestination.) My understanding is that God knows omnisciently, instantly and outside of our linear time the facts of what transpires throughout history. God has extended forgiveness to all in Jesus’ death upon the cross. At the risk of simplifying and understating the matter, God is always a step ahead of me/us. When we accept our acceptance (Paul Tillich’s phrase), we do so from our frame of reference in time, that is, chronos’ linear earth time.

    Looked at from a linear chronos perspective, we might be tempted to think that we have to repent before God will forgive us. Were that the case, by the way, God’s would be a conditional love.

    I think there are conditions for transacting the reality of being forgiven but not conditions that must be met before God will say, “I forgive you.” Notice, Jesus does not say on the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do, but only do so after they have repented of their ignorance.”

    I believe that repentance is cooperating with God’s Spirit that would expand our minds into a growing awareness and acceptance of God’s overcoming our alienation from God. Notice that God always plays the role of leader in our coming into relationship with God and in our becoming more like God.

    While I believe that repentance is necessary to transact the reality of living as one forgiven it is not something that we do before God will say, “I forgive you.” Rather, God says from a kairos perspective, “I forgive you,” and we who come to believe in the name of Jesus cooperate with God’s Spirit in accepting this forgiveness, hence transacting and owning the reality of being forgiven in Christ.

  14. Bah!  Language is a slippery thing!

    If you’d let me have some leniency, I might just try to remove my foot from my mouth.

    I don’t disagree with what you’re written, Mark.  Which is odd, because you certainly disagree with what I’ve written.  Hence, I’m inclined to believe that the problem is likely to be that I’ve phrased myself badly.

    Your argument is, as I understand it, as follows:

    1. Humans are totally depraved, so that they cannot turn to God without his intervention.
    2. God acts to propitiate his wrath towards his enemies, not his friends.
    3. It is by faith that we can be forgiven by God, justified in his sight and reconciled to him.
    4. On the last day, a person is saved by his faith alone.
    5. This faith leads to turning from dead works and to good works.  “Faith” which does not do this is unlikely to be faith.

    My problem is that I reversed the logic without reversing the terminology, arguing:

    • Faith leads to works.
    • If you don’t have works, it’s unlikely you have faith.
    • If you don’t have faith, you’re not forgiven.

    Hence,

    • You argued that repentance is not a precondition for forgiveness (or for faith).
    • I argued that a person who does not have repentance is unlikely to have faith.  If you’re unlikely to have faith, you’re unlikely to be saved on the last day.  Hence, repentance is more like a “postcondition” for forgiveness, faith, etc.

    (Note: My final two statements in the previous post used future tense to reflect an eschatological viewpoint.  In retrospect, I should have pointed this out, and perhaps should have substituted “forgiven” with “saved”.)

    Basically, I picked my words badly for the argument I was running.  And I went too far when I said that repentance was a part of (rather than the expected fruit of) faith.

    Postscript: Faith is not a prerequisite for forgiveness of people by other people.

  15. Hi Sayer,

    Thank you for continuing to tease out the implications of where you’re coming from.

    If I’ve read you correctly, I think we’re probably in fundamental disagreement on a wide range of issues.  I think I’d be one of those that you’d classify as ‘hung up on predestination’. 

    I’d see the relationship between God’s part and ours as not so much that God has already forgiven us, but we need to actualise that by following the Spirit where he wants to take, and so our repentance is still an instrument of God’s forgiveness – just an instrument of our reception of God’s forgiveness, not so much of its objective existence. 

    For me that moves too close to the view that the difference between Christians and non-Christians is that Christians know they’re already saved and non-Christians don’t (rather than the difference being between Christians being saved and non-Christians still being under the wrath of God). 

    I’m more coming from a ‘predestinarian’ approach.  When God in love calls someone he has elected through the gospel, the Spirit gives them faith.  By faith they are united to Christ, and being united to Christ receive every spiritual blessing.  One of those blessings is regeneration or renewal by the Spirit.  And with that regeneration or renewal comes repentance – I now love God, turn to him from the heart, and turn from my old way of life. 

    Here repentance doesn’t actualise God’s forgiveness, so much as God’s forgiveness actualises my repentance. 

    So I think we’re on the same page on the presenting issue of the series – we don’t repent so that God will forgive us.  But if I’ve read you correctly, it’s for different reasons.

  16. Hi Alex,

    LOL!  You can have more than ‘leniency’ – you have my unreserved apology.  My reading of your last-comment-but-one clearly slipped between cup and lip.  Language is indeed slippery, especially on comment threads.

    I agree that you and I are on the same page.  ‘Peace’ indeed between us.

  17. Mark,

    No, I don’t think you have it quite right. I think we’re alot closer in thought than you think.

    I would say that Christian and non-Christian alike have already been extended forgiveness, at least from an ultimate perspective if not from a practical have-they-heard-the-good-news yet standpoint. I believe that the Bible is clear that non-Christians who do not accept God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ do, as I think you’d agree, suffer eternal alienation from God, others, and self.

    I think one difference we have theologically is that you seem to believe that God has predetermined that some specific individuals should be saved and some specific individuals should be lost. I think that’s in fundamental conflict with the unconditional nature of God’s love, in conflict with Scripture (e.g., “that every knee should bow and confess…”), in conflict with the biblical notion of the freedom God has bestowed upon God’s creation to choose their eternal destiny, in conflict with God’s desire that not one soul should perish but that each should have eternal life, and in conflict with general evangelical premises that understand the urgency both of my personally claiming Jesus as my Lord and Savior and of my personally participating in bringing about the realm of God to all.I would also suggest that it may be in conflict with Calvin’s perspective on predestination, though we can only read his Institutes and surmise what intent and meaning he had in mind where ambiguity exists.

    I think we agree on the leading of the Spirit.

    Sayer

  18. Mark,

    As I’ve thought about this, it seems that the basic difference is about who has responsibility for the crossing over of an individual into the arms of Jesus, or to put it less dramatically, into the status of being a Christian. Is that the responsibility of God or of the individual?

    Could you, or anyone, help me with the strongest Calvin citation for Mark’s understanding of Calvin’s predestination, so that I can be clearer about whether my issue is with Mark or with Mark and Calvin?  : )

    If you say that God, the Spirit, has the responsibility, then it seems logical that we are absolving ourselves of responsibility, and our commitment, for being a Christian (even though I fully expect that this is not what you, Mark, or others in this conversation would say about yourself).

    Further, if you say that God has the responsibility, then you are saying that God’s love is smaller than were God to give us the freedom to carry out that responsibility for ourselves. You would be saying that God wants our character not to be fully like Jesus’ but only somewhat like his. You would be saying that God wants us to remain infants to God’s adulthood perspective, to put it into terms of the basic stages of maturation. You would be saying that Jesus didn’t really want us to be friends and followers but only followers.

    I think that you’re not giving God enough credit, or more specifically, that you are seeing God’s love as smaller than it really is. I understand God’s love as being so great that God truly gave us freedom to move away from, or toward, God, and so to choose reconciliation from my alienation through Jesus Christ or eternal alienation from God, others, and self.

    Yes, the Spirit is ever-leading, both in my decision to accept Christ and in my spiritual growth through the years, but the Spirit will not force someone forward, or make the decision for someone, to jump into the arms of Jesus. Jesus didn’t say, “I’ll decide for you whether you take up your cross and follow me. You just tag along for the ride and let me make all the decisions for you, whether you follow me, which side of the bed you get out on. Do not work out your salvation – I’ll take care of that too.” That’s not my understanding of biblical revelation nor my understanding and experience of how the Spirit works. 

    But again, I would sincerely like to better understand Calvin with the strongest cite of the Institutes on Calvin’s intent on his meaning of predestination. Thanks!

    Sayer Strauch

  19. Hi Sayer,
    Woo, nice easy discussion on predestination to round out the series on forgiveness and repentance eh?

    I think what I’ll do is respond to the observations and concerns you raise here first, give you a chance to respond to that, then dump some Calvin quotes onto the thread once you or someone else has commented in this thread.  Calvin is unfortunately unavailable for the gig just at the moment, so probably can’t interact with the specific things you’ve raised.  So I’ll do that first as they all look like they really matter to you.  This is going to take a number of comments…

    Glad I misread you on whether non-Christian are actually saved yet (and glad I hedged that imputation to you as well smile ).  Sorry for the wrong end of the stick there.

    I think one difference we have theologically is that you seem to believe that God has predetermined that some specific individuals should be saved and some specific individuals should be lost.

    Yes, I think that’s a fiarly big difference between us.  I’ll try and pick off the concerns you raise and try and gesture at where I’m coming from on each, not to repudiate your concern as such, but to indicate how I approach it so why the concern doesn’t ‘bite’ the same way.

    I think that’s in fundamental conflict with the unconditional nature of God’s love,

    In the sense that God’s love is not called froth from him by some ‘lovability’ that we have, yes?  I absolutely agree.  I can see why from your perspective predestination must reimport a conditionality to God’s love – why would God elect some in love and not others unless there’s something different about them? 

    But I think there’s something, even in our own experience of love, that simply ‘is’ and that discriminates. 

    Why does a man love a woman and not a different woman?  Is it really because the woman he loves is the greatest paragon of feminity?  (And if a ‘better’ woman comes along he’ll love her more?) Or does he love the woman because he loves her?  And one can’t really give a reason for the love, the love itself is its own reason?  Do parents inevitably love their children on a scale based on the qualities of the child? 

    I think Reformed advocates can sometimes misstep by saying that ‘God chooses to love’ some people – I’ve seen it done even here on the hallowed halls of the Sola Panel.  I think it’s closer to say ‘God loves and so chooses’. 

    And because love is genuinely ‘free’ we cannot really ask ‘why’ and ask ‘why not those guys too’?  If God has to love all the way that he loves some, we’ve moved from an issue of love to an issue of justice or fairness.  God can love all (in one sense), and can love some (in another sense) and that not be in conflict – I love my neighbour, my enemy, my family, my wife.  Those ‘loves’ aren’t absolutely the same, but clearly overlap a lot.  And my love for a few (my family and wife) doesn’t mean I can’t love everyone else, nor does it mean that someone has a right to claim that I should love them the way I love my mother or my brother or my wife.

    So God’s love is unconditional for me, but in a different way.  Still not called forth by anything in us, but also, not able to forced to give an account to the need justice has to treat everyone in an equitable way.

    to be continued

  20. continuing

    in conflict with the biblical notion of the freedom God has bestowed upon God’s creation to choose their eternal destiny,

    I think that freedom exists, in a sense, and is very important.  I think it’s real, but people who don’t accept some kind of compatibilism will tend to disagree.

    A big part has to do with whether one sees a difference between necessity and compulsion.  Most ethical thinking, going right back to Plato and Aristotle, sees no real distinction between those two as far as I can see.  If I have to do something and don’t have the power to choose otherwise then I’m not free in that choice and can’t really be held responsible.  But I think there’s a big difference between them, and I learned this from Calvin’s first four chapters of book II of the Institutes

    Compulsion is where I’m forced to do something – it isn’t really an expression of what I want, or of who I am.  We can argue the toss on some of these examples, but they should give an idea: feeling thirsty because I haven’t drunk for a while, being unable to fly by flapping my hands, having a craving for a drug that consumes my experience of life, being brainwashed – they’d all be the kinds of things I’d throw up as examples or analogies of ‘compulsion’.

    Necessity is where I have no power to do something different, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m not free.  For me the biggest example of this is God.  God has no ‘power’ to sin or to be anything other than good.  Good isn’t just a description of God’s character but his nature.  Evil is not a choice for God.  But that doesn’t mean that God isn’t free.  God’s actually the most free ‘thing’ around.  God necessarily acts in a good way – that actually constutitutes his freedom.  God freely expresses his nature, his goodness in what he wants and chooses.

    I think our freedom is like that, albeit not exactly the same.  We are free to be who we are.  We are not free to be something or someone other than we are.  Who we are – our heart – will give rise to all our desires, actions, and choices.  It will freely express itself.  And we have no power to change our heart. 

    We are who we are, we are what we are.  We are free to be ourselves, but we aren’t free to make ourselves into whatever we want (that’s a big rebuttal to a lot of pop culture talk about our power over ourselves).

    So we’re free to choose our eternal destiny – and that choice really, really matters.  But that choice is a necessary expression of our hearts, not compelled on us but arising necessarily from who and what we truly are.  So it’s free, we’re responsible, but there’s an awful lot of necessity about it.

    in conflict with Scripture (e.g., “that every knee should bow and confess…”),…. in conflict with God’s desire that not one soul should perish but that each should have eternal life,

    Yep, this is a bit head-spinning.  God says he wants everyone to be saved in the Bible, but obviously doesn’t really want them to because he could make it happen if he predestines and he doesn’t. 

    I think this is one of those points when one reads the Bible where a fork opens up in the road and you have to pick one of two paths.  You have passages that seem to clearly say that God does choose and elect those who will be saved (won’t go through them all, but Rom 9 is the obvious big elephant sitting quietly in the room) and some that seem to contradict that by saying God wants everyone to be saved. 

    When this happens you’ve always got one of two basic choices: 1. One set of texts isn’t saying what it seems to say.  2. The reconciliation of the two sets of texts is going to require something complex about the nature of reality. 

    The deity and humanity of Christ, God’s demand for repentance but not making it the condition for forgiveness and the like are examples of this kind of issue and we see Christians divide out as to how they jump.

    I think it’s clear that the Bible makes statements that prima facie teach predestination.  Some non-Calvinists have agreed with me from time to time that the passages in question should be read that way – if they were all we had. 

    For me, 1. then isn’t an option – both sets of texts are there.

    That means that I think God both loves the non-elect and desires that they turn to him and live, and doesn’t love them and didn’t elect them.  God’s not schizophrenic, but the ‘love’ in question has some features that are different in the first half and second half of the sentence, as well as a lot of stuff that’s the same.  Carson’s The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God is good at raising this issue about the multivalent nature of ‘the love of God’ in the Bible.

    So it’s not conflict for me, it’s just very complex and ultimately mysterious.

  21. continuing

    and in conflict with general evangelical premises that understand the urgency both of my personally claiming Jesus as my Lord and Savior and of my personally participating in bringing about the realm of God to all.

    This is where I think us Calvinists have something to offer even non-Calvinists that helps with a lot of issues facing the Church. 

    God’s actions are not the template for our actions.  We aren’t meant to go, ‘Well God does that, so we should.’  We’re meant to go, “What does the Word of God tell me that I, as a human being, should do?’

    God judges the world, are we supposed to judge?  No.  We are supposed to not judge precisely because God (and only God) judges. 

    God can give permission for satan to strip Job of almost everything and so test Job’s faith.  Are we supposed to then test people’s faith?  No, Jesus says that things must come but woe to the person who stumbles even the least.

    God determines the start and end of our lives – even for the non-predestinarian (unless they’re a fair way down the Open Theist side of the pool) God could prevent our lives ending when they do and so permits it at least.  But does that mean that we should take the lives of other people or of ourselves?  No (except for some issues where there’s debate like capital punishment, self-defence, and just war) – that’s God’s purview alone.

    In other words, God’s predestination is like these examples.  We need to know what God does.  But what God does is not a model for human beings to copy.  Our marching instructions are given in his Word.  He elects, we preach.  There’s no more conflict there then the fact that I strengthen hands that grow faint while God allows testings to come to people that he knows they can stand up under.

    As I’ve thought about this, it seems that the basic difference is about who has responsibility for the crossing over of an individual into the arms of Jesus, or to put it less dramatically, into the status of being a Christian. Is that the responsibility of God or of the individual?

    Well, ‘responsibility’ is going to give you the answer ‘us’.  We’re clearly responsible for that choice and are held to it.

    What Reformed guys tend to say the Bible teaches is that we’re responsible but we can’t do it.

    When the Bible describes non-Christians as ‘not seeking God’, ‘hate/at enmity with God’, ‘unbeliever’, ‘love darkness and hate the light’, ‘dead’, and the like, Reformed guys read that as a fairly ‘flat’ description of reality.  And no-one who is like what the Bible describes a sinner as will ever choose God when given the choice.  They won’t be forced to reject God.  But given the freedom, they will necessarily freely reject God.  They hate him, after all.

    Your kind of freedom requires those descriptions to be seen as (just slightly) hyperbolic, for there to be some capacity we have to turn to God when we’re given the choice.  There must be some love of God, some desire for him, some willingness to break with sin if we are able to choose him when the choice presents itself.

    Hence, going all the way back to Augustine, one of the mottos of ‘my side’ has been some variation of, “God graciously gives us what he rightly demands from us.”  We’re responsible, but we won’t do it unless God acts in our lives.  We depend on God to give us what we need to do what he commands us to do.

    God’s commands tell us of our obligations.  For all non-predestinarians, that means that the commands also tell us of our abilities (because necessity and compulsion are the same and we’re only responsible if we’re able).  So even sinners could do the Law if they chose to.  The Law, is a description of our ability, even as a sinner.

    For Reformed people the Law is simply a description of our obligations.  Full Stop.  And when we read the Law we realise, not just that we haven’t done it, but we couldn’t do it from now on even if we wanted to.  The Law shows us that we don’t have what it takes to please God – not just that we haven’t chosen to up until now, but that we can’t do it. 

    That’s been a recurring debate: there’s versions of it between Augustine and Pelagius, Luther and Erasmus, Whitfield and others and John Wesley (and I’d argue that behind them all is Paul and the Jews).

    to be concluded

  22. concluding

    Further, if you say that God has the responsibility, then you are saying that God’s love is smaller than were God to give us the freedom to carry out that responsibility for ourselves. You would be saying that God wants our character not to be fully like Jesus’ but only somewhat like his. You would be saying that God wants us to remain infants to God’s adulthood perspective, to put it into terms of the basic stages of maturation. You would be saying that Jesus didn’t really want us to be friends and followers but only followers….I understand God’s love as being so great that God truly gave us freedom to move away from, or toward, God, and so to choose reconciliation from my alienation through Jesus Christ or eternal alienation from God, others, and self.

    Well, for guys with my kind of perspective we’d reject even ‘infants to God’s adulthood perspective’ as verging on blasphemy.  We tend have a highly robust view of the gulf between God and us. 

    Peter Jensen, when he taught my year doctrine pushed repeatedly the motto: ‘Big thoughts of God, small thoughts of man.  Big thoughts of man, small thoughts of God.’ And that captures the instincts of our ‘tradition’. 

    God is God, and ultimately beyond my comprehension.  The fact that Jesus is my brother, and God is my Father and friend is simply amazing.  But to me that’s more about privileges I have than a levelling of the relationship between God and I so that he and I meet more or less as equals.

    For me, the Bible doesn’t primarily say, “Look how big God’s love is, he loved you so much he was prepared to see you destroy yourselves.”  It says, “Look how big God’s love is, he loved you so much that when you were lost and just about to tip over into everlasting destruction he came and found you and brought you home.” 

    This is one of the biggest differences in how God’s love is seen at the moment, I think.  On the one hand, God’s love is a generosity to stand back and let us make our own destiny even if he doesn’t agree with it.  On the other hand, God’s love is an active force that intervenes and rescues people from their decisions.

    Well, that was big.  I probably won’t comment tomorrow at all.  But I’ll try and have some Calvin ready to go for the day after, and then come back and pick up your thoughts about all of what I just wrote if you’re inclined to offer them.  Hope it helped shed some light on where I think the teaching of Scripture is coming from on these issues.  Thanks for raising it all so well.

  23. Mark,

    Thanks for sharing your perspective. I appreciate learning more about what you believe and why.

    I do disagree, for the same six or so reasons I had listed previously. Concerning unconditional love, I thought you expressed your perspective well. So human beings are male and female, young and old, white, black, American, European, African, etc., and because of these differences and because of personal subjective preferences, they choose one or another as a friend or a spouse whom they love specially, even while still loving their enemies, boss, neighbor, etc. That makes sense. I agree that every relationship of individual-with—God is unique. I understand you to be describing two kinds of love. One, a uniquely subjective partnering love on the one hand and two, a universal love on the other.

    Therefore each relationship will be unique and in some aspects qualitatively different, even. I understand you to be describing two kinds of love, one a uniquely subjective partnering love and the other a universal love-your-enemies love.

    I would suggest that the love involved in God saying, “Whoever believes in me shall not perish but have eternal life,” the love involved in offering utter freedom (and responsibility) of choice in selecting God as one’s redeemer is the latter not the former love. This is the universal love.

    when it comes to God’s love for humankind and offering redemptive

  24. Mark,

    This is wonderful conversation and exploration – I hope we’re all being enriched by it as I am. I, for one, am being challenged and prodded to making a full exegetical study on the matter.So I thank you Mark for helping me be responsible in studying Calvin more in depth and the whole predestination, fore-ordination,, and election issue.

    In reviewing passages used to come to the conclusion of predestination as Mark – and I believe Calvin – describe, I think that its understandable to come to that conclusion, but I believe it’s in error.

    Reviewing Ephesians 1 (verses 4,5 and 11), for example, I can see where confusion can arise as to what is referenced concerning predestination. The word eklegomai is used there and in 21 other places, including Luke 6:13 where it says, “Mary has chosen that good part.” The word’s principle use, then, is to describe the act of selecting or choosing one (or a few) from among several other options and possibilities. Nothing in the word inherently leads to concluding that it suggests predestination, or God choosing before the foundation of the world in chronos time. Granted, while it doesn’t preclude this direction it also doesn’t suggest it.

    In verse five, the “before the foundation of the world” is in reference to both the noun “us” and the verb phrase “to be holy and blameless.” What is being chosen before the foundation of the world is not the particular individuals but rather the characteristics by which election is made. 

    I found this article helpful, but I’m sure there are many others – with different results and conclusions. 

    http://www.apologeticspress.org/rr/reprints/Biblical-Doctrine-of-Predestina.pdf

    Grace and peace,

    Sayer Strauch

  25. Hi Sayer,

    I can see you’ve put some good throughts up about my initials thoughts on your concerns, I’ll try and get to them in the next day or so.  Here’s some material from Calvin as you requested, as is my general practice, I’ve paragraphed it a bit to make it easier to read in a comment thread.  I’m not sure what the ‘best’ material by him is (and it ranges over several chapters) – so I’ve settled for trying to offer some quotes from his ‘opening moves’ that show where he is coming from on the doctrine.  From Chapter 21 Book III:

    Why Calvin thinks the doctrine matters:

    To many this seems a perplexing subject, because they deem it most incongruous that of the great body of mankind some should be predestinated to salvation, and others to destruction. How ceaselessly they entangle themselves will appear as we proceed.

    We may add, that in the very obscurity which deters them, we may see not only the utility of this doctrine, but also its most pleasant fruits. We shall never feel persuaded as we ought that our salvation flows from the free mercy of God as its fountain, until we are made acquainted with his eternal election, the grace of God being illustrated by the contrast—viz. that he does not adopt all promiscuously to the hope of salvation, but gives to some what he denies to others. It is plain how greatly ignorance of this principle detracts from the glory of God, and impairs true humility.

    But though thus necessary to be known, Paul declares that it cannot be known unless God, throwing works entirely out of view, elect those whom he has predestined. His words are, “Even so then at this present time also, there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work,” (Rom. 11:6). If to make it appear that our salvation flows entirely from the good mercy of God, we must be carried back to the origin of election, then those who would extinguish it, wickedly do as much as in them lies to obscure what they ought most loudly to extol, and pluck up humility by the very roots. Paul clearly declares that it is only when the salvation of a remnant is ascribed to gratuitous election, we arrive at the knowledge that God saves whom he wills of his mere good pleasure, and does not pay a debt, a debt which never can be due.

    Those who preclude access, and would not have any one to obtain a taste of this doctrine, are equally unjust to God and men, there being no other means of humbling us as we ought, or making us feel how much we are bound to him. Nor, indeed, have we elsewhere any sure ground of confidence. This we say on the authority of Christ, who, to deliver us from all fear, and render us invincible amid our many dangers, snares and mortal conflicts, promises safety to all that the Father has taken under his protection (John 10:26).

    From this we infer, that all who know not that they are the peculiar people of God, must be wretched from perpetual trepidation, and that those therefore, who, by overlooking the three advantages which we have noted, would destroy the very foundation of our safety, consult ill for themselves and for all the faithful.

    Here is Calvin’s initial sketching out of what the doctrine entails, he begins with looking at Israel’s election (here), then election of people within the line of promise, and finally the election of individuals to eternal life.  I’ll just dump the first stage of the argument on the next comment of the thread as it should give a reasonable idea of how Calvin is reading Scripture and seeing the interconnections:

  26. The predestination by which God adopts some to the hope of life, and adjudges others to eternal death, no man who would be thought pious ventures simply to deny; but it is greatly caviled at, especially by those who make prescience its cause. We, indeed, ascribe both prescience and predestination to God; but we say, that it is absurd to make the latter subordinate to the former (see chap. 22 sec. 1).

    When we attribute prescience to God, we mean that all things always were, and ever continue, under his eye; that to his knowledge there is no past or future, but all things are present, and indeed so present, that it is not merely the idea of them that is before him (as those objects are which we retain in our memory), but that he truly sees and contemplates them as actually under his immediate inspection. This prescience extends to the whole circuit of the world, and to all creatures.

    By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death.

    This God has testified, not only in the case of single individuals; he has also given a specimen of it in the whole posterity of Abraham, to make it plain that the future condition of each nation lives entirely at his disposal: “When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. For the Lord’s portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance,” (Deut. 32:8, 9).

    The separation is before the eyes of all; in the person of Abraham, as in a withered stock, one people is specially chosen, while the others are rejected; but the cause does not appear, except that Moses, to deprive posterity of any handle for glorying, tells them that their superiority was owing entirely to the free love of God. The cause which he assigns for their deliverance is, “Because he loved thy fathers, therefore he chose their seed after them,” (Deut. 4:37); or more explicitly in another chapter, “The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because you were more in number than any people: for ye were the fewest of all people: but because the Lord loved you,” (Deut. 7:7, 8).

    He repeatedly makes the same intimations, “Behold, the heaven, and the heaven of heavens is the Lord’s thy God, the earth also, with all that therein is. Only the Lord had a delight in thy fathers to love them, and he chose their seed after them,” (Deut. 10:14, 15). Again, in another passage, holiness is enjoined upon them, because they have been chosen to be a peculiar people; while in another, love is declared to be the cause of their protection (Deut. 23:5). This, too, believers with one voice proclaim, “He shall choose our inheritance for us, the excellency of Jacob, whom he loved,” (Ps. 47:4).

    The endowments with which God had adorned them, they all ascribe to gratuitous love, not only because they knew that they had not obtained them by any merit, but that not even was the holy patriarch endued with a virtue that could procure such distinguished honor for himself and his posterity. And the more completely to crush all pride, he upbraids them with having merited nothing of the kind, seeing they were a rebellious and stiff-necked people (Deut. 9:6). Often, also, do the prophets remind the Jews of this election by way of disparagement and opprobrium, because they had shamefully revolted from it.

    Be this as it may, let those who would ascribe the election of God to human worth or merit come forward. When they see that one nation is preferred to all others, when they hear that it was no feeling of respect that induced God to show more favor to a small and ignoble body, nay, even to the wicked and rebellious, will they plead against him for having chosen to give such a manifestation of mercy? But neither will their obstreperous words hinder his work, nor will their invectives, like stones thrown against heaven, strike or hurt his righteousness; nay, rather they will fall back on their own heads.

    and I’ll finish in the next comment with one small quote.

  27. Finally, here’s a kind of definition that Calvin offers about what he sees the doctrine entailing:

    We say, then, that Scripture clearly proves this much, that God by his eternal and immutable counsel determined once for all those whom it was his pleasure one day to admit to salvation, and those whom, on the other hand, it was his pleasure to doom to destruction. We maintain that this counsel, as regards the elect, is founded on his free mercy, without any respect to human worth, while those whom he dooms to destruction are excluded from access to life by a just and blameless, but at the same time incomprehensible judgment.

    In regard to the elect, we regard calling as the evidence of election, and justification as another symbol of its manifestation, until it is fully accomplished by the attainment of glory. But as the Lord seals his elect by calling and justification, so by excluding the reprobate either from the knowledge of his name or the sanctification of his Spirit, he by these marks in a manner discloses the judgment which awaits them.

    Hope that helps, at least to show that your argument is with “Mark and Calvin” and not just “Mark”, if not to convice you just yet of the wonder of God’s grace (otherwise known as the doctrine of predestination).

  28. Mark,

    Thank you for providing more background on your and Calvin’s position on predestination. I’ll be reading Calvin’s chapter two again soon.

    While I have not just yet read through thoroughly, I have a couple comments.

    One, I expect that theologically I might best be described, with respect to Calvin, a four-point Calvinist, which is to say, not a “Calvinist,” but a four-point.

    Two, while I greatly appreciate and honor your perspective that believes that your theological stance with regard to predestination results in a brighter light with regard to the “wonders of God’s grace,” I disagree with that conclusion. But, that is secondary, for the time being, to our conversation on predestination.

    I think at this point, the best step for us to take, were we to converse further and bear fruit between us and with all is to go to the Scriptures and see what we can bring to light between us.

    Grace (yes, amazing grace) and peace,

    Sayer Strauch

  29. Hi Sayer,
    Thanks for these helpful interactions with my intial thoughts, and for your gracious response to my naughty tease at the end of the Calvin quotes.  I’ve scanned the pdf file you linked.  I agree that moving to specific texts of Scripture, and reflecting on Scriptural motiffs and themes, is where we should move next.  So here’s some thoughts:

    because of personal subjective preferences, they choose one or another as a friend or a spouse whom they love specially, …two kinds of love. One, a uniquely subjective partnering love..and two, a universal love

    I would say that love is love.  If there’s two different kinds of love then there’s two different concepts, and hence two different words.  The fact the Bible just uses ‘love’ suggests one concept with complexity within it.

    I tried to couch my example to capture more than just our romantic approach to marriage.  In some cultures the person finds out who they are going to love in a marital way when they find them coming down the aisle/waiting at the end of the aisle.  Martin Luther’s love of his beloved Katie came because she had the personal subjective differences of being the last ex-nun standing whom no-one wanted to marry when Luther had taken responsibility to find the group all husbands.  There’s a huge range of successful marital loves out there that are not based in romantic choice but arise for other reasons.  That’s part of my point – ‘love’ is many-spangled thing.

    I would suggest that the love involved in God saying, “Whoever believes in me shall not perish but have eternal life,”…is the latter not the former love. This is the universal love.

    Sure, no problems.  But what about Ephesians 5:25-33?

    Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

    John 3:16 talks about love for the world and that fits your ‘universal love’ category.  But Eph 5 is far, far more down the side of your ‘uniquely subjective partnering love’ – Jesus loved those who would make up his bride and so gave himself up for them.  (Unless you want to argue that Jesus can love ‘the church’ and not love the people who comprise the church).

    A husband’s love for his wife is more like the love I was describing – a love that just is, not necessarily based on ‘merit’ or even subjective preference – and that cannot be required to be extended ‘fairly’ to others.  And I think I’ve got good scriptural grounds for bringing that into the mix in light of Eph 5.  That’s the kind of love that motivated Christ’s sacrifice.

    Reviewing Ephesians 1 (verses 4,5 and 11), for example, I can see where confusion can arise as to what is referenced concerning predestination. The word eklegomai is used there and in 21 other places, including Luke 6:13 where it says, “Mary has chosen that good part.” The word’s principle use, then, is to describe the act of selecting or choosing one (or a few) from among several other options and possibilities. Nothing in the word inherently leads to concluding that it suggests predestination, or God choosing before the foundation of the world in chronos time. Granted, while it doesn’t preclude this direction it also doesn’t suggest it.
    In verse five, the “before the foundation of the world” is in reference to both the noun “us” and the verb phrase “to be holy and blameless.” What is being chosen before the foundation of the world is not the particular individuals but rather the characteristics by which election is made. 

    Okay, but if the basic meaning of the word is ‘the act of selecting one/a few from among other options and possibilities’ and the object of the verb in v4 is both the noun ‘us’ and the phrase ‘to be holy blameless’ then your view has a problem.

    God chose us, and he chose the future where we would be holy and blameless.  That’s the most natural sense of what the verse is saying if both are objects of the verb.

    If it was just us as the object – God chose us – then it would be just a statement that God chose us for himself.

    If it was just ‘we would be holy and blameless’ as the object – God chose that we would be holy and blameless – then it would just be a statement that God determined that whoever belonged to Christ would be holy and blameless.

    But it’s neither of those, it’s both together.  We’ve been chosen, and been chosen with a specific outcome in mind.  That’s most natural way to read the verse unless there’s pressing reasons not to.

    Seeing the pdf file raises Ephesians 1:4,5,11, Romans 8:28-30, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Acts 2:23, and Acts 13:48, let’s start with those.  I’d also like to add Romans 9-11 into the mix as well.  Would you like to pick one or two of these off (and/or offer something else?) and explain how they should be understood and why?

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