When I started writing about the Doctrines of Grace I noticed something that was common in all of those who have commented in opposition. That commonality is that everything they use as their evidence is predicated on preserving their Free Will. Some were gracious. Some were honestly attempting to understand the truth. However, the bulk of them were hostile and accusatory. These “battles” have left scars, but God also used them in my own sanctification and I hope He did as well for those who came along side me to help fight the good fight.
Also, I have become aware, because I have studied the history of this conflict in great detail, that this issue runs deep and is also vital to the health of the Church as well as the individual spiritual health of each believer. After all, we are battling over how Sovereign God is. The God whose glory Ezekiel saw in that magnificent vision from the first chapter of his prophetic book is not held to be high and lifted up by most of those whose theology is geared towards preserving Free Will. Instead, they demote Him and take Him casually even taking Him for granted like He is the old man upstairs. On the other hand, most of those who adhere to the Doctrines of Grace hold a high view of God who is completely Sovereign over creation.
It should be apparent to all who have the Holy Spirit that we are fighting this battle because it is pressed upon us. The ones in opposition to the Doctrines of Grace see themselves as Orthodox and us as heretics. However, there was a time when the roles were most definitely reversed. Here is a quote from Charles Spurgeon.
I have heard it asserted most positively, that those high doctrines which we love and which we find in the Scriptures, are licentious ones. I do not know who has the hardihood to make that assertion, when they consider that the holiest of men have been believers in them. I ask the man who dares to say that Calvinism is a licentious religion, what he thinks of the character of Augustine, or Calvin, or Whitfield, who in successive ages were the great exponents of the system of grace; or what will he say of those Puritans, whose works are full of them? Had a man been an Arminian in those days, he would have been accounted the vilest heretic breathing; but now we are looked upon as the heretics, and they the orthodox.”
Therefore, we know that this battle is not new. In fact, the Gospel has been under attack from the days of the Apostles. Why would we think it would be over now? No, we must contend for the faith and fight the good fight until called home to be with our Lord. One of the accusations I deal with from those in love with the lie of Free Will is that the doctrine of election makes God’s people mere puppets on a string. Below is an article by John Hendryx that addresses this. Enjoy and be blessed. – Mike Ratliff
by John Hendryx
In the period of a week I have had three people ask me essentially the same question: Doesn’t the doctrine of election just make us puppets? Two were asked of me via email and one at a Bible study. The following are the two questions I received via monergism.com:
Regarding the doctrines of grace and election, do you get the sense that our God is essentially saying to the non elect, “Here I am but you cant have me because you are not chosen?” It seems to me that God is pictured as holding a carrot in front of a donkey that tries to get it but never can because he is a “carnal animal.” So are we puppets on a string? I know what the Biblical texts say about predestination and election and I would have to agree, but something seems a miss? Some insight would help. Thanks John … Your answers are always appreciated.
John … If God chose the elect before the foundation of the world, is there anything anyone can do to make God either choose them or not choose them? Yes or no – Douglas
Thanks for the great question. The doctrine of election is very important, one we all should wrestle with since the Bible so frequently discusses it. To fail to grapple with it, or to pass over it as unimportant would be to fail to teach or attempt to understand the whole counsel of Scripture.
Regarding the questions of God being pictured as holding a carrot in front of a donkey that tries to get it but never can because he is a “carnal animal” and whether we can do anything to make God choose us: It is important that we look at this question carefully because the question itself includes the false presumption that man can or wants to do something spiritual while still in his fallen, unregenerate state. Therefore, the person who asks this question still holds to a presupposition nowhere to be found in the Bible (i.e. that some men naturally desire God). Of course, God’s Aseity requires that the reason for our salvation be within Himself, not some good he finds in the creature, so the answer plainly is “no”, people cannot do anything to “make God choose them”. To find the reason in man for God’s choice is to say God chooses one man over another for something spiritually produced by his unregenerate nature. In other words, one man, while still in his old nature, either created a right thought, produced a right affection, or originated a right volition that led to his salvation while the other man, did not have the natural ability or wisdom to come up with the faith that God required of him. Yet the Scriptures explicitly reveal that prior to the new birth there is no one who is spiritual and God never chooses us based on some merit we could come up with.
“The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Corinthians 2
It is easy to see how the analogy of the donkey breaks down here because it presumes that the donkey actually wants the carrot to begin with. As humans we will always choose what we desire most and our desires are determined by what we are by nature. Fallen, unregenerate creatures do not desire the things of God. In this case, the “carrot” would always leave a horrible taste in the donkey’s mouth so he has no inclination or desire for it. So the worst judgment God can inflict upon a man is to leave him to his own self-boasting natural free will since there is no one who is naturally willing to submit himself to God.
It is true, however, that anyone who desires to believe in God will be saved, but again, there is no one who fits that description. Further, we are morally responsible for our willful disobedience. God compels no one to reject Him. I think people underestimate the extent to which man is fallen. Our pre-regenerate condition is much worse than most imagine. Lets take a further look at the Scripture to help unravel the so-called mystery of why election can be true and yet it does not make us puppets on a string.
It appears that all error on this issue arises from our misapprehension of man’s condition of total spiritual impotence prior to God’s regenerative grace (before the new birth). Adam & Eve, our parents, were given the command of God to obey. Death was the consequence, the result of disobedience, but a continuation of life in Eden was the certain result of obedience. Soon after given the command to obey they were deceived, flagrantly disobeyed and played the blame game on one another and God. They were then excluded by God from the garden on that day, punished with certain physical death and immediate spiritual death. How do I know this? Because God set an angel to guard anyone from coming to Eden with a flaming sword so they would not partake of the tree of life and live. Man now, without the Spirit, cannot even lift a finger toward his own redemption. The way is blocked. However, the covenant God made with Adam to obey (and thus all of mankind) still exists. God still requires us to obey His commands. This has not changed. So, in other words, we changed, not God. But we are impotent to do anything redemptively on our own behalf. We woefully fail at our attempts to obey God perfectly. We are responsible to obey but morally corrupt and do not even desire to do so. So we are thereby culpable in our inability because it is moral (like a debt we cannot repay), not physical (like sickness or a broken leg).
The Heidelberg Catechism, Question 9 says it well,
Q: “Does not God then do injustice to man by requiring of him in His Law that which he cannot perform?
A: No, for God so made man that he could perform it, but man, through the instigation of the devil, by willful disobedience deprived himself and all his posterity of those divine gifts”
Please look carefully at the following verses in Scripture to back up the claim that fallen man is in a state where he does not have the capacity or desire to redeem himself:
“…the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” Romans 8:7
“…there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. Rom 3:11
“…men loved the darkness rather than the Light…and will not come into the light…” John 3:20, 21
The Bible also describes those who are unregenerate & fallen as blinded by Satan and taken captive to do his will, unless God “grants repentance” (2 Tim 2:25).
God then added laws to further reveal man’s transgression. However, these laws were never meant to empower us, but in fact, are a tutor that lead us to Christ for mercy since they only condemn us. When God gave the Ten Commandments He did not do so thinking that perhaps some men will obey perfectly and live (with the sole exception of Jesus Christ). He gave them to reveal our impotence to do so. God’s law is perfect because He is. He cannot lower His standards for us or He would no longer be God. He, therefore, has a specific purpose in requiring moral perfection of us and this includes the command to believe in Christ. Statements in the Scripture like “If thou art willing” and “whosoever believes”,” choose life” like in John 3:16 are in the subjunctive (hypothetical) mood. A grammarian would explain that this is a conditional statement that asserts nothing indicatively. In this passage, what we “ought” to do does not necessarily imply “can” do. The Ten Commandments, likewise, speak of what we ought to do but they do not imply that we have the moral ability to carry them out. The commandments of God were never meant to empower us, but rather, to strip us of trusting in our own ability so that we would come to an end of ourselves. With striking clarity, Paul teaches that this is the intent of Divine legislation (Rom 3:20, 5:20, Gal 3:19,24).
“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” Rom 3:19, 20
But as predicted in Gen 3:15, God would send a Messiah who would crush the head of the serpent. Jesus, God become flesh, took on our humanity and where Adam failed, Jesus succeeded (Rom 5). How can this be good news, however, when men are never found naturally willing to submit in faith to the humbling terms of the gospel of Christ? (Rom 3:11; John 6:64,65; 2 Thessalonians 3:2) Because God gives to us freely, what he demands from us. In the gospel God reveals the same righteousness and faith for us that God demands from us. What we had to have, but could not create or achieve or fulfill, God grants us freely, namely, the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21) and the faith of Christ. He reveals, as a gift in Christ Jesus, the faith and righteousness that was once only a demand. Faith is not something that the sinner contributes towards the price of His salvation. Jesus has already paid that price in full for us. Faith is our first gasp of breath at our new birth, so to speak. It is a witness of God’s work of grace already having taken place within us (Eph 2:5, 8; 2 Tim 2:25). The faith and obedience we could not come up with ourselves, Jesus did for us by fulfilling the covenant from our side. What is impossible with men (faith and repentance) is possible with God, Jesus said.
Here it is easy to conclude, therefore, that prior to our salvation we are not puppets, but dead in sin (Eph 2:1,5) and without hope save in the grace of God alone. Our condition is much worse than many modern evangelicals want to paint it. If God leads us to faith in Christ it is a pure act of His mercy, raising us from the dead, so to speak. This is mercy, not puppetry. If left to ourselves we would be doomed since we do not have the Spirit unless God gives Him to us. So the command to obey the gospel remains the same as before the fall, we just now are morally incapable and unwilling to doing it. But as we proclaim the gospel to humanity God uses His word to bring forth His own:
“You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God…That word is the good news preached to you.” (1 Peter 1:23,25)
“He chose to give us birth through the word of truth“ (James 1:18).
And it is clear from the Scriptures that in this outward call of the gospel which we proclaim to the world, God has the intent to only save those he has set His affection on from eternity for His own good purpose:
“This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.
I hope this helps explain why it is but God’s grace and mercy alone that saves us. We usually do not want to admit our condition is so bad. But our will has been so affected by the fall that we are hostile to God and will not come into the light lest our deeds be exposed (John 3:19, 20). These are the truths that were recovered at the Reformation in which we are now in danger of losing again in the church. To think that man can contribute something, even a very little, to his salvation is to misapprehend the meaning of grace. I believe I have accurately described the biblical position that both Calvin and Luther proclaimed. The church has wandered somewhat but there is a clear renewal of interest in these biblical truths.
As a follow up question to this article another brother asked the following:
Follow Up Question:
I was curious how you go about answering the follow up question that naturally ensues. The Calvinist’s sovereign God would have to ordain that Adam fall (supralapsarianism), so how can He hold all of mankind (or even Adam) responsible for something He made happen? My response is an appeal to Romans 9 where the Apostle Paul answers a most similar question. I have not met many that can argue with Romans 9, interestingly though, they don’t always accept it. My question to you: How do you answer the question posed above?
That is an excellent question. But those who use this as an argument have the same if not a greater problem. If God merely created man and chose them based on their foreseen acts of faith, as their position holds, and God knew some of these would choose hell, then why did God go ahead and create them to begin with? In other words, their eternal destiny is fixed by some kind of impersonal fate since the future cannot be changed if God already knows it. If whether or not someone chooses God is already known by God then the future is certain, correct?. But the biblical view is that its certainty is because of the eternal plan of a merciful and loving personal God. The foreseen faith view is based on an impersonal determinism. Something is determining their future choice, in that scheme, but not God. So what is it? If God already knows the outcome, meaning the future cannot be changed, then the future is fixed and their is no real freedom. Their choice is determined. So why did God, then, go ahead and create them then? The biblical and philosophical problems with the foreseen faith position, then, is much, much greater than with the biblical one. They appear to be trying to get God off the hook rather than taking a hard look at the Scriptures.
Furthermore, I would answer your question by saying that God is not the author of sin. Ordaining something like sin to take place is not the same as being the author of it. For example, God ordained the crucifixion to take place yet God cannot be blamed for the secondary causes which made it happen – the evil acts of men which carried it out. God ordained the evil of the most unjust act in history to take place…See the following verse:
“…this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” Acts 2:23
So God, although ordaining it, cannot be blamed for it. As humans, we always choose what we desire most. God does not compel us to make any decision, and does not compel us to disobey. We do so willingly. All God needs to do to harden us is remove His grace and leave us to our free will. Romans 9 is also and excellent passage, as you say … but as you know people will often believe what they want to believe. It takes time and grace to empty hearts of church tradition and to fill it with the Scripture. People can be looking right at a verse which is plain but because of their preconceived notions and presuppositions, they think it can’t really mean what it says.
Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology, also has some excellent points to add regarding this question which I believe will help us get a better understanding of this issue. The points he makes are basically as follows: In the Arminian view, how can we know if God will ultimately triumph over evil? The Arminian assertion that evil is not according to the will of God creates a bit of a problem. If the evil now in the world got here even though God did not want it, how can we be sure He will ultimately triumph over it in the end? The Scripture says He will but if He was not powerful enough to keep it out of the universe in the first place, since it came against his will (according to the Arminian scheme), and if He cannot predict the outcome of future events that involve free human choices and angelic/demonic beings then what makes us so sure that his declaration that He will triumph is actually true? The Calvinist position is preferable, not only because it is biblical but also because there is great freedom from anxiety about the future, since God “works all things for good to those who love Him.” The Arminian position appears to leave us in a state of anxiety. While all positions are hard to understand, the Reformed view of evil as ordained by God and under His sovereign control, while God not being the author of it, is a plain reading of the Scriptures in its portrayal of our God. The Arminian view of evil as not ordained or willed by God also means it is not under His control. Nowhere in the Scriptures is God portrayed in such a way.
The second point Grudem makes is this: Although we will always have unanswered questions about these matters but the questions Calvinists and Arminians leave unanswered are very different:
The Calvinist must say (1) that he really does not ultimately know how God can ordain that we do evil willingly and how God cannot be blamed for that evil. We can speculate but the Bible does not explicitly explain how this is. (2) Calvinists must also say that ultimately they do not know how God can cause us to choose something willingly. Again we can speculate but the Bible does not explain this. However, the Calvinist ultimately answers these hard questions by saying that God is infinitely great and can do far more than we can fathom. So the unanswered questions really serve to increase our appreciation of God’s greatness.
The Arminians, on the other hand, must leave unanswered, questions regarding God’s knowledge of the future, why He could allow evil even when it is against His will and whether He will actually triumph over evil. The failure of Arminians to resolve these questions tends to diminish God’s greatness, omnipotence, omniscience and reliability. So these unanswered questions tend to exalt the greatness of man – his freedom to do what God does not want, and the power of evil since it exists in the universe even though God does not want it.
Hope this helps. I love this topic and can’t get enough of it. God gets all the glory, and not man.