Question: Dr. Luginbill, Thank you so much for your response. I don't doubt that answering countless emails from strangers (and hopefully brothers in Christ) is a part of your daily picking up of your cross. My only words of encouragement would be to "look to your reward" as I am sure you do daily.
First I must thank you for your work that you have posted online. The Spirit used you and your work to bring me back to the faith, and you no doubt understand the eternal consequences of such. And for that I have asked God through tears that you are rewarded in this life and the next. Praise The Lord! And oh what Jesus must have endured in those 3 hours of darkness for me, and I fully understood for years and my faith was shaken? You are very right we should not be lukewarm in this day and age especially as the 7 worst years draw near.
As a little background, my earthly father is a pastor at a very small church, and I grew up listening to Colonel Thieme's tapes and reading his books. I was taught absolute eternal security as I mentioned, and it indirectly made a shipwreck of my faith, along with my bad decisions and false teachings. When I was younger, I began dating a girl who belonged to the "Church of Christ" denomination, and unfortunately began attending their services. They believed that the 4 steps of salvation are 1) believe, 2) repent (turn from sin completely, not a change of heart or mind), 3) be baptized (immersion only or else hellfire), and 4) walk in newness of life. Long story short, I ended up doubting that salvation is by faith alone, so I set out to prove my belief of eternal security right by reading the New Testament cover to cover and taking notes.
When you read the Bible through a lens of eternal security, verses appear to contradict themselves and, in the end, this cost me my faith; if not completely then as close as it can get to completely. I stumbled for years, torn between "faith plus works/avoidance of sins" and "faith alone no matter what." I then concluded the Bible should be more clear and led a life of doubt and sin. I then found your site and now understand it is indeed faith alone, but we must maintain that faith. How much more sense the Bible makes now! It goes without saying that I was the problem, not the Bible.
And that leads me to the question I pose. Faith alone saves. Faith in what? Faith in Christ. Faith in Christ to do what? What do I believe Him for to be credited with righteousness? Our modern understanding of the phrase "believe in" is what most people would use when they say "does your child still 'believe in' Santa Claus?" The demons 'believe in' Jesus. So faith in Jesus for what? Faith that He will change my life? Faith that He is the Son of God? Faith that He will defeat the Antichrist at Armageddon?
I would say specifically that it is faith in Him to save my soul. Do you interpret the most fundamental issue of our lives in the same way?
If it is specifically faith in him for our salvation that saves, then we all should be shouting this from the rooftops. This would make the number of saved people I know countable on two hands. 99% of professing Christians of every denomination believe that if they sin certain sins they are not saved. Is this not to believe in self over Christ just like the Pharisees who tried to keep the whole law, yet stumbled in one point? Would this not mean that the "Church of Christ" folks who made Jesus the Lord of their lives and seemed to love him so much are mostly unsaved since they believe that walking in newness of life is necessary, aka Christ's sacrifice isn't enough to them? Would this mean that my Methodist relatives who say "believe in Jesus, live a good life" are unsaved because they add to the gospel and don't fully trust Christ, but also some semblance of their own sacrifice? How can you have faith in Christ and faith in self at the same time? There is a difference between working/sacrificing to maintain your faith and working/sacrificing for salvation, is there not?
I truly worry that those who add to the gospel are not saved because they do not rely on Jesus and his sacrifice alone, but on themselves as well (and therefore not really in Jesus at all). Is this why It is referred to as a Stumbling Stone and a Rock of Offense? I understand that it is not necessary to know all the details to be saved, but I wonder where the line is drawn. Your thoughts are appreciated. Once I have 100% grasp of salvation (put on the helmet of salvation?) then I can progress. There is much work to be done.
As a side note, if you ever have days you aren't excited about your work at ichthys, remember that there are those of us who always are. If you were running a marathon we would be standing at mile 25 with airhorns and cowbells, and that includes at least one person I have shared your site with and hopefully many to come.
Good to hear from you again. It is an interesting and important question. I have written quite a bit about this topic too over the years, and am currently in the process of treating it in some detail as I hammer away at Part 4B of Bible Basics: Soteriology (see the end of this email for an excerpt). I suppose the simplest and most straight-forward answer comes from a couple of key scriptures:
Nevertheless, God's solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: "The Lord knows those who are his," and, "Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness."
2nd Timothy 2:19 NIV
The one who keeps God's commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
1st John 3:24
The Lord knows if we are saved; and we know that we are saved. He knows because He knows everything; we know because of the power of the Spirit we experience throughout our Christian lives. Both passages are sources of immense comfort and security; both passages also however introduce the truth that continuing to walk with Jesus is necessary for true spiritual safety ("must turn away from wickedness"; "keeps God's commands").
When I was very young, maybe three or four years old, I remember vividly being terrified by the idea of death; having dreams about graveyards et al. Then, somehow, I remember being at complete peace about it, being completely relieved. I know that it had something to do with church (my dad was a Presbyterian minister) and the idea of Jesus and heaven. Later I came to realize that I had "been saved" by God's grace at that early age "through faith", although I can assure you I would not have recognized the word "gospel" and would not have been able to articulate at all what had happened. Still and all I knew in my heart and conscience both the fact of my heavenly security and the obligations of my earthly life. I never came to doubt the former but I certainly tested the Lord on the latter – to the point where if I had gone much farther I wouldn't be here to tell about it. My point in mentioning this is to share what I think to be the fundamental feature of the issue: God saves all who want to be saved; and the Word of God, the truth, the essential facts about who He is and in whom we have to trust in order to be saved (Jesus Christ) is indeed the means by which we are saved:
He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
James 1:18 NIV
Our response to the truth in faith is the only thing lacking in order to receive a salvation that God has already paid for in the highest possible coin (the blood of Christ) and which He is eager to share with all (Ezek.18:23; Matt.18:14; Jn.12:47; 1Tim.2:4; 2Tim.2:24-26; 2Pet.3:9).
So I believe that a very important perspective with which to begin all such discussions is that salvation is not something nearly unattainable; it is not something God is jealously guarding; it is not something that can only be received through very precise and meticulous attention to a very specific procedure. Jesus died for all, and "God wants all to be saved and to come the acceptance (epignosis) of His truth" (1Tim.2:4). I really do believe it is true that "all we have to do is to not say 'no!' ".
That said, it is of course the case that precision when it comes to the truth is of the utmost importance. But this is an issue of choice much more than it is an issue of perception. I can certainly understand how a concerned believer might look at the Roman Catholic church, for example, wondering whether or not any of its members are saved, and think that all those millions of people may be risking hell just because the gospel message is seriously tainted and distorted by that church's teachings. On the other hand, God is certainly able to make the truth clear to anyone in any environment – anyone, that is, who actually wants the truth. I think we can see this clearly enough in our own lives. Take your situation, for example. From a strictly human point of view it may seem that you just barely escaped perdition. But with God, "just barely" is a dead-certain lock, more certain than the rising of the sun tomorrow morning. A Tibetan child wedged in between Communism and Buddhism who on one single day of his young life has an inkling that he would really like to know God and be delivered from death will not be denied his opportunity for eternal life – it may seem impossible to us, but God already has it planned and decreed.
"I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?"
Jeremiah 32:27 NIV
On the other hand, a good, moral person who out of tradition and family obligation sits in a very doctrinally correct church every Sunday morning for his/her entire life is not going to be saved for all the times he/she has heard the gospel correctly explained – not if said person does not want a relationship with Jesus Christ. The issue of faith is an issue of choice. That is why I often term it "free-will faith", because the reason why we exist and why we are here and when and where we are has everything to do with the choices of eternal consequence we are here to make. Everything else is peripheral. God has arranged the universe and all the events of human history for us, for these choices; and the most important choice, of course, is "yes or no". Once we say "yes", the issue becomes one of responsiveness and reward (assuming that we really meant our "yes", for there is of course a category of soil in the parable of the Sower which is not willing to let the Lord all the way in -- the issue of hyper vs. biblical eternal security; see the link: The Parable of the Sower).
I think you make a very good point about the fact that eternal life is a large part of the focus where the gospel is concerned, because, after all, it is our mortality that forces us to face the issue of Christ in the first place. We do not want to die (a universal given), but are we willing to submit our will to God's will in order to avoid the grave? Amazingly, most people are not in fact willing to give God the tiniest bit of acknowledgment in appreciating that Jesus became a man and died for them even at the cost of eternal life – and that is all that God asks for salvation. It seems that in the history of the world there are those who race to the shelter and those who refuse to take shelter no matter the consequences – if it means subordinating themselves to the One who offers it. This is not the result of proper or complete information in the case of the former group and a lack of it in the case of the latter. This is the result of the choices each chooses to make, of who each of us really is deep down inside. God knew ahead of time, before He created the world, who would refuse the awesome gift of the sacrifice of His own dear Son and who would embrace Him eagerly. It speaks volumes about His love and mercy that He sent Jesus to die even though most would reject Him . . . in order to save the handful who would gladly accept Him. He knew us and loved us before He created us, and in each and every case of a person who would say "yes", He has made the information available so that they can.
So while I vigorously agree that proper presentation of the gospel is important, and while I too worry about the eternal fate of (possible) brothers and sisters who are involved in organizations where the truth is being horribly perverted, I have complete confidence in God's ability, God's mercy, and God's justice to ensure that if in their heart of hearts they really do want to be with Jesus forever instead of in the lake of fire, He will most assuredly bring it about that they do have the truth to which to say "yes" – and much more besides. He knows who are His, and did so before the universe existed. We suffer from our human limitations and our earthly perspective, and of course we are definitely obligated to take things one step at a time and work for the salvation and spiritual growth of all (not overlooking our own spiritual security and growth in the process). But remembering that God has all these things in hand is an important perspective to maintain, especially when we have any sort of personal emotional involvement. God is "the Savior of all mankind, and especially of believers" (1Tim.4:10) – because He wants to save all and Jesus has died for all, but believers are willing to love Him back, responding to His grace in order to be saved.
Here are some other links which speak to various aspects of this question:
*Faith Dynamics (Peter #24)
Free-Will Faith in the Plan of God.
Free-Will Faith in Salvation.
The Plan of God.
The Gospel and the Kingdom.
Thanks so much for all your warm words of encouragement. They are deeply appreciated, and I will try to be worthy of them. Just remember: we are all in this race together.
In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior, the One in whom we believe for eternal life.
p.s., as suggested above, I am also taking the liberty of attaching here part of the forthcoming 4B Soteriology study (it won't be available on the site for many months). Thanks in advance for passing on any typos you notice:
Introduction: Soteriology is a Greek-derived word, literally meaning "the study of salvation" (Greek soteria, σωτηρία). We have devoted subpart A of part 4 to the study of our Lord Jesus Chris: His life, His unique Person, and His work on the cross in making salvation available for all mankind. Soteriology, as the word is traditionally employed in evangelical theology, is generally taken to mean the study of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and it is in this particular sense that the term is meant here, specifically, the Plan of God for saving the believer (section I), the mechanics of salvation whereby the person in question becomes a believer (section II), and the results of salvation, namely, what it means to be a believer in Jesus Christ (section III). In terms of theology, systematic or otherwise, nothing could be more important for the individual believer to understand, not only for his or her own security and assurance of salvation but also for effective evangelism.
Imprinted by God at birth on the heart of every human being is a threefold ultimate concern that dominates all serious thinking about this life, whether or not these issues are eventually faced by the person in question or are later willfully erased. Through observation of the world as God has made it, all human beings at some point (usually at an early age) become aware of their own mortality (death), their own imperfection (sin), and the existence of a perfect God in comparison to whom their own imperfection is strikingly clear (Law).
Now the stinger of death (after which all face God) is the sin [nature] (through which we realize our imperfect), and the power of sin is the Law (in which we see the perfect standard of God which we cannot hope to match). But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!
1st Corinthians 15:56-57
This inextricably intertwined set of realizations presents every human being with a dilemma which cannot be resolved through human effort: we are all sinners; we are all destined to die; and after death we shall all come face to face with a perfectly holy and righteous God, having no excuse for our sinfulness and nothing to offer in exchange for our guilt. The effect of this fundamental calculus of human life should be to create in every heart an internal pressure which cannot be ignored, and a desire for resolution which cannot be deferred. Our complete and utter helplessness in the face of impending death, judgment, and condemnation should dispose every human being to the search for a way out of this dilemma, and to an insistently immediate and tearfully grateful acceptance of the divine solution to this otherwise unavoidable and utterly horrible end. For there is no escape from the grave and from the condemnation of the lake of fire – except by appropriating through faith the work of the perfect Sacrifice for our sins, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who died in our place on the cross.
Jesus alone is God's solution to the tripartite problem of undeniable sin, inevitable death, and ultimate condemnation. He alone is the "good news" or gospel message. For it is through the spiritual death of Jesus Christ on behalf of the sins of all mankind that God has forgiven our sin, that God has provided eternal life in place of physical death, and that God has substituted for the judgment of condemnation a judgment for determining eternal rewards instead – for all, that is, who in this life have put their faith in the Person of Jesus Christ, the God-Man, and in His work in dying for their sins. When man's God-given free-will accepts the reality of our most essential, threefold problem and responds in faith to God's solution by believing in Jesus, salvation results, and the believer enters into a life of faith with blessed, eternal repercussions. How God the Father in His inimitable grace has planned this "so great salvation" for us (Heb.2:3), how we receive it through faith in His Son, and what it means for our present reality as Christians empowered by the Spirit and for our future glory as resurrected members of the Bride of Christ are the essential questions this study proposes to answer.
We have previously covered the sin problem (BB 3B) and the Person and work of Christ (BB 4A); in this present study, we shall see how salvation is incorporated into the Plan of God (I), how human beings enter into that salvation (II), and what the results and contexts of that salvation are for the believer in Jesus Christ (III). Nothing could be more wonderful for all who assent to believe in Jesus Christ; nothing could be more terrifying for all who refuse to accept the One Way of salvation.
(16) For God loved the world so much that He gave [up] His one and only Son, [with the purpose] that everyone who believes in Him should not be lost [forever], but have eternal life [instead]. (17) For God did not send His Son into the world to judge the world, but so that the world might be saved through Him. (18) The one who believes in Him is not being judged, but the one who does not believe has already been judged on the grounds that he has not put his faith in the Name (i.e., the Person) of God's one and only Son.
I. God's Plan to Save You
One of the most commonly misunderstood things about God's plan for salvation is the failure to understand that it is predisposed to save everyone. While one third of angelic kind and the vast majority of human kind will be condemned at history's end and cast into the lake of fire, that is most definitely not God's desire or His "first best will" for these reprobate souls. God wants all to be saved (Ezek.18:23; Matt.18:14; Jn.12:47; 1Tim.2:4; 2Tim.2:24-26; 2Pet.3:9), and He gains no pleasure from their condemnation (Jn.3:17). Moreover, God has designed His plan for the ages with that intent of universal salvation as its guiding principle. Nothing could be more indicative of the truth that creature history has been constructed precisely for the eternal salvation of all than that Jesus Christ died for all.
On the next day, [John] saw Jesus coming towards him and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, the One who takes away the sin of the world".
So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.
Romans 5:18 KJV
For it is the love of Christ that constrains us, having brought us to this conclusion: One died for [us] all; so then we all have died [in Him]. And He died on behalf of all so that those who are [now] alive might no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised [from the dead].
2nd Corinthians 5:14-15
For as God is One, so there is [only] One Mediator between God and Man, Christ Jesus in His humanity, who gave Himself as a ransom for all [mankind] . . .
1st Timothy 2:5-6a
And He Himself is the atonement for our sins, and not just for ours, but also for the entire world.
1st John 2:2
Salvation is not a divine afterthought. Just as the means of salvation, the incarnation of Jesus Christ and His spiritual death on the cross whereby He expiated all sin, was foreordained before the world was made (1Pet.1:19-20), so the salvation of all mankind was prepared even before our Lord created the heavens and the earth at the Father's behest (Col.1:16-17; 1Thes.5:9; Heb.1:2).
(1) Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for [the purpose of aiding] the faith of the elect and their acceptance of the truth which accords with godliness, (2) in the hope of eternal life which God who cannot lie promised before time began, (3) and [who] has [now] at just the right time revealed His Plan (lit., logos) through the proclamation [of the gospel] with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior.
This truth, to wit, that salvation is the fundamental purpose of God's creation of the universe in the first place, can be clearly seen from the Book of Life. Although the point is frequently misunderstood, the Book of Life, written by God in eternity past, contains the name of every single human being He would ever create, and it is only by self-willed rejection of a desire for God that a person's name is blotted out of the book.
(32) "And now, if You will forgive their sin, [fine]. But if not, [then] please blot my name out of Your Book which You have written." (33) But the Lord said to Moses, "The one who sins against Me, him will I blot out of My Book."
May the [godless] be blotted out of the Book of Life, and may they not be recorded with the righteous.
The one who wins the victory will be dressed in white clothing in this way, and I will assuredly not erase his name from the Book of Life.
And all the inhabitants of the earth will worship [the beast], [that is, all] whose names are not [still] written in the Book of Life [where they were written] from the beginning of the world, [even the book] which belongs to the Lamb who was slain.
The Father has written all down for salvation, and provided salvation for all through His sacrifice of His own dear Son our Lord for the sins of the world. His plan, His purpose, is for all to be saved, and He has so ordered the universe and so designed creature history in order that all may be saved. For our God is God of the utmost compassion, resorting to judgment only when His mercy is refused.
(6) Then the Lord passed before [Moses] and called out, "The Lord, the Lord, a compassionate God, full of grace and slow to anger, abounding in mercy and truth, (7) maintaining mercy for thousands [of generations], forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, but for him who refuses to be cleansed, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on their sons and on their sons' sons even to the third and fourth generation."1
As the verses above indicate so clearly, our God's mercy and compassion come before judgment and outweigh it more than a thousand-fold. It is only the refusal of His creatures to accept and receive His grace and forgiveness that forces Him into a posture of judgment – exactly as we should expect from a God who is Love (1Jn.4:8; 4:16; cf. Jn.3:16-17). For He is not willing for any to perish, but desires all to be saved (Ezek.18:23; Acts 17:27; cf. Lam.3:33).
(12) "What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? (13) And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. (14) In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.
Matthew 18:12-14 NIV
But if anyone hears My words and does not hold onto them, I do not condemn him. For I did not come to condemn the world but to save the world.
[God] who wants all men to be saved and come to accept the truth.
1st Timothy 2:4
The Lord is not delaying in the fulfillment of His promise (as some think); rather He is exercising patience for your sake, being unwilling for anyone to perish, but desiring all instead to come to repentance.
2nd Peter 3:9
Sadly, of course, since not all do "come to repentance"; not all are saved (for not all respond to His grace). Much theological confusion has arisen over the millennia from efforts to explain this apparent (and only apparent) dichotomy between God's desire for universal salvation and the reality of exceptional salvation. Many erroneous theories have been offered in attempts to reconcile these two seemingly conflicting biblical truths, often in ways that do violence to one or the other. For both doctrines are true, and failure to accept and teach either results in dangerous heresy.
God wishes to have mercy upon all mankind, and He has provided a Sacrifice for all so that all may be saved. At the same time, however, God has most definitely not been willing to deprive anyone of the one thing that makes human beings unique on this planet and in the universe (with the single exception of angelic kind): God has not abrogated our free-will in order to save us. Had He done so, "we" would not be who we are at all. Free-will is the defining characteristic of the human race. It is not our size, nor our appearance, nor our talents, nor our weaknesses, nor our limitations, nor our capabilities that make us what we are. It is our free-will – and what we choose to do with it. These two aspects of our essential nature are inseparable: who we are is a function of what we choose, and what we choose flows from who we are. That is true whether or not our character proves resilient over time or malleable. Regardless of the pontifications of science and philosophy, nature and the human experience are designed to bring all those of average mental capacity to the realization that in this life, we choose. And choosing is what this life is all about. We may or may not like our choices. We make poor choices or good ones, or, more likely, some combination of the two. But in all things large and small, we weigh our choices consciously and are responsible for them, and that is the true essence of who and what we are.
We human beings are individuals, and are individually the sum total of our choices and the thoughts and intents of our heart which went into making them. This is true whether in our short lives we have had success in affecting the world with our choices or have been frustrated at every turn; it is true whether our choices have been highly moral and ethical, or almost entirely evil and sinful. The fact of choosing being at the core of our personality and individual existence is the operative point, not what we chose or what resulted from our choices. We human beings are creatures who exercise free-will. We choose. That is more than just what we do. That is who we are. And more than that, it is also the reason why we are here.
(24) The God who made the world and everything in it, He is Lord of heaven and earth. He does not dwell in man-made temples, (25) nor is he waited on by human hands, as if He needed anything from us. He is the One who gives us all life and breath and everything else. (26) From one man he created all the nations of mankind – that they should come to inhabit the whole face of the earth. He fixed and determined the specific times and extent of their habitations, (27) to the end that they should seek out this God, that they might go in search of Him and so might find Him – for His is not far off from any one of us.
God made this world on purpose (v.24); God has given us all the essentials we need to exist in it, "life and breath and everything else" (v.25); God has given us the historical, political, and geographical contexts wherein our lives are to be lived out here on earth (v.26; cf. Job 12:23; Ps.74:17); God is the One who created us and in so doing provided us with the ability to choose, not just for the mundane choices of life, but for the most fundamental choice of all, the choice to seek Him (v.27a); this choice has never been made in vain, since it is God's unalterable purpose that all who choose to search for Him "might find Him" (v.27b); nor is the choice onerous or difficult to carry through, "for He is not far off from any one of us" (v.27c). History, politics, the economy, our health, our wealth or lack thereof, our families, friends and neighbors, enemies and adversaries, the weather, war and peace, death and taxes, our desires and disappointments, the whole wide panorama of human existence is, as Paul assures us, merely the backdrop for why we are here, individually and collectively. We are all here to seek God, that we might find Him; and all who choose to seek Him in truth, in truth do find Him – for that has been His purpose for us from the beginning. Though not all choose to do so, God wants all to seek Him, and history has been constructed by Him as the perfect place to put the hearts of mankind to this test.
(18) So then, upon whom He wishes, [God] has mercy, and whom He wishes, He hardens. (19) So you will say to me [by way of argument], "Why does He still find fault [with us]? For who has [effectively] resisted His will?" (20) O [mere mortal] man! On the contrary, who are you who is answering back to God? The thing made will not ask its Maker, "why have you made me this way", [will it]? (21) Or does the Potter not have authority over the clay to make from the same lump a vessel for honorable purposes and another for dishonorable ones?
As mentioned above (and as we shall discuss in much greater detail in section I.2 below), creature history was decreed by God in every single detail before the world began – and yet history did have to be played out. For salvation to be a reality, Jesus Christ did have to actually become a human being, come into the world, live a perfect life, run the most horrific of gauntlets to get to the cross, then cover the sins of the world with His blood, His spiritual death on the cross during the three hours of darkness. In a complementary way, we actually do have to be born and live out our lives on this earth, and actually do have to make the choices upon which our eternal future (and, in the case of Christians, our eternal rewards) will be based, putting our faith in the One who died for us in order for our own salvation to be secured. All this was decreed ahead of time; but it still had to unfold in real time. Beyond all argument, if Jesus actually had to die for us to be saved, then we certainly have to actually choose for Him in this life in order to be saved.
In terms of the issue of human free-will, it is sometimes erroneously assumed that God's foreordination of history through His WILL has predetermined the decisions individual human beings will make. In the passage quoted above (Rom.8:18-21), the apostle Paul anticipates this misapplication of the doctrine of divine decrees being used as a defense by those who refuse to bend their will to the WILL of God in this life: even if determinism were true, such a person would still have no reasonable defense before God. For in such a hypothetical case, the person has already ceded to God all authority by disclaiming individual responsibility: if God has the power and authority to force a person to be an unbeliever, then He certainly has the same power and authority to condemn the person even so. The, claim, of course is blasphemous in the extreme, and all the more obviously so when considered in the light of everything God has done for us in order to give us the chance to be saved and enjoy eternal life with Him and His Son forever: Jesus became a human being – and He died for all of the sins of the entire human race in order that all might have the opportunity of relying on Him and His work so as to be saved.
Needless to the say, the world does not appreciate what our Lord Jesus has done for it, nor does it harbor any gratitude to the Father for His ineffable gift in sacrificing His Son in our place. We, the community of true believers in Jesus Christ, the genuine Church, ought to be appreciative. Indeed, we ought to be so appreciative that we have little time or energy for anything else apart from thanking God for our so-great salvation and responding to Him at all times in every way pleasing to Him. Naturally, flesh that we are, we fall very short. But it should at least occur to us from time to time that all the noise and fury that are this ephemeral world we see around us are inestimably insignificant in comparison to God's decision to save us carried out by Jesus Christ.
God has done the most for us, and while we were His enemies at that (Rom.5), but He has not and never will impose Himself on our free-will as the reality of the unsaved and their eventual condemnation makes indisputably clear. God did what we could never do: atone for our sin through the offering up of His one and only dear Son in our place. Yet we must respond to that sacrifice if we are to be saved. For God's WILL opened the door of salvation, but our will must walk through that door to receive salvation. God's gift of free-will to us is thus an astoundingly humbling and blessed thing. The divine gift of free-will is a deliberate complement to the Gift of Jesus Christ, since it was given us that for the express purpose of accepting the Gift of Jesus Christ. Human free-will, exercised in faith, is thus the converse of divine WILL which has given us the freedom and the capability of responding so as to be saved: God gave us the ability to choose for Him, or not. He gave us His image.
(26) Then God said, "Let us make Man in our image, according to our likeness, so that he may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky and over the beasts and over the whole earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth". (27) So God created the man in His image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
We have previously discussed in another place the essential meaning of the image of God as the godlike ability to choose.2 Although most human beings never give it a thought their entire life-long, it would be impossible to overestimate the staggering wonder and the universe-shaking importance of God's gift to us of free-will. Not only are we human beings as a result unique in the universe (in company with the angels) but the fact of our having this God-given ability to choose makes us special in a transcendent way. Besides the angels and ourselves, no one else has the ability of anything approaching self-determination – except God. True, by every quantitative and qualitative measure our will is undeserving of comparison with the WILL of God. However, despite our minuscule size and non-existent power in comparison to God, in our capacity to choose we have been given a gift that is only mirrored elsewhere in the universe in the Person of God. The differences between the WILL of God and our free-will, between the Person of God and His image which we bear, are profound and immense, but the connection between the two is no accident. That nexus between God's will and ours is not only deliberate but a fundamental theorem in the calculus of human existence and an essential truth which must be understood if God's plan of salvation is to be properly explained. God made us for Himself (Col.1:16; Heb.2:10; cf. Rom.11:36; 1Cor.8:6). God made us with the ability to choose in order that we might respond to Him. God is pleased and glorified when we do use our free-will to respond to Him. But the divine gift of godlike self-determination is genuine and real. In the seven thousand year history of the human race, most will decline to use their free-will for its intended purpose of responding to God. If they were not able to refuse to respond, their will would not truly be free nor their response authentic.
It not only speaks volumes about the character and Person of the God who made us that He deeply desires us to respond to Him willingly and will not force us to do so against our will but also tells us much about our own importance to Him: He created us to be perfect counterparts to Him, partners who become fully His not through coercion by their own free-will choice, with the issue of choice now as it has always been the Person of Jesus Christ. At the behest of God our Father, our Lord Jesus made the entire universe from nothing without effort in an moment of time and made it for us (and the angels). Everything exists . . . for us. All that exists only does so for the purpose of our self-determination, our decisions, our demonstration to ourselves and to others and to God in a real world of choice and consequence whether or not we wish to respond to God.
It is very important to understand that we human beings are more than just "important" to the God of the universe. The fact that we are not mere "playthings" for God could not be made more clear than through the ineffable gift of the Person of Jesus Christ. Creating two classes of creatures capable of determining their own fate would require judgment (against God's preference) and sacrifice (at God's cost). If the choice were real, some creatures endowed with free-will would of necessity use that free-will to resist God instead of to respond to Him, reveling in their uniqueness, becoming gods unto themselves. In the case of the angels, created perfect, this meant the inevitable defection of Satan and his legions. Demonstrating that the condemnation following such defection was just in turn required the creation of another order of creature likewise possessed of free-will, one which in weakness would fall into sin but would then in some numbers be willing to return to a loving God.3 In the case of mankind, therefore, the gift of the image of God necessitated the payment of the penalty of condemnation in order for fellowship to be restored, in order for salvation to be effected. By creating Man, therefore, God committed Himself to condemning Christ.
Thus it is not only the case that the creation of the entire universe was undertaken on our account: by initiating history through commanding the creation of the world, God the Father committed Himself to the death of His One and only Son, to judging Him on our behalf in the darkness on Calvary's cross, to purging the sins of the world in Him in order to that we might be saved. Moreover, for those of us who do respond to God through free-will faith in Jesus Christ, we become one with Jesus Christ forever, just as Jesus is, since the incarnation, true God and a true human being in one unique Person forever. By deciding to make us with free-will, God committed Himself to the death of His Son and to His Son becoming a genuine human being, to be wed forever as one in Body with those who would choose to respond to Him – just as we have in like manner become one with Him as His Bride forevermore. Thus the profound implications of the gift of free-will should never be underestimated. We exist to believe in Jesus Christ, the universe exists so that we may believe in Jesus Christ, and God the Father in His immeasurable love has sacrificed the Son He has loved since before the world began so that He may be just in saving us when we do, wedding us to Jesus in the same way that Jesus is wedded to true humanity and to us forever. Salvation is therefore more than an important aspect of life for believers: seen from the divine point of view, salvation is history, and the entire purpose for our being here in it.
God knows the beginning from the end, and everything that would transpire in history in between. He has already decreed everything that would ever happen in the incredibly short span of creature history (short, that is, in comparison to the fast approaching day of eternity).
All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
Psalm 139:16b NIV
Far from being a reaction to the failures of His creatures, therefore, God's plan of salvation is the superstructure upon which the edifice of history has been built. More than that, everything that would happen was foreordained by Him before the moment of universal creation accomplished by Jesus Christ at the Father's behest. Indeed, nothing could, nothing can, nothing will ever happen in history without the express will of God. This decreeing of the sum total of history, however, is not at all to be equated with determinism. In fact, the true situation is exactly the opposite. Since nothing can exist without God, and since nothing can transpire without His will, it was only by decreeing history to include all creature choices that choice was possible in the first place. The false argument reprised by Paul at Romans 9:18-21 (quoted above), "why [then] does He still find fault?", fails to take these important truths into account and fundamentally misunderstands God's purpose, God's grace, and God's love: God made us who we choose to be and who we choose to be is who God made us.
Both sides of the above statement are absolutely true and inseparable. We could not exist without God; we could not have the image of God except that He gave it to us; and it was impossible for Him not to know how we would use our God-given free-will and impossible for us to use it without His prior assent. Simply put, foreordination does not prevent genuine choice; genuine choice would be impossible without it. For men and angels to be able to choose required not only the gift of the image of God but also the venue in which to employ their free-will. That venue is the world (defined spatially); that venue is history (defined temporally). Divinely decreed space-time, therefore, the foreordained history of the world from beginning to end, consists of so much more than the physical history of the universe: the most significant things which have and are and will happen here in the world in time are the free-will decisions of the morally accountable creatures who inhabit this venue. Indeed, it is precisely for the purpose of making those decisions that God created the world and placed us in it, so that we might seek Him and find Him. We are here to be saved. And if we refuse, we are here to demonstrate that we did not want to be saved.
Thus it is that the gift of free-will is the most astonishing thing in the universe. Truth be told, is it far more wondrous than the universe or its creation by our Lord Jesus in the blink of an eye. That is because of the mind-numbing implications of a creation that would include truly free moral agents, namely, the necessitating of God to become a man and to die in the place of all mankind, and His willingness in Jesus Christ to do so. For without a prior commitment to the incarnation and the cross, creation would not only have been pointless: it would have been impossible:
(18) For you know that it was not with perishable things [like] silver or gold that you were ransomed from the futile manner of life passed down to you by your ancestors, (19) but [you were redeemed] with precious blood, like that of a lamb without spot or blemish, [that is, by the blood] of Christ [Jesus, (20) whose coming was] foreordained before the creation of the world, but who appeared [in the flesh] at the end of times because of us (i.e., for our salvation).
1st Peter 1:18-20
So much is it true that creature free-will is the most potent force in the universe and the most important element in the history of creation that scripture on more than one occasion calls us, men and angels both, 'Eliym, "mighty ones" or "gods" (cf. the Hebrew name for God: 'Elohiym).4
I said, "You are gods, and sons of the Most High, all of you." However, you shall die in the manner of Man, and fall like any other [human] prince.
Psalm 82:6 (cf. v.1)
Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your law: 'I said, You are gods'"?
The title 'el, "mighty one", is appropriate for both human beings and angels, and not because our physical might is remarkable. Even in the case of angels, far mightier than we, their power is insignificant when compared with the massive size of the universe (let alone when it is compared to the power of God). We are "mighty" ('el) because by delegation we share in the sovereignty of God (the Mighty One: 'Elohiym).
(4) What is Man that you are mindful of him, or the son of man that you care for him? (5) You made him a little lower than the angels (lit. "the gods"), you crowned him with glory and honor. (6) You made him sovereign over all the works of your hands, you put everything under his feet, (7) flocks and all cattle, and also the beasts of the field, (8) the birds of the skies and the fish of the sea, and whatever swims the paths of the seas.
God chose to make us in His image and bestowed a measure of His sovereign authority upon us with the desire that we would use that free-will to respond to His WILL. Through the fall, mankind temporarily ceded a large measure of our God-given authority over the earth to the evil one, but we still retain sovereignty over our own will.5 Even now, we are still "mighty ones" in that we continue to possess the divine and divinely provided characteristic of self-determination. No one else and nothing else in the universe outside of us and the angels has the godlike capacity to decide our own future, to be saved or to forgo salvation. By responding to God, creature to Creator, mighty ones to the Mighty One, 'el to 'Elohiym, in adapting our free-will to His WILL through faith in the Object of faith He as provided, Jesus Christ, we demonstrate our desire to be with Him forever. If, however, we decline to subordinate our will to His WILL, we demonstrate that our own sovereignty is more important to us than His Sovereignty, and that we have no desire to be with Him at all. History is thus a process not only of choosing where we will spend eternity through the God-given gift of self-determination but also of demonstrating that the choice to reject the world and conform to the WILL of God so as to be saved was entirely ours.
The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.
1st John 2:17 NASB
Knowing precisely how and what we would decide, it may seem at first consideration that God could easily have set aside the entire exercise of creature history, creating only those whom He knew in His omniscience would choose for Him through His Son, not creating those whom He knew would eschew obedience to Jesus Christ, and dispensing with the crucible of life wherein these choices actually take place. For beyond all argument, the Father would not have sacrificed the Son if it were unnecessary. Therefore, the fact that God did not forego the process of history but has instead actually created a moral world of choice wherein Jesus of necessity had to die for the sins of all, believers and unbelievers both, shows unequivocally that "going through with it" was indeed necessary. Offering this genuine choice to all was absolutely essential if we were to be who we are, fitting counterparts to the Son as members of the Bride, creatures who are not merely subjects but who are endowed with the most amazing gift: a measure of divine sovereignty, the very image of God, whereby we are able to respond to His choice of us by choosing for Him in return. Actually having the chance to make this choice and demonstrate our determination to do so was equally indispensable. Those who choose against God, moreover, are the proof that all free-will is genuine, ours and theirs alike. There is an inherent number or completeness to everything which God has made, and this is so to such a perfect degree that nothing more and nothing less could attain to the perfection of the universe or, more importantly, to the full complement of creature-kind as He has perfectly designed it.
To everything [you have made] there is completeness – I have seen the boundary [you have] set [for all things]. But your decree is measureless.
Therefore, the act of creating the full and complete complement of angelic kind and of the human race inevitably resulted in the defection of one third of the angels who were disposed to rebel against the Lord and the vast majority of human beings who were unwilling to accept the gracious gift of Jesus Christ. Therefore the fate of all creatures who deliberately reject God's mercy is completely just: the fate they suffer is the fate they choose to suffer (and would choose again in a thousand life-times, if likewise possessed of genuine, uncoerced free-will). God is not unjust to have created them in the foreknowledge of how they would choose; the only way those who choose to reject Him could ever have avoided condemnation was not to have been created in the first place (and that would have prevented the creation of those of us who are willing to respond to God's great love in Jesus Christ). God had the right to create the universe; He had the right to create us with free-will; it cost Him beyond what we can ever know to do so; He had the right to create those who of their own truly free and uncoerced free will would reject Him; and without the creation of those who reject Him there could have been no creation of those of us who accept Him.
Far, then, from determining our choices for us through His decreeing of creature history and the plan of salvation it encompasses and facilitates, God's foreordination of all things was the only way in which we could be who we are – free moral agents after the pattern of the God who made us – and still be saved. God's prior decree of the course of history does not foreordain condemnation; rather, it enables salvation. It is, therefore, the very height of arrogance for any creature, angel or human being, to answer back to God, "Why did you make me this way?" For out of His infinite love He made us as we wanted to be made, and has allowed us to decide for ourselves whether or not to love Him back for it.
We love him, because he first loved us.
1st John 4:19 KJV
None of this would have been possible without the Father's sacrifice of His one and only dear Son for our sins. Because of their nature, angels do not change once their decision for or against God has been made.6 Therefore the creation of the angels made mankind necessary, in order to demonstrate, through creating another order of creature in different circumstances, that repentance was possible, and that God's love would provide the means for it, if any were willing to partake of God's mercy.7 Creating the angels necessitated the creation of mankind and the creation of mankind necessitated Jesus' sacrifice on the cross; and this entire plan of salvation in its essentials and in its working out in the lives of every single moral creature had actually to take place in space-time for the choices made both to be genuine and also to be irrefutably demonstrated as such. Those human beings who refuse God's gracious offer of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ follow the pattern of the devil and show that they would ignore, challenge, and replace God here and now if they could, and would stay in that attitude forever and return to it immediately following condemnation if that ever became possible. God could have made us all like the animals; we could have all, men and angels both, been made happy and permanently holy, with no possibility of being otherwise in a perfect universe. But we would not then be made in the image of God, possessed of genuine free-will, creatures capable of weighing the consequences and deciding whether to follow the Way or to choose our own way – we would not then be who we are in any meaningful sense. God's gift to us of the free-will necessary to respond to His great Gift, Jesus Christ, is the essential ingredient that makes us unique and is at the very core of what it means to be a human being: deciding our fate for ourselves. God has not predetermined that choice by giving it to us; by ratifying our choice in His plan of the ages He has made it possible. Through the decisions we make in this life we demonstrate for all to see the truth of the axiom given above that God made us who we choose to be and that who we choose to be is who God made us.
1 The significant difference in translation here between "but for him who refuses to be cleansed" and "yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished" (KJV; other versions similar), is due the major English versions following the Septuagint's misunderstanding of the verbal phrase ינקה לא ונקה as being in the piel stem (a mistake continued in the Masoretic text). Instead, we have here two niphal forms (with syncope of intervocalic heh in the infinitive absolute as is common in later Hebrew and not unprecedented in scripture where niphal infinitive absolutes are concerned: לראות at Exod.34:24, Deut.31:11, and Is.1:12; also Exod.10:3: לענת; Job 33:30: לאור; Ezek.26:15: בהרג; Prov.24:17: ובכשלו; and Lam.2:11 בעטף).
2 The detailed treatment of the image and likeness of Man will be found in part 3B of this series, Anthropology, section II, "The Creation of Man".
3 This principle is explained in detail in part 1 the Satanic Rebellion series, "Satan's Rebellion and Fall".
4 Compare also Exodus 21:6 and 22:8 where 'Elohiym (technically a plural) is used to describe human judges ("mighty ones"), and Psalm 8:4-8, 97:7; and 138:1 where it is used to describe the angels (and is often translated "gods" instead of "God" or "angels").
5 All of these matters are discussed in detail in part 3A of the Bible Basics series, "Anthropology".
6 See part 2A of the Bible Basics series, "Angelology".
7 See the Satanic Rebellion series, especially part 1, "Satan's Rebellion and Fall".