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Divine Sovereignty and Divine Judgment

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Question #1:   I've been reading a lot lately about what John Piper calls Christian Hedonism. What are your thoughts? I've heard mixed reactions, most of the negative being from those holding to a more Arminian doctrine, and the positive coming from those holding to Calvinist doctrine. What do you think about Calvinism in general? I know those are awfully broad questions, but I'm interested to hear what you think. I think your site is great, by the way. Thanks a lot!

Response #1:  Thanks for your positive comments! I'm not familiar with Piper's work, but certainly there are plenty of Christians who have become increasingly uncomfortable with certain trends in what I call the "church visible", that is to say, there can be a large gap between those who are Christ's and those who belong to churches. The two sets overlap, to be sure, but they are not identical by any means. I don't think this is so much a doctrinal issue as it is a behavioral one. It is true that there are (and have always been) those who excuse sinful behavior and attempt to justify it scripturally (rather than just practicing it). In the first century, we already have the "Nicolaitans" who are censured by the Lord Himself in the book of Revelation (chapters 2 and 3). Today we hear about the "prosperity gospel" and all sorts of other fringe and cult and cult-like leaders and groups who make gross sinfulness of one sort or another a part of their "faith and practice". I don't think one can blame Arminius for this - what he actually says is not really that different from what Calvin has to say, in my unique view of it, and neither of their positions really makes much sense imported into the modern day apart from the context of the crucible of the Reformation in which they were formed. I personally believe that the Bible teaches both free will (i.e., the opportunity to accept and follow God's will) AND divine sovereignty (expressed in election, among other things). Logically these two ideas have often been seen as contradictory, but theologically I do not see them as such. I think that David F. Wells has a point when he argues that "Evangelicalism" (sic) talks a good game about the importance of the Bible and the importance of Bible teaching and doctrine, but in practice has become completely disinterested in the process of spiritual growth (my expansion of the thesis). And it really should be no surprise that, where Christians are no longer serious about scripture, faith and practice suffer mightily, and "worldliness", that is, loving and enjoying the world rather than focusing on the Lord and our mission here in the world to serve Him, becomes the rule rather than the exception.

Here a few links that will get to more of the details of your question(s):

On sin etc.: Hamartiology: The Biblical Study of Sin (BB 3B)

On Calvinism: "Once Saved, Always Saved?"

"Is faith a gift of God?

On the Church vs. the "church visible": Coming Tribulation 2A: the 7 Churches

Hope this helps! Feel free to write me back.

In our Lord,

Bob L.

Question #2: 

First, do you believe God is absolutely sovereign? That's what Scripture seems to point to, and I had never really questioned it before. However, the Bible is pretty clear that God hates sin. Why, then, if He is sovereign, would He create sin, which he hates? If God created and ruled the world in a manner that was ultimately pleasing to Him, bringing Him more glory, why sin? I remember reading something by Jonathan Edwards about this. Edwards speaks of God having two wills, a will of decree and something else.

Response #2: 

In my opinion, this all gets back to the issue of free will. Also, in my opinion again, this is a "problem" which is far more simple in fact than in structured theology. Yes indeed, God is sovereign, and completely so. If He were unable to allow us to make a choice for or against Him, would He really be sovereign? Certainly, He could have chosen to structure the moral universe that way in His sovereignty, but He could also choose (and in fact has chosen) to set things up so that every moral creature would have to make a decision for or against Him. That doesn't deprive Him of sovereignty. Quite to the contrary, He could hardly be called a true sovereign if He were for some reason unable to allow this choice in His overseeing of creature history. Even in New Testament times, there were many unbelievers who played games with this principle as is reflected by Paul's comments in Romans (cf. Rom.6:1-2; 6:15-16; 7:7):

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?" 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]? Or doesn't the Potter have authority over the clay to make from the same lump a vessel for honorable purposes and another for dishonorable ones?
Romans 9:19-21


Here we see unbelievers claiming that they have no responsibility for their actions because God is sovereign. Paul turns this argument around and shows them that according to the logic of their position God's sovereignty includes the right to make them not only responsible but to judge them for their actions which He has ordained in His sovereignty. We are left then with only one real question - did they have any real choice? The answer permeates scripture. There is not a page in the Bible (or Romans) where we are not earnestly entreated to good and godly behavior while at the same time dissuaded from sinful and evil behavior. We are ever beckoned closer to God, and ever warned against turning our backs on Him. If we have no true choice, this would seem to be pointless encouragement and pointless admonition. In fact, everything we see in the natural order of things shows us not only that there is a God who will demand an account (Rom.1:18-32), but that what we do does matter, and that we are responsible for what we do - civilization would collapse if everyone could avoid any responsibility for anything they did, and wherever particular civilizations shy away from personal responsibility, decay inevitably follows. We know that we are responsible, ergo we understand that we have free will, that is, that we are free to seek God - or not. This will be made crystal clear on the day when God judges the true thoughts and intents of the hearts of all mankind (Rom.2:16). The fact that many choose to see themselves as "wise" and engage in various exercises in highly sophistic argumentation only shows the truth of the passage "Claiming to be wise, they became foolish" (Rom.1:22; cf. 1Cor.1:18-31).

In my humble view, good theology causes implosion (that is, a crystallization of principles and verses into an integrated matrix of perceptible, perspicuous and simple truth), but bad theology causes explosion (that is, a spinning out of control in endless entropy of theories and speculations which stray ever and ever farther from clear biblical truth and things that are patently obvious). It seems to me that we are more and more plagued with the latter while the former is ever harder to find. I applaud your efforts to get your questions answered, and am very pleased to do what I can to help.

In Him who is the way, the truth, and the light, our sovereign Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #3: 

Hello Bob,

I know you have had this question many times, but as always, I look forward to the wisdom the Lord gives you for me! I know that all my sin prior to accepting Christ is forgiven. How is the daily personal sin covered. Do we have to own up to it and confess it as part of our personal relationship, or is it just covered because there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus? Will these unconfessed sins be brought before us as judgment?

Response #3: 

I would imagine that you are already aware of this, but - just in case - let me point out that the newly posted study "Hamartiology: the Study of Sin" gives the details, the argumentation, the theology, and the scriptural support for my much simplified answer below (see especially section V. "The Believer's Dealing with Sin").

No one will be judged for personal sins at the Last Judgment (Matt.25:31ff.; Rev.20:11-15). There is, of course, one sin for which Christ could not die, the so-called "unpardonable sin", namely, the rejection of Himself. In order to get the benefit of the redemption in His blood, an individual has to accept Him and His work on the cross, the death He "died to sin" (Rom.6:10), and this may only be done through faith. Everyone who dies in an unbelieving state has rejected Him and His work, actively or passively, and so must stand instead on his or her own works (a fact that Matt.25 and Rev.20 each express in their own way). Unbelievers are indeed condemned, but are so because they have "not believed in the Name (i.e., Person and work) of the One and only Son of God" (Jn.3:18). Christ's work avails for the forgiveness of all sin (other than the sin of rejecting Him and by definition the Father as well) so that the atonement of the cross is "universal". As believers, we have passed from death to life. In addition to being atoned for, we have also received blanket forgiveness for all of our sins, past present and future, from a positional point of view - and for this faith is required (Acts 26:15-18). What we do not have is automatic experiential forgiveness of sins we knowingly and willfully commit after salvation. That is to say, our future sins do not in and of themselves affect our status as believers, but they most definitely do affect the quality of our relationship with the Lord. For one thing, they bring on divine discipline, and that discipline can be both severe and long-lasting (Heb.12). When we repent of our behavior and then confess our sins to the Lord, we receive forgiveness and restoration of fellowship (1Jn.1:9).

This concept of experiential versus positional forgiveness can be seen in Jesus' use of foot-washing (experiential forgiveness in time) as distinguished from the "bath" of salvation: "he who has had a bath only has need to wash his feet, but otherwise he is completely clean" (Jn.13:10). So the judgment of life vs. death is one now not based upon sin at all, but upon the unbeliever's foolish claim, expressed and understood or not, that his or her works are "good enough" to have eternal life, and that he or she therefore does not need the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (their condemnation is assured). We likewise have nothing to fear in terms of eternal judgment from sin per se, since we have already received the redemption and the cleansing that comes through faith in Jesus Christ:

How much more [is it not then clearly the case that] we who have been justified by His blood shall therefore [certainly] be saved through Him from the wrath [of judgment to come]!
Romans 5:9


Sin is, however, quite a problem. In addition to divine discipline, there is also the fact that sin has the potential to tear down everything we have built up in our spiritual life, compromising not only our spiritual growth, but also everything we have accomplished in ministry and the rewards pertaining thereto (cf. 2Jn.1:8). The most extreme case of this is apostasy, wherein the believer gives him or herself so fully and completely up to sin and evil that faith is not only eroded, but eventually quenched altogether, so that the end is worse than the beginning (2Pet.2:20-22).

As I say, there is much much more on all these points in Basics 3B, "Hamartiology". But do please feel free to get back to me on any aspects of this question which may still be bothering you.

Yours in the One who died for all of our sins that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

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