Saturday, March 4, 2017

Sovereignty vs. Freedom—Part V

For the remainder of his sermon John MacArthur focuses on Romans chapter 9, with some references to chapters 10 and 11. His references to these passages are too confused, haphazard, disorganized, and disjointed to make it possible to give it a point by point response. The best way to answer it is simply to go through these chapters and briefly discuss the relevant portions of them, with occasional reference to what he has said. He sees Romans chapter 9 as “the strongest chapter in the Bible on divine sovereignty,” by which he means pure Calvinism. His idea of “divine sovereignty” is total predestination and predetermination of history, which leaves no room for human freewill. That of course is heretical and false. God is indeed “sovereign;” but that does not translate into Calvinism. Before we start digging into Romans chapter 9, however, some introductory comments about the writings of Paul in general are required.

The Calvinistic or “Reformed” false theology of predestination, TULIP, and “faith alone” are almost exclusively dependent on the writings of Paul. If you excise Paul out of the Bible, the so-called “Reformed” theology dies an instant death. That should ring alarm bells that something isn’t quite right somewhere. When a theology is based exclusively on the writings of a single biblical author (and a controversial one at that), with total disregard to what is taught in the rest of the Bible (including other writings of the same author), then something obviously isn’t working out the way it should. The whole of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, teach that God rewards people for doing good, and punishes them for doing evil—regardless of their religious belief. That includes the teachings of Jesus himself. A book can be written about this subject. The following are some brief example:

Matthew 5:

12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

Matthew 5:

46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?

Matthew 6:

1 Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
4 That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

Matthew 6:

16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;
18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.

Revelation 11:

18 And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth.

Revelation 22:

12 And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.

According to all of these verses, God “rewards” people in heaven for doing good—and punishes them for doing evil. In the light of all the above, when we come across something like the following written by Paul:

Romans 4:

4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.

That should make us pause to think. There is an obvious contradiction here. Should we discard all the previous verses, and just stick to Romans 4:4; or should we try to reconcile them somehow? How should we reconcile them? And what should we do with the following verses, spoken by Paul himself, in the same epistle:

Romans 2:

6 Who will render to every man according to his deeds:
7 To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:
8 But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,
9 Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile;
10 But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile:
11 For there is no respect of persons with God.
12 For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law;
13 (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
14 For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:
15 Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)
16 In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.

Or these, again spoken by Paul:

Galatians 6:

7 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.
8 For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.
9 And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.
10 As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.

Or these, spoken by Peter, the chief of the Apostles:

Acts 10:

34 Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:
35 But in every nation [and religion] he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.

And countless more such verses that can be found in the Old as well as the New Testaments? According to these verses, salvation itself is a reward for righteousness, and damnation a recompense for wickedness. The “Reformed” answer to that is to discard all the above, plus ¾ of the rest of the Bible (and misconstrue the rest), and just stick to a few verses of Paul! It shouldn’t take a lot of brainpower to figure out that that is not the right way to go about interpreting the word of God.

So how do we go about harmonizing what Paul says, with everything that Jesus taught, and with ¾ of the rest of the Bible? Luckily there is an explanation. The explanation is partly historical, and partly to do with the psychology of Paul. The explanation is that in those days there were many Jewish converts to Christianity who taught that Gentile converts needed to be circumcised, because that was the sign of the covenant that God made with Abraham. From their theological perspective of course they had a valid point. In principle, there is nothing wrong with being circumcised either, even if it is not done for religious reasons. But there was a catch. Once they were circumcised, then they felt obliged to adhere to the Laws of Moses, which law was fulfilled. That was in fact the real idea behind those Judaizers wanting Gentile converts to be circumcised. They wanted to have the glory of ruling over the converts. They wanted to become “Pharisees” to the Gentile converts to Christianity. The book of Acts is a very concise history, and doesn’t really explain how serious that controversy had become. It condenses it to the following short sentence:

Acts 15:

1 And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.

Which doesn’t reveal how serious that controversy had become. That controversy eventually became so serious that a special council was held in Jerusalem (around AD 50, Acts 15) of all the Apostles and elders of the Church to resolve the issue. Bearing in mind that travel was not easy in those days (there were no cars, planes, or railroads); also bearing in mind that communication was very difficult (no phones, emails, or efficient postal services), and how difficult it was to arrange such a meeting at that time; the fact that they went to such length to hold such a meeting in Jerusalem (the only one of its kind) to discuss this issue demonstrates how serious the controversy had become. The verdict of that council, finally declared by Peter the chief Apostle, was as follows:

Acts 15:

7 And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe [referring to Cornelius].
8 And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us;
9 And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.
10 Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?
11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.

That is the historical background behind it. Paul, who by his own admission was the “apostle of the Gentiles” (Rom. 11:13), became very concerned about this issue, as revealed in the following comments he makes to the Galatians:

Galatians 6:

13 For neither they themselves [the Jewish converts] who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.

The so called Judaizers wanted to rule and preside over the Gentile converts (under the Law of Moses); and that was their way of doing it. By “glory in your flesh” he means glory in their circumcision. They wanted to get the glory having converts to Judaism rather than to Christianity. Paul again is alluding to the same thing in the following:

Galatians 5:

2 Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.
3 For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.

As a general principle there is nothing wrong with being circumcised. There is probably more good in it than bad—or only good in it and nothing bad. The reason why Paul is so dead against it is because of the Jewish nuances that was being associated with it by the Judaizers at that time. The whole of Galatians in fact was written to address that issue. When he talks about “another gospel” (Gal. 1:6), that is what he was referring to.

Paul became extremely concerned about this issue, even to the point of obsession, and went over the top. All of his talk about “faith alone,” and “grace alone,” and no “works” etc. needs to be understood in that context. It doesn’t mean what Calvinists and “Reformed” theologians would have us believe it means. Paul himself never meant it to be understood that way.

The other Apostles were aware of the writings of Paul, and recognized the risks of misunderstanding that they presented, and tried to counter it in their own ways, but without coming out in outright opposition to Paul. Peter tries to counter it with these words:

2 Peter 3:

14 Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.
15 And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you;
16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.
17 Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness.

That was a sideswipe at Paul. It was his way of warning others of the dangers of misinterpreting Paul. But he does it in a gentle way so he doesn’t undermine the authority of Paul. James does the same thing in these words:

James 2:

14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,
16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?
26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

Here James is doing the same thing that Peter was doing, but he does it in his own way—without staging a confrontation with Paul. What he is basically saying is that a lot of that kind of stuff that Paul had written was crap! But he wants to be discreet about it. He doesn’t want to undermine the authority of a fellow Apostle. They were all aware of the risks involved in the writings of Paul, and how easily they could be misunderstood, and they tried to counter it in their own ways, but without discrediting Paul. It seems to have worked too for 16 centuries. But by the time we reach the 16th century, those warnings were not of much help anymore, and the heretical Protestant “Reformers” were able to have it their way. This is the necessary background and introduction to the writings of Paul that needs to be understood, before embarking on a more detailed analysis of his teachings in Romans 9, which I will attempt to do in the next post.

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