March 12, 2005

The Choice

When I was 15, I bought this really great Bible for myself. It was the first Bible I had ever owned of my own, really, which made it really special to me. I still have it, and believe it or not, I read it every so often. The reason I bring it up is because it's got a TON of great references, cross-references (pardon the pun), and is just loaded with information other than just scripture. The best part is the subject index, a section larger than both the old and new testaments combined, listing every topic the editors could think of (it's NIV) and then saying "here's a place it mentions it in scripture" and then lists them all. Very handy, almost like a concordance (but I have one of those too, because you never can be too careful with this "studying" thing), but slightly different.

The relevance? So we're talking Calvinism these days, me and
Adam, and in his much more detailed explanation of the TULIP phenomenon (by the way, it was well-written, so Adam, you get a ... high-five ... if I ever see you), he made some scripture references. I thought "hey, I don't know those by heart" so I looked them up. Romans 3:11 is an interesting verse, and when taken out of context, could be used for all sorts of things. Now, don't get me wrong - Adam's a smart guy, and so I don't think he took it out of context - too far. Let's take a look.

There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. (v.11)

This was one of two scripture references he used to illustrate the first point of the five; everyone with me know, let's say it: "Total Depravity." Adam went on to explain that the term is somewhat misunderstood, and a better one would be "humanity's radical corruption," citing the aforementioned (a great word) verse as evidence.

I'll just come right out and say it - I mostly (I reserve a little bit here) agree with his assessment of the situation. Mostly. Like, I think the Calvinist school of thought misses something in the translation ... but not entirely.

See, as I read the verse I wondered, what's it IN? So I read the stuff around it. And darned if I shouldn't find out that Paul is talking about Righteousness (funny, that's what Adam said it was about). It's even got its own heading. But here's the digs - at the end of the passage, Paul says,

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. (v.19-20)

Suddenly Paul's talking about the law and consciousness of sin, instead of humanity's righteousness. I think the point was a little broader than what the Calvinist doctrine is saying. Yes, humanity made a few dumb mistakes ... ok, a LOT of dumb mistakes, beginning with Eve and Adam and all the way down the chain to us today. So humanity has this heritable disease called "sin". But - the passage is talking about human corruption as a backdrop for the law - the law helps us see what God sees - a sinner - and makes us aware that we are not worthy of salvation. Then we move on:

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (v. 21-26)

Grace is for everyone - God didn't choose a certain bunch of people to give it to, unless you say that certain bunch is all of humanity. The conditions that ARE placed upon it are those of faith and belief. This is my problem with points 2-4: the exclusion of most of the human race from God's plan to salvation. Nowhere in scripture do I see God say "well, no, you're not included because I didn't pick you - I don't love you enough, but I love this guy enough to pick HIM." It just doesn't FIT. Clearly scripture (see above in Romans) says that not all will actually be saved, because not all will choose to believe (yeah, that word "choose" is a doozie, ain't it?), but the problem is right there - God loved us enough to give us the choice to accept His offer of salvation. He died with the intention that all might be saved, but that doesn't mean He forced it on anyone. He offers us a choice.

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