Saturday, January 9, 2010

God's Eternal Plan

“Even the sinful acts of men are included in this plan. They are foreseen, permitted, and have their exact place. They are controlled and overruled for the divine glory. The crucifixion of Christ, which is admittedly the worst crime in all human history, had, we are expressly told, its exact and necessary place in the plan (Acts 2:23; 4:28). This particular manner of redemption IS NOT AN EXPEDIENT TO WHICH GOD WAS DRIVEN AFTER BEING DEFEATED AND DISAPPOINTED BY THE FALL OF MAN. Rather it is ‘according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord,’ Eph. 3:11. Peter tells us that Christ as a sacrifice for sin was ‘foreknown indeed before the foundation of the world, 1 Peter 1:20. Believers were ‘chosen in Him before the foundation of the world’ (or from eternity), Eph. 1:4...And if the crucifixion of Christ, or His offering up Himself as a sacrifice for sin, was in the eternal plan, then plainly THE FALL OF ADAM AND ALL OTHER SINS WHICH MADE THAT SACRIFICE NECESSARY WERE IN THE PLAN, NO MATTER HOW UNDESIRABLE A PART OF THAT PLAN THEY MAY HAVE BEEN” (Loraine Boettner, “The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination.” Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1932, page 24).

This morning I went to bed at about 4am, which is probably not the best time to fall asleep. In any case, my mind was dying to find something to absorb---so I grabbed Boettner’s book on “Predestination,” and started reading. Coming to the quote above in Boettner’s work, I found another great idea for a post at the Center for Theological Studies.

Notice two things about Boettner’s quote. First, he states that redemption itself “is not an expedient to which God was driven after being defeated and disappointed by the fall of man.” I would say that redemption was not God’s “back-up plan” or “plan B” after Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden; however, I would say that it was a response to the sin of man. Redemption itself was NOT God’s arbitrary pre-determined plan from the beginning of time. God presented Adam with a choice in the Garden---to eat or not to eat. It was Adam’s choice (and Eve’s) that led to the staining of God’s good creation. And it was this reason that Christ was sent. Notice what the angel Gabriel says to Joseph when he appears to Joseph in a dream:

“And she[Mary] will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, FOR HE WILL SAVE HIS PEOPLE FROM THEIR SINS” (Matthew 1:21, NKJV).

The Son of God was even given His name (Jesus) because His mission was to be the Savior of the world. And in verses 22 and 23 of Matthew 1, we are told that Jesus’ mission was foretold by the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 7:14. His name “Immanuel” is Hebrew meaning “God with us.” God “tabernacled” among us with a specific mission.

John tells us the exact same thing:

“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold! THE LAMB OF GOD WHO TAKES AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD!” (John 1:29, NKJV)

Notice that Jesus is identified by John as Savior---He came to “take away the sin of the world.”

When Jesus is born in Luke 2, an angelic host announces the greatness of Jesus’ birth:

“Glory to God in the highest, AND ON EARTH PEACE, GOODWILL TOWARD MEN!” (Luke 2:14, quoting Isaiah 57:19)

But this becomes problematic for Boettner’s claim. In his view, God doesn’t send Jesus as a response to human sin and the fallen condition; no---Jesus is sent because God planned, from before time began, to save only a portion of humanity (those He “unconditionally” elected), and to damn the rest. He even quotes Ephesians to support his view; but Ephesians also shows us a gracious God who forgave us of a judgment we deserved:


Notice that Paul describes God’s grace as “the riches of His grace” and that “He made to abound,” to overflow, His grace toward those who believe. How could God be so gracious if He was the One that predetermined sin in the events of world history, if He is the One who “set the table” for the Fall? If God designed the Fall and then decided to save a portion of humanity, He wouldn’t be gracious. Instead, God would be a sadistic manipulator who would get twisted pleasure out of “toying” around with His creatures. The God of the Calvinists is not a God who is worthy to be praised!

Let’s look at three other passages which show us Jesus’ sacrifice as a response to the sin of man and man’s deserved judgment. One of these passages is Hebrews 2, Romans 3, and Isaiah 53.

First, we find these words in Hebrews 2:

“Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham. Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, THAT HE MIGHT BE A MERCIFUL AND FAITHFUL HIGH PRIEST IN THINGS PERTAINING TO GOD, TO MAKE PROPITIATION FOR THE SINS OF THE PEOPLE” (Hebrews 2:14-17, NKJV).

Hebrews 2 focuses on Christ taking on flesh in order to be the “propitiation” or atoning sacrifice, for the sins of the world. His entire purpose for sharing in human flesh with humanity was “to destroy...the devil, and release those who...were...subject to bondage.” Humanity was subject to bondage. What bondage? Paul tells us in Romans that we were once “slaves of sin” (Rom. 6:20).

The next question becomes, “And why was humanity in bondage to sin?” Humanity was in bondage to sin because we all sinned in Adam (Rom. 5:12). 2 Corinthians 5 says it best:

“Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, NOT IMPUTING THEIR TRESPASSES TO THEM, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18-19, NKJV).

Whose “trespasses” created the sin that put Christ on the cross? The intended noun of “their” in 2 Cor. 5:19. And the subject of “their” is “the world.” The sins of the world, our sins, put Christ on the cross---not some predetermined good pleasure of God to give Jesus a thirty-something-year vacation on earth.

Now, let’s see what Romans 3 tells us:

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of THE ONE WHO HAS FAITH IN JESUS” (Rom. 3:23-26).

Who is the “all” of the excerpt from Rom. 3? Who committed the “sins” that God passed over? Who is the “one who has faith in Jesus”? The answer to all of these is “us,” or “humanity.” So humanity committed the sins that God had passed over. Although it seemed as if God had overlooked them, He hadn’t: He still required death as the penalty for sin. And He demonstrated that He hadn’t forgotten the debt when He sent His Son Jesus to be the atoning sacrifice for the sins of mankind. God made humanity pay the debt, but we didn’t pay the debt---Jesus paid the debt because He took on human flesh. In this manner, human flesh paid the penalty (but it was done in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity and Godhead).

Now, at last, here is the declaration of the prophet Isaiah:

“Surely He [Jesus] has borne OUR griefs and carried OUR sorrows; yet we esteemed HIM stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for OUR transgressions, He was bruised for OUR iniquities; the chastisement for OUR peace was upon Him, and by His stripes WE are healed. All WE like sheep have gone astray, WE have turned, EVERY ONE, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of US ALL” (Isaiah 53:4-6, NKJV).

Here, the prophet Isaiah places the blame where it belongs. Jesus’ death did not come about because of some sordid, sick, and twisted pleasure of God---but because of the sordid, sick, and twisted sins of mankind. Notice the pronouns: “our” griefs, “our” sorrows, “our” transgressions, “our” iniquities, etc. Who sinned? We did! Humanity is the one who sinned and transgressed God’s law.

If humanity is responsible for sin, and Jesus came to die for the sins of mankind, then how is it that Boettner can assert that Jesus’ death was not in response to sin but to an arbitrary predetermined decree that God just designed on His own? It was in love that God gave His Son (John 3:16), not in sick, twisted pleasure to see Jesus tortured.

Nevertheless, this is the argument that must be made in a system that embraces unconditional predetermination (God plans the course of the world without conditions). If unconditional predetermination is true (God doesn’t consider giving His creatures free will, etc.), then God is the author of sin and evil---even if Boettner claims that God only “permits” it.

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