Friday, April 30, 2010

Exploring the Hermeneutical Dilemma, Part II-B (2): How the Divine Sovereignty/Human Responsibility Debate Undergirds the Doctrine of Eternal Security

“What rest of faith is ours if we know that we are not only saved but SAFE! Alas, there are a good many who are so fearful because they feel that although they were saved at some time or another, they are not yet secure! They seem to think that although saved one day they may be lost the next. Thus, they must strive and struggle to keep their salvation. But because salvation is not something but SOMEONE and that One, Christ Himself, IT IS LUDICROUS FOR SHEEP TO TRY AND KEEP THE SHEPHERD. DID HE NOT SAY THAT THE KEEPING IS HIS RESPONSIBILITY? ‘Those whom Thou hast given Me, I have kept’ (John 17:12)” (“All the Doctrines of the Bible: A Study and Analysis of Major Biblical Doctrines” by Herbert Lockeyer. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1964, page 223).

In my last post, I brought up a debate that I have also studied, one that ties directly into the Eternal Security debate: and that is, the divine sovereignty/human responsibility debate. Divine sovereignty is, by definition, referring to the power of God and God’s rule over His world (including humanity). The concept of human responsibility is that humans are responsible to their Creator for what they do with what they have been given. After all, in the end, we will be judged for every deed we have done, whether good or bad (2 Cor. 5:10).

How then, do these two concepts fit together? Let’s take the issue of salvation, for example. God gives grace and faith (Eph. 2:8-9) and these are “the gift of God.” So then, what do we do with the Scriptures that tell man he must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ? We can reconcile grace and faith as gifts (on one hand) and the responsibility of human repentance (on the other) by saying that God gives salvation (Eph. 2), but we must receive it by faith (Romans 10:9, John 3:16). In this manner, both divine sovereignty and human responsibility are preserved.

What about in the issue of temptation? Does God cause a person to sin? Does He predetermine that I sin (and then I freely choose it)? No. Read 1 Corinthians:

“No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; BUT GOD IS FAITHFUL, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation WILL ALSO MAKE THE WAY OF ESCAPE, THAT YOU MAY BE ABLE TO BEAR IT” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NKJV).

So in every temptation, God’s preservation power is there; but that power ENABLES me to resist temptation, not FORCES me to resist it.

Two more passages show us that God’s power in our lives is “enabling,” not “determining”:

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, WORK OUT YOUR OWN SALVATION with fear and trembling; FOR IT IS GOD WHO WORKS IN YOU both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13, NKJV).

Since God is at work in the believers (His preservation power is there), then we are given grace-enabled responsibility to “work out our own salvation.” Notice that “work out” is an imperative here, a command, meaning that the believer is the one that’s supposed to work out their salvation (God is not responsible for working out our salvation).

Hebrews 13:20-21 states (use the Apologetics Study Bible---HCSB),

“Now may the God of peace, who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus----the great Shepherd of the sheep----WITH THE BLOOD OF THE EVERLASTING COVENANT, EQUIP YOU WITH ALL THAT IS GOOD TO DO HIS WILL, WORKING IN US what is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Heb. 13:20-21, HCSB).

With Hebrews 13, we see that God “equips” the believer “with all that is good to do His will.” This tells us that God gives us the resources to please Him. He does not leave us to find them for ourselves (since we are totally unable to please Him without His help). In the Christian life, the Lord has equipped the believers with what they need to do His will, to please Him. But the question remains: “Why does He give me the resources to do His will?” If the Lord desired to force us to please Him, then why give me the resources? This is the equivalent situation of a math teacher who tells me that I need a calculator, ruler, notebook, paper, pencil, and compass...but then turns around and supplies all the needed tools. If the teacher plans to give me all the tools, why would she require me to bring them myself? So the fact that God gives me what I need to please Him indicates that the Lord EXPECTS me to use what He has given me in order to please Him. If I don’t do what He requires, then, the fault is all mine and none of God’s.

Well, then, how does this apply to the issue of eternal security? I’ll reprint Lockeyer’s words here:

“But because salvation is not something but SOMEONE and that One, Christ Himself, IT IS LUDICROUS FOR SHEEP TO TRY AND KEEP THE SHEPHERD. DID HE NOT SAY THAT THE KEEPING IS HIS RESPONSIBILITY? ‘Those whom Thou hast given Me, I have kept’ (John 17:12).”

First, let’s deal with Lockeyer’s verse reference (John 17:12). What Lockeyer does is take the verse out of its context. Even though Jesus has said, “those whom You gave Me I have kept,” Jesus goes on a few verses down and says,

“I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, BUT THAT YOU SHOULD KEEP THEM FROM THE EVIL ONE” (John 17:15, NKJV).

Why is Jesus praying for the disciples, if the fact that He kept them GUARANTEES them in Heaven?

There is another piece of evidence against Lockeyer’s view, which comes from John 18, the chapter right after Jesus’ prayer:

“Then He [Jesus] asked them again, ‘Whom are you seeking?’ And they said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus answered, ‘I have told you that I am He. Therefore, if you seek Me, LET THESE GO THEIR WAY,’ THAT THE SAYING MIGHT BE FULFILLED WHICH HE SPOKE, ‘OF THOSE WHOM YOU GAVE ME I HAVE LOST NONE’” (John 18:7-9).

John says that the reference of John 17:12(“Those whom you gave me I have lost none”) refers to physical preservation from physical death. The context of John 18 concerns Jesus’ death. In John 18:4, it says that Jesus “knew all things that would come upon Him.” What are these “things that would come upon Him?” His arrest, trial, conviction, and crucifixion!

Next, look at the fact that Jesus responds negatively to Peter’s action of cutting off the servant’s ear:

“Put your sword into the sheath. SHALL I NOT DRINK THE CUP WHICH MY FAHER HAS GIVEN ME?” (Jn. 18:11)

What “cup” must Jesus drink? The cup of His suffering---arrest, trial, conviction, and crucifixion!!!

So the preservation going on in John 17 and John 18 is physical, not spiritual. This is why John wrote (after Jesus asked the men to let the disciples go away), “THAT THE SAYING MIGHT BE FULFILLED WHICH HE SPOKE...” The saying of preservation was FULFILLED, completed, when Jesus asked the guards to let His disciples go free and not suffer the same fate as Himself.

However, when Jesus prays that His own be preserved from the evil one (John 17:15), He is praying here for their spiritual preservation. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that in every temptation the Lord “will also make the way of escape, THAT YOU MAY BE ABLE TO BEAR IT” (1 Cor. 10:13). The Lord desires to preserve us, but is it His fault if He supplies the persevering grace and yet, we refuse to grab ahold of it?

The final question to be answered is, “So how does the divine sovereignty/human responsibility debate undergird the Doctrine of Eternal Security? Well, as I said earlier, it depends on where you stand regarding the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man: if you uphold both concepts, then you will argue that God’s grace does not cancel out man’s faith and perseverance required for final salvation.

Regarding the other view, let’s read part of Lockeyer’s statement once more:


Lockeyer says that the preservation is “HIS RESPONSIBILITY.” Doesn’t that seem a bit unnerving? 1 Corinthians 10:13 told us that in every temptation the Lord gives us a way of escape. This, then, is His preservation power; but what about the other commands (imperatives) of Scripture that we’ve been studying, such as “keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 21)? If it is God’s responsibility to keep us, then we don’t need to “keep ourselves in the love of God”; instead, it is all Christ’s responsibility. But if we make this statement, then the speech-act theory (in which commands require human action in Scripture) means nothing: Jude was making a statement, then(“keep yourselves in the love of God”), that served no purpose---because the believers were not to keep themselves or have any responsibility (only God)! That’s a shocking thought all together...

Ask yourselves this: If it’s God’s responsibility to keep us, then how can we say this and still hold to the BIBLICAL (key word here) concepts of “divine sovereignty and HUMAN responsibility”? To argue Lockeyer’s position is to argue a position that goes against Scripture (and is contradictory). The word “contradiction” itself means “contra” (against) “diction” (speaking). Lockeyer’s position goes “against that which is spoken,” meaning in this case, “that which is spoken in the Bible.”
I will show how the Doctrine of Eternal Security impacts one’s theological system in my next post.

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