Thursday, June 19, 2008

God is No Respecter of Persons

For there is no partiality with God. (Romans 2:11)

Over the past month or so, I have seen this verse used to defend the idea that those who haven’t heard the gospel of Jesus Christ may still be covered by the blood of Christ even though they would not have placed their faith in Christ. I have also seen this verse used as the primary Scriptural cudgel used to attack the “demonic doctrine”1 of predestination. In either occasion in my experience, when it comes down to it, the issue that is being defended is the free will of man to choose God apart from divine sovereignty.

This verse seems to be utterly debilitating to the doctrine of election if, as the King James Version puts it, “there is no respect of persons with God” means that God gives all men everywhere from all times the exact same ability and opportunity to respond to the gospel. Whereas the individuals who I have seen use this verse may not have stated their position in just this way, the issue remains the same because users of this verse for this reason hold that God would be a liar if this were untrue. And I agree, if Romans 2:11 means that all people everywhere for all time have the same opportunity and ability to respond to the gospel, then God would be called a liar if the doctrine of election were true. But is that what this verse is saying?

In the first three chapters of Romans, Paul is making the case that all men everywhere, in fact, have not honored God as they ought and therefore do not measure up to God’s standards. In fact, the summary of Paul’s argument up to that point is one of the most memorized verses in the New Testament,

For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

Paul goes into great detail as to why man is in this predicament, whether or not he’s heard the law of God before, and the end result is the same; Man falls short of God’s perfect standard and is justly under condemnation because of what we have done. And moving forward from Romans chapter three, Paul begins to unfold the great doctrine of justification by faith alone apart from works of the law or any human righteousness.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

With the general flow of the first few chapters of Romans established, we now have the perspective to look at Romans 2:11 to find out if using this verse to proclaim or defend the more Arminian understanding of the doctrine of free will. In the whole flow of the first few chapters of Romans, Paul is not addressing the issue of election or free will; he is making the case for the universal depravity of mankind. He does address these issues in detail, specifically in chapters eight and nine, but that issue has not been introduced in the first few chapters.

In the first 17 verses of chapter one, Paul gives his salutation and opens his letter with some statements concerning the gospel and the fact that it is the power of God for salvation for all who believe (Romans 1:16). Paul also gives us glimpses of the gospel in chapter two when he admonishes us that it is God’s kindness, tolerance, and patience that lead the sinner to repentance (Romans 2:4). However, what Paul is saying in verse eleven is made very plain with the immediate context of that verse.

9 There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 11 For there is no partiality with God. 12 For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; (Romans 2:9-12)

Paul’s statement about God showing “no partiality” or being “no respecter of persons” (KJV) is a statement regarding God’s judgment on mankind. Furthermore, I submit that he is saying that all men stand condemned by God in this text even though verse 10 speaks of God giving a positive reward to those who do good. The reason is that in just a few lines, Paul quotes the Old Testament stating that there are none who do good, and his conclusion is that all men fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and the penalty of this offense is death (6:23).

It is true that God doesn’t discriminate on account of race, gender, or social status when it comes to salvation (Gal 3:28; Col 3:11). In other words, being a woman, a slave, a barbarian, or a Jew doesn’t disqualify you from the God’s promise to forgive your sins if you repent of them and trust in His son. This is not either affirming or discrediting the doctrine of election, it simply affirms that there can be (and there will be) people of every tribe, tongue, and nation in Heaven with Christ (Rev 5:9).

It is also true that Christians are not to show partiality in regards to Christian fellowship. One believer is the same as the next. James condemns showing favoritism for a rich man over a poor man in the gathering of believers. Again, we are all of equal worth in Christ Jesus, and we must not discriminate on account of social status, ethnicity, or gender when it comes to our fellowship.

In short, the truth that God is no respecter of persons is in no way related to the doctrine of election, whether you agree with that doctrine or not. This verse is explicitly talking about the universality of judgment and condemnation of mankind on account of sin. This is seen from the surrounding few verses as well as the overall argument that Paul is making in the first three chapters of Romans.

1 TheVineRhyme, “Predestination”, youtube video. 0:40 – 0:54. Uploaded on 5/21/08.

Unreliable Cultists and the Mormon Jesus

Over the past few weeks, some missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints have been coming around my neighborhood. Each time that they’ve come around, my wife has just happened to be outside and I’ve either been putting my boys to bed or not at home. According to my wife, their conversations have been pleasant and she’s held her own recognizing some of the subtleties of their language as being concerning. For instance, nearing the end of one of their conversations she said, “You know, there’s nothing better than talking about Jesus” to which they responded by saying, “Yes, there’s nothing better than talking about the church.”

Now, I don’t know all of the reasons for them to make the distinction that they did, but perhaps it was because my wife had been defending historic Christian doctrine about Christ and salvation in the midst of their heretical characterizations of Him. But wherever the conversation went on those two days, my wife said one thing on both occasions. “My husband would love to talk to you.”

It is true that I enjoy talking about Christ and the gospel. Most often these conversations are with my wife, my children, my brother-in-law, or a few of my Christian co-workers. But I’ll also try to talk about Christ and the gospel with co-workers who aren’t Christians as well as anyone else who’ll engage me in a conversation. This is not to say that I do aggressive street evangelism to strangers, but I will take any conversational open door that comes my way. I don’t say this to impugn street witnessing, but as a self-impugning confession that I truly want to change. Because, hey, there’s nothing wrong and almost everything right with politely asking someone to talk, and then witnessing to them in a reasonable and gentle way.

After the last conversation with my wife, the Mormons made an appointment to come back to my home this past Tuesday evening at 7:30 PM so that I could talk with them. When my wife informed me of this arrangement, I was both excited and a bit nervous. But, when Tuesday rolled around I was reading Colossians and studying up on what the Bible says about the eternality of Jesus Christ so that I could have those verses fresh on my mind to counter the Mormon assertions that Jesus is a created being.

We setup a patio table in our garage (in case of rain), setup four chairs, and even made some lemonade so that we could all sit comfortably while we tried to convert each other. But 7:30 came and went and there were no Mormons sitting at my table telling me about the fact that there are still prophets today. My wife and I were getting disappointed, but I made the comment that perhaps these young men were still on Utah time, and so 7:30 on their watches would be 8:30 on ours. I didn’t really think that was the case, but I was really looking forward to speaking with them. Well, once 9PM rolled around, it was a pretty fair certainty that they were not going to show up, and we packed away our gear and retreated to the mosquito-free inside of our home.

While I was preparing to discuss some of the more troubling aspects of Mormon theology, I really had only a few goals for our conversation. I wanted to give some Scripturally sound answers to their assertions about their understanding of Jesus, grace, works, baptism, salvation, and God. They believe that Jesus is their savior, but the Jesus they believe in is not the Jesus revealed in the Bible. They believe that they’re saved by grace, but they confess that they’re saved by grace “after all that we can do”. In other words, they’re saved by their works. This is evident when you pose the “knife in the back” scenario.

The “knife in the back” scenario is simply that you set the stage that you’re a man who has a knife in his back, and you’re going to die in minutes. You confess that you’re not religious, but you’re scared of going to hell. Then you ask for them to tell you what you can do to escape hell. I’ve posed this to Mormons in the past, and their reaction is very telling. The last time that I did this, the young men said plainly that you can’t be saved in three minutes. The obvious biblical rebuttal to their assertion is the account of the thief on the cross or Jesus’ parable of the tax collector and Pharisee at the temple.

But even more important than the truth that their salvation method is wrong is the truth that their Jesus is wrong too. They believe that Jesus is the firstborn son of the former man Elohim. They believe that Jesus, like Elohim before him, was born as a man who then was exalted to deity and given his own domain to rule as god. The Bible is emphatic that Jesus existed from the beginning (Isaiah 9:6; John 1:1; 8:58) and was not created. He is the first-born of creation (Col 1:25) in that He has power over creation and is the pre-eminent one. The Mormon Jesus is not the same as the Jesus of the Scriptures. Believing in the Mormon Jesus will not save anyone any more than believing in a fictitious 11th century red-headed Viking warlord named Jesus who lived in Scandinavia. That fictitious person isn’t the savior of mankind, God incarnate, and neither is the Mormon understanding of Jesus.

He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. (John 5:23b)

Even if the Mormons had a perfect doctrine (which they don’t) of salvation that was by grace through faith alone and not of works, they would be left unsaved because they do not place their faith in the truly revealed Son of God.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Is the Atonement of Jesus Christ Limited?


"I had rather believe a limited atonement that is efficacious for all men for whom it was intended, than a universal atonement that is not efficacious for anybody..." - C.H. Spurgeon
"...the Arminian view of the atonement can be compared to a wide bridge that extends most of the way across a river." - Loraine Boettner

The video correctly states that the "L" in the Reformed acronym is the most missunderstood and potentially offensive part of reformed soteriological theology. It is primarily because of this doctrinal conviction on the part of historic Calvinistic theology that the presense of four-point Calvinists is prolfic.

It was my struggling to understand this doctrinal statement that kept me "in the closet", as it were, for a few years when it cam to being openly Calvinistic. Even though the quotes that I have written out are in the video, I believe that some of them pack such a punch that they need to be restated. That is true for proponents of a particular redemption as well as its oponents. If I could summarize the objection in my mind that continually led me to question my tendencies for believing in a general atonement, it would be the issue that a steadfast Arminian raised.
many Arminians whose theology is not very precise say taht Christ paid the penalty for our sins. Yet such a view is foreign to [historical] Arminianism, which teaches instead that Christ suffered for us. Arminians teach that what Christ did He did for every person; therefore what He did could not have been to pay the penalty, since no one would then ever go into eternal perdition. - Dr. J. Kenneth Grider,

Copyright © 2005-2010 Eric Johnson