Every genuine believer has at some time in his life attempted to reconcile God’s Sovereign choice with man’s responsibility. I very strongly believe in God’s sovereign electing choice, but I also just as strongly believe in human choice.
God is sovereign in His counsels, will and choice. He does not make a sovereign decree that is in any way dependent on human choice. If this were true, He would not be God, but would be a dependent creature such as we are (Rom 9:20).
Election is God’s sovereign choice. “Chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4) should never be weakened to say that God foreknew who would believe and on the basis of His foreknowledge chose them. This is a wrong interpretation of 1 Peter 1:2 that robs God of His sovereign will.
Election and predestination are distinct and different. Election has to do with persons (Eph 13; Titus 1:1), predestination has to do with purpose, that is, what God predetermined for those who are saved, for example, that they will be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom 8:29-30).
Election is a positive and not a negative truth. The election of God is never for condemnation or punishment. Pharaoh hardened his own heart many times before God hardened it (Rom 9:14-18). We were all on the broad road to destruction when God in the riches of His grace saved us.
Does the above teaching not mean that God determines who will be saved and man has no choice in it? No, it does not. The Scriptures also teach human responsibility so that whenever a soul is lost it is because he rejects Christ of his own will: “He that rejecteth Me and receiveth not my words hath one that judgeth him, the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.” Because many have chosen to refuse His grace and wilfully reject His Son does not make God the cause of their damnation. There are many verses that teach human responsibility -human choice. However, there is a verse that covers almost everything that is taught about human choice and it is a grand Gospel text: “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way, and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa 53:6). This means that every man is a moral creature with a choice.
God holds man accountable for his choice to sin. God’s will did not override man’s will in the Fall. God also holds man accountable for his unbelief. This was the Lord’s teaching in John 15:22-25, “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin. He that hateth me hateth my Father also. If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.” Will a righteous God hold man accountable for unbelief when he is not capable of belief? I believe that man is given the option to accept or reject Christ.
Does this mean that we believe in a contradiction in the Bible? We say on one hand that we believe that salvation depends on God’s sovereign choice without reference to anything man does and yet, believe it is human choice for which man is totally responsible.
The difficulty is in our minds. The truth lies in both extremes, not in any logic that attempts to reconcile them. This is truth that transcends our minds. After all, God understands many things that are beyond us. A very similar case could be made for Divine Persons in the Godhead. Three “Personas” who are co-equal, co-eternal and co-substantial, yet One Lord, is truth far beyond our minds, but it is true and shows that God is transcendent, beyond our greatest thought. Even in physics, light has two seemingly contradictory properties Light is made up of waves, yet it is particles. This is a contradiction, but the physicist uses both definitions and finds that both are true and work in their own ways.
There are many verses that prove that the Gospel is for the “whosoever” without limitation (John 3:16, Rev 22:17). There is a righteousness of God which “is toward all, and upon all those who believe” (Rom 3.22). The Holy Spirit “convicts the world in respect of sin and of righteousness and of judgment” (John 16:8). We rejoice in the unlimited scope of “whosoever will” and would shudder to diminish its value by a hair’s breadth.
Perhaps one of the most powerful proofs of man’s responsibility is found in 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12. Those who are eternally lost could have been saved. The reasons giving for their ultimate punishment is that “they received not the love of the Truth (Christ) that they might be saved” (v 10). This statement agrees with John 3:16-18. The “world might be saved” (John 3:17), even those who perish eternally “might be saved” (2 Thess 2:10). So “God will have all men to be saved” (1 Tim 2:4). He elected no one to be damned.
Yet, I do not tell a troubled soul, “Christ died for you”. Why? Because this is substitution. I testify to substitution -that Christ died for me; I preach propitiation, that is that satisfaction has been given to God that is sufficient for all men to be saved (Rom 3:25, 1 John 2:2).
Wm. Blane wrote,
The atonement was no business act
In which the Saviour did contract
To undergo so many pains
That He might cleanse so many stains.
He gave His all – His life’s blood flowed
To reconcile the world to God.
The greatest error that is linked to radical election teaching is that the sufferings of Christ on the cross have limited value. This doctrine of Limited Atonement is a denial of the infinite Person who suffered and the infinite value of His work. The reason for insisting on infinite value in the sufferings of Christ on the cross is that at least ten times in the New Testament we are told that “He gave Himself… He offered Himself… He sacrificed Himself.” This is much more than even a life given or blood shed, He gave His all. The Lord Jesus, the infinite Person of infinite worth gave His all. We should never limit the infinite value of such a sacrifice. “Christ also hath loved us and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour” (Eph 5:2). Who would dare to limit the value of such a sacrifice?