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A Reasonable Question

10 April 2012 by Frank Turk

Q. 66. What is that union which the elect have with Christ? 
A. The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of God's grace, whereby they are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband; which is done in their effectual calling.

Our faithful friend JIBBS once asked a question which we'll cover here for the sake of the catechism:
Dumb question:

Does God intend to save the non-elect? If so, then why does Paul go to such lengths to teach the doctrine of election? Why did Jesus anger all the folks in the synagogue with his teaching on election recorded in Luke 4?

If not, then in what sense is the "offer/command" distinction to the non-elect germane to this discussion? Is God insincere? Schizophrenic? It can't be both ways.
I think the answer to this question comes in three parts:

[1] the Definition of the doctrine of election and what it means to the Christian.
[2] An examination of Luke 4 (briefly)
[3] A consideration of the “offer/command” to repent.

To answer [1], I would call “da bomb” on the subject of this doctrine, what J.C. Ryle wrote on this subject, linked here for your convenience.

That’s good reading on what election ought to mean and what it ought not to mean – meaning, how much and what kind of influence should the doctrine of election have on the way we think about theology. I’d give the HT for it here, but I can’t remember who steered me to that essay or where they did it.

Given Ryle’s extensive notes on what the doctrine of election is useful for, let’s look at Luke 4 briefly. Here’s what JIBBS is talking about:
    And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
    "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
       because he has anointed me
          to proclaim good news to the poor.
    He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
       and recovering of sight to the blind,
          to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

    And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

    And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, "Is not this Joseph's son?" And he said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Physician, heal yourself.' What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well."

    And he said, "Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian."

    When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.
It’s that highlighted part which JIBBS is referencing, and JIBBS’ question is, “why did the Jews get all bent out of shape when Jesus preached to them about the doctrine of election here?”

I think the answer is, “because Jesus is telling them that God’s choice to save is not as small as their picture of what God’s choice looks like, but sadly God’s choice doesn’t include them.” See – in this passage, the people in Jesus’ home town demanded signs to substantiate His claim that He is here to fulfill the prophet Isaiah (sadly, He didn’t get the verse numbers in there), and Jesus’ reply is somewhat harsh. He says, in effect, that God saves those whom He will -- God is not at the beck and call of men.

That’s monergism, amen? God saves whom He will. He doesn’t save because of what family you belong to – Zarephath had no family, no pedigree. And He doesn’t save based on what you do – because Naaman was an enemy of Israel, and a keeper of Israelites as slaves. So the Jews in Nazareth couldn’t demand salvation from God – they had no basis to do so.

So what’s up with [3] then? If Jesus is here saying, “you cannot demand salvation from God,” how can we take the offer to forgive inherent in the command to repent seriously? Does it mean that God is somehow teasing men with His offer?

I think this forgets that the monergistic view is that salvation is God’s work alone. Solo Christo, sola gratia, sola fide. In that order.

If we asked JIBBS, “Hey JIBBSy: since man is T-TULIP Totally depraved, where does God get off handing us the Law? If we will not obey it, isn’t God just teasing us?” And JIBBS, being of a sound mind and body [sic], would say, “God gives us the Law for a two-fold reason: the first is to prove to us we are lawless men, and the second is to prove He is a Holy God.” And if JIBBS had had his coffee that morning, he might add: “And lest we forget, Ps 119 tells us that God’s word is also given to us for our own good as instruction, and Lev 19 underscores that by noting that the basis of lawful treatment of others is love – the way we know how to treat each other is by asking the question, ‘does this action demonstrate love?’”

JIBBS would “get it” about God and the Law – man can’t keep the Law, but that doesn’t mean God is a shyster or a bully for providing it. God is a provider -- El Shaddai, Yahovah Jirah. So why does JIBBS (though not only JIBBS) not get it when it comes to the repent/forgive aspect of what God does?

I think it is because JIBBS is concerned that God giving us things which we cannot do for ourselves is somehow stingy. If God makes an offer we cannot take up, isn’t that a tease?

Here’s the problem with that question: while it is ultimately true that we cannot take up the offer, it is not because we cannot see the choice or recognize its value: it is because we are not willing to take it up, and that’s a whole other ball of wax.

Let’s imagine me for a second – a guy of average height who is overweight. My choices to eat, because I live in America, are pretty wide open – I could eat a healthy diet which includes only 6 ounces of meat each day and less than 1800 calories (to maintain a decent weight; it’ll take less than 1200 to get down to 170 – that and a miracle) and like 50 servings of vegetables, but what I choose to do is eat Cheeseburgers, and Italian subs, and french-fries with extra salt, and KFC, and that wicked gravy on the biscuits, and sausage, and eggs, and … well, you get the idea: left to my own devices, eventually I’ll look like the Kingpin or (more likely) Homer Simpson.

So my doctor intervenes – he tells me, “cent: dude, if you don’t lose this weight, you’re going to die young and leave your family fatherless and husbandless. And dude – your kids are great and your wife [if you’ll forgive me] is hot. Don’t die young – eat right and lose the weight. Here’s a diet you could follow – and you just have to ballpark your calorie count each day. Do this because it is good for you.”

So I read the diet, and he’s right – I’ll bet that would be better for me. But after trying it for one day, I am insanely hungry. Just one McD 99-cent cheeseburger isn’t going to break the bank. But two weeks later, I’m up 2 lbs.

Now, listen: we have to ask ourselves: is it the Doctor’s fault that I will not follow the diet? His diet is good, and for those who follow it, it achieves the right end. But he gave it to me, and while I can agree that if the really, really fat guy over there followed it he wouldn’t have to wear a size “Goodyear” with a digital sign on the posterior, I think I’m not that fat and what’s a pound a week every week until I die at 53 and they have to cut a garage door into the living room to lift me out with a Bobcat?

It’s not the Doctor’s fault I will not follow the diet. I will not follow the diet – I choose based on what I like and who I really am. I may look like a slightly overweight middle-aged guy, but I am really a giant house of flubber in a 7-X sweat suit just waiting to arrive.

Man’s inability is not a prohibition: it is a choice. Man eats cheeseburgers rather than spinach salads because man likes cheeseburgers and doesn’t like spinach salads. That’s who man is.

And in exactly the same way, God’s offer to save men – that is, to forgive them, to accept repentance and return forgiveness for repentance – is a choice. But it is not man’s choice. It is God’s choice to give man something he lacks.

And that’s not the offer: That’s the salvation for men who refuse the offer. It’s the consequences of what God will do in spite of man’s bad, um, taste.

The consequences of the offer – that is, someone is actually and finally saved – is not the same as the act of offering. The reason is that all men, instinctively, refuse the offer at face value. And if God was only concerned about Justice and Holiness and Wrath, He could commence with the fireworks. But God is also concerned with Mercy and Love – and that means He’s not only concerned with offering forgiveness, but He is also committed to making salvation and actually forgiving. He is going to save – even those who, when they first hear about this salvation, would rather kill the messenger. You know: like Paul.

The offer is one thing: the actual saving is another. God is merciful and kind to offer forgiveness for repentance; God is loving and generous to save those who even refuse the offer because God seems like spinach salad to these cheeseburger eaters. And for those who are curious, I’m glad that God changed me from a guy who loves moral cheeseburgers to a guy who loves moral spinach salads instead. Because I recognize what I used to be as compared to what I am now.

Thanks for asking a reasonable question. I hope that’s a reasonable answer.