Friday, November 30, 2012

God and Man: The Nature of Grace, Sin and Free Will


            Since the Beginning of Christian Theology, there has been great confusion, on what seems to be ambiguous, of the doctrine of soteriology. People throughout the centuries have argued, literally to death, on what the Bible speaks of concerning salvation and the nature of grace. It seems hard to argue the meaning of a lot of verses in Scripture, especially in the book of Romans, which seems to explicitly speak of the monergistic side of the nature of grace. Therefore, since we know that the book of Romans seems highly educated on the subject of grace, let’s not waste any more time and delve into the crevices of theology that are found there.
                It seems that most of the theological dialogue that has been going on through the centuries has taken most of its support from the book of Romans. In arguing against Pelagius, Augustine himself brings up many points using the strength of the book of Romans, and many other theologians seem to struggle with what seems to be the ambiguity of the book of Romans concerning this subject of monergism and synergism.

Theological interaction and Biblical support

            Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (NIV Ro 5:12). Here Paul explains that sin entered through one man and the consequences for that sin, which is death, came to all men, because all sinned. “Because Adam was the first created person, his sin had consequences for all who were to be born into the human race. Paul wrote, ‘In this way death came to all men’ (v. 12)” (Mounce 141). In other words, what Mounce is saying that Paul is explaining is the fact that when Scripture speaks of ‘because all sinned,’ it is clearly meant that when speaking of Adam, in some form or another, it can be understood that mankind sinned. This means that the curse of death came to all through one man; the representative of mankind. If Adam didn’t sin, the next guy would have.
             “For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!  Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification” (NIV Ro 5:15-16). So then, as we read this passage together, it is made clear that the “gift” is not merely free will like the pastor claims, but the gift is actually in salvation itself. This is the greatest gift.
            Since the need for salvation only came after one sin, even though, in chapter 44 of On Nature and Grace Against Pelagius, Augustine states in reply to Pelagius that: ““It is certain,” says he, “that in the earliest age Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel their sons, are mentioned as being the only four persons then in being. Eve sinned, — the Scripture distinctly says so much; Adam also transgressed, as the same Scripture does not fail to inform us; whilst it affords us an equally clear testimony that Cain also sinned: and of all these it not only mentions the sins, but also indicates the character of their sins. Now if Abel had likewise sinned, Scripture would without doubt have said so” (Schaff 136). It is clear upon further reading of the scriptures in Romans however, that “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (NIV Ro 3:22-24; emphasis mine). So, in any event, all have sinned and are in need of salvation. The question remains however, in which way, monergism or synergism, are we saved.
            It seems to have been made clear that the entire human race is condemned for the sin of one man, because that one man represents and defines our humanity. “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (NIV Ro 5:18-19). On top of that, it has also been made clear that salvation comes through the obedience of one man.
            A strong argument lies in the words of Augustine: “That the grace of God is given according to our merits,” if it is not of God’s grace that we begin to believe, but rather that on account of thin beginning an addition is made to us of a more full and perfect belief; and so we first give the beginning of our faith to God, that His supplement may also be given to us again, and whatever else we faithfully ask” (Schaff 499). Another way to say this is that God revealed Himself to us. We did not seek Him out, or know of His existence without Him showing us himself.
            The very fact that God reveals Himself to us in the beginning supports the idea of what the pastor said how “God has implanted within each of us a drive, a desire to love and serve him.” This idea seems self contradicting when speaking of free will. If God has implanted in us a drive, where is there free will in that? The pastor also said that each of us had the ability to love God on our own, yet it is HE who revealed Himself to us. We wouldn’t know to love God on our own unless he revealed Himself to us.
            In his book, Roger Olson explains that Luther’s ‘Theology of the Cross’ shows how the separation between man and God is undone because of the effort put forth by God Himself. “The theology of the Cross proclaims that humans are totally dependent and unable to figure out anything about God apart from God’s own disclosure and leads to discipleship marked by suffering for God and for others” (Olson 382). Olson goes on to explain that Luther shows how “although evidence of God’s existence, power and goodness lies all around in nature, because of sin the human mind sees only idols and rejects the true worship of God in favor of idolatry. Luther looked to Paul in Romans one for support of his rejection of any true natural knowledge of God” (Olson 384).
            This is literally where much of the subject material for the nature of grace, sin and free will, lie. The question after knowing Luther’s take on the natural knowledge of God could then become, “what about a combination of verses such as Romans chapter one verse twenty: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (NIV Ro 1:20), and Matthew chapter seven, verses seven and eight: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (NIV Mt 7:7-8)?
            Since there are so many remote locations in certain countries such as Africa and Russia and China and the like, it would make sense that God’s witness is found in the creation, and as we see in the book of Acts chapter sixteen, verses twenty-two and twenty-three: “Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you” (NIV Ac 17:22-23). In other words, Luther seems partially correct in the idea that “evidence of God’s existence, power and goodness lies all around in nature, [but] because of sin the human mind sees only idols and rejects the true worship of God in favor of idolatry.” The fact that the Bible says that there is a witness in nature that God exists, and the fact that all one has to do is ask and they will receive, then it would make sense that all one would have to do is ask, seek and knock, for knowledge of God, and He will honor their effort to know Him as He did in Acts chapter sixteen.
            This is seemingly the beginning of what would even allow the idea of monergism or synergism: Whether God reveals Himself to us, or not. For if He does reveal Himself to us, then that idea would strongly support monergism in that the effort is all up to God. But at the same time, we would technically have free will after we gain knowledge about Him, unless irresistible grace is considered. Therefore it would seem that Luther is correct in his interpretation of these seemingly ambiguous—at first glance—passages of Scripture.

Conclusion and Application

            For the most part, the way some view these seemingly veiled theories, there is great encouragement in understanding the end result: Salvation. Whether one believes in monergism or synergism, Calvinism or Arminianism, “we are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28). My point is this: that everyone has different convictions and the way people read the ambiguous interpretations of some of the passages of Scripture makes little difference to God. What does make a difference is the fact that whether or not one has Jesus. “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (NIV 1 Jn 5:11-12).
            Again we can turn to the book of Romans, and see that simple things such as doctrines and minor beliefs such as having weak faith do not really matter concerning salvation. “The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him” (NIV 14:3; see also Romans 14:1-23). Since we are clearly not to judge other brothers and sisters in Christ because of their beliefs in small doctrines, what about larger matters, such as the doctrines of synergism and monergism?
            In the following passage, Paul is explaining that his prison stay is possibly longer and more terrible because people are preaching the Gospel in order to keep him in trouble more and longer: “It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (NIV Php 1:15-18). As we can see, Paul rejoices even at the fact that pagans are preaching the Gospel of Christ. Even if they preach Christ out of rivalry, they are still spreading the Word. So then, the nature of grace, sin and free will, have a great place in theology, but as far as salvation is concerned, the logistics of salvation (whether one goes to God by free will, or whether God reveals Himself to us irresistibly; see John 14:6), one is still saved after confessing that Jesus is Lord and believing that God has raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9-10). Whether one preaches Christ out of encouragement by those that are predestined, or if he would preach Christ because everyone has equal, free will, Christ is still preached, and there will always be people that for whatever reason turn down the Grace of God, or they will clutch the grace of God and recognize it, accept it, love and obey Him: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and He will come near to you” (NIV Jas 4:7-8).

Written by Nace Howell through the grace of the Lord Jesus

Works Cited
            The Holy Bible: New International Version, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, c1984).
            Robert H. Mounce, Romans, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001, c1995).
            Philip Schaff, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Vol. V (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1997).
            Olson, Roger, The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty centuries of Tradition and Reform (Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL 1999).


  1. But Romans is simply wrong, precisely because all its arguments are based on a profound inability to understand the Old Testament. Who would have thought any apostle would base an elaborate system of soteriology on weird misinterpretations of the Old Testament rather than on a clear "Jesus said"? Its absurd! Yet to this day morons assert that Paul was a real apostle, despite the fact that his aberrant theology is based on nothing but twisting the Old Testament and that he never quotes Jesus except for one time when he makes up the quote "it is better to give than to receive."

  2. Romans has a profound understanding of Old Testament theology. For instance, Paul, the writer of the book of Romans wrote this book in the mid 50's indicating that those who knew Jesus were still around, which, if this book did not have a correct understanding of scripture, then people would have definitely taken it out of existence. In other words, because the generation of people still existed at the time that the book was written as well as when Jesus was on earth, if Romans were so incorrect in its "elaborate system of soteriology, it would have been destroyed. Remember that there were several pharisees and teachers of the Law that were converted (John 11:45; See also the implications of John 7:45-53 and 19:38-39). These converted fall under "those who would have destroyed this 'elaborate system of soteriology.'"
    Paul even says himself that he is not the least inferior to the "super-apostles" (or the original 12 apostles, minus the traitor; see 2 Cor. 11:5 and 12:11). And in the majority of his letters, Paul INTRODUCES HIMSELF as an apostle. If this were not the truth, it would have not survived the pressure of history.
    Just because we do not see this exact quote by Jesus that Paul is referring to, does not mean that He did not say it (John 21:25).
    Its like this... Consider the Roman Road to salvation. It explains the soteriology of Romans: 3:10 says that "'it is written' There is no one righteous, not even one." 3:29 also asks the rhetorical question, "is God the God of the Jews only?" The answer is NO! He is God of all. Period. Therefore, He is the only One to justify sinners and bring them to Him, washed and cleansed because, "ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23;emphasis mine). Because we are sinners, and because God cannot even be near sin because of His holiness, "The wages of sin is death..." but that's not all, for He there is a mediator who has taken our place in sin and death so that "...the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). God shows us His love for us in that "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). With this in mind, we are sinners because we have broken His perfect Law given to Moses. Sadly, the only Law that (even Jewish) commentators suggest that mankind has kept is the Law that tells us to go forth and multiply (Genesis 1:28). Romans 10:9 says that "If we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that He was raised from the dead, then we will be saved. This is the means by which God has fixed the problem of sin. To receive the gift of God which is eternal life, all we must do is call on His name (Romans 10:13). So, because God had created the Law, and because humans are Lawbreakers, we had the need to be cleansed of our sin and God in His great love, met that need. This is what Paul, a pharisee himself (Phil. 3:3-6), turned apostle, was getting at. Romans is clearly not an elaborate system of soteriology invented by Paul or any other man, but it is the observation of soteriology that was created by God and through God, our Lord.

    Written by Nace Howell through the grace of the Lord Jesus

  3. I recognize that most people think something is profound if it is incomprehensible and littered with contradiction. By that standard, yes, the 'understanding' that the author of Romans has of the OT is 'profound.' But by a standard that requires the author to use his sources properly, and to understand passages in context, he is an epic failure.

    Aside from his failure to comprehend the OT is his refusal to even try to interpret JC. He doesn't care what Jesus said; he sidesteps it and jumps into twisting the OT to make a case for what is clearly not found in the OT at all, and what is also not taught by Jesus.

    It is clear the author is shrewd at twisting the OT to make it say whatever he wants; but he is completely inept at properly understanding it.

    Let's attack now the simplistic and wrong notion that Romans set the way for the gospel to be brought to the Gentiles. "Is God the God of the Jews only?" Of course not. But rather than debaucherizing the story of Abraham to make that point, anyone competent with the Old Testament would point to Naaman the Leper. Naaman the leper was 'saved' and without circumcision or conversion to Judaism: ergo, Gentiles can be saved without circumcision or conversion to Judaism, and it was already that way long before Paul, even before Christ. Naaman the leper is the ultimate example. In fact, God is so gracious with him, that he is given permission to fake worshiping a false god, when he says to the prophet 'please pardon me in this thing, that when the king makes me go to the house of Rimon, I bow my head' and the prophet says "you are pardoned." So, rather than a crazy God of infinite rage who cannot pardon a small offense without the contrivances of Romans theology, we find a God who is capable of pardoning a Gentile monotheist even while he pretends to worship a false god. That the author of Romans doesn't deal with the story of Naaman shows me he is biblically illiterate. He clearly has read little beyond Deuteronomy. His entire theology (as with Galatians too) is based on an absurd misinterpretation of Deut 27-28 mainly.

    His absurd misinterpretation is first that God is a tyrant and perfectionist. We don't find this either in the OT or Jesus. Before you trot out one or two isolated stories like the stoning of the man who picked up sticks on the sabbath, please keep in mind the overall context of the Bible. The OT teaches more mercy than is found in Romans or Galatians or the two combined. The god of Pauline theology is presented as an ogre or demon who not only cannot be appeased by anything less than human sacrifice, but who also apparently hates righteousness.

    In Isaiah it is written "I the righteous Lord love righteousness" and that must be kept in mind when reading "All our righteousness is as filthy rags" as must the fact that Isaiah (see chapter 1) was writing to a generation who sought righteousness exclusiveley through CEREMONY (duh, of course that's filthy rags!) But the author of Romans, and his braindead modern followers, misinterpret that passage as if God hates righteousness. "The Lord reward them according to their deeds" as Paul says of Alexander the coppersmith.

  4. One more point that I should make more explicit for those who are followers of Romans/Galatians theology and therefore incapable of understanding what I meant when I said "His entire theology (as with Galatians too) is based on an absurd misinterpretation of Deut 27-28 mainly." You say "With this in mind, we are sinners because we have broken His perfect Law given to Moses." What you meant, of course, was "We are going to burn eternally in hell because we have broken His perfect Law given to Moses." This is the presupposition that is the problem both in Romans/Galatians and in the modern followers thereof. The author of those books half-way read Deut 27-28 about a curse on those who don't keep the Law, but he ignored the listing of what the curse is!!!!!! It ain't no eternal hell. So the very beginning of his theology, the assumption that breaking one minor commandment damns irreconcilably (apart from Jesus) to eternity in hell, fails. Nowhere does the OT teach that.

  5. I do not understand where these "contradictions" are that you speak of, because Paul simply doesn't mention any in opposition to the OT. Paul was alive when Jesus was on earth and the book of John at the end of chapter 21 explains that there are not even enough books in the whole world that can describe all the great things that Jesus has done. In other words, it is possible that not everything that is written by Paul about Jesus is found in the gospels. But everything Paul says concerning Jesus, such as "is God the God of the Jews only?," Is clearly understood by Jesus Himself in John 3:16 (as well as what Paul says in Galatians 3:28), and is not contradicting. In other words, you might not be understanding the message word for word, because the word for word message is simply not there.

    You are clearly well versed in the Bible and understand much of it, but when Naaman was bending over with his master on his arm, it is not that he was condoned for worshiping other gods, it is that Naaman's conviction was that he wanted God to know that he was not worshiping with his master. Naaman wasn't a theologian, he was a warrior. In other words, he didn't understand that God judges the heart and not what man sees. So, Naaman wasn't worshiping falsely or was he excused for it, but he was merely helping the elderly with a physical desire and wanted God to be clear (because he feared Him) on his actions.

    You do not understand what Paul is saying if you think that he is saying that God hates righteousness. He is saying that God requires righteousness, but we as humans are incapable of giving it to Him and that God Himself provided a way for us to be righteous (Ro 6-7). Paul is also not saying that Israelites are seeking exclusively through ceremony, but that at the time, the "Israelites" mentioned in Romans 10 were a specific group of people that the Romans immediately knew of as soon as they read those words. Paul was making a point to his readers about zeal and that knowledge brings understanding, specifically about salvation through Christ.

    In any event, even Jesus says to His Jewish opponents that they should believe in Him, even because of the miracles, if nothing else (John 10:38). With this in mind, if you have something against Paul's writings, remember that he himself explains that he falls under those who are in need of salvation (all through his writings) and emphasizes the focus on Christ: the savior; and the need for the cleansing of sin. I encourage you to understand hermeneutics and perform them when you study. One has to remember that these letters are not conversations, but they are one sided messages that necessitate investigation.

  6. "I do not understand where these "contradictions" are that you speak of," -- Can you really not see how Romans 2:13 contradicts 3:20 for instance:

    Romans 2:13 "It is not the hearers of the law that are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified."

    Romans 3:20 "Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight;..."

    Either the doers of the law will be justified as 2:13 says, or the deeds of the law do not justify as 3:20 says. You can't have it both ways.

    "because Paul simply doesn't mention any in opposition to the OT." -- You apparently were thinking that by 'contradictions' I mean a book of antitheses between the OT and NT written by Paul like what Marcion wrote, "the OT says this, the NT says this." No, I mean that Paul contradicts his own self.

    I admit, however, I do also mean that Paul contradicts the Old Testament, but covertly not overtly. Paul doesn't say "The Old Testament is wrong to say this." Rather he just misuses passages and makes them mean the opposite of what they mean.

    Take for instance Habakkuk 2:4 “Behold how the soul of the arrogant is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live out his faith." -- The meaning is clear: the righteous will obey God because of his faith, whereas the arrogant does not obey. But Paul turns this into meaning that we are justified by a dead alone faith that has no obedience to go with it! He does this, of course, in

    Galatians 3:11 "Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for 'The righteous shall live by faith.'"

    But Habakkuk when he says the just just shall live by his faith is contrasting the just man who, by faith, obeys God, with the arrogant man who does not obey God. Habakkuk does not have in mind the idea that a dead alone faith saves. Nor indeed could Habakkuk, a prophet of the Law, be attacking the Law here! By faith, Habakkuk means faith in the Law itself as much as faith in God, especially since then the Law was the only text they had to create faith in God--they didn't have the gospels! The Law taught them faith by teaching them that God created the world, and the Law's commands were followed up by statements like "for I am the LORD your God" and so it would be absurd to Habakkuk to set faith against the Law, or say as Paul proceeds to say, that "the law is not of faith." Habakkuk's point is precisely the opposite, that the arrogant man who sets himself against the Law has no faith for the just man will live out his faith by obeying the Law. Paul deals dishonestly with the text of the OT.

    1. I shouldn't add this, but I will. Please pay more attention to the above comment than this one. For a further bit on Roman 2:13 and Romans 3:20. There is one way I know of to harmonize the two, but it requires positing a lot of later editing and interpolation in Romans chapter 3.

      Romans 2:13 "It is not the hearers of the law that are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified."

      Romans 3:20 "Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight;..."

      It isn't well known, but the Greek text of Romans 3:20 literally says "Therefore NOT ALL shall be justified by the law..." (as in, some will, some wont). The common translations change "not all" to "none" to make it say that nobody will. We could posit that somewhere along the way someone decided to make 3:20 make a supersessionist point that no Jews will be saved without conversion to Christianity. But this supersessionist point clearly contradicts Romans 2:13, so we see a problem. Getting back behind this editing is the only way to harmonize 3:20 and 2:13, but by the time we've done this, we've had to remove material and so we've called the authoritative nature of the epistles into question. Indeed, for a rational person, there is no way to avoid calling the authority of Romans into question, because 2:13 and 3:20 clearly contradict each other and something must be done. Either we must admit they contradict and always have, which demolishes the authority of the epistle, or we must posit that at one time they were in agreement but interpolations to Romans 3 have made them contradict, but this also demolishes the authority of the epistle.

      The problem can be further found in the next clause of Romans 3:20 which is not found in all manuscripts, and then in the next verse. The clause "for by the law is the knowledge of sin" is the one not found in all manuscripts.

      Ok, so we have in Romans 3:20-22, with that clause in parenthesis:

      "Therefore NOT ALL flesh shall be justified by the deeds of the law (for by the law is the knowledge of sin). But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets, even the righteousness of God which is by faith in Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe..."

      If we ignore the parethetical comment not found in all manuscripts, this reads like : Not everyone will be justified by the works of the law but some will be justified by faith in Christ. At that point, it no longer contradicts 2:13. But, in order to make this work, we must also posit that 3:27-28 are interpolations, and much of Romans 4 is as well.

      So it is simpler to just say that Paul contradicts himself and can't keep his story straight than to try and reconstruct what an earlier more coherent version of the epistle might had said before radical scribes started injecting their own opinions in it. For this reason, I say Paul is simply an inconsistent writer. Its easier to say, and people tend to believe it more readily than the other view, which may be more accurate but is just too complicated for most people. But it is more likely that later anti-Semitism in the church has produced these rants against the law than that Paul couldn't make up his mind whether "the doers of the law shall be justified" as in 2:13 or "by the works of the law shall no flesh (or not all flesh) be justified" as in 3:20. Even so, lets just say Paul was a dummy and contradicted himself since its simpler to understand.

  7. Reply found here: