THE WILL OF GOD IN THE SALVATION OF MAN

CHOICE. What is it about that word that makes it so appealing? Personally, I think it’s part of what makes us human. We value our freedom and the ability to determine for ourselves what we shall do or not do. The word is used in everything from abortion debates to facemasks. However, one place I can’t understand it existing is in soteriology. Now, I’m not saying we don’t make a choice, from a finite human perspective, in our salvation and acceptance of Christ as Savior, but the word has no bearing on the monergistic act of God in the salvation of mankind. Despite this truth, there have always been debates among Christians when it comes to man’s role in salvation. Even of those who readily admit God is the One who effected salvation, most still desperately cling to the idea that man had to make the free choice, and to choose wrongly would result in eternal death. The idea is that God has invited His creation into eternity and the onus is now on us. Friends, this isn’t what the Bible says! The following image is from a Facebook post made by Dr. Leighton Flowers on his Soteriology 101 page.

Instead of beginning with what John is not saying, I’ll begin with what he is saying, and then demonstrate why it simply cannot (not merely does not) mean what Dr. Flowers suggests. To get a better understanding, we need to understand the context as well as any potential fallacies within the above claim.

“For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40, NASB)

Both sides of the soteriological discussion can appreciate this verse. That said, we both have very different takeaways of what Jesus was actually saying. The Arminian or Provisionist will undoubtedly say one must believe in Jesus in order to be raised up on the last day. They’ll argue that the will of the Father is their final resting place should they maintain faith in Christ. With this in mind, is that actually what Jesus was teaching? I argue against such an interpretation. In reality, I don’t really even need to argue it. I just need to set the stage with the context already painted by our Lord Himself. The will of the Father is not merely the final resting place. It’s actually of those who will be in Christ, and of those who will not be.

“Everything that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I certainly will not cast out.” (John 6:37, NASB)

Notice it doesn’t say anything about the Father giving a potential resting place. Jesus literally says the one who comes to Him does so because the Father has given him to the Son. But doesn’t it just say “everything” has been given to the Son, but the one who comes still has to do so of his own will? While it’s possible one could interpret it that way, to do so, he must first strike verse 44 from his Bible.

“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him;” (John 6:44, NASB)

There is no ambiguity here. Out of Jesus’ own mouth, He has said no one can come to Him unless he is drawn by the Father. I suppose the argument could be made that the Father draws everyone but not everyone will come. After all, this is the premise of the claim being made in the graphic above. However, such an argument turns into one of wordsmithing. The Greek word literally means for something to be dragged or impelled. It’s used a total of eight times in the New Testament; five of those being found in John (6:44; 12:32; 18:10; 21:6; 21:11). In all cases, it refers to an outside force pulling up fishing nets, drawing a sword, or dragging men from one place to another. Yet, in John 6:44, the argument is that it is a mere invitation.

People who claim this will say one can come if drawn by the Father, but there’s no guarantee that such a person will come. However, once again, this interpretation requires another striking of Scripture. In this case, one would have to strike out verse 40 (see above). Of course, by this point, the counterpoint typically becomes one of claiming the Father draws everyone, not everyone will come even though they all now possess the ability, and that person must now remain in their faith if they hope to be raised on the last day. Is that checkmate? Of course not!

“And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of everything that He has given Me I will lose nothing, but will raise it up on the last day.” (John 6:39, NASB)

The will of the Father is that Christ should lose nothing He has been given. All who are given to Christ will be raised on the last day. Here’s the breakdown:

  • No man can come unless he is drawn by the Father (v.44).
  • The Father does NOT draw everyone because everyone who is drawn will be raised on the last day (v.44).
  • Those who are to be raised on the last day are those who come to the Son (v.39).
  • Those who come to the Son are only those who were given to the Son by the Father through the monergistic act of drawing (v.37).
  • Those who come to the Son will remain in the Son, and abide in their belief (v.40), because it is the will of the Father (v.39).

Now that we’ve established what the passage DOES say, let’s look at why it CANNOT say what Dr. Flowers claims. In an attempt to refute the effectuality of the word ἕλκω (G1670) in verse 44, he attempts to utilize John 6:65. His claim is that Jesus, in verse 65, speaks of men merely being enabled. Unfortunately for him, it appears his entire argument rests upon the New International Version. It’s true that the NIV translates δίδωμι (G1325) as “enables,” but does that mean it’s accurate? John uses this word quite often. In every instance, it’s in reference to something being given to someone. Not once does he use it in a sense of enablement. In fact, every other reputable translation opts to translate it as either given or granted. For instance, the NASB says, “…unless it has been granted him from the Father.” The KJV says, “except it were given unto him of my Father.” Yet, the NIV decided to go with, “unless the Father has enabled them.” This is just a poor translation that possibly displays personal bias over what is actually being said.

If there was a way to definitively affirm that Jesus was merely speaking of enablement, vice effectuality, Dr. Flowers might have a leg to stand on. However, since his premise rests upon a poor English translation, it gets knocked down quite easily. In reality, John 6:65 fully supports the rest of the passage but not for the reason he states. It’s because, once again, John recognizes that no man can come to Christ unless he is drawn by the Father, and no man is drawn by the Father unless he is given to Christ. To tie it all together, all who are drawn will indeed come and shall be raised on the last day.

Every facet of salvation is from God alone. He chooses, He draws, He sustains, and He raises. Yes, we do make a choice to believe the gospel, but our belief in the gospel is actually effected through our regeneration when our heart of stone is removed and we are given a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). At this point, we are no longer the natural man who lacks the ability to understand (1 Corinthians 2:14), but we are now reborn as new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17). If you know Christ, be thankful God chose you before the foundation of the world that He might be glorified through your honorable use (Romans 9:21). If you do not know Christ but feel the call of God, I urge you to place your trust in the risen Savior and understand that that feeling is nothing less than God Himself working His good work within. Soli Deo Gloria!

~ Travis W. Rogers

Leighton’s Ministry of Selfishness

In a twist that would make M. Night Shyamalan’s head spin, Leighton Flowers recently released an hour-plus long video on … Calvinism! In his latest installment of Quantity over Quality, Leighton joins his friend, Eric Kemp, in trying to smoke out the Hyper-Calvinist of John Piper’s doctrine by setting a stadium’s worth of strawmen on fire. They review a video where Piper warns against the dangers of Hyper-Calvinism, and they allege that no one’s sure who these Hyper-Calvinists are anyways, but, at the same time, Hyper-Calvinism is a great, looming danger, and Piper’s views would lead to Hyper-Calvinism if consistently applied!

If you were looking for compelling reasons why Hyper-Calvinism is the inevitable conclusion of biblical orthodoxy (also known as Calvinism), you’ll be disappointed. The same miserable, sunken-eyed arguments are again mustered to the front lines as the Chobham-armored Holy Bible steadily rolls through. Such arguments have been answered time and time again, including quite excellently by Sean and Dan, hosts of the Particular Baptist Podcast. Essentially, all Leighton’s points boil down to his inability to grasp compatibilism, and that the certainty of ends doesn’t diminish the significance (or culpability) of the means which accomplish those ends.

There’s no need for me to replicate the work of my brothers. Rather, the concern of this article will be the selfish, man-centeredness of Leighton Flowers’s position, borne out especially by several statements made by him and Eric in this video. Cast under the light of Scripture, the many miles of distance between their human philosophy and the inspired, God-honoring teachings of the Holy Spirit will be made patently clear. And, as a bonus, I will conclude by addressing that supposedly “unanswerable” objection that Leighton brings up towards the end of the video.

No doubt stemming from a bad conscience, Eric complains that Calvinists, like Piper, are “so polemical and pejorative” (1:10:00) whenever they rebuke their autonomous free-will, mini-gods theory. He asks, “Can popular Calvinist pastors and pundits make arguments without calling [people like me] a self-idolater?” Well, it’s hard to blame Piper when synergists like Eric tell us (in the same video) that one of his problems with Calvinism is that it results in God doing something that doesn’t depend on him or his skill as a preacher (32:15, 36:04). Oh, what a ghastly thought! The horror of thinking that the power of salvation might not rest on me and my abilities as a preacher, but on the message preached (1 Corinthians 1:17-21)! To think, as the Bible says, that the Gospel “is the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16), and not me and my ability to “meet people where they are … to come off as genuine,” as Eric affirms (36:10).

In contrast to Eric and Leighton, the only skill the Bible demands a preacher to have – when it comes to salvation – is the skill to get out of the way. This was the boast of the Apostle Paul:

And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

1 Corinthians 2:1-5

While a pastor’s erudition, ability to convey information, compassion, and other gifts may serve him well in other areas of the ministry, the Gospel itself can only be hindered when one trusts in his own abilities to save souls. Accordingly, the Apostle Paul, and the greatest preachers since his time, such as Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeon, took great pains to take themselves out of the preaching of the Gospel, trusting that the Holy Spirit works best when the means of salvation is laid bare in its pure form without admixture. Spurgeon says of his ministry:

“I have long worked out before your very eyes the experiment of the unaided attractiveness of the gospel of Jesus. Our service is severely plain. No man ever comes hither to gratify his eye with art, or his ear with music. I have set before you, these many years, nothing but Christ crucified, and the simplicity of the gospel; yet where will you find such a crowd as this gathered together this morning? Where will you find such a multitude as this meeting Sabbath after Sabbath, for five-and-thirty years? I have shown you nothing but the cross, the cross without flowers of oratory, the cross without diamonds of ecclesiastical rank, the cross without the buttress of boastful science. It is abundantly sufficient to attract men first to itself, and afterwards to eternal life!”

Charles Spurgeon. Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 1888, vol. 34, p. 563

The Holy Spirit has thus testified, both in Scripture and in His planting of His Church since then, that the Gospel – not the eloquence of man – is what saves. And so the ministry of selfishness which cries, “Me! My! Myself!” will never save a tenth of the souls saved by the ministries of a Paul, an Edwards, and a Spurgeon, who proclaimed, “God! God! God!

Comparing the difference of attitude, we see that Piper’s charge of self-idolatry was not unwarranted. These are men who hear Paul ask, “Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? (Romans 11:35), and don’t think that the question is rhetorical.

The general man-centeredness of Eric and Leighton was exposed further when they criticized Piper for daring to ground our motivation for evangelism in the Bible. Piper rightly says in his video, “The Bible tells us: preach the Gospel to everyone! And the sheep will hear the Shepherd’s voice in the preaching and follow Him” (5:26). What’s the problem with this? Dr. Flowers explains: “The reason we preach [in Piper’s view], is not because we love everyone and desire everyone’s salvation, because God loves … and wants everyone’s salvation … that’s not the reason you preach, the reason you preach is because we’re told to. In other words, law, not love” (33:12).

No punches can be pulled here. This is one of the most perverted, man-centered, and unbiblical contrasts I’ve ever seen drawn up by a confessing conservative Christian. Leighton sets the commandments given by God, who is Love (1 John 4:8), as OPPOSED to love. How can he justify this odious distortion? True, the condemnation the Law of the Old Testament brings is contrasted to the salvation of the Gospel, but this is not a contrast between law and love. Rather, the Law is an indictment against our love, because we did not love God and neighbor enough to fulfill it. But to have fulfilled it would have been the perfection of love, as Jesus Christ did. To say that obeying the commands of God – even those given in the New Testament – is at odds with love is utterly indefensible. No squirming will get Leighton around the plain teaching of Scripture, which says, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS” (1 John 5:2). Far from being at odds with love, keeping God’s commandments is the highest way of showing our love for Him, and it’s impossible to love Him or even genuinely love others if we don’t strive to keep them. But in Leighton’s twisted worldview, whatever chemical fizz, effervescing sentiments, or passing indigestion we associate with feelings of love is a higher motivation than the command of Love Himself – the Perfect, Holy, and inexhaustibly Good God! I cast the “feelings of love” in such terms not because I’m a stoic, but because that’s all such feelings amount to if they’re divorced from true love, which is always manifested by obedience to the One who is Love. By making his own passing feelings towards others a higher motivation than “Thus saith the LORD,” Leighton erects his own feelings up as a god to be preferred over the true One. This is idolatry, pure and simple. And until he repents of pitting “love” against obedience, it’s appropriate to say as much of him.

The Unanswerable Challenge!

I would’ve wanted to end here, as I believe this is already more than enough material for one blog post. However, towards the end of the video, Leighton issued a challenge that I can’t resist. He issues a great, unanswerable challenge, concerning which he says, “I have not yet heard [Calvinists] actually engage on that point” (55:00). What is this challenge?

“But in a sense they’ve created a good and evil within God by saying there’s … two wills within God, the prescriptive one and the secret one .. within a view of One God you have competing desires” (53:40).

Yeah, that’s right. Never been answered. It’s so unanswerable, in fact, that the first Google suggestion that comes up when you search “God two wills” is an article by the very man they’re critiquing, who provides answers to this question. That article was written 25 years ago, and quotes other men who answered it hundreds of years before that. For a man who’s dedicated his online ministry to attacking Calvinism, you’d think by now he’d have done enough research on the view he consumes himself with that he’d have noticed that some of the most prominent Calvinists in history have addressed his “insurmountable problem,” especially when they can be found via a simple Google search.

So, what’s the answer? Different men have different ways of articulating it, but the “problem” basically stems from a category error on the part of the question. The synergistic challenger imagines that the prescriptive will and the secret will are two of the same kinds of things, and thus make for some kind of contradictory dual nature in God, when, in fact, they bear little resemblance to one another. The secret will is the unified, eternal decree of God which He accomplishes, but the prescriptive will is that which is given to His creatures to accomplish. Unlike His secret will, He does not decree to accomplish His prescriptive will except insofar as it overlaps with His secret will. Instead, the prescriptive will consists of the demands that His creatures must fulfill to live in His presence. God demands perfection – a perfection that was only satisfied in His Son, Jesus Christ – and He cannot allow sinners to abide unpunished who don’t attain it. Sin is loathsome in His sight, hence the Lord says, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). There’s nothing inconsistent in God’s secret will not including our fulfillment of His prescriptive will, because there’s nothing inconsistent in God not willing a sinful creature to live in His presence. What’s more miraculous is that He has willed some sinful creatures to live in His presence by decreeing that they fulfill His prescriptive will to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him, justice is satisfied, and His fulfillment of the entirety of God’s prescriptive will is imputed to us without charge. And not ending there, His Holy Spirit gives us new hearts to desire what He desires, so that His will may be our highest delight – our greatest motivation – rather than our own subjective feelings. Truly, He enables us to make Him our God, that we may abandon the idols of selfishness for good, glorying in the One who has done all of the work, deserving all of our praise.

Soli Deo Gloria

Leighton Flowers and ReCalvinizing 1 Corinthians 2:14

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The professional anti-Calvinist, Leighton Flowers, has made it his life’s work to prop up the autonomy of man against the absolute sovereignty of the God “who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Ephesians 1:11). But this is no easy task; the complete inability of man in the face of an all-powerful God is a theme that permeates the Scriptures, its truth erupting like a geyser wherever its magma gets too close to the surface. The resulting torrent of verses in clear defiance of the god-like freedom synergists ascribe to man has kept Leighton busy, driving him to address them one-by-one in the hopes that his whacking at the leaves will cause the tree to disappear. And so nearly every week now we’re met with another verse “DeCalvinized” – an admission we applaud him for, since he would not have to de-Calvinize them if they weren’t already Calvinist when left alone. This week, he grapples with 1 Corinthians 2:14:

But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

1 Corinthians 2:14

Let’s examine how he attempts to avoid this plain teaching, and then we’ll restore the integrity of this verse back to its organic, Calvinistic meaning.

Leighton’s Argument

The quality of Leighton’s counter-exegesis becomes apparent before he even presents it, because he won’t dare proffer it without first poisoning the well. He starts by implying that the average listener can’t even weigh the perspectives, insisting that “it is next to impossible to fully understand Paul’s intention in 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16 without first having some understanding of the concept of ‘wisdom’ in the Greek culture.” But when we actually get into his arguments, nothing unique to “the Greek culture” is ever relevant to his case; his case merely relies on a distinction between divine wisdom and human wisdom. This distinction is understandable to anyone of any background – a fact that his own video testifies to, because he never feels it necessary to allude to cultural context again. So, why bring it up? It adds nothing to his presentation except allowing him to hide behind his credentials, so that – if you’re not convinced by his exegesis – you can be dismissed off-hand because you haven’t been to the universities that would have imparted you with the ability to evaluate what he’s saying anyways. This is what’s known as scholarly gnosticism, and unfortunately Leighton is far from the only one who engages in it.

Getting into the substance, he tells us it’s an assumption to say the verse is contrasting the natural man with the spiritual man, and that it’s really supposed to contrast those who prefer human wisdom with those who prefer divine wisdom. In other words, it’s an assumption to say the verse is contrasting the categories it says it’s contrasting ( just read the verse!), and we should pretend the Apostle is still using the categories he discussed earlier in the book, even though he isn’t here. By the time we reach verse 14, the Apostle had ended his polemic against man’s wisdom six verses ago (v. 8). Of course, those earlier sections are relevant to 1 Cor. 2:14, but they do not enable us to blindly import their categories into verse 14 as if he were just repeating himself in different terms, when there’s clearly been a shift in the argument. We will now do something that Leighton never did in his video: we’ll present a large portion of the second chapter, and instead of viewing each sentence as a lost fragment that can be pieced back together in any way we like (as those with autonomous free will are wont to do), we will actually examine the flow of the argument:

Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought:But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.15 But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.16 For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? but we have the mind of Christ.

1 Corinthians 2:6-16

Mind those disjunctive conjunctions, especially in verses 9 and 10. In verse 9, the Apostle gives us the reason why men – even the wisest, most able, most powerful of men – were not able comprehend the glory of God in Christ; it’s because “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” The princes of verse 8 wouldn’t have crucified the Lord of Glory if they understood His majesty and the reward stored up for those who love and serve Him, but they couldn’t understand it. Why? Because – as Leighton would say – they could see both human and divine wisdom, but preferred human? No, Paul is clear that they couldn’t see or understand the divine wisdom at all. And not just them, as if only those esteemed to have great human wisdom were blind to the Truth; rather, Paul’s point is that even the wisest did not understand because no one could understand. The passage he quotes from Isaiah 64:4 is not confined to the worldly elite, but declares the universal ignorance of man regarding God’s purposes. His polemic against the wise is an argument a fortiori; his point is not that the wisdom of God is understandable to the dumb but not to the intelligent, but rather that even the most intelligent natural man can’t grasp it, and thus God has confounded human wisdom altogether.

Now note the second disjunctive conjunction at verse 10. Eye may have not seen before, but now we see! Is it because, although everyone had the capacity to see, we were the ones who preferred the divine wisdom? Talk about grounds for boasting (cf. Ephesians 2:9)! No, it’s only because “God hath revealed them to us by his Spirit,” and there was no wisdom in us – no extra “spiritual sensitivity” – that led us to see what others didn’t. God’s free mercy alone distinguishes us from the atheist. Man by himself cannot know the things of the Spirit, because “the things of God knoweth no man” (v. 11). Therefore, without the Spirit leading a man, he has no capacity to see the things of God. Remember, Paul’s intention here is to distinguish the believer who receives the things of God from those mentioned earlier, who didn’t receive and couldn’t even see the things of God. What they cannot see they certainly cannot respond to, so the folly of the synergist who supposes all men are able to respond is expressly denied here. If what distinguishes us is the ability to see at all – which is what Paul implies here – than the theories of “prevenient grace” cannot survive. It is only he that is made spiritual who can respond (v. 15), the natural man never will. Leighton’s own theory that the Word of God is what enables all men to respond or resist after hearing it is likewise cast down by these verses, because Paul tells us that the Spirit of God is that which enables us to receive the things of the Spirit (verses 12 and 14). If that which enables us to receive the things of the Spirit are the things of Spirit – i.e. the Word of God – then the plain distinction Paul makes between the activity of the Spirit that enables us to receive and the things that we receive is destroyed, and those verses become incoherent. Paul establishes that the enabling occurs before the receiving, which would not be true in Leighton’s system, who makes them out to be one thing.

Divine Culpability

A large part – perhaps the greater portion – of Leighton’s video does not so much deal with the text, but with the philosophical implications that result from its proper interpretation. This seems to be decisive for him as he weighs the perspectives. For Leighton, we should not accept the Calvinistic meaning so much because the text doesn’t teach it, but because the text cannot teach it. Otherwise, how could we get God off the hook for bearing the blame of His creatures’ rejection of Him! This shouldn’t be a concern for believers in the first place; God is the standard of justice, and there is no standard above Him that could judge Him for acting rightly or wrongly. All that He does is good by virtue of the fact that He does it, and His rectitude does not depend on the ability of His creatures to understand it. Even so, we will briefly respond to Flowers’ objection because it is honestly a poor one, and easy to answer: God is just in judging His creatures’ rejection of Him because they indeed chose to reject Him. “But they were predestined to do so,” the Arminian protests, “it’s not their fault!” Well, where is the innocent party in the creature? What part of the creature is not at fault? The hidden assumption of the Arminian’s protest is that there is a pre-existing, neutral and innocent part of the creature that didn’t choose to be the way it did, and then had its traits imposed on it. The natural man is so persuaded of his god-like autonomy that he cannot imagine being destined to behave a certain way unless he was forced to against his will, when in actuality he IS that will that rejects God and nothing more! There is no innocent part of you that doesn’t choose when you choose, you are the thing that chooses and God is right to judge you! Most people don’t have any problem when they hear of the judgement of the devil or the demons, because they rightly understand that they’re evil, and whether or not they were created does not change the fact that they themselves are evil and worthy of judgement. But when you stand to be judged, oh how things change! All of a sudden philosophy gets dragged in, with discussions of the will vs. the meta-will and all other sorts of nonsense. Reader, if you reject the free gift of Christ Jesus for the full forgiveness of sins, you will be condemned, and in that day all your philosophical objections – should you dare present them before the Throne – will be destroyed before your eyes. All Glory and Honor be to our great Redeemer, who not only saved us, but alone produced the desire in us to be saved!

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