Monday, February 05, 2018

Remember to Quote the Whole Thing

Christians in the habit of proof-texting should consider examining the context of their favorite “gotcha” verses once in a while. It’s a healthy exercise, useful in maintaining doctrinal balance.

Determinists, for instance, would benefit immensely from making context-scrutiny a daily practice. Most of the great passages they like to cite on the subject of God’s sovereignty have overtures to human responsibility at their core.

Let me grab a couple of favorites from The Calvinist Corner, because nobody can make the point better.

Sovereign Over History

Under “God’s sovereignty over human history”:
“And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place …”
The “why” of this great statement can be easily forgotten, but Paul finishes with this:
“… that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.”
Periodically, faithfulness requires that we remember to quote the whole thing, not just the bit that makes our point for us.

Sovereign in Salvation

More crucially, this one, from “God grants and works salvation in us”:
“And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.”
They were appointed, AND they made a choice to believe: sovereignty and responsibility, in balance.

I could go on and on, but you’ll see it yourself if you’re looking for it. It can be done with almost every text regularly cited to prove God acts deterministically in salvation.

Sovereignty in Ephesians

The first three chapters of Ephesians, for instance, are about what God has sovereignly done in Christ. Predestination. Choosing us in him before the foundation of the world. Sealing us with the Holy Spirit. But the practical point is this: the reader who appreciates all this should walk worthy of it.

Walking worthy is a choice. But you have to read all the way to chapter 4 to realize that enabling and encouraging that choice is the object of all this glorious doctrine. Millions have read or heard the very same words without making it.

The Bible’s statements about human responsibility are, in fact, the very point of the exercise in nearly every case. “God is sovereign”, the writers of scripture declare in a multitude of ways, therefore seek him, repent of your sins, believe his word, be saved and obey him, go on to maturity, live like you believe it, and so on.

Choose to DO stuff.

Today, If You Hear His Voice ...

One of the best possible examples is my OT morning reading today in Psalm 95, which is all about God’s sovereignty:
“For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.
Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.”
and climaxes with a plea for a responsible … er … response:
“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts …”
The whole force of the psalmist’s poetic argument is that, as we used to sing in Sunday school, “He’s got the whole world in his hands” (depths, heights, sea and land, not to mention Israel, who are not just the “people of his pasture” but the “sheep of his hand”). THEREFORE, he says, don’t harden your heart.

Sovereignty, in this writer’s view, seems to be the best possible reason he can think of for human responsibility.

Hard to argue with that.

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