Reprobation and Predestination (Justice and Mercy)

Reprobation and Salvation

During last week’s class, near the end, I got a question as to why some people are saved and not others. The question was framed in the context of creation: “why would God create some people who He knew would never accept His gospel, and therefore go to Hell”?  The question is more bluntly put, “if God is the One sovereignly quickening us (bringing us alive from the dead), then why would He even create others who were not going to be saved?”

This question hits on a few important doctrines: predestination and reprobation.

Reprobation is defined in this way by the Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, “God’s action of leaving some persons in a state of their own sinfulness so that they do not receive salvation but eternal punishment.”

Predestination is defined in this way, “A term for the view that God predestines or elections some to salvation by means of a positive decree while those who are not saved condemn themselves because of their sin  (also: “God’s gracious initiation of salvation for those who believe in Jesus Christ”).”

But before I go to scripture to explain these doctrines, particularly that of reprobation, let me first say that there are certain things that we can know, and other things that we cannot know, and will not be able to figure out.  This is not a cop-out, but rather an understanding of the fact that God is greater and His ways are deeper than our minds can fathom (Is. 55:6-11).

Do Not Pry into His Eternal Council

But not only are there things our minds were not made to comprehend, but there are things which we must not pry – the sovereign council of God. There is a limit not only to our understanding, but to what God will allow us to search out – most particularly in arrogance (which is the attitude we humans tend put on when exploring big questions of the unknowable). Job found this out first hand when he questioned God’s purpose in his life.  What was God’s reaction to Job?  This is what He said:

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

He challenges Job over and over “Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare, if you know all this…Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars and spreads his wings toward the south? Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes his nest on high?

God concludes two lengthy chapters of rebuke with this “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.”

Some are Predestined…Others Are Not

It is supposed by the question that this blog post is being addressed that we believe that indeed some are saved and others are not.  But I want to just reaffirm this great mysterious truth once again by citing some Scripture.  Ephesians 1 tells us this:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, [4] even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love [5] he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, [6] to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. [7] In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, [8] which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight [9] making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ [10] as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

[11] In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, [12] so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. [13] In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, [14] who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Eph. 1:3-14)

What this passage clearly teaches us is that before the world began, God predestined a chosen group of people for salvation, and that all of this was “according to the counsel of his will” for a purpose.  What was the purpose? “For the praise of His glory.”  I will come back to that in a minute.

In Romans 9, the seminal passage on predestination and reprobation, Paul says this:

[6] But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, [7] and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” [8] This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. [9] For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” [10] And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, [11] though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—[12] she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” [13] As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

[14] What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! [15] For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” [16] So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. [17] For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” [18] So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

[19] You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” [20] But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” [21] Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? [22] What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, [23] in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory (Romans 9:6-23 ESV)

Paul uses the example of Jacob and Esau, God loved Jacob and not Esau, in other words, God chose Jacob for salvation and for His work of redemption and not Esau.  Why did He choose one and not the other? Paul answers: “In order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls.”

Therefore the choosing is all of God.  Can the passage be anymore plain? He alone is sovereign and soverignly chooses whom He wills.  This is why Christ can confidently say in John 10 that His sheep know His voice and follow Him.  His sheep are discriminatory.  Why?  Because He has chosen them. His Spirit has quickened them. He has plucked them as brands from the burning to be the objects of His affection, and they have been given to Him as a gift from the Father to the glory and enjoyment of the Son.

Now in verse 19 Paul anticipates the same objections I received in class.  He knows that some will object.  He knows some will say, “that’s not fair!”  But how does he answer them?  God says, speaking through Paul, something similar to what He said thousands of years prior to Job:

But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?

Wayne Grudem says this about the text, “…we must remember that it would be perfectly fair for God not to save anyone, just as He did with the angels: ‘God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of nether gloom to be kept until the judgment’ (2 Peter 2:4). What would be perfectly fair for God would be to do with human beings as He did with angels, that is, to save none of those who sinned and rebelled against Him. But if He does save some at all, then this is a demonstration of grace that goes far beyond the requirements of fairness and justice.”

Then Grudem gets into the objection specifically raised in class:

But at a deeper level this objection would say that it is not fair for God to create some people who knew would sin and be eternally condemned, and whom He would not redeem. Paul raises this objection in Romans 9 (citation of the passage). Here is the heart of the “unfairness” objection against the doctrine of election. If each person’s ultimate destiny is determined by God, not by the person himself or herself (that is, even when people make willing choices that determine whether they will be saved or not, if God is actually behind those choices somehow causing them to occur), then how can this be fair?  Paul’s response is not one that appeals to our pride, nor does he attempt to give a philosophical explanation of why this is just. He simply calls on God’s rights as the omnipotent Creator (Romans 9:20-24)…there is a point beyond which we cannot answer back to God or question His justice. He has done what He has done according to His sovereign will. He is the Creator; we are the creatures, and we ultimately have no basis from which to accuse Him of unfairness or injustice.

Furthermore, this troubles us greatly because not only does it say that we can’t always understand His purposes or question His great purposes, but it goes further…that God is actually glorified in all of this.  Certainly He does not desire anyone to go to Hell (1 Tim. 2:4) but He is glorified in His actions because they magnify His perfect holy character.  Reprobation magnifies His justice, and salvation magnifies His mercy.

Why?

There is a certain point beyond which we may not pry, as I mentioned above, and as Paul alludes to when he says, “who are you, O man, to answer back to God?”  But I want us to understand that while we may not understand the eternal counsel of His will, we can still understand the basic parameters of His will and His actions, and these parameters have to do with His pleasure, His honor, and His glory.

Look at what that Ephesians passage said about the reason for predestination.  Verses 6 and 12 both said this was for “the praise of His glory” or “His glorious grace.”

Then look at what Romans says about the reason for reprobation. Verse 23 says this was “in order to make known the riches of His glory.”

In other words, all things work together not only for our good (Romans 8:28), but they will all eventually work together for His glory.  Indeed all of human history will culminate in Christ’s receiving the glory that is due Him.  No matter what the issue, we can be certain that God does it because He finds pleasure in His plan, and wants to receive glory in and through that plan.

The Example of Christ and Our Response

Perhaps the most grueling and baffling example of predestination was the plan set forth from before creation for the death of Jesus Christ. God predestined Jesus to die a horrific death on the cross. This plan was forged before He even made the world! He could have said, “No I am not going to do this act of creation because ultimately my Son will have to die.” But that is not what He did.  According to His own pleasure and plan to the glory of His son and the praise of His name, He created the world and all that is in it, and He did so with the full knowledge that one day He would send His Son to die for the sins of the world.

This is a great mystery. We ask, “Why would He create some whom He does not save?” When we ought to ask, “Why would God choose to send His Son to die for me even before He created a single solitary speck of earth?”  Asking the former appeals to our pride, asking the latter calls us to search out the depths of the love of God – love that is so unsearchable that we cannot understand or fathom it. We simply respond with Job:

“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-6 ESV)

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