Prayer: The Catalyst of God’s Actions

Something to reflect and meditate on as you seek the Lord’s will.

Prayer is how God accomplishes his will—through moving the hearts and wills of others to carryout his purposes in bringing lost sinners to Christ, sanctifying and preserving them to glory.

So, though God is sovereign, it doesn’t negate the necessity and power of our prayers to move God to action (not to be understood as open theists see it).

Prayer is how God works to bring about his purposes. Our salvation and sanctification are the effect flowing from causal prayer. Lets see some Scripture to demonstrate what I mean.

Jesus says in Matthew 9:38, “therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” That is a very interesting statement, considering that the harvest belongs to the Lord and is the one who brings the growth (1 Cor. 3:6-7). While God has decreed to save a people for himself (Revelation 5:9-10), and nothing can stop him from doing so (Matt. 16:18), Jesus asks that we pray earnestly for the Lord to send out laborers to do this work in building the church. Why is that? God desires for us to earnestly want that (Matt. 6:33).

Prior to Peter’s betrayal, Jesus says to Peter that he has prayed for him that his “faith may not fail” (Luke 22:32). Peter’s faith doesn’t fail because Christ prayed for him. God ordained for Peter to have enduring faith, but that secured salvation was brought about through the prayers of Christ.

In John 17:9, Christ says that he is praying for those whom the Father has given him. Why is he praying for them, considering what he said earlier: “I give them [those whom the Father has given him] eternal life and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. . . . [And] no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (10:28,29)? God has ordained to save those whom he has called, but his saving them is through the prayers of Christ.

In Acts 8, Peter rebukes Simon the magician for his desire to purchase the power of the Spirit to use as he pleases. Peter said for him to “pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you” (v.22). If God is going to forgive him, prayer is going to be the means through which this forgiveness will come about.

Paul’s prayers under gird the sanctification of the churches he shepherds and the power of his ministry.

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul and Timothy, since hearing of their conversion to Christ, have not ceased praying for them, asking that God would fill them with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding (Col. 1:9). The praying serves as the catalyst—the desire to God—that he would fill them and grow them in Christ. Their sanctification is rooted in answer to prayer. Paul and Timothy ask in prayer because they have the confidence in God that if they ask anything according to his will, they are heard (1 John 5:14), with full assurance that God will supply every need, according to his riches in glory in Christ (Phil 4:19). God’s will is for our sanctification (1 Thess. 4:13), and it is brought about through the payers of the saints.

He asks for the Ephesians to be “praying at all times in the Spirit . . . and also for me that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel” (6:18,19). And he asks the Colossians to “pray . . . that God may open us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ” (Col. 4:3).

The advancement of his ministry—the power of the gospel—is brought about through prayer.

Even for us to increase in love to each other is rooted in prayer for the Lord to bring that about (1 Thess 3:12).

What is of the utmost importance to realize is that . . .

Because God has ordained all events to come to pass, even the prayers leading to and/or serving as the cause of those events, then the events cannot come to pass unless the prayers that are ordained come to pass before hand.

That is huge.

God’s working in the world is mountain-moving work (Matt. 17:20). That is why he says to have that kind of faith. And to see lost sinners changed from children of wrath (Eph. 2:3) to children of light (1 Thess. 5:5), is a mighty work, requiring mighty prayer.

We must pray to move mountains; nature-changing is mountain moving.

That is why we are called to be “devoted to prayer” (Romans 12:12)

 

–Romans 11:36

 

Libertarian Free Will: It’s Not Biblical – Part 3

Well, I am back now to finish up this series, which I had planned to do two months ago; however, the Lord had different plans, which included back surgery. And I praise God his plans included it because I wasn’t able to tie my own shoes for the last 9 months. I am truly grateful—Amen!

In part 2 of this series, I provided Scriptures demonstrating that God brings about human free actions that we are responsible for. As stated, this view of free will is referred to as compatibilism. This means that Human free will is compatible with God’s sovereign will by which he determines what will come to pass according to his divine decree and ultimate plan.[1] Our freedom is not constrained; rather, it is unconstrained within God’s decree, and our choices and actions are part of what he has ordained to take place.

Before going further, I want to again define what Libertarian free will is:

“An agent is free with respect to a given action at a given time if at that given time it is within the agent’s power to perform the action and also in the agent’s power to refrain from the action.”[i] Ultimately, a person has the ability within his own power to make any decision, and any decision contrary to it, in any given situation. “The will is free from any necessary causation . . . [I]t is autonomous from outside determination.”[ii]

My perspective, and that of the Reformed community, is that this view is unbiblical. Nowhere in Scripture do we see that humans have this kind of freewill; rather, our wills are enslaved to sin and can only do the freewill-actions within an enslaved state (John 8:34; Romans 6:6, 16-17, 19-20; 7:14; 2 Peter 2:19; Titus 3:3; Galatians 4:8-9). Fallen man’s desire is to only do wicked actions, regardless of any good action he might do (Matthew 7:11; Luke 11:13). We cannot do anything righteous; Christ was the one who did the righteous act on our behalf (I refer you to my post examining Romans 5:12-19).

Further Understanding Compatibilism

God decrees all things; therefore, he knows all things that ever occur. His knowledge is in advance to the future events that are to come about in his plan of redemption. His knowledge of future events “in no way causes anything to happen; it merely guarantees that what [he] knows will in fact happen.”[2] But the certainty of the actual events that ensue for everyone does not mean that people are then mere robots. Rather, in God making people as “non-glorified human beings,”[3] they are given a nature that is inclined to make choices that are common to all humans. Just as various animals have natures that are different than humans, though common to each animal within its species, predetermined actions can be known due to the environment and situation they are put in.

Mankind’s understanding of the animal kingdom is ascertained by the observation of an animal’s actions and habits based on its nature and how it interacts within the environment it lives in. In knowing the nature of animals and how they respond (make choices) in their environment, scientists can create an environment and setting for an animal that, with most certainty, they can get a desired result (choice) based on the use of the nature of that animal in that environment (example: lab rats in a maze).

Likewise, as it pertains to human nature, and God’s exponentially greater understanding of human nature, God gives humans a nature and puts them in an environment that he knows he can use to bring about choices (that conform to his will) made by humans. But just as the animal that is placed in an artificial, man-made environment makes choices that are made freely in accordance with its own nature, humans also, based on their nature in the environment that God has placed them in, are free to act in “accordance with their desires, dispositions, inclinations, knowledge, and character.”[4]

In Matthew 7:15-20, Christ told his disciples that they would know those who are of God by their fruits. A good tree only bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit; thus, you will know them by their fruits. A tree can only give a certain fruit based upon its nature. “The tree is not free to produce good or bad fruit at random, but is governed by its nature.”[5]

Scripturally speaking, this perspective makes the most sense (again, look at the Scriptures discussed in the first post). God is sovereign over all, and he is the primary cause of all things to take place. The Scriptures bear witness to the fact that nothing in creation can act independently of God’s sovereignty (: Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:17; Acts 17:28; Nehemiah 9:6; 2 Peter 3:7; Job 12:23; Job 34:14-15; Job 38:32; Matthew 5:45; Matthew 6:26; Numbers 23:19; 2 Samuel 7:28; Psalms 33:14-15; Psalms 104:14; Psalms 104:29; Psalms 135:6; Psalms 139:16; Psalms 141:6; Psalms 148:8; Proverbs 16:1; Proverbs 16:33; Proverbs 20:24; Proverbs 21:1; Proverbs 30:5; John 17:17; Ephesians 1:11; Galatians 1:15; Jeremiah 1:5; 1 Corinthians 4:7).

God has exhaustive knowledge and knows what humans will do based upon the nature he gave them. He has the ability to persuade and compel people to make choices, which they willing make, to conform to his will. Likewise, people make decisions in accordance with their will that do bring about actions that cause harm or evil to others. God too permits these situations. In these instances, God permits these and uses these actions to conform to his will; for God “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).

Genesis 50:20 is a clear example of this. Prior to this verse, Joseph’s brothers were fearful because when Joseph revealed his identity to them, they were afraid of what he might do to them. In an act of evil, they sold him into slavery. And now Joseph is second-in-command over Egypt and has the power to return evil to them. In Genesis 45:5, Joseph says, “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.” Joseph understands that he is in the position that he is because God is sovereign. It was God’s plan for the events and circumstances to happen to Joseph in the manner they did. Joseph recognizes this. A severe famine was coming to Egypt, God’s doing, and it was God’s plan for Joseph to be there prior to this event and to be used by God to save the people.

After the famine, Joseph’s brothers come to him again and were in fear for their lives. But Joseph says to them, “‘Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them” (Genesis 50:19-20). God had two different designs within his plan. This verse “did not say that God used their evil for good after they meant it for evil. It says that in the very act of evil, there were two different designs: In the sinful act, they were designing evil, and in the same sinful act, God was designing good.”[6] The brothers acted in accordance to their own wills and desire to commit evil. But that act of evil was in accordance with the will of God. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Joseph was called for a purpose, and God worked out all things for good for Joseph because he loved God.

There is a tension between man’s freewill and God’s sovereignty, and while we cannot fully reconcile this tension due to our puny, finite minds, what we can do is seek to be consistent in our theology. We have to take what Scripture teaches, regardless of what we think it should teach. Scripture does not portray a God who is like that of the pagan, Greek gods, who are only supported and empowered by the creatures that worship them. Rather, the God of the Bible is sovereign over everything in all of creation, for he is the one who supports, sustains, and empowers it (Acts 4:24; Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:15-16). Furthermore, the Bible does not portray mankind as a robot or puppet. Man makes choices and is held accountable for them (Genesis 2:16-17; Exodus 20; John 3:36; Acts 2:23; 4:27; Romans 1-3; 6:23; 1 Corinthians 9:21; Galatians 3:10; Titus 3:3; 1 John 3:4).

Conclusion

In looking at the biblical and theological evidences put forth in these last 3 posts, I believe the biblical understanding of freedom is the ability to choose according to our greatest desires in the moment of that choice. Man always chooses to sin, which is why he needs God to change his nature of desiring to do so. If ought implies can, then everyone has the ability to be morally perfect because we ought to live a sinless life. If we had a truly free will in the libertarian sense, then we would have the freedom to save ourselves by never sinning.

While this subject is truly a weighty one, we must be ok with seeing that the sidewalk ends at some point. Speculation can lead to unnecessary frustration, and even dissension among believers, and more time wasted trying to understand the mind of God, instead of glorifying God for his perfect, omnipotent mind. He has it figured out, so rest in that.

 

—Romans 11:36

For further reading:

The Sovereignty of God, Arthur Pink
Freedom of the Will, Jonathan Edwards
Election and Free Will, Robert A. Peterson
The Doctrine of God, John Frame
Still Sovereign, Tom Schreiner and Bruce Ware
No One Like Him, John S. Feinberg
Bondage of the Will, Martin Luther
Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin

 

_________________________________

[1] When speaking of God’s foreknowledge and foreordination of events, sometimes there is a confusion of terms, which leads to a misunderstanding of God’s eternal decree. We need to avoid the error of fatalism. From creation to glorification, God has foreordained (i.e., planned from eternity past) all human actions and events of nature and history. However, God’s foreknowledge (i.e., his perfect knowledge beforehand of all actions and events from eternity past; and of the elect, it’s an intimate, personal knowing of them) of all events and human actions that occur in history does not infer they must happen or that one can’t refrain from doing so because God foresees them. Rather, God foreknows certain actions or choices take place because the one doing the action does not refrain from doing otherwise.

God has foreordained all that shall come to pass and foreknows all things because of his foreordination of them, and these events may come to pass through the free will actions of humans or through God’s causative actions in accordance with his eternal decree. However, no one makes a choice that is against one’s will; rather, all choices are made because one most desires to make that choice because it is most desirable to that person.

[2] John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: Doctrine of God, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), p. 741.

[3] Feinberg, No One Like Him, p. 788.

[4] Loraine Boettner, Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1991), p. 219.

[5] Ibid., p. 220.

[6] John Piper, Spectacular Sins: And Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008), p. 81.

The Doctrine of Original Sin: If You Reject it, then You Have to Reject Christ’s Righteousness

In my recent discussions with a few open theists, the doctrine of original sin became a source of contention. They argue that the Bible doesn’t teach such a doctrine—that is, all are born in the sin of Adam, inheriting his sin nature, which God has given over to all of mankind (This is also known as Pelagianism).

So, when theologians speak of original sin, they are not speaking about the first sin of humanity per se; rather, they are referring to the effects of Adam’s first sin upon his posterity. All born after Adam have inherited the guilt of his first sin, the loss of original righteousness (that state of fellowship as God originally created man to exist in with him), and the corruption of our whole nature. Adam was the head of the human race, and when he fell, we all fell in him. What it ultimately teaches is that we are all sinful not by actions but through progenation; specifically, we are not sinners we because sin; we sin because we are sinners.

Stemming from the doctrine of original sin is the teaching of federal headship. And open theists reject this doctrine as well, (1) which teaches that Adam’s action, as the head of the human race, to disobey God’s command, results in our condemnation.

What open theists believe is we are only culpable for our individual sins. Our individual sins alone are what count against us. While it is true that we are all going to have our sins brought before us (Romans 2:16), what they don’t realize is that if we don’t accept Adam’s headship, we have to reject Christ’s headship for the new humanity, for Paul is the one who makes this contrast in Romans 5:12-19 between the head of the old, fallen humanity and the Head of the new, redeemed humanity. Now, I know we would never consider rejecting Christ’s free gift; however, I think many want to reject Adam’s freely chosen trespass. But we need to be consistent!

Let’s examine these verses:

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 

– Sin came into the world through the Adam’s sin, producing death.
– All die because all sinned (both Adam and his progeny, which the biblical narrative demonstrates clearly in the idolatrous nature of mankind)
– There is a causal inference here.

The Bible is clear that all people without exception sin (except Christ) (Romans 3:23). As Adam’s progeny, we are all under the power of sin (Romans 6:14). While we will answer for each sin, our judgment remains because of Adam’s sin, for Adam’s sin is imputed to us. This will be more apparent in verses 18-19. We are all separated from God. That is why Christ did not come from Adam, so he would not be in sin by virtue of Adam’s imputation of sin to all his posterity. Furthermore, if you remember the Genesis 3 account, it was Eve who actually sinned first; however, it was Adam who was held accountable for it. But what did he do? He immediately tried to pass the blame on her. So even then, we see the headship role Adam had over humanity, with the first being his wife.

13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 

– Sin was in the world before the law. Why? Because of Adam’s sin.
– Though sin was not counted before the law, people still died. Why? By virtue of entering the world in a state of death, all humans sinned. Adam’s transgression meant condemnation for all (see vv.18-19)

14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

– Again, ‘yet’ death reigned from Adam to Moses, explaining why people died though they did not have the law.
– Adam was a type, being head of humanity, as Christ is head of the new humanity.

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.

– Christ’s free gift was his perfect life of obedience to God, his offering for reconciliation, leading to eternal life and fellowship with God—which is not like Adam’s trespass; his act of unrighteousness severed that relationship.
– Many died through Adam; many are made alive through Christ (his act of righteousness).
– Though all die through Adam, the ‘many’ are those who are in Christ (Unless you are a universalist).

16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.

– The free gift results in life; Adam’s sin resulted in death (for all, the many included).
Key point: Judgment followed the one trespass, bringing condemnation—for all
Key point: The free gift, Christ’s act of righteousness, brought justification—for many
– Christ’s act does not include all, otherwise that would mean universalism.

This is really important to understand, for I know many may struggle with this. As I mentioned in my introduction, we are under judgment for Adam’s sin; it brought condemnation for all.

17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. 

Death reigns because of one man’s trespass (to all and many).
Righteousness reigns because of One Man’s righteous act (only to the many).

  • Here is the conclusion of vv. 15-17; therefore
  • Adam’s trespass resulted in condemnation for all men.
  • Christ’s act of righteousness results in justification and life for all men.
  • By Adam’s disobedience many were made sinners.
  • By Christ’s obedience many will be made righteous.

It may sound a bit repetitive, but it is important that you see the contrast and groupings of the old humanity under Adam and the new humanity under Christ.

-What is the relationship between Adam and us?
-Why do all without exception sin? Verse 18-19 explains

18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

– Because of Adam’s trespass, death reigned through him, leading to condemnation for all men.
– Because of Christ’s act of righteousness, justification and life is given to all men in Christ.
– Verse 19 shows us what Christ’s gift does for the many, who were made sinners by Adam’s disobedience—they, the many, are made righteous.

So, what we see is that all men are physically born, stemming from the root of Adam; therefore, all men receive condemnation for Adam’s trespass. Christ’s, representing those who are born of God (the elect), act of righteousness results in justification for all of those he represents. The many that were made sinners through Adam’s disobedience are the many that will be made righteous through Christ’s obedience.

Here are some important points to see in this:

Did we do anything to earn righteousness on own individual efforts? No
Did we do anything to earn condemnation by our own individual efforts? No

However, after the fall of Adam, our nature in Adam is corrupted, and we can do nothing but sin, so we are judged by our works. But after the resurrection of Christ, our nature in Christ is restored, and we can now live righteously.

This is the big picture of Paul’s argument. And if one rejects the portion regarding Adam, then one also has to reject his argument about Christ because the logic of the argument is the same for both.

If you don’t get the sin from Adam, then you don’t get the righteousness from Christ.

If you struggle in accepting Adam’s sin, just think of it this way: if you were in his place, you would have done the same exact thing, and we could all be under the headship of Bob or Jack or Steve. We know we sin because we are sinners and that is why we need a Savior who can redeem us and regenerate our hearts to love God and no longer turn away from him

 

—Romans 11:36

__________________________________

1. I don’t intend to speak for all open theists; however, my experience has demonstrated that this is so.