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).