Justice and Predestination by Justin Day
January 15, 2009, 7:00 am
Filed under: Thought Initiative


by Justin Day

A roadblock for any person who contemplates God’s sovereignty is the problem of justice. If we have been predestined unto salvation, where some people are destined to be saved and others destined to be passed over, is God just for punishing people who never chose Adam as their representative and can never choose Christ by their own volition?

A friend of mine recently presented me with this analogy: Imagine if I were to tie you up with escape-proof rope and throw you into a lake and told you to swim to shore. Then when you could not swim, I blamed you for your inability and punished you by letting you drown. Would I be just in my punishment of letting you drown since I initiated the event and knew that you would not be able to follow my command?

  1. Is this a fair analogy to God’s decree of predestination? If not, what’s wrong?
  2. Are we in a position to make a moral judgment about God’s actions? If it be the case that we aren’t in a position to make a negative judgment of God’s actions, are we in a position to make a positive judgment about God’s actions?


50 Comments so far
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I am certain that if I would have been in Adams place I would have taken the fruit. We all would have, its pride to think that we would have resisted the temptation, because ultimately God ordained it. Now with the analogy lets focus on that fact that God has chosen to cut free anyones “escape free rope.” We all deserve to be sinking to the bottom of an ocean with no hope of survival, and much worse punishment than that. The true mystery and miracle is that a Holy, Perfect, Righteous God has chosen to save ANYONE. That fact is is that We are already drowned as Colossians 2:13 says we are dead, not in some half state trying to attain salvation, but DEAD. Again, lets focus on that a holy, righteous , JUST God has saved anyone.

Comment by Dsizzle

Yeah I agree with you, Dsizzle. I have been thinking about this issue a lot recently and I’ve just come to the conclusion that we have to look towards and trust in Christ in cases like these.

To be honest, I really don’t see any way on earth that reprobation could be considered “just,” but I also recognize that I’m just a lowly human who does not have anything even approaching omniscience. In light of this, I do have knowledge of Christ; I have knowledge of His goodness .Anyone who would choose to take the wrath that I deserved from God is far more than just. Atonement is the epitome of love.

To those who don’t know Christ it might sound like a cop out, but God demands that we are humble. He demands that we have faith in Him and trust in Him in spite of apparent injustices.

I don’t know, just my thoughts on it.

Comment by Justin Day

Call me prideful, but I’m not certain that I would have taken the fruit. I’m also not certain that I wouldn’t have. But I think the reason so many people are quick to say, “I would have taken the fruit and so would you,” is because we’re imagining ourselves in the situation with the sinful nature that we have now. But we wouldn’t have a sin nature if we were tempted with sin for the first time. The truth is no one in this world knows what it’s like to NOT have a sin nature because all we’ve known is what it’s like to really have a sin nature–to have a “broken will” you might say. So we can hardly say with much conviction one way or the other about whether we would’ve taken the fruit because our ignorance is just so great. I do know this though, it would be a lot easier not to take the fruit in Adam’s situation than it would now. That we can be sure of. Adam had an easier time facing temptation than we do because he was not hindered by a sin nature. How much easier was his time? How the crap should I know? I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like to not be a sinner.

So you say in your post that we should move past this question and be thankful that a just and holy God has saved us from our sin. But the justice of God is what we’re questioning here. (Please don’t freak out. I’m a believer. I believe God is just, but I think this is a question Christians should think hard about.) So you can’t say, “We know that God is just in this situation because God is just.” That’s assuming the very thing we’re trying to prove. That’s bad reasoning. What we want to answer is “How is God just in this situation?” You say that anyone would’ve taken the fruit because God ordained it–problem solved. So God forced Adam to sin and then blamed him for it? That’s just? God says, “Hey Adam, you shouldn’t have done what I just forced you to do (namely, eat the apple)”? Am I supposed to just shut my mouth and not worry about that? I’m supposed to look away and not try to see how God is just in this situation? I can’t do it. I think the analogy Justin presented is the perfect analogy here. We wouldn’t blame the bound person for not swimming, but we’re suggesting that it’s ok to blame the bound man (Adam) for sinning. Inconsistency.

This question seems like a problem for Christianity, though I don’t think it’s one without an answer. What is the answer? How the crap should I know? But I know that it’s going farther than evidence allows to say “Well everyone would’ve sinned in Adam’s situation so the problem’s solved.” I think that’s one of those easy answers that makes people drop the question feeling satisfied, but it doesn’t get at the truth.

So here’s my question: Why should I believe that anyone would have taken the fruit? Why is it ok that Adam functions as my representative when I didn’t ask for him to represent me and it’s not certain that I would have acted as he did?

Comment by Eric Sampson

It sounds like your questioning Gods sovereignty. I may be wrong but it sounds like your questioning God and his ways which are FAR above ours. I think the reasons we can’t wrap our feeble limited minds around this is because we are not God. It may seem like a cop out but I am ok admitting that the God of the universe is smarter than me and with his entire view of eternity has planned it perfectly.

So as a believer with your reasoning about accepting Adam as your representative, are you angry that God chose Christ to be your representative? God in his infinite mercy and grace saved you by plucking you from death like it says in Colossians 2:13. So are you upset that God gave you a saviour that you had no choice in? Of course not. God is sovereign and he is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient so he has a complete view of history and eternity. So maybe we as limited humans want an answer to why we have been imputed with Adams sin.

Romans 5: 12-21 talks about Adam and how original sin is imputed to all. The key verse in this is the second part of verse 14 where Paul says Adam was a TYPE of the one who is to come. So thus Adam was a type of Christ, an example, a foreshadowing. He wasn’t God and therefore was able to give into temptation and sin. Like it or not God ordained sin to come into the world and if you would have been in that place you couldn’t have overcome Gods will. You say its unfair for God to tell Adam not to sin and yet he “forced” him to, I say its foolish to question Gods sovereignty.

Comment by Dsizzle

I don’t have a ton of time to comment here, but I will say that this analogy is problematic. One difference is that in the analogy the escape-free rope is seperable from the person drowning. It is easy to conceive who the person is and what that person would be like without the escape free rope.

This is not so with sin nature. We are not morally-neutral individuals that have been bound by an outside force to a sin-nature. Our sin nature is as much of a part of us as our brains, teeth, arms, eyes, and, well, anything else. You and I were created by God as evil people. If I am judged by God, He justly judges me for being evil. It is not possible to seperate me and the evil. I can’t say, “Well, if I didn’t have a sin-nature, I wouldn’t go to hell.” The fact is, if I didn’t have a sin-nature, I wouldn’t be me. The man bound with the rope in the analogy is still that man if the rope is removed.

Ohhh… I really want to spend an hour or so writting abotu the significance of this concerning the justice of God in repobation, but I don’t have the time. I’ll suffice it to say that the analogy is flawed, and I don’t believe that this is the only flaw in it.

Comment by psteele

“What Christ has done for all who are in Him is far greater than what Adam did for all who are in him.”
-John Piper

We DO have a choice at another representative, and His name is Christ. We get represented by one of two people, either Jesus or Adam. You are judged by with whichever one of these you make your stand.

Comment by David Wells

I have a difficult time thinking of anything more “just” than leveling the playing field and looking upon some with particular affection before anyone had done anything good or bad. If God had waited until I had been born and selected based on my behavior, I would surely not have been saved.

Comment by Bill S

Perhaps, the answer “Well everyone would’ve sinned in Adam’s situation,” is actually getting at the very core of things. Maybe in all this questioning we should not neglect possibly the simplest answer. Based on the evidence provided me thus far about the human condition (both what the world says and the bible says), I think that answer may be a good answer. Adam was the representative, why? Because he was the first, he was chosen by God. And if you, or I, were there in flesh first, why would it have happened any differently? There is no possible catalyst that would have changed a single thing. No learning from our mistakes, no learning from history, nothing. All there would have been is just the exact beginning of things. There is no logical argument for anything else, and thus I shall go no further.

Instead, I would like to pose a question that deals with a different aspect of this conversation. Did God really force Adam and Eve to eat that apple? Did He really force them to seek the knowledge of good and evil? I would say no. Let’s not confuse God’s sovereignty with God’s activity. God is just as equally sovereign and brings himself just as much glory by not personally doing things but merely allowing things to happen. The best picture of this is the story and book of Job. God allowed Satan to rip apart and destroy Job’s family, job, personal belongings, and health (make sure you recognize and acknowledge the word “allowed”) He didn’t actively force Satan’s hand, however he did allow Satan to do these things so that it would bring Himself(God) glory.

This could possibly be a dimension of God often overlooked. And thus, maybe, it could offer some glimpse of proof for how God is just and didn’t tie the hands of people and let them drown, and yet still ultimately be sovereign. What do you think?

One more thing to consider is that perhaps we were never tied to begin with, so there was never a way to sink. If we believe Ephesians 1:4 to be true: “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” Then those who are chosen, those who are saved, were never tied to begin with. Yes, we were born with sinful desires, a stone heart, we cannot neglect that. However, we were already chosen to be “holy and blameless,” so how is there anyway for us to sink and drown? This brings up possibly the most crucial of questions, even more dire than trying to create a proof for God’s justness: Who are we that Christ would even think to love us, not to mention save us before he even created the foundation of this world? Who are we to be saved by God’s grace and justice? Who are we to be considered justified?

Comment by Tyler Thayer

I would like to give just a few thoughts I have concerning this topic. I believe we have all been born into this world with a sin nature, which scripture makes clear is a result of Adam and Eve’s first sin in the garden.

I believe scripture also makes two seemingly contradictory points repetedly. We have been given a choice/free will to accept or reject God’s gift of salvation, and those who choose to accept are those who are God’s elect/predestined. I don’t even begin to understand this paradox, but there is no denying that God is sovereign over all and in control, yet we are most certainly not robots.

Therefore, I cannot agree with the many who believe that we,”do not choose Christ, he chooses us.” If that were the case, there would be no need for evangelism and pleading with non-believers to turn away from there sins and choose Christ.

I believe a more accurate analogy would be this: Think of Christ’s death on the cross as a gift that God is holding in front of you. He is saying,”You are filthy with sin. I love you so much that I have crushed my Son for you, that your sins may be washed away. It’s free. Will you choose to accept this gift?” Those who accept, are cleansed. Those who do not, remain condemned. I don’t believe this is a “work” that we’re saved by. I don’t believe this undermines God’s sovereignty. Some would call it an anti-work, meaning that it’s not anything we are doing to impress God. All we’re doing is holding out our arms and accepting the gift, what Christ has done. God is sovereign and has given us a choice. I don’t understand it, but I believe it and am truly eternally grateful.

Comment by Shawn Irwin

My addition to this post is not so much in the way of analyzing the context and substance of the given analogy, but, I want to raise a far more difficult question: what is justice and what makes something just? Only when one understands this concept can one even dare to raise the previously mentioned question. Conversely, if one does understand this concept, the question answers itself and only a fool would raise it. Thus we find ourselves in the present where the question remains and so do the fools who ask it.

So here are a few better questions that this one vague inquiry/analogy boils down to:

1) What is justice?
2) What makes something just?
3) Who and what is just?
4) How does it become just?

Comment by Jonathan Kelfer

I’m going to answer all objections here, but first let me say something. I failed to make this clear. My bad. I don’t think Christians have a complaint with this whole Adam representation thing, because Christ has “cut our rope” and hauled us into the boat, so we’re good to go (this answers part of Thayer’s post). I think non-Christians (people who will die in their sins) have the complaint here because they were forced into the world all tied up and God did not cut their rope when he could have. He let them drown.

Now we always come to God’s defense here and say, “Yes but God doesn’t owe them anything that he should cut their rope. They’re the sinner and they’re getting what their actions deserve.” Question: Why are they a sinner in the first place? Answer: Because Adam sinned and is responsible for their sin nature. Yes, I’m saying Adam is responsible for our sin nature (Romans 5:12). Death came through one man (Adam), and spread to all men. So we sin because Adam screwed up, and passed a propensity to sin (actually, an inability to NOT sin) to his posterity (us). So I’m saying, as it looks right now, we are not responsible for our sin (Yes, I see how heretical that is. No, I don’t think it’s true. I just don’t see how it’s not true.)

Possible solution: We actually are responsible for our sin because we would have sinned if we were in Adam’s position. There has only been one man w/o a sin nature in history and he did sin. So 100% of people w/o a sin nature in the past have sinned, therefore we know that 100% of all people w/o a sin nature would have sinned in Adam’s situation.

Reason that don’t work: Imagine I see a marker for the first time. This marker is green. 100% of the markers I’ve seen are green. Therefore, all markers are green. Stinky reasoning. We can’t look at one case and feel comfortable that the same result would have happened 100% of the time in billions and billions of cases.

Another possible solution: Isaiah 55:8 (his ways are higher than ours).

Reason that doesn’t work: Well it could be the answer, but I don’t think it is. What we’re asking is how we can be held responsible for our sin. This is kind of critical for Christianity, right? So I’m confident that God has revealed it to us in his Word (I think most of you guys agree). Now we gotta find our where it is.

Possible solution: You’re analogy sucks Eric. The reason it fails is because it makes the person and the sin-nature two different entities when, in fact, they’re one. If you didn’t have your sin nature, you would cease to be you.

Reason that doesn’t work: So maybe the analogy doesn’t represent the reality of things with perfect precision (as is the case with every analogy). But the analogy doesn’t misrepresent reality in any significant way as it concerns our case. If it helps, imagine that the rope is a part of your body. God created you with ropes around your arms and legs and tossed you into the ocean. Is that better? As for the objection that a you without a sin-nature would cease to be you, I don’t buy it. Adam was born without a sin nature, he sinned, and then he had a sin nature. Adam was still Adam in both cases. The presence or absence of a sin nature does not change the identity of the person. We can imagine ourselves without a sin nature and that person is still us. We just wouldn’t have an extreme propensity to sin. So the analogy still works, despite efforts to undermine it.

Possible solution: Everybody has a choice to cry out to God and make Jesus their savior thereby “cutting their ropes.” So anyone can be saved from this horrible situation.

Reason it doesn’t work: It’s true that all have the opportunity to choose Christ, but the sin nature that Adam is responsible for prevents them from choosing Him. Their sin nature blinds them to the truth of Christ in such a way that only God himself can save them by actively changing their hearts by the Holy Spirit and “cutting their ropes” (this assumes the Calvinist position, which I’m confident we’re all cool with). So the only way to be saved from the predicament that God has placed us in (I mean, he chose for us to be born into sin, not us) is for God himself to save us. We’re helpless on our own. This is exactly like the analogy where some dude (Adam) ties our arms and legs and another dude (God) chucks us into the ocean. THE NON-CHRISTIAN IS RESPONSIBLE FOR NEITHER OF THESE HAPPENINGS, YET HE IS THE ONE WHO DROWNS (I capitalize not to signify yelling but to say that this is my main point in the post). Doesn’t the non-Christian have a legitimate complaint? Am I freakin crazy?

Possible solution: What reason have we to think that we would be any different than Adam? We’ve got no evidence to suggest that things would be different.

Reason it doesn’t work: I think this is the best objection so far, but here’s what I don’t like. Maybe it’s true that we really would have sinned when presented with the fruit, everyone of us. Still, we’re being blamed for Adam’s sin, not ours. Who gets blamed for sins they would’ve committed? If I were presented with sex as often as NBA players were, I would almost certainly not be a virgin right now. But I’ve not been given that opportunity so nobody blames me for it. Not even God. God doesn’t count against me the adultery that I would almost certainly commit if I were an NBA player. But it’s ok for Him to do that in Adam’s case? How are we ok with saying that? We seem to be reaching for anything to get God off the hook. Is it true that God can blame me for the sins I would have committed? Sure, if God wants to. But does He? I don’t think so.

Possible solution: We don’t know what justice is. We don’t know what makes something just. Only God knows.

Reason it doesn’t work: If we don’t know what justice is, then when we say “God is just,” our utterance is meaningless because we don’t even know what we’re ascribing to God. But we do think we have an idea of what justice is. So do you Kelfer. If I killed a red-headed person just because they’re red-headed, you would certainly call that unjust. So what is justice? Shoot, I don’t have a comprehensive definition for you. One of the greatest philosophers in Western Philosophy (Plato) spent 8 books of one of the greatest works in Western Philosophy (The Republic) trying to answer that very question. If you’re expecting a 22 yr. old college student to answer it, well you’ll be severely disappointed. But I know that we don’t have to have a comprehensive definition of justice to know that blaming someone for something they’re not responsible for is unjust. If don’t agree on this, we need to stop discussing this right now.

So have I successfully knocked down all objections, or am I an idiot? Let’s discuss. And I think it would be more fun (and more productive) to do it in person so if I see one of you guys or you see me, let’s chat. And PSteele, I would love for you to write about what you were talking about but didn’t have the time for. I want to hear.

Conclusion: The reason I’m interested in the topic is because I’ve been asked this question by a non-Christian before, and I couldn’t answer it. But I feel like it’s something I should definitely have an answer for. And a good answer too. Maybe the answer is “Who are you, O man to answer back to God?” in which case I would have to shut my mouth. But I really don’t like that answer.

Comment by Eric Sampson

Go on and search for Spurgeon’s “The Great Jail and How to Get Out of It.” He puts it better than I could.

Comment by David Wells

Wow, I appreciate all the comments.

I’ve thought about this topic a lot and I agree with you, Eric. Although I do think it’s true that I’m in no position to judge God, I don’t think that’s really a good answer. At least, I don’t think it’s a very satisfactory one.

One thing that I have been thinking of is a possible answer to the green markers objection. Now for traditional Calvinists, I think your reasoning is sound, but if God has middle knowledge (the Molinist perspective) then He *would* know exactly what everyone would have done in such a situation. Proponents of middle knowledge understand God’s knowledge to be so exhaustive that He not only knows what has and will happen, but he also knows what could theoretically happen in all situations.

Now if Molinism is true, then we would have warrant to believe that God knew that if He were to place any human in Adam’s shoes they would also fall.

I tend to be a mixture of Calvinist and Molinist, but I don’t really know if there is enough biblical evidence to explicitly refute/support Molinism since most of the verses that used to support traditional Calvinist omniscience can be equally used to support Molinism.

So if we could prove Molinism, then I think we could be closer to finding a good answer to this problem.

Comment by Justin Day

Exekiel 18:20, “the soul who sins shall die.” We are not being punished for Adam’s sin. We shall be punished for our own sin. Additionally, this talks about fairness and not justice. Justice means getting what you deserve i.e. being accountable to law. Fairness means equal opportunity. God never claims that He is fair. If justice were about fairness, we would all go to the garden, when we would likely sin as well.

“Don’t be too eager to deal in death and judgment.” -Tolkien. We can rest assure that God will give each man what he deserves when he dies without Christ. It’s not fair. But that’s another conversation.

Comment by David Wells

I also like your explanation, Justin. Adam is not only a representative for us, but representative of us. His actions display what we would have done. I also think we keep leaving out Eve, who also sinned. There’s two for your database.

Comment by David Wells

Hey David, I think Romans 5 teaches that we are held accountable for Adam’s sin.

“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

So when Adam sinned, his sin somehow spread to all of us. When he sinned, God imputed us all with his sin. This is where you get the doctrine of Adam being our federal head.

Comment by Justin Day

The rest of the verse reads (in Ezekiel 18), “A son won’t suffer punishment for the father’s iniquity, and a father won’t suffer punishment for the son’s iniquity. The righteousness of the righteous person will be on him, and the wickedness of the wicked person will be on him.”

You can raise up allegations of legalism or a contradiction with Paul’s doctrine by using this verse, but Paul himself quotes Habakkuk 2 in Romans 1:17, “the righteous shall live by faith.” Thus, our righteousness is our faith in God through Jesus Christ. Original sin is not a punishment for Adam, but rather an effect of his sin. We live by faith in Christ; we live by sin in Adam. How we live our lives determines who our representative is. Hence why it says in Phillipians 1:27, “live you life in a manner worthy of the gospel.”

Comment by David Wells

From an Armenian stance…

I believe Jesus came to save the entire world and all its inhabitants. My stance on God’s WILL for people’s salvation comes from a few verses, but best outlined in 2 Peter 3:9

“The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some people understand slowness, but is being patient with you. He does not want anyone to perish, but wants everyone to repent.”

John 3:16 also coincides with my beliefs that God gave His son for the entire world.

I believe that us as humans have the ability to deny God just as Satan did, just as Adam did. Irresistible Grace is not something I truly believe because it is forced love – which I can only equate in earthly terms as rape (one party wants to assert their dominance and love over the other, where as the other party does not return the affection).

With all of this said, I would not be surprised if there was such a thing as irresistible grace because my mind can’t fathom half the things God does, and it would be in His nature to do something out of the left field. C.S. Lewis once stated that he believed in Christianity because it was something he couldn’t expect – and that if it was, he would know it couldn’t possibly be reality.

Now, the idea of salvation is extremely tricky and not something i tend to make absolutes about. Lewis also touched on this subject when he was referencing two beliefs – one must have faith alone, and one must have works. He ended saying that most believe a little of both is needed, and even those who believe faith alone will tell you it must be accompanied by works, and the same with the works fellows saying one needs faith to accompany it.

Lewis summed up the paradox that is Christian salvation with one verse:

Philippians 2:12

“continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. ”

The first half of it says we must work out our salvation. The second says God will do the work. So it isn’t without evidence that our Justification may be dependent upon both.

God will do the work, and he will do the work through us (as the verse says), but we must be receptive of His works, and allow Him to do so.

And that is my belief.

Comment by J baby

I assume (correct me if i am wrong, Eric), that your green marker illustration was in response to the thoughts of us doing the same thing Adam and Eve did, because they were 100% of mankind at that time. Which I said would never changed, no matter who was there.

There is a huge problem with that illustration in that the green marker is an object. You are trying to argue a position that compares calculated reactions to the existence of an object that has an essence or a typology that makes it green. The greenness of the marker is how it is made, it makes no reference to other markers, just itself. So within its own existence, when it is placed on a surface and moved, it leaves a green ink behind. Nothing more, it speaks of nothing more than itself and the action of writing.

However, instead of an object we are speaking of reactions, which in itself is much more complicated. Think of all the preloaded experiences, knowledge, and thoughts that go into a single reaction, which depending on the person, could possibly result in a multitude of different reactions. In fact with the world as it exists now(billions of people living, and billions of people and experiences and events in the past) the possibilities are endless, or only God would know the extent of the possibilities.

Now, however, take away all the previous people, all the heritage, all teachings from mothers and fathers, all history, all experiences and you are placed back in the shoes of the first man and woman. There was absolutely nothing previous to react to, other than that of the creation story and God. Suddenly, a serpent comes up and tempts you with a proposition. Does Adam and Eve, Tyler, Eric, Mark, Betty-Lou, or Joe the plumber have any different catalyst or piece of knowledge that would change the outcome of the exact same sequence of actions and reactions? No. So in this case, possibly the green marker illustration is slightly comparative, but for the opposite reason you used it to illustrate.

That was all I was trying to say, and I don’t even think it has anything to do with Justice, it is a small factor of the larger equation, but perhaps it shows us how nothing would have changed, and in light of eternity possibly in some way, maybe in heart and spirit, we were there committing the same sin Adam and Eve did. Actually, we still do it today, lol, bummer.

I hardly think this is something to keep arguing about because it is a relativly minor thought to the bigger question at hand, but I just couldn’t let it go.

Comment by Tyler Thayer

I think the most important thing in this conversation is what Glorifies God the most. Is God glorified by our choice or is He glorified by His actions?

I look through the whole Bible and only see support for the later proposition. Choice is irrelevent to God’s glory. God is only glorified by His actions not ours. He is not served by us in any fashion. Furthermore, God is both the just and the justifier in Christ. We have no part in it. God does not share his glory with another. God is the only one credited for what He does in the bible, not what we do in ourselves. It is God who took Israel out of Eygpt. Faithless Israel wanted to stay behind. Israel had to walk around the desert. True. What does God say about that? He says they were always grumbling and without faith. Does that count as glorifying God? I don’t think so.

How is our conversion different. We hold on to old ways tightly. It was not Israel’s actions or ours that glorifies God but God’s faithfulness despite our actions. We only can contribute sin in our every choice.

Then even in Israel’s returning. God is the one who really acts. Not kings and not the Israelites. God is glorified by his actions in outstretching His hands towards a rebellous people. It is not their freedom to be rebellious or Not be rebellious that glorfies God. All man-made here decisions for obedience come down to unbelief or God’s will. God already has the right to demand us to follow Him. This does not add any glory to God but merely is the law. If we freely are obedient; it is not more than what is required. It is merit and it is but a wage. God requires the gospel of everyone. It is God who must glorify God even in our actions. We can never stand up outside of Christ.

If our actions where entirely free (free of even our own desires which God changes), I would charge all of God’s wisdom as folly. He is infinitely wise, powerful, and good. Yet if He sits on His hands and lets us be screw ups, How does that glorify God? He is neither wise, powerful, or good in doing so.

Finally, Do you have a problem predestination or a God who would predestine?. Most people have a problem with the later.

Comment by Dave McCarthy

I get what you’re saying Thayer, and I LIKE it. I didn’t get it the first time through, but now I think I’m on board with you. This is big because if all would have sinned when presented with Adam’s situation, then it’s ok that Adam was our representative because in a way he WAS us. That would mean we’re responsible for our own sin. But I think this might just push the problem back one step.

So it’s true that every human would have sinned given Adam’s situation. But then we got this: God creates Adam (representing everybody) with all the reasoning, moral abilities, etc. that he has, and puts him in a situation, without his consent, where God knows Adam will fail. Then when Adam fails, God blames him for sin, even though he couldn’t have succeeded. The result is that non-Christians are blamed for his sin and go to Hell for eternity for it and its results (remember we’re just talking non-Christians here, Christians have no reason to complain).

So let me hit you with another analogy and you tell me if it’s accurate or if it’s crappy. This is going to be kind of ridiculous, but try to look past it to see the point. Say the oceans were made of Diet Coke, and I put a trillion Mentos in each of the five Oceans (you thought there were 4 right? i did too, but i looked it up and they say the Southern Ocean is an ocean. we didn’t learn about that one in school, but then again i went to public school so i shouldn’t be surprised) Anyway, I drop Mentos in the Diet Coke oceans and they fizz up and flood the whole world and kill all humanity.

When I introduce the Mentos to the Coke Oceans, I know exactly what’s going to happen. The only possibility is that the oceans are going to pretty much blow up and kill people. Nothing else can happen. So are the Mentos to blame for killing humanity? No, the person who dropped the Mentos into the ocean (me) is to blame. How does this relate to our subject? God is like me in that he throws us (mentos) into a situation (diet coke ocean) where we have no choice but to fail (fizz up and kill). The way we are made (and God decides that) demands that we fail. Everyone is going to fail, and there’s no chance we won’t. Then we fail and get blamed.

My intuition wants to say that I’m not to blame for failing to do something I can’t possibly do. If my boss tells me to build 8 aircraft carriers in 4 hours, can he rightly blame me when I don’t get the job done? I think most will say “no” but a few might say, “Yes, you didn’t do what he asked.” But put yourself in my position. If you’re boss fired you when you didn’t build 8 aircraft carriers in 4 hours, you’d be ticked because you know that no one on Earth could possibly succeed (hidden assumption: “ought implies can,” that is, if you say someone ought to do something, you’re implying that they have the ability to do it. You can’t say I ought to give all my money to the poor and I ought support my family. No one can do both.)

So while I think that I probably would have sinned in Adam’s situation, I’m wondering how I’m to blame when I could do nothing but fail (this also depends on the idea that there was no option but to fail, but if we agree that all would have sinned, this must be true).

“Why so many analogies, Eric?” Because I’m trying to show that we sometimes betray our real feelings about justice in an effort to let God off the hook.

As for the Dave W.’s justice/fairness distinction, I agree that God never has to be fair. That’s why I don’t go to bat for non-Christians by saying, “Hey why does God save some and not all?” My question deals with God’s right to blame people for sin, which deals with the subject of justice. I’m cool with God not being fair.

Also, being an Arminian would make this real easy. But I’m assuming that most people reading this blog don’t role that way. I don’t role that way. As for Molinism, I’m completely ignorant so that may be a solution too.

Look, I know I’m a sinner and completely responsible for my sin. I just want to be able to articulate to an informed non-Christian how that is in fact true. Because right now I can’t do it.

Last thing: This discussion has been profitable for me if no one else. You guys have helped me understand more about what I believe about these things and why. Preciate it.

Comment by Eric Sampson

About the 5 Oceans, I speak no lies. Look that trash up. It blew my mind.

Comment by Eric Sampson

“Also, being an Arminian would make this real easy. But I’m assuming that most people reading this blog don’t role that way. I don’t role that way. As for Molinism, I’m completely ignorant so that may be a solution too.”

Oh the joys of a simple Christianity! 🙂

That’s unfair though…I apologize.

Comment by J baby

As far as Moninism goes. I find it all makes a lot of sense up to a point. That point is when the Moninist says God can’t make a square a triangle, or He can’t make an object both negative and positive at the same time – that there are truths outside of His own domain.

I’d like to, and I do, believe that God can make the most of impossible things possible even if our minds can’t comprehend them.

Apart from that aspect of Molinism, the rest is pretty sound to me.

Comment by J baby

Yes, God put Adam in a position as the first ever human, and yes He knew that he would fall to temptation. But even as he knew this, He already knew that He would send Jesus Christ. See, some would put Christ on the list of God’s goals as “plan B.” I think scripture more points towards Christ as the only plan. Everything, even the creation of Adam and Eve and their entire circumstance points towards Christ. So even if you wish to see God as putting Adam in a spot that could not be escaped, know that He had already planed the escape before Adam was ever created.

We can’t just look at one side of the coin here. This is what I call “The Great Exception”. Christianity is filled with tons of exceptions, “it is this, except wait, it is also this.”

In this situation, God created man, and man was going to fall short, and God knew it. EXCEPT, God also before He created man planned for Christ to be apart of the equation the entire time.

Then there is this “consent” thing. That is not really biblical or rational, Adam is still the created not the creator. Does a toy give consent to the toy maker? I doubt it. We are the created beings, we are smarter than toys, but the role does not change.

Oh and about the coke oceans, I will be honest, I try to steer clear of illustrations like that. They tend to leave reality. And though they may make a point (of some sort), I find that those types of illustrations are trivial. Although I guess I could say two things about the trivial mentos people in a coke ocean illustration:

1.) Maybe mentos are evil and we should no longer make them. In which case it wouldn’t be your fault/God’s fault for throwing them in, maybe it is the manufacturer’s fault?
2.)That illustration again neglects the saving plan found in Christ. See what you didn’t know in your illustration is that there was another person who also put some kind of solution that destroyed the chemical effects and saved all those people that the giant fiz explosion killed. His name was Jesus(pronounced “Heysoos”) aka Jesus Christ.

See how trivial? Lol…okay I think we have come full circle a few times now on the illustrations. So I will let that one rest. And is God on any hook? Perhaps not the best diction?

The point, I must say, is Christ. Don’t miss that point. The greatest stigma in a culture that wants to own everything is the realization that we are the created, the owned, the purchased. It is relatively essential to the gospel. In light of being the created, we have chosen to deny and turn away from God and thus have sinned against the Creator.

I am glad Eric that this discussion has profited you, after all scripture is profitable for teaching. Scripture is the most important physical thing on this earth if you ask me. And though I am glad that this discussion has helped you Eric, I am slightly concerned. Please understand, if you don’t already know this: the gospel is the power to save. The gospel is the power of God to save those who are lost. Nothing else. I read that you are faced, when talking to your non-Christian friends, with these type of questions. Let it be known clearly that no one will ever reason themselves to GOD.


NO ONE will ever reason themselves to God and to salvation. As Christians, yes, we are called to understand things, to work the ideas of salvation out fearfully and trembling, but understand that this does not bring salvation. It is a result of salvation. No one will ever become convinced of God’s justice, righteousness, holiness, rights as creator, or even his love through reason.

Aside from the gospel, reason is useless and fruitless.

People are saved by the gospel of Jesus Christ and him crucified.

So my concern, Eric, is that like I had once thought in my past, that you think you must answer the questions of atheists or non-christians and explain to them the exactness of the situation so that they may reason their way to God. This may not be the case, but still… Do not be fooled, understand that it is only by the Gospel that anyone will come to God, so though this conversation may profit you and I, it will do nothing for the non-believer. Of this, I am sure, and like Paul, when I speak to someone who is not a Christian I will strive to only know Christ and him crucified.

Comment by Tyler Thayer

Eeek, I just made a long post, no bueno. My bro probably wont read it, but Eric please do.^

This post is for J Baby. To compare Irresistible Grace to rape is quite unfortunate. Perhaps you don’t realize what it is. None the less, it is not forced love and neither is rape.

Let’s look mainly at rape, as it seems that you are confusing the difference between “in love” and “to make love”(i.e. sex). Rape is forced sexual interactions. There is no love in it, and neither party usually ever loves each other, and there is no way to force someone to love you. It is purely about dominance and sex. It is sad and disgusting, and it is apart of this sinful fallen world. To compare the idea of irresistible grace to anything so vile as rape is very flawed and illogical. The two have nothing in common and for you to type so, is quite concerning. Grace does not equal rape. Simple.

The idea of Irresistible Grace, boiled down quite a bit, is that the grace of God is so amazing, so wonderful, so undeserved, so magnificent, so beautiful, and so righteous that anyone offered it could not possibly reject it. How could they, it is the grace of God? Essentially, it comes down to desires. But how is it possible to equate it to rape, I don’t know, maybe if you are very cynical about the subject.

I guess there could be more, but let’s leave it at that.

Comment by Tyler Thayer

I totally get that Christ makes all things better. This is why I keep pointing out that we’re talking about non-Christians here. Christians can’t complain that God blames them for sins that they ultimately aren’t responsible for (which is currently up for debate but at this point we haven’t shown how they’re responsible), because they’re ultimately not held responsible–Christ is. But Christ doesn’t make everything all better for the non-Christian. They get eternal damnation. So this whole business about, “Hey don’t worry about it, Christ makes everything right” is true for Christians but not for non-Christians (and when I say “non-Christians” I mean those who die in their sins and never trust Christ as Savior, not just people who are currently non-Christians). So all appeals to Christ to fix the situation don’t work because Christ’s work on the cross is of no value to a non-Christian.

And believe me, I get that I’ll never reason someone to Christ. I’m a Calvinist. I know that He does 100% of the work in salvation. No one is trying to reason anyone to Christ. I’m trying to have an answer for the non-Christian who asks the critical question of “How can God blame me for my sin when it’s His fault I’m sinful” (keep in mind, it’s a non-Christian speaking). This is something we MUST have an answer for. I can’t just say, “Shut up dude, just believe you’re responsible and turn to Christ.” If we want them to see their need for the gospel we have to show them how our God is holy and they are sinful. It’s a critical part of our gospel presentation for the more reflective non-Christian.

Comment by Eric Sampson

I have a response to “I’m cool with God not being fair.”

The question is what is the standard for fairness/justice? I think people humanistically define justice without God. I think God suffers more than we ever suffer when it comes to allowing evil and experiencing suffering in the world; A world and a people meant to reflect His own honor.

Yet, the suffering of suffering/evil cannot be divorced from redemption and the ‘logos’ / incarnate Word of God in creation. Everything was subjected to futility in Hope. The only hope I see is Christ. Not that creation or man would somehow work itself out and find salvation by its efforts.

I think God still gets a raw deal when it comes to having to be forebearing to all men, including the reprobate, for the sake of those to be saved. Where is the fairness and justice in that?

Comment by Dave McCarthy

Aka. I think those who challenge the doctrine of God’s Justice shouldn’t ask who is going to heaven by grace but should ask why isn’t everyone in hell already. They are wanting justice right?

Comment by Dave McCarthy

“How could they, it is the grace of God?”

Because God allows them to…

Comment by J baby

Again, I think we are missing something. You probably will never find an answer like the one you are looking for, Eric. Or at least not until the day you see Christ face to face. (And if you do, please come and tell me) And that is why I keep trying to point us to Christ. You obviously don’t like that, lol, but sorry that’s all I know to do. No one knows who the non-christian that will never be a christian guy is. We must always assume that everyone needs the gospel, in fact everyone does. The key to this whole conundrum isn’t trying to find an answer that can’t be known, but understanding the gospel.

This is why it is so hard to communicate with an atheist, until scripture is revealed to him and he understands the gospel, none of it makes sense. Christ is literally the key to it all, without Christ none of it makes sense, and if someone wants to reject Christ, then there will never be an answer for that person. And unfortunately the greater consequence for rejecting Christ is damnation to hell. Sucks. So literally, if you ask me, the best answer we can offer anyone is Christ. Nothing else. Nothing else means jack squat if that person is not a Christian, and what should I care that they know every detail of why they are held responsible if they don’t know Christ? The biggest concern to me is Christ, and that is the answer.

After years of striving after apologetics, the art of defending the faith and giving an answer to those who question the faith, I finally believe that I understand what it is supposed to be. It isn’t about knowing everything, it is about knowing Jesus. Sorry if that does not satisfy you or anyone else who is reading this. But I tell you the truth, any answer that is given that is not Christocentric in nature will yield little to nothing in light of eternity in heaven, and that is what I am most concerned about with a non-Christian.

And I know you can’t just say “shut up,” but what you can do is point them back to Christ and say something must be up if it cost God his only son in order to atone for our sins and reconcile us to him. Wow, now that is something worth that person’s time talking to you.

Comment by Tyler Thayer

“For to those who are perishing the message of the cross is foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is God’s power. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will set aside the understanding of the experts.’ Where is the philosopher? Where is the scholar? Where is the debater of this age? Hasn’t God made the world’s wisdom foolish?”
-1 Corinthians 9:18-20

Comment by David Wells

My two cents, for what it probably isn’t worth:

1) Our job as Christians isn’t to “get God off the hook” or to make the Bible “easier to take” or more “palpable” to non-Christians. I think this is one of the biggest mistakes of the church at large in our day. The Bible is the most offensive book ever written. Though we don’t want to offend people unnecesarily, the fact is, if we are faithful to God’s word, people are going to be offended because it runs completely contrary to the spirit of every age.

We have to watch out for being seduced by our culture in this area. Christians aren’t supposed to be politically correct. We aren’t supposed to be jerks either, but I’m afraid that we can be so obsessed with what unbelievers think of us and so worried about how we are perceived by others that we begin worshiping the creature rather than the Creator. We are so afraid of not being liked or being misunderstood that we forget or completely abandon the call we have to Proclaim the glorious Gospel of God’s Grace!

Having said all of that, we do, however, need to think long and hard of how to engage our culture with God’s word, but God isn’t obligated whatsoever to answer to this world. We are called to proclaim Christ and him crucified and give an answer for the hope we have in Him. We aren’t required to satisfy every question the unbelieving world will throw at us.

As Christians, we can dump so much time and effort into being “relevant” and “culturally conversant” that we start to believe that that is the grounds of people believing and being converted. ITS NOT! Those types of things may help get people to a meeting or start a conversation, but its the Holy Spirit working through the Proclamation of the Gospel that brings about conversion and an acceptance of God’s word as true.

2) God is just because God defines reality for us. He made everything and rightfully does what he pleases with it all. Our sense of justice, especially before being regenerated, is so bunk and influenced by modern/postmodern philosophy that we should not be at all surprised that God’s presentation of His justice seems stupid.

I agree with non-Christians that trying to rationalize God’s presentation of justice on modern/postmodern grounds is impossible. These philosophies assume the righteousness, autonomy, and authority of the human mind/reason/intellect (instead of the righteousness, autonomy, and authority of God).

So, it should not seem weird that, to individuals that think of their beliefs and experiences as finally interpreting or defining reality, can’t handle God’s revelation of justice. So, to reason with an unbeliever by establishing a common ground around “justice” isn’t gonna happen.

3) Another point of disconnect between the bible’s presentation of reality and the culture around us is the grounds of our responsibility for our actions.

The Bible never, ever places the grounds of our responsibility for our actions in our ability to do something apart from and separate from the influence or compulsion of an outside force. We are NOT responsible for our sins because we commit them of our own, pure freewill.

What you see in the Bible is that we are responsible because God says we are. So our responsibility for our actions is grounded in the Authority of God over His creation, not in our freedom to do whatever we choose or to act completely free from external influences.

Again, this ain’t gonna jive with unbelieving moderns/postmoderns. Their presupposition is that their responsibility comes from acting independently from others.

4) Genesis 50:15-21 may be of some help for non-Christians. The story of Joseph and His brothers.

We all know the story, I trust. Joseph had all these brothers. His dad treated him better than the others. They became jealous of him and wanted to kill him. But one of the brothers who wasn’t as much of a jerk convinced them to sell him to some slave dealers on their way to Egypt.

Then, the brothers make up this elaborate story of how Joseph was killed by a wild animal. Several years later, Joseph has become Pharoah’s main dude and is dispensing food to thousands in the middle of an intense famine. His brothers come to Egypt to get grub, and Joseph recognizes the jokers and finally reveals himself to them. then…

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” 16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died, 17 ‘Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 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. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

v. 20 is super awesome! One thing we must never forget in this discussion of God’s predestination and sovereignty is that His intentions and motives are good and different than our own.

This passage shows that although God is sovereign over our sin (the deeds of Joseph’s brothers), His intentions are not evil. His ordaining of the sin of Joseph’s brothers had as its goal the saving of thousands of lives. It was Joseph’s being in Egypt that resulted in food being stored up for the famine. God’s intention wasn’t to have Joseph’s life suck, but to show mercy to thousands. In the same way, “God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.” (Rom. 11:32)

So, God’s intentions in having us all bound to sin and death in Adam, though not exhaustively revealed in Scripture, is for the purpose of showing mercy to ALL and to more fully display the character and Glory of God (Rom. 9). It is also so that we will say with Paul,

“33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” Rom. 11:33-36

Comment by Kevin Shipp

Thanks Kevin, I think your point 4 was quite clear and enlightening. Peace and Grace…

Comment by Tyler Thayer

Kevin, thanks for the comment.

You’re taking a really Van Til-esque approach to this problem by denying common ground with unbelievers on this topic. I’m curious, it might just be that I’ve never read it, but where did you find a definition of justice laid out in scripture? Because if this is not the case, I don’t really think a Van Tillian has any warrant for denying ground to unbelievers.

In essence, if its not plainly laid out in scripture [in a similar way as Christian ethics] I think we are doing the same thing as non-Christians (figuring out what-in-the-crap justice means in a humanistic manner).

Any thoughts?

Comment by Justin Day

“Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O House of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just?” (Ezekiel 18:25).

“You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” -Deuteronomy 16:19-20

You see justice at the cross. Though God shows mercy, He does not accept a bribe but rather an atonement, someone paying our fine as a benefactor, not an extorter. We point people to that cross, and they see God uniting two main aspects of His being: grace and truth. It is of no avail to discuss predestination to a non-believer, for you place your faith in the cross and not in Calvinism. Predestination, though biblical, is a lesser doctrine, and one that stems from a person’s faith. It does not lead a person to faith.

It is also of no avail to debate predestination except among ourselves. In essence, it only makes for fun conversation since we all here claim faith in Christ. It does not cause us to waiver since it comes from Scripture, and since it is logical based on Scripture, then it should be well enough for us.

Some may call this a cop out. But the choice in debating predestination with a non-believer would be unwise to begin with. If you go down the road of basing your evangelism off philosophy and not Christ/the Bible, then you might as well ditch the gospel. Christ’s cross comes from Scripture, as does every other doctrine we cling to. It may not make sense to a non-believer. But truth maintains its truth whether we understand it or not. We once could not understand the motion of the stars in the sky. It did not change the attributes of physics. Neither does no “theory of everything” for Calvinist doctrines.

So the true answer to give is, “God is just because His Word says so. I know it sounds ridiculous to you, but the Bible is Christocentric and not man-centered. It should stand out for that reason. No matter what you think about that, I want you to know nothing except Christ crucified. If you know that, you know what Christianity is all about.” It’s not about debate. It’s about being a messenger. And if they have any problems with God’s justice, they can tell Him about it on the Day.

Comment by David Wells

I intended to drop the discussion two days ago, but I really think it would be good continue. This will respond to Kevin’s post.

In response to #1: When I say we’re looking for a solution to “get God off the hook,” please understand that I don’t mean to suggest that I have backed God into a corner or that He answers to me. Please read me more charitably. He’s God. And that is a loaded word. I mean for it to carry all the weight that it should carry (all-powerful, all-knowing, transcendent, incomprehensible, perfect in love, justice, mercy, wisdom, etc.) I just mean to use a short phrase to express the idea that we need to find a way to show the non-Christian that he, the sinner, is accountable for his sin.

This is not an effort to make Christianity “more palatable.” If anything, this is to make it less so. I want to show the non-Christian that he is a miserable worm (as am I) in need of a savior. If he doesn’t see that he’s responsible for sin, he’ll never get that he needs Jesus.

There’s no effort to be politically correct here.

And yes it’s true, as you say, that I don’t want to be misunderstood. I want to be very clear about what I’m communicating to the non-Christian. So I’m not comfortable telling a person that they’re responsible for sin when I can’t put into words why I think that’s true (I’ll still do it because I know it’s true, but it makes me a tad uncomfortable). The reason I want to nail this down, is so I can proclaim the gospel as you say. Because IT MAKES NO SINCE TO PROCLAIM THE ANSWER TO A PERSON WHO CAN’T SEE THAT THERE’S A PROBLEM (again not yelling, just emphasis).

True, we’re not required to answer every question the non-Christian throws at us. But we are required to answer this question: What good is Jesus’ work on the cross for humanity? Why the crap should I care about what some Jewish dude did 2000 years ago? Answer: Because you’re a sinner responsible for your filthy, unholy character, and the holy God of the Universe will hold you responsible if you don’t cling to the one who took your punishment upon Himself. Just proclaiming the death and resurrection is not a complete presentation of the gospel (I sense some discomfort with this statement but hear me out). You also have to explain why the cross was necessary. Why did Jesus come to die? That’s what the whole left side of your Bible (Genesis through Malachi) is about. Our sin, and our need for a savior. So please understand, I’m not trying to ignore the gospel. The gospel is what’s at stake.

You may want to dismiss the non-Christian who asks this question as a hard-hearted butthole, but I’m more inclined to say that he’s a sharp guy with a legitimate question for Christians.

In response to #2: I fail to see where the modern/postmodern philosophy enters the picture when we say something like “A person is not responsible for an action they could not, under any circumstances, avoid.” That’s been true (or at least believed to be true) across continents, cultures, and time periods. We don’t blame a person with Parkinson’s for shaking too much, no matter how distracting it is or how many times they spill their water glass. They didn’t choose or have a say in their continuous shaking. If we want to deny the above statement and say that we can blame people for actions they couldn’t avoid, then I challenge you to live a life consistent with that statement. I think you’ll see that you don’t really believe it. Is that because you’re idea of justice is bunk or influenced by modern/postmodern philosophy? No way. Let’s not give into our knee-jerk reaction to burn the philosophy books, and cuddle up with our Bibles (an exaggeration, I recognize, I use it as a rhetorical device). Philosophy, contrary to popular belief, is a tool Christians can use for the sake of the gospel. It’s not a threat to Christianity as if it could expose some secret falsehoods in our faith.

I believe God has a legitimate reason for holding the people he damns to Hell responsible for their sin. I don’t know what it is, but I think it’s more than “because He says so.”

As for the rest of #2, I’ll just restate that no one has appealed to modern/postmodern philosophy.

In response to #3: Kevin said: “What you see in the Bible is that we are responsible because God says we are.”

It’s true that we’re responsible for our sin. It’s true that God says we are. It’s NOT true that God’s declaration of our responsibility is the CAUSE of our responsibility, as you indicated (maybe you didn’t mean that, I don’t think you did, but I don’t know how else to read that sentence above). It’s an affront to God’s justice to say that he arbitrarily blames us for sin (yes, I’m claiming to have some notion of what justice is, we do it every day and rightfully so).

I don’t think it’s a crazy (or even unbiblical) idea to believe that we are responsible for the actions we do according to our own free will (uh-oh, bad word). No, I’m not suggesting we have free will in our salvation. Yes, I’m suggesting we do have it once we’re freed from the power of sin after conversion.

In response to #4: Well said.

Comment by Eric Sampson

One more thing to clarify. There have been several attempts to say that we have absolutely no idea what justice is. We’re so sinful and our minds are so limited that we’ll just never get it. This sounds humble on the surface, but it leads to some serious problems, not to mention the fact that our interactions in the world betray us by showing that we don’t really think that’s true.

If it’s true that we don’t know what justice is, then every time we’ve uttered the phrase “God is just,” we’ve just uttered nonsense. It’s like saying “God is loshnik.” It’s nonsense. No one knows what “loshnik” means. The reason we can say “God is just” is because we really do have an idea about what justice is. I know I’ve said this above, so it’s nothing new but I think that’s an important point.

Comment by Eric Sampson

Great question Justin and I agree with most, if not all you said, Eric. Here’s another thought or two that might help balance what I said earlier.

I do think that we can know what Justice is, both Justice as it pertains to God’s relationship to us, and ours to him and in our relationship with other humans. I think a reason why it can be difficult to “nail down” a definition of Justice from the Bible is because we like dictionaries and systematic theologies with nice, easy to find answers (I’m not knocking those, they are helpful). What we get in the Bible is God revealing Himself (and, consequently, what Justice is) through literature(narratives, prophecy, history, songs, letters, etc.). I stole this from someone, but I do think we can define God’s Justice: Its his commitment to uphold the honor due His Name and to defend the priority of His Glory in the universe.

I DO think we can find common ground with unbelievers, just not by adopting their view of the universe. We can present the truth from scripture, say, the story of Joseph and His brothers or the story of the Exodus, and we can explain truths, like God’s justice or God’s mercy, in ways that unbelievers may even agree with, but in doing so we will be leading them into a new worldview quite different from their own; one in which God exists, is Supreme, man is fallen, and needs to be redeemed!


About responsibility, I think I was a little too simplistic, unbalanced, and honestly a little proud in thinking that I could solve the problem! The fact of the matter is, I don’t think we have a clear, clean cut explanation as to how human responsibility and God’s sovereignty are fully reconciled. There is an element of mystery in this. I proudly assume I can solve the mystery. I don’t think this is a cop out answer either. Its the Triune God we’re talking about! we shouldn’t be able to get it all down!

I do think we can say a few things to fill out what the bible teaches, though.
Immediately, we are responsible because we are the one’s who carry out sinful actions with evil intentions. When I crave the worship of others through flattery, I want to crave it. Its my will to sin in that moment. So, in the Bible, we see that people are punished for their sins because they are the ones doing it (disobeying God) and their hearts are motivated by evil intent.

Ultimately, though, we are responsible because God said, in His word, that we are. He’s the one who revealed what sin is and why its such a big deal, in His word. He’s the one who will execute punishment on men for their sins. He will ultimately hold everyone accountable for their sins. Does that make more sense of why I said its based on His Authority? If we appeal to something more ultimate than Scripture, I am afraid we are on shaky ground. But, I am totally open to being shown error in my thinking. I want to be Biblical, as I trust we all do. Let know what you think!

Comment by Kevin Shipp

My thoughts, for what they’re worth.

The Biblical account of predestination, God foreknew what we would choose. He chose those who He knew would freely choose Him.

Therefore the analogy is problematic, because predestination is not God saying “I don’t choose you.” It’s God saying “I choose you because you chose me.”

So there is no rope. God’s not arbitrarily damning people to Hell. And we don’t know who will choose God, and therefore we don’t know who God has chosen.


Comment by Maverick

Oh yeah, and Dsizzle, sorry man, but your comments about not questioning God’s sovereignty are not helpful. They close down the conversation.

If someone’s questioning, engage in loving ways. Don’t tell them not to question. That’s never helped anyone.

Comment by Maverick


Where do you see evidence for your perspective in the bible? Not trying to bash you, just curious where you see that.

Comment by Kevin Shipp

Hi Kevin –
I think Romans 8:28-30 ought to do it. The word “foreknew” is used in a “knew beforehand” tense, which shows that God knew ahead of time who would choose Him.

Look carefully at the progression of the verse. It took me a long time to understand, and I honestly only started understanding it (my eyes were unveiled one day as I was driving)that it goes foreknew – predestined – called – justified – glorified (perfect tense, so present and future).

Comment by Maverick

Does it say that He foreknew that they would choose Him or that He foreknew them, the actual person? (“those whom He foreknew”) I think if you look at the context, the way the term “to know” is used throughout the Bible, not to mention the Greek, you’ll see that Paul is talking about more than knowing people’s choices, but knowing the person in an intimate way or even calling them in a particular way. Its also the same kind of language used for intercourse in the Bible (Adam “knew” Eve) So, I think its a little more intimate and all encompassing than simply knowing what we would choose. Your thoughts?

Comment by Kevin Shipp

Hi Kevin –

Thanks for the intelligent feedback. I appreciate your thoughts.
Interesting, I just read an article on churchlayman (the blog) about this.

First, I must say that we need to define what we mean by “Total Depravity”, because sometimes it is taken to mean that we are unable to choose God, and sometimes it means that there is nothing redemptive in us as humans. Depending on how you define it, I may agree with Total Depravity.

Why do I bring this up? Because it is clear in Genesis that we are made in God’s image, and the same word is used for image pre-Fall, post-Fall, and post-Flood. We are still God’s image, albeit broken reflections.

I don’t think that you can separate who a person is from their actions, like the author of the above mentioned article attempts to do. God does absolutely care about people, and what is more caring and all-encompassing than not just knowing the person, but knowing their actions as well? I’m taking it even further than you are, and seeing God as more sovereign and caring! He knows even our actions, even our free (hence uncontrolled by Him) actions.

You said it yourself: “Paul is talking about more than knowing people’s choices…” Paul is talking about more, but he’s not doing away with the actions.

Your thoughts?

Comment by John

I guess I just gave up my secret identity. Dang.

Comment by John

And also psteele, you said up at the top “You and I were created by God as evil people.” I’m amazed that no one has challenged this thinking! Are you kidding me??? God said that man was “very good.”

If what you said isn’t flawed theology, I don’t know what is. I’m sorry brother, but you are very very mistaken in your view of man.

Comment by John


I agree that man has great potential for good. And that man is the crown of God’s creation and is the most “like God” in all creation. That’s huge! The fall hasn’t annihilated this amazing, gracious truth. However, I think you may be understating the effects of the fall.

Genesis 5 shows a continual progression of sinfulness in man, and the spread to all men of the punishment of sin; death.

Genesis 6:5 says that “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

In the lives of the patriarchs we see God pursuing and choosing by whom and how his redemptive purposes would proceed.

Then, we see throughout the history of Israel a constant turning from God and sinning, being punished, exiled, then God graciously bringing them back to Himself.

Also, see what Paul says about mankind in Romans 3 (quoted from Psalm 14:1-3, 53:1-3)

“For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.””

What this points to is that sin has infected all aspects of our being: our minds, our mouths, our eyes, our feet, our way of living. And he says clearly that no one seeks for God.

This, I think is what we should mean by Total Depravity. Sin has effected our entire being, and because of that we have nothing in ourselves to commend ourselves to God, we do not have faith of ourselves, and we are unwilling to seek after God. We need divine intervention. (Eph 1 and 2)

This also brings up the idea of regeneration, like John 3 and Titus 3, and the work of the Holy Spirit in sanctification, bringing new spiritual life and conforming the believer into the image of Christ. This is, in effect, restoring the image of God in man. See Romans 8.

Also, think of the story of redemption as a whole. The Bible is a story of human beings running from God and God graciously pursuing them. It wasn’t Adam and Eve that came looking for God after they sinned, God came looking for them. It wasn’t Noah that came looking for God, it simply says that he found favor in God’s eyes. Moses didn’t come looking for God to deliver His people from Egypt, God appeared to Him quite unexpectedly. It wasn’t the people of God that came to the prophets hoping to get a word from the Lord, but they were sent to the people. (and usually the people rejected them or even killed them). Then, in the NT, you don’t have the disciples on a mad search for the Messiah, He comes and calls them.

The Bible isn’t about people finding God on their own, but God coming after them, revealing himself over and over again as willing to forgive and redeem, and then finally overcoming man’s unwillingness to come to Him by re-creating them by His Spirit and giving the gift of faith.

As Herman Bavinck once said:

“the essence of the Christian religion consists in the reality that the creation of the Father, ruined by sin, is restored in the death of the Son of God and re-created by the grace of the Holy Spirit into a kingdom of God. [It] shows us how God, who is all-sufficient in himself, nevertheless glorifies himself in his creation, which, even when it is torn apart by sin, is gathered up again in Christ. It describes for us God, always God, from beginning to end – God in his being, God in his creation, God against sin, God in Christ, God breaking down all resistance through the Holy Spirit and guiding the whole of creation back to the objective he decreed for it: the glory of his name.”

I think this is what you see when you come to Scripture.

Comment by Kevin Shipp

Kevin –
I agree with you, in part. Though I don’t think I’m minimizing man’s fallenness. I think Reformed Theology OVERemphasizes it. I’m simply emphasizing a part that is never talked about. We talk about sin. I think we all have a pretty darn good understanding that we’re sinful and in need of a Savior. At least, those of us who are Christians understand it well.

But who really understands that we are made special, with something redemptive about us? We’re beaten down and trod on by the church. No wonder so many people say that religion is a crutch! If you’re beaten down constantly, you need a crutch! We need to be both affirmed in our worth and reminded of our shortfalls.

I agree that God pursues us. But there is also a responsibility to respond to that pursuit! Think of it in the context of a relationship. In my idea of a relationship, the man will pursue the woman. Pursue and pursue and pursue. But he can’t make her accept or love him. She has to give that of her own volition, her own choice, her own free will.
It’s the same with God. He pursues and pursues. But man, we have to respond.

That’s the part that is left out. God may initiate, but He doesn’t force. At least not the God that I see in the Bible. And that others see in the Bible. Who would want to worship a God like that? And would it be worship or would it be simply forced obedience if God was a puppetmaster?

What is your take on man’s freedom? And do you think man was born sinful? What part of man is redemptive?

Comment by John

[…] Last week, former B2C regular Justin Day posted an intriguing article on VFC’s blog Manspeak about God’s justice. Though many know of God’s justice through the cross of Christ, the biggest objection to God’s lordship is that whether His Law is fair. Do all men really fall short of the glory of God? Justin’s post on this topic was so intriguing that there are now 42 comments. You can read his article here. […]

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