Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Predestination and Adoption Through Christ

The doctrine of election and predestination is a topic in Christian theology that is argued very critically on both sides. There are two main opposing sides, Calvinism and Arminianism. For those of you that don't know the difference between the two, looking at wikipedia describes them pretty well when it says, "Arminians believe that they owe their election to their faith whereas Calvinists believe that they owe there faith to their election." If you still have no idea what I'm talking about then this next section will explain it a little better.

Calvinism and Arminianism with the Doctrine of Election:

In the Bible there are passages that talk about predestination and how we are elected by God to do the purpose of His will. I will try to write briefly on the differences between the two main ideas of theology that come from these passages. The most popular passages that are interpreted so differently come from Romans 8:28-30 and Romans 9:11-13

 "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified." -Romans 8:28-30

"Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God's purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, "The older will serve the younger." Just as it is written: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."
-Romans 9:11-13

Calvinists would argue that we were predestined before we were born as to whether or not we would be called to faith in Christ. It is not our choice but God's choice according to His purpose to bring glory to Himself. Some believe that we have no choice of free will to come to faith in Christ, but because we are elected by God, we are then brought to faith. In contrast, Arminians would argue that we are not predestined, and that we have the choice of free will to choose to come to faith in Christ or not. Even though we are born in sin, the choice is ours to chose to answer God's call. Arminians would say that, through grace, God restores free will to all humanity.

 If you are still curious about these two doctrines, I suggest looking them up further on your own because they are both a lot deeper than what I have just said. This was to paint a small background of the two popular sides. John Piper goes as far to claim that these ideas in Calvinism are "..the foundation of which all faith is built" and that, "..it is very prudent to understand it." Yet, I didn't want to go into too much detail on these ideas, because there is so much more to explain that it would take another long blog post in order to do so. The main purpose of this blog is to try to explain what I have come to believe about adoption, that runs almost parallel to Arminianism, that may help you understand how we are predestined or elected by God. Pray that God may open your heart and mind as we look deeper into His word and ask for guidance that you may understand the truth better of what His word should say to you.

The Theology of Adoption:

The Theology of Adoption is what I have decided to call this explanation of predestination and election. Instead of focusing on the words election, called, and predestined I am focusing on the word adoption. For me to focus on this word I will have to pull out a few passages to explain, seeing as this word was not in the two passages I shared above. The first passage I want to share that brings this different idea into light is in Romans as well, in chapter 8 verses 14-17.

"For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory." 
-Romans 8:14-17

This passage starts off by saying that we are the children of God if we are led by the Spirit. We are not slaves to God, but heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. When we received the Spirit, our adoption to sonship was received with it also. In Jewish culture it was custom for the firstborn to receive the inheritance of the father. If the firstborn dies, then the inheritance went to the next sibling in line. Because of this adoption, being heirs of God, we also received God's inheritance in the kingdom of heaven through the death of Jesus Christ. Christ was the first in line, then He died to the world and later rose from the dead. From His death we were next in line to gain the inheritance, seeing as He arose from the grave and is alive again we became co-heirs with Christ. Here is a different passage from Galations 3:23-29 to support this idea better.

"Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." 
-Galatians 3:23-29

From the start this passage talks about coming to faith. When it says, "before the coming of this faith" it is talking about the time before we had faith in Christ. Before Christ came, the Jews were always following strict laws and customs and trusting in God in order to gain their inheritance of heaven. When Jesus came He changed a lot of the ways the Jews were to do things. Because of Jesus's death, all of us were no longer bound by the law to gain the inheritance of heaven. After His death we were then given the Spirit to become a child of God. From that, God is the Father of the Spirit and since we are now one with the Spirit we are also children of God. The Spirit sent by God comes inside of us then becoming a part of us. It says that the Spirit calls out, "Abba Father." Though it all comes from having faith in Christ Jesus and being baptized into Christ, otherwise the Spirit wouldn't come inside of us. The next passage we will look at in Galatians explains this a little more.

"What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba , Father." So you are no longer a slave, but God's child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir."
- Galatians 4:1-7

Before Christ we were all slaves to the bondage of the law. Once Jesus died and rose again, we were freed from that bondage receiving the Spirit of His Son. Through the receiving of His Spirit we also received the adoption to sonship. Here is an analogy, let's say a girl is pregnant and she cannot afford to take care of her baby. Someone can adopt that child before it is even born. Through that adoption, the child is then predestined to be the adoptee's child. The child has no choice in that. Let's fast forward to when the child grows up and turns 18. He or she can then decide for themselves if they want to legally keep the name of the person who raised them, or change it back to their biological mother's name. Let's go back and look at verses 1-3. We are slaves to the world until we come of age to decide to have faith in Christ or not. Once we decide to keep the name of the adoptee (God), by having faith in Christ, then we truly become sons and daughters of God. If we deny our Father then we will lose our status of heir, therefore losing our inheritance in heaven. Just like the child would lose the adoptee's name forever. One may say, "A loving God would give them the inheritance anyway." Here's quote that comes to mind about this topic:

"When someone asks, "How could a good God send people to hell?" we should point out that, in a sense, God sends no one to hell. We send ourselves. God has done all that is necessary for us to be forgiven, redeemed, cleansed and made fit for heaven. All that remains is for us to receive this gift. For the person who does not want to be with God, even heaven would be hell." - Paul E. Little

Here is another example in Ephesians chapter 1. This is probably the longest and last passage that we will talk about because it is rich with information about adoption and predestination. Let's start in verse 3:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession—to the praise of his glory."
 -Ephesians 1:3-14

As you can see Paul uses the analogy of adoption to describe how we were chosen. It says that He chose us before the creation of the world, and in love predestined us for adoption through Jesus, and that He has freely given us grace. Just like in the analogy earlier about adopting a child. You can choose to adopt a child before they are even born; you may even have big plans for this child to go to a certain school or college and maybe even into a certain profession. You may have all these plans for this child, but once it is born and has its own free will, you cannot force it to do any of the plans you set out for them. With love, you can only hope that the child chooses the right path. I believe this is similar with God. He adopted us before we were even born, and has plans for us to be holy and blameless in His sight. Some of you may argue that we do not have free will. There is a quote from C.S. Lewis that I think explains the idea of having free will very clearly.

“God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go either wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot. If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having” (C.S. Lewis).

So because of our free will, we have made ourselves unholy, not God. In verses 7-10, it mainly is describing how we have redemption and grace through Christ. Then in verse 11 it says that we were also chosen, and in some translations, "made heirs" having been predestined according to God's plan. It goes on, once we believed we were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, which is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possessions. I just paraphrased the verse because there wasn't much of a better way to put it. It says, "once we believed" not "once we were chosen." Therefore it goes back to the idea of adoption, meaning, the time we chose to keep the name of the adoptee instead of the time the adoptee decided to raise us. Then, once we chose, we are marked with the seal. Once we accepted our adoptee to be our real father, we have gained his last name, giving us his inheritance at the proper time. Paul said it pretty plainly there in chapter one. 

So with the idea of adoption, yes we were predestined, but we still have free will to choose to either accept it and believe in Christ, or to totally deny God therefore losing the inheritance. From these readings I have found that the theology of being adopted makes more sense than saying that God has predestined certain people to eternal damnation. If God so loves the world that He gave His only Son so that we may be set free from the bondage of slavery to sin, why would He predestine His children to hades? That's why I believe all these passages we just went over describe the theology of adoption. They show that we have a loving Father that wants us to freely choose His name, to freely choose His kingdom and not our own. This is why the idea of being elected in the theology of Calvinism doesn't make sense to me. With the Calvinist's theology, it seems that you could believe that you have been elected when really you haven't due to lack of faith. With adoption God elects all, calls all, and chooses all. The decision to follow Christ and believe in Christ is up to you once you are of age, or when you are old enough to depict right from wrong. The idea of election has been a topic I have struggled with for while, because the Bible plainly states that we are elected, and that we are predestined. That's why when I saw that Paul gives the analogy of adoption many times, I felt at ease. I could not understand the Calvinist idea of election and predestination and have a verse like John 3:16. The idea that God loves us all does not make sense to me if He predestined people to eternal damnation. I see it instead that He predestined us all to be His children. He wants to save us; that is His plan. A loving father cares for his children; he doesn't plan out a path to send them to the worst place possible for all eternity. Just like Jesus gives the analogy of the Great Shepherd and the sheep, a shepherd cares for his flock. Everything Jesus did was out of love for His Father and others. God is love.

If we were elected, not by our choice, but from His will, then there would be no point in missionaries. If we are all predestined to either God's kingdom or eternal burning and have no choice in the matter, then there is no purpose in trying to spread the gospel. Jesus commanded us all to make disciples of all nations. If God predestined us against our free will rather than adoption, then Christ's command would be completely invalid and contradict our whole belief. If anything that Christ says is invalid then He is no longer perfect, therefore no longer wholly divine. These are reasons why I believe Calvinism cannot be true, because it goes against almost everything I believe our faith should be built on, love. So read these passages over again and ask God to open your heart and allow the scripture to speak to you. This post was about adoption, and I realize that I have begun to argue against Calvinism toward the end here. But this was all part of the struggle I have had with these passages. The theology of Calvinism in election shook my world in theology, everything I had been taught and read was just crumbled like a cracker. This is why I have been arguing against it, so that maybe someone else that has had the same struggle as I with Calvinism can be at peace with the analogy or theology of adoption instead.

I hope that this blog has helped grow your faith in Christ a little more and to understand better God's love for us all. I pray that your faith continues to grow through reading scripture and prayer. I pray that God's love will overtake you, and that you will surrender your life to Him for He is our Father, Creator, and Friend. Don't just take my word for what I have come to find, read His word for yourself and pray that God speaks to you clearly through it. May God be with you on your journey.