Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Another hard question

A few weeks back, I asked a hard question for "general" Baptists. Now one for "particular" Baptists:

If you believe that Christ died to save only His elect, what is your answer to the following?

If Jesus Christ died for the elect, and God irresistibly regenerates them and gives everlasting life -- then what is the difference between man and a robot?


Writer said...

R. L.,

I recently addressed this question on my blog. Check out MY RESPONSE TO THE ROBOT ARGUMENT.



R. L. Vaughn said...

Thanks for linking your post, Les. Actually that was where I settled on the question to use. I was thinking of two "hard questions" directed at each side of the atonement question, and for the purpose of making people reflect on their positions.

I came up with what I thought was a good one for the general atonement folks, but struggled with one for the particular atonement folks (there's probably a reason for that!) I settled on the "robot" related question because I had seen this discussed on the Baptist Board in the past, and then saw your posts on it.

To me, the first question really puts the dilemma -- if one says that God has done more for the saved than for those who are lost, the "general Baptist" admits to a principle that he rejects in unconditional election/particular redemption. But saying that God has done the same and what man does makes the difference brings up the question whether this is works salvation.

The "robot question" doesn't seem to have a deep precipice on either side as does the first "hard question", but it does seem to be a question that bothers many people in regard to unconditional election/particular redemption/irresistible grace.

Bro. Matt said...


I enjoyed reading your post, yet I still disagree with teachings of Calvinism. According to Calvinism, you are given eternal life before repentance which is not the correct order. Now, I understand what you were saying on your post concerning the choosing of God once a person is regenerated, however I disagree with it. Yet, I do enjoy the discussions all of us (Calvinists, Arminianists, and the rest of us) have had.

Also, I have a post about the works part of salvation that I'll try to find and post here too. It is at least an interesting read whichever way you go.

Bro. Matt said...

Here is the article I found on another blog. It's been awhile since I've read through all of it, so there could be points of contention from my point of view as well. Needless to say though, it is an interesting read.

"Freewill Belief: Is It a Saving Work?

Many Calvinists are quite fond of equating belief with works in regard to the matter of salvation. In my conversations with Calvinists they have often tried to assert that salvation by freewill is the same as salvation by works. I cannot necessarily presume that this is a doctrine universally upheld by all Calvinists, but the basic concept is as follows.

Calvinists define a work as anything man does on his own, particularly for the purpose of obtaining salvation. "Freewill" implies that God is not involved in the choices we make and, therefore, according to a Calvinist definition of works, free human choice is a work. Since we know that we are not saved by works, we know also that our free choice must not play a part in our salvation.

The Calvinist premises in this argument fall into two sets. Let's see if we can outline them.

Set A - The Definition of a "Work."
1. A "Work" is anything done for the purpose of obtaining salvation, which originates from man, not God.
2. A ("Freewill") choice to believe originates with man, not God.
Conclusion A: A ("Freewill") choice to believe is a work.

Set B - Salvation by Works.
1. Men aren't saved by works.
2. The ("Freewill") choice to believe is a work.
Conclusion B: Men cannot be saved by their own choice to believe.

Set A-1 is a purposefully broad definition, and from a Calvinist perspective it has to be. If there is anything done for the purpose of obtaining salvation that originates from man and does not fall into the category of "works" then this entire Calvinist argument falls apart. Or in other words, if the ("Freewill") choice to believe is not a work, then we have no reason to reject that man could be saved by such a choice.

And there is also a hidden premise to this Calvinist argument. The hidden premise also involves the definition of a "work" as it applies to Set B-1. Set B-1 states that "men aren't saved by works." The question is, does this apply to all "works" or did Paul have a particular set or kind of works in mind?

We can easily dismantle this Calvinist argument. We will start by assuming that the Calvinist definition found in Set A-1 is correct. We will assume that a "work" is accurately defined as "anything done for the purpose of obtaining salvation, which originates from man, not God."

By assuming this definition is accurate, we will now demonstrate that there are at least two categories of works in the New Testament. Thus, the Calvinists are in error by assuming that all "works" are included in the New Testament category of "things which cannot save."

We cannot emphasize strongly enough that the Calvinist argument on this issue requires that the definition found in Set A-1 is correct and, therefore, "the choice to believe" is appropriately categorized as a work. If there is any "work" which originates from man that can bring him salvation, then the Calvinists argument crumbles.

So, let's look at some scripture and ask, is there any work a man can do to obtain eternal salvation?

John 6:27 Labour [2038] not for the meat [1035] which perisheth, but for that meat [1035] which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed. 28 Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work [2038] the works [2041] of God? 29 Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work [2041] of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.

Let's do some vocabulary. First, the word "Labor" in verse 27 is the same Greek word as "work" in verse 28.

2038 ergazomai {er-gad'-zom-ahee}
middle voice from 2041; TDNT - 2:635,251; v AV - work 22, wrought 7, do 3, minister about 1, forbear working + 3361 1, labour for 1, labour 1, commit 1, trade by 1, trade 1; 39
1) to work, labour, do work
2) to trade, to make gains by trading, "do business"
3) to do, work out
3a) exercise, perform, commit
3b) to cause to exist, produce
4) to work for, earn by working, to acquire

Second, the words "labor" (verse 27) and "work" (verse 28, 29) are directly related to the noun "work(s)" in verse 28 and 29. One is simply a noun and the other a verb.

2041 ergon {er'-gon}
from a primary (but obsolete) ergo (to work); TDNT - 2:635,251; n n AV - work 152, deed 22, doing 1, labour 1; 176
1) business, employment, that which any one is occupied
1a) that which one undertakes to do, enterprise, undertaking
2) any product whatever, any thing accomplished by hand, art, industry, or mind
3) an act, deed, thing done: the idea of working is emphasised in opp. to that which is less than work

The word "meat" in verse 27 is defined as follows.

1035 brosis {bro'-sis}
from the base of 977; TDNT - 1:642,111; n f AV - meat 6, rust 2, morsel of meat 1, eating 1, food 1; 11
1) act of eating
1a) in a wider sense, corrosion
2) that which is eaten, food, ailment
2a) of the soul's food, either which refreshes the soul, or nourishes and supports it

Here in John 6, Jesus tells the crowds that he will give them everlasting life but that they must labor (or work) to obtain it. In fact, we know Jesus is talking about the "works" men do because he starts off in verse 27 saying, "Labor for," and labor is the same Greek word as "work" in this passage. So, Jesus is instructing his listeners to work that they might received eternal salvation from him.

In response to this, Jesus is asked a very simple question "what works are the works of God that we might do them?" Or in other words, Jesus has just advised the crowd to work not for material things, but to work for eternal life. He is then asked, what works should we do? And he answers this question directly in verse 29, telling his listeners specifically what work they must do to obtain eternal salvation from him.

And according to Jesus, what work should men do that they might have "everlasting life?" In verse 28, Jesus clearly states that the work men should do to obtain everlasting life is the work of belief. This does two things to the Calvinist argument.

1. It tells us that everlasting life is obtained by a "work."
2. It tells us that the "work," which saves is the work of belief.

Remember that the Calvinist's argument does not work unless we define a work as "anything done for the purpose of obtaining salvation, which originates from man, not God." If we assume their definition is correct then we are left with the following.

Number 1 destroys the Calvinist's hidden premise that all "works" are of the same category, the category of "those which cannot save." According to Jesus, belief is a work that does bring eternal salvation. Number 2 destroys the Calvinist's Conclusion B that men cannot be saved by their choice to believe.

What this passage from John 6 really shows us is that the Calvinists have erred by assuming that all "works" are of the same category. In reality, belief is considered its own special category of a "work." And this is made even more clear as we examine the New Testament origination of the doctrine that we are saved "not by works."

This essential orthodox doctrine is found in the epistles of Paul.

Romans 4: 1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about--but not before God. 3 What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. " 4 Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. 5 However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.

Galatians 3: 5 Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because youbelieve what you heard?

NIV - Ephesians 2: 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

KJV - Ephesians 2: 8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

We should also note that in the New Testament, the words "faith" and "belief" are really the same word in two different forms, noun and verb.

Romans 4: 5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth [4100] on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith [4102] is counted for righteousness.

4102 pistis {pis'-tis}
from 3982; TDNT - 6:174,849; n f AV - faith 239, assurance 1, believe + 1537 1, belief 1, them that believe 1, fidelity 1; 244
1) conviction of the truth of anything, belief; in the NT of a conviction or belief respecting man's relationship to God and divine things, generally with the included idea of trust and holy fervour born of faith and joined with it
1a) relating to God
1a1) the conviction that God exists and is the creator and ruler of all things, the provider and bestower of eternal salvation through Christ
1b) relating to Christ
1b1) a strong and welcome conviction or belief that Jesus is the Messiah, through whom we obtain eternal salvation in the kingdom of God
1c) the religious beliefs of Christians
1d) belief with the predominate idea of trust (or confidence) whether in God or in Christ, springing from faith in the same
2) fidelity, faithfulness
2a) the character of one who can be relied on

4100 pisteuo {pist-yoo'-o}
from 4102; TDNT - 6:174,849; v AV - believe 239, commit unto 4, commit to (one's) trust 1, be committed unto 1, be put in trust with 1, be commit to one's trust 1, believer 1; 248
1) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place confidence in
1a) of the thing believed
1a1) to credit, have confidence
1b) in a moral or religious reference
1b1) used in the NT of the conviction and trust to which a man is impelled by a certain inner and higher prerogative and law of soul
1b2) to trust in Jesus or God as able to aid either in obtaining or in doing something: saving faith
1bc) mere acknowledgment of some fact or event: intellectual faith
2) to entrust a thing to one, i.e. his fidelity
2a) to be intrusted with a thing
As is made clearly evident from Galatians 3:5, the "works" which cannot save are the "works of the law." From the words of Jesus Christ in John 6, we know that belief is a "work." And from the words of both Jesus and Paul, we know that it is by belief that we are made righteous and obtain salvation. Therefore, the when Paul writes that we are saved "not by works" he has in mind only the specific works prescribed by the Law. Paul is not including the "work" of belief in this category of "unsaving" works.

And notice that when writing in Romans, Paul equates justification by works as a wage and salvation by belief as a gift. Paul is using faith/belief as the opposite of works. Therefore, Calvinists cannot equate "salvation by free human choice" with "salvation by works." For, scripture clearly distinguishes the "work" of belief from the unsaving works of the law. It is the "work" of belief that saves, while the works of the law do not.

And notice in Romans 4:3-5 that God credits Abraham for his faith. You wouldn't credit Abraham for something he had no choice about or for something you made him do. Such things wouldn't be to his credit at all. If Abraham's faith weren't of his own choosing, then it would not be a credit for him in any way.

Notice also that the comment in Ephesians parallels the account in Romans 4. In Romans 4 the gift is righteousness, not faith. Faith is trusting for the gift. But even if faith were the "gift" that still would not prove man has no choice in the matter. For the idea of a "gift" does not negate the freewill of a person to accept or reject it. What gift has any of us received in our lives that we could not choose to accept or reject? Even the natural abilities we have received are ours to develop and share or neglect and lose.

If for Calvinists, the free human choice to believe is a work AND works are defined by their origination from man (not God), then Calvinism is proven wrong by John 6. For, in John 6, Jesus clearly tells us that it is by a work, the work of belief that men obtain eternal salvation. And in that passage, Jesus tells us to do this work, attesting not only to man's responsibility to believe but also his ability to believe.

In reality, the "works" which DO NOT save are the works of the Old Covenant Law. That is not to say we are saved by works of any kind, except for the "work" of belief. And on this point, we would not disagree with the Calvinist definition of a work described at the start of this argument. Belief is a "work done for the purpose of obtaining salvation, which originates from man, not God." Man himself freely chooses to believe and rely on Jesus Christ of his own accord. This is the work required by God."

Anonymous said...

Robert: I am surprised that you would post such an Arminian document as that posted by Matt that he took from another blog. That post is nothing but pure fiction and dreams created by natureal, boasting man to acclaim that he has the power to wrought his own salvation thru works which puts GOD under obligation to acknowledge works of natural man.
Hoyt D. F. Sparks

R. L. Vaughn said...

Hoyt, thanks for your comments. I want to use them as an occasion to explain to all something about how I run my blog.

Each may do it differently. On some blogs where I post, the blogger operates under a principle of censorship, deleting any comments with which they disagree or are off-topic. I have chosen to follow the route of free speech in the discussion of Biblical, musical and related subjects. I will delete posts that are vulgar, pornographic, spam, and/or have links to such sites. Otherwise I'm quite lenient as to what others post.

As to Matt's paste from another blog, I haven't had time to read it. But let me say I do not believe in salvation by works. In the meantime and until I have a chance to read it, anyone who disagrees is free to rebut it.

May I also say to all, I'd love for someone to address the original question as well, for it seems we're moving away from that if we keep going.

Anonymous said...

When you boil it all down, isn't Christ 'the elect'? Somewhere Paul says that "..we are in Christ of God"--I think it's in Corinthians. This is along the lines of what I'm thinking. Also, the Lord says what the "work of the Father" is. Doesn't He say that it is to believe on the Son? I'm seeing that the "work" of the Father is to "believe" on the Son. Wouldn't that make Christ, God Himself, the elect...when you boil ALL of it down?

Bro. Matt said...

That's interesting because now I've heard that argument (the one just above this post) twice in the last week. Needless to say, I definitely need to study all of it out before comments are made!

Bro. Matt said...


Two things (one just for clarification):

First, I do not believe in salvation by works. I do not believe that you think this about me, but I wanted to make sure that you knew where I stood.

Second, you said "...that post is nothing but pure fiction and dreams created by natural, boasting man to acclaim that he has the power to wrought his own salvation thru works which puts GOD under obligation to acknowledge works of natural man." Now on this we do disagree. The author is not saying that one can obtain salvation through works except through the "work" of belief (and it's not a "work" like the other works).

Oh well, I will now be quiet and see if there are answers to the original question that was posted.