Let me say right up-front that this will be like no other post I've put up here at the fire-ring.
This post is, I admit up-front, about an issue that is a problem to me, and stumps me. I have "answers," if you know what I mean. I have thoughts. I have lots of bits and fragments. But I don't even come close to feeling as if I have The Answer, or even a very good answer. And what I do have is (to say the least) not very satisfactory to me.
So I'm really posing a question, not an answer. And then I'll open the discussion-thread to you, so you can all school me about it.
We have a lot awfully smart readers, for which I'm grateful. Many feel they are smarter than I, and a sizable subset of that number is correct. More than once, I've felt that the comment-thread on one of my posts presented some material better than the post itself. This certainly will be an example of that species. Of course, we have our share of chuckleheads, bozo's, trolls, snipers, and rabble; but they are outnumbered by some awfully bright and shining lights. So I offer this to you.
I really hope it engenders a lively and "real" discussion. I mean what I say: some really great brothers and sisters read this blog, and I want to hear your thoughts. My fear, however, is that many will just back away from it, and the post will be longer than the comment-thread.
THE PREMISE. Here is my Dan-plified Version of what the apostle John says in 1 John 3:8b—"for this purpose, to this end, was the Son of God made visible: that He might dismantle, undo, take down, destroy [ἵνα λύσῃ] the works of the Devil."
So here we have a declaration of the purpose of the Incarnation: to dismantle Satan's works. As I see the whole drama of redemption, this will eventually take in every sphere: the cosmic, the political, the social, the spiritual, the personal. Presently, at bare minimum, this includes the personal level. As each of the elect is converted, Christ sets about the dismantling of the works of the Devil. There are only two categories of men: those in whom Christ has begun this process, and those in whom He has not. Genuine Christians comprise the entire first set. The second set is made up of false professors, and everyone else.
As people who embrace the Biblical doctrine of God, we Calvinists (—with all due apologies to those who think they own the brand-name) believe that God succeeds in every endeavor to which He sets Himself. There is nothing that He purposes to do that He cannot do. No person's will or spirit is stronger than His. Since He can direct the thoughts and decisions of the most powerful (Proverbs 21:1; cf. Deuteronomy 2:30; Ezra 1:1; etc.), He can do so in every case without exception (Acts 16:14; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; 2 Thessalonians 3:5). No one can stay God's hand in what He sets out to accomplish (Daniel 4:35).
So we know what God's will is for every Christian, without exception. His will is to dismantle the works of the Devil in every believer's heart, mind, soul. And we know that He is absolutely able to do that. It is His will, and it is within His power.
THE QUESTION: so, why doesn't He seem to do so?
THE EXPANSION, AND THE TERMS: why are there so many genuine Christians who persist in the same patterns of sin, apparently without pangs of conscience, without struggle, without the movings of repentance, cheerfully and blithely and hard-heartedly?
As (I hope) you expect of me, I have chosen my wording carefully. Remember, this is my discussion, so I'm framing it. For the purposes of this discussion, I stipulate:
- These are genuine Christians. So please don't hang your response on, "There's no one like this. Once they've been shown that their sin is sin, they have 37 days to admit to feeling guilty and starting to struggle with mortifying that sin. On the 38th day, if repentance has not begun, they're just not Christians. So there. Next question?"
- We are talking about patterns of sin, not merely differences of opinion or unwise behaviors or gray areas.
- They do not regard their sins as sins, in spite of having been shown from the Word, or otherwise knowing from the Word, that these are in fact sins. They've read the passages, they've heard sermons, they've been spoken to personally. Perhaps they winced at the time, but it passed. The Word has made no apparent impact in this area, though it (necessarily) has in other areas of their lives.
- My using "apparent" twice is necessary, since no man knows another's heart (1 Corinthians 2:11). If you feel you must say, "We don't see it, but deep down inside, they're miserable and guilty and struggling with all their might," go ahead. Appeal to Psalm 32:3-4, if you must. But for the purposes of this discussion, please don't make your response depend on that answer.
- I am uninterested in the responses of Arminians and gutless-gracers. Sorry, but might as well be up-front about it. So if your response is, "God can't violate their free will," give it on your blog. Not here. Every Christian is living proof that God can transform the most rebellious will. And again, just to be candid, I find the gutless-grace position embarrassing, and have no respect for it, at all, whatever. Talk about it on your blog if you like, and your readers will rejoice with you. Don't clog up this discussion. Respect the rule, or embrace summary deletion. Clear?
Let me move the wall out a bit, and give a specific area, though it isn't primarily what I have in mind. Here at Pyro, we and our commenters often are very critical of Christian preaching and practice that we believe is seriously in error, and even sinful. With one voice, we all lament the state of the church today, and of evangelicals in particular.
But none of us suggests that, in every case, the people we criticize are all unsaved. I hope you don't believe they are. I for one certainly do not.
So, if you believe that at least some of these seeker-sensitive churches, these nuttily Charismatic churches, these Bible-lite churches, these Arminian churches, these man-centered churches, are led by people who are genuinely Christian, yet are genuinely displeasing to God (as we argue), then why does the Lord let that go on? Why does He not grant repentance to them (2 Timothy 2:25)? Surely He cares more about His church than we do.
It is in God's interests to undo the doctrinal, behavioral, attitudinal sins I have in mind. It would be to His glory. It would be for His people's good. It is within His power. It is in accord with His stated design.
So why doesn't He?
I'll thrill my Presbyterranean friends by citing the Westminster Confession, 5.5.
The most wise, righteous, and gracious God doth oftentimes leave, for a season, His own children to manifold temptations, and the corruption of their own hearts, to chastise them for their former sins, or to discover unto them the hidden strength of corruption and deceitfulness of their hearts, that they may be humbled; and, to raise them to a more close and constant dependence for their support upon Himself, and to make them more watchful against all future occasions of sin, and for sundry other just and holy ends.And for my fellow baptists, here's the similar (yet slightly different) wording of the The Baptist Confession of Faith (1689), article 5.5.
The most wise, righteous, and gracious God often leaves, for a time, His own children to various temptations, and to the corruptions of their own hearts, in order to chastise them for the sins which they have committed, or to show them the hidden strength of corruption and deceitfulness still in their hearts, so that they may be humbled and aroused to a more close and constant dependence upon Himself for their support, and that they may be made more watchful against future occasions of sin. Other just and holy objectives are also served by such action by God.
Therefore whatever happens to any of His select is by His appointment, for His glory, and for their good.
Is that it, then? Does that explain everything — He's just leaving vast scores of Christians in their sins to chastise, humble and instruct them? If so, then (A) boy oh boy, there must be a whole lot of chastising, humbling and instructing going on!; and (B) why don't we actually see more chastised, humbled, and instructed saints? Instead we seem to see rutted, stubborn, impenitent, hardened, deluded, defecting saints.
Unless we're prepared to go the "us four, no more" route. Which I'm not.
One last twist: could you throw yourself in there? I could. The problem isn't really just Them, is it? Would that it were. Why does not my holiness grow and deepen more apace? Whatever "those people" pray, I know that I pray (and you pray) for growth in holiness. Why is it so slow? Why are sins so stubborn, and graces so seemingly ephemeral? Sins die so hard, graces grow so agonizingly slowly.
This dilemma has been sensed by Christians all through our history. It has been the genesis of much false teaching: deeper life teaching, gutless-grace teaching, "second grace" teaching, and on and on.
What's our better answer? Or do I really have the answer, and I just don't like it?
Okay. There's the assignment, all you Bible brainiacs. Got my notepad ready. All ears.
Easy stuff, right?