08 September 2009

Communicating better: you don't choose?

by Dan Phillips

As a third in this series-of-indeterminate-length I raise this question:
Are Calvinists obliged to snort, jeer and mock at every use of the verb "choose" (or "decide") where God is not the subject?
This is no more theoretical than the previous ones were. I've seen it. Some poor soul mentions his "decision" for Christ, or an evangelist urges his hearers to choose to trust, or decide to put their faith in Christ... and out comes the Genevan Inquisition.

"Yeah, 'choose.' You 'chose.' It doesn't matter what you chose, because you can't choose. You're dead, unable to choose, unless God chooses you first."

Is that a Biblical way to hear and talk to such people? Is the Bible universally "anti-choice"? Does the Bible teach us that we should call sinners to Christ by telling them that they can't choose Christ, can't decide for Christ, mustn't decide for Christ, shouldn't choose Christ? If some bubbly new professor shares the great news with us that he'd decided to trust Christ, is our most brotherly, Biblical, God-honoring response to mock him and dress him right down as a Pelagian heretic?

You are headed South at full speed. Does the Gospel tell you to turn 'round and head North? Do you decide to do that? Do you decide to abandon all trust in your works and merit and goodness, and put all your faith in Jesus Christ alone? Is it right for us to call people to do that? Is it right for one seeking salvation to do that, to make that decision?

Or is all that really and truly and fatally contrary to the Gospel when understood in its Biblical, monergistic, sovereign-grace terms?

Only two special rules for this thread, and you don't have a choice about them:
  1. Strict two-hundred-word limit on all comments. I'll delete, and leave the person's name as a warning to all fellow-travelers.
  2. In-house discussion; Calvinists only
As usual, I'll probably mostly hold my thoughts for a followup post.

UPDATE: my thoughts can be found here.

Dan Phillips's signature


Tom Chantry said...

An anonymous hymnist in the late nineteenth century wrote, "I sought the Lord, and afterwards I knew he moved my heart to seek him."

I believe that is the experience of most Christians - even most Calvinists. It is certainly mine. So why would I suddenly expect a new believer to know right away what I only knew “afterward”? The gospel message ends with “Come and believe,” and that involves choice. It is only through growth in grace that we come to perceive the sovereign action by which God led us to that choice.

As with any of the finely balanced truths which surround the doctrine of conversion, the truth about decisions can easily be twisted. When an evangelist says, “The decision is now yours; God has done His part and you must do the rest,” he speaks an untruth about the God who saves, but if he says merely, “It’s time for you to decide to turn away from sin and to trust in Jesus,” is he really saying anything more than “Choose this day whom you will serve”?

FX Turk said...

It's funny that it's OK to say that we are commanding people to obey the Gospel, and when they do we get offended that they would say so.

If they are cut to the heart, and ask 'what shall I do?', tell them what they should do, and help them do it. If you're rather not call that a decision, well, don't let you semantics get in the way of their repentance.

danny2 said...

upon first realizing i believed the doctrines of grace, i often made this mistake. i've also tried to explain the doctrines of grace in a way that misses the point that:

we do choose Him. He wants His elect to choose Him.

now, the fact that they are totally incapable of choosing Him without His divine calling does not change the fact that being elect means we WILL call upon the name of the Lord!

the issue is not whether you chose, praise be to God He makes Himself lovely in our eyes and stirs us to WANT Him. the issue is why did you choose?

and i think that conversation can be had in a way that does not discourage or minimize their "decision" but causes them to rejoice in the goodness of God all the more!

DJP said...

Chantry opens the meta with a solid hit. Thanks, Tom.

DJP said...

...AND Turk AND Danny. Thanks guys.

Layman Harry said...

The Bible clearly teaches God is sovereign in all things. He knows the end from the beginning. We don't. We still take it one day at a time.

When talking to an unbeliever, I'll follow Jesus' example and tell them "Repent and believe!" It worked for me.

Like Tom said in the first response, it is only later that I came to understand. Then... What Joy!

God chose me.

Matthew Lautensack said...

The language of choosing Christ is very important, and I don't believe that mocking or removing this language from the Calvinist vocabulary on the part of the sinner is at all helpful. Most young Calvinists, myself included, have made this mistake at sometime or another, confusing what one does in response to the Gospel and why one does it. It's important to remember that understanding the Ordo Salutis is not required for salvation.

Bruce said...

Wisdom from experience, which doesn't exactly contradict anything, is that a HINT and a NUDGE in the right direction is enough for almost anyone, almost anytime.

I think this is the point of the idea that one waters and another harvests and God gives the growth.

If a conservative, prosperous Yankee Gentleman (the devil in Brooks Brothers) goes to visit a noontime Mass when he travels, because "there has to be more", I say, that's a nudge in the right direction. He might hear that God rules over all things and owns his money, ya never know.

When I was talking with a stranger on the street about sin, he said he was not very religious. i said to him that that was a great start, because he's not confused about having the religion thing all together.

I'm happy with road signs when I travel, such as Destination City 57 Miles. Lots of room for error in that 57 miles, but hey, it's the right direction.

Matt said...

Yeah, I'd have to agree with Tom, Turk, and Danny.

We do make a conscious "decision" to repent of our sins and turn in faith to Jesus Christ.

I think Arminians are content to leave it there, while Calvinists ask a follow-up question - Why do we make the choices we do?

I think to ask that question is valid, but we should never do so in a way that belittles human response to God's sovereign grace.

David Regier said...

Because we have absorbed so much postmodern thought, we often present Jesus as a choice among many.

But He is not a choice among many religions; He is the central person holding together the universe. When Christ is proclaimed as Lord in truth, the choice given is between acknowledging or rejecting the truth before a Judge who knows all the evidence.

Anonymous said...

I believe it was Alister Begg who says (rightly I believe) that when Jesus tells the stories of the lost coin, the lost sheep and the prodigal son, he's included the prodigal son, at least in part, to demonstrate that we must do something.

The coin and the sheep clearly show that it's God who's doing all the work, but the prodigal keeps us on the hook for repentance.

As has been mentioned, did anyone realize when they repented that they were only repenting because God gave them that gift?

Neither did I.

The challenge (which I admit I've thought a time or two) that we can't chose anything at all seems to lead pretty directly to hyper-Calvinism, no?

Is not the biblical reality that we can and must chose? Obviously it's God's doing but still, if we're trying to help a child up a big step we hold their hand and say "You can't jump, it's impossible, if you try you're decieved"? Or do we say "Jump!", knowing that we're about to lift them up to the high step ourselves .

The Gospel seems to work like that.

Tom said...

I'm with Tom Chantry.

I think the issue is our attitudes when confronted with someone who says they "chose." We know, theologically, that isn't technically what happened. He was predestined; he was chosen and called out by God; he was elected; he loves because he was first loved by God; etc.

BUT we cannot deny that the Bible tells us to chose. Can't really scratch out Josh 24:15. In fact, the Bible explicitly tells you to consider what you're doing before you commit (Luke 14:25-33). That was my experience. I remember literally "counting the cost" before I "decided" to become a Christian. However, only in hindsight and only through God opening my eyes did I realize that my choosing was only possible through his choosing. I suspect that is most Calvinists' experience.

In short, I think it's beneficiary to talk about election because a) it's the truth, and b) God gets a whole lot bigger when you grasp it. But unless someone has the perfect answer about how God's will and our will work together, this topic is best handled with grace and understanding.


Gary said...

Ditto Tom on "...and afterwards I knew he moved my heart to seek him." Even many self-described Armenians will admit some form of this while denying more overt forms of Calvinism.

I would also add that we really really need to test our hearts any time we are tempted to "snort, jeer and mock". Yes yes, Jesus and Paul mocked the pharisees. But, they were pharisees , not sincere but inconsistent Christians. Even if the language is objectionable, do we really need to attack it with that attitude?

Bob Johnson said...

When someone declares their choice to come to Christ, it doesn't bother me at all. At the base is the fact that they would have "chosen" nothing if they themselves were not first the object of Someone else's choosing. This from an ardent advocate of the grace doctrines who, once given the gift of faith and enabled to do so, "chose" to flee to Christ.

Chris Roberts said...

Irresistible grace results in an irresistible choice that is still a choice. God makes a person alive and transforms his will with one effect being that he chooses Christ. Without God's regenerating work he could not have made that choice but the choice is nonetheless a central part of salvation.

A new believer might not understand all of this. He might not understand monergism and the timing of regeneration. What he sees is that he made a choice and as far as that goes he is correct. What he now needs is careful, loving teaching that will lead him to a full understanding of biblical salvation and the source of his ability to choose God.

butterfli75 said...

In high school, I wanted to be on the basketball team. I practiced, I watched others, I hung out with the varsity guys, I got to know the coach. Made sure he knew me.

Tryouts were an entire week, Monday to Friday. Each day I went home hoping I'd impressed, done well. The team roster would be posted on the coach's door Monday morning. I approached the gathered crowd of perusers, and craned my neck to se...my name on thje rsoter! I'd made the team.

Later the coach told me he'd selected me (in his mind) even before the school year had begun. Before tryouts were even announced.

I'd been preordained one of the basketball elect (I didn't know it) yet I 'chose' to try out, to practice, to make myself known to the coach. I followed the inner wisdom in my hidden parts to get on the path to making the team.

Did I seek? Yes. Was I chosen? Yes. In Hosea 14:8 it is written "From Me comes all fruit."

Chris Wilson said...

Acts 2:40

Chris Wilson said...

errr... Acts 2:39!!

We should exhort people to save themselves. Which is to say, "Choose to follow Christ by repenting of your sins and trusting Christ to save you from your sins."

olan strickland said...


That's a good example of conditional election - which isn't true - and would make you and the work you did the sole reason for being chosen.

olan strickland said...

The matter of choosing Christ is the same as the matter of loving God. God doesn't love us because we first loved Him - we love Him because He first loved us.

God didn't choose us because we first chose Him. We chose Him because He first chose us!

Chad V. said...

What can I add to what has already been so well stated?

When Calvinists start telling people that they don't chose Christ then they fall into a sort of functional hyper-calvinism. It is just as important that we protect against this kind of thing as it is that we maintain the Doctrines of Grace.

dwitzke said...

Great responses, all! I am so glad we all chose Christ! ;)

Anyway, if God chose us, and called us, and saved us, by His grace alone . . . and if He also prepared beforehand good works for us to walk in . . . and if He Himself is gracious to sinners (and all those "ifs" are first class conditions, by the way!) . . . and He has commanded us to be gracious to others, and to love others, as He Himself has done to us . . . where do we ever think we have the right to "snort and scoff" a new believer who has not yet learned all his doctrine?! Is that how God treated us, when we had not yet learned "the right words"? It requires absolute humility to repent and be saved. It also calls for the same humility to rightly hold the doctrines of grace . . . and to deal with newer brothers and sisters in the faith. I am thankful to hear you all calling for such humility and graciousness!

DJP said...

And not just a new believer, wouldn't you say, Witzke?

I mean, no matter how deep and correct and thoughtful we imagine we're being, is there any sane way we are communicating ANY messages other than:

1. Everyone's wrong about everything

2. Calvinists are scornfully opposed to making spiritual choices and decisions


Mike Westfall said...

My greenhorn newbie understanding:

The preaching of God's Word is the means of grace whereby God elects the hearers to choose to repent and have faith in Him.

dwitzke said...


Butterfli's example could also be seen as a good example of unconditional election, as God was calling the sinner to repentance. The "trying out for the team" was the result of God's irresistible grace sovereignly calling him, based on the "coach's" unconditional choice in the past. His illustration was not implying the coach chose him based on what he did, but had already chosen him before the tryouts ever began.

butterfli75 said...

John 6:44
"No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him."

I was drawn to come to a realization of my election through my actions...nothing conditional about it. My actions to "realize" God's gift of salvation are the first fruits of my calling -- the union with Christ already present, in the roots, sending nutrients to the branches to bear the first buds of a new life in Christ.

dwitzke said...


You are absolutely right. I was trying to be gracious to the "oldies" I guess! :) (and striving to not get preachy)

I agree with you completely. Humility really is the key. Even the sound doctrine we hold to: the ability to grasp it, hold it, etc. is entirely by God's grace, so what do we have to boast about? We should treat those who are still working out their understanding of these things with the same grace Christ has demonstrated toward us. That is what you are calling for, correct? Thanks again for your insights.

DJP said...

Well yes, I'm calling for grace, but I'm also calling for clarity, and for some thought as to the impact of our words.

That's kind of a theme for all these "Communicating better" posts.

dwitzke said...

Yes, Dan. What you just said! That is what I meant.

My thinking is that if you are going to be gracious and humble toward others, you must strive for clarity and consider how your words and attitude will impact others (Ep 4.29; Co 4.6). You will not do this if your heart is more full of your sense of having right doctrine, than it is of applying that right doctrine as you interact with others.

FX Turk said...

| think Arminians are content
| leave it there, while
| Calvinists ask a follow-up
| question - Why do we make the
| choices we do?

I'm not so sure about that. I think that question in particular leads us in the same direction it lead the Israelites -- which is in the direction of law rather than love.

I think that the Calvinist -- the one who really tries to fight off legalism and also fight off liberine antinomian hyjinx, and who also hates the idea that man is somehow fatally fixed to be whatever it is that he is, mostly to his own doom -- is daily stunned by grace, and stunned that he hates his sin, and stunned that there is salvation from his own appetites and inclinations.

I think the Arminian really thinks that we can just do better -- if we're instructed or discipled or whatever. I think the Calvinist knows he cannot, and when he does he needs the word of God to explain why it happened at all.

And without getting on the soap box here, this is the miracle of our daily faith: that somehow we sinners who love our sin and are born in our sin can, by God's work in Christ through the Spirit, repent.

When it happens, that is a miracle. Continually.

takin said...

T'was Grace that taught my heart to fear. And Grace, my fears relieved. How precious did that Grace appear THE HOUR I FIRST BELIEVED

Mike Riccardi said...

The choice that we do make is honoring to Christ. In spiritual death, our main problem is that we can't see (John 3:3). The Spirit's work in regeneration overcomes our spiritual death by giving us eyes to see the Light of the Gospel of the glory of God in the face of Christ (2Cor 4:6).

So, spiritual death looks like this: I can look straight at Christ, and not be interested, compelled, or awed. I look at Him and my sin still looks better. I choose it. Spiritual life is the giving of eyes that can actually perceive reality. And now, having eyes to see, I look at Christ and find Him to be the most delightful thing I've ever seen. I look at Him and He looks infinitely better than my sin. And so I prefer Him. And so I choose Him.

And He is honored by my preference of Him. And that preference is made apparent by my choice.

DJP said...

Ohhh boy.

OK, ad hoc ruling in three... two... one....

Fellow blog admins are exempt from my two rules.

But I'm still not.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Mine will not be the winning post for its brilliance. Frankly I am surprised to hear that there are Calvinists who might react in such a harsh manner to a convert who says they "chose." That strikes me as dogmatic to the core.
Although it may not be theoretically correct (that is for theologians to decide), from our perception we did make a choice. God caused us to make the choice, but it is a choice nonetheless. Plus, the Bible uses such words at least in English translations (e.g., "Choose this day whom you will serve; but for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.) So, there is a plausible Biblical defense of such phraseology.
I'm sure there is a more detailed explanation to be given, but I am not a detail guy and not a theological wunderkind by any stretch of the imagination.
Respectfully submitted.

Unknown said...

Preach Christ, offer him to all, command sinners to repent and Choose Christ and leave it up to the Holy Spiritto draw sinners.

Matt said...

Fair enough, Frank. I don't disagree with you. All I'm saying is that among the non-Calvinists I run with, there is essentially no answer to why we decide what we do. I keep pushing the question further back, and the final answer is always "well, just because that's what I decided", as though our choices were divorced from our desires, and as though the desire to repent is somehow divorced from the free gift of grace. That's as far as I was going with my statement. But thanks for the fodder.

Strong Tower said...

When the command to choose goes out it in reality takes away the right to choose.

Not once does the word of God grant the right to choose sin. God does not tempt.

That said, the nuance of choice is lost upon those who belive that there is a choice.

It still remains that we are commanded to command the right choice, not simply in worldly parlance, to choose. And that said, Jesus was not above telling those who were seeking him that they could not choose him unless they understood that there was no choice.

If we can get that message across, the message that there is no choice, we have accomplished much. Jesus simply said that if we do not believe what he said, we will die in our sin. In that, there is no choice. So tell them so. Tell them they will die if they do not believe. In that they do not have the right to choose otherwise.

James Kubecki said...

I wish I could remember who/where I'd read recently a commentary on Josh 24:15, pointing out God is not really one of the choices in that context. If you read the verse closely, it says that IF serving God is evil to you, THEN make a choice, between false gods A and false gods B.

Just a side note, but I thought I'd mention since it's a common citation on "choice." And if anyone knows where I saw it recently, TIA.

Jugulum said...

Isn't "the right to choose sin" talking about a different kind of question than Dan's?

Us said...

"God is always previous". I read those words in Tozer's "The Pursuit of God", as a new Christian.

How different is God's "previous-ness" in salvation from His previous-ness in creation?

Nobody could do anything at all if:
a) God hadn't first created him or her,
b) Christ wasn't upholding everything by the power of His word.

Yet we don't remind anyone of this when they mention doing things like breathing, getting out of bed, and drinking coffee. We don't usually preach that our friends couldn't breathe if God didn't first give them breath, or that they couldn't think if Jesus wasn't upholding their mental faculties...or drink coffee if God hadn't first created the universe.

God came first! Yet we do stuff. But we couldn't do stuff if He hadn't created stuff to do--yet we still do stuff!

What about repenting and believing? I did and do those things...but God came first...but I still do stuff like repent and believe...and drink coffee...

He came first and created His world...He came first and called me...I functioned in His world, repenting and believing.

I do things, but "God is always previous".


Tom Chantry said...

I wish I could remember who/where I'd read recently a commentary on Josh 24:15, pointing out God is not really one of the choices in that context. If you read the verse closely, it says that IF serving God is evil to you, THEN make a choice, between false gods A and false gods B.

OK, that's fairly obvious without a commentary, except for the following verses:

16Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, 17 for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. 18 And the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”19 But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.” 21 And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the Lord.” 22 Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.”

Anonymous said...

I remember grabbing a red hot pan on the stove. It burned. It was hot. Then, I simply chose to believe that it was no longer hot. I was then able to handle the pan because of my choice. Right? Of course, not.

While I tend not to use the language of choosing I understand to a point why people do. If someone is able to "choose" Christ it is because of the work of the Holy Spirit. The gift of faith has been given to be able to repent and follow Christ.

This does not mean that the gift of faith is a choice. Just like the hot pan above I might think my choice made it cool so I could touch it. In reality it would have been the work of someone else (the Holy Spirit) changing what I only realized, used and benefited from.

As one brother asked once – If faith itself is a choice does that mean every time we make a decision we are exercising our faith?

Brad Williams said...

Irresistible grace does not mean that God forced a decision on us. Sometimes, I feel as if Calvinistic folks make the very mistake in this "decision" conundrum that Arminian leaning brethren accuse us of. I clearly remember choosing the Lord; I clearly remember choosing to repent, and I clearly remember choosing to confess Christ to others. God did not force a single one of those decisions, and in fact, He expected me to make them and holds me responsible for them.

If you gasp when someone appeals to others to choose Christ, then you may be too uptight for your own good. Also, you may be a lousy Calvinist. Finally, you probably need to repent at your gnat straining and camel swallowing.

Strong Tower said...

No, since the act of unbelief is a sin. God does not offer us the option of unbelief, instead says, cease your unbelief and believe.

Or the OT version, 'See, I set before you death and evil, life and good, choose life.

What is there to choose, other than life, death?

What I am proposing is that when we tell the potential convert that he has no choice we should explain what it means. Christ is not just an alternative, he is the Way, there is no other. Life is the only choice, then. Death is the penalty for not choosing it.

Mark said...

Even while live blogging the anti-Calvinist John 3:16 Conference Paige Patterson (I believe) was questioned on faith being a gift.

The questioner couldn't grasp that faith is a gift that must be given before being exercised. I can't help but think that the language of choice would cause problems for some in this scenario too.

David Regier said...

The language of choice is such a pervasive false god in our culture, that we really don't know what to do with it once we realize that. It's the idolatry of choice that has set up this dilemma in the first place.

When choice is exalted, any form of pandering to the sinner becomes fair game, to the ruin of many. But when Christ is exalted as the risen Lord, choice falls into its God-ordained and -created place.

The good news is that God is sovereign in both the micro- and macro- sense. He will correct both individual believers and His church through His Word, no matter how imperfectly they may have come to His truth, just as He has (and is) in us, daily.

Strong Tower said...

What I find incredible, Mark, is that faith in some circles is explained as ability to either believe or not. Essentially, faith is viewed as will or choice, rather than the state of it.

Reidster said...

Direct appeals to the human will are numerous in the Bible, and thus appropriate.

The Lost demonstrate their unwillingness which is their condemnation (Matt. 22:3 & 23:37) - not their inability. Edwards (rightly I believe) stressed "moral" inability not "natural" - i.e. the will "can't" because it doesn't want to, not because it does not function at all (it "cannot" will what it does not want). It is bound in sin so as to only make sinful choices, but it is not inoperative, nor is man lacking responsibility for his choices since he chooses freely - though sinfully (according to his nature).

Those who respond positively to the Gospel demonstrate the overcoming work of the Spirit in creating a new desire (through the Gospel - Rom. 1:16) for what it once hated, and thus still choose freely, but differently. This is the "obedience of faith" to which all are called (Rom. 1:5 & 16:26), and to which all respond either positively (by the grace of the Gospel's work) or negatively (in sinful self).

2 Thess 2:10 (ESV) "and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved."

Anonymous said...

I really like Tom's quote, it is so very true. Sovereign grace works within our personal conversions so closely it may be difficult to determine the source of the motivation to come to Christ, until you have afterward understood unconditional election.

"When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed" (Acts 13:48).

That said, we must call sinners to away from their sin and to Christ. And trust that the Spirit of God will do the calling and justifying (Romans 8:29-30).

Solameanie said...

I sometimes wonder if all this isn't a "milk vs. solid food" thing. I don't think new converts are typically ready to jump right into the five points of Calvinism. As C.S. Lewis once said, it seemed as though he chose, but as he went on it seemed more like that he had been decided upon.

John said...

This conversation highlights the different perspectives in the New Testament. Paul's primary doctrinal perspective is Theocentric - the truths presented in Romans 1 through 3, for example are presented from God's perspective. Certainly no human would say that we are incapable of doing good.

However, there is another perspective present in the New Testament, and that is the anthropocentric (or experiential) perspective. Experientially, we are called to preach the gospel to every nation - even though God alone knows who and where His elect are. Experientially we repent of our sins, even though repentance is a gift from God. Experientially I had no knowledge of the doctrines of grace when I was saved - and experientially, when I discovered them they were so powerful that I experientially felt like I had experienced a second conversion. But from God's perspective, He is fulfilling His promise to sanctify His elect.

Understanding this dual perspective can do much to alleviate some of the tension we Calvinists sometimes feel when reading through the Bible or even preaching the gospel.

Steven said...

In Joshua 10, Joshua commands the sun to stand still while he goes about his business of whooping up on the Canaanites. The sun stood still, according to the Bible. We know that this is not true in the literal sense. That is, relative to the earth, the sun is actually always still and that on this occasion the earth possibly stood still in its rotation. What Joshua was doing was communicating the appearance of what had happened. From his perspective and knowledge the sun indeed stood still.

Similarly, when the unregenerate chooses the glory of salvation through Christ over the wrath of God, from their perspective, they indeed chose salvation. The fact that the basis of that choice was the effectual call of the Holy Spirit does not lessen the choice. I think that speaking with clarity in terms that the newly regenerate can understand is better than adding confusion by trying to explain exactly what happened. Instead of criticizing a new brother’s grammar (even afterward we can make mistakes, i.e. alter v. altar), we should be celebrating their new birth.

Terry Rayburn said...

Did Lazarus choose to "come forth" from the tomb?

Of course.

dwitzke said...

I wonder if a big part of the struggle in this issue is the ever-present difficulty of trying to completely and simultaneously comprehend both the objective supernatural truths (which we cannot always or yet fully comprehend) and the subjective temporal existence (which seems so all-encompassingly "real"). i.e. Temporal and timebound creatures understanding eternal and supernatural truths - Difficult for the most mature in Christ, much less for the brand new in Christ!

Strong Tower said...

Of course, bound head, hand and foot. After a few hops and a bump or two in the dark, he stumble out into what he hoped would be the light.

M. R. Burgos said...

Our decision is the means by which God sovereignly declares that He has decided that this sinner be separated from His damning treason and covered in the righteous acts and cleansing blood of His Son.

Why do we (meaning the reformed) get caught up in semantics that really don't add up to a contrary theological position? With wisdom comes grace to the weaker brethren. May we all become less tolerant of hash that is semi-palaganism and more gracious to the many who believe such things.

VcdeChagn said...

John MacArthur says:

Throughout Scripture there is tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s will, a tension that, ..., man is incapable of fully reconciling. As with all the other antinomies and paradoxes in God’s Word, our responsibility is to believe both sides of them without reservation, just as they are revealed. We know the truths are in perfect accord in God’s mind, and that knowledge should satisfy us.
Someone has pictured the divine and human sides of salvation in this way: When you look toward heaven you see a sign that reads, “Whosoever will may come,” and after you enter heaven you look back to that same sign and read on the other side, “Chosen in Him before the foundation of the world.”
Whatever God’s reasons for designing such humanly irreconcilable truths, we should thank and praise Him for them. For the very reason that they are completely true while seeming to be contradictory, we are humbled in His presence as we stand in awe of that which to us is incomprehensible. To the trusting believer such truths are but further evidence that Scripture is God’s doing, ...

From his commentary on Ephesians (1:13). Edited to get to 200 words

Phil said...

Having made this same mistake as a new Calvinist I now think that to fight over the word 'choose' is not just unloving and ungracious, but unCalvinistic and unBiblical.
To deny the ability of choice is to deny the whole concept of regeneration- is that not why we are regenerated, so that we can choose? And isn't the only proof of regeneration that we choose? As Calvinists we ought to understand the necessity of choice better than anyone.

AnotherOne said...

If we look at the whole Calvinist Armenian debate we will find two camps one each side of course. One that believes "If you take choice away you take humanity away." The the other believes "Thank God that he took my humanity away and made the choice for me."

The part I don't get is how someone can be saved within that mind set that they can do something?

That is where I am stuck,because I don't think Spurgeon believed that the God of the Armenians was the God that he worshiped in served... I might be wrong?

Arlen Stuart said...

The problem with the phrase "free will" does not rest in both words, but merely in the word "free".

Unbelievers can make choices...but they are in bondage to only choosing the things which will devastate their souls.

Only sovereign grace can enable a sinner to choose as he should. Only the washing of regeneration can cause an enslaved will to choose to repent from sin and trust in Christ.

When we share the gospel and call sinners to "Choose Christ!"...we are essentially doing the same thing as Jesus did when He called Lazarus to come forth from the dead.

Only the elect will respond...because God has chosen to MAKE them respond.

Without divine grace, none would choose Christ at all.

Praise God that He has chosen to save us and will save many more still!

DJP said...

I think you're exactly right, Arlen. I could hardly blame an untaught person wondering whether these critics are afraid that a reprobate person might "decide" for Christ. The John 6 truth of it is, if you're elect you will; if you aren't, you won't.

NewManNoggs said...

Just a comment - VERY timely, practical, and useful post (not that all your posts aren't all those things). Thanks Dan for this series and the GREAT answers from the wise & learned brothers & sisters. Keep this series going!

Steve Scott said...

"Does the Bible teach us that we should call sinners to Christ by telling them that they can't choose Christ, can't decide for Christ, mustn't decide for Christ, shouldn't choose Christ?"

Personal testimony here: This is how I learned Calvinism (and Christianity), and as a result it took five years for a conversion. So I was a five point Calvinist five years before my conversion. I believed it was all true, there was just no way for me to believe.

Just as semantics can prevent somebody from believing in the first place, they can play a part in causing somebody to doubt their belief after they really do believe.

DJP said...

NewMan — I've been pleased at how this series has resonated with readers.

This meta in particular: hasn't it been fun to watch hit after hit go sailing over the back fence?

donsands said...

"And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the Lord.” 22 Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.”"

And then a little while later:

"And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. 12 And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers" Judges 2:11-12

"Yeah, 'choose.' You 'chose.' It doesn't matter what you chose, because you can't choose."

I've been there done that.

But not with a new convert. Usually with my non-reformed buds. Especially when they something like: "They had 500 decisions for Christ last night at the crusade".

But, I must say I have lightened up a bit, but I still get a twinge when some Christians talk about how they chose Jesus in such and such a way.

Great post again. Nice choice. and very good comments. Good stuff to read.

Anonymous said...

I think the objections come down to whether or not 'faith' itself is a 'decision' rather than the exercise thereof.

I don't think it has much to do with the thought process of whether these critics are afraid that a reprobate person might "decide" for Christ.

Michael said...

This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live. Deuteronomy 30:19.

I'm not going to line up to mock and pillory Moses because he wasn't Calvinist enough. Although I do note that I had to wade through an awful lot of "God choosing" before I get to this in my concordance.

However you want to deal with the paradox (and if you don't have a paradox I suspect you've fallen off either edge and have not suficiently dealt with the Bible at some point) In the end we have to come up somthing along the lines of, "We choose, but our choice is subordinate to God's choice"

Strong Tower said...

Faith isn't a leap, it is resting. It is an exercise but such as life is. Faith always chooses the Fathers will, just as one who lives chooses to breath. What else is there to do? Ephesians pictures faith as being seated in the throne of grace. It understands and gives ascent to, but it also chooses, always, to thrust its trust in Christ's work alone. There is no other choice. Choose this day whom you will follow, as for me, I choose the Lord.

JR said...

Intrestingly the tense used by Joshua (referring to himself in chapter 24) implies more than a once-for-all choosing. Because let’s face it you can just make a choice and be done with it…our choices have longstanding implications. The tense used for Joshua’s choice denotes continuous action. That is, it involves the past, but it also involves the present and the future. It is as if Joshua was saying, “I have chosen to serve the Lord; I am choosing that same path of service now; and I will go on choosing to God until the very end.”

Francis Schaeffer writes:
“This was the character of Joshua. He chose, and he chose, and he chose, and he kept right on choosing. He understood the dynamics of choice. Thus his word to the people was not an affirmation puffed up on the spur of the moment. It was deeply embedded in Joshua’s comprehension of what is required of a person made in the image of God, one called upon, not to obey like a machine or an animal, but to obey God by choice.”

WatchingHISstory said...

Everyman has a conscience activated to excuse or accuse. Every unregenerate sinner has an ally in the heart, it is the law of God. Everyone has a choice and that is to genuinely repent and actually turn from sin inorder to be saved. All will not be saved yet Christ hypothetically died that all might come to him. How clear is that?

Scott Oakland said...

Since we live in a predominately Arminian time in church history, it is in a sense understandable to weigh against any mention of us "choosing" because we know that thee predominate view is synergistic. So because of this, there is a rather understandable tendency to weigh off in the other direction. I am not condoning it, but it is understandable.

Anonymous said...


My understanding is that:
1. God's sovereign election of sinners does not abrogate human decision
2. Human decision does not abrogate God's sovereign election.

Although there is a tension that we hold together, I think both are true nevertheless as Scripture teaches both.

The error of not holding this tension together is either to fall into hyper-calvinism or Arminianism.

DJP said...

Joshua, I'd agree, as long as you don't mean it in a dualistic or absurdist sense. By which I mean, as long as you aren't saying, "God's will is supreme and uncaused, and man's will is supreme and uncaused, and yet they don't cancel each other out." Man wills (and decides) freely in the sense that he chooses as he pleases, normally without external constraint; and he is morally answerable for all his choices. Yet his will is under the invincible exhaustive will of God.

(I'm neither accusing nor inferring; just wanting to be clear.)

Mike Riccardi said...

I'm not sure I understand why we must say there's a tension between God's choice and ours. It's not like these are two indecipherable truths that we have no way of understanding so we just let one lie aside the other, in some state of helpless ignorance, is it?

Isn't it just Biblical to say that those who are saved do indeed choose Christ, but those who are saved are saved by sovereign grace through the regeneration of the Spirit who, like the wind, a blows where He wishes. We choose, but God's choice is behind our choice. I don't see the tension.

I do, however, believe the antinomy shows up when we consider God's sovereignty and our responsibility. I.e., how can God hold us responsible for things He is ultimately responsible for? There I can see the 'antinomy.'

But I think what happens very often is that people confuse "human responsibility" with "free will." They’re not the same. And an underlying assumption of those who confuse those is: "If I'm responsible for it, I must be able to do it." That's not Biblical. And I think it’s that confusion that causes us to say these things are in tension.

WatchingHISstory said...
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WatchingHISstory said...
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Alex said...

I'm glad for this series, because ever since I started going out evangelizing on the street, I have had questions about how to call people to repentance and faith without becoming overly decisional. I decided that the best way to do it is how Jesus and the apostles did it: call people to "repent and believe" in the gospel of Christ. If they are predestined to faith, their wills will respond at the appointed time, which we don't know, and we pray will be very soon for whoever we talk to. All we have to do is present the message and the gospel call. Yes, we do choose to follow Christ, we were more than willing to come to Christ, though only after He changed our will, and, praise Him forever, He did.

DJP said...

That is wonderfully encouraging, Alex. Thanks. I thank God for folks like you who multiply the seed sown.

greglong said...

“Here is a tension which is undeniable. Only God can save me; I must save myself. God is the sole author of the new birth (James 1:18; Titus 3:5); yet at the same time Jesus says, 'Strive to enter in at the narrow gate' (Luke 13:24, AV); 'Make every effort to enter through the narrow door' (NIV). The Greek word for 'strive' is 'agonize' (agonizesthe). The word is an imperative, a command. Peter commanded the same action in effect, when he said, 'Save yourselves from this corrupt generation!' (Acts 2:40). It is plain that the new birth must come from above, that is from God alone, but at the same time the seeker is to strive to enter in at the narrow door. The tension is inescapable.”

Erroll Hulse, The Great Invitation: Examining the Use of the Altar Call in Evangelism (Laurel, MS: Audubon Press, 2006), 76.

Mike Riccardi said...


- Maybe it's semantics, but I don't see a tension there. God elects (chooses). That election is behind the choice that we must make. What's tense?

- That rendering of Acts 2:40 is a shame. It should be a passive imperative: "Be ye saved," not an active-reflexive imperative.

drmack said...

Of my own free will, I have decided to choose to comment... freely... and yet I'm sure this was all predestined (Acts 4:27-28) . If we really do want to communicate better, I think we who know better should at least attempt to clarify these issues with(Romans 9), of course the right attitude(Romans 9). The "mantra of choice" does lead to serious problems if left unchecked or unchallenged(Romans 9). Case in point Billy Graham's (and other popular Christian personalities) promotion of decisional regeneration(Romans 9). The truth is, salvation is not our choice (Romans 9). I now freely choose to end my comment(Romans 9). Big p-maniac fan, emphasis on maniac. Wuzat 200 wrdz?

Marie said...

Of course we must choose. "Choose ye this day whom ye will serve," etc.

The fact that we are not able, in our unredeemed state, doesn't mean we don't have to.

Christ enables us.

Doc said...

Love the post, love the comments. Like so many came to Christ Arminian, by His grace some of His children opened the Scriptures to me to show me that He has always had me in His grip and will not let me go, my own worst efforts notwithstanding.

It seems to me that we do choose to put our faith in Him, but only after He has given us new desires (comes with regeneration), which include a hunger and thirst after righteousness (fledgling, competing with the sinful desires, etc) such that we want Him, want salvation.

If asked, none of us would have chosen to have our desires changed. But once they are changed, we choose Him. As some have noted above, the only problem is when we refuse to acknowledge that we will ALWAYS choose to do that which we desire the most, and that any/all righteous desires we have are purely from Him. Our wills are in bondage to our desires. (Hmm...bondage of the will; catchy phrase; somebody should do something with that...)

F Whittenburg said...

In the story of Joseph, we see many bad choices made by his brothers and good choices from Joseph like rejecting Potifers wife. After all these choices in Joseph's life, both good and bad, from many different people over many years, it was still only God's purpose that resulted from all those "freewill" choices....To save many people from famine. This one story shows that freewill and predestination can flow beautifully together in God's creation and are not in contradiction.

But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.(Genesis 50:20KJV)

You can only pick and choose from what choices God allows in your mind: (Romans 11:7,8 KJV)

And of course we can't forget that belief in Jesus Christ is a gift of God.

For unto you it IS GIVEN in the behalf of Christ, NOT ONLY TO BELIEVE ON HIM, but also to suffer for his sake; (Philippians 1:29 KJV)

Mike Riccardi said...

F Whittenburg: This one story shows that freewill and predestination can flow beautifully together in God's creation and are not in contradiction.

I think we can be more precise than this in our language. Arlen Stuart made a good point about this in the 12:54 PM post.

Arlen: The problem with the phrase "free will" does not rest in both words, but merely in the word "free".

Unbelievers can make choices...but they are in bondage to only choosing the things which will devastate their souls

We've got to be careful. The opposite of free will is not "no will"; it's an enslaved will (John 8:34; Rom 6:6, 6:16-20, 8:7-8). Everyone makes choices. But they can only make choices in accordance with their nature. In humanity's case, that nature is in bondage; it is not free. It is a sin, death, and child-of-wrath nature (Eph 2:1-3).

The unregenerate sinner has a will (i.e., a moral inclination to this or that). But his will is enslaved to sin until freed (or changed) by the sovereign grace of God (Eph 2:4-5; John 1:13; Jas 1:18).

BruceandSandi said...
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CR said...

The Bible is anti-choice for the natural man. (Romans 8:5-8). The natural man cannot choose to love the Lord and hate Him at the same time.

Once the Lord regenerates us whereby the Spirit changes our disposition to the Lord from being hostile and not interested in the things of the Lord to now being disposed to the Lord then by the power of the Holy Spirit we choose to exercise faith and repentance.

So prior to being born-again, you chose nothing. It was impossible for you to choose someone you hated. After regeneration you couldn't do anything but choose to exercise faith (knowledge, trust and commitment to Christ) and repentance. Faith and repentance are things we do chose to do (by the power of the Spirit) after God had changed our disposition in regeneration. In regeneration, we do absolutely nothing. Faith and repentance is something we do by the aide of the Holy Spirit.

one busy mom said...

You said:

"If some bubbly new professor shares the great news with us that he'd decided to trust Christ, is our most brotherly, Biblical, God-honoring response to mock him and dress him right down as a Pelagian heretic?"

Funny you should say that.

Years ago as a very new beleiver my hubby and I were out with our pastor and his wife. I was asked to give my testimony. As with many new believers, it was clumsy and heavy on the "I decided" parts. After carefully explaining how "I" finally "chose" to follow Christ, I saw out of the corner of my eye, my Pastor- a firm Calvinist - roll his eyes and heard him mutter "HE must have been SO relieved!". :-)

I really, really don't recommend that approach....but he certainly did get his point across!

Anonymous said...

Joshua, I'd agree, as long as you don't mean it in a dualistic or absurdist sense. By which I mean, as long as you aren't saying, "God's will is supreme and uncaused, and man's will is supreme and uncaused, and yet they don't cancel each other out." Man wills (and decides) freely in the sense that he chooses as he pleases, normally without external constraint; and he is morally answerable for all his choices. Yet his will is under the invincible exhaustive will of God.

(I'm neither accusing nor inferring; just wanting to be clear.)

No need to qualify your remark. We are in full agreement!

I was trying to keep my post succinct and short. (As in real life, I talk too much as it is!)

CR said...

One Busy Mom,

Most of us have started off as Arminians. The thing about justification is this: God only justifies the ungodly. Therefore, we start in the Christian life with really bad theology and really bad morality.

DJP said...

REMINDER: I really, really mean, and am obliged to enforce, the part of the post that begins with the words: "Only two special rules...."

It concerns me when folks don't want to abide by such a short and simple directive, but want to launch a discussion of deep and pan-Biblical matters.

Visit the blog daily. It comes up all the time. There will be appropriate venues. Not every meta is about every subject.

Scottj said...

I thought I chose. I grew up. Now I know He chose me.

JackW said...

I’m not so bothered by the use of the word choice or making a decision as I am the importance that is applied to such terms. When it becomes the focus for your salvation and sanctification things tend to get a little man centered. I’ve never seen a church that focused too much on God’s sovereignty, but I’ve been to lots of churches that focus heavily on man’s responsibility. Pragmatism.

I’ve been a little disturbed by a recent trend where there is this call to have a “balanced’ view. Well, when most people think of balanced they think of scales where one side is equal to the other. Is that the Biblical balance between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility?

butterfli75 said...

Communicating 101 Dialogue:

"Are you one of God's chosen? A child of God? A follower of Christ?"
I guess so.I'm not sure.

"You may be one of God's elect but have not listened for God's soft gentle call to come to Him."

How do I know if He is calling me?

"Open you mind, open your heart, believe in the Saviour Jesus Christ, and truly obey Him as Lord through repentance and regeneration."

"and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice" (John 10:4)

JR said...


Let the Arminians do evangelism, and the Calvinists can handle discipleship.

I'm kidding. There are many different words and phrases that aren't airtight theologically, but communicate accurately our experience. For instance...there's a guy named Doc who "led me to Christ" 20 years ago. Now, did Doc lead me or did the Holy Spirit? Well, both...kind of. Outwardly Doc did, but inwardly the Holy Spirit did, and perhaps inwardly the Holy Spirit was leading him to lead me.

We could play this game with all sorts of terms.

F Whittenburg said...

"It concerns me when folks don't want to abide by such a short and simple directive, but want to launch a discussion of deep and pan-Biblical matters."

Dan, I never broke either rule. Both deleted posts were under 200 words. And both addressed Cavinistic doctrine.

First deleated post was just addressing the "enslaved will" response to my first post. I just used simple scripture from a KJV Bible, nothing "deep." I just used scripture that you haven't seen before or you just forgot about.

The post about Jonah was an simple explanation of your picture of a child standing before two trails. Which is what I thought you wanted. I guess you thought the picture was "deep", I did not. Once again I answered simply and to the point. Nothing "deep"

I never stepped outside the scriptures.

DJP said...

I deemed yours as responses to a rule-breaker. I left his name, but deleted yours to save embarrassment. When I delete a deviation, I delete responses as well, as a rule.

BruceandSandi said...
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Mike Westfall said...

Many are called, few are chosen. Matt. 22:14

DJP said...

Bruce: Difficult to think it would be profitable to explain Scripture to someone who won't respect simple blog-rules even when their author explains them to him.

greglong said...

butterfli75 says:

Communicating 101 Dialogue:

"Are you one of God's chosen? A child of God? A follower of Christ?"
I guess so.I'm not sure.

"You may be one of God's elect but have not listened for God's soft gentle call to come to Him."

How do I know if He is calling me?

"Open you mind, open your heart, believe in the Saviour Jesus Christ, and truly obey Him as Lord through repentance and regeneration."

"and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice" (John 10:4)

Once again, I am amazed at how people can completely miss the point of Dan's post.

Butterfli, do you see your approach even HINTED at anywhere in the New Testament?

Unknown said...


Once again, I am encouraged and enlightened by the the timeliness of another post.

Great comments. Great discussion. Iron duly sharpened. I am watching for another opportunity to call someone to "choose" Christ in the hope that the Holy Spirit is granting them mercy in giving the faith and repentance to do so.

F Whittenburg said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
DJP said...

F Whittenburg, you're killing me. It's a question of whether I'm going to keep my word or not. I said I'd strictly enforce the rules, 446 is a much-larger number than 200, so I have no choice if I'm to be honorable.

Email me, I can send you your comments back; you can keep them, and then when I write my next post you can probably put them there.

Sorry! Nothing personal, truly!

Strong Tower said...

I have no choice if I'm to be honorable...

And if you did?

DJP said...

Eat, drink the whole nine.

BruceandSandi said...
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Jim said...

The result to instruct a hearer to choose or make a decision results from the lack of substance that is leaped from with this instruction. Remedy? Convey to the hearer that God must do a work in you, and he revealed that he would do it if you believe that what he promised to do (Ezekiel 36), he will cause you to be born again. Like Abraham, you are dead and you need life from God, Christ consummated this from the work on the Cross and was the firstborn raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ not only is able to save you from the penalty of sin, but also from the power of sin. Believe is the proper substance so that the source of action is clearly fixed on God doing something in you. Choose is used 3 times in a negative sense in the NT. Most notably, you did not choose me. Let’s not employ this in our closes and mentor our brethren that we must call men like Abraham to fix their hope and faith in God doing in them what only he can do, apart from which you will perish.

bassicallymike said...

Many great replies!

I think any Calvinist who displays a smug haughty sense in their understanding of theology should be considered to be operating "in the flesh".

Russ said...

From Anthony Hoekema, who is so Calvinist, he's Reformed: "Since human beings are by nature dead in sin, God must make them alive; regeneration in the narrower sense must be exclusively the work of God. But in the aspects of the process of salvation which are distinct from regeneration both God and believers are involved--we could speak of salvation in this sense as being both God's work and our task." (Saved by Grace, 5)

Kirby L. Wallace said...

Fantasitic! Just what the doctor ordered!

Here's my thoughts:


Do me a favour, please? I do not solicit comments, but I'd really like to know if I'm off-base here. Please leave me a comment and let me know if you agree or disagree. I'm wide open and all ears!

And please... more articles like this! This one goes well with that "Daily Dose" articla about being a nuisance to the world!