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Against Universalism I:

Free Will and the Image of God

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Question #1:  Dear Bob, Thank you for your ministry. It has helped me in many ways. Can you comment on Universalism-Salvation for all? Recently an acquaintance told me that the Holy Spirit revealed to him that Universalism was true and now he has peace of heart since he doesn't have to fear that anyone will suffer eternally. He criticizes everyone else now for painting God as a monster who can condemn someone for eternity when it is not the way it will be. To me, he quotes Scriptures to back up his point and I've quoted Scriptures to validate my point. My biggest comeback is that Jesus didn't teach that so we shouldn't either. Jesus said on more that one occasion that unless we believed He was who He said He was, we will NOT enter into the Kingdom. How would you handle this? I look forward to your response.

Response #1:  Good to hear from you, and thank you so much for your encouraging remarks. As to your question, I would first say that I think you are handling this is exactly the right way, namely, by sticking with scripture. And the scripture unquestionably does not teach this horribly heretical false doctrine. In fact, I can't think of a single scripture which on its face would be taken by any reasonable person, believer or unbeliever, to mean that "all are saved no matter what". On the other hand, of course, we have the lake of fire (Matt.25:41; Rev.20:10; cf. Is.24:21-22; 27:1; 34:4; Jer.10:11; Ezek.28:18-19; Dan.4:35; Jn.16:11; 1Cor.6:3), the last judgment (Rev.20:11-15; cf. Rev.14:10-11; 21:27; 22:15), the sheep and the goats (Matt.25), and a whole host of passages which clearly demonstrate that some people at least are not saved. In fact, universal condemnation at birth is not only biblical (Rom.3:23), but is prima facie obvious to all human beings in an intuitive way because everyone dies physically, and that is plain to everyone. And in turn it is easy to see that physical death is a direct result of sin, sin that pulses through our veins as descendants of Adam and Eve. Since we all sin and since we all die, we know in hearts very well (if we are honest about it) that we have nothing to say in our own defense when we find ourselves face to face with our Maker after death (because nothing we can do could ever wipe out the smallest sin in the eyes of a perfectly holy God). That is why the gospel of Jesus Christ is such good news: it is the only way that we can avoid the otherwise necessary calculus of our physical birth: condemnation from a just God. Now if all were saved regardless, why should there be any physical death at all? Why not let us all live forever in these bodies and on this earth? And more than that, if God could and did save everyone regardless, then why did Christ have to die in the first place? Since -- if all are saved apart from their own choice of faith -- why is it necessary to have Christ die for that faith to have an object? God is -- in this false view -- forgiving sin regardless of the attitude of the sinner; He is overturning any demand of His own righteousness. So why worry about righteousness at all? Why not forget the cross entirely?

But of course God's perfect righteousness is an undeniable fact, and has to be satisfied for sin to be forgiven. And of course in order to gain access to that forgiveness we must want it, we have to accept it, we have to believe in it, believe in Jesus and the work He did for us in dying on the cross. If we reject Him, how is that not a sin? And if God then lets us have eternal life in spite of the impossibility of propitiating the sin of rejecting the One who died for sin, then He is in effect letting sin into eternity (and thus allowing everything to be polluted once again). God forgives those who ask for forgiveness. If a believer confesses his sin, he is forgiven (1Jn.1:9), not if he refuses to do so. If my brother sins against me and then comes to me and repents, I am commanded to forgive him no matter how many times he does so -- but not if he doesn't repent (Matt.18:22). Forgiveness, almost by definition, is a two-way street. In terms of eternal salvation, God does absolutely everything for us, it is true: Christ died to take away our sin, and indeed He did die for the sins of the entire world. The one thing He did not do is take away our free will. He did not make the decision for us to accept or reject Himself. The door to salvation lies open; all that is required of us is to walk through it. All we have to do is not say "no". But salvation still requires that act of faith (the essence of the free will inherent in the image of God which we are put here to exercise). If salvation did not require this act of faith, we would no longer have free will in effect, because it would make absolutely no difference whether or not we responded to the critical issue of this life, namely, "what is your response to Jesus Christ?" Without free will, we are no different from dogs and cats. Without free will, nothing matters any more in this life at all, because it is for the exercise of free will -- beginning with the issue of salvation and then exploding out into everything else in our lives thereafter -- that we were even created at all! But without the consequence of failing to choose for God, there is in effect no true free will, since there is no essential choice with any true eternal consequence. God's whole purpose in creating mankind in the first place is all about free will. It demonstrates to the angels the righteousness of God: He is righteous to save and to condemn, and inimitably fair in both. Satan could have chosen mercy but remained steadfast in rebellion. Mankind demonstrates that while some do reject God, others of those of us who find ourselves alienated from God through sin by virtue of our common birth nevertheless will rejoice in God's offer of mercy and choose for God. But if the choice means nothing, why was there any need for us in the first place? And if the choice means nothing, why are we given the choice? Why are we commanded to make the choice?

In fact, God did create mankind for a purpose: to glorify Him by responding to Him (that is the essential point behind the image of God; see the link: in BB 3A: "The Image and Likeness of God"). And Jesus did not become an angel (Heb.2:16), but He became a human being like us – and not to no purpose. It is a mind-boggling, wonderful thing to consider what a gift the coming of the Son in the flesh truly is! What a choice that was! Jesus did not have to do this for us; He did not have to live the most difficult life in history and suffer all that He did; and He certainly did not have to go to the cross for us, going into the darkness and facing the flames of hell for all of the sins of all the world – especially for us who would believe. These were choices, and as our role-model He left the path we are to follow, namely, of choosing for Him day after day, but beginning with salvation. Why? Because it doesn't make any difference? Rather, because it makes all the difference in the world. It makes a difference that transcends the world: eternal life in the presence of the One we choose to follow or eternal death away from the presence of the One we chose to reject by our own choice. Taking away any consequence from human life (which is what this false doctrine does) robs humanity of its essence and its purpose, and makes a complete mockery of everything God has done in human history, especially the cross of Jesus Christ. For if all could be saved without accepting the work of Christ, then how is the work of Christ even necessary at all?

This particular false doctrine is making the rounds of late, a fact that I find truly amazing personally, though I suspect it has much to do with individuals and groups involved in gross sin who wish to continue without heeding the demands of conscience are thus attempting to cover the truth with a theological sounding fig-leaf. I also think it has much to do with the sorry state of our collective spirituality as a Church Age (Laodicea in its latter years), and probably is part of the devil's preparations for furthering the apostasy that will bloom as the Tribulation begins. For once universal salvation is accepted, there are no consequences or standards to worry about at all; and once anything goes, it is a rather easier matter to introduce all sorts of changes large and small, subtle and obvious, into the church visible on the road to transforming it into the beast's religion (see the links: in CT 3A, "The persuasiveness of the tribulational false religion", and in CT 4, "The Anti-Christian Religion and its Worldwide Expansion"). Please also see the following links which address this issue one way or another:

The Last Judgment and the Great White Throne.

Apostasy and the Sin unto Death

Unbelief and its Consequences

Of course, there are plenty of scriptures too which really can't be disputed on this point as well, and I will leave you with a few:

(2) For many who sleep in the dust will awake, some to eternal life, but the others to shame and eternal separation [from God].
Daniel 12:2

And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.
Malachi 3:18 NIV

"Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned."
John 5:28-29 NIV

He who rejects Me and does not receive my words has someone who judges him. The Word which I spoke, that [is what] will judge him on the last day.
John 12:48

If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; 2Tim.2:12 NASB

He said to me: "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death." Revelation 21:6-8 NIV

Remember the days gone by, when you first saw the light, when you persevered through that terrible trial of abuse. For you were publicly exposed to humiliation and persecution, and shared the lot of others who experienced the same. You supported those in prison, and accepted the confiscation of your belongings with joy, because you knew you possessed a more valuable estate, and a more lasting one. So don't throw away this conviction of yours – it leads to a great reward. You need to keep persevering so that you may carry off in victory what has been promised – after you have accomplished God's will. For yet a little while, how short, how [short the wait], and He who is coming shall come, nor will He delay. "Then shall my righteous one live by his faith, but if he shrinks back, My heart takes no pleasure in him." Now we are not possessed of cowardly apostasy which leads to destruction, but we have faith which leads to [eternal] life.
Hebrews 10:32-39

For if after having escaped the defilements of this world by recognizing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ they should be overcome [spiritually] by becoming involved again in these foul things, then they have become worse off than they were before. For it would have been better for them not to have accepted the Righteous Way in the first place, rather than – once having accepted this holy command [for faith in Christ] committed to them – to now turn their backs on it. And so in their case this proverb is true: "The dog has returned to his vomit, and the sow, though washed, to her muddy sty".
2nd Peter 2:20-22

He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.
1John 5:12

Thank you for your stalwart defense of the true faith of Jesus Christ.

You fellow Christian soldier,

Bob L.

Question #2: 

Dear Bob,

I have come upon many who have been stating that all writings by Paul were forgeries, that he was a "self-proclaimed" apostle. I then went on to google and find there to be quite a bit of material on the subject. This is the first I've ever heard of such a thing. I've come to the conclusion that the Bible is exactly how God wanted it to be, and therefore has led me to exactly what He wanted me to know, therefore everything there, including writings of Paul, are "God-breathed". Also, there are many who believe there is no hell? I'm confounded by how many translate the Bible to what it is "they" want it to mean. It boggles my brain!

In Christ,

Response #2: 

The internet is an amazing thing. It allows the widespread promulgation of good things (of which I hope and pray this ministry is a part) and at the same time of all sorts lies, deceptions and downright indecencies as well. To take the first question first, I have never heard of this particular brand of nonsense before, and while I have some ideas about the motivations, I am not sure what possible rationale could be advanced for this thesis by anyone who has even the most remote respect for the Bible. Even the Roman Catholic church would not go this far, and you will find the apostle's letters in every New Testament of which I am aware, even goofy versions produced by all sorts of cults and heretical groups (e.g., JW's). Indeed, even during heretical attempts to "amend" the Bible in the early church, Paul always "made the cut" (as in Marcion's case). Simply put, there is no textual basis to exclude the epistles as genuine, no historical case to suggest any serious figure in church history ever made such a claim (I don't even know of any "non-serious" person who did so), and certainly no theological argument which can be seriously put forward in defense of this ridiculous idea. There are twelve apostles, and Judas is not one of them. Who would #12 be? Even those who might reply "Matthias" would have to contend with the fact that the book of Acts, where the story of the wrong-headed appointment of a human choice for #12 is recorded (see the link: "Matthias"), does more to back up Paul's claim to be the twelfth apostle than even his epistles do. Simply put, if we call this fact into question, we have to throw out all of early church history and the entire New Testament as sacred books and instead engage on a process of "historical recreation" and "demythologization" of the "true" message of the "historical Jesus" and what "really happened" in the early church. Which is to say, we cease being believers and become unbelieving liberal historians who merely have an academic interest in investigating a portion of ancient history (only, truth be told, with a biased standard that would make true ancient historians blanch).

But as to motivations I can see at least three right off the top of my head. First, as mentioned above, there is always going to be a devil-supported program of attack on the scriptures from all sorts of angles. Satan always wants to keep up a constant pressure on belief in the Bible, and he has used and will continue to use all sorts of people and all sorts of arguments. For all we know about the Lord, all the truth we possess beyond the clear message of His existence streaming forth from His creation, comes for the scriptures. To the extent that he can infiltrate any measure of doubt at all in the individual Christian's heart, to that extent the devil has succeeded in at least minimizing spiritual growth by undermining faith and destabilizing one's understanding of what the truth actually is.

Secondly, even though R.C.'s are supposed to follow lock-step with the "program", in this country especially they tend to go their own way and the internet has given many loose cannons a forum of which they are taking full advantage. It is certainly in the interest of someone who wants to use all means fair or foul to support the primacy of the Roman church to demean Paul. The R.C. church officially puts the Bible well down the list of authorities (the most significant indication that they are in error in all they teach), but at least they pay scripture lip-service of a kind. But since they don't really value the Bible, if I were a radical proponent of papal dominance I would have no problem throwing out a large portion of it if it served my purposes. Clearly, Jesus is the foundation of the Church (1Cor.3:11; cf. Matt.7:25; Lk.6:48), the Cornerstone upon which all else rests (Eph.2:20), the Rock upon which everything else is based (Rom.9:33) – as even Peter himself makes clear (1Pet.2:8)! But it is very clear that the idea of Peter being the one "super-apostle" who bequeaths his sole rulership of the church to a string of popes is challenged prima facie by the canon of New Testament epistles wherein Paul's letters constitute not only the physical but also the theological gravamen (as "any fool can plainly see"). So for all who actually read the Bible, the best apology for Peter is clearly to defame Paul. It's no issue for those already persuaded of the R.C. line, but in contests of rhetoric and apologetics, it's an argument that I can see someone using (if they have no regard for scripture or the truth which, sadly, is often the case). On Matthew 6:18 "upon this Rock" referring to Jesus and not to Peter, please see the link: "Christ the Rock".

Thirdly, there is also the fact that of all the NT writings, Paul most explicitly condemns homosexual behavior (as distinguished from tendencies: we are all tempted to sin one way or another; it's not sin until we give into the temptation; see question #3 at the link: "Political Action versus Biblical Christianity"). See Romans chapter 1:24-27 and 1st Timothy 1:9-10 in particular. There is no way whatsoever to exegete one's way around the passages quoted, so why not get rid of them? There is no rational basis for excluding Romans or the pastoral epistles from the canon, so why not kick Paul out entirely, or at least dismiss anything he may have written because he is only a "self-proclaimed" apostle, not a "real" one. But of course, Jesus Himself appointed Paul (Acts 9:3-9; 22:6-11; 26:13-18) – unless we want to through out the Book of Acts too. And of course, the only reason we say that scripture itself is "God-breathed" . . . is because of Paul, writing this to us under the influence of the Spirit (2Tim.3:16)!

I am sure that there are many other possible motivations out there for claiming Paul was not legitimate or that his writings are actually "forgeries", but beyond the fact that there is not a whit of evidence to support such a thesis, this is really discussing the mechanics rather than the true underlying cause: Satan's desire to sow doubts in the hearts of believers by causing them to doubt the source of the truth they have believed, the God-inspired, God-planned, God-endorsed holy scriptures.

On the other question, yes indeed this is another "popular heresy" that is making the rounds of late. I hadn't heard of anyone seriously making this claim for the past twenty years or so, but in the last few years it has become a "hot topic". It is, of course, a ridiculous notion. What is the point of human life if there is no choice? Choice is why we are here. We were created in the love and grace of God as an answer to the devil and his rebellion: some creatures with free will would respond to a merciful God's offer of reconciliation, even if Satan and his cohorts would not. That is the very point of our being made in the image and likeness of God (see the link: in SR3: "The Image of God"). From Genesis (the garden and the fall) to Revelation (the beast and the dragon) scripture is very clear from beginning to end that much of what is really happening on planet earth has everything to do with the angelic warfare swirling around us unseen and really very little to do with what our eyes can see. Angels are watching us (see the links: in SR 1: "Angelic Observation"; and in Peter #22: "Angels are watching us"), and why would they do so, why would there be "joy over one sinner who repents" (Lk.15:10) etc., if it didn't make any difference? And that is really the point behind the deception involved in this heresy, that is, to try and suggest to people that it "doesn't make any difference what we do or believe" in this life.

In fact, of course, what we choose makes all the difference in the world! For believers, every decision we make has consequences. We have been given valuable time after salvation for a purpose: to grow spiritually and then to help others do the same. Our track record in taking advantage of these opportunities is the basis for our eternal rewards. But why would we be rewarded or why would we care if it didn't make any difference what we do here? And if it didn't even matter whether or not we believe (the big decision) then how in the world could any of the smaller decisions matter? For if God is not going to take into account whether or not we reject or accept His Son, then why would He care, nay, how could He in justice make any distinction between believers in meting out rewards?

So this terrible false doctrine, if even partially believed, has a dual devastating effect: not only does it give unbelievers false confidence that they don't have to come to Jesus and believers the dangerous false idea that they can lapse into sin without endangering their eternal life, but it also has the enervating effect of undermining all positive Christian growth and production. For the true message of "universalism" is the "nothing matters", and if that were the case, then all we are doing is completely in vain. This is of course the exact opposite of the truth where even a cup of cold water offered in the Lord's Name will not fail to have its reward, where we are promised to have all we have done, good or bad evaluated, and to receive a reward for what we have done "by means of the body", where we are told that we will receive eternal crowns based upon the level of success we achieve as believers to commemorate the good decisions and actions we have accomplished in this life, all of which make a very big difference indeed (see the link: "Production is Rewarded"). But one can see very clearly why it would be that Satan should wish to advance this particular heresy: it has the potential of demoralizing every advancing Christian, even as it keeps or tears many from the faith entirely.

But I'm very glad to hear that your faith is solid and strong so as not to get tripped up or led astray by "every wind and wave of false doctrine".

In our Lord -- Marana Tha!

Bob L.

Question #3: 

How does being made in God's image affect our relationship to God? Does it affect our image of ourselves?

Response #3: 

The "image of God" in which we as human beings are "made" is indeed critical to our relationship with Him. Unlike the animals, we have free will, the ability to choose for God, to follow His will and not our own, to make choices to please Him instead of ourselves. That is what the "image" is all about, and it is in this sense that we are most like Him – not in any inherent power (for what is more powerless and ephemeral than mankind?), but in the ability, opportunity, and indeed necessity of making morally informed decisions, the most important of which is of course our decision to accept His sacrifice for our sins, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, in order to have eternal life with Him and with Jesus forevermore. Without the "image", our relationship would be like that of the animals whom He has also made. With the "image" the nature and the quality of our relationship with Him is largely determined by our responsiveness to Him, for it is in the "image" that we have the ability to respond, and individually so (that is the "likeness" part; see the link below). A few people do respond, and a very few people respond in a wholehearted, passionate, and consistent way. But, sadly, the road is narrow, and those who find it are few, a fact which says much about the stubbornness resident in the hearts of men.

On your second question, I would say that this is also is true, since we have been made to serve and respond to God of our own free will, that we are only truly happy, satisfied, and complete when we are doing so. To the extent that we are making choices, large or small, which serve what we deem to be our own happiness as opposed to God's will for us, to that extent we will inevitably become progressively more unhappy in truth, and our happiness and image of ourselves (to the extent that we are looking at ourselves with eyes wide open) cannot but help to suffer. This is why progressively greater "hardness of heart" is a necessary consequence of progressively greater opposition to God, whether that opposition be active rebellion or passive resistance (see the link: "Hardness of Heart").

You can find out more about all this at the following Ichthys link: in BB 3A: "The image and likeness of God".

In the One who died for us that we might live with Him forever, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob Luginbill

Question #4:

Hi Doc!

I would like to here your thoughts on the likeness of God in man. Here are some introductory thoughts from myself.

God's likeness in man is found in our similarity to the Godhead itself and probably denotes various aspects of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. One author noted that our mistaken notion that we have sovereign control over our lives is a sort of proof that we are created in the likeness of God for God is sovereign.

Now obviously there are things the animal world does not posses that we do posses and those items would seem to be attributed to our likeness of God.

For instance we are thinking, rational beings who can plan, determine and execute our ideas. What part of the plant or animal world can plan for next year or what animal is asked by God to consider your days, or to know the times in which you live. What animal is invited to "come unto me"? These in my opinion are part of the proofs of God's likeness in man.

That we were created in the likeness of God to have fellowship with God, we were created to not only converse but to be able to think and ask questions and learn. Who among us could have named all the animals as Adam did when they were presented to him by God? Think of the joy that God must have had as Adam named all the animals using the very intelligence and wisdom given him by God. Adam was like God.

The likeness of God is seen in our eternal life through the spirit of God. Notice that God never breathed into the animals the breath of life yet all were alive humanly speaking. The breath of life, that eternal breath that comes only through the Spirit of God and made man an eternal being came from God. Man may have been a rational soul but when God breathed into him the breath of life he became an eternal soul as well. He was like God.


Though the image of God is gone we still see the remnants of the likeness of God in man.

Your thoughts?

Response #4:

Yes in general terms I would agree with your observations here which suggest a lot of thought on the issue on your part. This is a topic where close attention to scripture is very important. In the history of the church, there have been many who have gotten into trouble through speculation instead of going to the Bible first and foremost to get the answers to these sorts of questions. This another topic upon which I have written rather extensively, and in this case the teaching is pretty detailed and the arguments somewhat subtle – to such a degree that I will only venture a very few general comments here.

First, all human beings have both the image and likeness of God (i.e., the theory that the image has been "erased" is false). Both of these qualities are spiritual, but they are not identical. The image of God refers to the fact that human beings are made by Him to mirror divine essence in terms of choice – our free will is indeed a mirror of the sovereignty of God, and it is this free will which makes us so unique (only the angels are likewise creatures with the ability to choose). The likeness of God refers to our mirroring of the Trinity in the sense of plurality; that is to say, God is three in Person, whereas mankind is composed of many persons (and so in this respect too we are "like God"). This latter similarity is even further from being an exact equivalent than the first. In the case of image, our free will can only respond (or react) to God sovereign WILL; in the case of likeness, the Trinity is absolutely unique in being "ONE" in essence and so one in purpose always, whereas human beings are nowhere near so connected either physically or spiritually. So image = free will mirroring divine WILL; likeness = human plurality of individuals who choose mirroring the Trinity who DECIDE.

As I say, there is much more to this, and one has to delve pretty deeply into the exegesis of the Hebrew of Genesis chapter three to see all of the elements involved. Please have a look at the following links (they are essentially the same material):

In SR #3: "The Image and Likeness of God"

In BB 3A: "The Image and Likeness of God"

In our Lord Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #5:

Hello Dr. Luginbill,

Is it accurate to say that the Father validates our choice of Him, or rather that the Father validates His choice of us? Are both saying the same thing in a different way, or are they incompatible on some level (or all levels?). This leads to other points that arise by implication as well, I think: what about God's order in the "mechanics" of saving us (there's a theological term for this I can't recall: is it lapsariansim?). How do the different schools of thought on this ordering lead to different conclusions re: salvation, keeping grace, (does God keep us by virtue of His character and nature and power, or do we keep ourselves by virtue of our own choice?), etc? Which do you find is the correct view? Does it matter? If you've already covered any of these subjects in another place, I would be interested in reading what you have to say.

Kind Regards, In Christ,

Response #5:

Both things are of course true (although most official schools of theology are, as you imply, camped out on one side of the battlefield or the other). We have indeed been unchangeably elected in the plan of God before the creation of the world (His choice of us); we also must choose for God through faith in Jesus Christ in this life and maintain that faith firm until the end in order to be saved (our choice of Him in response). Both propositions are true and biblical, and both are essential to accept and understand for a fully functional life of faith. Any apparent contradiction is just that: apparent only. God exists outside of time and is not constrained by time, or space, or the canons of human logic – without which three things our ability to speculate is meager indeed. Suffice it to say as my old pastor used to say "God is smart enough to have known ahead of time everything we would ever think, say, or do, and to incorporate it all into His all-inclusive plan". That is really the only position which fully satisfies all of the biblical statements which describe us as definitely being responsible to respond as if we did have the free will to do so (which we do), and which at the same time does not contradict the wonderful news that God made all the preparations for our salvation in electing us before the world was made and that we are absolutely secure in that election. This is one of those areas where, in my view, the construction of elaborate theological systems that go far beyond what is written is not only a waste of time but also potentially very debilitating to spiritual growth. For the only thing that leaning too heavily upon election can do is to give us a false sense of security: we still have to maintain our faith, and if we get lazy in our approach, we may jeopardize it. And if, on the other hand, we lean too heavily upon freedom, we face unnecessary crises of faith in coming to think "it all depends upon us": in fact, God has planned everything out for us ahead of time, and so we can rest secure in His arms as those who have been chosen before the beginning of time. As is often the case, the truth refuses to let go of either proposition (cf. Eccl.7:18).

For more on this subject generally, see the following links:

Does God's choice of us eliminate our free will?

The Image and Likeness of God (in BB 3A)

Man created to replace Satan and his angels (in SR 3)

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #6:

Dear Dr. Luginbill,

I was reading your web site and I found a part of one of your answers in "Political Action and Biblical Christianity" a bit startling. Do you believe in predestination? A great deal of your answer sounds as if you do. I am a believing Christian and as such I believe we need to take an active part in elections. We get what we deserve when we are not active. I would think that you too might subscribe to the belief that politics is an honorable calling. If our lives are preordained, why not live it up? If we are among the chosen, it won't matter and even if we lead blameless lives (no one can do that of course) it also won't matter if our lives are already preordained.

Thanks for your time.

Response #6:

Many theologies wrongly present free will and predestination as mutually exclusive, but that is not the case. I do believe in predestination, but I also believe in free will. What we do – every single little thing we think and say and do – is of critical importance personally and also in God's plan. God knew what we would choose before we did so, but we still choose of our own free will.

What we do personally is indeed extremely important. Affecting our own personal spiritual lives for good and the lives of others for good through the ministries to which we have each individually been called is a large part of the reason we are here. But it is also possible to waste our time by trying to affect things that have nothing whatsoever to do with God's plan for our lives, namely, personal spiritual growth and ministry. Trying to fix or alter or affect the devil's world falls into this category and is a fool's errand because this is the devil's world and history will play out as God has ordained it to play out no matter what we try to do about it. These two things are not only not the same, they are close to being polar opposites, at least from the standpoint of biblical Christianity. I think you will find these same points of view consistently expressed in all of the (extensive) studies and brief responses on the site (see the link: "Strangers in the Devil's Realm").

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #7:

Hi Robert!

A brother in Christ had asked this question, he had said:

"A biblical fiat is a direct command from God. Are there degrees of biblical fiat's? For instance when God called the heaven and earth into existence there was no option to disobey but when God calls us to come out from among them and touch not the unclean thing though it is a command it is one that some can disobey. (not saying they should) Is the fiat of creation different than the fiat's of authority?"

What are your thoughts on this?

Response #7:

The word "fiat" comes from the Latin jussive subjunctive used by the Vulgate version of the Bible to translate Genesis 1:3 etc.: fiat lux! means "let there be light!".

God could certainly have made us no morally different than stars or rocks or plants. However, we are dramatically different from objects and creatures without free will, and yet the astounding magnitude of that difference seems to escape almost everyone. We are so materially small, and yet our egos lay claim to the universe. In an average living room, one could pack a thousand human bodies "phone booth stuffing style"; in a city park, millions; but when we think of what we see as we walk around we scarcely ever appreciate the magnitude of just how small the portion of the earth we occupy is and how incredibly small we are within it. Because we can see or envision it, we think we somehow we can manage it. It takes something as massive as the Grand Canyon to impress people with their own minuscule proportions. How much smaller are we not when compared to a continent, or the planet, or the solar system, or to the least of the other features of the universe of which we are aware (none of which could ever contain God; all of which we created by Him in an instant)? When we add to this our physical vulnerability, this insignificance is multiplied many fold. Yet in our egos we imagine ourselves large and all other things manageable. We seem to believe that we are in some ways lords of all we can survey or imagine, even though a small boulder in some wilderness has more mass. We seem to think that we can effect whatever we wish as well; that nothing on earth is beyond our capabilities if only we set our minds on it; we even imagine that we can storm the physical heavens; that whatever lies beyond our individual ability to effect or control yet lies within our collective grasp as human beings or at least will one day. In fact and in truth, left only to the resource of our physical body we would be hard pressed to dig a hole in the earth with our bare hands big enough for the rudest shelter. Yet we imagine the tools and technology and collective human resources and knowledge, pathetically small as they are in fact when compared even to earthly phenomena (as any serious storm, or fire, or earthquake will serve to show), we imagine them to be almighty, and imagine that they belong to us individually at least to some degree. And perhaps worst and most deluded of all, we imagine that we will not die (that is, we act and reason as if that were true even though we know it to be true). As with the other parts of our psychological self-image discussed above, it is not that we do not know "better" in some sort of a detached, purely academic way (indeed we do), but emotionally and practically, this is what we really feel and this is how we really act – if we are not going to die today it is as good as never dying at all. For there is no other way to explain most human behavior apart from the principle that it takes place in complete denial of one's own mortality. People plan, and lust, strive and conspire, hope and toil as if it were not that case that human life is completely futile, and further as if they will be around forever to enjoy it. They know in an abstract way that they will not live forever, but live their lives as if that were indeed the case (see the link: "Strangers in the Devil's Realm").

The proper Christian perspective, of course, is much different from the fleshly point of view described above, but since it is inherent in the flesh to think this way, Christians are always struggling against this worldly point of view as well. It is very easy for us to get caught up in the same foolish thought patterns. Indeed, to some degree it may be important that this is true. For the capacity to think in terms beyond the shell of this body, to look ahead in time instead of being focused only on the present world, and to anticipate and appreciate the essential eternity that God has embedded in the universe is what being a moral creature, a creature possessed of free will, is all about. Because of the universal corruption that has obtained since Adam, true clarity of thought on all of these issues only shines through into a person's heart through the truth of God, whether through natural or special revelation (i.e., through what God has made or what He has said). The correct response to realizing how small we are, how powerless we are, and how ephemeral we are, is to appreciate the infinity of God and to seek Him and His goodness. That is not, sadly, the universal response among human beings (far from it) and even believers have a hard time being consistent in this area under the various pressures of life (especially when lacking proper biblical "food"). But you cannot have one without the other: without the potential of denying the immensity, omnipotence, and eternity of God (and arrogating these qualities to oneself instead), there could not be the corresponding capability of heart to respond to God and seek Him and His solution to smallness, weakness, and mortality, namely, Jesus Christ our Lord. This is largely what being made "in the image and likeness of God" means (see the link: "The Image and Likeness of God").

So God could have made us, made the angels too for that matter, ever responsive and only responsive to "fiats", and of course our time and our opportunity to turn our back on the will of God is limited. Indeed, only during "history" will there be any disparity between God's will and the will of His creatures. We pray every day "thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven", and it will be a marvelous day indeed when at last there is no distinction between human (or angelic) will and God's WILL. For once sin is burned out the universe once and for all at the end of Christ's millennial reign, we will be able to conceive and desire nothing contrary to God's will. Until that marvelous day, the existence of choice, the fact that creatures of free will are in respect of that will "like gods" (Ps.82:6; Jn.10:34; cf. Ps.136:3; Ps.8:5; 82:1; 138:1), means that the potential will continue to exist to disobey the will of God in nearly unbelievably arrogant ways (like the Pharaoh of the Exodus). Just before our Lord's return, in spite of having experienced undeniable proofs of His existence and omnipotence (through a series of unprecedented signs and judgments) the unbelieving population of the Tribulation will respond to God only with blasphemy and cursing (Rev.16:21), such is the power of free will to harden the heart, to deny the truth, and to oppose the One who cannot be opposed.

God can and will bring the current state of affairs in the cosmos to an end, and the day will come when there is no disparity between His will and ours. Until that day, our free will is our greatest and most incredible asset – when exercised in faith, but it is also potentially our worst enemy and most self-destructive weapon – when exercised in arrogance. The difference ever lies in whether we hand over our will to the will of God, or use it instead to make gods of ourselves.

(16) But I tell you, walk in the Spirit and you will not carry out what the flesh lusts for. (17) For what the flesh lusts for is contrary to the Spirit's will, and the Spirit is opposed to what the flesh lusts for. Since these are diametrically opposed to each other in this way, what you are doing is not what you yourself choose.
Galatians 5:16-17

In Him whose glory is written in the heavens and in our hearts, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #8:

Hi again Robert!

I have always read and heard that creation is by special 'fiat', i.e., special command from God very similar to when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and told the Pharisees that had the disciples held their voice God would have commanded the stones to cry out (Luke 19:40). That would have been a command that could not have been resisted. Now if God spoke the light into existence then it stands to reason that he created light and while you say that creation is not a special fiat I personally believe it is for God created from nothing. The cosmological argument that God is the first cause of all things. Creation was not made from that which existed but from that which did not exist.

Are there degrees of biblical fiats? If not how do we separate general commands in scripture, imperative commands and fiats? Actually I found my answer while trying to clear up my question so it would not be confusing. Here is a quote from Gleason, Archer and Waltke "TWOT" (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament) "the root word bara has its basic meaning "to create". It differs from yassar "to fashion" in that the latter primarily emphasizes the shaping of an object while bara emphasizes the initiation of the object. … The word is used in Qal only of God's activity and is thus a purely theological term. This distinctive use of the word is especially appropriate to the concept of creation by special fiat." So a special fiat is something only God can do and in that respect only God could make the stones cry out, only God could make something from nothing, only God can save, only God can call everyone from the grave etc. Fiats would be commands that only God can bring to pass.

What are your thoughts?

Response #8:

First of all, I completely agree that God made the world from nothing (ex nihilo creation: see the link: The Genesis Gap). You will also find information in that link on the Hebrew words bar'ah, 'asah (for yatsar, see the link: "The Creation of Adam"). I don't have any particular problem with what you are saying. It's only that I don't have see any need for using "fiat" in a technical theological sense. I don't think that the citation from the TWOT is using it as technical vocabulary. By "technical vocabulary", I mean in this case using "fiat" to apply to a distinct and clearly recognizable category of action clearly distinguished from other recognizable categories.

In my own work, it has been my policy to avoid producing categories that are not clearly necessary and useful, and I have always been leery of theological systems that over-categorize. The reason for this is that the technical vocabulary created and the system invented in such theologies tend to drive the way those who subscribe to such views see everything else in scripture. For example, in "the five points of Calvinism" or "Dispensations" as each is generally taught, even though there are good things in each, the incorrect categorization has led to confusion and faulty interpretation. Categorization and systematic theology in general is very important and helpful when it is descriptive. The problem is that all too often in the history of the Church it has become prescriptive, becoming in the practice of some more important than the Bible it purports to explain. God clearly has the power and the right to overrule human free will and the natural order of things. Both of these two areas, God-given creature ability to make decisions and the laws of time and space God has put in place, are important parts of the "mix" of history, as God has ordained the world as a threshing floor for the dividing of the wheat and the chaff: those who choose for God and those who choose against Him. Everything He has done and does should be seen from that point of view, because both the matrix of the solid-state universe of time and space with creature free will operating within it and the process whereby God intervenes to overrule free will and to act in ways (whether seen or unseen) that defy the "natural laws" of time and space (and one may add whatever normal ground rules are currently in place for the fallen angels) have all been decreed since before He created the universe, and in the most minute detail imaginable and beyond. God has the power to make anyone and anything do whatever He wants whenever He wants. The only thing that truly limits Him is Himself, His own character, and His own plan. And the only area of which I am aware where God's will ever fails to be completely and immediately carried out is in that special category of creature free will – and only because He has ordained it as a special area of exception since that is the entire reason for what we call history in the first place: choice. And even here, of course, God's overall will for history, the completed whole as decreed in eternity past, is being perfectly carried out in every respect, with even angelic and human error and defiance only proving His character and redounding to His glory. This is essentially how I see Luke 19:40, i.e., you cannot thwart the plan and purpose of God in any way, no matter how trivial. All that He has ordained is coming to pass, a fact that for believers is stuff of incredible peace and comfort.

In Him who did our Father's will perfectly, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

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