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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Daniel's posts are almost always pastoral and God centered. I appreciate and am challenged by them frequently. He has a great sense of humor as well.
- Marc Heinrich

His posts are either funny or challenging. He is very friendly and nice.
- Rose Cole

[He has] good posts, both the serious like this one, and the humorous like yesterday. [He is] the reason that I have restrained myself from making Canadian jokes in my posts.
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This post contains nothing that is of any use to me. What were you thinking? Anyway, it's probably the best I've read all day.
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Daniel, nicely done and much more original than Frank the Turk.
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There are some people who are smart, deep, or funny. There are not very many people that are all 3. Daniel is one of those people. His opinion, insight and humor have kept me coming back to his blog since I first visited earlier this year.
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Monday, August 22, 2011
Obligatory Grace? Part I
If grace is no longer grace the moment grace becomes obligatory, then it follows that it is logically impossible to show grace to someone in answer to some any kind of obligation. The moment obligation becomes the "reason" you are showing grace, then grace is no longer grace. That's why I think the label Covenant Theologians use to describe God's redemptive plan (the "Covenant of Grace") is confusing, if not a little misleading.

Covenant Theology, by framing the plan of redemption in terms of a covenant of grace, rightly underscores the fact that the scriptures do not paint redemption in terms of God hastily mopping up a botched creation. God had planned that redemption should follow the fall of man, and that this redemption should be entirely a work of grace - and this was planned by God before the world and Adam were ever created.

Romans 8:29-30 says, "For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified."

What the text is saying is that God didn't just know who would be conformed to the image of His Son before they were ever born, it says that God was the one who decided that they would be conformed to the image of His Son.

This is one of those doctrines that a lot of people disagree about.

On the one hand, some believe that if salvation is offered to one person, it must be made freely available to all, otherwise God would be unfair. Thus, because God is both gracious and merciful, He provides the possibility of salvation to everyone, thus satisfying the requirement of "fairness". At this point it is up to the individual to choose to be reconciled to God through Christ - those who do are saved by God, and those who do not are not saved by God and (presumably) have only themselves to blame.

On the other hand, some believe that if God shows grace to one sinner, that in no way obligates Him to show grace to any other sinner. Just as giving $10 to a single beggar does not obligate you to give $10 to every beggar on earth. Giving to one beggar is an act of grace, and such an act does not obligate you to show the same grace to anyone else, lest grace become and obligation. Thus salvation comes only to those whom God chooses to show grace to, and it is through this grace that a man is not only able, but in fact compelled to believe the gospel.

The two views understand grace differently: the former understands grace as God "graciously" supplying the possibility of salvation to all. The latter sees grace as something God chooses to show to some, and in doing so in no way obligates Himself to show to others.

Any honest believer who is earnestly studying to show themselves approved by God wants their theology to [1] exalt God above all else, [2] to agree with their own personal experience, and to [3] do no injury to the word of God. So why is it that on certain doctrines we find Christians falling into opposing camps?

Well, to answer that, let's consider together where the idea of fairness comes from.

Let's say that my wife called me on the way home from work to let me know that each of my five children had been sent to bed until I come home for having participated together in some wrong doing. Let's say that they have all participated, individually or in groups, in this same wrong doing before, and are fully aware that the standard punishment for this offence is that they will have to stay in bed the rest of the night, and have their allowance rescinded for that week.

Let us say that after I walk into house, I sit myself down in the living room and call the children to me, so that I can pass sentence on them. Let's say that I am a gracious person, and because I am gracious, I decide to exercise my grace on one of the children. So I choose one, and say, I will let you keep your allowance this week child, and I myself shall go to bed right now in your stead, but you may stay up as normal. I know you are as guilty as the rest of them, but I have decided to put my own mercy and grace on display by taking your punishment in your stead.

What do you think the other children are going to say?

That's right. They are going to say, "That's not fair!"

Why do they say that? They say that because they honestly believe that if I show grace and mercy to someone else who is guilty - that obligates me to show the same grace and mercy to them. They are like the workers in the vineyard who, having born the heat of the day expected to be paid more for their labor than the ones who hardly worked at all, and when they didn't get extra pay, they counted that as wickedness on the part of the owner of the vineyard. Just as these, when they saw the grace and mercy of the owner immediately imagined that they deserved more because of it, so also we believe, deep down, that grace is something that if shown to one, must be shown to all, lest the one who shows it is wicked.

Thus we invent the idea of "fairness". Fairness is not some pious thing, it is nothing more than an established behavior that caters to our own core wickedness - a sense of entitlement whenever someone else receives something. The notion is so bound into us, that some who read this, even having it spelled out for them, won't be able to agree that fairness is nothing more than another expression of human fallenness.

So when our theology begins with, is filtered through, or depends upon such concepts as "fairness", it follows that this theology is not going to paint the same picture as a theology that has seen the pitfall and avoided it.

True story: I remember someone in my wife's family coming into a substantial, but unexpected inheritance. Then another, and then another. I watched as these people were able to pay off their houses, and buy bigger ones, while I (like some SCHMOE!) had to pay off my mortgage the old fashioned way - little, by little. A very real part of me was secretly angry and resentful. I knew that I did nothing to "deserve" an inheritance - and yet a part of me was angry when someone else got one instead of me. I honestly felt like I was being ripped off - even though it was totally irrational to feel that way.

In fact it was little things like that which helped me to see my own heart for what it was, and to see past the worldly veil of such ideas as "fairness", and understand grace as it is described in scripture.

Grace, in order for grace to be grace, cannot be something that God owes everyone. In other words, God is not obligated by "fairness" to provide an atoning sacrifice for everyone or even anyone.

Consider thoughtfully how a preconceived notion of fairness imposed into the Character of God could influence our interpretation of passages that speak to the extent of the atonement. I know many a godly man who rejects the notion that God chooses to save some, and not others, in part, or even primarily because their notion of God is informed by this worldly/secular "moral" benchmark.

Listen: God doesn't owe one sinner grace just because He has shown grace to another sinner in the past. That's an important rung in the ladder of your understanding the scope and nature of the atonement.

Continued in Part II
posted by Daniel @ 10:34 AM  
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