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Luther and Erasmus: The Controversy Concerning the Bondage of the Will
Protestant Reformed Theological Journal ^ | April 1999 | Garrett J. Eriks

Posted on 01/01/2006 4:48:03 PM PST by HarleyD


At the time of the Reformation, many hoped Martin Luther and Erasmus could unite against the errors of the Roman Catholic Church. Luther himself was tempted to unite with Erasmus because Erasmus was a great Renaissance scholar who studied the classics and the Greek New Testament. Examining the Roman Catholic Church, Erasmus was infuriated with the abuses in the Roman Catholic Church, especially those of the clergy. These abuses are vividly described in the satire of his book, The Praise of Folly. Erasmus called for reform in the Roman Catholic Church. Erasmus could have been a great help to the Reformation, so it seemed, by using the Renaissance in the service of the Reformation.

But a great chasm separated these two men. Luther loved the truth of God's Word as that was revealed to him through his own struggles with the assurance of salvation. Therefore Luther wanted true reformation in the church, which would be a reformation in doctrine and practice. Erasmus cared little about a right knowledge of truth. He simply wanted moral reform in the Roman Catholic Church. He did not want to leave the church, but remained supportive of the Pope.

This fundamental difference points out another difference between the two men. Martin Luther was bound by the Word of God. Therefore the content of the Scripture was of utmost importance to him. But Erasmus did not hold to this same high view of Scripture. Erasmus was a Renaissance rationalist who placed reason above Scripture. Therefore the truth of Scripture was not that important to him.

The two men could not have fellowship with each other, for the two movements which they represented were antithetical to each other. The fundamental differences came out especially in the debate over the freedom of the will.

From 1517 on, the chasm between Luther and Erasmus grew. The more Luther learned about Erasmus, the less he wanted anything to do with him. Melanchthon tried to play the mediator between Luther and Erasmus with no success. But many hated Erasmus because he was so outspoken against the church. These haters of Erasmus tried to discredit him by associating him with Luther, who was outside the church by this time. Erasmus continued to deny this unity, saying he did not know much about the writings of Luther. But as Luther took a stronger stand against the doctrinal abuses of Rome, Erasmus was forced either to agree with Luther or to dissociate himself from Luther. Erasmus chose the latter.

Many factors came together which finally caused Erasmus to wield his pen against Luther. Erasmus was under constant pressure from the Pope and later the king of England to refute the views of Luther. When Luther became more outspoken against Erasmus, Erasmus finally decided to write against him. On September 1, 1524, Erasmus published his treatise On the Freedom of the Will. In December of 1525, Luther responded with The Bondage of the Will.

Packer and Johnston call The Bondage of the Will "the greatest piece of theological writing that ever came from Luther's pen."1 Although Erasmus writes with eloquence, his writing cannot compare with that of Luther the theologian. Erasmus writes as one who cares little about the subject, while Luther writes with passion and conviction, giving glory to God. In his work, Luther defends the heart of the gospel over against the Pelagian error as defended by Erasmus. This controversy is of utmost importance.

In this paper, I will summarize both sides of the controversy, looking at what each taught and defended. Secondly, I will examine the biblical approach of each man. Finally, the main issues will be pointed out and the implications of the controversy will be drawn out for the church today.

Erasmus On the Freedom of the Will

Erasmus defines free-will or free choice as "a power of the human will by which a man can apply himself to the things which lead to eternal salvation or turn away from them." By this, Erasmus means that man has voluntary or free power of himself to choose the way which leads to salvation apart from the grace of God.

Erasmus attempts to answer the question how man is saved: Is it the work of God or the work of man according to his free will? Erasmus answers that it is not one or the other. Salvation does not have to be one or the other, for God and man cooperate. On the one hand, Erasmus defines free-will, saying man can choose freely by himself, but on the other hand, he wants to retain the necessity of grace for salvation. Those who do good works by free-will do not attain the end they desire unless aided by God's grace. Therefore, in regard to salvation, man cooperates with God. Both must play their part in order for a man to be saved. Erasmus expresses it this way: "Those who support free choice nonetheless admit that a soul which is obstinate in evil cannot be softened into true repentance without the help of heavenly grace." Also, attributing all things to divine grace, Erasmus states,

And the upshot of it is that we should not arrogate anything to ourselves but attribute all things we have received to divine grace … that our will might be synergos (fellow-worker) with grace although grace is itself sufficient for all things and has no need of the assistance of any human will."

In his work On the Freedom of the Will, Erasmus defends this synergistic view of salvation. According to Erasmus, God and man, nature and grace, cooperate together in the salvation of a man. With this view of salvation, Erasmus tries to steer clear of outright Pelagianism and denies the necessity of human action which Martin Luther defends.

On the basis of an apocryphal passage (Ecclesiasticas 15:14-17), Erasmus begins his defense with the origin of free-will. Erasmus says that Adam, as he was created, had a free-will to choose good or to turn to evil. In Paradise, man's will was free and upright to choose. Adam did not depend upon the grace of God, but chose to do all things voluntarily. The question which follows is, "What happened to the will when Adam sinned; does man still retain this free-will?" Erasmus would answer, "Yes." Erasmus says that the will is born out of a man's reason. In the fall, man's reason was obscured but was not extinguished. Therefore the will, by which we choose, is depraved so that it cannot change its ways. The will serves sin. But this is qualified. Man's ability to choose freely or voluntarily is not hindered.

By this depravity of the will, Erasmus does not mean that man can do no good. Because of the fall, the will is "inclined" to evil, but can still do good. Notice, he says the will is only "inclined" to evil. Therefore the will can freely or voluntarily choose between good and evil. This is what he says in his definition: free-will is "a power of the human will by which a man can apply himself to the things which lead to eternal salvation." Not only does the human will have power, although a little power, but the will has power by which a man merits salvation.

This free choice of man is necessary according to Erasmus in order for there to be sin. In order for a man to be guilty of sin, he must be able to know the difference between good and evil, and he must be able to choose between doing good and doing evil. A man is responsible only if he has the ability to choose good or evil. If the free-will of man is taken away, Erasmus says that man ceases to be a man.

For this freedom of the will, Erasmus claims to find much support in Scripture. According to Erasmus, when Scripture speaks of "choosing," it implies that man can freely choose. Also, whenever the Scripture uses commands, threats, exhortations, blessings, and cursings, it follows that man is capable of choosing whether or not he will obey.

Erasmus defines the work of man's will by which he can freely choose after the fall. Here he makes distinctions in his idea of a "threefold kind of law" which is made up of the "law of nature, law of works, and law of faith." First, this law of nature is in all men. By this law of nature, men do good by doing to others what they would want others to do to them. Having this law of nature, all men have a knowledge of God. By this law of nature, the will can choose good, but the will in this condition is useless for salvation. Therefore more is needed. The law of works is man's choice when he hears the threats of punishment which God gives. When a man hears these threats, he either continues to forsake God, or he desires God's grace. When a man desires God's grace, he then receives the law of faith which cures the sinful inclinations of his reason. A man has this law of faith only by divine grace.

In connection with this threefold kind of law, Erasmus distinguishes between three graces of God. First, in all men, even in those who remain in sin, a grace is implanted by God. But this grace is infected by sin. This grace arouses men by a certain knowledge of God to seek Him. The second grace is peculiar grace which arouses the sinner to repent. This does not involve the abolishing of sin or justification. But rather, a man becomes "a candidate for the highest grace." By this grace offered to all men, God invites all, and the sinner must come desiring God's grace. This grace helps the will to desire God. The final grace is the concluding grace which completes what was started. This is saving grace only for those who come by their free-will. Man begins on the path to salvation, after which God completes what man started. Along with man's natural abilities according to his will, God works by His grace. This is the synergos, or cooperation, which Erasmus defends.

Erasmus defends the free-will of man with a view to meriting salvation. This brings us to the heart of the matter. Erasmus begins with the premise that a man merits salvation. In order for a man to merit salvation, he cannot be completely carried by God, but he must have a free-will by which he chooses God voluntarily. Therefore, Erasmus concludes that by the exercise of his free-will, man merits salvation with God. When man obeys, God imputes this to his merit. Therefore Erasmus says, "This surely goes to show that it is not wrong to say that man does something…." Concerning the merit of man's works, Erasmus distinguishes with the Scholastics between congruent and condign merit. The former is that which a man performs by his own strength, making him a "fit subject for the gift of internal grace." This work of man removed the barrier which keeps God from giving grace. The barrier removed is man's unworthiness for grace, which God gives only to those who are fit for it. With the gift of grace, man can do works which before he could not do. God rewards these gifts with salvation. Therefore, with the help or aid of the grace of God, a man merits eternal salvation.

Although he says a man merits salvation, Erasmus wants to say that salvation is by God's grace. In order to hold both the free-will of man and the grace of God in salvation, Erasmus tries to show the two are not opposed to each other. He says, "It is not wrong to say that man does something yet attributes the sum of all he does to God as the author." Explaining the relationship between grace and free-will, Erasmus says that the grace of God and the free-will of man, as two causes, come together in one action "in such a way, however, that grace is the principle cause and the will secondary, which can do nothing apart from the principle cause since the principle is sufficient in itself." Therefore, in regard to salvation, God and man work together. Man has a free-will, but this will cannot attain salvation of itself. The will needs a boost from grace in order to merit eternal life.

Erasmus uses many pictures to describe the relationship between works and grace. He calls grace an "advisor," "helper," and "architect." Just as the builder of a house needs the architect to show him what to do and to set him straight when he does something wrong, so also man needs the assistance of God to help him where he is lacking. The free-will of man is aided by a necessary helper: grace. Therefore Erasmus says, "as we show a boy an apple and he runs for it ... so God knocks at our soul with His grace and we willingly embrace it." In this example, we are like a boy who cannot walk. The boy wants the apple, but he needs his father to assist him in obtaining the apple. So also, we need the assistance of God's grace. Man has a free-will by which he can seek after God, but this is not enough for him to merit salvation. By embracing God's grace with his free-will, man merits God's grace so that by his free-will and the help of God's grace he merits eternal life. This is a summary of what Erasmus defends.

Erasmus also deals with the relationship of God's foreknowledge and man's free-will. On the one hand, God does what he wills, but, on the other hand, God's will does not impose anything on man's will, for then man's will would not be free or voluntary. Therefore God's foreknowledge is not determinative, but He simply knows what man will choose. Men deserve punishment from eternity simply because God knows they will not choose the good, but will choose the evil. Man can resist the ordained will of God. The only thing man cannot resist is when God wills in miracles. When God performs some "supernatural" work, this cannot be resisted by men. For example, when Jesus performed a miracle, the man whose sight returned could not refuse to be healed. According to Erasmus, because man's will is free, God's will and foreknowledge depend on man's will except when He performs miracles.

This is a summary of what Erasmus taught in his treatise On the Freedom of the Will. In response to this treatise, Luther wrote The Bondage of the Will. We turn to this book of Luther.

Luther's Arguments Against Erasmus

Martin Luther gives a thorough defense of the sovereign grace of God over against the "semi-Pelagianism" of Erasmus by going through much of Erasmus' On the Freedom of the Will phrase by phrase. Against the cooperating work of salvation defended by Erasmus, Luther attacks Erasmus at the very heart of the issue. Luther's thesis is that "free-will is a nonentity, a thing consisting of name alone" because man is a slave to sin. Therefore salvation is the sovereign work of God alone.

In the "Diatribe," Luther says, Erasmus makes no sense. It seems Erasmus speaks out of both sides of his mouth. On the one hand, he says that man's will cannot will any good, yet on the other hand, he says man has a free-will. Other contradictions also exist in Erasmus' thought. Erasmus says that man has the power to choose good, but he also says that man needs grace to do good. Opposing Erasmus, Luther rightly points out that if there is free-will, there is no need for grace. Because of these contradictions in Erasmus, Luther says Erasmus "argues like a man drunk or asleep, blurting out between snores, 'Yes,' 'No.' " Not only does this view of Erasmus not make sense, but this is not what Scripture says concerning the will of man and the grace of God.

According to Luther, Erasmus does not prove his point, namely, the idea that man with his free-will cooperates in salvation with God. Throughout his work, Luther shows that Erasmus supports and agrees with the Pelagians. In fact, Erasmus' view is more despicable than Pelagianism because he is not honest and because the grace of God is cheapened. Only a small work is needed in order for a man to merit the grace of God.

Because Erasmus does not take up the question of what man can actually do of himself as fallen in Adam, Luther takes up the question of the ability of man. Here, Luther comes to the heart of his critique of the Diatribe in which he denies free-will and shows that God must be and is sovereign in salvation. Luther's arguments follow two lines: first, he shows that man is enslaved to sin and does not have a free-will; secondly, he shows that the truth of God's sovereign rule, by which He accomplishes His will according to His counsel, is opposed to free-will.

First, Luther successfully defends the thesis that there is no such entity as free-will because the will is enslaved to sin. Luther often says there is no such thing as free-will. The will of man without the grace of God "is not free at all, but is the permanent prisoner and bondslave of evil since it cannot turn itself to good." The free-will lost its freedom in the fall so that now the will is a slave to sin. This means the will can will no good. Therefore man does and wills sin "necessarily." Luther further describes the condition of man's will when he explains a passage from Ezekiel: "It cannot but fall into a worse condition, and add to its sins despair and impenitence unless God comes straightway to its help and calls it back and raises it up by the word of His promise."

Luther makes a crucial distinction in explaining what he means when he says man sins "necessarily." This does not mean "compulsion." A man without the Spirit is not forced, kicking and screaming, to sin but voluntarily does evil. Nevertheless, because man is enslaved to sin, his will cannot change itself. He only wills or chooses to sin of himself. He cannot change this willingness of his: he wills and desires evil. Man is wholly evil, thinking nothing but evil thoughts. Therefore there is no free-will.

Because this is the condition of man, he cannot merit eternal life. The enslaved will cannot merit anything with God because it can do no good. The only thing which man deserves is eternal punishment. By this, Luther also shows that there is no free-will.

In connection with man's merit, Luther describes the true biblical uses of the law. The purpose of the law of God is not to show men how they can merit salvation, but the law is given so that men might see their sinfulness and their own unworthiness. The law condemns the works of man, for when he judges himself according to the law, man sees that he can do no good. Therefore, he is driven to the cross. The law also serves as a guide for what the believer should do. But the law does not say anything about the ability of man to obey it.

Not only should the idea of free-will be rejected because man is enslaved to sin, but also because of who God is and the relationship between God and man. A man cannot act independently of God. Analyzing what Erasmus said, Luther says that God is not God, but He is an idol, because the freedom of man rules. Everything depends on man for salvation. Therefore man can merit salvation apart from God. A God that depends on man is not God.

Denying this horrible view of Erasmus, Luther proclaims the sovereignty of God in salvation. Because God is sovereign in all things and especially in salvation, there is no free-will.

Luther begins with the fact that God alone has a free-will. This means only God can will or not will the law, gospel, sin, and death. God does not act out of necessity, but freely. He alone is independent in all He decrees and does. Therefore man cannot have a free-will by which he acts independently of God, because God is immutable, omnipotent, and sovereign over all. Luther says that God is omnipotent, knowing all. Therefore we do nothing of ourselves. We can only act according to God's infallible, immutable counsel.

The great error of free-willism is that it ascribes divinity to man's free-will. God is not God anymore. If man has a free-will, this implies God is not omnipotent, controlling all of our actions. Free-will also implies that God makes mistakes and changes. Man must then fix the mistakes. Over against this, Luther says there can be no free-will because we are under the "mastery of God." We can do nothing apart from God by our own strength because we are enslaved to sin.

Luther also understands the difficulties which follow from saying that God is sovereign so that all things happen necessarily. Luther states: "If God foreknows a thing, it necessarily happens." The problem between God's foreknowledge and man's freedom cannot be completely solved. God sovereignly decrees all things that happen, and they happen as He has decreed them necessarily. Does this mean that when a man sins, he sins because God has decreed that sin? Luther would answer, Yes. But God does not act contrary to what man is. Man cannot will good, but he only seeks after sinful lusts. The nature of man is corrupted, so that he is turned from God. But God works in men and in Satan according to what they are. The sinner is still under the control of the omnipotent God, "which means, since they are evil and perverted themselves, that when they are impelled to action by this movement of Divine omnipotence they do only that which is perverted or evil." When God works in evil men, evil results. But God is not evil. He is good. He does not do evil, but He uses evil instruments. The sin is the fault of those evil instruments and not the fault of God.

Luther asks himself the question, Why then did God let Adam fall so all men have his sin? The sovereignty of God must not be questioned, because God's will is beyond any earthly standard. Nothing is equal to God and His will. Answering the question above, Luther replies, "What God wills is not right because He ought or was bound, so to will, on the contrary, what takes place must be right because He so wills it." This is the hidden mystery of God's absolute sovereignty over all things.

God is sovereign over all things. He is sovereign in salvation. Is salvation a work of God and man? Luther answers negatively. God alone saves. Therefore salvation cannot be based on the merits of men's works. Man's obedience does not obtain salvation, according to Luther. Some become the sons of God "not by carnal birth, nor by zeal for the law, nor by any other human effort, but only by being born of God." Grace does not come by our own effort, but by the grace of Jesus Christ. To deny grace is to deny Jesus Christ. For Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Free-will says that it is the way, the truth, and the life. Therefore free-will denies Jesus Christ. This is a serious error.

God saves by His grace and Spirit in such away that the will is turned by Him. Only when the will is changed can it will and desire the good. Luther describes a struggle between God and Satan. Erasmus says man stands between God and Satan, who are as spectators waiting for man to make his choice. But Luther compares this struggle to a horse having two riders. "If God rides, it wills and goes where God goes…. If Satan rides, it wills and goes where Satan goes." The horse does not have the choice of which rider it wants. We have Satan riding us until God throws him off. In the same way, we are enslaved to sin until God breaks the power of sin. The salvation of a man depends upon the free work of God, who alone is sovereign and able to save men. Therefore this work in the will by God is a radical change whereby the willing of the soul is freed from sin. This beautiful truth stands over against Erasmus' grace, which gives man a booster shot in what he can do of himself.

This truth of the sovereignty of God in salvation is comforting to us. When man trusts in himself, he has no comfort that he is saved. Because man is enslaved to sin and because God is the sovereign, controlling all things according to His sovereign, immutable will, there is no free-will. The free-will of man does not save him. God alone saves.

The Battle of the Biblical Texts

The battle begins with the fundamental difference separating Luther and Erasmus in regard to the doctrine of Scripture. Erasmus defends the obscurity of Scripture. Basically, Erasmus says man cannot know with certainty many of the things in Scripture. Some things in God's Word are plain, while many are not. He applies the obscurity of Scripture to the controversy concerning the freedom of the will. In the camp of the hidden things of God, which include the hour of our death and when the last judgment will occur, Erasmus places "whether our will accomplishes anything in things pertaining to salvation." Because Scripture is unclear about these things, what one believes about these matters is not important. Erasmus did not want controversy, but he wanted peace. For him, the discussion of the hidden things is worthless because it causes the church to lose her love and unity.

Against this idea of the obscurity of Scripture, Luther defends the perspicuity of Scripture. Luther defines perspicuity as being twofold. The external word itself is clear, as that which God has written for His people. But man cannot understand this word of himself. Therefore Scripture is clear to God's people only by the work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts.

The authority of Scripture is found in God Himself. God's Word must not be measured by man, for this leads to paradoxes, of which Erasmus is a case in point. By saying Scripture is paradoxical, Erasmus denies the authority of God's Word.

Luther does not deny that some passages are difficult to understand. This is not because the Word is unclear or because the work of the Holy Spirit is weak. Rather, we do not understand some passages because of our own weakness.

If Scripture is obscure, then this opposes what God is doing in revelation. Scripture is light which reveals the truth. If it is obscure, then why did God give it to us? According to Luther, not even the difficult to understand doctrines such as the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the unpardonable sin are obscure. Therefore the issue of the freedom of the will is not obscure. If the Scripture is unclear about the doctrine of the will of man, then this doctrine is not from Scripture.

Because Scripture is clear, Luther strongly attacks Erasmus on this fundamental point. Luther says, "The Scriptures are perfectly clear in their teaching, and that by their help such a defense of our position may be made that our adversaries cannot resist." This is what Luther hoped to show to Erasmus. The teaching of Scripture is fundamental. On this point of perspicuity, Luther has Erasmus by the horns. Erasmus says Scripture is not clear on this matter of the freedom of the will, yet he appeals to the church fathers for support. The church fathers base their doctrine of the free-will on Scripture. On the basis of the perspicuity of Scripture, Luther challenges Erasmus to find even one passage that supports his view of free-will. Luther emphasizes that not one can be found.

Luther also attacks Erasmus when he says what one believes concerning the freedom of the will does not matter. Luther sums up Erasmus' position this way: "In a word, what you say comes to this: that you do not think it matters a scrap what any one believes anywhere, as long as the world is at peace." Erasmus says the knowledge of free-will is useless and non-essential. Over against this, Luther says, "then neither God, Christ, Gospel, faith, nor anything else even of Judaism, let alone Christianity, is left!" Positively, Luther says about the importance of the truth: "I hold that a solemn and vital truth, of eternal consequences, is at stake in the discussion." Luther was willing to defend the truth even to death because of its importance as that which is taught in Scripture.

A word must also be said about the differing views of the interpretation of Scripture. Erasmus was not an exegete. He was a great scholar of the languages, but this did not make him an able exegete. Erasmus does not rely on the Word of God of itself, but he turns to the church fathers and to reason for the interpretation of Scripture. In regard to the passage out of Ecclesiasticas which Erasmus uses, Luther says the dispute there is not over the teaching of Scripture, but over human reason. Erasmus generalizes from a particular case, saying that since a passage mentions willing, this must mean a man has a free-will. In this regard, Luther also says that Erasmus "fashions and refashions the words of God as he pleases." Erasmus was concerned not with what God says in His Word, but with what he wanted God to say.

Not only does Erasmus use his own reason to interpret Scripture, but following in the Roman Catholic tradition he goes back to the church fathers. His work is filled with many quotes from the church fathers' interpretation of different passages. The idea is that the church alone has the authority to interpret Scripture. Erasmus goes so far in this that Luther accuses Erasmus of placing the fathers above the inspired apostle Paul.

In contrast to Erasmus, Luther interprets Scripture with Scripture. Seeing the Word of God as inspired by the Holy Spirit, Luther also trusts in the work of the Holy Spirit to interpret that Word. One of the fundamental points of Reformed hermeneutics is that Scripture interprets Scripture. Luther follows this. When Luther deals with a passage, he does not take it out of context as Erasmus does. Instead, he examines the context and checks other passages which use the same words.

Also, Luther does not add figures or devise implications as Erasmus does. But rather, Luther sticks to the simple and plain meaning of Scripture. He says, "Everywhere we should stick to just the simple, natural meaning of the words, as yielded by the rules of grammar and the habits of speech that God has created among men." In the controversy over the bondage of the will, both the formal and material principles of the Reformation were at stake.

Now we must examine some of the important passages for each man. This is a difficult task because they both refer to so many passages. We must content ourselves with looking at those which are fundamental for the main points of the controversy.

Showing the weakness of his view of Scripture, Erasmus begins with a passage from an apocryphal book: Ecclesiasticas 15:14-17. Erasmus uses this passage to show the origin of the free will and that the will continues to be free after the fall.

Following this passage, Erasmus looks at many passages from the Old Testament to prove that man has a free-will. He turns to Genesis 4:6, 7, which records God speaking to Cain after he offered his displeasing sacrifice to God. Verse 7 says, "If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door." Erasmus says that God sets before Cain a reward if he chooses the good. But if he chooses the evil, he will be punished. This implies that Cain has a will which can overcome evil and do the good.

From here, Erasmus looks at different passages using the word "choose." He says Scripture uses the word "choose" because man can freely choose. This is the only way it makes sense.

Erasmus also looks at many passages which use the word "if" in the Old Testament and also the commands of the Old Testament. For example, Isaiah 1:19,20 and 21:12 use the words "if … then." These conditions in Scripture imply that a man can do these things. Deuteronomy 30:14 is an example of a command. In this passage, Israel is commanded to love God with all their heart and soul. This command was given because Moses and the people had it in them to obey. Erasmus comes to these conclusions by implication.

Using a plethora of New Testament texts, Erasmus tries to support the idea of the freedom of the will. Once again, Erasmus appeals to those texts which speak of conditions. John 14:15 says, "If ye love me, keep my commandments." Also, in John 15:7 we read, "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you." These passages imply that man is able to fulfill the conditions by his free-will.

Remarkably, Erasmus identifies Paul as "the champion of free choice." Referring to passages in which Paul exhorts and commands, Erasmus says that this implies the ability to obey. An example is I Corinthians 9:24,25: "Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible." Man is able to obey this command because he has a free-will.

These texts can be placed together because Luther responds to them as a whole. Luther does treat many of these texts separately, but often comes back to the same point. Luther's response to Genesis 4:7 applies to all of the commands and conditions to which Erasmus refers: "Man is shown, not what he can do, but what he ought to do." Similarly, Luther responds to Deuteronomy 30:19: "It is from this passage that I derive my answer to you: that by the words of the law man is admonished and taught, not what he can do, but what he ought to do; that is, that he may know sin, not that he may believe that he has any strength." The exhortations and commands of the New Testament given through the apostle Paul are not written to show what we can do, but rather, after the gospel is preached, they encourage those justified and saved to live in the Spirit.

From these passages, Erasmus also taught that man merited salvation by his obedience or a man merited punishment by his disobedience, all of which was based on man's ability according to his free-will. Erasmus jumps from reward to merit. He does this in the conditional phrases of Scripture especially. But Luther says that merit is not proved from reward. God uses rewards in Scripture to exhort us and threaten us so that the godly persevere. Rewards are not that which a man merits.

The heart of the battle of the biblical texts is found in their treatment of passages from the book of Romans, especially Romans 9. Here, Erasmus treats Romans 9 as a passage which seems to oppose the freedom of the will but does not.

Erasmus begins his treatment of Romans 9 by considering the hardening of Pharaoh's heart. He treats this in connection with what Romans 9:18 says, "Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will, he hardeneth." To interpret this passage, Erasmus turns to Jerome, who says, "God hardens when he does not at once punish the sinner and has mercy as soon as he invites repentance by means of afflictions." God's hardening and mercy are the results of what man does. God has mercy "on those who recognize the goodness of God and repent…." Also, this hardening is not something which God does, but something which Pharaoh did by not repenting. God was longsuffering to Pharaoh, not punishing him immediately, during which Pharaoh hardened his heart. God simply gave the occasion for the hardening of his heart. Therefore the blame can be placed on Pharaoh.

Although Erasmus claims to take the literal meaning of the passage, Luther is outraged at this interpretation. Luther objects:

Showing the absurdity of what Erasmus says, Luther says that this view means that God shows mercy when He sends Israel into captivity because then they are invited to repent; but when Israel is brought back from captivity, He hardens them by giving them the opportunity of hardening in His longsuffering. This is "topsy-turvy."

Positively, Luther explains this hardening of the heart of Pharaoh. God does this, therefore Pharaoh's heart is necessarily hardened. But God does not do something which is opposed to the nature of Pharaoh. Pharoah is enslaved to sin. When he hears the word of God through Moses which irritates his evil will, Pharaoh's heart is hardened. Luther explains it this way:

In his consideration of Jacob and Esau in Romans 9, Erasmus denies that this passage speaks of predestination. Erasmus says God does not hate anybody from eternity. But God's wrath and fury against sin are revealed on Esau because He knows the sins he will commit. In this connection, when Romans 9 speaks of God as the potter making a vessel of honor and dishonor, Erasmus says that God does this because of their belief and unbelief. Erasmus is trying to deny the necessity of the fulfillment of God's decree in order to support the freedom of the will.

Once again, Luther objects. Luther defends the necessity of consequence to what God decrees. Luther says, "If God foreknows a thing, it necessarily takes place." Therefore, in regard to Jacob and Esau, they did not attain their positions by their own free-will. Romans 9 emphasizes that they were not yet born and that they had not yet done good or evil. Without any works of obedience or disobedience, the one was master and the other was the servant. Jacob was rewarded not on the basis of anything he had done. Jacob was loved and Esau was hated even before the world began. Jacob loved God because God loved him. Therefore the source of salvation is not the free-will of man, but God's eternal decree. Paul is not the great champion of the freedom of the will.

In defense of the literal meaning of Romans 9:21-23, Luther shows that these verses oppose free-will as well. Luther examines the passage in the context of what Paul is saying. The emphasis in the earlier verses is not man, but what God does. He is sovereign in salvation. Here also, the emphasis is the potter. God is sovereign, almighty, and free. Man is enslaved to sin and acts out of necessity according to all God decrees. Luther shows that this is the emphasis of Romans 9 with sound exegetical work.

After refuting the texts to which Erasmus refers, Luther continues to show that Scripture denies the freedom of the will and teaches the sovereignty of God in salvation. He begins with Romans 1:18 which says, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness." Luther says this means all men are ungodly and are unrighteous. Therefore, all deserve the wrath of God. The best a man can do is evil. Referring to Romans 3:9, Luther proves the same thing. Both Jews and Greeks are all under sin. They will and do nothing but evil. Man has no power to seek after good because there is none that doeth good (Ps. 14:3). Therefore, men are "ignorant of and despise God! Here is unbelief, disobedience, sacrilege, blasphemy towards God, cruelty and mercilessness towards one's neighbors and love of self in all things of God and man." Luther's conclusion to the matter is this: man is enslaved to sin.

Man cannot obtain salvation by his works. Romans 3:20 says that by the works of the law no man can be justified in God's sight. It is impossible for a man to merit salvation by his works. Salvation must be the sovereign work of God.

Luther thunders against free-will in connection with Romans 3:21-16 which proclaims salvation by grace alone through faith.58 Free-will is opposed to faith. These are two different ways of salvation. Luther shows that a man cannot be saved by his works, therefore it must be by faith in Jesus Christ. Justification is free, of grace, and without works because man possesses no worthiness for it.

Finally, we notice that Luther points out the comprehensive terms of the apostle Paul to show that there is no free-will in man. All are sinners. There is none that is righteous, and none that doeth good. Paul uses many others also. Therefore, justification and salvation are without works and without the law.

Over against the idea of free-will stands the clear teaching of Scripture. Luther clearly exegetes God's Word to show this. In summary, the truth of predestination denies the free-will of man. Because salvation is by grace and faith, salvation is not by works. Faith and grace are of no avail if salvation is by the works of man. Also, the only thing the law works is wrath. The law displays the unworthiness, sinfulness, and guilt of man. As children of Adam we can do no good. Luther argues along these lines to show that a free-will does not exist in man. Salvation is by grace alone.

The Main Issues and Implications of Each View

Luther is not interested in abstract theological concepts. He does not take up this debate with Erasmus on a purely intellectual level. The main issue is salvation: how does God save? Luther himself defines the issue on which the debate hinges:

So it is not irreligious, idle, or superfluous, but in the highest degree wholesome and necessary, for a Christian to know whether or not his will has anything to do in matters pertaining to salvation…. This is the hinge on which our discussion turns, the crucial issue between us.

Luther finds it necessary to investigate from Scripture what ability the will of man has and how this is related to God and His grace. If one does not know this, he does not know Christianity. Luther brings this against Erasmus because he shows no interest in the truth regarding how it is that some are saved.

Although the broad issue of the debate is how God saves, the specific issue is the sovereignty of God in salvation. The main issue for Luther is that man does not have a free-will by which he merits eternal life, but God sovereignly saves those whom He has chosen.

Luther is pursuing the question, "Is God, God?" This means, is God the omnipotent who reigns over all and who sovereignly saves, or does He depend on man? If God depends on man for anything, then He is not God. Therefore Luther asks the question of himself: Who will try to reform his life, believe, and love God? His answer, "Nobody." No man can do this of himself. He needs God. "The elect, who fear God, will be reformed by the Holy Spirit; the rest will perish unreformed." Luther defends this truth so vigorously because it is the heart of the gospel. God is the sovereign God of salvation. If salvation depends on the works of man, he cannot be saved.

Certain implications necessarily follow from the views of salvation defended by both men. First, we must consider the implications which show the falsehood of Erasmus' view of salvation.

When Erasmus speaks of merit, he is really speaking as a Pelagian. This was offensive to Erasmus because he specifically claimed that he was not a Pelagian. But Luther rightly points out that Erasmus says man merits salvation. According to the idea of merit, man performs an act separate from God, which act is the basis of salvation. He deserves a reward. This is opposed to grace. Therefore, if merit is at all involved, man saves himself. This makes Erasmus no different from the Pelagians except that the Pelagians are honest. Pelagians honestly confess that man merits eternal life. Erasmus tries to give the appearance that he is against the Pelagians although he really is a Pelagian. Packer and Johnston make this analysis:

According to Luther, Erasmus does not succeed in moving closer to the Augustinian position. Instead, he cheapens the purchase of God's grace. Luther says:

The Pelagians base salvation upon works; men work for their own righteousness. But Erasmus has cheapened the price which must be paid for salvation. Because only a small work of man is needed to merit salvation, God is not so great and mighty. Man only needs to choose God and choose the good. God's character is tarnished with the teaching of Erasmus. This semi-Pelagianism is worse than Pelagianism, for little is required to earn salvation. As Packer and Johnston say, "that is to belittle salvation and to insult God."

Another implication of the synergistic view of salvation held to by Erasmus is that God is not God. Because salvation depends upon the free-will of man according to Erasmus, man ascribes divinity to himself. God is not God because He depends upon man. Man himself determines whether or not he will be saved. Therefore the study of soteriology is not the study of what God does in salvation, but soteriology is a study of what man does with God to deserve eternal life.

This means God's grace is not irresistible, but man can reject the grace of God. Man then has more power than God. God watches passively to see what man will do.

Finally, a serious implication of the view of Erasmus is that he denies salvation is found in Jesus Christ alone. In his Diatribe, Erasmus rarely mentions Jesus Christ. This shows something is wrong. This does follow from what Erasmus says. The emphasis for Erasmus is what man must do to be saved and not on what God has done in Jesus Christ. Therefore Jesus Christ is not the only way of salvation and is not that important.

Over against the implications of Erasmus' view are the orthodox implications of Luther's view. God is sovereign in salvation. God elects His people, He sent Jesus Christ, and reveals Jesus Christ only to His people. It is God who turns the enslaved wills of His people so that they seek after Him. Salvation does not depend upon the work of man in any sense.

The basis of salvation is Jesus Christ alone. Because man is enslaved to sin, He must be turned from that sin. He must be saved from that sin through the satisfaction of the justice of God. A man needs the work of Jesus Christ on the cross to be saved. A man needs the new life of Jesus Christ in order to inherit eternal life. The merits of man do not save because he merits nothing with God. A man needs the merits of Jesus Christ for eternal life. A man needs faith by which he is united to Christ.

The source of this salvation is election. God saves only those whom He elects. Those who receive that new life of Christ are those whom God has chosen. God is sovereign in salvation.

Because God is sovereign in salvation, His grace cannot be resisted. Erasmus says that the reason some do not believe is because they reject the grace which God has given to them. Luther implies that God does not show grace to all men. Instead, He saves and shows favor only to those who are His children. In them, God of necessity, efficaciously accomplishes His purpose.

Because man cannot merit eternal life, saving faith is not a work of man by which he merits anything with God. Works do not justify a man. Salvation is the work of God alone in Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit. Faith is a gift of God whereby we are united to Jesus Christ and receive the new life found in Him. Even the knowledge and confidence as the activity of faith are the gifts of faith.

Finally, only with this view of salvation that God is sovereign can a man have comfort that he will be saved. Because God is sovereign in salvation and because His counsel is immutable, we cannot fall from the grace of God. He preserves those who are His children. Erasmus could not have this comfort because he held that man determines his own salvation.

The Importance of This Controversy Today

Although this controversy happened almost five hundred years ago, it is significant for the church today. The error of "semi-Pelagianism" is still alive in the church today. Much of the church world sides with Erasmus today, even among those who claim to be "Reformed." If a "Reformed" or Lutheran church denies what Luther says and sides with Erasmus, they despise the reformation of the church in the sixteenth century. They might as well go back to the Roman Catholic Church.

This controversy is important today because many deny that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation. A man can worship heathen gods and be saved. This follows from making works the basis of salvation. Over against this error, Martin Luther proclaimed the sovereignty of God in salvation. He proclaimed Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation. We must do the same.

The error of Pelagianism attacks the church in many different forms. We have seen that in the history of the Protestant Reformed Churches. The sovereignty of God in salvation has been attacked by the errors of common grace and a conditional covenant. Over against these errors, some in the church world have remained steadfast by the grace of God. God does not love all. Nor does He show favor to all men in the preaching of gospel. Erasmus himself said that God showed grace to all men and God does not hate any man. The Arminians said the same thing at the time of the Synod of Dordt. Yet, men who defend common grace claim to be Reformed. They are not.

Also, in this synergistic view of salvation, we see the principles of the bilateral, conditional covenant view which is in many "Reformed" churches. If God and man work together in salvation, then the covenant must be a pact in which both God and man must hold up each one's end of the agreement. Over against this we must proclaim the sovereignty of God in salvation especially in regard to the covenant. The covenant is not conditional and bilateral. God works unconditionally and unilaterally in the covenant of grace.

Finally, we must apply the truth of the sovereignty of God defended by Luther to ourselves. We could say there is a Pelagian in all of us. We know God sovereignly saves, but we often show by our practice that we proudly want to sneak a few of our works in the back door. We must depend upon God for all things.

May this truth which Martin Luther defended, the truth of the sovereignty of God in salvation, be preserved in the church.

TOPICS: History; Mainline Protestant
KEYWORDS: bondageofthewill; catholic; christalone; erasmus; faithalone; gracealone; luther; martinluther; protestant; reformation; savedbygracealone; scripturealone; solascriptura; thegoodnews
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To: kosta50
I want to see where does human will come into play and if not what's the point. I don't care for biblical references. I want to know why I have intellect. Do I have a will or not.

This thread has motivated me to start reading again in the history of the Protestant Reformation. The first Protestant translation of the Bible to include the innovation of verse numbers occurred in Geneva, Switzerland--Calvin's city--by the printer Robert Etienne in 1551. While this made it much easier to find a single text, it was less easy to follow a continuous story or, for example, a sustained Pauline argument.

Whatever the convenience of verse numbers may have provided, it also made the Scriptures seem something like a chemical compound that can be analyzed into its constituent elements or atoms. It also makes it easy to recombine those elements to form "new molecules." I think this helps to explain why some Protestants have a tendency to reduce any argument to Book, Chapter, and Verse.

This is not a technique that most Protestants use. Most also want to know why they have an intellect and will.

2,641 posted on 02/14/2006 11:24:51 AM PST by stripes1776
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To: HarleyD
You make the decision but God has given you a new heart. That new heart is to follow God. You become a "slave to righteousness" wanting to do the things that are of God. If God gives you the desire to follow Him you will follow Him.

Isn't that cooperating with the new heart that God has placed within us? It should be apparent that even with a new heart, I CAN sin. Thus, I must cooperate with that new heart and follow Christ, correct? I agree with what you write above - and I see it as cooperating with God's graces.

You can't know other people's heart although you can make some good guesses. All you can know is your own. We rest on the promises of God. He has said it. He will do it.

It should be evident that WE even change, in our own minds. Our knowledge of ourselves also changes. Thus, our knowledge is not the determinant of whether we are of the Elect. God doesn't communicate that information to anyone. We have FAITH and HOPE that we are of the elect, Harley. God will "do" what He will "do" to those whom He will. You are claiming the title of "Elect" based on what knowledge within you? Please forgive me if I sound skeptical, but anyone can convince themselves of this.

Paul is presuming they are filled with the Holy Spirit and have been chosen of God. And so should we.


People fall away but they were never saved to begin with.

Well, that is interesting. Without going into the details of what "saved" means, doesn't this admit that one might NOT be of the elect, despite their wishing it so? My point is that I might act like a follower of Christ today, but in five years, I might witness something or undergo something that makes me fall away from the Church. You say I never was saved, I say I fell away. In either case, the 'ME' of today cannot know I am of the Elect, can I? This is my argument 2000 posts ago and remains so.

If a Protestant admits that "someone was never saved to begin with", what way will you assure yourself TODAY that YOU are saved? You CANNOT! Those same people who "were never saved" are the same people who swear they love Jesus and will never fall away and love God, etc... In the end, the Protestant's self-assured salvation is not absolutely secure.


2,642 posted on 02/14/2006 11:39:21 AM PST by jo kus
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To: stripes1776
I think this helps to explain why some Protestants have a tendency to reduce any argument to Book, Chapter, and Verse.

This is not a technique that most Protestants use. Most also want to know why they have an intellect and will

That is an awesome insight, stripes1776. You are a breath of fresh air. I feel a lot better knowing that most Protestants are actually closer to us than I was led to believe. Thank you. Thank you.

2,643 posted on 02/14/2006 2:07:20 PM PST by kosta50 (Eastern Orthodoxy is pure Christianity)
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To: jo kus
FK: "You would say that such a defiant sin changes a person from saved to unsaved. I would say such a sin means the person was never saved in the first place."

If that were true, brother, than we can NEVER know that the sinner's prayer is effective! ... If a person cannot know he was saved in the first place, then how do you know you are saved at all?

Why not? I do not claim to be able to tell the future. AND, I do know what my faith is, and I do know what God's promises are. If God's promises are not God's promises, then I believed in a false faith from the beginning and I'm toast either way. So, if you ask me if I have 100% assurance this minute, I will say 'Yes'. If you asked me to predict what I would say to the same question if you asked me one minute from now, I would give you the same answer. That's how I choose to live my life and not worry about it. If the truth is that I'm wrong, then I'm all done. I have no problem betting on that. It's a very secure existence! :)

FK: "It was years before I could say with confidence that I was 100% saved.

YOU determine whether you are saved or not? That doesn't strike me as a Biblical idea. It defies the idea of perseverance to the end!

No, I was only speaking from my POV. If you had asked me right after I was saved, then, I don't know, I might have said I was 90% sure. Now I say 100%. Both are irrelevant to the single truth of whether or not I am of the elect from the beginning of time. With my sanctification now, at least I can say that I am either 100% right or 100% wrong. I'm an optimist :)

I don't think it belies persevering to the end at all. I am either of the elect or I am not. I am either regenerated or not, I either have a new nature or I do not. If I do, then God promises that I will persevere. If I do not persevere, then I do not have a new heart. If I sign on the dotted line and then go do whatever I want, then I'm doomed. Whether I am fooling myself or not, I am living my life in confidence.

Thus, Paul calls it spiritual warfare, not spiritual mopping up. Warfare presumes that one can lose the war.

Yes, we certainly do experience the war, and we certainly do struggle. Such is how God designed us. I think our struggles are mostly designed to make us more dependent upon Him, and thus increase our sanctification.

If Paul thought that he could be disqualified, despite being "saved", that doesn't bode well for some Protestants who have said the sinner's prayer and rest on their laurels.

I think Paul is indeed including Protestants like this in this passage. I would agree that these folks are in deep soup, the bubbling kind. :) I know of no church that teaches that this is OK, or encourages it. My church teaches the exact opposite, and actively.

If you are not concerned with your salvation, you are not of the same mind as Paul, ...

I think that all of your many examples could be interpreted to support either of our positions. If I falsely believe that I am saved and discover that I'm wrong, then it could be said that I "lost" my self-perceived salvation even though I never had it to begin with. We could go on forever. Paul was teaching and helping to sanctify the new believers. He wanted them to KNOW that they couldn't rest on their laurels after being saved. These verses make perfect sense.

I don't think it is necessary to have God "pretend" anything with us.

Even after everything I've said, I don't perceive any pretending on my end at all. For me, everything is new. That's one reason not to take anything for granted. :)

It's OK, I have lots of hair! We don't know what's going to happen so we don't know how our sanctification is going to take shape, but we do know that it will happen.

When you say, "we don't know what is going to happen", what are you referring to? The process of sanctification, or the idea that we are saved? And "we do know that it will happen", again, the sanctification process, or being saved?

LOL! You've got me beat then. :) I am sorry for being unclear. "We don't know what's going to happen" means nothing more than we can't read the future and I do not know the specific events of the future. It refers to neither sanctification nor salvation. Therefore, we do not know the shape our sanctification will take. (Six months ago I couldn't have predicted in a million years that I would now believe in Perseverance of the Saints.) In "but we do know that it will happen", the "it" is sanctification. The elect are assuredly sanctified during their lives after salvation. Sorry again :)

Previously, you said we cannot know we are of the elect - since the sinner's prayer may not have "worked". So if "x" work of love occurs, it doesn't mean you are of the elect, does it? I think it only tells of our CURRENT status.

Well, I can't know if anyone else's sinner's prayer "worked", but I can know about my own. Am I willing to bet my eternal soul on it. Absolutely. That's what I call "knowing". :) Any one "x" work of love means nothing. Jesus gave us a profile of what an elect looks like. Does a person look like that? If I said we can't know about ourselves, it must have been in some mathematical sense of certitude. I know with all the certainty a human can have.

It's funny, what even gives me more confidence is comparing myself before and after when I believed in OSAS. Since I have dumped it, I haven't changed a thing in my life. That has to mean something. :)

If the sinner's prayer didn't take, you were never saved. This might occur after years of specific and daily loving actions done under the influence of the Spirit. But then the falling away occurs - and the reason - because you never were saved to begin with! And now you KNOW you are of the Elect...How??!! Those loving deeds by the "saved" person told him NOTHING of his future falling away!

I think we are splitting those hairs on the barbershop floor! :) If we are talking about the literal TRUTH of the salvation, that is never changing and pre-ordained from the beginning of time. If we are talking about our perception of that truth (assurance) then that is KNOWABLE by the person. Usually, the greater the sanctification, the greater the assurance, until it eventually reaches 100%. (Sometimes even that happens immediately).

Just as you have said for yourself, we don't do loving actions for points. We do them because of a changed heart. That's what a changed heart does, etc. A person cannot fall away permanently after years of loving works under the Spirit because if he had the Spirit, He wouldn't allow it. So, those "good" works were not really good in God's eyes because the Spirit was never there.

Either you are saved irrevocably during the Sinner's Prayer, (making all talk about perseverance and sanctification worthless) or you don't really know, based on your future response to God. (making one's knowledge of the elect suspicious or uncertain at best).

Promise to put a luge helmet on first? OK? Neither is true! :) The term "saved irrevocably" is fully dependent on the POV. From our POV we can blow it. From God's, we're on the list or not. The flip side is that we CAN know, but not all do. Sanctification helps us get to full assurance. Part of this is the knowledge that God WON'T LET us blow it because of His promises.

So, I know that now, and I have "full assurance". Could I chose to fall away permanently? NO WAY!!! I can't (in truth). That ability to fall away is still in me, but God promises to cup His hand around the edge of the cliff before I plunge. Given my assurance, am I tempted to go off and live how I want to since I'm in? NO WAY!!! I also know that we do not test God, besides I still want to serve and obey God. It's no pat on my back, it's what every regenerated heart does naturally.

God Bless.

2,644 posted on 02/14/2006 2:11:05 PM PST by Forest Keeper
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To: HarleyD
Now, now. Remember this is based on the traditions of the fathers

Only in your illusion.

2,645 posted on 02/14/2006 2:23:17 PM PST by kosta50 (Eastern Orthodoxy is pure Christianity)
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To: Forest Keeper
Well, all of this "grilling" has finally brought out some light for me. I will skip right to it, and you tell me if you agree.

The term "saved irrevocably" is fully dependent on the POV. From our POV we can blow it. From God's, we're on the list or not. The flip side is that we CAN know, but not all do. Sanctification helps us get to full assurance. Part of this is the knowledge that God WON'T LET us blow it because of His promises.

Well, if you only would have said this in the first place! Whew. From our point of view, we can blow it. Correct. From God's point of view, the elect cannot blow it. The Sanctification process gives us increasing assuredness AND transforms us into the original image and likeness that God had intended for us (although not complete until heaven). This line of thought is much more in line with Catholic/Orthodox view on salvation, according to the Fathers of the Church. We can "know" we are saved by our present faith, how we conduct ourselves - faith working through love. And IF we are of the Elect, which we grow in confidence of yearly, we will realize that God will NOT allow us to blow it.

The point of this cross-examination was to get you to realize this key part of our faith - that from our POV, we must continue in humility, always working out our salvation in fear and trembling. It is NEVER a done deal until the day of our particular judgment. Thus, our sanctification is REAL. We ARE changing, being transformed. What God's Word says, He puts into action.

Could I chose to fall away permanently? NO WAY!!!

I sincerely doubt that people just wake up one day and say "I don't feel like believing in Christ anymore". I think it is a gradual process, often punctuated by a tragic event in where the person loses faith in the Lord altogether. Perhaps a person has not been taking his sanctification seriously, then his beloved wife and daughter are killed.

Some people would persevere under these circumstances, but others would blame God and not return. It is the way it is. We can judge "the person was never saved". I would say the person was never of the elect - but he didn't realize that. But the point I am making is that who knows what God has planned for us or whether we are going to be with God in heaven. That is the whole point of a judgment, correct? We are judged based on how we responsed to Christ.

I personally have realized, the more I come closer to Christ, the more I realize those little minor sins, the things I blew off previously as no big deal, are more serious in keeping Jesus and myself from a closer union. This also seems to be the experience of the official saints of the Church. As they grow closer to God, they realize how unworthy they are and how humble they must become to be more like Christ. For us to have life, we must have the Son. (1 John 5:12). What better way to have Christ abide in us than the Eucharist? It is a promise of everlasting life! "whoever eats my flesh...has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day". St. Ignatius (107 AD) called it the "medicine of immortality, the antidote against death", food that makes us "live together in Jesus Christ".

It's no pat on my back, it's what every regenerated heart does naturally.

Think about this. You are DAILY given literally dozens of choices, those little things that you don't even think about, choices For or Against the Will of God. We aren't talking about deciding to kill someone or not. But to become holy, you must also follow the little way. You must look to how you act in all things. We DO have the choice to restrain ourselves when someone makes a comment - whether it is a little dig at us, or a temptation to gossip, or an impure joke, or whatever. We DO have the choice to make Godly decisions in each of these situations - and they happen all of the time. Note...EVERY REGENERATED HEART does NOT follow that path. Some believe that "if I don't kill anyone, cheat on my wife, etc." I will be fine. But love is much more than that. Sure, God will guide us, but we must actively seek to "whether in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord". This is NOT automatic! It is a long process that must be attended to, with God's grace.

Brother in Christ

2,646 posted on 02/14/2006 3:28:29 PM PST by jo kus
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To: HarleyD; Forest Keeper; Kolokotronis; annalex; Cronos; jo kus
If you really would like to know our "dogma" I would suggest the Westminster Confession or the London Baptist Confession

I read your "dogma" and that of the the Anabaptists (who were brutally exterminated by Lutherans in continental Europe) and they are not even close.

Your Calvinist cult lists no less than 39 Old testament books! In addition to that, it states that God made man only in His image (but not in His likeness as well) -- thereby altering Scripture to fit its own agenda.

Furthermore, the Westminster Confession says that man had a choice, but that God was pleased with Adam's sin, "according to His wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to His own glory."

Yet, although God wanted it so, and made sure it was so "for His own lory" the "guilt of this sin was imputed" onto man. So, God's will was realized and man was to blame: "Every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto, does in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner."

The more I think about it, your "dogma" and Islam have a lot more in common than I ever believed.

As for our (ana)Baptist friends (the folks who believed in two baptisms), theirs was nothing like yours, but ordinary Bible babble, litteralist in its presentation.

The bottom line is that both are creatures of man, and not of the Church established by God, because that Church never taught anything like that confession of your cult, nor believed anything similar to it from the beginning.

2,647 posted on 02/14/2006 4:22:45 PM PST by kosta50 (Eastern Orthodoxy is pure Christianity)
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To: jo kus
Isn't that cooperating with the new heart that God has placed within us?

Your interpretation and my interpretation of "cooperating" are different. You feel that a person is free to cooperate or not cooperate in their salvation. I feel that God changes the heart so we will cooperate with God during salvation. After we are saved there are periods of time when we will rebel simply because of our fleshy nature. But God understands and will bring us back to a point of cooperating with Him.

You are claiming the title of "Elect" based on what knowledge within you? Please forgive me if I sound skeptical, but anyone can convince themselves of this.

I am claiming the title of "elect" based upon what God has said in His word. I have always put great store in the word of God and I noticed that the Catholic Church has as well believing it to be written by the "finger of God" if you will. Therefore if God states that He will put His spirit in us and cause us to walk in His statues, I believe it. If He states, "Believe on the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved.", I believe it. If He says we are chosen of God and that man's steps are ordained by Him, I believe it. The Bible is the ONLY thing that can be believed.

If a Protestant admits that "someone was never saved to begin with", what way will you assure yourself TODAY that YOU are saved? You CANNOT

Nonsense, there are plenty of Christians in scripture who KNEW they were Christians. In fact THEY CALLED THEMSELVES CHRISTIANS. You can ONLY know your own heart and Paul states to "Examine yourself to see if you are in the faith".

People fall away all the time these days. They go to some sort of rally, get a big Christian high, and then end up going back to the lives they were leading. How many came to World Day (or whatever it was called) and slipped back? To you it looks like they "lost" their salvation. I would say they never had it to begin with.

I can only examine myself and I cannot judge the salvation of others. However, I can be assured of my salvation simply by resting on God's word. If God took the time and bother to saved me when I was a most wretched creature, He surely won't let me go now after He has spent 30+ years on me. I don't rest on things that I'm doing. My faith is placed upon Christ to see me through. Personally, I don't think He'll let me down.

In the end, the Protestant's self-assured salvation is not absolutely secure.

In the end you say God saves a person today not knowing if He will be saved tomorrow. Wouldn't it be just as well to jump in front of a bus after you've been baptized?

2,648 posted on 02/14/2006 4:41:10 PM PST by HarleyD ("Man's steps are ordained by the LORD, How then can man understand his way?" Prov 20:24)
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To: HarleyD; kosta50; jo kus; Forest Keeper

"In any case, only God knows who the elect are - we don't.

"But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation..." 2 Thess 2:13"

Harley, if your interpretation of this passage from +Paul is correct, what's this mean from Timothy?

"This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." 1 Timothy 2:3-4

All men, Harley, not just the "elect". Is God exercising divine self dillusion? Or do these two passages point out the bankruptcy of the Calvinist position and support The Church's understanding of God's foreknowledge but not predestination?

2,649 posted on 02/14/2006 5:03:14 PM PST by Kolokotronis (Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!)
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To: Forest Keeper; kosta50; HarleyD
"To be honest, I really don't know what the theology is on whether Adam and Eve eventually wound up in heaven or not, but I would like to know. My "guess" would be that they are both in heaven because God showed mercy on them by kicking them out of the garden, lest they should again partake of the fruit of the tree. God saved them from themselves. What does your side say?"

Your honesty, FK is appreciated! Indeed, it is the theology of The Church that Adam and Eve are in heaven, having been released from hades by Christ Himself as is shown in the icon of the Resurrection:

Your comment raise several intersting points. Initially, we have the whole question of the purpose of the Incarnation. Why did God become Man and dwell among us? Why did he have to die? Why did He have to descend to hades, the abode of the dead, break the bonds of the Evil One and free the souls of the righteous dead? Why did He rise on Great and Holy Pascha? Was it part of some divine farce, a show put on to entertain God? That's what predestination and a denial of free will would seem to require one to believe. If we have nothing at all to do with our own damnation or salvation, or if all we have to do since the greatest event in the history of the world is say the "sinner's prayer" and we're "in", then the conclusion is inescapable that God is a great impressario putting on shows for His own entertainment and reall nothing more. But The Church doesn't teach that at all. +John says:

"He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world."

The whole world, FK, not just the "elect", assuming even for a moment that the sins of the "elect" need atonement which seems, well, a bit of a contradiction.

You say that God showed His mercy by kicking Adam and Eve out of the Garden "lest they should partake of the fruit of the tree". This is indeed correct, but do you know why? Here's what +John Chrysostomos says:

"Partaking of the tree, the man and woman became liable to death and subject to the future needs of the body. Adam was no longer permitted to remain in the Garden, and was bidden to leave, a move by which God showed His love for him. He had become mortal, and lest he presume to eat further from the tree which promised an endless life of continuous sinning, he was expelled from the Garden as a mark of divine solicitude, not of necessity." Hom. in Gen XVIII, 3.

But they still died, didn't they? The tree didn't have death in it; it only had good in it.

The tree of knowledge itself was good, and its fruit was good. For it was not the tree that had death in it, as some think, but the disobedience which had death in it; for there was nothing else in the fruit but knowledge alone; but knowledge is good when one uses it properly." Theophilus of Antioch To Autolycus

"The tree did not engender death, for God did not create death; but death was the consequence of disobedience." St. John Damascene Homily on Holy Saturday

2,650 posted on 02/14/2006 5:39:18 PM PST by Kolokotronis (Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!)
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To: HarleyD; kosta50; Forest Keeper; Cronos; annalex; Gamecock
"What your real gripe is, is simply that God doesn’t do this for everyone. This is incomprehensible to your Greek thought process. Instead you would rather rationalize that God offers everyone, everything and only a few accept His offer. Sorry. This isn’t the God of scripture. He makes choices and does what He pleases. And everything is perfectly right, holy and just regardless of what we think."

Harley, 2 Peter 3 says:

"The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."

More cosmic game playing, Harley, or does +Peter know something Calvinists don't? Maybe Peter was just a Greek and without the inspiration of God or the influence of clearly superior 16th century Western European understanding of God? Poor +Peter, if only he'd been born in Geneva he might not have fallen into such error!

2,651 posted on 02/14/2006 5:45:13 PM PST by Kolokotronis (Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!)
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To: Forest Keeper; kosta50; HarleyD; annalex; jo kus; Cronos

"God promises that He will keep His own, so such a person would not have been kept, making their salvation impossible. The point is the permanency, not whether a person makes an occasional mistake."

Sounds like once saved always saved, FK. What about this? These fellows (Hymenaeus and Alexander) apparently had the faith, or so +Paul would have us believe, but then rejected it:

"Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith." 1 Timothy 1:18-19

The issue of apostasy comes up many times in the NT, especially in the Epistles.

2,652 posted on 02/14/2006 5:58:05 PM PST by Kolokotronis (Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!)
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To: HarleyD; kosta50

"From your perspective doesn't God look down that "corridor of time" and see who those people are who will fall away? Why would they be saved in the first place if God knows tomorrow they will fall away?"

God doesn't look down a corridor of time. What is time to God? This is an anthropomorphism, just like "pre" destination. It can only have meaning for us but tells us nothing about God or what God "sees".

2,653 posted on 02/14/2006 6:00:42 PM PST by Kolokotronis (Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!)
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To: HarleyD; jo kus

"Paul is presuming they are filled with the Holy Spirit and have been chosen of God. And so should we. People fall away but they were never saved to begin with."

Then why does he warn us, and them, so continually about falling away or being "cut off"?

2,654 posted on 02/14/2006 6:06:54 PM PST by Kolokotronis (Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!)
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To: Kolokotronis; kosta50; jo kus; Forest Keeper
All men, Harley, not just the "elect". Is God exercising divine self dillusion? Or do these two passages point out the bankruptcy of the Calvinist position and support The Church's understanding of God's foreknowledge but not predestination?

It's a mystery.

Just kidding. :O)

Is it really God's desire that "all men" come to the knowledge of the truth? If God wanted "ALL" men to come to the knowledge of the truth He would bring them to the knowledge of the truth. Consider this other passage:

It is God who grants that we may repent and this leads to the knowledge of the truth. If it was God's desire for ALL men to come to the knowledge of the truth, He would grant that everyone repent which, of course, we know doesn't happen. If you want further proof consider:

There are some who never come to the knowledge of the truth. It is God that grants this capability and He discriminates to who He gives it to.

Therefore, your interpretation has to be incorrect that God wants all men to come to the knowledge of the truth. He doesn't. So what does 1 Tim 2:3-4 mean? It can only be interpreted as a general statement that it is God's desire that men from all stations of life come to Him as He so draws them and grants that they may repent.

2,655 posted on 02/14/2006 6:11:09 PM PST by HarleyD ("Man's steps are ordained by the LORD, How then can man understand his way?" Prov 20:24)
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To: HarleyD; kosta50; jo kus; Forest Keeper

"...who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth."

"Therefore, your interpretation has to be incorrect that God wants all men to come to the knowledge of the truth. He doesn't. So what does 1 Tim 2:3-4 mean? It can only be interpreted as a general statement that it is God's desire that men from all stations of life come to Him as He so draws them and grants that they may repent."

Gee, HD, I just took a look at the Greek. Maybe my English translation was wrong, but...nope. The Greek says exactly what the English says.

Um, HD, you really ought to quote a little more from 2 Timothy, like the verses before and after 25:

"And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all [men], apt to teach, patient,
In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth;
And [that] they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.

HD, "And that they may RECOVER THEMSELVES" out of the snare...." Wow, men can do something for themselves?

As for 2 Timothy 3:7, well once again, what came before that verse and after?

"3:1 This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.
3:2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,
3:3 [[Without natural affection,]] trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,
3:4 Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;
3:5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.
3:6 For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts,
3:7 Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
3:8 Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith.
3:9 But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all [men], as theirs also was.

2,656 posted on 02/14/2006 6:25:16 PM PST by Kolokotronis (Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!)
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To: HarleyD
You feel that a person is free to cooperate or not cooperate in their salvation. I feel that God changes the heart so we will cooperate with God during salvation. After we are saved there are periods of time when we will rebel simply because of our fleshy nature. But God understands and will bring us back to a point of cooperating with Him.

God changes your heart so we will cooperate - true. But the simple fact that we have those brief periods of following our fleshy selves (or longer periods...) should be enough evidence to convince you that you DO have free will to NOT choose God. If God steered you on every action, you wouldn't sin. You sinning AFTER your regeneration proves that you are not completely transformed (or completely "saved"). I think the point, though, is that man does cooperate - but you seem to believe we differ greatly here. We both agree that God begins to change our hearts, ever-so-slowly, it seems, into a "natural" heart (I take Ez to mean the one God gave Adam before the first sin).

I am claiming the title of "elect" based upon what God has said in His word. I have always put great store in the word of God and I noticed that the Catholic Church has as well believing it to be written by the "finger of God" if you will.

My argument is with those who believe they are ABSOLUTELY saved. I believe we know too many people who have made that claim - and then fall away. Yes, the Word of God says that we can be assured we will be saved, but I think that this presumes we will continue along our path - thus, over and over, we see the theme of judgment based on our actions in the New Testament. It's not quite done yet!

The Bible is the ONLY thing that can be believed

LOL! No, I think I'll just disagree and leave it at that! We are closing in on 3000 posts...

there are plenty of Christians in scripture who KNEW they were Christians. In fact THEY CALLED THEMSELVES CHRISTIANS. You can ONLY know your own heart and Paul states to "Examine yourself to see if you are in the faith".

Sure there are those who CALL themselves Christians. But it is more than a name, correct? How about this definition of a Christian:

"A person who loves pleasure, seeks comfort, flies from any suffering, is overanxious, complains, blames and is impatient at the least thing not in his favor is a Christian in NAME ONLY. If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)" From St. John Vianney.

Quite a definition. But I think if you read even some Protesant Christian's works of such great men as Dietrich Bonhoffer's (Discipleship), you will learn they agree. We REALLY find Christ in our self-denials... To those who make the claim to be "Christian", I remind them to look to Matthew 7:21 - "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of the heavens." I also will point to the parable of the cockle and the wheat, a parable about the visible Church, the community of God. Some will end up being cockles in the end - and no one else will recognize them! Cockles and wheat look identical, it is only the harvester who will recognize them. Thus, the servants don't pull them up now. The same of us in the Church. No one can really be sure whether they are cockle or wheat... Although I will agree we have an idea of ourselves.

It is too easy to convince oneself that he is a Christian. Actions speak louder than words. Faith is seen. To follow Christ, we must "become" another Christ.

People fall away all the time these days. They go to some sort of rally, get a big Christian high, and then end up going back to the lives they were leading. How many came to World Day (or whatever it was called) and slipped back? To you it looks like they "lost" their salvation. I would say they never had it to begin with.

I understand where you are coming from. I think we use the term "saved" differently. We tend to refer to salvation as what happens in the future. We consider the point of our regeneration (Baptism) as initial justification. We are righteous in God's eyes. This righteousness status will change - which is what you are talking about, I believe. Thus, a person, to us, isn't losing their salvation, but moves in and out of righteousness in God's eyes.

He surely won't let me go now after He has spent 30+ years on me.

How many people made it out of Egypt, Harley? How many were "saved" from the Pharaoh? Many thousands, according to Scripture. And how many made it to the promised Land? Two of the original? Paul makes this perfectly clear that this is an example for us today (in 1 Cor 10:1-12). Many are "saved" by Baptism - but this doesn't mean "saved" for eternal heaven. The Jews were an example, a model for us not to get overconfident, just as Paul discusses in Romans when he warns us that we can be cut off the tree, just like the Jews were. We can only hope that WE don't let HIM down! (note, you understand that I am not saying "by myself"?!) He has done everything short of drag us into heaven. It is our attachments to the flesh that keep us from Him.

In the end you say God saves a person today not knowing if He will be saved tomorrow. Wouldn't it be just as well to jump in front of a bus after you've been baptized?

LOL! No. I don't say that we don't "know", just that we should not be overconfident on what will happen five years from now in our lives. We SHOULD be secure that the Lord will continue to bless us. It is now to us to utilize His graces and continue to grow and become sanctified. We trust in God's mercy.


2,657 posted on 02/14/2006 7:03:42 PM PST by jo kus
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To: Kolokotronis

I wish I had more time to read St John Chrysostom. Wonderful explanation on Adam's removal from the Garden.

Thanks again for the Father's quotes.

I recall that it is a teaching of the Fathers that Christ, upon His descent into Hades, first went to Adam to bring him to heaven with him...

Brother in Chrsit

2,658 posted on 02/14/2006 7:09:16 PM PST by jo kus
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To: jo kus

"I recall that it is a teaching of the Fathers that Christ, upon His descent into Hades, first went to Adam to bring him to heaven with him..."

Yes, that is a theologoumenon. I've heard it too. The icon I posted would seem to indicate otherwise, but its fairly modern. Some very old ones I've seen in Mistras in Greece don't show any of the prophets of King David etc, but rather just show Adam and Eve.

2,659 posted on 02/14/2006 7:14:08 PM PST by Kolokotronis (Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!)
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To: Kolokotronis; jo kus
Throughout the history of The Church, the Fathers and other holy people have continually warned us of the truly astonishing power of The Evil One over all of us and advise us that our lives will be a constant struggle with him and his minions. Your belief as outlined above, is just about the most dangerous thing any Christian can believe.

LOL! Well, I'm a dangerous man. :) I was talking about resident demons, a la Mark 5. That's why I said "no room at the inn" and mentioned the movie. (I still do believe that.) I do fully believe that we are in a constant state of spiritual warfare against satan, and that he constantly attacks us. Yes, I have experienced the example you used during a church service. I didn't know there was a name for that, "Logismoi". It's interesting.

"The whole essence and effort of the devil is to separate and remove our attention from God and entice it toward worldly concerns and pleasures. ... +John Chrysostomos

This one is my favorite. It's very true.

2,660 posted on 02/14/2006 8:14:44 PM PST by Forest Keeper
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