Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

Vol. 1, No. 3 Page 16 March 1999

Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

   By Louis Rushmore

Predestination Vs. Freewill

Dear Friend,

You wrote: "How much is the human life determined by God's predestination or planning (e.g., Pharaoh in Exodus or Judas). Or conversely, how much is determined by our freewill."

First, your question appears to assume a popular definition of "predestination" which, however, is not supported by biblical evidence. Many religious people imagine that "predestination" and "freewill" are incompatible, perhaps even polar opposites. The wording of your question implies that you concur with that understanding, or at least you suppose that there is sufficient conflict between "predestination" and "freewill" that some explanation is warranted to reconcile the two.

The biblical doctrine of predestination stands in contrast to the prevalent but false denominational theory of predestination. Essentially, the Bible teaches that God's predestination amounts to the Divine decision to save from their sins all people who comply with God's conditions for grace and mercy. The competing doctrine of predestination authored by men assumes that God arbitrarily and unconditionally determined that certain individuals will be saved and conversely that certain individuals will be lost eternally. Whereas the denomination doctrine of predestination (a cardinal part of what is commonly called Calvinism) stipulates that a group of changeless, numbered and named individuals will be saved (or lost) without any human involvement in their salvation (or damnation), God's Word teaches that a group of changeable, an undetermined number and unnamed individuals will be saved (or lost) dependent on the way in which they exercise freewill. The difference is "unconditional salvation" Vs. "conditional salvation." The difference is "unconditional damnation" Vs. "conditional damnation."

The difference regarding redemption is "non-essential obedience" Vs. "obedience." Obedience, though, does not necessitate perfection. Perfection is the unattainable goal toward which God requires mankind ever to strive. God's grace and mercy are activated by obedience to supply what humanity lacks between earnest but failed efforts to achieve perfection and the perfection required to permit sinners to enter heaven and be in the presence of God.

Notice these verses regarding obedience or the lack thereof and how each affect one's eternity. Speaking of Jesus, Hebrews 5:8-9 reads:

"Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him."
Speaking of the lost at the end of time, 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 reads:
"And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power."
Additionally, Romans 1:5 announces that the faith by which one is justified (Romans 5:1) is "obedience to the faith." Romans 16:26 concludes the epistle to Roman Christians, referring to "the obedience of faith." Everything the Book of Romans has to say about faith and its relationship to our redemption is sandwiched between "the obedience of faith."

Clearly, every passage that calls upon mankind to respond in a designated way implies the capacity of mankind to satisfactorily respond of his own free will or volition. As an example, consider the following abbreviated plan of salvation found in the New Testament. Hear God's Word and believe (Romans 10:17; Mark 16:16). Repent of sins (Luke 13:5; Acts 17:30). Profess Jesus as Christ (Romans 10:9-10; Acts 8:37). Be immersed in water for the remission of sins (Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:12; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21). Be faithful (Revelation 2:10). Erring Christians are also called upon by God through the Bible to repent and pray for forgiveness of sins subsequent to baptism (Acts 8:22-24).

Equally clear, every passage that warns mankind also implies the capacity of mankind to satisfactorily respond of his own free will or volition. Consider: "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God" (Hebrews 3:12) and "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21). Every instruction in the Bible assumes man's ability to comply or refuse it, thereby confirming man's ability (and responsibility) to use his freewill correctly (but acknowledging that he may opt to use his freewill incorrectly).

Through God's omniscience, he can look into the future and see what will occur. Then, often through prophets whose messages are recorded throughout the Bible, God foretold what events would occur. The fulfillment of these prophecies confirmed the hand of God in the revelations and instructions God provided mankind for his guidance in his earthly pilgrimage. From a vantage point, I once saw the inevitable collision between a train and a tractor-trailer, neither of which from their vantage points could see each other. Though they wrecked into each other and I saw it coming, of course, I was not responsible for the accident. In the same way, God does not cause to happen what he sees will occur. Mankind is still responsible for his actions.

God, though, does not directly interfere with the freewill of mankind (otherwise God instead of man would be culpable for man's transgressions). Pharaoh in Moses' day and Judas are examples of God's foreknowledge. The hardening of Pharoah's heart was directly Pharoah's doing and indirectly God's doing by requiring of Pharaoh (through revelation to Moses) what Pharaoh was not willing to do. The same sun that melts butter hardens clay. The difference in results is owing to the respective responses of the butter and the clay. The same principle regarding God's revelation to mankind variously affects recipients of God's Word.

I hope this helps. Thank you for the opportunity to converse with you regarding a portion of God's Word.

Yours in Christ,

Louis Rushmore

Anointing With Oil in James 5

Dear Marty Hollis,

Part of the context in which Scripture needs to be considered is the perspective from which the original recipients of divine revelation would ordinarily have understood it. In this case, the primitive church, during which times true miracles were operative, probably would have understood the citation you note in the context of miraculous healing. Two circumstances, physical illness and spiritual illness, are observed in James 5:14-15. The latter is secondary references in verse 14 to miraculous healing.

Therefore, since the miraculous age of the church has ceased, it is inappropriate and unwise to continue to employ the accompanying symbols (anointing with olive oil) of miraculous healing. Besides, anointing with olive oil is not part of contemporary American culture and sustains no significance beyond its place as an accompanying symbol of miraculous healing.

Consideration of sinfulness in verse 15 is essentially an addendum to the context established in verse 14. Whereas the former (miraculous healing) has concluded, the latter (prayer--for physical and spiritual sickness) is still very much in order.

I concur with the observations of commentators Guy N. Woods and Burton Coffman, some of whose comments appear following.

The context would suggest that it is literal sickness inasmuch as it is mentioned in connection with literal suffering, praying, cheerfulness, and singing. In verse 15, below, it is clearly shown that the illness contemplated here is physical in character, in view of the fact that it is mentioned in connection with, and in addition to, spiritual illness. . . . the act of anointing was to be performed either before the prayer, or in connection with it. . . . Olive oil was used both medicinally and symbolically in Biblical times. . . . It appears quite clear here that the use of the oil was symbolic, and not medicinal . . . Elders, not doctors, were to be sent for. . . . and if he have committed sins, it shall be forgiven him--. . . This is promised in addition to the healing of his body. . . . From foregoing considerations, it must be quite obvious to the discerning student that this passage was applicable to the period of miraculous gifts in the church and limited to it. [Guy N. Woods, A Commentary of the Epistle of James, Nashville, Gospel Advocate Company, pp. 300-303.]

James in this remarkable paragraph plainly has under consideration the charismatic gift of healing, one of the special gifts that attended the early propagation of Christianity for the purpose of confirming the word of God. As Tasker succinctly put it:

It is probable that the mention of oil in this passage is to be regarded as one of the accompaniments of that miraculous healing which was no infrequent occurrence in the apostolic age . . .
Punchard's quotation from Bishop Browne follows this same line of interpretation, thus:
The aim of the apostolic anointing was bodily recovery, and this exactly corresponds with the miraculous cures of early ages . . . so long as such powers remained in the church, it was reasonable that the anointing of the sick should be retained. (Burton Coffman)
I hope this proves useful for your further reflection.

Yours in Christ,

Louis Rushmore

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