Does SHOULD always imply COULD?

Reblogged from March 2018

If I tell my child that he should clean his room it does strongly imply that he could clean his room. This is basic common sense, but is it applicable to how God deals with humanity? Is the implication in scripture of “you should” mean that “you could?”

I think we can all agree that “ought” strongly implies moral ability for all practical purposes, but is that a biblical reality in every instance? Sometimes the Bible defies our practical sensibilities and turns our reality upon its ear. Is that the case here? Do God’s expressions of what we SHOULD do imply that we actually COULD do it?[1]

Suppose you had a horrible gambling addiction and as a result accrued a debt so large that it was literally impossible for you to repay. Would your inability to pay off this debt excuse you from paying it? Of course not. You SHOULD pay off this debt regardless of whether or not you COULD pay off this debt. This is an example of where inability does not remove responsibility and thus SHOULD does not mean that one necessarily COULD.

Likewise, the scriptures teach us that we SHOULD obey the law of God perfectly (Matt. 5:48), but it also teaches us that no one COULD (Rom. 3:23). Our moral inability to fulfill the law’s demands does not remove our moral responsibility to the law. We have a sin debt that we cannot pay, yet scripture seems to teach that we are held accountable for that debt nonetheless. In this instance, it certainly does seem that SHOULD does not imply COULD.

But, continuing with the analogy above, suppose your wealthy and benevolent father offered to pay your gambling debt for you if you would confess your addiction and go to rehab. Clearly, this is something you SHOULD do, but COULD you? Of course, you COULD! Your inability to pay off the debt in no way hinders you from accepting the benevolent offer of your father’s provision.

Likewise, with regard to the law, your benevolent and gracious Father offers to pay your sin debt if you confess your sin addiction and trust in Him. Clearly, this is something you SHOULD do, but COULD you? Of course, you COULD! Your inability to pay off your sin debt in no way hinders you from accepting the benevolent offer of your Father’s gracious provision.

Suppose someone tried to convince you that one’s inability to pay off their debt equaled their inability to accept help when it was offered. Would you believe them? I ask because that is what our Calvinistic friends are attempting to get the church to believe. Allow me to explain further…

Could the “Rich Young Ruler” have willingly given up his wealth to follow Christ as Zacchaeus does in the very next chapter? Or was Zacchaeus granted an ability that was withheld from the Rich Young Ruler? (Note: I’m speaking of man’s moral/spiritual abilities to repent in faith, not their physical ability or mental assent, so please don’t try to rebut this article with the all too often “catch-all” phrase of, “He is able but not willing.”)

Calvinists would agree with the Traditionalists that both Zacchaeus and Rich Young Ruler SHOULD have given up everything to follow Christ, but only the Traditionalist maintains that both of them COULD have willingly done so. Why do Calvinists insist that SHOULD doesn’t imply COULD when it comes to the Biblical revelation?

Dr. Wayne Grudem, a Calvinistic scholar, explains the issue in this manner:

“Advocates of the Arminian position draw attention to the frequency of the free offer of the gospel in the New Testament. They would say that these invitations to people to repent and come to Christ for salvation, if bona fide, must imply the ability to respond to them. Thus, all people without exception have the ability to respond, not just those who have been sovereignly given that ability by God in a special way.” [2]

Grudem, like John Hendryx of, rebuts this perspective by making arguments such as:

“What the Scriptures say we ‘ought’ to do does not necessarily imply what we ‘can’ do. The Ten Commandments, likewise, speak of what we ought to do but they do not imply that we have the moral ability to carry them out. The law of God was given so that we would be stripped of having any hope from ourselves. Even faith itself is a divine command that we cannot fulfill without the application of God’s regenerative grace by the Holy Spirit.”[3]

Are you following the Calvinistic argument? Here it is put very simply:

  1. God tells man they SHOULD keep all the commandments.
  2. Man CANNOT keep all the commandments.
  3. God also tells man they SHOULD believe and repent for breaking commandments.
  4. Therefore man also CANNOT believe and repent for breaking commandments.[4]

If the fallacy in this argument is not obvious to you, please allow me to use the analogy above as a parallel:

  1. The gambler SHOULD pay off his gambling debts.
  2. The gambler CANNOT pay off his gambling debts.
  3. The father tells the man he SHOULD admit his addiction and receive help.
  4. Therefore the gambler CANNOT admit his addiction and receive help.

Maybe another analogy will help bring more clarity: Back when my kids were younger we did a family activity that our church had suggested. I stood at the top of the stairs with my four children at the bottom.

I said to them, “Here are the rules. You must get from the bottom of the stairs to the top of the stairs without touching any of the railing, the wall or even the stairs. Ready, go!”

My kids looked at me and then each other and then back at their mother. With bewilderment in their eyes, they immediately began to whine and complain saying, “Dad, that is impossible!”

I told them to stop whining and figure it out.

The youngest stood at the bottom and started trying to jump, slamming himself into the steps over and over. The more creative one of the bunch began looking for tools to help build some kind of contraption. Another set down on the floor while loudly declaring, “This is just stupid, no one can do that!”

Finally, in exasperation one of the kids yelled out, “Dad, why don’t you just help us?” I raised my eyebrows as if to give them a clue that they may be on the right track. The eldest caught on quickly.

“Can you help us dad?” he shouted.

I replied quietly, “No one even asked me.”

“Can you carry us up the stairs?” he asked.

“I will if you ask me,” I said.

And one by one, I carried each child to the top after they simply asked.

Then, we sat down and talked about salvation. We talked about how it is impossible for us to get to heaven by our own efforts, but if we ask Christ for help then He will carry us. It was a great visual lesson of God’s grace in contrast with man’s works.

But suppose that my children’s inability to get to the top the stairs also meant they were incapable of asking me for help. Imagine how this story would’ve played out if it was impossible for my children not only to get to the top of the stairs but equally impossible for them to recognize that inability and request help when it was offered.

This illustrates the mistake of Calvinism. Let’s go back to their fallacy above as it relates to my story:

  1. Dad tells his kids they SHOULD get to the top of stairs.
  2. Kids CANNOT complete this task as requested.
  3. Dad also tells the kids they SHOULD ask for help.
  4. Therefore the kids CANNOT ask for help.

Do you see the problem now? The whole purpose of presenting my kids with that dilemma was to help them to discover their need for help. To suggest that they cannot realize their need and ask for help on the basis that they cannot get to the top of the stairs completely undermines the very purpose of giving them that dilemma.

The purpose of the father in both instances is to get others to trust Him. The law was not sent for the purpose of getting mankind to heaven. Just as the purpose of the activity was not to get the kids to the top of the staircase.  The purpose was to help them to see that they have a need and that they cannot do it on their own.

Calvinists have wrongly concluded that because mankind is unable to attain righteousness by works through the law, they must also be equally unable to attain righteousness by grace through faith. In other words, they have concluded that because mankind is incapable of “making it to the top of the stairs,” then they are equally incapable of “recognizing their inability and asking for help.”  IT DOES NOT FOLLOW AND IT IS NOT BIBLICAL. Paul said;

What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works (Rom. 9:30-32).

It seems Calvinists would have us believe that because pursuit by works fails in attaining righteousness that a pursuit by faith would not even be possible. This is simply never taught in scripture.

When Calvinists are pressed on the obvious implication that SHOULD implies COULD, they appeal to the demands of the law, which is like appealing to my demands for the children to get to the top of the stairs without touching anything. I didn’t make that demand with the expectation of my children actually doing it, after all, it is impossible. I made the demand to help them realize they could not do it without my help.

So too, God did not send the law with the expectation that we could actually fulfill its demands. That is not the purpose of the law. According to the scripture, “No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin” (Rom. 3:20).

The law is a “tutor” who points us to our need for Christ (Gal. 3:24). The law was never sent for the purpose of being fulfilled by mankind, just as the stair-climbing activity was never intended to be completed by my kids. It was a “tutoring” lesson to teach my children that they must rely on someone else, a useless activity indeed if they are somehow incapable of coming to that realization or admitting their need for help.

If my kids are as completely incapable of understanding their need for help in getting to the top of stairs as they are in getting to the top of the stairs without help, then why would I bother with the activity in the first place? Likewise, if mankind is as completely incapable of trusting in the One who fulfilled the law as they are in fulfilling the law themselves, then what is the point in sending an insufficient tutor to teach them a lesson they cannot learn?

The argument that SHOULD implies COULD remains virtually unanswered by the Calvinist who appeals to the law as their example. That is unless they can demonstrate that it actually was God’s intention for us to fulfill the law’s demand in order to attain righteousness. After all, to conclude that man cannot fulfill the purpose of the law’s demands begs the question, because it presumes man cannot fulfill the purpose of the law by believing in the One who fulfilled its demands.

Basic common sense tells us that if one ought to do something, he can do it. This is especially true if one is punished for his failure to do that which is expected. In 2 Thessalonians 2:10, Paul says of the unrighteous, “They perish because they did not accept the love of the truth in order to be saved.” And in John 12:48, Jesus said, “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day.”

Scripture never once says that we will perish because of Adam’s sin. But over and over again it says that we will each be held accountable for our response to the clear the revelation of God.  According to Paul, all men stand “without excuse” (Rom. 1:20), yet Calvinistic doctrine gives mankind the best excuse imaginable:

Judge: “Why did you remain in unbelief?”
Reprobate: “I was born hated and rejected by my God who sealed me in unbelief from the time I was born until the time I died due to the sin of another.”

Can you think of any better excuse than that?  I cannot.

63 thoughts on “Does SHOULD always imply COULD?

  1. Thanks for the re-post.

    The Calvinist “should-but-cannot” argument about the 10 Commandments is a tricky one (surprise!).

    They base it on the idea that “Everyone knows we cannot keep all the commandments, but we ‘should,’ therefore …..”

    But that argument does not work. No one can keep ALL the commandments ALL the time…. but certainly it possible to follow some of the commandments some of the time. Of course people are going to say I am trying to say works can save me. NOT my point at all!

    My point is that the “should-and-can” are much closer than people think…. and that argument should not be used to say man is “too-dead” to respond to Christ’s call to “come unto me all you who labor and are heavy burden, and I will give you rest.”

  2. Jesus even takes it one step further with His invitation to go into the kingdom of heaven saying : Matthew 23:37 (HCSB)
    37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem! She who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her. How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, yet you were not willing! How could He be willing for them to enter the kingdom but unwilling to even make it possible for them to do so?
    His invitation to come with a promise of rest from their heavy burdens becomes no more than a taunt to any who are unable.

  3. Judge: “Why did you remain in unbelief?”
    Reprobate: “I was born hated and rejected by my God who sealed me in unbelief from the time I was born until the time I died due to the sin of another.”

    Can you think of any better excuse than that? I cannot.

    Unless Calvin’s god doesn’t live up to the very standards that he demands of the creatures.
    In that case – Calvin’s god would have the very characteristic that Jesus criticizes in men.
    Do what they say – but don’t do what they do – because they don’t do what they say.
    They heep burdens on others that they themselves won’t lift a finger to bear.


    In the church I would rather speak five words communicated with understanding – that by my voice I might teach others – rather than to speak ten thousand words in a language that others are not certain to understood. For if the trumpet gives an UNCERTAIN SOUND – who shall prepare himself to the battle? So likewise, you – except you utter words that are UNCERTAIN in how they are to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken?

    Personally – I see Paul drawing on a sound logical principle here in regard to commutations in the church.
    He wants to ensure when words of life are given – people don’t hear them as an UNCERTAIN SOUND.

    Here is an example of words of life that may be given:
    Jeremiah 29:11
    For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

    But what does this statement mean to a Calvinist – as it applies to himself?

    Calvin teaches him that the plans Calvin’s god (at the foundation of the world) has for him are according to the SECRET counsel of his will. And a SECRET kept by the THEOS by its very nature – cannot be known by anyone other than the THEOS – or else it isn’t a SECRET.

    A given Calvinist has two options:
    If Calvin’s god (at the foundation of the world) ordained this Calvinist to be “elect” – then these can certainly represent the SOUND of divine benevolence.

    If Calvin’s god (at the foundation of the world) ordained the Calvinist for damnation – then these words will represent a distinctly different SOUND.

    How can the Calvinist be CERTAIN which SOUND it is?

    Here is another example of words of life that may be given:
    My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. And I give unto them eternal life. And they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all, and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.

    Here again the Calvinist has the same two options:

    If he is ordained to be “elect” then these words of Jesus apply to him.
    If he is ordained for damnation then these words of Jesus do not apply to him.

    On top of this – Calvin asserts that a -quote “LARGE MIXTURE” of Calvinists are those whom Calvin’s god holds salvation out to as a -quote “savor of condemnation”. These Calvinists – quote “have nothing of Christ but the name and outward appearance”.
    Calvinists call these members of their fold “Tares”. They look like the real thing. They walk like the real thing. They talk like the real thing. They are convinced within themselves they are the real thing. But they are not. According to Calvin these Calvinists are not within the “INVISIBLE” church. And those who are really “elect” are INVISIBLE.

    To add further to the problem – Calvin asserts that when God speaks, he often speaks his EXPRESSED will – while withholding his SECRET will. And his EXPRESSED will can be the exact opposite of his SECRET will.

    So, when the Calvinist is reading “my sheep hear my voice”, the Calvinist knows those words apply only to the “elect”.
    And the Calvinist doesn’t know who the “elect” are because they are INVISIBLE.

    Those promises of God to his beloved in scripture may only be the EXPRESSED will for him – but not the SECRET for him.

    Therefore, it is the case for every Calvinist – that the promises of God within scripture are an UNCERTAIN SOUND.

  5. “If I tell my child that he should clean his room it does strongly imply that he could clean his room.”

    When I was a kid, the word should did not imply “could”. It implied “WILL”. I will clean my room, and I will pay my debts. Personal responsibility if I “WILL”-fully disobey my parents. I can’t blame that on God’s Sovereignty. God made me disobey my parents? Mom was God in my household. Either I obey her, or I got her wrath! So, I will clean my room, and when I am done, that is proof that I COULD! But the “will” came before the could…in my house, anyway!


    From the Gnostic Society Library:
    “Scholars have long debated the possible origins of the Gnostic movement, without conclusive results. There is evidence linking it from an **EARLY PERIOD IN THE CHRISTIAN ERA TO VARIOUS GREEK PHILOSOPHIES**, to currents within Judaism, to Egyptian religious systems influenced by Greek thinking, to Iranian ideas of good and evil as contending forces, and to the India-born mystical systems. We will here be concerned mainly with **GNOSTICS WHO CONSIDERED THEMSELVES CHRISTIANS, AND, MORE SPECIFICALLY, WITH CHRISTIAN GNOSTICISM** as reflected in the Thomas writings…..

    Gnosis was thought to lead to a **UNITIVE**, or mystical, experience in which the **COMPOSITE WORLD** would be left behind and a primordial, **UNDIFFERENTIATED ONENESS** regained.” -end quote

    Undifferentiated oneness – appears to be a key characteristic in the ancient Gnostic NeoPlatonist Christianity. Here the THEOS is called the “one”. He has created a COMPOSITE WORLD. His very nature and character is understood as UNDIFFERENTIATED ONENESS.

    Gnostic NeoPlatonic thinking is dualistic in nature. But a key characteristic appears to be found in the term UNDIFFERENTIATED.
    This dualism appears in what Augustine lovingly called “Antithesis”.

    Good-Evil, Right-Wrong, True-False, Light-Dark. These things appear not as separate entities but as COMPOSITE PAIRS, because they exist in UNDIFFERENTIATED form.

    Right and Wrong for example, exist as two sides of the divine dualism. Yes, they exit as antithetical to each other. But they are co-mingled into each other, and there is no clear line of demarcation between them. True and False exist in the same state – Light and Darkness – Good and Evil – Benevolence and Malevolence. These all exist as antithetical pairs, but in UNDIFFERENTIATED form.

    The THEOS who created this world, created it after his own image. He is UNDIFFERENTIATED. He is a COMPOSITE of Good and Evil, existing as co-mingled constituents within his oneness.

    Consider what a Gnostic NeoPlatonist Christian must hold as his understanding of his god. His god is both good and evil at the same time. And there is no clear line of demarcation between benevolence and malevolence.

    What does the Gnostic NeoPlatonist Christian see, when he looks at Christians who have a God who is only wonderfully benevolent. Like a loving nurturing father who tenderly cares for his children? This God is just yes – punishing evil acts when necessary. Allowing man to reap what he sows – or become bound in the fetters of his own sin. But this God is not malevolent like the Gnostic NeoPlatonist Christians god.

    We might have some compassion for the Gnostic NeoPlatonist Christian. Perhaps he is simply acting out from anger concerning his own situation? His god is not wonderfully benevolent like the other Christian’s God – how dare they have such a God!.

    His god is a COMPOSITE of benevolence and malevolence co-mingled together in UNDIFFERENTIATED form. His god ordains some to life and some to darkness. Some to glory, some to eternal flames. Some to salvation, some to continuous sin.

    Perhaps we should be more understanding when the Gnostic NeoPlatonist Christian points the finger of accusation at us, calls us heretics, and casts other pejoratives at us. Perhaps subconsciously, he longs to have a benevolent God like we have? Perhaps he feels he had to bite the bullet and embraced the TRUE good-evil deity. Perhaps he is angry because we have a God who is a benevolent loving father. Perhaps if you were in his shoes, you would be doing the same thing.

    ” The decree is dreadful indeed, I confess.” – John Calvin

  7. Excellent article! If only Calvinist apologists like James White could get this. Just last night I listened to him as he went on and on about “synergism” and “man-centered theology” and how these concepts at least partly define the “dividing line” between biblical and non-biblical theology. His main problem, I think, is that his “God-centered” theology has at its foundation a view of man that does not take into adequate consideration ALL that God says about man’s fallen condition. Yes, Scripture does describe sinners as being “dead,” but it also describes sinners as slaves, as prisoners, and as the sick needing a physician. It’s a problem when one focuses on only the one metaphor–our being “dead”–and interprets everything else accordingly. Of course a dead man is not capable of making any kind of decision, even regarding his own resurrection, but a sick man most certainly CAN both seek and accept medical treatment for his condition. And if a prisoner or slave is presented with terms for his freedom, he certainly CAN agree to the terms. And when he’s set free, he won’t say to his liberator, “We did it together, didn’t we? Just you and me; we’re quite a team!” NO! He is DEEPLY grateful for the freedom he now has and wants to show his thankfulness to his liberator.

      1. Just have one small question about being dead, that I believe is an important aspect of the topic. In order to be dead, one had to have been alive, FIRST. At least, that’s the natural order of things. Why is it taught that we are born dead, before we are made alive? This goes straight to the topic of what happens to babies if they die? Alive, then died, then alive again, AKA born AGAIN. Does anyone besides me see this? What is life? What is SPIRITUAL life? James 2:26. Life requires a spirit to live in a body. Spiritual life requires The Holy Spirit residing in your body, with your spirit. Life comes before death, not the other way around, right?

      2. C24,

        The topic of infant death and salvation is a very tricky one for Calvinists and they fall on differing positions. Their consistent position should be —what difference does age make? Chosen is chosen. Which is hard-liner Sproul’s position. But most of them find a linguistic-gymnastic way to dance around the issue since that sounds so harsh.

        I mean they do not want to promote a doctrine that says that babies are all unregenerated (although some do—saying that God keeps the ones He has chosen).

        But the basic tenets of Calvinism should enforce this position….. and really it is no different if the person is born or not born…infant or adult. Calvinists should just fess up to this. Just own it. God rejects the unchosen…. babies or not.

      3. Yep, and this is exactly the reason to bring it up. Paul in Romans 7 said that he was alive before he knew what sin was, and that he died once he knew. Adam died spiritually once he got knowledge, hence name of tree. And…later…working now…

      4. The real one that Calvinists cannot answer is Luke 15, the Prodigal Son.

        MacArthur went so far as to call it the parable of the Seeking Father….but he dialed that back in subsequent version since he realized how stupid that sounded. The father did not do any seeking!

        The “dead” son (Jesus referred to him twice that way) “came to his senses” “in a faraway land” and came to the father —-who was gracious….. and waiting.

      5. C24,
        It can be found many places and I have put the link the youtube video on a few of these comment pages. In an 87 min sermon, MacArthur spends about 15 mins telling how “dead” the son was to the father.

        Then …..later he quotes Romans 3:11 and says the son could not seek him —and is the father doing all the seeking. I scratched my head, since no one reading that story would see it that way.

        On his web site…. to show how far he will go to protect his presuppositions of Calvinism, he writes:

        “But here’s the heart of the whole parable, and this often gets missed because we focus too much on the sons when we ought to focus on the father because this whole parable is illustrating the seeking God…. Notice this, “But while he was still a long way off,” no sinner on his own can approach near to God. In fact, in the terms of Romans 3:11 no man even seeks after God. It’s not until God begins the work in the heart that the sinner even begins to initially seek. But the seeking sinner will always be seeking afar off unless God, the seeking God comes to that sinner. And you see it while the sinner is still a long way off, his father saw him. How did he see him? I’ll tell you how, I believe the father was out there every day doing what? Looking for him; morning, noon and night, watching into the distance from some high point on the ground to see if indeed his son might be coming back. And here is the picture of the seeking father. He sees that son a long way off and a father knows his son, even at a distance.”

        I mean you cant make this stuff up…. it’s hard to believe! He equates the son being in a “distant country” to the father seeing him down the road…. completely ignoring the fact that the son came the WHOLE way from the distant county (as a dead, non-seeking person).

        He even says, “to see if indeed his son might be coming back….” But oh, indeed he CANT be coming back—-since he is dead and cannot seek.

        MacArthur and I became Calvinists around the same time in the 70’s in So Cal (I attended his church). Here he demonstrates the silly idea that the father is the one seeking here!!

        This parable demonstrates the father’s level of compassion and forgiveness….. but he never leaves home — seeks the son—- forces him to come home irresistibly. The is one of the most significant blunders of MacArthur.

      6. Oh that’s funny. I’ll see if I can find that video tonight. If I can’t find it, I’ll get back to you. In the mean time, the word of the day is KNOWLEDGE. UNTIL you eat of that tree, you are not dead in your trespasses and sins. Romans 5:13, Romans 7. And also in Deuteronomy… children did not have knowledge of good and evil, and they got to go to promised land. Not sure if you realize, but the spiritual promised land is eternal life. No knowledge, no sin can be imputed. That’s also in Romans 4, too. Romans 3 states that the law is the knowledge of sin.

      7. I found the video last night… fell asleep thru half, but the half I did hear, he was all over the place, and it’s obvious that his exe-JESUS of the parable has nothing to do with the parable at all. His explanation is a complete different story than the simple words written that a 2 year old can easily understand. But also, here’s the thing. Flesh vs Spirit. I hate how the word REGENERATE and UNREHENERATE is applied in all of Calvinism, as well as many non-Calvinists, too, by the way. THOSE OF US who are not Calvinists or never even knew anything about Calvin to begin with don’t even use that word in our Christianese. Let me break it down in simple terms. You are a spirit and you live in a body that sins, whether or not you are saved. If you die, you can’t sin. There is no body. The only thing left is your spirit. If you are alive, you are gonna sin, no matter what. Christians sin, and that is living in the flesh. Therefore, Christians that live in the flesh are the ones who don’t please God…AND THESE ARE THE REGENERATE ONES. This is what the bible is discussing. Believers sinning, believers living in the flesh, believers not pleasing God, believers not spiritually discerning things. The saved living in the flesh. In other words, the SAVED struggling with sin. But…Calvinism and many non -Cals in your neck of the woods seem to call those people the unsaved non-regenetate people. NOT TRUE! They are the saved regenerate ones who struggle with sin, and give in to temptation, being weak. Paul dies daily, meaning getting rid of the body that sins, to live in the ghost (spirit). That is known as being dead to sin. The Calvinists, and many non’ s make things extremely complicated, and in doing so, seminary is a marketing tool, that only the elite educated can teach, cuz people like you and me are too stupid to understand. John MacArthur is way overrated. He puts his pants on the same way I do. He is not smarter than me with no seminary. Time. And Coffee is all that is needed, and is much cheaper.

      8. Oh, and I might also add that many in your neck of the woods don’t believe that they are a spirit to begin with. So it’s hard for them to understand the flesh (BODY)/spirit thing. Some believe that when the word, spirit is used, that it means tree Holy Spirit, or GOD. They don’t realize that the passage is speaking of them as a spirit, clothed or housed in a body (FLESH). Flesh sins, spirit does not sin.

    1. Vance,

      Sinners (unbelievers) are also called God-fearing and devout. Cornelius is called both in Acts 10…. and had a visible conversion later in the story.

      What was he before that conversion? “Too-dead” to make a choice? Why does the Word say this about him: “He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.”?

      That does not sound dead.

      Was that “devout enough” to save him? No.

      Was he “alive enough” to hear God’s call and call in turn say “What is it, Lord?” Yes.

      Calvinists have no answer for this.

      If Cornelius is too dead to hear….. he had to be regenerated first to be “devout” “God-fearing” and to say “What is it Lord?”

      But if he was regenerated to be able to do all that…. then how much time lapsed before he then later hears Peter’s message and receives Christ?

      Calvinist friends: at what time was Cornelius regenerated? Right at his salvation (like Sproul says)? If so, how was he “too-dead” and yet calling “Lord” and being devout and God-fearing? The Calvinist position is that before regeneration we are all God-hating, not God-fearing.

      1. Fromoverhere,

        If one insists on making the Cornelius account fit the Calvinistic model, then one would have to read the account in a way that’s comparable with whittling corners off pieces of a puzzle to make the pieces fit. Do that, and you end up with a strange looking picture. Also, if one wants to figure out a way to put regeneration nearer the beginning of the Cornelius story, one may have to redefine regeneration, and it would be helpful to ignore or minimize texts such as Acts 11:14-17 and 15:7-9, which refer back to the event described in 10:44ff. In these, we find that the angel told Cornelius that Peter “will tell you words by which you and all your household *will be saved*” (11:14). We also find Peter stating that “God gave them the same gift as He gave us *when we believed* on the Lord Jesus Christ” (11:17). Sounds to me like regeneration took place when Cornelius and his companions believed the words Peter told them.

      2. Vance,
        You know that… and I know that regeneration took place when he believed.

        The problem for Calvinists (and it’s a big one) is they must put his regeneration immediately before his believing (a la Sproul)… and yet Cornelius is known well as “God-fearing” (not God-hating), “devout” (doing some good things; certainly not doing ONLY evil ALL the time… in any case), and speaking to God calling him “Lord.”

        These were all things that he did long before the regeneration-precedes-faith-but-RIGHT-before-faith idea.

    2. Hey Vance,
      I think you miss the point of the analogy of men. Being sick, a prisoner or a slave is for the sinner not something he is sad about and all he is dreaming about is when will he be rescued from his chains and finally be delivered from his illness. Calvinists argued that men in his natural state has no desire to turn away from his sin, live under the lordship of christ and trust in him and is finished work alone.

      You have to argue that men, in his natural state can indeed search and desire the lordship and finished work of christ and freedom of sin apart from the regenerating work of the holy spirit.

  8. It seems I am a little late in posting this reply based on the date of the last comment but hopefully someone will check in and see this. I recall reading this article when it was originally posted and wanting to respond but I never got around to making a comment. In fact, this is my first time commenting on Soteriology 101 so take it easy on me. In full disclosure, I am a Sovereign Grace Baptist, which some would describe as a Reformed or Calvinistic Baptist (although I had never heard those terms until the last five years or so).

    I want to graciously point out a contradiction and a fallacy based on a “strawman” argument in this article. The contradiction relates to the primary subject of the article – “Does SHOULD Always Imply COULD?”. The author seems to answer his own question in the 4th paragraph, which concludes with the statement “In this instance, it certainly does seem that SHOULD does not imply COULD.” If I understand it correctly, this statement is in opposition to Dr. Flower’s previous arguments that responsibility always implies ability (respons”able”). The author then describes the Calvinistic argument beginning with the logical statements of “1.God tells man they SHOULD keep all the commandments…2.Man CANNOT keep all the commandments.” While he later describes this Calvinistic argument as fallacious, I must assume he believes the fallacy is in Part 4 of the argument since Parts 1, 2 and 3 are consistent with what is stated elsewhere in article. The contradiction comes in the implication of the question “Why do Calvinists insist that SHOULD doesn’t imply COULD when it comes to the Biblical revelation?” This question implies that the Calvinist’s (or, in my case, Sovereign Grace Baptist’s) insistence is unfounded when in fact the author has already stated that there is Biblical revelation showing SHOULD doesn’t always imply COULD. The author also positively cites a reference (#4) which states that “ought implies can” and “the principle of ought implies can perseveres”. These statements are inconsistent with the author’s own statement that “inability does not remove responsibility and thus SHOULD does not mean that one necessarily COULD.”

    The author also builds a “strawman” with the Calvinistic argument that I referenced earlier. The full argument is stated as:
    1.God tells man they SHOULD keep all the commandments.
    2.Man CANNOT keep all the commandments.
    3.God also tells man they SHOULD believe and repent for breaking commandments.
    4.Therefore man also CANNOT believe and repent for breaking commandments.
    I do not know of any sound Calvinist or Reformed theologian that would make this argument. I believe the following argument is more consistent with what Scripture and what Dr. Grudem is saying in his quote:
    1.God tells man they SHOULD keep all the commandments, including the command to repent and believe the Gospel.
    2.Man CANNOT keep all the commandments and do anything pleasing to God because he is dead in trespasses and sins.
    The only time a Calvinist or Reformed theologian might use any semblance of the first argument is in response to the Traditionalist or Arminian argument that SHOULD always implies COULD or responsibility always implies ability. They would not start with that argument as their basic premise. We can certainly debate the proper Biblical understanding of man’s natural condition but this “strawman” is a fallacious representation of the Reformed argument.

    Lastly, I want to address something from the last section of the article. While it is not directly stated this way, the implication is that the lack of ability removes responsibility – if someone can’t believe then they can’t be held accountable for their unbelief. Let’s use similar argumentation and apply it to another article recently posted on Soteriology 101 regarding Prevenient Grace. The author of the Prevenient Grace article is identified only as “admin” so I assume this is Dr. Flowers or at least posted per his instructions. In this article, it is stated that “God’s gracious means to enable faith IS the Gospel.” The general premise of the article is that man does not need Prevenient Grace (as in the case of Arminian doctrine) or Effectual or Saving Grace (as in the case of Calvinistic doctrine) because the Holy Spirit-inspired Gospel is the means of grace. The implication of this is that man still needs something to enable faith, whether it be the Gospel, Prevenient Grace, or Effectual Grace. Based on this understanding, here might be the Traditionalist argument:
    1.God tells man that he SHOULD exercise faith to repent and believe the Gospel in order to be saved.
    2.Man CANNOT produce faith in and of himself.
    3.The preaching of the Gospel is God’s gracious means to enable faith so that man CAN repent and believe the GOSPEL.
    4.Any man that has not heard the preaching of the Gospel CANNOT repent and believe.
    5.Therefore any man that has not heard the Gospel is not responsible to repent and believe and cannot be held accountable for his unbelief.
    Maybe I have created a “strawman” with this argument but it is the same kind of logical argumentation that leads to fallacies and misunderstandings about the beliefs of others. It is also the kind of argumentation that leads to inclusivism and even universalism.

    1. Why would God stand before a cemetery over and over again demanding that those therein turn to Him in faith and obedience? Does that not make God look absurd? Is there any valid legal system on earth wherein you are held responsible for things you are unable to do because you happen to be dead?

      1. Person,
        Thanks for jumping in.

        Not only does Christ stand in front of the tombstones….He tells us to. He tells us to preach to all tombstones….that they can and should come to Him if they are weak and weary, and He will give them rest.

        We are to preach that God loves them (but likely, statistically He does not)

        We are to preach that Christ died for them (Piper: but not in the same way as He did for the elect).

        Then…. when we come to Christ, the same “dead” and “buried” words are used about us in relation to sin…. but somehow that “dead” does not mean incapable. How convenient.

      2. People argue and argue and argue the matter, going into degrees of detail that makes me just plain tired. Personally, for me, all I need to hear is: “Babies go to hell!” And I’m going, “No, they don’t. That’s sick. Get me out of this madhouse.”

      3. Person,
        Not sure how you got to babies from there, but Calvinist leader Sproul “believes that the children of believers who die in infancy go to heaven by the special grace of God. What happens to the children of unbelievers is left to the realm of mystery. There may be a special provision of God’s grace for them as well. We can certainly hope for that.”


        I always love the “we can hope for that” part… as if hoping / praying makes any difference in a determined-fatalist-Calvinist world. But hey…. it always sounds nice!

      4. I can imagine some asking a similar question about 2,000 years ago. “Why is this homeless son of a carpenter from Nazareth standing in front of the tomb of a man who has been dead for days? How absurd!” In response, I simply echo the words of Paul “God chose what is foolish (absurd) in the world to shame the wise…so that no human being might boast in the presence of God….Let the one who boasts, boasts in the Lord.”

      5. MT,
        Your example does not work.

        A better one would be: Why does He stretch His arms out to ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem….how I longed to gather you…but you would not,’ when He never called them in the first place. or…

        “Come to me ALL who labor and are heavy laden ….” when He only means a few.

        That’s a bit more absurd.

  9. Chapman posted this one:

    “Oh, and I might also add that many in your neck of the woods don’t believe that they are a spirit to begin with. So it’s hard for them to understand the flesh (BODY)/spirit thing. Some believe that when the word, spirit is used, that it means tree Holy Spirit, or GOD. They don’t realize that the passage is speaking of them as a spirit, clothed or housed in a body (FLESH). Flesh sins, spirit does not sin.”

    ———— Here’s My Response ————-

    The claim of Chapman that : The “spirit of man does not sin” – contradicts the teachings of the Apostle Paul as stated in I Thess. 5:23 “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely and may your whole SPIRIT, soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

    It is God who is responsible in the sanctification (making holy) man’s spirit, soul and body. Chapman only believes the body (flesh) as the one that sins. Chapman cannot afford to deny and argue with Paul on this issue. The readers here at SOT will put their trust in Paul’s words rather than Chapman/s unfounded claims.

  10. FOH, the Pelagian have posted this one:

    “Sinners are also wandering sheep—- and they can wander home.”

    ———– Here’s My Response ————–

    FOH’s claim that a wandering sheep can come home on their own – contradicts the Parable of the lost sheep. The shepherd has to leave the 99 to go after the 1(one) that was lost, not vice versa. The lost sheep has to be lifted from the pit and needs to be carried on the shoulder of the Shepherd in their way back home together with the 99. It is very clear here that the lost sheep is incapable to come back home by himself alone except when there is divine intervention made for him by God. The lost sheep is spiritually dead, not physically dead as being watered down by Chapman and FOH as their tactics to confuse and be able to paint a bad image for their opponents.

    FOH cannot afford to deny and argue with Jesus Christ concerning the truths revealed in this parable concerning Divine intervention. It is God who is in-charge in the salvation of sinners, not Man.

    1. FOH,
      Are you saying the resurrection of Lazarus is not an example of something the natural man would describe as “absurd” or “foolish”? You may be thinking that I used this example because Calvinists typically equate Lazarus’ resurrection with the spiritual regeneration of someone dead in their sins. While I do believe there is a connection, my point was there are lots of things in God’s Word that might be described as foolishness or absurdity by the world. We should not base whether something is true or not on whether it seems absurd to our human reasoning.

      If you or Person wants to demonstrate from Scripture that God doesn’t bring spiritually dead men to spiritual life I would love to discuss but I’m not sure how one would dispute Ezekiel’s prophecy “The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath[a] enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

      1. MT,
        Let’s stick with Lazarus.

        Absurd to stand there and call out…. true.

        When Lazarus comes out… amazing. It is still absurd? Well, yeah, but he backed it up “by the many miracles He performed” (stated about Him in many places).

        In John 10 Christ says, “….even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.”

        So it is “foolishness” to everyone …. until it’s not.

        So, dozens (hundreds) of people standing around thinking….”Foolishness” at first. Then resurrection of Lazarus….and Christ words in nearby John 10 saying…. you can/ should believe because of these miracles.

        None of that points to inability to believe…”too dead-ness”… total depravity.

        Christ is stating that they have everything they need —even miracles— to believe in Him. No special given-faith needed.

        Why would He say those words (“at least believe cuz you are seeing these mighty works”) if it was all dependent on given-faith? There is no reason for Christ to challenge people to believe (if He knows He has not given them faith) or to taunt them for not believing when He knows they have no choice in the matter.

        Thanks for discussing this.

      2. FOH,
        God uses means to accomplish His plans and purposes. The means include commands/exhortations/pleas by Jesus and the apostles to repent and believe the gospel. The means include miracles and signs to legitimize their preaching and teaching. If what they heard and saw was all they needed to believe, then why did so many not believe? Why did so many refuse to see what is so clear – that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. the One who came to save His people from their sins, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world? I believe Jesus Himself answered those questions in John 6 and John 12, among other places. I think you are familiar enough with those passages to know what answers I’m referring to.

        Do you believe that the death of Christ was God’s eternal plan or a contingency plan dependent on whether Adam and Eve chose to sin? If you believe it was God’s eternal plan, which I think is clear from Scripture, then the crucifixion demonstrates that God’s sovereign plans and purposes must be carried out in time and by the means He has ordained. Just because God has ordained that men must be given faith to believe doesn’t negate the necessity for that faith to be given in time through the proclamation of the Gospel and the regenerating work of the Spirit. Jesus pleaded with men to see what He had done as evidence that He was who said He was because it was His Father’s will to use those means to bring about the work of salvation.

      3. MT,

        I appreciate your position. I held it myself for a time (got on the wave with MacArthur back in the late 70’s). So did Leighton, the author of this blog. For me, it just did not hold up to my daily reading of Scripture that asks so much of man (both redeemed and unredeemed man).

        If you like, on these pages, you can see my hundreds of posts quoting hundreds of passages as I make my way through Scripture (no longer relying on the 40-50 used and re-used passages that determinism is built on).

        I have come to realize that it is okay that a person (you) want those passages to back up what you want to be true.

        I no longer want a certain thing to be true, and have found the reading of Scripture to be quite refreshing!

        When I see God tell Cain “Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”….. I believe he could have and should have ruled over it! It was possible. Determinism teaches that it was not.

        You asked… “If what they heard and saw was all they needed to believe, then why did so many not believe?” What? I think humans (and today’s political climate) would demonstrate that plenty of people dont believe (or wanna believe) things right in front of their eyes.

        Even two Calvinists (MacArthur and Sproul) will teach that Scripture “clearly teaches” X (opposing positions) about infant baptism…

        Even two Calvinists (MacArthur and Piper) will teach that Scripture “clearly teaches” X (opposing positions) about the gifts….

        Even two Calvinists (Mr X and Mr Y) will teach that Scripture “clearly teaches” X (opposing positions) about Israel, end times, and dispensationalism…

        It’s only because you come to the Scripture with “irresistible grace” as a given that you can ask that above question.

        The Young Ruler “sought” Christ. The passage tells us that Christ loved him and called him…. but he resisted just fine. Why?

        My answer…. will, pride, fear….whatever. Could have followed Christ’s call, but didn’t. (Like Cain)

        Determinist answer: He was not “really called” by Christ (although to anyone looking on it would appear to be a sincere calling of a loving Christ).

        For me…. and I realize that it likely wont make a difference to you …. but for me, my Calvinism rendered meaningless all the thousands of warnings (Cain), pleadings (Israel), and offers (young ruler) from God if He didn’t really offer them…. didn’t really mean it cuz He didnt give them the extra-ability to do what He said.

        You may have the last word, but I think my thoughts (and answers) are easily findable in my hundreds of posts in these pages

      4. FOH,
        I have read a number of your posts over the last several months but I honestly can’t remember specific things you said and don’t want to misrepresent you. I hate for you to have to be redundant but I just don’t have time to go back and search for what you have said on these specific issues. I’m not asking you to rehash everything but I would appreciate it if you could just respond to the questions I raised about the crucifixion and Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones. I believe the crucifixion helps resolve the issue of “determinism” leading to fatalism. Also, in hindsight, I recognize that Ezekiel’s prophecy is a better example than Lazarus’ resurrection in response to Person’s charge that God calling out to a cemetery is “absurd” because that is almost exactly what Ezekiel is describing.

        I appreciate the graciousness you have shown to me as a “newbie” to commenting on SOT 101. However, I do think there are a few things you have said that I don’t think are helpful to the conversation. The first is the contrast of differing positions among Calvinists. I’m not sure I understand your point here because the same thing can certainly be said about Traditionalists/Arminians. In fact, there seem to be some differences even among you, Leighton, Brian, BR.D., Chapman, and others on that side of the discussion.

        Secondly, the presumption that the only reason I come to the conclusions I do on Scripture is because of tradition or preconceived ideas is unfounded. You don’t really know my background and although I grew up in a Sovereign Grace Baptist church, I attended a Free Will Baptist Christian school and a Free Will Baptist college where I was taught much about classical and Wesleyan Arminianism. I made a profession of faith when I was 6 or 7 (when I was led in the “sinner’s prayer” by my Free Will Baptist first grade teacher) but was not genuinely brought to a saving knowledge of Christ until my 30s when I returned to my Sovereign Grace roots after spending years under “synergistic” teaching. Also, I know numerous people, including my wife, who grew up in non-Calvinist churches but came to believe in the doctrines of grace by simply reading through the Scriptures. I’ve read many accusations of arrogance on the part of “Calvinists” by you and others on this site but I humbly contend that the assertion that those who simply read the text will come to your understanding is pretty arrogant.

        Lastly, I’m not a really a big fan of philosophical labels like “determinism”. I know this may sound arrogant but I try to use Scriptural language as much as possible. I recognize that you and I are going to have a different understanding of those Scriptures but I prefer to say that “The LORD does whatever pleases Him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths” and He “works all things according to the counsel of His will”. You can describe that as “determinism” if you like or even accuse me of proof-texting but that is the only way I know how to contend for the faith – with Biblical language rather than philosophical.

        Also, I don’t care one bit about having the last word – my desire is that He does.

      5. FOH,
        A comment about the idea that simply reading through Scriptures without bias or prejudice leads to a “synergistic” understanding of soteriology. My pastor has been teaching through the books of Genesis and Matthew for the last several months. One of the clearest things that has arisen in those chapter-by-chapter, verse-by-verse expositions of God’s Word is Yahweh “working all things according to the counsel of His will.” We are now in the middle of the Joseph account at the end of Genesis and without even getting to the “proof-text” of Genesis 50 we have seen how God was working in every circumstance to accomplish His purpose – for the children of Israel to be preserved during a time of famine so that God’s plan of placing them under Egyptian bondage (as promised to Abraham in the Abrahamic covenant) would be fulfilled. God could then be glorified in His amazing deliverance of His people from bondage. Of course, the ultimate purpose of God’s preservation and deliverance of His people was to ensure that the Messiah would come through the nation of Israel. God’s hand of providence is clearly seen in God blessing Joseph in Potipher’s house and in prison as well as the obedience and submission to God’s will of Joseph when he spurned the advances of Potipher’s wife and when he gave God the credit for his ability to interpret dreams. We also see God’s blessing on Judah for his self-sacrificial willingness to take Benjamin’s place when Joseph threatened to take Benjamin as a slave. But what about the immature arrogance of young Joseph when he bragged about his special coat and his dreams, which led to the jealousy and deceit of Joseph’s brothers when they sold him into slavery? Or the lust and lies of Potipher’s wife and the resulting anger of Potipher which ended with Joseph in prison? Were all of those things not part of God working out all things according to the counsel of His will? Or was God sitting in heaven on pins and needles waiting to see if all the autonomous, free will choices of dozens of different people worked out the way He hoped? Again, I’ll let Scripture provide the answer – as Joseph said in Genesis 50:20 “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

        There’s a lot I could say about God, in and through Jesus Christ, working out all things according to the counsel of His will to ensure that the death, burial, and resurrection happened exactly as He had planned and had been prophesied by dozens of men over hundreds of years before Jesus was even born but I’ll try to be brief. Our pastor has described the events leading up to Christ’s passion as the King orchestrating His coronation. One account in particular demonstrates this truth. In the beginning of Matthew 26, Jesus boldly declares to His disciples that He would be crucified during the Passover celebration. Immediately following, there is the record of a meeting of the Sanhedrin in which they are plotting to arrest and kill Jesus but they decide it would be best to wait until after the Passover feast to avoid a riot among the people. What is Jesus going to do now? He just said he’s going to be crucified during the Passover but the ones who are going to kill Him are planning to wait. Did the King sit back and hope they exercised their libertarian free wills to change their minds? Not according to Matthew. Instead, King Jesus used the beautiful worship of a godly woman to essentially “trigger” Judas’ in his greed and hatred so he would go to the chief priests and offer to betray Jesus and immediately start looking for an opportunity to do so. So did Jesus cause Judas to sin so that He would be sure to be crucified according to the exact timing and plan of His Father? Again, I’ll leave refer to a couple of more “proof-texts” for the answer: as Peter described in Acts 2 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men”; and, the church prayed in Acts 4 “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed—for truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place.”

        If that’s what you describe as determinism, then I gladly accept the label.

      6. Hi Mark… I appreciate your gracious dialog. You’ve mentioned Eph 1:11 a few times. And I believe you are assuming an eternal immutable predestination of all things before creation underlying that verse. There is no clear verse in Scripture to support that assumption.

        Here’s my view of Ephesians 1:11 NKJV — In Him also we have obtained [when we are placed in Him through faith] an inheritance, being predestined [for that inheritance at that same moment we were placed in Him through faith] according to the purpose [whether conditional or unconditional] of Him who works [right now in the present] all things [that is, works with all things, not causing all things personally, because He doesn’t cause sin] according to the counsel [plan with its conditional and unconditional elements] of His will [desire… which includes wanting all to be saved and coming to a knowledge of the truth but not irresistibly caused].

        I hope this helps. Some things have been or are being planned unconditionally. And many things remain conditional for future planning, God knowing perfectly all the possibilities to choose between.

      7. Nice of you to pick that up Brian.

        I said I was giving him the last word since I feel like I have already (many place) dealt with the Genesis / Joseph idea (that he said he would not use as a proof-text, but then did).

        Anyway….I appreciate that you responded.

      8. FOH,
        I’m at a loss as to how I can use Scripture to discuss these issues without being accused of proof-texting. I tried to lay a contextual foundation before referencing those so-called “proof-texts”. Also, I think you are being a little hypocritical when you have referenced several of the common synergistic proof-texts like Matt. 23:37, Matt. 11:28, the Rich Young Ruler, and Cain in our brief conversation.

        I would really like to know your perspective on the questions I raised regarding the crucifixion and the valley of dry bones. If you have addressed those issues elsewhere on SOT101, please point me in the general direction of those discussions so I at least have a place to start looking.

        What’s up with the idea that I want to have the last word? This started with me responding to a comment you interjected into a conversation between me and Person.

      9. Brian,
        Glad to have you in the conversation and appreciate the detailed explanation of your understanding of Eph. 1:11. I will hopefully provide a more thorough response in the near future. In the meantime, I do believe that Eph. 1:11 and other texts of Scripture teach that God has an eternal, immutable plan of redemption that He is working out in time for His glory and our good. I admit I am unable to fully comprehend exactly how an eternal, omniscient Creator who lives outside of time interacts in time with His creation. I’m not sure we can apply our human understanding of causation to how God works.

        I’ve previously stated that I’m not big on labels but if I had to apply a label to my understanding of this interaction it would be compatibilism. I’m sure you’ve explained it elsewhere but please refresh my memory on your view of omniscience. Some of things you say sound like Molinism or a similar perspective.

      10. Hi Mark, if you believe “that Eph. 1:11 and other texts of Scripture teach that God has an eternal, immutable plan” – don’t you think it/they should say words that mean either “eternal” or “immutable” so that you won’t be accused of reading those ideas into that verse/those verses?

        And would you consider that the reason you “admit [you are] unable to fully comprehend exactly how an eternal, omniscient Creator who lives outside of time interacts in time with His creation” is because there are no clear verses that describe God that way?

        I believe the Scripture teaches clearly dynamic omniscience, that God’s mind conforms univocally to His Word. Since His Word clearly describes the future as partly “will bes” and partly “might bes”, that it how the future is in God’s mind. There’s much more to say… including that the eternal reality is clearly described in Scripture as sequential. But enough for now. Thanks for the question.

      11. Brian,
        Sorry for the delay in responding. In your last comment to me, you asked the question “if you believe “that Eph. 1:11 and other texts of Scripture teach that God has an eternal, immutable plan” – don’t you think it/they should say words that mean either “eternal” or “immutable” so that you won’t be accused of reading those ideas into that verse/those verses?” Hebrews 6:17-18 describe the unchanging nature or immutability of God’s purpose. It is clear from the context that the purpose described as unchanging and immutable is His purpose of salvation and this immutability is what gives us hope. The Greek word for “purpose” used in Hebrews 6:17 is the same Greek word translated “plan” or “counsel” in Acts 2:23, Acts 4:28, and Ephesians 1:11. This word is used other places in the NT to describe plans or decisions that are not necessarily eternal or immutable. However, in the passages in Acts and Ephesians, the plan, purpose, or counsel of God is qualified by words and phrases such as “predetermined”, “foreknowledge”, and “predestined”. So is there a verse or verses that explicitly describe God’s plan or purpose of redemption as “eternal”? No, but these verses do describe His purpose and plan as prior to the events that are being described and prior to the actions of those involved in those events. I just can’t read the certainty of those texts and arrive at the conclusion that they are describing God as choosing between possibilities based on some dynamic omniscience that might change depending on whether fallen human beings satisfy or don’t satisfy certain conditions. For me, the unchanging nature of His predestined plan is “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”

      12. Thank you Mark for your thoughtful reply. The Scripture clearly teaches conditions set by God. The issue is not a plan that is only conditional to work out only uncertain ways or only unconditional to work out only one certain way.

        As you said – “This word [purpose] is used other places in the NT to describe plans or decisions that are not necessarily eternal or immutable.” I see clearly that some plans are everlasting and immutable. Once saved always saved is an immutable part of that plan. That of course puts certain boundaries upon the exercise of freewill.

        But God’s mind/plans conform exactly with His Word, with some future events as “will be” and some as “might be”. This is His sovereign design.

      13. Brian,
        It’s a pleasure to have a respectful dialogue with someone that doesn’t use strawmen or ad hominem attacks. If you ever find me doing that, please graciously correct me.

        You stated “some plans are everlasting and immutable” and some “are not necessarily eternal or immutable”. For sake of discussion, let’s focus on God’s plan of redemption. Do you believe that some aspects of that plan are “everlasting and immutable” and some “are not necessarily eternal or immutable”? I’m not quoting you to be redundant but just to make sure I am using language you are in agreement with. I believe the passages in Acts 2 and 4 clearly indicate that Christ’s death, which is the lynchpin and cornerstone of the redemptive work, was predestined. I think I understand you as saying that the immutability described in Hebrews 6 relates to the OSAS aspect of God’s saving purpose. However, the writer of Hebrews clearly connects that immutability to Christ’s mediatorial work, which was accomplished and enabled through His predestined, preordained death. So I see God as having one singular purpose and plan of redemption, which is immutable and predestined in all its aspects. This plan and purpose of the Father has been and is being worked out in time through the covenant of Abraham (in all its facets), the prophesied and completed work of the Son, and the calling and salvation of sinners through the means of gospel proclamation and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.

        Not sure where you stand on the conditionality or unconditionality of the Abrahamic covenant and I would imagine my description of how God saves sinners might be open for discussion, so let’s narrow our focus to the purpose and plan of Christ’s work of redemption (which includes His death, burial, resurrection, and intercession). As previously stated, I see Scripture as clearly describing that plan as immutable and predestined. A passage that has not been referenced but may be the most clear of all is 1 Peter 1:17-21: “If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown (or foreordained) before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.”

        I think we gain insight from Jesus’ interaction, as a man, with His Father’s plan (or will) for Him to go to the cross regarding how the apparently conditional statements in Scripture are not conditional in the sense of how God sees them but rather in how man perceives them as conditional (and how God condescends to man in describing them as conditional). In His prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus says “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will” and “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” Did Jesus actually see His death as a possibility, as something conditional on His obedience and submission to the will of the Father? Or is He, as a man, recognizing that the Father has graciously condescended to men in giving them the opportunity and privilege to submit to His will and be used as the means to accomplish His (predestined and immutable) plan and purpose? I think Jesus’ attitude and actions leading up to the cross turn any idea that determinism leads to fatalism on its head. Jesus knew that His Father had planned and purposed (determined) for Him to die at Calvary but instead of responding with fatalism, He responded with obedience. Just because someone believes that something is predetermined or preordained by God (such as I believe is the case with the salvation of elect sinners) doesn’t necessarily lead them to fatalism as has often been implied in posts and comments on this site.

        Lastly, I would say that God’s Word conforms exactly and univocally with His mind/plans but His Word does not communicate every detail of those plans. At the end Deuteronomy 29, Moses tells the children of Israel “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law”. This tells me that Yahweh has secret things (aspects of His plan and purpose) that are not fully revealed to us and we are only responsible for the things He has revealed to us in His Word.

      14. Thank you Mark for your thoughful reply. I probably will endeavor to be brief. Let start where you finished. If you concede God’s Word “conforms exactly and univocally” with His mind, no matter the unrevealed secrets, would you also say His mind conforms univocally to His Word… just to be clear.

        For if you do then you concede God is presently thinking about what might be for the future and not just what will be. That being true, imo, then the foreknown (loved) Son was conditionally set before creation to pay for all sins after creation, if Adam might sin and for all the possible sinning that would flow from it.

        When Adam did freely choose to sin that conditionally planned payment became a predestined one, and then details of how that payment would be made were also revealed gradually through the ages. That progressive revelation does not confirm a eternally immutable plan to work out only one way, but to work out at least with those revealed unconditional events, no matter when they were added to the plan.

        But the Son understood, as a divinely wise human, that everything in the divine plan was not eternally immutably predestined from before creation to only work out one way.

        Thus, as more of the cup was revealed to Christ in the garden, in His divine human wisdom He asked for a true possible change. My request was not to not fulfill the crucifixion to pay for sins but, imo, was to not be separated from the Father in that payment.

        I hope what I’ve shared briefly adequately covers the main points which you shared.

  11. “I do believe that Eph. 1:11 and other texts of Scripture teach that God has an eternal, immutable plan of redemption that He is working out in time for His glory and our good.”

    MT, my Brother:

    I agree with your statement above. The apostle Paul has only a single idea concerning the plan of immutable salvation of man. He cannot teach one doctrine then teach another doctrine to contradict the first one. Take a look at this verse as a supporting verse of Eph.1:11 – with the Apostle Paul as the same author.

    1. II Tim, 1:9 Who hath saved us, [past tense, not present tense or present progressive] and called us [past tense, not present tense or present progressive tense-the verb called] with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ BEFORE THE WORLD BEGAN.

    Who is the author of the verse? – Answer is : the Apostle Paul, same author of Eph. 1:11
    What is he talking in the verse ? – Answer is : about salvation and God’s calling
    Who is being referred to by the pronoun US? – Answer is : both elect Israel and Gentile believers
    What kind of Salvation and Calling has been made by God to sinners? – Answer is ” a holy calling not according to our works, but according to His (God) own purpose and grace.

    When did God acted to call and save us ? – Answer is : “Before the world began” [meaning not present time or present progressive time]

    The question being hurled to this claim is : Were you alive already before the foundation of the world? . My answer is YES !, Why?

    a. Because I believe that the soul and spirit of Man is immortal. Both two components of man already existed with God before the physical body of man was created.

    The souls and spirit of all of us debating here has been in existence already with God outside of time. This is being affirmed by the Apostle Paul when he said: “For I was alive without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. (Romans 7:9)

    – According to Paul he was already alive before the law. This could be impossible because Paul was not yet alive [his physical body] by the time the law was given by God to Moses. But, what he is referring to here is of his own soul and spirit from eternity past.

    – Paul has become dead spiritually [sin infected] already at the time his soul and spirit has been infused to the [earthly body] fertilized egg and sperm coming from his human sin infected parents during sexual intercourse.

    – Paul’s sin virus remains dormant while developing inside the womb of his mother and has been activated later after birth.

    b. God has already acted, determined before the foundation of the world on whose names He is going to write and not to write in the book of life of the Lamb. Rev. 13:8 and Rev. 17:8

    2. There are other Pauline and Petrine Epistles that supports to God’s act of determining the Salvation of the elect outside of time, i.e:

    Eph. 1:4 According as He chosen us in Him BEFORE THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.

    Titus 1:2 In hope of eternal life, which God cannot lie, promised BEFORE THE WORLD BEGAN.

    I Peter 1:20 Who verily was foreordained BEFORE THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD but was manifest in these last days.

    1. Jtle – There is an “achilles heel” in your argument that goes against clear Scripture – you said: “When did God acted to call and save us ? – Answer is : ‘Before the world began’”.

      Did we lose that calling and salvation somewhere along the line, because after “the world began” were are clearly described as lost, children of wrath, not His people or beloved?

      In 2Tim 2:9 Paul is only describing that his being saved, which happened years before (past tense) was “according to His own purpose” which the Scripture clearly reveals is a “purpose” with conditional elements in it.

      And the phrase “given us in Christ” is an example of pronoun of general reference with anachronistic meaning. The Son was given that grace back then to share with all who might later be placed “in Him”.

      Eph 1, 4

      Determinists have always tried to read too much into that verse that Paul wrote in a context about blessings we now have, now that we are in Christ. Some of those blessings were given to Him before creation, to be shared with all who would later be joined to Him.

      The pronoun “us” is being used in a general reference, anachronistic sense, like me saying – “We chased the Native Americans before the Revolution so that they would live west of the Appalachian Mtn range.”

      Another similar example would be the Levites in David’s day who were chosen to carry the ark. David said, as recorded in 1Chr 15:2 – “No one but the Levites may carry the ark of God, because the Lord chose them to carry the ark of the Lord and to minister before him forever.”

      Any Levite that day could have said to another Levite – “God chose us in Aaron, before Israel entered the promised land, to carry the ark of the Lord and to minister before him forever.” Of course, he would not have had the ridiculous thought that God had his name written down in a book during Aaron’s time, along with the names of all future Levites. He would not think that he individually or physically would be ministering before the Lord forever in this special task as a priest. He would just be using the “us” as a pronoun of reference with a corporate connection because of the promise made to Aaron, and because of his being added into Aaron’s lineage by physical birth.

      We say, with Paul, we have the same privileges granted to the Son of God before creation that go to any in His lineage, since we are now joined to Him by spiritual birth through our personal faith. We now have the blessing to stand holy and blameless before God as one of God’s chosen in the Chosen One – Christ.

      Questions to ask a determinist:
      When God supposedly “chose” you before creation, where you unchosen at some point and then chosen? What did God see when He supposedly chose you… just your name, your life up to the point where He decided He wanted to get involved noticeably to you, your whole life forever and all His involvement in it already? What did “you” mean when He chose “you” back then before you existed?

  12. “Did we lose that calling and salvation somewhere along the line, because after “the world began” were are clearly described as lost, children of wrath, not His people or beloved?”

    Hi, Brian :

    Of all the debaters here at the other side of the Non-Calvinist, It is you that I give most due respect including the ideas you present here. As what I’ve said before, I can feel the Love of Christ in you despite of the differences between us in our belief. I consider you as my Big Brother in Christ. I cannot say any bad thing to you and your ideas presented here, but I just want to answer honestly coming from my heart.

    My answer to the above quote is:

    I think we have lost that calling and salvation starting from the time Adam and Eve’s fall to sin. That fall to me is part of God’s futuristic plan including the time when we come to Christ in faith as the fulfillment of that previous act of calling and salvation.
    Questions to ask a determinist:
    1. When God supposedly “chose” you before creation, where you unchosen at some point and then chosen? 2. What did God see when He supposedly chose you… just your name, your life up to the point where He decided He wanted to get involved noticeably to you, your whole life forever and all His involvement in it already? 3. What did “you” mean when He chose “you” back then before you existed?

    1. I think YES, I was already chosen, [not unchosen]. I believe that nothing escapes from the knowledge of God because His knowledge is not time bound. My immortal spirit and soul already existed in Him even before my dust body was formed inside my mother’s womb. He just choose me once not twice.

    2. I think God already knows the whole of me, not only my name but all of the details of my life. He knows all of these because He is the One who perfectly crafted that plan for me since eternity past. A plan that is crafted by a perfect God and was worn to a finite being like me. Majority of the details of His plan surprises me by the time it comes already.

    I think He had already seen all of the futuristic events that are included in His plan for my life. I can say that there are no longer surprises in God because he has already known all of these things from eternity past.

    3. When He had chosen me [My immortal soul and spirit] back then since I existed, to figure it out : I think it was just like a prophecy that will surely come to pass in the future. The legal aspect of my salvation just came in by the time Christ has atoned for my sins at the cross of Calvary. The actuality of that salvation occurred in me dated : December 11, 1980 – the time when I was regenerated and was able to come to Him in faith.

    1. Thank you Jtle for your kind words and answers to my questions. So since you believe your and my salvation was lost “starting from the time of Adam and Eve’s fall to sin”, then it appears you believe that our salvation was not immutable or eternal, but in your view, it was from everlasting, then lost in Adam until you and I were placed in Christ, and then continuing on forever from there. Would that be a fair restatement of your view?

      And as far as the individual “souls and spirit of all of us debating here have been in existence already with God outside of time”… does that mean you think we are individual beings that have always existed, or did God create souls and spirits at some point before creation? Thanks.

      1. Yes Brian, I agree to the 1st paragraph as your restatement of my idea. As far s the 2nd paragraph of your post above, I tend to believe that our souls and spirits were creations of God at some point before the world was created. I am not comfortable to believe the other option – (always existed, it seems co-equal with God). I admit that I cannot show clear, specific verses that will support this claim. I am willingly submitting myself to God for this if I am mistaken and will just choose to remain silent if corrected.

        Thank you also for your kindness and very comforting words. God bless you always…

      2. Thank you Jtle for your answers. All the best as you pursue truth from His Word!

  13. “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” Rom. 2:13

  14. Does SHOULD always imply COULD ?

    My answer is NO. Because even though how much effort we try to invest here, still we cannot do it consistently on a 100% basis of accomplishment.

    1. On the part of the believers in Christ, the bible is still telling us that we still commit sins at this present time (I John 1:8) as we await for the second coming of Christ. We are still in the process of Sanctification, and have not yet reached an actual absolute perfection. The old nature will completely exit in us by the time of the Second Coming of Christ to convert our earthly body into a glorified body fitted to reside in heaven.

    2. It is our duty as believers in Christ to heed Christ’s will for us, but we still fail to obey in a 100% consistent basis. We do this not to obtain Salvation because our doctrine for Salvation is not based on obeying the law. Salvation of man is the work of God given free to undeserving sinners. So, why obey Christ ? Because this is His will for the believers. The believer’s rewards on our performances while on earth awaits on us at the judgement seat of Christ. This has nothing to do with our Salvation because our Salvation has been settled already by our Lord Jesus Christ.

    3. Could = implies possibilities for us to do great things in our service to God. We don’t do it just on our own strength but through Christ who strengthens us according to Philippians 4:13 it says: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” [meaning we don’t operate the Christian life just on our own. We are still dependent on the grace of God]. God even provided each of us with the specific gifts of service as mere tools for us to utilize in serving Him.

  15. Hello BRD,

    I did not mean to be back with a comment so soon. It is really not nothing from me but something that I came across on Youtube. A Christian Calvinist who is a philosopher and a theologian like you.

    I would like for to listen to this and comment if you would and when you have time.

    It is about 24 minutes long. It has to do with John Lennox’s (Who I respect very much) I think it is entitled “determined to believe?” With a question mark of course.

    The guys name is Ryan Gallmeier. He is a Calvinist. Here it is below.

    He also has a very short video on Dr. Flowers philosophy and rebuts it. Listen to it also and see what you think.

    Leighton Flowers’ Nonsense

    He talks about Flowers conflation of human free will and responsibility.

    He is very cordial and not disrespectful at all. Very much the way you come across.

    See what you think and thanks

  16. Brd trying this one more time.

    This is a video I came across on Youtube of a Calvinist who is a philosopher and a theologion like you.

    It is approximately 25 minutes long.

    Wondering if you could listen to it and comment.

    John Lennox Biffs it on “Free Will”

  17. You said, “Suppose you had a horrible gambling addiction and as a result accrued a debt so large that it was literally impossible for you to repay. Would your inability to pay off this debt excuse you from paying it? Of course not. You SHOULD pay off this debt regardless of whether or not you COULD pay off this debt. This is an example of where inability does not remove responsibility and thus SHOULD does not mean that one necessarily COULD.”

    But of course the gambler COULD have paid his debt because you can’t gamble something you don’t have in the first place. If I’m gambling X (money), I can’t lack the X (money) I’m gambling and still gamble the X (money). It’s a false analogy.

    Even credit presupposes the stake is backed by real X (money). So, if someone says: “If you shoot this bulls-eye, I’ll give you $1,000,000” and you succeed in hitting your target, the person who “owes” you $1,000,000 didn’t gamble anything because they never had the money to begin with. Yes, they made a wager. Yes they can’t pay. But a wager is not the same as gambling, and you didn’t gamble anything.

    But if I did have money, I could always have chosen NOT to gamble that money, in which case I would have avoided debt.

    I just don’t ever see any Scripture where God commands us to do something that we LACK the ability to do, and then holds us responsible for the LACK of that ability.

    1. Hello J and welcome.

      Actually I think it is logical to say a person can in fact gamble something they don’t have.
      A person can over extend credit for example
      Years ago I remember a family forced into bankruptcy – because they could not control spending – adjusting it to actual income.
      What they are actually gambling against – is the consequence of their own actions.

      1. But in your scenario, someone didn’t gamble what they didn’t possess. If you overextend credit (X) by some amount (Y), you aren’t gambling Y, only X, the amount you can repay. A bet or wager is not the same as a gamble.

        But in either case, I just think it’s a bad analogy. God doesn’t wager or gamble with man, and neither does man wager or gamble with God. God gives commandments. Commandments are either obeyed or not obeyed, but if God gave commandments without providing man (inherently or supplementarily) the ability to fulfill those commandments and even so punishes man, then I would say that’s an unjust commandment and an unjust deity. Fortunately, I don’t think there is anything in Scripture that depicts that type of God.

        God demands faith of us because we possess faith (inherent). We are commanded to put our faith in Him for salvation. We possess the ability, but we may not be willing.

        God demands perfection (not inherent in us as an ability but supplemented), but He himself has provided us with the ABILITY to be perfect—the righteousness by faith in the Son. He again gives us the ABILITY to obey his command, but we may not be willing.

        So, yes we both agree on the bottom line, but I think the article’s analogy is flawed.

    2. J Danleoni
      I just don’t ever see any Scripture where God commands us to do something that we LACK the ability to do, and then holds us responsible for the LACK of that ability.

      I totally agree with that J

      Dr. Ken Wilson – on the evolution of Augustinian theology
      – Paraphrase:
      Augustine of Hippo’s early influences from Stoicism, Neoplatonism, and Manichaeism ultimately determined his final theology, with his later deterministic interpretations of scripture reverting to his pre-Christian Stoic, Manichaean, and NeoPlatonist interpretations. [The evidence we need to establish that fact is the evidence found within Augustine’s own writings – in which we find that] The key scriptures [and their interpretations] cited in modern defenses of Reformed theology are the very ones that were argued for by those religious groups.

      For example, the classic Stoic doctrine of human choice as fated by the gods – can be compared to a pre-programmed robot choosing what was programmed when given an opportunity of “choice.”

      The Stoic Chrysippus for example argued for a compatibility between Stoic determinism/fate and “free will” using the following arguments:
      1.) Our character is caused-fated from external influences upon us (i.e. the gods).
      2.) Our character causes-fates our assent (i.e. desires), and we make choices based on those desires
      3.) Therefore we are culpable because we made a choice that was determined by our desires

      Notice how the Stoic conveniently evades the fact that character (and thus choice) is not UP TO US because it is determined by the gods.

      Thus we see that Augustine (with Calvin following his footsteps) – was influenced by pagan interpretations of scripture – which the early church fathers fought against.

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