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Does God Create Unbelief?

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
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June 10, 2022 12:01 am

Does God Create Unbelief?

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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June 10, 2022 12:01 am

If the doctrine of predestination seems unfair to us, will we really complain that our merciful God is not merciful enough? Today, R.C. Sproul defends the Lord's sovereign right to save those whom He chooses.

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Today on Renewing Your Mind… In chapter 9, it seems pretty clear that Paul is saying that God chooses those who are saved. But that's not a popular view. In fact, some people claim that if God chooses who will and won't be saved, that makes God evil.

Today Dr. R.C. Sproul continues his series, Chosen by God, and he'll help us see that God is just and merciful, but never unfair. Probably the strongest statement that we find anywhere in the Scriptures that deals directly with the question of predestination is found in the ninth chapter of Paul's letter to the Romans. In that particular text he deals with the election of Jacob rather than Esau, and not only does this text speak heavily to the matter of predestination in general, but it also has significance for the controversial question of whether or not predestination is double. So let's take some time in this session to look at the ninth chapter of Romans and give attention to what the Apostle says in it. I will begin in verse 9 of chapter 9.

For this is a word of promise, at this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son. And not only this, but there was Rebekah also when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac. For though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God's purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of him who calls, it was said to her, The older will serve the younger, just as it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. Now here when Paul seeks to illustrate his understanding of divine election, he uses for purposes of illustration an example of two men, and I think that it's significant that the two that he chooses are brothers, and not only are they brothers, but they are twin brothers. That is, they have the same family, the same background, the same geographical location, everything that could possibly be the same is the same. They are in fact womb mates.

Thank you. I get a little punchy after we study predestination for this long. And in his consideration of these two men, he labors the point that one is preferred over the other before either is born. Now that statement, before they were born, raises the question of God's foreknowledge.

Now the most popular view of predestination that rejects the Augustinian view is that view we call the foreknowledge view of election, which basic thesis is this, that predestination simply means that God from all eternity looks down through time and knows in advance what people will do and on the basis of that foreknowledge then chooses them. Now we notice that chapter 9 of Romans speaks very sharply to this question. We read that for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad.

Let's just look at that phrase. Paul does not say here that God had not known what they were going to do or that He had known what they were going to do. He simply declares that the twins hadn't been born yet and they hadn't done anything. So all the text explicitly teaches is that God's choice of Jacob over Esau was made before they were born. Now the foreknowledge view would agree that God's predestinating choice is done at the foundation of the earth before anybody is born.

Everybody agrees that predestination is accomplished in the mind of God before people are born. But the foreknowledge view says that the choice is made before people are born but in light of what God knows they will do after they are born. Now we have silence in this passage with respect to that question specifically. But if ever in biblical content there was an awkward silence, here it is. What I'm getting at is this, that if the Apostle had any desire to make clear that the electing predestinating actions of God are done with a view to the future actions of man, this would have been the place to say it. In other words, if the biblical view is what the foreknowledge view seeks to hold, namely that God always chooses in light of His knowledge of future decisions, first of all, why doesn't the Bible ever say that? It never says it.

And if it ever had the opportunity to say it, here it is. But not only is it not said here, but Paul takes the time to say that though the choice was made before they were born, before they had done any good or evil. We have to ask the question, why does he include that? If his purpose was to communicate a foreknowledge view of election, the addition of these words would certainly confuse the people of God, wouldn't it?

But let's go on further. Though the twins were not yet born, had not done anything good or bad, now what's Paul's concern here? In order that God's purpose according to His choice might stand. The emphasis again in the passage is on God's purpose. What Paul is saying is that the reason why the decision is made before they're born, before they've done anything good or evil, is so that it's God's purpose who will stand. Do you see that the flavor of this passage is totally opposed to the concept of a foreknowledge view of predestination?

Do you see that? I mean what other reason could we give for the apostles emphasizing this fact that they had not done any good or evil? Not even had they not done it in space and time, but by implication even in the mind of God. That is from God's perspective there is no good or evil that is taken into consideration here. Because the conclusion is, the reason why he states that, the reason that the apostles gives for having said it this way is that the purpose of God might stand according to His choice.

Not because of works, but because of Him who calls. The foreknowledge view says that God looks down into the future and He sees that some people will make the correct choice and others will make the incorrect choice. And what the foreknowledge view suffers from is that election in that view is based upon a good work. Believing, this is the work of God, to believe in the one whom He has sent. The supreme good work is to place one's trust in Jesus Christ in one sense of considering the biblical concept of the good work. But Paul is saying here that it is clearly not because of human work, but because of Him who calls. The Arminian view in its various styles and shapes and forms, bottom line, makes the final decision for our salvation rest upon a human choice, not upon a divine action. And I think Paul is annihilating that position here as strongly as he could possibly do it by emphasizing the fact that it is not because of works.

But because of the one who calls. That the accent and the credit for your redemption is to be given to God. To God alone is the glory. Now in order that this purpose might stand and that it not be because of works, but because of Him who calls, it was said to her the older will serve the younger. That is the reason why God made this choice was to demonstrate the supremacy of Him and His purpose. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.

I'll come back to that phrase in a moment because I know that provokes all kinds of problems with the idea of hatred. But look at verse 14. Verse 14 is a rhetorical question.

What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? How does Paul answer his own question? Does he simply say, no, there's no injustice with God? No, he uses the most powerful form of emphasis that he can. Some translators read, may it never be, or other ones. God forbid the answer to his question. Does this indicate injustice in God? The answer to the question is absolutely not.

That's unthinkable. Now I want to speculate for a second. I want to ask you to think about this. Why do you suppose the apostle asks this rhetorical question? Paul is a teacher, and when teachers teach, they know going into their lessons that sometimes there will be difficulty with the students understanding what the teacher is communicating. A good teacher anticipates his opposition and where the problems will arise. Now Paul is obviously here as a teacher anticipating a protest from his hearers. When he says, what shall we say then? And what particular thing does he expect people to say when they hear this? It's not fair. Now my question is why does he anticipate that objection?

Well, there are two possible reasons really. He could be anticipating this objection because he may be thinking there may actually be some people listening to me or reading this letter who are muddle-headed enough to be of an Augustinian persuasion and find in my words an Augustinian view of election, which would obviously be unjust. And so all I have to do to keep that from ever happening is to say, is there injustice in God? Well, obviously not and so much then for Augustine and Aquinas and Calvin and Luther and so on.

Maybe that's what he's anticipating. Or maybe Paul himself is Augustinian, and he's had experience with teaching the doctrine of predestination where every time the subject is mentioned, the initial response of people is, that's not fair. I have a sneaking suspicion that that is the reason why the Apostle raises this rhetorical question because the thing I want you to understand is that nobody ever raises that question about the Arminian view.

In fact, the Arminian view is designed in such a way that that isn't a problem. I take comfort in the fact that the same questions that are raised about my view of predestination are the ones that Apostle Paul had to deal with. Is there unrighteousness in God?

Because on the surface it sounds like it. When you talk about a divine sovereign choice before anybody has done good or evil without a view to their future actions that's strictly according to the sovereign purpose of God, that God's purposes may be of grace, not of human works, then the obvious question we're going to ask is, well, how can that be fair? Well, Paul says, is there unrighteousness in God? And he answers his own question with an emphatic, no, may it never be, for he says to Moses, I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion upon whom I will have compassion. Again, if I can speculate, if I were the Apostle and I were teaching a foreknowledge view of election, and I had these objections to deal with, what would I fall back on? If I were going to pull the plug once and for all of any charge of God's being unfair, I would say, well, wait a minute, it's God's not unfair, God's not unjust because even though this decision is made before anybody's ever done any good or evil, it's with a view to their future choices.

So the bed you make is the bed you sleep in, and that would pull the plug forever. But he doesn't do that. Instead, he falls back on what? On the divine prerogative to exercise mercy upon whom he will exercise mercy. The whole point of the passage is that some people receive a measure of mercy that others do not. Again, no one receives injustice at the hands of God.

Esau is not selected as an object of divine mercy, but that is not an injustice against Esau because Esau, even before he is born, is known by God as a fallen person because when God does his electing, he always does it in light of the fall. God only chooses fallen sinners for salvation. All of God's choices about salvation presuppose the need for salvation. Otherwise there would never be any such thing as election. It would be a waste of time for God to elect unto salvation people who don't need salvation.

So the whole process of election is with a view to a fallen, lost human race. And God considers the whole world. He knows that the whole world is fallen, and He knows that if He just gave justice, what would happen? If God only exercised justice to a fallen race, everyone would perish. But God chooses to grant mercy to some. Jacob receives mercy.

Esau receives justice. Now is there anything wrong with that? Well, we say it's not fair. What we mean by that is it's not equal.

And what lurks in our minds is this problem. Well, if God is going to be gracious, if we have two men who are judged guilty and they're under the sentence of death, and God is gracious to this one, shouldn't He also be gracious to the other one? I mean, is it fair for the governor to grant executive clemency to one prisoner and not to the rest? Well, it certainly isn't equal. But again, this person receives grace. This person receives justice.

He has nothing of which he has any right to complain. There's nothing unjust about it. And God reminds us again and again that it is His right to grant His mercy upon whom He will grant His mercy. And if He grants mercy to one, He is not obligated to give it to the other. Again, if we think that God is ever obligated to be merciful, what does that mean?

We're not thinking about mercy anymore, because mercy by definition is not obligated. Mercy is something that God does voluntarily. He's not bound to do it. He doesn't have to do it.

He's not required to do it. He does it out of the sheer goodness of His heart. And we can never say to a merciful God, and this is the thing that scares me, and I hope you will never say to a merciful God, God, you are not merciful enough. That is blasphemous, to charge God with not being merciful enough, because that charge implies that there is sin in God, that God has not done what He should have done.

He should have been more merciful. And who are you to say to your Creator, by whose mercy you draw every breath that you breathe, that He has been lacking in mercy? Or He says to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.

Now the coup de grace, the verse that I think should, in all honesty, end Arminianism forever. So then, here's the conclusion, it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but upon God who shows mercy. Now the Arminian view does not say that it depends all on man and not on God, but the Arminian view says that without God's mercy there would be no salvation, that's true, but it also depends on our choice. It depends both on God's grace and upon our choice, that we must exercise our will apart from divine activity in order to be saved. So the election depends upon human choices in the foreknowledge view. And Paul says, no it doesn't.

How could he say it any more clearly? So it's not based upon the one who wills or upon the one who runs, but on God. There is where the dependency is, who has the mercy. If I were to ask you to write on the blackboard the names of the men or women whom you believe to be the most wicked people who have ever lived, I don't have time to go through that exercise here, but I know that certain names would tend to appear in anyone's list. Hitler, Stalin, Pharaoh, what do these people have in common? All of them were heads of state. All of them had virtually almost unlimited authority. In Stalin's case, there was no agency, institution, or person in the Soviet Union who could question the authority of Joseph Stalin. Adolf Hitler enjoyed virtually absolute sovereign authority in the Third Reich. When men achieve levels of power where they become outside the bounds of normal restraints, their ability to sin freely increases because the restraints are few and far between. We have a saying that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Why? Because absolute power gives one freedom to do whatever he wants without fear of the police or public opinion or anything else. Now keep in mind that Pharaoh was the most powerful authority figure in the ancient world. He didn't have to answer to anybody.

The only restraints he had to worry about were public opinion and things like that. I mean the only thing that's keeping Pharaoh from being utterly wicked is the restraining power of God. It certainly wasn't the government of Egypt that was keeping him in check. Only God's restraints were keeping Pharaoh from being more wicked than he actually was. If God wants to harden Pharaoh's heart, does God have to create fresh evil there?

All he has to do is remove his hands and give Pharaoh all the space he needs. And that's how Pharaoh's heart is hardened, which is itself an act of divine judgment, a just act of divine judgment upon him. And the gospel does the same thing in the lives of the reprobate.

The more people hear the gospel and freely reject it, the more their hearts become hardened. And in this drama, Pharaoh hardens his own heart. All God does is remove the restraints.

And so Pharaoh is responsible for the hardening of his heart. And so again we see that in this scheme, in the concept of election, all men are fallen, all men are wicked. God gives mercy to some, as in the case of Jacob, and the others He leaves to themselves.

They receive justice. This group receives mercy that God might be honored and that God's purposes might stand. When it comes to the doctrine of election, it's fairly common to hear the accusation that God creates unbelief. But we must allow Scripture to be the final arbiter of what is true and what is false. While we're here on Renewing Your Mind, we have been pleased to feature Dr. R. C. Sproul's series Chosen by God. Today we discovered that God is not the author of sin and does not create unbelief.

It is so important for us to understand these foundational truths, and this series is a good place to start. For your donation of any amount, we will send you the six-part series on two DVDs. You can find us online at, and let me give you our phone number. That's 800-435-4343.

If you prefer, you can call us to make your request. Theologians have discussed the doctrine of election for centuries, and especially the question of whether God causes unbelief. John Calvin said, The ground of the discrimination that exists among men is the sovereign will of God and that alone.

But the ground of damnation, to which the reprobate are consigned, is sin and sin alone. If this is something you've wrestled with or simply want to understand it better, we invite you to request this six-part series, Chosen by God. Our phone number again is 800-435-4343. You can also make your request online at I hope you'll join us again next week. We have the privilege of hearing several messages that have never aired before on Renewing Your Mind. Some of them Dr. Sproul taught at the Ligonier Valley Study Center back in the 70s. So I hope you'll make plans to be with us beginning Monday for Renewing Your Mind. God bless you.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-04-07 01:36:33 / 2023-04-07 01:44:53 / 8

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