Arbitrariness and Inconsistency – the Opposites of Rationality

We live in a world where many people simply do not reason rationally. They are not able to make a good, cogent argument for their position. This is sometimes seen in political or religious arguments. Such debates often have more heat than light. People have very strong opinions, and voice them with fervor. But often their arguments are simply not rational! The conclusions do not follow from the premises. Why is this? And what can we do about it?

Most schools no longer teach logic. Perhaps that is part of the reason why people are often so illogical; they have never learned. But I suggest that the root cause is even deeper. To be logical is to think in a way that is consistent with the nature of God. Logic is a reflection of the way God thinks, and the way He expects us to think. That is why laws of logic are universal and unchanging; they reflect that aspect of God. As our culture has increasingly rejected biblical authority, it stands to reason that people will increasingly reject logic. A rejection of logical reasoning shows up in two ways: arbitrariness and inconsistency.

Arbitrariness

To be arbitrary means “to not have a reason.” When you decide to wear a red shirt rather than a blue one, and you really don’t have a reason, such a decision is arbitrary. Or when you decide to drink grape juice instead of orange juice, if you have no specific reason in mind, then your choice is arbitrary. We make countless arbitrary and often unconscious choices every day. Did you start walking with your left foot or your right? It really doesn’t matter too much one way or the other.

There is nothing wrong with such a whimsical attitude when it comes to the subjective preferences. However, when consequences matter, we had better have a good reason for our choice. The decision of whether or not to wear a parachute when jumping from a plane will have a profound effect on the outcome. And so this is not a decision that we would want to leave to the flip of a coin. A jumper has a very good reason to wear the parachute: it will save his life. His decision is not arbitrary.

Likewise, when it comes to logic, we are not permitted to be arbitrary. This is the whole point of rational debate. The goal is to show that we have a good reason for our position, and that it is not arbitrary. In a debate, to be arbitrary is to concede defeat. It is to say, “I don’t really have a good reason for my position.”

Whenever a person says something like this, “I believe X and you should too”, there will be a natural question on the part of the hearer: “Why? Why do you believe X and why should I?” Now if the person is not able to give a reason for his belief in X, then there is no reason why the hearer shouldn’t believe the exact opposite.

Beliefs should always have a reason. The more important the belief, the more crucial it is to have a good reason, because the consequences are more devastating if you are wrong. Little children don’t often recognize this. They tend to be very arbitrary. They firmly believe there is a monster in the closet, and they act on their belief by pulling the bed sheets over their head. Do they have a good reason for their belief? Of course not. Children are irrational, and we expect this from them. As people grow up, we are supposed to become rational. We are supposed to learn to have good reasons for our beliefs. And we are supposed to discard beliefs that don’t have good reasons. This is the mark of rationality.

You may think that this is all perfectly obvious. And most of the time, it is. But in debates on origins, politics, and religion, you will find that people are often very arbitrary. And you will actually have to explain to them that this is not rational. They are supposed to be giving a good reason for their beliefs, not just stating them and getting upset when you don’t agree. The whole point of a debate is to see which side has the best reason for their respective position.

Inconsistency

The other mark of rationality is consistency. Truth is always self-consistent. Therefore, if a person makes two claims that are inconsistent with each other, we can be certain that at least one of them is false. And it is irrational to believe something that must be false. A rational person’s beliefs and claims therefore will be self-consistent.

The most obvious types of inconsistency are those which are outright contradictions. Clearly, if a person says, “Aliens do exist and it is not the case that aliens exist,” then he is in error. His thinking is inconsistent and thus irrational. Of course, not all apparent contradictions are actually contradictions. The hypothetical individual above might clarify that he is using the term “alien” in two different senses. Perhaps he believes that extra-terrestrial aliens to not exist, but illegal aliens do. There would be no inconsistency there. A contradiction is “A” and “not-A” at the same time and in the same sense.

Outright contradictions are rarely stated as explicitly as above. Nor are they often stated back-to-back as above. If they were, they would be immediately obvious, and the debate would be over. Instead contradictions tend to be separated by time, or obscured in terminology. This can make them difficult to spot. Most forms of inconsistency are not outright contradictions. “I voted for the war before I voted against it” is not an outright contradiction, but it certainly seems inconsistent.

Another form of inconsistency is the behavioral inconsistency. This occurs when a person’s actions do not match his or her words. I often notice this in evolutionists who teach that people are just the accidental result of chemistry working over long periods of time, and really no different than an animal. But then they expect people to act morally, and to be treated respectfully, as if people had fundamental value, and are not just chemical accidents.

Perhaps you have heard someone say, “morality is relative. So you cannot go around telling other people what they can and cannot do.” But simply by making the statement, this person is “telling other people what they can and cannot do.” The statement is self-refuting.

Christians can be very inconsistent as well. If asked how they know that Christ was raised from the dead when it is not known scientifically how that could be possible, many Christians would rightly respond, “God can do as He wishes. He is not bound by laws of nature. And we know Christ was raised from the dead because it is recorded in the pages of Scripture. The text is clear.” But then again, when asked about the age of the Earth, many of those same Christians would respond, “well, the scientists say it’s billions of years old. So, maybe the days in Genesis weren’t really ‘days.’” This is very inconsistent reasoning.

Logical fallacies are marks of inconsistency. Fallacies are arguments that may sound logical on the surface, but in fact are not. Fallacies tend to be persuasive. That is why they are so common. As one example, many evolutionists try to argue their position (that all life is descended from a common ancestor) by showing examples of adaptation or variation within a kind. These are two different concepts. But since the term “evolution” can be applied to either one, evolutionists sometimes think that they have proved the former definition by giving an example of the latter. This is called the fallacy of equivocation, or the “bait-and-switch” fallacy. The meaning of the term (“evolution” in this case) was used in an inconsistent way.

Conclusion

A logical person is rigorously consistent, and always has a good reason for what he or she believes. If a person’s thinking is inconsistent, then we know the person cannot be (completely) right since truth will always be self-consistent. Contradictions and other less severe types of inconsistency are marks of irrationality. These indicate that the person has not been a careful thinker. Internal inconsistency within a claim necessarily means that the position is unreliable at best.

Arbitrariness is at least as bad as inconsistency. The inconsistent person is using bad reasoning. The arbitrary person is not using reasoning at all. To be arbitrary is to not have a reason. It is to have an immature, childlike way of believing in something for no good reason at all. Christians have a moral obligation to be rational: to think and behave in a way that is consistent with the character of God. And we need to challenge unbelievers to be rational as well.

273 Responses to Arbitrariness and Inconsistency – the Opposites of Rationality

  1. Emma says:

    So, how then can we ask God for the ability to repent in order to be saved since we’re radically depraved..?

    • Emma says:

      Wil he give us that grace if we just ask? I’ve heard several people have cried out to the Lord and he doesn’t do anything…

      • Dr. Lisle says:

        If someone genuinely repents and asks God for forgiveness of sins, of course God will save that person. The problem is that no one wants to repent apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. So, I encourage unbelievers to beg God to grant them repentance, so that they can genuinely repent and trust in Christ for salvation. Now, if an unrepentant unbeliever asks God for the ability to repent, will God grant that request? He might. But the unbeliever is unrepentant at this point, and therefore is asking with wrong motives, and so God is under no obligation to grant an insincere request. The unbeliever still loves his sin, hates the law of God, but is perhaps wanting to avoid hell.

        Have a look at Hebrews 12:16-17. These verses show that Esau “found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.” In other words, Esau wanted to repent, but was unable to do so because God did not grant it. This verse bothered me until I realized that Esau’s motives were wicked. He didn’t want to repent in order to be right with God; rather, he wanted to repent so that he could inherit the blessing, his birthright. Esau was still in love with his sin, and unconcerned with being right with God.

    • Dr. Lisle says:

      The Holy Spirit can enable the unbeliever to repent. Repentance is a gift from God (Acts 5:31, 2 Timothy 2:25). I encourage unbelievers to beg God for repentance.

  2. Emma says:

    Hello Dr. Lisle,

    Thank you for taking time in responding to my questions.
    I have one other question it it’s alright, Is having the desire for repentance considered a gift from God as well? I would assume it’s a good thing for an unbeliever to at least consider these things.

    • Dr. Lisle says:

      I would say yes. A sinner would not have a genuine desire for repentance of his own nature because he loves his sin (Ephesians 2:3, John 3:19-20).

  3. Adnel Pena says:

    Dr. Lisle, you said, “My understanding is that all people have the cognitive ability to repent of sin.” I think we’re getting somewhere. Thank you for clarifying that the ability people have to repent of sin is a cognitive one. According to the dictionary, the definition of cognition is the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses. Its synonyms are: perception, discernment, apprehension, learning, understanding, comprehension, insight; reasoning, thinking, thought. Therefore, all people can perceive, discern, apprehend, and understand the message of repentance and repent of sin. And, therefore, the cognitive ability is a spiritual ability, because the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses is propriety of the spirit. But this means, then, that all people have the spiritual ability to repent of sin. But you said before, and I quote, “they lack the spiritual ability to repent because it is contrary to the core of their depraved mind and dead spirit.” Unless one of us is equivocating on the term “spiritual ability”, this sounds like a contradiction.
    Again, when I asked the question, “Do they lack the spiritual ability because they have a dead spirit by nature, being that way from conception or do they self-imposed the spiritual inability…?”, you answered, “Both. And there is no contradiction here, because their dead spirit has no desire to be made alive even though they have been given many opportunities. The sinner indulges his sinful nature with no desire to change, and hence continually self-imposes his inability to repent.” How can someone self-impose an inability? If what you mean is that if I lack the ability to see and a doctor tells me that he has a technique that can help me to acquire the ability to see and he ask me if I want him to make me see, and I reject his offer, then I’m self-imposing my inability to see, I can agree with that. But, to accept his offer, I have to have the ability to understand what he is offering me and the ability to believe him. But what if I lack the ability to understand him and the ability to believe him because I was born that way? How can I accept his offer? And if I reject his offer because I lack the ability to believe him, how can I be accountable for not believing? One thing is having the ability to believe but not wanting to believe, and another thing is lacking the ability to believe, therefore, not being able to believe. So, no matter how many times salvation is offered to someone, if he doesn’t have the ability to believe because he was born that way, he won’t believe the offer or the one offering it. Consequently, he will reject the offer; he can’t do otherwise.

    • Emma says:

      Hi Adnel,
      In the way that Dr. Lisle presented repentance, I would say it’s from a reformed perspective. Reformed theology claims mankind is radically depraved, as well as dead in sin. He will not-can not repent unless the Spirit grants regeneration. So one must beg for genuine repentance .
      And man cannot blame God for making him a vessel for dishonorable use. The clay cannot rebuke the potter for making him in such a way that is contrary to his likening. Likewise, man cannot blame God for reprobates. I hope this helps.
      I would advise you look into arminanism. Might help.

      • Josef says:

        >”Reformed theology claims mankind is radically depraved, as well as dead in sin. He will not-can not repent unless the Spirit grants regeneration.”

        This teaching comes from the Bible, even from Jesus himself:

        John 6:44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”

        Also see John 6:37 -“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”

        Notice Jesus says that those that the Father gives Him *will* come. It doesn’t say they might come to Jesus, or that “some” will come to Jesus.

        >”And man cannot blame God for making him a vessel for dishonorable use. The clay cannot rebuke the potter for making him in such a way that is contrary to his likening. Likewise, man cannot blame God for reprobates.”

        Paul actually anticipates that people will try to blame God:

        Romans 9:19-21 – “You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?”

        As Christians, we have an obligation to God to accept His word as is, even if the particular teaching is emotionally hard to accept (although I do believe that when properly understood, Calvinism brings comfort).

        • Emma says:

          Jesus Christ made it perfectly clear in the Bible that mankind has been commanded to repent and believe. For there is a day of judgment. However, not everyone will choose because he/she loves his sin to much.

          (Deuteronomy 30:19) (Deuteronomy 30:15)
          (Joshua 24:15)

          The list goes on….

          • Josef says:

            Emma,

            You might be surprised to find that I don’t disagree with what you said. However, one thing I do find a little concerning is that you didn’t engage with my post. I mean this respectfully, but it appears that you are taking a stance of “Position X has 10 verses that support it, but Position Y has 15 verses that contradict Position X, so Position Y has to be the right one.”

            This is a very bad approach for obviously reasons.

    • Dr. Lisle says:

      There is a difference between cognitive ability and spiritual ability. One can have a cognitive understanding of the Gospel without spiritually believing or acting on it. Think of the spiritual inability of the unbeliever as a stubborn, self-imposed unwillingness to repent of sin because he just loves sinning (Matthew 23:37, John 3:19).

      You ask, “How can someone self-impose an inability?” It’s easy. Criminals self-impose their inability to find police and to turn themselves in to obtain justice. They do it because they are unwilling, and not because they desire to turn themselves in but are somehow physically unable to do so. They do not desire justice (for themselves). They desire the exact opposite. Unbelievers self-impose their inability to repent because they love their sin and are unwilling to repent (John 3:19-20).

      It might help to consider that something can be true, non-contradictory, and yet still emotionally uncomfortable or perplexing. Some people refuse to believe in the Trinity because it seems perplexing to them. But the Bible teaches the concept of the Trinity, as so we must accept it. Likewise, people may be uncomfortable with the fact that no one seeks after God and no one can repent and call Jesus “Lord” without the help of the Holy Spirit and that our repentance and faith are gifts from God. But the Bible does teach these things, and therefore we must accept them as true (Psalm 14:2-3, 1 Corinthians 12:3, 2 Timothy 2:25, Acts 11:18, Ephesians 2:1-9, Ezekiel 11:19, 36:26).

      In Romans 9:19, the Apostle Paul asks exactly the question you have asked. You may want to study that passage in depth and consider Paul’s answer since he writes under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I doubt I can answer any better than that.

      God bless.

      • Adnel Pena says:

        Hi Dr. Lisle

        Thank you for taking your precious time to answer me.

        > Dr. Lisle: You are very welcome. I hope it has been helpful. However, this will have to be our last exchange on this particular issue. This is partly due to time constraints. But also, this particular issue goes beyond the purpose of this blog. I have bent the posting rules a bit because you asked so graciously. But I don’t want this blog to be about Calvinism and Arminianism. I’m not opposed to such exchanges – this just isn’t the place for them. Thank you for understanding.

        Your definition of spiritual inability is “a stubborn, self-imposed unwillingness to repent of sin because he just loves sinning.” But isn’t that the definition of spiritual stubbornness? Because inability means the lack of certain ability; not having the ability to do something. One can have the ability to obey a command, but stubbornly decide not to.

        > Dr. Lisle: True. However, stubbornness can lead to self-imposed inability. People can become so stubbornly resistant to something that they cannot accept it under any circumstances. There is still a physical ability. But their spirit is unwilling to the point that they are unable. A mild stubbornness might be overcome by circumstances. A rebellious child stubbornly refuses to apologize for hitting his brother, until his parents threaten punishment. But there is a stubbornness so severe that no natural circumstances will get the person to repent because such repentance is entirely opposed to the person’s core being. At that point, the person may be physically able to repent, but is spiritually unable because it is contrary to his nature.

        If it takes an act of God to enable a person to repent, then it is fair to call that an inability. And the Bible does indicate in many ways and places that it takes an act of God to enable a person to repent. Unbelievers are both unwilling and spiritually unable (apart from the help of God) to repent. In fact, it is the unwillingness that has generated their inability. I think you are bothered by the fact that I refer to the unwilling stubbornness of unbelievers to repent as an inability. So why do I call it that? It’s because the Bible does. The Bible teaches that no one will come to God unless God draws him (John 6:44). God is the author of our faith, not us (Hebrews 12:2).

        One thing is to have the ability to understand a command and another thing is to have the ability to do what is commanded. If one doesn’t have the latter, the former is irrelevant. If the ability to believe is necessary for salvation and the person lacks that ability from conception, then it’s irrelevant whether or not he understands the gospel.

        > Dr. Lisle: Again, you seem to forget that the inability of unbelievers to repent is self-imposed. No one goes to hell because “they really genuinely wanted to obey God and have faith in Him but just couldn’t.” People go to hell because of their own perverse choice. So it is very relevant that God commands them to repent and believe the Gospel. They do have a physical ability to repent in the sense that there is no external force preventing it; no one is pointing a gun to their head keeping them from repenting. They prevent themselves from repenting. Their spiritual inability to repent is self-imposed due to their unwillingness.

        You quoted Matthew 23:37 and John 3:19. Both of those passages express the unwillingness of certain people to do something, not their inability.

        > Dr. Lisle: You have committed the fallacy of affirming a disjunct. Unbelievers are both unwilling to come to God and also spiritually unable, apart from the help of the Holy Spirit. The latter is caused by the former; their inability stems from their unwillingness.
        The fallacy of affirming a disjunct is:
        (1) p or q.
        (2) p.
        (3) Therefore not q.
        The reason this form of argument is invalid is because both p and q can be true; hence the truth of p does not guarantee the falsehood of q. In our case, if a person doesn’t come to God it is either because he is unwilling (p) or unable (q). We know he is unwilling (p). But we cannot rationally conclude that he is spiritually able. In fact, it is because he is absolutely unwilling that he is unable.

        In fact, John 3:21 speak of those who do come to the light. So, it says that those who do evil don’t want to come to the light, but those who do truth come to the light.

        > Dr. Lisle: Sure. And the only reason anyone on earth ever comes to the light is because God regenerates his/her heart and miraculously enables that person to do so. God takes our heart of stone which desires sin and darkness, and He gives us a heart of flesh that desires to obey His commandments (Ezekiel 11:19-20). When we consider John 3:20, “For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light…”, a moment’s reflection reveals that this refers to everyone on earth before their salvation. Everyone does evil (Romans 3:23, Ecclesiastes 7:20, 1 John 1:10, James 2:10-11). Therefore, everyone hates the light and does not come to the Light… and that would be the end of it, except God has mercy and compassion on some and grants them repentance (Romans 9:15, Acts 5:31, 11:18, 2 Timothy 2:25).

        You said, “Criminals self-impose their inability to find police and to turn themselves in to obtain justice. They do it because they are unwilling and not because they desire to turn themselves in but are somehow physically unable to do so. They do not desire justice (for themselves). They desire the exact opposite. Unbelievers self-impose their inability to repent because they love their sin and are unwilling to repent (John 3:19-20).” I believe that criminals self-impose their stubbornness to find police and to turn themselves in. They have the ability to do it, but they refuse to do it.

        > Dr. Lisle: Again, they do have a physical ability to turn themselves in. But if they are absolutely unwilling, then they have self-imposed an inability to turn themselves in. They simply cannot do it, and it is because they really, really don’t want to. You don’t have to accept my imperfect analogy. But you do have to accept the Scriptural teaching that no one, by his own sinful ability, comes to God. Those who come to God do so because God had compassion and mercy on them, turned their heart around, giving them faith and repentance. The analogy that God gives for the state of the unbeliever is that of a dead man (Ephesians 2:1). Why doesn’t the physically dead man come and drink some physical water, that he might physically live? Certainly, he is unwilling, but is there more to it? Why doesn’t the spiritually dead man come and drink some spiritual water, that he might spiritually live?

        You said, “People may be uncomfortable with the fact that no one seeks after God and no one can repent and call Jesus “Lord” without the help of the Holy Spirit and that our repentance and faith are gifts from God. But the Bible does teach these things, and therefore we must accept them as true. (Psalm 14:2-3, 1 Corinthians 12:3, 2 Timothy 2:25, Acts 11:18, Ephesians 2:1-9, Ezekiel 11:19, 36:26).” When we take Psalm 14:2-3 in context we can see what David was talking about. David said that those fool who deny God (the God of Israel) had become so corrupted that they didn’t do what was right (v. 1). God looked among them to see if anyone was seeking after Him, but they were not; they were busy doing evil to His people (v. 2-3). So, God (or David) asked, “Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge? who eat up my people as they eat bread, and call not upon the Lord.” (v. 4) But David saw that for some reason they were in great fear; that reason being that the Lord was in the generation of the righteous, whether or not those fool realized it (v. 5). Still, they shamed the counsel of the poor, because they relied in the Lord who those fool denied (v. 6). David ends his Psalm with the wish that God would bring back His people from captivity (v. 7). (This could be a prophetic Psalm.) One thing that we can clearly see here is that David makes a contrast between the fool which practice iniquity and the righteous which practice what is right.

        > Dr. Lisle: So far so good.

        Therefore, his intention here is not to say that every single person practice evil and don’t seek God. So we cannot logically deduce from these verses that not even one person in the world seeks after God.

        > Dr. Lisle: Actually, it is indeed David’s intention to say that every single unregenerate person practices evil and does not seek God. We know this because this is how Paul uses the passage when he quotes it in Romans 3:10-12. And of course, Paul is writing infallibly under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In verse eight, Paul rebukes those say “Let us do evil that good may come.” In verse nine, he argues that we are no better than those sinners, and that both Jews and Greeks (in other words, everyone) are condemned as sinners (before salvation of course). To prove his point, that all people are condemned as sinners, Paul then quotes sections of Psalm 14:1-3. Logically, if Psalm 14 were merely referring to a sub-section of humanity, and not unregenerate humanity as a whole, then Paul’s divinely inspired argument would be fallacious. And the Holy Spirit does not make bad arguments.

        In context, we can see what Paul meant in 1 Corinthians 12:3. If we read verse one, where Paul introduce the subject, and verses 4 to 11, all of these being the immediate context of verse 3, we can see what he meant. What he means is that anyone that has the gift of the Spirit cannot curse Jesus or say that Jesus is Lord without the Spirit.

        > Dr. Lisle: Correct – and that was my point. People cannot by their innate, sinful, dead spirit, say (in a believing way) that “Jesus is Lord.” The Holy Spirit must enable them to say that because they lack the spiritual ability in themselves.

        In verse 2 Paul tells them that, when they were pagans, their spiritual leaders led and carried them away to dumb idols. That’s what pagan spiritual leaders do. Those pagan spiritual leaders will not testify about Jesus as Lord, because they don’t have the Holy Spirit.

        > Dr. Lisle: The text doesn’t mention spiritual leaders, and that is not the focus. Paul here is explaining the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives, starting with the gift of faith in Christ. The Corinthians were boasting about their spiritual gifts, which is inappropriate because such gifts are not earned, nor given on the basis of any sort of merit. So Paul begins by humbling his readers. He reminds them that they once followed inanimate idols. The implication is that if it were not for God’s grace, they still would be worshipping idols. It is the Holy Spirit that turned their hearts around, and enabled them to say that “Jesus is Lord.” They should not therefore boast in their spiritual gifts any more than in their salvation – for both are gifts from God and not earned. Just as they would be unable to speak in tongues or prophesy apart from the Holy Spirit, neither can they say that Jesus is Lord apart from the Holy Spirit.

        So, those with the gift of the Spirit will testify that Jesus is Lord and never call Him accursed.

        > Dr. Lisle: That’s right. And apart from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, they cannot testify that Jesus is Lord. Since the Bible says that they cannot, we must agree that they cannot.

        > This verse made me think of another analogy that may be helpful to you. Do you have the ability to curse Jesus? Hopefully, even the thought of this is so repelling that you might say to yourself, “I could never do that.” But of course, you do have the physical ability to curse Jesus. But those who are truly saved could never actually curse Jesus because their nature as children of God will not permit it. Likewise, the unregenerate man is a slave to sin. He has the physical ability to profess that Jesus is Lord, but cannot spiritually affirm it because it is fundamentally contrary to his nature as a sinner.

        From 2 Timothy 2:25 the only thing we can logically deduce is that to a specific group, those who are in opposition, God may or may not grant them repentance.

        > Dr. Lisle: From Matthew 12:30 we know that all who are not for Christ are in opposition. Therefore, 2 Timorhy 2:25 refers to all the unsaved. God may or may not grant them repentance as you rightly say. The reason I cited this passage is that it shows that even repentance is a gift from God. If you have repented of your sins, it is because God granted this to you. It is not something for which you can take credit. If the Holy Spirit was not working on your heart, you would not repent and would be unable to say that Jesus is Lord (1 Corinthians 12:3)

        Paul himself tells us that God through His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering leads people to repentance, but they in accordance with their hardness and their impenitent heart are treasuring up for themselves wrath in the day of wrath (Romans 2:4-5). There is a moment when God stops leading people to repentance, because of their stubbornness, as He did with the Israelites in the wilderness (Hebrews 3:7-19) and, afterward, in the days of Isaiah (chapters 5 and 6).

        > Dr. Lisle: Not that I disagree, but the way you worded this leads me to add a couple of caveats. First, God ordains not only the ends but the means as well. In other words, God can use many different things to accomplish what He wants to accomplish. He can use circumstances to soften or harden someone’s heart. That doesn’t mean He didn’t do it; for He is sovereign over all that comes to pass (Isaiah 46:10-11). That is why we share the Gospel even though God elects His people. Namely, God can use our words as part of the means by which He draws people to Himself.

        > Dr. Lisle: Second, be careful of the false-cause fallacy; be cautious of assuming a cause-and-effect relationship between things that are merely correlated. All people are stubborn and in rebellion against God in their natural fallen state. If God stopped leading people to saving faith because of their stubbornness, no one would be saved. You cannot rationally conclude, “the reason God saved me and not the (unsaved) Israelites is because they were more stubborn than I am.” Then you would have a reason to boast, and the Bible denies you this privilege (Ephesians 2:9). Rather, the reason you are saved and others are not is due to God’s sovereign choice (Romans 9:15,18), for no one deserves salvation.

        In Acts 11:18, when we read verse one specifically, we can see that those of the circumcision, which had a wrong idea about who is really saved (see Acts 15:1-20), were surprised that God had granted repentance to the gentiles. That’s all we can deduce from this verse.

        > Dr. Lisle: We can also deduce that repentance is a gift from God. It is not something you would or could muster up in your fallen state apart from God’s power. The reason that many Gentiles have come into the Kingdom of God is because God has granted them repentance. That’s what the text says. God, and not the sinner, rightly gets the credit whenever anyone repents.

        If we read Ephesians 2:8-9 carefully, and in the original Greek, we understand what Paul says. Paul says that “by grace we are saved through faith”. Notice that the emphasis is in the phrase “by grace”. In the Greek the words grace and faith are in the feminine gender, but the pronoun “this”, or “that” in other versions, is in the neuter gender. That means that the pronoun is not referring to one specific word.

        > Dr. Lisle: I don’t believe that follows logically. Demonstrative pronouns in the neuter are very common in Greek. My understanding is that they may agree in gender with the substantive if connected by a copulative verb, which is not the case here. Therefore, the logical possibilities are that ‘that’ could refer to ‘faith’, ‘grace’, or the entire preceding phrase. The most natural reading would seem to be that ‘that’ refers to ‘faith’, as it is the antecedent noun. That is certainly the most natural reading in English. If ‘that’ refers to grace then Paul’s comment would be redundant, because grace is – by definition – unmerited favor. In any event, these nuances do not affect biblical theology because the Bible teaches in many places that grace, faith, and salvation are all gifts from God and that we cannot take any credit for them.

        The gift of God is salvation BY GRACE through faith.

        > Dr. Lisle: Salvation is certainly a gift of God, and by His grace and received through faith. And that [faith] is “not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” This is taught elsewhere in Scripture as well. Remember, our believing in Christ is something that God has granted us (Philippians 1:29).

        In verse 9 Paul clarifies what he means by saying, “not of work.” The question is what is not of work? The answer is not faith, but salvation. Therefore, what Paul wants to convey is that salvation is not by works, but by grace through faith. It’s the same idea he expressed in Romans 4:1-8.

        > Dr. Lisle: Yes. The question I ask is “what is the cause of our faith?” Or, “why do I have faith in God, but my friend Brent does not?” If it is something in me, then I would have some reason to boast. Even if it’s not a work I have done, but perhaps a right attitude. If God chose to save me becomes of something in me, then I can boast. But the Bible denies me such a privilege. The Bible tells us that our faith is a gift from God (Hebrews 12:2). God is the one that begins the process of sanctification in His people, and that process begins with God granting us repentance and faith (Philippians 1:6, 29)

        If we read Ezekiel 11:17-21 we can see what Ezekiel is saying. God makes a contrast between those who “shall take away all the detestable things thereof and all the abominations thereof from thence” (v. 18) and those “whose heart walketh after the heart of their detestable things and their abominations” (v. 21). To the former, God will give them one heart, and will put a new spirit within them; and will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: that they may walk in His statutes, and keep His ordinances, and do them: and they shall be His people, and He will be their God. To the latter, God will recompense their way upon their own heads. God deals with each group according to their attitudes.

        > Dr. Lisle: No, that isn’t at all what the text says at all. It says nothing about God rewarding/punishing people according to their attitudes. Moreover, God does not grant salvation on the basis of the unregenerate person’s attitude – if He did, no one would be saved. God does not grant salvation on the basis of any kind of merit, whether that merit be good works or right “attitudes.” Paul is explicit about this in Romans 9:11-18. God will have mercy on whom He will have mercy. It does not depend on the man, not on his actions (the man who runs) or on his attitude (the man who wills). God does grant salvation to those who repent and have faith in Him; but we have seen that the Bible teaches that God is the one that grants both repentance and faith to the person in the first place. Basically, you cannot escape God’s sovereignty.

        Even the immediate context disallows the notion that God is granting a heart of flesh to those who have the right attitude, and denying it to those who have the wrong attitude. This is because the heart of flesh is a regenerated heart (the heart of a saved person) with a godly attitude that seeks to obey God’s commandments, as opposed to a sinful heart of stone that is “dead” and does not seek God or faithful obedience. Now, if the Israelites already had the right attitude and were being rewarded on that basis, then why did God promise to remove their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh? Why would he promise to remove the sinful heart that they did not have, and give them a regenerate heart, if they already had this? That interpretation is internally inconsistent.

        In reality, the Israelites – on the whole – had not been faithful to God, which is why he allowed them to be taken captive just as He promised He would do (e.g. Leviticus 20:22; 18:24-28 Deuteronomy 28:15,36,42). God often uses misfortune as part of the means by which He softens their heart, induces humility, and grants repentance. This is a recurring theme in the Old Testament.

        Ezekiel 11:17-20 reiterates God’s promise to grant repentance, faith, and deliverance to His people who were in captivity at the time. He promised to give them a regenerate heart (remove their unbelieving heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh) that desires to obey His commandments. Further, He promised to deliver them from captivity, and restore them to the land. God was the one that changed their sinful attitude and delivered them from their captors. Naturally, in faithful obedience to God, they would then remove the idols and various abominations of their predecessors. And what of their captors? What does God do with those to whom He does not grant repentance? They get justice (Ezekiel 11:21).

        The specific point I wanted you to see in this passage is that God is the one the changes a person’s heart. We are born into the world with a “heart of stone” that willfully disobeys God and has no desire to change. This is the way everyone would remain if God did not intervene. We don’t come to God on our own sinful initiative. If you are saved, it is because God has chosen to grant you faith and repentance, and it is not due to any merit on your part.

        About Ezekiel 36:26, the only thing we can say in context is that God is going to deal that way with the house of Israel in that specific time for that specific purpose.

        > Dr. Lisle: I appreciate your caution. However, when it comes to salvation, God does not show partiality – He is no “respecter of persons” meaning that God does not save Jews differently than He saves Gentiles. And Ezekiel 36:26 is addressing salvation; therefore, it applies to all of the saved. God doesn’t save the Jews differently than He saves others. When God saves someone, He does so by regenerating their heart – removing their heart of stone and giving them a heart of flesh – a new, living spirit that desires to obey His commandments. This is not unique to Israel, but is true of all believers, as reiterated in the New Testament (e.g. Ephesians 2:1, 1 John 2:3-5).

        In fact, God says He’s going to do that, but He doesn’t say how He’s going to do that.

        > Dr. Lisle: Actually, He says quite specifically that He saves people by taking away their heart of stone, and giving them a heart of flesh, resurrecting their dead spirit into a new living spirit that desires to obey Him rather than being a slave to sin (Ephesians 2:1-5, 1 John 2:3-5).

        But we cannot extrapolate that to all humankind.

        > Dr. Lisle: Actually, we can since the method of salvation has not changed. God gives no other method of salvation to mankind (John 14:6). And we have already seen that no one seeks after God and that this is true of Jews and Gentiles in the Old Testament and in the New (Psalm 14:1-3, Romans 3:9-10). The Bible uses various images throughout the Old and New Testaments to show us in numerous ways that we cannot take credit for any part of our salvation. It may be uncomfortable or even counter-intuitive. But God is under no obligation to work according to our preferences.

        For it is God Himself who, after presenting the consequences of the wicked who turns from all his sins and the righteous who turns away from his righteousness (Ezekiel 18:20-28), commands the house of Israel to repent…

        > Dr. Lisle: Again, you seem to forget that God ordains not only the ends but also the means. God is the one that grants repentance to people. And God is the one who chooses how He will induce such repentance. Sometimes He promises punishment for rebellion and reward for repentance as part of the means by which He brings about repentance. And only God can soften a person’s heart to respond to these external incentives. But God is still always the one that does it.

        …and turn THEMSELVES from all their transgressions; so iniquity shall not be their ruin. And tells THEM to cast away from THEMSELVES all their transgressions, whereby they have transgressed; and tells THEM to make THEMSELVES a new heart and a new spirit; and to turn THEMSELVES, and live (18:30-32).

        > Dr. Lisle: Presumably, you have concluded therefore that people must have an innate ability to do these things since God has commanded them (otherwise citing these verses is irrelevant since they actually agree completely with verses I previously listed). And if so, you have made an error in logic. Moreover, I believe this error as at the heart of perhaps all the others. So please consider these next examples very carefully.

        In Matthew 12:10-13, Jesus encountered a man with a withered hand. Jesus commanded the man HIMSELF to stretch forth his hand. The man did so and it was restored to health. Now since Jesus command this, would you conclude that the man had the ability within HIMSELF to stretch forth his hand? In Luke 18:42, Jesus commanded a blind man to receive his sight. According to verse 43, the man immediately did. Now would you conclude that the man had the innate ability within HIMSELF to obey Christ’s command to receive sight without miraculous help from God? Would you say, “Obviously this man healed himself, since that’s what Jesus told him to do!”? Most people would say that God is the one that gave the man sight, even though Jesus commanded the man to receive his sight!

        There are many biblical examples of God commanding people to do things that they lack the ability to do without miraculous help from God. Therefore, when God commands people to repent and believe, we cannot conclude that this somehow implies that they are able to do this without miraculous help from God. We know from the rest of the Bible that they cannot do so due to their self-imposed depravity.

        Another example that will really blow your mind is found in John 11:1-45. In this chapter, Lazarus has died, and Jesus goes to the tomb and has the stone moved. Jesus then commands Lazarus to come forth. So here we have an example of Jesus giving a command to a dead man! He instructs the dead man to come forth. Amazingly, Lazarus did come forth. My question to you is this: did Lazarus have the ability in himself in his dead state – without miraculous help from God – to obey Jesus’s command? Can physically dead men under their own power respond to God’s command to come to Him? Can spiritually dead men under their own power respond to God’s command to come to Him?

        The thing that will really bake your noodle is when you realize that this analogy is from the Bible itself. It is God who compares the unbeliever’s spiritual state as being like a dead man (Ephesians 2:1-5). The unbeliever is spiritually dead in his sins. A dead man cannot respond to any call. Thus, a spiritually dead man cannot (spiritually) respond to the Gospel unless God resurrects Him, just as Lazarus could not respond to Christ’s command unless God resurrected Him.

        About Romans 9, it is crucial that we understand the whole context, so that we could know what Paul is talking about. If we read verses 1 to 5 we can see that Paul had a concern about his kinsmen, the Israelites. What was wrong about them? Paul speaks about that and he wants to correct them through the entire letter. In 2:17-20 he exposes their pride. They boasted of being the only ones having God (3:29). They boasted of being the only ones knowing and doing God’s will (2:18-20). They boasted of being the only ones forgiven by God (4:6-9). They boasted of being the exclusive children of God through Abraham (9:7-8, see also Matthew 3:9; John 8:39, 41). And they boasted of being the only heirs of the world (4:13-14). Paul wants to correct the Jews of their misunderstanding. This point is the clue to understand Romans 9. Therefore, Paul is not teaching here that Calvinist are right and Arminianist are wrong. He is addressing the misunderstanding of the Jews, who thought that they only were God’s elect. So, Paul, when explaining that the children of the flesh (all Abraham’s descendant) are not the children of God (9:7-8), but the children of the promise are, and that God does not elect people by works (v. 11), he anticipates a reaction from them. He knew that they believed that they were the children of God through Abraham according to God’s word (Genesis 17:7-8; Romans 9:7-8; Matthew 3:9; John 8:39, 41).

        > Dr. Lisle: Yes.

        He knew that they believed that God gave them the law to follow so that they could be justified (Romans 2:17-18; 3:27-28; 9:31-32; 10:1-4).

        > Dr. Lisle: To be clear, the law does not justify in the sense of salvation. No one has ever been saved by obedience to the law. Rather, people are saved by faith in God; that was true in the Old Testament and in the New (Romans 4:3). In terms of obedience to the law, Paul points out that the Jews are no better than the Gentiles, in the sense that both are transgressors of God’s Law (Romans 2:21-25). Paul explains that being Jewish has nothing to do with being saved; he uses physical circumcision to represent Jewish nationality (Romans 2:28). Rather, having a regenerated heart that has faith in God is what marks a saved person; Paul refers to this as a circumcision of the heart (Romans 2:29).

        So, Paul knew that they were going to say, “That’s not fair.” “That would be an injustice from God.” That’s the reason for his rhetorical question in verse 14.

        > Dr. Lisle: Actually, the specific topic Paul addresses in verse 14 relates to what he wrote in verse 13, which stems back to verse 11. Namely, before Jacob and Esau were even born, before they had a chance to do anything good or bad, God had already determined to love and bless Jacob and to hate Esau. THIS is the apparent injustice that Paul addresses in the following verses. Both Jacob and Esau were sinful from conception and neither deserved God’s love, mercy, or compassion. Yet, God selected one of them to save. And this is His divine prerogative.

        This of course does relate to the overarching theme in Romans that Jews have no right to think that they are better than Gentiles, and cannot complain if God sovereignly chooses to save some Gentiles and not save some Jews. In the Old Testament, God sovereignly chose to save primarily Jews and not Gentiles – and that was his prerogative. Just as Jacob had done nothing to earn God’s compassion, so the Old Testament Jews had done nothing to earn God’s compassion. God chose Israel out of the other nations for His sovereign purpose, just as He did with Jacob. Therefore, the Jews have absolutely no basis for boasting. Nor can they complain if God chooses to save the Gentiles and reject the unfaithful Jews.

        He answers that by saying that God said to Moses that it’s by mercy and compassion that He saves, not by works (another way of saying “not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth”) (vs. 15-16).

        > Dr. Lisle: Running is an action. But willing is an attitude of the heart – not a work. So, God saves whomever He wishes, without using their works or their attitude as a basis for doing so. Thus, the saved have absolutely no reason to boast over the unsaved. God can change a person’s heart, and we have already seen that this is what He does when He saves someone (Ezekiel 36:26).

        Then Paul, when explaining that God has mercy of some and hardens others, without respect of persons (2:11), for His divine purposes, he anticipates another reaction from the Jews. He knows what they are going to ask. He knows they would say, “God is almighty; no one can resist His will. If He hardens someone‘s heart, why does He yet find fault? (v. 19) Paul answers by first saying that God is Sovereign. No one is wise enough to question God’s plans (v. 20; also 11:33-36). If He uses one group for one purpose and another group for another purpose, He knows exactly what He is doing (vs. 21-24).

        > Dr. Lisle: Yes.

        But Paul clarifies that God has given them ample chance and time to repent, but they have chosen not to, they chose not to believe (vs. 31-33; 10:2-4, 21).

        > Dr. Lisle: That is certainly true. And if God had not granted you and me repentance, we would be in exactly the same situation as those unbelievers. Unbelievers don’t want to be saved. That’s true of all of them. Their nature is to sin, and they freely choose to reject God out of their desire. They do have a physical ability to repent. And so they are culpable. God is perfectly fair in offering them salvation, and condemning them to hell when they freely reject it. Their spiritual inability to embrace the Gospel stems from their self-imposed hardened heart. But God also has the right to intervene, to turn a person’s heart around so that the person will repent, trust, and freely love God. God is sovereign even over man’s heart (Proverbs 21:1).

        That’s consistent with what it is said in Romans 1:21-32; 2:4-5, Hebrews 3:7-19, and Isaiah 5 and 6. In fact, when we study the life of the pharaoh Paul is referring to, we can understand a couple of things: (1) He was already an adult when the harden of his heart happened.

        > Dr. Lisle: That’s true of Pharaoh. But it’s not true of Jacob and Esau. Both were conceived in iniquity (Psalm 51:5), born sinners. God allowed one to continue in his self-destructive desires and to reap the consequences. God granted repentance and faith to the other. This is fair because God gave Esau exactly what he deserved, and He have Jacob something much better than he deserved.

        (2) He must have heard about the God of Joseph, who delivered Egypt from those 7 years of terrible hunger.

        > Dr. Lisle: That may well be. Even if he hadn’t, he still knew about God because everyone does (Romans 1:18). God has revealed Himself inescapably to all men in such a way that we know God’s moral standard, and that we fall short of it (Romans 2:14-15). General revelation is why no one can argue on judgment day, “I just didn’t know any better.” They will have no excuse (Romans 1:20)

        (3) When the Bible says that there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph, that does not mean that he never heard about Joseph and the hunger. (Compare with Judges 2:10 where it says that another generation aroused, which knew not the Lord; but in chapter 3:9 says that, when they were in distress, they cried to the Lord. They knew about the Lord, but they knew not the Lord.) (4) When he says, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord”, that doesn’t mean that he never heard about God. That was an expression of stubbornness and defiance. (The last part of this verse says, “neither will I let Israel go.”) The conclusion is that, in consistency with Romans 1:21-32; 2:4-5, Hebrews 3:7-19, and Isaiah 5 and 6, pharaoh had all his life until that moment to humble before the God who delivered his people from a terrible hunger.

        > Dr. Lisle: Yes – I agree completely. What concerns me is that you seem to think that God saves at least some people on the basis of some sort of merit within the person: not works of course, but perhaps because of a better (more humble?) heart attitude. That would give the believer a basis for boasting over the unbeliever – “I at least had the humility to recognize I needed salvation; I at least chose to repent; I at least decided to have faith. That’s why I am saved, and not so-and-so.” But the Bible does not allow you to take credit for any of those things. If you are saved it is because God had mercy upon you.

        The confusing part, perhaps, is that God does indeed save those who repent, those who have faith, those who have a right heart. Nonetheless, the person cannot take credit for these things because they all are gifts from God. Yes, God commands these things, but since we would never obey Him in our sinful state, He ultimately is the one who gives these things to us. God commands repentance (Acts 17:30), but He is the one who grants repentance (Acts 5:31, 2 Timothy 2:25). God command us to have faith (Mark 11:22), but He is the one who gives us faith (Hebrews 12:2). God commands us to have a right heart (Ezekiel 18:31), but God is the one who gives us a right heart (Ezekiel 11:19, 36:26, Deuteronomy 30:6, Jeremiah 32:39, Psalm 51:10). And that shouldn’t surprise us because God commanded Lazarus to come forth, yet God was the one the resurrected Lazarus.

        So all the things that Christians want to take credit for in their own salvation are in fact acts of God. It would be like Lazarus trying to take credit for his resurrection by saying, “The reason I was resurrected and not others is because I responded to Christ’s command.” But the only reason Lazarus was able to respond to Christ was because God chose to resurrect him.

        One final comment. You don’t have to be ‘comfortable’ with what the Bible teaches. Some biblical teachings are hard, and this is definitely one of them. People often want God’s ways to be understandable to them and intuitive. And it is tempting to bend God’s Word to something more palatable to us. But God is infinite, and we are finite. Therefore, there will always be aspects to Him that are perplexing to us. That’s okay. We may not understand how men can be responsible and free, and yet God is completely sovereign. That’s okay. God doesn’t require our understanding – only faithful obedience.

      • Emma says:

        How is it a “very bad approach”?
        Also, when did I say I’m citing versus that contradict each other ? Yes, I believe God can sovereignly save someone, when and where he wants. He is God. At the same time, Mankind has an obligation to repent and believe. I was trying to explain that to Adnel. The problem with Calvinism (which is why I referenced armenanisum) is that you guys think “your way” as in man cannot choose is the only way someone will be saved. The Bible explains mankind also must choose. Calvinism reject that mankind cannot choose at all. David Hunt wrote a whole book about it

        • Josef says:

          Emma,

          I’ll be happy to discuss this topic further on the BSI forums (my username is PostmilCalvinist). So beyond this response, if we continue, we should probably take it over there.

          >”How is it a “very bad approach”?”

          Since the Bible is the word of God, and God does not contradict Himself, His word would not contain contradictions. A proper interpretation needs to be able to reconcile all relevant Scripture references.

          >”Also, when did I say I’m citing versus that contradict each other ?”

          That seemed to be your approach because you did not even engage the Scriptures I posted in support of my position. You instead posted verses that you believe contradicted my position and ended it with “The list goes on” implying that the numbers are on your side.

          >”At the same time, Mankind has an obligation to repent and believe”

          Yes, humans are obligated and held accountable to God. However, the mistake you’re making is the assumption that because God commands that we repent, that we have the moral ability to do so. This is simply an unbiblical position. As I posted earlier, Jesus Himself said (John 6:44):

          “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”

          >”The Bible explains mankind also must choose. Calvinism reject that mankind cannot choose at all. David Hunt wrote a whole book about it.”

          Again, you’re assuming that because God gives a command, that man has the moral ability to fulfill that command. Perhaps an analogy might help. If a man who is heavily intoxicated decides to drive a car, he has the obligation to follow and obey all traffic laws, even he does not have the ability to actually fulfill this obligation.

          The Bible plainly says that no one has this ability:

          John 6:44: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”

          Romans 3:11-12: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good,not even one.”

          Romans 8:7-8: “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

          Notice Paul says that the unregenerate man not only does not submit to God’s law, but he “cannot”!

          And I’m very familiar with Dave Hunt and I actually have read and own a copy of “What Love is This?” The problem Hunt has is he also has a tendency to underestimate what the Bible has to say about the human condition, and he tends to let his emotions influence his interpretation.

          Again, if you want to continue, I’ll happily do so at the BSI forums.

          • Emma says:

            Josef,
            We’ll be here till the cows come home…
            I’m not going to engage you at the forum as it costs to be on.
            I’ll end it at this.I believe the Bible is the literal word of God. I don’t need John Calvin to tell me so. I trust Christ’s words. And I’m well aware that we need the power of God to repent. However, we will be held accountable if we decide against following Christ. God’s word promisies that he will not cast out anyone that calls on Him. God’s word doesn’t make contradictions. Jesus went everywhere commanding all men to repent for the kingdom of heaven was at hand. Paul Washer himself admitted that although he embraces all the reformed confessions, when he reads the Bible he sees ” I don’t care what you’ve done, come home.” The Gospel is the power of God to save mankind. Not all will choose too follow.

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