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Thursday, November 17, 2016

...But That All Should Come To Repentance, Part 2

Our study of Exodus has prompted us to consider that God hardens some and draws others.  (These are the doctrines of reprobation and election, respectively.)  We’ve seen these ideas in Exodus 4:21-23, but in the NT we also find them in passages like Romans 9:6-24.  But how are we to reconcile these things with other passages that seem to teach otherwise?  Last time we began to look at 2 Peter 3:9, a text that some understand to be a challenge to the doctrine of election.  The verse reads:
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
We’ve already seen that the near context and the grammar of the verse itself will not allow us to understand this as a statement against the doctrine of election.  The key to understanding the scope of the verse is the word “you.”  In this post, I’d like to consider the question, “who is the ‘you’ in this verse, and what difference does it make?”
In short, Peter is writing to the community of professing believers, among whom he assumes are some who are not yet truly saved.  This can be demonstrated from the line of thought in the first chapter. 
In Chapter 1, the apostle states that the divine power of Christ has granted to us “all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature…” (vv3-4).  God has granted salvation (“life”) and sanctification (“godliness”).  Peter then exhorts the reader to “supplement your faith with virtue” and other various qualities that serve as evidence of salvation.  So God has granted salvation, and we are to bear evidence of that salvation in the way that we live.
V10 is key: “Therefore, brothers be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.”  What does he mean?  He intends for them to find evidence of their calling and election in the presence of these virtuous qualities in their lives.  This tells us at least two things.  First, their calling and election result in the virtuous qualities, for it is “His divine power” granted to them that empowers them not only to be saved, but also to exercise godliness.  Without that divine power, there would be none of these virtuous qualities.  V11 says that it is this exercise of godly virtue (which results from the divine power that saves and sanctifies) that secures their entrance into the eternal kingdom of the Lord.
So if we follow the chain backward, we see that an entrance into the eternal kingdom is the result of the godly virtue that is the result of their calling and election.  Therefore, “be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure.”  Election results in eternal life. 
Second, this kind of exhortation is always two-sided.  (We find similar exhortations and warnings elsewhere in the NT –1 Cor 10:1-12; 2 Cor 13:5; Heb 3:12, 4:1-11 – these are all exhortations that essentially say, “Make sure you’re saved!).  On one side, it is an exhortation to the saved to work to show the fruit of salvation.  Why?  Because that evidence is comforting to the soul.  It is a way that we can be assured of our salvation.  On the other side, it serves as a way to show those who think they are saved that they really are not, and therefore should repent and believe.  Both sides serve the elect – one by assuring the elect of their salvation, the other by drawing the yet-unsaved elect to salvation.  In this exhortation is the implicit understanding that Peter is writing to a group in which there may be elect ones who have not yet been saved.
This point alone is enough to indicate that 2 Pet 3:9 has a particular audience in view.  Since, Peter in 1:10 has already exhorted the readers to examine themselves to see if their lives show evidence of calling and election, it would make perfect sense that in 3:9 he would say, “The Lord…is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”  1:10 and 3:9 address the same issue – there are some elect who have not yet been converted.
So early in the letter, we have a clear reference to election, which does not fit with a more universal understanding of 2 Pet 3:9.  The word “election” is a great difficulty for those who oppose the doctrine of election because it means “the state of being chosen”.  To understand the verse to mean that God doesn’t choose particular persons to be saved, but He desires equally that all people come to salvation, we have to either ignore this reference to election or come up with some other explanation for it. 
There are two ways that opponents to election try to deal with this.  One is to take it to refer to a corporate election.  In other words, God chose the church to be saved.  He chose the body, rather than the individuals, so that any individual who chooses to join the body may be considered elect by virtue of their membership with the church.  The individual has the prerogative to join the body or not join the body.  So where that word is found in Scripture, they read it as a corporate election.
However, that understanding doesn’t make much sense in the context of 2 Pet 1:10.  Under this view of election, God does not elect individuals – election is corporate.  Therefore, Peter would have to be saying here, “be all the more diligent to make the election of the church sure.”  How does that fit with the exhortation that precedes it – the exhortation to show the fruit of salvation?  How does evidence of individual salvation help to make the election of a corporate body sure?  It doesn’t. 
The other way that some try to deal with the concept of election is to assert that election is based on God’s foreknowledge.  In this view, God from the foundation of the world saw all those who would choose to be saved.  He then did a “preemptive choosing.”  Essentially, God chose to save those whom He foresaw would choose Him.  They read that understanding of election into each use of that word. 
But it bears repeating that “election” means “the state of having been chosen.”  It does not mean “the state of being recognized beforehand as one who will make a particular choice.”  It also does not mean “the state of being chosen preemptively.”  It simply means “chosen.”   
Now, it’s possible for a context to color the meaning of a word.  But the burden is always on the interpreter to find contextual markers that point to such a meaning.  In this case, in order to understand this as “election based upon foreknowledge” there must be something in the text indicating the basis on which the choice is made.  There are no such markers in this text.  There is nothing that would lead a completely objective reader to understand “election” to mean “election based on a foreknown choice.”   
So, I would hold that the material in 2 Peter 1, especially the reference to election in 1:10, precludes a universal explanation of 2 Peter 3:9.  Next time, we will look at chapter 2, which makes a universal understanding of this verse even less likely. 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

...But That All Should Come to Repentance

On Sunday we spent a bit of time considering God’s plan to harden Pharaoh’s heart and then judge him for his obstinate refusal to let the people go.  The passage has implications for our understanding of God’s control of human decisions.  This subject is not only difficult to understand, but also is difficult to reconcile with other passages of Scripture that seem to uphold that God does not harden people or that He desires for all people to be saved.
In a blog series many moons ago, I worked through some of these passages seeking to explain them in their appropriate contexts.  But it’s been a long time and I’m sure it would be helpful to revisit these things, especially as we’re working our way through Exodus, where we will be confronted on numerous occasions with the meticulous sovereignty of God.
2 Peter 3:9 is a verse that is frequently cited as being a difficulty for the notion that God hardens some sinners and elects others to salvation. 
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
A cursory reading of this verse, outside of its context, would seem to present a very different picture from passages like Exo 4:21-23 and Romans 9:6-26, which teach that God hardens some and draws others.  Peter, here, seems to say the opposite – that God desires all people, not just some, to be saved. 
But the key phrases in the previous sentence are “cursory reading” and “outside of its context.”  When we look carefully at the verse in its context, the difficulty disappears altogether.  It will take a while to develop this – more than one post – but if you’ll hang in there, you’ll most likely be able to understand how this works and you’ll also be able to help others who have questions about it.
Let’s consider first the immediate context of the verse.  In a later post, we’ll look at the greater context of 2 Peter, including the first couple of chapters.  Peter writes 3:9 as part of a response to skeptics who claim that the Lord is not going to return.  He warns in vv1-3 that scoffers will come in the last days, and in v4 he gives the content of their scoffing:
They will say, "Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation."
The argument of these scoffers is that Jesus must not be coming back since nothing has changed since the beginning of time.  Peter’s first point in response is that these scoffers overlook the fact that God has already brought judgment once before in the form of the flood (3:5-7).  His second point is that God does not mark time as we do – a thousand years is as a day and vice versa (3:8).  In other words, it may seem to us like the Lord is slow to fulfill His promise to return, but that is only because of our relative experience of the passage of time. 
His third point is crucial and is found in 3:9: The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.  It’s essential that we keep in mind that this verse is answering an objection regarding the return of the Lord.  The promise mentioned is the Lord’s promise to return for His bride.  Peter is explaining why the Lord has not returned yet.  He has not returned yet, “because he is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”  The Lord is patient – He is waiting to return – until “all” repent. 
Those who contend that this verse refutes the idea that God chooses to harden some and to draw others hold that “all” means all people without exception.  They would say that this verse indicates that God wants every single person to be saved. 
But will the context allow us to understand “all” in this way, especially if we keep in mind that this is being given as a reason for the Lord’s waiting to return?  Who is “all”?  If “all” is all people without exception and if God is waiting to return until “all” repent, then we are forced to conclude that the Lord will never return because other Scriptures are clear that not all people come to repentance.  In fact, 2 Peter alone contains numerous references to the certain judgment of the wicked (2:1, 3, 4-9, 12-13, 17, 21; 3:7, 10, 11-12, 16).  It is not merely a possibility that some will not repent and therefore be judged.  It is a certainty predicted in this very epistle.  It is a certainty that some will not repent.  Therefore, if Jesus is waiting to return until all people without exception repent, He will never return.  
But that is clearly not Peter’s point.  This section is intended to reassure the recipients that the Lord IS going to return.  After all, Peter is refuting those who say that the Lord is not going to return.  He’s going to return when “all” repent.  It must be that “all” does not mean all people without exception.
And we can know that “all” doesn’t mean all people without exception based upon 3:9 itself.  Consider the grammatical structure of the last half of the verse: 
because he is patient toward you,
not wishing that any should perish,
but that all should reach repentance
The parallel phrases “not wishing that any should perish” and “but that all should reach repentance” both modify the clause, “He is patient toward you.”  In other words, both of those phrases clarify or explain the preceding clause.  “You” is the key word here for helping us to understand to whom Peter is referring.  The Lord’s patience is not toward all people without exception, but toward a specific group, “you.”  The “any” that He does not want to perish and the “all” that He wants to come to repentance are both contained in the “you” of the main clause.  That’s the grammatical structure.  The grammar of the text itself will not allow us to understand “all” to be all people without exception.  Rather, it is “all” of the “you.”
So who is the “you”?  The context tells us.  We’ll look at that next time.