I just had a great morning with a friend from church — well, acquaintance, really, but we connected at the men's retreat a few weeks ago, and I hope we will become close friends. I respect him greatly for his parental skills (he maintains better discipline with 5 boys (aged 5 and under) than I can with 3) and the depth and sincerity of his doctrine. So we both woke up early and met at Starbucks at 6 before heading to work. We had an hour to talk about theological minutia (so much more interesting than politics!), and this question came up: are the non-elect judged for rejecting Christ ('s Grace), or for disobeying the Law? Or is there even a difference? 

If you're up on the buzzwords circling the Reformed community these days, you can probably read between the lines to make some judgements about which theological campfires my friend toasts his marshmallows at.  I have a somewhat uninformed impression that those campfires are dangerous, but I want to learn from him why he believes what he does, and reap whatever good I can.  And hopefully he'll also be blessed by my fellowship, although I doubt I have any ideas to offer him that will widen his horizons.


12 Responses

  1. I am unable to attach any theological buzzword to your question about the non-elect. Therefore some elaboration on the dangerous campfires may be illuminative for the non-cognoscenti.

    If you consider Cain’s line of descendants, they, as the non-elect (AKA the seed of the serpent) were judged and damned not for disobeying any law but more for rejecting Christ – such as he was at that time. Same for Ham’s descendants. However, if you consider Esau, you may have to entertain a third option. Namely that he was simply rejected out of hand as cannon fodder for God’s eternal drama of history. Meaning possibly that in the case of all the serpent’s seed, they are damned primarily because God hates them.
    *** END OF BAIT ***

    Glad to hear, though, of a friend who can stimulate theological discussion. Those types can be hard to find.

  2. Hmm. Count me among both the non-cognoscenti and the campfireless. Since the two options are rejecting Christ and disobeying the Law, are we allowed to answer both?

    From Hebrews chapter 2:

    We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

  3. I think I am catching on, meaning I can connect the dots between your question and the buzzword (which you revealed to me by phone). At first the buzzword didn’t seem to relate very well to the question. But now it does. It becomes more obvious to me IF you were to re-word the question by reversing things. Instead of asking what failure caused the non-elect to be damned, ask: are we saved by compliance to the law or by faith in Christ.

    Is that not a similar (or exactly the same) question?

    I think that what lies at the bottom of this is whether or not there exists a works principle underlying the grace principle. It seems obvious that ever since the Gen 3:15 proto-evangelium, Christ is offered as the grace-way back into the presence of God, i.e. eternal life. However, the works principle was there prior, offered to Adam as a way to navigate the probation and enter eternal life (represented by the sacramental tree of life).

    However, to the Israelites, the works principle was a vital element in their religious framework. Lev 18:5 “do this and live”. That verse right there sums up the works principle which showed the Israelites that if they complied with the “rules” they could obtain eternal life. This can be stated more bluntly. There is really only one way to get to heaven: you have to earn it by works. Adam could have pulled it off. We have absolutely no chance of pulling it off. (Regardless of the fact that scads of really nice good people think that they do pull it off). Christ did pull it off.

    So, what is the point of the question? It is whether or not 1st century Jews (including Paul) were of the mindset that righteousness was attainable by works. Or not. If not, and that if the 1st century millieu weren’t attempting to “get to heaven” by a works righteousness program, then Paul’s polemic against the Judaizers was not a program of imputed justification by faith alone. And that therefore our definition of justification as imputed righteousness, is all wet.

    If you side with this new-ish perspective on Pauline theology, then you have to ditch your belief that Christ’s active obedience (works righteousness) meant a thing and that it has been imputed to you by faith. His sacrifice for sin on the cross is half the battle. Heaven must be earned by active righteousness/obedience.

    In order to decide where you stand, you have to look closely at the Pentateuch and also at Paul, quoting the Pentateuch, in his key passages in Rom. 10:4,5 and Gal 3:8-12 or so.

  4. When Paul preached the gospel in Athens, after telling a brief history of the universe, he explained that the gospel wasn’t restricted to one nation anymore, but that now God “commandeth all men every where to repent”. So, should we view the gospel as an “offer” or as a “command”, or neither? Would it be better to think of it as the gospel “call” or the gospel “offer”? That’s just something I’ve been discussing with a friend; I don’t know if it aplies to this topic.

    There are 2 kinds of people in the world, those in God’s covenant of grace and those out of it. Those out of it will be judged for ther works. Those in it will be judged for Christ’s (and not theirs). Those who are judged for their own works (including the work of rejecting Christ) are bound for hell.

    You didn’t speak of those who’ve never heard of Christ in your original question, by the way, Radical Rube. They don’t have the occaision to reject Christ’s grace as presented in the gospel, and yet, are still judged for their works (ie. disobeying the Law).

    I hope i haven’t opened the door to hundreds of comments on the salvation of the hypothetical tribesman in Borneo who’s never heard the gospel, but you cracked the door before i opened it.

  5. The similar concept did come up; that we are commanded to love God, and rejecting Christ is a violation of this commandment. So I'm sure our favorite both/and man would say Yes, damnation is the consequence of sin, Yes, rejecting Christ is a sin.

    As for Borneo, I've heard Nature is quite beautiful over there (perhaps one might even call it "divine"), so Romans 1:19-20 must have a stronger effect.

  6. Instead of asking what failure caused the non-elect to be damned, ask: are we saved by compliance to the law or by faith in Christ. Is that not a similar (or exactly the same) question?

    I don’t know what my friend would say about that, but my response is that’s not a fair reversal of the question; it should rather be “Are we saved by faith in Christ, or by Christ’s compliance to the law?”

    And I am confused the works principle underlying grace, which makes you sound a lot like my friend.

  7. Heaven must be earned. That is how the works principle is to be found at the bottom of the grace principle. In theory, you can (or could have) through your own perfect righteousness earned eternal life. Of course, believing that you are doing that is tantamount to thumbing your nose at the Bible and at Jesus who has done it and by his grace has imputed his works righteousness for you. So grace is not just unmerited favor. It is a grant of merit. It is the imputation of works righteousness. That is, active obedience, as if you also had perfectly performed Christ’s probationary tasks/law-keeping.

    As for your own rewording of the question, we are definitely not saved by faith in Christ. We are saved by grace through faith. The point of faith being to strip away any idea that works work.

    Also, Christ’s compliance to the law is a necessary but not sufficient element. That leaves out the cross, of course. That is, we are saved by the gracious work of Jesus Christ, both by the imputation of his active obedience and by the sacrificial atonement of his passive obedience.

  8. I like the way Bruce thinks.

  9. “are the non-elect judged for rejecting Christ (‘s Grace), or for disobeying the Law? Or is there even a difference?”

    Good grief. Talk about minutae (did I spell that right?).

    I visit your blog to catch glimpses of something sterling from someone who seems sincere. This post started out encouraging, and ended … maybe intriguing … but talk about … insider. Like “inside the beltway,” maybe this is “inside esoteric, completely emotionally sterile, theological doctrine.” Who lives or dies by that kind of question? Or lives or dies better by that kind of question?

    I’m not an insider and have no idea what you all and the crazy posters (above) … good grief … are getting at.

    Sigh, I’m slinking back to the blogs I read daily where colloquial English is written and taken for granted.

    One last thing: Oh, my god! Quote: “Are the non-elect judged for rejecting Christ (‘s Grace), or for disobeying the Law? Or is there even a difference?” Whaaaat? Do you guys not talk about your feelings? Oh, forgot, you’re probably an engineer or a techie. It’s all cerebral, most likley. But hell, if you’re going to get up at 6:30 a.m. and tell us about it, can you not include some bit of emotion?

    Sorry…I’m in a rut today. I’ve been purusing all the “reformed bloggers” sites (waaaay too many of them) and my rant has been boiling over. Thanks for listening. :) I’ll be back, searching for something sterling. :)

  10. Thx for coming back Lessie!

    As it happens, I am an engineer, but I do occasionally talk about emotion. For instance, you might prefer God's Love, Not Mine, or Best Hymn Tune, which are a little more devotional.

    And I believe God made us all differently. Just as you get frustrated by dry doctrinal questions and crave some emotion once in a while, if I am placed in an environment that offers nothing but emotion, I crave substance. And doctrine is important in practical ways, like Should I baptize my baby?, or How should I respond to somebody who says "I go to church, but I don't believe in ridiculous stuff like the Resurrection".

    Anyways, due to the personality God gave me, I am certainly more likely to sin by over-doctrinizing or under-emotionalizing than the other way 'round. I hope you'll keep coming back and help keep me accountable for loving God, not just studying Him!

  11. What a thoughtful response!

  12. Emotions, shmemotions. What’s love got to do with it? Oh, wait…love is a decision and not an emotion, isn’t it? Wrong reference, sorry.

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