No Fatalism Here
by Joseph Franks
Paul was a son of Abraham who understood that God showed a measure of grace to Ishmael but much more grace to Esau.
In addition, Paul was a child of Jacob. From the sacred tradition, he realized the grace shown to Esau was much less than that shown to Jacob.
And as an Israelite, Paul knew what it meant to be part of the predestined nation. Israel was the elect of God. She was predestined by the Almighty to receive undeserved covenantal love. Sure, all the world received common grace from the Sovereign God. but Israel was set apart to be his Chosen People.
But recently, Paul had undergone a shift in his theology. Not all of Israel was Israel. Not all Jews were Jews. Some were members of the “Synagogue of Satan,” and within the Chosen People group, many not-chosen individuals were found. And in addition, he now understood that the “Israel of God” was comprised equally of Hebrews and Gentiles. No longer was there significance between the Jew and Greek. The foreknowing, decreeing, predestinating, and electing God had chosen for himself people from every ethnicity.
However, while Paul believed that God “foreordained whatsoever comes to pass”, and that “no one could come to the Father unless the Father draws him,” and also, “many have been called but few have been chosen;” he was not fatalistic. He did not use the sovereign decree of God as an excuse for evangelical passivity. Or to put it in modern-day terms, Paul was not a Hyper-Calvinist who believed it honored God to sit back and let him do the work. This point can clearly be seen in 2 Corinthian 6.
First, we see his passion:
Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. (6:1-2)
Paul has been tirelessly co-laboring with other believers as “Ambassadors of Christ” and “Ministers of Reconciliation.” He has been preaching the Gospel of Grace and warning all of the consequences of remaining at odds with Jesus Christ. Even now he appeals to his readers to receive the grace of God. Quoting from Isaiah he screams, “Be saved now! Today is the favorable time for you to bow the knee and receive grace.” Paul is passionate to see unbelievers made part of the elect community.
Then we see Paul’s caution:
We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry … (6:3)
While recognizing that none but the elect will come, and also recognizing that all the elect will come, Paul is still careful in the manner about which he presents the Gospel. He is not a care-free Calvinist throwing caution to the wind. He is also not a Hebrew traditionalist who will refuse to speak the cultural language of the people whom he seeks to win. In all things, Paul is determined not to be a stumbling block that hinders the sovereign work of Christ and his Spirit.
Then, look at Paul’s gumption.
… but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. (6:3-10)
Paul is the radical disciple who, despite immense difficulties and sufferings, will not turn back from his mission. He is one who perseveres in his passion; a fair-weather Christian he is not.
Finally, look at his clean conscience. He is confident that he has not contributed towards the spiritual coldness of his hearers:
We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also. (6:3-13)
So friends, let us not be scriptural Arminians and discount the sovereign decision and power of God. We love him because he first loved us.
But also, let us not be scriptural Hyper-Calvinists who sit in our pews learning the Scripture, go to our classes and memorize the Westminster documents, and then go out into the world having little or no effect. Let us be missionary zealots. Let us have passion, caution, gumption, and very clean consciences. In evangelistic ambition, let us who are Reformed put to shame those who trust in man’s work and man’s will. Let us not be practical fatalists, but instead, let us be relentlessly evangelistic in our manner of living life.