There are those who are convinced that our salvation was predetermined before the foundation of the universe. Incidentally, I believe that. There are scriptures that make it clear. (Eph.1:4 among them) However, to fully understand that, we need to think some things through.
In Matthew 11:20-24 Jesus denounced the cities who did not repent.
“Then He proceeded to denounce the towns where most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent: ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes long ago! But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until today. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.’”
It is important to note that Jesus did not say, “When you saw those miracles you could not repent because you were not chosen.” This passage seems to indicate that they would be condemned in the judgment “because they did not repent.”
I recently saw the question on the Facebook, “What is Calvinism.” The answer given was Romans 8: 29,30.
“For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers. And those He predestined, He also called; and those He called, He also justified; and those He justified he also glorified.”
l want to emphasize the word, “foreknew,” in these verses. A strong Calvinist might point out that the word “foreknew,” here refers to a previous relationship, rather than knowing your hair color or your name. However, while this certainly refers to more than the omniscience of God, it cannot mean less. God has always known every decision you will ever make, every thought you have ever thought or ever will think. And He has known everything about your character and destiny from before the foundation of the world. In Matthew 12:37 Jesus told us we would be acquitted or condemned by our words. He has known every word we have spoken or will speak.
Now, let me connect the parable Jesus told of the sower and the seed in Matthew 13. Let's read the first part of the passage First beginning with verse 3.
“Then He told them many things in parables, saying: “Consider the sower who went out to sow. As he was sowing, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on rocky ground, where there wasn’t much soil, and they sprang up quickly since the soil wasn’t deep. But when the sun came up they were scorched, and since they had no root, they withered. Others fell among thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them. Still others fell on good ground and produced a crop: some 100, some 60, and some 30 times what was sown. Anyone who has ears should listen!”
Before Jesus explains this parable, He tells His disciples why He speaks to the people in parables. And I think it is important for us to look at this explanation before we go on to the explanation of the parable.
“Then the disciples came up and asked Him, 'Why do You speak to them in parables?'
He answered them, 'Because the secrets of the kingdom of heaven have been given for you to know, but it has not been given to them. For whoever has, more will be given to him, and he will have more than enough. But whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. For this reason I speak to them in parables, because looking they do not see, and hearing they do not listen or understand. Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says:
You will listen and listen,
yet never understand;
and you will look and look,
yet never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown callous;
their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
otherwise they might see with their eyes
and hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn back—and I would cure them.
“But your eyes are blessed because they do see, and your ears because they do hear! For I assure you: Many prophets and righteous people longed to see the things you see yet didn’t see them; to hear the things you hear yet didn’t hear them."
There are two things that I think are important to see about why Jesus spoke in parables, and why some people receive the word of God and others do not. First, hearing and understanding the word about the kingdom of heaven is a gift. Verse 16 clearly says, “Your eyes are blessed because they do see, and your ears because they do hear.”
But there is some personal responsibility in this truth. In verse 13 Jesus says He spoke to them in parables so they would not understand. But the reason he gives for their not understanding, from the prophecy of Isaiah, is that they won't understand what they have been told. And He seems to be saying, “If I made this clear enough, even these people who reject Me would come to understand and I would cure them.”
Recently, someone approached me on Facebook, asking if it was fair to say my position was that some people will receive Christ because they are righteous. I answered, “No, my position is that the matter is complex.”
There are two points upon which I strongly disagree with this notion. The first is the concept of righteousness here. To say that some of us are righteous because we admit we are not righteous and need a Savior, is strange indeed. The only possible way you could say that, was if righteousness were comparative. Is someone righteous because someone else is worse? The only One we can compare our righteousness to is Jesus. None of us come close to His holy standard.
My second concern, is that this answer is more simplistic than what Jesus gives us. I do not know how many kinds of barriers may stand between a person and the grace of God. I do not know that we have anything to do with some of them. For instance, I was born in a place, and into a family where I would hear the gospel all my life. To be honest, I really didn't understand it in my younger years. And I certainly cannot explain why God put up with my hard-headedness as long as He did. But God put me in the place of hearing His word. I did not choose where I would be born. If you are concerned about the fairness of salvation, how was my privilege fair? I too believe God is absolutely just. And that will be demonstrated in the end. (Eph.3:10) But for now it is complex. What other barriers might there be to someone's being chosen by God? This is far more information than God has given us.
So we finally come to the parable itself. Let me point out a few crucial things that explain why some of us come to Christ, and some of us do not.
“You, then, listen to the parable of the sower: Whenever anyone hears the word about the kingdom and doesn’t understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the one sown along the path. And the one sown on rocky ground—this is one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy.
Yet he has no root in himself, but is short-lived. When pressure or persecution comes because of the word, immediately he stumbles. Now the one sown among the thorns—this is one who hears the word, but the worries of this age and the seduction of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. But the one sown on the good ground—this is one who hears and understands the word, who does bear fruit and yields: some 100, some 60, some, 30 times what was sown.”
I will briefly enumerate what I have to say about these verses.
- First, this is a matter of spiritual warfare. The devil snatches the gospel away from those who hear but do not understand. And while I do not know all that is involved in his taking hearts captive to do his will, I know that it is the right thing to pray.
- The second matter is understanding. Even as a believer, I must cry out to God for spiritual understanding. And then I must explain truth, faith, the gospel, and other things that release spiritual power in the lives of people.
- The third is a matter of a divided heart. When my heart is filled with the cares of this world and the seduction of wealth, the whole purpose of my conversion maybe lost. What is the purpose of the Kingdom of Heaven? I do believe you can get insight on who is really saved from this parable. But Jesus does not present that as the point. The kingdom of heaven was not come to mankind so we can abandoned Earth to the judgment of God. The kingdom was brought to Earth so that our transformed lives might bear fruit, establishing a stronghold of the kingdom of heaven in this world.
Now, I have written this so people will think these matters through. I think that is important whether you agree with me or not. I am aware this has become a painful issue. And there seem to be 3 faulty positions on this issue. At this point I do not wish to give arguments for why I think these positions are faulty. I would simply like you to think about them.
Some of you will label me as a hide-bound Calvinist, and write me off as a heretic. More of you may think this theology is too complex to understand or worry about. And some of you will call me an Armenian. You at least need to know that is not necessarily accurate. Armenian beliefs are fairly specific. And it often seems to me that people are excluded from the fold by what I would label, extra-calvinisticum. George Whitefield and John Wesley disagreed over these issues. But at the funeral of Wesley, Whitfield recognized the Holiness of his brother in Christ.
I love the poem by Edwin Markham that Charles Swindoll has slightly rearranged in his sermons.
“Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout
He drew a circle that left me out.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and left him In!”