Faith-Conditioned Destinations in 1 Peter 2:8

1 Peter 2:8 seems to be thought by some to teach that God has unconditionally determined some people to not be believers in Jesus, by unilateral decree. This stems from a seemingly poor interpretation of what is meant by “They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.” I would like to attempt to show an interpretation of the passage that better honours the relevant Biblical texts.

1 Peter 2:6-8 For in Scripture it says:
“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame.”
Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,
“The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”
and, “A stone that causes people to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.”
They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for. (NIV)

For now, note here that Peter doesn’t mention the cause, or reason, that they were destined for stumbling. It could be the case that it is by God’s unilateral decree, or it could be something else. Now, compare 1 Peter 2:6-8 with Romans 9:30-33.

Romans 9:30-33 What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. As it is written:
“See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall,
and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.” (NIV)

Peter in vs.6-8 and Paul in v.33 are both quoting from Isaiah 8:14 and 28:16. Remember from ch.1 that Peter’s epistle is addressed primarily to Jewish exiles and at this point in Romans, Paul’s words are also directed to the people of Israel too (cf. v.31). Since they are both drawing from the same Old Testament citations and both have the same audience in mind, it would seem reasonable to assume that they are intending on conveying the same message.

Remember that Peter didn’t give the cause, or reason, for the destiny being set for some, but here Paul does! And why are some destined to stumble? “Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works.” So it would seem the condition for an Israelite being destined to stumble is pursuing righteousness by the Law.

First Century Judaism experienced a unique historical period when the Messiah came. This was a time of transition from the Old to the New Covenant. Next read;

Romans 1:17 For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith, just as it is written, “The righteous by faith will live.” (NET)

Those truly faithful to Yahweh were destined for faith in the Messiah, Jesus – ‘from faith to faith’. They will live because they are pursuing a righteousness by faith. The corollary to this is that those who aren’t ‘the righteous by faith’ will not live and transition from faith to faith. Those who were not truly faithful to Yahweh and were pursuing righteousness by works, eg. Pharisees, were not destined for faith in the Messiah, but rather to stumble over Jesus in unbelief.

Therefore there seems to be no unilateral decree to destine to people to unbelief unconditionally, rather the text seems to speak of a particular people (First Century Jews) being destined to unbelief conditionally (due to seeking righteousness by works). And instead God’s remains faithful to His people truly giving scope for them to live by seeking righteousness by faith in Jesus, the ’chosen and precious cornerstone’ – “the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

Basis for Conditional Security and Apostasy

In the opening statements to his argument that God has sovereignly decided to dispense mercy on the condition of faith rather than works, Paul distinguishes the true spiritual Israel as a subset of those who are merely descended from Israel:

Romans 9:6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; (NASB)

We know that those who share in the salvific blessings promised to Abraham, are not those of physical descent, but those who have faith in Christ:

Galatians 3:7 – Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. (NASB)

In the eleventh chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Romans, he employs Old Testament imagery of God’s people being an olive tree. Israel has been partially hardened for the purpose of bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles, but they have not stumbled so as to fall beyond recovery (cf. Rom 11:11).

Romans 11:20-23Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear;  for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. (NASB)

It should be observed that the reason for being broken off is because of unbelief. In contrast, those who stand, do so by faith. Thus, the condition for being included is faith and the condition for not being included is unbelief. But notice that it is not a once off pledge of faith, but Paul states that the condition is ‘if you continue in His kindness’. The condition is a present, continual, active faith of abiding  and remaining in Christ, the vine (cf. John 15:1-6). Conversely, one is cut off for unbelief, ie. not continuing in faith. We may conclude that the believer is secure in the blessings and salvation promised for them, conditionally on their continual faith. The corollary to this would be that one apostatises or ‘falls away’ from salvation through unbelief, which would seem to be equivalent to failing to meet the condition for election unto salvation.

This fits quite naturally with the theological view of corporate election (briefly advocated here Clarifying the Nature of Election in Ephesians 1:4). God has elected to save the corporate body of believers in His Son, those who are in Christ. Individuals are included in Christ through faith (cf. Eph 1:13). Since the blessings and salvation promised are for the corporate group of those in Christ, the individual is secure only insofar as they remain a part of that group through a continuing faith. If an individual were to fall into unbelief, the blessings would not fail to obtain for the rest of the group.

So it seems we have good Biblical and theological reasons for believing in the security of the believer conditioned on faith in Christ and likewise apostasy through returning to unbelief.

Who Believes in Total Depravity?

The following 10 quotes come from different authors surrounding the doctrine of total depravity. Their order has been randomly generated, so read to the end to find out the author and their respective soteriological standing!

1. “Total depravity means that natural man is never able to do any good that is fundamentally pleasing to God, and, in fact, does evil all the time.” and “…total depravity: man cannot choose Jesus. He cannot even take the first step to go to Jesus, unless the Father draws him. And this depravity is universal. “No one” can come, says Jesus.”

2.  “It is clear that man fell from a state of holiness into a state of sin (Is. 53:6; Rom. 3:23). It is clear that sin has placed man under condemnation before God (Rom. 6:23; Rev. 21:8). It is clear that fallen man cannot please God and has no fellowship with God (Eph. 2:1-3; Rom. 8:7-8). It is clear that man cannot come to God without the drawing power of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 6:44). It is clear that a work so drastic as to be called a new birth is required for man’s salvation (Jn. 3:3-7).” and “[T]otal means that the corruption has extended to all aspects of man’s nature, to his entire being; and depravity means that, because of that corruption, there is nothing man can do to merit saving favor with God.”

3. “If, however, human beings are seen as being totally or pervasively depraved—that is, as totally unable to turn to God in faith apart from a special working of the Spirit—one’s understanding of the nature of regeneration will be different still. The Bible clearly teaches that human beings are indeed totally or pervasively depraved…The New Testament teaches the pervasive depravity of fallen human nature in unmistakable terms.”

4. “Original sin, then, may be defined a hereditary corruption and depravity of our nature, extending to all the parts of the soul, which first makes us obnoxious to the wrath of God, and then produces in us works which in Scripture are termed works of the flesh.”

5. “Natural man is devilish, evil, wholly corrupt. Any good in any man is only by the free grace of God. Man is totally corrupt and helpless in himself.”

6. “In this state [of bondage to sin], the free will of man towards the true good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed, and lost. And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they are assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as excited by Divine grace.” and “But in his lapsed and sinful state, man is not capable, of and by himself, either to think, to will, or to do that which is really good; but it is necessary for him to be regenerated and renewed in his intellect, affections or will, and in all his powers, by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, that he may be qualified rightly to understand, esteem, consider, will, and perform whatever is truly good.”

7. “It [total depravity] signifies a corruption of our moral and spiritual nature that is total not in degree…but in extent. It declares that no part of us is untouched by sin, and therefore no action of ours is s good as it should be, and consequently nothing in us or about us ever appears meritorious in God’s eyes. We cannot earn God’s favor, no matter what we do; unless grace saves us, we are lost.”

8. “The Gospel of Christ is addressed to men, not on the supposition that men can somehow save themselves and need only a word of encouragement, but rather to men as lost in sin and “without strength”—utterly unable to save themselves by any power of virtue of their own.”

9. “Concerning man in his natural state unassisted by the grace of God… every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is still evil, ‘only evil,’ and that ‘continually.’”

10. “When we say that man is totally depraved we mean that the entrance of sin into the human constitution has affected every part and faculty of man’s being. Total depravity means that man is, in spirit and soul an body, the slave of sin and the captive of the Devil”…If ever the will of a fallen and depraved creature is to move Godward a Divine power must be brought to bear upon it which will overcome the influences of sin that pull in a counter direction.”

5 of the quotes come from Calvinists and 5 from Arminians. They were: 1. Edwin H. Palmer (Calvinist); 2. F. Leroy Forlines (Arminian); 3. Anthony A. Hoekema (Calvinist); 4. John Calvin himself; 5. Mildred Bangs Wynkoop (Arminian); 6. James Arminius himself; 7. J. I. Packer (Calvinist); 8. Robert Shank (Arminian); 9. John Wesley (Arminian); 10. A. W. Pink (Calvinist).

Hopefully it is evident that both Calvinists and Arminians hold to the doctrine of total depravity.

Exclusivism from an Arminian Perspective

Exclusivism is the doctrine that the only exclusive way to salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus. Its opposite is Inclusivism, which holds that there are other methods, say, that the unevangelised will be judged according to the knowledge they have been given. It should not be confused with Pluralism, the idea that multiple religions lead to God.

Here I will simply use Scriptural quotations (all following references are NIV) with brief comments to give a summarised outline of exclusivism from an Arminian perspective. Let us hypothesise an arbitrary man living without yet having the Gospel shared to him.

The man is sinful:

Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

And in his state of sin and unbelief he stands condemned:

John 3:18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

He can only come to the Father [be saved] through belief in Jesus:

John 14:6Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

This is done by trusting in Jesus as Lord and Saviour:

Romans 10:9,13 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved… for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

For the man to come to faith in Christ, he has to be drawn:

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

And all are being drawn, which would include the man:

John 12:32[Jesus said] “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

This is done by leading the man to repentance before God:

Romans 2:4Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness,forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

This drawing can function in different ways for different people who haven’t engaged with an explicit proclamation of the Gospel. He is without excuse because he can respond to God through creation, for example a simple inference from nature, or a sophisticated philosophical Cosmological Argument:

Romans 1:20For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

Or similarly, through the law written on his heart, eg. Moral Argument:

Romans 2:15aThey [Gentiles] show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness,

Because God has allotted him a place sufficient to seek God:

Acts 17:26b,27aand he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him

If he yields truthfully to God’s natural revelation, eg. arguments above (obviously not necessarily with philosophical rigour that could be elaborated), then God can providentially send a preacher to him:

Romans 10:14,15How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

So that the sacrifice Jesus made for everyone:

1 John 2:2He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

Can be applied to him:

Romans 3:25aGod presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.

For a further analysis on some of the passages cited, eg. John 6:44, John 12:32, Romans 3:25a and 1 John 2:2 see previous posts here:

How Arminianism Patches Up the False Premises of Calvinism & Universalism in Regard to Christ’s Atonement

Inference to Resistible Prevenient Grace in John’s Gospel

Questions to Ask Yourself When Analysing Romans 9 (and Arminian Resources)

Romans 9 is possibly the most cited passage in the whole Biblical corpus, used to enunciate the Calvinistic doctrine of unconditional election. Often though, the exegesis seems sloppy and the extrapolations hasty. I have put together a few questions for self reflection on how one approaches and interprets the passage according to the intentions of the apostle Paul.

What presuppositions am I bringing to the text?

If we have been taught the doctrine of unconditional election first, and are simply looking to justify it by this text (or have been directed to consult this text as proof), then of course we are going to see it at every turn. One must lay aside their presuppositions and approach the text with a clear and open mind as to what God’s word is saying.

Have I considered Paul’s use of Old Testament citations in their appropriate contexts?

If you read an NASB or NET you might be struck by the fact that the text is absolutely littered with capitals or bold text respectively. These emphases are used to make the Old Testament citations in the New Testament more noticeable. It would seem that in order to understand Paul’s argument properly, we must engage with the premises he employs to justify his argument in the manner that his intended Jewish audience would have understood them.

Have I considered the extension of Paul’s whole argument through to chapters 10 and 11?

For example, if ‘having mercy on whom [God] will have mercy’ is meant to imply unconditionality, then why has He consigned the same all over to disobedience so that He may have mercy on those all (cf. 11:32).

If the fact that some Jews ‘stumbled over the stumbling stone’ is indicative of their unconditional reprobation, then why does Paul go on to say: “I ask then, they did not stumble into an irrevocable fall, did they? Absolutely not! …And even they—if they do not continue in their unbelief—will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.” (Rom 11:11,23)

Does my conclusion agree with Paul’s own conclusion at the end of the chapter?

In vs. 30-32, Paul concludes by lamenting that his kinsmen (Jews) have not obtained righteousness because, unlike even some Gentiles, they pursued it as though it were by works, not by faith. It would be quite odd if Paul spent the chapter arguing for the unconditional election of individuals unto salvation and then concluded that righteousness (imputed from Christ) is obtained by faith. 

Resources on Romans 9:

Corporate Election in Romans 9: A Reply to Thomas Schreiner – Dr. Brian Abasciano

Corporate election in Romans 9 (2) – Dr. Brian Abasciano

Analysis of the Ninth Chapter of the Epistle to the Romans – James Arminius

Romans 9 by a friend – Brendan Burnett

Romans 9 and Molinism – Dr. William Lane Craig

Short Outline of Romans 9-11 – Dr. Robert Picirilli

Romans 9: An Arminian/New Perspective Reading – Keith Schooley

Extending a Parable to Other Soteriological Views

In Ashland Theological Journal 36 (2004) 101-102, Brenda B. Colijn in “A Parable of Calvinism” writes:

The kingdom of God is like a cruise ship that goes on a long voyage. The captain of the ship overhears his passengers planning to go swimming off the side of the ship. He makes an announcement to all the passengers, warning them against such an action. If they jump off the ship, they will be unable to climb back in, because the hull is too steep and there are no ladders to give access. The ship is hundreds of miles from land, so they won’t be able to swim to shore. The surrounding waters are infested with sharks. Nevertheless, despite the captain’s warning, all of the passengers jump overboard to go swimming. They are soon in deep trouble.

Seeing their distress, the captain broadcasts a message to all of them. He says that he can rescue them all; to be rescued, all they need to do is to grab the life preservers that he will throw to them. Then he takes out a few life preservers and instructs his crew to throw them to certain individual passengers he has picked out…
Link to PDF here

Since the passengers  ‘need to grab the life preservers’ we might extend Coljin’s parable of Calvinism because it could be thought to sound a bit too synergistic! It might be more appropriate to further it by saying that the captain in throwing out the life preservers, not only leaves it nearby for them to cling onto, but irresistibly drags those selected individuals back in. This parallels the Calvinistic doctrine of Irresistible Grace, which has its roots in Augustinian thought. The rest of this post will revise the parable making gradation between Augustinian and Pelagian views on grace.

The Pelagian version of the parable might have the passengers in the water able to swim back through the water  and climb aboard the ship, thus saving themselves from their own predicament. From the semi-Pelagian view, the drowning passengers might ask the captain to throw out the life preservers so the captain can then save them, but they have initiated the process by which they are saved by the captain.

Arminianism is often mischaracterised as being semi-Pelagian (typically by the ‘Young, Restless and Reformed’ crowd on the Internet and even by some popular Biblical teachers, eg. R.C. Sproul, Edwin Palmer, John MacArthur, etc.). Any serious historical theologian will tell you that this is not the case, but that Arminianism is semi-Augustinian in holding to the necessity of grace to overcome the sinfulness of the totally depraved. See Article IV of Remonstrance before moving onto the semi-Augustinian/Arminian parable: “That this grace of God is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of an good, even to this extent, that the regenerate man himself, without that prevenient or assisting, awakening, following, and co-operative grace, can neither think, will, nor do good, nor withstand any temptations to evil; so that all good deeds or movements, that can be conceived, must be ascribed to the grace of God in Christ. But, as respects the mode of the operation of this grace, it is not irresistible, in as much as it is written concerning many that they have resisted the Holy Ghost,—Acts vii, and elsewhere in many places.

Now we will revise the parable such that the captain initiates the saving process by throwing out life preservers to everyone according to his outward call that he wills to save all. We might again extend this further as we did with the Augustinian/Calvinist parable where the captain throws life preserves over all the drowning passengers and is actively pulling them all back in to be rescued. However, despite the captain’s intention to save all, the passengers being drawn in can let go of the life preserver to their own destruction.

The obvious problem with the Augustinian/Calvinist parable, outlined in the article by Colijn, is that the captain’s outward call to save all the drowning passengers is insincere. This translates across to God’s apparent intention to save all and that none should perish as being deceptive. The Pelagian case models blatant works based salvation and the problem with the semi-Pelagian case is that man, by himself, cannot come to faith which saves, unless it be by grace cf. John 6:44, Eph 2:8 (whether it be resistible or irresistible).

Finally the semi-Augustinian/Arminian case gives us the best of both worlds. Just as the captain’s call to save all drowning passengers was sincere, so God’s will to save all and that none should perish, is honest. And as the captain draws in all the drowning passengers, less they duck out, God performs all the work necessary for salvation. This means He gets all the glory for saving but the one who resists is justly condemned.

Who and What Does Scripture Teach are Predestined?

An often held position on predestination in regard to persons, is that God has chosen some people to become believers, or that He has chosen persons for eternal life and when those persons are made believers that end is met. Predestination ‘in regard to persons’ is differentiated here from predestination ‘in regard to events’, which will not be discussed at this time. According to these views, ‘the who’ being predestined is people and ‘the what’ being predestined for those people is belief or eternal life. But is this what Scripture teaches? Let us take a short inductive study of the relevant texts.

Ephesians 1:5  – He did this by predestining us to adoption as his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the pleasure of his will— (NET)

In a previous post on election in Ephesians 1,  it was brought to attention that it is those who are in Christ that form the corporate body of the elect, the church. By extension of being incorporated to that group by grace through faith, those individuals are then chosen to be holy and blameless. When we read Ephesians 1:5 as flowing out of this concept in verse 4, we can see that the meaning of “he did this by” is in reference to making us holy and blameless in His sight. He has done this [made people holy and blameless in His sight] by predestining us to be adopted as sons through Jesus. The ‘us’ in this verse is clearly still referring to those believers who are in Christ. Believers are in Christ and Christ is the Father’s eternal Son, so it is through our union with Christ that we can be God’s adopted children which makes us holy and blameless in His sight in love. It is because of this reality that Paul can go on to list other blessings which are in Christ because we share in Christ’s inheritance.  So in context, it is believers who are being predestined, as believers, to be adopted as sons. ‘The who’ being predestined in this passage are those who are in Christ, namely believers, and ‘the what’ is the adoption to sonship that comes through Jesus which accomplishes His purposes of making believers holy and blameless in His sight. 

Romans 8:29because those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. (NET)

If we take a quick scan through the eighth chapter of Romans, we see that believers are the subject of this passage; “…those who are in Christ Jesus.” (v.1), “You…are not in the flesh but in the Spirit” (v.9), “So then, brothers and sisters…” (v.12), “…all things work together for good for those who love God.” (v.28). Being in Christ, not in the flesh, in the Spirit, brothers and sisters, those who love God, are all characteristics of the believing Christian.

Now Scripture expresses that God has a universal love toward all people, through which He wills antecedentally that all be saved (John 3:16, 1 Tim 2:4, 2 Pet 3:9, etc.). But also consequently He also has a particular love for His children, those who come to be in Christ by grace through faith. Many believe that ‘foreknew’ in Romans 8:29 isn’t in the sense of prescient knowledge, but of an intimate love. For example, “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived…” (Gen 4:1, ESV). And the Arminian can agree! Not that God loves individuals outside of Christ to make them believers, but that God has foreloved the church of His people, of which believers are adopted into as children. The New Testament Scriptures never speak of God’s love for His people outside of their union with Christ. Since the passage is talking to believers, the love God has aforehand for them must not be disconnected from them being in Christ. God has predestined believers, whom He has foreloved in Christ, to be conformed to the image of His son, Jesus.

This logically flows out of our union with Christ, just as in the discussion on Ephesians 1. Romans 8:15-17 points out that we have “received the Spirit of adoption…The Spirit himself bears witness to our spirit that we are God’s children. And if children, then heirs…” It is because we are adopted as God’s children that we become fellow heirs with Christ. Since we are in Him, the inward man is being renewed so that we become more like Jesus. Predestination is again acting on ‘the who’ as being believers, and this time ‘the what’ as conformity to the image of Christ.

It would be irresponsible to use these passages to say that God predestines people to be believers or that their state of belief is indicative that they have been predestined to eternal life. We should go no further here than the Biblical revelation given that God has a particular love for His people, insofar as they are believers, such that He loves them as sons and is making them more like His Son.