Who Does the Work?

How does one become born again? How does a sinner become transformed into a new creature who loves God and his law? Does God alone transform him (monergism)? Or is regeneration a cooperative work between God and the human being (synergism)? Does human free will play any role at all in a person coming to God (synergism)? Or is the human will so marred by sin that it cannot turn to God without divine intervention (monergism)? This is the Calvinist/Arminian debate.

Ezekiel has both views. Its monergist passages are Ezekiel 11:19-20 and 36:24-28. There, God says that he will return the Jews to their land after their punishment in exile. After he does so, God will place his spirit within them and give them a new heart, causing them to walk in his statutes. Here, regeneration is a unilateral work of God. The people have a heart of stone that is hardened to God’s ways, so they need a new heart in order to obey God’s commandments.

I think that these passages make the same point as Jeremiah 31:32-33 (the new covenant, where God writes his laws on the Israelites’ hearts): God wants the Israelites to dwell in the Promised Land, since his covenant with Israel is unconditional. At the same time, their doing so is contingent upon their obedience to God. God, after all, is holy and will not dwell with the Israelites in a moral cesspool. God, therefore, makes the Israelites walk in his statutes so that they will dwell in the land. God gets to keep his promise, and the people fulfill the conditions for remaining there. Everyone is happy! So monergism is God’s way of keeping the land promise.

A synergist passage is Ezekiel 18:30-32. There, God emphasizes free will. He tells the Jews to repent so that they will avoid death, since God does not want them to die. God says, “Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?” Here, the people themselves acquire the new heart. God does not program them for obedience. Their will is free, and the future is open. If they repent, they will live; if they rebel, they will die. And God wants them to repent and live.

How can one harmonize these passages? An evangelical approach is to maintain that God knew all along about the Israelites’ inability to obey his law. In this scenario, God was trying to show that the law does not give life because people cannot keep it. They need a new heart, which was to become available through Christ. This proposal has merits, but why would God tell the Israelites to do something that was impossible for them? Was his impassioned plea for them to choose life a mere game?

Another possibility is that different rules applied to different times. Before the exile, there was free will. The Israelites could obey God, or they could rebel. But after the exile, God went the programming route. He saw that entrusting his covenant to the Israelites’ free will was not a sure thing. They could obey, but there was always the possibility that they would not. The problem with this proposal is that it presents God as a trial-and-error sort of deity.

Any thoughts?

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
This entry was posted in Bible, Daily Quiet Time, Ezekiel, Ezekiel and Monergism, Questions, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Who Does the Work?

  1. Gene says:

    In James he talks about the only way to keep the law is to keep it perfectly in every way. To miss just one thing you are guilty of it all. Romans also talks about this and says that the law was not given to keep, but to bring us to Christ.

    The law was our schoolmaster. A schoolmaster in Jesus time was a slave who took the master’s child to the teacher. That is what the law is to us. It is to bring us to the end of ourselves so that we will cry out to God, have mercy on me! I cannot keep the law and I am a sinner. Now that we have come into relationship with God we are no longer under the law but grace. That grace is not an object but a person, Jesus.

    God in truth has always been operating through mercy and grace. The law was temporary, just as the daily and yearly sacrifices where temporary. The debt of sin had to be paid. Jesus took all that on Himself and paid it in full forever for all mankind. Even the ones that will never come to Him. He paid for them also.

    To see God’s love and mercy in the OT look at where God drove Adam and Eve out of the garden. Why did He do that? I have been told, and most people think it was because of His firce anger for what they had done. But look at what the scripture says:

    And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever: Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.
    (Gen 3:22-23 KJVR)

    God was being merciful to Adam and Eve. He drove them out so that they would not eat of the tree of life and live forever in a fallen state. That is love and mercy and not anger and judgment. The same can be seen even in Cain’s life. God did not stop speaking and caring for him even after he had murdered his own brother. God set a mark on Cain so that he would not be touched by anyone, thereby protecting him.

    So, even in the beginning God was showing His love and mercy to all mankind. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. His love never changes toward us. Bless Him!

    Blessings,
    Gene

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  2. James Pate says:

    Thanks for the response, Gene.

    I have a hard time with the idea that the law is not to be kept. Even in Ezekiel, the new heart that God gives Israel enables them to keep God’s statutes. I agree with you on our desperate need for Christ.

    Stay tuned! I’ll have some more posts on Ezekiel and monergism. In the meantime, feel free to respond.

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  3. Stephen (aka Q) says:

    I suppose I fall into the Arminian camp, since I agree with the statement that the human will plays an important role when a person turns to God.

    I like an illustration I picked up years ago from Juan Carlos Ortiz, an Argentinian pentecostal pastor. Ortiz compared the Holy Spirit to having power steering or power brakes in a car. The point is, the car doesn’t brake itself: we still have to touch the brake pedal with our foot. But when we do, the power brake system kicks in and does most of the work for us.

    OK, it’s a metaphor and I’m sure it’s far from perfect. But I just can’t see any other way of understanding the requirement for repentance. God is prepared to meet us more than half way, but we still have to make some sort of response, however small it may be, to God’s invitation.

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  4. James Pate says:

    Hi Stephen,

    I’ll be posting some entries the next few days that make a similar point: that God meets us more than halfway, but that he has to have something to work with, explaining why he does not work with complete rebels. That’s my proposal at the moment, though I know there are many who would see things differently.

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  5. Gene says:

    James,

    I didn’t say the law isn’t fulfilled. I said the law can not be fulfilled by us. The law already has been fulfilled by Jesus and He is now our righteousness. To repent in Greek means to turn away from sin and toward God. That is in the present tense and means to do this and continuously do it. Not that we should turn back to sin and then back to God, but that it is a state of being in a mindset, a heart condition of looking to God. Totally relying on Him for not only our salvation but for His righteousness in our lives. This present tense in Greek is found in many words relating to our reconciliation, salvation, healing, prosperity etc. All about it is present and now and continuous forever.

    We are righteous by Jesus complete and finished work. Just as it says in Romans that it was the sin on one man Adam that made us all sinners. It is the righteousness of the one man Jesus that makes us righteous. We put on the new man by renewing our minds to what we already are in Christ.

    The truth of the matter is that by receiving what Jesus has already done for us and coming to know God’s love for us we will be more holy by accident than we ever would by all our effort.

    Here, check this out: Effortless Change

    There is also audio teaching of this topic that goes into depth about it on Andrew’s website.

    Blessings,
    Gene

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  6. James Pate says:

    Thanks for the link, Gene.

    We both agree on imputed righteousness. We may be missing one another on the law. What you seem to be saying is that Jesus kept it for us. On some level, I agree with that, since Jesus’ righteousness is imputed to us, and his righteousness included obedience to the law (though this can certainly be expanded upon–sometimes Jesus acted as if certain values took precedence over the law).

    But I think that, in some sense, God expects his people to obey the law since it is God’s holy standard. How this plays out, I am not sure. People explain this in different ways. Some say that Christians only have to do the moral law, and then there is debate about whether things like, say, the Sabbath, fall under the moral or ceremonial law. But God is concerned about how we live our lives.

    I think you probably agree with the last statement. You do not come across as an antinomian.

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  7. Gene says:

    There is no way to break up the law. It is not only the ten commandments but all of the rest written in the OT. I say this because this is just what James said:

    For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.
    (Jas 2:10-11 KJVR)

    Jesus said that to even think about having sex with a woman was committing adultery. The law is not one in action, but in heart. Even Jesus said, quoting the law:

    And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he: And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbor as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question.
    (Mar 12:28-34 KJVR)

    Can you possibly ever love with all your heart, all your soul and all your might? We all fail in this So, can anyone keep the law?

    I would also say that Jesus said here, thou are not far from the kingdom… Why? Because to truly understand the law and that you cannot possibly keep it will bring you to despair.It brings you to the end of yourself and in your knowing all your faults and weakness you cry out to God, Have mearcy on me! That is the purpose of the law… to be a schoolmaster bring you to Jesus. Once you are with Jesus you are now righteous (in right standing with God.) No law can produce righteousness in us. It was never meant to.

    Now, that we are saved and perfect before Him (our spirit is now made in righteousness and true holiness) we do works of righteousness by knowing God’s love for us.

    Just reading 1 John shows this… As He is so are we in this world…

    Blessings,
    Gene

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  8. James Pate says:

    Hi Gene. Thanks for your comments. I’d like to make a few points.

    1. Can the law be divided up? On some level, yes. There are commandments that get quoted in the New Testament. Ephesians 6:2 refers to the honor thy father and mother command. Yet, we know from Hebrews that certain ceremonial laws have passed away with the coming of Christ. So some laws remain, and some do not.

    2. This is my opinion, but I think it is important not to read the Pauline-Lutheran view of the law into every passage of Scripture. The Pauline-Lutheran view is what you are saying–that God gave the law to show us our shortcomings so that we will turn to Christ. When James makes his point about the law in James 2, he is not talking about justification by grace through faith alone. He is telling the congregation to keep the law. You ask if anyone can love God with all one’s heart and soul. I admit that I don’t. But was it possible in Old Testament times? II Kings 23:25 says that Josiah turned to God with all his heart, soul, and might. And, in Mark 12, Jesus does not tell the scribe that he is not far from the kingdom because of his realization that he cannot keep the law–at least that’s not explicit in the text. He says that he is not far on the basis of what the scribe himself said–that people should love God with all their heart, and their neighbor as themselves.

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