Ligon Duncan on the Non-Negotiables of the Gospel

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  • Thursday, August 14, 2008

    Human Freedom and Hell

    The following is a quote from G.K. Chesterton

    Hell is a monument to human freedom - and, we might add, human dignity. Hell is God's tribute tot the freedom he gave each of us to choose whom we would serve; it is a recognition that our decisions have a significance that extends far down into the reaches of foreverness.


    Far from being determined, coerced, irrelevant or without significance, your response and choices matter.

    15 comments:

    skeptimal said...

    "Hell is a monument to human freedom - and, we might add, human dignity."

    What an odd perspective! You have freedom to choose, but if you don't choose correctly, we're going to burn you in hell for all eternity (for the sins of a finite lifetime). I'm assuming then that you would consider it freedom of choice if in the next election you were allowed to choose: vote Libertarian or die.

    jazzycat said...

    skeptimal,
    Your comparison breaks down when you try to compare the vertical relationship of man and God with the horizontal relationship of man to man.

    skeptimal said...

    "Your comparison breaks down when you try to compare the vertical relationship of man and God with the horizontal relationship of man to man."

    Jazzycat...

    I'm not suggesting that anyone would vote to align against a supreme being if one existed. Still, it's inconsistent with a loving god to suggest that he would propose such a barbarous choice to his "children." Proposing that hell is a monument to man's freedom of choice and dignity is equivalent to saying that Auschwitz was a monument to Jewish civil rights.

    swordbearer said...

    Do your choices matter or not?

    swordbearer said...

    Note: Man's inabilities and ignorance due to previous choices does not nullify his responibilities and obligations (to God), nor does it negate God's worthiness, attributes or compassionate mercies.

    (For example, if by a free choice of yours, YOU (for whatever reason) chose to forfeit the position, opportunities, freedoms, and advantages you now enjoy in a free society and found yourself (as a result of your free choice) in a situation where you could only vote Libertarian or die, would it be the fault of the leader of the free society? (especially if he communicated to you or your forefathers the consequences of your actions before you did them?) Not only this, but consider if in making your free choice, you not only served in being a traitor, but a rebellious combatant against the very ruler and nation you had once belonged to.

    On this level, sinners can be likened to Taliban combatants who were formerly American citizens. I suppose you would let them all off the hook, scot free?

    Now consider, it's not just a human ruler/nation you oppose and war against, but the divine creator and king.

    skeptimal said...

    Swordbearer,

    I have to be careful what I say here, because it would be easy to misunderstand where I’m coming from. I’m not much of a rebel. If Jehovah is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent, then anyone would be a fool not to choose to pray any prayer, obey any law, or sacrifice whatever freedoms necessary to stay on his good side. I get that.

    What I don’t get is how you can consider hell a monument to human freedom of choice. What does it say about Evangelicalism that its biggest motivation is doing what Jehovah wants so he doesn’t burn you alive for all eternity to pay for the sins of seventy or eighty years?

    swordbearer said...

    skeptimal stated: "What I don’t get is how you can consider hell a monument to human freedom of choice. What does it say about Evangelicalism that its biggest motivation is doing what Jehovah wants so he doesn’t burn you alive for all eternity to pay for the sins of seventy or eighty years?"

    Response: You're question shows you misunderstand the gospel, and have therefore been both arguing against a gospel that is not the one represented in the Bible as well as failing to understand and embrace the one communicated in the Bible.

    Christians don't "work" to please God so he doesn't throw us in hell for all eternity. That is to seek to please God by the law by which "no one will be saved" (Romans 2), because no can keep the law and meet God's standard of righteousness by the law. Instead, believers, who having come to acknowledge our inability to keep the law look rather to the righteousness of God, which is apart from the law (Romans 3). We look to a righteousness that God himself provides (apart from our meeting his standard on our own),this righteousness coming through a representative substitute, Jesus Christ, who both stood in our place bearing the penaly of the law for us (because we deserved it) but also meeting the standard of God's righteousness by his own perfect will and obedience; these benefits belonging to those who look to him in faith; hence the law is no longer the means by which we seek to attain acceptance and favor from God, but rather through faith. It is only then that our works come into play, but this not to earn salvation or to keep us from hell, but rather as we in gratitude and obedience serve the God who has saved us and not only made known to us the way and requirements of righteousness but also enables us through his Spirit.

    swordbearer said...

    Several clarifications....
    (When writing the above response, my wife and children were all calling for me to go to the pool, so it was rushed...)

    1. It should have started with "your" instead of "you're".

    2. Believers look not to our own righteousness but to that found in Christ's atoning sacrifice for our sins, alon with God's acceptance and approval of us based on Christ and his righteous, not because of any good found in us.

    3. Our works do not save us. God does.

    4. Any works we do prior to salvation fail to meet God's approval (not done according to faith, less than perfect motive, etc.) As Isaiah writes "Even our best works are like filthy rags before God".

    4. God, according to his love and compassion, shows mercy to some (... of which none of us deserve it, but He's merciful).

    5. God saves us outside of ourselves and our actions. He saves us through His bearing our wrath and punishment, and also by meeting the requirements of righteousness for us Himself.

    6. Then ... following salvation (justification)... God, having saved us from a life of death, darkness, dwelling in sin, etc., God gives us a new heart and direction, he sanctifies us through his word and spirit - renewing our minds and filling us with his own Spirit, such that we then serve him in righteousness (not in order to earn salvation, but having been saved to honor him with our lives as we should... the very thing he saved us for (and from - the life in which we did not do these things).

    7. Our works now as believers are not meritorious, but rather the response of faith, and in keeping with the new life found in the Spirit.

    skeptimal said...

    Swordbearer,

    Thank you for that answer. I should have known better than to give the response I gave, because I'm familiar with the doctrine of grace. Apparently I needed a reminder that Christianity would not have survived 2000 years if fear was it's only motivator.

    skeptimal said...

    Swordbearer,

    I have a couple of reasons that I visit sites where I generally disagree with the prevailing viewpoint. One is that I find that unfair assumptions are often made about my point of view. The other is that I am tempted to make unfair simplifications about other points of view.

    You've caught me in the latter, and frankly, it's humbling. You and I look at hell and see two different things. I see the inconsistency between love and burning someone alive for all eternity for the sins of a finite lifetime. You see that as irrelevant, since you believe Jesus arranged for us to escape that requirement.

    swordbearer said...

    skeptimal stated: "I'm familiar with the doctrine of grace."

    Response: Great

    swordbearer said...

    skeptimal stated: "You and I look at hell and see two different things. I see the inconsistency between love and burning someone alive for all eternity for the sins of a finite lifetime. You see that as irrelevant, since you believe Jesus arranged for us to escape that requirement."

    Response: While I appreciate you trying to summarize our differences (that helps us both see where the other is coming from), ... the truth is your summary is off on several issues.

    1. We disagree on both: God, and the nature and deserts of sin.

    2. You stated there's an inconsistency between "love" and (eternal punishment). Note: God, in sentencing sinners (violators of his law), serves as judge and declares the sentence based on his "JUSTICE" not his love. (This is the same as human judges who (though they may be very LOVING in other areas, show grace in other areas, and at times even show mercy upon some in their sentencing, ... make their declaration (concerning guilt or innocence) based on JUSTICE (even if in their sentencing they decide whether or not to show mercy. The point being you confuse the office of God as Judge with his attribute of love.

    2. You errantly base the extent of the penalty upon the length of one's life, rather than on the nature of the crime, the penalty of the law, and the nature of the one who the crime is committed against.

    3. As stated above, I see it as "different", not "irrelevant." The relevance of God's justice is seen in the extent to which Jesus had to go (paying with his own life and laying down his own lifeblood) that those guilty and condemned by the law might be saved. Your statement seems to suggest that believers just "look aside" or "overlook" the deserts of divine justice, when in fact the opposite is the case; believers understand the significant debt and cost involved with our sin, and hence it leads not only to our deep regret of sin, but to both a heart full of gratitude to the one who has removed it as well as a desire to no longer persist in sin but rather to mortify sin in our lives and participate in the obedience that comes from faith.


    ...by the way, I'm not sure I know what your beliefs are. If you're willing to share them, I'd be interested.

    skeptimal said...

    “skeptimal stated: "I'm familiar with the doctrine of grace."

    Response: Great”

    OK, other than converting to Christianity on the spot, was there *any* response I could have given that would not have ticked you off?

    Swordbearer: “2. You errantly base the extent of the penalty upon the length of one's life, rather than on the nature of the crime, the penalty of the law, and the nature of the one who the crime is committed against.”

    Gotcha: the important thing is that I am errant. Wouldn’t want to come close to respecting your position or anything.

    Swordbearer: “Your statement seems to suggest that believers just "look aside" or "overlook" the deserts of divine justice, when in fact the opposite is the case; believers understand the significant debt and cost involved with our sin,”

    You understand my statement’s suggestion correctly. I also understand you: finite, created man deserves to burn in hell, consciously awake and suffering unspeakable pain for all eternity for having not understood the perspective of an omniscient being. But you’re not overlooking anything. Got it.

    I’ll tell you my beliefs, but not when you’ll ignore the rest of my post if I do.

    swordbearer said...

    1. Exchange: “skeptimal stated: "I'm familiar with the doctrine of grace."

    swordbearer state: Great”

    skeptimal: "OK, other than converting to Christianity on the spot, was there *any* response I could have given that would not have ticked you off?"

    Response: You're right on the money! This was the best answer.(Though I must say others would not have "ticked me off"; and I still hold out for your conversion...God willing. If not you, then perhaps others through our exchange. :)

    2. Exchange: Swordbearer: “2. You errantly base the extent of the penalty upon the length of one's life, rather than on the nature of the crime, the penalty of the law, and the nature of the one who the crime is committed against.”

    skeptical: the important thing is that I am errant. Wouldn’t want to come close to respecting your position or anything.

    Response: No, the important thing is to recognize that unbelievers rather than acknowledging the nature and penalty of sin (toward and before Almighty God) to be what it is, and seek rather to minimize or excuse it.

    3. Exchange: Swordbearer: “Your statement seems to suggest that believers just "look aside" or "overlook" the deserts of divine justice, when in fact the opposite is the case; believers understand the significant debt and cost involved with our sin,”

    skeptimal: "You understand my statement’s suggestion correctly. I also understand you: finite, created man deserves to burn in hell, consciously awake and suffering unspeakable pain for all eternity for having not understood the perspective of an omniscient being. But you’re not overlooking anything. Got it.

    Response: Several disagreements/clarifications -
    a. man's soul is not finite
    b. it's not just created man, but man created with ability and purpose to glorify God with all his being ... that KNOWLINGLY & INTENTIONALLY exercies his free will not only to act against his creator and ruler to whom he owes full allegience and obedience, and seeks to throw off his fetters, but also seeks to put himself in the very place of.
    3. You seek to claim ignorance, but whenever distinguish between right and wrong, you acknowledge that such exists; and when you condemn a certain nature (or attitudes, practices) in others, and yet do the same (or similar, whether greater or less in degree or extent) do you now prove your the your knowledge of the guilt associated with the these as well as the fact it deserves condemnation?
    4. You stated "but you're not overlooking anything". Do I sense ill will or a suggestion that I'm trying to be arrogant? I hope I'm not. My confidence rests not in myself or my knowledge but in Christ alone. Truth is found in his word, so just as the Bereans were acknowledged for comparing everything that was presented to them with God's word, so too, I'm simply trying to take you to God's Word. I applaud you for going to websites such as this one and setting your thoughts before others, but the question is, are you willing and prepared to have them evaluated in light of Scripture?

    4. skeptimal said: "I’ll tell you my beliefs, but not when you’ll ignore the rest of my post if I do."

    Response: Fair enough. Regardless of the venue, whether in these comments or elsewhere, I'd be interested to hear it. (And by the way, I appreciate your participation here...you keep us on our toes!)

    swordbearer said...

    Note: when I stated man's soul is not "finite", I probably should have used a better word (I simply went with the "wording" you used to describe man.) My point was to simply confront what I perceived as you suggesting that what man does simply in this world is not worthy of eternal damnation. My point was to show that your consideration of man is incomplete, and pointing to the enduring aspect of man's soul (that this life is not all that is, or that we are) I was not suggesting that man is infinite or apart from God's creation.

    My overall point is that it's NOT the nature of man as created, but the NATURE of SIN and the NATURE, DISPOSITION and FRUITS of FALLEN MAN that are deserving of eternal wrath and condemnation.

    (Note - it will probably be Monday or Tuesday before I can post again)
    Good weekend!