As we journey through Romans on Sunday mornings the theological quandaries continue to pour in. Most of them are the result of careful consideration, as folks endeavor to be sound doctrinally so that our worship of God and declarations about God are accurate. One such question I received last night and believe that many followers of Jesus may wrestle with unpacking the themes contained within it. The query is: “How can we indeed be ‘without excuse’ (as Romans 1:20 declares) if predestination is true?” In other words, if God sovereignly chose, apart from the will of man, certain sinners to become saints and consequently did not choose others, and only those whom He chose can in fact come to saving faith, how then can we legitimately be held responsible for refusing Christ? Deductive reasoning would therefore lead us to conclude that since we are actually without excuse that unconditional election must not be true.
There are two ways that I would go about answering this question.
First, in the context of Romans 1 Paul is speaking of the general way in which God has revealed Himself cognitively and consciously to all of humanity. Since His invisible attributes are clearly perceived from the foundation of the world, and mankind thereby realizes that there is a God, that they owe Him their submission, and that they must endeavor to figure out what He requires of them, they are – if they suppress that revelation and reject the authority of God – without excuse on the day of judgment. They know He exists and yet are willfully refusing to obey him, therefore, their condemnation is just and deserved.
Second, some truths of Scripture are at times paradoxical in nature. Some would say that human responsibility, if it is true, nullifies the doctrine of predestination. Others would say that predestination, since it is true, makes void human responsibility. The Biblical reality is that both divine, unconditional predestination is true (Ephesians 1:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Thessalonians 1:4), and human volition and responsibility is also true (Romans 10:11-13). Though we cannot completely reconcile how individuals are completely responsible in salvation AND how God has chosen an elect bride for His Son and only those will be saved, it does not mean that either statement is erroneous. The problem is not the truth; the problem is our limited and fallible understanding, and often times humanistic interpretation, of the truth. It is true that God elects sinners for salvation, commissioning the Holy Spirit to awaken the hearts of those sinners and draw them into salvation and only those awakened will in fact come; but this truth does not negate the responsibility of sinners to come to Christ. In other words, just because I cannot do what is right that does not excuse me from doing what is right. Therefore, on the day of judgment all of humanity will either stand in their sin, having suppressed the knowledge of God and ultimately rejected him thereby being fully responsible for their condemnation; or they will stand in Christ’s righteousness, having been rescued by the sovereign selection of God the Father, redeeming work of the Son, and regeneration of the Spirit whereby all credit for our salvation goes to the Divine.
I sincerely hope that this will help as each of you continues to plow through this masterful epistle.