What Is "Fair"?
August 27, 1992
When man approaches scripture, he does so through the veil of the knowledge of good and evil to which he is natively subject. This means he approaches scripture through a certain mindset of what is right or wrong, fair or unfair, possible or impossible, acceptable or not acceptable—to him.
This natural sense of right or wrongness is the measure of what scripture calls "unbelief." The root manifestation of this veil is in man's basic power to make a choice, a decision, or an evaluation. Again, it is through this veil that man approaches scripture.
What then do you suppose is the natural human response to a scripture that would strike at the root of human attachment to knowledge of good and evil by denying that such ability to make a choice has any determination in man's final destiny?
Obviously, the entire human fabric must rebel. This is precisely the issue at heart of the controversy over what is called "Calvinism," i.e., the teaching that God has the ultimate choice and sovereignty over the destiny of man's relationship with God.
This controversy exists not because scripture is unclear or ambiguous on the subject, but because it violates the very heart of the human sense of fairness rooted in our presumption of what is good and evil. The human cry against the thought that God chose some to salvation while allowing the executing of the rest to hell is this: "That's unfair."
This leads to the question, "What is fairness?" By what standard is fairness measurable, or righteousness, or goodness, or possibility? Is it the human sense rooted in knowing good and evil? If so, then the assertion is correct: God is unfair to elect some to salvation, while sentencing others to damnation.
But is man's standard the standard of fairness? In consideration of this question, the apostle does not even acknowledge the human right to ask. Rather, he answers the human question by simply saying, "Nay, but who are you, O man, to reply against God?"
From the apostolic mindset, we learn that righteousness, fairness, goodness, and possibility belong to a dimension that transcends human measurement, to a realm to which human evaluation cannot approach. The human ability to perceive or evaluate fairness is only a shadow, an image of true goodness found in God. This is the goodness found in God for who He is in Himself as the standard. It is the goodness of "grace," a goodness appreciated only by faith.
What is faith? Faith is simply the surrender of man's point of reference for evaluation to a standard beyond him initiated, witnessed to, and kept in power by the sovereign Spirit of God. The word for that standard is "grace." Grace is used to describe all that is of God made available to man beyond man's ability to apprehend it. "Faith" is the transaction of surrender of human ability that activates man's access to the grace realm.
How then must we approach scripture, especially scripture that directly challenges the most basic human perception of fairness? If our approach is to be one of faith, then it must be one of surrender in which we forsake the offended standard of our perception of fairness to embrace the nature and will of God as revealed at face value, allowing God to shed yet more grace-born revelation upon us.
But if we approach out of the intent to maintain our basal sense of good/evil, then we approach out of unbelief. We do not yield to scripture but rather we judge scripture by our nature.
This judgment is manifest by our attempts to rationalize or apologize for that in scripture which is unacceptable to us. We seek to interpret it some way that will leave God appearing to be fair to us, and in turn palatable to men. (Yet the apostle states that God's entrance into man does not begin in what is palatable to man, but in what is foolishness to him.)
Seeking to harness and justify God according to our sense of fairness in one point leaves us immediately vulnerable to a myriad of questions about the fairness of God respecting overall universal realities. If we reject the issue of election based on "fairness," then we force ourselves to apply the same untenable standard to the following questions over realities we cannot deny:
- How could a good God create a world knowing that even one soul would perish eternally, never mind billions? How could He allow a plan for the destruction of billions of souls to come?
- How could a good God allow a created being like lucifer to ever come to a place in his existence that iniquity should be found in him, thus leading to ages long chaos, death, destruction, and evil in the universe?
On a smaller scale, we could ask smaller questions:
- If Jesus was so good, why did He heal only small numbers of people in relation to the numbers of people who needed healing? Why didn't he heal all, or raise all, or bring an end to all misery in the earth?
- If God knew Sodom and Gomorrah would have repented had they heard the gospel, why didn't He see to it they had the gospel?
These are questions for which we have no answer according to a human sense of fairness. (Such questions are the fodder that continually enable the heathen to reject God.)
If we have no answer, yet we have no problem accepting these things by faith through a surrender of our sense of fairness, why are we disturbed about election? What's the problem? Why can't we just accept the teaching of Christ and the apostles at face value?
Why do we accept these much larger evil realities by faith, but when it comes to election and salvation, we become like the heathen, rejecting the word of God because it offends our sense of fairness? Where is the coherency in this?
God refuses to be judged by the heathen for the way the universe is. He makes apologies to no one. Neither therefore does He apologize for election nor allow Himself to be judged by our unbelief over the matter. The very reason He wishes us to be taught about election is to dethrone our sense of fairness from the start, and cut down our tree of good and evil knowledge at its root.
The chief work of man is manifest in his ability to make a choice. But the apostle says by works no man shall be saved—no, not even by the work of choice, a decision. It is God who ordains to salvation and leads to the repentant surrender of human choice by a goodness that transcends human perception. This is the goodness of grace. It is the goodness of grace beyond us through faith to which we must be led if we are to be saved and maintain progress in salvation.
Grace exceeds our ability to perform or choose rightly for God. For what then are we rewarded at the end? We are rewarded by God for His own work in our lives, as sharers and partakers of a reward we did not earn and for which we can take no credit. Grace was sovereignly wrought out on the temporal disciplinary framework of our choice-nature. But our choices earned us nothing.
When we stand before God, we will not take credit for our "right decisions" in service of Him here and now. We will rather give thanks that He brought us by grace to the places of the choices we were enabled to make that we might be co-recipients of His rewards for His own work in us.
Thus we see the limited purpose of human will under the law of knowledge of good and evil. "The law is a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ... But by the works of the law shall no flesh be saved." "Choice" is the remaining law of the soul over which God's grace of sovereign will is wrought in our lives. "Choice" is the goad of insufficiency, revealing our inadequacy apart from Christ. For apart from Christ we can only choose to do wrong—even as believers.
"Choice" is that unfulfilable law on our part which Christ fulfils through His grace. Christ came not to destroy the law but fulfil it. He does not destroy will but transforms it through revealing its inadequacy, itself leading to its replacement with Christ's will in us.
His exhortations to my willpower then only reveal the inadequacy of my willpower to keep any direction or fulfil any purpose or command, leading me to the surrender of my decisional ability to His resting power of life in which I may flow. It is by His Spirit, even by Christ in me—the hope of glory, the new man, the new seed, the planting of the Father, in whom I find my sole true identity.
It's a different world in Christ, a different realm, a different reference point for reality—one that has less and less to do with my will as I am released from it into the sea of who He is, one that has less and less to do directly with anything tangible or visible down here as we know it.
Being in Christ is different. It is grace—it is life—it is a realm beyond the law of my perception of goodness, righteousness, fairness, or possibility. It is a realm into which I enter more deeply every moment as I am led by the Spirit unto yielding of my power of choice and evaluation, my sense of purpose and destiny, and my ability to walk in self-control according to that perception.
written from Merrimack, New Hampshire
First Love Ministry
- a ministry of Anglemar Fellowship
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