What does it mean to be "Reformed"? (9)1
We’ve finally come to the conclusion of this series of articles on what it means to be Reformed. Here is number 10.
(10) To be Reformed means that you are a compatibilist.
Many insist that God’s exhaustive foreknowledge of everything that comes to pass is incompatible with genuine human freedom of choice. If God knows everything from eternity past, all things will necessarily come to pass in precisely the way known by God. And necessity is incompatible with free moral agency.
Or again, the notion that God has foreordained all things whatsoever come to pass (to use the phrasing of the Westminster Confession) is incompatible with the notion of moral accountability. You can’t hold someone morally responsible for something that God predetermined would occur.
Or again, irresistible or efficacious grace, according to which the Spirit effectively draws the elect to saving faith in Jesus, overcoming all human resistance and unbelief, is incompatible with that person exercising his/her will in such a way that they truly believe in Jesus. In other words, irresistible grace is incompatible with the integrity of human choice and reduces the man or woman to an automaton or robot.
Or again, it is incompatible for God to command a person to perform a certain act, whether faith or repentance or love or kindness, unless that person has unfettered freedom to respond. If a person does not have equal power to say yes or no to God’s commands, such commands are incompatible with human responsibility.
Or again, it is incompatible for God to foreordain all that comes to pass, including the saving faith of the elect, and for us to sincerely preach the gospel, lovingly invite all people to Christ, and meaningfully pray for them to believe in Jesus.
The bottom line is this: Those who are not Reformed insist that God’s exhaustive divine foreknowledge and comprehensive sovereignty over all the affairs of mankind are incompatible with genuine freedom of choice and moral responsibility.
To be Reformed means that you believe that in each instance just cited, the two sides of the equation are perfectly and gloriously compatible, even though we may not grasp how such can be the case. Consider the following six examples:
(1) Exhaustive divine foreknowledge is compatible with genuine freedom of choice.
(2) Foreordination is compatible with moral accountability.
(3) Irresistible grace does not reduce the human to a robot or marionette. Irresistible grace and the integrity of human response to the gospel are perfectly compatible.
(4) Total depravity or the bondage of the human will is perfectly compatible with God’s appeal to all mankind to repent and believe the gospel.
(5) It is perfectly compatible for us to sincerely preach a universal gospel, pray for the lost, and for God to elect men and women to salvation unconditionally.
(6) The certainty of God’s foreordained ends does not empty his prescribed means of their validity and necessity.
Another way of putting it is that to be Reformed means you embrace the mystery that God is often pleased to decree his own displeasure. That is to say, although you may not fully grasp how it can be God’s (secret and sovereign) “will” that God’s (revealed and moral) “will” be violated, all the while God holds morally accountable those who violate it, you refuse to diminish the reality of human responsibility and the urgency of obeying his commands.
This is simply another way of describing the two compatible senses in which God may be said to “will” that something either occur or not occur.
There is God’s “will” of decree. It is what God has ordained shall happen. It is also called his hidden will or sovereign will or efficient will. God's decretive will refers to the secret, all-encompassing divine purpose according to which he foreordains whatsoever comes to pass.
There is also God’s “will” of precept or his will of command. It is what God says should happen. Others refer to this as God's revealed will or his moral will.
It is entirely biblical to assert that God may decree what he has forbidden. That is to say, his decretive will may have ordained that event x shall occur, whereas Scripture, God's preceptive will, orders that event x should not occur.
John Frame put it this way: “God’s will is sometimes thwarted because he wills it to be, because he has given one of his desires precedence over another” (No Other God, 113). And again: “God does not intend to bring about everything he values, but he never fails to bring about what he intends” (113).
What God has eternally decreed shall occur may be the opposite of what he in Scripture says should or should not occur. According to a Reformed point of view, our responsibility is to obey the revealed will of God and not to speculate or attempt to act on what is hidden.
Those who are Reformed do not believe this to be true because they can provide a rational or logical explanation of how these seemingly disparate elements are compatible. They believe this to be true because Scripture teaches it to be true. Examples: Genesis 50:20; Deut. 2:26-27; 29:2-4; Joshua 11:19-20; Judges 14:4; 1 Samuel 2:22-25; 2 Samuel 17:14; 1 Kings 12:9-15; Mark 4:11-12; Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28; Romans 11:7-9,31-32; Revelation 17:16-17.
Thus, to summarize: Compatibilism means:
(1) that whereas “no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him,” Jesus is able to say, with all sincerity, that “all who labor and are heavy laden” may “come” to him and find “rest” for their “souls” (Matthew 11:27-29).
(2) that whereas God “has mercy on whomever he wills” and “hardens whomever he wills” (Romans 9:18), Paul is able to say, with all sincerity, “my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1).
(3) that Peter is able to say, with all sincerity, that “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23).