The Matter of Human Responsibility
Another area of objection against the doctrine of unconditional election is in the matter of human responsibility. Are men still responsible for their actions since it is God who has determined who will and who will not be saved (sometimes called the “antinomy”)? Do men have a responsibility to believe? Are they responsible for their actions, if God has ordained everything that will come to pass? The answer is yes. God commands all men everywhere to repent and believe in Jesus Christ. Those who do not, are judged in their unbelief. It is not just their unbelief that condemns them, but they remain condemned since that is the curse which abides on all unconverted men in Adam (see John 3:18, 36). God created man good and able to obey him, but with Adam’s willful disobedience, all men are fallen into sin (see Heidelberg Catechism Q.s 6 and 9). Fallen man does not reject the gospel against his will. This unbelief is the unregenerate man’s will.
God in His sovereignty ordained that Judas Iscariot would betray Christ. This was ordained by God before the foundation of the world and was alluded to in the Old Testament in Psalm 41:9 and 55:12-14. Yet, he is held guilty for his action in the betrayal. Jesus said, “The Son of Man goes as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born” (Matt. 26:24). Judas felt the guilt for his actions, but he did not turn to the Lord, but uselessly to the Jewish chief priests to clear his conscience.
Likewise, the believer is held responsible for his actions. He believes, fully knowing what he is doing. The reason for this is that God has graciously given the Holy Spirit to work in the heart of the believer, so that when the Word of God comes to him, he understands it, accepts it as true, repents, and believes in Jesus Christ. This belief is man’s will – not his fallen will, but his new, regenerated will.
He is held accountable for his life before God since God has given him this grace through His Holy Spirit. Phil 2:12 and 13 tell us that the believer must work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. The ability to do this is seen in verse 13: “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”
It is true that we cannot comprehend the mind of God in all these things. This gives us no right to ignore or reject either God’s sovereign foreordination of all things or the responsibility of man to obey God in all things. Both are obviously taught in Scripture, and we must accept both. This difficult matter is called the “antinomy” since it appears to us that there are two laws contrary to one another. They might appear to be contradictory in our limited minds, yet they are surely not contradictory in the infinite mind of God who has revealed both His sovereign foreordination and human responsibility.
No one goes to heaven or to hell against their will. As mentioned earlier, people get just what they want in the end. The fallen man who rejects the gospel does so because he wants to. That is the state of his depraved heart. He does not love God or his neighbor. He will not repent and believe in Jesus. He has no desire to praise God now, much less forever in heaven. He will get just what he desires when he stands before the judgment seat of God.
God’s elect people are not dragged into heaven against their will either. God has given his elect people a new will that desires to serve and praise God now and forever.
Blog post content is taken from Rev. Paul Treick’s book, Faith of Our Fathers, Living Still: A Study of the Five Points of Calvinism, available for purchase. It is posted with the gracious permission of the author.
If you’d like to read the blog series from the beginning, start here.