In addition to all this, understanding that only those few people God has elected (predestined/chosen) for eonian life will be given faith and be reconciled (from a relative perspective; again, everyone is reconciled, from an absolute perspective, by Christ’s death and resurrection — it’s important to always recognize the difference between the relative and the absolute if we don’t want to come to ridiculously confused conclusions when interpreting Scripture) and saved in this lifetime (they will get to live through all of the eons to come in vivified bodies, both those under the Gospel of the Uncircumcision and those under the Gospel of the Circumcision, even though these two groups will experience the next eon differently from one another, some in the heavens and some on Earth) also helps one realize that everybody has to be saved in order for anyone at all to be saved (and that predestination is, in fact, about when someone experiences salvation rather than about if they experience salvation).
In order to understand this, one needs to first realize that faith is not something one can just decide to have. Peter told his written audience that it is “by Him” (Christ) that one believes in God and not “by ourselves,” which is something he’d been proclaiming (that faith was “by Him”) from the very beginning of his ministry, although this is no surprise since he’d been taught firsthand by Jesus Himself that one can’t choose to believe without God first choosing them, and that he himself (along with the rest of the disciples) indeed didn’t choose Jesus of his own “free will” at all, but rather Jesus chose him (and the rest of the disciples) instead (although it couldn’t be any other way, since becoming sons of God by believing on His name is not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God). And just like Jesus and Peter, Paul (who didn’t choose to become an apostle himself but, as he said in the beginning of five of his epistles, was an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God rather than by his own will) also taught that faith is not of oneself, but rather that both the grace and faith that lead to salvation are a gift of God (as is the salvation itself, from both an absolute and relative perspective) to certain chosen people who have been granted by God to be repenting and to be believing the truth, and who are predestined for eonian life for a specific purpose (for those of us in the body of Christ, God not only chose us but prefers us from the beginning for salvation from a relative perspective — some translations render the word “prefers” as “chosen” in this passage, which still works for my point, but the word αἱρέω/haireō used here has a stronger feeling of preference than simple choice as the word ἐκλέγομαι/eklegomai has in the other passages already mentioned where it is used instead).
Of course, most Christians believe that they can choose to believe the Gospel on their own, and in fact believe that one’s choice determines where they will spend eternity. The problem is, this idea is essentially salvation by works or salvation by self, and is really nothing more than humanism dressed up in religious garb.
Yes, the idea that “choosing to believe the Gospel on one’s own in order to be saved is actually salvation by works or salvation by self” goes against what most religious leaders have taught, but if you need to stop sinning and decide to choose Jesus as your lord and saviour in order to be saved, how could it be anything else? The first part of that should be obvious enough, since forcing yourself to stop sinning in order to be saved is obviously a works-based salvation, but even having to choose to believe is a work. If you don’t agree with me, try choosing right now to truly believe in Thor as your lord and saviour. Can’t do it, can you?
Forcing oneself to believe something that one hasn’t already organically come to believe (or that God hasn’t given them the faith to believe) is one of the biggest mental works a person could do, and it seems unlikely that anybody is actually capable of it. And if one has been given the faith to believe the truth then they already believe and have already been saved; this is a very binary concept with no middle ground: one either truly believes (which means they have been given the gift of faith by God to believe the Good News) and is saved, or they don’t (which means God hasn’t given them the faith necessary to believe the Good News) and aren’t. Now, one might try to argue that there isn’t compelling evidence to believe that Thor is our saviour, but pretty much all non-believers would argue that they don’t see compelling evidence to believe that Jesus is either (for that matter, most Christians don’t believe He is our Saviour either, but instead believe He’s only our potential Saviour, and only becomes our Saviour if we choose to let Him save us, which means they haven’t believed Paul’s Gospel yet either — Calvinists might object to being included here, but while they can sort of claim to believe that “Christ is our Saviour” by redefining the “our” in “Christ died for our sins” as “the elect,” as they misunderstand the term, rather than “all humanity,” they still aren’t in the body of Christ because “our” really means “all humanity” in that verse, so they also aren’t in the body of Christ while believing that), and we have to believe they’re telling the truth because, if they were lying and actually did see the evidence, they’d have already believed the truth about Christ and salvation which would mean they were already saved.
Regardless, even if someone could somehow brainwash themselves into believing something they really didn’t previously believe, it would still be an action (even if just a mental action) they had to accomplish to save themselves (or accomplish to participate in saving themselves). Pretty much every denomination and cult (not that there’s much difference) out there teaches salvation by a combination of Christ’s sacrifice plus our own “free will” (aside from some Calvinist denominations, who at least sort of understand God’s sovereignty and generally know better than to believe in “free will,” even if they’re fatally confused about nearly every other doctrine), but if salvation is by grace plus something else, it’s not by grace alone. (And yes, I know it’s by grace through faith; but that faith, just like the grace and the salvation itself, is not out of ourselves but is, instead, a gift of God — if that faith were something we had to build up on our own, it would be a work we could boast about, and it would mean we’d ultimately played a role in our own salvation.)
Basically, most Christians actually reject the free gift of salvation (despite mistakenly calling their so-called “gospel” a free gift) because they don’t truly believe that it’s what Christ did that saves us (since otherwise they’d have to admit that everyone will be saved) or that salvation really is a free gift that has been given to all (okay, a few Christians will agree that He did give the gift to everyone, although this is believed by very few, but they also teach that He’ll later take it back from people who don’t appreciate the gift enough before they die), but rather most believe that Jesus saved absolutely nobody through His death and resurrection. Instead, they believe that salvation is an offer rather than an already existing fact (and that Paul’s Gospel is a proposition rather than simply a proclamation of that fact). They think that He only made it possible for people to save themselves by making the right choice with what He did there (although they’d feign humility by claiming to still give the credit to God and Christ somehow, pretending to believe that salvation is no merit of their own, all the while condemning others to “hell” for being too unmeritorious to choose to become Christians), and that it’s actually one’s acceptance of the gift of potential salvation that saves them (if they happen to be smart enough or wise enough to make the right decision, of course — people who believe that a “free will” decision is necessary for salvation ultimately believe that salvation depends on human intelligence or wisdom to make the right choice; only those people who are good enough, meaning smart or wise enough, not to mention humble enough, to reject their previous wrong choices and now make the right choice or choices are able to be saved, according to most Christians, ultimately making salvation a moral accomplishment we do for ourselves, completing our salvation through our righteous decision to seek after God after we understand the truth and believe in Christ, with Christ Himself merely accomplishing step one of our salvation through His death and resurrection).
If they accepted that it was entirely, 100% what Christ did that saved them rather than their own good and wise and humble choice, they’d also have to accept that Christ’s death and resurrection saves everyone regardless of whether everyone chooses to believe it or not, which is just unacceptable to most of those in the Christian religion. To be fair, yes, you do need to “accept that Jesus is our saviour” (please note that I didn’t say “your saviour”) if you want to experience eonian life during the next two eons (which is limited to those who actually do accept the existence of the free gift, and believe the Good News that everybody will eventually experience said gift, at least for those under the Gospel of the Uncircumcision). However, accepting Jesus as our saviour doesn’t mean choosing to allow Him to save you (which would mean you would have a role in your own salvation, even if just the small role of making the right decision). Rather, it’s accepting that He has already saved you (and everyone else) after you’ve been given the gift of faith to believe the Good News of your (and everyone’s) already existing salvation because of His death for our (meaning everybody’s) sins, and His subsequent entombment and resurrection. Basically, most Christians put the cart before the horse, thinking they first had faith and were then saved because of this faith. Believers in the necessity of a “free will” decision for salvation might not realize it, but they ultimately believe it’s their faith that saves them rather than God’s grace, when it’s actually by grace we are saved through faith, not by faith we are saved if we accept grace. These people, in fact, have faith in their own faith for their salvation rather than simply having faith that it’s what Christ did for all of humanity that actually saves us all (our faith on its own can’t take away our sins or save us; grace is the horse and faith is the cart). So it’s actually that they were first saved and (if they were also elected for eonian life under the Gospel of the Uncircumcision) were then given faith by God to believe the Good News of everybody’s already promised salvation and impending immortality (which is what salvation is from an absolute perspective), and are also given eonian life (which is what salvation is from a relative perspective).
As should be obvious at this point, most Christians actually teach that God and Jesus don’t really save anyone, but instead teach that it’s up to us to save ourselves, despite using scriptural-sounding language to disguise this fact (trying to make it look like they’re actually giving the credit to God and Christ, often even lying to themselves about it), making salvation — from both an absolute and relative perspective — rely on us rather than on God. But in order for one to be saved from a relative perspective, one has to already be saved from an absolute perspective, and entirely apart from any action on their part (at least under the Gospel of the Uncircumcision; under the Gospel of the Circumcision, salvation is more of a joint effort, with works indeed being required or else one’s faith would prove to be dead and useless, but that’s a whole other sort of salvation which we’re not talking about right now), including the act of believing, otherwise their salvation wouldn’t be real to begin with, and it would be their faith bringing a non-existent salvation into being rather than what Christ did that brings salvation. “For instance,” as Martin Zender put it, “what is the use of me asking someone to believe that I deposited a small fortune into his or her bank account if I haven’t actually done it? Would the person’s affirmative confession add money to an empty account? Neither God nor Christ would ever ask unjust God-avoiders to believe a fairy tale, let alone insist that such belief could change fairy tales into realities. In fact, why ask unjust God-avoiders to believe anything unless You were prepared to provide the necessary faith Yourself? This is just what God does: ‘[He] imparts to each the measure of faith’ (Romans 12:3). It’s the only way that anyone can believe. Is salvation real, or isn’t it? Or is it not real until human belief makes it so? But how can human faith make an unreality real simply by the act of believing? I may believe with all my heart that the moon is made of cheese, but it doesn’t make it so. This is madness. Only just people can do something so noble as seek God, but no one is just, not one. Thus, all avoid Him. These are Paul’s words under the inspiration of the holy spirit. Unjust God-avoiders believe and confess nothing concerning God, and even if they could, why pitch them a fable? The question then arises — Did Jesus save me, or didn’t He? If He didn’t, then what am I supposed to believe, even if I could believe? Am I supposed to believe that Jesus didn’t save me? What would be the use of believing a falsehood? If Jesus did save me, then I’m already saved and my subsequent belief — however it comes — affirms a truth, not a fable. Because honestly — who affirms a fable? Lies are to be denied, not affirmed. You Christians laud Jesus Christ in all your colorful brochures, heralding His death and resurrection as though it actually accomplished something — up until the time I must ‘believe or burn,’ at which time salvation turns from a done-deal wrought by a spectacular Savior into a job-op proposed by a Wanna-Be Hero. Jesus didn’t save me after all; it was false advertising. What you mean to tell me is that Jesus merely provided me the opportunity to save myself if I could somehow break through a God-enforced, Adamic stubbornness. Is that the exercise? Then present salvation as an exercise, not a grace. You misrepresent it. You’re hypocrites. You idiots really ought to make up your minds about salvation: is it real or a put-on? If it’s real, then present it that way. Stay true to your spectacular Savior brochures. Tell me what Jesus Christ did, and not what He hopes to do if only I can cooperate with Him. Tell me that I’m saved, and mean it. Do that, and my belief will become the caboose on the train of salvation that it truly is, rather than the engine. Jesus Christ on the cross is the engine, is He not? Unless, of course, I’m really not saved. If I’m not saved, then quit telling lies such as ‘Jesus saves.’ Jesus doesn’t save squat if I’m in the same position after the cross as before it. Before the cross I’m doomed, and after the cross — according to you — I’m still doomed. What the hell did Jesus actually do on the cross then? At best, Calvary is a proposition. If it’s merely that, then quit saying, ‘Jesus saves.’ Say instead, ‘Jesus tried.’ If I am saved, then tell me I’m saved and I’ll believe it, because why would I deny a fact? It’s not my habit. I’m into truth, not pretense, and certainly not duplicities. Give it to me straight, you deceitful people who say one thing and mean another.”
To perhaps put it even simpler, the choice isn’t about getting saved vs not getting saved. The actual choice (at least as far as Paul’s Gospel goes) is about experiencing salvation early vs experiencing salvation at the end of the eons. The confusion arises because most Christians assume that people have to decide between “accepting Jesus as their personal saviour” or being damned for eternity, when the choice is actually between A) believing that God will save everyone through what Christ accomplished, and getting to enjoy that salvation early if you believe this Good News, or B) not believing this Good News and having to wait until the end of the eons to experience salvation.
As we covered in the last couple chapters, the Good News which Paul taught isn’t that you can escape a never-ending torture chamber called “hell” if you believe the Gospel now, as most Christians have mistakenly assumed it to be. The Good News (well, the end result of the Good News) is that you will experience salvation because of Christ’s death for our sins, and His subsequent entombment and resurrection. And if God happens to gift you with the faith to believe what this Good News means now, you’ll get the special salvation Paul wrote about in 1 Timothy 4:10, which is an early experience of that salvation (which is ultimately about immortality and sinlessness, not about escaping a place called “hell,” which doesn’t even exist and is based on horrible mistranslations, and even worse misinterpretations, of Scripture, as you’ve already learned in the last chapter).
To put it another way, the Good News isn’t that you can escape never-ending punishment if you happen to choose to believe the Good News that you can escape never-ending punishment. (Think about it, that’s what the traditional Christian message actually is: believe the Good News and you’ll be saved from “hell,” with the Good News you need to believe being that you can be saved from “hell” if you believe the Good News that you can be saved from “hell” — it’s an entirely circular doctrine, if you really break it down, although almost no Christian ever does.) In actuality, the Good News is simply that you will be made immortal and sinless because Christ died for our sins, and because He was entombed and resurrected; and if you happen to believe this Good News, you’ll even get to experience said immortality and sinlessness earlier than everyone else will (but they will still experience it eventually).
This means, I should add, that very few Christians have been saved yet, at least from a relative perspective, even if everyone can be said to be saved from an absolute perspective because of what the Gospel means. Because you can’t believe something without understanding what it means, and because very few Christians have actually understood what the Gospel really means, we have to conclude that most Christians haven’t actually believed the Gospel at all, which means they haven’t been saved from a relative perspective at all (and have not actually joined the body of Christ, despite thinking they have). This is, of course, because faith in the Good News which tells us everyone will be saved is a gift God only gives to a relative few, and if one isn’t among the elect then judgement is still a part of God’s sovereign plan for that person, and they couldn’t possibly Paul’s Gospel before they die and experience eonian life, no matter how hard one tries to get them to (yes, the light that is Christ might illuminate all men — note the word “might” there, since this is a circumcision passage that is technically possibly only talking about “all men” who are born as Israelites; however, there’s a decent chance the principle applies to everyone, and the next point definitely does, so I’m still using it here — but all will fail to perceive that light unless God opens their eyes since their minds have been blinded to it; and this passage does apply to everyone, at least everyone who hasn’t been elected for eonian life). One can’t simply build up true faith on their own to believe the actual Good News while their minds have been blinded to the truth (and if God has given them the faith to believe the Good News then they’ve already been saved, relatively speaking, because if they have the faith that the Good News is true then they already believe the Good News and hence have already been saved). Everything we have, including our faith, we ultimately received from God (otherwise we could boast about our good decision to believe the Gospel, when the truth is that the moment we are given faith to believe the Good News, we have already been saved from a relative perspective). This doesn’t mean that those who don’t believe the Good News haven’t been saved from an absolute perspective, however, of course. They’ll still be given immortality at some point in the future thanks to what Christ did for them some 2,000 years ago. They just won’t also get eonian life the way those God chose to give faith to will, and so they’ll miss out on some things that the few who are saved from a relative perspective will get to enjoy because God, in His sovereign will and preference, decided to let certain people enjoy salvation earlier than others.
The complete sovereignty of God and His purposes for creation from before it all began is one of the most important factors in the Bible, and is taught throughout it (and while most Christians would claim to believe in His sovereignty, not very many actually do), yet very few people are aware that He has a reason for everything that has happened in creation, and has had very specific plans for the eons (and those in each eon) from the beginning. In fact, thanks to bad translations of Scripture, most Christians aren’t aware of the concept of the eons at all (or they confuse the eons with dispensations, which are something else altogether; an eon is a specific period of time that can contain multiple dispensations, sometimes with more than one of these dispensations occurring at the exact same time as each other). Instead of knowing (and glorifying) God as God, which would involve them understanding that He is completely in control, placing everything where He intends it to be and subjecting all to His will, nearly all Christians believe that God really hoped Adam wouldn’t actually sin, but that God is now on Plan B because Adam did end up sinning. They just don’t believe Paul when he said that God works all things after the counsel of his own will and not just some things. But the fact is that He really does, which means that everything about creation — be it good and evil, righteousness and sin, pleasure and suffering, faith and unbelief, even the Devil and the crucifixion — was all intended by God from before the beginning of creation (God is not only able to see the future, He declares what is going to be done from the beginning, and what He desires to be done will be done).
Yes, from a relative perspective, God does ask people to accept the truth and believe the Good News, but one has to recognize the fact that God is still 100% in control from an absolute perspective, and that Scripture is using a figure of speech called “Condescension” in places that appear to make it look like things are ultimately up to us. Not recognizing the difference between the absolute and relative will of God (or, perhaps better put in this case, His preceptive will and His providential will, which means His public will — or commandments — and His hidden intentions) also leads Christians to believe that God never intended for people to disobey Him in the first place, when the truth is that He secretly intended for people to rebel against His commandments all along. Perhaps the best example of this is in His commandment against murder. God made murder a sin, yet He had the murder of Christ planned from the foundation (or disruption) of the world, knowing full well when He gave the commandment against murder to Moses that without murder there would be no salvation for anyone. A less obvious, yet no less helpful, example would be His order to Adam and Eve to not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When one considers the facts, that while He told them not to eat of it, He all the while placed it right in the centre of the garden with nothing to make it difficult to get at (when He didn’t have to place it in the garden at all — or even anywhere on Earth, for that matter — if He really didn’t want anyone to sin), and made it look like good food and pleasant to the eyes and to be desired to make one wise, and even placed the serpent right there to tempt them (it’s important to remember that nobody is anywhere that God didn’t specifically place them), not to mention the fact that without eating of it humanity would not only not understand evil but would never truly understand good either (it wasn’t called just “the tree of the knowledge of evil,” it was called “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”), it becomes obvious that God actually intended for them to disobey Him so that death could enter the world (and, again, had already intended to have His Son killed prior to this, which would be a strange plan if He didn’t also intend for sin and death to exist — God doesn’t make contingency plans; each plan He makes is something that He fully intends to take place and that will indeed happen, which means the death of His Son wasn’t just something He had in mind to do if humanity happened to sin, but was instead a plan He fully intended to implement long before Adam ever sinned, and in fact the reason Adam sinned was so that a mortal race could exist in order that He could implement the plan). And, of course, the entire reason He even gave Israel the Mosaic law at all was so that they would sin all the more. It might seem hard to believe, and some even try to deny it by making the assertion — one that is not only found nowhere in Scripture but that is actually contradicted by it — that “God is not the author of sin,” but the Bible actually tells us that God has not only purposely locked up His human creation in unbelief, but that He has also purposely locked us up in sin, locked us up in vanity, and locked us up in corruption (meaning in decay, humiliation, and death), all in order that He can later set us all free (He can’t free us if we aren’t first locked up).
So, while sin is still sinful, it’s not something that surprised God or that He didn’t actually secretly intend to come into existence in the first place (for the purpose of revealing grace — without evil we could never truly understand goodness, and without sin we could never truly understand grace — contrast is often necessary to truly understand things, and knowing this helps us come to understand that sin was actually necessary for God to complete His purposes). Remembering that the word “sin” means “to miss the mark” might help make this seem a little less blasphemous to those who are still horrified by the idea of the necessity of the existence of sin, however. Yes, Adam missed the mark by failing to avoid eating the forbidden fruit, but God hit the bullseye when Adam sinned because that was His plan for Adam all along, which means that even though He’s responsible for it from an absolute perspective, God didn’t sin by ultimately being behind it all, because He didn’t miss the mark since sin and death entering the world through Adam was His intended “mark” all along (this also means that if Adam hadn’t sinned then God would have been the sinner instead, because it would mean He had failed to accomplish His intended goal — and for those who want to insist that God’s intended goal was a world where humanity never sinned, that would also make God a sinner because Adam did sin, which means that God would have missed the mark if that sin-free world was actually His intended goal; and if His plan was simply to give Adam “free will” and to then sit back and watch what happens, as some seem to believe, having no goal at all for the world, and the death of Christ simply being His plan to use if Adam did happen to sin, that would make God an extremely irresponsible deity and not much of a Placer or Subjector at all, meaning His sovereignty would be a lie, as would be all the passages of Scripture that tell us He’s completely in control).
Of course, because of their soteriology, many people dislike the idea of predestination since it would mean God decides that certain (indeed most) people will suffer forever in a literal lake of fire (or at least decides that most people will be burned up and cease to exist forever). It’s only when one realizes that God has a specific reason for electing only certain people to be saved in this lifetime and for choosing others to miss out on eonian life, and that nobody stays in the lake of fire forever, but rather that God actually had a plan all along that works out for everyone in the end, that one might come to understand that predestination is ultimately in our best interests. Of course, if we don’t accept that predestination is a fact, we’re giving the responsibility for not “accepting Jesus” to those who don’t, which also means we’re giving the credit for “accepting Jesus” to those who do, again, making them their own (at least partial) saviours and giving them reason to boast about their good decision. But that aside, the Bible tells us that God takes credit for both the good and the evil (and, from an absolute perspective, even the sin) that exists in the world anyway (even Satan was created the way he is for a specific purpose), as well as for who ultimately experiences reconciliation first and who has to wait until later, so we should really give Him all of the credit rather than boasting in our so-called “free will” and righteous acts (even if it’s just one righteous act consisting of a righteous decision) for our salvation.
Others dislike the idea that God might “coerce” people into salvation, claiming (without any scriptural justification, I might add) that God is a gentleman and that He would never force people to spend eternity with Him against their wishes, saying things like, “God won’t drag anyone kicking and screaming into heaven,” not seeming to realize that absolutely nobody is actually claiming this is something He’ll do anyway (and also seeming to ignore the fact that their so-called “gospel” is far more coercive than the straw man they’re arguing against, with its threat of never-ending torture if one doesn’t choose be with God). These people seem to have forgotten the conversion experience of someone named Saul who was entirely opposed to the true God, and was in fact on the road to Damascus to kill those who did want to spend eternity with Him when God overwhelmed him with grace and showed him mercy so that he could become a pattern of those who are about to be believing on Him for life eonian, or life age-during (this pattern including the fact that those who are saved, relatively speaking, are made to believe, or are given belief, rather than choosing to believe, even if it isn’t always as obvious in our cases as it was for the man who became our apostle). When God gives a person the faith that the Good News is true, this isn’t forcing that person to be with Him against their will (especially since they’re still alive here on Earth when it happens; it isn’t like He suddenly drags them off to Heaven at that point) but is rather giving them the will to actually want to be with Him in the future. And nobody at the consummation of the eons is going to complain that God dragged them out of death kicking and screaming. By that point everyone will be happy to no longer be dead, and will be quite willing to enjoy their newly vivified bodies with Him on the new Earth.
But while predestination isn’t coercive, it is absolute, and is based entirely on God’s sovereign choice rather than on our own, and I truly don’t understand how anyone can read Romans 9 and come away thinking otherwise. The idea that either our decision to sin or our desire for salvation (or even our belief that the Good News is true) is based entirely on ourselves or on our supposed “free will” is completely contradicted by this chapter, despite the efforts of various Arminians to hand-wave away the actual meaning of the chapter by claiming that Paul is simply talking about Israel there. I mean, they are partly right; Paul does talk about Israel in that chapter (as well as in the next two chapters, where he’s pointing out that Israel hasn’t been replaced), but he’s also talking specifically about Israelites as individuals in this chapter as well, discussing which ones will get to experience salvation (under the Gospel of the Circumcision, I should add) and which ones will miss out on the Millennial Kingdom. On top of that, he not only uses Gentiles as examples of God’s sovereignty and election in this chapter (note that he doesn’t say Pharaoh hardened his own heart in this chapter; his whole point here is that it’s God who is the one who hardens hearts — any hardening of the heart that Pharaoh himself did was from a relative perspective, with God being the absolute source of the hardening, as Paul points out here and as God Himself claims in Exodus; the idea that Pharaoh was ultimately responsible is just reading one’s own desire for human “free will” to be the reason for one’s damnation or salvation into the passages, and it means one is not paying attention to what these passages are actually teaching), he also discusses how Gentiles are called as well, so to insist that this chapter is just about Israel as a whole is to ignore large portions of the chapter. Really, a major point he’s making in this chapter is that salvation “is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy,” meaning that neither our own will nor our own efforts have anything to do with our salvation at all, but rather that it’s entirely based on God choosing to show mercy to whomever He decides to show mercy (from a relative perspective, of course; from an absolute perspective, He shows mercy to everyone, even if we don’t all experience it at the same time). In fact, when Paul’s “hypothetical” audience-member tries to “argue” that Paul’s point about God being ultimately responsible for those whose hearts are hardened can’t be right because it would then make no sense for God to blame people for their sins if this were true, asking, “Then why does he find fault? For who has resisted his will?”, Paul doesn’t then admit he was wrong and agree that his opponent must be right. If he had, the next line in the chapter would have been, “You know what? That’s a good point. I must have been mistaken. It must actually be our own fault, because of the decisions we made with our own free will, so I guess God isn’t ultimately responsible after all.” But instead, Paul simply continued in the same vein by saying, “Who are you, to be sure, who are answering again to God? That which is molded will not protest to the molder, ‘Why do you make me thus?’ Or has not the potter the right over the clay, out of the same kneading to make one vessel, indeed, for honor, yet one for dishonour?” Paul’s answer there tells us that he isn’t conceding the point at all, but is sticking to his belief that, while God does hold us accountable for our actions, He is still ultimately responsible for those actions. Now this admittedly might seem harsh, particularly to a Christian who believes this would mean that those whom God hardens and makes into vessels of dishonour will be punished for eternity in fire; but when we realize that even the vessels of dishonour will eventually realize it was all necessary for the fulfillment of God’s plans, and that even they will eventually experience salvation, it turns out to be a lot less harsh than one might originally think.
Still, many who are uncomfortable with the idea of predestination like to say (unscriptural) things along the lines of, “God doesn’t want robots,” and teach that God gave us something called “free will” (even if that “free will” is perhaps somewhat limited, not realizing that “limited free will” is a contradiction in terms) to choose Him for ourselves. They don’t quite seem to be grasping the irony of their belief that God won’t force anybody at all to bow the knee to Christ and confess Him as Lord in this lifetime, yet that He will supposedly force everyone who doesn’t choose to worship Him now to do so in the future (they’re forced to believe this because they don’t like the idea that Paul’s prophecy that everyone eventually will do so will be voluntary and done out of love and thanksgiving, but rather that this obeisance will be forced out of them at gunpoint, so to speak, even though just two verses later Paul said that it was God working in them to even will to do anything good at all). Likewise, they fail to recognize the contradiction inherent in their belief that He won’t force anyone to go to heaven, while at the same time also believing He’ll force these very same people to go to “hell” forever if they don’t make the right decision before they die, not considering the question of why “free will” only matters while one is alive when it comes to avoiding “hell” (unless one believes anybody would actually choose to be tortured in literal fire and want to continue to remain there forever, or even just choose to be burned up in actual fire in order to cease to exist, which seems highly unlikely to anyone who has ever burned themselves even for a fraction of a second).
These people don’t understand that, aside from being unscriptural, “free will” is also a complete impossibility from a purely logical and scientific perspective and can’t actually exist in reality. That said, most people don’t know what the term “free will” even means. What it doesn’t mean is the ability to choose. We can definitely choose things; it’s just that those choices are all predetermined, either by our nurture and nature (meaning life experiences and genetics), or by influences outside the sphere of the physical universe (such as by God). Yes, we do all have a will; it’s just that it’s not free (particularly before we’re saved — can a slave to sin be said to be free?). Even though it might feel like our choices are purely our own, we have to remember that events always either have a cause or they don’t; there’s no way for an event (even an event such as a decision or choice) to be anything other than caused or uncaused. If it’s caused, it’s predetermined; if it’s uncaused, it’s random (which no Christian would think is better than being predetermined). Nobody has ever been able to give a third option that works within the limits of reality, which means it’s time to throw the idea of “free will” away and accept that God is fully in control, even when it comes to salvation and judgement, and that we have no say in the matter whatsoever when it comes to God’s grace. And don’t worry, this doctrine doesn’t mean we’re robots. Because, honestly, that would actually give us too much credit.