Romans 9: 6-24 [English Standard Version]:
…it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.”
And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad — in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls — she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written [in Malachi], “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory — even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?
The two historical cases:
Looking at Paul’s logic — because God chose one of Abraham’s spouses over the others, it follows that claiming descent from Abraham was not sufficient to make one an heir to God’s promise:
And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called.
Further because God chose one of Rebekah’s twins over the other, claiming descent from Isaac was not sufficient to make one an heir to God’s promise.
And Isaac intreated the Lord for his wife, because she was barren: and the Lord was intreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived. And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to enquire of the Lord. And the Lord said unto her, two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.
NOTE: However, Rebekah was told that the older would serve the younger. Given the Lord’s vernacular for presidency/leadership as voluntary servitude – perhaps this was a misunderstood revelation, and that misunderstanding led things to play out the way they did. Just a thought.
The extrapolated case:
From these two historical cases, Paul theroizes that it is then likewise true that claiming to be “of Israel” cannot demonstrate that a person is right with God [or justified].
The implication made by using Abraham and Isaac as examples, is that being a justified believer is still a function of God’s choice [like choosing Sarah's son over Hagar's, and choosing one of Rebekah's sons over the other]. He either made you for glory or for wrath and you are in no place to dispute His choice for you.
This is the Calvinistic doctrine of “irresistible grace” — wherein they conclude that it is not possible for humans to have any role in justification — because how could we do anything more than God could do Himself?
What about faith?
However, Paul consistently stresses “faith” as the means of access to God and to a justified state with Him:
Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.
Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.
Faith = Word of God + Belief + the Spirit:
So, if humans have access to God by virtue of faith — then it must still be God’s irresistible choice as to who “gets faith” and who does not — right? To answer this question, it requires one to look at Alma’s preaching on the subject of faith that is found in Alma 32:
Now, we will compare the word unto a seed.
Equating the word of God with a seed is also done in Luke 8: 11; 1 Peter 1: 23; Romans 10: 17; and Galatians 3: 2-9. The farmer analogy is quite accurate. The right-brain-hearts of humans are soil, which can be at varying degrees of receptiveness for the seeds, which are the various doctrines of God, the devil, and of men. The faith that will justify a person with respect to God comes as the ever-good seed is allowed to germinate and grow in the right-brain-heart.
Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart,
This “place” is given in the right-brain-heart. It involves the concept of yielding [Mosiah 3:19] or being lowly, humble, and teachable. Broken soil [or a softened right-brain-heart] is a result of a person humbling him/herself — thereby having a broken heart or contrite spirit. This is equivalent to being “poor in heart” — which Alma observed that the Zoramites were:
of whom were poor in heart, because of their poverty as to the things of the world.
In their case, worldly poverty had brought them to this “lowliness of heart” state:
And now, as I said unto you, that because ye were compelled to be humble ye were blessed, do ye not suppose that they are more blessed who truly humble themselves because of the word?
Yea, he that truly humbleth himself, and repenteth of his sins, and endureth to the end, the same shall be blessed — yea, much more blessed than they who are compelled to be humble because of their exceeding poverty.
So, Alma describes two options for softening the right-brain-heart: a person may wait for certain circumstances to bring about a state of humility [or soft ground], which will make him/her open and receptive to the word — or a person may exercise self-motivation by virtue of the power of the word alone [motivated by the promises of the Lord], and give place for that seed on his/her own.
Also, if a person’s circumstances do not cause him/her to be humble and they cannot seem to humble themselves before the Lord, then the Lord provides another tool for a man or woman to obtain the required humility: fasting and prayer.
Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God.
This is how the ancients did it, because this is how it is done.
Continuing one with Alma’s preaching in chapter 32:
behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed,
The seed Alma spoke of was:
the Son of God, that he will come to redeem his people, and that he shall suffer and die to atone for their sins; and that he shall rise again from the dead, which shall bring to pass the resurrection, that all men shall stand before him, to be judged at the last and judgment day, according to their works.
This is the ever-good seed. Any seed that is planted and persuades a person to believe in and plant this ever-good seed, is also a good seed. While any seed that is planted and persuades a person not to believe in and plant the ever-good seed, is not a good seed. None of this has anything to do with religion or churches. All seeds are judged to be good or evil by how they measure up to the ever-good seed and whether they point people towards, or away from, it:
For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.
Continuing on in Alma 32:
if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord,
Unbelief is equated by Alma with resistance. Resistance requires effort or work. It means to oppose with force. The opposite of resisting would be to bow, give in, submit, succumb, surrender, or yield. All of these words imply a lack of effort or ceasing to work.
As belief is an entirely passive act, any effort whatsoever on a person’s part will stand as an obstacle or impediment to the formula for obtaining faith. It is like someone pushing you and simply allowing yourself to be pushed — or being in a river that is pushing you downriver and allowing yourself to be carried along. No effort. This is belief.
The moment there is resistance [in the slightest degree] to that push, even to just change the direction of travel one inch, it will decrease belief — ultimately turning it into its opposite [disbelief or doubt], which is a state of resistance to the Spirit of the Lord.
behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves — It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.
This is a formula — akin to a scientific equation or cooking recipe. Following the steps with the outlined ingredients will always produce the same result. If a person varies one step or another — or rationalizes that a certain step is not required — or puts in some of their own effort into the formula — anything different causes “user error” and faith will not result.
The desire to believe:
But what can a person a person do if he/she is having problems with the formula? There are certain signs following them that believe. The purpose of these signs is to give the professed believer [and also the church] a means to discern justified believers in Christ [saints, who possess faith] from non-justified believers in Christ [Christians, who do not possess faith] — this is the fruit by which you may know them. If one finds that he/she is not able to:
In my name they shall do many wonderful works; In my name they shall cast out devils; In my name they shall heal the sick; In my name they shall open the eyes of the blind, and unstop the ears of the deaf; And the tongue of the dumb shall speak; And if any man shall administer poison unto them it shall not hurt them; And the poison of a serpent shall not have power to harm them.
And these signs shall follow them that believe — in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover; And whosoever shall believe in my name, doubting nothing, unto him will I confirm all my words, even unto the ends of the earth.
Then Alma advises that:
But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words
What will “awake and arouse your faculties”? This was mentioned earlier in describing how to soften the soil:
- One could be compelled by circumstances to have a desire to believe.
- One could be motivated by virtue of the promises of the Lord in His word to desire to believe.
- One could fast and pray until a desire to believe stirs in his/her right-brain-heart.
Again, “let this desire work in you” is the same as being in that river of water that is pushing you downriver, and instead of resisting, just allowing yourself to be carried along.
God’s will is your faith:
God works according to the faith of the children of men — meaning according to the formula outlined above. Thus, the doctrine of God saving people by virtue of His will and choice is true. However, that He works according to our faith means that His “choice” cannot be outside the bounds of an agent’s faith.
There is no such thing as something operating solely according to the will of God without the context of our faith. Things operate solely according to the faith of agents — and this is God’s will. This is why, for example, when Alma and Amulek were beholding the destruction of the saints by fire — and Amulek says to Alma:
How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us [which power comes by faith], and save them from the flames.
we read that Alma replies:
The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand.
Because Alma and Amulek had the faith to stop the destruction — the Spirit needed to tell them that they should not use their gift because there was a wiser purpose in letting the saints die. Should it be the case that God’s will can be done without regard for an agent’s faith — then there would have been no purpose in the Spirit telling Alma anything. Alma would have just stretched forth his hand and watched as the flames kept on burning [Much like what many LDS experience with priesthood healings, etc.].
The principle is that God must act where there is faith, so the Spirit had to tell Alma not extend his hand [not to exercise his faith] so that the destruction would not stop.
Also, there are two examples from Paul. In 1 Corinthians 14, he gives a command that members of the church who possess the gift of tongues refrain from using their gift in church meetings whenever a member with the gift of interpretation of tongues is not present:
…let one interpret. But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church;
No such instruction would be needed unless the gifts are available to be used at will by those who have faith. If the gifts worked according to God’s will and choice alone, then the Spirit would simply not manifest tongues in cases when an interpreter was absent — and no one would need instruction from Paul.
Also, in Acts 21, we see Paul in a similar circumstance as Alma and Amulek. Paul is told twice, through the gift of prophecy, not to go to Jerusalem. In the wording of the Alma 14 story we could say: ”The Spirit constraineth Paul that he must not go forth unto Jerusalem.“
And finding disciples, we tarried [at Tyre] seven days: who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem.
And as we tarried [at Ptolemais] many days, there came down from Judæa a certain prophet, named Agabus. And when he was come unto us, he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles. And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem.
Yet, while Alma and Amulek chose to submit their faith to what the Spirit had told them — Paul chooses otherwise. Exercising his faith — Paul feels it better to die at Jerusalem for the name of Jesus Christ. When the people saw that Paul could not be persuaded, they acknowledged that:
The will of the Lord be done.
And His will is done — in these examples and in the example of exercising faith unto salvation. It is God’s will that people work according to their faith — and His will is done when faith is used. With respect to salvation, God chooses every person that He has the power to choose — and He only has power where there is faith. Thus He “chooses” all those who have faith.
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See also: The Faith of God Series, FPR post on LDS Cessationism, T&S post on LDS Cessationism, and W&T post on Alma 32