The doctrine of eternal justification, which I’ve explored in the last couple of days, is at its heart a denial of one of the core doctrines of the Reformation, the doctrine of justification by faith alone, or “Sola Fide”. This is quite easy to understand- since the elect can be justified, in fact _must_ be justified before he believes, it is possible for a man without faith to be justified before God. The doctrine’s whole point is that the elect are always justified, never under the wrath of God. And therefore, at a point before the man has come to faith, he must be justified since there is no other state he could be in. He never is under God’s wrath.
The Reformed Puritan points out one clear problem with Scripture and this doctrine
This brings us to the third point — that of denying that the elect of God were never at any stage under the wrath of God. We have previously looked at Eph. 2:1-3 so we do not have to repeat the same exegesis of the text. Instead, let us look at one of the narrative accounts in Scripture: the story of the wicked king of Judah, King Manasseh the son of King Hezekiah (2 Ki. 21:1-18; 2 Chron. 33:1-20). We know from Scripture that King Manasseh was under the wrath of God for his gross wickedness (2 Ki. 21:6). Yet at the end of his wicked life, Manasseh repented of his sins (2 Chron. 33:13,19).
The question for those like Kraft therefore is this: Is the Bible lying when they state that Manasseh repented of his sins? If he did in fact repent, he must be saved and one of the elect, or isn’t he? If he indeed is one of the elect, then the Scripture do in fact teach that he was at one time under the wrath of God, thus falsifying their ridiculous teaching that the elect of God were never under the wrath of God even before conversion.
Manasseh was in rebellion against God, and was therefore under God’s wrath. Later he repented, and received God’s grace. He was not justified until he repented, and then he was.
In fact, if this doctrine of eternal justification is true, the most obvious conclusion would be universalism. God justifies everybody. Why not? Even the fact that some people never express faith in this life is not necessarily an impediment- after all, perhaps God can simply work faith in the elect after they die, an idea the Predestinarian Network explores here.
And yet Paul says clearly, “By faith is a man justified.” Faith is the instrument by which a man lays hold on the forgiveness of sins accomplished in the death of Christ. John the baptist (Mark 1:15) calls on people to “repent, and believe the gospel”, and in Matthew 3:2 tells the people to repent in order to “flee the wrath to come”. They will be under wrath unless they repent. In Luke 13, Jesus tells the people that they will all perish unless they repent. Peter tells the Jews in Acts 2:38 to repent and they will be saved, receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. And when the Philippian jailer asks Paul, “what must I do to be saved?” Paul says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.” (Acts 16:30-31).
The Predestinarians like Brandan Kraft would accuse all of them of being “evangellyfish” or “Crypto-Arminians.” The proper answer to them would be, “You don’t have to do anything, just recognize that you are already saved.” But in every one of these places, the people are called on to make a choice, to express faith, to respond to the offer of the gospel. If they do, they live. If they don’t, they die.
One more passage- Romans 5. This passage shows that by Adam death came into the world, and condemnation, on all men, all who are under his headship (Romans 5:16). All men are under Adam’s headship, and all are condemned, under God’s wrath. All men were “made sinners” by his sin (v. 19). But all men are made righteous by Christ. All are justified by that free gift, when they accept that gift by faith.
The doctrine of predestination should never be interpreted to mean that we don’t need to make a choice. We must make a choice, to believe in Christ, and therefore pass from wrath to mercy, from darkness to light, from death to life. Predestination informs us of the way this happens- that by God’s eternal election, He grants His Holy Spirit to those that He has chosen, to transform the heart of a man so that the man is able to make that choice, able to believe, able to repent and turn from sinfulness and rebellion to righteousness and life. But until we make that God-enabled choice, we are under the curse of the law.
Now that choice happens in a lot of ways. It’s not always a “warming of the heart” moment- it’s not always a moment in time at all. Sometimes it’s a choice that takes place gradually, over years. Some are regenerate from birth, and always believe in Jesus. Some people are regenerated and come to faith gradually, over years. Some people have that lightning bolt moment.
But nobody is justified unless and until they believe.