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Why are some saved, and not others?

January 23rd, 2010
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The other day, my son asked me, “Dad, why are some people saved, and others are not.” I said, “Aha! You are taking Latin, so tell me what this means. You are asking about the crux theologorum.” He thought for a moment and said, “The cross of theologians?” “Correct you are, sir,” I said, “What you are asking is the old question that has proven the downfall of many theologians through the ages, ‘Why some, not others?’ ” And from there we proceeded into an interesting conversation about a feature of Lutheranism that makes both Calvinists “God predestines some to hell, others to heaven”, on the one hand, and Arminians “I have chosen to follow Jesus!” folks, on the other, frustrated with us. Lutheranism, as does Sacred Scripture, simply does not answer the question why some are saved, and not others. Here’s a great Q/A on this that succinctly states why this is the teaching of the Bible, and, consequently, historic Lutheranism.

Question:

I understand that God chose those for salvation before the very foundation of the world. The Bible does not say that there are those who are chosen and that there are those who are not. So, does that mean then that God chose everyone to be saved before the foundation of the world and therefore it is man’s choice whether he will accept God’s saving grace or not? However, one cannot come into God’s grace by himself, but by the Holy Spirit “leading” him unto salvation. Is that the correct interpretation? I am confused by the fact that we were chosen by God before the foundation of the world, yet the very action of choosing can mean that there were those who were not chosen. I know that God wishes everyone to be saved. Can you help me?

Answer:

The question you are wrestling with is really the question, “Why are some saved and not others?” Theologians throughout history have referred to this question as the “crux theologorum” (“the cross of the theologians”) because of the difficulty (and from the Lutheran perspective, the impossibility) of giving an answer to this question which is satisfactory to our human reason.

Some answer this question by pointing to man’s “free will”–only those are saved who “choose” to be saved. Lutherans reject this answer as unscriptural because according to the Bible even man’s will is “dead” and powerless to “choose” God and his grace in Christ. We are saved not because we “choose” to be saved but because the Holy Spirit works faith in our heart through the Gospel (even faith is a gift!). Others answer this question by pointing to God’s sovereign will: God himself predestines from eternity some to be saved and others to be damned. Lutherans reject this answer as unscriptural because according to the Bible God sincerely desires all to be saved and has predestined no one to damnation.

So how do Lutherans answer this question? The answer is that Lutherans do not try to answer it, because (we believe) the Bible itself does not provide an answer to this question that is comprehensible to human reason. Lutherans affirm, with Scripture, that whoever is saved is saved by God’s grace alone, a grace so sure that it excludes all human “action” and “choice” but rather rests on the foundation of God’s action in Christ and his “choice” (predestination) from before the beginning of time. Lutherans also affirm, with Scripture, that those who are damned are damned not by God’s “choice” but on account of their own human sin and rebellion and unbelief. From a human perspective, there is no “rational” or “logical” way to put these two truths together. Lutherans believe and confess them not because they are “rational” and “logical,” but because this is what we find taught in Scripture.

For a further discussion of this issue, you may want to read Articles II and XI in the Formula of Concord (contained in the Book of Concord, the Lutheran Confessions).

Source: LCMS.ORG

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  1. January 23rd, 2010 at 08:23 | #1

    I noted once when reading Spurgeon that he opted not to get too drawn on the ‘crux theologorum’. he stated that there are areas of God’s work, that are simply mysterious and that the human mind, on this side of eternity, simply can’t fully grasp, but suffice it to say that predestination and free-will travel in parallel and meet at the thone of God in eternity.

  2. January 23rd, 2010 at 08:31 | #2

    I cross-posted this one, hope that’s OK:-

    Why are some saved, and not others?

  3. Bruce
    January 23rd, 2010 at 18:14 | #3

    ‘I understand that God chose those for salvation before the very foundation of the world.’

    I wonder if we struggle with issues like this because we are only able to visualize time linearly while for an eternal being all time may be present. If we were able to comprehend time in an eternal sense, would we still deal with predestination and related questions in the same way?

  4. Kelly
    January 24th, 2010 at 22:46 | #4

    The answer this takes in some evangelical circles tends to be categorically opposite to the Lutheran approach. This is because Lutherans teach that we do not decide to get saved but we can decide to fall away, whereas it is popular in many evangelical churches to hold to both “decision theology” and “once saved, always saved” — the opposite paradox. So these churches often explain the crux theologorum by asserting both man’s free will in salvation as well as God’s sovereign election. They might say something like, “It’s not explainable, but we choose God *and* he has chosen us from all eternity.” Lutherans do not consider this to be a biblically feasible paradox because, as far as we’re concerned, it’s like saying, “We’re saved through faith alone *and* through faith plus works.” Just like that “End runs around the cross” post previously made, we have to look at the issue of election in terms of our justification in Christ and his cross, not in speculations about our own strength of conviction or God’s hidden will and purposes in election.

  5. Brian
    January 26th, 2010 at 09:51 | #5

    This is a fascinating question. What is the “human” sin that has the power or capability to deny the salvation that Jesus offers to everybody? The sin against the Holy Spirit which is unbelief. I was looking for an example of this unbelief that you could provide in discussing the faith with somebody. What distinguishes that particular sin?

    Thanks,

    Brian

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