Theology Corner

Addressing commonly asked questions about Christianity from the perspective of a non-theologian

47. WHAT ARE THE DECREES OF GOD?

Each of the seven Decrees of God is a foundational premise of Reformed Theology and represents a presumed thought in the mind of God.  Some disagreement exists regarding the logical order of God’s thoughts but they are usually arranged according to Supra-lapsarianism (before the fall) or Infra-lapsarianism (after the fall).  The only difference in these two orders is a switch in positions of the second and third decrees.

 

The Calvinist’s Logical Order of God’s Decrees

 

Supra-lapsarian

Creation of man in God’s image.

Election of some to eternal life.

Permission for the fall of man.

Atonement of Christ for the sins of the elect.

Gift of the Holy Spirit to convict the world.

Regeneration of the elect.

Sanctification of the regenerate.

 

Infra-lapsarian

Creation of man in God’s image.

Permission for the fall of man.

Election of some to eternal life.

Atonement of Christ for the sins of the elect.

Gift of the Holy Spirit to convict the world.

Regeneration of the elect.

Sanctification of the regenerate.

 

By either system, God made the decision to elect some to eternal life before he decided to involve Christ as a vehicle for this election.  Men could have been saved either by the atonement or some other vehicle satisfactory to God.  Christ is merely dragged in as it were, as an agent for the fulfillment of a decree.  The decree system was rejected by Jacobus Arminius because it made God the author of sin.  He spared no words in denouncing this fallacy:

Of all blasphemies which can be uttered against God, the most grievous is that by which He is set down as the author of sin; the weight of which imputation is no little aggravated, if it be added that God is on that account the author of sin committed by the creature, in order that He might damn and lead away the creature into eternal destruction, which He had already beforehand destined for him without reference to sin: for so he would have been the cause of unrighteousness in man, that He might inflict eternal misery upon him.

Wesleyan/Arminian theologians don’t usually express theological positions in terms of decrees because it is Christ and not some decree system that is the source and cause of salvation.  However, it is possible to devise a Wesleyan/Arminian analog to the decree system of Calvinism.  Here is a hypothetical list of Wesleyan/Arminian decrees.

 

Wesleyan/Arminian Decrees 

God created man in His image and foresaw the descent of man into sin.

God appointed the Son to atone for the sin of man by His own death.  Jesus Christ is the Elect Man.  Individual persons are not elected for salvation, but it is Christ who has been appointed as the elect Savior for all men.  The way of salvation is predestined. 

God decreed that each person who confesses his sin nature and behavior, has remorse in his heart, repents, believes and seeks obedience will be received into God’s favor.  For Christ’s sake and through Him, salvation is assured for those who persevere.

God appointed the means by which to achieve His purpose.  Grace was to be given to all men making it possible for any man to turn to Christ and trust in Him.  By this prevenient grace, men are given the power to believe.  But God will not believe for us.  The ability is from God, but the act of believing must be man’s own act.

God predestines individuals on the basis of divine foreknowledge.  He knows who will believe and who will not.

All who receive the great gift of salvation are redeemed, forgiven, justified, adopted, regenerated, guided along the path of sanctification, reconciled with fellow believers, united in the church of Jesus Christ and looking forward to glorification when this life is done.

When Jesus Christ returns to restore and repossess his creation, nature will be violent no more and the souls of all persons who accept the great gift of salvation will finally be set free from the influence of sin.

 

Wesleyan/Arminian theology stresses an interpretation of predestination which understands the Grace of God as strengthening moral life rather than weakening it; God’s love and moral energy are available to all men.  Grace is not an arbitrary imposition of the will of God on passive man; it is not an arbitrary divine cause but the free gift of God’s enablement.

Embracing the need for a decree system, with all its consequences, reveals the theologian’s concept of God.  The One True God may or may not order the affairs of Heaven, Hell and the universe by some system men interpret as decrees.  But it is most certainly the case that the Bible does not give us any hint as to the nature or sequence of His decrees.  The entire concept underlying a system of decrees is man-made and appears nowhere in Scripture.