Since high school, it has been my practice to read through the Scriptures each year.  Upon readings in more recent years, I have been struck repeatedly by strong expressions of divine exasperation.  Of course, I acknowledge God’s awareness of what free choices human beings will make, and I recognize that God can use free human choices and rebellion to accomplish his sovereign purposes.  Humans can harden themselves (e.g., Mark 3:5) and then God, if he chooses, may add to this hardening (e.g., Mark 4:12); that is, human self-hardening gives way to “phase two” when God withdraws his grace and further removes humans from repentance, “giving them over” to the consequences of their own self-initiated resistance to God’s grace.  Let me add here that Kenneth Keathley’s book Salvation and Sovereignty (B&H Academic) does a fine job of expounding on themes surrounding this divine-human interplay.  I further recommend the work of Thomas P. Flint and William Craig (which also offer a Molinist account) for those who want to go even deeper into these areas.

I am hoping to do some writing in this area of divine exasperation, and I thought that I would check with faithful Parchment and Pen readers to get your take on the following verses.  As I read them, they strongly suggest God’s legitimate expectation of spiritual fruitfulness, repentance, or obedience. That is, what hinders their repentance is not God’s withholding grace so that they cannot repent.  Indeed, abundant grace has been given that justifies the expectation of repentance—even if God in his foreknowledge knows it is not forthcoming.  Despite God’s initiating grace, humans continue to “resist the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51)—to grieve him (Ephesians 4:30) and quench him (1 Thessalonians 5:19).  God commands all people without exception to repent (Acts 17:30); so presumably God’s initiating grace is available for all to do so.

What is your take on the following sampling of verses that reflect “divine exasperation”?  

  • Genesis 4:6-7:  “Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?  If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.’”
  • Psalm 81:10-11: “Open your mouth wide, and I [God] will fill it.”  Israel’s response? “But my people did not listen to My voice, and Israel did not obey Me….Oh that my people would listen to Me…!”  God goes on to say that if they did listen, he would subdue their enemies and feed Israel with the finest of wheat (vv. 13-16).
  •  Isaiah 5:1-7:  “Let me sing now for my well-beloved a song of my beloved concerning His vineyard. My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill.  He dug it all around, removed its stones, and planted it with the choicest vine. And He built a tower in the middle of it and also hewed out a wine vat in it; then He expected it to produce good grapes, but it produced only worthless ones.  And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between Me and My vineyard.  What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones?  So now let Me tell you what I am going to do to My vineyard: I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed; I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground.  I will lay it waste; it will not be pruned or hoed, But briars and thorns will come up. I will also charge the clouds to rain no rain on it.”  For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel and the men of Judah His delightful plant.  Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; For righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress.”
  • Jeremiah 5:3: “O Lord, do not Your eyes look for truth? You have smitten them, but they did not weaken; you have consumed them, but they refused to take correction. They have made their faces harder than rock; they have refused to repent.”
  • Jeremiah 5:21-25: “‘Now hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see; who have ears but do not hear.  Do you not fear Me?’ declares the Lord. ‘Do you not tremble in My presence? For I have placed the sand as a boundary for the sea, an eternal decree, so it cannot cross over it. Though the waves toss, yet they cannot prevail; though they roar, yet they cannot cross over it.  But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart; they have turned aside and departed.  They do not say in their heart, “Let us now fear the Lord our God, who gives rain in its season, both the autumn rain and the spring rain, who keeps for us the appointed weeks of the harvest.”  Your iniquities have turned these away, and your sins have withheld good from you.’”
  • Ezekiel 6:9: “How I [God] have been hurt by their adulterous hearts.”
  • Ezekiel 18:23, 32: “Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked?” “Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies…. Therefore, repent and live.”
  • Matthew 23:37: Jesus laments over Jerusalem: “How I longed to gather you . . . but you were unwilling.” (It appears that it wasn’t Jesus or his Father who was unwilling!)
  • Luke 7:30:  Israel’s religious leaders had “rejected God’s purpose for themselves.”
  • John 3:16-17: “God so loved the world [which stands in opposition to God/Christ] . . . God did not sent His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”
  • Romans 10:21: “All day long I have stretched out my hand to a disobedient and obstinate people.”
  • 2 Corinthians 5:20:  “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
  • 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9: God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”; God “is not willing that any should perish, but that all come to repentance.” Surely the sense of the text cannot be turned around to mean that God is willing that certain people should perish and not come to repentance!
  • 1 John 2:2: Christ died for the sins of “the whole world [holou tou kosmou]”—the same “whole world” that lies in the hands of the evil one (1 Jn. 5:19) and that Satan leads astray (Rev. 12:9).
  • Revelation 2:21-22: Regarding the Thyatiran false prophetess “Jezebel,” Jesus says: “I gave her time to repent; and she does not want to repent of her immorality. Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds.”

What do you all think?  If these are not genuine expressions of divine exasperation and genuine divine calls to freely repent in response to God’s grace, how are we to understand them?  I’d appreciate your input.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    270 replies to "Divine Exasperation"

    • wm tanksley

      In terms of God’s stimulating us (well, some of us!) to repent by using “exasperation” language, this doesn’t seem quite right. We can make factual claims on the basis of such texts: that God had utilized all resources possible to bring about repentance but Old Testament Israel repeatedly refused

      That is not a factual statement; it is an exposure of your assumptions. Contrary to your assumption, God did not say He had no more resources, and the story of Paul is a clear example in which God used resources He didn’t use on others (but He could have!). For that matter, what of the people who met Jesus? If your “full resources” theory were correct, God would have used full resources on everyone.

      Those passages were not about God using “full resources”, but rather were about God using more than adequate resources.

      Jesus is being quite the “gentleman” in Rev. 3:20: He stands and knocks, and if anyone opens the door, he will come in and dine with that person.

      This isn’t what Revelation teaches. Read the context. Even if you think that this is not part of the letter to the Laodiceans (and thus part of the rebuke and promise to that church), you have to see that Jesus is NOT being “quite the gentleman” anywhere else in the book. (And don’t you remember who Jesus says “hears my voice”?)

      In Hebrews 6, God enlightens persons and lets them taste/experience the heavenly gift. Here God opens their eyes and lets them see, but they ultimately refuse God’s gracious initiative.

      This is a POWERFUL passage, and I do understand why you read it this way. But it doesn’t work; Hebrews 6 says “it is impossible”. This is not an experiential passage with a proverbial or subjective result; it’s a logical passage with a universal conclusion. (And no, it can’t be talking about “ultimate” results like you’re saying, because that makes the argument regarding renewing to repentance simply awkward, as though there were a chance after ultimacy.)

      It seems to me to mean that once one admits that the Father, Spirit, and Son were behind the Temple sacrifices all along, turning back to those shadows of sacrifices implies that the REAL sacrifice must have been worthless — and that therefore the shadows are more so, and nothing remains. The author sees that the people he’s appealing to already know this by experience, so he’s confident that they realize how foolish they’d have to be to pretend shadows are real and reality (which they KNOW is real) is a shadow. See also Heb 10:26, which takes the same argument even further — not only is renewed repentance logically impossible, but such behavior is logically incompatible with ANY sacrifice being available.

      I agree with your paragraph about John, except for the part about God hardening people in order to keep them from being saved; I don’t think God does that.


    • wm tanksley

      It seems to me, on your thinking (Phil and William), that as we look back on any of our actions (even as believers), we could not have done other than what we did because of all the prior influences allowed/produced by God. But this would run contrary to, say, 1 Cor. 10:13—God always makes a way of escape in any of our temptations that we can endure it.

      I admit I used to be a hard determinist, preaching the straight Jonathan Edwards party line. Now I’m not so sure. It’s not because I found any verses that contradict it (that one you cited certainly doesn’t); rather, it’s because there are no verses that SUPPORT it. It’s a fine philosophical conclusion, but I’m an engineer, not a philosopher, so I’d rather remain agnostic.

      Why do I say that verse doesn’t contradict determinism? Well, because it doesn’t mention the topic. Compare verses like James 1:14, where we see that the sources of temptation and sin are our desires. Does that contradict free will? Not really, it doesn’t mention it. (Of course, I REALLY don’t believe in libertarian free will when it comes to salvation; it seem pretty much ruled out by Paul’s discussions of slavery to sin versus slavery to righteousness. But who knows what happens in other parts of our lives.)

      A person who comes to the light comes because of God’s gracious initiative–though it is resistible.

      Right — “no one can come to me unless the Father [calls] him, and I will raise him up on the last day.” … “All that the Father has given me will come to me.” … “I will lose nothing of all He has given me, but will raise them up on the last day.” … “Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from Him comes to Me.”

      It seems silly to congratulate oneself for receiving a Christmas present rather than refusing it.

      There’s a difference. You can try to receive a present because you want to, but fail for physical reasons, and then TRY HARDER to succeed (and surely you will). But God doesn’t command us to receive a present. Instead, He commands us to believe. Can you TRY to believe? Can you DECIDE to believe?

      At the same time, the command to believe is part of the Law, and those who do not believe are condemned.

      -Wm (really enjoying finally reading NT Wright; he’s answering some questions I’d wondered about. Thank you, Mr. Copan!)

    • Ed Kratz

      Wow, thanks for the array of follow-up comments. I’ll try to get back to things when I can. William, glad you’ve enjoyed getting into Wright. You’ll also find that he writes quite approvingly of Lewis’s *The Great Divorce* in his *Surprised by Hope*—excellent stuff!

    • wm tanksley

      Grin… Sorry for the array, but hope they make sense anyhow.

      I enjoyed “The Great Divorce”, and I’m curious to see how Wright might quote it… As fun as Lewis was, he’s neither theologian nor exegete, while Wright is both. Have you read Lewis’ personal favorite, “Till We Have Faces”? Maybe I’m biased by my own education (Latin minor, Greek language focus), but that was my favorite of his books. (His previous favorite was Perlandra, which was my least favorite of that series.)

      Off topic, but fun.


    • Phil McCheddar

      Thank you Paul and William for this continuing discussion.

      Paul wrote:
      In terms of God’s stimulating us (well, some of us!) to repent by using “exasperation” language, this doesn’t seem quite right. We can make factual claims on the basis of such texts: that God had utilized all resources possible to bring about repentance but Old Testament Israel repeatedly refused,

      But I still don’t see why God’s tone of exasperation isn’t merely a rhetorical device to highlight the perversity of man’s persistent obstinacy, and I don’t see that it necessarily implies that man might have repented sooner without further divine enabling. How would you explain that the Lord Jesus chided his apostles for being slow to understand his teaching, while at the same time we are told: “they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it” (Luke 9:45)?

      In Isaiah 54:14-15 God says to His people “You will be far from terror, it will certainly not come near you. If anyone attacks you, it is not from me.” Does this imply that God’s people could be attacked by a hostile nation without God predetermining it? … that God isn’t behind the demise of each sparrow after all?

      Commenting about the destruction of Jerusalem in the 6th century, God says in Zechariah 1:15 “I am exceedingly angry with the nations that are at ease; for while I was angry but a little, they furthered the disaster.” Does that mean Nebuchadnezzar went further than God intended? … that things didn’t work out quite as God had planned? … that in this life we are vulnerable to the caprices of evil forces outside God’s control?

      In Jeremiah 32:35 God says “They built the high places of Baal in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination.” Does this mean God didn’t know in advance that they would burn their children? … that some events take even God by surprise?

      Therefore I am cautious about making factual claims based on texts about God’s exasperation.

    • wm tanksley

      Phil, you make some very good points; but I don’t quite agree. I think that God is not merely exasperated but wrathful against sin, and only His longsuffering and patience holds Him back: longsuffering towards those who will not repent, and patience towards those whom He is bringing to repentance.

      I really like the verse you bring up regarding Nebuchadnezzar. God also spoke against the Assyrians, at the same time as He claimed to have called them up as a tool in His hands He promised to punish them severely for their high-handed crimes against His people. Isa 10, especially Isa 10:12, explains this quite clearly. This is CERTAINLY an example of God’s exasperation — but it’s exasperation before God’s started using them to punish His people, exasperation about a course of action that had not even started.


    • wm tanksley

      I think I may have failed to explain WHY I “don’t really agree”.

      I simply don’t think there’s anything rhetorical about the passages Copan identifies as “exasperation”, largely because I think there’s much more than exasperation going on there (as opposed to there being much less going on).


    • Phil McCheddar

      William, I agree that God is wrathful against sin. What I meant was that whereas Paul Copan interprets God’s tone of exasperation as an indication that man might have repented previously, I conjecture that God may be affecting an exasperated tone in order to effect that repentance now. If I think my repentance is pre-ordained and inevitable, I would not feel morally responsible to repent and so wouldn’t bother exerting myself. But if God makes me feel that my repentance depends on my own initiative, that will spur me into urgent and earnest exertion.

      BTW, can you remind me please how to use italics, bold, and blockquote in this editor? Thanks.

    • wm tanksley

      I see, Phil. Yes, I essentially agree; my only point is that I don’t think there’s any need for “affectation”. God really means that He’s irritated. I don’t know why Copan chooses to mean that God must be irritated in one particular way.

      I also believe that our repentance DOES depend on our own “initiative”, so long as we don’t define that in any ultimate way. When God ordains our salvation, He also ordains the means by which we will be saved — whether those means are a blinding light on the road to Damascus, or whether they’re a specific Christian reading the Word to you. The means will always include the Word, and will often include informing you of God’s wrath towards sin.

      To get fancy formatting you have to write HTML. Is the following sufficient: “”italic””? Bold is “b”, Blockquote is “blockquote”.


    • wm tanksley

      Sorry, the blog stripped the attempt to show formatting codes. Explaining them in English will take a while. Is it enough to say “it’s HTML”? If not, I’ll explain.

    • Phil McCheddar

      Thanks William. I can’t remember which type of brackets to enclose the word “italic” in, nor which way the slash should slant to turn the formatting off.

    • wm tanksley

      Angle brackets — less than and greater than. The slash has to be forward, on my keyboard it’s on the same key as the question mark.

    • Phil McCheddar

      Thanks, William!

      I think our honourable brother Paul Copan‘s thesis is that God’s apparent exasperation is a sign that man’s non-repentance isn’t due to any lack of enabling grace from God. But I don’t think he means that exasperation is God’s principal attitude towards man’s sin as you seem to understand him. We all agree God is angry and grieved by man’s sin, and he clearly expresses his wrath against sin throughout the bible. I am cautious about interpreting God’s apparent exasperation the way Paul does because I think the bible functions not only as a textbook to inform us of the truth and fill our heads with knowledge but also as a pair of potter’s hands to mould our minds to see things the way God wants us to, and to spur us to make an appropriate response. Studying the bible is not just a case of cramming information into our heads and formulating systematic theology but also of interfacing with God personally so that the experience purifies our character and reforms our outlook.

      Might the following two parts of the bible be examples of rhetorical devices designed to elicit a certain response from mankind?

      The warnings against falling away in the book of Hebrews seem to imply that it is possible for a true believer to lose his inheritance and be rejected on the Day of Judgment. But Thomas R. Schreiner and Ardel B. Caneday argue in their book The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance (Downers Grove, Illinios: IVP, 2001) that these passages are simply the means by which God preserves his saints so that none of them will actually be lost. In other words, God does not preserve his saints by dragging them to heaven with/without their cooperation but by alarming them into apprehending a real (not hypothetical) danger and exerting themselves to avoid it happening.

      The OT law said: Do this and you will live! This principle is summarised by Paul in Gal.3:12: “The law is not of faith, rather ‘The one who does them shall live by them’” But since we know that no-one can be justified by means of obeying the law perfectly, was this merely God’s way of leading the Israelites circuitously to discover for themselves that they were incapable of obeying the law and needed to cry out to him for his grace? Surely we would not infer from the OT law that perfect obedience is practically possible and not just hypothetical.

    • wm tanksley

      Phil, the problem I have with that reading is that it has God molding us by means of something that does not correspond with reality. I’m uncomfortable with that, for a smaller version of the same reason I reject Molinism.

      Now, when you look back into the Law, you’ll see it presented in several lights, but notice how, in the great final presentation of Choice that so many Arminians like to indicate, God clearly proclaims that His people WILL reject the Law, and WILL be taken captive in punishment, and God WILL forgive them and rescue them. On a societal level, then, the people must trust in God alone, not in their own ability to keep the law. On a personal level the same is not indicated by that passage; but when you examine the Law closely you’ll find that there is no sacrifice for the covering of intentional sin — all of the coverings are limited to only accidental sin. This means that as important as the Law is for the national people of Israel, the personal individuals still have to look in faith to the covenant of the God of Abraham and Adam.

      I’ll try to post what I think a more likely reading Hebrews is, and why the traditional Arminian reading doesn’t work (without cheating by bringing in the other passages that such a reading directly contradicts).


    • wm tanksley

      The two passages Hebrews 6 and 10 show two circumstances, which have to be considered in detail; but my primary conclusion is similar for the two. My primary conclusion is that both passages center around an exclusive and total logical statement. “It is impossible” and “there remains no more sacrifice” both are incredibly strong statements; anyone interpreting them must pause to notice that. Although both passages sound experiential (“tasted the good word of God” or “we sin willfully”), our experience contains nothing that could possibly back the power and certainty of those conclusions. And the latter one contains a denial of objective fact — because Christ’s sacrifice did actually happen, was actually accepted, and is totally sufficient for any sin. Whether we knowingly sin or not, Christ’s sacrifice isn’t changed. Frankly, if that’s supposed to be a warning, it’s not a very plausible one.

      I conclude, therefore, that at least for the latter passage, there can be no purpose to the passage if read as a warning. The “consequence” can never happen; therefore the intent is logical (and therefore doctrinal) rather than admonitory. I propose that Hebrews 10 teaches not that we should fear losing our salvation because of one too many deliberate sins; but rather that we should see “a sinning Christian” as a preposterous and untenable contradiction in terms. This makes Hebrews 10 teach the same doctrine as Romans 6, rather than trying to make it teach a doctrine nowhere else shown in the Bible (and none too clearly shown here!).

      I’m going to take a break here… This is taking too long. I’ll make another posting about Hebrews 6, since in spite of some commonalities it’s a different passage.


    • wm tanksley

      I apologize for the delay in posting my interpretation of Hebrews 6. This is due both to the complexity of the passage, and to the fact that I’m swamped at work and home.

      I do have an unfinished post, but it’s taking a lot of careful work, and I haven’t touched it in a week.


    • wm tanksley

      Hebrews 6 is different from Hebrews 10, clearly, since the consequence is conceivable, if perhaps we read it as a warning of hardening given to those who, like the false teachers in the epistles of John, fall away after being part of the Church. The trouble is that when read that way the consequence doesn’t seem, by experience and cross-reference, to be true. Doesn’t Paul say that those who are sinning should be approached in hopes of restoration, in humility lest we ourselves fall likewise? Granted that false teachers should be rebuked “harshly”, but considering that this is the job of teachers, it would seem the harshness would be tempered by a double measure of humility and fear. Surely this teacher isn’t therefore contradicting Paul by proclaiming that anything that can be described as “falling away” destroys all hope of repentance. Indeed, when the Church faced the Donatists and Novatians, they quickly judged that this interpretation of Hebrews 6 was false (although the final judgement waited until the Muslim conquest wiped out the tiny “pure” church that was all that was left of the Donatists).

      Yet Hebrews 6, if it’s talking about a consequence of apostasy, eliminates entirely the possibility of repenting. And like Hebrews 10, the wording is not a simple threat of punishment; it’s a statement that eliminates alternatives utterly. Here it’s IMPOSSIBLE to repent; there NO sacrifice remained. And this impossibility continues to increase in the following text, to the point that even someone approaching with tears and petitions cannot be granted repentance. My resolution here takes the same form as my previous resolution for chapter 10: that the author of Hebrews is teaching doctrine by means of a logical argument, not urging an ambiguous obedience by means of hyperbolic threats.

      But what might be the doctrine? Since the preceding text is a transition, we must look to the following text for our explanation. And there we find not a continuation of the threat, but rather a discussion of the contrast between land that bears fruit and land that bears thorns. This text calls to mind Christ’s parable of the sower, where we see that the land bearing thorns did indeed receive the seed that represents the Word of the Kingdom, which we see elsewhere is brought by the Holy Spirit; so the two texts tie very closely together. Next we see that God’s promise and character are firm and unchangeable and given in Christ. I read the rest of the text of Hebrews through chapter 10 as explaining in detail the hope of the promise and character of God through Christ, and its superiority to the promises made through the temple (because, of course, that was the challenge being faced by the church the author was preaching to). And then we reach the passage we were discussing before.

      Here, then, is how I think this all fits together. The seed of the Sower falls on all the soils, and the outcome of the sowing is the germination of the seed; but only some of the soil has been prepared for the seed. The outcome of the seed is fruit; but some soils bear no fruit, but show only the thorns that choke out the growth of the seed in the first place. The soil that always had thorns was never ready for the Word of God; that soil, and the people it represents, never had the hope that the good soil (and people) had; rather, God’s purpose (telos, 6:8), for them was “to be burned”. This is not a warning of danger; rather, it’s an explanation that the hope we hold is steady and certain, and that those who leave it did NOT hold this hope.

      And the author is certain that this comment he just made does NOT apply to his target audience; and the grounds he gives for this certainty is that they’ve already displayed the fruit. If he had been warning, wouldn’t he have expressed uncertainty instead of certainty? After all, a warning that’s followed by a disclaimer for THIS audience isn’t much of a warning!

      Furthermore, having developed this idea, I then read straight through Hebrews keeping it in mind. I found that the space between Hebrews 6 and 10 really does seem to discuss only a single topic, and it seems to me therefore that Hebrews 10 picks up where Hebrews 6 left off, and the text in between is a detailed explanation of why our hope is so solid, and why the temple is so vastly inferior, and why we must believe and confess that Christ fulfilled the temple’s former role.

      OK, I’ve said enough. Did I make any sense?


    • Phil McCheddar

      Thanks for that explanation, William. But if your interpretation is correct, I can’t understand the author’s motive in writing these passages to Christians who were wobbling in their faith. Why would the author risk increasing their complacency in their eternal security rather than spurring them on to more strenuous effort?

    • wm tanksley

      Threatening isn’t the only way to motivate people. God does use threats as means to change people, as Jonah’s threats to Ninevah and Jeremiah’s parable of the potter make clear; but they aren’t the only thing He uses. In this case I claim that the author of Hebrews isn’t making a threat; he’s teaching the Hebrews true doctrine, as it applies to their actual circumstances. And note that what he preaches isn’t THEIR eternal security — rather, it’s the other way around; he preached the intractability of the ones who quit. If you’re the type of person who looks to yourself for security (like the hypercalvinist who looks inside for mystical signs that he’s one of the elect), there’s neither comfort nor assurance in what he says; if you’re looking to Christ, he’s about to preach the sufficiency of Christ’s work, so you’re about to be assured.

      Many of these faithful Christians had been faithful second-temple Jews. They REMEMBERED personally having made sacrifices in the temple with saving faith that God would someday provide a sacrifice that actually could atone for all their sins. They were the true believers in YHWH, believers before Jesus called them — and of course when Jesus called them (whether in His own voice or by the Holy Spirit speaking through the apostles) they recognized the voice of the same YHWH they’d believed.

      When they used to perform those sacrifices, they may have thought that the sacrifices were saving them, and God in His mercy credited their naive faith in His promises for righteousness just as much as He credited the faith of Abraham for righteousness. But now they know; now the Spirit has spoken through the words of the God-breathed preached Gospel; and there is no way to have a naive faith in God’s promises while rejecting the means by which God declared that His promises were fulfilled. The same Gospel that saves when taken with faith, highlights damnation when heard with unbelief (although it does not itself condemn).

      “It is impossible to renew to repentance” — because they heard the voice of the Chief Shepherd and didn’t stay with Him, thus showing they were never repentant, but were like the thorny ground (a citation of the parable of the Sower) condemned for burning (a citation of the parable of the enemy’s tares). “There remains no sacrifice” — because all along they were desiring NOT to bring the commanded sacrifices to the God of Promise, but rather to do good works on their own apart from their Creator. They are left with nothing but their own willful sins masquerading as good works — and their continuing and unrepentant evil deeds that prove they have no part in Christ.

      The author never speaks TO those people, only ABOUT them. But some of them are surely still among the author’s readers and listeners — they haven’t all left, and won’t until the Last Day. To the unbeliever, the doctrinal statements sound unbelievable. But to all of the faithful, the doctrinal statements bring to memory the facts that they believed, but have perhaps faded in their memory. To some of the people this letter was read to, these statements surely reminded them of their naive faith when it was expressed inside the Temple, and how their more mature and formed faith felt when they realized that Christ is the Temple, and how it was the same faith and being used by God for the same purpose.

      This is Law. This is meant to break the hearts of those who hear it with faith. The Gospel follows, as the author preaches Christ’s work as our full salvation. This is the faith that we live by, not something we had to believe once, but something we lean on every day.


    • […] Paul Copan, “Divine Exasperation”, surveys biblical passages that express God’s exasperation with sinful, human resistance to his grace, revealing “God’s legitimate expectation of spiritual fruitfulness, repentance, or obedience. That is, what hinders their repentance is not God’s withholding grace so that they cannot repent. Indeed, abundant grace has been given that justifies the expectation of repentance—even if God in his foreknowledge knows it is not forthcoming. Despite God’s initiating grace, humans continue to “resist the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51)—to grieve him (Ephesians 4:30) and quench him (1 Thessalonians 5:19). God commands all people without exception to repent (Acts 17:30); so presumably God’s initiating grace is available for all to do so.” […]

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