God’s Authority & Not Man’s Freedom Makes Man Accountable

Before going over a more positive stating of God’s sovereignty, we will deal with this idea of man’s responsibility and accountability to God, since the wrong doctrine of this is used to negate what the Bible says about God’s sovereignty and man.

This is both an ultimate question about God’s sovereignty and Christian ethics, and so, this will be dealt with more in that section.

Man is responsible and accountable to God, not because man is free from God’s direct control; rather it is the complete opposite. Man is accountable, because man is not free to God’s sovereign authority to hold man accountable.[1] Accountability does not presuppose freedom; rather, it presupposes a sovereign authority that you cannot escape from. Without a parent, how is child (if you can still call them that) responsible? Without teachers, students (if you can still call them that) are not accountable. Without a government of some sort, citizens (if you can still call them that) are not responsible.  

The point is, if you take the authority away, accountability is not merely partially removed, it is completely removed. On the other hand, I can hold my clay vase accountable for not talking to me, by slamming against the wall, and then throwing it into the fire. Whether or not you like this, is not the question. The issue is painfully obvious, even without freedom, my sovereign authority over the clay vase, is all that is needed to make it accountable. 

And in fact, this is exactly what Paul says in Romans 9 when the issue of how is man being accountable to God, when man is not free from God controlling man (like how God controlled Pharaoh, by hardening his heart).

Also, if you recall earlier comments about God’s transcendence, God is not merely above being accountable; God is categorically not even related to such a category. There is nothing above God. There is no other power. There is no other causality. There is no possibility for God not to be absolutely sovereign, and so it is impossible for there to even be a possibility or another power or metaphysical dualism. Because the possibility is not even possible, it means God is categorically separate from such a term. Is color above the concept of numbers, or do they have no necessary relation to even be considered in such a way? Because God is transcendent to man in this regard, we therefore know, when a person tries to apply accountability to God, by relating how it works with man, just made a metaphysical, intellectual and ethical no, no (to say it nicely).

First, Paul brings in the example of the twins who were, one chosen for mercy and the other damnation—before they were born or had done good or bad choices—to show God’s choices and His resulting causation from these choices includes both good and bad; both light and dark; both mercy and damnation. Paul then brings in additional examples of the old testament regarding a positive choosing and then also a negative choosing. Moses is the example for mercy and the Pharaoh is the example of damnation.

This is classic systematic theology. Paul is bringing in different passages ranging over the Scripture that address the same theological category. From this Paul then gives a summary of a doctrinal statement that is to be believed and obeyed. “God chooses to show mercy to some, and he chooses to harden the hearts of others, so they refuse to believe.” And this doctrinal comprehension includes what Paul stated before in the formation of it: “before they are born or had done good or evil.

If some say that the twins were a representation of nations, then Paul’s point is made even more so, for then it would mean, before millions were born or had made choices of good or evil that God chose some would obtain mercy and some damnation.[2] This point, logically therefore, is a point of non-relevance. However, this objection shows that such a person not only is defective in their objection but demonstrates they miss the entirety of what Paul is doing here. Paul is doing systematic theology. He brings many individuals and then asserts with logic and divine inspiration, that these are not an exception of God’s power and active; rather, Paul shows this is how God uses this power of causality over all humans for all time. That is, categorical premises of “all,” not some. 

Back to Paul’s doctrinal statement. He does not wish for people to miss the point. One can see how Paul bracketed the part about the twins (before they had made choices of good or evil) in the verse. Paul wanted to head off the misinterpretation that despite being born, God looked ahead and considered the twins choices of good or evil, to then decide who to show mercy and who to dam to hell. And so, Paul stops the flow of the statement to clarify that God did not consider their choices in determining their future of heaven or hell. 

God punishes the Pharaoh after saying He first hardened (first mention in Exodus) the Pharaoh’s heart. To this Paul’s opponent says,

if Pharaoh went along with God’s causality(ontology)

—that is, to be hard hearted and resist God’s command(ethic)

—then why is Pharaoh punished?”

This objection is bottom of the barrel stupid and displays a mind that is spiritually broken and mentally faulty.  Again, this is like saying trees and cats are the same, therefore, why don’t’ trees walk? It is a category fallacy.  All Christian ethics are God’s commandments. The Pharaoh was a lawbreaker by disobeying God’s command to let His people go. He is guilty, not because He did or did not resist God’s causality, but because He resisted obeying God’s command.

Some say that man is “more than a clay pot.” This is true, but only if whole analogy is taken up together.[3] Thus, if man is more than clay, then God is infinitely much more than a mere potter. Therefore, as much as man is more than clay, it is not a true infinite. God however is truly infinitely more than a mere man. Thus, if the analogy is taken up then the point of God’s sovereign control over man’s destinies apart from man’s choice is literally made “infinity” stronger.

This clay analogy reminds of how teachers and preachers today directly contradict the Scriptures teaching. They are blasphemers who would rather suffer the Scripture to nonsense, than let their cowardly souls suffer from confessing their unbelief. It appears popular in many Christian traditions to say God takes a wicked clay lump and God chooses to let some remain in this wicked lump state and make them into wicked pots. In addition, God chooses to take some of this wicked clay lump save them and make them into a good clay pot.  How obvious that this is not what the verse says. The lump is not already wicked or good. It is unformed, without choices of good or evil. It is a neutral unformed lump. It is like what is said about Jacob and Esau, “before they had done good or evil,” God decided to love one and hate the other.

This lines up with the objection Paul’s opponent brings up.

“If the Creator takes me from a neutral clay lump(that is not already bad) and makes me into a wicked pot, and I obviously go along with God’s causality, then why does God find fault with me, even if He commanded me to do good?”

This question of “responsibility” is precisely what Paul’s opponent asks in Romans 9:19.

…Therefore you will say to me, “Why then does he still find fault? For who has resisted[o] his will? (LEB)

…Well then, you might say, “Why does God blame people for not responding? Haven’t they simply done what he makes them do?” (NLT)

We will now put into the verse the clear terms for command(responsibility) and God’s absolute causality: or Christian ethics and Christian ontology.

“Why does God [hold people responsible] for not responding [to His command]?

Haven’t they simply done what [He absolutely directly causes them to do]?

or

“Why then does he still find fault? [Ethics]

For who has resisted[o] his will? [Ontology]

Thus, Paul’s opponent is dealing with the issue of man’s responsibility when man is considered relative to God controlling and causing man to do. Paul’s opponent correctly restates Paul’s position about God’s absolute sovereignty saying “who has resisted God’s will (causality/sovereign control). Paul’s opponent understands that Paul position is that God is actively and absolute controlling man. The opponent says that “no person has resisted God’s will.” God’s will here is defined in context to me God’s causality not command, because it is painfully obvious people resist obeying God’s commands.

Thus, the opponent is saying,

Paul, your position is that no person has never resisted God’s causality, in causing them to make good or evil choices; but, if that is true, then why does God still hold us responsibly for things He sovereignly caused us to do?”

On the contrary, O man, who are you who answers back to God? Will what is molded say to the one who molded it, “Why did you make me like this”? Or does the potter not have authority over the clay, to make from the same lump a vessel that is for honorable use and one that is for ordinary use?
(Romans 9:20-21 LEB)

Paul’s reply is interesting because it ignores the fallacy of the opponent, and simply gives a positive answer about God’s authority and power. The fallacy of the opponent lies in what we disused earlier about God’s transcendence over commands given to man.  God is not merely above the laws; rather, laws do not categorically apply to Him. The Bible defines sin and evil as lawlessness. Thus, you cannot accuse God of sin or a wrong, without a law being transgressed by God. But laws do not categorically apply to God. Thus, it is categorically impossible for God to do sin or evil. It is not that God can do evil but chooses not to. No. The possibility does not even exist.

Who are you who answers back to God?” Paul ignores this, in that He does not address it directly; rather, Paul rebukes the opponent in this way: “as a man you are acting like God and as a man are trying to put God under a law.” The opponent has the role of God and man flipped. That is, the opponent’s position is not merely a little bit wrong, it is upside-down wrong.

The potter [has] AUTHORITY over the clay, to make from the same lump…” Remember the context is about why is man responsible. If ever there was a time for the Bible to say man’s accountability is based on freedom or freewill, now is the time. Now is the foundational issue or linchpin about man’s responsibility. Paul gives his positive answer to why man is responsible to God. God is an AUTHORITY OVER THE MAN. The answer given is NOT “God gave man freedom.” NO. The contradiction of this is given. Man is NOT free from God’s AUTHORITY to make man however He wants.

The way Paul does answer this presupposes what we just went over; that responsibility presupposes a higher authority and not freedom. If you are responsible, then it means you are not free, but under an authority. Paul’s answer to why people are responsible—even like Pharaoh, by performing the works God causes them to perform—is that God is an authority over them. That is, Paul appeals to that fact that God is a sovereign authority over us. We are responsible precisely because we are not free, but under God’s authority.

It can be said that God makes it—as an additive—that having more knowledge makes us guiltier. This can be said about metaphysics on a relative level when said about us. That is, we are led away by “OUR” own desires. However, both additives only work as adding to our responsibility because God as an “authority” over us commands it so! That is, without us being free from God’s sovereign authority and control over us, He adds additional rewards and condemnation if we have more knowledge (knowledge that He chose to give or not give us).

For the God’s elect children, the point is that though Jesus Christ’s imputed righteous (ethics) they have completed the requirement of obeying God. They have been credited with a perfect Christian ethic that is fulfilled and the receipt printed off. After new birth they are given the Holy Spirit that causes(ontology) them to behave in accordance with the perfect obedience already credited to their accounts. That is, as Pharaoh could not resist God causing him to reject His command, the Elect cannot resist the Holy Spirit causing them to be sanctified


—-Endnotes——

[1] I learned to say this doctrine in this way from Vincent Cheung (and some from Gordon Clark). See Vincent’s many mentions of this in his books. (www.vincentcheung.com)

[2] I learned this argument from Vincent Cheung. See, “More than a Potter.”

[3] This basic idea of taking the analogy up with both parts was brought to my attention by an essay of Vincent Cheung, “More Than A Potter.” Found in “Author of Evil.” 2014. Ch.18.