The subject of freewill and its relative importance in salvation is a topic that comes up frequently in my email correspondence. But, this particular defense was new to me.
The email read:
Hello Brother Jim.
I have another silly question about freewill. I am debating a fellow, who calls himself Moderate Calvinist, which in reality is Arminian. LOL. Anyway, he stresses that faith precedes regeneration. And that a spiritually dead man can believe prior to regeneration. So he uses this verse in 2Chronicles 17:16: “And next to him was Amasiah the son of Zichri, who willingly offered himself unto the Lord;”
Now, I did tell him that the verse does not say he was a man of God, or even how he came to do that. But I can’t think of anything better to say. I know you will give much better exegesis of the text than I. So what are your thoughts? Thanks again. Yours in Christ, K —
Well, I must admit that this is an argument I have never heard. It’s amazing the lengths to which people will go in order to defend the “free” will of humans. So, let’s walk through this logically.
First off, if you’re going to discuss the nature of faith in salvation, it’s necessary that your text-of-choice is actually addressing that subject. 2Chron. 17:16 is a list of “mighty men” who served under King Jehoshaphat. The subject has nothing to do with salvation or faith.
The only place where the term “freewill” appears in Scripture is in reference to a type of voluntary offering that Israelites could bring to the priests of God after they had satisfied all of the required first fruits, tithes, offerings and sacrifices. Never — and this is important — never is the will of man (any less the “free” will of man) brought up in any passage that has to do with salvation. And it’s glaring in its absence. In the passages that are actually addressing the subject of salvation, you’ll find the language of predestination, election, foreordination, foreknowledge, etc. But never once does any Biblical author say that eternal salvation is the direct result of any person’s choice, determination, or willingness.
Okay, back to 2 Chron. 17:16. In the list of men who served the king, we read of Amasiah, who gave himself into service. He opted to serve God by serving the king God had ordained to rule Israel. There were a variety of ways to end up in the Israelite army: you could simply be of age, you could be in debt, or you could willingly volunteer, as Amasiah did. In fact, the NASB renders this verse — “and next to him Amasiah the son of Zichri, who volunteered for the LORD, and with him 200,000 valiant warriors.” And that is the sum total of everything we know about this man. He is not mentioned again.
If we stay within the bounds of what the text actually tells us, the only thing we can deduce is that Amasiah believed in God and joined the army as a means of serving Him. This passage says nothing about where that faith or belief came from. It only says that he willingly joined the army for God’s sake.
Now, let’s get the largest context. Israel, as a nation, was chosen by God. He refers to them as His elect people —
“O seed of Israel His servant, Sons of Jacob, His chosen ones!” (1Chron. 16:13)
“For the LORD has chosen Jacob for Himself, Israel for His own possession.” (Psa. 135:4)
“But now listen, O Jacob, My servant, And Israel, whom I have chosen:” (Isa. 44:1)
“For the sake of Jacob My servant, And Israel My chosen one, I have also called you by your name; I have given you a title of honor Though you have not known Me.” (Isa. 45:4)
Amasiah is an Israelite — already a member of God’s chosen nation. In other words, his willingness to serve God was not tantamount to a depraved sinner coming to faith in Christ. There’s no one-for-one comparison here. Amasiah was a member of elect Israel. His willingness to serve God was demonstrated by volunteering to join the armed forces of the God-ordained king of elect Israel. The context has nothing whatsoever to say about a “spiritually dead man” choosing to believe in Christ prior to regeneration. That’s simply not in this text.
To be honest, if this is the length your Moderate Calvinist friend has to go to in order to find something in the Bible that appears to support his theology, I would say that our side is on pretty firm ground. Challenge him to find a text that is actually dealing with salvation and demonstrate from that text how the will of man is the source of faith leading to salvation.
Then wait … (crickets) …
I hope that helps.
Grace and peace,