Ep41-The Problem of Grace - The Problems of Theism & The Love of God Ch 10

Topics Discussed:
• The Problem of Imputed Righteousness
• The Problem of Infused Righteousness
• The Problem of Predestination
• Does God Owe Obligations?
• Universal Love and Obligations

Show Notes:


“Latter-day Saints have been wary of historical doctrines of salvation by grace alone in conventional thought—and for good reason. While the doctrine of justification by grace through faith in Christ is the profound doctrine of divine love, it has been distorted nearly beyond recognition. The problem starts when the doctrine is removed from its original interpersonal and covenant context and placed in a moral context of the operation of the will and the causes that act upon it.”

“I will focus on just three of them: (1) the problem of imputed righteousness, (2) the problem of infused righteousness, and (3) the problem of predestination.”

Augustine's view...

The Problem of Imputed Righteousness

“The “realist” view of merit judged the value of human deeds to be the deed’s intrinsic and inherent worth. Thomas Aquinas, for example, adopted a moral theory that located the value of a moral act in its intrinsic worth.”

“In contrast, the voluntarists held that the value of an act or habit was precisely what God decided in his absolute sovereignty it should be. Voluntarism is the view that good and evil, right and wrong, are whatever God in his sovereignty decrees them to be.”

“The doctrine of justification by grace adopted by Luther, Calvin, and their Protestant successors assumes the voluntarist view of ethics for all postlapsarian (“after the Fall”) acts.3 Good is whatever God declares it to be. Good and evil are not intrinsic properties of certain acts or character.”

“Philip Melanchthon (1497–1560), the German author of the Lutheran Confession of Augsburg (1530), gave the best and most succinct statement of the Reformers’ view of justification by grace: “to be justified does not mean that an ungodly man is made righteous, but that he is pronounced righteous in a forensic manner.”4 God considers the sinner righteous by virtue of Christ’s righteousness, even though the truth of the matter is that the sinner is not righteous at all.”

“On its face, the doctrine appears to be a simple case of God’s declaring a falsehood to be true”

“Millard Erickson responds that such declared righteousness is not a sham or legal fiction because we are sinful in light of a broken law for which a penalty must be paid. However, the law is fulfilled if Christ pays it”

“It is not accurate to call me righteous simply because someone else “paid the price”—for the very act of punishing an innocent person in my place is a further violation of the law. While a third party can pay my debt and simply declare that he expects no payment from me as a matter of his grace, he cannot constitute me as righteous when I am, in reality, sinful. Nor can he accurately declare that I am righteous when I am not. Thus, the notion of imputed righteousness violates a second cousin of the moral principle (MP), which we can call the personal principle of morality or PPM:

(PPM) It is inappropriate to consider any person S morally righteous by virtue of the acts or righteousness of any other person R.”

“Erickson states that we are truly righteous because “he does not look upon us alone. . . . God always sees the believer in union with Christ and he measures the two of them together.”

metaphor of a corporate union

“justification by grace through faith in Christ is a doctrine that I affirm—in the sense that God honors our faith in him as benefactor through the mediation of Christ. Nevertheless, it is important to see that the issue of vicarious punishment (the penal theory of atonement) has implications for the doctrine of justification by grace as well.”

“the doctrine of imputed righteousness entails that God does not really abhor sin, but rather that he abhors the fact that he regards us as sinful whether that judgment is true or not—and given the voluntarist assumptions implicit in the doctrine, there is no real truth about whether something is sinful or righteous except how God regards it in his absolute sovereignty.”

“The doctrine of predestination is entailed in this view of justification by grace alone as the solution to the problem of original sin which leaves us powerless to choose anything good in relationship with God. As such, it must be seen as contrary to God’s universal love, as I discuss below.”

The Problem of Infused Righteousness

“The later Augustine maintained that by being justified a person is actually infused with God’s righteousness and thereby made righteous. Justification is not merely an external declaration, but an actual change in a person’s being. The change is not merely one of status before God but a change of nature, for by justification a person becomes a son or daughter of God. It is a change that God unilaterally makes in the person of the believer”

“ Augustine went so far as to hold that, if a pagan lives a morally blameless life but a Christian lives a life marked by sin, in God’s eyes (and thus in reality) the Christian is morally superior.14 The pagan’s acts may be better so far as human estimation is concerned, but not to God because of the Christian’s faith. The Catholic Church has followed Augustine on this issue to the present.”

“the notion of infused righteousness violates a close cousin of (MP):
(MP*) It is impossible to transfer the moral righteousness of any person S to any other person R such that R is righteous by virtue of S’s transferred righteousness.”

morally 'rubbing off' on someone vs imputed righteousness...becoming a new person or rather a person that is not actually you

“For Augustine, God’s grace is brought about by prevenient irresistible grace. That is, God acts upon the depraved human will in such a way that the depraved will which by its nature rejects God is caused to accept God’s grace literally against what the will would choose if not moved in a causally efficacious manner by God’s operative or efficient grace.”

“Aquinas’s notion of God’s “moving the will” is very subtle. Aquinas speaks in terms of “concurring causes” whereby God first causes the will formally to be prepared to receive grace, and then the cooperation of the human consenting to this cause is next, and together they form a sufficient cause for the motion of the human will to choose to accept grace.”

like two light switches

“However, Aquinas also held that God’s will is never thwarted: “God’s willing a man to be saved and his actually being damned are incompatible.”

The Problem of Predestination

explain “Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard”s view

“Calvinism. We can do absolutely nothing; God does everything for some as a matter of grace to save them from their culpability for original and actual sins and either leaves others to damnation (single predestination) or specifically decrees the damnation of others (double predestination).

Arminianism. On our own, we can make no move whatsoever toward God. God must turn us and draw us; however, God gives us prevenient grace that regenerates the fallen will so that we can say “yes” or “no.” We cannot reach for the gift of salvation or grasp it on our own after regeneration; but we can either accept it or reject it.

Semi-Pelagaianism. We can take only the first step in God’s direction, but we must be aided by God in this step and then God carries us to salvation.

Pelagianism. We have all of the resources necessary to have faith and earn salvation. We can perfect ourselves and no special grace is needed to do so”

“In the LDS view, prevenient grace frees us to act for ourselves. However, to the extent that we all freely choose to enter a self-absorbed and self-deceived way of being in the world, we cannot free ourselves from our own self-deception except by a mighty change of heart that requires us to turn from the path we have been walking and turn back into the embrace of God’s already open arms. Thus, we are capable of opening our hearts to God so that he can work in us to accept his gift of love.”

“Acts 2:23 seems to say only that it was part of God’s plan established before the world that Christ would be delivered into the hands of wicked men to be crucified and thus says nothing about predestination as a basis for salvation or damnation.”

“Ephesians 1:11 states: “In whom we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will“Calvinists interpret this scripture to mean that everything that happens conforms to God’s will because that is the way he brings it about; all events occur through his absolute sovereignty. There is, however, a critical ambiguity in the assertion that God works out all things in conformity with his will.” It can mean that: (a) everything that happens is caused by the will of God, or (b) everything that happens is in conformance with God’s will, or (c) everything that God does, he does according to his will.”

“The critical issue with respect to the doctrine of election is whether it is corporate or individual election—or some combination”


“The doctrine of predestination entails either that God chooses some people to be saved and the rest to be damned (double predestination) or that he chooses to leave them to damnation when he could save them by granting them irresistible and prevenient grace (single predestination). Such a view is simply unacceptable when speaking of the God of love. The view that God arbitrarily elects some for salvation and others for damnation is contrary to love because it is unfair and because it makes love impossible.”

Does God Owe Obligations?

“Virtually all writers who adopt predestination have rejected the view that it is unfair—and even rejected the view that God has any duty to be fair to us.”

“Is it fair for God to fail to give us enabling or operative grace to effect our salvation when he could do so? Well, what is unfairness anyway? It seems to me that predestination is a poster-child for unfairness, for such inequity consists in treating one person with favor that is not accorded to all others without an adequate basis or reason for making the distinction.”

“We know that the reason one was saved and the other left to die has nothing to do with their own merit or worth, what either one has done, or any other property or feature of her children. The child who was left to burn deserved to be saved just as much as the child who was saved from the fire. The act of the mother is arbitrary and capricious because it is without a justifying reason. Similarly, it is apparent that there can be no justifying reason for reprobation because we are all equally situated in sin before God. Now what if the mother told us that she didn’t save her daughter because her grandfather had often disobeyed his father? Would anyone have the moral insensitivity to excuse her from her crime for such an explanation? I can’t see that the conclusion would be any different if it is God who leaves one to burn because of Adam’s sin and saves another for his own secret reasons that cannot be referable to the persons in question. Thus, the doctrine of predestination is manifestly unfair.”

“The notion that God loves us seems to be vacuous if God is loving regardless of the way he treats us. In the Reformed view, God owes us no duties; his love is equally shown if he showers us with gracious gifts or subjects us to everlasting torment.
Just what are God’s duties? Consider the following obligations:
1. God has an obligation not to do harm to anyone, but not to fur-ther their best interests.
2. God has an obligation to treat every person with dignity and regard.
3. God has an obligation to further our best interests to the extent he can.
4. God has no obligations.”

Universal Love and Obligations

Problem with 3... “The very point of grace is that it is a gift; we cannot complain if someone doesn’t give us a gift. A gift, by its very nature, is something that there is no obligation to give.”

“The question of whether God does or does not have obligations to save us assumes a commercial-transaction model of relations. Such obligations arise out of agreements of rights and duties. Commercial relationships come about only because both parties agree to it for their mutual interests. However, I do not enter the relationship for the purpose of benefitting the other, but for my own benefit.”

“God cannot have a duty to grant us grace because it is a gift and, by definition, has no duty to give a gift. However, such an admission does not entail that God could justly choose to leave us to damnation when he has it within his power to save us. Love goes beyond obligation. ”

What does 'love' require to meet the definition of love?

Jesus and the higher law.

“Indeed, in order to identify with us, God has gone so far as to share our very human condition.”

“There is an alternative. He could be obligated to save us because He has committed himself by covenant to love us. Thus, the view that God is obligated to save us arises not from a notion of moral obligation per se, but from the view that God is essentially loving and that such love entails acting for the best interest of the other. God commits by covenant to save all those who choose him because he is loving; God is not loving because he is committed to be loving by covenant.”

“The very concept of an interpersonal relationship of mutual fellowship—that is, between persons who are not merely causal relata—is impossible when the causal model is adopted to conceptualize the relationship.”

“For Augustine and his progeny, including Luther and Calvin, we are literally saved against our will. Moreover, in responding to those who noted severe problems with the doctrines of irresistible grace and predestination, I point out that they assumed that the only alternative model was one based on a commercial relationship, one that implicitly adopted a theology of merit. As I have suggested, they presented a false dichotomy.”

“given Aquinas’s view that it is necessary that the multitudes of being of all kinds be created entails that God cannot save all persons and cannot even desire to save all persons. For these reasons, Aquinas’s argument is not convincing.”


  1. 32 Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.

    33 And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot. Moroni 10:32-33. I may not understand all I read, but here's what came to mind. During a temple recommend interview I was referred to these verses, because when answering the question about whether I thought I was worthy to enter the temple President Atkinson had me read these. I had said i don't always feel worthy. He told me if I answered all the other questions worthily and truthfully, then still didn't feel worthy, I was denying the power and gift of the atonement that Christ had given me. I think about that often.


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