Jerry posed the following question in the comments feature.
I know this probably isn't a question that you would delight in answering, but it is one that I have been talking with the guys in my hall quite extensively as of late, and I was wondering if you would be gracious enough to give your opinion.
In chapter 8 of your book, "Running by Divine Appointment," you discuss the tension between the Biblical admonitions for human exertion and the certain hope we have in God's promise of election. You write, "The pronounced emphasis on human exertion and determination could easily lead us to the conclusion that finishing the race is our work. But we have already observed that the call to perseverance sandwiches the famous chapter of faith (Heb. 11).
Forgive my ignorance, but why does the Bible give calls for us to persevere in our faith? If God is sovereign, what is the purpose of the callings? How are we to explain the tension between God's work and our responsiblity?
Basically, this is my question, if God predestines some to salvation (for salvation is truly and thoroughly from him), it implies that he also predestines some to eternal condemnation. How is God not then the author of evil? He was the one who hardened Pharaoh, yet he still held him accountable and responsible for his actions. How do I understand God's sovereignty and human responsiblity?
Because the question is crucial and at the heart of the issues we address in The Race Set Before Us I want to respond here, as a regular blog entry, rather than conceal it in the comments feature.
The question you ask is the age-old question concerning the interplay between God's sovereignty and human accountability. In biblical and theological considerations, the issue, of course, emerges at numerous crucial points. As I have often said in conversations on this question, the truest measure of whether one believes in the sovereignty of God and in authetic human accountability is not one's belief in unconditional election and in the free offer of the gospel. The truer test is whether one believes in both the irrevocable promises of God to preserve his elect ones and God's unalterable and urgent warnings and admonitions to his elect ones that we must persevere to the end lest we perish. The reason it is the truer test is that it is immensely personal. It goes to the essence of our personal beliefs concerning our own salvation or perdition. If we persevere in loyalty to Jesus Christ to the end, we will be saved. If we lapse and fail to persevere in faithfulness to Christ Jesus, the end will be eternal destruction for us. This is the perpetual call of the gospel to us and upon us.
I need not doubt that God has declared me righteous in Christ Jesus in order to feel the full impact of the most urgent warnings that Scripture brings my way. I need not disbelieve that I am justified in Christ Jesus to feel fully the weight of warnings that I will perish eternally, if I abandon holiness and the way of obedience. God's warnings serve God's promises. Warnings nurture resolute belief in Jesus Christ as my only hope for salvation. The truthfulness of God's warnings stands firm. Anyone who fails to persevere in Christ Jesus will surely come into eternal destruction.
I need not doubt the truthfulness of God's urgent and strong warnings against eternal perishing in order that I might be confident that I am in Christ Jesus and that, as one in him, I will not perish. I need not disbelieve God's warnings that I will perish eternally, if I forsake Christ Jesus and pursue disobedience and ungodliness in order that I might know that I have eternal life in Christ Jesus. Urgent calls of the gospel bolster firm belief that apart from remaining in Christ Jesus I will perish eternally. The truthfulness of God's promise remains. Anyone who believes in Jesus Christ will irrevocably receive eternal life.
Essentially, your question is: If God preserves his elect ones safely to the end, then why does God warn his elect to be cautious lest they fail to persevere and thus perish? Briefly put, God warns his elect this way because it is God's way to preserve his chosen ones safely to the end. God's sovereignty does not subvert human accountability. Human accountability does not subvert God's sovereignty.
We see this at numerous points throughout Scripture. Consider the example of Pharaoh. You mention of the hardening of Pharaoh's heart to refuse to let God's people leave Egypt. Consider Exodus 4:21-23.
The LORD said to Moses, "When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. Then say to Pharaoh, 'This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, "Let my son go, so he may worship me." But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.'"
Observe that God specifically tells Moses, "When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do." Yet, the Lord also tells Moses, "But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go." Herein is the tension between divine sovereignty and human accountability. Heightening this tension, the Lord also says, "Then say to Pharaoh, 'This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, "Let my son go, so he may worship me." But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.'"
Our discussion concerning Philippians 2:12-13, in The Race Set Before Us addresses the correlation of divine sovereignty and human responsibililty. The biblical evidence obligates us to acknowledge that we act because God acts, as John tells us in 1 John 4:19, "We love because he first loved us." Can we express the correlation more deeply, more fully, more exactly? Do we need to be able to do so? I do not know that we can or must. Do we fully comprehend? Nonetheless, we are obliged to believe it. We must believe in order that we might understand. The gospel, yes, even the Scriptures, oblige us to believe that we bring to completion our own salvation because God is at work in us that we will both desire and do his good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13). Furthermore, the gospel, yes, even the Scriptures, oblige us to believe that we who are in Christ Jesus shall never perish (Romans 8:31-39). We must come to believe both without contradiction, because the two do not subvert or nullify one another. The gospel compels us to teach and to preach both without contrariety, because the two are entirely harmonious in God's ordering of his ways.