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Who Can Seek God? Part Two

John on August 14, 2006 at 12:04 am

This is part two of a post responding to Rev. Ken Silva on the issue of seeking God. Part one which deals with seeking God in the Old Testament scripture can be found here. My apologies for posting this later than intended.

Rev.Silva holds the view that only those who have been led by God can seek him. He offerse several verses to support this. One of the chief ones is Romans 3:11 which reads:

there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.

Sounds fairly straight-forward at first. However, to really understand Paul’s point we need to look at this in the context of his argument. As it happens,Paul is himself quoting the Psalms in this and succeeding verses. In this verse in particular Paul is quoting Psalm 14. For those who read part one of this post, Psalm 14 should ring a bell. It is another of the verses Rev. Silva asked me to respond to. So, in effect, he is asking me to respond to the same verse twice. Very well, I shall endeavor to do so.

In Romans 3:10-18 Paul quotes numerous Old Testament verses to the effect that man is trapped in sin. He simplifies this argument in 3:23 when he says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” To this point I think Rev. Silva and I would agree. Man is without hope of rescue apart from God. Man’s degenerate nature after Adam, under which we are all guilty before God leaves us needing divine assistance if we are to escape sin and its consequences. However, this is specifically given by Paul as a picture of man state without God’s mercy or grace. However, as Paul makes clear in this passage and in succeeding chapters, God’s grace and mercy have now been poured out on the whole world.

Speaking of Jews who resist the Gospel in Romans 11:29 Paul says:

God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

Note how similar this is to Romans 3:23. We are all bound over to sin…and in verse 11:29 Paul adds that this is true “so that” God may have mercy on us all. Not all Christians, all men, even Jews who thwart the Gospel and pagans on Mars Hill.

Another example of this thought is found in Titus 2:11:

the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.

So God’s mercy and grace have been given to all men. And these bring salvation. Not to say they confer salvation. That would be an extreme inclusivism. But they do bring salvation in the sense that for the first time they make it possible. Paul mentions this idea again in 1 Tim. 2:3-4. Speaking of prayer for rulers he writes:

This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

Again, we’re talking about all men. So we are lost without God’s grace, but that grace has now been given to all men. God wants all men to come to a knowledge of the truth and his grace makes that possible.

The writer of Hebrews (who may have been Paul or possibly Barnabus) adds even more to our understanding. According to Hebrews 11, God not only shows mercy on all men now, but on all those who ever lived, including the patriarchs. The author explains that both faith and seeking play an important role in moving from the mercy shown to all men (giving them a way out) to the salvation given to some (justification by faith). He says:

[W]ithout faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Heb. 11:6b)

God’s grace is given to all men. When we respond by seeking him in faith, he rewards us with salvation. This is consistent with scripture. To take Romans 3:11 as a statement of man’s perpetual state is quite literally to put aside God’s grace which — as Paul makes clear — has been given to all men. In Acts 17:27 Paul gives a picture of God’s sovreignty. Speaking of God’s grand plan, Paul says God’s reason was as follows:

God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.

Because God has given us his mercy and grace, we are not destitute and without hope any longer. There is a way out of our sin and it’s consequences. That way out is faith in God’s salvation accomplished by Jesus. We arrive at that faith by seeking the God who is “not far from each one of us.” it is something he wishes all men would do.
It is only with this understanding of how God views “seeking” that Jesus’ own words on the subject make sense. He was quite clear about who should seek him and — in perfect harmony with Hebrews 11:6 — what the result of doing so would be:

So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. (Luke 11:9-10)

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