John Sneed (SemperDeoGloria)
Getting Some Definitions Right
One of the things that irks me the most are all these self proclaimed experts on
Calvinism who don't seem to know the first thing about what they are talking
about. Many leaders in our Convention take exception to the Doctrines of Grace
(a nickname for Calvinistic theology) but when you listen to them talk about it,
it seems they are miss the mark about what Calvinists believe. Indeed, many
times I am left wondering if they object to Calvinism or something they made up
and called Calvinism. So, over the next few days, I'd like to take a shot at
setting the record straight and (at least) trying to define what we mean when we
talk about Calvinism.
Everyone has a system of theology. No matter who you are you tend to put
religious doctrines (teachings) and thoughts into an order. In the last 2000
years of church history, these systems have come to be recognized and defined.
Some are heretical and outside the Christian faith. Some are not. But everyone
has a system.
Among Protestant Evangelical Christians there are two major systems of theology.
Almost everything else is derived from one of these two systems. They are
Calvinism (or Reformed) theology and Arminianism. The major difference between
the two (in the largest sense) is that Calvinism is
It believes that God has done all the work necessary for salvation and then
calls men to respond to what He has done for them. Arminianism is
It believes that man and God cooperate together to bring a person to salvation.
All the doctrines that belong to each system are derived from these two
overarching thoughts. God does all the work or men and God work together.
There is a third system called pelagianism. Pelagius taught that men are born
neutral and so they learn to become sinners. They can also learn to become holy
and therefore, essentially, save themselves. His system is considered heretical
and outside Christian orthodoxy and so I will not be dealing with it at all in
these series of articles. It is enough to say that no orthodox Christian
theologian or sect teaches that man can save himself.
John Calvin was a French theologian who settled in Geneva, Switzerland. He
summed up his theological teachings in a book called "The Institutes of the
Christian Religion." He also wrote a commentary on almost the whole Bible.
Calvin's major thought centered on the absolute sovereignty of God over all
things and man's submission to God's sovereign rule. Calvin's chief disciple was
a man named Theodore Beza. After Calvin died one of the men Beza taught was a
Dutch theologian named Jacob Hermann whose Latin name was Arminius. Arminius
came to question certain of Calvin's teachings, especially the teaching that
God's grace could not be resisted by the human will. When he died, his followers
petitioned the national church in Holland to replace some of Calvin's doctrines
with those developed by Arminius' followers. These followers were called
"Remonstrants" and their petition is called the "Remonstrance." The Remonstrance
had five sections each dealing with a doctrinal issue they wanted to replace.
The Dutch Church responded by calling a Synod to consider the petition. The
Synod met on the city of Dordtrecht (or Dort for short). The Synod wrote five
Canons or Standards for proper doctrine. They rejected the Remonstrance totally.
They answered with five Canons, to answer each of the five Remonstrances. In
English, we remember the five Canons of Dort by the acrostic TULIP. Each letter
stands for one the five Canons. It is these five doctrines that I will be
defining over the next week or so in this series of articles. I will try to set
each Canon in antithesis to it's Arminian counterpart.
I come into this with a bias. I am a Reformed Baptist. I personally tend to use
the terms Reformed, Calvinist, and Sovereign Grace as interchangeable terms. I
understand that there are some nuances to each term so that they are not exactly
interchangeable. A Sovereign Grace Baptist for example, will hold to the "5
Points of Calvinism" (a nickname for the five Canons of Dort), but not to any
other Calvinistic theology. Reformed Baptists tend to be confessional, finding
their doctrine articulated very well in the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.
Calvinism Proper tends to be more Presbyterian than Baptist (did I mention that
I am a Baptist?). But a Baptist who says that he is a Calvinist is generally
saying that the holds to the 5 points of Calvinism.
In our Southern Baptist Convention, the majority of folks would be a mixture of
Calvinist and Arminian. There are very few pure Arminians in the Convention.
But, insofar, as a person holds to a synergistic view of salvation, they stand
on the Arminian side of the line. But we take it as a given that the SBC is a
mix multitude. Every SBC pastor, Calvinist or not, has to deal with that mixed
bunch. But there is a big well of misunderstanding about what Calvinistic
Southern Baptists believe. Even some folks who hold doctorates in theology seem
to forget what Reformed theology is when they speak. My hope is that this next
week or so will clear up some of those misunderstandings.
One slogan of the Reformation was "Ecclessia reformata et semper reformanda." It
means "The Church reformed and always reforming." We are never where we should
be. No matter how biblical or Christ honoring a Church is, it can always do
better. As we all move forward towards Christ likeness, I pray these articles
will spark a desire for theological thinking among my Baptist brothers and
T is for Total Depravity
This is the second in a series of articles dealing with the proper definitions
of Calvinistic theological terms. I will take each of the Canons of Dort, the 5
points of Calvinism as they are called, and define each one so that my readers
will know what we Calvinists are saying when we use these terms.
The Five Points of Calvinism are remembered in English by the acrostic
T-U-L-I-P. They stand for ...
Perseverance of the Saints
Over the next few articles I will define each one in turn. When I am finished, I
plan on doing a few articles reflecting on the practical outcomes of these
doctrines in our Christian lives.
Total depravity, simply, means that sin infects and affects all of a person's
being. Because of Adam's fall into sin in the Garden of Eden, mankind is born
separated from God. This is called "spiritual death."
Here is a definition for you ... death = separation. When your spirit separates
from your physical body, you are physically dead. When your spirit is separated
from God, you are spiritually dead.
We are born separated from God. Indeed, we are conceived separated from God.
David wrote "In sin I was conceived..." (Psalm 51:6). In this state of spiritual
death, we are blind, deaf, hardened, unfeeling, carnal, at enmity with, in fact,
every way standing against the things of God. We are not alive to God. We cannot
hear His voice. His word is meaningless to us. We have no understanding of
spiritual things. And this deadness is total. Our minds, wills, emotions, intent
of heart, our bodies, our psyche, every part of us ... the totality of our being
... is dead to the things of God. There is not a single holy spiritual impulse
All that we do spiritually, while in this state, is vain, empty, and at enmity
with God. We create idols and serve them. Or we deify ourselves and serve our
own lusts and desires. When we are confronted with the true word of God, it is
either foolishness or a stumbling block to us.
The result of this is that we are totally unable to come to God on our own. We
can't find God. In fact, we don't want to. Unless God somehow changes us, we
never on our own would come to Him. That is why Jesus said that "No man can come
to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him." Unless the Father draws
us to Christ, we can't come to Jesus. It just isn't in us. This result is called
Total depravity is important for the Christian to understand for two main
reasons. First, it teaches us our need for a savior. We are separated from God.
We have no hope on our own to come to God by anything we do since everything we
do is stained with sin. We aren't even able to have a godly thought. In short,
we have nothing in and of ourselves to offer God for our salvation. If we are
going to be made right with God, we need a savior to do it for us. And this
brings me to the second reason, it shows us that we need to put all our
dependence on God alone. If we are going to saved, it is God who must do it. It
is His works we need. It is His righteousness and perfection we need. Our faith
is not in what we do to make it to heaven, but in what God has done for us.
In the Bible, God always brings people to a place of total dependence on Him.
Picture Israel at the Red Sea with Pharaoh's army closing in. Only God could
have opened the Red Sea for Israel. Only God could have defeated Pharaoh's army.
Israel saw "the salvation of the Lord" that day. Or picture Lazarus dead in the
tomb. He was helpless to raise himself from the dead. Only the voice of the
God-man Jesus Christ could call Lazarus to life. Our salvation never comes from
what we do for ourselves, but always in response to what God has done for us.
When Calvinists talk about the doctrine of total depravity, this is what we are
talking about. Man's total infestation of sin and man's total inability to come
to God by anything he does for himself. The Calvinists finds himself to be the
brother or the sister of the sinner in the Jerusalem street who, when he was
awakened to his true spiritual condition, put his face in the dust and would not
even look up to heaven. He prayed with the only prayer such a person has to
offer God ... "God, be merciful to me ... a sinner." (Luke 18:13).
U is for Unconditional Election
This is the next in a series of articles to define the 5 points of Calvinism.
Yesterday I defined total depravity. Today, I will define the second of the 5
Canons of Dort, unconditional election.
The five points stand or fall together as one coherent system. If any one point
is ever disproved, then the whole system falls apart. Conversely, each point
builds logically from the previous point. If total depravity is true, then
election must be unconditional. Let me explain further.
First, from the Calvinist viewpoint, we take it as a given that total depravity
is true. That being so, man has nothing to offer God that will make God look
favorably on him and save him. So, if God is going to save a person, it will be
because God wants to and not because of anything in the person who is being
The Bible speaks of those who are saved as God's "elect." To elect someone means
to choose that person out of a group. Election = to choose out of a group. Out
of all humanity, God has chosen to save some people. Both Arminians and
Calvinists agree with that statement. They differ on why God chooses to save one
and not to save another.
The Calvinist sees election as unconditional from man's side. That is to say
that nothing man does affects whether or not God chooses to save him. All we
have to offer God is sin. The Bible describes us in our own righteousness as
"filthy rags." The word "righteousness" means "right covering." Think about the
works you do. All the good works you do to try to make God happy with you are
like "filthy rags." I keep putting that phrase in italics because it literally
means "menstrual cloth." One commentator compared it to the rags used to wipe
the puss out of oozing sores. It is a vile, nasty, and disgusting thing. This is
how God sees our good works that are done in and of ourselves. Why? Because
everything we do is stained with sin and our God is the Holy One. Angels fly
over His throne shouting "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty." And since
we are totally depraved, all of our faculties are contaminated with sin, there
is nothing we can do, not even think a good and holy thought, that we can offer
God to make Him want to be gracious to us. With all this being so, if God
chooses to show us grace it is because of His free choice to show us grace.
In scripture we see this shown to us in John chapter 6. We quoted John 6:44 in
our last article to show that no one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws
him. John 6:37 says that all that the Father gives to Jesus will come to him and
all who come to him will be saved. If you put the two ideas together, you can
plainly see that is a person is not saved it is because the Father has not given
or drawn that person to Jesus. God chooses who will be saved. And He does so
based on no condition that we (humans) can meet. Therefore, God choice of who He
will save is unconditional from our point of view.
By the way, the only reason scripture gives for why God chooses to save a person
is "for God's glory." Nothing else. If there is another reason it is hidden from
us and contained in the "secret things of God."
The Arminian believes in conditional election. That is, God chooses to save a
person based on their fulfillment of the necessary condition. In Arminianism,
the necessary condition is said to be faith. In Arminian theology, God looks
into human history and determines (by His infallible foresight) who will choose
to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. God chooses to elect all the ones
who will choose Christ as their savior. So, election is based on God's foresight
of a person's choices when confronted with the gospel.
I said yesterday that both Calvinists and Arminians believe in total depravity.
This is true. Arminians believe God overcomes man's depravity by giving every
human a measure of "Prevenient Grace." Prevenient grace moves man to a point of
moral neutrality so he can now choose to believe in Jesus if he wants to. Now,
election is no longer an act of God's free grace, it is an act of man's will.
Man chooses if he will be elect or not. Prevenient grace frees man's will from
the slavery of depravity so that man can choose Christ. And God has chosen to
elect all those who freely choose Christ.
So, the Arminian scheme holds to a position of prevenient grace and conditional
election. The Calvinistic scheme holds to unconditional election. As with every
doctrine, (and I should have said this in my first article and repeated it in
the second), it does not matter what John Calvin or Jacob Arminius or me or what
anyone else says ... what matters is what saith the scriptures? What doctrine is
Bible doctrine? Is election conditional or unconditional? Search the scriptures
and find out. We are, after all, biblical Christians. No matter who we are,
Calvinist or Arminian, our first task is to see that our doctrine is Bible
L is for
This is the next on my series of articles defining the 5 Points of Calvinism
(also called the "Doctrines of Grace"). The hardest point of Calvinistic
doctrine for people to believe is this one, limited atonement. That is because
it seems to go against everything they have been taught before.
Simply stated, the doctrine of limited atonement says that when Jesus Christ
died on the cross, he died to actually secure the salvation of those people God
has chosen to save (the elect). The heart of the Evangelical gospel is the
doctrine of the "penal substitutionary atonement" of Jesus Christ. When I was a
student at Liberty University they taught us this. Liberty is no friend of
Reformed theology, but even they taught the penal substitutionary atonement.
Penal substitutionary atonement says that Jesus substituted for (or took the
place of) someone and suffered the penalty due to that person for their sins.
Thus we say "Jesus died for me." When we say that we are saying that Jesus stood
in my place. He was my substitute. He suffered for me.
But to be a true substitution, Jesus must stand in the place of an actual
person. Some Calvinists call this "definite atonement" because they want to
emphasize that Jesus made an actual atonement for someone. The Bible has various
names for this group of people for whom Jesus made an actual substitution. For
"You shall call his name 'Jesus' for he shall save
from their sins." (Matt. 1:21).
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only Begotten Son, that
on him will never perish but have everlasting life." (John 3:16).
"I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for
"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved
and gave himself for it..." (Eph. 5:25).
There are others, but you can see that these verses give the sense of
particularity, that Christ died for an actual group of people. They are
variously called his people, believers, his sheep, the Church, those the Father
had given him, the elect and so on. Calvinists believe that Jesus' death on the
cross actually secured the salvation of (that is, actually paid for the sins of)
Now let me be clear here. Calvinists believe salvation takes place in time, that
is, a person is saved when they turn in saving faith to the Lord Jesus Christ as
their God and Savior. Jesus' death secured their salvation but they are saved
when they come to believe that. One teacher of mine once said that no one is
saved by believing that God so loved the world, but they are saved when they
come to believe that God so loved me (him or herself). Unconditional election
took place "before the foundation of the world." (Eph. 1:4) But we are saved in
time. For example, I believe God chose me for salvation before the foundation of
the world, but He saved me in 1966.
It is at this point where Arminianism begins to break down into various groups
because different groups of Arminians disagree over what Jesus actually did on
the cross. One group holds that Jesus died for every human who ever lived, is
living and ever will live. Yet, since not every human is saved, Jesus did not
die to secure their salvation. Rather, Jesus died to make all men savable,
dependent on whether they will choose to exercise saving faith in him. So Jesus
died for all men generally, but no one in particular. Jesus' death does not
actually secure the salvation of anyone.
A small caveat here, I use the terms "man" and "men" generally to mean
humankind, or people, or all humans generally. So when I say "Jesus died for all
men generally" it is understood that I mean that Jesus died generally for every
Another Arminian position is that Jesus' death on the cross removed "all the
barriers" between God and men (again making men savable). The common theme of
Arminian theology on the atonement is that the death of Jesus doesn't actually
save anyone but makes men savable.
One group that tries to take advantage of both positions are called
"Amyraldians" named after the French theologian Moises Amyrault. He taught that
Jesus' death actually paid the penalty for all men's sins so that now there is
no sin for which a person would be condemned. But God chooses to apply this
forgiveness to his elect alone. So Jesus died for all men generally but not all
men benefit savingly from Jesus' atonement.
To me, the chief problem with both the Amyraldian and the Arminian position is
that it has people suffering in hell whose sins are forgiven. Both groups agree
that not everyone in the world will be saved and both groups agree that Jesus'
death paid for the sins of all men. Therefore, there are people who go to hell
whose sins are forgiven. Calvinism teaches that men go to hell because their
sins are not paid for.
In answer to the charge that this seems like an unfair doctrine, the question
must be asked, unfair according to who? If a Governor of a State pardons a
convicted criminal, is it unfair of him not to pardon every convicted criminal?
Of course not. But why not? Because all the convicts are guilty! They are being
justly punished for their crimes. And every sinner who goes to hell is being
justly punished for their sins. It is rightly said that no one goes to hell who
does not deserve to go there. Conversely, no one goes to heaven who deserves to
be there either.
Limited atonement is an unfortunate name. But one could not do the TULIP
acrostic without it. It is also called definite atonement or particular
redemption (emphasizing that Jesus redeemed a particular people). Calvinists
believe the extent of Christ's atonement is limited to the people God has chosen
to save. By the way, Arminians limit the atonement also. They limit it's power
to save by saying that it secures no one's salvation unless a human chooses to
allow it to save them.
Charles Spurgeon once said that if God had painted a stripe down the back of
every elect person, he would go about London lifting up men's coattails. The
truth is that no one knows who the elect are. We find out when a person
believes. (More on this tomorrow). But our task as Christians is to preach the
gospel to every person we can so that the whosoevers will come. The Calvinist
knows that God has chosen to save "a numberless multitude which no man can
count." They are drawn out of the world from "every tongue, tribe, nation, and
people." So there are people everywhere who will believe (sooner or later) if
they are exposed to the gospel. The Calvinist knows that every person who comes
to Christ is a precious one for whom Jesus died. And God gets the glory for
every soul that is saved. To put it another way, the Arminian thinks that a
person becomes elect when they choose to believe in Jesus. The Calvinist
believes that a person believes because they are elect. In short, "we love Him
He first loved us."
Where a person falls on this doctrine depends a lot on what a person thinks
Jesus actually did on the cross. Did he actually save anyone? Or did he die to
make men savable? Like I said yesterday, it doesn't matter what I say. Ask
yourself, what does the Bible say about what Jesus did on the cross? That is
where you want to be on this.
I is for
Salvation is all of God from start to finish. The crux of the debate between the
Arminian and the Calvinist camps fell here, on the doctrine of irresistible
grace. Some might think that limited atonement was the focal point of the
debate. But it is not so. Jacob Arminius found his greatest objection to
Calvin's theology here. The Remonstrants built their other points of doctrine
from an examination of Arminius' teaching about irresistible grace.
Irresistible grace is the Holy Spirit's work in our salvation. Some Puritan
authors, when speaking of the Holy Spirit's work in finding Christ's lost sheep
in the world, referred to him (the Holy Spirit) as the "Hound of Heaven.' Like a
bloodhound He sniffs out and tracks down His quarry. And since He is God, none
Opponents of irresistible grace argue that it means that God grabs us, as if by
the nose, and forces us to become followers of Jesus Christ. This view is wrong
and does great violence to the beauty of this blessed doctrine.
We have seen in previous posts that man is dead in sin, blind, deaf, hard
hearted, carnally minded, enslaved to his sin nature and other terms that the
Bible uses to describe us in our lost condition. If we are to be saved then
these traits must be turned around. That is the beginning of the work of the
Holy Spirit. By His power He opens our blind eyes, unstops our deaf ears, takes
out our heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh. He frees us from
the shackles of our slavery to our sin nature. He gives us a spiritual mind and
makes our carnal minds alive to the things of God. All this must happen if the
sinner is to even see that he needs a savior. Remember, to the lost person Jesus
Christ and his salvation is a stumbling block or foolishness. One modern
preacher put it like this "We need to get lost before we can be found." He is
saying that a sinner has to realize their need for a savior before they will be
willing to turn to a savior.
Some folks compare salvation to a man who has fallen overboard from a ship in
the middle of the ocean. Without reaching out and grabbing the life preservers
(the gospel message) that is being thrown to him, he will die. But total
depravity teaches us that in our lost condition, we not only think we don't need
a life preserver,
we don't even think we are wet!
Without this realization, no one will choose to come to Christ as Lord and
When the Holy Spirit makes us spiritually alive, it is called being born again
(John 3:3). The theological term for the new birth is
God has to regenerate us if we are to even be able to see spiritual realities.
But what happens once God does this?
John Calvin believed God's first grace to the newly born is to give them faith
to believe that the Bible is the word of God. By believing that, they will be
able to hear the gospel message and believe it is God's message to them. Through
the word of God faithfully preached (whether by a preacher or another faithful
witness to God's gospel) the sinner sees Jesus Christ as the Loving, All
Sufficient Savior for their sins. The sinner is shown, through the gospel, their
vile, sinful, and helpless state, and they see Jesus as the One from heaven who
was sent for them. Here the Holy Spirit makes the gospel personal and the sinner
sees Christ, not just as Savior, but as
Savior. We join the Apostle Thomas as he falls on his knees and confesses "My
Lord and my God!" (John 20:28).
Far from being dragged forcefully by God against our will, the awakened sinner
finds nothing more desirable in the universe than to claim Jesus Christ as his
Lord and Savior. Jesus is to him the "Altogether Lovely," the "Fairest of Ten
Thousand" and the "Bright and Morning Star." The sinner is drawn to Christ like
a man dying of thirst is irresistible drawn to a glass of ice water. He must
have it or die. Jesus becomes the "Pearl of Great Price" for which a person
would sell everything he has to possess.
Jacob Arminius believed that man's will was sufficiently strong to resist God's
calling to the sinner and so, a man could refuse, by a free will decision, to
reject Christ. The Reformers and Puritans answered their Arminian opponents by
speaking of the Glorious Savior who is the deepest desire of our hearts. The
beauty of the Reformed gospel is the loving drawing (with cords that bind us as
tight as steel), cords of love from God drawing us, speaking to us, calling to
us, bringing us, with the very power of God's Being to Himself. Whom Christ died
for, He will have. Jesus said the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep. He
also said that the sheep hear his voice and they follow him. Since no one can
know who God's elect people are, the gospel is preached (as Jesus said) to every
creature. We throw out a wide net, but if anyone is caught, it is God who
catches them. "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase." Also, "So
shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me
void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper [in the
thing] whereto I sent it." (1 Cor. 3:6; Isa. 55:11).
A closely related scriptural concept is that of the Old Testament love slave. In
the year of Jubilee in Israel, slaves were to be freed. However, if there was a
slave who loved his master so much that he could not bear a life apart from that
master, the slave could ask to be kept. Such a slave was taken to the doorpost
of the house and his ear was pierced with an awl. Such a slave could never again
be freed and would live out the rest of his life as a slave to that master. We
are such slaves to Jesus Christ. We are not held be decree or force. Our love
for Jesus Christ compels us to devote ourselves to Him. We are bound to Him by
cords of love. BUT "We love him because He first loved us."
Calvinists speak of the general and the effectual calls. The general call is
what is given by preachers and Christians witnessing their faith to other
people. The general call goes out to everyone who will listen. But then there is
the effectual call of the Holy Spirit to the spirit of the person. This call
goes out to the elect, to those whom the Father has given to the Son. As Paul
says "The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God."
(Rom. 8:16). This call, the inward call of the Spirit cannot be ignored or
turned away. Scripture says "Whom He calls, He justifies." Now justification is
God declaring us to be "not guilty" of our sins. It is God's declaration to the
believer. Note, whom He (God) calls, He justifies. Everyone who is called of God
is justified by God.
There is much, much more that can be said. But this is enough to show how
Calvinists define the phrase
Picture, if you will, that God had stuck his hand into a pail of vomit. As He
pulls it out and looks it over, that is how we appear to Him when we are in our
sin. But He has chosen to love us ("Elect before the foundation of the world"
Eph. 1:4) and in the day of His power He changes us from that ooze of dripping
vomit into a child of the Living God. We, who were not a people, are now a
people. We, who once had no hope, now have a hope. He calls us His children. We
are brothers and sisters of the Lord Jesus Christ - the God-man. He calls kings
and priests in His kingdom. We become heirs to every heavenly blessing. We, who
were less than nothing, will one day stand in judgment over angels.
God shows us what we are without Jesus Christ. Then He shows us our Savior,
Jesus Christ. He teaches us repentance and gives us the gift of saving faith.
And we choose to do what we want to do the most. Turn from our wicked ways and
self worship and cling to the One and only One who stood in judgment for us and
hang on till we get the blessing.
Do Calvinists believe a sinner chooses to be a believer in Jesus? You bet we do.
Jonathan Edwards, an American theologian put it like this "God does all and man
does all." Yet at every point, man's action have a source in God's action on our
behalf. So that, at no point, can a man claim any credit at all for any part of
his salvation. We pray with the thief "God have mercy on me, a sinner." Then we
sing with the angels "Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!" Amen.
P is for
Perseverance of the Saints
This is the last article on the 5 points of Calvinism (also called the Canons of
Dort). In the next couple of days I have a few blogs posts I want to do on some
peripheral issues surrounding Calvinistic beliefs. But this article will
complete the group on the 5 points.
P stands for the Perseverance of the Saints, which means simply, that the work
God begins in a person will remain until God brings the saint home to be with
Him in glory. But let me explain why we believe this in a little more detail.
Before God created the world (before the foundation of the world) (Eph. 1:4) God
knew us. He knew our weaknesses and He knew our sin. Romans 8:28 says that "Whom
He did foreknow ..." Arminians believe God's foreknowledge is His foresight.
They read this verse in this way, "Whom God foresaw would make a free will
choice to believe in Jesus, He did predestinate..." But this is wrong. The word
for "know" or "knowledge" in this verse refers to an experiential knowledge. God
knew us intimately. One writer writes that we could read this verse "Whom He
foreloved" without doing any violence whatsoever to the meaning of the passage.
God knew us personally.
And God the Father made a covenant with the Son to be the blood payment for
their sin. We call this the Covenant of Grace. When history was ripe, God the
Son left behind His glory in heaven and took on the form of a human being and
was born in the town of Bethlehem. Later, the Son, after having lived a sinless
life, was taken by evil men and killed like a common criminal. But the Bible
says this was according to the plan of God. Peter said on Pentecost day "Him,
being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have
taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain..." (Acts 2:23). As Christ
died on the cross God poured out His wrath against sin, our sin, on our
Substitute, Jesus Christ. When Jesus cried from the cross "It is finished!" He
meant the satisfaction had been made for sin. God's wrath has been turned away.
His justice had been satisfied. The debt for our sin had been paid.
And when the Holy Spirit brings the lost sinner to faith in Jesus Christ, it is
not the end of our salvation but it is only the beginning. At the moment we are
saved, we are adopted into the family of God, and sealed by the Holy Spirit
Himself, with the Holy Spirit Himself, until the day when we experience the full
blessings of our inheritance in Christ. Paul says in Ephesians "In whom ye also
[trusted], after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation:
in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of
promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the
purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory." (Eph. 1:13, 14) Notice here
that when we believe we are sealed with the Holy Spirit, which, Paul says, is
the "earnest" of our inheritance. The word "earnest" means "down payment." We
have this down payment given to us until the "redemption of the purchased
possession." The purchased possession is us. Christ purchased us with his blood
(1 Peter 1:18, 19). The redemption he speaks of is the day of his return when he
will gather his people to himself and take them to be where he is (John 14:1-3).
Some Arminians believe that a believer can choose to forfeit the salvation God
has given to them. Other Arminians hold to a more Calvinistic viewpoint on this.
There is no consensus among Arminian believers on this point. Also, among
Arminians, there is no complete agreement on what exactly makes a believer
forfeit his salvation and become lost again. Some hold that any sin at all
forfeits it. Others hold that a pattern of sin, a sinful lifestyle, forfeits
salvation. Still others believe a Christian would have to make some sort of
repudiation of Jesus to forfeit it. Calvinists and Amyraldians are in complete
agreement on this point. But among Arminians, there is much debate about this.
Jacob Arminius himself was ambivalent. He seemed undecided at the end of his
life. He leaned towards believing that a believer can forfeit their salvation,
but, as I said, he seemed undecided.
Returning to the Calvinistic viewpoint again. Until that day, God continues to
do a work in us. We are being changed day by day into the image of Jesus Christ.
Paul wrote, in both Romans and Ephesians, how we are predestined to be conformed
to the image of Jesus Christ. To do this, God gives us the Holy Spirit who I
showed seals us into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13) at the time of our
conversion. We are changed little by little, always moving closer to the image
of Jesus. "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the
Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, [even] as by the
Spirit of the Lord." (2 Cor. 3:18). We are told to "work out our salvation with
fear and trembling." That means to live out our confession of faith in Jesus as
our Lord and Savior. Why with fear and trembling? "For it is God which worketh
in you both to will and to do of [his] good pleasure." (Phil. 2:13). Paul put it
like this to the Galatian church "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I
live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the
flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for
me." (Gal. 2:20).
The Bible tells us that God will perform this work in us until the day when
Jesus Christ returns. Paul says "Being confident of this very thing, that he
which hath begun a good work in you will perform [it] until the day of Jesus
Christ." Jesus Christ tells us this about God's intent "And this is the Father's
will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose
nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day." (John 6:39). Notice that
of all the ones the Father has given to Jesus, he will lose none of them and he
will raise them up on the last day. In case anyone had missed his meaning, Jesus
repeats the promise again in the very next verse. Jesus promised in John 10 that
no one would be able to take his sheep away from him (John 10:29-30).
Paul writes in Romans 7 that he finds two laws at work in himself. One is a law
of the Spirit meaning the Holy Spirit leads Paul in desiring to do the will of
God. Yet, there is a second law, one of the flesh. This law works against the
law of the Spirit and drags the Christian towards fulfilling the lusts of the
flesh. Every Christian can testify about how weak they are and how they find
themselves constantly needing God's forgiveness. The Puritan writer John Bunyan
said "My sin is always before my eyes." The work of the Holy Spirit is not a one
time act of grace at the time we get saved, it is a continual work of grace as
God is constantly pouring his grace out on us. There is never a time when He is
not working in us. As Christ promised "for he hath said, I will never leave
thee, nor forsake thee." (Heb. 13:5). Even though we may fall into sin, still
God's promise stands. "Let God be true and every man a liar." (Rom. 3:4).
So God's work, which was begun before the foundation of the world, perseveres in
the Christian till the end. When God has worked from before the universe was
created, and provided the Son as the payment for our sin, and given us the Holy
Spirit as a down payment of the inheritance which is ours as children of God, He
will not let that work fail. Our confidence is not in our own works but again,
in the work that God has done for us. Our confidence is in Christ alone. God
will carry His children in His "everlasting arms" until the day when He brings
us home to see Him face to face. Those whom God loved and chose, whom Christ
died for effectually, whom the Holy Spirit finds, saves, and seals, will not
ultimately be lost. God cannot deny Himself. And that is why the saints
persevere in God.
I can think of no better conclusion to this series of articles than the doxology
of Paul in Romans 11 ...
"O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how
unsearchable [are] his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath
known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first
given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and
through him, and to him, [are] all things: to whom [be] glory for ever. Amen."