1.1 million people died at Auschwitz. It was pure evil. Did God ordain this? Did God cause this?
The Calvinist answer is that God did not cause the horrors of Auschwitz. He did ordain it to come to pass and He used secondary causes to ensure that the deaths at Auschwitz did in fact take place. John Calvin wrote, “The will of God is the supreme and first cause of all things, because nothing happens but by his command or permission. God then, according to Calvin, does not give permission for sinners to commit sin but He is the cause of all things including sin. Calvin continues:
The hand of God no less rules the internal affections than it precedes the external acts, and that God does not perform by the hand of men those things which he has decreed without first working in their hearts the very will which precedes their acts.
Did you read that? Calvin is stating that everything that comes to pass does so because God both decrees it and He works in the heart of man to make sure their acts come to pass as He ordains.
The mystery in Calvinism is how God can bring things to pass including evil and yet hold mankind responsible (or punishable would be a better term) for their sinful actions. Calvin likewise stated that this responsibility is a mystery to him. Calvin wrote,
“But how it was that God, by his foreknowledge and decree, ordained what should take place respecting man, and yet so ordained it without his being himself in the least a participator of the fault, or being at all the author (autor) or the approver of the transgression; how this was, I repeat, is a secret manifestly far too deep to be penetrated by the human mind, nor am I ashamed to confess our ignorance. And far be it from any of the faithful to be ashamed to confess his ignorance of that which the Lord envelopes in the blaze of his own inaccessible light.”
Other Calvinists affirm this as well. How can God hold wicked sinners responsible for the sins that He ordained for them to commit in the first place? The answer: mystery with an appeal to Deuteronomy 29:29.
Most Calvinists are comfortable with that mystery. I am not.
Someone has said that if you cannot preach the gospel at the gates of Auschwitz, it is not the gospel. How can we look at 1.1 million people dead at Auschwitz and agree with Calvin? That this happened by the will of God. And for what? I know that Calvinists like to preach that such a view would mean that evil is without purpose. Yet can there be purposeless evil in a world with free creatures?
John Piper appeals to a greater evil and that would be the cross. 1.1 million sinners dying at Auschwitz is nothing compared to the perfect and holy one dying on the cross (Acts 2:22-23). Piper points out that this evil, the murder of Jesus Christ, is worst than any other wicked acts and yet it was planned by God.
The problem is that we Arminians affirm the sovereignty of God. While Piper holds that sovereignty must equal divine determinism of all things, I would disagree with his definition of sovereignty. The Calvinist reads sovereignty and sees omnipotence. I disagree. God can be sovereign while allowing mankind to be free to make free choices. The cross demonstrates this. Further, God, because He is God, can step into His creation for His purposes. God did this in the cross. God will do this at the second coming of the Lord Jesus. God can use evil for His glory such as in the cross. Yet God did not make the Jews kill Jesus nor did He make the Romans crucify Jesus. This was allowed. Such language would be opposed by Calvin. Calvin would argue that God not only ordained the cross but He would make sure that the people would do the very sinful acts that He purposed for them to do. Piper seems to agree.
Dr. James White also holds that there is no such thing as purposeless evil. Since White holds to divine determinism (even hard determinism), he holds that everything happens as Calvin states, because God wills for it to happen and He makes sure it comes to pass. Every rape, murder, abortion (which is murder), theft, war, etc. happens because God wills it so. God is perfectly holy so He cannot be accused of sinning but He uses secondary causes to bring about His decreed will.
Let us return then to Auschwitz. I have never heard a Calvinist preach this at Auschwitz. It would not preach well. Imagine going back to 1944 and preaching to the souls at Auschwitz that all this is happening because God wills it so. Imagine preaching that God will hold the Nazis responsible for their sins of killing but He first ordained this to come to pass. Imagine further preaching that the same God who ordained this evil to come to pass is now calling you to repent and come to faith in Christ. How is this consistent with the God who gave His Son?
The Arminian gospel would be this: this evil is happening because of the sinful choices of mankind. People are wicked and unless they repent, they will see the wrath of God in His judgment upon them (Hebrews 9:27-28). The Bible is clear, however, that God wills not for anyone here at Auschwitz to perish but to come to repentance including you Nazis. He does not delight in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:32) but He wants all of you to repent and be saved from your sins (Acts 17:30-31; 2 Peter 3:9). This wicked place is here because we live in a fallen world with fallen sinners who love evil and hate God. May you repent and believe the gospel for eternal life (Romans 6:23).
The cross shows us God. In the cross we have a humble Savior who left the glory of heaven to abide on earth (Philippians 2:5-11). We have a Savior who prays even for sinners while He is dying (Luke 23:34). In the cross we see a God who would rather die than mankind go to hell (2 Corinthians 5:18-6:2). The cross shows us the love of God (Romans 5:8-9) and this love is not confined merely to those of who have believed but to the whole world (John 1:29; 3:16; 1 John 2:1-2; 4:14). This is our God. He is glorious. He is loving. He is good (Psalm 145:8-9).
John Wesley wrote:
“While a sovereign monarch might technically be free to dispose of subjects as he or she sees fit, a loving parent would not even consider withholding potential saving aid from any child (i.e., unconditional reprobation or limited atonement). On the other hand, truly loving parents also respect the integrity of their children. Ultimately, they would not impose their assistance against the (mature) child’s will.”
But Wesley also preached that all that we have from God, His love, His salvation, etc. are gifts of His love:
All the blessings which God hath bestowed upon man are of his mere grace, bounty, or favour; his free, undeserved favour; favour altogether undeserved; man having no claim to the least of his mercies. It was free grace that “formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into him a living soul,” and stamped on that soul the image of God, and “put all things under his feet.” The same free grace continues to us, at this day, life, and breath, and all things. For there is nothing we are, or have, or do, which can deserve the least thing at God’s hand. “All our works, Thou, O God, hast wrought in us.” These, therefore, are so many more instances of free mercy: and whatever righteousness may be found in man, this is also the gift of God.
This is our God. This is the God of the Bible. The glorious God whom I love and adore. He rescues sinners by His grace and I am a testimony of His love and grace. What evil may befall me I will not cast at His feet but know that He is able to work even through evil for His glory and good (Romans 8:28). The mystery in Arminianism is how God’s will is done despite allowing mankind free will. I would rather have that as my mystery while preaching at the gates of Auschwitz.
All of us come to the Bible with our systems. It’s hard not to. This happens when reading any book. We bring our presuppositions to what we read, what we watch, what we hear. This is part of being made in the image of God. Animals don’t bring presuppositions. Animals don’t get new ideas. Animals can be trained but not reprogrammed to think differently. People can. It often takes time and sometimes involves years of study, trials, etc.
This is true of theology as well. I have never been a Calvinist. I was raised in a Pentecostal home where Calvinism was avoided. That said, I have known many friends of mine who “converted” to Calvinism. None of them (that I know of) actually took time to study Arminianism or other non-Calvinist approaches to the Bible, they just enjoyed listening to John MacArthur or John Piper and dove into Calvinism. Most of them were looking (as Austin Fischer points out in his book Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed) for something more in their faith. They wanted to go deeper in the Lord and found Calvinism to be what they needed. Of course, I would argue that Arminianism is actually deeper still. Arminianism goes past Calvinism in my estimation.
What I want to point out here in this blogpost is that all of us have grey areas in our theology. I don’t know of a perfect system. There are holes in all of our theology. For honesty sake, I will post just a few holes I see in my own theology. These are holes that I can’t fully explain but they don’t cause me to turn away from Christ. I live with them and just seek to know Christ more and more. My goal is to know God (John 17:3) but I know that I will never fully know Him and I believe that even in eternity, I will never truly grasp God. He is infinite in His ways (Psalm 145:3). So let me list a few holes.
1. The Trinity.
Cults attack the doctrine of the Trinity because they say that it is illogical. How can three persons be one God? How can there be one God yet three persons? I don’t grasp this myself. I know the Bible teaches there is one God (Deuteronomy 6:4) and the Father is called God, the Son is called God, and the Holy Spirit is called God but there is only one God.
Again, the infinite God is beyond my understanding. I humble myself before His truth and simply worship Him who is true.
How does God answer prayer? What role does faith play? Why does God seem to delay? What causes God to not hear our prayers nor answer us when we call? Is God moved by our prayers? All of these are unanswered questions I have about prayer. No doubt God calls us to prayer (Matthew 6:5) and Paul the Apostle says that we are to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17) but I don’t begin to fully understand prayer.
3. The Incarnation of God.
I truly believe that Jesus is God manifested in the flesh (John 1:14) and that this is based on the prophetic promises (Isaiah 7:14; 9:6-7) but how this is, I don’t know. How a virgin can be pregnant with the holy one of Israel (Luke 1:35). When Mary asked how this could be (Luke 1:34), I love Gabriel’s reply (Luke 1:37) and Mary’s response (Luke 1:38). It was as if Gabriel was saying, “I don’t know how this can be but with God all things are possible.” God can do whatever He likes and in this case, He becomes a human while not ceasing to be God. Jesus was not a man on earth while God was in heaven. Jesus was fully God and fully man. Jesus was not half man and half God. While Philippians 2:7 says that Jesus humbled Himself and became a slave, it does not say that Jesus ceased to ever be God. He can’t. Jesus was fully God before the manger and He was God after He ascended to the right hand of God. Jesus has always existed with the Father and the Spirit before time began (John 17:5). Yet how God became a man is beyond me.
I accept the biblical truth of being born from above (John 3:3) but I don’t fully grasp this miracle. Even the good doctor Nicodemus in John 3:4 tried to ask Jesus how can this be. Let’s give Nicodemus credit here and know that he was not asking about being born physically again. He is wondering about this miracle of being born from above. How can this be? Jesus points to the wind and the mystery of the wind (John 3:5-8). Again Nicodemus replies, “How can these things be?” (John 3:9). I agree Nicodemus. I don’t know. I preach salvation through Christ alone. I preach repentance. I preach being baptized into Christ. Yet the mystery of the new birth is beyond me. I know Titus 3:5-7 is true and I preach that salvation is the gracious work of God yet I can’t explain how the God who created all things comes and indwells us. It is a mystery that I am willing to preach and accept. I praise God that He saved me!
5. Free Will.
As an Arminian, I hold to libertarian free will. I believe all people have the power to choose to either do or refrain from a given action whether sinful or good. Yet I can’t explain how God allows free will and yet His decreed will is always done. The cross, for example, was predetermined by God (Acts 2:22-23) yet God did not make the Jews or the Romans kill Jesus. He permitted them to kill His Son and it was part of His plan but no one believes (even Calvinists) that God made the people kill Jesus. The people chose to kill Jesus by God’s definite foreknowledge.
The mystery is here is how God in His sovereignty still accomplishes His will while allowing people to make free decisions. I have no doubt that God knows the free decisions of people but that He knows just means that He knows. Knows and causes are not the same. My mystery in free will is that God allows free will people to make free will decisions yet God’s decreed will is done. However, not everything that happens in this world is the will of God. Even God said about His people in Jeremiah 7:31 that they did that which He did not plan nor came to His mind. How can that be? If God knows all things and He plans all things (according to determinism), how can this be? Right before Jeremiah 7:31, God says that He had sent prophets to warn His people but they stiffened their necks and became hardened. This would be later on as well in John 12:40 where God says that He has allowed the Israelites to be hardened for the purpose of the cross. How can these things be?
6. The Cross.
Could there not be another way? Did the cross have to be? I understand the holiness of God demands a sacrifice for sins (Hebrews 9:22) but could there have been salvation without the cross? Could God have accomplished redemption of sinners by some other means? Biblically I know that the cross is a must. Sinful humanity sinned against a holy God with the fall of Adam and Eve (Romans 5:12) and the cross demonstrates both the love of God for human beings and His holiness at the same time (Romans 3:22-27). Amazing! Jesus died for sinners since He never sinned Himself (1 Peter 2:21-24). Jesus suffered at the hands of sinners to redeem sinners (Luke 19:10). Simply amazing!
Yet did the cross have to be? Could the Lord have saved us another way? I don’t know. I am thankful for the cross and I praise God that salvation comes through the cross but the mystery of the cross is beyond me.
7. God Changing His Mind.
Genesis 6:6 is tough. How could God truly be sorry for making mankind when (according to determinism), He knew what would become of them in the first place? Is this not true emotions from God? The typical answer is that such talk from the Lord is only given to show us humans so that we can relate to God who is beyond us.
In Exodus 32 we read of the Israelites and the golden calf. God declares to Moses that He is going to wipe them out for this sin yet Moses intercedes for the Israelites and God relents (v. 14). Some say that God did not really relent but He was using this to teach Moses how to be a leader or how to pray. Yet the text is a mystery.
There are more. I could go on. There are texts that suggest that God relents and I don’t know how to answer them. The open theist points to them as proof that God learns certain things (see for example Genesis 22:12). I can’t ignore the language but I don’t have clear answers either. Yet the same God can say of the unborn Cyrus that he will be his servant (Isaiah 45:1). God could call forth even the city where the Messiah would be born (Micah 5:2) and arrange entire nations for this purpose (Luke 2:1-2).
So on the one hand God is said to relent of things and learn things yet the overwhelming teaching of Scripture is that God is infinite in His wisdom and awesome in all His ways. This is a mystery to me.
What To Do With Grey Areas?
My advice: keep studying. Keep praying. Keep hoping in God. Grey areas don’t mean that God’s Word has failed nor do they mean that God is not trustworthy. His promises are sure (2 Peter 1:4). Grey areas mean that I don’t have God figured out and that He is God. I am satisfied with that. I will never grasp God. His ways are beyond me. His thoughts are beyond me (Isaiah 55:8-9). I do know that He loves me (John 3:16) and He has demonstrated that love through the cross (Romans 5:8-9). I rejoice that this is clear: Jesus died for sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). This is clear: Jesus rose from the dead (Acts 1:3) and salvation comes through the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Romans 10:9-10). I rejoice that the gospel is simple and clear (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). My prayer is to know Christ more (Philippians 3:10).
The love of God is a biblical truth. I adore the God of the Bible because He has revealed Himself as loving and good. Psalm 145:8 says that God is abounding in steadfast love. 1 John 4:8 says that God is love. Some believe that love is an attribute of God. However, I agree with others such as A.W. Tower who said that love flows from God and is part of His personage. Love then is not an attribute of God but is freely given by Him toward His creation. Truth is said to be a part of God but we would not say that truth is an attribute of God nor should we say this about God’s love. God loves because He chooses to love. God has demonstrated His love toward us sinners by the giving of His Son (John 3:16; Romans 5:8).
I do think that we can make too much about the love of God. Of course, I rejoice that God is love. I rejoice that God has sent His Son to die for our sins and to rise again on the third day where the Son now sits at the Father’s right hand till His enemies be made His footstool (Psalm 110:1). I rejoice that the Christian message is one of love as we point to the cross as the greatest example of true love (Galatians 2:20). I rejoice that God has revealed His great love for us sinners (1 John 4:10). This love should flow from God into our lives and we in turn are to love others (1 John 4:11). Jesus said that loving others was the second greatest commandment (Matthew 22:39). Jesus said that His disciples would be marked by loving others (John 13:34-35). He told His disciples in Matthew 5:43-48 that we were to be perfect in love as our Father is. John Wesley defined this love as “perfected love that flows from the God of love.” Wesley said that this type of love can only be found in the grace of God and His Spirit working within us to perfect this love. Perfect in love then was Wesley’s preferred term for entire sanctification (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).
The love of God drips from the pages of the Bible. We see God’s love demonstrated toward Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:14-15, 21). We see God’s love in the calling out of the Israelites from Egypt into the promised land. God Himself even says that it was His love that motivated Him to choose Israel and not because of the Israelites themselves (Deuteronomy 7:6-8). It was the love of God that called the prophets in the Old Testament to call His people to repentance (see Hosea as an example). It was the love of God that motivated Him to promise the Messiah and then to send His one and only Son to earth (Isaiah 9:6-7; Matthew 1:23; John 1:1, 14, 17). Jesus was God manifested in the flesh (John 1:14) and He fully revealed God to us (John 14:9). Jesus never said He was the Father nor did He say He was the Spirit but instead He fully revealed the fullness of God to us (Colossians 2:9). Jesus is the exact representation of God (Colossians 1:15-20; Hebrews 1:3). What do we see when we see Jesus? We see Him “doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil” (Acts 10:38). We see Jesus coming not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). We see Jesus coming to call sinners to repentance (Luke 19:10). We see Jesus telling the Pharisees that God goes looking for the one sheep out of the ninety-nine who turns and is lost (Luke 15:1-7).
There is no doubt that God is love. There is no doubt that Jesus has revealed the love of God. There is no doubt that Jesus shows us that God is good and that He desires all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:5-6; 2 Peter 3:9). There is no doubt that the love of God flows throughout the Bible.
But I do want to place a warning. Just a fire across the bow if you will. Again, I am one of those who gladly preaches the love of God. I gladly preach Arminianism because I see that the love of God is limited in Calvinism. In fact, I don’t see a loving God when I study Calvinism but instead I see the overwhelming issue being either the sovereignty of God (in this case the all-power of God in Calvinism) or the glory of God (wherein God must determine all things lest He share His glory). The love of God is seen as a part of God’s sovereignty either in choosing the elect by arbitrary means rather than love but in some form of love nonetheless or the love of God is seen as part of His glory. Calvinism diminishes the love of God by failing to proclaim the truth of the unlimited atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. Oh yes, His atonement is infinite in value and could atone for the sins of the world but instead the sovereign God has chosen that He will place His love only on the elect. To me, this doesn’t match either the biblical view of God as loving and good nor does it fit with the parables of Jesus such as found in Luke 10:25-37.
Let me fire this shot though across the bow. This is a friendly shot to us Arminians. I do believe in the love of God but let us not exalt the love of God above other truths about God. For example, God’s wrath or God’s justice or His holiness. The open theist, in my estimation and I know I have some brothers and sisters who read this blog who are open theists, elevate the love of God above all other truth about God. The same might could be said about the conditional immortality holders (whom I likewise regard as brethren in the kingdom). Others want to lift up the transcendence of God. Some want to exalt the power of God (my charismatic brethren might fall here).
My point is that we must seek balance. There is no doubt that God is love. There is no doubt also that God is holy. There is no doubt that God is sovereign. There is no doubt that God is powerful and He does hear our cries and can demonstrate His power. Yet we tend to uplift the truth about God that we love the most. Arminians might be guilty of doing this with God’s love. Calvinists might be guilty of exalting the sovereignty of God (or actually the omnipotence of God). I pray that we would simply make sure that when we preach that we don’t make a god in our image. This is what cults do. Their gods are figured out but our God is beyond our understanding. God has revealed Himself in the Bible but not exhaustively.
I pray that we preach to sinners both the love of God (that He has demonstrated His love toward sinners through the cross) and the wrath of God against sin (Romans 1:18). Both are true. God loves but God also hates. God cannot tolerate sin in His presence so let us preach the truth of His holiness (1 Peter 1:15-16). Let us preach that God desires the sinner to come to repentance but let us also preach that all who reject His love remain under His just wrath (John 3:36).
I rejoice in the love of God, the goodness of God, the grace of God. I also preach the biblical truths of His holiness, His justice, His sovereignty, His transcendence, His wrath. May we be balanced in our preaching.
With regard to the certainty [or assurance] of salvation, my opinion is, that it is possible for him who believes in Jesus Christ to be certain and persuaded, and, if his heart condemn him not, he is now in reality assured, that he is a son of God, and stands in the grace of Jesus Christ. Such a certainty is wrought in the mind, as well by the action of the Holy Spirit inwardly actuating the believer and by the fruits of faith, as from his own conscience, and the testimony of God’s Spirit witnessing together with his conscience. I also believe, that it is possible for such a person, with an assured confidence in the grace of God and his mercy in Christ, to depart out of this life, and to appear before the throne of grace, without any anxious fear or terrific dread: and yet this person should constantly pray, “O lord, enter not into judgment with thy servant!”
But, since “God is greater than our hearts, and knoweth all things,” and since a man judges not his own self — yea, though a man know nothing by himself, yet is he not thereby justified, but he who judgeth him is the Lord, (1 John iii, 19; 1 Cor. iv, 3,) I dare not [on this account] place this assurance [or certainty] on an equality with that by which we know there is a God, and that Christ is the saviour of the world. Yet it will be proper to make the extent of the boundaries of this assurance, a subject of inquiry in our convention.
I would add 1 John 5:13 is clear: I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.
I am not an open theist but I do share the same concerns about divine determinism with Greg Boyd. He has written a series of articles on Romans 9 and election. I do recommend it. You can find the first post here.
Modern Evangelicalism teaches that God forgives us of all our sins both past, present, and future. How often have I heard evangelical pastors proclaiming that forgiveness from God means that He forgives us of all our sins both now and forevermore. Yet some of them would be quick to preach holiness, to preach that one must persevere in the faith, and that we must confess our sins. A few will teach a radical view of eternal security (or “once saved, always saved”) to the point that even confessing of sin is not really necessary. The rise of the hyper-grace movement over the past twenty years flows from this viewpoint.
My question then is what is the point of 1 John 1:9? Hyper-grace teachers teach that the point of 1 John 1:9 is for unbelievers. They argue that 1 John 1:9 has nothing to do with New Testament followers of Christ. The context, however, destroys such a view. Notice John’s usage of “we” and “our” and “us” in 1 John 1 below:
1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
The context is clear that John is not jumping from believers to unbelievers in the context. John is writing to believers.
So let me go back to my point again: what is the point of 1 John 1:9? If Jesus has secured our salvation and if He has died for all our sins both past, present, and future, what is the point of 1 John 1:9?
Calvinism teaches that Christ died only for the elect. The elect’s sin were placed on Christ while He was on the cross. Therefore, the cross secures the forgiveness of the sins of the elect. Some Calvinists are inconsistent on this point however and teach that a person is lost, dead in their sins, and on their way to hell apart from the grace of God intervening in their lives and drawing them to salvation. All Calvinists that I know of have a testimony of Christ saving them. They all acknowledge that at some point in their life, the Lord opened their eyes to His grace and He caused them to be born again unto faith.
More consistent Calvinists teach that all the elect are born justified before God. Some teach eternal justification where God looks through time and He has chosen His elect and because of His sovereignty, He knows the elect even in eternity past and thus all the elect were seen as forgiven in the mind of God through Christ Jesus. Either way, in Calvinism, the elect have their sins forgiven in Christ and thus all their sins were in Christ when He shed His blood and thus they are justified forevermore because of the work of Christ. Calvinists then can teach that all their sins are forgiven in Christ.
The problem then becomes the issue of holiness or even 1 John 1:9. What is the point of 1 John 1:9 if in fact Christ has shed His blood for the elect’s sin already? Some Calvinists simply teach that holiness is like prayer or evangelism: we simply do it because God has commanded us to do so and as His elect, we will obey Him completely. Others teach that holiness is necessary and part of the perseverance of the saints. Thus holiness and 1 John 1:9 are practices of perseverance.
From a biblical viewpoint, 1 John 1:9 is clear that we must confess our sins to be forgiven of them. This plays into the very words of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 6:12. We confess our sins to be forgiven. This would imply that the provision for our forgiveness is set: the shed blood of Jesus Christ. However, we must confess our sins before God through the Lord Jesus to be forgiven. This is the clear understanding of 1 John 1:9. Even Calvinists acknowledge this in part. Even John MacArthur in the MacArthur Study Bible (NASB) says that confession of sin is part of being a true Christian. The mindset of the Christian is that we are sinners in need of a Savior because of our sins.
What then happens if 1 John 1:9 is not obeyed? MacArthur would likely say that such a person would demonstrate they were never saved to begin with (1 John 2:19). Others would say that nothing happens since Christ paid for our sins already on the cross. However one looks at this, if you hold that Christ died for all our sins both past, present, and future then you would have to water down the clear meaning of 1 John 1:9. In reality, if the Calvinist understanding of definite atonement is to be assumed, 1 John 1:9 does little to nothing for the elect.
In Arminianism, we hold that Christ died for the sins of the world (John 1:29; 1 John 2:2). Forgiveness is based on faith in the Lord Jesus and His saving work (Romans 10:9-10). The blood of Jesus even bought the forgiveness of false teachers though they did not trust in Him alone to secure their forgiveness (2 Peter 2:1). Forgiveness of our sins must be through the person of the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 13:38-39). Our forgiveness comes through Christ alone (Romans 3:22-25). When Peter preached in Acts 2 the first gospel sermon, he didn’t preach “eternal justification” nor did he preach that their sins were already forgiven by simply trusting that Jesus had paid the price but he called them to repentance (Acts 2:38). The message of the gospel is Jesus-focused, Jesus-filled, Jesus-centered and Jesus alone saves by His grace. However, we must call people to repent and forsake their sins and place their saving faith in the Lord Jesus alone to save them. The work of salvation: conviction, regeneration, being born again, etc. are the work of the Holy Spirit as He works to glorify the risen Savior (John 16:8-11).
When it comes to 1 John 1:9 in Arminianism, the Christian must obey. The Christian must confess their sins when the Spirit of God convicts them and they must repent (2 Corinthians 7:10). God’s kindness leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). 1 John 1:9 is what happens after we have had our sins washed away with Christ (Romans 6:1-4). When a person repents, their past and present sins are forgiven but their future sins remain in the future. Their future sins must be repented of just as their past sins were (1 John 2:1). The disciple of Jesus is thus forgiven of their sins (Ephesians 1:7) as we walk in the light of Christ and His saving work (1 John 1:7). We must repent lest we fall into sin and perish (James 1:12-15; 5:19-20; 2 Peter 2:20-22; 3:17).
in Revelation 2, Jesus saw the sins of the people in Ephesus (Revelation 2:5). Jesus Himself called them to repentance as He did others in Revelation 2-3. How could the Lord Jesus do this if He didn’t see their sins or if their future sins were already forgiven? Why didn’t Jesus just tell them they were covered by His righteousness and they were forever forgiven? Yet Jesus called them to repent. In fact, He promised them things for their overcoming (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26-28).
1 John 1:9 is a wonderful gift from God. What a delight to confess my sins to the Lord. King David cried the blessings of being forgiven (Psalm 32:1-2) that comes through confession of our sins (Psalm 32:5). The godly realize this (Psalm 32:6). We who know the grace of God in truth (Titus 2:12), know that God is willing to forgive sinners who come before Him confessing their sins. I rejoice when I confess my sins knowing that God has forgiven me through the work of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the One who has secured my salvation and I trust in Him to pray for me before the Father (Hebrews 7:25).