Arminian Today

A Jesus-Centered Arminian Blog

Does A Literal Reading of John 3:16 Destroy Arminianism?

I was listening to an apologetic call-in program that happens to be hosted by a Calvinist.  I actually enjoy the podcast and appreciate his defense of the faith however he does often get sidetracked by Calvinism.  For example, in a recent broadcast he spent his time defending unconditional election and he spent his time seeking to prove that John 3:16 does not teach unlimited atonement.  I want to focus on the issue of John 3:16 for a moment here.

Young’s Literal Translation has John 3:16 like this:

for God did so love the world, that His Son — the only begotten — He gave, that every one who is believing in him may not perish, but may have life age-during.

This Calvinist took John 3:16 and he sought to prove that Jesus did in fact die only for the elect based on the literal reading.  His focus was on “every one who is believing in Him” and sought to show that those who believe are only the elect.

Let me point out several things about this.  First, the literal reading does not affect Arminianism in the least bit.  In fact, John 3:16 is still a powerful verse for Arminianism’s doctrine of unlimited limited atonement.  After all, Arminianism rejects universalism and we believe and teach that only those who place their saving faith in Jesus are truly saved (as do Calvinists).  In that case, John 3:16 in its literal reading does not add one thing nor take away one thing from the Arminian-Calvinist debate.

Secondly, we agree that every one who is believing in Him may not perish.  We believe that salvation is based completely on Christ Jesus and that only those who justified by faith and those who remain in faith in Christ Jesus are truly the elect of God.  Believing must continue from start to finish (1 Corinthians 15:3; Colossians 1:21-23).  Our salvation is secure if we are in Christ Jesus by faith (Jude 24-25).  The promise of God is to keep us as we abide in Christ (John 15:1-11; 2 Corinthians 1:24).  Thus believing is necessary for initial salvation and for continued salvation (Hebrews 3:6-19; 6:4-20; 10:19-39).  The blood of Jesus washes away our sins when we initially come to God in faith and repentance (Acts 2:37-38; 3:19; 16:30-34; 17:30-31; 22:16; Ephesians 1:7) but we must walk in the light as He is in the light (1 John 1:7).  This is continuing to trust Jesus by faith that He alone saves us by His grace.

Thirdly, if John 3:16 were the only passage we had for unlimited limited atonement, Arminianism would be in trouble.  Thankfully it is not.  We have a host of passages of Scripture that emphasize the love of God for all.  Consider just a few such as 1 Timothy 2:3-6; 1 John 2:1-2; 4:14.  The call of Acts 2:38-39 goes out to all.  While Calvinists acknowledge the general call to repentance, they deny that God will grant repentance to all who come to Him but only to His elect (John 6:37 – a passage I will deal with in another post).  Arminians point to 1 Timothy 4:10 which is clear that only the elect are those who come to Christ for salvation but this does not deny that He is the Savior of all people in the sense that He gave His life for all so that whosoever may come and be saved (John 3:14-18; Romans 10:13).

And finally, I found it interesting that in this dialogue, the Calvinist brother pointed to Colossians 2:14 as proof that Jesus died only for the elect.  He said that the elect’s sin were nailed to the cross.  I was wondering if the Calvinist believes that he was born sinless.  If Colossians 2:14 means that Jesus shed His blood to take away the sin’s of the elect then surely at the cross, at the moment Jesus died, He died to secure the elect’s salvation.  This is a point most Calvinists will accept.  Yet if this premise is true then why do Calvinists deny either A) eternal justification since God chose His elect before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) or B) that the elect are born sinless since Christ died for the elect’s sin already.  In other words, if Bill is part of the elect and he was born in 1977 then logically Christ died nearly 2000 years ago for Bill based on the Calvinist reading of Colossians 2:14.  Bill then was born sinless since, according to Calvinism, Bill cannot be punished for his sins twice (this would be double jeopardy).  The typical Calvinist response is that Bill’s sins were not forgiven until he was effectually drawn to Christ by the sovereign grace of God.  Yet what about Colossians 2:14?  If Christ died for Bill, Bill, in the mind of God, was chosen in Christ before time began (Eph. 1:4 again) and Bill was eternally justified before God because God, in His absolute sovereignty, knew that Bill would believe the gospel and be saved.  Bill never had any sins because God knew that Bill was elect even before time began and God gave His Son to die for Bill so that Bill could be legally justified before God.

I know that much of this is philosophical in nature but I hope you see my point.  The Arminian reply to all this is simple: Bill was saved when the Spirit of God opened his eyes through the preaching of the gospel (John 6:44) and by faith Bill was justified before God (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7).  The entire work of salvation belongs to God alone (John 1:12-13) but God does not believe for Bill.  Bill must believe to be saved and this only happens because of the grace of God (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 notice the calling through the gospel and not by anything else in this text).  Bill’s salvation is based completely on Christ Jesus alone and he becomes the elect of God when he repents and believes the gospel.

The blood of Jesus is sufficient for all to be saved but only is appropriated to those who repent and believe the gospel (John 3:36).  A point I think we all agree on.  May we preach the blood of Jesus to all!

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