Arminian Today

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Grace For All Book Review (Chapter 4)

You can find my earlier reviews of this book beginning here.

Chapter 4 of the book Grace for All is a wonderful chapter.  I appreciated it because Dr. Robert Picirilli dives right into the Scriptures to prove his point, that Christ died for all.  Picirilli is clear that Christ shed His blood for all but this salvation is only applied to those who repent and believe the gospel.  Calvinists (at least in part) acknowledge this to be true despite claiming that Christ’s work on the cross actually saves.  Arminians would agree.  The work of Christ was not a failure in that it pleased the Father and brought glory to Him (Philippians 2:5-11).  Yet none are saved simply because Christ died on the cross.  The resurrection after the cross completes the work of redemption for if Jesus is not raised, we are still dead in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:17).  Jesus shed His blood for our sins (John 19:30) and was raised for our justification (Romans 4:24-25).  One must place their faith in the risen Savior who did shed His blood for our sins.

Calvinists often assert that the Arminian view of the atonement is that Christ died to make men savable but He didn’t save anyone on the cross.  The Calvinist view is that God placed the sins of the elect upon Christ so that when Jesus shed His blood, He shed His blood for the sins of the elect.  Yet carried out to its extreme, this would imply that Calvinists hold to eternal justification (as many hyper-Calvinists do).  I ask the question: when is a person justified before God?  Is it when Christ died on the cross?  Is it before time began?  Is it when a person places their saving faith in Christ?  The obvious answer is the that a sinner is only justified before a holy God when the sinner places their faith in Christ alone to save them from the wrath of God to come (Romans 5:1).  We are saved by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) and not by works which we do (Titus 3:5-7).  Yet none are saved until they repent and believe the gospel.  The Calvinist can argue all day that their sins were placed on Christ when He died but the reality of their salvation only comes when they repent and believe the gospel.  This would mean that the Calvinist is not born innocent of sin (this is the hyper-Calvinist view) because they actually sinned in time (Romans 3:23) but their salvation only comes when they (the sinner) repent and believe the gospel.  While the Calvinist can argue their monergistic view of regeneration, they cannot argue that the atonement saved them 2000 years ago but rather it saves them when they actually believe in the gospel (Romans 10:14-17; 1 Corinthians 1:21; 15:1-4; Galatians 3:1-5).

Picirilli examines the Arminian position by looking at key words of salvation.  He looks at the words redemption, propitiation, and reconciliation.  By looking at the words used in their biblical context, it is easy to see that Christ died for all people.  Along the way Picirilli points out how Calvinists have interpreted the texts.  For example, Picirilli shows how Calvinists have handled 1 Timothy 2:1-6 where Paul uses “all” three times.  Calvinists take the word “all” here not to mean all in all people but only all types of people (though the Bible doesn’t use the term here that way).  Calvinists go out of their way to build a case against all because the use of the word all would imply that Christ died for all and Calvinism says He died only for the elect.

Picirilli also looks at other key “universal” texts such as 1 Timothy 4:10; Titus 2:11.  I appreciated Picirilli also looking at the book of 1 John and how John uses the word “world” (kosmos in the Greek).  By looking at how John uses the Greek, we see that the word “world” is not merely “a group out of the world” as Calvinists often insist but rather the entire world.  Jesus shed His blood for the entire world but only those who appropriate their faith in Christ will be saved.

One interesting point is that Picirilli quotes from John Calvin on John 3:16:

Both points are distinctly stated to us: namely, that faith in Christ brings life to all, and that Christ brought life, because the Heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish….And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term World, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life.

In the conclusion, Picirilli dives into the strongest Calvinist argument for limited atonement and that is that the Bible uses word that suggest that the atonement accomplished what God meant for it to accomplish: salvation.  1 John 4:10 says that Christ’s death was for the propitiation of our sins.  2 Corinthians 5:19 says that God has reconciled the world unto Himself through Christ.  Are these meant to suggest universal salvation?  Calvinists point out that Arminians deny universalism but how can they if these Scriptures are true?  The Calvinist answers that Christ shed His blood only for the elect and He has accomplished their redemption by His own blood to the glory of God.  Universalism can be easily rejected, the Calvinist answers, because the Bible is not teaching universalism but instead that Christ died for His elect only that God chose out of the sinful world (Romans 9:22-23).

Picirilli answers this claim by first pointing out that when a doctor makes a diagnosis of a person, that diagnosis does not save the person’s life but we often use language to say that it did.  No one would say that the doctor finding a cancer in a person saved them at that moment.  It takes the work of the doctor to save the person who humbly submits to the doctor’s diagnosis and allows the doctor to cut out the cancer from their body.  At that point, the person is now saved.

Likewise, even Calvinists such as Shedd point out that only those who place their faith in the atonement are saved.  The atonement, by itself, saves no one.  Consider Romans 3:21-26:

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Notice that the atonement is not said to save but only those who appropriate the work of Christ are said to be saved.  Salvation is received by grace through faith.  Even Calvinists preach this.  We must humble ourselves before the diagnosis of our sinfulness (Romans 3:19-20) and confess that Jesus alone is able to save us from our sins (John 8:24; 14:6; Romans 10:9-13).  We must not only preach the universal call to salvation (which I rejoice that Calvinists do) but we must preach that all who place their saving faith in Jesus can be saved.  The call is to repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15).

These gives the Arminian three key points we should ponder.  First, we must pray for all to hear the gospel by praying for God to send out laborers to work His harvest (Matthew 9:37-38).  Secondly, we should pray for all to hear the gospel and be saved by grace through faith (1 Timothy 2:1-6).  Thirdly, we should pray for God to use us in evangelism of the lost (Acts 1:8).  The will of God is not for sinners to perish (Ezekiel 18:32; 2 Peter 3:9) but for sinners to repent (Acts 17:30-31).

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