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Answering the Calvinist’s #1 Argument

SOTERIOLOGY 101

“Why did you believe the gospel, but your friend did not? Are you wiser or smarter or more spiritual or better trained or more humble?”

This is typically one of the first questions a Calvinist will ask a non-Calvinist when attempting to convince them of their doctrine.[1]In fact, when I was a Calvinist, I used this argument more often than any other, and it was quite effective. However, I have come to believe there are at least foursignificant problems with this line of argumentation:

1) Question Begging Fallacy:

As we have discussed HERE, this is a game of question begging because it presumes a deterministic answer is required. It is tantamount to asking, “What determined the response of you and your friend?” As if something or someone other than the responsible agents themselves made the determination. The question presumes determinism is true and that libertarian free…

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Written by The Seeking Disciple

08/18/2016 at 10:56 AM

A Friendly Response to JD Dalcour on John 3:16

I appreciate the ministry of brother JD Dalcour.  His book on Oneness Pentecostalism is the best book I’ve read on the subject (though I would take exception with some of his Calvinistic views in the book).  Dalcour is a thoughtful, intelligent brother who seeks to make a defense of the faith.

In his recent newsletter he has been writing about “10 Most Misinterpreted Passages.”  In this letter he attacks us Arminians on two verses: John 3:16 and 2 Peter 3:9.  Pretty standard Calvinist responses to these two verses.

The Arminian approach of both these verses is that John 3:16 and 2 Peter 3:9 affirm unlimited atonement.  This is why Calvinists often write about these two verses.  If the L of TULIP is true, that Jesus died only for the elect, Calvinists must do something with the so called “universal texts” that speak of Jesus dying for all men.

One of the problems is that Calvinists want to affirm that the work of Christ did not fail.  I appreciate this.  Of course, we Arminians do not believe in a failed atonement either.  We hold that while Jesus shed His blood for all sinners, only those who appropriate His blood are truly saved.  That Jesus died does not save anyone (even Calvinists acknowledge this) but rather the only one who is saved by the work of Christ is the one who repents of their sins and places their faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Even if one holds that faith is a gift from God (Philippians 1:29), God doesn’t believe for the person.  By His grace, the person believes and receives eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

Dalcour would have us to believe that Romans 5:1 should say that we are justified unto faith and not by faith.  The Scripture is clear that the only ones who are saved are those who believe in the gospel (1 Corinthians 1:21).  Even if one holds that Acts 13:48 is teaching unconditional election, those who believed are the only ones who are saved.  This is the clear teaching of the Bible.

So what about John 3:16?  Dalcour, as others before him have done following it seems in the footsteps of John Owen, makes much about “the ones believing” in the Greek text.  Dalcour builds his case that the Greek is clear: Jesus saves “all the ones believing in Him.” Further, Dalcour points out that the word “world” (Kosmos in the Greek) must be viewed in its context and doesn’t always mean “entire world” as Arminians have often preached.  Dalcour writes:

Due to the presupposition of autosoterism (self-salvation), chiefly promoted by the Arminians, kosmos is assumed here to mean every single person, thus embracing the “traditional” (not exegetical) view of universal atonement.  Although kosmos can have various meanings, as seen above, rarely does it carry an all-inclusive “every single person” meaning.  Further, we know that the “world” in v. 16 is not the same “world” that Jesus does not pray for in John 17:9; nor is it the “world” that John speaks of in 1 John 2:15, which we are not to love.  Also, in first century vernacular, the normal meaning of “world” was the “world” of Jews and Gentiles – as John’s audience would have understood (cf. John 12:17, 19).

Dalcour goes on to state that Jesus was sent by God not save the “world” but “the world of the believing ones.”

Let us take a look at his arguments.

First, Dalcour builds a straw man in that he asserts without any justification that Arminians hold to “autosoterism” or self-salvation.  I have been an Arminian for my entire Christian life.  I have heard many Arminians preach, have listened to Arminians give talks on theology, have read the works of many Arminians and I am yet to hear one Arminian teach this.

Arminius writes:

The object of justification is man, a sinner, acknowledging himself, with sorrow, to be such an one, and a believer, that is, believing in God who justifies the ungodly, and in Christ as having been delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification. As a sinner, man needs justification through grace, and, as a believer, he obtains justification through grace.

Faith is the instrumental cause, or act, by which we apprehend Christ proposed to us by God for a propitiation and for righteousness, according to the command and promise of the gospel, in which it is said, “He who believes shall be justified and saved, and he who believeth not shall be damned.”

Christ has not obtained by his merits that we should be justified by the worthiness and merit of faith, and much less that we should be justified by the merit of works: But the merit of Christ is opposed to justification by works; and, in the Scriptures, faith and merit are placed in opposition to each other.

Just these few quotes from the works of Arminius make it clear that Arminius did not hold to a person saving themselves.  All sinners are saved by grace through faith and not by our works of any kind (Romans 4:5-7; Titus 3:5-7).  Salvation is the gracious work of God that He has wrought though His Son (Ephesians 1:7).  This is biblical Arminianism.

Secondly, Dalcour’s reasoning about “world” is not accurate.  He is certainly right that context must determine the usage.  For example, Mark 1:5 says that all Judea and Jerusalem was going to John the Baptist to be baptized by him.  The context is clear that this means “a large number” and not “every single person.”  That said, Dalcour errs in saying that world here in John 3:16 is not a call to all to come and be saved.  He cites John 17:9 as proof.  Notice that is his only text.  He doesn’t turn to Luke 23:34 where Jesus does pray for sinners.  If Jesus refused to pray for sinners, Luke 23:34 would not make sense.

Furthermore, Dalcour points to 1 John 2:15.  If one studies John’s usage of world in just 1 John, one must conclude that 1 John 2:2 is indeed the entire world.  In fact, in 1 John 2:2 John contrasts “the believing ones” with the whole world in the same verse!

Conclusion

This has been a short reply and I would point my readers to the Society of Evangelical Arminians which has many articles on the issue of John 3:16 as it relates to the Greek text. The arguments Dalcour uses are old.  John Owen implied them hundreds of years ago.  Arminians have answered.

In closing, I agree with Dalcour that Jesus only saves those who believe.  I agree 100%.  I am not a complete “universalist” in that I teach that Jesus saves only those who repent and believe the gospel.  I don’t believe that simply because Jesus died on the cross that people are guaranteed eternal life.  I reject this view completely.  I teach that Jesus did die on the cross for all sinners but only those who place their faith in Him are saved.  None, including the Calvinists, are saved apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ.  I reject the doctrine of eternal justification.

However, I have found that some Calvinists are so bent on teaching Calvinism that they are willing to even exegete Scripture based on their own presupposition.  In this case, Dalcour takes his rejection of unlimited atonement and turns John 3:16 not into a promise for all sinners but instead he makes it applicable only to the elect whom God has chosen by His own arbitrary choice.  I would say take John 3:16 and preach it to sinners, calling them to repent and believe the gospel of God’s grace.

The Arminian Affirmation of the Atonement

The Bible is clear that Jesus died for sinners.  No one denies this.  Both Arminians and Calvinists acknowledge that Jesus shed His blood for the souls of lost sinners.  Matthew 1:21 is clear that Jesus came to save His people from their sins.  The key question in this debate over the atonement is whether the atonement is for all sinners period.  Many Calvinists insist that the atonement is indeed for all people on some level.  For example, Dr. John MacArthur believes that the atonement provides benefits for all people while only having the power to save the elect.  MacArthur goes on to state, “Jesus Christ made a sufficient sacrifice to cover every sin of every one who believes (John 3:16-18; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; 4:10; 1 John 2:2.”

I do not disagree.  MacArthur states the following on 1 John 2:2 and the “whole world”:

This is a generic term, referring not to every single individual, but to mankind in general.  Christ actually paid the penalty only for those who would repent and believe.  A number of Scriptures indicate that Christ died for the world (John 1:29; 3:16; 6:51; 1 Timothy 2:6; Hebrews 2:9).  Most of the world will be eternally condemned to hell to pay for their own sins, so they could not have been paid for by Christ.  The passages that speak of Christ’s dying for the whole world must be understood to refer to mankind in general (as in Titus 2:11).  “World” indicates the sphere, the beings toward whom God seeks reconciliation and has provided propitiation.  God has mitigated his wrath on sinners temporarily, by letting them live and enjoy earthly life (1 Timothy 4:10).  In that sense, Christ has provided a brief, temporary propitiation for the whole world.  But he actually satisfied fully the wrath of God eternally only for the elect who believe.  Christ’s death in itself had unlimited and infinite value because he is Holy God.  Thus his sacrifice was sufficient to pay the penalty for all the sins of all whom God brings to faith.  But the actual satisfaction and atonement was made only for those who believe (John 10:11, 15; 17:9, 20; Acts 20:28; Romans 8:32, 37; Ephesians 5:25).  The pardon for sin is offered to the whole world, but received only by those who believe (1 John 4:9, 14; John 5:24).  There is no other way to be reconciled to God.

A few thoughts here about this.  First, I appreciate Dr. MacArthur much.  He preaches salvation to all.  He never fails to call all to repent and believe the gospel.  In this sense, he follows in the steps of men such as George Whitefield and Charles Spurgeon in calling all sinners to repentance.  He is no hyper-Calvinist in this regard.  There has probably never been a man who has done more for expository preaching than John MacArthur.  Having personally met him, I found him to be gracious and kind.  So by no means do I present my case against him as an enemy.  I come as a brother.

Now the Arminian can read the above words from MacArthur and agree with most of what he wrote.  I agree that Christ died for the elect.  I agree that Christ died for His sheep.  I agree that Christ died for His Church.  I agree that Christ died for Paul the Apostle (Galatians 2:20).  I agree that Christ died for us (Galatians 1:4).  But I also go one step further and believe that Christ died for all.  I agree that no one is saved apart from being reconciled to God through Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).  I agree that one has to believe to be saved (John 5:24; Acts 16:30-31).  I agree that repentance is necessary for eternal life (Acts 2:38).  But I also believe that all can be saved and there is no limit on this number.

I agree that the world is opposed to God (1 John 2:15-17).  Ironically, MacArthur never limits “world” in 1 John but here in 1 John 2:2.  The world is indeed sinful, God-hating, rejecting the truth of the gospel.  I agree.  But what we find in the gospel is God calling out to the whole world to repent and be saved.  God, who is the one that the world hates, is calling to His enemies to come and be reconciled through faith (Isaiah 1:18).  This is the message of the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:47).

You’ll notice in MacArthur’s statement above also that he wants to make sure that we understand that he believes the atonement is powerful enough to cover the sins of the world if God wanted it to.  He doesn’t use those words but it seems implied by this reader.  He wants us to see how powerful and vast the work of Christ is.  I would agree.  In the cross, we do find God the Son dying for the world and shedding His precious blood for the lost.  If God wanted to, He could indeed reconciled the world through the powerful blood of Jesus.  I have no doubt.  Instead, God calls to lost sinners through His love that He demonstrated on the cross (John 3:16; Romans 5:8-9).  This is not a forced love.  This is not a forced relationship.  This is a loving relationship where the repenting sinner comes to God through His Son to be saved (Romans 2:4).  This is a genuine relationship that God initiated and not man (Ephesians 2:4-6; 1 John 4:10).  But this message, this good news is for the whole world (Luke 2:10-11; 1 John 4:14).

It is true that the atonement is only effective for those who believe.  Christ died for His enemies and He even prayed for His enemies at the cross (Luke 23:34).  MacArthur even acknowledges that Christ is praying for His enemies at this passage and adds:

Some of the fruit of this prayer can be in the salvation of thousands of people in Jerusalem at Pentecost (Acts 2:41).

Notice he adds in his note that “some of the fruit” and not all.  If it is true that Christ is dying only for the elect, why pray for the world?  Why pray for the sinners who are killing Him?  Many Calvinists point to John 17:9 as proof that Jesus does not pray for the world but only for the elect.  Yet MacArthur acknowledges that Luke 23:34 is for the lost.  He also is clear that God heard His prayer and saved some of those who perhaps killed Jesus at Pentecost in Acts 2:41.

Let us be clear here though.  None were saved by Jesus praying for them in Luke 23:34.  They had to appropriate the work of Christ just as we all do through faith.  That Jesus shed His blood saves no one.  Even Calvinists agree with this while insisting that the sins of the elect were placed on the Son.  All agree that we are saved by faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-9).  And even if we allow for Calvinists to believe that faith is a gift given by God to His elect, we must still acknowledge that the wrath of God is against us till we believe.

This would mean two things.  First, those who are in cast into hell are cast into hell because they rejected the sacrifice of the Son of God for their sins.  Do we have passages of Scripture that speak of Christ dying for their sins while they rejected His sacrifice?  Yes e do.  Romans 14:15; 1 Corinthians 8:11; 2 Peter 2:1.  In context all these Scriptures speak of those whom Christ died who may not share in eternal life.  Even MacArthur does acknowledge that 2 Peter 2:1 is referring to false teachers who claimed Christ and so Peter mocks them by saying that they refuse to submit to the Lordship of Christ whom they claimed bought them.

What is clear is that people who go to hell go to hell because of their rejection of God and His truth.  The person is to blame and not God who gave His Son for their reconciliation.  Calvinism would place the blame on God.  God chose to reject sinners even before time began and even if you allow for the sinner’s punishability for their sins, they are sinning because God has predetermined that they be sinners in the first place by His own sovereign will (Romans 9:22-23).  If I were a Calvinist, at this point I would preach hard annihilation since the sinner is in hell tormented day and night forever because God willed that they never be saved in the first place.  Annihilation is at least charitable toward sinners who are being tormented for God’s glory in the first place in the Calvinist view.

Secondly, the application of the atonement is through faith.  Even MacArthur doesn’t preach the doctrine of eternal justification.  Consistent Calvinists such as John Gill see the truth that the elect are born sinless.  How else can it be?  If God placed the sins of the elect on Christ and He ensures that the elect will believe by His own sovereign choice from eternity past, who can one argue that God ever sees the sins of the elect?  If Christ died for my sins at the cross and God placed my sins on Him at the cross, when was the wrath of God against my sins appeased?  Gill would answer the cross.  MacArthur would answer the cross but add that I must receive it by faith.  And I would answer: Yes and this is biblical Arminianism!

Romans 3:21-26 in the ESV is beautiful (with my emphasis):

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.

Faith is the design of God to come into a saving relationship with Himself.  This is the sovereign will of God.  This is the sovereign decree of God.  All who repent and believe will be saved.  There is no limit to the sacrifice of the Son of God.  I have heard many Calvinists preaching like Arminians to the lost by preaching that Christ shed His blood so that they might be saved.  They call out to lost sinners to repent and believe the gospel (as if sinners could actually do this by their command).  They call to sinners to turn from their sins and be saved through faith in Christ.  And I agree!  In fact, I believe that every person whom the Calvinist evangelist is preaching to can be saved and there is no limit to the power of the gospel (Romans 1:16-17).  If God can have mercy on me, He can have mercy on my lost neighbors and co-workers who despise Him at this time (1 Timothy 1:15; 4:10).

As Paul the Apostle wrote above in Romans 3:24, this salvation is a gift to be received by faith.  The sinner does not earn this salvation.  There is nothing we could add to the work of Christ to be saved.  In fact, what a wicked thing to do to add to the cross of Christ by saying that we must also do our part to be saved.  We are justified though faith alone in Christ alone by His grace alone (Romans 5:1; Galatians 2:15-16; 3:13-14).  This is true of us as children of God as well as the lost sinners we are preaching to.  Salvation is the gracious work of God (John 1:12-13; Titus 2:11-14; 3:5-7).  We are saved by the work of Christ alone.

Thankfully both Calvinists and Arminians preach that truth.  Some Calvinists try to assert that we Arminians preach that we can save ourselves or we preach a works-righteousness system but this is not the truth.  Arminius wrote:

“I believe that sinners are accounted righteous solely by the obedience of Christ; and that the righteousness of Christ is the only meritorious cause on account of which God pardons the sins of believers and reckons them as righteous as if they had perfectly fulfilled the law. But since God imputes the righteousness of Christ to none except believers, I conclude that, in this sense, it may be well and properly said, to a man who believes, faith is imputed for righteousness through grace, because God hath set forth his Son, Jesus Christ, to be a propitiation, a throne of grace, [or mercy seat] through faith in his blood.”

Adam Clarke wrote:

The doctrine of justification by faith is one of the grandest displays of the mercy of God to mankind. It is so very plain that all may comprehend it; and so free that all may attain it. What more simple than this-Thou art a sinner, in consequence condemned to perdition, and utterly unable to save thy own soul. All are in the same state with thyself, and no man can give a ransom for the soul of his neighbor. God, in his mercy, has provided a Saviour for thee. As thy life was forfeited to death because of thy transgressions, Jesus Christ has redeemed thy life by giving up his own; he died in thy stead, and has made atonement to God for thy transgression; and offers thee the pardon he has thus purchased, on the simple condition that thou believe that his death is a sufficient sacrifice, ransom, and oblation for thy sin; and that thou bring it, as such, by confident faith to the throne of God, and plead it in thy own behalf there. When thou dost so, thy faith in that sacrifice shall be imputed to thee for righteousness; that is, it shall be the means of receiving that salvation which Christ has bought by his blood.

And I end with John Wesley:

But there is an undeniable difference between the Calvinists and Arminians, with regard to the three other questions. Here they divide; the former believe absolute, the latter only conditional, predestination. The Calvinists hold, (1.) God has absolutely decreed, from all eternity, to save such and such persons, and no others; and that Christ died for these, and none else. The Arminians hold, God has decreed, from all eternity, touching all that have the written word, “He that believeth shall be saved: He that believeth not, shall be condemned:” And in order to this, “Christ died for all, all that were dead in trespasses and sins;” that is, for every child of Adam, since “in Adam all died.”

The Master Who Bought Them

In 2 Peter 2:1 we find one of the major passages that teach that Jesus Christ died for those who reject Him.  The Calvinist view is that Jesus died only for the elect of God, His sheep, His people.  Calvinist theologians will often point to passages such as John 10:11 where Jesus says that His death is for His sheep.  Calvinists then point to sheep as proof that Jesus died only for those who His.  They point out that, in their view, the Bible doesn’t teach that Jesus died for all men but only all types or kinds of people and thus they come to passages such as John 3:16 and interpret “world” to mean “the elect out of the world” (John Owen) or 1 Timothy 2:4 and believe that the Lord wants to save all types of people from 1 Timothy 2:1-2.  Thus true Calvinist evangelists will never say that Jesus died for a person they are preaching the gospel to since we can’t know for certain if Jesus did die for that person.

Augustine went further in his views on election.  He believed that God would even send a false spirit of assurance to a non-elect person to deceive them.  Why?  Who knows but God?  So a person could possibly think that they are elect, that Jesus died for them, that the Spirit of God dwells in them but in fact they are deceived and are destined for eternal destruction.

I argue further that the Calvinist doctrine of atonement does not lead to assurance.  A person reading this may think themselves elect (including the writer) but in fact a year or so from now, we might turn away from the faith and prove that we were never saved (or elected) to begin with (1 John 2:19 in the Calvinist view).  We could be a Judas (John 6:70-71 and notice that Jesus Himself chose Judas just He did all His disciples according to John 15:16).  Let us hold firmly to 1 John 2:24-25.

In 2 Peter 2:1 however we find a passage that Calvinist theologians and apologists struggle with.  The verse reads in the ESV:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.

The verse is clearly speaking of false disciples, false teachers.  These are not Christians, true disciples of the Lord Jesus.  These are even heretics.  Yet Peter the Apostle says that Jesus bought them.  He uses the Greek word “Agorazo.”  The word means to buy or to buy a thing (Matthew 13:44, 46; 14:15).  Paul the Apostle uses the same Greek word in 1 Corinthians 6:20 and 7:23 which both read:

6:20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

7:23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men.

The word “Agorazo” is used in Revelation 5:9 and 14:3-4:

5:9  And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.

14:3-4 And they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.  It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb.

In both cases the ESV translates the word “Agorazo” as “redeemed” but the basic meaning is to purchase or buy.  While Galatians 3:13 doesn’t use “Agorazo” we see that it is Christ who redeems us or purchases us for God.  Christ is our redeemer, the very One who would die for our sins and redeem or buy or purchase us for God.  We are redeemed from sin, from Satan, from the world, from the curse.

And so are those in 2 Peter 2:1.  They are not saved but they were purchased.  This view aligns perfectly within Arminianism where we believe that Jesus shed His blood for all men.  The blood of Jesus though only saves those who appropriate His blood through faith (Romans 3:25).  We are now justified before a holy God through faith in the Lord Jesus who died for our sins (Acts 15:11; Romans 5:1; Ephesians 2:8-9).  This salvation is accomplished by the work of the Man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:3-6).  Our faith is in Jesus alone to save us from our sins and to forgive us and to reconcile us to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).

And this gospel is for all sinners (Matthew 28:19).  Jesus died for all and all can be saved through the work of Christ Jesus (Titus 2:11).  Of course, the Bible doesn’t teach that simply because Jesus died all men are now saved (Hebrews 5:8-9).  People are commanded to repent and believe the gospel (Acts 17:30-31; cf. 2:38-39).  The heart of the Lord is for all (2 Peter 3:9). The Arminian evangelist can cry out that Jesus died for all sinners (John 3:16; 12:32), that whosoever can come and be saved (Romans 10:13; Revelation 22:17).  The Arminian can point to the Old Testament examples of proof that God was preparing the world for the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world (John 1:29).  That just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness and all who looked to it were healed, so the Son of Man was lifted up that all the world might look to Him and be healed (John 3:14-18).

Truly the love of God is great for lost sinners.  Even here in 2 Peter 2:1 we can hear the Holy Spirit calling to these heretics to repent.  The heart of God is not for their destruction (Ezekiel 18:32) but for their repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10; cf. Romans 2:4).  Truly the love of God is great for John writes in 1 John 4:10:

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

But lest we forget John adds in 1 John 4:14:

And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.

This is the same world that John denounces in 1 John 2:15-17 but here he says that the Son of God is the Savior of the world.  This is the same world as in John 3:16 and 1 John 2:2.

Let us preach that Jesus is the Savior of the world and this is great news for all men (Luke 2:10-11).

Leighton Flowers Rebuttal to Tony Miano

Tony Miano, whom some of you might remember caused a stir back in the summer of 2015 when he basically said that Arminians are not saved if they hold to Arminianism and that Arminians worship a false god.  I called Miano’s hand on this as he had written in years prior to this while he was on staff with Living Waters (Ray Comfort) that Arminians were brothers and that we should not divide over this issue.  Miano had called Mark Cahill, an evangelist whom many in the open air preaching world know of, to repent for his statements that Calvinists worship a false god and that he would not associate with Calvinists.  I urged Miano to apologize to Cahill since he did just what he accused Cahill of. Instead, Miano went on to bash Arminians and even called for Dr. Michael Brown to come to repentance and true salvation (i.e. become a Calvinist).

After this, Miano took a “brief” hiatus from social media and blogging he said to get his thoughts together on this issue.  After a brief blackout, Miano is back on social media but not as aggressive this time it seems (for now).  Yet Miano did release the following podcast in which he attacks “the helpless god of free will religion.”  I have linked the podcast for you to listen to if you desire.  I listened to and sent it to my friend Leighton Flowers who did a podcast in which he offers a rebuttal to Miano and I believe Flowers does an excellent job.  I shared in Flowers assessment of Miano’s podcast, that it was not deep nor did he develop an excellent theological presentation to rebuke those of us who hold to free will.  Miano just builds his case against his own perceptions of what we believe and not does not interact with us nor our scholars.

My point here is not to stir the pot again toward Miano.  I think most Arminians simply ignore him.  I use to appreciate much of what Miano did.  I was an avid listener to his podcast, I supported him with money,  I prayed for him often, purchased his gospel tracts and though I disagreed with Tony here and there, I would have gladly preached the gospel with him in the open air.  That has all changed.  I still regard him as a brother though I don’t listen to him anymore, I don’t watch his videos, and I don’t support him.  I pray for Tony to repent of seeing us Arminians as enemies of the gospel.  We can disagree and still love each other.  I gladly would stand with any and every Calvinist in preaching the gospel to the lost.  I would gladly stand with my Calvinist friends against the enemies of the gospel of God’s grace.  While we can disagree let it be a debate “in house” where we regard the gospel as separate from our isms.  We can disagree how we are in Christ but let us praise the Lord that we are in Christ!

Tony Miano’s podcast.

Leighton Flower’s rebuttal.

The True Security of the Believer

In my previous post I wrote on the issue related to the security of the believer.  Many who hold to unconditional eternal security believe that a person is not truly saved if they continue for a time in unconfessed, unrepentive sin.  They believe that a person living in sin proves that they were never saved to begin with (1 John 2:19 as their basis).  They also, at the same time, hold that a person can dwell in a season of sin but remain a child of God and will come under the discipline of the Lord to bring them back to faith (Hebrews 12:3-11).  Sometimes the Lord might even allow a person in sin to die (1 Corinthians 5:5; 11:29-30) to keep them from completely falling away.

Within all this, I see no true assurance of salvation.  I know unconditional eternal security advocates teach that they have the assurance of their salvation above those of us who hold to individual apostasy but I don’t see it.  Allow me to explain.  The unconditional eternal security view is that a person is “once saved, always saved” so long as they don’t go back to living in sin less they prove they were never saved to begin with.  A person living under this, when confronted with temptation to sin, has two choices.  First, a person can choose to sin but this might mean that they are not truly saved.  Or secondly, they can choose not to sin but if they are a true child of God, the sin would not matter in the first place.  So the unconditional security believer is faced with a choice here and its not biblical.  They can either embrace the idea that a person sinning (even for a season) is not truly saved or they can embrace the idea that sin has no power over the child of God no matter what.  I have seen both played out.  Both lead to lack of assurance.

The reason that sinning leads to a lack of assurance is simple: sin destroys and kills (Romans 6:23; James 1:12-15).  Sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2).  Sin is to be avoided at all cost (Matthew 5:29-30).  We are told to not sin (1 John 2:1).  We are told to stop sinning (1 Corinthians 15:34).  The grace of God doesn’t allow for us to live in sin anymore (Titus 2:11-12) and the grace of God allows us to flee from sin now that we are baptized into Christ (Romans 6).  Nowhere in the New Testament is assurance given to anyone living in sin.  In fact, Jesus told the woman caught in adultery to leave her life of sin (John 8:11).  Jesus told the man healed in John 5:7-9 to not sin anymore so that nothing worse happens to him (John 5:14).  That is pretty strong words.

Yet the true security of the believer is found in one place: in following Jesus.  Jesus taught in Matthew 22:37-39 that we are to love God with all our hearts, soul, and mind and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  I suppose none of us would say that we do that perfectly.  I don’t.  Yet Jesus still loves me.  He proved His love on the cross when He suffered and died for my sins (Romans 5:8-9).  Jesus gave His life for my sins (John 3:16) so that I could have peace with God through His blood (Romans 5:1; Ephesians 1:7; 2:14).  The blood of Jesus is what washes my sins away by the grace of God and as I abide in Christ though faith, the blood of Jesus continues to wash me (1 John 1:7).  True security is not found in me simply not sinning.  True security is found in Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of my faith (Hebrews 12:1-2).  True security is found in abiding in Jesus and not merely me trying not to sin anymore (John 8:31-32).  True security is found when I keep my eyes on Jesus as my great high priest and not on my works (Hebrews 7:25).  True security is found by loving Jesus and abiding in Him through faith (Romans 8:37-39).

My obligation is to stay focused on Jesus, keep Him as my faithful and beloved priest who prays for me before the Father.  Paul the Apostle taught in Romans 8:12-13 that those who live according to the flesh will die but those who live by the Spirit will live.  The Spirit of God helps the child of God to overcome sin (Galatians 5:16-17).  Yet when we fall into sin, the Spirit convicts us and points us to the Savior who died for our sins (John 16:8-11).  The Spirit doesn’t give us assurance while dwelling in sin but He does give us assurance as we abide in Christ through faith (Romans 8:14-17).

I want true security but it doesn’t come by dwelling in sin.  It doesn’t come by my own good works (Titus 3:5).  Assurance comes in Jesus (2 Peter 1:10-11).  True assurance is found when we remain in Christ through faith trusting in His grace and mercy to help us overcome sin and when we fall into sin that His grace would help us get up and keep going.  Over the years I have seen many, many, many people turn away from Christ.  Some of them perhaps were never saved to begin with.  Many others seemed totally committed.  I know that God saves us by His grace and not by our works (Ephesians 2:8-9) so I know that just because I saw good works doesn’t mean that they were saved (Matthew 7:21-23).  Yet many of these people were earnest for the faith, defended the faith, preached, evangelized, studied and memorized Scripture, etc. but in the end, their love for a sin was their downfall.  Some of them fell into sexual sins and chased a man or woman instead of Christ.  Some of them made idolatry their focus often loving money above Christ.  Some of them simply grew weary of fighting against their temptations and gave in.  The only reason that I am still here today serving Christ is not because I was better than they (some of them were often better Christians than I have been over the years) but I am here only because of grace.  I don’t make a claim to my works or to eternal security.  I only make a claim that the grace of God has kept me all these years and I pray that God’s grace will keep me for many to come.

In Psalm 32 David recounts his own conviction of sin.  David acknowledges the blessing of forgiveness (vv 1-2) and then he recounts his own conviction of sin (vv. 3-4) that led to his confession and repentance (v. 5).  David acknowledged that the Lord was his hiding place (vv. 6-7).  The focus for the believer should be on God (vv. 8-11).  That, my friends, is true security!

One final thought.  By no means am I perfect.  I often look in the mirror and wonder why God loves me.  Yet He does!  The cross reminds me of God’s love over and over again.  I have fallen into sins many times in the past and will continue to fall.  While sin is not my goal nor my desire, I know that I am a human and I sin (1 John 1:10).  Sinning always destroys ones assurance of your salvation.  Only those who are foolish enough to believe that sinning has no power and who have a conscience seared by a hot iron will not feel guilty for sinning but woe be unto them (1 Timothy 4:1-2).  Sin produces death (James 1:15). Sin may be enjoyable for a season but it always produces heartache, loss, and woe.

John 1:12-13

John 1:12-13 reads:

12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

This text has often been used by both Arminians and Calvinists as a proof text for our positions.  The Arminian sees the receiving in verse 12 whereas the Calvinists sees the being born of God in verse 13.  Both are correct of course.  As an Arminian, I believe that both verses fit together in God’s perfect plan for salvation.  The honor of being adopted as a child of God comes not by the flesh.  This is a key point of true Christianity.  Christians are not Christians because we belong to Christian parents or come from a Christian home.  We are not Christians because we belong to the Christian religion or to a Christian church.  We are not Christians because we make moral decisions to follow Jesus Christ and His teachings.  We may not even be a Christian simply because we have been baptized as a Christian.  Salvation, the glorious work of regeneration by the Spirit of God, happens by the work of God’s grace.  The new birth is the greatest miracle in our lives.

Matthew Henry writes about verse 12:

The true Christian’s description and property; and that is, that he receives Christ, and believes on his name; the latter explains the former. Note, First, To be a Christian indeed is to believe on Christ’s name; it is to assent to the gospel discovery, and consent to the gospel proposal, concerning him. His name is the Word of God; the King of kings, the Lord our righteousness; Jesus a Saviour. Now to believe on his name is to acknowledge that he is what these great names bespeak him to be, and to acquiesce in it, that he may be so to us. Secondly, Believing in Christ’s name is receiving him as a gift from God. We must receive his doctrine as true and good; receive his law as just and holy; receive his offers as kind and advantageous; and we must receive the image of his grace, and impressions of his love, as the governing principle of our affections and actions.

The true Christian is the one who receives Christ, who trusts in Christ alone to save them by His grace from their sins.  This is not about works.  This salvation is not based on what I do to obtain that salvation.  This salvation is wrought by God’s grace through the preaching of His gospel through His Word (1 Peter 1:23).  The disciple of Jesus humbly accepts the Word which is able to make us wise unto salvation (2 Timothy 3:15) and is able to save us (James 1:21).

In verse 13 the Evangelist writes that this salvation comes to us by God.  Many Calvinists see in verse 13 the working of God’s sovereignty in salvation.  They see this verse as denying free will as John adds that this salvation from verse 12 comes “not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”  

What is John the Beloved teaching us in verse 13?  Is he teaching us that free will is not involved in salvation?  Is he teaching that regeneration is the divine act of God alone and that God must first regenerate a person in order for them to believe and become a child of God?  Many presuppose this to be the teaching.

I see verse 13 as teaching that this salvation, this regeneration is not based on:

  1.  Race (not of blood)
  2. Flesh (not of the will of flesh)
  3. Another Disposed to do so on our behalf (nor of the will of man)
  4. God alone!  (but of God)

Let make briefly deal with all four.  First, John says that our race (in this case the Jews from verse 11) could not save us.  The Jews believed that their race made them children of God by virtue of Abraham (John 8:31-47).  Paul dealt with the same issue in Romans 9.  The Jews claimed to be the elect of God by virtue of their blood.  John is saying that salvation and being adopted as a child of God has nothing to do with blood.  Praise God for this truth!

Secondly, corrupt flesh cannot save itself.  Because of our sins, we cannot save ourselves.  The soul that sins shall die (Ezekiel 18:4).  The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).  When we sin and rebel against God in our flesh, our flesh cannot save us.  We cannot will our flesh to salvation.  We cannot will our flesh to do what is just and right.  Our righteous deeds in our flesh are but filthy garments before a holy God (Isaiah 64:6).  Corrupt flesh only wants to please itself and never the Lord (Romans 3:10-18).  We need the aid of the Spirit of God to be saved.  We need the Holy Spirit to convict us and to show us our sins (John 16:8).  We need the Spirit to open our eyes to the truth of the gospel.  The Holy Spirit does all this when the gospel is preached though He does not make us believe.  This act of belief is ours that we do by His aid (John 1:12).

Thirdly, one cannot will another to salvation.  I desire that my children be saved but I cannot earn them salvation nor can I will them to salvation.  I pray for their salvation and I pray for their repentance but I cannot make them believe nor can I will them to heaven.  This is an act of God.  The saying is true that God has no grandchildren.  God only has children (v. 12).  Thus while Yahweh is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, He was the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.  Salvation comes for each person who is saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9) and this salvation is not because a parent or another willed it so but because God willed that whosoever comes to Him through Christ Jesus will be saved (John 3:14-17).  Thus Jews could not will Gentiles nor forbid them.  Salvation comes through Christ alone and He grants salvation to whosoever comes to Him (Romans 10:9-13).  All can come and be saved but only those who do repent are saved (1 Timothy 4:10).

Lastly, the miracle of regeneration comes through God.  God saves sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).  Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).  The cross testifies to God’s willingness to save sinners (Romans 3:23-25).  Romans 5:8 tells that God demonstrates His own love toward us.  God doesn’t just say that He loves us but He has proven His love through the cross.  This salvation is the work of God.  God sent His Son to redeem fallen humanity (Galatians 4:4-7).  Being born again is not the work then of our bloodline nor of our corrupt flesh seeking to earn salvation by our works nor is it willed to us by another disciple but our salvation is through personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who loved us and died for us (Galatians 1:4).  Regeneration is the divine grace of God at work in us who believe.

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