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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).

Grace For All Book Review (Chapter 5) Part One

In this post, I will be looking at chapter 5 of the book Grace For All edited by Clark Pinnock and John Wagner.  You may find the first post of these reviews here and the previous review post here.

This chapter was written by Dr. Jack Cottrell.  I have always appreciated Dr. Cottrell.  His book on baptism is a must read as well as his commentary on Romans (one of the best Arminian commentaries on Romans in my estimation along with Dr. Vic Reasoner’s).  His book on the sovereignty of God is the best I have ever read on the subject from an Arminian view.

In this chapter Dr. Cottrell dives into the issue of conditional election.  If you are a Calvinist reading Grace For All, this will be the chapter that really gets you focused on the differences between Arminianism and Calvinism.  I know that many Calvinists love the doctrine of unconditional election and view it as the heart of the gospel.  They believe that the doctrine protects not just the sovereignty  of God but also destroys the pride of men by teaching that God alone saves for His own glory and purposes.  God, within the Calvinist system, chooses whom He will save and whom He will damn based on His own choice and nothing in mankind (in other words, God doesn’t choose those who choose Him or foresee their faith but instead He chooses based on His own sovereign choice for His own glory).  Calvinists teach that God is just in choosing His elect from among the lump of sinful humanity because He could justly send us all to hell but instead He saves some for His glory and purposes that are known only to Himself (Romans 9:22-23).

Cottrell differs with such a view but he does believe the Bible teaches election.  This is important since some Arminians have tried to argue against Calvinism by saying that the Bible doesn’t even teach election.  Of course election is taught but the question becomes what does the Bible teach about election?  Does the Bible teach the Calvinist view of unconditional election to salvation or does the Bible teach something else?  Does the Bible teach that God elects the plan but not the man?  Does the Bible teach that God elects classes or does He elect individuals and how does He elect?

First, let us establish the biblical truth of election.  Cottrell shows us that the Bible teaches several elections.  We must not assume that since the Bible teaches election that it is always unto salvation or unto service.  In some cases it is both and in some cases it is just to service.  Cottrell points out that God has elected and He has elected:

  • Jesus (Isaiah 42:1; Matthew 12:18; Luke 9:35; Acts 2:23; 4:28; 1 Peter 1:20; 2:4, 6).
  • Israel (Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2; 1 Chronicles 16:13; Acts 13:17; Romans 9:4-5) which led to Him choosing men to build up the line of Israel such as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Nehemiah 9:7; Romans 9:7, 13), Moses (Psalm 106:23) and David (Psalm 78:70) to carry out His purpose for Israel.  He even used Gentiles such as Pharaoh (Romans 9:17) or Cyrus (Isaiah 45:1).
  • The Church (1 Peter 2:9; 2 John 1, 13).  Just as God used individuals in His building of Israel, so He used the Apostles whom Jesus chose to build His Church (Luke 6:13; John 6:70; 15:16) along with Paul the Apostle (Galatians 1:15-16) for His purposes.  Both Israel and the Church were corporate elections with certain individuals chosen for special roles in connection with each.

Up to this point, the Calvinist probably would not take exception with what Cottrell has written.  It is his next discussion, election of individuals unto salvation that begins to show the key differences between the Arminian view and the Calvinist view.

Cottrell first shows that while a person could be chosen by God to service in Israel, this did not mean that the person was saved.  Pharaoh is a case in point.  Yet this is not the case with God’s election in the Church.  To be in the Church and chosen by God to serve the Church, one had to be saved.  God chose Paul the Apostle to serve the Church but He also called Him to service through His salvation.  In Romans 11:7 Paul shows us that one could still be among Israel and not be in the Church.  Merely to identify with the Jews was not enough to be saved.  One had to repent to be in the Church (Luke 13:5; Acts 2:38; Romans 10:9-10).

Cottrell shows the Calvinist understanding of God’s election of people to His Church.  This election is unconditional and based on God’s divine choosing that is known only to Himself.  God has reasons why He chooses one person over the other but He has not made that known to men.  Calvinists often appeal to mystery when it comes to unconditional election and Deuteronomy 29:29.  God does not chose people based on any merit of their own nor is it based on foreseen faith or anything else mankind does.  God simply elects whom He elects and saves whom He saves by His own sovereign choice.  This choice is based on love but not because God sees something in the elect but because God, by nature, is loving and good.  Again, God could will to send all of us to hell and that would be just (Romans 5:12) but instead He chooses to save people out of sinful humanity for His glory.

Cottrell contrasts this view (unconditional election of individuals unto salvation) with a view held largely by many Arminians of class or corporate election.  This was the view of men such as Dr. H. Orton Wiley who held to corporate election.  Robert Shank holds to this view in his book Elect in the Son.  Dr. Cottrell points out the flaws of such a view by saying that the Bible speaks of people being chosen to salvation and not merely a plan.  For example, Cottrell points to Romans 8:29-30 as speaking of persons and not a plan.  2 Thessalonians 2:13 is speaking of people and not a plan.  Ephesians 1:4-5, 11 speaks of people and not a plan.  Romans 16:13 says that Rufus has been elected.  1 Peter 1:1-2 speaks of elected Christians.  Revelation 17:8 speaks of people who have been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world.  These are all persons and not merely a plan.

The key to understanding election, according to Cottrell, is that election is conditional and particular.  Those who meet the conditions are saved and thus become part of the elect of God.  This salvation is not unconditional (as Calvinists teach) but is conditional and particular.  God has indeed chosen the Lord Jesus to save lost humanity and Cottrell believes (as all Arminians do) that His atonement was unlimited but is applied only to those who meet the conditions of salvation.  God is sovereign and just to make conditions part of His saving.  Does this mean then that mankind saves themselves?  Of course not!  The humble sinner who repents is not saving themselves but is looking to Christ alone to save them by His grace.  Was the lost sinner in Acts 16:30 trying to earn his salvation when he asked what he must do to be saved?  Paul didn’t reply, “Nothing.  Salvation is unconditionally based on God’s sovereignty and choice.”  No.  He replied that he had to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved (Acts 16:31).  Once the sinner met the condition, he was baptized (Acts 16:33-34) just as Jesus taught (Matthew 28:19-20) and Peter preached (Acts 2:37-38).

In the next post on this chapter, we will dive into Dr. Cottrell’s understanding of how election can be individual while maintaining that it is conditional.  Cottrell rejects corporate election in favor of God’s divine foreknowledge (which is a strong Arminian view).  Others disagree of course such as many Southern Baptists who hold to corporate election.

Does Calvinism Truly Glorify God?

A Calvinist writer wrote about predestination and concluded with these thoughts:

This doctrine is also the most God glorifying doctrine. It gives God all the glory. God elects us, sends Christ to pay for our sin, sends the necessary faith and grace to save us, and sustains us until the end. Man does absolutely nothing. Calvin’s doctrine of election magnifies the glory of God and reduces us to true humility, “neither will anything else suffice to make us humble as we ought to be nor shall we otherwise sincerely feel how much we are obliged to God”(Inst. III, 21, 1).

His words got me to thinking, “Does Calvinism truly glorify God?”

A Calvinist will answer with a hearty yes!  After all, as the writer above points out, God receives all the glory in unconditional election because He does all the work.  Notice that God elects us, sends Christ to pay for our sin, sends the necessary faith and grace to save us, and sustains us until the end.  Of course, this leaves much out like whether a person believes using their “freed” will (or their will made willing) or whether God believes for us (which no Calvinist holds to)?  Must a person continue in the faith till the end to prove their election?  What evidences must a person show to show they are elect or is it possible to never show signs of election?  Could a person be, as Augustine taught, given a false assurance from God for His glory?

But even more, does the God that Calvin wrote about really worth glorifying if He doesn’t love all?  If Jesus teaches us to love our enemies so that we may be sons of our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:44-48), how can God also hate the reprobate with His perfect hatred and not only because of their sins but because God simply decreed that they be reprobate based purely on His arbitrary choice?  How can I worship the God who would send Jesus to heal the sick (Matthew 8:16-17), die for the wicked (Luke 19:10), pray for sinners (Luke 23:34), call His disciples to love their enemies (Matthew 5:44-48), to be the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and yet God Himself sends people to hell because of His arbitrary choice?  How is He worth glorifying?

I know the answer is that we are sinners and I need to humble myself before the God of glory.  Who am I (Romans 9:19-21)?  I should just do as Paul does in Romans 11:33 and praise God for His infinite wisdom.  This is what I am told.

Yet how can I?  John Wesley said that the Calvinist teaching of predestination makes his blood boil.  I concur.  The picture of God from Calvin is not a God who loves humans but a God who is fixed on His decrees.  God’s glory is God’s highest desire.  I don’t see this in Jesus.  In Jesus, I see God humbling Himself to the point of death on the cross (Philippians 2:5-11).  I see a God who loves people so much that He would rather die for them than to see them in hell.  In the cross, I see a God who a wiling to lay aside His glory, His rights, His power to take my place for my sins.  Sure, I deserve hell along with all of humanity and God would be just to send us all to hell but the Calvinist goes too far by asserting then that the only solution is that God must elect from the lump of wicked humanity those for His honor and purposes (Romans 9:22-23).  This is not the answer to our sinful problem.  The answer God gives is the cross.  The cross satisfies the wrath of God for those who come to Jesus in saving faith (Romans 3:22-27).  In Jesus, our sins are forgiven (Ephesians 1:7).  In Jesus, we are part of His elected ones (Romans 8:29).  In Jesus, His Father becomes our Father (Romans 8:16-17).  In Jesus, we are saved (1 Timothy 1:15).

The God of Calvinism is thus a God who not only does all that the writer said above but He also condemns merely based on birth and He reprobates because of His own arbitrary choice.  Even Calvinists admit that God does not elect based on any merit in man but He chooses because He chooses.  God does not take any notice of mankind in His election but He chooses because of His divine sovereignty.  And this is worthy?  And this is glorious?

I would rather worship the God I see in Jesus (John 14:9).  I love this God.  He is worthy.  He is glorious.  He does not fear.  He is mighty.  He is loving and good (Psalm 145:8-9).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

10/12/2015 at 10:51 PM

The Purpose of Signs and Wonders By the Apostles

The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.
– 2 Corinthians 12:12

While God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
– Hebrews 2:4

In the previous post, I pointed out that Jesus did signs to point to Him being the Messiah sent from God.  Certainly one could also agree that Jesus healed people because He was God and He loves people (Matthew 4:24).  This is true of God hearing our prayers and answering them even for healing.  If God heals, He heals because He loves us and desires to glorify His name through our healing.  I also pointed out that Jesus’ signs and wonders provoked people to faith (John 2:11, 23) and the Jews to anger (John 12:37-38).  My question was, if divine determinism is true, why would Jesus need signs and wonders at all?  If the elect are chosen by God before time, why does the elect need a sign?  Will the elect not believe simply because God has chosen them beforehand?  Signs and wonders point to the reality of free choice among humans.  God is giving people signs and wonders in the ministry of Jesus to cause them to question and either come to Jesus for life or reject Him.  Whenever a person reads the Gospels now, the same is still true regarding signs and wonders.  They point to Jesus as Lord and Christ (Acts 10:38) but they cause people to either accept Jesus as the Messiah of God or reject Him but one cannot be neutral about Jesus.

In this post, I want to examine the purpose of signs and wonders done by the Apostles.  I am not debating whether signs and wonders continue today.  That is not my point here.  My point is simply to point to signs and wonders done by the Apostles and why God allowed them.

We must remember that the Apostles were chosen by Jesus Himself (John 15:16).  Matthew 10:1 tells us that Jesus gave His Apostles the authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.  This power came from God and was given by the Lord to those whom He had chosen.  Even Judas (Matthew 10:4).  Signs and wonders then do not prove one is elected to salvation despite the choosing here by Jesus.  Signs and wonders do not prove one is a true disciple (Matthew 7:21-23).

The Apostles continued this display of unique power after the Lord’s resurrection and ascension to the Father’s right hand.  The Book of Acts is filled with healings and signs and wonders.  Acts 14:3 tells us:

So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.

The Lord was bearing witness to His Word by allowing the Apostles to do signs and wonders.  Acts 19:11-12 reads:

11 And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.

The signs and wonders were true signs to point to two truths.  First, the Apostles were preaching without a New Testament.  The signs validated their gospel message as we read in Acts 14:3 or Hebrews 2:4.  The signs pointed to the Apostles being chosen by Jesus Himself (2 Corinthians 12:12).

Secondly, the signs pointed to the risen Messiah.  Peter the Apostle is clear in Acts 3:12-16 after the healing of the lame beggar:

12 And when Peter saw it he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. 14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16 And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.

The signs continued to point to Jesus.  The Apostles did not make money off the signs nor did they advertise their signs.  They simply obeyed the Lord, He granted them power to perform miracles, and the signs pointed to the greatest sign of all: Jesus Christ, the mighty Son of God.

But again, why?  If divine determinism is true then why did God allow for signs and wonders?  Could not God have merely granted faith and repentance to His elect without signs?  If men are born totally dead in their sins without any ability whatsoever to come to faith in Christ, why does God need signs and wonders?  Who are the signs for?  The elect need none.  The elect in Calvinism will come no matter what.  One need not even preach for the elect to come.  Calvinists, to be fair, are not consistent here and preach the gospel to all and even call all to repent while believing that only the elect will come and be saved.  They hold that God has sovereignly chosen both the elect and the means to their election.  However, in the end, God, in His arbitrary choice, chooses whom He will save and whom He will damn (or pass over and leave in their sins).  The means, while sovereignly chosen by God, is not what saves the elect.  What saves the elect is the election of God before time.  I believe that consistent Calvinism should hold to eternal justification since God foreknows His elect and counted them as justified in Christ (the Lamb chosen by God’s sovereign choice even before time).

Yet why signs and wonders?  Would could argue that God has merely chosen in His sovereignty to allow for signs and wonders among the Apostles but this ignores the question of why.  It simply takes Deuteronomy 29:29 and applies it here too.  The elect will be saved.  This not debatable among Calvinists.  The elect will come to faith in Christ when God sovereignly decrees it so.  Whether the elect comes by hearing a gospel sermon or seeing a sign is not the point.  The point is that God chose the sinner for salvation by His own sovereign decree and placed the elect’s sins on Christ even from the foundation of the world.

The Arminian answer is easy and simple.  Signs and wonders are given by God to point to the Lord Jesus Christ as the Messiah of God sent to die for our sins.  The gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16-17) and the gospel saves sinners who repent and believe (John 3:16).  Signs and wonders in Acts are pointing to the reality of the gospel and God is bearing witness to the message of His grace (Acts 14:3).  Signs then validate the Apostles as from God.

The Purpose of Signs and Wonders In the Ministry of Jesus

Why did Jesus do miracles?  What was the point of signs and wonders in the ministry of Jesus?  In Matthew 8 we get a reason from Matthew about why Jesus did miracles (at least just one among others as we shall see but this point is the overwhelming reason why Jesus did miracles).  In Matthew 8:16-17 we read:

16 That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”

Here Matthew quotes from Isaiah 53:4.  Adam Clarke commented on Matthew 8:17:

Christ fulfils the prophecies in all respects, and is himself the completion and truth of them, as being the lamb and victim of God, which, bears and takes away the sin of the world. The text in Isaiah refers properly to the taking away of sin; and this in the evangelist, to the removal of corporeal afflictions: but, as the diseases of the body are the emblems of the sin of the soul, Matthew, referring to the prediction of the prophet, considered the miraculous healing of the body as an emblem of the soul’s salvation by Christ Jesus.

The Messiah would come and He would bear the sins of Israel (and the world; see John 1:29).  Part of this was to “reverse the curse” (Romans 5:17-18).  Part of the fall into sin is suffering, pain, and sickness.  In Revelation 21:4 assures us that in the new heavens and new earth, there will be no more pain, suffering, crying, death.  In fact, death will be destroyed completely according to Revelation 20:14.  Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8) and part of that work is death itself whom He abolished (2 Timothy 1:10).  Death has been swallowed up in victory through Christ (1 Corinthians 15:54) so that Jesus could say to Martha that He was the resurrection and the life even before the cross (John 11:25-26).

What point then does signs and wonders serve for the Messiah?  They point to Him being the true Messiah.  John the Apostle mentions “signs” in John 2:23.  The Greek word here is “semeion” which can be translated “sign, signal, mark.”  Jesus, by doing signs and wonders, was giving a sign, a signal, and a mark that He was in fact the Son of God.  In John 2:11 John the Apostle states that Jesus did these signs or signals or marks and His disciples put their faith in Him.  The signs and wonders of Jesus were not for a show.  They were to point to a greater, deeper meaning and that was that Jesus was the Messiah of God.  Jesus was the promised one from the Old Testament (Genesis 3:15).

When Jesus appeared on the scene, He was unlike any other who had ever been or will be.  I know some charismatics like to quote John 14:12 to say that we as believers can do greater works than Jesus but that was not the point of John 14:12.  I know of no charismatics who would claim to do greater miracles than Jesus.  Who can claim to be sinless?  Who can claim toward others that if they destroy them, they will raise themselves up again?  Who can truly make blind eyes open just by a touch?  Who can raise the dead by a word?  Who can claim to seeing the lame walk just by taking them by the hand?  Even the Apostles pointed to the Lord Jesus with their signs and wonders in Acts (more on that in the next post).

In the Bible, God allowed signs and wonders for a purpose.  In biblical history we only find three main times when miracles were rampant.  Moses.  Elijah and Elisha.  The Gospels and Acts.  In each case, the purpose was a sign from God.  For example, in Moses’ case the Lord was delivering His people out of Egypt and He gave great power to Moses as he led God’s people out.  While the Lord allowed Joshua, Moses’ aid and successor, to do miracles, they were not on the same level nor quantity as Moses.  The point of the signs and wonders was to point to Moses as God’s faithful servant and deliver (Exodus 4:1-9).

In the case of the Lord Jesus, He did miracles to point to Him being the true Messiah.  In Luke 4:18-19 Jesus appeals to the words of Isaiah 61:1-2 as about Himself.  The Jews take an exception to this (Luke 4:29) but Jesus escapes from their grasps (Luke 4:30).  Jesus points to the Old Testament Scriptures about Himself and to His miracles (John 5:36-40).  The purpose of the signs and wonders was to reveal that Jesus was in fact the Son of God who came down from heaven to do His Father’s will (John 5:30; 6:32).

So let me return to my original question: what is the purpose of signs and wonders in the ministry of Jesus?  They were to validate Him as the Messiah.  Yet if divine determinism is true, why is this necessary?  If God can make a person believe and make another not believe by His own determinism then why do we need signs and wonders?  The elect would believe because God makes them believe and not because of signs and wonders!

The very nature of signs and wonders in the life of Jesus points to the reality of contra-casual free will.  God was not making people believe or disbelieve.  He was sending His Son to redeem fallen humanity just as Isaiah stated in Isaiah 53.  This good news (gospel) would be for all people and not just the Jews (Luke 2:10).  All of humanity is under the curse of sin but Christ came to redeem us who were under the curse of sin (Galatians 3:13-14).  Just as Moses lifted up the serpent on the poll to redeem all who would look upon the poll, so the Lord Jesus was lifted up for all sinners so that whosoever can come and be saved by looking to Him alone to save them (John 3:14-15).  The purpose of signs and wonders is to point to the truth that Jesus is the Messiah and by believing you might have life in His name (John 20:31).  The signs and wonders are signs, signals, and marks that Jesus is the Son of God who gave Himself for our sins (Galatians 1:4; 2:20; 1 Peter 3:18).

If unconditional election were true what point would signs and wonders play?  The elect will believe because God makes them to believe (or at least makes them irresistibly willing to believe).  A Calvinist may argue that the purpose of signs and wonders is so that the elect will believe but if God chooses whom He will save and whom He will damn, the elect will believe no matter what by God’s determined decree.  The signs are not true signs then but just merely a show for the purpose of the Bible.  Even if Jesus never did miracles, the elect would believe if in fact divine determinism is true.  The very reason for signs and wonders points to free will.  The signs are to invoke people to consider Jesus and His claims.  The wonders are to cause people to question if Jesus is truly the Messiah.  Read John 9 and notice how signs and wonders play into the reasoning of the people about Jesus.  Jesus healed the blind man to provoke people to debating about Him.  The signs provoked the people as well in John 7:31 to consider Jesus.

One final point about signs and wonders.  The purpose of signs and wonders in the Gospels seems to me to be three-fold.  First and most obvious, the signs point to Jesus as the Messiah.  This is God manifested in the flesh (John 1:14) so we expect Him to do miracles since He is God.  This is the anointed one (Christ) of God who is sinless and is the perfect Son of God.  He does miracles to point to Him being both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:22, 36).

Secondly, signs and wonders provoked the Jews to consider Jesus as the Messiah.  I point again to John 9 as a case in point.  I would also point to Acts 10:38.

Thirdly, I believe that signs and wonders also provoked the Jews to kill Jesus.  We read this in John 12:36-43.  Some of the Jews (such as the Apostles) believed in Jesus because of His signs and wonders and His teachings but many Jews rejected Him as the Messiah and killed Him for it.  The signs worked to provoke some to faith while others to rejection.  This is still true today.  Why does God do this if in fact divine determinism is true?  Why does God need to harden the Jews according to John 12:40 if total depravity (in the Calvinist sense) is true?  If man is born depraved, dead in their sins, wicked sinners from birth then why would God need to provoke the Jews to harden their hearts toward His Messiah?  There is no logical answer for the Calvinist here.

In my next post I will jump into the purpose of signs and wonders among the Apostles.

The Supremacy of Jesus Christ

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

  • Ephesians 1:3-14

This wonderful passage of Scripture has often been used to teach individual, unconditional election.  Calvinists often turn to this text and to others such as John 6 or Romans 9 to try to teach that God elects His elect based on His own sovereignty and He hardens the non-elect to damnation in hell for His glory.  Romans 9:22 speaks of God choosing to show His wrath and make His power known through objects of His wrath that He prepared for destruction.  John Calvin clearly saw double predestination in this verse and interpreted it that way.  R.C. Sproul Sr. likewise sees Romans 9:22 as affirming double predestination though he seeks to avoid this.  Others such as John MacArthur see Romans 9:22 as graceful toward the reprobate as the text says that God has great patience toward the non-elect.  My question would be why?  Why does God have patience toward the reprobate?  If God prepared for their destruction and misery in hell, why does He have patience with them?  What is God being patient for?  It cannot be for their salvation since God does not offer them salvation.

Ephesians 1:3-14 is another abused text.  Rather than focusing on the Lord Jesus Christ, the Calvinist theologian turns to man. I argue that Calvinism, in this text, is man-centered as it looks to mankind as the focus of the text rather than on Jesus Christ whom I see as the focus of Ephesians 1:3-14.  The text is very much focused on Jesus with Jesus dominating the text.  Jesus is the elected one.  He is the chosen one of Israel.  Jesus is the elect one.  Even in Ephesians 1:4 we see that God has chosen us in Christ Jesus.  Jesus is the ark of our salvation.  Just as Noah escaped the wrath of God in the flood in Genesis 6:13-14; 7:1-10, so the child of God escapes the wrath of God in Christ Jesus (1 Peter 3:18-22).  Jesus has bore the wrath of God for those in Him (Romans 5:8-9; 1 Thessalonians 1:10).  The Father is just to punish sin and He must punish all sin but if we trust in Christ alone through faith, we are justified in Him (Romans 3:24-26).

Too often the object of election is the person.  The Calvinist will argue that God in His sovereignty chose people from among the lump of sinful humanity (Romans 9:21) to save by His grace.  God did this before time began.  The Calvinist argues that only this view of election protects the sovereignty of God from the abuse that Arminians bring.  However, in reality the Calvinist doesn’t begin with a Christocentric view of election (as Arminius does) but rather they begin with the sovereignty of God and to a lesser point, the glory of God.

The Arminian begins with the Lord Jesus Christ.  The love of God is manifested in the Son.  Jesus is the exact representation of God’s glory (Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:15).  Jesus is the representation of God because He is God manifested in the flesh (John 1:14).  Jesus fully revealed God (Colossians 2:9).  What we don’t see when we study Jesus in the Gospels is unconditional election.  Instead we see Jesus calling all sinners to Himself to repent and have life (Matthew 11:28-30).  We read that God has sent His Son to die for the sins of the world (John 1:29; 3:16).  We read that Jesus is the Savior of the world (John 4:42).  We read that Jesus will lay down His life for the sheep (John 10:15) and we read that He came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).  We read Jesus telling His disciples to love their enemies to be like God (Matthew 5:44-48) yet are we to believe that God, if the Calvinist view is true, really loves His enemies?  We read of Jesus telling the rich young man how to obtain eternal life (Mark 10:17-19) and Mark even says that Jesus loved him (Mark 10:21) which could not be true if Romans 9:22 teaches that the reprobate are damned by God.

From the start of the Gospels to the end of Revelation, we read of our God calling out to sinners to repent and believe the gospel (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:14-15; Revelation 22:17).  Even Calvinists acknowledge this.  Calvinist evangelists plead with sinners to repent just as Arminians do.  Yet I argue that they are not consistent with their theology.  They labor under the view that God alone knows who the elect are and thus we must preach the gospel to all men and call all to salvation though God will save only those whom He has chosen.  Yet if God will save the elect, He will save the elect.  What has that to do with us?  I know the standard answer is that preaching is the means to salvation but I argue that the reason preaching is the means is that God truly desires all to be saved and to come to the Lord Jesus for eternal life (1 Timothy 2:5-6).  Jesus died for all men but only those who appropriate His saving work are saved (1 Timothy 4:10).  The gospel must go out because the gospel is the means to salvation (Romans 1:16-17; 10:14-17; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; Ephesians 1:13; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).

Let us now return to Ephesians 1:3-14.  The key to this text is Jesus.  We should not be looking for predestination in this text.  That is not the focus.  The focus is Jesus.  If you begin your hermeneutic as Jesus and not your ism, you’ll not fail (Hebrews 12:2).  While I confess that we bring our presuppositions to the text, we should strive to filter our presuppositions through Jesus.  Does our view focus on the Jesus who is revealed in Scripture?  Is our view a view of Jesus who shed His blood for all?  Is our view a view of Jesus that truly desires to save sinners?  Is our view focused on exalting Jesus Christ?  If our view is doing nothing but furthering our pet doctrines but not exalting Jesus, we should rethink our position.

I urge you to re-read Ephesians 1:3-14 with an eye on Jesus.  Notice how much the text lifts Him up.  Notice how much Jesus is exalted in the text.  The center of attention here is not the sovereignty of God in unconditional election but the focus is on Jesus.  Mankind is not the focus.  Arminianism or Calvinism is not the focus.  The focus is on Jesus.  Just as all of Scripture testifies to this fact (Luke 24:27, 44-49).  John 20:31 is clear that these are written (the Gospel of John here but all of Scripture as well according to 2 Timothy 3:15-17) that we might believe in Jesus and have life.

Friend, the focus of Scripture is Jesus.  Jesus is supreme.  Jesus alone is the King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Timothy 6:15).  Jesus is the exalted one (Philippians 2:5-11).  Jesus is our salvation (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).  Jesus is the cornerstone of the Church (1 Peter 2:7).  Jesus is the apostle and high priest of our faith (Hebrews 3:1).  Jesus is the one who is worthy of worship and praise (Revelation 5:13).  The heart of the Bible and of Christianity is Jesus.  It is not a prophet or a building or a place or a ritual or a church group.  The heart of Christianity is the Lord Jesus Christ who died and is risen from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-4, 17).

May Jesus be preached, worship, adored, and proclaimed among the saints of God!  Praise be to His glorious grace!

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