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Another Take on Prevenient Grace

I have been listening to a podcast of a brother and he has been dealing with the issue of prevenient grace.  His take is that prevenient grace within Arminianism is not much different from the view of Calvinists only that the order of salvation differs.  His regard is that the Arminian gives up ground to the Calvinist when they admit first that people are born dead in their sins and unable to respond to God at all.  His view is that people are not born unable to respond but simply born with a sinful nature and thus sin but are still able to respond to God’s grace and God’s call.  He secondly says that we give up ground to the Calvinist when we ignore both the call of Scripture for all to repent and say that they can’t or that we teach that people must have prevenient grace given to those whom God foreknows will believe.  This linear view of election is not biblical in his estimation.

In reply, he offers that prevenient grace is not a unique enabling that God only gives to the foreknown elect but rather God gives His enabling grace to all through the gospel.  The gospel is prevenient grace in his view.  The gospel, he argues, is given to us by the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16), is empowered by the Spirit (Acts 1:8) through Spirit chosen Apostles (John 15:16).  The Apostolic preaching is thus from the Spirit and is the Spirit’s work in the world to bring about the salvation of sinners (John 16:8-11).  As the gospel is preached, this is the prevenient grace of God (prevenient means “beforehand”) at work among the nations to draw them to salvation.  God uses the gospel to entice sinners to repentance.  All are freely able to respond to the gospel of God’s grace (Romans 11:32).  Prevenient grace is thus the work of the Spirit, the preaching of the gospel, the ministry of the Church.  This is all prevenient grace and should not be cornered into one area: just the drawing of the Spirit unto salvation.  This is all the work of the Spirit in bringing salvation to sinners.

This is an interesting view and one that I am curious about.  I have not heard prevenient grace explained in this manner.  I have long heard the concept as taught by John Wesley and the early Methodists.  The Wesleyan concept is that people are born dead in their sins (original sin) and only the work of the Spirit to draw sinners to salvation is sufficient to bring dead sinners to repentance.  Wesley very much held to a Calvinist view in this regard.  Arminius likewise seems to hold to such a view.  The Calvinist question, of course, is how does God choose one person over another.  Is it based on works?  Is it based on the response of the person?  Is it based on foreseen faith?  The Calvinist answer is simple: the elect are chosen based on the arbitrary choosing of God.  While Calvinists would disagree with me and would say that God chooses people based on His love and His glory (Romans 9:22-23; Ephesians 1:11-12) but either way, the Calvinist would never admit that God chooses a person based on anything the person does and the choice is completely God’s choice and a mystery (Deuteronomy 29:29 is the most appealed to passage).

However, Acts 28:27 would seem to disagree with both the Calvinist and Arminian viewpoint.  It reads:

For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed;
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.

Paul is speaking here of the Jews.  Notice he doesn’t say that they are born dull or born without the ability to believe.  He says that they have become dull.  These Jews have made themselves this way.  Later he would write that these same Jews can turn and be saved if they will humble themselves (Romans 11:23).

So why does one man believe while another man does not?  The issue is not with God.  The issue is humility.  Does one person humble themselves before God as a child?  Does one person continue in their pride and unbelief?  Acts 28:28 Paul the Apostle states that he is turning to the Gentiles but not because of God’s sovereign election but because they will listen.  The Gentiles humbled themselves while the Jews did not.

This is this brother’s take.  No system of theology is perfect.  We are all humans trying to understand the infinite God.  We are so limited in knowing God.  A.W. Tower said:

The doctrine of justification by faith (a Biblical truth, and a blessed relief from sterile legalism and unavailing self-effort) has in our times fallen into evil company and has been interpreted by many in such a manner as actually to bar men from the knowledge of God. The whole transaction of religious conversion has been made mechanical and spiritless. Faith may now be exercised without a jar to the moral life and without embarrassment to the Adamic ego. Christ may be “received” without creating any special love for Him in the soul of the receiver. The man is “saved”, but he is not hungry or thirsty after God. In fact, he is specifically taught to be satisfied and encouraged to be content with little. The modern scientist has lost God amid the wonders of His world; we Christians are in real danger of losing God amid the wonders of His Word.

The reality is that knowing God is not knowing facts about God.  It is knowing Him!  Salvation is not a part of a system but a person, the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 1:16-17).  Salvation is found in a person (Romans 5:1).  I want to know Him more and more!  I want all people to know Him as well (Matthew 28:18-20).  Thankfully, God does not save Arminians or Calvinists but He does save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15) and Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

03/16/2015 at 7:06 PM

Unconditional Election: People Still Go To Hell Before They Sinned

Whether one holds to singular predestination or double predestination, the results are the same: people go to hell first because they were not chosen.  Whether God is active in this rejection or not is beside the point.  Some Calvinists such as John MacArthur argue that God merely passes over the non-elect and leaves them in their sins so that they perish.  John Piper agrees and even states that God is glorified in this.  Some Calvinists such as John Gill are consistent and acknowledge that God is not only active in choosing His elect but He is active in the reprobation of the non-elect.

Either way, unconditional election holds that people still go to hell because of God’s sovereign choice even before time began.  This means that the sinner who died in 2012 went to hell because God willed it so.  Yes they went to hell for their sins but the first action was that God did not choose them.

The Arminian view is that sinners go to hell because of their own sins.  Calvinists would agree but Calvinism adds that God did not sovereignly choose to save that sinner.  He either passed over them (MacArthur) or He was active in their damnation (Gill).  Either way, because God chose not to save the sinner, the sinner goes to hell.  In this case, the sinner was passed over before time began or even if we grant that they were passed over after the fall of Adam (Romans 5:12). Either way, the sinner was passed over by God’s sovereignty and they do go to hell for their sins but there was also nothing to atone for their sins in the first place.  The sinner was doomed when they were conceived in the womb.

The beauty of the gospel is that Christ died to redeem all humanity (John 3:16).  All who will can come and drink and be saved (John 7:37-39; Revelation 22:17).  Jesus shed His blood for all people (1 John 2:2) and He is the Savior of the world (John 4:42; 1 John 4:14).  Jesus’ coming was good news for the whole world (Luke 2:10-11).  He came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).  Jesus came to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45; Romans 5:15).  He is the Savior of all men especially of believers (1 Timothy 4:10).  The sinner who sins shall die for their own sins (Ezekiel 18:4).  The Lord’s will is for all people to repent (Ezekiel 18:32; Acts 17:30-31; 2 Peter 3:9).  Jesus even shed His blood for those who die in their sins (1 Corinthians 8:11; 2 Peter 2:1-3) but their unwillingness to repent leads to their destruction (Romans 6:23).

John Wesley’s Strong Words About Unconditional Election

I found this quote while reading some of John Wesley.  He wrote this about unconditional election:

This is the blasphemy for which (however I love the persons who assert it) I abhor the doctrine of predestination, a doctrine, upon the supposition of which, if one could possibly suppose it for a moment, (call it election, reprobation, or what you please, for all comes to the same thing,) one might say to our adversary, the devil, “Thou fool, why dost thou roar about any longer? Thy lying in wait for souls is as needless and useless as our preaching. Hearest thou not, that God hath taken thy work out of thy hands; and that he doeth it much more effectually? Thou, with all thy principalities and powers, canst only so assault that we may resist thee; but He can irresistibly destroy both body and soul in hell! Thou canst only entice; but his unchangeable decrees, to leave thousands of souls in death, compels them to continue in sin, till they drop into everlasting burnings. Thou temptest; He forceth us to be damned; for we cannot resist his will. Thou fool, why goest thou about any longer, seeking whom thou mayest devour? Hearest thou not that God is the devouring lion, the destroyer of souls, the murderer of men” Moloch caused only children to pass though the fire: and that fire was soon quenched; or, the corruptible body being consumed, its torment was at an end; but God, thou are told, by his eternal decree, fixed before they had done good or evil, causes, not only children of a span long, but the parents also, to pass through the fire of hell, the ‘fire which never shall be quenched; and the body which is cast thereinto, being now incorruptible and immortal, will be ever consuming and never consumed, but ‘the smoke of their torment,’ because it is God’s good pleasure, ‘ascendeth up for ever and ever.'”

Strong words but I believe Wesley is correct.  How can one preach that God is loving and good when you turn around and teach that God has chosen, before time began, whom He will save and whom He will damn.  God has then created people knowing that the vast majority will be cast into hell and God has chosen this for His glory.  The Calvinist simply points to Deuteronomy 29:29 and lives it there.  I say, “No, no, no!  This is not the picture of the God of the Bible.”

Of course, the true Calvinist will respond in one of two ways.  The hyper-Calvinist would respond with clear affirmation of this doctrine that John Calvin called “the horrible decree.”  Some would respond with glee that God will punish most people for their sins (even before they were born and had nothing to add or take away from their predestination).  Other Calvinists will respond that the Calvinist doctrine of conditional election shows the goodness of God and His love that despite our sinfulness, God has chosen a remnant of grace (Romans 11:5-6).

However, the truth remains.  Calvinism teaches that God has predestined some to eternal salvation and most to eternal damnation.  John Calvin preached from Romans 9:22-23 that God had indeed prepared vessels of honor and wrath meaning that God did create most people as vessels of wrath for the purpose of destroying them.  This is where Calvin called “the horrible decree.”  It was horrible only from the human viewpoint according to Calvin but from God’s viewpoint is loving and good.  After all, reasons the Calvinist theologian, God could have just destroyed all of humanity for their rebellion but He chose instead to redeem a few from among the sinful and sent His Son to save them.

The Arminian view is very different.  Our view is that God punishes each sinner for their own sins (Ezekiel 18:4).  People die for their own sins (John 3:16-18).  People need divine grace to be saved (John 6:44) and God has sent His Son to redeem fallen humanity by His grace (Titus 2:11-12).  Jesus came to save whosoever will come and be saved (Romans 10:13).  Those who hear the gospel are given free grace to either receive this salvation or reject this gift.  God does not force salvation upon anyone.  Those who believe are saved by God’s grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7).  The work of God is to believe the gospel and be saved (John 6:29; Acts 2:37-38).  Those who believe the gospel become the elect of God by grace (Ephesians 1:3-14; 1 Timothy 4:10).

Thank God for His free grace by which He saves sinners!  I pray that we would preach the grace of God to the lost and call them to repentance (Acts 17:30-31; Romans 2:4; 2 Corinthians 7:10).  All men need the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20) and I pray that all would hear the gospel and hear that Jesus will save those who come to Him in true saving faith.

Misreadings of Romans 9

I have told this story before but I once knew a Calvinist who admitted to me that he read Romans 9 nearly everyday.  To him, Romans 9 was the backbone of Calvinism.  It was his refuge when he doubted the sovereignty of God in salvation.  This Calvinist saw God’s sovereignty in individual salvation all in Romans 9.  He said that he also read John 6 and Ephesians 1 nearly as much as Romans 9 but Romans 9 was his refuge when in doubt.

Calvinists believe that Romans 9 is the go to chapter to tear down Arminianism.  They see Romans 9 as teaching that God elects some to salvation while electing others to damnation.  Well, not really.  Most see God electing some in Romans 9 but ignore Calvin’s comments on Romans 9:23 and his “horrible decree” of double predestination.  I have met a few Calvinists who have no problem with Calvin’s view on double predestination and some affirm that Romans 9 does teach this view.  R.C. Sproul, for example, acknowledges that Calvin taught this from Romans 9:23 but he can’t swallow the idea that God elects people to hell.

So how is it that Arminians can read Romans 9 and miss the clear evidence of that personal election?  As an Arminian, I love Romans 9.  I don’t have any trouble reading the text and dealing with the issues involved.  I have dealt with it here on my blog from time to time.  Arminians have never ignored the text nor is there not an Arminian reply.  I once heard a Calvinist teacher say, “Romans 9 shuts the mouths of Arminians and leaves them humbled at the sovereign grace of God in salvation.”  In reality, Arminians have dealt with the text since Arminius.  We have always understood that Romans 9 is a chapter that Arminians had to deal with and we have.

In short, when we read Romans 9:30 to Romans 10:4 is becomes clear what Paul is dealing with.  He is not dealing with individual persons here but cooperate groups.  Gentiles and Jews.  Paul is arguing against the Jews who would say that they are the elect of God because of their race.  Paul is arguing that people are saved by grace and that God has the sovereign right to save whoever He chooses.  If God so chooses to save Gentiles instead of Jews, that is His right as God.  Notice Paul’s use over and over again of Israel and the Gentiles.  He never once even mentions salvation in Romans 9.  The word salvation doesn’t appear until Romans 10:1 which is Paul praying for the Jews to be saved through Christ (which would be pointless if absolute monergism were true).  There is no doubt that God chose Israel in the Old Testament for the purpose of the Messiah (Romans 9:1-5) but not once is salvation mentioned in Romans 9:1-5.  The Jews were the chosen nation for the Messiah but this did not guarantee individual salvation.

So here is the premise.  Calvinists read Romans 9 with the presupposition that the point is God is sovereign in individual salvation and He has elected some to salvation and others to damnation but we are not question His absolute sovereignty in this issue (Romans 9:18, 20).  Calvinists see individual salvation in Romans 9.

The Arminian reads Romans 9 and sees the sovereignty of God in choosing to move past the chosen people of Israel to the Gentiles but He will save all who call upon Him in truth (Romans 10:13).  Romans 11:32 is clear: “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.”  The Israelites are now disobedient to Him by rejecting His Son but God will save both Jews and Gentiles through Christ Jesus (Romans 10:4).  Arminians see God choosing groups in Romans 9.

Our View of God

I saw this statement floating around several Calvinist sites.  It reads:

God is glorified in the salvation of His people, and He is also glorified in the just condemnation of the wicked.

Now at just a reading of this, I have no problem with it.  It is true!  Those who repent and are saved are His people (1 Timothy 4:10) and God is glorified through saving them.  The opposite is true as well.  Those who reject the Lord Jesus and reject His salvation, these two glorify His name because they will bow their need and confess that He is Lord as well (Philippians 2:5-11; Revelation 20:11-15).  None will escape the judgment of our God (Hebrews 9:27-28).  Those who go to hell go there because of their own sinfulness and their own rejection of the truth of God (Romans 1:18-32; 2:7-10; 2 Thessalonians 2:10).  John 3:18 reads:

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

The error that Calvinists make about this statement is that they are meaning that God is sovereign in His choosing whom He will save and in whom He will condemn.  They see this as God glorifying His name either way.  God is glorified when He acts to save by His unconditional electing and irresistible grace to salvation of His elect (notice “His people” which typically means “His elect”) and the Calvinist reasons that God is also glorified in His just condemnation of the wicked.

The problem is not in the glory of God.  The problem is in the reasoning.  If election is based on a condition then those who meet the condition that God has established are saved and bring Him glory  The condition in Scripture is faith and repentance.  This is contrasted to works in Romans 4.  Works can never produce eternal salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9).  What we do does not earn God’s perfect righteousness.  This is a gift given to those who have faith and repentance that is wrought in us by the aid of the Holy Spirit (John 6:44).  I have no problem teaching that salvation is a gift or that faith is a gift or that repentance is a gift since all of these only come to sinful mankind by the goodness of God (Romans 2:4).

The problem I do have is when we begin to discuss God’s glory in the condemnation of the wicked.  I understand the condemnation and I agree with it.  However, Calvinism seeks to establish that God is glorified in His just punishment of sin even though the wicked are simply doing what God elected for them to do.  Some Calvinists teach that God simply “passes over” the non-elect (this seems to be the view of John MacArthur).  God does not actively harden the non-elect and in fact, some Calvinists argue that He loves them to a degree by giving them this world, this life, the air they breathe, etc.  Yet Calvin was clear that God does harden the non-elect.  Calvin even taught that God will allow some to think they are elect only to condemn them on the day of judgement.

Calvin wrote:

“I am aware it seems unaccountable to some how faith is attributed to the reprobate, seeing that it is declared by Paul to be one of the fruits of election; and yet the difficulty is easily solved: for though none are enlightened into faith, and truly feel the efficacy of the Gospel, with the exception of those who are fore-ordained to salvation, yet experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes affected in a way so similar to the elect, that even in their own judgment there is no difference between them.”

And then he wrote:

“Should it be objected, that believers have no stronger testimony to assure them of their adoption, I answer, that though there is a great resemblance and affinity between the elect of God and those who are impressed for a time with a fading faith, yet the elect alone have that full assurance which is extolled by Paul, and by which they are enabled to cry, Abba, Father. Therefore, as God regenerates the elect only for ever by incorruptible seed, as the seed of life once sown in their hearts never perishes, so he effectually seals in them the grace of his adoption, that it may be sure and steadfast. But in this there is nothing to prevent an inferior operation of the Spirit from taking its course in the reprobate. Meanwhile, believers are taught to examine themselves carefully and humbly, lest carnal security creep in and take the place of assurance of faith. We may add, that the reprobate never have any other than a confused sense of grace, laying hold of the shadow rather than the substance, because the Spirit properly seals the forgiveness of sins in the elect only, applying it by special faith to their use. Still it is correctly said, that the reprobate believe God to be propitious to them, inasmuch as they accept the gift of reconciliation, though confusedly and without due discernment; not that they are partakers of the same faith or regeneration with the children of God; but because, under a covering of hypocrisy, they seem to have a principle of faith in common with them.”

Notice that Calvin even asserts that there is “an inferior operation of the Spirit from taking its course in the reprobate.”  Remember that reprobate are all non-elect.  Calvin is saying that the Holy Spirit works in the life of the non-elect to even give them false hope.  Notice that Calvin even writes that the reprobate “accept the gift of reconciliation” but are “under a covering of hypocrisy.”  The reprobate believes himself to be elect but Calvin says they are wrong and only the elect receive regeneration.

So God misleads the reprobate? For what purpose?  The Calvinist would say for His own glory.  This is why they read Romans 9:22 and see the vessels of destruction as the reprobate whom God sovereignly has not chosen.

I do believe in the justice of God.  I do believe that all people will stand before a holy God and apart from being clothed in Christ, they will not be saved.  I do believe the way to eternal life is narrow and hard (Matthew 7:13-14) and I believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation (John 14:6) which is why we must preach the gospel to the lost (Matthew 28:19).  God certainly foreknows those who are His (Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 1:2) but I disagree that God is actively misleading people, condemning people apart from their sins.  Ezekiel 18:4 tells us that the soul that sins shall die.  Ezekiel 18:32 tells us that God does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked.  His desire is for us to turn and live.  This is done by the preaching of the gospel of His grace (1 Corinthians 1:21, 30-31; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).

Now go and preach the gospel to all (Romans 11:32).

Hell Makes Sense If Conditional Election Is True

Hell is a hotly debated subject (sorry for the pun).  Is hell eternal conscious torment?  Is hell just a figure of speech for death for the ungodly?  Are people really burning forever in hell or is hell just where people are thrown and then destroyed forever?  These are all debated.

Yet hell is a biblical reality.  Even those who hold to conditionalism believe in hell.  They deny that hell is eternal conscious torment but they do believe in hell.  They can even warn people of hell and the need to repent of their sins and place their faith in Jesus alone to save them or they will go to hell.

But hell doesn’t make sense unless one holds to conditional election.  Otherwise, one is faced with the idea that God has arbitrarily chosen to save a few while damning most human beings in hell not because of their sins but also because of His sovereign choice.  Hell, for those who hold to unconditional election, is simply the glory of God being manifested as He casts the lost into hell.  Calvinists such as John Piper teach that hell for the non-elect glorifies God by showing His goodness toward the elect.  Calvinists often will say that the fact that God chooses to save sinners from among the sinful lump shows His goodness.

John Calvin went further.  Calvin taught from Romans 9:22 that the vessels of wrath are people whom God has not just passed over but He hardens.  Calvin wrote:

But if we wish fully to understand Paul, almost every word must be examined. He then argues thus, — There are vessels prepared for destruction, that is, given up and appointed to destruction: they are also vessels of wrath, that is, made and formed for this end, that they may be examples of God’s vengeance and displeasure. If the Lord bears patiently for a time with these, not destroying them at the first moment, but deferring the judgment prepared for them, and this in order to set forth the decisions of his severity, that others may be terrified by so dreadful examples, and also to make known his power, to exhibit which he makes them in various ways to serve; and, further, that the amplitude of his mercy towards the elect may hence be more fully known and more brightly shine forth; — what is there worthy of being reprehended in this dispensation? But that he is silent as to the reason, why they are vessels appointed to destruction, is no matter of wonder. He indeed takes it as granted, according to what has been already said, that the reason is hid in the secret and inexplorable counsel of God; whose justice it behoves us rather to adore than to scrutinize.

Romans 9:21, according to the unconditional view of election, is clear that God has made both His elect and the non-elect for His own purposes.  God, from the foundation of the world, has chosen whom He will save and whom He will damn.  This is not merely God passing by the non-elect but His active choice to prepare them for the purpose of hell.

R.C. Sproul admits that he struggles with Romans 9:20-24.  He admits that the idea of double predestination seems very strong here and that hyper-Calvinism finds its heart in these texts.  Yet Sproul is not a hyper-Calvinist and so the best he can do is to teach that there is one batch of sinful creatures and that God endures the vessels of wrath which are reprobate (Chosen by God, p. 153).

Calvin’s successor in Geneva, Theodore Beza, taught that Romans 9:21 is mankind not yet made and much less corrupted.  In other words, Beza taught that God sovereignly chose to elect before even creating mankind while also choosing to reject those whom He had not chosen.  God then made humans and even before the Fall, He chose to elect and harden.  Beza taught that this view alone protects God of His sovereignty and glorifies Him since everything (including the Fall) was for the glory of God.

For the Arminian, Adam Clarke taught that Romans 9:22 were the unbelieving Jews.  Clarke taught that Romans 9 has the Jews and Gentiles in mind and not individual unconditional election.  Romans 9:24-29 point to Clarke’s view.  God has in mind Israel as the vessel of wrath since they rejected His grace.  Thomas Oden states that people harden themselves by the rejection of the grace of God.  2 Timothy 2:21 states the people can turn from vessels of wrath to vessels of honor by the grace of God.  This is conditioned upon faith in the Lord Jesus (1 Timothy 4:10; 2 Timothy 2:10).

Why then would God, in the Calvinist viewpoint, create mankind for destruction?  There is no clear teaching on this.  Most simply will quote Deuteronomy 29:29 as the end all of the debate.  Calvin warned that this is indeed a mystery that one need not ponder too deeply.

For the Arminian, hell makes sense since God has been reaching out to the world since the Fall.  Mankind was created in the image of God and by their own willful choice, brought sin into the world (Genesis 3:1-7).  Even in the Garden of Eden, Yahweh reached out to mankind in His grace by calling them (Genesis 3:9), giving them a promise even in the midst of the curse (Genesis 3:15) and then clothing them (Genesis 3:21).  From Genesis onward, God is preparing the world for His Messiah.  The Messiah would come and would bear the sins of the world (Isaiah 53:4-6; John 1:29).

In Matthew 7 Jesus speaks much of two’s.  He says there are two gates (Matthew 7:13-14), two types of fruit (Matthew 7:15-20), two confessions (Matthew 7:21-23), and two types of people who either obey or disobey (Matthew 7:24-27).  Even now there are two types of people: lost or saved.  The saved become the elect.  The lost remain outside of His elect but do so by their own free choice.

If this is the case, if the lost are still in rebellion because of their own hardness, their own refusal to submit to the Lordship of Christ, their own rejection of God’s grace and mercy, etc. then hell makes sense.  Hell is fitting for those who would reject the Lord God.  No sinner will be able to stand before a holy God and said, “You made me a vessel of wrath fitted for destruction” but will simply acknowledge the justice of God and condemning them in their sins.  It is sin that sends a person to hell and not God’s unconditional election (Romans 6:23).  It is willful rebellion against God that leads to mankind’s utter destruction.

If I were a Calvinist, I would then reject unending conscious torment in hell since I would hold that people go to hell because God has not chosen them to be elect.  The thought that a loving and good God would send people to hell not because of their sins but because He simply did not choose them to be His elect would be grievous to me.  God is pictured in the Bible as loving and good.  John 3:16 is probably the most known verse in the Bible yet how does it fit into the idea that God loved the world so much that He created vessels of wrath whom He fitted for everlasting destruction and misery in hell?  The only comfort I would be able to find is that people are destroyed in hell (or annihilated) because God simply did not choose them.

Jesus said that hell was created for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41).  Revelation 20:10 says that the devil will be tormented there day and night forever and ever.  Hell was not created for the glory of God in condemning the non-elect but in destroying Satan.  Those who are not found in Christ will also go there (Revelation 20:11-15).  I believe that this is based on either salvation in Christ or rejection of Christ but is not based on the unconditional election of people.  Hell makes sense to me because I see hell as the final destruction for those who have hated God and rebelled against Him while on earth.  Hell makes sense because of the cross (John 3:17-18, 36).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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