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The Promised Spirit Through Faith

So that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
– Galatians 3:14

The Calvinist view is that a person is dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:1-3) and therefore the Spirit must regenerate the dead sinner so that they can hear the gospel, believe, and be saved.  Many appeal to the story of Lazarus in John 11 as an example of regeneration.  Calvinists also appeal to John 3:3 saying that one must be born again to believe and enter the kingdom.

Here in Galatians 3:14 the Calvinist view has a problem.  Paul the Apostle clearly states that we receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.  The Spirit comes through faith.  The Spirit does not come before faith.  This is a problem text for Calvinists.

The Arminian understanding is that all who believe will be saved (John 3:15).  Our view is that the Spirit works through the preaching of the gospel to bring forth faith but He can be resisted and He does not force the person to believe (a point that Calvinists would agree with in regard to force).  John 6:44 is used by both Arminians and Calvinists concerning this work of the Spirit.  The Spirit opens the heart of the sinner to hear the gospel and He enables those who believe to be saved.  The work of regeneration is entirely His work (Titus 3:5-7).  But the belief, while certainly a work of grace, is done by the believer themselves.

The Arminian order of salvation then would be that the Spirit is given to those who believe (Acts 11:17; 15:9).  We are justified before God through faith (Romans 5:1) and at the moment of regeneration, we receive the promised Spirit (Romans 5:5).  There is simply no way around this.

While Charles Spurgeon was no doubt a Calvinist, I do agree with him here:

“If I am to preach the faith in Christ to a man who is regenerated, then the man, being regenerated, is saved already, and it is an unnecessary and ridiculous thing for me to preach Christ to him, and bid him to believe in order to be saved when he is saved already, being regenerate. Am I only to preach faith to those who have it? Absurd, indeed! Is not this waiting till the man is cured and then bringing him the medicine? This is preaching Christ to the righteous and not to sinners.”

Spurgeon battled hyper-Calvinists in his day because Spurgeon rightly preached that all could and should come and be saved while he also believed in unconditional election.  Spurgeon was inconsistent in his theology but for that I am thankful.

One final point.  Calvinists acknowledge that the Spirit convicts people of their sins before salvation (John 16:8-11).  Even if we grant that the Spirit only convicts those who are elect, how can He convict those who are dead?  The Calvinists would have to preach that the Spirit regenerates before conviction instead of before faith.  What is the point of the Spirit’s convicting work toward dead sinners if the dead sinner must be regenerated to believe the gospel?

The Arminian understanding of the convicting work is consistent with our teaching on prevenient (or enabling) grace.  The Spirit convicts the sinner through the gospel (1 Timothy 1:8-11).  The Spirit takes the law of God and He shows the sinner their sin (Romans 3:19-20; 7:7).  The sinner must believe to be saved (Acts 16:30-31) but the Spirit woos the sinner under the guilt of their sin and He regenerates the sinner who believes the gospel (1 Corinthians 1:21; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).

The FACTS of Arminianism: Freed by God’s Grace

The first point of the five points from FACTS is “freed by God’s grace.”  This has to do with the doctrine of prevenient grace by which the sinner is able to believe the gospel and to be saved and yet the Spirit frees the sinner so that the decision by the sinner is the free will choice of the sinner.

Arminians believe, as Calvinists do, that the sinner is bound in their sins.  We agree with our Calvinist brethren that sinners are dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:1) and that apart from the grace of God, none could be saved (John 6:44).  Romans 3:10-18 establishes point by point the nature of our depravity.  There is nothing in us that is not effected by our sinfulness.  Our minds, our hearts, our will, our speech – all this is bound in our sins.  We are depraved.  We are sinful.

A better term than “total depravity” would be “total inability.”  The sinner is totally unable to come to salvation apart from the intervention of God.  We do not love God.  We don’t want to serve God.  We don’t even see our need for salvation apart from the grace of God opening our eyes to our sinfulness.  The entire work of salvation is a work of grace.  Regeneration in both Arminianism and Calvinism is a work of God, a monergistic work by God alone (John 3:3; Titus 3:5).

Arminius affirmed total inability.  He wrote:

In this state, the free will of man towards the true good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed, and lost. And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace. For Christ has said, “Without me ye can do nothing.” St. Augustine, after having diligently meditated upon each word in this passage, speaks thus: “Christ does not say, without me ye can do but Little; neither does He say, without me ye can do any Arduous Thing, nor without me ye can do it with difficulty. But he says, without me ye can do Nothing! Nor does he say, without me ye cannot complete any thing; but without me ye can do Nothing.” That this may be made more manifestly to appear, we will separately consider the mind, the affections or will, and the capability, as contra-distinguished from them, as well as the life itself of an unregenerate man.

However, despite agreeing that we are dead in our sins, that our wills are held captive by sin and only the grace of God can set the sinner free, Arminius went on to write that God’s grace enables the sinner to believe.  He wrote:

“What then, you ask, does free will do? I reply with brevity, it saves. Take away FREE WILL, and nothing will be left to be saved. Take away GRACE, and nothing will be left as the source of salvation. This work [of salvation] cannot be effected without two parties — one, from whom it may come: the other, to whom or in whom it may be wrought. God is the author of salvation. Free will is only capable of being saved. No one, except God, is able to bestow salvation; and nothing, except free will, is capable of receiving it.”

Certainly the Arminian position is that salvation is all of grace (Acts 15:11; Ephesians 2:8-9).  Romans 11:6 is clear that salvation is not by works but by grace!  Good works cannot obtain salvation because they are often tainted by our sinfulness (Isaiah 64:6). If good works could save, how many good works must one do to be saved?  If God requires perfection to be in His presence, who can boast that they are ever perfect save the Son of God?  Scripture is clear that we are sinners (Romans 3:23) but Scripture is also clear that Jesus alone is perfect (Hebrews 4:15; 7:26; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5).  2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us that Christ shed His blood for us, for our sins, and He bore our sins on the cross.  Jesus was the sinless sacrifice for our sins.  He was the absolutely perfect sacrifice that secures our eternal salvation!

Yet God does not force people to believe.  Because of our sinfulness, the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to our need for salvation through the gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).  The Spirit brings conviction of sin (John 16:8) and He exposes our wicked hearts to the gospel truth that Jesus shed His blood for our sins (John 3:16).  The Spirit thus does His work of grace in us so that the freed will of the sinner can believe and be saved.

Arminius wrote about the work of the Spirit in bringing repentance:

Because, after the gate of grace has by the just judgment of God been closed on account of a malicious continuance in sins, no passage is open for the Spirit, who is necessarily the author of repentance. Therefore let these words always resound in our ears, “Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” (Heb. iii, 7, 8; Psalm xcv, 7, 8.) And this exhortation of the Apostle, “Workout your own salvation with fear and trembling: for it is God who worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure,” (Phil. ii, 12, 13.) May this be graciously granted to us by God the Father of mercies, in the Son of his love, by the Holy Spirit of both of them. To whom be praise and glory forever. Amen.

Arminius affirmed that the work of salvation is the work of God’s grace through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  Arminius wrote about this saving grace:

In reference to Divine Grace, I believe, 1. It is a gratuitous affection by which God is kindly affected towards a miserable sinner, and according to which he, in the first place, gives his Son, “that whosoever believers in him might have eternal life,” and, afterwards, he justifies him in Christ Jesus and for his sake, and adopts him into the right of sons, unto salvation. 2. It is an infusion (both into the human understanding and into the will and affections,) of all those gifts of the Holy Spirit which appertain to the regeneration and renewing of man — such as faith, hope, charity, &c.; for, without these gracious gifts, man is not sufficient to think, will, or do any thing that is good. 3. It is that perpetual assistance and continued aid of the Holy Spirit, according to which He acts upon and excites to good the man who has been already renewed, by infusing into him salutary cogitations, and by inspiring him with good desires, that he may thus actually will whatever is good; and according to which God may then will and work together with man, that man may perform whatever he wills.

The Arminian position then is that we are saved by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, by the work of Christ alone, to the glory of God alone.  This gospel comes through the preaching of the inerrant, infallible Word of God.  The gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16-17) and sinners need to hear the gospel to be saved (Romans 10:14-17).  The name of Jesus alone saves (Acts 4:12) and He alone is the meditator before God for sinners (1 Timothy 2:5-6).  Sinners are commanded to repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15-16; Acts 2:38; 3:19-20; 17:30-31).  This salvation is the work of God from beginning to end.

Inconsistent Monergism

I appreciate much the work of my fellow Calvinist laborers for the kingdom of God.  I appreciate that many of them are taking the gospel to the lost and they are preaching repentance to all.  As Dr. Forlines is quoted as saying, “Calvinists are Arminians until they say something Calvinistic.”  My fellow Calvinist preachers will plead with the lost to be saved, will call all to repent, will preach the cross and the call of God to forsake their sins and come to Christ alone for salvation.  A few (and not all) will even preach that God loves the lost sinner and will point to the cross as proof of this love (Romans 5:8-9; cf John 3:16).  And for all this I am grateful.

Yet Calvinists are monergists.  They will often accuse Arminians as being synergists and will make statements like, “Arminians believe that man must do his part and God does His part” or “God will meet the Arminian half way down the isle to salvation.”  Because Arminians preach that all can be saved who place their faith in Christ alone, we are said to be teaching “works righteousness” and that we are telling people to do their part to be saved and God will do the rest.

I honestly have never heard a true monergist evangelist.  I would love to hear one.  The message would have to be all on God and not on man.  Further, the message of salvation would have to be, “You can do nothing.  You can’t even hear me unless you are regenerate for dead sinners cannot hear the voice of God.  You must just lay there like Lazarus and allow the Holy Spirit to raise you up when Jesus calls you but I can’t do that and you can’t do that.  Only Jesus can do that.”  That is true monergism.

Now let me be fair here.  Calvinists preach the gospel for the same reason that I preach the gospel: because God said to (Matthew 28:19; Romans 10:14-17).  Calvinists preach repentance like I do because God told us to (Luke 24:47).  Calvinists agree that the Lord uses the means of grace to draw sinners to salvation (the preaching of the gospel) and I agree (1 Corinthians 1:18-21).  Calvinists and I agree that the Holy Spirit must work on the sinner to bring them to salvation (John 6:44; 16:8-11).  Calvinists and I even agree that prayer for the lost is biblical and necessary (Romans 10:1; 1 Timothy 2:1-7).

Yet Calvinists believe that nothing and no one but God can save the sinner.  Yet they plead with sinners to be saved.  They pray for sinners to be saved.  Yet nothing and no one aids the sinner but the Spirit in bringing salvation to the lost sinner.  They exhort sinners to call upon the name of the Lord (Romans 10:13) and to repent of their sins (Acts 17:30-31; 2 Corinthians 7:10) but none can do that but God alone.  And if they didn’t do any of this: the elect would still be saved somehow by God’s sovereign means.

So why preach?  Why pray?  Why plead?  Why reason?  Why call for repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus?  I agree that God calls us to do this but what role does this play in the saving of sinners?  If you say none then again, why do it at all?  If you say, “Because God has sovereignly chosen to use this to save sinners” (and I agree) then does God use our roles to bring sinners to salvation?  If so, is this monergistic salvation?

The Arminian answer is this: God does save sinners by His own power (John 1:12-13).  I don’t doubt one bit that the work of salvation is accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross (John 19:30) and that His blood alone can save the lost sinner (Luke 19:10; cf. Matthew 26:28).  I don’t doubt that the humble sinner who comes to Christ will find in Him true salvation from their sins (Matthew 1:21; John 6:37).  I don’t doubt that the humble sinner must recognize their own sinfulness to be saved from their sins (Romans 3:23-24) and that Christ alone is able to cleanse them from their sins (Acts 13:38-39).  I don’t deny that the work of the Spirit is to draw the sinner to salvation and that without His aid, none could be saved for none seek after God (Romans 3:10-18).  I don’t doubt that human works play no role in our salvation (Romans 4:5).  Good works flow from our salvation (Titus 2:11-14; James 2:14-26).

Yet the Spirit does not make us believe apart from our own will.  The Spirit frees the bound will so that the sinner hears the gospel and out of their own free will look to Christ alone to save them.  The freed sinner doesn’t look to their own moral goodness (Romans 3:19-20) but to the cross alone to set them free from the wrath of God (Romans 1:16-17).  The Spirit enables the sinner to believe but He doesn’t believe for the sinner. When the sinner repents, they are born again (John 3:3-7; Acts 2:38; 3:19-20; 16:30-34).  When they repent, they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14).  We receive the promised Spirit through faith (Galatians 3:14) and become children of the living God (Galatians 3:26).  The Spirit works in all of this for the glory of God.

I believe the Lord Jesus has done everything for our salvation.  We add nothing to His work.  The sinner, however, must receive the free gift of salvation (Romans 6:23) and this is accomplished by the means of grace: the preaching of the gospel, the prayers of the saints for the lost sinner, the call to repentance.  We don’t work with Christ to be saved but we trust only in His cross to save us (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7).  And when a sinner does this they find (just as all true disciples do) that the Spirit of God heard the cries of the saints, opened their eyes, exposed them to the gospel, freed them to believe and receive, and He then seals them.  We find that the work of salvation is not our work but His work alone (Jonah 2:9).

So again, why pray for the lost?  Why preach to the lost?  Why plead with the lost?  Because God is faithful to save those who cry out to Him (Acts 2:21) but the sinner must hear to be saved (Romans 10:17).  God works through the Church to bring sinners to Himself.  This is His plan and His pattern.  We need not change that now.  We need only join in the battle for souls by preaching His gospel to the lost and allow Him to save those who believe.

Arminius on Regeneration and the Regenerate

XX. ON REGENERATION AND THE REGENERATE

1. The proximate subject of regeneration, which is effected in the present life by the Spirit of Christ, is the mind and the affections of man, or the will considered according to the mode of nature, not the will considered according to the mode of liberty. It is not the body of man, though man, when renewed by regeneration through his mind and feelings, actually wills in a good manner, and performs well through the instruments of the body.

2. Though regeneration is not perfected in a moment, but by certain steps and intervals; yet, as soon as ever it is perfected according to its essence, that is, through the renovation of the mind and affections, it renders the man spiritual, and capable of resisting sin through the assisting grace of God. Hence, also, from the Spirit, which predominates in him, he is called spiritual and not carnal, though he still has within him the flesh lusting against the Spirit. For these two, a carnal man and a spiritual man, are so denominated in opposition, and according to [that which is in each of them] the more powerful, prevailing or predominant party.

3. The regenerate are able to perform more true good, and of such as is pleasing to God, than they actually perform, and to omit more evil than they omit; and, therefore, if they do not perform and omit what they ought to do, that must not be ascribed to any decree of God or inefficacy of divine grace, but it must be attributed to the negligence of the regenerate themselves.

4. He who asserts that “it is possible for the regenerate, through the grace of Christ, perfectly to fulfill the law in the present life,” is neither a Pelagian, nor inflicts any injury on the grace of God, nor establishes justification through works.

5. The regenerate are capable of committing sin designedly and in opposition to their consciences, and of so laying waste their consciences, through sin, as to hear nothing from them except the sentence of condemnation.

6. The regenerate are capable of grieving the Holy Spirit by their sins, so that, for a season, until they suffer themselves to be brought back to repentance, he does not exert his power and efficacy in them.

7. Some of the regenerate actually thus sin, thus lay waste their conscience, and thus grieve the Holy Spirit.

8. If David had died in the very moment in which he had sinned against Uriah by adultery and murder, he would have been condemned to death eternal.

9. God truly hates the sins of the regenerate and of the elect of God, and indeed so much the more, as those who thus sin have received more benefits from God, and a greater power of resisting sin.

10. There are distinctions by which a man is said to sin with a full will, or with a will that is not full — fully to destroy conscience, or not fully but only partly, and to sin according to his unregenerate part. When these distinctions are employed in the sense in which some persons use them, they are noxious to piety and injurious to good morals.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

07/25/2013 at 10:05 AM

Spurgeon on Prevenient Grace

I found the following quotes interesting from Charles Spurgeon on prevenient grace.  His statements are akin to what we Arminians believe about the prevenient grace of God that enables sinful humanity to be saved despite our total inability to save ourselves.  He states in his sermon (#656) on this subject:

Now let me show you how God’s grace does come to work on the human heart so as to make it good soil before the living seed is cast into it, so that before quickening grace really visits it the heart may be called a good heart, because it is prepared to receive that grace.

I think this takes place thus: first of all, before quickening grace comes, God often gives an attentive ear, and makes a man willing to listen to the Word. Not only does he like to listen to it, but he wants to know the meaning of it; there is a little excitement in his mind to know what the gospel tidings really are. He is not saved as yet, but it is always a hopeful sign when a man is willing to listen to the truth, and is anxious to understand it. This is one thing which prevenient grace does in making the soul good.

In Ezekiel’s vision, as you will recollect, before the breath came from the four winds the bones began to stir, and they came together bone to his bone. So, before the Spirit of God comes to a man in effectual calling, God’s grace often comes to make a stir in the man’s mind, so that he is no longer indifferent to the truth, but is anxious to understand what it means.

With the exception of effectual calling here, the Arminian finds comfort in Spurgeon’s words about the prevenient grace of God.  Spurgeon, in his sermon on the warrant of faith, states:

“If I am to preach faith in Christ to a man who is regenerated, then the man, being regenerated, is saved already, and it is an unnecessary and ridiculous thing for me to preach Christ to him, and bid him to believe in order to be saved when he is saved already, being regenerate.”

There is no doubt that Spurgeon was a Calvinist.  He stated so himself.  I have read enough of Spurgeon to know that he was a Calvinist but he was not consistent with his Calvinism.  For instance, Spurgeon disagreed with the Calvinists of his day over the free offer of the gospel and he used “Arminian” texts to teach that it is the duty of the Church to preach the gospel to all and to call all to repentance.  Spurgeon battled the hyper-Calvinists of his day (and rightfully so) with a passion to preach the gospel to all and to call all to salvation.  Spurgeon was firm in his view regarding unconditional election but I believed he erred in his approach to evangelism by seeking to argue that God made a bona fide call to salvation to all.  This is simply untrue if God has elected a few to salvation while reprobating the majority.

Yet Spurgeon was correct to argue for a universal call to salvation and he was correct in his views regarding regeneration, that faith leads to salvation and not to the false teaching that God must first regenerate a person in order for them to exercise the gift of faith.  This view is based on Calvinistic assumptions rather than Scripture and Spurgeon was quick to point that out it seems.

For more information, I recommend the article by Bob Ross on regeneration in which he shows Spurgeon’s views regarding this issue.  You can find it here.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

04/18/2013 at 10:04 AM

Refuting 1 John 5:1 by Dr. Brian Abasciano

Here is a great PDF file from Dr. Brian Abasciano, president of the Society of Evangelical Arminians on 1 John 5:1.  1 John 5:1 is used by Calvinist theologians to teach that regeneration precedes faith and thus a person is born again to be saved.  The reason for this is the Calvinist teaching on total depravity where the sinner cannot be saved unless God first regenerates them so that they may believe.  The implications of this teaching are many.  For example, Romans 5:1 says that we are justified through faith but if the Reformed view of 1 John 5:1 is true then we are not justified through faith but unto faith.  We are regenerated and thus saved in order to exercise the gift of faith.  This would be contrary to Romans 5:1.

Enjoy the article that you may find here.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

11/28/2012 at 12:10 PM

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