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Archive for the ‘Salvation’ Category

Seeing “Us” in Scripture

I enjoy Chris Rosebrough and his podcast “Fighting for the Faith.”  Chris often uses satire and comedy to point out false teachers and teachings.  His podcast often has sermon reviews of both good and bad sermons and Chris will point out why they are that.  I am often amazed at what passes for sermons these days.  Much of what seems to be coming out of the seeker church is not even close to true biblical teaching.  It is more or less about “us.”  It is man-centered to its core.

I have written often on the need for expository teaching and more sound doctrine being preached.  Just this week while working I was pondering why people enjoy attending seeker churches where doctrine is minimized and those who desire to go “deeper” with their faith are criticized.  I want to ask them, “How can you sit under this guy and learn anything?  What has he taught you that brought you closer to Christ, deeper in your theological understanding of the gospel?”  Heck, most of the teachers Chris plays on his podcast have no gospel understanding.  The seeker churches are just “say this prayer and become a Christian” as their gospel.

I subscribe to a local church here in my city that has been sucking people from the more traditional churches (mainly Baptist churches) for some time.  They started at about 50 people or so and today have over 1000.  Because of their growth, church leaders often avoid criticizing them because of their growth.  They are instead esteemed.  I point out that growth is no indicator of truth.  Look at the cults.  Look at Islam.  Truth is not pragmatic.  Truth is truth and God’s Word declares the truth of God (John 17:17).  Jesus said that He is the truth (John 14:6).  God has given us His truth through His Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  We need no other “truth.”  Yet many are unwilling to take the truth of the Bible and examine the teachings of large seeker churches because of their numbers.

Each week I get their Sunday services on my podcasts.  I listen to their sermons.  Why?  Because I want to know if they are preaching truth.  Often they are not.  In fact, they often are preaching nothing at all.  They are currently preaching through John but they are not expository nor are they dealing with their text.  They often just read the text and fill in stories about themselves or others to pass the time.  They are not false teachers.  They are “un-teachers.”  They are teaching neither bad doctrine nor good.  They are teaching nothing.  They just focus on “us.”

This is true nearly of all seeker churches that I know.  The focus is on “us” and not Jesus.  The gospel is not about the glory of God, the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, His sacrifice for our sins, along with His death, burial, and bodily resurrection from the dead where He now sits at the right hand of God to pray for us.  No!  The “gospel” of seeker churches is on “us.”  It is about “us” and our glory.  The gospel of seeker churches is about Jesus coming to give us an “abundant life” or to give us a “hope and a future” (both John 10:10 and Jeremiah 29:11 are seriously abused and destroyed there).

Just this past week I listened to two seeker churches Resurrection Day services.  Both were focused on “us.”  The gospel was not taught.  The focus was not on the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  The focus was on God resurrecting your dreams.  Neither church preached repentance for the forgiveness of our sins (Luke 24:47).  Neither church even mentioned repentance at all.  Both did mention sin but only in passing.  Sin is what keeps us down, what keeps us from reading our potential.  Gone is the truth of the gospel of repentance.

The gospel is not lost.  It is easily found in the Bible.  One can skip it.  One can downplay it.  But one cannot ignore it altogether.  Just reading the New Testament brings us face to face with our sins, with our inability to save ourselves by our good works, with the fact that we are enemies of God because of our rebellion against His law (Romans 3:19-20).  We find that our world is not getting better by works of the flesh but we realize that we must repent of our sins if we are to have peace with God (Acts 2:37-39; 3:19-20).  We find that repentance brings salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10).  We find that Christ alone saves us from the wrath of God by His grace and mercy (Romans 5:1).  The gospel is focused on the person and work of the Lord Jesus (Ephesians 1:3-14 and notice how many times “He” is mentioned and we are not).  Salvation is not accomplished by making amends or trying harder or your good deeds (Romans 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7).  Salvation is the gracious work of God wrought in us by His Spirit through the saving work of the Lord Jesus.

Until next time, keep loving and living in the gospel.

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Barabbas Instead of Jesus

I can’t get away from the account in the Gospels about Barabbas.  This story intrigues me because I see in it the beauty of the substitutionary atonement that Jesus provides for our salvation.   This is a pivotal point of Christianity that runs across the board.  Christians have always held that Jesus died for us, that He died for our sins.  Paul the Apostle states it clearly in 1 Corinthians 15:3 that Christ died for our sins.  He repeats this in Galatians 1:4.  Peter writes in 1 Peter 2:24 that Christ bore our sins in His body on the tree.

The Lord Jesus died for our sins.  We can debate the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and His obedience to the Father but we cannot debate that Christ shed His blood for our forgiveness and that He died in our place.  He was condemned so that we might be saved by the grace of God through faith in the Lord Jesus (Ephesians 2:1-9).  Paul states that we redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses (Ephesians 1:7).  Hebrews 9:22 states that without the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness.  Our salvation is based on the Lord Jesus and what He did on the cross by dying for our sins (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).

In Matthew 27 we see a  beautiful picture of this substitutionary work of Christ.  Here we find Pilate asking the Jews which they want him to release to them: Barabbas (an insurrectionists and murderer) or Jesus the Messiah (Matthew 27:17).  The crowd cries for Barabbas (Matthew 27:20).  Pilate asks them again and they again want Barabbas (Matthew 27:21) to which the crowd asks for Jesus to be crucified (Matthew 27:22-23).  Pilate washes his hands of this murder of Jesus (Matthew 27:24) and the people cry that they want His blood to be upon them (Matthew 27:25) to which Pilate releases Jesus to be crucified (Matthew 27:26).

What I find amazing about this account is that the crowd asks for Barabbas instead of Jesus.  They even want His blood to be upon them and their children.  They were speaking prophetically.  They were simply asking for what the Jews had asked for when they offered up the Passover lamb (Exodus 12:21-27).  Paul the Apostle wrote in 1 Corinthians 5:7 that Christ is our Passover Lamb.  Jesus is the Lamb of God (John 1:29) who is without blemish or spot (1 Peter 1:19).  Jesus is the perfect sacrifice for our sins because He was perfect and He died in our place, condemned for our sins but bore our sins on the cross.  The guilty sinner (Romans 3:23) can now look to the Lamb of God to be saved (Isaiah 45:22).

This salvation is based not on our works but upon the work of Christ alone (Titus 3:5-7).  What could be do to appease the wrath of God?  What works could be possibly do to merit eternal life?  Can we keep the law of God perfectly?  Can we live our entire lives free from sin, completely obedient to the will of a holy and perfect God?  If someone says they can they are lying.  None can (Proverbs 20:9).

I have met people before who claim to never sin.  They will even tell me the date the last time they sinned and claim that they have not sinned since in word, thought, or deed.  I find that alarming.  I confess my weaknesses.  I am not perfect by far.  Ask my wife and she could name hundreds of my sins.  No I don’t wake up going out looking to sin or looking to disobey the Lord but I confess that I have not walked perfectly with the Lord.  I have fallen short many times.  I have not loved God perfectly nor have I obeyed Him perfectly.

This makes me so thankful for the crowd asking for Barabbas instead of Jesus.  I am Barabbas.  My heart has been wicked before God.  I have not been perfect as He requires (Matthew 5:48).  I have sinned (Romans 3:10-18).  But thanks be to God for the gift of His Son (John 3:16).  Jesus died for my sins.  Barabbas could not save for he was guilty of great sins.  Yet the Lord in His sovereignty allowed the hardened Jews to choose Barabbas (who is me) instead of Christ.  Jesus thus died in my place and in the place of Barabbas.  Jesus bore the sins of Barabbas as well as the sins of sins of the world (1 John 2:1-2).

My heart now longs to please God.  Not out of legalism.  Not out of bondage.  But my heart longs now to worship and please the Lord because of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Because of what Jesus did for me by dying in my place and taking my condemnation, I now rejoice in this great salvation, this great grace!  I pray because I am so thankful for what Jesus has done.  I long to see others saved because of what Jesus has done.  I long to praise my God because of what Jesus has done.  This salvation is all of Jesus and my boasting is only in the Lord Jesus who died for my sins (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).

I often have read the story of Barabbas and wonder what happened to him.  Church tradition is that Barabbas did get saved and became a great preacher of the gospel.  How could he not?  He watched with his own eyes as the people chose him (and he knew he was guilty) for the Lord Jesus who had never sinned.  I am sure Barabbas had heard of Jesus maybe even heard Him preach.  I tend to believe tradition at this point and believe that Barabbas became a great preacher of the gospel.  His testimony would have been powerful as he told how Jesus took His place and was crucified on the cross where he should have died.

The story use to make me weep at the crowds choosing Barabbas.  I would talk to my Bible and say, “No, let Jesus go free.”  Yet I know that without the cross, I have no salvation (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).  The gospel rises and falls on Jesus taking our place.  Jesus fulfilled the words of Isaiah the prophet in Isaiah 53 and He suffered in our place.

Thanks be to God!

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).

The True Security of the Believer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Do We Know They Are Not One of Us?

1 John 2:19 is a cornerstone passage for those who hold to unconditional eternal security and even those who hold to perseverance of the saints.  This verse is said to teach that those who go out from us (from Christians) proves they were never said to begin with.  I differ with this view in that I see 1 John 2:19 in context speaking about false apostles or in this case antichrists who claimed to be apostles like John but their teachings proved they were not apostles.  They went out from among us (apostles) but they were not of us (apostles); for if they had been of us (apostles), they would have continued with us (apostles).  But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us (apostles).

My question here is when do we know they are not one of us from the eternal security view?  At what point can we declare, “Never saved to begin with?”  I have even heard many exponents of eternal security teach that a person might be living in sin and the Lord will either discipline them to bring them back to Christ (Hebrews 12:3-11) or He will even allow them to die before they completely apostatize (1 Corinthians 5:4-5; 11:29-31).  I have heard eternal security teachers teach that a person living in sin can still be saved and so we are not to judge someone harshly.  They point to the examples of David or Samson as proof that a saint can live in gross sin and still be a child of God.

I have often said that eternal security leads to antinomianism.  How can it not?  The idea that we must be holy is not a true teaching among eternal security teachers.  Yes they preach holiness (1 Peter 1:15-16) but they often make statements contrary to holiness teaching such as “we all sin every day” and they view Romans 7 as the highest form of Christian living.  Further, they teach that sin has no effect on the believer so they ignore the Bible’s call to forsake sin (1 John 2:1-2).  They instead teach that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus even though we are warned over and over again not to get a hard heart, not to go back to living in sin, not to forsake Christ.  We are called to perseverance but these teachers teach preservation of the sinner.

This is not a perfection teaching.  I am not advocating that Christians are sinless or that we can obtain sinless perfection though some in the past have advocated such a position.  The Trinitarian hero Athanasius of Alexandria held to perfection.  He taught that saints of God in the Bible had obtained such a state such as Job or Noah.  While I am not advocating that position, I simply point out that Athanasius is viewed as a hero today despite his teaching on perfectionism.  I believe that Christians do sin.  I know.  I sin.  I don’t wake up and seek sinning.  I don’t want to sin.  I don’t try to sin.  But I have sinned.  I am thankful for 1 John 1:9 (which would be pointless if sin has no power over the disciple of Christ).

My point here is not to rail on eternal security.  I know godly people who believe in this doctrine.  I have also known people who used the doctrine for their own flesh.  I have known men who justified pornography by claiming eternal security.  I have known men who committed adultery by claiming eternal security.  I have seen churches ignore church discipline because its possible that the sinning person is truly saved and just needs the Lord’s discipline to come back to faith.  I have seen people “walk the isle” and say “the sinner’s prayer” and be told that they are saved and bound for heaven and are now eternally secure no matter what.  I have heard preachers tell people that they can even become an atheist and God will drag them into heaven kicking and screaming that they don’t want to go.

My point here is to simply ask the probing question, “When is someone deemed never saved to begin with?”  The lines seem blurred.  You could read Revelation 21:7-8 and ask a person who holds to eternal security if these people are not going to heaven and they will likely say, “No they are not.”  “But what about saints who do these things?  Are they still saved or are they never saved to begin with?”  “Well that is tough.  Only God knows a persons heart.  We can’t judge them.  We must leave that to God.”  “So are these people who do the things in Revelation 21:8 saved?”  “No.”  “But you just said that people who do these things might be saved?”  “Well yes we can but we shouldn’t and if we do, it might show that we are not saved to begin with.”  “Can you do these things if you wanted to?” “Yes I could I suppose.”  “Would that make you lost?”  “No because I am eternally secure!”  “Well would that prove you are not saved to begin with?”  “No I am eternally secure!”  “But what about others who do these things, why are they not eternally secure?”  “They possibly are!  God knows!”  “But you said that Revelation 21:8 are lost since they go to hell.”  “Yes they are but Christians can do these things too.”  “Should Christians do them?”  “No” “Why does it matter if they are eternally secure as you claim?”  “Because if a person does them they might not be truly saved.”  “But what about their eternal security? It doesn’t sound very eternal nor secure?”  “Those who are saved will persevere until the end for God keeps them but if they don’t persevere, they were never saved to begin with.” “And if a person does the things in Revelation 21:8 are they proving they are not saved to begin with if they claim to be a disciple?”  “Well only God knows.”

Do you see the circle of eternal security?  It doesn’t produce the assurance of one’s salvation.  I have often argued that if a person is seeking Christ, we have no fear (1 John 4:18).  Jesus said that if we abide in His teachings, we are His disciples (John 8:31-32).  As disciples, we have no fear (Romans 8:38-39).  Those who abide in Christ know that He is their high priest, their salvation, their security (2 Peter 1:10-11).  I fear the Lord because He is holy God (Romans 11:20-22).  I stand in awe of His grace toward me (Romans 6:1-4).  His grace teaches me to hate my sin (Titus 2:11-12).  God’s grace doesn’t give me a license for sinning (Jude 4).

True security is found in persevering in Christ.  True security is not found in teaching people that sin has no power over them.  We must teach the people of God to hate their sins, forsake their sins, confess their sins, and examine themselves (2 Corinthians 12:21-13:5).  Holiness is the heart of God (Hebrews 12:14).  We are holy in Christ and being made holy though Christ (Hebrews 10:10, 14).

May the Lord help us all to hate our sins, forsake our sins, kill our sins, and confess our sins.  Our sovereign Father is faithful to help us (1 Corinthians 10:13) and He is faithful to forgive us when we sin (1 John 1:9).  May we run daily to the Lord Jesus and remain faithful to Him always.

The Awakened State of Sinners

John Wesley called the awakened state of man as “the almost Christian.”  Wesley believed that most people in the church were that way, they were aware of their sins but they had not truly become children of God.  They were servants of Christ but not sons.  All sons are servants but not all servants are sons.

Wesley believed that Romans 7 described the awakened state.  While nearly all Calvinists that I know of teach that Romans 7 is the normal state for Christians and Martin Luther taught that a Christian is both a sinner and a saint at the same time, Wesley taught (along with Arminius I might add) that Romans 7 describes people who are not saved.  This is what Wesley deemed the awakened state, where a person is aware of their sins and aware that they are not pleasing to God so they seek to please God by their works or by their flesh.  This cannot merit salvation (Romans 4:5).  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:7-8).

Sadly many in the modern church are in that state as well.  Many of the seeker sensitive churches preach an easy gospel that is without conviction, without true repentance, without a true knowledge of God’s holiness and our sinfulness before God.  They preach a message of “come to Christ” but they fail to convict sinners of their sins.  They ignore the Bible’s call to repentance (Mark 1:15-16).  They fail to preach repentance for the forgiveness of their sins (Luke 24:47; Acts 2:38; 3:19).  They seek to lead people to Christ using the goodness of God but fail to preach His just wrath nor His forbearance and patience with sinners (Romans 2:4).  Just this week I listened to two local seeker churches “sermons” and both were focused on the flesh rather than God, on what the sinner can get from God rather than repentance from their sins, and they both gave “altar calls” where the sinners just said a prayer and were said to be saved by grace.  Both failed to preach the gospel where sinners see their sins and repent of their sins against God.  Both failed to present Christ as the propitiation for our sins (John 1:29).  Both preached a message of “Christ wants to fill the void in your life.”  That is not the gospel.  That is what many people are hearing week after week in many churches.

The Arminian should preach the law of God to produce the awakened state.  Of course, the Spirit of God is the one who produces mighty conviction of sin (John 16:8-11).  The almost Christian will see their sins and their need for Christ but they don’t know how to respond to the call of God to salvation.  People believe (because of their sinfulness) that they must do something to earn salvation.  This is human thought through and through.  World religions attest to this fact.  Religious people are consistently trying to earn God’s favor, His forgiveness, or His salvation.  They think that they will be saved if their good works out number their bad works.  Others believe that their actions (sacrifices, prayers, etc.) will bring salvation.

The truth is that only Jesus Christ can save us from the wrath of God (1 Thessalonians 1:10).  Isaiah the prophet saw the work of Christ in Isaiah 53:4-6:

4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

The Lord Jesus is the hope for our salvation.  Jesus is the hope for the awakened sinner who sees his sins but doesn’t know how to flee from them.   The hope for the sinner is not rehabilitation or reform.  The hope for the sinner is to be born from above (John 3:3-7).  The hope is for the Spirit of God to regenerate the sinner to bring about new life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Titus 3:5-7) and this only comes through faith.

Romans 3:21-26 is full of the richness of God’s mercy and grace given freely to the sinner in Christ Jesus our Lord:

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.

The sinner is justified before God only grace through faith in Christ alone (Romans 5:1).  The sinner is not justified before God by a combination of human works and God’s grace (as many cults teach).  We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  Why is this?  Because the sinner cannot merit God’s salvation.  Consider good works for a moment.  How many good works must we do to earn God’s forgiveness?  What works qualify as “good” works?  How do we know that our wicked hearts will not produce pride in our “good” works?  How will we know if God approves of our “good” works?  Are there any “good” works which we consider good but God considers as bad?  How can we know?

The awakened sinner, writes Wesley, fears God but does not love Him.  The Christian loves God and fears Him (Romans 11:20-22; 1 John 4:18).  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7) and the Christian has a healthy fear of God (Hebrews 10:31).  Too many do not fear God but sadly few actually love Him either.  The awakened sinner fears God and knows that the judgment of God is just in punishment of their sins but they do not love God.  They seek to win God’s approval by reforms, by vows, by religion.  They find Romans 7 to be true, that they are too sinful to do any “good” works.  Their flesh simply will never please God.  They find in their awakened state that they are fully aware that they are sinners but have no peace with God.

The gospel is the solution.  The gospel brings peace.  Jesus is the prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6).  Jesus came to bring peace (Ephesians 2:14).  Jesus came to bring us not just peace in the storms of life (as many seekers preach) but He came to bring us peace with God whom we have greatly offended by our wicked sins.  The holy God of the universe is the one that we have violated.  He is the offended one.  When we talk about salvation we are saying that we are being saved from something and that something is the wrath of God that we justly deserve for breaking His laws and shaking our fists at Him.

The awakened sinner is not saved.  The duty of the evangelist is to preach Christ to the awakened sinner and call the sinner to faith and repentance through Christ.  The blessed Holy Spirit aids us in this preaching.  The Spirit works on the sinner’s heart to free the will to believe freely the gospel of God’s grace and mercy.  May we preach Christ and Him crucified for our sins.

John 1:12-13

John 1:12-13 reads:

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

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

Matthew Henry writes about verse 12:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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