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The Supremacy of Jesus Christ

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

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

  • Ephesians 1:3-14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Preaching the Gospel at Auschwitz

1.1 million people died at Auschwitz.  It was pure evil.  Did God ordain this?  Did God cause this?

The Calvinist answer is that God did not cause the horrors of Auschwitz.  He did ordain it to come to pass and He used secondary causes to ensure that the deaths at Auschwitz did in fact take place.  John Calvin wrote, “The will of God is the supreme and first cause of all things, because nothing happens but by his command or permission.  God then, according to Calvin, does not give permission for sinners to commit sin but He is the cause of all things including sin.  Calvin continues:

The hand of God no less rules the internal affections than it precedes the external acts, and that God does not perform by the hand of men those things which he has decreed without first working in their hearts the very will which precedes their acts.

Did you read that?  Calvin is stating that everything that comes to pass does so because God both decrees it and He works in the heart of man to make sure their acts come to pass as He ordains.

The mystery in Calvinism is how God can bring things to pass including evil and yet hold mankind responsible (or punishable would be a better term) for their sinful actions.  Calvin likewise stated that this responsibility is a mystery to him.  Calvin wrote,

“But how it was that God, by his foreknowledge and decree, ordained what should take place respecting man, and yet so ordained it without his being himself in the least a participator of the fault, or being at all the author (autor) or the approver of the transgression; how this was, I repeat, is a secret manifestly far too deep to be penetrated by the human mind, nor am I ashamed to confess our ignorance. And far be it from any of the faithful to be ashamed to confess his ignorance of that which the Lord envelopes in the blaze of his own inaccessible light.”

Other Calvinists affirm this as well.  How can God hold wicked sinners responsible for the sins that He ordained for them to commit in the first place?  The answer: mystery with an appeal to Deuteronomy 29:29.

Most Calvinists are comfortable with that mystery.  I am not.

Someone has said that if you cannot preach the gospel at the gates of Auschwitz, it is not the gospel.  How can we look at 1.1 million people dead at Auschwitz and agree with Calvin?  That this happened by the will of God.  And for what?  I know that Calvinists like to preach that such a view would mean that evil is without purpose.  Yet can there be purposeless evil in a world with free creatures?

John Piper appeals to a greater evil and that would be the cross.  1.1 million sinners dying at Auschwitz is nothing compared to the perfect and holy one dying on the cross (Acts 2:22-23).  Piper points out that this evil, the murder of Jesus Christ, is worst than any other wicked acts and yet it was planned by God.

The problem is that we Arminians affirm the sovereignty of God.  While Piper holds that sovereignty must equal divine determinism of all things, I would disagree with his definition of sovereignty.  The Calvinist reads sovereignty and sees omnipotence.  I disagree.  God can be sovereign while allowing mankind to be free to make free choices.  The cross demonstrates this.  Further, God, because He is God, can step into His creation for His purposes.  God did this in the cross.  God will do this at the second coming of the Lord Jesus.  God can use evil for His glory such as in the cross.  Yet God did not make the Jews kill Jesus nor did He make the Romans crucify Jesus.  This was allowed.  Such language would be opposed by Calvin.  Calvin would argue that God not only ordained the cross but He would make sure that the people would do the very sinful acts that He purposed for them to do.  Piper seems to agree.

Dr. James White also holds that there is no such thing as purposeless evil.  Since White holds to divine determinism (even hard determinism), he holds that everything happens as Calvin states, because God wills for it to happen and He makes sure it comes to pass.  Every rape, murder, abortion (which is murder), theft, war, etc. happens because God wills it so.  God is perfectly holy so He cannot be accused of sinning but He uses secondary causes to bring about His decreed will.

Let us return then to Auschwitz.  I have never heard a Calvinist preach this at Auschwitz.  It would not preach well.  Imagine going back to 1944 and preaching to the souls at Auschwitz that all this is happening  because God wills it so.  Imagine preaching that God will hold the Nazis responsible for their sins of killing but He first ordained this to come to pass.  Imagine further preaching that the same God who ordained this evil to come to pass is now calling you to repent and come to faith in Christ.  How is this consistent with the God who gave His Son?

The Arminian gospel would be this: this evil is happening because of the sinful choices of mankind.  People are wicked and unless they repent, they will see the wrath of God in His judgment upon them (Hebrews 9:27-28).  The Bible is clear, however, that God wills not for anyone here at Auschwitz to perish but to come to repentance including you Nazis.  He does not delight in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:32) but He wants all of you to repent and be saved from your sins (Acts 17:30-31; 2 Peter 3:9).  This wicked place is here because we live in a fallen world with fallen sinners who love evil and hate God.  May you repent and believe the gospel for eternal life (Romans 6:23).

The cross shows us God.  In the cross we have a humble Savior who left the glory of heaven to abide on earth (Philippians 2:5-11).  We have a Savior who prays even for sinners while He is dying (Luke 23:34).  In the cross we see a God who would rather die than mankind go to hell (2 Corinthians 5:18-6:2).  The cross shows us the love of God (Romans 5:8-9) and this love is not confined merely to those of who have believed but to the whole world (John 1:29; 3:16; 1 John 2:1-2; 4:14).  This is our God.  He is glorious.  He is loving.  He is good (Psalm 145:8-9).

John Wesley wrote:

“While a sovereign monarch might technically be free to dispose of subjects as he or she sees fit, a loving parent would not even consider withholding potential saving aid from any child (i.e., unconditional reprobation or limited atonement). On the other hand, truly loving parents also respect the integrity of their children. Ultimately, they would not impose their assistance against the (mature) child’s will.”

But Wesley also preached that all that we have from God, His love, His salvation, etc. are gifts of His love:

All the blessings which God hath bestowed upon man are of his mere grace, bounty, or favour; his free, undeserved favour; favour altogether undeserved; man having no claim to the least of his mercies. It was free grace that “formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into him a living soul,” and stamped on that soul the image of God, and “put all things under his feet.” The same free grace continues to us, at this day, life, and breath, and all things. For there is nothing we are, or have, or do, which can deserve the least thing at God’s hand. “All our works, Thou, O God, hast wrought in us.” These, therefore, are so many more instances of free mercy: and whatever righteousness may be found in man, this is also the gift of God.

This is our God.  This is the God of the Bible.  The glorious God whom I love and adore.  He rescues sinners by His grace and I am a testimony of His love and grace.  What evil may befall me I will not cast at His feet but know that He is able to work even through evil for His glory and good (Romans 8:28).  The mystery in Arminianism is how God’s will is done despite allowing mankind free will.  I would rather have that as my mystery while preaching at the gates of Auschwitz.

The Mysterious Tensions in Theology

We live in a wicked world.  It seems we look around us and see wickedness each and every day.  Some look at wickedness and they simply ignore it and hope it will go away.  For the disciple, we pray Matthew 6:10, for the kingdom of God to come and the gospel can remove the wickedness that we see.  This nation, the United States, as with most of the “Christian” West, needs revival.  We need the gospel to break the chains of sin and to bring true salvation to the nations (2 Corinthians 5:17).  Only the gospel can usher in the kingdom of Christ.

But my purpose here is not to write about the kingdom of God.  Both Arminians and Calvinists agree that the kingdom of Christ is what we long for.  Whether you identify with a certain end-times view it not the issue here.  We want the kingdom to come.  We want the Lord Jesus to be exalted and for His gospel to be preached so that God may be glorified through it all.  We stand in the face of evil and declare that there is hope, there is forgiveness, there is reconciliation with God through the Lord Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).  We know that our God is working to bring about this truth.  The gospel is going forth even as I type this.

What then are we to do with evil?  It is the tension that has caused much friction.  Liberals think the answer for evil is education, less poverty, more jobs, equal money.  Atheists point to evil as “proof” that God does not exist (yet there would be no concept of evil with a holy and good God as the standard).  Agnostics wonder if there is a God then why doesn’t He end all evil with just a wave of His all-powerful hand.  Even among us true Christians there is tension.  Calvinists believe that all that comes to pass happens because of the sovereign will of God and His decree.  A murder is the will of God.  A rape is the will of God.  An abortion is the will of God.  Anything and everything happens because God wills it so.

The Arminian cannot escape this tension either.  We too have our mysteries.  Calvinists wrestle with how God avoids being guilty of sin while He ordains whatsoever comes to pass.  In Calvinism, compatibilism (or “soft determinism”) is the idea that mankind does not possess free will but rather they act according to their nature.  In other words, a sinner sins because God does not give them to them the grace necessary to avoid that sin and in essence God knows the sinner is going to sin, wills the sinner to sin, the sinner makes a choice to sin based on their own sinful nature, and thus while God knew, planned, and ordained the sinner to sin, the sinner is still held responsible for their actions that they freely chose to do.  The mystery is how God is not guilty of the sin when the sinner really could not choose otherwise since there is no true free will in mankind in Calvinism.

Compatibilism is defined by Monergism.com as:

Compatibilism (also known as soft determinism), is the belief that God’s predetermination and meticulous providence is “compatible” with voluntary choice. In light of Scripture, human choices are believed to be exercised voluntarily but the desires and circumstances that bring about these choices about occur through divine determinism (see Acts 2:23 & 4:27-28). It should be noted that this position is no less deterministic than hard determinism – be clear that neither soft nor hard determinism believes man has a free will. Our choices are only our choices because they are voluntary, not coerced. We do not make choices contrary to our desires or natures. Compatibilism is directly contrary to libertarian free will. Therefore voluntary choice is not the freedom to choose otherwise, that is, without any influence, prior prejudice, inclination, or disposition. Voluntary does mean, however, the ability to choose what we want or desire most. The former view is known as contrary choice, the latter free agency. (Note: compatibilism denies that the will is free to choose otherwise, that is, free from the bondage of the corruption nature,for the unregenerate, and denies that the will is free from God’s eternal decree.)

Notice the article is clear that mankind does not have free will.  A person, when confronted with a choice to murder another person, is not able to choose to do the sin or not.  They are simply doing what God has determined for them to do.  The mystery is that God is not guilty of causing the person to sin nor is He wrong to hold the person to be punished for their sins that they could not chose to do otherwise.

The tension in Arminianism is much more biblical and to me is a biblical tension.  The tension in Arminianism is the mystery of how God is sovereign and does His will despite giving His creatures made in His image the freedom to choose.  God does have the right (since He is the creator) to step into our world and do as He pleases.  He foreknows all things and is not limited in His knowledge.  He foreknew, for example, the fall of Man (Genesis 3) yet does this mean that He caused the fall?  No!  He is perfectly holy and the Bible is clear that He leads no one into sinning (James 1:12-15).  God foreknew that wicked sinners would crucify His Son (Acts 2:23).  Did God cause them to kill His Son?  No!  They did so by their own sinfulness and free will.  The mystery here is free will and how God allowed these creatures of His to do as they please yet His will was done.

The Calvinist replies to this are that God is sovereign and by definition in Calvinism, sovereignty must mean that God alone determines all things.  But I ask why?  Why must we settle for the Calvinist answer?  After all, in the Bible people did things that grieved God yet if Calvinism and compatibilism are true, then why was God grieved?

Glenn Shellrude points out from Ezekiel 24:13-14 that in a Calvinist reading, God simultaneously tried to cleanse Israel and prevented them from being cleansed because He wanted to judge them (Grace for All, p.35).  Does this make sense?  In Jeremiah 7:31 the Lord rebukes the sons of Judah for doing what He had not commanded nor came to His mind.  The Calvinist understanding is that this is merely God coming down on our level so that we can understand His ways.  Yet this does not fit the text.  Is God merely saying something not true about Himself because of our ignorance?  That doesn’t make sense.

Shellrude goes on to point out the many sins in the New Testament we are said to avoid and even the entire book of 1 Corinthians where Paul rebukes the Corinthians for sinning.  If Paul understood compatibilism (and remember that Calvinists will claim that Paul was a true Calvinist) then surely he would understand that the sins of the people were done by the will of God.  The sins could not be avoided if God willed them so.

I accept that there are mysteries in theology.  This is one of them.  I believe in limited free will (because only God has true free will to do whatever He wills) because I see this truth played out in Scripture and in humanity.  Yet I believe in the sovereignty of God but not in the compatibilism use of the word.  I believe that God knows all things and yet the mystery for me is that God is not guilty of sin, that He doesn’t cause people to sin and He would that they not sin yet He allows for free sinful decisions yet He still gets His will done.  That is a mystery I accept because I see it taught in Scripture.  The Bible does not answer all our questions about God and I believe it never could.  God is simply too exhaustive to know.

Despite Calvinism holding to soft determinism, most Calvinists are not consistent in this so that they preach, pray, and live their lives as if free will were true.  No doubt when backed into a corner they will hold to determinism but they don’t live that way.  I know of only one man in all my years who lived as if compatibilism were true.  He would indulge looking at porn and he never felt guilty for it because he reasoned that if God didn’t will for him to look at porn, God would supply the grace for him to not look at it.  He eventually moved on to prostitutes and then to leaving his wife for another woman. Why?  Because God never stopped him.  He reasoned that God could have but God willed for him to do all these sexual sins.

Now to be fair, nearly every Calvinist I know would rebuke this man for his sinning.  They would even call him an apostate and call him to repentance and they should.  Yet did this man not do what God willed him to do?  If compatibilism is true then he has no free will and acted by his nature that God had not changed by His sovereign grace.  As an Arminian, I would (and did) call this man to repent.  I warned him of his sinning but he ignored me because of my Arminianism.  I pointed him to Scripture but he ignored that.  Again, he reasoned that if God wanted him to stop his sinning, God would grant him the grace to do so but God never did and so he continued in his sinfulness.

Now I know that was a hard case.  That is not typical at all and I thank God for that.  Most Calvinists I know are truly godly men and women who love the Lord Jesus.  Yet they live their lives as if free will were true.  They might would deny free will if asked but they wake up each day and seemingly do what they like.  When faced with temptation, they, like myself, are faced with a choice to make and many of them avoid sinning.  I praise God for that.  Yet if I asked them if they could freely choose A or B when faced with temptation, they would say yes yet Calvinism denies such a view.

I am happy to hold to my mysteries.  I have not figured God out and never will.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses who knocked on my door this morning have their god figured out.  That is why the JW’s god is not the true and living God.  God is a mystery.  He is beyond my understanding and His ways are a mystery to me.  I am comfortable with my mysteries in my theology.

Determinism and Evangelism

In Greg Dutcher’s book, Killing Calvinism, Dutcher writes that Calvinists often hear that Calvinism destroys evangelism.  Yet Dutcher writes that while he disagrees with such a view, the best way to show that Calvinism does not destroy evangelism is to actually do evangelism.  I appreciated that.  Dutcher writes that Calvinists like to point to men such as George Whitefield as proof that true Calvinists can be great soul winners but fail to show through their own lives that they actually do share the gospel with the lost.  Agreed with all that he wrote.  Great words for us all whether we are Arminians or Calvinists.

In another book, John MacArthur writes,

The wonder of the gospel is that it is God’s doing.  W sow the seed by sharing the gospel, then we go to sleep, and the Spirit works through the gospel to give life.  We do not control who is saved, because the Spirit goes wherever He wills (John 3:8).  We do not even know how it happens, any more than a farmer knows how a seed in the ground becomes food.  Our job is not to impart life, only to implant the seed.  Once we have done that, we can rest in the sovereign power of God. (Evangelism, pp.12-13).

I agree here with MacArthur as well.  Our job is not to “save” anyone since we cannot.  Only God can save a sinner who believes (1 Corinthians 1:21).  When a sinner believes the gospel, they are brought from death to life (John 5:24) and from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the Son (Colossians 1:13-14).  The sinner who believes the gospel does so by the grace of God, through the conviction of the Spirit (John 16:8-11) and after believing, they are sealed with the Spirit of God (Ephesians 1:13-14) which testifies to their adoption (Romans 8:15).

Yet I would point out that to be a consistent Calvinist, one must hold that all of salvation is unconditional.  God alone is the first and ultimate cause.  God foreordained all things even before time began (1 Peter 1:1-2).  God predestined His elect by His own sovereign choice (Romans 8:29-30).  God elects based on His own choice and not on anything in the person (Romans 9:11-13).  Consistent Calvinism then would hold that God not only elects the person before time began but He also sent His Son to redeem the elect (John 10:14-15).  God then calls and saves the elect not because of anything in man nor by the means of man but by His own sovereign, irresistible power (John 1:13; Acts 13:48).  While some Calvinists argue that God saves the elect by the means of the Word of God, this would not be consistent with the sovereignty of God nor with the unconditional nature of election.  To truly be unconditional, the choice, call, and saving is all done by God for God’s glory.  If we add that a person must hear the gospel, we are adding a condition.  If we add that a disciple must preach the gospel to the elect for them to hear and be saved, we are adding a condition.  This is not consistent.

I was recently reading Charles Spurgeon who was by no means consistent on this issue.  Spurgeon is hailed for his great preaching but also for his evangelism as well.  I appreciate Spurgeon much.  Yet Spurgeon was preaching on John 6:44 and he was being very Calvinistic in this text as I would expect.  Spurgeon even stated,

Now, if the preaching of Christ himself did not avail to the enabling these men to come to Christ, it cannot be possible that all that was intended by the drawing of the Father was simply preaching. No, brethren, you must note again, he does not say no man can come except the minister draw him, but except the Father draw him. Now there is such a thing as being drawn by the gospel, and drawn by the minister, without being drawn by God. Clearly, it is a divine drawing that is meant, a drawing by the Most High God—the First Person of the most glorious Trinity sending out the Third Person, the Holy Spirit, to induce men to come to Christ.

Spurgeon even took a shot at Arminians in this sermon for holding that sinners are converted by hearing the gospel and believing the truth.  Spurgeon here was consistent with his Calvinism.  Truly, if God has elected the elect before the world began and has saved them in His Son, the elect will be saved and further, are saved even from eternity past (eternal justification in the words of John Gill).  The means is not a condition to salvation.  Evangelism, preaching, discipleship, etc. are not means to salvation.  They cannot be.  That would add a condition and would not be consistent with the sovereignty of God as taught within Calvinism.  The fact is that Spurgeon was correct if Calvinism is true: the sinner is drawn not by the preaching of the gospel or any external means but the internal call of God by which the Spirit of God regenerates the sinner so that they can hear God’s voice and live.  The classic example given by Calvinists is Lazarus in John 11.

Calvinists will insist that external call goes out to all (Revelation 22:17) but the internal call goes out only to the elect.  The internal call is the call of God and is irresistible.  The internal call of God is based on His sovereign choice.  The internal call of God is unconditional.  The external call is the preaching of the gospel but the internal call of God is only to His elect (1 Corinthians 1:23-25).  The Calvinist evangelist then will preach the gospel to all and call all to repent and believe the gospel but he knows that only the elect will do so (1 Peter 1:3).  J.I. Packer writes that this is great comfort for the Reformed evangelist since they know that the work of God is done not by them but by God’s power and grace.  The evangelist merely preaches the gospel and the Lord does the work of saving sinners for His glory.  The duty of the evangelist is not to save anyone (he can’t) but to preach the gospel and God takes the gospel and brings forth fruitfulness in His timing (Matthew 13:3-9).

Yet is all this consistent with divine determinism?  If in fact God has chosen His elect before the foundation of the world and if in fact this election is based on God’s sovereign choice and if in fact this election and salvation are purely monergistic, what role does the evangelist play?  In reality, none.  If one argues that the preaching of the gospel is necessary to the saving of the elect, is this a condition?  How can one argue that election is unconditional while placing certain conditions upon election such as faith, repentance, or hearing the gospel preached by an evangelist?

I agree with much of what I wrote above about the external call.  I reject the internal call because this violates the power of choice in a given relationship and God, in Scripture, treats us as people.  God deals with people as people who can choose because they have been created in His image (Genesis 1:26-27).  The preaching of the cross is to be preached to all and all can be saved (John 16:8).  The prevenient grace of God is the preaching of the gospel and the work of the Spirit as He works through the preaching of the gospel to bring forth salvation among lost sinners (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8).  I agree entirely that God alone saves because He alone can save (Isaiah 45:22).  The “work” of mankind is to humble themselves and believe the gospel (John 6:29; Romans 4:5).  When a sinner humbles themselves before the cross, they will find that the Lord is merciful toward humble sinners and He will save them by His grace (Luke 18:14).  This is the hope of the Bible (1 Timothy 2:4).

Consistent Calvinists (known as hyper-Calvinists) hold that God saves only the elect and He does so in His own timing and power.  He does not need man nor does He even use man.  God alone saves His elect.  Everything that happens happens because God wills it so including the damnation of the non-elect or reprobate.  Calvin acknowledged this calling it the “horrible decree.”  I’m not sure why Calvin would label it as such since everything happens to the glory of God including the damnation of the reprobate.  In the consistent Calvinist church, how does one become a Christian?  By God’s sovereign decree and timing.  In fact, some consistent Calvinists believe that assurance of salvation is impossible in this life.  One cannot know they are elected until the final judgment.  Some have even taught that many will think they were elect but will find at the final judgment that they were not.  This reminds me of the Islamic view of eternal life in which Allah sometimes even casts faithful Muslims into hell simply because Allah wills it so.  While the consistent Calvinist would view Yahweh as loving and good, they would agree that Yahweh may or man not allow some into heaven even if they thought they were elect simply because He did not will it so.

Yet the Calvinist must admit that the consistent Calvinist is correct.  If God is sovereign as Calvinism teaches then everything that happens happens because of the will of God.  As R.C. Sproul is famous for saying, “If there is one rebellious molecule in the universe, God is not sovereign!”  In Calvinism, sovereignty means “complete control, divine determinism of all things.”  How can one say the uphold such a view of God yet say that He allows sinners to willfully reject (with free choice) the salvation offered to them?  Remember, compatibilism holds that free choice is not allowed.  Let me repeat the definition of compatibilism:

Compatibilism (also known as soft determinism), is the belief that God’s predetermination and meticulous providence is “compatible” with voluntary choice. In light of Scripture, human choices are believed to be exercised voluntarily but the desires and circumstances that bring about these choices about occur through divine determinism (see Acts 2:23 & 4:27-28). It should be noted that this position is no less deterministic than hard determinism – be clear that neither soft nor hard determinism believes man has a free will. Our choices are only our choices because they are voluntary, not coerced. We do not make choices contrary to our desires or natures. Compatibilism is directly contrary to libertarian free will. Therefore voluntary choice is not the freedom to choose otherwise, that is, without any influence, prior prejudice, inclination, or disposition. Voluntary does mean, however, the ability to choose what we want or desire most. The former view is known as contrary choice, the latter free agency. (Note: compatibilism denies that the will is free to choose otherwise, that is, free from the bondage of the corruption nature,for the unregenerate, and denies that the will is free from God’s eternal decree.)

So a sinner hears the gospel and notice that according to compatibilism, that person cannot choose freely to receive or reject the gospel.  Notice carefully that a person is not free to choose otherwise.  In other words, the Reformed evangelist comes along preaching the gospel to a crowd.  The Reformed evangelist preaches, “Repent and believe the gospel” but he knows that only those who have the internal call of God will respond while the others are dead in their sins and cannot even hear him spiritually speaking (1 Corinthians 2:14).  Yet even before the evangelist ever came and even before time began, God had already chosen His elect.  The evangelist comes and the people have no choice in this matter.  They will believe because God wills it so.  It has nothing to do with the evangelist or the sinner.  Go back and read Spurgeon at the top.  God draws the sinner not by external means but by His grace alone (John 6:44).  God needs no minister in the words of Spurgeon.  This, my friends, is consistent Calvinism.  It is not practiced much but it is consistent.

Conclusion

Some Calvinists will read this post and say that I got it all wrong.  I may have.  I am not a Calvinist and have never been so.  However, I read Spurgeon and most of the above came from a book I have on John Calvin written by a Calvinist.  I rejoice that consistent Calvinism is not rampant.  I believe that as more and more Calvinists read into Calvin and think deeply on the implications of Calvinism, they will reject the system.  Calvinism is not practical.  Calvinism is not congruent.  Especially for those who love sinners and want to see them saved.  Most Reformed evangelists I know preach like Arminians.  They call sinners to repent and they reason with sinners to come to faith.  Yet they are not consistent with their evangelism and their theology that they believe backs up their preaching.  From Jeremiah’s Cry to many other Reformed evangelism groups, they are not consistent in their application of Calvinism toward preaching to the lost.

My prayer is that we would soon see a turning of the tide away from Calvinism.  I love my Calvinist brothers and sisters.  I love to listen to many of them preach and teach the Word of God.  I have been blessed to have even evangelized with many Calvinists brothers and sisters in the open air.  I do not view Calvinists as enemies of the gospel.  Let me repeat that: I do not believe Calvinists are enemies of the gospel.  I disagree with Calvinism but love Calvinists.  I listen to many Calvinist podcasts and enjoy their labors for the Lord.  I rejoice that nearly every Calvinist I know is not consistent.

In the end, I will freely admit that I am not a brilliant man and could be wrong.  I pray that God would show me where I am wrong.  I would humble myself before His throne and admit my failures in my own theology as He reveals it to me.  I also confess that theology always has some mystery to it.  I cannot understand fully how God is able to take free choices of men and women and still has His own outcome.  I don’t understand the nature of petitionary prayer to the sovereignty of God.  Yet I am okay with mystery.  The gospel is not a mystery (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).  The gospel is clear (Acts 13:38-39).  Yet other aspects of theology are a mystery and I suppose we may never fully grasp them even in eternity in God’s holy presence.

In my next post I won’t to jump into John 6:37.  Does John 6:37 affirm divine determinism or is there another way to read John 6:37 in the context of both John and Scripture that affirms the universal call of the gospel?  We shall see.

May God be glorified in His Church!

Do Arminians Hate the Sovereignty of God?

Here is a link to an excellent post over at the Society of Evangelical Arminians by my good brother William Birch on the issue of Arminianism and the sovereignty of God.  This issue rises up every few years as Calvinists will claim yet again that we Arminians deny the sovereignty of God.  I would agree that we don’t hold to the same view of sovereignty as the Calvinists do but we do believe in the sovereignty of God.

You can find the post here.

God’s Sovereign Choice

“You Arminians deny the sovereignty of God and you want all the credit for your salvation.  You want man to play his part so that God doesn’t get all the glory.”

These are common arguments that some Calvinists use when arguing for unconditional election.  Calvinists argue that only in Calvinism is God truly glorified in the saving of sinners.  How is this so?  The Calvinist argues that God saves sinners based on His own divine choice.  God is purely arbitrary in His choosing.  He doesn’t acknowledge anything in man nor is His choice based on their faith.  The choosing of God is based only on His own choice.  If asked why God chooses to save so few or why He chooses to save even the Calvinist themselves, the Calvinist will likely answer, “Deuteronomy 29:29.”

But what if God placed His election upon a condition?  What if God said that He would save those who believe?  Does not God have the sovereign right to say how He would save?  And furthermore, how does this rob God of His glory if in fact it is God Himself who has said in His Word that He would save people who meet His conditions?  Is God still not gracious in His giving of salvation that is so rich and free?

The Bible is clear that God saves those who believe.  See John 3:15, 16, 36; 4:14; 5:24, 40; 6:47; 6:50-58; 20:31; Romans 3:21-30; 4:3-5; 4:9, 11, 13, 16; 4:20-24; 5:1, 2; 9:30-33; 10:4; 10:9-13; 1 Corinthians 1:21; 15:1-2; Galatians 2:15-16; 3:2-9; 3:11; 3:14, 22, 24; 3:26-28; Ephesians 1:13; 2:8; Philippians 3:9; Hebrews 3:6, 14; 3:18-19; 4:2-3; 6:12; 1 John 2:23-25; 5:10-13, 20.  Hebrews 11:6 is clear that without faith is impossible to please God and the one who comes to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.  Faith is the condition that God places upon salvation.  Faith opens the door for our eternal salvation.  The work of salvation is gracious and without the aid of the Holy Spirit none could be saved (John 6:44; Acts 16:14-15; 1 Corinthians 2:14).  The Spirit is the one who regenerates the sinner who believes (Titus 3:5-7).  The work of salvation is the grace of God (Romans 11:6).

Romans 5:1 tells us that we are justified through faith.  Notice we are not justified unto faith.  We are justified by faith.  Romans 4 is clear that faith is not a work that obtains salvation for in Romans 4 Paul the Apostle contrasts faith with works.  James 2:14-26 shows us that saving faith works.

God’s sovereign choice is that He will save those who believe.  This is for all people.  Jesus came to shed His blood for all (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2) but only those who appropriate His saving work by faith are redeemed (1 Timothy 4:10).  Those who reject the Son will not see life (John 3:18).  Jesus alone is the one mediator for all men before God (1 Timothy 2:5-6) because the will of God is for none to perish but for all to reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9).  God is clear in Ezekiel 18:32 that He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked but how can this be if in fact God has already chosen even before a person sins?

The wonderful truth of the gospel is that God will save sinners who come to Him through faith in His Son (John 6:47).  Peter preached in Acts 2:21 that everyone (all) who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.  This promise is for all (Acts 2:38-39).  Romans 10:13 reminds us the same: that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.  God is the gracious one that saves sinners.  God is the one that we point to, that we preach, that we exalt for sinners to come to faith and be saved.

The Definite Plan of God and Free Will of Mankind

Acts 2:23 shows us both the definite plan of Almighty God and the freedom of mankind.  While God offered His Son according to His own purposes and plan, He also still held the people responsible who crucified the Lord of glory (Acts 3:13-15; 5:30; 7:52; 13:27-28; cf. Luke 22:22).  While this verse clearly shows the sovereignty of God in the giving of His Son, it does not speak of man’s relation to God nor of our individual salvation.  To read into Acts 2:23 “unconditional election” to personal salvation does not do justice to the text and is reading our theological notions into the words of Dr. Luke in Acts 2:23.

What we do see in Acts 2:23 is that God decreed that His Son would be given for the sins of the world.  Jesus died according to the definite plan of God.  However, the acts of evil men in killing the Son of God on the cross is their own acts that God will hold them accountable for.  To read into Acts 2:23 that God “caused” people to mistreat the Son of God and kill Him is misleading.  God foreknew all this because of His omniscience but He did not cause the evil acts no more than He did not cause the fall of mankind into sin.  God foreknows all things but He does not cause all things.  He controls all things and upholds all things by His own power (Hebrews 1:3) but He does not directly cause all things otherwise He would be guilty of sinning (James 1:12-15).  Furthermore, that God foreknows is not the same as cause.  Foreknowledge means that God knows beforehand.  God knows does not mean God causes.  That God knows evil acts will occur does not mean that He causes them.  Because He foreknows all things, He is able to take the evil acts of mankind done by their own sinful will and He is able to turn them for His own purposes and glory (Romans 8:28).  This is the case here in Acts 2:23 and with other passages such as Genesis 50:20.

Dr. Harry Ironside wrote about Acts 2:23 some good words:

Notice how two things come together here that often trouble thinkers among men.  First, God’s predetermined purpose and wicked man’s free will.  God had predetermined that His blessed Son was to come into the world and give His life a ransom for sinners.  But God had not predetermined that men should curse Him, spit upon Him, and heap every kind of indignity upon Him.  These things were of men’s godlessness led on by Satan.  Peter says, “God sent Him; God knew all that would take place; but you are responsible for your sins in that you laid hold of Him and with your wicked hands crucified and slew Him.

One point about this is that God did foreknow the evil acts of men toward His Messiah.  Notice in Psalm 22:16-18 how the Scriptures prophesy about how evil men would treat the Lord.  Further, Isaiah 53 points to the evil acts of men toward the Lord’s suffering Servant, our Savior.  God did foreknow all that be done to the Lord Jesus but He allowed these free acts to continue to fulfill His own decreed purpose, salvation to those who have faith in Him (John 3:14-18).

The twin truths of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are clearly seen in this text.  God foreknows the evil acts of sinful men but He also has His own definite plan that will come to pass according to His own will.  What a mighty God we serve!

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