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A Friendly Response to JD Dalcour on John 3:16

I appreciate the ministry of brother JD Dalcour.  His book on Oneness Pentecostalism is the best book I’ve read on the subject (though I would take exception with some of his Calvinistic views in the book).  Dalcour is a thoughtful, intelligent brother who seeks to make a defense of the faith.

In his recent newsletter he has been writing about “10 Most Misinterpreted Passages.”  In this letter he attacks us Arminians on two verses: John 3:16 and 2 Peter 3:9.  Pretty standard Calvinist responses to these two verses.

The Arminian approach of both these verses is that John 3:16 and 2 Peter 3:9 affirm unlimited atonement.  This is why Calvinists often write about these two verses.  If the L of TULIP is true, that Jesus died only for the elect, Calvinists must do something with the so called “universal texts” that speak of Jesus dying for all men.

One of the problems is that Calvinists want to affirm that the work of Christ did not fail.  I appreciate this.  Of course, we Arminians do not believe in a failed atonement either.  We hold that while Jesus shed His blood for all sinners, only those who appropriate His blood are truly saved.  That Jesus died does not save anyone (even Calvinists acknowledge this) but rather the only one who is saved by the work of Christ is the one who repents of their sins and places their faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Even if one holds that faith is a gift from God (Philippians 1:29), God doesn’t believe for the person.  By His grace, the person believes and receives eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

Dalcour would have us to believe that Romans 5:1 should say that we are justified unto faith and not by faith.  The Scripture is clear that the only ones who are saved are those who believe in the gospel (1 Corinthians 1:21).  Even if one holds that Acts 13:48 is teaching unconditional election, those who believed are the only ones who are saved.  This is the clear teaching of the Bible.

So what about John 3:16?  Dalcour, as others before him have done following it seems in the footsteps of John Owen, makes much about “the ones believing” in the Greek text.  Dalcour builds his case that the Greek is clear: Jesus saves “all the ones believing in Him.” Further, Dalcour points out that the word “world” (Kosmos in the Greek) must be viewed in its context and doesn’t always mean “entire world” as Arminians have often preached.  Dalcour writes:

Due to the presupposition of autosoterism (self-salvation), chiefly promoted by the Arminians, kosmos is assumed here to mean every single person, thus embracing the “traditional” (not exegetical) view of universal atonement.  Although kosmos can have various meanings, as seen above, rarely does it carry an all-inclusive “every single person” meaning.  Further, we know that the “world” in v. 16 is not the same “world” that Jesus does not pray for in John 17:9; nor is it the “world” that John speaks of in 1 John 2:15, which we are not to love.  Also, in first century vernacular, the normal meaning of “world” was the “world” of Jews and Gentiles – as John’s audience would have understood (cf. John 12:17, 19).

Dalcour goes on to state that Jesus was sent by God not save the “world” but “the world of the believing ones.”

Let us take a look at his arguments.

First, Dalcour builds a straw man in that he asserts without any justification that Arminians hold to “autosoterism” or self-salvation.  I have been an Arminian for my entire Christian life.  I have heard many Arminians preach, have listened to Arminians give talks on theology, have read the works of many Arminians and I am yet to hear one Arminian teach this.

Arminius writes:

The object of justification is man, a sinner, acknowledging himself, with sorrow, to be such an one, and a believer, that is, believing in God who justifies the ungodly, and in Christ as having been delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification. As a sinner, man needs justification through grace, and, as a believer, he obtains justification through grace.

Faith is the instrumental cause, or act, by which we apprehend Christ proposed to us by God for a propitiation and for righteousness, according to the command and promise of the gospel, in which it is said, “He who believes shall be justified and saved, and he who believeth not shall be damned.”

Christ has not obtained by his merits that we should be justified by the worthiness and merit of faith, and much less that we should be justified by the merit of works: But the merit of Christ is opposed to justification by works; and, in the Scriptures, faith and merit are placed in opposition to each other.

Just these few quotes from the works of Arminius make it clear that Arminius did not hold to a person saving themselves.  All sinners are saved by grace through faith and not by our works of any kind (Romans 4:5-7; Titus 3:5-7).  Salvation is the gracious work of God that He has wrought though His Son (Ephesians 1:7).  This is biblical Arminianism.

Secondly, Dalcour’s reasoning about “world” is not accurate.  He is certainly right that context must determine the usage.  For example, Mark 1:5 says that all Judea and Jerusalem was going to John the Baptist to be baptized by him.  The context is clear that this means “a large number” and not “every single person.”  That said, Dalcour errs in saying that world here in John 3:16 is not a call to all to come and be saved.  He cites John 17:9 as proof.  Notice that is his only text.  He doesn’t turn to Luke 23:34 where Jesus does pray for sinners.  If Jesus refused to pray for sinners, Luke 23:34 would not make sense.

Furthermore, Dalcour points to 1 John 2:15.  If one studies John’s usage of world in just 1 John, one must conclude that 1 John 2:2 is indeed the entire world.  In fact, in 1 John 2:2 John contrasts “the believing ones” with the whole world in the same verse!

Conclusion

This has been a short reply and I would point my readers to the Society of Evangelical Arminians which has many articles on the issue of John 3:16 as it relates to the Greek text. The arguments Dalcour uses are old.  John Owen implied them hundreds of years ago.  Arminians have answered.

In closing, I agree with Dalcour that Jesus only saves those who believe.  I agree 100%.  I am not a complete “universalist” in that I teach that Jesus saves only those who repent and believe the gospel.  I don’t believe that simply because Jesus died on the cross that people are guaranteed eternal life.  I reject this view completely.  I teach that Jesus did die on the cross for all sinners but only those who place their faith in Him are saved.  None, including the Calvinists, are saved apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ.  I reject the doctrine of eternal justification.

However, I have found that some Calvinists are so bent on teaching Calvinism that they are willing to even exegete Scripture based on their own presupposition.  In this case, Dalcour takes his rejection of unlimited atonement and turns John 3:16 not into a promise for all sinners but instead he makes it applicable only to the elect whom God has chosen by His own arbitrary choice.  I would say take John 3:16 and preach it to sinners, calling them to repent and believe the gospel of God’s grace.

The Arminian Affirmation of the Atonement

The Bible is clear that Jesus died for sinners.  No one denies this.  Both Arminians and Calvinists acknowledge that Jesus shed His blood for the souls of lost sinners.  Matthew 1:21 is clear that Jesus came to save His people from their sins.  The key question in this debate over the atonement is whether the atonement is for all sinners period.  Many Calvinists insist that the atonement is indeed for all people on some level.  For example, Dr. John MacArthur believes that the atonement provides benefits for all people while only having the power to save the elect.  MacArthur goes on to state, “Jesus Christ made a sufficient sacrifice to cover every sin of every one who believes (John 3:16-18; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; 4:10; 1 John 2:2.”

I do not disagree.  MacArthur states the following on 1 John 2:2 and the “whole world”:

This is a generic term, referring not to every single individual, but to mankind in general.  Christ actually paid the penalty only for those who would repent and believe.  A number of Scriptures indicate that Christ died for the world (John 1:29; 3:16; 6:51; 1 Timothy 2:6; Hebrews 2:9).  Most of the world will be eternally condemned to hell to pay for their own sins, so they could not have been paid for by Christ.  The passages that speak of Christ’s dying for the whole world must be understood to refer to mankind in general (as in Titus 2:11).  “World” indicates the sphere, the beings toward whom God seeks reconciliation and has provided propitiation.  God has mitigated his wrath on sinners temporarily, by letting them live and enjoy earthly life (1 Timothy 4:10).  In that sense, Christ has provided a brief, temporary propitiation for the whole world.  But he actually satisfied fully the wrath of God eternally only for the elect who believe.  Christ’s death in itself had unlimited and infinite value because he is Holy God.  Thus his sacrifice was sufficient to pay the penalty for all the sins of all whom God brings to faith.  But the actual satisfaction and atonement was made only for those who believe (John 10:11, 15; 17:9, 20; Acts 20:28; Romans 8:32, 37; Ephesians 5:25).  The pardon for sin is offered to the whole world, but received only by those who believe (1 John 4:9, 14; John 5:24).  There is no other way to be reconciled to God.

A few thoughts here about this.  First, I appreciate Dr. MacArthur much.  He preaches salvation to all.  He never fails to call all to repent and believe the gospel.  In this sense, he follows in the steps of men such as George Whitefield and Charles Spurgeon in calling all sinners to repentance.  He is no hyper-Calvinist in this regard.  There has probably never been a man who has done more for expository preaching than John MacArthur.  Having personally met him, I found him to be gracious and kind.  So by no means do I present my case against him as an enemy.  I come as a brother.

Now the Arminian can read the above words from MacArthur and agree with most of what he wrote.  I agree that Christ died for the elect.  I agree that Christ died for His sheep.  I agree that Christ died for His Church.  I agree that Christ died for Paul the Apostle (Galatians 2:20).  I agree that Christ died for us (Galatians 1:4).  But I also go one step further and believe that Christ died for all.  I agree that no one is saved apart from being reconciled to God through Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).  I agree that one has to believe to be saved (John 5:24; Acts 16:30-31).  I agree that repentance is necessary for eternal life (Acts 2:38).  But I also believe that all can be saved and there is no limit on this number.

I agree that the world is opposed to God (1 John 2:15-17).  Ironically, MacArthur never limits “world” in 1 John but here in 1 John 2:2.  The world is indeed sinful, God-hating, rejecting the truth of the gospel.  I agree.  But what we find in the gospel is God calling out to the whole world to repent and be saved.  God, who is the one that the world hates, is calling to His enemies to come and be reconciled through faith (Isaiah 1:18).  This is the message of the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:47).

You’ll notice in MacArthur’s statement above also that he wants to make sure that we understand that he believes the atonement is powerful enough to cover the sins of the world if God wanted it to.  He doesn’t use those words but it seems implied by this reader.  He wants us to see how powerful and vast the work of Christ is.  I would agree.  In the cross, we do find God the Son dying for the world and shedding His precious blood for the lost.  If God wanted to, He could indeed reconciled the world through the powerful blood of Jesus.  I have no doubt.  Instead, God calls to lost sinners through His love that He demonstrated on the cross (John 3:16; Romans 5:8-9).  This is not a forced love.  This is not a forced relationship.  This is a loving relationship where the repenting sinner comes to God through His Son to be saved (Romans 2:4).  This is a genuine relationship that God initiated and not man (Ephesians 2:4-6; 1 John 4:10).  But this message, this good news is for the whole world (Luke 2:10-11; 1 John 4:14).

It is true that the atonement is only effective for those who believe.  Christ died for His enemies and He even prayed for His enemies at the cross (Luke 23:34).  MacArthur even acknowledges that Christ is praying for His enemies at this passage and adds:

Some of the fruit of this prayer can be in the salvation of thousands of people in Jerusalem at Pentecost (Acts 2:41).

Notice he adds in his note that “some of the fruit” and not all.  If it is true that Christ is dying only for the elect, why pray for the world?  Why pray for the sinners who are killing Him?  Many Calvinists point to John 17:9 as proof that Jesus does not pray for the world but only for the elect.  Yet MacArthur acknowledges that Luke 23:34 is for the lost.  He also is clear that God heard His prayer and saved some of those who perhaps killed Jesus at Pentecost in Acts 2:41.

Let us be clear here though.  None were saved by Jesus praying for them in Luke 23:34.  They had to appropriate the work of Christ just as we all do through faith.  That Jesus shed His blood saves no one.  Even Calvinists agree with this while insisting that the sins of the elect were placed on the Son.  All agree that we are saved by faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-9).  And even if we allow for Calvinists to believe that faith is a gift given by God to His elect, we must still acknowledge that the wrath of God is against us till we believe.

This would mean two things.  First, those who are in cast into hell are cast into hell because they rejected the sacrifice of the Son of God for their sins.  Do we have passages of Scripture that speak of Christ dying for their sins while they rejected His sacrifice?  Yes e do.  Romans 14:15; 1 Corinthians 8:11; 2 Peter 2:1.  In context all these Scriptures speak of those whom Christ died who may not share in eternal life.  Even MacArthur does acknowledge that 2 Peter 2:1 is referring to false teachers who claimed Christ and so Peter mocks them by saying that they refuse to submit to the Lordship of Christ whom they claimed bought them.

What is clear is that people who go to hell go to hell because of their rejection of God and His truth.  The person is to blame and not God who gave His Son for their reconciliation.  Calvinism would place the blame on God.  God chose to reject sinners even before time began and even if you allow for the sinner’s punishability for their sins, they are sinning because God has predetermined that they be sinners in the first place by His own sovereign will (Romans 9:22-23).  If I were a Calvinist, at this point I would preach hard annihilation since the sinner is in hell tormented day and night forever because God willed that they never be saved in the first place.  Annihilation is at least charitable toward sinners who are being tormented for God’s glory in the first place in the Calvinist view.

Secondly, the application of the atonement is through faith.  Even MacArthur doesn’t preach the doctrine of eternal justification.  Consistent Calvinists such as John Gill see the truth that the elect are born sinless.  How else can it be?  If God placed the sins of the elect on Christ and He ensures that the elect will believe by His own sovereign choice from eternity past, who can one argue that God ever sees the sins of the elect?  If Christ died for my sins at the cross and God placed my sins on Him at the cross, when was the wrath of God against my sins appeased?  Gill would answer the cross.  MacArthur would answer the cross but add that I must receive it by faith.  And I would answer: Yes and this is biblical Arminianism!

Romans 3:21-26 in the ESV is beautiful (with my emphasis):

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Faith is the design of God to come into a saving relationship with Himself.  This is the sovereign will of God.  This is the sovereign decree of God.  All who repent and believe will be saved.  There is no limit to the sacrifice of the Son of God.  I have heard many Calvinists preaching like Arminians to the lost by preaching that Christ shed His blood so that they might be saved.  They call out to lost sinners to repent and believe the gospel (as if sinners could actually do this by their command).  They call to sinners to turn from their sins and be saved through faith in Christ.  And I agree!  In fact, I believe that every person whom the Calvinist evangelist is preaching to can be saved and there is no limit to the power of the gospel (Romans 1:16-17).  If God can have mercy on me, He can have mercy on my lost neighbors and co-workers who despise Him at this time (1 Timothy 1:15; 4:10).

As Paul the Apostle wrote above in Romans 3:24, this salvation is a gift to be received by faith.  The sinner does not earn this salvation.  There is nothing we could add to the work of Christ to be saved.  In fact, what a wicked thing to do to add to the cross of Christ by saying that we must also do our part to be saved.  We are justified though faith alone in Christ alone by His grace alone (Romans 5:1; Galatians 2:15-16; 3:13-14).  This is true of us as children of God as well as the lost sinners we are preaching to.  Salvation is the gracious work of God (John 1:12-13; Titus 2:11-14; 3:5-7).  We are saved by the work of Christ alone.

Thankfully both Calvinists and Arminians preach that truth.  Some Calvinists try to assert that we Arminians preach that we can save ourselves or we preach a works-righteousness system but this is not the truth.  Arminius wrote:

“I believe that sinners are accounted righteous solely by the obedience of Christ; and that the righteousness of Christ is the only meritorious cause on account of which God pardons the sins of believers and reckons them as righteous as if they had perfectly fulfilled the law. But since God imputes the righteousness of Christ to none except believers, I conclude that, in this sense, it may be well and properly said, to a man who believes, faith is imputed for righteousness through grace, because God hath set forth his Son, Jesus Christ, to be a propitiation, a throne of grace, [or mercy seat] through faith in his blood.”

Adam Clarke wrote:

The doctrine of justification by faith is one of the grandest displays of the mercy of God to mankind. It is so very plain that all may comprehend it; and so free that all may attain it. What more simple than this-Thou art a sinner, in consequence condemned to perdition, and utterly unable to save thy own soul. All are in the same state with thyself, and no man can give a ransom for the soul of his neighbor. God, in his mercy, has provided a Saviour for thee. As thy life was forfeited to death because of thy transgressions, Jesus Christ has redeemed thy life by giving up his own; he died in thy stead, and has made atonement to God for thy transgression; and offers thee the pardon he has thus purchased, on the simple condition that thou believe that his death is a sufficient sacrifice, ransom, and oblation for thy sin; and that thou bring it, as such, by confident faith to the throne of God, and plead it in thy own behalf there. When thou dost so, thy faith in that sacrifice shall be imputed to thee for righteousness; that is, it shall be the means of receiving that salvation which Christ has bought by his blood.

And I end with John Wesley:

But there is an undeniable difference between the Calvinists and Arminians, with regard to the three other questions. Here they divide; the former believe absolute, the latter only conditional, predestination. The Calvinists hold, (1.) God has absolutely decreed, from all eternity, to save such and such persons, and no others; and that Christ died for these, and none else. The Arminians hold, God has decreed, from all eternity, touching all that have the written word, “He that believeth shall be saved: He that believeth not, shall be condemned:” And in order to this, “Christ died for all, all that were dead in trespasses and sins;” that is, for every child of Adam, since “in Adam all died.”

The Master Who Bought Them

In 2 Peter 2:1 we find one of the major passages that teach that Jesus Christ died for those who reject Him.  The Calvinist view is that Jesus died only for the elect of God, His sheep, His people.  Calvinist theologians will often point to passages such as John 10:11 where Jesus says that His death is for His sheep.  Calvinists then point to sheep as proof that Jesus died only for those who His.  They point out that, in their view, the Bible doesn’t teach that Jesus died for all men but only all types or kinds of people and thus they come to passages such as John 3:16 and interpret “world” to mean “the elect out of the world” (John Owen) or 1 Timothy 2:4 and believe that the Lord wants to save all types of people from 1 Timothy 2:1-2.  Thus true Calvinist evangelists will never say that Jesus died for a person they are preaching the gospel to since we can’t know for certain if Jesus did die for that person.

Augustine went further in his views on election.  He believed that God would even send a false spirit of assurance to a non-elect person to deceive them.  Why?  Who knows but God?  So a person could possibly think that they are elect, that Jesus died for them, that the Spirit of God dwells in them but in fact they are deceived and are destined for eternal destruction.

I argue further that the Calvinist doctrine of atonement does not lead to assurance.  A person reading this may think themselves elect (including the writer) but in fact a year or so from now, we might turn away from the faith and prove that we were never saved (or elected) to begin with (1 John 2:19 in the Calvinist view).  We could be a Judas (John 6:70-71 and notice that Jesus Himself chose Judas just He did all His disciples according to John 15:16).  Let us hold firmly to 1 John 2:24-25.

In 2 Peter 2:1 however we find a passage that Calvinist theologians and apologists struggle with.  The verse reads in the ESV:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.

The verse is clearly speaking of false disciples, false teachers.  These are not Christians, true disciples of the Lord Jesus.  These are even heretics.  Yet Peter the Apostle says that Jesus bought them.  He uses the Greek word “Agorazo.”  The word means to buy or to buy a thing (Matthew 13:44, 46; 14:15).  Paul the Apostle uses the same Greek word in 1 Corinthians 6:20 and 7:23 which both read:

6:20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

7:23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men.

The word “Agorazo” is used in Revelation 5:9 and 14:3-4:

5:9  And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.

14:3-4 And they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.  It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb.

In both cases the ESV translates the word “Agorazo” as “redeemed” but the basic meaning is to purchase or buy.  While Galatians 3:13 doesn’t use “Agorazo” we see that it is Christ who redeems us or purchases us for God.  Christ is our redeemer, the very One who would die for our sins and redeem or buy or purchase us for God.  We are redeemed from sin, from Satan, from the world, from the curse.

And so are those in 2 Peter 2:1.  They are not saved but they were purchased.  This view aligns perfectly within Arminianism where we believe that Jesus shed His blood for all men.  The blood of Jesus though only saves those who appropriate His blood through faith (Romans 3:25).  We are now justified before a holy God through faith in the Lord Jesus who died for our sins (Acts 15:11; Romans 5:1; Ephesians 2:8-9).  This salvation is accomplished by the work of the Man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:3-6).  Our faith is in Jesus alone to save us from our sins and to forgive us and to reconcile us to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).

And this gospel is for all sinners (Matthew 28:19).  Jesus died for all and all can be saved through the work of Christ Jesus (Titus 2:11).  Of course, the Bible doesn’t teach that simply because Jesus died all men are now saved (Hebrews 5:8-9).  People are commanded to repent and believe the gospel (Acts 17:30-31; cf. 2:38-39).  The heart of the Lord is for all (2 Peter 3:9). The Arminian evangelist can cry out that Jesus died for all sinners (John 3:16; 12:32), that whosoever can come and be saved (Romans 10:13; Revelation 22:17).  The Arminian can point to the Old Testament examples of proof that God was preparing the world for the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world (John 1:29).  That just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness and all who looked to it were healed, so the Son of Man was lifted up that all the world might look to Him and be healed (John 3:14-18).

Truly the love of God is great for lost sinners.  Even here in 2 Peter 2:1 we can hear the Holy Spirit calling to these heretics to repent.  The heart of God is not for their destruction (Ezekiel 18:32) but for their repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10; cf. Romans 2:4).  Truly the love of God is great for John writes in 1 John 4:10:

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

But lest we forget John adds in 1 John 4:14:

And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.

This is the same world that John denounces in 1 John 2:15-17 but here he says that the Son of God is the Savior of the world.  This is the same world as in John 3:16 and 1 John 2:2.

Let us preach that Jesus is the Savior of the world and this is great news for all men (Luke 2:10-11).

Leighton Flowers Rebuttal to Tony Miano

Tony Miano, whom some of you might remember caused a stir back in the summer of 2015 when he basically said that Arminians are not saved if they hold to Arminianism and that Arminians worship a false god.  I called Miano’s hand on this as he had written in years prior to this while he was on staff with Living Waters (Ray Comfort) that Arminians were brothers and that we should not divide over this issue.  Miano had called Mark Cahill, an evangelist whom many in the open air preaching world know of, to repent for his statements that Calvinists worship a false god and that he would not associate with Calvinists.  I urged Miano to apologize to Cahill since he did just what he accused Cahill of. Instead, Miano went on to bash Arminians and even called for Dr. Michael Brown to come to repentance and true salvation (i.e. become a Calvinist).

After this, Miano took a “brief” hiatus from social media and blogging he said to get his thoughts together on this issue.  After a brief blackout, Miano is back on social media but not as aggressive this time it seems (for now).  Yet Miano did release the following podcast in which he attacks “the helpless god of free will religion.”  I have linked the podcast for you to listen to if you desire.  I listened to and sent it to my friend Leighton Flowers who did a podcast in which he offers a rebuttal to Miano and I believe Flowers does an excellent job.  I shared in Flowers assessment of Miano’s podcast, that it was not deep nor did he develop an excellent theological presentation to rebuke those of us who hold to free will.  Miano just builds his case against his own perceptions of what we believe and not does not interact with us nor our scholars.

My point here is not to stir the pot again toward Miano.  I think most Arminians simply ignore him.  I use to appreciate much of what Miano did.  I was an avid listener to his podcast, I supported him with money,  I prayed for him often, purchased his gospel tracts and though I disagreed with Tony here and there, I would have gladly preached the gospel with him in the open air.  That has all changed.  I still regard him as a brother though I don’t listen to him anymore, I don’t watch his videos, and I don’t support him.  I pray for Tony to repent of seeing us Arminians as enemies of the gospel.  We can disagree and still love each other.  I gladly would stand with any and every Calvinist in preaching the gospel to the lost.  I would gladly stand with my Calvinist friends against the enemies of the gospel of God’s grace.  While we can disagree let it be a debate “in house” where we regard the gospel as separate from our isms.  We can disagree how we are in Christ but let us praise the Lord that we are in Christ!

Tony Miano’s podcast.

Leighton Flower’s rebuttal.

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.

Grace For All Book Review (Chapter 4)

You can find my earlier reviews of this book beginning here.

Chapter 4 of the book Grace for All is a wonderful chapter.  I appreciated it because Dr. Robert Picirilli dives right into the Scriptures to prove his point, that Christ died for all.  Picirilli is clear that Christ shed His blood for all but this salvation is only applied to those who repent and believe the gospel.  Calvinists (at least in part) acknowledge this to be true despite claiming that Christ’s work on the cross actually saves.  Arminians would agree.  The work of Christ was not a failure in that it pleased the Father and brought glory to Him (Philippians 2:5-11).  Yet none are saved simply because Christ died on the cross.  The resurrection after the cross completes the work of redemption for if Jesus is not raised, we are still dead in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:17).  Jesus shed His blood for our sins (John 19:30) and was raised for our justification (Romans 4:24-25).  One must place their faith in the risen Savior who did shed His blood for our sins.

Calvinists often assert that the Arminian view of the atonement is that Christ died to make men savable but He didn’t save anyone on the cross.  The Calvinist view is that God placed the sins of the elect upon Christ so that when Jesus shed His blood, He shed His blood for the sins of the elect.  Yet carried out to its extreme, this would imply that Calvinists hold to eternal justification (as many hyper-Calvinists do).  I ask the question: when is a person justified before God?  Is it when Christ died on the cross?  Is it before time began?  Is it when a person places their saving faith in Christ?  The obvious answer is the that a sinner is only justified before a holy God when the sinner places their faith in Christ alone to save them from the wrath of God to come (Romans 5:1).  We are saved by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) and not by works which we do (Titus 3:5-7).  Yet none are saved until they repent and believe the gospel.  The Calvinist can argue all day that their sins were placed on Christ when He died but the reality of their salvation only comes when they repent and believe the gospel.  This would mean that the Calvinist is not born innocent of sin (this is the hyper-Calvinist view) because they actually sinned in time (Romans 3:23) but their salvation only comes when they (the sinner) repent and believe the gospel.  While the Calvinist can argue their monergistic view of regeneration, they cannot argue that the atonement saved them 2000 years ago but rather it saves them when they actually believe in the gospel (Romans 10:14-17; 1 Corinthians 1:21; 15:1-4; Galatians 3:1-5).

Picirilli examines the Arminian position by looking at key words of salvation.  He looks at the words redemption, propitiation, and reconciliation.  By looking at the words used in their biblical context, it is easy to see that Christ died for all people.  Along the way Picirilli points out how Calvinists have interpreted the texts.  For example, Picirilli shows how Calvinists have handled 1 Timothy 2:1-6 where Paul uses “all” three times.  Calvinists take the word “all” here not to mean all in all people but only all types of people (though the Bible doesn’t use the term here that way).  Calvinists go out of their way to build a case against all because the use of the word all would imply that Christ died for all and Calvinism says He died only for the elect.

Picirilli also looks at other key “universal” texts such as 1 Timothy 4:10; Titus 2:11.  I appreciated Picirilli also looking at the book of 1 John and how John uses the word “world” (kosmos in the Greek).  By looking at how John uses the Greek, we see that the word “world” is not merely “a group out of the world” as Calvinists often insist but rather the entire world.  Jesus shed His blood for the entire world but only those who appropriate their faith in Christ will be saved.

One interesting point is that Picirilli quotes from John Calvin on John 3:16:

Both points are distinctly stated to us: namely, that faith in Christ brings life to all, and that Christ brought life, because the Heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish….And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term World, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life.

In the conclusion, Picirilli dives into the strongest Calvinist argument for limited atonement and that is that the Bible uses word that suggest that the atonement accomplished what God meant for it to accomplish: salvation.  1 John 4:10 says that Christ’s death was for the propitiation of our sins.  2 Corinthians 5:19 says that God has reconciled the world unto Himself through Christ.  Are these meant to suggest universal salvation?  Calvinists point out that Arminians deny universalism but how can they if these Scriptures are true?  The Calvinist answers that Christ shed His blood only for the elect and He has accomplished their redemption by His own blood to the glory of God.  Universalism can be easily rejected, the Calvinist answers, because the Bible is not teaching universalism but instead that Christ died for His elect only that God chose out of the sinful world (Romans 9:22-23).

Picirilli answers this claim by first pointing out that when a doctor makes a diagnosis of a person, that diagnosis does not save the person’s life but we often use language to say that it did.  No one would say that the doctor finding a cancer in a person saved them at that moment.  It takes the work of the doctor to save the person who humbly submits to the doctor’s diagnosis and allows the doctor to cut out the cancer from their body.  At that point, the person is now saved.

Likewise, even Calvinists such as Shedd point out that only those who place their faith in the atonement are saved.  The atonement, by itself, saves no one.  Consider Romans 3:21-26:

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.

Notice that the atonement is not said to save but only those who appropriate the work of Christ are said to be saved.  Salvation is received by grace through faith.  Even Calvinists preach this.  We must humble ourselves before the diagnosis of our sinfulness (Romans 3:19-20) and confess that Jesus alone is able to save us from our sins (John 8:24; 14:6; Romans 10:9-13).  We must not only preach the universal call to salvation (which I rejoice that Calvinists do) but we must preach that all who place their saving faith in Jesus can be saved.  The call is to repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15).

These gives the Arminian three key points we should ponder.  First, we must pray for all to hear the gospel by praying for God to send out laborers to work His harvest (Matthew 9:37-38).  Secondly, we should pray for all to hear the gospel and be saved by grace through faith (1 Timothy 2:1-6).  Thirdly, we should pray for God to use us in evangelism of the lost (Acts 1:8).  The will of God is not for sinners to perish (Ezekiel 18:32; 2 Peter 3:9) but for sinners to repent (Acts 17:30-31).

The Purpose of Signs and Wonders In the Ministry of Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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