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Posts Tagged ‘Doctrine of Election

Why Do Calvinists Despise Unlimited Limited Atonement?

I have a friend who posted from A.W. Pink, Pink’s infamous (from my viewpoint) talk on John 3:16 in which (like John Owen before him) Pink insists that John 3:16 does not teach that Jesus died for the world but rather the world here must be mean the elect that God has chosen out of the world.  If John 3:16 means that Jesus died for all men then all would be saved (this is their reasoning) and since all are not saved then it follows that Jesus did not die for all men and thus John 3:16 is not saying that Jesus died for the whole world but rather that He died only for the elect that God has chosen out of the sinful world.

And Calvinists rejoice in this view!

But why?  Why do Calvinists rejoice that John 3:16 doesn’t teach that Jesus shed His blood for all people?  What hope can they give lost sinners that they can be saved?  What comfort does it bring Calvinists to read John 3:16 and say to themselves, “This is not referring to all but only to the elect.”  Do they ever wonder then if Jesus perhaps did not die for them?  Remember that both Augustine and Calvin taught that God sometimes gives sinners a false assurance that they are saved but in reality He will condemn them to eternal hell because He simply did not choose them.

However, one could argue that Calvinists despise unlimited limited atonement for several reasons.  Some are obviously better than others. Let me offer just a few.

1.  It’s Not Biblical.

This would be the standard answer from your more intelligent Calvinists.  They honestly believe that the Bible teaches that Jesus shed His blood only for the elect and unlimited passages such as John 1:29 or John 3:16-18; Romans 5:18; 2 Corinthians 5:14, 19; 1 Timothy 2:6; Titus 2:11; Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 2:2.  They believe that if this doctrine were true, Jesus shed His blood in vain since most people are not saved.

Calvinists often will reply as well that when Jesus died on the cross, He truly saved people on the cross.  They believe that all the Old Testament saints were now saved through Christ’s work as well as the New Testament saints yet to come.  The doctrine of definite atonement (or particular redemption or limited atonement) is said to have been completed on the cross.  However, nearly all Calvinists believe that the atonement must be appropriated by faith.  In other words, while they teach that the elect were justified in Christ at the cross, the elect only become the elect through faith.  Ask any normal Calvinist when they were saved and they will reply the same as the Arminian, “At this point in time when I repented of my sins and placed my faith in Christ.”  Yet this is a denial of the Calvinist doctrine if in fact the elect are not eternally justified in the mind of God.  If Christ shed His blood for the elect and Calvinism teaches that the elect are saved in Christ at the cross then the elect are never born with sin.  They are eternally justified before God because of Christ.  The elect were saved at the cross and thus none need to repent in time.  This is the logic of Calvinism if you carry it out.

The Arminian answer is simple: Christ shed His blood for all people and all can come and be saved.  However, only those who repent of their sins and place their saving faith in Christ Jesus are saved and thus the elect (1 Timothy 4:10).  The Bible even mentions that some are lost despite Jesus shedding His blood for them (Romans 14:15; 1 Corinthians 8:11; 2 Peter 2:1-2).  Calvinists often say that all whom the Lord loves (or chosen) will be saved yet Jesus loved the rich young ruler in Mark 10:21 yet he was not saved.  Salvation is by faith (Romans 5:1) and not unto faith.

2.  Comfort in God’s Choosing.

Some Calvinists find comfort that the Bible teaches that Christ shed His blood only for the elect and they consider themselves His elect.  Calvin wrote about false assurance that God gives to the non-elect so the non-elect actually believe they are elect but in reality are not:

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

For more on this subject view this blogpost.

Calvin taught that God does not give us reasons why He allows people to believe they are the elect when they are not.  In the end, as always with the Calvinist doctrine of election, the choice is purely arbitrary.  While I don’t believe that the Calvinist view of election is the same as in Islam, both views end with a sovereign God choosing merely based on His own choice whom He will save and in both Calvinism and Islam, God does allow people to falsely believe they are the elect.  I have been told many times that I am not part of the elect because of my rejection of Calvinism (since Calvinism is seen as the gospel among some Calvinists).  I have been told that I have a false assurance and that I am lost.

For some Calvinists, the doctrine of election brings comfort to them since they believe that God looked throughout time and chose them.  From my vantage point, it seems God has favored Europeans and Westerners for most of the history of the Church.  Thankfully, God must now be finally choosing to save non-whites as He is saving people all across Africa and Asia.  Yet perhaps He is not and just giving these poor sinners a false assurance of their election.

The Arminian answer is simple: you can have assurance that you are part of the elect through faith in Christ (John 6:37) and in perseverance in faith (2 Peter 1:10-11).  The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Romans 8:16).  The Word of God also bears witness to our adoption (1 John 5:13).  We can know that we are saved because of the work of Christ (Hebrews 9:14) and not our works.  If you are trusting in Christ alone to save you from the wrath to come, you are part of the elect of God!  You can have the assurance that Jesus shed His blood for you because of the doctrine of unlimited limited atonement.  The reason that we are seeing so many souls come to faith in Christ in Africa and Asia is because of the gospel (Romans 10:14-17) and the lack of faith in Europe and the West is because of the rejection of the true gospel.  Where the gospel is preached, God is faithful to save (Romans 10:13; cf. Acts 2:38-39).

Conclusion

I want to close by writing about how we should now preach.  Calvinist evangelists preach just like Arminians do when calling sinners to repentance.  I have yet to hear a Calvinist evangelist truly preach Calvinism to the lost.  I have found that Calvinism is often taught after one repents and not before.  When Calvinism is preached, it can lead to despair (see the case of Joseph Hawley, the uncle of Jonathan Edwards).

In reality, the Bible is clear that God wills the salvation of all (1 Timothy 2:4).  His will is for people to repent (2 Peter 3:9).  The Bible says that God does not delight in the death of the wicked but that they should turn and live (Ezekiel 18:32).  Jesus shed His blood for all sinners but only those who place their faith in His saving work are the elect of God.  All others go to hell because of their own sins and their own unwillingness to repent of their sins.

Romans 3:23-25 is clear:

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.

We receive salvation by grace through faith.  Let us preach this truth to all creation (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:47; John 20:21; Acts 1:8; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21).

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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.

Why Did God Choose Me?

The differences between Arminianism and Calvinism over the issue of the doctrine of election are revealed when we seek to answer the question, “Why did God choose me?”

The Calvinist answer is that God chooses people purely based on His arbitrary choice.  God does not choose people because He loves them or because of faith in Christ but based purely on God’s sovereign choice.  Calvinist theologian Sam Storms writes:

To say that God is impartial means that he is not moved or motivated by human characteristics such as race or gender or color of hair or socio-economic achievements. When God set his electing love on some but not all, he was not influenced by wealth or power or beauty or education or skill or potential or any other human consideration. God favored the elect, God was partial toward them, because that is what he wanted to do. He was not obligated by anything in any person to show favor to anyone. If God grants preferential treatment to his elect it is solely because it pleases him to do so, and not because the elect distinguished themselves from the non-elect by fulfilling some condition, either spiritual or physical.

Arbitrary in His choosing.  God’s choosing is based purely on His sovereign right to choose.  It is not based on the person at all.  God does not treat the person as a person but a part of His plan.

John MacArthur defines unconditional election as follows:

It is the doctrine taught by Scripture throughout Scripture that God sovereignly, independently, uninfluenced by any other person chooses who will be saved and that that choice was made by God before time began, before the world was created in eternity past and that He is in response to that choice redeeming His chosen people through human history until finally they are all together redeemed and gathered into His presence forever.

Notice again that election among Calvinists is purely arbitrary.  It is based on God’s sovereignty alone.  Humans play no role in the Calvinistic understanding of election.

Yet I will be fair here that MacArthur (and most Calvinists) deny double predestination despite the fact that Calvin taught it from Romans 9:22-23.  MacArthur is clear that he holds that God merely endures the non-elect while not making them that way.  However, if the sovereignty of God is to be maintained (as taught by Calvinists) then MacArthur must ignore the role that God’s sovereignty would play upon the non-elect.  They are non-elect because God will it so and this is a fundamental point of disagreement from us Arminians.

The Arminian answer to the question of “Why did God chose me” is based on the Christ-centered approach to Scripture.  God chose me because of Christ (Ephesians 1:4-13).  Scripture reveals that the heart of God is fully revealed in His Son (John 1:14).  Jesus is the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15) and Jesus was fully God and fully man (John 1:1).  Jesus is the heart of Scripture (John 20:31).  All of Scripture testifies about Jesus Christ (Luke 24:27).  Jesus is the very center of Scripture and we must view all things through Him and His saving work.

In light of the cross, election would then be based on the work of Jesus.  Those who embrace the cross become the children of God, the elect of God found in Christ (1 Timothy 4:10).  Jesus is the elect one and we are elect if we are in Him through faith (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).  Jesus shed His blood for all men (Matthew 26:28) and His blood alone is able to cleans sinners from their sins (Ephesians 1:7).  Only those who appropriate the work of Christ are the elect of God (Romans 5:17).  Only those who trust in Christ alone are saved (Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5-6).  God foreknows the elect (Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 1:2) because He is God and He knows all things but He does not make people believe but people believe out of their own freed will (John 6:44).  In Romans 9 Paul clearly shows that those who have faith in Jesus are saved and the Jews are lost because of their rejection of Christ and His saving work (Romans 9:30-31).  God’s heart is now to have mercy on all and not merely Israel (Romans 11:32).

Thus election in Arminianism is not arbitrary but is based on love.  I know that Calvinists claim that their teaching on election is also based on love but one cannot ignore the sovereign arbitrary choosing of God that, according to both Storms and MacArthur above, is based on God alone.  God, in Calvinism, then chooses people purely because He wants to and not because of Christ, faith, or even love.  It is His glory alone that God chooses people in Calvinism and hell exists because of God’s glory.

The fact that God treats people as people made in His image is a strong point for us Arminians.  Despite mankind’s sinfulness, God still reaches out to men and He still interacts with men based on love and God speaks to people in the Bible as people.  Even MacArthur acknowledges this.  He preached:

I think we preach whosoever will may come. I think we preach Isaiah 55, everyone that thirsts, come, come. Jesus says, “Why will you die? Why won’t you come?” Jesus weeps, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often I would have gathered you, you that kill the prophets and stone those that are sent to you, how often I would have gathered you as a hen gathers her brood, but you would not and now your house is left to you desolate.” Jesus pleading, Jesus weeping. Jeremiah 13, God weeps in Jeremiah 13, shedding tears over Israel’s apostasy and unbelief and disobedience and defection from the truth. And the heart of God is broken and the prophet says God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. So I…I see clearly that the Bible holds the sinner responsible. The Bible calls the sinner to repent and believe the truth.

And I agree.  God deals with people as people.  He calls them to repent. He calls them to turn.  He calls them to be saved.  The call of Acts 2:39 is that all can come.

The bottom line is that the Calvinist is hard pressed to define election apart from God’s arbitrary choice.  The Arminian position is that God deals with people on a personal level based on the work of Christ.  Election then in Arminianism is Christ-centered with Christ receiving the glory, worship, and honor for saving sinners.  His blood was not shed in vain as the gospel goes forth (Romans 1:16-17).

John Wesley’s Strong Words About Unconditional Election

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romans 9:16

John Piper wrote that Romans 9:16 is the death knell for Arminianism.  If a Calvinist can get an Arminian to see the plain reading of Romans 9:16, the Arminian would be forced to humbly admit that salvation is the entire work of God and that man plays no role in salvation.  Thus the Arminian would soon convert to Calvinism.

Calvinists likewise see Romans 9:16 as one of the key texts in proving unconditional election.  John MacArthur, for example, teaches that Romans 9:16 proves that salvation is not initiated by human choice but the sovereign grace of God and that even faith itself is a gift from God given to His elect.  This is the standard thinking from Calvinism on Romans 9:16.

R.C. Sproul likewise sees Romans 9:16 as forever doing away with Arminianism.  In his book Chosen By God, Sproul affirms that Romans 9:16 teaches unconditional election and that its implications will do away with Arminianism (p.151).

A couple of observations are in order.  First, the context of Romans 9 is not on individuals but upon people groups.  In this case Paul the Apostle was arguing over the Jewish objections that would come saying that they, the Jews, by race, were the chosen people of God.  The Jews believed that by virtue of God’s sovereign choice, they were His elect people instead of the Gentiles.  Paul is arguing that God has not failed (Romans 9:6)  if in fact He has now chosen to save sinners by His grace through faith in Christ Jesus whom He brought forth by the Jews (Romans 9:1-5).  God has the sovereign right to save however He chooses to save and He has the sovereign right to chose this group over that group.  This is Paul’s argument.

Secondly, in Romans 9:16 Paul is arguing based on the context of Romans 9:14-18, mainly that God is under no obligation to man.  He does as He wants.  Dr. Vic Reasoner writes:

Although Abraham was willing for Ishmael to be the promised seed, although Isaac was willing for Esau to receive the blessing, although Moses interceded that the Israelites might be spared, God is under no man’s obligation. Watson observed that Isaac willed that Esau should have the blessing.  Esau ran for the venison as the means of obtaining it  But still Jacob obtained it.  The blessing, however, was not personal, but referred to the people of whom Jacob was to be the father.  (Romans, p. 416).

Even if we allow this verse to argue for election, it would simply mean that works have no part in our salvation.  Arminians would agree.  We preach salvation by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).  The condition upon which God has chosen to save sinners is faith and even here man only believes the gospel because of prevenient grace.  Faith is not the ground or work for our salvation but is the condition of our salvation which God Himself has chosen.  God has the sovereign right to save sinners through faith and Scripture is clear that He will save based on faith (Romans 4:5; 5:1; 10:13).

Romans 9:16 should not be lifted up to teach unconditional election without looking at the context.  I think Calvinists would agree.

Quick Note on Romans 9

Some months ago I started a series on Romans 9 but got bogged down with work and other matters that made me lose some steam and due to time, lost track of the series.  I hope to get the series back up soon.  Until then, enjoy this short note on Romans 9.

I was reading the “conversion” story of a man who converted to Calvinism.  His story was interesting for one major reason and that was that he was saved in a Calvinist church and remained a Calvinist for many years before questioning some points of Calvinism but mainly the atonement.  He landed on his feet as an Arminian in his understanding of the atonement but sadly, he went back to Calvinism.  He is now reporting this as a “reconversion to the truth.”  He also is doing the typical Calvinist mantra of “surrendering to Scripture” or “surrendering to God’s grace.”  It is sad to read.

One major portion of Scripture that has been used to sway people toward Calvinism has been Romans 9.  Calvinists love to quote especially Romans 9:14-18 where we read (NASB):

14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.

It is taught by Calvinists from this text that election is based on the unconditional nature of God.  God sovereignly draws the elect to Himself and He sent His Son to redeem His elect.  When Arminians (or others) reject this view because it brings injustice to the character of God, the Calvinist will repeat Romans 9:14.  If you say that God has given us free will to either receive or reject His offer of free salvation, the Calvinist will reply with Romans 9:16.  If you bring up how sinners, by no choice on their own, bring glory to God by going to hell by His sovereign choice the Calvinist will reply with Romans 9:17.  The doctrine of unconditional divine election is based, says the Calvinist, on Romans 9:18.

What is missing here is the entire focus of Romans 9-11.  As Dr. Jack Cottrell correctly sums up about Romans 9: this is a focus on divine election to service (which is unconditional) and not to salvation.  Cottrell points out that salvation never appears in Romans 9.  Not once.  John Piper, in his exegesis of Romans 9:1-5, struggles to find salvation in there.  Romans 9:1-5 is clear that God sovereignly chose Israel for His purpose in bringing forth His Son but salvation is not mentioned.  Service is the key.

Romans 9 is all about service.  The Jews were arguing that by virtue of race they were saved.  Paul is saying no.  We are saved by grace.  Israel was chosen for service but each Jew has to repent on their own (Romans 10:1-4).  This happens by the preaching of the gospel (Romans 10:14-17).  The view of Romans 9 is not on unconditional divine election to salvation but to divine service for the purposes of God.  God has the right to choose whoever He desires for His purposes.  He did this with Israel, Pharaoh, Esau and Jacob, etc.

So service is the key to Romans 9.  Service and not unconditional election to salvation.  But we will deal with this more later.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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