Arminian Today

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Posts Tagged ‘Enabling Grace

The Awakened State of Sinners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Gospel As The Power of God Unto Salvation

I think both Arminians and Calvinists need to rethink our positions on the issue of the gospel as the power of God unto salvation.  Here is what I mean.  Both Arminians and Calvinists assert that because of sin, mankind is unable to hear the gospel and be saved.  Calvinists teach that mankind must first be regenerated by the Spirit of God to come to salvation.  Arminians deny this but still teach prevenient grace as the work of the Spirit to bring sinners to salvation which in essence frees their will to believe the gospel.  Both sides teach that mankind is totally depraved to the point that even if we preach the gospel to lost sinners, they are incapable of responding to the gospel apart from this other work of the Spirit either in effectual calling or in prevenient grace.

However, how can it be that the gospel given to us by the Spirit is incapable of drawing sinners?  What if part of the work of salvation is the preaching of the gospel to lost sinners?  After all, Jesus makes much about the preaching of the gospel (Mark 1:15-16; Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8).  Notice that in Acts 1:8 the Holy Spirit would empower the disciples to preach the gospel yet is the gospel still not able to save?  What if the work of the Spirit is drawing (John 6:44) but He does so through the preaching of the gospel (Romans 10:14-17)?

Paul the Apostle wrote in Romans 1:16-17:

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Notice several things.  First, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation.  The same Greek word used in Acts 1:8 is used here.  The Spirit of God brings the power of God into our lives but the gospel is also the power of God unto salvation.  I ask again, if the gospel not able then to save?  Could it be that the Holy Spirit works through the gospel that is preached and He also works on the hearts of those who hear the gospel so that they can respond and be saved?

Secondly, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation.  I think this is where Calvinists get this part wrong.  They teach that a person must be regenerated to be saved.  Even the great Charles Spurgeon saw the folly in this:

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

The difficulty lies in trying to prove that a person is regenerated before faith.  To do this, the Calvinists must take their doctrine to the Scriptures and presuppose this upon the text.  Because of time, I will only say that the biblical case for the Calvinist doctrine of regeneration before faith is weak.

As an Arminian, I believe that mankind is depraved (Ephesians 2:1-3) but I believe that the Spirit works through the preaching of the gospel to draw sinners to the Savior.  He also works on the human will to draw sinners to salvation through the preaching of the gospel that He inspired through holy men of God (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21).  The Holy Spirit does both!  He works through the gospel to draw sinners to salvation but He doesn’t stop there.  As the gospel is preached, the Holy Spirit works on the person to prepare them and draw them to salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Can I prove this from Scripture?  Lets look at two examples both used by Arminians and Calvinists: the salvation of Lydia (Acts 16:11-15) and then the example of the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:30-34.

  1. The Salvation of Lydia (Acts 16:11-15).

Notice the text.  Lydia hears the gospel from Paul and believes (Acts 16:14).  The Holy Spirit opened Lydia’s heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.  She hears the Word, repents, and is baptized just as Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:19) and Peter preached (Acts 2:38).

We must not gloss over the truths here that the Holy Spirit did both the opening of her heart and He used the Word of God to bring salvation.  This is the biblical pattern (Ephesians 1:13).

2.  The Salvation of the Philippian Jailer (Acts 16:30-34).

The pattern here is clear: the jailer asks what must he do to be saved.  Does Paul say “There is nothing you can do to be saved.  If God wants to save you, He will save you for His glory!”  No!  Paul preaches that he must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and he would be saved.  Paul preaches to him the gospel (v. 32), the jailer demonstrates his repentance and is baptized (v. 33).  Again, the gospel is preached here.  While the text says nothing of the ministry of the Spirit as in Lydia above, no doubt He is at work doing just what Jesus said He would do by exalting the Savior (John 15:26).  As A.W. Tower proclaimed: “We need not cry out for God to pour His Spirit for He already has beginning at Pentecost but now we simply exalt Jesus Christ and we have the assurance that this is the work of the Holy Ghost.”

What is clear is the preaching of the gospel.

Conclusion

Calvinists believe in the preaching of the gospel.  I don’t want to undermine that truth.  I know of many good Calvinists who are out on the streets preaching the gospel to the lost and calling people to repentance.  I appreciate them doing this very much and I admire them greatly.  I do think they are not consistent with their theology and I know they feel the same toward me.  I rejoice that Jesus is preached (Philippians 1:18).

In Galatians 3:2 Paul wrote this:

Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?

Notice that Paul makes the receiving of the Spirit conditioned upon hearing the gospel.  The term “hearing with faith” can only mean that as we see in the context from Galatians 3:1.  We preach Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23) and we exalt Jesus as the One who saves from sin (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).  When we preach Christ, the Holy Spirit is at work.  The Holy Spirit has come to glorify the Lord Jesus.  The Holy Spirit takes the gospel preached and He woos sinners to salvation.  The work of regeneration is the Holy Spirit’s work (Titus 3:5).  Being “born again” is being born from above (John 3:3).  When a sinner humbles themselves, the Lord brings the forgiveness of their sins and they are born from above by God’s grace.

Now both Arminians and Calvinists acknowledge the necessity of the new birth.  Both acknowledge the necessity even of preaching the gospel to the lost.  The difference lies in whether depraved sinners can hear the gospel and be saved.  Calvinists deny this.  Arminians affirm this but only with a view of prevenient grace wherein the Spirit works on those whom God has foreknown will believe.  I am more comfortable preaching that the work of the Spirit is in the preaching of the gospel and sinners can hear and be saved.  Simply ponder the amazing work of the Spirit in conviction of sin (John 16:8).  When does this take place in Calvinism?  If regeneration is first, when is conviction of sin?  And how can dead sinners be convicted of sin if not first made alive?  While I acknowledge depravity of sinners, I also believe that the preaching of the gospel is powerful enough to open sinners eyes to their sins.  Most reject the gospel and continue in their sins but a few believe and repent and are saved.

Another Take on Prevenient Grace

I have been listening to a podcast of a brother and he has been dealing with the issue of prevenient grace.  His take is that prevenient grace within Arminianism is not much different from the view of Calvinists only that the order of salvation differs.  His regard is that the Arminian gives up ground to the Calvinist when they admit first that people are born dead in their sins and unable to respond to God at all.  His view is that people are not born unable to respond but simply born with a sinful nature and thus sin but are still able to respond to God’s grace and God’s call.  He secondly says that we give up ground to the Calvinist when we ignore both the call of Scripture for all to repent and say that they can’t or that we teach that people must have prevenient grace given to those whom God foreknows will believe.  This linear view of election is not biblical in his estimation.

In reply, he offers that prevenient grace is not a unique enabling that God only gives to the foreknown elect but rather God gives His enabling grace to all through the gospel.  The gospel is prevenient grace in his view.  The gospel, he argues, is given to us by the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16), is empowered by the Spirit (Acts 1:8) through Spirit chosen Apostles (John 15:16).  The Apostolic preaching is thus from the Spirit and is the Spirit’s work in the world to bring about the salvation of sinners (John 16:8-11).  As the gospel is preached, this is the prevenient grace of God (prevenient means “beforehand”) at work among the nations to draw them to salvation.  God uses the gospel to entice sinners to repentance.  All are freely able to respond to the gospel of God’s grace (Romans 11:32).  Prevenient grace is thus the work of the Spirit, the preaching of the gospel, the ministry of the Church.  This is all prevenient grace and should not be cornered into one area: just the drawing of the Spirit unto salvation.  This is all the work of the Spirit in bringing salvation to sinners.

This is an interesting view and one that I am curious about.  I have not heard prevenient grace explained in this manner.  I have long heard the concept as taught by John Wesley and the early Methodists.  The Wesleyan concept is that people are born dead in their sins (original sin) and only the work of the Spirit to draw sinners to salvation is sufficient to bring dead sinners to repentance.  Wesley very much held to a Calvinist view in this regard.  Arminius likewise seems to hold to such a view.  The Calvinist question, of course, is how does God choose one person over another.  Is it based on works?  Is it based on the response of the person?  Is it based on foreseen faith?  The Calvinist answer is simple: the elect are chosen based on the arbitrary choosing of God.  While Calvinists would disagree with me and would say that God chooses people based on His love and His glory (Romans 9:22-23; Ephesians 1:11-12) but either way, the Calvinist would never admit that God chooses a person based on anything the person does and the choice is completely God’s choice and a mystery (Deuteronomy 29:29 is the most appealed to passage).

However, Acts 28:27 would seem to disagree with both the Calvinist and Arminian viewpoint.  It reads:

For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed;
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.

Paul is speaking here of the Jews.  Notice he doesn’t say that they are born dull or born without the ability to believe.  He says that they have become dull.  These Jews have made themselves this way.  Later he would write that these same Jews can turn and be saved if they will humble themselves (Romans 11:23).

So why does one man believe while another man does not?  The issue is not with God.  The issue is humility.  Does one person humble themselves before God as a child?  Does one person continue in their pride and unbelief?  Acts 28:28 Paul the Apostle states that he is turning to the Gentiles but not because of God’s sovereign election but because they will listen.  The Gentiles humbled themselves while the Jews did not.

This is this brother’s take.  No system of theology is perfect.  We are all humans trying to understand the infinite God.  We are so limited in knowing God.  A.W. Tower said:

The doctrine of justification by faith (a Biblical truth, and a blessed relief from sterile legalism and unavailing self-effort) has in our times fallen into evil company and has been interpreted by many in such a manner as actually to bar men from the knowledge of God. The whole transaction of religious conversion has been made mechanical and spiritless. Faith may now be exercised without a jar to the moral life and without embarrassment to the Adamic ego. Christ may be “received” without creating any special love for Him in the soul of the receiver. The man is “saved”, but he is not hungry or thirsty after God. In fact, he is specifically taught to be satisfied and encouraged to be content with little. The modern scientist has lost God amid the wonders of His world; we Christians are in real danger of losing God amid the wonders of His Word.

The reality is that knowing God is not knowing facts about God.  It is knowing Him!  Salvation is not a part of a system but a person, the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 1:16-17).  Salvation is found in a person (Romans 5:1).  I want to know Him more and more!  I want all people to know Him as well (Matthew 28:18-20).  Thankfully, God does not save Arminians or Calvinists but He does save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15) and Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

03/16/2015 at 7:06 PM

Arminianism and Free Will

Arminius is often said to be the theologian of freedom.  One Calvinist theologian said that Arminius was “anthropocentric” in that he placed humanity at the center of his theology and not God.  To this day, Calvinist theologians continue to assert that Arminius and Arminianism is all about human freedom.  Libertarian free will is said a chief focus of Arminian theology.

And yet is this fair?  Is Arminianism focused on free will and humans as its center?

The fact is that those who say that Arminius was first and foremost about human freedom must prove this from his writings.  This cannot be done.  Arminius does not elevate human freedom above God’s sovereignty nor does he ascribe to salvation the basis being free will.  Arminius is clear in his writings that the will of man is free indeed but bound by sin (Romans 8:6-7).  The will of mankind is darkened by our sinfulness.  The will of man, like Jonathan Edwards later, was free but free to sin.  Man could do nothing with their free will to earn salvation.

Arminius was clear that we should uphold free will for three main reasons.  First, sin must be ascribed to free will.  While God can certainly use man’s free will sinful acts for His glory (Genesis 50:20; Acts 2:23-24), the act of sin must be free and not from God lest God be made the author of sin itself which Scripture deplores (James 1:13-15). God is simply too holy to sin (Exodus 15:11; Habakkuk 1:13).  If mankind does not have free will, sin must come from outside of them and that would be from the Creator Himself and Arminius simply would not affirm this.

Secondly, Arminius defended free will in regard to grace.  It was here that Calvinists often attacked Arminius as being Pelagian.  For salvation to be truly gracious and a gift from God (Romans 6:23) then it must be maintained that mankind receives this grace by their own free will albeit by the ministry of the Spirit.  To deny freedom in the work of grace is to make grace not truly grace.  How can one ascribe salvation as a work of grace if in fact man has no choice but to succumb to the irresistible drawing power of God?  Calvinists will insist that this is truly grace when dead sinners are regenerated to believe the gospel but salvation as a gift from God (John 3:16) is not a gift if the person offered the gift has nothing to say about receiving the gift.  Salvation as gracious is gracious in Arminianism since the will of man is freed by the Spirit to believe and receive the gift (John 1:12-13; Romans 11:5-6).

Finally, Arminius affirmed human freedom because it upholds the relationship between God and man as a true relationship.  God is not forcing His will upon people as a Master and they as robotic slaves.  Instead, God is loving, gracious, and reaching out to lost humanity through His Son and through His Word to bring them into a free and loving relationship with Himself.  The consistent theme of the Old Testament is God having relationships with people (and later the nation of Israel) through human freedom.  God allows the free will decisions of Abraham, David, and others to build His relationship with them.  No doubt God is sovereign in His choosing but He continues to allow a man like Abraham or Moses to even sin against Him in the process but nonetheless uses the men and their free will for His glory.  This does not end in the New Testament.  The coming of the Messiah is God still reaching out to humanity.  Yes our will is bent and wicked.  Yes we are sinners but God is consistently holy and pure yet He reaches out to the lost though His Son (Luke 19:10; 1 Timothy 1:15).  God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

The facts are that Arminius is not putting man at the center of his theology nor even free will.  Instead, Arminius affirmed the grace of God as central to his theology.  We are saved by grace and kept by grace.  Pelagianism places the beginning of faith in man but Arminius places salvation as an act of God’s first grace.  It is God who initiates salvation first in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:15) and ultimately in His Son (John 1:17-18).  The beginning of salvation is not in man.  The beginning of salvation, according to Arminius, is God and His grace.

For more on this I highly recommend the book, Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace by Keith Stanglin and Thomas McCall.

How Prevenient Grace Helps Me Sleep

John MacArthur has a famous sermon that he preached on Mark 4:26-29 on the theology of sleep in which he argues that the doctrine of unconditional election allows him to sleep at night.  He argues that the doctrine that God alone saves gives him comfort because if the salvation of others depended on him, he would not be able to sleep at night.  MacArthur argues that he cannot understand how ministers who deny unconditional election can sleep if in fact the saving of souls depends upon them.

I for one reject unconditional election but I sleep well at night not because I deny the lostness of men nor because I turn a blind eye to their desperate need for salvation.  I sleep well because of the doctrine of prevenient grace.  I agree with MacArthur that salvation is the work of the Lord.  Regeneration is the work of the Spirit (John 3:1-5; Titus 3:5-7).  The entire work of salvation is by the power of God (Romans 1:16-17).  While I believe the Bible teaches that people believe the gospel as a duty (John 3:15), I deny that this belief is works (Romans 4:5).  Sinners are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).

However, my job is not to save sinners.  It is the Lord’s work to save sinners.  MacArthur’s appeal to Mark 4:26-29 is right.  The harvest is the Lord’s harvest (Matthew 9:38).  Paul argues this way in 1 Corinthians 3:5-9.  While Paul and others did work to tell people the gospel, the Lord is the One who saves sinners.  Our job is to simply preach the gospel.  This is a point that both Arminians and Calvinists can agree.

Obviously, the key difference here then is not over the gospel.  It is not over whether the Lord saves sinners.  It is over whether the Lord treats sinners as people or does He treat them as something else like robots or chess pawns?  I believe God treats people as people who can think, hear, respond.  God is the one who saves and He deals with sinners by His grace.  His Spirit woos the sinner but He does not force the sinner (John 6:44).  The Spirit opens the sinners heart to hear the gospel and be saved (Acts 16:14-15, 30-34; 1 Corinthians 1:21; Ephesians 1:13-14).  The Spirit is the one who empowers the disciple to first preach the gospel to the lost (Acts 1:8) and then He also is the one who opens sinners minds and hearts to the gospel though He allows the sinner to believe in their own freed will.  Over and over again the New Testament calls the sinner to believe the gospel and repent (Acts 17:30-31).  As the Spirit works, the sinners respond (Acts 2:37).  The sinner either repents (Acts 2:38, 41) or they rebel (Acts 7:51; 13:46).  Those who believe the gospel become the elect of God (Acts 13:48; Romans 8:29-30; 1 Timothy 4:10).

As Arminians our dependence in evangelism must not be on gimmicks or tricks or rock concerts or skits or movies.  It must be on the gospel that saves sinners!  The Spirit empowers the Church to preach to the lost.  Our dependence must be on the Word of God that saves the lost.  In Mark 4:26 we read of the scattered seed.  In Mark 4:14 the seed is the Word.  The Word brings forth fruit as we preach the gospel!  Our job must then be to preach the gospel (2 Timothy 4:2, 5).

The bottom line is that Arminians can take comfort in the work of the Spirit in drawing sinners to salvation.  Calvinists often contend that the term “prevenient grace” is not found in the Bible.  What they fail to realize is that Calvinists theologians have also used the term for the term means “beforehand” grace.  This is a biblical concept even if we disagree over whether this grace can be resisted or not.  Both Arminians and Calvinists affirm that salvation is the divine work of God and His grace.  While we Arminians would contend that God grants free grace to draw in souls through the preaching of the gospel, the result of regeneration is the divine working of God.

The Promised Spirit Through Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does Receiving a Gift Mean You Earned the Gift?

Calvinist theologians like to say that Arminians “earn” our salvation because we teach that a person must, by the act of the freed will, receive salvation through Christ alone.  They say that such teaching denies the sovereignty of God and makes man the deciding factor in salvation.  In Calvinism, they say, God alone saves the sinner for His glory and honor.  In Calvinism, God chooses the sinner for Himself (even before time began) and sent His Son to redeem that sinner.  The rest are hardened and condemned to hell for the glory of God.

Now the question I want to address is simply this: does receiving a gift mean that you earned the gift?  If I offer you a million dollars and the only thing I ask you to do is to receive the million dollars, does that mean that since you reached out your hand and took the million dollars you have earned the million dollars?  The same holds true for salvation.  Simply because the sinner is enabled by the grace of God and the Spirit of God to receive salvation, does this mean that the sinner earned their salvation?

The Calvinist answer would be “yes” since we are saying that God does not force the person to believe.  God enables the person to believe through His grace but God does not force (or drag as R.C. Sproul twists John 6:44 to mean).  Each person believes by the act of their own will that has been freed by the grace of God.  Sinners, apart from grace, are incapable of turning to Christ.  Romans 1:18 says that wicked sinners suppress the truth in their unrighteousness.  Romans 3:11 says that there are none who seeks after God.  John 4:23 says that the Father is actually the One who is seeking.  We are not.  We are dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1-3).  Instead, we need the grace of God, the enabling grace of God, to believe the gospel and be saved but no where does the Bible teach that God believes for us.  The act of faith is our act.  Certainly I would agree that all of salvation is a work of grace (Romans 4:5; 11:6) and I would agree that even faith can be viewed as a gift from God but this does not mean that God believes for us.  He enables us to believe but we believe (John 1:12-13).  As the gospel is preached, sinners hear the gospel (Romans 10:17) and can be saved through faith (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).

In Romans 4 faith is opposed to works in regard to salvation.  Faith then is not a work. Faith is the trusting of Christ to save us.  Faith looks not to ourselves to save us but to Christ to save us.  Faith then is not meritorious for salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Good works flow from true saving faith (Ephesians 2:10; James 2:14-26).  Through faith in Christ, God imputes righteousness unto us (Romans 4:23-25).  Romans 5:1 then tells us that we are justified through faith.  Notice that we are not justified unto faith but justified through faith.  Romans 6:23 reminds us that the wages of sin is death (always) but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  This gift is received by faith.

The Arminian viewpoint then is that we are justified through faith apart from works.  This belief in the Lord Jesus Christ is our own belief that the Spirit of God enables us to believe.  By the prevenient grace of God (the word prevenient simply means “beforehand”), we are freed to believe the gospel and be saved (John 20:31; 1 John 5:13).

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