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Makes Me Wonder

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Written by The Seeking Disciple

05/12/2016 at 12:21 PM

Determinism and Evangelism

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

In another book, John MacArthur writes,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

May God be glorified in His Church!

Hell Makes Sense If Conditional Election Is True

Hell is a hotly debated subject (sorry for the pun).  Is hell eternal conscious torment?  Is hell just a figure of speech for death for the ungodly?  Are people really burning forever in hell or is hell just where people are thrown and then destroyed forever?  These are all debated.

Yet hell is a biblical reality.  Even those who hold to conditionalism believe in hell.  They deny that hell is eternal conscious torment but they do believe in hell.  They can even warn people of hell and the need to repent of their sins and place their faith in Jesus alone to save them or they will go to hell.

But hell doesn’t make sense unless one holds to conditional election.  Otherwise, one is faced with the idea that God has arbitrarily chosen to save a few while damning most human beings in hell not because of their sins but also because of His sovereign choice.  Hell, for those who hold to unconditional election, is simply the glory of God being manifested as He casts the lost into hell.  Calvinists such as John Piper teach that hell for the non-elect glorifies God by showing His goodness toward the elect.  Calvinists often will say that the fact that God chooses to save sinners from among the sinful lump shows His goodness.

John Calvin went further.  Calvin taught from Romans 9:22 that the vessels of wrath are people whom God has not just passed over but He hardens.  Calvin wrote:

But if we wish fully to understand Paul, almost every word must be examined. He then argues thus, — There are vessels prepared for destruction, that is, given up and appointed to destruction: they are also vessels of wrath, that is, made and formed for this end, that they may be examples of God’s vengeance and displeasure. If the Lord bears patiently for a time with these, not destroying them at the first moment, but deferring the judgment prepared for them, and this in order to set forth the decisions of his severity, that others may be terrified by so dreadful examples, and also to make known his power, to exhibit which he makes them in various ways to serve; and, further, that the amplitude of his mercy towards the elect may hence be more fully known and more brightly shine forth; — what is there worthy of being reprehended in this dispensation? But that he is silent as to the reason, why they are vessels appointed to destruction, is no matter of wonder. He indeed takes it as granted, according to what has been already said, that the reason is hid in the secret and inexplorable counsel of God; whose justice it behoves us rather to adore than to scrutinize.

Romans 9:21, according to the unconditional view of election, is clear that God has made both His elect and the non-elect for His own purposes.  God, from the foundation of the world, has chosen whom He will save and whom He will damn.  This is not merely God passing by the non-elect but His active choice to prepare them for the purpose of hell.

R.C. Sproul admits that he struggles with Romans 9:20-24.  He admits that the idea of double predestination seems very strong here and that hyper-Calvinism finds its heart in these texts.  Yet Sproul is not a hyper-Calvinist and so the best he can do is to teach that there is one batch of sinful creatures and that God endures the vessels of wrath which are reprobate (Chosen by God, p. 153).

Calvin’s successor in Geneva, Theodore Beza, taught that Romans 9:21 is mankind not yet made and much less corrupted.  In other words, Beza taught that God sovereignly chose to elect before even creating mankind while also choosing to reject those whom He had not chosen.  God then made humans and even before the Fall, He chose to elect and harden.  Beza taught that this view alone protects God of His sovereignty and glorifies Him since everything (including the Fall) was for the glory of God.

For the Arminian, Adam Clarke taught that Romans 9:22 were the unbelieving Jews.  Clarke taught that Romans 9 has the Jews and Gentiles in mind and not individual unconditional election.  Romans 9:24-29 point to Clarke’s view.  God has in mind Israel as the vessel of wrath since they rejected His grace.  Thomas Oden states that people harden themselves by the rejection of the grace of God.  2 Timothy 2:21 states the people can turn from vessels of wrath to vessels of honor by the grace of God.  This is conditioned upon faith in the Lord Jesus (1 Timothy 4:10; 2 Timothy 2:10).

Why then would God, in the Calvinist viewpoint, create mankind for destruction?  There is no clear teaching on this.  Most simply will quote Deuteronomy 29:29 as the end all of the debate.  Calvin warned that this is indeed a mystery that one need not ponder too deeply.

For the Arminian, hell makes sense since God has been reaching out to the world since the Fall.  Mankind was created in the image of God and by their own willful choice, brought sin into the world (Genesis 3:1-7).  Even in the Garden of Eden, Yahweh reached out to mankind in His grace by calling them (Genesis 3:9), giving them a promise even in the midst of the curse (Genesis 3:15) and then clothing them (Genesis 3:21).  From Genesis onward, God is preparing the world for His Messiah.  The Messiah would come and would bear the sins of the world (Isaiah 53:4-6; John 1:29).

In Matthew 7 Jesus speaks much of two’s.  He says there are two gates (Matthew 7:13-14), two types of fruit (Matthew 7:15-20), two confessions (Matthew 7:21-23), and two types of people who either obey or disobey (Matthew 7:24-27).  Even now there are two types of people: lost or saved.  The saved become the elect.  The lost remain outside of His elect but do so by their own free choice.

If this is the case, if the lost are still in rebellion because of their own hardness, their own refusal to submit to the Lordship of Christ, their own rejection of God’s grace and mercy, etc. then hell makes sense.  Hell is fitting for those who would reject the Lord God.  No sinner will be able to stand before a holy God and said, “You made me a vessel of wrath fitted for destruction” but will simply acknowledge the justice of God and condemning them in their sins.  It is sin that sends a person to hell and not God’s unconditional election (Romans 6:23).  It is willful rebellion against God that leads to mankind’s utter destruction.

If I were a Calvinist, I would then reject unending conscious torment in hell since I would hold that people go to hell because God has not chosen them to be elect.  The thought that a loving and good God would send people to hell not because of their sins but because He simply did not choose them to be His elect would be grievous to me.  God is pictured in the Bible as loving and good.  John 3:16 is probably the most known verse in the Bible yet how does it fit into the idea that God loved the world so much that He created vessels of wrath whom He fitted for everlasting destruction and misery in hell?  The only comfort I would be able to find is that people are destroyed in hell (or annihilated) because God simply did not choose them.

Jesus said that hell was created for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41).  Revelation 20:10 says that the devil will be tormented there day and night forever and ever.  Hell was not created for the glory of God in condemning the non-elect but in destroying Satan.  Those who are not found in Christ will also go there (Revelation 20:11-15).  I believe that this is based on either salvation in Christ or rejection of Christ but is not based on the unconditional election of people.  Hell makes sense to me because I see hell as the final destruction for those who have hated God and rebelled against Him while on earth.  Hell makes sense because of the cross (John 3:17-18, 36).

Abortion: A Rational Look at An Emotional Issue by R.C. Sproul

I want to point out that Dr. R.C. Sproul’s excellent book, Abortion: A Rational Look at An Emotional Issue, is free from Amazon.com currently.  I encourage you to get this book for your Kindle and allow Dr. Sproul to build a strong case from Scripture not only about life and it being precious to God but also why abortion is sinful and wrong.

You can find the book here.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

01/20/2013 at 12:15 PM

The Proclamation of the Gospel and Faith

In John 3:14-17 we read the following:

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

What is clear in this passages of Scripture is that 1) the necessity of the proclamation of the gospel and then 2) that whoever believes has eternal life.  These two points go hand in hand.

For Arminians and Calvinists, the necessity of preaching the gospel is not debated except by hyper-Calvinists who would argue (and rather consistently in my opinion with their view of God’s divine determinism) that God will save His elect no matter what. Even if the Church should sit, God would still save His elect.  Many other Calvinists and all Arminians hold that we must preach the gospel for people to be saved.  The Great Commission of Jesus Christ requires us to be active in preaching the gospel (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:47; John 20:21; Acts 1:8).  Paul the Apostle makes it clear in Romans 10:14-17 that we must preach the gospel for people to hear, know, and have faith in Jesus.

The second point is my main focus here.  Notice that Jesus says in John 3:14 that the preaching of the gospel leads to belief in Him which leads to eternal life.  You’ll notice that Jesus says nothing here about irresistible grace.  He says nothing about regeneration before people can believe.  He says that we preach the cross (v.14) and whoever believes in Him may have eternal life (v.15).  This is the Arminian position: preach Christ and He saves sinners who believe.  Our position is that Jesus died for all people (v.16) and whoever comes to Him for salvation can be saved (v.17).  Notice in verse 17 that Jesus says that the world “might” be saved through Him.  He doesn’t make the salvation of the world automatic or universal salvation but He places a condition upon this salvation mainly faith in Him.

The Calvinist position is that faith comes after regeneration.  This is assumed based on the Calvinist teaching of total depravity and unconditional election.  If God has, from eternity pasty, chosen whom He will save and whom He will condemn then it logically follows that God will draw His elect unto Himself since Christ died to secure their salvation alone.  But the elect will not know that they are the elect unless they persevere unto the end otherwise they are false converts.  The truly elect will continue in the faith (1 John 2:19) unless they were not truly chosen by God and were false converts (1 Corinthians 15:2).  God regenerates His elect (some hold even in the womb) before they exercise faith in Jesus Christ because they are incapable of hearing and responding to the gospel unless God first causes them to be born again before faith.  As R.C. Sproul writes, “We are born again to believe.”

The problem is that such a view is foreign to Scripture.  One must, in this case, take Calvinism and enforce it upon the Bible rather than letting Scripture speak for itself through clear exegesis.  For instance, here in John 3:14-17.  It is clear that we must preach Christ and He saves those who believe (vv.14-15).  If there were ever a time for our Lord to show us that we must be born again to believe, it would be here.  But He doesn’t.  He simply says that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.  If a person must be born again to believe, they would have eternal life (John 6:40).  To be born again is to be in the kingdom (John 3:3-5).  Yet are we to believe that Jesus is telling us here in John 3:15 that the born again will believe in Him and may have eternal life?  It doesn’t follow the text.  It is clear from a cursory reading of this text that salvation comes through hearing the gospel and that whoever believes in Jesus may have eternal life.

This is the Bible position and the Arminian position as well.  We hold that we are justified through faith (Romans 5:1) and not unto faith.  Salvation is by God’s grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) and is the gracious work of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5-7).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

11/23/2012 at 10:26 AM

Adam Heard the Voice of God

Some Calvinists such as R.C. Sproul asserts that one must be regenerated before faith because of the nature of total depravity.  Since mankind is dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:1) and unable to please God in such a state (Romans 8:7-8) then God must regenerate people in order for them to come to faith and be saved from sin (John 3:3; 1 John 5:1).  A dead person is simply dead and can do nothing unless God first breathes life into them by His Spirit (Titus 3:5-7) and then they can come to faith and be justified before God (Romans 5:1).  It is reasoned that those elected by God will be regenerated to believe.

One major problem with this is that it is based on an assumption and that being unconditional election combined with the Calvinist view of total depravity.  When Paul writes in Ephesians 2:1 that we are dead in our sins, he is speaking of our status in sin and without the life of God.  No doubt the wages of sin are death (Romans 6:23) and we are dead without the Spirit of God living within but I find nothing in the passage to speak of an inability to hear or believe the gospel.  In fact, two examples from the Old Testament that demonstrate that unbelievers can hear the voice of God before regeneration are both found in the early chapters of Genesis.

In Genesis 3 we find the fall of mankind.  If there was a time for the Bible to present the Calvinist view of being “dead in our sins” it would be here.  Surely we should find God having to first regenerate Adam and Eve before He could converse with them since they are dead.  Yet what do we find?  We find Adam hearing from God in Genesis 3:9.  Adam had sinned and was now dead spiritually (Romans 5:12) and he demonstrates this by his actions in Genesis 3:8 yet we find that he could still hear from God?  How is this possible if in fact he is dead in his sins and must be born again to come to faith?

Another example is found in Genesis 4.  Here Cain hears the voice of God yet again like his father Adam.  If anyone was to inherit original sin and be born dead in his sins, it should be Cain.  Yet what do we find?  Again, we find Cain hearing the voice of God in Genesis 4:6.  God even warns this dead sinner to turn from his sins in Genesis 4:7.  How could he possibly do this without regeneration?  How could he hear the voice of God or even obey God without God first causing him to be born again?

Both of these passages run contrary to the Calvinistic assumption that dead in sins must equal dead completely.  To be dead in our sins means that we are without the life of God in us.  We are dead apart from His Spirit abiding in us.  We must be born again to receive the Spirit of God (Galatians 3:14; 4:6-7).  I don’t deny that we are total unable to please God in our flesh but this does not mean that an unbeliever can not hear the gospel and either reject the gospel or receive the gospel (John 1:11-13).  Faith comes by hearing the message of Christ (Romans 10:17).  God saves sinners who believe (Acts 5:32; 15:9-11; 16:30-34; 22:16; 26:20; Romans 3:25-27; 4:24-5:1; 1 Corinthians 1:21).  Those who believe become the elect of God (1 Timothy 4:10).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

10/25/2012 at 4:28 AM

Arminian Thoughts on 1 John 2:2

He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
1 John 2:2

1 John 2:2 is one of the most powerful passages for teaching the glorious atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ.  This verse alone implies several key points that Arminians affirm.  First, the verse implies that the atonement was for us, those who are the elect of God through faith in Christ.  We who believe in Jesus, trust in His grace to save us, believe that His blood was shed for our forgiveness and for our salvation (Isaiah 53:4-6).  We have come to see that Jesus is a wonderful Savior and that His blood is sufficient for our eternal salvation (Ephesians 1:7).  His blood cleanses us from all sins (Hebrews 9:14).  When Jesus uttered that it was finished in John 19:30, it was finished!  The work of salvation was complete in Jesus.  We can only be saved through faith in Him and by His grace (John 14:6; Acts 4:12) and salvation comes not by works on our part but through faith in Him and His shed blood (Acts 13:38-39; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7).

Secondly, the Arminian sees the vastness of this great atonement.  We don’t just see our salvation and we bless God for saving us in Christ (Romans 6:23) but we also see the importance of taking the gospel to all nations because Jesus died for all so that all can come and be saved in Him (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16).  We believe in the doctrine of unlimited atonement meaning that Jesus shed His blood not just for the sins of the elect as taught in Calvinism but we believe He shed His blood for all people (John 3:16).  The will of God is not for any to perish (2 Peter 3:9) but that all would be saved in Christ (1 Timothy 2:4).  In this sense, Jesus came to bear the sins of all (Romans 5:18) so that all can come and be saved (1 Timothy 4:10) and become the elect of God through His foreknowledge (Romans 8:29).

When it comes to 1 John 2:2, this verse is tough on many Calvinist theologians.  Even R.C. Sproul states, “On the surface this text seems to demolish limited atonement.”

Albert Barnes explain 1 John 2:2:

This is one of the expressions occurring in the New Testament which demonstrate that the atonement was made for all people, and which cannot be reconciled with any other opinion.  If he had died only for a part of the race, this language could not have been used.  The phrase, “the whole world,” is one which naturally embraces all people; is such as would be used if it supposed that the apostle meant to teach Christ died for all people; and is such as cannot be explained on any other supposition.

Yet we find Calvinist commentator John Gill saying,

Now let it be observed. that the phrases, all the world, and the whole world, are often used in scripture to be taken in a limited sense…in this epistle of John, the phrase is used in a restrained sense…in the text under consideration, it cannot be understood of all men…what may be observed and will lead more clearly into the sense of the passage before us, is, that the apostle John was a Jew, and he wrote to Jews: and in the text speaks of them, and of the Gentiles, as to be distinguished; and therefore says of Christ, he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, for the sins of us Jews only; but for the sins of the whole world; of the Gentiles also, of all the elect of God throughout the Gentile world.

In this sense, Gill reads into 1 John 2:2 what he wants to see and that is limited atonement.  Instead of allowing the text to speak for itself, Gill has to make the text not say what it clearly seems to say, that the atonement was for all.

Imagine taking 1 John 2:2 to someone who have never heard of Calvinism or Arminianism.  If we were to ask them to read the passage and then tell us what it means, even a child could see that John the Apostle is saying that Christ died to be the propitiation for the sins of the whole world.  If I asked them, “What does whole world mean?”  Again, a child would say it means all.  It would take someone telling you that Christ died only for the sins of the elect and thus a limited atonement in order for you to believe that 1 John 2:2 doesn’t mean all.

The Calvinist work of Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown states this about 1 John 2:2:

Christ’s “advocacy” is limited to believers (1Jo 2:1; 1Jo 1:7): His propitiation extends as widely as sin extends: see on 2Pe 2:1, “denying the Lord that bought them.” “The whole world” cannot be restricted to the believing portion of the world (compare 1Jo 4:14; and “the whole world,” 1Jo 5:19). “Thou, too, art part of the world, so that thine heart cannot deceive itself and think, The Lord died for Peter and Paul, but not for me” [Luther].

I agree.  Christ is the Savior only of those who believe (1 Timothy 4:10).

In closing, let me answer a brief reply I know that some Calvinists will then offer.  Some Calvinist theologians will state that in Arminianism, Jesus died to save no one for His blood only makes people savable.  In Calvinism, Jesus actually died for the salvation of the elect.  The problem with this is that both Arminianism and Calvinism believe that same here about Jesus’ death on the cross mainly that only those who believe are saved.  Salvation is by grace through faith (Romans 5:1).  Both Arminians and Calvinists teach that a person is only justified through faith in Jesus Christ thus no one is saved simply because Jesus died.  There has to be personal faith in Jesus’ shed blood to be saved.

Notice the wording of Romans 3:21-26:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 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. 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 all of this work of Christ is given to those who believe!  Certainly one can build a case that Jesus died for the elect (Galatians 1:4) but we can also build a case that He died only for Paul (Galatians 2:20) or the whole world (1 John 2:2).  Let us proclaim Christ to the lost and allow the Lord to draw in those whom He foreknew.  Let us not seek to limit the work of Christ when Scripture clearly does not.

HT: The Dark Side of Calvinism by George Bryson.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

09/26/2012 at 10:00 AM

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