Calvinism or Arminiansm? It’s the number one Bible college question of all time. Every freshman wrestles with it. Fortunately, working at a Bible camp brings me into contact with alot of Bible college students. So, this last week, one of the young men asked my opinion on the great Protestant debate.
Of course, I’m not a Th.D. I’m not even a Bible college graduate; that’s not a claim I make. I only did a year and a half of Bible college in Texas. That said, I do listen to and study the doctrines of both Dr. Fernandes and those of my own home church, Mars Hill in Bellevue. So keep in mind that the opinions reflected here are my own and may not accurately reflect those of Dr. Fernandes or the staff of the Institute.
So, here presented is my own understanding of salvation. This is also the answer I gave the young man.
Man in Sinful
First of all, all Christians can agree that man is totally depraved. We are all sinful, fallen creatures.
“… all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” – Romans 3:23
“There is no one righteous, not even one … ” – Romans 3:10
“… and all our righteousness is as filthy rags” – Isaiah 64:6
To disagree than man is a sinner is to deny the gospel.
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” – I John 1:8
There was no argument from the young man nor were there any questions. The doctrine of depravity is an essential part of the gospel message. Indeed, the penalty for our sins is death.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 6:23
Jesus was a Sacrifice for our Atonement
Second, as a solution to the problm, God provided Jesus: a perfect, spotless sacrifice of atonement for our sin. God offered a kinsman-redeemer to buy us back out of slavery and restore our inheritance.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16
“He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” – Romans 4:25
“… when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son” – Romans 5:10a
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures …” – I Corinthians 15:3-4
“… and if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” – I Corinthians 15:14
This is another essential doctrine of salvation. Jesus died as a sacrifice to pay the penality of our sins. On the third day, He rose again in a spiritual body: a body of flesh and bone indeed, yet no longer merely mortal. As Paul says in I Cor. 15, if you don’t believe that Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead your faith is in vain.
It should also be noted that we are free from the demands of the Old Testament laws. Men are simply incapable of obeying the laws of God on their own. Weakness and sin are in our nature. However, through the death of Jesus, we now have a new law. This new law is based on grace and forgiveness rather than obedience to rituals, dietary restrictions and observances. It acknowledges our failings and allows sinful man to be righteous before the holy God.
“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify” – Romans 3:21
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” – Romans 8:1-4
“The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” – Romans 5:20-21
“For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” – Romans 6:14
God Adopts us as Children
Once we are truly born again, God adopts us into His family, making us co-heirs with Christ in His kingdom.
“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ …” – Romans 8:16-17
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” – Romans 8:22-23
“So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” – Galatians 4:7
“… so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” – Titus 3:7
Although some younger Christians find this a little hard to understand, this is the point of salvation. If we are saved from sin and death, what does God intend to do with us? He, in His love and grace, makes us co-heirs in Christ’s kingdom. Forgiving all our sins. You see, since no sin can be in His kingdom, all in the kingdom are given Christ’s righteousness as white, spotless robes in place of our own filthy rags.
“… and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” – Philippians 3:9
Can We Walk Away?
Now to the meat and potatoes of this issue. If we were once children of God, reconciled and forgiven, can we reject God and walk away from the Kingdom? Is it possible for those truly born again to be unborn?
In Revelation, John, recording the words of Christ, writes the following:
“To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” – Rev 2:7b
“He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.” – Rev 2:11b
“To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations” – Rev 2:26
“He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.” – Rev 3:5
“To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne” – Rev 3:21
These square well with what Jesus said about the end of the age:
“All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” – Mark:13:13
It seems obvious that one must overcome to be saved and that overcoming involves standing firm in the faith. James, the brother of Jesus, confirms this conviction and also adds some practical theology:
“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” – James 1:12
“But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” – James 2:18
Paul, however, speaks of those whom God foreknew being predestined:
“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will …” – Ephesians 1:4-5
“In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will …” – Ephesians 1:11
“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” – Romans 8:29-30
And so the obvious and inevitable question arises: Is Paul contradicting John, James and Jesus? The short answer is: no! Paul himself writes in Romans:
“… in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” – Romans 8:4
To reconcile these two views, however, I always turn to Peter, the early head of the Church.
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.” – I Peter 1:1-2
“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.”
“… who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood …”
What I told the young man with the curious question was this:
- God knew before the foundation of the world who would be obedient and who would not.
- He predestined those whom He foreknew would, through His Spirit, overcome the world (Rom 8:13).
- Only those with God’s Spirit belong to Christ (Rom 8:9) and only they can can please Him.
- So it is those whom God conforms into the likeness of His Son, through His Spirit, who are saved. Those He also justifies and glorifies (Rom 8:30).
Unfortunately, we can’t see the world like God sees it. We don’t know who will and who won’t remain faithful to Christ. We have no idea who God has predestined to salvation. So, how should we respond?
Once again, here was my advice to the young man:
- Be ready in and out of season to give a defense for the hope that is in you.
- Preach the gospel when the opportunity presents itself.
- Be an example and a light in your community.
- Exhort other Christians to remain faithful and strong in the gospel of Christ.
- Those who remain faithful to the end were those God foreknew and predestined for salvation.
- Those who do not, God foreknew would fall away. The blame is still squarely on their own shoulders.
Well, there it is. I welcome comments and suggestions.
Blessings on all my brothers and sisters in Christ.